Friday, August 26, 2011

Jill's very brief bio (proudly devoid of facts & relevant details).

Recently, a number of people have asked me for my CV or a brief bio.  I don't have anything like that on my own website, but Iguana Books has a paragraph on me, plus a never before seen writing sample (it's how I came up with the character of Sasha Jackson's father).

Here's the text from the Iguana bio (in purple), and editorial comments from yours truly (in red):

Jill Edmondson is the author of the Sasha Jackson mystery series. There’s a thin line between Jill and her sleuth Sasha, although Jill has never worked at a phone sex hotline (I'm pretty sure my uncle Doug believes I worked my way through college at a smut line!), and Sasha isn’t a language geek.  (For fun, I read books about language (English or Yiddish usually), language history and evolution, word origins, and about grammar.) By day, Jill is a post-secondary communications professor and ESL assessor (that means I evaluate non-native English speakers in their ability to use/write/comprehend English).

When she’s not writing whodunits or busting people for improperly using semi-colons (just skip them all together if you don't know what a subordinate clause is), Jill enjoys bumming around any country where they speak a Latin-based language.  (I went to Italy this summer and - surprisingly - spoke French most of the time). 

Jill loves head banging rock concerts (this has totally been the summer of the return of Hair Bands!  Have gone to see Motley Crue, Poison, Foreigner, Journey, Soundgarden, Heart, Def Leppard and Night Ranger.  Blondie is next, in September), ice cream (the real stuff, for Pete's sake don't give me low-fat frozen yoghurt), and palm trees, and hates the colour orange (reminds me of my mother) and the letter V (reminds me of my step-mother).

Jill is currently working on the bio of an underrated rock and blues guitar god, as well as the next Sasha Jackson mystery.  (The guitar guy's manager keeps telling me to stop.  He may get his wish.  I haven't got much free time, and need to get cracking on the Sasha books before working on other things).   

I realize that the above is a little thin, so here's a bit more info:

I'm allergic to cats. I'm a disaster in the kitchen.  I have four useless diplomas and two useful degrees.  I'm a rabble-rousing union rep.  I was born in Ottawa.  I'm fascinated by current events, especially American politics/Tea Party/idiot republicans who spout off on Fox News.  I love puns and knock-knock jokes.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Learning about your industry or trade...

When I go to events (store signings and such) I frequently get asked about HOW TO BECOME A WRITER.

I truly do not mind helping another writer or giving advice to someone who has a dream of being a writer someday.  I will occasionally look at an aspiring writer's work and give them feedback.  What astonishes me is how few people put the effort in to actually learning about their desired profession.  It's like:
  • an aspiring lawyer not learning about the LSAT exams
  • a travel agent with no idea about world capitals
  • a nurse who gets nauseous at the sight of blood
  • a cop who has poor marksmanship
  • a veterinarian with allergies to cats and dogs
Anyone wanting to pursue the above professions should polish the things required to become or the be a good member of a given profession (study a map, go to a firing range).  It's also good to rule out certain professions if you don't have the right aptitude or attitude for it (a queasy nurse, a vet with allergies).

It's smart to find out the what's and why's and how's of a given profession before deciding to follow that certain path.  For example,
  • an electrician must do an apprenticeship before becoming a journeyman
  • a physician must do a residency
  • an actor/singer/dancer has to go to auditions, many of which will not be successful
  • a lawyer must article for a year
  • a bartender should know the recipes for a few popular cocktails
And so on...

With the Internet, all of this information is there for the taking.  Yet people don't bother to check into it, thus putting themselves at a disadvantage.

I would be happy to help someone polish a synopsis or fine-tune a query letter, but you should know what those things are.  I don't think it's up to me to give quickie workshops on what a  query letter is, or why you need to have a zingy synopsis.

People ask me where they can SNAIL MAIL their whole manuscript.  Asking that question shows me the person has spent ZERO time investigating writing as a profession.  Shame on you! For the record, there are many good reasons why an agent or publisher does not want to receive the entire text - all 422 pages - of an unsolicited manuscript:
  • they don't have time to read that many submissions
  • a manuscript takes up space
  • worries about accusations of plagiarism/intellectual property
  • they aren't taking on new clients
  • it wastes paper and is not environmentally friendly
  • if sent via email, well, SPAM SPAM SPAM and viruses
There are tons of books out there on how to get published.  And there are lots of books out there on how to write.  These are two different subjects.  I'll talk more about writing in another post, but for now, the best book on getting published is:

78 Reasons Why Your Book May Never Be Published and 14 Reasons Why It Just Might by Pat Walsh.

There are lots of other books out there as well - some of them are great - but in my opinion, the Walsh book was the VERY BEST.  Damn I learned a lot from reading it!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Some of the "greats" get slagged...

