Tuesday, March 8, 2011


If I’d known then what I know now

When I set out to write my first novel, The Cold Light of Mourning, I had no idea where the journey would lead and I was very surprised, in 2009 to find myself a published author.

I was so focused on the writing and getting published aspect of the process, I hadn’t considered what would or should happen next – the promotion part. And this is odd because I teach public relations at Humber College, so you’d think if anybody should have been aware of the marketing/PR aspect of book publishing it would be me. But I hadn’t really thought that far ahead. (And now that I’ve got that bit worked out, I find it challenging to promote myself. I feel uncomfortable with tooting my own horn. Seems wrong, somehow, and yet the authors who are very, very good at it are the ones whose books sell very, very well.)

Here’s what else I didn’t know until after my book was published:

- That conferences could be so much fun
- That other authors would be so friendly
- That there are so many wonderful mystery books to discover

I attended the Malice Domestic conference in Washington, DC for the first time in 2006 and that opened up a whole new world to me. It was an amazing experience to be in the company of so many like-minded people – everyone there a fan of the traditional mystery as typified by the works of Agatha Christie. Pen and notebook at the ready, I sat in on as many sessions as I could, listening to authors I’d never heard of but have since come to know very well, discussing various aspects of the craft of writing mysteries. I learned a lot.

Three years later, I was there again, this time as a published author. It felt strange taking my place for the first time at an authors’ table as part of a panel sharing my thoughts on the craft of writing mysteries. It was even stranger sitting with prominent authors and being treated as an equal. It amused me during a conversation with Julia Spencer Fleming to remember that her latest book was actually at home on my bed. I’d been reading it before I came to the conference and now here I was sitting with the author.

Since then, I’ve attended other conferences, too: Bloody Words in Toronto and Ottawa, Bouchercon in San Francisco and Love is Murder in Chicago. They are such great fun and a highlight of my year, it’s amazing to think that a few years ago I never knew they existed.

At these conferences I have met wonderfully supportive authors. You’d think there would be a lot of jealousy and competition, but if there is, it’s well hidden.

These authors have been generous and gracious: I won a hat donated by Katherine Hall Page, got some great tips on re-writing from Donna Andrews, had wonderful meals with Mary Jane Maffini, and was rescued by Louise Penny at an event when the questions were flagging.

My foray into mystery writing has brought me into the orbit of so many wonderful writers I didn’t know before, and that means I’ve also been introduced to their work. My side tables groan under the weight of to be read books, all unknown to me just a few years ago.

If I’d known then, what I know now, I’d have written that first book 20 years ago.

Elizabeth J Duncan’s first novel, The Cold Light of Mourning, won the William F. Deeck- Malice Domestic 2006 Grant for Unpublished Writers and the 2008 St. Martin’s/Malice Domestic Award for best first traditional mystery. It was nominated for an Agatha Award (US) and Arthur Ellis Award (Canada). Her second novel in the Penny Brannigan mystery series, A Brush with Death, will be released in paperback in April and the third book in the series, A Killer’s Christmas in Wales, will be published in the fall of 2011.


  1. Elizabeth, speaking of fun with authors: I am looking forward to our Older, Hotter, Deadlier road trip to North Carolina with you and Vicki Delany.

    Nice to see you at Mystery Maven Canada.

  2. Wow...that sounds like an amazing road trip coming up.

    Looking forward to Malice Domestic and then, of course, Bloody Words!