ED- The Eerie Digest is very excited to introduce Mystery author Brenda Chapman to all our readers. Brenda, our readers thrive on the mystery genre. Please tell us how you began writing in our favorite venue.
BC- I’m delighted to speak to your readers about my passion – the mystery genre.
Probably way too much of my spare time over the years has been spent reading mysteries and thrillers. I remember as a child reading British author Enid Blyton’s The Famous Five and The Secret Seven and wishing I could go on hols (or holidays as we non-Brits say) in exotic locations and drink ginger beer and have exciting adventures with a select group of friends and a dog named Scamper. Perhaps this was because my reality was childhood in an insular town of 2000 on a bleak stretch of highway on the north shore of Lake Superior. When I turned eighteen, I moved away to university to study English literature with a focus on poetry because reading and churning out essays were two of my strengths in high school. Sadly, an English degree gave me few marketable skills so I continued on to teachers’ college and wound up teaching special education for a number of years in Ottawa. Throughout those years, I dabbled in writing poetry and articles but didn’t take writing on seriously until I won a writer/editor job in the federal about ten years ago. After a few months writing government-style documents on the benefits of pesticides, however, I realized that this was not the writing career I’d envisioned, even in my least inspired moments. I began to crave a creative outlet and so began writing a book for my daughters, who were twelve and nine at the time. Since mysteries had given me so much pleasure as a kid, this was naturally the kind of book I chose to write.
ED- Tell us about your early work in Short Stories and Poetry and how you prepared for your career.
BC- I took a year-long creative writing course in university from a transplanted American poet. He focused on poetry and short stories, and I was excited by the assignments, more so than in any of my other courses. He taught me so many skills that I rely on to this day – the cadence of a sentence, the importance of precise language and the pitfall of melodrama. He had a real aversion to overwriting a scene, and years later, I came to realize that I share this philosophy. I continually scrutinize my work to make sure the writing reads true, without false emotion and with every word doing its job. Short stories and poetry are an excellent training ground for developing style, imagery and economy of language.
ED- Tell us about your first novel, ‘Running Scared’.
BC- The heroine and storyteller of Running Scared is thirteen year old Jennifer Bannon. She lives in a fictional town of Springhills with her nine year old sister Leslie and her mom. The dad left two years earlier after a fight with the mother that Jennifer and Leslie never understood but are still grieving. As the story opens, he has been spotted back in town. That same evening, Jennifer witnesses a hit and run accident near her home and believes it was her father driving the car. She tries to find out the truth and threatening things start happening to her. I wanted to create a suspenseful mystery that also deals with problems real teenagers are going through. I gave Jennifer divorcing parents, difficulty concentrating in school and a boy she likes who is dating somebody else. These story lines carry on through four more books in the series, but each novel has a contained mystery.
ED- In 2001 you wrote an article titled ‘True North’. Can you tell us something about it?
BC- I’d had some non-paying success getting articles published when my husband came up with an idea for me to submit articles to bigger magazines, get rejection letters and then claim my writing as a tax write off. The plan seemed brilliant. I’d had a story idea brewing for a while about how different life was for my daughters growing up in a city as opposed to a small community, and my fear that they were missing out on all the wonderful things a small town and nature had given me. The idea turned into ‘True North’, which I submitted to Canadian Living, a hugely popular, national magazine. The story was unexpectedly accepted, sending my husband’s plan into a tailspin although in hindsight, I think his plan all along was to get me to send my work farther afield. The magazine’s editor even phoned to tell me that it was her favorite story in three years of submissions, words that gave me confidence to keep writing. We never did get that tax break, but I signed my first contract, got paid and took a giant step forward in my writing career.
BC- The story is told by Maja Cleary, a woman who escaped her life in a small Minnesota town after her mother commit suicide. Her childhood was dominated by a narcissistic father, and many years later, she must return to save her brother who is suspected of murdering him. I wanted to tell the story of a family damaged by a narcissistic parent and their struggle to reconcile the past when their lives reach a crisis point. I didn’t initially intend to write a murder mystery, but by the second chapter, I had a dead body, and the story unfolded from there. My intention was also to create a mood piece – Minnesota in the dead of winter with frigid temperatures and relentless snowfall.
ED- What inspired you to write it?
BC- I belong to a group called Capital Crime Writers, and we have monthly meetings with some fascinating guest speakers – everyone from police detectives to art forgery experts to private eyes. One speaker a few years ago was a psychologist from one of our local universities who spoke about psychopaths, and by extension, narcissists – those people who really have no feeling for anybody but themselves. I’m quite certain I’ve worked for a few narcissists over the course of my life, and I felt it was a subject I could investigate further and work into a novel.
ED- Where can our readers find your work?
BC- My books are for sale online through all major booksellers and I have links on my website at www.brendachapman.ca Bookstores can buy Napoleon books in the U.S. through all the major wholesalers, Ingram and Baker & Taylor, who purchase through the distributor in Ohio named AtlasBooks. All of the ordering information can be found at http://www.napoleonandcompany.com/CommonPages/OrderingInfo.html
ED- Do you have any other works planned at the present time, and can you give us a preview of them?
BC- I’ve had another young adult manuscript entitled “After Annie” accepted for publication, possibly in 2011. It’s for older teens, but I think a lot of adults will enjoy the story as well. I set it in the ‘70s during the Vietnam War. In keeping with the unrest and turbulence of that era, I created a family that never recovered from the drowning death of their daughter Annie. The story is told by Darlene, the younger sister, who is now fifteen and saddled for the summer with her promiscuous older cousin from the city.
I’m currently working on another adult murder mystery with a Native, female cop who grew up in foster homes and had a troubled past of her own. If all goes as planned, I’ll be working this one into a series.
BC- My books are published by Napoleon and Company, a mid-sized publishing house in Toronto. They carry adult crime fiction under the RendezVous imprint and children’s fiction under the Napoleon imprint. Sylvia McConnell and Allister Thompson are my publisher and editor respectively, and they are committed to quality fiction and have real passion for good storytelling. I’m also working with Rachel Sentes, a creative, think-outside-the-box publicist, who lives in Vancouver.
ED- With many students as fans of The Eerie Digest, what words of inspiration can you bestow upon them?
BC- I believe that no matter the creative field you are in, it is important to keep working on your art and to be receptive to constructive criticism. As a writer, I’ve built up a network of trusted critiquers in addition to my editor and publisher, whom I rely on to read my manuscripts and to give feedback. That said, I also believe that you have to find your own voice or style, and nurture what makes you unique. Persevere until you find support in the industry and build that all-important fan base. It has been my experience that the journey can be as rewarding as the destination.
ED- Brenda, we want to thank you for your time, and I am sure many of our readers will be looking to find your novel and read it for themselves. We wish you much luck and hope to hear more about you in the near future.