SURREAL TRAP DOOR: Attacked by a Grouse!

Grandma’s garden and grouse lair

It’s been a cold spring in Ontario, but time to open up the cottage for the season.  This means gearing up to battle the field mice invasion and/or emptying our bank accounts to repair winter damage.

At first, Anno Horribilis aka 2020 seemed to have thrown us a break. A mature pine tree had cracked in half over the winter but the tree top landed clear of our roof.  No structural damage – whew!

As for the mice, well, remember Walter White’s respirator in Breaking Bad? Good thing we had one, because an ocean of rodent poop was waiting for us in the cupboard under the sink. More feces sprinkled over the counters, stove, you name it.  And a favorite quilt chewed to pieces. Sigh.

It’s necessary to take extreme precautions when cleaning up because Huron County deer mice  harbour the hantavirus. (Nasty info via the Ontario Government publication here.) But my love for animals was about to be further tested…

Outside in my late mother-in-law’s garden, we spotted a pretty bird about the size of a chicken. Not wanting to scare it away, I sneaked closer with my camera.

Grouse well-camouflaged. Probably ruffed grouse species.

 

The bird wasn’t afraid. In fact, it exhibited so little fear that we worried it was someone’s pet. Not a safe environment around our cottage for bunnies and birds – lots of hawks and the occasional carnivore…

While taking the protective plastic off our young fruit trees later on, I noticed the bird again. Quite unafraid, still following us. Worried now, I wondered, should we feed it? Ask our neighbours who it belonged to?

Turning my back to it, all of a sudden, WHACK! Something hard struck me between the shoulder blades. It was the damn bird! Too cowardly to attack fact to face apparently.

OK, I thought, obviously a territorial dispute happening here. For some unknown reason, the grouse had settled on our cottage property for mating and breeding purpose.

Now the grouse was much smaller than me, so its attack was merely disconcerting. Still as a long-term animal rights supporter, I couldn’t help feeling a tiny bit betrayed.

More was to come though. Grouse-zilla kept a beady eye on us as we cleared the yard every so often gathering itself for a rush. By now I was visualizing predators at the top end of the food chain. Where was a fox, muskrat or hawk when you needed one?

“Let’s take a walk to the beaver pond,” Ed suggested. “We’ll lose it in the woods.”

The beaver pond lies about half a kilometre east of our cottage.  You reach it via a trail through the woods.  As we made our way along the trail, we heard it rustling through the undergrowth beside us – all the way to the pond.

“Let’s walk around the pond. It’ll give up,” I said.

So round the pond we went – a fair distance over  ditches, narrow foot bridges, looping round on trails that aren’t easy to find. Did it follow? Of course it did.

It followed us all the way back to the cabin, a distance of at least one kilometre through dense trees and brush. In a (very) grudging way, I admired it. The little f**ker had grit.

After a quick search on the internet, I turned up other tales of grouse attacks. Here’s one of the funniest, Yellowstone Grouse Attack! on video.

We drove off but sadly it wasn’t under our tires. I hear grouse roasts up nice….

 

WANDERINGS: Riding in the Plague Year #1

Greetings Readers!

Strange times indeed. Normally in March and April, I’m training for The Ride to Conquer Cancer, to support cancer research at Toronto’s Princess Margaret Hospital, one of the top five centres in the world.

2020 would have been my 13th ride. Alas, not to be. The Ride is in limbo along with the rest of our world.  Hard to see how an event of 4000+ sweaty riders plus 1000 volunteers, all served by well-used porta-potties, leaking buckets of energy drinks and pawed-over treats, could happen in this epidemic year. 

No matter what they decide about the Ride itself, the donations will go to cancer research, if not this year, then in 2021. If only cancer went into quarantine! Happily though PMH has officially  joined the war on CORVID-19 with researchers working on a treatment / vaccine.

What to do in the meantime? Luckily because I’m a runner and cyclist I’m not housebound. No rules against either activity…yet.  Public health authorities encourage everyone to get fresh air. But where?

