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Vicki Delany's gardenWhen I last visited the Dames, I wrote about the Simple Writers Life as I live it (https://damesofdialogue.wordpress.com/2010/11/01/simple-writers-life-by-vicki-delany/).  The time before that was about my one true love – Tomatoes. (https://damesofdialogue.wordpress.com/2010/08/23/3241/)

Time for an update.  I am still living the good life on a small patch of land in the country in Prince Edward County, Ontario.  My new book, a standalone titled MORE THAN SORROW, is just out from Poisoned Pen Press, and is getting good reviews including a starred review from Library Journal which called it a “splendid Gothic thriller”.

On the tomato front, I have to admit that I’m a failed farmer.  I’ve decided to give up on the tomatoes and not try again next year. Mine are tiny and shrivelled lumps of red clinging to a thin browning stalk.   In fact they look much like my 2010 attempt that I told you about.

I’m better off confining my farming efforts to the realm of fiction.

MORE THAN SORROW is set on a small scale organic vegetable farm.  A place of of huge heirloom tomatoes growing on thick green plants and baskets overflowing with produce.

Vicki DelanyI can dream, can’t I?

The novel has a backstory, as all good Modern Gothics do, and this one is about the people who settled Prince Edward County in 1784.  They were Loyalists – refugees from the American Revolution. The  arrived in boats because there were no roads, to a land of untouched wilderness. First they had to chop down ancient trees with hand axes to clear the ground, and they used those trees to build the initial shanties, in which they spent the winter – in Ontario!  Gradually stumps were cleared, crops planted, and the settlement began to grow and eventually prosper.

Good thing they weren’t counting on my gardening skills, is all I can say.  We would have all starved.

I seem to do better with flowers. Here’s a pic of me among the sunflowers. (Confession: not my property, but the farm next door).

But I did have an abundance of peonies in June.

Flowers, Vicki DelanyThe effort at feeding myself might have failed, but the writers’ life continues, and it is still and good one and a simple one.

Here I am hard at work on my deck.

Vicki’s newest novel is More than Sorrow, from Poisoned Pen Press. The book got a starred review from Library Journal which called it “a splendid Gothic thriller”.

More Than Sorrow by Vicki DelanyOnce, Hannah Manning was an internationally-renowned journalist and war correspondent.  Today, she’s a woman suffering from a traumatic brain injury.  Unable to read, unable to concentrate, full of pain, lost and confused, haunted by her memories, Hannah goes to her sister’s small-scale vegetable farm in Prince Edward County, Ontario to recover. 

As summer settles on the farm, she finds comfort in the soft rolling hills and neat fields as well as friendship in the company of Hila Popalzai, an Afghan woman also traumatized by war.

Unable to read the printed word, Hannah retreats into the attic and boxes of mouldy letters that have accumulated for more than two centuries.  As she learns  about the original settlers of this land, Loyalist refugees fleeing the United States in 1784, she is increasingly drawn to the space beneath the old house.  More than carrots and potatoes, soups and jams, are down in the dark damp root cellar.

Hannah experiences visions of a woman, emerging from the icy cold mist. Is the woman real? Or the product of a severely damaged brain?

Which would be worse?

Then Hila disappears. When Hannah cannot account for her time, not even to herself, old enemies begin to circle. 

In this modern Gothic novel of heart-wrenching suspense, past and present merge into a terrifying threat to the only thing Hannah still holds dear – her ten-year-old niece, Lily.

More Than Sorrow is available at your favourite Independent bookseller or  Amazon.ca,  Amazon.comChapters/Indigo, B&N

Vicki DelanyWhen I first began writing, I like so many other writers, had a full time job and was a single mother of three daughters. I called myself a “Sunday writer” meaning that the only time I had to really work on my writing was Sunday afternoon.  My children grew up, as they tend to do, and soon I had a bit more time to myself.  But I was still working as a systems analyst in a bank in the Toronto financial district and would rush home after work to put down a few words.

My dream was to move to the county and pursue the simple life. And to be a writer, not just a systems analyst who found time to write now and again.

Three years ago I sold my house in the suburbs of a big city and followed my dream to a small rural property in Prince Edward County, Ontario.

I am living the writer’s life because I am content with the simple life.

And simple is the operative word. Like most (almost all?) writers I don’t earn a heck of a lot of money from my writing. I don’t take exotic vacations, I don’t have fancy electronics, I don’t drive a flashy new SUV. I have a 23-year-old TV with rabbit ears that gets one channel and drive a much-loved Toyota Corolla. I don’t eat out much or buy fast food, and do all my own cooking. I don’t need clothes any fancier than for appearances at bookstores and libraries. I keep my house at a temperature my children call bone-chilling, and rarely go to movies, preferring to read. Reading is still the best value for money you’ll get anywhere in terms of entertainment.

