How To Be A God Of Creation

One of the things I’ve recently become interested in is the ways cities and towns are planned and laid out. World-building is seen most predominantly in science fiction and fantasy, but my focus lately has been mysteries. I got to wondering, surely world-building was important in the mystery genre, right? Three days of searching on Google seems to be returning a negative reply. If Google is to be believed, (and I don’t), mystery writers never consider world-building, they just seem to pick a city and plop their story and characters into a pre-made place.

That wasn’t the way I wanted to go with my mystery, Body In The Bush.

Body In The Bush is the story of an Indigenous detective named Anais Quinn. She is forced to return to the town she grew up in, Sitka Cove, after being away for twelve years. One of the first cases she’s assigned is the investigation into the discovery of a deceased person in the woods (what we call the bush up here in Northern Ontario) outside of town. I knew before I’d written a single word that I wanted my mystery to take place in Northern Ontario. The experts all advise, “write what you know”, and I’ve made Northern Ontario my home for a number of years. There are secrets up here, just as there are in cities. The people that call the bush home have ambitions, jealousies, untapped potential, greed, dreams and aspirations just as much as anywhere else in the country. And it is all of those things that drive people to commit crimes against one another, no matter where they live. So why is Northern Ontario so under-represented in the mystery genre?

The answer lies in Toni Morrison’s advice to writers everywhere. “If you cannot find the story you want to read, you must write it yourself.”

So I have.

But I didn’t want to write about a town that already existed. I wanted to make my own town, and not only to avoid the controversy that Stephen Leacock endured when he wrote Sunshine Sketches of A Small Town. So I turned to world-building. 

Initially, I envisioned Sitka Cove as having about 40,000 people, but that number has been dialed back recently. I see Sitka Cove as the centerpiece of a series of mysteries, so I want to leave room for it to grow. It has schools, diners, shops, an art gallery, a police force, a medical center, a museum that focuses on the town’s history, and good neighborhoods as well as bad. The town was founded on the shore of Lake Superior, and climate change is wreaking havoc on one of the older parts of town in the form of floods every time the water levels in the lake rise. Historically, Sitka Cove (simply called ‘Sitka’ by the locals) relied on the logging and fishing for income and growth. But as time passed, roads crept ever closer to Sitka and the people had options. As my story opens, provincial roads now stretch all the way into the town, and brought with it a chain of donut shops and all of the vices of a city. The local economy is about to boom now that diamonds have been found in the cliffs and bluffs not far from town. A college will be opening soon too — growth will be everywhere. With growth comes crime, and all sorts of cases for Detective Anais Quinn and her partner Lorne Winters to solve.

Is there a particular town that stands out in your memory, or perhaps one you’ve always wanted to visit?

Let me know in the comments section below!

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Tea With Kory Shrum

I’ve always wondered about other authors. What do they enjoy? What makes them tick? So not too long ago, I got the idea to reach out to a few authors I admire and see if they would be willing to answer a few questions for us. Thankfully, they’ve been generous with their time. In a perfect world, I would be sitting down having a cup of tea with these talented folks, but with distance and a raging pandemic, email is safer.

I have been a fan of Kory Shrum for a few years now. She’s a brilliant author and a creative soul that is both entertaining and inspiring. She is the author of sixteen novels, including the bestselling Shadows in the Water and Dying for a Living series. She has loved books and words all her life. She reads almost every genre you can think of, but when she writes, she writes science fiction, fantasy, and thrillers, or often something that’s all of the above. This past year she launched a true-crime podcast “Who Killed My Mother?” under the name K.B. Marie, sharing the true story of her mother’s tragic death. You can find it on YouTube. When she’s not eating, reading, writing, or indulging in her true calling as a stay-at-home dog mom, she loves to plan her next adventure. She’s written both paranormal mysteries and now mysteries set in the future, and every book she writes is more gripping and compelling than the last! (Trust me on this, I spent all night reading her last book and got NO sleep, but it was SO worth it!) Pop over to her website and check it out. 

Kory was generous enough to answer a few questions I had for her about writing, comfort food and reading. If paranormal mysteries or science-fiction mysteries are your reading-jam, pop over to her website and check it out!

