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!

Excerpt – “Amdur’s Cat”

Thirteen

Thirteen is the first anthology of the Mesdames of Mayhem, featuring stories by 13 of Canada’s leading women crime writers. The collection contains one Derringer and two Arthur Ellis finalists.

“Amdur’s Cat” is my comedy thriller based on my working experiences with the government – and on the antics of a notorious Toronto mayor.  Which incidents are true? I’ll never tell! 

Read and enjoy the opening pages!

 

AMDUR’S CAT

On a snowy December night Benjamin Amdur saw a lion. It was gamboling about like a kitten swatting at the fat, wet snowflakes that tumbled through the dark. Right in the centre of Riverdale Park by the children’s wading pool.

 Under the lamps of the park’s snowy pathway, the lion’s tawny fur glowed like the back of an old velvet sofa. For a brief moment – that gap between the surreal world and biting reality – he watched Rousseau’s painted lion come to life.

Then he remembered the sleeping gypsy – the minstrel who was about to eaten.

He grasped the icy black iron fence beside him. The house it surrounded lay dark. At two in the morning, its inhabitants, like most normal people, were in bed. By the time he woke them up screaming for help, the lion would have torn out his throat.

With infinite caution, his eyes on the animal, he edged back into the shadows of Winchester Street, the road he’d weaved down moments before. Behind him, three blocks away, lay Parliament Street with its strip bars, eateries and mini-marts. Surely to God one of those places had to be open!

The lion leapt in the air. It snapped at the snowflakes as they fell. He heard the crunch of its jaws, saw the flash of its teeth. Its tail lashed back and forth.

 Then it paused, raised its huge head and sniffed the air. Its nostrils twitched.

   It saw me!

Amdur turned and ran like a mad man.

Adrenalin buoyed him up for the first few feet but deserted him almost immediately. He was forty-eight and twenty pounds overweight. His regular habit of walking to work did nothing to bolster his panic-stricken need to run. He tore down the slushy sidewalk, his mind fixed on the zebras of the veldt. Zebras who ran far more swiftly than he. Zebras brought down and eviscerated alive…

 By the time he reached the yellow lights of Parliament Street his chest was heaving. He doubled over, gasping for oxygen. If the lion got him now, he was dinner. But he couldn’t take another step.

He looked frantically up and down the street. Every storefront was dark.

No buses, no taxis, no cars.

Then he spotted an angel standing under a streetlight a few yards to the south. Well, not an angel exactly, but a young police officer, her uniform immaculate, the brim of her cap spotless, her leather boots and gun holster gleaming with polish.

He summoned his remaining strength and stumbled over to her. “Oh, thank God…an animal…danger…” He couldn’t stop panting. “Very dangerous. Over by …Riverdale Farm.”

She raised a tidy eyebrow. “Are you quite all right, sir?”

“No…no, I’m not all right.” With the dispassion of his medical training, he estimated his heart to be thumping at 180 beats per minute. His blood pressure didn’t bear thinking about. “You…help…must get help.”

“How much have you had to drink tonight, sir?”

 “Drink?” he echoed.

 “Quite a few, I’d say. Identification, please.”

 “What?” Finally he caught his breath. “Please, you don’t understand. There’s a bloody great animal running around loose. It’ll rip someone apart. We have to stop it.”

 “Your ID. Now!” Her hand moved toward her baton.

Amdur dragged out his wallet and handed her his driver’s license. Her laser stare burned through its laminate cover.

 “Dr. Benjamin Amdur.” She studied his face with more than an element of disbelief. “So you’re a doctor.”

  “Yes, I’m with the Ministry of Health. I’m Assistant Deputy Minister in charge of OHIP.”

That made no impression on her whatsoever. “OHIP?”

   “Your, I mean, our free medicine in Ontario. Look here, we’re wasting time.”

    “How many drinks have you had tonight, sir?”

“What the hell does it matter? I was at a Christmas party, for heaven’s sake. At the National Club.” That lofty name made even less impression on her. “I tell you I know what I saw. There’s a lion on the loose.”

   “Lion! Why didn’t you say so!”

  “I did say so.”

  “Where? Where did you see it?”

