Wednesday 29 January 2014

KNOW YOUR GENRE. RESEARCH YOUR MARKET. READ, READ, READ. Brilliant words from my late mentor, Michael Crawley

What do you do when your Mentor passes on to the big writing workshop in the sky?  You mourn.  And then you pass on his immortal words. 

By Michael Crawley


Obvious?  It seems not.  At least once a week I am asked to look at some serious piece that has been written ‘for Readers’ Digest.’  The writer usually claims to be an avid reader of that publication.  I am not.  I have, however, read Page One which clearly states that RD will not look at any submission unless it’s suitable for one of their regular humour sections.  All else is trashed.

I see work that is ‘aimed’ at Discover.  Discover features stories about the very latest scientific advances, written by scientists.  The stories I see are usually reworked extracts from encyclopedias, ‘New Age’ speculation, or emotional pleas to save the rainforest.  None of these stands a chance.

I read Romances destined for Harlequin, written by people who have never read a Harlequin.

I read ‘incredibly clever twist’ stories in which A) It is suddenly revealed that the protagonist is in hell, and hasn’t realized it.  B)  The villain’s victim turns out to be a vampire.  C) Three wishes rebound, or are wasted.  D)  The narrator turns out to be a dog/teapot/corkscrew.

I read ‘Science Fiction’ that is based on ideas that were stale thirty years ago, but the writer doesn’t know that, because he’s not a reader of SF.  He is sure that out of all the countless millions of SF stories that have been written, no one could possibly have thought of that idea before, right?  Yeah, right.

Chances are none of the above was produced in the accepted format.  Why bother to look professional?

I weep!  I weep for the waste of time, effort, paper and postage.  I weep for those who court rejection, and then complain that ‘It’s impossible to sell.’  Why do they do it?  Could someone please explain to me how it is that anyone can set out to be a writer, who hasn’t read, and read, and read?

Thank you, Michael Crawley, for the wonderful impact you had on my life.  I am an award-winning author today because, twenty years ago, you were generous with your time and taught me well.  May I do the same for others.

Thursday 23 January 2014


Reprinted from The Toronto Star, with permission.

Here it is, the fifty-something anniversary of the birth of Barbie, and I’m uncomfortable.  Coincidentally, it is also the fifty-something anniversary of me, and I’ve got to ask: is Barbie having more fun than I am?  Am I missing something by not being blond?

Okay, okay, so this smacks of insecurity.  But who wouldn’t be insecure, being brunette these days?  Did the Prince go looking for a dark-haired Sleeping Beauty?  Did Charming find a gorgeous black-haired scullery maid at the end of the glass slipper?  Face it, scullery types:  if you’re brunette, you’re going to have to find your own prince.

I blame it on Barbie.  Three quatrillion blond Barbies with bunny bodies since March, 1959, and no brunette bimbo in sight.   It’s enough to make you go for botox.

So what is it about us dark-haired babes?  Why are we constantly being portrayed as witches?  No just in Salem – even today.  In Westerns, you can tell the bad guys from the good guys by their black hats.  In Disney, you can tell the bad girls by their black hair.

Witchy women, evil women – all of them brunette, you can bet your peroxide.  It’s a fact; a witchy brunette nearly butchered 101 darling Dalmations for their spotted fur.  And in the Wizard of OZ, Glinda the good witch was blondie-blond.  The nasty old Witch of the West was as brunette as they come. 

That’s us – nasty.  And no wonder, the way we are always portrayed.

What can you expect, when the best role model we-of-dark-tresses had as young kids was Natasha Fatale (“Whatever you think, Darlink”) of Boris and Natasha fame on Bullwinkle.  Good Ole Bullwinkle.  I used to imagine he had a raging animal crush on the sexy, dark-haired Natasha. – and who wouldn’t?  Sexy and savvy.  She was my role model.  It’s taken me years to kick the “Darlink” habit and start pronouncing Gs.

Things got better when Morticia came along.  Now, she was a classy role model.  Granted, my parents got a bit upset when I dyed my confirmation dress black and started writing poetry about graveyards. But more than one male (prince or frog) has mentioned to me that Caroline Jones was the object of many adolescent daydreams.

Well, at least they call us sexy.  In fact, “sultry” was the word Commander Riker used in a Next Generation episode on the holodeck.  “Give me sultry,” he said, and when a blonde vision popped up in the New Orleans jazz bar, “No, she’s got to be brunette.”
Thank you, Commander Riker!

So far we can chalk up nasty, sexy, sultry and bad.  Clever but cruel.  Usually foreign and sneaky.  Throw in green eyes, and you’ve got the classic Evil Woman.

Evil, evil, evil.

So be a little careful before you start to criticize this column.  I might put a hex on you.

