Friday, 30 November 2007

I'll take a gallon of waterbury spa spray misty morning

Beautiful day - sunny and cold highs minus 4

I'm dashing off to Montreal this morning. Michael and I have kept a small apartment there and I'll stay the night then catch a train to Toronto for Sunday's books and high tea event. Was planning to grab a shower here in the country before going into the city, since last time we were there (last week) the hot water had been turned off. For 5 days. Leading up to and including the huge Books and Breakfast event at the Omni hotel in Montreal. for three months I was terrified I'd stink at the event - did everything in my power to prevent it - then that happens. I did stink.

But today once again my best plans have been waylaid. No shower. Instead at the crack of dawn I was at the construction place with a gallon of paint, trying to change the colour slightly. For the new bathroom. yes, Gary is still there. Everything is almost done....just need to paint. But every colour I choose is worse than the last. Gary dabs it on, the three of us step back, and play a game of chicken to see who'll be the first to say, 'Yech'.

The wall is now polka dotted, in an interesting effect I've never actually seen on HGTV. Late yesterday I brought home yet another sample. with amazement we all watched as it went on and disappeared. No sign of it at all on the wall. We leaned in, leaned out. Rubbed our chins. Nothing.

'I think maybe just a shade darker might work,' said Gary.

'You think?' Michael asked.

We all nodded.

So no shower this ayem, instead I got the paint. Whizzed back home, gave it to Gary, who put it on the wall. We said a little paint prayer - actually it was more of a paint swear.

And waited.

Loe and behold - it appeared...a fantastic aqua kind of sea mist, spring peat in a high meadow whatever colour. Thats going to be my next job - naming paint colours. An adjunct to crime fiction.

Whatever it was called - it's I'm rushing off.

Be well - and I'll write when I find work. I promise.

Thursday, 29 November 2007

What's that in the distance, approaching?

overcast, windy, rain and snow mix in pm

Well, a storm was forecast - so we arranged to stay at home in front of the fireplace as the snow pelted down. There's nothing in the world like being snug inside, with plenty of wood and food, while a snow storm batters the house! It's heaven. There's very little worse in the world than being outside in it! Especially on the roads.

But, as you see, the storm has given us a rain-check. Oh well.

Wrote the December Newsletter last night, and announced the winner of the bookdraw for people who subscribed. If you'd like to sign up, it's free and you can do it through my website -

Had a suitably humiliating day yesterday. I had to go to Canada Customs in Richford and admit I had been trying to smuggle. Totally embarrassing! Uggg. Stupid.

'Anything to declare?' the young man asked, with a smile.

I smiled back. 'Nothing.'

I'd been back and forth across the border a million times, though this was a guard unknown to me. Richford, Vermont, is about five minutes from Sutton, Quebec.

'ID please.'

I handed him my drivers license. He handed it back, I put the car in gear.

'Could you just pop the trunk, please.'

'No problem,' I smiled, increasingly maniacly. Soon three border guards were huddled around the trunk. A line of cars formed behind me, I could just hear the moans. The guards looked so serious I began to wonder if there was a body in there. Or guns, or tobacco or booze.

'What's this?' a woman agent held up the lamp.

'It's a lamp,' I said, trying not to sound condescending but not sure what else to say.

'Well, I can see that. Where did you purchase it?'

And that's when things started to go south. I opened my mouth and out came the biggest load of crap I'd ever heard. I suspected they'd heard worse, but not by much. My face was burning, my hands shaking, my voice stammering, the lamp dangling. Lie after lie plopped out of the car and onto the pavement.

Finally I shut up and tried to look confident. Which I might have done, but not quite as confident as the border guards.

They decided - after half an hour or so - to impound the lamps until I could provide proof I'd bought them in Canada. Which, we all knew, I wouldn't find.

Strange, but that was an amazing experience. I felt trapped. I immediately went to lying. Then got caught in them, making it way worse. And could feel it all slowly, so slowly collapse. On top of me.

It was a horrible, horrible feeling. One I honestly hadn't had since I was a child. It was, after all, such a childish thing to do. To try to get away with something then lie about it when caught. As odd as this might sound, it gave me even more insight into how certain murderers might feel. Not, perhaps, the hardened ones, but the ones with a conscience. When questioned they lie, of course. Then watch as the lies are exposed one by one. It's like seeing a monster approach from far away, a step at a time, and not to be able to run away. A nightmare.

Now, not to over dramatise this, in my case it was simply two lamps. I went to the border yesterday, threw myself on their thin mercy and came away with a fine and a flag against my name. And it was fair. I was smuggling. But it was sure interesting to watch myself through this. Interesting, humbling, embarrassing and enlightening.

Of course, on the plus side, I now have street cred. Might even get a tattoo. A couple of Restoration Hardware Swing Arm lamps - but I won't tell you where.

I think I might be able to deduct the fine, as research. Yeah. That's all it was. Reseach. Sure. What's that on the hill, coming this way?

Speak tomorrow. Be well.

Tuesday, 27 November 2007

Say 'Ahhhh'

Rain, snow, slush high 2 degrees

Well, we're back home! Actually, at the office. Just arrived from Montreal and am getting caught up on emails and work. Lots of stuff but not too stressful. Unlike Books and Breakfast at the Omni Hotle in Montreal. God, I hate those things. Probably shouldn't admit it. And there's certainly nothing at all wrong with the events or the people. I just get so nervous. Strange, since I've certainly spoken in front of more people. There were about 300 people there. But I think it's a combination of the number of people, the fact it's in my hometown, and there are other authors there. And we only have 15 minutes. Most of the talks I give are at least 30 minutes. But at 15, I really have to prepare.

So I wrote a speech - then spent three weeks memorizing it. Pacing, reading and re-reading it. Sitting in the bath and pretending to deliver it. Over and over. Until I had it.

I know I could either wing it, or simply read the speech - but this is frankly just too big an event to 'wing' (at least for me) - I'd be really stressed out then. And reading a speech just makes it feel flat and dead.

I'm a big believer in preparation. Not, I hope, insane preparation...but enough to be both effective and comfortable. Strangely, by preparing this much I'm sure I gave the impression of not having prepared at all - of being absolutely at ease and simply making it up as I go along.

