Summer Writers Retreat

The first ever Sisters in Crime – Canada West retreat took place on August 18th. As things evolved, though, it ended up being two days of fun activities intended to allow the attendees to network and soak up information about all things writing.

Chapter Vice-President Charlotte Morganti at the Summer Writers Retreat in Victoria, B.C., August 2018.
Laurie R. King, Janice MacDonald and S.G. Wong share an enjoyable conversation at Swan’s Pub.

We began with a social event on the Friday evening, August 17th. Well attended, the casual event brought together more than 40 sisters (and one brother!) in crime at one of Victoria, British

Columbia’s landmark social spots: Swan’s Pub on Pandora Street in the historic part of old Victoria. Guest of honor Laurie R. King happily schmoozed with BC and Pacific Northwestern siblings and other attendees in a casual and convivial environment.

The Retreat itself took place on Saturday. Tickets were sold out nearly two months in advance for a day of lectures by several of our esteemed membership. Chapter Vice-President Charlotte Morganti acted as emcee. The seminars opened with a very timely talk by Janice MacDonald called “Inclusion Rider: Populating the 21st Century Novel” that introduced the concepts of inclusion to her very interested audience. After a break, Kristina Stanley spoke on the always interesting topic of “Self-Editing for Writers” after which organizing committee member and past-president S.G. Wong spoke on the ever-popular topic of author marketing.

From left authors and siblings Linda L. Richards, Merrilee Robson, Marcelle Dubé enjoying the pre-Retreat social at Swan’s Pub.
Sisters in Crime member James W. Ziskin and featured speaker Laurie R. King toast the retreat at the historic Swan’s Pub in downtown Victoria, B.C.

After lunch, Chapter president Linda L. Richards gave a talk on some of the open secrets of the publishing world. The day’s main event, of course, was international bestselling author Laurie R. King’s talk on sustaining a series. King spoke to a rapt audience, many of whom had shown up especially to see her. The Canada West Chapter was gratified that the Sisters in Crime Speakers Bureau made it possible to invite someone of King’s calibre to speak at our inaugural event. Superstar King was warm, approachable and very welcoming of all of the fans who turned up.

On Saturday evening, a multi-author panel spoke in front of a well attended community audience on the topic of “Author Alchemy: Spinning Facts into Fiction Gold.” Here again, anchoring star Laurie R. King showed her grace in giving warm and equal time to moderator and fellow panelists S.G. Wong, Janice MacDonald, Marcelle Dubé and Liz Freeland in an enthusiastic discussion right on topic.

The first ever mini-conference hosted by Sisters in Crime – Canada West was an unqualified success. Kudos go out to Retreat Committee Chair, S.G. Wong, and Committee members Charlotte Morganti, Marcelle Dubé, and Anne Hopkinson for all their hard work​.

SinC Canada West interview: Bernadette Calonego

We recently had the chance to ask Bernadette Calonego a few questions about herself and her writing process. Bernadette is a foreign correspondent, freelance writer and novelist. She was born and raised in Switzerland and now lives near Vancouver, British Columbia.

Bernadette’s novels were originally published in German before being translated into English by AmazonCrossing. Her most recent novel, The Stranger on the Ice, debuts this week. Her previously published English titles include Stormy Cove (2016), Under Dark Waters (2015) and The Zurich Conspiracy (2012).

 

Sin-CW: What was the inspiration for your latest book, The Stranger on the Ice? Tell us a little about the story.

Bernadette Calonego: I like to set my murder mysteries in remote Canadian landscapes, preferably in the North. These barren, isolated areas fascinate me and captivate my imagination. In The Stranger on the Ice, Valerie Blaine, a tour guide from British Columbia, takes a group to Inuvik, a small Inuit town near the Arctic Ocean. It is in that area that her mother died 30 years ago on a snowmobile expedition with her husband, Valerie’s father, a Canadian hockey legend. Valerie and her twin brothers were never told exactly how their mother died. Her death has always been shrouded in mystery. Equally mysterious is the very recent death of a young woman who was found just before Valerie’s arrival, near Inuvik on the ice road, a frozen runway that crosses the mighty Mackenzie River. Both deaths turn Valerie Blaine’s Arctic journey into a precarious search for the truth. She is helped by Clem Hardeven, a ruggedly handsome Northerner who has fled from his own past to Inuvik where he mingles with local Inuvialuit and Dene First Nations. Clem feels responsible not only for the upkeep of the ice road, but increasingly for Valerie’s safety as she attempts to unearth hidden secrets in this unforgiving vast frozen space.

What is it about the Arctic that made you want to set your book there? Have you ever been to the Arctic?

I caught the Arctic fever when I travelled through the famous Northwest Passage on a Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker. At the time I was working as a foreign correspondent for European media and I had always devoured books about Arctic expeditions in the past. Such a lot of drama and suspense! Two years after my first Arctic voyage, I made the same trip as my main character, Valerie Blaine, and her tourist flock. I drove the Dempster Highway in late winter, stayed in Inuvik and travelled on the ice road to Tuktoyaktuk, where I reached the frozen Beaufort Sea. The Arctic is a place like no other on Earth. Life there is always a matter of survival, and many people have perished in this hostile, but incredibly beautiful environment. The Arctic has a strong pull, and the region attracts tough, independent and colourful characters. I also admire the Inuvialuit, as the natives in the Western Arctic call themselves. I like to think that they are the true adventurers of the ice-cold North.

Your novels are published in German first, and then translated for the English market. How did that come about?

I used to live in Switzerland and started writing in German. The first of my five murder mysteries were published by a German publisher. Eighteen years ago, I emigrated to Canada. My books caught the eye of the publisher AmazonCrossing in Seattle and they started translating my novels and publishing them. I work very closely with my translator, Gerald Chapple, and I feel very lucky to have his cooperation and support.

I have thought about writing in English but German is actually my mother tongue and I feel much more versed in German. But let’s never say never. Maybe one day I will write in English, too.

Do your characters come first, or do the stories (i.e., were the characters looking for a story or vice versa?)

Actually, I would say the locations come first. Then I think about what kind of characters would live in such places. My main character is always a woman—be it a photographer (as in Stormy Cove) or a lawyer or an event marketing specialist—and she acts as an amateur sleuth. Sometimes I’m inspired by actual events, which doesn’t mean the same events will occur in my crime novels. But they help me to create a certain atmosphere, or mood, circumstances, possibilities. Often the main character is raised in a different corner of Canada and travels to a remote area. Hence there are the options for culture clash, tensions, misunderstandings, but also attraction of opposites.

Imagine you’ve been kidnapped or trapped by a natural disaster. Which of your own characters (from any work) would you want to rescue you? Why?

