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.”

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!

 

 

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.

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TOP 10 FAV NOIR FILMS!

Really looking forward to Noir at the Bar at Bouchercon on September 14th in gothic New Orleans!

I’m a visual writer. I fell in love with the movies at age 3.  As a teenager, I fell under the spell of noir cinema: tough settings criss-crossed with black shadows, peopled with sinners doing horrible things to each other – what was not to love?

So in honour of Noir at the Bar, here are my Top 10 Fav Noir Films. Most centre on strong, complex female characters. Their striking settings are often surreal and have stayed in my mind forever.  The characters get justice even if that justice is harsh and twisted. And almost all feature devastating endings with a darkly satiric edge.

So here’s my list. I’d love to hear from you about your 10 Fav Film Noirs.

10.  thBLOOD SIMPLE (Joel & Ethan Coen) – The debut film of the Coen brothers who developed the story from Dashiel Hammett’s phrase “blood simple” meaning crazed by violence. 

An  unpleasant man hires a shady PI to murder his wife and her lover. Things naturally go awry with a literally harrowing murder scene that rivals the death of Rasputin. One of the best exit lines ever, delivered by veteran character actor, M. Emmet Walsh whose performance oozes sleaze.

 

9.   LadyfromS LADY FROM SHANGHAI (Orson Welles) – Orson Welles ran out of money trying to stage a musical version of Around the World in 80 Days. He  allegedly pitched The Lady from Shanghai to Columbia Pictures president Harry Cohn while  looking at the cover of a pulp novel he’d never read. It’s a “who’s gonna kill who” thriller with adult dialogue sparked with sharp-edged barbs.

Welles invented the final shoot-out in a fun house of mirrors, a  sequence that’s become standard in action and horror films. Nearly 70 years later, Welles’s original remains the best.

 

8.   SorrywrongnumberSORRY WRONG NUMBER (Anton Litvak) – A spoiled, bed-ridden  heiress overhears a murder plot on her telephone. Through a series of phone conversations with strangers and her unhappy husband, she realizes the thugs are about to murder her

Based on a radio play by Lucille Fletcher, the film works because of  its unusual plot structure and a terrific performance by Barbara Stanwyck as the woman you love to hate.

A devastatingly satisfying one-line ending: “Sorry, wrong number.”

 

 

7.   Mildred-Pierce-One-SheetMILDRED PIERCE (Michael Curtiz) – Based on the novel by master noir writer, James M. Cain.  The film depicts  the rise and fall of businesswoman, Mildred Pierce (Joan Crawford).

Abandoned by her husband, Mildred battles poverty and  terrible grief to support her family.  Against all odds, she becomes rich, but her insatiable drive to join high society ends up destroying what she fought so hard to save: her family.  A remarkable film even in 2016,  because the tragic hero is a woman rather than a man.

 

 

6.   220px-Vertigomovie_restorationVERTIGO (Alfred Hitchcock) – A masterpiece mystery thriller that shows how a grippingly profound story can be created with a minimum of characters. The film explores the destructive power of self-delusion and mental illness at a visceral level.

A law officer develops vertigo after a nearly fatal fall. His phobia makes him the victim of a diabolical plot. James Stewart is at his best as the unsympathetic hero: even Hitchcock’s heavily artificial camera work, invented to mimic vertigo, does the job. One of the best and most devastating movie endings of all time!

 

5. THE THIRD MAN th(Carol Reed) A thriller filmed on location in the rubble of post-WWII Vienna. It goes beyond genre in examining business corruption, betrayal and the tragedy of misplaced loyalty. 

Holly Martins (Joseph Cotton), a broke pulp fiction writer, travels to Vienna to meet his old friend, Harry Lime, who’s promised him a job.  But he arrives to find that Lime has been killed in a hit and run car accident and is wanted by the police.  Looking for answers, Martins  uncovers some nasty truths about Lime. 

Despite being on screen for only a short time, Orson Welles is the perfect Moriarty, intellectually brilliant, articulate, urbane and utterly indifferent to his friends. The final chase through the sewers of Vienna is pure noir, the unromantic ending logical. When visiting  Vienna, do check out the Third Man Walking Tour .

4.  thFARGO (Joel & Ethan Coen) A police  thriller where the misery of a North Dakota winter and the mundanity of Midwest culture work as well as the mean streets of noir. 

