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

27 April 2024

A Gal out of Time (aka Why Write Historical Crime?)

A few months past, I said on these pages that I would offer a post about writing historical fiction.   

In fact, I wish I had read this post before I started writing historicals!

Now, I had been forewarned.  Several years ago, my friend, the excellent writer of cozies, Vicki Delany, said to me:  "Don't write historical crime.  You narrow your market by doing that."

What she meant was this:  I've heard that only about 20% of the crime reading market read historicals.  Of those potential readers, most have preferences for  a certain time period.  Some read Victorian, and no other.  Some like classical Rome, and no other.  Some like between the wars, like me. Very few historical crime readers read all periods.

So you are reducing your market considerably.

I can attest that this is true, and would speak the same words to aspiring writers today.  But my emphasis for this post is different.

Here's what I have to offer, while writing the third book in the 1928 Merry Widow Murder series:

The trouble with writing historical novels strikes me as a very similar to that of writing comedic novels:  Not only do you have to come up with an original plot, wonderful characters, engaging dialogue, compelling pacing, and believable motivation like every other author, but you have this additional requirement that other authors don't have.  You have to make it funny.  And you don't get paid any more for doing it.

Historical novels - and I write exclusively mystery/crime novels now - are of the same ilk.  You have to include all the traditional elements of a great mystery book, but you also have to do a tremendous amount of research to get the time period right, and I don't just mean setting. Yes, I give great attention to detail of the food and drink of the time (was Chicken a la King served then?  How about a Sidecar?)  Music of the time (When exactly did Mack the Knife become available in sheet music?)  And clothing (the Flapper look wasn't the only look for clothing in the 1920s, and short skirts weren't as short as Halloween costumes now would have you believe.)

Questions like:  When did ocean liners move from coal to bunker C fuel?  (1917ish - after the Titanic)  

What were the mores of the time?  The etiquette?  Could respectable women travel alone on an ocean liner, in first class?  (Yes, with a maid.)  Did the maid have her own cabin, or did she stay in yours?

I nearly go mad with the research I have to do!  Every single page I write, I'm looking something up.  And that brings me to the comparison with comedic writing:

In historical novels, you have to do everything a writer of contemporary fiction has to do, but you also have this extra requirement:  you must research, you must get it right, and - you don't get paid any more for doing it.

I can speak to the importance of getting it right.  My first series was actually fantasy, the Rowena Through the Wall series, which takes place during the dark ages in Great Britain.  

'But even in fantasy, you have to get it right.  In book two of that series, Rowena and the Dark Lord, magic occurs.  Rowena inadvertently brings forth a Roman Legion fighting Bodicea.  Now, I did the usual thing.  Researched Celtic warfare, and researched Roman warfare, so I could get the battle styles right.  I also researched Roman armor and weapons, vs Celt.  It then occurred to me that I needed to dig deeper into what it would mean for a Roman Legion to vanish from battle.  Would they be considered deserters?  (Yes)  Would this affect their families back in Rome (Hell, yes.)  So they would do everything possible to get back to the battlefield, even if it mean imminent death.  And that created a turning point for my plot.

Believe it or not, and to my great surprise, some Roman scholars read the book, because they like to read everything that has anything to do with ancient Rome.  And one professor emailed me to say, "I can see you used Legion number XXX in the book, located at XXX in the month of..."  He enthused about the thrill of reading accuracy in fiction.  (Good thing I was a college professor at the time...)

Now, I know that if I had not done my research, I would have heard about it.  Even though the book is a fantasy!  People love to point out when you get things wrong in a book.  So I breathed a sigh of relief, that this time, I carried it off.

But it's a heck of a lot of work.

I've been lucky to get a two-book contract for books two and three, and an option for the 4th.  In some ways, I'm relieved, because I'm learning this period of time inside out, and it's good to be able to use it for more than one book.

But I have to ask myself:  why do it?  Why write fiction set in historical times?  I ask myself that every day, writing this third book.  And I've come to some sort of conclusion.

There's a certain amount of security, in writing and reading a book that takes place in the past.  Why?  It's a simple as this:

The world is still here.  Mankind survived the trials from the time of our book, survived WW1, the depression, WW11.  There's comfort in knowing that the world lives on after the book ends.

But in our world today, who knows?  The future is a blank.

And that's why I love writing about the past.

Melodie Campbell can't resist a classic mystery crackling with humour, and that's why she wrote one herself.  The Merry Widow Murders is her 18th book, and the first of a new series.

23 February 2024

Roman à Clef? Murder, Neat: A Former Model Confesses

MURDER, NEAT… and a little bit twisted.

Who could guess that my past would be all over the short story, ‘The Mob, The Model and The College Reunion’, in the anthology MURDER, NEAT?

A few years ago, I was on stage for a book event, hearing happy applause. A hand went up, and a young gal with somewhat questionable social skills said, "You don't look anything like your protagonist."

I swallowed my wounded pride, dug deep into the wit-basket and quipped: "Not only that, I don't look anything like my author photo!" That brought the biggest laugh of the evening, of course.

But the incident prompted me to rethink a related question I get asked frequently. How close is the protagonist to the real me?

I've written 18 books and over 60 short stories. If the protagonist was me in all of those, it would be a pretty boring adventure for readers. And for me, as well. Part of the fun of being an author is putting yourself into the skin of others. Becoming the character you are writing, for just a little while. Leaving yourself behind.

However, sometimes I just want to write myself into a fun story (always a fun one...never a fearful one!)

So in ‘The Mob, The Model and The College Reunion’, I let the real me show through.  Okay, I may be older now than Donna di Marco, the protagonist, is in this tale, but she carries my background, my on again – off again modeling career, my outlook on life, and definitely my wit.  She even looks surprisingly like me.

Have you ever wanted to write a character who says what you're thinking?  The things you don't actually say out loud?

Donna does that for me! And oh, it was fun to write them.

College reunions?  I'm not a big fan.  There were few women in my Commerce program, and the misogyny at the time was pretty brutal.  Competition was savage between the young men, and my memories are mixed at best.  Sometimes I was the bone to be fought over.

But I've discovered an interesting thing.  Reunions sure are good for setting conflict.  Old grievances resurface, even among the bank executives and corporate buccaneers of my class that have done so well financially. They don't forget the old days.

So I had a bit of sport, writing what might have happened if I had gone to our last reunion.  In fact, I didn't go.  Maybe self-preservation?  Maybe I was too busy celebrating my recent marriage to an old college classmate?

Yes, the John of this story is the John Michael O'Connell who persuaded me to the altar not long ago.  And yes, our classmates were shocked.  So you can see how easy it might have been to concoct such a tale, and to lace it with the loopy humour I just can't seem to leave behind.

Not to mention the mob elements that always seem to sneak into my work.

Roman à clef? I'll leave that to your imagination.

