Friday, October 25, 2013


1. Who has influenced you the most in your writing career?

Agatha Christie has always been my ideal of the perfect mystery writer. She leads you down a path that you're totally committed to, only to finds that it goes nowhere. I've looked at her books again and again to see how she does it. She sets the stage, creates tension, and delivers death with a minimum of words and description. My latest book, Long Gone Man, is really a salute to Christie. The opening was inspired by a Christie play. A car goes off the road in a fog. The driver goes to the nearest house and knocks on the door and it’s opened by a woman with a gun in her hand. On the floor behind her is a body. The woman says, “Come in.” The book ends with all the characters in sitting in one room for the unmasking of the murderer.

2. What are you working on now?

I've just signed a contract for my 6th Sherri Travis novel, which will be out in the fall of 2014. While I'm waiting for the final edit on Martini, I'm working on the second Singer Brown novel. Singer finds the diary of a teenage girl and the next day, before she can return the diary, she learns the girl has been murdered.

3. In what ways is your main protagonist like you? If at all?

I always feel if the protagonist is like his or her creator than so is the worst character in the book. Do we want to hold our hands up to that as well? Maybe Sherri Travis is the woman I'd like to be, young, a scratch golfer and fearless...well most of the time.

4. Are you character driven or plot driven?

I don't feel that character and plot can be separated. The plot evolves out of the characters and their interaction. The same plot, with different characters, would create a different story.

5. Are you a pantser or a plotter?

Both, I start out with a plan and never stick to it. Somewhere along the way dark forces take over and lead me astray. At that point I need to trust that somehow I'll get back on track and it will all work out. It's a little bit like following a recipe where you accidently put in the wrong spice, cloves instead of cinnamon. Like storylines, the best dishes are the ones you play with and tweak.

6. What do you hope readers will most take away from your writing?

This is an interesting question and one I've been thinking about a lot lately. Initially I just wrote without thinking about what people take away from these stories. Now I realize that there is a reoccurring theme in them, something that has a lot to do with the way I view the world. Friendship and survival are at the heart of every book. Surviving the evil that life throws at them, Sherri and Singer get by with a little help from their friends. Isn't that something we all need?

7. Where do you see yourself as a writer in 10 years?

Well, if I'm very very lucky, I'll still be sitting here in front of my computer -except I'll be older. I’ll be very, very, old. I have three books outlined and I would like to finish those. Beyond that I can’t begin to guess. The truth is, I have more story ideas than I will ever be able to use.

8. What is one thing your readers would be most surprised to know about you?

Nothing! Pretty much what you see is what you get, except maybe I'm not as brash inside as I am outside.

9. What do you like to read for pleasure?

I read mysteries. I only dip into literary fiction for my book club. Most of the time it just frustrates me, much ado about nothing, and I want to yell, "When is something going to happen?" I dip into a lot of books I don’t finish. In fact, I probably only fully read about one in five of the books I pick up. The ones that I put aside are the ones where I start editing, tweaking the plot in my head, and redrawing characters. Writing changes the way you read and makes you far more critical.

10. Give us a summary of your latest book in a Tweet.

Singer Brown arrives on Glenphiddie Island to kill a man. Someone has already done the job. Now the murderer is coming after Singer.

Phyllis Smallman’s first novel, Margarita Nights, won the inaugural Unhanged Author award from the Crime Writers of Canada. Her work has appeared in both Spinetingler Magazine and Omni Mystery Magazine and she has received two awards for her short stories. The Florida Writer’s Association shortlisted Champagne for Buzzards as the best Florida book for 2012. Long Gone Man is her 6th book.

Friday, October 18, 2013


by Brenda Chapman
Grass Roots Press

by Brenda Chapman
Grass Roots Press

Ottawa mystery writer Brenda Chapman has launched a new series, one of the first with Grass Roots Press, an Alberta publisher that is looking at the growing "reluctant reader" market. The first two in the Anna Sweet series, My Sister's Keep and The Hard Fall, were released earlier this month and the appeal of this series goes well beyond its intended market.

Anna Sweet is a former Ottawa police officer who returns to her hometown when her sister's life is threatened in My Sister's Keeper. She comes bearing baggage -- five years of moving around the US, working in bars and waitressing, outrunning her past which includes being jilted by her lover who turned to her sister, and killing a teen in the line of duty. She's at outs with her family but still, when family calls, Sweet answers. No one believes her sister is at risk. Until Sweet takes on a killer.

In The Hard Fall, Sweet has stayed in Ottawa to take care of her sick father, and joined a new PI firm. The case is a tough one -- a high profile married business tycoon, one of the movers and shakers in town, accused of murdering his mistress. Only his wife believes he's innocent until Sweet starts nosing around but even she is surprised by where her investigations lead. Her own life in danger, Sweet sets a trap that could be her last.