  “In Riverdale Park, by the children’s wading pool…the farm.”

She shoved his license in her tunic and tore down Winchester Street, leaving him standing there like an idiot. He chased after her, but she set a blistering pace. He only managed to catch up with her at the edge of the park.

No sign of the lion.

 Amdur squinted through the heavy curtain of falling snow. Where was the beast? Where was it? The grounds of the park stretched out before him, white and featureless under the thick drifts.

To read the rest of the story, download your copy of Thirteen from Amazon.

 

Excerpt – Windigo Fire

12000831_10154197942864018_1649104801334232488_oRead the first chapter of Windigo Fire,  published by Seraphim Editions, September, 2014. Windigo Fire was a finalist for the 2015 Arthur Ellis Award for Best First Novel and under different titles, short-listed for the Unhanged Arthur and the CWA Debut Dagger Awards.

Windigo Fire is available in print through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Chapters/Indigo and in public libraries. It is available as an e-book on Amazon Kindle.  You may also access it through Kindle Direct’s library program.

 

CHAPTER 1

                   Evil exists and he was no better than the others. He knew that now.

Danny Bluestone twisted the spliff in his nail-bitten fingers, feeling the weed roll under the thin white paper like twigs and pebbles in a stream. Couldn’t bag any decent bud this morning, so he’d settled for homegrown. Go organic. Support local industry. Smoke only nature’s own Red Dog Gold.

 Midnight on Fire Lake, stuck on an island deep in the forests of Northern Ontario. Fifty miles from the nearest town – if you’d call Red Dog Lake a town. The raucous sounds of the hunters funnelled down from the lodge buried in the thick woods behind him. He breathed in deeply, letting the pungent pine sap purge his spirit of their meaty white presence. Clear the landing. Get ready for takeoff. His Zippo lighter rested heavy and cool in his hand.

Under the rising moon, the black silhouettes of the pines fringing the shore were etched as sharply as crystal, and Fire Lake had morphed into a silvery flat expanse. He wet the end of the spliff, straining to hear the eerie banshee call of a loon.

Nothing.

When he was a little kid, and his dad was still alive, they’d flown in here to fish for trout. The birds’ snaky black shapes had been common at twilight when they’d camped on the island, but today he hadn’t seen even one. And no fish in the acid clear waters of the lake.

No animals. No nothing.

“Hey, Danny boy!”

He started, barely rescuing the Zippo from sliding into the dark water at his feet.

“Come out, come out, wherever you are.”

Like all day he’d been the invisible man. Now when he needed to be alone, trust them to whine for entertainment with him as the target. He hesitated, thumb on the lighter. Noises travelled in the still night air.

“Where’d he go?”

“Maybe he sprung a leak.”

Drunken titters. What if the smoke of his smouldering joint travelled, too? Would the hunters’ campfire mask it? They were using that stone oven on the veranda, the one that looked like a ripe beer gut. Dangerous, but way out here who was around to see? Sparks poured up in a fountain from the stove’s chimney and drifted over the tops of the trees.

Damn, Danny thought. All along Highway 11, from Temagami on up to Red Dog Lake and Cochrane and beyond, the white forest fire signs were cranked to red on the dial. Extreme hazard. No camping. Especially no fires. The sharp-needled powdery ground under his bare feet was so dry that it crackled.

“Hey, where is the little jerk?”

That was Ricky, the American with the shaved head, the one who claimed to be some old rock star. His voice had a dark edge, matched by a flicker of something Danny had spotted in his small blue eyes this morning when they’d hit the island. Like he knew the joke and you didn’t, and the punch line wasn’t going to be pretty.

“Maybe hunting guides in Canada don’t like getting paid.”

“Sure they do.” That was the flustered, placating voice of the older guy, Morty Gross, who had some political job down south in Toronto. “Danny’s off being a native, some spiritual thing. Like I promised you. Authenticity.”

“Sure you did, and a load of other bull.” Ricky sounded closer.

Danny scrambled up and jumped lightly onto the rock face behind him. The heat of the August afternoon lingered in the ice-smoothed stone. He crept up its clean bare surface, climbing till he reached the thicket of blueberry bushes he’d scouted out earlier. From here, he could spot them easily enough, and they’d never see him.

