A Conversation With: Lou Allin
April 19, 2013
Canadian and American Author (yes, Lou is both!) [i]
Today, I’m visiting with Lou Allin. I first “met” Lou electronically online during a blog tour, then had the opportunity to actually meet her in person at Left Coast Crime in Santa Fe, New Mexico. On our tour, I immediately liked the “electronic” Lou, and then enjoyed her “in person” company even more! Indeed, from the first I’ve felt an affinity with Lou—and not only just because she’s a mystery author—but also I think, based on her love of dogs and her Pacific Northwest environs. Unfortunately, LCC is soooo busy—so many friends, old and new, to connect and catch up with, I didn’t get to spend enough time with Lou. So “talking” this way will have to do for now.
Thank you so much, Lou, for taking the time to visit with me—and a special thanks for being so patient with me getting my “blog conversation act” together. I lived in The Pacific Northwest for twenty-plus years (east of the Seattle area in the Cascades), and during that time we made several trips to Canada—more than once with two dogs who took great pleasure in barking at border guards—Canadian and American!
It’s a conversational cliché, but let’s start with Pacific Northwest weather. Even though you’re farther North from where I once lived, and with slightly different weather patterns, I’m guessing even though you’re in the “sun belt” of Vancouver island, enjoying the beauty and grandeur of the forests with marvelous topography and fantastic water views—you still have to deal with a lot of wetness, chill, and clouds? So, on a personal note, what’s your thoughts on the weather and scenery in your neck of the West Coast? And following those thoughts, how and what role do your environs and the weather play in your writing?
Hello, Desert Woman. They say never to begin a novel with the weather, but perhaps that applies to people who live in wimpy places with virtually NO weather. That leaves out all Canadians. Here in Canada’s Caribbean, at lower elevations, snow rarely visits, so daffodils bloom in March. Our winters are just above and below freezing on the south coast with rain, rain, rain. SWOW= solid wall of water. RATH= rain, at times heavy…even horizontal! It’s windy here on the Strait of Juan de Fuca overlooking gorgeous Washington State and its ice-cream-cone Olympics. I wave to my US neighbours every morning.
Love SWOW and RATH! It’s windy here in the Mojave, but all we have blowing around is sand. Moving from the weather, loved your recent blog about your five mothers http://redroom.com/member/lou-allin/blog/my-five-mothers. The first line was great, “One father was all I needed.” And then what a great tribute you went on to make to some wonderful women. How have your five mothers influenced your writing?
All five mothers gave me the precious gift of love and self-confidence. Not that I was a waif who “needed” mothering, rather that I saw even as a toddler with Aunt Belle the wonders and talents of women over sixty. And now I am one.
My mother was a talented, though not professional writer, as well as a fine artist and tough grade-school principal, and I have no doubt that a novel could have been in her future. When I was twelve, she bribed me at 25 cents a lesson to teach myself how to type, which has been a huge advantage.
Aunt Belle, on the other hand, has been an inspiration with a mystery I have recently solved. Though I didn’t know her until she was retired, when she died in 1963 she left me a photo album with unlabeled pictures from one summer in Dinorwic in 1909, FAR northwestern Ontario, train only, at her uncle’s boarding house. Who was that handsome man gazing into her eyes? A month ago I linked a name in an accompanying book of Ojibway Common Prayer from Dinorwic that was inscribed to her from her “sincere friend,” Charles RR Bunn. Thanks to Ancestry.ca, I found him……and lately his daughter, who lives in Seattle, and says that she has a few of Belle’s letters. Her secret love. Did Belle’s family and many sisters ever know? She must have been relieved that he came through World War One safely and practiced as a doctor. They died far apart in their Seventies within a year of each other.
For a quick peek at the whole story, here’s the blog link: http://www.louallin.com/blog/aunt-belles-one-hundred-four-year-old-secret-3/
Love all the wonderful pictures you’ve included on your website and blog. I included some in this conversation. Especially like the “big tree” one you recently sent. Brings back pleasant hiking memories with my own dogs. You’ve probably guessed, I would have to ask about your dogs, and what part they play in your life and writing?
My dogs, from the early German shepherds to the bush poodle to the border collies, are an integral part of my life and go everywhere. Each one except the latest has his own book. The bush poodle, now twelve and blind but very active, whispers into my ear as I sleep, “Return of the Bush Poodle. Get up now and write it!”
I love that, Lou! I have two dogs that haven’t been mentioned in any of my books yet, and they’re constantly whispering, “Write about me, write about me…” Moving on from being “sappy” about my dogs, wanted also to ask, Are you an avid photographer? Your pictures are great.
