Wednesday 31 January 2018

When is a Mystery not a Mystery? (Plus introduction of Authors' Milk)

Homeless.  Not me, luckily.  I still have four walls and a roof plus dog on the couch.  

But my kick-ass story “The Dame Was Trouble,” that had a wonderful future and clear economic security is now homeless.

The genres are tricky things.  If I write a mystery and set it in the past, it’s considered a historical mystery.  So, if we are classifying it, we would call it a Mystery first, and then Historical, as a subgenre of mystery genre.  Everyone’s happy.  

But what if I set it in the future?

This is exactly what has happened to me recently.  For the very first time, I was asked to write a crime story for an anthology, without going through the usual submission process.  The anthology had the delightful premise:  anything goes.  That is, I could write any subgenre, and set it anywhere, anytime.  *rubs hands in delight*

A particular story had been percolating in my brain for weeks, pounding to get out.  My friends and readers know that I like writing from the other side of the crime spectrum.  In The Goddaughter series, I write from the point of view of a mob Goddaughter who really doesn’t want to be one, but keeps having to pull off heists to bail out her family.  The books are fun, and weirdly, justice is done by the end, regardless of her family connections. 

So this new story was going to feature a kick-ass female marshal from the witness protection program.  Her job is to arrange the ‘hide’ after someone has testified in court.  Thing is, the transportation is by space travel, because the plot is set far in the future.

I sent it to the anthology editors.  They loved it.  One of my best twists ever, they said.  They liked the fact that it was hard-edged – unusual for me.  I breathed a sigh of relief.  And then two months later, they came back.  The publisher was having second thoughts.  He thought the science fiction setting would not be a good fit for a mystery anthology.  *author reaches for gun*

So they asked if they could reprint one of my award-winning stories instead.  I gave them a favourite (Hook, Line and Sinker) that was also hard-edged.  This story shortlisted along with one of Margaret Atwood's for a major prize (Atwood won.)  It would have a second life, which is always nice.

Meanwhile, I had this story on my hands, one that everyone loved, written especially for an anthology, that was now homeless.  *pass the scotch*

This was the time of Bouchercon 2017 in Toronto.  I was hanging with the AHMM gang, who were recording me reading my own work, Santa Baby, for a podcast to go up on their site.  (It’s there now *does happy dance*)  So I asked if they would be interested in reading it.

Sure, was the answer.  Sometimes they publish stories set in the near future.  I didn’t think this one would qualify.  I was right.

They didn’t take it.  But they did suggest sending it to their sister Dell mag, Asimov’s Science Fiction Mag.  So I did.  I’m waiting to hear.

My point is this:  Usually, we classify a story as a mystery if the plot is a mystery.  The setting comes second.  A historical mystery is still classified as a mystery.  A mystery with a strong romance element is still a mystery if the plot is a mystery plot.  But in the case of a future setting, it doesn’t matter what the plot is.  The setting is key to the classification.

I probed a bit among my author contacts.  One said that he had written a series billed as sci-fi mystery, and this was his baffling and witty conclusion:  he managed to alienate the mystery readers, and confuse the sci-fi readers.  Sales were a lot better when they reclassified the thing as sci-fi only

So to answer that initial question:  When Is a Mystery not a Mystery?  When it’s set in the future. *swigs from bottle*

Final thought: I hope they have scotch in the future. (Authors' milk. You read it here first.)


Friday 26 January 2018

Four ways to tell you married a Scotsman (Happy Rabbie Burns Day!)

By Melodie Campbell (Bad Girl)

Yes, it's a repeat.  And dang it, the darn post didn't post on the day I scheduled it to (new glasses coming immediately.)  But how could we let a year go by without revisiting this?