This post is a follow up to the previous post in which I talk a bit about The Washington Post book reviewer Patrick Anderson and his book The Triumph of the Thriller.  In Triumph, Anderson takes a look at the changes in people's reading choices/preferences in recent years.  As well, he looks at the evolution of crime fiction from back in the days of Poe, Doyle, and Christie, to modern day masters like Michael Connelly and Dennis Lehane.

Patrick Anderson has written a great many favourable book reviews, but there have been a few blasts as well.  Interestingly, some of the attacks have been about brand-name authors with book sales in the gazillions. 

Here are some of the highlights:

On James Patterson's The Beach House (and peripherally on Kiss the Girls): The book [Kiss the Girls] was sick, sexist, sadistic, and subliterate, so I tossed it and made a mental note that this was a writer to avoid at all costs.  The trouble with The Beach House is that it unfolds like an unspeakably dumb comic book.... One can skim the book in wonder at the awfulness of its prose and the absurdity of its plot.  But no one with even a minimal appreciation of good writing could possibly read it for pleasure. 

On David Baldacci's Hour Game:  The novel abounds with bizarre scenes that exist to provide cheap thrills.... Beating odds of probably a billion to one, I survived this novel with my sanity intact.  With this book, Baldacci has entered the James Patterson Really Bad Thriller Sweepstakes.

On Trace by Patricia Cornwell: You couldn't pay me to read another of her novels.

On The Eleventh Commandment by Jeffrey Archer:  As I write this, Jeffrey Archer's latest is already on the best-seller list, so my warning may come to late to save you from this piece of nonsense.  If not, caveat emptor....  Why he is writing claptrap like this is anyone's guess. 

(You can find all the above excerpts in chapter 18 of The Triumph of the Thriller).

Fortunately, I've never had anything even close to what's written above said about my Sasha Jackson novels, and I really hope I never do!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Good Reviews Only... Every review is a good one...

The Triumph of the Thriller: How Cops, Crooks, and Cannibals Captured Popular FictionThe Triumph of the Thriller: How Cops, Crooks, and Cannibals Captured Popular FictionThe Triumph of the Thriller: How Cops, Crooks, and Cannibals Captured Popular FictionThe Triumph of the Thriller: How Cops, Crooks, and Cannibals Captured Popular FictionThe Triumph of the Thriller: How Cops, Crooks, and Cannibals Captured Popular FictionThe Triumph of the Thriller: How Cops, Crooks, and Cannibals Captured Popular FictionThe Triumph of the Thriller: How Cops, Crooks, and Cannibals Captured Popular FictionThe Triumph of the Thriller: How Cops, Crooks, and Cannibals Captured Popular FictionThe Triumph of the Thriller: How Cops, Crooks, and Cannibals Captured Popular Fiction

Last night, I posted another quickie review on Goodreads.  I noticed that once again, I gave the book five stars and said nice things about it.  Seems that just about every book I've reviewed and/or rated was excellent and earned four or five stars.

Naturally, the question is raised: Aren't there any crappy books out there? Surely there must be some dreck that I'd only rate one or two stars...?

A few years ago, I read "The Triumph of the Thriller: How cops, crooks and cannibals captured popular fiction" by Patrick Anderson.  Anderson is a novelist (Lords of the Earth, and The President's Mistress, to name just two of his many novels), and he is also a book reviewer (The  Washington Post, among others). 

In Anderson's book (which of course I'd say is excellent and I'd give it five stars), he discusses a possible misconception stemming from the high percentage of books he's reviewed favourably (see chapter 18). 

Anderson explains the seeming tilt in his oeuvre of book reviews.  There are so many books out there that there's no need to read (or finish) books you do not enjoy.  He said - not surprisingly - that he only reviewed books he had actually read all the way through. As he points out "I don't want to spend my time reading bad books."  There's only so many hours in a day, after all... So there you go, you gotta like the book enough to stay with it until the last page. 

Then, if you actually do finish the book, you want to have enjoyed it a fair bit.  As Anderson said, in essence, why would a reviewer want to spend any additional time thinking about or talking about something that ultimately was not enjoyable? 

This is logical: If you've been to the doctor's office for a pap test or prostate exam, do you really want to spend time afterwards reliving the moment, sharing it with your friends, reflecting on it further and writing about it?  (I guess the fact that a book gets reviewed at all is in itself something of an endorsement then.)

This isn't to say that Anderson (or other reviewers, who may in fact work quite differently from him), never pan anything.  But the book has to be bad enough to warrant being written about, if for no other reason than to "save decent people from surrendering $25 for a piece of crap." 

To be continued...

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Cast of Misfits in "The Lies Have It" - Part Two

Here are a few more of the folks you'll meet in the next book, coming in November 2011.  More info on The Lies Have It here.

