SURREAL TRAPDOOR: Brantford – Retro Bizzaro!

Cathy Astolfo
Cathy Astolfo

My friend and fellow crime writer, Cathy Astolfo, recently moved to Brantford.  I’ve made flying visits there to give talks with other crime writers that Cathy arranged with her local Brantford library.  My impression: Brantford’s nice and quiet – a typical small Ontario town.

How wrong can you be! 

Follow the link here to fall through the Surreal Trapdoor and discover Brantford’s loveable eccentrics, like Mike on a Bike and Captain Kindness.  And time warps like the Dairee Delite selling ice cream  so good, Canadians line up for it in winter!

Directions to Surreal Trapdoor here: http://katywords.blogspot.ca/

Cathy writes two series: the light-hearted Kira Callaghan series set in the ReVisions Retirement Residence and the darker, Emily Taylor series. She’s also penned the standalone noir psychological thriller,  Sweet Caroline and published many crime fiction stories. Do check out this Arthur Ellis award winner’s  books here.  http://www.catherineastolfo.com/.

CYBER CAFE: Kristina Stanley, Writing Biz Dynamo!

KS 75 High Res
I'm delighted to welcome back Kristina Stanley to Cyber Café. We first became friends at Bloody Words, Canada's late great national mystery conference. Both of our books had been finalists for CWA's Debut Dagger and the Arthur Ellis Unhanged Arthur awards.

Kristina very generously shares her writing skills and techniques on her website - a must for all aspiring writers. She's also superb at book marketing. Her book, The Author's Guide to Selling Books to Non-book Stores, is a must-read for all authors.

Like most writers, I find rewriting a challenge. Kristina is developing a digital tool to help authors reshape their manuscripts into books that readers will love. I can't wait to apply it my own work!!

Today Kristina tells us about this innovative approach to rewriting.

 Rewrite Your Way to a Great Novel Readers Will Love

Do you want to write a novel readers will love? If the answer is yes, you probably know that means a lot of hard work rewriting.

Whether you’re a plotter or a panster, once you’ve completed a first draft you might be asking yourself:

  • Where do I start my manuscript rewrite?
  • How do I keep track of all the writing tips I’ve read and apply them to my story?
  • What should I change to make my story better?
  • Am I ready to share my manuscript with others?
  • Wouldn’t it be nice to have an app that would help you through the rewriting process?

What is Rewriting?

A rewrite is the first step in the self-editing process. I’m not talking about copyediting or proofreading. You can do that after you’ve completed your rewrite.

Rewriting your first draft means analyzing your story from a high-level perspective and fixing any weak areas. You want to make sure that the story structure makes sense, the scenes are tense, there are no plot holes, and you haven’t left any subplots unfinished.

Plot describes the events that take place in your story. The events occur in a sequence, and that sequence forms the structure of your novel. You’ll most likely have a main plot and one or two subplots. Your protagonist (main character) follows the main plot. Secondary characters follow the subplots.

During the rewrite, you also take a hard look at your characters. When you’ve finished your first draft, you know who your characters are, what they look like, where they work and so on. But what about how they fit into your story structure?

To understand this and make the most of it, you evaluate your characters in the context of the structure of your novel. How often do they appear? What are their goals? What gets in the way of their goals?  Characters will drive the tension in your story, and tension is what keeps a reader reading.

Finally, the rewrite should examine your settings. Do you make the most of your settings? How often do you use the same setting, and is it too often? Do your settings help with the tone of your scenes, add conflict or tension, or show characterization? Make your setting work hard to keep the reader engaged.

Once you’ve determined the setting for each scene, ask yourself if the setting is the best place for emotional impact. This one little question helps you increase or decrease tension, set the mood and/or show characterization.

That’s a lot for a setting to do for you, but thinking about setting in terms of emotional impact will wake up your creativity.

How can Feedback help you?

We’re building Feedback, an app for writers that provides a guided approach to tackling comprehensive rewrites. Save time by rewriting efficiently. Save money on editing by doing as much as you can yourself.

Feedback will guide you through the rewriting process by asking you questions specific to your manuscript, enabling you to evaluate your own story.

With Feedback, you focus on plot, character, and setting. You evaluate on a scene-by-scene basis or on overall novel structure. Feedback will show you the most important structural elements to work on first.

Feedback helps you visualize your manuscript. Forget about yellow stickies or white boards. Feedback will draw character arcs, provide reports on scene evaluation, and show your rewriting progress.

Feedback is a learning tool. If you’re having trouble with a certain element of fiction, just click on the rewrite tip associated with that element and find out how to improve your writing. There’s no need to search through dozens of writing books to find the piece of advice you need.

On the technical side, Feedback will be a secure, web-based app. This means you will be able to access Feedback from any device you use.

