Tuesday, January 31, 2012


The authors who launch...

Sue Pike blogged a couple of weeks ago about Peggy Blair's upcoming book launch for her first novel, The Beggar's Opera. It will be held on Thurs., Feb. 16th in Ottawa and promises to be anything but ordinary. Her book is set in Havana and she's bringing the sounds and tastes of Cuba to this event. She's also not doing a reading! What next?

All kidding aside, it sounds like a great affair and I'm looking forward to buzzing it on my way to choir. But Peggy's plans got me to thinking about other launches, my own among them. It will be in April, a joint launch with Vicki Delany and her latest Klondike Gold Rush mystery.

I thought this was going to be relatively easy. I've planned many launches for and with authors over the years. But perhaps it's time to re-visit the old model and try for some creative flair. Thanks a lot, Peggy!

Vicki -- we'll talk!

The other launches I started wondering about are for authors with e-books. If that's your only format...what about the launch? Or will you even have one? Here again, it could be very creative -- no signing of a book cover but something else? Or is it strickly on-line, a blog party perhaps?

I haven't heard of an e-book launch but I'm sure they happen. Maybe you've even taken part in one. In this new age of publishing, what happens to the traditional book launch? Any suggestions?

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

Monday, January 30, 2012


Action...roll cameras!

Elmore Leonard has scored another big hit with Justified, thanks to a Canadian writer. The Sunday Book section of the Ottawa Citizen, reports that the adaptation of Leonard's short story, now in its third season and airing in Canada tonight on SuperChannel, is just that, a hit. And Leonard credits Graham Yost with what "might just be the most incisive screen adaptation of any of his works". Good for Yost, and Leonard. It must be great to have one's words make it to any screen, little or big.

That is, when the writer is pleased with the end result. Often that rests on the choice of actors to play the lead roles. And quite often, the authors don't comment on that aspect. But the readers/viewers do.

We were having just that conversation last night and it revolved around what worked best -- reading the book before seeing the movie or vice versa? I have to admit, I was a huge Janet Evanovich fan when the Stephanie Plum books first came out. I knew if I wanted action and downright sexy scenes, laughing all the way through the book, she was my author. So now that the first novel is a movie, will I go and see it? I may wait for the TV version mainly because Katherine Heigl is no way close to the Stephanie Plum in my imagination for 17 books (yes, I've read them all, although have been skimming the later ones).

When I watched Gail Bowen's Joanne Kilbourn transformed on a series of made-for-TV movies, Wendy Crewson wasn't my visualization of the character either. But there were so made changes to the original books -- location, profession, back-story -- that I watched them as something new, and Thoroughly enjoyed them.

I wonder how Maureen Jennings feels about Yannick Bisson playing Murdoch? They got it right with Saul Rubinek as Benny Cooperman. On the foreign screens, they really missed the mark with Henning Mankell's wonderful Wallander books but hey, Kenneth Branagh is so much fun to watch. I haven't yet seen the American version of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, so no comment there.

With so many Canadian crime novels optioned for the TV screen, either a movies or series, (and there are several although most won't come to fruition if past practices are an indicator)...I'd be curious to know how these authors feel about turning their babies over to a screenwriter and to a producer who will decide on the embodiment of the main character.

But back to last night's discussion -- would you rather read the book first or see the movie first?

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

Friday, January 27, 2012


Those days of yore!

I seem to be in some kind of a reminiscing chain these days. I keep finding in my email those 'remember when' messages, often accompanied by pictures. The problem is, I do remember when. I prefer to think that means I have a good memory rather than I'm aging.

Yesterday I joined two friends for coffee. We've known each other for the 17 years I've been in the book world. One used to be a sales rep, then a store owner and continues working in the trade. The other was a sales rep who has recently retired but can't keep away from it -- she's now working in a local Indie. It's that bad -- it really gets in your system.

We got to 'remembering when' but it was the kind of nostalgia that bordered on the shared belief that those were 'the good old days'. We talked about customers we'd shared -- they would shop the Indies and knew us by name, and we, them. At times I bump into a former customer at a shopping mall or a choir event and they always say, 'I sure miss Prime Crime'. And, 'do you miss it?'. We still know each others' names.

There were the customers who would spend a couple of hours wandering, building a stack of books to buy, talking to other customers and staff, and just enjoying the bookstore experience. I do that whenever I go into a bookstore, especially when I'm traveling. Museums, art gallerys? Sure...but take me to your local bookstore, too.

Often when talking about buying books, people will say, 'I buy them on line these days.' There's nothing wrong with that. But there's none of the pleasure of being surrounded by shelves of books, touching them, looking at jackets, reading a few paragraphs. Imagining them stacked up on that ever-growing TBR pile.

