Of Hero’s Quests And Yellowed Pages: My Life In Used Bookstores

Even when I was a kid, I loved used bookstores. I loved them in part because I’ve always loved stories, and storytelling. They are integral to the human experience. But I also loved them for the quest.

As we’ve learned from Joseph Campbell by now, so many of the stories we love share the same patterns. We can even pick them out as we read them. Yet they still seem to retain their power. We can all relate to the idea of the quest. I suppose that’s because, in the end, that’s what life actually is.

Buying books and comics is a pretty straightforward exercise these days. But those interested in the quest don’t much care for the straightforward. For me, the quest is where the magic can be found. I want the objects, sure. But as a kid and even now I wanted the adventure of finding them, too. In this way it’s not just about collecting objects. It’s about the idea that there is a hero locked inside everyone and that the purpose of life is to set the hero free somehow.

All of this wasn’t something I could put into those terms when I was in elementary school, learning to ride my bike, and then becoming curious about the world around me. But I understood it, and I aspired to be a questing hero anyway. Continue reading “Of Hero’s Quests And Yellowed Pages: My Life In Used Bookstores”

New Westminster novelist Colleen Cross debuts thriller series

Author Colleen Cross
Author Colleen Cross

New Westminster author Colleen Cross is hosting a book launch event for her début novel on Friday, February 17 from 6-9pm at the Heritage Grill (back room). I recently sat down with New Westminster author Colleen Cross to chat about Exit Strategy, Book #1 in the Katerina Carter suspense series.

Drawing on her experience in finance and accounting, as well as her interest in how and why people orchestrate massive and tiny frauds every day, Colleen has written a suspenseful tale starring Katerina Carter, a forensic accountant with a struggling business and a potentially compromising new case involving an international diamond mining company. Colleen was kind enough to answer a few of my questions about writing, getting her work published, and her suspenseful exploration of fraud through the lens of an enterprising, but not always ethical, accountant.

Marcy: This is your first novel, correct? Did you have any experience in writing fiction before this?

Colleen: Yes, Exit Strategy is my first novel. Prior to Exit Strategy, I had written a few short stories, but I prefer the novel length.

M: What is the process of publishing like? What advice can you give to other writers who would like to have their work published? 

C: There are many steps involved in publishing. It starts with the writing and editing, and continues after your book is published. Promotion is important—especially establishing a social media platform. I recommend attending workshops, writer’s conferences, and interacting with other writers to learn more, as the publishing landscape is undergoing rapid changes at the moment. There are some very informative blogs on the subject, such as Bob Mayer and others.

M: Was there any research involved in writing Exit Strategy? Obviously you know a lot about finance due to your own career but what about the criminal aspects?

C: I did a lot of research on mining, diamonds and money laundering, since diamonds are a very portable, near-cash alternative. I was fascinated to learn that each diamond has it’s own unique “fingerprint”, which can be used it trace its origin. Fraud has always fascinated me. In addition to my professional experiences with fraud, I enjoy reading about it in general.

M: Do you feel that you draw inspiration for your work from where you live? Is there something distinctly Canadian (or “New Westminsterian”) about Exit Strategy?

C: Exit Strategy is set in Greater Vancouver and in Argentina. Although I haven’t specifically identified the location of Kat’s house in the book as New Westminster, it is a composite of several Victorian houses in the Queens Park neighbourhood.

M: Katerina stumbles into a conspiracy in her work as a forensic accountant. Many of us are familiar with forensics, and with accounting, but less so with the combination of the two. What can you tell us about Kat’s chosen profession?

C: Like other forensic specialities, forensic accounting uses techniques to determine and trace evidence and events to prove a crime. A forensic accountant is able to uncover manipulated data and records, follow a money trail to its ultimate destination, and/or uncover hidden assets. These might be the evidence needed to convict a criminal of fraud, provide a motive for murder, or prove financial abuse.

Fraud is everywhere, whether it’s a multi-billion dollar heist like the one in Exit Strategy, or smaller, everyday ones like auto insurance fraud. It impacts each of us financially, though we may not be aware of it. Fraud is conservatively estimated to cost our economy about 5% of our national GDP. That’s huge. Society could do a lot of good with the money that is lost to fraud each year.

M: It says on your website that Exit Strategy is part of a series. Can you give us any hints about what is in store for Kat in the future?

C: I’m currently at work on the second book in the series, Game Theory. Kat’s fraud investigation at a currency hedge fund takes a sinister turn when she discovers its connection to the mysterious World Institute and the murder of a Nobel nominee. In her personal life she must deal with her uncle’s worsening dementia while her boyfriend mysteriously disappears.

M: Is there anything else you would like to tell the readers about the book?

C: You can read more about Exit Strategy on my website (www.colleencross.com), and read reviews on Amazon or Goodreads.

