Saturday, December 27, 2014


I'm taking a break until early January. Time to relax and also, focus on writing. If I get really efficient and finish the book I'm reading, along with my book club book, I'll post a review next week.

Until then, wishing you a Merry Christmas,
Happy Hanukkah, and a very Happy New Year
with lots of plots and books!

Friday, December 19, 2014


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

I read a lot of George Orwell’s essays in my twenties. He was a wonderful non-fiction stylist with prose that was very distilled and economical but also very elegant. I hope that tendency to pare back and refine is in my fiction too. It’s something to work toward.

2. What are you working on now?

I’m working on the sequel to Put on the Armour of Light. It involves much enjoyable research on things Scottish because in this book, my two lead characters, Charles Lauchlan and Maggie Skene, go on a bicycle tour of the Highlands and get enmeshed in another mystery. I’ve had to become familiar with bicycles as they were in 1900 and have read lots of guide books on Scottish travel from that era. The problem has been tearing myself away from all this fascinating research in order to actually write the book.

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

Charles Lauchlan is a real amalgam. Inevitably, he has some of me in him. He loves books and is basically an introvert like me. But he’s more like my father and my brothers in that he can take and hold the centre of attention and is not uncomfortable there. He’s also a bit of a workaholic, which I have never been.

4. Are you character driven or plot driven?

I’m definitely more comfortable with character than with plot. And I think that if you know your characters, they will show you where the plot should go in many cases. I like to start with characters and then say, “Now, what do they do?”

5. Are you a pantser or a plotter?

I aspire to be a plotter but I’m really more of a plodder. I have to have some idea of where I’m going with a book or I will freeze with fear of that white, bare page looming ahead. But quite often in the writing, something that I have plotted turns out not to work after all and I have to have a considerable think in order to solve the problem and carry on.

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

I hope that I’ve created a world in which they can get lost for a while, then close the book at the end and think it’s been a very satisfying reading experience.

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

I would be happy to have written two or three more books during that time and to still be enjoying the process.

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

It’s at this point that I wish I had taken up sky-diving or become well-known as a quantum physicist in my spare time. But really, I’m quite an unsurprising person. I do play the saxophone, though rather badly.

9. What do you like to read for pleasure?

I read a lot of different stuff. Mysteries, of course, but also poetry and biography. Just now I’m reading a lot of Scottish books. I read a lot of local writers from Winnipeg, because I’ve always loved books set in Winnipeg, where I have lived since I was eleven. I talk about them on my blog, “portage and slain”, ( Other than that, my reading has no discipline or rationale and that’s exactly the way I like it.

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

June 1899. Rev. Charles Lauchlan must find evidence hidden behind the doors of Winnipeg’s elite before his friend is convicted of murder.

Catherine Macdonald made a career out of delving into the history of the Canadian Prairies, especially the urban history of Winnipeg, where she lives. Her historical research consulting business combined excellent research with lively and engaging presentation. One morning she woke up with an idea for a mystery novel and life has never been quite the same.
She blogs at and has a website at

Friday, December 12, 2014


Here we go again with another writing question posed to our four mystery authors: R.J. Harlick, Mary Jane Maffini, Barbara Fradkin, and Linda Wiken. This is the question: What are some cliches you should avoid in creating a series hero?

And these are their answers:


I like to avoid the cliche of the lone wolf cop or PI who breaks all the rules, drinks himself silly, eats junk food, wrecks his relationships, insists on working alone and never (!) seems to shower or change his clothes. He would probably leave his pet to die, but, of course, he doesn't have a pet. Yes, I know that's where the money is, but, hey, that's guy's a jackass.

Good thing I write cozies so i don't need to work him into the action.


I'll echo Mary Jane's pick. We've all read about him, or her, more than enough times and it doesn't really matter what the plot is, this hero is going to take center stage with his lifestyle. Of course, there's that deep, dark secret from the past that haunts the guy.

Another one, and this one hits home with writers of traditional mysteries, is the hero who plods along, appearing to bumble through an investigation or some private sleuthing, trying to appear like solving the crime is the last thing possible. You know these ones -- Columbo and Miss Marple come to mind. Of course, since we know and love these characters, we know and believe that justice will prevail. However, it's been done. And well. So move on. Or perhaps, do it with a twist.


The rebellious, hard drinking loner cop who can’t deal with authority or maintain a relationship with a woman for longer than 3 books, has a deep dark secret in his past and always gets his man or woman…Sound familiar?

I swear if there is one series with a cop protagonist like this there are a zillion of them. I’m reading one at the moment, Jo Nesbo’s Harry Hole. I am sure you can name others, some of which have reached bestseller status. But as much as this kind of a series character has become a cliché, you know what, if well crafted, I enjoy reading them, as do many others. So I don’t know whether as a writer you should avoid cliché characters, ratherI I think it is probably more important to recognize they are a cliché and use them appropriately, maybe add a twist or two so that all the cliché components don’t fall into place.


I think it’s important to avoid all cliches when creating a series hero. A series hero has to have certain qualities - usually intelligence, resourcefulness, and a passion to tackle problems. Apart from that, create a hero who has depth and humanity, with a real life and everyday problems along with their sleuthing, and avoid the urge to tack on “flaws” or “quirks” which are the lazy writer’s attempt to make the character unique without giving them any depth. Some cliches are obvious, such as the jaded, alcoholic cop, the “feisty”, kick-ass female, and the dithering little old lady with a mind like a stiletto.

Friday, December 5, 2014


1. Who has influenced me the most in my writing career?

Surrounded by the murmurings of writers, the question seems disarmingly simple and infinitely complex. I am writing this deep within Shakespeare and Company, the legendary bookstore on the Left Bank in Paris. The gleam of my laptop illuminates shelves tumbling with books that transform this cramped little alcove into a labyrinth of words. Looking around at books within my reach, it would be easy to pick out dozens of writers who influenced my life and writing, from the wonderfully eccentric Jorge Luis Borges to the profoundly thrilling P.D. James, from Poe and Hammett to Faulkner and Atwood. If I had to single out one, however, it would be Shakespeare, himself: for giving us language enriched so indelibly that four hundred years later it excites with its grandeur and subtlety, for mixing horror and wit in defiance of the classical rules, for writing with such exuberant insight about the extremities of human behavior, finding in murder and vengeance, romance and passion, the common threads that make up the human fabric.

2. What am I working on now?

I’ve just completed a trilogy of mysteries featuring a cosmopolitan private investigator who works out of Toronto and deals exclusively in murder. Harry Lindstrom is a paradox: a contemplative man of action, a brooding hedonist, a pragmatic moralist. Before the loss of his wife and children in a canoeing accident that he feels was his fault, he was a philosophy professor. The dramatic transition from exploring the fundamental questions of life in a lecture hall to exposing the mysteries arising from murder seems both absurd and grotesquely inevitable. A proud and solitary man of forty-three, Harry carries his wounds privately, with an edgy awareness that allows him to deal with inspired depravities that fall in his way, first in Sweden, then in Vienna, and finally on an axis linking the South Pacific to London and Greenwich in England.

3. In what ways are my protagonists and I alike?

I draw from the worlds I know, whether emotionally, socially, or geographically. The protagonists in my Quin and Morgan series originated in my wife, Beverley, and myself. They are originals, however: much of Miranda is born out of my own life and David Morgan, out of Beverley’s. Imagination is transformative. After emerging in three consecutive novels just finished, Harry is so familiar to me it is difficult to appreciate we have separate lives. The facts of our lives differ—I’m a lot old and not as smart— but we are cut from the same cloth.