Robin the Single Mom She was well on her way to becoming an asshole when fate intervened and
straightened her out.  Her life now revolves around mashed potatoes, beaded jewellery, and tabloid mags, instead of mosh pits and after-hours clubs.

Justin The King This drop dead gorgeous swinger loves the ladies and a shot of chilled gin.  His smile makes women drop their pants, his charm makes innocent ladies do  unladylike things, but beware...  Justin's promiscuity might very well have led to murder.

The Dead Guy Okay, so maybe Ian Dooley was a bit of a wanker, but he didn't need for his final moments to be spent on his knees down by the Leslie Spit.  His world revolved around whips and chains, but ended in bondage and bullets.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Cast of Misfits in "The Lies Have It" - Part One

Here's a peek at a few of the characters you'll meet in
The Lies Have It

Synopsis here

Rodrigo and Phil Rejects from Holmes on Homes or Bob Vila.  These two contractors can fix or renovate any home but can't find a pair of jeans to cover up their ass cracks.  They both swear too much and shave too infrequently.  At lunch hour, they play spit for distance off the roof of the house they're currently working on. 

Macy the Runaway This kid pisses off just about every adult who meets her. Spoiled, selfish, and petulant, her parents should have been relieved when she took off from home.  Dr. Phil wouldn't know what to do with her.  If her mother could turn back the clock, she'd undo all the namby-pamby BS child-rearing philosophies she once subscribed to, and give the kid a good spanking instead.

Vote For Me Candidate Tim Nealson wants to be Toronto's next mayor.  He  promises not to raise taxes.  He promises to get rid of waste at City Hall.  He says he has some land in Florida for sale.  He has nice teeth and good hair, but very few original ideas.  He exudes confidence.  His posture is erect but his penis isn't.  He just may win the election based solely on his looks.  Damn.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Paul The Book Guy

So, today's blogpost is about a cool site (actually, much more than a website) that I stumbled upon a while back.

PaulTheBookGuy is actually Paul and Greg and Chris the book guys.  Now, before I begin to write about them, and what they do on their site, I gotta give full disclosure:

1.  They wrote an awesome review of Blood and Groom on their website - a review in which they refer to Sasha Jackson as "Toronto’s sexiest new detective".  Yeah baby! (If only they knew that the author is the complete opposite of the character, and has a unibrow, plus four missing teeth, and wears size 18 flannel bloomers, but that's another story...).

2. I'm a Luddite.  Yes, I'm technically stupid (just like a former tourism ad campaign for Ottawa referred to the city as "technically beautiful"... delayed ouch).  It's really quite a coup when I successfully link onto, or use, or updownload stuff on the computer.  It's even more amazing when I succesfully use any device or piece of equipment that plugs in. (This explains my prowess with a chainsaw). 

So... anyhow Paul the Book Guy and his fellow book aficionados Greg and Chris have a cool website (more on it below) plus they do a podcast.  (I've only recently become familiar with this strange new entity known as a podcast...)

This week, I was a guest on the show, and it was great fun to talk about some of the weird/funny details behind the writing of the Sasha Jackson mysteries.   Elaboration on Luddite comment above: at one point they asked about using Skype to do the interview.  Hmmm.  Skype... I believe I created an account for this ages ago, but I've never used it.  Do I just yell at the computer? Should I hold the laptop up to my ear?  Hello... hello...hello, is anyone there???

Anyhow, their podcast is much more than just interviews, or plugs for books the guys have recently read. 

They discuss cool gadgets and book-related techno stuff (things that may actually have to be plugged in... Oh oh... getting out of my comfort zone...)  In this most recent episode (#6) they talk about audio books and listening at speed and a half (Cool! I had no idea one could do that!), and about compression on the Audible app vs. the iTunes app (and they explain this in such a way that even I can understand!), and they have the Think Geek item of the week.

In episode #6 they also announce an upcoming guest (all I'll say here is Atlas Shrugged - you gotta listen to the podcast to get the details), plus they discuss a book of funny (stupid) student answers on exams, and The Girl who Kicked a  Smörgåsbord and Played with a Tattooed Red Volvo, and there's a good chat about comics (Spiderman),  and kid lit (Robert Munsch), plus much more. 

They also occasionally use the endearment "Constant Reader" - which is a wonderful nod to a literary luminary: Dorothy Parker, she of the acid tongue.  (Every time I hear "Constant Reader," I am reminded of Dot's bitchy swipe at Winnie the Pooh: Tonstant Weader fwowed up.)

So, yeah, it's a cool website  that any bibliophile will be happy to check out.

Click to hear the Awesome Podcast! Check it out - it's well worth a listen. (My interview is in the last ~10 minutes of the show, and trust me, Dahlink, I'm damn fascinating!) 

