Friday, May 30, 2014

Guest Post Heather Shumaker, non-fiction author

How/why did you start to write?

I started writing dictated books as a child before I could read or write.  Luckily, I had teachers who understood that a love of stories and storytelling was far more important than learning the ABCs.  Thanks to them, I became a storyteller first – that all-important skill of developing “voice” before it got smothered by teaching writing.

How did you become an author?

I knew I wanted to be an author by age 4.  It took me a few decades to do it.  One reason it took so long is simply because of my deep admiration for authors. I feared I couldn’t live up to my own high expectations.  It takes “self-confidence guts” to take your writing seriously.  After you do that, you have to take drastic steps to carve out room for writing in your life.  By this I mean a professional attitude toward your writing dreams – plonking down money to attend writing conferences, devoting time to a writing routine, and learning as much as you can about the business of publishing.  For years I thought I’d write when I had more time, but the reality is no one ever has time to write first books.  We are always busy with jobs and raising kids and caring for parents and doing the dishes, and…  We just have to recognize that NOW is the time we have for writing.  For me, that meant getting up early at 5:30am before the kids woke up and writing 1- 1 ½  hours every day.  It also meant paying for daycare so I could spend blocks of time on writing.

I followed the traditional publishing path to become an author.  I spent 2-3 years researching agents and the publishing process, took an online course on writing book proposals, attended ASJA conferences in New York, and joined a writing group.  By the time the information presented in conference sessions and magazine articles about finding an agent began to feel repetitive and “old news,” I knew I was ready.  I sent out 6 queries through the regular slush pile and got 4 agents interested, so I was able to interview them and choose one.  That also told me I was ready.  I think a lot of authors jump too fast and don’t spend time doing their homework.

What was your first published piece? -Where was it published? -How long ago?

My first pieces were “freebie” magazine stories.  No pay, but publication.  My first paid article was an essay about worms in Organic Gardening back in 2000. I was so happy I blew all the money on a plane ticket to Paris.  It was a great reward – to mark that milestone. 

I turned to writing books after magazines cut back their freelancing budgets.  My first book It’s OK Not to Share…And Other Renegade Rules for Raising Competent and Compassionate Kids was published by Tarcher/ Penguin in 2012.  I’ve been promoting it ever since and my publisher has just asked for a sequel due out in 2015.

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

My work was primarily in the nonprofit world. I worked for 15 years with environmental groups doing land conservation.  I often think this background was a tremendous asset because it made me realize how incredibly busy editors and agents are.  I always felt busy and overworked at the nonprofits and guarded my time carefully.  This background helped me develop professional business skills and helped me approach agents and publishers respectfully. My writing may be creative, but sharing it with the world follows accepted rules of business courtesy.  Nothing new here, but many writers seem to think business can’t coexist with the muse.

What inspires you?

My first book was a parenting book – a renegade one that questions parenting conventions like automatic sharing, saying ‘sorry’ when you don’t mean it, and limiting rough play.  I also write children’s fiction and stories about the environment.  I’m inspired to help those who can’t help themselves – that includes young children and the environment. I think my own life expectancy inspires me; there are so many books I want to write and only a limited time to create them.

Please share one of your successful author platform building techniques

First, you write your book.  Then you speak your book.  I’ve found numerous speaking engagements, which lead to more speaking engagements, and now invitations to headline conferences and be the keynote speaker. But first I had to reach out to local libraries, book clubs, and parent groups and speak for free or for a modest honorarium.  Also, produce quality work and ideas.  Then readers will promote it for you because they get so excited about your book.  My book was chosen as a Best Parenting Book of 2012 by Parents magazine’s, and readers become strong fans.

Parting words

I offer book proposal coaching (for nonfiction authors) and highly recommend working one-on-one with someone to create your first proposal. Nonfiction is easier to break into than fiction, so if you have an interest in both, try starting your publication path with the nonfiction book idea.

Feel free to keep up with author news and renegade parenting ideas through my blog Starlighting Mama and website where you can sign up for a free author newsletter.  Links to popular blog posts include Why we say “No” to Homework and Throw Away your Timer: Why Kids Learn More When They Don’t “Share.”  Or by Facebook at Heather Shumaker Writer.

