The Surreal Trapdoor: The Beer-swilling Pomeranian (WLT – Part 2)

Opening of the World’s Largest Surreal Trapdoor

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In Part 1, we narrowly avoided a debate about the best bullets for dispatching a neighbour’s pesky cats. Nine mm vs 22’s, you pick. We escaped into the truck bling on display at the World’s Largest Truckstop, but then this  strange encounter actually happened.

A large, 60-ish lady  materialized beside the rack of sheepskin covers for truck seats. She bore a scary resemblance to Large Marge of Pee Wee Herman fame.

“You like them sheepskins?” she asked me.

“Um, sure,” I replied.

“My little doggie had one of her own. Just threw ‘er in the washing machine and she come out real nice.”

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Sheepskin seat covers

Dog or sheepskin?

“And you know what?” The lady stroked the sheepskin fondly. “The day she died, her sheepskin fell apart. Put it in the washing machine and it turned into this big lump of fuzz.”

“Interesting,” I said, edging away.

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Pomeranian dog

“She was a good dog. A Pomeranian. A real good dog. Cute, too. Except when she didn’t get her beer. When I come home off the road after driving my rig, she’d be right there waiting for me.  And if I didn’t give her that pint of beer right away, she’d be on my leg, growling, biting till she got it. Man, she loved her beer.”

“That’s nice,” I said, edging away further, but the lady stuck with us.

“She was a good dog. Why when she died, I just laid her out in the back of my truck. Hadda leave her there for three days but she never smelled. Not one bit. She was a good dog.”

“Probably pickled,” Ed whispered. By now we’d worked our way past the chrome exhaust pipes.

“That’s, um, sad you lost your dog,” I said. “But we’ve really got to get back on the road. We’re doing another two hundred miles today” 

“Hadda funeral for her,” the trucker continued, undeterred. “Buried her in the back yard. My son helped and you know, while he was digging her grave, all the cats and dogs round our place turned up. Stood there watching, paying their respects.”

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Paying respects?

“Imagine.” We’d reached the shelves full of Doulton figurines.

“I couldn’t just leave her. Had to do right by my little doggie. So I buried a 6-pack of beer with her. My son was real mad, thought it was a waste a’ beer, but she was a good dog.  Least I could do for her.”

“Of course, best thing.” We neared the ceramic eagles and John Wayne memorabilia.

“Got me a new dog now. Another Pom. Keeps my husbint in line.”

“That’s nice. We really have to go. We’re Canadian. Bye.” We fled into the parking lot. 

“Well, that was weird,” Ed said, starting the Miata. “Care to bet how long that 6-pack of beer stayed buried.”

No I wouldn’t.

To quote Max Bialystock in The Producers: They all come here. How do they find me?

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.

 

Excerpt – Windigo Fire

12000831_10154197942864018_1649104801334232488_oRead the first chapter of Windigo Fire,  published by Seraphim Editions, September, 2014. Windigo Fire was a finalist for the 2015 Arthur Ellis Award for Best First Novel and under different titles, short-listed for the Unhanged Arthur and the CWA Debut Dagger Awards.

Windigo Fire is available in print through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Chapters/Indigo and in public libraries. It is available as an e-book on Amazon Kindle.  You may also access it through Kindle Direct’s library program.

 

CHAPTER 1

                   Evil exists and he was no better than the others. He knew that now.

Danny Bluestone twisted the spliff in his nail-bitten fingers, feeling the weed roll under the thin white paper like twigs and pebbles in a stream. Couldn’t bag any decent bud this morning, so he’d settled for homegrown. Go organic. Support local industry. Smoke only nature’s own Red Dog Gold.

 Midnight on Fire Lake, stuck on an island deep in the forests of Northern Ontario. Fifty miles from the nearest town – if you’d call Red Dog Lake a town. The raucous sounds of the hunters funnelled down from the lodge buried in the thick woods behind him. He breathed in deeply, letting the pungent pine sap purge his spirit of their meaty white presence. Clear the landing. Get ready for takeoff. His Zippo lighter rested heavy and cool in his hand.

