This next crime fiction author I actually know more from her online presence than from mutual friends (though we have almost 60 people in common) or from meeting her in person (though we may have run into each other through one Crime Writers of Canada event or another over the years).
Shortly before M. H. Callway’s launch of Windigo Fire, I reached out to her for an interview, but between her hectic launch schedule and my blogging black-out period, we were ships in the night for months. In that time, the popularity of her book has skyrocketed. Only a couple of months after launch, she already has 53 holds at the Toronto Public Library. That’s nothing to sneeze at!
So now, onto the much anticipated interview.
9DW: Windigo Fire is your debut novel, but you’ve had several short stories published over the years. Do you find there’s a difference in the creative process, moving from short stories to full-length fiction?
Madeleine Harris-Callway: Yes, definitely! It’s like going from a sprint to a marathon to use an analogy from one of my other lives. A marathon needs planning, training and endurance – and so does a novel. A writer has to train her writing skills, use outlines for characters and plot and stick with it through frustrations and set-backs. At least I did!
9DW: Based on feedback you’ve received, what do you think attracts readers to an anthology or magazine full of short stories?
MH-C: Friends who are booksellers tell me that anthologies of short stories are hard to sell. I’ve noticed this myself when I’m hand-selling my novel. Readers will always pick up my novel first and are far more likely to buy it even if it costs more than the anthologies I’m in.
But when the Mesdames of Mayhem do a presentation at a library or book club, readers are always eager to buy our anthology. That way they can put a face to a story, I think. And they get a showcase of everyone’s writing. If readers enjoy a Mme’s style, they probably would like to read her novels, too. That was our aim in putting together our anthology, Thirteen.
9DW: If I wanted to read samples from yourself or other authors I might not be familiar with, what anthos or magazines would you recommend?
MH-C: I’d definitely start with Thirteen which is available on Amazon in both print and e-format. The title has been very lucky for the thirteen authors whose stories make up the book. Readers tell me they really enjoy my story, Amdur’s Cat. I had great fun writing it, because it’s a broad comedy, a departure from my normal work. I was inspired by my friend and fellow author, Melodie Campbell, the Mesdames own Queen of Comedy!
Another great book readers will like is World Enough and Crime brought out last November by Carrick Publishing and also available on Amazon. It contains stories by 22 established and emerging crime writers, including myself and seven other Mesdames.
Here are the links:
9DW: If I read correctly, Windigo Fire was shortlisted for the 2012 Unhanged Arthur under the title Gunning for Bear, and before that, it had been shortlisted for the Debut Dagger in 2009 as The Land of Sun and Fun. What prompted each name change?
Windigo Fire is actually the second novel I wrote. I had only written a few chapters and a synopsis when I sent it in to the Debut Dagger contest, never expecting to win. The original title, The Land of Sun and Fun, was an ironic reference to the poem you see in some Northern Ontario washrooms:
“In the land of sun and fun,
We do not flush for Number One.”
What happens to my hero, Danny Bluestone, who is drawn into an illegal bear hunt, is anything but fun, of course.
To my enormous surprise and delight, my entry was short-listed. It didn’t win, but I did sign on with an agent who saw it as a tough thriller and changed the title to Gunning for Bear. I spent the next year completing my book. By then my agent had lost interest and we parted amicably.
Gunning for Bear made the short-list for the Unhanged Arthur in 2012. After several near misses, it found a home with literary publisher, Seraphim Editions. My publisher, Maureen Whyte, saw the book differently and wanted the title to reflect its deeper themes, in particular, how the characters confront evil. Do they fight it or are they consumed by it? My editor, George Down, suggested Windigo Fire, which is perfect! The windigo is the symbol of evil, in both Cree legend and in the novel, and a forest fire is central to the plot.
9DW: With crime fiction readership spread out all over Canada, how have you been able to amass an audience of your own and launch Windigo Fire?
MH-C: This is a challenge for authors with smaller publishers and especially for indie authors with the millions of books published every year.