Oh, Danny boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling.” Ricky emerged from the trail, a bulky dark outline against the shimmering water. “Maybe he’s watching us. He conned you, Morty.”

“You wanted a native guide, I got you one. He came highly recommended.”

“By you, no less. Turn around, I got some business here.”

Danny heard the rasp of Ricky’s zipper. Oh man, he thought, I have to drink out of that lake. All day long Ricky had been watering the blueberry bushes like a dog making his mark. Like toilets were for weaklings.

“Tell me you enjoyed the show,” Morty said.

“Uh-huh.”

“Look, I got us something to celebrate. Two words. Single malt. The best, used to be flown in special to the lodge, OK?”

“So don’t disappoint me.”

Morty coughed out a laugh, like he still had control of the party, and vanished back down the trail. Ricky sat down on a boulder by the shoreline, merging into the night.

I hate this job, Danny thought. Forget the money. Working at the stupid children’s camp wasn’t so bad compared to this. I want my old job back. Even though I’ll have to beg for it.

He glanced down at Ricky and tucked the joint and lighter into his shirt pocket. He loved the crisp crackle when a spliff first caught fire. He could almost feel the acrid burn of its pungent smoke, resin and tar coating his lungs, almost see its end blossoming, shedding sparks into the night.

He pulled a plastic baggie from his jeans. The mushrooms were shrivelled ugly things, like shreds of dark flesh, but they were quiet and didn’t cast an odour. Doing ’shrooms wasn’t smart since he ought to stay alert, but …

He ate his usual number.

Then one more.

An ice-age boulder had carved a natural hollow into the granite beneath him. He settled his back into it and waited. He’d be safe enough up here. Unlikely to roll down into the water or anything.

“See? Here we go.” Morty was back.

“So give the nice bottle to daddy,” Ricky said, reaching out a heavy arm.

This is what I get for studying English Literature, Danny thought. Government gave me free tuition for a useless degree, a one-way ticket to that crumby counsellor’s job at the kids’ camp. Take it or go back on pogey like every other Indian round here. Some choice. He breathed quietly, waiting for Huxley’s doors of perception to open.

He could never tell when he’d crossed the threshold. Back in college, he’d be wide awake, thinking he’d been sold Campbell’s mushroom soup, then he’d meet one of Hunter S. Thompson’s lizards on the Toronto subway, sitting there in plain view, reading the paper or something.

Even this long after sunset, the day’s heat seeped from the smooth stone into his back. That’s what they used to heat their houses in Scotland, wasn’t it? Rocks. Once upon a time, he’d wanted to study at the University of Edinburgh, to visit the Isle of Mull to see if he could spot ex-Beatle Paul McCartney. Stupid, right?

“This isn’t single malt, you liar,” Ricky said below him.

“It’s rye to tide us over.” Morty sounded desperate to turn the insult into a joke. “Our friend Anderson, the Norwegian, is looking through our supplies. It’s here, I swear. Where could it go? There’s no way off this island.”

“Maybe it’s taken a walk with your guide.” The beach pebbles screeched under Ricky’s feet as he stood up. “Where’s your Aussie pal, Hendrix? I’m thinking it’s time for me to get in some crossbow practice.”

“Ricky, for heaven’s sake …”

Fear erupted through Danny’s chest, but he was falling into the soft fist of rock, tumbling, plunging into the clear lake water. It parted in fronds like syrup, till he stared into the droopy grey face of Old Devil, the trout monster of Fire Lake. Oh God, I’m drowning, he thought. Breathing water without knowing it. Or was he? Huxley’s one-way door had closed and he was lost in the funhouse of perception.

From afar, Morty’s voice: “Here comes Anderson. He found it, so make nice.”

“Yeah, right, after he helped himself.”

“See for yourself. The seal …”

The seal … Danny gazed up at its vaporous grey form in the clouds. The hard ground left his back, and he was lifting off, soaring on an iridescent dragonfly that droned through the air. Fire Lake fell away like a sheet of dark metal and they shot past acres and acres of green forest, wilderness as far as the eye could see.

