Mary: Please tell us something about yourself and how you came to be a writer.
Lou: Perhaps it started on my tenth birthday in Cleveland in 1955. “Wake up, Louise. Georgia has been murdered. I want you to go to the store for bacon.” My mom and dad were picking up their friend’s elderly parents downtown at the train station. Georgia’s husband Leonard avoided trial by a plea bargain. Murder was on the menu that year. In a landmark case full of errors, local osteopath Sam Sheppard was on trial for his life for the same crime. I started writing my own little newspaper with letter block stamps for the masthead, then filled a blue exam book (remember them?) with my first mystery novel. So far, so good. Then I made the blunder of becoming an English major in college, all the way to a PhD in Marlowe (also a murder victim). By the time I had been brainwashed by great literature, I didn’t resume my own writing for twenty years.
Mary: What genre do you generally write and have you considered other genres?
Lou: I cut my teeth on poetry, then short stories, and moved into mystery fiction. My five- book Belle-Palmer series in the Nickel Capital of the World in Northern Ontario, a new series on Vancouver Island, and three standalones. Series one numbers Northern Winters are Murder, Blackflies are Murder, Bush Poodles are Murder, Murder, Eh?, and Memories are Murder. For the second series, And on the Surface Die, She Felt No Pain, and the upcoming Twilight is not Good for Maidens. I also have two novellas for reluctant readers: That Dog Won’t Hunt and Contingency Plan. As for another genre, I don’t have time to write a mainstream book, and romance is too far in my past. I did draft a young adult book just to see if I could, but so far the editor thinks the main character isn’t likable enough.
Mary: What is your work in progress?
Lou: Set in 1896 Victoria, The Woman Who Did features Detective Sergeant Edwin DesRosiers and begins with the murder of a woman living in the dangers of the demimonde. Edwin’s only thirty. His widowed mother is fifty-five, Jewish, a suffragette, and a painter of nudes. Victoria BC has a rich history going back thousands of years, from the Salish peoples who still live there, to the Hudson Bay post, the Gold Rush, and its status as the capital. I picked 1896 not only because modern forensics were beginning to appear (mugshots came a year later) but because a terrible disaster during the celebrations of the Queen’s birthday caused scores of people to lose their lives. It’s a great way to launch a series.
Mary: What is your writing process?
Lou: I used to start with the crime, the motivation, and the end. Then go where the wind took me. Murder, Eh? I plotted meticulously on huge sheets of foolscap. Now I’m half and half. Less plotting means more spontaneity and serendipity, but increased need for editing. Usually I start with a theme. Rape and sexual assault. Elder abuse. Family secrets. Kidnapping. The murder of a scoundrel. Or my favourite, the biter bit. A con man gets conned. Occasionally I use a real crime and tweak it.
Mary: Are the characters in your book based on people you know?
Lou: Some of my characters are based loosely on real people. I still think I pushed my father in his wheel chair from the nursing home to an appearance by Canada’s prime minister dedicating a plaque. I wanted to, but didn’t. As for names, sometimes I play around. Melibee Elphinstone combined Chaucer’s narrator with a famous Scottish woman who came back from being buried alive. Once I had a boyhood friend named Chipper Knox, whose name I wanted to give to a Sikh constable. I had to make Chipper’s father an orphan raised in a Scottish orphanage in the Punjab. Chipper’s real first name was Chira Kumar. I based a villain on a colleague, but he didn’t recognize himself. Bad people never do.
Mary: Do you have one wish for the genie?
Lou: I’d like to see my small country achieve the literary success of the Nordic nations. Come on over to the Crime Writers of Canada site. www.crimewriterscanada.com to meet over three hundred live Canucks. And visit Toronto in 2012 for our annual Bloody Words, Canada’s largest mystery con. www.bloodywords2012.com.
Born in Toronto, Lou Allin grew up in Cleveland. She received a PhD in English Renaissance Literature and spent three decades in Northern Ontario as a professor of English. With a cottage on a frozen lake as her inspiration, she started her Belle Palmer series, featuring a realtor and her German shepherd, beginning with Northern Winters Are Murder. Lou has moved to Canada’s Caribbean, Vancouver Island, with Friday the mini-poodle and Zodie and Zia the border collies, overlooking the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
Her island series stars RCMP corporal Holly Martin: And on the Surface Die, She Felt No Pain and the upcoming Twilight is Not Good for Maidens. Lou’s standalones are A Little Learning is a Murderous Thing (set in Michigan) and Man Corn Murders (Utah). That Dog Won’t Hunt is designed to appeal to reluctant adult readers. Watch for Contingency Plan in the same series.
At the end of this tour a name will be randomly selected from those who've left comments and will receive a copy of Lou Allin's And on the Surface Die, the first in her Vancouver Island series. Be sure to leave your email address.
Thank you, Lou for joining me in my garden today.