Sunday, October 31, 2010



So, do you have my nouns? Some days there isn't a single one to be heard in our house. In chat between my husband and me, nada. It's not like the dogs can eat them. They've just disappeared. Take today's morning conversation:

He, looking frazzled. "Where's my um …?"
Me, taking one eye off fascinating newspaper article featuring severed body parts. "What um?"
"You know, the …" Voice trails off again. Cute silver head is scratched. He is wondering what is wrong with his wife that she can't tear herself from the blood and gore story to answer the simplest question. "Things, the things. I need them to start the um."
"Oh right. I think I saw them on the whatzit, next to your … Did you check there?"
"What whatzit?" He is starting to get annoyed, but doesn't want to show it, at least not until he finds the things.
"What things?" I counter. He's not the only one who can get annoyed.
"I had them when I got back yesterday because I used them to open the …"
"Did you look on the whatzit?" I point upwards toward the bedroom, which has several whatzits, one of them with things on it.
Grumbling starts. "Now I'm going to be late meeting what's-his-name at--." Snapping fingers follows grumbles, trying to get a handle on what's-his-name.

A noun is after all person, place or thing. The persons and places can vanish too. Snapping fingers will not bring them back, as we've learned the hard way.

Of course, it doesn't pay for me to get too uppity. It's merely a matter of time before I find myself saying "Have you seen that pile of stuff that was here yesterday? There's a lot of important er … "
"What pile of stuff?"
"You know, the, um. It was this high, over there by the you know."
"Your voice trailed off. What stuff again?"
Of course, he has no choice but to cooperate. After all, didn't I help him find those things on the whatzit just this morning? "Are you certain you didn't move it somewhere?"
"I don't think so."
"Sure you did.. It's right over by the gizmo near the the uh. Oops, watch out for the queerthing on the -- . Are you all right? Did you hurt your …?"

Okay, all this, including missing noun injuries, might be expected if we didn't own six thousand books, including at least eighteen dictionaries. Or if we hadn't both read obsessively as children. I took care of fiction, he was in charge of non-fiction. Even if I wasn't as a friend once described me 'a known talker'. So it's not like we didn't ever have a supply of fancy upscale and occasionally obscure nouns to sprinkle in our sentences, insert into conversations or meaningful questions.

Of course, what good are dictionaries when you have to check everything under S for stuff or T for thing?

I put my lapses down to the brain-frying activity writing two books this year. They each contained mountains of nouns, many of them scary if not dangerous. That must be what's edging them out. But seriously, what's his excuse? Oh well, it's not so bad, really. As long as our verbs don't start to, you know … um.

Mary Jane Maffini is the author of the Charlotte Adams mysteries and two Canadian series: the Ottawa-based Camilla MacPhee books and the Fiona Silk novels set in West Quebec. Her latest book, Law & Disorder, the sixth in the Camilla MacPhee series, is absolutely crawling with nouns. Verbs too.

Friday, October 29, 2010


More new books on the scene.

It's almost impossible to keep up with all the new books by Canadian mystery and crime authors on the shelves in bookstores these days. Partly because the numbers have increased and also because there are many new names from different regions in the country...and it's all good news! What I'll attempt to do is periodically highlight new titles. And I certainly welcome suggestions and info about any I'm missing. If you'd rather not leave this as a comment, then please email me at

From the West Coast, there's another Inspector Coswell mystery out, #3 in the series by Roy Innes, Murder in the Chilcotin. And set on the East Coast, Hilary MacLeod is garnering a lot of interest with her wonderful title suggestive of some humour mixed in with the menace, Revenge of the Lobster Lover.

In the legal thriller category, Pamela Callow's debut novel is Damaged, introducing lawyer Kate Lange and it's set in Halifax. Two more in the series will soon follow.

