Monday, October 29, 2012


The shrinking world of publishing.

We've all been concerned over the shrinking world of independent bookstores, with our wonderful Books on Beechwood in Ottawa being the latest scheduled for closure (early in the new year). Also, there's the fact that the book sections in the large Chapters/Indigo chain appear to be shrinking in favour of more gift items...a trend that's been going on for a while now.

We've also heard about bankruptcies of various publishing houses over the past few years. Now there's another reason to be concerned with the news that Random House and the Penguin group, two of the largest publishing houses around, are talking merger.

So what's brought this on? Are they being prudent and looking at the future or are there money concerns for one or both at this point? A merger would certainly take care of that, making one major stronghouse in publishing with a lot of assets attached.

The downside of course, is what happens to the authors? And, the readers? The'A' list authors have no need to fear, I'm sure, but what about the others? Those working hard at making a name for themselves and the resulting sales? And those trying hard to get a toe into the publishing ranks? What will become of them?

Publishing their own e-books, you say? I'm certain that will be the route the majority will take. But I still mourn the inevitable loss of a large variety of authors available in print. And what about the reader? Those who don't have and won't ever own an e-reader? Those who already have favourite authors they're following, who might suddenly not be in print any longer? Less choice cannot be a good thing.

Of course, this may not happen but in this quickly changing world of publishing, we know that the status quo is never a sure thing.

What are your thoughts about it? Is there any way this can be a good thing? Or is it writer -- and reader -- beware?

Linda Wiken/Erika Chase

Berkley Prime Crime, now available
READ and BURIED, coming Dec., 2012, available for pre-order

Friday, October 26, 2012


Let's get downloading...

Further to Vicki Cameron's post on Wed., which was further to an earlier blog done by me, let's talk a bit more about e-books. We all know how popular it's becoming to turn out an e-book, for fledgling authors and the seasoned ones, too. But how do you launch them when there's nothing to wave around, sell or sign?

We faced that dilemma with the recently published The Whole She-Bang, the short story anthology from Sisters in Crime Toronto, edited by Janet Costello. Of course, we had the lead of the Toronto gals when it came to planning the launch. And, there was a print version available, a print-on-demand.

However, the four of us in the Ottawa area did some humming and hawing before coming up with the idea of a Downloading Launch. I must admit, we weren't original with the thought. But also, we had the ideal location in order to throw such a bash. A branch of the Ottawa Public Library, complete with free Wi-Fi for attendees.

We went through the usual introductions and readings, then came the moment of truth...would most people opt to buy the print copy or would they whip out their e-readers and hook into Amazon or Smashwords to purchase an e-version at just 99 cents? (It's now also available through Chapters for Kobo.) Elizabeth Hosang, one of our authors, was prepared to walk anyone through the logistics but, maybe not so much to our surprise, no one took advantage of the opportunity. They chose the print books instead.

The moral of the story...we can't avoid the electronics, even though I continue to champion what a great way to embrace it. But have those print copies handy, too. And, I've been told, there is a way to sign an e-book...but that would mean I'd have to learn a whole new computer technique. Not this week!

Linda Wiken/Erika Chase

Berkley Prime Crime, now available
READ and BURIED, coming Dec., 2012, available for pre-order

Wednesday, October 24, 2012


I was reading the Maven's blog about ebooks, and thought I would share something with all of you.

On our recent cruise to Asia, we attended the daily enrichment lectures in the big theatre. Because there were 2,500 people on the cruise, and only 1,000 seats in the theatre, everybody showed up early to get a seat. What to do with that dead half hour? Read. What to read?
80% of the passengers were carrying electronic reading devices. Here is a photo of the row I was in. 13 seats. I was taking the photo. Everyone else was reading. Two were reading novels. Ten were reading from hand held devices.

Notice the demographic. Mostly retired folk. People our age, who are not as adept with technology as the next two generations are, have adopted this new medium with vigor. Electronic books are indispensible on cruise ships, because of all the free time available, and the restrictions in luggage space. The ship's library did a roaring trade in fiction and non-fiction, but it was a small library, so the selection was somewhat limited.

Most people on the cruise were veteran cruisers who knew how things work and what to expect. They were prepared.

