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: Gators Love Marshmallows!

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September is marshmallow month!

 

Just got back from Bouchercon 2016 held in New Orleans, LA. It was my first visit to this haunted city – and I loved it. Tropical heat, “painted-lady” mansions, ornate ironwork, fin de siècle French cafes, crass voodoo shops (gruesome made in China shrunken heads), a streetcar really named Desire, antique neon signs, fab music…the list is endless.

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Voodoo & 24/7 beer
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French quarter

A bar culture shocking to a Canadian. Alcohol is freely available 24/7. Walgreen’s Drugstore sports shelves and shelves of bourbon. People wander freely about the streets drinking – as long as the container is plastic.

 

But what did I really want to see? GATORS!IMG_0814Swamp tours out of New Orleans end up at a nature conservancy about an hour’s drive out of the city.  Tourists are loaded into flat-bottomed boats named, somewhat disturbingly, Gatorbait!

Hopefully not you
Hopefully not you
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Rusty drawbridge

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our guide climbs on board the Gatorbait carrying a bag of marshmallows.  This is not, as we first suppose, a cheap snack for us. No, kiddies, this is the true gator bait!  As we are soon to learn, gators love marshmallows. And propelled by their powerful tails, they will jump out of the water for a hotdog on a stick. After all, hotdogs look just like tourist fingers!

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Our guide tosses a marshmallow onto the brown brackish water. Impossible to know what lurks beneath the surface.  It looks so bland and boring. Until two beady primordial eyes glide to the surface and snap! We’re back in the days of the dinosaurs.

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Where’s my candy?
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Pant like a dog

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hey, who cares if the sugar rots the gators’ teeth or clogs their arteries? Gators aren’t endangered, the guide tells us. They’re farmed locally, from eggs collected at the nature preserve. Otherwise the gators would eat them, a twisted sort of birth control. In fact, that’s why they love marshmallows. The candy looks just like gator eggs!

In fact, gators will eat just about anything smaller than them, especially baby alligators. (More birth control.)  Someone asks the guide if they eat humans. “Oh, no” he says. “My buds and I swim and jet ski all through the bayou. They’re a lot more scared of us than we are of them.”

Sure.

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Wild hog
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White egret

 

 

 

 

 

Other denizens of the swamp share the gators’ sweet tooth: an egret, a blue heron and a baby wild hog who chomps away at the mushy treats with a wary eye on a nearby, avariciously hungry baby gator.

More interesting facts: gators are territorial (no kidding), they cool off by panting like dogs, food rots in their stomachs if the weather gets too cold and they can live to be 100 years old.  Reminds me of certain presidential candidates…

For breakfast we sample gator sausage. Hmm. A bit dry with a taste reminiscent of the mystery meat served up in university cafeterias. Better to eat than to be eaten though…

Viva New Orleans!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

EAT THIS BOOK: Reading with Sam Wiebe!

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Looking for a summer thriller? Happy to recommend my friend, Sam Wiebe’s new book, The Invisible Dead! Last week Margaret Cannon, crime fiction reviewer of the Globe and Mail, gave it a rave review, calling Sam “a writer on the rise”.  Read the full text here.

Sam and I were both finalists for the 2012 Unhanged Arthur (Sam won). Subsequently Sam’s book, The Last of the Independents, was published by Dundurn and mine, Windigo Fire, by Seraphim Editions.  And then we were both short-listed for the 2015 Arthur Ellis Best First Novel Award!! (Steve Burrows won).  Sam went on to win the Kobo Emerging Writer Prize for Best Mystery.

What I especially enjoy about Sam’s writing are his engaging characters, but even more so his darkly complex plot twists that plunge deeply into noir. He breaks many mystery conventions and rules: no cozies here.

I’ll be reading with Sam and fellow noir writers, Rob Brunet and John McFetridge on Thursday, July 14th, 6 pm at Sleuth of Baker Street to celebrate the launch Sam’s new book and series, The Invisible Dead. Join us for a great evening of noir crime fiction.

AND EAT SAM’S NEW BOOK, THE INVISIBLE DEAD!

