Monday, August 31, 2009

Roasting the Pig

Like everyone else, I’ve been through good times and bad. Among the best have been my adventures in diving. Among the worst, an incident last spring that brought an end to my diving career. My first scuba gear was a reluctant Christmas present from my parents when I was fifteen, in 1955. My final dive was in the Thousand Islands among close friends associated with Adventure Divers in Peterborough, Ontario, a dive shop, travel agency, and virtual friendship centre where I’ve been a diving instructor for the last few years.

Yesterday afternoon, PepĂ© and Sherry, who own the shop, co-hosted their annual pig roast and potluck with Marybeth and Dave. Bev and I drove out with mixed feelings. I’m very fond of my diving buddies and have felt pretty low about not diving with them again. We have shared some amazing experiences. These are people who have become important to me in ways difficult to describe. My life has been in their hands at depths of 130 feet, and theirs in mine. However different we may be on the surface, down there our connection is based on intimate and absolute trust.

With thirty or forty close friends gathered round, a presentation was made to mark my untimely transition to non-diver status—as a celebration of the good things we’ve shared, not a lament for what’s been lost. I’m a writer; nothing is ever lost, it just gets turned into fiction. When it was time to leave, I wanted to hug each and every person there. I may have missed a few. Sorry. I’d like to name you all. But if I forgot a single name, I’ll feel bloody miserable. So, I’ll just say thanks. Thank you for the generosity of your affection, for the good times we’ve had in exotic places and in damned cold water close to home, for welcoming me into your special community, for being fun. I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Public Writer

Writing fiction is a very private act, meant to reach as wide an audience as possible. An elderly friend of mine, long since dead (I supposed he died younger than I am now), insisted that's what drove so many writers to drink. Hugh Garner was an accomplished and successful writer, and stayed sober through each writing project, then drank himself into oblivion as he went through the procedures of being a public figure in order to sell books. He accepted this as the natural order of things.

For myself, I'm finding sustaining a public profile both exhausting and exhilarating. I look at a mystery writer like Louise Penny and marvel at how open and accessible she is. In trying to do the same, I seem to be making innumerable trips to bookstores, in an effort to make myself known. I trust the novels are good, but if no-one reads them ...

I'm a mystery writer. It doesn't count if I wrote quite successfully in the past in other genres. So, I present myself as a mystery writer. It can be tremendous fun, and occasionally quite humbling. I was practically ejected from the premises of a bookstore in Kitchener by an assistant manager not out of her teens. On the other hand, I have been warmly received by stores from Brockville to Cambridge, Picton and Port Hope to Guelph and Huntsville, Hamilton, Bracebridge, Belleville, and Kingston. Sometimes, stores have neither of my mysteries in stock, or perhaps one or two copies. Nevertheless, many smaller independent stores have been very gracious but, then, perhaps more surprisingly, so have Chapters and McNally Robinson.

Driving hundreds of kilometres to "market" a book or two hasn't driven me to excessive drink, although occasionally to a glass of wine or two. As I drive around, I've been lining up signings, and have been invited to a book club in Peterborough and a writers' festival in Westport (and perhaps to others, if they work out). Bev usually goes with me, so we have good times, hanging out and seeing Ontario. Most of my "marketing" efforts are necessarily in Ontario because that's where I live.

After a day or two on the road, it's always good getting back to "Stonewood," and to Miranda Quin and David Morgan—it's always a relief to find they're still there, waiting for me.

Sunday, August 23, 2009


Two more Quin and Morgan mysteries are virtually complete. I'm wrestling with which should go next. One is more in the thriller genre, taking Miranda to Easter Island and Morgan to Baffin Island, before they meet half way through, back in Toronto, to resolve plot complexities with international implications. The other is closer to a British drawing room mystery, set in Toronto and Muskoka cottage country, but with resonance connecting the quirky members of a Society devoted to Shakespeare's contemporary, Francis Bacon, to a much larger world. Both still feature Quin and Morgan!
Titles seem to take as much time and thought as re-writes. Getting just the right one that will attract new readers, not put off familiar readers, and sum up the novel without giving too much away, is a daunting task.
For the thriller, I've tried Crimes of the Early Morning (too artsy), Killing People Is Wrong (too whimsical), Murder Casts a Long Shadow (too melodramatic). I think I've settled on The Gibraltar Coordinates (intriguingly enigmatic, I hope).
For the drawing room mystery, I think I've settled on The Dead Scholar. I've tried a lot of others, including Dead Reckoning (my publisher thinks it's too common, although it has only been used once, in 2005, and once in 1978), and, my favourite, A Goodly Huge Cabinet (an allusion to Bacon's notion that all informed people should have a "cabinet of curiosities" to keep the souvenirs of their lives for safekeeping—too esoteric). And others, as they say, too numerous to mention.
Now, I need to decide, which comes next, after the psychological emphasis of Still Waters and the gothic play in Grave Doubts??

Friday, August 14, 2009

What's in a name?

Now that I have a blog site to go with my updated website, I'm a little more conscious of "my" presence on the web. When I Google my own name I find it really isn't mine at all. There was a John E. Moss U.S. Congressman of some note (I'm John E (for Errington), as well), and there is a John Moss serving life in Arkansas whose story is heart-wrenching, if his claim of wrongful conviction is accurate. He is worth checking out on compassionate grounds. John Moss is the 10,878th most common name in the U.S., with 56 living in California and none living in North Dakota (statistics for Canada unavailable). There is a picture of a tombstone on Google marking the grave of a John Moss born in 1604, who died 103 years later, in 1707 (I have a number of centenarians in my family, all women and all on my mother's side). And there is a Jon Moss out there who was a drummer for Boy George and Culture Club and for a band called The Nipple Erectors, as well as Adam and the Ants and The Damned (a lot to live up to, although Jon isn't John). I think I've come up with a genealogy project based on names, not genes.

Monday, August 10, 2009

First Entry

August 10/o9

This is my first entry; I'm still setting things up. At this point I'm a little uncertain about who will be reading this. What I'm intending is to write whatever comes to mind in relation to writing mysteries, particularly my own. Quin and Morgan occupy a real place in my day to day life as I work ahead on the series. But I also plan to comment on mysteries in general and how they are crafted in books, television, and movies. If effect, I'll be posting the occasional review.
Meanwhile, back to work. (Whaling captains used to sign off on their log entries, "and so ends this day." I love the vaguely ominous sound of closure in those words, but my day isn't over!)