Monday, October 31, 2011

MAYHEM ON MONDAYS


What to do if you love a book

You may ask, why do anything at all? After all, does any book need a boost from you? Ah. Allow me to climb up on my soapbox. You should do something because that book most likely needs your friendly assistance. These days there are fewer and fewer physical bookstores and consequently not nearly enough places where you can walk in and see an array of books in front of you. We are increasingly using online sources to find books. But first we need to know something about that book in order to find it: the title, the author’s name, some category or key word. It’s not quite the same as checking out shelves and tables in a bookstore.

The books that will automatically flash in front of your face are either the ones that have sold the most or those where the publisher has invested in site advertising.

Even in the larger ‘real’; bookstore, the endcaps and special displays are funded as advertising by publishers. That’s a business decision in a free country.
However, so many other books are shy flowers with three months to be purchased or stripped, cover returned to the publisher and the body of the book in the dumpster. If they happen to be on a bottom shelf because of the vagaries of shelving and number, they may be more like weeds to be trampled. Top shelf isn’t much better from my viewpoint, but of course, I am five feet tall. The whole scenario is enough to make a reader or author feel faint.

Then there’s the fact that print review sources are shrinking. That means more attention for the ‘big books’ that you can’t miss anyway, less for the others. Look for full page reviews of the megasellers and no page reviews for most of the midlist. Too bad, so sad.

Even libraries, long the treasured location for creative and serendipitous browsing, are not immune to this. Many of us, including grouchy little me, use the online catalogue to select titles and dash in to pick up my selection without checking to see what else is available. Of course, they are titles or authors that I already know about.

Plus more and more books don’t even have a physical manifestation: they’re e-books or they’re downloadable audio books. How do you find out about them?

So that’s my point: if you love a book that is not an international bestseller or a major frontlist baby for a huge publisher, then tell people about it. It will feel the love! Here are some things you could consider. They’re all free and most only take a minute!

Tell your reading friends.
Tell your local librarians.
Tell a bookstore owner.
Tell your book club.
Tell strangers on a bus.
Be seen with the book! Read it in the doctor’s waiting room, on a plane, in a slow grocery line. Someone’s bound to ask. But feel free to volunteer the information.


Don’t get out much? No problem!
Tell your Facebook buddies.
Tell your Twitter followers.
Link to a nice review.
Comment on the author’s blog or Facebook page.
Every one of these takes almost no time. A minute. Or a quick flap of the tongue. But in this networked world any one can make a difference.

Have a few more minutes? Write a quick review online or rate the book on an online site or online bookseller. You won’t just be dishing out stars. You’ll be one!

Lastly: Tell the author. Most authors have a website with a contact email. It’s a lonely old world out there and it could get lonelier with all these invisible books, bookstores closing and shrinking book review sections. So give an author a boost! Every author writes with the reader in mind. Without the reader, the story doesn’t matter. If you’re a happy reader, let the person know that their book touched you in some way.



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 week, is brimming with names, no two the same.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

MYSTERY REVIEW

Sitting Lady Sutra
By Kay Stewart
Touchwood Editions



RCMP Constable Danutia Dranchuk makes her second appearance in this new novel by Kay Stewart. The first one, A Deadly Little List, which Stewart co-authored with husband Chris Bullock, saw Const. Dranchuk, recently graduated from the academy. Now she’s stationed in Victoria, B.C. and recently named Special Investigator in trying to find a serial killer before more women are murdered.

The Sitting Lady of the title is the name of a waterfall just outside the city. It’s where the body of a teenaged girl is found after six months of decay. Nobody has reported her missing. Is she just one of many lost souls or a victim of Handy Dan, the nickname of the serial killer Dranchuk is tracking. Until that can be established, she must cooperate with Corporal Farrell from the West Shore division, not a happy situation for either woman.

Dranchuck works closely with Corporal Surinder Sharma, head of forensics, in searching for both the identity of the girl and her killer. His timely words of wisdom and quiet relentless methods help Dranchuk to focus her own skills. She’s invited to his home to celebrate Thanksgiving and the Hindu festival of Dussehra, where she meets his two sons and niece, an art student who has been estranged from the family for many years. The Sharma family stories and traditions weave a colourful texture into this police procedural. And we learn about the tragedy that beset the family decades ago in Toronto. But Dranchuk eventually has questions about Sharma’s handling of the case. She feels he’s dragging his feet but doesn’t know why.

Dranchuk’s own past becomes part of the story as she tries to deal with a secret from her youth.

The setting also plays a major role in the mystery. From Victoria’s bustling city streets to the haunting forests and wild streams of Witty’s Lagoon Regional Park, Stewart is a great travel guide and paints a vivid picture of this soulful place.

Sitting Lady Sutra is a well-written mystery with a solid plot and sub-plots that intertwine and surprise. Stewart knows how to write a compelling novel with dialogue that is sharp and believable, as are the characters. It’s always a pleasure to find a strong female protagonist who is also good at her job. Danutia Dranchuk is definitely one.

Friday, October 28, 2011

CRIME ON MY MIND

And now for something completely different.


I’ve been known to get hooked on the occasional TV series and with the fall season in full swing, I’m wondering which ones are your favourite crime-related series. It’s a question my writing buddies have been tossing around lately, mainly looking for recommendations.


I’ll put mine out there – Harry’s Law, Castle, Prime Suspect, Body of Proof. They each have their flaws, of course. I much preferred Harry’s Law last year when it was a small law firm doing business in a shoe store. But the actors are strong and I still love Harry in the courtroom.

Castle seemed to have lost its way at the end of last season but may be back on track. It’s the sexy tension between Castle and Beckett that sets this one apart but it can get bogged down in backstory.

Prime Suspect is a great title but in no way relates to the British namesake. Which is too bad. Not that it’s not an Americanized version, like we saw with Cracker, but more because that’s what you expect when you purloin a well-known title. Put all that aside and you have a strong female cop. I like her style. Okay…maybe the tension in the squad room diffused much too soon. That rivalry made the show sizzle. But it still has my attention.


