Friday, March 30, 2012


Trying to make cents of it!

So at last we're saying goodbye to the one cent piece. None to soon, I say. It's always been a drag having those next-to-worthless coins well, 'drag' down a pocket or wallet.

The rumour of its demise has hovered for years. Many customers, when I was in the bookstore business, used to complain about the annoyance it caused. Or worse, from my side of it, wait while buyers counted out endless amounts of pennies when being paid for purchases. I'd often hear how Prince Edward Island residents managed quite well without the penny, thank you very much.

So, the day is fast approaching for the rest of the country. Time to bank those jars of saved pennies. Time to adjust to prices being rounded up. Time to be glad there will be fewer coins around.

I have two questions though. What will happen when shopping in the U.S.? Will it be like travel overseas? A last minute round of shopping frenzy to get rid of those last Euros and now, pennies? Will those coin dishes at the foreign exchange booths be overflowing with American cents when people travel back home to Canada?

And more importantly, what will become of some valued expressions like 'penny-ante', 'pennies from heaven', 'a penny for your thoughts?'? Will future generations simply not get it? Will it be up to writers to keep the old language alive in our books?

What phrases can you add to that list?

That's my two cents worth!

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

Wednesday, March 28, 2012


Tastes in reading

Last night was book club night again. As usual, the friendship -- fueled by various food groups, including chocolate, and wine -- was the highlight of the evening. However, we did actually discuss books, too. Although neither one (we had missed last month's meeting due to bad weather & travel) was a mystery.

But that doesn't matter. The fact is that readers are the life-blood of writers and how re-assuring to a writer to hear readers disagreeing about books! Each reader comes from a different place, has different life experiences and interests. Therefore, of course...there won't always, if ever, be total agreement.

What makes this so great, in my opinion, is the acceptance that not everyone is going to like your book, your work of art, your manuscript which is saturated in blood and sweat. And that's okay. Because someone will.

But what's most important to writers is that you like your own work. I used to admit that I cringe when I'm out reading from my works. Those words on paper don't glisten as brilliantly as they did at first. But then, writers are their own most strident critics. Or it could be boredom. How many times do you want to re-read a book, anyway? No matter who pens it? Whatever. Deep down, I am pleased with what I've produced and I've thoroughly enjoyed the entire process. I enjoy spending time with my characters in their fictional town and yes, plotting murders.

And I truly hope that many readers will enjoy the read. But I don't expect that all will. Cosies just aren't everyone's cup of tea. Some don't like southern settings. Others may not like book clubs -- horrors! Or the writing style. Or the plot or dialogue...or any number of things.

So, Erika -- get over it and take heart in the fact that somewhere, a book club may one evening discuss your book. And I think that's one of the best things a book can promote -- discussion. And moments of pleasure.

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

Tuesday, March 27, 2012


Sweating the small stuff

I remember very well speaking with a woman who wanted to be a writer in the worst way. She buttonholed me at a bookstore signing in a large chain store in western Ontario. Because the store wasn’t very busy that Sunday, I was standing there, flyers and bookmarks in hand, waiting to waylay anyone who even glanced in my direction.

I saw her from the corner of my eye, speaking with the assistant manager who pointed in my direction. I thought to myself, This might actually be someone who’s heard of me and came to meet me and buy a book. With so much spare time on my hands, it was certainly a gratifying turn of events.

“You’re an author,” she said after she marched over and stood in front of me. “So am I.”

My heart sank. Anyone who’s ever done a signing knows enough to cringe when this sort of thing happens. These people usually want to talk about themselves and figure you have all day to speak to them – usually right about the time a busload of mystery fans arrive. It’s very difficult to speak with these people since they all seem to want to make some point. It’s also very difficult to extract yourself from a conversation with them. (They also seldom buy books.)

Still, there’s never any reason to be rude to people. “So how many books have you published?” I asked.


This was looking worse and worse. If they haven’t published, then one of these “authors” probably wants you to recommend them to your publisher/agent/editor or tell them how they can get started.

“And do you write crime fiction?”

“Of course!” she said with a look that made me completely aware she thought I was an idiot for asking.

Another shopper was looking at my neglected display of books. “You’ll have to excuse me for a moment,” I told her, and I turned away to speak with the woman who’d picked up one of my books. I also handed the author one of my flyers, hoping that it would impart the information this woman desired and that would be that.

About five minutes later, the other woman had bought a book (!) and I’d also sold one other to a man who’d also come over. The author was still there, so I turned to her.

She handed back the flyer. “This is very well written. Who did it for you?”

“I did,” and explained that someone at my level of importance has to produce most of my own promotional material.

“But who corrected it for you?”

“No one. Well, that’s not true. My wife looked it over to see if I’d missed anything.”

“I never correct my own writing. That’s what editors are for.”

I’m certain my eyebrows went up. “So you have submitted manuscripts?”

“I have, but they tell me I’m not yet polished enough for them to consider my novel.”

“Well, surely you send them a polished version of it.”

“It’s as polished as I can make it. Certainly there are no misspelled words or poor punctuation. But I also believe that it’s possible to polish something so much that the prose becomes dead.”

I nodded. It is possible to do this, I supposed.

It turned out that this woman’s novel was set in England and it concerned the murder of a man who turns out to be a Soviet spy who’d been living undetected in the UK for years.

