Showing posts with label Melodie Campbell. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Melodie Campbell. Show all posts

27 March 2021

Three Good Suspects: The Five Things you need for a Mystery Novel


~~~Three Good Suspects~~~ (as opposed to the usual suspects...)

Many of you know that in addition to being a writer of mob heist novels, I'm also the past Executive Director of Crime Writers of Canada. (For my sins. Of which I've lost count...) I'm just coming up for air after serving as a judge for the Crime Writers of Canada Awards of Excellence.  So this post is timely.  It is also cathartic...which may prevent the consumption of too much scotch.  (I know, I know.  There can never be too much scotch.)

In the crime fiction world, most books fall into two categories:  mysteries or thrillers.  (Note that in decades gone by, we used to call thrillers 'suspense novels'. Same thing.)  I write both and find them very different to write.  I'm not alone.  Lots of readers who have a preference for one or the other tell me they wonder why mysteries and thrillers are shelved together in libraries and bookstores.

So to start, let me offer one commonly held description of each, as accepted by Crime Writers of Canada, via many publishers.  Like so many things in life, it has to do with goals.  (And of course, we'll add the usual disclaimer that there may be exceptions.)

Mystery fiction is a puzzle story.  It starts with a murder (or crime) and the goal is the solving of the crime.  The protagonist's job is to discover who committed the crime and why.

In contrast, suspense fiction is driven by a character in jeopardy.  A suspense novel or thriller is one in which the main action (crime or murder) has not yet taken place, and in most cases, the goal of the protagonist is to prevent it from happening.  The emphasis is on the tension built by the anticipation of the outcome.

Of course, there will always be suspense in a mystery novel too.  I don't want to discount that.  But let's focus on the puzzle that a mystery novel presents.

In many ways, mystery novels are like chess games.  They are to some extent a cerebral experience.  I would argue that no other type of novel invites the reader to engage in such an involved way with the protagonist.  

Why? Mystery readers like to pit themselves against the fictional detective to uncover who committed the crime.  The reader and the detective both receive the same information at the same time (anything else is not playing fair.)  

In a great mystery novel, you will hopefully come to the same conclusion as the protagonist, at the same time.  It's the challenge that intrigues us, the joy of the intellectual chase, which leads to a supreme high when you compile all the puzzle pieces together in your mind in such a way as to unveil the antagonist. In fact, the ultimate letdown in a mystery novel is when the killer is easily detected before the half way point in a book.

So why do I occasionally find murder stories where there is only one suspect?

Jeeze Louise, people!  A mystery must be a mystery!  If you go light on your suspects, what challenge is that?  

Thirty years, seventeen novels, fifty short stories, three agents, and six publishers have taught me the essentials of writing mysteries.  I'd like to pass this list on to several entrants to the awards this year, who seemed to have missed the memo.  But as anonymity is our credo (always good to remain mysterious) I will present them here instead.

1.  Three good suspects.

Every mystery novel needs at least three good suspects that you can't dismiss out of hand.  Three suspects with good motives (more on that below.)  Five is even better, particularly for a full length novel.  Make it a challenge for the reader!  That's what we're looking for.

2.  A believable motive for each suspect

A suspect must have a motive for murder.  Yes, really.  Serial killers aside (and even some would argue them too) people don't murder each other for no reason.  The motive for each suspect must be believable.  So many times, I have read books (and particularly, watched television shows) where the motive for murder is simply too trite.

There's an expression we use in romance writing:  TSTL.  This translates to Too Stupid to Live, and refers to that particularly daft female protagonist who get herself into predicaments so stupid that a chimp could have figured out how to avoid it.  The ditz factor is simply off the charts.  This is how books get thrown against walls.

Murder is risky.  If caught, you'll go to prison for years and in some countries, lose your life.  With a mystery novel, the reader must believe that the murder is worth the risk.  Don't slack on this!  Make your motive so rock hard that no one will question it.

 3.  A believable motive for the protagonist

Most amateur detective series start with a personal reason for the protagonist to become the detective in the first book.  Either she is a suspect wishing to clear herself, or a possible 'next victim' - but some reason why it is imperative the main character become involved in the solving of the crime.  Of course, if your book is a police procedural, or PI subgenre, the detection is part of their job and requires no explanation.