I didn’t start out with the last name of Campbell.  No sir, I had to earn it, like every self-respecting Italian gal who marries into the Highlands. Part of that involved saying Yes at the altar.  Another part entailed rolling one’s eyes and sighing with stoic good nature when faced with the following:

I don’t pretend to know who got the original idea to put a sheep’s bladder over a wooden pipe and blow into the thing while squeezing.  Rumour has it that during the retreat, the Romans left one behind as a joke.  The resulting sound of a bagpipe winding up has been likened to unspeakable things being done to a cat.  But I’m thinking this whole sheep bladder thing explains a lot.  I mean, we know the original purpose of those things (bladders, not sheep.)  How exactly did some smart guy think they would sound?  Which brings me to…

I don’t know if you have ever tried haggis.  But I reckon it all started at the bagpipe factory, when they realized they had a few extra stomachs hanging around.  Some savvy Scotsman said, “Hey!  We could fill this with oatmeal and suet and serve it to all the people we hate. Like our inlaws.  And relatives. Particularly on special occasions, and before going to war.” There is simply one word to describe haggis:  DON’T. 

It could be a virtue.  But take it from me.  People who are determined to make music via sheep bladders, and then are equally determined to stuff animal stomachs with oatmeal and feed them to people, may be taking the ole saving money thing a tad too far. 

Thrift 2.0
We have a saying in our family, and that saying is, “Kiltworthy.”  If something is kiltworthy, it means that said purchase was a real steal (as in stealing sheep for bladders. But I digress.)  It could also mean that no purchase was necessary, as said Scotsman was able to recreate a facsimile of a reasonably working item from leftover ceiling spackle and duct tape.  

I am married to a man who worships at the altar of the God called Kiltworthy.  He can fix pretty well anything with a little glue and a big hammer.

Strangely enough, I originally took Kiltworthy to have an entirely different meaning.  Without going into detail, I can attest to the fact that the Scotsman I married is indeed Kiltworthy.  He has great knees.  Oh, so you were expecting me to say something else…

Tuesday 16 January 2018

The Bad Girl Book Club (also known as the Lazy Book Club) – It may just be the book club you want to join!

by Melodie Campbell (Bad Girl)

Yes, there really is a Bad Girl Book Club (although it might also be known as the Lazy Bookclub.) 

Right here, in Southern Ontario, a group of gals meet twice a year (hence the ‘lazy’) to lay out a set of criteria for a year of reading. 

Okay, yes, there might be booze involved.  And possibly a pig-out of gargantuan portions.  But reading’s supposed to be fun, eh? 

Here’s the thing:  Our ranks include two association CEOs and senior execs.  We aren’t the sort of people who like to be told what to do.  So we don’t all read the same book every month.   Instead, we draw up a set of criteria that we agree to meet. 

Want to try it yourself?  Get together a bunch of reading mates (buds if you’re American) and try this list:

2017 Reading Challenge (We'll be devising the 2018 list this week)

Readers must read at least 12 out of 14
1.      A book publisher this year
2.      A book you can finish in a day
3.      A book recommended by your local librarian or bookseller
4.      A book chosen by your spouse, partner, child or BFF
5.      A book you preciously abandoned
6.      A book that has won a major award within the last five years
7.      A book that is based on or is a true story
8.      A book that was made into a movie
9.      A book that was translated from another language (forcing us all to leave North America)
10.   A book in a genre you never read
11.   A book about travel adventures
12.   A book written from a non-human narrative perspective
13.   A Giller Prize Winner
14.   A book that starts with the same letter of your first name

Alternative criteria from the 2016 list:
A book published before you were born.
A book you should have read in school but didn’t.

At each meeting we compare books read, and make recommendations.  This year, I added a new dimension to my list:
Increase the number of books that feature female protagonists written by female writers, to 75%.  That is, 75% of the books I read this year should be written by women and should feature female protagonists.

How am I doing on that issue?  I tried hard.  I really did.  I’m sitting at 68 books out of 101 read.  Not quite 75%.  Very simply, I’m having a hard time finding books that meet this criteria outside of cozies and romance, both of which I’m not keen on.

Female crime writers often write male protagonists.  Even our bestselling author at Crime Writers of Canada – Louise Penny – writes a male inspector.  We have secretly discussed among ourselves whether she would have been as successful if Gamache had been a woman.  That’s a heated discussion for another day.

