CYBER CAFE: Welcome Jayne Barnard!

Jayne Barnard and I first became friends in cyber space. We met in Real Space at the 2016 Arthur Ellis Banquet where to my delight, she won the Unhanged Arthur for her first crime novel, Where the Flood Falls (Dundern). Her hero, Lacey McCrae, is a former RCMP officer fleeing domestic abuse. Lacey is rebuilding her life in the Calgary foothills but gets drawn into solving homicides.

The second book in the series, Where the Ice Falls, debuted on August 10th, giving me an early read of this terrific thriller. The story touches on serious social issues, like cyber fraud while chasing down the true killer through a frigid Alberta winter.

In addition to crime, Jayne writes historical and speculative fiction. She is the creator of the YA steam punk heroine, Maddie Hatter. The first book in the series, Maddie Hatter and the Gilded Gauge, won the Alberta Book of the Year Award. Jayne unleashes her wild imagination in a cozy, vine-covered cottage where she lives with her husband and orange tabby cat.

All these great reads are available on Amazon. Where the Ice Falls is also available through Indigo/Chapters, Barnes & Noble, and at Jayne’s long-time home bookstore, Owls Nest Books in southwest Calgary.  So readers, EAT THESE BOOKS and welcome, Jayne, to Cyber Café!

 

Jayne, how did you become a writer? Did you know from childhood?

The first time I really threw myself into writing a story was in Grade 3. My teacher let me have a whole week to finish it to my satisfaction. I sold a couple of poems in early adulthood and averaged two sales of short pieces (fiction and non-) per decade until my oldest child hit university.

How do you carve out time write?

I didn’t sell my first novel until after my last child left home. It’s a common trajectory for female writers with families; carving out the time and, more importantly, the mental focus to write, is a challenge.

How did you turn to crime…fiction?

I actually started selling historical short crime stories. “The Medicine Line” and “Tommy Palmer’s Ghost” were finalists for the Great Canadian Story prize from the now-sadly-defunct Canadian Storyteller Magazine. “Each Canadian Son” won the Boney Pete at Bloody Words 2011 in Victoria, BC. I’d written a handful of speculative short stories along the way but none got published until I was already working on my first Steampunk novella, Maddie Hatter and the Deadly Diamond (Tyche Books, 2015).

What was your inspiration for the Falls series and the main character, Lacey McCrae?

At heart the series is about women and the friendships that support us as we grow through the upheavals of early adulthood. Long ago, my best friend from high school joined the RCMP. Back then we were both into running, cycling, swimming, so the fitness requirement wasn’t a big problem for her. By the time she left the Force ten years later, we both had half-finished university degrees and failed marriages. In addition, she had PTSD and I had already been diagnosed with the illness that still rules my life (ME/CFS).

Lacey is loosely based on my friend’s experiences adjusting to civilian life, but her running and other active scenes are rooted in my kinetic memory from those active olden days with my friend. The character of Jan is in many senses my current life; she studied what I studied, and she has ME/CFS which limits what she can do. We both still crave exposure to the arts world we had to leave.

Where the Ice Falls is the second book in the series. How does it continue on from When the Flood Falls?

Where the Ice Falls takes place from early December to early January, six months after the events of Where the Flood Falls. Lacey and Jan were the main players in Flood; Lacey and her roommate Dee are central to Ice.

Dee’s mother is terminally ill, and determined to have a last Christmas with her only child before seeking a medically assisted death. Dee relies on Lacey’s support to come to terms with her mother’s wishes. But Lacey’s already crispy at the edges after months of looking after Dee during her long recovery from last summer’s injuries.

A new character, Zoe, is near breaking point from work, Christmas prep, and her stepsons’ impending visit. When Zoe’s teenage daughter finds a dead intern outside their borrowed ski chalet, all the women are yanked into a chilling holiday season filled with family dysfunctions and psychological stressors that lead inexorably toward danger and death in the cruel wilderness west of Calgary.

Tell us about your Maddie Hatter novella series (Tyche Books).

The Maddie Hatter Adventures are frothy romps that chase Maddie, renegade daughter of Britain’s most respected Steamlord, as she attempts to make her living by investigative reporting. Except no editor will give a young lady an investigative assignment; she’s trapped on the Society pages, writing about women’s fashion.

