NEWS! NEWS! NEWS! Meet me at When Words Collide!

Greetings Readers!

Last year I had the best time at the wonderful multi-genre festival, WHEN WORDS COLLIDE! in Calgary, Alberta. I was part of a crime fiction panel and learned about coz-play and writing children’s books.

I also had the privilege of reading at Noir at the Bar and getting to know the great authors and editors behind Coffin Hop Press, the publishers of The Dame Was Trouble.

Visiting Calgary also became a sentimental journey.  My childhood can best be described as unsettled. Five of my early years were in Calgary – where we lived in three different houses.

Strangely enough my memory of Calgary as a patchwork of disparate cityscapes proved to be accurate. And one of my old homes still exists! There I had a magical conversation with the current owner. (Stand by for a Surreal Trapdoor blog.)

Because more importantly,  WHEN WORDS COLLIDE 2020, will be on Zoom this week, from August 14 to 16th.

Best of all registration is FREE!! Register here.  

I’m delighted to one of the TEN Mesdames of Mayhem who are on the conference. panels.

We Mesdames have our very own panel, Meet the Mesdames of Mayhem, Saturday, August 15th, 4pm (Toronto time), 2 pm (Mountain time). (Donna Carrick, Rosemary McCracken, Madona Skaff, M. H. Callway moderating.) 

Donna Carrick
Rosemary McCracken
Madonna Skaff

 

 

 

 

We’re also out in force for The Long and Short of Crime, Saturday August 15th, 2 pm (TT), 12 noon (MT). (Jane Burfield, Rosemary McCracken, Lynne Murphy, Caro Soles, M. H. Callway moderating.)

Jane Burfield
Lynne Murphy
Caro Soles

 

 

 

 

Be sure to check out friends and authors Jayne Bernard, Melodie Campbell and Lisa De Nikolits.

Jayne Bernard
Lisa De Nikolits
Melodie Campbell

 

 

 

 

Jayne Bernard, Melodie Campbell   Plot vs Character, Crime Fiction’s Eternal Grudge Match, Friday, August 11th 3pm (TT), 1pm(MT) 

Lisa De Nikolits, Caro Soles,  Can the Crossover Fit the Crime? Saturday, August 15th, 12 noon (TT), 10 am (MT)

Jayne Bernard, The Heroine’s Journey, Sunday, August 16th, 1 pm (TT), 11am(MT) ; From the Mean Streets to the Deadly Wilderness, Sunday, August 16th, 3pm (TT), 1pm (MT); Diversity in Speculative Fiction, Sunday, August 16th, 5pm (TT), 3pm (MT)

 

EAT THIS BOOK: Filthy Sugar by Heather Babcock

Heather Babcock

Heather Babcock is an  accomplished author of poetry and short fiction. She has read and performed at a gamut of live venues in Toronto.  (Read more about Heather’s accomplishments  here in Goodreads.)

I became friends with Heather through our mutual friend, Toronto Poet.   Ed and I have enjoyed her readings at Lizzie Violet’s Cabaret Noir and The Redhead Revue. We all share a love of things retro, especially very bad sci-fi movies from the 1950s.

I was delighted when Heather Babcock’s debut novel, Filthy Sugar was published by Inanna Publications. This independent press focuses on literature by and about women and is also the publisher of two dear friends and authors, Lisa De Nikolits  and Caro Soles.

Set in the depths of the Great Depression, Filthy Sugar describes the often tawdry adventures of  19 year old, Wanda Whittle, who uses her beauty and her sexuality to get out of poverty. She ends up cruelly exploited – as a burlesque dancer, a sex worker and even as a “redeemed woman” for a tabloid – because she trusts or falls for the wrong guy.  But Wanda is a fighter and in a great twist at the end of the novel (no spoilers!), she takes back control of her own life and finds real love.

It’s a credit to Heather’s terrific skills as a writer that she can unsparingly portray the romantic traps and sad situations that Wanda falls prey to and yet embody the pages with such vitality, you can’t stop turning the pages.

