Friday, June 29, 2012


Cool Canadian Crime!

If you have time for a breather over the holiday weekend, I hope you'll grab a mystery by a Canadian author and just chill out for a while. Since we're celebrating the birthday of our wonderful country, it's a good time to also revel in the accomplishments of so many talented Canadians. I mean the entire gamut of folks who shine in the arts, sports, humanities, medicine, technology, military, yes, even the government. And so many more. We owe them a lot because they make this country so amazing.

I could never list all the Canadian mystery writers out there but you could check the Crime Writers of Canadian website for a fairly extensive list. And there are many others, too. But I'd like to compile a list (yes, another list but different from the Summer mystery reading list -- which I'm hoping to post over the weekend).

I'll start...hope you'll add your favourites in the comments section. In no particular order:

Gail Bowen, William Deverell, Joan Boswell, Peter Robinson, Barbara Fradkin, Mary Jane Maffini, Thomas Rendell Curran, C.B. Forrest, Brenda Chapman, Vicki Delany, Sue Pike, Lou Allin, Pam Curran, D.J. McIntosh, Elizabeth Duncan, Robin Spano, Garry Ryan, Peggy Blair, Anthony Bidulka, R.J. Harlick, Melodie Campbell, Maureen Jennings, Eric Wright, Howard Engel, John Brady, Jose Latour, Janet Kellough, Giles Blunt, Linwood Barclay Howard Shrier, Phyllis Smallman, Rick Mofina, Cathy Astolfo, Brad Smith, Alison Preston, Dave Hugelschaffer, John Moss, John Lawrence Reynolds, David Russell, Janet Bolin, Erika Chase, Deryn Collier, Sylvia Maultash Warsh, Anne Emery, Rosemary McCracken, Janice MacDonald, Jill Edmondson, Alison Bruce, Gloria Ferris, Susanna Kearsley, Robert Rotenberg, Hilary MacLeod...

Okay...I'm all worn out. Your turn!

Congratulations to all our hot writers of cool Canadian crime! Happy Canada Day!

Linda Wiken/Erika Chase

Berkley Prime Crime, now available
READ & BURIED, coming Dec., 2012

Thursday, June 28, 2012


Scene of the Crime

August 11, 2012 marks the day the six women who make up the Ladies’ Killing Circle will receive the Grant Allan award at Scene of the Crime on Wolfe Island, Ontario. We were chosen because of our contribution to Canadian mystery writing as we are responsible for the publication of 7 anthologies of short stories by Canadian women.

Because the books would not have existed if Canadian women had not submitted their stories it seemed only fair to acknowledge their contributions. With that in mind I have undertaken to locate and contact the 47 other writers and have them update their bios telling us what they’ve written, what awards they’ve won, if they still write, if they have received accolades in other fields and, finally, and just for fun, to talk about their pets.

Sadly, since the first book appeared in1995 two of our writers have died and we’ve lost track of some others. I’m searching for them and if any readers know the whereabouts and contact information for the following women please let me know.

Sandy Conrad, Rose Deshaw, Day’s Lee, H. Mel Malton, Michelle Marcotte, Marguerite McDonald, Jenifer McVaugh, Eliza Moorhouse, Lea Tassie, Jane Tun

Initially, I thought I’d take each writer’s comments, edit them and make them uniform but I’ve dismissed this idea. Each voice comes through loud and clear and I think it will be much more interesting for readers to present their remarks as they wrote them.

I hope many have registered for Scene of the Crime. It’s a unique festival in a very special place. To learn more check out the website but, having been there twice before, I can verify that it’s fun.

I’m not sure when the author updates will be posted but we’ll let our readers know here on the blog and on our individual websites and Facebook pages.

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, June 27, 2012


Plotting again...

I've been toying around with thoughts of a new series for several months now. When I finally sent back the copyedits for book #2 on Monday, I thought, time to focus on the process.

It's all too easy to let things slide when there's no deadline. For me, anyway. I had a vague notion a few weeks ago but it didn't get any further. This morning, it happened. I was out for my early morning walk; my iPod had just died; my mind started playing around with some scenarios.

By the time I reached home, I'd phoned home twice to leave myself a message about some of the critical points I didn't want to forget. I sat right down, with a cup of espresso to spur me on, and wrote two pages of notes on characters and their background along with the bare bones of a murder plot.

What a feeling of elation! You know how it is, when ideas start to flow or writing a scene takes're back in the game and it's a thrill.

So, it's a couple of hours later now and I'm still feeling good about all these notes. I enjoy the time invested in fleshing out characters, plots and settings. I'm going to take my time, since there's no deadline, and make the most of it with the hopeful end result of having a solid basis for a new series.

I'm into plotting again...all because of an iPod that ran out of juice!

Linda Wiken/Erika Chase

Berkley Prime Crime, now available
READ & BURIED, coming Dec., 2012

Monday, June 25, 2012


Give us a break!

Every time I think about giving up blogging, I find my blood pressure brought to the boiling point by some news item or comment. On Sunday, it was the huge article entitled, 'Hot days, hotter fiction' in the Ottawa Citizen, which I'm sure appeared in most Postmedia newspapers. It was "compiled from Citizen News Services". Code for, let's ignore Canadians!

My point...not one of the books or authors mentioned, no, heralded in our most widely-read local paper...was Canadian. There are some stellar names there...many of whom I read and thoroughly enjoy. That's not the point. The point is, we have tons of excellent Canadian mystery authors. Many of them have new books out that certainly qualify as "hotter fiction", yet none are mentioned.

Our media giants have got to do better than this!!

Just as Sisters in Crime began as an organization in the U.S. decades ago to promote equality on the reviewer's pages for female mystery authors (the proportion of male authors being reviewed greatly eclipsed the females at that time), maybe it's time for a "Canadians in Crime" equivalent. We do have Crime Writers of Canada, which is an excellent organization and works hard at promoting Canadian crime writing. But perhaps we need more! A grassroots group of mystery lovers including readers, who are also getting short shrift as it stands.