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CYBER CAFE: Meet Rosemary McCracken

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Rosemary McCracken
Rosemary and I first became friends through our literary critique group which continues to thrive 15 years on. When we met, we'd each had one or two crime short stories published. Since then we've both published several more stories and been short-listed for the Unhanged Arthur and the Debut Dagger awards. And together we have broken through the barrier of traditional publication though Rosemary continues to set the pace!
 
This week Imajin Press released Raven Lake, the third book in Rosemary's popular Pat Tierney series. Rosemary draws on her work experience as a business journalist to create Pat, a tough, warm-hearted financial manager who runs her own business, deals with her family's many problems and solves crimes faster and better than the police! Jack Batten, the Toronto Star's crime fiction reviewer, has called Pat "a hugely attractive  sleuth figure". 

Subscribe to Rosemary's blog, Moving Target. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter. Check out her website, too.

The most successful novels are sparked by their authors’ passions. What passion did you follow in Raven Lake?

Gliding in my kayak over a quiet lake or creek, preferably one with no cottages, I feel completely plugged into nature. I come upon turtles sunning themselves on logs; loons teaching their chicks how to fish; herons blending in with marsh vegetation as they stalk their suppers; mink and bobcats drinking from the edge of the lake. One day, I rounded a bend in a creek and found a young bear fishing. Surprised to see me, he scrambled up the bank and disappeared into the woods.  

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So it was mandatory that I get Pat into a kayak—and, of course, she loves paddling as much as I do. And when Imajin Books asked me for suggestions for the Raven Lake book cover, I immediately thought of a figure in a kayak. I was thrilled with the cover that artistic director Ryan Doan came up with—complete with the shadow of a raven on the water. The back cover has a flock of ravens—an “unkindness” of ravens is, I believe, the collective noun.

I set Raven Lake in Ontario cottage country in the summertime to celebrate my many wonderful summers in the Haliburton Highlands north of Toronto—God’s country, it surely is! During those months, I spent a fair amount of time in my kayak exploring the lakes of the Leslie Frost Centre, a spectacular 32,000-hectare Crown land nature preserve that was accessible from my cottage.

Did you revisit any favourite topics in Raven Lake?     

In Raven Lake, I took on a new financial crime based on a real scam that was plaguing Ontario cottage country two summers ago: cottage rental fraud. Con artists were posting photos of lakefront properties on legitimate internet vacation rental sites. Would-be renters would wire their money to the “property owner” – discounts were given for payment in full – and when they arrived for their vacations, they were told by the real owners that the property was not for rent. 

A crime perfectly suited to cottage country.

Like Pat, I’m appalled by the financial exploitation of unsuspecting people that is rampant these days. Con artists are swindling their victims out of their savings through investment frauds, identity theft, telemarketing scams and loan schemes. The penalties for these crimes aren’t tough enough in Canada to deter these crooks.

Where can readers buy Raven Lake?

Click on the book cover image above. It will take you directly to the Amazon store in your country. And here’s the link, too: myBook.to/RavenLakeTierney

What do you like about the crime fiction genre?     

Crime fiction gives me an opportunity to work with some great bad guys and gals, characters I can really love to hate. I believe the antagonist is the second most important character in a novel, after the protagonist. I avoid completely evil antagonists because I can’t believe in them. No one is bad all the time.

I like the sense of closure at the end of a mystery or thriller. Peace and order has returned to the world. It may only be a temporary state of order; the antagonist may still be out there. But it’s peace and order for a time.

Tell us about your readers. Where are they located? Which topics have proven to be the most popular with them?     

Many of my readers are women, and judging from readers’ reviews, they seem to be taken with Pat Tierney’s ongoing family problems. They like the fact that she’s an Everywoman: a single mom who supports her family, does her very best for her clients, and has to deal with a whack of domestic problems. They can relate to a character like her.

The beauty of e-books is that authors can reach people who read English throughout the world. Safe Harbor, my first mystery, currently has 115 reader reviews on Amazon.com, and I think it’s safe to say that most are American readers. There are 15 reviews on Amazon.co.uk, so I know I have some British readers. And, of course, I have many readers in Ontario and I credit public librarians with bringing Ontario writers to the attention of library users.