My favorite training loop, Mt. Pleasant cemetery, is closed, but city trails are not. And the streets are eerily empty of traffic. Surreal to be sure. My intrepid fellow companions are: dog walkers, families with small children, senior citizens and other crazy cyclists and runners. Waved to a gym buddy – an 82 year old grandmother and long distance runner who grew up during the Battle of Britain. 

My British blood stirs. This is our boomer moment, I guess. Crap! And it’s spring and reason for happiness.

Seen in Rosedale
Crocuses!
More spring flowers

 

 

 

 

 

One of my favorite bike routes runs along the Beltline. Uplifting to discover that its interesting street art is not only intact, but restored.

James Dean artist
Green tiger burning bright
New. Condom rocket?
Watching u

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

Wildlife may be reclaiming their habitat judging by the sign spotted near the end of the Beltline. Stay safe, my friends!

Happy croc!
Motivation to pedal harder

CYBER CAFE: Welcome Jayne Barnard!

Jayne Barnard and I first became friends in cyber space. We met in Real Space at the 2016 Arthur Ellis Banquet where to my delight, she won the Unhanged Arthur for her first crime novel, Where the Flood Falls (Dundern). Her hero, Lacey McCrae, is a former RCMP officer fleeing domestic abuse. Lacey is rebuilding her life in the Calgary foothills but gets drawn into solving homicides.

The second book in the series, Where the Ice Falls, debuted on August 10th, giving me an early read of this terrific thriller. The story touches on serious social issues, like cyber fraud while chasing down the true killer through a frigid Alberta winter.

In addition to crime, Jayne writes historical and speculative fiction. She is the creator of the YA steam punk heroine, Maddie Hatter. The first book in the series, Maddie Hatter and the Gilded Gauge, won the Alberta Book of the Year Award. Jayne unleashes her wild imagination in a cozy, vine-covered cottage where she lives with her husband and orange tabby cat.

All these great reads are available on Amazon. Where the Ice Falls is also available through Indigo/Chapters, Barnes & Noble, and at Jayne’s long-time home bookstore, Owls Nest Books in southwest Calgary.  So readers, EAT THESE BOOKS and welcome, Jayne, to Cyber Café!

 

Jayne, how did you become a writer? Did you know from childhood?

The first time I really threw myself into writing a story was in Grade 3. My teacher let me have a whole week to finish it to my satisfaction. I sold a couple of poems in early adulthood and averaged two sales of short pieces (fiction and non-) per decade until my oldest child hit university.

How do you carve out time write?

I didn’t sell my first novel until after my last child left home. It’s a common trajectory for female writers with families; carving out the time and, more importantly, the mental focus to write, is a challenge.

How did you turn to crime…fiction?

I actually started selling historical short crime stories. “The Medicine Line” and “Tommy Palmer’s Ghost” were finalists for the Great Canadian Story prize from the now-sadly-defunct Canadian Storyteller Magazine. “Each Canadian Son” won the Boney Pete at Bloody Words 2011 in Victoria, BC. I’d written a handful of speculative short stories along the way but none got published until I was already working on my first Steampunk novella, Maddie Hatter and the Deadly Diamond (Tyche Books, 2015).

What was your inspiration for the Falls series and the main character, Lacey McCrae?

At heart the series is about women and the friendships that support us as we grow through the upheavals of early adulthood. Long ago, my best friend from high school joined the RCMP. Back then we were both into running, cycling, swimming, so the fitness requirement wasn’t a big problem for her. By the time she left the Force ten years later, we both had half-finished university degrees and failed marriages. In addition, she had PTSD and I had already been diagnosed with the illness that still rules my life (ME/CFS).

Lacey is loosely based on my friend’s experiences adjusting to civilian life, but her running and other active scenes are rooted in my kinetic memory from those active olden days with my friend. The character of Jan is in many senses my current life; she studied what I studied, and she has ME/CFS which limits what she can do. We both still crave exposure to the arts world we had to leave.

