Thursday, June 16, 2011



Responding to Mary Jane’s Monday blog in which she described a panel she’d moderated at Bloody Words and the tips she’d picked up listening to the panelists I thought about the various panels I’ve attended over the years.

Some, such as the one where a retired woman police officer spoke of her trials and challenges as one of the first women on the force, amused while providing useful information. Others I remember not for their humour but solely for the information. I think particularly about one where an RCMP officer analyzed skid marks and what they told the police and another by a forensic dentist.

In the future I’d like to sit in on a panel that discusses balance. Not the challenge of standing on one foot while staring at a spot on the wall but balance in writing. Should a book be mainly about the characters with a mystery thrown in to focus their attention and give the author reasons to see how the characters will react in a crisis? Or are the characters secondary to the mystery and the progress of the plot? It seems to me that for most good writers the characters are of paramount importance. If this is so how do you find the balance between plot and character development?

An indication of how successful the author has been is the reader’s involvement with the characters. As an example, I want Mary Jane Maffini to keep us up-to-date as Sweet Marie and Truffles take and pass their tests, to let us know if Jack and Charlotte become an item. I love the characters and admire the author’s ability to deal with social issues like bullying without preaching.

Vicki Delaney also provides the reader with engaging characters. I’m waiting for the next book to see if Constable Molly Smith’s mother, Lucky, gets back together with the police chief. Her description of how Lucky felt when her husband died was heart rending and so right.

Two more examples would be Gail Bowen and the family that has grown and developed book by book until they seem like people we actually know and Barbara Fradkin and Inspector Green’s family as well as the staff at the station.

Not to say that the people in the books are perfect. Their flaws make them endearing and remind us of our selves, of our problems and failings. However we do like the principle characters. If I’m reading a book where I don’t relate or really despise the protagonists I don’t finish the book.

Like Mary Jane each of the authors mentioned above deals not only with murder but also with relevant social issues and they do so with balance. Here again, if I didn’t care about the characters I wouldn’t care about the problems they face.

If anyone out there is looking for a panel topic at one of the cons we love to attend how about putting ‘balance’ on the agenda?

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.

1 comment:

  1. Good blog, Joan. These are among my favourite authors too. I chuckled at the notion of a "mystery thrown in to focus their attention," but I think that's probably how I see it also. A month or two after I've read a book I can still describe the characters and their situations but I've probably forgotten the murder and its solution.