Sunday, December 24, 2006

Magazine Dreams

“I bought a magazine,” Robbi Hess said as we sipped fruit punch at Lift Bridge Books' annual Local Author Celebration.

Robbi writes and edits for a medical journal, a business magazine and a weekly newspaper as well as doing loads of free-lance and editorial work. Somehow she squeezes in time to teach writing classes and, along with co-author Marcia Layton Turner, has just published A Complete Idiot’s Guide to 30,000 Baby Names. You’d think a person with so much going on in her life would be a better conversationalist, but there she was, telling me she had bought a magazine. Because she is a friend and because I have long supported the efforts of the socially inept, I simply nodded and stated that just that very morning I had bought a newspaper and a Diet Coke and that I could thus truly understand her bubbly enthusiasm over her magazine purchase.

“Not an issue, you idiot,” she said. “A whole magazine.”

I don’t believe she actually called me an idiot, but her one eyebrow did twitch in a way that indicated she was thinking it.

Robbi is now the very proud owner of ByLine, a monthly magazine aimed at freelance writers, novelists and poets (both published and pre-published), stuffed with excellent how-to articles, short stories, poems, contest information, essays, motivational pieces and great humor. It’s been helping writers hone their craft for more than 25 years and how I’ve gotten where I am without it is a fine example of dumb luck.

As we downed Dixie Cup after Dixie Cup of that punch, Robbi told me about her plans and there was a twinkle in her eye that I have seen my friends flash as they recount the alleged joys of parenting. Fans of ByLine – and they are legion – can sleep well at night knowing that the magazine they love will only get better with Robbi at the helm.

Now all this got me thinking what kind of magazine I’d like to own.

At first I thought it would be fun to run a magazine where people who were writers could come and share their stories, offer advice, show off some of their work and alert fellow writers to little-known opportunities in the field. But then I realized that that was ByLine and I didn’t think Robbi would appreciate the competition.

Then I thought about owning a mystery magazine, the kind that published short stories and reviews. And it wouldn’t be stories by the Big Guys but by folks just getting started, newbies testing their skills and seeing their work in print for the very first time, a magazine that these writers would then feel indebted to the rest of their career, coming back after they really were one of the Big Guys, just to publish with the magazine out of love and respect. It’s a good idea. So good that Babs Lakey came up with it years ago when she started Futures Mysterious Anthology.

I mentally listed all my hobbies and interests, trying to think of an overlooked market begging for its own journal. Then I matched that list against magazines already on the racks. This was a good idea since I never knew there were magazines devoted to moving overseas (Transitions Abroad), learning to play the saxophone (Saxophone Journal), recovering stolen art (IFAR Journal), martinis (Modern Drunkard), pirates (No Quarter Given) and burlesque (Shimmy). My search went on for days but every time I came up with an idea (ska bands, camel racing, the worship of Zeus) somebody had beat me to it.

Then it hit me.

If all goes well, sometime next year you’ll be able to stop by your local newsstand and pick up a copy of Blank Page Magazine.

I’ll cut you a deal on a subscription.

Charles

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Home - and Holmes - for the Holidays

Happy Non-denominational festive celebration of your choice to everyone. I’m taking a short break from cleaning the house to write my blog entry. If you know me, you’ll know how strange the phrase ‘cleaning the house’ is, coming from the tips of my fingers. I clean as infrequently as possible without being in danger of having my house condemned. I’ve always had a cleaning woman, but when the last of my children moved out (to take up housecleaning elsewhere) I decided that I could manage it myself. It’s been touch and go. I have a very, very longhaired dog (some of the hairs on her tail are 8 inches long or more) and hardwood floors, so tufts of what looks like black snow regularly drift down the hallway. But today I am cleaning, getting ready for all the children to start arriving home tonight. I am so excited! Once I’ve finished cleaning – if ever – I’m going to start wrapping gifts and hanging decorations. Then it’ll be time to drive to the airport to pick up the first of the wandering Delany offspring, coming in from Ottawa.

One of my private Christmas traditions is to read “Holmes for the Holdiays” every year. I light a few candles, pour a glass of seasonal cheer, curl up in a comfy armchair, and delight in reading the collection of modern short stories about that greatest of detectives, all set during the holiday season. Last year I was in Scene of the Crime Bookstore in Oakville (much missed) and discovered “More Holmes for the Holidays.” What joy! I’ve spoken before about the delights of small, specialty bookstores – you rarely get that kind of a delicious find at one of the big chain bookstores.

On that note, it’s time to get back to my swifter and mop, and that pile of wrapping paper. Perhaps I’ll squeeze in one more store from “Holmes for the Holidays” first.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to everyone.

Vicki

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Procrastination

Greetings from unseasonably warm Montreal. It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything to Type M. Anyone miss me? Since I’m trying to avoid starting a rewrite of yet another scene in the new book, I thought I’d bring y’all up to date on the unbearable dullness of being Michael Blair.

As some of you may already know, my father, Hugh Fairlie Blair, died on November 6. Lung cancer. He was eighty-five, hadn’t been sick a day in his life, but had smoked since he was a teenager. He was at home in Williamstown, Ontario, not far from Cornwall, on the banks of the mighty Raisin River. My mother and sister were at his side. I’d said good bye the day before, but I’m not sure he knew I was there. As my brother put it, he was on “some pretty good shit.” I dreamed about him the other night. He was mowing the lawn naked. He’d never done that, but it was just like him. He is basically to blame for me being a writer. I’ll miss him.

Some friends have had a pretty rough time lately, too. Two lost their fathers just a few weeks before my dad died, and another lost his son in mid November. You expect to eventually lose your parents; you’re never ready to lose a child.

My best friend moved to Toronto last June. He and his wife are having a difficult time adjusting. They are living in the Danforth area. If you happen see a slim, medium height, middle-aged guy with more dark curly hair that he has a right to, flogging astrological readings on the street, cut him a break; he’s a mystery writer, too, although he hasn’t had anything published recently.

Did you know there’s an English bookstore in Quebec City? Why would you, I suppose? Anyway, it’s called La Maison Anglaise. Nice store. I did a signing there in September. Nobody came. Well, that’s not entirely true. I talked to a young couple wandering through the mall. And a couple of cousins came by (my father was born and raised in Quebec City and his younger brother moved back there after living for years in England). Otherwise, it was pretty quiet.

I think there’re about twelve English people left in Quebec City (ten not counting my cousins, eight not counting my aunt and uncle). Unfortunately, there were two other English events taking place the same evening, one of which was literary. The other was a meeting of the Women’s Club of Quebec. Happily, a distant cousin on my mother’s side (my mother was born and raised in Richmond, Quebec, United Empire Loyalist country) is the VP and invited me to join them for supper. Actually managed to sell some books.

Quebec City is absolutely the most beautiful city in Quebec, possibly even Canada. Go there. Drop by La Maison Anglaise. Tell them I sent you.

In November, N.A.T. (Nancy) Grant, Crime Writers of Canada’s Quebec & Atlantic VP, organized a “Crime for Christmas” event at the Atwater Library here in Montreal. Me, Nancy, Louise Penny, and Robert Landori. Nibbles, wine, book talk, more nibbles, more wine, more talk. Good turnout and everyone seemed to have a good time.

Let’s see, what else has been happening? Uh… Hey! You in the back! Wake up!

Okay, I’ll give y’all a break. Have a happy holiday, everyone. May the new year bring health, happiness, inspiration, discipline, good reviews and, most important, sales (of one kind or another).

Till 2007.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

He's baaaaack...

It's been way too long! Did I actually last write an entry in October??

I'm finally off the road and it feels good. I'm pretty exhausted, but it's a good exhaustion. Now I'm hot into the next novel.

This one has a tight timeline. No, make that a ridiculously tight timeline: the end of February. That gives me roughly 11 weeks to finish a novel that I'm less than a quarter of the way into.

With that deadline firmly in my sights, I've had to adopt a different way of working than the one I usually employ. Generally, I just let plots develop as I go along. When I begin a novel I know the start, middle and ending (although that's usually the sketchiest part of the equation) and just feel my way through. This allows interesting things to happen: characters walk into the book that I didn't expect, locations change and characters turn out not to be who I thought they were.

It's a very cool way of working, but it can lead to dead ends in the story or subplots that don't make the grade. This time out, I can't afford to take those kinds of chances. If I go out on a limb and then saw it off behind me, it could take days, if not weeks, to get back on track. It's happened to me more than once on past novels.

So now I'm spending a lot of time just thinking about the plot before I go near the computer or pull out my journal. It's a much more controlled way of working, actually blocking out several chapters at a time. I'm even making notes -- something I NEVER do. Thus far, it seems to be working. The book is humming along, although, since I also have a day gig, there's too much starting and stopping for me to be able to get the creative juices really flowing. That's hopefully going to come during the holidays, since I'm planning on locking myself in a dark room (no Internet!) and force myself to GET IT DONE!

Is this the best way to write a novel? I don't really think so. (Simenon, it's said, could write an entire Maigret novel in one weekend, working round the clock. They aren't terribly long books, but they are well written, so that's a damned impressive thing as far a I'm concerned.) But sometimes things like this happens and if you're going to consider yourself a professional, you just make that deadline.

I do work well under pressure and I think I can come up with something I can be proud of in the time given, but it's going to be a close thing.

With that in mind, what the heck am I doing writing a blog entry?

To all of you and yours, the very best of the holiday season and a happy and prosperous new year!

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Not More Business!

