I’m excited that my short story, A Deadly Flu, will be included in the Crime Writers of Canada 40th Anniversary short story anthology, Cold Canadian Crime. Stories submitted had to be set in Canada and include something cold. Mine is set in a cold Calgary December during the 1918 influenza pandemic. I especially enjoyed exploring the parallels with our current pandemic. The anthology will be released in May 2022, when it will hopefully be warm outside. I look forward to reading the stories written by the authors listed in the CWC website. https://crimewriterscanada.com/ Scroll down and click on Cold Canadian Crime: The Big Reveal.
Pleased to have my article in the terrific Opal Magazine. https://opalpublishing.ca/2022/02/07/does-your-mystery-novel-series-need-an-overall-story-arc/
As I promised on today’s Calgary Public Library Zoom presentation, here’s my arbitrary list of novels set in Canada, to get you started. These are books I happened to stumble upon and they tend to reflect my more recent reading. I’m sure I’ve missed a number of great writers that you’ll discover on your own.
Many of the books are in your local library and you can request ones that aren’t. The books are listed by author name. I don’t always specify book titles. Sometimes I’ve read a later book in a series, while you might want to start with book # 1.
Since I’m a westerner, I’ll travel from west to east on this cross-Canada journey.
William Deverell – Legal mystery series written by a former lawyer. Clever and witty writing that portrays the ‘hippie’ character of Salt Spring Island.
Beverley McLachlin – another retired lawyer writing a legal mystery series, this one set in Vancouver. McLachlin, the former Chief Justice of Canada, grew up in Pincher Creek Alberta, and wrote an interesting memoir. I enjoyed Full Disclosure, book # 1 of her mystery series, and look forward to discussing the sequel, Denial, with my book club in February.
J. G. Toews, Lucky Jack Road (book 2 of her mystery series) – set in Nelson, BC, another ‘hippie’ setting I enjoyed, both on the page and in my travels.
Dave Butler, Full Curl, book 1 of environmental mystery series featuring a national park warden who deals with conservation issues. Book 1 is set in Banff National Park, Alberta.
Jayne Barnard, The Falls series set in Bragg Creek, AB
Dwayne Clayden, Brad Coulter police thriller series set in Calgary, AB, written by a former paramedic and police officer.
Alice Biena, Female PI series with lots of Calgary setting.
David Poulsen, Cullen and Cobb series set in Calgary.
Garry Ryan, gay detective series set in Calgary.
Randy McCharles, Peter Galloway series takes us to the Calgary Stampede and northern Alberta.
Candas Jane Dorsey, The Adventures of Isabel, postmodern style, insight into LGBTQ life in Edmonton.
Sharon Butala, Zara’s Dead, fiction based on a 1962 murder that took place in Saskatoon, SK.
Gail Bowen, long-running Joanne Kilbourn series set in Regina, deals with the challenges of a middle-aged woman and her family.
Helen Humphreys, Rabbit Foot Bill, literary mystery based on a 1947 Saskatchewan murder, which raises questions about mental health issues.
Vanessa Farnsworth, The Haweaters, based on an 1877 murder committed by the author’s ancestor. A good look at pioneer life on Manitoulin Island.
Giles Blunt, police detective series set in northern Ontario.
R. J. Harlick, Ottawa region series deals with indigenous issues. One book in the series is set in the Northwest Territories.
Randall Denley, Payback, book # 2 of a series: well-crafted whodunnit set in the Ottawa Valley.
Maureen Jennings, November Rain, book # 2 of a historical mystery series set in Toronto by the author of Murdoch Mysteries, which became a hit television show.
Katrina Onstad, Stay Where I Can See You, not a traditional mystery novel, but beautifully written and crafted with insight into domestic abuse and class conflicts in contemporary Toronto. Winner of the 2021 Crime Writers of Canada Award for Best Novel Set in Canada.
E.R. Yatscoff, firefighter series set in Niagara Peninsula, written by a former firefighter.
Louise Penny, popular Inspector Gamache series mostly set in Three Pines, a fictional village outside of Montreal, and featuring an interesting and sometimes quirky cast of recurring characters. A dark take on the British cozy.