With ebook readers.

Monday, October 22, 2012


Savouring the Suspense

I had a grade school teacher once ask this question: What part of an activity or event provides the greatest enjoyment – before, during or after an experience? In other words, is anticipation, real time experience or memory of the experience the most pleasurable?

My brother-in-law told me a story from his childhood that I still find amusing. He’d found his wrapped presents in the closet of his parents’ bedroom closet a few weeks before Christmas. The impulse to find out what was in the packages won out over enjoying two more weeks of suspense and anticipation. Imagine his panic as he lay on his parents’ bed enjoying his new Walkman when he heard the back door open and his parents call upstairs that they were home. Somehow, he managed to avoid getting caught and even feigned surprise Christmas morning.

I, on the other hand, would never have opened my gifts early, even knowing I wouldn’t get caught. For me, the anticipation bit, the not knowing period is one of, if not the best part. I dislike book and movie reviews that tell too much about the plot. I switch TV channels rather than watch a trailer for an upcoming show that will show the highlights. I put off opening presents as long as possible.

I like the surprise.

Perhaps, this is why I write mysteries. Each manuscript comes loaded with surprises, whether they be characters who suddenly appear, events that unfold completely unplanned or crimes that I didn’t see coming. This isn’t to say that I don’t have any idea where a story is going once I get started, but in the writing of each one, unexpected plot twists occur, and I find that contemplating the next step is exciting. Suspense builds in unexpected ways and I enjoy being along for the ride.

For instance, in my latest novel Second Chances, my main character Darlene Findley’s older rebellious and promiscuous cousin Elizabeth come to stay for the summer. I wasn’t completely certain how the two would interact or what the upshot of their entanglement would be, but I knew their enforced closeness would create some good conflict that would be great fun to write. I was not disappointed.

I feel the same sense of anticipation when I purchase a new mystery or thriller. Who doesn’t enjoy holding a new book by a loved author in their hands before reading the first word? Taking time to savour the slow unfolding of a story, the language chosen, the characters revealed – the build up of suspense can be more satisfying than reaching the conclusion.

Perhaps, you would say that the actual act of delving into the book or the memory of the completed story are just as enjoyable as the anticipation of reading it, and I would have a hard time arguing with you. The act of reading and becoming immersed in another world are certainly pleasurable pastimes. Yet, recalling the book years later might give someone more pleasure than the actual time spent reading it. In all cases, however, I’d say that the anticipation and build up of suspense are imperative for later enjoyment of the resolution.

So, are you the type of person who wants to open your gifts early or do you prefer to wait and imagine what is inside the wrapping? Would you rather linger over the suspense in a mystery book or read the ending first?

Take your time answering – I don’t mind being kept in suspense.

Brenda Chapman is the Ottawa author of several mysteries for young adults and adults. Cold Mourning, the first in an adult mystery series will be released by Dundurn fall 2013. Second Chances is her latest release for older teens.

Saturday, October 20, 2012


by Brenda Chapman
Dundurn Press

I don't often read young adult novels. But I'm so glad I read this one. I was willing to take a chance on Second Chances, no pun intended, because I so enjoyed Brenda Chapman's adult mystery, In Winter's Grip. It turns out, I was right. She knows how to write a novel that keeps you reading right to the end regardless of age.

The setting in geographical terms is cottage country, Cedar Lake in the Northumberland Hills, between Toronto and Ottawa. In time, it's 1971, and those of us who were anywhere from our early to late teens, even beyond, are pulled right back to those days. Remember? The flower power children had morphed into older shapes, still searching for peace and forgetfulness. The names in the music world we thrived on were Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, and Led Zeppelin. Cut-off shorts and peasant blouses were the norm. And Seventeen magazine still dictated to the young girls of the day. It was also the time of the Vietnam War.

This is the world of fifteen-year-old Darlene Findley, spending the summer, away from Ottawa, at the cottage and the convenience store owned by her mom. It's a turbulent world of a grief-stricken father whose short-temper hides the pain, a mother who Darlene fears may be searching for something new, and a rich cousin from Toronto, sent to the lake in hopes it will do her some good. What it does it add more torment to Darlene's life.

