Sunday, 28 April 2019

Murder at the Crime Writing Awards (With the usual 'pee first' warning - see bottom)

On Sleuthsayers today, with a fun post repeated here for my regular readers.

By Melodie Campbell (Bad Girl)

Someone slipped up and made me a finalist in two categories for the Arthur Ellis Awards for Crime Writing this year (The B-Team, Novella, and A Ship Called Pandora, short story.)  Naturally, I’m up against some of the best (here’s looking at you, yet again, Twist Phalen.) 

By strange coincidence, I’m also emceeing the awards on May 23.  Which goes to show how truly confusing we can be in Canada.  Because you see, in days of yore (ten to three years ago) I was the one organizing the gala, along with a team of truly wonderful but sweetly innocent individuals who had no idea what they were signing up for. 

The short list announcement yesterday got me thinking about my first time organizing the event.  I believe this may have also been my first post on Sleuthsayers.  Yes, that many years ago.  Time for a revisit.  Warning: This is nonfiction. I swear. 

Okay, I haven’t done it yet.  But I may soon.

I’m the Executive Director of a well-known crime writing association.  This means I am also responsible for the Arthur Ellis Awards, Canada’s annual crime writing awards night, and the resulting banquet.

I’ve planned hundreds of special events in my career as a marketing professional.  I’ve managed conferences with 1000 people attending, scarfing down three meals a day.  Usually, we offer a few choices, and people choose what they want.  They’re pretty good about that.  People sit where they want.  Simple.

Granted, most of my events have been with lab techs, doctors, nurses, and other health care professionals. 

It is not the same with authors.  Nothing is simple with authors. 

A can’t sit with B, because A is in competition with B for Best Novel.  C can’t sit with D because C is currently outselling D.  E can’t sit with F because they had an affair (which nobody knows about.  Except they do.  At least, the seven people who contacted me to warn me about this knew.) G can’t sit with H because G’s former agent is at that table and they might kill each other.  And everyone wants to sit with J.

The damned meal is chicken.  This is because we are allowed two choices and we have to provide for the vegetarians.  We can’t have the specialty of the house, lamb, because not everyone eats lamb.  We can’t have salmon as the vegetarian choice, because some vegetarians won’t eat fish.

So we’re stuck with chicken again.

P writes that her daughter is lactose intolerant.  Can she have a different dessert?

K writes that she is vegetarian, but can’t eat peppers.  Every damned vegetarian choice has green or red pepper in it.

L writes that she wants the chicken, but is allergic to onion and garlic.  Can we make hers without?

M writes that her daughter is a vegan, so no egg or cheese, thanks.  Not a single vegetarian choice comes that way.

I am quickly moving to the “you’re getting chicken if I have to shove it down your freaking throat” phase.

Chef is currently threatening the catering manager with a butcher’s knife.  I am already slugging back the cooking wine.  And by the time people get here, this may be a Murder Mystery dinner.

Nobody got murdered, but a few got hammered.  

Melodie Campbell’s caper novella The B-Team has been shortlisted for the Arthur Ellis Award.  You can pick it up for a steal (sic) at Amazon, B&N, Chapters, and all the usual suspects.  Even Walmart, because we’re a class act.  Sometimes even Zehrs.  I’ll stop now.

Pee first warning signals humorous material follows. We aim to be courteous about things like that.

Friday, 19 April 2019

Arthur Ellis Awards Double Finalist!

Honoured and grateful to see my name listed twice on the CBC website, as a double finalist for the 
ARTHUR ELLIS AWARDS for Excellence in Crime Writing!

Many thanks to my publishers:
The B-Team (Novella) Orca Book Publishers
A Ship Called Pandora (Short story) Mystery Weekly Magazine

See Books page for Amazon link

Saturday, 23 March 2019

But Do You Have a Plot? Bad Girl whittles Popular Fiction Bootcamp down to 10 minutes…

As seen on SLEUTHSAYERS today, repeated here for my regular readers:  

By Melodie Campbell (Bad Girl) 

Last month, I wrote about Endings, and reader expectations for each of the main genres.  The response was positive, and some people have asked that I bring more stuff from class onto these pages.  So here are some notes from the very beginning, class 1, hour 1.