Sunday 19 January 2014

The Seven Things You Need to Become a Writer by Melodie Campbell (Bad Girl)

Stepping away from comedy for a moment to talk about that favourite topic: How to become a published writer.
I have over 200 publications, 9 awards, and have taught fiction writing since 1992.  Based on my experience with over 1000 students, here is my abridged list of what you need to become a writer:

1.  Time.
Writing takes time.  To be a writer, you are going to have to give up something.  I gave up television and the gym.  The latter is obvious.

2.   A room to write.
Virginia Woolf said: A woman needs money and a room of her own in order to write.  EVERYONE needs a room, or a place to write.  Preferably with a door to close out the rest of the world.  Especially if you have kids.  I wrote in the bathroom for years.

3.   Supportive friends.
Eliminate all people you can from your life who are negative influences on your writing.  The ones who think you will never make it.  The ones who think it’s a ‘cute’ hobby. The ones who look down upon the genre in which you write.  Do it now.  This minute.  Become friends with other writers who share your passion.

 4.  Desire.
I nearly said passion, but really, they are the same thing.  To be a writer, you have to actually love to WRITE.  That is, bum in the chair, by yourself, hitting the keyboard, in a world of your own making.  Too many people want to become authors, but don’t actually like the physical work of writing.  Figure out whether you do right now.

5.  The Craft.
If you want to write a novel, take a course in crafting a novel.  If you want to write short stories, ditto.  You’ll learn a lot really quick, and it will cut years off your apprenticeship.  Not only that, you’ll make friendships with like minds who will inspire and encourage you.

 6.  Talent.
 Yes, you need talent.  By that, I mean you need plot ideas of your very own.  I can teach you the craft of writing in my college fiction writing classes.  But you also need to have the sort of brain that is producing ideas all the time.  Successful fiction writers don’t have to look for ideas.  They are drowning in them.

 7.  A Thick Hide.
All writers deal with massive amounts of rejection.  Even when you strike gold and get a publisher, you will deal with rejection in the form of bad reviews on Amazon and Goodreads.  None of us escape that.  All of us need to develop a thick hide to survive as authors.

Luckily, I have developed a thicker hide.  It comes from skipping the gym and gaining weight.

Friday 17 January 2014

Money Laundering and Other BAD GIRL

I am starting to gather things for doing my taxes, and it made me think about how great things were in the good ole days.   

Remember how simple life used to be?  Someone would mail you a little carbon slip to let you know how much money you made.  All you had to do – as a law-abiding citizen – was run your finger along a little line in the tax guide, and you’d know how much tax you had to pay.  You’d write a cheque for that amount, then go drink yourself blind or shoot yourself in the head, whichever was most expedient.  Things were simple back then.

Now, figuring out your taxes is a profession in itself.  Actually, it’s several professions; taxes now have their own accountants and their own lawyers, lucky little things.  Soon they may have their own psychiatrists…

Which brings me to banking (another insane institution.)  I remember when you’d take your paycheck and give it to the bank for a little while.  Then you’d go back a few weeks later to take out cash for certain life essentials like beer.  All the money would still be there plus some extra cash which you’d made on your money, called interest.  Things have changed radically since then.  Interest is passé.  Sort of like digital watches.

Now when you put your money in the bank (which of course you don’t…you put it in a cute little automatic teller machine where it mixes with everyone else’s little packets of money in terribly amoral ways) – but back to the point.  The point is, that when you go back to draw it out again, you find there’s less than what you deposited.  Most of your money is there, but so is something else called a Service Charge.

I must admit I’m baffled by this need for a service charge.  I mean, exactly what services did these people feel it necessary to perform for my money?  Did they take it on field trips?  Give it a shampoo and set?  Have it drycleaned, and botoxed to iron out the wrinkles?

Frankly, I’m getting fed up.  If they’re going to take my money out on the town and show it a good time, the least they can do is teach it how to reproduce…

Melodie Campbell writes the comic mob caper series, The Goddaughter.  You can buy her paperbacks and ebooks at Chapters, Amazon, and Barnes&Noble.

Friday 10 January 2014


Reprinted from THE SAGE, where Bad Girl lurks on a regular basis...because sometimes they even pay her...
(By Melodie Campbell)

Puzzled by the title?  It’s simple.

In high school, I had to read Lord of the Flies, The Chrysalids, On the Beach, To Kill a Mocking Bird, and a whack of Shakespeare.

Yuck.  Way to kill the love of reading.  All sorts of preaching and moral crap in the first four.  (Which, as you will see by the end of this post, doesn’t suit me well.)

Torture, it was, having to read those dreary books, at a time when I was craving excitement.  Already, I had a slight rep for recklessness. (It was the admittedly questionable incident of burying the French class attendance sheet in the woods on Grouse Mountain, but I digress…)

And then we got to pick a ‘classic’ to read.  Groan.  Some savvy librarian took pity on me, and put a book in my hand. 


A writer was born that day.

This is what books could be like!  Swashbuckling adventure with swords and horses, and imminent danger to yourself and virtue, from which – sometimes – you could not escape (poor Rebecca.) 

