NEWS: Left Coast Crime 2016, Phoenix AZ, Feb 25-28th

Phoenix, Arizona:  Southwest architecture, fiery Texmex cuisine, safe, clean and a balmy 75 degrees – what’s not to like! Frozen Canadians need no excuse to head south in February and Left Coast Crime offers a great way to connect with fellow crime writers, fans and readers.

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I kicked off LCC in the hotel bar at a party for members of the Short Mystery Fiction Society, generously hosted by noir writer, Craig Faustus Buck.  The stars aligned: I met the authors on my Thursday panel: secret Canadian and fab moderator, Sarah Chen; magician and short story author / innovator, Stephen Buehler;  awesome screen writer, Mysti Berry; and her husband, talented graphic novelist, Dale Berry.

Sarah, Stephen and I walked over to Carly’s Bistro to attend Phoenix’s first Noir at the Bar. Delighted to share that Noir is thriving in the US southwest as well as in Portland and Seattle. Check out the terrific writers listed on the poster!

614+SEAY1fL__SX373_BO1,204,203,200_LCC piloted a new way to get authors and readers together:  Author Speed-dating launched on Thursday morning. Pairs of crime writers rotated through 18 tables of readers and we pitched our books at each table for 2 minutes.

I had a terrific partner in L. C. Hayden,  a critically acclaimed author who is published in a variety of genres. L.C. lives in El Paso, Texas. (Yes, the Texas city right across the border from Mexican murder capital, Juarez!)  The infamous tunnels the drug cartels use are historical, built for smuggling during the 19th century. They are a key element in L.C.’s latest thriller, Secrets of the Tunnels, which I can’t wait to read.

Thursday afternoon marked my debut as an author on an LCC panel.  A Short Dance with Death turned out to be one of the most enjoyable panels I’ve ever been on. Beautifully moderated by Sarah, we drew laughs from the audience that filled the space – former Mayor Rob Ford was an easy target – then our discussion segued into the art of modern short story writing. Stories via Twitter: try writing a short story in 146 characters! Or 6 words. Even Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine is getting with the times: it recently published Dale’s illustrated crime story – an historical first. Judging by the audience reaction, Dale’s story may be the first of a series. 

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A Short Dance with Death L to R: Dale Berry, me, Sarah Chen, Stephen Buehler, Misti Berry

 

 

 

 

 

Several of my Canadian author friends attended LCC this year.  On Friday, we had lunch with Guest of Honour, Ann Cleeves.  Ann is a delightful person who happens to be one of the world’s leading crime writers. She is the author of the  popular Vera Stanhope series, though her Shetland / Inspector Jimmy Perez novels have my heart. Both have been adapted for television.  

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L to R: Brenda Chapman, Ann Cleeves, M. J. Maffini, me, Alex Brett, Barbara Fradkin, Linda Wiken

 

 

 

 

 

12764403_10156536406585150_6429811086920378692_oLCC also features Author-Reader connections where authors host short private events for fans. This way I met Tim Hallinan, author of the Simeon Grist and Junior Bender novels. Tim treated us to coffee, cookies and an hour to talk with him about writing: he has just written a book on how to finish a novel. It’s available in May and I am buying a copy!

I also had lunch with 3 amazing women authors: Ellen Byron, who writes the Cajun Country series; Chris Goff , author of dark thrillers and bird watching mysteries; and Leslie Karst,  who pens culinary cozies. We bonded over the challenges faced by women crime writers, especially women thriller writers and we look forward to reconnecting at Bouchercon in New Orleans this fall.

We Canadians also had our day. On Friday evening, the Crime Writers of Canada hosted “Meet the Canucks” to raise the profile of Canadian authors with our American friends.  Authors were stationed at tables and fans circulated to get the answers to the quiz. A great way to chat with each writer. Prizes, of course, were Canadian books and maple syrup. The hotel chef even made poutine! By all accounts, a smash hit with everyone.

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Meet the Canucks!

We Canucks certainly know how to party both with each other and with American friends. Hugs and kisses to Jane Burfield and Miranda for being  terrific breakfast companions and kudos to emerging writer, Laurie Sheehan, who has the best way of making new friends. Order a bottle of champers from the bar and walk around with two empty glasses – then fill one and give it to a new friend who need a lift!

