Bloody Words, Canada’s crime writing conference, opens tomorrow. I’m looking forward to a weekend of murder and mayhem at Toronto’s Hyatt Regency Hotel, meeting up with old friends and getting to know new ones. But the weekend will be tinged with sadness because this will be a farewell to the annual event founded in 1999. Its organizers say Bloody Words 2014 will be the last.
One of the highlights for me will be a Saturday afternoon panel called Old Sins Cast Long Shadows. I’ll be one of five authors on it, and we’ll discuss how past wrongs impact present-day characters. This will inevitably touch upon “the secret from the past,” a convention frequently used in mysteries: the child born out of wedlock and given up for adoption; the man believed to have abandoned his family but who was really murdered; the fake will that cheated a character out of his rightful inheritance.
Secrets from the past can build conflict and generate suspense. But they also pose problems. A child born out of wedlock may have been shameful 50 years ago but that may not be the case today. And there’s the matter of telling the back story. How does a writer do this without dumping a lot of information on the reader? How does a writer drop clues without cheating the reader?
I like using sins from the past in my stories–I guess that’s why I was chosen to be on this panel–because I like writing about families, and families often have secrets to hide. At the very beginning of Safe Harbor, my first Pat Tierney mystery, Pat learns that her late husband Michael fathered a son with another woman. Talk about a shocker for Pat! That secret, when it came to light, rocked her world, and shaped the events of the novel. At the heart of Black Water, the second Pat Tierney novel, is an incident from the past that casts a dark shadow over several people in a small community. I won’t reveal the incident for fear of ruining the story for those who haven’t read the book. But I will say that my late mother-in-law gave me the idea when she told me about her days as a young mother in a small northern Ontario town.
Looking forward to hearing what my fellow panelists Michael Blair, Jake Doherty, Wendy Hornsby and Phyllis Smallman have to say about secrets from the past and how they use them in their stories. I know I’ll learn a lot from them.