Monday, 26 June 2017

MY WESTPORT HERITAGE

This past Saturday I signed books at the Westport Heritage Festival in Westport, Ontario. We had great weather, and while the turnout to Lockwood Park was a little lighter, perhaps, than in past years when the festival was held on Bedford Street downtown, I still had a great time talking to people and selling books.

Westport is a community of about 600 people on the Rideau Waterway, an extensive canal system that connects Ottawa, our nation's capital, with Kingston, on the shore of Lake Ontario. Its population more or less triples in summer because it is an enormously popular spot for tourists and boaters, particularly Americans who travel the canal or own cottages in the area.


Westport is always very kind to me when I go there, in part because the community is extremely supportive of the arts. My secret weapon, however, is my name. When people walk by my table and see McCANN on my banners and book covers, their feet slow, they edge over, and after a moment or two make eye contact and say, "Are you related to the McCanns who were up on the mountain?"


In my spare time (!) I'm an amateur genealogist of sorts. Over the years I've researched my family history and the histories of other related families, and it's something I love to talk about. My great-great-great grandparents Arthur McCann and Ann Quinn emigrated from Forkhill Parish, County Armagh, Ireland and settled in North Crosby township, which included the village of Westport. They first appear in local records in 1842. My great-great grandfather, Michael J. McCann, was a successful shoemaker and merchant in the village from the 1850s until his death in 1910. My father was born in Westport and lived there until he was 12, when the family moved to Kingston looking for work.

So while I'm not directly related to the "Foley Mountain" McCanns, who were from a different townland in Forkhill Parish, I answer the above question by launching into the above thumbnail sketch of my ancestry, and away we go. The conversation can go on for quite a while as we trade names, ponder possible relationships, and laugh about the fact that at one time you couldn't swing a dead rat in Westport without hitting a McCann!

While I've never lived there myself, my heritage makes me an accepted son of the community, and I couldn't be happier.

Selling books, on a day like this, is an added bonus!


Monday, 19 June 2017

CHARACTER LISTS: COMPARING BURN COUNTRY TO PETER ROBINSON'S AFTERMATH

In a recent post, I examined the police procedural sub-genre in terms of its characters and approach to characterization. As a noted authority on the subject explained, "To be a police procedural, a novel must have a set of police characters and--preferably detailed--descriptions of their work as they investigate one or more crimes."

When police characters are added to family members, witnesses and/or suspects, non-police characters involved in the investigation (coroner, forensic pathologist, etc.), and others, the list of characters appearing in a police procedural will be somewhat longer than, say, a private eye novel or a cozy mystery featuring an amateur sleuth in a small town.

Are there too many characters in BURN COUNTRY? To answer this question, it's important to compare its character list to other procedurals, so that apples are being firmly compared to other apples.

To do so, I chose one of Peter Robinson's Inspector Banks novels, AFTERMATH (2002), pulling it off the shelf more or less at random. I charted the characters in this novel using the following criterion: I only counted characters who are named by the narrator and have a speaking part in the story. I excluded unnamed characters who speak, including several SOCOs who interact with Banks or Annie for at least a page, and I excluded characters who are named but do not actually appear in the story. Fair enough? I then charted BURN COUNTRY and compiled a comparable list.

The results? There are 53 characters in AFTERMATH, 18 of which are police characters. On the other hand, there are 48 characters in BURN COUNTRY, 16 of which are police characters.

Are there too many characters in AFTERMATH? This novel has 7442 ratings in Goodreads, 40 of which are 1-star ratings. None of the 1-star reviews mention the number of characters. (Interestingly, fellow crime fiction author Val McDermid gave it 1 star!) Additionally, there are 113 2-star ratings, and none of these reviews mention too many characters. In fact, several have solid praise for Robinson's characterization. There are 837 3-star ratings, and I could only spot one review that complained about the number of characters. Et cetera, et cetera.

The point? Readers who enjoy police procedurals understand that novels in the sub-genre contain more characters than novels in other mystery sub-genres, but they appreciate them for the richness they bring to the story!

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

HOLDING A NOVEL IN MY HEAD

You're never too old to learn something new about yourself.

As you may have heard, I was recently hit by the Type 2 diabetes express train, and I'm now staggering off the tracks trying to make my way back to Normalville. The symptoms have been very severe, including blurred vision, zero energy, lack of concentration, and poor memory recall. I'm now taking the appropriate medication, figuring out how to pay better attention to my diet, and aware that once the needle on my energy level comes back up out of the red I should get more exercise.

While this has been going on, as you can imagine, I haven't been able to write. I'd collapse in the chair, turn on the computer, open the files, and stare at them. Then wander off to find something else to do. Watching TV has been a favourite. You don't have to move while you're doing it.

Of course, being an analytical type, I've been trying to figure out why I couldn't even write a page or two. Even when I wanted to, I couldn't do it. I know where I am right now in the manuscript, I know what comes next, and I know what themes I'm currently working, but I couldn't put one sentence after another. Mulling it over, I eventually realized why.

When I write, I need to hold the whole story in my head while I'm working. I need instant recall of what I've written so far, and what the rest of the outline is calling for, so that in the current chapter I don't repeat myself or introduce something out of order. I even need to be able to remember what I've written in the previous novels, so I'm aware I haven't touched on such-and-such in this story yet.

It's like loading an entire computer program into RAM before calling up a file to work on. And right now, the program won't load. I can't hold the whole thing in my head.

It's something you're not really aware that you're doing, until you can't. I've taken it for granted, I guess, that I rely so heavily on my memory while I'm working, but I definitely won't take it for granted going forward. Just as I won't take my health for granted from now on.

As I say, you learn something new about yourself every day.


