Plotter or Pantser?

write7This week Shaun Smith invited me on Open Book Ontario.  He throws out a question on Fiction Craft to authors:

There’s an old question that nicely sums up the plotting challenge: Are you a plotter or a pantser? Meaning, do you plot out your fiction before you begin, or do you fly by the seat of your pants and plot as you write. This month in Fiction Craft, I asked a handful of authors to tell me how they tackle plotting.

The method of plotting a writer uses can be as unique as a fingerprint. Check out Fiction Craft to see how authors James Bartleman, Lauren B. Davis, Janet Gurtler, S.P. Hozy, Claire Mulligan, and Cathie Pelletier work. Oh yeah, and yours truly.

Happy Plotting!



CBC Radio’s Close to Home

A big thank you to CBC Radio Halifax.  Carmen Klassen, the host of “Close To Home”, called me up yesterday to invite me to be a guest on the show to talk about Writers who CARE: the 50/50 Project.   I enjoy listening to Carmen every weekday afternoon. She features guests from Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick and Cape Breton. You can hear our chat at Close to Home.

We’ve raised $600.00 to date for CARE International’s work in the refugee camps in the Horn of Africa. Thanks to all the generous published authors who have donated their time and talent to do critiques to raise money.


Bad Sex Fiction Prize

In 1993 LITERARY REVIEW magazine started the BAD SEX FICTION PRIZE to highlight  “the crude, tasteless, and often perfunctory use of redundant passages of sexual description in contemporary novels.”

This year’s winner is author,  Rowan Somerville, author of  THE SHAPE OF HER, a novel about desire and memory set on a Greek island.  The judges enjoyed his insect imagery and apparently were impressed by the description comparing making love to “a lepidopterist mounting a tough-skinned insect.”

Somerville, who was born in Britain and lives in Ireland, commented with good humor that “there is nothing more English than bad sex.”

Good for him!  It got me thinking about my own sex scenes in fiction writing.  Have I ever used animals to enhance  ‘the mood?’ How about a deer?  After all, I did grow up fishing and hiking in northern bush country.  Here’s a scene with Nikki and Brannagh on the bird count in LET THE SHADOWS FALL BEHIND YOU:

Two minutes into their first survey stop, Nikki finally caught on to her. Unless they were solely listening for whippoorwills (who sound just like their name), Brannagh was up the creek.

“You’ll have to be our eyes, and I’ll be our ears,” he concluded, as he gazed off into the horizon through binoculars. “Besides, there’ll be times when we have to conduct our survey a little differently from the rest because you have to get the drawings done.” He sighed here, and she knew that not confessing about the white lies on her job application had been the right thing to do.

Every day at lunchtime, they settled into a cubby Nikki created in the brush. After a lecture, he ordered her to listen carefully and then he fell asleep; all she heard was faint snoring in the afternoon breeze.

Despite this, Brannagh eventually learned that a musical queedle, queedle of the blue jay, was not to be confused with the zhreek zhreek of the scrub jay; that a nuthatch crawled down a tree trunk while a creeper crawled up it; that robins were cranky, chickadees fearless.

Sometimes when the deer flies were biting, or there were miles of dense bog to slog through, they argued. Nikki lectured her on the need to concentrate and she yawned in his face while he explained the difference between a bird bobbing, fanning or flicking its tail.

“Thank you for imparting that scintillating information,” she’d say, and yawn again.

“It’s all in the field guide,” he’d continue, losing his patience. “And you better study it tonight, because if you don’t know it come morning, I’m fining you two rations of chocolate.”

It didn’t help that the rain had let up, and that Mother Nature had loosened her stranglehold on summer’s blossoming, allowing it to assume full gallop, until the days slowly gave in to an indolence illustrated in still, expectant cobalt skies and warm feathery breezes. The scent of pine sap and peppery wildflowers hung in the air. Brannagh imagined that she could hear the life juices of the surrounding flora flowing from root to stem to leaf. All around her was an unfolding, a lazy rich mellowing.

