NEWS! Story in Moonlight and Misadventure

Greetings Readers!

Delighted that my story, “The Moon God of Broadmoor” , has been accepted for Judy Penz Sheluk’s upcoming anthology, Moonlight and Misadventure.  Publication is scheduled for June 18, 2021. Exciting! I can’t wait to read the other stories in the collection.

Through Superior Shores Press, Judy has edited and published two previous anthologies, The Best Laid Plans and Heartbreak & Half-Truths, both of which have received critical acclaim.

Stay tuned for the cover reveal and more updates.

EAT THIS BOOK: Forgotten Books #6 -The Neon Flamingo by W. R. Philbrick

Eat This Book

 

 

 

 

I read my first T.D. Stash novel  while vacationing with the family at a tourist lodge on Lake Temagami. Despite being exhausted after canoeing with a 3 year old, I sat up all night to finish The Neon Flamingo. Its Florida Keys setting was as removed from Northern Ontario as you can imagine.

Gripping and smoothly written, W.R. Philbrick’s book has stayed with me, mostly because its hero, T.D. Stash, was so unusual for the late 1980s. He was a screw-up – a  stoner and sometime fisherman desperate enough for cash to do favors for friends – legal or not so much. He often made dire situations worse.

I quickly read the next two books in the series, The Crystal Blue Persuasion and Tough Enough. Then waited in vain for more.

A few years later I met W. R. Philbrick at a crime writers’ conference. He happily signed my copy of The Neon Flamingo then passed on the bad news that his editor didn’t want any  more T.D. Stash novels. A damn shame!

I suspect that TD Stash series was too dark. In other words, too intense, truthful and violent for 1990s readers. Like Liza Cody’s Bucket Nut, the books were fine examples of noir – and thus decades ahead of their time.

So what happened to W. R. Philbrick? I’m happy to tell you that he’s written over 30  novels under three pseudonyms, including the Connie Kale and J. D. Hawkins crime series.  He’s had great success as a YA author, winning multiple awards.  His YA adventure story, Freak the Mighty,  was translated into several languages and is studied in classrooms throughout the world. Later it became a successful film.

BOTTOM LINE:

The T.D. Stash books are not  available on Amazon in print or digital form. Abe Books carry only a very few used paperbacks listed between $3 to $8US.

DECISION: Keep this rare book.

EAT THIS BOOK: Never Going Back by Sam Wiebe

Novellas are relatively rare in crime fiction where formats are far more rigid than in literary and speculative fiction.  Short story lengths greater than 5000 words are tolerated…barely. And novels must be no less than 65,000 and no more than 95,000 words.

No doubt the formats are dictated by business rather than artistic imperatives. The story or book length a publisher believes will hold readers’ attention spans.

So what is a novella exactly? A long story or a short novel? As an author whose work naturally tends to fall in this category,  I believe a novella is a story with a linear plot but with more texture, atmosphere and complexity of character than can be captured in 5000 words or less.

The Orca Rapid Reads Series  breathed life into the crime fiction novella. Mostly because of this series, the CWC Awards of Excellence have had enough entries to create and sustain a novella category. (CWC defines a novella as a story between 8000 and 20,000 words.)

The Rapid Reads series is aimed at adults who are ESL students, who have difficulty reading or those who simply want a fast satisfying read. Although the language is uncomplicated, the books are not simplistic. They are hard-hitting, with adult themes and they often focus on social issues.

It’s a challenge for an author to streamline their writing style without losing its essence. That’s why Orca contracted with leading Canadian crime fiction authors for the 68 books in the series, including my friend, Sam Wiebe.

Sam’s novella, Never Going Back  (Orca, 2020is one of the latest books in the Rapid Reads series.  Its protagonist, Alison Kidd, is a tough young woman, a master thief who’s just gotten out of jail. She hated prison and she’s determined to go straight, but the local crime boss blackmails her into pulling off a risky job. If she refuses, her brother will be killed. Can she outsmart her old boss and save her brother and herself?

Sam’s hard-hitting, critically acclaimed Dave Wakeland series and his debut novel,  The Last of the Independents, are both written very much from a man’s point of view. I was intrigued that Sam chose a woman hero for Never Going Back. Could he pull it off?

I’m delighted to say that, yes, Sam did! Alison Kidd is a terrific and likeable character.  (More books and stories with strong women, Sam!) The plot has the twists and turns of a switchback highway and the suspense that goes along with it. An excellent thriller!

EAT THIS BOOK:  5 STARS

 

 

EAT THIS BOOK: Forgotten Writer #5 – Lia Matera and Star Witness or UFO’s and Me

As a kid I was space mad. I longed to become an astronaut or an astronomer. And while I was growing up, sightings of UFO’s were prominent in the news.  I became convinced that space aliens were visiting  our planet.

Maybe that’s why I have fond memories of Lia Matera’s thriller, Star Witness, the fifth book in her Willa Jansson series. The book opens with a hit-between-the-eyes description of a horrific road accident: a sporty Fiat has dived into the roof of an old Buick, squishing the driver. The owner of the Fiat, Alan, has vanished. When the police locate him, he claims he was abducted by aliens. They’re the ones who dropped his car on the Buick!

It falls to grumpy lawyer, Willa Jansson to defend Alan and his incredible alibi. But delving into reports of UFO’s and encounters of the third kind, her skepticism dissolves. Holy Cartman’s anal probe!

Matera did a deep dive into UFO’s and weird encounters and included a listing of books and videos at the end of Star Witness. In her foreword  she describes how  her personal skepticism took a journey much like Willa Jansson’s.

Even today in Canada, we have firm believers in UFO’s. (Check out the meet-ups in Toronto alone!) Many years ago, I met and chatted with one of BC’s leading UFO believers thanks to my friend, retired filmmaker, Chris Windsor.

Chris had studied film making at UBC while I slogged away at my doctorate in organic chemistry. His student film, Roofman, was a huge hit with audiences at the university. That success and his talent landed him a job making industrial training films in Alberta. Mind-numbing and soul-destroying to be sure, but at least he was earning a living in his chosen profession.

In his spare time, Chris began working on a documentary about UFO’s.  By then I was living in Victoria and writing my PhD thesis. Out of the blue one afternoon, Chris phoned. Would I help him out on a film shoot? He and his cinematographer were in town to interview the President of BC’s UFO Society.

Boy that was a hard choice – cranking out dry scientific prose or skiving off with two friends  to explore UFO’s. Hell, yes!

The three of us headed off in Chris’s car to interview the UFO President at his house in a rural part of Vancouver Island. He turned out to be a  kindly middle-aged man who lived in a tidy, respectable middle class home: he looked and acted like our dads though if memory serves, he did don a tinfoil hat.  And his belief in UFO’s was absolute.

I’ll always owe Chris for that amazing life experience. I don’t know what happened with his UFO documentary, because shortly after that I handed in my thesis, graduated and moved back to Ontario.

So what happened to Lia Matera and Chris Windsor? Lia Matera , herself a  lawyer, was chief editor of the Constitutional Law Quarterly and a teaching fellow at Stanford Law School, when she took up crime writing. She wrote the Willa Jansson and Laura Di Palma series of crime novels, twelve books in all, plus a dozen short stories. Her work collected several nominations for leading awards: the Edgar, Anthony and Macavity. She won the Shamus award in 1996.

Matera wrote from 1987 to 1996 then very little thereafter though Ellery Queen Magazine published her chilling tale, “Snow Job” as recently as 2019. Did she go back to law? Did she retire? The crime writing world is poorer for it!

Chris did go on to make a feature film, Big Meat Eater, a horror comedy that was released in 1982.  It got favorable reviews and was a finalist at the 1983 Genies  for Best Original Screenplay, but it never became a huge hit.  Chris told me that unfortunately, as a Canadian film it was eclipsed by the American film, Eating Raoul, another horror comedy about cannibalism.

Andrew Gillies, Chris’s star in Roofman and Big Meat Eater went on to have a long career as a stage and film actor, with roles in The Virgin Suicides and Orphan Black. 

Sadly, Chris left the film business. He may simply have burned out. To learn about the arduous art of film making, read his excellent article in the Georgia Strait here. He now lives in Asia where he has worked for many years.

VALUE: So what’s my used paperback copy of Star Witness worth on Abe Books? About $2 to $8US.  It doesn’t appear to be available in Canada

BOTTOM LINE: Keep. In honour of UFO’s!

 

 

 

 

 

 

SURREAL TRAPDOOR: Abandoned Buildings in Your Neighborhood – Pt. 1

ABANDONED

I’ve always been fascinated by abandoned buildings. Arrested in time, they are living ghosts, hoarders of stories.  I’ve always imagined them to be located on windswept hills, next to crumbling seashores or hidden in industrial wastelands, not lurking in my neighborhood.

To my surprise, I’ve now run across several abandoned buildings close to home. I’ve even learned how to spot them. (Stay tuned, that’s for Part 2.)

About a year ago, a visitor to our cottage told us that they’d discovered a “haunted house” on their walk through town. Following their directions,  I found it on my next morning run.

