Yesterday I was interviewed by Erik De Souza of Crime Writers of Canada, because of my two nominations for this year’s CWC Awards. Apparently this is a first timer: to be nominated in two different categories!
Great fun chatting with Erik who really does his research. Here are the links.
I was early for my morning walk with friend, TO Poet, so I checked my email and could not believe my eyes. TWO nominations for the Crime Writers of Canada Awards PLUS nominations for many dear author friends. Wow!
My black comedy story, “Must Love Dogs – or You’re Gone”, was my first British publication. It was published in Gone, An Anthology of Crime Stories, edited by Stephen J. Golds for Red Dog Press. My inspiration was an anecdote my dog-owner friend told me about a dog who ate anything, including an electronic car key. And I worked in that most Canadian of settings, Niagara Falls and set the stage in winter. Much fun writing – and rewriting – this one.
Erik De Souza will be interviewing all the finalists for the CWC podcast, including me! Erik believes it’s unusual for an author to be nominated in two categories, so I am doubly honored that my novella, Amdur’s Ghost, is also a finalist. It is part of the Mesdames of Mayhem’s fifth anthology, In the Spirit of 13where “spirit” can mean ghost, demon or even alcohol!
Amdur’s Ghost is my second story about beleaguered civil servant, Dr. Benjamin Amdur. To fight the right-wing politicians bent on destroying Ontario’s public health care system, Amdur taken on the job of Medical Officer of Health at the province’s most obscure public health department. The new Minister of Health pressures him into finding her missing ex-husband, Nigel Brown, who coincidentally was Amdur’s predecessor. Brown has vanished without a clue to his whereabouts, but then Amdur gets a note from the local spiritualist medium…
The winners of the CWC Awards will be announced on May 25th at 12 noon. Fingers crossed!
Returning home from Left Coast Crime in Tucson (terrific conference, more in another post), I opened an email from Malice Domestic. My cozy crime story, “Wisteria Cottage”, had been accepted for their anthology, Mystery Most Traditional. I’m absolutely thrilled!
The inspiration for my story came from my friend, TOPoet. While showing me round his garden, he pointed out his healthy wisteria vine – and warned me that every part of this beautiful plant is toxic. Important to know because my grandson will eat anything. TOPoet’s warning, coupled with another friend’s tales about a dog who ate everything, including car keys, led to “Wisteria Cottage”. (Said dog was also inspiration for my story, “Must Love Dogs – or You’re Gone”, in the GONE anthology by Red Dog Press.)
Mystery Most Traditional should be available shortly on Amazon.
I’m now debating whether to attend Malice Domestic in April. Two conferences in as many months? I’ll keep you posted, Readers!
I’ve had a lifelong fascination with people who mysteriously disappear, especially those who get lost in the wilderness. On January 13th, British actor Julian Sands was reported missing by his family. Sands, an experienced hiker and mountaineer, had set out alone for the San Gabriel Mountains , 50 miles northeast of Los Angeles. He never returned. On January 18th his car was located near Mt. Baldy , one of his favorite trails.
Julian Sands is/was 65 years old and made his home in North Hollywood. His break-out role was in the British period piece, A Room with a View , which coincidentally starred Helena Bonham Carter as an ingenue -before she found her goth persona and her partner, Tim Burton. Sands continued to work in many diverse films and series, including The Killing Fields, The L Word, Smallville, 24 and even Dexter!
How could he simply disappear? How could a seasoned climber come to grief?
For answers, I looked to my friend, bear biologist, Sarah Poole. She told me about search and rescuer, Dr. Robert J. Koester, who’s an expert in understanding the behavior of lost people.
It is very easy to get lost. Dr. Koester describes a case of an experienced 65 year old hiker who had a habit of walking 80 steps from the trail for a washroom break. (That’s right, eighty not eight!) Her skeletal remains were found two years later.
