Thursday, March 26, 2015

My Apologies!

What am I apologizing for? The fact that after many years of blogging, I'm taking a short hiatus. I'm faced with deadlines galore, now with two series on the go, and find it's really difficult devoting any extra time to Mystery Maven Canada at this point. However, I will be back! Hoping to return by the end of May, earlier if possible, so stay tuned. I'll post on Facebook the start-up date, as well as do a countdown on this site.

In the meantime, I'll start catching up on my reading and provide you with some long-awaited reviews. Books on the pile include:

Stinking Rich by Rob Brunet
By Book or By Crook by Eva Gates
Tidings of Murder and Woe by Cathy Spencer
Butterfly Kills by Brenda Chapman
The Burying Ground by Janet Kellough
Pizza 911 by Donald J. Haika

I've got a bit of catching up to do!

As well, I'll be on the look-out for newer authors to interview and hopefully, I can also come up with some other ways to highlight Canadian Crime Writing. If you have any ideas, please let me know and, please bear with me!

If you're wondering what I'm working on -- the fifth Ashton Corners Book Club Mystery, Law and Author, comes out on Sept. 1 and, the first in my new Culinary Club Mystery, as yet untitled, will be out next year. I'll also be heading to Malice Domestic in Bethesda, MD , April 30-May 3; to the Arthur Ellis Banquet and awards, sponsored by Crime Writers of Canada in Toronto on May 28; and to the Suffolk Mystery Author Festival in Suffolk, VA, Aug. 22. Maybe we'll see each other?

Keep on reading!

Friday, March 13, 2015


Okay, time for another writing question for our four authors. If you're new to this part of the blog, it all started last year when the four were on a panel at a Capital Crime Writing event. When their time was up, there were still plenty of questions left unasked. So, I've been working through them, one per month. We're almost at the end of the pile so, maybe I'll open it up to questions from the readers. Does that sounds like a good idea? You can respond on my Facebook page because I know it's sometimes hard to comment on this blog.

Here's the question this time around: How do sidekicks enhance a hero's character?

Barbara Fradkin:

The best characters are studies in contrast. Contrasting looks, style, interests, and personality all serve to make an interaction more vivid and dramatic, and increase the tension and impact of a scene. The most effective sidekicks provide an ongoing contrast and backdrop against which the character of the hero can stand out, and contribute to the push-pull of the scenes they share. Where the hero is whimsical, the sidekick is practical, where the hero is brilliant, the sidekick is befuddled, and so on… Sidekicks shouldn’t overshadow the hero, but serve as a foil against which the strength, bravery, or intelligence of the hero can shine.

Sidekicks enhance the hero’s character in other ways as well; by showing how they cope with friendship, closeness, loyalty in a relationship, and by acting as a sounding board for the hero’s doubts, ruminations, and deductive efforts throughout the story.

Mary Jane Maffini:

The right sidekick can complement the hero's character, speaking about him or her in a way the hero couldn't speak about her or himself. Sidekicks are great at getting the hero to engage in passionate conversation, revealing character with every sentence. Also (if picked with care) the sidekick can take care of some of the more mundane daily activities, leaving the hero free to be heroic. A sidekick can also do things necessary to solve the dire situation that the hero might not be willing to. Blow things up, for instance, or steal cars. I am speaking of my own wicked sidekicks here, not of my blushingly well-behaved heroes.


Sidekicks are fun. They add dimension to the main protagonist. They can also be a counterbalance. While sidekicks don’t usually share the same personality traits as the main protagonist, their personality will compliment that of the main protagonist. When writing with more than one POV, a sidekick can also provide another perspective of the story not shared by the main protagonist. They can also be used to convey information not known by the main protagonist. Often in a series with an amateur sleuth, the sidekick is a policeman or woman in order to provide the police procedural aspects in the solving of the murder. I think every good crime story needs an engaging sidekick or two.

Linda Wiken/Erika Chase:

You've heard the old adage about knowing a person by the friends they keep -- well, that's one big reason for choosing sidekicks with care. He/she or they can either enhance the protagonist's image or make a reader question whether or not they like this person enough to read on. They can be used to draw out the hero's ideas and views, to add contrast to scenes where the hero might need to be serious while the sidekick can add some humour, and to say things your hero really shouldn't be saying. These are secondary characters so that's the role they should always be playing. But the main thing is, everyone needs a friend, even our characters. Especially our characters.

Friday, March 6, 2015


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

My influences have been myriad. Every mystery I read for my thesis years ago, books I read throughout my time as the Edmonton Journal’s mystery reviewer, and the works of John Cawelti and George Grella. My sense is that popular genre writing has the capacity to include social commentary and act as a beacon two or three steps before mainstream fiction.

2. What are you working on now?

My next Randy Craig mystery, a university reunion story called at present Another Margaret, is in the editing process now. I am putting together the foundation of the next one while also working on a creative non-fiction piece that requires some research. I also have two or three short pieces that have been commissioned and need polishing.