 

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Jane being a good sport at the LCC reception. We did get her out for dinner later!
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Partying with Bill Syken and Ellen Kirschman

 

 

 

 

Also had great fun partying with Ellen Kirschman, police psychologist turned crime writer and Bill Syken, newly published sports mystery author.

 

Banquets can be a little long on occasion, but LCC’s grand event was hosted by the wonderful Catriona McPherson  who moved things along with deft humour while raising $10,000 to benefit a children’s literacy charity. Great fun thanks to table companions Bill Syken and Gay Coburn, whose working dog, Koa, stole the evening. 

But true to form, a Surreal Trapdoor opened up. At LCC, banquet tables are hosted by authors who often present guests with small gifts. Our host, a rather serious lady, gave us a small handbook she’d written about Japanese toilets while touring the temples there. OK…Hope the book didn’t reflect what she secretly thought about her dinner companions!  And hope she wasn’t offended that I left the book in my hotel room as a “Jokes for the John” for the next guest.

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Working dog Koa

Because I was booked on the red-eye back to Toronto, I had time for a tour of Arizona’s old west.  More surreal trapdoors next week!

WOW! What a year!

cover4EFD2-World-Enough-Cover-FINAL-199x300Seraphim Windigo Fire

 

2015 was a tumultuous year – many upheavals, but all ended well. Friends fought but won against deadly medical challenges. Our daughter and her husband moved to Montreal – but settled happily in a lovely new condo. And it was the year of bittersweet farewells. Friend and teacher, Rosemary Aubert, retired her novel writing course at Loyalist College in Belleville. And in November, Anne Hillerman gave the sad news that this year’s Hillerman Conference would be the last.  Both have been a source of joy and new friends for many years.

This was my first year as a “real” writer. In other words, a traditionally published novel writer.  Though many of my short stories have appeared in print, like most authors, my secret longing was always to have a novel to put on my book shelf.

Windigo Fire was released late in 2014 by Seraphim Editions, a leading Canadian literary publisher with a 20+ year history. I’m delighted to be a Seraphim author: I still have to pinch myself sometimes. My publisher’s email of acceptance truly changed my life! 

Finalist-400SMFSocy-150-TinyWF got great reviews and was a finalist for the Arthur Ellis Award for Best First Novel. Huffington Post Canada put WF on its fall list of Books for Book Clubs and Margaret Cannon of the Globe and Mail dubbed me ” a writer to watch”. And as it that wasn’t enough, my short story, “The Ultimate Mystery” in Carrick Publishing’s anthology, World Enough and Crime, was short-listed for the prestigious Derringer Award. Heady stuff!

I spent most of this year promoting Windigo Fire via readings organized through our group, The Mesdames of Mayhem , the Crime Writers of Canada (thanks Nate Hendley and Sharon Crawford!), the Writers Union and Noir at the Bar (thanks Tanis Mallow and Rob Brunet!)  I also gave several workshops on how to get traditionally published to writers’ groups in Hamilton, Sudbury and Toronto.

Now that my friends, Cheryl Freedman and Caro Soles have retired, our national conference, Bloody Words, alas, is no more. So I tried out three new conferences: two on the west coast and one in Sudbury.

galianoThe Galiano Literary Festival is one of Canada’s best kept secrets, held in an idyllic setting on wildly beautiful Galiano Island. There a debut author, such as myself, can mix and mingle with the nation’s leading writers – even Elizabeth May, the local MP and leader of the Green Party!

pearlLeft Coast Crime was held in Portland, Oregon, this year, entitled “Crimelandia” in honour of the hilarious sketch show, Portlandia. Portland is an amazing city: the best microbreweries in North America, a fab retro city centre called the Pearl District and a light rail transit system that actually works! I had the honour of presenting Windigo Fire at the New Authors Breakfast and of moderating a panel on plot twists, which included friend and Canadian crime writer, Barbara Fradkin and fellow debut author, Ray Daniel.

LCC was a fine mix of cozy and noir, both sides having great respect for one another. I had a wonderful time hanging with fellow Canadians, Barbara, Robin Harlick, Linda Wiken and Vicki Delany. As you can see, conference seminars largely lost out to food and beer.