Maybe we don't need yet another organization. Maybe we need a CRTC to regulate Canadian content on the books pages! It worked for radio. I honestly don't know how we go about rattling the chains of the print media to give us a break. I've written similar blogs several times over the years. I know several authors who have written letters to the editors, etc. Our voices are too small.

Maybe it's the readers who need to get more vocal...that is, if you care about Canadian crime writing. And you should. Besides being a group of excellent writers, they tell our story, in most cases. And, there is a difference between what you read between the covers of a mystery penned by a Brit, an American, and a Canadian. There should be. It doesn't mean any nationality is better at it. Some readers prefer authors from certain countries. Others just prefer a variety of books. It's all good.

The thing is, if you don't know what's out there, how can you choose to read it? Giving Canadians a piece of the reviewing pie, or in this case, the summer reading list, is the first step. Why can't they take it?

I know the decision these days is basically out of the hands of the Books editors in each of the newspapers. These stalwarts have traditionally been very supportive. But times have changed.

Have you Postmedia editors heard of Gail Bowen, Peter Robinson, John Lawrence Reynolds, Deryn Collier, R.J. Harlick, C.B. Forrest, Pam Callow, Janet Bolin, D.J. McIntosh, Dave Hugelschaffer, David Russell .... the list goes on of new books in print from Canadian mystery authors. If not, I'm sure we could arrange to have some copies sent to you! But then, you'd have to read them. Lucky you!

Linda Wiken/Erika Chase

Berkley Prime Crime, now available
READ & BURIED, coming Dec., 2012

Saturday, June 23, 2012


by Vicki Delany
Dundurn Press

I'm a bit late in reviewing this, since it was launched in mid-April (Vicki & I had a joint launch -- but I promise to be objective!). This is the third in the Klondike Mystery series and as usual, the intrepid Scotswoman Fiona MacGillivray is in fine form. In fact, such fine form that she's kidnapped by a love-stricken suitor who also has a bad case of gold fever.

There's no murder in Gold Mountain but really, you won't even miss the lack of bloodshed! Fiona is such a delightful, if not unorthodox, character that readers are swept into her story and make the trek through the wilds of the Yukon as her captor searches for the elusive Gold Mountain. Is it real or a figment of his mad imagination?
Hot on their trail is the intrepid Corporal Richard Sterling of the Northwest Mounted Police, himself under Fiona's spell, along with her determined young son, Angus. It's a hazardous and rough journey for them all and the reader is kept wondering if the wilds don't do them in...will Fiona's mad captor do it?

There are many reasons to read Gold Mountain. First, it's a delight. Second, as mentioned, Fiona is a heroine who's quite unique -- feisty, with a checkered past, clever, sarcastic, quick-witted, headstrong and quite fetching. Third, the setting of the Klondike gold rush is so vividly portrayed, from the mud-drenched roads to those desperately seeking their fortunes. Consider it a mini history lesson.

Vicki Delany should be a well-known name in Canadian crime writing. She's that prolific and good. She has two series on the go and a number of stand alones to her credit and more on the way. If you've missed the earlier Klondike novels, you'll still be able to jump right in for a rousing adventure on the way to Gold Mountain.

Friday, June 22, 2012


Looking for ideas!

Where do you get the ideas for your plots? Every writer has been asked that question at least once, and now, I'm asking. The idea came to me because that's the stage I'm at in my writing, looking for a new plot. But don't worry, I won't steal yours because I have found one. Well, two actually so now I've got to flesh them both out a bit and see which one to go with.

I enjoy this stage in writing, always thinking, 'what if?'. I'll write the various thoughts, character names, weapons and zinger lines down on pieces of paper all around the house. I have a pair of reading glasses in each room. Perhaps I should have a large notepad along with them, a gathering spot for these ideas to ease the usual stages of frustration when trying the find my jottings.

Of course, I enjoy all stages of writing. But right now, anything is possible. My character Lizzie is set for any new adventure. I just have to find the right one for her and her book club pals. This, of course, means creating the perfect victim, too. Oh, the possibilities.

Do you pattern your characters, particularly the victim, after people you know? Are you someone who deals with the frustrations of your other job on the written page. Villainous boss equals murder victim? Or better yet, murderer!

Or maybe you carefully comb the morning newspaper, waiting for the ingenious incident that will 'trigger' the crime. The paper is full of suggestions, although many of them are too unlikely to be believed when used in fiction. Maybe the story about a politician who hits 'reply all' gives you a starting point. I think that would make a good one. Don't worry, it's all yours. I have mine...I think.

The next few days, or maybe even weeks will tell if it's a keeper. But in the meantime, I'll enjoy this somewhat lazy patch of plotting time. And these hot, humid days are just perfect for that task.

Linda Wiken/Erika Chase

Berkley Prime Crime, now available
READ & BURIED, coming Dec., 2012

Thursday, June 21, 2012


Getting Past the Horrible

Several years ago, I attended a panel discussion in which authors were talking about their writing process. Peter Robinson, who then had twelve successful Inspector Banks novels under his belt, spoke about that point in his first draft when he hated it. What am I doing, pretending to be a writer? he lamented. This is crap, I can’t write, I’m just a hack. To which his wife replied, Oh, you’re on page 170.

It’s a story I resurrect whenever I hit the first draft doldrums. Where I am now. I’m actually at about page 190, but close enough. It’s that point in the book where the plot is at its wildest and I have no idea how to pull it all together. Where the excitement I had at the start of a new adventure has given way to a sense of utter confusion and panic. The book had seemed like such a good idea at the time, but it’s gotten out of hand. I am too close to the story to see the whole and to see if it is any good, but it feels dreadful. A hundred doubts fill my thoughts. Is this plot too convoluted? Are there so many twists and turns that the reader will give up? Or worse, is it even interesting enough? Are the characters dull, superficial, clichéd?