No light penetrated through the trees. Their branches arched over him, forming a dark cave. Something stirred, a matted black bearskin that rose from the ground and took form. No flesh, no bones. Only darkness behind its eye holes. He pressed his face close to the black snout – still moist – and asked it what it wanted.

Are you a spirit?

Black ooze crept from the eyes. The white teeth parted and the stench of decay rolled over him.

I’m sorry, Pasha. I’m so sorry.

He buried his face in his hands, but tears were useless. Nothing would make it better. Ever.

Shivering and wet with dew, he sat up. His back and muscles ached from the cold rock that had drained the warmth right out of him. A thick blanket of white mist lay over the water, obscuring the dawn, drawing colour out of the world. Was he still ripped? He rubbed his face, shook his long hair. Standing up shakily, he felt a surge of telltale nausea, the flu-like fatigue that would dog him for three days.

The ’shrooms must be done. Must be morning.

He stumbled down to the slate-grey shards of the beach where he’d been sitting last night. A flash of gold. Something was floating in the water, bobbing gently with the wavelets slapping the stones.

He blinked. What was it? A dead fish? Without thinking, he waded into the lake to get a closer look.

A white arm stretched out through the clear water, fine blond hairs waving like seaweed, fingers spread like a starfish above a gold-linked bracelet.

Oh, hell, Danny thought. His throat was parched but his feet were icy cold. He scrambled back out. It’s a flashback, that’s all. A mirage.

Heart thundering in his thin chest, he staggered down the trail to the lodge. Darkness slept under the trees, the way he’d dreamed it last night. Utter silence except for his panting breath. Too early, too early, he chanted silently. He’d find the hunters asleep. Remnants of the ’shrooms lurked in his system. He couldn’t be sure about reality just yet.

He reached the clearing.

He smelled it then, the metallic slaughterhouse reek of blood.

Images, but no focus.

The hunters were lying all over, splattered in garish colours. Humans couldn’t bend that way, could they?

Dead, all dead.

A screech of panic tore out of his throat. The screams kept bursting from deep within, and he couldn’t stop them even when he clapped his hands over his ears to shut out his own noise.

No one knew where he was, except Rachel, a ten-year-old kid back at the children’s camp. The bush plane wouldn’t be back for two days.

And, like Morty said, there was no way off the island.

To find out what happens to Danny, download Windigo Fire from Amazon here.

 

The Surreal Trapdoor: Drunken Painting!

My kid often leads me astray. She feels an overwhelming urge to educate me, an urge born out of anxious impatience with parental inertia with a soupcon of glee at my possible ineptitude. Despite feeling like a century-old sturgeon out of water at the things she’s shamed me into, sadly the experiences have enriched my life. Hell, I’ve survived dirt bike riding, horrific black diamond ski runs and now, drunken painting!  

Scary blank canvas
Scary blank canvas

Drunken Painting is more politely known as Paint Nite. In 2012, two guys got the idea while partying at a friend’s art studio. Why not drink and paint at the same time? Let alcohol unleash your creativity. Thus the “paint and sip” industry was born.  I mean, after one, two or ten beers: “Hey, man, you’re a nartist!!”

“Paint and sip” is win-win for everyone. Local bars and restos sell more alcohol and ladies get a novel girls’ night out. (Yes, 99.99% of the happy painters are women.) Not only do you get a scary bar bill at the end of the evening, you get to take home a scary painting, too! 

Fearing my child’s wrath if I opted for no-show, I dutifully arrived at Proof the Vodka Bar .  Everyone on my mother’s side of the family is an artist, but those genes merrily skipped over me. I landed a mighty C- in art in elementary school and wisely chose science as a career.  I dove into the “sip” part of the evening straight away. 

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Hope to Paint this (Not the exact one but close enough)

 

A tiny young woman was busy setting up 20 easels and blank canvases, covering the long table with green plastic sheets and depositing dabs of blue, yellow and white acrylic paint on paper plates.  She seemed overwhelmed. We students donned aprons to protect our clothes from permanent souvenirs of the evening and took our seats, while listening to her dire warnings about rinsing off our brushes in our drinks instead of the cups of water provided.