But if your amateur detective has no stake in the outcome, why the heck would they chance going head to head with someone who has already murdered?  Silly, if not stupid to put yourself at that risk.

This is what becomes unbelievable in many cozy mystery series.  The gal who runs the bakery shop solves the first murder, and then goes on to solve many more, for no reason other than it becomes a hobby.

I demand more than that, of my mysteries!  There must a valid motive for the protagonist to become involved.  Give her a good motive each and every time.

 4.  Risk for the protagonist

Remember I mentioned putting oneself at risk in the above point? Here's what I'm talking about.

You know that crazy device in so many television shows where the two leads are in a deserted warehouse, and one says to the other, "You go that way, and I'll go this way, and we'll save time" … and you, the viewer at home are going, "NO!!!!  Don't be so stupid - you need to stick together!"

Well, there's a reason for doing that.

In my "Nine Steps for Writing Suspense," step seven talks about 'Isolating the protagonist.' Because even in a mystery novel, we need to put the protagonist at risk.  The climax of your book should be accompanied by a black moment, where all seems to be lost, where the protagonist isn't going to get what she wants (safety, money, love, the identity of the killer…)

Any mystery that doesn't put the protagonist at risk in the end is a bit ho hum, in my books (sic).  Go hard on your protagonist.  Make it risky for them to search for the killer.  Make it do or die at the end.  And hopefully not die.  Which leads to point 5.

5.  A Clear Resolution

Don't kill your protagonist in a mystery novel.  Please don't.  Countless readers have told me that they absolutely HATE to read for four hours, and then discover that their beloved protagonist kicks the bucket in the end.  Readers want the protagonist to win, in a mystery novel.  They want justice to prevail.

At the same time, we also need a clear resolution to the story.  Nothing will get people storming your publisher's website than an ending to a mystery novel that isn't an ending.  We don't know whodunnit in the end.  

That doesn't mean you can't have the bad guy escape to play another day.  Even Arthur Conan Doyle did that regularly.  My point is: we need to know Whodunnit by the end of a mystery.

WE NEED THE MYSTERY SOLVED.

It will be possible to find novels billed as mysteries that don't play by the rules above.  They may even be bestsellers.  So I'll leave by saying, here are some clear guidelines I offer to help writers tackle their first mystery book and look like a pro.

With any luck, readers will also mine gold in the above, as we've demonstrated how much thought must go into creating a really good mystery story.

Melodie Campbell writes mob heists as well as mysteries.  Crime Club is her latest mystery.  The pug is not a suspect. www.melodiecampbell.com

27 February 2021

Writing is Hard


 A long time ago, back when video stores were kind of a cool new thing, I was whooping it up in the Toronto Press Club with some eminently more famous Toronto columnists and reporters.  One of them, Scottish he was, asked me this:  "Tell me, lass.  You have a syndicated humour column, you've written comedy, you've had over two dozen short stories published...so why aren't you writing a novel?"

After much deliberation, my exceedingly clever answer was:  

"Because they might want me to write
another one?"

That got a round of applause (actually make that a round of scotch) from the somewhat sozzled guys at the bar.

No really.  Even then, I knew that writing a novel would be a rat-poop load of work.  It wasn't that I was allergic to work.  I had honed the art of writing 650-800 words every week, and making them passably funny.  But writing 80,000 words for one project?

That was 1995, I think.  Since then, I've written 17 novels, and 50 more short stories.  And let me tell you.

Writing is WORK.   Holy hell, is it work.  It is a freaking black hole of work and time and bloodletting.  Time suck, soul suck, give your life over to the keyboard for MONTHS.

I've heard other authors say they can't wait to sit down to write the first page of a new novel.  That they get so excited when they start something new.

That isn't me.  After 17 books, I know what's coming.  Months of hunkering over the keyboard, doubting myself, loving, then hating my characters (Jesus Murphy, WHY is she such a whiny nincompoop?)  Finding the Black Moment.  BECOMING the black moment.

So to illustrate, my starts are more like this:

Me:  "Sob!" (hits head against desk)  "I don't want to.  Don't make me.  I can't do it again..."  (reaches for scotch with head still on desk)

Working-class Muse, possibly from Jersey, the wrong side:  "Listen sister.  Sit your fat bippie down and get a move-on.  These things don't write themselves."

