Wednesday, November 25, 2015

A Special Corner of the World

R.J. here. On behalf of Cathy Ace, who’s likely raising a glass to us somewhere on the high seas, I’d like to welcome Brenda Chapman as Cathy’s guest blogger today.

Brenda Chapman's first book, Cold Mourning, in the Stonechild and Rouleau police procedurals was shortlisted for an Arthur Ellis Award for 2014 crime novel of the year. Tumbled Graves, third in the series, will be released by Dundurn in February 2016. She lives in Ottawa where she also works as a senior communications advisor. What others are saying about Brenda. "I highly recommend the series. Chapman is an author to watch." Anne Hillerman, bestselling author of the Leaphorn and Chee series

Settings play a key role in mysteries. Where do your mysteries tend to be set and why?

Howling winds. Snow falling on maples. Leaves blowing across black roads slick with rain. The use of setting and climate are intrinsic devices in crime-writing, becoming a background character that enhances the reader experience. While my first novels have fictional settings created out of my imagination, I increasingly select real geographical locations that I know intimately. This gives the novels a flavour and realism hard to achieve otherwise.

I anchor all of my books in Canada, usually in my stomping grounds— Eastern Ontario with forays into Northwestern Ontario where I grew up. Cold Mourning, first in the Stonechild and Rouleau police procedural series, is set in Ottawa where I currently live, but Kala Stonechild arrives from Nipigon in Northwestern Ontario to join the Ottawa police force. She could be me, out of my element so many years ago, leaving my own small hometown Terrace Bay on the north shore of Lake Superior to make a life in Ottawa, a city of nearly a million people.

In Butterfly Kills, second in the series, I move Stonechild and her boss up the road a ways to Kingston, Ontario. I felt that Stonechild would be more comfortable in a smaller community and I’d lived in Kingston for a year when I attended teachers’ college. I loved this college city with a population of about 120,000 on the shore of Lake Ontario because living near a lake makes me feel most at home. I’ve since discovered that Kingston makes a terrific setting for murder and dangerous secrets. The city is known for its prisons, army base, heritage limestone buildings dating back to the time of Sir John A. McDonald, and sprawling university campus. The weather is changeable and varied, the lake effect very much in play.

Minutes from the forested countryside and neighboring towns, and bordered by the lake with its nearby islands, Kingston has become the launching off post for cases that take my team from Toronto to Montreal and all the small communities, highways and woodlands in between. This corner of the world provides a delicious mix of cities, small towns, countryside and wilderness to keep my characters from ever getting bored. A satisfying side-benefit is that I am easily able to widen the storylines to share the places that I know and love—to raise the Canadian experience with new readers outside our borders.