Where the Ice Falls is the second book in the series. How does it continue on from When the Flood Falls?

Where the Ice Falls takes place from early December to early January, six months after the events of Where the Flood Falls. Lacey and Jan were the main players in Flood; Lacey and her roommate Dee are central to Ice.

Dee’s mother is terminally ill, and determined to have a last Christmas with her only child before seeking a medically assisted death. Dee relies on Lacey’s support to come to terms with her mother’s wishes. But Lacey’s already crispy at the edges after months of looking after Dee during her long recovery from last summer’s injuries.

A new character, Zoe, is near breaking point from work, Christmas prep, and her stepsons’ impending visit. When Zoe’s teenage daughter finds a dead intern outside their borrowed ski chalet, all the women are yanked into a chilling holiday season filled with family dysfunctions and psychological stressors that lead inexorably toward danger and death in the cruel wilderness west of Calgary.

Tell us about your Maddie Hatter novella series (Tyche Books).

The Maddie Hatter Adventures are frothy romps that chase Maddie, renegade daughter of Britain’s most respected Steamlord, as she attempts to make her living by investigative reporting. Except no editor will give a young lady an investigative assignment; she’s trapped on the Society pages, writing about women’s fashion.

She has to break out of what we’d now call a ‘pink ghetto’ on her own. Whether hunting for batty Baron Bodmin and his mysterious bloodshot diamond across three seas and two continents, or parasol duelling in Gilded Age New York City with a devious Russian countess, or hunting industrial spies across the calles and alleys of Venice during Carnivale, Maddie needs all her wits – and the help of her clockwork bird, Tweetle-D,  to catch the crooks and pen the exposés, or she’ll be relegated to hats-and-hemlines stories forever.

Maddie Hatter is Steampunk-inspired. (I love steam punk BTW) Do tell us more about Steampunk. 

Steampunk got its start in the late-Victorian adventure tales of Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, and Arthur Conan Doyle. Yes, the creator of Sherlock Holmes wrote a few Professor Challenger novels too, questing for lost worlds.

The modern twist on this genre is that the gasoline engine was never invented. Steam power kept evolving instead, with new gadgets and advanced transportation and communication technology. Nowadays, Steampunk is not limited to British literary tradition nor to Victorian England. In Australia, Japan, India, Russia, and all across the Western world, Steampunk sub-cultures are flourishing, with festivals bringing together hundreds of costumed revelers ready to show off their gadgets while they participate in parades, teapot races, and, increasingly, parasol duelling.

To be totally honest, my husband and I – both involved in the Alberta Steampunk community for many years – invented parasol duelling for Maddie Hatter’s world and are thrilled that it has been adopted by Steampunks around the globe. The World Championships are held in Alberta each September, but there are duelling groups in England, France, Australia, New Zealand, and several US states.

Both of us contributed stories to the noir anthology, The Dame was Trouble. Your story is cross-genre: a futuristic PI story set in space. Do you see an increasing trend in cross-genre crime fiction?

I think there’s a bright future in SFF/ crime crossovers. Modern readers live in a technologically complex world and expect their fiction to mirror that, but at heart we all want characters we can identify with, whether they’re human, humanoid, android, or entirely alien. Crime writers have been studying the human psyche across the full spectrum of good and evil for a long time; the more we’re able to expand our work to settings beyond the limits of contemporary Earth, the more new readers we’ll find.

What challenges face the cross-genre crime writer?

To write good crossover fiction, you must know the conventions of both genres well before deciding which ones you’ll break, bend, or stand on their heads. While crime fiction is based on human nature and the solution of a puzzle, SFF readers want exotic settings and alternative social structures that challenge them to imagine life outside the confines of the world they know.

It’s not enough to set a crime story on a space station or alien moon if you don’t think about what new opportunities and limitations the setting imposes on the criminals and the detectives. In “Painted Jade”, my story from The Dame Was Trouble, the body is found floating outside the station, all forensic evidence perfectly preserved by the vacuum of space. However, our intrepid detective must go out there to bring it in, and if you’ve ever felt that leap in your stomach on a carnival ride, imagine how your stomach will feel as it tries to keep your breakfast from rising in the absence of gravity.

