Friday, December 31, 2010


No resolutions here!

I don't do New Year's resolutions! I can never keep them, so I don't do them. Although, if I did make them, they would include several writing resolutions.

First and foremost would be to resolve to treat writing like a regular job. Sit myself down at the computer each weekday at 10 a.m., allow a coffee break, lunch break but no phone calls, then finish at 3 p.m. That still allows me two hours of the mid-peak hydro prices in which to get the laundry washed & ready for the off-peak hours after 9 p.m. for drying it. Plus any other household chores.

Second on the list would be to cut back on the snacking. It's the #1 negative aspect of not working out of the house. The food is there at all hours and just too convenient. There was no fridge, no microwave, no cupboards with treats when I worked at the store. Now, I hit a snag in writing and start to wander -- it helps my thinking process -- which usually means a stop at the almond jar, or maybe a spoonful of almond butter, or how about a piece of chocolate. Is it 3 p.m. yet?

Number three has got to be trying more outdoor winter activities. I still continue my early morning walking routing outdoors, except if there's freezing rain. But I have these cross-country skis and snowshoes sitting in the basement. I do enjoy both sports. But that would require getting geared up and driving someplace. And remember, I have only an hour and a half of daylight after I finish work. And that's if I don't do the laundry. Or other chores. I know, there are weekends! What happens to them, by the way? They fly by.

That's it for the resolutions. So glad I'm not making any this year. Instead, I'm making a decree that this is the Year of the Friend! Which means I'll do better at staying in touch, re-connecting with friends from the past, taking time to meet for coffee with those close by, or better yet, lunch. Accepting all invitations (that I possibly can) and issuing even more. I look forward to following through on these!

Are you making any resolutions this year?

Linda Wiken/Erika Chase

Wednesday, December 29, 2010


Writing that first book.

A man in my neighbourhood recently asked if I would give him some help as he wanted to write a book. He had his topic and some research, and he wasn’t quite sure what to do next. I spent a few hours with him working out some kinks and directing him to a path of action. I gave him some homework involving looking for prospective publishers and gathering his submission package, and promised I’d come back and help again once he had that much nailed down.

A couple of weeks later, I went to a wedding and found he was seated at my table. As were a random group of other locals. Next thing, everyone was asking him about his book, how was it coming, was he finished yet, and could they read it. I knew I hadn’t told anyone about his venture, so the leak was in his corner.

One of the first lessons new authors need to learn is to shut up about the project. Do not tell people you are writing a book. Just say you are busy when they ask for a piece of your time, and change the subject if they persist. This poor new author is going to have to listen for the next two years to people demanding to read the book, and being shocked when he says it isn’t out yet.

This was one of the first lessons I learned. I wrote my first book, which turned out to be pretty much of a dung heap, although I was not aware of that. I mistakenly told a friend about it, thinking she wouldn’t harp at me since she lived 700 miles away. Very soon my dung heap started clocking up the rejection letters. And lo, one day the friend called and asked how the book was going. I had to confess 6 rejections and counting. She sniffed and said “Tell them to smarten up.”

It wasn’t the publishers who had to smarten up. It was me. I needed to write another, better, book. And this time I needed to keep quiet about it. Which I did, for the next 9 books.

Did that happen to you with your first book?

Vicki Cameron is the author of Clue Mysteries and More Clue Mysteries, each of the 15 short stories based on the board game Clue. Her young adult novel, Shillings, appeared in 2007. Her stories appear in the Ladies' Killing Circle anthology series and Storyteller Magazine. Her young adult novel, That Kind of Money, was nominated for an Edgar and an Arthur Ellis.


One of the minor irritations in my life is the Ottawa Public Library's policy of segregating out genre fiction. First because they don't do a very good job of it (I've found Minette Walters and Jonathan Kellerman in the "everything that isn't crime, western, speculative, or romance" section), second because cross-genre novels such as Robert Sawyer's Golden Fleece can't be in both SF and Crime at the same time, and third because it cheats readers of the opportunity to find really good books they wouldn't have read had they not stumbled upon them while browsing integrated stacks.

When it comes to fiction, I consider myself a small-L liberal. There are types of fiction I don't normally read, but I don't relegate that fiction--or its readers--to any particular spot at the back of the stacks.

Time was, stories were stories. Shakespeare didn’t discriminate against
romance (Much Ado About Nothing), fantasy (A Midsummer Night's Dream), horror (Macbeth) or crime (Hamlet). Neither did his audience. Then someone got the bright idea of labelling them, and all of a sudden some stories had to be kept apart, as if they'd contaminate the others (or maybe the readers). It may be convenient if you’re looking to read crime not to have to browse the entire fiction collection, but if you don’t know what you want to read, if you like (as I do) to take a "tempt me" approach when scanning the shelves, then ploughing through nothing but crime (or SF, or whatever) wears you down.

The library used to label books--literally. They put little stickers on
the spine to show you whether the thing was romance, historical, or fantasy. Of course, most Arthurian stories are all three, and Storyteller published an Arthurian crime series by Vicki Cameron. But the library likes to label fiction as one thing, to the exclusion of anything else. Are its patrons that narrow-minded?

The trouble with labels, adhesive or verbal, is that they stick. People
make assumptions based on the label, rather than what’s inside. Take,
for instance, the novel Zulu, by Caryl FĂ©rey. I don't use words like magnificent lightly, but I use it to talk about Zulu. That's not just my opinion. It's won several awards.

I recommended it to my writing class (something else I don't do lightly)
and one student read it. She agreed on the calibre of the writing which,
she said, one doesn't usually find in "novels like this"--i.e., crime fiction.


The fact is, one rarely finds writing of the calibre of Zulu in any fiction. And when one does, it's usually at the expense of story. (All style and no substance is a frequent knock against the literary genre. And, BTW, the OPL does not segregate out literary fiction as a genre--but that’s another blog.)

There's a misconception among non-crime readers that it's all like
Agatha Christie or Anthony Boucher: lots of puzzle, very little meat.
But crime fiction has evolved. There's now a subspecies I've heard
referred to as "classic mystery" but even in the "classic" days some
crime writers were digging deep to explore the human condition; Raymond
Chandler comes to mind.