Now here’s the kicker: this woman had never been to the town in England where she had set her story. She’d never been to England. From talking to her, it was pretty obvious she knew nothing about spying and didn’t care to learn. Her protagonist was a real estate agent, while the author had been a school teacher. She didn’t know and real estate agents, either.

“Do you call your character a real estate agent or an estate agent?” I asked.

“Is there a difference?”

I explained. “In the UK they’re called estate agents.”

“I wasn’t aware of that.”

I felt like shaking her. She should be aware of that if she wants to write a book that’s convincing. I tried to explain that, especially in crime fiction, the author needs to gain the trust of the reader. If you set your novel in the UK, it has to have all the correct terms and language. Lose that trust (or never gain it) and you’ve lost you’re reader. That trust is found in the little details.

“But the editor will correct those things, won’t they?” she asked.

I spent a further ten minutes with her, explaining that any writer has to know as much as they can about their subject matter. Publishers, editors, agents and eventually readers want things to be accurate and based on fact, and they won’t be forgiving. If you’ve got those kinds of errors in you manuscript, it won’t be considered seriously.

“So I have to know every little detail?”

I nodded.

“Being an author is much more difficult than I thought it would be.”

I could only nod again.

Rick Blechta is a Toronto author and musician. Oddly enough, his thrillers have musicians as their main characters. Next September will see the publication of his eighth novel, The Fallen One. In June, he will be the Master of Ceremonies for Bloody Words in Toronto. You can catch him playing trumpet in The Advocats big band on the first Monday of every month at People’s Chicken

Monday, March 26, 2012


Building blocks!

My Dad was a builder of houses. I can remember the many times throughout my childhood we'd visit his creations in various stages of being built. I also remember house plans being spread out on his desk in his home office, with pads of paper beside them, and his jottings written down. Sometimes he'd be on the payroll of an architectural firm but for most of his building career, he was his own boss. These were his creations as he took great pride in the finishing touches and building houses of quality.

I often bemoaned the fact that I learned nothing from him. I can't even hammer a nail in straight and usually end up hitting my thumb. Definitely not a chip off the old block.

However, I've come to realize, we're more the same than I'd originally thought. First of all, I take great pride in my writing, as he did in those many, many houses he built. And also, as he was a constructor of houses, I am a constructor of stories.

I, too work from a plan -- the synopsis I create at the outset of each project. I take care in crafting a plot that will be sound, much as a house needs to be strong to withstand the elements. I populate my stories with characters who are real to me as his houses eventually housed families.

Okay...maybe I'm stretching this entire analogy a bit too much. But it's clear to me now. Each time I'm starting a new book, each time I'm editing and often re-jigging a plot line, each time I send a finished manuscript off to my editor, I've created or constructed a book. Just as he did a house. I am my father's daughter. Who needs a hammer and nail!

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

Friday, March 23, 2012



I ask you, what is happening to our words these days? When did all these new -- I almost feel like saying, new-fangled, but won't -- words appear on the scene? How is one expected to keep them straight?

Take that good old catch-all, 'bumpf'. We all know what that means. It's the stuff you get in your 'loot' bags at conferences, much of which is spread out on the tables in the hallway next to the registration desks or in the hospitality suite. Bookmarks, postcards, pens, lollipops, packages of smarties...all shouting out the merits of someone's new title. Make that many writers' new titles.

There's no more bumpf. Now it's called 'swag'. When did that happen? And where did it come from?

And while I'm on the topic of words, I'll slide right into spelling. That's because I've been caught a couple of times recently spelling a character's name (not one of my own) incorrectly. Usually someplace public like Facebook or Twitter. 'Twit' -- most appropriate.

I don't want to single out any authors because they know who I am. And really, the spelling's are often quite catchy. But you expect me to remember?

I'll illustrate using some of my own character's names to avoid stepping on toes.
Hmmm. Having trouble here coming up with alternate spellings. OK, here's one. Sally-Jo Baker could easily be Bayker. Or Stephanie Lowe could be Stefanee. Mark Dreyfus -- Dreighfus. Maybe a bit far-fetched, I agree. But you get the picture. I challenge any of you to remember those spellings next week.

That's it...I'm done. No more ranting. It's been said. Words are words are fun to play with but it would be nice to get an updated rule book once in a while. Or maybe I should treat it as a mind game, something to keep the old brain razor-sharp. That might just werk.

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

Thursday, March 22, 2012


The First Sentence

I've been reading Stanley Fish's, How to Write a Sentence: And How to Read One. This is a slim volume (only 164 pages) but it's dense and complex and demanding. It's a rewarding read though and I find myself dipping into it again and again.

It's a book to be lingered over and pondered rather than gulped whole in some sort of speed-reading frenzy. Fish is a connoisseur of sentences and he quotes his favourites liberally. He acknowledges Strunk and White but takes The Elements of Style to another level. He asks the reader to enjoy a sentence that is not just grammatically correct and faultlessly logical but a feast for the soul. In one instance he quotes a particularly fine sentence and then invites the reader to try his hand at composing a similar one. It's an intriguing exercise.

Fish has devoted an entire chapter to first sentences and he quotes some splendid ones. I was interested to note that some of the first sentences we were forced to memorize as children are not his first choice. The first line from A Tale of Two Cities - "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times etc." - is summarily dismissed.