Finally, Body of Proof, partly because I love the shoes. And of course, the female medical examiner and her boss dress more like fashion models. And not since Quincy have we seen a pathologist-cum-police detective at work. She spends as much time physically chasing down suspects as in the lab. So, suspend your disbelief and enjoy. It’s still an entertaining hour.
Of course, there are others that drift onto and off my ‘must watch’ list, depending on availability. Bring on a new season of New Tricks, and I’m there. Same with Republic of Doyle. And then we have those short British series – Inspector Lewis just keeps getting better. And I find Case Histories, based on Kate Atkinson’s Jackson Brodie series, well worth watching.

Which brings to mind the question of transition between a book and the screen. I think the best done were the Benny Cooperman movies based on Howard Engel’s lovable PI. Wallander fell short when the main character sported a British rather than a Swedish accent. Sorry – I do demand some realism.

Some, ‘based on characters’ of series written by mystery authors stand the test of a long run, such as the Morse mysteries. Others, like Midsomer Murders, can get boring but did revive last season and were interesting once again.

What’s on your ‘must-watch’ list? And, which book series would you like to see transformed into TV series? What about your own books?


Linda Wiken/Erika Chase
A Killer Read coming April 3, 2012
from Berkley Prime Crime

Thursday, October 27, 2011

LADIES' KILLING THURSDAYS

Dead Horses


I know I've blogged about the importance of libraries before in this space but at the risk of seeming to flog a dead horse, I'm going to say more. Doug Ford, councillor for Etobicoke, may have given up for the moment his quest to close Toronto libraries but in my experience, dead horses have a bad habit of raising their scabrous heads and coming back to life. Governments and corporations have more money than the rest of us and a lot more staying power. They can outwait the best of us so that just when we slough off our boxing gloves and sink into our rocking chairs they joyfully dig the idea up and present it as something brand new to a now younger population.

In Ottawa we thought we'd scotched a bad plan for the rejuvenation of Lansdowne Park, the largest public park in the downtown core. But money and power won in the end and we now have a plan that includes umpteen acres of big box and other stores as well as condos, a football field and a bit of playground and green space nestled into the concrete.

Libraries are simply too tempting a target for politicians looking for spending cuts. They've tried before and they'll try again. When Ottawa City Council threatened to close the Sunnyside Branch of the OPL several years ago, my neighbours and I gathered for the protest not sure what to expect but I have rarely heard such impassioned and moving speeches. Ed Broadbent talked of the huge impact his local library had on him, a kid from an Oshawa auto worker's family for whom books and education held little importance. Jeffrey Simpson, of the Globe and Mail, told how his own youthful attention was caught by the books suggested by his local librarian.

We're just back from a two-week trip around Newfoundland where we visited The Rooms, St. John's spectacular museum, art gallery and archives. An exhibit called Logotopia: The Library in Art, Architecture and the Imagination, inspired me to scribble down these words from the exhibit:

"The need for collective experience and social interaction will never go away. Furthermore, the unique role of the library as the human institutional bridge between analogue and digital cultures provides the library patron with more opportunities and points of access than ever before. This is why new libraries continue to be built and why existing libraries expand to meet the ever growing demand. Besides, the sensorial experience of reading a book holds too great an allure."


Fine words indeed. But watch out for dead horses. They can rise to kick again.



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, October 26, 2011

WICKED WEDNESDAYS



Nicola Furlong recently gave several good reasons for the popularity of mysteries. I’d like to add another. While much “mainstream” fiction has narrowed its focus to the personal realm, much crime fiction holds up a lamp to the social world we inhabit, illuminating the dark corners we would sometimes prefer to ignore.

Take, for instance, Lou Allin’s brilliant prologue to She Felt No Pain, with its convincing portrayal of the consciousness of a drug-addicted homeless man. Or Phyllis Smallman’s expose of slave labour among Florida agricultural workers in Champagne for Buzzards. Or Stephen Legault’s spirited defense of wild ecosystems against corporate fish farms in The Darkening Archipelago. Or R. J. Harlick’s sensitive portrayals of Canada’s First Nations in her Meg Harris series.

I could go on. I’m sure at least one Canadian crime novel addresses every conceivable social problem or injustice.

But crime novelists also celebrate what is good about Canadian culture. And since I write police procedurals (my main character, Constable Danutia Dranchuk, is a member of Island Division, RCMP), I’d like to celebrate the amazing dedication of the riders in the Canadian Cancer Society Tour de Rock and their supporters.


Every fall, a team made up of law enforcement officers and media representatives cycles more than 1000 kilometres from Port Alice in northern Vancouver Island, down the east coast, across the mountains to Uclulet and Tofino, back to the string of towns from Nanaimo to Mill Bay, over the Malahat, then to Sooke, back to Sidney, ending two weeks later in Victoria. The purpose of the ride is to raise money for pediatric cancer research and to send children affected by cancer to Camp GoodTimes, where they don’t feel strange or different because they aren’t.

This year, my husband (and sometimes co-author) Chris Bullock and I had the good fortune to experience some of the social side of the Tour de Rock, as part of our research for the still-distant fourth novel in the Danutia Dranchuk series. In tiny Port Alice (population 821), we joined locals at the Legion for a seafood dinner and lively auction with the riders and support crew. The next day we learned that Port Alice had raised $14,500 “and still counting.”


We were on hand in Port Hardy when the team swept into town, heralded by fire engines and escorted by three motorcycles and two patrol cars. There we watched a young Canadian Junior Ranger give up her long curly red hair for the cause. That night in Port McNeill we chatted with a tableful of riders about their reasons for volunteering and their experience so far.


The next morning we tooted as we passed the team labouring up a hill in high winds and heavy rain, bound for Sayward, their longest day’s cycle at 140 km. At the finale in Victoria on October 7, Lou Allin and I handed a cheque for $1000 to team co-captain Constable Alvin Deo of the Victoria Police Department, proceeds from the Bloody Words 2011 silent auction.

As gruelling as it is, the Tour itself is only a small part of the commitment these riders make. For seven months before the tour, they train and fundraise. Many are motivated by their experience with cancer, firsthand or among friends and family. Others are motivated by the Junior Riders who are their partners. Others simply believe that serving the community is part of their duty as police officers.

Whatever their reasons, they light up our world.

