Friday, July 29, 2011



I keep coming back to this topic, mostly because there's a part of me that's nagging away, saying it's time to buy one.

I did order a Kobo Touch but re-packaged it the next day, ready to return. I didn't enjoy reading a book on it -- although I have to admit, I didn't give it a very good try-out, mainly because the 'Touch' part was driving me nuts. It was soooo slow to respond and I'm an impatient person. Until their technology is improved, I'm not a good candidate for it. But really -- reading such a small portion on a small screen just wasn't my thing. I don't even like to read books or stories on my much larger computer screen. That should have been a clue.

Then there's the tactile experience thing!

Back to Kobo. I also had one of the worst customer service experiences of all time. It took them over 2 weeks to respond to my question about how to return it. I finally gave up and did what I should have the next day -- took it to my nearby Chapters for a refund. But on the website it does say to contact Kobo directly for instructions. That works...if you get a reply. I do not appreciate being stuck in a que in order to get a message that tells me I'm stuck in a que.

So, I looked on-line at the Kindle. has it priced at $139.00 (special price for the regular $189.00) but, oops, they won't ship to a Canadian address. has the same Kindle priced at $299.99. Does this make sense? Especially with these exchange rates? I can understand the book industry lagging behind in adjusting prices...but come on now, this is an electronic device & others do it all the time!

So...I've laid the whole idea to rest. I love my paperbacks, my trade paperbacks, and my hardbacks. They look great, they're an enjoying reading experience, and even though bulky when traveling...worth it, to me.

I guess like our choices in books...we're each entitled to our own choice of reading experiences. Just as long as we're buying books and reading!

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

Thursday, July 28, 2011



It used to be that inaccuracies in a book annoyed me. Sometimes if I spotted a number of glaring inconsistencies I didn’t finish the book. The classic example often cited although I have no idea what the book was, is the reference to a character looking out the window of a Newfoundland cabin and spotting a skunk crossing the clearing. The problem - there are no skunks in Newfoundland.

Today the challenge for writers is thousand times greater than it used be. In the past ‘experts’ in particular fields caught errors but most readers didn’t. Today readers with access to the Google or any other search engine can and do read along and say, ‘Hey, wait a minute, I don’t thing that’s right’. Off they go to check. If the author has marshaled the correct information the reader may be pleased to learn something new or gain a new respect for the writer. If the author’s facts are wrong the reader may mutter darkly to herself that although this is fiction the facts should be right.

In the past an author could fudge a lack of knowledge. She did not need to develop a keen curiosity and learn to accept nothing at face value. Now she needs to ask about the origin of a custom or the impetus to develop a product. She needs to question everything but not bog down in the need to know.

But access to a world of information has its hazards. The writer who enjoys research uses Google to delve much deeper into a topic than time and the availability of reference resources would have allowed her to do in the past. Whether the question relates to the medicinal properties of herbs, the ingredients in an arcane Mediaeval recipe or the sequence of events in a long forgotten military battle the information is available and easy to find. She builds files of useful details and then integrates them into her book.

I am reading At Home by Bill Bryson. In this book he uses his own home, an old manse in England, as the starting point to investigate the evolution of the house as we know it and in each chapter he discusses a specific room and how and why it evolved. Who knew that Mrs Beeton, the author of the much lauded book of household management, was celebrated because she included actual measurements of quantities to be used in recipes, something that had never been done before. An entertaining book, it is essentially a treatise in English and American social history. I marvel at the questions he has set himself to answer.

What does the readily available fund of knowledge do for literature? If smoothly woven into the story it adds a depth, a complexity and a convincing reality which pleases readers and takes them deep into the book’s world. If information is troweled on with a heavy hand it slows the pace and bores the reader. It can be a fine line.

The availability of information does allow authors to broaden the scope of their books because, following the adage to ‘write what they know’, they can become armchair authorities on almost any subject.

You have to wonder which fields that authors investigated provided them with the most stimulation and how many authors found inspiration for new books while prowling through the stacks of the internet.

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, 2006 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, July 27, 2011


Getting down to the nitty-gritty.

The deadline's looming. Book #2 is due in 5 weeks and after three drafts, I'm in the polishing mode. Readers have been recruited and the comments are in. Changes have been made, where necessary; suggestions incorporated, as needed. This is all fun stuff, by the way.

