Tuesday, December 14, 2010
Canada is known for its sea-to-sea-to-sea pristine, jaw-dropping scenery, but one place has been a national joke since World War One: the moonscape around Sudbury, the Nickel Capital. At the opposite end of the country, both geographically and environmentally, is Paradise, aka Vancouver Island. They're more alike than you'd think.
I knew nothing about Sudbury in 1977 when I jumped at a job offer at the college. Surveying the core mining operations in Coniston and Copper Cliff, I saw the blackrock as vast as Manhattan which had earned it world-class shame for hosting the training astronauts on its barren hills. Lumbering, act one, had started in the 1880s. Discovery of nickel meant that the next decades brought open-pit roasting and then fifty years of acid rain. With no trees or ground cover, soil melted off the bare land, and the rocks darkened. Clear blue lakes became too acid to sustain life. Then in 1972, the Superstack (1247 feet high) was built to scrub the air pollution. Taking their cue, the entire community, business, students, government and private citizens began a monumental re-greening extending into the twenty-first century. Thanks to a cocktail of "rye (grass) on the rocks" and twenty million hardy pine seedlings, when I left in 2006, that moonscape was green again. For its unprecedented comeback, the city received an award from the Earthsummit in Rio.
As a mystery author emissary, I did my part in the Belle Palmer series to convey the chronicle, warts and all. Every book traced the long and worthy journey, even to the last, Memories are Murder, which involved the relocation of elk after an absence of eighty years. I knew I had succeeded when readers from across Canada told me that they wanted to visit.
I moved to the other end of the country to Vancouver Island. "Welcome to Paradise," everyone said. Expecting to marvel at the temperate-rainforest wilderness, I found a country under siege.
Those who keep to the streets of Victoria and ferry across the picturesque straits don't realize the dirty secret that is clear-cutting. Not that the island hasn't been logged several times in most areas over the last hundred and fifty years. Now the timber companies now have found ways to transmute that scarred land to pure gold. In a recent backroom deal, they convinced the government to let them turn their cutting leases into real estate at a million an acre.
By the time islanders woke up, considerable damage was done. A few places were saved, such as the Potholes area in Sooke. However, the surfing territory around Jordan River and back into the hills may be dotted with hundreds of vacation cabins. The government squirms in the ironic position of having to buy back land from the timber companies who were to have served as stewards, not self-servers. Clayaquot Sound, once a clarion call for activism, is one again threatened with mining as well as logging. Where I live west of Victoria, hundreds of logging trucks speed by weekly, loaded with timber barely twenty years old as well as spindly pulpwood. Raw logs sail to China, hardly a value-added proposition.
Douglas firs and the holy mother cedar are among the largest trees on the planet. Blessed by rainfall, they have found the optimal growing conditions. Why can't a tree over five feet in diameter, around when Columbus sailed, be left in threatened Avatar Grove for future generations who don't want to visit a tree museum? Imported tourists could be a far more lucrative and moral way to conserve our precious resources. Trees have become our ivory and chainsaws our poachers.
Sadly, most people never see this destruction unless they travel inland or fly over. The entire island is a poisonous patchwork quilt. My Holly Martin mysteries, And on the Surface Die and She Felt No Pain, rely heavily on setting and reveal the devastation a few metres beyond the narrowing margins. Is squandering a heritage a lesser crime than murder?
As century farms become condos, one giant housing development threatens, from Tofino to Port Hardy to Campbell River. Where the magical island once was self-sufficient, now it's on life support. Stop the ferries for one week, and we all would subsist on blackberries, eggs, and apples. The island used to provide 95% of its food. Now ships arrive in flotillas from South America with tasteless grapes and unripe avocados, burning diesel to pollute the air.
The island has lost its vision, or perhaps a hundred years ago it didn't need one. Groups such as The Land Conservancy and Dogwood Initiative are trying to stem the tide and marshal public opinion. Will this evil path be reversed in time or will Vancouver Island become another moonscape, paradise lost because of those who loved it to death?
Saturday, December 4, 2010
Mystery Writers Ink is delighted to host an exercise in "Plotting the Perfect Murder – Who Slew Santa?"
In this festive season, please join us to share some snacks while we have some fun, get to know each other better and explore the craft of plotting.
In "Plotting the Perfect Murder – Who Slew Santa," we will discuss plotting for a mystery story. We will look at the crime, character development, motivation and subplots. How can we weave them all together to create a page turning mystery? This is a group discussion, so bring your questions and please come prepared to do some plotting.
Thursday, December 9
From 7 - 9 p.m.
Owl's Nest Books in Britannia Plaza
Elbow Drive and 49th Avenue SW, Calgary
(Note: the doors open at 6:45p.m.)
There will be great Ink-themed prizes and please feel free to bring some seasonal treats for our snack table.
About Mystery Writers Ink
MWI supports aspiring and emerging mystery writers in Calgary. Annual membership is $25.00.
Drop-in fee of $5.00 for non-members.
For more information, please contact:
Sunday, November 28, 2010
Creating and Maintaining a Supporting Cast
Ten years ago I blundered into this mystery business without a whit of foresight or experience. I had published a few short stories, but when Inspector Green first hit the bookstores in 2000, I had no idea I was creating a series.
As a reader, I was never a slave to series. I rarely read them in order, and generally sampled only a few from each writer. I love British detective novels, but there are too many other wonderful books out there for me to read all the Rebus or Dalgleish books, no matter now much I loved them.
So I didn't know a thing about how to set up a series. How to create a memorable and enduring main character, and even more important, how to surround him with a cast of characters that grew and changed as they followed him from book to book. I wrote Inspector Green as a character I would like to meet - creative, iconoclastic, intelligent, passionate and single-minded when he was on the hunt. As a result, he was a tactless superior, an unreliable husband, and a willfully deaf subordinate, but definitely someone you'd want solving your murder.
