Your novels, Great-Grandma’s Gifts and The Serenity Stone Murder are for younger readers. Why do you choose to write in the Children’s and Middle Grade genres?
Actually, The Serenity Stone Murder is a humorous cozy mystery for adults. I also have written a poetry collection titled Here, on the Ground, written and directed several plays, and done journalism. It must be my A.D.D.! I enjoy so many different forms of writing.
The synopsis for Great-Grandma’s Gifts reads that this story “is designed to help children see a different side of the elders in their lives.” This is a very touching sentiment. What’s the story behind the inspiration for this book?
The story is a tribute to my mother, who never had much money, but used her time, love, talent, and fabric scraps to create clothes, dolls, toys, stuffed animals and quilts for her family. As she was growing older, I wanted to honour her while she was still with us. At the same time, I knew she wouldn’t be around to watch my grandchildren grow up. I wanted them to know what their great-grandmother was all about.
What about Serenity Stone? Is anything in your book based on real life experiences or is it purely based on imagination?
My sister had been urging me to write a murder mystery set in Thunder Bay, our home town. One day she described to me a hilarious experience she had attending a women’s conference with a friend. As she told me about it, the characters of Margaret and Louise came into my mind, and I got inspired. The character of Louise’s dog Vince is based on my mother’s lhasa apso Charlie. Apart from that, and many of the locations mentioned, the rest of the story is pure fiction.
What is the message you’d like readers to take away from The Serenity Stone Murder story?
I’m not sure there is a message. It’s about middle-aged church ladies, laughter, and the crazy things we get dragged into for our friends.
Besides living there, why did you pick Thunder Bay as the setting for Serenity Stone?
Thunder Bay is Canada’s best-kept secret! It has all the amenities of a big city with the conveniences of a small town. We have a world-class symphony, numerous theatre companies, fine restaurants, a university doing cutting edge DNA research, a state-of-the-art Health Sciences Centre with some of the best cancer care in the country, a College with an internationally successful film program, and a Law School. All this, right in the middle of spectacular natural scenery and countless freshwater lakes. I thought it was time we started making the rest of the country aware of what a jewel we have.
Your bio on Amazon says there are three of your poems “in permanent installation at Prince Arthur’s Landing.” Tell us a bit about the poems and the story of them being inducted there.
Several years ago, the city decided to develop our beautiful, but mostly underutilized waterfront on Lake Superior. They hired an architectural firm known for their work with city waterfront locations, which resulted in a breathtaking stretch of harbourfront with a huge concert area, a Tai Chi Park, an arts building, a skateboard park, a Spirit Garden for aboriginal events, a sailing marina, restaurant and condominiums. The plan was to include a showcase for the arts, so the call went out across the country to artists to submit their proposals to a jury for selection. At the same time, writers were invited to submit poems and short readings for blind judging. As it turned out, three of my poems were selected, which was quite a surprise and a thrill for me. The poems have been sandblasted onto granite benches placed at different locations throughout the park. This fall I got an email from a runner in Florida, who had been here participating in a marathon. She noticed one of my poems on a bench, and liked it so much, she googled me to tell me she was going to share it with her fellow runners at home. That was quite a delightful surprise.
If you had to choose, which author would you consider a mentor and why?
I’m not sure I can narrow it down to one. C.S.Lewis shaped much of my thinking in my teens. He has a disarmingly simple style of writing that is the hallmark of brilliance. Jesus taught that way, too—telling simple stories that packed a huge punch. I admire the great writers who can say a lot in a few words. I think that has influenced my own writing style, which tends toward economy of words. I can’t promise brilliance, though!
What were the challenges you faced in bringing each of your books to life?
With The Serenity Stone Murder battling my own doubts about my ability to sustain a credible and entertaining novel-length story was my biggest challenge. I wrestled with the “editor on my shoulder” constantly telling me that I couldn’t pull it off. But I persisted and proved her wrong. The other two books came more easily to me. The poems in Here, on the Ground, were collected over a period of many years. Many had been previously published in literary journals, and some had won poetry competitions. That gave me the confidence to believe in the collection. It was just a question of selecting the best ones. Great-Grandma’s Gifts was originally a Mother’s Day gift for my Mom. On a whim, I showed it to Stacey Voss, publisher at Split Tree Publishing. She fell in love with it and asked if she could publish it. She didn’t have to twist my arm too hard! I’m finding it resonating with a lot of people, which would have made my mother very proud.
Tell us a little about the artwork in Great-Grandma’s Gifts and the cover art for Serenity Stone. Who designed it? Why did you go with those particular images?
When I came up with the idea of writing Great-Grandma’s Gifts, I asked my sister, who is a watercolour artist, if she would do the illustrations. She captured the gentle, childlike feel of the story perfectly. Some of the illustrations are from her imagination, but some are actual dolls and toys Mom made that our daughters still have. Toward the end of the book, she has painted Mom’s apartment, with her Bible on the table and her artwork on the walls. On the last page she depicts Mom as we often saw her, sitting on the dock at her cottage, gazing across the lake. With Serenity Stone, much of the story concerns a church garden that the neighbouring casino wants to purchase for parking space. The publisher and I agreed that we wanted to emphasize the “cozy” nature of the mystery. This is not a graphic or violent murder mystery, but a gentler, humorous one appealing to women. Tracy Barr’s lovely picture of the entrance to the garden was a perfect fit.
What can we expect from you in the future? This spring Split Tree will be launching a sequel to Great-Grandma’s Gifts. It is called Where is Peachy Keen?
Currently I am ghostwriting a memoir about a woman who survived horrific abuse, a murder attempt, 50 suicide attempts, and life on the streets. She is now happily married, the mother of two, and a frequent speaker on mental health issues. She has been a guest on 100 Huntley Street, and won the 2007 Courage to Come Back award from the Canadian Mental Health Association. When that is done, I want to resume work on a literary novel I’ve started and a sequel to Serenity Stone. I also plan to keep writing children’s stories for my granddaughters, and another collection of poems.
How can readers discover more about you and your work?