Monday, November 29, 2010


Chasing the Antiquity Thriller!

When asked for a quick description of The Witch of Babylon, I usually refer to it as an ‘antiquity thriller’ – as such it’s a sub-genre of a sub-genre in the crime writing world. For writers with established reputations in the field – Dan Brown, Steve Berry, Ray Khoury, Doug Preston, Chris Kuzneski to name only a few – the constant ka-ching of the cash registers is a given. Their works are consistent top sellers in the book market over all. And yet at crime writing conferences and on mystery forums we don’t often hear them discussed (with the notable exception of Thrillerfest).

Like a rich aunt who wears too much make up and too many baubles these books are tolerated but not always given their due by opinion-makers. How many times have we heard about issues with characterization and writing style in The Da Vinci Code? I’ve lost count of the number of books in this category that deal with undiscovered Shakespeare manuscripts, missing templar treasure, the Nephilim (fallen angels) or Noah’s ark. And yet readers love them and keep going back for more. Why?’

I think it’s because they offer an irresistible combination: strong narrative, exotic locales and large doses of information about interesting periods in history. I’ve often thought historical novels are close companions to antiquity thrillers, except that, of course, the thriller takes place in present time.

Dan Brown is generally regarded as the father of this brand of novel although notable examples did exist before The Da Vinci Code. Katherine Neville’s international bestseller The Eight was first published in 1988 and still sells strongly today. Umberto Ecco’s The Name of the Rose and Arturo PĂ©rez Reverte’s The Club Dumas, remain benchmarks for excellence in this field of literature.

I became interested in writing an antiquity thriller because I love reading them and the platform this type of book offers allowed me focus on subjects that really engaged me: ancient Near East history and the war in Iraq. Most antiquity thrillers feature Roman, Greek, Egyptian or Holy land antiquity. The Witch highlights Mesopotamian history which I found, rather amazingly, hadn’t yet been addressed.

Antiquity thrillers do tend to follow a clear formula. The prologue describes an event in where a sacred and valuable treasure is hidden by its protectors who are caught up in a threatening historic conflict. Early chapters of the book switch to a contemporary protagonist(s), often an expert in the field – a book restorer or salvage expert for example – who gradually learns about the object’s existence and sets out to recover it. Or, the artifact in question may be a well-known painting or manuscript in which its creator has embedded a hidden code or revelation. The object often possesses ‘secrets’ that threaten deeply held religious beliefs or indeed, world stability, and the antagonists will stop at nothing to win.

Within the formula, however, there’s a lot of scope to flex a writer’s wings and a great variation in how skilfully the author handles his/her material. I envy authors of historical novels because the history forms an organic part of the novel’s setting and action. With an antiquity thriller, the writer must convey a considerable amount of detailed historical information in a less natural way.

Because they concern historical events with a direct influence on contemporary realities, antiquity thrillers also brush up against volatile political or religious currents in the world today. So the lost golden menorah or the hidden Book of Genesis, for example, becomes embroiled in the strife of the Holy lands. A number of antiquity thriller writers are journalists and I suspect that fiction offers them a way to express their opinions more broadly than they’re able to as professional reporters. This too is a potential minefield in that it can easily descend into preachiness, something that is anathema to a novel’s entertainment value.

Two superlative examples of how to avoid this come from another sub-genre – political thrillers. David Ignatius’s Body of Lies’ and Robert Harris’s The Ghost both succeed brilliantly. Whether or not you agree with their political viewpoint, you’re sure to love reading their books.

Antiquity thrillers are now firmly entrenched in the annals of crime fiction. If you haven’t been introduced any yet, why not give one a try?

D.J. (Dorothy) McIntosh is a former co-editor of the Crime Writers of Canada newsletter, Fingerprints. She divides her time between First Nations land on the shores of Lake Huron and Toronto where she indulges in two loves: live music and museums. She is a strong supporter of Reporters Without Borders and the Committee to Protect Journalists.

The Witch of Babylon has been sold in nine languages and in World English audio. It will be available on store bookshelves next June.

Sunday, November 28, 2010


Where do I get my what?

Oh. Ideas. Yes. Well, funny you should ask, especially today as I contemplate the terrifying blank screen on this and several other projects. Authors get asked that all the time. I once heard the amazing and prolific Harlan Ellison say that he got his ideas in Schenectady. Picked them up in six packs. If only.

But seriously, getting ideas is no kind of problem. Ideas are everywhere, popping out of the newspaper headlines or even ads, waving at you from the street, peering out from the racks in stores, filtering out of your dreams. I have thousands of ideas. Seems like every casual conversation, obituary, crime report, wedding announcement, lost cat poster and community bazaar announcement contains the seeds of the best new book ever. Sometimes, when you are minding your own business, someone will approach you with their very own terrific idea, a winner, which they are willing to share and all you have to do is write up the book.

Too bad, ideas are the easy part. That’s right.