Under the rising moon, the black silhouettes of the pines fringing the shore were etched as sharply as crystal, and Fire Lake had morphed into a silvery flat expanse. He wet the end of the spliff, straining to hear the eerie banshee call of a loon.

Nothing.

When he was a little kid, and his dad was still alive, they’d flown in here to fish for trout. The birds’ snaky black shapes had been common at twilight when they’d camped on the island, but today he hadn’t seen even one. And no fish in the acid clear waters of the lake.

No animals. No nothing.

“Hey, Danny boy!”

He started, barely rescuing the Zippo from sliding into the dark water at his feet.

“Come out, come out, wherever you are.”

Like all day he’d been the invisible man. Now when he needed to be alone, trust them to whine for entertainment with him as the target. He hesitated, thumb on the lighter. Noises travelled in the still night air.

“Where’d he go?”

“Maybe he sprung a leak.”

Drunken titters. What if the smoke of his smouldering joint travelled, too? Would the hunters’ campfire mask it? They were using that stone oven on the veranda, the one that looked like a ripe beer gut. Dangerous, but way out here who was around to see? Sparks poured up in a fountain from the stove’s chimney and drifted over the tops of the trees.

Damn, Danny thought. All along Highway 11, from Temagami on up to Red Dog Lake and Cochrane and beyond, the white forest fire signs were cranked to red on the dial. Extreme hazard. No camping. Especially no fires. The sharp-needled powdery ground under his bare feet was so dry that it crackled.

“Hey, where is the little jerk?”

That was Ricky, the American with the shaved head, the one who claimed to be some old rock star. His voice had a dark edge, matched by a flicker of something Danny had spotted in his small blue eyes this morning when they’d hit the island. Like he knew the joke and you didn’t, and the punch line wasn’t going to be pretty.

“Maybe hunting guides in Canada don’t like getting paid.”

“Sure they do.” That was the flustered, placating voice of the older guy, Morty Gross, who had some political job down south in Toronto. “Danny’s off being a native, some spiritual thing. Like I promised you. Authenticity.”

“Sure you did, and a load of other bull.” Ricky sounded closer.

Danny scrambled up and jumped lightly onto the rock face behind him. The heat of the August afternoon lingered in the ice-smoothed stone. He crept up its clean bare surface, climbing till he reached the thicket of blueberry bushes he’d scouted out earlier. From here, he could spot them easily enough, and they’d never see him.

Oh, Danny boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling.” Ricky emerged from the trail, a bulky dark outline against the shimmering water. “Maybe he’s watching us. He conned you, Morty.”

“You wanted a native guide, I got you one. He came highly recommended.”

“By you, no less. Turn around, I got some business here.”

Danny heard the rasp of Ricky’s zipper. Oh man, he thought, I have to drink out of that lake. All day long Ricky had been watering the blueberry bushes like a dog making his mark. Like toilets were for weaklings.

“Tell me you enjoyed the show,” Morty said.

“Uh-huh.”

“Look, I got us something to celebrate. Two words. Single malt. The best, used to be flown in special to the lodge, OK?”

“So don’t disappoint me.”

Morty coughed out a laugh, like he still had control of the party, and vanished back down the trail. Ricky sat down on a boulder by the shoreline, merging into the night.

I hate this job, Danny thought. Forget the money. Working at the stupid children’s camp wasn’t so bad compared to this. I want my old job back. Even though I’ll have to beg for it.

He glanced down at Ricky and tucked the joint and lighter into his shirt pocket. He loved the crisp crackle when a spliff first caught fire. He could almost feel the acrid burn of its pungent smoke, resin and tar coating his lungs, almost see its end blossoming, shedding sparks into the night.

