Friday, May 18, 2012

Phyllis Smallman - Accidental and Backwards

I came to crime writing like I did most good things in my life, accidentally and backwards.

I was a potter and in my mid-forties when I heard Peter Gzowski interviewing an editor from Harlequin. She said that Harlequin needed new writers for romances. I always had a secret wish to write but it seemed an impossible dream. Now, because it was a romance, I thought, “I could do that.” The fact that I didn’t read romances didn’t distract from my arrogant assumption that it must be easy, after all, “It’s only a love story.” In my head you only needed to come up with a plot-line, write it out a bit, and then some editor would polish it and I’d make a million dollars. I could probably write one of those things a month. So I started writing. And I started getting rejected. “Dear Sir or Madame...”

After I’d been rejected enough that I made a paper-mâché bowl out of the letters, I decided that if I was going to get turned down it might as well be for something I’d want to read. You see in my head mysteries were far harder to write than any other form of writing. Romances just needed a man and a woman and some little problem. Literary novels only required lots of angst and people who cared deeply. Plot was not required. But mysteries, ah, they needed plots and twists and dark deeds and life and death situations. Mysteries are a quest for truth and justice, a journey to right wrongs...important stuff. They also deal with social issues that affect every one of us, drugs, and mental illness and of course crime.

By the time I started writing crime fiction I’d accepted that I was never going to be published but I was well and truly hooked on writing. I knew I’d go on writing even if I never saw my books in print. My first mystery, Margarita Nights, eventually won the inaugural Ellis Award for Unhanged Arthur from the Crime Writers of Canada. This award is the reason I was published. I’m very grateful to CWC for that.

It turns out that I’m better at murder than seduction and accidentally and backwards I’ve come to the place I was meant to be.

“ at the top of her game in this fast-paced tale.” Globe and Mail
The Sherri Travis Mystery series was one of six mysteries chosen by Good Morning America for a summer read in June 2010. In 20ll, Zoomer Magazine picked the fourth book in the series, Champagne for Buzzards, for its summer cottage reads feature. Highball Exit will be out in the fall of 2012.


  1. Nice one, Phyllis!

    I too am better at murder than seduction.

  2. Phyl, you are indeed fantastic at seduction! Ask Lee. And please don't murder him. He is such a great guy.

  3. Well, I for one am pleased you gave up romance writing for the mystery genre. I love your stories set in Florida and also hope Lee survives!