I’m really excited about our upcoming launch at Sleuth of Baker Street Bookstore, this Sunday, October 30th at 2 pm. It’s the Mesdames and Messieurs of Mayhem’s first public appearance since the beginning of COVID!
And here’s our blurb: Ghosts and demons and booze, oh my!
To celebrate our 10th anniversary, we Mesdames and Messieurs of Mayhem have let our imaginations run wild to bring you our fifth anthology, In the Spirit of 13. Does “spirit’ mean ghost or demon – or debunking of same? Or simply the evil in twisted human hearts? Or could it be alcohol? You must read these 23 tales to find out!
The Mesdames and Messieurs of Mayhem are established award-winning authors as well as talented new writers. We aimed to keep our stories light-hearted to counter the world’s troubled times, but some of them have strayed into the dark. We are crime writers after all!
Laugh, shed a tear and prepare to be deliciously frightened.
I’m delighted to welcome A. J. Devlin to Cyber Cafe!
We met at Left Coast Crime in Vancouver and bonded immediately over the movie business. My daughter is a VFX producer in Montreal and AJ spent many years in Hollywood working as a screenwriter.
AJ grew up in Greater Vancouver and moved to Southern California to earn two degrees in screenwriting. Luckily for Canadian crime fiction, he moved back home to Port Moody, BC, where he now lives with his wife and two children and writes full-time.
Cobra Clutch, AJ’s first book in the “Hammerhead” Jed professional wrestling mystery-comedy series, was released in spring 2018. It was nominated for a Lefty Award for Best Debut Mystery and won the 2019 Crime Writers of Canada Award of Excellence for Best First Novel.
The sequel, Rolling Thunder, was released in spring 2020 and was featured in the Vancouver Sun, The Province, The Globe and Mail, Kirkus Reviews, and Library Journal Reviews, as well as on The Next Chapter with Shelagh Rogers on CBC Radio.
The third book in the series, Five Moves of Doom, was published by NeWest Press on September 15th, 2022. Look for my review here on Eat This Book, Monday, October 3rd. (Spoiler alert – it’s terrific!)
Welcome to Cyber Cafe, AJ. You worked many years as a screenwriter. How did you turn to crime…fiction?
I grew up loving films like Die Hard, Lethal Weapon, and The Last Boy Scout and remember vividly reading The Silence of the Lambs (at probably too young of an age), so crime stories always captivated me.
When I was living in Southern California earning my BFA and MFA in Screenwriting from Chapman University and the American Film Institute Conservatory, I studied closely under my mentor and friend, Academy-Award nominated screenwriter and novelist Leonard Schrader. He also shared the same passions and planted the seed that crafting crime fiction wasn’t that dissimilar from structuring screenplays, but it wasn’t until I moved home, got married, and became a father that I finally took a break from writing scripts and tried my hand at a mystery novel.
Why set your thrillers in the world of wrestling? How did your hero, Hammerhead Jed, appear in your imagination?
As I immersed myself in crime fiction, especially during my college years, I began exploring sub-genres, and one of my favorites was the athlete-detective since I grew up very much into sports. My father was a star basketball player for Simon Fraser University and later the Canadian Men’s National team, having competed in the 76 Olympics. So, it’s safe to say athletics factored heavily into my childhood.
I also spent my youth as a rabid fan of professional wrestling, enjoying the over-the-top feats of strength and agility combined with the in-ring panache of the squared circle. After reading about boxer-detectives, basketball-player sleuths, and surfer PIs, it occurred to me that, to the best of my knowledge, no one had cooked up a grappling gumshoe. I saw that as an opportunity to draw upon my knowledge and experience while hopefully providing a series character who was a little unique.
You write terrific fight scenes. How do you research the moves?
Thank you! I definitely prioritize the choreography of such scenes. I figure it’s likely that a guy with the moniker of “Hammerhead” Jed could handle himself in a scrap, and like me he has trained in freestyle wrestling and Judo. I definitely researched a lot about combat and beefed up his skill set by giving Jed experience with Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. I also wanted him to have a formidable striking ability; hence his proficiency in Krav Maga and other such martial arts. But at his core Jed is definitely a “grappler,” and his identity as a fighter is examined in Five Moves of Doom.
I especially love your colorful minor characters like Jed’s informant, Sykes, the bookie. Now Sykes is into goat yoga? Why goat yoga??
