Monday, 29 December 2014

Janet Evanovich on Writing

Fans of comic mysteries and offbeat heroines will enjoy the question and answer session with Janet Evanovich in the "By the Book" feature of the NY Times Sunday Book Review. She has some interesting--and of course amusing--things to say about her writing. 

Evanovich has written more than twenty Stephanie Plum novels. Asked what makes a good series' heroine, Evanovich notes the following: "Consistency of character. Forgivable flaws. Values we admire. Sense of humor. My heroines are all resilient, tenacious, forward-looking positive thinkers who are not self-absorbed, not perfect and not able to resist a cupcake." 

The author's "comfort" books are actually cookbooks, which she can read without gaining weight. 

When she is writing, Evanovich doesn't like to read other authors' works in case they stick in her head while she is trying to write. She reads magazines instead (including Guns & Ammo!).

For the full text of the article, please click here.

Monday, 22 December 2014

An Open Letter to E-Book Pirate Maraya21

Dear Maraya21,

Recently I received an electronic notification that you have uploaded unauthorized copies of my four Donaghue and Stainer Crime Novels to eight different pirate websites on the internet. Needless to say, I was very upset.

Not understanding why I had been targeted, I visited one of these sites and discovered you've made more than 100 uploads of copyrighted material belonging to dozens of authors. Visiting the page you've created for my e-books, I found an exchange of comments between you and an anonymous person--not myself or anyone I know--that was very interesting. Anonymous said:

  • Just love the ego/vanity thing you got going on with your name inserted not only in the metadata, but in the books themselves... hilarious. I guess if you're going to steal ebooks, you may as well get your name all over the real author's work as much as you can.

To which you replied:

  • First i do not STEAL ebooks, i PAY for them. With actual money. So that is why i tag the books with my name so other people would not take my work and present it as theirs. I do not tag books that i haven't paid for. Second i do not erase or alter ANYTHING inside the books, especially the Authors name! I put my tags on empty spaces and anyone reading the books would know that. Thrid [sic] since i PAY for my books i have the right to tag them. But if you people not like [sic] having ebooks then i can very easily stop and spend the money on shoes and stuff..

Wow, so much here to respond to, so much to say. I left a comment of my own, but unfortunately someone deleted it. Here's what I said to you, in case you've forgotten:

  • Hello, I'm the actual author of the books you're distributing. First, thank you for buying your own personal copies of my novels. I appreciate it. I should mention, though, that it took me about a year to write each of these books. I only sell enough copies to pay for the cost of publishing the next one. I will never make enough to come close to paying for my time. I'd ask, then, as a matter of dignity, that you respect the investment of time, energy and stress I put into these books and please take them down again. Beyond that, I hold the exclusive copyright on these works throughout the world. Period. You do not have the right to put your name in the metadata or text, nor do you have the right to distribute them to anyone else. Period. So I ask you, respectfully, to please withdraw them from the various sites where you've posted them... Please. Thank you.

Too bad this comment was deleted, but I think, Maraya21, I covered the basics there. Just to be sure, though, let me reiterate: as per s. 501 of the Copyright Act, Title 17, United States Code, you have infringed my exclusive rights as copyright owner to claim sole ownership of these works and to distribute them. Read the subsequent sections of the act to see what my remedies are against you.

But enough about me. Let's talk about you. Curious to know more about Maraya21 the bold pirate, I ran a Google search on your handle and found information that I have passed on to the authorities. I've filed a complaint with the National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center of Homeland Security against you. I've also encouraged other authors victimized by you to file their own complaints. Hopefully, they will.

What will the future bring? For my part, I'm trying to set aside the feelings of violation and humiliation that go along with being a victim and write new novels that I hope no one will steal from me in the future. It's not easy, knowing that my e-books are being downloaded for free with your name in them, as though we were collaborators. I write and publish them, and you make illegal copies and distribute them for free, waving the skull-and-crossbones while shutting off my very modest source of revenue. Works for you, apparently, but it definitely doesn't work for me.

And for your part? Perhaps very soon an ICE team will knock on your door with a warrant to seize your computers and documents, freeze your bank accounts, and put an end to your night-time career as a pirate. Then you'll dearly wish you'd spent your money on "shoes and stuff" instead of my e-books. Think about it. Perhaps if you do, you'll understand the wisdom of removing my novels from the various sites to which you've uploaded them. Please, as an act of dignity and respect for all MY HARD WORK, take them down now.

Thank you,

the author

Monday, 15 December 2014

Change is Sometimes Slow

Canada converted to the metric system in the 1970s with the main argument being that the United States, Canada's largest trading partner, would convert shortly. Forty years later, the United States still has not converted to metric, leading me to wonder what all the fuss was about in the 70s.

If I ask my son what Fahrenheit means, he will give me "the look" that, roughly translated, means he is talking to a dinosaur. (In fact, when my son was very young, he once asked my wife if she was alive when dinosaurs roamed the earth. Her reply: "Some days it feels like it.")

This dinosaur prefers the old days of Fahrenheit, gallons and miles. My head has never quite made the conversion. My wife read somewhere that you can convert Celsius to Fahrenheit by multiplying the Celsius number by 9/5ths and adding 32 degrees. This is a bit too complicated for me to bother with. I enjoy listening to the odd weather forecast from Detroit that still provides temperatures in Fahrenheit. For me, 101 degrees is HOT and -10 is COLD.

And some of the metric measurements have never really caught on in Canada. Most people still prefer to give height in feet and inches rather than metres and centimetres, and weight in pounds rather than kilograms (although it does sound like you weigh less in the metric system because one kilogram is equal to 2.2 pounds).

You can see my problem here. Old ways of thinking die hard--

Monday, 8 December 2014

Support Your Volunteer Firefighters

I'm currently working on a new crime fiction series set in eastern Ontario, and one of the great things that comes from writing about your own region is that inevitably you begin to look more closely at things you've taken for granted in the past. The manuscript I'm presently working on includes a response to a fire by the Rideau Lakes Fire Department in Leeds County, Ontario, and in order to put the characters to work in my story I needed to do some research on the Rideau Lakes fire stations in particular and rural volunteer firefighting in general.

A revelation, to be sure.

This past weekend I was signing books at the annual Westport Christmas Farmers' Market craft show at Rideau Vista Public School in Westport, Ontario. As I chatted with two of the women with tables next to mine, I discovered quite by accident that both their husbands are volunteer firefighters with the Westport station of the Rideau Lakes Fire Department. Never being one to miss a chance, I began asking questions--after explaining, of course, the reason for my burning (!) curiosity. Needless to say, I discovered that while my research had been pretty solid in terms of training requirements, compensation, and equipment, what was missing was the human factor.

