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When the Flood Falls, first in the Falls Mysteries series and winner of the 2016 Unhanged Arthur Award for Best Unpublished First Crime Novel.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