She has to break out of what we’d now call a ‘pink ghetto’ on her own. Whether hunting for batty Baron Bodmin and his mysterious bloodshot diamond across three seas and two continents, or parasol duelling in Gilded Age New York City with a devious Russian countess, or hunting industrial spies across the calles and alleys of Venice during Carnivale, Maddie needs all her wits – and the help of her clockwork bird, Tweetle-D,  to catch the crooks and pen the exposés, or she’ll be relegated to hats-and-hemlines stories forever.

Maddie Hatter is Steampunk-inspired. (I love steam punk BTW) Do tell us more about Steampunk. 

Steampunk got its start in the late-Victorian adventure tales of Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, and Arthur Conan Doyle. Yes, the creator of Sherlock Holmes wrote a few Professor Challenger novels too, questing for lost worlds.

The modern twist on this genre is that the gasoline engine was never invented. Steam power kept evolving instead, with new gadgets and advanced transportation and communication technology. Nowadays, Steampunk is not limited to British literary tradition nor to Victorian England. In Australia, Japan, India, Russia, and all across the Western world, Steampunk sub-cultures are flourishing, with festivals bringing together hundreds of costumed revelers ready to show off their gadgets while they participate in parades, teapot races, and, increasingly, parasol duelling.

To be totally honest, my husband and I – both involved in the Alberta Steampunk community for many years – invented parasol duelling for Maddie Hatter’s world and are thrilled that it has been adopted by Steampunks around the globe. The World Championships are held in Alberta each September, but there are duelling groups in England, France, Australia, New Zealand, and several US states.

Both of us contributed stories to the noir anthology, The Dame was Trouble. Your story is cross-genre: a futuristic PI story set in space. Do you see an increasing trend in cross-genre crime fiction?

I think there’s a bright future in SFF/ crime crossovers. Modern readers live in a technologically complex world and expect their fiction to mirror that, but at heart we all want characters we can identify with, whether they’re human, humanoid, android, or entirely alien. Crime writers have been studying the human psyche across the full spectrum of good and evil for a long time; the more we’re able to expand our work to settings beyond the limits of contemporary Earth, the more new readers we’ll find.

What challenges face the cross-genre crime writer?

To write good crossover fiction, you must know the conventions of both genres well before deciding which ones you’ll break, bend, or stand on their heads. While crime fiction is based on human nature and the solution of a puzzle, SFF readers want exotic settings and alternative social structures that challenge them to imagine life outside the confines of the world they know.

It’s not enough to set a crime story on a space station or alien moon if you don’t think about what new opportunities and limitations the setting imposes on the criminals and the detectives. In “Painted Jade”, my story from The Dame Was Trouble, the body is found floating outside the station, all forensic evidence perfectly preserved by the vacuum of space. However, our intrepid detective must go out there to bring it in, and if you’ve ever felt that leap in your stomach on a carnival ride, imagine how your stomach will feel as it tries to keep your breakfast from rising in the absence of gravity.

Ideally you should be reading in the genres you’re writing in, so you can avoid the unrewarding task of crafting, for example, a compelling mystery in a setting that’s been thoroughly explored by a dozen masters of SFF already. You don’t want half your potential readers to dismiss your masterwork as being out-dated, or the other half to toss the book aside because they guessed the murder plot in the first few pages and aren’t interested enough in your careful world-building to keep reading.

What’s next for you, Jayne?

First off, I’ll be editing the third book in The Falls Mysteries. Why the Rock Falls picks up with Lacey and Jan the following summer, when Jan’s old university roommate comes to Bragg Creek with her movie-director husband and promptly attracts old lovers and new dangers in the sun-baked foothills. It will be released in the summer of 2020 by Dundurn Press.

Next, I’ll work on a contemporary Young Adult thriller in which a teenage foster child gets tangled up with a land-developer, a politician, and a deceptively mild-eyed collie with a penchant for escape. I’m quite excited about this blending of my crime-writing background with my YA adventure style. You could say it’s another kind of crossover.

Great having you on Cyber Cafe, Jayne. Really looking forward to reading your new books.

Thanks for inviting me to visit your blog. Always a pleasure to chat with you.

