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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

NEWS: Great Review of 13 O’clock and “Glow Grass”

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Many reviewers avoid anthologies. That’s why the Mesdames of Mayhem were blessed indeed when noted Canadian crime fiction reviewer, Don Graves, agreed to take a look at their second anthology, 13 O’clock for Canadian Mystery Reviews.

According to Mr. Graves,  we hit it out of the park!! And I’m especially delighted that my story, “Glow Grass”, was singled out for special mention!

Here’s the full text of the review:

A book of short stories is like a box of chocolates. There are those decadent dark chocolate truffles, those syrupy little beehives with a cheery inside and then…you get the picture.

Short story writing is a style where the author gets about a minute to ‘reel ‘em in and land ‘em’. No time to waste words. The author gets one shot to score. Short story writing can be the Waterloo that some authors fear. Enough.

13 O’Clock is a box full of delights. No assembly line writing here. It is short story writing that delivers. Did I like each story equally? No, but all of them got me in that critical first minute. In a long list of fine, hand-made “chocolates” includes “Perfect Timing” and “The Test of Time” by Melodie Campbell, “Thrice the Brinded Cat” by Joan O’Callaghan, “The Bench Rests” by Rosemary Aubert; this story took me back to those poignant legal series featuring Ellis Portal. Stories by Donna Carrick, Catherine Astolfo and M.H. Callway hit the spot. And I must mention one other. I’m sure you’ve heard the oldie about those can’t do…teach. Well, some say, those who can’t write…edit. But “Mirror, Mirror” by Cheryl Freedman blows that saying out of the water. Here’s one of Canada’s finest editors who can write!

Canadian Mystery Reviews. Don Graves

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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

NEWS: Left Coast Crime 2016, Phoenix AZ, Feb 25-28th

Phoenix, Arizona:  Southwest architecture, fiery Texmex cuisine, safe, clean and a balmy 75 degrees – what’s not to like! Frozen Canadians need no excuse to head south in February and Left Coast Crime offers a great way to connect with fellow crime writers, fans and readers.

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I kicked off LCC in the hotel bar at a party for members of the Short Mystery Fiction Society, generously hosted by noir writer, Craig Faustus Buck.  The stars aligned: I met the authors on my Thursday panel: secret Canadian and fab moderator, Sarah Chen; magician and short story author / innovator, Stephen Buehler;  awesome screen writer, Mysti Berry; and her husband, talented graphic novelist, Dale Berry.

Sarah, Stephen and I walked over to Carly’s Bistro to attend Phoenix’s first Noir at the Bar. Delighted to share that Noir is thriving in the US southwest as well as in Portland and Seattle. Check out the terrific writers listed on the poster!

614+SEAY1fL__SX373_BO1,204,203,200_LCC piloted a new way to get authors and readers together:  Author Speed-dating launched on Thursday morning. Pairs of crime writers rotated through 18 tables of readers and we pitched our books at each table for 2 minutes.

I had a terrific partner in L. C. Hayden,  a critically acclaimed author who is published in a variety of genres. L.C. lives in El Paso, Texas. (Yes, the Texas city right across the border from Mexican murder capital, Juarez!)  The infamous tunnels the drug cartels use are historical, built for smuggling during the 19th century. They are a key element in L.C.’s latest thriller, Secrets of the Tunnels, which I can’t wait to read.

Thursday afternoon marked my debut as an author on an LCC panel.  A Short Dance with Death turned out to be one of the most enjoyable panels I’ve ever been on. Beautifully moderated by Sarah, we drew laughs from the audience that filled the space – former Mayor Rob Ford was an easy target – then our discussion segued into the art of modern short story writing. Stories via Twitter: try writing a short story in 146 characters! Or 6 words. Even Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine is getting with the times: it recently published Dale’s illustrated crime story – an historical first. Judging by the audience reaction, Dale’s story may be the first of a series. 

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A Short Dance with Death L to R: Dale Berry, me, Sarah Chen, Stephen Buehler, Misti Berry

 

 

 

 

 

Several of my Canadian author friends attended LCC this year.  On Friday, we had lunch with Guest of Honour, Ann Cleeves.  Ann is a delightful person who happens to be one of the world’s leading crime writers. She is the author of the  popular Vera Stanhope series, though her Shetland / Inspector Jimmy Perez novels have my heart. Both have been adapted for television.  