I love the juxtaposition of a dapper, well-manicured, and upscale gentleman like Sykes having a vested interest in unusual or atypical business ventures. He was originally conceived as a one-and-done character for Rolling Thunder, but my editor encouraged me to bring him back for Five Moves of Doom.
This now seems like a no-brainer, especially given what a breath of fresh air I find Sykes to be when he appears. It’s also been fun to explore the evolution of Sykes’ affinity for “Hammerhead” Jed and how despite being so different, these two men have become unlikely allies with great respect for one another.
My mom (who I dedicated this threequel to alongside my wife) was the person who started keeping an eye out for quirky and offbeat sports and activities as my series progressed. She suggested goat yoga could be something fun to use in my future books. Coincidentally at the time, I had started exploring hybrid-yoga myself through the DDP Yoga Program (created by professional wrestling legend and WWE Hall of Famer, Diamond Dallas Page) as a way to increase my own functional strength in an effort to keep up with my kids. Both ideas dove-tailed for Five Moves of Doom.
In Rolling Thunder, Sykes is into dachshund racing. Is that real, too?
100%! Every year at the Hastings Racecourse there are the Annual Wiener Dog Racing Championships, sponsored by the venue itself and Schneiders Premium Meats. I may have taken a few creative liberties in Rolling Thunder, but make no mistake, competitive dachshund racing is the real deal and serious stuff with prize money at stake.
Your books are a terrific blend of comedy and violence. Sometimes you take us to very dark places, too. What advice do you give emerging writers on keeping the balance right?
That’s high praise and I’m much obliged! And I think you pose an excellent question. For me personally, particularly for this series, I use sports entertainment itself as a kind of North Star. Pro-wrestling can be so goofy and light-hearted at times, but many of the behind-the-scenes stories are the opposite, rife with tales of addiction, tragedy, and even murder. I also believe that humor can be an essential coping mechanism in times of great grief or adversity. I like to think Jed’s wisecracking nature helps balance out the trouble his cases bring not only for himself but also the reader.
What’s next for Hammerhead Jed?
More adventures are definitely the plan! Hammerhead Jed was always conceived as a series protagonist uniquely suited for unusual investigations. I’m looking forward to perhaps taking him away from athletic-centric mysteries and having him delve into more unique subcultures in future stories, something that is touched upon in a subplot in Rolling Thunder.
And in addition to more “Hammerhead” Jed shenanigans, I’m also flirting with ideas for spinoffs and standalone stories, which could be a nice change of pace. But I certainly won’t be forgetting about my Piledriving PI anytime soon as he’s just too much fun to write and has been awfully good to me.
More importantly, what’s next for AJ Devlin? Do tell us about your upcoming podcasts and author appearances.
I’m excited to be back promoting the “Hammerhead” Jed mystery-comedies in person for sure, and have numerous author events, wrestling and MMA shows, and Fan Expos where I will be appearing. You can follow what I’m up to both in person and online at my website https://ajdevlin.com and / or on my social media under the same handle @ajdevlinauthor.
Catch AJ at upcoming events here:
MOST IMPORTANT OF ALL: WHERE TO BUY THE HAMMERHEAD JED SERIES!
In addition, Cobra Clutch is now available as an audiobook on Audible and wherever audiobooks can be found.
Order the “Hammerhead” Jed mystery-comedy series through bookshop.newestpress.com, which features a Find Your Local Bookstore link to support indie bookstores and shop local.
Finally, AJ is proud to have partnered up with his friends at the terrific Western Sky Books in Port Coquitlam, where copies of all three “Hammerhead” Jed books with personalized inscriptions can be requested and purchased online exclusively through their website WesternSkyBooks.com.
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.
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.)
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!
Beautiful morning on Monday, August 24th for the third of my pledged four 2020 Rides to Conquer Cancer.
In Ride #2, thunderstorms drove me back closer to home, so today my goal was to head west along the lake shore to the Humber River trail. But the best-laid plans…
I zipped down Bayview extension, passed the warning raccoon and opted for the section of the Don Valley trail that runs along the eastern edge of Bayview. I ride past the Brick Works (and the sadly closed Cafe Belong) down to Rosedale Valley Road.
Happily I discover that Toronto City has put in a bike path along Bayview itself as far as River Street. Traffic is a little hairy, but manageable.
Up the hill to River Street and the falling cranes thereon (read article here). Scary to think that the day before the accident, my cycling buddy and I rode under this crane. Holy dodging a bullet!
I zoom past the Toronto Humane Society, where I volunteered as a “cat groomer” many years ago then cross through the Canary District to get to Lakeshore.