 

 

 

 

 

EAT THIS BOOK: Disappearances by Howard Frank Mosher

In February, Ed and I made our annual ski trip to Stowe, Vermont. Though old Stowe is rapidly disappearing due to the monolith monster condo development at the ski hill (now owned by Vail Resorts with concomitant sticker-shock pricing), vestiges of its old charm remain.

That includes our favorite hotel, The Green Mountain Inn, with its Shaker décor, warm fireplaces and afternoon tea and cookies. Locals  grab coffee and nosh down bacon and eggs at  The Café on Main next door in the Depot Building. Other must-eat noms: the over-sized chocolate chip cookies and superb fresh muffins.

While sipping Green Mountain’s dark roast eye-opener, we tried to resist the pleading eyes of a charming pug – and failed. He’s the resident pet in the best bookstore in Vermont: Bear Bond Books.

 

 

 

I’m trying to downsize my library but a visit to Bear Pond guarantees failure: I never leave without buying a book. Bear Pond promotes local authors, including crime writers: here’s where I discovered Archer Mayor and the Joe Gunther series.  This February, I struck more gold.

Disappearances by Howard Frank Mosher intrigued me. The back cover outlined an adventure in bootlegging Canadian liquor across the US border during the Prohibition: an honourable part of our national history. And the novel drew on the intermingling of French Canadian and Vermont culture at the time. The hero’s name is Quebec Bill Bonhomme.

I’d anticipated that the border was once porous. Who knew how much? I was about to find out.

After the first page, I realized that I’d stumbled upon a gifted writer with a wildly exuberant imagination. Disappearances isn’t a mere adventure: it’s magic realism that reinvents and invigorates the tall tale.  It begins with our heroes’ visit to an asylum run by a mad, alcoholic doctor and an encounter with hermaphroditic twins and veers off into a series of Picaresque disasters. Crazy violence on par with noir author Johnny Shaw,  innumerable car crashes, an albino villain named Carcajou or “Wolverine” who won’t stay dead. Oh and did I mention that this is a comedy? I loved it! 

Disappearances  earned rave reviews from the Washington Post and Harper’s Magazine before winning the New England Book Award for fiction. In 2006, it was made into a film starring Kris Kristofferson and Genevieve Bujold. I’d never heard of it despite the cast.  It has a score of 52% on Rotten Tomatoes – in other words, mixed reviews. According to IMDB, it failed spectacularly at the box office, costing $1.5 million to make and bringing in only $300,000.

Perhaps the wild, over-the-top fantasies work best on the page: a fever dream shared intimately between reader and author. We’re glutted by fabulous CGI and overblown violence on screen every day. Who remembers Tim Burton’s film, Big Fish even though it was a critical and financial success?

Howard Frank Mosher wrote 11 novels, many of which were turned into films by Jay Craven, an indie film-maker and native of Vermont.  And in case you doubt the influence of Quebec, what does “Vermont” mean? Vert mont or green mountain, right? Green Mountain range, Green Mountain Inn. Sometimes it takes 30+ years for the penny to drop.

In the meantime, EAT THIS BOOK!

 

 

 

 

HAPPY NEW YEAR, READERS!

Very excited to start 2018 with a new adventure. My friend, Donna Carrick of Carrick Publishing has launched a new podcast, Dead to Writes. I’m honoured to be one of the first authors featured on the podcast. I’ve been on radio once before on Sirius XM as a guest of Allison Dore.: a breathtakingly stressful adventure. We went overtime on our talk, which means all went well and Allison and her radio crew earned my undying admiration. Huge amount of work and prep goes into every minute of a radio interview.

Tonight, January 8th, my interview with Donna goes live followed by the audio version of my story, “Snake Oil”, from the Mesdames of Mayhem’s latest anthology, 13 Claws. Stand by for a thought-provoking discussion on crime fiction and writer’s craft.

Tune in via iTunes or Google Play. See you tonight!

WANDERINGS: Hydro Gift Boxes

A well-kept secret in Toronto is that our city actively promotes street art. There’s even hope that Toronto can become a go-to destination for followers and fans.

One interesting sideline is the beautification of our plain, military-grey hydro boxes. Hell, the city even pays artists to do this. Here are some neat examples spotted on my cycling forays. Click on each image to enlarge it.

