B.C. Blues Crime fiction series: Interview with Author R.M. Greenaway

River of Lies: B.C. Blues Crime by R.M. Greenaway
Dundurn (March 14, 2020)

R.M. Greenaway has a hell of a way with words.

She’s firmly situated as the captain of the ship when it comes to stark police procedurals. Her B.C. Blues Crime series takes readers to the criminal underbelly of beautiful British Columbia, into the minds of twisted souls, and those committed to bringing them to justice. At five titles so far, including her newest book “River of Lies” and beginning with the gritty first book “Cold Girl,” it seems Greenaway is just getting warmed up. Each book in the series can be read alone or all together – another great reason to start on this series and slip copies into your home library. And let’s not forget her amazing contribution to the Noir series published by Akashic Press, “Vancouver Noir,” with her story “The Threshold.”

I got a chance to sit down for some virtual coffee with the author and tossed a few questions her way. Read our exchange below!

WHITEHURST: What’s next for you now that you’ve finished River of Lies, which just released this month?

GREENAWAY: Thanks, Patrick! I’m really not sure what’s next. The COVID-19 pandemic has shifted lives worldwide in horrific ways, and just following the news takes up much of my day it seems. Of miniscule importance, it’s also moved my publication date back on the book I’m now working on, “Five Ways to Disappear.” I got the substantive edit report back in early March, and was going full steam when I was told everything’s on hold. So my deadline’s been extended indefinitely.  

I’m still hoping it will be out there in 2021. “Five Ways” is the series finale, and once that’s complete, I’m free to work on a prequel, sequel, a whole new series, a standalone, whatever. I’m thinking of working on short stories for a while. Or maybe I’ll do like Poirot, chuck it all and grow vegetables. More likely I’ll miss my crew enough that I’ll bring them back for another round of abuse in BC Blues II.

WHITEHURST: What led to your first book Cold Girl and subsequent books: “Undertow,” “Creep,” “Flights and Falls,” and book five?

GREENAWAY: Lots of reading. I thank my parents and the mobile library van for first getting me hooked on books. As I got older I read crime series. I think the attraction of crime fiction for me is when bad things are fixed and characters work together to hurdle adversity it gives one hope; also, in a series, a sense of belonging.  

In my younger years I wrote stacks of adventure fiction (on foolscap, if you recall the stuff), then progressed to a Smith-Corona and specialized in angst. Then stopped writing when I had a son, aka responsibility, and moved north for work. 

But something pinged. I was out of town for work, in a hotel room in Prince Rupert with time to kill and an idea circling in my head. Got myself a cheap notebook and got started on what turned into Cold Girl. I still have that notebook with its first handwritten chapters. Neither the prose nor the handwriting are anything to boast about!

Author R.M. Greenaway with her latest B.C. Blues Crime novel River of Lies.

WHITEHURST: You’ve worn a few hats in your past. How did your former jobs, such as court reporter, inform your writing career?

GREENAWAY: As a court reporter I sit very quietly and listen to everything being said, type it all down, and hope to hell nobody asks me to read it back. In one of the first major trials I did, that’s just what happened, and in the worst way: the jury wanted a whole witness’s testimony read back from my steno notes, which took me hours to do. But I did get an ovation afterwards.

That’s beside the point. I think immersion in dialogue via the courtroom setting was good for me as a writer. Getting the two sides to every story was also great. And hearing testimony regarding crime scenes and police procedure, as well as checking out the demeanour of everyone from killers to cops to forensics experts, was of course very helpful. My mind is not hugely retentive, in fact it’s sort of sieve-shaped, but I think the essence of all that crime and punishment sank in.

WHITEHURST: Tell me more about your writing process?

GREENAWAY: Not as structured as I’d like it to be. I write a lot but then edit a million times before I’m satisfied. And then I’m only satisfied until it comes out in print, at which point I’m afraid to look at it. Which is dumb and cowardly, I know. All the same, I’d rather shut the chapter on what I can’t change and move onto the next.

I do count myself incredibly lucky to have five books and three short stories published, and hopefully more to come. I’m happy to receive mail from people who have read the series and enjoyed it. It’s surreal to know that I’ve transmitted emotion to perfect strangers through my own inner confabulations. It really is a blessing and an honour for an introvert like me to make that connection. 

WHITEHURST: What writers influenced you?

GREENAWAY: I grew up on British crime fiction like Ruth Rendell, but Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct is probably my biggest influence.

WHITEHURST: What advice would you give those interested in writing?

GREENAWAY: Try to figure out what lies within the books you read that makes you want to read on. For me it’s simple. In no particular order: interesting characters, grit, unpredictability, humour, and a dose of pathos.

The approach I think works best is to write for yourself first. Find your voice and don’t worry about getting it perfect. Or write for someone you admire, dead or alive. But at the same time, do a lot of reading and learning about the craft. And be open to criticism, internal or external. When you feel yourself improving, start putting the reader first. That last bit is some advice I received that seems obvious enough, but it made me sit back and think. And If you’re writing a series, like I am, envision the overall arc so you don’t introduce a bunch of subplots that you’ll have trouble tying up. The more work you put into the planning, the less you’ll have to put into rewriting and hair-pulling. See above, my million edits? That’s because I’m not a good planner. Maybe that’s because I’ve found that the story will often go where it wants to go, and the plan goes out the window.

Be sure to grab a copy of Vancouver Noir, edited by Sam Wiebe, while you’re collecting Greenaway’s other titles.