Besides writing to die for, Zulu has an exotic setting (South Africa), political background, and intensely real characters. There’s also a love interest. So it’s got a lot to offer people who don’t normally read crime, but they’ll never find it because it’s been consigned to the Crime section. I found it on the New Books shelf (which is integregated), picked it up because of the title, and took it home because of the setting. The genre was a bonus, but I wouldn’t have put it back had the jacket blurb mentioned a vampire. Am I the only one who chooses books this way?

I miss the days when one never knew what the next book along the shelf
would be. Browsing the stacks was more of an adventure, and even when
beelining toward a particular author, I'd make serendipitous discoveries
along the way. But librarians, after all, are paid to put books into
fixed categories. I just hope, for their sakes, they don’t live their
whole lives that way.

Melanie Fogel is the former editor of Storyteller, Canada’s Short Story Magazine. An occasional writer herself, she teaches creative writing for the Ottawa School Board’s Continuing Education program, and has presented workshops at the Surrey and Bloody Words writers' conferences, as well as most of the writers’ organizations in Ottawa. She has a WiP website at

Friday, December 24, 2010


Tis that time of year!

It's Christmas and in the spirit of the season, I'm taking a break! I want to wish all guest bloggers and readers the very Merriest of Christmas times and for the New Year...all good things and many, many mysteries!

Hopefully, Christmas is a time of giving and receiving books or else, you have stocked up on some of the terrific mysteries that have been published this year. Please take a moment to share some of the titles and authors with the rest of us.

And, please check back with Mystery Maven Canada on Wed. Dec. 29th when I will stop being lazy and start blogging again.

So, in those immortal words, Happy Reading to all...and to all a good night!

Linda Wiken

Thursday, December 23, 2010


A Room of One's Own

Virginia Woolf's vision for women writers.

For years, while our children were living at home, every room in the house was fully occupied. When the kids were little I read Virginia Woolf's essay, A Room of One's Own, in which she posits that a woman requires both money and a room of her own in order to be able to write fiction. Money wasn't the issue, as my generation of mothers was the first to work outside the home without incurring society's wrath.

But I took Woolf's words about the room to heart and longed for the day when I could have some space to myself. I was pretty sure once I had the room, the words would follow. So when the children left home, I set to work fitting out an empty bedroom.

My husband built shelves and installed a desk and filing cabinet. I bought some comfortable chairs and hung inspiring art work on the walls. But the words failed to materialize. Instead, the office became a place to work on editing projects, pay bills and write minutes for various boards and committees. Within weeks the space was cluttered and contaminated by too many non-writing projects. In desperation I bought myself a lap desk and tried writing my mystery novel in long hand in a lazy boy chair in the den. After waking up day after day with a crick in my neck and drool pooling on the note book, I decided to try the dining room table. That, it turned out, was far too close to the kitchen. If I wasn't hunting around for something to eat, I was searching online for new recipes to deal with the leftover chicken lurking in the fridge.

Now whatever short stories I can manage are written on the dock at the cottage or ona makeshift desk at one end of the bedroom in the city. I still visit the toxic "room" but only to read my email or do some online shopping for my grandchildren. I don't believe a single word of fiction has ever come willingly to me in that room.

How about you? Where do you like to write?

Sue Pike has published nineteen stories and won several awards including an Arthur Ellis Award for Best Short Crime Story. Her latest, Where the Snow Lay Dinted will appear in the January issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine.

Sue and her husband and an opinionated Australian Shepherd named Cooper spend the winter months in Ottawa and the rest of the time at a mysterious cottage on the Rideau Lakes.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010


Thoughts on writing during the holidays....

I'm going to try to do it. I should do it. That contract calls for book #2 by Sept. 1, 2011, so if I'm smart, I'll keep going. No long break.

But I'm a real pushover for Christmas. I start humming carols in July, love the growing intensity of preparing to sing in Christmas concerts with my choirs, find the senses start tingling when I haul the (artificial) Christmas tree up the stairs, and have several emotional moments when hanging the ornaments, many of them saved with great care over the many years since childhood.

I have my tree decorating traditions -- The Nutcracker CD playing straight through both discs, a glass of something festive, and only the lights of the tree and the glow from the fireplace to guide me in placing each memory. And they do conjure up the days when I was a child, watching my parents do the tree, with my superb help of course, then watching The Nutcracker on TV (it amazingly was showing the night we would do the tree, every year -- at least that's how I remember it).

Christmas in a Swedish home meant we opened our gifts on Christmas Eve and got up at 5 a.m. Christmas morning to attend a candlelight service at church. The foods were traditional -- lutefisk with white cream sauce at night; turkey the next day and plenty of Mom's homemade Swedish kaffebrod (coffee bread) (this year I actually nailed the recipe, after decades of trying) and pepparkakka (ginger cookies).

The smells, the sounds, the joy of my childhood Christmases have stayed with me and are present each year as I welcome each new holiday season. It is simply the most delightful time of the year, to me.

So, while wandering through these memories, I could have been writing my book. The fun part is, I'm setting this new one in the Christmas season, so I will write, a bit most days. But not every day.

How do you fit writing in with your holiday traditions?

Linda Wiken/Erika Chase

Tuesday, December 21, 2010


Changing Lanes

I charged ahead on my eighth book several years ago, but am still slogging my way along. You’d think that having already written seven mystery novels at the rate of one a year, I’d pretty much know how to crank out another. And relatively quickly. Let me digress . . .

In the late 1970s I slogged through a P.h.D dissertation about early American plays at the time of the revolution. I spent three years doing the research, and another year structuring a data-driven writing project through to the finish. I vowed I’d never do all that work again. Wrong.

