Carl Jung’s Detectives

Posted: January 9, 2013 in Uncategorized

This Guest Post originally appeared on Omni Mystery News

http://www.omnimysterynews.com/2013/01/please-welcome-thriller-novelist-dl-johnstone-1301090800.html

 

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Please Welcome Thriller Novelist D.L. Johnstone

 

Omnimystery News: Guest Author Post
by D.L. Johnstone

We are delighted to welcome novelist D.L. Johnstone as our guest.

D.L.’s new novel is the Ancient Alexandrian thriller Furies (D.L. Johnstone, December 2012 ebook formats).

Today D.L. tells us about a most interesting subject, Carl Jung’s detectives. And he is giving one of our readers a chance to win a copy of his book (details below).

— ♦ —

Carl Jung loved mysteries. Not just those of the human psyche — straight-up detective novels that he’d read every night before falling asleep. He was especially a fan of Simenon’s Inspector Maigret series. Okay, first, how cool is that? And second, what do you think Jung got out of it, besides a good night’s sleep (filled with a very rich dream-life)? This wasn’t your typical mystery fan. This was Carl Gustav Jung. The founder of analytical psychology. The father of the study of archetypes and the collective unconscious. The inspiration for Campbell’s Journey of the Hero. The guy who put the Jung in Jungian. What universal truths did he plumb in reading mysteries?

D.L. Johnstone
Photo provided courtesy of
D.L. Johnstone

There are universal truths in mysteries and crime fiction, of course, no matter if they’re ancient historical, hard-scrabble contemporary or dystopian-futuristic. There will be a crime. There will be a hero. There will be a villain. But that’s only the surface. What lies beneath? How do mysteries delve into our collective unconscious?

I really got into this when I started writing my latest novel, the historical thriller Furies. Setting an crime novel in ancient Alexandria has a host of challenges, from the politics and history to the layout of the city, the language, culture, money, dress, food, social interactions, business, the criminal justice system, ancient forensics and burial practices. Getting into the heads of characters from a different era and culture presents an entirely different challenge, however. What were they like? How did they think? Yes, people are people. We all have the same basic motivations, the hierarchy of needs we all seek to fulfill, no matter what period of history we live in. But we’re also creatures of our culture, our society. What cultural elements shaped ancient Romans’ and Alexandrians’ thoughts and world views?

I decided on two key entry points: philosophy (since Alexandria, with its famed Library and Museion and tradition of patronage, was the centre of academia in the ancient world for a good four centuries) and mythology. The competing philosophies of the time were clear enough. At least we have a good understanding of who the main sophists were and what the main precepts of their arguments were. Mythology is something else again. And that’s where Jung comes in.

I’ve been a mythology geek for as long as I can recall. As a kid, I ate up stories of Hercules, Hermes, Perseus, Theseus and Achilles — the original superheroes. I read the Odyssey and the Iliad multiple times, from Illustrated Classics to three different translated versions. Mythology is key to the way the ancients thought. While most educated Romans and Greeks didn’t believe them literally, their mythology shaped them the way we’re shaped by the New Testament, the Koran, writings of Confucius, Marx, Voltaire or Lennon and McCartney (or, admit it, ET, Disney movies, J. K. Rowling, Twilight … we’re all creatures of our society). The Romans made their regular sacrifices to the Gods, worshipped in the temples, read the divinations before making any new venture. Heresy was a capital offense. Roman school children would study the Odyssey, the Iliad, the Aeneid, and not only learn them by rote but take lessons of virtue and honour from them. I admit to geeking out a bit when I learned that the Library of Alexandria contained Alexander the Great’s personal copies of both — annotated in detail by his own boyhood teacher, Aristotle. It wasn’t just a good story for them — it defined their way of thinking.

And their mythology helped explore universal truths. They contained countless stories of crime, heroes and villains/tricksters.

The archetypal hero is Apollo, God of Law and Justice but also, as God of Divination and Prophecy, a character with a unique connection to intuition. What detective doesn’t use a healthy dose of intuition in solving cases? Apollo’s traditional foe is Dionysos, who represents the murderer. While Apollo inspires wisdom and was equated by Jung (in Psychological Types) with introverted intuition, Dionysos is all about extroverted sensation: ecstasies, excesses of drunkenness and passion, madness, blood lust, throwing off all inhibitions. Picture the typical, over-the-top Bond villain. Or Ted Bundy. Or Adolf Hitler. With his horned head and pronged staff, Dionysos is the archetype for modern representations of the devil.

There is also a fascinating mythological connection between the murder victim — Dionysos’ sacrifice and the killer. Dionysos himself was a victim of murder (by Hera and the Titans). While he was later reborn, he was also driven to madness and went on a killing rampage. So he became the God who was murdered and the God who murders. Quite the handle. Don’t most mass-murderers have some horrible back story to explain their madness? Dionysos’ crimes in part symbolize a self-killing, losing one’s soul as one takes another’s life.