On the housekeeping side, get your virtual filing cabinet in order sooner than later. You’re going to end up with dozens of folders, some hard to classify; i.e. it’s handy to keep group photos from events in one place, maybe separated from photos of “now just me”, then there’s your blurbs and bios and all their incarnations, correspondence with readers, resource material collected, character studies…. no end to the folders it’s good to have ready so you can find items when needed.

And then have faith.

More about R.M. Greenaway:

R.M. began writing crime fiction on a Greyhound while northbound to Prince Rupert, in a blizzard. Street names became character names as the bus passed through towns and villages, and the blizzard became the setting for her first book. Cold Girl won the 2014 Arthur Ellis Award for best unpublished novel, which led to her ongoing B.C. Blues Crime series, published by Dundurn Press. Fifth in the series, River of Lies, was released in March 2020 in the midst of a pandemic. In 2018 two of her short stories were also published: The Threshold and Rozotica. If you’d like to know more or get in touch, drop by www.rmgreenaway.com. She’d love to hear from you!

Visit her online here.

Interview with Clean Sweep author Michael J. Clark

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Clean Sweep by Michael J. Clark, ECW Press (March 13, 2018)

Not every day is peaches and cream. Some days are just terrible. But when you find a good read, it’s always peaches and cream. This was the case when I read Michael J. Clark’s debut crime novel Clean Sweep, out this month from the fine folks over at ECW Press. It’s all warm and fuzzy, in a violent crime-filled way, which is fine with me. Check out my interview with Clark below!

PATRICK WHITEHURST: There are a number of great characters in Clean Sweep. How did you develop them and how did you manage to keep them all straight?

MICHAEL J. CLARK: We start with Tommy Bosco. The good pastor is loosely based on a good friend of mine, a reformed smuggler with the gift of gab when it comes to his days of criminality. Just when I think he’s told me every story, he makes my jaw drop again. ‘Tommy’ just told me a tale about the night he was shot five times, and drove himself to the hospital. I’m sure there’s some truth in that story, be it ever so slight. Maybe it was only twice, maybe he was grazed, or it could have just been cuts from a bullet-shattered side window as he sped away. ‘Tommy’ has this ability to either make you love the story, or love the bullshit. If it’s all just bullshit, it’s the best bullshit I’ve ever heard, double album-worthy.
I’ve read many a police procedural in my time, so coming up with cops that were clean, semi-clean, or dirty/homicidal-for-hire wasn’t too much of a stretch. In retrospect, Clean Sweep could have been written as a police procedural. I decided to bring the fringe characters out of the shadows. Think of the guy who’s always loading a van while being questioned by a pair of homicide cops on Law & Order. Doesn’t he have a story beyond those crates? Maybe, just maybe, Man Loading Van is the story. Same with the person who becomes the corpse. The unfortunate stiff is always the last to know, right up to the point that the hammer hits the back of the shell casing.
In the case of Clean Sweep, I decided to ‘compartmentalize’ the various groups until the need arose to intertwine them. (Uh-oh, I think I’ve got a touch of ‘Tommy’s’ bullshit creeping in here). Keeping the various characters/groups where I needed them to be meant that there were only so many of them peering over my shoulder during the keyboard clatter. It was the only way I could handle it without turning into Jack Torrance.
I’m a huge fan of conspiracies. I truly believe that the development of ‘misdirection technology’ (that TV set you call a phone) is not only planned, its truly required to ensure shadowy success.The conspiracy I floated in Clean Sweep has its seedlings in the sandy soil of historical record in Canada. I just added the Miracle-Gro.

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Mr. Clark

WHITEHURST: A lot of writers listen to a “soundtrack” when they write, music that inspires their words. Was this the case with Clean Sweep?

CLARK: There are a few snippets of music in the book. I enjoy jazz, and I’m learning more about it, though I’m anything but an expert on the notes the musicians play, or the ones they don’t. The ‘music’ has more to do with the research, like watching reams of vintage YouTube that relate to the story. I could listen to British announcers reporting on the 1950 Manitoba flood into the wee small hours. I should mention that my second book is set in 1985 in Winnipeg. There’s plenty of music in that romp, and there had to be. (Silly haunted radios…)

WHITEHURST: Picture yourself plopped down at a seedy dive bar. What would you tell the bartender who asks what your book is about? It’s gotta be different than how you’d explain it to a publicist, right?

CLARK: Well, lets assume that I’m into my third quality scotch by this point, neat. “Well friend, Clean Sweep is about the Winnipeg that no one wants to talk about, but everyone knows is there, just like any town on the face of the earth. And do you have any more peanuts?”

WHITEHURST: Without giving anything away, what part of writing the book made you sit back and think, “I’m a rock star?”

CLARK: Rock star? I’d settle for Polka King right now. I think its when you come up with those fun little phrases, the ‘you’re gonna need a bigger boat’ nuggets. You wonder if they’ll have the same impact for the reader as they did for you.

WHITEHURST: Everyone asks this, so I will too. Who would you pick to be in the Clean Sweep movie?

CLARK: I’ve had the pleasure of knowing a few people in the film, theatre, and comedy world in Winnipeg. I’ve been enjoying the adaptation of Caught by Lisa Moore on the Mother Corporation, AKA the CBC. There’s such an incredible pool of Canadian talent to pull from. Kristen Kreuk from Burden of Truth could have her pick of roles. I’ve gotta get Adam Beach in there somewhere. Many of the characters are perfect for the abundance of character actors that abound. I’ve been a fan of Michael Ironside since Scanners. (A perfect Ernie Friday.) As for Pastor Bosco, I’m still thinking. ‘Tommy’ looks a lot like Richard Rawlings from Fast ‘n Loud. Hmmmmm…

Thanks for the great interview, Michael! Clean Sweep is available now. Get your hands on it here.