Great news on May 25th, the announcement of the winners of CWC’s Awards of Excellence: my friend, Antony Budelka’s book, Going to Beautiful won for Best Novel! A human story about love, grief and community, it’s also Tony’s love letter to his hometown of Saskatoon and to his Ukranian heritage. I was captivated by the first page!
Tony is the author of the eight book Russell Quant series, the prairie cop turned PI who travels the world solving mysteries. He’s also written two Adam Saint, disaster recovery agent novels; and two standalones, including Going to Beautiful. He’s a winner of the Lambda Literary Award and finalist for the CWC Awards of Excellence, the Saskatchewan Book and Re-Lit awards.
Queer Noir at the Bar on June 1st was our first opportunity to meet up with Tony in the real world since COVID. Tony read from his new book, Livingsky, the first in a new mystery series with PI, Merry Bell, a transwoman down on her luck and forced to rent a cabin near/in the town dump.
At the start of Going to Beautiful, Chef Jake Hardy has it all: a wonderful family and friends; a thriving business; money and fame. His life is torn apart when his husband, Eddie, dies in a mysterious fall from their penthouse terrace. The police rule Eddie’s death an accident, but Jake is lost in grief. Nasty trolls suggest that the cause of Eddie’s fall was more sinister and that Jake had something to do with it.
Many years before Jake and Eddie had written down their wishes in case one of them died before the other. Re-reading Eddie’s letter, Jake discovers that his husband wanted part of his ashes to be scattered in “Beautiful”.
Eddie had always been closed about his early life on the Prairies. Jake does some digging and discovers that Beautiful is a real place, a tiny town just south of Saskatoon. Despite the fact that it’s January, Jake decides he must go to Beautiful and tell his in-laws about Eddie.
Accompanied by his best friend, Baz, a delightful and classy 78-year old transwoman, Jake makes the frigid journey to Beautiful. Though virtually a ghost-town, its inhabitants are nonetheless a vibrant community from the 90 year old nun who’s the sole surviving member of her convent, to Chung, the owner of Ming’s, the social hub of Beautiful, to Bohan, the helpful farmer, who has eyes for Baz.
I especially loved Tony’s sense of place: I could taste the delicious Ukranian food, explore the deserted buildings and feel the icy bite of Saskatchewan cold. The solution to Jake’s husband’s death is a profoundly human one- and the upbeat ending was perfect as Jake recovers his hope and love of life.
Once again I jumped onto my trusty old Trek hybrid bike to complete the 2023 Ride to Conquer Cancer, a 200+ km journey from Toronto to Hamilton to Niagara Falls. Feeling a bit exhausted this morning, but happy to be one of the 90 “Sweet Sixteeners”, cyclists who’ve done The Ride every year since it began in 2008.
For a few days, thanks to the forest fires and poor air quality in Toronto, it looked that the Ride might not happen at all. Fortunately, the weather turned in our favor with two days of rain before the start date of June 10th, which literally cleared the air.
Last year was the first “real world” Ride since COVID. Happily, this year participation numbers were back up to normal levels and together, riders raised $17.3 million. My donors were extremely generous, which spurred me on to complete what turned out to be an onerous journey due to (a) the weather (b) crowding and (c) significant route changes.
The biggest challenge on opening day was the heat: 30 degrees by the afternoon! Fortunately, a mild headwind and light cloud cover shielded us. I know from my running days how draining – and dangerous – heat can be. It’s vital to drink enough water and to replenish electrolytes through Gatorade, but it’s difficult, if not impossible, to take in enough.
Training for the ride is essential and it’s easy to underestimate how much you need to do. Ride organizers urged participants to complete at least two 75 km rides. Given the routing this year, this was clearly inadequate for ordinary mortals.
Opening speeches were nicely delivered and not overlong. Efforts to prevent a bottleneck at the start worked well and I was off and riding faster than in previous years. As always, Lakeshore Blvd was closed to traffic, which got us out of the city quickly until we hit a glitch turning north onto the Queensway. Often in the past, I’ve grumbled about training in the city, dealing with rough roads and traffic, but this proved invaluable now while negotiating the next 40 km until we headed into the welcome countryside.
Lunch wasn’t served until the 75 km rest stop. Fortunately, my loyal roadcrew, Ed, brought Rahier sandwiches at the 50 km stop where I could refuel and rest up in relative calm. Little did I know what was awaiting me for the next 25 km!
Many years ago, the route had a long stretch of rather nasty hills. My buddy, Marci and I trained for these by doing several stretches of 80+ km rides in the hills north of Holland Marsh. For the past several years, route organizers have skirted this section for flatter countryside, but not this year. The hills were brutal, especially in the heat. From experience, I’d learned that conserving energy is vital to finishing a race, so I walked up several of the longer inclines.
