SURREAL TRAPDOOR: Santarchy Rules!

Every year on a Saturday mid-December 100+ Santas storm through Toronto’s Eaton’s Centre and head down Queen Street west. Flagrant rebels in search of BEER! This is a world-wide movement from Hanoi to Helsinki to Tokyo to London and beyond. Read about Santacon here.

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100+ rampaging Santas!

Ed and I have been part of this rampaging mob for several Christmases now, thanks to our friend Eric. (Read more about Eric and his Grand Guignol clowning in my most popular blog ever, Charlie the Lonely Sentinel. Charlie’s a stuffed dog BTW.)

We’re polite rebels with several rules of decorum, including being nice to kids and obeying police officers and security guards. After all, we’re Canadian! A Santa suit is a must, but one’s imagination may run wild from racy to saucy Mrs. Claus. We’ve even had a Thor Santa! (Sorry, ladies, no photo). And we are led by Old St. Nick in resplendent bishop’s robe and staff.

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Racy Santa
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Saucy Santa

Typically, we meet up at the Imperial Pub on Dundas St. East then march through the Eaton Centre, giving out candy canes to kids. Then on to Nathan Philip Square for a rampage through the skaters. Group photo at the war memorial on University Avenue then on to The Rex to be refused admission. (Hey, it’s tradition!) The Black Bull though is usually our first and favorite watering hole.

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Getting tired as evening wears on

We wend our way down Queen Street, invading the pubs that will let us in. (To be fair, they’ve been pre-warned.) The Academy of Spherical Arts is a fav as well as the late, great Hideout.  This is a way to get in to clubs who would never otherwise let you in because you’re obviously middle class and O-L-D. We’ve even witnessed Fetish Night. (Great material for crime fiction, but who would believe me?)

By 2 am, Ed and I are ready for food (poutine anyone?) and home. Many times the subway has gone sleepy-bye for the night so we’ve relied on the notorious Zoo Bus of our youth. The Yonge St. night bus is a whole quantum level more surreal  and never fails to disappoint. 

Interested? The info isn’t up on the website yet but word is that if you come to the Imperial Pub at 6 pm, Sat Dec 17th, you may find something to your advantage…

NEWS: Books, books, books!

HAPPY HOLIDAYS, READERS!

12742381_10156530658650150_2448979545047805041_nIt’s December and HOLIDAY MADNESS! My friends, the Mesdames of Mayhem and I, published a lot of books and short stories this year.  Do visit our website to find out about our doings at www.mesdamesofmayhem.com.

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L to R Sylvia Warsh, Donna Carrick, Joan O’Callaghan, Rosemary McCracken, Ed Piwowarczyk, Cheryl Freedman, Lisa De Nikolits, Cathy Astolfo, M. H. Callway; Front L to R Rosemary Aubert, Jane Burfield, Melodie Campbell, Lynne Murphy

We wish you Happy Holidays and EAT OUR BOOKS!  These goodies are good for you!

 

MY NEW BOOK: GLOW GRASS & OTHER TALES – LAST EXCERPT!

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AMDUR’S CAT

This light-hearted story is my personal favorite. Tiddles is based on one of our beloved cats and he lives again in this story. Some of the antics at the Ministry of Health were inspired by a certain notorious Toronto mayor – and I leave to you, dear reader, to decide which ones are true and which are pure fantasy!

 Published in Thirteen, An Anthology by the Mesdames of Mayhem, Carrick Publishing, 2013.

            On a snowy December night Benjamin Amdur saw a lion. It was gamboling about like a kitten swatting at the fat, wet snowflakes that tumbled through the dark. Right in the centre of Riverdale Park by the children’s wading pool.

            Under the lamps of the park’s snowy pathway, the lion’s tawny fur glowed like the back of an old velvet sofa. For a brief moment – that gap between the surreal world and biting reality – he watched Rousseau’s painted lion came to life.

            Then he remembered the sleeping gypsy – the minstrel who was about to eaten.

            He grasped the icy black iron fence beside him. The house it surrounded lay dark. At two in the morning, its inhabitants, like most normal people, were in bed. By the time he woke them up screaming for help, the lion would have torn out his throat.

            With infinite caution, his eyes on the animal, he edged back into the shadows of Winchester Street, the road he’d weaved down moments before. Behind him, three blocks away, lay Parliament Street with its strip bars, eateries and mini-marts. Surely to God one of those places had to be open!

            The lion leapt in the air. It snapped at the snowflakes as they fell. He heard the crunch of its jaws, saw the flash of its teeth. Its tail lashed back and forth.

