Saturday, August 13, 2011


Happy Blog-oliday!

Mystery Maven is on a blog-oliday!

We'll all be back on Monday, August please be sure to come back and read us then. Happy Canadian Crime reading to all!

Wait here's an update. MMC will return on Sept. 1st instead. Hope you'll all come back!

Friday, August 12, 2011


And we're off!

Erika Chase is sending book #2 in the Ashton Corners Mystery Book Club series off to the publisher today! Yay! Finally!

Erika & I say 'finally', because the final polishing round can be endless. All writers know what I'm talking about. You go into a section to insert something and suddenly you're re-writing that entire page, then the next. Every time you read the thing, your editing pencil comes out and we know what that leads to. There's never a time when a writer is totally satisfied with her/his work. You just have to say to yourself, "Enough. It's time. Send it off!"

Besides, when the editor returns it for re-writes, you can then go through the same process all over again.

It's a relief to be packaging it up for emailing off. There were a few slow months, round about March, April when I wondered if I'd ever be able to pull it off. Could I actually finish the thing? Would it make sense? Would I have to send back my advance? I went through the same process with the first book. And, there's that famous story about Harlen Coben, I think...his rant and his wife asking if he was at chapter so-and-so, because that's where this always happened. Sorry, my brain is in neutral today. I'm sure someone will correct me with the right name, if this is the wrong one.

I's also a sad day because it's been so much fun. Really it has, even with those two horrid months. I've enjoyed my time in Ashton Corners, Alabama...getting to know Lizzie Turner and the other book club members even better. They're old friends now, you know. And it's hard to leave old friends. Even with that feeling of accomplishment vying for top emotion.

But I won't be away from them for long. Book #3 has to be started because it's due in 9 months. And this is all before Book #1 is even published. Are you still with me? That's right, A Killer Read, the first in the series, is due out in April, 2012.

However, even #3 has to wait awhile -- for two weeks as I'm taking a Blog-oliday! I'll be touring France with my choir and I'm not taking my computer!

So, it's a holiday for readers, too. All guest bloggers have been given a break, with many thanks for all their wise & witty words. But we'll all be back on Monday, Aug. 29th (starting with Mary Jane Maffini). I'm hoping you'll remember to come back to Mystery Maven Canada on that date, also.

We'll start a new season of blogs; I'll start a new manuscript; and Canadian crime writers will all have an amazing year of sales! Thank you readers & commenters. Where have your summer travels taken you?

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

Thursday, August 11, 2011


Bumps on the e-book road

We've just encountered our first hiccup in the Little Treasures e-publishing experience. If you follow this blog you'll know that we, The Ladies' Killing Circle, published our first e-book in July. Little Treasures is a collection of seven stories from our first mystery anthology.

Up to now the e-publishing process has been a dream - seamless and much more fun than any of us expected. We had the extreme good fortune to have Donna Carrick, of Carrick Publishing handle the hard bits. She knows all there is to know about getting books onto Kindle and other e-books, such as Kobo, Sony and Nook.

Donna is speedy but meticulous and insisted that we be as well. Each of us went through the entire text with a fine-tooth comb, reading each story again and again. The final publication reflects this attention to detail. I've read several other books on my Kindle that could have benefitted from Donna's ministrations.

So where's the hiccup? Our very first Kindle review was published yesterday by a woman from New Jersey. The book was unreadable, she said, words were jumbled up, parts of sentences missing. The text was white print on a black background. Well, no wonder she had trouble reading it! This was clearly a transmission problem or at least a problem with her Kindle. It would be nonsense to think that Amazon would publish a document in white text on black background. Their stock in trade is that all their books look exactly alike and they all look as much like paper books as possible.

The problem is that a single bad review sits on the Kindle site like an anvil. It drags all other reviews down with it and scotches any hopes we might have had for a consistent five-star rating. This reviewer admits that she didn't read any of the stories (as they were understandably unreadable in their pixilated form) but choosing to give the book a bad review because of a transmission problem, gives us a problem and more importantly it gives our excellent publisher a problem. This kind of review makes all of us look bad.

As long as there have been books and literary critics, authors have griped about bad reviews. But at least, in the pre-ebook days there were editors to ensure that what was being reviewed was the writing and not just a poor print run. Today, with peer reviews, we don't have that safeguard. Anything goes.

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, August 10, 2011



Cottage Brain (from Gates Family Lexicon), n:
a state of mind associated with human withdrawal from responsibility, schedules, television, radio and ‘new media’ and increased exposure to books, naps, board games and silence punctuated by the call of the loon. Generally fostered in a highly natural environment, preferably lakeside with boat dockage and decent swimming. Characterized by loss of nouns and attention to detail and a corresponding increase in a ‘who gives a crap?’ mentality. Closely related, in effect, to pregnancy brain, menopause brain and chemo brain.