The other day someone told me that she enjoyed our blog about the business of writing. And I thought, thanks, but uh,. I don’t really want the blog to be about business, but about the joy and pleasure (and the anguish and all that other stuff) about writing. So I’ve been thinking that I need to start writing more about inspiration, ideas etc. etc.

And I’ll start that tomorrow – because today I have a couple of pieces of business.

First, a very exciting announcement. The Crime Writers of Canada (CWC), of which all of us at the blog are members, is inaugurating a new award this year. For Best Unpublished First Crime Novel. The work must be by a Canadian, or a resident of Canada, who has never been published for fiction (in any form).
Contestants should have a completed manuscript and submit the opening 8000 to 10,000 words, and a 500-word synopsis of their crime novel manuscript. "Crime novel" is defined as crime, detective, espionage, mystery, suspense, or thriller, and can be set in any time period and crime-related sub-genre. Short listed writers will then be asked to submit the entire manuscript.
If you’re interested, all the details and rules can be found here: www.crimewriterscanada.com. And good luck!

Poisoned Pen Press, which publishes Charles and me, has brought out a short story collection called A Merry Band of Murderers. The book is already proving to be a great success. Four of the contributing authors gathered at Nicholas Hoare Bookstore in Toronto this past weekend for readings and music. (The book comes with a CD of original music to match the stories). My friend, Iden Ford, husband of Maureen Jennings, was there taking pictures. He’s posted them on his blog – have a look at http://idenford.blogspot.com

Vicki… here in dreary, rainy, brown Ontario anxiously awaiting the cold and snow.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Stick a fork in it

From Charles:

Ask a dozen authors how they go about writing their books and you’ll get 20 different answers. Some are strict outliners, some go at it by the seat of their pants, some race through the manuscript in weeks, spending months on rewrites, others go along at a snail’s pace, getting it right (or a version of right) the first time.

I started writing Relative Danger for something to do and honestly never thought it would get finished. Rose and I were living in Kuwait and despite all the great times we enjoyed there, I still had oodles of time every night for reading. Back then Kuwait did not have many bookstores and the couple they did, specialized in books from England, priced as if each book flew in on its own, first class. There was a used book exchange rack in the teachers’ lounge (wonder if it’s still there?) and it was loaded with massive tomes from Clive Cussler, all staring über-manyly man, Dirk Pitt. Now a little bit of Dirk Pitt goes a long way for me and after, oh, three thousand pages or so, I was longing for a hero that was a bit less perfect. Not finding one on the shelves, I set out to create my own. That’s how Doug Pierce was born. Based in part on my life-long pal Rick Roth and on Todd Haines, a teacher I met in Kuwait who became a dear friend, Doug is my answer to Dirk Pitt – an average guy who is a heck of a lot smarter than folks give him credit for. When I set out to write the story, all I had was a premise and what I thought was a neat ending and over the next five years I stumbled my way through until one day I realized it was done. The rest, as they say, is publishing history.

With my next book I tried a different approach. I started with detailed character bios, I plotted out every single scene on 3X5 cards, color-coded for easy reshuffling, and I set myself up with a writing schedule, which I kept posted above my desk. This is what all the writing books said I should do, so I did it. I finished the book right on time and…it was flat. The premise was good, some of the characters were memorable and a few of the scenes were, I must admit, excellent. But overall the book just didn’t come together. Time to start over.

I knew I wanted to set a book in India so I hauled out the biggest map I could find. Sitting with that map I planned a trip that I thought would be interesting. Any trip would have to start in Delhi since that’s the Indian city I knew best (or thought I knew best). Since I love the hectic mess that is Jaipur, I knew it would have to go through there, and since I wanted a Bollywood connection I had to get to Mumbai. I knew early on that it would be a story about modern India and that would have to include the high-tech world and that meant Bangalore. Tying it all together was, of course, India Rail, my favorite way to travel, bar none. Using a red marker and this map, I plotted out the story – the main ideas, anyway – and that’s what I used to write the rest of the book. (Although I was finished the manuscript before I read his book, I owe a great debt of thanks to Peter Turchi, author of Maps of the Imagination: The Writer as Cartographer. He changed the way I view writing and I cannot recommend his book strongly enough.) The finished product of this map-first approach is Out of Order and if it’s not on your shelves, it should be on your holiday wish list.

Over a year ago I brought home a 10-foot long piece of butcher paper and hung it on the wall. I drew a line down the length of paper, breaking that line into 3 equal sections, the 3 acts of my next book. Using pictures I cut from magazines, I illustrated the backbone of a story that had been in my head since I watched the footage of the tsunami devastating the Thai beaches I had come to love. Over the next month I rearranged these pictures until the story felt right. Stepping back, I could see the entire book – the different characters, the action sequences, the reflective moments, the conflict and the resolution – all in pictures without a single word. To me the book was already done, all I needed to do was write it.

Yesterday, I wrote the last sentence of that book.

I’m not big on revising. I sweat every frickin’ phrase and word choice the first time through (which may be why I average a whopping 200 words a day). Sure, there’ll be some revision – I’m human, it’s in our genes – and I’m sure my editor will have lots to say, but in a many ways, Noble Lies, the tentative title of this Thai adventure, is done.

This afternoon I hung up a new sheet of butcher paper.

You think a blank computer screen is intimidating…

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Was that a party or what!

What a party!

Was that a great party or what! And is this a relieved hostess or what?

Yesterday’s Afternoon of Murder at the Moonshine Café (www.themoonshinecafe.com) was a huge success. At first I was afraid that no one would come, and then I was afraid that we’d be turning people away. But to start at the beginning.

My great friends, Jan and Paul Toms, are partners in a fantastic little place in Oakville, Ontario called the Moonshine Café. Think 1960’s, think early Dylan, think Kerouac, think coffee house. Add a liquor license and you have the Moonshine.

Their rasons d’ être is music, everything from drop-in-and-jam sessions to professional groups are at the café seven days a week. They’ve had poetry readings, but never a novel event.

Paul asked me if I’d like to have a signing or something at the café. But I’d already had the launch of Burden of Memory at the (sadly) now-defunct Scene of the Crime bookstore not too far away. I figured that we’d only get the same bunch of people out. Whereupon I thought of having a much bigger event, and inviting other authors to participate. I looked for a combination of writers I love, with much different styles, and tried to put together an event.

Please believe me, I can’t organize a two-car parade. Nor would I have thought that I might try. And there I was, trying to pull together a six writer afternoon.

Writers are supposed to be difficult and temperamental. Let me tell you that in my experience they’re the opposite. I approached Maureen Jennings, Rick Blechta, Sylvia Maultash Warsh, Jeffrey Miller, and Jean Rae Baxter. They signed on with enthusiasm.

I invited friends, I sent out press releases, I chewed my nails. What if no one came? I’d have dragged these very busy, very popular authors out to Oakville, Ontario only to stand around glaring at me.

To cut a long story short – less than ten minutes after the program began, I was getting worried that we would have to turn people away. The café keeps a cluster of chairs outside for smokers: one by one the chairs were carried in. Quite literally, the last patron met the last chair. And this isn’t something fanciful: a licensed establishment has to pay great attention that they don’t exceed the number of people allowed on the premises. Paul and John were counting heads all afternoon.

Because the Moonshine Café is primarily a musical establishment, they just happen to have guitars and a piano hanging around. Jeffrey and Rick were gently persuaded to play during the break. I think I heard something about the smashing of fingers if they refused,

My daughter Alex bought a copy of Jean Rae Baxter’s book, A Twist of Malace. Alex called me this morning to say that she was at work (she’s a paramedic) but was she was still feeling disturbed at the story of Panther. Is that a testament to the power of Jean’s book, or what!

I have so many people to thank. Paul and Jan Toms, of course. John Marlatt for inviting us to his wonderful café. Phyllis Miller and my incomparable mother, Gail Cargo, for handling the money and trying to sort out the book buying despite the fact that I didn’t have a clue of how to organize it. Iden Ford for taking pictures, and helping at the book table. I’ll try to post some of Iden’s pictures later. Helen Brown, who I can always count on for her tremendous enthusiasm of everything literary.

Again, thanks to Rick Blecta, Jean Rae Baxter, Sylvia Maultash Warsh, Maureen Jennings and Jeffrey Miller. Great readers all. And even better writers.

I was asked to do it all again next year. We will just have to see.

Best,

Vicki

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Muncie & Me

Charles here.

Way back in September I posted an entry about how I was looking forward to Magna Cum Murder in Muncie and yesterday I got a note from a reader asking why I didn’t follow up with a recap. Well, gosh, now I have to.

This was my first time at Magna but it will now be a required stop for me. It’s a small conference but folks, it was amazing. There are so many things that made this event outstanding but I’ll limit myself to just a few.

Since it’s a small conference, you get to spend time with the authors and the fans. A lot of time. There’s many opportunities to get together and just chat and, unlike some big conferences I’ve attended, there wasn’t this “please buy my book/please don’t try to sell me your book” desperation to every conversation. Now this is probably true of many small conferences but Magna benefits from its location – smack dab in the middle of downtown Muncie, Indiana. This is great for the conference since there is absolutely nothing to do in downtown Muncie.¹ Now I don’t mean that as some sort of insult (but I can see how you’d read it that way) – there’s lots to do around Muncie if you have a car but many attendees don’t so almost all of the time is spent at sessions or in the hotel bar or restaurant. No one skips the luncheon to hit all the designer shops and there aren’t vanloads of attendees scooting out before the last session is over to hit the nightclubs. People come to Magna to talk about mysteries and that’s just what they do.