            Then it paused, raised its huge head and sniffed the air. Its nostrils twitched.

            He saw me!

            Amdur turned and ran like a mad man.

            Adrenalin buoyed him up for the first few feet but deserted him almost immediately. He was forty-eight and twenty pounds overweight. His regular habit of walking to work did nothing to bolster his panic-stricken need to run. He tore down the slushy sidewalk, his mind fixed on the zebras of the veldt. Zebras that ran far more swiftly than he. Zebras brought down and eviscerated alive…

            By the time he reached the yellow lights of Parliament Street his chest was heaving. He doubled over, gasping for oxygen. If the lion got him now, he was dinner. But he couldn’t take another step.

He looked frantically up and down the street. Every storefront was dark.

No buses, no taxis, no cars.

Then he spotted an angel standing under a streetlight a few yards to the south. Well, not an angel exactly, but a young police officer, her uniform immaculate, the brim of her cap spotless, her leather boots and gun holster gleaming with polish.

            He summoned his remaining strength and stumbled over to her. “Oh, thank God…an animal…danger…” He couldn’t stop panting. “Very dangerous. Over by …Riverdale Farm.”

  She raised a tidy eyebrow. “Are you quite all right, sir?”

            “No…no, I’m not all right.” With the dispassion of his medical training, he estimated his heart to be thumping at 180 beats per minute. His blood pressure didn’t bear thinking about. “You…help…must get help.”

            “How much have you had to drink tonight, sir?”

            “Drink?” he echoed.

            “Quite a few, I’d say. Identification, please.”

     “What?” Finally he caught his breath. “Please, you don’t understand. There’s a bloody great animal running around loose. It’ll rip someone apart. We have to stop it.”

            “Your ID. Now!” Her hand moved toward her baton.

            Amdur dragged out his wallet and handed her his driver’s license. Her laser stare burned through its laminate cover.

            “Dr. Benjamin Amdur.” She studied his face with more than an element of disbelief. “So you’re a doctor.”

            “Yes, I’m with the Ministry of Health. I’m Assistant Deputy Minister in charge of OHIP.”

            That made no impression on her whatsoever. “OHIP?”

            “Your, I mean, our free medicine in Ontario. Look here, we’re wasting time.”

            “How many drinks have you had tonight, sir?”

            “What the hell does it matter? I was at a Christmas party, for heaven’s sake. At the National Club.” That lofty name made even less impression on her. “I tell you I know what I saw. There’s a lion on the loose.”

            “Lion! Why didn’t you say so!”

            “I did say so.”

  “Where? Where did you see it?”

            “In Riverdale Park, by the children’s wading pool…the farm.”

            She shoved his license in her tunic and tore down Winchester Street, leaving him standing there like an idiot. He chased after her, but she set a blistering pace. He only managed to catch up with her at the edge of the park.

             Amdur squinted through the heavy curtain of falling snow. Where was the beast? Where was it? The grounds of the park stretched out before him, white and featureless under the thick drifts.

     No sign of the lion.

**

 

MY NEW BOOK: GLOW GRASS & OTHER TALES – EXCERPT 8

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The Ultimate Mystery

 This cross-over tale stemmed from an idea that had nagged me for many years. It poses the question: What is a deity?

 Published in World Enough and Crime, Carrick Publishing, 2014.

 Finalist, Derringer Award, Long Short Story, 2015

In this excerpt, we see two parallel worlds: the underground kingdom where Lily exists and the isolated prairie farm where her earthly counterpart, Lucy, dwells.

Lily rarely saw diggers her size, since children fared poorly in the tunnels. Many died because they did not get enough to eat. During the frequent rock falls and tunnel collapses, children were more likely to lose their lives. Often, when she and Maria picked their way through the aftermath of a catastrophe, she’d see small limbs protruding from the debris.

            More disturbingly, she’d heard stories about guards taking young ones to the Supreme Ruler. In the dark, the other diggers whispered that those children simply disappeared. The guards had their way with them. Then ate them.

            She asked Maria if this was true.

            “Of course not,” Maria replied. “If we uphold The Law, the Authorities take care of us. That is the social contract our ancestors made long ago. We work to support the Supreme Ruler and the Authorities – and they feed us and keep us safe.”

            Which really means we dig and dig for nothing, Lily thought. Their food consisted of chunks of matter heavily processed at The Centre. On rare occasions it tasted sweet, but other times it tasted foul and bitter. Her fears multiplied.