Usually it’s at the two-thirds point of the story, but the dreaded “horrible” can hit an author at any time. When they read a bad review of a previous book. When they get an abysmal royalty statement. When they find their Amazon rankings are in the million-plus range or there are none of their books in any of the stores in their hometown.

Or it can happen when they have no idea where to take the plot next. For me, it’s usually a combination of these factors. The one sure thing is that it will hit at some point in the process, likely more than once. Reminding myself of Peter’s story helps. Reminding myself that I have ten previous books under my belt, all of which went through this stage and emerged as quite decent books. A shopping spree or a bottle of wine helps, as does lunch out with a writer friend to remind me I’m not alone.

The single most important action at that horrible moment, however, is to stare that book down. It’s the last thing you want to do. You want to stick it in the corner, pile newspapers on top of it, maybe tear it into a gazillion little pieces. You want to skirt a wide berth around it so as to avoid even a whiff of the stink. But it won’t improve by being ignored. It won’t write itself out of the tangle you have put it in. You need to pick it up and keep writing in order to get yourself out of the hole. As you write, keep in mind those doubts you had – are the characters boring or clichéd, is the plot too convoluted or flat – because they may help you generate the next steps in the book. But don’t be a slave to them; they can be addressed in rewrites. In first draft, you just need to get the story down.

Easy to say ‘keep writing’, but write what? I throw two characters together in a scene and make them talk. Make them argue. See what comes out of it. Or I put a character into an unexpected situation (like coming home, getting stuck in traffic, running into his boss in the hall, anything) and see what I come up with.

Often when I stare the book down and keep writing through the horribles, I write pages or whole scenes that get tossed in the bin later, but in the writing of them, new inspiration strikes. I see a path forward, however short. I come up with a brilliant new twist or a new insight into a character. I feel that quiver of excitement again, that tells me I’m back in the game.

If I can’t bear to even get near the book, or the page remains blank as I stare at it, and if the shopping spree or wine don’t help, I take the story out on the road. I get out of the house and into a peaceful setting, like walking the dog, where I can think without interruption. I worry away at the knot, ask myself questions about what has to come next, what would such and such a character do next, what thread have I forgotten. I’ve been known to talk aloud to my characters, a technique that’s become a whole lot easier with the advent of hands-free devices. People no long think I’m stark raving mad. They think I’m talking on my cellphone.

Usually by the end of the walk I have some ideas. I feel that quiver of excitement to get on with them. It might not last more than a couple of days, but for those days, I am writing again, and enjoying it. Bit by bit, often in fits and starts, I get through the horribles and reach the end of the book.

Here’s hoping. If anyone has some novel, preferably fun ways to get past the horribles, I’d love to hear them.

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 Rapid Read from Orca, The Fall Guy, was launched last year.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012


Friends & community!

I spent several hours last night in the delightful company of a group of slightly wacky and totally wonderful friends. We call ourselves PBS -- the Pink Bra Society and guess what we're expected to wear to each gathering! Along with other clothes, of course!

We started out as a group of four, all from the book world, and at that point were known as WDGOM (We Don't Get Out Much), although we found that finding a free evening in common was becoming increasingly more difficult so the name had to go.

As we added more members, mostly again from publishing, we came up with PBS, in honour of one of our own, a breast cancer survivor. Also, because none of us are quite ready to join the Red Hat ladies.

So, we sat out on the deck in the heat and humidity but saved by a nice breeze, shared lots of food and wine and our lives. We all love laughing; we're there to listen and support each other; and, we're great friends.

That's a real life community. I write about a fictional community of friends who together, read books and fight crime. That may be putting it a bit strongly...they read and sleuth. But it's the friendship and community that are integral to the Ashton Corners Book Club mysteries.

The majority of cosy mysteries revolve around friendship and although the crimes can be as devastating as in a harder boiled mystery, it's the manner in which the crimes are described and solved that mark the difference. Friendship, community counts in a cosy.

As in real life!

Linda Wiken/Erika Chase

Berkley Prime Crime, now available
READ & BURIED, coming Dec., 2012

Tuesday, June 19, 2012


Let's hear it for the awards!

There's been a lot of talk about awards lately. Believe me, there has. Part of this flurry has been the Arthur Ellis Awards at the end of May in Toronto. Upcoming are the Anthony Awards to be given out at Bouchercon 2012, in October in Cleveland.

Every author would love to have an award for a book or a short story. That's human nature...the ultimate acknowledgement in a world where competition for publishing spots is keen and writer esteem can be low. Especially at rewrite time. How wonderful to sit at a computer, puzzling out new dialogue, staring at that award on a shelf, at eye level of course. Great inspiration...and therapy.

I wonder, a reader (and we all are), how important are the awards to you?
I ask this purely out of curiosity. When I had my bookstore, there were certain customers who would come in with lists of the major award winners and want those books. However, more common were the customers who showed a mild interest in the award sticker on a cover. These readers were more interested in what the bookseller had to say about the book or even, what other customers, overhearing the conversation, would add to it.

Word of mouth is always effective, however awards can be looked at as words from the mouths of the judges. And just who might these people be? Some awards are juried by a variety of industry people and authors, a jury of peers; others are reader or fan selected. One relies on the votes of booksellers. All are valid. Because, as I have mentioned, we're all readers at some point or other.

Which brings me back to me question -- does an award make a difference in what you choose to read?

Linda Wiken/Erika Chase

Berkley Prime Crime, now available
READ & BURIED, coming Dec., 2012

Saturday, June 16, 2012


By Gail Bowen
McClelland & Stewart

By this point in her career, Gail Bowen’s books shouldn’t need reviews. But that’s what’s expected, so I can unequivocally say that Kaleidoscope, book #13 in the Joanne Kilbourn series, is every bit as excellent as you’d expect!

