Introducing Melodie Campbell and Sugar and Vice!

Do you know Melodie Campbell? You should! Melodie has won the Derringer, the Arthur Ellis, and eight more awards for crime fiction. She didn’t even steal them.

Perpetually witty and generous, this famous (infamous?) crime writer agreed to an interview and then turned the spotlight on me. You know how these mystery writers love to pull reversals on you!

Melissa Yi: Sugar or vice? Meaning, do you prefer sweet and cozy or edgy?

Melodie Campbell: You could have knocked me over with a cannoli when I saw people were calling “The Merry Widow Murders” a cozy!  It’s neither sweet nor cozy, with many references to the aftermath of WW1, and the deep grief felt from Lucy, my young widowed protagonist.  It is, however, the type of book I like to read myself.  A traditional mystery where the reader is challenged to race along with the protagonist to discover the murderer.  In my case, I can’t help adding a lot of comic relief, mainly in the form of Lucy’s pickpocket-turned-maid Elf, and the banter that takes place between the two of them.  

So I like a bit of an edge with my crime; a balance, so to speak.  You can’t be laughing all the time, or it becomes banal.

MY: Yes, exactly. You don’t want to turn into a laugh track. Still, as “Canada’s Queen of Comedy,” do you find it effortless to incorporate humour into your writing, or is it like a muscle you have to work?

MC: I am reminded of the old performers’ adage: “Dying is easy. Comedy is hard.”  So I have to smile and say, no, it’s not easy, but writing serious suspense is even harder for me!  It takes me a year to write a novel.  I can’t stay in a dark head-space for that length of time.

Perhaps it’s habit.  I got my start writing comedy in the 90s; I wrote standup for comedians, and had a regular humour column in two papers.  I had 24 short stories published before I even tried to write a novel.  Surprisingly, many of them were dark, with twist endings.  But when I came to write a novel, I fell back on what I do naturally: make it funny.  To be honest, I’ve tried to write straight, but every time I do, a natural quip comes to me that I just can’t resist, and the tension breaks when it shouldn’t!  So I’ve given up, and admitted that I will never be the Margaret Atwood of Mystery.  Instead, one reviewer for Ellery Queen called me “the Carole Burnett of Crime.” 

MY: What a compliment!

MC: Melodie speaking:  Turnabout is fair play!  I have a few questions for Melissa now.

MC: First, a comment:  I absolutely love the first chapter of Sugar and Vice.  That last sentence is a textbook way to end a first chapter; perfect foreshadowing.  It also provides a terrific example of my comment above:  you need a balance between bathos and pathos.  The dialogue between Hope and friends is full of fun, but…here’s the ‘awe’ moment.  We know there is going to be something serious at stake, and Hope will be in the thick of it.  Her own self could be at risk!

MC: Melissa, like you, most of my career has been in health care.  I’ve seen a lot of things I wish I could forget.  Do you find writing humorous fiction a welcome escape from your day job?

MY: Yes! Sometimes I like to write about medicine straight up, like in the essays in The Most
Unfeeling Doctor in the World
collection, which I started after a patient called me the most
unfeeling doctor he’d ever met. I do change patient details, but sometimes I want to write, “This
happened,” with or without humour.
Other times, I escape hard stories outright by writing comedy, fantasy, science fiction, or
romance with a happy ending and/or a new world. It makes life a lot more cheerful and bearable.

MC: Why crime?  I know you also write Sci-fi (as I have) but most of your fiction is steeped with crime.  What drives you to this genre?

MY: Ooh, I’ll have to read your SF too!
Crime means that no matter what happens, you end with a sense of justice. Sometimes other
writers blow my mind with the cleverness of the villain and therefore the sleuth.
Although my residency in Montreal was tough at the time, like my family medicine clinic had no
running water (I literally had to run down the hall to heat up a metal speculum), I can look back
at laugh and write about it now. I love a doctor who saves lives and fight killers.
Readers do ask for more Hope, even if they can’t pronounce her last name. Psst, it’s Sze, which
you can pronounce like the letter C.

And who says you have to choose? In Hope’s Seven Deadly Sins series, paranormal elements
infiltrate Hope’s world, starting with ghosts in The Shapes of Wrath and dragons in Sugar and Vice.