On first approach…

The house at first glance seemed to be an older Victorian whose owners loved ivy-covered walls.  But a closer look revealed a seriously deteriorated roof and a badly overgrown garden. The kingdom of plants had taken over.

Definitely some problems

 

 

What is hidden upstairs?
Vandals

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A danger in  being abandoned is vandalism – those who seek to destroy for the pure pleasure of destruction. Worst of all is the onslaught of natural elements, water being the most lethal.

I couldn’t help being curious about the reasons behind the house’s deterioration. An official notice was posted close to the “no trespassing” sign. Perhaps the inhabitants grew too elderly or too poor to maintain the house. As per COVID, one day would slide into the next, each as unremarkable as the other until decades had passed.

I spotted signs of an attempted clear-out. Was there a forced eviction? Two of these sad signs below.

Sad carpet
Lonely chair and bed spread

 

 

 

 

 

Over the summer, I observed  attempts to clear and/or repair the house, apparently by someone working singlehandedly.  Not much progress as you might expect for such an overwhelming task.

This summer, a year later, curiosity led me past the haunted house again. Massive changes had happened: the ivy was gone, the extension had been demolished and the entire garden had been ripped out. Nothing was left but an empty purged shell.

Which is the real ghost?

Before and after

 

Eat this Book: Forgotten Mystery Writers #4 – Liza Cody and Bucket Nut

Back in the 1990s, the Crime Writers of Canada had an unusual guest speaker from the UK –  a woman!  Indeed a young woman! She’d just written crime novel with a fascinating protagonist, decades ahead of her time. And it had won the prestigious CWA Silver Dagger Award.

Liza’s hero, Eva Wylie, is a female wrestler – and gay. The book I’ve pulled from my shelf is Bucket Nut, a pejorative phrase thrown at women who don’t pass het-male beauty standards. Or as the Brits put it “a face that could stop a clock”.

Bucket Nut is written in Eva’s voice and vernacular, every word pitch-perfect. Here’s a sample para:

I know you think I’m stupid. Don’t try to tell me different, because I know, see. And maybe I’d done a stupid thing. All right.  But even clever people can do stupid things. You don’t have to be all-round stupid to be conned. Clever people can be fooled, too. Hasn’t anyone ever taken you for a sucker? Well okay. I’m not judging you, so don’t you sit there and judge me!

Set in the sordid world of low-rent wrestling,  Bucket Nut shows Liza’s knowledge of a tough and gritty Britain.  Like other great crime novels, it explores the social issues of sexism, poverty and the class system while solving the mystery.  Eva is no saint and she relies on her fists and muscle more than is wise.

In creating Eva, Liza Cody was inspired by real-life British wrestler, Klondike Kate, who, she says, looked like a rain barrel in a leotard.

After the CWC meeting, I chatted with Liza, who, though tall, was about as far removed from the world of female wrestling as can be imagined. Born with dyslexia, she attended art school, became a graphic designer and worked day jobs, including doing hair styles on the wax dummies at Mme Tussaud’s!

When the digital world eclipsed the old mechanical world, Liza could take up writing, because of the computer spell-checker.  Her experiences in the art world served her well in creating – or documenting – bizarre encounters. During our chat, she entertained us about a cop at her gym who wore a complete “Dr. Frankenfurter ” under her uniform!

So what happened to Liza Cody? She didn’t disappear at all. She just didn’t come back to Canada!

I’m delighted to report that she’s had a very successful career in the UK.  Her Anna Lee novels about a woman private investigator, became a TV series in the UK and the USA.  And she continues to write: dozens of short stories, many published in Ellery Queen Magazine as well as five standalone novels.

Her most recent work, Lady Bag,  stars an elderly homeless woman whose pet greyhound is her best friend. One day outside the National Gallery, they meet the Devil…   I’m definitely going to read that one!

VALUE: So what’s my used paperback copy of Bucket Nut worth on Abe Books? About $4US.  And the Thierry* value: $66US.

BOTTOM LINE: Keep. In honour of wild women protagonists!

 

*Thierry value = most outrageous price you can humanly get away with. Named in honour of Mr. Brainwash who successfully sold used, outdated T-shirts for $500+. (See Banksy’s documentary, Exit through the Gift Shop.)

 

 

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Greetings Readers!

Really looking forward to connecting with you and hopefully meeting you in the real world in 2021. For more news, do check out  https://mesdamesofmayhem.com

Wishing you a bright and healthy New Year!

Madeleine

HAPPY HOLIDAYS, DEAR READERS!


Dear Readers!

This has been a strange year indeed. Most of all, I miss connecting with you and my fellow crime authors in the Real World.