I did wonder if perhaps I’d skimped a bit on my training until I ran into my friend, Della, from yoga class. Della is a super-strong cyclist who trains around windy Lake Simcoe. When she pronounced the hills “brutal”, too, I felt vindicated. We both envied Della’s friend who’d opted for the “Ride Express”, thus avoiding the hills altogether. The sweep vehicle / sag-wagon was pretty busy during the last half of the ride: beginners suffered.
Toward the end of the day came our reward: a glorious 3+km downhill into McMaster University. The route winds you through the campus, past the Phoenix Pub, Ed’s watering hole from student days and over the finish line to “camp” and a most welcome Steam Whistle beer!
Free food and lots of it: pulled pork and chicken, mac and cheese, lots of salads. Ed and I shared a plate after I parked my bike in the secure lot. Then home for a most welcome shower and sleep. I dozed off in the car while Ed fought through the weekend traffic.
We were up at 4:30 am, grabbing a quick breakfast and putting our cat on gravity feeders. The drive to Hamilton went smoothly with practically no traffic and I was on my bike off and riding shortly after the route opened at 6:30 am.
Much cooler temperatures were a relief as was the cloud cover. We glided through early morning Hamilton, though here, as in Toronto and later all through Niagara, the road surface was rough, pitted with hazards, especially for the super-skinny tires on modern bikes. Carbon fiber bikes are extremely light and fast, compared to old hybrids like mine, but they’re fragile. Bike breakdowns were common. In the past, several volunteers helped fix flats and did easy repairs, but I didn’t spot their friendly vehicles this time out.
Route organizers sent us to the top of the Niagara escarpment the familiar way, up a 7 km long bike trail with a very low uphill gradient. From there, the route headed into the countryside past vineyards, huge stone mansions, horse farms and the like. I was passing the derelict barn where last year I’d sheltered from a thunderstorm, when I felt the first few spots of rain.
I’ve done the Ride in the rain a few times. First, you go into denial. It’s just sprinkling, it’s not that bad. Then resignation, as you realize, it is not going to stop. Luckily I had with me the impermeable rain coat I’d bought from a Goderich bike shop – a life saver. Getting wet is uncomfortable, but the worst thing about rain is getting cold.
I pressed on and after an hour or so, the rain tapered off. In Jordan, I had deja vu all over again. The route goes right past our friends, Bill and Lynda’s house where they were cheering riders on. So great to see them! I took the opportunity to pack up my raincoat and drink some much needed Gatorade.
Bill was inspired by the new rule that allows electric bikes. He’s envisioning charging up the many batteries needed for the distance by pedaling a stationary bike!
I carried on and had a few animal encounters. I was charged by a squirrel and a large grey tabby cat and once again, praised my disc brakes. A short distance later, I ran into two Canada geese crossing the road. Those birds weren’t stopping for anyone. As I headed them off, they took wing and we nearly had a mid-air collision!
An unwelcome change to Day 2’s route happened hours before the event began: a 23 additional kilometres. Organizers claimed this extra mileage was beyond their control. Once again, the sag-wagon was busy as were the first-aid riders and ambulance pick-ups.
The new route did not pass my favorite apple orchard, but we did cross the drawbridge over the Welland Canal. I slogged through the distance, refueling with Starbucks goodies provided by Ed. There was once particularly evil hill, impossible to bike up and one which leaves you breathless even pushing your bike up to the top. I had to agree with the older gentleman cyclist beside me who said: “That hill was unnecessary.”
The route finally landed us on the banks of the Niagara River. In the past, this stretch was the reward for a journey well-pedaled, but honestly, by then, I was too tired, longing for the end. There was supposedly one last pitstop before the end, but if so, I missed it. Before I knew it, I passed under the arch at the finish line. What a relief to finish: 127.97 km, the most I’ve ever ridden in a day.
Sadly, the Steamwhistle people had run out of beer: the first time in 16 rides, so Ed and I settled for a free glass of wine instead. We chatted to a few fellow cyclists, including a young woman who’d done a scary header over her bike, but carried on nonetheless to finish. What commitment!
We headed home. Lots of tourists crowding Table Rock and the sidewalks along the Falls. The Horseshoe Falls were shrouded in mist and even the American side looked beautiful, much more water than normal. We drove through Niagara-on-the-Lake, which appears to be thriving, then fought through the horrendous traffic back home to tea, Rahier cookies and an early night.
Will I do the Ride again next year? Perhaps it’s time to let younger riders on new equipment take the field. The cause, of course, is wonderful and compelling…I will let you know.
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!
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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.