I gave him a sergeant who made up for all his flaws. Sergeant Brian Sullivan was patient, pragmatic, and fatherly with rookie cops and grieving families alike. I gave him a wife who put up with his short-comings (barely, at times) because she knew, deep down he was a good man. I rounded out the supporting cast with a boss, a few other subordinates, and a baby to make him human.
I recently launched the eighth in the series, BEAUTIFUL LIE THE DEAD. Over eight books, all these characters have grown. So have I! Mike Green is a far more complex and layered character than my initial creation. Each case has touched him and changed him, moving him forward on his quest for balance and maturity. One of the joys of writing a series is this chance to live with a character, to let him grow and to deepen and enrich his life. I think I have been lucky with Mike Green, for readers seem to enjoy this journey as well. They eagerly await the next book, wondering what he will confront this time, whether his wife will throw him out and whether he and his teenage daughter will mend their fractured bond. Readers react passionately to his transgressions, and their reactions help me to understand how he comes across. This is important to a series author. I don't mind if the reader wants to slap him upside the head for forgetting his wife. But I do mind if they want to throw the book against the wall or abandon the series, for that means the Inspector Green in my heart is not coming to life on the page.
Even more surprising to me, however, has been the power that supporting characters play in the success of a series. Again, I blundered into this discovery purely by serendipity, as readers began to voice their opinions. Different readers have their favourites, but there is always some continuing character that captures the hearts and loyalties of readers. Minor continuing characters provide novelty, opportunities for fresh conflict, and an element of unpredictability which keeps tensions high. Everyone knows that Green will live to solve another crime. But will Brian Sullivan? Will Sue Peters recover? Has Superintendent Jules truly crossed the line?
If the author listens too closely, these loyalties can have a paralyzing effect. Once I idly mused that I was thinking of shaking up Green's life with a major personal crisis. One reader immediately wagged a warning finger. "Don't you dare kill off his father!" Given that his father is edging towards ninety and has been in fragile health throughout the series, I have to face that sometime. But now I worry. Killing off Sid Green will be traumatic enough for me and Green. But for my readers too? Will they give up on the series without their favourite character to revisit?
Recently, several readers have told me they were upset about Brian Sullivan's crisis. Others worried that I was going to write Green's teenage daughter out of the series. I never know what I'm going to do ahead of time. In fact, new characters usually come into the series on the spur of the moment, to serve a purpose to that plot, and they stay around because I enjoy them. Little did I know that readers would care about them too. Or that they'd be an integral part of the appeal and success of the series. Authors, agents and publishers devote a lot of effort to creating an appealing and enduring series lead, but little to the supporting cast who make up the back story and emotional depth of the series.
To keep a series fresh, the drama high and the author entertained, new characters have to burst on the scene and old ones have to fade away. Most of us weigh how each new character will complement the existing characters, creating new contrasts, tensions and intrigue. Maybe we need to give equal thought to how to get rid of them, lest our books become populated with dozens of secondary characters with nothing to do. Getting rid of boring, annoying or inconsequential characters is easy, but those much-loved ones are a different story. We authors write them out or kill them off at our peril.
Ultimately it is our series and our story to tell, but it helps to consider the supporting characters that stir such a passionate following. To ponder what about them is so compelling and what they contribute to the power of the series. The gaping hole will have to be filled somehow, not by a similar character, but perhaps by a character who provides the same emotional context or fills the same need.
I'd love to hear people's experience with this. Any authors who've wrestled with dispatching popular characters? Readers who've been horrified to find their favourite dead at the end of a book?
Barbara Fradkin is a psychologist with a fascination for how we turn bad. Her gritty, psychological detective series featuring Ottawa Police Inspector Michael Green has won two Arthur Ellis Best Novel Awards for Fifth Son and Honour Among Men. The eighth in the series, Beautiful Lie the Dead,, has just been released by Napoleon & Company.
Monday, November 22, 2010
You know she’s from Saskatchewan – three days of snowstorms, -20°C weather and icy roads were no match for Canada’s mystery darling Gail Bowen. Gail’s warm and exuberant personality captivated Mystery Writer’s Ink November meeting as she shared her insights on writing and on being a writer.
• The biggest problem with writing is that opportunities to use the basic elements of fiction are missed. Consider: theme, character, secondary characters, point of view, setting, symbolism, structure. There is interplay between all these elements which gives your characters depth and your work meaning.
• Mystery writing falls flat when plot is the primary tool used to advance the novel and the other elements of fiction are neglected.
So how do you create a robust and captivating story? Remember to:
o Give depth to your protagonist. Ask: What does she want more than anything in the world? What does she fear more than anything in the world?
o Create a secondary line of characters who’ll add depth to your protagonist, theme and plot.
Look at a book you admire – if it goes off rail, then the author has failed to use these basic elements. Understand why it didn’t work.
Good mysteries are more than just a who-dun-it and catch the criminal. Every good mystery also explores a theme. What is the larger issue behind the book? Who is your audience? What are you trying to say? For example, in Gail’s latest book of the Joanne Kilbourn series, The Nesting Dolls, the larger question or theme is one of nature versus nurture. A theme adds depth not only to primary and secondary characters, but also embellishes the other elements of fiction such as symbolism and setting. Theme can be carried along by the secondary characters which helps avoid a strictly plot driven novel.
Ask yourself what you hope to accomplish with this piece of writing. Is the genre you’re working in taking you where you want to be? If not, go somewhere else. For example, is mystery the best vehicle to explore your theme or observations on humanity? Is it romance, fantasy or a literary novel?
With a series, there are a lot of pages to develop a character – it is akin to living a human life. The character grows, changes and is affected by the world around them (especially by those secondary characters).
On being a writer:
• No manuscript is ever finished – have faith in what you’re doing and send it off.
• Consider your manuscript a university essay – after doing the best you can, hand it in and wait for the grade.
• High school is the hardest thing we’ve all done and we survived it. We’ve all been rejected in high school so what’s a rejection by an editor?
