Friday, January 23, 2015

CRIMINAL TENDENCIES

It's question time again and here's what our three mystery authors are answering today: Are female victims over-represented in fiction and if so, why?


MARY JANE MAFFINI
:

I haven't done the math on this! However, I think it's possible because I think we may be more outraged by violence against women than men. Kids and animals are verboten. But a bigger concern is the graphic description of torture or sexual violence, quite aptly called 'torture porn'. It ratchets up our outrage. but is it serving another purpose and one which should make us think twice.



LINDA WIKEN:

My own feeling is that they are not over-represented. I think the fiction is mirroring what we read about and view in the media every day. Females are, generally speaking, more vulnerable in society. They therefore are prime candidates for the role of victim in fiction, as in life. I agree with MJ about the taboos surrounding children and animals, even though not all authors adhere to these. So, next in line are women. Members of minority groups are also on that continuum but are not as frequently portrayed as the victims in fiction.



R.J. HARLICK:


I can’t say I have ever noticed if too many victims are women. I might even suspect that more men get killed in crime novels, because they are the ones more likely be involved in violent situations.

Normally I don’t pay attention to gender distribution. But not long ago I found myself having to read a lot of mysteries, more so than usual. As I’m reading one book after another, it suddenly struck me that in many of them there was a much higher proportion of men in positions of authority or power than women. Most of the female characters were in supporting roles as wives, girlfriends, sidekicks, etc., with few taking on any significant role in the stories. Even the bad guys were more likely to be male than female. Now I did notice that this tendency seemed to be more apparent in books written by men than by women, but still many of the female writers were just as guilty.

So I asked myself why this would be the case and I’m afraid the only answer I could come up with was that the stories being written are essentially reflecting the real world. It also explains my inattention to gender distribution. I am just reading what I see happening around me on a day-to-day basis.

So my fellow writers maybe it is time we did something about it and add a little more gender equality into our writing. But you know what, even as I write this I am realizing that the majority of characters in my current book are male. Sheesh, you can’t win.



Friday, January 9, 2015


BLOOD WILL OUT

By Jill Downie
Dundurn



This is the third in the Moretti and Falla mystery series and by far, the most intricate. There are so many layers, each adding texture to the plot, that a variety of readers will be entertained. That the series is set in Guernsey, is a large part of the charm.

For the thespians in the crowd, the plot revolves around a new play put on by the Island Players. The playwright, Hugo Shawcross, claims to be a vampire and that’s what his play is about, much to the initial chagrin of some of the influential members of the group. But the play must go on, and as rehearsals begin, so do the murders.

For the mystery lovers, it’s a solid one starting with the death of a recluse and ending with a murderer consumed with greed and jealousy, determined to erase long-hidden secrets and anyone trying to expose them.

We’re also introduced to a new police officer from London, Aliosio Brown, whose Met training will be invaluable, or so the Chief Officer hopes.

We see a gentler side to Inspector Ed Moretti and a personal growth in his partner, Detective Sergeant Liz Falla. It’s her aunt, Elodie, who reveals much about the detective, about the actors and the play, and who adds a possible love interest for Moretti.

From reading this, you know that Downie has an insider’s knowledge of the theatre and a love of it. But, equally obvious is her command of the mystery genre and the ability to infuse the discipline and routines of police work with an emotional layer. And don’t forget her passion for Guernsey. It has all the ingredients wanted by an armchair traveler.

Eagerly awaiting my next trip to that magical isle!


Saturday, December 27, 2014

WISHING YOU THE MERRIEST!




I'm taking a break until early January. Time to relax and also, focus on writing. If I get really efficient and finish the book I'm reading, along with my book club book, I'll post a review next week.














Until then, wishing you a Merry Christmas,
Happy Hanukkah, and a very Happy New Year
with lots of plots and books!

Friday, December 19, 2014

SCMOOZING WITH CATHERINE MACDONALD



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

I read a lot of George Orwell’s essays in my twenties. He was a wonderful non-fiction stylist with prose that was very distilled and economical but also very elegant. I hope that tendency to pare back and refine is in my fiction too. It’s something to work toward.

2. What are you working on now?

I’m working on the sequel to Put on the Armour of Light. It involves much enjoyable research on things Scottish because in this book, my two lead characters, Charles Lauchlan and Maggie Skene, go on a bicycle tour of the Highlands and get enmeshed in another mystery. I’ve had to become familiar with bicycles as they were in 1900 and have read lots of guide books on Scottish travel from that era. The problem has been tearing myself away from all this fascinating research in order to actually write the book.

