M. H. Callaway Talks Snake Oil and Sugar

M. H. Callaway has helped investigate a murder, toured the 3000 foot deep Falconbridge nickel mine and even met the Queen of England (though not all at the same time). She turned to writing, and her many distinctions include a nomination for the CWC Award for Best Novella for “Snake Oil,” which you can now preorder as part of her new collection, Snake Oil and Other Tales!

Fortunately, I got to interview M.H. before she ran off on her next adventure.

Melissa Yi: Do you prefer sugar or vice?

M. H. Callaway: Well, I have to admit that I lean to the dark side, both in my reading and writing. Readers have told me that some of my work, like my novellas, Snake Oil and Glow Grass, are really horror crossovers. That’s hard to wrap my head around, especially since I never read horror and avoid watching scary movies.

I’m not sure why I have such a dark vision and why it creeps into my stories. Perhaps it’s due to my unsettled childhood or fighting to make it in several male-dominated professions like science and management consulting! I’m delighted to see the progress that women have made in the last several decades. 

But I’m not totally into Vice / Noir. Every once in a while I need to cleanse my palette with a cuddly cozy – and when I do, I enjoy every word. I’ve even written lighter work and to my surprise and delight, my two cozies published in 2022 were both short-listed for a CWC award. That said, Erik De Souza didn’t find “Must Love Dogs – or You’re Gone”, that light-hearted – perhaps it works as a black comedy. 

MY: Does real life inspire your tales, whether dark or cozy?

MHC: How did you guess that I used a real small town as my inspiration for Amdur’s Ghost? In fact, Dunlop is a thinly disguised version of Goderich, Ontario where we have our family cottage. I’m afraid that none of the characters were inspired by and friends or family; they are all figments of my twisted imagination.  They all come alive and speak to me as I write. Many times, the characters are what we wish for: they fight for justice.

Dr. Benjamin Amdur is the kind of civil servant we would want. He’s dedicated to looking after the people of Ontario and committed to saving our public health system. He’s a bit of fish out of water in Dunlop, an outsider in Dunlop, because he’s a “city rat” from Toronto and he has much to learn about rural culture in Ontario. He finds that there are many dedicated people just like him though different – in a good way.

So even though I don’t use real people as the basis for my characters, I am shameless in stealing settings! In Glow Grass, I used our family cottage and my husband maintains I used our own house as inspiration for Snake Oil.

MY: I did an ob/gyn elective in Goderich and I live in rural Ontario now. I don’t know if I steal settings so much as details like food. 🙂

MHC: Sugar and Vice is at the top of my cozy reading list. What a great idea to use the seven deadly sins to frame the new Hope Sze mystery series! And what better sin than gluttony? Everyone can relate to the delights of food, especially me!

MY: Sugar and Vice isn’t exactly a cozy. I tried to write a cozy thriller, so I’m afraid it’ll scare the real cozy fans away. You’re right about the food and gluttony, though!

MHC: I especially enjoyed the sensual details in Sugar and Vice. I can taste the yummy Chinese and Korean food while delighting in Hope’s witty assessments of the Dragon Boat competition, life, love, the universe and everything. It’s funny and light-hearted and draws you in: I can’t wait to find out who is fated to die and to have Hope catch the killer.

MY: Well, I can’t wait to read Snake Oil and Other Tales! I’m preordering it as a birthday gift to myself. Thank you, M.H.!