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Women Killing It at Death in Holy Orders

Women Killing It featured authors included Kim Moritsugu, Y.S. Lee, Janet Kellough, Gail Bowen, R.M. Greenaway, Vicki Delany, Caro Soles, Linda Wiken, Laurie Scott and Catherine Astolfo.

Story and photos by Sharon Harrison
A macabre meeting of killer women brought the second annual Crime Writers’ Festival to life over the Labour Day weekend. Women Killing It (WKI), held at several locations throughout downtown Picton, was the brainchild of local authors Janet Kellough and Vicki Delany; with Theresa Durning and book store proprietors David Sweet and Christine Renaud.

To whet appetites, several ads ran in the personals column of a local newspaper in the weeks prior to the festival and included, “How to succeed in business without really killing” and “Werewolf infestation on Labour Day weekend”.

“This is the second year of the Women Killing It festival. We just decided to do it to see what happened,” said Kellough. “We couldn’t believe the response we got last year, so there was no question that we’d want to do it again this year.”

“The rationale was that women mystery writers tend not to have places to showcase their work,” said Kellough. “Mystery writers are occasionally included in literary festivals, but they tend to stay away from genre and there just wasn’t anywhere where we could showcase our work. I said let’s just focus on the women writers because they do tend to get left out of things.”

Tea and treats

A genteel Victorian tea put together by Friends of Rose House Museum was held inside the sanctuary of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church Saturday afternoon. The sold-out event brought murder and mayhem along with delicious treats served up with tea in china tea cups on ivory linens.

Last year, the Victorian tea was held at Macaulay House, but proved so popular it had to find a larger home.

Once the murderous libations were under way, each of the four featured writers – Catherine Astolfo, Linda Wiken, Caro Soles and Y.S. Lee – who are among some of Canada’s best crime and mystery writers, spoke about their experience with writing.

Catherine Astolfo

“I actually prefer the term “crime” novel because a “mystery” implies there is a mystery that must be solved, but a crime novel can be a lot more than that,” said Delany. “A crime can happen on page one, a mystery can be standard puzzle mystery or it can be something the reader can try and solve by following the clues laid down by the author; or it can be a novel of suspense in which the character is not a detective, but is caught up in events beyond their control.”

Described as writers of lighter mystery who write in a variety of different sub-genres, each author shared some background on how their stories developed, talked about characters, research element and so on. Each segment concluded with the author reading from one of their books.

Catherine Astolfo is the author of the Emily Taylor Mystery novels, the stand–alone Sweet Karoline and the Kira Callahan Mysteries books. In 2012 and again in 2018, she won the Arthur Ellis award for best short crime story in Canada.

Linda Wiken

Linda Wiken writes Dinner Club Mysteries as herself, the Castle Bookstore Mysteries as Essie Lang, and she has written the Ashton Corners Book Club as Erika Chase. She was nominated for the Agatha Award for best first novel and has also been short-listed for the Arthur Ellis for Crime Writers of Canada best short story. She is a former mystery bookstore owner and she loves reading all the mysteries she can get her hands on.

Caro Soles’ novels include mysteries, erotica, gay lit, the occasional bit of dark fantasy and science fiction.

Caro Soles

“She really is a renaissance woman,” said Delany. She received the Derrick Murdoch award by the Crime Writers of Canada which is for contributions to Canadian crime writing and has been short-listed for the Lambda Literary Award, the Aurora, and the Stoker Award.

Y.S. Lee

Y.S. Lee lives in Kingston and is the author of the award-winning Agency novels from Candlewick Press, a series of mysteries featuring a girl detective in Victorian London. After getting a PhD in English literature, Lee realized her true love was historical detail, something she tries to make the most of in her fiction.

“Perversely, I like the novel writing process even better than I like the short story, and yet it is the short story that I have my awards for,” said Astolfo.

“I read a poet once that said the short story is a love affair and a novel is a marriage,” she said. “I like that because I cut two very hot love affairs apparently and I yet I do like a long, good marriage as well. I think the difference really is in the timeframe and in the commitment of time. A short story is exactly what it says: it takes less time to do than a novel obviously. It’s also focused on one thing, so there’s one character, one bent; it’s pretty much centred on that one thing in a short story.”

Even though the festival was dominated by female crime and mystery writers and readers, men were not excluded from attending the events and several bravely attended the Victorian tea.

In addition to the four featured authors at Death in Holy Orders, the Victorian tea welcomed five guest WKI 2018 authors – Kim Moritsugu, Gail Bowen, R.M. Greenaway, and local authors Laurie Scott and Janet Kellough, as well as Delany.

“Each author has been asked a question that we would like them to talk about with reference to their own work. Rather than just the usual deal where an author stands up and reads and talks about their own work, the authors are going to be talking about writing,” said Kellough. “This has proved to be really popular because there are a lot of people out there who are interested in writing and so this is a real opportunity for them to hear what the authors have to say.”

Kellough noted another highlight for participants was plentiful opportunity to speak with authors and ask questions.

“It’s a similar format to last year for the tea as it worked so beautifully and it doesn’t seem to be something that is often done at a festival. There is so much interaction and so much useful information; we really want to have readers interact with the authors.”

The three-day event featuring nine established crime and mystery writers began with an evening of table-hopping – a kind of speed dating for authors to showcase one of their books. This year’s event also consisted of a panel discussion and two writers’ workshops, one led by Gail Bowen and the other by Delany.

Delany noted that each of the events was named after a P.D. James novel and included In Murderous Company, An Unsuitable Job for a Woman and Dark and Deadly.

As a co-founder of the event, David and Barbara Sweet, owners of Books and Company were on hand to deal with book purchases.

“It’s interesting because at a lot of books events now, book sales are not necessarily a focus. You know you always have to have a book seller there, but this event last year and so far this year, the book sales are really good,” said Sweet.

“These people are very serious about their crime fiction – both the writers and the people who read them. It’s great news from the point of view of a person who loves books. These are people who still like to hold a paper book.”

Proceeds of the weekend go back to the community in what Kellough describes as “co-operative” events benefitting organizations. “We’ve had contests and we’ve had a quiz, so the whole event is really set up to be fun,” she added.

“Vicki and I are auctioning off character names Saturday night and the proceeds from that will go to Alternatives for Women and part of the proceeds of the workshops will be to the Library Building Fund, with today’s Victorian tea essentially a fundraiser for Friends of Rose House. Friday night’s table-hopping was in co-operation with Foods Not Bombs.”

Delany is pleased with the success of the second annual event.

“Many people have already thanked us for putting it on and people seem to be enjoying themselves. This event is sold out, the workshops were sold out and the evening events are bigger so more people can attend.

“We are pleased with our format.We think this is what authors want is a chance to mingle with the readers on a real one-to-one intimacy, and we seem to have achieved that and I am really pleased.”

Enjoying a Victorian afternoon tea at the Death in Holy Orders event at WKI 2018 at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church.

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