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

Randy Craig is like me in that she is a graduate from the University of Alberta. She too loves the thought of teaching at the university level and is not able to capture it as a livelihood. She lives in an apartment that I once lived in quite happily.
On the other hand, I am married with grown children, I have moved into a profession where I can achieve a pension and some security. And we own a car, though it spends loads of time in its parking stall.

4. Are you character driven or plot driven?

I think I am situation-driven. As with all series, the character and the locale is what brings readers back; I hope to find new aspects to the university/academic world for Randy to explore.

5. Are you a pantser or a plotter?

Well, aside from the fact that I deplore that term just because of its vulgarity, I do like to write without being sure of the ending. I usually know my way about forty pages ahead of wherever I am in the draft. It makes the getting up early on weekend mornings worth doing. I’m not in a bracket where I am paid enough for the writing not to be the fun part.

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

I want them to enjoy themselves, laugh out loud once or twice, and find out elements of Edmonton and the university world. There is usually some social or philosophical argument woven into the plot, as well.

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

With any luck, I will be able to retire and devote more time to my writing…or vegetable marrows. There are a couple of non-mystery works I have in mind, as well.

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

Oh gosh, my life is an open book, it seems. Maybe they might be surprised to know I work for the government now. In the same way that Murakami once said he felt he could write more clearly about Japan when he was living in the USA, perhaps I can write about academe from outside the ivory tower.

9. What do you like to read for pleasure?

I read mystery novels voraciously – Canadian, English and Scottish especially. I also read Canadian fiction, Commonwealth fiction, and I support local and Alberta writers.

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

The Roar of the Crowd
@RandyCraigBooks explores murder amidst Edmonton’s theatrical crowd, experts at prevarication. Can Randy keep the murderer from striking again?

Janice MacDonald is the creator of the Randy Craig Mysteries. She is a dyed-in-the-wool Edmontonian, and makes no apologies for setting her novels in a recognizable Edmonton and celebrating the things that make this northern metropolis so vibrant and unique. Miranda "Randy" Craig finds work in various aspects of academe and walks the not-quite-so-mean streets of Alberta’s capital, finding herself enmeshed in puzzling murders and drinking lots of coffee. Janice herself lives with a lovely husband who is not in law enforcement, works for the government, and drinks copious pots of tea.

Friday, February 20, 2015


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

Sister Mary from St. Michael’s Academy who taught me grammar in the 7th Grade with the intensity of a drill sergeant. We feared her. She numbered our seats, called us by our last names and smacked our desktops with a yardstick to ensure we paid attention to the examples she’d written on the board; demanding we identify subject and predicate. I remember how she once stared at me and said: “Mofina, one day you’ll thank me.”

2.What are you working on now?

Going through edits of my next book, EVERY SECOND, which is due for release later in 2015.

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

I’m a former reporter and most of my main protagonists are reporters. I draw on my experience to get into their heads.

4. Are you character driven or plot driven?

Both. You need a sympathetic character and you need them to face challenges that will re-define them.

5. Are you a pantser or a plotter?


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

That feeling you get when you just step off a mid-way thrill ride.

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

I really don’t know.

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

I’d prefer not to say. I don’t want to spoil the surprise.

9. What do you like to read for pleasure?

The notes of F. Scott Fitzgerald, especially his essays in The Crack-Up.

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

Screams in the Night
, a gut-wrenching call and a reporter's life-long search for her missing sister.

Rick Mofina is a former journalist who has worked in newsroom across Canada. He's also reported from the Caribbean, Africa and Kuwait's border with Iraq. His books have been published in nearly 30 countries. The Crime Writers of Canada, The International Thriller Writers and The Private Eye Writers of America have listed his titles among the best in crime fiction. As two-time winner of Canada's Arthur Ellis Award, a three-time Thriller Award nominee and a two-time Shamus Award nominee, the Library Journal calls him, “One of the best thriller writers in the business."

Friday, February 13, 2015


Time for this month's question once again. You may have forgotten at this point that it all started back last spring when four local mystery authors, Barbara Fradkin, R.J. Harlick, Mary Jane Maffini, and Linda Wiken were panelists at a Capital Crime Writers' workshop at the Ottawa Public Library. We had a great time but we also had a great stack of questions and by the end of our time, hadn't gotten through many of them. So, we're tackling them now. One a month. Sometimes we're all able to take part but at other times life interfers -- things like deadlines or even, holidays! -- so this week we're a threesome. Here's the question and our answers follow:

Protagonist, sidekick, villain -- which do you prefer to write?


I am most at home with the protagonist. The protagonist carries your values and is the person the reader cares about (if all goes well) but really, the sidekicks (quirky, irritating or whatever) and the villains (over the top, vengeful, evil, again whatever) are much more fun to write. Especially villains because you can get rid of them at the end of a book. Begone!


This may turn out to be another question with total agreement. I find the protagonist the easiest to write, especially in a series, because the author has to get into his or her psyche right off the bat and that expands over time. And, if you're going together on a long journey of several books, this should be someone you like. Unless you're writing an anti-hero, it's not difficult to come up with a likeable character. Writing the villain can be liberating with an outlet for any deep-seated neuroses. :) No one would ever attribute those to the author's personality! The sidekick is the most fun because this person gets to be sympathetic, empathetic, play the role of a sounding board, and give the protagonist a good kick in the rear when necessary. Everyone need a reliable sidekick.