In Fish's opinion first sentences should have what he refers to as "an angle of lean". They incline towards the rest of the novel, giving a hint of where the book is going. He starts with the first sentence of Agatha Christie's Nemesis . "In the afternoons it was the custom of Miss Jane Marple to unfold her second newspaper." Fish tells us the sentence seems simple but in fact it communicates a surprising amount of information. "Miss Marple has a routine," he says, "she follows it and it occurs daily." It is not a custom easily trifled with. The reader knows immediately that there will be something written in this second newspaper that will be pivotal to the novel that follows.

Here are a few first lines that I think meet Stanley Fish's criteria:

"They're all dead now," from Anne Marie MacDonald's Fall on you Knees.

Once read, who could ever forget Ruth Rendell's first line in Judgment in Stone? "Eunice Parchman killed the Coverdale family because she could not read or write."

Declan Hughes gets off a zinger in The Wrong Kind of Blood: "The night of my mother's funeral, Linda Dawson cried on my shoulder, put her tongue in my mouth and asked me to find her husband."

Peter Temple, my favourite Australian crime novelist, writes many exquisite sentences. Here's the first line from Bad Debts: "I found Edward Dollery, age forty-seven, defrocked accountant, big spender and dishonest person, living in a house rented in the name of Carol Pick."

And finally, I'm a big fan of Mary Jane Maffini's Camilla MacPhee series. Here's the first line from Speak Ill of the Dead: "That particular morning all I could think about was getting rid of Alvin." Whenever I read that line I feel an instant empathy for Camilla but it turns out Maffini's fans are divided on the issue. Some of us would cheerfully drown the irritating twerp but others can't get enough of him and have even formed the Alvin Ferguson Fan Club.

Have you a first sentence that you particularly like and that you'd share with us here?

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 will appear 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, March 21, 2012


That "T" word again...

Ah, the marvels of technology. Two things bring this to mind today. There was talk about Tweeting being done from the Arthur Ellis Awards at the end of May, giving up to date Tweets on the celebrations, and in particular the winner's names. I know CBC Books will have someone at the Awards banquet on May 31st doing this. As well, a Crime Writers of Canada member will also send out regular Tweets.

How times have changed. Not too long ago, we had to scour the Arts section of the local paper the morning after to find out the Arthur Ellis news, if not in attendance. And sometimes, it was a very small article. Now, the event is seen as newsworthy and the print coverage is greater. Websites carry the news. Email sends the alerts. And Tweets are only seconds removed from the action. Gotta love it!

Last night at our regular gathering of gals, most from the publishing business, someone remarked about how technology has finally caught up to current times in the mysteries she's reading. I hadn't given it much thought before that but when you look at books published as recently as just three or four years ago, Tweeting wasn't mentioned. Of course, those books were written a good year or two before the pub date. And Tweeting burst on the scene in 2006. So that makes sense.

That means, not only does the writer have to stay on top of emerging trends in publishing -- what the editors are looking for, reading demographics, technology such as e-books and as Michael McPherson mentioned yesterday, KDP Select-- writers also should be aware of tomorrow's 'toys'. Well, to me they are toys as I have a the most basic ever cell phone, a laptop, a desktop computer, and most recently, a Kobo. Not the most technology-savvy person around. I admit it.

It makes the writing life interesting though. How gadget-savvy are your sleuths?

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

Tuesday, March 20, 2012


To KDP Select or not to KDP Select

Why would any publisher or author restrict their book sales to one outlet, even if that outlet is Amazon? That’s the option that KDP Select is offering authors, a chance to have their novels available nowhere but at Amazon for three months. In return for this exclusive deal, the author gets their novel placed in the Kindle Lending Library and is offered the chance to have five free promotion days. Is it worth it?

You bet. My young adult sci-fi vampire novel, Apocalypse Revolution, seemed destined for obscurity. It launched on December 23rd, racked up a few sales and a couple of nice reviews and then slumped straight for the bottom of the Amazon sales rank. Blogging, Tweeting and Facebooking didn’t help one bit. My first concern was that the market was just too saturated, but I began tracking similar apocalyptic novels and found them selling briskly. Anything with a zombie is hot stuff today courtesy of the Walking Dead TV series.

I’d been late getting around to putting AR up on Smashwords, so when Amazon announced KDP Select I figured I’d give it a try for three months, but I didn’t get around to booking a free promotional day until February 16th. Up until that point AR had zero sales for February--a big fat zero. The free day starts at midnight in California, so when I fired up my computer the next morning I didn’t expect to see many downloads. Instead, I nearly spit my coffee at the screen. There were already over a hundred downloads, and every time I refreshed the screen there were more. By the end of the day I’d given away 531 copies. But the good news started the next day, when the paid sales began--nothing earth shattering, but two or three a day is great compared to zero. Better yet, the fourth book in the series, Vampire Road, began selling as well.

The second free promotion day (March 02) seemed like a bust until the evening. Suddenly downloads began flying out the electronic door, over 1300 in four hours. The pay off was even better, with my paid sales over the next few days at fifteen to twenty copies a day.

