Bestselling mystery author coming to Morinville

By Stephen Dafoe

Morinville – You may not know the names Randy Craig or Janice MacDonald, but as of Nov. 27 the latter’s book about the former was ranked seventh on the Edmonton Journal’s top ten list of bestsellers. There wedged between Christopher Paolini’s fourth book in the Inheritance series and Julian Barnes’ The Sense of an Ending is Janice MacDonald’s Hang Down Your Head, the latest in her Edmonton-based mystery series, and a novel that sets murder among the Edmonton folk music scene and in the halls of academia.

MacDonald, who has written four books featuring her protagonist Randy Craig, is coming to Morinville Dec. 8, the final author in the Morinville Public Library’s Centennial Author Series. MacDonald, fresh off a writer’s tour of Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan, will be reading from Hang Down Your Head, talking about the mystery genre in general, and spending some time with would-be and developing writers. The evening will feature a one hour reading and talk by the Edmonton-based novelist, followed by a one-hour writers’ workshop.

The author said she is looking forward to coming to Morinville and presenting a workshop on fiction writing as part of her author visit. “I started out in this doing my thesis on detective fiction, so the whole clinical way in which detective fiction works is of such interest to me that it’s fun to talk about,” MacDonald said, noting when she did her Masters’ thesis, she had to argue the value of pop culture as a field of study. “I ended up having to actually defend my proposal rather than just my thesis because I was sort of ahead of the curve of studying pop culture. It was considered sub-literary, and I had to prove that it was of value to study. Now of course they have courses on Star Trek.”

While universities may have developed a love affair with pop culture, it is a love that has long been there for MacDonald, right along with her love of Edmonton, Alberta, folk music and solid story telling – passions she deftly assembles into one solid, page-turning package with Hang Down Your Head.

Like the three previous novels in the series, Hang Down Your Head features protagonist Randy Craig, a character MacDonald refers to as a reluctant amateur. “She’s not a detective by profession,” the author explained. “She doesn’t get paid to do it. She ends up being sort of a trouble magnet. She ends up in situations where there is a problem.” MacDonald said the protagonist’s only real contact to the detective world is her boyfriend Steve, a character who was introduced in the second book in the series, Sticks and Stones. “That’s her only real contact to the actual detection. Everything else seems to be that she is caught up in the circumstances.”

Although Craig is not a detective by trade, her skills in educational circles as a sessional lecturer and researcher all provide the necessary tools to solve the crime. “The whole concept of being an academic informs how she puts together her world,” MacDonald said, noting the character’s curious and logical nature forces her to try and solve the puzzle before her. “She ends up being in more trouble. She can’t seem to keep herself from poking around a little too hard.”

But though Craig has been adept at puzzle solving in the first three novels, always trying to sleuth out the likely suspect, Hang Down Your Head throws the heroine of the piece into the role of suspect. MacDonald said with the current novel she wanted to explore what would happen to someone when they find themselves in the situation of needing an alibi when they don’t have one. “It seems to me as you watch these detective shows on television, you find it’s always the guilty people who have these iron-clad alibies,” she said, adding the novel explores the problems the innocent have when faced with such situations.

Although Randy Craig finds herself in unfamiliar territory in this latest installment of the popular series, there is once again a bit of Janice MacDonald in the main character. “You write what you know,” the author said. “You write what you are comfortable with, and there is an element of a more idealized version of myself as graduate student and sessional lecturer wandering through there, I’m pretty sure.”

Just as MacDonald has shared a bit of herself with her readers through her character Randy Craig, so too will she share a bit of herself with those who come to her Morinville appearance, particularly her ability to craft believable characters in believable situations and settings.

“What I’d like to explore is ways in which people can examine the role of the detective, how one presents a detective in a fictional work to make him or her believable to the reader,” MacDonald said. “The funny thing about detective fiction is that it is so formulaic. There really is a recipe. It makes for a book that people recognize. Every one that reads a mystery novel knows what they are going to get; they just don’t quite know what the flavours will be.”

MacDonald said the workshop portion of the presentation will delve into the idea of how to recognize the recipe so writers can make the tweaks that are essential to making it their own.

MacDonald visits Morinville Thursday night fresh off a four-city tour of Winnipeg, Saskatoon, Calgary and Edmonton – all part of the Fictionistas Book Tour. Her Morinville appearance takes place at 7 p.m. Dec. 8 at the Morinville Community Cultural Centre. There is no charge for admission to the reading or workshop.

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