People often ask what comes first: character or plot?

Do you start with a character?  Or do you start with a plot?
This is too simplistic.

Here’s what you need for a novel:
A main character
With a problem or goal
Obstacles to that goal, which are resolved by the end.

PLOT is essential for all novels.  It’s not as easy as just sitting down and just starting to write 80,000 words.  Ask yourself:
What does your main character want?  Why can’t he get it?

Your character wants something.  It could be safety, money, love, revenge…

There are obstacles in the way of her getting what she wants.  THAT PROVIDES CONFLICT.

So…you need a character, with a problem or goal, and obstacles to reaching that goal.  Believable obstacles that matter.  Even in a literary novel.

There must be RISK.  Your character must stand to lose a lot, if they don’t overcome those obstacles.  In crime books, it’s usually their life.

So…you may think you have a nice story of a man and woman meeting and falling in love, and deciding to make a commitment.  Awfully nice for the man and woman, but dead boring for the reader.  Even in a romance, there must be obstacles to the man and woman getting together.  If you don’t have obstacles, you don’t have conflict, you don’t have a plot, and you don’t have a novel.

Put another way:
When X happens, Y must do Z, otherwise ABCD will happen.
That’s what you need for a novel.


1. Readers must know what each character’s goals are so they can keep score.

2. Goals must be clearly defined, and they must be evident from the beginning.

3. There must be opposition, which creates the possibility of losing.
   >>this conflict makes up your plot<<
4. Will the character achieve his goal?  Readers will keep turning pages to find out.

If you don’t provide goals, readers will get bored. 
They won’t know the significance of the ‘actions’ the hero takes.

To Conclude:
Until we know what your character wants, we don’t know what the story is about.
Until we know what’s at stake, we don’t care.

Friday, 15 March 2019

The Added Pain from Losing a Spouse – The Hard Truth

Part of being a writer is being honest.  Even in fiction, we talk about 'the honesty of the writing.'  Reality can be a bugger.  Even humour writers - or perhaps especially humour writers - peel back masks to uncover the truth.

I’m at week seven of being a widow.  In hope of helping others, here’s what I’ve learned:

1.       Well-meaning people say things they don’t mean.

I can’t count the number of people who said, “If there’s anything I can do…anything at all.”  Well, of course there are things you can do.  If you live close by, you can invite me out to lunch or dinner.  You don’t need me to ask you to do that.

So many people said this well-meaning platitude, and then did nothing.  I guess saying it made them feel good – as good as if they had actually done something.  But it’s not the same.  Truly, if you are well-meaning (and several people are, bless them) don't forget to follow through.

If you see someone hurting, give them suggestions of what you could do.  Here are a few:

1.      Make them a meal for the freezer.  Four friends came through in ways that just astounded me.  They kept both of us fed for over a month, and me later, for another month.  Bless them.  I'll never forget this.
2.      Invite them out for a meal.  Suggest something to spend time with them.  They are going to be lonely.
3.      If you live farther away, send them a gift certificate for Skip the Dishes or other restaurants.  Or Amazon, and other bookstores.  I appreciated every one.

2.       You have to be very careful how you answer people who reach out to you.  They really don’t want an honest response.

They don’t want to hear – as an example – the truth of how your loved one died.  They may ask for details, but unless they are medical professionals, they don’t want to hear the painful details.  Death is rarely gentle.  So you will need to lie about this, to some extent.  Otherwise your well-meaning friend will be horrified.  And when people are horrified, they avoid you

You also don’t want to tell them that you felt like killing yourself that first week.  That you now understand suicide.  The pain of what you are going through right now is so great that the possibility of some pleasurable moments in the future means nothing.  Don’t tell them that.  They want to hear that you are grieving as you should, as society expects, but ‘coping.’

3.       You can’t be truthful about how you are coping, weeks on.

If you tell the truth – that you are so lonely – many will back away, afraid you will ask them to fulfill a role they are not prepared to do.  Maybe they give you platitudes in response.  One cousin, who lives 45 minutes away, said to me:  “You can be lonely even in a group of people.”  Take it from me: this is exactly the wrong thing to say.

Instead, why didn’t she acknowledge my loneliness, and perhaps invite me to lunch?

