Author Joanna Vander Vlugt interviewed me for her podcast series. I really enjoyed our conversation. You can listen to us here: https://jcvartstudio.podbean.com/e/e157-susan-calder-spring-into-danger/
I’m excited about two upcoming events. Next week I’ll be on a panel at Bouchercon, San Diego, with four talented writers. It promises to be informative and fun. https://www.bouchercon.com/
On Sept 21st Owl’s Nest Bookstore will host the book launch party for my new novel, Spring Into Danger. The event will take place at cSpace Marda Loop, 1721 29th Avenue SW, 4th floor Treehouse. Scroll down Owl’s Nest’s Event page for details. Owl’s Nest Bookstore (owlsnestbooks.com)
BWL’s Art Director didn’t set out to create a cover brand for my Paula Savard Mystery Series. The first cover that Michelle Lee designed for me was for book # 2 of my series, Ten Days in Summer, published in 2017. The process began with me filling out a BWL Cover Art Form (CAF). I provided details about the story, its setting in Calgary, and the two main characters and suggested images related to these. At that time, BWL required that most novel covers include at least one image of a person.
I plugged keywords into the photo image website, searching for ones that suited my protagonist and the story antagonist, a wannabe cowboy. None were exactly right, especially for Paula, my insurance adjuster sleuth. “Female detective” turned up images of young women peering through magnifying glasses. Paula is fifty-two and doesn’t use that prop. Keywords “female insurance adjuster” showed women examining cars. The story involves a building fire insurance claim. I tried “businesswomen” and got images of women sitting in meetings, while Paula spends her time out on the case.
I selected the best images for Paula that I could find along with images for my antagonist, which included a silhouetted cowboy. I also suggested images of the Calgary skyline, fires, and a boarded-up house for the burned building. I don’t think Michelle used any of the exact images I sent, but she meshed my ideas into a cover that was better than one I could have designed (see cover image above). The fire suggests the heat of summer in the title.
Two years later, BWL republished A Deadly Fall, book # 1 in the series. During that short time period, book cover fashion moved away from portraying people and toward crisp and intriguing images that evoke a sense of the story. Now BWL’s CAF stated that most covers would not include a person. I sent people image suggestions anyway, but I found it easier not to have to focus on finding an image that fit the characters in my head. On my CAF, I suggested images for the Calgary skyline and fall — fall leaves on water, a path in fall, trees with colourful fall leaves, and falling leaves. Again, I doubt Michelle chose my actual suggestions, but they were her starting point to create this golden cover.
When the third series book, Winter’s Rage, was ready for a cover two years later, we were on our way to a series cover brand. My CAF included a few people image suggestions — a woman texting, a man in a snowstorm, but I focused on images of the Calgary skyline in winter and winter driving, since this story was about a hit-and-run collision. For the first time I considered colour. While red, orange, and yellow suited the fall and summer seasons of the first two books, I saw winter as white, blue, and black (night). Michelle came up with a cover that continued the brand with snowflakes and a frozen Calgary. Winter’s book cover was blue, with yellow lettering that linked it to the colour of the two earlier books in the series.
By book # 4 of my Paula Savard Mystery Series, the series brand was established: Calgary skyline, colours to suit the story season, and additional images related to the season or story. Since bicycles feature prominently in Spring Into Danger, I included bicycle images among my CAF suggestions and chose Calgary skyline images that had a place for a bike or cyclist in the foreground. Here’s the cover design for Spring Into Danger, which is scheduled for release in September.
I like how the cyclist pops into view. Whenever I look at this cover, I don’t notice him until he emerges from the shadows. The book’s blue cover with yellow lettering matches Winter’s Rage and the covers for the four books have come full circle by including a silhouette on the first and last design. I look forward to seeing Spring Into Danger sitting on a bookshelf.
Today, on the BWL Author Blog, I write about the cover for my new novel, Spring Into Danger, which is scheduled for release in September. https://bwlauthors.blogspot.com/
I’m now busily finishing the proof read for the novel. My next step will be to plan a book launch for this fall — my first in person event since COVID-19.
Today on the BWL author blog https://bwlauthors.blogspot.com/I write about When Words Collide, Calgary’s annual festival for readers and writers, which will make its last appearance this summer. I’ll be there and plan to attend many panels and events, sit on a panel or two, and host a table for Bouchercon World Mystery Convention Calgary 2026. https://bouchercon2026.com/. Two great events for lovers of mystery writing.