The tricky bit is turning that brilliant idea into something that resembles a completed story. Here’s the thing: it’s not just a matter of typing. Those stories that authors crank out, they didn’t actually happen. The story didn’t pre-exist; the characters didn’t do what transpired in the tale; and none of the dialogue was ever uttered. If the sun shone, the author decided it would shine and described what that looked like (yellowish) and felt like (hot). If it rained, the author decided how it would sound slashing against the window. You see, a novel doesn’t simply assemble itself neatly in the author’s brain and then flow out down the arms and out through the fingers to the keyboard after which it is just a short hop to the bestseller list. Hard to believe, but trust me, there’s more to it. There’s all the tossing and turning at night, the pacing, the napping in the afternoons, the talking out loud when no one is there, not to mention the dozens of distracting household projects.

Are your spices in alphabetical order? If not, you may not be really writing a book.

Then there are dogs to be cuddled, walks to be walked, not to mention long chats with friends, visits to blogs (sad but true) and endless wanderings through Facebook and other social labyrinths.

Ideas? You can keep them. Me? I’m working on the eighty thousand words that turn my latest nifty idea into a story worth reading for the next Camilla MacPhee book. But first, I think my bookshelves would look better if the volumes were sorted by colour. I’ll be back shortly. Save my place.

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

Friday, November 26, 2010


Deadlines vs clutter!

So, I'm sitting here looking out the window at the sun sparkling on ice-drenched tree branches, snow on roofs as the backdrop. And I'm feeling invigorated. Time to write. With the deadline for sending in my manuscript to the publisher less than a week away, I'm feeling the pressure.

The first draft was finished in August, before I left on my choir trip to Sicily. Since coming back, it's been re-written a couple of times, re-jigged, polished...and still there are those pesky xxx that mark a word or something that escaped me as I've gone through it. Time for deep research skills to come into play.

Another task is finding quotes. Not the cover type -- that will come much later in the process, I'm told. What I'm looking for are quotes from other books that will be placed at the beginning of each chapter. That's what the publisher wants...that's what the publisher will get. But finding them is a major task in itself. Note to self -- check with other Berkley authors who have similar bits at the opening of each chapter. How did they do this -- accumulate while reading all year long? Target certain authors? What's their secret?

I've been learning a lot in this writing process. Major lesson -- keep a running timeline handy as writing. If you have to go back at the end of the first draft to re-construct it, you'll be tearing your hair out. Or, uttering curses under your breath.

Now, I've done the screen edit, the paper edit, the read-aloud edit and am still working on the re-typing edit. This really is work, being a full-time writer. I have nothing but total admiration for those who manage to do it and still work outside the house.

Speaking of the house, I try to avoid looking at my floors these days. It would be so easy to give into the need to tidy the growing paper deluge. When did this start? Why, with new bookcases throughout my house, are the floors in my office once again piled high (in front of said bookcases) with stacks of magazine, newspapers, and books? Some is reference material, but not all. Charlotte Adams, where are you when you're needed?

And I won't even mention the TV room that has Rubbermaid bins of wrapping paper, bows and gift bags haphazardly decorating the floor. Life intrudes. Some Christmas gifts have to be mailed early, you know. How easy it would be to give into the pull to tidy all this clutter up, shove it away, and maybe vacuum. I'd feel virtuous and what better procrastination is there?

Ah, but that deadline's looming. I've always claimed I've worked better going up to deadlines. We'll see. Because as soon as this deadline is over, another starts up. But don't we all love it!

So, who claims to be organized enough to have both a book ready on deadline and a tidy home?

Linda Wiken/Erika Chase

Thursday, November 25, 2010


False perceptions.

In a recent Mayhem on Monday post Mary Jane Maffini pondered an apparent paradox. Writers are constantly told by publishers and agents that Americans won't read books set in Canada. Yet whenever Mary Jane speaks to an American audience and asks whether they want to read Canadian books, they give her an enthusiastic thumbs-up. Their only complaint is that the books are hard to find in their local stores.

One has only to read a list of the prizes that Louise Penny garners each year to realize that people south of the border love these books set in Three Pines, Quebec. My friend from Virginia borrowed a Giles Blunt book from me and loved it. She had to buy the rest of his list online, however, as they aren't available in the Borders near where she lives.

I love Peter Clement's edgy medical thrillers but I wish I could have read the first version set in Montreal, a city of fascinating cultural and language conflicts. Peter's agent told him he would only be able to sell the books if they were set in Buffalo. Buffalo? I kid you not.

Could it be that American publishers are out of touch with what their readers actually want? It reminds me of the story of the late Harry Elton. Harry, a young film school graduate from Toronto was recruited in the late nineteen fifties to produce programming for the brand new Granada Television Network in England. He commissioned Tony Warren to write thirteen episodes of a new soap opera. When Harry screened the first installment for his bosses at Granada, they were appalled. Nobody wants to watch shows set around a pub and a row of council houses in industrial Lancashire, they told him. People are interested in the rich and famous not the poor and ordinary.