Apollo and Dionysos are therefore natural enemies not only in mythology or their roles as God of Justice vs God of Passion and Madness, but from their starkly contrasting approaches to the world. The classic, eternal battle of introverted intuition versus extroverted sensation.

In the Roman view, gods tended not to do their own dirty work. Instead they had humans act on their behalf. Unconsciously, of course. And so our detective will strive for justice, with his sensory and/or intuiting skills in full engagement, not realizing he is acting as Apollo’s agent. And the villain would do the same, on Dionysos’ behalf.

There is a theory that Dionysos and Apollo started out as one and the same god, representing different facets that split off and evolved over the centuries (millennia?) within the rich fabric of mythology. This highlights another classic element of crime fiction, the parallels between the killer and the hero, two sides of the same coin, defining one another by their contrasts.

Did Jung think about all this when he read Simenon? Probably that and a great deal more. And hopefully he also read for the not so simple pleasures of just reading a good mystery.

(With thanks to John Boe, Rafael Lopez-Pedraza and Kay Marie Porterfield for their insightful research.)

— ♦ —

D.L. Johnstone lives in the Toronto area with his wife, four kids and a half-dog/half-sasquatch named Charlie. He is also the author of the contemporary thriller Chalk Valley. He comments on thrillers, “indie” publishing and other miscellany at his blog DLJohnstone.com.

— ♦ —

Furies by D.L. Johnstone

Furies
D.L. Johnstone
An Ancient Alexandrian Thriller.

It’s 36 AD. The city of Alexandria is a center of Roman commerce — and a sinful playground for the pleasure-seeking rich and powerful.

For wealthy merchant Decimus Tarquitius Aculeo, however, Alexandria has become a living hell. Ruined by a string of mysterious investment disasters, deserted by friends and family, his reputation in tatters, Aculeo is forced to eke out a meagre existence in the poorest, back streets of the city. He’s desperate to find the man he blames for the debacle and recover what he’s lost.

Aculeo’s quest forces him deep into treacherous, unfamiliar territory, Alexandria’s criminal underworld. And entangles him in a web of corruption, conspiracy and murder.

A common slave is found murdered in the magnificent temple of the god Serapis. Days later, the brutalized body of a high-priced hetaira is discovered floating in a canal, after an evening entertaining the city’s elite. The grim truth soon becomes clear: a ruthless killer is moving among Alexandria’s aristocrats, commercial titans, and philosophers.

And ominous clues connect those murders to Aculeo’s quest, with disturbing revelations about his own past.

Aided by an Egyptian mortuary attendant, a brilliant philosopher, a lovely hetaira, and his last remaining friends, Aculeo must hunt down a terrifying murderer in the highest echelons of society if he hopes to reclaim the life he has lost.

But first, he must survive …

Amazon.com Print and/or Kindle Edition

For a chance to win a copy of Furies, courtesy of the author, visit Mystery Book Contests, click on the “D.L. Johnstone: Furies” contest link, enter your name, e-mail address, and this code — 6567 — for a chance to win! (Note: The prize is an ebook. One entry per person. US residents only. Contest ends January 16th, 2013.)

FURIES – Background Readings

Posted: December 29, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

I am deeply grateful to the many scholars whose research and writings helped me bring ancient Alexandria back to life for FURIES. The following list is not comprehensive (you should see my library – it rivals Alexandria’s!) but captures my key research material for those of you who may want to read further.

–          Ptolemaic Alexandria – P.M.Fraser – this is the bible of ancient Alexandrian research, a stunningly detailed work that intimidated the hell out of me the first time I picked it up. Well, the first volume of it at least – there are four volumes in total, and they itemized not only how much we know but, with scholarly precision, how much we don’t.

–          The Hellenistic Age – Peter Green – a highly readable resource, providing fascinating historic context to Hellenistic times

–          Rise and Fall of Alexandria – Birthplace of the Modern Mind – Pollard and Reid

–          Library of Alexandria – edited by R Macleod

–          Greeks in Ptolemaic Egypt – Napthali Lewis – Lewis was a noted papyrologist whose research into the writings found on the back of mummy wrappings from Egyptian tombs (many of which used recycled documents and personal letters) provided a treasure trove of details about daily life

–          Daily Life in Ancient Rome – Florence Dupont – Dupont has a lovely way of getting into the hearts and minds of the ancients.

–          Philo’s Alexandria – Dorothy Sayer – Philo is one of the few ancient scholars whose work documenting daily life in Alexandria survived to modern times. While maddeningly missing many key details, it gives a wonderful perspective, and Sayer’s slim little volume provides a great entry-point.

