Stop, You’re Killing Me! is an Agatha-award-winning website and Facebook page dedicated to the mystery novel. Or as they put it, “A website to die for.. if you love mysteries.” The site is enormous! The Facebook page is more manageable, and frequently highlights a new and recommended novel.

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Somehow, I missed their coverage of Almost Criminal, so this is a belated shout out and thank you. I recommend that you visit their page and site, and learn about new crime and mystery novels that you really ought to read.

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This week (Sept 1 2014) I was invited to add my two bits  to the new and busy Off the Cuff blog, hosted by Dietrich Kalteis, author of Ride the Lightning.  Here’s a re-posting of his blog:

week5Dietrich writes:

Martin J. Frankson and I are back with week five of freestyle conversation with no rules, no editing, and no net under us. We discuss what we’re working on, writing in general and just whatever comes to mind – real off the cuff.
We’re pleased to have another one of Peter Rozovsky’s great noir shots to jazz the page. And we’re also pleased to have as our first guest, ER Brown, author of the Edgar-nominated Almost Criminal, also shortlisted for an Arthur Ellis Award. He’s here to share his thoughts with us.
And this week we’re taking on challenging characters. So here we go:
DK: One of the most challenging aspects of writing any character comes when I need to do a lot of research to make them believable. Specialized police work or medical practice for instance, where particular procedure is required. And sometimes that kind of research isn’t a simple matter of googling. For me, making phone calls to non-emergency hospital numbers or walking up to a cop and asking questions isn’t fun. And while I try not to get too hung up on that kind of detail, I do want enough of it to make the characters believable.
ERB: I’m up against that “specialized knowledge’ wall in my new novel-in-progress, which has a Canadian cop – a high-ranked RCMP officer – butting up against FBI and Homeland Security. All kinds of issues of rank & protocol issues come out of this, and I’ve been merrily writing away without any concern, not wanting to let reality get in the way of the creative impulse. But I have a couple of RCMP officers on my side, and I just sent off a set of questions to one of them. Some things, you just have to get right.
Here’s a research-related tip: if your novel is in the first-person, you don’t need to know — and in fact you can’t reveal — any technology or deep levels of detail that your first-person character wouldn’t know. My teenage kid knew nothing about grow-ops or the marijuana business. So he learned as the reader learned, and I never had to get into potentially boring textbook-level detail.
MF: I’ve never been a details-man myself, even in everyday life. I don’t measure recipe ingredients to the gram or milliliter, but instead rely on spoonfuls of this and dollops of that, so long as the dish is just as delicious in the end. I do however perform a good degree of research to ensure credibility of character, geographical topography, vehicles, weaponry and procedure. Although procedures are prone to change, I like to think I get the basics right, but I don’t go to the n-th degree. While I wear my reader-hat, I do suspend disbelief completely, and I may not know if something is technically inaccurate, and as long as the story rocks, and everything else is within the bounds of credibility, then I’m ok with that. You must have more approachable cops in Vancouver than we do in Belfast. haha. As for medical procedure, the funny thing is I don’t go into anatomical detail, but if I did, my wife who is a nurse in Accident and Emergency (ER in the New World) would provide me with detail on tap. Perhaps I should take advantage of this, but not over dinner. Oh, one thing I wanted to ask, do you have difficulty writing female characters?
DK: I haven’t had any trouble writing female characters. I actually had fun writing my protagonist’s love interest in Ride the Lightning, and one of my favorite scenes was the banter between her and her teenage daughter over using college funds for a boob job. Dara, the teenage daughter goes on and evolves into a main character in my next one, The Deadbeat Club, and she’s been one of my favorites to write.
One thing I love about writing characters is studying the way different people speak and behave. I think so much of a character’s description can come through in just their words.
ERB: I’m having lots of fun writing the female lead in my new novel.  Women readers have been pretty enthusiastic so far, so fingers crossed.  I remember Le Carre’s female lead in The Little Drummer Girl and how wooden and tone-flat she felt, so it’s something I want to get right.
