Monday, 26 June 2017


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 19 June 2017


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 13 June 2017


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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