SURREAL TRAPDOOR: Rattlesnakes & Elvis

Greetings Readers! Here’s the long-promised Surreal Trapdoor from Phoenix, Arizona.

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Saguaro Cactus
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More cactus

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After the Left Coast Crime conference, I took a tour of the Superstition Mountains and the Goldfield Ghost Town , a faithful reconstruction of a western gold-mining town with Disney-style staged gun-fights. Good fun, but a surreal trapdoor opened up en route at the Superstition Mountain Museum.

Ever see those 1950’s and 1960’s Westerns? They all look the same: rickety wooden buildings in the middle of a Roadrunner desert with lots of blowing dust and cactus. Well, there’s a reason for that. They were all shot on the same set: the Apacheland Movie Ranch.

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Old sign & rickety model
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My parents loved Have Gun Will Travel

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the 1970’s and 1980’s the public’s thirst for Westerns faded. Apacheland became a theme park then fell into disuse. It cycled through a revival or two in the 1980’s followed by  – count ’em – two, ahem, mysterious fires. The bits that survived were moved to the museum: a barn and – yes, you heard it right – an Elvis Chapel.

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The Elvis Chapel. Everybody wants one…

Our guide explains: Elvis starred in an ill-fated Western called Charro where he tried to make it as a straight actor. No songs except for one on the soundtrack. Luckily the flop didn’t hurt his career. A host of other famous stars filmed at Apacheland, including John Wayne and a young Clint Eastwood.

Elvis did better in Hawaii
Elvis did better in Hawaii
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Clint Eastwood, Middle Row, 2nd right

 

 

 

 

 

The Superstition Mountains themselves are perilous: the rough terrain boasts many steep drop-offs, extreme heat and arid conditions. People regularly lose their way or fall victim to heat stroke or dehydration. In fact, our guide tells us, a hiker’s body was recovered the day before our visit.

The mountains have a lurid history, much related to the mythical Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine.  And at least one murder. They’ve also been home to wild characters and hermits like Hacksaw Tom who robbed stagecoaches.

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The legend of Hacksaw Tom.
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No $$ in that carpet bag, just junk.

No doubt old Tom felt right at home with the dozen kinds of rattlers in the area. The snakes are avid patrons of the museum, as evidenced by the warning signs. And in the summer, our guide says, the rattlers especially enjoy lounging in the coolness under the pop machine. Caveat emptor indeed!

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All kinds & sizes of rattlers
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Snakes don’t need tickets

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eat This Book!

12742381_10156530658650150_2448979545047805041_nGreetings Readers!

This week I’m introducing a new post,  Eat this Book, inspired by the adorable black kitten munching on a proffered tome.  Hey, no cat lady crap! I owned ONE bad-tempered black cat for 19+ years. The others were/are black and white…

In Eat This Book, I’ll explore the value of books as entities, starting with the mystery books crowding my own shelves.  I’ll look at market value:  what is that signed P. D. James original today? And/or historical value: author Liza Cody and her amazing Bucket Nut series. Look for my upcoming visits to fab bookstore owners Marian Misters of Sleuth of Baker Street and Peter Sellers of Sellers and Newell

Also I’ll highlight new books that no emerging or hard-working established writer can do without.  To start off, I’m going to tell you about a book by fellow thriller writer, Kristina Stanley to be released on May 28th. (Do check out our interview on Cyber Café!)  I’ve already pre-ordered my copy.

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The most pressing problem authors have is to find readers. How do you find an audience for your writing? Many writers, including myself, rely heavily on libraries and book stores, but what if you reach more people who would like your book? The answer is targeted marketing. 

Kristina and I both write outdoors thrillers. Some possible sales venues include sporting goods stores, ski resorts, boat shows, etc. Authors of culinary mysteries might choose a local kitchen store or cooking school.  The possibilities are only limited by your imagination. In her book, Kristina  also shares how to keep track of your books on consignment and how to manage your sales revenues and costs.

So don’t delay, fellow writers. EAT THIS BOOK!

 

 

 

 

 

News: Blatant Self-Promotion – My Novella “Glow Grass” Arthur Ellis Finalist!