Lost people DO tend to wander around in circles. People wander in random patterns and can travel great distances. They are often found far from the area where they were supposed to be.
Lost people tend to travel downhill rather uphill. People believe that down is safer and that they will be more likely to find help there. Sadly that is not necessarily true.
People get lost by making a mistake. At first, they believe their instruments or maps are faulty so they can travel a significant distance before they realize they are lost.
People get an adrenalin rush when they discover they are lost. This is a normal physiological response. The worst thing one can do is to panic. The first thing to do is to calm down; a simple drink of water can be enough.
So what happened to Julian Sands? The San Gabriel Mountains are about an hour’s drive from LA, stretching between the city and the Mohave Desert. Winters are wet and snowfall can be heavy. Ice-climbing and snow trails are popular with mountaineers and Baldy Bowl is a favorite. This is where Sands was headed.
Mt. Baldy’s real name is Mt. San Antonio. At over 10,000 feet, it’s the highest peak in the mountain range. Winter climbing on the Baldy Bowl requires ice axes and crampons with ascents of 45 to 50 degrees. Rockfalls and avalanches are common. This January severe storms in the area led to extremely dangerous avalanche conditions and search and rescue operations had to be curtailed. Julian Sands remains missing.
Not long after, a number of bogus reports surfaced, claiming that Sands had been spotted alive and well. Unfortunately, this is a common scenario, born of romanticism and desperate hope – and perhaps too much bingeing on Netflix.
One hiker, 75 year old Jin Chung, was rescued from Mt. Baldy around the same time after he went missing for two days. He’d gone off on his own leaving his two hiking companions on another route. Fortunately, after they alerted search and rescue, Chung was found with only mild injuries.
As Dr. Koester warns hikers: tell people where you are going; take emergency survival supplies with you and never hike alone.
Many found 2022 to be anno horribilis, with war and pestilence carrying on big-time. Personally, 2022, turned out to be not too bad. The best part was returning to the real world and reconnecting with friends, family and fellow authors.
Our first big step: Left Coast Crime held in Albuquerque, New Mexico, from April 7 to 10th. Ironically, Ed and I were attending LCC in San Diego in 2020 in defiance of dire reports about a mysterious pandemic. We’d had a great time in LA, seeing friends and touring LA’s amazing public library and my childhood memory, Knott’s Berry Farm. More and more worrying reports were appearing in the media. After only half a day, LCC San Diego shut down. I barely had enough time to say a quick good-bye to friends, Kate Thornton and Grace Koshida before catching our flight back to Toronto.
Three years later, we were B-A-C-K, immunized against COVID and armed with the vaccination papers to prove it. Terrific conference! Well, over 200 in attendance. I was honored to be on the panel, Let’s Keep it Short: Cozies to Noir, hosted by Lisa Q Matthews and to moderate the panel on noir, What’s Noir Got to Do With It, with distinguished authors, Andrew Bourelle, Corey Lynn Fayman and Jo Perry. At the banquet, we were delighted to sit at the table hosted by Steve Brewer, who writes darkly comic mysteries about crooks – dumb ones especially. If you’re in Albuquerque, do visit his family’s bookstore, Organic Books.
More good news: award-winning mystery writer, Mike Martin and his team created The Maple Leaf Mystery Conference and revived a national crime writers conference for Canadians. (Read my interview with Mike on Cyber Cafe at this website.)
MLMC was virtual with hopes that it’ll go live in 2023. Several of the Mesdames of Mayhem moderated or participated on panels. I was very happy to be on the short story panel, The Big Short, moderated by friend, Merrilee Robson.
Toronto’s Word on the Street also returned to life, moving back to its old location at Queen’s Park. Unfortunately, the date conflicted with The Ride to Conquer Cancer, but I supported our Mesdames of Mayhem booth financially and in spirit. This was my 15th consecutive Ride to Conquer Cancer – and the first real world ride after COVID. I managed to pull off the full distance – and to enjoy the champagne reception for 15 year riders. Read about my adventure on this website.