4. Character driven or plot driven?

Characters caught up in situations that bring out the complexities of their innermost lives fascinate me, so the answer is both. Murder is the catalyst that sets the processes of revelation in motion.

5. Are you a pantser or a plotter?

I’m not sure of the difference between pantser and plotter. I work my characters through intricate and surprising plots, but where these lead I’m seldom sure until I get there. I write until it feels right, until there’s a retrospective inevitability to what I’ve written. I love surprising myself.

6. What do I hope my readers take away from reading my work?

I want readers to be entertained; I want them to be challenged, confused, illuminated, edified, and, ultimately, satisfied. I want to change lives, however imperceptibly. Life’s too brief for empty diversions. Writing must be more than building birdhouses; reading should be more than watching them hang in the wind.

7. Where do I see myself ten years from now?

At my age, that’s a loaded question. I’d like people to be reading my work. I’d like, of course, still to be writing. I’d like to be here.

8. I’d re-write this question to ask, what surprises me about myself?

I’d like to think, as a retired professor of Canadian literature, that I’m not professorial. I’m a master scuba diving instructor and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada. Apparently, it’s possible to be both. What surprises me most is how happy I am to have lived a rich and diverse life, to see my children prosper, and to know my books and Beverley’s books are being read. And until I stop, altogether, I think of myself as a mystery writer as being in mid career.

9. What do I like reading for pleasure?

All reading is pleasure. I read nutritional data on cereal boxes and the magic realism of Jorge Luis Borges. I tend to avoid current award-winning books. I read fiction, especially quality mysteries, and I read non-fiction that challenges convention. I consider a settee in an alcove in Shakespeare and Company, amidst a tumult of books, as close to heaven as I will ever need to be.

10. Blood Wine, my latest and last mystery in the Quin and Morgan series, in a tweet:

A corpse in bed and a wine scandal lead to explosive revelations of drug smuggling as an unexpected cover for international terrorism.

John Moss is the author of over thirty books, the most recent of which are murder mysteries. He has become happier since turning to writing about murder. He and his wife, writer Beverley Haun, live in Peterborough where they are almost through the second decade of restoring an old farmhouse that has taken them in

Friday, November 14, 2014


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

Being purposeful, pursuing passion, and holding oneself accountable are critical traits every author needs. Without them, how could a book ever be completed, never mind revised, edited, and polished until ready to publish?
Thinking about my writing career sends me well beyond the authors I enjoy and admire. The energy I bring to it is rooted in creativity and a love of storytelling, but the discipline and sense of direction leverages things I learned while running a digital media company. I could list a slew of people from that part of my life and most of them would be unknown to readers here. They’re people whose passion for their own businesses, charities, and lives made me want to dig deep and commit myself to the writing I’d always expected to eventually do.
As for authors? Too many for a blog post, but Thomas Hardy, Sinclair Lewis, Carl Hiaasen, Kurt Vonnegut, Gregory Mcdonald, John Irving, and a lot of Margaret Atwood have inspired me to hone my own voice.

2. What are you working on now?

The sequel to Stinking Rich is similarly set in the Kawarthas and there’s a bit of character carry-over. This time out, it’s a bible camp gone bad.
I’m also working on a collection of short stories and some novella-length pieces. The novel takes precedence, but part of my goal is to be releasing new material frequently enough to satisfy readers who find me early on. Coming out with a novel every year or so isn’t likely to accomplish that on its own.

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

He isn’t. Danny Grant has a couple experiences that are drawn from my life. Thankfully, it’s the stupid mistakes and not the things that could land a guy in jail. But the same could be said of Perko Ratwick, Judy, and even Skeritt. And I’m neither a biker nor a tie-died enviro-barbie, nor a hermit (though it’s tempting some days).

4. Are you character drive or plot driven?

My readers tell me I’ve written a page-turner that kept them up nights needing to know what happened next. I loved hearing from someone this past week that she had consumed Stinking Rich in three sittings. I guess that’s about plot.
But they also tell me the characters—whacko though they may be—are real and to them. And they certainly are to me. I spend a lot of energy on how they act in given situations. I’m as amused by them as I hope my readers are—especially when they go off script and do things I didn’t expect.
The large cast and the twisted plot line make Stinking Rich a complex braided tale. But if I’ve done my job right, at the end of the day, it’s still a beach read.

5. Are you a pantser or a plotter?

I start out at as a pantser, but the plot has to make sense to me, so somewhere along the way, I start working a spreadsheet and winding everything together. Even when I’m going full-speed, in the zone, chasing a scene, I’m constantly taking notes on other parts of the story that need elaboration or fixing as a result of whatever’s net new. I guess that’s pantsing, but it winds up pretty tight.

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

Entertainment. A good laugh or two. And maybe a peek into a life that is something they’re curious about, even if they’d never want to be there in a million years.

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

Ten novels in and several times that many short stories and novellas. There’s a lot of stuff in my head that needs to find its way out. The thing is, the more one writes, the more that seems to stir up more ideas. Can you telling I’m loving it?

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

Something printable? How about that I spent a summer as a missionary in northern Ontario? That bible camp gone bad thing? It’s not based on my experience, but I think there’s room for me to explore how some people are able to contort organized religion.

9. What do you like to read for pleasure?

A lot of what I read is crime fiction, but as you can tell from the list above, I read more widely than that. One of my favorite authors today is John Burdett. I’m about three books behind in his series, only because I save his novels and savor them when on vacation in the country. I really don’t want to be distracted at all when I read my favorite authors. And that’s a state I haven’t know much these past two years.

10. Tell us about your book in a Tweet:

What could possibly go wrong if backwoods bikers hire a high school dropout to tend their marijuana grow op? Plenty, it turns out.

Rob Brunet’s 2014 debut, STINKING RICH, asks What could possibly go wrong when bikers hire a high school dropout to tend a barn full of high-grade marijuana? His short crime fiction appears and is forthcoming in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Thuglit, Shotgun Honey, Out of the Gutter, Noir Nation, and numerous anthologies. Before writing noir, Brunet produced award-winning Web presence for film and TV, including LOST, Frank Miller’s Sin City, and the cult series Alias. He loves the bush, beaches, and bonfires and lives in Toronto with his wife, daughter, and son.
Find out more at or on Facebook here

Friday, October 31, 2014


In our continuing quest for writing excellence (yes, we do strive for that!), here's this month's question for mystery authors Barbara Fradkin, R.J. Harlick, Mary Jane Maffini (aka Victoria Abbott), and Linda Wiken (aka Erika Chase).

What brings a character more to life -- physical description, dialogue, or action?


Character is effectively revealed in all these ways, and as in writing in general, a balance of description, dialogue and action creates the best effect. All three engage different senses which are essential to providing the reader with a fully rounded impression. Physical description allows the reader to picture the character in the scene as an observer, whereas through dialogue, the reader hears the character and almost feel like a participant in the conversation. Action, of course, sweeps the reader up in the drama and tension. Whether it’s a headlong race through the woods or a delicately sipped cup of tea, a well-written action scene makes us feel the character in our bones.


I’m going to say all three and add in a fourth dimension, internal, as in thinking and feeling. Just concentrating on only one or two of these would create a flat, lifeless character that would fade into the page. The reader needs to be able to envision what the character looks like through descriptive text and what he or she sounds like through dialogue. Dialogue and internal monologue also provide a window into the character’s mind, what he or she is thinking and feeling. The character is further fleshed out by their actions and interactions with other characters, with the setting and with the situation. Using all four techniques will transform a character of words into a living, thinking and feeling person, who jumps from the page.


