Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

On Writing, with Marc Strange

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On Writing, with Marc Strange

Open Book talks to Marc Strange about writing mysteries and the latest book in his Joe Grundy series, Body Blows, which recently won the Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best Original Paperback.

Open Book: Toronto:

Congratulations on winning the Edgar Allen Poe Award. Tell us about your award-winning book, Body Blows.

Marc Strange:

Body Blows is the second of the “Joe Grundy Mysteries.” The first novel was called Sucker Punch.

Joe Grundy is a retired heavyweight boxer, a journeyman fighter with solid credentials who once had the dubious pleasure of being knocked out by Evander Holyfield. These days he’s in charge of security at the Lord Douglas Hotel. In the first book, I set up Joe’s relationship with his boss, Leo Alexander, the hotel’s owner and alluded to the fact that Joe had once stopped a number of bullets meant for Leo. Whoever tried to kill Leo eight years ago was never found, and since then the man has lived in virtual isolation in the hotel’s penthouse suite.

In Body Blows, I reveal what happened eight years back, and how that event connects to the murder of Leo’s housekeeper, Raquel Santiago, a woman who had lived in the penthouse for a number of year, and whose relationship with Leo was closer than most people knew. In many ways Body Blows is a variation on a “locked room” mystery. The murder took place in a restricted location with heavy security. As well, it’s an “old sins have long shadows” exploration. For good measure I tossed in a number of sub-plots, parallel crimes, the ongoing feud between Leo and his two sons over business, Raquel’s background, Leo’s “other” liasons, previous marriages and an exiled child.


Did you have a specific readership in mind when you wrote your book?


The Joe Grundy books are aimed at mystery readers. Mystery readers are loyal and always on the lookout for new voices, and new detectives they can embrace. It takes time to build up a readership, but if you develop one, they’ll stick with you.


Where do you gather your inspiration from?


“Inspiration” is the least of most writer’s problems. [Stories] grow out of small ideas, news items, overheard conversations, song lyrics, practically anything. Stories are everywhere. The trick is being open to them.


Who are your favourite mystery writers?


How long a list do you want? If you write mysteries, you read them too.

A few of my personal favorites are:

Raymond Chandler, for the poetry. (read The Big Sleep)
Charles Williford, for his unflinching eye. (if you can find them, read Miami Blues, New Hope For the Dead)
KC Constantine, for the atmosphere. (read The Man Who Liked Slow Tomatoes)
John le Carré, for the tension. (read Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and The Little Drummer Girl)


Describe your ideal writing environment.


I create a small space for myself surrounded by some old and invaluable reference books, cork boards covered with photographs, notes and sketches. I write every night, late night to dawn, in my studio/office. Which is just about the same as every other office I’ve ever had – a desk plunked down in the middle of a cluttered but entirely functional semicircle made up of an easel and a drawing board, and paint and pencils, and a few guitars and a work bench and hand tools. When the word processing part of my head needs defragging, I shut it down for a while and paint or draw or sew leather or write country/blues tunes until the words start to come back.


What’s the best advice you’ve ever received as a writer?


You must kill all your darlings.

In other words, be ruthless. Those paragraphs you think are so pretty and poignant and literary - chuck ‘em. You can waste a lot of time trying to accommodate a piece of writing that, while beautifully written, doesn’t add a thing to the story.

And while you’re at it, get rid of most adjectives, most adverbs and any careless descriptions. A straight declarative sentence does more to connect you with a reader than anything else.


What advice do you have for writers who are trying to get published?


First: write something good. Second: find an agent. (Neither of these is easy.)

Sucker Punch was sent to Dundurn Press as an unsolicited manuscript and I got a rejection letter six weeks later. The second time it went to Dundurn it was carried by an agent. Big difference in how the book is treated and who reads and evaluates it.

There aren’t many literary agents in the country, but chase them all until you catch one.


What is your next project?


My newest novel, Follow Me Down, has just come out, published by ECW, and I’ve committed to writing two more for them. These stories take place in the fictional town of Dockerty, Ontario and feature an ongoing character, Police Chief Orwell Brennan. Right now I’m almost through the second entry in the series, Woman Chased by Crows.

I just finished a novel called Dauntless Jessie. Coincidentally, the narrator also lives in Dockerty, but travels to Hollywood, New York, New Jersey and, evidently, the year 1934.

After Woman Chased by Crows, there’s another Joe Grundy in the works, Fat Lip, which is well underway.


Marc Strange is a writer and actor. He is co-creator of the hit television series The Beachcombers, and between 1972 and 1990 wrote, directed, and/or story edited over seventy episodes. He has appeared in many Canadian and Hollywood feature films and television series, most recently ReGenesis. Strange is the author of Sucker Punch, a Joe Grundy Mystery (Dundurn, 2007) and Body Blows, a Joe Grundy Mystery (Dundurn, 2009).

Buy this book at your local independent bookstore or online at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.

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