But hang onto your hats mystery writers. Catherine Astolfo’s publisher, Imajin, ventured a free day for The Bridgeman that resulted in nearly 10,000 downloads. The Bridgeman went on to sell at a fantastic pace after the free day, ranking well up in the top thousand sellers on Kindle and flirting with the top 500 even throughout the next couple of weeks though it was priced at $3.99, which for a KDP novel is expensive.

There are downsides to promo days and KDP Select. Some people visit sites that specifically list free Kindle deals just to download pretty much anything--think compulsive collecting. Thus, your novel can end up associated with some unrelated books. Apocalypse Revolution is now auto-suggested to fans of Amazing Cheesecakes, which I’m sure has some wonderful recipes, but do these cooks really want to read about vampires and machine guns?

The other downside of course is that your novel isn’t available anywhere else. Barnes and Noble is a pretty big market to ignore, let alone all the other ebookstores like the iBookstore. Many of my short stories and a few copies of Summer of Bridges--my anthology of all those coming-of-age stories that were published as a series in Storyteller magazine--have sold through Apple. It’s not a market I want to ignore forever.

The other downside is that you’re totally relying on these third party sites to promote you, and sometimes they miss your novel’s free day. My third promo was the first Sunday of March break. Only twenty copies downloaded, and the paid sales for the rest of the week were similarly disappointing. The free sites just didn’t pick up my novel that time. It’s luck of timing.

Now if you’re an established author with a big publisher, you could still use KDP Select for a short story, keeping in mind that good sales there could help push the sales of your novel. Just check your contract first, because some publishers require non-competition for your work and might even consider a short story competition for a novel. An author with Penguin in the US found that out the hard way.

Summary: two thumbs up for KDP Select, but I don’t want to live with it forever.

Michael Andre McPherson has worked in film and television, construction and web production. He's visited pretty much every country with a "stan" in the suffix of its name, including Afghanistan, although long before the Canadian Army's visit, and long before it was a fashionable destination. A dozen of Mike's short stories have been published with several receiving awards. His latest adventure has been e-publishing his previously published short stories into an anthology: Summer of Bridges. He has also published two young adult novels: Apocalypse Revolution and Vampire Road. Mike is the regional vice-president in Toronto for the Crime Writers of Canada. Find out more at or

Monday, March 19, 2012


60 and other significant numbers!

I read in the Ottawa Citizen yesterday that Kathryn Stockett's novel was rejected 60 times! You know her book -- it's called The Help and besides being a bestseller, it's also an award-winning movie!

Just goes to show you what persistence can produce!

But she's not the only one. I forget what the rejection numbers are for Sue Grafton and John Grisham when they were starting their novel writing careers, but they, too are mind-boggling. And then there was Lindsey Davis. It's reported she was told that a historical mystery would never make it. Guess what -- she's published 23 of them and has a loyal and large fan base.

I think these numbers are truly heartening and so much more persuasive than being told, 'don't give up'; 'have an envelope and query letter ready to go as soon as the previous rejection comes in'; and other well-intentioned advice. It's all true!

The only guarantee with writing is that you'll be doing something you either feel you have to do or that you enjoy doing, or both. Not everyone is a J.K. Rowling but then again, I could never write what she wrote.

Even though the publishing world is shrinking, there are still publishers out there who need books; hopefully they also need new blood. So even if you're "sweating blood" as someone so aptly put it on Facebook last week, just keep on doing it. And be sure to get a transfusion when needed -- chocolates are great for that!

I'm trying to remember some other names. Can you add some authors to this list of rejected but successful?

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

Friday, March 16, 2012


Stepping out with Lady Luck!

I had my second gig on Wed. night, or rather Erika Chase did. I/She was guest speaker at the monthly meeting of Capital Crime Writers, the vibrant mystery writers association here in Ottawa. (My first time out was speaking to the Ottawa Regional Booksellers Assoc. -- very odd after being one of them for so long).

Anyway, it dawned on me that what may have been the most useful tip for many CCW members is that as an unpublished writer, you should never give up. In a lot of instances, it's luck that steps in and leads the way to a publishing contract. So hang in there and be open to it.

Some examples come to mind: Mary Jane Maffini selling what was to become an award-winning short story, at a bar in Omaha, at a Bouchercon conference; Peggy Blair talking to Ian Rankin, at the end of a conference, and being given the name of his agent; and I remembered in the early 90's, while attending a Malice Domestic conference, being stuck in a glass elevator with Nancy Pickard for close to half-an-hour. She just happened to be one of my favourite authors at that point. We got to talking and before things got moving again, she'd offered me the name of her agent. Had I been further along in my writing at that point, I would have taken her up on it. I should have anyway.

That's not such a difficult task -- attending conferences and schmoozing. We all like to do that. You never can tell when lady luck will get in on the conversation and there's your entry into the publishing world.

Bloody Words is coming up June 1-3 in Toronto; Malice Domestic happens before that on April 27-29 in Bethesda, MD; and, I received the registration package for Left Coast Crime, March 21-24, 2013 in Colorado Springs, CO. I'll be attending them all. I expect they'll all be informative, eventful and a lot of fun. Plus, Lady Luck may be registered, also!

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

Thursday, March 15, 2012


The Pursuit of Dreams

The first novel I ever wrote, I showed to my friend, who happened to be a psychiatrist. She muttered suitable words of praise, but I had other priorities on my mind and let it languish in a drawer.

