At the beginning of every year, we decide on what goals we want to achieve. Sometimes we are successful, sometimes not, but it is the thrill of a new year that engages us in this ritual. I make a goal board to help my focus and motivation. It is not just for my writing goals but other personal ones too. As you can see from the image, I have four sections to my board this year – writing, family & friends, finances and health and relaxation.
Interestingly, this board is the most complex one I have ever made. Maybe because there is a stronger motivation this year due to the restrictions we have all encountered. And that is my word for 2021 as well – MOTIVATION.
Do you have a word for 2021?
I have already submitted to several writing contests and began a six week writing course too, so I am on my way. I am also determined to have the first book of my detective novel trilogy, edited and revised by the end of the year, so it can be published. To this end, members of my writing group will be swapping chapters of our current work in progress for suggestions, editing and review over several months. This is such a useful tool, as each person will ‘read’ the story, allowing me (and them) a preview of our novels.
Do you feel your previous careers shaped your narratives? Absolutely. A significant writing goal is to bring the realism I experienced as both a police officer and paramedic to the pages. Not the Hollywood or TV version, but the authenticity of both professions. The banter of partners, the sarcasm, pushing each other’s buttons, then leaving it all behind when the s**t hits the fan. The absolute, unquestionable, I have your back. When I write, I am back on the street and see my characters and their interactions. And more so, I think the characters know the plot, I do the typing!
Was it an easy transition from your professional life into writing about it? I was excited about writing fiction, but I hadn’t written fiction since high school. I thought, how hard can this be. If you write what you know, I’ve got this nailed! But for over 30 years I wrote technical documents, research papers, protocols and co-authored four paramedic textbooks.
I was in for a surprise when I submitted my first chapter in an early writing course, and the instructor said, “You obviously know your stuff, but it reads like a police instructional manual. Oops. So, over the next five years, I took writing courses to learn to write fiction. Now it is easier to write fiction and let what I know flow to the page.
Did you make a conscious effort to make a series or did you think your first novel would be a stand alone? My main character is Brad Coulter. In Crisis Point, he’s been a cop four years and getting restless. The plan was always for a Brad Coulter series. The initial premise was, what if I had stayed as a cop, and not switched to a career as a paramedic. I had a plan for at least ten novels, and initially, they would be spaced out every two to three years in Brad Coulter’s career, essentially taking him to the end of his police career.
The plan has changed, each novel will follow, time-wise, on the heels of the previous novel. The original ideas for future novels are still there, but I have added new ideas because Brad Coulter told me to.
I have also started writing a second series with a completely different premise.
Do you see many more novels in the series? Have you planned them? I am currently finishing on novel #4, 10,000+ words into novel #5 and have a rough plan for 6, 7, and 8. I’ll keep writing the series as long as readers keep loving Brad Coulter.
How many of the story lines are based on true experiences? The first three novels, Crisis Point, Outlaw MC, and Wolfman is Back, are all based on actual events that happened in Calgary. I can give a detailed background on every event. I have taken various actual events, combined them, and made it my own story, with my own characters. Crisis Point has several experiences from my time as a cop, including a twenty-minute car chase. Subsequent novels were less about what I had experienced, and more about interesting crimes based in Calgary and the details from the cops who were involved. However, I take each story and twist and turn it into my own version that may or may not closely resemble the real event.
Is there a message you want to convey to your readers, in regard to those who serve us? Emergency Services takes its toll on those who serve. Whether police, EMS or other emergency services, most who choose these careers do so because they have an overwhelming need to help people. But they can’t save everyone. And those that they couldn’t help or save will haunt them for the rest of their lives. No one is harder on themselves than emergency services personnel. If only… I should have … What if …
The men and women in emergency services go to places and do things few others would do. It’s not cliché, but they would take a bullet for each other or anyone under their care or protection. There is a side to the streets of every city that is totally unknown to most citizens—and that is good because I wouldn’t want anyone to see the things I have seen. Into the darkness of a city is where emergency services personnel are called to regularly. Truly, into the shadow of death. They go there so you don’t have to worry about your safety or the safety of your family. I don’t say this for my benefit, but for the benefit of my family, my brother and sisters in emergency services. They don’t hear thank you enough.
Did you base your main protagonist on a specific person or a combination of many? I am asked that a lot. Since the premise was, ‘What could my career have looked like if I’d stayed a cop,’ Brad Coulter started as me. Hopefully, a better version of me! But a funny thing happened. Brad had his own ideas of his personality and the direction he wanted his character to go and the changes he wanted to make as the novel, and the series progressed. So, deep down Brad is me, but what you see in the second and third novels, is Brad as his own guy.