My partner Jan is the photographer. She made the shots for my Utah cover that won an award. Not only does she do my portraits, but she put together my spiffy new west-coast website. Give it a look at www.louallin.com
I’ve included some of your pictures in this blog. I think they give a feel of your area and your love of hiking and your dogs.
I’ve really enjoyed visiting Canada, even went to pottery conference in Canada way back when. Which leads to another item I wanted to ask you about. That is your dual-citizenship. How does that work, and is that because you feel “connected” to both countries? And are there publishing implications to dual-citizenship? Hopefully, like more available and willing publishers for your work?
In Canada, presses are subsidized, so only Canadian residents can get published. I do have two standalones from Five Star, one set in Michigan and one in Utah. It’s said that selling a Canadian setting to the US is tough. Perhaps not now so much with the success of Louise Penny. The world can’t get enough of her charming Quebec village, Three Pines.
I was born in Toronto, but moved at three to Ohio. Not until I couldn’t get a job with my useless PhD in the US (800 applications) did I find out I had retained my Canadian citizenship. Then I was lucky enough to get a great job in Northern Ontario.
I love reading about settings in different countries. There are some many beautiful and interesting areas in Canada. and I’ve only been to very few places. Now that we’ve arrived at the topic of “books,” I understand you have a new book coming out soon— Twilight Is Not Good for Maidens. I’m guessing your Corporal Holly Martin’s series is inspired by—maybe even based upon your experiences on Vancouver Island? Could you share more about this character and her adventures? And when do you expect your new book to be out?
Twilight (not made to cash in on the vampire fad, but the title taken from a Victorian children’s poem) should be out in May or June. The line comes from Goblin Market, where two little girls are tempted in the forest by the luscious fruits of little men (despite the fatal price of those fruits). This children’s poem by a very holy Christian writer, Christina Rossetti, is so erotic that Playboy used it in a Seventies articles with shocking graphics. All those juicy peaches and pellucid grapes.
Not only was I weary of the “are Murder” titles of the first series, I wanted a younger main character who wouldn’t have to explain her involvement in crimes. So I created Holly Martin, who was actually another “mother” of mine, and Aunt Belle’s sister. RCMP Corporal Martin is in charge of her own small detachment. Just my luck to discover after fifty pages that she would have to be at least a Staff Sergeant or better yet, an Inspector, to investigate murders, which would mean a large post. So Holly will have to find her own way around “suspicious” deaths or cold cases, fighting the bureaucracy. In her post on the gorgeous south coast, with beach after beach, she has with her Ann Troy, an older, wiser woman deskbound from an heroic rescue, and younger Chipper Knox Singh, a handsome Sikh who fancies himself her protector not her mentee.
Looking forward to reading your latest. On a light note, I noticed you mention on your blog one of your hobbies is ethnic cooking. What does that entail/involve? One of my fondest “eating memories” is from a business trip to Montreal, Canada way-back-when. Some great restaurants with fantastic food from many different cultures.
Slow food is the big movement on the island. Local ingredients in season where the cooking is as much fun as the eating. As the wise Salish natives knew, the island is a virtual cornucopia of culinary wealth: halibut, salmon, crab, mussels, shrimp, clams, even seaweed. Curbing our deer could bring in new fields for venison. We have many organic farms, orchards with heritage apples, wineries, cideries. The island used to produce 95% of its food. Now the number is 5%. Sooke, where I live, along with other towns, is setting aside land for community plots, so far a huge success.
Not so sure about seaweed…(smile). The orchards and wineries sound wonderful. Makes we want to take a trip “up north”! It’s been great talking to you today, Lou, and getting the “feel” of your area. Location is so important to me when writing, and I can just see your wonderful area… Looking forward to seeing you again at LCC, and much success with Twilight Is Not Good for Maidens! And here’s picture of your dogs–couldn’t leave them out!
[i] A dual citizen of the US and Canada, Lou Allin is the author of the Belle Palmer series, starting with Northern Winters are Murder and ending with Memories are Murder. The novels take place in Sudbury, Ontario, the Nickel Capital of the World. She also wrote the standalone, A Little Learning is a Murderous Thing, an academic mystery. Now retired from teaching and living on Vancouver Island with her border collie, Shogun, and her mini-poodle, Friday, she is working on a new series where the rainforest meets the sea. On the Surface Die features an RCMP Corporal, Holly Martin, in charge of a small detachment on the picturesque south coast of British Columbia. Her website is www.louallin.com and she may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.