Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Elmore Leonard to receive PEN lifetime achievement award

Elmore Leonard, one of my favorite mystery writers, is going to receive the PEN Lifetime Achievement award. Congratulations! This award is given by PEN USA, the literary organization.

The Award will be presented at a ceremony in Beverly Hills on December 2.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Bacon as Book mark found in library book

O.k. many of you know that I also have the chocolate blog, and I often blog about chocolate and bacon, but this takes the cake. Serious Eats reported this story from The Argus (UK) last week. Apparently a rasher (slice or piece in the US) of bacon was found in a returned book by a Worthing librarian.

The article goes on to site other oddities found in second-hand and library books by artist Dan Thompson over the past decade. His collection includes ephemera dating back to the 1940s including family photographs, concert tickets, postcards, maps lottery tickets and more. His 'collection' is on view at the Worthing main library.

Here's a fun article on "The Legend of the Bacon Bookmark" on BiblioBuffet. Apparently, it's not so uncommon, and it's well documented.

Library staff on librarian discussion lists often share stories about unusual bookmarks. Check out this list and this article.

This is not a kosher practice. So what's the oddest object you've ever found in a book?

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Philip Kerr Wins RBA Prize

I'm a huge fan of Philip Kerr's Berlin Noir trilogy, featuring detective Bernie Gunther. For some reason I forgot to mention here on Mystery Fanfare that Kerr won the RBA International Award for Crime Writing. Luckily Craig Sisterton of Crime Watch (News and Musings on New Zealand and International Crime/Thriller Writing) reminded me. I also saw it on The Rap Sheet.

The RBA International Prize for Crime Writing was presented on September 3. It's the world's most lucrative prize in crime fiction (€125,000). Philip Kerr won for IF THE DEAD RISE NOT. Kerr said he was surprised at the size of the prize: "I recently got a prize in France which was a few bottles of wine."

Previous winners were the Spanish Spanish novelist Francisco González Ledesma for Una novela de barrio (A Neighborhood’s Novel) in 2007 and the Italian Andrea Camilleri for La muerte de Amalia Sacerdote” (Amalia Sacerdote’s Death) in 2008.

To read more on the RBA International Prize for Crime Writing on their website, go Here.

For a more critical look at the award, see Rhian Davies post on September 8 post on It's a Crime! Or a Mystery where she gives the rules of entry and points out that RBA Libros has published all three of the past winners in Spain.

125,000 Euros is a lot of money!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

2009 Willa Literary Award Winners

2009 WILLA Literary Award Winners (Women Writing the West)
Honoring books published in 2008

Awarded annually for outstanding literature featuring women's stories set in the West, the WILLA Literary Awards are chosen by a distinguished panel of twenty-one professional librarians.

There were several mysteries among nominees and winners. Congratulations all!

Contemporary Fiction

WINNER: The Last Cowgirl, by Jana Richman (William Morrow/HarperCollins Publishers)

FINALIST: Hoodoo, by Susan Cummins Miller (Texas Tech University Press)

FINALIST: Wild Inferno, by Sandi Ault (Berkley Prime Crime/Penguin Group USA)

Original Softcover Fiction (Trade or Mass Market)

WINNER: Buffalo Bill’s Defunct: A Latouche County Mystery, by Sheila Simonson (Perseverance Press/ John Daniel and Co.)

FINALIST: In the Shadow of Rebellion, by Gladys Smith (Llumina Press)

FINALIST: River of the Arms of God, by Irene Sandell (Eakin Press)

Video Interviews with Crime Writers

Oz Mystery Readers (a Yahoo group) had a posting about Web Exclusive Video Interviews with various authors including two crime writers: Linwood Barclay and Sophie Hannah. They're short and very good. Almost like being there. You'll want to watch them. To hear the interviews, go HERE.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

2009 CWA Ellis Peters Historical Crime Award Nominees

Crime Writers Association announced the nominees for the 2009 CWA Ellis Peters Award. What a great list!

Rennie Airth, THE DEAD OF WINTER (Macmillan)

Philip Kerr, IF THE DEAD RISE NOT (Quercus)


Mark Mills, THE INFORMATION OFFICER (HarperCollins)

Andrew Williams, THE INTERROGATOR (John Murray)

Laura Wilson, AN EMPTY DEATH (Orion)

Hat Tip to Karen Meek of Euro Crime

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Litquake X: October 9-17 San Francisco

Litquake X has announced it schedule and there are several Mystery panels and events. All of San Francisco's a Stage when this Festival gets started. Venues include bars, bookshops, churches, schools and during tours. More than 450 authors participating. Every genre!

Mystery related panels and talks. More to be added. What have I forgotten?

Saturday, October 10: Kirsten T. Saxton, author of Narratives of Women and Murder in England, 1680-1760: Deadly Plots (Ashgate Publishing, Surrey, England 2009) appears on The Way Things Were: Biography and History with T.J. Stiles, Dan Dion, Linda Himelstein, Kirsten T. Saxton, David Helvarg, Gary M. Pomerantz. San Francisco Main Library 11 am-12 noon!

Tuesday, October 13

Mary Roach, author of Stiff, Spook, and Bonk, at noon and 7 pm.
Center for Literary Arts, Martin Luther King, Jr. Library, San Jose.

Thursday, October 15

Subterranean SF: Hard Boiled Writing with an Edge
, 7 p.m.
Noir and Mystery in San Francisco. Bourbon & Branch. Cara Black & Others

James Ellroy, author of Blood's a Rover, 7:30 pm. Books Inc in the Castro, 2275 Market

For the full schedule, go HERE.

Dracula and His World: Leslie S. Klinger Course at UCLA Ext

Leslie S. Klinger, Dracula scholar and author of The New Annotated Dracula, will be teaching a one-day course for UCLA Extension on Saturday, October 24, 2009, entitled "Dracula and His World." The course includes discussions of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Twilight" and features two guest speakers, Gordon Melton and Angela Aleiss, plus surprise guests. For more info, go HERE.

Course description:
Explore the history and folklore of vampires and vampire literature that existed prior to the publication of Bram Stoker's Dracula in 1897, then examine the history of Stoker's classic book; his life; his sources; and the shaping of the book, including Stoker's notes and the long-hidden manuscript.

After a thorough examination of the book, the course goes on to cover Dracula on film, stage, radio, and television, as well as the many incarnations of the King Vampire, including the works of Anne Rice, Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, Stephanie Meyer, and others, and the universe of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Please read The New Annotated Dracula edited by Leslie Klinger before the first class.

UCLA: A18 Haines Hall
Saturday, 9am-4pm
October 24

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Mystery Conventions, Conferences & More

There are many conventions and meetings where mystery fans and writers can get together. Thought I'd list a few of the events that are coming up. Please send me any info on your own convention, meeting or workshops.

