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SinC Canada West interview: Karen Dodd

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.

 

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.”

 

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

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

Sustaining a Series with Laurie R. King

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

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

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

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

Secrets of the Publishing World with Linda L. Richards

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

 

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