Thanks God. I was twenty-two years old. The book was awful.

The second novel I wrote, two years later, I was so pleased with that I sent it off to a publisher without seeking feedback or suggestions from a single person other than my husband. And my husband, like most spouses, knew what was good for him.

Fortunately the publisher rejected it. And the next one, and the next one. I had quite the stack of manuscripts moldering in the bottom of my basement drawer before I finally sold my first book. By then I had learned a thing or two. One of the most valuable lessons I learned is that a writer can’t write a novel by themselves. We get too close to the story, we love every one of our precious words and every delicious scene. We need an honest, discerning, objective critic who comes to the story fresh and without preconceptions or bias, who can question the words we use and the images we paint, criticize the credibility of the characters, point out the plot holes, tell us when the story is boring, confusing, clich├ęd or just plain dumb.

I’m grateful to all those rejections; each one of them sent me back to the drawing board, more determined than ever to find out what I was doing wrong. In the end, they forced me to seek out a critiquing group, and it was from and with those fellow critics that I really learned to write. Learned to polish and re-polish, to research, to question and double-check. If I had been unlucky enough to have had my first books published, I would still be trying to live them down today. Those books didn’t deserve to see the light of day. It takes time, determination and continual self-improvement to become a decent writer, a process that really never ends.

Today I sent my ninth Inspector Green novel off to my critiquing group, as well as to a couple of other technical specialists who will read it for accuracy. I know it’s not perfect, but I know they will all find interesting points to critique, and together it will make the story better. I consider each comment carefully, decide what to do with it, and make the changes to the manuscript that I feel are right. It is still my story, but by bouncing it off other people, I see how that story comes across on the page, not just in my mind’s eye.

Once it’s gone through my final writing, it goes through my editor, possibly two editors, at the publisher. One of the casualties of today’s publishing industry is the lack of good, solid opportunities for new writers. The big houses are shrinking their lists and going with big-name authors or catchy storylines. Vampires, apparently. Smaller houses, which might take risks on a new author or a fresh story concept, are struggling to stay afloat. Meanwhile, authors are being encouraged to bypass this bottleneck entirely by entering the self-publishing and ebook publishing worlds. The lines are blurring, indeed disappearing, between publisher, printer, distributor and bookseller. Amazon is all of those. In the short term, they trade in hopes and dreams and pride, but ultimately they may impede our growth as writers..

I’m not saying there is never a time for self-publishing nor that all such books are lacking. Excellent books by amazing writers are published this way every year. It is the ones that are out before their time, before they are given the chance to become the best they can be, that are losing out.

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, March 14, 2012


Never mess with a classic!

A story in the Citizen earlier this week focused on the musical West Side Story and how its themes still resonate today. To illustrate, apparently a revival which played in Los Angeles last year had many in the audience in an uproar and left the director wondering what had gone wrong. He’d had no idea the updated libretto, with many of the songs now sung in Spanish, would cause so much distress to those attending.

But it didn’t and the lesson learned is never mess with a classic. Those attending wanted the same old, good old, wonderful old Broadway musical that had entertained audiences for decades.

I’d be of one mind with that audience. We can take comfort in what we’ve come to rely on be it music or books. Think about an update of Poe’s Murders on the Rue Morgue, And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie, Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier , or Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon. Not going to happen.

That doesn’t mean that Sherlock Holmes won’t be spun out in many more pastiches. Or that there won’t be a succession of actors in the role of Miss Marple, each giving a slightly or largely different interpretation which then impacts the story.

And there is no copyright on themes or plots, so what’s new might not be totally so.

However, works by Poe are not going to be rewritten, nor are works by Christie, du Maurier or Hammett. And it’s a good thing. These authors have inspired successive new generations of mystery writers simply by remaining what they are. The classics.

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

Tuesday, March 13, 2012


When your main character goes to Cuba sometimes you find yourself along for the ride. Looking at the surroundings a little more closely, perhaps.

The first few days my thoughts were about the wedding in the novel, the restaurants, the surroundings.

Then we went to Havana. It was an assault on the senses. There is the architecture, the seas, the tropical plants, the beautifully restored buildings. Then there are the broken and dilapidated houses. The blast of construction vehicles with no mufflers in narrow cobbled streets. A woman with a sleeping toddler begging for money.In the next street music, street performers, bright colours and dancing. The sweating crowds bump up against you, the cobble stones are rough under your feet. The touch of a cool mojito glass in a high ceiling bar where pictures of Hemingway adorn the walls. The scent of peppermint in your nose as you sip the drink. Back outside, another street, more construction, an overturned toilet, the smell of shit. It goes on like this with images and experiences constantly juxtaposed.

Returning to the resort exhausted after the twelve hour trip. The wind in the palm trees. The grit of the city in your clothes and in your hair, on your hands.

But you return after being stimulated in the most pleasantly unpleasant, beautifully ugly, aromatic stench, uplifting depressing assault on your sensibilities.

I don't know about you but I'm ready to write.

Garry Ryan taught for a little over thirty years in Calgary Public Schools.
His first published novel was Queen’s Park (2004). The second, The Lucky Elephant Restaurant (2006), won a 2007 Lambda Literary Award. A Hummingbird Dance (2008) and Smoked (2010) followed. Malabarista was released in September of 2011. In 2009, Ryan was awarded Calgary’s Freedom of Expression Award.