What really made LCC a winner was hitting it off with the Noir crowd, including two great Canadian writers, E.C. Brown and Sam Wiebe.  If you haven’t read either of these guys, you’re missing some of Canada’s best crime fiction. Many thanks, too, go to friendly Americans Brian Thornton, Kate Dyer-Seeley and Hilary Davidson, terrific writers all – just don’t play poker with Brian!

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In June, I headed north to Sudbury’s literary festival, Wordstock. Most southern Ontarians regard Sudbury as a remote northern outpost accessible by bush plane or snowmobile, but in fact, it lies a mere four hours north of Toronto via a modern expressway. That’s a lot closer than either Ottawa or Montreal. Presumably  north of Barrie, Torontonians believe one crosses a Startrek-like quantum barrier into a wilderness empty of cars yet full of bears and moose.

Once again I had the privilege of meeting some terrific authors: poet Melanie Martila,  radio personality and crime writer, Scott Overton and Laura E. Young, who has penned a fascinating history of Great Lakes swimmers, Solo Yet Never Alone.

Sudbury was a breath of fresh air quite literally. No smog, two pristine lakes and a water tower that looks very “War of the Worlds”(see photo above). Imagine, too, a book festival where the mayor officially welcomes the authors – Toronto wasn’t Ford-free yet – and where everyone enjoyed a performance by two of Canada’s comedy treasures: Terry Fallis and Sandra Shamas.

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While busy promoting, I did manage to do some writing. Stumbling across an unofficial memorial garden near our cottage was a gift I couldn’t ignore. My suspense novelette, “Glow Grass” drew on this and it’s one of the 15 stories in The Mesdames of Mayhem’s latest anthology, 13 O’clock (Carrick Publishing). We Mesdames had a wonderful time promoting 13 O’clock via our cyber launch in September and in October, partying in the real world at our favorite bookstore, Sleuth of Baker Street.

PrintAs the year faded, it was time to refocus. I spent time in October learning Word Press so that I could take control of my website. My previous site required a software engineer to update it, so I scrapped it in favour of WP, the results of which you see here.  My take: WP is easy to start, but time-consuming and challenging to master.  Yet totally worth the time input!

In November, my friend, TO Poet,  led our group of NaNoWriMo Misfits back to basics:  writers write – go figure! NaNoWriMo is short for National Novel Writing Month and it challenges writers to produce 50,000 words in one month. Churning out this volume felt overwhelming at times, but I pulled it off.  My second book in the Danny Bluestone series, Windigo Ice, took shape. More importantly, it kick-started my creativity: I have since then sketched out two noir stories. NaNoWriMo is a lifesaver for any writer who needs to refocus. (Read my previous blog, “Riding the NaNoWriMo Tiger” for the deets).

The year ended with another serious medical challenge for a fellow writer. Her crime writer friends got together and wrote a “chain story” to cheer her up. I was honoured and delighted to be part of the gang. The only proviso: total license. What lurid and outrageous imaginations were on display: cross-dressing, cute dogs, dragon ladies, Russian mafiosos, purple exploding dildos, oh, my!  Most importantly,  we made our friend laugh.

HAPPY NEW YEAR EVERYONE!!

 

 

Evil Santa – Meet him in Windigo Fire!

cropped-Seraphim-Windigo-Fire.jpgcover4Ever visited a Santa’s village as a kid? What if the Santa was up to no good? What if his fish camp was a front for a grow-op and other dark things?

 

 

Meet my favorite villain in Windigo Fire, now available in e-book on Amazon!

And for a Christmas treat, do check out the new stories by the Mesdames of Mayhem in 13 O’clock, which also features my suspense novella, Glow Grass.

Riding the NaNoWriMo Tiger!

nanoNovember comes across an “also-ran” month: somber Remembrance Day on Nov 11th, serious charity drives (take a bow Movember) and almost unfailingly dismal weather. A bridge of sighs between the glories of fall foliage and the sparkly explosion of Christmas.

So don’t just sit there: bloody do something!

For the last two years, my friend and fellow author, TO Poet, has encouraged me to join him and his friends who are burning up their keyboards during this 50,000 word marathon. TO Poet has ridden the NaNoWriMo tiger no less than six years running.

So I jumped in feet first with little – let’s be honest – no preparation!

What is National Novel Writing Month?