But wow - am I ever nervous before hand. As it turned out - thank God - it went well. I of course got all muddled in the middle - but a few moments of babbling (and wishing the floor would open) looked after that and I got back on track.

That was Sunday. Yesterday had four hours of gum surgery. Actually, that seemed a breeze compared to the speech - where I was afraid I'd open wide and say 'Ahhh' for fifteen minutes.

Home now. But back to Montreal Friday, train to Toronto Saturday - giving the same speech to Books and High Tea on Sunday. But oddly, I'm not worried. Famous last words. Now I know I can do it - and I actually enjoy the speech. Just not giving it.

I'll have to get used to this. Or die.

Feels good to be home - but I did have lots of fun on this trip.

Speak tomorrow.

Friday, 23 November 2007

I'll take two homes in the Cotswolds, Phil.

Toronto - Extreme Warning - sunny

It's been a few hectic days since last I wrote. I'm in Toronto now - Friday. Arrived yesterday through a storm that saw an accident a minute on the main highways around Toronto. There wasn't a huge accumulation of snow - the culprit was freezing rain, followed by a layer of snow. Horrible.

I'd been in Belleville the nightbefore...that's about an hour and a half east of Toronto. Arrived on Wednesday afternoon and was picked up by Tammy, the lovely owner of Greenley's Books, where I was doing the event Wednesday night. It was cold and rainy, but not quite the disaster it was about to become. Tammy, bless her, had packed a 'picnic' lunch for me to take to the hotel.

"I know how tiring it is being on the road,' she said, handing the comfortingly large blue bag to me. 'And how hard it is to eat healthy meals.'

This was a little more disconcerting. I checked into the very nice hotel in Belleville, flipped on HGTV (Location, Location, Location was on, followed by Relocation, Relocation, Relocation - for addicts like me it was a sign from on high I was in the right place. Kirsty and Phil and British properties. Heaven.) then burrowed into the picnic.

Cucumber, tomatoes, whole wheat buns, fruit salad. I burrowed deeper. Healthy crackers and water. Hmmm. One more layer to go though.

On TV Kirstie had reduced a high strung London business exec to tears and Phil was trying to find them a three bedroom home in Glasgow for only 1.5 million dollars.

I was feeling a little misty myself as I dug down to the last layer.

Freezer packs. But - wait. Two saran wrapped bundles. Cheese. Lovely double cream brie.

God bless Tammy, and long may she sail!!!

Actually, I kidded her about the healthy lunch - but I am SO grateful and touched by her thoughtfulness. And she was absolutely right. As much fun as hotels can be, after three months they do wear a little thin. Though nothing else is thin. And so a meal of fresh fruit and vegetable and multi-grain bread (and cheese) was bliss. I munched and muttered at the moronic couple who kept turning down perfectly beautiful homes in the Highlands and wondered if Michael would be very angry if I emailed Kirstie and Phil and asked them to find us a small home in a Cotswold village.

The cold rain teemed down as I arrived at Greenley's at 7 for the speaking/reading/signing. Now, I've had events (as you know) where no one has shown up - and events in front of hundreds of enthusiastic readers. I believe I've reached the stage where I know it's not a reflection of my, my books, or the book seller. As long as we all did our best to promote the event. It does annoy me when I've made an effort to get to a place and the bookseller/librarian/host says they put a poster in the window that afternoon and are hoping for the best. I smile - but inside I'm seething.

But what makes an event for me isn't necessarily the size of the crowd - but the warmth. And I mean that sincerely.

The event at Greenley's was one of the best I've had. Made that way by Tammy, her husband Ron, her mother, her stepmother, her staff, and the ten or so people who came out in the dark and cold and driving rain. It was a magical night and I felt very lucky indeed to have been so welcomed.

If you're a writer and are ever invited to Greenley's Books - a great independent bookstore in Belleville, Ontario - jump at the chance!

The next morning I awoke to an ominous sound. A small scratching on the hotel room window. I knew what I was. Any Canadian would. Ice pellets. There's no other sound like it. Opening the curtains I saw the cars in the parking lot encased in ice. Icicles dripped from the fenders.

And more was falling. After breakfast Ron and Tammy picked me up. Imagine that. Scraping their little red car. Braving the treacherous roads. They came to the hotel and drove me to the train station.

And I was off to Toronto. Through the VIA Rail window I could see the freezing rain turning to snow as we appraoched Canada's largest city.

Last night I did an event at Ben McNally's new bookstore on Bay street. It was organized by the indominable Janet Sommerville, of St George's School - as a fund raiser for literacy. By then the snow had stopped but the temperature had plummeted and the wind picked up. I had the great good fortune to be seated next to Eric Wright - a Canadian legend in mystery writing circles and a wonderful man. And again it amazed me the number of people who turned out to buy signed books, talk to authors and listen as the school band played Christmas carols. It was sublime. And to add to the magical quality of the night the great Canadian children's author and illustrator Barbara Reid was there. We'd met earlier in the year and liked each other so che came out to be supportive...but what blew me away was that her husband was with her. Ian Chrysler. An old high school friend of mine! We'd both been to Lawrence Park Collegiate. He hadn't changed (damn him) except for what he insisted was snow in his hair. We went out for coffee afterwards and got caught up.

One of the great, unexpected, benefits of having a book published is meeting old friends again. And that was a delight.

Must rush - is anyone still reading this??? Sorry for the length. Am off to St George's school. the grade 11 boys are studying my second book, DEAD I'm a kind of 'show and tell' this morning.

I miss Michael.

Will probably not write again until next week. Be well.

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

If it's Friday this must be...

Snow, ice pellets, rain - high 7 degrees

Driving into the office this morning there were two big trucks off the road. Happily we had Denis put the winter tired on the Volvo yesterday. Tomorrow more bad weather and Thursday there's a snowstorm predicted. Sadly I'll miss all that.

Have left Michael working hard on Sudoku by the fireplace - Maggie and Trudy lying at his feet - and Gary sawing away upstairs. Am presuming the sawing is wood and not his snores. He's getting close to finishing the new bathroom - very exciting.

And I'm driving in to Montreal today - interview with Sharman Yarnell at CJAD Radio this afternoon - pre-taped to run on her programme Showtime this Saturday. She's great. Very engaging - very smart. Love talking to her.