When I’m at home, I write every day. Seven days a week. Usually for about three to four hours in the morning. In the summer I then work in the garden and in the winter, don’t do much now that I think of it. Evenings are pretty much devoted to book promotional activities, particularly around release time.

Vicki Delany tomatoesI’m enjoying life in the country. I started a vegetable patch when I first moved in and get a lot of pleasure out of it.  There is absolutely nothing in the world that tastes as good as a cherry tomato picked and eaten on the spot. And lettuce you’ve grown yourself? You’ll wonder what that stuff they sell in the supermarket really is. I filled the freezer with pasta sauce and soup and frozen berries I picked myself, and the second year I enlarged the size of my freezer.

Living in the country occasionally has its drawbacks.

Like when I came home from my vacation with my family after New Years to find three feet of water in the basement. Literally. The sump pump had failed and it had turned warm and all the snow had melted. My house is well over one hundred years old (the fulfillment of another dream) so the basement is just a cellar, with nothing much in it to be destroyed. Except the furnace, which was.

Furnace replaced.

Vicki Delany's woodThis was my first winter in the house and a few days later the brand-new furnace stopped working. I’d run out of propane. How should I know you’re supposed to order propane? In the city this sort of stuff just arrives all by itself.

Fortunately the house has a wood burning stove as well as the furnace so I was able to use it to heat the house while waiting for propane delivery.

Get the propane tank filled and gag at the expense. Wow.

The wood burning stove worked so well, I decided to start using it more to save on propane, so I ordered more wood as the stuff the previous owners left was running out. I phoned the supplier and asked for a cord. I had absolutely no idea how much that is. He suggested that as the delivery charge was the same, I should get two cords. Okay, two cords it is.

When he pulled up with a trailer piled high with wood, I thought, “I guess he has several other deliveries to make.”  He backed the trailer up in front of the garage and dumped all that wood on the driveway.

Oh dear.

I spent three days moving and stacking wood.

Life has its ups and downs, as always. But I am living my dream.

The simple writer’s life.

Negative Image by Vicki DelanyVicki  Delany writes everything from standalone novels of psychological suspense such as Scare the Light Away and Burden of Memory, to the Constable Molly Smith books, a traditional village/police procedural series set in the B.C. Interior, including In the Shadow of the Glacier and Winter of Secrets which received a starred review from Publishers Weekly, (“artistry as sturdy and restrained as a shaker chair”), to a light-hearted historical series, Gold Digger and Gold Fever, set in the raucous heyday of the Klondike Gold Rush.

The fourth book in the critically-acclaimed Constable Molly Smith series, Negative Image, was released by Poisoned Pen Press on November 1st.  Kirkus reviews said Negative Image “…combines the crisp plotting of the best small-town police procedurals with trenchant commentary on such universal problems as love and trust.” Visit Vicki at www.vickidelany.com

I love tomatoes, but I truly believe a tomato has to be freshly picked to be worth eating. In the winter and spring I might buy a tomato or two from the supermarket but only if they are going to be put into a stew or soup. They’re just not good enough to eat raw or lightly cooked.

I believe in the pleasure of anticipation. I’ll wait ten months in order to really enjoy a fresh, warm, local tomato. I believe we’ve lost a lot when we’ve given up the pleasure of anticipation. In the world today we want what we want when we want it and that when is usually now. But you can’t grow a tomato in November in the north and you can’t pick it fresh from the vine in January. You have to wait.

And wait I will do.

When I moved to the country two years ago, one of my requirements for my new home was a nice space to plant a vegetable garden. Mostly for tomatoes. Is there anything in the world more perfect than eating a cherry tomato straight from the vine?

Vicki Delany's tomatoesThe first picture above shows the product of my garden last year. Look at those tomatoes. Look at the variety of sizes, colours, types. I spent August and September eating tomatoes, cooking with tomatoes, freezing tomatoes, making tomato sauce and tomato soup to last me over the long winter. And in the depths of winter, when the snow was piled to the windows, I ate tomato soup or pasta with my tomato sauce and remembered my lovely garden.

The second picture shows my tomato plants this year.

It would be an understatement so say they are disappointing. The plants are thin and anaemic and each has one (or less) tiny little tomato dripping off the end of a drooping branch. The beefsteak tomatoes are the size of a good cherry tomato and the cherries are about the size of the end of my finger. I will say, however, that they are very, very tasty. They taste perfectly normal, it’s just that they’re so small and so few!

