Friday, September 19, 2014

CRIMINAL TENDENCIES


Another Friday, another question for mystery authors Mary Jane Maffini, Barbara Fradkin, Robin Harlick, and Linda Wiken. This continues the panel discussion held at the Capital Crime Writers mystery day last May. There were so many questions left over, we're continuing to answer them on Mystery Maven Canada.

Today's question for our writing quartet is: What role in your novel would you give to the person who holds the title of "Most Loathesome" in your life?


MARY JANE MAFFINI:

I vacillate on this: but if someone has been loathsome they can count on being cast in one or all three of these roles in the near future. That's the great thing about crime fiction: sure you bump off the current PITA by, say, dropping them into a limestone pit (if the offense merits it). But nothing prevents you from resurrecting that miserable so and so, changing their hair colour or gender and turning them into some snarling Moriarty. Naturally as a villain be trapped, shamed and finished off in the last chapter. The fun never ends! For minor offenders, there are many pathetic roles they can play in a work of fiction. Just saying,

Be nice to us and we'll be nice to you.


ROBIN HARLICK:

Loathsome. Isn’t it a fabulous word? It conjures up all sorts of unsavoury characters as it rolls off your tongue. A loathsome person could only be a murderer. No ifs buts about it. Making a particularly nasty piece of work would be wasted as the victim. You’d no sooner create this wholly despicable character complete with obnoxious neuroses , than you’d be killing him or her off. Much better to make your worst nightmare the villain and slowly unveil every sleazy detail of their character until wham they get their just desserts.

BARBARA FRADKIN:

If a person is truly despicable, they deserve the worst you can give them. Being a victim is too easy; not only are they dead and done with, but there’s a risk some people will feel sorry for them. But murderer or even suspect fits the bill. I prefer to drag out their suffering by making them squirm. Preferably under the steely glare of my police inspector. He can turn on the thumbscrews, accuse them of all kinds of villainy, call them a liar, and expose their true colours as the novel progresses. For a writer, it’s rather like sticking pins in a Voodoo doll, and just as satisfying. The final triumph? Although the despicable individual will rarely recognize themselves in the book, other people will.


LINDA WIKEN


Good thing this wasn't used at the panel -- everyone finally agreeing on something! How boring. But the fact that our most loathesome person would get the title of villain is not boring. Think of all the nasties you can have happen to that person in the time between committing the deed and going to trial. And, the villain would develop in such a way that the readers would be yelling from their chairs, that's the murderer. Cuff the cad. Those same readers would be so, so happy when justice is done and he/she got what was coming.

Friday, September 12, 2014

MYSTERY REVIEW - THE RAINY DAY KILLER

RAINY DAY KILLER
By Michael J. McCann
The Plaid Raccoon Press




This fourth book in the Donaghue and Stainer crime novel series set in Glendale, MD, once again takes the reader on a ride-along as these two seasoned cops set their sights on a serial killer. Nicknamed The Rainy Day Killer by the media, for obvious reasons – he likes to do his killing on rainy days – he eludes the police while at the same time, taunting them.

For Lt. Hank Donaghue, it’s all part of the job, while he juggles working with a new boss needing to be handled with kid gloves, and tossing around the idea of going for a promotion. He’s also teamed with a former colleague, an FBI profiler and the two of them find themselves at odds with the new boss.

For Detective Karen Stainer, she’s juggling her upcoming wedding while determined to put an end to this monster’s death toll. However, it becomes a bit too personal when his next victim turns out to be Stainer and on her special day.

Michael McCann plunges his readers into a double dose of pacing and tension that just doesn’t let up. His characters are memorable, ones you’ll want to follow right through the four book series. Hopefully, there will be more. If police procedure books line your bookshelves, The Rainy Day Killer better be on it!