WOW! I attended the Arthur Ellis short list event at Indigo Manulife Centre last night on April 21st with fingers crossed for our anthology 13 O’clock. Competition this year was tough in the short story category with nearly 50 entries and many established authors.

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Finalist-400My suspense story, “Glow Grass”, was entered in the novella category.  And it is an Arthur Ellis finalist. I could not believe it!!

I’m honoured and delighted to be in the company of my friends and fellow authors, Barbara Fradkin and Alison Bruce.  Do check out their books.

And special thanks to Carrick Publishing who made both anthologies of the Mesdames of Mayhem possible.

Read an excerpt of “Glow Grass” on this website.

Our Mesdames of Mayhem anthology, 13 O’clock, has garnered two recent reviews, both great.  Don’t miss out on some great stories by leading Canadian women crime writers.

Vanessa Westermann writes in Vanessa’s Picks in the April issue of the Sleuth of Baker Street newsletter:

M.H. Callway very kindly sent me a copy of 13 O’Clock ($15.99), the second crime anthology by the MESDAMES OF MAYHEM. I normally prefer to pick up a novel, rather than a short story collection, when looking for reading material. However, having just worked with a group of budding young authors in a creative writing club and given advice on crafting short fiction, it was a pleasure to read an anthology by lauded female Canadian crime writers and class it as ‘research’. These twisted tales offer entertainment to suit your every whim or perhaps, more appropriately, to suit the time of day. Over crumpets at breakfast, perhaps you’ll find yourself reading “Pulling a Rabbit”, about a woman whose adventurous spirit leads her from theft to abduction. Over a pre-dinner glass of merlot, you may choose to read “Glow Grass”, about dark deeds and blood-shed at a decayed family cottage. Whichever story you choose to read, at whatever time, you’re sure to find a tale of crime that will appeal to you, from the supernatural to comedy capers.

And Don Graves writes in Canadian Mystery Reviews. Don has given us permission to reproduce his review here. It will be up in a forthcoming issue.

A book of short stories is like a box of chocolates. There are those decadent dark chocolate truffles, those syrupy little beehives with a cheery inside and then…you get the picture.

Short story writing is a style where the author gets about a minute to ‘reel ‘em in and land ‘em’. No time to waste words. The author gets one shot to score. Short story writing can be the Waterloo that some authors fear. Enough.

13 O’Clock is a box full of delights. No assembly line writing here. It is short story writing that delivers. Did I like each story equally? No, but all of them got me in that critical first minute. In a long list of fine, hand-made “chocolates” includes “Perfect Timing” and “The Test of Time” by Melodie Campbell, “Thrice the Brinded Cat” by Joan O’Callaghan, “The Bench Rests” by Rosemary Aubert; this story took me back to those poignant legal series featuring Ellis Portal. Stories by Donna Carrick, Catherine Astolfo and M.H. Callway hit the spot. And I must mention one other. I’m sure you’ve heard the oldie about those can’t do…teach. Well, some say, those who can’t write…edit. But “Mirror, Mirror” by Cheryl Freedman blows that saying out of the water. Here’s one of Canada’s finest editors who can write!

 

 

The Surreal Trapdoor: Abandoned Beauty

Real or CGI – who cares?
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Adieu Disney

Abandon writer’s block, all ye who enter here!

I recently joined Pinterest and picked my Fav Five categories.

How could I resist Abandoned Mansions? I love old things. The intrigue of deserted places overwhelms me. What happens to a human structure left to the elements? Who lived here once? What are the stories of the inhabitants, their history? And most of all, why were these places abandoned in the first place?

Here are some of my favs. I wandered through the maze of images for hours: a  Chinese box of websites within websites of lost stories.

 

There are boards devoted to abandoned amusement parks. Even forsaken Disney parks!

Nara-Dreamland Japan
Nara-Dreamland Japan
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Lost library

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ghostly libraries.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Where books started – full cycle

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Ghostly piano

 

Derelict church Detroit
Derelict church in Detroit

Pianos only spirits enjoy today.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And of course the ruin-in-progress, the de-urbanizing legend that is Detroit. In the theme of Wasn’t the Future Wonderful, do check out the extraordinary documentary, Detropia.

More soon! 