I took great pleasure in introducing customers to a new author, pointing out the latest in a series I knew they were reading, or just sitting around talking books.

I thought, and still think, that bookstores are part of the fabric of a community. Sure, I do miss Prime Crime from time to time, the customers in particular, but I also miss the good old days when there were many Independent bookstores in town and we shared our love of the industry. Maybe I am getting old.

But the book community, every facet of it, is a wonderful one to be part of!

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

Thursday, January 26, 2012


More about the Morgan Library

As I wrote in a previous blog I found New York City’s Pierpont Morgan Library and Museum a marvelous place and I celebrated Pierpont Morgan’s obsession with books and his purchases of some of the rarest books of all time.

I wrote about the excerpts from Dicken’s novels and Dicken’s comments on writing.

In another display case I viewed a letter Virginia Woolf had written to a young poet. This originally appeared in the June 1932 Yale Review. In it she says she considers Jane Austen’s Emma and Trollope’s The Small House at Allington to be perfect books. She writes: “. . .each does fully and completely what the novel is intended to do. That is the characters in both of those books are wholly in being. They take the whole burden of the book upon themselves. . . Nothing is left over for Jane Austen or Anthony Trollope to explain in his or her person.”

As a lover of Austen I could understand what Woolf meant about Emma but I had never read Trollope’s novel which his publisher said was part of the Barchester Towers series while Trollope said it wasn’t.

Wikepedia provided a synopsis and led me to a web site by Catherine Pope who calls herself a ‘Victorian Geek’. She says The Small House at Allington blends with the others in the Barchester series like “an orange in a coal heap” a comparison I like. She dislikes Lily, the heroine, as a spineless woman but finds her sister, Bell, admirable. Unlike Woolf she doesn’t find the characters ‘fully realized.’

Whatever the contemporary verdict, having the letter there in the library to read did stimulate me to do some investigating of my own.

A second item in the display case, the first draft of John Steinbeck’s 1960 novel, The Winter of Our Discontent, again gave the viewer the chance to examine the yellow legal pad and to note the changes Steinbeck had made. Incidentally, he began with the opening soliloquy which he took from Richard II.

Seeing these first drafts reminded me of an experience I had at the University of New Brunswick. I had the opportunity to examine a large personal library immediately after it was given to the university. I poked through the books which were filled with marginal notes, underlining and yellowed copies of newspaper articles relating to a particular book.

Seen in its entirety the collection revealed the donor’s personality, interests and biases in a way that only an autobiography could do better. Later the books were sorted and shelved topically and the articles removed which was a pity.

It’s nice to relate to other people through hand written book drafts or an annotated library and it’s an opportunity that will happen less and less as those sfd’s are erased. Historians and aspiring writers will miss the work which provides insights into a writer’s way of thinking.

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

Wednesday, January 25, 2012


Aging Brainfully

In the Sunday Ottawa Citizen, I read with great interest about Baroness James, much better known to her legions of fans as P.D. James. She has turned 90 this year, and is mindful of her age and is aware of possible future mental decline, both in her life and more especially in her work. P.D. cited Agatha Christie as a caution, saying that Dame Agatha kept writing and publishing too long, beyond when her writing was up to her earlier standards, and feels this ultimately diminished her mystery writing reputation.

Three years ago, when P.D. published her latest Dalgleish book, which was full of her trademark intricate plots and amazing detail, she mentioned then the possibility that it might very well be her last, and that it was not by accident that Detective Adam Dalgleish seemed to be in valedictory mode.

Most recently, a new and different P.D. James book has been released – Death Comes to Pemberley. This is quite a departure for her, as it is a continuation of the story begun by Jane Austen as Pride and Prejudice. All the old familiar Austen characters are back, aged by several years and married with children, and of course murder comes to pay a social call.

P.D. James is apparently quite a Jane Austen aficionado, and her love and knowledge of all things Austen is one of her many and varied interests, for which she has a great passion.

How wonderful that at the age of ninety someone can reinvent themselves. We are always told that to live a long and interesting life with all of our faculties intact, one of the provisos is to exercise both brain and body, stretching both to keep them fit and useful.

My mum was a great proponent of that very thing. She passed away this autumn in her ninetieth year, still active in her residence’s yoga sessions, sit-and-fit classes and practicing on the putting green. She also kept brainfully fit with daily

crosswords, 2 book club memberships, prayer groups and seminars at her church, and daily pouring over the Montreal Gazette for up-to-date politics, hockey scores, So You Think You Can Dance updates, the TSE index, the golf leader board, who would be going home on American Idol, and theatre and concert reviews. All of these details were discussed at the morning coffee group following fitness class, and a smarter, brighter more plugged-in group of ladies you would never meet. I learned a lot from my mum and her friends.