For more about the Tour de Rock, see www.tourderock.ca

For more about Kay Stewart’s mystery series, see www.kaystewart.ca




Kay Stewart is the author of two police procedurals featuring RCMP Constable Danutia Dranchuk (A Deadly Little List, co-authored by husband Chris Bullock, and Sitting Lady Sutra). She has also published short stories and personal essays, co-authored two writing textbooks, and co-edited two volumes of personal essays by contemporary Canadian women. She taught at the University of Alberta before moving to Vancouver Island to devote her time to writing.
Kay is active in the crime-writing community, having served as National Vice President and President of Crime Writers of Canada and co-chair of Bloody Words 2011.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

TUESDAY BRINGS TROUBLE



Late in the nineteenth century, an American cavalry regiment met a lone Canadian Mountie escorting a band of outlaws across the border.

“Where are the rest of you?” asked the regiment’s colonel.

“Oh, he’s back at camp cooking breakfast,” the Mountie replied.

The story—apocryphal possibly, just as likely true—is recounted by David Skene-Melvin in an essay introducing his bibliography, Canadian Crime Fiction.
It set me thinking about some arresting (so to speak) differences between U.S. and Canadian crime writing that go back to the founding roots of our two nations: one born of revolution, the other breast-fed in the lap of Queen Victoria.

Skene-Melvin believes Canadian crime writing is “more subtle, more psychological, more caring” than in the U.S., “where the gun is forged into the collective soul, where the gunslingers of the wild west became the hardboiled private eyes in the cities.” Canada never had a wild west because the Mounties got there first. (We’re about the only country in the world with a policeman as a national symbol. Not a policewoman—we’re not as egalitarian as we claim to be.)

When Canadian villains are brought to justice, “we want the state to do it, not vigilantism,” Skene-Melvin says. In the U.S., on the other hand, the outlaw is an icon. Billy the Kid, a hot-headed (possibly psychopathic) killer, is portrayed as heroic, Don Corleone as noble. If a novel’s hero is a cop, he or she is a rebel. (Though frankly, in my experience from my days as a criminal lawyer, the rebel cop is one of the most unlikely fictions ever invented.)

But in Canada, we have the caring cop hero. Eric Wright, creator of the Inspector Salter series, says he constructed his protagonist “according to what I like about Canadians—he has a gentleness and a fundamental sense of decency.” Peter Robinson’s Inspector Banks does not have to shoot his way to a resolution, he thinks his way there. The late L.R. Wright’s Sergeant Karl Alberg was as gentle as his author. Our private eyes are like Benny Cooperman: soft-boiled. (Like a klutzy version of Howard Engels himself, come to think of it.)

Peter Sellers (the living, not the late), another crime writer and anthologist, offers an interesting theory about why the private eye developed only late in Canadian fiction: “Because it’s an American convention that usually delivers a happy ending or at least a resolution. I think Canadians, certainly of an earlier generation, were too aware of the role of chance in life to want that.”
But wait a minute, does this comparison of our two crime-lit cultures still hold as we work our way through the twenty-first century?

The American ideal, the private eye or the loner cop as gladiator—indeed the concept of crime fiction forged from a national instinct to rebel—is getting a second look these days. For example, Harper’s former editor Lewis Lapham: “In place of the reckless and independent-minded individual once thought to embody the national stereotype (child of nature, descendant of Daniel Boone, hard-drinking and unorthodox) we now have a quorum of nervous careerists, psalm-singing and well-behaved, happy to oblige, eager to please…”

The supposedly enduring Canadian images (King of the Royal Mounted with his loyal Husky at his side, Sergeant Preston of the Yukon mushing up the frozen Klondike) were never particularly Canadian, the former conceived by Zane Grey in the pillowed comfort of an estate in Southern California, the latter the creation of Fran Striker, also a Yank. They didn’t need to live in Canada to write about it. It was enough effort imagining it.

Sellers dismisses the notion that Canadians, with our constitution quietly calling for “peace, order and good government” (while the Declaration of Independence triumphantly tolls for “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”) defer to authority. Or that our authors mainly write cozies featuring introspective cops. In fact there’s a strong noir tradition, he says, and some Canadian offerings can be savagely chilling.

He gives as an example R. Lance Hill, later a Hollywood script writer, who wrote hard-edged thrillers—Nails caused a stir for its violence and edgy style. Needles, my first novel, came out around the same time, shocking staid reviewers with its junkie prosecutor, its villain (a sadistic heroin kingpin known as The Surgeon) and its bribe-taking (horrors) RCMP officer.

The new tradition continues in the works of Andrew Pyper, especially his beautifully written, explicitly violent, The Trade Mission. Giles Blunt, John Farrow, Kathy Reich, Brad Smith can be dark. Or try the black humor of Bill Gaston, his noirish and funny The Cameraman, about the making of a snuff movie.

That’s another element of Canadian crime literature that should not be overlooked: we often like to sprinkle our offerings with the salt of humour, as in this brutal description of a Pyper character: “the guy behind the counter at the corner store with the nose hairs that reached halfway down his lips, fine and searching as butterfly antennae.”

(A source of inspiration for the Canadian wedding of crime and humour may be Ontario broadcaster R. Howard Lindsay, who in the Thirties authored a hilarious stream-of-consciousness mystery, Fowl Murder.)

My own recent novels have tended in that direction: my current Arthur Beauchamp series with its eccentric rural characters. But I’ve also become more comfortable with injecting progressive themes and sub-plots: my last several novels touch on pro-choice issues, reactionary U.S. politics, environmental threats to global survival.

Our homegrown talent is finally being recognized internationally. It has helped that Canada has produced such luminaries as Atwood, Ondaatje, Shields, and Munro—their successes alerted the world to seek out others toiling in the genres of mystery and thriller. The late Carol Shields was herself an Arthur Ellis winner for best Canadian crime novel, and Margaret Atwood has taken the Dashiell Hammett award—for literary excellence in crime writing—with The Blind Assassin. In her acceptance speech, she admitted to an early addiction to detective stories. (She still needs an occasional fix, and generously helped edit one of mine, Slander.)

A little history to explain how we got where we are:
Though Canada’s first home-grown murder mystery saw print in 1876, it was not a proud moment in our history. Surrendering to the hypocrisy of the times, the author, Mary Leslie, used a male pseudonym, then had to withdrew all copies because of an uproar in the Ontario town where her story seemed (too accurately) to be set.
Through much of the 1900s, Canadian crime writers masqueraded as American or British, often hiding behind pseudonyms, as if in shame. Luke Allan, Guy Morton, Sara Woods were among dozens of best-selling Canadians afraid to come out of the closet.