They described to me the remarkable commitment involved in becoming volunteer firefighters. I knew an investment of at least 100 hours in training was necessary in many cases before volunteers would be allowed to perform tasks required of rural firefighters, but when the women talked about entire weekends devoted to long training sessions, I could see the commitment was actually one shared by the family as a whole. They mentioned the ubiquitous pager, the 24/7-365 availability, Christmas dinners interrupted, late night calls, and how firefighting could take top priority in their lives without notice. They also stressed the inevitable risks their husbands face when responding to calls, and I could see it was a constant concern for them.

And of course we must always remember that rural volunteer firefighters, unlike professionals, also have day jobs. They are farmers, plumbers, auto mechanics or store clerks who sacrifice their off-hours to respond when their neighbours are in crisis and dial 9-1-1. They must not only be committed, prepared and dedicated, but tireless as well.

As with most research, only a fraction of what I've learned about volunteer firefighters will actually make it into the manuscript, as the characters in this case are minor and only appear in one chapter. Nevertheless, I've learned things that make me much more appreciative of the individuals who commit themselves to a second career as a volunteer firefighter, and I'm thankful their counterparts are standing by to respond here in rural Grenville County, should I ever need them at my home.

Take some time to learn more about volunteer firefighters in your region, and support them wholeheartedly whenever you have the opportunity!

Monday, 1 December 2014

The Home Child

I'm very pleased to announce that our imprint, The Plaid Raccoon Press, has launched a new publication by debut author Lynn L. Clark entitled The Home Child.

Set in Grenville County in eastern Ontario, The Home Child tells the story of Jake Hall, a transplanted city dweller trying to adjust to the realities of country life. He knows it isn't going to be an easy transition. He's prepared for major renovations to the old farm house he's bought, but what he hasn't counted on is finding a former resident still inhabiting the house in spirit form!

Set against the backdrop of a rural town in transition, this story combines historical detail and the supernatural in the poignant tale of the spirit of a  home child wanting simply to be reunited with the family he lost so many years ago.

Now that Lynn has published her first novel of the supernatural, she has agreed to assume full editorial control of our sister blog, Behind the Walls of Nightmare, which will continue to focus on the horror genre, including topics related to my supernatural thriller, The Ghost Man. Meanwhile, I'll be managing The Overnight Bestseller right here.

Lynn is already busy at work on her next supernatural novel, so be sure to follow Behind the Walls of Nightmare for all the latest news on The Home Child and updates on what's coming next.

Congratulations, Lynn! As the raccoon would say, pass the rainbow trout and let's celebrate!

Purchase The Home Child for your Kindle
For various e-readers:
In paperback from Amazon

Monday, 24 November 2014

The Price of Books

Photo by Wayne Cavanagh, 92.3 JACK FM
Money is tough to come by, these days. Everyone's feeling the pinch, and hard choices often have to be made between necessities and nice-to-haves. A warm house and food on the table must come first, and entertainment expenses must be carefully managed.

Christmas is traditionally a time when we try to loosen the purse strings a little. It's said that a book makes a great Christmas gift, and with that in mind I recently participated in the annual Christmas craft show at a local high school to sell my novels. The show turned out to be huge, apparently with more than twice the vendors from a year ago.

I love doing these events because they give me a chance to meet people and talk about what interests them. My books range in price from $14.95 to $19.95 for each paperback copy, and with the wallet in mind I've decided over the holidays to sell them at these shows for $15 a copy and $50 for the four-book mystery series, autograph included.

During this particular show, a woman came up to my table and delivered an incisive little rant on the high price of books. "How am I supposed to know what I'm getting for $15?" she said. "I may buy it and not even like it. That's a lot of money to spend on something I might end up throwing away."

There wasn't a thing she said that I haven't thought every time I stood behind a table trying to sell my books. It is a lot of money to ask, just on faith. I put a great deal of care and attention to detail into the design and appearance of the books, but what if I can't write a good story to save my life? I'm very grateful that The Rainy Day Killer was longlisted for the 2014 Arthur Ellis Award for best crime novel in Canada, because it gives me something to say about the level of quality they'll hopefully discover when they get it home and start to read it. But still ..... fifteen bucks is a lot of money. I explained to her that people could visit my website and read an excerpt from each novel, to see if it might be something they'd like. I gave her one of my postcards advertising the series and told her I understood completely. She walked away, having spoken her piece.

She disappeared past the table next to me, where they were selling women's handbags for $35 a pop and cute tutus for little girls that were even more expensive. I don't know what people normally pay for that kind of stuff. I'm guessing it was reasonable, and I don't know how their sales were as the day wore on. However, I was selling like there was no tomorrow. It was a personal best for me that day. Books apparently do make an attractive Christmas gift!

And you know what? The woman who'd expressed her frustration about the high price of books returned to my table about twenty minutes later, my postcard still in her hand. She rapped her index finger on The Rainy Day Killer and said, "All right. I'll take that one."

Her concern about the price of books was obviously something she'd needed to get off her chest, and boy, I sympathize with her. Believe me. I signed the book, and as I gave it to her I held up crossed fingers and said, "I hope you like it."

"I'm sure I will," she said, and stormed off again.

Given how tight money is these days, I've still got those fingers crossed, ma'am.

Monday, 17 November 2014

Guilty Reading Pleasures

We all have them. The books we love to read but are embarrassed to admit are on our shelves because, well, they might not present the greatest intellectual challenges ever put down on paper. You have them, your friends have them, and now it's time for me to let you in on my guilty reading pleasures.

When I was a high school senior my English teacher liked to talk about a friend of his who was a professor of English at Trent University. Dr. Gallagher was, according to him, just an ordinary, unpretentious guy who liked to read ordinary, unpretentious stuff like murder mysteries and westerns along with James Joyce and Virginia Woolf. At the time, because of my own personal reading habits, I thought he sounded like a good role model to follow.

Encouraged to be an omnivorous reader, I remember devouring a large bag of my mother's Harlequin romances out of curiosity as an undergrad at Trent. These were novels published in the 1960s, and I remember several doctor-and-nurse stories and a couple of mysterious houses and tall, handsome widowers. Already an avid fan of the highly-formulaic Doc Savage adventure series, I recognized in the Harlequins a similar dependence on well-established conventions and an even better approach to plotting. I haven't read any romances since, I must admit, but I'm very glad I took the time back then. As an aspiring writer, I learned quite a bit about basic storytelling from these books.

What I have continued to read, though, are what were referred to then as sports juveniles. As a youth I read almost every book in the Young Adults section of the public library, and the sports novels were among my favourites. As an adult I've built up a small collection of them that I regularly raid whenever I want to read something light, dependable, and fun.

