Friday, August 26, 2011

Guest Post: Interviewing author Lou Allin

How/why did you start to write?

At five, I handed my mother a folded note reading "No." She must have wondered what she'd gotten herself into after trying for seven years to get pregnant.

Shortly after, I started writing poems about my white mice. "Whose teeth are gone and have to live/on Maypo 'cause he's sensitive?" my mouse." Most of them were named for classic film stars like Errol Flynn and Bette Davis. Did I mention that my father was a film booker? Not a bookie, like some thought.

About nine with a printing set, I started my own newspaper: The Nine Year Old. Next year, The Ten Year Old. Kind of a pattern.

In love with the Hardy boys from ages nine to thirteen, I wrote in a blue book a little mystery "novel" called The Mystery of the Secret Passageway. Mid-point, my handwriting changes from print to cursive. It was illustrated with side-burned, pompadoured young men seen from the side, proving why I am no good at art. A stick man's my limit.

Then some lugubrious poems in high school. "Misery, companion mine, to my depths you do entwine and crush my soul, a torch of wine."

But when I got to university in 1963 and majored in English, I gave up all hope of writing my own work until I got an electric typewriter in the late Seventies. I published 60 poems, moved into short stories with a computer in 1985, and into novels in the Nineties.

How did you become an author?

My first two mysteries were taken by RendezVous Press in 1998, and Northern Winters are Murder was published in 2000, Blackflies are Murder following in 2002. Blackflies was shortlisted for the Arthur Ellis Award for Best Novel. It was also my shortest novel. Perhaps the judges were telling me something because I haven't been shortlisted after nine books in total.

What was your first published piece?

I had a rash of poems taken and was even paid twenty-five US bucks by the National Enquirer for four lines about toothpaste, but I'll name "A Literary Vampire," which was taken by The Vampire Journal. If I'd stuck with vampires in my novels, I'd be rich now. Who could have known back in 1980?

What did you do before embarking on your writing career? Was it an asset to your writing? How?

I made the big mistake of getting way too much education, a PhD in English literature at a time when the universities had hired everyone they'd need for the next twenty-five years! That's what many of 800 rejection letters said. After banging my head against the wall teaching high school one year down by the Ohio River and then working full-time as a slave-labour adjunct at two universities ninety mile apart, I found out I still had Canadian citizenship (I'd spent 30 years in Ohio) and found a job at Cambrian College in Sudbury, Ontario. It was dead boring, but they paid me well and didn't work me too hard. I was lucky to be able to build a house on a gigantic meteor-crater lake and stay in the area until I retired in 2005.

 What inspires you?

Living on that breathtaking lake eight miles across and having hundreds of miles of Crown land in my backyard inspired me to write the Belle Palmer series set in the Nickel Capital. I had my own private trails tramped one footstep at a time over twenty years. With my German shepherds, I hiked in the summer and snowshoed in the winter. I also took my snowmobile right off the front lawn across the frozen lake, where I could drive for hours in three directions. Five wolves walked by one cold night. Moose and bear were everywhere. In the woods were my altars and my demi-gods, the trees, lakes, rivers, and bogs. You know you're in the north when your host wants to show you his favourite swamp!

Please share one of you successful marketing techniques

The Tourist Centre at the edge of Sudbury has all my books. I ship them from Toronto, and they sell them and send the cheques to BC. On good summer days, they get three hundred visitors.

 (Lou accepting the Murdoch award.
'The Derrick Murdoch is a special achievement award for contribution to the crime genre.' -- from the Crime Writers of Canada website )

Parting words

An author needs tools, talent, and tenacity. The first you can learn, the second you can hone, and the third is open to anyone who keeps at it. Check out Alan Bradley and his successful series about Flavia if you don't believe me. An "overnight" success at over seventy.

One of the best fiction-writing books on the market is Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne. Recently Chevy Stevens hired Browne to edit her book, Still Missing. Chevy got an agent and a six-figure contract as well as selling many foreign rights. Her second book's just out. Is there a movie in the works?



Summer on Vancouver Island gets off to a rough start when the body of a homeless man is discovered in the bush. RCMP Corporal Holly Martin notices drug paraphernalia nearby, and the autopsy reveals death from a combination of heroin and a synthetic oplate. She is soon led to believe that there is something of value hidden at the site of his death. As Holly struggles to connect the dots, a record drought heats up the vacation paradise, and one match could send Canada's Caribbean into flames.


He snugged the rubber tubing around his arm, laughing as his body cooperated with a bulging vein. Born to shoot. A crust from a sore on one elbow was still pin, but he read no warning of infection. Soft beds and softer woman on the way. The skags he'd met on the road were all bones and dry. Then he filled the syringe, tipped up and tapped to get the air out, plunged into the vein and pulled back with blood. Then back again until gone. Warm fire, like being in a hot tub. Cold water the first time taught a rough lesson. He breathed deeply. As he closed his eyes, he could still hear that other stupid song:  "Stronger than Spain and France." Talk about a brain fart. What did it all mean, anyways, and who the hell gave a shit? He gasped, dimly aware that he wasn't getting enough oxygen. His nostrils were stuffed from the humidity. He tried short, shallow breaths. But everything was slowing down, like a wind-up clock. He dropped the syringe and clutched at his throat. Before he could telegraph his brain one last time, the bellows in his skinny chest hung limp, and his head lolled. An adventurous ant climbed aboard his hand and headed for a tasty piece of dried skin.



Cowboy drifter Rick Cooper is on the run when he meets Gladys Ryan, an eccentric widow who offers him a ride in her classic 1970 Mustang. Before long she convinces him to help run her late husband's hunting lodge. With the promise of a share of the season's profits, Rick is happy to go along. But when Gladys fails to keep her promises at season's end, everything goes sideways.


This mirage was made to order. A cherry-red Mustang Mach. One sat by the side of the road in the Mojave Desert. Waves of heat rolled off the asphalt like x-rays. Its hood was up.
My eyes were sore from squinting. One said of my throat was tickling the other. I took the last swig from a plastic gallon I'd brought at Twenty nine Palms. Scored a three-pointer against a saguaro. The jug rolled like a tumbleweed. I had been hitching on I-10 east from LA. They might be looking for me on the interstate, so I took this back road through the Sheep Hole Mountains toward Vegas. Not one damn car in an hour.
Cowboy boots hate asphalt and sand. Fact is, they're not big on walking period. I hoisted my duffel over my shoulder and headed for the car. The sun beat down like honey. Too dry in the desert for sweat to even bead. Thank God it was April, not July.
"Damn it to hell!" a rough voice yelled. The rear plate read Ontario. My mirage was near perfect. Canucks are helpful, and they'll swallow hard-luck stories. Then the hood slammed down.
A wiry woman barely five feet with a wide straw hat and sunglasses puffed on a cigarillo. Female. Three for three. Leading with my "trust me" grin, I approached.


Animal mystery author and blogger Sheila Boneham is hosts Lou Allin on her blog. They talk about the importance Lou's dogs played in her writing life.