• For anyone to write anything is a miracle so never be critical of effort. It takes a lot of courage to write, to send it off and be rejected. But, it’s worse to never have taken the chance.
• Gail doesn’t read in her genre and there are many authors who don’t. Why? She doesn’t want to pick up echoes of someone else’s work in her own. As she so eloquently put it, “You always run your own race and that’s hard to do if you’re always watching the other guy.”
Find your passion and the genre to express it. Think about your themes and characters while never forgetting about the basic elements of fiction. But always remember, what writers do is special and takes a lot of courage. So, keep your courage up and run your own race. Happy writing!
For more information about Gail and her work, visit Gail's website
Summarized by Ann Cooney for Mystery Writers Ink
Sunday, November 14, 2010
Please note the change of time for Mystery Writers Ink Meeting on
Thursday, November 18. We will be meeting at 5:30 instead of our usual time of 7:30.
We are pleased to welcome Gail Bowen, author of the Joanne Kilbourn Mysteries, for a presentation on The Craft of Character Driven Mystery. Gail will be available before the meeting to sign copies of her books.
About Gail Bowen
Gail Bowen is the current writer in residence at the Calgary Public Library. Her latest novel, The Nesting Dolls, was released August 17, 2010. The first six books in the Joanne Kilbourn series were made into television movies. A Colder Kind of Death, released in 1994, was the winner of the Crime Writers of Canada Arthur Ellis Award. In 2008, Reader's Digest named Gail as Canada's Best Mystery Novelist.
Monday, November 8, 2010
instead of the usual 7-9 pm.
Sunday, November 7, 2010
Every good writing group has members who help each other by giving advice on craft and genre. Most importantly, we need to be with like-minded people - those who understand the writing life with its successes or the struggles and crazy times. These are the people who celebrate with us when the first draft is complete. They share our angst as we rewrite and perfect the manuscript. They commiserate with us through the rejections. Then, they party with us when the manuscript becomes a published book.
Monday, November 1, 2010
Getting the Most out of your Critique Group
By Vicki Delany
Whenever I'm asked by aspiring or beginning writers for some advice on getting published, I always say the most important thing is to be sure that you have someone else read and critique your work before you consider it finished. Not only do you want to make sure your manuscript is as free of spelling and grammar and punctuation errors as possible (and this is very important) you need another set of eyes to spot potential problems.
It's simply not possible to edit your own work. By the time you've revised it for the tenth time, you're no longer seeing what's on the page, but what you THINK is on the page. The author is a poor judge of use of motivation - YOU the author know why your character is acting in such a way, but have you explained it to the reader? Same for backstory. YOU know the backstory, but have you sufficiently explained what led up to these events, or alternately have you so flooded the book with unnecessary detail it's slowing down the plot?
One of the best and most reliable ways to get good, productive, useful criticism on your work is to join a critique group.
Be careful when setting up or joining a critique group. You don't want anyone who's nasty or mean or jealous of better writers. All criticism should be offered with the intent of making the work BETTER not running it and the author down.
I'd advise against joining an online critique group. If you don't know them personally, how can you trust their advice? Bad critiquing is potentially very dangerous.
Here are some general guidelines for what works as I see it:
The group members should be on the same level more or less. If you're a serious writer with the intent of seriously producing a book (or short stories) and sending it out for publication, then you want to be joined with others of like mind.
Each member of your group should have some understanding of the basic concepts of creative writing (unless you are all rank amateurs starting out together, and then you might need an instructor). Your time's important: you don't want to have to explain how to use tense properly or what it means to show not tell.
Do not join a group with writers whose work you don't respect. If you think that so-and-so can't write a word worth a darn do you want her giving you advice on your writing?
Don't defend your work to the group. It's all right to explain "that will come later", but if you have to defend the story, it isn't standing up on its own. You won't be able to discuss what you really meant with your readers. I know of groups in which it's a rule that the person being critiqued isn't allowed to speak.
Don't waste everyone's time on work that you haven't done to the best of your ability. If you're experimenting, trying to find out if something works, that's fine. Perhaps explain right up that you're not sure about this and looking for input.
Your job is not to rewrite anyone else's work. First of all it's patronizing, but do you really want parts of your book to have been written by someone else? Make suggestions, yes. Suggest a change of words, or rephrasing. But rewriting? No.
A critique group is about give and take. You need to be committed to your group to the best of your time and ability. Are you yourself able to give constructive criticism? Do you know why something works in a book or doesn't? Can you explain your thoughts?
Every member of your group must be prepared to critique every other member's work. If you end up with someone who sends chapters to every meeting, but doesn't seem to have the time to read anyone else's, ask her or him to leave. (Having said that, of course, cut them a bit of slack once in a while.)
If you write faster than your group can read, select what you think needs work. Don't let your ego take over and find yourself giving what you think is the best of your work to your group. They are there to criticise, not to praise.
When you're looking for a group, or thinking of forming one, think about what suits your style best. There are many, many different types of groups, the only rule is: join one!
With a nod and thanks to the members of my critique group: Dorothy McIntosh, Jane Burfield, Madeleine Harris-Callway, Donna Carrick, Cheryl Freedman.
Vicki's newest book, NEGATIVE IMAGE, was published by Poisoned Pen Press in November 2010. If you'd like to read the first two chapters, please go to: www.vickidelany.com. Most of Vicki's books are available in Kindle and other electronic formats as well as hardcover and trade paperback, large print and audio. Vicki blogs about the writing life at One Woman Crime Wave
Thursday, October 28, 2010
BLOODY WORDS PROGRESS REPORT #1
Registration for Bloody Words 2011 has already reached almost half of our available space, so REGISTER NOW at www.bloodywords2011.com.
Published authors must register no later than March 1 to be considered for a spot on the program. As soon as you have registered, please send a bio between 50-100 words and a black and white head shot to firstname.lastname@example.org (Pam, at that email, will have the information on size of digital photo to send)
NEW HOTEL RATE!