Buy the book at any bookstore or online.  Plentiful reviews here.

It’s OK Not to Share…

Tired of being the referee?  Eager for new ideas to guide kids through wild emotions and squabbles? “Renegade Parenting” breaks down age-old parenting conventions through 29 renegade rules.  Based on the philosophy of an unorthodox Ohio preschool, this book shares child development principles through a unique blend of forty years on-the-ground experience with evidence from emerging neuroscience.  Learn counterintuitive ideas about sharing, saying ‘sorry,’ coping with angry outbursts, rough play, social rejection, toy weapons and other topics.  Be prepared to change your mind.

"An insightful, sensible and compassionate book full of downright revolutionary ideas." –

"Brilliant. . . . It's OK Not to Share is an enlightening book that will make you take a second look at everything you believe." –

"Rarely do parenting books trigger in me an exhale. But the title alone for Heather Shumaker’s new book came like that rare August breeze." –The Washington Post "On Parenting"

"Did you read the title and think, what the heck? Me, too. Not only did I read it to figure out the title, I underlined about a third–it's that good." –Melissa Taylor,

Heather Shumaker is the author of It’s OK Not to Share…And Other Renegade Rules for Raising Competent and Compassionate Kids (Tarcher/ Penguin August 2012), named a Best Parenting Book of 2012 by Parents magazine, and regional bestseller. She’s a speaker, journalist, blogger and advocate for free play and no homework for young children.  She’s been featured on Fox & Friends TV, Huffington Post, New York Post, Parenting,, USA Weekend, Wisconsin Public Radio and other media.  Heather is a graduate of Swarthmore College (BA) and University of Wisconsin-Madison (MS) and the mother of two young children.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Writing tips from a writers conference notes by Leanne Dyck

A generous publisher, a knowledgeable panel and an inspiring author were the magic ingredients that made this Crime Writers of Canada (B.C. branch) mini conference a 'must attend' event.

Ruth Linka
Associate Publisher
Orca Publishing

Ruth Linka spoke candidly about a diverse list of topics--what she expects from authors, the steps after your manuscript is accepted, and what type of work her publishing house (Rapid Reads imprint of Orca Publishing) is seeking.
Here is what I heard her say (which might be slightly different from what she actually said)...

-stressed that it's important for authors to connect with their (potential) readers through social networking
-when a publisher sends you a personalized rejection letter it's because they want to see more of your work and that they hope you will continue to submit your work
-after the manuscript is accepted the contract is signed, editing starts, book cover ideas are discussed as well as how to promote the book. This usually takes about a year. Although some publishers may reduce the time to six months.
-Rapid Reads is looking for short work (15 to 20k words) and are focusing on mysteries 
-Ideally the author would have the next book in the series ready so that when the first book of the series is published the first chapter of the second book can be included at the back (Louise Penny does this)
-Ruth likes to see good writing, an interesting plot and characters--and for the protagonist to have a side kick
-most Canadian publishers take a manuscript without an agent
-search title to make sure it isn't being used
-catch the publisher's interest in the cover letter

Conference organizer Phyllis Smallman introduces the panel
Left to right:  Lou Allin, Benni Chisholm, Kay Stewart (moniator) and Stanley Evans

When writing a mystery what should the author focus on?
Lou Allin:  Is the crime going to be solved? What other problems will be encountered?
Stanley:  Think in terms of 'must' and 'cannot'--as in, the protagonist must solve the crime because... but cannot solve it because...

How do you make a book suspenseful?
Benni Chisholm:  wrote one of her books in the first person that way the reader only knows what the protagonist knows. She wrote another book in the third person and she wrote it in such a way that the reader knew who the antagonist was. This made the reader worry.
Lou Allin advised against starting chapters with the character getting up or end with the character going to bed.
Lou Allin advised sharing the same thought on every page.

Writing tips?
Stanley:  no outline--writes a detailed synopsis, instead
-all crime books begin with a murder
 -more challenging to write a novel in the lst person so he recommended that beginners write in the 3rd person

Benni:  likes to end each chapter with a cliff hanger. 

Lou:  it's okay to have an unreliable narrator, it's okay to lie to your reader. Even though, the reader has been educated to trust the narrator.

