I have a new short story out

If you like mysteries, I just uploaded a new short story (as J. A. Menzies, my alter ego).

SneezingAcct-ePubCoverJune201472I actually wrote this short story about eight years ago. I remember reading the opening at a Sisters in Crime meeting here in Toronto and watching them dissolve into laughter. Very cool experience. :) I don’t think I had an ending at the time. And then, when I eventually did finish it, I had no idea what to do with it. It wasn’t a thriller, there wasn’t a lot of suspense. It was a sort of comedic whodunit. Which is fine in a book, but what do you do with a short story?

So I put it away.

But it dawned on me recently that you can publish short stories as ebooks now. Although I’d prefer the name estories.

So here’s the cover. You can get it for 99 cents on Kindle right now.

Here’s the blurb:

Marilou Cannelli, a moderately attractive woman in her late twenties, dressed to match the thousands of other professional women in Toronto, strode purposefully along Danforth Avenue. After a quick lunch, she was in a hurry to get back to her office.

Suddenly she felt a sneeze coming.

After suffering from allergies for many years, covering her mouth while sneezing was a reflex action for Marilou. But as she raised her right hand, a knife thrown from a near-by alleyway embedded itself in the fleshy part of her forearm.

Marilou Cannelli was fortunate. If not for her good manners while sneezing, the knife point would have penetrated her heart.

While there was a lot of blood, the pitch and intensity of Marilou’s screams proved to anyone within several blocks that she was still very much alive.

Buy it on Amazon.ca

Buy it on Amazon.com

Check out my alter ego’s site

Proud to be a Canadian author who is Christian

iStockCanadaflagMediumI wrote this in March of 2005 when I was Executive Director of The Word Guild, an organization I co-founded a little over three years earlier.

I posted it here last year in honour of Canada Day, and because it’s still relevant, I’m posting it again today.

Although I’m no longer actively involved in leadership of The Word Guild, my desire to ensure that the voices of Canadian writers from the Christian faith community are heard both in Canada and other countries not only hasn’t changed, but has grown stronger.

The original article

The United Nations may say Canada is the 8th best country to live in, but I don’t believe it. Canada is still number 1 to me. Except possibly in one area.

As a writer who also happens to be a Christian, I would be much better off in the United States or even England.

Let’s face it, there aren’t a whole lot of Canadian Christian publishers driving up the price of my advance in a noisy auction.

Distributors have been more reluctant than eager to carry my books. And to date I haven’t had a single bookstore owner threaten to camp out in my yard until I grace his or her store with a book signing.

I believe I speak for most Canadian authors who are Christian when I say these things.

Since I have no intention of moving to another country, and since I happen to be not only an author but also the executive director of The Word Guild, I have been talking to a number of authors and other writers, and we’ve decided to do something about this situation.

And it’s not just about us, either. While we’d all love to have publishers and distributors and bookstores clamoring for our work, there’s more to it than that. We believe Canadians actually need to read our work.

  1. Canada is not the United States, or Norway, or any other country. Canada is unique. So are its writers. Uniquely Canadian. Happily Canadian. Politely Canadian. And we will speak to Canadians like no one else can.
  2. Canadian writers who are Christian are the most likely messengers for God to use to speak to the people of Canada. Not that we can’t learn from other people, but why would God choose people from other countries to speak to us when he can choose us to speak to us?
  3. Canadians are known throughout the world for their artistic quality. Many of today’s Hollywood superstars are from Canada. Many of the top musicians are from Canada. Many of the most renowned painters have been from Canada. Many of the best secular writers are from Canada. Stands to reason, many of the best writers who are Christian are also going to be from Canada.
  4. If God really gives gifts and talents for the benefit of the entire body and not simply for the individuals, then we all share the responsibility of seeing to it that the gifts of our writers, both experienced and new, are not wasted.

Cdn authors bkmk 100

It’s true that the Christian book publishing industry in Canada isn’t strong. In the past, Canadian presses have tended to be small, denominational or ministry-related, and lacking in the resources to do much promotion. Plus Canada is small in terms of population, so it’s hard for any publishers to have a viable operation without government support or other backers. As a consequence, Canadian Christian distributors have tended to work mostly with the large US publishers who have lots of books they want to sell to Canadian bookstores.