Joan Hall Hovey, And Then He Was Gone, suspense with paranormal aspects, set in New Brunswick.
Kevin Major, One for the Rock, Two for the Tablelands… This series could go to infinity. Dry humour and great Newfoundland setting.
Mike Martin, A Perfect Storm, Book # 9 of a series featuring an RCMP officer living in rural Newfoundland. I enjoyed the book without having read the previous eight in the series.
Clearly, there are many more Canadian stories, including novels by authors I’ve heard about but haven’t yet read. Time for me to remedy this!
At last year’s Ontario Library Association’s online conference, I sat on a panel about novels set in Canada. The moderator divided the topic into three parts–Canadian characters, settings, and stories–and asked each panelist to discuss one of the sub-topics in relation to one of our novels. To my relief, I was assigned setting, which I considered the easiest of the three. The other two stumped me. When I create characters, I think of them as people, not Canadians, and my stories lean toward the psychological, rather than events particular to Canada.
I chose Ten Days in Summer, the most Calgarian of my novels, to illustrate how I include specific setting details and how they shaped the story. The novel takes place over the ten days of Calgary’s annual Stampede Festival, when the whole city goes wild-west. People wear cowboy hats and boots to go shopping. Beer tents and free pancake breakfasts pop up everywhere. I explained how I looked for opportunities to set scenes at Stampede happenings. Paula, my sleuth, first encounters two of the suspects while she’s watching the parade that launches the festival. She later meets one of them in a sports pub featuring an inflatable football player wearing a bandana. Paula’s Stampede clothing style is to wear a different coloured bandana each of the ten days. Does that make her uniquely Canadian?
No, but it does make her Calgarian. I realized the characters in my mystery series naturally reflect the people who live in Calgary. In Ten Days, there’s a wannabe cowboy. I have several Calgary friends who own horses they board on acreages outside the city and ride on weekends. When I lived in Montreal, I didn’t know anyone who did this. Many characters in the series, including Paula, have moved to Calgary from elsewhere. Through its history, Calgary has attracted newcomers during its periodic boom times. In contrast, other locales might be characterized by the absence of family and friends, who have left for greater opportunities. The type of people in any story tells us as much about the place as its landscape.
I still don’t see Paula and friends as particularly Canadian, although readers outside of Canada might notice behaviours I simply see as ‘normal’. Maybe Canadian novel characters tend to be remarkably polite.
Reflections on Canadian characters got me wondering about the third aspect discussed on the panel, uniquely Canadian stories. I find these most noticeable in historical mystery novels, especially ones that fictionalize a real murder from our country’s past. In Ten Days in Summer, I had fun making up a crime related to a lessor known fact of Canadian history. King Edward VIII, who famously gave up the British throne to marry Wallis Simpson, was a wannabe cowboy. When he was Prince of Wales, he bought a ranch in southern Alberta, which he visited with his wife after his abdication. My research suggested the Duchess of Windsor was less than enthralled with life on the range. I wove that into an imagined crime that played a small, but pivotal, role in the Ten Days in Summer murder.
I have read Canadian mystery novels that deal with contemporary events and issues that are uniquely Canadian. Since the time of U.S. Prohibition in the 1920s, our long and friendly border with the United States has prompted cross-border crime that continues today. Disputes over pipelines and clean drinking water on indigenous reserves have resulted in fictional murders.
People generally read mystery and thriller novels for entertainment, and in the process learn much about a country’s people, place, and stories. When I travel, I like to read novels set in the location I’m visiting. But I also read to learn about myself and my own country.
I became so intrigued with the subject of uniquely Canadian characters, places and stories that I pitched the idea for a Calgary Public Library program. They’ve now scheduled the topic for Wednesday, January 26, 7-8 pm, as part of the CPL’s Books and Ideas series. I’ll be interviewed by Margaret Hadley, a former instructor of Detective Fiction at the University of Calgary. I expect we’ll have a lively conversation. You can register for the program here with a CPL card. Books and Ideas: How Canadian Mystery Novels Connect us to our Country’s People, Places, and Stories | Calgary Public Library (calgarylibrary.ca) Non-members are welcome and can email or call the library at 403-260-2600.
