Saturday, December 07, 2019

The Mesdames of Mayhem

Today I am delighted to welcome as our weekend guests the inspirational group of crime short story writers who call themselves The Mesdames of Mayhem. Initially based in the Toronto area, this group of women have made their own luck and their own success, and have a story to share! Take it away, ladies.

When Madeleine Harris-Callway announced to our writers’ group in early 2013 that she was forming a crime fiction writers’ collective, our ears pricked up. We knew the power of writers working with other writers. I had already done some online networking, but a collective of writers who lived in close proximity meant we could promote one another in person as well as online.

We called ourselves the Mesdames of Mayhem, and we started out small: the six women in the writers’ group and eight other women writers in the Greater Toronto Area. None of us were big-name authors, although several were winners of or finalists for major crime fiction awards. We started giving talks at libraries and book clubs, telling audiences why we write crime fiction and what we write.

And we plotted our first crime fiction anthology. The idea was that each Madame would have a story in the collection, as well as her biography, a complete list of her works, and links to her website. The anthology would serve as our calling card, giving samples of each author’s writing and telling readers where to find her other works. Titled Thirteen to mark the year of its release, the collection was published in October 2013 by Carrick Publishing run by Donna Carrick, a member of the collective. 

Thirteen did very well. Three of its 15 stories were nominated for major awards. Donna’s watermelon Weekend” and Sylvia Maultash Warsh’s “The Emerald Skull” were finalists for the Arthur Ellis Best Short Story award. My story, “The Sweetheart Scamster,” was a Derringer Award finalist. The Mesdames subsequently released three more collections, all with the numeral 13—our lucky number—in their titles. 13 O’Clock came out in 2015; its 15 tales of crime all contained elements of time. Madeleine’s “Glow Grass,” was short-listed for the Arthur Ellis Best Novella award.

13 Claws followed in 2017; its 17 stories featured animals—and dragons and snakes. This collection did extremely well. Three stories were nominated for the AE Short Story award: Catherine Astolfo’s “The Outlier,” Jane Petersen Burfield’s “There Be Dragons” and Sylvia’s “The Ranchero’s Daughter.” “The Outlier” went on to win the Arthur Ellis, Crime Writers of Canada’s top award for short fiction. Madeleine earned another nomination for the AE Best Novella award with her noir tale “Snake Oil.” And Catherine and Sylvia’s stories were both mentioned in Otto Penzler’s The Best American Mystery Stories of 2018.
The success of 13 Claws will be tough to beat, but our fingers are crossed for our fourth anthology. In the Key of 13 was released this October, and its theme is music. It has already received a thumbs-up from Jack Batten, the Toronto Star’s crime fiction reviewer. “One of the book’s appeals,” he wrote in his Oct. 16 review, “lies in the often ingenious ways the writers sneak Mozart or the Beach Boys or ‘Turandot’ into the plots.” 
The Mesdames’ anthologies have taken on lives of their own, but there is more to the collective than these four books. We’ve expanded to 21 members, including three men. And we’ve moved outside the GTA, with members in Fort McMurray, Alta., and Ottawa. Best of all are the ways in which individual mesdames and messieurs have lent their unique skills to the group. Donna has given us her publishing expertise. Veteran journalist Ed Piwowarczyk has edited the last three anthologies. Catherine Dunphy has scouted out venues where we can meet readers. Lynne Murphy, Marilyn Kay and Rosalind Place have worked their magic on our website. And Madeleine has kept us focused and committed.  
There really is power in writers working together, and the Mesdames have tried to pay it forward by holding two story contests for unpublished crime fiction writers. The winning stories were included in our last two anthologies: Mary Patterson’s “Night Vision” in 13 Claws, and Blair Keetch’s “A Contrapuntal Duet” in In the Key of 13.
Earlier this year, Toronto filmmaker Cat Mills was intrigued by a notice announcing a panel discussion by the Mesdames at a Toronto Public Library branch. She attended it. “These women were so interesting and vivacious and courageous,” she told “They didn’t seem scared of anything. They were confident and excited and curious.”
Cat and CBC producer Felicity Justrabo interviewed the Mesdames as they worked on In the Key of 13. The result was a short documentary, The Mesdames of Mayhem, currently airing on CBC Gem.

“They are pursuing their dreams,” Cat said. “It’s hard to make it as an author. But they keep at it because it [the Mesdames of Mayhem] has given the women a community and a creative outlet.”

 The Mesdames of The Mesdames of Mayhem are 21 Canadian writers who share one deadly mission: to thrill readers with their passion for crime fiction. Several Mesdames are winners of or finalists for major crime fiction awards. The Mesdames--and Messieurs--are: Catherine Astolfo, Rosemary Aubert, Jane Petersen Burfield, Melodie Campbell, Donna Carrick, Lisa de Nikolits, Catherine Dunphy, Cheryl Freedman, Madeleine Harris-Callway, Marilyn Kay, Blair Keetch, Rosemary McCracken, Cat Mills, Lynne Murphy, Mary Patterson, Ed Piwowarczyk, Rosalind Place, Madona Skaff, Caro Soles, Kevin Thornton and Sylvia Maultash Warsh.


Frankie Y. Bailey said...

Sorry I couldn't view the documentary. The link will only work for Internet users in Canada according to the message. Good luck with the new anthology!

Unknown said...

The documentary can also be viewed on You Tube. Just search for Mesdames of Mayhem.