October 2: Oxford, England. Crime Day at the Bodleian. One day event to celebrate the launch of Talking About Detective Fiction by P.D. James. Talks by Val McDermid, Ruth Rendell, Kate Summerscale and P.D. James.

October 15-18: Bouchercon 2009, Indianopolis, IN. World Mystery Convention. That says it all! Events, panels, other programming. Largest gathering of mystery fans, writers, forenics, etc. Guest of Honor: Michael Connelly, Toastmaster: S.J. Rozan. Honored Youth Author: Wendelin Van Draanen. Lifetime Achievement: Allen J. Hubin. Fan Guest of Honor: Kathryn Kennison.

November 21: Men of Mystery, Irvine, CA. 10th Anniverary of this fun conference. Many male mystery writers. Featured speakers: Michael Connelly and Tim Dorsey.

March 11-14, 2010: Left Coast Crime 20, Los Angeles. This is the 20th Left Coast Crime, and I hope you'll be there. Guests of Honor: Jan Burke & Lee Child. Toastmaster: Bill Fitzhugh. Lots of surprises in the City of Noir. Get Booked in L.A.

October 14-17, 2010: Bouchercon by the Bay, San Francisco. World Mystery Convention. Panels, interviews and more. Conversations planned: Ace Atkins with Eddie Muller, Dana Stabenow with Laurie R. King, Val McDermid with Denise Mina & Robert Crais with Lee Child.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Cool Canadian Crime: Linwood Barclay

David Cole continues his Cool Canadian Crime interviews. Today: Linwood Barclay.

Mystery Readers was lucky to host Linwood Barclay at a real-time At Home Literary Salon in Berkeley. Incredibly great time was had by all.

Previously, David interviewed Louise Penny, Barbara Fradkin, Mary Jane Maffini, Thomas Rendell Curran, Gail Bowen, Garry Ryan, RJ Harlick, Anthony Bidulka, Rick Mofina, Lou Allin, Anne Emery and Vicki Delany and Cheryl Freedman. This group of authors were chosen by David to represent a variety of mystery genres, styles, and historical periods. Some of the authors have won or been shortlisted for the Arthur Ellis award for best mystery novel. More to come.

Linwood Barclay was born in the United States but moved to Canada just before turning four years old when his father, a commercial artist whose illustrations of cars appeared in Life, Look and Saturday Evening Post (before photography took over), accepted a position with an advertising agency north of the border. After spending his formative years helping run a cottage resort and trailer park after his father died when he was 16, Linwood got his first newspaper job at the Peterborough Examiner, a small Ontario daily. In 1981, he joined the Toronto Star, Canada’s largest circulation newspaper.

He held such positions as assistant city editor, chief copy editor, news editor, and Life section editor, before becoming the paper’s humour columnist in 1993. He was one of the paper’s most popular columnists before retiring from the position in 2008 to work exclusively on books.
Between 1996 and 2000 be published four non-fiction books, including a memoir about growing up in cottage country, Last Resort, which was shortlisted for the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour.

In 2004, he launched his mystery series about an anxiety-ridden, know-it-all, pain-in-the-butt father by the name of Zack Walker. His first standalone thriller, No Time for Goodbye, was published in 2007 to critical acclaim and great international success. It has been sold around the world and is being translated into nearly two dozen languages. Too Close to Home came out in 2008 and won the Arthur Ellis Award for best novel. Fear the Worst is his latest thriller.

David Cole: In what ways do you think your upbringing has influenced the kind of writer you've become? When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer, and how did you break this distressing news to your family?

Linwood Barclay: Sometime around Grade 3 I started writing stories, filling entire notebooks with single stories, although when you consider the huge chunky handwriting and the double spacing, they couldn’t have been all that long. It was television – and I watched a lot of it – that really got me interested in writing. A single episode a week of my favourite show was not enough, so I wrote more stories featuring these characters created by other people. My family was supportive. Around Grade 5, I found it was taking me too long to write my stories out in longhand, so my father gave me a five-minute typing lesson. We had an old Royal about the size of a Volkswagen, and Dad said, “This finger goes here, this one here, this one hits these keys, and so on.” That was it.

DC: Which do you prefer to write: stand-alones or series books? Can you say something about the strengths and weaknesses of both, from the writer's perspective?

LB: I liked writing my series of books about Zack Walker, but they were not big sellers, so I switched to standalones. The four I did were great fun; I knew the characters so it was easy to get into the story right away. But then again, standalones give you a lot more freedom to do whatever you want.

DC: Who do you write for? Do you have any notion of an audience "out there" while you are constructing a book?

I really don’t. I just write the books I want to write and hope someone out there will enjoy them.

DC: How healthy is the crime novel right now, and can you offer a prognosis for its future?

LB: My sense is that it’s very healthy, despite all the economic problems we’ve been having. I think, in tough times, people want something fun and exciting to read. Crime writers know how to deliver just that.

DC: Your house is on fire, and you can save only two books: one by yourself, one by another author. Which do you choose?

LB: I’d save a copy of Last Resort, my memoir that was published in 2000. And my copy of Sleeping Beauty, the Lew Archer novel by Ross Macdonald (aka Kenneth Millar), which Millar signed for me the night I had dinner with him in 1976.

DC: You wash up on a desert island. Which three items would you wish to find awaiting you? (No boats and outboard motors allowed.)

LB: I can’t tell you three things I DON’T want to find: a polar bear, a smoke monster, and a huge statue of a four-toed foot.

DC: Do your background and upbringing play any part in the development of your themes and characters? If so, what part?

LB: Thirty years in newspapers has had an effect. I certainly hand my manuscripts in on time. And the experience of my teen years – which were the subject of the aforementioned Last Resort – shaped me more than anything else. My father died when I was sixteen, I effectively took over running the family business – a cottage resort – and had to deal with a mentally ill older brother and a mother who was, to say the least, difficult. I left home at 22 for my first newspaper job at the Peterborough Examiner, about 70 miles northeast of Toronto.

DC: A book a year can mean tremendous pressure, along with all the promotion and touring. How do you organize your writing schedule to deal with this? Do you plot out your stories carefully first or just jump in there and start writing?

LB: Once I have an idea I like, I start making notes, maybe for a week or two until I have the overall picture of the book. But I can’t work out the whole plot. Plenty of opportunities present themselves once I start writing. And when I’m writing a first draft – a two to three month process – I like to be able to do it without interruption. No trips, no tours.

DC: You can have lunch with anyone, living or dead (but they won't be decomposing when you meet them!) Who would you choose and why?

LB: My father.

DC: You're on a desert island with a Walkman and a lifetime supply of batteries, but only three CDs. What would you like them to be?

LB: I’m on that damn island again? Okay, the best of Oscar Peterson, George Gershwin, and Diana Krall.

DC: And one book?

LB: The Nothing Book. Remember that one, with nothing but blank pages? I just hope I can find a pen somewhere.