The author at college:

The author today:

• Buy link for MURDER, NEAT   

27 January 2024

Five Ways to Rock Characterization in the Mystery Novel

I've taught fiction writing at college for over 20 years.  If I had to drill it down to one sentence, the number one thing I've learned is this:

Readers fall in love with characters, not plots.

Yes, plot is essential for a crime novel.  It's the glue that holds everything together.  But think about the crime series you have loved.

If I were to ask readers of the Goddaughter series what they love about it - and I have - they always say the humour, first.  But a close second is the protagonist, Gina Gallo, plus her wacky cousin Nico - and particularly, the banter between them.  If I ask what they liked about specific novels, like The Goddaughter Caper, they say, 'is that the one about the underground funeral parlour, or the art gallery heist?'  If I'm lucky, they say that.

Because most readers don't remember plots.  They remember characters.

They might remember that a plot was good.  That it was well-crafted.  That it took them by surprise.  And I hope that is true.  But my readers always tell me they go back for more because 'they want to find out what happens to Gina and Nico."  They don't want to say goodbye to their book friends.

Last week, I was asked to speak about characterization in the crime novel, at a library conference.  Here's what I presented:

➊  MAKE US CARE – You want to create a protagonist that the reader likes and can care about.

We are going to put your protagonist in danger, and readers need to like the character so that they will care about what happens, to keep reading.

In The Merry Widow Murders, I create sympathy for Lucy by showing her grief for her late husband, who died of TB after being gassed in WW-1.

She’s only in her 30s and she’s trying to move on, but the grief sneaks up on her with certain triggers, as it does for me.

➋  HAVE A SIDEKICK – A crime book should be ACTIVE – that is, it should move along at a good pace.

A secondary character who acts as a sidekick will allow your book to have lots of dialogue. Instead of your protagonist constantly in monologue thinking about the case, they can discuss it with their sidekick. This creates more white space on the page and moves a book more quickly.

In the Merry Widow Murders, Elf, a pickpocket- turned-maid is Lucy’s sidekick.

She also provides comic relief, as they banter constantly.

➌  MOTIVATION IS KEY – Why is your protagonist getting involved in the investigation? Why are they risking their LIFE? Someone has already killed once. They could do it again. There has to be realistic motivation why your main gal or guy would take on that risk.

In The Merry Widow Murders, Lucy and her sidekick maid Elf find a dead body in their stateroom.

They need to find the killer before the authorities suspect one of them for being the killer.

➍  3-5 GOOD SUSPECTS – A mystery book should give the reader a challenge.

That’s why we read them. You need to develop 3-5 possible suspects, make them different and well-drawn, each with sufficiently believable motivation for wanting to kill the victim.

➎  MAKE A REALLY GOOD VILLAINRemember that the killer is never a villain in his own eyes.

He has what he thinks is believable motivation for doing what he is doing. The world or someone has done him wrong, and he is only getting what he rightly deserves by committing this crime.

At the same time, KEEP THE VILLAIN HIDDEN. In a thriller, the antagonist can be known because the book is about the preventing of the crime. But in a mystery, you have to keep the identity of the killer hidden until the very last chapters. It takes real skill to accomplish this without giving it away early on.

I'll speak more on motivation in a future post.  Meanwhile, I hope you feel motivated to look at some of my books, including The Merry Widow Murders! Available at all the usual suspects.

23 September 2023

DEFINING THE COZY MYSTERY – Is this real life? Is this just fantasy?

Every now and then you meet a writer so sympatico, you feel like you've known them all your life.

I met Jonathan Whitelaw this year, through Crime Writers of Canada.  Then, we did a panel together at MOTIVE Crime Festival in Toronto, which was about as much fun as you can have, legally.  His brand of humour is my brand, and I'm delighted to bring him to these pages.


Is this real life? Is this just fantasy?

by Jonathan Whitelaw

I had a moment of revelation recently.  It wasn't some divine tap on the head or bolt out of the blue.  But it was just as important.

Cozy mysteries are rooted in the humdrum of real life.

That's it.  That's all it is.  Strange how ten little words put in a particular order can offer you so much clarity.

For context - I'm a cozy mystery writer.  An award-winning one at that - although saying that out loud still sounds strange.  My Bingo Hall Detective series began in 2022, with the most recent - The Village Hall Vendetta - just released here in North America in August.


They follow the misadventures of a mother-in-law/son-in-law amateur detective duo running around the English countryside trying to catch murderers and villains.  And I, quite honestly, have an absolute blast when I'm writing them.

I was recently being interviewed for The Times newspaper in the UK and was asked about what cozy mysteries are and why they're so popular.  There are a million different answers to this, but that little sentence was the first that came to mind.  Cozy crime is rooted in the hum drum of real life.

Now, I can hear protests already.  Real life isn't hum drum, Jonathan!  It's the most exciting, action-packed thing that can ever happen to a person.  And that's true, I agree with that.  However, let's be honest, not EVERYTHING in most of our lives is as high-octane as a Fast and Furious movie, is it?

When was the last time any of us got excited waiting in line at the post office?  Or when we've scanned our bananas at the self checkout only for the computer to go on the fritz?  Orgies of action these moments are not.

And that's where the cozy mystery comes in.  Our lead protagonists are rarely if at all law enforcement, instead coming from down the block, at your local library or, in the case of my series, your relatives.  They are your friends, coworkers, colleagues and confidants.  They are you and I, thrust into a world of murky murder, mischief and mayhem.  And that is, for me, what makes the cozy mystery genre so appealing.

Throw in a good dose of humour, some lavish scenery and a juicy whodunnit and you could be on to a winner.  Scientists and boffins much cleverer than me (they don't use cleverer for starters) have shown an uptake in sales of the cozy genre during times of crisis.  Local, domestic or international, it's no wonder that readers, and the public, need some reassurance from time to time.

The cozy mystery has proven over and over again to at least help with that reassurance.  Yes, there are no graphic violence or sex scenes.  No, you won't find forensic analysis or ballistic reports on gunshot wounds.  What you WILL get, however, is a mystery that, by the end of the 90,000 words, is resolved, the good guys winning, the bad guys getting their just desserts, and hopefully, some laughs along the way.

Who wouldn't want that in these topsy-turvy times?  Cozy mystery is an escape from real staying firmly IN real life.  Go figure!

Jonathan Whitelaw is an award-winning writer, journalist and broadcaster. After working on the frontline of Scottish politics, he moved into journalism, covering everything from sports to music to radioactive waste – and everything in between. He's also a regular reviewer, panellist and commentator. His novel - The Bingo Hall Detectives - won the Lakeland Book of the Year Fiction prize 2022.