That Bowen knows Joanne inside out by this point is undeniable. But she also gives us subtleties that show she’s just as into Zack Shreve and Taylor and Meika and the boys also. These characters have been woven into the growth of the Joanne Kilbourn character and become as familiar to us as she is. And now that Joanne has retired from her career as a University professor in Political Science, we enter that new phase of her life…and find another body or two.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise. Joanne is always drawn into at least one murder in each book. The word ‘drawn’ is key here. Because Bowen takes her time easing the reader into the harsh realities of murder. She wants us to become familiar with all the players, to have a vested interest in what’s going on before tragedy strikes. It helps put everything in context. Although, I admit, a murder has been committed before the story opens. It’s the second one that shapes this story. We can feel it coming on just like a summer storm tracking into the city. That’s because Bowen is a master at suspense, making a normal step feel like another step towards the precipice.

The journey starts with the first murder of a worker at a building site in one of Regina’s rougher areas. The two warring gangs have been convinced to join forces as the Warriors to put a stop to the gentrification. A splinter group, the Red Rage takes it to a violent level. Shortly after Joanne and her lawyer husband Zack have dinner with his client, Leland Hunter, the urban developer responsible for the project, their house is bombed.

Then she finds out her eldest daughter, Meika is involved with one of Joanne’s former grad students, Riel Delorme. He’s turned into a firebrand and the vocal leader against the development.

The past returns as the death of her first husband re-surfaces and she must deal with a series of frightening events culminating in a murder that shakes Joanne to the core. Her life is turned upside down and will never be the same. But, as Joanne so succinctly put it on the front of a Tshirt she orders for the widow, 'Being Strong is the Only Option'.

If you’re a Gail Bowen fan, enjoy! If you’re new to her, enjoy catching up with the previous twelve books! You won’t be sorry.

Friday, June 15, 2012


Crime Spree!

There was a crime spree in Ottawa this week! That's the good news out of the capital city.

It started on Tuesday night with the launch of C.B. Forrest's third Charlie McKelvey novel, The Devil's Dust. Sadly, it's the last in the series but what a send-off it got! And just in case anyone in the room was thinking of leaving before buying a
copy (not really likely), the passage read from it had the line-ups forming at the selling table.

The following night, Capital Crime Writers held the final meeting before the summer hiatus, at Collected Works bookstore. The results of the Audrey Jessup Short Story Contest were announced -- honourable mentions, runners-up and a winner -- and then the crowd was treated to readings by these delightful new authors. Other members were then invited to read from works in progress.

My impression is that the business of crime writing is alive and well. I'm sure this can be said in many cities across the country -- established authors launching new books; new writers testing the waters. The future looks bright, if we can find the markets for these talented purveyors of crime.

And, fingers crossed that C.B. Forrest continues on a journey of crime!

Linda Wiken/Erika Chase

Berkley Prime Crime, now available
READ & BURIED, coming Dec., 2012

Thursday, June 14, 2012


Growing Old with a Vengeance

I've been reading Diana Athill lately. Somewhere Towards the End is a slim volume looking back over a very long life that included the second world war and the many changes that have happened to women and the world since then. At the time of her writing it in 2008 she was 89. STET was written just a few years earlier. In it she reminisces about her fifty years as an editor and publisher in London, (she didn't retire until she was 75) working with authors such as Philip Roth, V.S. Naipaul, Jean Rhys and Mordecai Richler. Her stories about these accomplished authors are hilarious and just this side of libelous.
These are both delightful volumes, not just because it is encouraging for someone of my age to read the words of another woman more than twenty years older who is still positive and productive and writing every day from her senior's care home like a mad fool. The books are funny, intelligent and reveal Athill as a keen and sly observer of life in England. Now in her nineties, she plans to keep writing as long as the words flow.

Whenever I feel like giving up writing, I'll think of Athill, her laptop perched on her lap desk, her feet elevated, a strong cup of tea at her side and a mischievous grin on her face.

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, June 13, 2012


A story to tell...

Once upon a time the world was a perfect place for authors. Okay, I admit, this is a fairy tale. But a moment of ‘Camelot’ did exist way back in the late-1990’s, pre-big box stores and e-books. When the Independents abounded and book lovers knew they could trust the advice given them by knowledge staff.

It was about this time that the Canadian Booksellers’ Association was in its prime and each year hosted the CBA event in Toronto. This later became known as BookExpo and even later, or rather more recently, ran out of steam. That’s sad and just another example of how the publishing industry has been turned on its head lately.

But in the fairy tale days, when publishers set up booths and gave away advance reading copies and free books, hoping that booksellers would place their orders on the spot, it was an exciting weekend frenzy in June. Well-known authors would be brought into town and booksellers were often invited to wine and dine with them. Authors just getting their publicity feet wet would sit at signing booths with publisher reps hovering around. Authors were feted and made to feel really special. Wow…must be a fairy tale.

And one year (or perhaps it was two), Random House of Canada extended an amazing invitation to booksellers to stay over one more day for a complete day of presentations of their upcoming seasonal line. This gets even better! They also included one session where the booksellers were asked to give their advice!! Imagine that, asking the people who are in direct contact with the customers and therefore have a pretty good feel for the marketplace, to tell the publisher what would work. A heady feeling and unfortunately, a rarity.

These days the reality is not quite so heady for authors; gloomy for independent booksellers and even less thrilling for publishers.

But the constant has been the reader. Mystery lovers still read in a variety of formats, choosing from a wide variety of types, and then go on to spread the word to others. Because it’s the readers that make up the numbers when it’s time to tally sales. And that makes everyone smile. So, there is a happy ending to this story.

Linda Wiken/Erika Chase

Berkley Prime Crime, now available
READ & BURIED, coming Dec., 2012

Tuesday, June 12, 2012


In praise of the Unhanged Arthur!