“Until well into the 20th century, Canadian crime writing in particular and Canadian literature in general, suffered from a serious problem: the slighting of Canadian authors,” Skene-Melvin says. “It was too expensive to produce small numbers of domestic editions when the country was swamped with American culture and had to compete with British as well.”

He blames it on a culture of “intellectually snobbish librarians.” Through the 1940s, the public library systems did not purchase popular fiction—“it was considered d√©class√© by libraries, and crime fiction beyond the pale.” In the 1950s, fiction collections were shelved well away from the “literary” sections so as not to contaminate them.

These self-styled elitists believed we had a culture that was little, provincial, unknown, and they covered up their shame with snobbishness. That attitude went on to infect academic libraries and graduate English courses, where students were made to believe that Hugo and Dostoevsky and Dreiser had not written crime novels.
So it’s no wonder that under that kind of censorious pressure, we are late bloomers. Even today, our self-appointed guardians of culture tend to leave us off the literary tea guest lists. She writes mysteries, my dear, she’ll show up reeking of gin. Or you get: He writes thrillers? How crass. It’s so American.)

That all began to change in the late 70s. When Needles won a $50,000 first-novel award, there was controversy about a literary award going to an unabashed, unalloyed thriller. One reviewer called it “a thoroughly nasty book, adding: “The author of this unwholesome collage of sex, crime, horror, and violence is a Vancouver lawyer with considerable experience in criminal law. He should know that a decade ago, before decency was outmoded, his book would have risked prosecution under Canada’s obscenity laws. Today, in our permissive society, the book wins a literary prize.”

Others applauded me for having the courage to set it in Vancouver, some expressing shock when they learned I wasn’t an American: Canadians weren’t supposed to write thrillers. (Conversely, when Platinum Blues, then Slander, were set in the U.S., I was dumped on by my Canadian fans for “selling out.”)

Andrew Pyper, who was ignored at home until Lost Girls, set in Ontario, was discovered in Britain, says Canadians have long suffered a “constipation about what we call literature, a teetotalling Presbyterian reflex. Someone told a lie about literature in Canada early on, someone who prefers books that are morally obvious, quiet, settled. It’s a lie that became institutionalized.”

In rebellion to this attitude, new voices are rising in strong, well-crafted novels and short stories that don’t fear the darkness. (See, we can rebel, too, we Canadians. And good literature often does come from rebellion: Steinbeck, Lewis, Richard Wright, Hammett, my boyhood heroes)

David Skene-Melvin says, “Canadians today are telling their own stories, no longer feeling obliged to hide their nationality nor pretending to be British or American.” Still, it remains a struggle for many who write Canadian crime in these cool Northern climes. “Too Canadian” is a phrase American acquiring editors still tend to use. I’m proud to be too Canadian.


William Deverell was a journalist for seven years. As a lawyer, he was counsel in more than a thousand criminal cases, including thirty murder trials, either as defender or prosecutor. His first novel, Needles, won the $50,000 Seal Prize in l979 and the Book of the Year Award in l981. He has also published numerous magazine articles and short stories. A feature film of Mindfield, for which he wrote the screenplay, was released in l990. Trial of Passion launched his first crime series and won the 1997 Arthur Ellis prize for best Canadian crime novel, and the Dashiell Hammett award for literary excellence in crime writing in North America. He is the creator of the CBC's long-running series Street Legal.
William Deverell can be found hiding out a
t
www.deverell.com

Monday, October 24, 2011

MAYHEM ON MONDAYS



I’m feeling revved up after having spent the last few days with writers and readers and having the prospect of a few more. On Saturday, the excellent Capital Crime Writers 'A Day to Kill' brought together Ottawa and Eastern Ontario authors to share thoughts on writing with writers and readers, to hear celebrity readers and to celebrate the genre and pick up some new books. It was a high energy day with a lot of laughs and some surprising secrets revealed. Ottawa has its share of writers and the numbers are growing. I find that heartening. There will be even more to read next year!

Prior to that, Thursday meant a trip down Highway 7 with Barbara Fradkin and Robin Harlick for a reading in the Tweed Library. You never know what to expect on dark and rainy weekday evenings in small towns. We were pleased to be met with a room full of readers who were happy to have us spill our writerly secrets and also pleased at the groaning table of goodies to be shared afterwards. And of course, it’s always fun to have a road trip with other women who kill for a living. You just have to be very careful.

Sunday was the second annual Carleton Reads. Mark Frutkin, Paulette Bourgeois, Kate Heartfield and Dave Cannon gave spirited presentations on the books they had chosen, all Canadian literature: The Last Crossing by Guy Vanderhaeghe, Galore by Michael Crummey, Room by Emma Donaghue and Salamander by Thomas Wharton. Salamander was voted the book the audience
would choose to read first and a tough battle. I enjoyed the passion in their well-articulated cases. During the question period, I asked about ‘guilty reading pleasures’ and was gratified to hear that this elegant and thoughtful panel all read, enjoy and respect genre fiction as well as literary fiction. There was no sign of snobbery here and no attempt to look down on so-called commercial fiction. Lots of room in our reading lives for whatever we want to read whenever we want to read it they felt. They all flatly refused to feel guilty about any of their reading pleasures.


I’m darn glad to hear it and also glad to be settling down to read. On my bedside table and ready to start is Louise Penny’s A Trick of the Light.

It will probably be joined by a few more books in the pile when I drop in to hear the Scottish mystery writers who are here in Ottawa as part of the Writers’ Festival. Ian Rankin, Denis Mina and Stuart McBride should put on a great show.

It all served to remind me that it’s a great time to be a reader and a writer in Ottawa!


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, October 21, 2011

CRIME ON MY MIND

And now for some truth...


Last Friday, in anticipation of tomorrow’s Capital Crime Writers event at the Ottawa Public Library, I blogged about liars. So, being fair-minded, today I’m giving equal time to telling the truth. And its sidekick, accuracy.

We’ve all heard the story, perhaps some of you have even experienced, the frustrated or could be gleeful, reader who fires off an ‘aha’ email – “gotcha! you can’t make a right hand turn at that intersection”. Or some similar faux pas.

