Deryn Collier’s Open Secret delves into the psyche of her characters living in the fictional Kootenay Landing — a setting that has the author taking from her surroundings and playing with what ifs.
Unexpectedly, yet happily transported from Montreal to small town BC life, Collier was inspired by the rural setting that features prominently in her Bern Fortin series.
“I never expected to be in a small town,” she said. “I find it fascinating… I still notice those differences all the time and I think that’s a lot of what I am playing with in my books.”
About 15 years ago, Collier landed in Creston and started “counting beer” at the brewery there. Working her way into the safety department, she ended up with an inspired setting for her first novel Confined Space along with the idea for Evie Chapelle’s character of Bugaboo Brewery safety investigator.
“My job took me to all the different parts of the brewery every day. I knew that building very well and was in parts of it that no one ever went to. In my head the whole time I was there, I was writing a mystery. That’s really what I wanted to be doing.”
Leaving the brewery “in dramatic fashion,” she found the strength to follow her dream of being a mystery writer, her genre of choice since reading Nancy Drew in the second grade.
“A lot of it came from knowing that was what I always wanted to do,” Collier said. “Once I finally made the decision, and made the time, it happened very fast.”
Becoming a novelist “goes against the current” and Collier heard incredulous comments like “but you had benefits.”
Having no regrets, the author has received accolades for her first work Confined Space shortlisted for the Arthur Ellis Award for best unpublished first crime novel. And she is even more thrilled with the next book in the series, Open Secret set to launch April 11.
Already receiving great praise, reading the book’s advanced quote by one of her own favourite authors Giles Blunt of Forty Words for Sorrow was a defining moment for Collier.
“It’s thrilling, really,” she said of his quote: “Open Secret boasts a nifty plot and, in Coroner Fortin, a fascinating protagonist who will likely be around for a long time. Deryn Collier is a talent to watch,” said Blunt.
Readers have been captivated by the main character Fortin, an ex-Canadian Forces commander turned coroner with a haunted past. Collier’s experience as a bureaucrat in Ottawa reading military documents from the Somalia enquiry gave her the “confidence to write about the military.”
In Fortin’s Open Secret return readers will learn more about his military and personal past serving only to deepen the connection to character.
“We are always trying to fix our men. There is so much about him that’s so wonderful and yet he’s damaged,” said Collier of Fortin’s appeal. “He developed over many drafts of Confined Space… I always had him as someone who comes from away and lands damaged in the Kootenays.” The love of a good woman might be all Fortin needs yet readers didn’t even see their lead character kissed in Confined Space. Whether his sexuality is explored along side the secrets revealed is something fans will have to discover on their own.
For the author, also a mom of two boys ages 9 and 12, keeping separate the dark fictional world of murder, crime and sex from her role as a parent is a challenge.
“There are some scenes in some parts of the book that I have to be away from home to work on,” said Collier. “I just can’t get interrupted by pancakes or homework if I am writing a really grisly scene… But like any mom, it’s a constant struggle.”
Already at work on her third novel, Collier is pleased at her developing writing style. Despite her first novel being aptly named Confined Space and her second Open Secret, the shift in theme wasn’t a conscious effort though she does take the reader from the brewery to explore more of Kootenay Landing.
The Kootenay-isms continue and locals delving into Open Secret will delight in the familiarity of a pot-based crime, something that was a challenge to research with industry folks being tight lipped, said Collier. Nelson police chief Wayne Holland gave her a lot of good insight.
“I wanted to explore how the marijuana industry impacts a town and all the secrets that are kept in that industry — it’s very visible in its impact but we don’t necessarily know the details or who is involved,” she said. “I got what I could and then I just used my imagination… I needed it to be real enough that it doesn’t pull the reader out saying ‘that’s totally unbelievable’ but I don’t need it to be completely factual.”
In her spare time — a laughable concept — Collier practices yoga, hikes and enjoys beach days with her family, all typical Kootenay pursuits. Also a gardener without a garden, the author lives vicariously through her character Fortin’s flourishing crops symbolizing his escape into the pastoral and “everything Kootenay.”
“I just have pots on my deck and each year I try to grow tomatoes and it just doesn’t work. I am a much better gardener in fiction than I am in real life,” she said.
Join Collier at the launch of Open Secret on Friday, April 11 at 7:30 p.m. at Oxygen Art Centre, 3-320 Vernon Street. The centre welcomes a $5 donation at the door.