Most authors have gone through the dreaded phase of sending in an unsolicited manuscript only to have it languish on the slush pile of some editor's desk. Or maybe it's not even a finished manuscript but rather a query letter, three chapters and synopsis. The end result is the same. This will not be the publisher that offers that magical contract.

So, how great to be able to add some key words to that query, words like 'contest winner', 'shortlisted', and better still, 'winner of the Best Unpublished First Crime Novel from Crime Writers of Canada'. That's the Arthur Ellis award fondly called the Unhanged Arthur. Same familiar wood trophy picturing a person on the gallows except with the Unhanged, the 'boy' is not dangling and cannot be manipulated by a chord.

This is big stuff. For many years, McArthur & Company sponsored the award with the wonderful prize of publication. This year, Dundurn Press became the sponsor. Both publishing houses deserve tons of gratitude from all mystery authors for aiding and abetting a newbie and thus, leading the genre in a healthy process with promised growth in the number of authors available to the growing market of mystery readers.

This year's winner is Sam Wiebe for the manuscript, The Last of the Independents. I've not read it--yet-- but it was judged by a jury of very competent individuals, as efficient a process as any vetting in a publishing house where timing is key and luck is often the master of an author's fate.

You may wonder why, a couple of weeks after the Arthur Ellis Awards were announced, that I'm blogging about the Unhanged Arthur. It's because on the Sunday that Bloody Words ended, Jack Batten, crime reviewer for the Toronto Star had less than favourable words to say about the award although he did point out that Deryn Collier, last year's winner, has had her winning manuscript, Confined Space, published by Simon & Schuster and it's dynamite book. The review of the book is right on; the comments about the Unhanged Arthur are not. At least in my point of view and that continues to irritate me.

Among earlier winners of the award who have gone onto impressive publishing careers are Phyllis Smallman and D.J. (Dorothy) McIntosh.

The Crime Writers Association in the UK was a leader in this trend with their annual awarding of the Debut Dagger for Best Unpublished novel and it's seen as a coveted award. In fact, Alan Bradley won in 2007 and Louise Penny was a runner-up in 2004. Now they are both stars on the international mystery writing scene. Peggy Blair was also shortlisted and she's now published by the Penguin Group.

Winning does count. But so does the process of writing and actually finishing a novel. That's quite an accomplishment and if it doesn't make it past one editor's reject pile, there are more publishers out there. But there are also an awful lot more books in competition. Some get lucky. But all deserve credit for trying.

Linda Wiken/Erika Chase

Berkley Prime Crime, now available
READ & BURIED, coming Dec., 2012

Monday, June 11, 2012


Let’s hear it for the editors!

I’m a few days into going over the copyedits for Read & Buried, the second in my Ashton Corners Book Club mysteries. And all I have to say is, thank God for copyeditors.

On the downside, they can sure make you feel dumb.

It seems no matter how many times I read over and rework drafts and then read it over again, I miss so much. Split infinitives, misplaced modifiers, typos (ahem, I’ll never admit I can’t spell) to name just a few of the miscreants.

Then there’s the fact that a character should have been introduced a chapter earlier, what’s the motivation for a certain comment, isn’t that the second time we’ve found out about an incident? Oh, and the best one, where was my brain when I was going through this manuscript upteem times?

I’m so pleased to be working with a topnotch team at Berkley Prime Crime, right from my editor and her assistant, to the copyeditor, the cover artists (a husband/wife team) and the publicity person. It really makes my job so much easier, having my backside covered, as it were.

So, back to the edits. I just thought it was time to highlight all those others who work behind the scenes and mean so much to the publishing process. They make it run smoothly and make it appear that I actually know what I’m doing!

Linda Wiken/Erika Chase

Berkley Prime Crime, now available
READ & BURIED, coming Dec., 2012

Saturday, June 9, 2012


Debut BC author Collier set to make mark in world of crime

Deryn Collier has everything it takes to make it as a mystery writer. She’s got the talent, the drive, the (dark) imagination, a charming and warm personality, heck she’s even got a great writer’s name. But it’s Collier’s clear-eyed focus on the fulfillment of a promise she made to herself as a seven-year-old girl that ultimately sets her apart from the pack.

The advance reader copy of her debut novel, Confined Space (Simon & Schuster), arrives with a letter from the author that is about as heart-on-the-sleeve honest as you’ll find in a sea of published writers whose over-confidence in their work borders on narcissism. Collier, it turns out, wanted to be a writer since that summer she first read a Nancy Drew mystery. She dove in deep, got lost in the world of make believe, and emerged with what I like to call “the affliction”.

“I remember the distinct feeling - though I was not able to articulate it at that age - of wanting to create that experience for other people,” writes Collier.

But life has a way of happening, and Collier admits she let others douse her dreams with cold water. It wasn’t until many years after reading that first mystery that she was watching her children playing - being exactly who they were meant to be - and she stopped to ask herself a fundamental question: “Why had I stopped myself from being who and what I was born to be?”

I met Collier a few years ago at Bloody Words crime conference and immediately understood this woman had a plan. The plan had steps and stages, levels to be negotiated, items to be accomplished and crossed off a list. I immediately recognized and admired that fire burning in her. There was no doubt in my mind that I would one day hold her first published work in my hands.

A few pages into Confined Space you find yourself slipping effortlessly into the world of French Canadian ex–Canadian Forces commander Bern Fortin. The affable but complex Fortin has retired from the military with a walk-in closet full of ghosts from less-than-peaceful peacekeeping missions. In Fortin, Collier has created a believable character in that he hold his cards close to his chest but never veers toward macho male cliché. Bern Fortin seems like the uncle you love but wonder if you really know well enough, the one who sometimes remembers to send a birthday card, but in whom you’ve always sensed a sort of stoic strength perhaps belonging to a different era.