DC: How do you construct a novel? Plot first? Character journey first?

LB: The hook comes first. I need an interesting way into a story. Once I have a hook I like, I start shaping the plot. Characters come into focus more for me as I am writing.

DC: Before this showed up in your e-mail, what were you working on? I don't want a general description of the book you're on. Tell us about the very page you were writing. What was happening? What does it mean?

LB: I’m not writing at the moment, although within the next day or so I have to start thinking about the next book. I’ve been doing a lot of touring this year.

DC: I read an interview with Jakob Dylan once, where he said that originality is overrated. What he meant was that he was happy to create within the tradition of music he sees himself a part of. Do you see yourself working within a tradition or genre, or combining elements from more than one? How important is it to you to break new ground?
I think it’s true, to a degree, that there are no new stories, that everything has been done. But, it hasn’t been done by me. My hope is that I can bring some new wrinkle, a new voice, to whatever I decide to write, and that it will be just different enough to get readers’ attention.

DC: Don't think about this too long. Name five of your favorite novels, and give us a sentence or two why.

LB: American Pastoral, by Philip Roth: I went most of my life not reading Roth, then, after reading The Plot Against America, went looking for everything. This is a masterpiece.
Praise the Human Season, by Don Robertson: A long out-of-print novel about an elderly man looking back at his life.
The Chill, by Ross Macdonald: Perhaps the finest, and most chilling, of the Lew Archer novels.
The First Deadly Sin, by Lawrence Sanders: The first BIG thriller I ever read.
By the Time You Read This, by Giles Blunt: The fourth, and best, John Cardinal book. Haunting and heartbreaking.

DC: Can you give us a little biography? Favorite Beatle? High school mascot? Did you have any nicknames? What kind of 18-year old were you? I'm particularly interested in work you had before becoming a professional writer.

LB: I already mentioned my memoir. I had a mountain of responsibility at age 16 and grew up overnight. But I always had interests that were outside the mainstream. When everyone was going nuts over the Beatles, I was buying movie scores. (Not that I didn’t like the Beatles, but if I had money to buy an album, it was going to be Lalo Schifrin’s Mission: Impossible soundtrack.) I was never much for sports, and growing up in Canada not caring about hockey, well, that’s a ticket to isolation. And yet, I had a pretty good social life.

DC: Have you ever fantasized about being a reclusive, respected writer who never does promotion, is impossible to locate, and maybe is even reputed to have a bad temper?

LB: That’s not me.

DC: Okay, you wake up regular time, you have a full work day in front of you. Just you and the pages. On a scale of one to ten, how happy are you about this? Would you rather be doing something else?

LB: If it’s writing, probably an 8. If it’s proofing pages, it’s a 1. I hate proofing. Rereading my own work is very hard. I think, “Boy, I can really see where this is going.”

DC: When you decided to write fiction, why did you choose crime fiction?

LB: The first books I ever read were the adventures of the Hardy Boys. From there I went on to Agatha Christie and Nero Wolfe, then graduated to the harder stuff, like Chandler and Hammett and Macdonald. I thought, why would you want to write any other kind of book? What appeals to me about crime fiction is it demands a strong plot. Plots move stories. Simple as that.

DC: Read any good books lately?

LB: Right now I’m reading Rain Gods by James Lee Burke. I’m glad you don’t have to write that well to make a living in this business.

Photo by Michael Rafelson

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Yom Kippur Mysteries

Today is the first day of Rosh Hashana, the beginning of the Jewish New Year. Today also starts the first of 8 days of awe that culminates on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement and the holiest day in the Jewish calendar. That a murder would take place during this time or on Yom Kippur itself runs opposite to Jewish beliefs.  However, these are ideals, and this is a mystery blog.

Here's a short list of three mysteries that take place during Yom Kippur.  As always, I welcome any additions to this list.

Yom Kippur Murder by Lee Harris
Day of Atonement by Faye Kellerman
Saturday the Rabbi Went Hungry by Harry Kemelman

Interested in Jewish Mystery Fiction? Read Jewish Identity as Portrayed in Jewish Detective Fiction by Rabbi Lawrence W. Raphael.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Tower by Ken Bruen & Reed Farrel Coleman

As some of you know, I'm an eclectic reader. I like thrillers, cozies, suspense, noir and whatever else is out there. Ken Bruen is one of my favorite authors, and I was especially glad to get a copy of Tower, a new collaboration between Ken Bruen and Reed Farrel Coleman (another favorite).

This is a very different and difficult collaboration. Unlike many other writers who collaborate by writing every other chapter or smoothing over all chapters together, Ken and Reed wrote separate sections, first person, from the point of view of two different characters. They then had to add a prologue and epilogue. No mean feat, but something these two did extraordinarily and seamlessly well.

The characters definitely have different voices as they tell the same story from two different points of view. This is not an easy story to read, either. It's pretty brutal in parts. The characters are from Brooklyn. They grew up in the 'hood" together and went from petty crime to murder and mayhem. Both Ken and Reed capture the substance and edginess of their characters as they carry the reader through the plot. You might not like the characters or want to spend time with them personally, but you'll sure get a grip on how they think. Tower is not all brutality, though, the characters are so well developed that you will also feel for them. There's even a sense of poignancy in the novel.

The two writing styles are as different as the characters. Even if you didn't know there were two writers, you'll recognize Ken's lean poetic writing and Reed's fuller prose style. Tower really works on all levels.

Busted Flush Press does a great job by including interviews with both Ken and Reed as well as their editor. In addition, Ken has a wonderful introductory essay on how this novel came to be written. Be sure and hang out in Bars. I enjoyed these auxiliary pieces to the novel and encourage you to read them.

Read an excerpt: Tower:

Looking forward to the next collaboration between Ken and Reed.

And Breaking News: Tower was optioned for a movie by Brad Weston, Gil Adler and Shane McCarthy. (Hat Tip to Jon Jordan of Crimespree Cinema for the news!)

Weston is a former head of Paramount and was behind the second and third Scary Movie films as well as Bad Santa. He is also a producer on the upcoming Sin City 2 as well as the forthcoming remake of Footloose.

Gil Adler has been working in film and television for almost three decades. His films include Valkyrie, Superman Returns and Starsky and Hutch. He is also working to bring Bruen's Once Were Cops to the big screen as well as Havana Nocture by T.J. English, another book about the end of the mob that both Jon and I agree is pretty fabulous!

Shane McCarthy has worked on a trio of shorts and is co-producing several projects, including Havana Nocturne, with Adler.

From Crimespree Cinema:

Reed: "It’s amazing to see how a simple idea nurtured with a mix of mutual respect and friendship can blossom into this project."
Ken: "I give all the credit to Reed, Al (Guthrie, agent and a fine author himself) and of course, David (Thompson of Busted Flush Press) who published the book. I'm the roadie in this terrific band, cross me heart."