Valerie Blaine, the heroine of The Stranger on the Ice, would be my favourite candidate. As a tour guide, she has to keep her clients safe and she has to be prepared for all kinds of dangerous situations. She is not afraid of travelling with people to the Arctic, a potentially hazardous or hostile area, with risks of extreme cold, sudden changes in weather and dangerous roads. She is resourceful and knows how to act fast and in a professional way. I have to say, I admire her tremendously.

Describe your current writing workspace(s).

I would definitely have to use the plural here because I travel a lot and I write in different locations. In Newfoundland, where I spend almost every summer and fall, I work in the home of a fisherman, in an annex of the house, a bright room painted entirely in white. I’m sitting in an armchair, with a laptop on my knees, and with a view of a wood pile, a shed and the tundra.

On the Sunshine Coast in British Columbia where I spend the winter and spring, I have a very large, cozy room in the basement, where I sit beside a gas fireplace, again in an armchair with my laptop on my knees. The view is so beautiful from that house, extending over the bay and the mountains, that it can be, at times, distracting, which is why I dive into the basement.

What’s your current writing project? How do you feel about it right this minute?

I like Stephen King’s approach of not revealing too much about his next writing project. I’m a quadruple Scorpio and very secretive (smile). But I can give you the location of my next crime story: Labrador. The Great Big Land, as it is called.

How do I feel about it? Initially dwarfed by the challenge, as always, which is probably not a bad thing. Later, once I have shaped the story in my mind, excitement will set in. But generally speaking and contrary to what a lot of people think, writing is hard work.

Do you remember what sparked the idea for any of your stories? Tell us about one.

I wrote my murder mystery Stormy Cove after I had spent several summers in a tiny fishing community in Northern Newfoundland. This is a remote, rather isolated area with a very different way of life. In that particular region, over a span of some 20 years, several people had disappeared without a trace. Shortly after Stormy Cove was published, a mother of two daughters vanished without a trace in St. Anthony and she still hasn’t been found. For the police, it is a suspicious disappearance. It feels so eerie and shocking when such a tragedy, such a crime happens in real life and so close to home.

Do you belong to any writer’s groups or communities? Do you think these types of social interactions are important for writers?

I’m a member of Crime Writers of Canada and Sisters in Crime – Canada West. The exchange with other (crime) writers has become more important to me than it was a few years ago. I’m still in the process of finding out how I can benefit from these writer’s groups and I have met some really interesting, open and helpful women writers in small circles and I’m looking forward to this kind of meeting again.

Which one of your characters is the most like you? The least?

All my heroines have a core that is essentially me. However, they also have aspects that are totally different from mine. So, in my crime novels, they live through many of my experiences, they are strong and vulnerable at the same time, they are curious and adventurous but they also have their flaws which makes them human.

And which one is the least like me? The criminals in my books, I would hope!

Have you written any series characters? What’s their appeal for you?

No, I haven’t. I like to start every book from scratch. I find it more exciting for me as a writer to have totally new characters every time. But then again, never say never. Maybe I will feel inspired to write a series one day.

Do you remember the first story you wrote? Tell us about it.

I don’t remember my first story but I remember my first published story. I was eleven years old, and a local newspaper printed a fairy tale that I had written. It was about a king and his three daughters. I was very proud and I still have a copy of the page.

Have you had to deal with bad reviews? How do you manage them?

Bad reviews are a staple of every writer, I think. I read them because often you can learn from them in one way or another. And I tell myself that a bad review is still better than no review. I have also realized that reviews are very subjective, and it can be almost funny that what one reader really loves can be a no-no for another reader.

Once, a reviewer criticized me for mentioning salami (??!!) about 20 times in my first book, The Zurich Conspiracy. Initially I got upset about this weird and inaccurate comment but in the meantime it has become a good anecdote!

Are there certain themes that keep coming up in your work? If so, is it intentional, or something that just happens?

In almost all of my books, a woman travels to a place or an area that is unknown to her. She encounters interesting or dangerous people and finds herself in situations that require courage and astuteness. This kind of adventure is also a journey to the unknown in herself. When I think about it, it is something that I like to do myself, too: Explore unknown territories, meet people whom I never would have met and reinvent myself in foreign places. It can be daunting, but it is definitely also energizing.

Are you a planner/outliner/architect or a pantser/gardener/discovery writer?

I don’t know what you would call me actually (a discovery writer?) but let’s say that I usually start with a location and with some ideas about who the main character is, her profession and the reason for her trip to a particular area. At the beginning, I don’t know who the perpetrator of the crime will be, how many people the leading lady will encounter, what exactly she would do there and what the outcome of the story will be. I get inspired by the writing process: the ideas pop up as I advance through the story. I could never have all these ideas at the beginning, before starting the act of writing. This process works for me because it fits with my personality and that way I never get bored. Again and again, I surprise myself with twists and turns, and the characters transform themselves in totally unexpected ways. The “downside” is that at the end, I have to rewrite part of the first half of my book because it doesn’t match the ending. But this doesn’t bother me at all.

Do you think there were early influences as a reader that have guided the stories you create as a writer? What were they?

As a child, I loved to read adventure stories. My favourites were books like Ivanhoe, Huckleberry Finn, Treasure Island, The Leather Stocking Tales (in the German version of course). I read the books by the German author Karl May about the Wild West and the Orient. But I also was crazy about love stories with a lot of drama, jealousy, betrayal and redemption. I treasured stories in exotic places and I hijacked my brothers’ and my parents’ books and read them all. Another source of immense pleasure were the dark fairy tales written by the Grimm brothers and other such writers, and the old German and Swiss legends that sometimes were so eerie that I couldn’t sleep afterwards.

Adventure, exotic places and the darkness of human nature all reappear in my crime novels.

Do you think the place where you live (or somewhere you have lived) influences what you write? In what way?

Canada is a country with vast areas of wilderness, places where you still feel the pioneer spirit, a stomping ground for adventurers. On the Sunshine Coast where I spend my winters, bears and cougars walk through your backyard and the wilderness is at arm’s length. Northern Newfoundland is tundra and rocks: rugged, barren, wild, with unpredictable weather. It can be harsh for people to live there. When you go for a walk with the dog, you can encounter a moose bull or a lynx. Danger always lurks around the corner. People can disappear without a trace. That’s where my imagination runs wild.

What’s the most challenging thing about being a writer in 2018? What’s the best thing?

Speaking for myself, the challenge is to give yourself enough time to finish a book. Enough time for reading and doing research. This is a fast-paced world with urgent demands coming from the market. But a book takes a certain time to hatch. Otherwise you run the danger of repeating yourself and producing rubber stamps.

The best thing is to see the seemingly indestructible fascination and the enduring success created by books, despite the internet, despite the prevalent short attention span, despite the competing distractions and the lack of relaxation time.

Do you prefer music, silence, or some other noise in the background when you write? 

Silence. Silence. Silence. I get easily distracted by noise and sounds. After having written a few pages, I like to walk around in my house like a zombie—and please, don’t talk to me then! I’m still totally immersed in my book and need to think things over.

