Lots happening this beautiful summer to share with you. First of all, I’m delighted to reveal the striking cover of Red Dog Publishing’s GONE anthology. I’m honored to have my story, “Must Love Dogs – or You’re Gone”, in this collection. GONE will be available for pre-order August 1st.
And I had a wonderful opportunity to be part of the Dead to Writes podcast where fab designer, Sara Carrick, reveals her secrets behind the cover for In the Spirit of 13, the Mesdames of Mayhem’s 10th anniversary anthology. In discussion with publisher, Donna Carrick and the story wrangler (me).
It is my great pleasure to welcome my mentor and fellow crime writer, Lynne Murphy to Cyber Cafe. For the past 20 years, Lynne has been the leader of our writing critique group. We’ve gone through many ups and downs of the writer’s life together, but more importantly, champagne parties to celebrate our many triumphs.
Lynne can’t help being funny. She is the creator of the gang of feisty residents in the Golden Elders Condo. The ladies are the heroes of stories in several Sisters in Crime and Mesdames of Mayhem anthologies. Lately, she’s penned darker tales like “The Lady Killer” in the upcomingCWC Anthology, Cold Canadian Crime and “The Trespassers” in the Mesdames new book, In the Spirit of Thirteen.
Lynne has now published her collected works in Potluck together with her new novella, A Damaged Heart. And yes, that’s Lynne on the cover offering special brownies…
Potluck launches on Zoom this Saturday, April 23rd, at 2 pm, hosted by Lynne’s publisher, Carrick Publishing. All readers most welcome. Here’s the link: Launch Meeting – Zoom
MHC: Were you always a writer? Did you know from childhood?
I learned to read when I was four. I read everything I could get my hands on from then on. When you like reading so much, you want to write. There was a weekly paper in Saskatchewan called The Western Producer and it had a young people’ page called The Young Co-operators. Our motto was “We Co-operate.” The Saskatchewan spirit! They accepted contributions and it was a thrill when I was ten to see my fiction in print.
MHC: What draws you to writing crime fiction?
I like puzzles: jigsaws, crosswords, mysteries. I especially like stories with a twist, stories that surprise you. I hope there are some surprises in the stories in Potluck.
MHC: Potluck contains your collected short stories. I especially enjoyed reading about the adventures of the residents of the Golden Elders Condo. How did you come up with scenarios like growing marihuana in the flower beds?
We had a garden committee at the condo where I lived.One of my friends there had an arthritic shoulder and nothing seemed to help her. This was before marihuana was legal in Canada so I started thinking “What if?” The best stories seem to start with that, don’t they? Most of the stories about the Golden Elders are rooted in real events from my former condo.
MHC: Tell us about your new novella, A Damaged Heart. What inspired you to write darker this time?
It was the character I created, Kirsty. I started out writing about a man who had been a traitor during WWII and how that affected his daughter. But then Kirsty took over and the treason disappeared. She had a miserable childhood and there wasn’t much to be funny about. Although, she has her own dark sense of humor that pops up now and then.
The story I have coming out in Cold Canadian Crime, the new CWC anthology, is also very dark. Grim, in fact.
MHC: What do you especially enjoy about being part of an anthology, likethe Mesdames of Mayhem or Sisters in Crime?
I like how we all support each other. We show up for launches and buy each other’s books and write reviews if we enjoy them. It’s great to be part of a community.
MHC: Why do you believe that your stories tend to be humorous?
The humor sneaks in even when I’m trying to be serious. I mentioned the Western Producer: when I was about eight, I won a poetry contest they had for kids. My poem was called “Peaceful Thoughts Disturbed”, and it described the beauty of the landscape and ended with the line, “Yeow, there’s a bug down the back of my neck”. I was trying to be funny even then.
MHC: What will you be writing next? Will you explore other genres in addition to crime fiction?
I have a short story I’m working on right now about a woman in the Golden Elders who forgets to lock her door and comes home to find a man in her bed. That happens quite often in seniors’ residences, where people can’t find their own apartments. But this man is dead! I have a story in Potluck called “TheTrespassers”, which is more horror than mystery, but the horror is real.
DO JOIN US FOR LYNNE’S ZOOM BOOK LAUNCH, THIS SATURDAY, APRIL 23RD, 2 PM!
I was delighted to interview Mike Martin, creator of the Sergeant Windflower mystery seriesand the founder of the Maple Leaf Mystery Conference. To register, click on the poster!
