Tuesday, May 31, 2011


Beautiful B.C.

Indulge me, please. I was born and raised in B.C. and although I've said I'd never move back, a part of me felt a longing as the plane descended into Vancouver airport. The ocean, the mountains -- these account for the pull to return to the place I said I wouldn't move back to. And, although I've never lived on Vancouver Island, if I chose to, Victoria would be the city. It's similar to Ottawa, so no big adjustment there. Victoria must have been what they had in mind when the slogan, Beautiful B.C. was coined.

However, beside all that natural beauty, what also tugs are the people. I'm spending the week before Bloody Words visiting with family and old friends. So wonderful to be able to do, as my visits out here are infrequent.

The people of Victoria are friendly, too. Always quick with a smile or to say 'hi' on my early morning walks. Talkative but not pushy merchants. Helpful wherever I go.

And then, there are the B.C. mystery writers. A great group of voices, continuing with Mary Jane's theme from yesterday. The Bloody Words co-chairs, Lou Allin and Kay Stewart, have been visible on bookshelves for several years.

William Deverell -- well, what can I say about him. I'm one of his biggest fans and always enjoy seeing him. He's Local Guest of Honour at this year's conference. Michael Slade's name has long been prominent on crime lists and he's the Guest of Honour. Denise Dietz, is MC and if her books are any indicator, we'll be laughing a lot.

Other B.C. mystery authors include Deryn Collier, Debra Purdy Kong, Roy Innes, Don Hauka, Linda Richards and Phyllis Smallman. (My apologies if I've left anyone out! It's been a busy weekend.) That says a lot for the West Coast voice! And, let's not forget Vicki Delany who sets one of her series in B.C.

The entire country is rich with mysterious voices! There'll be a very vocal representation here in Victoria for Bloody Words 2011. Hope to see you, too!

Linda Wiken/Erika Chase
A Killer Read coming April, 2012
from Berkley Prime Crime

Monday, May 30, 2011


While listening to four Canadian authors read at the Murder on the Menu luncheon at the CLA conference this weekend, I was struck by the variety of voices. Not only the authors’ personal voices, but the other voices they brought to the table: their characters, their communities, their occupations and their values.

Anne Emery and Pamela Callow are lawyers working in Halifax (and obviously women). You’d think they might think alike, sound alike, reveal setting the same way and maybe even plot alike. But you’d be wrong.

Anne Emery writes from the point of view of Monty Collins, lawyer and bluesman. Through Monty we travel through Halifax society, high and low and we get the Cape Breton voice through his wife, Moira, and the Irish influence of Father Brendan Burke. We also get music and musical voices. The fifth book in the series, Children in the Morning, has just won a silver medal in the 2011 Independent Publisher Book Awards and has won the 2011 Dartmouth Book Award for Fiction.

Pamela Callow brings a very different voice in the Kate Lange legal thrillers Damaged and Indefensible. We get to know a woman in her thirties, practicing law in a blue chip law firm, with all the pressures, conflicts and betrayals that brings. In her own voice, we learn the guilt Kate carries from her sister’s death. We also hear her footsteps as she makes her regular run through Halifax streets and parks, but not away from trouble. As well as giving us a strong woman in a thriller, Pamela Callow also gives voice to her own concerns about troubling bio-medical issues and other contemporary complexities that challenge our legal system and our lives.

Thomas Curran brings the voice of Newfoundland and not just The Rock, but The Rock in 1947. Through his writing you hear the speech patterns, discover the social conventions and a sense of life at the time. Because he also brings his background as a meticulous researcher (and PhD) he gets that right too. You feel that you are there, riding or walking along with Inspector Eric Stride. We get to know Stride’s married lover and we hear the voices of other police officers at many levels, as well as petty criminals and the good citizens of St. John’s. You feel that you are there and it’s a fascinating and unique place to be.