Ransom My Soul, my mystery novel in progress, is a total change in style and perspective. I gave up writing about private investigators and decided to write a police procedural, using the Tucson Police Department as the role model of a big southwestern city PD. My many friends in TPD have been really helpful giving me interviews, tours, ride-alongs, crime scene tips, everything that TPD encounters in its daily routine. Okay, I thought (three years ago, mind you), now I can just whip this sucker out using the research materials. I never realized until a few months ago that in a major way I’m writing another P.h.D dissertation.

Before, I’d pretty much make up a lot of the plot as I wrote, twice not even knowing how the book would end until I got there. “Facts” were things I dropped in where needed, but never got in the way of writing. Plot came first, facts fit wherever I wanted.

This time, it’s totally different - the facts determine the plot!!

To be honest to my informants, I have to be honest to what they tell me. So in early chapters, when eight people get slaughtered during a home invasion gone terribly wrong, I relied heavily on the exact routines of Crime Scene Specialists and homicide detectives. I then had to follow the bodies to the Pima County morgue, follow the evidence to the brand new TPD Evidence Center, and “visit” one of the criminals in the Sheriffs Office jail. I huddled in a real-life interrogation room, where there are no one-way mirrors (eg, Law & Order style, good for drama, but so out of touch with reality), just sound-proofed walls and a video camera somewhat concealed in a ceiling fire extinguisher.

Result? I’ve re-edited my early chapters seven times because I didn’t have the procedures correct. Never again will I read T. Jefferson Parker or Henning Mankell without acknowledging the skill with which these and other police proceduralists have so carefully assimilated real-life methodologies. Which leads to . . .

. . . another result. Not only did I have to know exactly who did the murders, and why, but the “facts” forced me to continually struggle to correctly link the plot chain with my now-burdensome accumulation of information about cops and procedures. Which leads to . . .

. . . another result. My characters are cops or civilians working in the police department. So I had to “learn” what distinguishes “patrol” from “detective,” “crime scene specialist” from crime lab technician, officers from sergeants and lieutenants all the way up through captains and the higher ranks of command.

Writing with this new style is a lot more fun, but hardhardhard daily slogging. I often wonder how many other writers get so bogged down with facts and procedures to the point where they take major control of the work in progress.

Feels like I’m writing that damn dissertation again.

David Cole is overcoming five years of procrastinations and is finally attacking his eighth novel, Ransom My Soul - a somewhat bleak novel of home invasions, drug cartels and human smuggling in southern Arizona, tempered (hopefully) with a fine romance and love story. David's short story,, is featured in Indian Country Noir (Akashic Press); he's also working on several non-fiction books about law enforcement, including The Blue Ceiling, a compilation of personal stories about women in law enforcement.

Sunday, December 19, 2010


Books, books & more books...

It’s the week before Christmas and everyone is worried about big important issues: Afghanistan, the debt load carried by Canadians, measles outbreaks, hockey. Me, I have smaller fish to fry. I know you think I’m going to say ‘what to read’ and you’d be half-right (or half-wrong depending on your disposition). In fact, I’m worried about what to read where.

You see, you never know when you’ll have a bit of found time: five minutes here or there because you finished something early or you’re waiting for a call to be returned, or five weeks downtime because you can’t shake the flu. Whatever. But you really have to be prepared. Not only is there a need, but different spaces cry out for different types of reading material and that material has to be right at hand. My kitchen reading area is reserved for newspapers in the morning and occasionally editing a manuscript. Somehow it seems just plain wrong to read a book there. But the kitchen’s not the only game in town.

Right now, I have three books on the go:

My bedroom is the site of my towering TBR pile, but the top three reads are always within reach. Tonight I get to start Slow Recoil, by C.B. Forrest, a book I have been looking forward to reading. I loved the first Charlie McKelvey novel (The Weight of Stones) and I couldn’t help but notice that our Blog Mom, Linda Wiken, reviewed Slow Recoil yesterday. Although I already knew I was on to a good thing, it’s nice to have it confirmed. Have I mentioned my copy is signed? Feel free to be jealous, folks.

Of course, you can’t spend all day in bed, so the living room sofa must always have a book on the coffee table (plus a few more in case of emergency). Today’s book has been Kate Atkinson’s One Good Turn. I am reading her books in reverse order after being totally captivated by When Will There be Good News? Part of the enchantment of this book (which nicely breaks a lot of rules) is that it has a mystery writer, Martin, as one of the characters. I noticed Martin wasn’t in the later book, so I sure hope he makes it to the end of this one. Fingers crossed. By the way, good news for fans, the Atkinson series will air on BBC in 2011.

Then of course, as there are only five shopping days until Christmas (370 until Christmas 2011), I will have to get out there and elbow my way through the crowds. I have already been to several bookstores and I will be off again (probably as you are reading this) to score the last stack of gift reads. I will have, in my handbag, a battered copy of Dorothy L. Sayers’ The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club. Lord Peter Wimsey should be able to take my mind off the fact that I am standing in long lineups, bless his aristocratic heart. The book is quite obviously pre-read so no retail establishment is going to suspect that I pilfered it.

This all doesn’t sound like much of a problem, I admit, but here’s the thing: I have a new sofa in my office. That’s right. And I don’t have a book selected to read on it. In between research, editing, promo and all that biz stuff, a person needs a break. I know I can count on you to make suggestions. What should be the first book to be enjoyed on the new sofa? All recommendations will be taken very seriously. I’m standing by … well, sitting, so let’s have it.

Mary Jane Maffini rides herd on three, soon to be three and a half, mystery series. You can check them out at

Saturday, December 18, 2010


Slow Recoil by C.B. Forrest

C.B. Forrest is back with his second Charlie McKelvey crime novel, again set in Toronto and again, a page-turner. McKelvey, now retired from the Toronto Police, is living a slow-paced life in his downtown condo, showing the ravages of his life as a cop, the brutal death of his son, and advancing age.

When Tim Fielding, a friend from his former bereavement group asks him to investigate the disappearance of his female friend, McKelvey agrees to look into it. And from that point on, he's questioning his judgment in not going to the police right form the start.

It looks like the woman just up and left town but when McKelvey is jumped in her apartment and given a beating brutal enough to break his nose, it fuels his determination to get to the bottom of it all. He suspects foul play. What he uncovers is a Bosnian killing squad, led by The Colonel, out to assassinate two men guilty of war crimes who are now living in Toronto.