Read my interview with Mike on the Mesdames of Mayhem website here. Canada’s been without a national crime writers conference for a few years so the upcoming virtual conference is most welcome. Fingers crossed for a Real World conference in 2023.
Sergeant Windflower’s latest adventure, Buried Secrets, is now available on Amazon.
Author Robert Ray is a pretty cool guy. Born in Texas in 1935, which makes him 86 years old, he describes himself as “author, teacher, dangerous thinker”. In university he majored in languages, learning Russian, Chinese and Hindustani! He bagged a PhD and has spent his professional life teaching writing at the college level.
Penguin published Ray’s first books in the Murdock series from the late 1980s to the early 1990s. I remember their witty titles: Bloody Murdock, Dial M for Murdock, Merry Christmas Murdock and Murdock Cracks Ice. Then there’s a 20 year gap before the next two books in the series: Murdock Tackles Taos (2012) and Murdock Rocks Sedona (2015). Also a change of venue from California to New Mexico and a change in publishers to Camel Press Publishing a mid-list publisher of genre fiction located in Washington State.
So what happened? A familiar and unhappy scenario for many writers. They publish a series of books then the publisher drops them because (a) their editor and in-house champion left the company or (b) the books didn’t sell quite enough. Quality doesn’t count, not even Hammett nominations, only biz revenues. Authors’ careers increasingly resemble the business curves of commodities.
So what happened to Ray in the intervening 20 years? Quite a lot as it turned out.
Ray also wrote a standalone thriller, The Hitman Comethas well as several business texts and a book on tennis.
Today, with the help of Jack Remick, he maintains a vibrant blog on his website. Every Tuesday and Friday they write together at Louisa’s Bakery and Cafe in Seattle, a city where he and his wife live with three cats…so far.
I like this guy!!
Re-reading the opening chapters of Murdock for Hire, I’m struck by Ray’s spare, journalistic prose, which zips you through the pages. The subject matter is pure “Wolf of Wall Street” stuff. Hapless businessman Eddie Hennessey tries the kinky sex and drugs of an exclusive hookers’ club and ends up unpleasantly dead. Murdock, who more than a little resembles Travis McGee (he loves boats and hot women), is asked to investigate. It’s an enjoyable pulp read, the same but different.
BOTTOM LINE: My copy of Murdock for Hire is paperback, notfirst edition. Prices on Abe Books, Amazon and Biblio range from $2 to $6. Thierry value: $11.30US*
DECISION: Donate to Little Library
*Thierry value = most outrageous price you can humanly get away with. Named in honor of Mr. Brainwash who sold old used T-shirts for $500+. (See Banksy’s documentary, Exit through the Gift Shop.)
Next up: two books by Stephen Paul Cohen, featuring investigator Eddie Margolis: Heartless (1986) and Island of Steel (1988). Both published by William Morrow.
Stephen Paul Cohen is/was a real estate lawyer living in Minneapolis. His two private eye thrillers earned rave reviews in leading US publications. The New York Times called his writing “smart, desperate, gritty”. The Wall Street Journal gave it the ultimate praise: “literate”. I remember the emotional intensity of Cohen’s writing, something all we writers strive for.
Flipping through Cohen’s books 30 years later, I realize that he’s writing noir – and nice juicy pulp fiction, too. The gritty street life he creates feels very real. Just the same, he relies on many PI thriller tropes, which readers expected and wanted: Eddie Margolis, the hero, is a a desperate alcoholic who decides to avenge his best friend’s murder. He deals with corrupt rich and powerful men and beds deceitful dames. He’s betrayed by a lover. You know how it goes.
But that doesn’t mean the books are bad. Far from it. Genre publishers look for “the same but different”. By that criterion, Cohen’s books certainly deliver.
So what happened to Stephen Paul Cohen? There’s very little about him on the internet. His books are available on Amazon.ca, but only as used copies.
One source of information is Allen J. Hubin’s review of Island of Steel on the Mystery File website. Comments suggest that publishers may have dropped hard-boiled fiction in the early 1990s, because cozies sold better. A fair observation, but I also believe that Cohen’s writing was ahead of its time. He was writing noir, which wasn’t popular then, but has since had a big resurgence .
I further suspect that unfavorable reviews may have played a part. In 1989, the year after Island of Steel came out, Cohen co-authored a speculative fiction thriller, Night Launch, with then Senator Jake Garn. The book should have been a slam dunk for both authors, but Publishers Weekly gave it a thumbs down. Did William Morrow drop Cohen because of that?
