That weird moment in a series…

… when you are closer in time to the launch of Book 2 than you are to the launch of Book 1.

Hence the change in the look of this site – it’s time to ramp up for Thrice Burned !

So here’s what you need to know about Portia’s return to Baker Street:

  • We catch up with our young detective right after her eye-opening Christmas in Edinburgh
  • She gets back to London just in time to be pulled into the spate of arsons plaguing the city
  • Portia gets two new best friends (and one of them is a little hairy)
  • It’s decision time for Portia Adams – is she going to be an amazing lawyer or the best detective in London since Sherlock Holmes?
  • the three casebooks in Book 2 involve Arson, Suicide and a case of Stolen Identity

It is time for a new adventure my friends!

It is time for a new adventure my friends

No, I don’t mean a new adventure as distinguished from Portia Adam’s adventures, but a new adventure in my life.

I am going on a writing sabbatical for the summer, carving off 3 months for the first time in my life for this writing passion of mine. I’m not planning past then, I want to see what I can accomplish and then make some new plans on what to do next.

Suffice to say I am equal parts excited and terrified to have taken this step, but thankfully, I have a marvellously supportive family and fantastic friends, all of whom are 100% behind me.

So expect more posts, more writing and more reading in the blogosphere from yours truly starting June 24th my friends and send good thoughts into the universe on my behalf.

The Black Dragon Award

The Black Dragon award as created by Rami the Writer
The Black Dragon award

My lovely friend Rami over at Rami Ungar the Writer has nominated me for the first ever Black Dragon award!

These are the rules as listed on his post:

1. You must have written something scary or featuring something scary in the past year. (This can range from being a simple murder mystery to a full-on zombie novel with a wizard and serial killers mixed in for variety). Note that whatever work you’ve created will be the subject of several of the questions below.

2. You must thank the person who nominated you and then link back to their  blog.

3. You must answer the 10 questions below on your own blog post.

4. Finally, you must nominate at least 5 other authors for the award and then notify them of it

FIRST and most important, here are my five nominees for The Black Dragon Award:

Scary Structures
Waiting in the Kingdom
James McKenna
The Author’s Blog
The Real Sherlock

And now, in answer to the questions (and I encourage you to go read Rami’s answers to his questions here)

1. What is the premise of the novel you’ve written? Portia Adams is a young woman who has suddenly and mysteriously inherited 221 Baker Street. Her first year in London encompasses the first three cases in the book, and involve her discovering the linkages to the famous offices, and the development of her skills as a detective.

2. How long did it take you to write it? My books are divided into casebooks rather than chapters, so the first casebook called ‘Jewel of the Thames’ I wrote in about a month.

3. Which character(s) are you most like? My sister says I am most like Portia Adams, but honestly I think ALL my characters have facets of my personality – I’m analytical and social inept like Portia, I’m loyal and stoic like Brian, I’m a journalist like Annie, I’m sometimes sneaky and anti-establishment like Adler, and I can be rude and abrasive like Sergeant Michaels.

4. What’s the scariest thing you’ve read/seen lately? The news sadly. I can’t think of anything scarier than all the stories about these poor girls being raped and their attacks being taped and posted on social media.

5. What’s something you’re reluctant to write about? I guess gore? I’m not great at writing gore, and not great at reading it.

6. If you could take characters from other works and insert them into an original story of your own design, who would you take and what would you have them do? OOh, interesting one. Since I already have a couple of characters from Conan Doyle’s stories… I would love to somehow pull in villains from other stories I have loved. If I could figure out how, I would love for Portia to go up against one of the more intellectual Sith from the Star Wars books (not the movies where Sith are all physical) or a Lex Luthor type from the Superman stories.

7. Do you envision a sequel to your novel? Like I said, since my books are compilations of casebooks, there already is a series. I’ve written 8 casebooks listed here.

8. What first got you into writing? And what got you writing scary subject matter? I’m a writer, first published at 14, it’s what I do. In terms of writing scary stuff, unlike my nominator Rami, it’s not my primary genre, but part of writing mysteries is the subject matter, which has of course meandered into the murder/death/violent side over the course of cases. I enjoy reading scary stuff though, and have since I was a kid.

9. What scares you personally? Spiders, snakes, rats, wolves, the usual of course. Falling off high buildings. Losing my loved ones.

10. What are your future plans? Good gosh, who knows? Trying to get an agent and get published is the current plan, though as time goes by, I am more attracted to the idea of self-publishing as well.

Writing about suicide

In J-school (I graduated from the University of Western Ontario’s Masters program in Journalism) we spent a few lectures on covering suicides. It was one of those subjects that caused a lot of discussion inside the classroom and even more so after we left it. The basic question of how seriously to take the idea that covering a suicide gave the public the idea that they too could do ‘it,’ was one that continued to be debated in the various newsrooms I was hired in to.