Tim is abducted as the assassin is determined to tie-up loose ends, hoping to lure McKelvey to his own death. Interpol enters the chase, as an international crimes agent, a former French police officer, appears on the scene and teams up with McKelvey, albeit briefly. The suspense is torqued as McKelvey closes in on the killer.

Identities are not what they seem and McKelvey is constantly questioning motives, as well as the direction his life has taken. That softens the edges and makes him a character the reader cares about, even worries about. And, as Forrest admits, he's paying homage to Toronto, a city that enthralls him.

Slow Recoil holds the reader with solid writing, believable characters, lots of action, and did I mention, top notch writing?

His first novel, The Weight of Stones, was short-listed in the Best First Novel category of Crime Writer's of Canada's Arthur Ellis Awards last year. If this doesn't show up on the Best Novel short-list this year, I'll be truly surprised.

Linda Wiken

Friday, December 17, 2010


Tracking the killer!

I found a killer today! This morning. While walking. It came to me. I know who the killer is in my new book! Hooray...this murder is solved much sooner than my other ones have been.

Of course, that could all change before the book is actually sent to the publisher for Sept. 1st.

But for now, I'm relieved. I'm crediting this to the fact that I have a synopsis due next month. Now, I've always written a synopsis while the story has been totally in the planning stage. And, by the time the book is finished, there's not necessarily a lot of resemblance to that synopsis.

This time, I've started the book and have already been faced with a conflict between my original proposal and what's happening on the page. What the synopsis shows is an amalgamation of these two ideas and from there, the plot seems to be coming together. You notice the 'seems to be'. I firmly believe that just because it's written down, doesn't mean it's written in stone. Ideas change, plots change ...they are very organic.

But to have the killer, the motive, and the clue that leads to the 'reveal' ... this is heartening and will hold those ever-hovering writer's doubts at bay for awhile.

It's an exciting process and one I hope to be well into before those dreaded edits come back for the first book. It's fun to be back in the town of Ashton Corners, Alabama and be visiting, ok, interfering in the lives of Lizzie Turner and her friends. You get used to this world you create, where your mind dwells for many hours each day...and sometimes dream about.

So, here's to all who may be hot on the trail of murderers today...have you caught yours yet?

Linda Wiken/Erika Chase

Thursday, December 16, 2010


What we go through!

Two disparate event occurred today. The twenty-six year-old billionaire creator of Facebook was named Time Magazine’s Man of the Year for revolutionizing how personal information and news are shared around the world.

And on a lesser stage, I wrestled a dinosaur.

I spent the morning at the Library and Archives Canada, reading the 1907 editions of the Western Star, a weekly newspaper from Birchy Cove, Newfoundland. The newspaper was on microfilm, encased on a small spool in a box. First I had to figure out how to load the spool, thread it through the viewer and ensure it would be picked up on the receiving spool. Not since my graduate school days of reel-to-reel film have I had to wiggle reluctant celluloid onto spool. The instructions were on the machine, but the light was so dim and the print so small, that no matter how I tilted my head, I could not get the diagram to focus on the right spot in the graduated lenses of my glasses. So I winged it. And ended up with the newspaper upside down. After much cursing, delivered under my breath since this was a library, after all, I abandoned the diagram, reversed the spools, threaded the tape backwards and then ran the whole thing in rewind.

Triumph. A mere fifteen minutes in, I was looking at the first available page (April 1907) of the Birchy Cove Western Star on a screen of tiny, pale print. The middle was in focus, but the top and bottom were blurry. More squinting as I tried to decipher the directions labeled “Focus” and “Zoom”. The “zoom” was apparently as big as it was going to get. Next time I resolved to bring a magnifying glass. The “focus” was handy, but as one part of the page came into focus, another faded into blur. It took me fifteen minutes to skim the first month’s worth of the weekly. It was an interesting glimpse into another era. I learned that Miss Cornelia Leggo had arrived from St. John’s to visit her brother, Mr. Jonathan Leggo, on Friday, and departed by return train on Sunday. I learned that “woman’s trials”, the result of thin, tired blood, could be cured by Dr. William’s Pink Pills. In subsequent editions of the weekly, I learned that Dr. William’s Pink Pills could cure just about anything.

By the time I had ploughed through two months, I was tiring of Dr. William’s Pink Pills, and those of his rivals, as well as the endless tedious reports of the Newfoundland House of Assembly. I really only needed to know information about the slate quarries and the Grand Falls pulp mill, or news of the family of Thomas Currie, my grandfather. But microfilm offers no search option. No way to distill my essentials from this background chatter of the times. My head ached, my eyes burned, and my neck had a crick from trying to see to the top of the screen.

So I went home, knowing that I would be back, because I had several years of newspapers to skim through, not to mention many other period sources to read. They afford a wonderful glimpse into another time. An essential gift of authenticity for a writer. And yet I felt a strong yearning for the good new days.

The days of the internet, with information and search options at one’s fingertips. The days of Google, of searchable sources, of Facebook. Perhaps today Thomas Currie would have a Facebook page on which he would share personal updates and family photos, giving me much easier access to his life than I can obtain by squinting through the “Personal Mention” columns of the Birchy Cove Western Star. Circa 1907.

But whoever said the life of a writer was easy?

Barbara Fradkin is
a child psychologist with a fascination for how we turn bad. In addition to her darkly haunting short stories in the Ladies Killing Circle anthologies, she writes the gritty, Ottawa-based Inspector Green novels which have won back to back Arthur Ellis Awards for Best Novel from Crime Writers of Canada. The eighth in the series, Beautiful Lie the Dead, which explores love in all its complications, is hot off the press.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010


Getting ready to start...

It occurs to me that when you start out writing a book, it's much like getting ready to take a trip. This analogy came to mind because I'm doing both at the moment -- preparing for a Christmas trip to Nova Scotia, and starting to write book #2 in my mystery book club series.