Will there be a fourth Pat Tierney mystery?

I certainly hope so, although I’m not sure where Pat will take me next. I need to spend some quiet time this coming summer listening to her.

 Where can readers buy the first two Pat Tierney novels?

Click on the images below or use these links: Safe Harbor can be purchased at myBook.to/SafeHarborTierney. And Black Water at myBook.to/BlackWaterTierney. These are universal links that will take you to the Amazon store in your country.

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SURREAL TRAPDOOR: Rattlesnakes & Elvis

Greetings Readers! Here’s the long-promised Surreal Trapdoor from Phoenix, Arizona.

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Saguaro Cactus
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More cactus

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After the Left Coast Crime conference, I took a tour of the Superstition Mountains and the Goldfield Ghost Town , a faithful reconstruction of a western gold-mining town with Disney-style staged gun-fights. Good fun, but a surreal trapdoor opened up en route at the Superstition Mountain Museum.

Ever see those 1950’s and 1960’s Westerns? They all look the same: rickety wooden buildings in the middle of a Roadrunner desert with lots of blowing dust and cactus. Well, there’s a reason for that. They were all shot on the same set: the Apacheland Movie Ranch.

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Old sign & rickety model
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My parents loved Have Gun Will Travel

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the 1970’s and 1980’s the public’s thirst for Westerns faded. Apacheland became a theme park then fell into disuse. It cycled through a revival or two in the 1980’s followed by  – count ’em – two, ahem, mysterious fires. The bits that survived were moved to the museum: a barn and – yes, you heard it right – an Elvis Chapel.

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The Elvis Chapel. Everybody wants one…

Our guide explains: Elvis starred in an ill-fated Western called Charro where he tried to make it as a straight actor. No songs except for one on the soundtrack. Luckily the flop didn’t hurt his career. A host of other famous stars filmed at Apacheland, including John Wayne and a young Clint Eastwood.

Elvis did better in Hawaii
Elvis did better in Hawaii
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Clint Eastwood, Middle Row, 2nd right

 

 

 

 

 

The Superstition Mountains themselves are perilous: the rough terrain boasts many steep drop-offs, extreme heat and arid conditions. People regularly lose their way or fall victim to heat stroke or dehydration. In fact, our guide tells us, a hiker’s body was recovered the day before our visit.

The mountains have a lurid history, much related to the mythical Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine.  And at least one murder. They’ve also been home to wild characters and hermits like Hacksaw Tom who robbed stagecoaches.

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The legend of Hacksaw Tom.
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No $$ in that carpet bag, just junk.

No doubt old Tom felt right at home with the dozen kinds of rattlers in the area. The snakes are avid patrons of the museum, as evidenced by the warning signs. And in the summer, our guide says, the rattlers especially enjoy lounging in the coolness under the pop machine. Caveat emptor indeed!

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All kinds & sizes of rattlers
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Snakes don’t need tickets

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Surreal Trapdoor: Snakes Alive!

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Ice breaking Canada Geese

Spring is sprung in a cold Canadian way. Canada geese tread water and shards of ice at our cottage. Getting ready to breed.

And they aren’t alone…

On my friend, Gail Hamilton’s farm, on a warm sunny day, you will encounter THIS!

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Garter Snake Orgy. Photo by Gail Hamilton.

Buried under the heap of writhing reptiles are some very bothered female garter snakes. ARGH!!

Important to remember though that garter snakes are not venomous and perform a valuable ecological service in keeping down the insect and rodent populations. More of them is a good thing.

Our daughter had a pet garter snake named Slither. Caring for Slither introduced me to Toronto’s strange sub-culture of reptile fanciers. Did you know that they hold fashion shows for iguanas? And that iguanas make intelligent pets? This knowledge inspired me to write my award-winning story, The Lizard, which appeared in Crimespree Magazine, Issue 52 and was reprinted in Kings River Life Magazine, August 2014.

There’s a darker side to reptile fancy, too, starting with “pinky”, the most delectable food that no snake can resist. And what exactly is pinky? A euphemism for fresh frozen baby mice. (Ee-yuck!) Snake hoarding figures in a story I’m drafting now, working title Snake Oil. Stay tuned!

