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Page Turner Challenge: We have a winner!

...not to mention four runners-up in the Canada Writes Crime Month Page Turner Challenge, where we asked you to write the most chilling, compelling first scene of a crime novel. Whose entry made Canadian crime maven Louise Penny want to read more?

First, the runners-up...

Before we reveal the winner, our judge, the marvelous Louise Penny, wanted to tip her hat to the following four runners-up for their excellent submissions:

  • Terrence Thomas (Ottawa, ON) for The Gift of Gold  — "For the very nice twist, and tension."
  • Tina Wayland (Montreal, QC) for A Murder in Many Parts —  "Equal parts gruesome and almost poetic. Lovely counterpoints. Strong writing."
  • MJ Snyder (Edgerton, AB) for Optimist Road — "Quick, confident creation of character, and nice hooks. How does a man die twice? What does the main character know?"
  • Kevin Thornton (Fort McMurray, AB) for Crimes Seen — "Nice juxtaposition of almost light tone and dreadful actions. Not trivializing it though. Nice one-liners, and great final hook!"  
Congratulations to all runners-up—you'll be getting a snazzy (and suitably sleuthy-looking) Canada Writes journal.

And to all of you shortlisted mystery scribes, Louise sends the following message: "I'd beg each and every one of them to finish their books, if they haven't already. Indeed, everyone on the shortlist showed huge talent."  

And without further adieu...

The winner of the Page Turner Challenge is:

Todd Brown (Lower Sackville, NS) for What's the Frequency, Kenneth?

Here's what Louise Penny had to say about Todd's entry:

"Despite the title, which makes me think of Dan Rather, I really loved the quick sketch of the victim and the series of small mysteries so rapidly and elegantly put out there. I love how memorable, and yet mercurial, the character of the victim was. And so quickly. So many questions, so many hooks. Very visual too. Love the tiny, beautiful detail of the blood pooled into, roughly, the shape of continental United States. I felt I was in good hands and wanted to read more."  

Meet the winner

We at Canada Writes wanted to get inside the mind of the winning Pageturner Challenge scribe. Below, our Q&A with the new owner of an iPad, Todd Brown.

Tell us about yourself. 

Todd.jpgI’m 49. I’m originally from Glace Bay, Nova Scotia, but I live now with my wife Cherri in Lower Sackville, a bedroom community outside of Halifax. 

I’m the Director of Public Safety and Field Communications for the Province of Nova Scotia. We manage emergency radio communications, paging, and dispatch systems for about 10,000 public works field staff at all levels of government in the province. This is usually the point in the introduction where people’s eyes begin to glaze over, but believe me, it’s a much more interesting job than it sounds. Really it is.

Before I joined the civil service about 15 years ago, I’d been, in order, a high-school teacher, an actor, a speech-writer, a journalist, and a policy advisor to the Premier of Nova Scotia. 

In terms of interests, our lives are really centered around our extended families, spending as much time with them as we can, and much of the time wishing we were all in the same place. 

Aside from Cherri, who is in a category by herself, I’m passionate about politics, but above all other non-Cherri related things, well executed, graceful, rhythmic writing gives me a charge that can’t be duplicated by anything else. 
How did you hear about our Page Turner Challenge?

I’m a very big fan of the CBC, particularly CBC Radio. I’d heard something last year on Information Morning here in Halifax about the CBC Literary Awards. I began following the short story and creative nonfiction competitions. I entered both. It was through the process of following things on the excellent Canada Writes website that I saw the Page Turner Challenge, and thought I’d give it a try.
What kind of writing do you usually do?

I’ve been writing all my life. I started out as a high-school English teacher. I did a lot of speech writing for political candidates earlier in my life. I was a broadcast journalist freelancer doing a lot of radio documentaries for CBC Radio locally and regionally in the late 1980s. More recently, I’ve written for trade journals, and have been writing some nonfiction essays, a couple of which were published by The Globe and Mail in the last few years.

What was your writing process like for this entry? 

I usually labour over things that I write pretty incessantly. Writing and rewriting. Not this time. After reading about this particular challenge during a lunch hour while at work, I went for a walk and found myself in front of a monument to fallen police officers near Halifax City Hall. While I was standing there looking at the names of the officers, the whole scene just came to me almost fully formed. I hustled back to the office and unlike almost anything I’ve ever written in my life, it just poured out of me. I changed a few details (the police monument became a peace arch), and I actually finished the draft before my lunch hour was over.

What is it about the mystery/crime genre that you find rewarding as a writer?

The greatest compliment to any chef is that you can’t stop eating. Even if you’re full, it’s just so damn delicious, you keep coming back for more until you collapse into a stupor on the couch. Ok, that might be a little specific to me, but you get the point. This genre lends itself to that kind of constructive gluttony more than any other. Mystery and crime writing and the techniques—for instance, building to the cliff-hanger that ends the chapter—keep us coming back for more, and ultimately that kind of addiction to what you write has got to be tremendously rewarding for any writer. 

Your victim is a city auditor. Any link to your own day job there? 

I’ve been through a few audits at work, and I must admit that from time to time, I’ve had daydreams involving auditors and crossbows, vials of poison or vicious escaped zoo animals. But for the most part, my involvement with audit staff has been professional. After all, someone has to come down from the hills after that battle is over to shoot the wounded.
What inspired the title of your story? 

There was a song a few years back by the band REM called “What’s the Frequency Kenneth?”. It was about a real-life incident in which the former CBS news anchor Dan Rather was attacked on the street by two very disturbed people who kept yelling that phrase at Rather as they beat him. I came up with the title after giving a name to the victim: Kenneth MacDonald. I had a vague notion that the plot of the book that could be written from this first page could involve some connection between the auditor’s work looking at the homicide squad and the frequency with which some detectives were doing some kind of nefarious activity. 

What's the first thing you plan to do with your new iPad?

First, wrestle it from my wife’s hands. Then, try to write the rest of the story.

Thanks to everyone who participated in the Canada Writes Page Turner Challenge, and a special thank-you to the Crime Writers of Canada, who read through each and every one of your entries. We had a creepy good time this month! 

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