RIDE #2 – The Ride to Conquer Cancer – Sunnybrook – Taylor Creek – Moss Park -Rosedale and the Belt Line

Gates to Lyndhurst Hospital

Greeting Readers!

On Monday, August 17th, I headed on Ride #2 of my pledge to do 200 km in August, the distance from Toronto to Niagara Falls.

The morning was perfect, one of the most beautiful this summer. Cool, sunny, no blustering head winds.  I headed down through Leaside into Sunnybrook Park through the Lyndhurst Hospital entrance.

I’m familiar with the rehab hospital because a friend spend several months there after a bad car accident. He’d travelled down to the USA to buy a vintage sports car, but on returning to Canada, he slid off the road. The problem: the rubber in the vintage tires had gone hard with age and lost all traction. Happily, he made a remarkable recovery.

The other reason, I’m familiar with Lyndhurst is because of the killer hill down into Sunnybrook. During my marathon training days, we used to run UP this hill. Fortunately today, I am biking DOWN.

Creek in Sunnybrook

Past the dog park and along a picture perfect creek . Few people out this Monday morning other than the usual runners, hikers and dog walkers.

The wild flowers are out!

 

 

 

 

 

 

A tricky aspect of  Sunnybrook trails for cyclists is negotiating the narrow, heavily used pedestrian bridges. I’m less worried about COVID than I am about blunt force trauma, having nearly been crashed into numerous times by MAMILs (cyclist pejorative for obnoxious middle-aged men in lycra). Luckily I cross over the Don Valley pedestrian bridge with no incident before stopping at  “The Teeth”.

Teeth or elephants – you decide

Allegedly the artist created the concrete structures to be elephants that would blend with nature. Hence the trees growing out of them.  But for Toronto runners “The Teeth” are a landmark for running routes. And, yes, I agree they really look like molars.

Nasty narrow pedestrian bridge
Memory spot

Today, I decide to head east into Taylor Creek Park, a trail with numerous dread pedestrian bridges over rocks and running water.  My luck holds  – few MAMILs crushing everyone in their path to score their Personal Best time! I take a breather to check out an impromptu memorial along the way.

The stones remind me of the lovely Jewish tradition of leaving a stone in the cemetery after visiting a loved one.

The main trail ends at Dawes Road. To get to Victoria Park, I cross  yet another pedestrian bridge and bike through an underpass with some neat street art. After this the trail is mostly a gravelly track that gets muddy and floods after a rain.  The climb up to Victoria Park is another heart thumper.

This is my Test Hill. If I can make it up all the way in my “Granny Gear” or the lowest possible on my hybrid, I’m fit enough for The Ride.  But since, the Ride has gone virtual, I bike up the first half and walk up the rest.

Underpass street art

Down the Victoria Park bike path across Danforth. This heavily trafficked road is a bit nerve-wracking, because my riding buddy once took a header over the handle bars after hitting a pothole beneath the underpass.

 

 

Kids care about the environment

Over to the safety of Scarborough Road for a straight run down to the Beaches. I pass by Adam Beck school with its colorful murals. This is one of my favs.

Beautiful Lake Ontario

Today the weather cools noticeably as I near the lake.  It and the boardwalk are especially lovely today.

A strong headwind as I pedal toward the Distillery District and my usual reward at Balzac’s cafe.  While munching down my muffin, I see thunderous clouds building in the west.

Change of plans, the route through to the Humber will have to wait until Ride #3 or #4.  I charge north, taking the bike path along Sherbourne making for home.

Moss Park mural

This is a sad route; I call it the Economic Disparity Route. It passes by Moss Park arena and the neighboring homeless shelter. During COVID, many more homeless are wandering the streets often shouting, in distress, deluded in the middle of traffic.  Cop cars and emergency vehicles every time this year when I’ve passed through – and that’s a lot.

Enough said

Sherbourne crosses over into Rosedale, once of Toronto’s wealthiest enclaves. To my surprise I see people camped out in a parkette within a stone’s throw of  multi-million dollar mansions.

Thundery weather over Rosedale

 

 

 

 

Encamped in Rosedale

 

 

 

Summerhill pedestrian bridge again requires careful negotiating. I usually walk my bike over to dodge schoolkids, nannies with babies, seniors and of course, the ubiquitous MAMILs.  Some neat street art on the crumbling concrete walls bordering  the steep hill of McPherson Drive.