Me:  "But it's so HARD."  (slurping puddle of scotch sideways through a straw.)

Muse:  "You think THIS is hard?  Remember before you were published?  Remember all those rejection letters from publishers?  We insulated the walls of the cottage with them."

Me (sniveling):  "Too bad the place caught fire."

Muse:  "Maybe if you hadn't written BURN IN HELL on all of them..."

At about this time in the ritual, W-C Muse says the magic motivation words:  "Sit up sister.  YOU GOT A CONTRACT."

Me:  "Oh right. Move over, and pass the scotch."

And so it goes.

I'm at that stage right now.  staring the page in the face, knowing I have to start book 2 in a new series, thinking I'd rather jump out this picture window into the lake below (even though I'm 4 stories up and about 50 feet from shore.  So it would be quite a leap.)

I started life as a columnist, so I know I should wrap up on positive note.

Writing is hard.  But it's my life, and I suspect it's yours too.


Melodie Campbell has won ten awards, including the Derringer, the Arthur Ellis, the Hamilton Reads Award, and a city of Toronto award for best children’s book in high school, which is probably as far away from The Goddaughter mob caper series as you can get.  

 

 



 


23 January 2021

How to Write a True Italian Character (and not get taken out by the Family...)


Apparently, I have been too serious on here lately. There have been complaints.  So in an effort to lighten things up, I'm settling into a literary pet peeve.

Too often in popular fiction, I find Italian characters who don't make the grade. They seem a little cartoonish, as their creators probably aren't Italian, and don't have a true insight into the Italian nature.  So I'm here as a public service, to rectify that.  (Okay, because my Uncle Vince told me to.)

Yes, I'm Italian.  Yes, I've been a Goddaughter, like the heroine of THE GODDAUGHTER.  Okay, maybe not exactly like.  But close enough that I can easily imagine what it would be like to be a mob goddaughter.  The Christmas presents would be pretty decent, for one thing. Not to mention, I can get my salami and mortadella wholesale in any deli in the Hammer (Hamilton.)

So as I turn in my 17th novel which may or may not feature the Italian mob, I offer this help to all authors everywhere.

Melodia's rules on how to write an Italian Character:

  1. She absolutely cannot talk with her hands held down.  Okay, not entirely true.  She can scream if they try to hold down her hands.  And kick.
  2. He has at least 2 cousins named Tony.  And one uncle.
  3. She considers Pasta a vegetable.  (It's good for you!  Really.  Ask any Italian grandmother.)
  4. He can listen to five conversations at once, in at least two languages, and answer back.
  5. She has four first names (Melodie Lynn Theresa Anne…)
  6. For the Pros. Your Italian character should:

  7. Cry when Pavorotti sings the FIFA soccer anthem.
  8. Ask for Brio and Orangina in restaurants. Gasp loudly if they don't have it.
  9. Kiss everybody all the time.  Left cheek, right cheek (THEIR left cheek, right cheek.)
  10. Always wear designer shoes.  Especially when shopping for shoes.  If you don't have a special wardrobe just for shopping, you are not Italian.
  11. And finally:

  12. Long hair only, ladies.  At least until sixty.
  13. Wine is a major food group.  Like cannoli.
  14. Okay, it gets a little tougher now, but weaving in background is important.  So to really give your character some punch, add the following:

  15. She regularly faked a long penance after confession just so the boys would think she was way hot.  (I hardly ever did this.)
  16. His family does not consider a 'heater' something you turn on in winter.

I hate to end a list at 13.  We Sicilians are suspicious.  So here's one last way you can tell if a character is really Italian:

Bling.  Lots of it.  Last trip back from Rome, the plane nearly came down with the weight of newly purchased gold my aunts were wearing.  Heard in all lines at Customs:  "What, this old thing?"

Melodie Campbell writes mob comedies and other loopy books while avoiding family somewhere south of Toronto.  THE GODDAUGHTER DOES VEGAS, finalist for the Canadian Crime Writing Awards of Excellence, is the latest in the series.  Standard warning:  Pee before you read it.