Something strange happened during my annual pilgrimage to our cottage Shangri la (depicted in these photos). Despite advances in connectedness (a newly erected Rogers cell tower outside the nearby village failed to raise a signal on my Rogers cell), the cottage was far less ‘accessible’ this July. Even the black, rotary dial wall telephone on which we’d made clandestine, local, outbound calls in previous years was out of order.

Unlike a nameless family member, I was never sufficiently motivated to rectify this condition by striking a Statue of Liberty-type pose teetering over the water on the rubble of a former dock bed hoping to raise enough signal to text her grandchildren.

I gave myself over to a stillness of the mind. While meditation of a formal sort was not employed, I noted three distinct stages in reaching my cerebral nirvana: Information decline anxiety; Boredom; and Catatonia.

And yet something strange happened about Day Eight. Clarity arose from the shroud of my mental relaxation. Picture the director of a screen epic who has the cinematographer slowly pull the camera back from the earnest face of the battle’s hero to reveal the larger picture of war’s global suffering and loss. That’s what this year’s bout of cottage brain delivered unbidden to me — the bigger picture of my writing goals.

Pulled away from the demands of urban life, its artificially-imposed schedules and information overload, my brain began to make interesting connections. Overarching story arcs appeared fully formed as I watched the sun sparkle upon the waves. Grand themes suggested themselves with little effort as I listened to the phoebes coax their young from the nest. Logical character development was laid bare as I sniffed the bonfire smoke drifting across the bay on the night breeze.

Synchronicity is a Jungian concept described by Wikipedia as “the experience of two or more events, that are apparently causally unrelated or unlikely to occur together by chance, that are observed to occur together in a meaningful manner.”

My experience with Cottage Brain 2011 seems to supply a remedy to the condition of sore brain described by Linda among these pixels in her post last week, A Lot on my Brain!

Wouldn’t it be grand I mused, if all crime writers had the opportunity to go unplugged in the great outdoors for a minimum of two weeks each summer? Perhaps away from the gritty details of murderous methods and criminal motivation and victim profiles we would uncover the literary sweep the Canada Council for the Arts seems to believe our art form lacks?

As we know, they’re wrong on that score — witness more synchronicity at work in Barbara Fradkin’s blog rant from last Thursday. But let’s play along, shall we? If they will not fund our writing, how about sponsoring a cottage in the Muskoka’s, a cabin on Vancouver Island or a chalet at Mount Ste. Anne? Someplace we could commune with ‘literary merit’ and sniff the pine forests?

I can even back up this request with some science (see another bit of synchronicity from CBC Radio One, The Current’s Shift, Episode 7 @ that time among trees and nature have beneficial effects on the human pre-frontal cortex — the brain’s CEO — in charge of higher order functions.

So come on Canada Council! How about a Synchronicity Shangri la retreat for crime writers? The hydro and internet bills won’t be onerous. Heck if you give us all three locales, we’ll even share them with other genre writers. After all, a precedent has been set with your support of the Pierre Berton House Writers Retreat in Dawson City, Yukon. (See also: bertonhouse/story.html

In the meantime, let’s float this idea by our ‘making-a-living-from-my-crime-writing’ peers . . . or our grateful, wealthy fans. Perhaps one of them will get the Shangri la ball rolling with a little change in their estate planning. Anyone care to deed their tiny piece of heaven to this higher-order idea of granting crime writers an annual, un-plugged two-week wilderness parole?

Do you have a Shangri la? I’d love to hear about it. In the meantime, sharpen your pencils fellow crime writers. A letter campaign to the Canada Council for the Arts is in order. Tell them I sent you. We’re a dangerous bunch when crossed.

Susan C. Gates is a reformed banker and a recovering policy analyst living in Ottawa. Her works of short crime fiction are published in recent editions of the Ladies’ Killing Circle anthologies. A member of Capital Crime Writers since 2000, Susan has served on its executive. Her first novel, Paper Daughter, has gestated longer than an elephant’s embryo. Well overdue, its delivery promises to be an arduous one.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011


Another deadline...egads!

Where does nine months go? It seems that time really does fly when there's a deadline involved. Or perhaps that's just a sign of aging. Or both.