Bonus Pix!  Jonathan and Melodie on stage at MOTIVE  (with Sam Shelstad)

24 June 2023

"So I read your book…" (pause)
Why Giving Books Away Can Backfire

I gave a dinner party last night for friends of my new husband.  Pleasant people.  One was a career librarian (recently retired.)  I looked forward to having a rousing conversation with her.  Authors and librarians tend to sit in a corner and yak for hours about books, in my experience.

What actually happened is rather humbling.  I've won 10 awards for crime fiction, including three big ones, and most are displayed around the condo here.  My newest book (number 17 with a traditional publisher)  has just come out and is for sale in Chapters/Indigo up here, and every Barnes &Noble down there (The Merry Widow Murders.)  Many of my previous books are in every large public library system in Canada.

My husband made the mistake of asking her in front of everybody if she knew my books.  She said she  had never heard of me.  Not only that, she hadn't even bothered to look at my website to see what I had written, before coming to my house as a guest.

It took everything in me not to laugh out loud.  I was humbly reminded that just because newspaper reviewers and professional review sites may rave about your book, and sales may buy you a corvette, a heck of a lot of people simply don't care.

And this is tough on a writer.  Because we care a lot.

Needless to say, I didn't give her a free book.  Perhaps it isn't well known, but author copies aren't free to us. With shipping, my author copies cost almost $15.  And that reminded me that I meant to write this column. 

As authors, our egos can be rather fragile.  I wish someone had warned me of things like this.  So here's my advice to anyone new to this game, or even battle-scarred veterans like me:

Except for your closest friends, don't give away books for free. 

And honestly, if your close friends are kind, they will insist on buying your book, to help with sales.

But - you argue - giving away books gets more readers, doesn't it?  And more reviews.

Here's what I've found:

If people you know want to read your book, they will buy it.  Is their friendship not worth 15.99?  Or even 24.99, if it's a premium trade paperback?  Is there any friend I have that wouldn't think our friendship is worth 25 bucks at the very least?  Do I want a friend who doesn't?

The problem with giving a book away is it forces the receiver to read it. And this is fraught with risk.  Three things have happened to me:

1.  The best reaction:  They read it, like it, and tell you.

Yay for that.  I want to joke and say, "Please, don't sound so surprised."  But of course I'm gracious and thank them.

To be realistic, if it isn't a book they were prepared to buy, probably it's not a book they will love.  In rare cases it might be.  That's what we always hope for.  Alas, just as often, the following takes place: 

2.  They read it, or part of it,

There's a lovely phrase I quote regularly.  I call it the 'phrase authors dread the most':

"So I read your book....(pause)"

Yes, I can see many of you authors cringing from here.  We've all had this happen.  It's a sorry return for your investment of fifteen dollars.

3.  They don't read it at all.

Most awkward, of course.  They happily took your gift of the free book.  You wait weeks for some sort of feedback.  And hear nothing.

Did they hate it?  Did they even crack the cover?  Are they being deliberately mean by not saying anything?  Did they resell it on Amazon, for crissake?

I'd rather not know if the book didn't get read - or worse - didn't get finished.  Best not to invite this.

Final advice?

A fellow author friend with multiple bestsellers tells everyone he doesn't buy author copies, and thus has none to give away.  I find that good advice.

But if you do get pressured into giving a book away free, NEVER EVER ask what they thought of it.

Why?  If they love it, they'll tell you.

If they didn't like it, you don't want to know.

If they didn't read it, you don't want to know.

Just consider it fifteen bucks dropped at the side of the road, and forget about it.

And celebrate the many wonderful people who support you at events, buy your books, and tell you how much they enjoy them.  Those are the friends worth cherishing.

What about you, fellow authors?  Have you had similar experiences?  Comments welcome!

It's here!  Book baby 17, THE MERRY WIDOW MURDERS, available at Amazon, Barnes&Noble, Chapters/Indigo, and all the usual places.

“Delightful is one of the first words that come to mind. The 1920s shipboard setting
is beautifully observed; the plot will keep you guessing and the heroine, is ... well ...
delightful. Not to be missed.”
— Maureen Jennings, author of the Murdoch Mysteries and the Paradise Café series

… on Amazon

27 May 2023

"Why don't you write about Gina Gallo's Grandmother?" or Where do you get your Ideas?

 Ah, the timeless question.  Where do you get your ideas?

I think it was Stephen King who talked about a little mail-order store in small town America...

I've never been able to find that store myself.  Stephen keeps it a close secret (I hope you're smiling.)

But I had reason to experience that dilemma about two years ago, a year into the pandemic, and a year after my husband David died.

Damn that covid, and what it's done to publishing.  When Orca Books told me that they were capping the line that carried my Goddaughter series (translation: still selling the books in the line, but closing it to future books, at least for now)  I was in a tight spot.

What to write next?  I'd had 10 contracts in a row from Orca!  That series garnered three major awards!  How could I leave it behind?

Put another way:  what the poop was I going to write next?

The Goddaughter series featured a present day mob goddaughter who didn't want to be one.  Gina Gallo had a beloved fiance who thought she had gone straight.  But of course, in each book she would get blackmailed into helping the family pull off heists or capers that would inevitably go wrong.  It allowed for a lot of madcap comedy.

Some would say I was a natural to write a series about a mob goddaughter (we'll just leave it at that.)  And I liked the serious theme behind the comedy:  You're supposed to love and support your family.  But what if your family is this one? 

Issues of grey have always interested me.  We want things to be black and white in life, but quite often, they are more complex than that.  I like exploring justice outside of the law in my novels.  But I digress...

The Goddaughter books brought me to the attention of Don Graves, a well-known newspaper book reviewer up here.  He commiserated with the end of the Goddaughter series, and immediately suggested the following:

"Why don't you write about her grandmother?  Prohibition days, when the mob was becoming big in Hamilton."

The idea burned in me.  Except it wouldn't be her grandmother.  (Don is older than me.)  It would be her great-grandmother!  Coming to age in the time of Rocco Perri and Bessie Starkman...

I settled on 1928, because that was the year women finally got the vote in England.  The status of women features very much in this novel.  The time frame also allowed me to use the aftermath of WW1, including men like my own grandfather, wounded by gas, and shell-shocked.  I would make the protagonist a young widow, because I knew grief - oh man, did I know grief.  My own husband had died way before his time, the year before.  I could write convincingly about that.

But I would also use bathos to lighten the tale. (I seem incapable of writing anything straight.)  The comedy of the Goddaughter books finds its way into The Merry Widow Murders, and so far, has generated smiles for prepub reviewers.

The book took me over a year to write, working full time on it.  It helped me to channel my grief.  It forced me to step out of my comfort zone and write something with considerable depth.  

And it taught me that - even widowed - I wasn't entirely alone.  That ideas are beautiful things that can come from friendship, and the good hearts of readers and reviewers you are fortunate to meet along your publishing journey.

Thank you, Don!

So tell me:  where do you get your ideas?