Find out more:

Our goal is to launch Feedback in the spring of 2017. In order to create an app that is valuable to writers, we’d like your input on building Feedback. Sign up, and we’ll send you updates on the development progress and ask you the occasional question to help define the product. As a bonus, we’ll send you rewriting tips available only to our subscribers.

Are you as excited about Feedback as we are? Show your support by helping us spread the word and share this post. You can find us at www.FeedbackForFiction.com.

Your support means a lot to us, so thank you!

Kristina Stanley is the best-selling author of the Stone Mountain Mystery Series. Her first two novels garnered the attention of prestigious crime writing organizations in Canada and England. Crime Writers of Canada nominated DESCENT (Imajin Books, July 2015) for the Unhanged Arthur award. The Crime Writers’ Association nominated BLAZE (Imajin Books, Oct 2015) for the Debut Dagger. Imajin Books published her third novel in the series, AVALANCHE, in June 2016. 

Her short stories have been published in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine and The Voices From the Valleys anthology. She is the author of THE AUTHOR’S GUIDE TO SELLING BOOKS TO NON-BOOKSTORES. 

As the co-founder and Chief Creative Officer of Feedback Innovations, a company started to help writers rewrite better fiction, she made up her own job title because she thought it sounded cool! 

To learn more about Kristina and her books, visit her website at https://kristinastanley.com/

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 & OTHER TALES – 2ND EXCERPT

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THE DOG ON BALMY BEACH

I wrote this story based on a news report about a young man who’d planned to carry a mass shooting on the boardwalk in the Toronto Beaches District. Especially chilling because my friends and I walk and bike there regularly.

Published in Going Out With a Bang, Anthology by the Ladies Killing Circle, Rendezvous Crime / Dundurn Press, 2008.

**

Now Basil, too, had vanished. Ora shouted the dog’s name. No sign of him.

Where is he?

The man drew closer. He was wearing heavy black boots like the ones skinheads favoured. He looked like a skinhead, too, with his closely shaved head and baggy camouflage pants. Ora’s skin prickled as if it were full of tiny electric needles, the way it did whenever she had a near miss in traffic. Or last week when her new boss asked her into his office and closed the door.

Suddenly Basil came hurtling out of nowhere, a gold cannonball. Where had he been? He flew past Ora to Melanie who stroked and tussled his fur. “You’re all wet, boy. What have you been doing?”

“For God’s sake, Melanie, hold him.” A dark oily substance clung to the dog’s chest and forelegs. “He’s got blood on him!” she cried. “It’s all over your hands.”

“Oh, my God, is he hurt?”

“Basil, stay still.” Ora pulled out the small plastic packet of tissues she always carried in her pocket and tried to wipe him off. In an instant, the papers were soaked a dark reddish brown, but with intense relief, she spotted no wounds. “He’s fine. He hasn’t cut himself. Here, give me your hands.” She used the remaining tissues to clean her friend’s fists, one at a time.

“Bad dog, where have you been?” Ora went on, glaring at Basil who bounced out of her reach. “Rolling on a filthy, dead sea gull, I bet. And what have you got in your mouth?”

Basil tried to dodge her, but this time she was able to snatch the red disk free of his teeth. It was a faded Frisbee, pock-marked with threadlike tufts of worn plastic. Dark fluid had settled under the rim, streaking her hands as well.

Horrible, Ora thought. How could the bird’s blood end up there? She chucked the toy onto the sand. Basil leapt down and scooped it up instantly. “Bad dog,” she told him while she foraged through her purse, looking for a bit of paper, anything, to clean her fingers. She settled on her cheque book, tearing off the numbered pages, crumpling and tossing them to the wind, one by one, as she used them. No value to me anymore, she thought.

Finished, she looked up. Her heart beat faster.

The man stood fifteen feet away. Motionless, he stared across the lake, his heavy shoulders turned slightly away from them. He dropped his pack on the boards. Ora felt the vibration through the thin soles of her shoes.

Basil bounded up to man, tail wagging. He nudged the man’s leg and dropped the Frisbee beside him. The man’s large fist hung down, unresponsive. The dog nudged him again.

“Bad dog,” Ora called out. “Come here, Basil. Bad dog.”

The man leaned down and picked up the toy. He stared at Ora. Smiled as he sensed her fear. With a sweep of his muscled arm, he flung the Frisbee out over the sand. Basil shot after it.

“Basil!” Ora sprang up. The dog caught the Frisbee in a white flash of teeth. He galloped over the beach, running round and round in a great circle, tail raised to the sky. “Here, boy. Come here, good dog.” Ignoring her pleas, he headed straight back to the man who, with a coolly contemptuous glance at the two women, tossed the Frisbee again.