Then off to Toronto by VIA Rail tomorrow. I know the books must be doing OK because the publishers have popped for first class! My tactic when traveling alone on the train is to look insane. That way no one takes the seat next to you. This is less effective now that there's assigned seating. My mother's advice was similar when I first visited a friend in New York. I was 21 and he lived in Hells Kitchen. Seeing me off at the airport my mother leaned in, kissed me goodbye, and whispered, 'Just try to look more nuts than anyone else. No one will bother you then.'

It worked. Perhaps I should stop now.

I'm doing an event tomorrow night at 7pm at Greenley's Bookstore in Belleville, Ontario - about 2 hours outside of Toronto. Then on Thursday night I'll be at an event organized by the amazing Janet Sommerville at Ben McNally's new bookstore on Richmond street. It would be great to see lots of people there. Elizabeth Hay will also be signing. We have a lot in common. Similar ages and she too worked at remote CBC radio locations in the late 70's. She turned her experience into an award winning novel - having just won the Giller prize! The similarities end there.

On Friday morning I'll be at St George's school in Toronto to talk to a couple of classes. This is a private boy's school (where Janet Sommerville works). And they've been studying DEAD COLD, my second book. Looking forward to their questions. It's an amazing thing to know my words are being discected by students...and I suspect they're finding more there than I realize. Have to remember not to look insane while at the school. Look smart. Look smart.

Than back to Montreal Friday night - pick up Michael Saturday - and I do a Books and Brunch in Montreal Sunday morning. This is a massive event and hugely successful and if I wasn't feeling a little overwhelmed I'd be able to tell you who else will be speaking. Basically 4 or 5 authors are invited - and 300-400 people come to the brunch. At some point we get up and talk for about 15 minutes each. Great fun, but a little nerve-wracking. Still - like hitting you head against a wall - it feels good when it's over.

All this is a very long winded way to say a couple of things - I'd really love to see you at any of these events - and I've decided as an experiment not to take a computer or a blackberry with me. So no communication. Not even the blog. I'll probably write a few words from the hotel Thursday or Friday...but perhaps not.

But I'll be thinking of you.

Be well and I'll speak to you soon.

Monday, 19 November 2007

I feel a song coming on...

Sunny, beautiful day - high plus 2

Am at home right now, awaiting a phone call from Goldberg McDuffie. They're this huge PR firm in New York, supposedly the best in the business, who we've brought on board to help promote The Cruelest Month in the US. Very exciting. The feeling is that the book is strong enough, and the time is right, to reach as many readers as possible. And one way to do that is to hire an outside firm to augment St. Martin Minotaur's efforts.

We'll see.

I really like Angela Hayes (Goldberg's VP for marketing) and Kathleen Carter, who is my account executive. But frankly no one is quite sure if this is worth doing. A bit of an experiment. Albeit a costly one! Still, I figure I haven't worked hard to get this far to cringe away now. It might not work, but I don't think I'll regret trying.

The key, and this is no brain surgery, is to get major publications doing stories on the series (People, AARP, New York Times etc) but also to generate word-of-mouth. Interestingly, it's this last that has the most impact. People telling people (a failed Barbra Streisand song).

That, of course, is where you come in - and I'm just so grateful to those of you who've read the books and passed them on to friends - or bought them as gifts. Or simply told someone else. That's how I buy books, for the most part. Either a friend recommends it, or my local bookseller does. But it's almost always word-0f-mouth.

I hope Goldberg McDuffie have big mouths.

Speaking of word-of-mouth, the book I'm reading now is marvelous. The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson. It's about the Chicago World's Fair, a stunning event in the 1890's, and the serial killer who stalked it. It really follows two people - the brilliant architect who conceived of this finest of all world's fairs, and the killer who fed on it. Amazing read.

Off to Belleville, Ontario tomorrow for an event at Greenley's Bookstore on Wednesday night. I LOVE independent bookstores and will go way out of my way to do an event in one.

BTW - for those of you in the Eastern Townships, two of Canada's top mystery writers are going to be at Brome Lake Books in Knowlton Nov 22nd from 4 to 6, signing copies of their books. They're Barbara Fradkin, who won the Arthur Ellis this year for Best Mystery and Mary Jane Maffini, a multi-award winning writer. They're also great people to meet. This is a marvelous opportunity. I'd definitely be there myself except I'll be in Ontario.

Blabbed on too long - time to speak to Goldberg. Speak to you tomorrow.

Sunday, 18 November 2007

The Delights of Ms. Penny

Brilliant sunshine, cold. Highs minus 4

Have just finished reading the most marvelous book! It was sent to me in manuscript form and it's by a British writer - Kate Summerscale. Raincoast Books is publishing it in Canada next year and I suspect it'll be a hit. It deserves to be.

It's called, THE SUSPICIONS OF MR. WHICHER - and subtitled - The Murder at Road Hill House.

It's non-fiction - about the Scotland Yard detective (Mr. Whicher) and his investigation into a particularly gruesome murder in Wiltshire in the mid-1800's. Professional homicide detectives were brand new and even Scotalnd Yard didn't quite know what to make of them. And the detectives themselves were more or less making up the art and science of detection as they went along.

Mr Whicher's investigation shocked the British people and drew both huge praise and crippling criticism. So well reported were his methods he ended up being the inspiration for Wilkie Collins fictional detective in the very first murder mystery using a professional sleuth - Moonstone.

So each and every fictional police detective can be traced back to Mr. Whicher. He's our 'Lucy'.

It's a fantastic book - and it was a pleasure to endorse - though I suspect the publishers will have so many great blurbs mine will be crowded out. Still - it's an unexpected perk of being a writer to be sent such great books to read before anyone else gets their hands on them.

And speaking of endorsing - one of the books I most enjoyed endorsing last year has won the British Ellis Peter's Dagger for best Historic Novel. The wonderful
MISTRESS OF THE ART OF DEATH by Ariana Franklin. A stunning novel well worth reading.

Another is by our own Canadian writer Linda L. Richards - her great book is being published by St Martin's Minotaur in the US (!!) in the winter. More about that later.

So exciting to be inspired by other writers. Thrilling and often more than a little intimidating!

Am off to give a small talk at 10 - then maybe lunch in Knowlton. Have a big week coming up.

Be well - speak soon.