Backtracking by a few months, Garry Ryan celebrated his fourth Detective Lane police procedural set in Calgary, Smoked, and we have the Canadian heavyweights with the latest in their series: Gail Bowen and Nesting Dolls, the 12th outing for Joanne Kilbourn; while John Cardinal appears in Crime Machine, #5 for Giles Blunt; and, Peter Robinson's Bad Boy is book #19 in the Alan Banks series -- can you believe it!

So, lots to choose from and of course, a lot more to come. Be sure to look for them on the shelves of your local Independent bookstore!

Linda Wiken/Erika Chase

Thursday, October 28, 2010


When truth is more compelling than fiction

Like many Canadians I watched the Fifth Estate last Friday night. It was an hour-long deconstruction of the interrogation and confession of Russell Williams, senior military officer and sadistic killer. And it was a terrific show.

What made this documentary so gripping? Well, for one thing, it wasn't so much about the killer as it was about the strategy that went into orchestrating his confession. OPP Det. Sgt Jim Smyth and his team had enough circumstantial information to make them believe this was their man but their only actual evidence was a couple of tire tracks picked up near the home of one of the victims and matched to William's SUV.

Once they had the colonel in their sights, Jim Smyth and his team took four days to plan the interrogation. What then? Did a SWAT team scream over to the Williams' house in a blaze of flashing lights? Did they drag the suspect out in handcuffs? Not at all. They telephoned Williams at home and asked if he'd mind coming in to give them a hand in the investigation. At three o'clock that afternoon, Williams drove himself to the station. He walked in full of confidence and ten hours later he was still there having confessed to murder, rape and innumerable break-ins.

So what happened at the police station? Did they toss him into the interrogation room, play good cop/bad cop, slam him against the wall? No again.

Jim Smyth, looking rumpled and a little careworn, thanked Williams for coming in, chatted a bit about the investigation and then wondered, very nicely, if he'd mind letting them have a wee sample of his DNA and a peek at the boots he was wearing. Smyth, it turns out, knows the value of a polite manner and long silences. At no point in the parts of the interview we saw did he raise his voice or react in any way when the murderer finally began to confess.

We're told this program will be a major learning tool in every police academy across the English-speaking world. It will change the way police interview suspects. But will it change the way TV portrays the police? And will it change the way we, as crime writers describe the interrogation process?

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, October 27, 2010


What's new....

We're into the fall season...and if this wonderful weather today isn't a dead giveaway, so to speak, then the new titles out on the mystery shelves should be! Lots of great Canadian mystery reading opportunities! Here's what's happening on the local scene.

Three authors are part of the Natural Resources Canada Art and Literary Show and Sale, today and tomorrow in Ottawa. Barbara Fradkin's latest Inspector Green, Beautiful Lie the Dead, has just been released and it's another gripping read. Barbara, of course, is the winner of two Best Novel awards from Crime Writers of Canada.

Vicki Delany, who now resides in beautiful Picton, is signing copies of the latest Molly Smith novel, Negative Images. This is book number four in this popular police series set in B.C. Vicki's also just finished writing the newest book in her Klondike series, which should be out sometime next year.

Unfortunately, R.J. Harlick's new Meg Harris mystery won't be out until spring, 2011 but she'll be signing copies of Arctic Death, book number four in the series, which was short-listed for the Arthur Ellis Best Novel award from Crime Writers of Canada this year.

Also in town for the event is Violette Malan, who has abandoned her earlier mystery tendencies to concentrate fully on fantasy (but she's still most welcome in the criminal -- writing -- world). She'll be signing book number four in her series, Path of the Sun.

Meanwhile, Brenda Chapman is heading to the mystery conference, Magna Cum Murder in Muncie, Indiana, along with Mary Jane Maffini and they're doing it bookstore by bookstore. Brenda's signing her just-released (& I mean straight from the printer to her car) first adult mystery, In Winter's Grip, which should be available in town next week. Brenda has established herself as the well-known author of four young adult mysteries.