How does your professional service life compare to your writing life? Hours worked, location etc. Writing life couldn’t be different from my professional life. For many years I worked shift work, was always sleep-deprived, and always on alert. When I was in the Staff Development division, I had regular hours, but the pace was hectic, so those regular hours often stretched several hours past “quitting” time. I attended lots of meetings and was around people all the time.
Now I am at home, write in my writing cave, and need to be forced out into the public. And I love it!
Is this the genre you are most comfortable writing in? Crime/police procedural is undoubtedly the genre I am most comfortable with. Within it, though, are a few sub-genres. I can write a fast-paced thriller, a mystery, or a character-driven plot with police or paramedic partners. I have so many ideas for stories I will never get to them all. They are all within the crime genre, but with a different focus.
Would you write in another genre? I wrote a short story in 2015 that was published in an anthology, A Positive, An Anthology of Alberta Crime. It was supposed to be a noir story, but I wrote more of a soft-boiled detective story. It was fun to write, and I have ideas for more short stories for the character. I have also been working on a time-travel story, but it is still crime-related. I guess I’m stuck on crime!
Where do you feel most comfortable and creative when writing? I have an office set up at home. Most of my writing is done there. We also have a cabin, and when we are out there, I write. My office is my favorite location, probably because it is quiet, whereas at the cabin there is always something else going on. I am also an afternoon/night writer. The afternoon part is okay, but the night part is trickier because for some reason, Valerie likes to spend time with me! On occasion, after she has fallen asleep, I sneak down to my writing cave and write until two or three in the morning.
Has your writing process changed? Absolutely. It has been nine years of trial and error – heavy on the error. But I know that was a process I had to go through, and probably every writer has to. There are writing rules/guidelines and lots of writers who will tell you the way you need to write. The rules are the opinion of a single person, and the views may work for that writer, but maybe not for you. It takes time for you to find ‘your’ process and it doesn’t matter if that fits with what others do. If you need to plot, then plot. If you need to write at midnight, then make that work. Crisis Point took seven years to get to print, Outlaw one year, and Wolfman six months. I finally know what works for me today. I’m sure that process will evolve into something different, but it will be what works for me. My advice is to find your own process.
You have received a nomination for your writing, namely Crime Writers of Canada, Arthur Ellis Awards. How important are awards to you and writers in general? The nomination came at a critical time for me. I’d been working on Crisis Point for five years and had a stack of rejections. It was either give up on getting it traditionally published, self publish, or quit writing and find a new hobby! I was close to quitting. I was so low on myself and my writing skills that the night the nominees were announced, I wasn’t paying attention when the announcement was made for the Unpublished category, I was sitting in the front row not paying attention and had my eye on a bottle of wine that I knew I could get to once the last nominees were announced. I don’t think I’ve ever been more shocked in my life, and to shock me takes quite a big event. As well, I was speechless, which is also foreign to me.
That validation was so important to me. I kept writing. All three novels have made the bestseller list and Crisis Point and Wolfman have made the list twice. I think that kind of validation is significant to every author.
If you could eliminate one task from your daily schedule, what would it be? Definitely social media. There are too many platforms with too many changing protocols and it is almost a full-time job to keep up with posting on every site. I use Facebook the most. I like to find the funniest or weirdest things and repost so that my friends will get a laugh. I’m all about the laughter and occasional sarcasm. I can’t say I think social media has helped my exposure much. And, I just don’t ‘get’ Twitter!
If your life was a movie, would it be a drama, comedy, action/adventure, or science fiction? Definitely action/adventure. I was fortunate to have a fascinating career with lots of action. But I hope there’d be comedy as well. I have a quick wit, sharp tongue, and biting sarcasm. So that would need to be there too!
Think about punctuation marks. Which one would you pick to describe your personality and why? ! If my life is an action/adventure, then it has to be an exclamation mark. Too many times I was in a position where afterwards I’d say Oh My God! Or the occasional, ‘That didn’t work!”
I was able to do things that would be a dream adventure weekend for lots of people. I shot guns, blew up stuff, played hide and seek with night vision goggles, flew in Hawks and STARS to name only a few. There weren’t a lot of dull moments.
Describe your handwriting. I should have been a doctor. My writing is a cross between cursive and printing and most of it illegible. I’m sure if you took a sample of my writing to the drug store, they’d accept it as a prescription for something. I thank my stars that in grade nine, rather than take French, band, or drama as an option, I took typing. And I mean typing on a Selectric typewriter. Who knew that it would be the best option class I took and through policing, EMS, and now fiction writing, that one course has been so valuable! Strangely the most critical course was not algebra!
Do you have any tips on creating an author platform?