They threatened to scrap the project until Harry arranged to have a single episode aired on monitors throughout the Granada building. When the tea ladies and secretarial staff begged to see the next installment, the Granada management grudgingly allowed Harry to put the show on the air. The rest, of course, is history. Coronation Street is still going strong and is watched throughout the English-speaking world. After more than fifty years, it's the longest-running and most financially lucrative soap opera in the world.

So how do we get our books into the hands of the "tea ladies" in the United States so they can tell publishers and booksellers that they really do want to read mysteries set in Canada?

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, November 24, 2010


How book club discussion illuminates personal preferences in crime fiction reading

As individuals we know why we read crime fiction and often tend to think everyone else reads for the same reasons we do. But in our reading group discussions we found that people actually look for different things in mysteries and can be quite definite about their personal likes and dislikes. Perspectives often differ quite radically over the same book in fact. Here are some of our observations from our own group discussions over the past two years.

Some people read purely for the "Why" and don't care about anything else. Others want more.. ..they want a good story, good writing, believable characters and character development. They want likeable characters and will express little tolerance for those they dislike.

Other readers look for the "Who did it" factor. They want clues to try and figure the mystery out themselves. They want good detail. They will review the story afterwards for accuracy and nothing makes them more outspoken than if the author has resorted to a last minute surprise clue or pulled facts out of "left-field'". All the relevant details must be given, or else!

One of the most popular aspects seems to be "The Setting". Here readers are keen to read about family life in another time, or another place, e.g. WWI. Because murder is a human experience they wish to enjoy the story while, at the same time, getting a picture of how people lived in another era and to observe the differences to how we live today. Detail enriches the story and is important.

By extension, some readers choose "Other Cultures". Here the "setting" will be foreign: Iceland being a recent newcomer. These readers are world-wide travellers delving this week into the Turkish setting and the next in Sicily or Sweden . Often, they say, the enrichment of the new or unknown adds suspense to the story. They want to feel that difference as they read. They want to hear a different "voice"....the author writing about his own country and people.

However, sometimes our readers prefer stories that stay closer to home. Preferences here vary from the different social experiences within the North-American setting, to local history. We found very strong interest in our group for reading Canadian crime writers, whether in a modern or historical setting.

The issue of a " Different Perspective" is often discussed. For example, a foreign author writing about his/her own country versus an American author writing a story set in another country. A reader will usually prefer one over the other. We equate this with the example of a Scandinavian movie made in Sweden versus the same story made into a movie in the US , from translation.

Do people read themes? Yes, in our experience they very often do and they may stick to a theme and have to be persuaded to try other writing styles. Often this choice is because of a personal background which motivates this reader to want to learn more about their chosen theme. There are many to choose from and some of the most popular seem to be "Forensic ; Culinary; the Supernatural/ Paranormal; Animals; "The Private Eye" and, of course, those old favourites, "Police Procedurals" and "Village Life Crime".

Comic or Graphic? A good comic mystery can be hard to find, although many readers find "Cosies" fit the bill. Fewer readers seem to love the dark and demented . Sometimes one reader will love a good Psychological mystery but hate one about Serial Killers, or the reverse, without really being able to explain why. However, one thing is sure, readers' "squeamish levels" vary enormously. Sometimes trying and testing the whole spectrum between the Noir and the Cosy can be a reader's complete reading experience.

Finally, we have discussed "The Stand-Alone", those one-off crime novels. Some readers treat these as an indulgence between their regular fare. Other readers far prefer a series with recurring familiar characters.

A few things seem certain. Our readers hate anything formulaic or unbelievable. Whatever their chosen style of writing or story, they want good characters, quality of writing, pace and good plot development. Some prefer lots of description, others not.

Who can doubt that reading crime fiction can be an educational experience?

Anne Jeanjean was born in the UK, has an English Lit. degree and has adored crime fiction since she was ten. It all began with Agatha Christie and now she’s into forensic, police procedurals and foreign authors.
Catherine Jeanjean, her daughter, is a Librarian and worked for nearly five years in Kansas at Kansas State University Library. She is now a Collections Management Librarian for Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.
Together they are the coordinators for a crime fiction reading group based at the Alta Vista Public Library, called the SleuthHounds. This group has been going strong for over two years now.

Monday, November 22, 2010


Entering the Panic Zone

My latest book, The Panic Zone concerns the story of Emma Lane, young mother who survives a car crash, which claims her husband and baby boy. In the confusion she thinks she sees someone rescue her son. But in the hospital she's told she's enduring trauma and that her husband and baby are dead. A few nights later, while grappling with her grief, a stranger calls, telling her: "Your baby is alive." Eventually, Jack Gannon, a wire service reporter based in New York City, helps her search for the truth about her baby. They learn that the tragedy may be tied to deadly conspiracy that reaches around the world with chilling implications and their pursuit becomes a panicked race against time.

