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. 

Tommy_Wiseau
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

 

Cover announced soon!

Moonlight and Misadventure (Superior Shores Press), Judy P. Sheluk, ed., June 2021

Delighted to have my story, “The Moon God of Broadmoor”, included in this collection of 22 stories. My story. “The Moon God of Broadmoor”,  is based on a news story I read many years ago about an unusual man in NYC. He dressed and acted like a superhero long before The Avengers series of movies, fan expos and coz play became popular.

Liz, a junior health inspector, is thrown no-win job by her scheming boss.  Someone has turned the courtyard of the Broadmoor Apartments into  an outdoor toilet.  There she encounters Stanley aka Thoth, the self-proclaimed moon god of  Broadmoor.

 

A Grave Diagnosis: 35 Stories of Murder and Malaise (Carrick Publishing), Fall 2020.

Murder with a medical theme, featuring 35 scary tales by crime fiction authors from around the world.  My story, “The Eternal Bakery of the Fractal Mind” is my second speculative fiction crossover tale.

Francis, a grieving widower, returns to Vancouver for his 50th university reunion.  Lonely and guilt-ridden, he finds his favorite bakery unchanged from his undergraduate days. The mysterious new owner, a retired physicist,  ushers him into another world.   

In the Key of 13 by The Mesdames of Mayhem (Carrick Publishing)

The Mesdames of Mayhem’s fourth anthology, published October, 2019, has the theme of music, mayhem and murder. The book contains 18 stories and one satirical poem by established Canadian crime writers and one talented newcomer.

My story, “Brainworm”, explores the dark side of families. The tune,  “Le Pont d’Avignon”, is the earworm slowly driving the protagonist mad.

Fiona has been forced to look after her elderly stepmother, a retired French teacher who  despised her.  A fight looms between her and her half-brother over the Singer – is it the worthless sewing machine in her late father’s study or something more valuable? 

 

In 2018, I had two stories published. The first, “The Cry”, appeared in the April issue of Mystery Weekly Magazine, a new Canadian publication.

I based this story on a story my running buddy told me. Her father was hiking through Sunnybrook Park in North Toronto when he heard a cry of terror. He tried to find the person in trouble, but he never did. The experience haunted him.

“The Cry” takes place in the large memorial park in Hiroshima, which we visited in 2012. 

An elderly assassin, on the cusp of dementia, hears a scream of terror. At the risk of his own life, he tries to save the victim to atone for his life’s business.

 

The second story, “The Seeker”, is part of The Dame was Trouble, an exciting anthology of noir fiction published by up and coming Coffinhop Press. The book features noir tales with female protagonists – all by leading Canadian women crime writers.

“The Seeker” is one of my personal favorites. The hero, Terry Snow, is a tough, 62 year old professional woman driver.

 

On a lonely highway in New Mexico, a young man runs out in front of Terry’s car. He’s on the run and wounded. They hole up in a lonely gas station on the outskirts of Espanola with Moe, the Afghan manager. Only Terry’s gun and Moe’s shotgun stand between them and certain death at the hands of four murderous gangsters.

 

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.

“Snake Oil”, too, a finalist for the Arthur Ellis Best Novella award.

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, 2013, 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.  

 

More publications:

  1. Incompetence Kills. Published in EFDI: Starship Goodwords, Carrick Publishing, 2012.
  2. The Dog on Balmy Beach. Published in Going Out With a Bang, anthology by the Ladies Killing Circle, Dundern Press, 2008.
  3. The Widows and Orphans Fund. Published in Futures Mystery Anthology Magazine, March, 2007.
  4. Christmas in Alice. Published in Blood on the Holly, Caro Soles editor, Baskerville Books, 2007.
  5. Kill the Boss, Winner of the CWC Golden Horseshoe Award, 2005. Published in Silver Moon Magazine, January 2006. Reprinted in Mouth Full of Bullets, September 2007.

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Bio

Mad ProfileWelcome Readers!

When I was five, my mother and I drove up to Jasper on what was then a dirt road. Wild bears were plentiful and wandered about freely.

We pulled up to a spot where tourists were hand-feeding the bears candy bars. (Even as a kid, I knew this was a Bad Idea!) When Mum didn’t deliver the sugar, a bear thumped on our driver’s window with huge muddy paws. I wrote up our adventure in school and got an A+. A writer was born!

At university, I studied science, not English. Tired of academia,  I grabbed my doctorate and leaped back into the real world, first working for a gold mining company and later for the government doing disease investigations. Eventually I studied business and ran my own IT consulting service,  while my husband, Ed and I raised our family of one child and many, many pets.

My work was fascinating: I helped investigate a murder, toured the 3000 foot deep Falconbridge nickel mine and even met the Queen of England (though not all at the same time!) Perhaps that’s why I didn’t start writing seriously until 2002.

I started out writing short crime fiction. My story, “Kill the Boss”, won first prize in the Golden Horseshoe contest held by Crime Writers of Canada. That gave me a great boost and I went on to publish several more stories in e-zines, print and anthologies. I was thrilled when my story, “The Lizard”, won the 2012 Bony Pete prize and when my experimental work, “The Ultimate Mystery”, was a finalist for the 2015 Derringer prize.

But my dream was to pen a novel. I wrote a “learner novel” which now rests in my filing cabinet. Encouragement from a leading literary agent and my writing critique group led me to write a second one.  That manuscript was short-listed for the Debut Dagger in 2009 and later for the 2012 Unhanged Arthur Ellis award.

My odyssey to publication is a story in itself: I give regular talks about it to inspire other emerging writers. Seraphim Editions published my debut novel,  Windigo Fire, in September 2014.  It received glowing reviews from the Globe and Mail and was one of Huffington Post Canada’s choices as a Book for Book Clubs.  To be short-listed for the 2015 Arthur Ellis Award for Best First Novel was my dream come true!

I would not have hung in there without the friendship and support of my two literary critique groups.  In 2013, we linked up to form The Mesdames of Mayhem, an autonomous collective of 23 emerging and established Canadian crime writers. Carrick Publishing has released four collections of our stories, Thirteen , 13 O’clock 13 Claws  and In the Key of 13.

Three stories in Thirteen were finalists for the Derringer and Arthur Ellis awards for best short story.  And my story, Glow Grass, in 13 O’clock was nominated for the Arthur Ellis Award for Best Novella. 13 Claws hit it out of the park with no less that four nominations, including the 2018 Arthur Ellis winner. I was delighted to have my long story, Snake Oil, nominated for Best Novella. In 2019,  one of our stories in In the Key of 13 was nominated for a Derringer award.

In 2018, I had two short stories published: “The Cry” in Mystery Weekly Magazine and “The Seeker” in the noir anthology, The Dame Was Trouble. And in 2019, my domestic noir, “Brainworm”, appeared in the Mesdames’ latest anthology, In the Key of 13.

Despite Anno Horribilis, otherwise known as 2020, Carrick Publishing brought out A Grave Diagnosis,  a crime fiction anthology with a medical slant. What prescience! My story, “The Eternal Bakery of the Fractal Mind”, is another crossover into speculative fiction.

I have several projects on the go: finishing Windigo Ice, the sequel to Windigo Fire; a supernatural novella and more short fiction. I look forward to reconnecting with fellow authors in the real world at When Words Collide in 2021 and Left Coast Crime in 2022.

Memberships:

Writers Union of Canada

Crime Writers of Canada

International Association of Crime Writers

Sisters in Crime, Toronto Chapter

Short Mystery Fiction Society

The Mesdames of Mayhem