Back the Sugar and Vice Kickstarter before Sept 26th for the exclusive dragon cover!

MC: ‘Sugar and Vice’ is the best title I’ve seen in years, and spot on for our genre. I’m miffed I
didn’t think of it first!  What was your inspiration for this particular story?

MY: Thank you! I knew I’d write about gluttony as Hope’s second deadly sin, but how and why
would people would die over food? I wrestled over that for a long time.
I started researching mukbangs, videos where people livestream their meals, sometimes in
unusual ways, like discussing true crime over cheesy lasagna. Strange but true.
I also took a look at dragon boat racing.
Somehow, my brain invented the Dragon Eats festival, which combines dragon boat racing with
food competitions. I knew Hope would run into murder there!
As for title envy, nothing quite fit, and I wished I’d come up with another great title, Sugar and
Spite. While walking my dog, I realized that Sugar and Vice fit my book even better!

I have to thank cozies for the inspiration, since I named The Shapes of Wrath after reading The
Crêpes of Wrath.
I steal, I mean, get inspired, by everything. 😉

Melodie, thank you for this interview. I’ve long admired your talent and kindness, and I hope more readers get to devour your work, starting with the Merry Widow Murders. Happy reading!

P.S. The Kickstarter for Sugar and Vice has unlocked the exclusive dragon cover. That means if you love dragons like me, back now to grab Sugar and Vice in its first worldwide edition, dripping with dragons. Otherwise, wait for retailers to stock the doughnut cover in February 2024.

Thank you so much!

Introducing Sleuth Magazine

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There’s a new mystery magazine in town. Comes from that country with just two seasons, winter and mosquitoes.  Got some scorching hot writers who already won some awards, like them Derringers, Arthur Ellis Awards, Hugos and Nebulas. Thought I’d go check it out.
First I caught the editor. 
What made you decide to start Sleuth Magazine?
Editor Constantine Kaoukakis: I am a mystery fan, and I realized there isn’t a mystery magazine published in Canada.
Publisher Diane Walton (President of the Copper Pig Writer’s Society): Canada needed a magazine that could showcase home-grown writing talent.
Constantine:  However, our magazine accepts and publishes stories from any country as long as it is in English.
What kind of stories are you looking for? How did you choose the authors and stories for the first issue?
Constantine: I am looking for interesting stories that are original yet have some sort of mystery element.
Diane:  For the first issue, we invited authors that we knew could deliver a good story, but if and when we open to new submissions, it will be to anyone who wants to send us something.
Basic need is for a compelling tale of mystery or suspense, with engaging characters.
Do you have any funny/challenging stories about putting together the first issue?
Constantine: It was more work than I imagined, but I love it. I am proud of the first issue. I would like to thank our sister magazine On Spec for help.
Diane: We were fortunate to have a great designer to put the final product together in time for our launch.

Subeditor Barb Galler-Smith: I was very impressed with the two stories I helped to edit. Made me think I should try reading and writing some mysteries, which I haven’t read since I was a callow youngster! It was a joy!

