Liz Bugg

Liz Bugg writes the Calli Barnow Series, published by Insomniac Press. To date the series includes Red Rover, for which Liz received a Debut Author Award from the Golden Crown Literary Society in the U.S., Oranges and Lemons which was a featured book in the Vibrant Voices of Ontario Tent at Toronto's Word on the Street in 2012, and Yellow Vengeance which had a roaring sent off in Toronto last April as it shared a launch with Anthony Bidulka's new Adam Saint SeriesBesides mystery novels, she also writes shorter literary and commercial works. Liz lives in Toronto with her long-time partner.

I learned of Liz and her work during her appearance in the VLR Canadian authors weekend. I’m pleased she accepted my offer of an interview and I hope you will enjoy learning a bit about Liz and her work as much as I have.

AJ: When did you first start writing and when did you finish your first book? 

LB: I have dabbled with writing my entire life, but I only started to really get down to work in about 2004. That's when I began Red Rover, the first book in my Calli Barnow series. Even then I didn't expect that I would ever publish. It was a hobby that kept me busy during my summer vacations from teaching. I finished it at the end of August 2009, and much to my surprise it was published in October of 2010.

Photo courtesy of Michael Erickson, 

Glad Day Bookshop, Toronto

AJ: We both share a background in education. What subject did you teach?

LB: I was trained primarily as a Drama teacher. Later I received additional qualifications in English, and eventually I did my master's degree in Arts Education. Most of my teaching within the school system was in English and Drama, but I also taught some Music. I taught quite a bit of Drama on a freelance basis at places like Young People's Theatre.

AJ: You write mysteries. How did you choose that genre to write?

LB: I've always enjoyed mystery and crime shows. When I finally came out in the late 90s, a local LGBT bookstore recommended a couple of lesbian mystery writers to me, and I devoured their books. When I thought of writing something myself, that genre seemed to be the obvious choice. I really just wanted to see if I could do it.

AJ: I can understand that desire…I’d love to write a mystery, but don’t think I’m clever enough. I’m sure everyone would figure out who did it by the end of the first page. 

LB: I actually researched how to write a mystery, before I began my first book. While I was writing that book, I did extensive plotting diagrams just to make sure I wasn't breaking “the rules” or giving it away on the first page. It has become easier over time. Now I just keep everything in my head.

AJ: Where do you get your ideas?

LB: I get my ideas from everywhere: the news, people on the bus, TV interviews, my own life—pretty much everything is fodder for my fiction.

AJ: Have you experienced a mystery in your own life?

LB: No, I'm happy to say that I haven't. The parts of my life that filter into my books have to do with the emotional levels of the characters and their relationships with one another.

AJ: Do you ever experience writer’s block?

LB: I don't get writer's block in the traditional sense. I always have plenty of things about which I could write, probably too many for my own good. What I do suffer from, however, is a combination of lack of motivation and lack of self-discipline. I am the most productive, when I am the busiest in other areas of my life. For the last year I've had a lot more time available for writing, but I have written less than in previous years. I also write better when I'm in a public setting, rather than at home in my office. Just over six months ago I had major orthopedic surgery, which laid me up for several months. What could have been a productive writing time was quite the opposite.

AJ: I can understand that. I think anesthesia turns your mind to mush for months after surgery.

LB: I wish I could blame it on that, AJ, but I only had a spinal block. On a positive note, however, I met with a group of writers yesterday in a coffee shop to do some work. It was a very productive afternoon, and reinforced for me how well I work in public.

AJ: Do you work with an outline, or just write?

LB: With my mystery novels I never use an outline. Perhaps one reason for this is because the books are narrated in the first person. I just get inside Calli Barnow's head and live her life day by day, never knowing what will happen until it happens. Then, of course, I go back and do extensive revisions. That having been said, I always have a main idea or issue I want to explore in the book. Red Rover deals with the disastrous effects of parental homophobia, Oranges and Lemons examines Internet gambling, and Yellow Vengeance delves into child trafficking through international adoption.