It's time for the nitty-gritty.

With the Ashton Corners Book Club mysteries, each chapter begins with a quote from another novel. And that's quite a task, believe me. Books need to be read for the appropriate words of wisdom -- ones that blend with the ensuing chapter. And, there are so many books to choose from! A task but also, a pleasure.

And once that's complete, I'll need to add a book list reflecting each of the book club members' reading taste. Again, so many books to choose from. Again, a pleasure.

So, writers may moan about deadlines -- well, this writer, anyway -- and mental blocks, stagnant periods and lack of ideas...but way down deep, it's all a treat!

I'm still searching for quotes. Care to share any?

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

Tuesday, July 26, 2011


Guiding writers.

So what's on your writer's reference shelf? No matter what stage your publishing career is at, I'll bet there are at least one or two writer's guides you've read over the years and now keep close at hand.

I'm also sure that most writers have at one time or other, consulted part of the Writer's digest Books enormous selection, whether it be a book on Dialogue by Lewis Turco, Theme & Strategy by Ronald B. Tobias, or Characters & Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card or perhaps one of their Howdunit series about cause of death, poisons, or weapons.

My most valued writing guides are divided into two groups -- those that work on improving writing skills and those that provide inspiration. Of the latter, bird by bird, by Anne Lamott is one that I often pick up, partly because I love her writing style but mostly because it challenges me to look at this task of writing in a different way. And from a different creative path, there's dancer Twyla Tharp's The Creative Habit, with practical suggestions for getting the creative juices flowing.

For a mystery writer, Barbara Norville's Writing The Modern Mystery is ageless and has indeed seen many re-prints as it gets down to basics. My all-time favourite "how-to" book is Writing Mysteries by Margaret Locke, sadly out-of-print now. I used it as a primary reference when we were teaching mystery writing classes at night school.

Then there are the technical guides, indispensable for mystery and crime writers. Books like The Forensic Casebook by N.E Genge, The Criminal Mind by Katherine Ramsland, and Be Your Own Detective by Greg Fallis and Ruth Greenberg.

On writing in general, there's the often-quoted Christopher Vogler book, The Writer's Journey and, Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass, both sitting on my shelf to be re-read from time to time.

There are more...many more which is party of the reason my house has so many bookcases. These are the silent critique group, ready to point out flaws and suggest alternatives.

So, what's on your writer's reference shelf?

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

Monday, July 25, 2011



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As long as our verbs don't start to, you know … um.

Mary Jane Maffini 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 this spring, is brimming with names, no two the same.

Friday, July 22, 2011


A Farewell to Borders.

Borders is no more. It has gone through the bankruptcy/receivership/close-down progression and as of today, will have closed the doors of the entire fleet.

This is regrettable for two reasons. Firstly, because of the 10,000 employees who are now out of jobs and as we know, this is not a great time to be on a job hunt. Secondly, it's yet another blow to the publishing industry, one that's taken too many hits over the past few years.

I can't believe it was 40 years ago that Borders started this big box bookstore phenomena. We watched as it grew, Barnes & Noble became its main competitors, and all too many independents were forced to close their doors. Then came Chapters, now Chapters/Indigo and the gift store/bookstore it's morphed into.

In fact, any indies that are still around, on either side of the border, must now re-visit how they sell books. The bottom line is, retail is no place for wimps.

I remember when I owned an indie, a very savvy sales rep predicted as big box bookstores seemed to be taking over the world, that they would peak and then the long slide downhill would begin. And it has. But it's not because the customers began flocking back to the smaller guys. It's because business is business. Either you sell your product and make a profit or your fold.

The thought is that Borders didn't get on the e-book bandwagon quickly or efficiently enough. Who knew? E-books and readers got off to a very slow start although they'd been predicted to be instant best-sellers. Now, they've sparked and are revolutionizing the industry. And leaving many publishers and distributors hurting. And, Borders. Although, remains open for business.

But nothing can beat a bookstore with honest-to-goodness paperback and hardbacks on masses of bookshelves. Nothing!

The hope is that the remaining independents will be able to dig in and find creative ways in which to sell books -- I mean the paper kind. I know, I'll always be a customer.