I don't remember time moving so quickly when I was pregnant. Those nine months seemed to drag on, especially through a hot Ottawa summer. I was taking a summer class at the Journalism School at Carleton University during that particular summer
and what I remember most was the combination of intense air conditioning in the lecture theatre squeezed in between the humid heat. Not surprisingly, I got a dandy of a cold and cough. The other thing I remember most is feeling like an elephant...a hot one. But of course, there were the moments when someone would stand on the bus and give me a seat. And grey haired elderly ladies would all smile sweetly at me. As I awaited the birth of my baby boy with much anticipation, it truly was the endless summer.

Not so with this one. It might as well have evaporated. Book #2 in the Ashton Corners Book Club mysteries is due this Friday, just before I leave on vacation. How did that happen? It seems not too long ago, I was delighted to have finished draft #1. Now, after weeks, actually months of re-writes and polishing, my manuscript is about to leave home. I'll give birth and become an empty-nester all at once.

This is quite the writing life. For all the pressures and uncertainty, it's really
quite wonderful. And with each deadline, I am more truly amazed at my writing friends who have been at this so much longer, and especially those with multiple series. That's STAMINA. And determination. And inspiration. And talent.

So, just four more days with the polishing cloth and then, a vacation. During which time, I'll need to start plotting book #3. It's due in 9 months!

How do you handle deadlines -- energized or stressed?

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

Monday, August 8, 2011


In praise of fear

Fear –where would we be without it? Flattened by speeding vehicles, done in by chugalugging cleaning products, teetering cheerfully on tiptoes on the railing of tenth-floor balcony offering to display our prowess with the Highland Fling? All to say, like pain, fear can definitely be a good thing if it keeps you more or less sensible.

Of course, unrealistic fears and phobias can often do far more harm than whatever was feared in the first place. Everyday spiders, black cats, strangers. I once had an acquaintance who was terrified to walk in the park, but not at all worried about driving on the highway with her husband when he’d had a snootful. We are all most likely in more danger caused by routinely running stop signs than by the scary spectre of home invasions. But we can’t be realistic all the time.

Still mystery writers (a dangerous group if ever there was one) count on fear. We want the reader to fear the worst. If the stakes are high enough, the fear might be for the end of our society, or the patients in a targeted hospital or the planeload of innocent passengers who might be shot out of the sky. Readers can fear for individuals too: the kidnapped child, the wrongly accused friend, the terrified witness to a violent crime.

I always hope that they’ll be extremely worried that my characters will get shot, drowned, trapped in a bat cave or come to some other perilous end. It’s nice if there’s a few worries for the innocent bystanders or victims in a book too. Share the wealth. Even if there’s a high probability that the sleuth will still be alive and kicking at the end, the same can’t be said for every character, especially anyone with a name and no continuing role. Readers should fret about them. A high body count can keep the reader’s interest in what otherwise might be a flabby middle (not the writer’s middle of course).

Sometimes we just want the reader to fear that justice will not be done, that the bad guy will get away, that heroism can still lead to defeat. With luck (from my point of view) this won’t happen in a book that I am either reading or writing.

So what does the author fear? Right now, realizing that a lot of story lines and characters are up in the air and wondering how to get them down. It’s always darkest before the dawn, as they say. This is nowhere truer than coming to the end of a story and needing to tie it all together. What if this is the time that doesn’t happen? What if this investment of a year or so just doesn’t work out? That’s the stuff of my nightmares. Give me recluse spiders and bungee-jumping any day. I just need to wrap it up. Fingers crossed!

Do you love to feel a frisson of fear in a book? What do you worry about?

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, August 5, 2011


With a Little Help from my Friends!

Does that tune run through your mind when you read the words? It should be the theme song of every writer.

I'll get by with a little....
I'll overcome my writer's block with a little ....
My rants and fears will be eased with a little....
My sales will skyrocket with a little help from my friends!

The crime writing community of friends is a very congenial one. No backstabbing allowed here! Well-established writers are more than happy to share the wisdom gained over years of publishing. Crime writers revel in each others' success from that first published novel to yet another award. And authors are more than happy to give a nod to, a mention on Facebook, a cover blurb, and tell all their friends about a fellow writer's new book. I wonder if the world of mainstream writing functions the same?

Because as we all know, it's word of mouth that really counts these days. We're very fortunate in Canada to have some terrific reviewers who will take the time to review new authors -- Margaret Canon, Don Graves and Jim Napier come to mind. And there are certainly others.

But it's the Facebook mention between friends that explodes into the universe as it's 'shared'. It's the Twitter mentions that provide the same outreach. It's the book club reading list. And the personal recommendations of friend to friend, reader to reader that make the real difference in whether a book, a series, an author's career will survive.

The crime writing and reading community is terrific. So proud to be a part of it. We all should be proud.

So, what book will you recommend today?