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Interviews... This time it's ME!!!

Over the last while I've posted a number of interviews that I've conducted with a wonderful bunch of mystery writers.  Now, I get to turn tables and share a few interviews in which I answer questions instead of asking them.

In March, Bill Selnes at Mysteries and More interviewed me after he had reviewed both Blood and Groom and Dead Light District. In this interview I mention getting tipped in hash and talk a bit about hardboiled sleuths.  Thanks Bill!

I was recently interviewed on Entertainment Realm by Amy Steele.  This was the second interview I did after Dead Light District came out.  Amy interviewed me after posting awesome reviews of both Sasha Jackson mysteries.  Amy asked me some good questions, and I especially liked giving a bit of the background to my books. We discussed Toronto and setting among other things.   I really appreciate Amy's interest in my books!

And just recently, Athabasca University - where I did an MA in Cultural Studies - posted a lovely two part profile on me and my books.  The first link is my former professor Gloria Filax interviewing me, and the second link is a bit of discussion on the series and what has shaped the books so far - basically it traces the journey from bookworm to published author.  I owe a lot to Athabasca University and have much to thank them for!

Monday, August 8, 2011

Today's travels are with Joan Dondaldson Yarmey...

Today's interview is with Joan Donaldson Yarmey, author of The Travelling Detective Series

Jill:  There’s a saying: write what you know. You have a background in travel writing. How has this shaped your mystery writing?

Joan:  I like having a travel writer as a sleuth because I can then have the mysteries set wherever I want and I am not stuck with having one city or area as the background. This way, I don't end up killing off half the residents of a place and having the other half being murderers.

Jill:  Give me your best one sentence plug for “Whistler’s Murder.”

Joan:  Amateur sleuth Elizabeth Oliver, who has tagged along to Whistler with her best friend, Sally Matthews, believes she will have a relaxing holiday at the resort until she hears about the discovery of a body in a newly demolished house.

Jill:  What can you tell me about your current work in progress?

Joan:  The next novel in my Travelling Detective Series will take place in Disneyland. Elizabeth Oliver, along with her father Phil and twin siblings Terry and Sherry, is attending a family get together that is centered around a younger cousin's dance school’s performance at the happiest place on earth. When another one of Elizabeth's cousins is murdered many secrets about members of her family are revealed.

Jill:  How many books do you plan for the Travelling Detective Series?

Joan:  I’m really not sure about that. There is a fifth one that I want to write and then I will see after that. I would like to branch out into other types of writing.

Jill:  What destination – outside of North America (including the Caribbean) would you like to use as a future Travelling Detective setting?

Joan:  I would like to see Elizabeth Oliver go to Scotland and meet some of her relatives there.

Jill:  What are your thoughts on the many recent changes – a complete overhaul really – in the world of book publishing? I mean that in the last decade, there have been huge shifts in format – digital books, and nowadays it’s easier than ever to become a self-published author.

Joan:  I'm thinking that with speed and price that ebooks can be made available there will certainly be a lot more competition in the number of books for the public to read. But I also think that with the ease of downloading and the purchase prices, more people will be reading. (Comment from Jill: Gawd! I hope that’s true!)

Jill:  If you could give one piece of advice to an aspiring mystery author, what would it be?

Joan:  Read, read, read, and when you find a passage in a book that really affects your emotions mark it and reread it to see what words are used and how they are used to give you that feeling. (Comment from Jill: I couldn't agree more! Read, read, read!)

Jill:  Which is harder for you to write: dialogue or description (setting)?

Joan:  Description. I get so wrapped up in setting up the mystery and having the characters going through their lives that I forget to describe the setting.

Jill:  If you could import a fictional detective – Miss Marple, Spenser, Sherlock Holmes, etc. – into one of your stories, who would you pick and why?

Joan:  I grew up reading Nancy Drew and Trixie Beldon and then graduated to Poirot and Miss Marple. But I have also found so many other sleuths who I like reading about. If I had to chose I guess it would be Joanne Kilbourn. She is a strong woman who could teach Elizabeth Oliver many things.

Jill:  What was your biggest challenge in writing Illegally Dead, the first book in the Travelling Detective Series?

Joan:  I had written the manuscript and sent it to a publisher. They liked it but thought that I had put too much travel stuff in it, since I had Elizabeth Oliver working on a travel article for a magazine while trying to solve the mystery of a body found in a septic tank. I took some out and sent it back. They still liked it but wanted me to remove more of the travel parts. I said that her main purpose had been to work on her research and that I couldn't have her ignore that. We couldn't reach an agreement. I sent it to another publisher who want to publish it but they felt that I needed to add more of Elizabeth’s travel research to it.

