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.
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.
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!
Saturday, April 29th was the third annual Authors for Indies, a day on which authors and booksellers together celebrate independent book stores. In previous years, I’ve had a great time at Books and Company in Picton and Book City at the Beach in Toronto.
So imagine my delight when I learned that the Village Bookshop in Bayfield was one of the participating indie bookstores this year. Bayfield lies 10 minutes south of our family cottage in Goderich (of tornado infamy) and this was a great opportunity to meet some Huron County writers.
The Village Bookshop has a fairy tale setting in the heart of Bayfield, one of the prettiest towns in Ontario. Many years ago, this lovely yellow building housed a bakery and tea room. Sadly, it closed, but happily The Village Bookshop moved in. Golden hardwood floors, an eclectic mix of books for all tastes, a children’s play area and an emphasis on local authors -what’s not to love!
Bayfield’s bookstore has a long tradition of supporting authors. A few years ago, my friends Cathy Astolfo, Janet Bolin, Alison Bruce, Mel Campbell and I had a wonderful time as authors at a mystery-themed literary festival.
Martha Beechie, the present owner, loves to support local authors. She spoiled us on April 29th by serving sparkling wine, local craft beer and pastries from Goderich’s beloved Culbert’s Bakery!
I joined local mystery author Judy Keightly and Andy McGuire, poet and new father, in meeting local readers. Windigo Fire sold out immediately as well as all my consigned copies of Glow Grass and 13 O’clock. (Should have brought more!)
In between writing mysteries, boating as well as creating and producing plays with Bayfield’s community theatre, Judy and her husband are embarking on a new adventure. They are the new owners of a vineyard. Huron County promises to be the next wine-growing region of Ontario.
The Village Bookshop shares space with an artist who teaches painting during the summer months. Luckily, the only fox in the area is the one decorating the studio wall because Martha owns a brood of chickens who provide fresh eggs every second day. A pretty, fluffy-feathered breed, Martha has named each bird after a distinguished author.
My personal favorite was Munro named after Huron County’s most distinguished local author: Noble prize winner, Alice Munro who wrote her world famous stories in nearby Clinton, Ontario. Martha let us in on a secret: Ms Munro slips into The Village Bookshop from time to time to sign her books.
Next time you are visiting the Grand Bend or London area, drive a few miles north and Eat the Local Books in the Village Bookshop.
I’m home from Hawaii and a most enjoyable Left Coast Crime. Back on the bike, too, training for my 10th Ride to Conquer Cancer. Always good to see spring struggling through on the Belt Line Trail.
Had to touch the usual icons of street art on the way, Uplifting Homily and Toronto’s own, Boaty McBoatface.
School kids are getting into it. Crossing through Cedarvale Park I spot this though it’s marred by some cynical graffiti. Met an elderly dog walker who recognized – and approved – of my recording street art. As a volunteer, he’s been an advocate for the park for 30 years. He pointed out the escape hatch from the subway, cleverly hidden in a rock pile just off the trail.
As always, part of my regular route is inaccessible due to repair. This year the middle Don Valley trail from Pottery Road to Riverdale is closed with dire warning to trespassers that the police are patrolling. But the lower part is open and I was rewarded by new art.
Little do the motorists atop the ramp from DVP to the Gardiner know what’s beneath them. Feast your eyes, readers!
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.
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.
Life does indeed imitate art – but, hey, Windigo Fire did it first!
In 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!
Recently, 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!
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!!
Thank you for making 2016 a fabulous year – with even more to look forward to in the New Year.
After a quick family visit to London, England, we are back home to celebrate Christmas and to perform our sacred rituals – like nom-nom-noming the Festive Special at Swiss Chalet with Ed’s car club!
Santarchy ruled again on Dec 17th. Costumes were especially creative with an emphasis on naughty. No need for a big budget as you will see in the following pics!
This year went off without a hitch. The weather was mild and perfect for marching down Queen Street. Gathering at the Imperial Pub, we stormed Dundas Square then invaded the Eaton Centre to give out candy canes and treats to kids.
Group photo on the steps of Old City Hall, then after a long wait for the Zamboni, an impromptu slide across the skating rink at city hall dodging security guards and skaters on blades.
Get turned away at The Rex – check. Wave to Christmas-spirited cab drivers and cops – check. First stop, The Black Bull – check. The bartenders serve 50+ customers without missing a beat. Amazing!
Some great costumes below.
On to night clubs, Crocodile Rock and The Ball Room, where like the Big Lebowski, you can go bowling. At 1 pm, Ed and I called it a night and walked through the rain to the perennial late night fave, Fran’s on Shuter street. We survived and look forward to Santarchy 2017.