 "Delightful...Not to be missed"  Maureen Jennings, 

author of  the Murdoch Mysteries on TV

and the Paradise Cafe series

The Merry Widow Murders  

Now available!  

Barnes&Noble, Chapters

Amazon, independents

and all the usual suspects

from Cormorant Books


 1928, At Sea  

When an inconvenient body shows up in her stateroom, Lady Revelstoke and her pickpocket-turned-maid Elf know how to make it disappear--and find the killer.

"Miss Fisher meets Hitchcock's The Trouble with Harry. The perfect escapist read!"  Anne R. Allen

22 April 2023

Can you love the art and loathe the artist?

For years, I've told my writing students that to be a successful novelist, you must be the writer, AND the author.  The Writer does the writing:  alone in a room, butt in chair, hands on keyboard for hundreds of hours.  The Author is the personality out in public and on social media.  The halcyon days of novelists being able to hide behind a word processor were over in the 90s.  Readers and publishers expect you to be out in public, promoting your books.

Here's the thing that has always puzzled me.  I don't understand why readers want to meet the author.  For many years, my favourite author has been the Sicilian, Andrea Cammilleri.  I adore Inspector Montalbano, star of his sharply funny books.  In fact, I so adore Cammilleri, that I have no real interest in meeting his creator.  Why?  Because Montalbano *is* Cammilleri to me.  Seeing him in person would take away the magic.  What if he looks entirely different?  What if Cammilleri is 80 while Montalbano is 50?

(Sadly, I knew that to be the truth.  Cammilleri died recently, at the age of 93.  With him, dies Montalbano who was just into his 60s.  No more books, and that's a tragedy for me.)

But I digress.

The point of this post:  I am always a bit surprised when readers are enthusiastic about meeting me.  I wonder that they too might find seeing me in person could corrupt the image they have of my protagonist/s.

But beyond appearance, and possibly worse, does my own character do justice to my protagonist?

Do we have to like the artist to love the art?

Put another way: if the artist falls from grace, does it affect how we perceive their art?

A few names come to mind.  Woody Allen.  Michael Jackson.  Can I still watch a Woody Allen movie without feeling slightly queasy?  Can I listen to Thriller or Beat It, and enjoy them, without thinking of disturbing sexual misconduct? 

And then there is Dilbert.  Can we still laugh at the comic strip, yet deplore the opinions of its creator? 

The jury is out for me on this one.  I really do go back and forth about equating the art with the character of the artist.  I am sure that if we looked into artists of the past (I'm going way back here - the Romans, Renaissance, Age of Enlightenment, 19th century) we would find people who held views that we find abhorrent now.  People who conducted themselves in amoral or cruel ways, but produced wondrous art.

How far does one go in this?  Should we be refusing to value the art of men who denied women the vote until the last century?  Should one idolize and cheer for Tiger Woods on the PGA tour when he treats women so dishonorably?

I don't know.  I'm anxiously ambivalent about this one.  In fact, I'm losing sleep at night.  It's 5:20 AM right now as I'm writing this sentence.  I've been up for two hours, stewing on this.  

Which all goes to show... I've found another fabulous way to procrastinate on writing my next novel. 

Melodie Campbell writes wryly funny crime books, from the shores of Lake Ontario.  The Merry Widow Murders will finally hit the shelves in May.

25 March 2023

Award-winning or Bestselling?
Which would you choose?

As we approach award season time, the old existential question is coming up at hotel bars, dives, and other dubious but cheap places that serve alcohol to bitching and whining authors…

If you could be an award-winning author OR a bestselling author, but not both, which would you choose?

And has your preference changed over the years?

Mine has.  I was all about the awards when I was younger.  I wanted to be recognized, and was leery about 'selling out' to the masses (a ridiculous idea, as I see it now.  Why would a book that everyone likes not be a good book?)  

To that end, I didn't consider writing certain genres and actually turned down a lucrative series contract with one of the big five 15 years ago because they wanted to change it from epic fantasy to paranormal romance.  Honestly, I can be an idiot.)

In the thirty years since my first publication, I like to think I've grown up.  With 17 novels, 60 short stories, and a couple hundred comedy credits behind me, my outlook has changed.

Now, ten awards later, I want money.

(I hope you're laughing now.  Has she given up her ideals?  Hell yes!)

This change of heart has prompted me to examine what it is that each accomplishment does for one.

Here's what I've concluded:

Award-winning means you are lauded by your peers.

Bestseller means you are appreciated by the reading public.

No question, a lot of awards are judged by professional authors and professional reviewers.  I've sat on a number of juries myself.  And there is no greater thrill I've found than having professionals in your own field laud you as 'the best' in a category.

But that doesn't necessarily mean you're going to earn a poop-load of money.

Why is it so hard to attain both?

I have an author friend - actually two of them- who consistently make bestseller lists.  One is a million-book seller.  The other, in the tens of thousands per book, but with over thirty books, that amounts to a lot of sales.

Am I envious of the money they make?  Hell yeah!

Neither have won an award.  And I know it gnaws away at them. Does the money compensate?  I expect it does.

But somehow, as authors we crave both. We strive for both.  We want to be acknowledged by our peers as well as loved by the public.  We want to see our names on the bestseller lists, and on the awards list.

At least, that's how I see it at this point in my career.  But to be fair, I've gone to a younger author with Harper Collins, for his take. Here's what he says:

     "It's an age-old question and I have to admit that I'm rather boring when it comes to the side of the fence I fall on. Writing has always been my passion. It's a privilege to be able to do it professionally. And if that means that my work becomes bestselling, or it garners the attention of my peers in awards, then it's an added bonus.
     "I'm envious of other authors - just because they all do such magnificent work. So, to be the ultimate fence sitter, I'll say that either is a welcome and monumental achievement. And one that should be cherished and celebrated far and wide!"  (Jonathan Whitelaw, author of The Bingo Hall Detectives - "a sharply funny read")

Well said, Jonathan! How about you, fellow authors?  If you had to choose, which way would you go?

Man, I'll be glad when this book is finally out (May13.)  Available for preorder most places.

Melodie Campbell writes lamentably funny fiction, usually with a mob connection, from the shores of Lake Ontario. If you enjoyed The Goddaughter series, you also might enjoy this book, which takes place in 1928 and stars Gina Gallo's great-grandmother!

28 January 2023

We, The Jury

It's Derringer time, and that's prompted me to think about the whole literary jury process.  I've been on several, and this guest post below, by my good friend and author Jayne Barnard, really speaks to me.  How about you?  Have you ever been on a literary jury?  Please tell us your experience in the comments below.