And if we didn’t have those books, our bookstore could be pretty empty. Or would they?

Of course, some Canadian authors, like Mark Buchanan and Sheila Wray Gregoire, are published in the US or other countries. But others, like Connie Brummel Crook, are published by secular publishers and therefore unlikely to be in Christian bookstores. And many, like Ray Wiseman, self-publish and then face an uphill battle to get their books carried by distributors or the bookstores. Still others have no idea what to do with their writing.

All I know for certain is that their voices need to be heard.

The original article then encouraged Christian bookstores to have Canadian sections, and encouraged readers to talk to The Word Guild.

By the way, the bookmark to the left is one I designed for The Word Guild around that time. Thousands of them were handed out to bookstores and readers alike. On the back was a list of some of the more prominent Canadian authors, most of whose names weren’t recognizable. I wonder if they would be recognizable today?


My thoughts 9+ years later.

In addition to my involvement in the leadership of the The Word Guild and Write Canada, I published as well as co-edited two Hot Apple Cider anthologies which showcased 60 Canadian writers, so I’ve gotten to know a number of Canadian writers first-hand. I was also a judge for the Castle Quay book contest some years ago. More recently, I was a judge for the Grace Irwin Award for three years. And I’ve talked in-depth with a lot of writers. Which means I can say with conviction that:

1. A lot more books written by Canadian authors who are Christian have been published in the past 9 years that were published in the 9 years preceding 2005.

2. The majority of those books have been self-published.

3.The quality of the books published, for the most part, has greatly increased.

4. I believe the typical Canadian attitude of thinking we aren’t good enough is gradually changing. We now tend to believe that we have something worth sharing. That’s a huge step!

5. There is still a lot to be done.

On Canada day, and throughout the year, we need to pray that God will open more doors and pull down obstacles, not only for Canadian writers who are Christian, but for all Canadian Christians involved in the creative arts. We’ve only just begun.


What do you think?

Has the climate for Canadian writers who are Christian changed?

What more could the rest of the Canadian Christian community do to support and encourage our homegrown writers?

How can we ensure that our grandchildren know about the Canadian Christian culture during our time?

Surprised by Oxford certainly surprised me

NJwithCarolynWeberI first posted this review in August of 2013 after picking up the book at the Write! Canada conference.

This year, I was present at The Word Awards on June 11th where author Carolyn Weber won the $5,000 Grace Irwin Award for the best book published in 2013 from a Canadian writer who is Christian.

In the photo, I’m on your left and Carolyn is on the right.

I thought I should update and repost this blog in honour of her win – which in my opinion was well-deserved.

If you’re looking for a reminder of the “first love” you felt when you first realized that God loved you, this is the book you want to read.

Surprised-by-Oxford_CoverFrom the website:

Surprised by Oxford is the memoir of a skeptical agnostic on a surprising journey toward a dynamic personal faith in God. When Carolyn Weber arrived at Oxford for her graduate studies in Romantic literature, she felt no need for God. Her childhood in a broken but loving family taught her to rely on reason and intellect—not faith—for survival. What she didn’t know was that she was about to embark on a love story of her own—one much deeper, more colorful, and more surprisingly God-shaped than any she’d read before.

From issues of fatherhood, feminism, and doubt to doctrine and love, Weber explores the intricacies of coming to faith with an aching honesty and insight echoing that of the poets and writers she studied. Rich with illustration and literary references, Surprised by Oxford is at once gritty and lyrical; both humorous and spiritually perceptive.

Organized according to the Oxford Liturgical academic calendar, Surprised by Oxford tells the real-life tale of a young woman’s search for—and eventual discovery of—purpose, identity, faith and what it really means to be human.

My impressions

Carolyn Weber, author of the memoir, was a speaker at Write! Canada this past June. I bought her book partly to be supportive, and partly because of the obvious reference to the memoir, Surprised by Joy, written by one of my favourite authors, C. S. Lewis.

When I picked it up, I’m not sure quite what I expected. I was thinking it would be kind of literary and boring. I do know I had no anticipation of the joy I’d have reading this delightful memoir.