Barbara Fradkin brings her training and experience as a psychologist to her writing. Yes. Another PhD. In her award winning books she gives voice to many disenfranchised people: street people, an elderly recluse, an autistic child to name a few, as well as the lively perspective of Hannah, the challenging daughter of Inspector Michael Green. Then there’s Green himself and his long-suffering wife, Sharon. Green’s Jewish heritage and relatives add other voices to the mix, and lots of interesting food, history and tragedy. Barbara’s latest Green book is Beautiful Lie the Dead. Barbara is offering us a new voice in her Rapid Reads series: In The Fall Guy, Cedric O’Toole, handyman, sounds very real to me (and I wish I could find him!)

I have a better sense of my country and its people because I have heard these voices. I have new insights and new friends. These are authors well worth reading and they are just four of our many Canadian crime writers. So, what wonderful Canadian voices have you discovered? Want to share?

Mary Jane Maffini rides herd on three (soon to be three and a half) mystery series and a couple of dozen short stories. Her thirteenth mystery novel, The Busy Woman’s Guide to Murder, which hit the bookshelves last month, is brimming with names, no two the same.

Saturday, May 28, 2011


by D.J. McIntosh
Penguin Group (Canada)

D.J. McIntosh has an amazing amount of knowledge about ancient societies, especially Mesopotamia, crammed into her brain. That's what makes this book, her first, such a delight to read.

She's crafted a thriller combining a deadly search for an Iraqi antiquity with all the ingredients to keep the reader turning pages. There's a good guy, who's deeply flawed and watching his world crumble. There's a dangerous gang of thieves who don't stop at murder in their quest for the prize. There's archaeology, alchemy, and a treasure that would stop Indiana Jones in his tracks! And it takes place at a breathless pace.

The action starts in New York where Turkish-American art dealer John Madison faces the loss of his older brother Samuel, just returned from Iraq with a looted priceless relic in his possession. Samuel is trying to save it from the vultures who see only dollar signs and blood rather than the national importance of these treasures. Then, a childhood friend is murdered but not before he involved John in the chase to recover this relic that's now been stolen once again.

The thieves are brutal and desperate, torturing John, who then escapes and tries to stay one step ahead of them, while finding the relic and rescuing a captive friend. The answer lies in Iraq, where more lives are lost, a spectacular treasure is unveiled and myth becomes reality. But the twist awaits him back in New York.

And don't forget the witch!

McIntosh is the winner of the 2008 Arthur Ellis Award from Crime Writers of Canada for Best Unpublished Crime Novel. The Witch of Babylon was also shortlisted for the Crime Writer's Association (U.K.) Debut Dagger Award. And now, the Penguin Group has published it and it's available at your local bookstore. Better yet, it's book one of a trilogy.

Dan Brown, watch out -- the Witch is on the prowl!

Be sure to check out D.J. McIntosh's website at http://www.babylontrilogy.com

Friday, May 27, 2011


Countdown to Bloody Words

I'm starting my countdown to Bloody Words 2011 today because I'm heading out to Victoria for extra days to visit with family and friends. My first request is, somebody turn up the thermostat out there!

Packing is always a stressor, even though I start the process a day earlier for each trip. There's the first pack to make sure everything fits, then the re-pack when it doesn't. This might meant downsizing or upgrading to a larger suitcase. Of course, there's the hourly perusal of WeatherNetwork.com to see if maybe they were just kidding about the temperatures. Never mind, I say to Erika, my alter ego, it's a beautiful city!

So, when you combine a visit and a conference, that requires two wardrobes. Plus all the conference material, like business cards, books, answers to questions for the panel, cheque book in order to buy a registration for next year's conference at the special rate, and all those things that have been added to the packing list in the past week.

Of course, I have my handy Travel Checklist, purloined from Audrey Jessup so many years ago. It's soothing to see all those check marks being added. And soon, all that's waiting are the last minutes items. Also listed because as you probably know, the brain isn't in gear during that last hour before leaving for the airport.

Along with packing for Bloody Words, there's the Arthur Ellis Awards Banquet to be considered. Jeans will not do at this event! Especially when there's a lot of cheering to be done for Mary Jane Maffini (nominated for Best Short Story) and C.B. Forrest (nominated for Best Novel). These are the Ottawa nominees, so we'll show the colours for them. It's always an exciting night though, schmoozing with so many authors and so many winners.

Last but not least, pack all the writing gear because this can't be all play and no work!