https://www.amazon.com/Goddaughter-Does-Vegas-Melodie-Campbell-ebook/dp/B07N8FBLJ4/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=the+goddaughter+does+vegas&qid=1610989262&sr=8-1

24 October 2020

Setting as Character...Really? Bad Girl Makes a Case (and gives an example)


What do we mean by "Setting as Character?"  Students always ask me that, and here's what I tell them:

Setting is important in helping to establish the mood of your story.  It should be treated with as much attention as you would give any other character.

In the 14 week Crafting a Novel course I teach at Sheridan College, we spend most of one class talking about setting.

One of the first things you must decide when writing your novel, is the reality of your setting.  Is it a real place that exists today, or that did exist in another time?  A place you can research?  Or is your setting completely from your imagination?

The trouble wtih many beginning writers is they set their novels in 'Anytown USA.'  Thus, no character, no unique feel to the place...the 'why it is different from everywhere else?' is missing.


For this reason, I usually opt for a real setting, even in fantasy novels.  No, you may not be able to go back to 4th century West Country in England (when WILL they come up with a time machine that works, already?  I'm waiting...)  But you can visit the area now, take in the beauty of the countryside, and particularly, visit the local museums to get more details on how people lived and how the land looked at the time.

That's what I did.  Here's how the location for my time-travel trilogy came about.

 All of our families have pasts.  Have you looked into yours to see if there might be inspiration there?  That's how I found my setting for Rowena Through the Wall.  In a corner of England called Shropshire, more known for sheep than people, there once stood a Norman castle of fantastic 'character.'

The original castle, erected after Harold fell to William in 1066, went to ruin in the early 1500s.  The new abode, Hawkstone Park, was built in 1556; it was forfeited in 1906 to pay off the gambling debts of my rakish relative.

My late cousin showed me around the countryside.  Tony Clegg-Hill was the previous Viscount of Shropshire and Shrewsbury.  I adored him.  He had that particular dry British wit that reminded me of David Niven.  It was his great-grandfather who lost the castle.

Tony would regale me with anecdotes about the family villains: the original Viscount Huel, who was basically a henchman for William the Conqueror.  More recent rogues like Sir Rowland Hill gambled away anything that could be taken as a stake.  It's a damning history, but a vibrant one.  But not all the family were black sheep.  One Lord Hill distinguished himself as the second in command to the Duke of Wellington at the battle of Waterloo.  When Wellington was made Prime Minister in 1924, Hill succeeded him as commander in chief of the British army.

So when it came to writing Rowena Through the Wall, I leaned back into the family history.  The original Normal castle with it's rounded turrets, crenellations and merlons had been waiting for a writer to bring it back to life.  Rowena walks through the wall to her ancestor's land, and she falls in love with it too.

"Outlander meets Sex and the City"
"Game of Thrones Lite"
Rowena Through the Wall was featured on USA Today, and was an Amazon Top 50 Bestseller (all books.)



26 September 2020

Writing is Hard (in which Bad Girl confesses the truth about all those books)


A long time ago, back when video stores were kind of a cool new thing, I was whooping it up at the Toronto Press club with some eminently more famous Toronto newspaper columnists and reporters. One of them, Scottish he was, asked me this:

"Tell me lass. You have a syndicated humour column, you've written comedy, you've had over two dozen short stories published… So why aren't you writing a novel?"

After much deliberation, my exceedingly clever answer was: "Because they might want me to write another one?"

That got a round of applause (actually make that a round of scotch) from the somewhat sozzled guys at the bar.

No, really. Even then, even in my not-quite-Cleopatra salad days (thanks for that, Mr. Shakespeare) I knew that writing a novel would be a rat-poop load of work. It wasn't that I was allergic to work. I had honed the art of writing 650-800 words every week and making them passably funny. And believe me, that was a challenge after the first 100 columns. But writing 80,000 words on one subject? Especially when you had to make the whole thing up?

That was 1995, twenty-five years ago, they try to tell me (but I'm not buying it.) Since then, I've written 17 novels and a pile more short stories. And let me tell you.

Writing is WORK. Holy poop, it is work. It is a freaking black hole of work and time and bloodletting. Time suck, soul suck, give your life over to the keyboard for MONTHS.