Heather submerged herself in the history of 1930’s culture –  even listening to 1930’s music while writing – and her passion for the period creates magic on the pages.  (Each chapter is referenced for history buffs.) Here are just a couple of my favorite lines:

  • When the lights are dim and the cigarettes are lit, the dames look like ladies and the mugs look like gentlemen and nobody sees the blood on your shoes at the Bow Tie.
  • When the only things alive are the rats in the walls and the little vampires under my mattress, it’s high time to blow.

I especially love Heather’s portrayal of 1930’s street talk.  Some of the phrases are historical (she includes a dictionary at the end of the book) but the best ones, she created herself. Here’s a sampling:

  • Slug burger – a poor person’s burger served on stale bread
  • Crepehanger – a cynic
  • Flock of salami – bullsh*t
  • Underwood banger – a reporter
  • Filthy sugar – dirty money

Underwood banger and best of all, filthy sugar are Heather’s own phrases. History is the loser!

BOTTOM LINE: Highly recommended. Five stars!

My Story on Audio

Great news!

My long story, “Brainworm”, is featured on Donna Carrick’s Story Stocking, Part One on July 22nd and Part Two on July 29th.  “Brainworm” first appeared in the Mesdames of Mayhem’s latest anthology, In the Key of 13.

In the story, Fiona, a middle-aged woman worn down by looking after her difficult stepmother, has a near miss on the highway during a biting winter blizzard. The shock forces her to face the danger about to devour her.

Click here to tune in to this podcast.

EAT THIS BOOK: Rolling Thunder by A. J. Devlin

I had the pleasure of meeting AJ Devlin at Left Coast Crime in Vancouver in 2019. We ended up sitting next to each other at the Crime Writers of Canada pub dinner and really hit it off. It turns out that AJ spent many years in Hollywood as a screen writer and our daughter, Claire, works in special effects so I know how tough the film biz can be. And we bonded over the challenges we’d both had to overcome to be traditionally published.

 

AJ’s first crime novel, Cobra Clutch, found a home with NeWest Press. It introduced “Hammerhead” Jed Ounstead, a former pro wrestler turned private eye. I loved it! Like pro wrestling, Cobra Clutch has it all: comedy, great characters and over the top action. (The shoot-out on Lion’s Gate Bridge is my personal favorite.)

Cobra Clutch was nominated for a Lefty Award and went on to win the Arthur Ellis Best First Novel Award. Not bad!

So I was eager to read Jed Ounstead’s next adventure, Rolling Thunder. I’m delighted to report that it’s great fun and a great read. Jed is in fine form as he dives into the world of roller derby. The coach of the Split Lip Sallies, whose stage name is Lawrence O’Labia, has disappeared days before a critical match. (Lawrence’s real-life name is even ruder.) The roller derby team hires Jed to find him.

Running Lawrence down lands Jed in enormous danger as he searches through Vancouver’s seamy side. Is it gambling? Drugs? Larry’s secret fondness for the (gay) leather scene? You’ll have to read the book to find out.

AJ has a gift for witty names and dialogue. He populates the pages of his thriller with hilariously weird characters, among them: an effete bookie who races dachshunds, an excruciatingly amateur talk show host and a 300lb roller derby star who likes to whack men’s butts. Jed gets lots of action in and out of the ring. The fight scenes are especially well-written: gritty and visual.

Rolling Thunder hits all the marks for a PI thriller. Thoroughly recommended. 5 stars.

Available on Amazon.ca in print and e-book.

 

WANDERINGS IN THE PLAGUE YEAR #2

COVID forced the pause button down on modern society. And the intensification of social media meant the whole world watched George Floyd get murdered. Yes, let’s use the right word – murdered over an alleged counterfeit $20 bill.

Many times I’ve handed a $20 bill to a cashier who semi-surreptitiously checked it out with a UV light under the counter. What’s the worst that would have happened to me if it looked fake? The cashier would simply have handed it back  and told me it’s phoney.

Because I’m white.  Also I live in Canada.