In June, the Toronto International Festival of Authors, recognized crime writers for the first time, through their program, MOTIVE. My dear friend and brilliant author, Lisa De Nikolits, was moderating a thriller panel. She invited me to be her guest at the welcoming reception. I had a lovely time chatting with friend, Maureen Jennings and meeting crime writers from all over the world.
The Crime Writers of Canada booth was located in a tent set up outside the Harborfront Building. Weather did not cooperate: high winds threatened to blow the tent, our books and us away. Little promotion, but my friends, Blair Keetch, Sylvia Warsh and I sold some books and entertained a few hardy souls at our collective reading. All in all, not bad for a first real world foray.
When Words Collide, the Calgary-based multi-genre conference, was virtual again in 2022 from August 12 to 15th . For 2023, there’s good news and bad news: WWC is back in the real world, but this will be its final year.
Running a virtual conference is an enormous amount of work. Several genre writing societies, including Crime Writers of Canada, pitched in to run the panels. I was delighted to be on the cross-genre crime fiction panel, Crossing the Line, moderated by friend, Therese Greenwood. Later that day, I moderated the crime short story panel, Coming Up Short, with friends, Jayne Barnard and Kevin Thornton.
The highlight of 2022 was the launch of In the Spirit of 13, the fifth anthology for the Mesdames of Mayhem, in celebration of our 10th anniversary. For this outing, many of us wrote tales tinged with the supernatural. I wrote “Amdur’s Ghost”, the second story with my beleaguered civil servant, Dr. Ben Amdur. He’s pressured by the new Minister of Health to find her missing ex-husband. On the trail, he encounters devious small town politicians, a mysterious medium and a rabid coyote!
Our launch was a real world event held in my favorite bookstore, Sleuth of Baker Street on Sunday, October 30th. We were overwhelmed by the terrific attendance. Everyone wore Halloween-inspired masks and we signed and sold lots of books. A special highlight: we made Marian Misters, co-owner of Sleuth’s and the host of all our five anthologies, an Honorary Mme of Mayhem!
But the year wasn’t over yet! My darkly comic story, “Must Love Dogs – or You’re Gone” was accepted by UK publisher, Red Dog Press, for their noir anthology, Gone. I was blown away by the quality of stories, including “Eyes the Brightest Blue” by editor Stephen J. Golds. To make the cut was an honor – and it’s my first British publication.
After I had the good news from England, I had more good news from Mystery Magazine here in Canada. They loved my thriller short story, “Last Island”, featuring Danny Bluestone, the hero of my novel, Windigo Fire. And they made it the cover story for their November issue! I especially love how beautifully artist Robin Evans captured Danny’s brutal struggle in the wilderness.
Great way to wind up the year. More news soon about what’s happening in 2023!
Welcome back to Cyber Café, Judy! So much has happened since we last got together here. You now have two mystery series, The Marketville and Glass Dolphin series. You’ve published three anthologies and broken into audiobooks!
Judy: Thanks so much for having me back!
Tell us about your new book, Before There Were Skeletons. How is it different from the earlier books in the Marketville series ?
Callie’s back investigating cold cases, but I would say that Before There Were Skeletons is my most ambitious work to date. It’s a complicated plot – five missing women in all, two from 1978 and three from 1995. Weaving all the threads together took some doing! As well, Callie is finally ready to take a deeper dive into her mother’s past…before her mother became a mother. Before there were skeletons.
What are the differences between your Marketville and Glass Dolphin series?
My Glass Dolphin series has a much cozier vibe, albeit without the cats, crafts, and cookie recipes. It’s also told in third person, alternating POVs. The Marketville series is first person, all Callie. But none of my books have overt violence, sex, or bad language. That said, they may be PG but they’re not boring!
You are comfortable writing both novels and short stories. Which do you secretly prefer creating?
