After two fascinating exchanges with a writer friend in Australia, serendipity brings two more, this time with another friend who’s just published her first mystery and she’s in Canada. Eden Baylee and I ‘met’ through contributing stories to R. B.Wood’s The Wordcount Podcast some time ago. We’ve become regulars on the show and plan to contribute one or more joint stories at some stage. Eden’s been writing full-time since January 2010, producing literary erotica in the form of novellas and anthologies. Her new mystery/thriller, Stranger at Sunset, is her first full-length novel.
So, Eden, welcome. I knew we’d be doing an interview at some stage and the publication of Stranger at Sunset is a good excuse for it.
Thanks for having me on your blog, Bill. I’ve always wanted to come to Scotland, and this was the next best thing to boarding a plane and flying here. I’d always hoped that one day we might actually share a Scotch together.
Excellent idea. We’ll decide whose round it is later because it’ll include a transatlantic air fare. But let’s start with the fact that you’re a Canadian. Do you find yourself being absorbed into the writing world as ‘American’ or is there a distinct Canadian identity in crime/mystery or indeed in writing in general?
In Canada, we take literature seriously, offering prestigious awards for novels that represent our country’s presence in world literature. Despite this, we’ve managed to accumulate a list of writers who are well known in genre fiction, specifically mysteries and thrillers. Linwood Barclay and Joy Fielding are two authors I’ve read, and they’re international bestsellers.
Canadian mystery/thrillers have risen from a marketplace that used to be dominated by British, American, and more recently, Scandinavian novelists. The success of Stieg Larsson’s books has created an appetite for unusual crimes, remote settings, and diverse protagonists. I believe Canadian writers have adapted, but whether the location of the book is set in Canada or not is irrelevant. I’m an international storyteller because I have a worldview. I’ve written stories set in Thailand, Ireland, and my current book is set in Jamaica.
In Canada, access to the news has always been international. I’m a news junkie, and I love to travel. Both these factors inform my writing, so unless my story is set in Canada, you wouldn’t necessarily know I’m Canadian.
Okay, who are you then? Give us a wee bit more background. I know you were a banker for twenty years before you became a writer full-time. That’s quite a transition. Was it difficult?
It hasn’t been easy, but it’s been tremendously rewarding. I actually left my job after ten years to pursue a writing career the first time. I moved to New York City and immersed myself in the writing scene there. Unfortunately, not long after, I was diagnosed with cancer—talk about bad timing! It forced me to move back to Canada for treatment. The process of getting my health back took about two years, and by then I was no longer financially solvent.
I went back to work with the intention of staying just long enough to pay off debts – two years max, I thought. Who knew it would take another ten years before I got up the nerve to leave? My finances and personal situation were much better by then, but it was still difficult. I had a lot of fears associated with leaving and potentially becoming sick again. They weren’t realistic fears, but they paralyzed me nonetheless. Ultimately, what clinched my decision to leave was an even greater fear—that of regret. I’d rather fail than regret that I never gave my writing a real chance.
Yes, spending one’s time thinking ‘If only…’ would be very frustrating. So bravo for making the change. Would you say you have a particular writing style?
I’m not someone who deconstructs my writing, but readers seem to know my voice. My main purpose is to create a story that’s engaging and will keep the reader interested until the final page. As I’m a lover of conversation, many of my stories contain scenes with dialogue.
I stay away from too much description of setting and characters’ physical appearances because these passages bore me in books I read. I prefer to use my imagination to visualize a place and what a person looks like. This keeps me engaged much more than when I’m spoon-fed all the details.
But how about the change from writing erotica to a mystery/thriller novel – was that difficult?
Yes, but not because of the genre, more so because I’d never written over 30K words before. When I set out to write full-time, I started with erotica as I knew it well. I’ve been reading the genre since I was eleven, but I also knew I wouldn’t write it forever. I’ve always considered erotica best served as a short story or novella and never intended to write a novel in the genre.
I enjoy reading mysteries and thrillers. There are lots of nuances in them and different ways to tell a story. I’m not a ‘blood and guts’ storyteller, so I don’t have the stomach to write police procedurals or crime novels. My interest lies in the motivations of people. That’s why I classify my book as a psychological mystery/thriller, because much of it is based on intellectual mind games.
I always struggle to find my titles but you’ve chosen a good one – Stranger at Sunset. Where did it come from?
It wasn’t my first title. I had several others including: Strangers in Paradise, Strange Encounters, Strange Liaisons, and so on. I settled on Stranger at Sunset because there are several meanings the title can take. “Stranger” can be both a noun and an adjective, and it alludes to how we view others as well as ourselves. “Sunset” refers to the time when a pivotal scene takes place in the book as well as the name of the resort.
I tend to like double entendres and wordplay in my writing.
Well, I read and enjoyed it and you definitely seem at home with the genre.
… and that’s it for now. Next week we’ll continue with some more general chat about writing and Eden’s approaches to it, including the value of a woollen hat.