Hotel Grand Pacific has lowered its Bloody Words conference rate to $179 per night, single or double, plus tax. The rate is good for 3 days before and 3 days after the conference. Only a small block of rooms is reserved. Book early to guarantee your stay at this award-winning hotel on Victoria's Inner Harbour. Don't forget to mention Bloody Words when you make your reservation.
COME EARLY FOR THE ARTHUR ELLIS AWARDS BANQUET!
Join the excitement as the winners of the 2011 Arthur Ellis Awards are announced on Thursday, June 2. The banquet will be held at the Hotel Grand Pacific-another great reason to book early.
THIS IS NOT THE BLOODY WORDS BANQUET; THAT ONE IS SATURDAY NIGHT And IS INCLUDED WITH YOUR REGISTRATION FEE.
For information about the Arthur Ellis Awards Banquet, consult the Crime Writers of Canada website: www.crimewriterscanada.com.
For banquet tickets, email email@example.com
FRIDAY LATE NIGHT SPECIAL EVENT!
Another good reason to come early-get your beauty rest on Thursday night so you can stay up for our spine-tingling Friday Late Night Special Event:
MICHAEL SLADE'S SHOCK THEATRE AND GHOST WALK will present a blood-chilling 1940s radio play to put you in the mood for a Ghost Walk to - and reading at - some of Victoria's notorious haunted sites. In the past, SLADE'S SHOCK THEATRE has featured such players as Anne Perry, Diana Gabaldon, Jack Whyte, and Robert McCammon. At Bloody Words, there will be new famous players. Slade's last Ghost Walk was to Poe's Grave in Baltimore at midnight on Friday the 13th for a reading of "THE TELL-TALE HEART" and "THE MONKEY'S PAW." Poe's Graveyard was unlocked twice in the past for midnight events by Vincent Price and Robert (PSYCHO) Bloch. With luck, Bloody Words' Ghouls will conjure its Ghost of Honour - Amor de Cosmos - from beyond the grave.
Tuesday, October 19, 2010
Ink was fortunate to have award-winning author Donna Fletcher Crow as our guest speaker on October 14, 2010. Donna's writing career spans 3 decades and covers an impressive range of literary styles from 'Choose Your Adventure' tales in the 1980's through historical mystery and inspirational romance to epic novels of the British Isles. Now she concentrates on mysteries, promoting 'A Very Private Grave'(first of the Monastery Murders), now out in the USA, UK, and Canada, while simultaneously testing the waters of e-books with a different series. Busy lady!
With all those historical novels in her personal backlist, Donna has become an expert at research, specifically pertaining to historical fiction but also to contemporary novels. She was generous with her acquired wisdom, which can be summarized very briefly as: start wide and zoom in, go there in person, and leave room for serendipity.
Simple, you say? The devil, as they say, is in the details.
Start wide: in your background reading, read as broadly and deeply as possible. Look for maps and other illustrations - of clothing, transportation, and buildings - made in the era that interests you. (If you aren't interested in this era, why try to write about it at all?) Find out about the political situation, including any wars or religious movements. Then refine your story idea to take advantage of actual dramatic elements such as elections, riots, unusual weather (such as the winter the Thames River froze), maybe even an assassination/attempt. All these can feed your central conflict and add depth and veracity to your characters. On some books, this phase took years of Donna's part-time focus.
Zoom in: Donna likes to write the opening chapter or two to get her essential characters and conflicts in place before plotting in detail. Then she writes a summary of the rest of the book, aiming for four pages on the theory that, if she can't explain her story in that space, she doesn't know it well enough yet. Now Donna can list of exactly what she still needs to know and start tracking down specific sources: rare books, places to be visited, people to interview. Make email contacts and set up phone or in-person appointments.
Interviews: Know what you need to know but keep an open mind and leave plenty of time. The experts you consult may have unexpected stores of useful information that will only come out when their passion for their subject overrides their polite short answers to specific questions.
On-site research: Let the site suggest the plot elements where possible; if there's a bridge, might someone fall or be thrown off it? Listen to local gossip (yes, eavesdrop in coffee shops); not only will you taste the dialect and cadence of regional speech, you never know when a chance tale of someone's grandmother will provide a spark for your fictive dream.
Buy books. Especially local histories and guidebooks that may not be widely available.
Take photos. In this digital age, you can play an on-location slide show on your screen while you're writing the relevant scene. Note with your senses, not sight alone. If you're writing in a local setting, you may think you know all you need about an area but it's still a good idea to visit the key locations. See how they look and feel in different weather, different seasons. Let your characters feel the squishy mud underfoot in springtime or the crush the rattling leaves in fall or breathe frostily in the desolate industrial area on a winter's night.
When you write, relive all those sensory inputs and realistic details through the viewpoint character. Don't try to cram in all your research. Concentrate on producing a single vivid impression in each scene. The more fully immersed you and your plot are in the place, time, political and social setting of your characters, the more real the fictive dream becomes for you the writer and for the eventual reader.
Some spare handouts will be available at the November meeting. For more information on Donna's books and her other interests, visit her website
Saturday, October 9, 2010
Questions about your income tax? What can a writer deduct? The Mystery Writers Ink presentation for January is "Income Tax Tips for Writers."
Sandra Fitzpatrick will discuss income tax for writers. Gearing up for tax season, it is important to know how to calculate your writing income and what deductions you can make. What records are necessary to support your income tax return? Bring your tax questions.
Thursday, January 13th
From 7 - 9 p.m.
Owl's Nest Books in Britannia Plaza
Elbow Drive and 49th Avenue SW, Calgary
(Note: the doors open at 6:45p.m.)
About Sandra Fitzpatrick
Sandra Fitzpatrick has been doing taxes professionally since 2006, for clients who have small businesses like writing and acting. Her goal is to minimize taxes and run simulations to assist in tax planning. Sandy is a writer who has written five novels, three novellas and a pile of short stories. She has published several stories. Her current project is a novella dealing with human exploration of the galaxy and encountering planetary deities who do like to get involved.