When Brannagh lay on the bracken in the cubby that Nikki cleared at lunchtime, she could almost feel the earth humming in her belly, could recognize the trembling of it beneath her.

She welcomed the warmth of it, the lushness, the energy of all the creatures of the earth gleaning sustenance from it and reaching up, up towards the sun.

One afternoon, while Nikki snored softly, Brannagh heard a snapping of twigs, a crackling of brush. She turned away from him and watched the leaves of the poplars in the distance flipping lazily in the wind, as if an invisible hand ruffled the nap of the landscape. Further back, the clouds spilled shadows onto the hills.

Into the clearing stepped a creature that at first glance looked like a large dog with a reddish-tan coat and long, thin legs. Brannagh rose on her elbow, noticed the puff of a tail, the over-large ears, the spotted flank. There was a cracking sound. The young doe paused, its ears perked. A buck with large antlers galloped out of the brush, nostrils quivering. The doe stood silently upon his approach. He ran his nose along her flank. There was a thick bald patch on his rump where the fur hung in clumps.

Loosestrife, fireweed and bright yellow sow thistles waved round them in the summer breeze. While horse flies and hornets droned in the heat, the buck attempted to mount the doe. She lowered her head, seemingly oblivious, sniffing at the undergrowth.

The buck reared and with an awkward lumbering grace straddled the doe’s flanks, the tip of his swollen shaft rising from the long thick casing. His hind legs stumbled as he pushed against her. The doe’s head rose and she stood perfectly still, ears cupped forward, large eyes glistening.

Their thrusting, quivering, staggering dance held Brannagh spellbound.

Suddenly the doe bolted, crashing through the trees.

Brannagh turned around. Nikki stared, unblinking. He ran his fingers through his sweat-slicked brow and plopped his hat back onto his head. “It isn’t rutting season.”

Brannagh gathered her papers and secured them to the clipboard. “Guess they neglected to study their field guide,” she quipped. “So fine them, why don’t you?”

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 

Happy Sleuthing!



serenitI’m a guest on THE AUTHORS SHOW today with Don McCauley.  It was fun being interviewed once I got past being nervous .

Thanks so much Don!



buck13I’ve had a great time being a guest this week on THE BOOKWORM. Naida Scrotchet asked: When did you start writing your new suspense novel LET THE SHADOWS FALL BEHIND YOU?

My answer: I started writing LET THE SHADOWS FALL BEHIND YOU on coffee breaks while I was at the hospital.  I began working as a medical transcriptionist because it didn’t sap my creativity the way journalism did, and left room to pursue my dream of writing a novel.  I can’t remember the initial spark for this story, but I do know I wanted to write about a woman whose lover disappears into thin air.  I usually don’t do research in my initial draft too much.  I start with the question or puzzle first, followed by the character, and exploring their journey as they try to solve it.  I find if I start researching too soon, it can be a distraction, and an excuse not to write. 


Thanks Naida!

Kathy-Diane Leveille



Let the Shadows Fall Behind You is a haunting story of disappearance and loss and, ultimately, of redemption.  Weaving together a world of family loyalties and family lies, of broken bonds and of those that endure, it combines the nuance of poetry with all the suspense of a thriller.” Nino Ricci (Author of The Origin of Species)

Shadows Interview on NOVEL JOURNEY

buck9I’m an avid follower of NOVEL JOURNEY, one of Writers’ Digest 101 most valuable web site for writers. So it was great fun being interviewed there today. Weekly columnist, Kelly Klepfer, asked: How has your experience as a broadcast journalist prepared or hindered you as a novelist?

It’s definitely prepared me. There’s a reason why old journalists never die, they just go on to second careers as fiction writers! Working in the field of journalism offers valuable training in discipline. You’re working to a deadline to produce stories whether you like it or not. There were many times I sat down at the computer with absolutely no idea of where to go. You learn in journalism to have faith in the process, that you can start with nothing and eventually something will take shape and grow. It was a tremendous mentorship in the art of research, fact checking and honing the 5 W’s.


Kathy-Diane Leveille
“It’s the quality of the writing that makes the read worthwhile…a very promising debut.”

Previous Older Entries