CYBER CAFE: Meet Kristina Stanley

KS 75 High ResThis week I'm delighted to have fellow adventure author, Kristina Stanley, on Cyber Café. Kristina and I first met at the late great Bloody Words conference just after my debut novel, Windigo Fire, had been accepted by Seraphim Editions.

We bonded right away: both of us were finalists for the Unhanged Arthur and the Debut Dagger awards. And we both love to use challenging outdoor settings in our thrillers.

Kristina has had a smash career since we first met. The first two novels in her Stone Mountain Mystery Series, BLAZE and DESCENT, are bestsellers and the third, AVALANCHE, is soon to be released. And she just sold the print and eBook rights to Lucifer-Verlag in Germany for publication in German later this year!

Emerging writers take note: Kristina generously shares her writing knowledge on her blog. And this spring, Imajin is bringing out her manual on marketing, The Author's Guide to Selling Books to Non-Bookstores. I can't wait to buy it!

Subscribe to Kristina's blog at www.KristinaStanley.com. 

Welcome, Kristina. How did you become a writer?

Before writing my series, I was the director of security, human resources and guest services at a resort in the depths of the British Columbian mountains. The job and lifestyle captured my heart, and I decided to write mysteries about life in an isolated resort. While writing the first four novels, I spent five years living aboard a sailboat in the US and the Bahamas.

Crime Writers of Canada nominated my novel, DESCENT, for the Unhanged Arthur award and The Crime Writers’ Association nominated BLAZE for the Debut Dagger.  My short stories have been published in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine and The Voices From the Valleys anthology.

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You blog three times a week and you’ve gained an incredible following. Tell us how you started.

I started my blog in April 2011 at the suggestion of a friend. Since then, it’s come a long way. In the early days, I was informal about what I posted. Now, I’m a little more structured. Mystery Mondays is published every Monday where I host another author. In return for publicizing their book, I ask for a writing or publishing tip for my readers.

Wednesdays, I try to post Write Better Fiction. Here I focus on writing tips. On Fridays, my series is called Farley’s Friday. This is the story of my wheaten terrier told from his point of view. On the other days, I usually post about my writing journey and anything related to publishing.

Currently just under 5000 people are following my blog, and I hope this continues to grow. The top five locations of my followers are USA, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia and Germany.

What do you especially love about blogging?

My passion for writing led me to start a blog. I wanted to connect with writers and share the journey with others. The joy of it all is I discovered I truly enjoy online networking. I love to learn from others, I’ve discovered many books to read that I otherwise wouldn’t have known about, and I do believe the blog helps sell books.

Farley’s Friday is the blog I have most fun writing. Mostly because it’s pure imagination, and it’s interesting to look at life from a dog’s point of view. My personal favourite this year was Farley’s Friday: Top 5 Reasons Dogs Should Be Welcome At Work. (Click the link to read it!)

I have two sets of followers. Those who follow the blog for the writing topics and those who follow for Farley’s Friday. The Farley’s Friday crowd is more interactive with comments. 

My most popular blog though was September 18th, 2012. How To Proofread had 812 hits in one day. I received so many comments that I created a permanent page on my website for readers!

How can we subscribe to your blog?

Readers can subscribe via email on the right side of my website at  www.KristinaStanley.com. From there, they can follow me on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads or LinkedIn. They can also hit the follow button if they happen to have a blog on wordpress too.

Tell us about your most recent book.

I write murder mysteries with a little romance. I love to explore what would make a sane, typically non-violent person commit murder. I also like to write about remote locations.

BLAZE , my most recent book, was published by Imajin Books in October 2015. It’s the second in the Stone Mountain Mysteries. Instead of exchanging vows, my protagonist, Kalin Thompson, spends her wedding day running from a forest fire near Stone Mountain Resort, and the pregnant friend trapped with her has just gone into labor. Meanwhile, Kalin’s fiancé, Ben Timlin, hangs from the rafters of a burning building, fighting for his life. Can the situation get any hotter?

My favorite review was posted on Writers Who Kill. by E.B Davis who wrote:

What I found, after being hooked by the first sentence, was a primer on how to write a novel. I turned the page to the second chapter and realized Kristina had hooked me right from the start…For all readers, the mystery is satisfying, but for readers who are also writers—this is also a textbook to learn about pacing, character development, and plotting. It’s no wonder that Kristina is a bestselling author.