Ideally you should be reading in the genres you’re writing in, so you can avoid the unrewarding task of crafting, for example, a compelling mystery in a setting that’s been thoroughly explored by a dozen masters of SFF already. You don’t want half your potential readers to dismiss your masterwork as being out-dated, or the other half to toss the book aside because they guessed the murder plot in the first few pages and aren’t interested enough in your careful world-building to keep reading.

What’s next for you, Jayne?

First off, I’ll be editing the third book in The Falls Mysteries. Why the Rock Falls picks up with Lacey and Jan the following summer, when Jan’s old university roommate comes to Bragg Creek with her movie-director husband and promptly attracts old lovers and new dangers in the sun-baked foothills. It will be released in the summer of 2020 by Dundurn Press.

Next, I’ll work on a contemporary Young Adult thriller in which a teenage foster child gets tangled up with a land-developer, a politician, and a deceptively mild-eyed collie with a penchant for escape. I’m quite excited about this blending of my crime-writing background with my YA adventure style. You could say it’s another kind of crossover.

Great having you on Cyber Cafe, Jayne. Really looking forward to reading your new books.

Thanks for inviting me to visit your blog. Always a pleasure to chat with you.

 

 

 

 

 

EAT THIS BOOK: Disappearances by Howard Frank Mosher

In February, Ed and I made our annual ski trip to Stowe, Vermont. Though old Stowe is rapidly disappearing due to the monolith monster condo development at the ski hill (now owned by Vail Resorts with concomitant sticker-shock pricing), vestiges of its old charm remain.

That includes our favorite hotel, The Green Mountain Inn, with its Shaker décor, warm fireplaces and afternoon tea and cookies. Locals  grab coffee and nosh down bacon and eggs at  The Café on Main next door in the Depot Building. Other must-eat noms: the over-sized chocolate chip cookies and superb fresh muffins.

While sipping Green Mountain’s dark roast eye-opener, we tried to resist the pleading eyes of a charming pug – and failed. He’s the resident pet in the best bookstore in Vermont: Bear Bond Books.

 

 

 

I’m trying to downsize my library but a visit to Bear Pond guarantees failure: I never leave without buying a book. Bear Pond promotes local authors, including crime writers: here’s where I discovered Archer Mayor and the Joe Gunther series.  This February, I struck more gold.

Disappearances by Howard Frank Mosher intrigued me. The back cover outlined an adventure in bootlegging Canadian liquor across the US border during the Prohibition: an honourable part of our national history. And the novel drew on the intermingling of French Canadian and Vermont culture at the time. The hero’s name is Quebec Bill Bonhomme.

I’d anticipated that the border was once porous. Who knew how much? I was about to find out.

After the first page, I realized that I’d stumbled upon a gifted writer with a wildly exuberant imagination. Disappearances isn’t a mere adventure: it’s magic realism that reinvents and invigorates the tall tale.  It begins with our heroes’ visit to an asylum run by a mad, alcoholic doctor and an encounter with hermaphroditic twins and veers off into a series of Picaresque disasters. Crazy violence on par with noir author Johnny Shaw,  innumerable car crashes, an albino villain named Carcajou or “Wolverine” who won’t stay dead. Oh and did I mention that this is a comedy? I loved it! 

Disappearances  earned rave reviews from the Washington Post and Harper’s Magazine before winning the New England Book Award for fiction. In 2006, it was made into a film starring Kris Kristofferson and Genevieve Bujold. I’d never heard of it despite the cast.  It has a score of 52% on Rotten Tomatoes – in other words, mixed reviews. According to IMDB, it failed spectacularly at the box office, costing $1.5 million to make and bringing in only $300,000.

