Talking to … Erika Chase

Today, we’re talking to Erika Chase, aka Linda Wiken, who is basking in the success of her recently published first novel, A Killer Read, An Ashton Corners Book Club Mystery, published by Berkley Prime Crime.

Erika Chase

Erika, where do you live and why do you choose to live there?

I live in Ottawa and I love it! It’s the perfect sized city – lots of green space, two rivers, wonderful variety of restaurants and shopping, even night life if I could stay awake that late! It’s also a very friendly city with lots of museums, art galleries, cultural events and choirs! I think I’ll stay!

Was there a moment that changed everything when you knew you were a writer?

Don’t laugh, but it was grade 8 English. True! I kept getting top marks on essays and short stories; my English teacher, Mr. Ross, was a real go-getter and encouraging, so I tried my hand at writing a novel. Didn’t finish it, thank goodness. But the main character was a young girl, about my age, living on a horse ranch. My fantasy at that time.

What is your most memorable experience in a library or bookstore?

My first customer at my very first signing just happened to be from White Rock, B.C. This started off a long conversation about that beautiful spot (I was born and raised not far from there) and when I said I’d be in White Rock in about three weeks, we said we’d keep an eye open for each other, have fish and chips on the beach by the boardwalk. Small world!

Describe a typical day in your life when you are working on a book, that is writing, re-writing, editing, proofing.

The only thing typical about my days is the act of writing. I’ve found it’s best to get all the email, Internet and blog matters dealt with right away so I won’t get ambushed later on. It’s also a good way to wake up the writing brain.

In a previous working life, I used to wake up really early and write before my son got up for school. Then I started walking during that time period and writing at night. Now, I find I write best early afternoon…and then just keep on going until I want to stop. Or have to.

Describe your writing process. How do you get from concept to finished manuscript?

I started writing a synopsis when I began writing this book series. It was a requirement from the publisher. Before that point, I’d just write by the seat of my pants.

But I prefer this method. It gives me a clear direction and, although I often take a different route, I eventually get to the destination I’d originally planned. I find it’s a good way to get past any roadblocks, commonly called writer’s block, and I feel I already know what to expect when I start writing. It’s the surprises that keep cropping up, that keep the process fresh.

Do you listen to music while you work? If so, what type/artist/songs?

While I’m writing the Southern cosies, I like to listen to music that transports me there. The soundtrack from The Big Easy is a favourite; songs like Sweet Home Alabama will also do. I can listen to the same music over and over – it becomes background and doesn’t grow stale. For my other writing, it’s always classical music, usually baroque and instrumental. Soothes the wandering thought processes.

Share a memorable experience you had with a reader.

A Facebook friend started posting messages before my book came out as to how much she was looking forward to reading it; then that she had purchased it; then that she had read it and loved it. In addition, she’s eagerly awaiting the second book, Read & Buried, which is due in Nov., 2012. Yay, friends!

What’s the nicest thing a critic or reader has said about your work?

“I absolutely adore cozy mysteries and when it is a well written tale, I melt like marshmallows on a Scottsdale, Arizona dashboard. Kudos to Erika Chase who had succeeded in turning me into a sticky mess with every page turned. A Killer Read is another top-notch reading experience from Berkley Prime Crime. Good catch, Berkley, for scooping up this talented lass.” From Seattlepi.com

Which mystery author, living or dead, has influenced your writing the most?

For the cosies, it’s Carolyn Hart. I was hooked on her Murder on Demand series when it first came out in the mid-1980s and stayed with it for many years. I loved the setting of a mystery bookstore and the wonderful town she’d created. The mysteries were always very well-plotted, too.

Do you think writers are born or made?

It’s a combination of the two. That interest has to be there but then it takes a lot of coddling, cajoling, and just plain hard work to be a writer.

What is the most rewarding part of being an author?

The feeling of accomplishment! I love the process of writing and re-writing a book. But when you send it in to the editor, a completed masterpiece, it’s the best feeling ever.

What advice would you give to aspiring authors?

Don’t give up. Keep sending your material out – to editors, to agents, to contests! Cultivate a critiquing group or a small number of people to read your writing and more importantly, who you trust will give you honest feedback. Always try to refine your writing skills. And most of all, hang out in bars at mystery conferences or at least be friends with someone who has a dynamite agent.