Read E. B. Davis’s full review of BLAZE here

What is next for your readers?

This spring  Imajin Books is releasing two of my books. The first is AVALANCHE, the third novel in the Stone Mountain Mystery Series. Here’s what happens to our hero, Kalin Thompson: 

On a cold winter morning, deep in the Purcell Mountains, the safe at Stone Mountain Resort is robbed hours before Kalin’s brother, Roy, disappears in an avalanche. 

Under normal circumstances, as the director of security, Kalin would lead the investigation into the theft, but Roy is the prime suspect. The police and the president of the resort tell her to stay clear of the investigation, but she risks her job to clear Roy’s name.

Is her faith in her brother justified? Was the avalanche an accident or did something more sinister happen? Threats against Kalin escalate as she gets closer to the truth. And is the truth worth destroying her life for?

I’m also releasing a guide for authors. The success I had in selling and distributing DESCENT and BLAZE  came came from implementing what I learned by trial-and-error, by talking with other authors and store owners about the process, and from guidance from my publisher. I’ve taken everything I’ve learned and put it into a book.

In THE AUTHOR’S GUIDE TO SELLING BOOKS TO NON-BOOKSTORES I explain how an author should plan, prepare and execute getting books into stores and actually making money from it. It doesn’t matter whether you’re an Indie author or traditionally published, all that matters is you have a printed edition of your fiction or nonfiction book and you want to get that book out into the world.

Thanks, Kristina. Can’t wait to read your two new books.  And fingers crossed for good news at the Arthur Ellis shortlist event coming up next month!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Surreal Trapdoor: The Beer-swilling Pomeranian (WLT – Part 2)

Opening of the World’s Largest Surreal Trapdoor

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In Part 1, we narrowly avoided a debate about the best bullets for dispatching a neighbour’s pesky cats. Nine mm vs 22’s, you pick. We escaped into the truck bling on display at the World’s Largest Truckstop, but then this  strange encounter actually happened.

A large, 60-ish lady  materialized beside the rack of sheepskin covers for truck seats. She bore a scary resemblance to Large Marge of Pee Wee Herman fame.

“You like them sheepskins?” she asked me.

“Um, sure,” I replied.

“My little doggie had one of her own. Just threw ‘er in the washing machine and she come out real nice.”

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Sheepskin seat covers

Dog or sheepskin?

“And you know what?” The lady stroked the sheepskin fondly. “The day she died, her sheepskin fell apart. Put it in the washing machine and it turned into this big lump of fuzz.”

“Interesting,” I said, edging away.

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Pomeranian dog

“She was a good dog. A Pomeranian. A real good dog. Cute, too. Except when she didn’t get her beer. When I come home off the road after driving my rig, she’d be right there waiting for me.  And if I didn’t give her that pint of beer right away, she’d be on my leg, growling, biting till she got it. Man, she loved her beer.”

“That’s nice,” I said, edging away further, but the lady stuck with us.

“She was a good dog. Why when she died, I just laid her out in the back of my truck. Hadda leave her there for three days but she never smelled. Not one bit. She was a good dog.”

“Probably pickled,” Ed whispered. By now we’d worked our way past the chrome exhaust pipes.

“That’s, um, sad you lost your dog,” I said. “But we’ve really got to get back on the road. We’re doing another two hundred miles today” 

“Hadda funeral for her,” the trucker continued, undeterred. “Buried her in the back yard. My son helped and you know, while he was digging her grave, all the cats and dogs round our place turned up. Stood there watching, paying their respects.”

Paying respects
Paying respects?

“Imagine.” We’d reached the shelves full of Doulton figurines.

“I couldn’t just leave her. Had to do right by my little doggie. So I buried a 6-pack of beer with her. My son was real mad, thought it was a waste a’ beer, but she was a good dog.  Least I could do for her.”

“Of course, best thing.” We neared the ceramic eagles and John Wayne memorabilia.

“Got me a new dog now. Another Pom. Keeps my husbint in line.”

“That’s nice. We really have to go. We’re Canadian. Bye.” We fled into the parking lot. 

“Well, that was weird,” Ed said, starting the Miata. “Care to bet how long that 6-pack of beer stayed buried.”

No I wouldn’t.

To quote Max Bialystock in The Producers: They all come here. How do they find me?

Excerpt – Windigo Fire

12000831_10154197942864018_1649104801334232488_oRead the first chapter of Windigo Fire,  published by Seraphim Editions, September, 2014. Windigo Fire was a finalist for the 2015 Arthur Ellis Award for Best First Novel and under different titles, short-listed for the Unhanged Arthur and the CWA Debut Dagger Awards.

Windigo Fire is available in print through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Chapters/Indigo and in public libraries. It is available as an e-book on Amazon Kindle.  You may also access it through Kindle Direct’s library program.

 

CHAPTER 1

                   Evil exists and he was no better than the others. He knew that now.

Danny Bluestone twisted the spliff in his nail-bitten fingers, feeling the weed roll under the thin white paper like twigs and pebbles in a stream. Couldn’t bag any decent bud this morning, so he’d settled for homegrown. Go organic. Support local industry. Smoke only nature’s own Red Dog Gold.

 Midnight on Fire Lake, stuck on an island deep in the forests of Northern Ontario. Fifty miles from the nearest town – if you’d call Red Dog Lake a town. The raucous sounds of the hunters funnelled down from the lodge buried in the thick woods behind him. He breathed in deeply, letting the pungent pine sap purge his spirit of their meaty white presence. Clear the landing. Get ready for takeoff. His Zippo lighter rested heavy and cool in his hand.

Under the rising moon, the black silhouettes of the pines fringing the shore were etched as sharply as crystal, and Fire Lake had morphed into a silvery flat expanse. He wet the end of the spliff, straining to hear the eerie banshee call of a loon.

Nothing.

When he was a little kid, and his dad was still alive, they’d flown in here to fish for trout. The birds’ snaky black shapes had been common at twilight when they’d camped on the island, but today he hadn’t seen even one. And no fish in the acid clear waters of the lake.

No animals. No nothing.

“Hey, Danny boy!”

He started, barely rescuing the Zippo from sliding into the dark water at his feet.

“Come out, come out, wherever you are.”

Like all day he’d been the invisible man. Now when he needed to be alone, trust them to whine for entertainment with him as the target. He hesitated, thumb on the lighter. Noises travelled in the still night air.

“Where’d he go?”

“Maybe he sprung a leak.”

Drunken titters. What if the smoke of his smouldering joint travelled, too? Would the hunters’ campfire mask it? They were using that stone oven on the veranda, the one that looked like a ripe beer gut. Dangerous, but way out here who was around to see? Sparks poured up in a fountain from the stove’s chimney and drifted over the tops of the trees.

Damn, Danny thought. All along Highway 11, from Temagami on up to Red Dog Lake and Cochrane and beyond, the white forest fire signs were cranked to red on the dial. Extreme hazard. No camping. Especially no fires. The sharp-needled powdery ground under his bare feet was so dry that it crackled.

“Hey, where is the little jerk?”

That was Ricky, the American with the shaved head, the one who claimed to be some old rock star. His voice had a dark edge, matched by a flicker of something Danny had spotted in his small blue eyes this morning when they’d hit the island. Like he knew the joke and you didn’t, and the punch line wasn’t going to be pretty.

“Maybe hunting guides in Canada don’t like getting paid.”

“Sure they do.” That was the flustered, placating voice of the older guy, Morty Gross, who had some political job down south in Toronto. “Danny’s off being a native, some spiritual thing. Like I promised you. Authenticity.”

“Sure you did, and a load of other bull.” Ricky sounded closer.

Danny scrambled up and jumped lightly onto the rock face behind him. The heat of the August afternoon lingered in the ice-smoothed stone. He crept up its clean bare surface, climbing till he reached the thicket of blueberry bushes he’d scouted out earlier. From here, he could spot them easily enough, and they’d never see him.

Oh, Danny boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling.” Ricky emerged from the trail, a bulky dark outline against the shimmering water. “Maybe he’s watching us. He conned you, Morty.”

“You wanted a native guide, I got you one. He came highly recommended.”

“By you, no less. Turn around, I got some business here.”

Danny heard the rasp of Ricky’s zipper. Oh man, he thought, I have to drink out of that lake. All day long Ricky had been watering the blueberry bushes like a dog making his mark. Like toilets were for weaklings.

“Tell me you enjoyed the show,” Morty said.

“Uh-huh.”

“Look, I got us something to celebrate. Two words. Single malt. The best, used to be flown in special to the lodge, OK?”

“So don’t disappoint me.”

Morty coughed out a laugh, like he still had control of the party, and vanished back down the trail. Ricky sat down on a boulder by the shoreline, merging into the night.