Fancy peacock
Flowers in field

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Detail of Toronto life
Witty in our ‘hood

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blues raccoon
Cool cat

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Broken heart
Lettre sur boite

 

 

WANDERINGS: Graffiti Alley North

Greetings Readers!

It’s been a chilly spring and I’m still wearing my winter bike gear in May! But riding through the wind and rain toughens you up to any adverse weather on the Ride to Conquer Cancer. As always, the City of Toronto keeps closing bike routes and the repairs are s-l-o-w.  This year it’s the southern part of the Don Valley trail, which I normally do on every training ride.

Graffiti Alley North

But there are rewards. Cruising down a Leaside street and crossing north over Eglinton en route to Sunnybrook I discovered Graffiti Alley North. The street runs parallel to Eglinton now torn up by the light rail construction.  Feast your eyes, readers!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cool crab
Garage door fairy
I see you
Wise ass owl
Robot army
King of Toronto’s green boxes
Marlowe the ferret?
Movember man, save me!
The artist?

 

Cool dragon

 

 

 

BIG SALE for LEFT COAST CRIME!

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GREETINGS READERS!

As part of Left Coast Crime, my e-books will be on SALE on Amazon from March 16th to March 23rd at 12:00 am. The discounted price for each book is $0.99.

So if you haven’t had a chance to read my books on Kindle, you can now get ’em cheap.

ENJOY and many thanks!!

 

SURREAL TRAPDOOR: The Occult and K2

12742381_10156530658650150_2448979545047805041_nGreetings Readers!

My blog today is a combined Surreal Trap Door and Eat this Book.51pGxMGswNL__SX324_BO1,204,203,200_

Books about outdoor adventure and survival are my great favourite. At Bear Pond Books, Stowe’s wonderful book store, Ghosts of K2   by Mike Conefrey  caught my eye. It reads like a thriller!

K2 is the world’s second highest mountain. Though 800 feet shorter than Everest, it is a far more challenging technical climb. As one injured climber famously said: “K2 is a savage mountain that tries to kill you.” 

It has a nasty track record. It has the second highest climber mortality rate for mountains over 8000 feet: 77 deaths for 300 summits or roughly 1 in 4 climbers die. The dubious title of ultimate killer belongs to Annapurna at 61 deaths for 191 summits or 1 in 3. Everest gets more publicity for its deaths but in fact, its fatality rate is relatively low: 54 deaths for 3000 summits.

K2 got its name during the The Great Trigonometric Survey of British India. Thomas Montgomerie, perched on Mt. Haramuhk  200 km south of the Karakoram mountain range,  sketched two prominent peaks and labelled them K1 and K2. K1 had a name, Masherbrum, but K2 didn’t, probably because of its remote and inaccessible location. Local people simply called it “Chogori” or Big Mountain so the name K2 stuck.

Now for the opening of the surreal trapdoor! The first serious attempt on K2 was a 1902 British expedition led by the infamous occult leader, Aleister Crowley! At the time Crowley was a mop-headed, British gentleman of independent means, channelling his inner Alan Quartermain. Despite being hampered by lack of roads, modern equipment and an understanding of the devastating effects of high altitude on human physiology, his team managed to reach 21,407 feet. Miraculously no one died in the attempt despite the frigid temperatures and gale force winds.

Aleister Crowley - 1st bath in 85 days
Aleister Crowley – 1st bath in 85 days

The team suffered considerable hardships. Crowley went 85 days without bathing and was plagued by malaria, lice and snow blindness. He was too ill to attempt the summit, which probably saved his life. 

Unlike his friend, Oscar Eckenstein, who was a careful, methodical climber, Crowley attacked mountains the way he approached sex, drugs and other pleasures in his life – with wild, mad intensity

He attempted one more big climb, Kangchenjunga, the third highest mountain in the world and third worst killer of mountaineers: about 22% die summiting its peak. After three of his team died in an avalanche, he gave up  climbing over 8000 feet for good.

Crowley’s interest in the occult and “magick” began in 1898 when he joined the Hermetic Society of the Golden Dawn. The occult and mysticism became the focus of his life. In 1905, he founded his own religion, Thelema. Throughout his life, he remained controversial because of his multitude of male and female lovers and his appetites for opium, heroin and cocaine. Some biographers believe that his libertine ways covered up the fact that he worked as a spy for British intelligence throughout his life.