Many writers also put their creativity to use in ways other than writing. Do you consider yourself a “creative person?” What other creative outlets do you have?

I’m a hobby photographer, I love to take good pictures, usually of landscapes and my travels, which I post on Facebook or Instagram or on my website www.bernadettecalonego.com. I learned to create glass dishes with a technique called glass fusion and would love to do more of it in the future. I have done some abstract painting and I’m involved in finding creative ways to help a local animal rescue group.

Tell us about your other works, projects, publications, and what’s on the horizon next. This is the shameless self-promotion portion of the interview.

I have written six books so far, and four of them have been translated into English. My first mystery novel The Zurich Conspiracy is set in Switzerland and centers around murders of some top managers of a Swiss company and around a young, curious, hardworking woman in event marketing. In Under Dark Waters, a Swiss historian travels to British Columbia and the Northwest Territories to find out why her husband had perished in Canada in a suspicious seaplane crash. In Stormy Cove, a photographer from Vancouver gets a mysterious assignment in Northern Newfoundland where she hears about a woman who disappeared without a trace and a girl who was found in a strange grave. I have also finished a manuscript about a lawyer from Vancouver who returns to her home town in Northern British Columbia where a horrible crime had been committed. As mentioned earlier, the location of my next crime novel will be Labrador in Canada. At the same time, a publisher has sent me a contract for a travel guide about Newfoundland and Labrador. I have some interesting travels ahead of me, for sure!

What question do you wish you’d be asked in an interview, but it never seems to come up? Ask it and tell us your answer.

Question: Which book by another author would you like to have written?

Answer: Late Nights on Air by the Canadian writer Elizabeth Hay. This book has all the ingredients that I enjoy: It is set in Northern Canada (Yellowknife), there is adventure (canoe trip on the wild Thelon river); there is historical reference (the Berger Inquiry) and tragedy (the deaths by starvation of three men in the tundra). There are unusual but very credible and immensely fascinating characters, a modern love triangle and many stories within the story, surprising twists and sometimes a very unassuming but captivating sense of humour. Quite suspenseful—and it is not even a crime story!!!

 

Bernadette Calonego’s website is www.bernadettecalonego.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SinC Canada West interview: Cathy Ace

Cathy Ace was born and raised in Swansea, South Wales and Cathy is, like her heroine Cait Morgan, now a Canadian citizen. “Cait’s Welsh Canadian, as am I. They say ‘write what you know’, so a short, plus-sized Welsh woman, who’s quite bossy, fits the bill! But Cait and I are not one and the same: she’s got skills and talents I don’t possess, and I’m delighted to say that I don’t usually encounter corpses wherever I go. I’ve burrowed even deeper

into my roots by creating a cast of characters in the WISE women who come from all four corners of the United Kingdom, and work in a uniquely British setting – a ducal estate set in the rolling Welsh countryside of the Wye Valley in Powys, where I spent a good deal of time when I was young.”

Cathy’s short stories have appeared in multiple anthologies. Two of her works, “Dear George” and “Domestic Violence”, have also been produced by Jarvis & Ayres Productions as “Afternoon Reading” broadcasts for BBC Radio 4.

Cathy won the 2015 Bony Blithe Award for Best Canadian Light Mystery (for THE CORPSE WITH THE PLATINUM HAIR) and was shortlisted again in 2017 (for THE CORPSE WITH THE GARNET FACE). “Steve’s Story”, which appears in The Whole She Bang 3, published by Sisters in Crime Toronto, was shortlisted for Best Short Story in the 2017 Arthur Ellis Awards for Excellence in Canadian Crime Writing.

 

Sin-CW: What was the inspiration for both your series, the Cait Morgan Mysteries and the WISE Enquiries Agency Mysteries?

Cathy Ace: I think that, like many writers, I initially created a character close to my heart – and to myself, personally. Cait Morgan is a short, overweight, bossy Welshwoman, who is a professor of criminal psychology at a university in Vancouver.

When I wrote the first two books I was still lecturing at Simon Fraser University in marketing and marketing communications, not criminology. I was able to audit the entire criminology syllabus when I was there, which was fantastic! I’m not Cait, and she’s not me, but there are definite similarities. I have spent my life traveling a great deal, and have been fortunate to live and work in some wonderful places around the world. I took Cait on journeys to many of those places – places where I was able to write with real knowledge about the locale, history, architecture, art, people, food and drink… the critical factors that mold and express culture.

For the WISE Enquiries Agency mysteries, I wanted to use a setting that allowed me to spend more time “back in my homeland” of Wales. I migrated to Canada in 2000 and, although I still visit my family in Wales frequently, I wanted to “spend more time there,” which the books allow me to do. I also wanted to use multiple points of view and voices – rather than the first person I’d been using for Cait.

What is it about those locales that made you want to set your series there?

Personally, I’m not keen on the process of travel – especially these days. But I very much enjoy “being” somewhere “else.” Having traveled for decades both on business and because I am an inquisitive person, I have developed a fascination for how outsiders see places versus how those places are made and experienced by those who have always lived there. The world has so much to offer, but I’m only too well aware that, for many, visiting other countries is not possible. So I do my best to bring the places I love to those who can enjoy them in their armchairs, reading nooks, or in bed before they turn out the light. Each Cait Morgan book takes place in a different country, and each mystery really could only happen exactly where it’s set, as I like to weave the locale into the work so thoroughly that it becomes a character in its own right. There are still many places I would enjoy taking my readers.

Please tell us about your writing workspace.

I’m sitting at the dining table – because my writing room is in such a mess! A “big sort out” stalled, and I can’t face the piles of paper in what needs to be a mentally quiet place, so I’m now ignoring it and have moved my laptop to the dining table – which gives me a great view out, which is rather distracting!

Do you remember what sparked the idea for any of your stories? Tell us about one.

I can’t say too much, because it would result in a great big spoiler, but The Corpse with the Silver Tongue grew out of a moment of inspiration that struck when I was listening to a program on BBC Radio 4 about snail farmers in Scotland. Until that moment I’d been happy to eat escargots without thinking about the fact that snails might actually be farmed, as opposed to… I don’t know… picked at random from the fields? I learned a lot listening to that program… and put it all to nefarious use.

Do you belong to any writer’s groups or communities? Do you think these types of social interactions are important for writers?

Writing is, at its heart, a solitary process, and existence. I, personally, am also someone who tends to stand outside, looking in. That said, when my first novel was published I realized I knew nothing about the world of crime writing, or crime publishing… I knew a great deal about crime reading, as that was my reading genre of choice, so I joined Crime Writers of Canada (CWC) in 2012. In 2013 I became regional representative for BC, in 2014 I became National Vice President (a title changed to Vice Chair in 2015 when Canadian bylaws shifted) and then was Chair from 2016-2018. I’ll be “Past Chair” until the current Chair (Mike Martin) steps down. As you can imagine, therefore, CWC has taken up most of my time and energy for the past six years. Now that I am able to take a backseat, I’ll make sure my memberships of Sisters in Crime, International Thriller Writers, Crime Writers Association (UK), Mystery Writers of America and Crime Cymru are all areas I’ll grow into. I find the aforementioned bodies useful because I can dip into all of them for insights (pertaining to different markets, audiences, and specific subgenres) but I’m promising myself to keep my membership online, because that’s where I find the “socializing” to be most useful.