I hate this job, Danny thought. Forget the money. Working at the stupid children’s camp wasn’t so bad compared to this. I want my old job back. Even though I’ll have to beg for it.

He glanced down at Ricky and tucked the joint and lighter into his shirt pocket. He loved the crisp crackle when a spliff first caught fire. He could almost feel the acrid burn of its pungent smoke, resin and tar coating his lungs, almost see its end blossoming, shedding sparks into the night.

He pulled a plastic baggie from his jeans. The mushrooms were shrivelled ugly things, like shreds of dark flesh, but they were quiet and didn’t cast an odour. Doing ’shrooms wasn’t smart since he ought to stay alert, but …

He ate his usual number.

Then one more.

An ice-age boulder had carved a natural hollow into the granite beneath him. He settled his back into it and waited. He’d be safe enough up here. Unlikely to roll down into the water or anything.

“See? Here we go.” Morty was back.

“So give the nice bottle to daddy,” Ricky said, reaching out a heavy arm.

This is what I get for studying English Literature, Danny thought. Government gave me free tuition for a useless degree, a one-way ticket to that crumby counsellor’s job at the kids’ camp. Take it or go back on pogey like every other Indian round here. Some choice. He breathed quietly, waiting for Huxley’s doors of perception to open.

He could never tell when he’d crossed the threshold. Back in college, he’d be wide awake, thinking he’d been sold Campbell’s mushroom soup, then he’d meet one of Hunter S. Thompson’s lizards on the Toronto subway, sitting there in plain view, reading the paper or something.

Even this long after sunset, the day’s heat seeped from the smooth stone into his back. That’s what they used to heat their houses in Scotland, wasn’t it? Rocks. Once upon a time, he’d wanted to study at the University of Edinburgh, to visit the Isle of Mull to see if he could spot ex-Beatle Paul McCartney. Stupid, right?

“This isn’t single malt, you liar,” Ricky said below him.

“It’s rye to tide us over.” Morty sounded desperate to turn the insult into a joke. “Our friend Anderson, the Norwegian, is looking through our supplies. It’s here, I swear. Where could it go? There’s no way off this island.”

“Maybe it’s taken a walk with your guide.” The beach pebbles screeched under Ricky’s feet as he stood up. “Where’s your Aussie pal, Hendrix? I’m thinking it’s time for me to get in some crossbow practice.”

“Ricky, for heaven’s sake …”

Fear erupted through Danny’s chest, but he was falling into the soft fist of rock, tumbling, plunging into the clear lake water. It parted in fronds like syrup, till he stared into the droopy grey face of Old Devil, the trout monster of Fire Lake. Oh God, I’m drowning, he thought. Breathing water without knowing it. Or was he? Huxley’s one-way door had closed and he was lost in the funhouse of perception.

From afar, Morty’s voice: “Here comes Anderson. He found it, so make nice.”

“Yeah, right, after he helped himself.”

“See for yourself. The seal …”

The seal … Danny gazed up at its vaporous grey form in the clouds. The hard ground left his back, and he was lifting off, soaring on an iridescent dragonfly that droned through the air. Fire Lake fell away like a sheet of dark metal and they shot past acres and acres of green forest, wilderness as far as the eye could see.

No light penetrated through the trees. Their branches arched over him, forming a dark cave. Something stirred, a matted black bearskin that rose from the ground and took form. No flesh, no bones. Only darkness behind its eye holes. He pressed his face close to the black snout – still moist – and asked it what it wanted.

Are you a spirit?

Black ooze crept from the eyes. The white teeth parted and the stench of decay rolled over him.

I’m sorry, Pasha. I’m so sorry.

He buried his face in his hands, but tears were useless. Nothing would make it better. Ever.

Shivering and wet with dew, he sat up. His back and muscles ached from the cold rock that had drained the warmth right out of him. A thick blanket of white mist lay over the water, obscuring the dawn, drawing colour out of the world. Was he still ripped? He rubbed his face, shook his long hair. Standing up shakily, he felt a surge of telltale nausea, the flu-like fatigue that would dog him for three days.

The ’shrooms must be done. Must be morning.

He stumbled down to the slate-grey shards of the beach where he’d been sitting last night. A flash of gold. Something was floating in the water, bobbing gently with the wavelets slapping the stones.

He blinked. What was it? A dead fish? Without thinking, he waded into the lake to get a closer look.