My current novel-in-progress got into police work more than I’d planned when I made two homicide detectives viewpoint narrators. I wrote scenes of them in their workplace from information I recalled from a years ago visit to Calgary Police Service Headquarters – Westwinds, but mostly from my imagination. During revisions of the novel, I made a list of questions I’d ask someone familiar with the place, if I ever had the chance.
Then a writer-friend mentioned that Calgary homicide detective Dave Sweet had generously answered her questions about her crime novel. I’d enjoyed Dave’s presentations on homicide cases at local crime writing events and read his memoir Skeletons in My Closet https://www.chapters.indigo.ca/en-ca/books/skeletons-in-my-closet-life/9781988829036-item.html? My friend gave me his email address and I wrote to him and asked if he’d mind answering my questions. He replied right away, saying he’d be happy to help.
I emailed my list to Dave. Again he quickly replied. My first question was my greatest worry: are the homicide and robbery units located in Westwinds? If they weren’t, I’d either have to do a major novel revision or ignore this fact. To my relief, Dave answered yes, both were in the Investigative Services Building on the west side of Westwinds campus. I didn’t remember this second building from my visit.
Evidently, from my questions, Dave got the hint that I was interested in the workplace environment because he offered me a tour of Westwinds, if I was interested. Yes, I was really interested, and the earlier the better. David said the next day would work for him, unless he got a call out before then. I knew once he was hot on a case, I’d lose the opportunity. We arranged to meet the following afternoon at the entrance to the Investigative Services Building.
In my novel, I’d described a large lobby. Instead, I entered a cozy space, with a few padded chairs and a side room with toys and a computer screen for children who come in with their parents. Dave waved me past the reception desk and into a huge, oval atrium. He explained that CPS bought the building from Nortel in 2009 when the telecommunications company filed for bankruptcy; the rooms along the sides of the atrium had been Nortel’s executive offices. CPS converted the building to police use, but this space didn’t look like any police stations I’ve seen on TV. He said they use the atrium for large gatherings and the side rooms for special meetings.
From the atrium, we went to the homicide unit offices. In my novel, I’d given my Detective Mike Vincelli an office with a door. Instead, Calgary detectives work in cubicles. Dave didn’t take us in, to protect his colleagues’ privacy, but he pointed out a glass enclosed room in the far corner, where the unit’s four cold case detectives work. Their windows face west and would have a view of the city skyline and mountain backdrop. My novel had my cold case Detective Novak working in a windowless storage room, which reflected his depressed mood. Now I thought this glass fishbowl office might offer intriguing possibilities.
Next Dave took me down a corridor to a service elevator, located in Nortel’s former delivery dock. This brought us to the holding cells, which I found creepy. The cells were behind solid doors; no looking out through bars. Voices carried between the cells and into the central corridor. Two detainees talked rapidly and loudly.
“Getting their stories straight,” Dave said.
I looked through a peephole into an empty cell, directly at a toilet. Two narrow benches lined the walls on either side. Dave said they rarely kept people more than thirteen hours, with twenty-fours the maximum before they sent them home or to longer-term facilities. This would be a problem for my book. I’d had the police keep two of my suspects close to forty-eight hours, which I’d thought was the maximum allowable time before laying charges. Could I change this without radically altering my story?
Sometimes it’s better not to know too much. Few readers would notice if I brushed aside this policing fact, but I started contemplating solutions for my novel.
In the holding area, we went into an interview room, which was smaller and drearier than I’d expected. Cameras in the corners, but no window for outsider viewing. Peeling paint on the greenish walls. The room had an acrid smell. Dave said they let interviewees smoke to not put them on edge. For the same reason, the police don’t bring their guns into the room. Interviews are typically one-on-one, although a second detective might sit in or stand outside the door if they anticipate a dangerous situation.
We left the Investigative Services Building and went outside to the main headquarters building. On the way, we passed a grassy area with benches and a picnic table. In my novel, Novak meets someone connected to the cold case in an outdoor area. I’d need to make some minor changes to the setting. The main headquarters building contains classrooms, training rooms for new recruits, and Westwinds’ largest gym, where a recruit class jogged back and forth at an easy pace. Dave said they’d gradually speed up and some would drop out of the pack.
“They’ll never be more fit than they are now,” he said. After recruits become full-fledged officers, CPS no longer requires them pass fitness tests. Now that I knew Westwinds had gyms, I could include my line that Novak had never entered one, to illustrate his disinterest in exercise.