Kay:  get me on the first chapter and flow forward

Phyllis Smallman

Phyllis Smallman began her talk about how to write a best-seller by saying, in order to be a great author you need to be a great reader--learn form the masters.
She recommend that we read best-sellers and study them to determine why they are best-sellers.
Start with a great opening paragraph
Vary the length of your sentences

Recommended writing craft books:
Write Away by Elizabeth George
A Passion for Narrative by Jack Hodgins
Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose
For Writers Only by Sophy Burnham
An Exaltation of Larks by James Lipton
Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Brown & Dave King

Much thanks to the organizers and presenters. (Oh, yes, and to my friend Amber and her husband for making room in their van for me.) I for one, and I know I'm not alone, was brimming over with information and inspiration. And I can't wait until next year...

Sharing my author journey...
I've been giving a lot of thought to what I want to accomplish this summer. 

Friday, May 23, 2014

Guest Post Leann Sweeney

How/why did you start to write?

I always wanted to write but took a different path first, thinking I could never live my dream. But when I started to nudge my children to "follow their dreams" I decided it was time to set an example.

How did you become an author?

I became an author through taking classes, studying, learning from other writers and most importantly reading. I also entered a lot of writing contests because it taught me to follow guidelines that publishers demand. Editors are always looking for a reason to reject a writer because they get so many submissions. I wanted to make sure that I didn't give them an immediate reason to reject me before they read my work.

What was your first published piece?

I believe it was a short story.

Where was it published?

It appeared in a small magazine and I was paid nothing except free copies. But I saw my name in print.

How long ago?

This was in the mid-nineties.

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

I was a registered nurse but I also have a degree in behavioral science. Both those things help me create believable characters.

What inspires you?

Any "what if" question. Anything beautiful that I want to find words to describe. Human nature.

Please share one of your successful author platform building technique

I have to thank the successful authors I knew before I was published. They gave me quotes for my first book—people like Carolyn Hart and Rick Riordan. Their quotes appeared on my covers and I know it helped launch me. It was difficult asking for those quotes because I don't like to impose but it was a step that proved so helpful. I don't hesitate when an editor asks me for a cover quote now.

Parting words

I have two series currently in publication but only one I am writing now—the Cats in Trouble Mysteries with amateur sleuth and quilter Jillian Hart as the heroine. And the little kitty quilts my heroine makes? I've made a few myself.

Leann Sweeney's website


Facebook page


Monday, May 19, 2014

Book Review: Open Secret a mystery by Deryn Collier

Open Secret is Deryn Collier's latest novel featuring her protagonist, ex-solider Bern Fortin.

The mystery begins when a low-level criminal is murdered. Who he is and why he was killed are intriguing questions but I was equally captured by the sub-plots.

As always, I took notes as I read...

I found the sheer number of characters introduced in the beginning of the novel confusing. But the characters are intriguing.

Collier does a good job of amassing sympathy within her readers for Cindy--as well as making me curious as to how this character fits into the story. She's not mentioned in the blurb at the back of the book...

After the abrupt end of his military career Bern has settled into an uneasy peace in his new life in Kootenay Landing--a peace he knows can't last. Out for a fall hike, he discovers Dr. Juniper Sinclair, the town's lone doctor, attempting to revive small-time drug dealer Seymour Melnychuk, who has been shot in the forehead. In a seemingly unrelated incident, Gary Dowd abandons his van while crossing the US border. Gary is a local father of two, an accountant, and a steady, predictable guy. He's also been best friends with Seymour Melnychuk since elementary school.
Bern knows the two disturbing events must be related. Why was Dr. Sinclair already on the scene? Why did Gary Dowd disappear while trying to cross the border? Who truly controls the hills and forests around Kootenay Landing? Berin, with police constable Maddie Schilling, works to uncover the hidden ties that connect the two cases.
Amidst the chaos of the case, Bern's military background comes back to haunt him, forcing him to confront the secrets of his own past that he has long sought to keep buried. Everyone has something to hide, and no one in Kootenay Landing seems willing to talk. But Bern Fortin is well aware that no secret can remain buried forever--not even his own.

which makes me think that Cindy is a minor character. Yet we travel back to the 1980s to watch her grow up. And entire chapters are devoted to her character development. Why? I read on...