A white arm stretched out through the clear water, fine blond hairs waving like seaweed, fingers spread like a starfish above a gold-linked bracelet.

Oh, hell, Danny thought. His throat was parched but his feet were icy cold. He scrambled back out. It’s a flashback, that’s all. A mirage.

Heart thundering in his thin chest, he staggered down the trail to the lodge. Darkness slept under the trees, the way he’d dreamed it last night. Utter silence except for his panting breath. Too early, too early, he chanted silently. He’d find the hunters asleep. Remnants of the ’shrooms lurked in his system. He couldn’t be sure about reality just yet.

He reached the clearing.

He smelled it then, the metallic slaughterhouse reek of blood.

Images, but no focus.

The hunters were lying all over, splattered in garish colours. Humans couldn’t bend that way, could they?

Dead, all dead.

A screech of panic tore out of his throat. The screams kept bursting from deep within, and he couldn’t stop them even when he clapped his hands over his ears to shut out his own noise.

No one knew where he was, except Rachel, a ten-year-old kid back at the children’s camp. The bush plane wouldn’t be back for two days.

And, like Morty said, there was no way off the island.

To find out what happens to Danny, download Windigo Fire from Amazon here.

 

The Surreal Trapdoor: World’s Largest Truckstop – Part 1

Big trucks! Big food! Big ceramic eagles – and even bigger truckers! You’ll see all this and more at the World’s Largest Truckstop on Iowa 80.  For the unwary though some truly scary Surreal Trapdoors are lying in wait just for you.

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You think I’m kidding? Read on, my friends, for the tale transcribed herein truly happened.   

Ed and I were heading down to Santa Fe, New Mexico to attend the Hillerman Writers Conference. Hwy 80 took us through Walcott, Iowa where we spotted WLT’s neon sign. Hungry and tired, we pulled in and parked our tiny Miata sports car well away from the fleet of tractor trailers.

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WLT Services

WLT covers 75 acres of land and provides parking for 900 trucks. An estimated 5000 visitors trek through the 67,000 sq ft complex every single day.  The building sports 9 restaurants, a 60-seat movie theatre, a TV lounge with leather recliners, 24 private showers,  a barber shop – even a dentist and a chiropractor!

If you want to bling out your truck, you will never find a better selection of lights and fancy exhaust pipes. Even art! In the 2-storey, 30,000 sq ft showroom, we admired the mural on the show truck as it spun round on a rotating platform. Its cab featured comfortable sleeping quarters, a DVD player, a microwave oven and a state-of-the-art navigation system: a trucker’s life looks pretty damn awesome!

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Tractor Mural

 

Truck Bling
Truck Bling
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Chrome Exhaust Pipes

 

 

 

 

 

Off we went to the cavernous 350-seat café which lay in perpetual twilight except for the bright spotlights on the extensive buffet and salad bar. Several solitary, weighty, middle-aged men were seated along one of the U-shaped diner counters. Feeling out of place – and wimpy – we slipped into two seats well away from them, perused a menu the size of a road sign and ordered.

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Salad bar? Not really
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Much more representative

 

 

 

 

 

 

As we waited for our burgers, it became apparent that the men at the counter were having a long-range conversation with one another.

“I don’t see nothing wrong with hitting my boy,” said the older, grey-haired guy on our left. “My daddy whupped my ass. Did me a world of good. No govermint’s gonna tell me how to raise my kids.”

“Damn right!” echoed down the line.  

The waitress set a plate with a 5-inch pile of sliced raw onions down in front of the heavy-set man sitting on the opposite side of the counter directly in front of us.  He wiped his black goatee with a paper napkin and dug into the crunchy offering.

“I wouldn’t want to ride in his truck tonight,” said Ed, not so sotto voce. I elbowed him, but  Goatee wasn’t listening. The waitress had placed 5-inch plate of fried bacon down next to the onions.

“I gotta problem,” declared Old Trucker as Goatee tucked into his meal. “My neighbour and her cats.  Damn cats keep coming into my garden to do their business, you follow? Only one way to handle things as far as I can see. My 9 mm pistol.”

“You don’t want to waste 9 mm fire power on a cat,” Goatee said between bites. “The cat’ll just explode. A 22’ll do the job and the ammo’s way cheaper.”  

“Well, I got a 1000 rounds of 9mm just sitting round the house. Wouldn’t want it to go to waste.”

