A lovely surprise today, September 13th, from my friend and publisher, Donna Carrick: the first-run copies of The Mesdames and Messieurs of Mayhem’s 5th anthology, In the Spirit of 13! For the first time, we have a hard cover in addition to our standard paperback – it’s intended mainly for libraries.
Note goth background in keeping with the supernatural themes of our crime story collection. You can pre-order both versions on Amazon here.
But best of all on Friday, September 13, 1985 at 5 pm our daughter was born. My parents were horrified that I went into labor on such an inauspicious day – in their opinion. But our daughter was arriving no matter what: the best present we ever had. Thirteen has proved to be our lucky number.
Time and its winged chariot and all that…hard to believe that this year’s Ride to Conquer Cancer was my 15th straight ride. And it’s thanks to your support, dear friends, that I’ve been able to maintain this streak!
According to stats provided by the organizers, there are 90 riders in the 15 year group, less that 1% of the estimated 40,000 participants. Certainly the Ride treated us very well, beginning with a free “diamond” helmet.
Because of COVID, the Ride’s past two years went virtual, which meant I’d been taking it easy, doing 200 km in four 50 km segments in the week before our designated weekend. Back in the Real World though The Ride was 100+ km each day over the weekend of June 11/12. I had work to do to get back in shape!
First the good news: I had a great training buddy, Peg, an old running friend who wanted to cross The Ride off her bucket list. Now for the bad news: she’s a machine. Not only is she a super-fast runner, she’s a veteran of quadrathons where you run, swim, bike and kayak. ARGH! Needless to say, trying to keep up was agony, if not impossible, but it got me back on track!
June so far had offered up perfect training weather but predictions for June 11/12 looked dire. Two days of rain back-to-back? Mind you, I have done The Ride in the rain though it was only one day. And I did get drenched despite my then rain jacket. Wisely, as it turned out, I bought a new, truly impermeable jacket.
Day 1 of The Ride dawned…stormy. All the 15-year vets gathered on the steps of Princess Margaret for a group photo.
We then rode in a peloton down to the starting line at Exhibition park. That added 7 km to the 103 km distance to Hamilton, but so what? Totally worth it to be part of such a wonderful group of people.
Day 1 went smoothly. The rain held off except for a few sprinkles though the skies did look unsettled for the whole journey. The route has improved a lot since 2008: fewer hills, excellent signage alerting you to hazards, traffic police stationed at busy intersections. But The Ride still owes a lot to its intrepid volunteers who man the rest stations and who sweep the route in cars or on motorbikes to fix broken-down bikes, get riders medical help and even to pick up the exhausted ones and their bikes.
The route ended with a fab 5 km downhill zoom into McMaster University where the 15 yr vets had another treat waiting: champagne and nibbles reception at the PMH / KPMG tent. Ed, my faithful road crew every single year, I indulged! Great to connect with fellow riders. I especially love this guy’s shirt BTW.
Day One was the easy one, Day Two was…not! At 6:30 am, I retrieved my bike from safekeeping and hit the road for Niagara Falls. There’s a long climb up onto the escarpment, a low gradient bike trail 7 kilometres straight up. It’s a doable grind with a spectacular view at the top. I could see across the lake all the way to Toronto – and the storm clouds gathering overhead.
The rain started – with determination. I’d stopped by the side of the road to pull on my new rain jacket when a fellow rider hailed me. She’d taken shelter under the eaves of an old barn. The weather app on her phone showed a rapidly approaching thunderstorm.
As I made my way over, the heavens opened. In the ensuing downpour, our shelter was rapidly filled up by storm-tossed riders. Crowded in like the Tokyo subway, we waited for the thunderstorm to pass.
As the rain eased up, I set out, having ridden in wet conditions before. Soon I discovered that the helpful vents in the side of my jacket didn’t keep out serious rain. Oh, well. Ed brought me hot Starbucks coffee at the next rest stop. He got several cash offers for it from other riders!
But the rain hid something wonderful. As I passed through Jordan, I spotted our friends, Bill and Lynda, standing by the road. Turns out that this year, the route passed right by their house! They’d braved the storm and gotten soaked to cheer me on – I couldn’t believe it! We hugged and cheered – and then I was back on the road.
The rain continued sporadically as I rode through the farms and vineyards of Niagara. Though flat, this point in the journey can feel endless. I marked off the Thorold drawbridge, the town of Pelham and at long last the Niagara River. Amazingly, people have docks and boats that close to The Falls!
During the last stretch to the finish line, I chatted to another 15 yr rider who, due to back issues, has done the distance every year on a recumbent bike. And I thought my 120 km were hard work. Great to cross the finish line.
More great surprises: I ran into my yoga buddy, Della and her riding partner, also veteran riders!
So how did my training buddy, Peg, make out? Well, I saw her at the start of the ride on Day One and then didn’t see her again. We kept missing each other because she was leagues ahead of me. We celebrated our successful Rides a few days later at The Granite Brewery – out of the rain!
Best of all, this year 3700 riders raised $16 million for cancer research at the Princess Margaret Hospital. In 15 years, The Ride has raised $250 million to fight cancer, the most successful charity fund raiser in Canada’s history!
Lots happening this beautiful summer to share with you. First of all, I’m delighted to reveal the striking cover of Red Dog Publishing’s GONE anthology. I’m honored to have my story, “Must Love Dogs – or You’re Gone”, in this collection. GONE will be available for pre-order August 1st.
And I had a wonderful opportunity to be part of the Dead to Writes podcast where fab designer, Sara Carrick, reveals her secrets behind the cover for In the Spirit of 13, the Mesdames of Mayhem’s 10th anniversary anthology. In discussion with publisher, Donna Carrick and the story wrangler (me).
It’s hard to believe that 10 years ago, my friend Donna Carrick and I brainstormed an idea over lunch: what if our two writing groups got together to tackle this new social media beast? Little did we imagine that we were creating a national group that would have four critically acclaimed anthologies and a CBC documentary!
This fall, we are bringing out our fifth anthology, In the Spirit of 13! Crime stories with ghosts, spirits and alcohol, oh, my! Ranging from comedy to scary noir. And best for last, here’s the cover!
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!!