Sure, I love the finished product. Love it 'when a plan comes together' (guess that reference.) But having done this so many times, I can't kid myself that it's going to be easy.

I've heard other authors say they can't wait to sit down to write the first page of a new novel. That they get so excited when they start something new.

That isn't me. After 17 books, I know what's coming. Months and months of hunkering over the keyboard, doubting myself, loving, then hating my characters (Jesus Murphy, WHY is she such a whiny nincompoop?) Finding the Black Moment. BECOMING the black moment.

So to illustrate, my starts are more like this:

Me: "Sob!" (hits head against desk) "I don't want to. Don't make me. I can't do it again..." (reaches for scotch bottle with head still on desk)

Working-class Muse, quite possibly from Jersey, the wrong side: "Listen, sister. Sit your fat bippie down and get a move-on. These things don't write themselves."

Me: "But it's so HARD." (slurping puddle of scotch sideways from desktop)

Muse: "You think THIS is hard? Remember before you were published? Remember all those rejections letters from publishers? We insulated the walls of of the cottage with them."

Me (sniveling): "Too bad the place caught fire."

Muse: "Maybe if you hadn't written BURN IN HELL on all of them…"

At about this time in the ritual, W-C Muse says the magic motivating words: "Sit up sister. YOU GOT A CONTRACT."

Me: "Oh right. Friggin hell. Move over. And pass the scotch."

And so it goes.

I'm at that stage right now. Staring the page in the face, knowing I have to start book 2 in a new series, thinking I'd rather jump out this picture window into the lake below (even though I'm 4 stories up and about 50 feet from shore. So it would be quite a leap.)

Anybody else like this? Anyone else dread starting the new project because it means another dive into that black hole that is writing?

I started life as a columnist, so I know I should end on a positive note. Wrap up these six hundred words with smart repartee, and sage advice for the novice. So here goes.

Writing is Hard. But it's my life.

Melodie Campbell whines about writing from the shores of Lake Ontario. Her 16th book, The Italian Cure, came out this year at about the same time covid did. Hell of a start for a poor book, even a trashy romantic comedy. Available at all the usual suspects. www.melodiecampbell.com

25 July 2020

The Best Thing about Writing Short Stories (and it's not the money...)


Beyond the delight of creating a story that swings on a single plot point/twist...

Beyond the excitement of putting together a really professional product in just a few weeks...

Beyond the satisfaction of mastering the craft of the short story in another tautly written tale that speeds along with the impact of a runaway commuter train...

Here is the real reason I love writing short stories.

My 17th book is done.  Sent to agent in New York.  I sit back, awaiting the inevitable comments, rounds of edits, during which I will alternately cry, fume and laugh hysterically.

Then off to the publisher it goes.  After which there will be more edits, more crying, fuming, and possibly, more drinking.  (Okay, that's a cert.)

Which is why I love writing short stories.

To Wit:
I've been a novelist for over 15 years now.  My 16th book came out this February (yes, possibly the worst timing in the history of the human race, with the possible exception of the invasion of England by William the Conqueror, but I digress.)

So I've had two traditional publishers and three series, but believe it or not, I got my start writing short stories.  In fact, I have over 50 of those published, and 24 of those were in print before I even gave a thought to write a crime novel.

Why do I love writing short stories so much?  Short stories come with less stress than a novel because...

Short stories are all mine.

In order to get a novel contract with a medium to big house, you really have to keep the audience in mind.  Sure, you write what you want to write, but with the publisher's audience always in mind.  Then your agent gets hold of it, and makes comments and suggestions.  Next, your house editor will be asking for changes to the manuscript, and possibly even to the story to make it most appealing to their audience. 

All good.  All with the purpose of increasing sales, which I'm sure it does.  All tedious as hell.

Yesterday, I sent my 17th book to my agent.  She really liked the first 30 pages sent months ago.  I probably won't sleep until I hear she likes the next 200.

If she does, it's a sparkling vino moment.  If the publisher does too, then break out the Bolly.  (I do love Ab Fab, by the way.  Just call me Eddie.)

But then the fun starts.  I have to wait for the inevitable tinkering.