For more about Colleen, you can read her blog  or follow her on Twitter: @colleenxcross

Public libraries lands of the free

I had a chat with a friend of mine recently about the presence of shelves, and of books, and the effect that they have on us. It is inexplicable. But, the effect in question can be summed up by one word: comfort.

New Westminster Library image courtesy of Dennis Sylvester Hurd

There is something comforting about rows and rows of books – the colors of the spines, the smell of them, the visual appeal of the irregular heights and widths. I love the look of new pages, white as snow and with lines of text that draw my eye along like a magnetic force. I love aging pages, too; yellowed, and sometimes with the mysterious thumbprints left by readings past (I am a notorious re-reader, friends). Books are treasures. They are artifacts of great worth.

In this age of digital this and electronic that, I still find great comfort in the sight of books, not to mention delving into one, and having a world open for me. Now, I am not knocking the electronic medium. What an ironic thing that would be, given where you’re reading this, and how I’ve written it!

But some of my best adventures have been in libraries. When I say that, I’m referring to personal, actual adventures, not symbolic adventures that I found in books (although I had those too). Like the time my friends and I put on a completely plot-free play based on the Hardy Boys TV show when I was a kid. We put up a flyer on the cork bulletin board of our local library, instantly making us a theatre troupe, just by that action alone.

It wasn’t much of a play, mind. There was a lot of hitting with plastic bowling pins involved as the bad guys knocked out the good guys. At one point, one of my friends imitated Shaun Cassidy singing “Da Do Ron Ron,” just like in the show.

I just dated myself thoroughly there. Wow. Oh well.

Anyway, the library was a stage for us, a forum. It was a place where we could make idiots of ourselves, if we wanted to, under the watchful eye of a long-suffering Librarian. We were free to do so. We didn’t pay to rent the space to put on our play. And no one (thankfully) paid to see our theatrical debacle.

It was free!

This of course is not even considering all of the books I took home. They were free, too. It was absolutely free access into the minds of authors from across the globe, and across the ages – Maurice Sendak, Bill Peet, H.A Rey, Enid Blyton, Roald Dahl, Franklin W. Dixon, and later Edgar Rice Boroughs, Mary Shelley, Bram Stoker, Edgar Allen Poe, J.R.R Tolkien, C.S Lewis, Ray Bradbury, and more. And what a privilege, to enter into someone else’s perception world like that, or even to be given a new set of perceptions to suit an entirely alien world.

Libraries, even in some of the stories themselves, are places of refuge. In Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes, a strategy against the forces of darkness is formed by 13-year old heroes Jim Nightshade, William Holloway, and Will’s Librarian father. In Stephen King’s IT, the library in haunted Derry, Maine is the site of a similar gathering of souls against a hateful darkness over which Mike Hanlon, a Librarian, has kept a constant vigil. And what is the prize in these stories? It’s freedom, ultimately.

And rightly so.

Because libraries invite you in, whoever you are. They are sanctuaries. They are places of peace, and of coming together with others, even if it’s in silence. They are places of understanding, of seeking, of learning. You are free to come and go, read a book, study, listen to a tale read by someone else, read one to another. They are places of community if there ever were such places.

I am lucky enough to live very close to New Westminster Public Library. I take my daughter there a lot. She’s four. And when we go, she bee-lines to the puppets, who then come alive to her, and to me. Because she gives them voices, breathed into them by her imagination.

Then, it’s the puzzles. And then, it’s the first eye-catching book she can find. She doesn’t just choose a book, she mines for one, focusing her eye on a bejeweled spine, drawing it forth. Then, we delve together – books about trains, about dinosaurs, about bees. We explore. We’re explorers, together.

Now, I’ve used the word free a lot, here. And sure, literally speaking, your public library is supported by tax money, and rightly so You kind of do pay for them, being all grown up and stuff. But, even in this grown-up context, these are not just conveniences in our community, they’re investments in it.

But, that’s not really what I mean anyway. I’m talking about the feeling of being able to access worlds of fact and imagination without having to worry about what it costs you. In those moments of exploration, the library gives us a glimpse of what it would be like if we didn’t have to put a price tag on knowledge, on community, on expanding our possibilities regardless of our age. It is the spark of childhood, of being unfettered once the imagination is ignited.

Maybe this is why I find the presence of books so comforting.

And as usual when I write these things down for you here at Tenth to the Fraser, here are 5 songs related to what I’ve been talking about. In this case, it’s books, or references to them anyway.

  1. Paperback Writer – The Beatles
  2. The Book I Read – Talking Heads
  3. Everyday I Write the Book – Elvis Costello & the Attractions
  4. The Book Lovers – Broadcast
  5. Page One – Lemon Jelly