The Panic Zone
is the second book in the Jack Gannon series. Thriller fans met Gannon in the first book in the series, Vengeance Road when it was released in 2009. The prestigious International Thriller Writers (ITW) has named Vengeance Road a finalist for a 2010 Thriller Award in the category of Best Paperback Original and The Private Eye Writers of America also selected Vengeance Road as a finalist in the category of Best Paperback Original.

The story for this book came from a spectrum of sources. As I do with most of my books, I drew on my times as a reporter, my experiences as a human being, I observe the world around me, always thinking, wondering, "What if?" When I'm stuck, make things up.

With The Panic Zone, I recalled reading a news story years ago about a mother whose baby died in a house fire - was incinerated with nothing left. For years the mother had always believed in her heart that her baby was alive somewhere. Somehow later a child surfaced and DNA proved it was her child and they were reunited. I think the story was that the baby had been abducted from her crib during the fire, or something. Anyway, I thought of that when I created my fictional mother, Emma Lane.

For Gannon's assignment I drew on my own time when I was a working at the Calgary Herald and Columbine broke. I was dispatched to cover the story -- told to get on the next plane to Denver with nothing but a laptop and a credit card -- to buy what I needed in Colorado.

My stomach was in knots at the magnitude. When I left, the fear was 10 deaths. When I landed in Denver, President Clinton was on the airport TVs offering condolences and the fear was 25 dead. My knees nearly buckled.

I drew upon that tension for Jack Gannon, when he's dispatched from New York to fly to Rio de Janeiro to cover the breaking story of a cafe bombing -- I used my experience of being thrown into chaos with a clock ticking. Now, for part of the science in The Panic Zone, I recalled the time I was on assignment in Africa when I was bit in my lower leg by a dog in a village in Ethiopia. We were in a 90% exposure zone and doctors were extremely concerned, they feared that a bat could have infected the aggressive dog. Because it was in my lower leg, I got a pre-exposure shots for rabies in Addis Ababa.

That got me thinking about bats carrying diseases and I imagined clandestine scientific expeditions into remote African jungle caves to collect lethal saliva from bats carrying a new lethal strain. That led to further research and some chilling scenes in the book.

I read a number of books on the history of secret, often troubling, research. Throughout history there are horrifying cases of people subjected to experimentation without their consent. Poor people, people in prisons, mental hospitals - look at the Nazi experiments on concentration camp inmates.

In recent years there have been reports of disturbing efforts to create biological weapons that target specific races, or genes - a genetic attack. And just go online and you'll find all kinds of conspiracy theories about any kind of questionable experiments -- but The Panic Zone is all fiction.

However, there was the time I was dispatched to Jamaica to do a story on the murky background of an ex-Jamaican cop who murdered a police officer in Canada. I rode in the back of a pickup with Jamaica's anti-drug task force on drug raids in the slums of Kingston.

As our vehicles marshaled and the cops locked and loaded these two white guys in dark glasses materialized and asked: Who are you? Reporter, I said. Who are you? – We're not here, they said.

Later one of the cops beside me told me the strangers were CIA working on something. It stayed with me and got me thinking about the ghost work carried out in exotic places and I worked some of it into The Panic Zone.

As for what's next: I've just written my 12th novel which will be released in the early part of 2011. It is titled IN DESPERATION and will be the third book in the Jack Gannon series.

I expect to do more in the series and possibly another stand alone.

For more information visit - sign up for my newsletter on my homepage for exclusive chances to win free autographed books.

Rick Mofina grew up in Belleville, Ontario. He received his Bachelor of Journalism degree from Carleton University in Ottawa and began his writing career as a news reporter.

His freelance crime stories have appeared in The New York Times, Reader's Digest, and Penthouse. He is the author of several crime/suspense novels and short stories. He won the Arthur Ellis Award for Best Novel from Crime Writers of Canada for his novel, Blood of Others.


What is it about book people? And what can they do for you?

There’s something about book people. They are irresistible. Whenever I see a person reading a book or just carrying a book, I feel an instant form of kinship. It’s as if we’re members of a club or secret society with books as our common bond and secret handshake. It doesn’t matter what kind of book, only that it is a book. Newspapers and magazines are good too, but only a book carries that special weight.

I have a magical belief that this book reader must be a good person as well as an interesting person. Of course, as I tilt my head to read the spine of the book my new best friend is clutching, he or she invariably catches me. They don’t necessarily feel that instant connection. I offer as Exhibit A the expression on the face of the businessman who was actually reading the same book that I was on a recent flight from Toronto to Ottawa. As we emerged into the airport, I pointed that out to him. I hope he wasn’t badly injured in his rush to put a little distance between us. But hey, you can’t have everything.