I owned a Kobo Touch for 2 days. The 'touch' factor was driving me nuts, being a person of little patience. So, back it went. Nor did I enjoy reading from the screen which should not have been a surprise, because I truly dislike reading stories on even a computer screen. But I know there are many of you who have embraced this new technology and it's here to stay.

I think it's great we have so many choices, at present anyway. Paper books, e-books. Brick & mortar stores, on-line selling. Take your pick.

The casualties, like Borders, should make us all rush out and buy a book today.

Because even though it was big box, it sold books...and where would we be without books? And bookstores?

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

Thursday, July 21, 2011


A Harebrained idea

On Tuesday Rick Blechta wrote a blog for Type M for Murder about the City of Toronto's harebrained idea to privatize their public libraries. Councillor Doug Ford, the mayor's brother, said in his defense of the scheme, “I’ve got more libraries in my area than I have Tim Horton’s.” Um . . . and this is a bad thing?

It's a complete fabrication, of course. There are three times as many Timmy's in Etobicoke, Doug Ford's ward, than libraries and that doesn't begin to take into account all the other coffee shops that have sprouted like weeds in our urban communities. Apples and oranges can't describe this ludicrous argument. It's more like apples and warthogs. But before I get too personal about the delectable Ford brothers, let me tell you about my favourite library and why I think public libraries are such an important part of our communities.

The Elgin Branch of the Rideau Lakes Public Library in Eastern Ontario is my idea of a tiny perfect place. What is it about this little library? I conducted an informal survey of patrons and I got a number of enthusiastic and varied responses. Most people wanted to talk about the social aspect of the place. "It's a bit like the old general store without the potbellied stove. People feel welcome to sit around and chew the fat," said one patron.

A few years ago, Sue Warren, the CEO of Rideau Lakes Public Library came across my sister and me whispering in the General Fiction section. She put a hand on both our shoulders and in the nicest way possible said, "You don't have to whisper here. This is a community space." I looked around at that point and realized she was absolutely right. There was a spirited discussion going on in one alcove among six members of one of the library's five book clubs. Kids were crowded into the Children's Room shouting out answers to questions about a story that had just been read to them. All of the computers were in use and one man was having a conversation, sotto voce, on Skype. In the midst of this some people were reading and others visited in easy chairs.

Sue Warren explains the popularity of rural libraries this way: "Librarians have to be a bit like bartenders. Our staff members live in the area and are well-connected to the community. We know if someone is going through a bad time and we take the time to listen. Our libraries used to close between Christmas and New Years but we realized what a bleak and lonely time this could be for some folks, so now we stay open."

Many rural libraries offer courses in Computer skills and provide adult and youth literacy programs. Elgin has a Dyslexia Support Group, Summer Reading Clubs, Resume Writing assistance and they proctor examinations for people who can't get to exam venues.

I can't even begin to enumerate all the services this little library and most rural libraries provide, free of charge, for their communities but it doesn't take too much imagination to see how a private, for-profit library corporation would differ and how it would fail these same communities.

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, July 20, 2011


Behind the Scene of the Crime

Most people don't realize it, but the Scene of the Crime Festival is the brainchild of crime writer Therese Greenwood. A Wolfe Island native herself, Therese had long felt that the Island would make the perfect setting for a mystery writing festival. "What could be more perfect?" she said at the time. "Everyone loves the idea of an island. What could be more intriguing and mysterious? Hey, we could call the festival 'Scene of the Crime'." The first thing she did was recruit her partners in the mad scheme, Maureen Lollar, member of the Wolfe Island Business and Tourism Association (WIBTA), and myself, a fellow crime writer. Once we were all on board, the conspiracy . . . um, I mean the planning for the first Scene of the Crime Festival was on its way.

As the old saying goes, it's better to be lucky than good. When the Festival was still in its very early stages, Therese and I attended a Sherlock Holmes symposium where we learned from David Skene-Melvin – noted historian of Canadian crime writing – that Grant Allen, himself a Wolfe Island native and a friend of Arthur Conan Doyle, was considered Canada's first crime writer. Therese immediately realized what a stroke of luck this was for the Festival. "I can see the press release now!" she said, pointing out that this simple connection could bring the Festival national recognition.