P.D. James said in an interview that she was monitoring herself, watching for signs of slipping from her high standards of plot details and writing edge. I admire that attitude, and I think that we could all learn by the fine examples of older ladies like my mum and P.D. James. Let us all try to move gracefully through life, with our eyes wide and our ears tuned in, taking in all of the wonderful range of what life has to offer us as brain food. Who knows, perhaps we can all reinvent ourselves when we reach 90 too. But maybe we should have someone else do the monitoring.

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

Tuesday, January 24, 2012


Another week, another award show. Cheryl Freedman’s January 13th Mystery Maven post raises some good points about book awards. Today, I add my two cents to the pot.

We have turned into a winner-take-all kind of society. This cultural phenomenon may have started with the Academy Awards but it found fertile ground on Survivor Island and American Idol before spiraling downward into gems such as the Bachelor and Tots and Tiaras. We’ve become fascinated by voting people out of competitions and watching their dreams implode in front of millions of people. Some of the shows are just plain silly, but the nastiness behind some can take your breath away.

So far, writing competitions have kept to the higher ground, but one must ask, can a panel of peers really choose the best book for a given year? Is it fair to even try?

There are a lot of positives to book competitions. Even to be shortlisted can help get an author's name out there and can lead to greater sales. Librarians use the lists to order books. Readers use the lists to try new authors. Contests create buzz – it seems that the best form of publicity is to win a major award. In their purest of intentions, book awards are not meant to denigrate those who lose, but to elevate good writing and to give exposure.

However, not all terrific books ever make it to a shortlist – and this to me, is the unfortunate, irrefutable drawback. Not making the list can shift public perception about a book's quality, and perception is a powerful marketing tool, whether deserved or not. The inescapable element of the judges’ subjectivity and personal bias in forming the order of finish can be downplayed but it can never be eliminated. What one considers a great book might be what someone else can't even get through.

And yet, we all love a good contest.

I have a curious fascination with the psychology that drives us to compete – the need to test ourselves against all others and to risk defeat. Reality shows make a spectacle of this innate drive, putting losers' agony on display for public entertainment. On the positive side, this is not the case with book contests. Just like the writing process, the shortlist selection is done out of view, and while the winner is usually announced during a public event, the work of all the finalists is celebrated.

In the final analysis, awards can be a lovely byproduct for the care and toil an author puts into their writing – but these fleeting moments of public recognition should not be the reason to write just as 'not winning' should ever be a reason to stop. It is important not to give excessive credence to an award's intrinsic value. Tiaras and trophies come and go. Award-winners are celebrated and the world moves on. The real reward rests in the solitary writing process before judgment or comparison. The true prize comes when someone picks up an author's creation and settles in for an evening's read, turns an image over in their mind or stays up past their bedtime because they just couldn't put the book down.

Brenda Chapman is the Ottawa author of the Jennifer Bannon mystery series for young adults. Hiding in Hawk’s Creek, the second novel in the series, was shortlisted by the Canadian Association of Children’s Librarians for the 2006 Book of the Year for Children Award.

Brenda has also written several short stories that were published in an anthology (When Boomers Go Bad, RendezVous Crime 2004) and various magazines. In Winter’s Grip is Brenda’s first adult murder mystery. When not writing, Brenda works as a senior communications advisor in the federal government.

Monday, January 23, 2012


Writers who write!

I'll readily admit, this is not an original blog idea...I blatantly re-used it but since this is an entirely different audience, that shouldn't matter. I'm talking about WIPs...or rather, your Work in Progress.

Blogs offer those who write them the opportunity to share their thoughts about writing, the publishing world and everything in between. Blogs are also a method of promoting the author's books and those written by members of the Canadian crime writing community.

But let's back it up a little...that recently published book is out there. So, what are you working on now? Part of a series? A stand-alone? First novel? Short story?
Maybe it's a non-fiction work. A magazine article? A journal?

Today, the comments are the blog. Please tell us about your WIP. Come on now, spill the beans!

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

Saturday, January 21, 2012


by Kate Burns

The tragic death of a young woman who fell from the eighth story of a Gatineau apartment building didn't go unnoticed. Julia Henry had her eye to her telescope, watching the snow falling. It took just a few minutes for Julia to make the connection. The victim was her former neighbour, Amanda.

From that innocent act, Julia gets drawn in as the police investigate an apparent suicide. For Julia, it starts out as a search for Amanda's missing cat. But along the way, she becomes consumed with the need to find the truth. Was Amanda murdered? Her dreams are haunted by the dead girl. Her relationship with her husband Matt becomes strained as she juggles her job, her young daughter and sleuthing. There's also an ongoing battle with the management company from the apartment building she and Matt recently vacated. Amanda's building.