Saturday, 17 November 2007

Move the scaffolding, she's ready for her closeup

partly cloudy, high 2 degrees

Woke up to a couple of inches of snow on the ground. It's beautiful. I adore the first couple of months of winter. Until March. By St. Patrick's Day it's time winter was over. Now that would be a miracle worth having. If St. P managed to rid Quebec of all the snow.

Had a great email from Gary last night. He's our contractor - but he's also a great friend. He's one of those mystery people in our area. You think he's a great contractor and then find out for most of his life he was an incredibly successful and sought-after photographer. In fact, when you wander around Loblaws, a lot of their photos were taken by Gary. He's taken all my author photos. Marvelous to have a construction worker/photographer. First he stuccos and gyprocks me - gets me plastered, splashes on some paint - then takes the picture.

Anyway, Gary wrote to say in our absence the renovations to our bedroom/bathroom have sped along. Which I find frankly surprising. How could they have made such progress without my supervision and helpful advice?

Can hardly wait to see the progress. Right now we're camped in another bedroom, stuffed with all the clothing/furniture/books/lamps, detritus from the master suite. The mattress is on the floor, which means Trudy wakes us up every morning at about 5:30 with a wet nose to my nose. And a tail thumping the bedclothes. Some lucky mornings she brings her fluffy ball, which she's had since she was 6 weeks old, and thrusts that into our faces. Yum.

We leave Hovey Manor this morning. Sad. But looking forward to lunch with one of my best friends. A really gifted artist and writer. She's created a series of stunning children's books, and illustrated them herself. A New York agent is interested (not surprising, frankly - they're astonishing works) so we're going to have a celebratory and strategizing lunch. Cheryl Long is her name - and she happens to be Gary's wife!

Small world. Not actually unlike Three Pines.

Be well - and we'll talk tomorrow.

Friday, 16 November 2007

The Coast Way

Snow, high zero

Well, we're not exactly snowed in, but it is snowing and blowing and some is staying on the ground. And I have nothing to do today except sit in front of the fireplace and sip tea and read. How I've yearned for this day.


The Canadian Club luncheon was wonderful yesterday - because of the people, as always. So generous and gracious. Met a woman who's over 90, though I'd never guess it, who was Den Mother to several generations of children who traveled alone to this area of Quebec from the Lower North Shore. I talk about hat part of Quebec in DEAD COLD/A FATAL GRACE. It's where Gamache meets the fisherman who changes his life. The desolate, rocky, bleak landscape the first explorer called The Land God Gave to Cain. And yet, if you visit, you soon see the grace, the beauty. In the people, who ask for nothing and want for nothing. The beauty is in the small things, as it so often is. The lichen on the rocks, the tiny wildflowers, the flash of a fish as it leaps.

There's only one high school for the whole coast. Kids as young as 12 and 13 get sent away, far away, to school. And this woman, elderly now, met them at the train stations and busses, and took them in. And cared for them. And let them know they were safe. As people on the coast have done themselves for strangers for years.

I walk around grasping my dog-eared copy of The Cruellest Month, speaking to groups and signing copies as though what I did mattered. And I know it's not trivial, and it does matter. But it's very good for me to be reminded of the work other people do. That matters.

Still snowing. It's a quiet, peaceful day.

Thursday, 15 November 2007

Was that the noise of an angry sheep?

Rain, snow, sleet, frogs, chickens, dinosaurs - yech

Dreadful weather. But we're at Hovey Manor, overlooking the slightly snow-obscured lake. The fireplace on - have eaten a breakfast of crepes and local maple syrup with fresh smoked bacon and strong coffee. Yum.

I want to stay. By the fire. Reading. I'm so tired.

But it's off to Sherbrooke to speak to the Canadian Club. That's about a 45 minute drive. Not too bad. And I need to remember what a real honour it is to be asked. And people are driving through the same c**p to hear me speak. And I could be going to have root canal done. Or a permanent. Or forced to buy more microban.

There - that feels better. I think part of my laziness is that Michael gets to stay behind and 'guard Hovey', as he says. 'Making sure it's still here for you.'

Lovely man.

When I get back mid afternoon Tim Belford is coming over to Hovey to have High Tea with us. He's the host of Quebec AM - the CBC Radio morning show in Quebec City. He lives nearby and is a wonderful guy. Very funny. Loves wine. And sheep. Ooops - maybe I shouldn't have said that. He'll be interviewing me for his show - but mostly the three of us will yak and get caught up. I used to host the show he's doing - and doing it so much better than I ever did. One of my big innovations for Quebec AM was a segment called 'Name That Noise.'

Yes - I was that good.

Well, I'm off. You know, I have to say I'm enjoying this blog. Keep well. 10 centimetres of snow on the way for tomorrow - we might be snowed in to Hovey! Here's hoping. I'll let you know tomorrow.

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

The Year in Writing

Rain and mild, highs 10 degrees

I've had so many wonderufl comments about the blog. A number of people have commented that they hope I'm not neglecting my writing in favour of the 'nicely turned ankle' of the blog. Of course, I know they're kidding, since we all know the books are a priority.

But - I thought I'd just let you know a little about my writing year.

I'm scheming the next book right now. The fourth book is set in a remote former hunting lodge on the shores of a Quebec lake. The lodge has been turned into a luxury Auberge, Manoir Bellechasse, and Gamache and Reine-Marie are there celebrating their 35th wedding anniversary. Until something very bad happens. You might be able to guess what.

This is a direct wink at, and homage to, the hermetic mysteries if the Christie era - ala 'And Then There Were None.' Of course, Gamache et al must visit Three Pines a few times!

I write the first drafts beginning every January - try to write 1,000 words a day. It generally takes me four months to write the first draft. Somehwere in there I take a couple of weeks to do a US tour to promote the last book.

In 2008 I'm going to Ann Arbor, Phoenix, Houston and a couple of other cities in mid-March.

Once back I finish the first draft (sometime in May generally) then set it aside for a couple of weeks (and get caught up on all the stuff that I've ignored for four months!) Then, over the course of the spring/early summer, I edit and do three or four new drafts, each more finely tuned.

By the beginning of the summer it's ready to be read. By Michael, and my brother Doug and a good friend, Susan.

Then it's off to the redoubtable Teresa Chris, my agent in London. At about this time a kind of reverse miracle occurs and I become convinced the book is crap.

I try to take the summers off to re-coup my senses.