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

Thursday, August 4, 2011


Today I’m going to go on a bit of a rant. Humour me. The summer is glorious. The corn, tomatoes, wild blueberries and new potatoes are cropping up in markets and roadside stands. If I shut my eyes, it’s possible to block out the tragedy of Norway, the insanity of the US debt crisis, the privatizing of libraries, and even the silly chatter of the latest “national unity” crisis. It’s possible to hear only the echo of the loon over the lake, the hum of crickets and the lapping of water on the shore.

This is a rant, you ask?

The truth is, we’re never satisfied. There is always something to complain about, so here I go.

Soon I will be embarking on a six-week road trip through the Maritime provinces – Newfoundland, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. My sister and I will be renting an SUV three times the size of my house, piling ourselves, our camping and writing gear, and our three dogs into it, and setting off to research our father’s early life. We have been planning this trip for over a year, dreamed of it all our lives. We have identified locations where he lived, contacted relatives and local historians, booked places to stay – a challenge with three dogs! – and figured out what we needed to research and where. Daily life in an outport on Trinity Bay, the Boy’s Industrial School in Halifax, for example.

Our ultimate goal is to write the story of his life from his impoverished outport beginnings to his PhD in philosophy from Harvard University. Along the way, he was orphaned, contracted polio, was thrown in reform school, studied in Germany during Hitler’s rise to power, and caught the eye of a rebellious Westmount private school girl who was determined to marry him. All in all, an extraordinary, inspirational Canadian tale. Or so we thought.

The trip will be very expensive, even with camping and hunting down accommodation bargains on kijiji. So last year, thinking this might be the type of project that the Canada Council for the Arts might wish to encourage, I applied for a grant. As required, I submitted the first few chapters of the book-to-be, a detailed outline, bios, rationales, and all the other paperwork, including my list of publishing credits. Perhaps this was my undoing. All my publishing credits are in crime fiction - nine novels and about thirty short stories. Perhaps the jury thought that a crime writer could never write a worthy biography, even in the style of creative non-fiction that we had chosen. Perhaps the jury thought that a crime writer couldn’t write anything worthy at all. I have never applied for a Canada Council grant before, although literary writers routinely apply for grants to help them subsist during the writing period. Other crime writers have applied for grants, and other forms of support, always without success. Not real writing, apparently.

Fantasy, science fiction and horror writers tell me that as low as crime fiction is on the scale of worthy literature, their writing is even lower. Small consolation, since we are all bastard stepchildren at the literary banquet. One might have thought that a crime writer who wished to break out of her inferior genre ghetto would be encouraged, but the jury didn’t leap at the chance. Perhaps the reason is not bias but simple math. Perhaps there are too many writers asking for support and not enough money to go around. But that still leaves the question. How did they choose? And why didn’t they choose me? An established, respected writer who’s never asked for a dime before in my career. Why don’t they choose my crime-writing colleagues, who not only write very good stories about Canadian issues, characters and settings, but also tackle important moral and social questions that our country confronts.

This trip will happen, and this book will get written, because it deserves to be written. It deserves to be read. Even though there is no grant, even though we will be considerably in debt by the end. I know I’m not the first author to struggle. But I wonder how many unusual and worthy stories will not get written and will never be read, because the writer needed to eat.

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, August 3, 2011


A lot on my brain!

It's one of those mornings -- crisp, cool and conducive to great thoughts or at least, bursts of energy. However, I can't seem to summon either.

I'm not sure why this is the case. I didn't have an overly late night out with friends. Okay, maybe I laughed way to much and that left me tired. But it was worth it. I had a good sleep but awoke sleepy. The morning temps. were ideal for a brisk walk. In fact, it's the most comfortable morning in many a week.

Maybe the problem is my brain. I will, on occasion, have a half-hour reflexology
session, followed by a half-hour of massage therapy. The massage I have on a regular basis to deal with chronic neck pain. The reflexology I started on a whim and although painful (to me), I do believe it's useful. I know my sister believes it helps with her sciatic pain. The concept is basically that areas of your foot are associated with areas of the body and its organs. By gently -- and she assures me, she is gentle -- applying pressure and manipulation, it should ease the problem.

I have also been told, each session, when I almost leap off the table that the tender point in question is associated with the brain. I have 'sore brain'. An interesting thought.

Does that mean it's sore because of over-use? Or are the thoughts so trivial, it's
tired of thinking them? Or, is it out of control, flittering from one concern to the other, not able to focus long enough to deal with the issue and therefore, relax? The answer could be, 'yes' to all the above.

I am assured 'sore brain' does not mean I should rush out and find the closest neurosurgeon. That's a relief!