Perhaps the wild, over-the-top fantasies work best on the page: a fever dream shared intimately between reader and author. We’re glutted by fabulous CGI and overblown violence on screen every day. Who remembers Tim Burton’s film, Big Fish even though it was a critical and financial success?

Howard Frank Mosher wrote 11 novels, many of which were turned into films by Jay Craven, an indie film-maker and native of Vermont.  And in case you doubt the influence of Quebec, what does “Vermont” mean? Vert mont or green mountain, right? Green Mountain range, Green Mountain Inn. Sometimes it takes 30+ years for the penny to drop.

In the meantime, EAT THIS BOOK!

 

 

 

 

HAPPY NEW YEAR, READERS!

Very excited to start 2018 with a new adventure. My friend, Donna Carrick of Carrick Publishing has launched a new podcast, Dead to Writes. I’m honoured to be one of the first authors featured on the podcast. I’ve been on radio once before on Sirius XM as a guest of Allison Dore.: a breathtakingly stressful adventure. We went overtime on our talk, which means all went well and Allison and her radio crew earned my undying admiration. Huge amount of work and prep goes into every minute of a radio interview.

Tonight, January 8th, my interview with Donna goes live followed by the audio version of my story, “Snake Oil”, from the Mesdames of Mayhem’s latest anthology, 13 Claws. Stand by for a thought-provoking discussion on crime fiction and writer’s craft.

Tune in via iTunes or Google Play. See you tonight!

WANDERINGS: Hydro Gift Boxes

A well-kept secret in Toronto is that our city actively promotes street art. There’s even hope that Toronto can become a go-to destination for followers and fans.

One interesting sideline is the beautification of our plain, military-grey hydro boxes. Hell, the city even pays artists to do this. Here are some neat examples spotted on my cycling forays. Click on each image to enlarge it.

Fancy peacock
Flowers in field

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Detail of Toronto life
Witty in our ‘hood

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blues raccoon
Cool cat

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Broken heart
Lettre sur boite

 

 

WANDERINGS: Graffiti Alley North

Greetings Readers!

It’s been a chilly spring and I’m still wearing my winter bike gear in May! But riding through the wind and rain toughens you up to any adverse weather on the Ride to Conquer Cancer. As always, the City of Toronto keeps closing bike routes and the repairs are s-l-o-w.  This year it’s the southern part of the Don Valley trail, which I normally do on every training ride.

Graffiti Alley North

But there are rewards. Cruising down a Leaside street and crossing north over Eglinton en route to Sunnybrook I discovered Graffiti Alley North. The street runs parallel to Eglinton now torn up by the light rail construction.  Feast your eyes, readers!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cool crab
Garage door fairy
I see you
Wise ass owl
Robot army
King of Toronto’s green boxes
Marlowe the ferret?
Movember man, save me!
The artist?

 

Cool dragon

 

 

 

BIG SALE for LEFT COAST CRIME!

12000831_10154197942864018_1649104801334232488_ocoverpage

 

 

GREETINGS READERS!

As part of Left Coast Crime, my e-books will be on SALE on Amazon from March 16th to March 23rd at 12:00 am. The discounted price for each book is $0.99.

So if you haven’t had a chance to read my books on Kindle, you can now get ’em cheap.

ENJOY and many thanks!!

 

SURREAL TRAPDOOR: The Occult and K2

12742381_10156530658650150_2448979545047805041_nGreetings Readers!

My blog today is a combined Surreal Trap Door and Eat this Book.51pGxMGswNL__SX324_BO1,204,203,200_

Books about outdoor adventure and survival are my great favourite. At Bear Pond Books, Stowe’s wonderful book store, Ghosts of K2   by Mike Conefrey  caught my eye. It reads like a thriller!

K2 is the world’s second highest mountain. Though 800 feet shorter than Everest, it is a far more challenging technical climb. As one injured climber famously said: “K2 is a savage mountain that tries to kill you.” 