As the summer drags on and strangers move into a nearby cottage, Darlene gets pulled into secrets that could lead to someone's imprisonment at best, death at worst. Always filled with the need to know, a trait that works well with her writing talent, Darlene must come to grips with past and present relationships, the hidden lives within her house, and what she truly believes in.

A true coming of age story, Second Chances is infused with the textures of those days. Chapman's smooth writing keeps the story moving, even when nothing much seems to be happening. We feel Darlene's changing emotions, we see the beauty of the lake country, we can smell the pork roast in the Findley oven. That takes skill.

And it's not surprising, coming from the desk of Brenda Chapman.

Friday, October 19, 2012


Exposing oneself!

I'm kind of a private person. I keep my private life just that -- private. And, what you see via the social media is usually book-related or trivial. That's why yesterday's Facebook 'expose' was really quite irritating. Until you start laughing.

If you missed it (which I truly hope you did), I happened to confirm a friend request which then led to my being tagged in a very risque photo. Now, I don't know if this 'friend' is the spammer or if yet another force is at work here. Whatever.

At choir last night one of my real friends said he laughed so hard he almost fell off his chair. I like that response. Although part of me is in a bit of a huff -- women in their sixties can be sexy, John!

But I digress. I then thought about why I, a private person, am on Facebook and Twitter to start with. Promotion. That's the reason. On my real person site, I'm hoping to encourage readers to visit Mystery Maven Canada. But then I added old time friends, family, choir members, writing colleagues, maybe it's expanded a bit. You think? And now that I do think about it, I included my maiden name to try to re-connect with old high school buddies.

Okay, but my Erika Chase site is really about promotion. In this fiercely competitive, although supportive, publishing world an author really has to work hard at getting her or his name out there. But Erika's site has also morphed into friends, family, writing get the picture.

That got me thinking about my protagonist. Another choir member (it was choir night last night) told me she's reading A Killer Read and hears me in Lizzie Turner, my main character. Okay, I gave her an almond butter addiction -- that's me. The two Siamese cats are also me. But aside from another trait here or there, I see her as her own, although fictional, person. To me, she's a totally separate woman. That's what characters have to be.

Because we experience life and have friends and meet people, they're bound to influence our writing and creep in -- sometimes on purpose but at other times, as a part of that imagination. And what's that based on? Life, I suppose.

So back to the beginning. Would a writer who values her privacy put a lot of her life into her character? Well, I figure, it doesn't really matter. We all start at different points in our writing; we have different goals; we write different stories. No right or wrong here.

So much for today's ramble. I wonder what my real writing will be like today.

Linda Wiken/Erika Chase

Berkley Prime Crime, now available
READ and BURIED, coming Dec., 2012, available for pre-order

Wednesday, October 17, 2012


What’s in a Barrel of Books?

Once upon a time there was a young quarryman named Thomas Charles Currie who left his impoverished Welsh village to find better economic opportunity across the ocean in Newfoundland, at a slate quarry owned by two uncles. He brought with him on the steamship a suitcase of his meagre belongings and a wooden barrel of books. In the Newfoundland village of Britannia Cove he met and married a local girl and in short order found himself the father of a son, whom he named Cecil, a name apparently in vogue at the time. It was 1905.

Another son was soon added, but unfortunately job problems continued to plague the young father. The Newfoundland quarry went bankrupt, and the family had to pick up stakes several times and move across the ocean and across Newfoundland in search of work. At times it seemed the only constant, and the only source of pleasure and entertainment, was that barrel of books that travelled by steamship, train and horse-drawn cart wherever they went. I don’t know what was in the barrel, apart from the Bible, but I like to imagine there was Dickens, Dylan Thomas, Shakespeare, and perhaps Mark Twain. Thomas Charles spent much of his leisure time with his nose buried in a book.

Young Cecil grew up often hungry, lonely, and cold, but entranced by the power of the book to hold his father’s interest on those long winter nights by the kitchen stove. When he was old enough to open the pages, he began to pore over the books himself, eager to understand their magical allure.