Nor did  I expect to be taken back to my own university days and realize how much I miss the mixture of friends from all over the place, the heated and often late night discussions, the joy of growing and learning, and the absolute thrill of discovering people who not only loved challenging intellectual discussions but also believed God was much more than a panacea for the masses, and was himself so far above our puny intelligence that he could be trusted in every way.

About halfway through the book, I got out a pen and started underlying passages I didn’t want to lose.

Definitely a keeper.

The book is much more than a progression of what happened during Carolyn’s first year at Oxford. It’s also a delightful romance, showing her burgeoning relationships with both God and with a certain young man; for anyone who has been in a university where learning was the goal, it’s a trip into the past. It will entertain you, make you think, and give you a good deal of pleasure. Check out Surprised by Oxford.

Carolyn’s website

My current works-in-progress and how I keep them all going

Okay, this is actually pretty funny. The topic I was given was: “My current work-in-progress.”

blog-hop-for-writersBut I don’t exactly have a current work-in-progress. I have at least six. I suppose I could just pick one and tell you all about it. But instead, I thought I’d give you a glimpse at how this writer is juggling projects.

Spinplates1. My third Manziuk and Ryan mystery, Shadow of a Butterfly.

To date, the book is at 150,000 words and I’m currently waiting for my first editor to read it and give me his opinion on the plot and characters.  Then I’ll go over it one more time before it goes off to another editor for copy-editing.

Here’s a tentative description:

When an elderly member of an exclusive senior’s residence is murdered in an unusual manner, Manziuk and Ryan are anxious to catch the killer before he or she strikes again. However, they have difficulty finding anyone with both means and motive, even though they dig into the past as well as the present.

If you like my mysteries, you might want to check out my other site, http://jamenzies.com.

2. Part 1 of LoveChild: Reflections from a Former Ugly Duckling.LCPart1ebookcover72

This is essentially a memoir, but I also talk about what I’ve learned and how various things made me who I am.

Part 1, which take me up to age 8, is more or less written, and I’m currently going over it one more time before I send it to the editor.

A bit of a teaser:

As an adopted child, I honestly believed God had put where I was for a purpose. Only later in life did I realize what at least a part of that purpose was.

3.  In Time of Trouble, a novel about second chances. (Now titled My Brother’s Keeper)

This book has been updated and formatted for epublishing. What I’ve been doing is creating a new cover for both the ebook and a new printed version.MBKfrontcoverFINAL72Jan2015

As  you can see by the new cover here, this process is almost finished and the book should be available by the end of April.

Here’s the blurb for it:

Like Gary Cooper in High Noon or a tired gunfighter in a Louis L’Amour western, Shane Donahue wants out of the life he’s been living. But the only option he sees is suicide. When someone suggests he try God, he just laughs. Then he decides he has nothing to lose. But just as he begins to discover whether or not God can help him, Shane is arrested and charged with robbery and attempted murder (if the victim lives). Will Shane get a second chance at life?

More details here.

 4.  My four-book Circle of Friends YA series

TBOFprintcover72I’m updating all four books and putting them into ebook format.

I’m also working with a designer to create new covers for these books. You can see the front cover for Book 1 here!

The first book, The Best of Friends, is almost ready and will be out by the end of April.

Here’s a teaser:

As seventeen-year-old Glen Sauten gets caught in the middle of his new best friend’s obsession to date the prettiest girl in town, he opens himself up to major problems—some life-threatening, some life-changing.

 5. A new Hot Apple Cider book

HACbooks slider 400 x 200My husband Les and I are currently beginning the process that will lead to the publishing of the next Hot Apple Cider book, and possibly more than one.

If you don’t know about the Hot Apple Cider books, they are two anthologies that feature 60 Canadian writers. Nearly 90,000 copies of the books are in circulation. We’ve also recently published Discussion Guides for each book.

Hot Apple Cider: Words to Stir the Heart and Warm the Soul

A Second Cup of Hot Apple Cider: Words to Stimulate the Mind and Delight the Spirit

6. Blogs, short stories, and articles.

I try to write a blogs every couple of weeks.