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

Charles Lauchlan is a real amalgam. Inevitably, he has some of me in him. He loves books and is basically an introvert like me. But he’s more like my father and my brothers in that he can take and hold the centre of attention and is not uncomfortable there. He’s also a bit of a workaholic, which I have never been.


4. Are you character driven or plot driven?


I’m definitely more comfortable with character than with plot. And I think that if you know your characters, they will show you where the plot should go in many cases. I like to start with characters and then say, “Now, what do they do?”

5. Are you a pantser or a plotter?


I aspire to be a plotter but I’m really more of a plodder. I have to have some idea of where I’m going with a book or I will freeze with fear of that white, bare page looming ahead. But quite often in the writing, something that I have plotted turns out not to work after all and I have to have a considerable think in order to solve the problem and carry on.

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

I hope that I’ve created a world in which they can get lost for a while, then close the book at the end and think it’s been a very satisfying reading experience.

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

I would be happy to have written two or three more books during that time and to still be enjoying the process.

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

It’s at this point that I wish I had taken up sky-diving or become well-known as a quantum physicist in my spare time. But really, I’m quite an unsurprising person. I do play the saxophone, though rather badly.


9. What do you like to read for pleasure?

I read a lot of different stuff. Mysteries, of course, but also poetry and biography. Just now I’m reading a lot of Scottish books. I read a lot of local writers from Winnipeg, because I’ve always loved books set in Winnipeg, where I have lived since I was eleven. I talk about them on my blog, “portage and slain”, (www.portageandslain.com). Other than that, my reading has no discipline or rationale and that’s exactly the way I like it.


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

June 1899. Rev. Charles Lauchlan must find evidence hidden behind the doors of Winnipeg’s elite before his friend is convicted of murder.



Catherine Macdonald made a career out of delving into the history of the Canadian Prairies, especially the urban history of Winnipeg, where she lives. Her historical research consulting business combined excellent research with lively and engaging presentation. One morning she woke up with an idea for a mystery novel and life has never been quite the same.
She blogs at www.portageandslain.com and has a website at www.charleslauchlan.com





Friday, December 12, 2014

CRIMINAL TENDENCIES


Here we go again with another writing question posed to our four mystery authors: R.J. Harlick, Mary Jane Maffini, Barbara Fradkin, and Linda Wiken. This is the question: What are some cliches you should avoid in creating a series hero?

And these are their answers:


MARY JANE MAFFINI:


I like to avoid the cliche of the lone wolf cop or PI who breaks all the rules, drinks himself silly, eats junk food, wrecks his relationships, insists on working alone and never (!) seems to shower or change his clothes. He would probably leave his pet to die, but, of course, he doesn't have a pet. Yes, I know that's where the money is, but, hey, that's guy's a jackass.

Good thing I write cozies so i don't need to work him into the action.

LINDA WIKEN:

I'll echo Mary Jane's pick. We've all read about him, or her, more than enough times and it doesn't really matter what the plot is, this hero is going to take center stage with his lifestyle. Of course, there's that deep, dark secret from the past that haunts the guy.

Another one, and this one hits home with writers of traditional mysteries, is the hero who plods along, appearing to bumble through an investigation or some private sleuthing, trying to appear like solving the crime is the last thing possible. You know these ones -- Columbo and Miss Marple come to mind. Of course, since we know and love these characters, we know and believe that justice will prevail. However, it's been done. And well. So move on. Or perhaps, do it with a twist.



R.J. HARLICK:

The rebellious, hard drinking loner cop who can’t deal with authority or maintain a relationship with a woman for longer than 3 books, has a deep dark secret in his past and always gets his man or woman…Sound familiar?

I swear if there is one series with a cop protagonist like this there are a zillion of them. I’m reading one at the moment, Jo Nesbo’s Harry Hole. I am sure you can name others, some of which have reached bestseller status. But as much as this kind of a series character has become a cliché, you know what, if well crafted, I enjoy reading them, as do many others. So I don’t know whether as a writer you should avoid cliché characters, ratherI I think it is probably more important to recognize they are a cliché and use them appropriately, maybe add a twist or two so that all the cliché components don’t fall into place.