These books include Junk Pitcher by Bill Knott, Rookie Running Back by Cliff Hankin, Throw the Long Bomb! by Jack Laflin, Scrubs on Skates and Boy on Defense by Scott Young, and Batter Up by Jackson Scholz, just to name a few. These books appealed to my budding sense of right and wrong, my appreciation of the difficult challenges faced by young people trying to succeed as athletes, and my love of a simple, good story, well told.

So I happily admit it! I still love to curl up with a bag of chips, a glass of juice, and one of my favourite sports juveniles. The room is quiet, my brain gurgles contentedly, and, once again, all's well with the world.

Say, it's been a while since I re-read Throw the Long Bomb! I think I'll grab that one tonight!

What about you? What are your favourite guilty reading pleasures?

Monday, 10 November 2014

Remembrance Day 2014

As this year's Remembrance Day ceremonies will mark the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the First World War, I'd like to dedicate this post to the memory of my grandfather, Harry Brook.

Born in Acton, west London, England in 1888, Harry was already a twelve-year veteran in the Middlesex Regiment of the British Army when he shipped out with the rest of the 4th Battalion as part of the British Expeditionary Force dispatched to France in 1914. Landing at Boulogne on August 14th, Harry and his comrades saw action at Mons and Le Cateau, and were dubbed by Kaiser Wilhelm as "General French's contemptible little army." Proud to be known thereafter as one of The Old Contemptibles, Harry fought at the Battle of the Marne, the Battle of the Aisne, and the First Battle of Ypres. The worst was yet to come, though -- the Battle of the Somme in 1916, one of the bloodiest conflicts in human history, in which more than a million soldiers were wounded or killed.

Harry suffered a severe burn on his leg from mustard gas, a wound that never adequately healed for the rest of his life. My mother remembered him chasing her out of the kitchen when she was a little girl as he struggled to change the dressings on the wound, gritting his teeth at the pain that never went away. For his service in the Great War, he was awarded the Mons Star (with bar), the British War Medal, and the Victory Medal, which he wore proudly every Armistice Day until his passing in 1960. It was our understanding that he was last surviving member of The Old Contemptibles in Canada at the time of his death.

This week, as we remember the service of everyone who placed themselves in harm's way to defend their country and our way of life, I'm proud to salute the memory of my grandfather, Harry Brook.

Monday, 3 November 2014

Police Procedurals: The Body, Unplugged

I read with interest a recent essay by Eric Thurm in the LA Review of Books entitled Homicide: Death on the Screen. In it, he analyzes the attitude toward the corpse, as he sees it, in three different kinds of crime drama on television. While I disagree with much of what he says, I found his ideas interesting enough to want to compare them to my own approach to the dead human body in my crime fiction.

Thurm begins with the police procedural drama typified by Law & Order. He finds that, in its formulaic discovery of the body and subsequent investigation, the corpse is reduced to a "plot engine," a clinical object marginalized "as much as possible, hiding the fact that it used to be a person." As a result, he writes, while "murder cases are exciting ... these sorts of series do their best to abstract the fun parts of crime solving from the act and people who make them necessary."

At the opposite extreme, he notes, are series like CSI and Bones in which the body is "placed front and center ... this tendency to transform the body into a scavenger hunt combines with a sort of morbid fascination, making the entertainment value of the human body horrifyingly explicit."

A third tendency, he continues, is found in series such as Hannibal, in which the "treatment of the corpse [is] even more striking, refreshing, and necessary.... The body is a canvas, and the serial killers, the artists." Hannibal acts as a "corrective," as he sees it, to the tendency of traditional procedurals to gloss over death by whisking the body away too soon or to turn it into an intellectual puzzle.

I suggest you read Thurm's essay for yourself and come back to tell me what you think. But consider first the approach I've taken to the dead body in my crime fiction.

To begin with, because procedurals attempt to present a reasonably realistic representation of homicide investigations, it must be said that murder cases are not actually "exciting" and "fun." Not for anyone, but particularly not for the investigators. As I discuss in The Fregoli Delusion, homicide investigators often fall into something called "isolation of affect" in which they compartmentalize their emotional reactions to what they experience on the job, often damaging their personal lives in the process (pp. 174-177). As a result, the body of the victim often loses its humanity and does, indeed, become an object to the detective (and the narrator, as well). And once the instinctual revulsion has been put aside, of course, the investigation mostly falls into the dull, boring routine of interviews, surveillance, and combing through endless records for pertinent scraps of information.

However, good investigators often use the techniques of victimology to reconstruct a picture of the victim as they were in life in order to assess who or what might have put them in harm's way. This is the approach taken by Hank Donaghue in my second crime novel, Marcie's Murder. Hank had only a brief glimpse of an unknown woman before she was murdered, and his desperate, unvoiced desire throughout the novel is to be able to come to know who she was while she was alive. Similarly, he and Karen Stainer retrace the final days of the victims of The Rainy Day Killer in order to replace the harsh reality of their mutilated, tortured bodies, kept mostly off-stage or under cover, with a strong sense of who they were as vibrant, hopeful, innocent young women.

While Thurm is correct that procedurals tend to whisk the body off-stage quickly, it's inaccurate to say that this narrative approach sucks all the marrow out of the story as a result. The intention is not to make "it easier for us to ignore the dead and the dying," or to "allow the no longer living to disappear before our eyes, to merely become parts of the ritual, like so many communion wafers," as Thurm puts it. Rather, the investigative technique of victimology as I use it in my novels forces the reader to come at it from the other direction, as it were. To begin at death and work backward to appreciate who the victims were in life, and to experience the feelings of frustration, revulsion, and pathos at their loss that the detectives often will not permit themselves to acknowledge.

Monday, 27 October 2014

The Burning Room: Michael Connelly's Latest Bosch Novel

Fans of Michael Connelly's LA detective Hieronymous (Harry) Bosch can look forward to the latest Bosch novel, The Burning Room, which will be released on November 3. For those who are keeping track, this is Connelly's nineteenth Bosch novel.

The detective is working in the Open-Unsolved Unit of the LAPD, and tackles a unique cold case in which the victim, who has a bullet lodged in his spine from a shooting nine years earlier, dies of complications from this almost-decade-old attack.

Bosch and his new rookie partner Detective Lucia Soto must solve the case despite the fact that the evidence is virtually non-existent.

Sounds like vintage Connelly (and Bosch).

For an excerpt from the novel, please click here. 

Monday, 20 October 2014

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson

Just Mercy, which will be released on October 21, 2014is the memoir of Bryan Stevenson, an activist lawyer and co-founder of the Equal Justice Initiative. The centre of the novel is the story of Walter McMillan, whom Stevenson represented in the 1980s. McMillan was accused of the murder of a young white woman in Monroeville, Alabama--ironically, the hometown of Harper Lee, the author of To Kill a Mockingbird, which tells the story of a black man falsely accused of the rape of a white woman.

