After a brilliant academic career in music in which professor Lois Choksy wrote six non-fiction texts, she retired and turned her imagination to another genre, fiction. It was something she had always wanted to do so she wrote her first fictional potboiler and took it to her big publisher who had released her previous professional books.
"They weren't in the least interested in my fiction," she recalls, still with surprise. "They said 'get an agent'."
An editor sent her a constructive critique of her book and Choksy realized she would have to find her own voice - and learn more about writing in her chosen area, romantic suspense. At retirement age she went back to school to take university courses to learn about dialogue, plot arcs, pacing and cliff-hanger chapters, none of which was necessary to write books about music. After attending an intensive workshop in Oregon she learned that her way of writing must involve the reader through stronger characters.
"I walked away from there with a much better book," she said.
All of Choksy's current books to date have strong women characters in them.
The music professor chose the pen name of Blair McDowell, and she set out to grab the hearts of her biggest reading market, women.
She will read from her latest book, Sonata, set in Vancouver and the Sunshine Coast, at the Gibsons Public Art Gallery this Saturday, May 18 from 2 to 4 p.m.
Settings are also a strong feature of the McDowell books.
Her first novel, Memory of Roses, (Rebel Ink, 2011) was set in Greece, a country she loves. Her next, Delighting in Your Company (2012), springs from a remote island setting in the Caribbean where Choksy has owned a place for 45 years. The island evokes myths and brims with the history of slavery and this has been incorporated into a ghost story around a romantic character.
"But nothing that I see any place else is as beautiful as this," said Choksy, pointing to the view through the trees to the Strait of Georgia from her porch at her bed and breakfast business near Gibsons.
The denouement of her latest, Sonata, takes place in a cabin in Smuggler's Cove and her cast of characters includes a half-Asian heritage cellist, Sayuri, who returns to her family's Vancouver mansion to find that her widowed father has taken a new and younger bride, Alyssa. The three live together uncomfortably andSayuri escapes into her concert recitals and a rekindled romance with detective Donovan (and his huge dog, Buttercup) who is investigating a jewellery robbery at their home. Sparks start to fly when Alyssa's handsome brother shows up unexpectedly and woos Sayuri.
Not surprisingly, the character of Sayuri is based on several of Choksy's music students from her time as a professor of music at the University of Calgary. She taught many Asian students, usually string players, and saw how dedicated the students were to their art, and how, as children, they had no life but their music.
McDowell's books are available through the U.S. publisher Rebel Ink Press and on Amazon. Locally, they are at Woods Showcase and Marketplace IGA in Gibsons. The Saturday afternoon reading and refreshments at the GPAG is open to the public. All are welcome.