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.
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?
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!
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.
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.
The media’s consensus is that 2016 was the Year of Crap. Mad violence, racism, gender wars, the sanctioned rise of tyrants and unbridled greed, more wars…nice, huh? No wonder so many crime writers are turning to noir. Makes me proud – and relieved – to be a Canadian.
Despite the mayhem on earth, 2016 treated my family, friends and myself pretty well. One of the biggest highlights was my 9thRide to Conquer Cancer with my best buddy, Marc, in support of cancer research at Princess Margaret Hospital. The doctors, medical staff and researchers at PMH are truly the A-team. Because of them, many of our friends have beaten back this horrible illness and continue to live happy and fulfilling lives.
I devoted much of 2016 to building my social media presence via my website and Twitter. Blogging has been immensely freeing, allowing me to explore and share my love of street art, travel and the weird and wonderful.Readers around the globe and as far away as Macau have visited here though most of my followers live in Canada, the USA, Brazil and Germany. As of now, I have 1600+ followers on Twitter: mostly fellow writers or fans of crime fiction and street art.
Windigo Fire continues to draw interest. Seraphim Editions sent me my first royalty cheque, which was more than my initial advance. Wow! I also received my first payments from Public Lending Right (libraries) and Access Copyright. In December, I learned that WF was being studied by a high school English class as an example of Canadian literature – and the teacher invited me to meet his students in the New Year. Will the students be scarier than a roomful of hostile IT clients???
This year I participated in 20+ author events, flying solo or teamed up with fellow crime writers through our group, the Mesdames of Mayhem or with Crime Writers of Canada. I gave several workshops on How to Get Published at the Toronto Public Library as well as at my friend, Rosemary McCracken’s Novel II course at George Brown College. And I attended three literary conferences – whew!
Left Coast Crime in February in Phoenix, Arizona was terrific. I was honoured to be on the short crime fiction panel and I partied with new and old friends at the Short Fiction Mystery Society reception, Noir at the Bar and the Meet the Canucks event hosted by CWC. I met two of my favorite authors, Ann Cleeves and Tim Hallinan. Even fitted in a sightseeing tour of wild west ghost towns and rattlesnakes! (See my previous blogs on both subjects.)
Limestone Expo in Kingston, Ontario last July, was an intimate, multi-genre festival organized by horror author, Liz Strange. Ed and I made a fun weekend of it, staying at a haunted B&B, the fab Rosemount Inn and connecting with friends, old and new. I was delighted to share a table with speculative fiction author and aardvark lover, Ira Nayman, who in another life was our daughter’s film professor at Ryerson University! Thoroughly enjoyed being on the multi-genre panel, Monstrous Imaginings.
Bouchercon 2016 took place in September in New Orleans, Louisiana. The exotic location drew in thousands of crime fiction authors and fans from North America and overseas. Easy to get lost in the crowd as a newbie Canadian author, but also great to be in the Mardi Gras parade, to nom down Creole treats at publishers’ events and to hear some of the best Noir writing ever at the Voodoo Lounge. (See my blog on Bouchercon) And during the swamp tour, we learned that gators love marshmallows!
NaNoWriMo in November got me back to doing what writers are supposed to do: to write. Under the guiding hand of my friend, TO Poet, I hunkered down and got to work. Impossible to match TO Poet’s staggering output of 75,000+ words, so I settled on a focused approach this year and drafted two short stories and more chapters for the WF sequel, Windigo Ice.
December was devoted to family, friends and Christmas. Much to look forward to in the New Year. Several public events coming up as well as friends’ book launches and Left Coast Crime in Hawaii and Bouchercon right here in our own city of Toronto.
We Mesdames of Mayhem will be releasing our third anthology, 13 Claws, featuring dastardly, animal-centred crimes. For the first time, we have a contest to discover one or more authors previously unpublished in the crime fiction genre. Stay tuned and hope we survive 2017!!
Limestone Genre Expo, a 2-day conference for authors and fans of genre lit, took place in Kingston, Ontario July 23-24th. Organizers, Liz Strange, Delina MacDonald and Marlene Smith created the conference in 2015 to support Eastern Ontario writers of fantasy, science fiction, horror, romance, YA and crime fiction.
Science fiction, fantasy, graphic and horror authors have intermingled for years at conferences like Comiccon, Fan Expo and When Words Collide. Crime fiction is a relative new-comer to these events, but likely to become more popular in the intensifying search for readers and with the retirement of Canada’s late great national crime writing conference, Bloody Words.
This was my first cross genre conference. Starting with a local conference proved to be both comfortable and enriching. Several of my crime writer friends were attending: among them Rob Brunet, Vicki Delany, Madonna Skaff and Linda Wiken. And I have a deep affection for Kingston. I studied Chemistry at Queen’s University back when T. rex ruled the earth and OHIP was the major client of my IT consulting business. Ed and I made a weekend of it, staying at the wonderful Rosemount Inn, a Victorian mansion which looks haunted and reputedly is.
My table mate in the vendor’s room was Ira Nayman, political satirist, science fictioneer and aardvark lover. Ira generously helped me set up my book display and we had great conversations about life, the universe and everything when the author panels were running.
In the vendor’s room, I met Brian Lindsay, fellow crime writer and Arthur Ellis finalist for Best First Novel. Brian is an imagist, chef and indie author of the Gilmore Island mysteries, set on an island near Westport, Ontario. Old Bones, which I’m enjoying now, is his first novel.
I also enjoyed meeting crime writer, poet, musician and reviewer, Bob Mackenzie.
The conference was a well- thought-out mix of panels, workshops, author readings. There was a pitch session hosted by Five Rivers Publishing and a conversation with Jay Odjick, creator and executive producer of the animated TV show, Kagagi: The Raven.
Each genre had at least one panel specifically devoted to it. The crime fiction panel was “Modus Operandi, From Cozies to Private Eyes” , a broad topic to be sure, but a fine introduction of the genre to new readers.
Liz Strange had asked me to step in as moderator for the YA panel with authors: Y.S. Lee, Alyssa Cooper, Maureen McGowan, Kim McDougall and Suzanne Church. The facilities at the Kingston Frontenac Library were pretty good, but like many modern buildings, meeting rooms are scarce: one large upstairs space and two much smaller rooms, where you really got to know the audience!
YA is hot right now. Virtually every literary agent is begging for it. Our audience was too large for the room and the fire marshal notwithstanding, everyone crowded in SRO. The panel graciously gave up their chairs to the audience and spent the entire hour’s discussion on their feet!
Some observations about YA:people of all ages read it. Why? For the strong story lines, shorter book lengths and relatively uncomplicated language; in other words, a fast read. YA many times deals with tough topics. Why? People see hard things on the media and through the internet every day. Parents can’t shield children as they once did. And the good news: Younger people are reading thanks to YA. Indeed research suggests most readers are younger than 35 or over 60!
Often, it seems that genre writers are silo-ed: crime writers mostly meet other crime writers and crime fiction readers. But conferences like Limestone Expo recognize that readers often read and love several different genres. And authors today share the same concerns. Panels were held on traditional vs. indie publishing, the portrayal of women, disability and LGBTQ2 identities.
My own panel, Monstrous Imaginings, proved to be great fun. (The cross genre panel: Jen Frankel, Caroline Frechette, Evan May, Alyssa Cooper, Robin Riopelle and me.) The topic allowed us to freely interpret what “monsters” mean in crime fiction, romance, YA, horror, etc. We went a little wild and the audience seemed to enjoy that!
Liz plans to continue the conference next year. Many thanks to Liz and the organizers for their hard work and a most enjoyable two days!