Funnily enough the legendary Canary restaurant was one of the most celebrated dives in Toronto. Whenever we drove by it, I dared myself to eat there, but I never had the guts –ha, ha– to do it. The building has a storied history – warehouse, school, artist apartments – and even starred in films shot in Toronto. (I’ll be writing up the late, great Canary in a future blog.)
A new street through the Canary District takes you under the Gardiner Expressway. There I ran across Underpass Park, one of Toronto’s better efforts to beautify the grottiness under the cement arches the raised highway. There’s a children’s playground and lots of interesting street art.
I carefully heed the pedestrian signals to avoid getting flattened by the mad traffic on Lakeshore Boulevard. All going well all, as I ride along the Queen’s Quay when thump, flap, flap, flap! It’s a sound cyclists know all too well – I’ve a puncture in my rear tire.
Punctures are an unhappy reality for urban cyclists. Bits of broken glass, loose screws, hard plastic, sharp rocks – all are lurking to destroy your inner tube. Earlier this season, I had a “snake bite” puncture: if you go over a curb too hard, the inner tube can twist and you get twin holes. Sigh.
I wheel my bike over to Balzac’s in the Distillery District and enjoy an early coffee break while awaiting rescue via Ed in the Mazda. Slight panic when the internet tells me that my usual bike shop has closed for summer holidays. Then I remember passing by GEARS bike shop on my way through Canary. A short drive over after rewarding Ed with a latte. Terrific service – they replace my inner tube and I’m back in the saddle within 20 minutes.
By now, it’s late morning and the two-lane Queen’s Quay bike trail is bustling with MAMELs, biking families, mums and babies in strollers. Hard to pass so I settle in to the slower flow. Unbelievable amount of construction with high rise condos going up everywhere.
It’s hard to spot Cinesphere, where I’ve seen so many great films. I hope it survives COVID as well as my fav landmark, the windmill demo project. Only a mild headwind today so it isn’t turning.
The crowds thin out slightly. I have to stop for a flock of Canada geese crossing the trail and spot an encampment only 10 feet away from the thunderous traffic on Lakeshore. The Sunnyside Bathing Station is surprisingly open despite COVID.
At long last the “millennial” white pedestrian bridge over the Humber is in sight signaling the turn north onto the Humber River trail. Close by the bridge are the twin Palace Pier towers.
In 1981, Patrick Kelly, an undercover RCMP officer, tossed his wife off the 17th floor balcony of the building. He was convicted of first degree murder in 1984. His trial revealed that he’d turned to the dark side, working with organized crime to fund his extravagant lifestyle as well as his extra-marital love affairs.
He made parole in 2010 only to have it revoked in 2012 because of his relationships with women and insisting on cash payments for his antiques “business” in Prince George. By 2016, he was out again, living on Vancouver Island. Caveat emptor – indeed caveat everybody.
The trail along the western edge of the Humber River is lightly travelled today. I’ve had it easy so far since the roads have sloped down to the lake. Now I’ve got a few heart thumper hills until I emerge at Old Mill and Etienne Brule park to tackle the toughest climb yet.
Even at my fittest, I’ve never made it all the way up Humberview, a killer hill complete with hairpin bend, impatient drivers, etc. I walk up my usual bit then dive into the shady alleys of Baby Point.
A friend lives nearby. I’d always pronounced it “baybee” but in fact, it’s “Babbee”, the name of French fur trader, Jacques Bâby. Not a very nice guy though.
Recently the plaque below appeared near the stone gates of the enclave. It was created and funded by a white person with a social conscience. Not a comfortable truth to learn that Canadians also enslaved Black and indigenous people.
From here it’s a long hot ride along Annette and Dupont over to Summerhill. I stop along the way at one of my fav Starbucks at Christie for a cold drink. It’s housed in a former bank, but of course, the usually crowded cafe is much diminished because of COVID. There’s no place to sit down outside so I take a walk break and enjoy the street art along the way.
For many years, this Summerhill landmark, the former North Toronto station stood neglected. Built to rival the downtown Union Station – the tower is copied from the Venetian bell tower in St. Mark’s Square – it fell into disuse by WW2 though it continued to function as a liquor store. It’s now one of LCBO’s flagships. Read its full history here.
Finally I’m on the home stretch. A shady cool ride through Rosedale, Moore Park and Mt. Pleasant cemetery. I do a short loop past The Boys and reach home for 50km!