Tuesday, 14 March 2023

Many thanks to Cormorant for these advance Author Copies!

Book 17, and it never gets old.

Launch date May 13, launch events at MOTIVE Crime and Mystery Festival in Toronto, June 2-4

Thank you, Cormorant!

Saturday, 25 February 2023


On Sleuthsayers today with the following post, repeated here for my regular readers:

I wanted to start a gang,
but it turned into a book club...

"I wanted to start a gang, but it turned into a book club..."

I don't know the kindred spirit who first said the above quote, and I've probably butchered it somewhat, but...Guilty as charged!  Which is saying a lot, because usually I write about the mob...


I love my current book club.  We don't do the 'buy one book and everybody read it' thing.  Instead, we have a list of categories (30 in all) and are expected to read one book that satisfies each criteria in a calendar year.  We can each read a different book that fits the category.  We also give each other two free outs, meaning you can skip two categories if you absolutely hate them.  Bless those outs.

Love this club, because I am pushed into reading things I wouldn't normally pick up.  Other genres, past classics, even cookbooks.  Plus they come with recommendations from people I trust.  We all read more than 30 books a year (I'm close to 100.)  So there's still lots of time to read new releases from favourite authors beyond those 30 on the book club list.

That said, I'm a crime writer and crime reader.  Whodunits are my trade, and I shy away from anything that sniffs of Chicklit.  So you can imagine my surprise when I am pressured to read a book that reaches me in a way I didn't expect.   "What Alice Forgot" by Liane Moriarty, is a perfect example, and I'm exceedingly grateful.  That book made me think about my own past and future, at a time when I had just lost my first husband to cancer (decades earlier than it should have been.)

And let me also say, that I am thrilled that people are reading.  If they want to read things I don't find pleasure reading, that's terrific!  Please, please keep reading, young people.  It doesn't matter what books you cherish, as far as I'm concerned. 

Still, there's the guilt. Yes, I feel guilt.  I should like reading everything.  I should at least recognize that reading diverse books is 'good for me,'  and thus be an enthusiastic participant.

Confessions, confessions.  What things have I learned about myself, through that seemingly innocent little social activity?  Three things come to mind.  Let me take a moral inventory, and feel free to cast aspersions on my virtue.  It wouldn't be the first time (wink).

1.   Non-fiction sucks.

University type here.  Prof at college for 30 years.  Read a lot of non-fiction in my time, in order to be able to teach the stuff.  Guilty secret?  For me, reading non-fiction is work.  I don't want to work in my off-time.

I know.  I can hear the collective gasps from here.  Non-fiction is good for you! It makes you smarter! 

I doubt very much if anything at this stage could make me smarter (much as that might be desirable for all concerned...)  It might make me more knowledgeable, that I accept.  Do I care?  Not much.  My brain is precariously close to full now, and putting more into it threatens to dump other things already lodged there out my ears.  (Medical fact.  I read it online.)

2.  And on that note, I rarely enjoy reading memoirs and biographies.  

Our book club requires us to read one of the above, once a year.  It's not fun for me.  I really don't like spending my time reading about other people's lives, especially the white-washed versions.  Ditto, the poor me versions.

Why?  I read to escape reality. Which brings me to the final point (some of you will gasp.)

3.  I don't care much for fiction written from (many) multiple points of view.

There are some extremely popular books out now that are written from several points of view (I'm thinking The Thursday Murder Club and like.)  I like humour and crime together, so I gave it a try.  And I can see why people would like it. I thought some parts of it were great fun.  Thing is, I kept putting it down.  I could read a chapter and put it down.  Pick it up a few days later and read another two scenes.  Then put down the book and forget about it.

What this tells me:  For me, it wasn't a compelling read.  I didn't care enough about the protagonist to keep reading to find out what would happen.  Wait a minute - to tell the truth, I couldn't even tell who the protagonist was!

And that's the key.  The protagonist.  God Bless Book Club.  I've learned a lot about myself and what I treasure reading.  To wit:

I want to become the protagonist when I read a book.  

(Please let me know in the comments below if you relate to this.)

