I am honored to welcome my friend Vicki Delany as my guest for Tell Me Your Story this month. Vicki is one of Canada’s most prolific and varied crime writers and a national bestseller in the U.S. She has written more than fifty books: clever cozies to Gothic thrillers to gritty police procedurals, to historical fiction and novellas for adult literacy. She is currently writing the Tea by the Sea mysteries, the Sherlock Holmes Bookshop series, the Year-Round Christmas mysteries, and the Lighthouse Library series (as Eva Gates).
Vicki is a past chair of the Crime Writers of Canada and co-founder and organizer of the Women Killing It Crime Writing Festival. Her work has been nominated for the Derringer, the Bony Blithe, the Ontario Library Association Golden Oak, and the Arthur Ellis Awards. Vicki is the recipient of the 2019 Derrick Murdoch Award for contributions to Canadian crime writing. She lives in Prince Edward County, Ontario. If there is any lesson a writer should learn from Vicki’s story it is:
Never say No. (Unless you want to)
by Vicki Delany
Unlike a lot of writers, I never had a particular urge to write. My career was a computer programmer and systems analyst. I was a programmer so far back we didn’t even have computers on our desks, but we worked it all out on paper and then sent it off to be data punched overnight.
Ah, the good old days.
I loved that career. I loved programming, it was like doing puzzles all day long. But then, the entire computer world got more and more complicated and larger and larger and instead of sitting at my desk (later my micro-computer) alone and writing or typing away, I became part of a ‘team’. I am not a team player.
I started working for a big bank and that was definitely a group effort. The technology began to change so fast. It wasn’t that I couldn’t learn new things, but I didn’t want to. So, eventually, I became a systems analyst and I hated it.
What else, I thought, could I do if not this?
I have three children, and one year I decided to write them each a story as a Christmas gift. I wrote three little stories, with my daughters as the main character, printed them off and tied them with red ribbon. I was rather pleased with my efforts and thought maybe I could try writing for children and getting published!
So I enrolled in a creative writing course at my local community college. One day I went to a meeting of the Canadian children’s writers’ organization and came away knowing I DID NOT want to write for children. But I was enjoying the class and learning lots so I thought, what else could I write?
I like reading mysteries. Maybe I can write a mystery novel.
And so I did. I continued taking classes and I continued writing that book. It took me four years and it was called Whiteout. Whiteout was eventually published by a teeny tiny local publishing company, so I don’t count it in my number of books published. But it was written. If you search really hard you can probably find it. Somewhere. But I don’t think it’s all that good, and it never had a proper editor. So read at your own risk.
But the book was done, and my course was set. I would be a crime writer.
And the dream became the reality. I kept writing and I eventually was lucky enough to be published by Poisoned Pen Press, who also published our lovely host on this blog, Donis. I wrote several more books for them while I was still working full time at the bank. A couple of books that are not international bestsellers don’t provide one with a living, let me tell you.
But eventually, I was able to take early retirement from the bank and devote myself full time to writing.
My first novels were psychological suspense. The sort of thing that’s so popular these days. I was ahead of the curve! Scare the Light Away and Burden of Memory did moderately well, but series books were in, and so my editor at PPP suggested I try a series. And so I did. I wrote eight books in the Constable Molly Smith series set in a small town in the interior of British Columbia and those books did very well.
One of the things I attribute my success to, is that I’m not restricted to any sort of format or style or even genre. My editor wanted a series – so I wrote one. I had an idea for a lighter series set in the heady days of the Klondike Gold Rush – and so I wrote that and submitted it to a small but highly regarded Canadian publisher., I heard through the writers’ grapevine about a children’s publishing company wanting to get into books for adult literary, and I thought, “I can try that”. And so I did – I have seven novellas published by the Rapid Reads imprint of Orca Books.
And then, I switched to writing cozies. I had an idea for a fun series, and I asked my good friend Mary Jane Maffini, a cozy writer, if she’d introduce me to her agent. Which she did. The agent said she loved my book BUT she’d never be able to place it. Sorry. That was the end of that, I thought.
A few months later, the agent, Kim Lionetti of Bookends, who I’m still with, got a request from Penguin for an author to write a work for hire. Kim remembered she’d like my earlier book proposal and asked me if I’d like to try for the Penguin contract. To which, to no surprise, I said YES.
I am not a believer in the adage, write what you know. I say, write what you want to learn. I’d never even been to the Outer Banks when I started the Lighthouse Library series, which might have been a drawback as the lighthouse and the specific location were part of the brief. I went to the Outer Banks and saw it for myself. And I wrote about it.
That first book, By Book or by Crook, turned into the Lighthouse Library series I write under the name of Eva Gates. Penguin cancelled the series eventually (after doing extremely well, I might add) but it was taken on by Crooked Lane, and I’ve just brought out book 10 in the series, Death Knells and Wedding Bells.
Now that I had the feel for writing cozies, I was off. I have written five cozy series. As well as the Lighthouse Library series, there’s the Sherlock Holmes Bookshop series, the Year Round Christmas books, the Tea by the Sea mysteries, and the short-lived Catskills Summer Resort series. Except for the latter, all are still going. I publish one book a year in each of four series.
If there’s a point to my story, or a lesson to be learned, it’s to be adaptable. I’ve written a lot of different types of books and I have never, ever, said No to an idea I thought doable and potentially enjoyable.
And that’s my story.