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L to R: Brenda Chapman, Ann Cleeves, M. J. Maffini, me, Alex Brett, Barbara Fradkin, Linda Wiken

 

 

 

 

 

12764403_10156536406585150_6429811086920378692_oLCC also features Author-Reader connections where authors host short private events for fans. This way I met Tim Hallinan, author of the Simeon Grist and Junior Bender novels. Tim treated us to coffee, cookies and an hour to talk with him about writing: he has just written a book on how to finish a novel. It’s available in May and I am buying a copy!

I also had lunch with 3 amazing women authors: Ellen Byron, who writes the Cajun Country series; Chris Goff , author of dark thrillers and bird watching mysteries; and Leslie Karst,  who pens culinary cozies. We bonded over the challenges faced by women crime writers, especially women thriller writers and we look forward to reconnecting at Bouchercon in New Orleans this fall.

We Canadians also had our day. On Friday evening, the Crime Writers of Canada hosted “Meet the Canucks” to raise the profile of Canadian authors with our American friends.  Authors were stationed at tables and fans circulated to get the answers to the quiz. A great way to chat with each writer. Prizes, of course, were Canadian books and maple syrup. The hotel chef even made poutine! By all accounts, a smash hit with everyone.

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Meet the Canucks!

We Canucks certainly know how to party both with each other and with American friends. Hugs and kisses to Jane Burfield and Miranda for being  terrific breakfast companions and kudos to emerging writer, Laurie Sheehan, who has the best way of making new friends. Order a bottle of champers from the bar and walk around with two empty glasses – then fill one and give it to a new friend who need a lift!

 

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Jane being a good sport at the LCC reception. We did get her out for dinner later!
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Partying with Bill Syken and Ellen Kirschman

 

 

 

 

Also had great fun partying with Ellen Kirschman, police psychologist turned crime writer and Bill Syken, newly published sports mystery author.

 

Banquets can be a little long on occasion, but LCC’s grand event was hosted by the wonderful Catriona McPherson  who moved things along with deft humour while raising $10,000 to benefit a children’s literacy charity. Great fun thanks to table companions Bill Syken and Gay Coburn, whose working dog, Koa, stole the evening. 

But true to form, a Surreal Trapdoor opened up. At LCC, banquet tables are hosted by authors who often present guests with small gifts. Our host, a rather serious lady, gave us a small handbook she’d written about Japanese toilets while touring the temples there. OK…Hope the book didn’t reflect what she secretly thought about her dinner companions!  And hope she wasn’t offended that I left the book in my hotel room as a “Jokes for the John” for the next guest.

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Working dog Koa

Because I was booked on the red-eye back to Toronto, I had time for a tour of Arizona’s old west.  More surreal trapdoors next week!

The Surreal Trapdoor: The Beer-swilling Pomeranian (WLT – Part 2)

Opening of the World’s Largest Surreal Trapdoor

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In Part 1, we narrowly avoided a debate about the best bullets for dispatching a neighbour’s pesky cats. Nine mm vs 22’s, you pick. We escaped into the truck bling on display at the World’s Largest Truckstop, but then this  strange encounter actually happened.

A large, 60-ish lady  materialized beside the rack of sheepskin covers for truck seats. She bore a scary resemblance to Large Marge of Pee Wee Herman fame.

“You like them sheepskins?” she asked me.

“Um, sure,” I replied.

“My little doggie had one of her own. Just threw ‘er in the washing machine and she come out real nice.”

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Sheepskin seat covers

Dog or sheepskin?

“And you know what?” The lady stroked the sheepskin fondly. “The day she died, her sheepskin fell apart. Put it in the washing machine and it turned into this big lump of fuzz.”

“Interesting,” I said, edging away.

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Pomeranian dog

“She was a good dog. A Pomeranian. A real good dog. Cute, too. Except when she didn’t get her beer. When I come home off the road after driving my rig, she’d be right there waiting for me.  And if I didn’t give her that pint of beer right away, she’d be on my leg, growling, biting till she got it. Man, she loved her beer.”

“That’s nice,” I said, edging away further, but the lady stuck with us.