For my travel trip, I've got the gifts lined up, ready to be tucked in with the clothes in my suitcase; a list of clothing I'll take; that list of things to do, such as cancel the paper, stock up on cat food so my wonderful neighbour won't be faced with an empty can, and pay the monthly bills that will come due. Tick.

For my writing trip, I've got the lists of names ready -- characters and places, a map of the town where it's set, and my sleuth, Lizzie Turner's weekly schedule. I've added a list of issues or thoughts I want to carry over to this book and the proposal I made, so many months ago, to the publisher. Great to have, since I find, upon re-reading it, that my memory has done some editing when I wasn't looking. Tick.

I'm also preparing a list of new characters, complete with necessary background details, a separate notepad where I add plot points whenever they work their way into my thought processes, and a section reserved for questions that need further research. Tick.

And, of course, that brainstorming page where titles are tried out -- how do they look in print -- sort of like the process, as a teen, of writing down your first name with the last name of your boyfriend (I admit, I did that!), waiting for that 'aha' moment when the perfect title emerges. Tick.

And so, two journeys to prepare for...part of the process of travel and of writing. Both exciting. Anyone else making preparations these days?

Linda Wiken/Erika Chase

Tuesday, December 14, 2010


Adventures of a Writer in Residence...

My tenure as the 2010 Writer in Residence at Memorial Park Library here in Calgary is winding down, so on Friday I filled out my final report.The document isn’t quite an apologia pro vita sua – ‘a defence of one’s life’ for those of you who didn’t sit through Miss Bauer’s Latin class for five years of your life.It is, however, an accounting of what I’ve done to earn my salary from the CPL in the past three months.

Like any report destined to be presented to a variety of official “To Whom It May Concerns” mine is long on facts and short on heartbeat.Number of manuscript evaluations and consultations with Emerging Writers (36); number of assessments of revised work (3). Number of Public Readings and Discussions of the Craft and Business of Writing (16); Number of blogs posted relating my experiences with the CPL or with the writing and reading community at large (12).

Dry stuff – what Robertson Davies would call ‘the police court facts’. But as Davies reminds us, the police court facts reveal only a partial truth.

Here’s the skinny on what I’ll remember of my time here.

Consultations with Emerging Writers: Every one of the writers who came down to my tiny basement office in the library brought me a fresh appreciation of how much the act of creating something new matters in a writers’ life. The writers I saw varied in age, experience and level of development, but without exception they were ready to do what it took to bring their writing to a level where it would pleasure and insight to a reader.

I heard of a Writer in Residence in Toronto whose meeting with an emerging writer got off to a shaky start when the WIR began to make suggestions about the manuscript and the Emerging Writer loftily announced, “I am a WRITER, not a RE-WRITER.” Luckily for me (and for them) all the writers who came to my office realized that the re-writing is the burden and the blessing that all writers must carry. Their excitement as they discovered new possibilities in their manuscripts – the advantages of a different point of view; of ways in which characterization might be deepened, tension increased or expression of ideas clarified and smoothed—always ignited a parallel excitement in me.

There are no guarantees in the writing business. Some of the writers I saw are creating manuscripts that deserve to be published now; many are writing manuscripts that, with work, will indeed, be publishable. Every writer who came through the door to my office believes that writing is central to his or her life. None can imagine a life without writing. This fact alone means that their work has illimitable possibilities. They will keep at it until they succeed, and that is a very exciting thing for a WIR to witness and remember.I thank them for that.

Public Readings and Discussions of the Craft and Business of Writing: Not counting the two events I did at Vancouver’s International Festival of Readers and Writers, in Calgary I appeared either alone or with colleagues before 16 large and interested audiences to talk about my writing and writing in general. For any writer public appearances are immensely gratifying and ego soothing, but my memories have less to do with ego than with simple pleasure.

Each appearance was special in its own way, but I’d like to mention a few that stand out. On September 11th, Memorial Park Library held the Alberta launch of The Nesting Dolls and the launch of me as Writer in Residence. It was a bright September day and the newly restored Memorial Park glowed. I remember, Marje Wing, the librarian in charge of me and the event, looking out into our downtown park and saying I’m so glad they have the fountains on for you. I felt the sparkling fountains were auspicious too. The day was gorgeous and both Marje and I wondered if people wouldn’t be seduced by the sunshine and stay outdoors.

What I remember most about the day is Marje’s face. Like me, she is a worrier, and she wanted the book launch to be welcoming. As more and more people arrived, we had to find more chairs. When we ran out of chairs and knew the event would be SRO, Marge’s smile was wide. It was a great afternoon. The audience was warm and when I glanced outside at the water dancing from the fountains I knew my time at Memorial Park would be a happy one.

Literacy Day at Central Library was also an SRO event.Everyone there got a free and very tasty box lunch, and after we munched I read from my new Rapid Reads book “A Good Story Well Told” and we had a really solid discussion of why the ability to read competently and confidently mattered so much. Literacy Day was one of the many times in Calgary when I took away more from an event than I brought to it.

My event with the women of the Calgary Women’s Literary Club was gold-edged. I have blogged about this club, so all I’ll say here is that the women in it are very serious about their reading; they’re very thoughtful; they’re very smart and they’re a lot of fun. After my event and after attending Aritha van Herk’s event with the CWLC, I’ve decided that in the next life I’m going to be a Calgarian and hope the ladies will take a shine to me and invite me to join the group.

The readings at some of the branch libraries – Country Hills, Louise Riley, Fish Creek and Crowfoot--gave me a chance to meet new readers, and to see the Calgary that existed beyond my own downtown-centred world. This is a big, diverse and ever-changing city and my readings at the branches gave me insight into the energy and dreams that drive Calgary’s growth.

The reading I did at Central Library with Aritha van Herk and Val Fortney during the noon hour of November 12th was an emotional one for us and for the readers who drifted in, were interested in what they heard and stayed. Our topic that day was Canadians At War, and our talk was talk of the best kind. As writers and readers we connected. Alistair MacLeod says that writers write about what worries them. Clearly war and its toll on soldiers and civilians alike worried everyone in that room. It was good to be together.