Wow!!! Hope this gets made. The whole time I was reading the book, I was thinking about what a great movie it would make.

But don't wait for the movie. Go down the Mean Streets with Tower. Buy the Book!

Cover Photo: CrimeSpree Magazine

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Agatha Christie Week: September 13-20

This week of September 13-20 is officially designated "Agatha Christie Week" in honor of Christie's birthday on September 15. I was lucky enough to be in Torquay for the Centenary where I participated in banquets and tours and special plays and celebrations. I also organized a special week long Agatha Christie celebration here in the San Francisco Bay Area during which I created a special mystery event a la Christie, although not nearly as clever. That was in 1991. Agatha Christie is the quintessential mystery writer, and her work is celebrated all over the world. Here's how you can participate.

Read and comment on Mysteries in Paradise's Celebration of the Life and Work of Agatha Christie. This is the second blog tour, and it's so much fun! Each day a different blogger writes about something to do with Agatha Christie.

Here's the line-up.
16 September: Just A (Reading) Fool
17 September: Margot at Joyfully Retired
18 September: Crime Scraps
19 September: A library is a hospital for the mind...
20 September: Confessions of a Mystery Novelist
21 September: BooksPlease
22 September: Agatha Christie Quiz - Mysteries in Paradise
23 September: ACRC Carnival #9

Don't miss:
13 September: Overkill
14 September: Bernadette's Reactions to Reading

Need more fun with Christie? Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise also has an Agatha Christie Reading Challenge, and although you missed participating in the Agatha Christie Blog Carnival #8, the results have been published, so plenty to read.

AudioFile Editors' Picks Celebrates Agatha Christie Week: Download a FREE Agatha Christie story on audio. "The Case of the Missing Will" is read by David Suchet and it will be available on the site throughout Christie Week.

Here's a link to the "official " Agatha Christie website.

Want to participate in some real time/real place events? Here's a Schedule of Christie events (mostly in the U.K, but some elsewhere)

What else can you do to celebrate? Read an Agatha Christie novel. So many to choose from.

And, last but certainly not least, take the UK Guardian's Agatha Christie Quiz.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Cool Canadian Crime: Cheryl Freedman

David Cole continues his Cool Canadian Crime interviews. Today: Cheryl Freedman

Previously, David interviewed Louise Penny, Barbara Fradkin, Mary Jane Maffini, Thomas Rendell Curran, Gail Bowen, Garry Ryan, RJ Harlick, Anthony Bidulka, Rick Mofina, Lou Allin, Anne Emery and Vicki Delany. This group of authors were chosen by David to represent a variety of mystery genres, styles, and historical periods. Some of the authors have won or been shortlisted for the Arthur Ellis award for best mystery novel. More to come.

Cheryl Freedman is a freelance editor and writer, working in areas as diverse as occupational health and safety, contemporary Kabbalah, high finance, rheumatology, pedagogy, crime manuscript evaluations, and other fields. As a friend pointed out, editing is a perfect job for her – people ask her what to do and pay her to tell them. She has a degree in journalism, but except for producing freelance documentaries for CBC Radio for a few years, she's never been a practising journalist. She also owned The Worldhouse, a game store (role-playing games like Dungeons & Dragons, wargames, collectible card games, etc.) in Toronto, for 18 years. Her goal is to finish the first draft of her first mystery by her birthday in December.

David Cole: As long as I've known you, people have called you the "mothership" indeed, the website/internet voice of Crime Writers of Canada - however did this come about, and how long have you been so called?

Cheryl Freedman: When I started using the term “Mothership,” lo, these many eons ago when dinosaurs roamed the earth, I was thinking in terms of the mothership of an SF fleet – the flagship, so to speak. So for me, Mothership simply referred to CWC headquarters in Toronto, where the bank account, all the records, and I resided. (The CWC consists of regions—currently six regions - BC, Prairies, Toronto/GTA/southern ON, Ottawa/eastern ON, Quebec/Atlantic Canada, and international—but is headquartered in Toronto.) Then somehow down the line, the term became attached to me personally. Well, I may have been partially responsible for this because every time I sent out Fingerprints Online, the CWC member e-newsletter, Mothership would harangue the members for some reason or another, and Mothership just happened to have the email address, the one I used.

But honestly, cross my heart, the first time I realized that I personally might be seen as Mothership was a few years ago (not being more precise, to protect the guilty) when the CWC president at the time asked me to please stop using the term Mothership because there were rumblings in the ranks that it sounded as if I WAS the CWC (or thought I was).

I’ve also been referred to as SWMBO (She Who Must Be Obeyed), a term that the incomparable (and incorrigible) Mary Jane Maffini coined when she was president. It’s hard to embarrass me, but I was mortified when MJ introduced me at a BookExpo Canada as She Who Must Be Obeyed to our contact at the Canada Council for the Arts.

One of my favorite titles – although I don’t use it too often – is “the glue that holds us together,” in inscription on the Derrick Murdoch Award that I was given in 2004 by then CWC president Maureen Jennings. The DM award is the president’s award for service to the CWC (or lifetime writing achievement).

DC: You've recently relinquished being the "mothership" - who's now the "voice" of CWC?

CF: Liz Brady, who won an Arthur Ellis Award for Best First Novel in 1999 for Sudden Blow, is now the public voice of the CWC. I think Liz will do great things for the CWC, and it doesn't hurt that she has a wicked sense of humour, something that's truly crucial for remaining sane in this job.

DC: CWC stands for Crime Writers of Canada - tell me about the history of this Organization?

CF: CWC was founded in 1982 by a group of journalists and crime writers, including Howard Engel, all of whom had decided that it was high time Canada had a crime writers organization similar to the MWA and Britain’s Crime Writers Association. According to Howard, they felt that Canuck crime writers no longer had to pretend to be British or American and could set their books here in Canada…and publishers would buy them. (Alas, now, 27 years later, it’s not that easy to sell a Canadian setting in the US, but back then…) Right from the beginning, the founders wanted the CWC to be a writers (not a fan) organization, but one that treated the craft of crime writing with a dose of irreverence and fun, and where members could expect the unexpected.

Hence, Arthur, the actual physical award for the Arthur Ellis Awards, is a wooden jumping-jack of a guy standing in front of a gibbet. You pull the string, and Arthur, well, dances on air. The award is named after the nom de travail of Canada’s official hangman, who plied his trade across Canada from 1913 to 1935.

DC: How many members are there in CWC, and how does this reflect the total number of Canadian writers? I guess I'm asking if CWC truly represents the majority of active Canadian mystery writers?