At the moment, I’m also working on three short stories, all mysteries. One involves a murder at an ultimate Frisbee game; one involves the murder of a not-very-nice man; and the third is written from the point-of-view of a dog.

Plus last week I wrote an article for Mystery Reader, which will be published in a couple of months.

I also intend to start putting out a regular newsletter for subscribers to this site as well as subscribers to my other sites,  http://jamenzies.com and http://www.writewithexcellence.com.

So how am I doing all these things at once?

Seriously, it’s just like keeping a bunch of plates spinning. You give one a little push and move on to the next, and then the next, and so on.

1. Right now, I’m writing or editing the new book (either the mystery or the memoir) every morning Monday through Saturday. I aim at three hours but sometimes it’s more like one and sometimes it’s four or more.

2.  From roughly 2 to 5 PM, Monday to Friday, I work on cover designs, formatting, marketing, meet with Les to talk. Again, this may be one hour or it may end up being five or six.

3. I reserve my other writing (blogs, stories, etc.) for the evenings.

And when I complete these projects, I have several others waiting their turn.

If you want to be informed about what I’m working on and what’s coming out when, please subscribe to my newsletter. (See below or go to this page.) When you subscribe, you’ll also get a free ebook!


If you want to know what projects other writers are working on, click on the Blog Hop for Writers logo.

Thanks to Ruth Snyder for organizing this Blog Hop for Writers and making me think.

You can see Ruth’s blog here.

Join me on April 8 in Toronto where I’ll appear (as J. A. Menzies) with 2 other mystery authors

Three great crime/mystery writers (J.A. Menzies, Cynthia St-Pierre and Alexander Galant) will be reading at the Annette Street branch of Toronto Public Library on April 8, starting at 7 pm. The branch is located at 145 Annette Street, Toronto.

The event is part of the monthly “Mystery Mayhem” series which sees authors from Crime Writers of Canada read from their work and answer questions about their craft. The CWC is a national organization representing fiction and non-fiction crime writers.

J. A. Menzies small photoJ. A. Menzies small photoNJL 131 jean jacket red 2012J.A. Menzies is the author of Shaded Light and Glitter of Diamonds, classic British-style whodunits set in contemporary Toronto and featuring police detectives Paul Manziuk and Jacquie Ryan. Library Journal called her “a master of plotting.” The third book in the series will be out shortly. J. A. is the alter-ego of author N.J. Lindquist.

11736839-19111616-thumbnailCynthia St-Pierre has penned articles for the business and corporate worlds and co-written the novel, A Purse to Die For for mystery fans. As a mystery writer, Cynthia has received a York Regional Police Citizens Awareness Program certificate, presented and signed by Julian Fantino, former Commissioner of the Ontario Provincial Police. Cynthia blogs at vegetariandetective.blogspot.com.

5158053Alexander Galant was awarded ‘Finalist’ in the International Book Awards 2012 as well as the USA Best Book Award, for his debut novel: Depth of Deception (A Titanic Murder Mystery). He was also the historical researcher and ghostwriter for the novel “Dracula the Un-Dead” which was on the New York Times Best Seller List in 2009. Alexander has also written and directed award-winning short films.

nate website photo 3The evening’s host is Nate Hendley, a Toronto-based freelance journalist who has written a series of true-crime books.

Admission is free and open to the public.

For more information on the Annette Street library, click here.

For more information on anything else, contact Nate Hendley, VP for Toronto/SWOntario Crime Writers of Canada at nhendley@sympatico.ca

Please don’t make me choose – or – why I stopped talking to editors and agents

For 30+ years, whenever I talked to agents or editors, they’d ask me what I was writing.

iStock_000004773808SmallAnd I’d tell them. “A mystery.”

They’d nod and look vaguely interested.

But before they had a chance to say ask another question, I’d add, “And a novel for teens.”

And they’d raise their eyebrows.

“And discipleship manuals.”

By now they’d look like they might be getting a headache.

“And a fantasy. And a memoir. And a book for writers. And—”

At which point, they’d heard enough, and they’d interrupt me to ask, “But which one do you like best?”

My answer was always the same. “Depends on what day it is. And maybe what time of day.”