Friday, September 5, 2014

SCHMOOZING WITH ROSEMARY MCCRACKEN


1. Who has influenced you the most in your writing career?


Gail Bowen, Canadian author of the Joanne Kilbourne mysteries series.
Early in 2009, I entered an early draft of Safe Harbor, my first Pat Tierney mystery, in Britain’s Crime Writers’ Association’s Debut Dagger competition. The contest is open to English-language writers around the world who haven’t had a novel published. The CWA didn’t get back to me, which meant, in a competition that attracts hundreds of entries, that the manuscript hadn’t made its shortlist.
A few months later, Gail Bowen was in Toronto, doing a stint as writer-in-residence at the Toronto Reference Library. I submitted the first 20 pages of Safe Harbor for a manuscript evaluation. I met with Gail, when she’d read my pages, and that meeting had a big impact on the novel—and my writing career.
“This book needs to written in the first person,” she said. “We need to know what Pat Tierney is thinking and feeling every step of the way.”
I felt like a light had been switched on in my head. Safe Harbor is a murder mystery, but it’s also the story of Pat’s personal journey. She learns about her late husband Michael’s infidelity and starts to get on with her life. I realized I needed to get deeper into Pat’s head. And the best way to do that was to let her tell the story.
I rewrote the book in the first person. And right from the start, I knew I’d made the right decision. I felt energy emanating from the story that hadn’t been there before. I showed several chapters to members of my writers’ group, and they agreed.
The following year, I entered the rewrite in the 2010 Debut Dagger competition. Same title and same storyline as my previous submission, but this time told in the first person. That year Safe Harbor emerged as one of 11 novels—out of about 1,100 submissions—that were shortlisted for the award. I was astonished and thrilled. Being on that shortlist has been one of the highlights of my writing life.
Gail has been extremely supportive of my writing. She wrote a fabulous endorsement for Safe Harbor, and another one for its sequel, Black Water. When she was reading the Black Water manuscript, I still hadn’t come up with a title for the novel and I asked her to see if a title came to mind in the course of her reading. Her husband, Ted Bowen, came up with Black Water, which is a perfect title for the novel.

2. What are you working on now?


I’m writing the third Pat Tierney mystery, which opens about three months after the end of Black Water. It is the beginning of summer in Ontario cottage country. Pat has another family problem on her hands when she learns that a frail, elderly woman is missing in the community. The book’s working title is Red Kayak, in keeping with my other “watery” titles, Safe Harbor and Black Water. But it may change by the time the manuscript is completed.
I’m also working on a Pat Tierney short story for the Mesdames of Mayhem’s second crime fiction anthology, a sequel to the Mesdames’ Thirteen. “The Sweetheart Scamster,” my Pat Tierney story in Thirteen, was a finalist for a 2014 Derringer Award.

3. In what ways is your main protagonist like you? If at all?

Pat Tierney is a financial advisor, while I’m a journalist. She’s a mother who spends a lot of time worrying about her family; I don’t have children. She’s also a much nicer person than I am: kind, compassionate, always tries to do the right thing although she doesn’t always succeed. No, I have to say this character is not based on personal experience. But maybe, just maybe, she’s the person I’d like to be.

4. Are you character-driven or plot-driven?

I’m a character-driven writer and I find it impossible to come up with a detailed outline for the entire book—with plot turns and twists, and themes all mapped out—before I start writing. I’ll start with an external conflict that my characters can react to, but how they do react has to ring true their personalities and how they see the world around them. I also know that the conflict will be resolved by the end of the book, but I’m usually unclear exactly how it will be resolved.
This makes the going slow. I have to get to know all the characters in the story and understand how they view the world around them. After the first draft is written, I need to do a lot of cutting and rewriting to ensure that the story moves along and makes readers want to turn the pages.
But there’s an element of discovery in this process that I enjoy. Sometimes a subplot emerges that I hadn’t envisioned, and because it came about organically, it dovetails nicely with the rest of the story.


5. What do you hope readers will most take away from your writing?

I hope they will have an enjoyable read. In my opinion, the primary role of a storyteller is to entertain.