 

WANDERINGS: Expo 67 Then & Now

Nothing is more absurd than people’s vision of the future – anon

Last winter, on a visit to Montreal, our daughter insisted we visit La Fete des Neiges, which is held in Park Jean Drapeau, the former site of Expo 67. I was overcome by curiosity.  What did the site look like now, nearly 50 years later?

Hey it's the 1960's. Women weren't persons!
Hey it’s the 1960’s. Women weren’t persons!

Expo 67 was a Big Deal to Canada. It marked our 100th birthday. We had to to show the world that Canada was a real country, not just a British Dominion. History affirms we were successful.

I remember only snippets from our family visits to Expo: like the Sputnik chocolate ice cream sundae I enjoyed at the Russian pavilion. And the split-screen films re-introduced by the National Film Board.

Ghostly American Pavilion
Ghostly American Pavilion

Today virtually nothing remains. Nature has taken over. The site is covered by trees and bush. And the Fete des Neiges is sweet, low-key and family-oriented. Furries entertain the kids, people skate and snow tube and we enjoyed mulled wine and maple syrup poured on snow. Post industrialism lives!

Wasn't the future wonderful?
Wasn’t the future wonderful?

Expo 67’s vision of our future seems absurdly rosy – even quaint.  Were we really expected to live in upside down pyramids, geodesic domes and Gaudi-like apartments? My friend Deb and her parents lived a year in the Habitat apartments as a future model family: isn’t that something to tell your kids?expo-canada

 

 

 

 

Wasn’t the future wonderful? It’s as though resources and land were infinite. Mind you, the burden of overpopulation isn’t acknowledged or envisioned even today. 

Habitat for Humanity
Habitat for Humanity – Gaudi would have loved it!
Monorail!
Monorail punctures Bucky Ball!

Strange what has survived from Expo 67 and what has not. La Ronde, the amusement park, was considered tres low-brow and tacky. Well, folks, it’s still there and thriving!

And so, I’m happy to say, is my secret favorite, the American Pavilion. 

I loved it! It had the longest escalator in the world at the time: 37 metres straight up. The monorail drove right through it! And I could watch the crop-dusting plane chase Cary Grant in North by Northwest over and over again. What was not to like?

Critics opined though the exhibits were vacuous pop culture. They wanted meaty hi-tech and military muscle.  They considered the dome a flimsy temporary construct of scaffolding and plastic that might not last the exhibition.

Well, they were nearly right. On May 20, 1976, the acrylic plastic sheathing caught fire and the pavilion burned up in 30 minutes. Here’s the video.

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Bucky burns!

The steel lattice survived though. In 1990  Environment Canada created an environmental museum inside it. Today the biosphere showcases climate change, ecotechnologies and sustainable development.  Bio Bucky: Our real future!

 

 

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Restored Bio Bucky!

 

 

 

 

 

The Surreal Trapdoor: Snakes Alive!

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Ice breaking Canada Geese

Spring is sprung in a cold Canadian way. Canada geese tread water and shards of ice at our cottage. Getting ready to breed.

And they aren’t alone…

On my friend, Gail Hamilton’s farm, on a warm sunny day, you will encounter THIS!

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Garter Snake Orgy. Photo by Gail Hamilton.

Buried under the heap of writhing reptiles are some very bothered female garter snakes. ARGH!!

Important to remember though that garter snakes are not venomous and perform a valuable ecological service in keeping down the insect and rodent populations. More of them is a good thing.

Our daughter had a pet garter snake named Slither. Caring for Slither introduced me to Toronto’s strange sub-culture of reptile fanciers. Did you know that they hold fashion shows for iguanas? And that iguanas make intelligent pets? This knowledge inspired me to write my award-winning story, The Lizard, which appeared in Crimespree Magazine, Issue 52 and was reprinted in Kings River Life Magazine, August 2014.

There’s a darker side to reptile fancy, too, starting with “pinky”, the most delectable food that no snake can resist. And what exactly is pinky? A euphemism for fresh frozen baby mice. (Ee-yuck!) Snake hoarding figures in a story I’m drafting now, working title Snake Oil. Stay tuned!