In the middle of the third chapter, our focus shifts from a policewoman to an unnamed man. I was lost for a few sentences. I guessed that the man must be Gary--but he's only referred to as 'he'. Seven paragraphs in, he's referred to as Gary and I'm relieved that I guessed right. And then the focus shifts from Gary to Bern. 

Page 31 answers the question of how Cindy fits into the plot. But I know there's more to learn. I read on...

I like how Collier is able to portray life through the eyes of a child.

Page 42 reveals Collier's skill at character development.

It's like being a new neighbour, I'm starting to figure out who everyone is.

I read not only for pleasure but to sharpen my writing skills. Reading Open Secret has helped me learn how to handle a character with an accent...
Tell your reader about the accent (i.e. thick, etc.) and then write words as a person with no accent would say them. Don't try to mimic the accent. There is less chance of getting the accent wrong and appearing comical. And you pay more respect to people with that accent.

Chapter 13 ends on such a powerful note.

Open Secret has a depth of plot as well as layers of clues. Collier uses her book to comment on Canada's treatment of Aboriginal youth and women as well as the poor and those involved in the drug culture.

Other themes...
A fragile woman is not quite as fragile as she appears. 
The strength of women to overcome, to conquer.
The exploitation of the innocent

An Open Secret is like an exposed wound--raw, painful. How do you live with it? How do you heal?
Many characters must struggle with these questions. The reoccurring message is to make your mistake public. Then pick up the pieces and move on.

Thank you, Deryn Collier for his captivating read. I enjoyed it so much that I bought a copy for my mother-in-law.
Friday's Guest:  New York Times best-selling author Leann Sweeney
I'll be attending the Crime Writers of Canada mini conference at the Victoria General Library this Saturday (May 24th) from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. (Mental note:  pack a lunch) 
Will you?
It's free.
And this is my fourth year (I think) attending. Year after year, I've never been disappointed. I come away with a mind loaded down with information and inspiration. And it's information that I can apply to whatever genre I'm writing. 
For more details visit Facebook
Sharing my author journey...
Have you heard, the more submissions you make the less rejection will hurt?
Ever wonder if it's true...

Friday, May 16, 2014

Guest Post Sharon Rowse (historical mystery)

How/why did you start to write?

I love to read and I’ve always written, ever since I can remember. I majored in English and History, because of that love of reading and because I’m fascinated by history. Those early influences are showing up in everything I write now. I also love to paint—though it too often takes a back seat to my writing—and that has definitely influenced the way I see the world and what I choose to write.

How did you become an author?

I had an idea for an historical mystery, featuring the fourth son of an English Baron, who goes to the Klondike to strike it rich, and winds up in Vancouver hungry and broke. While I was researching, I came across the silk trains, and was intrigued. I had never heard about the sleek steam liners that carried a fortune in silk from the Orient to Vancouver at the turn of the last century. The costly silk, insured by the day, was rushed to New York in specially designed trains, which became the target of every crook across the continent. My main character gets a job guarding the silk trains, and I was off.

John Lansdowne Granville proved to be an engaging character to write, and I loved researching the history of the Klondike Gold Rush, silk trains and Vancouver in 1899. That book became The Silk Train Murder.

What was your first published piece?

I pitched The Silk Train Murder to an editor from New York at the Surrey Writer’s Conference. He liked the manuscript, and it was published by Carroll and Graf in 2007. The Silk Train Murder received starred reviews from Booklist and Quill & Quire was nominated for an Arthur Ellis award for Best First Novel.
The second book in that series—The Lost Mine Murders (because I was intrigued by a legendary lost mine outside Vancouver)—came out in 2011 and the third book—The Missing Heir Murders (because I was intrigued by the black sheep sons of the English nobility, who came to the Canadian frontier as Remittance Men)—will be published in 2014.

I’ve also published four books in a contemporary mystery series—the Barbara O’Grady books—which are also set in Vancouver. Barbara too is a fun character to write. She’s a P.I. with a love of art and history, and her cases draw her back into the past and into the nastier corners of the art world. The fourth book in that series—A Shadowed Death—was published in December. (The other Barbara books are Death of a Secret, Death of a Threat and Death of a Lover.)