She meets a neighbour who's new to the 'hood', she discovers photographs on Amanda's laptop while helping the brother design posters about the missing cat, she tracks down Amanda's former lover. And, there's a serial rapist loose in the community.

Burns deftly ties it all together as Julia discovers the killer's identity and narrowly escapes becoming another victim.

This might not be the Gatineau you know. But you'll certainly recognize Burns' descriptions of the locale and enjoy them. Her writing style draws in the reader and provides a compelling read. For those who crave a healthy dose of suspense with their mystery, you'll want to read The Ophelia Trap. Kate Burns lives in the Gatineau-Ottawa area and is working on her second mystery, this one set in Ottawa's Byward Market. Save a space on your bookshelf for it.

Friday, January 20, 2012


Open to change...

Not to overstate the obvious, but change is afoot in the publishing world. We've known that for quite some time but it's just been within the past couple of years that the e-book industry has exploded from a somewhat slow start. And let's not forget self-publishing. What used to be a labor-intensive prospect has now been molded into yet another internet DYI.

Such sites as Create Space (owned by Amazon) and Lulu are big names in this business. And there are tons more -- just google 'self-publishing' and the toughest decision you will need to make is which one to choose. That site will walk you through the rest of it.

What brought this to mind is a book I'm reviewing and a question from a new Facebook friend. She asked how to go about promoting her book. My response, the traditional one: introduce yourself to booksellers and offer to do a signing, same with libraries and book clubs. Her response was that the only bookseller willing to do this was a used book store. My response, readers are readers. Take it and enjoy.

But that got me thinking about this whole business of self-promotion. We've seen the traditional methods -- from the signings to the bookmarks, postcards, hitting the conferences, and every imaginable 'loot bag' item that a writer can stick a book title on.

My question is, with these new/not-so-new publishing opportunities, should we also be looking at different promotional tactics? And if so, what are they?

I'm certainly looking for new ideas for my own self-promotion toolkit. Time for another panel on this topic at Bloody Words? Any ideas?

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

Thursday, January 19, 2012


Not your average book launch

Peggy Blair is my idea of a Renaissance woman. She's a lawyer, a realtor, a visual artist and a mystery writer and her debut novel, The Beggar's Opera, is creating a big buzz in the publishing world.

The early reviews are in and they're darned good. Jim Napier, of Deadly Diversions calls it “a nuanced account of the struggles of two men to comprehend the sudden and unexpected turns in their complex lives. Blair nicely strings the reader along, casting doubt on what’s real and what’s imaginary, while serving up a tale that combines a penetrating commentary on Cuban life with a whodunit full of twists and turns … readers can look forward to following the further exploits of the enigmatic Cuban police detective.”

I've preordered the book and I'm looking forward to reading it but what's really caught my attention is the launch on February 16th at the Orange Art Gallery at the Parkdale Market, Ottawa. This will not be your average book launch. Peggy is known in Ottawa for the terrific parties she loves to throw, so the usual cold canap├ęs and quiet author-reading just isn't in the cards for this shindig. She began planning a month or so ago and she's been sharing her plans on her blog, Getting Published. http://peggyblair.wordpress.com. Have a look. It makes great reading.

She told her publisher, Penguin Canada, that she was planning a Cuban party with authentic food and live Cuban music. Penguin would be able to cover rent for the venue, but where was the money for the food and the music and the cake we'd all been reading about on her blog to come from? Here's where the plot thickens

When Peggy was shortlisted for the Debut Dagger in 2010, she was invited to attend the awards ceremonies in Harrogate, England. She was between jobs at the time and the trip was going to cost more than she could comfortably afford. It was at this point that a community building movement began. She threw a Cuban dinner party for thirty people, asked each guest to contribute $35 and that along with other donations was enough to pay for the overseas flight. It was at this festival that she met Ian Rankin who in turn introduced her to his agent. The rest, as they say, is history.

But back to the launch. When it came time to nail down the details, Peggy's friends came forward again. Because we had stepped up to the Harrogate challenge, we were now stakeholders. We had an investment in the The Beggar's Opera and we needed this launch to be a success. It wasn't just Peggy's party any more it was ours too. Many offered to cook Cuban dishes for the event. Others threw in money to help with other expenses.

Peggy began contacting wine makers and soon had offers for free wine and even a fruit wine tasting. Beau's All Natural Brewing Company will bring the beer and someone else is providing chocolate cigars with the Penguin logo on the band.

