Saturday, April 18, 2009

What if Canada Called

, , , and no one answered?

The guest lined up for Canada Calling this month lives in a place that has wonky e-mail service. Right up until last night I’d hoped we could make connections, but we would have had more luck talking to one another with two tin cans and a string. I apologize for the “Watch This Space” blog this morning and promise you her interview later in the year.

In the interest of salvaging a feisty and interesting blog, I went looking for what’s exciting in Canadian mysteries, and, for the first time, came up blank.

We—the members of Crime Writers of Canada—are looking forward to the announcement of the 2009 Arthur Ellis Award nominees next Thursday. It’s a cool idea. CWC chapter members in Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, and Ottawa invite the public to events with local mystery authors. The AE nominees are announced at those events; much nicer than simply reading them in a press release. But that’s next week and not going to do me a lot of good for this weekend.

So, I decide to go to the CWC site, troll through the members bios and assemble a list of hot new mysteries being published in 2009 by cool Canadian authors. The pickings were slim. Even if I went back to 2008-published books, the ratio of total CWC authors to those with a new book last year was depressing.

All right, probably a lot of people aren’t familiar with the vibrant community of small Canadian presses. I could do an annotated list of to show the diversity of publishing in Canada today. Only I ended up with a lot of asterisks—*Closed—*Closing—*Not sure what’s happening with them.

This morning I feel like the amateur radio operator in H. G. Wells, “War of the Worlds, calling, “CQ, CQ, is anyone out there?” CQ is the general code that radio operators use to ask anyone listening on a given frequency to respond.

All I can say in conclusion is that yes, we are out here, writing away, still sending out those manuscripts, still a strong mystery community in the north. And like everyone else, hoping for better times.

Sharon Wildwind


Sandra Ruttan said...

I think tough times often give rise to rebirth and growth, and perhaps on the other side of this there will be a new, evolving Canadian crime scene.

There are also many Canadian authors who aren't part of the organizations. It doesn't necessarily reflect the true pulse of the Canadian crime scene. There's too much overlap between the organizations, and in tough economical times authors have to consider how much to spend, and where, and assess the value of the memberships.

And the policy to charge for submissions for consideration for the Arthur Ellis Awards is hurting both publishers and authors (as well as readers, imo) at a time when they've been hit by so many other things. The Edgars, the thriller awards... None of the other awards charge a submission fee. My own publisher has a policy against entering when there's a submission fee. They made a partial exception, only submitting one of my two eligible books, but I fear in the long run, the culmination of fee upon fee, cost increase here, lost sales there, has hurt Canadian publishers and in the end it's like cutting off your nose to spite your face. There won't be anyone left (except the big publishers) to pay the entry fees because they'll be out of business, and the possibility of that outcome is tragic for the Canadian publishing industry and authors alike.

That said, I'm hopeful a phoenix will rise out of the ashes.

Sandra Parshall said...

I would love to see NY publishers enthusiastically accept and support novels written by Canadian authors and set in Canada. The "Canada doesn't interest US readers" mentality is absurd and doesn't reflect reality, IMO.

Of course, right now it's a pretty daunting task to get a novel from a US writer published by a NY imprint... But I can dream of better and more inclusive times.

I wholeheartedly agree that charging an entrance fee for the Ellis Awards is a bad thing that can only hurt authors, publishers, and the reputation of the awards themselves.

Sharon Wildwind said...

I agree with both of you.

Sandra R: you've identified some real issues for Canadian writers.

Sandra P: Depending on who you talk to mysteries with Canadian locations and characters are a) very, very hot or b) so cold it's not worth bothering to send them out.

Your pays your money and you takes your chances.

Lou Allin said...

I'm attending the Vancouver Ellis Award Shortlist Release, Sharon, and there are not only sixteen first novels in contention but fifty one novels. And that doesn't even count the young adult and French categories. Any Canadian writer is eligible, whether published in Canada or not. The awards offer cash prizes, which many others don't. And I can assure you that the submission fees do not make money for the organization once postage is paid.

You or anyone can sign up free for a quarterly e-announcement called Cool Canadian Crime by going to the Crime Writers of Canada site, We have over 3000 subscribers.

As for the difficulty of finding US/world audiences for Canadian settings, just ask Giles Blunt and Louise Penny. It helps that they have major publishers, but they're doing quite I bet they don't have day jobs.