You saved the hardest questions for last! I wish I had the magic answer to that. I am fortunate, in no small degree, to have worked for over 40 years in emergency services and that helps my writer credibility. I genuinely write what I know. My background gives credibility to what I write and separates me from the majority of crime writers. I bring a different feeling to the novels—that of actually have been there. So that is my niche that I need to use for my platform.
I like to make presentations and have a pretty good following at When Words Collide Conference in Calgary and the Creative Ink Festival in Burnaby BC. So, I use that to my benefit.
However, despite a lot of ‘friends on social media and lots of promotions of my novels and those of other authors, I haven’t seen a jump in e-book sales.
I will stick with it because I think who I am and what I write are intimately connected. I have seen an increase in interest in the Coulter series now that I have three novels. I think one of the best ways (and this was advice from Jonas Saul) was to keep writing and get the books out there.
The question was about tips. I’d say you have to find a niche for yourself—something that separates you from other authors in your genre. Success comes from taking a different path as well. Two author friends had success where they didn’t expect it. One had pretty much given up on writing crime and delved into fantasy, which took off and then her crime novels were accepted for publication. Another author added a non-fiction book (Adam Dreece and 5 Critical Things for a Successful Book signing). I’m not sure how sales are going, but it is a remarkable book and now he has tapped into another market.
Does writing energize or exhaust you? Both. To not write, dismays and distracts me. Writing is like lancing a wound. It’s painful but with writing, comes release. And relief! I often worry there’s no story there at all, so once I realize there is, I feel a great deal of relief!
What is your writing Kryptonite? I use too many he said, she said’s. I also have to completely rewrite every single thing I write, at least three times. It would be so much easier if I could just get it right the first (or second!) time. But then again, most of writing is rewriting anyway, isn’t that so? And when you sculpt a sentence or an image, it’s wonderfully satisfying! Sometimes I’ll read a first draft of a thing and think that it’s utterly awful writing – who on earth can even write that badly? But at that time, the only thing was to get the story down and I always say that – just get the story down, you can fix the writing later. If I edited as I went along, I’d get nothing done.
Did you ever consider writing under a pseudonym? Actually yes! I am thinking of branching out into some really weird noir and I’m considering these names: Kingston Lee, Mansel Williams, Lee Digby, Lee Hunt.
What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer? Terri Favro, Carole Giangrande, Brenda Clews, Catherine Graham, Grace O’ Connell, all my pals at the Mesdames of Mayhem, D.J. McIntosh and Dawn Promislow are just a few. I love their work so much – their direct, beautiful prose, their descriptions. And I am blessed to be part of a very strong writing community, so that list is really very brief, there are many more names. We are all, across Canada, linked in our love of literature and I find the Canadian literary community to be extremely supportive and encouraging. I know that if I hadn’t come to Canada, the chances of me publishing a book would have been very slender because it was within this community that I learned how to write. And there are SO many fantastic Canadian authors and poets! It’s astounding, really, what a nation of literati we are. And, kind, lovely people!
Do you want each book to stand alone, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book? They are all definitely standalones! I would be very open to writing books with connections but it doesn’t seem to happen! I just write what I am told to write!
What was the best money you ever spent as a writer? Going to workshops. I love workshops and conferences. Also, buying books about writing and self-editing.
What was an early experience where you learned that language had power? Wow, this is tough one! I can’t say for sure. I remember being part of the debating team at school and it was fascinating to me then, how language is actually a tool of persuasion. I’m sorry to not have a better answer for you.
What’s your favorite under-appreciated novel? The Book of Stolen Tales by D.J. McIntosh. It’s such a masterful, gripping read, filled with fascinating folklore.
As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal? It changes a lot! I find there is usually one per book. The owl was very strong for a long time. Then the snake. Right now I would say it’s the wolf.
How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have? I have a whole cupboard of them! They include God’s Day Off, The Fables of Foxtrot Four, The Savage Chardonnay Society and a collection of short stories called Cannibals of the Afterlife. None of them is worth a damn and I really want to have a lovely big bonfire and watch them all go up in smoke. I feel like that would be cleansing and cathartic. I wanted to do it last summer but the opportunity never arose. Although, some stories in Cannibals of the Afterlife are fairly recent and have some potential. So I wouldn’t burn those just yet!
What does literary success look like to you? I feel happy and fulfilled when people enjoy my work. My books aren’t always to everyone’s tastes and I understand that so when a new reader gives you a four or five star rating on Goodreads, then I am happy! I think that No Fury Like That is enjoying a lot of literary success which I wasn’t expecting – I thought readers would hate Julia Redner but they really seem to like her! So that’s a huge win!
