Thank you for making 2016 a fabulous year – with even more to look forward to in the New Year.
After a quick family visit to London, England, we are back home to celebrate Christmas and to perform our sacred rituals – like nom-nom-noming the Festive Special at Swiss Chalet with Ed’s car club!
Santarchy ruled again on Dec 17th. Costumes were especially creative with an emphasis on naughty. No need for a big budget as you will see in the following pics!
This year went off without a hitch. The weather was mild and perfect for marching down Queen Street. Gathering at the Imperial Pub, we stormed Dundas Square then invaded the Eaton Centre to give out candy canes and treats to kids.
Group photo on the steps of Old City Hall, then after a long wait for the Zamboni, an impromptu slide across the skating rink at city hall dodging security guards and skaters on blades.
Get turned away at The Rex – check. Wave to Christmas-spirited cab drivers and cops – check. First stop, The Black Bull – check. The bartenders serve 50+ customers without missing a beat. Amazing!
Some great costumes below.
On to night clubs, Crocodile Rock and The Ball Room, where like the Big Lebowski, you can go bowling. At 1 pm, Ed and I called it a night and walked through the rain to the perennial late night fave, Fran’s on Shuter street. We survived and look forward to Santarchy 2017.
Every year on a Saturday mid-December 100+ Santas storm through Toronto’s Eaton’s Centre and head down Queen Street west. Flagrant rebels in search of BEER! This is a world-wide movement from Hanoi to Helsinki to Tokyo to London and beyond. Read about Santacon here.
Ed and I have been part of this rampaging mob for several Christmases now, thanks to our friend Eric. (Read more about Eric and his Grand Guignol clowning in my most popular blog ever, Charlie the Lonely Sentinel. Charlie’s a stuffed dog BTW.)
We’re polite rebels with several rules of decorum, including being nice to kids and obeying police officers and security guards. After all, we’re Canadian! A Santa suit is a must, but one’s imagination may run wild from racy to saucy Mrs. Claus. We’ve even had a Thor Santa! (Sorry, ladies, no photo). And we are led by Old St. Nick in resplendent bishop’s robe and staff.
Typically, we meet up at the Imperial Pub on Dundas St. East then march through the Eaton Centre, giving out candy canes to kids. Then on to Nathan Philip Square for a rampage through the skaters. Group photo at the war memorial on University Avenue then on to The Rex to be refused admission. (Hey, it’s tradition!) The Black Bull though is usually our first and favorite watering hole.
We wend our way down Queen Street, invading the pubs that will let us in. (To be fair, they’ve been pre-warned.) The Academy of Spherical Arts is a fav as well as the late, great Hideout. This is a way to get in to clubs who would never otherwise let you in because you’re obviously middle class and O-L-D. We’ve even witnessed Fetish Night. (Great material for crime fiction, but who would believe me?)
By 2 am, Ed and I are ready for food (poutine anyone?) and home. Many times the subway has gone sleepy-bye for the night so we’ve relied on the notorious Zoo Bus of our youth. The Yonge St. night bus is a whole quantum level more surreal and never fails to disappoint.
Interested? The info isn’t up on the website yet but word is that if you come to the Imperial Pub at 6 pm, Sat Dec 17th, you may find something to your advantage…
Revenge, guide dogs, cats big and small, beleaguered ladies of a certain age and a cop with a tarnished heart, meet them all here in Glow Grass and Other Tales.
The characters in the seven stories and two novellas fight for justice even when their sense of justice is warped. The tales include “The Lizard” and “Kill the Boss” winners of The Bony Pete and Golden Horseshoe awards, respectively. You will enjoy, “The Ultimate Mystery”, finalist for the 2015 Derringer and “Glow Grass”, runner up for the 2016 Arthur Ellis Best Novella Award.
My personal favorite is the comedy story, “Amdur’s Cat”, an excerpt you will find on this website. I drew on my working experiences with the Ontario Ministry of Health. I’ll leave it to you, readers, to decide which ones are true and which ones I are products of my warped imagination!
October 29, 2015 I published my first blog: All Hail Word Press!
Blogging is great! Free license to explore street art, weird stuff, books, books and more books! And it’s a procrastination tool extraordinaire when I should be working on my next book in the Danny Bluestone series, Windigo Ice.
Most of my blog’s followers by far live in the USA and Canada. The split is almost exactly 50/50. Next up: Brazil (!), West Germany and the UK. I’ve had hits from around the globe, including places as far flung as Angola, Macau and Mongolia. (Really? Crime fiction fans …or not?)