The programming played a role, too. All the attendees were asked to read Maureen Jenning’s Except the Dying, a book I gushed about before (and continue to do today) and the program was dotted with different discussion groups that approached the book from all sorts of points of view, some with the author participating, some without. It was a close, critical analysis of a work in common and the level of discussion went well beyond the trivial. There was also a screening of the film adapted from the book and the film’s producer was in the house to give her unique perspective. This one-book focus makes Magna a readers’ must-attend conference.

There were breakfast discussion topics (a welcome change from the same ol’ grab a coffee and sit with people you already know), an author’s luncheon at the Ball Mansion at Ball State U (with faculty members and rather clever students in the Honors Program), academic paper presentations (one of my personal highlights of the event) and an exciting keynote address by someone who is not a mystery author.²

And you can’t talk about Magna without mentioning the woman who makes it all happen, Kathryn Kennison. Warm, friendly and unforgettable, Kathryn treated me like I was an old friend – and so did everyone who put the event together. Whether you’re a fan, an author (published or otherwise) you should make Magna and Muncie your key destination in 2007.

I’ll see you there.

¹Okay, that’s a bit of an exaggeration. There are a few good (small) restaurants, a cute coffee shop, a hopping bar with live music (20s crowd) and the same weekend there was an outdoor adult Halloween party with local bands and lots of beer. But even the biggest Muncie booster would admit that there’s less to do in Muncie than in, say, Chicago, Toronto, Miami or Bristol England, home of other recent mystery conventions.

²Anyone who knows me knows I cringe when I hear someone described as a “hero”, but they do exist and Kurt Muse is one of them. Don’t believe me? Read John Gilstrap’s breathtaking true account, Six Minutes to Freedom.


Muncie & Me

Charles here.

Way back in September I posted an entry about how I was looking forward to Magna Cum Murder in Muncie and yesterday I got a note from a reader asking why I didn’t follow up with a recap. Well, gosh, now I have to.

This was my first time at Magna but it will now be a required stop for me. It’s a small conference but folks, it was amazing. There are so many things that made this event outstanding but I’ll limit myself to just a few.

Since it’s a small conference, you get to spend time with the authors and the fans. A lot of time. There’s many opportunities to get together and just chat and, unlike some big conferences I’ve attended, there wasn’t this “please buy my book/please don’t try to sell me your book” desperation to every conversation. Now this is probably true of many small conferences but Magna benefits from its location – smack dab in the middle of downtown Muncie, Indiana. This is great for the conference since there is absolutely nothing to do in downtown Muncie.¹ Now I don’t mean that as some sort of insult (but I can see how you’d read it that way) – there’s lots to do around Muncie if you have a car but many attendees don’t so almost all of the time is spent at sessions or in the hotel bar or restaurant. No one skips the luncheon to hit all the designer shops and there aren’t vanloads of attendees scooting out before the last session is over to hit the nightclubs. People come to Magna to talk about mysteries and that’s just what they do.

The programming played a role, too. All the attendees were asked to read Maureen Jenning’s Except the Dying, a book I gushed about before (and continue to do today) and the program was dotted with different discussion groups that approached the book from all sorts of points of view, some with the author participating, some without. It was a close, critical analysis of a work in common and the level of discussion went well beyond the trivial. There was also a screening of the film adapted from the book and the film’s producer was in the house to give her unique perspective. This one-book focus makes Magna a readers’ must-attend conference.

There were breakfast discussion topics (a welcome change from the same ol’ grab a coffee and sit with people you already know), an author’s luncheon at the Ball Mansion at Ball State U (with faculty members and rather clever students in the Honors Program), academic paper presentations (one of my personal highlights of the event) and an exciting keynote address by someone who is not a mystery author.²

And you can’t talk about Magna without mentioning the woman who makes it all happen, Kathryn Kennison. Warm, friendly and unforgettable, Kathryn treated me like I was an old friend – and so did everyone who put the event together. Whether you’re a fan, an author (published or otherwise) you should make Magna and Muncie your key destination in 2007.

I’ll see you there.

¹Okay, that’s a bit of an exaggeration. There are a few good (small) restaurants, a cute coffee shop, a hopping bar with live music (20s crowd) and the same weekend there was an outdoor adult Halloween party with local bands and lots of beer. But even the biggest Muncie booster would admit that there’s less to do in Muncie than in, say, Chicago, Toronto, Miami or Bristol England, home of other recent mystery conventions.

²Anyone who knows me knows I cringe when I hear someone described as a “hero”, but they do exist and Kurt Muse is one of them. Don’t believe me? Read John Gilstrap’s breathtaking true account, Six Minutes to Freedom.


Tuesday, November 07, 2006

The Silly Season and Some Inspiration

Vicki reporting in.

Lots happening on the promotional front these days. Rick was signing at Coles bookstore in the Royal Bank Plaza in downtown Toronto last week (If you’re in the neighbourhood, drop by – they’re a super nice bunch there. Tell the manager, Lori, that I sent you). I probably won’t get to his launch party on Thursday so I thought I’d get my copy of his new one, When Hell Freezes Over, then.

A woman was standing at Rick’s table, looking mildly interested in buying a book, but not entirely convinced. I rushed up, and gushed, in my normal soft, dulcet tones (not!) “I’ve been so looking forward to reading this book after I read the wonderful review of it in the Globe and Mail. Whereupon she looked a bit more interested. Not a word of a lie, I just played it up a bit.

On my own promotional front, I was invited to speak at a high school last week. I really enjoyed the experience. There were about 60 students, grades 11 and 12. Most of them didn’t even look as if they were forced to be there. I read a section from Burden of Memory, and they applauded. That was nice.

The crux of my talk was the motivation behind being a writer. I heard somewhere that 10 million people in the U.S. are writing a book or thinking of writing one. And I’m sure that the percentage in Canada is comparable. Whew! Makes you put down that pen or close that computer right now, just thinking of the competition. But if you have a bit of talent, and a bit of luck (or a lot of luck!) then you’re not really competing with 10 million plus people. You are competing with the fraction of that number who 1) actually write the book and 2) do a good job.

I have seen it broken down like this:

1 out of 100 people who say "I want to write a book" actually start writing.
Out of those who write, 1 out of 100 actually finishes.
Out of those that finish, 1 out of 100 take the time to polish it up and send it to an agent/publisher
Out of those that submit, 1 out of 100 will be published

(Thanks to Charles for the stats)

So looking at it that way, if you get that book finished to the best of your ability, and send it out to the wider world, you are not competing with 10 million (and 1 million Canadians). You’re only competing with 100 other writers, and that’s pretty manageable.

So go for it! And remember, once you’re actually written the book, then the hard part starts – see promotion above.

Best,

Vicki

Monday, October 30, 2006

Tales from the Road

Rick posting

The ubiquitous book tour: Belleville, Ontario.

Some have called these things “an exercise in author humiliation”.

They can certainly be that and more. It’s not much fun going into a book store (usually one of the large chain ones) only to find out that no one knew you were coming, or worse yet, they didn’t want you to come in the first place (although, thankfully, that doesn’t happen very often). The largest calamity an author usually has to worry about is that the store ordered your books but they didn’t arrive. That’s easily settled by making sure you always travel with a box or two of the things in the trunk of your car.

No, the really humiliating thing that can and does happen is when none of the customers have heard of you and have little or no interest in your book. “I don’t like mysteries.” “I only read nonfiction.” “I only came in to get a cup of coffee.” Most authors have heard these (or variations on the theme). My particular favourite is, “I don’t like to read.” Hello? Please excuse me for pointing this out, but you ARE in a book store!

Having already done 10 signings on my When Hell Freezes Over Tour, I’ve become very sanguine in my reaction to various things potential customers say when I try to break the ice by asking them, “Do you like reading mysteries?”

I do ask this question with some feeling of guilt, say as a telemarketer might when he asks the computer to dial yet another phone number, knowing that he’s breaking in on someone’s private time. But it is something an author has to do to be successful – unless your name is Bill Clinton or Dan Brown. The alternative is to stare balefully and with increasing depression as each person passes by as you sit behind your little table display, a table piled high with your latest. So engage you must!

That’s when those not interested will come up with one of the comments listed a few paragraphs above. What those folks are really trying to tell you is, “Please leave me alone; I don’t want to be bothered.” Once an author realizes that, it’s a little easier to take the rejection. They’re trying to be nice. They could just tell you to eff off.

But then there are those kind souls who ARE tempted to come over. Often, I’m sure they feel sorry for you, but some are actually interested. These are your target audience: mystery readers, and they’re the real reason you do these things. If they read your latest and like it, they’re liable to buy your other books, and quite often they have friends who also like reading mysteries, and they might also buy.

A savvy author comes equipped with The Handout, something people can take away with them and read over. You can also give them a bookmark. I know people who also have some sort of goodies: candy, cookies, fridge magnets, pens with your book’s name on it. All of these things do help, although it can get pretty expensive.

With Christmas not that far off, an author can also use the angle, “You know, Christmas is not that far off and a signed book makes a terrific gift!” With my limited skill at the craft, I’m also quick to add, “And they’re really easy to wrap!”

Probably the most gratifying thing to happen at signings, though, are those rare (for me, at least) occasions when someone actually knows who you are. That happened to me today. “What a coincidence! I came into this store specifically to look for your book.” In my case, a review in this past Saturday’s Globe and Mail was the impetus for this wonderful person to make the trip to their local store. Let me tell you, my day was made, too! That one thing totally wiped out last week’s debacle at the Indigo in downtown Montreal where I only sold one book.