Paper stopped? Email answered? Cat feeder/attention giver at the ready? Check, check and check.

I think I'm ready. Are you?

Linda Wiken/Erika Chase
A Killer Read coming in April, 2012
from Berkley Prime Crime

Thursday, May 26, 2011


Freedom to Grow Up

Last week in Ottawa Sue Pike and I walked our collection of dogs - five in all - to the off leash area of Brewer Park which is beside the Rideau River. All five plunged in the water, rolled in the mud, collected last years’ burrs and socialized with other dogs and their owners. They had a wonderful time as did we for it was one of the few warm and sunny days we’ve had. I think it’s the freedom that intoxicated the dogs - freedom to be dogs.

As we walked beside the river I thought back to my Ottawa childhood when we had the kind of freedom today’s children can only dream about. I was eleven when we moved away so everything I remember happened before that.

On rainy or hot days in the summer we sat on porches and played cards or Monopoly with friends or read books in the coolest place in the house which sometimes was the basement as there was no air conditioning. In nice weather we ranged far and wide on our clunky bikes or on foot.

Carleton University didn’t exist nor did the extension of Bronson Avenue. The railway track was there and I remember accepting a childish dare and standing on the tiny platform clinging to the water barrel while a train thundered past.

We swam at a tiny beach on the Rideau river, we played endless exploration games amid the reeds and islands draped with grape vines. We biked to the library which used to be on Bank Street just north of Cameron Avenue. And during the school year we walked to Hopewell.

No nannies, no hovering parents, no warnings although we were forbidden to go near the water (as if any self respecting child would obey that order). No electronic devices to amuse us or tether us to the adults in our lives. We were expected to amuse ourselves and you wouldn’t risk saying you were bored or your mother would find you a job and usually it wasn’t anything you wanted to do. So you climbed trees or lay on the grass looking at the sky or read a book or joined friends.

Our instructions were to be home before dark. And that was it. We were given the freedom to grow up, to develop our own ideas of the world. To work out our relationships with other kids without an adult hovering over us and intervening.

It wasn’t all good. Bullies existed then as they do now. Friendships waxed and waned. We didn’t learn all the skills we might have. But it was a kid’s world that kids dealt with and childhoods like this probably were the norm for many of today’s writers. I wonder if today’s children, lacking this freedom will develop their imaginations and creativity.

I read that there has been a huge surge in young adult readers and I wonder if this means today’s teens are searching for the escape to an imaginary world that we found. I hope so.

Joan Boswell is a member of the Ladies Killing Circle and co-edited four of their short story anthologies: Fit toDie, Bone Dance, Boomers Go Bad and Going Out With a Bang. Her three mysteries, Cut Off His Tale, Cut to the Quick and Cut and Run were published in 2005, 2007 and 2007. In 2000 she won the $10,000 Toronto Star’s short story contest. Joan lives in Toronto with three flat-coated retrievers.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011


Planting a Seed

Spring is a lovely time to plant seeds. You can grow some pretty flowers, or sow some heirloom veggies to impress the neighbours. Most kinds are fairly simple – you just throw them onto the ground & spread some soil onto them, water & PRESTO! – fabulous lush posies or crazy big vines full of tomatoes or far-too-many cucumbers.
There are also some finicky seeds that you have to rest in the freezer for a time, or score their edges brutally with a sharp knife. I try to stay away from those, or just buy readymade plants in the nursery.

I have a friend Nancy who loves to say, “I’m planting a seed.”

Nancy is a lovely girl, but she’s no gardener. But she is always full of ideas & plans, some many months away. She likes to plant her seeds early. A day after Christmas, she will call & say, “I was thinking about summer holidays & you two coming to the cottage for a week. These are the dates I am thinking of for July – I’m just planting a seed.”

I like to plant seeds in the spring as well, although mostly the non-garden variety these days. This time of year makes me think about shorts weather & losing that winter weight, and about clearing out those cupboards that are overflowing with clothes that I might or might not ever wear.

I think about renewing my gym membership and getting back into a new exercise routine and I think about maybe clearing out some of the excess books that my husband says that I have piled in every room of our house. Or not.

