Today I have Toronto author Sharon A. Crawford with me on Moving Target. Beyond the Tripping Point, Sharon’s debut collection of short stories, was released by Blue Denim Press in 2012. Her stories have been described by one reviewer as “dark, gritty tales.”
TOMORROW, join Sharon, Elizabeth Duncan, John Worsley Simpson, Caro Soles and myself at Du Café, a Toronto meeting place for writers and artists (885 O’Connor Drive, near St. Clair Avenue East). We’ll be reading from our books between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m.
Sharon, what inspired you to write the stories in Beyond the Tripping Point?
Several things. Some stories are rooted in my personal experience. For example, “No Breaks” is based on an incident that happened when a friend and I were driving to her mother’s cottage. She was at the wheel and the brakes failed. However, the two characters, Millie and Jessica, in “No Breaks” are definitely not my friend and me. I just turned the situation around with a “what if?”
And I am saddened and upset by bad things that happen to people – sexual assaults, murder, gangs, bullying, kidnapping. So I like to write stories about some of these situations, stories that have solutions, or at least in which the baddies get their just deserts and the protagonists solve the crimes, overcome their situations or come to some resolution and are able to move on with their lives. “Unfinished Business” is one of those stories; I used the neighbourhood I grew up in as my setting, but changed the street name.
There are also silly or overdone things I read in mystery novels or see on TV that I like to twist into bizarre, humourous stories with eccentric characters. One example is “The Couch,” the first story in Beyond the Tripping Point. Its main character is C.U. Fly, a young private investigator with too many clients who tries to downsize using conventional means. When that doesn’t work, Fly takes drastic measures. The inspiration? I was reading too many novels in which the PI had trouble making ends meet.
Why a collection of stories rather than a novel?
A few years ago, I approached the editor and publisher of Blue Denim Press about a collection of stories I had been writing (and in the case of “Porcelain Doll” rewriting) over a number of years. My mystery novel had been submitted to some publishers and agents a few years back. There were some expressions of interest, but the manuscript was always returned with a “no,” and it was sitting in the electronic version of a drawer. Anyway, Blue Denim Press was interested in the story collection and, in fact, I was writing and rewriting stories at the last minute (with helpful feedback from Shane Joseph, my Blue Denim Press editor). The unpublished novel has now become a prequel to the four linked stories that feature Beyond the Tripping Point’s fraternal twins Dana Bowman and Bast Overture, but it has gone through a major transformation. It is now undergoing another major rewrite at the request of my publisher.
What attraction does the crime fiction genre hold for you?
Lots. It’s my favourite fiction genre to read, whether in e-book or print, and that goes back to when I was a kid and read Nancy Drew and later Agatha Christie, and watched the old Perry Mason series starring Raymond Burr with my mom. Those were great characters, and that is one of the big attractions of crime fiction – what makes the characters, including the guilty parties, tick. And I like to solve the puzzles; I sometimes figure them out but I am often surprised. And in a mystery novel, no matter how bad the situation is, there is usually some sort of closure.
Do you base your characters on real people you know or have read about?
To a certain extent I do, such as in the story “No Breaks” which I mentioned above. Also Detective Sergeant Donald Fielding, who appears in some of the four linked stories, is loosely based on a British police officer I worked with when I was a clerk at Toronto Police Services in the 1970s. Sometimes someone I know ticks me off and I work in a character somewhat based on that person – perhaps his or her appearance, age and occupation. I did that with one of the characters in “Gone Missing.”
Who is your favourite character in Beyond the Tripping Point, and why?
Dana Bowman in the four linked stories is my favourite character. We have some similarities. We both have sons (although mine is now in his mid-30s), we are both short in stature and impulsive. But the rest of Dana’s character is pure Dana. She drives, while I don’t. And she is a PI and an artist, and I am neither. I can easily get inside Dana’s head and can see how she changes and grows each time I rewrite a story. This is something I have to watch in the prequel novel, which takes place the year before (1998) the four linked stories. But I already have ideas for a second novel about her.