So now you know why I’m sanguine about having to go on tour. I honestly do enjoy talking with readers, but beyond that, there’s the rush of meeting someone who actually knows who you are and is honestly glad to meet you and excited to get a signed book.

Maybe that will happen tonight at the Chapters store in Belleville. Wouldn’t that be nice?

Afterward: Belleville was NOT a good signing. I sold 3 books. Still, it was better than Montreal. Call me Candide...

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Q&A, part 2

I liked Vicki’s post so much I decided to try it myself. I even left in the Canadian spellings.

What was your first job?
Grounds crew at a golf course.
When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
After reading one too many Clive Cussler books.
What was your first paid professional writing assignment?
It was a freelance assignment. I was hired by Dixon Schwabl Advertising to write the coffee table book that would accompany a community arts charity event. They must have liked it since they went and hired me full time.
Career influences?
Donald Westlake, PG Wodehouse, Jon Cleary, Edgar Rice Burroughs, George MacDonald Fraser, Larry McMurtry, Paul Theroux.
Favourite author?
Westlake.
What is your favourite writing genre?
Adventure fiction. This includes stuff like Westlake (Kahawa, High Adventure), McMurtry’s westerns, Elmore Leonard (Cuba Libra), Cleary (High Road to China, Golden Saber), Theroux (Mosquito Coast, Saint Jack, My Secret Life) and everything by Fraser.
What book are you currently reading?
Windfall by Desmond Bagley and Plunder of the Sun by David Dodge. In the CD player in the car I’ve got Interlude in Death by J.D. Robb.
Favourite sport?
To play it’d be softball but I’ll watch any sport.
Favourite local spot?
The Dinosaur Barbecue.
Favourite way to relax?
Reading and, as much as I hate to do it, going to the gym.
Favourite hobby?
Playing the sax.
Favourite snack?
Martini olives, properly skewered and soaked.
Favourite meal?
Anything Indian.
Dogs or cats?
Is this part of the meal question?
Wine or beer?
Whiskey.
What's in your music player?
Robbie William (Greatest Hits), My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult (Live) and Lee Press-on & the Nails (Playing Dirty)

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Q&A and an upcoming event

Vicki here: I love to play those games on the Internet where you answer questions about yourself and then pass the questions on to your friends. You know the sort – what’s your favourite movie, favourite ice cream flavour, etc? I guess that we all like to talk about ourselves; it makes us feel important, even answering pretty mundane questions. I was featured last week in my local newspaper, the Oakville Beaver, in a segment called Q&A. I tried to plug the Afternoon of Murder event on November 18th at the Moonshine Café in Oakville (six Canadian mystery writers reading from their books) but they cut all that out. Oh, well, I’m plugging it now. Because I’m sure the readers of this blog are dying to know what’s my favourite movie, here is the piece as it was in the Oakville Beaver. And if you’d like more info about the Afternoon of Murder, please drop me an e-mail at Vicki@vickidelany.com. Oh, one more thing – in my answer about career influences I mentioned my fellow typist, Rick Blectha, who taught me a lot about doing a book signing. Sorry, Rick, but you were edited out!

Q&A
We pose questions to author Vicki Delany

Oct 7, 2006
What was your first job?
Sales clerk at K-Mart at Hopedale Mall.
When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
When I was in school (I went to T.A. Blakelock) my firends and I wrote stories for each other based on our favourite TV character.
What was your first paid professional writing assignment?
My first attempt at a novel was sold to an e-publishing company. My first cheque from them was for $14.
Career influences?
Mystery writers such as Giles Blunt and Maureen Jennings proved a good mystery, with a very Canadian setting, can make it.
Favourite author?
My favourite book of all is To Kill a Mockingbird, but of an author with a body of work, Ian Rankin.
What is your favourite writing genre?
About 80 per cent of what I read is mysteries or suspense. The other 20 per cent is generally non-fiction.
What book are you currently reading?
I have just started Season of Iron by Sylvia Maultash Warsh. In non-fiction, I'm reading The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan.
Favourite sport?
I don't play, but I enjoy going to a Blue Jays game.
Favourite local spot?
I love the Moonshine Café on Kerr Street. Other than that - my own back yard!
Favourite way to relax?
Reading, reading and more reading.
Favourite hobby?
Quilting.
Favourite snack?
Stilton on baguette.
Favourite meal?
The leftovers from a full turkey dinner.
Dogs or cats?
Dogs.
Wine or beer?
Wine.
What's in your music player?
Il Divo, Enya, David Wilcox, and Lord of the Rings.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

And a Grand Time Was Had By All

Rick’s blog tells it all – Bouchercon was a blast. The high point for most guests had to be the Meet the Canucks gala gathering and game show. Rick got to give away loads of great books all while raising awareness of the CWC and its members. I got to spend the night explaining why an American from New York is a member of the Crime Writers of Canada.

Now what’s the sense of going to something like Bouchercon without the chance to drop names? To save time, just assume that I was rubbing – and bending – elbows with the biggest names in crime fiction. Let me tell you folks, I was chatting up a storm and I could tell by the look in their eyes and the tone of their voice that these Big Name writers were wondering who was responsible for letting me in the room.

Madison itself if a quaint little place with an impressive capital building right there in the center of town. The place is teeming with college students, each one there to remind you just how frickin’ old you really are. Case in point: In a CD store I asked the fresh-faced clerk where I could find the Ramones CDs (there are rumors of an excellent bootleg concert CD floating around). The wee lad looked up, pointed to the section to his right and said, “Try Easy Listening.”

I had the honor of hosting The Architecture of Murder panel discussion featuring Mary Logue, Harry Hunsicker, fellow Poisoned Pen Press author Fred Ramsay and fellow CWC member Louise Penny. I read a book or two by each of the panel members and did all this background research – it was a wonderful way to procrastinate, especially since the books were so good. I had read books by Mary, Fred and Louise first – perfect cozies and great reads, filled with warm, real people who you’d want to spend time with over a piping cup of chamomile and set in towns you’d want to move to or at least visit in autumn when the leaves are changing and there is a nip to the air. Then I read Harry’s book, Still River. From the opening line I knew I was in for something different. “Vera Drinkwater had been a slut in high school, or so they had said.” I switched to Old Smuggler whiskey when I read Harry and vowed that if I ever do visit Dallas, I will avoid hanging out with Hank Oswald. Good stuff – the whiskey and the book. I still haven’t forgiven Dallas for embarrassing the Bill’s in Superbowl XXVII.

Next year Bouchercon will be in Alaska. I gave them my registration on Saturday.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Bouchercon

I spent this past weekend in Madison, Wisconsin at Bouchercon, the granddaddy of all mystery conventions. Type M authors Alex Brett and Charles Benoit were also present.

It was the best of times; it was the worst of times (or considering the state, should I have said "the wurst of times"?). When you get a conference this large (over 1000 attendees) and many, many of them are authors, whether published or not, the experience can be a bit surreal. Part way in, you get the feeling the entire convention is saying, "Look at me! Look at me!" At least, I felt that way. I had this mental image of the actual mystery fans at the convention being swarmed by expectant authors and being dragged down to the dealers' room, not to be let go until everyone's books had been purchased. Roving gangs of writers would accost Madisonians on the streets, pelting them with freshly printed books. Mayhem would ensue.

It didn't get out of hand like that, of course, but the focus of the convention was certainly on the leading authors in our chosen genre. It is very hard to get noticed in that august crowd. Alex, Charles and myself did our best. Probably the best medium for us was our Meet the Canucks party on opening night. CWC members gave us a lot of books to hand out. Charles did an Ed McMahon to my Johnny Carson (actually, he's A LOT funnier than Ed), and Alex, a brick as always, did a very credible Vanna White with the prizes.

Then it was on to panels. This can be the best way to get noticed -- provided you get on a good one. I was fortunate this time out to have a great moderator, John Rickards, who was well-prepared and really tried to stay out of the way. Not all moderators do that. As a matter of fact, we had to drag this very good author into the conversation. In the end, I certainly enjoyed the topic (The New Wave) because it was wide-ranging and got not only the panelists but the audience involved as well. It also sold a few books for me, and that's always a good thing.

After that, it was down to hanging around, talking to people and taking in the odd panel, mostly friends whom I wanted to support and hear what they had to say. Hanging out in the bar during the evening hours can also be useful for networking.

So why was it the worst of times? My plane back got cancelled, so I had to get back to Toronto via Minneapolis and at a much later time, and I'd managed to get a horrible cold. Landing at two airports drove the thing into my ears and now I'm really down for the count.

But I'll probably still go to Bouchercon next year...

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Toronto, Muncie and Me

This weekend Rose and I and some friends will be heading up to Toronto for Word on the Street (Sunday Sept 23rd), the big ‘ol book and magazine event that takes place across Canada. I’ll be joining my pals at the Crime Writer’s of Canada booth (just look for the mobs of savvy book buyers), hawking my wares and buying more books than I will ever read.

For me, any time I can spend in TO is a treat, but I’m really excited about this trip since I’ve just finished Maureen Jenning’s Except the Dying, the out-frickin’-standing mystery set in the bitter Toronto winter of 1895. I’m looking forward to trekking through the same King Street/Queen Street neighborhoods Miss J describes so vividly, tracking down the Rhodes’ home, visiting St. Paul’s, heading to John O’Neill’s for a beer (or settling for a modern equivalent). It’s going to be fun and, hopefully, warmer.