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

I spent most of my non-writing career in offices of one kind or another, working in everything from the mailroom to budget planning to human resources. The variety of jobs I’ve held was and is an asset to my writing, because all of it was about people and people’s interactions with each other. I learned a bit about business along the way, and that pops up in my writing, too.

What inspires you?

I love story-telling, and it’s the lure of a good story that gets me every time. People, “what if?” and “but why?” questions inspire me, as do quirky ideas, and forgotten bits of history and research. The challenge of bringing the past to life—in edgy historicals and contemporary mysteries with roots deep in the past—is one of the things that keeps me writing.

Please share one of your successful marketing techniques

I’m something of a reluctant marketer, though I do keep my website up-to-date. Beyond that, I think writing books I’m passionate about—with characters who come alive for me, and I hope will for my readers—is really critical, because it gives me something I feel good about sharing.
Once the book is done, though, writing a series and having more than one book available in that series seems to have been my most successful marketing strategy so far.

Parting words

Writing is a solitary pursuit, and you have to love it for its own sake, but it’s sharing the writing world with readers and with other writers that makes it real.

Author Links

Monday, May 12, 2014

A born storyteller passes away

My mom had three sisters. Unfortunately, the eldest moved away before I could get to know her. The other two served as "foster" mothers when my mom wasn't around--which was rare, but happened. 

Back row:  me and my mom
Front row:  Aunty Lil, Grandma, Aunty Helga

Nurtured in this large nest, I grew. Until, one day, I met a man. He swept me off my feet. When I regained my footing, I stood on B.C. soil--two provinces away. People here don't know anything about my past. I find this freeing but at times lonely.

Ten years ago, my Aunty Helga moved from Manitoba's Interlake region--where she'd been born and raised--to Salt Spring Island, B.C. She was 79. I travelled to that neighbouring island to visit her every opportunity I got. These visits usually extended over a two day period. It was fun to become reacquainted with her, now as an adult. My aunt and I shared many common interests--crafts,  storytelling and pride in our Icelandic-Canadian heritage, to name but three. People from many corners of the earth have been the receipts of my aunt's quilts. And, of course, most members of her family have at least one.

When people ask me how my writing is going I've learned to self-edit. I've learned to answer, "Fine."
But that answer wasn't sufficient for my aunt. She listened attentively as I outlined my latest plot.
"Remember to leave room for humour," she'd often advise.
In turn, she'd entertain me with stories about her life--growing up on a farm, working in Winnipeg, life as a newly wed, raising her children... My favourite stories featured my mom. The sisters had always been close. And by the things Aunty Helga said I know she took my mom's death very hard--as did I. Sometimes Aunty Helga accompanied her stories with a snapshot or two. She was our family archivist--her camera recording every major event. 
Contrary to what I told myself, Aunty Helga made me feel that my writing was important and that becoming an author was a worthy profession. In fact, occasionally, she said, "You know, I think I could have been an author."

In 2009, I self-published Maynely A Mystery. It was my first novel and I was very happy that it did so well on Mayne Island. With that title, I didn't expect it to do well elsewhere. But I took it to Salt Spring Island, anyway. A few days after I made my deliver, I was surprised to receive a phone call from a bookstore owner. 
"You have to bring us more copies. We've sold out," he told me.
Upon further inquiry, I discovered the source of my success. My aunt had picked up several copies for our family.

Our friendship soared to new heights, when, in 2007, my husband led us from Canada to Iceland. This was my Aunt's second visit to Europe. She'd visited Ireland ten years early--when she was 72.

My aunt recently passed away... She was 89. 

This is my tribute to a mothering aunt, supportive friend, dynamic senior citizen, proud Icelandic-Canadian and true storyteller.
Guest:  mystery author Sharon Rowse

Sharing my author journey...

Friday, May 9, 2014

Guest Post: Author Erika Chase

Book Fair and Foul is Erika Chase's latest book. 

Cover Story is the 3rd book in the Ashton Corners Book Club Mysteries. What a cool idea. Imagine your book club can read about another book club in a mystery novel. 
The story queston:  'Who would be so desperate to nab 150 copies of a sexy novel written by an elderly widow?' Fun and intriguing. I love cozy mysteries. And I sense a trip to my favourite bookstore being added to my future plans.

