Not everyone can live the dream of running a mystery bookstore AND have a career as a mystery writer….and in Canada, as well? Here’s one woman who has beaten the odds. Meet Erika Chase:
Erika writes the Ashton Corners Book Club mysteries for Penguin/Berkley Prime Crime. In a parallel life Erika Chase is also known as Linda Wiken. A former mystery bookstore owner (Prime Crime Books in Ottawa, ON, Canada), Linda is also a short story writer. She is a member of those dangerous dames, The Ladies' Killing Circle.
Her short stories have appeared in the seven Ladies’ Killing Circle anthologies (three of which she co-edited), and in the magazines Mysterious Intent and Over My Dead Body. She has been short-listed for an Arthur Ellis Award, Best Short Story, from Crime Writers of Canada.
Before life in the world of mystery, she worked as an advertising copywriter, radio producer, journalist and community education worker. Besides writing and reading mysteries, her other passion is choral singing and she is a member of two choirs.
Okay, maybe one more passion -- chocolate!
She shares her house with Keesha and Mojo, her two Siamese cats. Actually, they allow her to live there.
Here’s my interview with one of Canada’s latest success stories:
1. You’re not only the Mystery Maven, Linda, but you are one of the rare few who ran a mystery bookstore in Canada. Tell us how you got the idea and how long you ran the business.
The idea was already there. Prime Crime Books was a going concern and I, along with Mary Jane Maffini, were very good customers. When the owner decided to sell, we shelved our sanity and pooled our resources to buy it. After a few years MJ decided to turn her full attention to writing and I continued on for a total of 15 years.
2. How would you characterize the demographics of the customers? Did they change?
While the age range of customers was pretty wide, we did have more female customers. And that didn’t change much over the years.
3. Were some kinds of mysteries more popular than others? Did that preference change over the years?
Mysteries written by Brits and/or set in Britain sold the best. That too was fairly consistent although as more Canadians were getting published, interest in Canadian writers definitely increased.
4. I’ve been in the store, and it was a feast for the reader. Very cozy and intimate, like a large, private study. A perfect place for a murder, too. What do you miss most about being out of the game?
Two things: the interaction with customers and, opening the boxes of books that arrived almost daily. Just like Christmas.
5. Let’s get into your new career as a mystery writer? How did it happen? Why an amateur sleuth? And why a nom de plume? Any particular reason for setting in the US South? I yearn for sweet tea every time I visit Ashton Corners.
I happened to be in the right place at the right time. Mary Jane’s agent asked if she knew anyone who might like to attempt a cosy mystery for Berkley Prime Crime. I bit. The agent liked my writing style and eventually, so did the editor. The setting (southern states) and the idea of a mystery book club were the editor’s ideas, hence the pseudonym.
6. Now with your second book, and your third due soon, what do you find most challenging about writing a series?
The most challenging part is the promotion. There is always more that should be done in that area but it really eats into the writing time. And, multi-tasking was never one of my strong points.
7. What would you NEVER do in a book?
I would NEVER write about a dead animal or a child in immediate jeopardy.
8. Do you envision going on to books nine, ten, infinity, or would you want to start another series or try a standalone?
I’m not sure how long the Ashton Corners Book Club series will continue. As more books are wanted, I’ll come up with the ideas. Book #3, COVER STORY is due out in Aug. and I’m working on the 4th book , BOOK FAIR AND FOUL, which will be out next fall. I also have a second series proposal in the works right now. Another cosy.
9. What three authors do you read the most? Do you read non-fiction?
I have so many books coming in on a regular basis for review that I have very little time for my own pleasure reading. But I always try to make time for each new Andrea Camilleri novel set in Sicily, the very witty Colin Cotterreill and his Dr. Siri series set in Laos, and most recently, Martin Walker and his police series set in the Dordogne. You’ll notice, I like a heavy dose of overseas setting with my mystery. I also love mysteries set in Canada but would not be foolish enough to name an author, most of whom are friends.
10. That’s a wise answer, Linda. What advice do you have for writers just starting out?
Rewrite, rewrite, rewrite. Look at it as the opportunity to polish your craft. But at the same time, know that at some point you need to call it quits and just send that manuscript off to an agent or editor.
11. To me, Ottawa has the most unified and social group of mystery authors in Canada. Has that made a difference for you? How do you account for that unusual camaraderie?
I’m not quite sure why that’s so but Ottawa is definitely a crime hot spot. Rather, a crime writing hot spot. Capital Crime Writers has been the catalyst over the past 25 years. It’s a supportive and encouraging group of writers…and also, a lot of fun to get together with.
I certainly credit my critiquing group, The Ladies Killing Circle that grew out of our CCW memberships, for helping me get where I am today. For almost 25 years we’ve been encouraging, correcting, and supporting each other in our writing. And, we’re all published now.
12. What are your predictions about the future of e-books?
Speaking as someone who really dislikes reading an e-book, I do think the popularity will continue to grow. It provides a wonderful opportunity for writers to get published but I caution them to make sure the end product has gone through a professional editing process. That’s what will ensure a long run career.
Thanks for joining us today with those candid confessions, Mystery Maven. I’ll add that your books are available from major bookstores across the US and Canada as well as the on-line chains. All the best for your Ashton Corners series and whatever slices of mystery and mayhem that you plan to serve.
For more information, please visit Erika’s website at www.erikachase.com