I want to slip into the skin of the main character and have a rollicking adventure. I want things to happen. I want there to be a satisfactory conclusion to the adventure, so I close the book with a smile on my face.

On the memoir front: For the record and just to be fair, I have no desire to write a memoir myself.  Have the general public read all about my misspent youth and totally embarrassing past mistakes?  Gulp.  Would rather go public on my bra size  (weight is off the table.) In fact, I am puzzled that others do want to share their dirty linen in public. 

 Mine is stuffed into drawers that hopefully my kids will never open.

Melodie Campbell writes fiction (swear to God it's fiction!) from the shores of Lake Ontario.  Book 17 is now available for preorder.  On AMAZON

Wednesday, 22 February 2023

Comedy Tonight! NEVER MARRY A CRIME WRITER (reprinted with permission and a whole lot of good memories of award galas past...)


 The Crime Writers of Canada went loco, and asked me to emcee the Arthur Ellis Awards this year.  Somehow they learned I might have done standup in the past.  Or maybe not, because they even paid me.  It may be more than my royalties this quarter.

 I dug back into my Sleuthsayer files to decide what might appeal to a hardened (re soused) group of crime writers en mass, with an open bar.  This is what resulted, and I’m happy to say the applause was generous.  You may remember some of this. 

 Arts and Letters Club, Toronto, May 23, 2019, 9PM

 Hello!  Mike said I could do a few minutes of comedy this evening as long as I apologized in advance.

 My name is Melodie Campbell, and it’s my pleasure to welcome here tonight crime writers, friends and family of crime writers, sponsors, agents, and any publishers still left out there.

 Tonight is that special night when the crime writing community in Canada meets to do that one thing we look forward to all year:  which is get together and bitch about the industry.

 Many of you knew my late husband Dave.  He was a great supporter of my writing, and of our crime community in general.  But many times, he could be seen wandering through the house, shaking his head and muttering “Never Marry a crime writer.”

 I’ve decided, here tonight, to list the reasons why.

 Everybody knows they shouldn’t marry a crime writer.  Mothers the world over have made that obvious: “For Gawd Sake, never marry a marauding barbarian, a sex pervert, or a crime writer.” (Or a politician, but that is my own personal bias.  Ignore me.)

 But for some reason, lots of innocent, unsuspecting people marry authors every year.  Obviously, they don’t know about the “Zone.”  (More obviously, they didn’t have the right mothers.)

 Never mind: I’m here to help.

 I think it pays to understand that crime writers aren’t normal humans: they write about people who don’t exist and things that never happened.  Their brains work differently.  They have different needs.  And in some cases, they live on different planets (at least, my characters do, which is kind of the same thing.)

 Thing is, authors are sensitive creatures.  This can be attractive to some humans who think that they can ‘help’ poor writer-beings (in the way that one might rescue a stray dog.)  True, we are easy to feed and grateful for attention.  We respond well to praise.  And we can be adorable.  So there are many reasons you might wish to marry a crime writer, but here are 10 reasons why you shouldn’t:

 The basics: 

 1  Crime Writers are hoarders.  Your house will be filled with books.  And more books.  It will be a shrine to books.  The lost library of Alexandria will pale in comparison.

 2  Crime Writers are addicts.  We mainline coffee.  We’ve also been known to drink other beverages in copious quantities, especially when together with other writers in places called ‘bars.’ 

 3  Authors are weird.  Crime Writers are particularly weird (as weird as horror writers.) You will hear all sorts of gruesome research details at the dinner table.  When your parents are there.  Maybe even with your parents in mind.

 4  Crime Writers are deaf.  We can’t hear you when we are in our offices, pounding away at keyboards. Even if you come in the room.  Even if you yell in our ears.

 5  Crime Writers are single-minded.  We think that spending perfectly good vacation money to go to conferences like Bouchercon is a really good idea.  Especially if there are other writers there with whom to drink beverages.

