Friday, 22 March 2013

Portrait of a Writer at Home

One of the advantages of retiring from my day job to write is that I have the convenience of working at home. No 45-minute commute; no waiting in traffic on the Queensway; no stuck buses or fender-benders to negotiate; no parking lots to subsidize. I get my coffee, fire up the computer, and I'm ready to go.

Okay, let's back up again. A few hurdles here to negotiate. One of my cats is outside clawing at the window and demanding to be let in. I get up to let her in. I start to sit down again, and another cat has taken my seat. I negotiate with him (usually Sammy) to move. Then my dog Cody gets one of his three hundred chew toys and starts flicking it at my ankle to remind me that it's play-time. I toss a few obligatory rounds of the chew toy, and then try to talk him into settling down. I reach for my coffee, but it's already cold. I get up to nuke it in the microwave, and when I come back my chair has been confiscated again. Sigh!

Sammy has now been removed to his basket in the sun, and I'm ready to start again. I'll spend a few minutes on e-mail and Twitter before I start writing. Shouldn't be too long.

Two hours and many e-mails and retweets later, I'm ready to go. I happen to glance up and register the fact that there's a new ten centimetres of snow outside to shovel because the snowblower still isn't fixed. My wife appears, all bundled up for the Arctic, to remind me that we should go shovel it before it gets too wet and heavy to move. She smiles ruefully at me and says: “I bet Stephen King doesn't have to shovel his own driveway.”

I'm back now after shovelling, a shower, and a late lunch. Better start working. Phone rings. I pick it up without checking caller ID and then spend five minutes convincing someone that I don't need additional accident insurance even if it does cover every bone in my body.

I'm ready to work now, but I've lost my train of thought. What was I working on?

I look up again at the window and there's a squirrel standing on the railing of our porch eating bird feed that's been spilled from the feeder by overanxious birds. Oh, what the heck. I grab the camera and proceed to make a squirrel video. It'll never make YouTube, but my wife will love it.

Some days are more productive than others, I remind myself.

Besides, there is always this evening. . .

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Accountability in Online Writing

I recently researched horror and supernatural blogs in preparation for re-releasing my first novel, The Ghost Man. I came across some very interesting comments on one of the indie review sites ( Here's an excerpt: 

In many ways star rankings are a waste. Look at the 1-Star reviews on Amazon for the free, public domain version of your favorite classic literature – something like “A Scarlet Letter” or “A Tale of Two Cities”.... A good review will give a reader an idea of whether they’ll like a book or not.  How well the reviewer liked the book is secondary. Many 1-Star reviews describe a book that sounds perfect to someone else. 
One-star reviews of the classics have been the subject of many blog posts, and one example you might want to look at, if you 're interested in a laugh, is a column in Lit Reactor at

Of course, the classics such as The Great Gatsby and Ulysses are still very much assured of their good standing in spite of these one-star reviews and rant-like comments. But there is a serious side to all of this: anyone with a keyboard and Internet access can now presume to be a critic, and quite often the most vocal critics--who usually profess to have the public's interest at heart--are also the most negative. I've seen this trend not only in book, film, and music reviews, but also in sites that give customer ratings for businesses or give ratings to physicians and university professors. If this freedom to comment came with some form of accountability, I would applaud it. Unfortunately, it does not. 

Many of these negative reviews would never have seen the light of day if the sender had engaged in some sober second thought. It's like the nasty e-mail you compose, describing all your outrage at someone or something that has offended you: except once you finish writing it and getting the venom out of your system, you click “delete” rather than “send”.

Here's to accountability in writing! 

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Charley and the Gang

Photo: Tim D. McCann
I've already introduced you to Cody, our border collie, who is very photogenic. I think it's time I introduced you to the rest of the gang.

Our other dog, Charley, is a beautiful black Labrador Retriever that we had the good fortune to bring into our lives several years ago. Charley is originally from the United States, where he was a stray stuck in an animal shelter, running out of time. Thankfully, he was brought to Canada for us through the kindness of a local animal rescue group.

Charley is the fourth Lab we've had, and he's typical of the breed: loving, gentle, and in possession of a relatively short attention span. His coat has brown fur mixed in with the black, and in direct sunlight it takes on a beautiful bronze sheen that has to be seen to be believed. This time of year, he loves to go outside and make snow doggies (his variation of the snow angel). However, I've discovered that he doesn't have the patience to go on walks in the forest with me and Cody. When he has tried in the past, he spends his time eating deer scat and disappearing out of sight among the trees. Once I spent a frantic hour tracking him down during one of these walks, and eventually found him several properties over, about two miles away. So unfortunately he misses out on many of our photo shoots.