“For heaven’s sake,” Ora said. “Melanie, help me for once. Call your dog. He never comes to me.”

“What’s the big rush?”

“It’s some man. He looks like a skinhead. He’s using that mucky toy to play fetch with Basil.”

“So let them play.”

“Melanie…”Ora tried to rein in her voice. Her new boss had accused her of being loud and shrill. “I want to leave. He’s making me nervous.”

“Oh, stop it. Why do we always have to do what you want? You haven’t changed since grade school.”

“And you’ve never grown out of grade school,” Ora flared. “You only survive because your friends and I look out for you. And who looks out for me? Nobody!”

“Why does it always have to be about you?” A dark obstinacy twisted Melanie’s mouth. “If you’re that worried, go home. I’m staying till Basil gets tired.”

**

 

 

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.”

MORE BIG NEWS: Announcing the Print Launch of GLOW GRASS and OTHER TALES!

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I’m delighted to announce a the print launch of my collection of short crime fiction, Glow Grass and Other Tales, now available on Amazon.

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Glow Grass includes my Arthur Ellis finalist novella of the same name as well as Derringer finalist, “The Ultimate Mystery” and Bony Pete First Prize winner, “The Lizard”.  The stories are dark, but book-ended by two light-hearted comic turns, “Kill the Boss” and “Amdur’s Cat”. In each tale, justice is served, though it may be slightly twisted.

 

 

This will be a TRIFECTA launch with two dear author friends and fellow Mesdames of Mayhem: Rosemary Aubert and Donna Carrick.  Rosemary’s book is The Midnight Boat to Palermo and Donna’s North on the Yellowhead.

The launch takes place on Sunday, November 6th at 2 to 3:30 pm at our favorite bookstore, Sleuth of Baker Street. The public is invited. Admission is free. Drinks and nibbles provided!

 

 

BIG NEWS: THE MESDAMES OF MAYHEM’S THIRD ANTHOLOGY 13 CLAWS!

The Mesdames of Mayhem are delighted to announce their third anthology, 13 Claws, to be published by Carrick Publishing in September, 2017 in time for Bouchercon Toronto!

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Blood on the 13 Claws!

All the stories in 13 Claws will be about animals: cats, dogs, bears, snakes  – and that’s just for starters!  The only limit will be the twisted imaginations of the Mesdames. And to balance our dark side, we are donating a percentage of our anthology’s sales to the Toronto Humane Society.

I’m working on a story about snakes and real estate agents: stay tuned!

More Big News: We Mesdames love to encourage new Canadian writers; indeed many of us teach creative writing. So for 13 Claws, we will have a contest! One story in the anthology will be by a previously unpublished author. Submission rules will be announced later this fall on this website and our FB page.

A bit of history…

In 2013, Carrick Publishing released the Mesdames’ first anthology as an introduction to our group and our writing. 13 Mesdames contributed stories so the title naturally became Thirteen!

Thirteen was a huge success.  Rosemary McCracken’s story, “The Sweetheart Scamster” was a Derringer finalist. And two stories were nominated for the Arthur Ellis Best Short Story award: Donna Carrick’s “Watermelon Weekend” and Sylvia Warsh’s, “The Emerald Skull”.

Thirteen has indeed proved to be our lucky number!

 

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In 2015, Carrick Publishing published our second anthology, 13 O’clock.  This time, all the stories were about time. Stories took place in the distant past or in the future. A ticking clock threatened disaster. Or in many tales, a diabolical past caused havoc in the lives of characters. For the first time, we included a story by our Monsieur, Ed Piwowarczyk.

13 O’clock proved to be another big success with good reviews by veteran crime fiction reviewer, Don Graves and by Vanessa Wasserman for the Sleuth of Baker Street newsletter. The icing on the cake: another Arthur Ellis Award nomination, this time for M. H. Callway’s novella, Glow Grass!

And best of all both Thirteen and 13 O’clock are now available in the Toronto Public Library!

BIG NEWS: Cover for Glow Grass and Other Tales

 Greetings Readers!

BIG REVEAL!

Here is the cover of my new book, Glow Grass and Other Tales (Carrick Publishing). With thanks and hugs and kisses to my fav cover artist, Sara Carrick.

Cyber launch date soon.  I’ll be doing a print launch with Rosemary Aubert in October / November. Stand by for dates and details.

glowgrass

 

 

BIG NEWS: Glow Grass and Other Tales Published This Fall!

Greetings Readers!

This eerie picture is the cover art for my upcoming book, Glow Grass and Other Tales, published by Carrick Publishing.

My short fiction has appeared in several anthologies, print magazines and ezines. In Glow Grass though you can read seven stories and two novellas at once, including my Arthur Ellis short-listed thriller, Glow Grass itself.

