On “Siblings” & Community

Sisters in Crime was originally created in 1987 as a safe and supportive community for women crime writers, when such women’s works were rarely seen face-out on mystery bookshelves, let alone on bestsellers and awards lists. Fast forward 30 years and many wonderful changes have happened in the publishing industry—while many issues have also remained stubbornly unresolved.

One thing SinC has always stood for is inclusion. That’s often a lot easier said than done for Canada West, a chapter that spans four western provinces and two northern territories. While online technologies are integral to connecting members, the sheer vastness of our chapter’s territory makes in-person meetings a definite challenge.

So it’s easy to imagine the excitement of the chapter Executive when the idea of a live retreat first came up. Though the planning committee volunteers were naturally star-struck at the possibility of meeting and learning from Laurie R. King, an incredibly successful SinC sibling (multiple New York Times bestseller, anyone?), they were just as jazzed about the potential of creating a true community builder.

The Summer Writers Retreat is about supporting and encouraging writers of all genres and experience with a day of professional development and opportunities for new friendships and career connections. (Sprinkling in a few fun events can’t hurt, either.) The retreat is meant to give like-minded people a place to “geek out” on writing craft topics and industry tips and then, to take home things to try within a cloud of happy feelings of camaraderie and community.

The publishing industry has certainly changed since 1987, but our commitment to inclusion and uplifting one another remains as strong as ever.

Guest post by Laurie R. King

When I sat down in 1987 and wrote the opening line of The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, what did I—an at-home, 35 year-old mother of young children—imagine would happen?

I was fifteen when I first met Sherlock Holmes, fifteen years old with my nose in a book as I walked the Sussex Downs, and nearly stepped on him.

Did I have the faintest glimmer of an imagination that, three decades later, I would be thinking about my sixteenth novel in the series? Would my wildest dreams have known that most of those would be New York Times bestsellers? Or that people—readers, other writers—might regard me as any kind of an expert on…well, anything, really?

Nope. At the time I sat down and wrote those words, I knew nothing about the early 20th century, or about southern England. I knew less than nothing about Sherlock Holmes. At the time, I wanted to tell a coming-of-age story about a young woman with a mind like that of The Great Detective.

But once your character has come of age—which happens for Mary Russell in the second book, when she turns 21 and has to decide which path her life will follow—then what?

A series is faced with that same decision. Do I write characters who are fixed, in personality if not in time, and give them adventures that can be read in any order? Or do I let each episode shape those characters, giving the series an overall narrative arc?

When I began the Russell “memoirs” (they’re written in first person) I was not terribly interested in Sherlock Holmes. As a supporting actor, as the pattern on which Russell’s mind was formed, Holmes was both fun and useful—if nothing else, contrasting a middle-aged Victorian male to a young 20th century feminist offered me a near endless source of conflict and snappy dialogue.

But one of the intriguing things about the Conan Doyle detective is how somehow, despite his façade of being a cold and unresponsive thinking machine, we feel that Holmes is driven by very human impulses—a passion for justice, a deep need to set things right. As John D. MacDonald put it (in the 1984 edition of Mystery Writing Handbook):

We remember Holmes as a man who, primarily, was troubled in spirit, was obsessed with the sense of evil, whose arrogance was defensive.

In other words: anything but coldly inhuman.

The awareness of that side of the man gradually permeated my own version of him, and made possible a series of 16 books that still interest their writer (and, one gathers, their readers). Around the fourth or fifth book, I started to become interested in Holmes as a character, rather than as a foil for Mary Russell. How would the devastation of the Great War have affected him, I wondered? What about the man in 1915, as opposed to 1880, opened him up to taking an apprentice—and a female one at that? And how would that apprentice-turned-partner have challenged him, as clearly Dr. Watson had not?

How would both of these extraordinary characters have changed, over time?

And with that, the Russell & Holmes series developed a narrative arc, about something larger than the adventures of two phenomenal minds.

 

Laurie R. King is the New York Times bestselling author of 27 novels and other works, including the Mary Russell-Sherlock Holmes stories (from The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, named one of the 20th century’s best crime novels by the IMBA, to 2018’s Island of the Mad).  She has won an alphabet of prizes from Agatha to Wolfe, been chosen as guest of honor at several crime conventions, and is probably the only writer to have both an Edgar and an honorary doctorate in theology. She was inducted into the Baker Street Irregulars in 2010, as “The Red Circle.”

 

What Can You Expect from Laurie R. King at the Summer Writers Retreat?

Session 5 at our Summer Writers Retreat, (last and definitely not least!) will be presented by Laurie R. King at 3:15pm

Sustaining a Series with Laurie R. King

Every writer who starts a series hopes it will be a success—but what happens when it is? How do I keep the sixth—or sixteenth—book in a series as fresh and unpredictable as the first? Is it a matter of changing the setting? Do I (gasp) kill off my supporting actors? Or do I keep bringing in new ones, juggling them in with the characters my readers have come to know and love? And what do I do about my less popular series, or the standalones I long to write? How can I as a writer have it all?