My fav: Ghost Car

From here it is short pleasant ride through Moore Park into Mt. Pleasant cemetery.

Keeping a watchful eye on the threatening weather, I finish off the distance via the Beltline and looping through Mt. Pleasant. There are enough hills and gradients to keep my heart pumping.

Almost done for Ride #2, I pause by one of the Mt. Pleasant icons, a memorial to two young men who died within months of each other. The plaque reads: Why has God picked all his beautiful flowers first. There is a love story here.

I make it back home just before the rain.

NEWS! NEWS! NEWS! Cover Reveal for A Grave Diagnosis

Sara Carrick, book cover artist extraordinaire, worked her magic for the upcoming anthology, A Grave Diagnosis.  All 35 authors voted and overwhelmingly this amazing cover was the favorite.  Here it is!

 

The launch date this fall will be announced shortly!

RIDE #1 – Ride to Conquer Cancer – Fort York and Don Valley

Greetings everyone!

Every year since The Ride to Conquer Cancer began in 2008, I’ve ridden the 200+km to Niagara Falls to raise funds for cancer research at Princess Margaret Hospital.  Anno Horribilis, otherwise known as 2020, nearly put at stop to it.  But cancer never sleeps – and neither did the organizers of the Ride.

On August 29th, I’ll be doing the virtual Ride – wearing my 2020 jersey picked up in observance of all COVID protocols.

As a big thank you to my wonderfully generous donors, many of whom continue to support me year after year, I pledged to do four Rides of 50km each – the 200km distance from Toronto to Niagara Falls.

Beltline icon

Monday, August 10th,  Pledge Ride #1 :

I headed out along the Beltline Trail to Allen Road, which this early fortunately stayed safe with only the odd dog walker or runner.

School kids mural in Cedarvale

The bike trail now ends short of Eglinton, so I took side streets over to Strathearn and coasted down into Cedarvale park. The trail runs past the dog park (deserted) and plunges into the ravine.

I have fond memories of chatting with an elderly dogwalker, the self-appointed Keeper of Cedarvale, who shared my love of street art and showed me the children’s mural.

Read more about my encounter here.

It’s a nasty, steep, cardiac-arresting climb out of Cedarvale to emerge at the TTC stop St. Clair West. Down to Spadina and past Casa Loma, Henry Pellatt’s grand folly complete with full body shower and secret passages!

Henry Pellatt’s folly

Built more than 100 years ago,  the castle is a maintenance  nightmare. Henry Pellatt went bankrupt, abandoned it and ended up rooming with his butler. In 1924, the City of Toronto seized it for unpaid taxes – and ever since has tried to offload its costly upkeep onto the private sector.  This back-and-forth game continues to this day. As does the castle’s cycles through ruin and renovation.

Message for politicians

A few years ago, the City was forced to take charge of this famous tourist attraction and film location (X-men,  Chicago, Titans, etc.). The bureaucrats were so desperate, they even allowed the Crime Writers of Canada to meet there. A glorious and transient privilege.

West along Davenport then south along Christie toward Lake Ontario. To my surprise I ended up at a Millennium-bridge type pedestrian bridge called Garrison Crossing: in fact twin Millennium bridges. Underneath the Gardner, I discovered beautifully paved bike lanes  and an full community entertainment space next to Fort York, The Bentway , all deserted because of COVID.

 

Quasi Millennial Bridge
Gardiner Art Gallery – Bentway

Gardiner Art Gallery – Cherry St.

 

Along the newly refurbished bike lanes by the shores of Lake Ontario, Queen’s Quay to Cherry Street and the Distillery District. I stopped at Balzac’s, my favorite cafe, for a coffee and muffin, enjoyed despite necessary physical distancing in the shade of my non-favorite work of corporate art. Some days I wish it suffered the same fate as the corporate art in Fight Club!

 

The cyclist is not me!

Coffee over, I head back up the Don Valley bike trail, a much-travelled training route. Lots to admire along the way from the indigenous street art under the Gardiner to sanctioned murals and graffiti.

Comb and tags

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There’s even a gargoyle sculpture garden!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I branch off from the Upper Don Valley trail  and head through Sunnybrook Park, Leaside for a lap round Mt. Pleasant cemetery to make up the distance.  The first 50 km are done!


NEWS! NEWS! NEWS! Meet me at When Words Collide!

Greetings Readers!

Last year I had the best time at the wonderful multi-genre festival, WHEN WORDS COLLIDE! in Calgary, Alberta. I was part of a crime fiction panel and learned about coz-play and writing children’s books.

I also had the privilege of reading at Noir at the Bar and getting to know the great authors and editors behind Coffin Hop Press, the publishers of The Dame Was Trouble.

Visiting Calgary also became a sentimental journey.  My childhood can best be described as unsettled. Five of my early years were in Calgary – where we lived in three different houses.

Strangely enough my memory of Calgary as a patchwork of disparate cityscapes proved to be accurate. And one of my old homes still exists! There I had a magical conversation with the current owner. (Stand by for a Surreal Trapdoor blog.)

Because more importantly,  WHEN WORDS COLLIDE 2020, will be on Zoom this week, from August 14 to 16th.

Best of all registration is FREE!! Register here.  THE PROGRAM AND LINKS IS NOW UP!!

I’m delighted to one of the TEN Mesdames of Mayhem who are on the conference. panels.

We Mesdames have our very own panel, Meet the Mesdames of Mayhem, Saturday, August 15th, 4pm (Toronto time), 2 pm (Mountain time). (Donna Carrick, Rosemary McCracken, Madona Skaff, M. H. Callway moderating.) 

Donna Carrick
Rosemary McCracken
Madonna Skaff

 

 

 

 

We’re also out in force for The Long and Short of Crime, Saturday August 15th, 2 pm (TT), 12 noon (MT). (Jane Burfield, Rosemary McCracken, Lynne Murphy, Caro Soles, M. H. Callway moderating.)

Jane Burfield
Lynne Murphy
Caro Soles

 

 

 

 

Be sure to check out friends and authors Jayne Bernard, Melodie Campbell and Lisa De Nikolits.

Jayne Bernard
Lisa De Nikolits
Melodie Campbell

 

 

 

 

Jayne Bernard, Melodie Campbell   Plot vs Character, Crime Fiction’s Eternal Grudge Match, Friday, August 11th 3pm (TT), 1pm(MT) 

Lisa De Nikolits, Caro Soles,  Can the Crossover Fit the Crime? Saturday, August 15th, 12 noon (TT), 10 am (MT)

Jayne Bernard, The Heroine’s Journey, Sunday, August 16th, 1 pm (TT), 11am(MT) ; From the Mean Streets to the Deadly Wilderness, Sunday, August 16th, 3pm (TT), 1pm (MT); Diversity in Speculative Fiction, Sunday, August 16th, 5pm (TT), 3pm (MT)

 

EAT THIS BOOK: Filthy Sugar by Heather Babcock

Heather Babcock

Heather Babcock is an  accomplished author of poetry and short fiction. She has read and performed at a gamut of live venues in Toronto.  (Read more about Heather’s accomplishments  here in Goodreads.)

I became friends with Heather through our mutual friend, Toronto Poet.   Ed and I have enjoyed her readings at Lizzie Violet’s Cabaret Noir and The Redhead Revue. We all share a love of things retro, especially very bad sci-fi movies from the 1950s.

I was delighted when Heather Babcock’s debut novel, Filthy Sugar was published by Inanna Publications. This independent press focuses on literature by and about women and is also the publisher of two dear friends and authors, Lisa De Nikolits  and Caro Soles.

Set in the depths of the Great Depression, Filthy Sugar describes the often tawdry adventures of  19 year old, Wanda Whittle, who uses her beauty and her sexuality to get out of poverty. She ends up cruelly exploited – as a burlesque dancer, a sex worker and even as a “redeemed woman” for a tabloid – because she trusts or falls for the wrong guy.  But Wanda is a fighter and in a great twist at the end of the novel (no spoilers!), she takes back control of her own life and finds real love.

It’s a credit to Heather’s terrific skills as a writer that she can unsparingly portray the romantic traps and sad situations that Wanda falls prey to and yet embody the pages with such vitality, you can’t stop turning the pages.