McMillan had been having an affair with the woman and was convicted at trial of her murder despite the fact that numerous eye witnesses provided him with an alibi. The predominantly white jury (eleven of its members were white) returned a sentence of life in prison, which  the judge, Robert E. Lee Key, converted to a death sentence. McMillan was finally exonerated and released in 1993. He died last year.

In Stevenson's own words: "We will ultimately not be judged by our technology, we won’t be judged by our design, we won’t be judged by our intellect and reason. Ultimately, you judge the character of a society . . . by how they treat the poor, the condemned, the incarcerated.”

For information on the Equal Justice Initiative, please click here.

For information on the exoneration of Walter McMillan, please click here.

For a review of Just Mercy, please click here.

Monday, 13 October 2014

Thanks, Gang!

Boo-boo (in front) and Mimi

Today is the Canadian Thanksgiving, and I thought it would be a good time to take stock of all the things for which I'm thankful. My family, of course, comes first to mind and then the people who have supported and encouraged me throughout my life. But I'd also like to mention the pets who have enriched my life and given me lots of smiles.

Aside from the usual suspects to which I introduced you in a previous blog, I have two additions to the menagerie: Boo-boo and Mimi, female tabby cats who were in need of a home. My son has a third cat from the same litter named Ewok. (For those of you who are snickering, please note that I did not choose these names.) Ewok has become a good friend of Minnie, also a tabby, and together they rule my son's apartment.

I had forgotten how energetic cats could be at a young age, and I'm trying to keep up as they climb my back when I'm sitting at my desk, giving me a none-too-subtle hint that they want to take over my chair. I've nicknamed Boo-boo "The Flash" for her ability to appear two steps ahead of me at any given time. And I woke up the other morning to see Mimi walking along the top of the bedroom door, having climbed up the clothes I had hanging there on an over-the-door hook.

There is the continuing saga of my Siamese cat Sammy, who is currently on a diet and needs to lose nine pounds.  He's eating a special "satiety" food from the vet's which is supposed to make him feel fuller and eat less. So far, he's lost almost two pounds, which isn't bad because it's hard to use the words "Sammy" and "sated" in the same sentence.

And of course there are my two dogs, Charley and Cody, who accompany me on my walks, and there is my oldest cat, Tiger, who has a unique personality and has already passed on to Mimi his annoying habit of meowing for food when his bowl is full.

Thank you, gang, for making my life a lot more interesting!

Monday, 6 October 2014

The Books We Talk About

There's an interesting post on the New York Review of Books blog concerning the books we talk about.  The post is written by Tim Parks, and it explores past novels from Laurence Stern's Tristam Shandy and Thomas Hardy's Tess of the d'Urbervilles to such contemporary works as E.L. James’s Fifty Shades of Grey.

Parks refers to the "social function of a novel" as "[a] shared subject of discussion. Something complex for minds to meet around. . . .  Novels are ideal subjects for testing the ground between us."

He notes that with the proliferation of novels today, it is sometimes difficult to find common ground unless we settle on a blockbuster or media-hyped work. He also notes the role of "chance" in making a novel one that is likely to generate discussion.

For my part, I can't help thinking that the amount of publicity given to a novel, its marketability as a film or television spin-off, and the fact that it is written by an author whose name is instantly recognizable are all major factors in making a novel--for better or worse--the subject of conversation.

For the full text of the blog post, please click here.

Monday, 29 September 2014

The Button Legacy: Emily's Inheritance by Ginger Marcinkowski

In August 2012, The Overnight Bestseller featured a guest post by Ginger Marcinkowski. At that time, Ginger had published her first novel, Run, River Currents, which was a  semi-finalist in the American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) Genesis Awards, and a 2013 Kindle Book Award Finalist. We're pleased to review Ginger's most recent novel, The Button Legacy: Emily's Inheritance.

Book Summary

Growing up, Emily Evans of Run, River Currents had always shared a special understanding with her grandfather, John Polk, even when she couldn’t fully see beyond the darkness of her father’s abuse. Yet John looked to the future in faith to what his God could do.

Years after her grandfather’s death, the unexpected delivery of the decorated tin, still brimming with odd-colored buttons, unlocks the joyous memories and lets Emily realize she has finally discovered the secret her grandfather promised lay within the stories of the worn button box.

Told through the eyes of a devout grandfather, The Button Legacy: Emily’s Inheritance laces together a godly heritage and the power of one man’s prayers, offering a lesson of how God’s grace can be seen even in the simplest thing—a button. This novel shares even more stories from The Button Legacy, a novella of Emily’s favorite stories.

Buy Link

 Author Bio

Ginger Marcinkowski was born in northern Maine along the Canadian border, a setting that plays a prominent role in her writings . Her debut novel, Run, River Currents, was published in August 2012. The Button Legacy, a novella, was published in June 2013, and was written as a prequel /sequel to Run, River Currents. The Button Legacy: Emily’s Inheritance published in June 2014, is the full story of the Polk family's journey of faith told through buttons collected over generations.

Ginger has been a public speaker and visiting lecturer for many years. She has been a professional reader for the James Jones First Novel Award ($10,000 prize), and a judge for the ACFW ‘s prestigious Carol Awards. She is actively involved in the Hampton Roads Writers Association and is a member of the ACFW and Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) and a columnist for Book Fun Magazine.

Our Review of  The Button Legacy: Emily’s Inheritance

In Run, River Currents, we met Emily Evans, a victim of abuse by her father. In The Button Legacy: Emily’s Inheritance, we learn the history of the preceding generations as we hear stories of her great-grandparents, grandparents, mother, and aunt. The author uses a simple narrative device to great effect. As a family member chooses a button from an antique tin, the story behind that button is told, and the history of the Polk family is revealed against the backdrop of a simple New Brunswick community. This is a story of faith maintained in the face of hardships and despair with the help of family and friends and the belief in the grace of God. This novel will appeal to readers of Christian fiction of all ages. Ms. Marcinkowski's elegant prose style engages the reader as we move effortlessly through the span of decades to hear the stories of a family that survives through the power of faith.

Related Sites

Goodreads Giveaway: For a chance to win a free copy of the novel, please click here.

Facebook Author Page:

Monday, 22 September 2014

Georges Simenon and the Maigret Novels

I noted in an earlier blog that Georges Simenon's Maigret novels are being reissued by Penguin on a monthly basis. Six of these new editions of the Maigret novels have been issued to date

Julian Barnes has an interesting article in the Times Literary Supplement on Simenon and the Maigret novels. Barnes points out that Simenon's work was admired by such writers as Andre Gide and T.S. Eliot, among others. He suggests that Simenon's books were popular with "literary" writers both because of the positives of his writing--things he was able to do very well--and the "enviable" negatives-- things he got away with doing that other writers could not.