He pulled a plastic baggie from his jeans. The mushrooms were shrivelled ugly things, like shreds of dark flesh, but they were quiet and didn’t cast an odour. Doing ’shrooms wasn’t smart since he ought to stay alert, but …

He ate his usual number.

Then one more.

An ice-age boulder had carved a natural hollow into the granite beneath him. He settled his back into it and waited. He’d be safe enough up here. Unlikely to roll down into the water or anything.

“See? Here we go.” Morty was back.

“So give the nice bottle to daddy,” Ricky said, reaching out a heavy arm.

This is what I get for studying English Literature, Danny thought. Government gave me free tuition for a useless degree, a one-way ticket to that crumby counsellor’s job at the kids’ camp. Take it or go back on pogey like every other Indian round here. Some choice. He breathed quietly, waiting for Huxley’s doors of perception to open.

He could never tell when he’d crossed the threshold. Back in college, he’d be wide awake, thinking he’d been sold Campbell’s mushroom soup, then he’d meet one of Hunter S. Thompson’s lizards on the Toronto subway, sitting there in plain view, reading the paper or something.

Even this long after sunset, the day’s heat seeped from the smooth stone into his back. That’s what they used to heat their houses in Scotland, wasn’t it? Rocks. Once upon a time, he’d wanted to study at the University of Edinburgh, to visit the Isle of Mull to see if he could spot ex-Beatle Paul McCartney. Stupid, right?

“This isn’t single malt, you liar,” Ricky said below him.

“It’s rye to tide us over.” Morty sounded desperate to turn the insult into a joke. “Our friend Anderson, the Norwegian, is looking through our supplies. It’s here, I swear. Where could it go? There’s no way off this island.”

“Maybe it’s taken a walk with your guide.” The beach pebbles screeched under Ricky’s feet as he stood up. “Where’s your Aussie pal, Hendrix? I’m thinking it’s time for me to get in some crossbow practice.”

“Ricky, for heaven’s sake …”

Fear erupted through Danny’s chest, but he was falling into the soft fist of rock, tumbling, plunging into the clear lake water. It parted in fronds like syrup, till he stared into the droopy grey face of Old Devil, the trout monster of Fire Lake. Oh God, I’m drowning, he thought. Breathing water without knowing it. Or was he? Huxley’s one-way door had closed and he was lost in the funhouse of perception.

From afar, Morty’s voice: “Here comes Anderson. He found it, so make nice.”

“Yeah, right, after he helped himself.”

“See for yourself. The seal …”

The seal … Danny gazed up at its vaporous grey form in the clouds. The hard ground left his back, and he was lifting off, soaring on an iridescent dragonfly that droned through the air. Fire Lake fell away like a sheet of dark metal and they shot past acres and acres of green forest, wilderness as far as the eye could see.

No light penetrated through the trees. Their branches arched over him, forming a dark cave. Something stirred, a matted black bearskin that rose from the ground and took form. No flesh, no bones. Only darkness behind its eye holes. He pressed his face close to the black snout – still moist – and asked it what it wanted.

Are you a spirit?

Black ooze crept from the eyes. The white teeth parted and the stench of decay rolled over him.

I’m sorry, Pasha. I’m so sorry.

He buried his face in his hands, but tears were useless. Nothing would make it better. Ever.

Shivering and wet with dew, he sat up. His back and muscles ached from the cold rock that had drained the warmth right out of him. A thick blanket of white mist lay over the water, obscuring the dawn, drawing colour out of the world. Was he still ripped? He rubbed his face, shook his long hair. Standing up shakily, he felt a surge of telltale nausea, the flu-like fatigue that would dog him for three days.

The ’shrooms must be done. Must be morning.

He stumbled down to the slate-grey shards of the beach where he’d been sitting last night. A flash of gold. Something was floating in the water, bobbing gently with the wavelets slapping the stones.

He blinked. What was it? A dead fish? Without thinking, he waded into the lake to get a closer look.

A white arm stretched out through the clear water, fine blond hairs waving like seaweed, fingers spread like a starfish above a gold-linked bracelet.