Due shortly, too is the second book from local mystery author C.B. Forrest, titled Slow Recoil with Toronto police detective Charlie McKelvey back on the scene. His first book, The Weight of Stones, was also short-listed this year in the Best First Novel category from Crime Writers of Canada.

So, if you have time today (9-4) or tomorrow (9-1) to stop and shop at the Natural Resources Canada Art & Literary Show & Sale, you'll have a great time schmoozing with the authors and picking up some, dare I say it, Christmas gifts!

Or, the alternative, shop at your local Independent bookstore, where you'll find these and many more new releases from Canadian mystery writers.

Have you just picked up a "hot-off-the-press" new Canadian mystery? Tell all, please!

Linda Wiken/Erika Chase

Tuesday, October 26, 2010


Read a mystery and travel.

I’ve been an avid mystery reader since I was a child. And one of the aspects that attracted me to crime fiction was I got to travel without having to move from the comfort of my chair. I traveled to England with Agatha Christie and Arthur Conan Doyle, to France with Georges Simenon , to China with Robert van Gulik and to Mediterranean Islands with Dorothy Dunnett. On a cold winter’s day, I loved nothing better than to visit the sun-filled beaches of Florida with John D. MacDonald or a sweltering Louisiana bayou of a James Lee Burke novel.

But I wasn’t able to visit the far-flung delights of my own country, Canada, for there were few Canadian mystery writers available in my early reading days. But within the last fifteen years or so Canadian Crime writing has finally come into its own with a hundred or more established writers and new ones emerging everyday.

Now I can visit the rainforests of Vancouver Island in a Lou Allin novel, the seamy side of Vancouver with Michael Blair, the heady gold rush days of the Yukon with Vicki Delany, the flat prairie of Saskatchewan with Anthony Bidulka and Gail Bowen, 19th century Toronto with Maureen Jenning’s Inspector Murdoch or a northern Ontario town with Giles Blunt. I particularly enjoy visiting my own city of Ottawa through the eyes of Barbara Fradkin’s Inspector Green or Mary Jane Maffini’s Camilla MacPhee. And the cross Canada traveling doesn’t stop, but continues into small town Quebec with Louise Penny and on to Newfoundland through the eyes of Thomas Rendell Curran’s Inspector Eric Stride.

When I set out to write the Meg Harris mystery series, I decided I wanted my readers to travel too, perhaps to a place they’d never been to before or to one they knew well and wanted to revisit. Deciding on the destination was easy. It was where I spend half my time; in the wilds of West Quebec, where lakes out number people a thousand to one and trees a million to one.

I’ve always had a particular fondness for the Great Canadian Outdoors having spent many a childhood summer vacation at friends’ cottages, camping with my father or attending summer camp. I’ve since graduated to multi-day canoe trips along both rushing and still waterways, hiking along forested trails and in winter, skiing through silent, snow-drenched woods. I wanted to bring its magic alive to my readers, have them hear the haunting laugh of a loon on a still summer night, the chilling howl of a lone wolf or feel a frisson of fear at a sudden strange sight in the depths of a dark forest.

In the Death’s Golden Whisper, the first book in the Meg Harris series, I have my readers experience the vibrancy of a Quebec fall in full autumnal regalia. In Red Ice for a Shroud, you can shiver along with Meg as her world turns to ice during a once-in-a-lifetime Ice Storm. Or you can come paddling with Meg in The River Runs Orange, as she battles the swirling whitewater of a rapid filled river. In the fourth book, Arctic Blue Death, Meg travels to Canada’s Far North, where you can experience days of endless sunlight on the bleak, rocky tundra of Baffin Island.

In the next Meg Harris mystery, A Green Place for Dying, to be released in Spring 2011, Meg returns to her isolated West Quebec cottage, Three Deer Point, overlooking the crystal clear waters of Echo Lake. Through Meg’s eyes, you will experience the mysticism of a moon-filled night as you sit by the lake in a ceremonial circle, listening to the chants of an Algonquin elder. Your nostrils will tingle with the smudge of burning sweetgrass, while your eyes will follow the moon’s shimmering path over the water.

