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Characters in Crime

Writing crime in the Tor/SO

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 Catherine Astolfo, Regional VP of the Toronto/Southwest Ontario chapter.

Tell us about the activities for members in your region.
The Toronto/Southern Ontario region is a feisty, energetic bunch. Fondly known as Tor/SO, our arms and legs are all over the place. We stretch from Windsor to Scarborough and into the Great Lakes and north to Alaska…not really Alaska, but let’s just say we cover a huge territory.

Our activities tend to revolve a bit around the "big city”—Toronto—but we do reach out our tentacles in different ways. For instance, we have Books ‘n Beverages, organized by individual members, that involve authors and beverages of a social nature. (Sometimes we don’t even bother with the books.) These events can happen in any corner of the Tor/SO, in bars, libraries, bookstores, or somebody’s house. They serve to network, share, and occasionally sell a book.

Our biggest events are the Toronto Word on the Street and the Arthur Ellis Awards Toronto Shortlist Event at the Manulife Indigo. During the winter holidays, we have a big party in combination with Sisters in Crime Toronto. We always have presents and tons of food so the attendance is great. 

How big is your membership? What might differentiate your chapter from other CWC chapters?
We are the biggest chapter, at least in terms of numbers. In area, some of the others are fatter than we are. Tor/SO has about 140 members, which is not quite half of the whole kit and kaboodle of CWC. There are tons of crime writers in the region. I’m not quite sure whether this is due to all the crime in the big cities of the golden horseshoe, or whether it’s the fault of several casinos in places like Windsor, Brantford and Niagara Falls. Maybe it’s because there are so many big publishing houses in Toronto. At any rate, Tor/SO is home to many very well known, internationally bestselling Canadian authors.

Our large concentration of members, many within driving distance to the city of Toronto, makes our region quite different from those chapters with smaller numbers and larger distances.  For instance, in-person networking and meetings are easier to arrange. More of our members can come to the Arthur Ellis Awards shortlist event and the Awards gala. Author events are well attended. Publishers and agents can be present more often at various events in order to support their authors because they’re in the same area. Everything is simply larger and louder.     

What are the benefits of being part of a national organization?
Promoting our Canadian culture is extremely important, as I know you agree. Crime Writers of Canada is one of those organizations that exist to do so. It’s therefore imperative that we are a national group. We are fairly small (in comparison to our huge southerly neighbour’s associations for instance) but we are mighty.

Our Arthur Ellis Awards, our outstanding website, and our members from sea to sea are extraordinary ambassadors for mystery and crime writing. Not just any old mystery/crime writing, though—the kind that is unabashedly Canadian, with our sensibilities and often our settings. Thus we are cultural signposts.

What are the top reasons you would recommend an aspiring crime writer to become a member of the CWC?
Crime Writers of Canada has a mentorship program for our new writers. Having been involved in it myself, I highly recommend the partnership both for the aspiring author and the more established one. It’s a terrific synergy that inspires on both sides. Most “mentees” have reported that they've learned an enormous amount and many have gone forward to publish.

The other reasons are the same as for any other writer, at whatever stage in their career: networking, support, encouragement, information about the literary/publishing world, and a great bunch of people to hang around with (I do mean with whom to hang around). Emphasis on the hang, if we’re talking about our Arthurs.

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”?
There really is one big criterion: you must have a crime in your book/story/novella. The misdeed can be anything from stealing candy from a baby to murder. In some subgenres (such as a thriller), the crime can be something that’s about to be committed and the hero/ine’s job is to thwart it.

The great thing about crime writing is that there are so many interesting subgenres. Mystery, comedy, cozy, thriller, psychological suspense, police procedural—I could go on, but you get the idea. As long as there is an offense against the law (moral or legal) committed in the novel, it’s very likely to be classed as crime writing. 

What is it about this crime writing that personally inspires you as a writer?
The major reason I love writing crime is that I am able to explore social justice issues without preaching. I can infuse the story with a lesson about greed, for instance, and still make the novel suspenseful and thrilling. The fact that the genre is so broad, too, gives me a license to get really creative, extend my writing skills, take risks in the subject matter and deal with some very meaty subjects. I love the way crime writers can present characters with such depth and layers, yet still build in a fascinating puzzle to solve. We all like to solve a puzzle!

As well, as a reader (and writer) I like to be bamboozled or scared, secure in the knowledge that someone will figure it out, prevent the crime, or catch the bad guys in the end. Justice and security prevail in fiction where they often do not in real life. 


Catherine Astolfo.jpeg
Catherine Astolfo is the author of The Emily Taylor Mysteries, published by Imajin Books. In 2012, she won the Arthur Ellis Award for Best Short Crime Story in Canada. She’s a Past President, current Tor/SO RVP, and Derrick Murdoch Award winner for service to Crime Writers of Canada. Her new novel, Sweet Karoline, will come out in July.

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