It’s been a crazy few weeks while I trained for The Ride to Conquer Cancer, my 15th straight ride. The 2022 Ride from Toronto to Niagara Falls, in support of cancer research at Princess Margaret Hospital, takes place this weekend, June 11&12th.
And June 4th, I helped out at the Crime Writers of Canada booth at the Toronto International Festival of Authors. For the first time, TIFA, focused on crime fiction with international luminaries such as Maureen Jennings, Peter Robinson, Linwood Barclay, Mark Billingham and Val McDermid.
The wind nearly blew us away in the open CWC tent, but I had great fun chatting with fellow crime writers. I even sold a few books to the passers-by who stumbled over our exhibit.
I was also interviewed by friend, Donna Carrick, on her podcast, Dead to Writes. We are promoting the Mesdames fifth anthology, In the Spirit of 13, which comes out this fall. You can see and hear me here.
And I sold two stories in May! My Danny Bluestone winter thriller, “Last Island” was bought by Mystery Magazine, publication date TBA. And my dark comedy thriller, “Must Love Dogs – or You’re Gone” was accepted for the upcoming anthology, GONE, by Red Dog Press in the UK. My first British publication! GONE will be published in November.
It is my great pleasure to welcome my mentor and fellow crime writer, Lynne Murphy to Cyber Cafe. For the past 20 years, Lynne has been the leader of our writing critique group. We’ve gone through many ups and downs of the writer’s life together, but more importantly, champagne parties to celebrate our many triumphs.
Lynne can’t help being funny. She is the creator of the gang of feisty residents in the Golden Elders Condo. The ladies are the heroes of stories in several Sisters in Crime and Mesdames of Mayhem anthologies. Lately, she’s penned darker tales like “The Lady Killer” in the upcomingCWC Anthology, Cold Canadian Crime and “The Trespassers” in the Mesdames new book, In the Spirit of Thirteen.
Lynne has now published her collected works in Potluck together with her new novella, A Damaged Heart. And yes, that’s Lynne on the cover offering special brownies…
Potluck launches on Zoom this Saturday, April 23rd, at 2 pm, hosted by Lynne’s publisher, Carrick Publishing. All readers most welcome. Here’s the link: Launch Meeting – Zoom
MHC: Were you always a writer? Did you know from childhood?
I learned to read when I was four. I read everything I could get my hands on from then on. When you like reading so much, you want to write. There was a weekly paper in Saskatchewan called The Western Producer and it had a young people’ page called The Young Co-operators. Our motto was “We Co-operate.” The Saskatchewan spirit! They accepted contributions and it was a thrill when I was ten to see my fiction in print.
MHC: What draws you to writing crime fiction?
I like puzzles: jigsaws, crosswords, mysteries. I especially like stories with a twist, stories that surprise you. I hope there are some surprises in the stories in Potluck.
MHC: Potluck contains your collected short stories. I especially enjoyed reading about the adventures of the residents of the Golden Elders Condo. How did you come up with scenarios like growing marihuana in the flower beds?
We had a garden committee at the condo where I lived.One of my friends there had an arthritic shoulder and nothing seemed to help her. This was before marihuana was legal in Canada so I started thinking “What if?” The best stories seem to start with that, don’t they? Most of the stories about the Golden Elders are rooted in real events from my former condo.
MHC: Tell us about your new novella, A Damaged Heart. What inspired you to write darker this time?
It was the character I created, Kirsty. I started out writing about a man who had been a traitor during WWII and how that affected his daughter. But then Kirsty took over and the treason disappeared. She had a miserable childhood and there wasn’t much to be funny about. Although, she has her own dark sense of humor that pops up now and then.
The story I have coming out in Cold Canadian Crime, the new CWC anthology, is also very dark. Grim, in fact.
MHC: What do you especially enjoy about being part of an anthology, likethe Mesdames of Mayhem or Sisters in Crime?
I like how we all support each other. We show up for launches and buy each other’s books and write reviews if we enjoy them. It’s great to be part of a community.
MHC: Why do you believe that your stories tend to be humorous?
The humor sneaks in even when I’m trying to be serious. I mentioned the Western Producer: when I was about eight, I won a poetry contest they had for kids. My poem was called “Peaceful Thoughts Disturbed”, and it described the beauty of the landscape and ended with the line, “Yeow, there’s a bug down the back of my neck”. I was trying to be funny even then.
MHC: What will you be writing next? Will you explore other genres in addition to crime fiction?
I have a short story I’m working on right now about a woman in the Golden Elders who forgets to lock her door and comes home to find a man in her bed. That happens quite often in seniors’ residences, where people can’t find their own apartments. But this man is dead! I have a story in Potluck called “TheTrespassers”, which is more horror than mystery, but the horror is real.
DO JOIN US FOR LYNNE’S ZOOM BOOK LAUNCH, THIS SATURDAY, APRIL 23RD, 2 PM!
