1. Tell us about your latest book, Gold Digger: A Klondike Mystery.
Gold Digger is the first in a new series set in 1898 in the Yukon during the Klondike Gold Rush (“The Last Great Gold Rush”). It’s intended to be light-hearted, to capture some of the mad optimism of that era and the total chaos caused by tens of thousands of people suddenly descending on the wilderness close to the Arctic Circle. The central characters are Fiona MacGillivray, owner of the Savoy dance hall, a woman with a shady past, her 12-year-old son Angus, and Constable Richard Sterling of the North West Mounted Police (precursors to the RCMP). The series is published by Canada’s Rendezvous Crime.
2. Can you share a little bit about what you’re working on now?
I have finished the third draft of the fourth book in the Constable Molly Smith series, which is published by Poisoned Pen Press, and it is at my critique group. I believe, along with Stephen King, that you need to take a good-sized break after finishing a book before going back and revising it, so I won’t look at the manuscript for six to eight weeks. The second book in the Klondike series, Gold Fever, is with the publisher now. So I’m having a bit of a summer break. I’ve ideas for a short story and catching up with my promotion. For example – yesterday I started a new blog for Fiona MacGillivray and Molly Smith to post on. http://klondikeandtrafalgar.blogspot.com. Have a peek. It`s been a busy year for me, to say the least. Winter of Secrets, the third Molly Smith book, will be out in November.
3. Where do you find inspiration for your writing?
The Molly Smith books take place in the fictional town of Trafalgar, British Columbia. Trafalgar is, in fact, Nelson, B.C. where one of my daughters lives. I love Nelson and setting my books there lets me spend a lot of time there at least in my head. Similarly with the Klondike books. It was such an incredibly fascinating time, I love exploring it. I consider my books to be largely setting-based (i.e. the key aspect of the book is where it takes place).
4. What is a typical writing day like for you?
Pretty straight forward. I get up, let the dog out, put the coffee on, read my e-mail and browse the online newspapers, and then write for three or four hours. If it is summer, I take the laptop out onto the deck. After dinner, I usually do business related things such as promotional stuff, writing for my blog. I also blog, with five other mystery writers, at Type M for Murder (http://typem4murder.blogspot.com) mostly on aspects of promotion, and creative writing skills.
5. You’ve published both stand-alone titles and also have two series going, the Klondike Mystery Series and the Smith and Winters Series. Do you have a preference for writing either one, series or stand-alone books?
I love them both, but I guess if someone held a gun to my head and said that I could only write one type or another for the rest of my life, I’d choose standalones. In real life a person, unless they’re a secret agent or bodyguard to a crime boss, has only one great adventure in them. Police officers will tell you that the job’s pretty boring most of the time, and crimes, even murders, are mundane things, easily solved. A standalone novel gives the protagonist that one opportunity to achieve great things; to have that grand adventure; to meet the everlasting love of their life; to conquer evil, once and for all. In a standalone, the characters face their demons and defeat them. In my first book from Poisoned Pen Press, Scare the Light Away, my character Rebecca McKenzie deals at last with the fallout from her childhood. By the end of the book Rebecca has reconciled with family members from whom she’s been estranged for years, made peace with her late mother, and is ready to move on. Bringing her back for another book would, I think, simply not work. She has done all that she has to do.
Series novels present a different challenge. The central character, or characters, confronts their demons, but they do not defeat them. Their weaknesses, all their problems, will be back in the next book. In each story the series character stands against, and usually defeats, someone else’s problem or society’s enemy, but she or he moves only one small step towards the resolution of their own issues, if at all.
In the Constable Molly Smith novels Molly is haunted by the death of her fiancé, Graham. It was a meaningless, preventable, tragic death and, even in her grief, Molly knows that returning to the small town in which she grew up and becoming a cop won’t help her to make sense of Graham’s death. But she does anyway, and as the series unfolds, Molly is able to confront the gulf that Graham’s death has left in her life and, eventually, move on. Same with the Klondike Series, although in those books it is more a matter of revealing bits of Fiona’s past to explain why she is the way she is, than her dealing with any emotional fall out. Fiona is far too practical, or so she thinks, to worry about the past.
6. Your latest, Gold Digger: A Klondike Mystery takes place in 1898 and features a strong heroine in Fiona MacGillivray. How did the idea for the character and the setting come to you?