Excerpt: “Glow Grass”

cover4The smash success of Thirteen, the Mesdames of Mayhem’s first anthology led to our second collection of twisted tales of time and crime, 13 O’clock.  It contains stories by 14 of Canada’s leading crime writers and just received a warm review by Canadian Mystery Reviews critic, Don Graves.

Don singled out my noir suspense story, “Glow Grass”, for special mention! In this excerpt, Paula discovers an unofficial grave site in the woods of her derelict family cottage.  

 

Sark will realize I’m here alone…

            She ran down the eastern side of the cottage away from the drive, her mind working. I’ll head up to the beaver pond while it’s still light, she thought. Wait him out.

            The trail to the beaver pond started behind Dad’s shed. She had no choice now, she had to cross over the horrible spot. A shimmering tongue of glow grass leaked out into the trail as though pointing the way to the pond.

            Fire shovel in hand, she dashed over the sinister spot and plunged down the narrow track into the safety of the trees. The path snaked deeper into the forest, the glow grass dwindling out behind her.

            The beaver pond lay buried in the woods half a kilometer north of the cottage. At one time, homesteaders owned a farm there with an apple orchard – or so Sark had told Dad. But the settlers had departed long ago and over time their log house had crumbled into the forest soil. The orchard had grown wild until beavers dammed the creek that cut through the forest, drowning the apple trees, turning their dead trunks silver.  

           The lost farm made Dad melancholy. It reminded him of time’s passing, he said. But in the beaver pond all she saw was life: frogs, dragon flies, turtles, snails and minnows. Once a pair of Canada geese nested there. Another time she even caught a perch, which Dad cooked for dinner. She’d always meant to find out who owned the land around the beaver pond. All Dad could tell her was that it lay well beyond their property line.

            The trail suddenly veered right not left. She stopped, bewildered, faced with a tangle of brambles and reeds

            The path turns left here, she thought. Dad cut the trail along the left side of the pond so we could walk along its edge to the far end. Too many cedar trees on the right side: Dad never owned the heavy tools he needed to cut through them. I’ve used this trail since I was a kid. It turns left here, not right

            She clutched the fire shovel as though she could beat her memory into submission.

            Oh, God, this divorce is driving me crazy.

            Crazier, wouldn’t you say?

            Go away, Brian.

            She took the path to the right.

            It led into the shadows of the now-towering cedar trees. A short distance along, she spotted a soft green light: glow grass growing into the trail.

            It spilled out from a tiny track that branched away through a clump of alders. Dodging the leafless bushes, she followed it into a small clearing.

            There a stone garden bench rested in a soft carpet of glow grass. Several small stones bordered its circular edge. On closer inspection, the stones proved to be store-bought garden ornaments, inscribed with a single word like “Forever” or “Remember”. Between the stones stood small plaster statues of angels holding soiled plastic flowers or soggy, bedraggled ribbons. One angel held a glass engraving of the poem, Desiderata, the relic cracked and damaged by the weather. Votive candles in red glass holders lay scattered among the stones, most burned down to the end.

          This was a memorial garden. But for whom?

            She sank down on the bench. The tiny monuments were cheap: she’d seen them for sale in dollar stores. None bore a date or name. Perhaps the strange garden was an amateurish, heartfelt tribute to a family pet.

            But what if it wasn’t?

            She shivered. Who built the garden? Why hide it in the woods away from prying eyes? Was it the unknown owner of the beaver pond?

          Over the years, she and Dad had found evidence of strangers round the pond: cigarette butts, fish line and hooks, empty beer cans… Anyone could pass through their cottage property when she and Dad weren’t there.

            The mysterious gardener had taken glow grass from the cottage and replanted it here. That felt like a warning, a challenge even. As if the unknown gardener was telling her: You abandoned the cottage. Now it’s mine to do with as I like.

           The woods were deathly silent. Yet she had an uneasy sense that someone lurked in the shadows. Watching, waiting, matching her breath for breath. She felt in her jacket for her phone and remembered she’d left it in the car.

            She stood up slowly, wielding the puny fire shovel. Saw nothing but lifeless bushes and dark cedar trees.

            Heart pounding, she stumbled back to the main trail. She walked briskly, faster and faster through the waning light until she was running flat out. She didn’t stop until she burst clear of the trees.