K2 was finally summited by an Italian team on July 31, 1954, a little more than a year after Hillary and Tenzing topped Everest on May 29, 1953.  More understanding of the dangers of high altitude and bottled oxygen made these ascents possible.

Mike Conefrey, the author of The Ghosts of K2, is a documentarian who has worked mostly with the BBC. His passions are mountaineering and exploration. He approaches writing non-fiction as a dramatist, which makes Ghosts of K2, a page-turner that stays with you.

So, dear readers, EAT THIS BOOK!!

 

SURREAL TRAPDOOR: Marihuana in Legoland

Life does indeed imitate art – but, hey, Windigo Fire did it first!

ce3489971f4d58cd34e8614f532a7312In Windigo Fire, my villain, Santa is the owner of a seedy roadside attraction, Santa’s Fish Camp. Of course, he has a large crop of marihuana plants flourishing in the “service area”. 

I got the idea after we visited  Santa’s Village  in Bracebridge, Ontario with our then 4 year old  daughter. She absolutely loved Santa’s Village, but as a mom chasing after an active kid, well, my thoughts turned dastardly.  As I tell aspiring writers: ask the “What if” question. What if this clean, family-friendly attraction masked a grow-op?

Thus the seeds of Santa’s Fish Camp were planted so to speak. But now Legoland UK has followed suite! th2

2861129_2PgBfsPCZrJOlDrPa-M4Q3NzNHABmxp15VDg2rgUaG4Recently, a grow-op was discovered at Legoland UK. Two enterprising b*stards planted 50 thriving marihuana plants inside a cottage at the boundary of the theme park. Even cheekier, the ambitious  herbalists accessed the cottage through Crown Estate lands –  at Windsor Castle where the Queen lives!

Read the full story in the Huffington Post here. As they say, man, Legolize It!

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Eat this Book: Windigo Fire goes to school!

12742381_10156530658650150_2448979545047805041_nGreetings readers!

Eat this Book is about an adventure I had with my thriller, Windigo Fire: a school outing! You have to stay scared to stay sharp, right?

 

12000831_10154197942864018_1649104801334232488_oOur good friend, Steve, approached me about doing a talk at his son’s school.  I said yes then thought: what did I just do? What’s scarier than facing sixty 13-year-olds trapped in library class. Well, erm, nothing!

How did this come about? Steve’s son, Francis, picked my novel, Windigo Fire, as his Canadian novel for his school book report. His English teacher, Ken, read and loved it – and so did some of Francis’s classmates. And so when Ken  invited me to meet his students to talk about my book and the life of a writer, I said YES!

I was a little worried that I might be playing Officer Stodenko to Ken’s Sister Mary Elephant (see Cheech and Chong in Wikipedia, young readers – ed), but it turned out to be one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had as an author. Good thing though that I could draw on my experience as a retired management consultant doing focus groups, seminars, sales pitches, etc. and winning over skeptical clients.

Here are some observations and tips for the unwary author embarking on their first school talk:

  • Kids are smart, Marv!

Remember how Harry and Marv, the two bungling burglars were outwitted by 8 year old Kevin in the movie comedy, Home Alone? Because they thought kids were stupid. Do not underestimate the tough, intelligent and insightful questions kids will throw at you. They have no qualms asking you how much money you made on your book, why you write for so little money, why you let publishers tell you what to do, why you don’t just self-publish and so forth. 

Tip: Be prepared for hard-nosed questions and have your answers ready!

  • Break the ice early!

There’s nothing worse than a disinterested audience. Silence is deadly. Kids are shy at first. After all, you’re a grown-up and a figure of authority. I broke the ice right away by asking the class who wanted to be a writer. Who was working on a book right now? It didn’t take long to unleash a flood of questions.

Tip: Break the ice by asking about their writing. And about their favorite books.

  • It’s all about respect!

From the kids’ point of view anyone over 25 is O-L-D. At the same time, kids respect anyone who really knows their stuff, is confident and doesn’t talk down to them. Assure the kids that you value their opinions and that you consider every question they throw at you to be a valid one.