Jill:  Last question – and you get to choose it! What answer do you have for a question I have not asked (but you wish I had...)

Joan:  Many writers are now combining two or more genres in their writing. I, too, have tried that. In "The Only Shadow In the House" some of the clues were presented through one woman's chapbooks of what I termed as Script Poetry. In "Whistler's Murder" I have combined science fiction/fantasy with my mystery.

You can find Joan's books on Amazon.
You can learn more about Joan and her writing on her blog.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Mark Bourrie "An Author's Hellish Ordeal" ... Indeed!

Wow!  Just came across this article on Facebook and I must comment on it and share it.  The title of the piece, found on Huffington Post, written by Mark Bourrie, is "Book Publishing: An Author's Hellish Ordeal." 

Mark's journey was indeed hellish, much more hellish than others, but he notes that for any author, the book biz is anything but a cakewalk.  As Mark says:

"The more I write books and promote them, the more likely I am to end up on the dole. Very, very few people in Canada make a living from writing books. I hope to, but the chances are slim to none."

Mark's book The Fog of War: Censorship of Canada's Media in World War Two is available at Chapters and Indigo .

Read Mark's bio here.

Title for Sasha Jackson Mystery #4

I've decided to go with Frisky Business as the title for the fourth book in the Sasha Jackson Mysteries series.  It suits my preference for shorter titles (two or three words is ideal, in my humble opinion).  As well, it's in line with the pun-styled titles I've used with the other three books in the Sasha Jackson Mysteries series.  Finally, it matches the story line, which focuses this time on the world of adult entertainment, i.e. XXX movies.

So, now that I've sorted that out, it's time to see what my Jennifer comes up with for the cover design.  And then I guess I should finish writing the rest of the book.  Right now, it's about 1/3 done.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Interview with Lou Allin!

Today I'm very lucky to have Murdoch award winner and mystery author extraordinare Lou Allin as my interview guest.  She's busy as hell with dogs and books and the great outdoors, so I'm lucky she found time to answer all these silly (and not so silly questions).  Here we go...

Jill:  There are five books in the Belle Palmer series... Will readers be seeing a sixth?

Lou:  I didn’t foresee a certain number of books when I started the series back in the mid nineties. But critical to me is setting. I want the details absolutely accurate. No arbutus tree growing in Wawa. No flower blooming before its time, like a pearly everlasting in April. No fox strolling Vancouver Island. Not to forget the weather! -35C has to be experienced to be understood. So when I moved from the Nickel Capital in Sudbury, Northern Ontario, in 2006, I took one last book with me, Memories are Murder (2007). The title seemed a fitting end to the series, or should I say hibernation. Belle, her dog Freya, and her father now live happily in a parallel universe where they can eat raspberries in summer and snowshoe in winter any time of the year.

Jill:  I know you have a background in teaching post-secondary school. How close is the character Maddie Temple to you?

Lou:  After finishing Northern Winters are Murder and Blackflies are Murder in the Belle Palmer series and finding no publisher, I turned to something different, a character closer to me in age, early fifties at the time, and in an academic setting, which I knew well, although Ontario colleges are not the ivory towers of universities. Perhaps to engage an American publisher, I used the Michigan Upper Peninsula, a former mining area with similarities to Sudbury. It was fun to create a little campus. I modeled the greens and a few buildings on Ohio State, where I received my BSc and MA in English. The toxic administrative grappling was perfect for a murder. When the stakes are low, the evil goes higher. My new German shepherd pup, Nikon, had a leading role. I can still see his little bum bouncing down stairs like a froggie. As for personality, Maddie may be a professor of Victorian Literature, but like Belle, she does not suffer fools gladly. She’s a tad more conservative and doesn’t have the wilderness adventures Belle enjoys.

Jill:  With the Holly Martin series, you (your characters, your plots, your settings) entered into official world of crime investigation, unlike the amateur or accidental sleuths you created in Maddie or Belle. What challenges do you face by now having a character who has to play by the rules and work within a system?

Lou:  Like many amateur sleuth authors, I was wearying of the questions (usually by agents) like “How can you justify your sleuth’s involvement?” One of them wanted me to change the victim to the sister of the sleuth. I explained that the sleuth was already a reporter. Not only that, she came from Cleveland and was exploring Utah’s canyons in Man Corn Murders.

So I chose an RCMP sergeant in charge of a small detachment. Upon arriving on the island, I learned that Holly couldn’t be higher than a corporal and have only two other personnel. So she got an instant demotion. Not only that, she can’t play the role of an inspector and investigate murders….unless they seem to be accidents or they’ve been covered up for years. It’s challenging and leads to frustration, but an author never has it easy.