            The porch light was on. Under its harsh light, the glow grass had turned a chalky, sepulchral white.

            Sark stood on the front porch, his bulky form blending into the dusk.

To read “Glow Grass” and the other 14 fine stories in this collection, download 13 O’clock from Amazon here.

 

NEWS: Great Review of 13 O’clock and “Glow Grass”

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Many reviewers avoid anthologies. That’s why the Mesdames of Mayhem were blessed indeed when noted Canadian crime fiction reviewer, Don Graves, agreed to take a look at their second anthology, 13 O’clock for Canadian Mystery Reviews.

According to Mr. Graves,  we hit it out of the park!! And I’m especially delighted that my story, “Glow Grass”, was singled out for special mention!

Here’s the full text of the review:

A book of short stories is like a box of chocolates. There are those decadent dark chocolate truffles, those syrupy little beehives with a cheery inside and then…you get the picture.

Short story writing is a style where the author gets about a minute to ‘reel ‘em in and land ‘em’. No time to waste words. The author gets one shot to score. Short story writing can be the Waterloo that some authors fear. Enough.

13 O’Clock is a box full of delights. No assembly line writing here. It is short story writing that delivers. Did I like each story equally? No, but all of them got me in that critical first minute. In a long list of fine, hand-made “chocolates” includes “Perfect Timing” and “The Test of Time” by Melodie Campbell, “Thrice the Brinded Cat” by Joan O’Callaghan, “The Bench Rests” by Rosemary Aubert; this story took me back to those poignant legal series featuring Ellis Portal. Stories by Donna Carrick, Catherine Astolfo and M.H. Callway hit the spot. And I must mention one other. I’m sure you’ve heard the oldie about those can’t do…teach. Well, some say, those who can’t write…edit. But “Mirror, Mirror” by Cheryl Freedman blows that saying out of the water. Here’s one of Canada’s finest editors who can write!

Canadian Mystery Reviews. Don Graves

CYBER CAFE: Meet Kristina Stanley

KS 75 High ResThis week I'm delighted to have fellow adventure author, Kristina Stanley, on Cyber Café. Kristina and I first met at the late great Bloody Words conference just after my debut novel, Windigo Fire, had been accepted by Seraphim Editions.

We bonded right away: both of us were finalists for the Unhanged Arthur and the Debut Dagger awards. And we both love to use challenging outdoor settings in our thrillers.

Kristina has had a smash career since we first met. The first two novels in her Stone Mountain Mystery Series, BLAZE and DESCENT, are bestsellers and the third, AVALANCHE, is soon to be released. And she just sold the print and eBook rights to Lucifer-Verlag in Germany for publication in German later this year!

Emerging writers take note: Kristina generously shares her writing knowledge on her blog. And this spring, Imajin is bringing out her manual on marketing, The Author's Guide to Selling Books to Non-Bookstores. I can't wait to buy it!

Subscribe to Kristina's blog at www.KristinaStanley.com. 

Welcome, Kristina. How did you become a writer?

Before writing my series, I was the director of security, human resources and guest services at a resort in the depths of the British Columbian mountains. The job and lifestyle captured my heart, and I decided to write mysteries about life in an isolated resort. While writing the first four novels, I spent five years living aboard a sailboat in the US and the Bahamas.

Crime Writers of Canada nominated my novel, DESCENT, for the Unhanged Arthur award and The Crime Writers’ Association nominated BLAZE for the Debut Dagger.  My short stories have been published in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine and The Voices From the Valleys anthology.

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000040_00072]BLAZE Cover

 

You blog three times a week and you’ve gained an incredible following. Tell us how you started.

I started my blog in April 2011 at the suggestion of a friend. Since then, it’s come a long way. In the early days, I was informal about what I posted. Now, I’m a little more structured. Mystery Mondays is published every Monday where I host another author. In return for publicizing their book, I ask for a writing or publishing tip for my readers.

Wednesdays, I try to post Write Better Fiction. Here I focus on writing tips. On Fridays, my series is called Farley’s Friday. This is the story of my wheaten terrier told from his point of view. On the other days, I usually post about my writing journey and anything related to publishing.