Monday, 15 May 2017

The Police Procedural and Its Cast of Characters

The March and Walker Crime Novel series, which currently includes Hammett Prize nominee SORROW LAKE and its recently-published sequel BURN COUNTRY, falls into the "police procedural" category.  To enhance the experience of readers as they explore the series, it might help to consider the basic characteristics of police procedurals in general with particular emphasis on their cast of characters.

As crime fiction scholar Kerstin Bergman explains in an essay on Swedish procedurals,
To be a police procedural, a novel must have a set of police characters and--preferably detailed--descriptions of their work as they investigate one or more crimes.... Police procedurals generally display a police 'team of individuals, separated by age, experience, gender, race and ethnicity, [who] work collectively to restore and maintain social order.' *
Unlike other types of mystery such as the private detective novel or the cozy mystery, which tend to feature a single protagonist solving the crime with the help of one or two assistants, procedurals reflect the reality of actual police investigation in which a team of professionals, including homicide detectives, supervisory and management personnel, forensic specialists, and forensic pathologists or coroners come together to play their respective roles in the investigation of the case.  In order to maintain a level of verisimilitude that readers of procedurals demand, the author must depict these various team members to some degree or other as the case unfolds.

As The Guide to United States Popular Culture further tells us,
The method for solving crimes also helps define the police procedural. The investigative process involves a set of established professional procedures for collecting evidence, interviewing witnesses, examining crime scenes, and conducting forensic inquiries.... The group dynamics are often highlighted, re-creating in fiction the friendships and hostilities that exist among any group of people that work together.**
With these critical explanations of the sub-genre in mind, readers may better understand that they will encounter a roster of characters in the March and Walker series, rather than two protagonists working in relative isolation to close the case in super-hero fashion, and that the respective roles and various relationships of the characters will be clearly explained in the story. 

As an Amazon Vine Voice reviewer stated about BURN COUNTRY, "Kevin Walker and Ellie March each go their own way in this case, as part of a larger investigative team. The interplay between the various characters feels genuine, with dialogue and exchanges that give us a good sense of each of them as well as their relationships with each other."

So whether it's Swedish police procedurals, American Ed McBain and his 87th Precinct, or the March and Walker Crime Novel series, readers who favour this sub-genre of mystery stories understand that a realistic cast of characters is all part of the police procedural experience.

---------------------------
*Kerstin Bergman, "The Well-Adjusted Cops of the New Millennium: Neo-Romantic Tendencies in the Swedish Police Procedural," Scandinavian Crime Fiction, Andrew Nestingen and Paula Arvas, eds. Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2011, pp. 34-45.
**"Police Procedural." The Guide to United States Popular Culture, Ray B. Browne and Pat Browne, eds. Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press, 2001, pp. 617-18.


Monday, 1 May 2017

It's Goodreads Mystery Week!


In case you haven't already heard, let me be the first to tell you that this week, May 1 - May 7, 2017, is Mystery & Thriller Week on Goodreads!

Goodreads was launched in December 2006 as a literary social network platform. If you're not familiar with the site and you're wondering what the big deal is, here are just a few numbers to tickle your fancy. Goodreads now has 55 million members, it has 1.5 billion books added to its lists, and it carries more than 50 million book reviews. Staggering numbers!

Wondering what Goodreads can do for you, book reader? Their "About" page suggests:


A Few Things You Can Do On Goodreads

  • See which books your friends are reading.
  • Track the books you're reading, have read, and want to read.
  • Check out your personalized book recommendations. Our recommendation engine analyzes 20 billion data points to give suggestions tailored to your literary tastes.
  • Find out if a book is a good fit for you from our community's reviews.

In the spirit of Mystery & Thriller Week, I'm currently running a Goodreads giveaway promo for BURN COUNTRY, the second March and Walker Crime Novel. For a chance to win one of five autographed paperback copies, bang on this link and get yourself entered in the draw:
https://www.goodreads.com/giveaway/show/233295-burn-country

Good luck, and Goodreads!





Monday, 24 April 2017

Early Reviews of BURN COUNTRY

Early reviews of BURN COUNTRY, the second March and Walker Crime Novel, are now beginning to appear, and they're very reassuring.

A "Vine Voice" reviewer posted on Amazon: "Kevin Walker and Ellie March each go their own way in this case, as part of a larger investigative team. The interplay between the various characters feels genuine, with dialogue and exchanges that give us a good sense of each of them as well as their relationships with each other. Michael McCann's immense research shows in the realism of the police work."

A reader in Florida posted on Amazon as well that "After reading this book, I am going to go back and find the first book in this series [SORROW LAKE], as I found the characters and story refreshing, true-to-life and interesting."

Read both of these five-star reviews here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B06XQPLB45/

As well, a reviewer posted on Kobo: "Another thoroughly enjoyable police procedural mystery by Michael McCann. What can I say? I'm completely hooked with these books."

Read the complete review here: https://www.kobo.com/ca/en/ebook/burn-country

More reviews will be coming soon, including those that will be part of an upcoming blog tour in June. A reminder: if you read BURN COUNTRY and enjoy it, please feel free to post a review on one of these sites or on Goodreads, LibraryThing, or any other such site. It's greatly appreciated!



Monday, 10 April 2017

Inner Ghosts

This week our sister blog, Behind The Walls of Nightmare, is featuring a Kickstarter campaign for the upcoming feature film INNER GHOSTS.

Selected to the Work in Progress section of the 2016 Frontières Co-Production Market at the Fantasia International Film Festival in Montreal, this film is written by Paulo Leite and directed by João Alves. It stars Celia Williams, Elizabeth Bochmann, and Norman MacCallum. 

To find out more, check out Behind the Walls of Nightmare!