Last week, Barbara Fradkin posted about book launches. I understood completely. That same week, I was clutching signed copies of Beautiful Lie the Dead, Barbara Fradkin’s latest Inspector Green and In Winter’s Grip, Brenda Chapman’s terrific first adult myster at their joint launch. Glancing around the Library and Archives Canada, I felt a warm sense of kinship with others who were holding the same books and celebrating the same authors. I’ll be keeping my eyes open for people reading these terrific crime novels in my travels.

Some of the best book people can’t confine themselves to one-on-one discussions or even launches. They love books and they love authors. They write; they read; they write about reading. They enjoy the connection and the community and being part of spreading the good word. If they are also organized, they can expand this into a blog with invited authors or a website of book reviews. What better way to connect with others in the reading club than by sharing discoveries and opinions? It’s better yet if mystery is their focus. One site that I really enjoy is Jim Napier’s Jim is not only the mystery book reviewer (The Suspended Sentence) for The Sherbrooke Record, Quebec’s largest English language paper outside Montreal, but also serves up this useful online mix of current book reviews, genre discussions, resources and information for readers and crime writers. Deadly Diversions is an excellent and welcoming club house for us to drop into! It’s also well worth bookmarking and adding to your weblinks, if you have such critters.

I hope you will pop over to Jim’s site and check it out. Tell your friends. While you’re at it, what’s your favorite sources of information about mysteries, reviews and opinions? Outside of Mystery Maven Canada, of course!

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

Friday, November 19, 2010


Victoria, here we come!

I've noticed several postings on Facebook lately bemoaning the arrival of colder temperatures and the inevitable S word. My shovels are at alert out in the back yard. This morning I wore an even thicker toque when out for my walk. And, I had the snow tires put on a couple of weeks ago. This week is was time for an undercoating. Of the car.

Let's face it, these are the routines of winter and we know it's going to come. However, if you're feeling dragged down by the thought, just think ahead to summer delights. In particular, that great Canadian event where you get to meet old friends and new, strut your stuff as an author, and probably even pick up some useful tips.

Of course, it's Bloody Words, the Canadian mystery conference! And in 2011, there's the added bonus of it taking place in beautiful Victoria, B.C. If you haven't yet visited this wonderful city, it really is a Canadian jewel and what a great excuse to see it.

Lou Allin and the Bloody Words gang has been busy for well over a year planning a weekend filled with panels, workshops, special author services, and of course, a to-die-for banquet.

Those author services include: a manuscript evaluation; the Bony Pete short story contest, and appointments with agents. Of course, there are the autograph sessions, the Mystery Cafe, and the dealer room to add that extra sizzle to the conference.

Check out the website at for all the details plus the list of who has already registered. Probably, a lot of your author friends. It would make a great Christmas gift for a partner, or yourself! And you should book your hotel room soon, to make sure you're staying where all the action takes place.

The dates are June 3-5, 2011 at the Hotel Grand Pacific (and that's located at the inner harbour -- how wonderful!). Guest of Honour is Michael Slade; International GOH, Laurie R. King; Local GOH, William Deverell; and a first for Bloody Words, a Ghost of Honour, Amor deCosmos. MC is Denise Dietz.

What a great line-up. And believe me, it'll be fun! As a writer, as a reader, this is the one conference you really must attend. See you there!

Linda Wiken/Erika Chase

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


There’s no business like the mystery business!

Tuesday evening Brenda Chapman and I threw a party at the Library and Archives Canada to celebrate the launch our latest mysteries. There was wine, thanks to the Friends of the Library, food, musical entertainment provide by George Pike, readings, signings, schmoozing, and of course books for sale. Oodles of people came. Brenda and I signed books and greeted friends all evening long until our voices were hoarse and our hand sore.

Later that evening, with my feet up on my coffee table and a glass of wine at my elbow, I had a chance to reflect on this wonderful annual event called the Ottawa mystery book launch. It is a launch like none other. There is a buzz of joy and anticipation in the room, books fly off the sales table and people line up twenty deep waiting to get them signed. Old friends and new fans alike come to celebrate with you, and laugh and chat together as they mingle. Mystery lovers are passionate about their genre, and are eager to discover new authors or to buy the latest of old favourites.

How did this all happen? How did Ottawa come to have such a special relationship to its mystery community? I think we need look no further than the Ladies Killing Circle. Back in the mists of time, so far back that those of us who were there can no longer remember the details, the Ladies Killing Circle edited its first anthology and celebrated its first launch. First time authors like myself, thrilled to see our names in print, invited every friend and family member within a day’s drive of the Capital, and we filled the foyer of the Library and Archives Canada. Wine flowed and homemade treats were snapped up. Two years later, we did it again, with some newly acquired fans in attendance along with the dutiful family members.

Then one of our circle, Mary Jane Maffini, published her very own first mystery, SPEAK ILL OF THE DEAD, and we all filled the Library and Archives again, along with Mary Jane’s numerous friends and large family. The next year it was me, publishing my very first Inspector Green mystery, DO OR DIE. Over the years, more Camilla McPhee, Fiona Silk and Inspector Green novels swelled the ranks, and some years we held joint launches so as to give our poor friends a break. Two authors for the price of one, so to speak. Her fans became my fans, and vice versa.

