Thursday, December 27, 2012

Guest Post: Author Sharon A. Crawford

How/why did you start to write?

I have to blame it on that essay writing contest in grade 7. Haven’t a clue what I wrote about but the contest was sponsored by the Knights of Columbus, I came in second, and for that my parents and I got a free dinner. After that I dabbled in poetry in high school but also wanted to be a journalist and go to J-School at Ryerson University in Toronto. However, life got in the way. My father died when I was 16; my mother, who had returned to work, had to quit because of her arthritis. So, somebody had to go out to work fast. After grade 12 I went to business school for a year and worked as a secretary/clerk during the day. By night (evenings, actually) I took journalism and creative writing courses at Ryerson and learned from one of the great journalists there – the late Paul Nowak. I still remember his two favourite comments on my manuscripts – “Who he?” and “So what?”

How did you become an author?

I’m presuming you mean “writer” as from what I understand “author” refers to book author and that came much later than freelance writer/journalist. My then husband and I were living in Aurora, Ontario and in those days (mid to late 1970s) community newspapers were thriving independents. I had sent a humorous personal essay to a local weekly, Topic, in Bradford, Ontario. My husband convinced me to pitch a story about a noisy Aurora ratepayers group to Topic. Me pitch a story? I hadn't stored up any nerve back then. So, with my husband standing over me for encouragement I phoned the editor and pitched the story. When he expressed interest, I got a little courage and mentioned the humorous piece. Both got published.

What was your first published piece?

The ratepayers group story and the humorous essay – what the latter was about escapes my memory as it started a series of more humorous essays for the same publication.

Where was it published?

Bradford Topic

How long ago?

1976, so 36 years ago (Ouch!)

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

In my secretarial/clerk career I worked for the Toronto Police Services (then Toronto Police Force) in Morality, Planning and Research and at the Police College. Yes, it was a big help in that it helped inspire me to write in the mystery/crime area and years after I left the force I had valuable contacts for research. This helped a lot with the four linked stories in my short story collection Beyond the Tripping Point.  I did a lot of interviewing of police officers in Toronto and in York Region (which Cooks Region in those linked stories is very loosely based on). For York Region I had no police connections but I was well known as a local journalist. Also I learned shorthand at the business school and used it in my secretarial career. However, it didn’t transfer over well to note-taking for stories as I found out when covering my first Aurora town hall meeting featuring a panel of six. When the panel took a brake, I checked my shorthand notes . And couldn't read most of them. I quickly learned to use my own version of speed writing. Typing skills also came in handy

What inspires you?

Lots – good and bad. On the “bad” (or negative side, if you wish) I get upset at a lot of the injustices in the world, some of them personal. A few examples of the former are when young people die before their parents whether through disease, murder or suicide, and murders and other crimes in real life give me ideas. But so do the absurdities in life. For example, when I originally wrote “The Couch” the first story in Beyond the Tripping Point,  I had been reading several mystery novels where the protagonists always seemed to have trouble getting enough well-paying clients to make ends meet. So, I went to the opposite, a young private investigator with too many clients who tries to downsize by conventional means and when that doesn't work, resorts to crime.

I guess that brings in the personal. I’m inspired by some of the things that happen in my own life –they give me story ideas. “No Breaks” came from travelling with a friend to her family cottage when her breaks failed and she had to use the parking break. We tried to find a gas station with a bay to get the breaks fixed. The breaks were fixed but that’s where reality ends. The two friends, Millie and Jessica, in “No Breaks” are not my friend and I. The story is told from Millie’s point of view – she is the driver. And (confession time here) I don’t drive. Many of my stories have driving and cars. I just do my research.

Please share one of your successful author platform building technique

Writing groups and organizations – I’ve joined several and started a writing critique group – The East End Writers’ Group – after I moved back to Toronto.  I am and have been on the executive of most of these groups and have mixed with and talked to many other writers. There is often a cross-over of writers from some of the groups. Writers love to help other writers, especially in Crime Writers of Canada members (including you) and the Canadian Authors Association Toronto branch where I am currently Writer in Residence. Talking with other writers, helping them and just getting yourself out in the writing community – both in person and through social media works. It also helps to talk to publishers and literary agents in person at workshops, panel discussions (and getting yourself on writing panels is good, too) and conferences. It’s that personal touch and trying to build a relationship. That helped me get the publisher, Blue Denim Press, for Beyond the Tripping Point. The editor there used to come to my East End Writers’ Group – at one point we even traded manuscripts (a memoir in my case; short stories in his) for evaluation. He was familiar with my work when I submitted some of the short stories earlier this year. However, the writing also counted.  So, bottom line, you may not get publishers and literary agents you talk to to publish or represent your book, but they will look at your manuscript faster. Also from all these writing connections, I get referrals, not just for writing but for book editing and teaching writing. That’s how I got my gig teaching fiction and memoir writing workshops with branches of the Toronto Public Library, which in turn has led to a recommendation in both the proposal to read from Beyond the Tripping Point at library branches and a recommendation in the cover letter going around to library branch heads. Again, the personal touch and building personal relationships.

Any regrets about your writing career?

Yes, and I have to paraphrase something Rick Blechta (The Fallen One, Dundurn Press, 2012) said to me at the Toronto Word on the Street last month – what took me so long and it was about time. But the need to earn a living and pay the bills was at the forefront, so the creative side of my writing often had to get squeezed in.

Parting words

Don’t give up – even with a lot of rejection slips – they make good wall decorations for the den. If you are time-challenged, make time to write. Don’t stop writing – the  more  you write the more your writing evolves and the more you evolve and get creative satisfaction.

Book blurb:

Beyond the Tripping Point (Blue Denim Press, fall 2012) is the debut mystery short story collection by Sharon A. Crawford. Four of the stories provide the kick-off for a series of mystery novels featuring fraternal twin private investigators, the gay Bast Overture and divorced mouthy Dana Bowman, their quirky friends, family, colleagues, assorted enemies and villains, and of course, crime. Nine more short stories feature frenetic detectives, diabolic villains, and other eccentric characters. The situations bounce from hilarious to macabre, and the pace is always unrelenting in this collection by a master crafter of the genre.

“Crawford’s witty writing style is crisp and savagely funny, chronicling segments of a blasted world where husbands and wives, mothers and children, sisters and brothers, psychos and sadists—with cops never too far behind—sandstorm through the potholes of life.”
Bianca Lakoseljac, author of Summer of the Dancing Bear

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