Newly published crime fiction author Deryn Collier has always thought of herself as a crime fiction writer, even when she was working at other jobs and not writing.
Collier’s debut novel, Confined Space (review here), is now available in bookstores. It was written in Creston, before she moved to Nelson with her husband, Ron Sherman, a school principal, and her two sons.
Born in St. John, N.B., Collier lived in Ottawa before moving to Montreal for high school. She met her husband at McGill University.
Of course she studied English, right? Wrong.
“If I have one regret in life it’s that I didn’t do an English degree. I just loved reading and fiction and learning about literature. But I thought if I do that I’ll never get a job so I got a degree in Latin American studies instead,” she laughs.
“Crime fiction has always been my preference. I remember clearly when I finished Grade 2 my Mom gave me a Nancy Drew book for finishing the year — and that’s what I do for my own kids; I give them a book — and I remember reading that book the day she gave it to me, and reading the whole thing cover to cover and feeling like something just happened. I’ve loved mysteries ever since.
“I’ve always told people I didn’t have an ambition, that I didn’t want to be something. But I had that desire so early — I just squelched it. When you tell somebody you want to be a writer, they look really appalled, right?”
Collier pauses to think about why she is drawn to a genre that doesn’t get much respect among “serious” writers.
“I think it’s the resolution — the tension and then resolving the tension. In the stories there is always something impossible, it’s like this impossible puzzle. As I writer I have to solve the puzzle, but as I reader I’m not so interested in doing that. I’m more interested in, ‘How is this author going to solve the puzzle for me?’ So I’m not one of those readers who’s trying to be smarter than the author. It’s that restoring of order from chaos that I find so appealing.”
The last thought might contain a clue as to how she managed to start into a fiction writing career. She had been working at Columbia Brewery and finally decided that the urge to write might just turn into a lifelong regret if she didn’t get at it. So she quit her job.
“I started writing Confined Space an hour after I left the brewery for the last time,” she says.
But with two young kids at home, Collier had to reorganize her life.
“I gave myself a year,” she says. “I had to ask myself, ‘How am I going to make this happen? Because it is going to happen.’ I took time in every week to really look at that question, about how I wanted my work life to be.”
Eventually she settled into a routine, getting up at 4:30 or 5 a.m. and writing until 7. And she had the kids home all day.
Despite envisioning herself as a crime fiction writer, she never did write much for her own entertainment.
“But I do have Through the Foggy Lane, which I wrote in Grade 2,” she laughs. “My friend illustrated it and I still have it — a folded piece of paper stapled together. And when you are seven, that’s a book, right?
“Crime writing was always in the back of my mind, though. Like many writers I had a lot of jobs. Some of them involved writing and some of them involved spray painting loads of logs or counting beer, and they didn’t involve writing at all. But always in the back of my mind was ‘I’m not really doing this. I’m really a mystery writer.’
“When I look back I think I was working up to it for a long time. When I lived in Ottawa just before I moved to Creston I took a writing class, so the interest was there then. I do remember sitting down then and trying to write and feeling like I didn’t have it. I was in my mid-20s then.
“When I told my teacher I wanted to write mysteries she gave me the best advice I’ve ever gotten: ‘You need to spend 10 years reading mysteries.’ Just after that I moved to Creston and I went through the Creston Public Library crime section from top to bottom and, seriously, for 10 years.
“Then, when I was 35, with a newborn baby, it was like, tick-tock, it’s time. I can only describe it as a drive. If I hadn’t been so driven I would have given up. It was not easy. It got to the point where it had to happen.”
Collier wrote three drafts of Confined Space, then was fortunate to find a literary agent she respected.
“That’s when I did my happy dance!”
Two more drafts under the direction of her agent were completed and, five years after she started, Collier got the word that Simon and Schuster Canada was interested.
What for many years seemed to be a personal undertaking was about to move into the public realm. Simon & Schuster Canada is a division of CBS Corporation, one of the world’s premier media companies.
Was there a point at which she got discouraged?
“When you go to courses and spend time with writers, you see what the odds are — they aren’t very good,” she says. “I tried not to spend too much time doubting. I really just needed to write the absolute best book that I could for me. All I could do was put out the best manuscript I could and make myself as marketable as possible.“
She will continue making herself as “marketable as possible” this month, in a whirlwind of travel and promotion.
Creston will be the site of the first of three Kootenay book launches. On June 14, she will on hand to meet friends and readers, sign books and read from Confined Space at the Creston Valley Chamber of Commerce. Doors to the free event open at 6 p.m.
On June 15, she will sign books at Nelson’s Otter Books from 3-5 p.m. and will read at a ticketed launch and fundraiser for the Nelson Public Library at the Nelson Brewing Company. After a week of events in the Lower Mainland Collier will be back in the Kootenays at Café Books in Rossland at 7 p.m. June 23. Full event details can be found at www.deryncollier.com.