We want to know what the character looks like. We don't want that to be either Barbie or Ken, as a rule, but we don't want a lot of talk about it either. Good to know about height, colouring, body type etc. Having said that, dialogue and action really let the reader get to know the character, so in my opinion they're both much more important than appearance. In fact, not every author talks about the physical traits of their characters and some never tell you what they look like. In addition to the dialogue and action, the character has to really need or want some result that isn't easy and may not even be likely. The writer of course will just make it practically impossible for the character to have what is so important. That will have an influence on their actions and action, of course, IS character.


Of course, all are important elements in presenting a well-rounded character to readers, and in particular, one that readers can easily identify and hopefully, in the case of the protagonist, bond with. However, if I have to pick one, it would be dialogue. That gets to the essence of the character and through the choice of words, can best describe a character's inner being. Of course, dialogue is the beginning. The writer uses it to give a physical description of the character. Dialogue is also very important in the pacing of a mystery. If there's a lot of action and the pacing is fast, it will obviously keep readers who enjoy that style of mystery, coming back for more. Dialogue can also fill in the gaps whereas, it's not readily seen by description nor by the character's actions.

Do you agree? Disagree? Have your own question you'd like to submit? Please leave a comment here or on Facebook!

Friday, October 17, 2014


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

Boy, that’s a tough one. There are a lot of people who influenced me. Most are not even writers. All the musicians from whom I’ve taken lessons showed me so much that I use every day in my writing: perseverance, how to break down problems to make solving them more easy, how a small amount of progress every day will still get you where you want to be, how to believe in your ability even when things aren’t going well, and above all, patience! Writers who influenced me would have to start with Rex Stout. He had such fine control of his writing and characters. I love the way he packed in telling details so effortlessly and, in most cases, invisibly. For getting me started down this path, it was Dick Francis. It was his revealing writing about the horse racing world that led me to believe that I could do the same sort of thing using music. It’s sort of worked out pretty well.

2. What are you working on now?

My agent has convinced me to do a series. Having spoken to many authors about how they went about this the wrong way, I have taken my time to lay things out thoroughly. I normally fly by the seat of my pants and let characters develop naturally as I work on a book, and then fix things during the revision process. With this project I’ve written pages and pages of character descriptions, situations from the past which will allow me to write further books in the series, some of the most inconsequential-sounding details which will allow me to expand on each of the regularly appearing characters in the series in subsequent books (should I be so lucky), just tons of details I may or may not wind up using. Most of all, I have spent hours simply thinking about these people to the point where I now dream about them. As for writing the actual novel, that’s going slower than I would like, but that’s the fault of having to make a living more than anything. I also will be working on another Rapid Reads book over the winter. And I’m really excited about the story line. You heard it here first, folks: it does not involve music!

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

The protagonist in the novel that’s about to be released by Dundurn (Roses for a Diva) is nothing like me. First of all, Marta is a female (last time I checked) and she’s also an opera singer. I’m a brass player (French horn and trumpet) and singers are only needed to fill up a stage while we’re in the orchestra pit playing all that lovely music! However, Marta does share my sensibilities in many ways. Most of my protagonists do. Not all though, and I won’t reveal which ones those are! The two protagonists in my new series will be pretty different from the sorts I’ve used in the past. You’ll just have to remain patient to find out in what ways they differ.

4. Are you character driven or plot driven?

I think in the current publishing climate, one has to be a bit of both, don’t you? You can get away with being more plot driven in the thriller genre where I tend to write, but somehow, I could never quite manage that. I find people intensely interesting, so it’s no wonder I want my characters to be interesting, as well. Another thing is that characters who aren’t particularly sympathetic can be as interesting as ones with whom you’d want to be friends, so I occasionally write those kind of people. However, if you don’t have an engrossing and plausible plot, you’re going to compound the problems of writing a publishable novel. I have read examples where the story was crap but you just loved the characters so much, you enjoyed it despite its shortcomings but you’ve got to have damn fine characters to pull that one off. So to when a plot is just so fantastic you have to find out what happens even though the world created by the author is completely populated by cardboard cutouts of real people. That is really difficult, too. So I guess you could say my books are both — or at least I try to make them that way.

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

That no question or issue is ever black or white. Real life exists in the gray space in between. Things might not happen the way you want them to, and you can start down the wrong road and never be able to return. What you do have to accomplish is to make the best out of what you’ve been handed. If you remain honest and forthright, you just might find something that makes you a better person. Boy, does that sound heavy, but it is the way my novels are constructed. There are also some funny bits, though. Honest!

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

Obviously, music is also very important to my life. I’ve been a musician far longer than I’ve been a writer. But if tomorrow someone said I’d have to make a choice, I would choose writing — as long as I could listen to as much music as I want. Unless you know about my food blog, readers might well be surprised to know that I am a very good cook (I’m going by what others have said.) I know what a “really good cook” is and I fall far short of that, although I do have talent. My current huge interest is in crafting home charcuterie. Lonzino anyone?

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

A stalker is determined to possess Marta Hendriks completely. How can she possibly survive when he seems to be everywhere – and nowhere?

Rick Blechta is a Toronto-based writer and musician. His thrillers have been praised for their originality, finely drawn and convincing characters, and of course, for their realistic descriptions of the world of music and musicians. This October, his tenth novel, Roses for a Diva, the sequel to his very popular The Fallen One will be released by Dundurn Press. Opera diva Marta Hendriks is back and someone is stalking her throughout the great opera houses of the world. He seems to be everywhere – and nowhere. How can she possibly survive when he is determined to possess her, body and soul?

Friday, October 3, 2014


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

Believe it or not, a producer from HBO. In 1993, he saw my play “Burglar for Coffee” in Toronto and offered me a job writing pilots (which I turned down. This has to be the worst mistake every made by a person not legally insane. But who had ever heard of HBO in 1993?) This man called me “completely nuts” and assured me that my standup/humour column comedy translated well to plays and fiction. I needed a professional to tell me that, and I always remember him gratefully, when I need a boost.

2. What are you working on now?

Book 4 in The Goddaughter series, A BODY FOR THE GODDAUGHTER. More mob comedy, only this time Gina Gallo is the sleuth, not the perpetrator. Okay, well not totally. After all, this is her inept mob family we are talking about .

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

Oh YEAH. Similar (but not exact) family backgrounds. Gina Gallo is the reluctant goddaughter of the mob king in Hamilton. I come from a Sicilian background. Gina reacts as I would to a lot of these situations. She has a rep as a smart-ass. She shares my background angst. And she is…how do I put this…more interested in justice, than the law.

4. Are you character driven or plot driven?

Chicken and egg. Yes, I start with character. A character with a problem or goal, and obstacles to that goal, which are resolved by the end. My books have a lot of plot in them. But the plot is driven by the protagonist and what she wants.

5. Are you a pantser or a plotter?

Plotter. I teach ‘Crafting a Novel’ at Sheridan College, so I am immersed in ‘craft.’ I don’t start writing until I know the ending and at least two crisis points. And usually I follow a 3-act structure, to avoid ‘saggy middle syndrome.’

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

A few hours of smiles and laughter! I write to entertain and to lighten a readers’ day.

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

Oh wow. Hopefully, with another humorous crime book series, and perhaps double the fans. Okay, make that quadruple the fans! And money. More money would be nice ;)

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

I trained for Opera. I used to sing ‘torch’ when I was younger. My dad was in a big band, so you can guess why I was called ‘Melodie.’ Oh. And I am lamentably addicted to fast cars. I blew my advances and royalties this year on a 2006 sapphire blue Corvette. One day I may regret this, but not today.