So if you feel like a bit of traveling, read a mystery novel, preferably a Canadian one and enjoy.

Described by the Ottawa Citizen as “one of the best new voices in the
mystery business”, Ottawa author, RJ Harlick, writes the Meg Harris
mystery series set in the wilds of West Quebec. And like her heroine
Meg Harris, RJ loves nothing better than to roam the forests
surrounding her own wilderness cabin or paddle the endless lakes and
rivers. But unlike Meg, she doesn’t find a body at every twist and
turn, although she certainly likes to put them in Meg’s way. There
are currently four books in the series. The fifth, A Green Place for
Dying, will be published in Spring 2011.

Sunday, October 24, 2010


And now for something completely different …

After writing thirteen mysteries in three series and nearly two dozen short stories, I am embarking on a great new adventure. Pause here for cheers and a few spectacular fireworks. Here’s the news: after all these years writing alone in my jammies and pink fuzzy slippers, I now have a new personality. Totally new. In fact, it’s not mine. In a fabulous turn of events my daughter Victoria and I will be collaborating on an exciting new series as Victoria Abbott for Berkley Prime Crime.

I suppose we could wear our pajamas, but as grown women who live forty-five minutes from each other, one of us will be fully dressed for every meeting.

I think Victoria Maffini is one of the funniest people on the planet and I have really enjoyed her short stories as well as her art work. I know she’s creative. But I wondered how we would work together. What would the process be like? Who would write what? So far, it’s a hilarious process and doesn’t seem at all like work. But will we hit a wall, I wonder.

Here we are in an unposed moment after signing our contract.

Do you think you could write with another person? When you read a collaborative effort do you find it seamless or can you tell who wrote what? (We are hoping to fool you, natch)

Mary Jane Maffini is a lapsed librarian, a former mystery bookstore owner and a lifelong lover of mysteries. In addition to the four Charlotte Adams books from Berkley Prime Crime, she is the author of the Camilla MacPhee series, the Fiona Silk adventures and nearly two dozen short stories. She served two terms as President of Crime Writers of Canada. She loves mysteries of all kinds and is enjoying the surge in Canadian crime (writing).

Her latest Charlotte Adams book is Closet Confidential (Berkley Prime Crime). She says she’s grateful for all the tips she gets from Charlotte and for the opportunity
to write the series. She lives and plots in Ottawa, Ontario, along with her long-suffering husband and two princessy dachshunds. Visit her at

Friday, October 22, 2010


My book, the TV series!

Getting published is the dream. Well, dream number one. Then come the thoughts of TV and movie rights. As a writing tool, you may even find it helpful to visualize an actor when describing your character. I'm sure the lure of screen rights has crossed every writer's mind and why not? It's written into contracts. And, there's a strong legacy of fictional crime fighters who have made the leap from printed page to small screen.

Howard Engel's wonderful private eye, Benny Cooperman was probably the first. And, Saul Rubinek made the ideal Benny -- he has that chopped egg sandwich look about him. He appeared in The Suicide Murders and Murder Sees the Light on TV, although he's also been the voice of Benny on two CBC Radio adaptations, also written by Engel.

When the award-winning Joanne Kilbourn series, by Gail Bowen, became made-for-TV movies, it was the talented and glam Wendy Crewson who nabbed the starring role. Although not my idea of Joanne, I loved the movies and I'm sure she drew in many viewers who then went on to actually read the wonderful series.

Toronto at the turn-of-the century (that would be the previous turn), also hit the TV screen, as a series, with Peter Outerbridge to be the first to play Detective Murdoch. Maureen Jennings' popular series is still going strong and can be found on many channels these days.

And when talking books-to-TV, who doesn't remember John Thaw as Colin Dexter's dour Inspector Morse. The Brits have a long tradition of crime fiction-TV investigators -- Dalgleish, Dalziel and Frost, to name a few.