CF: We currently have just under 300 members. A couple of years ago, this very question came up in the CWC executive – how well does the CWC represent the number of active Canadian crime writers – so we figured we’d look at the number of submissions to the Arthur Ellis Awards (the CWC’s award for the best in Canadian crime writing from books and stories published in the previous year) and see how many came from our members and how many from non-members. Applying this admittedly quick-and-dirty method to the 2009 submissions, it appears that we represent approximately 75% of Canadian crime novel writers. However, even with our relatively small numbers, I’m proud to say that our members have won (some multiple times) or been nominated for almost every English-language crime-writing award.

DC: Since I joined CWC, I've received a lot of emails to the membership, often weekly, but with great regularity a notice of author events all over Canada - I'm not accustomed to such regular details, how did this develop? and however did you find the time to be so prolific?

How did I find the time to be so prolific? By not working on my own novel … which is one of the reasons I resigned last month as exec director of the CWC – so I’d free up some time to write.

How the author events listing evolved goes back around 8 or 9 years when Fingerprints Online was Fingerprints Onpaper, a quarterly print newsletter. Well, it was supposed to be a quarterly, but never managed to come out that regularly. So I figured, being the yenta that I am, that I’d just solicit news and send out the occasional email announcing events, courses, congratulations, etc. This evolved into a more formal e-newsletter, Fingerprints Online, which I put out twice a month for several years. But it’s bloody hard work being clever and cunning for a twice-a-month publication, so I spun off the monthly author events listing in late 2006, allowing me to produce Fingerprints Online only once a month.

D.C: The first "C" in CWC stands for "crime" - is there any distinction in Canada between "crime" and "mystery"? CF:

Oh lordy, don't get me started on this one! Oops, too late! OK, here we go. Crime writing is a broad category of genre writing that includes mysteries, suspense, thrillers, and all the subgenres you can point a gun at. Police procedurals, courtroom drama, cozies, amateur sleuth, espionage, cross-genre, mystoricals (great term, eh? – coined by Mary Jane Maffini for historical mysteries), romantic suspense, true crime – they’re all part of crime writing.

Four or five years ago, when I gave a series of workshops to librarians looking to build their crime fiction collections, I had to come up with a concise definition of crime writing. At its very core, for a book to be a work of crime fiction, there has to be (1) a crime - either already committed or anticipated – and (2) someone to deal with that crime – either to solve it or to prevent it from happening. And there you have it in a shell casing.

And I’d say the distinction between “crime” and “mystery” probably exists in the US, too – it’s not limited to us Canucks. But I do have to say that convincing judges for the Arthur Ellis Awards that the awards are for CRIME writing, not mystery writing alone, easily generates at least a dozen emails every year.

DC: At the recent Bloody Words mystery conference in Ottawa - wait, how long have these conferences been held? the first? do they happen in different provinces or have they been mostly Toronto-centric?

Bloody Words was founded in 1999 by Caro Soles, who stepped down permanently as BW chair in 2007 but will always be for all of us Da Bloody Boss and Eminence Grise of BW. I've been associated with BW since the beginning, usually as publications chair (I do the program book) but twice as con chair, and am on the board of directors.

BW was first touted as "Toronto's mystery conference," but it's now become "Canada's Mystery Conference." Ottawa held its first BW in 2003 and then its second earlier this year. We, the BW board of directors, would love to see other cities in Canada hold a BW, and we're looking to alternate between Toronto (in the even-numbered years) and other cities (in the odd-numbered years). So BW is back in Toronto in 2010 for our 10th birthday (register now and save money and click on the link to Bloody Words 2010) and then Victoria, BC, will be hosting it in 2011.

DC: Bloody Words - I'd hardly miss one of these wonderful conferences, which to a US writer are smaller than Bouchercon, but more enjoyable and friendlier (that's my view, probably not representative of all) - similar conferences in the US are Left Coast Crime and Mayhem in the Midlands, to name two of my favorites - back to the question, Bloody Words-- how are the conferences organized?

What you've noticed about BW being smaller than B'con, LCC, and other such US cons (yup, and quite probably friendlier and more enjoyable as a consequence) is deliberate. From the very start, we decided to go for a more intimate feel, and I think we've achieved this.

Essentially, BW is organized the same way most genre cons are organized – with a group of crazy volunteers (in our case, Da Bloody Gang) that wades through chaos for 11 months of the year, yet always manages to produce a great con. We’re just very clever at hiding the bodies.

Bloody Words has three concurrent tracks of programming (one track with presenters from various areas of forensics, criminology, and publishing; one track with panels about various aspects of crime books; and the Mystery Café where invited authors discuss their books), three concurrent workshops (two dealing with writing, one aimed more at readers), a reception and banquet (included in the cost of registration), a special event on Friday night (this year’s event will celebrate the fact that we’re still alive after 10 years), a short story contest, manuscript evaluations, an opportunity for authors to pitch their books to an agent or editor, a dealers room, loot bags, and a great op to schmooze.

DC: During my recent panel at Bloody Words, I seemed to amaze/stun the audience with my widespread use of slaughter, whereas Canadian mysteries are much more gentle, even civilized, perhaps a death by poisoning, but not a general killing spree - what distinguishes this mellower sense of Canadian mysteries from the US version? I'm thinking of character-driven novels by writers like Louise Penny, just to name one (and there are many others)

I dunno. Maybe because we Canucks are more polite than Americans? You know: “I beg your pardon, excuse me, but I’m just going to have to shoot all 27 of you. So sorry.” But seriously, don't kid yourself; there are Canuck crime writers whose books are just as violent and whose perps are just as psycho as yours. Try Rick Mofina, who has won two Arthur Ellis Awards for his books. Rick Blechta, too, has some pretty harrowing descriptions of violent acts in his books. Linwood Barclay has some pretty sick-o killers in his thrillers. I bet if you did a breakdown – gallon for gallon and pound for pound – Canadian crime books would have just as much blood and guts (and the perverted purveyors thereof) as US crime books.

You’re probably asking the wrong person this question, though, because my favourite subgenre is mystoricals. As a matter of fact, the book I’m working on now is a sort-of cross-genre mystorical. And mystoricals do tend to be a bit gentler, if only because the technology usually isn’t up to a truly memorable killing spree.

D.C: So, enough of CWC, and aside from Cheryl as the "mothership" - what's your own background? Why are mystery/crime books/authors important? Do you also write? In short, some biography, please.

C.F: I’m a freelance editor and writer, working in areas as diverse as occupational health and safety, contemporary Kabbalah, high finance, rheumatology, pedagogy, crime manuscript evaluations, and other fields I can’t think of at the moment. As a friend pointed out, editing is a perfect job for me – people ask me what to do and pay me to tell them.

I have a degree in journalism, but except for producing freelance documentaries for CBC Radio for a few years, I’ve never been a practising journalist. I also owned The Worldhouse, a game store (role-playing games like Dungeons & Dragons, wargames, collectible card games, etc.) in Toronto, for 18 years.

And yes, I’m finally working on my own mystery, which is based on a ballad “Lady Isabel and the Elf Knight.” My goal is to finish the first draft by my birthday in December.