Popularity of my blog categories is pretty evenly split although Surreal Trapdoor, Eat This Book and Cyber Café have the edge. And what were my most popular posts? Check back here: I’ll be republishing them from time to time FYI.
First up, the winner: The stuffed dog – Charlie the Lonely Sentinel!!
SURREAL TRAPDOOR: TAXIDERMY and CHARLIE THE LONELY SENTINEL
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.
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.
“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.
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 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.
Bouchercon 2016 took place in New Orleans, Louisiana. For those who don’t know, it’s the biggest, brassiest crime fiction conference in North America. And what better place to party than in New Orleans with neon-lit bars, music, great food, voodoo shops and haunted mansions!
I’ve onlyattended two Bouchercons so far, both in Toronto. Once I was in charge of a priceless collection of eccentric tea pots used for our highly successful British tea – featuring a full-dress Mountie and a drag queen Queen Elizabeth. (I’ll leave that story for Surreal Trapdoor.) Both events tiny compared to New Orleans with an estimated 800+ authors and 2000+ attendees.
Bouchercon isn’t set up like other crime fiction conferences. Rather it’s a series of events: opening ceremony, publisher receptions, showcase talks by Big Names, etc. Author panels are more chatty than informative. In other words, it’s a fan fest for readers and an opportunity for authors to network, network, network! As a Canadian it was easy to feel lost in an ocean of American authors and fans, so it was great to see and party with fellow Canucks: Rob Brunet, Cathy Ace, Laurie Reed, John McFetridge, Ian Hamilton, Grace Koshida and Linwood Barclay. Most of us arrived on the same flight and five of us shared a stretch limo to get to the Marriott conference hotel. Talk about arriving in style!
Bouchercon was well-organized, the volunteers more than helpful. My registration was misfiled and all was sorted out cheerfully in seconds. One innovation to be recommended: the Book Bazaar. Bagging books for attendees is time-consuming and no one is happy with the random selection they end up with. So New Orleans had a great solution: hand each registrant a bag and send them into the Book Bazaar where they can self-serve 6 books from the vast array piled on tables. Of course, that way I ended up bringing home more books when I swore I wouldn’t add to our shelves!
Highlights of this spectacular conference:
Noir at the Bar – Two reading events for noir authors, one at Bouchercon in the afternoon and the other in the evening at the appropriately named Voodoo Lounge. Strong work by many authors including Craig Faustus Buck, Meg Gardiner, Johnny Shaw and the incomparable Krista Faust that set the bar very high indeed. Rob Brunet read his chilling flash story soon to be published in Ellery Queen Magazine.
We had the privilege of sitting with two amazing people: Ayo Otonabe on holiday from London, England where she works at the British Supreme Court and Peter Rozovsky, founder of Noir at the Bar. Ayo writes regularly for Crimespree and Shotsmag. And Peter is the original founder of Noir at the Bar. He lives in Philadelphia with a dark secret: like David Morell, he’s actually Canadian!
Lunch with the Short Mystery Fiction Society –
I’ve been a member of SMFS for many years and though I know SMFS-er’s in cyberspace, we have yet to meet in person. The SMFS lunch at Napoleon’s restaurant in the French Quarter was the perfect way to connect. My law and order experience continued: our lunch was organized by working police detective and award-winning author, O’Neil de Noux. And I shared a table and fantastic conversation with railway police officer, Jim Doherty and his wife and retired poker-playing judge, Debra H. Goldstein.
Interview with Hank Phillippi Ryan – Sisters in Crime mothership runs a speakers bureau. Every year a few lucky chapters are visited by a leading member. Next year in 2017 our Toronto Chapter will host best-selling author and investigative journalist, Hank Phillippi Ryan.
It was a true privilege to interview this amazing woman on behalf of Toronto Sisters in Crime!
Hank was one of the first women to break the gender barrier in TV broadcasting. She has won 33 EMMYs and dozens of other awards for her investigative journalism. In her spare time, she has written 9 best-selling mystery novels and won 5 Agathas, two Macavitys, two Anthonys among many other awards. A past president of national Sisters in Crime, she’s also a founding teacher at Mystery Writers of American University.
Watch for the full text of our interview in the 2017 SinC newsletter and on this website.
SoHo Crime Reception, Crime Goes Global –Food is a highlight of New Orleans and Bouchercon did not fail to deliver. A generously stocked hospitality suite as well as creole cuisine served in the hotel lobby ensured that no writer went hungry. We stuffed ourselves on jambalaya, shrimp and grits, po’boy sandwiches, beignets…well, you get the idea.