How will future issues be different?
Constantine: We could be including artwork. Hopefully, we will have a print version of the magazine depending on sales. At this point, I am hoping that there will be future issues.
Diane: We want Sleuth to be self-supporting–without depending on grant funding. So we’ll need revenues from subscribers, advertisers, and generous benefactors to make this happen.
How can we help Sleuth Magazine and other mystery markets thrive?
Constantine: We need to get the word out. We need more exposure. The more people buy and read our magazine, the better chance we have to continue publishing.
Diane: Word of mouth is our best friend, so when you read something you like, simply tell all the like-minded people in your network.
Constantine: Our first issue is in digital form, only $2.99 and filled with mystery short fiction by mystery writers. Please go to sleuthmagazine.ca to buy a copy of the magazine in pdf, mobi or ePub.
I hunted down a few of them writers. Not too hard. They like to talk.
Give me a few words about your story.
Melodie Campbell: I decided this was the perfect opportunity to introduce a concept for a humorous new series. To quote Del, the protagonist: “You’ve heard of The A Team? Vietnam vets turned vigilantes? They had a television show a while back. We’re not them. We’re The B Team. Maybe not your first choice, but dammit, we could be your best choice. We’re women with a mission. We deal in justice, not the law. Sometimes the law lets you down. We try to rectify that.”
Melissa Yi: Whenever I write a mystery, I’m always asking the question, Could I commit murder? And if so, why?
Edgar-nominated author Kristine Kathryn Rusch and Dean Wesley Smith asked me to write a story about janitors as a class assignment. They were trying to shake me up because superficially, maintenance doesn’t have much in common with my day job of emergency medicine. But we’re alike under the skin. The title THE WAR OF THE JANITORS sprang to mind, and I immediately fleshed out a story about janitors trying to sabotage each other in a school seething with jealousy.
SG Wong: My short stories are all set in fictional Crescent City, and they always centre on a character other than Lola Starke (the protagonist of my novel series set in the same world). THE FIX takes place years before the action in Die On Your Feet (Lola’s debut) and revolves around her father, Butch Starke, and his beginning as a studio fixer.
Axel Howerton: It just so happened that I was looking for an excuse to try something with a new character, mixing true crime and hardboiled/noir elements in a short story set in early 50’s L.A.—so I gave it my damnedest and GOODNIGHT IRENE is the result. I wanted to do something dark and nasty, in the noir mold. It’s kind of an homage to James Ellroy.

My story’s main character, Moe Rossi, is the oft-mentioned grandfather in my book, HOT SINATRA. Moe is already dead by the events of the book. I really wanted to do something with him to flesh out his legend.

Tony Stark: In my tale, Watson must find his son’s Afghani mother when the boy shows up on the doorstep of 221B Baker St. In the course of the story, Watson reveals in more detail the circumstances of his military service in Afghanistan. He and Holmes also crack a ring of antiquities smugglers and human traffickers to boot.

For the rest of the article, please click here. And buy Sleuth magazine here for $2.99:
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P.S. My Social plugin broke a few months ago and no longer displays likes and comments through Facebook or Twitter, so if you ever want to kick it old school and like or comment on the blog directly, I’d appreciate it! I’m also trying a new plugin (Jetpack).

Because I’m a Derringer Award Finalist

I was toiling at the end of my emergency room shift when I got an unusual message. I turned to my colleague and said, “Hey. I’m a finalist for the Derringer Award!”

“Congratulations.”

“Do you know what that is?”

“I assume it’s a writing award.”

“It is. For the best short mystery stories published in the English language.” I revelled in it for a second, and then I said, “Do you know what a Derringer is? It’s a pocket-sized knife–”

“It’s a gun, actually. A small one, easily concealed and favoured by prostitutes.”

I Googled it, and a bunch of gun pictures came up. “Well, still. Because it’s small, it’s a metaphor for the deadly power of short fiction.”

 A Derringer. Not a knife. Who'd have thunk it?

A Derringer. Not a knife. Who’d have thunk it? Plus, this one looks like it’s wearing lipstick.Photo by DuBoix on MorgueFile

“Favoured by prostitutes.”

“Why do you keep saying that?”

Anyway, the important part is that I’ve been shortlisted for the Derringer. So to celebrate, I’ve turned “Because” into an e-book with an essay detailing the genesis of the story at Kris Rusch and Dean Smith’s Oregon mystery workshop, plus observations on the writing life, and what it feels like to hit the Derringer short list, for $2.99.

because fuller

However, since I love you, my people, I’m giving the story away for free right here for the next seven days.

You can also download Code Blues, the first Hope Sze medical mystery, for free exclusively through the Vuze book bundle. Only until March 16th. Then it will disappear like a sociopath’s conscience. So grab it now! http://blog.vuze.com/2015/02/24/new-medical-thriller-book-bundle-melissa-yi/

While the Short Mystery Fiction Society votes on the Derringers, I do have one weapon in my back pocket. I’m the newest recruit for SleuthSayers, the world’s slickest crew of crime writers and crime fighters. Two of their members, Melodie Campbell and Rob Lopresti, have already won the Derringer (Rob won it twice)! So maybe they’ll help larn me.