Laurie R. King is the New York Times bestselling author of 27 novels and other works, including the Mary Russell-Sherlock Holmes stories (from The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, named one of the 20th century’s best crime novels by the IMBA, to 2018’s Island of the Mad).  She has won an alphabet of prizes from Agatha to Wolfe, been chosen as guest of honor at several crime conventions, and is probably the only writer to have both an Edgar and an honorary doctorate in theology. She was inducted into the Baker Street Irregulars in 2010, as “The Red Circle.”

What Can You Expect from Linda L. Richards at the Summer Writers Retreat?

Session 4 will be presented by Linda L. Richards at 2:00pm

Secrets of the Publishing World with Linda L. Richards

This 60-minute event gives you a fast and furious glimpse behind the scenes of publishing. Richards will talk about finding and attracting an agent, pitching your book at various levels, how to decide when it’s time to self-publish and other topics relevant for those anxious to find the edge in this competitive world.

 

Linda L. Richards is the award-winning author of 15 books, a highly sought after professional editor, and the former Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of both Self-Counsel Press and January Magazine. She has also taught writing and publishing at the college level.

What Can You Expect from S.G. Wong at the Summer Writers Retreat?

Session 3 at our Summer Writers Retreat will be with S.G. Wong at 11:30am

Tinker & Tailor: Author Marketing That Suits Best

Marketing means different things to different people. For writers, it can often mean anything from panicked avoidance to an ongoing resentment to feelings of overwhelm. But what if you could choose exactly what to do and when? What if you could take all those hundreds (or thousands!) of pieces of advice about author marketing and create a plan that perfectly fits you and your career goals?

This session will include discussion about marketing tools and guide you through the many considerations in creating a strategy to entice and keep readers—and to let your work and you shine.

 

About S.G. Wong

Arthur Ellis Awards finalist, Whistler Independent Book Awards nominee, and indie author S.G. Wong writes the Lola Starke series and Crescent City short stories: hard-boiled detective tales set in an alternate-history 1930s-era “Chinese L.A.” replete with ghosts and magic. As an acclaimed moderator and creator, she presents on panels and workshops in venues ranging from ChiSeries Winnipeg to Bouchercon 2017 to Ignite Change Global Gathering for Human Rights. She is based in Edmonton, Alberta where she can often be found staring out the window in between frenzied bouts of typing.

What Can You Expect from Kristina Stanley at the Summer Writers Retreat?

Session 2 of our Writers Retreat will be presented by Kristina Stanley at 10:15am

Self-Editing for Writers with Kristina Stanley

Sharing a draft of your novel for the first time can be scary. So, why would you share your work before you’ve revised your first draft, making sure it’s as good as you can make it before anyone else reads it?

You wouldn’t. That’s why you perform a story edit.

To make sharing easier, this workshop will teach you how to edit your own story on a scene-by-scene basis. We’ll focus on character, plot, and setting.

To get the most out of the workshop, please bring one scene from a story you’re working on.

 

Kristina Stanley is the best-selling author of the Stone Mountain Mystery Series, the stand-alone mystery Look The Other Way, and The Author’s Guide to Selling Books To Non-Bookstores. Her publishers are Imajin Books and Luzifer-Verlag. Crime Writers of Canada nominated Descent for the Unhanged Arthur Award. The U.K. Crime Writers’ Association nominated Blaze for the Debut Dagger. She is the CEO of Fictionary.co, a company started to help writers tell better stories.

What Can You Expect from Janice MacDonald at the Summer Writers Retreat?

Session 1 at our Summer Writers Retreat will be with Janice MacDonald at 9:00am

Inclusion Rider: Populating the 21st Century Novel with Janice MacDonald

A mystery novelist has a duty to her readers to be stimulating, entertaining and accurate—delivering a fascinating puzzle wrought by complex and intriguing people within a closed society the reader is eager to explore. Within all those strictures, is it possible to be part of the wave to bring about art that mirrors the reality of today? And if so, how does one write diverse characters without stumbling into traps of appropriation or pitfalls of inaccuracies?

Janice explores the ways in which secondary and tertiary characters can provide a more diverse and multicultural background, especially here in Canada.”

 

Janice MacDonald is the creator of the Randy Craig Mysteries, the first detective series set in Edmonton, Alberta. Her reluctant heroine was born as Janice was working on her MA thesis titled “Parody and Detective Fiction.” Janice’s career has been one of writing and reading – and lecturing about both. She has been a book reviewer, university lecturer, radio interviewer and editor, as well as writing 12 books, numerous short stories and articles, several plays and the songs for two musicals.