Speaking as Erika Chase, my choice for Lizzie Turner, the female sleuth in my book is Amy Jo Johnson.

So, who would play the lead in the TV version of your book?

Linda Wiken/Erika Chase

Wednesday, October 20, 2010


The Power of Six

This is an exciting week for the Ladies Killing Circle. First, we are featured in the November issue of MORE Magazine, complete with a photo display of each of us in some nefarious disguise. It’s a wonderful article about what a group of women can accomplish when they band together. We had a great deal of fun doing this article – first being interviewed by journalist Cathy Dumphy in my little red and white house, and then spending a whole day in a photo shoot, having our hair and make-up done, getting into character for the shots (I was Sherlock Holmes), and being staged down to the exact placement of each finger for the photos. All this under the mother-hen watch of Viresh, the owner of the modeling studio where the photo-shoot was taking place. That’s him in the purple stilettos.

Secondly, we are the headliners at “An Evening of Mystery” being hosted by Glebe St. James United Church here in Ottawa, the crime-ridden city where we first got together and where many of us still live and plot. This event is a fundraiser for both the church and adult literacy, and we are delighted that we can contribute something to so worthy a cause. The more people available to read crime fiction, the better, I say. Oh all right, those Giller winners too, I guess.

The Ladies Killing Circle started off almost twenty years ago as a group of six women who wanted to break into the crime writing field but needed a helping hand, as well as a frequent whip, to get their skills in shape. Well, we have arrived! Between us, we have literally dozens of books published, both novels and short story anthologies, and we have walked away with numerous writing awards. But we haven’t stopped there. The Ladies Killing Circle anthologies have played a huge role in launching the writing careers of several prominent Canadian mystery writers by giving them just the right encouragement and exposure at that point in their careers when they were asking themselves that crucial question – “Am I any good at this, or should I go back to cleaning toilets?”

I should know. I’m one of them. So if you live in Ottawa, come on down and celebrate with us at Glebe St. James on Saturday night. Time is 7:30, tickets are $30, and it’s all in a good cause!

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 in the final proofing stage and is due out shortly.


What about the readers?

Last night at my book club meeting (I am a part of this club, not a guest author), I paid particular attention to what caught their fancy as they were reading this month's selection (not a mystery). Of course, as with all readers, we each had aspects that we liked or disliked but in general, for a change, there was a unanimity in disliking the choices made by the protaganist. It certainly made for an interesting discussion and from there we branched off into several lively topics.

I took that to mean, whatever you're writing, as long as the writing is compelling and solid, people will read and form an opinion, and hopefully, remember mainly that it was well-written.

The eye-opener came when trying to agree on a book for next month. Some of our members around the table remembered snippets of plots but had great difficulty when it came to titles and authors. Thus, several suggestions sounded vaguely familiar, some titles grabbed our attention, while some author's names rang a bell....until a short description was read aloud. At that point, whatever we thought we remembered about the book, whatever expectations we had of that outstanding title, or the type of book we'd attributed to that all went up in flames.

So, I got to wondering if after all these hours, weeks and months of sweating words and phrases, of building character's lives and settings, if the product of all that is so easily forgotten....why do we do it?

OK...I do know the answer to that. We write because we love to write and feel the need to tell the story. And readers read because they want to enter new worlds,to realize that wrongs can be righted, to be entertained.

I'm sure you can add many more reasons to both lists. But, I'm wondering, what book stands out in your mind and why?

Linda Wiken/Erika Chase

Monday, October 18, 2010


Holidaying with Words and Images.

ADAM: Don't you know I'm having a tough time keeping my hands off you?
(REGGIE reacts in surprise.)
ADAM: Oh, you should see your face.
REGGIE: What about it?
ADAM: It's lovely.
(REGGIE pushes her plate away.)
ADAM: What's the matter?
REGGIE: I'm not hungry any more -- isn't it glorious?