Blogs: During my time at CPL,I posted 12 blogs that related my experiences with the CPL or with the writing community at large. I think the blogs reflect the fact that my time as WIR has been an enriching one, but I’d like to close this entry by referring to a blog that suggests the relationship with any library enriches everyone.

In September,I wrote a blog called “The Most Important Building in the City” about a brief encounter I had when I was WIR with Toronto Reference Library in May and June of 2009. A young man who appeared to be of mid-eastern descent gave me his seat on the subway (as young men increasingly do). He asked me if I’d had a good day, and I said yes. Then he asked where I worked. When I told him that I worked at the Toronto Reference Library, his face lit up. “That’s the most important building in the city,” he said. “When I came to this country I went to the Reference Library every day because I knew that the library contained everything I needed to know to be a Canadian.”

The Toronto Reference Library asked my permission to use that blog in their fund-raising campaign. I gave my assent readily because, like that young man on the subway, I knew that wherever we live, the library is “the most important building in the city”.

Gail Bowen’s Joanne Kilbourn mysteries have made her one of Canada’s most popular crime writers. The first book in the series, Deadly Appearances (1990), was nominated for the W.H. Smith — Books in Canada award for best first novel. Bowen has also written five plays that have been produced across Canada, and several of her mysteries have been made into TV movies starring Wendy Crewson as Joanne. Head of the English Department at the First Nations University of Canada, the Toronto-born Gail Bowen lives in Regina.

Monday, December 13, 2010


All I want for Christmas is...

It’s hard to believe that Christmas is less that two weeks away. I could be more in a panic if books weren’t the standard gift around our house. We are divided into lovers of obscure non-fiction and Canadian general fiction and mystery.

One year my friend, my brother and I all gave each other the same book: No Great Mischief by Alistair MacLeod. To make matters worse, we had each already bought and read our own copy. All to say, finding the right book at the right time for the right person, it’s an art.

But enough about everyone else, let’s talk about you and me. Here’s what I want in a Christmas book: I’d like it to be a mystery (and it could be more than one). I want to find the characters intriguing, people I’d like to spend some time with. This is more likely to happen if there is wit or humour in the narrative and if the characters have an entertaining knack for expressing themselves. I must care about what is happening to them and worry whether the protagonist and surrounding cast will not only solve the mystery (of course that will happen) but whether their lives will be undamaged and whether they have a chance at elusive happiness or at least succeed in resolving some life issue. The author must play fair with me as a reader and not spring previously unmentioned clues at the end. The whole experience should leave me wanting to reconnect with these same characters in the next book by that author.

On the practical side, this Christmas gift must be suitable for reading with a cup of tea and a small selection of quality chocolates. It should also lend itself to being read while I’m curled on
the sofa with a soft fluffy throw as snow swirls outside the window. A twinkling tree in the corner is a nice extra, but not essential. Ideally, the story will be gripping enough to make me turn off the phone ringer, before I sit down to enjoy it.

Well, now you know what I should get, how about you? What type of book or title do you want to find under the tree or in a gaily wrapped package? How do you see yourself enjoying it?

Mary Jane Maffini rides herd on three, soon to be three and a half, mystery series. You can check them out at

Friday, December 10, 2010


The power of writers...

It's been an interesting week in publishing land. But, in keeping with the holiday spirit, a "miracle" of sorts has happened. Authors have been listened to and heeded!

We're already in the thick of holiday shopping and what did the RendezVous Crime authors find out about their new titles? They were sitting in the Chapters/Indigo warehouse and had been for at least a couple of months. Now, this is bad news at any time of year but especially now, when holiday shoppers are wanting new crime fiction to place in stockings and under the tree. I'm taking the positive approach here that positively every reader wants a new book for Christmas, and most want mysteries.

Action was needed. The authors in question put the word out and sent letters right to the top, to Heather Reisman. The social networking elves also whipped into action and alerted readers and mystery supporters to become vocal about this grinch-like situation. And so, the miracle unfolded as Ms. Reisman responded very quickly to the plea and the warehouse problems were sorted out, and best of all, the books were released for shipment to the various Chapters/Indigo stores throughout the land.

And, they are slowly finding their way onto the shelves in each location...but it doesn't hurt to ask about them next time you're in shopping, if you can't find these titles as yet.

In these days of decreasing numbers of independent bookstores and Chapters/Indigo becoming increasing as multi-product retailer, we need to stay alert and stay vocal. Our wonderful Canadian mystery and crime authors need our support, not only in buying their books but also in spreading the word about these good reads, and also in keeping the books in stock at the various retailers. We can do it! We have done it...and that's a good way of saying thank you to the authors.

Here's wishing you many new reads under your seasonal tree...and hopefully, they're mainly mysteries!

Linda Wiken

Thursday, December 9, 2010


The Ladies' Killing Circle: thoughts on writing and shopping...

Vicki: We've been asked to say a few words about the Ladies' Killing Circle. We are definitely Ladies, and there are six of us: Joan Boswell, Vicki Cameron, Barbara Fradkin, Mary Jane Maffini, Sue Pike and Linda Wiken, so that makes a Circle. As to the Killing part, we have killed a few bottles of wine and several cheesecakes in our 18 years together. We began as a critique group, with a mission to help each other grow as writers. We are possibly the longest running critique group in Canada, and definitely the most successful, with seven anthologies of crime stories published. Maybe we should say a few words about the anthologies and how we decide on the theme and title of each anthology.

Barbara: With lots of wine and laughter. In one case, we were sitting around the living room of Joan's house in Florida, on our third annual "writer's retreat", with the requisite Shiraz and Chardonnay on the table, and we were tossing around possible ideas for themes. None of them seemed compelling enough, until one of us - whose identity was lost in the ensuing gales of laughter - remarked, “Well, you know, we've never actually done 'Sex'!” Hence Going Out With a Bang was conceived. So to speak.

Linda: This is possibly the most important part of the process. We've been known to toss titles around while in the car on the way to or from a gathering, while dining out en masse, or sitting around the table at a critiquing session.