6. Where do you see yourself ten years from now?

I see myself writing in 10 years, because writing is what I do. I’ve earned my living writing and editing articles as a journalist for the past 35 years, and in recent years, I have moved into fiction writing. I find that I prefer to create my own stories than to report facts, so I will be focusing more on fiction in the coming years. But exactly what kind of fiction, I don’t know. I need to write stories that resonate with me, and I’ve found that stories have a way of finding me. The trick is to keep my mind open to them.

7. What is one thing your readers would be most surprised to know about you?

I’m pretty open about who I am, what I do and what opinions I hold, so I think that readers who follow my blog and my posts on Facebook have a good idea of kind of person I am. The one thing that might surprise them—and I’ve discussed this in my answer to Question 3 above—is that I am not Pat Tierney.

8. What do you like to read for pleasure?


I can’t read enough crime fiction, especially Canadian crime fiction. We have a wealth of great mystery and suspense writers here in Canada, and I enjoy reading their stories, especially those that are set in parts of the country where I have lived or visited.

9. Give us a summary of your latest book in a Tweet

Here it is, using my working title, Red Kayak:
A woman’s murder shatters Pat Tierney’s plans for a quiet summer in cottage country. Red Kayak takes Pat into dangerous waters.

Rosemary McCracken is a Toronto-based fiction writer and journalist. Safe Harbor, the first novel in her Pat Tierney mystery series, was shortlisted for Britain's Debut Dagger Award in 2010. It was published by Imajin Books in 2012, followed by Black Water in 2013. “The Sweetheart Scamster,” a Pat Tierney short story in the crime fiction anthology, Thirteen, was a finalist for a 2014 Derringer Award.
Jack Batten, The Toronto Star’s crime fiction reviewer, calls Pat “a hugely attractive sleuth figure.”
Visit Rosemary’s website http://www.rosemarymccracken.com/ and her blog http://rosemarymccracken.wordpress.com/

Friday, August 29, 2014

MYSTERY REVIEW -- BENEATH THE SURFACE

BENEATH THE SURFACE
by Mike Martin
Baico Publishing Inc.



Reviewed by Mary Jane Maffini


In the company of Sgt. Winston Wildflower of the R.C.M.P., Beneath the Surface makes for a nicely plotted mystery and an excellent trip to Newfoundland.

Wildflower is a long way from his home in Northern Alberta and from his Cree roots and yet he is fitting in very well. He has to sort out his own values with some practices in the force and he will. Although the Newfoundland expressions, pace and the local food add an extra element of pleasure to the reading, it is Wildflower who makes it such an engaging read. He is kind, honest and usually very hungry. He’s also a gentle man who can stand his ground and respect his own principles, even if it costs him. I loved this aspect.

The plot works well and, as a young girl has been murdered, the stakes are high and the twists are twisty.

I’m looking forward to more in this series.

Friday, August 22, 2014

CRIMINAL TENDENCIES

If you are continuing this journey with us, you'll know what today's blog is all about. If not, it started after the four of us -- Mary Jane Maffini, R.J. Harlick (Robin to us), Barbara Fradkin, and me (also known as Erika Chase)-- were on a Capital Crime Writers panel together. There were still bunches of questions for us to answer, so I decided we continue that discussion on Mystery Maven Canada.

Today's question is: "Do your characters reveal your values? How?"



MARY JANE MAFFINI:

I think they do in ways I might not even recognize. For the book collector mysteries (as I am half of Victoria Abbott) I'm re-reading books from the Golden Age of Detection, I notice in Sayers, Christie and Marsh,the characters reflect the class politics and racism of the times (20's, 30's, 40's) unrecognized by the authors, but somewhat surprising to us today. Who knows what biases and prejudices are buried in my own work that will be clear to a later generation?

But never mind all that, I do think that our writing reveals our feelings about relationships, family and friends and pets (ahem). Most mystery writers value justice and the quest for it, but how many of us value our crooked uncles? Just saying.

