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)
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.
This week I had an interesting chat with Erik D’Souza about my short story, A Deadly Flu, which appears in the Crime Writers of Canada Cold Canadian Anthology. We got into lots of other things. You can watch it on Youtube. https://youtu.be/l0ce-9aY320
Last fall I wrote a historical mystery short story and showed the first four pages to a local Writer-in-Residence. The WIR’s main advice was to turn the story into a novel. I had no clue how I’d do this and she didn’t offer suggestions, but I was intrigued by the idea. Then this spring BWL decided to publish a collection of Canadian Historical Mysteries. They assigned thirteen of their authors to write a novel set in a specific Canadian province or territory. The collection will have twelve books — British Columbia is co-authored and Nunavut/Northwest Territories will be reunited in one of the books. I’m delighted to represent my home province of Alberta.
BWL asked us to provide a working title and novel blurb, which they’ll publish in a free guidebook as advance promotion. This got me mulling ways to expand my short story, which was set in Calgary during the 1918 influenza pandemic and told through the viewpoint of a police detective. The WIR’s other suggestion was to change the protagonist to a character who was present at the victim’s death, to make that aspect of the story more immediate. One of the suspects appealed to me as a point-of-view narrator, but if I let readers enter his thoughts I’d lose him as a suspect. Also, while I like experimenting with male protagonists in short stories, I prefer to write female protagonists for novel-length works. This led to my idea for a new character and protagonist, the sister of that suspect. She will be motivated to solve the crime to know if her brother or someone close to him is guilty of murder.
I plan to keep my detective as a secondary narrator. His investigations and personal story will increase the material. In the short story, he had a romantic interest in a co-worker. For the novel I’ll shift his interest to my heroine to enhance their relationship. She’s married, but her husband has been overseas for four years, fighting in The Great War, and she’s changed during that time. Her feelings for the detective will create lots of conflict for them both.
My other idea is to add a new suspect to this longer story; a man who opposes the war. The victim and my heroine’s brother are injured veterans, who received an early discharge. WWI officially ended November 11, 1918, in the middle of the second and deadliest wave of the influenza pandemic, but most of the Canadian troops didn’t return until the following spring. I’d like to make the war more present in the novel than it was in the short story, from the perspectives of those on the home front.
I’m satisfied these additions and changes will be enough to expand my 4,500 word short story to a 75,000 word novel, the median length of the books in the collection. More importantly, I’m eager to write the larger story to develop these characters and find out what happens to them in the new version.
In effect, the short story is my novel outline. I’m sure much will change in the process of writing the book. Even whodunnit and why the person done it and how he or she done it are up for grabs. So if you read the short story, don’t worry about spoilers. After I showed the WIR those first pages, the short story was accepted for publication. It appears in the recently released Cold Canadian Crime Anthology, available on Amazon, Kobo, and other sites.
A new title will be one definite change for the novel. The the short story title “A Deadly Flu” was a wink at my first novel, A Deadly Fall. Two similar novel titles would create confusion.
Here’s the cover for the Canadian Historical Mysteries guidebook, which you will soon be able to download for free to read the twelve novel descriptions.