MF: I’ve read conflicting advice about writing accents and dialects into dialogue, but in my opinion, it’s ok to write phonetically to capture the sound of a character if his/her accent is outside the norm of the setting. Coming from Ireland, we have many expressions that would not be understood outside our shores, and this poses a challenge. I remember recently I sent you a short story set in Sligo, Ireland, but I felt I had to accompany it with a glossary of terms as many references would have flummoxed you or anyone else. In the Anglosphere, American/Canadian/British English is familiar to all, but if one comes from smaller countries, such general familiarity does not exist as much. I fear that if I use too many terms and expressions peculiar to where I’m from, I could drastically reduce my potential reach of readership across our many oceans. Yet, if I chose not to use such expressions, the dialogue would cease to be credible and even become too generic and dull. This is why I seldom set my work in Ireland, as I would feel a fraud to iron out/expunge our many rich verbal ways which are just as valid as anyone else’s. It would be interesting to bring in writers who like to include vernacular in their work into this conversation to see what they think about this. On the subject of the male writing the female character, do you base females on those you know in real life? This is what I do as well as basing them on characters from wider entertainment.
DK: No, I haven’t based my characters directly on anyone I know, although there may be habits or expressions I may have borrowed from time to time from someone I know. Now, what about favourite characters in books you’ve read?
ERB: Back to the accent/dialect question: you can do more with it – with perhaps more reader interest –  than simply using the typical vocabulary or syntax of a place. You can use dialect-like giveaways and ‘verbal tics’ to reveal many aspects of character, while also making your characters separate and distinct from one another. There’s regional syntax, of course, plus there are turns of the phrase that give away educational level, profession, and so on. Elmore Leonard was brilliant at telling you a character’s back story in their syntax.
When I was writing Almost Criminal, I spent a few years inside the head of a teenaged male, and it was a real experience. Tate McLane had to have a personal, idiosyncratic way of expressing himself that reflected his giftedness and his gullibility. In the early drafts, Tate was based on a couple of gifted-school kids I met, who had a fascinating combination of off-the-charts IQ and social immaturity, shyness, awkwardness and — in their areas of expertise — confidence bordering on arrogance. Plus, of course, the hormone-addled self-absorbed personality of most any young male. By the time Almost Criminal was done, I was ready to write about someone older and more mature!
MF: Let’s finish up talking about favourite characters we’ve read. Harry Chinaski (Charles Bukowski’s character) is one of mine, just for the sheer fun and hilarity. It has to be said that there isn’t much of a character arc to Chinaski, he’s just a cartoon character who does the same goofy things day in day out but he’s written in so entertainingly. For more serious characters,  ex-detective Jack Taylor from the works of Ken Bruen, Inspector Rebus from the novels of Ian Rankin and George Bowling from Orwell’s Coming Up For Air are amongst my favorites. How about you?
DK: Yeah, Bukowski writing as Chinaski is one of mine, too. Then there’s Holden Caulfield in JD Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye, Lee Harper’s Scout Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird. In crime fiction Elmore Leonard’s Chili Palmer in Get Shorty, classics like Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe in The Big Sleep, and Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer in I, the Jury are hard to beat.
ERB: Great choices! I’d only add one, while teenaged characters are on my mind. Russell Banks’s great book Rule of the Bone features my favourite teen of all time, Chapman, or “Chappie”, who later calls himself Bone, after a tattoo he gets. The voice, with its individual syntax and odd vocabulary, grabs me from the first paragraph.

What do Mary Novik, Sara J Henry and Dietrich Kalteis have in common? Many things, perhaps… but they’re all published authors in my circle of writing friends.

Mary tagged me for a ‘blog hop’—a kind of chain letter for writers—and I tagged the others. Everyone on the ‘hop’ answers the same four questions about their work and their writing process.

Links to the other writers’ blogs are at the bottom. From Mary’s, you can hop back to yet more blogs. There are some pretty well-known writers in the chain. For anyone interested in writers and writing, it’s fascinating.

