Bird Watching on Grand Manaan Island

If you’ve read LET THE SHADOWS FALL BEHIND YOU, you know it opens with Brannagh and Nikki on a bird count in Northern Ontario…just before Nikki vanishes into thin air. She’s a naturalist illustrator and he’s a wildlife preservationist. In real life…internationally renowned birder, Jim Wilson, recently took the Saint John Naturalist Club on a trip to Grand Manaan island in the Bay of Fundy. What a gorgeous spot! Happy to report, nothing disappeared but lunch.

You can view a slide show of all the photos I took on KATHY-DIANE’s MYSPACE blog or profile.

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Confessions of a MotorCycle Mamma

When my husband came home one day and exclaimed, “I want to buy a motorcycle” I cringed, thinking:  Oh God.  Yeah, that’s what I really want more than anything else, is to become a prune-faced, helmeted, living cliche of the MID-LIFE CRISIS.  I said, “That’s nice dear” and hoped this cock-eyed desire would pass.  It didn’t.

 Over the next few months my husband would grow glassy-eyed extolling the virtues of   “Born to Be Wild”.  “That sense of breaking free, being out in the open, with the wind in your hair, the incredible smells, there is no other experience that comes close to riding a motorcycle.   Can you imagine?” he’d ask.

 Sure I could.  I pictured bugs in my canines,  the stench of diesel trucks, and every bump on the road emphasizing the lack of fat protecting my tail bone.  “Hmmm….” I said.  “Maybe, someday….”

 Like almost everyone I went through a period of fascination with motorcycles in my youth.  Back then joining a motorcycle gang was the equivalent of becoming blood brothers with Alice Cooper.   You would have to cover your body in tattoos, stop taking baths, and possibly consider snatching children off the street.  I grew up with a notion that bikers are the bad guys, and while there was a certain point during my teenage years when I empathized with the rebels, with time and the settling down of wild adolescent hormones, that feeling passed.   

 One day in August, my husband came home shouting:  “I passed the motorcycle course!”  He danced around the room waving an armload of magazines:  Canadian Biker, Motorcycle Cruiser.  Soon no dinner conversation was complete without comparisons of ‘shaft drives, chassis and drive trains’.  Soon I could rhyme off all the names of the top seven middle weight cruisers: Honda Shadow, Vulcan Class, Suzuki Volusia. (to tune of supracallafrajalistick…)  but I still hoped, deep down, that my husband’s new obsession would pass.  When we drove by the local Tim Horton’s,  known as Chrome Corner, where all the local bikers liked to park and polish their exhaust pipes, I worried.  How far would this go?

 One bright Sunday morning I drove north, so my husband could pick up his second-hand Suzuki Volusia.   As I followed him home, through the back woods, across two rivers by ferries, and on the TransCanada highway,  there was no mistaking his joy.  He  looked like a kid who had just opened the best Christmas present ever.   Our neighbors and friends ooh’d and ah’d and all wanted to know, ‘When are you getting on it?”  Hmmmmm, I said.

 One Saturday I was at a workshop.   A woman, Jamie, that  I recognized from a weekly prayer group sat at my table to eat lunch.  She was talking about a bunch of things when suddenly I overheard her say, “Arthur and I went for a ride, and got carried away.  We were late for communion, so pulled into the church on the bike.  You should have seen the look on Father Ron’s face when we walked down the aisle.”  “What?” I asked.  “What did you say?”  I could not believe what I was hearing.   I could not compute that Jamie–who looked like the sort of mild-mannered grandmother you see behind a table in the church foyer selling tickets to the afghan raffle—with the images I related to motorcycles, tattoos, arm wrestling, chairs crashing over people’s heads.

 “My husband, Arthur, always wanted a motorcycle,” Jamie said.  “I refused to let him even think about it.  And then, 3 years ago, they discovered the cancer in his bowel.” Her eyes grew misty.  “Afterwards, after all the chemotherapy, one test after another, the waiting, always the waiting for someone to tell you that your life can go on………..I told Arthur, buy your motorcycle…please.”

 I have a 4 foot high teddy bear.  When my husband brought his new motorcycle home, he strapped it on the back of his motorcycle, and rode with it everywhere.  “I’m going to keep it there,” he said, “until you start riding with me.” 

 I told him it was time to take it off. 