When Cecil was six, his mother died giving birth to her third son, and the grief-stricken father married the woman he had hired to care for the children. Two more children were quickly added and the stepmother viewed Cecil as no more than cheap labour. When he objected, he was beaten, sent to bed without dinner or made to eat his food off the floor. Cecil grew into a puny, undernourished, defiant little boy. School was his only refuge, books his greatest escape.

Then came twin catastrophes that eclipsed all else. At eleven, he contracted polio, and because his stepmother believed he was malingering, he didn’t get treatment until his right arm and shoulder were permanently paralyzed. Two years later his father fell to his death at his job in Halifax, leaving Cecil at the mercy of his increasingly overwhelmed and desperate stepmother, who sent him and his little brother to work two paper routes before and after school and confiscated every penny they earned. Defiance only brought more severe punishment. He resorted to truancy, stealing and running away from home, until finally he was sent to reform school for wayward boys, where he spent his teenage years.

Through all of this, a cunning and inventive mind was born. Books had opened up a world far beyond the bounds of his own misery. It had shown him the glory of ideas and learning, and given him an unquenchable thirst for knowledge. Whether because of his early reading or natural intelligence, he absorbed everything like a sponge and excelled at academics far beyond his age and formal schooling. This intelligence and drive was noticed by the superintendent of the reform school, who saw his intellect as a path out of delinquency. The reform school did not have grades high enough to challenge him, but the superintendent found him high school texts and a room to study in, so that he could learn on his own.

At sixteen, Cecil wrote his first Halifax Academy exams, and at nineteen armed with a brand-new high school diploma, he began to teach school himself in Newfoundland outports. He had his sights set much higher, however. Study at the great institutions of the world, learning from the great thinkers. Four years later, having taught himself and his outport class Latin, which was a prerequisite for admission, he was accepted at McGill University to study philosophy. His academic journey took him from McGill to Heidelberg and Berlin, to Columbia and ultimately to Harvard University, where he earned his PhD in philosophy and began a long, successful career as a professor at McGill.

This is a story of the power of books. Power not only to provide escape and pleasure, but also hope. To be a lifeline to a desperate child – poor, neglected and hampered by his disability - not only to fuel his dreams of a larger, brighter world beyond his own but also to light a pathway towards those dreams.

The little boy was my father. I am aware that he had an extraordinary intellect and that the adversity of his life itself, along with his physical limitations, helped hone that passion. But it all started with a barrel of books, cherished through hard times and multiple moves from each temporary home to another.

A barrel of books, and someone to show the way. If only all children had that.

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.

Monday, October 15, 2012


Thinking back....

I've been asked to be interviewed for someone's blog. Her name is Cathy and the blog site is www.Kittling:Books and I'm staring at the questions right now. They're quite different from any other blogger's questions I've faced. And, I'm enjoying the process.

This one, though had me scrambling through what's been a very hectic couple of years, searching my memory and enjoying the process. She asks, "How did you celebrate when you first heard you were to be published? What did you do the first time you saw one of your books on a shelf in a bookstore?"

Have a heart attack? Does that qualify as an answer?

What makes this so much fun to think about is the people I shared the news with. First phone call was to Mary Jane Maffini, fellow mystery author, former business partner, and friend extraodinaire. She's the one who got the whole ball rolling in the first place and I wanted her to know just how grateful I was! Then, my sister got the next phone call, because she's a great support and always there for me. Next in line were the inspiring gals of the Ladies' Killing Circle, my critiquing group for so many years. In fact, we're cruising towards a 25th anniversary in the next few years...and that word, 'cruising' maybe be significant.

My excitement meter was hitting maximum and it took a long while to calm down, as I recall.

The first time I saw A Killer Read on the bookshelves was at Perfect Books on Elgin Street in Ottawa. It was my first signing, after basking in the thrill of a book launch handled by Books on Beechwood. I took several pictures of the book on the shelves, of the signing table, of the magnificent large poster in the window. I still takes pictures in bookstores and I guess it will start all over again when the second book comes out in December.

I think that's one of the pay-offs in this writing life. Seeing your book, your title, your name on the cover (or you alter ego's name) on the bookshelves. The other, of course, is getting feedback (especially the positive) from readers.

Can you answer the question? Do you remember that feeling and what you did?