Charley is known in our house as “the sleep doctor.” Curl up beside him for just a minute, and you're off in the Land of Nod. He's a very peaceful animal. Here's to you, Charley!

I always say I could never imagine living in a house without dogs in it, but we're also fervent cat-lovers and won't brook any unfair treatment of domesticated felines. Cats are a very different species, and you have to speak their language to understand and appreciate them. Around here, we currently have three cats sharing our home with us.

Photo: Tim D. McCann
Tiger is the patriarch and is a long-haired beauty. He's also very fussy about what he eats, where he sleeps, and who touches him. An eccentric by nature, he will eat only certain kinds of food when it's arranged to his liking on a plate. It has to be at the front of the plate, you see, because he pushes it away from him as he eats. We rescued Tiger as a kitten after his hip was broken by someone who shouldn't have owned pets. The veterinarian who put the pin into his injury refused to return him to the young man, and we volunteered on the spot to adopt him. That was fifteen years ago. Since Tiggie had a rough start in life, we allow him his eccentricities.

Photo: M.J. McCann
Sammy (shown top, left) began life as a neighbor's barn cat and quickly discovered that the grass was greener elsewhere. He started by eating food intended for our cats on our porch, and then moved inside. Unfortunately, he hasn't stopped eating since then and is a bit overweight. Sammy is part Siamese (if you please). He's smart as a whip and very affectionate. He also has a wicked sense of humor and loves to tease the border collie. Faithful readers of this blog will remember a previous post in which I described how Sammy uses those hypnotic blue eyes of his to condition me to his will, especially while I'm trying to write.

Last but not least is our son's cat Minnie (shown bottom, left: see her?), who is a short-haired tabby. Tim rescued her from a woodpile, where she was born in a litter of barn cats. When he first brought her home, her eyes were barely open. We fed her with an eyedropper and worried about her survival, but she's since grown up to be a handful! She loves to play and is always keeping us entertained with her acrobatics. Sammy, I daresay, has met his match.

Throughout our many years of marriage, my wife and I have had lots of pets. It would have been a lot quieter in the house without them, but it just wouldn't have been the same. They have deeply enriched our lives.

If you would like to adopt a cat or dog, a local and reputable animal rescue group or shelter is always a good option for giving an animal a second chance at a good life.We encourage you to support these hard-working people in your area, and to treat your pets with the kindness and consideration they need to be your healthy, happy companions.

Thursday, 7 March 2013

The Upcoming Biography of J.D. Salinger

The New York Times Art Beat blog reports that a biography of the reclusive J.D. Salinger, who died in 2010, will be published by Simon & Schuster in September. Entitled The Private War of J.D. Salinger, it has been eight years in the making and is based on interviews with 150 people who worked with, knew, or were influenced by Salinger. One of the co-authors, Shane Salerno, who also wrote the screenplay for the movie Savages, said of Salinger: “The myth that people have read about and believed for 60 years about J.D. Salinger is one of someone too pure to publish, too sensitive to be touched. We replace the myth of Salinger with an extraordinarily complex, deeply contradictory human being. Our book offers a complete re-evaluation and reinterpretation of the work and the life.”

It's interesting to note that two previous works published during Salinger's lifetime also purported to be an intimate portrait of Salinger. In 1999 his ex-lover Joyce Maynard, after selling Salinger's private letters at auction, published At Home in the World: A Memoir, chronicling her relationship with Salinger, who was 35 years older. This was followed in 2000 by the publication of the controversial and largely unflattering portrait of Salinger in Dreamcatcher: A Memoir, written by his daughter Margaret.

The publisher of the forthcoming biography is billing it as an opportunity for Salinger's readers to know the author better. Those who grew up reading Salinger's exquisite short stories and his coming-of-age novel The Catcher in the Rye may wish to give it a pass, however, and continue to let the writer's works speak for themselves.

For the original article, see

Monday, 4 March 2013

A New Local Point of Sale

Photo: M.J. McCann
Independent authors understand the challenge of getting paperback copies of their books onto the shelves of  bricks-and-mortar bookstores. As I blogged recently, independent bookstores have been struggling to keep their doors open, and their urgent priorities don't leave much time for giving a hand up to independent authors and micro-publishers.

In Ottawa, the Donaghue and Stainer Crime Novel Series can be found on the Prime Crime Book Shelf at Britton's in the Glebe. I posted earlier about how much I enjoy having my books in venues such as Mr. Britton's terrific shop.