What is notable is that there seems to be a trend for male writers to write female protagonists.  These may be good books, but they aren’t women’s stories, in my opinion.  They are written with a different lens.

So I’m struggling to find 75 books in year that I want to read, that are by women telling women’s stories.

How did I do on the rest of the list?  14 out of 14, of course!  And the wonderful thing – I forced myself out of the usual crime ghetto, to read an assortment of books that I never would have read otherwise.  Some – like The Nightingale and The Alice Network – were terrific.

If you’re interested in the list of books I read to meet the above criteria, let me know and I’ll post it here.

Have a wonderful year of books in 2018!

p.s.  The first 2018 meeting of the BGBC meets this Saturday.  There will be Scotch.

Friday 5 January 2018

Murder is SO Italian (The BEST shows on MHZ!)

It’s true.  Murder is so Italian.  POWER! REVENGE! BETRAYAL! It goes right back to those steps of the Senate, when Brutus asks his good friend Caesar for a light, and then fills him full of bronze. 

So it’s not surprising that the Italian tradition of writing about murder is first rate.  I’ll be you’ve already heard of Donna Leon.  She writes very good stuff about Venice for the English market.  But do you know who is a superstar in his own country?

My favourite writer:  Andrea Camilleri. 

Set in Sicily, the Montalbano series is about the best thing out there, on paper or on television.  Inspector Montalbano is a fictional hero in Italy, and a wonderful character on the screen.  His supporting cast is delightful.  This is not grim and gritty fare like Scandi-noir.  (Okay, I crossed out the word dismal. You caught me.)  Nope – Montalbano is truly fun, clever, witty and brilliant.  And oh, the Sicilian scenery.  And the food! The television adaptation is now playing on MHZ, the European Mystery channel, now available in the US and Canada for the same price as Netflix.  If you are a mystery fan, you’re crazy not to subscribe to this.

Other series on MHZ:

Nero Wolfe:  Yes, you heard that right.  The story is: Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin leave New York to go live in Italy for their own safety in the 1950s.  So…an Italian production where Wolfe and Archie are known as Americans, and believe it or not, it rocks.  You’ll be believing Goodwin is the real thing from the book – he’s perfect.  So far, there are 6 episodes, and I’m really, really hoping they do every book.  The production values and attention to detail are amazing.

Inspector Manara:  Regarded as a ‘poor man’s Montalbano’ (not my words) Inspector Manara is gorgeous, but not quite as charming.  They made him a ‘player’ which lessens his appeal in my books.  Still, it fills the gap when you’ve gone through all seasons of Montalbano.

Don Matteo:  This delightful series is very different from most crime shows.  Imagine Father Brown with a wonderful smile, heart full of gold, and ride-um cowboy physique.  Yes, the star of this show is a former blond and handsome Spaghetti-western cowboy you may recognize from earlier films.  He makes a terrific priest, and the cast of quirky characters around him are, to a word, lovable.  The Carabinieri Capitano and Marshall are my personal favourites.  Heaps of fun, and the series is in its 10th season, so lots to watch.  The perfect show for before bed, when you want to go to sleep with a smile.

Inspector Nardone:  Hold your hat for a unique series that takes one back to the late 1940s.  WW11 is still haunting the inhabitants of this northern Italian city.  Nardone is a man with integrity and grit, in a world where the bad guys often win and run things.  This is a more serious show, done with an interesting voice-over by a journalist following the actions of Nardone.  Great period piece.

Murder at BarLume:  Hilarious. Truly an original show, with Massimo as the attractive bar owner trying to keep control of four geriatric pensioners who would try anyone’s sanity (honestly, you have to see it to believe it.)  Murder, of course, is on the bar menu, and Massimo solves each crime ahead of the beautiful but somewhat Germanic female detective.  Great fun.

Obviously, if you watch this list, you will get a good peek into my personality.  But take it from me:  NO one does humour like the Italians.

Says she, flying back to Palermo, as soon as possible.