–          The Cambridge Guide to Ancient Greek Law – Cohen – Roman Egypt was a somewhat patchwork place in terms of its legal practices, an amalgam of Roman and Greek law with a Ptolemaic twist left over from the old empire.

–          Cicero Murder Trials – edited by Michael Grant – This wonderful piece helped not only define ancient jurisprudence for me (albeit almost a century before FURIES takes place, and a continent away) but gave me great insights into one of my heroes of the Roman world. Two thousand years later, Cicero still rocks.

–          Travel in the Ancient World –  Lionel Casson – Casson is the all-time authority in ancient travel, hands down. It’s a very entertaining read as well.

–          History of Western Philosophy – Bertrand Russell – I bought this book thirty years ago, finally got through it (mostly). I owe a huge debt of the dialogues about philosophy in FURIES to Russell’s scholarship.

–          Banking and Business in the Roman World – Andreu

–          Alexandria Rediscovered – Jean-Yves Empereur – There is some amazing archaeological work going on in Alexandria, and Empereur is at the heart of it. This is a gorgeous book and gave details about the city that haven’t seen the light of day in many centuries.

–          Betrayal : The Life and Lies of Bernie Madoff – Kirtzman – a fascinating account of the ultimate modern day schemer. These types of crooks don’t really change that much over the course of human history, do they?

–          The Greek Myths – Robert Graves – still a classic!

Rebuilding Alexandria

Posted: December 15, 2012 in Uncategorized

This post first appeared as a guest post in “Laurie’s Thoughts & Reviews” on 12/15/12

http://lauries-interviews.blogspot.ca/2012/12/furies-by-d-l-johnstone-guest-post.html

Nice Stocking stuffer - if your stocking is a Kindle that is

Nice Stocking stuffer – if your stocking is a Kindle that is

 

Okay, I admit I’m not the brightest bulb on the Christmas tree. You see, when I decided to write an historical thriller, I thought it would somehow be easier than writing another contemporary thriller like my first book, CHALK VALLEY. To this day, I have no idea why I thought that. But the problem is, in addition to being none-too-bright, I’m like a dog on a bone once I get an idea that intrigues me. I studied philosophy in university and I’m fascinated by ancient Greek and Roman history. The idea of writing a crime thriller involving some classic philosophers in an era when induction and logic was a new concept just grabbed onto me and wouldn’t let go. What the heck, I thought, how tough could it be? As things would turn out, really, really tough. Really.

Before I get too far into this, let me offer a quick synopsis on FURIES: It’s set in 36 AD in Alexandria, Egypt, the most beautiful, exotic city of the Roman Empire. It tells the story of wealthy Roman merchant Decimus Tarquitius Aculeo for whom Alexandria has become a living hell. He’s been ruined by a string of investment disasters, abandoned by friends and family, and he’s desperate to recover his wealth and status. But his search for the reasons behind his downfall draws him into investigating the murders of two women linked to some very powerful people. It’s a dangerous, treacherous game, but he has no choice but to play if he’s to regain all that he lost.

Why Alexandria? Because it has an incredible history, but relatively little has been written about it. Alexandria was first established in 334 BC by Alexander the Great. This was the city of the Ptolemies, Cleopatra, Julius Caesar and Marcus Antonius. It was also the centre of culture, with a Library said to house all written works known to man (no easy task two millenia prior to the internet). The Museion where the greatest philosophers of the day studied .The famed Pharos (lighthouse), an ancient wonder of the world. An the Agora (marketplace) where it was said you could find anything your heart or body desired – for the right price. In 36 AD when FURIES takes place, Alexandria is under Roman rule and is still a fascinating city with phenomenal wealth and a population density that rivals modern Manhattan. As the centre of commerce for the Empire, with trade ships coming from as far away as Gaul and China, and a population comprised of Greeks, Romans, native Egyptians and Jews and everything in between, it was by far the most multi-cultural city of the age.

Interesting, but to write a thriller set in this city, you need to know what it looked like. What did it feel like walking down its streets? What sites could you see? Egypt’s history goes back over 5,000 years. Heck, you can still visit the Pyramids and the Sphinx of the original dynasties. As for the physical city of ancient Alexandria though, we know relatively little. The city itself is still there, but the Alexandria of old lies buried under centuries of earthquakes, gathered silt from the mouth of the Nile. The modern city and the Egyptian Sea completely covers it. The only thing still standing from the ancient city is the mis-named Pompey’s Pillar and a few entrances to the underground cisterns. That’s it. The Library is gone, the books sadly lost or destroyed over a thousand years ago. The last sections of the Lighthouse fell down 600 years ago. There’s a great deal of work being done these days by archaeologists under the water – they’re finding some stunning sculpture heads, blocks that they think are from the ancient harbour and possibly some sections of the Lighthouse. Can you imagine trying to recreate London or Paris 2,000 years from now with only a few historians’ scattered comments. It’s crazy! But I never said it was a good idea. Only that I was committed. Or should be.