1) What am I working on?

I have two projects on the go. My front-burner project is in the home stretch—the first draft, at least! It’s a crime novel that involves eco-terrorism and oil pipelines and human trafficking, and crossed wires between the FBI, Homeland Security and our hero, a female RCMP investigator. (Her sidekick is Ivan, the undercover agent in Almost Criminal). This project has sent me to the library and onto the road for research. I’ve spoken to an environmental scientist and a couple of RCMP officers, and chatted online with young men who work the oil patch.

The back-burner project is a historical novel/coming-of-age story set in the remote north woods during the Great Depression. It’s a first-person story told from the point of view of a twelve-year-old as his family unravels. It’s currently novella length, and I have plans to take it to new places once I can get back to it… likely beginning in the fall.

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Although Almost Criminal is usually found in the mystery racks, it’s not really a mystery: no one dies in Chapter 1, and there’s no investigator hunting for clues. Instead, the reader is inside the head of a seventeen-year-old young man who resorts to criminal activities out of personal desperation and a need for a father figure and a sense of belonging.

Fortunately, crime is a broad and accepting genre. While the story’s uniqueness challenged my agent and my publisher, it’s also what sets the novel apart. The voice of Tate McLane is, I think, part of the reason the novel was shortlisted for an Arthur Ellis “Best First Novel” award, and was a finalist for an Edgar Award—the biggest award in the crime/mystery universe—alongside Stephen King and a handful of international blockbusters.

My new work sits a bit more comfortably in the genre: there is a death in Chapter 1 and we do have an investigator hunting for clues, but my new protagonist has a skewed, somewhat cynical, outsider’s view of the investigation, and a voice to match.

3) How does my writing process work?

It usually begins with an ‘aha’ moment, when a particular scene or situation comes to mind. Often these come at 3 in the morning, when I’m looking at the bedroom ceiling. One out of a hundred of these ideas actually sticks. Then I start to investigate the story’s world and the kind of people that dwell in it. In Almost Criminal, it’s the world of rural grow-ops. In my new work, it’s police culture and Deep Green/Direct Action activists.

For my first novel, I tried, repeatedly, to write an outline, but it was a disaster. This time around, I’ve been much more disciplined with my planning and outlining. Plotting in advance has eliminated some, but not all, of the “where is this thing going?” anxiety. Characters still tend to take the story off on various tangents, but so far I’ve been able to bring them back in line eventually.

4) Why do I write what I do?

I like to tell a story, it’s as simple as that. I love the idea of pulling an idea out of nowhere and then putting it into someone else’s head. Writing, and then reading… it’s a strange kind of magic.

As I mentioned in a previous blog post, I like stories that cast a light on what’s going on around us. The marijuana industry is everywhere, in every town, every city block, every rural area, and yet no one talks about it. The oil and pipeline is polarizing our country. It’s the engine of our national economy. Both major political parties are solidly behind it. And yet grassroots groups everywhere are mobilizing to halt its growth. I think there’s a story there.

Please repost, retweet, re-whatever

Word of mouth is what its all about! Google ‘blog hop’ and see how far these things have gone. It’s fascinating to read how various writers see themselves and approach their work.

Tag, you’re it!

The next two bloggers will post theirs next week, on July 28.

Sara J Henry’s blog is here.

Sara is the multi-award-winning author of two beautifully atmospheric literary-crime novels, Learning to Swim and A Cold and Lonely Place. Her way with realistic, close-to-the-bone crime makes it all the more harrowing. She’s based in, and writes about, the upstate New York – Vermont region, with occasional sorties into northern Ontario. A former Ottawa resident, her Canadians are spot on.

Dietrich Kalteis’s blog is here

Dietrich is the instigator of Vancouver’s Noir at the Bar reading series (well, there’s been one so far, but it will be a series, right Dietrich?) His debut crime novel Ride the Lightning, is a rollercoaster of character-driven action with dialog that makes you want to read it out loud.