As a kid, I witnessed the shootings at Kent State University on the TV news. The image of state troopers firing into and killing unarmed student protestors seared into my memory forever. Up until then, I believed the world was the way society and my folks told me it was. That day I began to see the way the world really is.

I’m hoping there’s an upside to the ubiquitous spying technology we’re so addicted to. (In case you missed it, our phones are turning us into “Little Brother”.) But amidst FAANG’s avid personal data collection, the truth occasionally slips out.

Will public outrage reach the critical mass needed for meaningful action? Does this mean Revolution, Baby?

Maybe.

Maybe  this time it’s really gonna be different.

So I biked through Toronto’s Graffiti Alley to take in the street art memorializing George Floyd. Here’s what I found. The pics speak for themselves.

 

 

 

Graffiti Alley runs a short block south of Queen, east-west from Spadina to Bathurst. It’s gritty, the paintings multi-layered and ever-changing. Check Google Maps for location.

NEWS! NEWS! NEWS! My New Story in A Grave Diagnosis

Greetings Readers!

Delighted to report that my cross-genre story, “The Eternal Bakery of the Fractal Mind”, will be part of Carrick Publishing’s exciting new crime anthology, A Grave Diagnosis. Publication is slated for this fall and is one of the few bright spots in this write-off Plague Year AKA Anno Horribilis or 2020.

Donna Carrick chose the medical theme for Grave Diagnosis months before COVID was a whisper on the internet. Some readers might call this serendipity, but I call it prescient and perfect planning!

My story, “The Eternal Bakery…”, is a departure for me and is my first foray into speculative fiction. During Left Coast Crime 2019,  I discovered that my favorite bakery from my university student days in Vancouver still exists – and it still serves my favorite cinnamon buns. The story simply dropped out of the creative ether like a crystal out of solution – a gift when it happens.

I’m delighted to share the pages with several Mesdames of Mayhem buddies and many crime writer friends. I’ll share the full list of writers as soon as it’s available.

And stay tuned for the cover reveal and details of our book launch!

EAT THIS BOOK: Forgotten Books #3 – The Old Dick by L. A. Morse

Older heros, where are they?

In recent years, especially in noir crime fiction, authors and editors have pushed to create  “geezer lit”.  But the sub-genre hasn’t really caught on even though crime fiction readers are an older demographic.

True enough, modern protagonists of crime fiction, especially cozies, have become slightly older, but they’re not really old.

Two notable exceptions did take off.  First of all, there’s the intrepid Miss Marple, inspired by an elderly friend of Dame Agatha Christie’s step grandmother. Miss Marple made her first appearance in a short story published in 1927.

Then more than half a century later,  author L.A. Morse introduced Jake Spanner, his 78 year old PI. The Old Dick was Morse’s first crime novel and he won an Edgar Award for it.

In the early days of Crime Writers of Canada, L. A. Morse was much admired by the membership and perhaps more than a little envied because of his smashing success with The Old Dick. Though Morse worked as an administrator at the University of Toronto, he was actually an American from Los Angeles with two degrees in English literature from the University of California.

Re-reading The Old Dick, it’s easy to understand why it was such a hit. The writing is excellent: Morse goes for the comedy, with wry observations and epigrams packed into every page. He’s channelling his inner Raymond Chandler with observations like :

  • “When you got old, you either went soft or you got dry. Fortunately, I had gotten dry.”
  •  “One of the few advantages of getting really old is that people don’t talk to you…They’re probably afraid that old age is contagious.”
  • “People have always divided the world into “us” and “them”, but when you’re old, you never fit in, so you’re always “them”.”

The Old Dick was not Morse’s first book. He’d already published, The Flesh Eaters, about a 15th century Scottish cannibal clan. He went on to write three more crime novels, all with a satirical edge. He took on Mickey Spillane with two hard-boiled  novels, The Big Enchilada and Sleaze, whose hero, Sam Hunter “made Dirty Harry look like Mother Teresa”. He then showed his cozy side in An Old-Fashioned Mystery, penned by the mysterious and reclusive author, “Runa Fairleigh”.

