Volume 96, Issue 4

Thursday, June 13, 2002
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12 Questions
Still full of Soul

SOIA brings home the veggie bacon after all these years

Nipples nices, boobs better

Bad "Bitch"

Suzanne North: Canada's Nancy Drew

Vegas: a winning bet

Killer solves the Mystery

MacIssac fiddles with his fate

Suzanne North: Canada's Nancy Drew

By Mark Polishuk
Gazette Staff

"There isn't much funny about murder," says Canadian author Suzanne North, but this hasn't stopped her from writing an acclaimed series of comic detective novels.

Her latest book, Bones to Pick, is the third in a series featuring TV camerawoman/reluctant sleuth Phoebe Fairfax, though this is the first Fairfax novel since 1996. "Sometimes you need a little rest from a series," North says.

Born in Calgary, but now living in Saskatoon, North began as a freelance magazine writer and began her first novel, Healthy, Wealthy & Dead (1994), during a slow period in the freelance market. It was good fortune which led to her book being published; when printing sample chapters to send to publishing companies, North accidentally generated an extra copy. Rather than waste it, she sent the extra sample to the Edmonton-based New West Press, who ended up buying her manuscript and launching her career as a novelist.

While luck played a role in her initial success, North's novels have been successful because of her entertaining blend of mystery and humour. She says she doesn't write her novels specifically as detective stories, but as social comedies. "The detective genre is flexible enough that it allows for just about anything," North says.

Part of the comedy also comes from the fact that Phoebe Fairfax, North's sleuth, usually has no particular interest in solving the crime. "She'd just as soon be living her life, instead of getting involved in all of these crazy things," she says.

"The characters don't think that they're being funny," North says. "They think they are as normal as you or I. We as an audience have the distance of the dramatic irony to see how ridiculous they are."

Fairfax's job as a camera operator for a Calgary TV lifestyles program is partially based on North's observation that the cameraman had the more interesting job during her days as an interviewer for the CBC. Ironically, the host of the fictional TV show in North's novel is a ditzy blond, but North insists that none of her characters are meant as representations of herself.

"I try not to use characters as a mouthpiece. I'm a pretty boring person," she jokes. The character North says she most resembles, oddly enough, is Cyrrie, Phoebe's elderly gay uncle.

North says she has no particular influences, but is inspired by several different writers. "The job of a writer is to be a reader as well," she says.

The job of a writer is also to be a fact-checker. Bones to Pick is set in the world of paleontology and, therefore, required some research. One of North's sources was Western science professor Jisuo Jin.

Her next project, a non-mystery historical novel set in 1930s Calgary, also requires greater-than-usual attention to detail. Still, North relishes the freedom of controlling her own fictional world. "If I want to have the characters get the facts all wrong, I can do that," she notes.

North says she loves the freedom afforded by her job as an author and claims it is much easier than her former career as a professional horse player, adding, "If I spent as much time studying in university as I did studying the horses, you'd be calling me Dr. North right now."

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