Linda Wiken/Erika Chase

Berkley Prime Crime, now available
READ and BURIED, coming Dec., 2012, available for pre-order

Friday, October 12, 2012


Trying on a new series for size!

I've been tossing around ideas for a new series these past few weeks. It seems the one I found myself being pulled into is not one that will fly with my publisher, according to my agent. Fair enough. So it's back to the drawing board, although I'll not totally shelve my idea. There are other publishers around, after all.

Coming up with an idea is similar to being let loose in a candy shop, or for me, a chocolate shop. All those shapes, colours, tastes just waiting to be combined and tried. All those ideas of settings, themes, characters, all at a ready. The tough part is narrowing it down to one. And, of course, trying to think of what will grab the editor's fancy.

That's my problem, too many ideas and forcing myself to commit to one. Or two, at this stage. Perhaps it's a good idea to test drive the finalists, when I arrive at that stage. Maybe craft a short story using the characters and setting. See how they feel and read on paper, all fleshed-out. And then, of course, finding a market for that story. But perhaps by that point, I'll have found the set of characters, particularly a protagonist I want to spend a lot of time, years actually, around.

Okay, I admit that taking this approach is really writing for the market, rather than starting with what I feel I need to say and who I want to say it. But it works. By the time I'm well into writing the book, it has morphed into the story I want to be writing and telling. That, after all, is what writers do. And now, back to the brainstorming.

How do you handle it?

So many little time!

Linda Wiken/Erika Chase

Berkley Prime Crime, now available
READ and BURIED, coming Dec., 2012, available for pre-order

Wednesday, October 10, 2012


Editing Yourself

On a recent two week voyage from Greenland to Ungava Bay, around the northern tip of Labrador and down the Labrador and Newfoundland coast ending up in St. John’s I considered editing.

Faced with 108 fellow passengers I had the opportunity to create myself. What would I choose to tell and what would it reveal about who I’d chosen to be?

With four books and many short stories to my name I should be an old hand at this. After all writers have to know their characters. What does she wear? How does she speak? What obsessions does she have? The list goes on and on. The importance of knowing your character and how she will behave cannot be overemphasized. Without taking the care to make sure your characters behave in ways compatible with their personalities you jeopardize the believability of your story.

Because I have created many characters and enjoy thinking about them and their lives long before I write a word I thought I’d be good at deciding who I’d be and what facts about myself I’d choose to share.

Not so easy.

In the first place, a small voice in your head goes into critical overdrive.

If you say where you’ve chosen to travel will the listener think it’s interesting or not. If you tell people your age will they write you off as a little old lady off on a trip? If you reveal that you’re a writer when Margaret Atwood, Graham Gibson and Kevin Major are on the trip will it seem presumptuous? If you mention that you’re planning to paint for three months and plan to use your photos as reference material will they think you want them to ask for jpegs when the paintings are done? If you wear fancy ear rings and bracelets will they think you aren’t really a traveller but a tourist?

And so it went. Every time I thought of something to add or introduce in a conversation my inner voice questioned why I wanted to say it and asked what impression I was trying to make.

The result. I found the first few days challenging. All that changed one evening when I looked across the dinner table at a man sitting opposite and asked him his surname. Turned out he and his wife had gone to university with me as had another man on the ship. No hiding or creating a new persona. They knew me.

It was a relief.

Editing myself had proved a daunting task, much harder than creating fictional characters. But it might have been fun to present myself as a retired juggler, bank robber or secret romantic interest of some nefarious character. I expect that people on trips do invent exciting lives for themselves knowing they are unlikely to ever see their fellow passengers again.

Next time.

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.

Monday, October 8, 2012


The Bouchercon Blog

It's over. Ended for another year. The frantic rush to get packed, the looong ten-hour drive to Cleveland, Ohio, the three or four days (depending on when you left for home) jam-packed with a wide array of panels and topics, the hours on end of schmoozing with old and new author friends and readers. And let's not forget the food and liquid libation.

This was the blur of Bouchercon 2012. As is the case with most mystery cons, the energy level was high and most authors scurried home ready to tackle the latest writing projects. That's the pay-off of attending a conference. They are encouraging and energizing, as well as providing access to other writers' ideas and suggestions.