WANDERINGS: Bikes and Banksy

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Outside training for The Ride begins in mid-March. And yes, those bits of yellow and purple poking through the dead leaves are crocuses! And that’s my shadow snapping the pic.

I can’t lie, dear Readers, riding a bike in Toronto in mid-March is COLD. You start to pray for heavy duty hills to get the blood flowing, because unlike running, you never warm up on a bike. You slowly get chillier and chillier until your hands and feet refuse to move. If the wind is really bad, you seize up too much to climb off your trusty wheels to stagger into the warmth of that beckoning doughnut store.

But, hey, that’s part of training! On the upside, when biking, you FEEL the world, discover unseen treasures…surreal trapdoors…

 This Sunday, layered in dorky bike gear, I headed out along the Beltline Trail. This defunct 19th century railway is now an 8 km trail used by runners, cyclists and dog walkers.   Most people use the 5 km section of hard-packed dirt; only locals know about the 3 km paved section on the west side of the Allen Expressway. And that’s the pouffy part with historical plaques and stuff.

20160320_135141No signs, no nothing at the east end. To access it, you have to sneak past a body shop and down a narrow sidewalk bordering a townhouse.  I stumbled upon the far west end by accident on an 80 km ride back from the Humber. 

Winter has been hard on the trail. Gates are flaking rusty metal, the plastic covering on the map / plaques has splintered into thousands of cracks. Vandals have scrawled insults sorely lacking in wit or originality.

Then suddenly TREASURE! I adore Banksy and Shepherd Fairey. And here was my reward for braving the cold: a Toronto WOW. Amazing use of building fixtures – and abandoned scary trucks. Enjoy!

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Green tiger burning bright

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Building fan fits in
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Fab croc and entrail design

 

Cool fish
Cool fish
More conventional
More conventional
Scary truck
Scary truck
Scary Easter Bunny
Scary Easter Bunny

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Excerpt: “Glow Grass”

cover4The smash success of Thirteen, the Mesdames of Mayhem’s first anthology led to our second collection of twisted tales of time and crime, 13 O’clock.  It contains stories by 14 of Canada’s leading crime writers and just received a warm review by Canadian Mystery Reviews critic, Don Graves.

Don singled out my noir suspense story, “Glow Grass”, for special mention! In this excerpt, Paula discovers an unofficial grave site in the woods of her derelict family cottage.  

 

Sark will realize I’m here alone…

            She ran down the eastern side of the cottage away from the drive, her mind working. I’ll head up to the beaver pond while it’s still light, she thought. Wait him out.

            The trail to the beaver pond started behind Dad’s shed. She had no choice now, she had to cross over the horrible spot. A shimmering tongue of glow grass leaked out into the trail as though pointing the way to the pond.

            Fire shovel in hand, she dashed over the sinister spot and plunged down the narrow track into the safety of the trees. The path snaked deeper into the forest, the glow grass dwindling out behind her.

            The beaver pond lay buried in the woods half a kilometer north of the cottage. At one time, homesteaders owned a farm there with an apple orchard – or so Sark had told Dad. But the settlers had departed long ago and over time their log house had crumbled into the forest soil. The orchard had grown wild until beavers dammed the creek that cut through the forest, drowning the apple trees, turning their dead trunks silver.  

           The lost farm made Dad melancholy. It reminded him of time’s passing, he said. But in the beaver pond all she saw was life: frogs, dragon flies, turtles, snails and minnows. Once a pair of Canada geese nested there. Another time she even caught a perch, which Dad cooked for dinner. She’d always meant to find out who owned the land around the beaver pond. All Dad could tell her was that it lay well beyond their property line.

            The trail suddenly veered right not left. She stopped, bewildered, faced with a tangle of brambles and reeds

            The path turns left here, she thought. Dad cut the trail along the left side of the pond so we could walk along its edge to the far end. Too many cedar trees on the right side: Dad never owned the heavy tools he needed to cut through them. I’ve used this trail since I was a kid. It turns left here, not right

            She clutched the fire shovel as though she could beat her memory into submission.

            Oh, God, this divorce is driving me crazy.