Make your pitch! Describe what happens in your latest book in two sentences.

At the first meeting of the Ashton Corners Mystery Readers and Cheese Straws Society, a stranger does a gate crash and is later found dead. It’s up to Lizzie Turner and the book club members to find the killer.

What challenges did you face writing this book?

Where to start! No, that wasn’t a challenge. I just mean, there were so many. This was a ‘work for hire’ – the editor at Berkley Prime Crime already had the idea and it was up to me to write the story, or three of them actually. Therefore, I had to embrace the characters – and their names – that she’d chosen. That was the most difficult part, trying to make them mine. Especially since they had names. I love choosing names and often build a character from that name. This was a new process for me.  Other challenges – having a thirty-year-old heroine. Okay, I’d been there at one point, so not insurmountable. Also, she was a reading specialist about which I knew nothing. Fortunately, it helps to have relatives. Setting it in a Southern U.S. town was also interesting.

What sets this book apart from your previous work?

Considering that previous novels I’ve written were never published, that’s what sets this one apart. I can definitely see their failings at this stage of my writing. As mentioned, the synopsis kept me on track so this one is actually coherent and structured.

My other published works are short stories. A totally different writing process.  Obviously, the length is the main difference, therefore with short stories, every word has to count.

The “or” questions

 

Cup of coffee or glass of wine?        Cup of espresso

Twitter or Facebook?   Facebook

Library or bookstore?   Bookstore

Print or ebook?      Print

Setting or character?     Character

Book or movie?    Book

 

If you could choose anywhere in the world to write your next book, where would it be and why?

Sicily. I toured there a couple of summers ago with my choir and absolutely fell in love with the countryside, the ocean shores, and the people and culture. I even fantasized about owning a small villa (only in my dreams!) there.

What can you tell us about your next book?

The Ashton Corners Book Club gang is back and there’s a dead author on Lizzie Turner’s living room floor in READ & BURIED, due November, 2012 from Berkley Prime Crime.

If you’d like to meet Erika Chase, she’ll be in conversation with two other notable Canadian crime writers, Vicki Delany and Lynwood Barclay at 9 a.m., Saturday, June 2, at Bloody Words, a mystery conference for writers and readers, Toronto. And be sure to visit the Erika Chase website.

About Erika Chase 

Erika writes the Ashton Corners Book Club mysteries for Penguin/Berkley Prime Crime.  In a parallel life Erika Chase is also known as Linda Wiken. A former mystery bookstore owner (Prime Crime Books in Ottawa, ON, Canada), Linda is also a short story writer. She is a member of those dangerous dames, The Ladies’ Killing Circle.

Her short stories have appeared in the seven Ladies’ Killing Circle anthologies (three of which she co-edited), and in the magazines Mysterious Intent and Over My Dead Body. She has been short-listed for an Arthur Ellis Award, Best Short Story, from Crime Writers of Canada.

Before life in the world of mystery, she worked as an advertising copywriter, radio producer, journalist and community education worker.  Besides writing and reading mysteries, her other passion is choral singing and she is a member of two choirs.

Talking to … Vicki Delany

We’re talking to Vicki Delany, one of Canada’s most varied and prolific crime writers, whose newest book, Gold Mountain, is published today.

Where do you live and why do you choose to live there?

I live in Prince Edward County, Ontario.  I moved here four years ago because I wanted to get out of the busy and crowded Greater Toronto Area and have a place in the country.

Was there a moment that changed everything when you knew you were a writer?

Nope. More a gradual thing, I’d say.

What is your most memorable experience in a library or bookstore?

My very first book signing was at a store in London alongside my good friend the writer and musician Rick Blechta.  Scare the Light Away is a standalone suspense novel in which a woman reads her mother’s lost diary of being a war bride, and thus uncovers the secret of her past. An elderly lady came up to our table and I began my sales pitch.  Her face began to crumble. Tears began to flow.  “I don’t… think I’d… care for that,” she sobbed. “My husband died a year ago.  I’m reading his journals.  I thought I knew him…. But I didn’t.” Whereupon she burst into tears and fled.