 As we  zoomed along the river, the wind in our face, the sun sinking behind the darkening hills, the smell of  peppery wildflowers filling my nose, I got an inkling of thrill my husband had been experiencing.  And I realized that it wasn’t bikes or bikers that I feared at all.  It was my own long ago cast off reckless need to rebel,  to cast off all that was expected of me, and just live in the moment, open, waiting, expectant, trusting that whatever came around the next bend would reveal exactly what I was meant to be doing.     Turns out, riding on the back of the motorcycle is the perfect time to loosen the knots in novel plots and let the imagination catch fire.

 

 

Interviewing Me, Myself and I?

It seems like the ultimate self-centered thing to do,  doesn’t it?  Interview yourself.   But that’s what I’m doing today.  Why?  I do a lot of blog interviews and, occasionally for whatever reason, they don’t get posted.  I have a policy on principle that, after X number of weeks, I’ll post the interview myself.  While I don’t blame anyone for getting sick or falling behind or just succumbing to the myraid of things life throws our way, doing a blog interview takes a tremendous amount of work. So why let it go to waste? This particular interview was done for author, David Cole, who I met at  Bloody Words when we shared a panel together.  Being a wonderful writer himself, David has a legitmate reason for letting the interviews slide in favor of finishing a book.  Looking forward to reading your next, David!

In the meantime, here’s our interview:

 Q: In what ways do you think your upbringing has influenced the kind of writer you’ve become? When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer, and how did you break this distressing news to your family?

Growing up, we spent weekends on my grandparent’s farm where the adults spoke Finnish (which my parents didn’t teach the children).  I slipped into the role of ‘observer’ and made up stories regarding what was unfolding using my imagination.  Coupled with that was a fascination with vanishings I developed early on.  A psychologist might say it was because we moved when I was 4-years-old, and the carefree world I’d known disappeared: the backyards I’d explored, the friends I’d loved, my favorite sister who had married and left.  From a child’s point of view, they seemed to vanish into thin air.  The new world in the new house in the middle of winter appeared deathly quiet and lonely.  I was a sensitive, dramatic and imaginative child.  It was at this time that I discovered books.   I learned to read very early and the first story to set my imagination on fire was C.S. Lewis The Narnia Series.  As soon as the kids stepped into the wardrobe and left that dusty attic for the land of Narnia I was hooked.  I immediately invented a story about elves in the garden who disappeared during the day to a mysterious land that I could not see, but could catch hints of if I looked closely.  Disappearances entered my fiction early on in short stories and, of course, the novel LET THE SHADOWS FALL BEHIND YOU. For the protagonist, Brannagh, Nikki’s disappearance from the bird count up north has a sinister dark side.  She doesn’t know if he voluntarily left or if there’s been foul play, as was the case in her mother’s murder many years ago.

How did my parents take the news that I wanted to write?  I think they viewed my creativity as a queer pass time (at best), an affliction (at worst) and, being from the old school, were distressed that I refused to study to be something traditional and stable like a nurse or teacher.

Q: If you were to appear on “Oprah,” what would you want the caption to say after your name: mystery writer? Author? novelist?

You know when I appear on Oprah she can darn well call me whatever the heck she wants because I’m going to be too excited to care!  But if Oprah asks?  I would say “Canadian author of intelligent psychological suspense.”  That handle would place me right up there with the writers I admire the most.

Q: Your house is on fire, and you can save only two books: one by yourself, one by another author. Which do you choose?

I would chose LET THE SHADOWS FALL BEHIND YOU and the second choice would be a tie between Patricia Highsmith’s Strangers on a Train and Joy Fielding’s The Other Woman.   Both showed me that you could write about a woman’s life and the things that mattered most to her, mirrored against an act of foul play, and create all the degrees of psychological suspense and tension that thrill a reader.    

Q: What does the word “evil” mean to you?  True evil scares the crap out of me.  True evil infuriates me.  True evil is darkness so black it’s blinding; darkness so infinite, it wrings the soul dry.  The only antidote is the shining hope and pure intention for good that springs from love in action (if that isn’t the definition of a protagonist in crime fiction, I don’t know what is).

Q: You wash up on a desert island. Which three items would you wish to find awaiting you? (No boats and outboard motors allowed.)

A box of blue long-lasting pens, a box of thick coil notepads and an all-inclusive antique hardcover dictionary with thesaurus.  The reason the latter needs to be ‘antique’ is because the older dictionaries were a world unto their own pre-Google, mini encyclopedias and treasure troves with maps, measurements, biographies, history, anthropology, geography, grammar and all manner of obscure facts fascinating to uncover. 

Q: Before this showed up in your e-mail, what were you working on? I don’t want a general description of the book you’re on. Tell us about the very page you were writing. What was happening? What does it mean?