What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book? That depends on the book. Rotten Peaches is my next book, for 2018 and I did a lot of research on trade fairs, the toxic ingredients that go into cosmetics and also, the history of the Afrikaner in South Africa. I worked out a calendar of trade show events before I began the story, so I would have an accurate timeline for the book. For my 2019 book, The Occult Persuasion and the Anarchist’s Solution, I did a huge amount of research on treatment and methodology in psychiatric institutions in the 50’s and 60’s (very scary stuff) and I read a lot about tarot, casting spells and the like. That was how I discovered the The Occult Shop on Bathurst. Also, you can find a lot of gems about that kind of subject matter in used book shops. I also researched the Sydney Harbour Bridge in a great amount of detail as that is featured in the book too. Sometimes I will write the story and then flesh out the facts later, when I don’t want to lose the momentum of the real writing. The facts can always be tidied up later – something I rue when I get to it! Why didn’t I just look this up at the time? Well, because you were too busy writing! There’s a lot of constant internal dialogue in my head about my writing, the process as well as the stories.
How many hours a day/week do you write? I write every day. At least two hours a day, usually a lot more on weekends.
How do you select the names of your characters? I find it tough! I study movie credits constantly, or names I see in newspapers. I think about people I have met, and do I have any connotations with that name? I prefer a name to not have any connotations at all but just fit the character. I often change the names a few times but Julia Redner was always Julia Redner. The main character names seem to come easier than the secondary ones. The secondary names are perhaps even more important than the protagonists because the names need to bring a volume of information and meaning and description, meanwhile you can take the time to actually describe the protagonist.
What was your hardest scene to write? Banishing the evil spirit in The Occult Persuasion and the Anarchist’s Solution was very tough. As I was writing the scene, I noticed a series of blisters pop up on the inside of my wrist, in the shape of a serpent and I felt quite terrified. Later I realized that I had shingles. I told my husband it was the demon spirit and he said no, it was obviously a hard scene to write and it made it physically clear! In No Fury Like That, it was hard to write the final revenge scene – Julia went to great extremes to exact he revenge and I was concerned it was too much but people have likened it to Kill Bill which I thought was a great compliment! I think I need to work on having more tough scenes to write, it’s a good workout for the brain!
Why did you choose to write in your particular field or genre? If you write more than one, how do you balance them? I started off writing literary fiction but then I wanted to write more of a plotted book. Characterization comes fairly easily to me but plotting is much harder. I love reading crime novels and wondering how they came up with such intricate plots. So I set myself the challenge of writing novels with more layers of plot. I love imagining what could happen next and then, the domino effect that would have and how the characters will interact down the line. My novels have been called cross-genre or genre-bending, so I guess they just are what they are!
How long have you been writing? I feel like I’ve been writing as long as I’ve been reading and I was a very early reader. Ever since I read Enid Blyton (I devoured her books), I tried to imagine myself coming up with stories like that. The Magic Faraway Tree was one of the first books I wish I had written!
What inspires you? Everything. Street art. Graffiti. Other people’s trash. I was recently on holiday in Auckland, New Zealand and I had a fine old time of it, rooting through the trash. I know, that sounds unhygienic and disgusting (and I do get some odd looks) but there are so many stories in what other people throw out. People on the subway or bus inspire me. Fashion inspires me. It’s ridiculous and extremely beautiful. People’s conversations inspire me. Movies, books, poetry, patterns in the clouds, stories in magazines or newspapers (I have cuttings from all over the world, snippets of things that could turn an idea into a character. Travel definitely inspires me.
How do you find or make time to write? I am neglectful of cleaning the house, I eat the same food day after day (quite happily). I wear the same style of clothes. I minimize wasting time on a thing when I could be writing or planning a story. I put writing before meeting friends for a coffee, I shamefully neglect my husband (who thankfully is a sports fan and has his own photographic interests and doesn’t seem to mind!) I am distracted a lot, by whatever story is in my head. I limit my time on social media and miss a lot of what’s going on. I get behind on current affairs and things that are going on in the real world.
What projects are you working on at the present? I am working on self-edits for Rotten Peaches. Those need to be completed by the end of January. Then I want to work on a new idea for a novel that came to me on my trip, Boomerang Beach. I wrote a hundred or so page longhand and I need to input them and see if there is anything there, and then I need to do a completely new second draft of another novel called The WeeGee Doll, after receiving great feedback from a writer friend of mine. Then I have a few short stories I want to sculpt.
What do your plans for future projects include? As you can tell from the answers to 20, there is a lot on the go! And then there is always the promotion of the current book. I have a blog tour for planned for No Fury Like That for all of Feb, with Partners in Crime and I hope your readers will find it to be of interest.
Share a link to your author website. I’d like to share the blog tour link if that’s okay? The blog tour hosts and I have quite the lineup planned! And let me take a moment to thank you for having me as a guest on your wonderful blog today. You and I go way back Dear Mandy, and it is with great joy that I celebrate your many writing successes with you.