Wednesday, February 29, 2012


Fifty is Just a Number

It seems that congratulations are in order for V.I. Warshawski, as she has just had her 50th birthday.

When Sara Paretsky created her some 30 years ago, V.I. was a new and different kind of female detective. She was a tough, unafraid Polish-American private detective, and most astonishing for that time, a female detective working in a man’s world.

This was during the time when female police officers were just then being allowed to walk the beat along with the men, and many people, including police officer’s wives, were none too happy about it. Those were different times, and over the years of V.I.’s “lifetime”, Sara Paretsky has embroiled her self-reliant and opinionated detective in the politics and social commentaries of the day, while allowing her free reign to whip out her Smith & Wesson, chow down on scads of ethnic food, toss off a sonata on the piano or an aria in the shower, and sip some 4-star vino. What’s not to love?

North of the border, we have our own fine examples of strong, fearless female detectives, some of our best-loved fictional women, like Joanne Kilbourn, Meg Harris, Camilla McPhee, and Belle Palmer, brought to us by Gail Bowen, R.J. Harlick, Mary Jane Maffini, and Lou Allin. We can easily lose ourselves in their adventures, as well as their off-hours bad (good?) habits, running by their sides as they toss sarcasm to the wind, stand up to a nasty element on a dark corner, or schmooze a muscular informant, and without blinking. They pursue cases that affect friends, family and the unprotected in their midst. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of the endless energy and individual style that defines those women?

V.I. is forever complaining about the internet changing the business of being a detective, from ranging the streets in search of clues and informants, to trolling websites and on-line public records. How similar this is to the irrevocable changes the web has brought to the world of writing and book publishing, in just the same way. But V.I. and Meg, Camilla and their peers carry-on. These uncrackable female characters are ever inspiring as they change, evolve, and yes, age gracefully the way the rest of us try to do when we get out of bed every morning and meet our daily challenges, be they nefarious politicos or the co-worker in the next cubicle.

On V.I.’s fine example, I raise my chilled glass of pinot grigio, to a fellow aging woman travelling the changing road, with her face set firmly toward the challenges, and political and social uncertainty, giving hope to those who walk along behind, or maybe only sit on the bench and cheer her on.

Happy Birthday, V.I. You go, girl!

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. Her blogs appear the final Wednesday of each month.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012


Time mangament...what's that?

Only one more day left in February...and that's a gift this year, being a Leap Year. I for one, can certainly make good use of that extra day. It's like turning the clocks back one hour in the fall. One more hour a day -- whoee!

When did life become so hectic? Can't answer that one but each day I hope to gain control again, to set some order to my agenda and become more productive to boot.
So I use lists. The days I don't, I fall behind. It's not like I'm a slave to the list because I often don't even consult it. In fact, I often can't find it which is to say, tidying my desk is always at the top of the list.

It's the act of writing things down that allows me the perception I'm once again in control of the hours. Often, that action also makes the tasks take hold in my memory and I follow through merrily. Who cares if I've skipped #1 and can't find the list anywhere.

Today, being the day before the final day in February, means one more day to make any RRSP contributions for the past year. The fact that I can't remember if I did it when I received my notice of assessment is not a surprise. This happens every year. I need to make a quick call to my financial advisor and all will be dealt with. But it shouldn't come down to this last minute scurrying each and every year.
I should have a master list for the year and address these annual issues as they arise. Of course I should.

And, I should, being aware that when I'm feeling the pressures of finishing a book, realize that's the time the edits from the previous book will arrive in my email mailbox. And they then become the priority.

But that's also the time that more promotional tasks for the earlier book kick in -- like planning the launch, setting up signings, preparing for panels and workshops.

I know all this...right? So why is it the second to last day in February and I'm in a tizzy? I should write that down on my list...item #2 -- get into tizzy mode. Then I can deal with it by losing the list.

Besides, I always work better to deadline. Or so I like saying.

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

Monday, February 27, 2012


Looking ahead!

On Friday I received an email telling me of my panel assignment for the Malice Domestic conference in April. I've been looking forward to this conference for some time now. It's one of the largest 'cosy' conferences in the US and it's held in Bethesda, MD.

I first started going to it with my writing buddies around 1989 (close enough)and continued every year until 2001. By then it had moved into downtown Washington, DC and was much bigger. I thought it had lost its charm and besides, I didn't have a novel, only our short story anthologies that weren't readily available in the US market.

But this year I'll go back to Bethesda, where it returned last year, as Erika Chase and armed with my first novel. It's the first of three is a cosy series from Berkley Prime Crime, part of the Penguin group. I'm excited because the Berkley line is well-known in the US and has a very large group of ardent readers. I found that when I owned Prime Crime Books, too. The cosy lovers usually read the BPC series.

My panel is called Southern Mysteries and I'm in good company with several authors I've read and enjoyed over the years. I'm really looking forward to this opportunity, as is Erika.

And so it begins. The next step in promoting a book, taking it from an internet experience based on Facebook, Twitter and blogs to a more personal level meeting readers and other authors. And, getting a chance to talk about the book along with the process of writing it.

The next big opportunity comes in June with Bloody Words 2012 in Toronto. This one is real special because it focuses on the Canadian mystery experience bringing writers, readers and people from the publishing world together for a weekend of pure indulgence. I'm registered (as is Erika) and am looking forward to meeting many names and faces from the internet.

Have you registered yet?

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

Saturday, February 25, 2012


by R.J. Harlick
Dundurn Press

Two young native girl go missing on the streets of Ottawa. Not an unusual story but when it becomes the disappearance of 16 girls in total and four are found dead, the story takes on new significance.

It’s not an Ottawa story. It happens across the country. And often the tragedy is that the police show little interest in pursuing the cases. Until the numbers become so great that notoriety follows and then the story becomes in large part, media-driven.

This is the story Meg Harris finds herself involved with in this fifth Meg Harris Mystery. One of the girls is Fleur, the 18-year-old daughter of a friend, who fled the Migiskan Anishinabeg First Nations Reserve in Western Quebec after a fight with her mom. She ended up in Ottawa and there the trail goes cold. Meg is drawn into the search which leads to a Welcome Centre for first nations youth in east Ottawa, a place the girls had all frequented.

When Meg’s former boyfriend, Eric who is the band chief, also goes missing, his daughter and Meg track the clues that point to a connection between all the disappearances. Also comes the certainty that if both Eric and Fleur are not already dead, they will be, soon.

R,J. Harlick has taken a story we’ve read about many times in the newspapers over the years. She’s given the story a focus, Fleur, and a family that is traumatized by what has happened. We meet the friends and neighbours on the Migiskan Reserve who offer comfort and help. We feel the terror of what they are confronting. This is top notch story-telling.

Another of Harlick’s wonderful way with words, is the including of the reader in the culture and traditions. The first two chapters enfold us in the sights and sounds of a monthly ceremony to honour Grandmother Moon, with the hope that a sign will give some hope to the mothers of the two missing girls.

All of the Meg Harris books are steeped in this rich culture that adds a deeper texture to the novels. The mysteries are solidly plotted and provide new challenges to Meg. And she in turn, works through her own demons and insecurities.

It’s certainly possible to read A Green Place For Dying on its own but so much more satisfying to start at the beginning of Meg’s story and read the four books that come before. This is a series you’ll want to read from start to finish.

Friday, February 24, 2012


Changing directions!

I started my writing life with novels. Reading, of course. Then attempting to write them. In grade 8 English, as it turns out. But later again, when my son was a toddler and I had temporarily left the workforce.

It started with a creative writing course through the continuing education department of the local school board. Genre writing actually. And from that, a membership in the Ottawa Romance Writers which led to a critiquing group, which led to me and Vicki Cameron attending the Romance Writers of America conference in Boston. The year was 1988 or close enough. At one point, the now legendary tale goes, we looked at each other and decided we were at the wrong conference. We ditched the rest of the sessions and headed to Kate's Mystery Books where we immersed ourselves in mystery novels and joined Sisters in Crime.

Imagine that -- we'd decided to write mysteries!

Back in the routine of an outside job, I wrote every morning for an hour or more before getting my lad ready for school. And, I wrote two novels neither of which is published. Nor will they ever be!!

The other big step was Capital Crime Writers which led to another critiquing group, which morphed through a couple of years into The Ladies' Killing Circle. More novels were worked on -- and also, not published-- and eventually short stories dominated, for me anyway. Besides, they were easier to tackle once Prime Crime Books came into the picture. (I always used to chuckle when customers would daydream about the magnificent life of owning a bookstore & being able to just sit and read or write all day. NOT!)

The Ladies were -- and still are -- dynamite in the role of critique group, inspiring and supporting. But the days of editing anthologies are over and we're proud to have put out seven of them. Most of us are writing novels these days. My earlier attempts were police procedurals but my series is a cosy set in the southern U.S. Quite a departure from where I started out many years ago.

And I love it.

There's no reason why we shouldn't evolve as writers, not only in our writing abilities, but also by trying new things. New sleuths, new genres, new setting, maybe even mainstream. That's what being a writer is...writing what moves us, intrigues us, entices us to stretch those boundaries and habits.

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

Thursday, February 23, 2012


Rags and Riches

Yesterday on Type M for Murder, I blogged about drawing a line in the sand. How much does an author compromise his story to appease the marketplace, or more specifically the marketing department of the publishing house considering his book? And by this, I don’t mean adding plot twists when the editor suggests that 300 pages of tea-party conversation are not gripping enough. Nor do I mean adding three dimensions to that cardboard John Wayne look-alike you have created. These are both legitimate editorial improvements. Any editor worth his salt will propose improvements to the story, and any writer serious about honing her craft will give his proposals due consideration.

No, when I talk about compromise for the sake of market success, I mean substantial modifications to the story you want to tell, for the sake of appeasing the marketing gurus who will decide whether or not the publishing house should buy your book. These modifications will have little to do with improving the actual quality of the story and everything to do with sales figures. The marketing gurus claim to have their eye on the latest trends, on demographic preferences and on the book’s ability to capture media attention. If you are asked to change your middle-aged, widowed sleuth into a thirty-something vampire, or to change your setting from Chatham, Ontario to Long Island, New York, that’s the money man talking.

As authors, we hate marketing gurus. We have a story we want to tell, characters we have lived with for years, a unique saga that took years of tears to commit to the page. Most authors I know are compelled to write. We have stories spinning in our heads, demanding to be told. Personal stories in which we invest our souls - poignant, funny, angry or inspiring. Writing is not a choice, it is a creative imperative. If we can earn a living at it, so much the better. But if we merely wanted to earn a living, we would choose brain surgery or engineering or drywall installation instead.

But publishing is a business. Fundamentally, publishers (and agents) have different goals from writers. As much as they may love books, publishers’ and agents’ first goal is to make money from them. As much money as they can. Nothing wrong with that. If they don’t make money, they go bankrupt, as many have in recent years, and then there are even fewer avenues through which a writer can reach his audience. Sometimes making money is the author’s primary goal too, in which case they happily work with the marketing gurus in the hope of creating a blockbuster which rides the cutting edge of all the trends. There is nothing wrong with that either, but it’s not what most of us authors dream of when we first set pen to paper.

Most writers start off just wanting to do the best damn job we can with the story in our head. We may dream about others enjoying it, we may even daydream about the movie deal or bestseller list, and those dreams may shape our choices, but we are really writing to please ourselves. The challenges arise when the quest for an agent or publisher begins. We may feel they don’t “get” our work, that they don’t appreciate the beauty of our story, that they are slaves to their marketing departments, that they are cowards pandering to mass market tastes, and that may all the true. But the truth may be that, based on their experience, they think there is no money in it. They could well be wrong, but it’s their call.

That harsh truth leaves us a few choices. Change our story to satisfy the agent or publisher, keep shopping for one who loves our story as it is, or self-publish. Luckily, all those options are still open to us, depending on how determined, uncompromising – and broke – we are.

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 last May.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012


With a little help from my friends...

I went searching my bookshelves the other day for a reference book from my bookselling days. I can't even remember the title, something about Sleuths and Sidekicks, which shows I haven't made much use of it lately. But I used to in the days when customers were often asking such skill-testing questions. I can't find it, although I do have a good selection of reference books on my shelf.

It's a wonderfully informative book. Sidekicks are so important in the detective genre, be the main sleuths amateurs or professionals, that there is indeed an entire large book dedicated to them.

It's not often you find the 'lone warrior' doing battle with the bad guys. (Most often found in thrillers.) Sidekicks add another dimension to the main character and can subtly focus on characteristics of said sleuth. They are also sounding boards for various theories and can be sure to lend a hand or a flashlight in those late night searches. They can provide some comic relief or perhaps, a saner more grounded approach when it's needed. What is Sherlock without his Watson after all?

They are recurring characters because they are part of the fabric of the series. And as such, some have even garnered their own fan clubs. Mary Jane Maffini has created such a sidekick. He's Alvin, the thorn-in-the-side assistant to her lawyer-sleuth Camilla McPhee. Imagine, a fan club!

And sometimes, the sidekick goes on to become the star of his or her own series. That happens more often in TV though.

Imagine your favourite series without the sidekick. Can't be done. Not with the more traditional mystery or detective story. They're part of the fabric of life and we want our characters and plots to wrap the reader in a real world. That means one with friends and sidekicks, often one and the same.

As I said, I can't find that great reference book. So if I loaned it to you, could I please have it back?

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

Tuesday, February 21, 2012


The Fun of Writing a Series

I’m like the rest of you avid mystery readers, I love nothing better than to sink my teeth into a good mystery series and follow the characters from book to book as they take on lives of their own. But when I set out to write my first mystery book, I wasn’t certain it was going to be a series. My first objective was to see if I could write the bloody book and once written whether I could convince a publisher to publish it.

But I knew that if I achieved both these objectives, my heroine, Meg Harris, would live on to solve another murder. And so she has through 5 books and onto a 6th one that I am currently writing. And I have had great fun watching her life expand and grow with each book. And not only her, but some of the people around her, like Eric Odjick, her on again, off again lover.

It is however not without its difficulties. With the writing of the first book, Death’s Golden Whisper, I paid little attention to details. I just wrote them into the story as they were encountered and didn’t make note of them. So when it came time to write the second book, Red Ice for a Shroud, I found myself constantly going back to the first book to see what colour I had made Eric’s eyes, even Meg’s, the distance of her home, Three Deer Point, to Somerset, the nearest town, her mother’s name and so on and so forth.

I eventually started keeping a log of all these key points, but invariably some are missed. So even now with my current book I find myself having to search through previous books to ensure details are correct and consistent, like the hockey team Eric played for in his younger days or the age of Meg’s beloved Sergei, her black standard poodle. All I can say is thank goodness for technology. A simple key word search usually gets me to the proper spot in the book. I just have to remember which book the reference is in. Occasionally however, I do slip up. So if you do come across something that is not consistent between books, please let me know.

However, what I enjoy the most about writing a series are the characters themselves. They really do take on lives of their own. With each book I get to know Meg better and Eric. In fact I have found myself falling in love with Eric and wish like hell that Meg would see reason. And that is the fun of it. As much as I want Meg to do what I want her to do, she doesn’t, because she has a mind of her own. She isn’t me. She has her own personality, her own foibles and she needs to work her way through them. And she does in A Green Place for Dying. And I have had fun with this latest book, because several seeds were planted in earlier books and they now come to fruition. So you the reader will learn that much more about Meg, the same way I did.

By the way, although A Green Place for Dying, the 5th book in the Meg Harris series, is now in available in bookstores and on online, its official launch is next Tuesday, Feb. 28 in Ottawa from 7:00 pm to 9:00 at the Heart and Crown Pub in the Market. Come join the celebration.

Ottawa writer RJ Harlick, writes the acclaimed Meg Harris mystery series set in the wilds of Quebec. 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. The 4th book, Arctic Blue Death was a finalist in the 2010 Arthur Ellis Award for Best Novel. Hot new release, A Green Place for Dying is the 5th and latest in the series. According to Publishers Weekly “Meg Harris…gets an education in evil in Harlick’s absorbing fifth mystery.”

Monday, February 20, 2012


Time off...or not!

It's a holiday today in Ontario -- Family Day. But for me it's a work day. Mainly because I didn't have time to write on the weekend, nor for a few days before that. Life happens, doesn't it?

However, I must admit the reason I'm posting this blog so late is a book. Unfortunately, not the one I'm writing. I made the mistake to opening a book called The Peach Keeper by Sarah Addison Allen, one I've had on the go for about a week and pick up whenever I take time out for tea. This morning, I opened it while enjoying my second espresso. My mistake because I couldn't put it down this time -- had to keep going to the end.

It's not a mystery, although there is a murder from the past that plays a role in bringing people together. It's a book about friendship. And, a book about Southern women. And men. I'm reading a lot of books set in the southern states these days, mainly to keep my head in that space for writing my own series. I'm enjoying it there, I must admit. It's a different culture in many aspects, with the ways of the past intermingling with today.

So, that's my holiday. Two hours this morning. Now, it's back to writing although I will have to make it short and get the house ready for my Book Club tonight. That's life again. But that's what I'm writing about...lives involved in a mystery. So, in a way it's research, isn't it? That puts my mind at ease.

How are you spending today?

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

Friday, February 17, 2012


The 15-word challenge!

Pitching your finished book to an agent at a conference requires a short, succinct precis of the plot. Fifty words, three sentences, a short depends on which agent, which conference and the like.

Taking a step backwards, it's also a good idea to be able to explain your concept in a short form when pitching it to a publisher. Or agent.

Once you're on the publishing journey, it's still a good idea to have a short 'sales pitch' on hand. Speaking at the public library? They'd appreciate a promo for their program booklet. Sending an advance reading copy to a reviewer? You want something short and snappy that will snag their attention. So when did novel writing turn into copywriting 101?

Welcome to the new world of publishing where the writer is also the publicist.

We all have to do it, to some degree -- line up signings and events, that's after The Launch, and, make sure there's a general buzz going on about your book.

Here's my challenge this week -- create a one-liner that will send readers by the droves to the nearest bookseller to buy my book. In 15 words. Max. It's for the 'Author's Announce' page in the program book for Malice Domestic 2012, the upcoming somewhat cosy conference happening in Bethesda, MD at the end of April. For $25US I can tell all conference goers that A Killer Read has arrived. In 15 words.

So far, there are approx. 175 authors registered so I'm a very little fish in a big pond. These 15 words must count.

This shouldn't be a challenge for me -- I trained and worked as an advertising copywriter in a long-ago life. One liners were a specialty, usually with music background and often with sound effects. But somewhere along the line I became more verbose (how many words is this blog up to at this point?).

So, I have two possibilities and I'd like your help in deciding which it's to be.

a. Lizzie Turner’s Ashton Corners Book Club members find murder is one for the books!

b. Introducing the first Ashton Corners Book Club mystery where murder is one for the books!

What's your vote? Or should I keep trying?

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

Thursday, February 16, 2012



I have finished the first go-through of proposed changes, additions and deletions to the manuscript, Cut to the Bone, which Dundurn will publish in November.

My editor, Allister Thompson, changed punctuation not only to conform to Dundurn’s guidelines but also to correct mine which is random at best. As one of those who managed to avoid grade thirteen in Ontario and the insistence that every English student master punctuation I do my best but it really isn’t my long suit.

He did challenge some of my word choices. He replaced sneaked with snuck and I again chose sneaked which to me sounds like the action and reminds me of other similar words such as leaked, crept, sidled and slithered which suggest furtive action whereas snuck seems to me to be an abrupt, in-your-face, harsh kind of word. We’ll see how sneaked fares.

Allister questioned whether an irate street-wise eleven-year-old would refer to a puppy that had chewed her hoodie as a ‘little bugger’ saying that was much too English. My writing group made several suggestions and I went with ‘ass-hole’. We’ll see if that flies.

There are a number of First Nation characters in the novel. This brings up tricky issues of political correctness. It seems to me that we who are not Aboriginals must tread carefully whereas those who are may refer to themselves as Indians or Natives. This issue also arose in the ms and I usually opted for First Nation or Aboriginal rather than Indian or Native. I’d be interested to know what other people think.

Allister pointed out a timing problem and I added a torture scene to prolong a tense situation and allow the police time to reach the scene. I hope it fills the bill.

He went on line to check several facts and as a result I changed my characters’ menu choices in a particular Toronto restaurant from Caesar salad which they don’t serve to a green salad which they do. Now I would never have thought to do this but will in the future.

He also drew to my attention that since amalgamation it is the Toronto Police Services not the Metro Police.

I suppose that with the exception of needing to extend a scene to fill more time no changes were monumental but each one adds to the authenticity of the book and that is important for readers. We have all had the experience of being an expert in a field and finding an error that jars our sensibilities.

Having a thorough editor is wonderful and I feel grateful that my ms was read so carefully. Thanks Allister.

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, February 15, 2012


So much for good intentions...

I don't make New Year's resolutions because I never keep them. Although it is fun to muse about things one might to change in life. Instead, I've had the good intention of writing my blog the night before (at the latest) and scheduling it to be running long before I'm on my morning walk.

It worked for a while...a short while. But I've made the conscious decision to scrap that idea. Okay, maybe it's more like life is dictating to me that I will never be one who can write my blog that far in advance. Which may be a good thing because I realize the value of shocking the brain into writing mode.

Take today for instance. Maybe it's the air pressure, the cloudy skies (although the gently falling snow adds an elegant touch) or the fact that my brain just wouldn't quit after last night's class. I'm taking Beginner's Digital Photography at night school. It had to be done. I've had this great camera for a couple of years and two overseas trips and very little of photographic quality to show for it.

The course is great and I've now actually read the entire manual that came with the camera! I hate reading manuals which accounts for a new DVD player still in the box after two months and a wireless mobile mouse pristine in its packaging after even a longer amount of time. But I digress.

I have a lot of work to do on the second draft of my third book. I may have mentioned this before which shows how slowly this is progressing. My solution -- start the morning off with a couple of cups of espresso and then write the blog. It might appear later than some readers would like, especially if your early morning routine includes buzzing through the blogs, your email and other web happenings before heading to work.

But for me, it is the start of my work day. It's an exercise in getting the brain in gear, thinking quickly as I watch the minute hand work its way downward, and also getting those fingers flying over the keys. From here, I'll go on to the email, blog, web routine then straight into writing. It works for me!

What works for you?

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

Tuesday, February 14, 2012


I think most of you have probably heard my Ian Rankin story by now. After 150+ rejections by literary agents, The Beggar’s Opera was shortlisted for The CWA Debut Dagger in Harrogate, UK. As I was getting ready to leave for Canada, unemployed and feeling very dejected after travelling such a long way to lose, I met Rankin in the bar. Thanks to his generosity in sharing his contacts, I ended up represented by his agent, Peter Robinson, and Peter’s Canadian counterpart, Anne McDermid. Within a few weeks, the book was on the hot list at the Frankfurt Book Fair and picked up by Penguin Canada.

The Beggar’s Opera is now in bookstores across Canada, which is exciting but also stressful. I’ve come to realize that, in some ways, this is the most difficult part of the journey.

Sure, all those rejections hurt, but they were private. When I got anything at all, it was usually a form letter—more often, it was silence. ( It’s like going out on a date with someone you like; if he hasn’t called in a month, you sort of get the message.) And once I was represented, my agents didn’t bother me with rejections; I didn’t want to see them, and they didn’t think I needed to, unless they saw the same comment more than once.

But now that The Beggar’s Opera is out and in bookstores, there’s no buffer anymore. It’s like watching your child cross the street alone for the first time—exhilarating and sort of grownup and terrifying at one and the same time. The Globe and Mail’s bestseller list, I’ve discovered, requires that 1,000 books a week be sold to be a bestseller. 1,000 books a week! I’m humbled by those who have achieved that kind of success and right back to feeling like a little puddle on the ground.

I’ve also discovered that people feel quite free to make all kinds of personal comments to you once you’re an author.

For example, I was invited to a small writers’ group (I’m afraid it will be the first and only time I’ll be there). “Wow, they sure airbrush those pictures, don’t they?” the organizer said to me, as he looked at my jacket photograph.

Last night I had an email from a reader who said she loved The Beggar’s Opera and couldn’t put it down. She then proceeded to list every typo she’d found. She was just trying to be helpful, she explained, given her attention to detail. Of course, now I can’t look at the book without seeing those errors myself, given my own attention to detail. Sigh.

As a “newbie,” or “debut author,” as we say in the biz, I have to hand my hat to those of you who have not only survived as authors, but thrived. You must have a thicker skin than I do, although mine’s certainly thicker than it was. (But then again, that could just be the airbrushing.)

Peggy Blair has been a lawyer for more than thirty years. A recognized expert in Aboriginal law, she also worked as both a criminal defence lawyer and Crown prosecutor. She spent a Christmas in Old Havana, where she watched the bored young policemen along the Malecon, visited Hemingway’s favourite bars, and learned to make a perfect mojito. A former member of the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal, Blair is named in the Canadian Who’s Who. She lives in Ottawa.

Friday, February 10, 2012


Character flaws

I like to listen to music while I'm writing. In fact, I have music on in my house the entire day. I always have done this. If it's not a CD playing, I'll listen to the radio, most often CBC Radio 2 when the classical music program, Tempo is on. It stays there until mid-afternoon, when the songs gradually shift (incidentally, the name of the next program)over to more modern music. I then 'shift' it off.

What I do like about Shift is the announcer, Tom Allen. He's clever, knowledgeable and fills the time between the music with items of interest. Not so good when you're trying to write, I admit.

This past week he's been interviewing the authors in Canada Reads and has asked them to compile a play list of songs they like or having meaning to them. It's been an interesting variety. So, when Canada reads ended, he continued in his literary sojourn, talking about writing devices.

Like, how does a writer create a character? Every fictional character has at least some minute connection to a person the writer knows, has met, or even just spotted on public transit. Often it's an unconscious action on the writer's part. But sometimes, a person is just too tempting to ignore. But, if you want to create a character based on a real person, problems could arise if that person recognizes himself or herself. The solution, according to Tom, is something I'd never heard of but he claimed was well known -- the 'small penis rule'.

The author gives the character something, a characteristic, trait, whatever, that no one would ever admit to having. Hence, they will not end up suing the writer for that appearance in the book. Cute, right?

The problem arises with women and this was his question of the day...and now mine. What characteristic would you give a female character?

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

Thursday, February 9, 2012



I'm in Mexico at the moment, sitting in a lounge chair beside something called an infinity pool. The water in the pool appears to drop soundlessly to the Pacific Ocean below. I've poked around behind this baby and think I understand the artifice at work here but it doesn't stop me enjoying the illusion.
This morning I spotted a couple of humpbacks fooling around a kilometer or two from shore. I found if I ducked and squinted just so, I could almost believe small whales were breaching the surface of this pool

I realize that's the same way I read mystery short stories and novels. I may understand the tricks the author is employing but it doesn't stop me enjoying the tale. I suspend my disbelief and allow the writer to carry me along, a more-than-willing dupe. That doesn't mean I don't get yanked out of the story occasionally. And actually, it happens more often than I'd like.

Sometimes it's an "oh please!" moment when the author tries my disbelief to such an extent I can't go along with it. Perhaps a new element is introduced into the story right at the end and the solution to the puzzle depends on us having known about it all along. Sometimes it's the situation my writing group refers to as the heroine climbing the proverbial stairs to investigate a noise in the attic, carrying nothing more than a flickering candle and a bewildered air. More often lately it's a jarring author intervention. You know the one where the author steps out of the story long enough to tell the reader a thing or two about what's wrong with the world, by gum.

I'm sure all of us have our own list of things that pull the rug out from under us when we're reading a novel. What are some of yours?

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, February 8, 2012


The Foreign Crime Scene

One thing is certain. Our crime readers are much keener to read crime fiction from other countries than before. So what is the appeal?

Of course foreign writers have been part of our past reading. Some of us remember reading Edmund Crispin, Dorothy L. Sayers, George Simenon, , G.K. Chesterton, Dashiell Hammett, and, of course, those crime classics by Edgar Allan Poe and Wilkie Collins. Our younger readers, however, may have read some Agatha Christie but are not familiar with those earlier authors. And we cannot blame them. Times have changed and crime story-telling has evolved over the years to reflect more modern societies. Modern communications (television, computers) has put foreign names and places under our noses. How can we ignore them! The fact is we don't and this has lead to a fascinating development for crime book club readers.

We may read foreign authors simply because we are "interested" or purely as "escapism". We are naturally curious about different societies and environments. Readers who do not wish to actually visit other countries can enjoy armchair travel. Our readers have been pleasantly surprised to discover a more personal kind of enlightenment than that from a travel guide. We have discussed the descriptions (scenic and social) of the countryside and small communities near Melbourne, Australia (Garry Disher) and Istanbul, Turkey (Barbara Nadel).

Lately, we seem to have been ambushed by Scandinavian authors. We have been gobbling up the likes of Henning Mankell, Jo Nesbö, Stieg Larsson and Camilla Lackberg.... "for a Scandinavian author Camilla Lackberg is surprisingly readable".... and the Icelandic writer Arnaldur Indridason as well. We have found these stories to be bleak rather than dark, realistic and thus straight-forward to read (apart from actual names) and have noted the embedded social and political commentary. The pace too is slower and the action less jarring.

Then there is the issue of translation! Can we rely on the translator to accurately report the author's intentions? We noted a slight change in style in one of Indridason's latest titles and our presenter's research informed us that his original translator, who lived in Iceland and maintained close contact with the author, had sadly died and been replaced by another from outside Iceland with less author contact. We find ourselves doing research to explain some of the facts that pop up in stories originally written for the author's own national audience and are amazed by what we learn. We discovered the frustration when translations are delayed by the publishers. This often means we are gasping for the next title in a series to appear in English, 'tho some might say the wait makes the eventual reading more enjoyable. We are even guilty of harassing our librarians in the hope that their influence will filter through the buyers to the publishers.

We have even discovered that "foreign" feeling closer to home with American authors such as James Lee Burke. A story set in Louisiana for example is an unfamiliar setting as Greece to some. Similarly, while the village "cosies" of England have been a staple in our diet, it has been a welcome change to read stories set in places such as the Shetland Islands (Ann Cleves) or the Cambridgeshire Fens (Jim Kelly).

Historical stories set overseas have a special appeal to those readers who love a side of history with their murder mystery main course. Try comparing a historical with a modern mystery setting : for example Jenny White's Istanbul in the Ottoman era with Barbara Nadel's modern-day Istanbul. Or "escape" to the Hindu Kush in the time of the British Raj (Barbara Cleverly); go back to ancient Japan (I.J. Parker) or Paris during WWII (J. Robert Janes). We can go from experiencing South African policing and prejudice (James McClure) to the policing problems caused by the Mafia in Sicily (Andrea Camilleri).

The world of crime fiction is on our doorstop - so enjoy!

Anne Jeanjean was born in the UK, has an English Lit. degree and has adored crime fiction since she was ten. It all began with Agatha Christie and now she’s into forensic, police procedurals and foreign authors.
Catherine Jeanjean, her daughter, is a Librarian and worked for nearly five years in Kansas at Kansas State University Library. She is now a Collections Management Librarian for Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.
Together they are the coordinators for a crime fiction reading group based at the Alta Vista Public Library, called the SleuthHounds. This group has been going strong for over two years now.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012



Writers thrive on words; writers are limited by having to use words. What a paradox. Sounds are all around us, but the only “sounds” we get from reading a book are the pages turning. With a Kindle, not even that. (Sounds inside your head don’t count.)

We writers work around this in several ways. Obviously, we use words to describe a sound. Some writers make sure we know what’s playing on the character’s radio or TV. Jazz, classical, choral works, we “cite” them as part of a character’s persona. This works, but mainly because it requires the reader call to mind the actual musical number. The Brits and Canadians do this better, I think, than my fellow US authors. Still, it’s a workaround.

I was reminded of this twice this week. Apple recently provided a free iBook application whereby “inside” the e-book product you can drag music, photos, videos, practically anything that enhances the text. It’s quite sensational. Intended primarily for educational texts, no reason you couldn’t do a very different edition of your e-book. Apple lists your product free on a website. If you want to sell the product, Apple takes a fee, but otherwise the application is entirely free.

The Icelandic singer Bjork, guesting on The Colbert Raport (you have to watch the program to know why it’s spelled that way), explained that she wrote musical numbers for a recent album with a radically new part of the CD package: a digital piece that accompanies the book if read on, say, an iPad. Funky. Fun.

Right now, I’m trying to find some way of musically painting (with words) scenes from my book-in-progress. It’s a tough task if you want to do more than mention Verdi or Bjork. My standard comes from Michael Mann’s wonderful film The Insider, the true story of Jeffrey Wigand (one of my personal heroes). Mann recreates the controversy of Wigand’s revelations about the tobacco industry and the politics of airing the show on 60 Minutes. Toward the end, when CBS has agree to release the unedited interviews, The New York Times publishes the whole story and as a bundle of newspapers hits the New York street . . .


Three notes from a tenor sax pierce your mind, your heart, your very soul. And then . . . again! There can’t be more than eight bars of music, but that sax blows my mind; it possesses the same power and magnificence as the Verdi Requiem. Imagine if you can, combining into three thrashing notes all of Dies Irae, Sanctus, Agnus Dei, Lux aeterna, and Libera me.

All the tension and intrigues of the Wigand story are presented and resolved with that sax. As I write, I can’t get the notes out of my head.

But I can’t write them.

David Cole is overcoming five years of procrastinations and is finally attacking his eighth novel, Ransom My Soul - a somewhat bleak novel of home invasions, drug cartels and human smuggling in southern Arizona, tempered (hopefully) with a fine romance and love story. David's short story,, is featured in Indian Country Noir (Akashic Press); he's also working on several non-fiction books about law enforcement, including The Blue Ceiling, a compilation of personal stories about women in law enforcement.

Monday, February 6, 2012


Welcome to the world of social reading!

Are you familiar with the term? You are if you read the story running in the Postmedia newspapers yesterday. It was in the Books section of the Ottawa Citizen, right above a story headlined, 'Reading is in big trouble'. Both gloom and doom stories? Not really...the the social reading story wasn't anyway.

Although, I suppose that's open to debate. The point is that new E-devices are enticing readers into interactive literacy. You read the book on an e-reader, and depending on what electronics you've purchased, can instantly do such things as post favourite sections on Facebook or interact with the author at the same time as reading the book.

If you own an iPad, you can add an app called 'subtext' which allows the author to expand the creative input into such things as adding links within the text or videos or commentary. It's also being touted as a boon for book clubs.

Here's the link (without subtext)...see what you think:

What about you? Does this sound a reader? As an author?

Just let me get settled here with my glass of wine and pull up this month's pick at book club on my e-reader...I may not have worry about an ice storm hitting that night.

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

Saturday, February 4, 2012


By Peggy Blair
Penguin Canada

Pour yourself a cup of Cubita coffee or a Cubra Libre if that’s more your style, get the fireplace roaring and make yourself comfy because once you start reading The Beggar’s Opera, you won’t want to put it down.

It grabs the reader right from the opening pages, a prologue in this case and what a memorable introduction to the main character Inspector Ricardo Ramirez, head of the Major Crimes Unit of the Cuban National Revolutionary Police. That’s a mouthful and it sums up what this story is about. Cuba, crime, police.

The crime in this case is young boy who’s body is found along the shoreline in Old Havana. He’s also been raped. Just hours before, he’d been spotted begging, along with a gang of boys, in the streets, hitting on tourists. He got lucky. He got money from Mike Ellis, a detective with the Rideau Police Service, who’s on a Cuban vacation with his wife. Unfortunately for Ellis, all the evidence points to him and he ends up in jail.

Ramirez tries to beat the clock in securing an indictment which will keep Ellis behind bars until it’s time for his trial. Seventy-two hours is all the time he has. However, he’s also having to contend with Celia Jones, a formerly an RCMP negotiator, she’s now the departmental lawyer who’s been asked by Ellis’s boss to go to Havana and investigate. She’s up against what seems an entirely different legal system and doesn’t know who to trust.

These are all damaged people. Ellis is recovering from the psychological trauma of the line-of-duty death of his partner and severe facial scars he received in a knife attack. Jones is dealing with a negotiation that went wrong and ended in death. Ramirez is dying and the disease causes him to see the ghosts of the victims of his unsolved crimes. This all adds many more layers to an already complex crime.

The scenes of modern day Havana seem real and disturbing…I say ‘seem’ because I’ve never visited there. It’s a way of living quite far removed from Ottawa, where Peggy Blair lives. That she’s captured it so vividly attests to her writing skills. The dialogue is crisp and focused. The characters are ones who will stay with you, especially Ramirez. Which is good because she’s now working on a sequel.

Friday, February 3, 2012


The word is...

Dialogue came to mind as today's topic after hearing last night about a man in the Halifax area who has a blog. He rides a bus to and from work, and blogs about people, his impressions of them, and more importantly, overheard conversations. What a great idea...I'd love to read it.

We all eavesdrop from time to time, don't we? It's hard to avoid it these days with cell phones being answered in every place from doctor's waiting rooms to a VIA train car. Not only answered, but the conversation seldom drops a respectful octave or two. So, the cell phone user doesn't care who hears the conversation. Fair game. Take note and maybe it will fit into a conversation in your book.