What do you think the most compelling elements of your current story are? 

Probably the characters. I don’t have clear good guys and bad guys most of the time. They’re just people, with a good mix of virtues and faults, but this makes them seem more real and compelling on the page. I hope the plot isn’t too bad either! 🙂

What is your favourite genre to read?

Oh gosh, I don’t know! It’s like naming a favorite child! I read everything from nonfiction to comics, to fantasy, and mysteries. To really weird stuff like how to lucid dream, which is on my bedside table right now 🙂

If you could give your younger writing-self a piece of advice, what would it be? 

**clears throat** This is going to take a lot longer than you think it will. Getting the first book published is only the start, so settle in. Get comfortable. And start thinking about what stories really matter to you—which ones will you regret not writing if you were to die this year. Focus on those.

Who are the authors who have made a difference in your life?

If not my life, certainly my writing… For fiction: Ruth Ozeki, Margaret Atwood, Stephen King, Robert Galbraith, Anne Rice, Laurell K. Hamilton, Neil Gaiman and many others.  I also owe a debt of gratitude to the poets Mary Oliver, Maya Angelou, Wislawa Szymborska and Lucille Clifton and more. And to the meditation/dharma books of Pema Chodron as well.

What occupies your time when you’re not writing? 

Right now, it’s producing my podcast! For every 20-25 minute episode, it’s about thirteen hours of work. I also like to read, paint, play piano, study French, travel – though none of us are doing much of that at the moment.

How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?

Just two. 🙂 A werewolf novel and a novel about an 18-year-old demon-hunting witch.

What is your go-to comfort food?  

Macaroni and cheese. I also like a good hot tea.

What was the hardest scene you’ve ever written?

Well, the one that comes to mind, probably because I wrote it not that long ago, is from Episode 8 of my “Who Killed My Mother” podcast? In it, I was recounting a traumatic story of a doctor’s visit I had when I was six or seven, and it triggered some pretty intense emotions for me.

How do you choose the names of your characters? 

Usually they come to me along with the character, but then I check them using a baby name book online to make sure the meaning of the name matches the character.

 What challenges you the most about writing?

Showing up, honestly. I’ve published sixteen books and I can attest it hasn’t gotten any easier with time! But it’s important to show up and put words on the page every day, so I’m certainly trying my best.

Anything else you’d like us to know?  

I love interviews! This was fun. Thanks for having me! 🙂

Thank YOU, Kory!

An Honour And Big Shoes

Once in a lifetime, some folks are lucky enough to be the recipient of a life-altering gift. As far as I know, I’ve never been able to count myself among them.

Until this week.

Back in late autumn of last year (2020), I joined the Golden Crown Literary Society, a leading literary organization for editors, publishers, readers, writers, and friends/supporters who celebrate books about women loving women. A couple of months later, I applied to their writing academy. I was tickled pink when I got an acceptance letter! Their writing academy has educated, bouyed, supported and kick-started the careers of many authors. But as with quality education in anything we’re passionate about, it wasn’t free. They offer payment plans, so I wasn’t worried. Too much.

Just a couple of days ago, I was thrilled beyond words (which is saying a lot!) to find out that I’d been chosen to receive the very first Erica Abbott Mystery Scholarship! Erica Abbott was beloved and cherished by the lesfic community and when she passed away, she left a void that can never be filled. She was a friend to many and an accomplished and gifted writer as well. It is an unfathomable honour to be the first recipient of a scholarship in her name.

I have very large shoes to fill.

The Golden Crown Literary Society has apparently seen merit and potential in my writing, and it’s a mind-blowing opportunity to be accepted into the writing academy. I have a responsibility not to waste this moment…this gift. At the same time, I am reminded of the power the written word can have. Empires have been crumbled, or fortified with words. Swaths of wilderness and the animals that live in them have been saved or brought to ruin with a written word. The environment, and we ourselves can be saved with a series of words.

The pen is indeed mightier than the sword.

Tell me about a gift you recieved that changed your life, or the way you viewed something.

