Characters in Crime
Don't forget the parties
Canada Writes has once again partnered with the Crime Writers of Canada to present a series of mystery, murder and mayhem.
As part of the series, we are presenting Q&As with the regional chapters of the CWC so aspiring crime writers across the country can get a glimpse into the activities and advantages of becoming a member.
Read our Q&A with Vicki Delany, Regional VP of the Ottawa/Eastern Ontario chapter.
Photo: Vicki Delany and Mel Bradshaw at Word on the Street.
Tell us about the activities you do for members in your region.
Our major initiative every year is the Arthur Ellis shortlist event in April. This year we had a hugely successful night at the Ottawa library with a panel discussion on hard-boiled vs. laughs in mysteries and a Debaters-style debate moderated by Ottawa radio personality John Holt, which discussed (argued?):
"Whereas Canada is under-represented as a setting in literature, Canadian crime writers should use our nation's unique cultural and geographical settings rather than pretending to be American or British."
"Whereas crime fiction titles are consistently amongst the most popular and bestselling novels, be it resolved that crime fiction is superior to all other forms of literature."
A lively discussion, to be sure.
Because our region is very spread out covering all of Eastern Ontario it is difficult to organize events in one area, but I have a breakfast or lunch meeting in Ottawa at least once a year to meet with members to hear their concerns and ideas.
We will be participating in the Ottawa Public Library’s Writers Fair on May 24th, meeting people and handing out information and then having a panel discussion on the various sub-genres of crime novels.
How big is your membership? Are there a lot of crime writers in your area? What might differentiate your chapter from other CWC chapters?
We have 44 members in Eastern Ontario and Ottawa. As I said, the area is spread out geographically so it can be difficult to do anything on a face to face basis. Ottawa is a hot spot of Canadian crime writing, with perhaps the greatest concentration of active, involved, published crime writers anywhere. There is never a shortage of book events, launches or parties to go to in Ottawa!
What are the benefits of being part of a national organization?
On a personal basis, when I decided to become a writer about the last reason I did it was because I thought I’d meet interesting people and make new friends. But that has turned out to be the very best part. I cherish the many, many friends I have made, from all across Canada. Whether I’m travelling to Victoria or Halifax (haven’t yet made it to Newfoundland) or just to Toronto, I have writer friends I can stay with and spend time with. Invaluable. As it happens, in June I am going to the NWT and the Yukon with my friend and fellow CWC member Barbara Fradkin as part of a book tour. The Yukon CWCers have been invaluable in helping us set up our schedule of appearances.
What are the top reasons you would recommend an aspiring crime writer to become a member of the CWC?
For the people. The CWC is a professional organization for professional writers. Non-published writers are welcome as associate members. Every profession has its organizations, because we all know that networking and contacts are important. Not only to make contacts, as I said above, but to keep in touch with what’s happening in the crime-writing world. And the parties—don’t forget the parties.
There are a lot of people who experiment with the genre of crime writing these days—what are the criteria for being called a “crime writer”?
I tend to take that definition very broadly. A crime writer, to me, is someone who has written a crime novel. A crime novel is a novel in which a crime is committed and the focus of the characters is on solving the mystery of the crime, recovering from the crime, or in other ways dealing with the fallout from the crime. The crime may not even appear to be the primary focus of the book or of the characters but ultimately it does have to play an important part in their lives. I detest the phrase “murder mystery” because I believe a crime novel doesn’t have to 1) be a mystery and 2) doesn’t have to involve a murder. In one of my books (I won’t say which) no one is murdered and there is no mystery as to who’s done what to who or why. But it is still a crime novel. A serious crime has been committed and the characters are attempting to put their world back to rights.
What is it about this crime writing that personally inspires you as a writer?
Crime novels, it has been said, show the human psyche under pressure. Crime novels take (usually) normal people and put them through a heck of a lot. Some survive, some do not. Physically as well as mentally or morally.
Crime novels allow the reader (and the writer) to ask him or herself: what would I do in this situation? What would I do if this happened to me? How far would I go to save my child/defeat my enemy/get revenge/save myself? What would I do for money/for love?
Would I do the right thing, or would I fail?
A crime novel presents a venue for an author to explore the human psyche—why do people do what they do? How is it that when presented with identical situations, one person is corrupted and another maintains her integrity; one person is hardly affected by violence and another is changed forever? Why is one man violent and another kind?
Put characters under pressure, then stand back and see what happens.
Vicki Delany is one of Canada’s most prolific and varied crime writers. Her newest novel is More than Sorrow, a Gothic thriller. She also writes the Smith & Winters police procedural series for Poisoned Pen Press, which has been optioned for Canadian TV.
Vicki is a member of the Capital Crime Writers, The Writers Union of Canada, and is on the board of the Crime Writers of Canada and the Wolfe Island Scene of the Crime Festival.