Then there’s always the “Ideas File” in my computer. These are brilliant ideas for short stories that sometimes come to me when the gentle snoring beside me wakes me up, or when I am riding home from work on a crowded bus. I meticulously jot them down with the outline and details that came with the spark itself. And then it gets filed away. I think perhaps some of these ideas are the finicky kind of seeds that are usually marked “advanced” or “professionals only”.

This might be the spring that those ideas actually get planted and watered and fertilized and sprout some fruit.

Then again, I might just stick with tomatoes.

What seeds are you planting this spring?

Catherine Lee (Cathy) is a college textbook buyer in Ottawa, has been a bookseller and book buyer by trade for most of her life, and is a member of 2 book clubs. She became a book lover on her parents’ knees at story time & by flashlight under the bed sheets. One of her greatest pleasures is sharing great books with friends, of course while sipping wine.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011


Music and mystery!

So what do you expect when you pick up a mystery that uses a song title as its title?

Music often plays a role in the mysteries we love to read. When using it in the title, such as Michelle Spring's Standing in the Shadows, it can signal the plot, say something about the character, or give a hint at the setting. I read the title and the song takes off in my mind. From that point, it's fun to figure out how it relates.

The fifth anthology from The Ladies' Killing Circle, Bone Dance was music-themed. Each contributing author was asked to choose a song title and write a short mystery to go with it. Check the table of contents and you'll see an array of titles that inspired the mystery authors. Your next step should be to read the stories and see how they tied in. What fun it was to produce that anthology and I think all the authors enjoyed the challenge.

Peter Robinson is well-known for using song titles for his series, and his main character, Inspector Banks, loves a variety of music but mainly jazz. This tells the reader something important about the character, setting him up in the reader's mind as to what kind of guy he is and how he'll react to what's happening in his world.

A musician himself, writer Rick Blechta brings that knowledge to his mysteries, giving the reader an insight into the life of a musician, albeit, one who encounters murder. When Hell Freezes Over takes the reader into the rock musician world -- it's one of my favourites.

My character (or rather, Erika Chase's) in A Killer Read, Lizzie Turner, sings in a community choir which is busily practicing Vivaldi, Mendelessohn and Rutter for its Christmas concert. Hopefully this gives you an impression which becomes part of a well-defined character.

You'll get to know her by how she reacts to the people in her life, her thoughts about the murder, her job, her home, her interactions with the two Siamese cats in her life, what she wears and even the car she drives. You'll get to know her as do you do a friend. And, hopefully want to spend more time with her.

You'll find music in the writings of many other Canadian mystery authors, too. Who are some of your favourites?

Linda Wiken/Erika Chase
A Killer Read coming in April 2012
from Berkley Prime Crime

Monday, May 23, 2011


Weather! It’s all we can think about. Post on Facebook about weather and watch the comments pile up in minutes. You’d have to get a Nobel Prize to compete with the most idle, off-the-cuff weather comment. Oh yes. So, what does that mean for a writer? And for a reader?

The estimable Elmore Leonard advises: Never start a book with the weather. So much for dark and stormy nights. If you can’t start a book with weather, what’s the role of weather in books? And not just weather, but the after effects: floods, fires, pestilence, you name it.

Personally, I love weather in books I am reading or writing. If the protagonist has sweat dripping down her back because she’s striding down steaming pavement in search of some clue, I feel like I’m there. Plus on a really hot day, that plucky sleuth would be entitled to an ice cream cone or two and I’m all for that. Let the reader taste the ice cream! What the hell! Start with ice cream. I’ll read that book.

In winter, one can take advantage of the stinging sleet and blinding snow from a blizzard or even that nasty freezing rain that makes any movement tricky. We’ve all been there and we can sympathize with the characters at the same time we appreciate not having to be outside coping ourselves.

This week’s rain has made me feel wonderful about being comfortable inside. I am reading Thomas Rendell Curran’s Death of a Lesser Man and it is dripping with atmosphere and rain too, of course, as it’s set in St. John’s. As Eric Stride gets wetter and has to use his new overcoat to cover a body, I feel even cozier curled up with my fluffy throw, my cuddly dogs and my cup of tea. Let the reader feel grateful to be warm and dry!