What I know now:  if a grieving widow tells me she is lonely, I will ask her to dinner.  I can’t be company for her all day.  That’s not expected.  But something I *can* do is make her a little less lonely for a few hours, here and there.  Show that I care about her loneliness.

So:  The sad truth about being a widow is you can’t be honest.  You must show that you are coping, so that people don't avoid you.  And in truth, I understand this.  Everyone has their burdens within their own families.  Very few people can invite taking on additional difficulties.

So how am I really coping?  I’m still haunted by how he died, but have learned to compartmentalize it so it doesn’t paralyse me. The loneliness is there, like an illness that won’t go away.  I am blessed to have two wonderful daughters, several close friends, and readers who care.  I’m writing again, and not just blogs as you see here.  I’m even writing humour again.

In short, I’m coping.  Thanks for listening.  I hope you never have to go through this.  But if you come across someone who is, perhaps this post will help.

Saturday, 23 February 2019

Endings: You MUST satisfy the Reader!

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

By Melodie Campbell (Bad Girl)

“Your first page sells the book.  Your last page sells the next book.”  Mickey Spillane

In all my classes and workshops, we talk about satisfying the reader.  As authors we make a ‘promise to the reader’.  We establish this promise in the first few pages and chapters.  Who will this story be about?  What genre?  Is it romance, mystery, thriller, western or one of the others?  Readers are attached to different genres, whether we authors like it or not.  We have to be aware that when we promise something, we need to fulfill it.

As an example: a thing that drives me crazy is when books are promoted as mysteries, and they are really thrillers.  I like murder mysteries; my favourite book is an intelligent whodunit, with diabolically clever plotting.  In a thriller, the plot usually centres on a character in jeopardy.  Not the same. 

As authors, we want to satisfy the reader, and that is exactly what Mickey Spillane was getting at in the quote above.  To do this, we need to know what the reader expects.  Here’s the handout I use in class to explain the different expectations in the main genres of fiction.  (Note: there are always exceptions.)


ROMANCE:  The man and woman will come together to have a HEA (happy ever after) after surmounting great obstacles. 

MYSTERY/Suspense:  In a whodunit, the ending will reveal the killer.  In a thriller, the protagonist will escape the danger.  All loose ends will be tied up.  Justice will be seen to be done in some manner.  (This does not mean that the law will be satisfied.  We’re all about justice here, and the most interesting stories often have characters acting outside the law to achieve justice.  In mystery/suspense books you probably have the most opportunity for gray.)

FANTASY/Sci-Fi:  The battle will be won for now, but the war may continue in future books.  You should give your characters a HFN (happy for now) – at least a short amount of time to enjoy their

WESTERN:  The good guy will win.  Simple as that.

ACTION-ADVENTURE:  The Bond-clone will survive and triumph.  Sometimes the bad guy will get away to allow for a future story.

HORROR:  Usually, the protagonist will survive.  If not, he will usually die heroically saving others. Hope is key.  If readers have lost hope, they will stop reading.

LITERARY:  Again, the reader must be satisfied by the end of the story.  The protagonist will grow from the challenge.  He/she will probably be faced with difficult choices, and by the end of the story, the choice will be made.  In other stories, it may be that by the end of the story the protagonist discovers something she has been seeking: i.e. The Progress of Love by Alice Munro

ENDINGS – The argument against using real life for your plot. (Why things that really happened to you don’t make good novels.)

       “I am always telling my writing students that the anecdotes that make up their own lives, no matter how heart-wrenching they may have been for their subjects, are not in themselves stories.  Stories have endings.  Endings are contrived.  In order to come up with a great ending, you’re probably going to have to make something up, something that didn’t actually happen.  Autobiographical fiction can never do these things, because our lives contain few endings or even resolutions of any kind.”   Russell Smith

Remember what we do: Fiction authors write about things that never happened and people who don’t exist.  Remember what fiction writers must provide:  The ending must satisfy the reader.

So:  Don’t tell a publisher that your book/short story is based on real life.  The publisher doesn’t care. They are only looking for a good story.

Melodie Campbell is the author of the multi-award-winning Goddaughter series.  Book 6, The Goddaughter Does Vegas, is now available at all the usual suspects.