HIstory Meets Modern Day

There’s a lot to be said for experimentation in writing. Especially if it’s a genre a writer hasn’t tried before. The writer can try new points of view, new tropes or maybe new settings. Sometimes, writing in a genre they’ve not written in before can reveal new aspects of the person behind the keyboard.

Once upon a time (I promise this isn’t a fairy tale) I would have said I avoided romance books like the plague. Except, over time, I haven’t been. I read and review quite a few #wlw (women-loving-women) romance novels, mysteries and literary fiction books. I’ve also been reading a number of “straight” Western romances, particularly those set in the late 1800s. I seem to have developed a fondness for them, actually. There’s something intriguing about a woman setting off to make a life for herself, and marry a man she’s only ever written to and yet never seen. Talk about an adventure with a big helping of risk! What if the gent had misrepresented himself, or the woman had and her new man no longer wanted her? Or if they hit it off, what if she was woefully unprepared for the amount of work involved in homesteading? Anything could happen…wildfire, flood, a failed crop could lead to famine, their stock could die…

Life on the frontier was tough!

But all the while I’ve been reading these tales of risk, bravery and eventual love, an idea had been growing in the back of my mind. I could write one of these but put it in a place I know.

Northern Ontario.

There aren’t as many historical records that tell us about matrimonial situations in the bush as there are for life on the prairie, but that’s where imagination comes in.

I know how winters are up here. I know how fierce hungry, wild animals can be. I know how a wolf howl can send shivers down a spine.

So, to that end, one of the pieces of fiction I’ll be working on over the next few months is a historical romance novel. The story of how Clara Livingston and Josiah Hunter make a life for themselves in the Canadian woods in 1860.

I’ll share behind-the-scenes glimpses and excerpts if you like, as well as tidbits of research. Let me know if this sounds like something you’d be interested in.

I do hope you’ll come along for the ride!

Want To Know The News Before Everyone Else?

How would you like to be one step ahead of everyone else? How would you like exclusive sneak-peeks at fiction not widely available? What about insider-only behind-the-scenes peaks into an author’s inspiration?

You can get all this and more!

If you like what I’ve been sharing here, if you want to get short stories, flash fiction, essays about the act of creating make-believe people and the places they live, you want to sign up for my newsletter, Words & Worlds! I also talk about books, authors and sometimes Harley (the dog who thinks he’s human) chimes in as well.

So how do you get in on all this good stuff? The top of the blog, under the big box that says WORDS & WORLDS, has a newsletter sign-up form. Tap that, fill in your email and you’re good to go! I solemnly swear not to share your email address with anyone (not even Harley).

See you in the newsletter!

Carolyn

The Puzzle of Patronage

PATRONAGE: noun

  • the support or influence of a patron
  • the patronage of science by universities

Historically, artists, musicians, writers, and inventors would search out wealthy kings, popes, philanthropists and other folks of influence. Sometimes those influential people would search out artists, scholars, and the aforementioned creatives to sponsor. They would support the creative with social prestige, contacts through networking, encouragement and financial aid. 

Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and William Shakespeare all had patrons. The British Royal Family lends their patronage to various charities through exposure, contacts, time and occasionally, endowments. Modern benefactors support art galleries, museums, theater companies and other creative endeavours through financial support. Venture capitalists do the same sort of thing – supporting start-ups and emerging companies with growth potential. Only here, we’re talking about creative-folk. 

So why am I talking about this today? Because YOU can be a part of all this! 

On Patreon, patrons can support creators with either a fixed amount per month or every time the artist releases a new piece of art/piece of writing/podcast/whatever. A creator displays a goal that the ongoing revenue will go towards, so you can see what your support will be used for. Patrons can cancel their payments at any time. So what’s in it for you? Creators usually provide membership benefits for their patrons, which varies depending on their artistic mediums and the level of support. It could be a one-on-one with a rising star in film, or musician. You might get an exclusive sneak peek at a new piece of artwork before the general public does, or read a new chapter from a favourite author, or see an exclusive video from an animator. It all depends on the benefits each creator offers. But basically, fans subscribe either per work or per month in exchange for premium content.