The main problem is, book #2 is due at the publisher in 1 1/2 weeks. Yikes! That's enough to give anyone 'sore brain', I'd think. So, my prescription to myself is to take the morning off, do some shopping therapy, and tackle the rest of my life later today.

As for this blog, I really wanted to tackle some deep concern or issue in the publishing world...but, sore-y, I have 'sore brain' today.

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

Tuesday, August 2, 2011


Checking out the libraries debate

It's still in full swing...the debate about whether or not to close libraries. The gauntlet was taken up again on The Current this a.m. on CBC Radio One, with the chief librarian from Hamilton Public Library and a Toronto Councillor carrying the 'Pro' banner. If only all those on the Toronto Council were so wise. Especially, those ridiculous Ford brothers.

By the way, there are NOT more library branches than Tim Hortons in Toronto -- we all knew that. The number is 3 Tim Hortons to 1 library. I actually thought it would be more like 30 to 1.

Everyone can understand the need for a city to raise money and cut spending these days. And, since libraries are not allowed to charge fees (only overdue fines), they can be seen as dead weight -- by all those wearing blinders. Those fines and some monies earned from space rentals are admittedly, not large amounts. But there's no way to attach a price tag to the services offered by a library.

Even in these days of the Internet, e-books, and everything that goes with the new media...libraries are right in there providing citizens with free access to these items. There will always be a need for paper books, especially for those who cannot afford to keep buying books in any format. The library has the books, the Internet, the programming, the classes, the gathering space that keep a community vibrant and alive.

I'm always amazed that no matter what time of day or evening I visit my local branch, it's always busy. And it's populated by people of all ages and ethnicities. And, everyone is friendly.

There's often an economy of space that forward-thinking municipalities incorporate when deciding on multi-purpose buildings, such as my local community centre/library branch. Shared structure, shared heat and cooling systems, shared clientele. We could also add a community health centre to that plan and/or a community police centre. The main ingredient being 'community'.

There has always been a library in my memory. Although I can't remember at what age
I started visiting it, I do know it was in a regal, old Carnegie building. When the ultra-modern main branch was built (many, many decades ago), I was a user from day one. During high school, it was close to the bus I'd take home, so often I'd stop in and do my homework, or at least the research aspect, before catching the bus. My first paying job was as a 'Page' at that locale; my future husband asked me out on our first date between those stacks.

Everyone has a library memory, I'm certain. As readers, it's the keeper of our written legacy; as writers, it's a place that connects readers to our books. In this day and age of diminishing numbers of bookstores, we need to keep our libraries alive and flourishing.

That just makes good sense...and cents!

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

Monday, August 1, 2011


Ah the August holiday. Canadians seem unclear on exactly what we are celebrating on the first Monday of the month. Well, I know what I’m celebrating: the joy of reading. Of course, we can read all year long and there’s something wonderful about reading inside on a snowy day, or in front of a roaring fire. But nothing beats reading on the deck or on the dock or just by an open window with summer breezes floating by. I’ll even confess to enjoying reading with the hum of the air
conditioner in the background. As they say, it’s all good.
Maybe it’s the sense of freedom that summer brings, although with our ever more connected world while we have more ability to get things done, we’re rarely free of messages or what I sometimes think of as online tyranny. But never mind that, we can still read. I have been choosing to read print, but will soon go over to ‘the other side’ and buy an e-reader. I am very excited as The Ladies Killing Circle has

just issued it’s first e-collection: Little Treasures. We’re proud of our seven stories and think that the format will introduce our work to new readers near and far to our Canadian voices. In the moment of celebration, I think I’ll wait to worry about my potential purchase: say, the first time my e-reader falls in the tub as so many of my paperbacks have. Or tumbles from my hands as I fall asleep and lands on the floor with a …

Well, back to the here and now. I am reading print books at the cottage. Last weekend I read A Brush with Death, by Elizabeth Duncan, a delicious cozy set in Wales. In five minutes I’m going to be curling up with The Witch of Babylon, by D.J. McIntosh. I have been savoring this antiquities mystery, which so far has moved from looting in Iraq to dark doings in New York. Better yet, both the authors are Canadian, although their settings are elsewhere.

I like to have different books for different settings and, even at the cottage, usually have one going on the sofa, by the bed, on the deck and in my suitcase. This may be getting easier with the e-reader. Time will tell. The main thing is the content, I have always loved and will continue to love the work of my Canadian colleagues. I enjoy reading them on a little patch of the great Canadian outdoors. Now if that’s not worth having a holiday for, I don’t know what is! Fireworks anyone?

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.