For the positives of Simenon's writing, Barnes cites his "swiftness of creation; swiftness of effect; clearly demarcated personal territory; intense atmosphere and resonant detail; knowledge of, and sympathy with, les petites gens; moral ambiguity; [and] a usually baffling plot with a usually satisfactory denouement." Among his enviable negatives were his simple prose (Simenon had a vocabulary of 2000 words), his brevity, his lack of rhetorical devices, and the lack of subtext in the novels. Simenon designed the Maigret books to be read in one sitting and made the vocabulary accessible to the general reader.

The article also contains some interesting anecdotes about Simenon and his work. For example, when the BBC re-created the Maigret stories on television, a local temperance group and Anglican bishop implored the producers to be less faithful to detail in portraying Maigret's daily alcohol consumption.

For the full text of the article, please see

Monday, 15 September 2014

Gone Girl

Gillian Flynn's thriller Gone Girl, published in 2012, was critically acclaimed and became a NY Times bestseller. It tells the story of two out-of-work writers, Amy and Nick Dunne. Flynn used her own experience as a laid-off writer for Entertainment Weekly in developing the characters. (She is now among the world's wealthiest authors.)

Amy disappears and the reader is uncertain whether her husband has murdered her. The novel relies on unreliable narration, plot twists, and suspense to engage the reader, while exploring the psychology of long-term relationships.

If you enjoyed the novel, the film version will be released on October 3, 2014. Flynn wrote the screenplay.

To view the trailers for the movie, please see

Monday, 8 September 2014

The Perfect Crime Story

Crime fiction writer Niall Leonard, who writes television scripts and books for teens and young adults, has some interesting advice on how to write the "perfect" crime story.

Photo courtesy of  The Guardian
First, he suggests starting with a story that fascinates you as a writer so you can convey this enthusiasm to your readers. Second, he recommends a lot of research so your stories will ring true to life and be "far more interesting than anything you could dream up at your desk". His third point is not to drown your story in details. Remember that you're entertaining, not lecturing your reader. His other points include the importance of a protagonist in unraveling the crime, and the identification of motive(s). Also, he suggests that the killer should operate in plain sight of the reader from the beginning of the novel. He or she may have a rock-solid alibi, but it's through the actions of the characters that the mystery should be revealed rather than through the introduction of the killer at the end of the story like a deus ex machina. It's the writer's job, he contends, to hide the clues leading to the ultimate revelation of the killer as the book progresses.

And his final word of advice? " Perseverance, patience and resilience are essential." Even the most successful of today's crime novelists, he notes, took years to establish their reputation.

Leonard's advice is, of course, commonsensical, but it never hurts to remind ourselves of the basics of crime fiction writing.

For the full text of the article, please see

Monday, 1 September 2014

I'm Back!

Thanks, everyone, for sticking with me while I took the summer off to write. I'm pleased to say that I have finished the first of my new crime fiction series set in Canada. It was quite a learning curve for me because there are so many differences between U.S. and Canadian criminal investigation procedures. At the same time, I enjoyed developing two new characters, Kevin Walker and Ellie March of the Ontario Provincial Police. The draft of the novel is with an OPP subject matter expert who so kindly agreed to allow me to pick his brain for this new series. Stay tuned for more information on the new novel, and rest assured that you also haven't seen the last of Donaghue and Stainer.

Now that The Overnight Bestseller is up and running again, I will be talking about the latest book news, especially new crime fiction. If you have a particular topic that you'd like to see covered in the blog, please be sure to let me know.

Monday, 5 May 2014

Book Review of Dancing Shadows, Tramping Hooves by Dianne Ascroft

Once again The Overnight Bestseller is pleased to participate in a Tribute Books blog tour. Today we welcome Dianne Ascroft, the author of the short story collection entitled Dancing Shadows, Tramping Hooves.

Book Summary

Dancing Shadows, Tramping Hooves is a collection of half a dozen short stories with Irish connections. Tales of outsiders who discover they belong, a humorous slice of life yarn, heartwarming love stories and a tale of taming fear. The shadows are on the wall, in the heart and clouding a woman’s memories while tangible foes tramp through the physical landscape. The stories were previously printed individually in a variety of publications, including Ireland’s Own magazine, Dead Ink Books’ website, and the anthologies, Fermanagh Miscellany and Tuesdays At Charlie’s.

Dianne Ascroft's Biography

Dianne Ascroft is an urban Canadian who has settled in rural Northern Ireland with her husband and an assortment of strong willed animals. She writes contemporary and historical fiction with an Irish connection. She has released the short story collection, Dancing Shadows, Tramping Hooves, and a novel, Hitler and Mars Bars. Her articles and stories have been printed in Irish and Canadian magazines and newspapers as well as in anthologies by Writers Abroad, Fermanagh Writers and Fermanagh Authors’ Association.

 Our Review of Dancing Shadows, Tramping Hooves

Short stories are not easy to write. The author has just a few pages in which to introduce and delineate characters, develop the action, and reach an ending that will satisfy the reader. In Dancing Shadows, Tramping Hooves, Dianne Ascroft demonstrates that she has mastered the craft of short-story writing. The stories included in this collection are understated, allowing characters to be delineated through their gestures and thoughts. The prose is simple, and the language is cadenced and at times almost lyrical. The stories are vignettes from daily life that examine such themes as nostalgia and regret, pride, self-awareness, and second chances at happiness.

Dancing Shadows, Tramping Hooves is a delightful collection that will appeal to a wide range of readers, including those who enjoy short stories, contemporary and literary fiction, romance, and quiet-time reading.

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Monday, 28 April 2014

Time for a Break

I will be taking a break from my three weekly blogs, The Overnight Bestseller, Open Investigations, and Behind the Walls of Nightmare so I can focus on completing the first novel  in my new Canadian crime series.

Thanks to all of you who continue to follow my blogs. I expect to be back at the end of August with an update on the new series.

I will continue to post reviews as part of the Tribute Books blog tour. Next week's review on The Overnight Bestseller will feature Dianne Ascroft's Dancing Shadows, Tramping Hooves.

In the meantime, I will remain active on Facebook and Twitter.

Have a great summer, everyone!

Monday, 21 April 2014

Pet Vet Day

It begins in early January with the dreaded postcard reminders from the veterinary office. When these are ignored, there is a tactful reminder call from office staff asking if we would like to schedule an appointment for our five pets for their annual shots and check-ups. No longer able to procrastinate, we set a day aside for the annual Pet Vet Visit.

This annual event has taken on a somewhat legendary status complete with war stories and survival bragging rights. It begins with a search for cat kennels which we have dutifully packed away in a storage shelter outside. The trick is to remember which shelter and then to excavate the cages and remove the mouse droppings.