Do you remember the first story you wrote? Tell us about it.

The first short story I wrote was called “Dear George.” I was waiting at an airport for my sister, whose flight was delayed… I bought a magazine that had a short story-writing competition in it… I entered. As a result, “Dear George” was published in the 1980s in an anthology with works by “real authors,” and I was chuffed to bits! I had also just set up my own business, so I wasn’t about to give that up just because of one short story. The story was anthologized again in a book called Thrillers which was a set book on the GSCE English Language syllabus in the UK (the exam all 16 year-olds sit), which was fantastic, and was then produced for BBC Radio 4 in 2007. It was this which spurred me to begin to write fiction again – which I did in 2007, self-publishing a collection of short stories, then a collection of novellas in 2008. I have recently re-written and re-edited that original collection (though I think I’m correct in saying that I changed maybe only two sentences in “Dear George”) and the collection Murder Keeps No Calendar contains many of them, plus some newer pieces.

Are you a planner/outliner/architect or a pantser/gardener/discovery writer?

I’m most definitely a planner. I know some authors say they sit down and just let the story flow from their fingertips, and I think I envy them… but it wouldn’t work for me.

For me? I think through the entire story until I can run it in my head like a movie, from beginning to end. Then I do the outlines of the “acts,” then the “scenes.” For each scene I know where it takes place, who’s there, the role they’ll play, and what has to happen by the end. I lay all this out within an Excel spreadsheet, then add a column for what I hope the reader will feel (rather than know) at the end of that scene. When it comes to writing the first draft I work from that outline. If it needs to change, I change it, but it usually stays pretty much as I had planned it.

Do you think there were early influences as a reader that have guided the stories you create as a writer? What were they?

I grew up (as did so many I know) reading Nancy Drew books, plus a wide range of works by Enid Blyton and Agatha Christie. Throw in Ngaio Marsh and Ellery Queen and you’ve got the background to most of my early reading, which all absolutely influenced my writing. Traditional crime is the core of my work – it’s where I am happy to read, and write.

You’ve recently moved into the independent publishing world from traditional publishing. What has that been like?

I would characterize today’s world of independent publishing as a place where you can do whatever you like… as long as you learn the rules of the game first. There’s a huge learning curve just in terms of formatting, etc., but what you also need to understand is how people want to read your work. I ended up publishing in mobi for Kindle and via Createspace for print via Amazon, but also through Ingram Spark for print to be available through bookstores and libraries, as well as epub for Kobo and Nook. All need slightly different formatting, all need you to jump through the hoops in terms of setting up accounts, getting to know their systems. But it seems to be working (I think!).

Do you prefer music, silence, or some other noise in the background when you write? If music, what kind?

I’m an absolute silence kinda gal! Of course there’s no such thing, but I’m lucky enough to live halfway up a little mountain where we have no through traffic, so I can usually hear the birds singing rather than the thrum of traffic, which suits me down to the ground. I can work if there’s “white noise” like news TV in the background, but just can’t cope if I can half hear a bass beat in the distance, for example.

Tell us about your other works, projects, publications, and what’s on the horizon next. 

As I write this I’m awaiting feedback from my editor and beta readers on “something new.” In my recent collection Murder Keeps No Calendar, readers were able to be on the spot when Cait Morgan first met Bud Anderson, and when the women of the WISE Enquiries Agency decided to work together… they also met DI Evan Glover of the West Glamorgan Police Service.

In my new book, The Wrong Boy, Evan is two days from retirement, and encounters the most baffling case of his career. This is closer to being a domestic thriller, with a thread of non-procedural police intervention than it is to “traditional” crime. As for what I’ll do with it… oh my goodness me, I wish I could tell you. Suffice to say, I am talking to all sorts of people about all sorts of possibilities at the moment. I fired my agent last year, and walked away from a contract with an existing publisher – so I am free and clear and… having to decide exactly what to do, and how, next. Having dreamed of being published by a traditional publisher, and of finding an agent, I am now peculiarly unafraid of being without either. I don’t know why I’m not scared, I’m just not. I’m happy with where I am at the moment, and looking forward to whatever the next chapter brings – though, unfortunately, I know I can’t write it like I would a scene in a book and have it turn out exactly as I might wish. One thing I do know for certain is that a re-written and re-edited collection of four novellas, Murder Knows No Season, will be out before the end of 2018; I have my editor booked, and have to work on the manuscript quite soon. Then… who knows? Watch this space!

To find out about the works I’ve already had published, please check out my website: http://www.cathyace.com/

To be up to date with all my news, follow me on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Cathy-Ace-Author-318388861616661/  and on Twitter, you can find me here: @AceCathy

 

 

 

Facts and Fictions by S.G. Wong

Whether we write fiction or non-fiction, writing our best copy involves research of one sort or another.
Sometimes, we can do our best piece with a few hours of online sleuthing, proud of cleverly formulated search terms and the lack of a single Wikipedia article in the results. Other times, we pack ourselves up and brave social interactions for an archival library, giddy as we slide into a favourite carrel amid the smell of aging paper, our eyes already blinking against the dry air. Still other times, we steel ourselves to begin the chain of emails and phone calls that will track down that one expert scholar on a particular point of contention that we cannot. let. go.

Research can be our grounding in reality, in history, in the gritty details of life. Research can also be the infamous proverbial rabbit hole, tempting us to sidle down dark corridors and twisty paths until we end up uncountable levels away from our original question. Whether or not that’s a bad thing, in my experience, depends on the day, the topic, and how closely a deadline looms…
But I freely admit: I love it. I love getting haplessly lost in beautifully-letterd missives and intimate journal entries. I love discovering new stories and heretofore hidden perspectives. I even enjoy skimming pages of cramped, spidery handwriting or dry typewritten facts. I’m fairly certain that in another dimension, I’m a nerdy scholar of history and lore. (This would be the same dimension where artists and scholars are at the top of the socio-economic pyramid, mind you.) Though, as an author of alternate history novels and short stories in this universe, I feel pretty blessed all the same.
And as such, of course, the point of all this research is actually the writing. How does one condense a week’s worth of research into just the right turn of phrase? Is three hours of research worth that one sentence in the manuscript that maybe 1 out of 50 readers will note for its verisimilitude? If what we write is fiction, what do we owe—and to whom—to get our facts straight?
Lucky me; I get to explore these questions and more on August 18th with a group of erudite and accomplished crime fiction writers. My plan is to elicit lively anecdotes and useful tips. My hope is that readers and writers alike will tap into a sense of wonder at this seemingly straightforward process, a process which I assert is nothing short of alchemical magic. ◊
S.G. Wong is Past President of SinC—Canada West and Chair of the 2018 Retreat Committee. An Arthur Ellis Awards finalist in the First Novel and Short Story categories, she writes the Lola Starke novels and Crescent City stories: hard-boiled detective fiction set in an alternate history 1930s-era “Chinese L.A.” replete with ghosts and magic. Her next publication is “Survivors’ Pension” in the Vancouver Noir anthology, coming November 2018 from Akashic Books. Connect with her at sgwong.com and on Twitter @S_G_Wong.