I am cognizant of that [essentially] unanswered question as I start writing this latest casebook for Portia Adams. I am in no way ‘covering’ a suicide since this is fiction, but the basics of the case Portia is working on revolves around suicide and more specifically, a critical look at the psychological profile of a suicidal person.

Virginia Woolf
Virginia Woolf: ‘One day she is “sunk fathoms deep”, another trying to keep afloat in a “great lake of melancholy”.’ Photograph: EO Hoppé/Corbis

In J-school (I graduated from the UWO Masters program in Journalism) we spent a few lectures on covering suicides. It was one of those subjects that caused a lot of discussion inside the classroom and even more so after we left it. The basic question of how seriously to take the idea that covering a suicide gave the public the idea that they too could do ‘it,’ was one that continued to be debated in the various newsrooms I was hired in to.

I am cognizant of that [essentially] unanswered question as I start writing this latest casebook for Portia Adams. I am in no way ‘covering’ a suicide since this is fiction, but the basics of the case Portia is working on revolves around suicide and more specifically, a critical look at the psychological profile of a suicidal person.

An article from the Poynter Institute written a decade ago remains one of the best on the subject if you are interested in reading more, but this is the quote that I always keep in mind when this subject comes up (which thank fully, is not that often, but still happens more than it should):

Mental illness is almost always present in a case of suicide. To report on suicide without discussing the role of mental illness is like reporting on a tornado without mentioning the underlying weather conditions. Tornados don’t whip up out of nowhere, and neither does suicide.

Seeing as Portia suffers from some form of bipolar disorder as I suspect her grandfather did, this seems like a case I can use to delve into some of her issues.

Just because context helps when writing, Statistics Canada and Health Canada obviously follow this subject very closely, and their latest numbers are:

Suicide is a major cause of premature and preventable death. It is estimated, that in 2009 alone, there were about 100,000 years of potential life lost to Canadians under the age of 75 as a result of suicides.

Research shows that mental illness is the most important risk factor for suicide; and that more than 90% of people who commit suicide have a mental or addictive disorder.1,2 Depression is the most common illness among those who die from suicide, with approximately 60% suffering from this condition.

Obviously one of my next steps is to do some research on suicide rates in London in the 1930s and what kind of stigma was attached to mental illness at the time. Also, I will need to know what kind of support people had from their medical community.

By the 1930s, Europe had dropped well into the Great Depression and therefore training for medical staff would have been harder to come by, and the support for institutions would have also dried up as money was refocused on the majority of the public who needed basic survival aid.

If anyone has suggestions on articles or contacts please let me know in the comments below? Thanks!

Finally onto transcribing!

Cat jumping for joy
This is me transcribing!

I can honestly say that for the first time in this series, I am looking forward to the transcription and resulting edits in the process.

Why you ask?

Because writing Principessa has been really hard! I’m not whining, I swear, but I really struggled with this case book, and I think I know why:

  • I came up with a premise for the location and client without a clear idea about the crime.
  • The politics in Italy in the 1930s make the crime I finally DID choose really complicated to engineer.
  • The language barrier for Portia is another complication that I kept stepping around unsuccessfully.

That is why I was determined to give myself a deadline for finishing this story (as so many of you bloggers out there recommend) while I was on vacation. My thinking is that even if this doesn’t end up being a story I want to keep, at least if it is fully out of my head and on the computer, I can move on to the NEXT story.

Mission accomplished in terms of finishing up the hand-written story, now onto transcribing where hopefully I will be able to tie off some of the raggedy edges.

Do you guys have the same experience with needing to finish the first story before you start the next?

Or do you allow yourselves the sweet sneaky nip into that next fun storyline?

On the road again….

I can’t help it that anytime I think of that song, I hear it in Donkey’s (Eddie Murphy’s) voice from Shrek.
Anywhoo, we are off on another road trip my little family is, and we’re headed out to the East Coast of this lovely country we call Canada (don’t ask me why I am writing like this, I must be excited).

Google map
The road-trip!

I intend to FINISH writing the first draft of Principessa on this road trip, so wish me luck!
In the meantime, enjoy the rest of the summer my friends, and don’t worry, I’ll be following your blogs on the road, so leave a light on for me!

Outline? What outline? We don’t need no stinkin’ outline!

Cat covering its face in embarrassment
‘Don’t judge me! Don’t judge meeeee!’

I have to admit something today to all of you that I’m kind of embarrassed of: for the last 6 stories I have written about my plucky young detective Portia Adams.. I haven’t actually ‘known’ the solution to those cases when I started writing it. Except for the ‘Unfound’ case.. because it was a bit of an homage to Edgar Allan Poe’s The Purloined Letter (blog post on that homage here), I knew that the missing child would be hidden ‘in plain sight,’ – so I had a solution in mind when I started writing that story.

But it is the anomaly.