Once the cages are located and brought inside to be cleaned, previously bored cats become hyper-vigilant. THEY KNOW WHAT'S COMING. For those cats unlucky enough not to have moved quickly, this means going directly into the cages. For the cat who is a grizzled vet (no pun intended), there is a hasty retreat upstairs. Quick question: how many people does it take to coax a cat from under a bed and then get it inside a cage? Answer: at least two, but reinforcements are always welcome.

Now all three of our cats are inside their cages and meowing in unison. They are NOT amused.

The dogs are next. Our black Lab Charley actually loves to go to the vet's to socialize. Cody, on the other hand, hates going there and is already looking very worried.

The dogs are on their leashes now, and we've spread an old blanket on the back seat of the car. Two cat carriers are perched there, and the dogs jump in too. My wife sits in the front passenger seat, and I balance the remaining cage on her lap. After a brief discussion with Cody as to who will actually drive the vehicle, he moves to the back again while I take over the driver's seat. The cats start meowing in tandem, and a pungent odor alerts us to the fact that one of them has found a new way to express his or her displeasure.

We're off now, and my wife is serving as navigator because I can't see past Cody's head. When we finally get to the vet's, we're already exhausted. We shuffle them all inside. Charley has meanwhile changed from his usually sleepy self to being a whirling dervish, and he requires two hands on the leash to keep him from sacking the office.
Two hours and $900 later, it's finally over for another year. All of our guys are well, although Sammy the cat has gained three pounds instead of losing the six extra from last year. The vet will call us later with details of a DIET, which will no doubt involve exorbitantly-priced cat food and will probably not lead to weight loss.

Oh well, at least we have another whole year before we have to do this all over again. . .

Monday, 14 April 2014

The Uni Project

Photo courtesy of Uni website

The April edition of the Goodreads newsletter has an interesting article on the Uni project, which is bringing books to the people by setting up reading rooms and seating in public places, including parks, farmers' markets, and city plazas. Currently the project is placing pop-up reading rooms at various locations in New York City. The project is non-profit, and it provides high-quality books and knowledgeable staff. Moreover, the reading rooms can be shipped across the world.

For more information on the project, including how to donate books, please click here.

It's always nice to see books shared among readers.

Monday, 7 April 2014

No More Selfies!

I am probably not the only one among you who is sick to death of "selfies", supposedly candid (but often posed) shots of oneself alone or with a group. Even President Obama has succumbed several times to the craze, only to learn that his latest selfie with David Ortiz was a Samsung marketing ploy. (The President is not amused: see

With spring here, it would be nice to see people, especially adolescents, moving outdoors to see what's awakening in the world. So far, I've spotted robins and red-winged blackbirds and that sure harbinger of spring, the Canada goose. The snow is gradually melting (unless you live in Newfoundland) and, fingers crossed, we've hopefully seen the last of snow storms.

You can even take non-selfie pictures of birds and wildlife outside. . . 

Monday, 31 March 2014

Elementary, My Dear Watson?

Jerome Caminada
The Telegraph has an interesting article on Jerome Caminada, the real-life detective who may well have been the inspiration for the fictional Sherlock Holmes. Author Angela Buckley has written a biography of Caminada entitled The Real Sherlock Holmes, which underlines the similarities in character, methods, and case work between the real and fictional detectives.

Buckley states that “Caminada became a national figure at just the time that Sherlock Holmes was being created. There are so many parallels that it is clear Doyle was using parts of this real character for his.”

Caminada spent most of his career with the Manchester City Police Force, later operating as a consulting detective. He relied on an extensive network of informants to keep him apprised of criminal activity and would often move among the underworld in disguise. He was purportedly responsible for putting 1225 criminals behind bars.
For the full text of the article, please see

For an article on Angela Buckley and her book, please see


Monday, 24 March 2014

Historical Crime Fiction, Anyone?

Historical crime fiction writer S.J. Parris has recently published her latest Giordano Bruno novel in a series set in Elizabethan England and featuring the unlikely detective duo of a monk and a courtier-poet. (The latter is Philip Sidney, whose poetry you probably read if you were an undergraduate in English literature.) The novel is reviewed in The Telegraph.

The Telegraph recently carried an article by Parris entitled "The Best Murder Mysteries Are Historical" in which she postulates that reading about crime in an historical setting is more satisfying to the reader. 

Parris states:

Writing history is a kind of detective work, so it’s no surprise that the murder mystery lends itself so well to historical settings. Part of the pleasure of historical crime is that it allows a return to the golden age of the amateur detective, before investigations depended on forensics and CCTV.

Among her favorite historical crime novels are Josephine Tey's The Daughter of Time, based on the murder of the Princes in the Tower (Edward and Richard); Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose, a tale of ritualistic murders inside a 14th-century monastery, and novels by Iain Pears, Charles Palliser, and Matthew Pearl.

For the full text of the article, please click here.

Monday, 17 March 2014

The Science of Aging Wisely

There is an interesting and very positive article in a recent edition of The New York Times which examines the topic of wisdom as it relates to age. The article looks at various studies and how wisdom encompasses not only cognitive knowledge, but our ability to gain insights from that knowledge as a basis for our decisions and behaviors.

Among the observations of researchers are the following:

- Older people have much more information in their brains so retrieving it naturally takes longer;

- While younger people are faster in cognitive performance, the quality of information in older people is more nuanced;

- One neuroscientist has postulated that there are "cognitive templates" based on pattern recognition that develop in the older brain, and these "templates" form the basis for wise behavior and decisions;

- One of the impediments to wisdom in older people is negative thinking and dwelling on the perceived negatives of aging; and

- Showing compassion to others is an important element of wisdom: "Wise people try to understand situations from multiple perspectives, not just their own, and they show tolerance as a result."

For the full text of the article, please click here.

Monday, 10 March 2014

Breezy and Other Animals in Need

If you live in the Ottawa area, you have probably been following the story of Breezy, who was severely beaten with a shovel and left for dead in a dumpster by her former owner. She was nursed back to health by the staff of the Ottawa Humane Society and got a second chance when she was placed with new, loving owners last week. She will always be blind in one eye as a result of the beating, but is fortunate to be alive. (A few years ago, a Boxer was beaten so severely with a broom handle that he lost one eye. He too was rescued and placed in a new home.)

Charlie the Great Dane
Currently the Ottawa Humane Society is nursing back to health a Great Dane that was starved to the point of death. Charlie has now gained 50 pounds and is making a good recovery after he was rescued.

Animal abuse and child and spousal abuse often go hand-in-hand. A few years ago a man stalking his ex-girlfriend, who had fled their abusive relationship, broke into her apartment and killed her two cats. Animal rescue agents are always on the lookout for other types of abuse in the home.