I was on a wilderness canoeing trip in Ontario’s Algonquin Park some years ago. Sitting around the campfire watching stars, listening to the wind in the trees and the waves lapping against the rock, we chatted about nothing in particular, as people do in those circumstances. I commented on how strange our ancestors would have thought us – to be paying good money, and using our valuable vacation time, to do what they would have thought of as sheer hardship. Several of the people on the trip were Europeans so I began telling them about the Klondike Gold Rush of 1896-99 and the incredible journey over the mountains the gold-seekers had to endure to get there.
Wouldn’t that make a nice setting for a mystery novel, I thought, and the idea for Gold Digger was born. As for Fiona, I think she pretty much came out fully formed. A woman had to be tough to make it on her own in that environment.
7. Tell us a little bit about how you promote your work. Any tips for other authors?
I do a lot of promotion. Both with In the Shadow of the Glacier and Valley of the Lost, I went to Arizona, California, Oregon and Washington on book tour. But I know that’s expensive, and pretty much out of the running for anyone who is employed or has young children. When I’m not travelling, I do lots of bookstore signings within a day’s drive of my house. The most important tip I have is to have a good, professional (or at least professional looking) web page, and book marks or business cards with your web page info on them. When you meet people, in a bookstore, or just in passing, you need to have something to give them and it needs to direct them to your web page. I’ve noticed that when I do a bookstore signing, my web traffic will be up the next day from that city. Hopefully people who didn’t buy a book on the spot, but took my information, are now sitting down and considering whether to get a book.
8. What is your most cherished reader reaction to your work?
The best letter I ever got was when someone read Scare the Light Away and wrote to me thanking me for sending my characters to AL ANON. She said that Al Anon had saved her life and she wanted more people to be aware of it. It was quite touching.
9. Who or what has been the biggest influence in your writing career and why?
The authors of the books I read. I am a firm believer that a writer has to first of all be a reader. And read a lot. Only by reading other people’s work, can you know what works, and most importantly what doesn’t. I particularly love the modern British police procedurals – Susan Hill is probably my favourite crime writer today. I guess I modeled the Molly Smith series, in tone if nothing else, on her Simon Serallier books. With my first published book, I did a signings with a great writer named Rick Blechta, author of A Case of You and others, and I learned a lot about promoting yourself from him.
10. What part of the craft of writing has improved since your first book?
I’ve learned to trust my characters, trust myself. If something`s not working, leave it for a bit, mull it over, and then come back to it. The characters themselves will sometimes work a problem out. If you let them. I know more now about being careful to catch the little things that slow down the narrative. When I look over my attempts at a book, I can see plenty of unnecessary works. There are lots of words such as actually, just, very, really, pretty (as in ‘she walked pretty slowly’) that simply slow down the narrative. At one point in that book a character hisses. I cringe (say ‘she said’). I’ve learned to tighten up sentences quite a bit.
11. You were born and lived in Canada then moved to South Africa for eleven years and now are back in Canada. Do you like to travel or is home your favorite place to be? Is there any place you’d like to go but haven’t gotten to yet?
I like to travel, but I like to be at home. I moved last year to a country property in Ontario and all I want to do this summer is sit at home, swim in the pool, work in the garden, and write. But in the fall, I’ll have itchy feet. I figure that I can happily spend two months at home and then I have to be on the move again. Last year, I drove, by myself, from Ontario to B.C., to Alaska, to San Diego and Arizona, back to B.C. and then to Ontario. There are plenty of places I’d love to visit. Russia is probably top of the list, then China. I’ve never been to Italy.
12. Besides writing, what else interests you?
Reading, for sure. I live in a one-channel universe (meaning my old TV with rabbit ears gets one channel) so reading is primarily my leisure activity. When I moved into this house, the previous owners hadn`t done anything with the garden, so I`ve been busy getting it going. I planted a vegetable bed as well as flower beds. It`s a work in progress.
A little more about Vicki:
Vicki Delany writes everything from standalone novels of suspense (Burden of Memory, Scare the Light Away) to a traditional village/police procedural series set in B.C. (Valley of the Lost) to a light-hearted historical series (Gold Digger) set during the Klondike Gold Rush. In April 2007, Vicki took early retirement from her job as a systems analyst and sold her house in Oakville, Ontario. After a year travelling across North America, she is now setting down to the rural life in Prince Edward County, where she rarely wears a watch. Her next novel is Winter of Secrets, the third in the Constable Molly Smith series. Visit Vicki at www.vickidelany.com. She blogs with five other mystery writers at http://typem4murder.blogspot.com and her characters have their own blog at http://klondikeandtrafalgar.blogspot.com