It has a nasty track record. It has the second highest climber mortality rate for mountains over 8000 feet: 77 deaths for 300 summits or roughly 1 in 4 climbers die. The dubious title of ultimate killer belongs to Annapurna at 61 deaths for 191 summits or 1 in 3. Everest gets more publicity for its deaths but in fact, its fatality rate is relatively low: 54 deaths for 3000 summits.

K2 got its name during the The Great Trigonometric Survey of British India. Thomas Montgomerie, perched on Mt. Haramuhk  200 km south of the Karakoram mountain range,  sketched two prominent peaks and labelled them K1 and K2. K1 had a name, Masherbrum, but K2 didn’t, probably because of its remote and inaccessible location. Local people simply called it “Chogori” or Big Mountain so the name K2 stuck.

Now for the opening of the surreal trapdoor! The first serious attempt on K2 was a 1902 British expedition led by the infamous occult leader, Aleister Crowley! At the time Crowley was a mop-headed, British gentleman of independent means, channelling his inner Alan Quartermain. Despite being hampered by lack of roads, modern equipment and an understanding of the devastating effects of high altitude on human physiology, his team managed to reach 21,407 feet. Miraculously no one died in the attempt despite the frigid temperatures and gale force winds.

Aleister Crowley - 1st bath in 85 days
Aleister Crowley – 1st bath in 85 days

The team suffered considerable hardships. Crowley went 85 days without bathing and was plagued by malaria, lice and snow blindness. He was too ill to attempt the summit, which probably saved his life. 

Unlike his friend, Oscar Eckenstein, who was a careful, methodical climber, Crowley attacked mountains the way he approached sex, drugs and other pleasures in his life – with wild, mad intensity

He attempted one more big climb, Kangchenjunga, the third highest mountain in the world and third worst killer of mountaineers: about 22% die summiting its peak. After three of his team died in an avalanche, he gave up  climbing over 8000 feet for good.

Crowley’s interest in the occult and “magick” began in 1898 when he joined the Hermetic Society of the Golden Dawn. The occult and mysticism became the focus of his life. In 1905, he founded his own religion, Thelema. Throughout his life, he remained controversial because of his multitude of male and female lovers and his appetites for opium, heroin and cocaine. Some biographers believe that his libertine ways covered up the fact that he worked as a spy for British intelligence throughout his life.

K2 was finally summited by an Italian team on July 31, 1954, a little more than a year after Hillary and Tenzing topped Everest on May 29, 1953.  More understanding of the dangers of high altitude and bottled oxygen made these ascents possible.

Mike Conefrey, the author of The Ghosts of K2, is a documentarian who has worked mostly with the BBC. His passions are mountaineering and exploration. He approaches writing non-fiction as a dramatist, which makes Ghosts of K2, a page-turner that stays with you.

So, dear readers, EAT THIS BOOK!!

 

SURREAL TRAPDOOR: Marihuana in Legoland

Life does indeed imitate art – but, hey, Windigo Fire did it first!

ce3489971f4d58cd34e8614f532a7312In Windigo Fire, my villain, Santa is the owner of a seedy roadside attraction, Santa’s Fish Camp. Of course, he has a large crop of marihuana plants flourishing in the “service area”. 

I got the idea after we visited  Santa’s Village  in Bracebridge, Ontario with our then 4 year old  daughter. She absolutely loved Santa’s Village, but as a mom chasing after an active kid, well, my thoughts turned dastardly.  As I tell aspiring writers: ask the “What if” question. What if this clean, family-friendly attraction masked a grow-op?

Thus the seeds of Santa’s Fish Camp were planted so to speak. But now Legoland UK has followed suite! th2

2861129_2PgBfsPCZrJOlDrPa-M4Q3NzNHABmxp15VDg2rgUaG4Recently, a grow-op was discovered at Legoland UK. Two enterprising b*stards planted 50 thriving marihuana plants inside a cottage at the boundary of the theme park. Even cheekier, the ambitious  herbalists accessed the cottage through Crown Estate lands –  at Windsor Castle where the Queen lives!

Read the full story in the Huffington Post here. As they say, man, Legolize It!

th1