Oh, hell, Danny thought. His throat was parched but his feet were icy cold. He scrambled back out. It’s a flashback, that’s all. A mirage.

Heart thundering in his thin chest, he staggered down the trail to the lodge. Darkness slept under the trees, the way he’d dreamed it last night. Utter silence except for his panting breath. Too early, too early, he chanted silently. He’d find the hunters asleep. Remnants of the ’shrooms lurked in his system. He couldn’t be sure about reality just yet.

He reached the clearing.

He smelled it then, the metallic slaughterhouse reek of blood.

Images, but no focus.

The hunters were lying all over, splattered in garish colours. Humans couldn’t bend that way, could they?

Dead, all dead.

A screech of panic tore out of his throat. The screams kept bursting from deep within, and he couldn’t stop them even when he clapped his hands over his ears to shut out his own noise.

No one knew where he was, except Rachel, a ten-year-old kid back at the children’s camp. The bush plane wouldn’t be back for two days.

And, like Morty said, there was no way off the island.

To find out what happens to Danny, download Windigo Fire from Amazon here.

 

The Surreal Trapdoor: World’s Largest Truckstop – Part 1

Big trucks! Big food! Big ceramic eagles – and even bigger truckers! You’ll see all this and more at the World’s Largest Truckstop on Iowa 80.  For the unwary though some truly scary Surreal Trapdoors are lying in wait just for you.

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You think I’m kidding? Read on, my friends, for the tale transcribed herein truly happened.   

Ed and I were heading down to Santa Fe, New Mexico to attend the Hillerman Writers Conference. Hwy 80 took us through Walcott, Iowa where we spotted WLT’s neon sign. Hungry and tired, we pulled in and parked our tiny Miata sports car well away from the fleet of tractor trailers.

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WLT Services

WLT covers 75 acres of land and provides parking for 900 trucks. An estimated 5000 visitors trek through the 67,000 sq ft complex every single day.  The building sports 9 restaurants, a 60-seat movie theatre, a TV lounge with leather recliners, 24 private showers,  a barber shop – even a dentist and a chiropractor!

If you want to bling out your truck, you will never find a better selection of lights and fancy exhaust pipes. Even art! In the 2-storey, 30,000 sq ft showroom, we admired the mural on the show truck as it spun round on a rotating platform. Its cab featured comfortable sleeping quarters, a DVD player, a microwave oven and a state-of-the-art navigation system: a trucker’s life looks pretty damn awesome!

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Tractor Mural

 

Truck Bling
Truck Bling
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Chrome Exhaust Pipes

 

 

 

 

 

Off we went to the cavernous 350-seat café which lay in perpetual twilight except for the bright spotlights on the extensive buffet and salad bar. Several solitary, weighty, middle-aged men were seated along one of the U-shaped diner counters. Feeling out of place – and wimpy – we slipped into two seats well away from them, perused a menu the size of a road sign and ordered.

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Salad bar? Not really
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Much more representative

 

 

 

 

 

 

As we waited for our burgers, it became apparent that the men at the counter were having a long-range conversation with one another.

“I don’t see nothing wrong with hitting my boy,” said the older, grey-haired guy on our left. “My daddy whupped my ass. Did me a world of good. No govermint’s gonna tell me how to raise my kids.”

“Damn right!” echoed down the line.  

The waitress set a plate with a 5-inch pile of sliced raw onions down in front of the heavy-set man sitting on the opposite side of the counter directly in front of us.  He wiped his black goatee with a paper napkin and dug into the crunchy offering.

“I wouldn’t want to ride in his truck tonight,” said Ed, not so sotto voce. I elbowed him, but  Goatee wasn’t listening. The waitress had placed 5-inch plate of fried bacon down next to the onions.

“I gotta problem,” declared Old Trucker as Goatee tucked into his meal. “My neighbour and her cats.  Damn cats keep coming into my garden to do their business, you follow? Only one way to handle things as far as I can see. My 9 mm pistol.”