And authors, sometimes it’s nice to have a cold rivulet of rain trickle down your protagonist’s back. Gives one a sense of power. There’s got to be a payoff.

This month there are raging forest fires at the same time we have floods: that’s where the absence of rain will get us complainers. I am not sure how the weather team manages both extremes. Fire is horrible and it’s one of the biggest fears many of us have. Used in a book it can ratchet up the stakes and rivet the reader. Let the reader feel the hot breath of the flames and breathe the black smoke! That will get those pages turning. Trust me.

All to say, if you are writing, whatever the weather, you can harvest it to bring readers closer to living inside your story. And if I am reading, I will continue to feel your protagonist’s discomfort and/or fear.

So go ahead, start with weather, but maybe you should save the dramatic battle with the elements for the end. Go for the big payoff. Those of us sitting comfortably on our sofas or in our beds will enjoy it from a cushy distance.

Mary Jane Maffini rides herd on three (soon to be three and a half) mystery series and a couple of dozen short stories. Her thirteenth mystery novel, The Busy Woman’s Guide to Murder, which hit the bookshelves last month, is brimming with names, no two the same.

Friday, May 20, 2011


And yet more book clubs!

Yesterday Sue Pike blogged about her book club and it's easy to see she'd found a good fit. Book clubs abound throughout the city. Most, like Sue's are started and run by a group of readers who got together. Some are organized by a branch of the Ottawa Public Library. Some are through a book store. All have one thing in common -- a love of books.

My book club has been meeting for somewhere between 12 & 15 years, I think. The collective memory is not always a concise one. I've been a member for only a couple of years now but I've come to look forward to our monthly meetings.

We rotate gathering in member's homes and that hostess gets to choose the book. Along with the food. That's an important part of the ritual. Wine and chocolate are 'musts'. And the deserts are memorable. As is our annual April event -- a spa weekend. I must admit, there's not a book assigned for that month, although talk always turns to books.

The series I'm writing is aptly called the Ashton Corners Book Club Mysteries. It revolves around a group of seven people from the small town of Ashton Corners, Alabama who form a mystery book club. My main character is Lizzie Turner, a reading specialist with the school board who also teaches adult Literacy. She and fellow teacher Sally-Jo Baker, draw together a variety of readers of various ages, backgrounds and interests to ostensibly read and discuss a mystery each month. But, of course you know they'll also be solving them. But I promise, there won't be a murder a month.

It's fun writing about a book club because I value what it brings to each of the members and to the writing community. Without readers, why write? And the charming town of Ashton Corners adds another layer to each book in this series. The first book, A Killer Read, will be published in April, 2012 by this gal called Erika Chase. Don't be fooled -- it's really me and having an alter-ego has also been quite the experience.

Maybe my book club will read my book club mystery one day!

What about your book club? Do you belong to one? Tell me about it -- I promise not to mention any names!

Linda Wiken/Erika Chase
A Killer Read coming in April, 2012
from Berkley Prime Crime

Thursday, May 19, 2011


Book Clubs

I love my book club. And I expect if you're like most of the women I know, you love your book club too.

What's not to love? Here we have a group of women who enjoy reading, researching and discussing books. All kinds of books. One year my club read only Orange Prize winners. Another year we concentrated on mystery and spy novels. Still another we read exclusively from the European renaissance period.

I first met the women in my book club fourteen years ago when I was invited to speak about Canadian crime novels at one of their meetings. When, at the end of the meeting, they invited me to join the club, I jumped at the chance. How could I not? Here was a group of intelligent, articulate and intensely curious women. These gals question every assumption and it's made for some fine and heated arguments over the years. We’re mostly retired now, former teachers, a CBC executive, a librarian and a senior public servant. Without the tyranny of day jobs, we can get together in the afternoon over a cup of tea and fancy cakes. But being retired doesn't mean the discussion or arguments are any less intense. The hostess often prepares handouts and a list of questions and God help anyone who hasn’t read the book.

We've been through a lot together, my book club and I. We've lost members to cancer and heart disease and supported one another through family tragedies. These women turned up in force for my launch of Locked Up, and they bought dozens of books to give away as gifts.