Follow the chain backward: Mary Novik’s blog is here.

Mary is the author of two historical novels, Muse and Conceit, that have been received with terrific reviews and broad acclaim. I’m proud to say ‘I knew her when’. We met at local readings when we were both unpublished, although at the time she’d just sold her first novel and I was far from finishing mine.

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Irish writer and blogger Martin Frankson visited Vancouver recently. We met at the inaugural Noir at the Bar event at the Shebeen Room, and then again at Kafka’s, one of my favourite coffee shops. He took our conversation and turned it into a blog post here. This is a slightly condensed version.

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You have written short stories, many of which have been published. One was even dramatized by the CBC. Tell us about the story behind the dramatization?

For a time, the CBC ran a fantastic online multimedia magazine of art and culture. They called it Radio 3. Budget cutbacks killed it a few years ago, and now it’s just a pop music channel. When it was still an art and culture weekly magazine, I emailed them a story idea. I hadn’t published anything – not creative writing at least – at the time. It was just a cold-call type email. They asked to see the story and they accepted it. What was astounding to me was how quickly the process proceeded – compared to the glacial pace of the publishing industry. The time from the initial email to the acceptance was perhaps three days. Two days later I received a late night phone call from the recording studio. They were recording it with actors and had a request for slight changes. At the end of the week it was online! It’s still there if you go hunting for it. The instructions are on my website.

Are short stories good grounding for novelists? What strengths do you think they add to a writer’s skillset?

I wrote short stories for about two years. I used them as a vehicle for exploring various forms and trying out what works for me. Short stories are perfect way to dig into character, atmosphere and description without having plot take over. And, frankly, you can experiment more freely, with a lot less investment in time. More than half of my short stories were unpublished and rightly so. But without the validation of having short stories published, I wouldn’t have had the courage and self-confidence to embark on writing a novel.

‘Almost Criminal’ is your debut novel. It’s set within the marijuana industry in BC. Why this concept in particular?

I like stories to be “about” something. I like there to be social relevance that speaks to a time and place. What attracted me to the marijuana industry in BC is that it’s everywhere, in every town, every city block, every rural area, and yet no one talks about it.

When I began, the only marijuana stories were Cheech and Chong type stuff. Stoner humour. Weeds and Breaking Bad weren’t on the air. I didn’t know of another book about it. I became fascinated with prohibition stories and gangster novels from the prohibition era. I saw parallels between the growth of organized crime — the American mafia – which was directly created by alcohol prohibition and the growth of Hells Angels from the 60s and 70s to today, fuelled by marijuana prohibition.

Did researching this industry, which still remains the shadows of legality, pose any logistical problems?

Well, of course, few people in the industry want to speak to someone who looks like a narc. Especially a couple of years ago, when even medical growing was illegal. But that was overcome. The truth is, there’s grow op on every block, and it doesn’t take very much work to get hold of people who know people. I even had a number of back-and-forth emails with Marc Emery, the self-proclaimed Prince of Pot, from his jail cell in Yazoo City, Michigan. Research books like Bud Inc, and books on the Hells Angels, like Angels of Death, were really helpful.

Did you experience hurdles during the writing of your novel?

A first novel is a giant hurdle. You may think you can write one, but you’ve never done it before. No one wants you to write it, and no publisher will consider it before it’s complete. It’s a leap of faith and a multi-year exercise, and your initial self-confidence may prove to be self-delusion. Yeah, there were hurdles.

Do you have an agent and if so how did that relationship come about? If not, can you talk about the journey between completing the novel and its publication?

I have a terrific agency and agent, Chris Bucci at the McDermid agency. I was introduced to the agency by a writer friend, a mentor at the Banff Centre. But there were years and several drafts of the novel between my first introduction to the agency and the point where I was finally accepted for representation. In today’s world, agents tend to act as gatekeepers for the industry. I think lots of writers will tell you that getting an agent can be harder than getting a publisher.