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Re-reading my stories, I see that they are noir, but the beginning tale, “Kill the Boss” and the ending novella, Amdur’s Cat, are comic romps born out of my frustration while working for the government. My tribute to Yes, Minister.

Many of the stories are winners or finalists for awards: Arthur Ellis, Derringer and Bony Pete.

I’ll keep you posted about the upcoming cyber launch and print launch of Glow Grass, most probably in mid to late October.

CYBER CAFE: Meet Rosemary Aubert

Rosemary HP
Rosemary Aubert is a marvel: a poet, award-winning novelist, editor, visual artist and a sought-after speaker and teacher, beloved for her generosity in sharing her extensive knowledge and encouraging fellow artists. She is also a criminologist who worked for many years in Canada's court system.

In crime fiction circles, Rosemary is best known for her popular, critically acclaimed Ellis Portal series. But she has also penned a gripping noir novella, Terminal Grill and short fiction. Her story, "The Midnight Boat to Palermo", winner of the Arthur Ellis Award, is both poignant and terrifying and one of my personal favorites.

For details about Rosemary's new works and her events and seminars, follow her website.

Your first love  has always been poetry. How did you start writing?

I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t interested in poems and storytelling. What attracted me were the things read to me by my mother, father and grandmother, especially at bedtime. What I consider to be my first publication was a poem published in the school paper when I was 18. I remember being rejected by Hallmark Cards when I was little. I had sent them a verse and they sent me back a card that said, “Better Luck Next Time.”

I picked poetry then for the same reason I write it now. It’s fast, it’s beautiful and it tells the truth.

Your readers may be surprised to learn that you worked many years as a romance writer and editor. Do tell us about it!

I was looking for a job and I dropped by Harlequin unannounced. Someone at my library job had told me that Harlequin was hiring. Well, to my great good luck, they were. The person who was supposed to be there for the job interview didn’t show up so they hired me instead—on the spot. That’s how I became a Harlequin editor. Later on, I became a writer there as well.

I was attracted to the romance genre because I thought, and still think, that romance is one of the greatest experiences a human can have. I haven’t had a romance published in a long time, but you can probably get one of my old ones for ten cents somewhere on the internet!

Why did you turn to crime fiction?

Like so many of my students, what attracted me to crime writing was a pair of detectives that I loved without reservation: Nancy Drew and Sherlock Holmes. What attracted me then, I think, was the power of logic. What attracts me now, after reading hundreds upon hundreds of mysteries and after having published my own novels as well as working as a criminologist for many years, is the insight such works give the reader into the reality of being a human being: a normal one, a criminal one and one in whom both worlds meet. Which is to say—almost everyone.

Your first crime fiction short story won the prestigious Arthur Ellis Award.

Yes, “The Midnight Boat to Palermo” is a story of desperation, murder, cleverness and regret. I can’t remember exactly where I got the idea for it, but it probably was after reading a true-fact account of the Sicilian trade in opium. It also makes use of my grandmother’s recipe for spaghetti sauce!

 Your popular Ellis Portal novels have won and been short-listed for many awards, including the Arthur Ellis Award. How did you come to write this enduring series?

That would take a book in itself to explain. . One day a character came to me and said, “I am Ellis Portal. Write about me.” (BTW Ellis Portal’s name was inspired by the sign on a tunnel in the TTC subway system. We challenge readers to find it. – MH Callway)

I wanted to write about crime, Toronto, the street and homelessness. I also wanted to write about decline from a great height.

Your recent book, Don’t Forget You Love Me, is the sixth in the Ellis Portal series. Will there be a seventh book?

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Ellis has recently told me that our work together is done.

Your novella, Terminal Grill, took a dark turn. Why noir?

41-IPp5BlaL__SY344_BO1,204,203,200_What led me to write Terminal Grill was the setting, not only in the physical bar, which is a real place, but in the underworld of poetry in Toronto. Though I don’t think that world is as hidden now as it once was. And I wanted to write another romance, even if it was a dark and frightening one.

Of all my work, it seems to me that Terminal Grill has had the most overwhelmingly positive response from my readers.

 

What would you like to tell your readers?

I love my readers. I love their comments, which have always been positive. I love it when a complete stranger tells me that they read and liked my books.

The strangest feedback I ever got was from a man who told me he’d found all sorts of factual errors in one of my books. He said that nevertheless, he liked it and had read it superfast. When I looked up the errors, there were none. He’d read the book so fast he got it all wrong!

Tell us what’s next for Rosemary Aubert.

I’m hoping to launch my new book, The Midnight Boat to Palermo and Other Stories in the fall. You can learn about this and other appearances I’ll be making on my website: www. rosemaryaubert.com.