Villains let us plumb our dark side and misbehave outrageously. It’s a great way for us writers, who are usually gentle, law-abiding, pacifist souls, to kick loose and be bad. Sidekicks are steadfast, smart and loyal, the friend we wish we could have at our side. But it is the protagonist who really holds our heart. When I write, even though I use multiple points of view, the protagonist is the one in whose shoes I walk and whose feelings and passions I share. Not only do I have to care about my protagonist and all the ordeals I am subjecting them to, but in order to spend months or years in their company, I have to enjoy them too.

Friday, February 6, 2015


By Catherine Macdonald

Turn-of-the-century Winnipeg seems the perfect backdrop for this first mystery from a Manitoban with a background in history. Then toss in an unusual sleuth in the form of the Reverend Charles Lauchlan, some very unsavory behavior from the town’s leading citizens, a touch of romance, and of course, murder.

For the Reverend, the challenges in his life are provided by tending to his Presbyterian flock and trying to juggles repairs to the church along with limited funds. But all that changes when his former university roommate, Peter McEvoy is arrested for murder. McEvoy’s once-promising future has disintegrated to alcoholism, gambling and sleazy bars. Then he’s arrested for the murder of one of the city’s most prominent citizens. Only McEvoy can’t remember what happened.

Lauchlan agrees to be responsible once bail is granted. He doesn’t believe his friend, even in a booze-induced state, could do such a thing and that draws him into a quest for the real murderer. Fortunately, Sergeant Andrew Setter of the Winnipeg Police agrees and they form an unusual alliance in searching for the truth. As Lauchlan gets more emotionally attached to the daughter of his former teacher and mentor, her relationship with the son of the dead man’s business partner draws them both into that family’s darkest secrets. And, as time runs out for McEvoy, Lauchlan ends up at the wrong end of a gun.

Catherine Macdonald spins a tale of power, greed and intrigue that is certain to keep the reader engaged until the final pages. Put On The Armour of Light has all the right ingredients: a crime hidden under layers of assumptions; a time period that sets its own restrictions on investigations; and aroster of engaging characters, from the Reverend to the police office, to a female photographer used at crime scenes. That’s a terrific addition and she could probably spin out in her own series.

If you’re watching Granchester on PBS, you’ll want to read this book!

Friday, January 30, 2015


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

My many friends in the Canadian writing community. It’s one thing to write a book, it’s quite another to perfect it (as near as possible), to get it published, and then to market and publicize it. You can write a book on your own, but you need help and advice to do all that other stuff, and I have found the Canadian mystery community, and now the cozy community, to be very close-knit and friendly. It is all about networking

2. What are you working on now?

The third Lighthouse Library mystery, Reading up a Storm.

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

Lucy Richardson is her name and she is not like me in the least! She’s young (and I am not), inquisitive, brave, impulsive. She is intensely loyal to her friends, however, and I do hope that if ever I was in her shoes, I could also be counted on to do the right thing by my friends.

4. Are you character driver or plot driven?

Character. I have all these wonderful, eccentric Outer Banks people and I just love tossing them into the mix and seeing what they’ll do next.

5. Are you a pantser or a plotter?

Total plotter. I began my career as a pantser, and now that I am with Penguin, they require a solid outline as part of the contract. And I have found that I love writing from an outline. All the hard work is done ahead of time and I can enjoy weaving it all together. Which isn’t to say that I won’t deviate from the outline if I have a good reason to, but an outline provides the structure in which I can write. I love it.

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

Fun. Nothing but a few hours of laughter and entertainment. If you’ve had a hard day at work or your family is giving you grief, there is absolutely nothing better than to settle down with a good cozy novel and be taken away on a fun ride to an interesting place.

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

Under my real name of Vicki Delany, I have sixteen published books, of different sub-genres. But now, I’ve found my niche and I will be very happy if in ten years I’m still writing cozies. I will mention, if I may, that Vicki Delany is writing the Christmas Town mysteries for Berkely Prime Crime of which the first, Rest Ye Murdered Gentleman, will be out November 2015. Just in time for Christmas.

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

That I have sixteen published books?

9. What do you like to read for pleasure?

I read crime novels almost exclusively, with the occasional non-fiction thrown in. I am particularly enjoying the modern gothic format these days by writers like Kate Morton, Carol Goodman, or Simone St. James. My favourite book of 2014 was The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters, followed closely by The Secret Place by Tana French.

10. Tell us about your book in a Tweet:

When a priceless first edition Jane Austen is stolen from the Lighthouse Library, Lucy finds herself ensnared in a real-life mystery—and she’s not so sure there’s going to be a happy ending....

Eva Gates is the author of the Lighthouse Library cozy series from Penguin Obsidian, set in a historic lighthouse on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, featuring Boston-transplant librarian, and highly reluctant sleuth, Lucy Richardson. The first in the series, By Book or By Crook, will be released in February 2015. Eva is the pen name of bestselling author Vicki Delany, one of Canada’s most prolific and varied crime writers. Eva can be found at and Vicki at