We, the Jury...

by J.E. Barnard

When a crime writer hears the 'J' word, they can be forgiven for thinking Twelve Angry Men, A Jury of Her Peers, or any book, movie, or news article about a trial.  Maybe our minds veer to Grisham novels about juries or the Richard Jury mysteries by Martha Grimes.  Rarely do we consider the other kind of jury:  the one that decides on a writers' award.  Whether it's the National Book award, the Giller Prize, the Governor General's Award, the CBC or Writers Trust, or--particular favourites of crime writers--the Edgars, Agathas, Daggers. Derringers, Theakston's Old Peculiar, and Canada's own Crime-writing Awards of Excellence (formerly the Arthur Ellis Awards,) there's a jury behind it.

After two decades of serving on writers' juries in the Canada and the USA, for fiction and non-fiction, children and adults, short fiction and long, even for plays and scripts, I've got some thoughts to share about what makes a good juror and why writers would, indeed should, try jury work at least once in their literary career.

Who sits on a writers' award jury?

The fact is, juries are made up mainly of readers and writers like you.  Award-winning authors, multi-series authors, one-book authors, true crime authors, short story authors, journalists, bloggers, reviewers.  Other seats are filled by those working in the publishing industry, or in libraries, or those with subject area experience like lawyers, prosecutors, criminologists, pathologists, cops.  But mainly writers and readers.

What makes a good crime writing juror?

1.  Someone who loves crime writing.  Writing it, reading it, listening to it, watching it.

That juror represents all readers of that crime category.  Ideally, they're aware of what's hot in crime writing and tropes that are past their prime.  The good juror accepts that, as much as they personally may love the Golden Age detective authors like Agatha Christie and Dashell Hammett, the genre has moved on, and the awards moved on with it.  The good juror knows that even though they personally love cozy cat mysteries with recipes or serial killer POV scenes in alternating gory chapters, the genre is far wider than both and they must evaluate all entries in their category not on what they personally prefer but on how well the author has executed a work according to its place on the crime writing spectrum.

2.  Collaboration.  This essential qualification is too often left unstated.  It's rare that a single book or story rises to the top of every jury member's list.  Any category may include several eminently worthy candidates for the top slot.  Jurors need to communicate their shortlist selections clearly to fellow jurors and be able to defend those choices with calm, clear language, while respecting other jurors' alternative perspectives.  Only together can jurors develop a short list that reflects the breadth of excellence in that category of writing.

Other qualifications:  your writing credentials and your relevant life experience.  A working children's librarian or elementary school teacher is better placed to evaluate a Children's and Young Adult category than, say, a retired criminology professor who taught adults and has no regular contact with child and adolescent readers.  It's not that the latter couldn't evaluate the writing and the structure, but that they're unfamiliar with what readers in that category are currently consuming and what those readers value in a book or story.

What other qualities does a good juror bring?

Ideally, they're familiar with:

  • the award's writing language (in Canada, so far, that means English or French) including a solid grasp of grammar, punctuation, and spelling.
  • structural issues of storytelling:  plotting, pacing, tension.
  • elements of a strong opening and a powerful ending.

Good jurors understand enough about characters and their arcs to tell whether they're introduced or developed poorly or well, and can explain those thoughts to their fellow jurors during the consultation process (and to the author if their jury is one that offers comments/feedback.)

Non-fiction jurors ideally have a grasp of language and storytelling as well as some subject-area expertise.  

One reason why juries traditionally have three or more members is to balance overall strengths.  A strong writer with two subject experts, or two writers with a lone subject expert, can turn in the strongest possible shortlist if they respect the knowledge and skills each member brings to the reading and discussion process.

Why serve on a jury?

1.  To give back to the community of writers that breaks trail, nurtures your skills, and has built the publishing industry and awards processes you already are or hope soon to be competing in.

2.  As a master class in what makes some stories, articles or books work better (and win awards) than others.

Trust me on the second one: jury work can revolutionize your writing practice.  There are few more concentrated ways to figure out what makes a good first page than by reading twenty or more of them in quick succession to see which ones hold your attention and figure out what makes them stand out.  Read twenty opening chapters and you'll have a clearer idea what kind of character introductions, settings, or situations work best - or utterly fail - to pull you into stories you might not otherwise read.  Look at twenty endings and some will have a resonance you can feel to your bones while others will be just okay.  Take those new or more in-depth understandings and apply them to your own writing, and your odds of seeing your work on an awards shortlist can increase exponentially.

I hope the next time a crime writing award puts out a public or selective call for award jurors, you'll take a moment to consider whether you have some skills, dedication, and desire to learn and to serve.  And then apply.


Alberta author J.E. (Jayne) Barnard has two award-winning series – The Maddie Hatter Adventures and The Falls Mysteries – and numerous short stories involving history, mystery, crime, and punishment. Between writing gigs, she volunteers for Sisters in Crime and Crime Writers of Canada, and regularly serves on fiction juries in Canada and the USA. She lives in a vine-covered cottage between two rivers, keeping cats and secrets. Her most recent winter mystery is Where the Ice Falls (Dundurn Press 2019).  Find her on your favourite platform via Linktree



24 December 2022

Not Even a Mouse!
If Santa doesn't bring smiles, this might...

 Merry Night Before Christmas Everyone!

Several readers (thank you!) have asked about my previous life as a writer of comedy.  My humour is goodnatured rather than biting (I was called the Carol Burnett of Crime Writing not so long ago.)  I don't draw from those files often for Sleuthsayers, although maybe - in light of how serious our world has become - I should. 

To that end:  Thinking about The Night Before Christmas reminded me of mice, which reminded me of this monologue I used to do back in the day, which I have re-titled, 

Not Even a Mouse  (Merry Christmas, Everyone!)

I wanted to buy a new front door the other day.  This has become necessary because the old front door is no longer functioning as a door in the usual sense.  "Wind Tunnel" or "Interstate highway for neighbourhood field mice" might be a better description.

But as always, things have changed in the world of destruction and aggravation (aka construction and renovation.)  Apparently, you can't buy a door anymore. They don't make them, according to the sales clerk (excuse me..."Customer Service Associate.")  Apparently, you now buy an "Entry System."

"But I already have an entry system," I explained.  "The mice are entering all the time.  What I want is something to keep them out.  Like a door."

"Let me show you how this works," he offered.  He then demonstrated how to insert a key in the lock and turn the doorknob to activate the Entry System.  Not unlike my old door, in fact.  I pointed this out.

"But this is a great improvement," he argued.  "See?  It's Pre-hung."

'Pre-hung' - for construction illiterates - means you don't have to undo three hinges to slip the old door off and install the new door.  Instead, the new door already comes with a frame (and sometimes side windows) attached.  To install, you simply demolish the old door frame and rebuild the entire entranceway to fit the new pre-hung frame.  It requires three men and a boy, and at least two weeks of labour.  But you don't have to touch those pesky hinges, which makes this a big improvement.

Not surprisingly, Entry Systems cost a lot more than mere doors.  This, I pointed out, was not an improvement.