In the meantime,

Because

By Melissa Yi

Because you were so fat that I could count the rolls through your T-shirt, and know that they’d build across my belly and back in the exact same way.

Because you spent the check every month, and you never gave me a penny, not even if I needed a new eraser for school. “You just ask your fancy teacher for one. Go on, ask.”

Because I had to ask, and their eyes would burn me with their pity.

Because you’d spend hours painting your nails, but never let me touch any of the bottles, just because I broke one when I was two.

Because I hated the sound of your crinkling chip bags.

Because when Daddy said he was leaving, you said, “Go, then,” and let him walk out the door, even though I screamed and cried.

Read the rest in the format of your choice here (http://melissayuaninnes.com/books/because). Thanks for stopping by. Since people do seem to like freebies, I’ll give away more stories in the future. I may try and coordinate them with my biweekly SleuthSayer posts. The next one is March 23rd. Cheers!

Five Ways to Kickstart Your Writing Imagination with a Mystery Con: Bloody Words, Part II

1. Dare to Be Stupid

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Click on the pic to buy Terminally Ill from this crazy-looking chick.

I’ve never looked good in a surgical cap, whether it’s the guy’s kind or the poofy, blue, disposable women’s version. So why am I wearing a surgical cap, plus a giant poster of my book?

Well, at Bloody Words 2014, Canada’s mystery convention, they invited any recently-published author to join in a literary fashion show. They’d make a placard of your book cover. Caro Soles, an experienced fashion commentator, would describe your book in couturier terms while you sashayed down the sidewalk, wearing a hat appropriate to your book.

For the first time in my life, I Googled “how to walk like a model.” My favourite tips came from Chita Johnson: http://www.ehow.com/video_4404657_step-onto-runway-like-model.html: Step on to the ramp with your outside leg up, to block the audience’s view of your crotch. Who knew? I also mastered the half-turn and the fade, and learned the full turn.

Photo courtesy of Lisa. Note Michael Jecks, the international guest of honour, in the background. He's now my friend on Twitter, but be warned. Don't argue with the man about sheep.

No evidence of my modelling savvy in this photo courtesy of Lisa de Nikolits.

I also got to hang out backstage with Cathy Spencer, who won the Bony Blythe award the next day; Edgar award-winning author Wendy Hornsby, the Bony Pete award-winner, RJ Harlick; and the very sweet IPPY award-winner Lisa de Nikolits, who calls everyone “love.” Lisa explained how the cover art for her book, The Witchdoctor’s Bones, was created by a homeless, schizophrenic, now deceased South African man.

Arthur Ellis award-winner Melodie Campbell pulled a toy gun out for her turn on the catwalk, and someone else “shot” her at the end. Cool.

When I poised on the end of the runway, I pulled a syringe out of my top, and pretended to spray it in the air. I wanted to fill it with water, but didn’t have time. If I’d wanted to go all out, I would have used fake blood, but the cleaning staff wouldn’t have thanked me.

Look, I even included a blurry picture of myself with an apparent double nose.

Look, I even included a blurry picture of myself with an apparent double nose. I’m not proud.

Note Michael Jecks, the international guest of honour, wearing his book cover with the green background. He’s now my friend on Twitter, but be warned. Don’t argue with the man about sheep.

So get out of the house and try something different, even if you look silly. That’ll get your writing juices flowing. Even if all you write is, “I hate that doctor-writer who told me it was a good idea to dress up like a parsnip!”

2. Do the Group Thing
I was on a panel on the Sunday called The Science of Murder. The moderator was Alex Brett, author of the Maggie O’Brien mysteries. The two other authors specialized in infectious diseases. Jen J. Danna writes about forensic anthropology with her co-author, Ann Vanderlaan, and was an intelligent, polished speaker. Dr. Ross Pennie, who recently released the latest Dr. Zol Szabo mystery, introduced himself as Canada’s leading expert on flesh-eating disease.

Me, Ross, Jen, and Alex's arm.

Me, Jen, Ross, and Alex’s arm. Photo courtesy of Steve Steinbock.

So that left me to joke that I was Canada’s second most knowledgeable doctor on flesh-eating disease. I’m totally not. But hanging around with other articulate people took the pressure off of me, and afterward, one aspiring author told me that it was her favourite panel, and that I had “a lot of moxie.”