Finally, most importantly, what were the people like? We know certain historical figures, yes. The kings and queens of old, the prefects, the scholars. But what about people on the street? The main character,  Aculeo, isn’t a historical figure, nor a politician, nor a scholar. He’s a wealthy merchant, or at least he was. Merchants, bankers, healers, slaves … who were they? What did they eat, wear, talk about, joke about, drink ? (A lot of palm beer and surprisingly good wine, as it turns out). What songs did they sing? What jokes did they tell? What curses did they use ? (Some really nasty ones that I won’t repeat here!).

Of course, we know some things about what ancient Alexandria looked like. The streets, for example, were laid out in a perfect gridwork, the first planned city, designed according to the vision of Alexander the Great himself. It wasn’t like most ancient cities (and a few modern ones), built on random cart paths and having little sense overall. We know there were five districts, including the palace district said to make up 20% of the city. We know the houses were all bone white and red-roofed. We know their basic structure. We know the streets were paved and wide and lit by torch at night, at least in the good part of town. We know many of the houses were made of mud-brick. We know there were sphinxes and other even more ancient icons stolen from Egyptian temples scattered about the city to beautify it even more. We know many little details like that, but a comprehensive view of the city in that era just doesn’t exist. It had to be patched together like a quilt. I could have made things up, I suppose, and yes, here and there I did, but I strove to stick to the pig-headed ideal of historic accuracy where and when I could.

Some of my best research about the people came not from the usual history books, but from a very different source. From mummies, or mummy wrappings and the work of papyrologists, to be more specific. The Egyptian tradition of embalming the dead often used recycled papyrus. Unwrapped mummies might reveal property deeds, personal letters, or official government letters, unveiling some fine, fascinating points of everyday life. Some were incredibly well preserved, some not so much, but all of them were beautifully revealing.

For example, three of the characters in FURIES were based in part on real people who lived in Alexandria, mentioned in some of these documents. An ex-soldier named Apollonios was a religious fanatic who lived on handouts in the Temple of Sarapis. He took care of a pair of orphaned little girls who’d been left on the steps of the temple for the priests to raise. The letters described these ordinary people in fascinating detail – things not typically talked about by scholars of the day. They provided interesting, realistic details that helped give FURIES accuracy, but even moreso, give it spirit.

I believe solid historical fiction hinges on solid accuracy. Writers owe this to their readers, as long as it doesn’t get in the way of telling a good story. I hope I’ve done ancient Alexandria justice with FURIES. Yes, it was a long journey, and yes, it was a big mistake.

But some of my best decisions started as big mistakes.

  

What do you think?

Designed (once again) by the amazing Jeroen ten Berge. I couldn’t be happier with it. In this case, at least, hopefully you CAN judge a book by it’s cover.

DLJ

FURIES Cover

FURIES Cover

FURIES

Posted: November 14, 2012 in Uncategorized

The Remorse of Orestes

First things first. My second novel, FURIES, comes out on December 1st.

FURIES has been a labour of love for me. Well, mostly love. It started over a luncheon discussion with my agent a few years ago as she was working on selling CHALK VALLEY. She raised the inevitable question ‘What’s next?’. I had a few ideas, of course. While CHALK VALLEY was clearly contemporary, I wanted to try something a little different. I’d always been a big classics buff and thought it would be interesting to set a thriller in ancient Athens. I was especially interested in tying in murder investigation with elements of philisophical inquiry and classic mythology. My agent loved the idea but suggested I set it in Alexandria instead. Now that was an interesting idea, I thought. Alexandria was a fascinating city in ancient times – as metropolitan and as crowded as modern Manhattan, founded by Alexander the Great, ruled by the Ptolemies right up to Cleopatra before it was conquered by the Romans. It was a mix of incredibly rich cultures, a huge, robust marketplace and was at one point the pinnacle of academia. The Library. The Lighthouse. The Museion. I’m in!

Of course, I had no idea what I’d gotten myself into. The research I had to do to meet my OCD standards of veracity was unbelieveable. Alexandria may be well known in concept, but its details were rather poorly described by ancient historians. Unlike Athens or Rome, most of the physical city was either destroyed over the milennnia by earthquakes and what remained either lay beneath the modern city or under the sea. Many details are only recently being uncovered by archaeologists. The thing was, there were details out there in the research books, just not all in one place. So yes, it was a bit of a challenge. But I tend to like challenges. So I did my best to rebuild a lost world, and then to tell a story within it. Set in 36 CE, FURIES focuses on a Roman businessman named Decimus TarquitiusAculeo who, after being ruined in the wake of a investment scheme gone bad, becomes entangled in a case of murder and corruption.