These novellas are the perfect length for that wait at the dentist's office, that short plane ride or just a time when you don't want to commit to an entire evening of reading. Fast paced and gripping, well-drawn characters, and dialogue that says volumes, the Anna Sweet series will also be a hit with those of us already committed to reading. Brenda Chapman has perfected the skill of saying a lot with a few words. Don't let the size of these books nor their designation stop you from reading them. You'll find a satisfying read awaiting.

Friday, October 11, 2013

How Close is Too Close to Home?
By Melodie Campbell

It all closed in on me at the launch of The Goddaughter mob caper in Hamilton. Eighty-five people stood waiting.

The local television station had cameras in my face. So far, it had been an easy interview focused on my awards and comedy career. The fellow was charming. I liked him a lot. Then he dropped the bomb.

“So…have you ever met a member of the mob?”

I didn’t like him so much anymore.

Yikes! Hesitation. A lot of feet shuffling.

“Yes.” I said, very precisely. So precisely, that everyone in the room laughed nervously. “In fact, I had to wait until certain members of my family died before getting this book published. ‘Nuf said.”

The ‘nuf said’ was the closure. He got it. Being a smart lad, he even let it drop.
But it made me think about how close you want to get in a book to real life.

As writers, we research a hell of a lot. Of course, I did research for The Goddaughter series. Some of the study was pretty close to home, as I riffed on memories from my childhood. But I write comedies, so perhaps the expectations aren’t as great for me to be entirely accurate. Good thing about that.

In the screwball comedy The Goddaughter's Revenge, I am not very close to real life. Gina must get back fake rings from some of her best clients. So she masterminds a bunch of burglaries that go…well…wrong. It’s great fun, and rather innocent on the grand scale of criminal activities.

But I do cut pretty close to the wire in describing Hamilton. The streets are real. The names of the neighbourhoods are real. I even describe the location of the restaurant where the mob (in my books) hangs out. I changed the name, of course, because the last thing I want is readers thinking this hot resto is really a mob hangout. And besides, it’s fun when fans email me to say, “When they all meet at La Paloma, did you really mean XXX?” Readers feel they’ve been part of an in-joke.

How close is too close? Here’s what I’ve learned. You never want to offend anyone by:
1. Using real names of mobsters past or present. They have ways of finding you. Even the dead ones. We are Sicilian, after all.
2. Using a street number that is real and can be tracked down. Especially if you are describing a call girl establishment. Believe me, this is not cool. Mrs. Harmon hated it. Mrs. Murphy, on the other hand…but I digress.

So in The Goddaughter's Revenge, I want you to feel Hamilton. To smell the smoke of Steeltown and experience the ambiance of a post-industrial city in decline. Like parts of New Jersey, The Hammer is rife with delightfully quirky areas that lend themselves perfectly to a mob caper.

I love this city with character. And I hope that comes through in The Goddaughter's Revenge.

Melodie Campbell has over 200 publications and was a finalist for the 2012 Derringer, and both the 2012 and 2013 Arthur Ellis awards. She is the Executive Director of Crime Writers of Canada.
Library Journal says this about Melodie`s third novel, The Goddaughter (Orca Books):
``Campbell`s crime caper is just right for Janet Evanovich fans. Wacky family connections and snappy dialogue make it impossible not to laugh.``

Follow Melodie’s comic blog at

Friday, October 4, 2013


Many legacies in crime.

I was guest speaker at a seniors' centre function the other day and someone asked me about Patricia Highsmith. Now there's a name from the past but she's regained new fame with the recent re-releases of her Ripley series, long after her death. I guess that's the thing about solid writing, it may dated but it's never out-of-date. New readers may be found and old flames ignited. Certainly the likes of Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers are still widely-read and acquiring new, younger audiences each year.

There are several Canadian mystery writers we haven't heard from for years. Eric Wright, although I understand he is still writing, and Howard Engel come to mind first off. How about Medora Sale, Lyn Hamilton, Ted Wood and Alison Gordon? Then, searching back further there was L.R. Wright, Scott Young, Ross Macdonald, and Margaret Millar to name but a few. They all certainly left their marks on the Canadian scene as well as a much wider mystery reading arena, too. And we all, writers and readers, are indebted to them.

Who comes to mind when recalling mystery authors from the past?

On another note, I'm having great difficulty with Blogger these days as it won't allow me to insert the Events feature in the sidebar. I know, it's probably me not finding the right keystroke or something. Anything, until I get on top of it, I'll mention upcoming events at the bottom of each new blog. And by the way, next Friday there's a guest blog by Melodie Campbell. You won't want to miss it!


Sat. Oct. 5, 1-3 p.m. BRENDA CHAPMAN signs her two new mystery novellas at Brittons in the Glebe, 846 Bank St.