A beleaguered car salesman (William Macy) conspires with a pair of criminals to kidnap his wife for money and to get revenge on his rich father-in-law. Naturally things go pear-shaped, partly due to the dogged investigation by the local – and  heavily pregnant- police chief (Frances McDormand). 

Some really macabre scenes – we all know what’s gonna happen with that wood chipper – and lots of dark humour.  Who can forget Carl Showalter (Steve Buscemi) burying the ransom money in the endless snow along the highway then marking the spot with a tiny ice scraper?  Ordinary folks and petty criminals alike die because they’re not equipped to deal with true evil, as portrayed by Danish Shakespearean actor, Peter Stormare. For once good triumphs over evil…sort of.

 

3.  The_Asphalt_Jungle_posterTHE ASPHALT JUNGLE (John Huston)  The heist film that spawned the caper subgenre. Classic noir: tough criminal characters, mean streets, desperate motivations, greed and corruption. 

Four criminals and a corrupt lawyer conspire to rob a fortune in jewels, but are undone by mutual treachery and unforeseen hitches in their plan. Great performances by Sterling Hayden and Sam Jaffe. Interestingly, the film features the debut of Marilyn Monroe as the elderly lawyer’s young mistress. At the time, she wasn’t big enough to be on the movie poster!

 

 2.  thTOUCH OF EVIL (Orson Welles) Tough choice between my top two favs: they’re really a tie.

 I first saw Touch of Evil on late night TV. Deemed weird and disturbing at the time, I secretly loved it and still do. Seeing it now, I believe that the film was too truthful for the time because of its candid portrayal of police corruption and violence. Today it’s listed as one of the best films of the 20th century.

In the story, two people are killed when a car bomb goes off at a border crossing between the USA and Mexico. The veteran American cop, Hank Quinlan (Orson Welles), wants a quick solution and plants evidence to frame the most likely suspect, a Mexican citizen. Vargas, the Mexican detective (Charleton Heston), stands up to Quinlan with blowback that nearly kills him and his American wife, Susie (Janet Leigh).

Classic noir: mean streets, corruption, nasty characters, drugs, illicit sex, but much, much more. The film foreshadows tech noir: the final confrontation between Quinlan and Vargas takes place in a decayed industrial setting. It’s brutally frank about the bullying nature of American-Mexican relations, the corruption of male cronyism and women’s vulnerability in a patriarchal society.  Some neat touches: Mercedes McCambridge plays a frankly lesbian hoodlum. For readers who don’t know her, McCambridge was the voice of the demon in The Exorcist.

Orson Welles is amazing as bloated, uber-corrupt, sixtyish Hank Quinlan; impossible to believe that he was only 43 at the time.  Incredible, surreal scenes between him and Marlene Dietrich as his former mistress and the owner of a Mexican bordello. The single 3-minute tracking shot at the start of the film, that follows the convertible with the ticking time bomb, made cinematic history.

 

1. SunsetBoulevardfilmposterSUNSET BOULEVARD (Billy Wilder) Not just my favorite film noir, but one of my all-time favs period. In the story, a broke screen writer, Joe Gillis (William Holden) is trying escape the repo men. He hides out on the grounds of a mysterious Hollywood mansion inhabited by a forgotten star of the silent movies, Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson).  Determined to make a comeback, Norma hires Gillis to rewrite her awful screenplay. Gillis figures it’s easy money, so he agrees, but gradually he becomes Norma’s boy-toy. When he decides to escape, well, guess what happens.

Like all great films, Sunset Boulevard is much more than its gripping story. It’s about the tragedy of vanity and delusion – and the price paid by enablers.  It’s also about the cost of refusing to accept change and abandoning your self-worth for easy money.

Gloria Swanson gives a legendary performance as Norma Desmond as does Erich von Stronheim portraying Max, her ex-husband who works as her butler. (Sick or what?) Wonderful gothic sets. Who can forget the image of the dead chimpanzee’s funeral or the rats in the dry swimming pool?

Billy Wilder broke several Hollywood conventions: many celebrities played themselves ( Buster Keaton, Cecil B. DeMille) and the narrator is a dead man. Truly one of the most haunting and satisfying endings in the movies when Norma walks into the camera for her close-up.