Just in time for Christmas,  Amazon delivered my print copies of A Grave Diagnosis Donna Carrick’s spooky and appropriate anthology for Anno Horribilis, AKA 2020. It never gets old to see one’s work in print!
And a special Christmas decoration, 3D-printed here at home, that captures the world’s feelings about much of this year. Look closely for the message!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stay safe and looking forward to a much brighter and happier 2021 in the Real  World!

Hugs, Mad (M. H. Callway)

EAT THIS BOOK: THE COLD VANISH by Jon Billman

I was a bookish child and so inept at sports that my friends would fight to NOT have me on their team. But two amazing women got me to love sports – and changed my life forever.

In university, my sister-in-law got me into hiking, biking and downhill skiing. (We also had adventures dinghy sailing.) And my friend, Marian Misters, co-owner of Sleuth of Baker Street bookstore, introduced me to road running.

Hard work and perseverance accomplished more than I dreamed of: I’ve run a marathon, regularly biked 120 km at a stretch and skied black diamonds without dying! But I remain in awe of ultramarathoners, adventurers and mountain climbers whose exploits I devoured in the late, great Outside magazine.

Jon Billman, is a search-and-rescue expert, a former wildland firefighter and regular contributor to Outside. In The Cold Vanish, he explores how and why people continue to go missing in the wilderness. It’s been said that the solution to an enduring mystery is often sadly banal. That may be true of the many cases Billman writes about, but like Jon Krakauer, he unveils the tragedy behind each story – and a warning.   Venturing into the wilderness requires an abundance of caution.

Billman’s book reads like a thriller. I couldn’t put it down. The overarching  story centers on Jacob Gray, a 22 year-old cyclist who disappeared in Olympic National Park in Washington State.  He’d embarked on a cycling journey but shortly after leaving home, his bicycle was found abandoned by the side of the road, all his gear intact.  Close by was the fast-flowing Sol Duc River. Searchers assumed the worst: that he’d tried to fill his water bottle, fallen in and drowned.

Billman formed a close friendship with Jacob’s father, Randy, who never gave up hope of finding his son. They searched for Jacob for over a year, chasing scenarios from Jacob being involved in the drug trade to joining a cult to simply walking away from the world.  (No spoilers, you must read through to the end of the book to find out what really happened to Jacob.)

The reasons behind these disappearances range from murder to accidents to running away. Billman interviews scientists – there aren’t many of them – who  research how and why people go missing in the wilderness.

So how do people go missing? Much of the time accidents are to blame, usually falls when the person was on their own.  The other main reason? Simply getting lost and dying from exposure, which usually means dehydration or hypothermia. People greatly underestimate the amount of water they need when hiking, especially in the heat. And even temperatures as moderate as 0 degrees Celsius (32 degrees Fahrenheit) can lead to hypothermia.

Sadly the vast majority of the cases do not end well. Billman does include a miraculous rescue, that of a young yoga teacher who went missing in Hawaii for over two weeks. She wandered off the marked trail in a nature preserve and got lost. She survived a fall and a broken leg, but knew enough about nature to stay dehydrated.  Search planes found her by chance in an area of the preserve far outside the search range. She’d wandered much farther than anyone had predicted.

The takeaways from the stories: those who go missing for a long time are found by chance and by people unassociated with the original search and rescue team.  Often as not, the missing  person is in a location logic did not dictate.

Important to remember that our predominantly urban society is spectacularly underequipped to deal with the wilderness. It’s not Disneyland. When exploring the wilderness, listen to the advice of forest rangers and park wardens. Don’t wander off marked trails.  Take the right amount of water, food and supplies with you. And never go alone.

My rating: 5 stars  Eat this book!

A Footnote:  In 2016, at Left Coast Crime in Phoenix, Arizona, I took a tour of the Apacheland Movie Set museum. Our guide told us how a hiker had died the day before of heat and dehydration. He’d wandered off the beaten track and gotten lost, one canyon looking much like another. Also that day, three German tourists had set off into the desert with umbrellas to ward off the sun, but greatly underestimated the quantity of water they needed. Fortunately they were rescued, dehydrated but alive.  Read the full story here.

YOUR INVITATION TO THE LAUNCH OF A GRAVE DIAGNOSIS!

Do join me and my fellow crime writers for the Zoom launch of Carrick Publishing’s new crime fiction anthology, A Grave Diagnosis.  This collection of tales of murder and malaise appropriately launches on Halloween!!

AND a special Halloween treat – here’s our video on YouTube!  Thank you, editor and publisher, Donna Carrick!