About Mystery Writers Ink
MWI supports aspiring and emerging mystery writers in Calgary. Annual membership is $25.00.
Drop-in fee of $5.00 for non-members.
For more information, please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
Sunday, September 12, 2010
Friday, September 10, 2010
In May, INK member, Susan Calder, signed her first book publishing contract for her mystery novel A Deadly Fall. She spent the summer editing the manuscript. Here is Part Two of My Journey Through the Editing Process.
On Tuesday, August 24th, I finished the major edits for my novel A Deadly Fall and e-mailed the revised manuscript to my editor, Frances Thorsen. She will read the novel in one swoop for overall effect and send me any further comments. Then, it's off to the copy editor. After the copy edit is done, I'll have a couple of weeks to proof-read the final version before the book goes to press.
Frances and I began our editing journey in June. I may be one if the few Calgarians who didn't mind our summer of less-than-wonderful weather. I rarely longed for the outdoors as I tapped away at my desk, editing my manuscript chapter by chapter.
Frances divided the novel into chunks of ten chapters. Using the Track Changes feature of WORD, she e-mailed me her suggested changes and comments one or two chapters at a time. I replied with my agreements or counter-suggestions or further comments. She'd volley back her replies. We'd keep going with this until we more or less reached a consensus for that chapter(s), at the same time moving forward with edits to the rest of the story. When chapters 1-10 were done, we worked on 11-20. My original novel had 33 chapters. It now has 32. We cut most of Chapter 20 and combined the remnants with a new small scene and the former chapter 21 to create one long chapter that seems to work.
Overall, I'd say Frances and I were in agreement about the story's major points. She understood all of my characters the way I did; we saw the story arc the same way. We sometimes differed on smaller points, such as word choices and punctuation. I deferred in cases where I wasn't sure what was right or felt her change wouldn't make a significant difference. These were relatively easy matters in terms of work load. More time consuming was writing new scenes and figuring out how to handle the effects of a deleted character and subplot.Frances also raised questions I hadn't considered. These led us both to research such things as cell phone call tracing, Calgary transit schedules and criminal code terms.
When we were done, my task was to re-assemble the edited chapters into a new whole. This was harder than I'd expected due to my poor organization system. I also felt a need to read the novel through once again to check for errors due to the changes we'd made: references left in that should no longer be there, details inadvertently removed with the deleted character or subplot and extra spaces, double periods and crossed out letters left behind from the Track Changes.
Between the additions and deletions, the edited manuscript is about 6,000 words less than my original. I believe it's more focused and interesting to readers.
Now I get a brief rest before plunging into the next book. On September 9th, TouchWood publisher, Ruth Linka, has arranged a conference call with Frances and me to discuss future novels in the mystery series. I'm almost glad I had to wait three years to find a publisher, as this gave me time to write and revise a sequel. I feel a step ahead, rather than panicked about facing the blank page. As a result of this editing experience, I'd like to do another revision before sending the sequel to Ruth and Frances. Meanwhile, I'm mulling ideas for novel number three.
I had to push myself to make the September 1st target for the edits in the midst of my summer activities: hiking, visitors and short trips. The push has paid off. The day after I sent Frances the edited manuscript, Ruth Linka contacted me. A mystery novel scheduled for spring 2011 had to be postponed. Frances told her the editing has gone well. How would I feel about moving my fall 2011 publication date forward six months to spring 2011, possibly March?
I feel excited and scared. March isn't so far away. This book is really going to happen.
For Part One of this series, see Susan's previous post.
Gail Bowen: Writer-in-Residence for Calgary Public Library from September through November, 2010. She will evaluate manuscript pages and consult with you on your writing’s strengths and weaknesses.Get your submission in early to ensure her schedule doesn't fill up.
September 25: Chris Roerden, author of “Don’t Murder Your Mystery” and “Don’t Sabotage Your Submission,” offers a full-day workshop, “Learn What Editors Want,” at the Greenwood Inn, Calgary. Sponsored by ARWA.Online Class: Starts September 29. Crime author Kris Neri teaches “Committing the Perfect Crime: Writing Your First Mystery” online for 10 weeks through UCLA Extension Writers’ Program
Tuesday, September 7, 2010
Sunday, September 5, 2010
Det. Sweet will talk about how the detectives of the Homicide Unit handle cases, from the first report until the case is wrapped up and the accused is headed for court.
Please note that there will be some slides of crime scenes that may disturb some viewers.
Ink members, if you have questions you'd like to get answers to, please add them as comments to this blog. We can't guarantee that any of our speakers will address all of the questions, but we will pass your questions on to the detective.
This will be a terrific presentation for all mystery writers. During the summer, Det. Sweet and I met, and he explained what topics he'll cover. This will be a remarkably comprehensive overview of the work of the Homicide Unit, given the time limitations of our meeting.
Meeting time: 7-9 pm on Thursday, September 9. Doors will open about 6:30.
Venue: Owl's Nest Books at 815A 49 Ave SW, Calgary.
Cost: Members: This year, the annual membership fee is a mere $25! Please bring your cheque made out to Mystery Writers Ink, or cash, to pay your membership at this meeting. As you all know, we have an extraordinary volunteer, Jayne Barnard, as our Treasurer. We'll make her life as Treasurer much easier if we renew at the September 9 meeting.
Non-members pay a drop-in fee of $5. If you drop in to this meeting, pay the $5, and find that you like what you see of Mystery Writers Ink, you can sign up for a year's membership by paying the additional $20 at the end of the meeting.
Tuesday, August 31, 2010
I was working in Toronto, helping my husband run his pool hall, and not writing at all. I vaguely still dreamed of writing one day, but after trying to write one book in my twenties and junking it, I was pretty sure I had no talent and could never make it a career. To compound my negativity, I was fed up with the way local government seemed to be on a sabotage mission to put our bar out of business. Since I normally hate the helpless victim role, but for some reason at that moment I felt powerless to change things, I decided I should kill the mayor.