One more thing bothers me about all this fancy renaming business.  If they insist on calling doors 'Entry Systems,' just what will they end up calling toilets?  Exit Systems?

Melodie Campbell will be sitting by the tree waiting for Santa tonight.  The door will be open.

25 June 2022

What Makes an Author a Hero? Paying it Forward

 I love that term, Pay it Forward.  It speaks of giving selflessly, but also of planning for a future.  

Really, we're talking about Hope.  When you pay it forward, you are believing in Hope.  Hope that the world will continue to be a good place in future - or at least, a good enough place for you to invest some time NOW helping others who will be around later.  In our case, helping them to continue the literary tradition.

Recently, I got an almost tearful email from a former student who has been picked up by a traditional publisher.  Her book comes out this month.  I couldn't be more thrilled.

She has been generous in her thanks to me for serving as a mentor and cheering squad, and that got me thinking about the people who influenced me in my publishing travels.

I've had maybe a dozen students do really well as writers, in my 30 years of teaching the craft.  Each email telling me of one's success does something to my heart. This is why we teach!  What joy I am given by a student's success.  

But it also does a very curious thing for me.  It reminds me of my own first successes, and the people who helped me on my way.

It's lonely out there, on that author journey.  You basically have to travel it yourself (writing for hundreds of hours, alone at a keyboard.)  Writing, as we all know, is a solitary exercise.  Unless you co-write a book, no one else will have the same investment in it.

It's a journey, no question.  But along the way, you may come across some seasoned travelers who give you the benefit of their experience.  Generous people who take the time to encourage you, when there is no tangible benefit to themselves.  

I started writing for money in my 20s. As I look back on a thirty-five year writing career it suddenly struck me that few of my mentors or people who encouraged me are still alive.  And thus the circle has completed.  They mentored me.  I mentor others younger than me, who will go on to support the next generation of writers, when I am long past.  

God Bless all those who mentor and encourage writers.  You are important and appreciated long after the fact.

A few of mine:

Marilyn Laycock:  Marilyn was a columnist for her local paper.  She died last year, after serving as an older sister to me for almost forty years.  It was she who encouraged me to 'go pro' and take college writing courses in 1986 and 7.  Marilyn told me where to send my first essay (it got published) and provided all the 'Attagirls' I needed in those early years. She sponsored me for membership in the Mississauga Writer's Guild, and introduced me to well-published fiction authors there who would be instrumental in encouraging my fiction career.

Michael Crawley:  The head of the Mississauga Writer's Guild was Michael Crawley, a professional veteran fiction author of horror, erotica, and other genres, under several pen names.  Michael saw potential in me, took me under his wing, and made it his job to see that I tried writing and publishing in several genres, some of which I don't admit to these days :)  Michael died several years ago, but is still fresh in my mind - he lives on in a way I don't think he ever would have anticipated.  

And finally, one who is still alive:

Linwood Barclay:  Sometimes a simple act of kindness can make all the difference.  After some early humour column publications, I brazenly wrote to Linwood Barclay, who was then editor of the Life section of the Toronto Star (Canada's biggest newspaper,) asking if he would consider publishing one of my pieces.  This was completely unsolicited.  I marvel that I had the guts.  But here's the thing:  Linwood wrote back.  This was before email.  So he actually *wrote* back.  He told me the piece was definitely funny, I had talent, but the Star didn't take freelance.  Why didn't I try my local paper?  So I did.  They took it.  They took more.  I got syndicated.  And that launched a humour career of columns, standup and comedic fiction that has spanned thirty years.

One simple act of kindness that has lasted a career.  He didn't have to do it. Most wouldn't have.  It took a bit of effort on his part.  And I have never forgotten it.

 How about you?  Are there people who made all the difference to you as a newby writer?

Linwood Barclay in Conversation with Melodie Campbell, Burlington Public Library, May 19, 2022

23 April 2022

Enough with the Murderer's Point of View, Already!

Some people may not like this post.  Some might even call me a 'cranky author.'  And that's just fine, because I'm all about open discussion when it comes to fiction writing.  In fact, I think the main thing wrong with the world these days is too many people want to shut down open discussion on every subject.

So here goes:

Was gabbing by phone with my friend Cindy, another writer, about the usual Covid-Writer fare.  What are you writing… what are you reading… what disasters have befallen your publisher, etc.

(And just to give you an example… Remember last November, when all the ships were crowded around the docks off California for weeks and weeks, unable to unload their goods in time for Christmas.  Well, remember at the same time there was one container ship foundering off the coast of Vancouver, that dumped 117 containers into the ocean?  One of those containers contained the second reprint of my 16th book with Orca Book publishers.  Yes, I couldn't make this up.  Hope the fishes enjoy eating my royalties.)

Back to the main beef of today.

This discussion with Cindy inevitably led to what 'What do we hate' in fiction these days.  Cindy surprised me by saying: "You know what I really hate?  Books written in third person, that all of a sudden dump the murderer's point of view in the middle of everything!  In first person, no less.  Drives me nuts."

"Me too!"  I said, delighted to find another fellow cranky writer.  "Not to mention, it breaks all viewpoint rules."  (Okay, the cranky college prof can't resist the opportunity to lecture.)

What are we talking about?  You're reading a book - police procedural, usually - that starts with the protagonist - a cop - in third person.  The book carries on very nicely in third person for several chapters, and then suddenly, you get a chapter written in first person, by some unnamed character, that is completely self-focused.  Gradually you figure out it must be the murderer talking, because he's going on and on about his awful childhood.  Oh Sweet Jesus.  How the heck did that get in there?

It's like they wrote the whole book and then thought, I'll just go back and plop in some chapters of a completely different book into random spots.  The critics will love it!

I say police procedural because the last book I read - Oranges and Lemons by Christopher Fowler - did exactly this thing.  Now normally, I love the Bryant and May detective series by Fowler.  (The Peculiar Crimes Unit takes place in England.)  It's a hoot.  But I didn't like this added 'device'.

I say police procedural, but I've also seen it done with an amateur detective novel.  In fact, I read a recent book by a very well known Canadian author who used the same 'device' (note how nice I am in calling it 'device' instead of the words I am really thinking.)

'Recent' is the key word here.  The first time I came across this was about five years ago.  Really threw me the first time. Who the hell was speaking?  I thought it was a misprint.  No, truly.  I thought the printer had made a mistake and inserted part of another book into this book.

"Why do they do that?" said Cindy.

Believe it or not, being in the middle of writing my 18th novel, I had a logical explanation for that.

"Word count," I said confidently.  "They finish the novel at 70,000 words, and they've got to get it to 80,000.  I know from wence they came."

Some famous crime writer - it may have been Spillane - said that most crime books are perfectly written at 50,000 words.  In other words, a lot of mystery or crime stories end themselves naturally at that word count.  And that pushing them to 70 or 80 thousand means adding stuff that doesn't have to be there (which is a nice way to put it, I think.)