The other 5 cases (plus the one I am writing right now) were written with the crime in mind, and no real idea of who did it or how Portia solves the case. Knock on wood, this formula (or lack thereof) seems to be working for me.

All over the web I read blog posts about how to write a good outline, thinking out elements of your story before you actually set down and write it. But it doesn’t seem to be how I write.

How about you guys? Do you write an outline for every story you write?

Someone who inspires you

Clint Eastwood

Like all of us, I sometimes forget just how lucky I am. Today is not one of those days. I got to spend a few moments with Ms. Eleanor Wachtel (name-dropping is only effective if you know she is the fabulous host of CBC Radio’s Writers & Company ; ) and even though we didn’t talk about books or writing at all, just being around her made me feel lucky.

I came home and sent out three new query letters (my query letters had dropped off in the last month because I was sad about the six I have already sent out and heard nothing from).

Ms. Wachtel has hosted Writers & Company since 1990, and I used to listen to her on the air as a kid when she was on The Arts Tonight and State of the Arts, so despite working in the same building as her for the past 13 years, there’s still a lot of hero-worship when I get to be around her.

Point is, I am lucky that I have that opportunity. And lucky I have the time and support to write here and in my little moleskin.

What do you feel lucky about?

Lucky 7 Meme (or… 7 lines from Principessa!)

Lucky Meme
Lucky Meme

Ms. Laura Lee Anderson was kind enough to tag me in her Lucky 7 meme, so I am following the rules of the game with the 7th page of my in-progress work

here are the rules:

1) Go to page 7 or 77 from your current WIP (that’s “work in progress.”)

2) Go to line 7

3) Copy down the next 7 lines- sentences or paragraphs- and post them as they’re written. No cheating!

4) Tag 7 authors

5) Let them know

Casebook 7 is about a quarter done; here are 7 lines from the 7th page.

The secret compartments were a recent discovery – one I made with Brian Dawes a few months ago. My downstairs tenant had been as surprised as I to unearth the two columns – one on each side of my fireplace. What was even more surprising to him though was the scrapbook that revealed my relationship with Sherlock Holmes and Irene Adler (now known as Irene Jones). His excitement in learning that my paternal grandfather was one of his heroes was tempered by his knowledge of Adler’s criminal background. Since then we had settled into an uneasy agreement that my grandmother was probably not a threat, and that my grandfather’s influence outweighed hers. But his awareness of my full backstory made me.. well… apprehensive.

This is casebook 7 in the series, I took the first three casebooks and have been sending them as the first manuscript to potential publishers since February.

Time to choose 7 authors (i picked 7 blogs I recently started following):

Scott J. Clemons

B.G. Mitchell

Heather Wright

Melanie Marttila

Amanda Leigh


Trudy Doyle

The dialogue that moves us

Let’s deepen this dialogue, shall we?

By and large when people suggest I ‘expand upon a scene’ they are asking for more dialogue (as opposed to more action or suspense). It seems to be trademark for me to have key points in the story in my head that I am dying to get to, sometimes at the expense of all that talking and character development.

So this long weekend (YAY MAY 2-4!) I am going to go back into some old scenes in Casebooks 1 thru 3 and expand on the dialogue, hopefully in a positive way.

Needing inspiration of course, I will start my morning with reading some scenes known for their moving dialogue; I’m thinking about:

  1. the back-and-forth between Ophelia and Hamlet in Act 3, Scene 1, when their fathers are hiding behind a tapestry listening in.
  2. the scene in Pride and Prejudice when Lady Catherine de Bourge confronts Lizzie at her parents’ home is some great dialogue.
  3. there is a scene in Firefly: Serenity with the Operative, Captain Mal and Inara in the Temple that I’ve always found super-clever but I couldn’t find a link to post to. If you get a chance, watch it, as I will today.
  4. The scene with Watson and Holmes in the new BBC series in the back of the cab when Holmes gets offended when Watson sniffs and says “The Police don’t consult amateurs” is a brilliantly written little piece of dialogue that I’ve watched over and over again.
  5. I could post any scene from the first three years of the West Wing and you’d get a great example of dialogue to aspire to, but I picked one of the first that really made me laugh (from Season 1, Episode 3):

Josh Lyman: You know what, C.J.? I really think I’m the best judge of what I mean, you paranoid Berkeley shiksa feminista… Wow, that was way too far.
C.J. Cregg: No, no. Well, I’ve got a staff meeting to go to and so do you, you elitist, Harvard, fascist, missed-the-dean’s-list-two-semesters-in-a-row Yankee jackass.
Josh Lyman: Feel better getting that off your chest there, C.J.?
C.J. Cregg: I’m a whole new woman.

And then there is all the internet has to offer us:

Do you guys have any other suggestions? I’m getting some great bubbling ideas from all this already, but I could always use more inspiration!