I can see now that one of the great joys of writing a short story is there is no interference.  It's MY story, just the way I want to tell it.  I've been published in AHMM, Star Magazine, ComputorEdge, Canadian Living Magazine, Flash Fiction, and others, and no editors have ever suggested substantial changes to the stories they've published by me, or even requested minor changes.

Writing a short story is a more independent project than writing a novel.  I love that.

But back to the title (and it's not about the money):  I have actually made more per word with some short stories, than I have with some novels.  Mind you, if I'm making a dollar per word for short stories, that would translate to $80,000 per novel, and I don't reach that with every book.  

So although we say you can't make a living writing short stories anymore, it is possible to make some Bolly money.  Usually hobbies cost you money.  This is one that allows you to make some!

I've always said that when my novel career wanes, I will continue to write short stories with gusto.

It's true what they say:  you never forget your first love.

Melodie Campbell has won the Derringer, the Arthur Ellis and eight more awards.  She didn't even steal them, which will be explained if you look up her wacky Goddaughter books...
www.melodiecampbell.com








23 May 2020

The Oh-So-Glam and Very Public Life of an Author
(aka Park your Ego at the Door)


John Floyd inspired this column with his recent post Strange but True, describing the things that have happened to him as an author.   I probably have another column of zany experiences to tell, but we'll start with this post.  Raising a glass to you, John!  (Amarone, in my case.  And a case of that would be welcome.) 





The Good:

“Sixty-two people signed up!” said the perky librarian. “We’ll have to move rooms. It’s a record.”

That was last February, at a branch of the Toronto Public Library. I was on stage talking about crime writing and my seventeen books, with Joan, another writer gal-pal. We’re both college teachers, so we know how to hold an audience. And we write humorous books, so we had the audience rockin’.

Photos went up on Facebook; 59 people chimed in with comments. And the most common comment was – Wow! That’s a terrific turnout. How did you do it?

Frankly, I have no idea. Yes, there were several Goddaughter series followers there. But it’s a mystery (sic) to me why some events fill up and others flop like a long-dead lake trout. And believe me, I’ve been in that pond too.

I’ve had events where only three readers show up. Where the number in the audience matches the number on stage. And where you don’t sell a single book.

The Eh…

Yes, well, about book sales on Wednesday night. Here’s the irony. The library brought in over 30 of my books for attendees to check out. I laughed when I saw the table. Everyone picked up the library books. I think I sold two.

Was it worth it? We do get paid in Canada for our books in libraries. So yes, it’s important to keep my books there, and keep people checking them out. But also, meeting my audience is hugely important for inspiring me to keep going.

But glamorous? Just remind me to park my ego at the door. Here’s why:

If you are an author, your life becomes somewhat public. People feel they have the right to comment on your looks, your age, your weight, your clothing, as well as your books. I began to realize last year that people believe celebrities – even terribly minor ones like mid-list authors – belong to them in some strange way.

The Bad:

I’ve had events where audience members come up after the event and thrust their virgin manuscripts into my hands and tell me to read it “for free.” I’m supposed to be grateful. And if I like it, which I definitely will, could I show it to my agent. Plus, I inevitably notice that they don’t buy even one of my books, or even admit to having read one.

That part is funny and frustrating, but it’s not all fun and games. Sometimes it’s even scary.

I’ve had a stalker, who couldn’t tell me apart from Rowena and Gina Gallo (the protagonists in my two series. You would think he would be disappointed upon meeting me. I’m almost 30 years older than my sexy protagonists!) Age didn’t turn him off. I felt hunted and haunted. It got to the point where whenever I was teaching at night or speaking in public, I would make sure to be accompanied by a male escort (not the hired kind. Although that would make for a better story…)

The Ugly:

I’ve had an ex-con confront me at a public event to write his ‘story’. I tried to explain that I was a fiction writer, not a true crime writer. Didn’t convince him. He followed up with angry emails. Things got tense. What DID convince him was explaining who I was related to, and why they wouldn’t be at all pleased to see me writing true crime. (He knew of The Family. That convinced him. He vamoosed.)

The Funny:

We started off this post with a good news event. But those are balanced by the ones that simply devastate the already fragile ego.