Who wouldn't love a group like this? Photo by David Mark

Who wouldn’t love a group like this? Photo by David Mark

Groups can be good. Critique groups get a lot of bad press because they can suppress your writing voice, but it’s a good idea to find some camaraderie. Writing is lonely.

Small groups are good. This is Rebecca Senese, a talented writer of horror, science fiction, and mystery

Small groups are good too. This is Rebecca Senese, a talented writer of horror, science fiction, and mystery, all at once.

3. Dress Up Like Somebody Else
IMG_2430 IMG_2437 IMG_2436 We were supposed to dress up like our favourite mystery character for the banquet. I’d bought a lovely blue, dropped-waist dress from Melow at the latest Braderie de Mode quebecoise. Actually, my friend Danielle and I bought the same dress, which is quite hilarious because she’s almost six feet tall, and I am…not. At the last second, I found a peacock fascinator that I’d forgotten I’d bought on Etsy. IMG_2442 Anyhoo, it looked like a flapper dress to me, so I decided that I would be Harriet Vane.

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There’s an art to taking selfies. I obviously need more practice.

When Steve Steinbock greeted me, he said, “If I see Lord Peter Wimsey, I will send him my regards.”

I found my husband! Lord Peter Wimsey, showing off our family crest. Photo courtesy of his manservant, Bunter.

I found my husband! Lord Peter Wimsey, showing off our family crest. Photo courtesy of his manservant, Bunter.

Steve reading aloud for the Hammett awards (see statue in front of him).

Steve reading aloud for the Hammett awards (see statue in front of him).

Steve also tried on a new outfit. I think he looks very fetching.

Ken Wishnia looks pretty good, too.

Ken Wishnia looks pretty good, too. Look, their feet match. Must’ve done the modelling videos.

4. Give yourself a deadline.

Our panel was scheduled to run at the same time as “Bloody Idol,” the show where anyone could submit 250 words and read them aloud to a panel of editors and agents.
So, 1) I was pretty sure no one would come to our science panel, and 2) I wouldn’t get to check out Bloody Idol. But I wrote 250 words anyway, which forced me to start writing the fourth Hope Sze novel, Stockholm Syndrome.

My roommate, Merrill Young, generously offered to report back on the response. She and writer/editor/mothership Cheryl Freedman told me that all four editors and agents liked it, so eight thumbs up.

I will include that opening in my next newsletter. <incentive to join> <incentive to join> <just go to the bottom of the page> (In addition to SEO optimization, I’ve been reading about getting people to sign up for newsletters. It’s the next big thang.)

Then I was invited to submit to two anthologies. So now my writing cup overfloweth.

5. Get out of the con.

I made time for an hour of hot power yoga at Yoga Tree. IMG_2410 I walked the streets of Toronto. IMG_2411 S.G. Wong and I headed to “Kill like a Scandinavian” at the Toronto Public Library. Woo hop! Sometimes, you just need to get away. Now go forth and create.

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For readers’ convenience, a link to the “entertaining and insightful” Terminally Ill is provided by clicking on this photo.

P.S. For anyone who’s wondering, did I sell any books?
Yippers. Not a ton. Eleven paperbacks, to be exact. But that’s more than I would have sold if I hadn’t come at all.
More sales may come later (autocorrect changed that to latex. Yes, I’m pretty sure latex will always outsell my books).

And if I sell to both anthologies that asked me to submit, I’ll make back my money, even without the book sales.

I keep having to fight my own cheapness. I get all bent out of shape over printing up my own postcards.

Meanwhile, one of the other authors, Ryan Aldred, said that he’d like to throw $1000 each at different promotions. Reddit, Google Ad words, Facebook. Just experiment.

My jaw dropped. I’m thinking too small. I don’t take a lot of risk, but I lose the reward, as well. I’ve read that it’s typical of women, to save and hoard expertly, but never take the big leaps that will let them level up.

I’m used to toiling in garrets. That’s how I became a doctor and a writer, after all. But sometimes you’ve got to bust out, get crazy, and make wild new friends. Done, done, and done. Now I just have to write some more.