The scene is from the 1963 mystery/thriller, Charade. Adam is Cary Grant, and Reggie is Audrey Hepburn. They are on a Bateau Mouche, an excursion boat that is also a floating restaurant, gliding down the Seine at night. It’s a great romantic moment in a great film.

Not odd that a mystery writer on holiday in France, and whose first full day in Paris was spent on a version of a Bateau Mouche, a Batobus motoring down the Seine from the Jardin des Plantes in the Latin Quarter, to La Tour Eiffel, would link some of the passing scenery to films seen, or books read.

Our apartment was in the Latin Quarter, an easy walk to the Jardin des Plantes, and only a few streets away from la rue Moufftard, with its restaurants and bistros, packed on any given night with tourists, and students from the Sorbonne. It’s also the street where Hemingway hung out in the 1920s, sipping drinks, waiting for cheques from the Toronto Star, and writing always.

The elevator that took us to our third floor apartment also evoked thoughts of Charade. It was a tiny cubicle, just large enough for two people who know each other very well. The alternative route was a narrow spiral staircase, steep going up, tricky to navigate going down. And each time the elevator door opened, I had a vision of another scene from Charade, where one of the lesser bad guys has his throat cut by the senior baddie, played by Walter Matthau.

I packed books for the trip, of course, including two novels by Ross Macdonald, who has long been one of my favourite writers in the mystery genre. While my opinions of Macdonald’s books have changed since I first read them in the 1970s – the linkages between the many characters in his stories seem too complicated now, even a bit contrived – I am still dazzled by the quality of his writing and his insights into human nature.

Could any mystery writer who visits Paris not visit the Catacombs? This writer did. The tour covers some 2 km, and can take more than an hour. They are located in old mines that run for hundreds of kilometres under the city. They are in fact an ossuary, and contain the bones of some 6 million people. Not to everyone’s taste, perhaps, but well worth a visit.

Once back in the sunshine, we walked to number 17 rue Campagne-Première in Montparnasse, where Suzanne’s cousin, the artist Paul Vanier Beaulieu, lived from 1938 until July 1940, when he was interned by the Nazis, finally being released in August 1944.

And there we found another movie connection. Enjoying a superb lunch at a café-cum-teashop just down the street from number 17, we discovered we were at the location for the closing scene in the 1960 Godard film, Breathless - À bout de souffle – a crime flick starring Jean-Paul Belmondo. Not far from where we sat, the Belmondo character, Michel, was shot by the police, and there he drew his final filmic breath.

After Paris came Aix-en-Provence. Defying the will of the unions, who chose the day of our departure to hold a strike, we caught an early train and were whisked south through the gorgeous French countryside at speeds of up to 250 km/hour. Aix is quite another world; with its brightly coloured stucco buildings and narrow alleyways, one can easily imagine oneself being in Morocco.

Our last day in Provence, we booked a tour to Arles and Les Baux. As we walked through the 90 A.D. Roman Amphitheatre at Arles, I had the feeling I’d seen it before. I had. There’s a long sequence in the 1998 Robert De Niro thriller Ronin, shot inside the Amphitheatre: violence, gunfire, bodies all over the landscape. Appropriate to the location, I suppose. The ancient Romans, after all, gloried in slaughter.

And now I am back in Ottawa, struggling to get out of holiday mode, and wanting to get some work done. That will happen soon enough. The line edit of my third Inspector Stride novel, Death of a Lesser Man, will soon arrive, and then I will be hard at it.

Thomas Rendell Curran was born in St. John’s, Newfoundland. His novels are set in the post-war, pre-Confederation Newfoundland of the late 1940’s. His protagonist is Inspector Eric Stride of the Newfoundland Constabulary. (The designation Royal was added to the Constabulary’s title in 1979.) The first, Undertow, was short-listed for an Arthur Ellis Best First Novel Award from Crime Writers of Canada. The second is Rossiter. And the third Eric Stride novel is on its way.

Friday, October 15, 2010


Starting points...