A few years later, another LKC member, Joan Boswell, launched her solo novel career with the Hollis Grant series, and RJ Harlick, who had received her first publishing credit as a contributor to the Ladies Killing Circle anthologies, launched Meg Harris. Each held launches in the elegant marble foyer of the Library and Archives Canada, with George Pike’s fluid piano playing in the background and Georgia Ellis’ Friends of the Library keeping the wine flowing. It was becoming an annual fall event. What was the pre-holiday gift-buying season without a trip to the Library to stock up on the latest autographed tomes?

As of now, there have been seven LKC anthologies, eight Inspector Green novels, twelve Mary Jane Maffini novels, four Meg Harris’s and three Hollis Grants launched at the Library. And two days ago, Brenda Chapman joined the ranks. Far from growing tired of the yearly ritual, Ottawa’s mystery loving community seems to have embraced it. The launch parties have become an annual event, growing in size and enthusiasm as each new book and author arrives on the scene, bringing their own coterie of family and fans.

It is this unique combination of friendship, mutual support, and wonderful writing that makes the Ottawa mystery community the envy of so many. As crime writers, we may not get much media attention at our vibrant, overflowing launches. We may not get invited to participate in the Ottawa Writers’ Festival or get shortlisted for the Ottawa Book Awards, but we know that we have created something very special. Our friends, family and readers know it too.

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.


Fear not!

As a writer, what is your biggest fear? Is it that you will hold a launch and no one will come? That said launch will run out of your books? That the food will disappear before the readings start...or that you will totally forget what you want to say? Well, happy to report, none of the above happened at last night's launch of the new books by Barbara Fradkin and Brenda Chapman! It was a great launch...and now, on to more promotional events for the authors.

Perhaps, you worry that your book will become so popular (high profile awards will do that!) and the publisher won't be able to reprint fast enough. That happened to Giller winner Johanna Skibsrud's book, The Sentimentalists. Her small publisher, Gaspereau Press wasn't able to handle the amazing demand but fortunately, the trade paperback rights have now been sold to Douglas & McIntyre. So, that's good news, bad news, good news.

I wonder if the same pattern might follow for Allan Casey, winner of the Governor General's Award for non-fiction, Lakeland: Journeys into the Soul of Canada. It's from a small press, Greystone Books. Or perhaps Dianne Warren, the GG English language fiction winner for her novel, Cool Water might be caught up in this windfall/shortfall scenerio. Even though she has a big time publisher, HarperCollins Canada. I do see it's listed as out of stock on an on-line website. Obviously, HC was taken off guard.

For me, the fear is nothing so substantial. It's the problem of forgetting. Forgetting to do something, so I use a post-it or write it in my agenda. Then I forget to read it. I have a deadline looming, but I'm not likely to forget that. Dec. 1st is the first thing in my brain every morning when I awaken.

Today's annoyance is that I've once again forgotten to upgrade my computer software. So, here I am, cajoling a wonderful reader/mystery supporter into doing a guest blog and when she's able to send it (she's had a busy, busy month or so), I'm unable to open it. And, it's not like this is the first time this has happened. So, here's my substitute blog for the day. I'll use Anne's next Wed. and give it the full day's viewing it deserves.

As for my forgetfulness...I'll try to remember to come up with a better way or remembering.

I'd be interested to hear what is your greatest fear as a writer?

Linda Wiken/Erika Chase

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


In Winter's Grip

This is the first adult mystery from Brenda Chapman, who has three popular YA mysteries under her belt. And what a debut! In Winter's Grip lives up to its name and holds the readers in its grip all the way through.

Maja Cleary, a plastic surgeon who lives in Ottawa with her husband, travels back to her hometown in Duved Cove, Minnesota for her father's funeral. Going back is a hard thing to do because of the years of bad memories of her abusive father and a young love affair she ran away from. Maja has many unresolved issues that confront her when she returns but she's also determined to protect her younger brother, Jonas from being charged with her father's murder.

The plot has lots of twists and turns, becoming a maze of secrets and past transgressions just bursting to be exposed. Her father touched many lives, and none of it was good, however it was all done in secret, so his image around town remained that of a former police officer, who was held in high regard. As Maja uncovers various aspects of her father's sordid past, Jonas appears to have even more motives to have done the deed, and then...another body is found; the list of suspects increases. And, as Maja nears the truth, the killer gets closer to her.

Getting at the truth means also sorting out her own life, and Maja Cleary is gutsy enough to do just that. These are characters we care about and join with Maja in searching for the truth. There are many layers to be exposed, and the suspense drives the reader to keep reading right to the end.

This is a beautifully written book with landscapes painted on the pages. Brenda Chapman has given the reader, mystery or mainstream, a complex, most satisfying read.