            “Is there meat in the food?” Children? she wanted to ask.

            “No, not for diggers like us,” Maria replied. “Only the privileged eat meat. Meat keeps them strong so they can take care of us.”

           In other words, the Authorities and the guards ate meat. But so did the hunters who left the citadel to forage for food. At the rare gatherings with other diggers, Lily heard exciting tales about the hunters’ exploits. Rumour had it they did not always bring back all the food they found, even the precious meat.

            “That means the hunters are breaking The Law!” Lily whispered to Maria.

            “The hunters must sample their takings,” Maria said, hiding a smile. “To make sure that the food is fit for the Authorities.”

            “I want to be a hunter.”

            “That is not your rank. You are a digger. The Authorities decided this for you when you were born.”

            “Why? And don’t just say they obeyed The Law. Who made The Law anyway?”

            “The Goddess made The Law and everything in our world.”

            Lily thought this over. Every digger knew the Goddess made the world, and that She had created the Authorities in her own image. Of course, no one had any idea what the Goddess looked like, or the mechanism whereby She passed on Her word to The Authorities.

            “What if the Goddess got it wrong?”

            “Enough! No more questions.”

            Not understanding the reasons for what happened in the world made Lily feel stupid. She longed to go to school, but education of diggers was forbidden. Learning was reserved for the privileged. Maria reminded her yet again that their low status was an advantage: to be overlooked meant to be safe.

            “Are hunters allowed to learn?” Lily persisted.

            “Only enough to navigate the Outer World, so they can bring food home to our citadel.”

            Now, more than ever, Lily wanted to become a hunter.

***

            Lucy fidgeted on her kitchen chair. Every day Mom made peanut butter sandwiches for lunch, to save money, so Dad could have steak for dinner. To keep his strength up, Mom said. Because he was the one who travelled to earn money for the family.

            “Time for your lessons, dear.” Miriam gathered up their dirty dishes, clearing the way for Lucy’s textbooks.

            “Why do I have to learn at home? Why can’t I go to school like other children? And don’t just say it’s God’s will.”

            Miriam sighed. Lucy was always so full of questions. “Your father and I decided to home-school you the day you came into our lives. Public schools don’t follow God’s word, so the children there just learn about sex and drugs. I know you’re lonely, but out here we’re safe. And you’ll stay pure.”

**

MY NEW BOOK: GLOW GRASS & OTHER TALES – 4TH EXCERPT

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CHRISTMAS IN ALICE

Our visit to Alice Springs in Australia led to this story. Although the resort hotel is fictional, the Henley Boat Races on Old Todd are indeed real. In this story, Margaret, a Canadian married to an Australian, flies to Alice Springs to help an old university friend implicated in a fatal accident.

Published in Blood on the Holly, A Christmas Anthology, Caro Soles ed., Baskerville Books, 2007.

 

Outside the rain had stopped, but even under the dull overcast, the desert heat seared her skin. Enormous ghost gum trees edged the hotel driveway. Margaret followed their chalk-white trunks out to the main road, fragments of their brittle bark crunching under her sandals. Immediately the flies sprang upon her, invading her mouth and nostrils.

Beating them off, she hurried down the main road, the incongruous roar of a river filling her ears. She spotted the bridge over Old Todd a short distance away, just as Constable Owen had said.

A rickety metal barrier prevented her from crossing over, but from where she stood on the road, she had a clear view. A foaming brown torrent sluiced under the bridge. Branches and debris tore past. Black oaks leaned like charred match sticks into the flood. No one could survive a fall into those waters, not even a giant like Constable Owen.

Several police officers were searching along the far bank close to the raging river. She recognized Owen who looked up and waved to her. Margaret half-raised her hand in reply. The flies settled on her again. She turned and walked swiftly back to the hotel.  

“Cheer up,” Imogen said, when Margaret returned. ”Grab some tucker from the breakfast buffet. Christmas present from me to you. Do you good.”

Perhaps coffee would help, Margaret thought and thanked her. She joined the crush of guests charging the buffet tables set up in the dining room, but her appetite was gone. She filled two bowls of fruit salad, one for herself, one for Eileen, and found a table.

Alone in the crowd, she pulled the digital camera from her purse and switched it on. An image of Uluru in the rain popped up on the screen, the rock’s blood red surface laced with streams of water. She flicked through dozens of photos of gaudily dressed tourists who were hugging koalas, brandishing gift store souvenirs or raiding dinner buffets. A cheerful, heavy-set woman centred in a lot of them. Eileen appeared only once, standing next to the white Christmas tree in the lobby, her narrow face barred with shadow.

The last image was black.

“Fine little camera, that.” Imogen had appeared at her table. “Lots of you Americans like it.”

Margaret slipped it back into her purse.

“Can I ask you something?” Imogen took the chair opposite her. “Have the police found Phyllis?”

Margaret shook her head.

“It’s stupid to hope, I know.” The girl’s face crumpled. “I should have stopped them. Eileen couldn’t possibly have meant the Henley Boat Races. I mean, that’s stupid. But Phyllis was so keen. She wanted to see every last thing in her guidebook. She was such a lot of fun, such a nice lady. Everybody liked her.”

Everybody liked her. That’s what they’d said about Laura, too.

“Her son gave her the trip,” Imogen went on. “He’s flying in tomorrow. He’ll never feel the same about Christmas now, will he?”

**

Back in the room, Eileen was sitting up in bed, hands splayed on the sheets. She snatched the bowl of fruit salad from Margaret and stared into it. “Why do they always put in cantaloupe?” she grumbled.

“Eileen, we need to talk,” Margaret said, setting her purse down on the writing desk. “About Phyllis Redding.” She watched Eileen chew the pieces of woody melon. “Her son will want to know what happened to his mother.”

Eileen lifted a bony shoulder. “Nothing happened to her.”

“Don’t be like that.”

Eileen shoved more salad into her mouth.

“If you say nothing, people will think the worst. No one can blame you for an accident.”

“Don’t treat me like an idiot.” Eileen’s bowl tipped over, the dregs of syrup staining the sheet.

“I want to help, but I can’t if you continue this way.”

“OK, fine.” Eileen was getting loud. “We were on the bridge. She walked down into the dark.”

“What do you mean?”

“I guess she wanted to take a closer look at the river.”

Margaret sat down. “Why didn’t you stop her?”

“Why should I? She never listened. All she did was talk. Talk, talk, talk. Everything was always so wonderful, like fucking Disneyland.”

For an instant something primal flashed into Eileen’s face, the way it had in graduate school when she smashed the glass tubes of her failed experiments into the sink, one after the other.

**

GLOW GRASS & OTHER TALES

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Revenge, guide dogs, cats big and small, beleaguered ladies of a certain age and a cop with a tarnished heart, meet them all here in Glow Grass and Other Tales.

The characters in the seven stories and two novellas fight for justice even when their sense of justice is warped.  The tales include “The Lizard” and “Kill the Boss” winners of The Bony Pete and Golden Horseshoe awards, respectively. You will enjoy, “The Ultimate Mystery”,  finalist for the 2015 Derringer and “Glow Grass”, runner up for the  2016 Arthur Ellis Best Novella Award.

My personal favorite is the comedy story,  “Amdur’s Cat”, an excerpt you will find on this website. I drew on my working experiences with the Ontario Ministry of Health. I’ll leave it to you, readers, to decide which ones are true and which ones I are products of my warped imagination!

 

 

MY NEW BOOK: GLOW GRASS and OTHER TALES

Greetings Readers!

On November 6th,  2 pm , I’ll be launching my latest book, Glow Grass and Other Tales, together with two great writer friends, Rosemary Aubert and Donna Carrick at our favorite bookstore, Sleuth of Baker Street!

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Rosemary, a two-time winner of the Arthur Ellis Award, is launching her collection of stories, The Midnight Boat to Palermo. This moving story is one of the best crime stories I have ever read.

Donna is bringing out her anthology, North on the Yellowhead. In addition to running a successful publishing company, Donna is a gifted writer of stories, novels and non-fiction. Her crime story in Thirteen, “Watermelon Weekend” was an Arthur Ellis finalist in 2015.

**

Leading up to our Trifecta Launch, I’ll be publishing an excerpt of each story in Glow Grass, starting today.

First off, the comic misadventure, Kill the Boss, inspired by 10 years in government bureaucracy.   It won the Golden Horseshoe Award, a short story contest sponsored by the Crime Writers of Canada. (First published in Silver Moon Magazine, January, 2006; reprinted in Mouth Full of Bullets, September, 2007.)

KILL THE BOSS

 “I hate my job,” I said. “Truly, madly, deeply. With passion and conviction.”

Bertie, my cell-mate in our office’s maze of cloth-covered boxes, sighed, smoothed back her spiky red hair, and granted me her usual look of benign indulgence. “Lorraine, consider the alternative. Unemployment. You’re just upset about turning fifty. You’ll get over it.”