“She was a good dog. Why when she died, I just laid her out in the back of my truck. Hadda leave her there for three days but she never smelled. Not one bit. She was a good dog.”

“Probably pickled,” Ed whispered. By now we’d worked our way past the chrome exhaust pipes.

“That’s, um, sad you lost your dog,” I said. “But we’ve really got to get back on the road. We’re doing another two hundred miles today” 

“Hadda funeral for her,” the trucker continued, undeterred. “Buried her in the back yard. My son helped and you know, while he was digging her grave, all the cats and dogs round our place turned up. Stood there watching, paying their respects.”

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Paying respects?

“Imagine.” We’d reached the shelves full of Doulton figurines.

“I couldn’t just leave her. Had to do right by my little doggie. So I buried a 6-pack of beer with her. My son was real mad, thought it was a waste a’ beer, but she was a good dog.  Least I could do for her.”

“Of course, best thing.” We neared the ceramic eagles and John Wayne memorabilia.

“Got me a new dog now. Another Pom. Keeps my husbint in line.”

“That’s nice. We really have to go. We’re Canadian. Bye.” We fled into the parking lot. 

“Well, that was weird,” Ed said, starting the Miata. “Care to bet how long that 6-pack of beer stayed buried.”

No I wouldn’t.

To quote Max Bialystock in The Producers: They all come here. How do they find me?

The Surreal Trapdoor: World’s Largest Truckstop – Part 1

Big trucks! Big food! Big ceramic eagles – and even bigger truckers! You’ll see all this and more at the World’s Largest Truckstop on Iowa 80.  For the unwary though some truly scary Surreal Trapdoors are lying in wait just for you.

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You think I’m kidding? Read on, my friends, for the tale transcribed herein truly happened.   

Ed and I were heading down to Santa Fe, New Mexico to attend the Hillerman Writers Conference. Hwy 80 took us through Walcott, Iowa where we spotted WLT’s neon sign. Hungry and tired, we pulled in and parked our tiny Miata sports car well away from the fleet of tractor trailers.

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WLT Services

WLT covers 75 acres of land and provides parking for 900 trucks. An estimated 5000 visitors trek through the 67,000 sq ft complex every single day.  The building sports 9 restaurants, a 60-seat movie theatre, a TV lounge with leather recliners, 24 private showers,  a barber shop – even a dentist and a chiropractor!

If you want to bling out your truck, you will never find a better selection of lights and fancy exhaust pipes. Even art! In the 2-storey, 30,000 sq ft showroom, we admired the mural on the show truck as it spun round on a rotating platform. Its cab featured comfortable sleeping quarters, a DVD player, a microwave oven and a state-of-the-art navigation system: a trucker’s life looks pretty damn awesome!

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Tractor Mural

 

Truck Bling
Truck Bling
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Chrome Exhaust Pipes

 

 

 

 

 

Off we went to the cavernous 350-seat café which lay in perpetual twilight except for the bright spotlights on the extensive buffet and salad bar. Several solitary, weighty, middle-aged men were seated along one of the U-shaped diner counters. Feeling out of place – and wimpy – we slipped into two seats well away from them, perused a menu the size of a road sign and ordered.

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Salad bar? Not really
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Much more representative

 

 

 

 

 

 

As we waited for our burgers, it became apparent that the men at the counter were having a long-range conversation with one another.

“I don’t see nothing wrong with hitting my boy,” said the older, grey-haired guy on our left. “My daddy whupped my ass. Did me a world of good. No govermint’s gonna tell me how to raise my kids.”

“Damn right!” echoed down the line.  

The waitress set a plate with a 5-inch pile of sliced raw onions down in front of the heavy-set man sitting on the opposite side of the counter directly in front of us.  He wiped his black goatee with a paper napkin and dug into the crunchy offering.

“I wouldn’t want to ride in his truck tonight,” said Ed, not so sotto voce. I elbowed him, but  Goatee wasn’t listening. The waitress had placed 5-inch plate of fried bacon down next to the onions.

“I gotta problem,” declared Old Trucker as Goatee tucked into his meal. “My neighbour and her cats.  Damn cats keep coming into my garden to do their business, you follow? Only one way to handle things as far as I can see. My 9 mm pistol.”