I was writing about a 15-year-old girl who is loosening the shirt cuffs and collar on a neighbor who fainted by Black creek, as her grandfather, a doctor, joins the county constable to inspect a drowned girl found in the bottom of a dory.  The novel is set in 1935.  The girl doesn’t know that the woman who appears to have fainted was really struck down by the murderer, and that the man she discovered earlier hiding in her grandfather’s barn is involved.  This is the first draft of a novel I’m calling STANDING IN THE WHALE’S JAW.

 

Q: Okay, you wake up regular time, you have a full work day in front of you. Just you and the pages. On a scale of one to ten, how happy are you about this? Would you rather be doing something else?

 

Yikes.  I daydream about having a full work day to write (I have a day job), but the truth is, getting myself to sit down in front of the computer is about as effortless as removing dirt from dropped bubble gum.  I’d rather do anything else.  Luckily, after all these years, I do know that about myself and set a schedule and system for accountability that keeps me on track.

Q: How does your training as a reporter help or hinder your fiction writing?

There’s a reason why old journalists never die, but often turn to a second career in fiction writing.  Journalism provides the skills needed to persevere in a tough business:  Research, editing, craft and productivity.  The latter is the most important.  When you work as a journalist, you have to feed ‘the beast’ on a regular basis. You soon learn that even when the idea well has run dry, if you just sit down at the keyboard and start typing, before too long a story will come.   You just can’t afford to sit around waiting for lightening inspiration to strike.   Most journalists love words and language.  I was born to live my life on the page.  Going from journalism to fiction, I simply made the transition from telling other people’s stories to telling my own.   

 

Your work has been adapted for radio and also for the theatre. What was that like?

 

CBC producer Bill Lane and Heather Black worked with me at the Banff Center of the Arts on the adaptation of the short story LEARNING TO SPIN for the Summer Drama Festival.   This is a mystery about a woman who walks along the river in winter, and every day she passes a queer old man who she gradually becomes convinced is involved in foul play.  We work-shopped my first draft of the play with writers and actors in Banff, which was great fun.  I had the chance to meet some of the people behind the ‘voices’ I’d heard on radio for years.   I especially loved one young actor, barely out of his teens, who managed to make the old man in the story sound creepier than Anthony Perkins in Psycho.

 

Afterwards, Bill asked me to help the technician select the sound effects.   I bet you didn’t know that the best way to get the sound of feet crunching on snow is by squeezing a box of cornstarch?  Even the top technology can’t accomplish a thing without creative imagination. 

 

Q: When you decided to write fiction, why did you choose crime fiction?

Actually it chose me.  The first short story I wrote and had published involved a little old lady burying a body in the back yard.  My children have never looked at me the same way since.

Q: What would you like to see more of, and less of, in crime writing these days?

I love the break from the traditional North American genre that is allowing deeper characterizations and layers in crime writing.  I think the British tradition began this way with Sherlock Holmes, but, of course, that doesn’t mean that writers, like Elizabeth George, don’t get mixed reviews when attempting to try something new.  In Canada, we have lovely books that cross genres like Gile Blunt’s detective series and Andrew Pyper’s LOST GIRLS.  It’s always a risk, but I get excited seeing the unusual, any writer in crime fiction who is brave enough to venture off the beaten path and surprise me. 

Q: As a writer, what have you not done yet that you’d like a chance to do?

I’d love to try writing a screen play.  COMING SOON to a theater near you!

Q: What are you working on now?

I just finished a suspense novel BLACK SECRET THAW that I wrote for a workshop I attended with New York Agent, Donald Maass (WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL).  It’s much more of a traditional suspense novel than my first.  I dissected Harlan Coben and Nicci French, 2 of my favorite suspense writers, to learn that style of plotting and make it my own.  I learned a lot.  I’m one of those writers who likes to be continually challenged.

Thank you so much for inviting me to be your guest and meeting all your readers.  Let me know what you think of Let the Shadows Fall Behind You.  You can read an excerpt at https://kathydiane.wordpress.com. 

Happy Sleuthing!

Kathy-Diane

http://kathy-dianeleveille.com

Romance Junkies Winner

Congratulations to Kimmy who won an autographed paper back edition of LET THE SHADOWS FALL BEHIND YOU, along with Ganong chocolates, in the ROMANCE JUNKIES contest.

Since 1873 the Ganong family and friends have put their heart and soul into the chocolate confectioner’s art. An art never lost. For the special skills in making quality confectionery have been passed down from father to son throughout the generations in the small town of St. Stephen, New Brunswick.

What more could you want to while away a wintery afternoon, but a good book and gourmet chocolates?  Congrats Kimmy.