            Crazier, wouldn’t you say?

            Go away, Brian.

            She took the path to the right.

            It led into the shadows of the now-towering cedar trees. A short distance along, she spotted a soft green light: glow grass growing into the trail.

            It spilled out from a tiny track that branched away through a clump of alders. Dodging the leafless bushes, she followed it into a small clearing.

            There a stone garden bench rested in a soft carpet of glow grass. Several small stones bordered its circular edge. On closer inspection, the stones proved to be store-bought garden ornaments, inscribed with a single word like “Forever” or “Remember”. Between the stones stood small plaster statues of angels holding soiled plastic flowers or soggy, bedraggled ribbons. One angel held a glass engraving of the poem, Desiderata, the relic cracked and damaged by the weather. Votive candles in red glass holders lay scattered among the stones, most burned down to the end.

          This was a memorial garden. But for whom?

            She sank down on the bench. The tiny monuments were cheap: she’d seen them for sale in dollar stores. None bore a date or name. Perhaps the strange garden was an amateurish, heartfelt tribute to a family pet.

            But what if it wasn’t?

            She shivered. Who built the garden? Why hide it in the woods away from prying eyes? Was it the unknown owner of the beaver pond?

          Over the years, she and Dad had found evidence of strangers round the pond: cigarette butts, fish line and hooks, empty beer cans… Anyone could pass through their cottage property when she and Dad weren’t there.

            The mysterious gardener had taken glow grass from the cottage and replanted it here. That felt like a warning, a challenge even. As if the unknown gardener was telling her: You abandoned the cottage. Now it’s mine to do with as I like.

           The woods were deathly silent. Yet she had an uneasy sense that someone lurked in the shadows. Watching, waiting, matching her breath for breath. She felt in her jacket for her phone and remembered she’d left it in the car.

            She stood up slowly, wielding the puny fire shovel. Saw nothing but lifeless bushes and dark cedar trees.

            Heart pounding, she stumbled back to the main trail. She walked briskly, faster and faster through the waning light until she was running flat out. She didn’t stop until she burst clear of the trees.

            The porch light was on. Under its harsh light, the glow grass had turned a chalky, sepulchral white.

            Sark stood on the front porch, his bulky form blending into the dusk.

To read “Glow Grass” and the other 14 fine stories in this collection, download 13 O’clock from Amazon here.

 

CYBER CAFE: Meet Kristina Stanley

KS 75 High ResThis week I'm delighted to have fellow adventure author, Kristina Stanley, on Cyber Café. Kristina and I first met at the late great Bloody Words conference just after my debut novel, Windigo Fire, had been accepted by Seraphim Editions.

We bonded right away: both of us were finalists for the Unhanged Arthur and the Debut Dagger awards. And we both love to use challenging outdoor settings in our thrillers.

Kristina has had a smash career since we first met. The first two novels in her Stone Mountain Mystery Series, BLAZE and DESCENT, are bestsellers and the third, AVALANCHE, is soon to be released. And she just sold the print and eBook rights to Lucifer-Verlag in Germany for publication in German later this year!

Emerging writers take note: Kristina generously shares her writing knowledge on her blog. And this spring, Imajin is bringing out her manual on marketing, The Author's Guide to Selling Books to Non-Bookstores. I can't wait to buy it!

Subscribe to Kristina's blog at www.KristinaStanley.com. 

Welcome, Kristina. How did you become a writer?

Before writing my series, I was the director of security, human resources and guest services at a resort in the depths of the British Columbian mountains. The job and lifestyle captured my heart, and I decided to write mysteries about life in an isolated resort. While writing the first four novels, I spent five years living aboard a sailboat in the US and the Bahamas.

Crime Writers of Canada nominated my novel, DESCENT, for the Unhanged Arthur award and The Crime Writers’ Association nominated BLAZE for the Debut Dagger.  My short stories have been published in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine and The Voices From the Valleys anthology.

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You blog three times a week and you’ve gained an incredible following. Tell us how you started.

I started my blog in April 2011 at the suggestion of a friend. Since then, it’s come a long way. In the early days, I was informal about what I posted. Now, I’m a little more structured. Mystery Mondays is published every Monday where I host another author. In return for publicizing their book, I ask for a writing or publishing tip for my readers.

