This is a guest post by M.H Callway
I’m a traditionally published novelist. My debut novel, Windigo Fire, Seraphim Editions, 2014, was runner-up for both CWC’s Unpublished and Best First Novel Awards. It was warmly reviewed by Margaret Cannon and even made Huffington Post’s list of “books for book clubs”. So what happened Why haven’t I written more novels?
The answer is that I’ve written and sold several short stories and novellas instead. But
why the shorter length?
Each of my works was sparked by an idea that refused to let go. Perhaps an oddity I
encountered in my own life or by a bizarre news item. Even a notion I’ve had since childhood.
One of the joys of my creative life is to explore these ideas and let them lead me down a
twisting path to a satisfying conclusion.
Did I mention that I’m a pantser not a plotter? Readers may find that strange for a
retired scientist, but writing freed me from the rigid thinking and prose of that discipline.
When I write, I let my characters do what they will, I never know what the final word
count will be. Mind you, I do tend to “write long”. Perhaps it’s because I love inhabiting my
characters’ worlds and I’m reluctant to leave them behind.
My novel, Windigo Fire, was a short story that became a novel. It’s set in the fictitious town of Red Dog Lake in Northern Ontario. My first job out of university was with a gold mining company and later, working for the Ministry of Health, I spent a lot of time up north. I learned that northern people are tough. They contend with poverty and a brutal climate and since police resources are stretched, they make and live by their own rules. My friends up north told me that local strippers routinely did the Full Monty – which led me to devise karaoke strip night as the weekly family in Red Dog Lake.
The spark that began Windigo Fire was a sad news item about a “canned” bear hunt.
Cowardly people will pay more than six figures for a guaranteed trophy killing where a poor
animal is restrained with no chance of escape. Canned hunts are illegal, but on a remote lake
island in Northern Ontario, who would find out? The story grew as I asked what if the hunters
became the hunted? What if they ended up dead? And what if my hero, Danny Bluestone, a
college-aged kid, who’d been fooled into joining the hunt, woke up to find that he’s the only
But after sharing the story, my readers worried about Danny’s fate. They connected with
him. I realized I didn’t want to abandon Danny on the island, I wanted him to survive.
Windigo Fire quickly grew into a novel with Danny as the protagonist.
And what about the villain? Many years ago, my husband and I endured a visit to Santa’s Village in Bracebridge with our then four-year-old daughter. (She loved it.) Bored to desperation, I imagined the gingerbread houses hiding a grow-op? What if the man playing Santa was really an arms dealer hiding from the law? That’s how Meredith Easter, AKA Santa, came to life. He runs Santa’s Fish Camp – and meth lab – in Red Dog Lake.
Another personal favourite is my noir short story, “The Seeker”, a novel that became a
short story. It’s part of the 2018 anthology, The Dame was Trouble by Coffin Hop Press which
contains noir stories written only by Canadian women authors and featuring only female
A relative of ours works for Air Canada. During his time off, he works for rich
snowbirds, delivering their cars to their winter homes in the USA. He told us that many of his
fellow drivers are retirees. A retired woman could do that job, I thought. And that’s how Terry
Snow came to life. She’s tough, knows her way around car engines and she’s old. She’s 62.
Contrary to bias, being over 60 does not mean that one is automatically senile and
infirm. I started “The Seeker” with Terry as the hero. In the first chapter, she nearly hits a
young man on a deserted New Mexico highway. He’s badly wounded and on the run from a
trick gone bad. She rescues him and all hell breaks loose.
I’d only written a few chapters when Coffin Hop sent out their invitation. It was easy
enough to reshape those chapters into a short story. Happily, readers enjoyed Terry’s exploits
as much as I did writing them.
One way to stay in your characters’ world is to write a series of stories about them. Dr.
Ben Amdur, a beleaguered civil servant, was the hero of one of my unpublished novels. I hated
to leave him in my filing cabinet. So after one of my IT clients shared some riotous tales about
a long-departed politician, I couldn’t resist. Amdur reappeared in my comic caper story,
“Amdur’s Cat”, which involves a stray cat, a stripper, a naked deputy minister and a lion.
“Amdur’s Cat” is one of the stories in the first Mesdames of Mayhem anthology, Thirteen. I’ve written a second Amdur story, “Amdur’s Ghost”, for the Mesdames’ tenth-anniversary anthology, The Spirit of 13, where he encounters a medium in an abandoned trailer park and ends up trapped in a truck by a rabid coyote.
M. H. Callway has written award-winning short stories and has been published in several crime fiction anthologies and magazines. She is the founder of the Mesdames of Mayhem, a collective of leading Canadian women crime writers and has been a finalist for the Crime Writers Association Debut Dagger Award and the Crime Writers of Canada Unhanged Arthur award.
Find her latest work on Amazon.