I was invited by a downtown Hamilton library branch to come on out for a Monday afternoon to speak about my bestselling fantasy series, Rowena Through the Wall. The event was open to the public, but the main audience would be a very keen grade twelve creative writing class from the local high school. Fantasy rocked with them, apparently.

Now, it just so happened that this Monday, the teachers were in contract talks, and they went work-to-rule. That meant no field trips. Librarian calls me with this news, but says “Don’t worry. Come anyway. I’m sure people will attend.”

When I arrived, instead of 34 eager students, there were exactly six elderly women, all with walkers.
But we’re troopers, right? We perform even if there is an audience of one. So I started reading. And half way through my five minute reading, at the most exciting part, one old dear yelled out, “When does the movie start?”’

And such is the glamorous life of this author.


That sketchy gal, and her friend Joan O'Callaghan, in Feb.
Hey - a candid photo that doesn't make me want to kill myself!

THE GODDAUGHTER DOES VEGAS is a finalist for the Arthur Ellis Award, sponsored by CRIME WRITERS OF CANADA!  You can pick it up at all the usual places.  Of course, Gina - the protagonist - would probably steal it...

17 May 2020

PROMOTING ANTHOLOGIES


Promoting Anthologies

So many of my fellow Sleuthsayers are appearing in anthologies I 
thought it might be a good time to talk a bit about promoting  
them. It's been many years since I owned a bookstore and promoting has changed a lot but maybe a few tips here can help.

Some of us are a lot better at promoting than others.  
Many of us sit in our cubical and write and write and never give a thought to promotion, We really don't want to think about that now. We have to finish this book OR our publisher will promote it, right?

Sadly, NO. Unless you're already a best selling author, your publisher sends your book out with very little pomotion. I never could understand that reasoning. They'll spend $500,000 on X's book when you have 2 other very fine books coming at the same time, by say one new and one mid-list. Why not spend $400,000 on X and $50,000 on the other two. You get the idea but most publishers don't. Could be why so many indie presses are doing very well, thank you.

Okay, I digress. Back to anthologies. No one is really going to push an anthology you happen to have a short story in so, it's all really up to you.

But Jan, I don't like to promote my short stories and I have no idea how to do it and really could care less about it anyway.
Fine, go back to your computer and work on your next story or book. But if you want just a tip or two, please continue reading.

I was blessed because the majority of my stories were in books edited by Ed Gorman and Marty Greenberg (RIP both of you) and books they edited sold very well. Even to markets like Japan and Germany and to audio book pulishers. But to promote your own stories in wonderful but somewhat unknown anthologies you have to always include them on your Facebook page or twitter account. And also on your own author page.

Okay, but I already do that, you say. Great, then this is just a gentle reminder for you. But when you do signings for your books, promote the heck out of your stories in an anthology, too.

You will meet people who'll say, "I never read short stories. I'd much rather read a whole book."  I really get into the character of somone like Jack Reacher or V.I. Warshawski or Charlie Harris and Diesel.  Remind them that an anthology is a great way for them to 
discover new writers. Or even to discover  their favorite author namely YOU, just happens to write other characters or even in other genres.

The other reason people say they don't read short stories is they don't have time. Everyone is still pressed for time even though they might be working from home now. They have children to teach or occupy them with things to do or meals to cook or laundry to wash. Remind them that short stories are great for them because, each story is only a few pages long and it starts and ends in those few pages. You won't have to stay up past your bedtime to finish. It only takes 30 minutes so so to read a short story.

Tell them the genises behind the anthology or behind your story. Time Travel edited by Barb Goffman. If you have a story there, find out why Barb did this anthology or tell why you found the  idea so fascinating you just had to write a story for it.

I wrote stories edited by Robert J. Randisi for Lethal Ladies I & II, 
because they were to be Female Private Eye Stories. For his 
Deadly Allies I & II, they were stories by members of Sisters In Crime and members of Private EyeWriters. Of course, all the Cat Crime antologies all feature a cat. I loved doing those because I had two cats, Nick and Nora and could relate. 

I'm sure each of you can come up with a good way to promote your own short stories in the great way you also promote your books but maybe I've sparked an idea or two with you for your short story. 

Now start Promoting. 


25 April 2020

How Mary Stewart rocked the Literary World and the Lives of Women like Me


When I say rocked, I don't mean 'rock on'!  Nope, I mean rocked to the core.