Ten years later, Cohen apparently tried writing again. His drug trade thriller, Jungle White, was published in Thailand by White Lotus Press, but not elsewhere. (Did Cohen move to Asia, the way a few of my friends have done?) A reviewer on the Things Asian website hated Jungle White so much he wrote a lengthy and damning review, renaming the book, “A White in the Jungle”. I haven’t read it so I can’t comment either way.
All writers get the rare bad review. Most of the time the reader simply didn’t “get” the book. But when they feel compelled to vent to the whole world about it, I suspect a more self-centred motive is at play. I have to ask the question: Did the Things Asian review make Cohen quit writing for good?
BOTTOM LINE: My copies of Heartless and Islands of Steel are used Avon paperbacks, notfirst editions. Prices on Abe Books, Amazon and Biblio range from $4 to $12. Thierry value: $18.97US*
DECISION: Keep as rare books.
*Thierry value = most outrageous price you can humanly get away with. Named in honor of Mr. Brainwash who sold old used T-shirts for $500+. (See Banksy’s documentary, Exit through the Gift Shop.)
I read my first T.D. Stash novel while vacationing with the family at a tourist lodge on Lake Temagami. Despite being exhausted after canoeing with a 3 year old, I sat up all night to finish The Neon Flamingo. Its Florida Keys setting was as removed from Northern Ontario as you can imagine.
Gripping and smoothly written, W.R. Philbrick’s book has stayed with me, mostly because its hero, T.D. Stash, was so unusual for the late 1980s. He was a screw-up – a stoner and sometime fisherman desperate enough for cash to do favors for friends – legal or not so much. He often made dire situations worse.
I quickly read the next two books in the series, The Crystal Blue Persuasion and Tough Enough. Then waited in vain for more.
A few years later I met W. R. Philbrick at a crime writers’ conference. He happily signed my copy of The Neon Flamingo then passed on the bad news that his editor didn’t want any more T.D. Stash novels. A damn shame!
I suspect that TD Stash series was too dark. In other words, too intense, truthful and violent for 1990s readers. Like Liza Cody’s Bucket Nut, the books were fine examples of noir – and thus decades ahead of their time.
So what happened to W. R. Philbrick? I’m happy to tell you that he’s written over 30 novels under three pseudonyms, including the Connie Kale and J. D. Hawkins crime series. He’s had great success as a YA author, winning multiple awards. His YA adventure story, Freak the Mighty, was translated into several languages and is studied in classrooms throughout the world. Later it became a successful film.
The T.D. Stash books are not available on Amazon in print or digital form. Abe Books carry only a very few used paperbacks listed between $3 to $8US.
Novellas are relatively rare in crime fiction where formats are far more rigid than in literary and speculative fiction. Short story lengths greater than 5000 words are tolerated…barely. And novels must be no less than 65,000 and no more than 95,000 words.
No doubt the formats are dictated by business rather than artistic imperatives. The story or book length a publisher believes will hold readers’ attention spans.
So what is a novella exactly? A long story or a short novel? As an author whose work naturally tends to fall in this category, I believe a novella is a story with a linear plot but with more texture, atmosphere and complexity of character than can be captured in 5000 words or less.
The Orca Rapid Reads Series breathed life into the crime fiction novella. Mostly because of this series, the CWC Awards of Excellence have had enough entries to create and sustain a novella category. (CWC defines a novella as a story between 8000 and 20,000 words.)
The Rapid Reads series is aimed at adults who are ESL students, who have difficulty reading or those who simply want a fast satisfying read. Although the language is uncomplicated, the books are not simplistic. They are hard-hitting, with adult themes and they often focus on social issues.
It’s a challenge for an author to streamline their writing style without losing its essence. That’s why Orca contracted with leading Canadian crime fiction authors for the 68 books in the series, including my friend, Sam Wiebe.
Sam’s novella, Never Going Back (Orca, 2020) is one of the latest books in the Rapid Reads series. Its protagonist, Alison Kidd, is a tough young woman, a master thief who’s just gotten out of jail. She hated prison and she’s determined to go straight, but the local crime boss blackmails her into pulling off a risky job. If she refuses, her brother will be killed. Can she outsmart her old boss and save her brother and herself?
Sam’s hard-hitting, critically acclaimed Dave Wakeland series and his debut novel, The Last of the Independents, are both written very much from a man’s point of view. I was intrigued that Sam chose a woman hero for Never Going Back. Could he pull it off?
I’m delighted to say that, yes, Sam did! Alison Kidd is a terrific and likeable character. (More books and stories with strong women, Sam!) The plot has the twists and turns of a switchback highway and the suspense that goes along with it. An excellent thriller!