In the mid-1980s, Morse turned to screen writing. He was one of the writers of    Jake Spanner, Private Eye, a 1989 film starring Robert Mitchum and Ernest Borgnine. Though the movie centred on the Jake Spanner character from The Old Dick, the plot bore no resemblance to the book at all. Despite a strong cast, it failed to take off.

At this point Morse abandoned writing altogether.  He turned to another medium for creative expression: he became -and still is – a sculptor. He became an expert bird watcher and published a two volume reference book on trashy 1980s movies and videos.

BOTTOM LINE:   Abe Books lists the value of my used, unsigned paperback from $4 to $8US.

DECISION – SELL, KEEP or DONATE? 

DONATE with an ounce of regret for the good writing between the covers

 

 

 

 

 

 

SURREAL TRAP DOOR: Attacked by a Grouse!

Grandma’s garden and grouse lair

It’s been a cold spring in Ontario, but time to open up the cottage for the season.  This means gearing up to battle the field mice invasion and/or emptying our bank accounts to repair winter damage.

At first, Anno Horribilis aka 2020 seemed to have thrown us a break. A mature pine tree had cracked in half over the winter but the tree top landed clear of our roof.  No structural damage – whew!

As for the mice, well, remember Walter White’s respirator in Breaking Bad? Good thing we had one, because an ocean of rodent poop was waiting for us in the cupboard under the sink. More feces sprinkled over the counters, stove, you name it.  And a favorite quilt chewed to pieces. Sigh.

It’s necessary to take extreme precautions when cleaning up because Huron County deer mice  harbour the hantavirus. (Nasty info via the Ontario Government publication here.) But my love for animals was about to be further tested…

Outside in my late mother-in-law’s garden, we spotted a pretty bird about the size of a chicken. Not wanting to scare it away, I sneaked closer with my camera.

Grouse well-camouflaged. Probably ruffed grouse species.

 

The bird wasn’t afraid. In fact, it exhibited so little fear that we worried it was someone’s pet. Not a safe environment around our cottage for bunnies and birds – lots of hawks and the occasional carnivore…

While taking the protective plastic off our young fruit trees later on, I noticed the bird again. Quite unafraid, still following us. Worried now, I wondered, should we feed it? Ask our neighbours who it belonged to?

Turning my back to it, all of a sudden, WHACK! Something hard struck me between the shoulder blades. It was the damn bird! Too cowardly to attack fact to face apparently.

OK, I thought, obviously a territorial dispute happening here. For some unknown reason, the grouse had settled on our cottage property for mating and breeding purpose.

Now the grouse was much smaller than me, so its attack was merely disconcerting. Still as a long-term animal rights supporter, I couldn’t help feeling a tiny bit betrayed.

More was to come though. Grouse-zilla kept a beady eye on us as we cleared the yard every so often gathering itself for a rush. By now I was visualizing predators at the top end of the food chain. Where was a fox, muskrat or hawk when you needed one?

“Let’s take a walk to the beaver pond,” Ed suggested. “We’ll lose it in the woods.”

The beaver pond lies about half a kilometre east of our cottage.  You reach it via a trail through the woods.  As we made our way along the trail, we heard it rustling through the undergrowth beside us – all the way to the pond.

“Let’s walk around the pond. It’ll give up,” I said.

So round the pond we went – a fair distance over  ditches, narrow foot bridges, looping round on trails that aren’t easy to find. Did it follow? Of course it did.

It followed us all the way back to the cabin, a distance of at least one kilometre through dense trees and brush. In a (very) grudging way, I admired it. The little f**ker had grit.

After a quick search on the internet, I turned up other tales of grouse attacks. Here’s one of the funniest, Yellowstone Grouse Attack! on video.

We drove off but sadly it wasn’t under our tires. I hear grouse roasts up nice….

 

NEWS: I’m on Goodreads and Dead to Writes in May!

Greetings readers!