9. What do you like to read for pleasure?

Books like mine. Wish I could find more. I like Andrea Camilleri from Sicily, Lisa Lutz, and yes, Janet Evanovich, who Library Digest compared me to. Other favourite books include The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (you may be noticing a humour trend at this point…)

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

The Artful Goddaughter
(Orca Books, just released)
Mob Goddaughter Gina Gallo stands to inherit two million bucks! All she has to do is plan a heist...but when the wrong painting is taken, hilarity ensues.

Billed as Canada’s “Queen of Comedy" by the Toronto Sun (Jan. 5, 2014,) Melodie Campbell has had a decidedly checkered past. Don’t dig too deep. You might find cement shoes.
Her crime series, The Goddaughter, is about a wacky mob family in Hamilton aka The Hammer. This has no resemblance whatsoever to the wacky Sicilian family she grew up in. Okay, that’s a lie. She had to wait for certain members of the family to die before writing The Goddaughter.
Her other series is racy rollicking time travel, totally scandalous, hardly mentionable in mixed company. But we’ll mention it anyway. Rowena Through the Wall. Hold on to your knickers. Or don’t, and have more fun.
The Goddaughter’s Revenge won the 2014 Derringer (US) and the 2014 Arthur Ellis Award in Canada. She has won seven more awards for noir stories which have appeared in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, Over My Dead Body, Flash Fiction Online, and more. Publications total over 200 and include 7 novels. By day, she is the Executive Director of Crime Writers of Canada.

Friday, September 19, 2014


Another Friday, another question for mystery authors Mary Jane Maffini, Barbara Fradkin, Robin Harlick, and Linda Wiken. This continues the panel discussion held at the Capital Crime Writers mystery day last May. There were so many questions left over, we're continuing to answer them on Mystery Maven Canada.

Today's question for our writing quartet is: What role in your novel would you give to the person who holds the title of "Most Loathesome" in your life?


I vacillate on this: but if someone has been loathsome they can count on being cast in one or all three of these roles in the near future. That's the great thing about crime fiction: sure you bump off the current PITA by, say, dropping them into a limestone pit (if the offense merits it). But nothing prevents you from resurrecting that miserable so and so, changing their hair colour or gender and turning them into some snarling Moriarty. Naturally as a villain be trapped, shamed and finished off in the last chapter. The fun never ends! For minor offenders, there are many pathetic roles they can play in a work of fiction. Just saying,

Be nice to us and we'll be nice to you.


Loathsome. Isn’t it a fabulous word? It conjures up all sorts of unsavoury characters as it rolls off your tongue. A loathsome person could only be a murderer. No ifs buts about it. Making a particularly nasty piece of work would be wasted as the victim. You’d no sooner create this wholly despicable character complete with obnoxious neuroses , than you’d be killing him or her off. Much better to make your worst nightmare the villain and slowly unveil every sleazy detail of their character until wham they get their just desserts.


If a person is truly despicable, they deserve the worst you can give them. Being a victim is too easy; not only are they dead and done with, but there’s a risk some people will feel sorry for them. But murderer or even suspect fits the bill. I prefer to drag out their suffering by making them squirm. Preferably under the steely glare of my police inspector. He can turn on the thumbscrews, accuse them of all kinds of villainy, call them a liar, and expose their true colours as the novel progresses. For a writer, it’s rather like sticking pins in a Voodoo doll, and just as satisfying. The final triumph? Although the despicable individual will rarely recognize themselves in the book, other people will.


Good thing this wasn't used at the panel -- everyone finally agreeing on something! How boring. But the fact that our most loathesome person would get the title of villain is not boring. Think of all the nasties you can have happen to that person in the time between committing the deed and going to trial. And, the villain would develop in such a way that the readers would be yelling from their chairs, that's the murderer. Cuff the cad. Those same readers would be so, so happy when justice is done and he/she got what was coming.

Friday, September 12, 2014


By Michael J. McCann
The Plaid Raccoon Press

This fourth book in the Donaghue and Stainer crime novel series set in Glendale, MD, once again takes the reader on a ride-along as these two seasoned cops set their sights on a serial killer. Nicknamed The Rainy Day Killer by the media, for obvious reasons – he likes to do his killing on rainy days – he eludes the police while at the same time, taunting them.

For Lt. Hank Donaghue, it’s all part of the job, while he juggles working with a new boss needing to be handled with kid gloves, and tossing around the idea of going for a promotion. He’s also teamed with a former colleague, an FBI profiler and the two of them find themselves at odds with the new boss.

For Detective Karen Stainer, she’s juggling her upcoming wedding while determined to put an end to this monster’s death toll. However, it becomes a bit too personal when his next victim turns out to be Stainer and on her special day.

Michael McCann plunges his readers into a double dose of pacing and tension that just doesn’t let up. His characters are memorable, ones you’ll want to follow right through the four book series. Hopefully, there will be more. If police procedure books line your bookshelves, The Rainy Day Killer better be on it!

Friday, September 5, 2014


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

Gail Bowen, Canadian author of the Joanne Kilbourne mysteries series.
Early in 2009, I entered an early draft of Safe Harbor, my first Pat Tierney mystery, in Britain’s Crime Writers’ Association’s Debut Dagger competition. The contest is open to English-language writers around the world who haven’t had a novel published. The CWA didn’t get back to me, which meant, in a competition that attracts hundreds of entries, that the manuscript hadn’t made its shortlist.
A few months later, Gail Bowen was in Toronto, doing a stint as writer-in-residence at the Toronto Reference Library. I submitted the first 20 pages of Safe Harbor for a manuscript evaluation. I met with Gail, when she’d read my pages, and that meeting had a big impact on the novel—and my writing career.
“This book needs to written in the first person,” she said. “We need to know what Pat Tierney is thinking and feeling every step of the way.”
I felt like a light had been switched on in my head. Safe Harbor is a murder mystery, but it’s also the story of Pat’s personal journey. She learns about her late husband Michael’s infidelity and starts to get on with her life. I realized I needed to get deeper into Pat’s head. And the best way to do that was to let her tell the story.
I rewrote the book in the first person. And right from the start, I knew I’d made the right decision. I felt energy emanating from the story that hadn’t been there before. I showed several chapters to members of my writers’ group, and they agreed.
The following year, I entered the rewrite in the 2010 Debut Dagger competition. Same title and same storyline as my previous submission, but this time told in the first person. That year Safe Harbor emerged as one of 11 novels—out of about 1,100 submissions—that were shortlisted for the award. I was astonished and thrilled. Being on that shortlist has been one of the highlights of my writing life.
Gail has been extremely supportive of my writing. She wrote a fabulous endorsement for Safe Harbor, and another one for its sequel, Black Water. When she was reading the Black Water manuscript, I still hadn’t come up with a title for the novel and I asked her to see if a title came to mind in the course of her reading. Her husband, Ted Bowen, came up with Black Water, which is a perfect title for the novel.

2. What are you working on now?

I’m writing the third Pat Tierney mystery, which opens about three months after the end of Black Water. It is the beginning of summer in Ontario cottage country. Pat has another family problem on her hands when she learns that a frail, elderly woman is missing in the community. The book’s working title is Red Kayak, in keeping with my other “watery” titles, Safe Harbor and Black Water. But it may change by the time the manuscript is completed.
I’m also working on a Pat Tierney short story for the Mesdames of Mayhem’s second crime fiction anthology, a sequel to the Mesdames’ Thirteen. “The Sweetheart Scamster,” my Pat Tierney story in Thirteen, was a finalist for a 2014 Derringer Award.