I have never dived more happily into a project. My fingers flew across the keyboard, creating a secret society with a murderous mandate, a young cop who could speak her mind more freely than I could, and a supporting cast I wanted to spend time with. In my fantasy world, I could kill anyone. I didn't care anymore about the socialist hypocrisy running rampant in the real world; I had my personal power back.
I wasn't a very good writer. I'd taken one writing class in high school fifteen years before. I signed up for a workshop course at Humber, and I was matched with a group of enthusiastic and honest critics. They helped me transform Clare from a beat cop into a rookie undercover, which later helped me shape the series. They suggested making her younger, so she'd blend in more convincingly with the students-another bonus, because starting her young means I can play a lot more with her learning curve. (Belligerence can be amusing at 22, but might be immature at 28.) And - probably the most significant part of the course - they took a lot of my bad writing habits, slaughtered them, and replaced them with real skills.
I also learned at Humber that writing isn't some elusive Shakespeare-or-nothing dream where you either have heaps of talent or you might as well pack it in, but a series of steps (like anything else), where we can start where we are and get better over the course of our lives.
I left that week-long course buoyed with confidence. I didn't suddenly think I was a fabulous writer, but I felt-finally-like publication was an attainable goal. I took a few night courses, moved to Vancouver (we ended up closing our fun but ill-fated pool room), and made it a mission to turn my first twenty pages into a kickass crime fiction manuscript.
This was my favourite time of all: the writing part. My amazing husband told me to take a solid block of time and devote it to just writing, and we'd figure out in a year or two if it was worth continuing. So when he went off to work, I worked, I shaped, I deleted, I despaired. I Rollerbladed into the nearby fishing village for groceries most afternoons. I stared out my window at the North Shore mountains when I couldn't figure out where to take the story. And I found out that this is exactly what I want to do with my life.
I'm thrilled that my first book is actually going to hit shelves this September. I love the people I'm meeting and the things I'm learning about the industry. But I miss the year I had to myself - the year I started writing.
Don't miss Robin's great Virtual Book Tour, coming all month to blogs only a click or two away!
Friday, August 27, 2010
One of my authors says that when I point something out as weak, he either cuts it (knowing I’m right) or re-doubles his efforts to make it work. I think that’s a great response to editorial feedback.
From "Novel Journey"
Tuesday, August 17, 2010
There's a simple way to figure out what goes in the first paragraph of a query.
1. What is your main character's name?
2. What problem/choice does the character face? (20 words or fewer)
3. Who wants to foil the main character's plan and why? (20 words or fewer)
Sunday, August 8, 2010
I was just as eager (and just as desperate) to get my manuscript published as any writer. But after ICED UNDER was released in November 2008 at a wildly successful launch party hosted by my local bookstore, I was stricken with terror. I lost five pounds. I couldn't eat, had trouble sleeping, and certainly couldn't write. Not anything worth reading at any rate. What I thought would be the most exhilarating time of my life turned into an intense year of trying to understand what just happened. When I was an unpublished novelist, I knew what I wanted-to get published. Now that I was published...where did I go from here?
My publisher is a small press: advances are not paid nor does my contract extend beyond the book under contract. No three book deals here. I had a book out but I was back in the starting gate for the next. I had to earn a living, promote the book that was on the shelves and somehow write the next novel. No problem, I told myself. Getting published was the hard part.
I drew up a plan of action. I scheduled my day. Write, do "business" and somehow earn money. I sharpened my pencils, sat down at my desk to launch into the next book-and promptly developed writer's block. (Which I thought was a myth until I had it.) Writer's block doesn't prevent you from putting words down; it prevents you from wanting to. I felt physically sick every time I faced the computer.
Panic set in. If I didn't produce another book, the first book would be for nothing. All that work, the struggle to get published in the first place-for nothing. And I was broke! I'd burned every employable bridge I had to write this book. I was aging too. Starting over again in another career was out of the question-I'd already had three. I spent long hours huddled in my office, sobbing. I was suffering a severe crisis of confidence, second-guessing the intuitive voice that led me to write in the first place. If getting published was so great, then how come I was so miserable?
At this time, readers started to pop up expressing how much they enjoyed ICED UNDER. I was almost too ashamed to hear their compliments. I felt like a fraud. Until it dawned on me that the only person I had to please in all of this was the reader. If the reader liked my book, who was I to say it was a mistake?
Then I fell in with a couple of writers who wanted to form an online critique group. We would send pages to each other twice a month. I was terrified but took the leap. The process restored me to the computer. Progress!
Writers are shy to begin with when it comes to promotion, but for a writer who has lost confidence, promotion is the seventh circle of Hell. Local writers and booksellers came to my aid with advice, wisdom and common sense and a bit of promotion of their own. The best tip I received was from a savvy old author and marketer extraordinaire who said to regard my first book as my loss leader. I should do what I could do to promote it, but this one book was not the career. A weight lifted off my shoulders.
One day while rocking in front of the computer as I worked out a tricky bit of plot, I had a revelation: Writing wasn't something I chose to do-writing chose me. In sickness and in health, for richer or poorer, I was a writer and there was no going back. I finally finished my second book. At this writing THE GREY LADY is with an agent in the U.K. who requested the full after reading the first ten pages. ICED UNDER continues to sell well through word of mouth and has received three decent professional reviews.
And I've plunged into my third novel.
Nadine Doolittle is an award-winning reporter formerly with the Low Down to Hull and Back News, and On Track columnist for the Ottawa Metro News covering transit issues in the nation's capital. "Iced Under" (published by Bayeux Arts Inc. in November 2008) was short-listed for the Arthur Ellis Best First Novel in 2009.
Tuesday, July 20, 2010
Grunt goes to Canada
By Grant McKenzie
It was likely the strong, undiluted accent, but it could have been shyness or the overwhelming heaviness of being suddenly different.