Although people are bringing rum cake and opera cake, Peggy had her heart set on a cake in the shape of a 1957 Chevy that she saw on www.cakestudio.ca (seen here) and she found out that Kate Green Cakes from Kempville will duplicate the cake (in red and white) and transport it to the launch for a reasonable fee and a signed copy of the book.

It's amazing what people will do when they catch the spirit of an event. The mayor is coming as is Peggy's city counselor and the MPP for the area. "Will there be speeches?" I asked, when I talked to Peggy yesterday. "No!" said Peggy firmly. "And no author reading either. I just want to take a moment when the musicians are on break to thank everyone for all their help." That's a first in my experience.

Around 120 people have confirmed their attendance which is just about the capacity of the Orange Gallery. I've never heard of people being turned away from the launch of an author's debut book but this may be another first.

Peggy does say in her blog that if you would like to attend, to please contact her. She'll fit you in, I'm sure.

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, January 18, 2012


Mad Max & Canadian Crime Book Awards

Remember the film Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome (Mel Gibson before he completely weirded out), with the spectators chanting in the arena: “Two men enter; one man leaves”? Canadian literary awards aren’t quite that cutthroat (although one might wonder sometimes), so let’s modify the chant to “Many authors enter; one author leaves.” (Or for the shortlist, “Many authors enter; five authors leave,” which, quite frankly, doesn’t sound nearly as good. But I digress...)

We are now less than six months away from Bloody Words and the big Canadian crime book awards events: the new Bloody Words Light Mystery Award (aka the Bony Blithe), presented at the Bloody Words banquet on June 2; the Arthur Ellis Awards, presented on May 31, the night before BW starts; and the Hammett Award (which I consider a quasi-Canadian award because it’s for Canadian and American authors and is presented at the Bloody Words banquet).

The shortlist announcements are even sooner: around mid-February for the Hammett, March 28 for the Bony Blithe, and April 19 for the AEs.

Why do some authors win awards while others don’t? Legitimate question, that. What’s not so legit are complaints from authors, such as the following (yes, these are for real): The judges hated my writing style. The judges didn’t understand/appreciate what my book was all about. The judges hate cosies, noir, humorous mysteries, historicals, romantic suspense (go ahead – fill in the blank with your subgenre), and the flip side: The judges only like police procedurals (I’ve heard this one a lot for the AEs).

Granted, there may be some truth to these points (judges are only human), but the reality of why A wins while B to Z don’t is much simpler and less of a conspiracy.

Even before we get to what judges are looking for in an award-winning book, there’s something very important to consider: Is your book eligible for the award in the first place? The Bony Blithe is for light mysteries, or as stated in the rules, “books that make us smile.” Your angst-ridden noir novel with a tortured-body count in the dozens may be absolutely brilliant, but it doesn’t stand a chance of winning. The Hammett is for “literary excellence in the field of crime writing,” so I think we can assume that cozies are less than likely to win. The Arthur Ellis is the most open, albeit only apparently; the best novel award leans towards more serious books, although almost anything goes with first novel.

Assuming your novel fits the competition criteria, there are two ways judges look at the submissions to determine the winner (and the shortlist, too): absolute quality and relative quality.

Absolute quality is relatively easy to judge: All the elements of the book – plot, structure, characters, setting, dialogue, point of view, believability, writing technique, etc. – have to come together into a unified whole. Then the book has to have that magical spark – that ephemeral je ne sais quoi that makes it stand out from all the other entries.

Relative quality is much trickier and refers to how your book compares with all the other entries in the category. Judging relative quality has caused many a judge to become follicly challenged because there will almost always be more than five books that pass the absolute quality test. This makes for hours of backing-and-forthing among the judges, to say nothing of a certain amount of horse-trading. And then, of those five submissions that make it to the shortlist, there has to be one that stands high above all the rest. It’s not unknown for no one’s first choice to win.

Judges (being only human) have their likes and dislikes in literature. But all awards try to find judges who represent a wide spectrum of the reading public. Even more important, contests look for judges who understand that they are not looking for a book that they “like,” so much as they’re looking for the book that epitomizes the best of crime-writing in its field.

In the end, literary competitions can be a real crap-shoot. You can have a book or story that is a critical and/or commercial success – a piece of work that you’re proud of. But you may be up against other authors with equally stellar books. If your book had been published in another year, you might have been up against fewer books or books of lesser quality. And one year’s judges will almost certainly have a different view than another year’s judges of what makes for a stellar book.

So don’t go into paroxysms of angst about being a lousy writer if you don’t win or aren’t even shortlisted this year. The fact that you’re published probably indicates that you’re a good writer. The stars – or at least, publishers’ publishing schedules – were against you. Have a stiff drink or a big old chocolate bar...and get back to writing.

