Member New Book Alert: Murder Knows No Season by Cathy Ace

When we hear that one of our members has a new book coming out, we know we’re in store for a treat. Sometimes we don’t hear about it until after the fact, which always makes us feel like we should have known sooner. (Moral of the story: if you have a book coming, please let us know well in advance. It’s our pleasure to add an item right here on our web site to help spread the word.)

Of course, a new book by Cathy Ace is such a treat, it almost doesn’t need introduction. Yet we’re glad to know about Murder Knows No Season, which is available now.

Murder Knows No Season is a terrific introduction to the world of mystery by Cathy Ace.

The book is comprised of four very different novellas, one for each season.

WINTER: The Corpse with Eight Faces: A Cait Morgan Mystery
Trapped in a snowbound lodge in the Canadian countryside, Cait is faced with a corpse, and a group of eight suspects. A classic closed-circle mystery featuring Cait Morgan, before she and Bud Anderson knew each other well enough for her to be able to call upon him for help.

SPRING: The Case of the Desperate Duchess: A WISE Enquiries Agency Mystery
Christine Wilson-Smythe’s cousin, Lady Jacintha Wraysbury, calls in the WISE Enquiries Agency to hunt for a missing girl: her assistant at her flower shop. In this early case for the agency, readers join the private investigators as they scour West London for a girl who’s in more danger than any of them imagine.

SUMMER: A standalone thriller Out and About in a Boat  
Meet the Golightlys, an average Canadian family. When dad Dave wants to take his fifteen year-old son Zack and thirteen year-old daughter Becky for a weekend at a local lake, mum Debbie is hesitant. After all, she and Dave are separated for good reason. But what could go wrong in just thirty hours? When there’s a dead body involved, quite a lot.

AUTUMN: The Fall: A DI Evan Glover Case
Not all Welshmen are rugby fans, only the ones who breathe. DI Evan Glover has played and loved the game since he was a boy, so when the body of one of Wales’ most celebrated rugby players — GGR Davies — is found at the bottom of a cliff, the question “Did he jump, or was he pushed?” is one of national significance. As he digs into what might have led to the tragedy, Glover discovers his hero might not have been the man he — and all of Wales — thought he was.

You can read more about Cathy on her web site here.

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.

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.

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.

 

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.

SinC Canada West interview: Loreth Anne White

Sisters in Crime – Canada West interviewed Loreth Anne White on the occasion of the release of her latest book, The Girl in the Moss, which debuts today, June 12th.

Loreth Anne is an internationally bestselling author of thrillers, mysteries, and romantic suspense. A three-time RITA finalist, she is also the Overall 2017 Daphne du Maurier Award winner, and she has won the Romantic Times Reviewers’ Choice Award, the National Readers’ Choice Award, and the Romantic Crown for Best Romantic Suspense and Best Book Overall, in addition to being a Booksellers’ Best finalist, and a multiple CataRomance Reviewers’ Choice Award winner.

​A recovering journalist who has worked in both South Africa and Canada, she now resides in the haunting mountains of the Pacific Northwest with her family where she tries to avoid the bears, albeit not always unsuccessfully. When she’s not writing, you will find her skiing, biking, hiking the trails with her dog (aka the Black Beast), or open water swimming. She calls this work, because that’s when the best ideas come.

 

SinC-CW: Tell us a little about your most recent story, The Girl in the Moss.

Loreth Anne White: The Girl in the Moss is a cold case mystery/thriller that kicks off when a shallow grave in a mossy forest exposes the bones of a decades-old secret. Early reviews have described the story as dark, atmospheric, and twisty with a shocking conclusion. While it can be read alone, The Girl in the Moss is book 3 in the Angie Pallorino series which also has a romantic thread playing out over the arc of the three books.

A larger philosophical question around cold case detecting also plays throughout this book. As one Goodreads reviewer wrote: “If history allows those in grief to move forward with their lives, trying to breathe new life into a cold case threatens to upend everything for survivors. On the other hand, those who have gotten away with murder are eluding justice. Angie clearly represents Justice in this book, even at times when nearly everyone is against her and when some of the opposition’s arguments make some sense.”

So yes, Angie is dogged, but hopefully for good reason—the mystery of her own tragic childhood is another cold case that is solved over the course of the three books, which includes The Drowned Girls, book 1, and The Lullaby Girl, book 2, and that past informs her character.

Where is the series set? What is it about that location that made you want to set your latest book there?

Victoria, Vancouver, and other (augmented) parts of Vancouver Island are the prime locales for this series. (I have a passion for setting my work in Canada!) I particularly love the moodiness and atmospheric mystery of the Pacific Northwest. The weather here, and the terrain, shapes the people, and I think it all lends itself so beautifully to the Scandinavian noir atmosphere of crime fiction that I love. I wanted to try and tap into that tone with my Angie series.

