25th Trillium Award

On Writing, with Vicki Delany

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Vicki Delany

Vicki Delany talks to Open Book about her Molly Smith series, how her degree in modern history influences her writing and her latest Klondike Gold Rush mystery, Gold Mountain.

Vicki has a number of readings and book signings coming up.

April 12, 2012: Signing at the Ottawa Public Library.
April 19, 2012: Signing at Books on Beechwood in Ottawa.
May 5, 2012: Signing at Novel Idea bookstore in Kingston.
May 12, 2012: Signing at Greenley's Bookstore in Belleville.

Open Book:

Tell us about your new book, Gold Mountain.

Vicki Delany:

Gold Mountain is the third book in the Klondike Gold Rush series, following Gold Digger and Gold Fever from Dundurn Press. The books are set in Dawson City in 1898. They?re intended to be a bit light-hearted, a mad-cap romp through the muddy streets of the world?s most exciting city (which it was, at that time). The protagonist is Fiona MacGillivray, dance hall owner and woman with a shady past, Corporal Richard Sterling of the North-West Mounted Police, and Fiona?s twelve year old son, Angus.

In Gold Mountain, we learn that Fiona first intended to open a theatre in Skagway, Alaska, but fell afoul of the infamous gangster, Soapy Smith. A year later, Fiona is followed to Dawson by Smith?s henchman, Paul Sheridan. Sheridan is in possession of a map pointing due north to the fabled Gold Mountain, where hills of pure gold keep the heat from the hot springs contained in a valley as warm as California. Sheridan intends to become king of Gold Mountain with Fiona as his queen. It?s up to Corporal Richard Sterling of the NWMP, young Angus MacGillivray, a headstrong assortment of dancers and musicians, croupiers and bartenders, prostitutes and madams without hearts of gold, miners and shopkeepers, gentleman and layabouts to head into the vast wilderness in pursuit.


Mystery writer C.B. Forrest has called you, ?one of Canada?s most varied and prolific crime writers.? How did you acquire this appetite for crime writing?


I?m a crime writer because I?m a crime reader. Mystery and crime novels are what I like to read the most, and because I love the genre in all of its complexity, it?s what I want to write. I suppose that because the genre is so varied, and so complex, it challenges me to try different things. As I said, the Klondike books are humorous, with a solid historical base. I also write a series of traditional police procedurals set in B.C. and darker standalone suspense set in Ontario. Hard to say why I?m so prolific. Maybe I have no life? Actually, what probably explains it is that my children are adults, I no longer have to work at a regular job and I don?t have a TV.


Many great writers (Pierre Berton, Robert Service, Jack London, Edith Josie) have lived and breathed the Klondike to the point where the golden foothills of the north compelled them to write about it. When did your interest in the north start to take shape?


The idea for the series came to me several years ago when I was on a canoeing trip in Algonquin Park. I realized that we were doing for fun what our ancestors would have considered real hardship. Most of my trip mates were from Europe, and I told them about the incredible difficulties people endured in their attempts to get to the Klondike in search of gold. As I was doing that, I thought, ?That would make a great story.? The history of the Klondike is fascinating, the people who lived it incredible in many ways. Gold Mountain itself grew out of stories and legends of lost lush green valleys, sort of a Canadian Shangri-La.


Aside from the Klondike Mystery Series, you?re also known for the Smith & Winters Series. Tell us how you came up with your character, Molly Smith.


Molly Smith is a young policewoman in small town British Columbia. When the series begins with In the Shadow of the Glacier (there are now five books) she is still on probation. I wanted first of all to write a police series from the point of view of a cop on the beat, not a detective or senior officer. Because I have three daughters of my own I?m fascinated by the world in which young women today are growing up. Also, I wanted the books to be about family and relationships as much as anything else. Molly Smith?s parents are old hippies, American Vietnam-era draft dodgers, and I wanted to explore what happens when generational values conflict. The series has been optioned for TV by Brightlight pictures of Burnaby, B.C. so I?m very excited about that.


You majored in modern history at Carleton University. How has your degree influenced your writing?


I use history quite a bit in my books. The Klondike gold rush books, of course. All of my standalone novels have backstory about historic events. In Scare the Light Away and Burden of Memory, it?s about World War II, a war bride and a Canadian Army nursing sister respectively. My forthcoming book, More than Sorrow (due out in September) reaches back to the American Revolution and the Loyalist settlers of Prince Edward County, Ontario


Do you do any historical research for your books?


Lots and lots. The Klondike books are totally historical. I try very hard to get the details of history right, in so far as it fits within the story. There was not a single murder (officially recorded at least) in Dawson City in 1898. With the arrival of Fiona MacGillivray, there are plenty! One of the nice things about writing about the Klondike for a historical writer are the photographs. So many fabulous photographs that you wouldn?t have if the story was set even a few years earlier. In my suspense novels, the historical sections are flashbacks, not the main storyline of the books, but I still want it to be as right as I can make it. I try hard, but mistakes sometimes creep in.


How has mentorship played a part in your writing process?


Mentorship, as in someone helping me when I started out, very little. But since I?ve been published, the community of Canadian crime writers is something I cherish very much. They are a close, supportive, enthusiastic group always ready to help with advice and suggestions as well as solid friendship. And fun to travel to mystery conventions with. I didn?t decide to be a writer to I could make new friends and meet interesting people, but that?s turned out to be the best part.

Having said that, mentors and peer-groups can be valuable, and I would encourage anyone starting out to join organizations such as Sisters in Crime (men can join also), Crime Writers of Canada, or Capital Crime Writers if they live in Ottawa. Other cities have similar groups. I?d also encourage anyone wanting to write to start by reading. A lot. If you want to write, you have to know what?s being written.

Vicki Delany is one of Canada?s most prolific and varied crime writers. Her work includes stand-alone novels of gothic suspense, the Smith & Winters series set in the British Columbia Interior and the light-hearted Klondike Gold Rush Series. Vicki lives in Prince Edward County, Ontario.

Having taken early retirement from her job as a systems analyst in the high-pressure financial world, Vicki is settling down to the rural life in bucolic Prince Edward County, Ontario where she rarely wears a watch.

For more information about Gold Mountain please visit the Dundurn's website.

Buy this book at your local independent bookstore or online at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.

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