Would I? No one hires people over fifty, especially civil servants. And men don’t date women over forty. Since my divorce even the possibility of charity sex looked bleak. My ears were ringing with the sound of the doors of opportunity slamming shut.

“Think about the French pastry shop we’ll be raiding for your birthday lunch,” Bertie said. “It’ll get us through the staff meeting Magda called this morning.”

More good news. “Was she really in at 7 am?”

“Yep.”

For reasons known only to our fusty Assistant Deputy Minister, Dr. Vladimir Nickle, our Policy Coordination Unit served as the gateway to the great Snakes and Ladders game of senior management. All aspiring careerists passed through us on their way up to – or hurtling down from – the corporate stratosphere. Magda was our newly appointed director.

To save our sanity, over the years Bertie and I had devised a boss-cataloguing system: fiery prodigies who spring-boarded through in sojourns of mere weeks, we named The Comets. Those who fell from grace, we called The Meteors. And Magda’s predecessor, who’d hidden under his desk before vanishing on permanent stress leave, we’d baptized The Black Hole. But classifying the enigmatic Magda Molina had proved difficult, so temporarily we’d labelled her the Quasar.

“Have a chocolate, doctor’s orders,” Bertie said, prying open the box of truffles Ramona had brought in for my birthday. “I struck gold today.” Her grin grew foxy. “Magda is Vlad the Spellchecker’s prodigy.”

Disaster! I stuffed down three of those babies.

Dr. Nickle – Vlad the Spellchecker to us – had ruled our division for twenty-five years, his astonishing longevity cemented by his mastery of the art of obstructionism. Stifling innovation meant no programs, and no programs meant no problems for our political masters. They all loved him. The few contentious issues that did squeak through from the public sank in Vlad’s miry sea of government-speak. Starting at seven each morning, he edited every report, letter and memo that emanated from our division. In detail. He’d reject correspondence for a comma which – inevitably – mutated into a moving target. My personal record for the number of back and forth journeys of a draft letter between our office and his stood at sixteen.

           **

“I’m so sorry to make this a short meeting.” Magda stretched back, looking at each of us in turn. “So do forgive me if I appear to be brutally frank, but truth is best. Dr. Nickle is deeply concerned about your unit.”

Those nicely digesting truffles congealed into a tarry mass.

“You all risk embarrassing the Minister with your undisciplined writing.”

Hot acrid chocolate burned the back of my throat. Embarrass the Minister? Collectively, we had a century of government experience! I braced myself for that dreaded word: reorganization.

“Clearly, you all have forgotten how to write.”

Oh, no, much worse! Under her elegant hand, I spotted an ominously familiar, mustard-hued booklet: the Ministry Guide to Style, penned by Vlad the Spellchecker himself.

“I have no choice but to sign off on all your correspondence personally. And I only look at hard copy.”

“But our office is fully electronic,” Roger, our Senior IT Manager, protested.

“I’m aware of that, but hard copy unlocks the mind’s creative potential,” Magda countered. “Each letter you write must be flawless: warm, caring and personal. Mine your creativity. Some of you will have to dig rather deeply, but do look upon it as a challenge.”

I coughed. Bertie kicked me under the table. Hard.

Again that warm smile. “I shall be coaching each of you. Personally.”

I threw up. Oh, not there in Magda’s boardroom though arguably, charging out of the meeting to plunge into the washroom counted as a heinous career-limiting move.

“Magda’s not a Quasar,” I fumed over a limp salad in the food court after work. “She’s a Supernova, a cosmic disaster. I can’t afford to lose my job. My divorce lawyer bankrupted me.”

“I should never have moved to the Beaches,” Bertie sighed. “Dream house, mean mortgage. If I quit, I lose everything.”

“She’ll drive us mad. Oh, heavens, we can’t just sit here and complain. We have to do something.”

Bertie rubbed her crimson spikes, thinking. “OK, here’s the deal. We wait until she leaves the office. We go down to the parking lot, leap in my car and then…we kill her.”

“Be serious!”

“Who’s joking?” Bertie looked foxier than ever. “Let’s make it our Special Project. We’ll call it long-term strategic planning.”

HAPPY FIRST BLOG ANNIVERSARY – Taxidermy proves popular!

Greetings Readers!

October 29, 2015 I published my first blog: All Hail Word Press! 

Blogging is great!  Free license to explore street art, weird stuff, books, books and more books! And it’s a procrastination tool extraordinaire when I should be working on my next book in the Danny Bluestone series, Windigo Ice.