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

Pat Tierney is a financial advisor, while I’m a journalist. She’s a mother who spends a lot of time worrying about her family; I don’t have children. She’s also a much nicer person than I am: kind, compassionate, always tries to do the right thing although she doesn’t always succeed. No, I have to say this character is not based on personal experience. But maybe, just maybe, she’s the person I’d like to be.

4. Are you character-driven or plot-driven?

I’m a character-driven writer and I find it impossible to come up with a detailed outline for the entire book—with plot turns and twists, and themes all mapped out—before I start writing. I’ll start with an external conflict that my characters can react to, but how they do react has to ring true their personalities and how they see the world around them. I also know that the conflict will be resolved by the end of the book, but I’m usually unclear exactly how it will be resolved.
This makes the going slow. I have to get to know all the characters in the story and understand how they view the world around them. After the first draft is written, I need to do a lot of cutting and rewriting to ensure that the story moves along and makes readers want to turn the pages.
But there’s an element of discovery in this process that I enjoy. Sometimes a subplot emerges that I hadn’t envisioned, and because it came about organically, it dovetails nicely with the rest of the story.

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

I hope they will have an enjoyable read. In my opinion, the primary role of a storyteller is to entertain.

6. Where do you see yourself ten years from now?

I see myself writing in 10 years, because writing is what I do. I’ve earned my living writing and editing articles as a journalist for the past 35 years, and in recent years, I have moved into fiction writing. I find that I prefer to create my own stories than to report facts, so I will be focusing more on fiction in the coming years. But exactly what kind of fiction, I don’t know. I need to write stories that resonate with me, and I’ve found that stories have a way of finding me. The trick is to keep my mind open to them.

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

I’m pretty open about who I am, what I do and what opinions I hold, so I think that readers who follow my blog and my posts on Facebook have a good idea of kind of person I am. The one thing that might surprise them—and I’ve discussed this in my answer to Question 3 above—is that I am not Pat Tierney.

8. What do you like to read for pleasure?

I can’t read enough crime fiction, especially Canadian crime fiction. We have a wealth of great mystery and suspense writers here in Canada, and I enjoy reading their stories, especially those that are set in parts of the country where I have lived or visited.

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

Here it is, using my working title, Red Kayak:
A woman’s murder shatters Pat Tierney’s plans for a quiet summer in cottage country. Red Kayak takes Pat into dangerous waters.

Rosemary McCracken is a Toronto-based fiction writer and journalist. Safe Harbor, the first novel in her Pat Tierney mystery series, was shortlisted for Britain's Debut Dagger Award in 2010. It was published by Imajin Books in 2012, followed by Black Water in 2013. “The Sweetheart Scamster,” a Pat Tierney short story in the crime fiction anthology, Thirteen, was a finalist for a 2014 Derringer Award.
Jack Batten, The Toronto Star’s crime fiction reviewer, calls Pat “a hugely attractive sleuth figure.”
Visit Rosemary’s website and her blog

Friday, August 29, 2014


by Mike Martin
Baico Publishing Inc.

Reviewed by Mary Jane Maffini

In the company of Sgt. Winston Wildflower of the R.C.M.P., Beneath the Surface makes for a nicely plotted mystery and an excellent trip to Newfoundland.

Wildflower is a long way from his home in Northern Alberta and from his Cree roots and yet he is fitting in very well. He has to sort out his own values with some practices in the force and he will. Although the Newfoundland expressions, pace and the local food add an extra element of pleasure to the reading, it is Wildflower who makes it such an engaging read. He is kind, honest and usually very hungry. He’s also a gentle man who can stand his ground and respect his own principles, even if it costs him. I loved this aspect.

The plot works well and, as a young girl has been murdered, the stakes are high and the twists are twisty.

I’m looking forward to more in this series.

Friday, August 22, 2014


If you are continuing this journey with us, you'll know what today's blog is all about. If not, it started after the four of us -- Mary Jane Maffini, R.J. Harlick (Robin to us), Barbara Fradkin, and me (also known as Erika Chase)-- were on a Capital Crime Writers panel together. There were still bunches of questions for us to answer, so I decided we continue that discussion on Mystery Maven Canada.

Today's question is: "Do your characters reveal your values? How?"


I think they do in ways I might not even recognize. For the book collector mysteries (as I am half of Victoria Abbott) I'm re-reading books from the Golden Age of Detection, I notice in Sayers, Christie and Marsh,the characters reflect the class politics and racism of the times (20's, 30's, 40's) unrecognized by the authors, but somewhat surprising to us today. Who knows what biases and prejudices are buried in my own work that will be clear to a later generation?

But never mind all that, I do think that our writing reveals our feelings about relationships, family and friends and pets (ahem). Most mystery writers value justice and the quest for it, but how many of us value our crooked uncles? Just saying.

Seriously though, cozy fiction which I enjoy writing and reading presents and genre in which fairly ordinary people consistently step up to the plate in an emergency and that women (often but not always middle-aged) can be brave, tenacious, cunning and funny. But we knew that.


I imagine most authors project some of their values through their characters. It is hard not to, particularly with a character with whom you spend a lot of time, such as a series character. My series character, Meg Harris’s love of nature and the great outdoors is no different than my own. I gave her the kind of cottage I have always wanted, a rambling Victorian timber cottage perched high on a granite point overlooking the sparkling waters of a northern lake.

She spends a lot of time in her screened-in porch contemplating the view and life’s ups and downs. And while I too like to sit in my screened-in porch contemplating the nature around me, my mind is usually caught up in creating Meg’s world. I mustn’t forget her love of dogs, which mirrors my own and funny thing, we both have standard poodles sharing our lives.

Sometimes our characters become our voices. Meg’s sense of fairness and the need to right injustice could be my own, except she is prepared to do something about it. I don’t always have the luxury. Perhaps that is my reason for creating Meg.


It's hard to write a novel without some bits and pieces of the author being integrated. Everyone will probably have an opinion as to whether that's good or bad. So, it's hard not to have them reflect our values, to some degree.

Writing as Erika Chase, I have the Ashton Corners Book Club Mysteries with Lizzie Turner as my main protagonist. We share the same values about family and friends and even beyond that, the various communities we are a part of. They are very important to her and they influence how she deals with issues. She is very protective of them. That's the excuse, anyway, for her sticking her nose in to all investigations revolving murder -- when they impact on those she cares about.

She also wants to see justice prevail and the bad guys caught. She is a reading specialist and Literacy teacher, so helping to ensure that students have the skills to take advantage of their full potential is also important to her.

Of course, there's a bit of me in Lizzie. But I'm not even sure where the line is placed any more, after living with her through five books (one leaves for the publisher this weekend!). Of course, maybe it's not a line.


As a child of the sixties, I was raised with a passion for social justice and social equity, and am naturally on the side of the underdog. What better outlet for this passion than crime fiction? In my books, I explore the social and personal struggles that drive people to desperate ends. My sleuth, Inspector Green, is the only child of Holocaust survivors, which gives him a passion to pursue justice on behalf of the victimized and to be a voice for the marginalized and powerless. But most of my books inhabit that gray world where no one, neither victim nor villain, is all good and evil, and where justice is as imperfect as those, like Green, who strive for it.

Friday, August 15, 2014


By Suzanne Kingsmill

In this third Cordi O’Callaghan outing by Suzanne Kingsmill, we’re travelling again, this time to the much warmer climes of the Outer Banks of South Carolina. If you’re already hooked on this series, you’ll remember that in the second book, Innocent Murder, Cordi was on a research ship in the Arctic. The fascinating settings, as well as all the ins and outs of a career as a zoologist, lead to unusual and interesting plots.