They’re out there waiting to catch you in an in-accuracy. Ok, that’s not really fair. Most times these readers are just eager to help the author. Maybe the correction can be made for the re-print, after all.

But they’re right. Accuracy is important. The author tries to build a relationship with the reader based on trust and that’s a sensitive commodity. If your character is turning the wrong way, possible headed for a brick wall, is the reader going to believe that just hours before, the report this pathologist gave to the police about the cause of death in a suspected homicide is the truth? How can this person who can’t see brick walls, see the entry wound on a body? And it’s even more crucial if you’ve done tons of research and have the pathologist toss around some medical facts. Could leave a big question mark in the reader’s mind.


But, you know all this, don’t you? It’s basic mystery writing 101.

My point – and I do have one – is that in this thing called fiction, there’s always some basis of truth. It may be as subtle as your own observations creeping in (possibly unbeknownst to you) or it can be all those facts you’ve included in that long detailed pathologist’s report. The fiction is the story we spin around the facts.

So, am I totally at odds with what I blogged last week? I have no idea. Like most fiction that I write, once it’s on the page, it’s gone out of my mind. That’s a scary fact I’m finding out now that I’m in the editing stage of A Killer Read. In fact, is that even my title?

And now for something completely different! Jacques Filippi, whose superb crime blog is found at http://www.quebecrime.com/ and his cohorts have put together the QuebeCrime festival which is being held Oct. 28-30 in Quebec City. Visit the website for all the details. But stay tuned here because I’ve been given a pair of tickets to the festival – to give away at Mystery Maven Canada.


We’ll make this easy – the first email I receive after 1 p.m. EDT (have to give the West coasters a chance, too) at mysterymaven@rogers.com that names one of the many Canadian authors featured at this event, will win the tickets. So, check that website & get your fingers tapping.


Linda Wiken/Erika Chase
A Killer Read coming April 3, 2012
From Berkley Prime Crime

Thursday, October 20, 2011

LADIES' KILLING THURSDAYS

The Book Club Challenge


This Saturday October 22, Capital Crime Writers and the Ottawa Public Library are teaming up to host A DAY TO KILL, a free, day-long festival of mystery to celebrate the large, vibrant crime writing community in the Nation’s Capital.. There will be panels, celebrity readings, book signings and a writing workshop given by fellow LKCer Mary Jane Maffini. Not to mention a free lunch. The event runs from 9 am. to 4:30 pm at the Main Branch of the Ottawa Public Library on Metcalfe Street, so come on down!.


I will be duelling it out with C.B. Forrest in a debate about Oprah’s Book Club. The resolution we’re debating is…

"Whereas Oprah's book club greatly increased reading rates across North America, the Publishing industry should strive to recreate that phenomenon with another celebrity book club. " - Agree or Disagree?

I’m on the Disagree side. The debate is intended to be heavy on humour and rapier wit, but as I was sharpening my rapiers, I started thinking about book clubs. We authors love book clubs. They engage people with reading, introduce people to new books, encourage critical thought and debate, and nurture a community of book lovers.

Plus, as an author I sometimes get invited to speak at one. I treasure those evenings. There I get a glimpse inside the warm, welcoming world of friends, many of whom have been getting together to talk books, eat, schmooze and laugh for over twenty years. They have seen each other through marriage and divorce, through births and deaths. Books may have brought them together, but friendship keeps them there.

Almost invariably they are women. I have been to dozens of book clubs around Ottawa, and I can count only two or three that included a man. Usually only one, usually a husband.

What’s with that? Do men not read? Do men not discuss what they read? Once they finish a book, are they done with it and raring to tackle the next? Before anyone replies that maybe men just don’t read fiction, or mysteries, let me add that these book clubs are highly discerning and rarely stick to a single genre. They read widely, and in fact my book is often the first mystery they have tackled. Some members are pleasantly surprised to discover mysteries can have literary merit, so I consider that a victory.

I can understand a man’s reluctance to venture into a club already chock full of women. Women en masse, chattering and laughing with that warm intimacy of shared experience, can be scary. But bring another man with you, and the balance tips. Or start your own book club. Book clubs spring up every day, between neighbours and co-workers, between women waiting with their children at the school bus stop.

I would love to go to an all-men’s book club. And no, not for that reason. I’d love to see how men react to books. What do they get out of them? Do they discuss the issues? Share impressions? Relate to the characters? Laugh and schmooze the way women do, taking at least half an hour to get down to business? Would they use the club, as women do, as a springboard for friendship?

So come on, guys. I challenge you. Do you belong to a book club? If not, why not?


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 havewon 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, October 19, 2011

WICKED WEDNESDAYS



Yesterday’s Trouble with Tuesday’s blog post began a conversation for novice writers about how to approach writing a first draft of a novel. Scroll down and get caught up on Part One of the discussion I framed: “Outlining: Key to Efficient, Logical Writing or Creative Kiss of Death?” Today’s post looks for clues to answer this question by examining the writer’s known work habits and the type of story to be told.

Work Habits:

Does your mood determine the tasks you are inclined to undertake each day? Preparing a detailed outline in advance of writing a first draft would allow you to write your novel’s scenes out of sequence to suit your moods. Had a romantic evening? Write a seduction scene. Dark thoughts about the boss? Write the fight scene.


Or might you be the steady soul with a focussed, take-charge approach to work? Facing the challenge of that next uncharted chapter may prove not the least bit intimidating for you. One side effect of writing while raising a family, holding down a day job or starting your career as a post-menopausal woman can be remembering . . . that great idea, the perfect plot point, the delicious red herring, the witty repartee. While seat of your pants writers are known to keep notes as they go along, outliners may be able to place such ideas, in advance, building a strong structure for the critical first draft.

Are you able to toss out whole chunks of work to fix a novel’s plot structure? Or does that discourage you from moving forward to complete your manuscript? Are you a ruthless self editor or does making extensive changes feel like you’ve killed your baby?

Are you the sort who feels writing is hard work and you want (or need) to be efficient about it? After all, it’s easier to flesh out an outline while riding a bus, waiting for the end of a laundry cycle or during your coffee break than it is to carve our concentrated writing time.

If you can be disciplined, analytical and dispassionate about your work and not easily discouraged by false starts working free-form may be a good match for your work habits. If however you find freedom, efficiency and confidence within a framework, working from an outline may get you the best results.