Monday, March 12, 2012


In praise of cosies!

Today's blog is a little late in appearing. My apologies. I got carried away reading. And talking on the phone. But the main reason is a book called Pushing Up Bluebonnets by Leann Sweeney.

She's part of the panel I'm on at Malice Domestic called 'The Sound and the Fury: Southern Mysteries'. I'm not too sure what the 'fury' part will entail, though. Anyway, I want to be up-to-speed about my colleagues so I'm reading books by each of them.

When I first decided I'd write mysteries I read most of the cosy writers of that time (late 1980's): Carolyn Hart, Nancy Pickard, Susan Dunlap, Joan Hess to name a few. These were writers I'd meet every year at Malice Domestic and I got hooked on their books.

By the time we'd bought Prime Crime Books, I'd expanded my reading tastes to include edgier mysteries, police procedurals in particular, and some thrillers. And I also gravitated to Canadian authors like Eric Wright, L.R. Wright, Peter Robinson and Gail Bowen. The cosies were getting outnumbered every day.

So along comes this contract to write a cosy series. I'm back to devouring these books, in particular the Berkley Prime Crime line to keep on top of what my publisher is putting out. And of course, most of these authors are Americans and the series are set in the U.S. We have two noted exceptions though, Mary Jane Maffini and more recently, Janet Bolin. I've learned a lot from all these authors.

I hadn't read any of the Sweeney series sub-titled, 'A Yellow Rose Mystery', although I'd sold them at the store. The cover was a bit 'cute', the Texas setting was intriguing but still not enough to make me give it a read. And with the number of new books and authors arriving weekly at the store, I had to pick and choose.

So what a surprise to pick this book up, start reading and not want to put it down. It's about a female adoption PI who's smart, caring and a seeker of truth. The other characters are well-drawn. The plot is complex. The dialogue is just that -- how you would expect these people to talk.

The cover screams, "chick-mystery" but sometimes you can't judge a book by it's cover. It's a cosy in that there's no excessive or overt violence or sex. It's well-written. And that's what I look for in a book. I'm caught up in the cosy world once again but don't give them short-shrift.

Good writing is good writing is good writing!

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

Saturday, March 10, 2012


By David Russell
Dundurn Press

I’ll bet there aren’t many who’d like to go back in time to high school days. I have to admit, I loved my senior year so no problems there. But a short visit of 423 pages? Not necessarily as appealing.

But if you love a smart-mouthed, self-deprecating lawyer turned high school teacher, then this is the book for you. Last Dance is the second in the Winston Patrick series. The first, Deadly Lessons was short-listed for an Arthur Ellis Best First Novel from Crime Writers of Canada in 2007.

Russell has brought Winston back to Sir John A. MacDonald Secondary School in Vancouver. And of course, Winston’s best pal, Detective Andrea Pearson from the Vancouver Police is here again to try to keep him out of trouble. As is his ex-wife, Sandi, who’s about to give birth and convinces Winston that, since she won’t reveal the name of the father, he – Winston – needs to stand by her through the pre-natal classes and the birth itself.

Throw in the fact that it’s countdown to graduation day for Winston’s class of seniors, and that’s a lot on his plate. He’s quick to add more to the mix when he directs his law class in preparing a lawsuit against that very school and the school board, for not allowing one of the male students, Tim, to invite his boyfriend as his prom date.

It should be fairly straight forward, but the hate this act unleashes ends up with Tim being beaten and tied to a goal post on the athletic field, the school being covered in homophobic graffiti, and a death. Along the way, Winston’s beloved SAAB convertible is vandalized and his condo building is torched. Oh, yes…and Andrea is shot.

The writing is crisp, snappy dialogue, the pacing is fast and the setting is wonderfully Vancouver! (I’m a BC gal at heart!) We travel through the Kitsilano area by daylight and overnight run along the streets of the city as Winston struggles with insomnia, and search the wilds of Queen Elizabeth Park looking for clues at best, bodies at worst.

I thought I’d spotted the killer part way through. And I was right but the motive was a surprise. There were a couple of moments of disbelief, but none of this prevented my enjoying the ride. And waiting to find out what awaits Winston Patrick next time around.

Friday, March 9, 2012



TGIF! You'd better believe it. And what better way to celebrate the impending weekend than a party! I know this is frivolous, but lighten up and join in the fun.

You may have guessed it...I don't really have another topic to pull out of my "great idea" bag. And also, a month today I'll by partying at my son's wedding!!! Which means,I'll be taking a blog-oliday...but more on that later.

Today, let's just put deadlines aside (far too easy to do sometimes), forget the weather (although it is bordering on spring) and all get together in blogdom to celebrate mysteries.

My question to you, and I hope you'll all chime in this time, is who will you bring to this party? The only caveat is that it must be a mystery writer...whether that person is still writing, breathing or anything in between matters not. And, okay...another request. We need one item of food or liquid libation.

I'm bringing William Deverell! Why? Because I love his series and he bought me a scotch at a conference once upon a time. So of course, I'm bringing a bottle of scotch.

Your turn. Who'll be at your side?