Now I’d like to say that I have been a fan of Maureen Jennings for years but the truth is I may have missed her if it wasn’t for Muncie, Indiana. You see this year’s Magna Cum Murder mystery convention is suggesting that all attendees read the same book before they arrive, that way we can all have something in common to discuss. (It’s a great idea, by the way, and I recommend it to conference organizers everywhere, especially if you can use one of my books.)

So it’s off to pack. Drop by and say hello and if you mention this post I have a special gift for you.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Always a Bridesmaid - and glad of it!

Okay, maybe that should be “best man,” but it doesn’t have quite the same ring (sorry). When I was twenty-one or so, I had a girlfriend who worked in a bank in downtown Montreal. The bank she worked in had set some kind of record as the most robbed bank in the city. I had just become interested in writing mysteries and thought it would be cool to be in a bank robbery. She didn’t think being in a bank robbery was cool at all.

A few years later my former wife was briefly taken hostage in a bank robbery – or at least that’s what she thought would happen when she was the only customer in the bank during a robbery. By this time I was more deeply involved in writing mysteries, and thought, “Why her?” My former spouse concurred: “Why her?”

A couple of years later, the same former spouse, who was afraid to fly, had to go to Quebec City from Montreal on business. Her train derailed just outside of Quebec. In February. The passengers were evacuated by snowmobile to the local funeral home.

When I started working for CN, a colleague was on the “Gimly Glider”, the Air Canada flight that ran out of gas over Manitoba as a result of confusion over kilograms and pounds.

Are you starting to see the point of the title? Interesting things kept happening to people I knew, but I, the writer, had to make it up.

Yesterday, at about 12:30 p.m., a young man wearing a long black trench coat and combat boots and sporting a Mohawk haircut, walked into Dawson College with three guns, one of them a semi-automatic rifle, and started shooting people. Less than twenty minutes into his rampage the police shot him dead, but by then he’d killed one student and wounded twenty others, five of which are still in critical condition at the Montreal General Hospital. The police finally removed the bodies of the gunman and his victim at 6:00 a.m. this morning.

Dawson College is less than two hundred metres from where I live. If you watched the video footage taken from the TVA news helicopter, you would have seen my apartment building on Atwater Avenue, police cars and ambulances parked out front.

I watched the drama unfold on television. Classic fog of war. No one really knew what the hell was going on. There was one shooter. There were four. One was loose in Alexis Nihon plaza, where I do my grocery shopping, armed with a machine gun. Semi-hysterical witnesses reported hundreds of gun shots. As usual, the media did its best, and its worst. There were the usual bunch of self-proclaimed experts in love with the sound of their own voices.

I thought to myself, as I sat in front of the TV, that I could go out, walk fifty metres down the road, and be in the thick of the action. Real life. First hand experience. Cops running around with their guns drawn. Bloody bodies in the streets. I’m a mystery writer, after all.

Thanks. I’d rather make it up.

Some good news. I’m signing Overexposed in Quebec City on Thursday, September 28, 7:30 to 9:00 p.m., at La Maison Anglaise, 2600 Laurier Boulevard. La Maison Anglaise is an indy English bookstore – in Quebec City!

Michael Blair
Montreal, Quebec

Monday, September 11, 2006

Book Events and (No) Bike News

Book Events

Vicki here...
I still haven’t decided how I feel about book events. I started thinking about this on the weekend when Charles told me that he went to Virginia for the annual Book Em event. I had been thinking about going, there was a great line up of writers, but it’s a long way from Oakville, Ontario. So should I drive for 10 hours, stay in a hotel overnight, then drive home for 10 hours in order to have a chance to sell a handful of books? And probably take a day off work to do it. It doesn’t seem cost effective – well, it isn’t cost effective in the least from a purely monetary standpoint. But some writers think it’s well worth doing just to get your name and your books out there.

The sort of thing I’m talking about is different from a book store visit. I do see the value of visiting bookstores. Particularly for writers with relatively small presses like me: My book won’t get in a lot of the stores unless I go there with it. And when I leave, hopefully the books will be on display and people will come in and buy them!

I’d be interested to know what other writers think of events. Do you find them worthwhile in the long run?

Speaking of bookstores, I had a great surprise the other day. I was walking to work thought the Toronto underground world (not the subway – the entire Toronto downtown core is connected by tunnels full of shops and restaurants) and there was an entire window display of MY BOOKS in the Coles at Royal Bank Plaza. My, but it looked nice. The reason the store has a window full of books, is that I am doing a signing there this week (Thursday, Sept 14th, at noon, if you’re interested). I haven’t even been there yet, and it is already paying off.

And for all you that have been asking about my bike (sniff, sob) – I haven’t heard anything. Not that I really expected to. However in the every cloud has a silver lining department, the bike theft ring has moved up to play an important part in my new book. So when I get my Pulitzer or Edgar, I might even be able to thank the thief. Then I’ll kill him.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Hearing Voices, Part 2

I’m going to make this easy. Take everything Michael says in his blog (below) on rewrites and sign my name to it. The man hit it dead solid and I’m not going to improve on it.

But since you’re here, I gotta tell you about the audio book version of Relative Danger that’s coming out from Blackstone Audio in a couple weeks. Now my debut mystery is available to a lot of folks who can no longer enjoy reading and those, like me, who make their drive time bearable with a book on tape (or in my case CD). But what makes me really excited – and a bit anxious – is hearing how somebody else reads my book.

As I was writing it and all during that revision process (again, see Michael) and then during that final proofreading time, I must have read Relative Danger three hundred times. Now that sounds impossible but just ask any writer how many times they’ve ever typed a line, read it a few times, read it in context with the rest of the paragraph, wrote the next line and gone back to read that other line…now that I think about it, maybe three hundred is way low. And other than a line here and there, I’ve never heard anyone else reading my books. Now someone I don’t know will be reading the whole book and I can’t wait to hear it.

Patrick Lawlor is a veteran stage, screen and TV actor who has also distinguished himself in the audio book world. He’s won the AudioFile Ear Phones™ award, he was a finalist for an Audie™ and my wife would like to note that he is also a “cutie”. Patrick’s been the reader for books by Edgar Rice Burroughs (an author that clearly influenced the kind of books I write), Max Brand and the highly acclaimed mystery writer, Richard Barre. Now he’ll be reading my book.

How will he approach the voices? Will he get all the Arabic words right? Will the parts I thought were funny come across as funny in his version and will the dramatic parts be dramatic? Will he pause where I would have paused, will his voice go up where mine always went up? And the sex scenes – come on, I can’t even read those out loud, how will he do it? I can’t wait to hear.

But what if his reading of it is better than the one in my head? That might screw me up real good. I wouldn’t be able to write without thinking of him and how he’d read it. What if I freak out and think that I have to hear him read everything I write, just to see if it’s any good? I’ll be calling him all the time, or worse yet, moving next door, just so I can run over every five minutes to have him read the latest line. The poor man will end up getting a restraining order, he’ll live in fear of that whacked-out author – which would be me – and he’ll wish he never heard of Relative Danger. And then he’ll think it’ll happen with the next book he reads, I mean there are plenty of crazy authors out there, believe you me. I won’t be able to write, just sitting in the corner, rocking back and forth, and he’ll switch careers, refusing to ever speak in public again, except at my trail when he shouts, “That’s the man that ruined my life!” And that’s the last thing I’ll hear before they lock me up in a nice padded room.

Thanks a lot, Patrick Lawlor. If you weren’t so good, I’d be a free man

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Rewrites, Bloody Rewrites

Vacation is over. Time to get back to work. Well, sort of work. I want to "finish" my next book before I start looking around for a paying gig. I put finish in quotes because when is a book ever really finished. When it goes to press, I guess, since there ain't much you can do after that except cringe and groan, "Oh, geez, did I really write that?"

I like rewriting. Sort of. I'd better. I do a lot of it. As the old saying goes, 90% of writing is rewriting. I hate it when I hear stories about writers who never rewrite. Isaac Asimov claimed he never did rewrites. He didn't have to. His wife did them. So the story goes. Unfortunately, I have to do my own. Generally, it's not so bad. And if you believe that, I got a bridge you can buy, cheap.

Rewriting hurts. You often have to throw out your best writing, a phrase or sentence or paragraph, sometimes even whole chapters, that you've kept through half a dozen revisions (not to be confused with rewrites) simply because you like it. I have folders (well, computer folders) of snippets that I couldn’t bear to throw completely away. It's unlikely they'll ever get used, but it makes it easier to cut them if I know they are safe and sound somewhere, waiting patiently to see the light of day.

What’s the difference between revisions and rewrites? Do I really have to answer that? No. Good.

Another thing that makes rewriting interesting, in a Chinese curse kind of way, is a character who adamantly refuses to let him/herself be changed. Oh, sure, writing is craft, and characters are figments of the writer's fevered imagination, totally within the writer's control, but the old adage that they acquire minds of their own at some point is not altogether false. After a dozen drafts characters become as real as anyone you know, maybe realer (sorry, but this is a blog, after all). You know them better than you know yourself sometimes, and it's damned hard to change them, make them meaner or nicer or sexier or whatever. It's just not in their character.

I think, however, that the harder it is to change characters, even in small ways, the better the chance that when the dust jacket settles your characters are going to have more depth. They are less likely to be cardboard cutouts who sound like all the other characters in the story. So, here’s to characters who fight back.

Maybe I could get one of them to do my rewrites.

Montreal, Quebec

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Criminal Minds

Vicki here.