Whatever it was, to their Canadian ears, my name sounded like Grunt.
You can imagine the laughter — and the sound effects.
There I was, as Scottish as can be: orange hair so bright it practically glowed, the McKenzie nose, freckles (masses of them since it was a hot summer) and the pale white skin that comes after painful lessons learned on the sandy beaches of Troon.
Most people believe there shouldn't be any language barriers when one emigrates between English-speaking countries, but they're wrong.
This was 1976. I was thirteen years old. And I didn't speak English, I spoke Glaswegian with an East Kilbridian burr.
My working-class brogue had erased the "th" sound from my vocabulary, so words like "think" and “thought” became "fink" and “fought”. I also used such foreign phrasing as "Aye" for "Yes" and "Ta" in place of "thanks". There were even times when you would have thought I was speaking Gaelic rather than just trying to ask a teacher for permission to go to the washroom. “I’m burstin’, miss. Canna no use the loo?”
This language barrier became even more impenetrable when I attended French class at A.E. Cross Junior High. As an official bilingual country, Canada tries to place an emphasis on its second national language. Fortunately, I had a year of French at Claremont High School before leaving Scotland, and so I believed I was in with a shot. I was a good student and knew how to ask for the time, close the door and hang up my hat, all in French.
The teacher, however, thought I had been sent by Candid Camera. She was from Quebec (a province that speaks a different variety of French from France, just to confuse matters) and to her, I sounded like a tractor ripping her language up by the roots and shredding it to tatters before her ears.
My ability to master the written portion of the exams seemed to only frustrate her further as I believe she thought I was actually speaking some form of Scandinavian.
Scotland has changed dramatically since I left, but in 1976, we only had three television channels (although BBC2 barely counted) and the only American shows I can remember were a few cartoons, occasional John Wayne movie and Wizard of Oz every Christmas.
Canada didn't look or sound like any of them, even though my family landed in Calgary, the cowboy capital of the country. This wasn’t Cowboys and Indians (although there were plenty of both), this was oil country with belt buckles the size of your face and ¾-ton, extended-cab pickup trucks larger than a council flat. The city was clean and noticeably graffiti free with large blue skies and powerful Chinook winds that could pick up a small dog and carry it off to Saskatchewan.
It was like nothing I had ever seen or imagined. The city sprawled, stretching itself across hills and valleys, spacing everything out so that people didn’t walk ¾ they drove. And they drove a lot. In Canada, but especially in the prairie provinces, people think nothing of driving hundreds of kilometers to find a nice spot for lunch.
But although Calgary was newer and shinier than the city I left, it still had problems that wouldn’t arrive in Scotland for several more years.
I discovered this on my first week of school when my English teacher gave the class an essay assignment to write about a “pot party”. The other students thought this was hilarious, but I was completely befuddled. The only pot party I could imagine was one where a group of people brought over their fat-blackened chip pots and made a huge load of steaming, hot chips.
Now, although that sounded like a fun time to me as I loved a good poke of vinegar-soaked chips, the teacher went on to say that our story should end with the police arriving at the door and the consequences that would entail.
I had to raise my hand.
What the heck could the criminal charges be? Too much hot fat bubbling on top of a stove at the same time?
I was clueless. Drugs just hadn’t entered the mainstream of Scottish education at that time. We had alcohol and violence ¾ I knew all about that. You would be hard pressed to find any schoolboy or girl who hadn’t been a victim and/or witness to some horrific thuggery, but drugs weren’t part of that ¾ not yet.
In Canada, however, every teenager was well versed about cannabis and all its various and colorful aliases.
It sounds horribly naive, but I didn’t even know what you did with it.
The teacher seemed dumbfounded when she had to explain to the foreign kid ¾ who, with the exception of his bright ginger hair, looked just like everyone else in class ¾ that pot was an illegal plant that grew all over Canada (but especially in British Columbia) that people dried and smoked to get high.
As you can imagine, the other students loved this and my status quickly dropped from unusual but kinda cute foreign kid to weird loser who no one could understand.
I further cemented my weird reputation when the school announced that the first theme day of the year was Greaser Day. Naturally, I once again had no clue what a greaser was, but I was determined to find out.
No one sticks out further on theme day than the kid without a costume ¾ or so I thought.
In my research of greaserdom, I discovered it was a term used to describe a 1950s-style rocker. No problem. My dad, a joiner from Burnbank, and my mum, a Glasgow seamstress, had met at the big city dancehalls that were all the rage in the ’50s and ’60s. My dad was so cool back then that he spent his carpentry paycheques on handmade suits from an Italian tailor and had even won a contest to meet Bill Haley and His Comets on their first visit to the UK.
I told my parents that I wanted to look like a ’50s rocker, and they did their best. Unfortunately, the ’50s in Glasgow was an entirely different beast from the ’50s in Canada. Canada basically stole its ’50s memories from America, or more specifically from American TV shows and movies that glamorized that era.
So while every other kid looked like The Fonz from Happy Days in black leather jacket, white T-shirt, blue jeans and greased hair, I arrived looking dapper in a collared shirt and skinny tie, suit jacket borrowed from my mum, and my unruly hair blow-dried into a giant, orange pompadour.
After that disaster, even the really weird kids started ostracizing me.
Fortunately, I switched schools at the end of that year and was given a chance to start again. This time my accent was not quite as broad (although I still cling to it even to this day); I knew what the traditional teenage delicacies of Slurpees, Hoagies and Big Macs were; I could use cool words like “keen” and “keen-o”; I had a cowboy hat for the summer and a toque for the winter; I became an avid downhill skier and I even learned how to roller-skate.
I never stopped being proud of my heritage, but I also became equally proud of growing to be more than I was, a citizen of two countries with memories in each that make me the person I am today: the weird adult with the ginger hair and a stubborn perseverance that refuses to give in even when the odds seem stacked against me.