In Dying for Murder, Cord’s car has just been stolen but she’s more worried about the research material that was in it than retrieving the car itself. She’s lost a day’s worth of recordings of the Indigo Bunting she’d just made at Point Pelee. Her good friend and pathologist, Duncan Macpherson is sympathetic and suggests she go to the research station on Spaniel Island in the aforementioned South Carolina, to try again. He has a cottage on the island and is willing to help her get accommodations at the station. So, she’s off with her intrepid assistant, Martha Bathgate.

Her welcome by the head of the station, Stacey is curt and she’s met with varying degrees of interest by the others working there. However, when Stacey is found murdered and Cordi is persuaded to once again apply her sleuthing skills to finding the killer, the others around her become unfriendly and even threatening.

Did I mention, there’s a hurricane warning and an evacuation order of the island in effect? However, finding Stacey’s body has made the group miss the last boat leaving the island and also made it impossible to contact police. When they are informed of the body, they’re unable to get to the island for a few days. The ingredients for the ideal traditional mystery are all present to make this a battle with the killer that Cordi must win. Especially when several attempts are made on her own life.

Suzanne Kingsmill knows her character well and also the world she inhabits. It’s a fascinating view for the outsider and those who share Cordi O’Callaghan’s interests will also be intrigued. The cast of suspects are each menacing in their own way and very believable in their roles. There are some surprises that keep that plot moving along. I can’t wait to see where Cordi ends up next!

Friday, August 8, 2014


Who has influenced you most in your writing career?

When I was about ten, I started reading a series of great historical potboilers by Thomas Costain. He jumped all over the place in terms of era – Biblical, medieval England, the time of Marco Polo – but they were rattling good reads. They haven’t really held up for me as an adult reader, but through them I got hooked not only on historical fiction, but history itself. As a writer, I figured it would be a fine thing if I could that for someone else.

What are you working on now?

I’ve just started the fifth book in The Thaddeus Lewis Mystery series. It doesn’t have a title yet because I’m not far enough in, and I’ll have to put it aside in a few weeks to work on the edits for the fourth book The Burying Ground, which will be released in July 2015.

In what ways is your main protagonist like you?

As a Methodist saddlebag preacher, Thaddeus Lewis constantly analyses and evaluates his actions and attitudes within the framework of his religious beliefs. Although my core moral base is not religious in nature, I too question everything in the light of my personal code of ethics. It sometimes makes me very unpopular. Especially at dinner parties and on Facebook.

Are you character driven or plot driven?

The Thaddeus Lewis Mysteries are very much character-driven, but the historical background is the real engine for the series. Rather than leave Thaddeus rooted in one particular time and place, he and his family are moving through the years between Canada’s 1837 rebellions and Confederation. Both the plot and their reactions to events bend to the historical record.

Are you a panster or a plotter?

Oh, I am such a panster. Usually I find fascinating, but unrelated bits of information and then I have to turn them inside out and upside down until I figure out how they fit together. Sometimes that doesn’t happen until the very last moments of the first draft. Sometimes I panic.

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

The sense that Canadian history is not boring. It’s just different. Unlike other countries it’s not all about wars and armed conflict, but a very unique set of circumstances that led very directly to the kind of country we are today. If you understand the history, it’s easier to evaluate the headlines you see in the newspaper.

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

My initial hope was to complete the Thaddeus Lewis series at Confederation, but I can see that it may well carry on from there. I have also been dabbling in speculative fiction and we’ll have to see what happens with it. But I’ll still be writing. I’m not happy if I’m not writing. Ask my family.

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

A lot of my readers also know me as a performer, and even at readings and book-signings I tend to come across as very out-going. They might be surprised to know that I’m really a high-functioning introvert. I need a huge amount of alone time and I’ve never been afraid of long stretches of silence.

What do you like to read for pleasure?

I read a lot of non-fiction, about everything from quantum mechanics to Antarctic exploration. I just like to know stuff. I want to live forever, so I can find out everything about everything. And then I’ll tell you about it.

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

47 Sorrows - Kingston 1847: Lewis & kid Luke find murdered bodies amongst dying Irish emigrants. WTF?

Janet Kellough is an author and performance storyteller who lives in the unfashionable part of Prince Edward County, Ontario, near the cusp of The Marysburgh Vortex. She has written and performed in many stage productions featuring a fusion of music and spoken word and published two contemporary novels before launching into her popular Thaddeus Lewis mystery series with Dundurn Press.

Friday, August 1, 2014


By Cathy Spencer
Comely Press

Framed for Murder is Cathy Spencer’s first mystery but you can tell from page one that she’s not a first-time novelist. Set in Alberta, in a small town outside Calgary, it’s a tale of betrayal, deceit and murder.

It’s late one evening and Anna Nolan is out walking her dog only to stumble across a body. The main problem, beside the fact that the guy is dead, is that it’s her ex-husband, Jack. And that’s where the fun begins. Despite the fact that Anna isn’t the murderer, the proof against her is stacking up. Okay, so she has an alibi for the majority of the critical time frame but she’s not in clear by a long shot.

The parting of their ways after seventeen years of marriage happened because of actor-husband Jack’s many infidelities and the recent inheritance Anna received, which made it possible for her to leave him and be able to care for their toddler son, Ben. She hadn’t seen Jack since the divorce, four years earlier. But phone records showed he had called her house that evening, when she should have been home. To make matters worse, the entire town knew about their past. And then, an old insurance policy that Anna had forgotten about names her as Jack’s beneficiary.

The local RCMP officer doesn’t really believe she’s guilty but when a hot shot detective from the national criminal investigation unit, Sgt. Charles Tremaine, she realizes she’s at the top of the suspect list. But not far behind is her son Ben, who has admitted to many that he hated his father. Anxious to prove both of their innocence, Anna joins forces with an extra from the movie set, Amy, who had been one of Jack's many flings. And topping their list of suspects is the cameraman husband of the female lead. Nothing stops Anna, not even the possibility of getting caught snooping in their house. And she almost does. Anna also has a stuntwoman, the same person who was the final straw in their failing marriage, in her sights.

As Anna draws closer to the truth, and also to Sgt. Tremaine, she’s drawn into a final stand-off with the killer, in order to save Tremaine’s life and bring the killer to justice.

The suspense ramps up as the evidence against Anna keeps mounting. Someone definitely wants her held responsible for the murder.

Cathy Spencer keeps you guessing until she wants to reveal the killer. It's an intricate plot, well-written, and with a touch of romance tossed in to balance out the grim reality of death. Framed for Murder won the 2014 Bony Blithe Award for Best Light Mystery at the Bloody Words conference in June. It's the first in the series, with the second, Town Haunts, released earlier this year. And there is a third book in the series on it's way. Fortunately!

Cathy was interviewed on Mystery Maven Canada for the June 13, 2014 blog post.

Friday, July 25, 2014


We're back! And if you're following the Criminal Tendencies thread, you'll know that once a month, we four writers (although it's only three this month)answer a question about writing that was "left over" from a day-long workshop held by Capital Crime Writers in the spring. We had so many questions at the ready and so little time, the Mystery Maven blog seemed the ideal way to deal with the remainder. So, we, today being Mary Jane Maffini, Barbara Fradkin and Linda Wiken, aka Erika Chase, continue.....

Today's question: What is the main challenge of writing a series character and how do you handle it?

Mary Jane Maffini:

There seems to be a trio of main challenges with writing a series character: first is keeping the characters and setting fresh and not writing the same conflicts and same behaviours over and over again, Secondly, the main character has to change and grow as a result of what has happened in previous books and yet, still be the same person that readers care about. The third challenge is providing enough back story about pre-book history and what has happened in the series without giving away any plot 'secrets' or smothering the reader in an info dump.