I wish that crime books and authors got more respect in Canada, especially from the “literary” community, and the Canadian media. After all, a well-written crime book reflects both the worst and the best of the human condition. It essentially looks how a crime throws society and/or an individual into chaos and disequilibrium, and tracks the return to equilibrium through the resolution of the crime. And crime books are a fascinating read—a 2005 survey of Canadian reading habits, conducted by the federal Department of Canadian Heritage, found that the “mystery, suspense, detective, spy, adventure” was by far the most-read category of books (62% of general reading) over the previous 12 months.

DC: You're also the person responsible for the newish blog called "fingies" - I know you've got a wicked sense of humor, care to talk about it? and what does the future hold for "fingies"?

No, no, no! Fingies (or to be more formal, Fingerprints Online or FPOL) isn't a blog!!! I certainly admire people who can write something interesting every day for their blog, but I certainly don't count myself in their number.

I see FPOL as a mash-up between a magazine with articles of interest to crime writers—from news (like the Google settlement) to how-to info (like setting up a writing group) to articles on, say, forensics—and a newsletter with more time-sensitive items like courses, writing contests, events, and CWC info. Plus I hope to revive such soapbox columns as “The Grumpy Grammarian” as well as my infamous “Interludes” containing all the fun stuff I pick up from other lists and just general surfing. Each issue will be built around a theme, and the upcoming one is all about the CWC and its members, including a database of our members’ area(s) of interest/expertise.

As for FPOL down the line, who knows? It looks as if I have carte blanche with it, so between what the members would like to see and what I can produce, we’ll see what the future holds. But I can promise that Fingies will definitely be Fun…and, I hope, a tool to draw our scattered members together and to give them a true sense of belonging to a terrific organization like the CWC.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Lyn Hamilton: Mystery Readers Journal

This article by Lyn Hamilton is reprinted from the Mystery Readers Journal, Cool Canadian Crime issue: Volume 19:4 (Winter 2003-2004)

You Can Take The Girl Out of the Country, But…
by Lyn Hamilton (Toronto, Ontario)

There is nothing like life lived vicariously through a character of your own invention, in my case the intrepid Toronto antique dealer Lara McClintoch. For one thing, it’s cheaper that way. Lara scours the world in search of the rare and the beautiful for her shop, the impeccably stylish McClintoch & Swain. The store is located in Toronto’s upscale Yorkville neighborhood, and Lara labors long and hard to ensure the shop lives up to its location. From the souks of North Africa to the flea markets of Paris and the stately homes of Tuscany and Ireland, she can usually be found hot on the trail of the perfect antiquity.

Lara owns the store I always wanted to have. Years ago, after many weekends of antique-hunting—Canadian pine furniture and pressed glass—and holiday trips—old shadow puppets, antique prints and maps, carvings and textiles—I decided to look into the possibility of opening a shop. For one thing, I was running out of space, and it seemed to me if I could sell some of what I’d amassed, I could keep buying more. I spent many months on the research: what to buy and where, how to find and then import treasures from afar. I looked at space, not quite as stylish as Lara’s perhaps, but close to where she now resides. At some point in this thoroughly enjoyable exercise, I realized how much money this would require. The research went into a file marked Someday. That day came when I first imagined writing a mystery, what was to become The Xibalba Murders. Lara sprang full grown into my brain, complete with store.

It is also a lot safer. In addition to her impressive shopping skills, Lara displays an uncanny knack for finding bodies— upwards of twenty of them so far—and for tracking their killers down. In this particular undertaking she has been pursued by a vicious killer, attacked by tomb robbers, and stalked by terrorists, but she has managed to bring criminals to justice in Mexico, Malta, Peru, Ireland, Tunisia, Tuscany, Thailand, and most recently, Eastern Europe.
I, on the other hand, get to indulge a passion for archaeology and travel while researching these novels, most especially pilgrimages to UNESCO World Heritage sites. There are well over 600 of these wonderful places, and I’ve only visited 115 of them. So far the body count for these excursions of mine is exactly zero, and while I’ve occasionally visited archaeological dig sites in remote locations, the trips, from the danger standpoint, have been uneventful. The most dramatic turn of events to date was being asked to come back to a 5000 year old temple in Malta after it closed to have sex on the altar stone. I declined. Lara would have refused this wonderful offer too, but she would have had a better exit line.

Considering how little Lara is actually at home—the fact that she is in business with her ex-husband, the incredibly shallow Clive Swain, may have something to do with those extended trips—what makes her think she can push our way into a feature issue on Cool Canadian Crime? For that matter, why do I, given that I have chosen to set each of the novels in the series in an exotic location outside North America, and to explore the archaeology and mythology of far off lands?

The answer, to borrow a phrase, is that you can take the girl out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the girl. I would argue that Lara brings a Canadian sensibility to everything she does and everywhere she goes, to wit—
You know Lara is Canadian because:
1. She is polite. She makes a point of knowing the words for please and thank you in the language of all the countries she visits.
2. She is nice to just about everyone, even, on occasion, the murderer. (She is also incredibly stubborn, but that probably has nothing to do with being Canadian.)
3. Not only does she not own a gun, she has no idea how to use one.
4. Coming from a country that defines itself not so much by what it is, but rather by what it is not—not British, not American—she is fascinated by cultures that are proud of who they are, and spends a great deal of time studying them. Her investigations into the past of various countries and people have been known to get her into a lot of trouble.
5. A citizen of a nation known for its modesty, even a collective inferiority complex, she feels a real affinity for the underdog. Never imagining that anyone would like to resemble her in any way, she tries to change no one on her visits, and to leave every country the way she found it, minus a murderer or two.
6. As a resident of a city that has often been called the most multicultural city in the world, she’ll eat anything. Never one to let her sleuthing duties spoil her appetite, she has munched, among other things, street food in Bangkok, pub grub in Ireland, and, in her next adventure, The Magyar Venus, supremely fattening pastries with names she can’t pronounce in Budapest coffeehouses. She also knows the word for beer in at least a dozen languages. (I have to try all these things too. The sacrifices I make for my art.)
Taken all together these characteristics are a compelling, but not absolutely conclusive argument for her inclusion as a Canadian sleuth. But one last fact clinches it.
7. You know Lara and I are Canadians because every year, when the very first snowflake falls from the sky, we pack up and leave town.

Lyn Hamilton: R.I.P.

It's very sad to report the death of Canadian mystery author, Lyn Hamilton. Born in 1944, she passed away on September 10 after a battle with cancer. She will be remembered in our community as the author of the Lara McClintoch archaeological mysteries.