Jill:  Do you make things up as you go along in your mystery writing or do you have a detailed outline? (Part two of this question – if you do indeed use an outline – is how far do you stray from it, if at all?)

Lou:  In my early books, I started with a crime, the ending, and then filled in the details. This method allows for serendipity and creativity, but creates plenty of revisions. In 2003 I had a serious back injury which allowed me to sit for only five minutes at a time at the computer. So the next book, Murder, Eh?, was meticulously plotted every afternoon for hours. Then in the morning I typed like a dervish. Over a few months, the five minutes stretched to an hour. Once I did ten typed pages in that time. Since I knew every move of the scene, it went fast. Now I confess I have reverted in lazy fashion to a combination of the two. I recommend none of the above. You do what works best for you.

Jill:  You have several works featuring strong, capable leading ladies. Do you think it would be hard to write a male lead character? Ever tried? Why or why not?

Lou:  It’s wise to break out of the comfort zone every now and then. Recently I published That Dog Won’t Hunt, with a lead male character of thirty, an opportunistic cowboy who meets an older, hard-drinking woman (guess who?) in the Mojave Desert and returns with her to her hunting lodge in Northern Ontario. It’s a novella in the Orca Rapid Reads series designed for adults with literacy issues. A fast, easy read with a basic vocabulary and a linear plot. I must have been convincing because the reviews have been good.

As well, I have the beginning of an historical mystery series set in 1895 Victoria and starring a detective called Edwin DesRosiers (my grandfather’s name) aka The Rozzer. This one I’d like to send to an agent.

Jill:  What is the strangest or most surprising thing a fan/reader ever said to you (at an event, signing, conference, etc.)

Lou:  It’s more of a compliment, but one which would surprise people who think the Sudbury area is still a blackened moonscape. Several readers have expressed a wish to visit there because of the landscape in the books. I’m proud to be an unofficial ambassador for a place and people who gave me a home and job for thirty years.

Jill:  What do you know now that you wish you had known about the publishing business back when you first began writing?

Lou:  I might have tried harder to get an agent. The difference? Way more money and publicity. Then again, do I write the kind of books an agent wants? Do I need the pressure of a large publisher who might want even two books a year? Imagine being yoked into an alphabet series. What’s Sue Grafton going to doing in life after Z?

Jill:  If your books were going to be made into movies, who would you cast to play Belle Palmer and Holly Martin?

Lou:  This is a very tough one since like Belle Palmer, I prefer films of the Golden Age. Way back in the early nineties, I thought about Margot Kidder with her Superman pluck. Since contemporary actresses aren’t that familiar to me, I had to hit Google for one in her forties and one in her thirties. For Belle, I see the no-nonsense Sandra Bullock. For Holly, young and less sure of herself, Audrey Tautou.

Jill:  What do you have to say about coming up with book titles? 

Lou:  My editors have always let me choose the titles, providing that they can tweak them. With the “are murder” series, the thrust was evident. Come to think of it, I was weary of finding new northern themes. Just say no to Chilblains are Murder. The second series uses Victorian poems for titles. “And on the Surface Die” from Tennyson, “She Felt No Pain” from Browning, and the upcoming “Twilight is not Good for Maidens” from Christina Rossetti. That last one may sell to vampire lovers.

Jill:  Questions for your characters (just Holly or Belle):

a. Which of them is most likely to get a speeding ticket?
b. Which of them is more likely to go to bed without brushing her teeth?
c. Which of them is occasionally lazy about recycling?
d. Which of them is most likely to accidentally bounce a cheque?
e. Which of them is most likely to use a library (for pleasure, not case related research)
f. Which of them votes in every election?
g. Which of them has amassed a greater number of frequent flyer miles?

Lou:  Easy enough. Belle is in her mid-forties, does as she pleases, and doesn’t suffer fools gladly. She’d speed, and go to bed without brushing her teeth since at the end of every book, she’s out in the wilderness. She is busy and might not recycle, she’d use the library on a rare occasion, she’d be cynical enough not to vote, but she’d never bounce a cheque. Money is very important to her. Young and untried Holly would follow the RCMP line more carefully. In the ongoing hunt to find out what happened to her mother, who disappeared without a trace ten years ago, she may overstep her boundaries. I prefer Belle of the two because it’s hard to remember how I was over thirty years ago. But I’m growing to like Holly. After all, I created her.

Jill:  And the last part... What do you wish I had asked you but didn’t? Go ahead and answer that question... whatever it is.

Lou:  My dogs are my greatest inspiration. Every one of them except the latest, Zia the border collie, has starred in my books. With me still is Friday (aka Strudel). Bush Poodles are Murder was written when she was a pup. Now she’s ten and has developed blindness from retinal atrophy and cataracts. But she doesn’t know it and we don’t tell her. She follows our steps on every walk, bush or sidewalk, up and down stairs in a four-level house. An amazing little girl. She runs the other dogs and the entire household and takes no guff from man or beast.