Never mind! It's all fun.

Barbara Fradkin:

The main challenge is to avoid tilling old soil and boring both your readers and yourself. If you feel you are telling the same old story, it’s time to throw a spanner into the works. Shake up your sleuth’s personal life, change the supporting cast, or change the setting. I’ve done all these over the course of the Inspector Green series. A new baby, an aging parent, or a divorce are all challenges that add to stress and reveal different facets of your sleuth’s character, as well as adding to his humanity. Adding a new boss or sidekick, killing one off, or giving the supporting characters their own crises also greatly enriches the series. As writers we become as attached to our supporting cast as readers do, so give us reasons to care and worry about them. Changing the setting is very freeing; it provides new challenges and alters the type of story you are telling. My Nahanni story is not a police procedural with Green as the master of deduction; it is about Green the desperate father coping with unfamiliar and terrifying wilderness.

Linda Wiken/Erika Chase

The main concern is trying to keep the series fresh so that the reader, and the writer, don't turn off and get bored. However, I think it might be even a bigger challenge keeping the writer excited. One way is to develop the main character into someone who is real. And, as a real person encounters difficulties in day to day life, and hopefully grows from working these out, so too the main character in the series will. To me, Lizzie Turner, my main gal and one of the instigators of the book club, has become real. When having a cup of espresso in the morning, I'll often think about what she might be doing at that point. When a friend is trying to work through a problem, it affects me. And so, I worry about Lizzie and hope she'll find a solution when she's faced with the same. But of course, here I get to step in and solve it for her. If I keep Lizzie alive and fresh and evolving, I'll stay interested, and hopefully, so will the reader.

Friday, July 18, 2014


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

My mother made sure I was never without a good book, when, from an early age, she started giving me some of the classics. I was a voracious reader but she always had a book for me. If I didn’t like a book she would invoke the 50 page rule: I had to read at least the first 50 pages and if I still didn’t like the book I could abandon it. I remember when I abandoned Dr. Zhivago at page 50 and she looked at me and said, “Ah, but Dr. Zhivago is worth 100 pages.” She was right. She gave me a love of reading and the English language that laid the groundwork for my writing career.

2. What are you working on now?

I am working on a fourth Cordi O’Callaghan mystery and playing around with a thriller and a novel about the relationship between a 17 year old mentally challenged boy and a famous octogenarian who befriends him.

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

Cordi has the same moral values as I do and we are both zoologists, although I’m a lapsed one. Other than that, she is fictional and I am real!

4. Are you character driven or plot driven?

Depends on the book. My Cordi books are predominantly plot driven but I like to think that my main characters stand out.

5. Are you a pantser or a plotter?

I do not write to a plot. I have a basic idea of whom the killer is and how the murder will take place and the motive, but after that it’s just sitting down to write and letting my characters lead the way. However, for it all to work, the main plot has to be good enough to really grip my attention, and the attention of my characters, right to the very last polished word.

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

A sense of having been transported to another place, at least for a while.

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

Still writing! More mysteries. A thriller. At least two non-mystery novels. Maybe another non-fiction book. Editing some fiction and non-fiction books, because that is such a challenge and really keeps you on your toes as a writer.

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

The scene in Dying for Murder, where Cordi gets cut off from land by a shark, actually happened to me. That and the fact that I make furniture for a hobby. I know that’s two things, but….

9. What do you like to read for pleasure?

Thrillers, literary fiction. I just finished reading The Bear by Claire Cameron and The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. Both about young girls and both powerful, haunting and disturbing. I also enjoy reading murder mysteries, but there is definitely an involuntary work element to it, so it is not entirely carefree reading.

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

In Suzanne Kingsmill’s Dying for Murder, Zoologist Cordi O’Callaghan, solves a murder at a biology station on a remote U.S. barrier Island during a hurricane.

Suzanne Kingsmill has a B.A. in English literature from the University of Toronto, a B.Sc. in biology from McGill University and a M.Sc. in zoology from the University of Toronto. She has written three Cordi O’Callaghan murder mysteries, Forever Dead, Innocent Murderer and the latest, published in May, Dying for Murder. Search Suzanne Kingsmill on Youtube for an 80 second book trailer on Dying for Murder. Kingsmill has also written four non-fiction books, including The Family Squeeze: Surviving the Sandwich Generation and Beyond the Call of Duty – a biography of a war vet who won the V.C. She has written for numerous Canadian and international magazines on eclectic topics and is the Managing Editor of the peer-reviewed Canadian Journal of Rural Medicine. She has two sons and now lives in Toronto, after spending 25 years in rural Quebec.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014


by Vicki Delany
Poisoned Pen Press

This review will be biased as I always look forward to the latest book in the Constable Molly Smith series and am in a very good mood when I get my mitts on it. Vicki Delany has managed to hold my attention through six previous novels and she didn’t let me down this time.

The central characters in this excellent British Columbia-based police procedural series are Constable Molly (Moonbeam) Smith and Sergeant John Winters of the Trafalgar police, but Molly’s mother, Lucky Smith, adds verve and humour to each book. Lucky is my favourite character in a crowd of major contenders. Lucky’s hippy leanings and environmental activism have been at odds with her daughter’s choice of career and have made the young officer’s life more difficult than it needed to be. They’ve also given the reader much enjoyment. Lucky’s full of surprises though and the latest one is her deepening relationship with the Chief of Police, Paul Keller, despite their differences over, well, practically everything.

Their romantic Thanksgiving getaway to Banff Springs Hotel goes off the rails when Paul’s estranged son, Matt, becomes connected to a murder and the subject of a manhunt. But Lucky also has a connection to Matt and it’s not a good one.

Meanwhile Molly is trying her hand at making her fiancé a traditional Thanksgiving meal with hilarious results. Next to that, solving crimes looks easy. Good thing, because Molly is soon on her way to help her mother and the resulting search in the back country makes for gripping reading. Once again, Delany uses the setting to enhance a strong plot. The relationships are deep, interesting and unpredictable throughout this series. Molly continues to grow and develop as a police officer.

Vicki Delany never fails to deliver strong female characters who don’t shy away from conflict or danger. She does a great job of exploring family bonds and conflict with characters you care about. No wonder I stayed up half the night.

Reviewed by Mary Jane Maffini
As half of the writing team Victoria Abbott,
The Wolfe Widow, #3 in the Book Collector Mysteries,
is coming in Sept., 2014.

Monday, July 14, 2014


This is something fun and different. I’ve been asked to be part of a Writing Process blog hop, so hope you don’t mind this bit of diversion. You can blame my friend Cathy Ace if you’re not pleased! :) She invited me to join this cross country check-up. It's for one day only, though. Tomorrow this blog site reverts back to the Vicki Delany review.

Here's where you'll find more about Cathy Ace as she blog hops along.

And here is mine!

1. What am I working on?

I’m looking ahead here because once Erika Chase (my alter ego) sends in book #5 in the Ashton Corners Book Club Mysteries, I’ll be starting on a new series for Berkley Prime Crime. Written by Linda Wiken! So, while I’m not actively writing it at this point, the ideas are congealing way back there in a corner of my brain. I can tell you it will be called the Culinary Capers Mysteries and it’s about a supper club.

2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Cooking and food mysteries are very hot right now in the cosy world but this will be the only one with a supper club as the theme. These five people meet monthly, taking turns at hosting. That host chooses a cookbook (a real one) and an entrée from it, while the others each bring another course, also chosen from the book. There's a lot of discussion about the book and the food. And of course, it’s understood that one of the courses will be a murder! Should be fun…and deadly.