TWO Free Events in August

We’re nothing less than entirely chuffed at the response to our 2018 Summer Writers Retreat: it’s now sold out!
But never fear: we’re keeping a waiting list. If you’d like a chance to snag a seat that may come available (Life happens, right?), contact Retreat Committee Chair Sandra Wong to put your name on the list.
In the meantime, if you’ll be in the Victoria area on August 17 and/or 18, mark your calendar for these two free events, held in conjunction with the retreat:
SINC-CW Retreat Meet & Greet
FRI AUG 17   7PM start
Swan’s Pub (506 Pandora Ave.)
SinC—Canada West has reserved space at Swan’s Pub for a casual, “no-host” social. Join us and meet retreat attendees; make new friends who have writerly interests in common; and enjoy an evening of book talk and lively spirits.
Crime Fiction Panel Discussion
SAT AUG 18    7PM to 9PM
Bolen Books (#111 – 1644 Hillside Ave.)
Victoria’s famed Bolen Books is hosting New York Times-bestselling author Laurie R. King on a panel alongside Canada West author-members, Marcelle Dubé, Liz Freeland, and Janice MacDonald. Moderated by chapter Past President S.G. Wong, “Author Alchemy: Spinning Facts into Fiction Gold” is sure to be an engaging look into how authors turn reams of research into compelling narratives. Join us for learning, laughter, and some great crime fiction writers!

SinC Canada West interview: Karen Dodd

Photo provided by getsilhouette.com

We recently interviewed Karen Dodd, author of two novels in her Stone Suspense series, Deadly Switch and Scare Away the Dark.

As a child, Karen immigrated from the United Kingdom to Toronto, Ontario. Eventually, her family migrated to the West Coast and she grew up on the Vancouver’s North Shore, where she still makes her home.

Karen had several business ventures. During that time, she had numerous articles published about entrepreneurism. In 2011, she retired from her businesses to focus on writing her first novel, Deadly Switch, which was published in 2013. The genesis for Deadly Switch was ripped straight from the headlines of a local newspaper. Although the real-life story was terrifying, Karen fictionalized the rest of the story, which became her best-selling debut suspense novel.

 

 

Karen’s thrillers allow her to indulge her love of travel as well as highlight life on the west coast. When she’s not working on the next book in the Stone Suspense series, she can be found gardening and enjoying living by the sea with her husband, Glen, and cats, Bello and Missy.

SinC-CW: What was the inspiration for your Stone Suspense series?

Karen Dodd: Back in the 1980s, a well-known businessman was found dead in his West Vancouver waterfront mansion with a needle in his arm. My husband was acquainted with him through business. Though this man’s death was ultimately ruled a suicide, the initial investigation also looked at homicide. In Deadly Switch, the first book in the Stone Suspense series, I took that real-life premise and fictionalized it into a world of international crime, murder and embezzlement.

What was it about the Fraser Valley and Calabria areas that made you want to set your latest book there?

Well, the Fraser Valley didn’t become a setting until Scare Away the Dark, book two in the series. Quite honestly, it was simply a convenient location close to Vancouver where my protagonist Jordan Stone would be abducted and held in an underground bunker.

Calabria: Ah, now that’s another story! Several years ago, a little-known town named Tropea, in Calabria, Italy, caught my attention and, long before I ever went there in person, it came alive in my mind’s eye. I was determined to set my first book there. I didn’t actually go to Tropea until a year after the book came out. Now, I don’t think my readers will ever let me leave!

Did the characters of Scare Away the Dark (and Deadly Switch) come first, or did the story (i.e., were the characters looking for a story or vice versa?)

Absolutely the real-life premise and story came first in Deadly Switch. Then, the characters found me. In Scare Away the Dark, as well as book three, which I’m currently writing, my characters have grown and new ones have been added.

Tell us a little about your most recent story.

Scare Away the Dark, book two in the Stone Suspense series, is a continuation of crime investigative reporter Jordan Stone trying to adjust to a normal life after returning to West Vancouver from Calabria. She has said goodbye to her father and the woman she discovers is her biological mother, both of whom were forced into international witness protection. However, very little in Jordan’s world remains “ordinary” and she’s abducted and subsequently rescued by police. After two attempts on her life and the menacing presence of a mysterious stalker, she flees to the safety of Tropea, Italy. Once there, things spiral out of control and she’s once again on the lam and fighting for her life.

Describe your current writing workspace(s).

I am not one of those writers who can write anywhere. Perhaps it’s that I am an only child, but I need peace and absolute quiet to read, or to create. I wish I could write in a busy coffee shop or in 20- to 30-minute bursts snatched from a hectic day. I have a cozy, Zen-like studio in our waterview home on Howe Sound. I prefer to work at my desktop computer where I’m surrounded by wall-to-wall bookcases, art and objects that have become my touchstones and inspiration.

Do you belong to any writer’s groups or communities? Do you think these types of social interactions are important for writers?

I am a past-president and still a long-time member of the North Shore Writers’ Association. I participate in the Surrey International Writers’ Conference as well as other writing forums and groups. And of course, I’m a member of Sisters in Crime! As writing is such a solitary endeavour, I do think it’s important to be with other writers whether they’re published or not. I firmly believe I would never have published my first book without the mentorship and support from other writers. My small critique group (of three) is going into our sixth year together, with five books collectively.

Have you written any series characters? What’s their appeal for you?

I have only written series characters to date—my main characters, anyway. When I’m writing, I live with my characters every day, sometimes more than I want to! If I’m not thinking about them constantly, I know I’m disconnected from my story.

What I love is watching them grow and evolve just like people do in real life. Before I started writing fiction I always thought it funny when writers said they were constantly surprised by their characters and what they did. I remember thinking:  that’s ridiculous, you are the one making them up, how could you not know what they were going to do? Now, of course, I totally get it!

Are you a planner/outliner/architect or a pantser/gardener/discovery writer?

This is such a timely question for me right now as I write book three in the series! In the case of my first book, Deadly Switch, it was as if it was “channeled” and I was just the instrument. Not that I didn’t go through the same issues and angst that many debut novelists experience, but I knew the beginning of the story and I knew the ending. I didn’t outline at all. Somehow, I just sat at the computer every day and my characters took me where I needed to go. It was amazing how organically it happened.