  And here are some worse reasons why you shouldn’t marry a crime writer:

 6  It may occasionally seem that we’d rather spend time with our characters than our family or friends. 

 7  We rarely sleep through the night.  (It’s hard to sleep when you’re typing.  Also, all that coffee...)

 8  Our Google Search history is a thing of nightmares.  (Don’t look.  No really – don’t.  And I’m not just talking about ways to avoid taxes… although if anyone knows a really fool-proof scheme, please email me.)

 And the really bad reasons:

 9  If we could have affairs with our beloved protagonists, we probably would. (No!  Did I say that out loud?)

 10  And lastly, We know at least twenty ways to kill you and not get caught.

 RE that last one:  If you are married to a crime writer, don’t worry over-much.  Usually crime writers do not kill the hand that feeds them.  Most likely, we are way too focused on figuring out ways to kill our agents, editors, and particularly, reviewers.

Sunday, 27 November 2022

Behind a Screen, you say? Writing Comedy as an Older Woman

 On SLEUTHSAYERS, with the following post, repeated here for my regular readers...

Today, I'm writing a serious blog.  ('NO!  Don't do it!  Don't-' [ sound of body being dragged offstage...])

 I write comedy.  I wrote stand-up and had a regular column gig for several years.  I opened conferences on the speaker circuit  Nowadays, most of my crime short stories and novels are (hopefully) humorous.  My blog...well, that sometimes goes off the wall.

But I'm noticing that as I get older, if I do comedy in person, it seems to be more shocking.  Or rather, I am shocking people more.  They don't know how to take it.  I see them gasp and act confused.  Did I really mean what I said just then?  Was it meant to be funny?

I don't believe it's because I'm writing a different level of material.

So why?  Why does my comedy seem to shock people more than it did thirty years ago?

It's not the material.  It's my age.

Writing comedy when you are 30 is 'cute.'  I can't tell you how many people told me that I 'looked cute on stage' as I innocently said some outrageous things that made people laugh.

Now I know this is a controversial statement to put forth.  So let me say that this has been my experience, and perhaps it isn't everyone's.  But I have found that saying outrageous things on stage when you are 60 is not cute.  Women over 60, in my experience, are rarely described as 'cute' (unless they are silly and feeble and very old.)  Women over 60 cannot carry off 'innocent' (unless portraying someone very dumb.)  Women over 60 are expected to be dignified. I've found that women my age are not well received by crowds (especially liquored-up crowds.)

Phyllis Diller was a wonderful comic.  She did outrageous things on stage, and we laughed with her.  But she dressed like a crazy-woman and had us laughing AT her.  Some women I know dislike the fact that Diller made herself ridiculous in front of an audience.  I don't, because I know why she did it.

Here's the thing:  comedy is by nature dangerous.  It often makes fun of things that other people take seriously.  In fact, it's almost impossible to write or perform comedy and not offend someone, somewhere.

Women who are young and pretty can get away with murder.  Even better, they can get away with comedy.

But a woman over 60 who makes of fun of younger women is (often) seen as jealous, not funny.  A woman over 60 who makes fun of men is (often) viewed as bitter, not funny.  A woman over 60 who makes fun of other women over 60 can get away with it, but the big audience isn't there.

There are simply far fewer things an older woman can get away with poking fun at.

So what's a poor old gal to do?

I've been supremely lucky.  I've been able to transfer my somewhat madcap comedic style to writing books.  I can still make my living in comedy, but it's from behind a screen now.  The written page is a delightful medium that leaves much to the reader's imagination.

Which is probably a good thing, because right now I'm doing the Covid braless shlep-dress thing at this computer.  You don't want to see it.

Melodie Campbell gets paid to write silly stuff for unsuspecting publishers.  Her 17th book, The Merry Widow Murders, from Cormorant Books, is now available for preorder.  www.melodiecampbell.com

 The Author in her comedy days...

 The Author today...

Sunday, 13 November 2022



from Cormorant Books! Now available on Amazon and Indigo for preorder! Many thanks to the readers who let me know. (Yes, there will be the usual ebooks.)