From September to December I tour Canada, the US, the Commonwealth, etc with the books. I love that. Such incredible fun meeting people who've read the books. Or want to.

I try to take December off - then we're at it again.

Must fly. Am speaking to the Canadian Club in Sherbrooke tomorrow, so Michael and I have decided to take a few days at our favorite Inn - Manoir Hovey (upon which Manoir Bellechasse is loosely based).

Take care and speak tomorrow -

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

No? No? I must be mis-hearing

I asked Phyllis Smallman to write something about her experiences trying to get published. As I mentioned in an earlier blog, Phyllis won this years Arthur Ellis Award for best Unpublished Novel - given out by the Crime Writers of Canada. And - the GREAT news is, she's going to be published in Spring 2008 by McArthur and Co.

Here's what Phyllis wrote:

Back in the early nineties I announced to my nearest and dearest that I was going to become a writer. Big mistake! They went from "Oh yeah?" to polite, "So, how's the writing going? Published anything yet?" Those first four historical romances are still sitting on the computer.

I always wanted to write mysteries but thought they would be far beyond my abilities but anyone can write a romance right? Wrong. I don't seem to have a romantic sensibility and they kept slipping over into comic mayhem and death with any physical contact more likely to involve knives and blunt instruments than kisses. No one was sure quite what they were except unpublishable. One agent who asked to see the first 50 sent me a two page reject telling me just how much she hated protagonist. I made a huge paper mache bowl with the rejects. The summer of 2002 I threw in the towel on love and began MARGARITA NIGHTS. As I told my shocked son, "This is about as much fun as you can have with your clothes on."

Finally I had a voice and a place I could identify with a little better than England in the year 1297. In the summer of 2004 I entered it in the Debut Dagger in the UK and made the shortlist. Whoopeee! This will surely get me published right? I sent out dozens of query letters to agents, working my way diligently through the alphabet of agents. This past January I received a bulletin from the Debut Dagger saying that Louise Penny had begun the Unhung Authors with the Crime Writers of Canada. The deadline was in 10 days. I also received a call that day that my mother was very ill. I had my printer going like spit as I packed my bag and we dropped of the manuscript at the post office on the way to the airport.

I had also entered St. Martin's Press's Malice Domestic Contest for the Spring of 2007. I made the short list for both contests. I wonder if I've finally set some kind of record, short listed in 3 countries for exactly the same kind of award without getting an agent or a publisher. More query letters went out. Everyone knows you can't get published without an agent. After a long long summer of waiting I finally heard in Nov. that McArthur and Co. are going to publish MARGARITA NIGHTS in the spring of 2008. I've never been very good at math but isn't that about 17 years of rejects?

And by the way, I still don't have an agent.

That was from Phyllis Smallman. Now - if that isn't inspiring I don't know what is! And quite similar really, to my own experience. I always figure the only real difference between me and an unpublished writer isn't talent - it's a combination of luck and perseverance. And, as the old saying goes, the harder you work, the luckier you get.

Speak to you all tomorrow - be well.

Monday, 12 November 2007

Ruth is not quite ready for her close-up

Clouding over, rain or freezing rain in evening, 6 celcius

Heading in to Montreal again to see Michael's eye doctor. Hoping the pressure is stable or down.

Woke up to an email from London saying the audio and large print rights for The Cruellest Month have been sold. Great news. When STILL LIFE first came out and the audio rights sold I wondered how large that market was. Actually, I assumed it was miniscule. Now I realize it's huge.

I tried listening to STILL LIFE on tape. In fact, when it arrived I was so excited my hands shook as I ripped open the packaging. Slipped the disk into the car stereo and listened for the first page. Then shut if off and haven't listened to another second. Of any of the books. Apparently the two men (Adam Sims for the British and Ralph Cosham for the American version) are terrific. Thank God. But they're just not the voice in my head. It actually unsettled me, hearing Clara and Jane speaking. Not sure what I'll do if the books are ever made into a series or a movie.

We actually just turned down a TV series, since the production company (understandably) wanted to buy the rights to the characters and we weren't quite prepared to do that. Not sure if my 'artistic integrety' would have withstood adding another '0' to the offer. Fun to test it, though.

We're off - hope this finds you well - and I'll give you an update tomorrow.

Sunday, 11 November 2007

Phyllis Smallman - remember that name!

Brilliant sun, high 6 celcius

Amazing day. Light crust on the pond, as though spiders spun ice. It's breathtaking.

I have wonderful news. Phyllis Smallman, who won last year's Arthur Ellis award for Best Unpublished Mystery - given out by the Crime Writers of Canada - is going to be published! As a direct result of winning this award. It's stunning news and I couldn't be happier for Phyllis. I was one of the judges for the award, along with Marian Misters, who runs Sleuth of Baker Street books in Toronto and the remarkable Maureen Jennings - perhaps the foremost mystery writer in the country.

We had 96 entries and really struggled over the shortlist. So we came up with both a shortlist and a list of 'Honourable Mentions'. It was agonizing. Especially since we knew how important it was for all the writers. How many hopes were riding on this contest.

Our shortlist then went to another set of judges - all professional editors - and they chose Phyllis. The award was 250 dollars. But the biggest award was that McArthur and Company - my publishers in Canada - would read the winning manuscript and have the right of first refusal.

No guarantees.

Well, Phyllis blew them all away!

I happen to know that - like me - Phyllis had sent this fantastic manuscript to editors and agents for years, without success. No reflection on them - they're busy and stressed - and certainly no reflection on her fantastic book. It's just another example of how frustrating (!!!!) it is and how heartbreaking it is, to be a writer these days trying to break in.

Phyllis needed what I needed - to win a contest. And she did.

Michael and I are beyond thrilled for her. For Kim McArthur and the others at McArthur and Company - a fantastic Canadian publisher - and certainly for the Crime Writers of Canada.

Now there's a great group of people. Amazing, creative writers, who also reach out and help other writers. Like me. Like Phyllis.

The information and guidelines on the 2008 Arthur Ellis Awards, including Best Unpublished - have just gone up on the CWC website.

If you're an unpublished crime writer with a finished manuscript, I beg you, go to their site.

Also check out Crime Writers Association in Britain and their Debut Dagger (the one that launched my career) - as well as Malice Domestic in the US. St Martin's Minotaur (my US publisher) has a Best Unpublished Award there - as well as the Mystery Writers of America.