So of course, I thought the same thing would happen with the next book. NOT! Oh, my goodness, it was the most painful process. I can’t tell you how many times I re-started, re-wrote, threw out, changed POV… at one point, I even decided to abandon the series and write it as a stand-alone. It was awful! That’s partly why I had almost four years between my first and second books.

After that experience, I vowed never to be a “pantster” again. Now, although I don’t do elaborate or long outlines, I do write a brief paragraph for each scene and chapter. Although I stick to that and make adjustments as necessary, I still allow myself to be open to my settings or characters taking me in a different direction. Because I write complexly-layered suspense, having a clear but flexible plan frees me from the panic of writing myself into a corner. I’ll let you know that how that goes at the end of this book!

What’s the most challenging thing about being a writer in 2018? What’s the best thing?

I can only speak to this as someone who didn’t start writing novels until later in life. Although I’ve always been a writer, my published work was comprised of articles in entrepreneurial magazines and in the small business world. So, the most challenging thing for me was whether to go traditional or indie in publishing my novels. Although I ultimately decided to go indie, there was always that conflict going on in my head: should I query agents and perhaps be rejected for two, three or five-plus years? Or should I get five or more books out in that time?

The best thing? There are so many opportunities out there today for writers; in some ways I don’t think it’s ever been better! Starting later in life, I’ve managed to build a group of loyal and enthusiastic readers who are always clamouring for the next book. I’ve learned to embrace the technology that has allowed me to target market effectively, and to increase my reader engagement exponentially.

Many writers also put their creativity to use in ways other than writing. Do you consider yourself a “creative person?” What other creative outlets do you have?

I love making beautiful spaces, often out of nothing. That extends to my love of gardening, interior decorating, knitting, and art. I can’t take credit for creating original ideas but I’m observant and endlessly curious—good traits for a writer to have, I think—and I enjoy copying an idea, then putting my unique spin on it. Often quirky in the extreme!

Tell us about your other works, projects, publications, and what’s on the horizon next. This is the shameless self-promotion portion of the interview. 

I plan to continue writing as many books in my Stone Suspense series as my readers ask for, and my characters have stories to tell. I’ve been told by virtually every reader of Deadly Switch that it should be made into a movie. So, as much as that feels like a long shot, I’d like to pursue that in some regard. As well, I’d like to explore audio books. I follow a couple of successful indie authors who have done that successfully, and I’m taking a look at that as well.

What question do you wish you’d be asked in an interview, but it never seems to come up? Ask it and tell us your answer.

Is it ever too late in life to start writing with the goal to publish and get your book out into the world? As I alluded to previously, I absolutely questioned that myself. So much so, in fact, that it almost choked my ability to move forward and seriously affected my creativity. Now, as I encourage “older” writers, I suggest asking oneself: Would you have had the story to tell when you were younger? And would it be as rich and multi-layered when you were in your thirties as it might be now? In my case, the answer is most definitely “no.” ◊

 

You can visit Karen Dodd on her web site here.

 

 

Guest Post by S.G. Wong

Sometimes, I’m tempted to envy writer-me.

Writer-me doesn’t worry about social media platforms or search engine optimization or A/B testing. Writer-me doesn’t worry about Amazon algorithms or Facebook ad buys or email subscribers. Writer-me just worries about plot lines and character motivations and conflict in every scene and hitting those keys one after another, hoping and praying the frenzied images and thoughts in her mind translate even fractionally into something coherent that will entertain and engage complete strangers who will fork over their hard-earned money in order to spend a few hours of their busy lives with the twisted creations of her imagination…

On second thought, writer-me has plenty of worries.

Which is probably a good reason for writer-me to give up the reins to author-me when it comes to marketing.

Whether or not you’re published right now, if you hope/plan to publish your books or publish more books, author-you is a great asset. This is the part of your brain that takes writer-you’s work and makes sure it finds its readers. I like to think of writer-us as inward-focussed—the part of us driven to spin stories from what amounts to nothing more than firing neurons. That means that author-us has to take care of focussing outward, on our readers and how to entice them to commit time and money to our books.

Sounds simple, doesn’t it?

I think it can be, once we build a proper framework for approaching marketing. Like a musician’s instruction to ‘return to note,’ if author-us lays the groundwork, we’ll always have a place to start when considering where next to aim our marketing efforts. And the best part is that we have the power to make it simple—simple and fun.

 

S.G. Wong is the Arthur Ellis Awards finalist, Whistler Independent Book Awards nominee, and indie author  who 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.

SinC Canada West interview: Jayne Barnard

We recently interviewed Jayne Barnard, author of the Maddie Hatter YA steampunk adventure series and, writing as J.E. Barnard, the just-released When the Flood Falls, first in the Falls Mysteries series and winner of the 2016 Unhanged Arthur Award for Best Unpublished First Crime Novel.

The Maddie Hatter series includes Maddie Hatter and the Deadly Diamond (a Prix Aurora and Book Publishing in Alberta Award (BPAA) finalist and winner of a 2016 eFestival of Words Award), Maddie Hatter and the Gilded Gauge (finalist in both the 2018 Prix Aurora and BPAA) and Maddie Hatter and the Timely Taffeta. Maddie Hatter and the Singapore Sting is coming out later in 2018. Jayne’s mystery manuscript, When the Bow Breaks, was shortlisted for both the Unhanged Arthur in Canada and the Debut Dagger in the UK. Awards for short fiction range from the 1990 Saskatchewan Writers Guild Award for “Princess Alex and the Dragon Deal” to the 2011 Bony Pete for “Each Canadian Son.”

Jayne served the Crime Writers of Canada as Prairie Region Vice-President and is a founding member of Crime Writers of Calgary. She leads vocal and other craft workshops for writers and is a regular panelist at When Words Collide.

 

SinC-CW: What was the inspiration for your Falls Mystery series?

Jayne Barnard: Way back in the Dark Ages (2004, I think), I had a long visit with an old friend who had joined the RCMP 20 years earlier, in her second year of university, and left it 10 years later. She wasn’t the same person when she left the Force, not by a long shot, and she had no words to articulate what had changed and frozen inside her. The series began on the premise that challenging First Responder jobs mark people indelibly, invisibly, and that mark tints every choice they make for the rest of their lives.

What is it about the Bragg Creek area that made you want to set your series there?

Sheer natural beauty and the transitional nature of the Alberta foothills. Bragg Creek, the hamlet with a foot in three Rural Municipalities, is barely within the screen of trees from the prairies, but still flat, while the mountains start literally on its doorstep in the other direction. The people there live amid constant, conflicting pressures from industry and environmentalists and outdoor sports groups, with government and landowners caught in an eternal tug-of-war between them all.