Without that indefatigability, I would have used all those numerous rejection slips of my early work as an excuse to stop writing. Instead, they became stepping stones to become a better writer and signposts that to my stubborn, Celtic blue eyes read: Never Give Up.
Grant McKenzie is the author of SWITCH, an edge-of-your-seat thriller, available in Canada from Penguin on Aug. 3. SWITCH is already a bestseller in the UK and Germany. You can visit the author’s website
Friday, July 2, 2010
Here is Part One of My Journey Through the Editing Process:
As soon as we signed the contract for my novel A Deadly Fall, TouchWood publisher, Ruth Linka, introduced me by e-mail to my editor, Frances Thorsen. Ruth reminded Frances and me the edited manuscript was due September 1st and left us alone to whip my novel into shape.
Frances and I began by exchanging personal details. She is the owner/operator of Chronicles in Crime, a Victoria bookstore specializing in murder mysteries. She founded the store with her personal stock of 8,000 books. An editor who is a bookseller and avid mystery reader: Cool. We discovered we shared some common ground. Frances graduated from the University of Waterloo. So did my son. She lived in downtown Toronto near Bloor Street. So does my other son. She longs to fly a glider plane. I ... I admire her spirit of adventure.
Frances assigned me my first editing tasks: write a detailed character sketch of my main character and prepare two spreadsheets: (1) a timeline of events that impact the plot and (2) a character chart listing each character's purpose to the book, relationship to the protagonist and the chapters in which the character appears. Part of the purpose of the chart is to determine if characters are lacking or if certain people aren't needed because they are duplicating other characters' roles.
Uh oh, I thought, she's going to ask me to cut characters. I like them all and every one is essential to the book.
I haven't worked with spreadsheets for years, but came up with the charts without much difficulty, thanks to outlines I'd prepared while revising the manuscript. Right away, the character chart requested by Frances pointed me to one person I might cut from the novel. I started to mull over ways someone else might take over the cut one's contribution to the plot.
Next, Frances sent me her general comments on the manuscript, so I'd know where she was coming from during the edits. A few of her comments struck me as requiring major changes. How would we ever get through this by September 1st? This was going to take tremendous work. It looked like A Gruelling Summer would precede A Deadly Fall.
I skimmed through the novel in light of Frances' comments and considered the ripple effects of any changes to the story. I decided I could apply most of Frances' comments and e-mailed her questions and concerns about the rest. She replied that her comments were just suggestions. Her answers to my specifics assured me we were on the same page.
Deep breath. Exhale. Feeling better.
Frances sent me the edits for the first two chapters. We will be working with Track Changes. It took me awhile to find these on my WORD menu - they are under "Review". I was unfamiliar with the mechanics of Track Changes and am still getting the hang of them, but find it fun clicking "accept" or "new comment" to her proposed changes. She also highlights scenes for me to cut and paste into a separate file of material that might used later in the story. We agreed I would write two new scenes for Chapter 2. These turned out to be shorter and easier to do than I'd expected. The character sketch I'd written helped with one of the scenes.
Aside from some niggling bits, we've finished the Chapter 1 & 2 edits. Frances says the first part of the book is always the hardest. So it isn't only me who thinks that? She's now working on her edits for Chapters 3-10. I wait for this next batch, feeling good to have gotten this far. This editing process will be okay, even enjoyable, I think - at the moment.
Tuesday, June 15, 2010
Hello crime writers and fans. This is my first post to Mystery Writers Ink, so I'll start with a short introduction.
When I was 11, I told my mom I'd be a writer. In fact, I'd be a long-haul truck driver and write about what I'd seen from an 18-wheeler. Great idea, until I turned 16 and realized I can barely drive around the block. I'm still a crappy driver, but the writing thing stuck.
In October, 2009 my first Markus Fanger adventure crime From Ice to Ashes was published by NeWest Press in Edmonton. In From Ice to Ashes Fanger and a young offender fight a terrorist threat on the course of the Yukon Arctic Ultra. It's a thriller set in today's Yukon. The only corsets and garters you'll find are in our annual Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous festival.
From the day the first box of books arrived, I went into the bookselling business, Yukon style. With only four bookstores in the territory, most sales are rung in at gas stations (good thing I work at one), cafes, gift shops, and museums. Writers have to make our own marketing opportunities, so this winter I jumped on the Alberta SuperNet, and followed it way off the beaten track to Delia, in the Hand Hills.
The SuperNet connects Albertans to every government facility in the province. It achieves exactly what the province wants: for Albertans to leap the digital divide. Tandberg Communications unifies all the disparate operating systems, from dial-up to high speed to fiber optic for podcasts, broadcasts and live play. Presenters can display photos, clips, other websites, and record the presentation. It's a vast improvement over video conferencing.
Delia is linked to 35 libraries in the Marigold region and 338 branches province-wide. Regardless how much money and energy I had, I could never reach that many venues on a physical book tour.
Like filaments of a web, the SuperNet is lightweight and invisible. The hour-long reading flew by in real time as natural as if I'd been in the room. To "sign" books, I mailed bookplates commemorating Delia's first "no-fly author at home".Two weeks later, I was in Scroggie Creek, the heart of Jack London country, staffing a Yukon Quest Dog Drop. We hosted two dozen dog teams on the 1000-mile international sled dog race.
Each musher who crossed our threshold received a complimentary copy of From Ice to Ashes from NeWest Press.I wasn’t going to make everyone pack an extra 12 ounces for 400 miles of trail, so at Meet the Mushers I handed out the copies.
From there Adventure Canada asked me to read to their Yukon Quest tour guests. After a short walk to the Takhini River with visitors from Ontario to California we returned to a roaring bonfire with reading and discussion
Not everything I try is a raving success. On a recent trip to Toronto I learned other tactics are needed for the big city, but to reach the Yukon’s 30,000 residents, and beyond, a personal touch works best.
For more on Jessica's distance-promotion techniques, check out: