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.
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.
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 agripping 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.
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 toPalermo and Other Stories in the fall. You can learn about this and other appearances I’ll be making on my website: www. rosemaryaubert.com.
Limestone Genre Expo, a 2-day conference for authors and fans of genre lit, took place in Kingston, Ontario July 23-24th. Organizers, Liz Strange, Delina MacDonald and Marlene Smith created the conference in 2015 to support Eastern Ontario writers of fantasy, science fiction, horror, romance, YA and crime fiction.
Science fiction, fantasy, graphic and horror authors have intermingled for years at conferences like Comiccon, Fan Expo and When Words Collide. Crime fiction is a relative new-comer to these events, but likely to become more popular in the intensifying search for readers and with the retirement of Canada’s late great national crime writing conference, Bloody Words.
This was my first cross genre conference. Starting with a local conference proved to be both comfortable and enriching. Several of my crime writer friends were attending: among them Rob Brunet, Vicki Delany, Madonna Skaff and Linda Wiken. And I have a deep affection for Kingston. I studied Chemistry at Queen’s University back when T. rex ruled the earth and OHIP was the major client of my IT consulting business. Ed and I made a weekend of it, staying at the wonderful Rosemount Inn, a Victorian mansion which looks haunted and reputedly is.
My table mate in the vendor’s room was Ira Nayman, political satirist, science fictioneer and aardvark lover. Ira generously helped me set up my book display and we had great conversations about life, the universe and everything when the author panels were running.
In the vendor’s room, I met Brian Lindsay, fellow crime writer and Arthur Ellis finalist for Best First Novel. Brian is an imagist, chef and indie author of the Gilmore Island mysteries, set on an island near Westport, Ontario. Old Bones, which I’m enjoying now, is his first novel.
I also enjoyed meeting crime writer, poet, musician and reviewer, Bob Mackenzie.
The conference was a well- thought-out mix of panels, workshops, author readings. There was a pitch session hosted by Five Rivers Publishing and a conversation with Jay Odjick, creator and executive producer of the animated TV show, Kagagi: The Raven.
Each genre had at least one panel specifically devoted to it. The crime fiction panel was “Modus Operandi, From Cozies to Private Eyes” , a broad topic to be sure, but a fine introduction of the genre to new readers.
Liz Strange had asked me to step in as moderator for the YA panel with authors: Y.S. Lee, Alyssa Cooper, Maureen McGowan, Kim McDougall and Suzanne Church. The facilities at the Kingston Frontenac Library were pretty good, but like many modern buildings, meeting rooms are scarce: one large upstairs space and two much smaller rooms, where you really got to know the audience!
YA is hot right now. Virtually every literary agent is begging for it. Our audience was too large for the room and the fire marshal notwithstanding, everyone crowded in SRO. The panel graciously gave up their chairs to the audience and spent the entire hour’s discussion on their feet!
Some observations about YA:people of all ages read it. Why? For the strong story lines, shorter book lengths and relatively uncomplicated language; in other words, a fast read. YA many times deals with tough topics. Why? People see hard things on the media and through the internet every day. Parents can’t shield children as they once did. And the good news: Younger people are reading thanks to YA. Indeed research suggests most readers are younger than 35 or over 60!
Often, it seems that genre writers are silo-ed: crime writers mostly meet other crime writers and crime fiction readers. But conferences like Limestone Expo recognize that readers often read and love several different genres. And authors today share the same concerns. Panels were held on traditional vs. indie publishing, the portrayal of women, disability and LGBTQ2 identities.
My own panel, Monstrous Imaginings, proved to be great fun. (The cross genre panel: Jen Frankel, Caroline Frechette, Evan May, Alyssa Cooper, Robin Riopelle and me.) The topic allowed us to freely interpret what “monsters” mean in crime fiction, romance, YA, horror, etc. We went a little wild and the audience seemed to enjoy that!
Liz plans to continue the conference next year. Many thanks to Liz and the organizers for their hard work and a most enjoyable two days!
Peter Sellers, Ed and I became friends during the early days of Crime Writers of Canada. And we share a love for Toronto's demi-monde of burlesque, adult clowning and alternative music. Not only that, our kids went to school together and grew up to work in media.
In 1992, Peter won the CWC Derrick Murdoch Award for his work in revitalizing the crime fiction short story. His off-beat, often chilling and highly engaging tales have appeared in every major mystery magazine and numerous crime anthologies. He is a four-time finalist for the Crime Writers of Canada’s Arthur Ellis Award for Best Short Story.
On November 12, 2011, Peter opened Sellers & Newel Second-Hand Bookstore in Toronto's Little Italy. His passion is hunting down rare and collectible volumes for his clients.
Visit Sellers & Newel at 672 College St., Toronto. Tuesday to Saturday, 11 am to 7 pm; Sunday 12 to 5 pm. Mondays, by chance.
And be sure to visit the bookstore's website at www.sellersandnewel.com and on Facebook and Twitter (@sellersandnewel).
BTW click on any of the images you'd like to explore more closely.
What books will we find at Sellers & Newel?
We carry second-hand only. Mostly 20th Century literature, crime fiction, poetry, lots of weird fiction. Some are antiquarian, but we have lots of affordable reading copies. Our books range in price from $1 to several thousand dollars.
What led you, a writer, to open a bookstore?
I love books. I like the fact of them as much as anything and I’ve always bought many more than I could ever hope to read. Now I buy many more than my customers can ever hope to read. I also like working for myself and working without a net. It’s all up to me. I love going out and finding books, making house calls, visiting other dealers, especially when I’m out of town. Buying books is almost as much fun as selling them.
What do you find fascinating about crime fiction?
To be honest, I don’t read nearly as much crime fiction as I used to. But my initial interest was most likely fuelled by black and white crime films of the 1930s through the 1950s. They used to be on TV a lot, and I grew up on Bogart, Cagney, John Garfield, Mitchum, and other actors like them and the films they made. When I started reading books seriously, the first novel I can recall buying was a stunning 1971 Ballantine edition of The Big Sleep that I still have. I was 15 or 16 and bought it from a bookstore across the road from my high school. From then on it was mostly mysteries and thrillers for years.
I love the pulp books you have collected, especially the lurid book covers. What attracts you to the pulp era?
A lot of that stuff is crap, really. But there are some occasional gems. John D. MacDonald, for example, in his non-Magee stuff, is great. He is better than anyone else at giving you this awful feeling that something is going to go really bad really soon. Mickey Spillane I used to love, not because he was good but because he wrote like he was insane, all kinds of repressed sexuality spilling out in this remarkable violence (in tone as much as action) that nobody’d done like that before.
I hate happy endings. I like books that end badly. Nasty people treating each other shabbily has a certain appeal to me. (And a twisted sort of justice, which is why I love noir – M. H. Callway)
Tell us something about your customers.
There is no typical customer, though I was surprised to realize, soon after I opened, that most of them are under 35. That was not what I had expected.
My customers seem to like the coffin, which gets photographed a lot. Some people find it creepy but most love it. They like the crooked walls, the metal ceiling, the mismatched floor tile and the big leather chair. They seem to like my selection and the fact that the books are all in really good shape, and that I have lots of unusual stuff.
Which of your books have proved to be the most popular?
First editions are popular and I have a lot of collectors who come in for the Weird Fiction, which includes some very scarce titles. They also like the fact that I will track down books for people, even if they cost as little as five bucks. And I never give up. A few months ago, I found a book that a customer had asked for three years before. She was surprised that I had kept at it for that long, especially an inexpensive paperback, but her reaction when I called her was priceless.
But my unscientific survey says Hemingway, Steinbeck, H.P. Lovecraft and an obscure British author named Simon Raven because I love the guy and plug the hell out of him.
You’ve embarked on two cool innovations at your store: music and film nights. Tell us about the music events.
The concerts are working out really well. I do two a month from September through May. None in the summer because of the heat. I started because I wanted to do something that no other bookstore is doing, and I find readings and signings to be pretty darn boring most of the time. Live music has always been important to me, and I still go out and listen to as much of it as I can. This also seemed a good way to promote the store and to bring new people in.
Performers are usually local people I like and who are all really good. Styles of music so far have ranged from Medieval to modern performance art. Past performers include outstanding singer/songwriter Kevin Quain (3 times), the wild, 300-plus-pound Corpusse (twice), country singer Zachary Lucky, singer/songwriter Ryan Cook from Nova Scotia, and remarkable guitarist Andrew Mah from Ottawa.
In the fall we have some jazz shows booked for the first time.
How do we find out about concert dates and times?
The shows are usually on Thursday nights at 8:00 pm. Cost ranges from $10 to $20 depending on who’s playing. Capacity is up to 35 depending on how much space the act takes up.
If you get on our mailing list, or check us out on Facebook, you can get all the details for future shows.
You’ve also tried film nights. How did they work out?
I did two film nights as part of Canadian National Film Day, screening classic Canadian horror films, like Terror Train, but neither evening was a big hit. I have one more thing I’d like to try so I may or may not continue the film nights.
Before we sign off, Peter, what is the strangestcustomer experience you have had?
There’s been no shortage of those. One of the most charming was a very enthusiastic teenage girl who came in and, with a big smile and shining eyes, asked me if I had a copy of “How to Kill a Mockingbird”.
Thanks, Peter! Your store offers a truly magnificent feast for booklovers. So readers, get yourselves over to Sellers & Newel, soak in the entertainment and eat those books!!
Looking for a summer thriller? Happy to recommend my friend, Sam Wiebe’s new book, The Invisible Dead! Last week Margaret Cannon, crime fiction reviewer of the Globe and Mail, gave it a rave review, calling Sam “a writer on the rise”. Read the full text here.
What I especially enjoy about Sam’s writing are his engaging characters, but even more so his darkly complex plot twists that plunge deeply into noir. He breaks many mystery conventions and rules: no cozies here.
I’ll be reading with Sam and fellow noir writers, Rob Brunet and John McFetridge on Thursday, July 14th, 6 pm at Sleuth of Baker Street to celebrate the launch Sam’s new book and series, The Invisible Dead. Join us for a great evening of noir crime fiction.
Mt. Pleasant Road was once colourless, staid and outdated, lined with dusty antique stores. Nothing happening, certainly not in the evening after a pensioner’s bedtime.
To be fair though, it always had some neat retro stuff. Penrose Fish and Chips hadn’t changed its décor, menu or deep fryer since the 1940’s. They still wrapped your take-out fish and chips in newspaper. George’s Trains sold my fav childhood toy: electric trains! And two ancient movie houses, The Regent and the Mt. Pleasant, showed stale-dated films to tiny audiences of the faithful.
Mind you, Mt. Pleasant had, probably still has, its seamy side. Above those silent-as-tombs antique shops – knocking shops! Smart of them to hide in a deadly boring, whitebread family neighbourhood over stores bereft of customers. I’m not kidding: readthis. There’s even a “rub map” of Toronto with Mt. Pleasant taking…erm…undue prominence! (No links, guys- you’re on your own!)
Change has surged into our hapless backwater. Condos, Starbucks and Second Cup have invaded. All our favs now swept away, except, inexplicably, the movie theatres. But wondrous new things have birthed: Thobor’s Parisian chefs make the best bread and pastries in North Toronto and Belsize Public House is trying to fill The Longest Yard’s big shoes.
This week a Surreal Trapdooropened up. On one side of one of the last chandelier-crammed antique stores, I spied the Green Room, a medical marihuana shop, with a brew pub-like menu of plant materials on display. And on the other, Meow Coffee, a cat café! Police raids and grumpy Toronto Humane Society notwithstanding!
We are now 21st century – and cool! I leave you, readers, with this song by Japanese pop group, Shonen Knife about bad kitties and cat mary-jane. And guessing which shop will become my new haunt….
TO Poet’s keen eye finds beauty in the oddities and detritus of hidden Toronto. (Enjoy his pics on Tumbler here.) He’s an early riser and dedicated walker. Recently, he led me through the back alleys of East York to view some amazing art.
East York, until 1998, was Canada’s only borough. In 1924, the 600 or so residents, pissed about their apparently inferior roads and sewers, voted against joining the City of Toronto. For decades the area remained dry, ie no serving of alcohol. so its southern edge, Bloor-Danforth Street, became the sinful watering hole. Prohibition was only abandoned in the 1970’s!
Most Torontonians associate East York with WWII veterans who flooded the area in 1940’s. The houses are tiny by today’s standards, typically bungalows with high basements, metal awnings over the cement front steps and trim, if conventional gardens.
So one might expect street art to be scarce. Not so! Garage doors are the preferred canvas. View here: (BTW for a better view and deets, click on each pic.)
Garage walls also offer opportunity. Especially corner walls.
And regular walls:
Or an interesting take on fence paint:
Originally and staunchly British, East York’s population is now almost 50% foreign born. As a student, I survived on the beloved Greek steam table and souvlaki restaurants along the Danforth. Gentrification has swept these away, but not this feast for the eyes.
NYC is a maze of surreal trapdoors. Especially the legendary subway, setting of innumerable horror flicks, cop shows and true crime.
So this happened….
After visiting the Mysterious Book Shop and the twin towers memorial, we boarded the R line. We collapsed onto the hard plastic seats of the train car, the a/c bliss after the 30 degree heat.
A large Asian man wearing a green foam Statue of Liberty crown slumped onto the seat opposite us. He was clearly suffering from the heat. Not so much though his slimmer wife and teen-aged son.
“Do you live here?” the lady asked us after we exchanged a few pleasantries waiting for the train to get going.
“No,” we said, flattered. “We’re Canadian. From Toronto.”
“Well, I’ll be! That’s near Brantford, right? Have you been to the pow-wow there?” I replied sadly no, but it was on our bucket list. She broke into a huge smile. “You see, I’m Chippewa. An Indian married to an Indian!”
Dad shrugged and smiled. Teen-aged son squirmed. White liberals gringed, but Mother continued: “So 86th Street, right? Our young guy’s quite the artist so we’re taking him to see Van Gogh’s ‘Starry Night’. We’re off to the museum.”
“No, before that we’re going to the museum. You know, The Museum. It’s got everything in it you folks need to know about The Bible.”
“You must know about The Museum. You do love The Bible, don’t you? It’s the best museum in the whole wide world, put together for our brothers and sisters.” Mother beams and leans forward. “I’m a Jehovah’s witness!”
Sigh, sometimes the penny doesn’t drop, it floats down.
“You sure do need to visit The Museum. You would love it. It’s got money problems right now, so we’re gonna make sure we see it before they move it someplace else. Can I talk you two into coming along?”
“Sorry, no, we’re meeting some friends.”
Mother now turns her attention to the other passengers in the car. She teaches us all Chippewa expressions in between urging us to Praise the Lord.
Mercifully, the train starts up. Also mercifully, it’s an express. We’re at our stop in two minutes flat.
We race out of the car, leaving Mother cheerfully proselytizing, Dad smiling beatifically and son sulking, while she aims to convert someone, anyone before Times Square.
This really happened: surreal NYC did not disappoint us!
Just completed my 9th Ride to Conquer Cancer, a 213 km marathon charity bike ride from Toronto to Niagara Falls via Hamilton. The Ride is the biggest fundraising success story in Canada. This year over 4000 cyclists raised $17+million for the Princess Margaret Cancer Research Centre, which has spear-headed individual cancer therapy.
My friend, Andre and I did the inaugural Ride in 2008 and it had by far the best spirit. People rode everything from carbon fibre racing machines to old clunkers pulled out of the garage. No cops doing traffic: instead we relied on a friendly motor cycle club. Road signs got lost or misplaced. The route was tres hilly, too. I remember falling into bed at 6 pm, completely exhausted after finishing that first day.
Since then, every year never fails to be an adventure due to the vagaries of weather or the misadventures of crazy cyclists. This year was no exception.
Here you see me and my buddy, Marci, at the start of the Ride in Toronto. (That’s me on the left.) We were worried about the predicted thunderstorms hence the rain gear. Instead we got major crosswinds that threatened to blow us off the road as we struggled up and down a hilly course in 35 degree weather (that’s 85 Fahrenheit). Almost impossible to avoid serious dehydration: I downed 2 litres of Gatorade en route!
We did get our reward at the end of Day 1 though: 15 km of speedy downhill to the McMaster University finish line and two beers each! To be shared with our faithful husbands and support crew.
Day 2 dawned clear and much cooler. The wind was behind us and we pumped our way through 119 km of undulating wine country. Beautiful!
Riding with 4000+ cyclists is hazardous. We saw 3 accidents involving 3-tiered response with wailing ambulances. The compulsory safety video doesn’t sink in for many participants who freewheel down hills at 30 MILES per hour, pass too closely and indulge in forbidden drafting.
Many participants sported road rash or suffered bike breakdowns. Fancy road bikes do not fare well on rough, pot-holed roads. Elite cyclists may despise my faithful hybrid, which is slow on hills, but it’s rugged and has held me up through thousands of kilometres.
Next year will be the 10th anniversary of the Ride. Did I sign up? Sure! And so did Marci. More adventures to be had in defeating this horrible disease!
Our visit took a literary bent. We stayed at the Algonquin Hotel, site of the famed Round Table where sharp-tongued Dorothy Parker and her literary frenemies traded barbs and founded the New Yorker magazine. Every guest room at the hotel gets a free copy.
What’s it like to stay there? Great, actually! Location is excellent next to Times Square. The rooms are small, like all NYC hotel rooms, but elegant and well-designed. Each door sports a pithy saying from a member of the Round Table. You can download selected best-selling authors for free. And the bar delivers the – wham! – best martinis in NYC. Economy rules: after one, you’re flying all night!
Another neat tradition: the Algonquin boasts a resident cat. Current version, Matilda, happily sleeps in a mahogany file tray on the check-in desk, Do Not Disturb sign prominently displayed. You can book Matilda for your birthday party: her fees go to support a local animal shelter.
I crossed an item off my bucket list when we checked out The Mysterious Book Shop, NYC’s legendary crime book store. It was founded in 1980 by the equally legendary Otto Penzler who lives upstairs.
The bookstore is located in the cool Tribeca area of Manhattan at a disturbingly short distance from the former twin towers, now memorialized by two sunken waterfalls with the names of the fallen carved into the stone edges.
The Mysterious Book Shop is not much bigger than my favorite Toronto bookstore, Sleuth of Baker Street though it does sport towering book shelves, easily 15 feet high. You really do need that ladder to reach the top four or five shelves! Like many bookstores today, its stock is a mix of new and vintage books. Signings are held several times a month: if you launch your crime book here, you know you’ve arrived!
Like the Mysterious Press, the bookstore is very active in cyberspace. I recommend subscribing to its newsletter to keep up with the latest and best in crime fiction.
A neat idea: The Mysterious Press prints long stories or novellas by distinguished writers in chap books, costing about $6 US. I picked up The Little Men by Megan Abbott, a truly chilling tale. Excellent writing: I can’t wait to dive into her novels!
Otto Penzler is regarded as the world’s foremost authority on crime fiction. In 1975 he founded The Mysterious Press, publishing virtually all the greats: Raymond Chandler, Mickey Spillane, P.D. James, Ruth Rendall, Ellis Peters, the list is endless. He also worked closely with many of my personal favs: Sue Grafton, Michael Connelly, James Lee Burke.
Over the years, The Mysterious Press underwent many changes, thanks to the constantly evolving – or perhaps devolving – publishing biz until Penzler got the name back. In 2011, he founded Mysterious Press.com, a digital publishing house for vintage crime writers like Ross Macdonald.
Every year, Penzler brings out the highly regarded anthology, Best American Mystery Stories. (Canadians are eligible as long as their stories are published in the USA.) To be inspired by the best in crime fiction writing, these stories can’t be beat. EAT ALL OF THESE ANTHOLOGIES!!
Penzler also includes a long list of distinguished stories in each volume, stories that almost made the cut. My friend, Ray Daniel’s short story made the long list and he believes Penzler’s recognition led to the traditional publication of his debut novel. (Check out Ray’s most recent book, Child Not Found.)
This year, the Robert Lopresti story in my friend, Caro Soles’ Poe tribute anthology, Nevermore, was accepted into Penzler’s anthology – a dream come true for any crime writer.