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?

 Angie Pallorino! This one is a no-brainer… did I mention Angie is stubborn, dogged. She will not give up on a mission she has set her heart on. She’s also empathetic and resourceful, and when her friends have her back, she by heaven has theirs. And she did a pretty darn awesome job of saving homicide detective James Maddocks and his daughter at the end of Book 1, and some other characters in the following books who I won’t name for fear of spoilers. J

Describe your current writing workspace(s).

I am blessed to have a place I can call an office these days—a long way from the half-closet in our tiny bedroom where I started my fiction writing journey after coming home from a full day’s work on the local newspaper. My desk faces a large window that looks over trees toward the slopes of Whistler Mountain. And I always have orchids on my desk now. For various reasons the flowers remind of who I am and where I came from, and of people I love who are both present in my life and gone. Kind of a totem, I suppose. J

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

Right this moment I am in love with my work in progress. But speak to me in two more minutes and it shall once again be the largest pile of dreck you ever did see! Ah, those teeter-totter mood swings of a novelist. The Dark Bones is the tentative title for this work. It’s an atmospheric mystery/suspense/romance set in Cariboo country in the B.C. interior, and while it is a standalone, it links to A Dark Lure, which was an Amazon #1 bestseller and is still currently ranking in the top 100 in Germany (in its German guise as Winterjagd). If all goes to plan—and things do yet all have to slot into place—the book will see the shelves early next summer.

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

I belong to several. Romance Writers of America, Kiss of Death (which is the mystery and suspense chapter of the RWA), Novelists Inc (Ninc), Sisters in Crime and the local chapter Sisters in Crime-Canada West, Crime Writers Canada, and many online groups, loops, and communities. These connections and conferences like the RWA annual convention, Bouchercon, Left Coast Crime, the Surrey International Writers Conference, Writers Police Academy, and the Ninc cons have been key for me. I’ve learned to write commercial fiction through them. And if one wants to be a working writer, a selling writer, a commercial writer—it helps to keep a finger on the pulse of the industry: what’s selling, what isn’t, who’s buying, what agents want, how to work with or without an agent, what editors are buying and seeking, various publishing choices, marketing, Facebook ads, Book Bub, newsletters, networking, contract negotiations, what kind of money is being earned and where… it’s ever-evolving.

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

Many! What published author hasn’t? And they do hurt. I do read my reviews when I happen across them because if I see a common refrain—well, that’s something I can either use, or lose, in future work, depending on the refrain. I can learn from reviews. Then there are those negative slams that are just out there. Those I try to just look away from and keep on going.

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

 Good question! I realized just recently that I tend to write primarily about survival in one way or another, and about finding one’s tribe.

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

Definitely! I grew up on Enid Blyton stories about intrepid kids who solved mysteries on dark and stormy moors and who stalked wicked smugglers in rugged coves with dangerous seas and blinking lanterns in the dark. And I went on to Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys, and Willard Price’s tales of adventure with dangerous animals in wild places. I think all those elements I adored in those early tales still fire me now.

You are well published, with a number of romantic suspense titles from Harlequin as well as four single title romantic suspense books. What’s the most challenging thing about being a writer in 2018? What’s the best thing?

I have published 26 works of fiction now, and the last decade in the publishing industry has been one helluva ride. We’ve watched traditional publishing nosedive through the gold rush of the self-publishing/digital revolution. We’ve seen brick and mortar bookstores closing in the face of the Kindle evolution and Amazon dominance. We’ve seen traditional markets and shelf space shrinking. At the same time I have never met so many writers whose names you don’t know who make more than an incredible living (millionaires, many). This was not that case prior to the digital revolution. The big challenge now, however, is how to navigate the end of the indie gold rush, and how to crack the ‘discoverability’ conundrum that is the Great Wall of Content that keeps on growing and growing, minute by minute… both in backlist and frontlist. What was working last month is just not working now, and so on. Another challenge we’re seeing a lot of in my writing communities is burnout. Pedaling that indie hamster wheel is taking its toll. I’m seeing writers of many years flat out quit.

What advice do you have for writers of fiction starting out now?

Write what you love to read! Hands down, number one. Chasing the market year after year after year will exhaust the muse and can cause bitterness and frustration down the road. And you’re going to spend an awful lot of time reading and re-reading and proofing and editing and rewriting your own work along the way so having passion for the genre will help keep the energy there.

And define what success means to you early on. Is it to make lists, hold a hardcover in your hands, see your book in an airport bookstore, win some award, secure literary accolades, speak on panels, do book tours, be your own boss, make a fat living selling millions of mostly-digital copies, be available on all platforms… because your definition of success will help decide what publishing route to pursue in this shape-shifting, often demoralizing, but also very exciting business filled with tons of truly awesome people.

You can visit Loreth Anne White at her web site here.

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.”