Why crime-fiction and does crime fiction play a role in exposing unhidden truths about society?

I didn’t plan on writing crime fiction. The story turned in that direction on its own. It began as a family drama and coming-of-age story. The coming-of-age story is still there, of course, but once the bikers showed up it was hard to deny that what I had was a crime story. That said, I couldn’t be happier being considered a crime writer. Crime readers are the best. And the attention I have received, with the award nominations and the reviews that I’ve received…  the industry has been very kind to me. So let me be clear: my next novel is a crime novel. And unlike Almost Criminal, it’s conceived from the outset as a crime novel and I’m having a lot of fun with it.

I understand that marijuana accounts for an estimated $7-9 billion of untaxed revenues in BC and according to studies, 1/100  homes in BC have at one point in time, been used as grow houses. Is this industry common across Canada or peculiar to BC and if the latter, why do you think this is?

The industry is everywhere, right across Canada. It began in BC, certainly. And BC Bud is a pretty well known brand. I’m told it began with a group of American war resisters—draft dodgers, we used to call them— who came up from California and then settled on Lasqueti Island. The history of the character Randle Kennedy, in my novel, follows that trajectory. The coffee shop owners and Randle have a shared background in resisting the Vietnam war and coming up to BC, and then one way or another becoming involved in BC Bud.

Are biker gangs common in BC and how are they regarded by the authorities and did you contact any during your research and if so, what impression did you glean from them?

Bike gangs are a big deal. The authorities know, it everyone knows it. And don’t assume that all of them actually ride bikes anymore. When it came to those guys, I stuck to book research. Some of my marijuana contacts verified what I had to say about the industry and how the bike gangs play into it, but direct contact with bikers, no.

Do you detail the synopsis/storyline before you write a word or do write and plot as you proceed?

I wrote so many outlines! I found I’m terrible at outlining. But the process of doing the outlines—which I didn’t really follow as the writing proceeded— gave me signposts, landmarks, that were very useful to me in getting the story done. I think that outlining is essential in writing crime stories, and I’ve been working on my outlining skills. Crime readers expect a certain level of plot complexity that is very difficult to do without a pretty solid outline.

What authors do you admire the most and why?

I probably read more literary writers than crime writers, although I read a lot of both.  The writers whose books I’ll buy as soon as they appear on the shelf are Barbara Kingsolver, Dennis Lehane, Russell Banks, TC Boyle, Martin Cruz Smith — those are the names that come to mind first. I love writers who cross the genre divide, like Graham Greene did. These days there’s Benjamin Black/John Banville.

Many writers also have full time jobs that can be demanding. What advice would you give such writers to help them find the necessary mental energy to write?

Until recently I was a full time writer of marketing and advertising. It’s very tough to finish a draining day of writing and then stare at an empty page, or empty screen, and hope that inspiration will come.  But ultimately the only way to get writing done is to write.

What are you reading at the moment?

I’m reading Junot Diaz, ‘This is How You Lose Her’, and Harry Karlinky’s ‘The Stonehenge Letters’, and Owen Laukkanen’s ‘The Professionals’.  Diaz’s voice grabs you from the first word. Karlinsky is all dry, intellectual wit. The footnotes in that book bring tears to my eyes. And Owen, who I just met a couple of weeks ago, is so smart. His plotting is really clever.

Are you a full time writer now?

I’ve been a full time writer for over 20 years, but I’m now a full time fiction writer. On my LinkedIn page I called myself a recovering copywriter. Until I unplugged from LinkedIn.

Have you a set writing schedule for each day?

I’m a working writer. I write all day long! But in the morning, I tend to business: dealing with emails and whatever. My creative brain works best later in the day.

Is a writer ever truly happy with his/her work even after the zillionth revision?

No.

When do you know to let it go into the world?

When the editor says it’s ready, and there’s no more time to meet the deadline.

What topics have your short stories covered and do you still write them?