How/why did you start to write?

I realized I enjoyed writing when I was in eighth grade and received my best mark ever for a short story I wrote for an English class. However, I pursued a career in non-fiction as a journalist. It wasn't until many years later that I returned to writing fiction and have been doing so ever since.

How did you become an author?

I decided to take a creative writing course when my son was an infant and from there, joined a local romance writing association, then later switched my writing interests to a mystery authors association. I knew I'd truly found my place when my writing/critiquing group was formed. We're called The Ladies' Killing Circle and have been at it for almost 25 years!

What was your first published piece?

My first two pieces of fiction, which were published at the same time, were short stories entitled, The White Swan Caper and There Goes the Neighbourhood.

Where was it published?

They were published in the first of seven Ladies' Killing Circle anthologies. (These were vetted by the publisher, so it wasn't total nepotism.)  The first anthology was self-titled, The Ladies' Killing Circle.

How long ago?

That was in 1994. Wow, so long ago!

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

My journalism education and career were definite assets as writing to deadlines was a given and not being too wordy was necessary. However, my most recent career was that of an owner of a mystery bookstore in Ottawa, Prime Crime Books. You can imagine how that tied in! I got to read mysteries galore, meet fascinating authors, talk to publishers, and spend time at conferences and book fairs. Pretty cool! It also gave me some insight into what readers look for in a mystery.

What are you writing now?

I write the Ashton Corners Book Club Mysteries as Erika Chase (I'm really Linda Wiken) for Berkley Prime Crime. There are three books--A Killer Read, Read and Buried, and Cover Story-- with the fourth, Book Fair and Foul due later this summer. Their cosy or traditional mysteries set in Alabama and are about, of course, a mystery book reading club. They love to solve them as well as read about them!

What inspires you?

People inspire me. I start with my characters and build a plot around them. I'm also obsessed with names. The characters, as they develop in my mind, have to be named correctly. That's part of the process I enjoy. I'm always people-watching and do not bemoan long line-ups or waiting for flights (all right, sometimes I do!).  But I spend the time watching. So watch out!

Please share one of your successful author platform building technique

I'm hooked into the social media network but I find what works best for me is the 'author meeting reader' technique. I never say no to an invitation to speak to a group or sign at a bookstore. And I'm eager to be on panels at the numerous mystery conferences I attend. That's also a part of it, attending conferences and schmoozing!

Parting words

Never say never! Keep polishing that manuscript or short story but know when it's ready to be sent out. And if it comes back, just keep sending it out, over and over again. Of course, take some time to read any comments that an editor may send to you and make the revisions, if you believe in them. Also, keep writing!

Friday, May 2, 2014

Guest Post: Author Dennis E. Bolen

Dennis E. Bolen is a novelist, editor, teacher and journalist, first published in 1975 (Canadian Fiction Magazine). He holds a BA in Creative Writing from the University of Victoria (1977) and an MFA (Writing) from the University of British Columbia (1989), and taught introductory Creative Writing at UBC from 1995 to 1997.

In 1989 Mr. Bolen helped establish the international literary journal sub-TERRAIN, and served there as fiction editor for ten years. He has acted as a community editorial board member at The Vancouver Sun, sat on the boards of a literacy advocacy organization, a literary collective and a theatre company. He has written criticism, social commentary, arts advocacy and editorial opinion for numerous journals and newspapers in Canada.

Recently Mr. Bolen has branched into video production to highlight his fiction and poetic works. In addition to creating the photographic still video composition Everybody (included in Cin├ępoetry’s issue for Poetry International, 2013):

He also wrote the script for a trailer of his book Anticipated Results (Arsenal/Pulp, 2011):

A written and directed trailer is forthcoming (April 2013) for Dennis E. Bolen’s 2009 novel Kaspoit! (Anvil Press).

How/why did you start to write?

I was bookish from the first but by high school I seemed to have talent for nothing in particular—I failed two grades overall, three and ten—so certainly did not distinguish myself as a scholar. It was assumed among most of my teachers that I would meld into the industrial ranks operating the various forestry mills around the stupefyingly boring town within which I endured my teenage years.