3. Why do I write what I do?

I write cosies because I want to entertain readers. Also, I write what I enjoy reading. I do read the occasional edgy crime novel or thriller but mainly because I want to stay on top of what’s happening in the publishing world. But these days, I like to unwind with a lighter read. That’s not to say a cosy can’t be serious or be about a meaningful topic. In fact, I think the best ones do just that. They combine the elements.

4. How does my writing process work?

It’s a fluid system, in transition at times. Mainly the part about what time of day I write. I used to write early mornings but now that time is devoted to power walking. Then, it was mid-morning. But now I find that a good time to deal with the 'business' of writing -- the emails, Facebook, Twitter, guest blogs, all those necessary but fun tasks. Writing time is now all afternoon long, or whatever portion it takes to write my minimum 1000 words. What does remain the same is I start with a synopsis. It’s a valuable tool that my editor inflicted on me when I started my other series. But it’s made all the difference. I wouldn’t start a new book without one. It provides a road map I can follow, very handy if I take a wrong turn. However, seldom is the completed book a complete match with its synopsis. It’s written in pencil, not in stone!

Don't miss the rest of the blog hop. Posting on July 28th, at their own sites are my writing pals Vicki Delany and Jamie Tremain (aka Pamela Blance and Liz Lindsay):

Vicki Delany is one of Canada’s most prolific and varied crime writers. Under Cold Stone is the seventh in the Smith & Winters police series set in the B.C. Interior. She also writes the light-hearted Klondike Gold Rush books, and Rapid Reads novellas, including Juba Good. In February, look for By Book or By Crook, the first in the new Lighthouse Library series from Penguin Obsidian by Vicki’s pen name, Eva Gates.

Find Vicki at and Eva at

Jamie Tremain is the pen name for Pam Blance and Liz Lindsay. These yet to be published friends and collaborators are finishing their third novel. You can find out more about Pam and Liz on their blog where they enjoy interviewing other authors to help promote their books. Twitter @PamLizWrites

Friday, July 11, 2014


by Vicki Delany
Poisoned Pen Press

This review will be biased as I always look forward to the latest book in the Constable Molly Smith series and am in a very good mood when I get my mitts on it. Vicki Delany has managed to hold my attention through six previous novels and she didn’t let me down this time.

The central characters in this excellent British Columbia-based police procedural series are Constable Molly (Moonbeam) Smith and Sergeant John Winters of the Trafalgar police, but Molly’s mother, Lucky Smith, adds verve and humour to each book. Lucky is my favourite character in a crowd of major contenders. Lucky’s hippy leanings and environmental activism have been at odds with her daughter’s choice of career and have made the young officer’s life more difficult than it needed to be. They’ve also given the reader much enjoyment. Lucky’s full of surprises though and the latest one is her deepening relationship with the Chief of Police, Paul Keller, despite their differences over, well, practically everything.

Their romantic Thanksgiving getaway to Banff Springs Hotel goes off the rails when Paul’s estranged son, Matt, becomes connected to a murder and the subject of a manhunt. But Lucky also has a connection to Matt and it’s not a good one.

Meanwhile Molly is trying her hand at making her fiancé a traditional Thanksgiving meal with hilarious results. Next to that, solving crimes looks easy. Good thing, because Molly is soon on her way to help her mother and the resulting search in the back country makes for gripping reading. Once again, Delany uses the setting to enhance a strong plot. The relationships are deep, interesting and unpredictable throughout this series. Molly continues to grow and develop as a police officer.

Vicki Delany never fails to deliver strong female characters who don’t shy away from conflict or danger. She does a great job of exploring family bonds and conflict with characters you care about. No wonder I stayed up half the night.

Reviewed by Mary Jane Maffini
As half of the writing team Victoria Abbott,
The Wolfe Widow, #3 in the Book Collector Mysteries,
is coming in Sept., 2014.

Friday, July 4, 2014


Thanks for all the feedack about the first Criminal Tendencies blog. In it, four Ottawa crime writers, Barbara Fradkin, R.J. Harlick, Mary Jane Maffini, and Linda Wiken/Erika Chase answered a question about writing, and in effect, we had a writing tips blog!

These questions were "left over" from a panel we appeared on earlier in May. We thought they were such good questions, we're writing them up for Mystery Maven Canada, one a month. Here's today's question:

Which character (protaganist, villain or victim) has more freedom?


When I grow up I want to a villain! What? Oh. You're right, of course. I'm a good guy. But the villains can do anything. They can not only kill and mame, but they can be rude, forget to walk their dogs, break all the rules and not show up for Christmas. Try any of that if you're a protagonist. And really? A victim is dead. Not so much freedom there, unless they arranged their own funeral.

As a writer, I can have fun with villains. Of course, I feel for the victim and am fond of the protag. Sometimes it's good to be bad.


A tough question. I would like to think that the protagonist has the most freedom in a crime novel, but he or she doesn’t, particularly if they are a series character. To be credible as a person, they have to operate within the boundaries of the personality that the writer has developed for them. He or she can’t suddenly do something that isn’t in keeping with this personality. For example a shy protagonist can’t become the life of the party unless a credible reason is provided for this dramatic change in behaviour.

Similarly the villain is also bound by the character that the writer has developed for them. Though I think he or she has a bit more freedom, since often the character of this person isn’t as well developed as that of the protagonist. Still you can’t have a villain who has been portrayed as anti-social suddenly becoming Mr. Nice Guy whom everyone loves.

Perhaps the individual who has the most freedom is the victim, primarily because often his or her character is the least developed. Though it seems counter intuitive to say a dead person has more freedom. Usually though during the course of the murder investigation aspects of the victim’s character are revealed to help flesh out the motivation behind his or her murder. But again like the protagonist and the villain, anything the victim did before they were killed must be within the boundaries of their character.


I would have to go with the villains. We don't have to like them, in fact it's better if we don't. Therefore, they don't have to play by the rules, they don't have to be fair, they don't have to be nice. What freedom!

In fact, the meaner and nastier they are, the more we cheer for the protagonist, who does have to play by the rules. Go get 'em!

And while the good guys use mainly their wits along with the possible backup of a weapon, the villains can concoct methods to torture and kill that make the reader shudder. Now, understand that by villain I don't necessarily mean the "bad" guy. Who doesn't love Bernie Rhodenbarr, the "bad" book thief in the burglar series by Lawrence Block. Yes, sometimes we do root for the person breaking the law. But they're not villains. They're not Hannibal Lector. Three cheers for that!

Barbara Fradkin

The villain, of course! The protagonist has a specific job to do, and everything he or she does has to drive the story forward towards the solution. Even a moment of play or fun had better serve the story. He or she also has to live up to certain standards that we as readers expect from our heroes. Flaws are okay, but if the hero does something really stupid, illegal, or even nasty, the reader may well toss the book aside. The victim has no freedom of action within the book. They may have done all kinds of wild and crazy things to stir things up and get themselves killed, but once they are dead, they are silenced.

With the villain, however, the possibilities are endless. They can be any sort of person, motivated by the vast range of human conflicts and needs. They can be desperate, frightened, vengeful, clever, bumbling… They are a blank canvas on which the writer can play. In a good whodunit, the reader meets the villain early on but doesn't know their guilt and their motive until the end. That's 300 pages of freedom for the villain. Freedom to lie, manipulate, create red herrings, or to panic, despair, self-destruct, and wreak more havoc as they try to stay one step ahead of capture. Every character in a book should be textured and human, but none more so than a good villain.