I’m really looking forward to getting FURIES out there in a few weeks. When I published CHALK VALLEY, I didn’t expect how much damned fun I’d have being an indie-writer. All I saw going into it then was the work I’d have to do. Do a cover. Edit the book. Get it formatted. What price should I put it at? How do I market it? I’m a sales and marketing suit in one of the biggest corporations in the world in my day job – why would I want to do this for my writing too? Writing’s supposed to be for fun – a break. Not work. Yes, I whined like a baby about it.

In reality it’s been an absolute blast. I loved getting the cover created – it helped that my cover designer Jeroen ten Berge is not only the best in the business but also a great guy to work with. My formatter, Linda Boulanger at Treasure Line, has been absolutely amazing to work with and became a very dear, trusted friend. My editor is my lovely sister-in-law, Karen Gold, who took it upon herself to edit it when she saw all the typo’s in the first draft I published. Oops. Thankfully she enjoys pointing out other people’s mistakes – and she’s really, really good at it. My friends who reviewed it for me prior to publishing – I can’t thank them enough not only for their support but also for their encouragement.

My mentors, other authors who have broken the trail ahead of me (Robert Bidinotto, Theresa Ragan, D.B.Henson, Andrew E. Kaufman, Jenny Hilborn to name just a few), have been unbelieveably supportive, giving all sorts of advice, even reading it and tweeting about it. Keep in mind that I have never actually met any of these people (other than my sister-in-law of course) – I’ve never even actually talked to them, it’s all been via email, but that’s the nature of communications and networking these days I suppose.

The book bloggers have been amazing to work with as well – I’ve posted about them before, but they are a rare and wonderful creature and I’m thankful for their support. The biggest surprise of all, however, has been my readers. The letters I’ve received, how they connected with the story, the characters, how they want more. It’s a cool way to start the day with fan letters from complete strangers – I recommend it. In fact, there’s probably a business idea in there somewhere.

So that’s it for now. Mark December 1st on your calendars! And wish me luck.

A time to give thanks

Posted: October 5, 2012 in Uncategorized

Canadians celebrate Thanksgiving this weekend. My American friends always kind of laugh about that. Canadian vs American Thanksgiving is kind of like a microcosm of the stereotypes of Canada vs US. Kind of sort of the same, just a little different and unsettling. Yes, we have turkey (polite, quiet turkeys), yams, pumpkin pie and the like. But it’s six weeks earlier than the US.  There’s no big shopping frenzy to follow, so little chance of pepper-spray wielding shoppers at the local Walmart. Our’s doesn’t take up an entire week – it’s one day, period, always the second Monday of October. And we have a full two and a half months before Christmas rolls around, so our stomachs and livers have time to recover.

But the same principle still applies. It’s a time of reflection, giving thanks, spending time with family, and over-indulging. God, I’m looking froward to this weekend! It’s feels lately like life is going by way too fast. My kids are growing up at an impossible rate, moving out, becoming ‘responsible’. Catching up on sleep would be nice. But especially giving thanks.

2012 has been one of the most up and down years of my life. My youngest son was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes last Christmas, which threw us into a tailspin. He’s done stupendously well since then, but the fragility of life shocks me sometimes. My two oldest kids started university, making my wife and I both intensely proud and searching under the couch cushions for loose change. I published my first book, which has started to take off, getting some good buzz, garnering some great reviews and healthyish sales. But the bitter irony is, on the very day that I published, I lost my big brother Tom.

Tom had been ill for the past year. Kidney. Heart. Lungs. And cancer looming in the background, not in full swing yet but coming. He’d spent too much time in the hospital since Christmas with various issues. Then in February he had a stroke. His doctor called me on my cell and I was on the subway and at the hospital within 20 minutes.  He was still in active stroke when I arrived. He was terrified. We all were. He was dreadfully ill. But he fought back. He fought through painfully difficult rehab to get better. His main goal, the vision he clung to, was to get home. To walk through his front door, to sit in his chair with his family around him and be home, even for a single day. That one day would make the months of rehab worth it. He did better than that. He got to spend time with his wife and kids, to do some of the simple things he’d dreamed about when he was lying in his hospital bed – making home-made strawberry ice cream with his son, watching a movie with his arm around his wife, tending to his garden, sleeping in his own bed. They weren’t huge, outrageous goals. They were simple pieces of a man’s life, things he treasured.