Seriously though, cozy fiction which I enjoy writing and reading presents and genre in which fairly ordinary people consistently step up to the plate in an emergency and that women (often but not always middle-aged) can be brave, tenacious, cunning and funny. But we knew that.



R.J. (ROBIN) HARLICK:


I imagine most authors project some of their values through their characters. It is hard not to, particularly with a character with whom you spend a lot of time, such as a series character. My series character, Meg Harris’s love of nature and the great outdoors is no different than my own. I gave her the kind of cottage I have always wanted, a rambling Victorian timber cottage perched high on a granite point overlooking the sparkling waters of a northern lake.

She spends a lot of time in her screened-in porch contemplating the view and life’s ups and downs. And while I too like to sit in my screened-in porch contemplating the nature around me, my mind is usually caught up in creating Meg’s world. I mustn’t forget her love of dogs, which mirrors my own and funny thing, we both have standard poodles sharing our lives.

Sometimes our characters become our voices. Meg’s sense of fairness and the need to right injustice could be my own, except she is prepared to do something about it. I don’t always have the luxury. Perhaps that is my reason for creating Meg.



LINDA WIKEN/ERIKA CHASE:


It's hard to write a novel without some bits and pieces of the author being integrated. Everyone will probably have an opinion as to whether that's good or bad. So, it's hard not to have them reflect our values, to some degree.

Writing as Erika Chase, I have the Ashton Corners Book Club Mysteries with Lizzie Turner as my main protagonist. We share the same values about family and friends and even beyond that, the various communities we are a part of. They are very important to her and they influence how she deals with issues. She is very protective of them. That's the excuse, anyway, for her sticking her nose in to all investigations revolving murder -- when they impact on those she cares about.

She also wants to see justice prevail and the bad guys caught. She is a reading specialist and Literacy teacher, so helping to ensure that students have the skills to take advantage of their full potential is also important to her.

Of course, there's a bit of me in Lizzie. But I'm not even sure where the line is placed any more, after living with her through five books (one leaves for the publisher this weekend!). Of course, maybe it's not a line.


BARBARA FRADKIN:


As a child of the sixties, I was raised with a passion for social justice and social equity, and am naturally on the side of the underdog. What better outlet for this passion than crime fiction? In my books, I explore the social and personal struggles that drive people to desperate ends. My sleuth, Inspector Green, is the only child of Holocaust survivors, which gives him a passion to pursue justice on behalf of the victimized and to be a voice for the marginalized and powerless. But most of my books inhabit that gray world where no one, neither victim nor villain, is all good and evil, and where justice is as imperfect as those, like Green, who strive for it.

Friday, August 15, 2014

MYSTERY REVIEW -- DYING FOR MURDER

DYING FOR MURDER
By Suzanne Kingsmill
Dundurn

In this third Cordi O’Callaghan outing by Suzanne Kingsmill, we’re travelling again, this time to the much warmer climes of the Outer Banks of South Carolina. If you’re already hooked on this series, you’ll remember that in the second book, Innocent Murder, Cordi was on a research ship in the Arctic. The fascinating settings, as well as all the ins and outs of a career as a zoologist, lead to unusual and interesting plots.

In Dying for Murder, Cord’s car has just been stolen but she’s more worried about the research material that was in it than retrieving the car itself. She’s lost a day’s worth of recordings of the Indigo Bunting she’d just made at Point Pelee. Her good friend and pathologist, Duncan Macpherson is sympathetic and suggests she go to the research station on Spaniel Island in the aforementioned South Carolina, to try again. He has a cottage on the island and is willing to help her get accommodations at the station. So, she’s off with her intrepid assistant, Martha Bathgate.

Her welcome by the head of the station, Stacey is curt and she’s met with varying degrees of interest by the others working there. However, when Stacey is found murdered and Cordi is persuaded to once again apply her sleuthing skills to finding the killer, the others around her become unfriendly and even threatening.