Most of my blog’s followers by far live in the USA and Canada. The split is almost exactly 50/50. Next up: Brazil (!), West Germany and the UK.   I’ve had hits from around the globe, including places as far flung as Angola, Macau and Mongolia. (Really? Crime fiction fans …or not?)

Popularity of my blog categories is pretty evenly split although Surreal Trapdoor, Eat This Book and Cyber Café have the edge. And what were my most popular posts?  Check back here: I’ll be republishing them from time to time FYI.

First up, the winner: The stuffed dog – Charlie the Lonely Sentinel!! 

SURREAL TRAPDOOR: TAXIDERMY and CHARLIE THE LONELY SENTINEL

 Grinning Halloween lantern vector illustration.This story is true. Strange things always happen to me.

Last Halloween, our friend, whom I’ll call Eric, invited us to a party at his place. It’s a gently decayed mansion divided into flats with high ceilings, narrow twisting corridors and connecting backstairs so that he and his friends have as much company or privacy as they want.

Eric is a software engineer by day but by night, he’s a gifted and well-known cabaret performer. His friends, whom I’ll call Fred and Mary, are musicians who play regular gigs in Toronto. 

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Tommy Wiseau
Me, not exactly as illustrated
Me, not exactly as illustrated

Costumes were de rigueur. Ed went as Tommy Wiseau ,  creator of The Room, possibly one of the worst films ever made. I went as a cat, aiming for so-bad-it’s-good.  We were meeting Fred and Mary for the first time so knowing Eric, I expected the unexpected.

Fred and Mary’s flat was dark and crowded with denizens of Toronto’s demi-monde. Costumes ranged from drag to burlesque to clowns. Wine glass in hand, I wandered past dimly lit museum exhibits of fossils and stuffed rodents.

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“That’s cool,” I said, eyeing one of the stuffed squirrels. “Very Halloween.”

“Oh, they’re here all the time,” said a fellow guest. “They live here with Fred and Mary.”

“Permanently?” I squeaked.

“That’s nothing. Did you see the stuffed dog?” He pointed to a shadowy lump on the floor next to a large potted plant. Sure enough, it was a remarkably life-like black and white spaniel.

Charlie the dog
Charlie the lonely sentinel – note the wooden platform on rollers

Later Fred explained how he and Mary came by Charlie. In life, he belonged to a decrepit and eccentric acquaintance down the street. When Charlie exited this Vale of Tears, the elderly man had him stuffed. And continued walking him along the street on a set of rollers.

 “That’s creepy,” I said.

“Well, the guy came by it honestly. He ran the Toronto Explorers Club,” Fred said.

“There’s an explorers club?!” What an absurd Victorian anachronism, I thought.

“Yeah, there is. And the old guy acquired a load of stuffed trophies from the club. Legit or not, who knows? Anyway his house was crammed with them. When he died, his relatives rented a dumpster and tossed all the stuffed animals into it. Mary spotted it on her way home from work. It was really bizarre, looking inside that steel crate and seeing it full of deer heads and stuff.” 

Fred took a sip of beer. “What was really sad was seeing Charlie lying there on top of  all that. Especially since we knew him when he was alive. Mary didn’t know what to do at first, but then she decided to rescue him.  The problem was that she’d biked to work that day.  So she strapped Charlie onto the back carrier and rode home with him.”

Our friend, Eric, continued the story. “I saw Mary riding along on her bike with this cute black and white dog on the back.  I thought, ‘Wow, Fred and Mary got a dog! And boy, is he well-trained. Look at him sitting still and riding along on the bike like that.’ But when she stopped, Charlie kind of rotated and stayed sitting still in the same position.  That really freaked me out. I didn’t know what I was looking at.”

Now Charlie now stands guard in Fred and Mary’s home: the lonely sentinel.

 

 

 

 

 

BOUCHERCON 2016: Fun in The Big Easy

fa6971_4fed8d516f05422f95163e5b57df54c3Bouchercon 2016 took place in New Orleans, Louisiana. For those who don’t know, it’s the biggest, brassiest crime fiction conference in North America. And what better place to party than in New Orleans with neon-lit bars, music, great food, voodoo shops and haunted mansions! 

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I’ve only attended two Bouchercons so far, both in Toronto. Once I was in charge of a  priceless collection of eccentric tea pots used for our highly successful British tea – featuring a full-dress Mountie and a drag queen Queen Elizabeth. (I’ll leave that story for Surreal Trapdoor.) Both events tiny compared to New Orleans with an estimated 800+ authors and 2000+ attendees.