Definitely novels though I love reading short crime fiction and I’m proud of the handful of stories I’ve written. But for a pantser like me, it’s far easier to write long and do the dipsy doodling that short stories don’t allow. Who knows though. Maybe one day I’ll be invited to become a Madame of Mayhem and then I’ll be forced to write at least one short story every so often!
In the meantime, I have edited and published three multi-author anthologies of mystery and suspense and was delighted to include your story ‘The Moon God of Broadmoor’ in Moonlight & Misadventure. I hope to do a fourth anthology, but they take tremendous energy and time, so we’ll see.
I really envy your amazing energy. You are now in audiobooks. Do tell us about your journey and should crime fiction authors venture here?
If you have the money to hire a narrator, you can use a company like Findaway Voices which distributes widely to every possible retailer as well as to libraries. But good narrators are costly (at least $2,000) and there’s certainly no guarantee of earning back your investment.
I personally used Royalty Share with the ACX route. ACX is owned by Amazon and Royalty Share is Audible, Amazon and iTunes only. Sadly, libraries don’t use those to purchase audio. As well, ACX takes 60% of the royalties and the balance of 40% is split 50/50 narrator/author. Contract runs seven years so lots to consider.
For the narrator, it’s a risk. For the author, there’s no financial risk, but your market share is far more limited and who knows what might happen in seven years? At the end of the day, I recommend that every author do their own due diligence then decide. For me, ACX Royalty Share was the only viable option.
You recently moved to your home on Lake Superior. How has this helped your writing? Do you ever feel isolated from other authors being so far away?
We’ve had our camp (Northern term for waterfront properties) since July 2015. When Covid hit, I began spending 6 months of the year here, May-October, never once going back to our house in Southern Ontario. Last fall, my husband and I decided to move here fulltime. There were a lot of factors in our decision, not the least of which was the 8-hour drive back and forth and feeling as if we never really belonged anywhere.
I’ve now made a few friends here (it helps that I joined two golf leagues!). This summer I introduced myself to the powers-that-be at the Sault Ste. Marie Public Library. They now have all my books or are in the process of cataloguing them. In October I was invited to be part of their multi-author “Author Palooza” event, which was great fun.
I’ve met other authors there, and one of them, Sault Ste. Marie author, Katherine Walker, was shortlisted for Best First Novel in the Crime Writers of Canada Awards of Excellence for her debut novel, All is Well. I’m immediate Past Chair of CWC, so, small world, right?
There’s great support in the north for the arts. I also have my books in an amazing downtown shop in the Soo called The Artesian. (@ssmartesian on Instagram) and I was just recently interviewed in the local paper as well as on The Book Cover, a local radio program.
I think if you put yourself “out there” it doesn’t matter where you live. That said, you have to make things happen. If you sit around and wait for your ship to come in, chances are you’ll be at the airport. My mother always told me, “The harder you work, the luckier you get.” It’s my mantra.
What’s next for you, Judy?
I’m working on a new project and super excited about it, but I’m very superstitious about sharing details while it’s still a work-in-process. I also have an idea for a true crime novel, which I hope to begin researching in earnest in the new year. And I’m hoping to take a course on playwriting in 2023. Never a dull moment!
Really looking forward to the Zoom launch of In the Spirit of 13, the Mesdames and Messieurs of Mayhem’s 5th anthology in celebration of our 10th anniversary. Entry is free but guests must pre-register with the publisher email@example.com
Sometimes wonderful events cluster. The Mesdames of Mayhem had a full page article in the Toronto Star by Briony James. A huge thank you to my friend, Sylvia Warsh, who landed us this terrific publicity. Here’s the link:
On Sunday, October 30th we launched In the Spirit of 13, our fifth anthology in celebration of our 10th anniversary at our favorite bookstore, Sleuth of Baker Street. It was a smash success! Despite worries about resurging COVID, Sleuth was packed with our fans, friends and family.