What was the most difficult scene for you to write and why?
Several scenes were difficult, but I guess the most difficult to write was the scene in the club car of the train in “Porcelain Doll.” It involves the protagonist, Sarah Holden, her father Charley, and Elsie and Harold, the brother and sister who challenged Charley to a poker game with a large porcelain doll as the prize. Sarah is shocked by her father’s actions and attitudes, and what takes place in this scene will scar her for life. The difficult part was getting inside 12-and-a-half-year-old Sarah’s mind. I credit Shane for helping here with his feedback.
What research did you do for these stories? They’re fiction, so did you just make them all up?
Apart from what I mentioned above, my major research involved police and private investigation procedures. I was fortunate to meet fellow Crime Writer of Canada member Brent Pilkey. As well as being the author of three police procedurals (written from a police officer’s point of view) he is also a police officer with Toronto Police Services. He answered my police procedural questions and read one story, “For the Love of Wills.”
I also interviewed a few PIs. And for “Digging Up the Dirt” (my only gardening story – I’m a gardening fanatic), I referred to Writer’s Digest Books’ Deadly Doses: A Writer’s Guide to Poisons by Serita Deborah Stevens with Anne Klarner.
I worked for seven years at Canada Law Book, publishers of law resource material, where I proofread manuscripts including Martin’s Annual Criminal Code. And I once sat in on a civil court case in Newmarket, Ont., and nearly got myself arrested when I went up to talk to the court clerk during the break – about court procedure and his job, not the case itself. I was told that I couldn’t do that, and I could be arrested. But they let me off and told me to return to the public sitting area.
Tell us the story behind your book cover.
Blue Denim Press assigned a graphic designer to create a cover, and I was allowed to choose from two options. Fortunately, I chose the one the publisher liked. As for what the cover means – different people interpret it differently. But the yellow-and-black banner that runs down the left side represents police crime scene tape; the black background symbolizes the dark nature of most of the stories, and I think the italicization of the word “tripping” is self-explanatory.
I came up with the book’s title, Beyond the Tripping Point. The protagonists and other characters in the stories are all on life journeys, and they reach the edge or tripping point when something in their past catches up with them or something in their present situations brings them to this edge. They need to get beyond this point to carry on with their lives.
Tell us about your writing rituals. Do you have a favourite time of day for writing? Do you keep regular hours? Do you set yourself a quota of words or minutes per writing session?
I wish I could but, unfortunately, I have to bring in some money so I edit other writers’ books. If I had my druthers, I would devote myself to writing, teaching writing, coaching writers and promoting/marketing my book(s). However, I make Friday afternoons and any other weekday afternoon I can sacrosanct for my current fiction writing project. I don’t set a quota of words, but do set aside three hours or so.
As a writer, what scares you the most?
It varies with what is going on in my writing, but I basically worry about whether I am selling enough books. And whether I will get the prequel novel published and meet my deadlines. And whether I am getting all the writing I want to do done (and more ideas keep popping up) before I croak.
As a writer, what is your greatest reward?
People reading what I write and enjoying it – and letting me know. Selling my book is another big reward, as is sharing my writing knowledge and experience with other writers as an instructor and tutor.
Is there a single piece of advice you’d give someone who wants to write crime fiction?
Keep reading crime fiction books by many authors to see how they do it. And write and rewrite your novel or short story. It wouldn’t hurt to take a few writing workshops and courses, and join a writing critique group to get some feedback.
Thank you, Sharon!
A journalist for many years, Sharon now writes fiction about murder, kidnapping, and other nefarious deeds. Sharon reviews books for Quill & Quire and The Prairie Journal, and she is a book editor and writing instructor. She runs the East End Writers’ Group, and is writer-in-residence at Canadian Authors Toronto Branch. Sharon is writing a prequel novel to four linked stories in Beyond the Tripping Point.