I have the advantage of being traditionally published so Windigo Fire is available in all Chapters/Indigo stores throughout Canada – and in a few independent bookstores. But how to get the word out to readers? An active presence on social media (blogging, Facebook and Twitter) is essential. Crime Writers of Canada, Sisters in Crime and of course, the Mesdames of Mayhem are terrific supports.
The great reviews by Margaret Cannon in The Globe and Mail and by Don Graves in Fifty Word Reviews definitely helped sales. Also, being on Huffington Post Canada’s fall list of Books for Book Clubs, was very helpful.
9DW: You mention in your blog that you’ve had some incredible experiences, working in all manner of interested milieus, including the gold mining industry and disease control. How have you been able to work your real life experiences into your novel?
MH-C: The final confrontation in Windigo Fire takes place in an abandoned uranium mine. My first job after university was as a technical translator with Lac Minerals so I became familiar with the mining business and even toured underground at several operations. Fascinating histories and work places! I always wanted to use a mine for a crime scene.
Windigo Fire is, in part, an outdoor survivalist thriller. To lend authenticity to the physical difficulties that my hero, Danny, endures, I drew on my personal experiences of dehydration and fatigue that I’ve experienced doing long-distance running and biking.
9DW: What kind of research did you have to do when writing (and/or editing) Windigo Fire?
MH-C: I spent a lot of time researching Native Canadian legends, language and culture because my protagonist, Danny, is Cree. Several of the tales inspired events in my book and the windigo legend is central to the story. The windigo is a cannibal that hides in the wild and lures people to their deaths: he has a heart of ice and can only be destroyed by fire. I believe that Native Canadians may have used the windigo legend to explain psychopaths.
On a lighter note, I had fun researching Australian slang because one of my villains, Santa, comes from Downunder. Indeed I made Santa Australian, simply because the language is so creative. Where else would you call a surf board a “shark biscuit”?
9DW: You mention in another interview two pieces of advice that you’ve taken to heart. But what advice would you give to a new author?
MH-C: Never give up! And build your network and support system among the many wonderful writers in our community. Be patient: to build a network – and to get published – often takes many years.
9DW: It looks like you’ve been able to make some great contacts within the CWC and with the Mesdames of Mayhem, and they’ve been able to get a little extra exposure for you and for Windigo Fire. Question though: When life’s not so pre-and-post-launch crazy, how do you help your fellow authors with networking?
MH-C: The Mesdames of Mayhem are actually a fusion of my two writing critique groups. Over the ten to fifteen years we’ve worked together, we’ve become close friends and our over-riding goal is to support and promote each other’s work. That means boosting my friends’ books on my blog, FB page and Twitter – and celebrating with them at lots and lots of book launches, talks and conferences. Looking back, this has been a joy and a privilege – and the best part of being in Canada’s writing community.
More about Windigo Fire:
Danny Bluestone, a young Native Canadian, is drifting through life in his Northern Ontario hometown of Red Dog Lake. One night the roguish owner of the local roadside attraction, Santa’s Fish Camp, offers Danny enough money for a way out: play the role of native scout for his wealthy hunting buddies.
Danny flies out with the hunters to an island lodge deep in the wilderness. Next morning, he wakes to find the hunters brutally murdered, all except Ricky, a ruthless crossbow hunter. They are forced to team up to escape the killers and the forest fire started by the hunters. Danny must relearn the teachings of his shaman grandmother to survive the bush and save both their lives.
Skip the library line-up and buy your own copy of Windigo Fire!
More about M.H.Callway
M. H. Callway’s debut novel, Windigo Fire, was published in 2014 by Seraphim Editions to rave reviews. Huffington Post Canada listed it this fall in Books for Book Clubs and Canada’s national paper, the Globe and Mail, called her a “writer to watch.” Her crime fiction short stories have appeared in several anthologies and magazines, including Crimespree.
In 2013, Madeleine founded the Mesdames of Mayhem: a collective of leading Canadian women crime writers. (www.mesdamesofmayhem.com) Stories in the Mesdames’ debut anthology, Thirteen, received nominations for the Arthur and Derringer awards. An avid cyclist, runner and downhill skier, she participates every year in the Toronto Ride to Conquer Cancer. She and her husband share their Victorian home with an aging, spoiled cat.