One curious thing about book clubs is that they're almost always the domain of women. I wonder why more retired men don't join or form book clubs. Maybe they do, only they call them something else. My husband has a group of friends who meet for lunch once a month and call themselves The Gentlemen's Lunch. When I ask what they talk about, he says, "Oh, books mainly." But when I suggest it might be a book club, he looks horrified. Book clubs apparently, are only for women.

Do you have a book club that you love?

Sue Pike has published a couple of dozen stories and won several awards including an Arthur Ellis Award for Best Short Crime Story. Her latest, Where the Snow Lay Dinted appeared 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, May 18, 2011


Why you should always carry a camera!

That was the subject of an email sent to me recently. It had attached a series of really cute cats and dogs, doing the really cute things they do. A lot of them involved sleeping. I'm sure everyone's seen similar pictures in their mailbox at one point or other.

I'm a sucker for these shots. They never fail to put a smile on my face. I wish I could print and frame them all, but I don't have enough wall space. And I'd get too distracted when I should be writing.

But those words stuck with me. Always carry a camera. That's the same advise that one of my favourite authors, Anne Lamott gave in her address to a writer's conference several years ago, and which can be downloaded as an audiofile. It's called Word by Word and I was so impressed, I blogged about it last fall after listening to the audio.

What I didn't mention at that point but it flashed into my brain again, was Lamott suggested you should always carry a camera. Take pictures of things that inspire you. Of people's faces. Of children playing. Of architectural details. Of flowers and shrubs. Of rain showers. Of cats and dogs. These pictures are all research. You can take them out and use them as visual prompts in your writing, whether you're using them to describe a person's face at seeing a baby or the porch complete with wicker furniture and a stack of books. Or you can sit and stare at a beach sunset it that's what inspires you to dig deep for that extra emotion in your writing.

Several years ago, on my power walk back to my house early one morning, I walked alongside a small field and forest enveloped in fog. I love fog. Must be my west coast upbringing. Anyway, I sprinted home, grabbed my camera and drove back (I'd had my exercise after all) to the spot. Not much had changed and I managed to get some atmospheric photos, lying on my stomach on the dewy grass, of cattails and ornamental grasses through a foggy mist that soon became a hazy shaft of sunlight.

I had meant to try my hand at painting and those photos would take over where my memory left off. The artwork never happened. Maybe some day because I still have the photos.

I'd forgotten that. But my camera goes into my purse today & will stay there. Fortunately, it's small. Let the photos begin!

Do you find photos a tool in your writing?

Linda Wiken/Erika Chase
A Killer Read coming in April, 2012
from Berkley Prime Crime

Tuesday, May 17, 2011


I like your book …. Now help me get published

Every author with a real publisher has received an e-mail that reads something like this: ‘I’ve just finished reading your book and really loved it!!! By the way, I’ve written a similar book, except mine is set in the Bronx and my detective is a man undergoing a sex change who owns eight cats. Can you please advise me on how to get an agent???’

Many authors do not respond. We’re busy. Some of us work two full-time jobs – the day job and the successful author one that involves thinking, writing, proof reading and promotion. As much as we’re nice people who might like to help an aspiring author, we’re not here to help you get published.

Recently, I was on a book tour of North Carolina with fellow authors Vicki Delany and Mary Jane Maffini. The tour was directed and moderated by the wonderful media escort Molly Weston, who has very strict rules about what kinds of questions audience members can ask. At one event, when the how can I get published question reared its ugly head, Molly decapitated it.

So I created the following tip sheet which is now, in pdf format, my response to the how can I published question.

Elizabeth J Duncan’s tips for getting published

Like just about everything in life, publishing success depends on the right combination of luck, timing and talent.

1. Learn everything about the publishing business as it applies to your genre or sub genre.

2. Be careful why, how and when you approach published authors. Most writers are busy working day jobs, writing and taking care of their own publishing concerns. Be respectful and polite. Do not corner an author at an event and ask her how to get published. She is there to promote her own books and engage with readers. She is not there to help you get an agent.

3. If you seek advice from an influential person who may be in a position to help you, consider what she has to say very carefully. Refusing to follow the advice of a potential agent, for example, may suggest that you are inflexible and will be difficult to work with. Agents and publishers are looking for reasons to reject you, not accept you. Be open to suggestions and be prepared to make changes to your work. Do you want to be right or do you want to be published?