The Merry Widow Murders: Campbell, Melodie: 9781770866928: Books - Amazon.ca

Sunday, 25 September 2022

As seen on SLEUTHSAYERS...posted here for the convenience of my regular readers ~

SIX Reasons Mystery Manuscripts Fail

 I was talking to a former student the other day about his classic mystery manuscript.  It's really good in so many ways - so good in fact, that it was shortlisted for the Crime Writers of Canada Unpublished Manuscript award.  However, this manuscript has yet to to be picked up by a publisher or agent.

So that got me thinking, why not?  What could be the reasons novice novel writers might just miss the boat?

So here goes.  Based on my reading of over 1000 manuscripts (from being a judge of various contests, and being a teacher of advanced novel writing for over thirty years) here's what comes to mind first. 

Why Mystery Novels Fail:

1.  Too Many Characters

I was reading a manuscript the other day that had me so confused, I went back to review my own work.  In my latest novel (The Merry Widow Murders, out early 2023 from Cormorant) I have 12 named characters.  The protagonist, her sidekick, her lover, six suspects and or victims, plus three secondary characters (total 12.)  I then went to my client's manuscript and stopped counting at 20.  

Too many character can be hard to keep straight and will take a reader out of the story.  In this case, I advised combining a few characters and not naming people who only appear as support (the taxi driver, the Porter, the woman behind the cash.)

2.   No Clear Protagonist

So many times I've heard students say to me, "Oh, my novel has three protagonists."  And I calmly tell them the accepted definition of a novel:  A protagonist with a problem or goal, and obstacles to that goal.

The problem with having more than one protagonist, I explain, is the reader doesn't know whom to root for.  Have you ever dropped a book after about ten pages?  Chances are, you didn't care about the protagonist.  

The first job a novelist has is to make readers care about the protagonist, so they will want to find out what happens to him/her/they.  Of course you can and should have strong secondary characters.  I always recommend a close sidekick, for the reason below.

3.  No Close Sidekick 

It's a trick experienced novelists have, you might say.  Give you protagonist a sidekick to talk to, so that there aren't pages and pages of internal monologue.  Dialogue is active; monologue is telling.  Give your protagonist a Dr Watson or Captain Hastings, and they can discuss the case together, making it a much more dynamic read.

4.  Not Enough Suspects

This should be obvious.  A mystery novel should be a mystery until the very end, when you find out whodunit.  I've queried several publishers, and they tell me you need at least three good suspects for a mystery novel.  Even better if you can develop five.  If you have only one good suspect and he/she/they is obvious from the start, then it's not a mystery!   It may still be a crime novel (including caper, suspense or thriller) but if the perp is obvious, well you're simply not writing classic mystery.

5.  Violating the rule of Chekhov's Gun

Yes, that Chekhov - the one we tried to get out of reading in high school.  To paraphrase his famous rule:  If you point out there is a gun hanging on the wall in the first chapter, it absolutely must be fired by the end of the book.

I was reminded of this rule while reading a manuscript recently that had the action chapters interspersed with the insertion of diary excerpts.  Trouble was, the diary excerpts were several pages long, and the reader (me) had no idea why she was supposed to be reading them.  It took one out of the story. In the end, much of the information in the excerpts had no bearing on the crime.  

It's that last bit that makes me think of Chekhov's gun.  Sure, someone will say we need red herrings in a mystery novel.  But info-dumping a whole bunch of information at once that may have no bearing on the crime can be a reason a book is not picked up by a publisher.

6.  The Protagonist Does Not Solve the Mystery

Okay, we all know that mysteries need to be solved by the end.  That's the whole point of them.  No one reads to get to the middle, as Mickey Spillane said.  They want to get to the end, and there better be an ending.  All my students know this.  But what they sometimes forget is that the protagonist needs to be in at the 'kill'.  Most readers (and therefore publishers) will not accept a mystery novel where the protagonist is 'told' who the killer is.  They want the protagonist to come to that conclusion by examining a series of clues and making brilliant, while logical deduction

That's the first six that come to mind.  Have you any to add?

Melodie Campbell writes capers and mysteries, along with pretty much anything else publishers will pay her for.