I ascribe to the Spillane school of thought.  My own work settles nicely between fifty and sixty thousand words.  I have to work hard to get it to 70,000.  And my agent and publisher usually push it to 75,000 in the editing process.

So I figure these writers who slot in the murderer's point of view are doing so to add word count.  What a nice way to avoid thinking of another plot twist.  Problem is, these chapters are usually static.  They are internal monologue.  All narration.  They interrupt the story.  And worse, they don't exactly move the story forward.

Not to mention, they break viewpoint and drive me and other cranky veteran authors crazy.

Not that we have far to go.

How about you, Sleuthsayers?  What do you think about this newfangled device in fiction?

Melodie Campbell sticks to the viewpoint rules in her otherwise loopy crime fiction that almost always involves the mob.  You can find her books at all the usual suspects.

26 March 2022

In which our Heroine asks the Question: Why Bother?

I read in the paper today that divorces and job resignations were way up in 2021, the conclusion being that Covid is causing us to revisit all the important things in our life.  So it was almost serendipitous that this week I was put to the challenge to defend (or at least, assess) my continued feverish predilection for writing fiction.

Someone (a real person, not my wayward alter ego) asked me the other day, why do I write.  Or more specifically, why do I continue to write.

Now, this was not meant to be a slight in any way.  The person who asked was another writer facing the same sort of future I see for myself.  That is, he is also:

  • A mid-list author with a respected traditional house, putting out a book every 12 to 18 months.
  • An author with 15-plus books and dozens of short stories published in respected magazines.
  • A thirty-year history of writing.
  • Some awards on the mantel.

And - wait for it -

  • Slim to no chance of getting rich or achieving best-seller status on the New York Times or Globe and Mail bestseller lists at this point in the career.

So… writer friend asked, "Why do we still do it?  What can we possibly achieve now that we haven't already?  Because that Top 20 list is probably never going to be within our reach."

(Wait a minute.  Was I supposed to be on some list?  Another thing I failed to do?  I felt like I was one of the wise men - the 4th one you never hear about, Irving the Unwise - going to see Baby Jesus in the manger.  "I didn't know we were supposed to bring gifts.  Nobody told me we were supposed to bring gifts!")

But I digress.  My friend wasn't through.  "How many books do I need to have published to feel like I'm kind of a success?  When will I have enough?"

Poo.  I had no answer.

This fall, I signed a contract for my seventeenth book.  It comes out next fall (if Covid doesn't kill the presses for lack of paper worldwide, sigh.)  And then the question will be, is that enough?  Will an eighteenth book make any difference at all to me or to the world?

So I asked myself, "Self - why are you doing this?  At a time when so many people are retiring to the golf course, why are you still torturing yourself with plot lines and deadlines and tedious social media promotion?  Why are you putting up with endless Amazon reviews and online trolls who couldn't find a plot hole if they were pushed into it?  (Note to alter ego:  always carry a shovel.)

Then a strange thing happened this morning.  A reader in the States sent me a notice she received from the West Virginia Library System, that the audiobook version of my title Worst Date Ever, was available for lending.

Well, that's cool, I thought.  Maybe it won't seem like a lot to you, but I live in suburban Toronto - that's in Canada, the other big country on the top end of North America.  The one that invented hockey fights and slurps maple syrup.

I can't begin to tell you what this email did for me.  We've all had a hard year.  But the thought that my renegade book (a loopy romantic comedy - I usually write crime) could perhaps put a smile on the face of a reader an entire country and several states away did something to my heart.

Like the Grinch, I think my heart grew several sizes.

God Bless that reader.  Because the answer to my friend's question became clear to me.  I write so that I might put a smile on someone's face - someone who might need it.  Someone who has seen hard times, is longing for escape, and needs a little lift that doesn't cost anything more than a library card.

That's why I write. That's why I continue to write. How about you?

May 2022 bring you smiles.

Here's that little book in the West Virginia Library.  Who says I can't write romance?  (Okay, so they asked me to write a romance, and I wrote about a series of bad dates.  Give me a break.  It has a happy ending, doesn't it?)

Available at all the usual suspects…

26 February 2022

What do we DO about Covid in our Fiction Manuscripts? Three Ideas for Authors

So here's a predicament.  You are writing a book that takes place in contemporary times.  You know it will probably hit the shelves two years from the time you start writing.  (Because that is the reality of this biz.  A year to write an 80,000 word novel, and at least a year for your publisher to get it out there.)

What, I ask you, WHAT do you do about Covid?

My authors friends and I have been perplexed by this for 18 months.  In the beginning (nearly two years ago) we thought it would be a passing thing, like SARS 1.  (Which by the way, I contracted in 2003 while supervising hospital staff.  It was pure hell.  Think cut glass in your lungs, for weeks and weeks.)

By the summer of 2020, I remember having Zoom discussions with writer friends about what the Thunderin' Jesus we were supposed to do with a worldwide pandemic in our novels.  Could we ignore it - blithely pretend it didn't happen?

But then the darn thing didn't end.

So here we are, two years after the start of Covid 19, still wondering when the bloody thing is going to be over, stuck in between a rock and a hard place when it comes to treating it in fiction.

Thing is, you can't ignore it now.  Covid 19 has been the most significant thing to affect all mankind, or even just our little niche in the world, since WW11.  Imagine being in Britain during WW11.  Six years of war hell.  And then a book comes out in 1947 that is supposed to be contemporary, but doesn't even mention the war years?  It's unthinkable!

So what to do?

1.  Pretend it's Over

Include it in your novel, with characters very grateful to be over the Covid years. 

But there's a problem with that.  What if Covid isn't over by the time your novel comes out?

That's what has happened to one writer I know.  His latest release talks about the bad Covid times of 2020 and 2021, and the bad times are over by the time his protagonist is telling this latest story in early 2022.

Except they aren't.  And I am sure said author (whom I adore) wished he could pull back that release until our Covid days are over.  (Yes, I know this will turn from pandemic to endemic, and likely to be with us for some time.  I'm a career health care executive, after all.  But you know what I mean.  Until a time we feel safe returning to normal, because God knows, I don't now.)

2.  Go Historical

That's what I've done.  Okay, I planned this book back in 2019 long before the word Covid was in our lexicon.  But after 16 published novels that take place in contemporary times, this was quite a departure for me.  You might also say it was prescient.  (Perhaps I should be dropping big money on lottery tickets...)

Writing a novel that takes place in the past is a perfect solution for a writer today.  You know how the world turns out. And there is a certain comfort for the reader in that.

Which will be the subject of a future blog on here, by the way.