Tell us a little about your most recent book.

When the Flood Falls, the first of the published Falls Mysteries (Dundurn Press July 2018), brings PTSD sufferer and ex-RCMP corporal Lacey McCrae to Bragg Creek on a quest for sanctuary from the job and the marriage that have become toxic. While working for a security installer at Bragg Creek’s new Art Museum, she finds her old university roommate, Dee, is the Museum’s president.

A previously intimidating powerhouse of a real estate lawyer, Dee is in a state of near-breakdown after months of being stalked by a midnight prowler only she has ever seen or heard. Throw in Dee’s closest neighbour, Jan, who suffers from a poorly-understood neurological disease that makes her appear sometimes drunk and sometimes high on unspecified pharmaceuticals, and Lacey can’t be sure if she’s trying to protect Dee from a real threat or a figment of these two women’s overwrought imaginations.

The Elbow River rises daily as the snowpack melts, triggering Lacey’s old fears of fast-running water, and soon she’s having nightmares about her abusive ex-husband. Into all that pressure the risk to Dee suddenly becomes all too real.

Imagine you’ve been kidnapped or trapped by a natural disaster. Which of your own characters (from any work) would you want to rescue you? Why?

Terry, Jan’s husband, would be my go-to guy. He trains weekly with Search and Rescue, and has a lot of experience with climbing, rope-work, and wilderness first aid. A very handy guy, and cute as a cowboy teddy bear besides.

What’s your current writing project? How do you feel about it right this minute?

I’ve just turned in Where the Ice Falls, the sequel that starts six months after Where the Flood Falls. Dee’s dying mother has come for a final Christmas with her only daughter, and Lacey has been investigating the freezing death of a young computer science intern at a boarded-up ski chalet. On Boxing Day, Lacey has had a lovely afternoon of cross-country skiing out in the glorious white wilderness of the Elbow Valley, but when she gets home barely ahead of a snowstorm, she learns the nurse she loaned her car to is overdue in Bragg Creek. Will she be investigating a second frozen body in the morning?

I’ve enjoyed the process of this book more than I have many previous works. It’s the first full-length mystery novel I’ve ever started knowing it’s already under contract, which takes the guesswork out of whether anyone will ever read it (the publisher’s substantive editor will for sure, even if she kills it before anyone else sees it). It was fully outlined and all the characters were alive in my head. All I had to do was sit at the keyboard for a few hours a day to let the next scene transfer itself from my brain to the screen. Now I’m waiting on the edits for that manuscript, and on the edits for the fourth Maddie adventure, Maddie Hatter and the Singapore Sting.

Do you belong to any writer’s groups or communities? Do you think these types of social interactions are important for writers?

Currently I belong to Sisters in Crime Canada West and the Crime Writers of Canada. I’m a charter member of Calgary Crime Writers and a longtime member of Imaginative Fiction Writers Association. As you might reasonably guess, I’m a huge believer in the power of writers’ communities to provide emotional support as well as practical guidance. At all the stages of crime-writing I’ve experienced so far, writers at my level have been cheering me on while writers further up the Golden Pyramid have held out their hands to help me up to the next level. From scribbling my first tentative chapter to show to a critique group, to winning the Dundurn Unhanged Arthur (and almost winning the Debut Dagger), to landing a three-book contract and having to learn all the social media and in-person marketing hoops to set up and knock down, I’ve been so very fortunate in the support I’ve received.

That said, groups can cause difficulties for writers just starting out. Some of the perils I’ve seen include: critique group members who give harsh and reductive feedback instead of calm, constructive comments; newbies’ vision for their work being lost as they adapt their style to a group culture that may be simply different or that has become hidebound; groups that are faithfully meeting to talk about writing but don’t push members to produce any writing; groups that are all about sales and marketing opportunities, pushing new writers to produce quickly marketable work instead of promoting development of the writer’s individual skills and writing voice. There’s nothing wrong with marketing your work, but marketing too soon can close doors on both the publishing side and on the writer’s personal development side.

Which one of your characters is the most like you? The least?

The character most like me is Jan. Although she’s a few decades younger, she has the same ill-understood neurological illness that I have, called ME/CFS (Myalgic Encephalomyelitis). The struggles she has to get through her days, to stand up under social stigma and snap judgments, to keep trying out new treatments that not only don’t help but may well make her life worse… all those are issues I’ve struggled with for nearly 30 years. Jan and I share some visual art and art history education, too. I’ve made her my stand-in for all the paintings I’d love to see in person, and my excuse to spend many hours reading up on art forgery in case she spots one in a future book.

Least like? Camille Hardy. And not only because she’s slim, tanned, fit, blonde, and rich (although I’d like to own her butter-yellow BMW convertible). It’s all in the attitude, baby. Hers is that all other women are either competition for the richest man around, or they’re roadkill.

Have you written any series characters? What’s their appeal for you?

I’ve written four (so far) of a five-book series of YA novels, The Maddie Hatter Adventures. They center around an aristocratic runaway young woman. In a slightly off-reality 1899, Maddie’s earning her living as a journalist. She wants to do investigative reporting but she keeps on getting relegated to the fashion beat. I think of her as a cross between Trixie Belden and Indiana Jones, and I love seeing what trouble she falls into (sometimes literally). She’s a self-rescuing young lady, with a core group of friends and mentors who are all strong personalities in their own right. What interests me most about series characters is seeing how they grow and change in the face of adversity, or fail to change when circumstances would seem to demand it.

Do you remember the first story you wrote? Tell us about it.

I was in fourth grade, and Mrs. Rinaldo started a film in which we saw a shadowy figure of a man creep through a half-open barn door. She stopped the film there and told us to write an ending. I started writing and got so caught up in the girl’s emotional state as she crept toward the door, torn between curiosity and dread at what she’d find, that I couldn’t finish the story in the time allotted. I’ve long blessed Mrs. Rinaldo for allowing me the rest of the week to take that story as far as I wanted.

Spoiler alert: my imagination failed me right at the barn door. After all that suspenseful build-up, I couldn’t think of a payoff that seemed both big enough to satisfy the story and safe enough that it wouldn’t give me nightmares forevermore. That same dilemma is why I don’t write horror stories or extremely graphic violence.

Many writers also put their creativity to use in ways other than writing. Do you consider yourself a creative person? What other creative outlets do you have?

I find that one of the best cures for writer’s block is to go do something that’s creative but not related to anything I will ever have to put out there for public judgment. So I sew a bit, and make paper-mache masks and figures. I paint with watercolours occasionally, and I draw with pencils and with conte crayons.