I found that making the session an interactive one worked really well. Lectures don’t work in our digital world where attention spans are short. I bled the info out to them by answering “long” to certain questions like: “Who decides what your book cover will look like?” And occasionally, I tossed a question back to them.  For example, they asked “How did J. K. Rawlings get rich?” So I asked them what they thought. It surprised them that they already knew the answer. (Hint: It’s movie rights.)

Tip: Try to answer every single question. A challenging question often leads to a good discussion.

Tip: Make the session interactive and keep the lecture part short.

  • Learning is a 2-way street!

You will learn as much from the kids as they do from you. I learned that they read almost exclusively on I-pads. E-readers are passe, but printed books are still cool.

I never dreamed that Windigo Fire could work as a YA read, but the kids loved it. But then I realized that my protagonist, Danny is young and my second protagonist, Rachel is a 10-year-old kid. To my surprise, their favorite character was Santa, one of the villains. I really enjoyed giving Santa a hard time when I wrote the book – he fails at driving a Prius and he’s outfoxed by Rachel – and the kids did, too.  It was a no-brainer which section I chose to read to them.

Tip: Keep an open mind and you will be happily surprised by what you will learn.

Tip: Give students a choice about which pages you read.

  • The teacher is your best friend!

One reason my visit worked so well was because of Ken, the teacher. We planned the session together and he kept things moving by throwing in a comment or a question. Teachers can also rein in some of the more extroverted students.  Ken is working on a children’s book so it was great to meet and exchange information with another writer.

Tip: Plan your visit with the teacher beforehand.

At the end of my talk, the students presented me with a wonderful card they had all signed and a keepsake globe. A new world really awaits.

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Oh, and EAT MY BOOK, WINDIGO FIRE. (Very unsubtle sales pitch- editor)

 

 

 

 

SURREAL TRAPDOOR: What’s Under Niagara Falls?

Greetings, Readers!

I’ve been offline for much of January doing what writers do: writing! Finished up two short projects and now I’m re-attacking Danny Bluestone’s next adventure, Windigo Ice.

130926-Scary-Cat
13 Claws coming soon!

Lots to look forward to in 2017: the launch of the Mesdames of Mayhem’s third anthology, 13 Claws; Left Coast Crime in Hawaii; Limestone Expo in Kingston; Word on the Street; and Bouchercon right here in Toronto!

But of course my fingers strayed over to the internet from the time to time and I came across this retro gem though: what happened when engineers stopped Niagara Falls in 1969?

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The American Falls before…
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American Falls after

 

 

 

 

 

When I was a kid in school, my science teachers were preoccupied with the demise of Niagara Falls. If Something Wasn’t Done, the Falls would deteriorate post-haste into a series of rapids and precious tourist dollars would evaporate. Rock slides in 1931 and 1958 had dumped a sh*tload of rubble at the base of the American Falls.  The Niagara Falls Gazette created a fervour by predicting the Death of the Falls and the cause was taken up by a zealous senator and congressman.

And so on June 12, 1969, the US Corps of Engineers did the unthinkable: they stopped Niagara Falls for the first time in 12,000 years. (Well, not exactly. A half a dozen ice jams have blocked the flow over BOTH sets of falls, most significantly in 1848, but only for a few days each time.)

Once the water dried up, what a desolate and unattractive site it became!

article-1338793-0C7DB7DE000005DC-707_634x417

To dry up The Falls, the US army dumped 27,800 tons of rock upstream across the Niagara River, creating a 600 ft cofferdam that diverted the water away to flow over the (to my mind) far more beautiful Canadian Horseshoe Falls.  Over the next six months, army engineers mechanically bolted faults and drilled holes in the riverbed in hopes of delaying further erosion. 

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As a crime writer, I was curious to know what workers found UNDER the falls once the water dried up. Well, at first, lost coins drew a ton of fortune seekers. Eventually tourists stayed away in droves, because the falls had become, quite frankly, ugly.

Sadly, two bodies were recovered: the first a man, a recent suicide. The other, the skeletal remains of a woman wearing a red and white striped dress and a narrow gold wedding band with the inscription “Forget Me Not”. There’s a story there certainly.

Experts soon realized the enormous cost of removing all the rubble from the base of the Falls. On November 24, 1969, the workers dispatched the coffer dam in front of 2500+ spectators, restoring the flow of water, the Falls’ beauty – and collective sanity all at once.

For more details about this engineering oddity, follow this link.