Currently just under 5000 people are following my blog, and I hope this continues to grow. The top five locations of my followers are USA, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia and Germany.

What do you especially love about blogging?

My passion for writing led me to start a blog. I wanted to connect with writers and share the journey with others. The joy of it all is I discovered I truly enjoy online networking. I love to learn from others, I’ve discovered many books to read that I otherwise wouldn’t have known about, and I do believe the blog helps sell books.

Farley’s Friday is the blog I have most fun writing. Mostly because it’s pure imagination, and it’s interesting to look at life from a dog’s point of view. My personal favourite this year was Farley’s Friday: Top 5 Reasons Dogs Should Be Welcome At Work. (Click the link to read it!)

I have two sets of followers. Those who follow the blog for the writing topics and those who follow for Farley’s Friday. The Farley’s Friday crowd is more interactive with comments. 

My most popular blog though was September 18th, 2012. How To Proofread had 812 hits in one day. I received so many comments that I created a permanent page on my website for readers!

How can we subscribe to your blog?

Readers can subscribe via email on the right side of my website at  www.KristinaStanley.com. From there, they can follow me on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads or LinkedIn. They can also hit the follow button if they happen to have a blog on wordpress too.

Tell us about your most recent book.

I write murder mysteries with a little romance. I love to explore what would make a sane, typically non-violent person commit murder. I also like to write about remote locations.

BLAZE , my most recent book, was published by Imajin Books in October 2015. It’s the second in the Stone Mountain Mysteries. Instead of exchanging vows, my protagonist, Kalin Thompson, spends her wedding day running from a forest fire near Stone Mountain Resort, and the pregnant friend trapped with her has just gone into labor. Meanwhile, Kalin’s fiancé, Ben Timlin, hangs from the rafters of a burning building, fighting for his life. Can the situation get any hotter?

My favorite review was posted on Writers Who Kill. by E.B Davis who wrote:

What I found, after being hooked by the first sentence, was a primer on how to write a novel. I turned the page to the second chapter and realized Kristina had hooked me right from the start…For all readers, the mystery is satisfying, but for readers who are also writers—this is also a textbook to learn about pacing, character development, and plotting. It’s no wonder that Kristina is a bestselling author.

Read E. B. Davis’s full review of BLAZE here

What is next for your readers?

This spring  Imajin Books is releasing two of my books. The first is AVALANCHE, the third novel in the Stone Mountain Mystery Series. Here’s what happens to our hero, Kalin Thompson: 

On a cold winter morning, deep in the Purcell Mountains, the safe at Stone Mountain Resort is robbed hours before Kalin’s brother, Roy, disappears in an avalanche. 

Under normal circumstances, as the director of security, Kalin would lead the investigation into the theft, but Roy is the prime suspect. The police and the president of the resort tell her to stay clear of the investigation, but she risks her job to clear Roy’s name.

Is her faith in her brother justified? Was the avalanche an accident or did something more sinister happen? Threats against Kalin escalate as she gets closer to the truth. And is the truth worth destroying her life for?

I’m also releasing a guide for authors. The success I had in selling and distributing DESCENT and BLAZE  came came from implementing what I learned by trial-and-error, by talking with other authors and store owners about the process, and from guidance from my publisher. I’ve taken everything I’ve learned and put it into a book.

In THE AUTHOR’S GUIDE TO SELLING BOOKS TO NON-BOOKSTORES I explain how an author should plan, prepare and execute getting books into stores and actually making money from it. It doesn’t matter whether you’re an Indie author or traditionally published, all that matters is you have a printed edition of your fiction or nonfiction book and you want to get that book out into the world.

Thanks, Kristina. Can’t wait to read your two new books.  And fingers crossed for good news at the Arthur Ellis shortlist event coming up next month!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Excerpt – “Amdur’s Cat”

Thirteen

Thirteen is the first anthology of the Mesdames of Mayhem, featuring stories by 13 of Canada’s leading women crime writers. The collection contains one Derringer and two Arthur Ellis finalists.

“Amdur’s Cat” is my comedy thriller based on my working experiences with the government – and on the antics of a notorious Toronto mayor.  Which incidents are true? I’ll never tell! 

Read and enjoy the opening pages!