The Story:

Your chosen sub-genre of crime fiction may influence the best preparatory method for your novel.

“Who-dunnits” may suit the ‘let’s puzzle this out’ method. Replicating the efforts of the book’s protagonist, the writer starts with a victim and a crime and follows the clues, grills the suspects and waits to see where his/her inquiries lead. Writers using this method rarely know who the criminal is when they start out. A who-dunnit plot may prove circuitous or meander down blind alleys. Writing like this can make the quest feel real to the reader.

Stories of peril that hinge on saving a person, object or nation from a known group of trouble-makers in a compressed period of time may suggest the need for good outlines. Time frames are tight, who is where when can be critical, physical evidence and investigative techniques may be complicated and critical to the plot’s development. This sort of novel’s pacing needs to be quick and crisp. An outline of some detail can keep the writer on track with the requirements of this type of plot.

Do you view your proposed book as stand alone novel or one in a series? If this is the first in a series or a stand alone, you are likely to have many balls in the air — character studies and back stories, settings, time periods, clues, a cast of suspects and criminal evidence. An outline can serve as the sheep dog to your unruly flock of information.


Authors of an existing series can rely upon their extensive knowledge of their core characters which can simplify some of the next novel’s preparation. They can start a new book by simply saying “What if I put my protagonist in this crisis? What will she do?” “Or pit him against this sort of criminal? How will he react — given what I know about his back story?” Allowing the story to unfold in this manner can be a natural and fun experience for the writer. In a character- driven story, writing as if you are hiking along an unknown path can keep your series fresh.

My work-in-progress is a thriller, first in a proposed series. As someone who has been known to prepare colour-coded work charts for a cooperative Christmas baking session, I think I have finally figured out what sort of preparation work will feel natural to me.

What about you? Do you have a better idea (than two days ago) about how you will P-L-o-W-S through writing your first manuscript?

Post your comments to keep this conversation going!



Susan C. Gates makes notes, puzzles through plot ideas, outlines and occasionally writes in Ottawa. A member of Capital Crime Writers, she has published works of short crime fiction. As of today, she is convinced that preparing an outline for her work-in-progress will move it beyond 10,000 words and to the finish line.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

TUESDAY BRINGS TROUBLE

New Novelists ---To outline or Not?

The Trouble this Tuesday is this:
What should a first time novelist to do?
Outline before you begin to write or just get on with it & start writing?

If you are seriously considering writing a novel you may have already taken a class from a published author or attended a panel discussion of novelists on the question of “How do you write your story?”

You will have heard about those who never start writing until they have an extensive outline and those who write without a map and ‘find’ the story. While methods vary widely, most writers lean decidedly toward one camp or the other. They’ll tell you it doesn’t much matter which you choose, as long as it works for you.

Terrific. Nice to know there’s no magic formula in a creative art. But here you sit, wanting to write a manuscript. One with a chance of being published and sold. Or perhaps you have a collection of false starts, nicely stored on a disk or lining a bottom drawer, but unfinished. You simply want to finish one book. What do you do?

If you are like me — a struggling first-time novelist — you’re looking for more guidance than, “whatever works for you.” How do I get from the seed of a novel idea to an accumulated 90,000 words and the phrase “The End”?

What known factors can influence the method most likely to deliver you to this goal and positively influence the quality of your end product?

Take some time to consider the following four factors — Personality, Learning Style, Work Habits and Story. Today I’m discussing the first two and will continue the discussion tomorrow. Then see if you can’t “P-L-o-W-S” right through your first draft!

Your Personality:


It’s your turn to make dinner. Do you: a) leaf through store flyers, magazines and cook books to find a new recipe using that week’s sale items and shop from a list of required ingredients; or b) do you wander through the local farmers’ market until a brilliant combination of colour, freshness and available produce suggests a dish you hope will fill the bill for supper that night?

A friend invites you to share a road trip. She wants to set out on a real adventure. Does it a) fill you with deep anxiety not to know where you will sleep each night and that you may miss some vital landmark as you wander about on a whim; or b) your only question is, “Do I need to pack a bathing suit or a snowsuit and how long should I have my newspaper cancelled?”

You’ve been assigned the job of writing the report on your work unit’s latest project. Do you a) Consult with your work mates, take notes and group their comments around common issues and lessons before beginning to draft the report? Or b) Sit down at your desk and pound out a summary of the process, challenges and successes of the last six months in chronological order?

If you answered A to these scenarios, my theory is you will prove to be an ‘outliner’ as a novelist while B answers might suggest you’ll be a ‘fly by seat of your pants’ writer.

Some of us work better with the security of a plan. Knowing where you’ll sleep each night means one less thing to worry about and frees you to enjoy each day’s adventure. Others feel thwarted by too many “thou shalts”. Spontaneity in all matters breeds greater creativity and energy for these folks.

Learning Styles:

Can you recite poetry from memory? Or do you struggle to remember the words, but vividly recall your feelings when you first read it?

Do you prefer to listen to lectures on a topic of interest or to watch a How-To video on You-Tube?

When returning to a friend’s home for a second visit, can you find your way back by visualizing the trip or do you print out the address and directions again?

When you wrote exams, did you use colour-coded crib sheets? Or were five bullet points all you needed to craft your A+ essay question?

People who learn experientially or by a hands-on method may find the “Let’s see where this opening will take us” a more comfortable approach for their writing.

Visual learners and analytical types may want pictures or charts or decision trees to bring clarity to their knowledge retention and thought processes. If this is closer to your style, perhaps you envision writing with a time line pasted up in front of you or bulletin board tacked full of index cards arranged by scene resembling building blocks. Outlining could suit your learning style.

Tomorrow, Wicked Wednesdays will look at personal work habits and the story being written to help novice writers decide whether they are outliners or plowing-ahead writers.


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.

Monday, October 17, 2011

MAYHEM ON MONDAYS



Recently, I had a surprise: a woman reviewed a book by an author I recognized. I imagine you scratching your head at this point. Big deal, you say. But it was a big deal to me. You see the woman was Adrienne Clarkson and the book was The Affair, the latest Jack Reacher crime novel by Lee Child.

First, I thought, well, there must be more than one Adrienne Clarkson, but no, it was definitely our former Governor-General, an accomplished writer with a new book out this week.