I was delighted to interview Mike Martin, creator of the Sergeant Windflower mystery seriesand the founder of the Maple Leaf Mystery Conference. To register, click on the poster!
Read my interview with Mike on the Mesdames of Mayhem website here. Canada’s been without a national crime writers conference for a few years so the upcoming virtual conference is most welcome. Fingers crossed for a Real World conference in 2023.
Sergeant Windflower’s latest adventure, Buried Secrets, is now available on Amazon.
Canada has a new national mystery conference, The Maple Leaf Mystery Conference to be held May 24 to 28, 2022. The conference is virtual in 2022 – and if COVID cooperates, it’ll become a Real World event in 2023.
MLMC offers a wonderful opportunity to meet two masters of crime fiction whose work has led to two internationally famous TV series: Maureen Jennings, author of the Inspector Murdoch series and Ian Rankin, creator of Inspector Rebus. Readers can also watch leading Canadian crime writers on panels. Here’s the tentative schedule.
I am an intrepid armchair adventurer. One of my earliest memories is listening to a report that Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary had summited Mt. Everest - on the radio. (Yes, I'm that O-L-D.)
Mt. Everest has fascinated me all my life. I devoured John Krakauer's book, Into Thin Air, about the notorious 1996 climbing disaster and became a long-time subscriber to Outside Magazine. In 1997, my daughter and I heard Krakauer speak at OISE about another of his books, Into the Wild. He changed our thinking forever.
Into the Wild is the story of 19 year old Christopher McCandless, who, disillusioned by modern life, turned to a nomadic existence and changed his name to Alex Supertramp. He ended up dying in an abandoned school bus in Denali National Park, Alaska after a failed attempt to live off the land. Before I would have written off McCandless as a victim of misadventure (he ate a poisonous plant), but Krakauer illuminated his tragedy. Nature isn't a gentle spiritual healer: nature just is.
When Amazon recommended, Lost in Valley of Death by Harley Rustad, it took me a whole two seconds to buy it. Rustad's book struck me as a fusion of Into the Wild and The Cold Vanish, a gripping collection of true stories about people who'd vanished in the wilderness by a search-and-rescue expert, Jon Billman,
Rustad, like Krakauer and Billman, is a writer for Outside Magazine which values excellence in non-fiction writing. Even better, he's Canadian!
His beautifully written and meticulously researched book examines the tragic life of another lost soul, Justin Alexander Shetler, who vanished in India's Parvati Valley or the "Backpackers Bermuda Triangle". There are definite similarities between McCandless and Shetler, but at age 35, Shetler was older and more experienced and what happened to him underscores the downside of living in the digital age.
The Parvati Valley lies in Northern India in the Himalayan Mountains. This remote and rugged region is a spiritual destination for Sikh and Hindu pilgrims: legend has it that Shiva, the Destroyer God, meditated there for 3000 years. What is also true is that the valley is a source of potent black hash. Though marihuana and hash are illegal in India, local authorities turn a blind eye to its use, at least by the locals. Not only do the police lack the resources for enforcement, the hash brings in Western tourists and significant economic benefits to the area. The Western search for spiritual enlightenment is big business.
Several travelers go missing every year in the Parvati Valley. Some disappear intentionally and reside there illegally before being discovered and deported. Others are victims of hiking accidents or fall afoul of bandits and/or drug dealers. The ferocious rapids of the Parvati River ensure that the bodies of the disappeared are rarely recovered.
Shetler was far from being a wide-eyed tourist. He'd travelled throughout Asia and made many friends there. An accomplished nature guide and tough survivalist, he'd survived the break-up of his parents' marriage, sexual abuse and a near-fatal car accident. A keen, deep-set spiritual void turned him into a nomad, constantly seeking fulfillment from the world around him. He assumed and shed many identities in his short life: environmentalist, Buddhist monk, IT entrepreneur, motorcycle rider and sadhu disciple.
His emptiness was fueled by an obsession to document his adventures on social media. Far from healing him, the pressing demand for content from his followers let the demons of marketing invade his soul. He became a brand in pursuit of an identity. Perhaps this desperation is why he resorted to buying and selling hash to finance his spiritual journey and to trusting the wrong people.
Rustad's book is a cautionary tale for those who fail to understand what Western tourists represent to an impoverished population. And a warning that even the mightiest man may be slain by one arrow.
RATING: 5 STARS!!
I was delighted when author friend, Sam Wiebe, announced his latest Dave Wakeland thriller, Hell and Gone, the third in the series about the introspective Vancouver private investigator (Harbour Publishing).
The first two Wakeland books were stand-outs: Invisible Deadwas a finalist for the City of Vancouver Book Award and Cut You Down was short-listed for both the Hammett and Shamus awards. But Hell and Gone is the best Wakeland novel yet!