Vicki: There was the time we were hanging about on Sue’s cottage deck, and Mary Jane blurted out ‘Menopause is Murder’. Another book was born.

Sue: It's hard to imagine something this much fun could also provide a worthwhile service to the writing community. But it does. In each anthology we've included stories by new, previously unpublished writers,many of whom have gone on to enjoy success with novels and other anthologies.

Vicki: Not to mention our own successes. Barbara, Mary Jane and Joan have novel series. Sue did an anthology. I did a couple of short story collections and young adult novels. Linda's first book in her mystery book club series will be published in early 2012.

Sue: Our book launches at the lovely Library and Archives Canada are renowned for the crowds of fans we attract. Maybe it's all the food, wine and chocolate but we prefer to think it's our sunny personalities. Although we're pretty good at our computers we're even better on our feet. Our ‘dog-and-pony’ show has been the feature entertainment at several fundraising galas in and around Ottawa. We've even taken it on the road when our six busy schedules can be coordinated.

Mary Jane: Perhaps it's best we not mention the time most of the group walked across the bridge from El Paso to Juarez, Mexico, for dinner and attempted to find a cab. It's just a matter of time until someone gets a story out of that.

Vicki: Oops, I better rein this in. I can tell we’re about to go off on a tangent of tossing ideas around and killing ourselves laughing. Here's the first question we were asked: How does being a part of the LKC make your writing life fuller and more interesting?

Mary Jane: Life more interesting? Well, for one thing, there's the look on the mail carrier's face when he delivers a piece of correspondence to the Ladies' Killing Circle Inc. Sometimes men step away from us, nervously. That's always amusing too. Life fuller? There are the many adventures we've had together, most of which seem to involve ladies' wear shops and restaurants, both well-known incubators of criminous ideas and some of which are very relieved when we leave.

Vicki: People might think we do nothing but eat. About the writing… I think the group made me a more efficient and prolific writer. We used to meet every two weeks. Since I had to drive for an hour into the city to get to the meeting, there was no way I was going to go empty-handed. So I wrote a new chapter or a new short story every two weeks.

Linda: Being a part of LKC has made me more focused in my writing and given me that extra incentive to actually write, knowing I'd have to face a critiquing session. The comments are usually not too brutal and more often than not, right on target.

Barbara: I was not one of the original six, but I had my very first publication in the inaugural edition of The Ladies Killing Circle in 1995. I remember rushing down to Prime Crime Bookstore when the shipment arrived from the publisher, and opening the book to see my name in print for the first time. What a thrill! Since then, I've been privileged to become a member of the "Circle". The critiquing is inspirational, but I cherish the friendship. And the laughter. Who else would join me over a nice bottle of Australian Merlot, debating the relative merits of the gun vs. the bludgeon?

Joan: Thoughtful, even-handed criticism fostered my growth as a writer. Because we encouraged each other to aim ever higher I reached goals I might not have attained had I not been part of a supportive group. I also prize the friendship and support we provided for one another in times of joy and sorrow.

Vicki: Let’s have a look at the next question on this list. What is the edible/drinkable Christmas treat you anticipate the most?

Joan: Being a writer I love Christmas letters, love finding out what's been happening in friend's lives and figuring out what they aren't writing about. Also love beautiful Christmas cards supporting charities especially if they feature dogs.

Vicki: I think shortbread cookies are the treat I wait for. I usually bake a couple of double batches. I also look forward to a full-on Boxing Day dinner at my sister-in-law's house, with turkey, meatballs, venison, moose, twelve salads, ten side dishes and a partridge in a pear sauce. Followed by 4 kinds of pie and a birthday cake for Jesus. Not that I eat it all, but I sure like not having to cook for a day. When we come home we feel like we don't need to eat again until Tuesday.

Barbara: For me, the festive season is a doubly dangerous time, since I get to celebrate not only Christmas at my sister's place but Hanukah at my own (for eight, diet-defying days, no less!). Latkes with sour cream, eggnog, plum pudding with hard sauce, mince meat tarts... LoCal all the way.

Mary Jane: Our special LKC Christmas lunch has great meaning for all of us and I always look forward to it. We look extremely ladylike (coifed and jacketed and necklaced) and all six make at least a half-hearted effort not to discuss the digestive turbulence of our various (mostly dogs) pets in whatever elegant restaurant has been chosen. We also try not to speak too loudly of garrotes or guillotines.

Vicki: The next question is, do we have any tips about shopping, wrapping, gift-giving, entertaining, etc? Being a Virgo, I shop early and fast. I like to get it over with. I find gift-giving quite stressful, trying to find something the other person might like. Memorable gifts I have received include the corner stones for my grave, given by my practical mother-in-law. I wonder if there was a secret message in that?

Barbara: I think the Christmas types among us have it easy! Hanukah is eight days long, a nightmare for parents with multiple children. When my three children were little, that meant 24 presents for them alone! Luckily, the perpetually penniless adults were cut back to one.

Linda: Be sure to give a book to everyone on your Christmas list, preferably by a Canadian mystery author. Even better, an LKC anthology! Let me review the titles that are still in print: Fit to Die, Bone Dance, When Boomers go Bad, and Going Out with a Bang.

Mary Jane: Gift giving? We Ladies are all about saving the economy book by book. After all the fuss, I think the best day of the year is Boxing Day, with a house full of food and drink, Christmas chores over, and time to sit and read. So, if Santa doesn't put a pile of Canadian mysteries in my stocking, he's going to have to watch his back. I have a head full of dangerous ideas and I'm not afraid to use them.

Vicki: We’re at the end of the questions. Any final thoughts, Ladies?

Linda: Give books...give often!