Lisa De Nikolits

I was delighted to be a guest on Lisa De Nikolits’ Goodreads blog, Interview with an Author on May 2nd. Lisa is the award-winning author of eight novels and numerous short stories. Her work leans to the dark side and the weird – which is why I love it! It’s crime fiction which explores mystical and philosophical issues. Highly recommended! Her most recent novel is The Occult Persuasion and the Anarchist’s Solution.

In our interview, I tell how a scientist with a business degree ended up writing crime fiction and I share some of my life experiences that led to Windigo Fire. Read it here.

I was also delighted to be Donna Carrick’s guest author on her 70th episode of  Dead to Writes on May 17th. Our interview is on Zoom so you can see and hear us talking about crime fiction, my writing and the Mesdames of Mayhem, the author community that Donna and I co-founded.

Enjoy our zoom interview here. Also on iTunes podcast here

EAT THIS BOOK: Knucklehead Noir by Coffin Hop Press

Strange times, readers. But happily, at long last we can attack our TBR piles. Definitely time to indulge in feel-good literature even when one is drawn to the dark side – and noir.

The answer? Black humour and you will find plenty in the terrific anthology, Knucklehead Noir ( Coffin Hop Press) edited by Robert Bose and Sarah L. Johnson. The byline says it all: When there’s no room left in jail, the idiots will walk the streets. Believe me, when you’ve finished these 15 stories (most new, some reprinted)  by leading Canadian and American noir authors, you will feel much better about your own life, family, friends, job and COVID-19.

Leading off these tales celebrating idiots is one of my personal favorites, “Two Kangaroos Chained to a Piss Pot” by Jason Pearce. Angus arrives home with the Christmas gifts he made in jail, like the shiv his little brother can use as a toothbrush. Handy! But when he robs his local grocery store of beer and smokes, things go awry in the most Canadian way.  “Honeymoon Sweet” by US screenwriter, Craig Faustus Buck, is the Macavity award-winning tale of marry in haste, repent at leisure. The same warning continues in “Work at Home Opportunity! Perfect for Single Moms” by Laurie Zottmann. Single mom, Chucky Jensen, struggles to sell stolen yoga pants at her kid’s school fair while fending off bitchy competitors and hiding the freshly dug hole in her garden from her nosy neighbour cop.

Golden Derringer winner, Michael Bracken, pens a cautionary tale about wannabee robbers of adult stores in “Sex Toys”, but Pamela Kenney gives us hope in “All in a Day’s Work”. You may change your fate if your kidnappers are dumber than you.  The criminals in Chris R. Young’s story, ” Thick as Thieves”, are certainly thick. They mess up a job -no kidding!- and get caught in a hilarious twist of fate.

More inept wannabees appear in Tom Barlow’s, “Hic”. Andy tries to outdo his jailed brother, while sleeping with his brother’s devious ex, but his nerves set off a fit of hiccups and disaster.   Jaclyn Adomeit’s story, “Scratch and Sniff”, skillfully blends suspense and humour in hero Nathan’s quest to smuggle drugs into an oil drillers camp. And the sad irony continues in Brent Nichols’ “Go Fish”, where a poacher steals a drowning victim’s cell phone only to find out that the vic has powerful friends bent on a watery revenge.

Another personal favorite is “Johnny Money”, by Steve Passey, where hardened gangster, Johnny, looks out for his vulnerable younger brother, Ricky. American noir author, Steve Brewer, shows his humorous side in “Cemetery Plot” where a trio of idiots try to kill each other off in a graveyard. Convenient because who looks for a murder victim in a cemetery?

Events turn downright bizarre in the cross-genre story “Soft Opening” by Will Viharo. Porn merchants learn that it’s never a good idea to cross an alien.  In “Beer Run” by Scott S. Phillips, Radio Ketchum fights to retrieve a beer shipment stolen from his terrifying mother’s bar. And in Axel Howerton’s “The Aluminum Eagle”, we travel back in time in a thoroughly enjoyable homage to Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack. And rounding up the collection is the flash story, “Liner Notes” by editors Sarah and Rob where a hapless photog learns the hard way that his pics may be a goldmine, but not in the way he dreamed.

Bottomline: 5 stars  – Eat this Book!