JILL What can you tell me about your current work-in-progress?
ROY Coswell number four’s icon sits on my screen nagging me. I’ve made a number of starts at it and have not been happy with any of them. That’s the norm for me, but when the right one appears, I’ll be off to the races. I rarely suffer writer’s block when the plot gets going and a first draft then moves along quickly. Editing it, however, slows the whole business down again, but it’s the cursed start that’s key.
JILL In terms of personality, which of your main characters is more like you: RCMP Corporal Paul Blakemore or Inspector Coswell?
ROY Neither, really. Paul Blakemore is based on a real RCMP officer who spent three years posted on the island where I live; a wonderful character whom I got to know well. I created the urbane Coswell in my first novel to offset Blakemore’s country, red-neck personality and Coswell kind of grew on me to the point that I decided he would be the major protagonist in future novels. He has very few of my traits. In fact the only ones I can think of are my motion sickness, my gourmet tastes and, at times, a droll sense of humour.
JILL Right from the get-go, your novels have featured a detecting duo, rather than a solitary sleuth. Do you plan to do a novel at some point that features just one or the other? Do you ever find it difficult to balance two lead characters?
ROY The duo sleuth technique really occurred only in my first novel, Murder in the Monashees. After that, Coswell took over as the leading character and will remain so through future novels in the series. In fact, I’m debating at the moment whether or not Blakemore will even appear in my latest work-in-progress. I created an RCMP Corporal James in Murder in the Chilcotin who I think will make an interesting new partner for Coswell as he tackles a murder case in Vancouver’s university district (the setting I’ve proposed for Coswell four). Working with two major points of view in a novel is a problem. I think that a single protagonist works best for most readers, me included.
JILL Your books came out at a leisurely pace, with releases in 2005, 2008, and 2010. What are your thoughts on writers who release two or three (or more!) titles per year?
ROY Ah, the curse/joy of being retired. Life has become so busy for me since I left the ivory towers of Medicine and academia that writing is just one of the many items on the burners. I’m an avid outdoorsman, a hunter, a golfer, a motorcycle enthusiast and there are those many, many “honey-do” projects that my wife comes up with. Anyone who can put out two or three titles a year probably suffers from varicose veins, hunched shoulders and constipation. That’s dedication way beyond me, I’m afraid.
JILL What is your favourite murder motive? What is your favourite murder weapon?
ROY I don’t really have a favourite. Any motive or weapon will do. In fact, I’d love to think of something unique in that regard (as does every other crime writer, I suspect).
JILL Speculative question: Do you think you would have a) finished a manuscript and b) found a publisher if you had not gone through the Humber writing program?
ROY The one year I spent with Humber and the wonderful Olive Senior, my mentor, were definitely responsible for my first novel. Prior to that, my writing consisted entirely of short story submissions to various contests and a newsletter for my local Rod and Gun club. I’m not sure I would even have attempted a novel if I hadn’t signed on to that course and even if I did, it was really Olive’s suggestion to submit Murder in the Monashees to a publisher that made me dare to do so.
JILL What’s the most satisfying thing about being a novelist? What is the most frustrating?
ROY The satisfaction is enormous. To produce something that others appreciate is the goal, I’m sure, or every creative person out there - be they a writer, a painter, a sculptor or whatever. The most frustrating for me is a total inability to judge my own work. Oh, and the editing, the editing, the editing.
JILL If you were to write something other than crime fiction, what would it be? Tell the truth now, what abandoned projects do you have sitting in a drawer somewhere?
ROY I write everything from short stories to a bit of poetry and have had some success with these in various contests, the Kenneth Galbraith Literary Award, for one (finalist two years in a row). I have writing projects all over the place—a complete young adult novel, a finished stand alone psychological thriller, and reams and reams of plots, outlines and some research data. Abandoned? Not really. I’ve often gone back to the pile for ideas to work on. Never throw anything away.
JILL What crime writers were you most influenced by?
ROY Those who didn’t rely on sex, violence and sadism to carry their writing. Tony Hillerman comes to mind immediately as my kind of author.
JILL What was one thing you learned after reading a review of any one of your novels?
ROY I have been blessed by very good reviews for the most part. The few critical remarks seemed more a matter of reviewer’s taste rather than substance. I haven’t really changed my style as a result of any of them. Oh, perhaps one. A twelve-year-old girl read my middle reader mystery and gave her review—“I didn’t like the girl [protagonist] at first. I think you need to change the first chapter.” I rewrote it. “It’s fixed now,” she said. That’s a reviewer I respect.
JILL What advice would you give to aspiring writers who want tips on writing dialogue?
ROY Read the dialogue out loud leaving out the he saids, etc. Does it sound like real speech? Are the characters getting across what you want them to impart? You won’t catch bad dialogue if you read silently to yourself. And, finally, get some frank, honest soul to listen to you read it out loud and ask them the same questions.
JILL Last question – and it’s a bit of a freebie: What would you like your readers to know about you and your work? In other words, what’s the question you wish I had asked but didn’t?
ROY Wonderful question. Check out Nigel Bird’s blog Sea Minor in which he has authors interview themselves with just that question in mind. He calls his series “Dancing with Myself.” I did one for him in June of this year. My favourite question was:
Me: Do you think that the lack of significant angst in your protagonists goes against the grain of modern crime fiction?
Roy: It does and I’m happy writing that way. I like my men to be men, not wimps stewing in their inadequacies. My RCMP officers are real people; guys I like to have a beer with.
You can learn more about Roy on his website.
Find Roy's books on Amazon.