For more on Lou, please visit her website.
Check out Lou's books on Amazon.

A scary bunch of mystery writers!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Bad Sex, Worse Writing

I admit that it's rather difficult to write about - ahem - romantic interludes, or what the hell, let's just call it smut.  However, sometimes reading it is more painful than trying to write it.  The British newspaper The Guardian has given out  the Bad Sex Award.  Below are some of the real zingers - enough to make you try to reclaim your virginity.

From Absurdistan by Gary Shteyngart (Granta) p201
"AW," she shouted. "FUCK ME." She leaned back. I slipped out. Her thighs trembled before me, and I felt a warm, abundant liquid spreading on my own thighs, not sure which of us had issued it. My bedroom was filled with the smell of asparagus and related greenery. "Aw," she said again. "Fuck me."

From Will by Christopher Rush (Beautiful Books) p132-3
Anne Hathaway's cow-milking fingers, cradling my balls in her almond palm, now took pity on the poor anguished erection, and in the infinite agony of her desire, guided it to the quick of the wound. At the same time I searched wildly with the fingers of my left hand, groping blind as Cyclops, found the pulpy furred wetness, parted the old lips of time and slipped my middle finger into the sancta sanctorum.

From Apples by Richard Milward (Faber) p 179
She had on no knickers, and my heart went crash-bang-wallop and my eyes popped out. She hadn't shaved, and her fanny looked like a tropical fish or a bit of old carpet.

I may not be an expert, but nothing I've ever written is anywhere near as bad as the snippets above!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Interview with Roy Innes

Today, I am very lucky to have an interview the awesome Roy Innes. 

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

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

It Was A Dark And Stormy Night

Edward Bulwer-Lytton (1803 to 1873) was a British politician and author.  He wrote a number of bestselling novels, including Paul Clifford, The Last Days of Pompeii, and Kenelm Chillingly.  He coined the phrases "the great unwashed," "pursuit of the almighty dollar," and "the pen is mightier than the sword."  (I always thought that was Shakespeare!) 

Bulwer-Lytton also gets credits for the trite and well worn novel opening line "It was a dark and stormy night." Even Snoopy, the dog from the Peanuts comic strip, has been known to use this tired old line.  For the record, this is the whole opening line (which was used in the novel Paul Clifford): 

It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents — except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.

The Bulwer-Lytton award (sponsored by the English department at San Jose University in California) offers recognition for bad writing, kind of like the Raspberry awards are the anti-Oscars for movies.  Every year, there is a Bulwer-Lytton winner for the worst opening line of a book.  (This is one contest I'd never want to win!)  Below are some of the winners:

For the first month of Ricardo and Felicity's affair, they greeted one another at every stolen rendezvous with a kiss--a lengthy, ravenous kiss, Ricardo lapping and sucking at Felicity's mouth as if she were a giant cage-mounted water bottle and he were the world's thirstiest gerbil.  Molly Ringle (2010)

Theirs was a New York love, a checkered taxi ride burning rubber, and like the city, their passion was open 24/7, steam rising from their bodies like slick streets exhaling warm, moist breath through manhole covers stamped “Forged by DeLaney Bros., Piscataway, N. J.”  Gordon Spik (2008)

Detective Bart Lasiter was in his office studying the light from his one small window falling on his super burrito when the door swung open to reveal a woman whose body said you've had your last burrito for a while, whose face said angels did exist, and whose eyes said she could make you dig your own grave and lick the shovel clean.   Jim Guigli (2006)

On reflection, Angela perceived that her relationship with Tom had always been rocky, not quite a roller-coaster ride but more like when the toilet-paper roll gets a little squashed so it hangs crooked and every time you pull some off you can hear the rest going bumpity-bumpity in its holder until you go nuts and push it back into shape, a degree of annoyance that Angela had now almost attained.   Rephah Berg (2002)

The corpse exuded the irresistible aroma of a piquant, ancho chili glaze enticingly enhanced with a hint of fresh cilantro as it lay before him, coyly garnished by a garland of variegated radicchio and caramelized onions, and impishly drizzled with glistening rivulets of vintage balsamic vinegar and roasted garlic oil; yes, as he surveyed the body of the slain food critic slumped on the floor of the cozy, but nearly empty, bistro, a quick inventory of his senses told corpulent Inspector Moreau that this was, in all likelihood, an inside job.  Bob Perry (1998)

Paul Revere had just discovered that someone in Boston was a spy for the British, and when he saw the young woman believed to be the spy's girlfriend in an Italian restaurant he said to the waiter, "Hold the spumoni--I'm going to follow the chick an' catch a Tory."  John L. Ashman (1995)

There's even a series of books out featuring the highlights of Bulwer-Lytton entries and winners from years past. 

