Sunday, April 23, 2017

Crime Writers of Canada’s Arthur Ellis Nominees

Crime Writers of Canada announced this year’s slate of nominees for the Arthur Ellis Awards at events across the country. Established in 1984, the awards are named after the nom de travail of Canada’s official hangman. (Yes, our country once had one). The Arthur Ellis awards celebrate excellence in crime writing. Eligible books were published in 2016, with the exception of the Unhanged Author, which awards a prize to the year’s best unpublished novel. Good luck to all of the nominees:
Best Novel
Kelley Armstrong, City of the Lost, Penguin Random House of Canada
Michael Helm, After James, McClelland & Stewart
Maureen Jennings, Dead Ground in Between, McClelland & Stewart
Janet Kellough, Wishful Seeing, Dundurn Press
Donna Morrissey, The Fortunate Brother, Viking Canada
Best First Novel sponsored by Kobo
Ryan Aldred, Rum Luck, Five Star Publishing
R.M.Greenaway, Cold Girl, Dundurn Press
Mark Lisac, Where the Bodies Lie, NeWest Press
Amy Stuart, Still Mine, Simon & Schuster Canada
Elle Wild, Strange Things Done, Dundurn Press
Best Novella: The Lou Allin Memorial Award
Rick Blechta, Rundown, Orca Book Publishers
Brenda Chapman, No Trace, Grass Roots Press
Jas. R. Petrin, The Devil You Know, Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, Dell Publishing
Linda L. Richards, When Blood Lies, Orca Book Publishers
Peter Robinson, The Village That Lost Its Head, Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Dell Publishing
Best Short Story
Cathy Ace, Steve’s Story, The Whole She-Bang 3, Toronto Sisters in Crime
Susan Daly, A Death at the Parsonage, The Whole She-Bang 3, Toronto Sisters in Crime
Elizabeth Hosang, Where There’s a Will, The Whole She-Bang 3, Toronto Sisters in Crime
Scott Mackay, The Ascent, Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Dell Publishing
David Morrell, The Granite Kitchen, Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Dell Publishing
Best Book in French
Marie-Eve Bourassa, Red Light: Adieu, Mignonne, Groupe Ville-Marie Littérature, vlb éditions
Chrystine Brouillet, Vrai ou faux, Éditions Druide
Guillaume Morrissette, Terreur domestique, Guy Saint-Jean Éditeur
Johanne Seymour, Rinzen et l’homme perdu, Libre Expression
Richard Ste-Marie, Le Blues des sacrifiés, Éditions Alire
Best Juvenile/YA Book
Gordon Korman, Masterminds: Criminal Destiny, Harper Collins Publishers Ltd.
Norah McClintock, Trial by Fire, Orca Book Publishers
John Moss, The Girl in a Coma, The Poisoned Pencil-Poisoned Pen Press
Caroline Pignat, Shooter, Tundra Books
Eva Wiseman, Another Me, Tundra Books
Best Nonfiction Book
Christie Blatchford, Life Sentence: Stories from Four Decades of Court Reporting — or, How I Fell Out of Love with the Canadian Justice System, Doubleday Canada
Joe Friesen, The Ballad of Danny Wolfe: Life of a Modern Outlaw, Signal McClelland & Stewart
Jeremy Grimaldi, A Daughter's Deadly Deception: The Jennifer Pan Story, Dundurn Press
Debra Komar, Black River Road: An Unthinkable Crime, an Unlikely Suspect, and the Question of Character, Goose Lane
Bobbi-Jean MacKinnon, Shadow of Doubt: The Trial of Dennis Oland, Goose Lane
Unhanged Arthur for Best Unpublished First Crime Novel sponsored by Dundurn Press
Mary Fernando, An Absence of Empathy
S.J. Jennings, The Golkonda Project
Charlotte Morganti, Concrete Becomes Her
Ann Shortell, Celtic Knot
Mark Thomas, The Last Dragon
The winners will be announced at a Gala Awards Dinner in Toronto on May 25, 2017. For more information, check out Crime Writers of Canada’s website at

Friday, April 21, 2017

Who's Telling This Story, Anyway?

The other day, I was talking story with a writer friend, and we got onto subject of point of view.
Now, there are two kinds of point-of-view decisions. One is, do you tell the story from first person (I knocked down the door and strode through, a revolver blazing in each hand) or third person (HE knocked down the door). Occasionally, someone writes a book in second person (YOU knock down the door) -- second person is usually, though not always, written in the present tense.

