Brenda Mooney was born in Halifax, Nova Scotia and now lives north of Toronto. She’s working on a mystery series and a thriller series, simultaneously. Both are populated by characters who won’t embrace the status quo and don’t care who objects. (She wants to be just like her characters when she grows up, but cowardice prevents her.) Brenda’s life so far has been somewhat poorly executed, as far as she can tell. Her childhood was spent dreaming the dreamy dreams of heroism and fantasy, and that doesn’t work too well in retail. Her stories let her get away with murder.
She’s a big fan of the underdog hero. She’s working on characters who stumble into adventures and onto wild rides to forgiveness and redemption. She loves the smarty pants hero who is mouthy and impertinent, and stupidly courageous in defense of the little guy. Brenda is not (to date) a fan of cozies or political global destruction thrillers. She prefers protagonists with a personal life to solve, who do an end run around almost anything because they don’t know they can’t. That’s what she’s trying to learn to put down on paper. It’s a challenge, so give her a few years. She chooses to stretch the genres a bit along on the way, so that means it’s going to take longer to get someone to notice her.
Books on the shelf include Robert B. Parker for saucy dialogue and amazing pacing, Phillippa Gregory for lush, gritty history, Anita Shreve for paralyzing tension in relationships, Sophie Kinsella for laughs. She loves those caper stories, those gang stories with humor, like Westlake did. Like OCEAN’S ELEVEN. Brenda dreams of her very own gang and she’s trying for it in COMPASS. Lately she’s reading the classics and the archetypes for their poetry and language. It’s good practise.
Absolute favorite writer in the whole wide world? The sadly deceased Ed McBain/Evan Hunter (her HERO) for tension, tension, tension–and incredible characters and plotting. The man was a genius and she’s broken hearted that the 87th Precinct is no more. Someone else needs to learn to write like him…
Brenda never obtained a University degree, although it was not for lack of trying. Her quest for useless knowledge included enrollment migration through various majors in English, French, Drama, Fine Art, Biology (yes), and Creative Writing. All for naught. Her Grade 12 Typing Course is probably the greatest educational asset she has yet acquired. She has a decent mind but it’s been changed so many times there’s some doubt about its potential for greatness.
Brenda’s publishing career started with a robin poem in Grade 3, at which time it became clear that the payoff for artistic showing off was interesting, to one such as her. So she kept at it. In the 80’s she focused on tragic, autobiographical-and not-very-well-disguised short stories and poetry, like many awkward misfits do. She was rewarded with publication in several Canadian magazines including DESCANT, QUARRY, PRISM and POETRY CANADA REVIEW. All dark, stormy stuff. Her work was anthologized in a commercial volume by Canadian poets writing on the subject of labor and childbirth. (One reviewer put her name in the same sentence as Margaret Atwood’s–holy cow.) Next came a hefty Canada Council Explorations Grant to support the completion of a collection of short stories. Easy to see where all this was going. Having reached a pinnacle of youthful success, with clear indications that a Governor General’s Award was only a matter of time, Brenda did what many other awkward misfit writers do. She quit writing.
All of these attempts to be literate occurred so long ago as to render them meaningless, except to say that Brenda thinks her early work was irresolute, terribly sad, and not helpful. She does plan a return to a more introspective kind of writing, when she has forgiven everybody including herself. Her spiritual attitude is much improved, and she’s hoping to create something more uplifting someday. She finds great, autobiographical, literate books about alcoholic families, depression and suicide don’t help much in a life that exists only in the present moment. Sorry, but honestly–she participated already. It’s fine if others love it.
Someone told her she should be writing what she loves to read. Who doesn’t love a gritty mystery, thriller, crime novel? Brenda decided she would like to develop a sense of humor about life before they pull the sheets over her head, and not afterwards. She finds contentment in learning how to entertain and find meaning at the same time. She’s at the keyboard for real this time, and is clicking away at the learning process. She has completed and is now attempting to market two commercial novels so far.
So what put her back in her seat in front of the computer at last? A partial answer can be found in her fortunate tendency to win writing competitions. When she was at U of T she won the Hart House Short Fiction Contest, and after that a long poem award at POETRY CANADA REVIEW, and then she took first prize in a Canadian Authors’ Association National Short Fiction Competition. The CAA win was a meaningful watershed. A breaking open of the floodgates. At the awards night, Brenda got a congratulations autograph from Alistair MacLeod, who spoke at the gathering and sat in the chair directly in front of her. MacLeod’s short stories enthralled her for their raw simplicity and suspense. She found his work to be the very definition of literate thrills.
MacLeod was 64 when he published his first novel to world wide acclaim. NO GREAT MISCHIEF became Brenda’s icon, her grail. Proof that it was still possible. Somehow the muse approved. The characters and stories of COMPASS began to rattle around in her head and Brenda found the desire to try again, only different this time. More fun.
Somewhere in there, another serendipitous competition came along. Brenda signed up for the amazing Muskoka Novel Marathon in Huntsville, Ontario. It was 2012, and she had spent a couple of years living with the unfulfilled COMPASS characters. They were in her head, in scattered notes on 3 by 5 cards, on lined yellow pads in drawers. It was all fits and starts, no substance. She was still in neutral. At the Marathon she was determined to make any kind of beginning as long as it was writing. She thought if she wrote 25 pages of COMPASS in the three day event, that would represent a successful weekend for her. When she completed those 25 pages, 25 hours or so later, she was astonished. While other writers wrote 100 or even 200 pages in the MNM weekend, Brenda was gratified to exceed her own puny goal by a mile. She turned in 48 pages and a rough outline to the judges and went home. And she kept writing that novel, every single day of her life. A few months later they told her she won Best Novel Award with those 48 pages. She has not quit writing since.
2012 MNM – 25 pages