Lyn didn't begin writing mysteries until the age of 50, when she combined her lifelong interest in archeology in her series. The Xibalba Murders was published in 1997 and was nominated for an Arthur Ellis award for best first crime novel. Her eight, The Magyar Venus, was nominated for an Arthur Ellis award for best crime novel. Her books feature heroine Lara McClintoch, the owner of an antiques story in Toronto, who travels the world for business, solving murders along the way. Lyn was a great supporter of other writers, as a mentor and teacher. She was a writer in residence at the New York Central Library in 2003 and held the same position at the Kitchener Public Library in 2004. She was honored several times at mystery conventions for her work.

Lyn visited all of the exotic sites she wrote about and in 1999 led The Maltese Goddess mystery and archeology tour to Malta to visit the scene of the crime. Like Lara, she was an antiques addict.

In her 'past' life, she was Director of Public Affairs for the Canadian Opera Company, and before that Director of the Cultural Programs Branch in the Ontario government.

There will be no funeral service at her request. A celebration with friends will be held later. Condolences may be posted at: Donations in Lyn's name to the Canadian Opera Company or the Princess Margaret Hospital.

Mystery Readers Journal was honored to have an article by Lyn Hamilton in our Cool Canadian Crime issue in Winter 2003-2004. Read the article, here. In the meantime, read an interview with Lyn at Poe's Deadly Daughters. She was also a Guest Blogger at Type M for Murder last January.

Another sad day in the mystery community.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Chocolate Cake Typewriter

Maybe this belongs on my DyingforChocolate blog, but I couldn't help thinking it fits in with mystery even better. I'm a sucker for old typewriters. I learned to type on one, my mother's old Royal. My first stories were written on that old typewriter. I remember the sound of the keys, the clang of the return, and the sound of crisp paper rolling through the carriage.

Today old typewriter keys are mostly used for jewelry. Occasionally I see old typewriters at antique shows, but I know they're destined for window dressing for someone's big noir office--an office that actually has space for this big clunker, not like mine which is so crammed with books that there's little space left.

So now just about everyone uses a computer. You can download the sound of old typewriter keys.

Lots of authors launch their new mysteries at parties where they have cakes made showing the cover of their book. When I finished my dissertation I made a cake (chocolate, of course) in the shape of my MAC 512. On the separate keyboard cake, I added M&Ms for keys, and I also had a separate mouse cake. For the time it was creative. I would now go for a more realistic look, but my baking and decorating skills have improved greatly. Don't think I could have done this typewriter, though. This old manual typewriter cake seems so cool that I had to add it to my blog. This is from Design*Sponge, a very fun site!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Fall Mystery Bookgroup Update

Because of a personal conflict on September 15, I've adjusted the reading assignments to start on September 22. Hope you can join us. This groups is held in the Berkeley/Oakland Hills (CA). There are always substitutions, so please check.

My Mystery Reading Group has been meeting every Tuesday night from September through June for more than 30 years. We're a dedicated group. We read a book a week, and usually we have assignments for about 10 weeks at a time. Sometimes we have themes such as Art Mysteries or Thrillers or Award Nominees. Sometimes I just put together a list of good books or controversial books. Let's face it, the reason we have so many different types of mysteries is that people like different kinds of books.

Recently I saw a great list from Nancy Pearl on NPR entitled Mysteries You Might Have Missed Along the Way. It definitely struck my fancy. We've read and discussed some of the books on the list, so I either chose another by the same author or substituted a different book entirely. We had already agreed to discuss The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo for the first book. Nice variety of contemporary and older mysteries. I've added a few links with websites, interviews and other internet media.

Our reading group meets at my home in the Berkeley Hills (CA). Let me know if you're interested in joining us. The books may change. Check back after the first session.

9/22 The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
9/29 The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley
10/6 The Juror by George Dawes Green
10/13 No Class
10/20 The Case of the Gilded Fly by Edmund Crispin
10/27 A Darker Domain by Val McDermid
11/3 Brat Farrar by Josephine Tey
11/10 The Skull Mantra by Eliot Pattison
11/17 Too Close to Home by Linwood Barclay
11/24 The Manual of Detection by Jedediah Berry

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Cool Canadian Crime: Vicki Delany

David Cole continues his Cool Canadian Crime interviews. I hope you're finding them as enlightening, as I am. Great questions, wonderful answers and exposure to some top Canadian authors. Today: Vicki Delany

Previously, David interviewed
Louise Penny, Barbara Fradkin, Mary Jane Maffini, Thomas Rendell Curran, Gail Bowen, Garry Ryan, RJ Harlick, Anthony Bidulka, Rick Mofina, Lou Allin, and Anne Emery. This group of authors were chosen by David to represent a variety of mystery genres, styles, and historical periods. Some of the authors have won or been shortlisted for the Arthur Ellis award for best mystery novel. More to come. Thanks, David!

Vicki Delany writes everything from standalone novels of suspense (Burden of Memory) to a traditional village/police procedural series set in B.C. (Valley of the Lost) and a light-hearted historical series (Gold Digger) set during the Klondike Gold Rush. Next is Winter of Secrets, to be released in November, 2009 by Poisoned Pen Press. She also blogs with five other mystery authors about the writing life (named as one of the top 100 creative writing blogs by Colleges Online) at Type M for Murder!

David Cole: Here’s a question I always love to ask. For you, what comes first character or plot?

Vicki Delany: Setting! My books are very setting focused. With the Klondike Gold Rush books in particular I had in mind doing a series set in the Yukon in 1898, and from that I wondered what sort of characters would live there at that time, and only then did I start putting the plot of the first book together.

The Molly Smith books are set in the fictional town of Trafalgar, British Columbia, which is based on the real town of Nelson, which is my favourite place in all the world.
It’s a perfect setting for a mystery novel. Like its inspiration, Trafalgar is surrounded by mountains, and very isolated. It is eight hours drive to Vancouver or to Calgary, and the nearest city is in another country – Spokane, Washington. You need a passport to go to the mall. The population is a mix of long-time residents, people born and raised in the valleys and mountainsides; transients, neo-hippies, aimless youth, spiritual-seekers; and newcomers such as the comfortably retired, attracted by the beauty, the isolation, the artistic community, and the area’s reputation for independence. Such a mix of people brings the potential for conflict, which is the key to any crime novel.

I thought that it would be a great place to set a book, and the small, isolated town seemed natural for a police procedural series with lots of family involvement. First I had Trafalgar, then I had a young woman trying to make it as a police officer in the town where “a substantial number of the residents had seen you performing as Number Two Wise Man in the Grade Three Christmas pageant” and only then did I start working out the details of the plot. The plot of the first book is, not incidentally, particularly well suited to that place. It concerns plans to build a memorial to Vietnam Era Draft Dodgers, which actually happened in Nelson.

DC: You’re really successful, writing two series and throwing in a standalone. Why such variety?