So, how do you start off your writing project, be it a novel or a short story? Does the idea come first -- thoughts of a murder, dear to your heart, that you must work through in fictionalized form? Or maybe some disturbing social issue you'd like to address and feel a mystery is the perfect vehicle? An item in the daily newspaper trigger an idea?

Maybe it's're walking along a street and your imagination takes over, you hear footsteps behind you and you veer to the left, knowing your attacker will be led right to a sheer cliff and over he goes. Okay, that's unlikely, but you get my drift. I'll bet every mystery writer has given some thought to murder while vacationing in a sublime dream spot.

Or do you start with character? Is there a police detective or an amateur sleuth who has been invading your dreams? Someone so compelling, you'd like to share him or her with your readers and have this character right the wrongs you'll imagine?

Character is my starting point, especially character names. I puzzle over them, write them down and sound them out. And from that, the substance of this person starts to form. Which provided one of the major challenges when writing my first novel for the Berkley Prime Crime line. It's a 'house series', which means it's their concept, even the names of the characters are theirs. Which is also why I'm writing it under a pseudonym (Erika Chase).

So back to my challenge. I had to create this main character, an amateur sleuth named Lizzie Turner. Not a name I would have chosen. But I loved the concept so this ghostly outline of a person saw me through the initial couple of chapters. As I re-wrote it, she started to flesh-out a bit more. At some point, I could actually visualize her, then hear her voice. And now, after first draft and revisions, she's my constant companion, a friend who visits every day. And then we go on this adventure. And she ends up solving the case. (that's not a spoiler!)

I'm still revising and I'm sure my friend Lizzie will evolve even more. It's been a terrific writing exercise in itself, forcing me to approach the process a bit differently. And I believe, the more we challenge ourselves to do things differently, the more growth occurs. Here's hoping!

What works best for you?

Linda Wiken/Erika Chase

Wednesday, October 13, 2010


Creating a Masterpiece.

I was reading in an art book about how Leonardo da Vinci created
his masterpiece, the Mona Lisa. First he created a detailed underpainting in
a neutral grey, and then applied his colours in transparent glazes on top.
Sometimes the underpainting would show through the layers, helping to create
form. He muted his palette in a narrow tonal range to give a sense of unity
to the painting. He softened the facial features and made his shadows darker
and more monochromatic as they grew further from the focal point.

His technique of softening colours and edges with dark glazes is
called sfumato, from the Italian fumo, meaning smoke. It's as if all the
edges have been obscured by a haze of transparent shadows, or smoke.

It struck me that writing a mystery follows this pattern. First we lay down
the central storyline and plot. Then we add in the details and colour.
Sometimes you can see the understory. Other times it's obscured by vibrant
bits of detail. If we keep the story within a tonal range, it has unity. The
further we are from the core of the story, the more vague the details

They always said mystery was all smoke and mirrors. Maybe it's sfumato.

Are you on your way to creating a masterpiece?

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.


What do the Arts mean to you?

Reading this morning's newspaper, The Ottawa Citizen, it strikes me yet again what little value this chain attaches to books. In the Arts & Life section, there was one theatre review, of a revival of Deathtrap in Britain; five stories about singers and groups in the U.S., although the regular short music columns were local; and three major articles about U.S. movie stars...that's it for the Arts.

In the news section, there was a short item about the winner of the Man Booker Prize, Howard Jacobson. Now, it may be newsworthy in itself that this item was in the 'World' section however, it was a basically a listing of authors and titles.

So, what's wrong with this picture? Many would say, nothing. But to me, a profile of the author and excerpt from Jacobson's winning novel would have been more appropriate than the half-page on actress Diane Lane not like being compared to Sandra Bullock.

What is this obsession the media has with movie stars? Often we'll find their photos and stories on the front page, no less. Have you ever seen a front page photo and story about an award-winning author? Please clue me in, if this has happened.

