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
.


Friday, October 31, 2014

CRIMINAL TENDENCIES


In our continuing quest for writing excellence (yes, we do strive for that!), here's this month's question for mystery authors Barbara Fradkin, R.J. Harlick, Mary Jane Maffini (aka Victoria Abbott), and Linda Wiken (aka Erika Chase).

What brings a character more to life -- physical description, dialogue, or action?


BARBARA FRADKIN;


Character is effectively revealed in all these ways, and as in writing in general, a balance of description, dialogue and action creates the best effect. All three engage different senses which are essential to providing the reader with a fully rounded impression. Physical description allows the reader to picture the character in the scene as an observer, whereas through dialogue, the reader hears the character and almost feel like a participant in the conversation. Action, of course, sweeps the reader up in the drama and tension. Whether it’s a headlong race through the woods or a delicately sipped cup of tea, a well-written action scene makes us feel the character in our bones.



R.J. HARLICK:


I’m going to say all three and add in a fourth dimension, internal, as in thinking and feeling. Just concentrating on only one or two of these would create a flat, lifeless character that would fade into the page. The reader needs to be able to envision what the character looks like through descriptive text and what he or she sounds like through dialogue. Dialogue and internal monologue also provide a window into the character’s mind, what he or she is thinking and feeling. The character is further fleshed out by their actions and interactions with other characters, with the setting and with the situation. Using all four techniques will transform a character of words into a living, thinking and feeling person, who jumps from the page.


MARY JANE MAFFINI:

We want to know what the character looks like. We don't want that to be either Barbie or Ken, as a rule, but we don't want a lot of talk about it either. Good to know about height, colouring, body type etc. Having said that, dialogue and action really let the reader get to know the character, so in my opinion they're both much more important than appearance. In fact, not every author talks about the physical traits of their characters and some never tell you what they look like. In addition to the dialogue and action, the character has to really need or want some result that isn't easy and may not even be likely. The writer of course will just make it practically impossible for the character to have what is so important. That will have an influence on their actions and action, of course, IS character.


LINDA WIKEN

Of course, all are important elements in presenting a well-rounded character to readers, and in particular, one that readers can easily identify and hopefully, in the case of the protagonist, bond with. However, if I have to pick one, it would be dialogue. That gets to the essence of the character and through the choice of words, can best describe a character's inner being. Of course, dialogue is the beginning. The writer uses it to give a physical description of the character. Dialogue is also very important in the pacing of a mystery. If there's a lot of action and the pacing is fast, it will obviously keep readers who enjoy that style of mystery, coming back for more. Dialogue can also fill in the gaps whereas, it's not readily seen by description nor by the character's actions.


Do you agree? Disagree? Have your own question you'd like to submit? Please leave a comment here or on Facebook!

Friday, October 17, 2014

SCHMOOZING WITH RICK BLECHTA

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

Boy, that’s a tough one. There are a lot of people who influenced me. Most are not even writers. All the musicians from whom I’ve taken lessons showed me so much that I use every day in my writing: perseverance, how to break down problems to make solving them more easy, how a small amount of progress every day will still get you where you want to be, how to believe in your ability even when things aren’t going well, and above all, patience! Writers who influenced me would have to start with Rex Stout. He had such fine control of his writing and characters. I love the way he packed in telling details so effortlessly and, in most cases, invisibly. For getting me started down this path, it was Dick Francis. It was his revealing writing about the horse racing world that led me to believe that I could do the same sort of thing using music. It’s sort of worked out pretty well.

2. What are you working on now?

My agent has convinced me to do a series. Having spoken to many authors about how they went about this the wrong way, I have taken my time to lay things out thoroughly. I normally fly by the seat of my pants and let characters develop naturally as I work on a book, and then fix things during the revision process. With this project I’ve written pages and pages of character descriptions, situations from the past which will allow me to write further books in the series, some of the most inconsequential-sounding details which will allow me to expand on each of the regularly appearing characters in the series in subsequent books (should I be so lucky), just tons of details I may or may not wind up using. Most of all, I have spent hours simply thinking about these people to the point where I now dream about them. As for writing the actual novel, that’s going slower than I would like, but that’s the fault of having to make a living more than anything. I also will be working on another Rapid Reads book over the winter. And I’m really excited about the story line. You heard it here first, folks: it does not involve music!

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

The protagonist in the novel that’s about to be released by Dundurn (Roses for a Diva) is nothing like me. First of all, Marta is a female (last time I checked) and she’s also an opera singer. I’m a brass player (French horn and trumpet) and singers are only needed to fill up a stage while we’re in the orchestra pit playing all that lovely music! However, Marta does share my sensibilities in many ways. Most of my protagonists do. Not all though, and I won’t reveal which ones those are! The two protagonists in my new series will be pretty different from the sorts I’ve used in the past. You’ll just have to remain patient to find out in what ways they differ.

4. Are you character driven or plot driven?


I think in the current publishing climate, one has to be a bit of both, don’t you? You can get away with being more plot driven in the thriller genre where I tend to write, but somehow, I could never quite manage that. I find people intensely interesting, so it’s no wonder I want my characters to be interesting, as well. Another thing is that characters who aren’t particularly sympathetic can be as interesting as ones with whom you’d want to be friends, so I occasionally write those kind of people. However, if you don’t have an engrossing and plausible plot, you’re going to compound the problems of writing a publishable novel. I have read examples where the story was crap but you just loved the characters so much, you enjoyed it despite its shortcomings but you’ve got to have damn fine characters to pull that one off. So to when a plot is just so fantastic you have to find out what happens even though the world created by the author is completely populated by cardboard cutouts of real people. That is really difficult, too. So I guess you could say my books are both — or at least I try to make them that way.