I count my blessings everyday - and it takes a while. But one thing I'm always grateful for is to be a mystery writer, and to find myself in such an inclusive, supportive, enthusiastic community. Lucky us.

And congratulations Phyllis Smallman!!!! Her book is called Marguerita Nights and I'll tell you more as the date gets closer. Might even ask Phyllis to say something on this blog.

Well, I've gone on and on. By the way - I had a wonderful time on the live on-line chat yesterday. What a tool (the internet - not me - though...)

Speak tomorrow.

Saturday, 10 November 2007

Read, AIM, fire!

Well, this is exciting. Have been battling - with Jill's help - to get onto a thing called AIM - which I'm sure most of you had heard of but it might as well be Mars for me. Poor Jill - so patient, asking me to find various button to click on and I couldn't find ANYTHING!!!

anyway, great news - got on - finally. Have no idea why I wasn't on - and no idea how I got on!

Tomorrow I want to tell you all about the Crime Writers of Canada and the Arthur Ellis award news - if you're a crime writers in Canada, please check out the CWC website.

Must fly - have to be on line soon - and now I'm afraid 'Mars' has disappeared again!

Pray for me. Strange how stressful this is!

Speak tomorrow.

Friday, 9 November 2007

Worms with gout? That's just silly.

Mainly sunny, 5 celcius

Sure enough - tiny list of construction material clutched in my sweating palm I walked into Tapis Cowansville to ask for grout. With Microban.

'Pardon? C'est quoi ca?'


Now, I don't know what I'm talking about in English - trying to explain my construction needs in French is just asking for disaster. At least I knew enough not to simply say, 'Microban' louder.

I explained it was 'quel que chose' for 'pour, ah, pour ah -'.

More people arrived and lined up behind me - I could feel them growing restive.

'Pour -', by now I'm fluttering my hands as though the words were just out of reach. At least I looked French. 'Vert.'

'Vert?' the man behind the counter and the two people behind me asked. Now 'vert' spoken in French, depending upon the context, can mean glass, green or worm. It seemed unlikely I'd need grout for any of these things.

'Microban,' I repeated. 'Vert'. I waved. The people behind me settled in for a long wait. The man behind the counter stared. Perhaps with time, he clearly thought, my medication would kick in.

'Ah,' a new voice behind me said. 'Des microbes'.

'Oui, oui,' I almost cried. 'Des microbes.' I smiled luminiuosly at my savior and put my fingers almost touching, as though microbes were the size of aspirin.

'Ca exist pas', rumbled the man behind the counter. 'Suivant?'

After protesting that it must exist, the man looked it up and explained yes, there is such a thing as anti-microbial grout - but it just isn't available. This felt more and more like asking for directions and being told, yes, the town exists, you just can't get there from here.

I stood silent - stumped while the people behind me tried to decide how best to dismember and cook me. Then I ordered regular grout and left. It was a victory all around. Upon arriving home with my bag of grout (Michael looked suspicious as I trudged through the kitchen with it) I took it to Gary working upstairs and he laughed.

'Well, we don't really need the microban anyway.'

I suddenly thought of Edgar Allen Poe and the 'Tell-tale Heart'.

Had a wonderful dinner with Kirk and Walter last night - though ironically when we arrived they announced they were on Weight Watchers! Not exactly a Burning Bush, but pretty close. And Walter still managed to make the meal mouth-watering. When we're on a diet at home all I really do is microwave endless quantities of broccolli, then wonder why we don't stick to it.

Am going to be doing my first live 'On-line chat' tomorrow at noon with Jill, who is co-ordinating it and desperately trying to drag me into this century, has explained how I need to hook up to something, then download thingy, and sacrifice a virginal chicken at midnight (at least I think that's what she said), and order a bag of microban, then something magical occurs and voila, I'm on live on line.


I nod and smile and try to look intelligent while reading these instructions. Little does she know she really is dealing with a moron. The first time I used a mouse I picked it up and touched the screen with it. This would have been bad enough, but as fate always has it I was in the middle of a quite large conference at the Canadian Broadcasting Corportation (my former employers) as we were given a course on 'new' technologies. In front of everyone I confidently, and slowly, took the mouse, leaned forward and tapped the screen.

Nothing happened. Except some snorts behind me. I only thank God I didn't then - realizing my mistake - speak into the mouse. 'Helloooo.'

To this day former colleagues tease me about the mouse incident. Har, har.

I was telling this to Linda Lyall, the amazing woman who designs and manages my website and she told me this story....

'My mother thought it was very nice of the computer company to give her a handy pull out cup holder for her tea, sadly this was discovered to be her CD drive.'

If you have any technology ninny stories, please tell me. Ninnies love company.

Susan Mackenzie - a network producer with the CBC and a close friend - is arriving today to spend a long weekend with us. She cooks - we eat. I'm beginning to notice a pattern here. Sunday Michael and I are taking her on a spa day to the Auberge West Brome then brunch.

Life is good.

See you tomorrow - be well.

Thursday, 8 November 2007

Grout? Epoxy? Apoplexy?

Partly cloudy, high 3 celcius

Great news from Michael's eye doctor. Everything looks great. What a huge relief! The pressure is up slightly (which is what causes damage to the optic nerve) so he wants to see Michael (and me, since I know the doc values my consultations) on Monday. Dr. Cohen let me look through his microscope at the eye. Fantastic.

Michael pointed out that I've now been allowed - by various doctors - to peer into his ears and his eyes. Michael get's a little nervous now when the rubber gloves and baster appear. That's next.

It's another day of chores - we're having renovations done so I need to get some sort of special glue for the tiles. I've noticed that our contractor, Gary, values my consultations at least as much as Dr. Cohen. It is a sign of respect and admiration when they roll their eyes, isn't it? Anyway, he's solved his problem by sending me all over the countryside asking for things with names I'm sure Gary's made up.