Why the tomato disaster? I have no idea. I also planted two heirloom tomatoes in the herb bed closer to the house and they are threatening to take over the deck (not to mention the herbs). The plants are huge, and the still-growing tomatoes are abundant, fat, and healthy.

Notably I added manure to the tomato bed in the fall, turned it over in the spring and mulched it, watered it regularly, occasionally with Miracle Grow. The little bed near the house? 2010 Tomatoes, Vicki DelanyDug a hole in the ground and stuck two tomato seedlings in and told them to have at it.

The ‘regular’ tomato seedlings were bought at a garden store. The heirlooms were bought at Vicki’s Veggies (http://vickisveggies.com/Home.html) in Prince Edward County. Nothing to do with me, but they grow about a gazillion types of heirloom tomatoes. Lots of other wonderful fresh stuff too.

Fortunately the failure of most of my tomato crop isn’t the end of tomatoes for me this year. I have the great fortune of living in Prince Edward County, Ontario, one of the best agricultural areas in Canada. All I have to do is walk up the road to a farm gate stand or stop in at another one on the way into town and I can buy tomatoes they grew themselves. Not quite as good as eating the ones you’ve grown, but the next best thing.

Now that I’ve got you licking your lips and anticipating a dash to the farm stall or farmers’ market or your own back yard for tomatoes, here are a couple of recipes. I probably have this pasta dish about half of my suppers in tomato season. The sauce goes in the freezer.

Vicki Delany’s Cherry Tomato Linguine

(Mix up the quantities depending on taste and number of people being served.)

  • One Green onion
  • One clove garlic
  • Copious amount of fresh cherry tomatoes. If they are large, slice in half.
  • Handful of fresh basil leaves, roughly chopped
  • ¼ to ½ Log of goat’s cheese.
  • ½ cup white wine (already open for sipping while cooking, I am sure)
  • 1 – 2 cups of arugula, roughly chopped.

The sauce cooks very quickly so have the linguini started before beginning.

  • Heat olive oil in a saucepan. Add sliced green onion and chopped garlic. Cook on medium until soft and golden in colour. Add tomatoes and cook for three or four minutes, stirring. Tomatoes will go soft and wrinkly.
  • Add basil and arugula and cook stirring until arugula begins to shrink.
  • Add goat’s cheese and stir until melted.
  • Add enough wine to loosen the sauce (about ½ a cup). If you don’t have, or don’t want to use, wine use pasta liquid.
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Toss sauce with pasta.
  • Eat.

Vicki’s Tomato Sauce

  • About 10 large tomatoes
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 large onion
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • Large handful of fresh basil leaves
  • Salt and pepper

Skin the tomatoes: I dip them into a large pot of boiling water and cook for about 1 – 2 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and leave to cool. The skins will then slip off easily. Core and chop roughly, removing tomato seeds where possible. (Don’t worry if some get in, but remove the ones you can easily).

Heat oil in large pot

Add garlic and onion and cook gently for 5 minutes until pale gold

Add chopped tomatoes and chopped or torn basil

Add salt and fresh ground pepper to taste.

Simmer on low heat, without a lid, for approx 1 ½ hours. Stir occasionally.

Remove from heat and let cool.

You can now use the sauce as is or puree in a blender to make a smoother consistency.

Freeze in meal-sized containers.

If you have any idea of what might have happened to my crop this year, please leave a comment. Also, do you have a favourite way of using tomatoes? I’d love to hear it.Winter of Secrets by Vicki Delany

Vicki Delany writes everything from standalone novels of suspense (Scare the Light Away, Burden of Memory) to a traditional village/police procedural series set in the mountains of British Columbia (In the Shadow of the Glacier), to a light-hearted historical series (Gold Fever) set in the raucous heyday of the Klondike Gold Rush.  Winter of Secrets, the third in the Constable Molly Smith series published by Poisoned Pen Press, received a starred review from Publishers Weekly. Vicki was lucky enough to be able to take early retirement from her job as a systems analyst in the high-pressure financial world and now lives the simple writer’s life in bucolic rural Prince Edward County, Ontario, where she writes books, grows vegetables, and rarely wears a watch.  Negative Image, the fourth book in the Constable Molly Smith series, will be released Nov. 1, 2010.  Visit www.vickidelany.com, Facebook at Vicki Delany, and Twitter @vickidelany.

GoldDigger_front_cover_final1.  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).

 Vicki_Delany4.  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

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