Vicki Cameron is the author of Clue Mysteries and More Clue Mysteries, each
15 short stories based on the board game Clue. Her young adult novel,
Shillings, appeared in 2007. Her stories appear in the Ladies' Killing
Circle anthology series and Storyteller Magazine. Her young adult novel,
That Kind of Money, was nominated for an Edgar and an Arthur Ellis.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010


Reading between the lines

“I do a great deal of research - particularly in the apartments of tall blondes.”
- Raymond Chandler

A colleague of mine recently remarked that she felt she “got to know me better” after reading my first literary crime novel, The Weight of Stones. It got me thinking about what we look for, and what we find, inside the pages of a book. I know as a reader myself, I can't help but wonder which parts of a novel are based on personal experience, and those which are entirely imagined. This is especially true as we become a 'fan' of a particular writer. As we learn more about an author’s personal life, their background and experiences, we consciously or subconsciously try to connect the dots within the plots, the characters, the settings.

The novelist Mordecai Richler's relationship with his family was forever altered after he wrote Son of a Smaller Hero, a not so disguised and unflattering portrait of his father. Hemingway's disastrously horrible novel, Across The River and Into The Trees, was such a failure because the author was unable to disguise the fact that the hero was clearly supposed to be Hemingway - this bigger than life, hard-living macho man capable of luring a nineteen-year-old beauty despite the fact he is virtually on his death bed. We know, too, that James Frey stumbled badly into the strange domain of so-called 'creative non-fiction' when he embellished his prison record in A Million Little Pieces. (The embarrassment he suffered after appearing on the Oprah Show was likely soothed by the fact the resulting publicity rocketed the book to best-seller status.)

We are each the sum of our experiences, and so while I don’t buy the old maxim “write what you know” (which, for the most part, would make for really boring books), I do believe that - as my colleague indicated - we can get a glimpse into the secret heart of any author if we look close enough.

Hard-boiled masters like Raymond Chandler and David Goodis wrote about hard-edged men and women living lives of almost unbearable bleakness. Both writers were themselves suicidal alcoholics with more than their share of problems with women and life in general, and so, as Chandler‘s quote above clearly articulates: this writer truly understands the feelings and the motivations of his made-up characters; he’s walked in their shoes, at least to some extent. That neither of these writers ever actually worked as private detectives hardly matters. Their imaginations existed within the smoke-and-gin-haze of the milieu.

With respect to my own writing, it could be argued that the main character in The Weight of Stones and the just-released sequel, Slow Recoil, is not the stubborn former detective named Charlie McKelvey, but the city of Toronto itself. My fiction allows me to pay tribute to a city I adore. I love painting pictures of my favourite streets and neighbourhoods, like the Distillery District. Think of Robert B. Parker’s sweet rendering of Boston in his Spenser mysteries. Or Elmore Leonard’s love affair with seedy Detroit, Carl Hiassen’s sticky Florida. These writers felt such an obvious affinity for these places, they made them come alive with their smells and tastes and sights. Research on Google will only take a writer so far; I believe Rick Mofina writes about a journalist protagonist so expertly because, well, Rick worked as a high-level journalist for years. He knows how a reporter thinks, how one chases down a story.

All of my characters are products of my imagination, but they are ‘real’ in so far as they are amalgamations of many people I’ve known or perhaps observed over the years. The anti-hero in The Weight of Stones - a violent biker named Pierre Duguay - is a composite of several ex-convicts I met through ‘a friend of a friend’ several years ago. Over time, I picked up on their mannerisms, the way they talked and handled themselves, their general outlook on a life lived on the narrow margins. I didn’t need to rob a bank in order to appreciate what it must feel like as you wait in line with a note scrawled on a deposit slip, the anxiety of those last few seconds before the teller motions you forward, the handgun in your hip pocket weighing you down like an anchor …

At the end of the day, of course, we read to escape from the humdrum of our daily lives. We’d exclusively read non-fiction if we didn’t want at least a little ‘suspended reality’ in our novels. Too much cold research and fact can kill a good story. I guess it comes down to each writer and reader finding the right mix in that strange formula of research + imagination + personal experience + artistic license.Then again, as bestselling crime writer Michael Connelly once remarked when asked about the amount of research he conducts into law enforcement procedures: “I make most of it up.”

Go figure.

C.B. Forrest’s first literary crime novel, The Weight of Stones, was short listed for the Arthur Ellis Award for Best First Novel, and named a ’must read’ for 2009 by The Hamilton Spectator. His second novel featuring Charlie McKelvey is the just-released Slow Recoil. He lives in Ottawa where he is at work on a third and final instalment in the McKelvey series, as well as a new general fiction novel.
He can visited online at

Tonight, C.B. Forrest launches SLOW RECOIL at Whisper's Pub,249 Richmond Rd, Ottawa at 7:00 p.m. Join in the fun!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010


More sidekicks!

This wasn't how I had planned today to begin. By rights, I should be posting a really interesting blog by C.B. Forrest, which I enjoyed reading, saved's gone! Went to post it last night and it's disappeared. This is not the first time my computer and I have been at odds. But it's most frustrating when it involves someone else. So, stay tuned for the blog by Chris next Tuesday and today, I'll wing it.

Which is why I'm latching onto Mary Jane Maffini's thoughts on sidekicks, which was yesterday's guest blog. She left out the fact that Alvin, Camilla McPhea's office "assistant" even has a fan club! Go get 'em, Alvin.

Many mysteries do involve sidekicks, who play a very important role in fleshing out the main character and in the solving of the mystery. And it's often this interplay that keeps the reader tuned in and coming back. Along with the author's excellent writing skills, of course.

We all know the well-known duos of the past: Holmes and Watson, Poirot and Hastings,
Morse and Lewis. I also thoroughly enjoyed Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin...still do, as a matter of fact. And for a side-splitting laugh, there's Stephanie Plum and Lula. Of course, she's also got Grandma Mazur on her side.

And how about that mega-marketing series, Castle! Every Beckett needs her Castle.

Often it's sidekicks - plural - especially in police procedurals where the entire squad works as one, for example, Barbara Fradkin's Inspector Green series and the infamous 87th precinct novels of Ed McBain.

Sidekicks, secondary characters, friends, family...all help develop the texture of the story and that's what keeps us reading.

Who would you name as fiction's most memorable sleuthing sidekicks?

Linda Wiken/Erika Chase