Heather submerged herself in the history of 1930’s culture –  even listening to 1930’s music while writing – and her passion for the period creates magic on the pages.  (Each chapter is referenced for history buffs.) Here are just a couple of my favorite lines:

  • When the lights are dim and the cigarettes are lit, the dames look like ladies and the mugs look like gentlemen and nobody sees the blood on your shoes at the Bow Tie.
  • When the only things alive are the rats in the walls and the little vampires under my mattress, it’s high time to blow.

I especially love Heather’s portrayal of 1930’s street talk.  Some of the phrases are historical (she includes a dictionary at the end of the book) but the best ones, she created herself. Here’s a sampling:

  • Slug burger – a poor person’s burger served on stale bread
  • Crepehanger – a cynic
  • Flock of salami – bullsh*t
  • Underwood banger – a reporter
  • Filthy sugar – dirty money

Underwood banger and best of all, filthy sugar are Heather’s own phrases. History is the loser!

BOTTOM LINE: Highly recommended. Five stars!

My Story on Audio

Great news!

My long story, “Brainworm”, is featured on Donna Carrick’s Story Stocking, Part One on July 22nd and Part Two on July 29th.  “Brainworm” first appeared in the Mesdames of Mayhem’s latest anthology, In the Key of 13.

In the story, Fiona, a middle-aged woman worn down by looking after her difficult stepmother, has a near miss on the highway during a biting winter blizzard. The shock forces her to face the danger about to devour her.

Click here to tune in to this podcast.

EAT THIS BOOK: Rolling Thunder by A. J. Devlin

I had the pleasure of meeting AJ Devlin at Left Coast Crime in Vancouver in 2019. We ended up sitting next to each other at the Crime Writers of Canada pub dinner and really hit it off. It turns out that AJ spent many years in Hollywood as a screen writer and our daughter, Claire, works in special effects so I know how tough the film biz can be. And we bonded over the challenges we’d both had to overcome to be traditionally published.

 

AJ’s first crime novel, Cobra Clutch, found a home with NeWest Press. It introduced “Hammerhead” Jed Ounstead, a former pro wrestler turned private eye. I loved it! Like pro wrestling, Cobra Clutch has it all: comedy, great characters and over the top action. (The shoot-out on Lion’s Gate Bridge is my personal favorite.)

Cobra Clutch was nominated for a Lefty Award and went on to win the Arthur Ellis Best First Novel Award. Not bad!

So I was eager to read Jed Ounstead’s next adventure, Rolling Thunder. I’m delighted to report that it’s great fun and a great read. Jed is in fine form as he dives into the world of roller derby. The coach of the Split Lip Sallies, whose stage name is Lawrence O’Labia, has disappeared days before a critical match. (Lawrence’s real-life name is even ruder.) The roller derby team hires Jed to find him.

Running Lawrence down lands Jed in enormous danger as he searches through Vancouver’s seamy side. Is it gambling? Drugs? Larry’s secret fondness for the (gay) leather scene? You’ll have to read the book to find out.

AJ has a gift for witty names and dialogue. He populates the pages of his thriller with hilariously weird characters, among them: an effete bookie who races dachshunds, an excruciatingly amateur talk show host and a 300lb roller derby star who likes to whack men’s butts. Jed gets lots of action in and out of the ring. The fight scenes are especially well-written: gritty and visual.

Rolling Thunder hits all the marks for a PI thriller. Thoroughly recommended. 5 stars.

Available on Amazon.ca in print and e-book.

 

WANDERINGS IN THE PLAGUE YEAR #2

COVID forced the pause button down on modern society. And the intensification of social media meant the whole world watched George Floyd get murdered. Yes, let’s use the right word – murdered over an alleged counterfeit $20 bill.

Many times I’ve handed a $20 bill to a cashier who semi-surreptitiously checked it out with a UV light under the counter. What’s the worst that would have happened to me if it looked fake? The cashier would simply have handed it back  and told me it’s phoney.

Because I’m white.  Also I live in Canada.

As a kid, I witnessed the shootings at Kent State University on the TV news. The image of state troopers firing into and killing unarmed student protestors seared into my memory forever. Up until then, I believed the world was the way society and my folks told me it was. That day I began to see the way the world really is.

I’m hoping there’s an upside to the ubiquitous spying technology we’re so addicted to. (In case you missed it, our phones are turning us into “Little Brother”.) But amidst FAANG’s avid personal data collection, the truth occasionally slips out.

Will public outrage reach the critical mass needed for meaningful action? Does this mean Revolution, Baby?