BARBARA FRADKIN:

I think it’s important to avoid all cliches when creating a series hero. A series hero has to have certain qualities - usually intelligence, resourcefulness, and a passion to tackle problems. Apart from that, create a hero who has depth and humanity, with a real life and everyday problems along with their sleuthing, and avoid the urge to tack on “flaws” or “quirks” which are the lazy writer’s attempt to make the character unique without giving them any depth. Some cliches are obvious, such as the jaded, alcoholic cop, the “feisty”, kick-ass female, and the dithering little old lady with a mind like a stiletto.



Friday, December 5, 2014

SCHMOOZING WITH JOHN MOSS


1. Who has influenced me the most in my writing career?

Surrounded by the murmurings of writers, the question seems disarmingly simple and infinitely complex. I am writing this deep within Shakespeare and Company, the legendary bookstore on the Left Bank in Paris. The gleam of my laptop illuminates shelves tumbling with books that transform this cramped little alcove into a labyrinth of words. Looking around at books within my reach, it would be easy to pick out dozens of writers who influenced my life and writing, from the wonderfully eccentric Jorge Luis Borges to the profoundly thrilling P.D. James, from Poe and Hammett to Faulkner and Atwood. If I had to single out one, however, it would be Shakespeare, himself: for giving us language enriched so indelibly that four hundred years later it excites with its grandeur and subtlety, for mixing horror and wit in defiance of the classical rules, for writing with such exuberant insight about the extremities of human behavior, finding in murder and vengeance, romance and passion, the common threads that make up the human fabric.

2. What am I working on now?

I’ve just completed a trilogy of mysteries featuring a cosmopolitan private investigator who works out of Toronto and deals exclusively in murder. Harry Lindstrom is a paradox: a contemplative man of action, a brooding hedonist, a pragmatic moralist. Before the loss of his wife and children in a canoeing accident that he feels was his fault, he was a philosophy professor. The dramatic transition from exploring the fundamental questions of life in a lecture hall to exposing the mysteries arising from murder seems both absurd and grotesquely inevitable. A proud and solitary man of forty-three, Harry carries his wounds privately, with an edgy awareness that allows him to deal with inspired depravities that fall in his way, first in Sweden, then in Vienna, and finally on an axis linking the South Pacific to London and Greenwich in England.

3. In what ways are my protagonists and I alike?


I draw from the worlds I know, whether emotionally, socially, or geographically. The protagonists in my Quin and Morgan series originated in my wife, Beverley, and myself. They are originals, however: much of Miranda is born out of my own life and David Morgan, out of Beverley’s. Imagination is transformative. After emerging in three consecutive novels just finished, Harry is so familiar to me it is difficult to appreciate we have separate lives. The facts of our lives differ—I’m a lot old and not as smart— but we are cut from the same cloth.

4. Character driven or plot driven?

Characters caught up in situations that bring out the complexities of their innermost lives fascinate me, so the answer is both. Murder is the catalyst that sets the processes of revelation in motion.

5. Are you a pantser or a plotter?


I’m not sure of the difference between pantser and plotter. I work my characters through intricate and surprising plots, but where these lead I’m seldom sure until I get there. I write until it feels right, until there’s a retrospective inevitability to what I’ve written. I love surprising myself.

6. What do I hope my readers take away from reading my work?


I want readers to be entertained; I want them to be challenged, confused, illuminated, edified, and, ultimately, satisfied. I want to change lives, however imperceptibly. Life’s too brief for empty diversions. Writing must be more than building birdhouses; reading should be more than watching them hang in the wind.

7. Where do I see myself ten years from now?

At my age, that’s a loaded question. I’d like people to be reading my work. I’d like, of course, still to be writing. I’d like to be here.

8. I’d re-write this question to ask, what surprises me about myself?

I’d like to think, as a retired professor of Canadian literature, that I’m not professorial. I’m a master scuba diving instructor and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada. Apparently, it’s possible to be both. What surprises me most is how happy I am to have lived a rich and diverse life, to see my children prosper, and to know my books and Beverley’s books are being read. And until I stop, altogether, I think of myself as a mystery writer as being in mid career.

9. What do I like reading for pleasure?

All reading is pleasure. I read nutritional data on cereal boxes and the magic realism of Jorge Luis Borges. I tend to avoid current award-winning books. I read fiction, especially quality mysteries, and I read non-fiction that challenges convention. I consider a settee in an alcove in Shakespeare and Company, amidst a tumult of books, as close to heaven as I will ever need to be.

10. Blood Wine, my latest and last mystery in the Quin and Morgan series, in a tweet:


A corpse in bed and a wine scandal lead to explosive revelations of drug smuggling as an unexpected cover for international terrorism.