You've probably passed by homes with dogs chained constantly outside with no protection from the elements, and wondered "what's the point"? Neglect is also a form of abuse.

Not everyone is meant to own an animal. It involves commitment and responsibility.

Monday, 3 March 2014

And Nothing but the Truth. . .

There is an interesting post on The New York Review of Books blog by Tim Parks entitled "Writers into Saints". It talks about the apparent need for literary biographers to glorify the lives of writers and to gloss over or justify their behavior as if they "were afraid that the work might be diminished by a life that was less than noble or not essentially directed toward a lofty cause." Among the examples he cites are biographies of Virginia Woolf, D.H. Lawrence, Samuel Beckett, and James Joyce. 
Parks sees this tendency most pronounced in the biographies of Charles Dickens. He states:

Quite apart from the writer’s [Dickens'] dramatic rejection of his wife after she had given him ten children, there is simply an enormous resistance to admitting what a tyrant the man was, seeking to control the lives of those around him to an extraordinary degree, deeply disappointed and punitive when they didn’t live up to his expectations, which was almost always, yet at the same time fearful of any sign of competition.

Parks' comments are telling: shouldn't we be able to accept a writer--warts and all--and still be able to critically appraise his/her work?

For the full text, please see

Monday, 24 February 2014

Prize-Winning Books More Apt to Receive Negative Reader Reviews

As reported in The Guardian, a study undertaken by two academics indicates that books winning such prestigious prizes as the Booker or National Book Award are more apt to receive negative reader reviews after the fact. The study is based on an analysis of almost 39,000 Goodreads reviews.

The authors of the study believe this phenomenon is the result of a mismatch between reader and novel: readers assume that a book is "good" because it has won an award, but what is "good" depends largely on individual taste. If the prize-winning book is not to a reader's taste, s/he may be disappointed, thus giving it a negative review.

For the full text of The Guardian article, please see

I'm not really surprised by these findings because if you look at random at Goodreads and Amazon reviews of novels generally considered to be literary classics, you'll find the same trend towards negativity if the book does not accommodate the reader's taste. (For my earlier post on this subject, please click here.)

Monday, 17 February 2014

The Game's Afoot

There is an interesting article in The New York Times on the use of video games to improve brain function. Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, neuroscience research lab are trying to determine whether the addictive feature of many video games can actually be used to our advantage to make our minds healthier.  

As indicated in the article, researchers are using neuro-imaging techniques (brain scans) to peer into gamers' heads to determine if "we might develop games to treat depression or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Or games that rewire our brains to improve memory and cognitive function. . . . For now the goal is to figure out what makes a game addictive on a neurological level, then to couple this with brain research showing how play can improve the mind."

Maybe we don't have to feel so guilty about the time spent on gaming after all!

For the full text of this interesting article, please click here.

Monday, 10 February 2014

Book Review: I Am Abraham by Jerome Charyn

Once again The Overnight Bestseller is pleased to host a Tribute Books blog tour. We welcome back Jerome Charyn with his novel I Am Abraham.

I Am Abraham Book Summary:                                                                    

Narrated in Lincoln’s own voice, the tragicomic I Am Abraham promises to be the masterwork of Jerome Charyn’s remarkable career.

Since publishing his first novel in 1964, Jerome Charyn has established himself as one of the most inventive and prolific literary chroniclers of the American landscape. Here in I Am Abraham, Charyn returns with an unforgettable portrait of Lincoln and the Civil War. Narrated boldly in the first person, I Am Abraham effortlessly mixes humor with Shakespearean-like tragedy, in the process creating an achingly human portrait of our sixteenth President.

Tracing the historic arc of Lincoln's life from his picaresque days as a gangly young lawyer in Sangamon County, Illinois, through his improbable marriage to Kentucky belle Mary Todd, to his 1865 visit to war-shattered Richmond only days before his assassination, I Am Abraham hews closely to the familiar Lincoln saga. Charyn seamlessly braids historical figures such as Mrs. Keckley—the former slave, who became the First Lady's dressmaker and confidante—and the swaggering and almost treasonous General McClellan with a parade of fictional extras: wise-cracking knaves, conniving hangers-on, speculators, scheming Senators, and even patriotic whores.

We encounter the renegade Rebel soldiers who flanked the District in tattered uniforms and cardboard shoes, living in a no-man's-land between North and South; as well as the Northern deserters, young men all, with sunken, hollowed faces, sitting in the punishing sun, waiting for their rendezvous with the firing squad; and the black recruits, whom Lincoln’s own generals wanted to discard, but who play a pivotal role in winning the Civil War. At the center of this grand pageant is always Lincoln himself, clad in a green shawl, pacing the White House halls in the darkest hours of America’s bloodiest war.

Using biblically cadenced prose, cornpone nineteenth-century humor, and Lincoln’s own letters and speeches, Charyn concocts a profoundly moral but troubled commander in chief, whose relationship with his Ophelia-like wife and sons—Robert, Willie, and Tad—is explored with penetrating psychological insight and the utmost compassion. Seized by melancholy and imbued with an unfaltering sense of human worth, Charyn’s President Lincoln comes to vibrant, three-dimensional life in a haunting portrait we have rarely seen in historical fiction.

Prices/Formats: $12.99-$14.99 ebook, $26.95 hardcover
Pages: 464
Publisher: Liveright
Release: February 3, 2014

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Jerome Charyn's Biography

Jerome Charyn is an award-winning American author. With nearly 50 published works, Charyn has earned a long-standing reputation as an inventive and prolific chronicler of real and imagined American life. Michael Chabon calls him "one of the most important writers in American literature." New York Newsday hailed Charyn as "a contemporary American Balzac,"and the Los Angeles Times described him as "absolutely unique among American writers." Since the 1964 release of Charyn's first novel, Once Upon a Droshky, he has published 30 novels, three memoirs, eight graphic novels, two books about film, short stories, plays and works of non-fiction. Two of his memoirs were named New York Times Book of the Year. Charyn has been a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction. He received the Rosenthal Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and has been named Commander of Arts and Letters by the French Minister of Culture. Charyn was Distinguished Professor of Film Studies at the American University of Paris until he left teaching in 2009. In addition to his writing and teaching, Charyn is a tournament table tennis player, once ranked in the top 10 percent of players in France. Noted novelist Don DeLillo called Charyn's book on table tennis, Sizzling Chops & Devilish Spins, "The Sun Also Rises of ping-pong." Charyn lives in Paris and New York City.

