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Q&A: Crime Writers of Canada president Garry Ryan

Tonight, crime writers and their fans will gather at the Toronto Hilton to find out whodunit “ the winners of this year’s Arthur Ellis Awards.

In advance of the big reveal, Quillblog spoke to Garry Ryan, president of Crime Writers of Canada, the professional association that organizes the annual prizes.

What are the Arthur Ellis judges looking for?
Of course, you have the crime and the suspense, but character is key. When you get it right, some kind of magic happens.

What I’m noticing from the shortlisted novels is that they all seem to have unusual characters, like Ian Hamilton’s Ava Lee (The Water Rat of Wanchai (Spiderline/House of Anansi Press), Louise Penny’s Armand Gamache (A Trick of the Light, St. Martin’s Press/Raincoast), or William Deverell’s Arthur Beauchamp (I’ll See You in My Dreams, McClelland & Stewart).

I like the way crime writing reveals the inner workings of a society, and I think those books do that.

Does Canadian crime writing have its own identity?
There is a particular flavour to it. Take a character like Deverell’s Beauchamp. He fumbles through, but manages to get the job done. That is very Canadian.

Also, so many Canadian characters have roots from all over the world, like Hamilton’s Ava Lee.

Is this a good time for the Canadian crime-writing scene?
It’s growing. I think we’re getting more voices and becoming more recognizable but we have a ways to go.

With people like Peter Robinson, Louise Penny, William Deverell, and Robert Rotenberg, we have a healthy crop of talented writers. There are also a lot of up-and-comers. I’m looking forward to seeing what they will do.

How do emerging writers improve their craft?
We have a mentoring program at Crime Writers of Canada that we’re in the process of refining because we’ve been getting more demand. One of the most exciting things about my job is working with new writers; it helps my writing, too.

We also have the Unhanged Arthur Ellis Award (best unpublished first crime novel), and next year we’ll have a new award for novellas. With e-publishing, shorter fiction is becoming more popular, and we want to get ahead of that wave.