A Blog Tour Welcome to Lou Allin
April 18, 2012
Lou, so glad to be on tour with you! It’s a pleasure posting your thoughts on my questions. I love your “puppies.” And what an interesting life you’re living!
Born in Toronto, Lou Allin grew up in Cleveland. She received a PhD in English Renaissance Literature and spent three decades in Northern Ontario as a professor of English.
With a cottage on a frozen lake as her inspiration, she started her Belle Palmer series, featuring a realtor and her German shepherd, beginning with Northern Winters Are Murder.
Lou has moved to Canada’s Caribbean, Vancouver Island, with Friday the mini-poodle and Zodie and Zia the border collies, overlooking the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
Her island series stars RCMP corporal Holly Martin :And on the Surface Die, She Felt No Pain and the upcoming Twilight is Not Good for Maidens.
Lou’s standalones are A Little Learning is a Murderous Thing (set in Michigan) and Man Corn Murders (Utah).That Dog Won’t Hunt is designed to appeal to reluctant adult readers. Watch for Contingency Plan in the same series.
Challenges – I’ve had books in print from a small press since 2000. At first, that was my goal, merely to see my work reach the public. Northern Winters Are Murder set the pace and tone for my series. Later, I brought out each book with a different theme. Blackflies Are Murder was followed by Bush Poodles Are Murder, Murder, Eh?, and finally Memories Are Murder.
By the time I reached book three, I realized a larger purpose: showing the world the systematic degradation in the Nickel Capital in Northern Ontariobalanced by the triumphs of the past thirty years. Perhaps it was a stroke of fortune that I arrived just as things started improving. It’s tough to restore a land after a century of environmental abuse. But it can be done!
I knew nothing about Sudbury in 1977 when I jumped at a job offer. Lumbering had started in the 1880s. Discovery of nickel brought open-pit roasting followed by sixty years of acid rain. With no trees or ground cover, soil melted off the bare land, and the rocks darkened into a black wasteland the size of Manhattan. Clear blue lakes became too acid to sustain life. Then in 1972, the Superstack (1247 feet) was built to scrub the air pollution. Within ten years, the entire community, business, students, government and private citizens began a monumental re-greening extending into the twenty-first century. Thanks to a cocktail of “rye (grass) on the rocks” and twenty million hardy pine seedlings, when I left in 2006, the core was green again. The city received an award from the Earthsummit in Rio.
Then I moved to Vancouver Island. “Welcome to Paradise,” the realtor said. Instead of a pristine temperate-rainforest wilderness, I found a country under siege and a theme for my new series.
Those in the cities or on the picturesque coast don’t realize the extent of the clear-cutting. 95% of the island has been logged several times over the last hundred and fifty years, but replanting has hidden that fact. Now the timber companies have found ways to transmute scarred land to pure gold. In a shameful backroom deal, they convinced the government to let them convert cutting leases into real estate at a million an acre. They became panderers, not stewards.
My new series features RCMP Corporal Holly Martin, whose cases and career expand against the background of the community. She may be chasing down murderers, but she’s also passing huge ugly swaths of clear-cutting, watching hundreds of houses rise on formerly pristine oceanfront territory, and wondering if the salmon will make it back this year, not to forget helping banana slugs across the road. Thanks to the booming social media, there’s never been a better time to alert the world to these ongoing dangers. Nature must be protected. As a resource-rich nation, Canada is blessed but also responsible.
On the Horizon – This past few months, with the third in my series ready for 2013 and another in my Rapid Reads series from Orca Books designed for reluctant readers set for the fall of 2012, I’ve delved back into a project I have been thinking about since I came to the island and learned some of its history. And although I taught English during my career, I was also a history major back in the Sixties and never lost my love of that subject.
Victoria, British Columbia, is the capital of the province and has a history spanning back to the Hudson Bay Company, who set up a post here, and of course to the Salish peoples who arrived millennia before that, enjoying the bounty of the sea and setting forth in their gigantic canoes.
What better time to choose for a book set in Victoria that the era of the grand old Queen herself? In 1896, during the Queen’s Birthday celebrations at the end of May, a catastrophe catapulted the city into international news for all the worst reasons.Though the main plot involves a double murder, The Woman Who Did ends with that local disaster.
Since my current series is a police procedural, sticking with the law seemed a good idea. My new protagonist, Detective Sergeant Edwin DesRosiers, aka the Rozzer, is named after my French Canadian grandfather. 1896 is a time of transition. Blood types are known. Fingerprints have just arrived on the scene, but they’re not in general use. Victoria is also exploring the concept of mug shots and hiring a female photographer who will pioneer the front and side shot.
Although forensics are simpler, writing a historical has all the trickiness of any book times ten. The research is monumental, especially if you have a mind like mine, opening one door to find another. I’m relying on historical websites as well as books such as the 1897 Sears Catalogue replica. If I want to dress someone, I can page-turn an entire wardrobe. My detective won’t get a wallet in those days; men had capacious pockets. But he will ride an “electric” bicycle. Everything was “electric” in those days, even toothbrushes. Advertising hype.
I have to know what people were eating as well as wearing. Surprisingly, canned goods were around as were “ice” boxes and Fig Newtons. Everyone was “running the pigs,” a hand-held game with marbles falling into holes. Language is important, too. Was “meat wagon” a term in use in 1896? What songs were popular? How about plays and books? Was there electric light or only gaslight or in some cabins, only lamplight?Whale oil? Seal oil? What coinage was used and how much did it cost to eat lunch or get shaved? Victoria did have a telephone exchange, and call boxes had replaced police whistles.
One of my most important sources is an online connection to the archives of the newspaper, The Daily Colonist. I can read the eight pages for each day, including the ads, which are telling. It’s like a trip back in time.
Via pictures and maps of the period I can see old Victoria. I double check every building to be sure it was there in 1896. The Seventeen Mile Pub, which is around today, was one year short of construction the day my detective rode past on his horse. Everyone thinks of the iconic Empress Hotel that crowns the Inner Harbour. But in 1896, a bay filled with noxious runoff from soap factories stood on that site.
Research is addictive. The Chinese community has always been important in Victoria. Thousands lived in Chinatown in 1896. A few years earlier, an outbreak of leprosy resulted in many Chinese being taken to D’Arcy Island off the coast en route to Vancouver. With only crude shacks built for them and a shipment of food every few months, these people were left to live or die on their own. It was a miracle that any survived.
When I am satisfied with The Woman Who Did, and the title comes from a popular novel, a tribute to emancipated women even one hundred years later, I will try to find an agent. Being published by small presses or library presses such as Five Star, I haven’t needed an agent so far. But to move to the next level, if I ever do, I need a contact for the larger presses. Seeking out other authors with historicalswill be step one. Some are members of the Crime Writers of Canada, like Maureen Jennings, who has a series set in Victorian Toronto.
Satisfaction – My greatest personal satisfaction lies with being a part of the collegial crime-writing community itself, writers, readers, librarians, agents, and publishers. As VP for the BCYukon Crime Writers of Canada, and as the co-chair of Bloody Words Victoria 2011, our annual crime conference, I’ve met so many supportive people. As a hand was given to me, I’ve helped young authors complete their books and find publication. It’s been a rich experience on the levels that really count.
And don’t forget:
Buster will also be selecting winners of three of my latest at the end of our tour.