“You don’t want to waste 9 mm fire power on a cat,” Goatee said between bites. “The cat’ll just explode. A 22’ll do the job and the ammo’s way cheaper.”  

“Well, I got a 1000 rounds of 9mm just sitting round the house. Wouldn’t want it to go to waste.”

Ample evidence that our counter companions weren’t Democrats. I’d guessed right, go figure. Two timid Canadians down their burgers, paid fast and with cash then took refuge in the truck showroom. 

Refuge? Hardly. One of the weirdest Surreal Trapdoors in my life was about to open.  Tune in next Monday, Readers, for my tale of the beer-swilling Pomeranian.

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Surreal Entertainment

 

 

The Surreal Trapdoor: Drunken Painting!

My kid often leads me astray. She feels an overwhelming urge to educate me, an urge born out of anxious impatience with parental inertia with a soupcon of glee at my possible ineptitude. Despite feeling like a century-old sturgeon out of water at the things she’s shamed me into, sadly the experiences have enriched my life. Hell, I’ve survived dirt bike riding, horrific black diamond ski runs and now, drunken painting!  

Scary blank canvas
Scary blank canvas

Drunken Painting is more politely known as Paint Nite. In 2012, two guys got the idea while partying at a friend’s art studio. Why not drink and paint at the same time? Let alcohol unleash your creativity. Thus the “paint and sip” industry was born.  I mean, after one, two or ten beers: “Hey, man, you’re a nartist!!”

“Paint and sip” is win-win for everyone. Local bars and restos sell more alcohol and ladies get a novel girls’ night out. (Yes, 99.99% of the happy painters are women.) Not only do you get a scary bar bill at the end of the evening, you get to take home a scary painting, too! 

Fearing my child’s wrath if I opted for no-show, I dutifully arrived at Proof the Vodka Bar .  Everyone on my mother’s side of the family is an artist, but those genes merrily skipped over me. I landed a mighty C- in art in elementary school and wisely chose science as a career.  I dove into the “sip” part of the evening straight away. 

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Hope to Paint this (Not the exact one but close enough)

 

A tiny young woman was busy setting up 20 easels and blank canvases, covering the long table with green plastic sheets and depositing dabs of blue, yellow and white acrylic paint on paper plates.  She seemed overwhelmed. We students donned aprons to protect our clothes from permanent souvenirs of the evening and took our seats, while listening to her dire warnings about rinsing off our brushes in our drinks instead of the cups of water provided.

“Can you see the painting?” the lady next to me asked.

“Um, no.” In fact none of us could. The set-up was proving less than ideal.

“First, paint the mountain,” the teacher announced.

“There’s a mountain?” several of us echoed.

“Yes, like this.” She painted two white breast shapes on the white background to demonstrate. “The mountain is masked by the trees but you must paint it. And make shadows. Lots of shadows to make a nice mountain. And the lake, too, in front.”

Invisible mountain
Invisible mountain

“There’s a lake?” I downed more beer.

“Now paint the northern lights. Mix colours. You must make green.”

Ah , yes, one thing I did remember from my C- art class was that yellow and blue make green. We all mixed and splashed away without benefit of further instruction.  The northern lights soon proved to be everyone’s undoing. We looked at each other’s work and agreed that our efforts were irreparably cheesy. I ordered a second beer.

“Now make trees!” The teacher circulated with the black paint she’d forgotten to dole out.

That we could do. Trees were easy: lots of unfettered brush strokes. And more trees covered up more cheese. We asked for more black paint. The teacher got frustrated: she was running out.

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My Masterpiece

“Now make stars!”

I kind of overdid the stars but making white dots was so much easier, I got carried away. Leaning back to survey my masterpiece, the teacher announced: “Now you must make shadows on the snow. Trees throw shadows in moonlight.”

Bad idea. Or rather no idea how to make shadows. I made a half-assed effort, then erased everything with white paint leaving smudges of grey snow.

