Saturday, 30 June 2012

Arts Night: First Unitarian Congregation of Ottawa

Last evening I was very pleased to attend Arts Night at the First Unitarian Congregation of Ottawa. Organized by Joycelyn Loeffelholz and hosted by Jodi McIntosh, Arts Nights are a unique way to bring local artists together in front of an audience to "share their particular art form, converse, and answer questions."

Each event includes an appearance by an author, a visual artist, and a musician, who deliver a 20-minute presentation about their chosen medium, why it best suits their creative impulse, and any other related topics. For my part, I talked about my life-long love of stories, storytelling, and books, I introduced Blood Passage and Marcie's Murder, the first two books in the Donaghue and Stainer Crime Novel series, and I explained how crime fiction gives me an opportunity to develop several themes in the series related to law enforcement officers, society's demands for justice, and the need to understand why evil exists in the world. I have to say that I found this format much more satisfying for me than a simple reading, since I was able to talk about some of my objectives as an author and carry on a conversation with the audience.

I was fortunate to share the podium last night with two other very talented individuals. Janis Miller Hall is an Ottawa visual artist working in contemporary realism in a variety of media, including pastel, acrylic, oil, and encaustic. She showed three works last night, including "Life Revealed," "Mayan Vendor," and "Up Close and Personal," all of which can be seen on her website. In addition, Maike Dombrowsky is a sound practitioner who talked about sound healing and her own personal experiences with the healing power of sound. More information on this subject can be found at the Ottawa Sound Healing Conference 2012 website.

I want to thank Joycelyn for organizing such a remarkably effective event, Jodi for hosting, and also thank everyone who attended despite the incredible heat. I encourage everyone in the Ottawa area to find out more about these Arts Nights and to come out when they resume in the fall. They really are a very unique way of interacting with artists in your community. I'd also encourage those of you who live in other parts of the world where these kind of events do not take place to consider starting one of your own.

As a final note, when I was leaving the church I noticed the bronze bust just inside the front door that I've included at the top of this post. This memorial is a tribute to the incomparable Lotta Hitschmanova, a Canadian humanitarian who was the driving force behind the Unitarian Service Committee of Canada from 1945 to 1982. USC Canada is an international development organization that started as a small group of aid workers sending supplies to war-torn Europe for relief and reconstruction, as Wikipedia explains. Canadians from my generation recall with fondness the television commercials we all watched as children that made her a household name throughout Canada, and it's a pleasure and an honour to include her memorial in this post.

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Collected Works Redux: Save the Bookstores 2012

For the second Saturday afternoon in a row I had the pleasure of appearing at the Collected Works bookstore on Wellington Avenue in Ottawa. This time I was happy to be there to support the Save the Bookstores 2012 event.

As noted by Publisher's Weekly, this event has been created to assist independent bookstores in Canada and the United States and to draw attention to their invaluable contributions to the literary marketplace. Literary agent Kelly Sonnack, with the Andreas Brown Literary Agency, has set up a Facebook page to promote the event.

 In the afternoon I joined Scott Fotheringham, Peggy Blair, Sandra Nicholls, Missy Marsten and Jeff Ross at the authors table. Fellow crime fiction author Brenda Chapman was also able to make a brief appearance, although just to listen! We each read an excerpt from one of our books and chatted with members of the audience afterwards.

It was a very pleasant way to spend the afternoon. Thanks to everyone who came out. Remember, it's vitally important to support the independent bookstores in your community. They are the purest and most genuine connection that you have to the authors and books that enrich your local culture, and they deserve your ongoing support.

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Collected Works and My Name Up in Chalk

Yesterday I was pleased to appear at the Collected Works Bookstore and Coffeebar at 1242 Wellington Street West in Ottawa to sign copies of Marcie's Murder.

It was a beautiful, warm, sunny Saturday afternoon and the drive into the city was pleasant. I parked on a side street off Wellington and, when I walked around the corner, found the store's slate sandwich board out on the sidewalk letting people know I was the day's headliner, as you can see on the left.

It made me wish I could have whipped out a saxophone and peeled off a few Coltrane riffs as the coffee flowed, the smoke curled to the ceiling, and the patrons murmured quietly in the background.

Alas, though, no saxophone. No smoke either, of course, given the by-laws, and not many murmuring patrons, but there was great-smelling coffee.

One or two people stopped by, thinking I was doing a reading rather than a book signing. An elderly woman and her husband had come around for this very reason. I chatted with her and found out that she didn't actually buy books, since there wasn't room for them in their small apartment, but she downloaded her reading material onto her Kobo. I lowered my voice, since we were in a bookstore, after all, and admitted that my books are available for the Kobo. We talked about what she liked to read, and it seemed she leaned more toward cozy mysteries than police procedurals, which is what I write. Since she'd come down expressly to hear me read, I got her comfortable in a chair on the other side of my table and read her the first few pages of Marcie's Murder.

It was immediately clear that she definitely preferred cozy mysteries to police procedurals. She bid me a polite farewell, collected her husband, and left the store.

As I mentioned in my previous post, I really enjoy meeting the people who find themselves in the bookstore when I'm there and who take the time to stop at my table to chat. Although they might tell me they don't read fiction, or they don't actually buy books, or they don't like crime fiction or violence or bad language, I still enjoy having a chance to get to know them a little bit. Even the people who react badly when I mention I worked for Canada Customs (common enough, actually, since Customs is often more hated than municipal police forces) still give me an opportunity to see the human side of the writing business.