I came home with lots of material to work into my novel-in-progress. Many were easy fixes. I’d asked Dave, Do police generally refer to the building as headquarters or Westwinds or something else? Westwinds usually, he said. In my manuscript, I changed this with a simple word find/replace. For my largest problem, I came up with a (hopefully) good reason for the police to keep one of my suspects for two days, but had them release the other one on time. This involved deleting, shuffling, and changing much material, but I think it improved the overall storyline.
While my tour gave me extra writing work, it wasn’t onerous. I think the new details give my story pizazz. Maybe readers sense when something rings true. And, if nothing else, I found my look inside police headquarters interesting.
Today, on the BWL Author Blog, I write about my recent field trip that helped make my current novel more authentic. https://bwlauthors.blogspot.com/
When I heard that BWL Publishing planned to publish a series of Canadian historical mystery novels, I was eager to get involved. In 2021, I wrote a mystery short story set in my home city, Calgary, Alberta, during the second and deadliest wave of the 1918 influenza pandemic. I showed the story to a writer-in-residence, who suggested I turn it into a novel. This intrigued me, but I polished the short story and submitted it to the Crime Writers of Canada 40th anniversary anthology. My story, A Deadly Flu, was accepted and published last spring in Cold Canadian Crime.
But BWL’s plan prompted me to consider how I could expand my 4,500 word story into a 75,000 word novel. I mulled ideas and decided I’d add three new characters to the story: two suspects and female protagonist, Catherine. I’d still keep my original detective protagonist as a secondary narrator. He and Catherine would both have personal story arcs, including a romantic subplot. WWI would also feature more prominently in the novel, as the story built to the November 11th Armistice.
Confident these additions would give the story sufficient fodder for a novel, I asked BWL if I could write one of the books. The concept for the BWL Canadian Historical Mystery Series is that twelve different authors or author-pairs would write novels set in our ten Canadian provinces and two of our territories. Authors would have free rein over what to write, as long as the novel features a crime, takes place during a real historical time period, and is 70,000-80,000 words to keep the book sizes uniform. BWL assigned me the story set in my home province of Alberta.
The series will be published over a period of almost two years. Since I won’t have time to start writing my novel before this summer, I asked for the last publication date, December 2024. The first Canadian Historical Mystery comes out this month. Rum Bullets and Cod Fish by H. Paul Doucette, set in Nova Scotia, sounds like roaring fun. “The year is 1924 and Prohibition is spawning a new breed of criminal.” An undercover investigator tracks the ringleaders illegally transporting liquor to the US mob.
Since BWL is promoting the whole series right away, they asked each author to provide a title, story blurb, and suggestions for cover images. Luckily, I have a framework for my novel — my short story and my ideas for expansion. From this, I came up with a blurb. I also needed a new title. My short story title, A Deadly Flu, was a wink at my first novel, A Deadly Fall. For a novel I’d want something to distinguish the two books. Words like dead, murder, kill, secrets, and their variations are popular for mystery titles. I also find concrete nouns in titles conjure strong images. The weapon in my story is whisky laced with a lethal drug. I settled on a title, A Killer Whisky.
During this process, I discovered a potential problem with the word ‘whisky.’ Ireland and the USA spell whiskey with an ‘e,’ unlike Canada and the rest of the world. My research suggests this might have been due to Ireland’s desire to distinguish its whiskey from Scottish whisky. Did Canada adopt the Scottish spelling because many of our early explorers and fur trade merchants came from Scotland, while whiskey became popular in the US with waves of Irish immigration? That’s my best guess.
I debated changing my title to one that wouldn’t confuse American readers, or using US spelling, or making the poisoned drink a non-spelling-controversial liquor, like rum. But whisky is so concrete that I can almost smell it when I hear the word. It’s also infamous in western Canadian history. Our fur trade is often called the whisky trade, which caused alcoholism problems for indigenous people. In the end, I decided to stay with whisky and Canadian spelling. Early in the novel, I’ll have a character point out the difference between the countries, so US readers won’t think I can’t spell.
For images, I suggested a bottle or glass of whisky, as well as a piano. I plan to start the novel with my protagonist playing the instrument and music will feature through the story. Michelle Lee, BWL’s cover designer, worked with my suggestions and created a stunning cover. I love the golden whisky colour against the black background. I can hear the clashing chord as the glass hits the piano keys. The glass of whisky stops the music, like murder.
Bouchercon Calgary’s website is live! Check out some of the authors who will be here in October, 2026. I’m excited to be part of the organizing team. https://bouchercon2026.com/ The photo shows co-chair Pamela McDowell and me presenting Calgary’s bid at Minneapolis Bouchercon last September.
Today, on the BWL website, I blog about my next novel — a historical mystery. https://bwlauthors.blogspot.com/