Ample evidence that our counter companions weren’t Democrats. I’d guessed right, go figure. Two timid Canadians down their burgers, paid fast and with cash then took refuge in the truck showroom. 

Refuge? Hardly. One of the weirdest Surreal Trapdoors in my life was about to open.  Tune in next Monday, Readers, for my tale of the beer-swilling Pomeranian.

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Surreal Entertainment

 

 

The Surreal Trapdoor: Drunken Painting!

My kid often leads me astray. She feels an overwhelming urge to educate me, an urge born out of anxious impatience with parental inertia with a soupcon of glee at my possible ineptitude. Despite feeling like a century-old sturgeon out of water at the things she’s shamed me into, sadly the experiences have enriched my life. Hell, I’ve survived dirt bike riding, horrific black diamond ski runs and now, drunken painting!  

Scary blank canvas
Scary blank canvas

Drunken Painting is more politely known as Paint Nite. In 2012, two guys got the idea while partying at a friend’s art studio. Why not drink and paint at the same time? Let alcohol unleash your creativity. Thus the “paint and sip” industry was born.  I mean, after one, two or ten beers: “Hey, man, you’re a nartist!!”

“Paint and sip” is win-win for everyone. Local bars and restos sell more alcohol and ladies get a novel girls’ night out. (Yes, 99.99% of the happy painters are women.) Not only do you get a scary bar bill at the end of the evening, you get to take home a scary painting, too! 

Fearing my child’s wrath if I opted for no-show, I dutifully arrived at Proof the Vodka Bar .  Everyone on my mother’s side of the family is an artist, but those genes merrily skipped over me. I landed a mighty C- in art in elementary school and wisely chose science as a career.  I dove into the “sip” part of the evening straight away. 

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Hope to Paint this (Not the exact one but close enough)

 

A tiny young woman was busy setting up 20 easels and blank canvases, covering the long table with green plastic sheets and depositing dabs of blue, yellow and white acrylic paint on paper plates.  She seemed overwhelmed. We students donned aprons to protect our clothes from permanent souvenirs of the evening and took our seats, while listening to her dire warnings about rinsing off our brushes in our drinks instead of the cups of water provided.

“Can you see the painting?” the lady next to me asked.

“Um, no.” In fact none of us could. The set-up was proving less than ideal.

“First, paint the mountain,” the teacher announced.

“There’s a mountain?” several of us echoed.

“Yes, like this.” She painted two white breast shapes on the white background to demonstrate. “The mountain is masked by the trees but you must paint it. And make shadows. Lots of shadows to make a nice mountain. And the lake, too, in front.”

Invisible mountain
Invisible mountain

“There’s a lake?” I downed more beer.

“Now paint the northern lights. Mix colours. You must make green.”

Ah , yes, one thing I did remember from my C- art class was that yellow and blue make green. We all mixed and splashed away without benefit of further instruction.  The northern lights soon proved to be everyone’s undoing. We looked at each other’s work and agreed that our efforts were irreparably cheesy. I ordered a second beer.

“Now make trees!” The teacher circulated with the black paint she’d forgotten to dole out.

That we could do. Trees were easy: lots of unfettered brush strokes. And more trees covered up more cheese. We asked for more black paint. The teacher got frustrated: she was running out.

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My Masterpiece

“Now make stars!”

I kind of overdid the stars but making white dots was so much easier, I got carried away. Leaning back to survey my masterpiece, the teacher announced: “Now you must make shadows on the snow. Trees throw shadows in moonlight.”

Bad idea. Or rather no idea how to make shadows. I made a half-assed effort, then erased everything with white paint leaving smudges of grey snow.

By now my husband was waiting for me at the bar. I staggered over to show him with my masterpiece. “What do you think?”

“It’s good, um, good,” he replied, sounding like Banksy when confronted by his friend, Terry’s disastrously hopeless film in Exit Through the Gift Store.

My friend, Roz, was much kinder when she saw it. “I like it!” she said. “It shows a lot of emotion.”

Hmm, that must be the happy black trees, but more likely the two beers. My masterpiece now proudly decorates our upper hallway and  even better, our kid no longer insists that I take  painting lessons.

 

WANDERINGS: Gems from the Cemetery

Greetings, Readers!

Just a short post this week from Mt. Pleasant Cemetery. My running buddies and I use it in winter because its curving lanes are cleared before our city streets.