Cheryl Freedman was Mothership (secretary-treasurer, then executive director) of Crime Writers of Canada for 10 years; she resigned in 2009 but still keeps her hand in. A permanent director of Bloody Words, she’s been on the Bloody Gang since 1999 and is the chair for this year’s BW XII, June 1 – 3, 2012 in Toronto. www.bloodywords2012.com In “real” life, Cheryl is a freelance editor and desktop publisher.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012


The new library model?

In yesterday's Ottawa Citizen newspaper, there was a column by Roger Collier entitled, A few bad ideas for promoting the library. What he meant by 'bad ideas' is the amount of email spam that libraries are sending out as a method to attract more readers.

I've not been spammed by my local library in fact, the only email I receive from the Ottawa Public Library are notices that either a book I have reserved is now in, or that the book(s) I have checked out will be due in a few days time. I find that highly efficient and am pleased they haven't resorted to spam.

He was also lamenting the fact that the printed word has too much competition these days. Nothing new there. What did give me pause, were the numerous methods used by some libraries in other countries, to expand the number of visits to through their doors. If you didn't read it, imagine this: your public library now offers "oil changes, financial planning and MRI scans", all in the name of one-stop shopping for today's busy readers. Just imagine, the library could become the Shopper's Drug Mart or the Canadian Tire of your area!

The fact that "Sweden requires all it librarians to also be certified personal trainers" got me wondering if a gym was attached to each branch.

My favourite is in Oslo, Norway where "deep-tissue massage and an international buffet with more than 200 dishes" are offered. I could spend many happy hours reading in that library.

What about it? Is Canada ready for this revolution in one stop shopping? Would these ideas truly increase the number of people reading? What about hooking the kids? They're hot-wired to their computers and they certainly don't need oil changes. That's where the future of the library lies. But maybe there's a way to hook them, too...computers, anyone? Oh, right...we all ready offer them. So what's next?

Here's the link to the column: http://www.ottawacitizen.com/search/search.html?q=Roger%20collier&sort=date

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

Monday, January 16, 2012


News and schmooze opportunities...

Since the beginning days of Mystery Maven Canada, Mary Jane Maffini has provided the Mayhem on Mondays...she's so good at that! You may be wondering where she's been lately and if she'll be back creating a little or rather, a lot more mayhem.

She will be back at some point but for now, her life has taken a different turn. Her husband suffered unexpected trauma during surgery and has been hospitalized since the beginning of October. While his recovery is amazing the doctors, his family has known all along what a determined guy he is. However, Mary Jane is taking a break from writing to devote her time and energy into Guilio's journey to health. Please include them in your prayers and positive thoughts.

While back at Mystery Maven Canada, we continue to highlight all the terrific Canadian mystery writers from coast to coast to coast, as they say. I'd love to hear from you if you have a new book coming out...send me a copy and I'll try to review it, although my TBR pile is looking ominous these days. Just not enough hours to read and write to my heart's content.

If you're a reader, I'd love to hear what you're reading and what you think about it. Or them, as the case may be. It's great to share these titles as that may mean more an new readings for all authors.

If you're in the Ottawa area, look for several book launches coming up this spring. The excitement's already building. And then there's the announcement of the short lists for the Arthur Ellis Awards from Crime Writers of Canada, slated for April 19th.

Happy reading...happy writing!

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

Friday, January 13, 2012


Putting together the Plan!

Let's start with two definitions in the writer's arsenal of necessary tools.

Publicity -- the deliberate attempt to manage the public's
perception of a subject.
Promotion -- the communication link between sellers and
buyers for the purpose of influencing, informing or persuading
a potential buyer's purchasing decision.

Publicity in turn is part of the Promotional Plan. The objectives of this Plan are:
a. to present information to consumers as well as others
b. to increase demand
c. to differentiate a product

Got it? Of course, you do. We've long known that the writer is not only a writer but a self-promoting marketer of books, as well. And still it comes as a shock at times, when faced with the actual task of getting out there and getting our books known.

That could be because we originally went for the basic job description of a writer. Had I wanted to be in promotion and sales, I would have gotten the education and pursued the job. But this is so much better, you say? I get to be a person of multiple talents? Think how this will jazz up a resume?

In the past two months I have become a web designer (ok, the basic technical design was there but I designed the content!)and a travel agent (I've already booked hotel rooms for two upcoming conferences and am now looking into flights). On my long 'To Do' list is coming up with a bookmark and lining up some gigs. I already am an old hand at the latter, it's the bookmark part that's still up in the air.

I'm extremely lucky to have a Berkley Prime Crime publicist taking care of much of the US promotion. She sends out the review copies and will line up some on-line blog stops for starters. In Canada, there's a Penguin Canada publicist helping with the onslaught. But there's still so much left in the hands of the writer and only so many hours in the day.

I think my Promotional Plan will focus on one key aspect -- connect with the reader.
The strategy involves reviewers, booksellers, conferences, signings along with the website, business cards, and bookmarks for starters.

What's part of your Plan? Any advice you'd like to share?

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

Thursday, January 12, 2012


Beam me up, Scottie!

Last week, Linda Wiken, or perhaps her evil twin Erika Chase, wrote about trying to convey summer in Alabama while in the grip of a full-blown Canadian winter. Although to be fair, full-blown is hardly the word this year! She was demonstrating the challenge writers face of imagining themselves in a very different place from the physical one where their chair and computer are sitting. As I write this, I am sitting on my living room sofa with my laptop in my lap, a cup of coffee at my elbow, and freezing rain hissing at the window. My dogs are banging at the patio door to be let back in.

Brief pause while I let them in. Now where was I? Oh yes, in my living room. But very soon I have to get myself into the spirit on the Nahanni National Park, which is a spectacular northern wilderness of ragged, snow-capped mountains, rushing creeks, and brooding forests. The weather can change every fifteen minutes from sultry sun to thunderstorms. Drizzle sifts through the trees, morning frost crackles the grass. All in one day. Add to that the sounds, the scents, the flashes of wild animals in the distance. It’s all part of the backdrop against which my latest book is being written.

Every writer has their own tricks for transporting themselves to their setting. The best possible technique is to visit the place and write there. Someday I plan to do that with Tuscany. But on a writer’s income, sometimes we have to make do with cheaper tricks. Some writers take numerous location shots and stick photos all around their work space. Others have piles of books within easy reach. Others keep Google handy on their computer while they write, ready for a quick ‘images’ search. It’s astonishing what can be found on the internet. Type in “Parks Office Fort Simpson” and there it is!

I do all of those things. But the most powerful research tool a writer has is our own memory. Alas, I have never been up in the Nahanni area, but then I’ve never murdered anyone either, and that doesn’t stop me from imagining it. Who hasn’t felt like murder occasionally? You know the feeling. I love to travel and over my lifetime. I have walked in mountain streams in the Rocky Mountains of British Columbia. I have rafted down a glacial river between snow-capped peaks in the Yukon. I have hiked through the stunted spruce forests of Newfoundland. And no one has to go far to experience the bugs, the morning frost, and the crashing summer storms.

These are the memories I summon up as I sit down to begin a scene. I immerse myself in the images that are already in my mind. It’s a conscious visualization, but not merely visual. I ask myself what a waterfall sounds like, what a forest smells like, what a sudden rush of rain feels like. But that isn’t all. Now all this has to be imagined from the point of view of the character I am writing about. Often Inspector Green’s POV. His view of crashing waterfalls is considerably different from mine. He hates and fears them. I find them thrilling. But I have to see the world as he sees it, and find the words to draw the reader in too. An even greater feat than beaming myself up to another setting.

But that’s a subject for another blog!

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.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012


Don’t Lecture - Entertain Me!

The other day, an American interviewer challenged me about the purpose of fiction; should it always contain a moral message? Specifically, should crime fiction?

My instant answer: No No No! The purpose of crime fiction should be to Entertain, and nothing should come before that.

Why? We have countless other venues that preach morality. Religions seek to teach us how to behave. Every day we are bombarded by newspapers, radio and other nonfiction outlets, that expose us to the ‘evil’ of greedy politicians, nasty world despots and out of control celebrities.

If fiction – and crime fiction in particular – was required to follow a moral code, we would miss so much. If the good guy always won – if the bad guy always got caught – wouldn’t that make crime fiction lamentably predictable?

Does that mean crime fiction can’t teach us something? Of course it can! Put me in the mind of a serial killer for a few hours. Let me know what it feels like to experience the overwhelming greed of a con artist. Dress me up as a torch singer, with a black heart and a gun in her stocking.

Let me discover something about how other people think, if only for a little while. But above all else, entertain me. Don’t preach at me, even from a distance. I don’t want it from my fiction. Just tell me a damn good story, thank you. Take me out of the real world for a few hours.

That’s the purpose of crime fiction.

Melodie is the author of Rowena Through the Wall (Imajin Books) a comic time travel novel, and The Goddaughter, a madcap mob caper (Orca Books) to be released in 2012. She has over 200 publications and has won six awards for fiction.
Follow Melodie’s comic blog at


Testing the Hypothesis

My horoscope for 2012 says that I can make anything happen this year as long as I firmly believe in it. On the last day of 2011, I decide to test out the hypothesis on a few simple beliefs: I will get my shopping done in a timely manner despite the fact that there are already hordes of people circling the parking lot. I will find everything I need. I will meet lots of smiley happy-new-year people.