Writing, as John Irving and others have noted, is a very solitary venture. You have to be prepared to spend a lot of time alone, absorbed in your work, if you expect to succeed at it. Writers are, by nature, then, often rather introverted. Appearing in public, facing people and their criticism -- or even, sometimes worse, their complete disinterest -- can be difficult.

Being an author and a writer, you see, are actually two different prongs of the same fork. As an author I arrange for the stores to carry my books, I schedule the events with them, and I show up on time, pens in hand, ready to go to work. The writer, however, gets dragged along behind, trembling and stammering, and is told to be good and stop acting like a child.

But ah, it's the childish curiosity of the writer that finally wins out, so pleased to see new faces and make new acquaintances, however fleeting.

It's the author whose name is on the sandwich board out on the sidewalk, but if you come in and stop by my table, it's the writer you'll have a chance to meet.

As a closing note for those of you in Ottawa who chose to attend Westfest on Richmond Road yesterday rather than buy a book from a trembling writer (I understand that the event can draw as many as 100,000 people altogether), you'll have a great opportunity next week to meet an entire slate of authors at Collected Works during their fantastic Save The Bookstores event, which is happening on June 16, 2012 beginning at 11:00 AM and running through the afternoon. Although I won't be part of the lineup of authors reading from their work I will be there to enjoy the event and would love to meet you. Check out the Collected Works Facebook page for more information.

See you there!

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Book Signing Appearance on June 2, 2012

Yesterday I was pleased to be able to appear at Chapters Kanata in Ottawa to sign copies of Marcie's Murder, the second Donaghue and Stainer Crime Novel, which was published in April. The weather was not very good outside, and so there was a steady stream of customers in the store in the afternoon. I had a great opportunity to chat with many people, some interested in crime fiction and some not so much. One visitor in particular has her own little story, which I'll tell you about at the bottom of this post.

I was very pleased to have a chance to chat with Iona McKay, a former Canada Customs colleague of mine, with whom I'm pictured, above. Among other things, we talked about my trip to Scotland. Iona's mother is from the Isle of Skye, and she reminisced about visiting her grandparents for many years in the summertime. She convinced me that when I return to Scotland, which I will, I'll have to start with a tour of Skye. I have a funny feeling that my connection to Scotland, which began last month with my fabulous week at The Glenrothes distillery in Rothes, will be one that lasts the rest of my life. How fortunate I am!

Thanks to Margaret Leroux and Peter Fox for coming with Iona as well. Very much appreciated, as you know.

I was also very happy yesterday to have an opportunity to re-connect with Anie Pulsifer, another former colleague from Canada Customs. Anie was a manuscript reader for Blood Passage and has agreed to serve in the same capacity for The Fregoli Delusion, which should be ready for dissection in September. Thanks for stopping by, Anie!

Now for my little story. During these signing appearances, rather than sit in my chair for the afternoon looking like a ticket clerk in a bus station, I prefer to stand up and walk around a little bit, handing out my bookmarks and chatting with people. At one point a woman came in with two young girls, accepted a bookmark from me and looked at it with some interest as they walked away. Some time later the older of the girls, perhaps twelve or fourteen years old, marched up to me and asked me if I was the author. I admitted that it was so. She told me she also wanted to be a writer and asked if I had any advice for her.

Moments such as this are rare and precious, indeed. I asked her what she liked to write, and she told me she wrote fiction, so I told her to practice being a storyteller. When you're talking to people and telling them about something, think about it as a story. Hook their interest and have a good finish, like a punch line. Be a storyteller. In addition, write every day. Writing requires practice, and I urged her to write something, no matter what it is, every day. Look for feedback from other people, pay attention to what gets a response from them. And don't quit. No matter what, keep writing.

Like most of us, I thought of a hundred other things afterwards I could have told her as well. Be conscious of spelling, grammar and punctuation, never be afraid to look up words in the dictionary just to be sure, even though you think you know what they mean or how to spell them. Try different styles, experiment with different forms. Once you get a writer started, it's hard to shut them up. But she seemed satisfied with what I'd thought of on the spur of the moment, and when her mother appeared, to tell me about having found Blood Passage and Marcie's Murder in the Chapters/Indigo system online for the Kobo, she listened with great interest.

I realized after they left that I didn't know the young lady's name. What kind of detective would I be, right? But privacy is an important commodity these days and I don't like to ask someone's name just to satisfy my own curiosity. The point is that she knows how to find me, thanks to the bookmark in her mother's hand. Young lady, you can always find me here, at The Overnight Bestseller, or at my website at or on Twitter at @MichaelJMcCann1, and I'll always have you at the back of my mind as I'm writing about the creative process and my experiences as an author. I hope you can take something from my jottings and apply it in your own budding career. I wish you all the best.

Before signing off for now, I should remind everyone that next Saturday, June 9, I'll be at the Collected Works bookstore in Ottawa, 1242 Wellington St. W., between 2:00 and 4:00 pm to sign copies of Marcie's Murder. I'd love to have a few more conversations like the ones I just described to you. Come on out!