Monday, August 1, 2011

Interview with Debra Purdy Kong

Greetings!  I begin the month of August with a wonderful interview from a wonderful whodunit author, Debra Purdy Kong. 

 Jill:  How close is Casey Holland to you?

Debra:  Casey was closer to me when I first created her than she is now. I actually first thought of her a long time ago, so we were closer in age back then, unmarried, and doing jobs that wouldn’t turn into careers. I was a criminology graduate, she’s taking criminology courses part time. Over the years, I chose marriage, children, and writing, knowing this is exactly what I wanted to do with my life. She’s still trying to figure what she wants from her life.

Jill:  Mac or PC? Pepsi or Coke? Standard or automatic? Tim Hortons or Starbucks? McDonalds or Burger King? Yes, I really am asking you to select one of the aforementioned pairings, as I believe it will give readers some profound insight into your psyche.

Debra:  I work on a PC and always have. I drive a standard, and always have, though I seriously thought about changing this spring when I developed some major neck and shoulder problems that required physiotherapy. (Don’t ask me what really triggered the’s embarrassing :) And I love Tim Hortons!

Jill:  What can you tell me about your current work in progress?

Debra:  My current work in progress is the fifth installment in the Casey Holland series, and it focuses on home invasions; particularly the homes of seniors, which was a major issue in Vancouver a while back.

Jill:  How did you come up with the idea of transit security?

Debra:  I was working a temporary secretarial job back in the mid-80s for BC Transit, and riding the buses back and forth to work a lot. During that time, I briefly met a young woman decked in a black leather mini-skirt and matching jacket, which definitely wasn’t the secretarial dress code in those days. It turned out she was an undercover security officer. The job intrigued me so much that I never forgot it, so when I was ready to start a mystery series, I saw the possibilities in transit security work; after all, she’d meet all types of people and find herself in some strange siutations.

Jill:  If you could bring a fictional sleuth to life, who would it be and why? (You can’t choose Casey Holland for this one, sorry!)

Debra:  I’d bring Kinsey Millhone to life; she’s one of my favorites!

Jill:  What mystery author(s) do you feel you are most similar to in terms of tone and/or style?

Debra:  Actually, I’m reading a great book by Toronto writer Jill Edmondson whose young PI, Sasha Jackson reminds me of a lot of Casey in terms of their mutual bravery, curiosity and sense of justice. I think they’d be good friends.  (N.B. I paid Debra to say this... and I agree that Casey and Sasha would probably be good friends if they were real people in the same city... Perhaps we'll see a future blog post by these two sleuths!)

Jill:  What’s on Casey’s iPod (or MP3 player)? What’s on your own?

Debra:  I’m a soft rock and pop fan; I have everything from The Beatles to Bruce Springsteen to Susan Boyle to Coldplay and some classical music. Casey would like rock ‘n roll. She’s not a fan of country and hates the entire disco era, which her boyfriend loves.

Jill:  You have three books out ... If you could go back in time and change/revise/edit one of them, which would you update? Care to tell me why?

Debra:  I’d probably change Taxed to Death because it was my first novel and was published 15 years ago, before Revenue Canada changed its name to Revenue Canada Agency.

Jill:  What things do you keep in mind when choosing book covers?

Debra:  For me the cover has to be eye-catching and intriguing, easy to read, and say something about what the book is about.

Jill:  What is the most frustrating thing about being a writer?

Debra:  The frustrations have changed over the years. It used to be waiting for the postman to arrive with replies or the occasional cheque. Technology changed that. Then it used to be the stigma of self-publishing, but technology changed that too, sort of. Self-publishing is far more main stream and accepted than it used to be. My frustration now, though, is the number of writers slapping a book together and publishing it without having it professionally edited. Some of them don’t appear to have even proofread their work. Now, self-publishing is in danger of slipping back into the dark hole it was trying to climb out of.

Jill:  What is the weirdest/funniest thing a reader has ever said or done to you (online or face to face)?

Debra:  The strangest thing happened while I was selling Taxed to Death at the Word on the Street fair. One older gentleman spotted the title and started ranting about Canada’s tax situation. Another gentleman came up, glanced at the title, and started in on his opinions, at which point the two men started arguing. I thought a fist fight was going to break out. I tried to explain that my book was a mystery novel, but neither were they listening by that point. Gradually, they moved on, and the customers returned. It still happens to this day. The HST is a big issue in BC right now, and I’ve had some interesting conversations while signing books this summer!

For more on Debra Purdy Kong, check out her website .    

Watch a cool 41 second book trailer for the first Casey Hollan mystery.

Find Debra's books on Amazon.