Soho Crime hosted a fun event featuring a “Yankee Swap” lottery. If you had a winning ticket, you could steal a better prize from an earlier winner. Ed had his eye on a collection of New Orleans music while I gazed fondly at the stuffed green alligator, but no dice that evening. We did, however, connect with Soho author, Lisa Brackmann, a friend of a friend of Ed’s. A former motion picture executive, Lisa is the author of a series set in China, featuring Iraq war vet, Ellie McEnroe. Can’t wait to read Rock Paper Tiger!
Mardi Gras Parade –
A major highlight was the Second Line parade leading up to the interview between Lee Child and David Morrell at the Orpheum Theatre. These parades, featuring floats, stilt walkers and brass bands, are traditional for funerals and Mardi Gras. We were all handed colourful paper parasols that proved handy in the light rain. Rain is different in NOLA: it doesn’t cool things off – it steams! Despite the rain, we had great fun marching down Canal Street with blogger and reviewer, Seana Graham.
Dinner at Arnaud’s – Bouchercon is all about reconnecting with author friends. It was wonderful to visit with authors Sarah Chen, Dale and Mysti Berry, Ray Daniel, Hilary Davidson and Jeff Markowitz.
Fellow authors Ellen Kirschmann, Mar Preston and Nancy Cole Silverman invited us to a culinary adventure: dinner at Arnaud’s restaurant where the waiters are better dressed than we could hope to be – even at our daughter’s wedding! The food was wonderful: duck, crab cakes, local fish and of course, signature champagne cocktails.
Ellen is a psychologist who works with the families of police officers. Her non-fiction books have sold over 100,000 copies. She has recently turned to crime fiction with her book, The Right Wrong Thing, winning critical praise from Publishers Weekly. Nancy is the author of the Carol Childs’ mystery series. Mar has penned 5 police procedurals between working to help animals in her California mountain town.
It’s interesting to observe that the French style in New Orleans is fin de siècle / Art Nouveau. The waiters wear black tie and long white aprons that were fading out in Paris 40 years ago. Ed and I felt tres declasse. In fact, we were only allowed to eat there because Ellen generously loaned Ed her jacket!
Just got back from Bouchercon 2016 held in New Orleans, LA. It was my first visit to this haunted city – and I loved it. Tropical heat, “painted-lady” mansions, ornate ironwork, fin de siècle French cafes, crass voodoo shops (gruesome made in China shrunken heads), a streetcar really named Desire, antique neon signs, fab music…the list is endless.
A bar culture shocking to a Canadian. Alcohol is freely available 24/7. Walgreen’s Drugstore sports shelves and shelves of bourbon. People wander freely about the streets drinking – as long as the container is plastic.
But what did I really want to see? GATORS!Swamp tours out of New Orleans end up at a nature conservancy about an hour’s drive out of the city. Tourists are loaded into flat-bottomed boats named, somewhat disturbingly, Gatorbait!
Our guide climbs on board the Gatorbait carrying a bag of marshmallows. This is not, as we first suppose, a cheap snack for us. No, kiddies, this is the true gator bait! As we are soon to learn, gators love marshmallows. And propelled by their powerful tails, they will jump out of the water for a hotdog on a stick. After all, hotdogs look just like tourist fingers!
Our guide tosses a marshmallow onto the brown brackish water. Impossible to know what lurks beneath the surface. It looks so bland and boring. Until two beady primordial eyes glide to the surface and snap! We’re back in the days of the dinosaurs.
Hey, who cares if the sugar rots the gators’ teeth or clogs their arteries? Gators aren’t endangered, the guide tells us. They’re farmed locally, from eggs collected at the nature preserve. Otherwise the gators would eat them, a twisted sort of birth control. In fact, that’s why they love marshmallows. The candy looks just like gator eggs!
In fact, gators will eat just about anything smaller than them, especially baby alligators. (More birth control.) Someone asks the guide if they eat humans. “Oh, no” he says. “My buds and I swim and jet ski all through the bayou. They’re a lot more scared of us than we are of them.”
Other denizens of the swamp share the gators’ sweet tooth: an egret, a blue heron and a baby wild hog who chomps away at the mushy treats with a wary eye on a nearby, avariciously hungry baby gator.
More interesting facts: gators are territorial (no kidding), they cool off by panting like dogs, food rots in their stomachs if the weather gets too cold and they can live to be 100 years old. Reminds me of certain presidential candidates…
For breakfast we sample gator sausage. Hmm. A bit dry with a taste reminiscent of the mystery meat served up in university cafeterias. Better to eat than to be eaten though…
You think I’m kidding, dear Readers? No need to wait for a time machine. Merely hop in your smug-emitting hybrid and head down to Huron County in August.
