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 by Linda L. Richards

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.”