Thursday, March 26, 2015

My Apologies!

What am I apologizing for? The fact that after many years of blogging, I'm taking a short hiatus. I'm faced with deadlines galore, now with two series on the go, and find it's really difficult devoting any extra time to Mystery Maven Canada at this point. However, I will be back! Hoping to return by the end of May, earlier if possible, so stay tuned. I'll post on Facebook the start-up date, as well as do a countdown on this site.

In the meantime, I'll start catching up on my reading and provide you with some long-awaited reviews. Books on the pile include:

Stinking Rich by Rob Brunet
By Book or By Crook by Eva Gates
Tidings of Murder and Woe by Cathy Spencer
The Women of Skawa Island by Anthony Bildulka
Butterfly Kills by Brenda Chapman
The Burying Ground by Janet Kellough
Pizza 911 by Donald J. Haika

I've got a bit of catching up to do!

As well, I'll be on the look-out for newer authors to interview and hopefully, I can also come up with some other ways to highlight Canadian Crime Writing. If you have any ideas, please let me know and, please bear with me!

If you're wondering what I'm working on -- the fifth Ashton Corners Book Club Mystery, Law and Author, comes out on Sept. 1 and, the first in my new Culinary Club Mystery, as yet untitled, will be out next year. I'll also be heading to Malice Domestic in Bethesda, MD , April 30-May 3; to the Arthur Ellis Banquet and awards, sponsored by Crime Writers of Canada in Toronto on May 28; and to the Suffolk Mystery Author Festival in Suffolk, VA, Aug. 22. Maybe we'll see each other?

Keep on reading!

Friday, March 13, 2015


Okay, time for another writing question for our four authors. If you're new to this part of the blog, it all started last year when the four were on a panel at a Capital Crime Writing event. When their time was up, there were still plenty of questions left unasked. So, I've been working through them, one per month. We're almost at the end of the pile so, maybe I'll open it up to questions from the readers. Does that sounds like a good idea? You can respond on my Facebook page because I know it's sometimes hard to comment on this blog.

Here's the question this time around: How do sidekicks enhance a hero's character?

Barbara Fradkin:

The best characters are studies in contrast. Contrasting looks, style, interests, and personality all serve to make an interaction more vivid and dramatic, and increase the tension and impact of a scene. The most effective sidekicks provide an ongoing contrast and backdrop against which the character of the hero can stand out, and contribute to the push-pull of the scenes they share. Where the hero is whimsical, the sidekick is practical, where the hero is brilliant, the sidekick is befuddled, and so on… Sidekicks shouldn’t overshadow the hero, but serve as a foil against which the strength, bravery, or intelligence of the hero can shine.

Sidekicks enhance the hero’s character in other ways as well; by showing how they cope with friendship, closeness, loyalty in a relationship, and by acting as a sounding board for the hero’s doubts, ruminations, and deductive efforts throughout the story.

Mary Jane Maffini:

The right sidekick can complement the hero's character, speaking about him or her in a way the hero couldn't speak about her or himself. Sidekicks are great at getting the hero to engage in passionate conversation, revealing character with every sentence. Also (if picked with care) the sidekick can take care of some of the more mundane daily activities, leaving the hero free to be heroic. A sidekick can also do things necessary to solve the dire situation that the hero might not be willing to. Blow things up, for instance, or steal cars. I am speaking of my own wicked sidekicks here, not of my blushingly well-behaved heroes.


Sidekicks are fun. They add dimension to the main protagonist. They can also be a counterbalance. While sidekicks don’t usually share the same personality traits as the main protagonist, their personality will compliment that of the main protagonist. When writing with more than one POV, a sidekick can also provide another perspective of the story not shared by the main protagonist. They can also be used to convey information not known by the main protagonist. Often in a series with an amateur sleuth, the sidekick is a policeman or woman in order to provide the police procedural aspects in the solving of the murder. I think every good crime story needs an engaging sidekick or two.

Linda Wiken/Erika Chase:

You've heard the old adage about knowing a person by the friends they keep -- well, that's one big reason for choosing sidekicks with care. He/she or they can either enhance the protagonist's image or make a reader question whether or not they like this person enough to read on. They can be used to draw out the hero's ideas and views, to add contrast to scenes where the hero might need to be serious while the sidekick can add some humour, and to say things your hero really shouldn't be saying. These are secondary characters so that's the role they should always be playing. But the main thing is, everyone needs a friend, even our characters. Especially our characters.

Friday, March 6, 2015


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

My influences have been myriad. Every mystery I read for my thesis years ago, books I read throughout my time as the Edmonton Journal’s mystery reviewer, and the works of John Cawelti and George Grella. My sense is that popular genre writing has the capacity to include social commentary and act as a beacon two or three steps before mainstream fiction.

2. What are you working on now?

My next Randy Craig mystery, a university reunion story called at present Another Margaret, is in the editing process now. I am putting together the foundation of the next one while also working on a creative non-fiction piece that requires some research. I also have two or three short pieces that have been commissioned and need polishing.

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

Randy Craig is like me in that she is a graduate from the University of Alberta. She too loves the thought of teaching at the university level and is not able to capture it as a livelihood. She lives in an apartment that I once lived in quite happily.
On the other hand, I am married with grown children, I have moved into a profession where I can achieve a pension and some security. And we own a car, though it spends loads of time in its parking stall.

4. Are you character driven or plot driven?

I think I am situation-driven. As with all series, the character and the locale is what brings readers back; I hope to find new aspects to the university/academic world for Randy to explore.

5. Are you a pantser or a plotter?

Well, aside from the fact that I deplore that term just because of its vulgarity, I do like to write without being sure of the ending. I usually know my way about forty pages ahead of wherever I am in the draft. It makes the getting up early on weekend mornings worth doing. I’m not in a bracket where I am paid enough for the writing not to be the fun part.

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

I want them to enjoy themselves, laugh out loud once or twice, and find out elements of Edmonton and the university world. There is usually some social or philosophical argument woven into the plot, as well.

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

With any luck, I will be able to retire and devote more time to my writing…or vegetable marrows. There are a couple of non-mystery works I have in mind, as well.

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

Oh gosh, my life is an open book, it seems. Maybe they might be surprised to know I work for the government now. In the same way that Murakami once said he felt he could write more clearly about Japan when he was living in the USA, perhaps I can write about academe from outside the ivory tower.

9. What do you like to read for pleasure?

I read mystery novels voraciously – Canadian, English and Scottish especially. I also read Canadian fiction, Commonwealth fiction, and I support local and Alberta writers.

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

The Roar of the Crowd
@RandyCraigBooks explores murder amidst Edmonton’s theatrical crowd, experts at prevarication. Can Randy keep the murderer from striking again?

Janice MacDonald is the creator of the Randy Craig Mysteries. She is a dyed-in-the-wool Edmontonian, and makes no apologies for setting her novels in a recognizable Edmonton and celebrating the things that make this northern metropolis so vibrant and unique. Miranda "Randy" Craig finds work in various aspects of academe and walks the not-quite-so-mean streets of Alberta’s capital, finding herself enmeshed in puzzling murders and drinking lots of coffee. Janice herself lives with a lovely husband who is not in law enforcement, works for the government, and drinks copious pots of tea.