CYBER CAFE: Meet Judy Penz Sheluk

Judy Penz ShelukI first met Judy through Toronto Sisters in Crime when she organized a crime writers' reading in East Gwillimbury. Judy's debut novel, The Hanged Man's Noose, was published in 2015 and her second novel, Skeletons in the Closet, this month, August, 2016.

Judy's short crime fiction has appeared in the anthologies: World Enough and Crime, The Whole She-Bang 2, Flash and Bang and Live Free or Tri.

Judy and I share a passion for sports. Did you know that she completed a half iron man? Wow! And she's also biked in the Ride to Conquer Cancer.

Do visit Judy on her website / blog, A Writer's Journey, where she generously shares her experiences with the writing life and interviews and supports other authors. Here is the link: www.judypenzsheluk.com


Your blog is called One Writer’s Journey, where you enjoy sharing your personal experiences as a writer.

Yes, my blog first appeared on April 2, 2013. I wrote about my experience having three flash fiction stories (not crime fiction) published in THEMA, a New Orleans-based literary journal. At the time, I probably had about 10 followers.

I publish once or twice a week, but I take most of July off all social media and recharge.

The most successful blogs are based on one’s personal passion. What passion(s) led you to create your blog?

When I was writing my first book, The Hanged Man’s Noose, I thought it would be easy to sell it. The protagonist’s sidekick owns an antiques shop, and I’ve been the Senior Editor at New England Antiques Journal since 2007. I had also developed a strong reputation as a freelance writer, with articles in dozens of U.S. and Canadian publications.

It didn’t make a bean of difference!

So, I wanted to let other writers know they weren’t alone in their journey of rejection (did you Kathryn Stockett’s The Help was rejected 61 times?). And I wanted readers to know I was honest and willing to share my experiences with them.

Tell us about your followers.

Most of my followers are in the US and Canada, but also in the UK. And I had a woman from Australia bid on my “Have Judy name a character in her next book after you” at the Bouchercon 2015 Raleigh fundraiser auction. So that was cool.

I like to think my followers enjoy the honesty about the writing journey. I do interview other authors, and I have introduced a New Release Mondays to showcase fellow authors, but people seem to love it when I say, “Hey, I’m just like you. My life isn’t perfect, either.”

What has been your strangest feedback?

So far, nothing crazy…crossing fingers that stays the same. But I remember doing a book signing at Chapters in St. Catharines, Ontario. A woman holding Louise Penny’s latest told me she wouldn’t buy my book because she didn’t read Canadian crime fiction!

What have proved to be your most popular topics?

Without question, my most popular blog was the one titled “Calling all Agents,” published February 15, 2016. (Do read it here http://wp.me/p3yeUA-DE )

Another of my most popular posts was called “The First Cut is the Deepest” where I talk about an agent I met at Bloody Words 2012 (Toronto) and the lessons I learned. I published it in January 2015. ( http://wp.me/p3yeUA-Cs )

Polls also do well. I’ve done polls on where people write, where people read, and what format people read in. I use Polldaddy, which is easy and people seem to like voting. But you have to keep it simple.

You also interview many other authors on your blog. Do tell us more.

When it’s an interview with an author, I ask the author to tackle something about writing. For example, Cori Lynn Arnold wrote about setting her book, Northern Deceit in North Pole, Alaska (which is a real place). I’ve also interviewed publishers, and ask them what they’re looking for/not looking for/what excited them/turns them off.

Probably my favorite guest post was Guelph, Ontario, author Joanne Guidoccio’s post on Open Mic Readings. She gave straight forward advice and it came at a time when I needed it! (Here’s the link: http://wp.me/p3yeUA-11O )

What’s next for Judy?

My debut mystery novel, The Hanged Man’s Noose, was published in July 2015 by Barking Rain Press. Skeletons in the Attic, the first book in my Marketville Mystery Series, was published this August, 2016 by Imajin.

Skeletons in the Attic Front Cover

I’m always thrilled to have new followers for my blog (see the link above). I also put out a newsletter, at no fixed schedule, two to three times a year. Here’s the link for that: http://eepurl.com/b4cQvP

Thank you, Judy. It was a pleasure to have you on Cyber Café. And congratulations on your new book!

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.

2013-05-19 16.31.42

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.