Mystery Mondays: Barbara Fradkin on Writing A Crime Series

doordieIt is my honour to  host Barbara Fradkin on Mystery Mondays. I’ve been reading her work since DO OR DIE was published in 2000. The novel sits on my bookself as a reminder of what to strive for.

Barbara is a generous author. She read an ARC of DESCENT and provided a blurb that I proudly display on the front cover. I could hardly believe after being a fan for so long, Barbara liked my work. I never thought when I read DO OR DIE, she would read one of my novels one day. These are moments to treasure.

So enough about my happiness, and on to what Barbara has to say about writing a crime series.

By Barbara Fradkin

Series are all the rage in crime fiction. Readers love reconnecting with their favourite fictional companions and following the ongoing ups and downs of their personal lives quite apart from the drama of the particular mystery. There is nothing better than spending a few days in the company of an engaging, at time infuriating, but always interesting old friend. And wondering what he or she will get up to next. Writers of series often remark, somewhat wryly, that readers never comment on the mystery plot itself, no matter how surprising, clever, or poignant it is, but on whether the detective’s wife will divorce him (finally) or have another child, or whatever. I’ve received numerous emails from readers warning me, “Don’t you dare kill off the father!” This despite the fact that Green’s father is now tottering into his nineties.

Publishers love series because readers do, and because once a reader discovers a series, they often read every book in it while eagerly awaiting the next. As a result, in the crime fiction world, readership builds with each new book, and books that were published ten or fifteen years ago still have a life. The first book in my Inspector Green series, DO OR DIE, was published in 2000, but since it continues to sell, my publisher keeps it in print. In fact, all my books are still in print. In today’s publishing reality, fifteen years is a long life for a book.

The question for this blog, however, is not whether readers or publishers love series; it is whether writers do. I can answer that question for myself only, but I suspect other writers feel the same. We have mixed feelings. We love that readers become connected and wait eagerly for the next book. We love that our publishers say, “Yes, bring on the next one!” We also love that we can slip effortlessly into the circle of characters we have created, picking up at the point in their lives where we left them in the last book and continuing to explore and develop their stories. Embarking on a new Inspector Green novel was always like walking into a family reunion. I have spent more time with these characters than with my actual family; I have created and lived through every one of their crises, whether professional or personal. I have walked with them, argued with them, agonized over their choices and created their moments of triumph and catastrophic despair. I love all my characters. Not just Michael Green, but his rebellious daughter, his wise, long-suffering wife, his father struggling with old age and loneliness, his work colleagues Sullivan, Jules, Peters and Gibbs. I have put them through all the challenges that life throws at us. I care what happens to them.

And yet, for most serious writers, there comes a time to break free. To make new friends and explore the struggles of new people. Time to explore new story styles and structures, and new settings. No writer wants to feel they have written this story before. No writer wants to feel constrained and straitjacketed by the cast of characters and the setting just because the public and the publisher demands it.

Luckily for me, Orca Books came along with a proposal for a series of easy-read, short novels with adult themes but a fast-paced, engaging, bare-bones style aimed at readers who lack the time, the patience, or the English reading skills to commit to a three hundred-page book. This allowed me to explore a whole new style, setting, and cast of characters. I created Cedric O’Toole, a simple country handyman who loves to tinker with junk and who lives on the hard-scrabble farm he inherited from his mother. Solving crimes is the farthest thing from Cedric’s mind; yet he keeps stumbling upon trouble he can’t ignore. Cedric is the antithesis of the Green, who is a committed crime fighter and die-hard city boy. And the setting –poor, rural Eastern Ontario—is the opposite of Ottawa. It has been fun to leave one set of characters behind and immerse myself in the country world of Cedric O’Toole, and it has helped keep me sane. Over four years I have written three Cedric O’Toole books, the latest being THE NIGHT THIEF.

Meanwhile, however, I have written ten police procedurals set in Ottawa (with the occasional foray afield), all featuring the same Ottawa setting (with minor variations) and the same hero. Michael Green and his entourage have become old, much loved friends. In each book I have tried to push the boundaries of the story structure. I have sent Green to Montreal, to Halifax, and up to the wilds of the NorthWest Territories. I have thrown him back into a historical case that may have gone entirely wrong. Ten books feels like a milestone, both a reason to celebrate and a reason to wrap it up. Not forever. I want to develop new characters, experiment with a more adventure-thriller style, and explore all the varied beauty the Canadian landscape has to offer. I hope to come back to Green refreshed, delighted to reconnect with him, and with a new perspective on the classic story structure of the police procedural.

FireintheStarsSept16So far I have a contract for three books in a new Amanda Doucette series. This time, finally, I have a female hero, and I have a setting that, although classically Canadian, changes with each book. The series will be travelling across Canada, with the first book, FIRE IN THE STARS (September 2016), set in Newfoundland, and the second, THE TRICKSTER’S LULLABY, in Quebec’s world-famous Mont Tremblant. I imagine that eventually I will hit the Pacific (or Arctic) Ocean and the series will have run its course.

Green and I stumbled upon each other fifteen years ago, when I had no idea I was writing a series and no idea where I was going to take him. But the secret to his longevity is that I created a sleuth I enjoyed being with; yes, he was flawed and infuriating but always passionately on the side of right. I, and by extension the reader, could care about whether he succeeded, and cringe for him when he messed up. Life with Green was never dull. Furthermore, I had him grow and change over the series, as each new case brought new challenges to his life, and changes to his personal life as well. My motto in this was, never let him get comfortable. What new struggles can he face, and what new challenges can I throw at him?

A hero who has a real life outside work that we can all relate to; a hero who stumbles and yet, with our encouragement, overcomes; a hero whom the writer is happy to spend three hundred pages and fifteen years with—this is a successful series hero! Cedric, with his more modest aims but equally heroic challenges, is also a worthy keeper. I love to come back to him, leaving Green in the city and immersing myself in Cedric’s bumbling, quirky life.

Barbara Fradkin_1
Barbara Fradkin

I have learned a thing or two about what makes a sustainable character over the years—real life struggles, flaws, a passionate heart, a determination to overcome—but in the end, there is a little magic to it. I can only hope Amanda Doucette will have that spark of magic in her too.

Next week is Canadian Thanksgiving, so I’ll be eating Turkey with my family and Mystery Mondays will have to wait.

But then you are in for a treat. Phyllis Smallman, author of the Sherri Travis Mysteries and the Singer Brown Mystery Series, will be here to talk to you on October 19th.

Thanks for reading. And as always…

If you’re looking for something to read and you haven’t read DESCENT yet, now is your chance before BLAZE comes out. Find it at: myBook.to/Descent

And if you have read DESCENT, I’d be very excited if you pre-ordered BLAZE.

Unveiling of DESCENT…A little more…

You’ve probably noticed I’m having fun with the upcoming release of DESCENT. So here’s a big piece of the fun. Award winning author of the Inspector Green mysteries, Barbara Fradkin, provided a quote for the cover of DESCENT. I can hardly contain my excitement.

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If you haven’t read Barbara, now’s your chance! Here is where you can find her first Inspector Green novel, DO OR DIE.

For the inside cover, I was very lucky to receive quotes from Brenda Chapman and Garry Ryan. Check out Cold Mourning by Brenda and Queen’s Park by Garry. These are the debut novels in their series.

In case you haven’t seen their quote, I just have to share them again.

“Murder rocks the competitive ski world in Stanley’s layered tale with enough suspects to keep readers guessing until the last chilling chapter.” –Brenda Chapman: Award winning author of the Stonechild and Rouleau Mysteries.

“From the first line, you’re strapped into a Stanley novel. Just turn the page, hang on, and enjoy the ride.” –Garry Ryan: Award-winning author of the Detective Lane mysteries and Blackbird trilogy.

Full cover coming soon…

If you haven’t read my blog before, I’ve signed on with Imajin Books and will blog about my publishing adventure. I’ll share what I learn and hope it helps someone out there get their novel published.

Thanks for reading.

 

Early Praise For Descent: A Stone Mountain Mystery #1

On the twisted and bumpy trail of getting published, I’ve sent out my advanced reader copy of DESCENT for review by other authors. The idea is to get a blurb for DESCENT that can be published with the novel and used for marketing in the early days of release.

As difficult as it was to ask others to read and create a one to two-line sentence about DESCENT, I’m glad I did. Three talented Canadian mystery authors took time out their busy schedules to help me out. I’ve read every book by each of the authors and have been a long time fan of all three. Imagine how great I felt have them not only read DESCENT  but then to write  such wonderful reviews for me.

Here is what I received (in alphabetical order)  from Brenda Chapman, Barbara Fradkin,  and Garry Ryan::

Brenda Chapman: Award winning author of the Stonechild and Rouleau Mysteries.

“Murder rocks the competitive ski world in Stanley’s layered tale with enough suspects to keep readers guessing until the last chilling chapter.”

Barbara Fradkin: Author of the Inspector Green Mysteries and two-time winner of the Arthur Ellis Award for Best Novel.

“In this impressive debut, Kristina Stanley weaves a vivid, chilling tale of jealousy, secrets, and betrayal in a close-knit mountain ski village. Like its likeable young heroine, Kalin Thompson, DESCENT is both tender and tough.”

Garry Ryan: Award-winning author of the Detective Lane mysteries and Blackbird trilogy.

“From the first line, you’re strapped into a Stanley novel. Just turn the page, hang on, and enjoy the ride.”

Brenda has authored:

  •  Cold Mourning,
  • My Sister’s Keeper,
  • Second Chances,
  • The Second Wife,
  • The Winter’s Grip,
  • Trail of Secrets,
  • Where the Trouble Leads,,
  • Hiding in Hawk’s Creeks,
  • Running Scared and
  • When Boomers Go Bad.  

For more about Brenda and her books click  here.

Barbara’s novels include:

The Inspector Green Series: 

 The Cedric O’Toole Series:
For more about Barbara and her books click  here.
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Garry’s works include:
The Detective Lane Series:

Garry has written the first two of the Blackbirds Trilogy:

For more about Garry and his books click here.

If you haven’t read my blog before, I’ve signed on with Imajin Books and will blog about my publishing adventure. I’ll share what I learn and hope it helps someone out there get their novel published.

Thanks for reading…