Tom had six weeks at home before he passed away in his sleep, sitting in his favourite chair, at age 61. We’d talked just that afternoon when he called to congratulate me on publishing my book. We’d been friendly rivals for years on this – we’d both written books and struggled to find our way through the publishing process. My one regret was that I hadn’t let him read it before – I wanted it to be done, perfect before I let him see it. Nothing’s ever really perfect though, is it? I regret that, but I’m thankful that we had time to tell him how much we loved him. We got past all the usual crap that drags us down in life, that muddies up relationships, especially with family. We went past being brothers and became true, close friends.

I miss Tom terribly, especially at times like this. But I celebrate his life as well. So this weekend, we’ll gather as a big extended family, we’ll eat, we’ll drink, we’ll pray, and we’ll live.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and your loved ones, no matter when or where you celebrate it.

(Johnstone brothers Wayne(L), Tom (C) and Dan)

Write What You Don’t Know (… or ‘Why a sales executive wrote a thriller about a serial killer instead of sales budget plans*’).

 I’m learning the e–publishing game on the fly like most of us. In this fast changing world we’re all learning, or making it up as we go along. From research I’ve done, there are four pillars for e-publishing success, only three of which you can do anything about.

1. The book itself

2. Reviews.

3. Promotion

4. Luck. Sometimes you’re just in the right place with the right book at the right time

Today I’m going to deal with the review component and more specifically how to work with our friends the book-bloggers.

With thousands of e-books and legacy books being published every month, how is a lonely debut author going to stand out, get found, find legitimacy, acclaim and fortune outside of friends and family? This is not to discount the importance of friends and family, they can love your book as much as any reader but surely you didn’t put all those hours, weeks, years into your book just to have your loved ones pat you on the back and say good job. That’s nice but there has to be more. 

You need reviews, hopefully positive reviews, from as many readers as possible but also from respected third parties. e-Book authors are NOT going to get reviewed in traditional places like the New York Times – maybe eventually if they hit 50 Shades big, but it’s not happening out of the gate. Having said that, a relatively small percentage of readers actually read the New York Times book reviews anyway outside of the blurbs on book covers.

So how do we get reviews?

Well, contrary to Messrs Lennon and McCartney, money can indeed buy you love, in the form of as many five star reviews as your budget allows. Some well-known authors have paid $15 a pop on Craigslist, or 50 for $999 on Todd Rutherford’s entrepreneurial website gettingbookreviews.com, until amazon found out and shut it down. Only after it was earning $28K a month at its peak, mind you, so some authors must have found its services useful. Now this isn’t illegal per se, but bad cricket surely, and it gives the whole reader review based model a black eye, fat lip and a decided limp.

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/26/business/book-reviewers-for-hire-meet-a-demand-for-online-raves.html

So geunine reviews are important, positive ones are even better. And Five Star reviews rule. I’ll take 5 Star reviews. Any of us are happy to receive them. But be realistic about them and allow yourself some context. Some e-books, while I’m sure quite good, garner almost entirely 5 star reviews from readers. Perhaps they are all genuine.  Perhaps they are THAT GOOD. But for context, it’s interesting to note that two of the greatest pieces of literature of the 20th Century hover around 4 on average:

The Great Gatsby averages 4.2

The Sun Also Rises averages 4.0

Everyone’s favourite mega-selling whipping boy, The DaVinci Code, while surely not sniffing the rarefied air of the aforementioned tomes, averages 3.6. It still did okay in the marketplace. Clearly some books and authors don’t need reviews to garner respect and sales, they have enough inertia already, but the principle still applies.

We all want to be loved, admired, people stricken with awe as they read our wonderful prose, but in the end, your life’s work, your months or years of hard toil is boiled down to a single digit rating.  Deal with it. It’s just a number. Nobody’s perfect, well except maybe Tolstoy. Not everyone will love your work. It could be the style, the topic, or just the ill-defined “meh” reaction. The real question is were they Engaged? Entertained? Did they Enjoy it? Did they talk about it afterwards. Did it generate Word of Mouth. That is the true golden ticket. That’s where the snowball meets the mountain.

Okay, where should we get reviews? First, readers. You may receive emails from your readers extolling the virtues of your book. By all means invite them to translate their thoughts into reviews. Share with others. It’s invaluable. However it doesn’t necessarily get the word of mouth you need.

Who else ? What, in fact, is this rambling blog really about? Book Bloggers. Let me finally begin my thesis by thanking all the powers that be for the very existence of these amazing people. The sound you are about to hear is not me kissing ass. I mean it. These are honest to goodness book lovers who love to read, review, dig into things, support authors, generate that crucial word-of-mouth amongst their followers who wait to read the reviews, comment, engage, perchance to buy. And their followers may include other bloggers in addition to readers who have friends and family around the water coolers of the world.