Consider this, a donation of $3/month to a writer who promises to share exclusive flash fiction and sneak peeks at their current work in progress doesn’t sound like much, right? But if 15 people – patrons – all contribute $3/month that’s an income of $540/year. That could be the difference between paying car insurance or not. So your $3 enables a writer to get their own car to drive their kids to soccer, enabling the kids to be healthier. Or that extra $3 becomes part of a fund to help put someone’s kid through college. Or an emergency medical fund, or gas money for someone who has to travel for an ongoing medical procedure. My point is, what might seem to be a measly $3 to one person may become a part of something larger with enormous impact in someone else’s life. 

Is becoming a patron something you can do? Only you know the answer to that, but I do hope you’ll pop over to patreon.com and check them out. You might be surprised at the good you can do. If it appeals to you, you can find my page at https://www.patreon.com/cmcbride

How To Build A Town, Part 2

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

A few days ago, I talked a little about why I chose to build a fictional town for my Detectives Anais Quinn and her partner, Lorne Winters, rather than just have them live and work somewhere that already existed. I told you about the population of Sitka Cove as well as how it’s growing as a community. But growing pains are real in real communities, so of course Sitka Cove will suffer from growing pains as well.

With growth comes crime, and all sorts of cases for Detective Anais Quinn and her partner Lorne Winters to solve. 

The challenge for me was not just to create a town that I could build future stories on, but to make the town sustainable enough that it could grow. In short, provide Sitka Cove with a future as well as my detective. Cue the research into successful settlements of the past and why they were located where they were, sustainable cities, and urban growth. It’s been a wonderful rabbit-hole to get lost in. Another challenge is how much of all this new knowledge to use. Ideally, I want to use enough to give my reader a sense that Sitka Cove could be a real place, run by a real Town Manager. In turn, how can I use the Town Manager as a useful character, instead of a pointless walk-on? (I’m leaning heavily toward the Town Manager being either a jogging buddy of my detective or perhaps a fellow poker player. It remains to be determined.)

I see Sitka Cove as more than just a place for people to do things on their way to do other things. Remember I told you last time that Sitka Cove sits on the shore of Lake Superior? The Northern end of town is the oldest part, the first settled end of town, that the locals call “Old Town”. Lake Superior has been reclaiming that land, the flood coming in a little closer every spring and not really receding. So Old Town loses a little more of itself every year. The people that live at this end of town are here because they can’t afford to move anywhere else. They tend to live hand-to-mouth and life is not easy in Old Town. The houses are run down, the roads are not kept up and Town Council can’t quite figure out how to fix the problems of Old Town. Crime festers in neighbourhoods like this. Drugs, theft, vandalism…all stem from a lack of hope. Gangs are born in this environment, fed by frustration, and grow quickly in the absence of community leadership.

At the other end of town, there is growth. A new college has been built – clean, shiny and full of promise. It will keep the younger Sitkans closer to home while it teaches them skills they will need to make a living without going South. Without going “away”. Part of the college’s mandate is also to give older residents new skills. Re-educate them in new fields so that they have more choices, so they can be a productive part of Sitka Cove’s growth and future. Not all of the citizens buy into this, of course. Many call it “political bullshit”. They are too jaded to see anything but the rest of their lives spinning out exactly as it has for all their lives.

But Body In The Bush is not simply about disheartened and frustrated people taking out their frustrations on one another. It is more than just an investigation into who the dead man is under the pine trees. It is the story of finding one’s way back home again. Finding family, and love, and hope, and shining a light on the future that is full of possibility. But before you think the characters are going to break into song, remember this is a mystery. Sitka Cove is peppered with people that might live beside you. Or me. Conspiracy theorists, paranoid people making their way through life by playing on the mistakes of others, people just trying to make a living off the land, the lake or each other. People who want a better life, but just don’t see how they can have one. Folks who make poor choices, who are desperate, judgmental, angry, addicted or simply tired of feeling powerless. Body In The Bush is their story as well.  

I can’t wait to bring you Body In The Bush! These edits are going far slower than I like. Have you ever read a book that featured a fictional place that left an impression on you? Shout out in the comments and share it with us.