Maybe.

Maybe  this time it’s really gonna be different.

So I biked through Toronto’s Graffiti Alley to take in the street art memorializing George Floyd. Here’s what I found. The pics speak for themselves.

 

 

 

Graffiti Alley runs a short block south of Queen, east-west from Spadina to Bathurst. It’s gritty, the paintings multi-layered and ever-changing. Check Google Maps for location.

NEWS! NEWS! NEWS! My New Story in A Grave Diagnosis

Greetings Readers!

Delighted to report that my cross-genre story, “The Eternal Bakery of the Fractal Mind”, will be part of Carrick Publishing’s exciting new crime anthology, A Grave Diagnosis. Publication is slated for this fall and is one of the few bright spots in this write-off Plague Year AKA Anno Horribilis or 2020.

Donna Carrick chose the medical theme for Grave Diagnosis months before COVID was a whisper on the internet. Some readers might call this serendipity, but I call it prescient and perfect planning!

My story, “The Eternal Bakery…”, is a departure for me and is my first foray into speculative fiction. During Left Coast Crime 2019,  I discovered that my favorite bakery from my university student days in Vancouver still exists – and it still serves my favorite cinnamon buns. The story simply dropped out of the creative ether like a crystal out of solution – a gift when it happens.

I’m delighted to share the pages with several Mesdames of Mayhem buddies and many crime writer friends. I’ll share the full list of writers as soon as it’s available.

And stay tuned for the cover reveal and details of our book launch!

EAT THIS BOOK: Forgotten Mystery Writers #3 – L. A. Morse and The Old Dick

Older heros, where are they?

In recent years, especially in noir crime fiction, authors and editors have pushed to create  “geezer lit”.  But the sub-genre hasn’t really caught on even though crime fiction readers are an older demographic.

True enough, modern protagonists of crime fiction, especially cozies, have become slightly older, but they’re not really old.

Two notable exceptions did take off.  First of all, there’s the intrepid Miss Marple, inspired by an elderly friend of Dame Agatha Christie’s step grandmother. Miss Marple made her first appearance in a short story published in 1927.

Then more than half a century later,  author L.A. Morse introduced Jake Spanner, his 78 year old PI. The Old Dick was Morse’s first crime novel and he won an Edgar Award for it.

In the early days of Crime Writers of Canada, L. A. Morse was much admired by the membership and perhaps more than a little envied because of his smashing success with The Old Dick. Though Morse worked as an administrator at the University of Toronto, he was actually an American from Los Angeles with two degrees in English literature from the University of California.

Re-reading The Old Dick, it’s easy to understand why it was such a hit. The writing is excellent: Morse goes for the comedy, with wry observations and epigrams packed into every page. He’s channelling his inner Raymond Chandler with observations like :

  • “When you got old, you either went soft or you got dry. Fortunately, I had gotten dry.”
  •  “One of the few advantages of getting really old is that people don’t talk to you…They’re probably afraid that old age is contagious.”
  • “People have always divided the world into “us” and “them”, but when you’re old, you never fit in, so you’re always “them”.”

The Old Dick was not Morse’s first book. He’d already published, The Flesh Eaters, about a 15th century Scottish cannibal clan. He went on to write three more crime novels, all with a satirical edge. He took on Mickey Spillane with two hard-boiled  novels, The Big Enchilada and Sleaze, whose hero, Sam Hunter “made Dirty Harry look like Mother Teresa”. He then showed his cozy side in An Old-Fashioned Mystery, penned by the mysterious and reclusive author, “Runa Fairleigh”.

In the mid-1980s, Morse turned to screen writing. He was one of the writers of    Jake Spanner, Private Eye, a 1989 film starring Robert Mitchum and Ernest Borgnine. Though the movie centred on the Jake Spanner character from The Old Dick, the plot bore no resemblance to the book at all. Despite a strong cast, it failed to take off.

At this point Morse abandoned writing altogether.  He turned to another medium for creative expression: he became -and still is – a sculptor. He became an expert bird watcher and published a two volume reference book on trashy 1980s movies and videos.

BOTTOM LINE:   Abe Books lists the value of my used, unsigned paperback from $4 to $8US.

DECISION – SELL, KEEP or DONATE? 

DONATE with an ounce of regret for the good writing between the covers