Did I mention, there’s a hurricane warning and an evacuation order of the island in effect? However, finding Stacey’s body has made the group miss the last boat leaving the island and also made it impossible to contact police. When they are informed of the body, they’re unable to get to the island for a few days. The ingredients for the ideal traditional mystery are all present to make this a battle with the killer that Cordi must win. Especially when several attempts are made on her own life.

Suzanne Kingsmill knows her character well and also the world she inhabits. It’s a fascinating view for the outsider and those who share Cordi O’Callaghan’s interests will also be intrigued. The cast of suspects are each menacing in their own way and very believable in their roles. There are some surprises that keep that plot moving along. I can’t wait to see where Cordi ends up next!

Friday, August 8, 2014

SCHMOOZING WITH JANET KELLOUGH



Who has influenced you most in your writing career?

When I was about ten, I started reading a series of great historical potboilers by Thomas Costain. He jumped all over the place in terms of era – Biblical, medieval England, the time of Marco Polo – but they were rattling good reads. They haven’t really held up for me as an adult reader, but through them I got hooked not only on historical fiction, but history itself. As a writer, I figured it would be a fine thing if I could that for someone else.

What are you working on now?

I’ve just started the fifth book in The Thaddeus Lewis Mystery series. It doesn’t have a title yet because I’m not far enough in, and I’ll have to put it aside in a few weeks to work on the edits for the fourth book The Burying Ground, which will be released in July 2015.

In what ways is your main protagonist like you?

As a Methodist saddlebag preacher, Thaddeus Lewis constantly analyses and evaluates his actions and attitudes within the framework of his religious beliefs. Although my core moral base is not religious in nature, I too question everything in the light of my personal code of ethics. It sometimes makes me very unpopular. Especially at dinner parties and on Facebook.

Are you character driven or plot driven?


The Thaddeus Lewis Mysteries are very much character-driven, but the historical background is the real engine for the series. Rather than leave Thaddeus rooted in one particular time and place, he and his family are moving through the years between Canada’s 1837 rebellions and Confederation. Both the plot and their reactions to events bend to the historical record.

Are you a panster or a plotter?


Oh, I am such a panster. Usually I find fascinating, but unrelated bits of information and then I have to turn them inside out and upside down until I figure out how they fit together. Sometimes that doesn’t happen until the very last moments of the first draft. Sometimes I panic.

What do you hope readers will most take away from your writing?


The sense that Canadian history is not boring. It’s just different. Unlike other countries it’s not all about wars and armed conflict, but a very unique set of circumstances that led very directly to the kind of country we are today. If you understand the history, it’s easier to evaluate the headlines you see in the newspaper.

Where you do see yourself as a writer in 10 years?


My initial hope was to complete the Thaddeus Lewis series at Confederation, but I can see that it may well carry on from there. I have also been dabbling in speculative fiction and we’ll have to see what happens with it. But I’ll still be writing. I’m not happy if I’m not writing. Ask my family.

What is one thing your readers would be most surprised to know about you?


A lot of my readers also know me as a performer, and even at readings and book-signings I tend to come across as very out-going. They might be surprised to know that I’m really a high-functioning introvert. I need a huge amount of alone time and I’ve never been afraid of long stretches of silence.

What do you like to read for pleasure?

I read a lot of non-fiction, about everything from quantum mechanics to Antarctic exploration. I just like to know stuff. I want to live forever, so I can find out everything about everything. And then I’ll tell you about it.

Give us a summary of your latest book in a Tweet.

47 Sorrows - Kingston 1847: Lewis & kid Luke find murdered bodies amongst dying Irish emigrants. WTF?



Janet Kellough is an author and performance storyteller who lives in the unfashionable part of Prince Edward County, Ontario, near the cusp of The Marysburgh Vortex. She has written and performed in many stage productions featuring a fusion of music and spoken word and published two contemporary novels before launching into her popular Thaddeus Lewis mystery series with Dundurn Press.