Join Brenda and fellow mystery author Barbara Fradkin tonight for their double launch (Fradkin's 8th Inspector Green novel, Beautiful Lie the Dead) at the Library and Archives Canada, 395 Wellington St., Ottawa at 7:00 p.m. Books will be available for purchase by Books on Beechwood, the authors will be happy to sign your copies, and schmooze. And, there'll be refreshments.

Linda Wiken/Erika Chase

Monday, November 15, 2010


They like us, they really like us

At Magna cum Murder, a recent mystery conference in Muncie, Indiana (yes really), I found myself flanked by lawyers at the Saturday dinner. As I finished explaining to my pleasant companion on my left that one of my series characters was also a lawyer, the charming woman on my right said, “Oh yes, I know Camilla. I’ve read your books.”

When I picked myself up off the floor, she said, “Our library book club did them this summer. We read three Canadian women mystery writers in August and you were one of them.” As this was the Tippecanoe County Public Library to which I had no known connection, it was quite a puzzle. The other two were Lou Allin and Louise Penny, so naturally I felt honoured although still mystified. Still, the topic was called Cool Canadian Crime and it was great to be included.

On the long drive home, I wondered how this had come to be. Was it a blog that someone had written? A wayward Cool Canadian Crime bookmark that had fallen into the right hands? Word of mouth? A chance remark?

I may never find out, but it gave me quite a boost to learn that the many steps we take to forge connections with our current and potential readers can pay off in mysterious ways. Because connecting with readers is what it’s all about. Oh sure, it’s nice to make a buck or two along the road, but we all know how to make money, and writing mysteries is not really the easiest way as a rule. We tell our stories and create our characters and obsess endlessly over setting, plot, ambiance and dialogue because we love the genre and we hope that readers will share in this world with us.

Canadians are always interested in capturing the American mystery reader, because, trust me, there are zillions of them and they read a massive amount of crime fiction. But how do they learn about our Canadian books?

At the same conference, Brenda Chapman was promoting her atmospheric new novel In Winter’s Grip, which is set in Canada and the USA. She spoke out on her panel and asked the audience: “We are told that Americans don’t care about Canada. Are you interested in reading books with a Canadian setting?” Every hand shot up. Everyone was interested. One woman said, “I love Canadian books, but I don’t know how to find them.”

As you can imagine, she does now. Our Crime Writers of Canada bookmarks were soon snapped up at the promo tables.

On the same trip, Brenda and I were welcomed with open arms for our mystery event at Cuyahoga County Public Library in what was surely the most beautiful library room I’d every been in. The fountain was just part of it. Even more beautiful was the fact it was packed with readers in spite of (or maybe because of) the dark and stormy night. They leaned forward, they listened intently, they laughed, they clapped. It was like a dream come true. They like us, I thought, they really like us.

The connection? The librarian, Wendy Bartlett, was a friend of my friend, the energetic mystery reader and noted blogger Kaye Barley, whom I had met through an online discussion group. Kaye had introduced her friend to my books and so it went. The North Carolina based Kaye loves Canadian authors and often has Canadian guests blogging at A little spark here, a little connection there. It all makes a difference and the sparks continue to fly.

The Canadian contingent was sparking away again this year in Bouchercon San Francisco. President Cathy Astolpho, administrator Melodie Campbell and BC Veep Lou Allin arrived sporting the very flattering new Crime Writers of Canada T-shirts and dispensing smiles, bookmarks and nifty rulers to all and sundry. I managed to snag one too. Worth every penny. I think as a result of the visibility of CWC, there will be not only greater awareness of Canadian crime, but mysterious connections in the future for all of us. My point and I do have one: everything counts in the ongoing quest for new readers.

It’s a long battle and we’ll win it reader by reader. So, what contacts have been effective for you as an author and a reader?

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

Friday, November 12, 2010


There's something about foreign locales....

I classify myself as basically an armchair traveler. I used to have a lot of those shopping at Prime Crime, looking for an exciting, foreign setting (one which it was unlikely they'd visit, at least not in the near future), and oh, yes...with a riveting mystery involved.

Canada has never had that classification. Although, I sold many Canadian authored books to readers who wanted a bit of Canada on their bookshelves, it wasn't an overwhelming amount of business. And, we all know what U.S. publishers think about books set in Canada!

But there is good news on the foreign front. Dorothy McIntosh shared her great news this week that the rights to The Witch of Babylon were bought in China. Well done, Dorothy! She adds her name to a select group of Canadian mystery authors, among them Gail Bowen and Mary Jane Maffini, who have done the same. And then, Peggy Blair announced that the rights to her novel, The Beggar's Opera had been sold to Norway. And that's before it's even published in English. Amazing. And we won't even start listing Peter Robinson's foreign rights sales.

Canadian mystery and crime writers are making their marks around the world and helping to put Canada on the armchair travelers' map. Of course, we do have some intrepid authors who take their sleuths overseas to exotic locales. Like Anthony Bidulka's globe-trotting Saskatchewan PI, Russel Quant. I recently toured Dubai with him.