VD: Doing a variety gives me the opportunity to write different types of books. Different in terms of tone, I mean. My standalones tend somewhat towards the darker end of the spectrum, the Molly Smith books are middle-boiled, traditional police-procedurals set in a small town (I think of them as Hamish Macbeth meets Cindy Decker), and the Klondike books are intended to be mad-cap. If I tried putting all that in one book, or even one series, I’d have a real mess. The one thing I don’t do is short stories. I’m planning to spend some time this fall trying my hand on short stories. In August, I spent a wonderful weekend in the company of Peter Robinson and his wife Sheila on Wolfe Island at the Scene of the Crime Festival, and Peter told me that he finds short stories a way of stretching yourself, moving beyond your boundaries as a writer. I want to try that.

DC: Is there one type of book, standalone vs. series, than you favor over another?

VD: The short answer is no. I am a reader as well as a writer and in each of those capacities I think both types of novels have their strengths. A standalone novel suits a story about a person facing a critical life choice. In real life most people, unless they are a Mafia hit man or a super-duper secret agent, might have one great adventure in them. A standalone novel gives the protagonist that one opportunity to achieve great things; to have that grand adventure; to meet the everlasting love of their life; to conquer evil, once and for all. In a standalone, the characters face their demons and defeat them. Or not.

Series novels present a different challenge. The central character, or characters, confronts their demons, but they do not defeat them. Their weaknesses, all their problems, will be back in the next book. In each story the series character stands against, and usually defeats, someone else’s problem or society’s enemy, but she or he moves only one small step towards the resolution of their own issues, if at all.

DC: There are great elements of history in your standalone novels, and the Gold Rush series is purely a historical. How do you come to this, is history - in itself - an interest of yours?

VD: I majored in Modern European History at University, and yes, it still is very much my interest. They say that young people today are lacking any knowledge of their Canadian history, that we’re losing our historical narrative. If that’s true I think it’s a tragedy, so perhaps in my own way I’m trying to rectify that. Historical knowledge is an important thing. For example, there wasn’t a single murder in the town of Dawson in the year that was the height of the Gold Rush. Not one. I think that’s an incredible statistic and the reasons for it should be widely known: the North West Mounted Police (precursors of the RCMP) got there first and put the stamp of law and order on the town. Guns were strictly banned. Think that had something to do with the low murder rate? I do. Does that have something to teach us today?
As you pointed out, my standalones have a back-story of something that happened in World War II that is affecting the events of today, and in those books I’ve tried to emphasise the importance women played in our history, something that is often undervalued.

DC: Many of us come to writing from a previous work life? And you?

VD: Not any more. But for many years I did. I worked full time as a systems analyst at a big bank and was a single mother of three to boot. For years I was what I call a Sunday writer, meaning that the only time I could find to myself to write was for a few hours on the weekends when the kids were busy. It took me four years to write my first book that way. The children got older, and I had a bit more time to myself, and then they grew up and moved out of the house and I had all sorts of time to write! When I was working, I would come home every night, feed the dog, and sit down and write.

I was lucky enough to be able to take early retirement two years ago, and so I am no longer a Sunday writer. When I retired I moved out of the suburbs to a place in the country that is now my own little writer’s retreat. From my desk I have a view out the window over a farmer’s field (last year wheat, this year beans) to a line of trees in the far distance. Perfection.

DC: You write, what, two books a year? Most writers would consider that to be a lot.

VD: Yes, I’m now doing two books a year, one in the Klondike series and one Smith and Winters. I haven’t written a stand-alone for a few years, but I have one percolating at the back of my mind. I also do a lot of promotion, long-distance trips as well as local bookstores, plus online stuff such as writing for two blogs.

DC: Any tips for those of us who procrastinate just to get one book done?

VD: I don’t really have any tips – my time is my own now which helps immensely. I write seven days a week, every day when I’m at home. I never write a word when I’m on the road, but I’m thinking that might have to change. As for tips, my only tip to beginning writers is to do what you can. If you’re busy with your job, home, family, write when you can, read a lot, and remember that one day your time will come. It did for me.

DC: What’s the state of Canadian crime writing today?

VD: Wonderful! You need no more evidence than to look at this great series you’re doing for Mystery Fanfare. When I first starting writing, Canadian crime writers were told to set their books in the U.S., that no one would read a book set in Canada. There is still some of that – I know a writer who has just been given a three book contract from a major publisher (Canadian offshoot of a U.S. publisher) who had to change her locale from Toronto to New York – but it is rarer. Look at me – I’m published by an American publisher (Poisoned Pen Press), and they’re happy with my settings. In Canada itself though, crime writing don’t get no respect. The idea of a crime novel being nominated for a non-mystery award is laughable. The Canadian literary world is pretty snobbish that way. But I’d suggest that writers such as Peter Robinson, Gail Bowen, Louise Penny, are laughing... all the way to the bank, as they say. And we mystery readers are laughing too, as we read great books by Louise or Anthony Bidulka or Rick Blechta, books about places we can relate to.

DC: You’ve said that Canadian-set books are becoming more acceptable to publishers. Are there any differences between Canadian mystery books and American?

VD: Other than spelling, eh? (labour vs. labor)? I read a lot, but even I haven’t read everything, but I’ll stick my neck out and say there aren’t a lot, if any, hard-boiled Canadian mystery novels. I certainly don’t think there are any noir books. Remember that our national motto is Peace, Order and Good Government. (As has often been said, at least we get two out of the three!) Our fictional police can be conflicted, but they are rarely corrupt, and definitely not owned by the mob. If you remember, Giles Blunt’s John Cardinal gets in trouble for taking a bribe, a big bribe, but it’s all sorted out, and Cardinal goes on to better things. It is my impression that Canadians have more of a sense of “the policeman is your friend” than Americans do, and we certainly don’t have the idea that our government is somehow out to get us. (Okay, they get us in a more polite way). Corrupt or sleazy police, evil government, black helicopters are American themes that you don’t see in Canadian books.

Perhaps some Canadian writers who move their settings to the U.S. take on those subjects.
Generally speaking (very generally) Canadian books, even police procedurals, are concerned as much with personalities and relationships as with solving the crime. Gail Bowen is the perfect example, in my opinion, of Canadian crime writing. Her protagonist cooks dinner, goes to work, sends her kids to school, spends weekends at the cottage, fusses over her friends. And, oh by the way, gets involved a crime, and solves it purely by her intellect. Gail’s protagonist, Joanne Kilburn, most certainly does not own a gun and has probably never taken a class in self-defence. But the books are not cozies; they are serious books about serious subjects.

Weather seems to matter a lot in Canadian books. I guess that’s because we are, as a Northern people, so aware of it. Many of the Canadian books I’ve read had a very important seasonal component. Giles Blunt – Black Fly Season, Louise Penny – Dead Cold (which had a different name in the U.S.). When my first book came out, a reviewer said something like, “Thank God, a Canadian book that isn’t all about winter angst.” Which I thought was rather mean, as some of the best books from any country are about winter angst.