My most successful short stories were, I think, those dealing with coming-of-age type of issues. My first published short story is about teens in garage-rock bands. There’s another historical story, a novella set in the Depression, which is a first person story about a young man in the north of Quebec. They all informed, in one way or another, the character of Tate in Almost Criminal. I haven’t written a short story in a while. I’m happier with the long form.

What differences have you experienced between writing short stories and your novel?

I feel really comfortable in the plot driven novel form. Style is so much of what makes a great short story, and I’ve found I’m more of a traditional storyteller than a literary stylist.

When you completed the final draft of a novel, do you immediately start work on the next novel or some other project?

With only one published novel, I don’t have a lot of experience with this! But so far, each time I’m getting near the end of one novel, I find myself casting about for ideas for the next. Not to say that I’m writing yet, but I’m looking at potential subjects and starting to do research.

Should unpublished novelists seek or rely on the advice of friends or social media contacts to beta read their work? Who in your opinion should a writer rely on for sound advice?

I’m a big fan of the reading circle. I’m a member of two reading circles. Each one includes unpublished and published writers, and I wouldn’t be anywhere without them.

How important is factual research to you? Can the truth be bent in favour of a better story without breaking the bounds of credibility?

It’s important to me that the sense of place feels true, the surroundings feel authentic. Also that the details of both the criminal activity and the plot trajectory feel accurate and plausible. That does take a lot of research. But, at the same time, I don’t write textbooks. The story goes in unexpected places, and reality gets bent. You just hope that the reader trusts you, and enjoys going along for the ride.

How important has social media been in promoting your work and what strategies do you employ to maximise its effectiveness?

It’s connected me with readers who are far beyond my physical reach  — in places where I can’t do readings or signings. As someone with a smaller publisher that’s been fantastic.  But something’s happening in the world of social media. So many people, especially the young influencers, have bailed out of Facebook, don’t blog anymore, and so on. I wonder what’s going to happen to take its place.

Do you believe in writer’s block or should a writer just write something until the muse returns?

The only cure for writer’s block is putting your butt in the chair and writing.

Just back from New York and the Edgar awards. I didn’t win. Didn’t expect to, since every other book in the category was a blockbuster bestseller from a major publisher. There was one other nominee whose book was a debut: Lisa Ballantyne, from Glasgow (only Americans are eligible for the Best First Book award).  There was a New Zealander, Paul Cleave, and a Brit, Alex Marwood. Marcus Sakey, an American, was up for his seventh book.

And there was Stephen King. Every airport and drugstore bookshelf I passed had a copy of Joyland.

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The Grand Hyatt hotel ballroom, packed with nearly 500 people in tuxedos and cocktail dresses. Not like any writers’ gala I’d ever been to.

But, despite, or even because of, my underdog status, I was treated like a celebrity. My new friend Sara J Henry (the Vermont-based author of Learning to Swim and A Cold and Lonely Place) took it on herself to steer me by the elbow and introduce me to Lori Roy (Edgar winner for her first novel Bent Road and Edgar nominee for her second, Until She Comes Home), and Lee Child (of the Jack Reacher series), Chris Pavone (last year’s Best First Novel winner) among others.

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Team Canada at the Edgars: Will Pascoe (Screenwriter award nominee for Orphan Black) Louise Penny and me.

When I met fellow Canadian Louise Penny, she did the same, pressing my hand into her publisher’s and other writing friends.

With all that attention, I began to think, hey, maybe I do have a chance here. Being in the spotlight, even briefly, can do that, I guess.

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Best Paperback Original nominees. Alex Marwood is second from the right

But there you go. Alex Marwood won. And having read her terrific book, I think the judges chose well. She’s a lovely person, hilarious and smart. Kudos to her! Simply being there, in a tux with the treasured red “Nominee” tag was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

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The big moment: the covers are on the screens and the winner’s name is announced.

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My wife Cheryl and I, entering the nominees’ reception.

 

By Ed Battistella. Re-posted with permission, from the literary blog Literary Ashland, from Ashland Oregon.