4. Be aware of trends. The book you are writing may have been popular last year, but will not sell next year. Publishing houses are looking for the next big thing, not something that was hot two years ago.

5. Join writers support groups.

6. Enter competitions for unpublished writers such as those offered by Malice Domestic, Crime Writers of Canada or the Crime Writers Association of Great Britain. Being recognized for writing better than anyone else opens doors.

7. Read books similar to yours. Often the author will acknowledge her agent. Send a well written query letter to this agent.

8. Get in with the people who are doing what you aspire to do. Go to conferences, book festivals, literary readings. Attend sessions and learn.

9. Attend a writing school like the Humber School for Writers. This may give you entrée to an agent, if your work is considered good enough. It will also help you improve your work, which must be the best it can be before you submit it to an agent. Rarely is there a second chance in publishing.

10. Attend a workshop like the Insiders’ Guide to Getting Published, offered by Humber College.

11. Keep going – but only if you are driven, committed, confident, prepared to face rejection, and can handle feedback or thinly disguised criticism. (Most feedback will be negative.)

Elizabeth Duncan is the award-winning author of The Cold Light of Mourning and A Brush with Death, published by St. Martin’s Press. Her third novel, A Killer’s Christmas in Wales, will be published in October, 2011.

Monday, May 16, 2011


A dream come true

Recently I had a dream come true even though I wasn’t really conscious of having that dream. Let me explain. Many years ago I discovered the Kinsey Milhone books by Sue Grafton. I love the tone and Kinsey’s spirit. She wasn’t one to get bogged down in undue domesticity, a lesson to us all. She did what had to be done and kept on going. A modern woman PI.

Then, not long after I started to try my hands at mystery writing, I had the pleasure to hear Sue Grafton (herself!) as a keynote speaker at The Palm Springs Writers Conference and was struck by her graciousness, humour and generosity of spirit. I took away some excellent tips.

A few years later, when I had a few books in the drawer and was beginning to feel the despair of the not-yet-and-maybe-never-to-be published, Sue Grafton gave a session for unpublished writers at Bouchercon in Toronto. I took away reams of notes this time, but the most important things I appreciated were her optimism and strategies. She told us all to get our stamped, addressed envelope ready (with the SASE) for the next submission before our manuscript came back rejected. She told us if it came back, to put it in the new envelope and send it out again. Then we could have a good cry. She told us that it often takes seven years to sell that first book and not to give up. It took her several books and several years to break in. She didn’t say that she never had to look back after that first sale, but, of course, we all knew she’d been hitting the New York Times Bestseller list for many years even then. I took her advice, bought the envelopes, stocked up on stamps, stiffened my spine.

Sue Grafton’s real gift to writers was that positive outlook. Just because someone hasn’t bought your book yet doesn’t mean that you have to quit or give in to despair. You just have to hang in there.

It took seven years for my first Camilla MacPhee book to sell and Sue was right. I’ve found a market for all the books that came afterward and even the ones that came before.

Sue told us to get working on the second book because when the first book sells the second book needs to be ready. I really wish I had taken that advice because if you don’t do this, you will be forever scrambling to keep up. Ahem.

So my point (and I do have one) is that after all these years, at this latest Malice Domestic Conference, I found myself sitting on a panel with Sue Grafton, and not just with her, but next to her. She is as charming and pleasant in person as she is in front of a large audience. I loved meeting her, loved shaking her hand and loved being on that panel with her. This should not come as a surprise.

She’s still entertaining and very funny. She had the audience and the panelists eating out of her hand! She still loves what she does. And she still looks like a million dollars. What a role model! I am glad to have met her after I was published and to have had her advice before. I’m grateful she told me to hang in there or I would have missed that excellent panel. And thirteen books!

Mary Jane Maffini rides herd on three (soon to be three and a half) mystery series and a couple of dozen short stories. Her thirteenth mystery novel, The Busy Woman’s Guide to Murder, which hit the bookshelves last month, is brimming with names, no two the same.