“Can you see the painting?” the lady next to me asked.

“Um, no.” In fact none of us could. The set-up was proving less than ideal.

“First, paint the mountain,” the teacher announced.

“There’s a mountain?” several of us echoed.

“Yes, like this.” She painted two white breast shapes on the white background to demonstrate. “The mountain is masked by the trees but you must paint it. And make shadows. Lots of shadows to make a nice mountain. And the lake, too, in front.”

Invisible mountain
Invisible mountain

“There’s a lake?” I downed more beer.

“Now paint the northern lights. Mix colours. You must make green.”

Ah , yes, one thing I did remember from my C- art class was that yellow and blue make green. We all mixed and splashed away without benefit of further instruction.  The northern lights soon proved to be everyone’s undoing. We looked at each other’s work and agreed that our efforts were irreparably cheesy. I ordered a second beer.

“Now make trees!” The teacher circulated with the black paint she’d forgotten to dole out.

That we could do. Trees were easy: lots of unfettered brush strokes. And more trees covered up more cheese. We asked for more black paint. The teacher got frustrated: she was running out.

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My Masterpiece

“Now make stars!”

I kind of overdid the stars but making white dots was so much easier, I got carried away. Leaning back to survey my masterpiece, the teacher announced: “Now you must make shadows on the snow. Trees throw shadows in moonlight.”

Bad idea. Or rather no idea how to make shadows. I made a half-assed effort, then erased everything with white paint leaving smudges of grey snow.

By now my husband was waiting for me at the bar. I staggered over to show him with my masterpiece. “What do you think?”

“It’s good, um, good,” he replied, sounding like Banksy when confronted by his friend, Terry’s disastrously hopeless film in Exit Through the Gift Store.

My friend, Roz, was much kinder when she saw it. “I like it!” she said. “It shows a lot of emotion.”

Hmm, that must be the happy black trees, but more likely the two beers. My masterpiece now proudly decorates our upper hallway and  even better, our kid no longer insists that I take  painting lessons.

 

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.

Short Story Publications

13 Claws by The Mesdames of Mayhem (Carrick Publishing)

The Mesdames’ third anthology contains 17 twisted tales (ha!ha!) of crime starring our animal friends. Angels or demons?  Includes stories by 12 established crime writers as well as three newcomers to the genre.

I indulged my love of noir to create my thriller novelette, “Snake Oil“. Strangely, many readers get freaked by the snakes in this story, even tough noir male authors who don’t bat an eye writing about splatter murders and disembowelments. Go figure.  “Snake Oil” is based on an actual experience a friend of a friend (yes, really) when she was a young real estate agent. Unbeknownst to her, the house she was viewing was inhabited by serious reptile fanciers. Definitely an odd subculture, aspects of which appear in the story.

Bella Bates is in desperate financial straights. Making it as a real estate agent is her only way back to her preferred lifestyle.  Her son-in-law warned her about weirdos hidden behind closed doors, but so what? She’s tough, she’s got what it takes. Or does she?

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Finalist-40013 O’clock by The Mesdames of Mayhem (Carrick Publishing)

Warped tales of time and crime! Fourteen authors contributed to 13 O’clock, the second anthology by the Mesdames of Mayhem (Carrick Publishing).

The book contains my dark suspense novelette, “Glow Grass”, inspired by an unofficial memorial garden we stumbled upon while hiking in the woods. “Glow Grass” was a finalist for the 2016 Arthur Ellis Award for Best Novella!

A young woman returns to her derelict family cottage abandoned since her father died in a mysterious accident. Is the secret cemetery in the woods meant for her?

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World Enough and Crime (Carrick Publishing)

A collection of stories by some of Canada’s leading crime fiction authors, including the runner-up for the 2015 Arthur Ellis Award.

My cross-over tale, “The Ultimate Mystery“, was a finalist for the prestigious 2015 Derringer Award.

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Maria questions why her world forces her and her mother into slavery. At the same time Lucy, who lives alone with her mother on an isolated prairie farm, also begins to question the rigid rules governing her life. 