“You don’t want to waste 9 mm fire power on a cat,” Goatee said between bites. “The cat’ll just explode. A 22’ll do the job and the ammo’s way cheaper.”  

“Well, I got a 1000 rounds of 9mm just sitting round the house. Wouldn’t want it to go to waste.”

Ample evidence that our counter companions weren’t Democrats. I’d guessed right, go figure. Two timid Canadians down their burgers, paid fast and with cash then took refuge in the truck showroom. 

Refuge? Hardly. One of the weirdest Surreal Trapdoors in my life was about to open.  Tune in next Monday, Readers, for my tale of the beer-swilling Pomeranian.

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Surreal Entertainment

 

 

CYBER CAFE: Meet Gail Hamilton

WBLView2Gail Hamilton and I first became friends through the Canadian Authors Association. I was in total awe of her because Gail was a published author - and she earned her living through her writing! To this day, I remain in awe of Gail and her accomplishments. She has had an extensive career as a copywriter and produced nonfiction reference books. Altogether she has written 24 books, including several romance novels for Harlequin and adaptations of the critically acclaimed TV series, Road to Avonlea for Harper Collins.  

These days Gail lives on a farm in Prince Edward County, Ontario and has ventured into historical fiction with The Tomorrow Country.  A talented nature photographer, she shares a few of her pics today at Cyber Cafe. Visit and learn more about Gail here.

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Madeleine has asked me to chat about my blog so here goes.

I started the blog back in 2010 but didn’t take it seriously until a couple of years ago when told all authors need blogs for promotion and I better get busy. I did try but seem constitutionally averse to flogging my work. First it was difficult to think of something new. Second, a blog about writing ends up aimed at writers who already know everything I could talk about and don’t need more about conversations with the cat when stuck. I won’t even mention the constant battles with WordPress.

My next bright idea was to rustle up curious lore from the era of my book, THE TOMORROW COUNTRY, set in Victorian London. Only that dragged me back into a time and place I had long ago left behind. I started avoiding it. The blog, which I had committed to publish every week, suffered yawning gaps. I found so many other things to do on blog day.

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Curious Cows

The only things I wanted to write about were the rural everyday happenings around me, backed by photos from my trusty little camera. So the blog has evolved into snapshots of country life interspersed with periodic rants on things I feel strongly about: banning bottled water, solving male violence, chronic bad temper in movie monsters.

 

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Snapping Turtle
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Peony

This worried me until I stumbled upon the concept of relationship marketing. Yes, I cried, that’s what I’m doing. People get to know fascinating me and then rush to read my equally fascinating works. Love the idea!

However, by far the majority of my blog readers are from, of all places, China. Next comes the United States, Ukraine, France and Canada, followed by the Russian Federation, Germany, Poland and a whole raft of other countries that include Sweden, Japan, Turkey, Brazil, Romania, Israel, Viet Nam, Thailand and Hong Kong.

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Luna Moth

I am at a loss to explain my appeal to the Chinese even as I picture some Beijing urbanite riveted by pioneer plowing in rural Ontario. Nor can I explain my most enduringly popular post, entitled Old Friend Crashes to Earth, about an oak that blew down across the lane. It runs neck on neck with another favourite about the Victorian corset and Waking the Fire Goddess, describing the first lighting of my wood stove in the fall. Titles surely help. A post called Beaver Balls, attracts lots of hits from folks who may even stay to read after finding it’s about mud ball towers marking beaver territory. My theory is that so much of the world’s population is now urbanized and run ragged that there is a hidden thirst for simple messages from the natural world.

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Mouse in Rain Gauge

Does this blog impact book sales or make more savvy marketers shake their heads? I don’t know. I do know it is the only blog that is going to actually get written because it is so much fun to do.

Currently, I am working on a sequel to THE TOMORROW COUNTRY set in Canada.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Surreal Trapdoor: Drunken Painting!

My kid often leads me astray. She feels an overwhelming urge to educate me, an urge born out of anxious impatience with parental inertia with a soupcon of glee at my possible ineptitude. Despite feeling like a century-old sturgeon out of water at the things she’s shamed me into, sadly the experiences have enriched my life. Hell, I’ve survived dirt bike riding, horrific black diamond ski runs and now, drunken painting!  