But in my heart I knew I would do something Grade Eleven English teacher was miraculously (for that town, for the early 1970's) a well-traveled, older ex-pat American from the eastern seaboard. She'd have us read something from a poet like Carl Sandberg (his Chicago still gives me chills) and mention sitting around an Adirondack fireplace in the 1940's listening to Sandberg himself read unpublished material. She'd been a young woman on a major literary scene! This blew my mind.

I determined I'd be worthy of such sacred instruction and, under the influence of some pharmaceuticals I weirdly came into possession of (another story, too long to tell here), set about writing. I showed the results, a couple of poems, to my cherished English teacher (Mrs. Gayne was her surname, I've forgotten her first) who found them interesting and took a heightened interest in me, at one point uttering—if I remember correctly—that with work I might become a great writer. I've been trying to come through on that ever since.

How did you become an author?

I did a BA (UVic) and MFA (UBC) in fine arts. Hammered away at manuscripts. Sent them away. Ignored the rejections. Believed in my ability. Finally got lucky meeting up with a guy (Brian Kaufman) who wanted to start up a small press (Anvil). Collaborated. Had Anvil put out my first novel—Stupid Crimes—as more or less a vanity project. Got it reviewed in the Globe & Mail (Editor's Choice, third week of June, 1992). Got an agent, then a three-book deal at Random House.

What was your first published piece?

A short story called 'The Fatality' in the Spring 1975 edition of The Canadian Fiction Magazine; later re-published in Gastank and other Stories, (Anvil 1998).

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

In Canada we're fortunate in that our miniscule literary market supports piteously few writers, so the 99% who don't make a living have to find some other source of income. This means that our writers have actual experience in life and work and might even know desperation and despair, fear and loathing, anger and disgust. All the wonderful character-building things that go along with trying to make a living. I was lucky in that I snagged  an interesting career as a federal parole officer, so made decent money in a job that offered endless character study and demanded endless expressive writing exercise. I also worked on a Saskatchewan grain farm, lumber mill (see hometown description above), department store, government clerical office, winery, newspaper (part-time), small press publisher, teacher (UBC 1995-97), etc.

My drawing upon these experiential epochs is particularly plain, I think, in my first poetry collection, Black Liquor. The title refers to industrial chemicals, as well as other things real and representational, and the cover illustration shows how you can take a dreadful image of childhood memory and wield it to one's own devices.

What inspires you?

Good writing about real things. And serendipitous fortune. In the early 1980's my then girlfriend (whom I haven't seen in thirty years and still love!) was friends with people connected to Warren Tallman, the famous UBC literary scholar who was the earliest academic to take a serious interest in The Beats. One night at a party at his house I got to pour a glass of wine for Alan Ginsburg. We spoke generally and some about poetry. I will never forget this. When I write I feel that whatever my output the greats come along with me because of who I am and who I've known.

Parting words

I began to enjoy the writing life when I got serious about poetry. For twenty-odd years I toiled at fiction, put out five novels and two collections...and was miserable and alone. Since I've been hitting any and all poetry spots I can, writing verse and reading it in public, I've met and befriended such lovely people, joined in worthwhile projects like Pandora's Collective, pitched in to help the Vancouver Writers Festival, got involved with the Canadian Authors Association, mentored other writers (as I always did) and generally felt I was contributing something worthwhile. I don't know what this means—everyone's experience is what they make of it—but I offer it as an exhibit in the overall display of my life's evidence.


Black Liquor, poems, Caitlin Press, Halfmoon Bay, 2013.

Anticipated Results, short fiction, Arsenal/Pulp, Vancouver, 2011.

Kaspoit!, novel, Anvil Press, Vancouver, 2009.

Toy Gun, novel, Anvil Press, Vancouver, 2005.

Gas Tank and Other Stories, short fiction, Anvil Press, Vancouver, 1998.

Krekshuns,  novel, Random House, Toronto, 1997.

Stand In Hell, novel, Random House, Toronto, 1995.

Stupid Crimes (revised), novel, Vintage, Toronto, 1995.

Stupid Crimes, novel, Anvil Press, Vancouver, 1992.