They are ladies and, in the Canadian mystery world, they are legends. My holiday gift to you is a chance to hear the wit and wisdom of the Ladies Killing Circle.
Vicki: We've been asked to say a few words about the Ladies' Killing Circle. We are definitely Ladies, and there are six of us: Joan Boswell, Vicki Cameron, Barbara Fradkin, Mary Jane Maffini, Sue Pike and Linda Wiken, so that makes a Circle. As to the Killing part, we have killed many bottles of wine and cheesecakes in our 18 years together. We began as a critique group, with a mission to help each other grow as writers. We are possibly the longest running critique group in Canada, and definitely the most successful, with seven anthologies of crime stories published.
Q: How do you decide the themes and titles of each anthology?
Barbara: With lots of wine and laughter. Once we were sitting around Joan's living room in Florida, with the requisite Shiraz and Chardonnay on the table, and we were tossing about possible themes. None seemed compelling enough, until someone - whose identity was lost in the ensuing gales of laughter - remarked, “Well, you know, we've never actually done 'Sex'!” Hence Going Out With a Bang was conceived. So to speak.
Linda: We've also been known to toss titles around while in the car on the way to or from a gathering, while dining out, or sitting around the table at a critiquing session.
Vicki: There was the time we were hanging about on Sue’s cottage deck, and Mary Jane blurted out ‘Menopause is Murder’. Another book was born.
Sue: It's hard to imagine something this much fun could also provide a worthwhile service to the writing community. But it does. In each anthology we've included stories by new, previously unpublished writers, many of whom have gone on to enjoy success with novels and other anthologies.
Vicki: Not to mention our own successes. Barbara, Mary Jane and Joan have novel series. Sue edited an anthology, and I have short story collections and young adult novels. Linda is so busy selling all these at her bookstore, she hasn’t had a chance to launch her own.
Sue: Our book launches at the Library and Archives Canada are renowned for the crowds of fans we attract. Maybe it's all the food, wine and chocolate but we prefer to think it's our sunny personalities. Although we're pretty good at our computers, we're even better on our feet. Our ‘dog-and-pony’ show has been the feature entertainment at several fundraising galas around Ottawa, and even on the road.
Mary Jane: Perhaps it's best we not mention the time most of the group walked across the bridge from El Paso to Juarez, Mexico, for dinner and attempted to find a cab.
Q: How does being a part of the LKC make your writing life fuller and more interesting?
Mary Jane: Life more interesting? Well, for one thing, there's the look on the mail carrier's face when he delivers a piece of correspondence to the Ladies' Killing Circle Inc. Sometimes men step away from us, nervously. Life fuller? There are the many adventures we've had together, most of which seem to involve ladies' wear shops and restaurants, both well-known incubators of criminous ideas. We are fortunate enough to have two ‘traveling meetings’ a year, one in the Muskoka and one in Florida, as the appreciative guests of Joan Boswell. Our lives are fuller at the end of these get-togethers, in part because we never stop eating and we rarely stop laughing. No matter what the circumstances, ideas fly.
Vicki: I think the group made me a more efficient and prolific writer. We used to meet every two weeks. Since I had to drive for an hour into the city to get to the meeting, there was no way I was going to go empty-handed. So I wrote a new chapter or a new short story every two weeks.
Linda: Being a part of LKC has made me more focused in my writing and given me that extra incentive to actually write, knowing I'd have to face a critiquing session. The comments are usually not too brutal and more often than not, right on target.
Barbara: I was not one of the original six, but I had my very first publication in the inaugural issue of The Ladies Killing Circle in 1995. I remember rushing down to Prime Crime Bookstore and opening the book to see my name in print for the first time. What a thrill! And what a privilege to become a member of the "Circle". The critiquing is inspirational, but I cherish the friendship. Who else would debate the relative merits of gun vs. bludgeon over a nice bottle of Australian Merlot?
Joan: Thoughtful, even-handed criticism fostered my growth as a writer. Because we encouraged each other to aim ever higher I reached goals I might not have attained had I not been part of a supportive group. I also prize the friendship and support we provide for one another in times of joy and sorrow.
Q: In keeping with the season, what is the edible/drinkable Christmas treat you anticipate the most?
Joan: Being a writer I love Christmas letters, love finding out what's been happening in friend's lives and figuring out what they aren't writing about. Also love beautiful Christmas cards supporting charities especially if they feature dogs.
Mary Jane: Our special LKC Christmas lunch has great meaning for all of us and I always look forward to it. We look extremely ladylike (coifed and jacketed and necklaced) and make at least a half-hearted effort not to discuss the digestive turbulence of our pets in whatever elegant restaurant has been chosen. We also try not to speak too loudly of garrotes or guillotines.
Q: Do you have any tips about shopping, wrapping, gift-giving, entertaining, etc?
Vicki: Being a Virgo, I shop early and fast. I like to get it over with. Memorable gifts I have received include the corner stones for my grave, given by my practical mother-in-law. This year our son wanted to give my husband and I matching gift certificates to a fancy spa for a high colonic. For those of you who are wondering, the answer is yes; he wanted to give us a huge enema. Such a festive gift.
Barbara: I think the Christmas types have it easy! Hanukah is eight days long, a nightmare for parents with multiple children. When my three children were little, that meant 24 presents for them alone! Luckily, the perpetually penniless adults were cut back to one. Not a gravestone or an enema among them, I'm relieved to say.
Linda: Be sure to give a book to everyone on your Christmas list, preferably by a Canadian mystery author. Even better, an LKC anthology! Here are the titles of our latest four offerings: Fit to Die, Bone Dance, When Boomers go Bad, and Going Out with a Bang.
Mary Jane: Gift giving? We Ladies are all about saving the economy book by book. I think the best day of the year is Boxing Day, with a house full of food and drink, and time to sit and read. So, if Santa doesn't put a pile of Canadian mysteries in my stocking, he's going to have to watch his back. I have a head full of dangerous ideas and I'm not afraid to use them.
Linda: The best gift? I cherish our gatherings and the wonderful laughter that comes from a long and deep friendship...that trumps food (even wine) any time!
For those of you not familiar with Boxing Day, it is the day after Christmas, and no, it has nothing to do with fisticuffs. Back when wealthy people in Great Britain had a house full of servants, they, of course, never got to take Christmas off. So their holiday was the day after Christmas. One versions of how Boxing Day was named was that this was the day that the employers boxed up food and gifts and went around to distribute them to the people who worked for them.
It is also tradition in the British military that Boxing Day is the day that the officers serve the other ranks a holiday dinner in the mess. In our regiment of stuffed animals, it's a tradition we maintain. Fortunately, since they are in imaginary regiment, we get to serve imaginary food, so we can make it as elaborate as we want. This year, they will have the traditional imaginary roast beef of Old England, Yorkshire pudding, and all the tasty treats from cold poached salmon to trifle.
May your holidays be warm and filled with friends and families,
Merry Christmas and Happy Boxing Day from me and The Ladies Killing Circle