By now my husband was waiting for me at the bar. I staggered over to show him with my masterpiece. “What do you think?”

“It’s good, um, good,” he replied, sounding like Banksy when confronted by his friend, Terry’s disastrously hopeless film in Exit Through the Gift Store.

My friend, Roz, was much kinder when she saw it. “I like it!” she said. “It shows a lot of emotion.”

Hmm, that must be the happy black trees, but more likely the two beers. My masterpiece now proudly decorates our upper hallway and  even better, our kid no longer insists that I take  painting lessons.

 

The 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

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 he 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.

I leave you with this clip from Monty Python about their erstwhile  mountaineering expedition.

 

 

Surreal Trapdoor: Vegas Baby!

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Harrah’s hideous statue

Las Vegas: where the surreal becomes real. Where else can you eat a Nathan’s New York hot dog inside a pyramid while listening to a Mariachi band? All while deciding whether to brave the infamous Bodies exhibit or to see an actual piece of the  Titanic wreck.

What makes the surreal become real? Money, Baby! Lots and lots of money. Billion dollar hotel complexes. More high-end stores in Caesar’s Palace than on Rodeo Drive. More Venetian glass in the lobby of Bellagio than in Venice itself. And to quote Bally’s, “thousands of rhinestones  covering very little flesh”. The constant T and A does start to get to me though there are Ozzie beefcake shows for the ladies and gays. 

The myth and promise of Vegas is captured perfectly by the crass statue at Harrah’s: all that lovely $$$ will eagerly flow your way. Erm, not exactly. The odds against are astronomical and so are the prices of everything. Even Starbucks. But you will have great fun losing your money.

BTW the Harrah’s statue  gets my vote for “coyote ugly”.  For non-noir fans that means waking up the morning after with a sex partner so appalling that you chew your arm off in haste to escape your own appalling lack of judgment.

Hey, I’m just miffed because the quarter slots devoured my $6.

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Management consultant gathering

Today, like Dan Simmons’ president character in Hyperion, I wandered the worlds, passing through Harrah’s to catch the monorail and tram to the farthest point, Mandalay Bay casino.  Feeling a pang of nostalgia for management consulting, I visited its aquarium, Shark Reef. 

Set in a Disney-like temple ruin, it sports beautifully kept fish tanks and a plexiglass shark tunnel though the sharks themselves are rather small.  The guide tells us that of the 400 species of sharks only four, such as the Great White of Jaws infamy, are dangerous to humans who nevertheless are busy exterminating hundreds of millions a year of these creatures for shark fin soup.

What I really wanted to see though was the komodo dragon. Long ago, I  sketched out an adventure novel where my heroes fought off one of these giant lizards. They’re hungry buggers, aggressive, with a nasty bite that includes venom and malicious bacteria to cause your wounds to fester even if you manage to survive a biting attack.

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Lonely komodo dragon

The KD of Shark Reef does not disappoint. It resembles a good-sized crocodile though with a lizard’s head. The yellow and brown colouring matches its dried mud habitat. To my surprise, I learn that it, too, is an endangered species.

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Inside Luxor

To Luxor for my lunch of Nathan’s hotdog under the gaze of Ramses. And if you think I was kidding about the Mariachi band, the neon T & T on the right stands for “tacos and tequila”.

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Inspired by Nathan’s, I take the tram back to New York, which boasts an impressive skyline and sizeable Statue of Liberty.  Rain begins to fall.  It comes down in a clammy mist rather than a downpour. It’s the first time I’ve seen rain in Vegas.

Taking shelter inside New York casino, I’m confronted by yet another replica of the Statue of Liberty: this time in jelly beans! Running late, I return to our hotel, having clocked 20,000 Fitbit steps, nearly twice the steps I count on running days. 

More weird stuff, next blog.

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Jelly bean freedom

 

Evil Santa – Meet him in Windigo Fire!

cropped-Seraphim-Windigo-Fire.jpgcover4Ever visited a Santa’s village as a kid? What if the Santa was up to no good? What if his fish camp was a front for a grow-op and other dark things?