The book opens with a harrowing robbery and shoot-out, one of the most gripping action sequences I’ve read in recent memory. Wakeland witnesses the crime, tries unsuccessfully to help the victims and struggles with PTSD as a result. He’s determined to bring down the perpetrators, but this puts him in conflict with his business partner, Jeff Chen.
Hell and Gone focuses on Jeff, who up till now was more Wakeland’s foil: the moral, stable, non-violent half of the partnership. Sam delves into the intricate historical ties to crime in Vancouver’s Chinese community and the traps that can befall the modern generation of business owners like Jeff. His portrayal of Wakeland’s PTSD is especially believable.
The plot offers enough twists and betrayals to rival Dashiell Hammett himself. (Sorry no spoilers!) You’ll stay up all night to get to the last page.
And for emerging writers, I highly recommend Sam’s online Mystery Writing Mastery courses. The 14 beginner’s lessons are free.
Happy to announce that my flash story , “Incompetence Kills”, is reprinted in the 2021 BOULD Anthology. which also includes “Family Values” by my friend and fellow Mme, Sylvia Warsh. BOULD is an acronym for Bizarre, Outrageous, Unfettered, Limitless and Daring.
The BOULD Contest was created in 2018 by thriller author, Jake Devlin who loves the off-beat. He encourages authors to send him that story they were unpleasantly surprised to find within themselves and too embarrassed to place anywhere. Winners get a small cash prize. (Spoiler – you won’t get rich!)
Jake only asks that stories be short, usually under 1500 words. Reprints are OK. Submissions open Jan 1, 2022. Check out the guidelines here.
BOULD has taken off. When Jake published his first anthology, he had roughly 20 stories. He aimed to find 100 acceptable tales this year – and succeeded.
Surprisingly the winning stories of the contest aren’t lurid. They stray more into the realm of SF or fantasy and offer a complete story in fewer words. One winning story I especially enjoyed was by fellow Canadian Steve Shrott. His story featured a gorilla NOT as the murderer in Rue Morgue (spoiler alert) but as the detective’s smarter assistant. Love to see more of those!
Our cottage, like nature itself, suffers waves of infestations. At one time, a neon-green grass thrived under the pine trees. We called it “glow grass”. It was the only plant I’ve encountered that grew unrestrained in soil rendered acidic by pine needles. This fascinating weed inspired my thriller, Glow Grass, a finalist for the CWC Best Novella award.
Our glow grass has vanished in recent years. The tall trees and thick bush plus the wet summer created a dark moist environment conducive to…mushrooms!
Looking out our bedroom window I spotted orange dots all over the grass. What a pretty autumn flower, I thought. Venturing outside I found a fairy ring of strange yellow mushrooms.
Ee-yuck! I am not a mushroom fan. As a child, I was warned over and over that all mushrooms were deadly poisonous. These yellow guys did not look at all like the benign grocery kind.
Thanks to the Fount-of-all-Knowledge, i.e. the internet, our daughter identified them as most likely Amanita flavoconia or “yellow dust” mushrooms, which are common in the northeast American states. And yes, they are TOXIC. Great.
Amanita…why did that name sound familiar? Because it sounded like the biological name for the Destroying Angel, or Amanita bisporigera, one of the deadliest mushrooms around! These nasty little buggers can mimic the benign and tasty puffball in their early stage before they blossom out into the parasol shape in the picture.
They contain a poison called amatoxin, which interferes with messenger-RNA and causes irreversible liver and kidney damage within hours. As little as half a mushroom cap is fatal. Victims have been saved by intensive medical intervention which included hemodialysis, swallowing activated charcoal and IV penicillin. Some medical evidence suggests that extracts from the milk thistle may work as an antidote because they destroy liver toxins.
Better to know and avoid! But let’s not stop there.
At the age of 8, I lived with my grandmother in Sweden for nearly 18 months. My uncle, Robert Syk, a polymath, who had successful careers as a architect, musician and literary author, had a passion for mushroom picking. (A popular pastime in Scandinavia, Poland and the Baltic countries.) On walks through the woods on Muskön (Musk Island), he taught my cousins and me which ones were safe to bring home and eat – and more importantly – which were not. The most dangerous mushrooms he showed us was the deadly toadstool, otherwise known as Amanita muscaria or the fly agaric.
Swedes have a thing for toadstools which show up in pictures, design images even as Christmas decorations – no doubt due to their beautiful red and white polka dot motif. Many years later I read that Russians actually EAT toadstools. Boiling them twice weakens their toxicity and removes their psychoactive properties. I guess those long winters are pretty harsh and when you’re looking at starvation but …holy ergot!
Yes, readers, it turns out that the fly agaric has hallucinogenic properties, much prized as an entheogen by the indigenous people of Siberia and the Sami, the Arctic people of Scandinavia. In other words, to open Huxley’s spiritual doors of perception.
Argh! Do not eat!
The orange mushroom infestation exploded over the weekend, sprouting up all over our grass made swampy by the heavy September rains. Fortunately by Thanksgiving, they were gone. What next, I wonder.