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Brenda Chapman: Writer & Senior Communications Officer

Brenda Chapman, Ed'78, is responsible for the murder of a Queen's University graduate student. Fortunately, the grisly death is fictional and only occurs in Brenda's new book, Butterfly Kills.

The murder mystery follows Kala Stonechild an Aboriginal detective who comes to Kingston to visit her Ottawa Staff Sergeant Jacques Rouleau, who moved from Ottawa to Kingston to be close to his father. Stonechild's arrival coincides with the death of a graduate student who was working at a campus helpline, and she cannot help but get involved in the investigation.

Brenda ChapmanBrenda came to Kingston in the late 1970s to get her teaching degree. After graduating, she settled in Ottawa and spent the next 15 years as a special education teacher before making a career change. She is now a senior communications officer with the Department of Justice.

The married mother of two has authored 14 books. Butterfly Kills is generating some buzz, including a good review in the Ottawa Citizen

Brenda took time out to explain why she decided to set her new book at Queen's and how she manages to juggle her writing career with a full-time job and family commitments.

Q: Your latest book, Butterfly Kills, involves the death of a Queen's student. Why did you pick Queen's as the location of a grisly murder?

A: I set the first book in the series Cold Mourning in Ottawa and started with two main cop characters: Kala Stonechild, a 29 year old Aboriginal officer from Northwestern Ontario and Staff Sergeant Jacques Rouleau, a detective in his early fifties who headed up a special unit on the Ottawa force. By the end of the book, it became clear to me that Stonechild wasn't a big city kind of person and I wanted to move her to a smaller community. Rouleau was also struggling with the political part of his job and ready for a change. I considered Brockville for a short time but I know Kingston from my year at Queen's and love the city. I thought it would be a good town in which to bump off a few people and to get some intrigue going.

Q: Your first books were children's and young adult fiction. Now you are writing murder mysteries. Has your job at the Department of Justice influenced your writing and changed your focus?

A: Yes, I wrote my first mystery Running Scared for my daughters some 18 years ago when I switched from teaching to working as a writer/editor in the government. I was also writing short crime stories for the adult audience that were published in a few magazines around the same time. That first novel became a series, and the mother/teacher part of me loved that, but I also wanted to write for adults. I'm currently writing two series -- the Stonechild and Rouleau police procedurals (Dundurn) and a mystery series for adult literacy entitled the Anna Sweet mysteries (Grass Roots Press). Working for the Department of Justice on some interesting files has kept me up to date on issues in the news and sparked ideas for issues that I explore in my books.

Q: Were you interested in writing when you were studying at Queen's?

A: When I studied education at Queen's, I had just completed a B.A. in English literature at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay. I took a yearlong creative writing course in third year that focused on poetry and short stories. It was my favourite course by far, but I never considered becoming a writer because I didn't believe I had what it took to make a career of it. It wasn't until I was home with my daughters and wrote humorous articles for a parenting magazine that I realized that what I really wanted to do was write stories. Around that time, Canadian Living accepted an article that I sent them and the editor actually called my home to tell me it was her favourite story in three years. That gave me the confidence to keep going and to try my hand at writing a novel.

Q: Was there any professor or class at Queen's that greatly influenced your career?

A: My year at Queen's was the first time I had left Northwestern Ontario and everyone that I knew. Luckily, the other students and teachers in my classes were friendly and welcoming and the year flew by. I do not remember the name of the woman teaching history at McArthur College back then, but I remember her telling us to travel lightly through life and not become so weighed down with possessions that we missed out on experiences. Her words always stayed with me. 

Q: You do communications for the Department of Justice. You are also married with two daughters. How have you found the time to write 14 books?

A: I find time to write in the evenings, weekends and holidays and work my writing around my life. I'm lucky that I can write with noise and activity going on around me, start and stop when I need to, and keep lots of balls in the air. My husband has always placed value on my writing even when I first started spending hours in front of the computer and before the book contracts when the kids were younger. He even has taken several field trips with me to scout out places for my characters to live or to find a secluded location to hide a body.  We've made some trips to Kingston and you'll see some of our travels through the Kingston streets in Butterfly Kills as well as in the third in the series entitled Tumbled Graves, which has a release date of January 2016.

This article was originally published on Alumni Relations