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Eaton Mausoleum

Edward Greenspan, Toronto’s flamboyant defence lawyer, is buried here. He became (in)famous after defending a rogues’ gallery of wife killers, including Peter Demeter and Helmut Buxbaum and sharpish biz types like Garth Drabinsky and Conrad Black. Ironically, he got none of them off. They were all found guilty!

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Edward Greenspan
Greenspan did do his part for society, too. In 1986, he successfully thwarted an attempt by the federal conservatives to restore capital punishment. And he took on controversial cases of self-defence and euthanasia involving ordinary folks.

A brilliant and witty speaker, he was a popular MC at many annual banquets of the Crime Writers of Canada. His epitaph reads appropriately:

“The Defence Rests”

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Greenspan’s resting place

The 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. 

Tommy_Wiseau
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

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 he 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.

I leave you with this clip from Monty Python about their erstwhile  mountaineering expedition.

 

 

Surreal Trapdoor: Vegas, Baby Part duh!

Vegas, Baby, where even the dragons wear rhinestones!20160107_142920

 

 

It’s Chinese New Year and the casinos are set to retrieve some of the $$$ lost to off-shore manufacturing. Everywhere are displays of dragons or monkeys since 2016 is the Year of the Monkey.

Gambling is a popular pastime in China. As a student at UBC, Vancouver, I remember hearing the clatter of mah-jong parlours in the not-so-hidden upstairs rooms of popular restaurants and seeing whole families picnicking at the race track. (So what if my friend and I were betting on the same Exacto.)

One day till we storm through the exhibits at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES),  so I end up doing  another 20,000 Fitbit steps through this R-rated  Disneyland.

T-rex, real or pretend?
T-rex, real or pretend?

First stop, the Cosmopolitan, a newer addition on The Strip. The décor is big, bold eye candy like the silvered T-rex head above. The décor materials aren’t cheap: the two-storey chandelier bar is cloaked in real crystal, though it looks like plastic. The overall effect to my mind is vintage “Scarface”, the cult classic gangster movie starring Al Pacino.

The Chandelier Bar
The Chandelier Bar

 

My favorite casino after The Venetian has to be Paris.  Boulevard cafes crowd round the casino tables in a perpetual dusky twilight, the French signs are pure “Pepe le Pew” and the pastries look French but taste American. Even the Eiffel Tower and Arc de Triomphe outside are spotlessly sanitized.  Love it!   

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Eiffel Tower

 

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Arc de Triomphe

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bellagio’s and Caesar’s Palace are the high end with a string of shops outdoing Rodeo Drive.  Caesar’s was the first casino to feature Disneyland animatronics and fantasy boulevards where blue skies turned into glowing sunsets and starry nights.  Once Caesar’s ruled the strip, but now crowds shun it and it’s in bankruptcy protection. I find it hard to understand why. The food and atmosphere are still great. I sip a nostalgic Americano beside the oversized Trevi fountain.

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Bellagio’s fab Venetian glass ceiling
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Nostalgia by the Trevi fountain

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Old Vegas is almost gone. Darwin is in overdrive: billion dollar behemoths crushing under smaller places, like the Imperial Palace and the Hilton, their identities obliterated by white paint to lure in time share buyers. The veteran burlesque shows like Jubilee are hanging in, but for how long?

Vegas has a sleazy, dark side. The homeless camp out on the pedestrian skyways. A van circles constantly with in-your-face T&A ads promising girls delivered to your room. And elderly Hispanic women snap hookers’ business cards in your face as you plough through the crowds.

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The A-list mingles with the B-team on the Strip, but the B-team can still be fun. My personal fav is Miracle Mile at Planet Hollywood, which features, I kid you not,  a zombie burlesque and Popovich’s Comedy Pet Theatre, starring trained cats and dogs. Popovich is for children of all ages and I adored it!

And if you think cats can’t do tricks, watch this video!

 

 

 

Surreal Trapdoor: Vegas Baby!

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Harrah’s hideous statue

Las Vegas: where the surreal becomes real. Where else can you eat a Nathan’s New York hot dog inside a pyramid while listening to a Mariachi band? All while deciding whether to brave the infamous Bodies exhibit or to see an actual piece of the  Titanic wreck.

What makes the surreal become real? Money, Baby! Lots and lots of money. Billion dollar hotel complexes. More high-end stores in Caesar’s Palace than on Rodeo Drive. More Venetian glass in the lobby of Bellagio than in Venice itself. And to quote Bally’s, “thousands of rhinestones  covering very little flesh”. The constant T and A does start to get to me though there are Ozzie beefcake shows for the ladies and gays. 