It was an elegant and insightful review. Did Adrienne Clarkson pan the book? Turn up her nose at it? No, she did not. Turns out she liked this book a lot and it’s not the first Reacher she’s read, despite the high body count. And she says she ‘has a fondness for the loner in my fictional life’.

You could have knocked me over with a chunk of spare prose, but I was grateful to Adrienne Clarkson. Why? Because we’re subjected to so much snobbery in our discussion of reading preferences that I didn’t expect a woman who is a Canadian icon to write a straightforward review like this. She read a crime novel. She liked it. She didn’t mind saying so.

And I certainly liked that.

People (I won’t name names, although you could buy me a drink one of these days and try your luck) curl their lip at the notion of genre fiction, as though it’s not worth the reading time of any thinking person and as though only literary fiction can allow a person to gain insight or experience another person’s loss, pain or joy. Emphasis on pain, my friends.

This is, of course, a load of malarkey. People read crime fiction, dark and light, for all kinds of reasons. We read to play the game of wits with an author, to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes, to travel in time and space and to other cultures, to consider issues of justice, to hold our breath in fear for the protagonist or potential victim and then enjoy the whoosh of relief when all is well. Often we want to experience the exhilaration of danger in the mean streets or elsewhere in the bad old world, from the safety of our armchair or pillow-top mattress. Sometimes, we want a chuckle too, or maybe that’s just me.

I hope to run into Adrienne Clarkson someday (her picture is everywhere) and ask her what other crime fiction she reads and enjoys. I’m hoping there’s more than one Canadian on the list. Stay tuned.

By the way, Adrienne Clarkson’s new book is Room for All of Us: Surprising Stories of Loss and Transformation. I’m looking forward to reading that too.



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, October 14, 2011

CRIME ON MY MIND

Are we all liars?


Our local crime writers’ association, Capital Crime Writers, is having an event filled day of mystery on Sat., Oct. 22, at the main branch of the Ottawa Public Library -- A Day to Kill. If you’re within driving distance of the city, it’s well worth putting on your calendar. It kicks off at 9 a.m. with coffee, then at 9:30 the panels, readings, and signings kick-off. There will even be raffles and book selling.


A highlight of the day will be the workshop given by Mary Jane Maffini on Character Building. And the best part – it’s all free and open to mystery writers, buffs & the general public. Some of the top names on the Ottawa and surrounding areas scene will be present so it’s a good way to schmooze, too.

Now what’s got me thinking about how we fictionalize what we write, is the panel I’m on called, "Meet the Fibbers". I’ve attended them at conferences and they can be hysterical. The premise is, the panelists each tell a story or two, and the audience has to guess if it’s true. Or, are they liars?

So, we’re taught not to tell a fib. But then we learn that little white lies might be okay in certain circumstances, like if your best friend asks what you think of her new dress – a small lie to save the friendship? Go for it! There’s also the ‘stretching of the truth’ to your boss when you clock in late – car wouldn’t start, bad traffic jam, car-jacked. It can, and does, get out of hand.


Next thing you know, you’re writing fiction. There’s probably a kernel of truth – something about you or from your past, or all that research that's really true – that works it’s way into the plot but the rest is all lies…or fiction, if you prefer. Which can lead to other fibs – like when your neighbour says she thinks she recognizes herself in your book – as the glam yet smart side-kick. The dialogue bubble above your head reads, “Oh, puh-leeze – you’re the drab, introverted psycho-killer.

Some of us even lie about our identity. I’m Linda…uh, no that’s Erika to you. And all in the name of fiction.

So, creatively speaking, it should be a good panel on Sat., Oct. 22. Except, I’m not sure if I’ll be pleased you think I’m telling the truth…or lying.

Lies are fiction, after all. And it’s what we get paid (so to speak) for.


Linda Wiken/Erika Chase
A Killer Read coming April 3, 2012
From Berkley Prime Crime (all true!)

Thursday, October 13, 2011

LADIES' KILLING THURSDAYS

Reinvention


This is a self-serving blog in which I marshal my arguments for changing my life. I’m using this forum as a means to explore the issue and I hope it resonates with readers who are or have been through the same process.

Apparently Salvador Dali marked three phases in his artistic career by adopting three very different signatures. As my own reinvention progresses I am considering this but as many report that my handwriting is illegible I don’t think any change would be apparent to anyone but me although it might serve as a constant reminder of what I am trying to do.

My reinvention is progressing in a jerky spasmodic way. I am examining various facets of my life and evaluating whether to continue, replace or eradicate.

To hasten the process I have decided to relocate for the better part of a year in the hope that a new environment will foster creativity. In this new location I will not spend hours in the car getting from A to B and this will give me more time for a creative life.

Secondly, I have vowed to eliminate time-wasting pastimes. This will be a slow and painful process but to gain time to do the things I want to do I need to enforce my decisions. Scrabble - is one game a day possible or will it have to be cold turkey? The cryptic crossword - perhaps only on Saturdays. House and Garden television - do I really want to spend my life watching people decide which house to buy?

What will I do with the time I save? Because this is a writing blog one answer obviously will be to write more, to keep myself glued to my chair despite the siren call of the refrigerator, the dutiful response to dogs pleading for more walks or my body’s need for more exercise. I will need deadlines, self-imposed, but there. To require myself to complete a certain number of pages before I allow myself to do something else even if that means working in the evening or getting up very early.

The obituary columns constantly remind us that time is short. I hope I can make better use of my time.




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, October 12, 2011

WICKED WEDNESDAYS

The Bloody Addiction Story



“Hello, my name is Caro and I am a Bloody Words addict.”

“Hello,Caro.”

I founded the conference in 1999 and have been working on it ever since, in spite of efforts to pull myself away. And I tried. I really did. But somehow here I am, still toiling away, although mostly behind the scenes, still talking about upcoming possibilities in spite of my best efforts. And I confess. I love it. I love my addiction. Not as much a chocolate, but close.