I was the victim of a crime yesterday. Not much of a crime in light of what else goes on the in the word, but it’s a big deal to me. My new bike was stolen. My brand new, middling-expensive mountain bike. It was so new that I conveniently had all the details of the bike – make, model, serial number – available for the police, because the sales slip was still in my purse! The bike I’d been riding before this was bought in a garage sale about ten years go. For the last couple of years I’ve been thinking that I really need to get a new bike. So I finally decided to splurge on a good one. I ride to the train station every morning and generally use the bike for transportation around town, if I don’t have a lot of shopping. I’m a fair weather biker, meaning that I only bike about five months of the year. I get real pleasure out of it.

My bike was stolen at the train station. The bike rack used to sit out in front of the entrance building, but a couple of days ago it was moved behind a big green box of some sort, so that the bike rack could no longer be seen from the parking lot. Good move, eh? I will be sending a strongly worded letter to the station authorities, let me tell you. Like a good citizen I reported the crime to the police. The officer phoned me later and told me that they’d just got another call – another bike stolen from the same place, same time.

Yesterday, I was very disappointed, but shrugged and got on with things. But today I’ve fallen into a real funk about it. I feel really bad. I’ll use my daughter’s bike for a while, while I decide if I want to get another good one, or just buy something cheap and nasty.

I have just started my new book. I’m at the stage right now where the characters are created, the major plot is pretty much set, but the sub plots are still shifting around, trying to take shape. The new book is going to be a cop story – the start of a proposed series. I have a feeling that a bike-theft ring will be playing a prominent role in the book. And you can be sure that the evil leader of the ring, and the nasty little weasel who steals the bike of the environmentally-conscious, charming, friendly, kind to animals and small children, middle-aged lady who spent what little she could afford getting herself a new bike to toddle about town, will be coming to a very, very unpleasant end! Boiling in oil in the knock-down bike shop, perhaps?

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Hearing Voices

Charles at the mike.

I was thinking about what Rick had said below (Pick Your Poison). I put a book down this week as well, the voices in my head not allowing me to enjoy it. Must be something in the air.

I was quite excited when I found it at the bookstore – an adventure novel/mystery that takes place in exotic locales with ancient cultures and a believable, likeable protagonist. Like many books I enjoy, it had a dual narrative, the first person author and the centuries old memoirs of a famed explorer. It was this second voice that killed the book for me and that’s a shame since it’s a cool story and the first person narration was vivid and fresh.

What got me is that this second voice was so much like the first. Similar word choices, similar observations and a rhythmic pattern that made it hard to tell where one dropped off and the other continued. Perhaps if I had stuck with the book I would have discovered that the spirit of the long-dead explorer had fused with that of our hero and that’s why they spoke as one. (Okay, that’s an interesting idea, but before I gave the book to a nursing home, I peeked – it’s not how it ends.)

The other thing that bugged me about voice #2 was that it was so contemporary. Here it’s supposed to be the journals of a person living in the 1500s and yet it has the sensibilities and values of a liberal leaning academic. Nothing wrong with those leanings mind you, but not when it’s supposed to be someone who died before many of those sentiments developed.

We bring our own baggage to what we read. My background in history often ruins a perfectly good story. When I sense some historical anomaly the voices in my head won’t shut up and even if I finish the book, I won’t enjoy it.

I heard from a reader not long ago who had the same experience with my first book, Relative Danger. The person wrote to tell me that the 5.11-carat Moussaieff Red Diamond is the largest red diamond ever found and that my hinting at a red diamond ten times that size indicated my ignorance of geology and thermodynamics rendered the book “unreadable”. What’s the matter, I thought as I read his note, can’t he just ignore that voice and enjoy the book?

So here’s to voices – those on the page and those in our heads.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Pick your poison.

Rick here:

I just put down a book written by a well known author, and it's not the first time that's happened, nor will it be the last – although that would be terrific if it was!

Why?

I found I just didn't care about any of the characters. The plot was a pretty good one (or at least wasn't the reason for my disinterest) and the book has gotten good reviews. Maybe it's just me (or my current head space).

Are you like that?

Or is it the plot that really grips you, keeping you racing through the book, reading past the time you have allotted, keeping you up past your bedtime, irritating you when you have to put it down?

The last book I read like that was The DaVinci Code. I know, I know. Don't laugh. I was sucked in by the plot, willingly accepting the fact that just about every character seemed to be made of cardboard. It wasn't until the end of the book that I realized just what had happened, sort of like seeing a magic trick and then finding out later how it was done. That's not really a knock on the book. I'm sure Dan Brown realizes he wrote a totally plot-driven novel, in fact I would posit that this might be the best example of the plot-driven novel ever. Without a doubt, it's the most successful.

But that's not what I look for in a book, and it certainly isn't the way I want to write. By now you've probably realized that I'm into characters. As a matter of fact, my novels start with a very sketchy, very basic idea and then I go in search of characters, people I'm interested in and would like to spend half a year to nine months living with (because that's the reality of writing a book).

Sometimes they come to me easily. Shooting Straight in the Dark (2002) was like that, so is my about-to-be-released novel, When Hell Freezes Over. I hardly noticed as the story populated itself with interesting characters, people with possibilities that caught my interest.

With Cemetery of the Nameless (2005), I had a lot of trouble. The original protagonist was a down-on-his-luck composer, someone who didn't want to give in to the easy way out, i.e. teaching theory and harmony as a way to make money. So I made him a cab driver who composed during the day and struggled to earn a living in the evening.

Setting to work, I produced about seventy pages of the story before I realized that this person was, to put it mildly, irritating. No matter how hard I tried to send him in other directions, give him a "personality facelift", he always wound up whining. Since the story was going to take quite some time to write, I decided then and there that we had to part ways. I couldn't imagine spending an entire novel with this...whiner. So I fired him. That stopped my writing in its tracks for a good month while I sent out "casting calls" to try to find characters that I'd like to live with(and by extension, my readers – hopefully). Finally, out of desperation, I looked at what I had around me and realized that the two characters from my second novel, The Lark Ascending, would be perfect for my story. It was one of those moments where you feel like idiot slapping yourself for being so obtuse.

Once that problem was settled, I began the story again, and while all was not smooth sailing by a long shot, at least I was dealing with people whom I really enjoyed working with and who were entertaining. With the first protagonist, I'm sure the urge to kill him off would have eventually proven to strong – and then where would I have been?

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Going North

Vicki here,

Tomorrow I'm heading North for my annual weekend with my old high school crowd. Sorry, that's not 'old', it should read 'friends of long acquaintance'. Six of us – Karen, Jackie, Leslie, Christine, Pat and me - still keep in touch and once a year we get together at Pat and Roy’s cottage on Lake Muskoka. We lie in the sun, we read, we swim, we talk, we play board games, we eat exceptionally well, and we might even have a drink or two out on the deck. I’ve been appointed chef tomorrow, so for dinner I’ll be making vegetable pate, served with small pitas, then planked oriental salmon done on the barbeque, grilled baby potatoes, fresh tomatoes sprinked with herbs from my garden, maple and cranberry salad, and my home-made (all the way from scratch – pastry and all) blueberry pie. Wanna come?

Then I’ll lie back for the rest of the week and let other people cook for me.

These days the time at Pat and Roy’s cottage is just a nice few days of relaxing and catching up with good friends. But for a few years, back in the days of teenage children, job troubles, not-much money, stress and worry, I really believe that my week at the cottage was what got me through the rest of the year. And I’ve always been grateful to Pat and Roy for giving me that.

What does all this have to do with murder, in the fictional sense? As well as providing a nice holiday every year, Muskoka has given me great settings for my books. Roy loves to take people out in his boat and show off the fabulous Muskoka lakes. Many times we’d tour what they call ‘Millionaires Row’ looking at the wonderful old cottages dotting the landscape. Most of Muskoka could now be called Millionaires’ Row, what with the price of property up there, but there is still something very special about the grand old places, some of which are close to a century old. “I wonder what it’s like,” I thought, “to belong to a family that owns one of those historic cottages.” And so the germ of an idea that would grow into Burden of Memory began to take shape. Scare the Light Away is set in the same general area, but in a much less fashionable home. For behind the narrow strip of multi-million-dollar cottages on the best lakes, there is a much less affluent demographic, struggling to get enough work in the short summer season to see them through the winter when the snow settles in and all the cottagers have gone back to the city.

After we go our separate ways for another year, I’ll keep going north. I’m planning to quit my job early next year (gulp). As well as writing, I’m hoping to get some work as a freelance editor (copy editing, manuscript evaluations, substantive editing – if you’re looking for an editor, drop me a line. Now back to our regular programming. ) I’m looking forward to having all the time I want to attend conferences and go on book tours. As part of the grand plan, I’m going to sell my house in Oakville and move up North. So next week I’m going to have a casual look around. See what’s available, what looks nice, what areas are reasonable.

And while I’m at it, I might come across an idea for a great book.

Vicki

Friday, July 28, 2006

Brain Food

Charles here:

Rose and I went to an Indian restaurant tonight and, as always, it made me think about my trips to my favorite country in the world. I’m not some Pollyanna, I know it’s got more problems than it’s got people, but I still love the place and, if all goes according to plans, one day we will live there.

I started with a Kingfisher Beer. I’m not really a beer guy (so you know I’m not the Canadian in this blog) but they didn’t have any of that no-name whiskey I found almost palatable so I made do. It’s a skunky beer that tastes like a Miller and it’s brewed in Saratoga Spring, NY, but it earned its $4 price tag by the memories it pulled up.