3.  Do as another author friend of mine did:  Switch to Fantasy!

The ultimate cop-out!  Go different planet, Alt World, different time, different physical rules (magic etc.)  The desire for fantasy novels and fantasy shows on TV has never been greater.  We need a break from reality.  You'll be safe in a world you invent yourself.

How about you, seasoned Sleuthsayer authors?  What have you done to address Covid in your fiction?  We are all stumbling through this.  Comments welcome!

Melodie Campbell stumbles around the Toronto area, writing largely loopy fiction involving heists and capers that don't go according to plan.  You can get her books at all the usual suspects.









22 January 2022

Wanna be a Paperback Writer? Ten things you didn't know

Alternate title… Perils of Publishing…
How to keep sane while traversing a career in the wilds of publishing.

Hello there!  Melodie here, with more shop talk about the perils of publishing.  Oh, how I miss those writer gabfests in the bar at the Drake Hotel where we did what authors like to do best when they get together. Which is, bitch about the industry.

There are many steps to becoming a published author with a traditional house, and each one is a milestone.  First, you finish that book (pass the scotch.)  Then, you bag an agent if you're lucky (more than a wee dram for that.)  Then, you get a contract for your first book (break out the champagne.)

You make it through that fiendish obstacle course, and people think you've got it made.  Hell, YOU think you've got it made.  All you need to do now is write!  Other people will take care of all the rest of it.  But believe me, everything is not clear sailing from there.

Strange things happen in publishing.  Things that not even a clairvoyant with a crystal ball could predict. 

You may say, "Oh, she's being so far-fetched.  That'll never happen."  But let me tell you, every one of these things have happened to me.

And guess what?  I'm still standing.  (okay, sitting in a comfy chair while typing this)  Still writing.  And still getting published.

Welcome to the insane, inane world of publishing.

1.  Your agent - the one from New York who finally agreed to represent you after months of negotiation...the one who was negotiating a deal with Ace Fantasy in England and Berkley Paranormal at home, will kick the bucket before cementing a deal (no disrespect meant.  He was a class guy.)  Worse, no one in his office will let you know for two months.  Worse, you didn't think to question the length of time between emails, because he was so lousy at getting back to you in the first place.

2.  The ad campaign that was carefully planned and paid for by your publisher will feature an ad where the title of your book is misspelled in such a way that not even Saturday Night Live could have come up with it.  Or saved it.

Rowena and the Dark Lard may be a great name for a cookbook. But it is unfortunately not the sort of thing to entice readers of epic fantasy to part with their money.  (real name of book:  Rowena and the Dark Lord)

3.  The book that was an outlier (Sci-fi) that your publisher loved, that your pals thought was your best, that got so many good reviews on Amazon...will go nowhere.

4.   The publisher that took a chance on you, believed in you, applauded when your book was featured on USA today and helped to bring your book series to bestseller status, will go out of business.

5.   You can't get the rights back for the covers of those books because the artist who worked for the house has disappeared off the face of the earth.

6.   Your next publisher - the one with the world-wide reputation and selling legs - will decide to close the line your series is in, even though your books are bestsellers for them.

7.  And the unfunny one - Someone closest to you will die the week your 15th book comes out, such that the book receives no attention at all for the year-plus you are in heavy grief.

8.  Back to funny - Your 16th book will come out the first month of a world-wide Pandemic, and all promotion events will be canceled for at least two years.

9.  More pandemic humour - You will be asked to emcee a prestigious book award event, which will be cancelled due to the pandemic.

10.  And More - Your 17th book will be held up in production at least 6 months due to a paper shortage worldwide.

I used to tell my writing classes that you need three things to become a writer:  You need talent.  You need to learn the craft.  And you need passion.

I've now decided that the most important thing you need to continue to be a writer is a healthy sense of humour! (and a big supply of scotch)

So raise a toast to all the authors out there who continue to write and publish, while continually having to face loopy hurdles like the above.

How about you?  Would love to hear more Perils of Publishing stories in the comments below.

Melodie Campbell continues to write books and short stories south of Toronto, in spite of the perils. You can find her books in all the usual suspects.

27 November 2021

How Much Violence Against Women can YOU Read in your Fiction?

This is a difficult post.

The Globe and Mail newspaper this morning mentioned that Stig Larson died on this day in 2004. I mentioned this to a man I know who is a reader - a man I like and respect - and he said, "I really liked his books."  This brought about a discussion that has gotten me thinking.

Now, as you may recall, the writing community was quite split on Larson's book 'The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo' when it first came out.  Most authors I know, at the time, thought it needed severe editing.  But others were more concerned with aspects of the content.

I remember being at the bar of the Drake Hotel in Toronto, a notorious hangout for crime writers like ourselves, and hearing the following from a well-known male crime writer sitting beside me.  "Stig Larson was one sick puppy."

I asked him to elaborate.  After all, he was a male thriller writer of some note.  Here's what he said:

"That graphic torture scene of a young woman?  We all know how long it takes to write a book.  He would have been weeks writing that chapter.  What kind of sicko could spend that much time devising ways to describe that kind of horrific torture?"

His words really hit home with a lot of us, all of whom were published crime authors.  

Another male author at the table said, "He glorifies violence against women."

I write mainly heists and capers.  My Goddaughter series is about a mob crime family, so I'm not exactly a cozy writer.  In my short stories, I can go quite dark, but never to the point of torture.  I can't write grim novels - I simply can't spend day after day in a dark world.  It affects me mentally.

Violence is absolutely at the core of a lot of crime fiction.  It's not the topic of violence that was at issue here.  What my male author friends at The Drake were commenting on was the stunning increase in graphic description of heinous acts in fiction. It's not offstage in any way, in these books.  But I think what bothered me today is the following:  my fellow reader friend didn't even remember the torture scene that has haunted me for years.  ( I won't go into details here.)  His memory of the series was that of a woman getting her own back.  Fair enough.

So I asked him:  "Would you be able to read a scene in which a child is tortured in that way?"

He said:  "No, definitely not.  I'd have to put it down."

Telling, isn't it?  And that of course is the issue that haunts me today.  Those books of Stig Larson - and some like it that are extremely graphic in their abuse and murder of women - have done well.  Readers seem to accept it as a means to advance a plot in which - hopefully - justice will be done in the end.  (One could argue that if you are a woman killed in a horrible way, there is no justice, but that's a topic for another post.)

The end justifies the means now, so to speak.  Or is it deeper than that?  Does this reflect a deeper societal desensitization, nonchalance, or fatigue when it comes to the topic of violence against women?

My friend is not the only one.  At some point, and I think it took off with the publishing of the Stig Larson books, the fiction reading society moved to embrace a more graphic description of violence against women as entertainment.  And I have to admit, this bothers me.

Comments welcome.  I'm struggling with this one and could use others' insights.

Melodie Campbell writes about the mob in Hamilton Ontario, with tongue firmly in cheek.  You can get her books at all the usual suspects.