Scary blank canvas
Scary blank canvas

Drunken Painting is more politely known as Paint Nite. In 2012, two guys got the idea while partying at a friend’s art studio. Why not drink and paint at the same time? Let alcohol unleash your creativity. Thus the “paint and sip” industry was born.  I mean, after one, two or ten beers: “Hey, man, you’re a nartist!!”

“Paint and sip” is win-win for everyone. Local bars and restos sell more alcohol and ladies get a novel girls’ night out. (Yes, 99.99% of the happy painters are women.) Not only do you get a scary bar bill at the end of the evening, you get to take home a scary painting, too! 

Fearing my child’s wrath if I opted for no-show, I dutifully arrived at Proof the Vodka Bar .  Everyone on my mother’s side of the family is an artist, but those genes merrily skipped over me. I landed a mighty C- in art in elementary school and wisely chose science as a career.  I dove into the “sip” part of the evening straight away. 

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Hope to Paint this (Not the exact one but close enough)

 

A tiny young woman was busy setting up 20 easels and blank canvases, covering the long table with green plastic sheets and depositing dabs of blue, yellow and white acrylic paint on paper plates.  She seemed overwhelmed. We students donned aprons to protect our clothes from permanent souvenirs of the evening and took our seats, while listening to her dire warnings about rinsing off our brushes in our drinks instead of the cups of water provided.

“Can you see the painting?” the lady next to me asked.

“Um, no.” In fact none of us could. The set-up was proving less than ideal.

“First, paint the mountain,” the teacher announced.

“There’s a mountain?” several of us echoed.

“Yes, like this.” She painted two white breast shapes on the white background to demonstrate. “The mountain is masked by the trees but you must paint it. And make shadows. Lots of shadows to make a nice mountain. And the lake, too, in front.”

Invisible mountain
Invisible mountain

“There’s a lake?” I downed more beer.

“Now paint the northern lights. Mix colours. You must make green.”

Ah , yes, one thing I did remember from my C- art class was that yellow and blue make green. We all mixed and splashed away without benefit of further instruction.  The northern lights soon proved to be everyone’s undoing. We looked at each other’s work and agreed that our efforts were irreparably cheesy. I ordered a second beer.

“Now make trees!” The teacher circulated with the black paint she’d forgotten to dole out.

That we could do. Trees were easy: lots of unfettered brush strokes. And more trees covered up more cheese. We asked for more black paint. The teacher got frustrated: she was running out.

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My Masterpiece

“Now make stars!”

I kind of overdid the stars but making white dots was so much easier, I got carried away. Leaning back to survey my masterpiece, the teacher announced: “Now you must make shadows on the snow. Trees throw shadows in moonlight.”

Bad idea. Or rather no idea how to make shadows. I made a half-assed effort, then erased everything with white paint leaving smudges of grey snow.

By now my husband was waiting for me at the bar. I staggered over to show him with my masterpiece. “What do you think?”

“It’s good, um, good,” he replied, sounding like Banksy when confronted by his friend, Terry’s disastrously hopeless film in Exit Through the Gift Store.

My friend, Roz, was much kinder when she saw it. “I like it!” she said. “It shows a lot of emotion.”

Hmm, that must be the happy black trees, but more likely the two beers. My masterpiece now proudly decorates our upper hallway and  even better, our kid no longer insists that I take  painting lessons.

 

WANDERINGS: Gems from the Cemetery

Greetings, Readers!

Just a short post this week from Mt. Pleasant Cemetery. My running buddies and I use it in winter because its curving lanes are cleared before our city streets.

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Eaton Mausoleum

Edward Greenspan, Toronto’s flamboyant defence lawyer, is buried here. He became (in)famous after defending a rogues’ gallery of wife killers, including Peter Demeter and Helmut Buxbaum and sharpish biz types like Garth Drabinsky and Conrad Black. Ironically, he got none of them off. They were all found guilty!

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Edward Greenspan
Greenspan did do his part for society, too. In 1986, he successfully thwarted an attempt by the federal conservatives to restore capital punishment. And he took on controversial cases of self-defence and euthanasia involving ordinary folks.

A brilliant and witty speaker, he was a popular MC at many annual banquets of the Crime Writers of Canada. His epitaph reads appropriately:

“The Defence Rests”

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Greenspan’s resting place