Fortin quits the army and takes on the job as coroner for a small mountain town in BC, obviously hopeful of slow days and slower nights. A workplace fatality at a local brewery offers Fortin his first foray into his role as coroner, and it offers Collier an opportunity to display her writing chops. The process, the environment, the life of a brewery worker is all rendered expertly so that you can smell the hops and toasted barley and almost taste the end product. Collier does for breweries what writer Grant Buday did for bakeries in his stellar but too-little-known novel White Lung.

Fortin’s routine death investigation quickly morphs into something much darker as the dead worker’s girlfriend is discovered in a field with clear signs that she was abused and tortured. Aided by the guilt-ridden brewery safety officer, Evie Chapelle, Fortin begins a dogged pursuit of a killer hiding in remote Kootenay Landing. This is a place where, as one character from Bern’s peacekeeping past laments, “nothing is at it seems.”

The reader wonders at times whether Fortin is naïve enough to believe that solving the case before him will somehow also allow him to put the ghosts of his past to bed once and for all. It is a question that will surely follow Fortin into his future endeavours. Collier lists Lt.-Gen. Romeo Dallaire’s autobiography as a research source, and it’s not difficult to see some of the stalwart former soldier in the best of Fortin. Indeed, both men see ghosts when they close their eyes at night and somehow still carry themselves with a quiet grace.

Collier’s writing is clean and clear of purpose, the characters are well rendered, and the dialogue is note perfect. This is a writer in command of her story, and the pacing is just right. It is within the day-to-day moments that Collier does her best work, for example the exchanges between Fortin and Evie, or his elderly neighbour, Mrs. K (who ends up as a witness later on), that move the story forward while also showing us who this man is.

She was perfectly capable of chopping her own wood, of course. She’d done it since she was a child, she’d told him gruffly, and she wasn’t that old. But Bern couldn’t sit by and watch a seventy-year-old woman split firewood.

The ax was waiting for him. It felt good to stretch to his full six feet and three inches. Arms extended and with an effortless swing, he allowed the ax blade to find the spaces between the fibres of wood and slice them clean apart. He chopped enough for one week of winter fires and stacked the logs carefully, close to the back door. The he retrieved the tomato and went inside without knocking …

Confined Space
was shortlisted for the Arthur Ellis Award for best unpublished first crime novel by the Crime Writers of Canada -- and will doubtless be a nominee for the Arthur Ellis Award for Best First Novel.

Collier does not rush to solve the crime, for it is the journey and not the destination that she seeks. Confined Space is a confident, razor-sharp debut from a writer who deserves everything that’s coming her way.

CB Forrest’s third novel, The Devil’s Dust, is available in stores and online. It has been called “exceptional” by Publisher’s Weekly and “a tour du force“ by Tim Wynne-Jones.

Friday, June 8, 2012


Overwhelmed with TBRs

I try to spend a fair chunk of time each day reading. Partly to have some reviews of upcoming or recently published Canadian mysteries but mainly for the pure pleasure of entering new worlds, visiting new places and meeting new people.

I like to think of my To Be Read (TBR) piles as decorating accessories. What else do you do with stacks of books? I have them in every room of my house, except for the kitchen where cookbooks (a real necessity) are housed. You can't do that with an e-book, I might point out. I love the look of books, the ability to just grab one off the pile and sit down to read or just thumb through it, the reassurance that with that big a TBR, I'll never run out.

However, I obviously haven't been keeping up as I should. What with the steady stream of advance reading copies from publishers, and my own choices for either research or a total change of pace, there are now often two stacks right next to each other, where only last week there was one.

Bloody Words contributed to that growth in very positive ways, except when it came to getting the books home. The book bags that attendees were handed proved that publishers are getting far more generous these days. I hear the siren call of William Deverell's latest, Arthur Ellis nominated novel, I'll See You in My Dreams. Robert Rotenberg's The Guilty Plea is there, too along with Boston Cream by Howard Shrier! How can a gal choose where to begin?

I've just finished the wonderful Gail Bowen's newest, Kaleidoscope, which I'll review next weekend. C.B. Forrest will review Deryn Collier's Confined Space this weekend (it was next on my list, but he beat me to it!). ALso coming up are Gold Mountain by Vicki Delany (I am behind in my reviews, I admit it!), Spoiled Rotten by Mary Jackman, Bloodman by Robert Pobi and Whiskey Creek by Dave Hugelschaffer. Then, low and behold, in my mailbox yesterday -- Brad Smith's September release, Crow's Landing (and you might remember how I do look forward to his books!)

What's a girl to do? So many books, so little time! And all those bookish cliches. It's going to be a bookfest summer. Happy reading to us all!

Linda Wiken/Erika Chase

Berkley Prime Crime, now available
READ & BURIED, coming Dec., 2012

Thursday, June 7, 2012



For about a year, I have been sending stories to a company in Vancouver which buys material for use in ESL classes in Korea. They had sent me their list of levels of difficulty and word counts. I kept plugging away, but they had rejected all my stuff.

Dale and I were on our East Coast and Newfoundland leg of our summer-long cross-Canada odyssey. We were settling in to a bed and breakfast in Cape Breton, ready to embark on the Newfoundland ferry the next day when I got an email from my ESL guy.

Quick, he was desperate for a story based on the Aesop’s fable, The Milkmaid and her Pail. 400 words, and he thinks these are the hardest stories to write, hence his desperate last-minute scramble to fill his last slot. Characterization, plot, and setting all in 400 words, divided into chapters, and keep the language simple. Could I do it? He needed it within nine days, and here is the contract, please print and sign and return, and the story has to be submitted according to these specifications of font and line spacing and the like.

Well, what’s a writer to do? Dale and I went into a huddle: It’s a seven hour ferry. Nothing else to do. Go for it. I googled the fable to make sure I had the right story. The milkmaid has a pail of milk she is going to sell to buy a chicken to lay eggs to grow more chickens to sell. Then she kicks the bucket. Don’t count your chickens before they hatch.

