Authors, teachers, business-women, and so much more…
Our own Joan O’Callaghan presents a series of interviews with each of our Mesdames.
Madeleine Harris-Callway (M.H. Callway) is the founder of our author collective, the Mesdames of Mayhem. Her debut novel, Windigo Fire, was short-listed for the 2012 Unhanged Arthur award and previously for the Debut Dagger award. It will be released by Seraphim Editions Fall 2014.
Joan: What have you written?
Madeleine: I started out as a short story writer. My crime stories have been published in several anthologies, including Thirteen and EFD: Starship Goodwords (Carrick Publishing), Blood on the Holly (Baskerville Press) and Going Out with a Bang (Rendezvous/ Dundurn Press). They’ve also appeared in many American publications like Crimespree Magazine and Futures Mystery Anthology Magazine.
My dream, of course, was to write a mystery novel. I spent many years working on my first novel, which had numerous “near misses” in getting published. Eventually it ended up in my office filing cabinet though some of the characters found new life in “Amdur’s Cat”, my story in Thirteen.
Luckily I decided to continue working on the second novel in the series. It grew into Windigo Fire, which will be published by Seraphim Editions this October!
Joan: When did you start writing?
Madeleine: I have been writing since I was a child. My mother took me on a weekend driving trip to Jasper. We had to stop on the road because some tourists were feeding the bears chocolate bars. Even at age five, I knew that was a bad idea! When the candy ran out, the bears attacked the cars, including ours, slapping the windows and doors muddy. I couldn’t understand why my mum was so terrified – I thought we were having a terrific adventure. Later, I wrote up our story for a school essay and unlike Ralphie in the film, A Christmas Story, I did get an A+.
Thus encouraged, I co-opted my parents’ portable typewriter and churned out dozens of stories and plays, which my friends gamely performed. (I was destined to become a project manager even then!) Later on, life intervened and I ended up studying science and business though I never forgot my childhood dream.
Joan: Why write mysteries?
Madeleine: Because I don’t read anything else! I got hooked on Agatha Christie’s mysteries while I was churning out my doctorate thesis in organic chemistry. It felt wonderful to read a book for pure pleasure. I moved on to the works of Margery Allingham and Ngiao Marsh and tore through everything they’d ever written. I still devour all the works of my favorite authors – and hunger for more!
But to answer your question, there is a more sober reason why I chose crime fiction. In the 1980’s, when working for the Ministry of Health, I was assigned to the scientific team that investigated the mysterious deaths at Sick Children’s Hospital. That six months-long project changed the lives of everyone who worked on it. My boss, for example, left the Ministry to become a forensic psychiatrist: he and I had many deep discussions trying to understand why people choose to commit horrific crimes. To this day, I feel driven to understand the reasons behind criminal behavior though perhaps the answer will always remain one of life’s insoluble conundrums.
Joan: Why do you think people like to read mysteries?
Madeleine: I believe that mystery readers, including myself, seek to find order and justice in the world. Maybe at heart, we are still kids who love to see good triumph over evil, which, sadly, is not always the case in real life.
Joan: Is there a favourite place you like to write or ritual you go through when writing?
Madeleine: My creative juices refuse to flow unless I have complete quiet with no distractions. And that includes my disciplining myself to stay off the internet. (Amazing the weird rabbit holes my mouse will lead me to – from which I emerge hours later with no work done!) The Toronto Writers Centre has been a godsend for me. And when my daughter moves her junk out of her former playhouse, which has power but no internet, I’ll give that a try, too.
Joan: How do you balance writing with the demands of a day job and/or family?
Madeleine: That’s easy: I don’t! Making writing a priority is the only way. Lately, I consider writing my permanent part-time job: I leave the house with my husband, Ed, in the morning and head to the Writers Centre. This method really works for me.
Joan: What awards or other forms of recognition have you received for your writing?
Madeleine: The biggest thrill was my novel being shortlisted for the Debut Dagger in 2009 and for the Unhanged Arthur in 2012. Though nothing compares with the thrill of Seraphim Editions accepting it for publication!
Two of my stories have won awards. My story, The Lizard, won the 2012 Bony Pete and Kill the Boss, won The Golden Horseshoe Award, a contest held by the Crime Writers of Canada a few years before that.
Joan: What are you working on now?
Madeleine: I’m working on stories for two upcoming crime fiction anthologies: the first is for a crime fiction anthology to be published by Carrick Publishing in 2014 (title to be revealed). The second is for our next Mesdames anthology, Thirteen O’Clock, in 2015. I also have two novellas and two novels in the works.
Joan: As a writer, what is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
Madeleine: Actually, I received two invaluable pieces of advice from dear friends who are both talented and successful authors. The first was to never give up, because persistence is even more important than talent. The second was to set aside my first novel even though I’d spent years on it. Further tinkering was ruining it. To grow as a writer, I needed to start from scratch and put my energies into a new project. Recently I took a look at my first novel and realized that it needed a complete rewrite. I didn’t have the skills at the time: I needed to work for several more years to develop them.
Joan: What do you like about being one of the Mesdames?
Madeleine: I love the energy and vitality of our group. Nothing in life is better than being with your friends! It’s been my pleasure and privilege to work with a team of women as bright, talented and enthusiastic as The Mesdames.
During our readings, I noticed how much older women enjoyed what we as The Mesdames are doing. It’s a sad fact that older women are often overlooked in our society, so I’m delighted that The Mesdames can inspire and encourage other women to take charge and do even more for themselves.
Joan: Is there anything you’d like to add?
Madeleine: As the founder of The Mesdames, our collective has succeeded beyond my wildest dreams and our future looks even brighter!
Madeleine’s stories have been published by several magazines and anthologies. In 2012, her story, The Lizard, won the Bony Pete prize sponsored by Bloody Words, Canada’s national crime writers conference.
Her debut novel, Windigo Fire, was short-listed for the 2012 Unhanged Arthur award and previously for the Debut Dagger award. It will be released by Seraphim Editions Fall 2014.
Madeleine’s short story, Incompetence Kills, appeared in the 2012 anthology EFD1: Starship Goodwords. (Carrick Publishing)
Joan O’Callaghan is the author of educational books and short stories, including Sugar ‘N’ Spice in the anthology THIRTEEN (Carrick Publishing, 2013). Her short story George is available for e-readers everywhere, including Amazon Kindle.