And then I woke up this morning to the amazing news that my story, Last Island, is the cover story on Mystery Magazine this month! Wow!
I’m really excited about our upcoming launch at Sleuth of Baker Street Bookstore, this Sunday, October 30th at 2 pm. It’s the Mesdames and Messieurs of Mayhem’s first public appearance since the beginning of COVID!
And here’s our blurb: Ghosts and demons and booze, oh my!
To celebrate our 10th anniversary, we Mesdames and Messieurs of Mayhem have let our imaginations run wild to bring you our fifth anthology, In the Spirit of 13. Does “spirit’ mean ghost or demon – or debunking of same? Or simply the evil in twisted human hearts? Or could it be alcohol? You must read these 23 tales to find out!
The Mesdames and Messieurs of Mayhem are established award-winning authors as well as talented new writers. We aimed to keep our stories light-hearted to counter the world’s troubled times, but some of them have strayed into the dark. We are crime writers after all!
Laugh, shed a tear and prepare to be deliciously frightened.
I just finished Five Moves of Doom, the third book in the PI “Hammerhead” Jed Ounstead series – and it’s terrific! Set in gritty East Vancouver, protagonist Jed has an unusual occupation: he’s a retired professional wrestler.
What makes for a gripping story, as in Fellini’s classic film La Strada and even hit Canadian comedy series, Trailer Park Boys, is the classic trio of characters representing brains, brawn and heart. Hammerhead Jed embodies all three in one person– and author A.J. Devlin pulls this off brilliantly. Jed is first and foremost a physical person. That, sometimes to his detriment, is his self-identity. But clients and bad guys tend to underestimate his intelligence – and that is always to their detriment.
In Five Moves of Doom, Jed is hired by former UFC fighter, Elijah Lennox, to find Elijah’s million dollar, diamond-encrusted championship belt. Trustingly, Elijah had it on display at his martial arts studio, but now it’s gone missing. Jed recovers the belt thanks to his smarts and underworld contacts, though finding it seems too easy. Then Elijah ends up dead and Jed’s heart drives him to find the murderer and bring them to justice.
Jed’s quest draws him into the murky realm of illegal fighting. Devlin has created an ogre of a villain in Cassian, the ringleader, who wears the dog tags of his victims round his neck as trophies. (To me they’re more like the shrunken heads worn by a cannibal king!) Taking on Cassian draws Jed into some very dark places, many within himself. It takes a skilled writer to draw the reader along to explore Jed’s troubled path and Devlin pulls it off.
There are two aspects of the Hammerhead series that I especially enjoy. The first is the sheer physicality and choreography of the fighting scenes. Too often, fights in crime fiction are a bit predictable resulting in an urge to flip the page. Not so here. Devlin knows fighting and that shines through in every scene. (Learn more about AJ’s fighting background on Cyber Café here.)
I also love Devlin’s secondary characters like Jed’s cousin, Declan, Irish barkeep and former IRA commando, who always has his family’s back. The chapter written from Declan’s POV is a tour de force of writing. My personal favorite is Sykes, Jed’s shady entrepreneur and informant, who in the previous book was bookmaking on dachshund racing. This time out, Sykes has taken up goat yoga. That’s right goat yoga. Both are comedy gold and even better, Readers, both weird activities are real.
FIVE STARS ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
MOST IMPORTANT: WHERE TO BUY THE HAMMERHEAD JED SERIES!
In addition, Cobra Clutch is now available as an audiobook on Audible and wherever audiobooks can be found.
Order the “Hammerhead” Jed mystery-comedy series through bookshop.newestpress.com, which features a Find Your Local Bookstore link to support indie bookstores and shop local.
Finally, AJ is proud to have partnered up with his friends at the terrific Western Sky Books in Port Coquitlam, where copies of all three “Hammerhead” Jed books with personalized inscriptions can be requested and purchased online exclusively through their website WesternSkyBooks.com.