Then it's dinner tonight with two of our favorite people - Kirk and Walter. Neighbors down the road. Some locals think I modelled Olivier on Kirk and I suppose in a very general sense I did. I put all sorts of people I love into the village, and then gave them some qualities I adore in them, and some qualities I needed for dramatic purpose. Kirk runs a fantastic antique shop in Knowlton called Antiquites Lawrence and is also an interior designer with another mutual friend and artist Jane Walker. So there are some similarities. Though Kirk would never ever run a Bistro. He loves food but hates to cook. He leaves that to Walter - who is gentle and quiet and kind and very thoughtful. So we're really looking forward to dinner - see pix of their vacation in Provence and have a wonderful Walter meal. If you've read the books you know the sort of delight we're in for!

Lots to celebrate. Hope you're well too and I'll see you tomorrow.

Wednesday, 7 November 2007

What Michael sees

Snow, sleet, rain - temps 2 degrees celcius.

Wouldn't you know it - we have to drive an hour and a half into Montreal, through this. yech. happily we have a great car and good tires. Not insignificant in Quebec in late fall/winter.

We're going in to see Michael's eye doctor. Actually, his surgeon. Michael has had glaucoma for almost thirty years and has begun to lose his 'field of vision' which is a nice way of saying his sight. Makes it sound a little as though he can't see the wild flowers or barley in the field, but everything else is fine. Which it isn't. But we've been so lucky it hasn't progressed further and faster. it's remarkable to have managed it so well for so long. Thanks to Michael's discipline with his sea of eye drops, and his opthamologists.

Just before we left on the world tour we got the news his right eye would almost certainly have to have a major operation which might result in complete loss of vision in that one eye. He's the MOST amazing man. He managed to not brood on that. And I tried not to ask him at every stop...'So, how're you feeling?'

You know, I found it a little hard to know what to do. I didn't want him to think I was so wrapped up in myself I didn't care about his sight. But I also didn't want to remind him of this impending event all the time. After worrying it for a few continents I finally asked whether he wanted to talk about it. So we did.

Michael seems to have a remarkable facility for concentrating on, and enjoying, the moment at hand. And not projecting, not looking ahead. He plans, but he doesn't worry. At first I thought he was pretending, faking, living in denial. Lying. But after a decade or more together I know he really means it.

And I looked at my own fears. All of them are anticipatory. What if... And the oddest thing occured to me. Not a single one of my fears has happened. The plane hasn't crashed, the bridge didn't collapse, the elevator made it up and down. Nothing. All was well. And yet I'd tortured myself with fear. This I'd done, like mutilation, to myself.

And the same with his eye operation! When we got back the went straight to this new eye surgeon for a consult, he looked, poked Michael's eye with a needle to relieve the pressure and announced him cured.

We thought he was drunk.

Cured? there is no cure for glaucoma, Dr. Penny explained to the eye surgeon. He smiled and explained that might be so - but still, Michael was cured. But he wanted to see him in a week, to be sure the procedure worked.

Can you believe it???? We've been euphoric since.

And now we're driving through a mini-snowstorm to Michael's doctors for the long-term prognosis. And we couldn't be happier.

Still, fingers crossed. I hear that works. Has so far.

Speak to you tomorrow.

Tuesday, 6 November 2007

Hester remembers what's important

Rain, windy, high 8 degrees celcius, power out in the middle of the night, but back on now

When you live in the middle of nowhere and the power goes out it can be very romantic. Or not. Depends, really, on your idea of romance. No power means no water. No water means - well, you figure it out. Happily it's back on now.

It's a dreadful day - grey with rain slashing sideways. Even the dogs didn't want to stay out. It's the sort of day when the cold gets into the bones and nests there. The sort of day to go to Cowansville for a pancake breakfast!

We're off to Cowansville, to an old railway station that's now a restaurant called - The Station. Or Le Station. Works both in French and English. And then a bunch of chores. Brainless, but harmless too. I love breakfasts out, so this a treat.

Spoke to the Canadian Club of the Yamaska Valley at lunch yesterday. Wonderful group - a sea of smiling faces and poppies. Very moving to be in a room of people who, for the most part, don't need a poppy to remember. My poppy had fallen off (second on this season) and I explained when I started my speech that I actually had had one when I'd left home - but it had been repulsed from my body. I think they're designed to do that. Either fly off the clothes or simply dissolve. At the end of my talk an elderly man came up and offered me his worn poppy, with a tiny Canadian flag in the centre. I kissed him and thanked him, for more than the poppy, and accepted it. With gratitude.

I'd been warned before the speech not to take it personally if many in the audience fell asleep. Now, this is a new one on me. Generally if there's a danger people will fall asleep they just stay home. But this crowd is made of sterner stuff and ventures out even if the speaker might prove lethal.

I'm happy to report that as far as I know only one person fell asleep (and it wasn't Michael). There were two women in the very front row. One spent my talk nodding off and the other spent my talk jabbing her. My entire speech was punctuated by, 'Hester!' Snort. 'Hester!' Snort.

I found it very entertaining.

Have fun - we'll talk tomorrow.

Monday, 5 November 2007

But will it kill the roses?

Well, a new day has dawned here at the military/industrial complex that is my writing career. We've hired someone to help us! Lise Page started today - she actually arrived before us, and is busy putting order into two years of stuff simply dumped into the back room at our office. As a welcome gift we got her a small box of hand-made Belgium chocolates from Muriel's Maison du Chocolate next door - and a little something we picked up for her at the Museum of Modern Art in Brisbane, Australia. In the summer Lise is a magnificent gardener and helps us with our perennial beds. So when we saw some brilliantly coloured rubber vases for flowers at the museum we snapped a few up. They're very fun and playful - and they collapse down to nothing - a perfect gift for travelers!

However, it was only as Michael and I were in the car driving over we both looked at the thing - a neon green - and blanched.

'Does this look like something to you?' Michael asked.
'Something not a vase?'
He nodded and held it up. 'I looks like a urinal.'

Dear God, it does. And it might even be one. We bought our very first employee a 'welcome to the job' urinal. We might not win Employers of the Month for November. If only we'd thought to steal an airsick bag from BA we could have given her that for Christmas.

The lime green urinal gift might explain all the thumping we're now hearing from next door.

I'm off to speak to the Canadian Club of the Yamaska Valley in about an hour. It's a noon meeting and while most of my events have been considerable distance from home, this is just down the road at the Auberge West Brome - right across the street from the feed store where we plan to get our dogs some food later. Perhaps we can pick up a little something for Lise too. A leghold trap maybe.

Speak to you tomorrow - be well.

Sunday, 4 November 2007

Lazy, yes, but Lousie too?