Since mid-March, we've been in close to lockdown here in the True North.  That has given me time to revisit old favourties and be utterly shocked by the revelations therein.

When I was a young girl in the seventies, I graduated from Nancy Drew, to Agatha Christie, and then to the masters of romantic suspense, Victoria Holt, Daphne DuMaurier and my particular favourite, Mary Stewart.

Of course I did.  The hormones were running high, and the choice of males in my classroom left a lot to be desired.  I yearned for big romance.  But I wasn't happy with romance genre books and found them boring.  This gal wanted high adventure rather than sweet attraction.  So suspense, it was.

At that young age, I didn't even know what type of man I would want in my life.  Surely not Heathcliff.  Not Mr. Darcy.  Those heroes did not reach me.  Far too brooding and sulky.

Then I read My Brother Michael.  Holy Heartbeat, Batman!  There, I found the man of my dreams and the heroine I wished to become.

Most men of my age know Mary Stewart from her brilliant King Arthur and Merlin novels, The Crystal Cave and The Hollow Hills.  Wonderful books.  But I'm speaking of her romantic suspense novels in this column today.

Simply put, they were revolutionary.

Readers, did you know this?  A quiet revolution was happening in fiction, and Mary Stewart was at the epicentre of it.

In the 70s, I couldn't have put my finger on it.  Now, with decades and experience later, it's absolutely clear to me why she was my favourite.

Why?  Her heroines.  These women were educated and had careers.  They were veterinarians, Latin teachers, Shakespearean actors.  They traveled solo to foreign places!

But with adventure comes mishap.  For years, I had read books and seen movies where women waited to be rescued.  Even The Princess Bride, a movie loved by so many, had a princess who relied on others to rescue her.

I wanted a princess who would pick up the sword herself.  (Even more, ditch the princess.  I wanted her to be Queen.)

Mary Stewart's protagonists had courage and resourcefulness.  They fought back when threatened.  They risked their lives rescuing large animals (This Rough Magic) and even men (The Moonspinners.)  This was not only unusual for the time - it was absolutely groundbreaking.

Second reason I fell in love with the stories of Mary Stewart:  her heroes.

These were the men I wanted in my life.  Some may find this hard to believe (stop laughing) but I have been told I am a strong woman.  I was the sort of gal who was told by profs at university that I "didn't know my place."

In Stewart's books, I found the ideal man for a strong woman.  Her heroes were my kinda guys.  Well-educated, but when things go bad, they don't walk away from a fight.  There was a primitive edge there, a peel back of civilization when the chips are down.

In Airs Above the Ground, the male lead forces the hand of the villain down on a red hot stove burner while saying, "It was this hand, I believe?"  (The hand that had previously hit the hero's wife.)

I cannot begin to tell you how sexy that is.

In My Brother Michael, the heroine is fighting hard but losing.  Her lover arrives just in time to kill a
powerful Greek criminal with his own hands in a to-the-death fight; he breaks the fiend's neck.  Of course, said male lead also happens to be a classics scholar...but hey, in the UK, classics scholars can have commando training.  An unbeatable combination of brains and brawn.


Stewart was magic for a young miss trying to be more than society expected her to.  She was magic to an aspiring writer yearning for adventures.  But more than that, she was revolutionary.

My good friend Jeannette Harrison said it best:

"I think all female crime-fighters of today owe a huge debt to Stewart.  She was one of the first writers of popular fiction to portray women who were not helpless and hysterical in a crisis."

Think about that, you superhero and comic book heroines who kick butt!  All you female private investigators in fiction today!  And give a bow to Mary Stewart, who bravely gave us those role models over fifty years ago.

Vos saluto.

How about you?  Any other authors you would also salute?

Melodie Campbell was hardly ever a mob goddaughter, at least not recently, but she writes about one.  THE GODDAUGHTER DOES VEGAS has been shortlisted for the 2020 Arthur Ellis Award 

for Excellence in Crime Writing (Crime Writers of Canada.)  You can find The Goddaughter series at all the usual suspects.

Melodie Campbell
Winner of the Derringer and Arthur Ellis Awards
"Impossible not to laugh." Library Journal review of THE GODDAUGHTER