The author guests of honour this year were Elizabeth George, Les Roberts, Mary Higgins Clark, and Robin Cook with the devilishly clever John Connolly keeping things moving on as Toastmaster. All were a delight to see and hear.

The Canadians rocked, hosting the Meet the Canucks dessert event, complete with honking geese, the Hang-in game, and free books. There were about 16 robust authors from across the country helping to spread the Canadian crime writing word.

The only glitch was when Canadian bookseller, Don Longmuir from Scene of the Crime Books, was stopped at the border for nine hours by American customs officials. Despite having the proper paperwork, he was not allowed to bring his books across the border to sell in the dealer room. Something about taking away jobs from Americans. Rubbish! (Notice me being polite!)

Canadian authors were left high and dry, along with many American authors, the reason being Don was selling all the paperbacks. Not one of the other book dealers was carrying them, not even those by American authors. The others were all carrying first edition mysteries, used and collectibles. As you can imagine, there were an awful lot of unhappy authors around. However, their enthusiasm was not dampened in tackling the panel topics and readers' questions.

The exciting news is that the bid from the Toronto gang to host Bouchercon in 2017 was accepted. Let's make sure we really wave the flag and have lots of Canadian authors attending this event. We'll do Canada proud...and, you'll have a great time, as well.

Linda Wiken/Erika Chase

Berkley Prime Crime, now available
READ and BURIED, coming Dec., 2012, available for pre-order

Friday, October 5, 2012


Since this is Bouchercon weekend, I'm skipping the usual post for today and instead, wish everyone a Happy Thanksgiving!

I do have a blog appearing on Type M For Murder today and one on Sunday, on Killer Characters. So, I haven't totally goofed off! I said, HAPPY THANKSGIVING. Let's be thankful for so many great Canadian mystery writers!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012


Launching an e-book

So much has changed in the publishing world recently that it's hard for an old scribbler like me to keep up. But the biggest change, surely, is the recent move to e-publishing. Paper books are still being produced but if you believe the pundits, the prognosis isn't good.

Last year, for the first time, e-books outsold the printed variety. Right now most books by established authors are available in both formats. But how long can that last? The panel topics at Bouchercon and other recent mystery conferences reflect enormous uncertainty around the future of books.

I'm one of four Ottawa short story writers who have contributed stories to an anthology produced by Sisters in Crime Toronto Branch. The Whole She-bang will be an e-book. You may have read Janet Costello's blog in this spot on Monday about how the anthology came about and the decision to make it electronic. There will be a few print-on-demand copies available for those who haven't made the jump to Kindle and co. but primarily it's an e-book, downloadable onto all readers for the princely sum of ninety-nine cents .

The question the four Ottawa contributors are now struggling with is how in the world do we launch an e-book? It feels like we're breaking new ground here. Normally, book launches involve book stores to sell the books. But what do you do when there are no "books" to sell?

We've decided that instead of a traditional launch we'll have a Download Party at the Greenboro Branch of the Ottawa Public Library, 363 Lorry Greenberg Drive on Wednesday, October 24 at 7 pm.

Bring your e-readers and join Elizabeth Hosang, Sue Pike, Madona Skaff and Linda Wiken (the Mystery Maven herself.) We can promise plenty of refreshments, readings and the usual kibitzing. If you don't have an electronic reader, Elizabeth will show us how to download books onto our laptops. Do come. We'd love to see you there!

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.


I am a rotten sleeper. I can lie awake for hours on end. If you're an insomniac, you know exactly what I mean.

Last year I discovered an amazing device. It's a headband with speakers the size of a dime embedded in very soft fleece. My husband looks askance at this piece of lilac-coloured frippery, but what does he know? He's never had a sleepless night in his life

I love to read at night but even though I almost always fall asleep with the book on my nose, the moment I turn out the light, my eyes snap open and I'm staring at the ceiling again. With my new sleep phones, however, I simply trade the book for my headband and drift off while somebody else does the reading.

I've had to learn what kinds of audio books are relaxing enough to put me to sleep. Mysteries are too alarming. Spy stories and horror tales are even worse. Humour can be risky, as a fit of the giggles at midnight might keep me awake for the rest of the night. I've really got to have my wits about me to listen to Science Fiction or Fantasy or heaven forbid, the Massey Lectures. The best audio books for me are somewhat boring. But it's a fine line. If it's too much of a yawn then I'm likely to get frustrated and that's no sleep inducement.

