Tuesday, May 11, 2010

9mm: An interview with Lou Allin

Welcome to the latest instalment in Crime Watch's ongoing series of quickfire author interviews; 9mm - 9 MurderMystery questions put to a variety of New Zealand and international crime, thriller, and mystery authors. We’ve had some great authors featured thusfar, and I’m looking forward to seeing how the series continues to grow in the coming weeks and months. If you have any suggestions of authors you’d like to see answering the 9mm questions, please let me know, and I’ll do what I can.

For the eleventh in this regular series of quickfire author interviews, I put the 9mm questions to Lou Allin, the Canadian author behind two acclaimed mystery series - one featuring realtor Belle Palmer and her German Shephard Freya, and another starring RCMP corporal Holly Martin. Allin is also the current Vice-President (British Columbia/Yukon) of Crime Writers of Canada. You can read more about Lou Allin here.

But for now, I’ll leave you with Lou Allin herself.

The Crime Watch 9mm Author Interview: Lou Allin

Who is your favourite recurring crime fiction hero/detective?
I'm going conservative here with Kinsey Milhone. Sue Grafton deserves all the kudos in the literary world for keeping her series running and fresh after over twenty books. So many authors succumb to sophomore slump, or even" jump the shark" with some prepostrous entry where Miss Marple rides into space. Grafton's first books are spare and as sharp, models of efficient prose. She has matured into a much more complex writer by introducing flashbacks, parallel stories, or multiple perspective. But whether it's book one or book twenty-six, I enjoy "hanging out" with Kinsey. That's a writer's highest compliment.

What was the very first book you remember reading and really loving, and why?
Back in Cleveland, instead of Nancy Drew, I collected the Hardy Boys. Fifty cents each in 1955. The first was The Tower Treasure by Leslie McFarlane, written in Sudbury in 1927 in a cabin on Lake Ramsey. By odd coincidence, I moved to Sudbury about the exact week that McFarlane died in 1977. It took fifteen years for his spirit to work on me to begin my first mystery novel. Lake Ramsey, now anchoring the town with its scenic waters, university, and major hospital, gets mentioned in each book.

Before your debut crime novel, what else had you written (if anything) unpublished manuscripts, short stories, articles?
I've written and published about 60 poems and 16 short stories. Most of these were in copies-as-payment literary magazines. But I sold one poem to The National Enquirer. Four lines about squeezing a toothpaste tube. I tried two bawdy limericks with Playboy, but they didn't bite. So I used the poems in two later books. "A wily old harlot from Akron....."

I'm proud to say that I have never written a book that wasn't published. Don't think that makes me rich, though. Small presses have a tough time, and small presses in "small" countries like Canada have an even rougher life. God bless government subsidies and the generous Public Leaning Rights Commission which pays an author yearly for making the catalogues in major libraries.

Outside of writing, and touring and promotional commitments, what do you really like to do, leisure and activity-wise?
In Northern Ontario, I used to do lots of hiking in the bush, camping, canoeing, snowmobiling, and snowshoeing. Here on Vancouver Island, where on the coast we don't have any more wilderness, I hike in clear cuts, what forests remain or on our beaches. Today we're going out geocaching, an activity where you find hidden "treasures," using a GPS. Our border collie pup is heading for the national title in agility. Zia, born in Washington State at Hob Nob Kennels, is a deceptively shrimpy superstar.

What is one thing that visitors to your hometown should do, that isn't in the tourist brochures, or perhaps they wouldn’t initially consider?
People who fly into Victoria miss the world's most scenic ferry ride. With the background of the snow-crested Olympic Mountains in the US and Mount Baker in BC as well as the picturesque Gulf Islands, it's the cheapest trip to heaven you can find. Other than that, I'd have them drive to Metchosin to visit the lovely rainforest grounds of Lester B Pearson College. They can walk to the planetarium at the top of a hill and get a stunning view across the Strait of Juan de Fuca. An owl may fly by, too.

If your life was a movie, which actor could you see playing you?
I actually thought about this when my first book was nearly optioned. Problem was, Margot Kidder was already twenty years too old to play my character, Belle Palmer. As for myself, I'd go with Shirley MacLaine. Red-headed, eccentric, up for anything. Wish I had the bones for it.


Of your books, which is your favourite, and why?
My best book is Murder, Eh? It also has the worst cover. I developed a serious back problem and had to pull myself out of it by trying to write five minutes a day at the computer. The rest of the time I lay around and plotted, waiting for five o'clock so that I could have my glass of wine and Oxycocet. I'm essentially very lazy, so I was forced to plan. Naturally I have now drifted back to my old ways.

What was your initial reaction, and how did you celebrate, when you were first accepted for publication? Or when you first saw your debut story in book form on a bookseller’s shelf?
I'd like to say that this was the most significant moment of my life, but honestly, I can't recall how I reacted. Recently I signed a contract with a larger press which gave me an advance seven times larger than my usual for a book one-seventh the length. That, I remember.

What is the strangest or most unusual experience you have had at a book signing, author event, or literary festival?
Once I drove 1200 kilometres to a literary festival, where I sold one book. However, they did give me a free room and supper. Lovely venue down on the St. Lawrence River on tiny Wolfe Island.

Thank you Lou Allin. We appreciate you taking the time to talk with Crime Watch.
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So what do you think of Allin's answers? Have you read any of her mysteries? If so, what did you think? Do you like Canadian crime? Thoughts and comments welcome.

1 comment:

  1. Craig - Thanks, as always, for this series. I'm really enjoyinig learning about all of the different authors. It's nice to "meet" a fellow dog-lovers, too : ). I have to say I know just whan you mean, Allin, about authors who "jump the shark." Some authors have avoided that; too many have succombed.

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