The other kind -- and the kind we were talking about -- is narrative point-of-view, as in who tells the story, no matter what grammatical person you use.

I've had books I just couldn't get going. Pushing that pencil or those keys was like trying to push a chain uphill. Couldn't do it. When that happens to me, I know the story is trying to tell me something. Sometimes what it's trying to tell me is that I'm trying to tell the story from the wrong narrative point of view.

The foremost example is probably the Sherlock Holmes stories. Holmes is the main character, and has all the action and most of the best lines. Yet the stories are better, told from the point-of-view of his sidekick. We wouldn't be astonished at Holmes' brilliance, if we were inside his head and knew what he knows and followed his inferences and deductions all along.

If you have a book or a story you can't get moving, try writing a scene from the point of view of a different character. Maybe a character you thought was just a bit character needs to be more important. Maybe the whole book is actually about what you thought was a minor sub-plot.

Alice Friman, one of my favorite poets, said that everything you create is a thread that's attached to something in your subconscious. Sometimes what that thread attaches to isn't what you think it attaches to. Sometimes switching out plot lines and narrative characters can sort out what you really want to say, as opposed to what you thought you wanted to say.

It's worth a try!

Marian Allen, Author Lady
Fantasies, mysteries, comedies, recipes

Sunday, April 16, 2017

The Lazy Way to Publication

Over the years, I’ve been approached by a number of people who want me to write their story for them…and find a publisher, oh, and maybe an agent. The conversation always comes down to “You do it and we’ll split the royalties.” Honestly, I’m not sure I can hide the chagrin on my face anymore.

These people might have taken the occasional writing course or joined a critique group just long enough to sense how daunting writing a book can be, never mind selling and promoting it. Sometimes, the wannabe author is someone I’ve met socially, or while selling my books, or through a friend.

I call this the lazy way to getting published. Now, let’s be clear. I have nothing against someone wanting to hire a ghostwriter, and I often recommend reputable publishing services to others, but I would never take on the project myself. In fact, I’m highly suspicious of people who want to get from point A to Z without doing a shred of the leg work required, or who refuse to spend a single penny on a good editor, or writer, for that matter.

I’ve given workshops that outline the importance of having a social media presence, and offer simple how-to tips, only to have the occasional attendee say at the end, “I don’t really have to do all that, do I?” Of course not, provided they don’t want to sell any copies. My answer is a bit more diplomatic than that in person, but it amounts to the same thing. If you don’t invest in your idea without doing your homework and spending some dollars, then you won’t get far.

There’s a lot of nice people out there with great stories to tell, but it’s a slippery road to hell to commit your time and skill to someone who doesn’t understand what it takes to write, publish, and promote a book.

Sunday, April 02, 2017

One of the Worst Writing Tips I've Heard

One of the more common writing tips I’ve heard throughout the years is to make sure the protagonist in my books is likable. This is particularly applicable to female protagonists. The consensus was that if readers don’t like her, they’re going to put the book down. So, I’ve worked hard to create at least somewhat likable characters over the years, albeit still flawed.

I’ve come to realize, though, that likability is a matter of reader taste, and to some degree, genre. I write mysteries, which offers a diverse spectrum from light cozies to noir thrillers. Generally, (and of course there are exceptions) cozy readers prefer a likable protagonist who isn’t an alcoholic or drug user. Thriller fans prefer a protagonist who doesn’t spend her afternoons drinking tea with a cat on her lap.

I write amateur sleuth mysteries, which incorporates dark and light worlds, so it can be a bit of a risk, as I might not please either group. Still, I feel compelled to write books and create character that are meaningful to me. All readers bring their experiences, biases, and preferences to the table when it comes to books, and that’s fine. The truth is that no writer will please everyone.

As a writer and a reader, a likeable character isn’t as important to me as a compelling and complex character with a an obstacle to climb or a mission to accomplish. It can be small or global, but it has to matter to the protagonist.

I came across an interesting a piece in Bookriot a few days ago, called ‘100 Must-Read Books With Unlikable Women’. The author argues that female characters are given short shrift by being labeled annoying, among other things. They aren’t allowed the same leeway that male protagonists are, and receive more complaints from readers for their un-likability. Hmm. She might have something there.