Our Review of I Am Abraham

In I Am Abraham, Jerome Charyn undertakes the formidable task of presenting the life of Abraham Lincoln, as seen through his letters, speeches, and other historical sources. As Charyn indicates in his Author's Note, the novel is not a biography, but a work of historical fiction: the author has reconstructed major events and players in Lincoln's life, with the poetic licence to add fictional characters when needed. The book as a whole has the feel of a picaresque novel with its expansive cast of characters as it explores Lincoln's journey through life to its inexorably tragic end. Charyn succeeds in creating a first-person narrative that feels honest and intimate.

Charyn does a masterful job in presenting the complexities of Lincoln's character. He is a dark horse candidate for the Republican nomination who wins the convention and attains the presidency. Lincoln becomes president at a time when several southern states have formed the Confederacy, and in the ensuing civil war he must come to terms with the fact that he is sending young men by the thousands to die. He must also cope with his melancholia, the 'blue unholies” that plague him throughout his life, at times incapacitating him, as well as the increasingly erratic behavior of his wife after the death of their son Willie. He is the president of a nation divided by war, but he is also a compassionate family man, often seen carrying his young son Tad on his shoulders, and a husband who must face the prospect of placing his wife in an insane asylum. (Mary in fact spent four months in an asylum following the assassination of her husband before being consigned to the care of her sister Elizabeth.)

Historians, for the most part, have not been kind to Mary Todd Lincoln, but Charyn recognizes the complexity of her character. She is ridiculed by the press for her plainness, but excoriated when she spends money to improve her wardrobe and to refurbish the White House, which has essentially gone to ruin under Buchanan. She recognizes that her husband is regarded as incompetent by many of the men who surround him, including General McLellan, who commands the loyalty of the Union troops, but her support for her husband remains steadfast. She is surrounded by flatterers and charlatans, and often succumbs to their influence. And because she has no real role in politics, she smothers her oldest son Robert, forcing him into a profession in which he has no interest. She is a woman born in the wrong century: better educated and more intelligent than many of the men who surround her (as Charyn comments in his Author's Note), but relegated to the background because she is female. She is also representative of the deep divisions and contradictions of the times: Mary Todd is from a wealthy family of slave-owners in Kentucky, yet her closest confidante is a former slave. Mrs. Keckley becomes her constant companion, as well as her dressmaker. Mary must also deal with the fact that many of her relatives in Kentucky have joined the Confederate army.

It is important to note that the subtitle of I Am Abraham is “A Novel of Lincoln and the Civil War”. More than 600,000 soldiers were killed in the American Civil War, and these deaths represented ten percent of northern males aged 20-45 and thirty percent of southern males aged 18-40. The symbolism of the novel readily underlines the horrors of the war: the ditches filled with amputated limbs (one in thirteen veterans suffered amputations); the sounds of the Friday firing squads killing Union deserters (many of whom Lincoln would have preferred to pardon); the starved Confederate soldiers outfitted with cardboard shoes in winter; and the carnage of the battlefields littered by bodies and dead horses. As Lincoln and Tad tour the ruins of Richmond, which has been burned almost to the ground by fires set by the retreating Confederate army, Lincoln recognizes that there are no real winners in this battle. He looks ahead to the Reconstruction that he hopes will mend the country's wounds, but sadly it will be a Reconstruction he will not live to undertake.

I Am Abraham will appeal to lovers of historical fiction and of the oral storytelling tradition at which Lincoln himself excelled.

It is an exuberant novel that speaks equally of life and death, hope and sorrow.

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Monday, 3 February 2014

Mixed Results for Groundhog Day

Photo courtesy of Reuters
Those of us not fortunate enough to live in a more temperate climate could be forgiven for wishing for an early spring and an end to this frigid and blustery winter. Hence the interest each year in Groundhog Day.

According to folklore, if a groundhog emerges from his burrow on a sunny day and spots his shadow, we can expect six more weeks of winter. Conversely, if it's an overcast day and he doesn't see his shadow, we can look forward to an early spring. (Those who point out that this isn't exactly scientific might want to consider the success rate of meteorologists in predicting the weather.)

This year the most famous of the groundhogs, Punxsutawney Phil, saw his shadow, condemning us to six more weeks of winter. His Canadian cousin, Wiarton Willie, offered the same gloomy forecast. However, if you're a "glass half full" kind of person, you'll be pleased to learn that Nova Scotia's Shubenacadie Sam and Quebec's Fred la Marmotte both predicted an early spring.

For a comparative chart of leading groundhog predictions, please click here.

Monday, 27 January 2014

Fighting the Stigma of Mental Illness

One in five Canadians will suffer some form of mental illness during their lifetime. Nevertheless, fighting the stigma of mental illness is an ongoing battle in which victory is long overdue.  Research shows that:

  • Mental illness indirectly affects all Canadians at some time through a family member, friend or colleague.
  • Mental illness affects people of all ages, educational and income levels, and cultures.
  • Approximately 8% of adults will experience major depression at some time in their lives.
  • Anxiety disorders affect 5% of the household population, causing mild to severe impairment.
  • Almost one half (49%) of those who feel they have suffered from depression or anxiety have never gone to see a doctor about this problem.
  • Suicide accounts for 24% of all deaths among 15-24 year olds and 16% among 25-44 year olds.
  • Suicide is one of the leading causes of death in both men and women from adolescence to middle age.
  • The mortality rate due to suicide among men is four times the rate among women.
 (Statistics are from the Canadian Mental Health Association's "Fast Facts about Mental Illness" at

We can start to help those affected by mental illness by debunking the myths associated with it. For example, many adolescents (and adults) think that depression is just part of “growing up” and will disappear on its own, but we need to appreciate instead that depression may be a life-long challenge. The Kids Help Phone helps youths who are suffering from depression, anxiety, disordered eating, and other mental health concerns or who just need someone to listen to them. The telephone number for the helpline in Canada is 1-800-668-6868. 

One of the underlying causes of depression and suicide in adolescents is bullying.  This topic is finally receiving national attention, and there are numerous resources available.  The Kids Help Phone website at has extensive information on this subject and also has a bullying forum where teens can post questions. In addition, many websites now provide resources to combat bullying, including incident reporting for schools.  See, for example,

In Canada, there are also numerous other Internet and local resources for those of all ages seeking help. For a list of crisis intervention resources in the province of Ontario, please visit For further information and to locate the chapter of the Canadian Mental Health Association nearest to you, please visit the Canadian Mental Health Association website at

Tomorrow, on January 28, 2014, Bell Canada is sponsoring its fourth annual “Let's Talk” Day. The four pillars of the Let's Talk initiative are anti-stigma; care and access; workplace health; and research. To download a complete copy of the "Let's Talk" toolkit, please visit Join the campaign tomorrow to end the stigma and contribute to mental health research by talking, tweeting, and texting. The toolkit provides you with the details.

Mental health is a global concern.  Please check your Internet and local resources if you live outside Canada.

Let's help put a human face on this suffering and end the silence.