William Deverell and Karen Dudley have sent their sleuths to Costa Rica (great reads on a cold winter's day) And of course, the late wonderful Lyn Hamilton had her Toronto antique dealer, Lara McClintock in a different country for each archeological outing. And not so long ago, John Spencer Hill, also deceased, set his police procedurals in Italy. Which was also the setting for one of Mary Jane Maffini's Camilla McPhee novels.

We do love our armchair travels, which probably accounts for the popularity of Steig Larsson and Henning Mankell's Swedish series, of Matt Beynon Rees and his series set in Palestine, of Andrea Camilleri's Sicilian police Inspector, of Colin Cotterill and his witty coroner in Laos, Donna Leon's in Italy and Barbara Nadel in Turkey. The list goes on and on.

So, armchair reading aside, now that we're reading the foreigners and they are reading us, we need to ramp up our support of Canadian mystery writers and spread the word that made in Canada is good reading!

Linda Wiken/Erika Chase

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


When fiction imitates life...

One of the postings one one of my yahoo groups this morning is about a gas line being accidentally cut as some road work was being done. Scary thing to see happen outside your window, especially when the consequences could be disasterous -- not to get you excessively worried, RJ.

A similar, but less critical incident happened here a few years ago when workers, digging way down deep into the roadway, cut the water main which resulted in a spectacular gusher, directed mainly at my neighbour's front window.

The instant advice this a.m. was to take notes. Consider this research and who knows in what book or short story it will re-appear. Excellent advice, as you never know when you'll need the diversion of a ruptured gas main to allow your sleuth to conduct a slightly illegal search of the house next door. Or that gusher of water could bring someone running out of the house, someone who'd been hiding out and is now found.

Life is constant fodder for all writers and often it doesn't take much to trigger a story line. On the weekend, I jokingly suggested that the car parked in the far corner of a deserted business park, and the two figures shaking hands then backing away to continue their talk, was a drug deal going down. I won't tell you what the response was from my non-mystery reader friend. But the words 'overly active WEIRD imagination' were used. Still, it got me to thinking...and it's filed away for future use. Something about the hour of the morning, the clouds hovering low, the chance sighting by a passer-by.....

And then there are the "truth is stranger than fiction" incidents that no one would believe possible if included in a book. Which is a good reason not to include them in your book. An Ontario serial killer, and a cat burglar (a real cat, the kind that meows) come instantly to mind. I did try to use the cat burglar and my agent in the kindest possible way, suggested I remove it.

As Anne Lamott states in Word by Word (blogged about previously), she never leaves home without a pen and index cards on her person. It's that all too real possibility that you see a inciting incident or hear an amazing phrase...and not remember it when you sit down at the computer. Or keep them on the beside table for when you lie there with your brain working overtime half the night.

Has real life crept into your latest writings?

Linda Wiken/Erika Chase

Tuesday, November 9, 2010


Nightshade -- the review

Tom Henighan has a way with words. And he has managed to combine that skill along with the key ingredient of suspense in his new crime novel from Dundurn Press, Nightshade. That can often be a tricky balancing act when it comes to mystery and crime writing.

Starting out in Ouebec City, Sam Montcalm, an Ottawa P.I. and the hero of the story, provides a travelogue of well-known streets and areas, all described with an artist’s touch to take the reader along for the walk.

The plot revolves around the genetic manipulation of trees, the topic at a scientific conference taking place in Quebec City. A delegate, the primary mover and shaker with a U.S. company heavily involved in research, is murdered. Montcalm is asked by a former girlfriend to help prove the innocence of her partner, Daniel, a First Nations artist whose paintings are a protest against nature’s destruction, who is accused of the crime. Then, a second murder occurs.

Of course, there’s a woman, and Montcalm’s track record should warn him to beware but he’s a wounded soul who is easily drawn in. Too bad she’s one of the scientists from California, and therefore a suspect.

As the minutes tick away before the conferences ends, the need to wrap up the case pushes the investigators into a race with the clock. The final scene is played out in the Gatineau Hills, as Montcalm must face the killer, an angry police presence, and his own shortcomings.

Sam Montcalm is a conflicted, middle-aged, tough, self-deprecating soul whose personal demons often get the best of him. But he’s also a guy who knows his classical music and enjoys the masters of fine art. As he struggles to come to terms with his past, he passionately fights for the cause of the First Nations, the environment, and justice.

Tom Henighan has crafted a multi-layered story with a very human, very imperfect protagonist, a wonderful descriptive writing style, and a tale of crime and passion for our times. Nightshade is Henighan’s first venture into the adult sector of this genre. His previous book, Doom Lake Holiday, was a teen mystery set in the Rideau Lakes district and proved to be popular with that age group. He also has two stand-alone mainstream novels, both short-listed for well-known literary awards. He is an Ottawa writer and editor.

Linda Wiken