John Moss is the author of over thirty books, the most recent of which are murder mysteries. He has become happier since turning to writing about murder. He and his wife, writer Beverley Haun, live in Peterborough where they are almost through the second decade of restoring an old farmhouse that has taken them in

Friday, November 14, 2014

SCHMOOZING WITH ROB BRUNET

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

Being purposeful, pursuing passion, and holding oneself accountable are critical traits every author needs. Without them, how could a book ever be completed, never mind revised, edited, and polished until ready to publish?
Thinking about my writing career sends me well beyond the authors I enjoy and admire. The energy I bring to it is rooted in creativity and a love of storytelling, but the discipline and sense of direction leverages things I learned while running a digital media company. I could list a slew of people from that part of my life and most of them would be unknown to readers here. They’re people whose passion for their own businesses, charities, and lives made me want to dig deep and commit myself to the writing I’d always expected to eventually do.
As for authors? Too many for a blog post, but Thomas Hardy, Sinclair Lewis, Carl Hiaasen, Kurt Vonnegut, Gregory Mcdonald, John Irving, and a lot of Margaret Atwood have inspired me to hone my own voice.

2. What are you working on now?


The sequel to Stinking Rich is similarly set in the Kawarthas and there’s a bit of character carry-over. This time out, it’s a bible camp gone bad.
I’m also working on a collection of short stories and some novella-length pieces. The novel takes precedence, but part of my goal is to be releasing new material frequently enough to satisfy readers who find me early on. Coming out with a novel every year or so isn’t likely to accomplish that on its own.

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


He isn’t. Danny Grant has a couple experiences that are drawn from my life. Thankfully, it’s the stupid mistakes and not the things that could land a guy in jail. But the same could be said of Perko Ratwick, Judy, and even Skeritt. And I’m neither a biker nor a tie-died enviro-barbie, nor a hermit (though it’s tempting some days).

4. Are you character drive or plot driven?


My readers tell me I’ve written a page-turner that kept them up nights needing to know what happened next. I loved hearing from someone this past week that she had consumed Stinking Rich in three sittings. I guess that’s about plot.
But they also tell me the characters—whacko though they may be—are real and to them. And they certainly are to me. I spend a lot of energy on how they act in given situations. I’m as amused by them as I hope my readers are—especially when they go off script and do things I didn’t expect.
The large cast and the twisted plot line make Stinking Rich a complex braided tale. But if I’ve done my job right, at the end of the day, it’s still a beach read.

5. Are you a pantser or a plotter?


I start out at as a pantser, but the plot has to make sense to me, so somewhere along the way, I start working a spreadsheet and winding everything together. Even when I’m going full-speed, in the zone, chasing a scene, I’m constantly taking notes on other parts of the story that need elaboration or fixing as a result of whatever’s net new. I guess that’s pantsing, but it winds up pretty tight.

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


Entertainment. A good laugh or two. And maybe a peek into a life that is something they’re curious about, even if they’d never want to be there in a million years.

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


Ten novels in and several times that many short stories and novellas. There’s a lot of stuff in my head that needs to find its way out. The thing is, the more one writes, the more that seems to stir up more ideas. Can you telling I’m loving it?

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


Something printable? How about that I spent a summer as a missionary in northern Ontario? That bible camp gone bad thing? It’s not based on my experience, but I think there’s room for me to explore how some people are able to contort organized religion.

9. What do you like to read for pleasure?


A lot of what I read is crime fiction, but as you can tell from the list above, I read more widely than that. One of my favorite authors today is John Burdett. I’m about three books behind in his series, only because I save his novels and savor them when on vacation in the country. I really don’t want to be distracted at all when I read my favorite authors. And that’s a state I haven’t know much these past two years.

10. Tell us about your book in a Tweet:

What could possibly go wrong if backwoods bikers hire a high school dropout to tend their marijuana grow op? Plenty, it turns out.


Rob Brunet’s 2014 debut, STINKING RICH, asks What could possibly go wrong when bikers hire a high school dropout to tend a barn full of high-grade marijuana? His short crime fiction appears and is forthcoming in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Thuglit, Shotgun Honey, Out of the Gutter, Noir Nation, and numerous anthologies. Before writing noir, Brunet produced award-winning Web presence for film and TV, including LOST, Frank Miller’s Sin City, and the cult series Alias. He loves the bush, beaches, and bonfires and lives in Toronto with his wife, daughter, and son.
Find out more at www.robbrunet.com or on Facebook here
.