Dialogue has to read real. So what better way then to use actual word patterns, pauses, and yes, you should also make note of the mannerisms. If you get to listen in long enough, you can also pick up on word usage -- what's the person's favourite word -- and even dialect.

The trick is not to put in anything that slows the reader down. Too much dialect and you've lost them...unless you're a terrific writer like Australian Peter Temple.

Y'all know by now that my series is set in Alabama. How not to drive the readers nuts but still remind them of where this is set? That's the question. I try not to overuse expressions such as 'y'all' but it is authentic. Emails I get from Southern writers can attest to that.

That's my way of dealing with that particular aspect of dialogue. And, I admit to the occasional eavesdropping. All with the purest of intentions, of course.
The best advice I've ever heard about dialogue is to read your book out loud. Does the dialogue sound like an actual person is speaking? Let's hope so.

There's a lot to think about with this thing called dialogue. What works best for you?

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

Thursday, February 2, 2012


Stranger than Fiction

Where do your characters come from? Do you use real people, or do you just make them up? How can you make them seem real?

These are questions authors are often asked at readings, signings or writing seminars. The creation of character is an endlessly fascinating puzzle, because character is at the heart of story. It’s the characters who draw us into the story, the characters whom we come to love, hate or root for. Characters have to come alive on the page as vivid, credible and genuine, with all the complexity and contradictions of real life.

There are many paths to this goal.. Some writers write elaborate character sketches beforehand, answering such questions as where the person went to school. Thus, when they finally do start to write, they feel they know that character well. Others do the opposite; they merely toss the character onto the page, make him talk and interact, and see how he unfolds. The first technique runs the risk of creating a static character who won’t adapt to the changing story or reveal surprises and layers as he goes along. The latter technique, although strong on flexibility and surprises, may result in a superficial character who is only vaguely conceived.

But regardless of whether we take a cerebral or an intuitive approach, we still need to conjure up characters out of our imagination. How? Partly, we draw on the people we know. Over a lifetime, we have dozens of close relationships – family, work, romance – and observed lots of people. We have worked hard to understand them, see things from their point of view and walk in their shoes. Most of us, with a few glaring exceptions, develop a fair sense of empathy. Empathy is the base from which we create real characters. Once we have sketched out in our mind the type of person he is, drawn some links to real people we know, we step into his shoes, see the scene and the situation from inside his skin, and we write from that perspective. The more different kinds of people we know and the more practiced we are at empathy, the more powerfully real our characters will feel.

But there are some psychic divides across which a writer cannot reach, some characters whose paths we cannot walk. Here we can merely analyze and make observations. I think most of us can step into the shoes of our murderer. We can draw on our own anger, rage, fear and desperation, on those times when we ourselves felt the urge to kill. But most of us can’t walk in the shoes of a psychopathic serial killer. Police, correctional personnel and mental health specialists and researchers might get the closest, but even they can’t truly relate.

Another example emerged in the past few weeks. Most of us have been following the so-called honour killing case in Kingston Ontario, in which a father, mother and their eldest son were on trial for the cold-blooded killing of their three teenage daughters as well as the father’s other wife. This crime is incomprehensible enough by itself, stretching our capacity for human understanding and empathy well beyond the breaking point. But it was the subsequent actions and demeanour of the three accused that is truly mind-boggling. Sadly, many murders involve the killing of loved ones, usually in fits of rage, jealousy, or unbearable pain. The torment of the killer is usually palpable. They are often suicidal and clearly display anguish over the act and the loss.

Not so this extraordinary trio. They expressed outrage at being charged, lied repeatedly and inconsistently throughout the trial, manipulated the system and co-opted other people, including their surviving children, to serve their own interests. Throughout the trial, I kept trying to figure out their perspective and imagine how they saw the world. What, deep inside in the privacy of their own hearts, were their true thoughts and feelings. But I could make no connection.

There are times when a writer is stumped. When characters come along in real life that we could not even begin to make up. Our imagination is limited by our ability to comprehend our fellow humans and to walk in their shoes. And in the case of this trio, I think even if I tried to write a character like that, no one would believe him. That character isn’t real, the readers would say. People aren’t like that.

But sometimes they are.

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 last May.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012


Let the revisions begin!

The end of January coincided with the end of my third book! It sounds dramatic, I know. But I celebrated just a little bit yesterday as I finished the first draft of that book. The one that seemed like I'd never get to the end.

I don't know what it was about this one. Maybe it's more like, what was it about this past fall and early winter? Life seemed to be intruding.... It seemed like there were more appointments (& there were); that more critical events were happening around me and to others who are important to me; and, yes, that I gave in to the call of the frivolous more often than usual.

Book three was there on paper and had been since the start when the editor had asked to see my first three chapters plus proposals for books two and three. I also sent in a synopsis before starting this one. And because of this, I'm now a true believer in that method. It was the synopsis that bailed me out. When I felt overwhelmed and very guilty for not getting on with it, I would read the synopsis and there it was -- my story with a road map that made it easier to write.

Then I got serious with deadlines. I set my own. I had to finish it by Jan. 31st. I work best to short deadlines. And it worked again this time.

So, the relief and the joy are short-lived. Today it's back to reality and the re-writing begins. But this is the fun part (that is, if you're not pulling out your hair because of some obvious problems with timelines, etc.) The writing process continues. Let the revisions begin!

How does the writing process evolve for you -- short bursts of work; sticking to a daily schedule; long-term planning or by the seat of your pants? Enquiring minds want to know!

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