The best seem to be Dickens, Austen, Thackeray and books of that age and ilk. Recently I've been listening to the PG Wodehouse books featuring Bertie Wooster and his amiable valet, Jeeves. These are ideal and luckily for me, he wrote a ton of them. Nothing startling ever happens to Bertie, or at least nothing Jeeves can't handle. Bertie's aunt Agatha, who "chews broken bottles and kills rats with her teeth", might make another attempt to get him to the alter, or someone might steal the Empress of Blandings, an improbably named pig, but that's about as scary as these stories get. Before I know it, I'm sound asleep and the reader is still droning on in the morning.

I download audio books free from the library. They arrive on my laptop and from there I send them to my Walkman. And because I belong to both the Ottawa Public Library and the Rideau Lakes Library, which is part of the Ontario Library System, I have two sources to draw on. How's that for a deal?

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.

Monday, October 1, 2012


I had a dream.

Even before the judges had completed selection of the stories to be included in The Whole She-Bang, I had a vision of a youtube ad, featuring one sentence from each story.

My first concept was to do a Power Point slide presentation, with each slide a different colour, paging through a rainbow of backgrounds, with the sentence featured in contrasting type.

I spent an hour or so playing with Power Point. Being no expert, I couldn’t see how to do it. With this anthology being published by the volunteer organization of Sisters in Crime (Toronto Chapter), there were no funds to find a professional or get training. I could have tried harder to figure that part out, but sometime not long after my second attempt, I had another idea.

My friend Helen has a niece and nephew that are often lending a hand with various book lover activities. What if the sentences were portrayed on Bristol board pages, being held up by kids? This is a collection of mystery stories, some of the lines hold clearly murderous intent. Wouldn’t that be a catchy juxtaposition? For the best reading of the lines, and knowing that participation would be low if the children’s faces were to be included, the camera would be focused on the cards, but they’d be held by little hands. Ooh, and what if we had fun painting their nails? Bright red, sparkly red, some black…ooh and one friend suggested gloves!

Finding children available on a Saturday afternoon is not so easy. Fall classes for dance, swimming, other sports, music lessons, and family visits all limited my actor pool. And when I presented the concept to our marketing team, a couple raised the concern that a viewer might think The Whole She-Bang was a children’s book.So we sent out the casting call to the members of our Chapter: “Lend A Hand”. Helen Nelson enthusiastically offered to film the video using her Blackberry Playbook. Then she generously loaned her house for our film studio.

So Saturday afternoon, Sept 29th, I arrived with a colourful array of words on Bristol board. Inadvertently, while assembling these at the office, my desk a cat-free flat surface, I realized the bright variety of papers do draw attention. Co-workers who normally don’t chat with me, stopped to ask what I was doing. Even at Helen’s, our volunteers had fun scanning the cards before we started rehearsals.Helen was an excellent director, knowing the distance, methods, and ordering of action that would make the effort succeed. She also suggested some wonderful accoutrements, such as a lipstick-kissed wine glass, opera gloves and beads to border the setting for our mysterious words.

We filmed four complete run-throughs. We were trying to be silent for the filming, so that sound could be added afterwards. There were a couple of timing hiccups, and to my mortification my cell phone went off. In the final run, her cat, Pirate Jenny put in a good meow. I hope that stays in!

Next we will select appropriate music, with no copyright infringement issues, and get a little editing from one another volunteer.

Soon, our deliberately amusing, hand-made selection of lines from The Whole She-Bang will be available on youtube.

I had a dream. Be sure to see it!

For the past four years, Janet Costello has been editor of the newsletter for the Toronto Chapter of Sisters in Crime. She has attended 7 Bouchercons, 7 Bloody Words and, most recently, her first Left Coast Crime. Her rush reading pile holds more than 300 books. She is the editor of The Whole She-Bang, a collection of short stories by Canadians, coming as an e-book this month, from the Toronto Chapter of Sisters in Crime. Watch for a launch near you!