Saturday, April 18, 2015

Off the Cuff in Canada, with Canadians

Over at Dietrich Kalteis' Off the Cuff, talented crime writers, organizers, and editors from Canada talk about crime writing in that country, their discussion illustrated by a Canadian who lives in this country.

The participants are Jacques Filippi, Sam Wiebe, and John McFetridge, and the illustrator (photographer, really) is your humble blogkeeper, with the noirish shot reproduced above right

Talk turns to Canadian identity in crime fiction, and both Jacques and John (the latter of whose gifts include a flair for naming minor characters) suggest that Canadian crime writers can best get themselves noticed by writing novels that could be set nowhere but Canada. 

But Canada's immensely long border with the United States, and the cultural ties between the two countries, are part of Canada's uniqueness. That may be why a fair amount of Canadian crime fiction, including John's, Dietrich's, and Howard Shrier's, straddles the border and embraces the geographically equivocal position. That, I think, is part of that makes their writing special.

Elsewhere in the discussion, Jacques muses on clichés, and I hope he won't mind if I quote him at length:
"Clichés are usually bad, but hockey, poutine, maple syrup, the Québécois swear words and bad driving; our politeness; our bilingualism (when in fact we are bilinguals in only 2 provinces and part of a third one out of 10), etcetera, are all aspects of who we are. If some of these Canadian attributes end up in your story, should you edit them out to avoid clichés? I don’t think so if it’s not just decorative to your story. I don’t think Louise Penny would have the same success if Three Pines was a village in North Dakota, Wyoming, or any other states for that matter. Penny inserts some of the Québécois clichés in her novels, but they are clichés only to those who know about the Québécois way of life in small villages. To Penny’s readers, the so-called clichés are Québécois and Canadian ‘flavours’."
Finally, as I wrote in a comment to their post, Canada is by reputation polite, progressive, and civilized, and its crime writing has not had the international impact deserves. Sweden, on the other hand, is by reputation, polite, progressive, and civilized, and we all know what its crime writers have done.  Why is this?

© Peter Rozovsky 2015

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