Not funny at the time, I can tell you. It’s a wonder I ever did another book signing.

About your writing life

Describe a typical day in your life when you are working on a book, that is writing, re-writing, editing, proofing.

If I’m home, I’m working on a book.  Every day.

An average day for me is pretty easy to describe.  I write every morning for three to four hours, seven days a week, that includes anything related to producing a book such as editing or proofing. In the afternoon, I do whatever non-book writing is required, such as this interview.  I’m lucky enough to have been able to take early retirement from my job as a systems analyst in a major bank and now writing is my full-time job. But it wasn’t always like this. My first book took over four years to write on Sunday afternoons between the job and three children.

I write in several very different styles and I find that I have to stick strictly to whatever style of book I’m doing until it’s finished. No jumping between books or I’d get confused if it’s supposed to be funny or heart-breaking!

I’ll also mention that I read. A lot. I don’t have a TV and I rarely go to movies.

 Describe your writing process. How do you get from concept to finished manuscript?

I pretty much write from page one to page XX, and then go back and fill in anything that’s missing or needs clarification, tidy up the dialogue add more description or emotion, then another pass to make sure it all ties together and the writing is crisp.  After that I’ll put it in a drawer for four to six weeks, and work on it again. I find that the break allows me to approach it with a fresh eye.

In most cases I have a rough outline, some idea of what I want to say, what I want to happen in the characters’ lives or what the crime is about.  I wrote Winter of Secrets by having a scene for chapter one in mind and just starting. I figured out what was going on only as I wrote it. But I do find it much easier to have some direction.

Do you listen to music while you work? If so, what type/artist/songs?

No music. No radio.  Otherwise I couldn’t concentrate.

Share a memorable experience you had with a reader.

I was in Hawaii, at a resort, walking by the pool and there was a woman stretched out on a lounge chair reading In the Shadow of the Glacier. That felt pretty special.

What’s the nicest thing a critic or reader has said about your work?

Publisher’s Weekly gave Winter of Secrets a starred review saying it was “artistry as sturdy and restrained as a Shaker chair.” I loved the idea that what I do, what we do, is art.

Which mystery author, living or dead, has influenced your writing the most?

A difficult question to answer in that there are so many. I read a lot; I’m from a reading family.  Over the years I’ve read countless authors, and I’m sure all of them have had some impact on me.  However, if I was to pick someone, I’d say that I love the traditional British police procedurals the most. Susan Hill, Deborah Crombie, Peter Robinson are powerful influences on my writing today.  I read mysteries (or crime novels as I prefer to say) most of all.  The variety is so great, that’s one of the best things about crime writing.

It was probably Sara Paretsky when she began the V.I. Warshaski series, who introduced me to reading mystery novels. Until then I thought crime writing was about a bunch of tough, misogynist guys and it had no appeal to me.  I’ve never been one for the classics of crime.  People are always talking about Agatha Christie or Rex Stout or John D. MacDonald, I can’t say those people influenced me at all.

Do you think writers are born or made?

Writers are born; authors are made.  You have to have some degree of talent to be able to write a good story and do it well.  I am totally tone deaf; I’m well aware that I have no musical talent whatsoever, which is probably why I’ve never tried to be a singer.  Having said that, to write a book and then have it published, with all the work and rework and rejection and dedication that involves, you have to be pretty determined to do it.

What is the most rewarding part of being an author?

The best part of being a mystery author in Canada is the people I’ve met and the friends I’ve made.  I never started out thinking I wanted to be a writer so I could make new friends, but that turned out to be the best part of all.  The Canadian mystery community is by and large very close and very supportive. It’s just great.

What advice would you give to aspiring authors?

In all of your life you will have ONE first book. Make it count.

About your new book

 Gold Mountain is the third in the Klondike Gold Rush series from Dundurn (following Gold Digger and Gold Fever).   The books are set in Dawson City in 1898 at the height of the Klondike Gold Rush. They’re intended to be on the lighter side, a bit of a mad cap romp through the muddy streets of Dawson.