I wrote back and said sure, I can do that, except I am about to get on the ferry to Newfoundland, and I am working on an iPad, so no fancy fonts or whatnots. Can’t print the contract either, but I have read it and agree to the contents.

I mulled over story ideas that evening. Nobody carries milk in an open pail any more, so some changes had to be made. The next day, we boarded the ferry and found ourselves a couple of lazy-boy style chairs. I wrote the story. I wasn’t quite happy with it, so I rewrote it, making it a counting story. A few hours later I thought, well, this isn’t going to change much now, so I sent it off. Fortunately, the ferry has WiFi.

The next day it was back, edited, and with boxes inserted describing what the illustrations would look like. Was I happy with the edits?

The editor had done wondrous things with the 400 words I had sent. The illustrations were interesting. I wrote back and said I love what you did with the story. I love the potential illustrations.

And that was that. When I got home, there was a cheque in my mailbox.

Now, a year later, as it seems publishing always takes a year, my author copy has arrived. Only the one, mind. There are none for sale in Canada. I do not launch this book, or go to bookstores flogging it. I just sit back, write more, and wait for another story to click with them. And so far, two more have clicked. I can’t wait to see them.

Vicki Cameron is the author of Clue Mysteries and More Clue Mysteries, with each of the 15 short stories based on the board game Clue. Her young adult novel, Shillings, appeared in 2007. Her stories appear in the Ladies' Killing Circle anthology series and Storyteller Magazine. Her young adult novel, That Kind of Money, was nominated for an Edgar and an Arthur Ellis. She now writes children's books for ESL in Korea.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012


Fifty Shades of Hype

As a noun, we now consider hype to mean ‘extravagant or intensive publicity or promotion’ and as a verb, ‘to promote or publicize a product or idea intensively, often exaggerating its importance or benefits.’ I think that we can all basically agree with those two definitions. But how many of you have ever heard of the ‘Hype Cycle’?

It consists of a trigger, peak, trough, slope and plateau. Naturally the trigger is what sets the whole thing off. This is followed by a rocketlike climb to the ‘peak of inflated expectations’, which in turn is followed by the ‘trough of disillusionment’. You hear about a thing…you love a thing…then you are disappointed when the reality of what it is, sets in.

But while reality is part of our minute-to-minute existence, so is realization and that realization is usually contrary to our two knee-jerk reactions: first climbing the peak and then plummeting to the trough. So we realize that maybe that thing wasn’t a great as we had hoped but it surely isn’t as bad as we thought, so we begin to climb the ‘slope of enlightenment’ until we reach the ‘plateau or productivity’ or in other words the ‘mudflats of the mundane and the mediocre’.

Such has it been with many of the ‘mega-sellers’ in the book world. Some start with word-of-mouth, others with a good review or even a great review in a well-respected newspaper or magazine like The Times or The New Yorker.

Bloomsbury in London was so entranced by J.K. Rowling’s first book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone that they only printed five hundred copies of it. Stephen King gets three times that number for his Limited Editions! But word-of-mouth and reviews—the odd award thrown in for good measure—made the rest of the seven-book series sell almost half-a-billion copies worldwide. The hype surrounding the final four instalments was monumental with people lining up for hours to be able to get one of the first copies when they went on sale, sometimes at midnight on the release date.

The bookstores were delivered the book in advance but there was actually an embargo placed on the books under a severe threat—that they not be sold until the release date. When it’s a book about wizards, you don’t play around with breaking embargos.

Dan Brown had published three books (Deception Point, Digital Fortress and then Angels and Demons) before he hit the motherlode with The DaVinci Code. The hype around DaVinci was worldwide even to the point where author Lewis Perdue accused Brown of plagiarism for allegedly copying his books Daughter of God and The DaVinci Legacy. Perdue lost the lawsuit launched by Random House (Brown’s publisher) but the ideas of the books are strikingly similar.

That is what keeps many writers plodding along when they see a single mother who had to write her book in a coffee shop—because she couldn’t afford the 50p for the gas heater in her apartment—become a billionaire and a relatively obscure thriller writer increase his net worth to over than $100-million!

There’s always that hope, that thin chance, that one of us will hit it big. A few years ago, a woman with absolutely NO writing experience had a dream about a girl and a vampire falling in love. She wrote down her dream at it eventually became Twilight and Stephenie Meyer also became astoundingly wealthy. The hype about Twilight spawned another three books along with films (that’s where the Hollywood hype machine takes hype to another level).

And now we have Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James (the pseudonym of Erika Leonard), a woman who had read history at the University of Kent and who had been in television production since then. When she read Twilight she became a fan and under the pseudonym ‘Snowqueens Icedragon’, she began an episodic story using Meyer’s characters Edward Cullan and Bella Swan. Due to the sexual nature of the story, including bondage and sado-masochism (he IS a vampire after all!!) she removed her story from the fan-fiction websites and created her own website.

While initially titled Master of the Universe, James changed the names of the main characters to Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey. She then reworked and expanded the story and broke it into three parts. Fifty Shades of Grey (being the first part), was initially published by an Australian print-on-demand publishing house, The Writers’ Coffee Shop (with no nods to Joanne Rowling I imagine).

So a year ago in May 2011, it was released but with a limited publicity budget, most of the hype here was word-of-mouth. The second volume, Fifty Shades Darker was released in September 2011 and the final volume, Fifty Shades Freed followed in January 2012.

The Vintage imprint of Random House picked up the rights to all three books and in April 2012, the three were released with great fanfare and massive hype to an eager thirty-or-forty-something female population. That target audience is the primary reason for the tag ‘mommy porn’ which has been attached to this trilogy almost since the print-on-demand copies were first reviewed.