Still, we started out small, testing the waters of local interest and support that would be so necessary for long-term success. And so the first year centred around the first of the Festival's terrific church suppers. Maureen organized the food, while Therese and I recruited Canadian mystery writers Peter Sellers and Mary Jane Maffini, who was president of Crime Writers of Canada that year. We brought in a number of local writers and celebrities, such as Rose de Shaw, Margaret Knott, Rene Marshall and Captain Brian Johnson, of the Wolfe Islander III. Therese also managed to snag a long-time mystery fan and well-known broadcaster Roy Bonisteel – did I mention that Roy's her father-in-law? Did I already say something about it's better to be lucky than good?

That first church supper featured readings, book signings, door prizes, and a silent auction. Since then the Festival has expanded into an all-day event, adding author panels, a lecture, a writing workshop and a short story contest in the second year. In the third year we began honouring Canada's crime-writing pioneers with the Grant Allen Award.

By the way, each speaker at our very first dinner, on Saturday 24th, 2002, was asked to write the beginning of a mystery story, using Wolfe Island as its setting. Why just the beginning of a story? What better way to honour where it all began, and to represent the start of what's become one of Canada's most important crime-writing festivals?

Want more details, and pictures? See our website,, and friend us on Facebook.

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

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

Tuesday, July 19, 2011


Food that's downright criminal!

I stayed in a lovely B&B in Ste.-Adele, Quebec this past weekend and while the room was just right, complete with balcony, and the village was worth the visit, it was the breakfast that sticks in my mind. I love breakfast, especially when it's eaten at a location other than my house.

Although I wasn't able to eat everything on the menu, it didn't stop me from appreciating what was offered. Eggs baked in cream -- doesn't it sound mouth-watering, especially in French.

Last month I stayed at a wonderful B&B in Victoria, B.C. and had the same experience...a marvelous breakfast menu, different each day. How to feel totally pampered. Did I mention, I love eating breakfast out?

Now, I readily admit I'm not a great cook. In fact, I don't even enjoy it. OK...I may feel inspired twice a year, for no particular reason. And you're wondering, why all this information? What does it have to do with mysteries?

Plenty! Pick up almost any cosy these days, and there's food mentioned in it. The

sleuth doesn't sit down to lunch. It's a lunch of Tuna Nicoise with a glass of Pinot Grigio. Many cosies even offer the recipes at the back of the book. Now, you'd expect that with a catering mystery or BBQ series. But many of these have nothing to do with food, except that the sleuth eats.

So, I'm of the opinion that in order to write a best-selling mystery these days, you need to know your food groups. Better still, know what makes a mouth-watering meal that will keep the reader salivating while the search for the killer continues.
If, like me, you're not a cook then you must do research. Not a difficult task.

I love reading cookbooks, oddly enough. But of course, they must have photos. There's something tantalizing about a cookbook, especially an ethnic cookbook. Even if I never try making a recipe from that book, I will treasure it. And of course, that's one way to do research.

Or you can put yourself in your sleuth's shoes...and eat out. What a great reason to try that new Argentinian restaurant in town! And, you must know your wines, too.

There are even blog sites devoted to recipes. Check out www.mysteryloverskitchen for some popular mystery authors sharing some non-lethal recipes.

This isn't restricted to the cosy set. Many edgy thrillers have revenge plotted across the dinner table. And how many victims have found their fate in a poisoned dish?

After all, isn't this another way of describing characters? As a reader, I want to know his or her tastes in reading, movies, clothing, and food. As long as the information is blended into the story and doesn't slow down the telling. Aren't we all searching for the well-rounded character?

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

Monday, July 18, 2011


Ah, stereotypes: where would we be without them as people and as writers? Our brains’ tendency to put people into categories and judge them accordingly probably allows us to get through our days. We look at individuals and draw conclusions. The child is innocent and helpless. The bank teller will give us our money. The mail carrier won’t force his or her way into our home. The librarian will frown and tell us to shhh. That little old lady is dithery, helpless and harmless. We don’t need to pay attention to her.