Their eyes would glaze over and they’d make some sort of remark about my need to choose, and our conversation would be over.

But seriously, all I have to do to get “into” a specific genre is to think about the story I want to write/am writing, and I’m excited. Okay, provided it’s not a news story, a press release, a profile, or a feature article. Yes, I can do them, and I can even do them well, but I don’t enjoy them much. I prefer writing things that allow me to insert my opinions. Or, as I usually say, “I hate having to stick to the facts!”

The odd, really brave editor or agent might follow up our conversation with one last question—something along the lines of “But which genre can you write best?”

And I’d shrug.

The truth is, I’ve won awards for everything from mysteries and teen fiction to various kinds of articles and even blogs.

At which point, the few who made it this far would give up on me in frustration. Because in the publishing world, writers are supposed to choose a genre and stick with it. Which assumption, in my mind, is silly.

It’s about branding and having a platform and, ultimately, selling.

The idea is that the writers’ names become synonymous with their specific genre.

When you think of Dr. Seuss, you think of children’s rhyming picture books. When you think of Supostit note genre choicese Grafton, you think of mysteries. Betty Crocker equals cookbooks. Terry Pratchett equals fantasy…. I’m sure we could easily come up with 100 names of writers for which we’d immediately know the genre they write.

But not every writer fits into a particular box.

C. S. Lewis doesn’t. The author of Mere Christianity also wrote the Narnia series and science fiction and The Screwtape Letters. Linwood Barclay wrote a humour column in the Toronto Star for many years before he became much better known for writing thrillers. And there are actually all sorts of  writers who use pseudonyms to disguise the fact that they write in more than one genre.

Looking at it from the other side, how may of us only read in one genre?

Not me, for sure. I’ve often said that my preferred reading material is a really good mystery, but the truth is I’m just as likely to get excited about a memoir, a how-to book, a blog, or pretty well anything, as long as it’s written well.

Actually, the only books I reviewed last year—because they really impacted me—were a woman’s memoir on escaping domestic abuse, a baseball pitcher’s memoir involving sexual abuse, a bunch of non-mystery stories by a mystery writer with a difficult childhood, and a memoir about finding God at Oxford. So much for my preferring mysteries.

So, can you get away with writing in a variety of genres?

Every writer is different. And every writer has a different reason for writing.

Obviously, If I were trying to support a family or even just myself, I’d focus, at least a majority of the time, on a genre where I could make the required amount.

Scratch that. Since the best way to make money as a writer is either editing or writing the types of things I like least (profiles, feature articles, technical writing, etc.), if I really needed to make money, I’d be either teaching writing or English. The truth is I already make more money speaking and teaching than I do writing, but that’s a different blog.

However, I’ve been fortunate enough to have a husband who not only made enough money to support our family but also encouraged me to write what I love, I’ve been able to have fun and switch genres without having to worry about the consequences to our bank account.

What genre have I chosen to write?

Well, basically, I decided some time ago to ignore the agents and editors who threw up their hands and just write whatever I want to write. Yes, I want to sell my work, but I want to write what I love even more. Maybe soon I’ll make those things work together. Or God will.

I do appreciate the one editor who really listened to me and at the end of our conversation, shook his head, and said, with sadness in his eyes, “We’re not very kind to our Renaissance writers, are we?”

Up until that time, I hadn’t thought of myself in that way. As a Renaissance writer. Someone, like Leonardo da Vinci, who dabbles in all kinds of things. But I love the comparison. And for now, it’s working for me.

Plus I’ve had so many positive reviews and comments for my efforts to date that I simply can’t stop doing any of them.

So from now on, I’m going to forget about genre and just say that my favourite stories—to read or write, in both fiction or nonfiction—are “hope-filled stories with compelling characters, intricate plots, subtle humour, and satisfying endings.”

If you want to see what projects I’m working on now, in a variety of genres, you can check them out here or look at the thermometers at the bottom of this page. Or check out this blog on my writing targets for 2014 and how I plan to hit them.


If you want to know what genres other writers prefer, click on the Blog Hop for Writers logo.

Thanks to Ruth Snyder for organizing this Blog Hop for Writers and making me think. You can see Ruth’s blog here.