NaNoWriMo was created in San Francisco, July, 1999 by Chris Baty and 21 of his writer friends who challenged themselves by trying to write a novel in a month. The next year  140 signed up. Through the power of the internet, by 2008 more than 200,000 novelists, experienced or emerging, young or adult, had joined in.  In 2015, participants span the globe in places as far away as central Russia and Micronesia.

Oh, well, I was always late into a trend.

How did y’all keep going?

nanooneTO Poet set up a Facebook page for the NaNoWriMo Misfits, our team name.  He kept us inspired with daily pics, such as this one on the left.  We logged on every day to report our progress: peer pressure is a compelling motivator.

And coffee. Lots and lots of coffee.  At a write-in at TO Poet’s home, I discovered that his coffee mugs rival goldfish bowls.

Why embark on this marathon?

Why not? As many first-published authors discover, promotion is up to you. I’d spent the past 12 months promoting Windigo Fire,  through conferences, meet-ups, bookstores and libraries. On my own or with our group, The Mesdames of Mayhem, I literally did hundreds of events. I needed to do get back to doing what authors do: write!

cover4Not that my keyboard was idle. I’d completed my suspense novelette, “Glow Grass”, for the Mesdames of Mayhem’s second anthology, 13 O’clock.  But now I needed to work on the second novel in the Danny Bluestone series, Windigo Ice.

I ran across some early chapters of Danny’s second adventure that I’d written before Windigo Fire was accepted by Seraphim Editions.  So much had changed after Windigo Fire was finalized, that they weren’t useable. But they inspired me to get moving!

What plan / approach to use?

As a former scientist and MBA’er, I take a quantitative view of life.  I knew that an overwhelmingly large project can be managed once it’s broken down into incremental steps. That translates to approximately 1700 words over 30 days to reach the required 50,000 word count. I did a couple of test runs on a new suspense story I’m writing and found that 1700 words per day was doable. November 1st dawned and I was off and writing!

How did NaNoWriMo go? Did you make the word count?

PrintI did indeed make the word count: 50,048 to be exact. I kept a tally of my daily word count on a trusty Excel spreadsheet.  Here are the stats: I averaged 1700 words per day fairly consistently, with a range between 1600 to 2200 words. My max output happened on the last two days as I neared 50,000 words where I wrote 2200 and finally 3300 words  to get done!

What worked with NaNoWriMo?

For me, NaNoWriMo was a lifesaver. I refocused on writing, which is what authors do, right?  To my surprise, I found time in my daily life to do it since writing became a real priority.

Mega thanks go to TO Poet and team mates, Lizzie, Heather, October, Betty, Cathy and the Misfits for unfailing support and inspiration.

Meeting the word count meant turning off the editor in my head. I tend to be a deliberate, measured writer in terms of word-smithing, so NaNo was immensely freeing. I got to know my characters again, resolved tricky plot problems, churned out fun action sequences and created an encounter between Danny and Santa, the escaped villain from Windigo Fire, that was a joy to write.  I have several ideas for the core theme(s) and a goodly chunk of words to draw on – or to store for Book 3 or 4.

What challenges remain?

A thriller usually runs between 80,000 to 100,000 words, so that means I’m halfway there. Now is the time for hard thought, ie. to put my “plotter” hat back on while surrendering my “pantser” plumage with a sigh. And the wording will be refined and re-refined: I rewrite and revise a lot.  For example, I rewrote my novelette, “Glow Grass” twenty times.

Would I do it again?

Most definitely! In an ideal world, I’d have my plot meticulously laid out so I could go straight to work and have a near-ready product at the end of November. But I’m pumped about Windigo Ice, can’t wait to wrestle with its plot and finish writing Danny’s winter adventures.  Thanks to NaNo, I’ve rediscovered the joy of writing and I’m planning to be back next year.

 

 

 

 

 

November Gigs of the Mesdames of Mayhem

cover4Check out the upcoming November events for me and my friends at www.mesdamesofmayhem.com!

New suspense story: Glow Grass!

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The Mesdames of Mayhem’s new anthology, Thirteen O’clock, is now available on Amazon! Print version and e-book now released.

My novelette of suspense, “Glow Grass”,  is featured in this collection of twisted tales of time and crime…What happens when you revisit a derelict family cottage once the scene of a horrific death?

Seraphim Windigo FireMy critically acclaimed thriller, Windigo Fire, is now available on Kindle and Smashwords!