We're now pleased to announce that readers in Kemptville and surrounding area can buy The Fregoli Delusion and the other novels in the series at Brewed Awakenings in the Creekside Mall, 2868 County Road 43, Kemptville. Co-owned by Karen Brulé, who also owns the bistro Elements in Merrickville, Brewed Awakenings is a coffee shop that roasts its own beans and bakes its own pastries, including a selection of gluten-free offerings. Karen has thoughtfully included some very comfortable-looking leather furniture to relax in while sipping coffee, munching pastry and checking out the latest in crime fiction.

Photo: M.J. McCann
As you can see, we have the top two pigeon-holes on the shelf just above some good-looking products from Just Wing'It, a company making gourmet cooking sauces and chutneys in nearby Toledo, Ontario.

Why am I so excited about placing my books in a local coffee shop?  I've mentioned before that I don't have anything against the conglomerate bookstores like Chapters/Indigo and wish, longingly, they'd carry my books, but a book like The Fregoli Delusion tends to disappear inside a bookstore that's 2,600 square feet in a small-format store and a whopping 24,000 square feet in a large-format store. I understand it's always a question of volume and traffic and whatnot, and having your books in a place where people go specifically to buy books is terribly important, but I really love the fact that my books can be seen by customers from almost every square foot of Brewed Awakenings as they're inhaling the aroma of delicious fresh coffee and baked treats.

It's also a privilege to be included in the business operations of remarkable entrepreneurs such as Karen Brulé and Ted Britton. One hopes a little of their magic will rub off onto the shoulders of Hank Donaghue and Karen Stainer!

Saturday, 2 March 2013

Guest Post by Sandra Nikolai

The Overnight Bestseller is very pleased to welcome crime fiction author Sandra Nikolai. Born in Montreal, Quebec, Sandra has a Bachelor of Commerce degree from McGill University. She's published a number of short stories and is the author of False Impressions, the first Megan Scott/Michael Elliott Mystery.

Welcome, Sandra! The floor is yours.
Mike, it’s a privilege to be a guest on your blog. Thanks for inviting me here.

Several years ago, I was perusing books in the mystery aisle of a bookstore when another customer stopped to chat with me. He told me he was following his dream and had just published his first book. At the time, all I had on paper was the title and a rough draft of a mystery novel. We exchanged words of encouragement, but I still remember the one piece of advice he shared with me before we parted: mystery fans love to read books in a series.

That bit of information played in my mind while I was writing False Impressions, my first mystery novel featuring ghostwriter Megan Scott and investigative reporter Michael Elliott. I knew that whatever happened in the story, I had to give these two main characters continuity so that their sleuthing adventures could extend into future books. In other words, I had to keep them alive, regardless of the perilous situations they’d encounter while following leads through the streets of Montreal, the setting for False Impressions.

Character development is a story element close to my heart because I love creating different personality types. Although their ethics are similar, Megan and Michael have distinctive traits so that any conflict between them creates dialogue and action that propels the plot forward. In comparison with Megan’s organized lifestyle and behind-the-scenes work as a ghostwriter, Michael’s investigative work involves an impromptu itinerary and meetings with shady informants at all hours of the night. Without revealing too much of the story, their worlds overlap when Megan’s husband is murdered and Michael offers his support. When startling evidence suggests they’re the prime suspects, they set out to clear their names and find the real killer. You can imagine the chaos it creates in Megan’s world—not to mention the intrusion into Michael’s!

I’m now writing Fatal Whispers, the second book in the series. I’m building on the original character profiles I created for Megan and Michael, adding layers of backstory so that readers can get to know them better. The story takes place in Portland, Maine, where my characters’ physical worlds expand as they investigate the mysterious deaths of a millionaire’s beautiful wife, a homeless woman, and a priest.

I decided on a new setting for each book in the series because different backdrops help to reveal and develop my characters’ personalities. It’s interesting how a new place—or even a change in the weather—can affect one’s moods, words, or actions. Finding the perfect choice in location or ambiance can present a challenge and might entail rewrites of a particular scene before I’m satisfied with the result, but eventually it all falls into place. (Excuse the pun!)

To throw internal conflict into the mix, Megan and Michael will be lugging unresolved personal issues with them from the first book. Will Megan overcome guilty feelings about her husband’s murder? Will Michael succeed in winning Megan’s complete trust? As in real life, some problems will haunt them for a while before they’re able to resolve them. But that’s okay. Giving my characters personal problems makes the interactions between them realistic so that readers can identify with the issues and connect with the story. Problems also create conflict, and conflict is what keeps readers turning the pages to see what happens next.

I already have a premise for the third book in the series and can’t wait to get to it. I love to write and hope to keep entertaining readers with thrilling mysteries they’ll want to solve over the life of the series.

Buy False Impressions:

Also available at Kobo, iTunes, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, and Sony Reader stores.