 

 

Meet my favorite villain in Windigo Fire, now available in e-book on Amazon!

And for a Christmas treat, do check out the new stories by the Mesdames of Mayhem in 13 O’clock, which also features my suspense novella, Glow Grass.

Short Story Publications

13 Claws by The Mesdames of Mayhem (Carrick Publishing)

The Mesdames’ third anthology contains 17 twisted tales (ha!ha!) of crime starring our animal friends. Angels or demons?  Includes stories by 12 established crime writers as well as three newcomers to the genre.

I indulged my love of noir to create my thriller novelette, “Snake Oil“. Strangely, many readers get freaked by the snakes in this story, even tough noir male authors who don’t bat an eye writing about splatter murders and disembowelments. Go figure.  “Snake Oil” is based on an actual experience a friend of a friend (yes, really) when she was a young real estate agent. Unbeknownst to her, the house she was viewing was inhabited by serious reptile fanciers. Definitely an odd subculture, aspects of which appear in the story.

Bella Bates is in desperate financial straights. Making it as a real estate agent is her only way back to her preferred lifestyle.  Her son-in-law warned her about weirdos hidden behind closed doors, but so what? She’s tough, she’s got what it takes. Or does she?

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Finalist-40013 O’clock by The Mesdames of Mayhem (Carrick Publishing)

Warped tales of time and crime! Fourteen authors contributed to 13 O’clock, the second anthology by the Mesdames of Mayhem (Carrick Publishing).

The book contains my dark suspense novelette, “Glow Grass”, inspired by an unofficial memorial garden we stumbled upon while hiking in the woods. “Glow Grass” was a finalist for the 2016 Arthur Ellis Award for Best Novella!

A young woman returns to her derelict family cottage abandoned since her father died in a mysterious accident. Is the secret cemetery in the woods meant for her?

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World Enough and Crime (Carrick Publishing)

A collection of stories by some of Canada’s leading crime fiction authors, including the runner-up for the 2015 Arthur Ellis Award.

My cross-over tale, “The Ultimate Mystery“, was a finalist for the prestigious 2015 Derringer Award.

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Maria questions why her world forces her and her mother into slavery. At the same time Lucy, who lives alone with her mother on an isolated prairie farm, also begins to question the rigid rules governing her life. 

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Thirteen by The Mesdames of Mayhem (Carrick Publishing)

Dastardly tales by thirteen of Canada’s leading crime fiction authors. Two stories were nominated for the 2014 Arthur Ellis Award for Best Short Story and one for the 2014 Derringer prize.

My comedy thriller story, “Amdur’s Cat”  introduces the hero from my learner novel. I liked Benjamin Amdur too much to leave him in the filing cabinet.

 Dr. Amdur, a hard-working civil servant, sees a real lion on his way home from a boozy Christmas party.  Or does he? Life isn’t easy.  His new boss-from-hell resembles a former Toronto mayor…

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“The Lizard” appeared in Crimespree Magazine, Issue 52 and was reprinted in Kings River Life Magazine, August 2014.

Bony Blithe for LindaIt also won the Bony Pete Award in 2012 for Best Short Story.

A desperate mother tries to save her drug-addicted daughter using the death of Mr. Kim, their beloved family cat, as leverage, but she’s way out of her depth in the criminal underworld.  

Riding the NaNoWriMo Tiger!

nanoNovember comes across an “also-ran” month: somber Remembrance Day on Nov 11th, serious charity drives (take a bow Movember) and almost unfailingly dismal weather. A bridge of sighs between the glories of fall foliage and the sparkly explosion of Christmas.

So don’t just sit there: bloody do something!

For the last two years, my friend and fellow author, TO Poet, has encouraged me to join him and his friends who are burning up their keyboards during this 50,000 word marathon. TO Poet has ridden the NaNoWriMo tiger no less than six years running.