Friday, May 13, 2011


by Thomas Rendell Curran
Boulder Publications

It's been a couple of years since Inspector Eric's Stride's last outing in The Rossiter File, and his long-awaited return was well worth waiting for. That same sense of place, St. John's, Newfoundland, just after World War II but still prior to joining Confederation, is here. Stride is the justice-seeking cop we know, driving his sporty MG around town, his married lover still in the picture, a thorough, meticulous guy who goes the extra distance to get the job done.

In this, the third Stride novel, the body of a veteran of the Great War is found late one night in the park, close to Stride's residence. The circumstances are puzzling -- Stride himself heard two shots but three bullets are found in the body during the autopsy. And, given the forensic evidence (such as they were at the time), did Harrison Rose, the victim, know his killer?

Stride follows the trail to the government offices, that's Her Majesty's representatives in the pre-Confederation Newfoundland. And from there, to Rose's business affiliations and his former comrades in arms during the war. The details of the various battles and the contributions of the Newfoundland Regiment add texture to the novel. There's much secrecy and apparently lots of motives abound. And to add to all the confusion, Stride also has to contend with upheaval in his personal life plus the arrival of the deceased's daughter.

The ending is a bittersweet one, justice is tempered with compassion, and old secrets are viewed and laid to rest.

Curran has a wonderful writing style, at once descriptive and sparse. If labels are needed in this genre, then Death of a Lesser Man would be a Literary Mystery. The pacing, the suspense, the puzzle are present...the writing, engaging. Readers who enjoy history along with their police procedural will not be disappointed.

If you want to start back at the beginning, the first Eric Stride novel is Undertow.

The Ottawa launch for Death of a Lesser Man is being held at Collected Works Book Store, 1242 Wellington St., on Wed., May 18th at 7 p.m. All are welcome!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011


Armchair Traveller

Is there anything more spectacular than the Nahanni River in Canada’s Northwest Territories? A world Heritage site and a National Park Reserve, it has some of the most incredible natural diversity and scenery in the entire world. Miles and miles of wilderness with canyons, whitewater, waterfalls, hot springs, lazy, meandering flat water, and ragged glacial mountains. It is home to caribou, grizzlies, swans, eagles, mountain goats and sheep. Brilliant pink wild flowers cling to its gravel shores, while alpine meadows and jagged spruce forests rise up the slopes around it.

Why am I going on like this? Because this is the setting for my next Inspector Green novel. Yes, that’s Ottawa Police Inspector Michael Green, the inner city boy who loves crumbling asphalt and diesel fumes, and who struggles to learn the suburban “dad” skills of mowing the lawn and firing up the barbeque. Inspector Green is going on the Nahanni.

Only one thing could possibly pry him loose from his safe urban world and send him up into one of the last true wildernesses on earth. One of his children has disappeared. His spirited, independent daughter Hannah has gone on a wilderness canoe trip down the Nahanni with a group of friends, and they have failed to show up at their take-out point.

Canoeing the Nahanni has always been a dream of mine, but with the tight timeline of this book and with this summer (not to mention this year’s budget) already spoken for, I will have to content myself with researching from afar. Luckily I have been on a wilderness rafting trip in the Yukon, a very different river and a raft instead of a canoe, but at least I have scanned the distant slopes in search of mountain sheep and watched a grizzly prowl along the gravel shoreline in search of food. I have seen the wild flowers and heard the rush of river current. Along with my research, those memories will have to do.

At the moment my dining room table is completely taken over by topographical maps as I attempt to trace the route his daughter took and decide where she would have gone astray. I will use these maps when I write the search scenes and when Green tries desperately to figure out where she has gone. It is wonderful fun to try to recreate the real wilderness from these lines and squiggles on the page, with the rapids, moraines and creek beds marked. The topographical maps even show the old mining roads and the trappers’ cabins left decades ago by explorers and prospectors who ventured and died in this stunning land.

I am at the beginning of my journey, so stay tuned as I give periodic updates on my progress. With any luck, by the end Faint Hope, Green’s latest adventure, will be born.

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, explores love in all its complications. And, her new Rapid Read from Orca, The Fall Guy, is being launched Sun. May 15th.