This is not something new, nor an adjunct to our electronics-besotted culture. This glorification has been around for decades. I believe there is as much value in a book as in a movie. That the author who has struggled crafting this work using just the right words has as worthy a job as an actor memorizing someone else's words, although they're putting their emotions and talents into the presentation.

And, don't get me started on mystery or 'genre' fiction. We all know where that places on the media importance grid.

What does this say about our culture? Possibly not as much as the reality TV shows do but, we won't go there. I'm tired of Book Sections being dropped from newspapers, of respected mystery reviewers being delegated to the web thus removing access to those of us who still like holding a newspaper, of consumers paying homage to movie stars and hockey stars but not the stars of the literary (meaning books in general) world.

I doubt this will change. Do you?

Linda Wiken/Erika Chase

Tuesday, October 12, 2010


Feeding Hope

For some reason I've been thinking a lot lately about why I became a writer in the first place, and particularly why I always wanted to be a genre writer. Science Fiction, Fantasy, Mystery. Those have always been my loves. And I've come to realize, ironically enough, that the reason I was drawn to genre fiction in the first place was that I found what's now called mainstream fiction to be rather unrealistic, if in a particular way. (There also seemed to be a conspiracy on the part of adults to depict children and teenagers as dangerous aliens -- metaphorically at least -- but that's a story for another day).

Well okay, just one example, since it fits my current theme. You want highly improbable, and let's face it, completely contrived? I give you Lord of the Flies. Left without the softening agent of society children will revert to savagery? No. Really? Been in a girl's washroom lately? Ever? Walk home from school much? Internet bullying, if we want to update things a little? Who needs a crashed plane, an island wilderness and a conch shell?

Even if my thirteen year-old self accepted the premise (which doesn’t, after all, contradict my experience), there's a larger question here. Why would I want to read books that show me people at their worst, as if that is the only reality there is? What I found in genre fiction was writers who took Golding's type of premise for granted, and then gave me characters who at the very least tried to do something about it. That's what I wanted to read then, and that's what I want to read now. It's only in genre fiction that we still find heroes (of both genders), and we can still talk about honour without putting ironic quotation marks around the word.
Put simply, genre books feed the culture of hope, not the culture of despair.

Okay, so maybe none of us are going to be called on to solve a murder, to colonize another planet, to discover the formula or recover the jewel that will save the world from destruction -- that's not realistic. But to be encouraged to use knowledge and ideas, to apply our ingenuity, to find we have the right attitude, the necessary strength and sufficient courage to tackle the problems life does put in our way? That's realistic.

Violette Malan's short mystery fiction has been published in the Canadian anthologies of the "Ladies Killing Circle", in the noir anthology Crime Spree, and in the magazine Over My Dead Body. Her erotic has been published in Penthouse. She is co-editor of "Dead in the Water", an anthology of crime and mystery fiction and she is co-founder of the Scene of the Crime Festival on Wolfe Island.

Violette's first fantasy novel, "The Mirror Prince", was published by DAW (New York) in 2006. "The Sleeping God", the first of her Dhulyn and Parno novels, was published in 2007. The series has continued with "The Soldier King" in 2008 and "The Storm Witch" which was released in September 2009. Her most recent novel, Path of the Sun, was released in Sept. 2010.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Crime on My Mind

Murder on the Thanksgiving Menu.

Since this is the weekend of the Canadian Thanksgiving celebrations -- and I am celebrating with my son in Fredericton, N.B. -- I thought it would be fun to list all the mysteries which take place on or around Thanksgiving. Canadian, British & U.S. titles are all fair fixings. start it off, my choice is Still Life by Louise Penny. It was our first visit to the village of Three Pines in the Eastern Townships and it took place during Thanksgiving weekend. We met and got hooked on Inspector Armand Gamache and all the villagers, even though a murderer was in their midst and a well-known resident was the victim. Not only was the village a wonderful place to visit but the holiday was wonderfully celebrated. it's your turn. (I am on holiday, you know.) Thanksgiving and a book and author!

Linda Wiken/Erika Chase