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

Thursday, March 8, 2012


The Search

Just after Christmas I signed on to an online ancestry search engine. I thought I’d take a casual look and see where my relatives originated.

Casual look? I should have known better. Given my somewhat obsessive personality I could have anticipated the result but I didn’t.

Now, two and a half months later I’ve tracked down a motley crew of more than 1500 souls lurking in the blackness of history and all from following the antecedents of two grandparents. I have carpal tunnel from incessantly clicking the mouse and a sore back from hunching over the computer. And, given that two-thirds of the gang seem to have been part of The Great Migration, the 40,000 Pilgrims who settled New England between 1600 and 1640, I’ve joined the New England Historical and Genealogical Society.

I’ve read several books about the Puritan settlements available for free from Amazon as they are now in the public domain having been written before 1900. I noted how ‘political correctness’ has now triumphed and we no longer refer to our ‘dusky friends’, or ‘tawny-skinned warriors’ although the writers presented what seems to be a fair pictures of the relations between the tribes and the early settlers.

What has all of this proved? That an historian, which I was in an earlier incarnation, never loses the desire to follow a lead, to see where a trail will go. After all, this is also the basis of mystery writing. We have a murder and we have to ask all the relevant questions and follow leads to find the killer. In the process we find out the dark secrets of an individual’s life and sort relevant from irrelevant information. That’s what makes mystery writing fun.

And how will my quest end? Will I lose interest and return to a partially completed twenty-first century mystery not involving my family? I’m hoping I can do both but until I find out how to access the files from Northern Ireland (a non-Pilgrim group), until I see where my husband’s family came from I suspect I’ll still spend too many hours fixated on the lines extending back into time.

What surprising things have I learned from this exercise? That any religious instruction suggesting that we meet those who went before us in heaven has to be a myth? Can you imagine facing that horde with their thousands of brothers and sisters? Impossible to even contemplate. As my mother said before she died, “I expect this is all there is, but I’m prepared to be pleasantly surprised.” I don’t think it would be a pleasant surprise but maybe someday I’ll find out I was wrong.

What do you think?

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. The latest in the series, Cut to the Bone, will be published by Dundurn in November. In 2000 she won the $10,000 Toronto Star’s short story contest. Joan lives in Toronto with three flat-coated retrievers.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012


Wading through the e-TBR!

I have to admit, my Kobo sits on the shelf most days. And sits. And I pick up yet another paper book to read whenever I get the time to do so.

I've bought a few books for the Kobo, quite a variety actually. The Paris Wife by Paula McLain was the first; and then Not the End of the World by Kate Atkinson, The Villa Triste by Lucretia Grindle, Half-Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan to name a few. I doubt I'll get to them at any time other than when I'm traveling.

But that hasn't stopped me from also ordering any number of mysteries that are offered free from and listed daily on such digests as Omnimystery. Some are by authors I know; others attract me because of the plots. At some point, I hope to read them, also.

There are just so many e-books available these days and I don't enjoy wading through the on-line sellers' website trying to find what's new and more importantly, something I want to read. I'd much rather go to my favourite independent bookstore and walk along the shelves, pulling out the occasional book to have a look through. It's a ritual for me. Like enjoying my morning espresso.

Of course, I'll order my book, A Killer Read, as an e-book, just to have it. Just as I bought Little Treasures by The Ladies' Killing Circle, even though I've read the short stories many times over. And they'll travel with me and my Kobo.

But at home...give me a paper book any day!

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

Tuesday, March 6, 2012


The perfect clue!

Have you ever planted the perfect clue?

I doubt that I have or if so, I can't remember it. In fact, I don't often remember clues after a book I've read goes back on the shelves. Maybe that's a good thing. They shouldn't stand out. In fact, we're told to weave them into the thread of the story so that the reader can't detect them. At the end, when he or she goes back through the story looking for he or she missed, that will be an 'aha' moment. The clue was there, buried in plain sight.

I do have a perfect clue story but it's not one of mine. It was written by Susan Dunlap in 1990 and featured Kiernan O'Shaughnessy, a private eye in La Jolla, CA. This was the third series for Dunlap, all of which had strong female protagonists. I enjoyed reading all of her books but this series stood out. Maybe it was because Kiernan was a determined, truth-seeking character (well, they all were), so maybe it was because she had an ex-jock as her houseman and cook. He would sometimes help her with her cases at times but he was also her lover. Wow!

Anyway, I digress. I think it was the first book in the series, Pious Deception and I don't remember all the details of the plot but that clue stands out after all these years. It had to do with a blue window in the ceiling of a church (I think it was sort of a new age structure in the desert). From the outside that window wasn't blue. From the inside it was. The fact that someone had described it as blue led Kiernan to capturing the killer.

Sorry I'm vague on details. My point is, when it's done well it can be memorable and isn't that what we all want our books to be?

Have you read or written the perfect clue? If so, please tell us about it.

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

Monday, March 5, 2012


One liners!

Here's a little exercise, in keeping with my quest a few weeks ago. I was searching for a 15-word description of my new book, one which I could use at Malice Domestic at the end of April.

I think it's a valid task to try every now and then, particularly if you lose focus while writing. It helps to hone in on the most vital ingredients of that work. I'm going to challenge myself more regularly to find the one liners in my writing -- describing a character, a setting, the plot for starters.