 

AMDUR’S CAT

On a snowy December night Benjamin Amdur saw a lion. It was gamboling about like a kitten swatting at the fat, wet snowflakes that tumbled through the dark. Right in the centre of Riverdale Park by the children’s wading pool.

 Under the lamps of the park’s snowy pathway, the lion’s tawny fur glowed like the back of an old velvet sofa. For a brief moment – that gap between the surreal world and biting reality – he watched Rousseau’s painted lion come to life.

Then he remembered the sleeping gypsy – the minstrel who was about to eaten.

He grasped the icy black iron fence beside him. The house it surrounded lay dark. At two in the morning, its inhabitants, like most normal people, were in bed. By the time he woke them up screaming for help, the lion would have torn out his throat.

With infinite caution, his eyes on the animal, he edged back into the shadows of Winchester Street, the road he’d weaved down moments before. Behind him, three blocks away, lay Parliament Street with its strip bars, eateries and mini-marts. Surely to God one of those places had to be open!

The lion leapt in the air. It snapped at the snowflakes as they fell. He heard the crunch of its jaws, saw the flash of its teeth. Its tail lashed back and forth.

 Then it paused, raised its huge head and sniffed the air. Its nostrils twitched.

   It saw me!

Amdur turned and ran like a mad man.

Adrenalin buoyed him up for the first few feet but deserted him almost immediately. He was forty-eight and twenty pounds overweight. His regular habit of walking to work did nothing to bolster his panic-stricken need to run. He tore down the slushy sidewalk, his mind fixed on the zebras of the veldt. Zebras who ran far more swiftly than he. Zebras brought down and eviscerated alive…

 By the time he reached the yellow lights of Parliament Street his chest was heaving. He doubled over, gasping for oxygen. If the lion got him now, he was dinner. But he couldn’t take another step.

He looked frantically up and down the street. Every storefront was dark.

No buses, no taxis, no cars.

Then he spotted an angel standing under a streetlight a few yards to the south. Well, not an angel exactly, but a young police officer, her uniform immaculate, the brim of her cap spotless, her leather boots and gun holster gleaming with polish.

He summoned his remaining strength and stumbled over to her. “Oh, thank God…an animal…danger…” He couldn’t stop panting. “Very dangerous. Over by …Riverdale Farm.”

She raised a tidy eyebrow. “Are you quite all right, sir?”

“No…no, I’m not all right.” With the dispassion of his medical training, he estimated his heart to be thumping at 180 beats per minute. His blood pressure didn’t bear thinking about. “You…help…must get help.”

“How much have you had to drink tonight, sir?”

 “Drink?” he echoed.

 “Quite a few, I’d say. Identification, please.”

 “What?” Finally he caught his breath. “Please, you don’t understand. There’s a bloody great animal running around loose. It’ll rip someone apart. We have to stop it.”

 “Your ID. Now!” Her hand moved toward her baton.

Amdur dragged out his wallet and handed her his driver’s license. Her laser stare burned through its laminate cover.

 “Dr. Benjamin Amdur.” She studied his face with more than an element of disbelief. “So you’re a doctor.”

  “Yes, I’m with the Ministry of Health. I’m Assistant Deputy Minister in charge of OHIP.”

That made no impression on her whatsoever. “OHIP?”

   “Your, I mean, our free medicine in Ontario. Look here, we’re wasting time.”

    “How many drinks have you had tonight, sir?”

“What the hell does it matter? I was at a Christmas party, for heaven’s sake. At the National Club.” That lofty name made even less impression on her. “I tell you I know what I saw. There’s a lion on the loose.”

   “Lion! Why didn’t you say so!”

  “I did say so.”

  “Where? Where did you see it?”

  “In Riverdale Park, by the children’s wading pool…the farm.”

She shoved his license in her tunic and tore down Winchester Street, leaving him standing there like an idiot. He chased after her, but she set a blistering pace. He only managed to catch up with her at the edge of the park.

No sign of the lion.

 Amdur squinted through the heavy curtain of falling snow. Where was the beast? Where was it? The grounds of the park stretched out before him, white and featureless under the thick drifts.

To read the rest of the story, download your copy of Thirteen from Amazon.