I was hooked, man.  And this book was written how long ago?  1820?

Occasionally, people will ask if a teacher had a special influence on me as a writer.  I say, sadly, no to that.

But a librarian did.  To this day, I won’t forget her, and that book, and what it caused me to do.
      *  Write the swashbuckling medieval time travel Land’s End series, starting with the Top 100 bestseller Rowena Through the Wall.   
      *  Steal a book.  Yes, this humble reader, unable to part with that beloved Ivanhoe, claimed to lose the book, and paid the fine.  Damn the guilt.  The book was mine.

      *  Write The Goddaughter's Revenge, which has nothing to do with swashbuckling medieval adventure, and everything to do with theft.  Which, of course, I had personally experienced due to a book called Ivanhoe.

The lust for something you just have to have.  The willingness to take all sorts of risks way out of proportion, to possess that one thing.

A book like my own Rowena and the Dark Lord made me a thief at the age of sixteen.  And the experience of being a thief enticed me to write The Goddaughter’s Revenge, over thirty years later.

My entire writing career (200 publications, 9 awards) is because of Sir Walter Scott and one sympathetic librarian.  Thanks to you both, wherever you are.

Melodie Campbell writes funny books. You can buy them at Chapters/Indigo, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Walmart and other retailers.  
The one that started it all: ROWENA THROUGH THE WALL

ROWENA AND THE DARK LORD is a finalist for the Paranormal Romance Guild Award!
 Voting is open until January 14.  All readers are welcome to vote.

Tuesday 7 January 2014


It is my pleasure to welcome mystery writer Gloria Ferris to Bad Girl.  Believe me, it's a good fit.  Gloria writes with humour and sass.  Not to mention, she has a great collection of Goth jewelry, which I covet... 


Disclaimer: the opinion expressed below is that of one weird writer and does not necessarily reflect that of the un-weird ones, and good luck finding any.

            I’ve reached the age where I delight in breaking rules, as long as it doesn’t land me in jail. One rule of writing I break over and over is: BE PREPARED TO KILL YOUR IMPORTANT CHARACTERS OFF TO ADVANCE YOUR PLOT, OR CREATE SUSPENSE.

            Mmmm, no. Not happening.

            I put a lot of time and effort into making my protagonists and other characters as real as possible. Sometimes I think they really exist on a parallel planet and I channel them into my stories. I love these folks, with all their flaws and bad attitudes. None of my recurring characters are perfect, and some are downright nasty.

            My people get hurt a lot. They get shot, stabbed, hit on the head, dosed with illegal substances, get flung down flights of stairs, have anxiety attacks, contract debilitating agoraphobia, chased by wild animals, die of natural causes … And that’s just in my first two books. But I am not going to turn them into corpses.

            But…, but …, you say, a good mystery story has at least one murder or mysterious death. Of course, that’s where the temporary, made-for-killing, character comes in. This character (or characters, as I like to sprinkle the bodies hither and yon throughout the story) must be fully developed, even sympathetic or appealing in some way. But I don’t have an emotional attachment to him. I know when I create this character, she is going to die or become the villain. (See how I’m using “him” and “her” indiscriminately to throw you off?)

            While I may be a rebel, I won’t ignore writing fundamentals that make a story better. I try to follow the important rules of writing that create suspense, advance the plot, or develop characters. I approach writing from a reader’s viewpoint. Or, more precisely, what do I enjoy as a reader?

            I love books that engage my interest, force me to read on, and prompt me to say when I reach the end, “Man, that was a good story!” That’s the kind of book I want to write. And, if the characters I have grown to love die or end up too damaged to function in a sequel, I feel cheated and probably will give the writer’s other books a miss.

            I write what I love to read. Humour, interesting plot, snappy dialogue, emotional ups and downs, a touch of romance (but not too much, or I’ll go read a romance instead of a mystery), a corpse or two, a satisfying ending. And, to me, a satisfying ending is a plausible wrap-up to the tribulations the protagonist has battled from page 1. This usually means she changes a little, gets what she was after (or something different but just as good), and is ready to face the next challenge the writer comes up with. If the book is a stand-alone and I know I will never read about this protagonist again, I still want a good ending.

            So, I have one word to say to those purists who want me to kill my darlings. NEVER!

Gloria has been a member of Crime Writers of Canada since 2008. Cheat the Hangman was a finalist in the 2009 Unhanged Arthur contest and has won the 2012 Bony Blithe Award. She won the 2010 Unhanged Arthur Award with Corpse Flower which is a recent release by Dundurn Press. Gloria is currently working on the sequel to Corpse Flower and is also co-authoring a mystery with sister-in-law Donna Warner.

Blog: Gloria Ferris Mysteries
Twitter: @GloriaFerris
               Corpse Flower on Amazon:
               Cheat the Hangman on Amazon: