Monday, 23 March 2015

Cover Reveal for SORROW LAKE - The first March and Walker Crime Novel

The Plaid Raccoon Press is thrilled to unveil the cover art for Sorrow Lake by Michael J. McCann. Set in eastern Ontario, Canada, Sorrow Lake is the first installment in the new March and Walker Crime Novel Series. It features Detective Inspector Ellie March of the Ontario Provincial Police and Detective Constable Kevin Walker of the OPP's Leeds County Crime Unit.



This cover will be available for both the e-book and the paperback editions of the novel. Now, when shopping for a paperback, most people who are attracted to a book by the front cover will pick it up and turn it over to find out more about the story itself. With that in mind....

 

Cover Design Q & A

Now it's time for a quick interview with the author, who designed and produced this cover.

What was your overall concept for the SORROW LAKE cover design?

The novel is set in Canada, as we discussed in a previous post, and takes place in early December. Because the ice on Sparrow Lake, nicknamed Sorrow Lake by the locals, is not yet thick enough to walk on safely, it poses a danger for anyone attempting to cross it.

The footprints through the snow on the surface of the lake in the great front cover photograph by Oleg Koslov, licensed through iStock, suggest that someone has foolishly ventured out onto the lake nonetheless, and it conveys the sense of danger and suspense found in the story itself. The back photo cover, which I took on the road where I live, was shot on a very cold, overcast morning.  Along with the colour scheme, the photos convey a strong sense of a bleak, cold Canadian winter day.


Did you go through several draft designs before choosing this one?

Yes, it's my habit while writing the manuscript to spend my down time drafting cover designs. It helps sharpen my sense of the mood of the story, and it keeps me motivated during the very difficult process of completing the first draft. I had two other possible designs, both featuring photos that were predominantly blue, but one looked too much like a romance novel and the other was too bright and cheerful. Not appropriate for a police procedural set in a cold northern clime!


Everyone wants to know WHY you design your own covers. Isn't that a no-no for an independent author?

Yes, I suppose it is ill-advised in many cases, but I happen to really enjoy the process, and I approach it the same way I do everything else--with a great deal of advance research, with care and attention to detail, and with the proper tools and equipment.

Part of my research is studying the cover designs of the bestsellers. For example, while I'm in the drug store getting my prescriptions filled, I'll wander over to the book racks while I'm waiting and just stand there, looking at the rows of bestsellers, noticing how they arrange the text elements (author's name very often at the top for better visibility in a middle row!), colour co-ordination, how they place graphic elements, and so on. I read somewhere that outdoor photos are more successful on a book cover than indoor photos, and I keep things like that in the back of my head.

My son has a Mac Pro with Adobe Creative Suite 3 on it, and since he's migrated to a PC laptop these days I've confiscated the Mac. I've taught myself how to use InDesign, which is a very powerful tool for creating both the book block and the cover, and I try my best in Photoshop when I need to tweak something. I take however long is necessary to produce a product readers will find attractive and (hopefully) error-free!


If you'd like to see the cover on Amazon, you can find it here.


Do you like the new cover? Let us know in the Comments section below!

Next week: Sorrow Lake becomes available for reviews!

Monday, 16 March 2015

Sorrow Lake: Who are these Canadian detectives?

Last week I introduced you to my new crime novel, Sorrow Lake, which will be making its first appearance next month. In that post I discussed the novel's Canadian setting.

Now it’s time to meet the two main characters who give the March and Walker Crime Novel series its name.

DETECTIVE INSPECTOR ELLIE MARCH is a nineteen-year veteran of the Ontario Provincial Police. A major case manager with the Criminal Investigation Branch at OPP General Headquarters in Orillia, she investigates homicides and other major crimes in the force’s East Region.

Kevin Walker’s early impression of her is of a woman


in her early forties... Tall, slender, a little gawky. Her ring finger was bare. Her nails were closely trimmed. She wore no cosmetics at all and her hair, although neatly combed, was straight and unattractive. Her cheekbones were high and prominent. Her eyebrows were unplucked. The eyes beneath them were narrow and sober. He’d yet to see her smile. Even when she joked, revealing an active sense of humour, her wide, pursed lips didn’t participate. She was a very strange and intense person who didn’t seem to care what anyone thought about her.

Ellie is divorced. Her ex-husband, Gareth Miller, is an economic advisor for the federal Conservative Party. Her two daughters, Melanie (16) and Megan (12), dislike her intensely. They believe she is “the unhappiest person, like, ever. You make happy people feel unhappy.” Ellie, though, thinks this might be a somewhat unfair assessment.

DETECTIVE CONSTABLE KEVIN WALKER has been assigned to the OPP’s Leeds County Crime Unit for two years. Born and raised in Brockville, he completed a two-year college program and was hired by the Sparrow Lake Police Service as a constable. He spent nine years in the village, the last five as their only detective, before transferring to the OPP when the SLPS was disbanded and Yonge Township awarded their policing contract to the OPP.

Ellie first sees Kevin at the crime scene. He’s standing near the body of the victim with forensic Identification Sergeant Dave Martin:


The one in the ski jacket and toque was big and looked very young, while the other, the Ident officer in his white coveralls and hood, was short and middle-aged. The kid looked like a football player in full pads standing next to a referee.


Young and enthusiastic, Kevin is pleased to have an opportunity to work with Ellie, whose reputation as an interrogator and case manager precedes her. He hopes that his intelligence and insatiable curiosity for esoteric information will compensate for his lack of law enforcement experience. However, at least one of his colleagues in the crime unit feels strongly that Kevin doesn’t belong with them.

Next week: your first look at the cover of Sorrow Lake!



Monday, 9 March 2015

Sorrow Lake - What's all this about a Canadian setting?

As spring approaches, work is underway to prepare my next novel for publication. Sorrow Lake, the first March and Walker Crime Novel, is set in eastern Ontario and features homicide investigators of the Ontario Provincial Police. The advance reading copy for review will be available next month in e-book format through NetGalley and in paperback through my imprint, The Plaid Raccoon Press.

I'm very excited to talk about this new series, which is a bit of a departure from the Donaghue and Stainer Crime Novel series familiar to readers through Blood Passage, Marcie's Murder, The Fregoli Delusion, and The Rainy Day Killer (yes, a fifth novel in the series will eventually join them!). First and foremost, crime fiction fans will be interested to note that this Canadian crime fiction author is now using a Canadian setting for his mysteries!

Canada can proudly boast a strong lineup of home-grown crime fiction authors including Barbara Fradkin, Robert Rotenberg, Giles Blunt, and Louise Penny.  While Penny was quoted in the past as saying that “it was excruciatingly difficult to find an agent or a publisher in Canada or elsewhere interested in a procedural with a Canadian setting,”  her success with the Inspector Gamache series set in Quebec's  Eastern Townships and the popularity of Blunt's John Cardinal series set in a thinly-disguised North Bay (population 64,000) are proof that Canadian settings need not be a deterrent to success in the crime fiction market.

The OPP provides policing services to more than 300 communities in Ontario, including rural Leeds County, where Sorrow Lake is set. Homicide investigators in the force's East Region--where Detective Inspector Ellie March, one of two lead characters in the series, is assigned--investigate major crimes in a land area of  35,000 sq. km. with a population of over 900,000 people.  Stories in the series will be set not only in Leeds but in other parts of the region as well.

It's very interesting to compare the scope of this setting to, say, Iceland. Scandinavian crime fiction, still immensely popular in Canada and the US, includes bestselling, award-winning Icelandic novelists such as Yrsa Sigurdardóttir and Arnaldur Indridason. In fact, I have copies of their novels on the bookshelf in my bathroom.  How do we explain the amazing success of Icelandic crime fiction, set in a country with a population of only 323,000 people (a third of eastern Ontario)? A question for another day, but further proof that crime fiction with underpopulated settings can be surprisingly successful.

I'm very anxious for you to have a chance to experience March and Walker in action as they investigate the brutal execution-style murder of a local used-car wholesaler in Sorrow Lake. As procedurals go, this one is well-researched, carefully told, and features intriguing, engaging characters you'll want to follow through each of their upcoming adventures.

Stay tuned for more!


Monday, 2 March 2015

The Inimitable Leonard Nimoy

Like many others, I was saddened to hear of the death of Leonard Nimoy. I was a fan of the Star Trek series and of the character Mr. Spock.

 Leonard Nimoy was teaching method acting in his own studio when he was cast as Mr. Spock. Gene Rodenberry, the creator of Star Trek, would later refer to Nimoy as the "conscience" of the show.

Although he will always be associated with Spock, Leonard Nimoy had many other accomplishments. Here are some highlights of his life from the New York Times:

He served in the US Army for two years;

He appeared in television series such as Wagon Train, Rawhide, and Perry Mason before being cast as Mr. Spock. Later he would have a starring role in the television series Mission Impossible;

He returned to college in his 40s and obtained a Master's degree in Spanish from Antioch University. Later he would be awarded an honorary doctorate by that university;

He directed two of the Star Trek movies, as well as the film Three Men and a Baby;

He was nominated for an Emmy for his role as the husband of Golda Meir in a made-for-television movie depicting her life. Ingrid Bergman played Golda Meir, the Prime Minister of Israel;

He published two autobiographies, as well as books of poetry and photography;

He frequently appeared on stage, including performances in Fiddler on the Roof;

He recorded music, and his first album was called Leonard Nimoy Presents Mr. Spock’s Music From Outer Space;

He did voices for Disney animation, as well as the voice-over for the computer game "Civilization IV"; and

He had a recurring role in the science fiction series Fringe.

 For the full text of the New York Times article, including two videos, please click here. For additional information and links showing Leonard Nimoy's versatility, please click here.  

RIP Leonard Nimoy, 1931-2015

Monday, 23 February 2015

Living with Alzheimer's Disease


Alzheimer's is a disease that you may be aware of only peripherally unless it has touched your family or friends. The following are the statistics from the Alzheimer's Society of Canada website:

  • In 2011, 747,000 Canadians were living with cognitive impairment, including dementia (approximately 15% of Canadians 65 and older).
  • By 2031, if nothing changes in Canada, this figure will increase to 1.4 million.

 Researchers are still uncertain as to the exact effect of Alzheimer's disease on the brain, although they do know that cells are damaged and eventually die in different areas of the brain. The death of brain cells leads to dementia, characterized by memory loss, impaired judgment, and behavioral changes.
Although no one knows the exact cause of the disease, there are a number of risk factors that have been identified such as head injury, vascular disease, and gender. For example, women are twice as likely as men to develop the disease.

There are ten major warning signs of the disease:
  1.  memory loss that affects day-to-day function
  2. difficulty performing familiar tasks
  3.  problems with language
  4.  disorientation of time and place
  5.  poor or decreased judgment
  6.  problems with abstract thinking
  7.  misplacing things
  8.  changes in mood and behavior
  9.  changes in personality
  10.  loss of initiative  

It's important to note that there are major differences between symptoms of Alzheimer's and signs of normal aging:


Normal Aging 
Dementia 
Not being able to remember details of a conversation or event that took place a year ago  Not being able to recall details of recent events or conversations 
Not being able to remember the name of an acquaintance  Not recognizing or knowing the names of family members
Forgetting things and events occasionally  Forgetting things or events more frequently 
Occasionally have difficulty finding words  Frequent pauses and substitutions when finding words 
You are worried about your memory but your relatives are not Your relatives are worried about your memory, but you are not aware of any problems

 At this time, there is no treatment to delay, cure, or stop the progression of Alzheimer's disease. Approved drugs temporarily slow the worsening of symptoms for about six to twelve months, on average, for about half of the individuals who take them.

It is vital for family members who are caregivers of persons living with Alzheimer's to seek help-- without guilt--to cope with the disease and to safeguard their own physical and mental health.


There are multiple resources and support groups.  For a list of Canadian web resources, see http://www.forgetfulnotforgotten.com/caring/resources/canadian-sites.The Alzheimer's Society of Canada also has a list of provincial societies: http://www.alzheimer.ca/en/provincial-office-directory.

In the United States, please see the Alzheimer's Foundation of America's site at http://alzfdn.org/.

In the United Kingdom, please see the Alzheimer's Research UK site at http://www.alzheimersresearchuk.org/. 

Please remember that exercise, healthy eating, and brain boosters such as crossword puzzles and computer games can help in keeping your brain healthy. For more information, visit http://www.alzheimer.ca/en/Living-with-dementia/BrainBooster.
 
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Monday, 16 February 2015

Irish Crime Fiction: Moving into the Mainstream

It's refreshing to note that crime fiction is gradually being accepted into the mainstream of literature, and is hopefully shedding its image as "genre" fiction and therefore a poor cousin to "literary" works.

Trinity College in Dublin is now offering a course on Irish crime fiction writers, and if you enjoy Irish crime fiction you'll recognize many of the authors: Tana French, Arlene Hunt, Eoin McNamee, Stuart Neville, Declan Hughes, Benjamin Black, and John Connelly, among others.

The course syllabus indicates that Irish crime fiction is "perhaps the fastest growing area of contemporary Irish literature".

For more information, including the course syllabus, please see Declan Burke's post on Crime Always Pays.

Monday, 9 February 2015

Let's Talk--About Better Assistance on University Campuses

Each year I do a post on Bell's Let Talk Day with the goal of helping to publicize the need for talking openly and ending the stigma of mental illness.

However, a recent incident involving a student in resident at a Canadian university might have the unfortunate effect of discouraging young people from coming forward in search of assistance when they urgently need it.

This student's appeal for help to cope with his depression and suicidal thoughts ended in a demand that he leave the university's residence before he even had a chance to meet with a mental health counsellor.

The day before he was to attend a counselling session on campus, he was advised by university officials that he had to immediately vacate his room because he posed a risk to other students. If he did commit suicide, this would adversely affect the mental health of the other students in residence. His mother was called to come pick him up. He could attend classes, they said, but he couldn't stay in residence.

According to a university spokesperson:

There has never been a case [here] where a student has been removed from residence for the sole reason that they have threatened self-harm. We simply would not do that. . . . There have been times, though, where the special needs of an individual have exceeded the university's capacity to provide the adequate and necessary support for their own safety and well-being, as well as supporting and protecting others who are in close proximity or have direct contact with the individual.

This story clearly underlines the necessity to talk openly about our universities' "capacity to provide the adequate and necessary support" to young people in urgent need of help at a very vulnerable time in their lives. While money is hard to come by all around, and budgets are constantly under scrutiny in every organization, universities included, I would suggest that the mental health and well-being of the young people in their charge--many living away from home for the first time--should be considered a very high priority rather than something for which "adequate" is a target not always attained.

Our youth need to feel it's permissible to ask for help when they're struggling with depression, anxiety, and other forms of mental distress. The last thing they need is the unspoken message that they're only going to "cause trouble" for their school and themselves if they do find the courage to come forward.

Our institutions need to change their priorities and do a much, much better job of listening and helping whenever someone within their walls reaches out to them in times of need.

For the CBC story, please click here.