That came to mind yesterday while reading the TV schedule for the upcoming week, something I like to do while enjoying an espresso Sunday mornings. I plan my TV week, such as it is. I have a few shows I enjoy watching and we seem to be getting close to season's end with some of them. Most often, the description doesn't clue me in to this, which is too bad because I can't always rely on my memory.

New Tricks, one of my favourites, is described as: "The team re-investigates the murder of an unidentified man." Okay, the 'unidentified man' is the clue here because what they do each week is re-investigate murders. While this week on Castle, "Martha and Castle are held hostage". Very specific.

Then I looked at Midsomer Murders. Tonight's description states, "A body is discovered in the cemetery". Aside from all the flip comments that brings to mind, I'm thinking...huh, sounds familiar. In fact, I think many shows have used that line.

Okay, how about Body of Proof on Tuesday -- "A lottery winner is found dead"? Now, I know I've seen that one...but which show was it on? Could this be the dreaded repeat?

This is the best one, for Republic of Doyle -- "Jake must investigate". Uh, I think that's what the entire series is about, isn't it? The same can be said for The Closer this week -- "The LAPD and the FBI investigate a case". As if that's not happened before!

I shouldn't pick on these examples. Actually, now that I think of it, I used to write the one-liners for our local newspaper as part of a summer reporting job in high school. I hope I was more creative...but somehow, I doubt it. That gives me something to aspire to these days -- short, catchy descriptions.

Like for this blog -- News, reviews and schmooze by and about Canadian mystery writers. I think that works!

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

Friday, March 2, 2012


Loss of a dedicated reader.

Yesterday, I heard about the death of a long-time former customer at Prime Crime Books, Malcolm Campbell. He was the kind of person every writer should know.

He would, on a regular basis, phone and reserve an upcoming release (usually hardcover) that he had read about. And when the pile of ordered books accumulated to about four or five, he'd scoot in and buy them. But not until he'd perused the shelves and added several more titles to that pile. He always used to say he shouldn't be looking for more. But he was hooked!

And he'd usually say he was in a hurry but then stick around and talk mysteries. He knew his authors and liked to talk about their books. But more than that, he was a real people person. He liked to schmooze.

He always asked for a signed copy of the local authors, too. You may not have known him but he certainly knew about you!

The person who let me know about his death is also an avid reader, although that's on the weak side for a description. Elaine Naiman always showed up at any launch that Prime Crime was holding...and she continues to do that, supporting the local authors with a passion. She attends the conferences and knows her mysteries inside out.

I haven't seen Malcolm in two years but I feel saddened knowing there's no chance we'll once again get to discuss a mystery. Mystery writers owe so much to these dedicated readers...and there are so many of them. They are what keep the publishing world afloat and the writers happily creating new stories.

So here's a salute to Malcolm Elaine and to all who eagerly await an author's next book or are keen to explore new writing territory with a first time writer. We're all in this together!

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

Thursday, March 1, 2012


Where have all the critics gone?

I've been reading a lot of reviews of new mystery novels lately and they have been exceedingly complimentary, every one. I'm delighted because these happen to be very fine novels written by my good friends. But I have to admit that a small part of me would like to read a really nasty review once in a while. Cutting critiques are hard to find. Even the Times Literary Supplement and the New York Review of Books seem to steer clear of the really eviscerating remarks. These belong to a by-gone era and I have to say I miss them.

We were at the National Arts Centre last week and I was taken aback to read the following notes on the evening's performance of Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto in D major, Op 35.

"The Russian composer Tchaikovsky is surely not an ordinary talent, but rather an inflated one, with a genius-obsession without discrimination or taste. Such is also his long and pretentious Violin Concerto. For a while it moves soberly, musically and not without spirit. But soon vulgarity gains the upper hand and asserts itself to the end of the first movement. The violin is no longer played; it is pulled, torn, drubbed." And on and on it goes. It wasn't clear until the end of the notes that this was not a current review but rather one from the first performance of the piece in 1881. Once in on the joke, the NAC audience members could be seen turning to their neighbours to share the review and to laugh at how we'd all been briefly duped. I wondered, though, if they, like me, had a moment of missing the days when a review like this one was de rigueur.

Where are the modern-day Dorothy Parkers? Who today would ever dream of writing the following about a book, as did she, "This is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force." Or "It is that word ‘hummy,’ my darlings, that marks the first place in The House at Pooh Corner at which Tonstant Weader Fwowed up.”

Even restaurant reviews have calmed down since Seymour Britchky's days writing for New York Magazine. Britchky said of one famous Manhattan eatery: "The wines are overpriced and anyway, the proper drink for the food here is Alka-Selzer."
And of Mamma Leone's, "So when you sit down, you are brought celery, olives, tomatoes, and a block of soap the size of half a loaf of Wonder bread, and you cut off a hunk and go to the washroom to wash before dinner, and a few old hands restrain you good-naturedly and say no, no, that's cheese, for to eat, no soap. And you say no, no, it's soap, I can tell from the taste. And they say oh no you can't, because it doesn't have any taste! And everyone has a good laugh."

I miss Dorothy and Seymour. Maybe I'll just have to tune into the Parliamentary Channel to get my daily dose of insults. Ack!

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.