Sunday, April 15, 2012


Lou Allin with Zodie, Friday and Zia
"Layering the landscape" by Canadian novelist, Lou Allin:

It's my pleasure to welcome Lou Allin of Vancouver Island, my first guest of the "Mystery We Write Spring Mystery Tour." Born in Toronto, Lou grew up in Cleveland, Ohio. She received a PhD in English Renaissance Literature and spent three decades in Northern Ontario as a professor of English. With a cottage on a frozen lake as her inspiration, she started her Belle Palmer series, featuring a realtor and  her German Shepherd, beginning with her first novel, Northern Winters Are Murder.

She has since moved to Canada's "Caribbean," Vancouver Island, with Friday, a mini-poodle and Zodie and Zia, her border collies, where her home overlooks the strait of Juan de Fuca. Her island series features Royal Canadian Mounted Police corporal Holly Martin.

Welcome to my mountaintop, Lou. Tell us about layering the landscape.

Prtega y Gasset said, "Tell me the landscape in which you live and I will tell you who you are." Setting is critical. I traverse, transpose, and then by working in layers, tranpsort the reader to my world once the wilderness of Northern Ontario and now Vancouver Island.

My first visit covers the bare essentials. Who and what. Conversation is at a minimum. Next comes scensory details, starting with sight. I don't write inch by inch, perfecting one sentence before moving on to the next. I visit and revisit the scene until layer by layer, the painting emerges. Each draft adds about ten percent.

Having four sessions enriches a territory. Northern Ontario has severe winters, but during the winter the lands opens for travel by snowshoe, skiis and snowmobile. Summer is humid and frantic with high temperatures and murderous bugs. Solid walls of rain during Vancouver Island's winters balance the forest fires of summer. The seasons change as I go through my drafts. Usually I come full circle. I always live where I write. The one exception was my standalone novel, Man Corn Murders, which took place in the red-rock desert of Utah. For that I depended on a month-long trip to the canyons.

My reference library includes  books on birds, animals, plants, fungi, geology, history, astronomy, fossils, everything important about my landscape. I've even bought topographic maps., I'd rather not construct a road where there isn't one or stick a river in the middle of a bog. Once I made an old brewery into a grow-op near an abandoned rail line designed to carry shipments of marijuana. I got a big laugh out of the aptly-named Budd car (a single coach with engine on board used in the far north).

My Clintonians don't bloom in early September when the yellow flower has become a purple fruit. April is the time for skunk cabbage. Salmonberries ripen before blackberries. Keeping a monthly plant diary helps. Nor do I want to make a mistake about local animals. There are no foxes on Vancouver Island, nor are there moose or grizzlies, but you may see elk and black bears.

Instead of the devil the angel is in the details.

The reader feels sweat evaporating on skin and the parch of desert wind, sees marten scat on a rock, hears warbles in the stillness, sniffs the reek of rotting seaweed, notes trees leafing in nature's  order, watches melting snow on branches turn into sinuous snakes and caresses granite. When the sensory experience is complete, the final process begins, suiting the mood the scene. Trees rub wounds on each other like two people in a distructive marriage.

Thank you, Lou.

At the end of the tour a name will be randomly selected from those who've left comments. One lucky vistor will receive a copy of Lou Allin's book, On the Surface Die, the first of her Vancouver Island series. Be sure to leave your email address with your comment.


  1. Fascination process, Lou. It's great to have you join the Mystery We Write Blog Tour.

    Jean, as always, great post. :)

  2. I had the pleasure of meeting Lou at Left Coast Crime and had dinner with her and my publisher. This was a wonderful post, Lou, loved your explanation of how you include setting. Great photo with your "kids."

  3. Love your dogs, and love Vancouver island. Great meeting you at LCC2012, Lou. Love your line, "Instead of the devil the angel is in the details." Very nice.


  4. You're so right about the details, and your post is fascinating. Thank you so much for sharing.

  5. Lou, you've convinced me I must come visit your part of the planet. I'll come in the summer, if you don't mind. I don't like snow and ice. That's why I'm living in Texas. The heat can be fierce, but you don't have to shovel it.

  6. That's a new twist, Earl! I may steal it. And we do talk about not shoveling rain. Islanders are smug about the rest of frozen Canada.

  7. Finally located this via another blog. Found your interview most helpful in understanding your writing. Appreciate your time. Looking forward to reading your novel when I win.