Bouchercon isn’t set up like other crime fiction conferences. Rather it’s a series of events: opening ceremony, publisher receptions, showcase talks by Big Names, etc. Author panels are more chatty than informative. In other words, it’s a fan fest for readers and an opportunity for authors to network, network, network!  As a Canadian it was easy to feel lost in an ocean of American authors and fans, so it was great to see and party with fellow Canucks: Rob Brunet, Cathy Ace, Laurie Reed, John McFetridge, Ian Hamilton, Grace Koshida and  Linwood Barclay. Most of us arrived on the same flight and five of us shared a stretch limo to get to the Marriott conference hotel. Talk about arriving in style!

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Not bad, huh?

Bouchercon was well-organized, the volunteers more than helpful. My registration was misfiled and all was sorted out cheerfully in seconds. One innovation to be recommended: the Book Bazaar.  Bagging books for attendees is time-consuming and no one is happy with the random selection they end up with. So New Orleans had a great solution: hand each registrant a bag and send them into the Book Bazaar where they can self-serve 6 books from the vast array piled on tables.  Of course, that way I ended up bringing home more books when I swore I wouldn’t add to our shelves!

Highlights of this spectacular conference:

Noir at the Bar – Two reading events for noir authors, one at Bouchercon in the afternoon and the other in the evening at the appropriately named Voodoo Lounge. Strong work by many authors including Craig Faustus Buck, Meg Gardiner, Johnny Shaw and the incomparable Krista Faust that set the bar very high indeed. Rob Brunet read his chilling flash story soon to be published in Ellery Queen Magazine.

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The incomparable Krista Faust
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Ayo Onatade & Noir at the Bar founder, Peter Rozovsky

 

 

 

 

 

We had the privilege of sitting with two amazing people: Ayo Otonabe on holiday from London, England where she works at the British Supreme Court and Peter Rozovsky, founder of Noir at the Bar. Ayo writes regularly for Crimespree and Shotsmag.  And Peter is the original founder of Noir at the Bar. He lives in Philadelphia with a dark secret: like David Morell, he’s actually Canadian!

Lunch with the Short Mystery Fiction Society –

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O’Neil de Noux
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Napoleon’s restaurant

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve been a member of SMFS for many years and though I know SMFS-er’s in cyberspace, we have yet to meet in person.  The SMFS lunch at Napoleon’s restaurant in the French Quarter was the perfect way to connect.  My law and order experience continued: our lunch was organized by working police detective and award-winning author, O’Neil de Noux.  And I shared a table and fantastic conversation with railway police officer, Jim Doherty and his wife and retired poker-playing judge, Debra H. Goldstein.

Interview with Hank Phillippi Ryan – Sisters in Crime mothership runs a speakers bureau. Every year a few lucky chapters are visited by a leading member. Next year in 2017 our Toronto Chapter will host best-selling author and investigative journalist, Hank Phillippi Ryan.

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Hank Phillippi Ryan

It was a true privilege to interview this amazing woman on behalf of Toronto Sisters in Crime!

Hank was one of the first women to break the gender barrier in TV broadcasting. She has won 33 EMMYs and dozens of other awards for her investigative journalism.  In her spare time, she has written 9 best-selling mystery novels and won  5 Agathas, two Macavitys, two Anthonys among many other awards. A past president of national Sisters in Crime, she’s also a founding teacher at Mystery Writers of American University.

Watch for the full text of our interview in the 2017 SinC newsletter and on this website.

SoHo Crime Reception, Crime Goes Global –  Food is a highlight of New Orleans and Bouchercon did not fail to deliver.  A generously stocked hospitality suite as well as creole cuisine served in the hotel lobby ensured that no writer went hungry.  We stuffed ourselves on jambalaya, shrimp and grits, po’boy sandwiches, beignets…well, you get the idea.

Soho Crime hosted a fun event featuring a “Yankee Swap” lottery. If you had a winning ticket, you could steal a better prize from an earlier winner. Ed had his eye on a collection of New Orleans music while I gazed fondly at the stuffed green alligator, but no dice that evening. We did, however, connect with Soho author, Lisa Brackmann, a friend of a friend of Ed’s.  A former motion picture executive, Lisa is the author of a series set in China, featuring Iraq war vet, Ellie McEnroe. Can’t wait to read Rock Paper Tiger!