Wednesdays, I try to post Write Better Fiction. Here I focus on writing tips. On Fridays, my series is called Farley’s Friday. This is the story of my wheaten terrier told from his point of view. On the other days, I usually post about my writing journey and anything related to publishing.

Currently just under 5000 people are following my blog, and I hope this continues to grow. The top five locations of my followers are USA, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia and Germany.

What do you especially love about blogging?

My passion for writing led me to start a blog. I wanted to connect with writers and share the journey with others. The joy of it all is I discovered I truly enjoy online networking. I love to learn from others, I’ve discovered many books to read that I otherwise wouldn’t have known about, and I do believe the blog helps sell books.

Farley’s Friday is the blog I have most fun writing. Mostly because it’s pure imagination, and it’s interesting to look at life from a dog’s point of view. My personal favourite this year was Farley’s Friday: Top 5 Reasons Dogs Should Be Welcome At Work. (Click the link to read it!)

I have two sets of followers. Those who follow the blog for the writing topics and those who follow for Farley’s Friday. The Farley’s Friday crowd is more interactive with comments. 

My most popular blog though was September 18th, 2012. How To Proofread had 812 hits in one day. I received so many comments that I created a permanent page on my website for readers!

How can we subscribe to your blog?

Readers can subscribe via email on the right side of my website at  www.KristinaStanley.com. From there, they can follow me on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads or LinkedIn. They can also hit the follow button if they happen to have a blog on wordpress too.

Tell us about your most recent book.

I write murder mysteries with a little romance. I love to explore what would make a sane, typically non-violent person commit murder. I also like to write about remote locations.

BLAZE , my most recent book, was published by Imajin Books in October 2015. It’s the second in the Stone Mountain Mysteries. Instead of exchanging vows, my protagonist, Kalin Thompson, spends her wedding day running from a forest fire near Stone Mountain Resort, and the pregnant friend trapped with her has just gone into labor. Meanwhile, Kalin’s fiancé, Ben Timlin, hangs from the rafters of a burning building, fighting for his life. Can the situation get any hotter?

My favorite review was posted on Writers Who Kill. by E.B Davis who wrote:

What I found, after being hooked by the first sentence, was a primer on how to write a novel. I turned the page to the second chapter and realized Kristina had hooked me right from the start…For all readers, the mystery is satisfying, but for readers who are also writers—this is also a textbook to learn about pacing, character development, and plotting. It’s no wonder that Kristina is a bestselling author.

Read E. B. Davis’s full review of BLAZE here

What is next for your readers?

This spring  Imajin Books is releasing two of my books. The first is AVALANCHE, the third novel in the Stone Mountain Mystery Series. Here’s what happens to our hero, Kalin Thompson: 

On a cold winter morning, deep in the Purcell Mountains, the safe at Stone Mountain Resort is robbed hours before Kalin’s brother, Roy, disappears in an avalanche. 

Under normal circumstances, as the director of security, Kalin would lead the investigation into the theft, but Roy is the prime suspect. The police and the president of the resort tell her to stay clear of the investigation, but she risks her job to clear Roy’s name.

Is her faith in her brother justified? Was the avalanche an accident or did something more sinister happen? Threats against Kalin escalate as she gets closer to the truth. And is the truth worth destroying her life for?

I’m also releasing a guide for authors. The success I had in selling and distributing DESCENT and BLAZE  came came from implementing what I learned by trial-and-error, by talking with other authors and store owners about the process, and from guidance from my publisher. I’ve taken everything I’ve learned and put it into a book.

In THE AUTHOR’S GUIDE TO SELLING BOOKS TO NON-BOOKSTORES I explain how an author should plan, prepare and execute getting books into stores and actually making money from it. It doesn’t matter whether you’re an Indie author or traditionally published, all that matters is you have a printed edition of your fiction or nonfiction book and you want to get that book out into the world.

Thanks, Kristina. Can’t wait to read your two new books.  And fingers crossed for good news at the Arthur Ellis shortlist event coming up next month!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.