When I get into the plaza, there is a line up of honking cars to my left. But behold, to the right, I see a nice little spot from which I can drive straight out. It appears I am the only one willing to walk more than seven steps. I throw my reusable bags into a cart (for which I have to walk several more steps) and I am ready to surge into the crowd, list and all.

I headed out without prettying up either. The headlines from trashy magazines greet me at the door screaming: Stars Without Make-up! They’ve caught me.

In many of the aisles, people with carts are streaming both ways. A sensation of logs jamming in a river, bumping into one another, creating rapids of ill feeling, seems to have overtaken everyone. In my new-found sense of believing, I smile at each of them, say I’m sorry even though they bumped into me, let them go in front of me, tuck my own cart out of the way when I need to reach the opposite shelf for an item. In other words, I am picture perfectly polite and perky. The fact that I am probably annoying the heck out of all the other logs is just a side benefit.

I do find all the groceries I need. But at first I find no shiny smiley people. They are frowning, rushing, bumping and grabbing instead. Many of them talk on their cell phones to someone at home—I want that brand—but I can’t find that brand—did you say one can or two—I’m sure you said two, but okay…One of my beliefs is starting to slip. I am beginning to doubt my horoscope.

Then suddenly, I discover my happy-new-year people. One lady helps me when my buggy wheels almost topple a stand of fresh bread. Another smiles at me when I allow her to go up the aisle first. Someone else says Happy New Year when we both find the meat we want and touch elbows in the process.

As I head for the checkout, I find a cashier with only one customer ahead of me. I smile and ask the cashier how she is and whether she gets to go home early today (she does). I say Happy New Year as I leave. None of my bags are over-packed and nothing is squished or falling out.

I get to my car, haul the groceries inside, and return the cart to its rightful spot. As I am easing out into the traffic, there is a clearing and I am almost home. To top it all off, the sun comes out.

So maybe it will be a Belieber year after all, just like our Canadian star from Stratford has declared. Perhaps I will find the audience for my books in 2012. People who like hard-hitting topics tucked inside a mystery because they know justice will be served in the end. Maybe I will finish those three books at which, lately, I have only occasionally been lobbing a few words.

Perhaps the Mayans were right: the world as we know it will end. Maybe love and hope will change the world after all.

Catherine Astolfo retired from education to pursue her true passion: writing. She self-published a novel series, The Emily Taylor Mysteries, through her own publishing company, Moe Publications. In 2005, Catherine was awarded a Brampton Arts Award for the first novel in the series, The Bridgeman. Recently, she won a four-book contract from Imajin Books for the e-versions of the series.
Catherine was the 2010-11 President of Crime Writers of Canada and is a member of Sisters in Crime Toronto. She is the co-owner of an ezine for writers and readers, Scribes Digest, and of Sisbro & Co. Inc., a film production company.
Check her out at www.catherineastolfo.com Or www.scribesdigest.com
Buy the books through links at www.imajinbooks.com

Monday, January 9, 2012


With a little help from my friends!

I've noticed several bloggers this past week have focused on the help given them by fellow mystery writers. It's true. This is a very supportive community. Perhaps more so than in mainstream fiction. I say 'perhaps' because I'm not part of that group so can't say for certain.

But in the world of mystery writers, there's always someone ready to give helpful advice, offer suggestions based on what's worked for them, share promo ideas, link a writer with an agent, and spread the word be it by Facebook, Twitter, a 'Like' here and there.

That's what we do. Sure, there's competition for the 'Best' award in the various Arthur Ellis categories from Crime Writers of Canada. But there's no lobbying, no negative speeches or ads, no buying of votes. It's all very congenial and the winner is showered with good wishes by one and all.

Think of the many critiquing groups across the country -- writers helping each other. Think of the many associations. I belong to Capital Crime Writers, Crime Writers of Canada and Sisters in Crime. At one time, I joined Mystery Writers of America. And there are more. They all offer that critical item -- support, be it with workshops, newsletters, marketing information. And it's all shared among members.

There are also numerous blogs where mystery authors share their ideas and suggestions. Many of those authors appear here on Mystery Maven Canada at various times. I, or rather Erika, has a blog spot each month on Killer Characters, which is mainly US writers, a lot of us with the same publisher, and all very eager about supporting and sharing.

It's a wonderful community to be a part of...one with so many people who write about betrayal, rejection and death but who are loyal, welcoming and sustaining. Thanks to all of you for all of that!

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