Finally, hype has other things that it creates, apart from the initial trigger, peak, trough, slope and plateau. It also produces copycats. Sometimes it can create an entire sub-genre like The Hunt for Red October when it created the ‘techno-thriller’ in the mid 1980s. When the Harry Potter series became super-popular, there was an avalanche of young adult fantasy books, most nowhere near as good as the originals.

Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series had many copycats and most, if not all, using the same style for the cover art: black and white soft focus with usually only one predominant colour. So over the next months expect to see tons of ‘mommy porn’, some better-written, some not but all riding the coattails of Fifty Shades of Grey and the ever-present hype machine.

I can even seen food guru and butter-lover, Paula Deen bringing out her next book…Fifty Shades of Gravy.

Al Navis is the owner of Handy Book in Toronto for the past 28 years, a used and out-of-print independent bookstore. He was chairman and host of Bouchercon: The World Mystery Convention in 1992 and 2004. He has also been on and off Toronto radio for over 30 years. Books are his business and first passion. Other passions are most sports (except basketball), most music (except C&W and rap) and radio. More recently he has gotten back into editing and writing as well as appraising book collections for insurance or for loss.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012


Plan for the future!

Since I've now passed the 'what now' stage (see yesterday's post-conference blog) and actually have a plan of action, I've decided to throw something else into the mix. I've given this a lot of thought over the past year but haven't taken the time to act on it. This slower paced summer should be the ideal time.

I'm going to volunteer!

Back when I had a real paying job...could be as far back as the mid-1990's...volunteering was an important part of my life. I believe that it's a value added part of being a citizen but somehow I'd let it slip when the book world became more established in my life. Having a store is all-consuming and writing, even more so. But this is the summer to change all that!

I'm also becoming a volunteer for a purely selfish reason -- to add some structure to my writing life. I find, as I've said on numerous occasions, that I write best to a deadline. So, since I no longer have a full time job that takes me out of the house at a specified hour for a particular time period, I have to devise a schedule that makes sure I write, along with doing all those other things that eat up one's time. Not always an easy task when each new entire day unfolds. Oh, did I mention I'm somewhat lacking in the self-discipline department?

A few committed hours outside the home each week will add that sense of urgency to my writing time. Contrived but true. Now, the challenge is to find a 'job' that needs doing (not difficult as the list of volunteer jobs through Volunteer Ottawa is large). I'd like it to be something that I've not been involved in before; something that will make me stretch a little or a lot.

How do the rest of you who lack self-discipline handle your writing life? I'd be interested in suggestions.

Linda Wiken/Erika Chase

Berkley Prime Crime, now available
READ & BURIED, coming Dec., 2012

Monday, June 4, 2012


So, what now?

I'm all pumped up after the Bloody Words weekend in Toronto. It was such a high, schmoozing with old friends, making new ones, getting some great ideas at the panels and basically enjoying the enthusiasm that readers generate. I can't stress enough the importance of these conferences for writers and readers alike. Thanks to the entire Bloody Gang for once again doing such an outstanding job!

But, here I am, at my computer, ready to write with nothing on the go. No looming or even distant deadlines. How can this be and what am I to do?

My 3-book contract with Berkley has been fulfilled, except for the editing stages. Book 2, Read & Buried, has a copyediting stage to go through before its Dec. 3 release date. Book 3, with a working title of A Deadly Plot, went into my editor last Wed. Whether the contract will be extended depends now on how sales of A Killer Read are going and that won't be determined until this fall. Ouch. Talk about being on tenterhooks.

However, being all pumped up as I am, I've decided it's best to start on book 4, just in case. If it's not bought, then it was still a useful writing exercise. I think, after listening the the novella panel, it would also be fun to try my hand at writing a Rapid Reads, also not a guarantee sale, but a challenge to keep my writing fresh by trying a different length and style. There's also that first novel I've been meaning to rewrite...being such a sage at this point ~. And, it's always good to have a short story in the hopper, just in case an opportunity to submit arises.

Hmmm...seems I do have things to do after all.

That's, of course, in conjunction with spring (soon to be summer) cleaning, landscaping challenges, and an awful lot of correspondence to catch up on.

What's your next project? Or are you near finishing something at the moment? I wish you lots of energy and enthusiasm. I've got it at the moment so better get to it!

Linda Wiken/Erika Chase

Berkley Prime Crime, now available
READ & BURIED, coming Dec., 2012

Friday, June 1, 2012


A Criminally Good Weekend

This is it! Bloody Words 2012 is happening right now in Toronto! And why aren't you here? Okay...I know there are some very good reasons for not, other commitments, money. But it's too bad because this is THE CRIME SCENE this weekend.

Last night, Crime Writers of Canada had a chance to applaud the best in our business and hand out the Arthur Ellis Awards. It was a truly awesome evening and shows just how terrific a writing scene is happening from sea to sea to sea.

Now, it's a weekend for lots of schmoozing in the halls, in the bars and over food; for lots of loose talk in the panels; for agent appointments, signings and stocking up on favourite and new authors in the Dealers' Room. There's the Bony Pete award for best short story and this year, a first, the Bony Blithe for best light mystery. Well done, Bloody Words!

A tremendous amount of thanks has to go to the Bloody Gang that organizes this event year after year after year. It's no wonder that next year's format will be shorter but just as sweet. Stay tuned for more on that. But it takes a lot of long range planning and person hours to make this conference such a big success every year. Caro Soles, the criminal mind that got it all rolling and continues to be part of the Gang, had the right idea twelve years ago. Create it and they will come, she said. And crime writers and readers have been doing so for all this time.

I salute you Caro, Cheryl Freedman and all the Bloody Gang! And a tip of the hat to all crime writers across the country, to our faithful publishers, sales reps and booksellers, and especially to all your readers who make it all happen by demanding to read home grown books. And even those set far away.

Let's all celebrate this weekend!

Linda Wiken/Erika Chase

Berkley Prime Crime, now available
READ & BURIED, coming Dec., 2012