AJ:  At what point do you work in the clues to the guilty person or to the resolution of the mystery? Don’t you need to plan those ahead?

LB: Sometimes the clues present themselves quite naturally, as I'm writing a scene. At other times I will go back and add one at a point where it would best fit. The more books I write, the less I worry about adhering to the structure of the well-made mystery. I guess I'm becoming a bit of a rebel, because I find that I like to experiment and give people something that they might not be expecting.

AJ: Is there any particular author or book that influenced you in any way either growing up or as an adult? 

LB: When I was at theatre school in England in my early 20s, I was introduced to Virginia Woolf and Thomas Hardy. One might wonder what relationship their books could have to mystery novels, but Woolf's use of stream of consciousness, and Hardy's cinematographic method of description have both influenced my writing.

AJ: Can you tell us about your challenges in getting your first book published?

LB: I'm almost embarrassed to say that I faced no challenges. As I was nearing the end of my draft of Red Rover, I began researching publishers. I made a shortlist based on how well I thought I might fit with what they were publishing. I then sent a query email directly to an editor at my number one company, based on what I knew of her background. As it turned out, my research paid off, and my book was accepted.

AJ: If you had to go back and do it all over, is there any aspect of your novel or getting it published that you would change? 

LB: This is a tough question. I have learned so much about writing, and about the publishing industry in the last few years. Without getting into detail I will say this: at times I think I would make different choices, if I had to do it over again. On the other hand, however, making different choices might not have had the positive results I imagine. The main thing is to make use of your past experiences when moving forward. At the moment, I am at a crossroads with my writing. I'm not quite sure which direction I will take, but I'm not rushing it. It's exciting to have options. Four years ago I had no idea that many of the options even existed.

AJ: How do you market your work?

LB: I don't market my books as effectively as I should. I do live readings, when the opportunities arise. I seem to spend a lot of time on social media (Twitter, Facebook, website etc.), but I'm not sure how much that helps. I also do interviews like this one, for which I am very grateful. It would be wonderful to have a professional promoter, but that's not a possibility at the moment. My books are, however, available in many bookstores in Canada, as well as with almost every Internet bookseller.

AJ: What avenues have you found to work best for your genre? 

LB: Because my books are mysteries with a lesbian protagonist, I am able to be active in two different avenues (lgbt and crime). Glad Day Bookshop in Toronto (the oldest lgbt bookstore in the world) and Crime Writers of Canada have both been huge supporters of my work through readings and sales.

AJ: Can you tell us about your upcoming book?

LB: As I said, I am at a crossroads right now. My only work in progress is something I've been toying with intermittently for the last forty years, my grandmother's immigration story based on her handwritten memoirs.

AJ: Does it have a tentative title yet, and will it be a mystery?

LB: The tentative title is Sewn, simply because my grandmother was a professional seamstress and because she talks about the seeds of immigration being sewn. If I go with my original idea and tell the story simply and chronologically, there will be no mystery element. If, however, I add a multi-generational twist to it by including a totally fictional, present-day plot line, there will be a mystery.

AJ: I confess that I’ve yet to read your work, but I look forward to picking up one of your books soon. Which do you recommend I begin with?

LB: If you like to begin a series at the beginning, then I would suggest Red Rover. Although all the mystery plots stand on their own, Calli Barnow's life does progress from one book to the next. If you think that you might only read one of the books, I would definitely go with Yellow Vengeance. I believe it to be the best book of the three.

AJ: In conclusion, do you have any questions for me, or are there any questions I didn’t ask you that you wish I had?

LB: You've been very thorough, AJ. I can't think of a single thing to ask, or add.

AJ: Thank you Liz, for a wonderful interview. I very much appreciate it.

LB: Thank you, AJ. It's been my pleasure.

Contact Liz through the following links

PS Literary Agency


© JEN 2014