Bloggers like many authors, come from all walks of life, from all around the world, have day jobs, families, mortgages. They may be retired librarians, retired professional book reviewers, lawyers, corporate hacks, mom’s, dad’s, college students, you name it, yet they still pursue their dream of blogging about books. I am honestly blown away by these people. And yet there are those authors who think it’s okay to abuse the process. Whoever you are – STOP IT !

Some authors expect only positive reviews or none at all. I talked about that ad nauseum above. The book bloggers put the effort into reading your book, why shouldn’t they review it and say what they thought?

Some authors have actually ripped into bloggers who don’t want to review self published books. One author in particular, frustrated by bloggers whose policy was to only review traditionally published books, had the startling idea to castigate all bloggers in an open letter. What’s worse, she actually posted it. Thankfully, enough bloggers saw it as a one-off. I get the author’s frustration, it’s not easy to get bloggers to review your book – they’re busy people who get inundated with requests. But wow, talk about misguided.

http://ellyzee.blogspot.ca/2012/06/open-letter-to-book-bloggers.html

Please, people, do not alienate the best friends e-book authors have! Book bloggers are our friends! I mean, maybe not all of them are Your friend or My friend, but as an entity, they are to be supported, cherished, or at least dealt with in a professional manner.

So I’m proposing Ten Rules to Live By in Dealing with Our Friends the Book Bloggers, based on my personal experience and observations.

  1. Read the review policy. Almost all bloggers have one. Do they accept self-published books? Do they accept e-books? Do they accept books at all? It’s their blog, they make the rules. Deal with it.
  2. Respect the genre they are interested in. First, be clear on that yourself. The blogger may read only literary works. Or romance. Or horror. Or Young Adult. Meanwhile you’ve written a political thriller, and it’s character-driven so it’s kind of literary; and there’s a love interest so it’s kind of romance; and it’s about politics so it’s kind of childish and a horror. Define your genre and therefore your target. There are plenty of people and bloggers who love thrillers and would be open to it. Approach them instead.
  3. Don’t carpet-bomb. Personalize. But for God’s sake don’t get over-personalized and creepy and cyber-stalk, like you know all their cats’ names and stuff. Ick. More like “Hey (Actual Name) – I read your blog, saw that you liked XYZ, my book is a similar genre – here’s the synopsis, you may be interested, look forward to hearing from you etc.”
  4. Be patient. Some bloggers are inundated with requests. They have busy lives outside of the blog. Others would rather say nothing than say no. Respect that some won’t respond at all.
  5. If they say they aren’t taking any more requests, that doesn’t always mean they aren’t taking more requests. This is a Touchy Area. I don’t like to go where I’m not wanted. But if you’re polite about it and you know from their policy and other reviews they’ve done that your book is right up their alley, ask. They may so no or nothing at all. Or they may make an exception. Just give them an easy way out and don’t paint them in a corner, nobody likes that.
  6. Support them in return. Read their blogs. Comment – appropriately. Not to use as a platform to promote your book though. As a reader, a fellow traveller on this journey of life.
  7. Respect the timeline. In my experience most reviews will take a few months. Ideally request them 2-3 months prior to your publication. Then it’s news, and you can launch with, hopefully, credible positive reviews and “buzz”
  8. Respect the review and rating. Some bloggers won’t finish reading a book they don’t enjoy in the first 50 pages or so, and therefore won’t post a review. Some charge ahead. Raving or Retching, it’s their sandbox, that’s the game. If you don’t want to play, don’t submit.
  9. Big or small, they’re all good. Some have thousands of followers. Others are measured in the dozens. Maybe they’ve been around for years, or just a few weeks. It’s all good. It gives a platform to generate word of mouth, an opportunity to get more readers engaged and talking about your book
  10. Proximity means very little. The World is getting smaller all the time. My book is a crime thriller based in British Columbia, and I have bloggers from Australia to India to England to Florida who are interested in reading it. Meanwhile I have bloggers in my own city who’ve said no thanks. No problem, it’s all good.

I’m sure I’ve missed some points. If so, please share your thoughts.

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In May 2000, Mohammed Atta, mastermind of the 9-11 terrorist attacks, talked with a US Department of Agriculture loans officer about buying a small aircraft from which he planned to remove all the seats for some reason. He was also curious what she might know about security at the World Trade Centre and had a lot of nice things to say about Al Quaeda and Bin Laden.  The officer made no mention of this encounter was made to officials until after the attacks.

On February 1, 2003, the Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrated as it tried to re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere. Seven astronauts lost their lives that day. A NASA engineer whose sole function was to detect any structural issues during the launch phase thought he had spotted a loose tile and brought this insight to his superiors, concerned about the integirty during re-entry. He was ignored and decided to just keep quiet and hope for the best.