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

That no question or issue is ever black or white. Real life exists in the gray space in between. Things might not happen the way you want them to, and you can start down the wrong road and never be able to return. What you do have to accomplish is to make the best out of what you’ve been handed. If you remain honest and forthright, you just might find something that makes you a better person. Boy, does that sound heavy, but it is the way my novels are constructed. There are also some funny bits, though. Honest!

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

Obviously, music is also very important to my life. I’ve been a musician far longer than I’ve been a writer. But if tomorrow someone said I’d have to make a choice, I would choose writing — as long as I could listen to as much music as I want. Unless you know about my food blog, readers might well be surprised to know that I am a very good cook (I’m going by what others have said.) I know what a “really good cook” is and I fall far short of that, although I do have talent. My current huge interest is in crafting home charcuterie. Lonzino anyone?

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


A stalker is determined to possess Marta Hendriks completely. How can she possibly survive when he seems to be everywhere – and nowhere?


Rick Blechta is a Toronto-based writer and musician. His thrillers have been praised for their originality, finely drawn and convincing characters, and of course, for their realistic descriptions of the world of music and musicians. This October, his tenth novel, Roses for a Diva, the sequel to his very popular The Fallen One will be released by Dundurn Press. Opera diva Marta Hendriks is back and someone is stalking her throughout the great opera houses of the world. He seems to be everywhere – and nowhere. How can she possibly survive when he is determined to possess her, body and soul?



Friday, October 3, 2014

SCHMOOZING WITH MELODIE CAMPBELL

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

Believe it or not, a producer from HBO. In 1993, he saw my play “Burglar for Coffee” in Toronto and offered me a job writing pilots (which I turned down. This has to be the worst mistake every made by a person not legally insane. But who had ever heard of HBO in 1993?) This man called me “completely nuts” and assured me that my standup/humour column comedy translated well to plays and fiction. I needed a professional to tell me that, and I always remember him gratefully, when I need a boost.

2. What are you working on now?

Book 4 in The Goddaughter series, A BODY FOR THE GODDAUGHTER. More mob comedy, only this time Gina Gallo is the sleuth, not the perpetrator. Okay, well not totally. After all, this is her inept mob family we are talking about .

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

Oh YEAH. Similar (but not exact) family backgrounds. Gina Gallo is the reluctant goddaughter of the mob king in Hamilton. I come from a Sicilian background. Gina reacts as I would to a lot of these situations. She has a rep as a smart-ass. She shares my background angst. And she is…how do I put this…more interested in justice, than the law.

4. Are you character driven or plot driven?

Chicken and egg. Yes, I start with character. A character with a problem or goal, and obstacles to that goal, which are resolved by the end. My books have a lot of plot in them. But the plot is driven by the protagonist and what she wants.

5. Are you a pantser or a plotter?

Plotter. I teach ‘Crafting a Novel’ at Sheridan College, so I am immersed in ‘craft.’ I don’t start writing until I know the ending and at least two crisis points. And usually I follow a 3-act structure, to avoid ‘saggy middle syndrome.’

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


A few hours of smiles and laughter! I write to entertain and to lighten a readers’ day.

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


Oh wow. Hopefully, with another humorous crime book series, and perhaps double the fans. Okay, make that quadruple the fans! And money. More money would be nice ;)

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


I trained for Opera. I used to sing ‘torch’ when I was younger. My dad was in a big band, so you can guess why I was called ‘Melodie.’ Oh. And I am lamentably addicted to fast cars. I blew my advances and royalties this year on a 2006 sapphire blue Corvette. One day I may regret this, but not today.

9. What do you like to read for pleasure?

Books like mine. Wish I could find more. I like Andrea Camilleri from Sicily, Lisa Lutz, and yes, Janet Evanovich, who Library Digest compared me to. Other favourite books include The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (you may be noticing a humour trend at this point…)

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

The Artful Goddaughter
(Orca Books, just released)
Mob Goddaughter Gina Gallo stands to inherit two million bucks! All she has to do is plan a heist...but when the wrong painting is taken, hilarity ensues.


Billed as Canada’s “Queen of Comedy" by the Toronto Sun (Jan. 5, 2014,) Melodie Campbell has had a decidedly checkered past. Don’t dig too deep. You might find cement shoes.
Her crime series, The Goddaughter, is about a wacky mob family in Hamilton aka The Hammer. This has no resemblance whatsoever to the wacky Sicilian family she grew up in. Okay, that’s a lie. She had to wait for certain members of the family to die before writing The Goddaughter.
Her other series is racy rollicking time travel, totally scandalous, hardly mentionable in mixed company. But we’ll mention it anyway. Rowena Through the Wall. Hold on to your knickers. Or don’t, and have more fun.
The Goddaughter’s Revenge won the 2014 Derringer (US) and the 2014 Arthur Ellis Award in Canada. She has won seven more awards for noir stories which have appeared in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, Over My Dead Body, Flash Fiction Online, and more. Publications total over 200 and include 7 novels. By day, she is the Executive Director of Crime Writers of Canada.


Friday, September 19, 2014

CRIMINAL TENDENCIES


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

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


MARY JANE MAFFINI:

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

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


ROBIN HARLICK:

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

BARBARA FRADKIN:

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


LINDA WIKEN


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

Friday, September 12, 2014

MYSTERY REVIEW - THE RAINY DAY KILLER

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




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

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

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

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

Friday, September 5, 2014

SCHMOOZING WITH ROSEMARY MCCRACKEN


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


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

2. What are you working on now?


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

8. What do you like to read for pleasure?


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

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

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

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