My Uncle Chuck was my traveling companion on my most recent trip to India. It was his first trip there and I have to give him credit for being so bold (others would say foolish) to trust me on setting it all up. Chuck’s first Indian meal – ever – was in New Delhi at the best restaurant I could afford. If you’ve been to Delhi, you know that there are restaurants that would make Bill Gates look for the specials, so we were not top of the line, but not eating at the yummy road-side stalls either. Chuck is a man of strong resolve and after one taste of absolutely delicious aloo matar, he resolved not to eat again until he returned to the States, fourteen days later. He came close. If it wasn’t for the case of peanut butter crackers he had in his suitcase (really), he might have made it. And he did wolf down a large pizza all by himself at the second floor Pizza Corner in Bangalore, the same one that I feature in a key scene in Out of Order (page 174 for those of you playing at home). When we arrived back in Rochester, Chuck’s daughter Marcy was at the airport to greet him. I’ll never forget the sad way she said, “Oh my God you look awful,” a condition, Chuck was quick to point out, that was totally the fault of Indian cuisine.

What would have made tonight’s meal well worth the inflated price would have been a cup (clay, hand-formed) of railway tea. Part of it has to be that whole ‘romance of travel’ thing, but there is no tea in the world quite as good as Indian railway tea and to go to India and not have a cup at every station is as ridiculous as seeing the whole country but passing up a chance to see the Taj Mahal.

Like I did on my first trip.

But that’s another story.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

The World Needs More… Bookstores

Vicki here:
I love bookstores. If I were to guess, I’d say that everyone reading this blog loves bookstores. So isn’t it a tragedy that there are so few.

Few, I hear you say, there are lots of bookstores. Big bookstores in big-box malls, smaller bookstores in smaller malls, bookstores everywhere.

There are plenty of bookstores, to be sure. But not much variety, because here in Canada they're almost all part of one big chain.

I was thinking about the demise of the independent bookstore when I was at the wonderful Prime Crime in Ottawa signing Burden of Memory last week. A customer wandered in off the street and asked Linda Wilkin, the owner of the store, for a book by someone named Maggie something. Linda got up, walked to the shelf and pulled down a Maggie Wheeler book. “Is this who you are looking for?” she asked. “Oh, yes.” The happy customer bought the book. A short while later another customer came in the store. “Last year,” she said to Linda, “you recommended a book for my niece and she really enjoyed it, so I want to buy another one for her birthday next year.” The customer didn’t remember the name of the book, or the author, but by asking a few careful questions, Linda was able to locate that author’s newest book. Another happy customer.

I have always found the staff in the chain stores to be friendly, and eager to be helpful. They’re happy to lead you to the computer and type in the full name of the author you’re looking for, and then tell you if the book is in stock. But try asking them to type in “Maggie Someone” or “the book I bought last year.”

When there was a temporary lull in customers streaming into Prime Crime to demand that I sign a book for them, I talked to Linda and her assistant Carole all about mysteries. We quickly discovered that Carole and I have similar tastes, and she walked through the store picking books down from the shelf and handing them to me. All readers love to discover new authors, and sometimes rediscover old ones we’ve loved and forgotten. But as helpful as those kids (which most of the staff are) in those big chains, they really can’t talk to you about reading. I suspect that they’d get in trouble for standing and talking to you for ten minutes anyway. It would appear that the store is trying to help you out by making suggestions based on their selection of Top Reads or the CEO’s Picks. But publishers pay big bucks for prime shelf placement and ‘recommendations’. I’d rather ask Carole at Prime Crime if she liked Lou Allin’s Murder, Eh? (which I did enjoy by the way) than have my choice of what the big-name publishers paid to have placed on the “recommended” shelf.

You’d think that the advantage of the big stores would be the variety. But you don’t even get that. Not amongst the calendars and candles and piles of American blockbusters. Three of my Sisters-in-Crime friends came to my launch at Scene of the Crime in Oakville. They staggered out under the weight of the books they bought. Not so well known books they had come from Toronto to Oakville to buy because they weren’t available at the big chain.

As for Scene of the Crime, owned by the extremely knowledgeable Don Longmuir, it’s closing next month. I’ll miss biking down to the store on a Saturday afternoon and talking mysteries with Don. With the closing of Scene of the Crime, as far as I know, there will be ONE independent bookstore left in Oakville, a town of 120,000 people. That’s Bookers on Lakeshore Road. It’s not a mystery specialty store, but it’s quite charming, and located in a great shopping area.

Stores mentioned in this piece can be found at:

Prime Crime, Ottawa: http://www.primecrimebooks.com/
Scene of the Crime: http://www.murdermysteriesandmore.com/ (Don will still be running an order book business)
Bookers, Oakville: http://bookers.sites.toronto.com/

Before I go, I’d like to mention that the special Canadian edition of Spinetingler Magazine (http://www.spinetinglermag.com/) is now available.

Happy reading,

Vicki

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Death and Life

Mickey Spillane is dead. Bummer. He had a good run. Some 53 books. I particularly liked all of them (well, I didn’t actually read all of them, but a bunch). In the obit from the L.A. Times, kindly reprinted by the Montreal Gazette (the crappy rag STILL hasn’t reviewed Overexposed!) there’s an anecdote, probably the most famous, about Spillane’s response to “some New York literary guy” who remarked to Spillane at a party that it was “disgraceful that of the ten best selling books of all time, seven of them were written by you.” Spillane replied, “You’re lucky I’ve only written seven books.” Mickey was 88. Sleep well.

I’m going on vacation. Two weeks at our cottage in Vermont. And we’re taking a vacation from our vacation and spending a few days hiking and kayaking in Acadia National Park in Maine. Back in the days when I had a real job, after my first wife divorced me and before I met Pam, I spent a couple of summer vacations writing (more sensibly, I spent my winter vacations skiing). I’d hole up for a couple of weeks in my ratty apartment at Sherbrooke and Decarie and write. I had no AC, lived just down the street from a KFC (PFK in La Belle Province), and directly across from the Queen Elizabeth Hospital. This latter point is relevant because that year my summer vacation happened to coincide with a Quebec nurses strike. Striking nurses paraded up and down the sidewalk across from my third floor window, chanting and carrying signs that read “Honk if you Support our Cause.” Lots of motorists supported their cause. So did I, until about midway through my first day. Between the heat, the honking, and the stink of deep fried chicken parts, it was pretty miserable. I couldn’t do anything about the heat, or the stink, but I thought maybe I could do something about the striking nurses. More precisely, the noisy gestures of solidarity from passing motorists.

So I went downstairs and across the street and sought out the woman who appeared to be leading the picket line. I explained my situation, telling her I really did support their cause, and that it was obvious a lot of other people did too, but I was trying to work -- no doubt so were a lot of other people, it being a commercial street -- and all the honking was driving me to distraction.

Now, I’d like to be able to tell you that I used my editorial skills to help them revise their signs to read, “Wave if you Support our Cause,” but I can’t. Oh, I could, but it wouldn’t be true. The woman looked at me as if I was completely out of my mind. Maybe I was, what with the heat, the stink, and the honking. My cause lost, I ended up going back to my nice little pod in my nice air-conditioned office at CN and pinning a sign to my partition, “I’m on Vacation. Go Away.”

So, I’m on vacation for the next few weeks. I might even manage to get some writing done, on rainy days (there won’t be many), sitting at the dinning room table, looking out over Lake Champlain. Don’t go away, though. Vicki and Rick and Alex and Charles will be here to entertain and enlighten.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006
Montreal, QC (soon to be Alburg, VT)

Friday, July 14, 2006

First Round’s On Me

Kids love to read. Adults don’t.

Okay, not you. You (and probably most of your friends) put reading, rightfully, at the top of life’s pleasures. But you have had to notice that ‘reading fiction for pleasure’ is not as universally loved as we would hope.

Sad, really, almost criminal.

So who’s to blame?

I blame schools, specifically any schooling after the fifth grade (or, as my blog-mates would say, grade five). As a former teacher with fifteen years in the classroom – half of which was spent teaching English with a heavy emphasis on literature – I know of which I speak.

Consider this. Before they hit that tragic I-Hate-Reading mark, kids can’t get enough of the stuff. They devour books. Their library cards are well worn and they know whole passages by heart, reading and rereading the same books for the sheer ecstasy that reading can bring. When you see this passion you might assume that theirs will be lives filled with books. Yet by the time they are finished with high school, many students proudly announce that they will never read again, a piece of teenage bravado that becomes, for most, a self-fulfilling prophecy. What the hell did we do?

I think we need to change the way we teach literature.

We need to teach it so that literature remains something they can’t get enough of, something they look forward to enjoying, even after an exhausting day at the salt mines, something they talk about when they gather with friends, something that inspires a willingness to experiment, try new things, something they share at special occasions, the thing that defines the good life, the rich reward.

We need to teach literature like we teach them to drink.

Try this: take an average fourteen year old and hand him a glass of thirty-year-old, single malt scotch, saying, “Taste this. You’ll love it. It doesn’t get any better than this.” He’ll sniff the glass, his head jerking back as the fumes rip open his sinuses, and after a moment he’ll take that first tentative sip. “This,” he will say to you, “is awful.” He will continue to make spitting noises, twisting his face at the memory of the gasoline-like poison, and you will be hurt. You just wanted to share with him something you know is wonderful.

There is nothing wrong with the Scotch and there is nothing wrong with the boy. He’s just too young, too inexperienced to enjoy it. And now that you’ve told him that ‘this is as good as it gets’, he may never try it again.