So what’s new in BW Land? Bloody Words is coming back to Toronto! Oh. You know that already. Did you know the spotlight this time is on thrillers? Did you know that our Guests of Honour, Linwood Barclay and Gayle Lynds, showcase the two faces of thrillers; the edge of your seat oh-god-don’t-let-them-hurt-my-kid/husband/wife/family sort, and the oh-god-the-world-as-we-know-it-is-about-to-explode-and-all-our-hopes-are-on-that-one-intrepid-ex-soldies/spy/black ops person? Macro thrillers and micro thrillers, as our thrilling chair Cheryl Freedman likes to call them. Oh. You know that too. Obviously you are a well informed lot and have been reading mystery blogs for a while now. Most of you have probably attended Bloody Words at some time or another. If you are really savvy, you are coming to BW XII. There will be a lot going on there that you do not know about. And I’m not telling. Just let me mention a crime scene to examine, a culprit arrested, a chance to be on a jury… There. Enough clues. Or maybe red herrings.

One more exciting thing that will be happening at Bloody Words in 2012, the presentation of our shiny new award for light mysteries, affectionately known as the Boney Blithe, for books that make you smile. Let me repeat; books that make you smile. And the winner will smile when he or she receives our beautiful trophy and the thousand dollar checque that goes with it. You might think that publishers would know that this rules out noir mysteries, heavy cop stories, mysteries without a hint of lightness. Judging by a few of the books we are getting they must think the judges are more bitter and twisted than they actually are. So if you have a light mystery published this year or about to be published, send them along. ( http://www.bloodywords2012.com/bonyblithe.php) We all want to smile!

Sometimes I think our conference is like the Little Engine that Could. We started small at the Arts and Letters Club and have now more than doubled in size. I wanted the conference to move around so everyone would have access to what we offer and the con has so far managed to get twice to Ottawa and this year all the way to Victoria, BC. I think I can, I think I can, I think I can…get to Halifax? That is what I want to see next. From sea to shining sea and all that. There is a whisper on the wind that mystery fans might be interested in going to a Bloody Words in the resort hotel on Oak Island, a place shrouded in legends and mysteries of its own. To swing this we need about a half dozen people in Halifax or the vicinity to spearhead the committee. The rest of the committee could be part of the old Toronto gang or a board member to lend experience and pull together things that need not be done in situo. So Mystery Maven readers, would you go to a resort hotel on Oak Island for a good old fashioned down home east coast Bloody Words? What say you, maties? Arrrgg! It’s an addiction, I tell you!




Caro Soles is the founder of Bloody Words and an author whose work includes mystery and science fiction, as well as gay erotica under a nom de plume. She also edits anthologies, does manuscript evaluations and teaches writing at George Brown College in Toronto. In her spare time, she takes in rescued dachshunds to foster for Canadian Dachshund Rescue, which accounts for her being barking mad from time to time. Email: carosoles@rogers.com

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

TUESDAY BRINGS TROUBLE

Drawing from Real Life


Most fiction writers draw on their own experiences and people in their life to help create their stories and give them life. And I’m no different. While I have never intentionally based any of my characters on family or friends, except that is for Sergei, Meg Harris’s black standard poodle who is as loving and as mischievous as on my own standard poodle, I do drawn on aspects from my own life. I thought I would share some of these with you, starting with Meg herself.

Since the Meg Harris series is written in the first person point of view, readers often ask if Meg is me. Invariably I reply “No, not really”, which is indeed the case. After all she is a red head, an escapee from an abusive marriage and she struggles with a drinking problem, none of which could be used to describe me. But like me, she did grow up in Toronto and she has a cottage.

However, while both our cottages are made from logs and are set in the wilds of West Quebec, I gave Meg Three Deer Point, the cottage of my dreams; a large turn-of-the-century timber and stone building with a turret and wraparound verandah that is perched on a granite point overlooking the sometimes still and other times angry waters of Echo Lake. That is another fun aspect of writing fiction; you can give your characters belongings and experiences that you have only dreamed about.

In the first book, Death’s Golden Whisper, Meg discovers letters and postcards written by her Great-aunt Agatha to a friend during her grand tour of Europe undertaken shortly before the First World War. I borrowed this idea from my grandfather, who during a similar European trip sent his mother postcards of his travels. As I child I spent many an intriguing hour reading these postcards and imaging what it would have been like traveling to these exotic locations. In the same book Meg also finds a diary written by her Great-aunt. Instead of arbitrarily using any date for the entries, I used the month and day of the birthdates of various members of my family.

I also have fun with names. Meg herself is named after my grandmother. I wanted a name that could be shortened to a number of different nicknames and Margaret fit the requirement; besides I wanted to immortalize my favourite grandmother. In Arctic Blue Death, her mother’s cook calls her Maggie, the name my grandmother often went by. In Red Ice for a Shroud she’s called by the French version, Marguerite, which incidentally means ‘daisy’. Her last name ‘Harris’ is derived from the street I grew up on in Toronto, ‘Harrison Rd.’

In each of my books, I also make a point of naming one or two secondary characters after my various nieces and nephews. In Arctic Blue Death, I named Meg’s father and her uncle after my grandfather and great-uncle, her sister after my mother, while I gave a fictitious Arctic town the name James Lake, after my husband. And I must not forget that one of my villains uses one of my father’s names. If he were still alive I know he would be laughing uproariously.

I enjoy spending much of my time in Canada’s great outdoors and have used some of my adventures in my books. Red Ice for a Shroud starts off with Meg and Eric clearing cross-country skiing trails, something my husband and I, along with friends, do every fall in preparation for a winter of skiing. And I do love skiing, an activity Meg thoroughly enjoys too.

Canoeing is another matter. In The River Runs Orange Meg finds herself paddling madly down a whitewater river and she dumps, which pretty much mirrors my own experience with whitewater paddling. In fact Meg doesn’t like whitewater anymore than I do, although we both love slicing through the still, flat waters of a lake.

There are countless other instances in the Meg Harris books where I have drawn upon my own experiences, but I will save those for you to discover.



Described by the Ottawa Citizen as “one of the best new voices in the mystery business”, Ottawa author, RJ Harlick, writes the Meg Harris mystery series set in the wilds of West Quebec. And like her heroine Meg Harris, RJ loves nothing better than to roam the forests surrounding her own wilderness cabin or paddle the endless lakes and
rivers. But unlike Meg, she doesn’t find a body at every twist and turn, although she certainly likes to put them in Meg’s way. There are currently four books in the series. The fifth, A Green Place for Dying, will be published in February, 2012.