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Thirteen by The Mesdames of Mayhem (Carrick Publishing)

Dastardly tales by thirteen of Canada’s leading crime fiction authors. Two stories were nominated for the 2014 Arthur Ellis Award for Best Short Story and one for the 2014 Derringer prize.

My comedy thriller story, “Amdur’s Cat”  introduces the hero from my learner novel. I liked Benjamin Amdur too much to leave him in the filing cabinet.

 Dr. Amdur, a hard-working civil servant, sees a real lion on his way home from a boozy Christmas party.  Or does he? Life isn’t easy.  His new boss-from-hell resembles a former Toronto mayor…

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“The Lizard” appeared in Crimespree Magazine, Issue 52 and was reprinted in Kings River Life Magazine, August 2014.

Bony Blithe for LindaIt also won the Bony Pete Award in 2012 for Best Short Story.

A desperate mother tries to save her drug-addicted daughter using the death of Mr. Kim, their beloved family cat, as leverage, but she’s way out of her depth in the criminal underworld.  

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!

Bio

Mad ProfileWelcome Readers!

When I was five, my mother and I drove up to Jasper on what was then a dirt road. Wild bears were plentiful and wandered about freely.

We pulled up at a spot where tourists were hand-feeding the bears candy bars. (Even as a kid, I knew that was a Bad Idea!) When Mum didn’t deliver the sugar, a bear thumped on our driver’s window with huge muddy paws. I wrote up our adventure in school and got an A+. A writer was born!

At university, I studied science, not English. Tired of academia.  I grabbed my doctorate and happily jumped back into the real world, working for a gold mining company and later for the government doing disease investigations. Eventually I studied business and ran my own IT consulting service, all while my husband, Ed and I raised our family of one child and many, many pets.

My work was fascinating: I helped investigate a murder, toured the 3000 foot deep Falconbridge nickel mine and even met the Queen of England (though not all at the same time!) Perhaps that’s why I didn’t start writing seriously until 2002.

I started out writing short crime fiction. My story, “Kill the Boss”, won first prize in the Golden Horseshoe contest held by Crime Writers of Canada. That gave me a great boost and I went on to publish several more stories in e-zines, print and anthologies. I was thrilled when my story, “The Lizard”, won the 2012 Bony Pete prize and when my experimental work, “The Ultimate Mystery”, was a finalist for the 2015 Derringer prize.

But my dream was to pen a novel. I wrote a “learner novel” which now rests in my filing cabinet. Encouragement from a leading literary agent and my writing critique group led me to write a second one.  That manuscript was short-listed for the Debut Dagger in 2009 and later for the 2012 Unhanged Arthur Ellis award.

My odyssey to publication is a story in itself: I give regular talks about it to inspire other emerging writers. Seraphim Editions published my debut novel,  Windigo Fire, in September 2014.  It received glowing reviews from the Globe and Mail and was one of Huffington Post Canada’s choices as a Book for Book Clubs.  To be short-listed for the 2015 Arthur Ellis Award for Best First Novel was my dream come true!

I would not have hung in there without the friendship and support of my two literary critique groups.  In 2013, we linked up to form The Mesdames of Mayhem, an autonomous collective of 15 established Canadian crime writers. Carrick Publishing has released three collections of our stories, Thirteen , 13 O’clock  and 13 Claws.

Three stories in Thirteen were finalists for the Derringer and Arthur Ellis awards for best short story.  And my story, Glow Grass, in 13 O’clock was nominated for the Arthur Ellis Award for Best Novella. 13 Claws hit it out of the park with no less that four nominations, including the 2018 Arthur Ellis winner. I was delighted to have my long story, Snake Oil, nominated for Best Novella.

Last year, two of my short stories were published: “The Cry” in Mystery Weekly Magazine and “The Seeker” in the noir anthology, The Dame Was Trouble.

Looking forward this year to finishing Windigo Ice, the sequel to Windigo Fire and to the Mesdames of Mayhem’s fourth anthology, In the Key of Thirteen.

 

Memberships:

Writers Union of Canada

Crime Writers of Canada

International Association of Crime Writers

Sisters in Crime, Toronto Chapter

Short Mystery Fiction Society

The Mesdames of Mayhem