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Characters in Crime

Networking, mentorships, and the psychology of villains

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 Pat Flewwelling, Regional VP of the Quebec/Atlantic chapter. 

Tell us about the activities you do for members in your region. 
In the past, I’ve hosted author’s events in Montreal, especially around the time of the shortlist announcements for the Arthur Ellis (mid-April), but because the provinces in this region are so far-flung, it’s hard to coordinate events outside my own home neighbourhood. Otherwise, I try to support our authors virtually when and however I can (i.e. retweeting members’ events or book launches).  If I had a million dollars, I’d be visiting all our provinces and attending events in person!  Alas…

How big is your membership? Are there a lot of crime writers in your area? What might differentiate your chapter from other CWC chapters?  
What’s really distinct about this chapter is the incredible cultural, historical and linguistic diversity we have, spread out over a vast geographical area.  We have Francophone, Anglophone and Allophone writers and readers, all coming from various global backgrounds across different points in history—some whose family histories predate Confederation, and some who have only just arrived.  We have about 35 people spread out over four provinces, so we have plenty of room to grow.

What are the benefits of being part of a national organization? 
The biggest advantage of a national organization is again, diversity—not only in terms of language, culture and subgenre, but also in terms of expertise in various fields. Our organization also has members who are readers, aspiring writers, reviewers, book sellers, agents, as well as established authors, and many of our members will share information through social media (i.e. posting links to current events in the publishing industry, citing tips on what not to do when submitting your query, or blogging about certain aspects of the writer’s craft).  Joining an organization like this allows a member to network, and to start making use of or adding to a pool of knowledge that will help all Canadian writers.  This is especially important now, what with the entire publishing industry evolving under us on a near daily basis.

What are the top reasons you would recommend an aspiring crime writer to become a member of the CWC? 
Oh loads of reasons!  Networking is a big one; the CWC publishes upcoming events in all corners of Canada, including meet-and-greets, book launches, workshops, virtual chats, you name it.  Our mentorship program is another great reason to join. It’s a very small program right now, with limited spaces available, but after two years’ membership, our unpublished members have an opportunity to engage one-on-one with an established author. Our mentors are unpaid volunteers with limited time, but it’s a fantastic opportunity for them to give back to the writing community and to help raise the standard and visibility of crime writing in Canada.  And as for the aspiring writing, knowledgeable and objective feedback can be the difference between years of frustration and that big Aha! moment.

There are a lot of people who experiment with the genre of crime writing these dayswhat are the criteria for being called a “crime writer”?
It’s simpler than most people think.  Is the writer telling me about a crime, whether it happened, is happening or might happen? Then it’s crime writing. It doesn’t matter if the story is true or fictional, set in the past or in the future, or in Canada or on Mars. The story might not even involve a murder;  it could be a kidnapping, a major cause of fraud, or an art heist, just for a few examples.  As long as the story has someone who does, or is doing, or is trying to do something criminal, then it’s crime writing, and the author is a crime writer. 

But when it comes to marketing (i.e. which shelf in Chapters), I think it comes down to the focus: is it a story about life among warring extraterrestrial nations, and there just happens to be a murder aboard ship? Then it belongs on a Science Fiction shelf. Is it the investigation of a murder that just happens to be set on the International Space Station? Then it belongs in Crime Fiction. I think it comes down to a question of which audience are you trying to reach.

What is it about this crime writing that personally inspires you as a writer?
When I was young, I grew up surrounded by superheroes—cartoons, comics, movies, TV, it didn’t matter.  As I grew up, I started looking for more down-to-earth heroes, real-life human beings who put their lives on the line to make the world safer for everyone else. After that, I started wondering what made villains tick—what made them so evil in the first place?  And then I began seeing how all heroes were tarnished in one way or another, and yet there was always something, some small thing, that kept them from becoming villains themselves.  For me, it’s psychology of the hero and the villain that inspires me as both a reader and a writer of crime.

Pat Flewwelling is the author of Judge Not, a nonfiction crime story published in 2013. In 2008, she was shortlisted for the Arthur Ellis Award for Best Unpublished First Novel (The Unhanged Arthur).  She’s the current QC/Atl RVP and has been for the last three years. Her newest decopunk novel, The Fog of Dockside City:  The Obliteration Machine, launches in June, and all proceeds will go toward adult literacy and numeracy programs organized by the YMCA.  

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