Mostly sunny, high 7 degrees celcius

Michael, my husband, has pointed out it's too bad I didn't think to start the blog before our world book tour, which took us to Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, Alaska, the US midwest, Calgary, Vancouver and Toronto over the past seven weeks. But we're back, and all we're really doing now is mountains of laundry and paying bills - and discussing whether we should go to Weight Watchers, between mouthfuls of mini-O'Henry bars we tell people we bought by the truckload for trick-0r-treaters who've never, ever come to our home, since we're in the middle of nowhere.

Now there's a long sentence. It reminds me of one of my favorite Groucho Marx quotes: I'm descended from a long line my mother once fell for.

I drove to Quebec City yesterday and it never fails to take my breath away. The city is sublime. It's an old walled city, celebrating it's 400th birthday next year. Inside the walls are narrow cobblestone lanes and fieldstone homes right on the sidewalk. There's an ancient tree with a cannonball still stuck in it and the long wooden Dufferin Terrasse which winds it's graceful way along the cliff, looking out over the St. Lawrence river. It's gentle and genteel, quiet and secure, but with a great joie de vivre.

The drive was uneventful. No speeding tickets. But it's hunting season and every few kilometres there'd be a pickup truck parked on the side of the road. I felt like honking the whole way to scare the deer. We have friends who are hunters and we've stopped talking about that since it just leads to grief. But I can't even begin to understand how someone can look through the sites of a rifle and shoot a deer, or moose or even a partridge. I understand that it's a tradition passed often from father to son, and there's a rich and very beautiful bond developed from one generation to another as they do this shared experience. It gives them something to talk about, to discuss and remember. It's fresh air. The kids are taught about tracking and nature. Not all hunters of drunken louts.

But finally, why does a father need to teach a son to kill? And enjoy it? Make a sport of it? Can't they take pictures? I know that sounds lame to hunters, but if the 'great white hutners' of Africa could learn to stop killing and start doing safari's with cameras, surely our hunters can too? I must be missing something. I honestly don't understand. It sickens me.

The Quebec City event at La Maison Anglaise was great. Lots of people (thank God - I've done events where no one shows up and it's very hard to stand there like a lump trying to pretend it doesn't matter - and wishing a hunter would come along and put me out of my misery.)

The funniest thing was an article in the local paper, the Chronicale-Telegraph - which is North America's oldest newspaper! It's been going since 1764. I tell you, Quebec City is a treasure. Anyway they very kindly did a story in advance of my arrival - the banner headline?


Be well, and I'll see you tomorrow.

Saturday, 3 November 2007

La Maison Anglaise - English Bookstore event

Sunny, high near 8 degrees celcius. I've decided to start each blog entry with the days forecast.

I'm off to Quebec City this morning for an event at 1pm at La Maison Anglaise, a small but wonderful English bookstore in the city. Indeed, the only English bookstore east of Montreal in this predominently French province. The store is owned by Guy Dubois, a francophone with a love of all things literary no matter the language, and managed by Heather Croft. Two more effective or funnier people would be hard to find and if you visit Quebec City I encourage you to visit their store.

It's about a three hour drive, half along windy and beautiful country roads and half along a flat and uninspiring highway, what we call an Autoroute in Quebec.

I always get speeding tickets. Last time I visited La Maison I was clocked on the Autoroute at doing 120 in a 100 kilometre an hour zone. I tried to sweet-talk the Surete officer but I think the middle-aged flirty anglo just turned his stomache and he ticketed me anyway. But, he forgot to write in the amount of the fine! Ha, my finest legal brain kicked in, which is on par with my medical brain as Michael can attest. I'll send it back without payment, I thought, since they didn't demand one.

I then forgot about it until two days before our world book tour launched at the end of August, when I got a court summons. Smarty-pants had to show up in mid-September in Quebec City or - ? Well, my finest drama queen brain kicked in and I imagined all sorts of things, mostly Singaporian police rounding me up and executing me. Or at the very least embarassing me in front of everyone at Raffles Hotel. Worst than death. Or denying me entry to British Airway First Class Lounge, though I suspect I wouldn"t be the first felon there.

I caved and immediately sent the money they wanted which was the original fine plus a penalty for making them ask for it twice.

As punishment I intend to assign Agent Nichol to the Surete in Quebec City, highway department. God help them. Fingers crossed I either don't speed, which between us is unlikely, or I don't get caught. Happily the weather forecast is perfect, sunny and mild. Not always a given in Quebec in November.

See you tomorrow.


Friday, 2 November 2007

First Post!

This is an exciting day in my life, which might illustrate what the rest of my life is like. I'm writing my first blog. Right now. Here. And you're reading it. I wonder if you're as thrilled as I am? That's a rhetorical question and I'd rather not know the answer.

I've been thinking about the emails I've been getting, and the kindness of people to take the time to find the website and write, never mind reading the books. My website tends to be somewhat static since I don't really have the time to change it, and not that much of huge import happens to warrent getting the wonderful Linda Lyall in Scotland to do even more work. But then someone suggested a weblog. (Up until a couple of years ago I'd never heard of a blog) Such a great tool. But it intimidated me a bit. Just figuring out how to do it, technically. But also I wasn't sure I wanted to committ to the work involved. Frankly, I'm still not sure. But I started reading other people's blogs and was charmed by them. Their simplicity, for the most part. Their willingness to gently swing open the door on their lives and allow us a glimpse inside - both physically and emotionally. Not the full-frontal exhibitionism of some reality shows, but a kind of internet slow-cooking.

I liked that.

What I'm going to try to do is write on the blog every day - probably in the afternoon after writing the books in the morning. Some entries will be just hugely mundane and prescribed to insomniacs, while I'm sure most of the entries will be thrilling beyond belief. Kidding. But together we'll work it out and see where this goes. If you're willing, so am I.

There'll also be a 'comments' section which I promise to read but can't promise to respond to each one, though I'll try. And, as you might have noticed, I've also launched a Newsletter, which you can sign up to on the homepage of the website. The plan is to send one out, free, each month. That will go into more depth about things. But we might all find it's over-kill.

All of this, my writing, my life, everything, is progress, not perfection. I just keep bumbling along, and remebering each morning how lucky I am.

Thanks for reading this far. Be well and I'll see you tomorrow.