Mardi Gras Parade –

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A major highlight was the Second Line parade leading up to the interview between Lee Child and David Morrell at the Orpheum Theatre.  These parades, featuring floats, stilt walkers and brass bands, are traditional for funerals and Mardi Gras.  We were all handed colourful paper parasols that proved handy in the light rain. Rain is different in NOLA: it doesn’t cool things off – it steams! Despite the rain, we had great fun marching down Canal Street with blogger and reviewer, Seana Graham.

Dinner at Arnaud’s – Bouchercon is all about reconnecting with author friends. It was wonderful to visit with authors Sarah Chen, Dale and Mysti Berry, Ray Daniel, Hilary Davidson and Jeff Markowitz.

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Ellen Kirschmann
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Mar Preston & Nancy Cole Silverman

Fellow authors Ellen Kirschmann, Mar Preston and Nancy Cole Silverman invited us to a culinary adventure: dinner at Arnaud’s restaurant where the waiters are better dressed than we could hope to be – even at our daughter’s wedding!  The food was wonderful: duck, crab cakes, local fish and of course, signature champagne cocktails.

Ellen is a psychologist who works with the families of police officers. Her non-fiction books have sold over 100,000 copies. She has recently turned to crime fiction with her book, The Right Wrong Thing, winning critical praise from Publishers Weekly. Nancy is the author of the Carol Childs’ mystery series. Mar has penned 5 police procedurals between working to help animals in her California mountain town. 

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Ed in style!

It’s interesting to observe that the French style in New Orleans is fin de siècle / Art Nouveau. The waiters wear black tie and long white aprons that were fading out in Paris 40 years ago.  Ed and I felt tres declasse. In fact, we were only allowed to eat there because Ellen generously loaned Ed her jacket!

 

 

SURREAL TRAPDOOR: Gators Love Marshmallows!

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September is marshmallow month!

 

Just got back from Bouchercon 2016 held in New Orleans, LA. It was my first visit to this haunted city – and I loved it. Tropical heat, “painted-lady” mansions, ornate ironwork, fin de siècle French cafes, crass voodoo shops (gruesome made in China shrunken heads), a streetcar really named Desire, antique neon signs, fab music…the list is endless.

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Voodoo & 24/7 beer
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French quarter

A bar culture shocking to a Canadian. Alcohol is freely available 24/7. Walgreen’s Drugstore sports shelves and shelves of bourbon. People wander freely about the streets drinking – as long as the container is plastic.

 

But what did I really want to see? GATORS!IMG_0814Swamp tours out of New Orleans end up at a nature conservancy about an hour’s drive out of the city.  Tourists are loaded into flat-bottomed boats named, somewhat disturbingly, Gatorbait!

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Hopefully not you
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Rusty drawbridge

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our guide climbs on board the Gatorbait carrying a bag of marshmallows.  This is not, as we first suppose, a cheap snack for us. No, kiddies, this is the true gator bait!  As we are soon to learn, gators love marshmallows. And propelled by their powerful tails, they will jump out of the water for a hotdog on a stick. After all, hotdogs look just like tourist fingers!

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Our guide tosses a marshmallow onto the brown brackish water. Impossible to know what lurks beneath the surface.  It looks so bland and boring. Until two beady primordial eyes glide to the surface and snap! We’re back in the days of the dinosaurs.

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Where’s my candy?
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Pant like a dog

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hey, who cares if the sugar rots the gators’ teeth or clogs their arteries? Gators aren’t endangered, the guide tells us. They’re farmed locally, from eggs collected at the nature preserve. Otherwise the gators would eat them, a twisted sort of birth control. In fact, that’s why they love marshmallows. The candy looks just like gator eggs!

In fact, gators will eat just about anything smaller than them, especially baby alligators. (More birth control.)  Someone asks the guide if they eat humans. “Oh, no” he says. “My buds and I swim and jet ski all through the bayou. They’re a lot more scared of us than we are of them.”

Sure.

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Wild hog
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White egret

 

 

 

 

 

Other denizens of the swamp share the gators’ sweet tooth: an egret, a blue heron and a baby wild hog who chomps away at the mushy treats with a wary eye on a nearby, avariciously hungry baby gator.

More interesting facts: gators are territorial (no kidding), they cool off by panting like dogs, food rots in their stomachs if the weather gets too cold and they can live to be 100 years old.  Reminds me of certain presidential candidates…

For breakfast we sample gator sausage. Hmm. A bit dry with a taste reminiscent of the mystery meat served up in university cafeterias. Better to eat than to be eaten though…

Viva New Orleans!