Eric Brown

Eric Brown

E.R. Brown is the Edgar-nominated author of Almost Criminal, published in spring of 2013.

E. R. Brown (whose first name is Eric) grew up near Montreal and now lives in Vancouver, where he writes and works as a freelance copywriter and communication strategist. His short stories have been published in nationwide magazines and dramatized by the CBC and he was won numerous awards for advertising and technical writing.

We sat down recently to talk about Almost Criminal.

EB: Almost Criminal is your first novel. Have you always been a writer?

ERB: I’ve always written, but I haven’t always considered myself a writer. For years I was involved in theater, media and music. Ultimately, though, writing is the only thing I’ve had real success with. I’ve been a technical writer, an ad copywriter and an editor. I’ve written speeches and video scripts. Storytelling has always been in the back of my mind. Prior toAlmost Criminal, I had some literary short stories published, and the CBC (Canada’s public broadcaster) turned one story into an online drama.

EB: Among the accolades was an Edgar nomination. How did that feel?

ERB: I could not believe it. In fact, I didn’t believe it. One morning I did my daily Facebook check-in and saw a post from a writer friend, saying ‘WOO HOO for ER Brown this morning!’ and so on. I had to go to the Edgar website. I was certain she’d made an embarrassing mistake. I mean, really… I’m a first-time novelist with an independent publisher from Canada. Every other Edgar contender is an international success. Most are blockbusters. It was, and still is, amazing. I’m still pinching myself.

EB: I thought the book was both a coming-of-age story and a morality tale, with some social criticism and family comedy mixed in as well. Did you have a particular aim in mind in writing the novel?

ERB: When I began this project, I thought I was writing a family drama, and a coming-of-age tale of a young man struggling to find his direction. Crime was just one element of the story. But the character Randle Kennedy took on a life of his own, and the crime kept becoming bigger and bigger. Then the bikers showed up, and a boy’s struggles with his mother had to take a back seat.

I’m so glad you saw the aspects of social and family comedy. As a reader, I love stories that are grounded in the real day-to-day fabric of families, jobs and how we struggle to get by, and that’s what I wanted to do here.

EB: I enjoyed your lead character, Tate MacLane, the prodigy/dropout/barista who gets recruited to sell boutique marijuana. How do you put yourself in the mind of a teenager?

ERB: I have three children, and one of them was still a teen while I was writing the novel. Two of my kids worked as baristas in high-end coffee shops. But really, I just channeled that part of me that hasn’t fully grown up. That mouthy, opinionated teen who makes bad decisions is just under the surface.

EB: The story was quite suspenseful. I never quite knew what was going to happen to Tate next. What did you manage to build that suspense?

ERB: Thanks! I worked very hard on building the suspense. I’d never written a novel before, and I can honestly say I did not get it right in the first draft. The story went through several end-to-end rewrites as I worked on tone, voice and, more than anything, the narrative arc. All along, I wanted to create a gradual build-up of tension, as the smart-but-naive Tate digs himself in deeper and deeper.

Almost Criminal

Almost Criminal by E.R.Brown

EB: I’m also curious how you research the marijuana business, which has both underground and semi-legalized aspects?

ERB: You don’t have to look very far. There are a lot of people involved in B.C. Bud, and it’s not hard to find someone who knows someone. As Tate reflects in the book, who gives a damn about a grow op? On the block where I live today, there were three grow ops at one time, or so a neighbor tells me.

I did a lot of book research, of course. I spoke to people (indirectly, because no one would meet me face to face) and I visited the areas of BC and Washington State where the book is located. Every grow op described in the book is based on a real place. And some of the subplots, like the mayor of Vancouver telling police not to interfere with storefront cannabis businesses—and the provincial police taking down hippie-run shops with SWAT teams—are true stories, taken straight out of the newspaper.

EB: Tate’s family relations were also quite complex—his mother is an artist who has cancer, his sister is going to the wild side, and Tate is the anchor of the family. Is the chic drug dealer Randle a father figure for Tate?