Back in the 1990s, the Crime Writers of Canada had an unusual guest speaker from the UK – a woman! Indeed a young woman! She’d just written crime novel with a fascinating protagonist, decades ahead of her time. And it had won the prestigious CWA Silver Dagger Award.
Liza’s hero, Eva Wylie, is a female wrestler – and gay. The book I’ve pulled from my shelf is Bucket Nut, a pejorative phrase thrown at women who don’t pass het-male beauty standards. Or as the Brits put it “a face that could stop a clock”.
Bucket Nut is written in Eva’s voice and vernacular, every word pitch-perfect. Here’s a sample para:
“I know you think I’m stupid. Don’t try to tell me different, because I know, see. And maybe I’d done a stupid thing. All right. But even clever people can do stupid things. You don’t have to be all-round stupid to be conned. Clever people can be fooled, too. Hasn’t anyone ever taken you for a sucker? Well okay. I’m not judging you, so don’t you sit there and judge me!”
Set in the sordid world of low-rent wrestling, Bucket Nut shows Liza’s knowledge of a tough and gritty Britain. Like other great crime novels, it explores the social issues of sexism, poverty and the class system while solving the mystery. Eva is no saint and she relies on her fists and muscle more than is wise.
In creating Eva, Liza Cody was inspired by real-life British wrestler, Klondike Kate, who, she says, looked like a rain barrel in a leotard.
After the CWC meeting, I chatted with Liza, who, though tall, was about as far removed from the world of female wrestling as can be imagined. Born with dyslexia, she attended art school, became a graphic designer and worked day jobs, including doing hair styles on the wax dummies at Mme Tussaud’s!
When the digital world eclipsed the old mechanical world, Liza could take up writing, because of the computer spell-checker. Her experiences in the art world served her well in creating – or documenting – bizarre encounters. During our chat, she entertained us about a cop at her gym who wore a complete “Dr. Frankenfurter ” under her uniform!
So what happened to Liza Cody? She didn’t disappear at all. She just didn’t come back to Canada!
I’m delighted to report that she’s had a very successful career in the UK. Her Anna Lee novels about a woman private investigator, became a TV series in the UK and the USA. And she continues to write: dozens of short stories, many published in Ellery Queen Magazine as well as five standalone novels.
Her most recent work, Lady Bag, stars an elderly homeless woman whose pet greyhound is her best friend. One day outside the National Gallery, they meet the Devil… I’m definitely going to read that one!
VALUE: So what’s my used paperback copy of Bucket Nut worth on Abe Books? About $4US. And the Thierry* value: $66US.
BOTTOM LINE: Keep. In honour of wild women protagonists!
*Thierry value = most outrageous price you can humanly get away with. Named in honour of Mr. Brainwash who successfully sold used, outdated T-shirts for $500+. (See Banksy’s documentary, Exit through the Gift Shop.)
Do join me and my fellow crime writers for the Zoom launch of Carrick Publishing’s new crime fiction anthology, A Grave Diagnosis. This collection of tales of murder and malaise appropriately launches on Halloween!!
AND a special Halloween treat – here’s our video on YouTube! Thank you, editor and publisher, Donna Carrick!
My friends and I have embraced Zoom. It’s become an indispensable tool for authors during these dystopian COVID times.
Since the run-up to Christmas is a strong market for book sales, I pitched the idea to the Mesdames that we run a series of Zoom book launches. They loved idea and the Mesdames’ Book Launch Marathon took off!
First author was my friend, Rosemary McCracken who just published the 5th book in her popular Pat Tierney series, Uncharted Waters. By all accounts our Zoom launch was a terrific success. Our three secrets? Planning, planning and planning.
Rosemary shares her excellent write-up about successful Zoom launch planning from an author’s point of view on her blog, Moving Target. Read it here.
Even better, watch our video of the whole launch!!
Here are my pearls of wisdom from the moderator / techie side:
For an audience greater than 40+ people, the moderator and the techie must be two different individuals.
Work closely with your author before the launch to:
develop interesting questions
make a list of invited guests for vetting during the event
support each other before, after and during the launch!
Make the launch interactive to engage the audience
allow lots of time for Q& A
have contest questions throughout the launch
Email the links to the author’s book(s) on Amazon, etc. to all invitees.
Our next marathon event is the launch of Carrick Publishing’s new crime fiction anthology, A Grave Diagnosis. Appropriately enough the launch date is on Halloween! Saturday, October 31st, 2pm. And as a contributing author, I can kick back, relax and be a guest this time!