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Characters in Crime

Crime goes local

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 Debra Purdy Kong, Regional VP of the BC/Yukon chapter.

Photo: Don Hauka and Robin Spano at Word on the Street, 2011.

Tell us about the activities you do for members in your region. 
My activities center around event planning, which includes arranging volunteers to man our CWC table at Vancouver’s annual Word on the Street festival. I also gather panelists for our Arthur Ellis shortlist night, and help organize a mini conference in Victoria to celebrate National Crime Writing Month. I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have an amazing pool of volunteers with a lot of expertise at event planning, particularly with the Victoria events.

I also connect members with librarians and booksellers who are looking for writers to take part in speaking engagements and readings. Another duty is to keep members informed about various events nationally, such as the annual AGM and the Bloody Words conference.

How big is your membership? Are there a lot of crime writers in your area? What might differentiate your chapter from other CWC chapters?
The BC/Yukon chapter has about 70 members, and the largest group live in the Lower Mainland. The second largest group live on Vancouver Island, but we have members from all over BC, and as far away as Whitehorse and Yellowknife.

Although geography is probably a challenge for all of the chapters, BC members are especially hampered by the expense of travelling between Vancouver Island and the Lower Mainland to attend events. This is why we try to split events between the two areas. 

Another distinctive fact about BC/Yukon members is that a fair number of us set our books in British Columbia and the Yukon, or incorporate these settings, in our work. When it comes to settings, many writers understandably prefer to use settings they know. 

What are the benefits of being part of a national organization? 
One of the largest benefits of being part of a national organization is the networking opportunities. Honestly, it’s much easier to write and promote oneself when there’s a website for all members, for example, and access to promotion opportunities we might not have even considered on our own.

Equally important is the support you receive when you’re part of something larger than your own area. Sharing ideas, experiences, and pooling resources means that we’re all raising our profiles together. When you attend events and meet other writers, you quickly find yourself among new friends who often come out to support your book launches and readings. If we have a question, or need help with something, there’s always someone who can help you, or direct you to the right source. If a writer is going it alone, it can take years to build the types of connections you’ll receive through the CWC in just a few months.

What are the top reasons you would recommend an aspiring crime writer to become a member of the CWC? 
The top two reasons I’d recommend an aspiring writer comes down to support and networking, as mentioned above. It’s important for aspiring writers to learn from those of us who’ve been there. Meeting others face-to-face is enlightening, inspiring, and, frankly, a lot of fun. These connections can remove some of the uncertainty, doubt, and frustration new writers often feel when stalled midway through their first manuscript. Sometimes, all it takes is a chat, or attendance at an event to recharge and regain the confidence needed to keep going.

The supportive part of the organization really shines through our mentoring program. We have a terrific program that matches new writers up with experienced writers for one-on-one guidance, which a number of new writers, and their mentors, have found rewarding.

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”?
With all of the crime writing subgenres and cross-genres that have emerged over the years, criteria for being called a crime writer seems murkier than it once was. Basically, a crime writer is someone whose story centers around the solving of a crime, whether it’s a true crime or fictional, young adult or adult.

This doesn’t mean all books centered around a crime will be labeled “crime fiction” or “mystery” or “thriller” in bookstores. To Kill a Mockingbird, for instance, is a one of the best crime stories ever written. The story wouldn’t be nearly as compelling without a crime or the quest to determine the accused’s innocence or guilt. A crime, the quest for the truth, and resolution are all crime-writing criteria, however, great crime fiction offers so much more. It crosses boundaries and offers compelling stories built on memorable characters, intriguing subplots, strong motivation, and so forth.

What is it about this crime writing that personally inspires you as a writer?
It all started with Nancy Drew many years ago. I was living in Surrey, BC in the early 60s, and in those days there were no public libraries. So, every month the bookmobile would come around, and I’d climb aboard the dark green bus with my library card and look for those yellow spines.

In my mid-twenties, I took criminology courses at Douglas College, and thus began a lifelong interest in the study of crime and criminal behavior. Although I received my diploma, I never pursued a career in this field. I had done enough volunteer work by then to realize that most of the career options were too emotionally demanding for me, so I chose to write about crime instead.

The appeal of crime writing is a constant exploration of why people do the things they do (the same reason I took criminology in the first place). In fiction, I get to put things right. The bad guys are always caught, justice is served, and although my main characters often have to deal with the ramifications of their actions and behavior, everyone learns something and becomes a little better for it at the end of the day. As we all know too well, this doesn’t happen in the real life. Maybe it’s my way of coping with all the injustices out there. Whatever the reason, I’ve never regretted crime writing, and I’d like to think I’m a better, more compassionate person for it.

Debra Purdy Kong has a Diploma of Associate in Criminology. In addition to numerous clerical jobs, raising a family and volunteer work, she’s also the author of the Alex Bellamy white-collar crime mysteries Taxed to Death and Fatal EncryptionLater employment in the security field as a patrol and communications officer provided inspiration for her first Casey Holland transit security mystery, The Opposite of Dark. The second book, Deadly Accusations, appeared in 2012, and the third, Beneath the Bleak New Moon, will be released in September, 2013.


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