ERB: A central aspect of the story is Tate’s struggle to navigate his way through to manhood. His father is out of the picture, and Tate takes better care of the family, especially his sister, than his mother does. But he desperately wants a role model, a mentor—a father. Randle is charismatic and wealthy. He challenges Tate’s intellect, pumps up his ego, and sees potential that no one else does. Anatole, one of the coffeeshop owners, is Randle’s opposite: he’s big-hearted and supportive, but he’s a bit of a doofus. They’re two possible father figures, and Tate’s need to choose between them or find a third path, is what drives the story.

EB: Almost Criminal is a wonderful concept. It’s strikingly original I think in the themes it explores—both of growing up and of the middle class drug culture. Some readers will inevitably compare it to the television series Breaking Bad. Were you influenced by that show at all?

ERB: As a huge fan, I find the comparison very flattering. But when the novel was first conceived, I’d never heard of Breaking Bad. I don’t watch much TV, especially when I’m in the thick of writing. After I had finished the first draft, an early reader mentioned it—but then I avoided the show, to be sure I wasn’t going to be influenced. Since finishing the book, I’ve seen the entire series.

EB: What’s your next project? Do you have a second novel in the works? Or something different altogether?

ERB: My second novel is about three-quarters done. It’s not a sequel, but it is a crime novel, based in both Canada and the US. Since it’s unfinished and doesn’t have a publisher yet, I’m not going to say anything more.

EB: Thanks for talking with us.

ERB: Thank you for your interest. It’s really rewarding to hear from people who’ve read this story. For years there was just me and a computer screen, and very little hope of even getting it published. It’s been a remarkable journey.

 

 

Brown, ALMOST CRIMINAL, DD version

OK, I’m blushing (this self-promo business does not come naturally.) Jim Napier is an established writer and teacher of creative writing and crime fiction whose reviews and interviews have appeared in the  Sherbrooke Record, the Quebec Chronicle-Telegraph, the Montreal Review of Books, and on such major crime fiction websites as The Rap Sheet, SpinetinglerShots Magazine, Reviewing the EvidenceJanuary magazine, Crime Time, and Type M for Murder, as well as on his own award- winning website, Deadly Diversions. His recent review of Almost Criminal says it all.

Read the full review at Deadly Diversions, and explore the rest of the site while you’re there. It’s packed with reviews and interviews, and you’re bound to head off to the bookstore looking for a new writer or a new book.

For nearly 20 years I lived in North Vancouver. My kids went to school there. I wrote the first draft of Almost Criminal there. Thanks to the efforts of my former neighbour Dave Turner, my North Shore cred earned a full-page story in the local paper. Even better, the Outlook  timed it to promote a reading at the West Vancouver library.  Read the story hereScreen Shot 2014-02-17 at 2.54.01 PM

Screen Shot 2014-02-10 at 5.17.22 PMPleased to see Almost Criminal made the Arthur Ellis Award nominations – the long list, as it were – for Best First Novel.  The Arthurs are the Crime Writers of Canada’s version of the Edgars, in a way.  The list of nominees is here. The short list will be announced April 24.

I woke up this morning to a Facebook post from my friend, the writer Deryn Collier (author of the mystery novel Confined Space). Deryn wrote:

A big WOOOOO HOOOOOOO for ER Brown this morning! And Louise Penny… everyone else on this list too, (But holy crap, Mr. Brown! Go you!) http://www.theedgars.com/nominees.html

She’s writing about the Edgar Awards. Named after Edgar Allan Poe, the Edgars are a big deal. Past winners include Dennis Lehane, Ian Rankin, Patricia Cornwell, James Lee Burke, James Patterson. Even Raymond Chandler.
There are six nominees in each category. I’m not eligible for the First Novel award (you have to be American), so I was entered in the Paperback Original category. And of all the crime and mystery books published in 2013, my little first novel from Dundurn made the list. Amazing. Now I know what “stunned” means.

Edgars screencap

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