In September 2008, the US Feds seized control of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, Lehman Bros goes bankrupt, and the Dow Jones takes its biggest single day plunge in history – the horsemen of the financial apocalypse.  The records are legend with those who saw it coming – but nothing was done.

During the time of the Bernardo/Homolka serial murders, a street cop followed up on a tip from a woman who claimed to have been assaulted by Bernardo at a party. Bernardo as suspect drove the right kind of car, the right (wrong) personality, and matched the description investigators had of the killer. This was months before he was finally caught, months before he claimed two more victims. The cop worked up his tip, which was promptly ignored by the task force and then buried until the inquest pulled it out.

The term in failure theory is Organizational Bystander. They are all too common. It’s so much easier to assume that either things aren’t really going all that wrong, or you can’t really have an effect on the outcome of things. So much easier just to stand by and watch, not speak up, let the adults do their thing. You don’t want to be admonished, treated as trouble makers, Chicken Littles, challenge your career advancement. It’s so much easier to take your chances, bite your tongue and hope things don’t fail.

Those who have the courage take action when facing potential crisis are all too rare. Or maybe not – when things go right, do we even notice ?

What about you ? As you look at your own life, can you see the signals or are you too close to the action to know what’s going on ?

Are you taking charge of your own life or just standing by, letting things happen ?

Will you do whatever it takes to succeed or just try not to fail ?

Drumroll please.  Let the fanfare begin.  And cue the doves.

Dear Friends – My debut thriller novel – CHALK VALLEY – was published today, exclusively on Amazon Kindle. I’m incredibly excited about this and hope you are as well.  I invite you to pick up a copy by following the link provided below and let me know what you think.

http://www.amazon.com/Chalk-Valley-ebook/dp/B008LDYW2K/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1342357818&sr=1-1&keywords=Chalk+Valley#_

Synopsis

In a remote mountain valley in British Columbia, a human monster preys on innocent lives.  After teenagers discover the body of a missing girl in Chalk Valley, searchers find the remains of two more victims secreted deep in the woods.  A serial killer is at work.

Chalk Valley police detective John McCarty is picked to lead a task force to find the murderer. But inexperience, politics and McCarty’s own inner demons quickly overwhelm him and the investigation falters.

Meanwhile, on a dark, lonely highway many miles from Chalk Valley, RCMP Sergeant Dave Kreaver comes across a van crashed at the side of the road. The driver is anxious to leave the scene. But Kreaver discovers an unconscious teenaged girl in the van. Kreaver feels in his gut that the driver could be the serial killer everyone’s looking for, but his inquiries are ignored. The task force is in well over its head, buried by thousands of leads and potential suspects. His supervisors tell him to back off and let the task force do its job.

Kreaver is in a deadly cat and mouse game with a murderous psychopath, a race against time with innocent victims in play. Operating alone and without official sanction, can he stop the Chalk Valley Killer before he claims more lives?

 Based on extensive research with world class authorities on the workings of modern serial murder investigation, CHALK VALLEY explores the challenges, the terror and the human crises that affects all those caught in the killer’s web  – the investigators, the victims and the families.

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Advance Reviews :

CHALK VALLEY captures the essence of the ‘serial murder’ investigation through a combination of police techniques and behavioural sciences …  Johnstone did an excellent job in portraying this from both the killer’s and police point of view.” – Detective Staff Sergeant Richard Pellarin, OPP Behavioural Sciences Section

 “DL Johnstone is the new John Grisham! Chalk Valley is a well written, fast tempo thriller that keeps you on the edge of your seat, balancing strong character development with the pace of the action.  It’s a page turner!  I truly enjoyed all the twists and turns. I’d highly recommend CHALK VALLEY to anyone who enjoy thrillers and action.”Martin Cho

“The characters in CHALK VALLEY are strong, diverse and totally engaging! The killer’s evilness played out so well – from his outwardly charming self to his rages and sinister planning of his victim’s capture and torture, his behaviour spiralling out of control as the noose tightens!  The interplay between Kreaver and the troubled McCarty was really well developed and totally believable.  The forensic details were terrific and terrifying.”  – Donna Spafford

Suspenseful. A photo gallery of vivid characters. A glib and manipulative psychopathic killer sets up the chase … Johnstone makes much of, and to good effect,  the closely-guarded territoriality of overlapping police jurisdictions and the necessity of obtaining legally-acquired evidence. Catching a cool and confident killer is not easy.” – Glenn Miller

Good suspense, and great storytelling make for a page-turner. Johnstone creates the right ambience and he does an excellent job of pitting the two protagonists against each other… Excellent debut, recommended to crime fiction lovers.” –  JP Gagnon