Stereotypes mean we don’t have to start from first principles with every person we deal with or pass on the street, helps us to manage expectation and the perception of danger. But these stereotypes are often wrong. We’ve seen in quite recent history how stereotypes and stereotypical views have held people back: remember the days not too long ago when people believed that no one would ever take a woman television anchor seriously. Female voices were ‘wrong’ and lacked authority.

Two groups of people really benefit from our unquestioned belief in stereotypes: crooks and mystery writers. Oh yes. Fraudsters will take advantage of the fact that people believe attractive, well-spoken and congenial folks could never do any harm. And mystery writers, me including, are thrilled if readers can be misdirected by the seemingly harmless appearance of certain characters. Little old ladies can absolutely be trusted to do something wicked or dangerous in my books and stories. Serves you right if you think they are all the same.

As a librarian by training I am often stunned by the pervasive nature of librarian stereotypes (especially considering the party animals who were my classmates). Do I use that? You betcha. So imagine how thrilled I was to read an intriguing piece about art theft this week. The notion of thieves breaking into museums or galleries, dodging complex security pitfalls and successfully stealing and selling valuable art works is simply not the case most times according to experts. Want to know who is likely behind the disappearance of art works? Staff. That’s right.

Staff means librarians and curators. I was tickled by the complicit librarians, but hang on. Curators? Aren’t they timid and colourless individuals, wandering corridors vaguely in rumpled beige, with bow ties and misplaced reading glasses? Thinning hair too. What? Uh oh! I’ve been betrayed by stereotypes.

Still, this article made my week. I have been pondering the international art thief librarian motif. I could have fun with that. The curatorial possibilities are also amusing.

Of course, I need people to continue to rely on the mental ‘short cut’ of stereotypes for me to pull the wool over their eyes.

I think it will happen. In the meantime, shhh!

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 this spring, is brimming with names, no two the same.

Saturday, July 16, 2011


Jill Downie
Dundurn Press

This is the first in a series from Canadian author Jill Downie and it's off to a fascinating start.

Take the setting. The English Channel Island of Guernsey. Then there are the investigators -- Detective Inspector Ed Moretti and Detective Constable Liz Falla, his new partner and we watch them build a working relationship as they solve the murders. That's right. Plural.

The other characters include the Marchesa Vannoni, transplanted from Italy, and an international cast of actors shooting a movie at the Marchesa's estate. Then there's the brassy British author of a bestselling novel upon which the movie is based. His gorgeous American wife, a former ballerina, adds some allure to the plot. And of course, there are the usual guys in the precinct.

The novel and therefore the movie, focus on an aristocratic Italian family at the end of World War II and some deeply buried secrets which of course, surface. The question for Moretti and Falla is, how much fact is there to the fiction? And could the Vannoni family be involved? And, how many more deaths before they find the truth...and the killer?

There's a good deal of historical fact woven into the story, along with a solid mystery and exploits in both Guernsey and Italy to please any armchair traveler. I look forward to reading the next installment in the Moretti & Falla mysteries.

Jill Downie is a compelling she should be, being the author of five historical novels, non-fiction, and plays. She's a welcome addition to the Canadian crime writing scene!

Friday, July 15, 2011


Time for a brainstorm...

I'm at that point in writing book #2 where the deadline is looming and I'm re-writing like crazy. Filling in the blanks (or the xxx's as it were). And looking for a title.

I've been using a working title up until now, knowing it won't be the final title. The reason -- it can be read in two ways. There's that word, 'read'. For my working title you have to read it as 'red'. The other way & it falls flat.

It's Read & Buried. I like it but as I said, if you 'read' it wrong, it's a goner.

So, time to brainstorm...and I'm looking for help. The plot involves a visiting author who is murdered; the amateur sleuth & her book club members jump into the investigation...and it's almost Christmas. Being book two of a series, the main characters remain the same as does the small southern Alabama town.

Book one, which is out next April, is titled A Killer Read. Berkley Prime Crime likes them snappy and short. Oh, yes...and relevant.

So, taking all of that into you have any suggestions?

Dying to Kill, came to mind this morning. As did Plotting to Die. They're already in the discard pile. Creating titles is a fun game to play when on a long car drive, on a long early morning walk, on hold for a long time with whatever major company you're calling. But it's time to get serious.

Titles, anyone?????