This book goes back to the summer of 1897 when Fiona MacGillivray fled Toronto with only a valise full of stolen jewellery and her 11 year old son, Angus.  They arrived in Vancouver in time to hear the news – Gold Discovered in the Klondike!  Fiona immediately set off for Skagway, Alaska, intending to open a theatre.  After one encounter with the infamous gangster Soapy Smith and his henchman Paul Sheridan, Fiona wisely decides to pursue her ambitions on the other side of the border, and she and Angus climb the Chilkoot trail for Dawson City, Yukon.

A year later Sheridan arrives in Dawson with a map showing the way to Gold Mountain, a valley as warm as California. Sheridan wants Fiona come with him. Fiona wants no part of his mad plans. But she may not have a choice.

Make your pitch! Describe what happens in your latest book in two sentences.

Gold Mountain, where the hills of solid gold keep the Yukon valley as warm as California.  Fiona MacGillivray has no interest in Paul Sheridan’s mad scheme to find the valley, but when the one-time henchman of Soapy Smith and her erstwhile suitor arrives in Dawson, she might not have a choice.

What challenges did you face writing this book?

I almost gave this book up not long after beginning it.  In Gold Mountain, Fiona et al head off into the wilderness north of Dawson City. I’ve been to Dawson, but not north of there and certainly not on foot.  I was struggling with trying to write a book set in a place I’d never been, particularly as the wilderness is a very specific setting and really can’t be captured by generic descriptions of trees etc.

Then it occurred to me – they’re after a valley as warm as California. How realistic does it have to be?  From then on, I was okay.

What sets this book apart from your previous work?

Regarding the Klondike books, this book fits the tone and the style, but it is not a mystery and there is no murder. It’s a crime novel, not a ‘murder mystery’.  It’s more of an adventure caper.

I also write the Constable Molly Smith series, small town police procedurals that are contemporary and  deal with serious issues, and novels of standalone suspense that are sort of modern gothic. The Klondike books are much, much lighter.

The or questions

Cup of coffee or glass of wine? Wine

Twitter or Facebook? Facebook

Library or bookstore? Bookstore

Print or ebook? E-book

Setting or character? Setting

Book or movie? Book

What’s next?

My next book will be out in September from Poisoned Pen Press. It’s a modern Gothic set in Prince Edward County where I live titled More than Sorrow. I’m writing the sixth Smith and Winters book right now, tentatively called Tracks in the Snow. The fourth Gold Rush book, called Gold Web, is finished and will be out in 2013.

If you could choose anywhere in the world to write your next book, where would it be and why?

I’m pretty lucky in that I think I’ll chose right here. Where I am. I spent three weeks in Juba, South Sudan in November and got lots of writing done – there was nothing else to do.  In January I was in Turks and Caicos where I did no writing although I intended to. Something about sitting in the room vs. being at the beach.

What can you tell us about your next book?

More than Sorrow will be out in September from Poisoned Pen Press. It’s a standalone suspense novel, a modern Gothic. It’s set in Prince Edward County, Ontario and has a backstory of the Loyalist settlers.  Here’s the blurb:

A Loyalist refugee, a disfigured Afghan woman. They lived two hundred years apart, but they have one thing in common: Hannah Manning, once an internationally-renowned journalist and war correspondent, victim of an IED explosion.   In this modern Gothic novel of heart-wrenching suspense, past and present merge into a terrifying threat to the only thing Hannah still holds dear – her ten-year-old niece, Lily.

 About Vicki Delany

Her popular Constable Molly Smith series (including In the Shadow of the Glacier and Among the Departed) from Poisoned Pen Press have been optioned for TV by Brightlight Pictures.  She writes standalone novels of modern gothic suspense such as Burden of Memory and More than Sorrow (September 2012), as well as a light-hearted historical series, (Gold Digger, Gold Mountain), set in the raucous heyday of the Klondike Gold Rush, published by Dundurn.

She is also the author of a novel for reluctant readers, A Winter Kill, part of the Rapid Reads series.  

Having taken early retirement from her job as a systems analyst in the high-pressure financial world, Vicki is settling down to the rural life in bucolic, Prince Edward County, Ontario where she rarely wears a watch.

Visit Vicki at www.vickidelany.com , www.facebook.com/vicki.delany, and twitter: @vickidelany. She blogs about the writing life at One Woman Crime Wave (http://klondikeandtrafalgar.blogspot.com)