For the launch of the first Maddie Hatter Adventure, which starts out in Cairo, my assistant and I painted a huge backdrop for the book launch: a view of Egypt’s amazing pyramids as seen from inside an airship’s passenger lounge. Because of my neurological condition, I can’t draw, paint, or cut fabric while looking straight down. My assistant, Emmelia, crawled around on the hard back deck for many hours to sketch out the panels from the paper miniatures, and then to paint the undercoating at my direction. Then we rigged up a slanted easel wide enough for each panel so I could paint in the details. It was a hugely fun project, impossible for me without her agile assistance and familiarity with paints, and lots of people at the launch party got their photos taken in front of it, pretending they were in that airship with Maddie Hatter.

I named a strong, agile character after my excellent assistant in the next adventure, Maddie Hatter and the Gilded Gauge.

Tell us about your other works, projects, publications, and what’s on the horizon next. This is the shameless self-promotion portion of the interview.

Buy my books! Buy my books! How’s that for shameless self-promotion? Seriously – or more seriously – right now I’m promoting When the Flood Falls, my first of three contemporary mysteries from Dundurn Press, and chewing my nails waiting for the Prix Aurora voting to end and the Books Publishing in Alberta banquet to begin.

My biggest thrill this summer was being invited to the Saskatchewan Festival of Words (July 18-22) as an author guest. This is a full-circle moment in my writing career, as I was a lowly volunteer at the first three years of that festival way back in the 1990s, before I’d written a single word on a single novel. I’m appearing on a few panels at When Words Collide in Calgary in mid-August as well as treading the merry round of bookstore signings, panels, and author talk. When the Flood Falls already won the Dundurn Unhanged Arthur and picked up a few very positive advance reviews; I’m eager to see what audiences across North America make of the characters and their crises.

You can see the full slate of author appearances at jaynebarnard.ca.

What makes you happiest about being a writer?

Being able to write every day if I want to, and to know that people will eventually read and enjoy my writing. Ten years ago, the spring I was first long-listed for an Unhanged Arthur, I became bedbound from ME/CFS and could barely speak or write two coherent sentences in a row. I wasn’t expected to recover, much less get a writing career established. Now I’m not only published in book form – a lifelong dream that I thought I’d lost forever – but I have more books in print than I ever expected to: three in the Maddie Hatter Adventures, another this summer – When the Flood Falls (Dundurn Press) – and Maddie Hatter and the Singapore Sting coming out later this fall (Tyche Books). After those I have three more books under contract in the two series, and plenty of ideas for short stories and standalone novels that I’d really love to get down on paper. Some days I think it’s not possible to be happier or more excited about my writing life than I am right now. ◊

You can visit Jayne at her web site at jaynebernard.ca

 

Guest Post: Skin in the Game by Janice MacDonald

Mystery fiction, with all the requirements and conventions of the genre, leaves quite a bit of room open to writers to examine the social and political overtones of a time or place. Many otherwise marginalized people or ideas find their way into detective fiction long before they reach the pages of mainstream novels. Perhaps, because the mechanics of the genre are so fixed in terms of plot (murder, puzzle, sleuth, clues, suspects, villain, solution), mystery writers use the descriptive details of the world or time around the plot to really make their individual mark. When creating a fictional world, even if it’s a fictional overlay of a very real world – like the Edmonton of my amateur sleuth Randy Craig – the dedication to detail is both what makes it come alive for readers and what makes the task of writing it the most satisfying.

Of course, when I say detail, I am not talking about overloading your manuscript with page after page of description, listing every book on a suspect’s bookshelf, or every dessert on the restaurant’s menu, offering every historical fact you have unearthed in your research. Unless you are creating a character with a troubling level of awareness of the world around them, too much detail can actually dull the reader’s senses to the world they are being shown. The trick is to know which detail to linger on, which flower to paint in lovingly while smudging the rest in as only a swirl of colour.

When it comes to populating your fictional world, the same holds true. As your character walks down the street, not everyone catches her eye, and gender or ethnicity is not always what she reflects on. However, if her attention does snag on something, this is a writer’s perfect opportunity to dive into enough detail to bring the scene to life and add to your character’s complexity or backstory.

Do the pasty white arms of the fellow drumming outside the concert venue match the plastic buckets that he’s wailing on, leading her to wonder if he only comes out at night, and lives underground during the day, perhaps close to the subway, where the thrumbling of the train would soothe his rhythmic soul? That might be a useful way to provide a sense of what sort of person busks for change on the streets of your fictional city while showing the capacity for your protagonist to extrapolate and imagine.

On the other hand, if you are describing a panhandler or dissolute person, is there any reason to note their ethnicity? Surely how they are dressed, what they say, or whether they look you in the eye with the rolling gaze of a skittish racehorse when they speak to you are all far more interesting aspects for sketching in their character. Leaving racial traits blank in this case can open the door of possibility to your reader that they themselves may be only one or two paycheques from this character themselves.

If your protagonist needs to visit a banker, or a lawyer, or some other person in a position of power or authority, why not make them female? Why not make them people of colour? Why not make them openly gay? All of these characters showed up as the main characters in detective fiction long before they populated mainstream novels. Without being heavy-handed about it, you can find all sorts of places to work against stereotype and move your world forward to a more egalitarian playing field. The great usefulness of literature is to show people what is possible. Without example, no one realizes they too can be part of the picture. It took a book set in Edmonton to let me even dream that I too could really become a writer.

Part of our job as writers is to present a recognizable world to our readers, one they can believe in so that they can easily suspend disbelief and enjoy the story we are spinning. Another part of our job is to show them a world of possibilities – to present them with distinct people in clearly defined worlds who could be mingling and connecting and supporting each other in a civilized and temperate society. Except, of course, for that pesky murderer.

 

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.

 

Guest Post by Linda L. Richards

When I am asked to attend writers festivals, one of the things I love doing are the blue pencil editing sessions. I’ve been doing this all long enough and from such different angles, that sometimes sitting there, across from a new writer, I feel like a fortune teller. A few pages of any manuscript and I am forming opinions: on how to make it better. On how to mold it. On how to sell it. On who to sell it to.

And so, in this fortune teller mode, I opine and have watched while fledgling authors look at me with their jaws shaped into an “O” that looks something like amazement. It’s a fun feeling, being able to share my accumulated knowledge, but it’s not amazing. I’ve just been driving this highway a lot and for a really long time and I care about it all a great deal.

My first book was published in 1994. It was non-fiction, and I had been a journalist and sometimes an editor for many years before that. By now, I am the author or co-author of 15 books. I have professionally edited for individuals and for publishing houses. I have been the publisher and editor-in-chief of a respected book publishing house. I have taught writing and publishing at the college level, as well as others. I have been the editor of an online magazine about books almost (it feels) since the dawn of the Internet. I am passionate about books, how they are created, made and marketed and, on this highway, I’ve learned a thing or two. I have a lot of information to share. I know that in the allotted hour at the Sisters in Crime Summer Retreat, we won’t have time to cover even the beginning of everything, but we’ll take a run at it together. Bring your questions.

 

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 Self-Counsel Press. She has also taught writing and publishing at the college level.