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

Thursday, July 14, 2011


Lost and Found

For an author, short stories are a wonderful experiment in new ideas, voices, themes and settings. Because they are about a 20th of the length of a novel and take about a month to write rather than a year, the author feels free to try on new personae and venture into new storytelling techniques and characterization that would be too risky in a 300-page novel. My novels tends towards the dark and complex, but in short stories I have tried out humour, lived inside the head of a comatose patient and a small child, and traveled to unfamiliar, exciting locales. Short stories are rejuvenating and invigorating, like the palette cleansers between heavy courses in the literary life of a writer.

My very first published short story, the poignant, disturbing “Secrets of the Night”, appeared in 1995 in the inaugural anthology of The Ladies’ Killing Circle,
itself entitled THE LADIES’ KILLING CIRCLE. And what an exciting moment it was! I remember when Linda Wiken, then the owner of Prime Crime Mystery Bookstore in Ottawa and herself a member of the Ladies Killing Circle, phoned to say the first shipment of books had been delivered to the store from the publisher. It was a blustery, wet day in November, but I leaped into my car and drove down right away. The thrill of opening that book to see my name in print for the very first time is a feeling I will never forget. Since then, I have had the privilege of having eight short stories published in the seven Ladies Killing Circle anthologies, and have become a member of that deadly circle myself, but the thrill never fades.

One of the frustrating things about short stories, however, is that they are often published in magazines and newspapers that disappear with the passage of time. Since that first publication sixteen years ago, I have had almost thirty short stories published, but only a handful are still accessible to readers. Most are buried in magazine archives somewhere, hidden from even the most thorough Google search. And so it is with that very first story in the inaugural anthology. THE LADIES’ KILLING CIRCLE has been out of print for years, and until now a persistent reader had to scour the used book stores to get their hands on it. Lost in the passage of time was the award-winning story by Mary Jane Maffini entitled “Cotton Armour” and the wickedly funny twist on killing your husband in Vicki Cameron’s “Birdbrain”. Gone are stories by the unforgettable Audrey Jessup, founding member of the Ladies Killing Circle, as well as LKC members Joan Boswell, Linda Wiken and Sue Pike.

But no longer. The arrival of ebook technology has made lost stories accessible again, and we six members of the Ladies Killing Circle have decided to venture into this brave new but exciting world. We have spent the last couple of months packaging our original six stories, plus the story entitled “The Little Treasures” by Audrey Jessup, who died in 2003 but remains our mentor still. In her honour, we have named the mini ebook LITTLE TREASURES, and for most of us, it contains the first stories we have ever published. Truly milestones to be marked. The ebook will be out in all formats soon, and we are justifiably thrilled. Because apart from the joy of seeing our firstborns back in print, they are all damn good stories. So stay tuned!

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, was launched in May.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011


There is a condition familiar to all mystery devotees: Mid-series Stress Syndrome, or MSSS (MISS). I’m a fan, and I’ve been there. It is characterized by a tightening of the chest, and a rise in blood pressure, followed by a moment when you snap. The delicate balance of admiration and devotion alters into frustrated expectations, and your fidelity as an aficionado morphs into exasperation. It’s been too long! Where’s the next book in the series? When will the torture end!

As readers, we give our time and our imaginations into the keeping of our favourite authors and their literary creations, and our principles can become a bit skewed from the vexation of waiting. Anticipation becomes thwarted desire. An excellent
recent article in the New Yorker magazine outlined the territorial tendencies of series readers (the piece was mostly about rabid sci-fi junkies, but we mystery readers know that we too are guilty). At some point, fans become consumers, and consumers demand gratification. Hardly a new phenomenon – think of the legion of followers who would not let Sherlock Holmes die, much to Conan Doyle’s chagrin. But we’ve become accustomed to a new sort of consumer speed: when we want something, we want it now and delays are unacceptable.

In my days behind the desk at Prime Crime, it was common to hear, ‘When is so-and-so’s book due? Why the long wait? They should be chained to their computer until they finish it.’ Spoken in jest of course, but there was that edge of irritation and entitlement – they weren’t getting what they craved, no doubt due to the writer’s moral turpitude and sloth. We need our fix, before the plot of the last book fades, and the characters begin to blur. Really, we’re only half fooling about that chaining thing.