The myth and promise of Vegas is captured perfectly by the crass statue at Harrah’s: all that lovely $$$ will eagerly flow your way. Erm, not exactly. The odds against are astronomical and so are the prices of everything. Even Starbucks. But you will have great fun losing your money.

BTW the Harrah’s statue  gets my vote for “coyote ugly”.  For non-noir fans that means waking up the morning after with a sex partner so appalling that you chew your arm off in haste to escape your own appalling lack of judgment.

Hey, I’m just miffed because the quarter slots devoured my $6.

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Management consultant gathering

Today, like Dan Simmons’ president character in Hyperion, I wandered the worlds, passing through Harrah’s to catch the monorail and tram to the farthest point, Mandalay Bay casino.  Feeling a pang of nostalgia for management consulting, I visited its aquarium, Shark Reef. 

Set in a Disney-like temple ruin, it sports beautifully kept fish tanks and a plexiglass shark tunnel though the sharks themselves are rather small.  The guide tells us that of the 400 species of sharks only four, such as the Great White of Jaws infamy, are dangerous to humans who nevertheless are busy exterminating hundreds of millions a year of these creatures for shark fin soup.

What I really wanted to see though was the komodo dragon. Long ago, I  sketched out an adventure novel where my heroes fought off one of these giant lizards. They’re hungry buggers, aggressive, with a nasty bite that includes venom and malicious bacteria to cause your wounds to fester even if you manage to survive a biting attack.

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Lonely komodo dragon

The KD of Shark Reef does not disappoint. It resembles a good-sized crocodile though with a lizard’s head. The yellow and brown colouring matches its dried mud habitat. To my surprise, I learn that it, too, is an endangered species.

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Inside Luxor

To Luxor for my lunch of Nathan’s hotdog under the gaze of Ramses. And if you think I was kidding about the Mariachi band, the neon T & T on the right stands for “tacos and tequila”.

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Inspired by Nathan’s, I take the tram back to New York, which boasts an impressive skyline and sizeable Statue of Liberty.  Rain begins to fall.  It comes down in a clammy mist rather than a downpour. It’s the first time I’ve seen rain in Vegas.

Taking shelter inside New York casino, I’m confronted by yet another replica of the Statue of Liberty: this time in jelly beans! Running late, I return to our hotel, having clocked 20,000 Fitbit steps, nearly twice the steps I count on running days. 

More weird stuff, next blog.

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Jelly bean freedom

 

Books: WINDIGO FIRE

Seraphim Windigo Fire

Windigo FireSeraphim Editions, Sept, 2014.

A  Canadian noir thriller.

Danny Bluestone, a young Native man, overeducated and underemployed, is drawn into an illegal bear hunt to escape his stultifying hometown of Red Dog Lake in Northern Ontario.  Things quickly go violent and he must fight to survive both the killers and the wilderness.

 

Awards and Nominations

  • Finalist-400Finalist, Arthur Ellis Award, Best First Novel, 2015
  • Finalist, Unhanged Arthur, 2012 as Gunning for Bear
  • Finalist, Debut Dagger, 2009, as The Land of Sun and Fun

 

Reviews and Recognition

Margaret Cannon, The Globe and Mail

Well done atmosphere and a truly chilling premise. M. H. Callway is a writer to watch.

Don Graves, Crime Fiction Reviewer

A visually powerful debut, action packed, blunt and driving, set in the grandeur & frailty of Ontario’s north compounded by the cruelty of man. The writing burst with the sudden terror of fire, the terrible potential of man’s abuse and the peace that nature offers in the midst of pain. Urgent, descriptive writing polished beyond that of a debut novel. Read it and connect with the struggle of our north.

Huffington Post Canada: A Book for Book Clubs Selection, Fall 2014

Marian Misters, Sleuth of Baker Street Bookstore

I was captivated with the story…the characters of Danny Bluestone and Rachel Forest, one of the kids from the camp where Danny works, are just terrific. ..There is a lot packed into the story and I was very impressed with the book. Good job Madeleine.

Toronto Poet Reviews

A fast pace, heart-racing novel…The writing makes the surreal setting seem so real as almost a documentary…Vivid complex characters, violent without being gory…A great read and highly recommended.