So I jumped in feet first with little – let’s be honest – no preparation!

What is National Novel Writing Month?

NaNoWriMo was created in San Francisco, July, 1999 by Chris Baty and 21 of his writer friends who challenged themselves by trying to write a novel in a month. The next year  140 signed up. Through the power of the internet, by 2008 more than 200,000 novelists, experienced or emerging, young or adult, had joined in.  In 2015, participants span the globe in places as far away as central Russia and Micronesia.

Oh, well, I was always late into a trend.

How did y’all keep going?

nanooneTO Poet set up a Facebook page for the NaNoWriMo Misfits, our team name.  He kept us inspired with daily pics, such as this one on the left.  We logged on every day to report our progress: peer pressure is a compelling motivator.

And coffee. Lots and lots of coffee.  At a write-in at TO Poet’s home, I discovered that his coffee mugs rival goldfish bowls.

Why embark on this marathon?

Why not? As many first-published authors discover, promotion is up to you. I’d spent the past 12 months promoting Windigo Fire,  through conferences, meet-ups, bookstores and libraries. On my own or with our group, The Mesdames of Mayhem, I literally did hundreds of events. I needed to do get back to doing what authors do: write!

cover4Not that my keyboard was idle. I’d completed my suspense novelette, “Glow Grass”, for the Mesdames of Mayhem’s second anthology, 13 O’clock.  But now I needed to work on the second novel in the Danny Bluestone series, Windigo Ice.

I ran across some early chapters of Danny’s second adventure that I’d written before Windigo Fire was accepted by Seraphim Editions.  So much had changed after Windigo Fire was finalized, that they weren’t useable. But they inspired me to get moving!

What plan / approach to use?

As a former scientist and MBA’er, I take a quantitative view of life.  I knew that an overwhelmingly large project can be managed once it’s broken down into incremental steps. That translates to approximately 1700 words over 30 days to reach the required 50,000 word count. I did a couple of test runs on a new suspense story I’m writing and found that 1700 words per day was doable. November 1st dawned and I was off and writing!

How did NaNoWriMo go? Did you make the word count?

PrintI did indeed make the word count: 50,048 to be exact. I kept a tally of my daily word count on a trusty Excel spreadsheet.  Here are the stats: I averaged 1700 words per day fairly consistently, with a range between 1600 to 2200 words. My max output happened on the last two days as I neared 50,000 words where I wrote 2200 and finally 3300 words  to get done!

What worked with NaNoWriMo?

For me, NaNoWriMo was a lifesaver. I refocused on writing, which is what authors do, right?  To my surprise, I found time in my daily life to do it since writing became a real priority.

Mega thanks go to TO Poet and team mates, Lizzie, Heather, October, Betty, Cathy and the Misfits for unfailing support and inspiration.

Meeting the word count meant turning off the editor in my head. I tend to be a deliberate, measured writer in terms of word-smithing, so NaNo was immensely freeing. I got to know my characters again, resolved tricky plot problems, churned out fun action sequences and created an encounter between Danny and Santa, the escaped villain from Windigo Fire, that was a joy to write.  I have several ideas for the core theme(s) and a goodly chunk of words to draw on – or to store for Book 3 or 4.

What challenges remain?

A thriller usually runs between 80,000 to 100,000 words, so that means I’m halfway there. Now is the time for hard thought, ie. to put my “plotter” hat back on while surrendering my “pantser” plumage with a sigh. And the wording will be refined and re-refined: I rewrite and revise a lot.  For example, I rewrote my novelette, “Glow Grass” twenty times.

Would I do it again?

Most definitely! In an ideal world, I’d have my plot meticulously laid out so I could go straight to work and have a near-ready product at the end of November. But I’m pumped about Windigo Ice, can’t wait to wrestle with its plot and finish writing Danny’s winter adventures.  Thanks to NaNo, I’ve rediscovered the joy of writing and I’m planning to be back next year.