We get pretty proprietary about the series we love, and feverish waiting for the next instalment. But books differ from other ‘products’ (and how I loathe that term in relation to works of the imagination.). What writer hasn’t longed for a big hit, only to discover they’ve become a commodity? There’s a delicate contract between authors and their follower; as the New Yorker points out, there is an ever-closer connection with all the blogs, Tweets, web pages, and Facebook updates, but this all takes a lot of time – time spent not writing. Their work has to be produced the old-fashioned way: one person, an empty page, and an inspiration – you can’t get it ‘on demand.’ Writers have lives, and they have to live to write, as well as write to live.

Sylvia Braithwaite has been in the book world in one way or the other, her entire life: fanatical reader, bookseller, publicist – and occasional writer. This summer, she is spending a lot of time in her garden, which also involves plenty of reading in the shade, and dreaming up plots as well as tending them.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011


Just open a vein...

I seem to recall some writer using the phrase, opening a vein. I can't recall the name (not unusual for me) but I do remember he or she was talking about how to write with truth and emotion. Digging deep into your psyche and letting it come out through the character.

I'm reading Daggers & Men's Smiles by Jill Downie at the moment, and will be reviewing it this weekend on Mystery Maven Canada. It takes place on Guernsey and
involves the making of a film, actors and of course, death. In it, a seasoned actor comments on how a beautiful young actress has developed more depth in her acting after her lover is murdered.

Writers are like actors in that sense. You can fake the setting to a certain degree, relying on research and observation even if you're lacking the sense of place that comes from being raised in a location. You can certainly research all the forensic information you'll ever need to use in a crime novel. But how do you get the characters' real?

Do we have to suffer in our own lives in order to portray a sleuth who's been jaded by events? Can the feelings of grief be evoked and set on the page? Does a writer need a degree in psychology in order to get the characters right?

Or do we try to know our characters so deeply that they react naturally in a scene?

Or is there a tacit agreement between writer and reader that you can keep your veins closed and just write a damn good novel with believable characters, a sharp mystery and a setting that sweeps you away...and all will be accepted?

On the other hand, there's a saying we all use...'it's all research'! So suffer away?

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

Monday, July 11, 2011


Little things make a difference.

Bullets. Traces of poison. DNA. Punctuation. We would do best not to ignore them. I’ve decided to muse about a few little things today. Punctuation appears to be newsworthy this week. Who knew?

The New York Times style section last Sunday had a feature on the exclamation point. That’s right! Apparently email, in which everything is fairly flat and emotionless, is a breeding ground for exclamation points. Like mosquitoes in standing water, exclamation points are exploding in this new environment. People like me who can write a book without a single exclamation point (and rightly so), can’t write a three-sentence email without seven. Otherwise normal people, ahem, are using them to convey support, enthusiasm, distress or an emerging hissy fit, any of which would take more words and more thought than an email message usually gets!!!!

Then there’s the comma, long a thorn in the side of the writer and the editor. Apparently, University of Oxford in a pre-emptive strike, has given the boot to the serial comma. Out in the blogosphere, there was rejoicing in some quarters and gnashing of teeth in others. Supporters claim that the serial comma is important to eliminate ambiguity. The common example is: I’d like to thank my parents, Ayn Rand and God. Much more clear if you write I’d like to thank my parents, Ayn Rand, and God. Ponder that.

As far as I can tell, wars have been fought over less.

This set me to thinking about other punctuation and its importance. I am hoping that someone will come up with a witty and pointed article on the ironic quotation mark, its uses and abuses. Finger quotes as they are known in conversation, can undermine the literal meaning of a phrase. For example: I just love you. As opposed to: I just ‘love’ you. Or even I ‘just’ love you. Consider: She’s such a good writer. Compare it to: She’s ‘such’ a good writer. Hmm. In our family, finger quotes are used the way some people might use, say, crossbows.

My point, and I do have one, is that even tiny bits of punctuation can contain pitfalls. How else did Lynn Truss manage to craft a bestselling book on punctuation in Eats, Shoots and Leaves?