Hope to see you there, eh?
My first writing project for 2022 is to prepare for my Calgary Public Library Zoom presentation on Wednesday, January 26, 7-8 pm. Here’s the topic description:
Mystery novels are fun to read, but crime fiction set in Canada teaches us about our country. Join Calgary mystery author, Susan Calder, in a lively conversation with Margaret Hadley, University of Calgary Instructor Emerita of English. They’ll discuss how Canadian crime novels portray our unique characters, regions, history, and contemporary life.
Registration is now open on the CPL website Books and Ideas: How Canadian Mystery Novels Connect us to our Country’s People, Places, and Stories | Calgary Public Library (calgarylibrary.ca) If you don’t have a CPL card, you can contact the library by phone 403.260.2600 or through their website: www.calgarylibrary.ca. Everyone welcome.
Hope to virtually see you there.
I like BWL’s process for designing book covers. It begins about six months before a book’s release, when we authors fill out a Cover Art Form. This includes factual information, such as the book title and author name to appear on the cover, a back cover book blurb, details about story, keywords for online searches and — my favourite part — ideas for cover images. After we submit the CAF, Art Director, Michelle Lee, designs our covers from purchased stock images. She combines and manipulates the images and adds background and other elements to create covers that hint at the story inside.
I published my first BWL novel, Ten Days in Summer, in 2017. At that time, the CAF stated that most of the covers would feature at least one person. When I searched for people images on the stock images website, I discovered a few problems. My main character, Paula Savard, is an insurance adjuster. A keyword search for her gender and job popped up images of women meeting with clients or examining construction sites and damaged cars. In this story, Paula investigates a building fire with a suspicious death. I searched ‘female detective’ and got pictures of young women holding guns and magnifying glasses. Paula was fifty-two. My search for professional women in their fifties unearthed a few possibilities, although none looked like my image of Paula.
A basic problem with people images on novel covers is that writers and readers form their own images of fictional characters. I realized a full picture of Paula would interfere with reader engagement, although partial images still maintained enough mystery. This explained why rear-view images of women had become popular in novel cover art, but so common they were now considered cliché.
For the CAF, I chose the best of the images I could find for Paula, plus female images shrouded in mystery — a woman’s legs in cowboy boots, eyes peering through a hole, and a silhouetted woman in a cowboy hat. Since the story backdrop is the Calgary Stampede and the second most prominent character is a self-styled cowboy, I added images of cowboys in silhouette, the Calgary skyline, and fire, for the incident that sets the story in motion.
I sent the CAF to Michelle, who found images for the cowboy, fire and skyline that were different from the ones I’d suggested. She meshed them together to produce a cover better than any I could have dreamed up myself.
Two years later, BWL reissued the first book in my Paula Savard mystery series. During this time, the trend in cover design moved away from people to symbolic images. Now the CAF stated that most BWL covers would not feature people unless we insisted. I searched for people images anyway, since I found this fun, but was glad to focus on images related to the story setting and mood. For the new cover of A Deadly Fall, I sent Michelle images of the Calgary skyline, falling leaves, fall trees, and pathways through fall woods. The murder takes place on a Calgary walking path. Michelle scored another hit with a cover design of leaves framing the Calgary skyline in glorious fall colours of gold, orange and yellow, along with the red of Calgary’s Peace Bridge.
In February I completed my CAF for Winter’s Rage, book # 3 of the Paula Savard mystery series. This time, Paula investigates a hit-and-run collision that resulted in a woman’s death. Images of a tire on a snow-covered road, broken windshields, and car headlights in the dark would suit the story, but I wanted this cover to continue the series style. One problem. A Deadly Fall’s autumn time frame and Ten Days in Summer’s building fire resulted in covers with similar colours. Yellow, orange and red don’t evoke winter in Alberta. On the CAF, I suggested we bend the brand and go with white, blue or black winter shades. Michelle agreed. She created a scene of snow falling on a Calgary skyline draped in snow, the Bow River shining ice. Yellow letters echo the two earlier novels.
The front cover of Winter’s Rage gives the first hint of the story. The back cover blurb reveals a little more https://bookswelove.net/calder-susan/ You can read what it’s all about this August.