I browsed the list to see if there were any mysteries and sure enough, I found Gone Girl and Dark Places by Gillian Flynn. There were also quite a number of mainstream novels. I have to admit, I didn’t browse through the entire list, so I’m not sure if there are any fantasy or romance titles there.

But the author makes a good point: there are plenty of great novels featuring unlikable characters in terrific novels. Really, did you find Scarlett O’Hara likable? I sure didn’t, but this didn’t stop me from enjoying the story. In fact, Scarlett’s unlikability was crucial to the story’s success. So go ahead, write unlikable female characters, despite what some of those writing instructors tell you. Just ensure that you’ve got a memorable, compelling story to tell.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Editing by Computer or Pencil?

I read an interesting quote from P.J. O’Rourke, which was posted in the Passive Voice newsletter (it’s a great newsletter, by the way). The quote is:

Writing on a computer makes saving what’s been written too easy. Pretentious lead sentences are kept, not tossed. Instead of sitting surrounded by crumpled paper, the computerized writer has his mistakes neatly stored in digital memory. - P. J. O’Rourke

I’m not sure I agree with O’Rourke’s opinion about pretentious sentences being kept rather than tossed. I spend far more time tweaking and deleting words on the computer than I would if I was still bashing novel chapters out on my typewriter, or writing in longhand. But I do agree with the essential point: writing and editing by computer is not the same as doing so with pencil and paper, or even a typewriter.

For many years, I wrote and rewrote short stories in longhand. It was cumbersome at times, but there was something about the impact of brain to hand to paper creativity that is different than clicking a keyboard.

I used pen and paper in the first place because my secretarial job required me to type correspondence, minutes of meetings, and tax returns, among other things. I therefore didn’t associate typing with creativity.

But as time progressed, I decided to experiment with first and subsequent drafts on the computer, to see if I could speed up the process. It took me years to complete my first three novels, so I had to do something.

I wrote and edited my 5th Casey Holland mystery primarily on the computer. For the final draft, I’ve been printing out chapters and bringing them to my day job. I arrive early, find a quiet place to work, away from my office, and reread everything carefully with pencil in hand. As I’d already completed four drafts, I thought I’d get through it quickly. Boy, was I wrong.

By the midway point, I found myself needing to make important changes. My pencil’s gotten a workout, and it’s been an invaluable lesson. For me, editing on computer is simply not the same as editing on paper. These days, I write and edit in longhand and on the keyboard. Both options are effective, yet neither provides a complete and thorough editing process.

The decision to print out each chapter and edit away from a computer was a spontaneous one. Who knew that it would turn out to be one of the best things I could have done for this book?

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Overlooking the Obvious

The membership of the Southern Indiana Writers Group has changed over the twenty or so years we've been together. Some of us have been there the whole time. Others have left, and new members have joined. So, when I began the rewrite on the book formerly known as Eel's Reverence (first published as Eel's Revenge), I decided I couldn't do better than to take it and read it to the group, a chapter at a time.

I knew that the chances were good that the new members would catch things we missed in our earlier days. Sure enough, one of our long-time members caught something and one of our new members caught something else.

As the title implies, what we had all overlooked (chiefly, of course, me, since it's my little world) were obvious. Things that, once pointed out, made me slap my forehead and go, "Duh!"

The main character is a woman, a priest of Micah, a holy man of legend. The main conflict is between her and the priests of a section of coastline called The Eel, who are mercenary hypocrites. Her spiritual stance and behavior are central to the action. And what did I forget?

She's hidden by a family who had prepared a secret room, certain that a "true" priest would come to them, eventually. And I forgot to have them put an altar in the room.

Although she's always saying to others or thinking to herself about what a priest of Micah would do, she never has an inner dialog with Micah, the way Christians pray to God the Father, Jesus, Mary, or a saint. I could pretend I decided priests of Micah don't do that, but that would be a lie. I just left it out. Didn't think of it. Missed the obvious.

I know why I did it: I was thinking about other parts of the story construction. But that's what rewrites are for, and that's especially what getting new eyes on something is for: reminding us of the obvious things we overlooked in writing and editing and rewriting and revising and reworking. And I still missed the obvious!

Marian Allen, Author Lady
Fantasies, mysteries, comedies, recipes