Today as I work my way through a draft of a new book, I am filled with that writerly panic that often assails me when I think of the whole manuscript. If there are such pitfalls in commas and other punctuation, how can any of us hope to manage the 80,000 words or so that it takes for a contemporary mystery? It’s quite paralyzing when you think about it. Joan Boswell in her post last Thursday asked if creating a book shouldn’t be fun and challenging. I’d say yes. And it can also require courage just to get it out there, knowing that there will be pitfalls and errors and reviewers and critics ready to pounce. We writers are nothing if not a gutsy lot.

Speaking of small, dangerous things and gutsy lots: The Ladies Killing Circle is at it again. Keep an eye out for clues about an exciting e-publishing project! Yes, watch coming posts here at Mystery Maven Canada. But remember: you read it here first. And, trust me, it will turn out to be small and dangerous.

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 this spring, is brimming with names, no two the same.

Friday, July 8, 2011


Writing in the zone....

Some days the words play a game of hide-and-seek in your brain. Especially when you're trying to write a sentence, much less a scene in a book. The paragraphs emerge on the screen in a piecemeal pattern and thank goodness, there's the opportunity to edit and revise. Several times.

Other times, it all flows. The writer is in that zone where lunch breaks are forgotten, even appointments, while the story takes over from reality. At the end of the scene, the page, the chapter...whatever, the writer emerges from the story and asks, 'what day is this'?

It happened to me earlier this week as I finished off another draft, I think #3, of book #2. I had been reading, editing and writing steadily for six hours and was so enveloped in the town of Ashton Corners, Alabama...and so wrapped up in the lives of my characters, it took several minutes to re-orient and remember what day and even, where I was. That's pure gold to a writer. Being able to write in the zone. Unfortunately, it doesn't happen frequently enough for my liking.

It's can be a similar experience for the reader, too. I have been so carried away to a fictional place with characters who seem like friends, that I lose all sense of time and place. Those are the books I treasure and keep on my shelf. Those are the authors I eagerly await another book from. And perhaps it's the waiting that adds to the experience. Like looking forward to the yearly summer vacation each year.

What book have you zoned out on recently?

Linda Wiken/Erika Chase
A Killer Read coming April, 2
from Berkley Prime Crime

Thursday, July 7, 2011


The Learning Curve

Learning new skills invigorates and changes your perspective. Recently I took a week long ‘hooking’ course at Trent University. I learned a new vocabulary and new skills but more importantly I met interesting women, and one man, involved in this ancient craft. The youngest participants were in their thirties and the oldest was 97. Everyone expressed their pleasure at being there, at meeting old friends and welcomed those of us who were new. One legally blind 93 year old amazed us for she hooked within the pattern boundaries defined by masking tape a friend had painstakingly applied to the ongoing work.

If asked to characterize the group the words friendly, welcoming and non-competitive would come to mind.

Of course I purchased all the tools and am now guaranteed many hours of guilt free TV watching while I produce chair pads, a footstool cover and pillows. I’m pretty sure I’ll never make an enormous wall hanging or a rug as both require a degree of precision and exactness that I know I don’t possess.

Along with the lessons there was a display of hookers’ work. Some used purchased kits while others worked on original designs. The variety astounded me. In addition to this show of completed work on Thursday night we attended a ‘show and tell’ evening. Each participant displayed what they’d worked on during the week and talked about their reason for choosing that particular project.

The next morning, our teacher provided a list of web sites, books and magazines for us to turn to for information and inspiration. At home this week I checked out several sites. What joy and exuberance I found on some of them. They also had cross references that led to other interesting sites.

Over the years I’ve taken many courses some of which, like quilting, have led to lifelong obsessions. Others, like welding, proved interesting but didn’t change my
life. I do not have acetylene tanks tucked away ready to create garden sculptures from rusted iron. And, while I enjoyed a ‘using power tools’ course and did make a garden bench these skills are not ones I use. When I think back to the courses I’ve taken I marvel at the interests I’ve had but most of all I celebrate the urge that has made me want to learn new skills.

This past weekend PBS had a feature about achievers aged over ninety and, diverse though they were, each one had a zest for life and a determination to move on, to do things, to refuse to sit back and take it easy.

Shouldn’t writing be like that too? Shouldn’t we get on with it, embrace e books, try new topics and new ways of expressing ourselves? Do you agree that creating a book or a story should be fun and challenging?

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.