Meet Vicki Delany
I know that your pre-writing career was in computers and systems analysis in Canada's financial sector—quite a world away from mystery writing. How did you come to be a published author and what drew you to the mystery genre?
People often comment on what worlds apart mystery writing and computer programming are, but that's not quite true. When I designed a computer system I had to know what I was going to accomplish and how to get there, before I even began. Much the same is true in a mystery novel. Who did it and why? Sort that out, and then you can begin. I read a lot, and mysteries almost exclusively. Perhaps I like mysteries because they have great characters, wonderful senses of place, and solid plots. When I decided that I wanted to try my hand at writing a book, it was natural to write the sort of books I like to read. I began writing my first book, Whiteout, when my children were teenagers—a bit here, a bit there on a Sunday afternoon. Then the children grew up and I had more time to myself, and then they left home and all my spare time was my own. I was still working full time at the bank, but I did what I could, when I could.
What is your writing process like? Describe where your work takes place.
I was rather stunned to read your interview with Roberta Isleib who says she works out ahead how many words she has to write in a day. Wow. That's organized. I write in the mornings, almost every morning, as I go through a pot of coffee. In the summer I take the computer out onto the deck, but this time of year it's in a room at the back of the house that I grandly call my office. I live in the country and my office window overlooks a field of wheat. I find that soothing. I heat the house with a wood-burning stove; the stove is in the office and sometimes it gets so hot, I'm driven away—which is why I have a laptop. I just carry it around. I only ever write at home, and only ever if I have a long stretch of time. I can't write when I'm travelling, and I can't write in snatches of time. That's just the way it is.
You've written 2 books in the Trafalgar series, In the Shadow of the Glacier and this year's Valley of the Lost. Are you working on a third or possibly a fourth at this time? Approximately how long does it take you to write one of these mysteries?
The publishing business speeds on ahead of us. The third book, Winter of Secrets, will be out in December. I'm now working on the fourth, as yet untitled. It is my intention to write two books a year; each book takes about six months. I have to be able to switch from one to the other: I will be beginning book X when book Y comes back from the editor for rewrites, so book X will be abandoned for a while, and then book Z will be ready for proofreading. The process is even more complicated and demanding now that I'm going to be doing two series at once.
Did you set out to write a series? If so, have you considered how far you want to take it? Is there a master plan for Constable Molly Smith and Sergeant Winters?
The Smith and Winters books were always intended to be a series. I'd written stand-alones before, and decided it was time to try my hand at a series. There is a master plan, which ends in Book Four, meaning that there will be more books (hopefully, Poisoned Pen will want to publish them and readers will want to read them) but I don't know where they'll go. The mystery is very much self-contained in each book, but a few threads are drawn out from one book to the next: the Mountie who likes Molly Smith; her grief over the death of her fiancÚ; the evil Charlie Bassing—going to jail and then coming back; Lucky's marriage and her relationship with the Chief Constable.
I noticed a marked development in your central characters from the first to the second book. There's more personal back story that fleshes them out—I liked that. Do you anticipate one or the other taking center stage in a subsequent book, perhaps in a more personal way, outside of the case they might be working on? Can you see spinning either of them off into another series or individual book?
I don't see Smith and Winters ever being spun off. They are very, very different people and I think their contrasts play off well against each other. Winters' stable, happy marriage, for example, is meant to contrast Smith's tumultuous emotional life. As for personal lives—oh yes. It all comes to a head in Book Four.
You're from Winnipeg and currently live in rural Ontario. Both are very different landscapes from British Columbia's Kootenay Mountains. How is it that you chose that part of Canada as the setting for the town of "Trafalgar" and the series itself?
Trafalgar is a very thinly disguised Nelson, B.C., which is my favourite place in all the world. One of my daughters lives in Nelson, and I have been there several times. It's a perfect setting for a mystery novel. Like its inspiration, Trafalgar is surrounded by mountains, and very isolated. It is an eight hours drive to Vancouver or to Calgary, and the nearest city—Spokane, Washington—is in another country. The population is an amazing mix of long-time residents, people born and raised in the valleys and mountainsides; transients, neo-hippies, aimless youth, spiritual-seekers; and newcomers such as the comfortably retired, attracted by the beauty, the isolation, the artistic community, and the area's reputation for independence. Such a mix of people brings the potential for conflict, which is the key to any crime novel.
Can you give us a thumbnail sketch of your earlier works, Burden of Memory, Scare the Light Away, and Whiteout?
Those three books are very similar in style to each other. They are all standalones, all set in rural Ontario, all about a middle-aged woman searching for a new beginning. All have a dual narrative format—a story of something that happened in the past that is affecting the events of today. They are more psychological suspense than pure mystery. The protagonist is caught up in events, against her will, and is not trying to solve any sort of mystery.
And I see that you've got another book due out this year: Gold Digger: A Klondike Mystery, set in the Yukon's Goldrush days. There have got to be some exciting things going on with that backdrop. Any chance of a sneak preview here? Another series?
This is the start of a series yes. I'm very excited about it. It's meant to be light-hearted, and I hope very funny. Quite different from the Smith and Winters series which is more on the dark side. Gold Digger will be released in May. The series is published by Canada's Rendezvous Crime, so won't be widely available in the U.S. but it will be on Amazon and at mystery bookstores. Here is the official blurb:
It's the spring of 1898 and Dawson, Yukon Territory, is the most exciting town in North America. The great Klondike Gold Rush is in full swing and Fiona MacGillivray has crawled over the Chilkoot Pass determined to make her fortune as the owner of the Savoy dance hall. Provided, that is, if her 12-year-old son, growing up much too fast for her liking; the former Glasgow street fighter who's now her business partner; a stern, handsome NWMP constable; an ageing, love-struck, ex-boxing champion; a wild assortment of headstrong dancers, croupiers, gamblers, madams without hearts of gold, bar hangers-on, cheechakos and sourdoughs; and Fiona's own nimble-fingered past don't get to her first. And then there's a dead body on centre stage.
I imagine book promotion may be an arduous task. Or do you love it? How do you go about it? Your trailer for Valley of the Lost is great. Is this something you've done before? Do you do the usual book signings and readings, blog tours, etc.?
Book promotion is arduous and getting more demanding all the time. I have found that since I retired, I don't spend any more time writing, but I spend a lot more time promoting. That said, I love to do book signings and give talks and readings. I am going on a major book tour in the Western US and British Columbia in March/April. The schedule is posted at BookTour. I'm touring with my friend Deborah Turrell Atkinson who has a new book out in her Hawaii series titled Pleasing the Dead. Doing it with someone else will go a long way towards reducing the costs, and should be fun.
I'll no sooner get back from that trip than it will be time to get on the road again for Gold Digger. But for that one, I'll stay closer to home.
The trailer for Valley of the Lost is good, isn't it? I have a friend and blogmate, Charles Benoit, who works for an advertising agency, and he arranged it for me. So it's very professional. Short (at only 38 seconds) and to the point. I love it. If readers want to see it, they can go to Youtube and search for "Vicki Delany" or follow this link. It's the first trailer I've had done.
Any particular influences on your writing? Who or what inspires you?
I read a lot, almost all mysteries. I particularly like the British police procedurals (Ian Rankin, Peter Robinson, Susan Hill, and many others) and that's the sort of the feeling I've tried to get in the Smith and Winters series. I firmly believe that if you want to write you have to read, and read a lot. That's my one piece of advice to potential writers. Read.