This is how we currently teach literature to teens. We hand them The Classics – Dickens, Shakespeare, Bronte, Steinbeck – and say, ‘this, children, is as good as it gets.’ Just like the scotch, there’s nothing wrong with the books or the kids, but the results will be the same.

We learned to drink not on single-malt scotch but on wine coolers and light beers. As our tastes developed, we moved on – white wine spritzers, full bodied beers, caesars, g&ts, zinfandels, cabernets – our tastes appreciating the subtleties of vintage wines and single malts, but just as happy with a bargain brew on a hot day as long as it’s cold.

We need to do the same with books.

When they’re in their teens, give them the literary equivalent of wine coolers, spritzers and watery (American) beers. They’ll get bored of it and move on, picking the books that suit their tastes, developing and expanding their tastes as they go, becoming adults who can appreciate both the frothy fun of a pulp and the sublime depth of a classic.

But no. We force The Classics on them, the old “ounce of our best cream” argument when all they want is to get drunk on a good read.

At least we do one thing right.

(Oh, and before you post that comment about teaching kids to drink and promoting alcoholism and how your school is different and how your kid loved Dante, this was just, as Swift would say, a Modest Proposal.)

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Now it's Blechta's turn!

I guess I’m the last one in the pool, but I would like to take this opportunity (as everyone else has) to welcome you to Type M for Murder.

Alex brought up interesting points in her inaugural entry. Yes, our Members of Parliament have awful reading habits as far as Canadian crime writing goes (Charles, there may still be hope for you since you're published south of the border, although you might want to consider changing your last name to Brown), but these worthy souls are no worse than most of the Canadian population.

I'm often heard to say that there are literally millions of Canadians who have yet to enjoy my novels, and for all of us in this crew, this is sadly true. That's not to say that all of us (or any of us) deserve to be household names and sell millions of copies.

I think that we'd all like the chance, though!

So MPs don't read us, most “normal” Canadians don't read us (hopefully, you will!). Why is that?

It's because of lack of promotion. You've heard of Dan Brown. That's because hundreds of gallons of ink have been spilled talking about him. A lot of it (initially) was paid for by his publisher, then public opinion took over. His book became a phenomenon. To my mind that's great. I'm thrilled that so many people are reading and talking about a book. It's a good thing.

Where I do have issues is the fact that I'm willing to bet that very little of that promotional money was spent in Canada. It didn't need to be because our border is so porous to American advertising that it's almost non-existent. Sadly, because our book industry is one tenth the size of the one below the 49th parallel, it just cannot muster the weight of our competitors, and with the media blitz pouring through from the south, what money they do spend generally amounts to no more than a cry in the wilderness.

Many of you have heard of Peter Robinson, a terrific writer and a Canadian to boot. How the heck did Peter get to where he is in the pecking order? Well, first of all, he writes damn good books, but also, while he's published in Canada by ‘Canada’s Publisher’, McClelland & Stewart, he's also published in the States. THOSE are the people who promote the hell out of him, and it certainly spills over into Canada – and makes M&S’s job that much easier financially. The more you hear about Peter, the more books he sells.

Okay, I've whined enough about what's wrong. How do we make it right?

Type M for Murder is a good start. All of us get out and do signings, speak to book clubs and library groups, attend fan-based conventions. Heck, we'll even talk on the radio or TV – if they ask – but that doesn't go far enough. I wish I had the money to hire the best publicists and do a huge blitz across the country, but moths flutter out of my wallet every time I open it.

But you can help. Visit our websites. Ask questions on this blog. If we give you answers that you like, tempt you with our writing samples on our websites, then go out and buy a book. We'll even tell you where!

If you enjoy it, tell us (it's always nice when someone likes your work), but if you don't like it, tell us. I for one welcome criticism. It makes me a better writer. It will also make this blog more interesting.

I think all five of us have good things to say, worthwhile things, ENTERTAINING things. I'd like to invite you to sample our wares.

And if you enjoy them, do us a favour and tell your MP!*

*Or if you're not from the True North, then tell your friends, local librarian, family, the guy next to you on the bus, people you meet in...

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Type M for Murder

Type M for Murder

Is there Murder on Parliament Hill?

As a mystery author based in Ottawa, Canada’s capital, I thought I’d take my first blog-op to look at the reading habits of our federal politicians – MPs or members of Parliament as we refer to them here in maple-leaf land. So, what exactly do our MPs chose for their cottage reading? And what does it say about the future of crime writing north of the 49th?

On Saturday June 24th Ottawa Citizen journalist Deirdre McMurdy revealed the secrets of our MPs dockside reading in her column titled Summer Reading Outside the House, and according to McMurdy, crime is alive and well on Parliament Hill (as if we didn’t know that already). But a further analysis leaves me concerned.

Let’s start with Conservative MP Bev Oda, the Minister of All-that-is-dear-to-our-hearts (that would be Culture and Heritage) and ‘she-that-holds-the-purse-strings-to-our-future’. Oda tells McMurdy that her cottage fiction reading includes Madame Perfecta by Antoine Maillet as well as A Complicated Kindness, the award-winning novel by Miriam Toews, both wonderful examples of Canadian literary fiction. Our Minister of Culture, though, doesn’t seem to be into crime, and that’s a shame. As Canadian crime writers, we could certainly give her a few pointers on how to even-up the odds in that pesky House of Commons. Taking too much flak from the Opposition? We have ways. [Note to Ms. Toews: Since Ms. Oda will undoubtedly be a fan after reading your wonderful book, please consider including more dead bodies in your next novel. Exhuming a corpse from beneath the chicken factory would work for me.]

Sticking with Conservatives, what about Jay Hill, the Conservative Party Whip? With a job title like that it already sounds promising, but when asked to name names, the only title he would admit to, for his summer reading, was Unquiet Diplomacy by Paul Celucci, a non-fiction account of Celucci’s time as US ambassador to Canada. He did confess, though, (in hushed tones?) to a penchant for thriller and spy novels. We can only hope that he chooses a few with a little Canadian content. Given our history with various super-powers, it’s not like we’re lacking in subject matter for spy and conspiracy novels.

And what about the Liberals, for example Belinda Stronach? She’s the critic for competitiveness and the new economy, issues that weigh heavily on Canada’s writing and publishing sector. According to McMurdy, Stronach’s Muskoka reading consists of several weighty non-fiction titles by US authors (I hope she doesn’t fall off that dock. Jettison the books if you do, Ms. Stronach.) No Canadian authors are listed and no fiction whatsoever. Canadian writers, however, will be happy to know that Ms. Stronach plans to read Jeffery Sachs, The End of Poverty. Let’s hope it has an impact. “Somehow the lighter stuff falls to the bottom of the pile,” Stronach is quoted as saying. [Memo to self: Add more intellectual weight to next novel. Astrophysics and Cold War history just don’t cut it.]

As Speaker of the House, Peter Milliken could probably use a few good police procedurals, what with having to keep all those delinquent MPs in line. While he doesn’t score well on Canadian content, at least he’s not afraid to admit he actually reads mysteries and thrillers. On his summer TBR (To-Be-Read) list? The Da Vinci Code and The Constant Gardener. Way to go, Mr. Milliken. Next year check out your local mystery bookstore. There’s a great one right there in downtown Kingston, and you’ve got several excellent mystery writers right in your own constituency. Please, support your local authors. I hear that both Le Carré and Brown are already doing quite well.

So how does the NDP (New Democratic Party) come off on Canadian crime? MP Peggy Nash gives McMurdy several non-fiction titles on her vacation TBR list, all Canadian. Way to go, girl. I particularly like the title Our Culture: What’s Left of It. If you like it, Ms. Nash, please recommend it to all those folks on Parliament Hill. But, sadly, while Nash is good on theory, her practice needs work. According to McMurdy, Ms. Nash plans to “indulge in some murder mysteries as well.” Indulge? So that makes us, what? The Cheesios of CanLit? But maybe we in Canada we don’t need to worry. According to the article, Nash only indulges in foreign junk foods: P.D. James and Sara Paretsky. Boy, do I ever feel relieved.

Another NDP MP, northerner Charlie Angus, tells McMurdy that his reading tastes have gone “more down market” over the past years, with Elmore Leonard at the top of the list. Ouch! And just like his NDP colleague he plans to “indulge”, but like Ms. Nash, no Timbits or Beaver Tails for this boy. With a name like Angus, he goes for the crisps and pickled eggs, with Ian Rankin at the top of his list. [Memo to self: Change name to McBrett for the next book.]

Finally, McMurdy interviews Ethics Commissioner Bernard Shapiro. Now, I figure if anyone on the Hill should have an interest in Canadian crime it would be this guy. I mean, really, that’s what he deals with day-in, day-out. The difference is, in crime fiction we usually see a resolution. Justice is served. You’d think that would be relief for someone who deals with the real world of politics and crime.

So how is he on Canadian crime? Like so many of his colleagues, dismal. Although he reads detective novels while traveling, McMurty says he tends to Ruth Rendell and P.D. James. [Memo to self: Take out British citizenship for next book.]

So what’s the final word? McMurdy says that she’s unsettled by the preponderance of murder mysteries amongst MPs summer reading. Personally, I don’t think she needs to worry. With not a single Canadian crime novel on our MPs summer reading list, our federal politicians obviously prefer out-of-country crime. As long as we stay in Canada, we should be okay. Unless, of course, you’re a Canadian fiction writer writing about Canadian crime.