Fall fairs are big here. It’s still possible to be a big fish, or even a small fry, in your local pond without competing with the millions and millions served on the internet. You can find fame growing the largest vegetable, making cakes with vegetables, crafting fantasy planters, great pies or jams and pickles.
The handmade quilts and tapestries are especially awe-inspiring: all hand sewn. True artistry!!
Pies are a fall fair staple. Not only in a variety of contests but best of all for eating! The variety is huge: apple, rhubarb, strawberry, blueberry, pecan, pumpkin, raisin. If you can dream it, you can enjoy it here.
We manage to drive through Stratford regularly without getting infected by Shakespeare but summer stock comedy greatly appeals so we headed to the Blyth festival. If Truth Be Toldturned out to be a well-acted drama about local heroine and Nobel prize winner, Alice Munro. Sadly we missed the comedy about the turkey baster…
The theatre package included a country supper at the Legion. Awesome! But we hadn’t counted on the current demographic for summer stock theatre. Suffice it to say that we were the youngest by a lot!
Dinner time on the ticket said 6:15 pm. We wandered up and down the main street of Blyth and finally conceding that we were uncharacteristically early, we walked the 50 feet to the Legion. Rule #1, elderly people always arrive early. Rule #2, don’t get between the geriatrics and food or there will be blood. At 6:00 pm there wasn’t a seat to be had except two up against the wall in the corner at the furthest distance from the bar and the washroom.
Food as expected was “meat, potatoes and two veg” and the roast was cooked the way my dad liked it, black all the way through. Portions were huge and the volunteer wait staff friendly. But what’s this? Something that looked like miniature coloured marshmallows in a creamy dressing. No, that couldn’t be. But yes MARSHMALLOW salad! I didn’t think they made rainbow, mini-marshmallows anymore.
It tasted the way you’d expect it to taste. But when in Rome… And I slather chutney, red pepper jelly, etc on my cheese and meats so the sugar sin was probably the same.
Ed was delighted to find Old Vienna on tap, a beer he hadn’t seen since he guzzled it as an engineering undergrad. Huron County: the veritable Jurassic Park of retro brands.
And dessert was pie, of course, but lemon meringue and banana cream disappeared long before the waitress ploughed through the crowd to reach our Arctic exile. We settled for pecan and pumpkin – both damn good! – but skipped the watery, grey coffee. Americanos at the fancy new hipster bar across the street proved a salvation – and our true urban nature.
East York wanderings with TO Poet revealed a fab gallery of street art in East York and motivated me to explore the alleyways of my own hood. My explorations revealed some hidden, lushly vined and mysterious trails, but sad to say, the garage doors and garden walls remain empty canvasses.
But how could I forget the Man Fish of Bayview? Our single example of street art, adorning the side wall of a vintage barbershop. I pass by it nearly every day – so often, it’s become invisible via mundanity. I found it defiled by the ubiquitous graffiti tags that lurk in our hood’s hidden corners / canvases. Proof that we’re regularly explored, but, sorry folks, no art yet.
So I struck further afield. And there, tucked away in a hidden alley parallel to the subway tracks, I struck relative gold. The murals decorating the backs of the buildings may reflect the biz enterprises facing Yonge Street.
Even further afield, spectacular treasure on St. Clair Avenue West, an 8-storey masterpiece allegedly the world’s largest street mural by artist, Phlegm, whose black and white surreal visions of the man machine are world famous.
Starting July 8, 2016, Phlegm painted the mural via hair-raising swing stage over the next four weeks. He was assisted by Stephanie Bellefleure. To see the details of the buildings in the figure, have a look here.
The mural was made possible, in part through StreetARToronto (StART), a city department that tries to beautify Toronto through street art – and thereby make it a tourist destination. It funds one well-known artist per year.
Ah-ha! That’s why we stumble upon well-done murals depicting historical or cultural mythology – and other more vibrant and subversive stuff! (More in my next blog)
Phlegm’s 8-storey Man Machine depicts famous Toronto buildings like the CN Tower, Casa Loma, the Mackenzie house, ya-da, ya-da. Funding etc. also through the STEPS Initiative and Slate Management who wanted to give the Yonge and St. Clair area a much-needed boot up its esthetic, business and cultural arse. Let’s hope it works!
As a kid growing up in Ottawa, a trip to Montreal was a Big Deal. At the time, it was bustling, vibrant, the only Canadian city known to the outside world. Then the separatists happened. Sun Life moved to Toronto, taking business and commerce with it and Montreal became a relative ghost town.
A phrase from Denys Arcand’s film, The Decline of the American Empire, comes to mind: “It is pleasant to live during a decline.” Humanity overshadows the military – you simply can’t pay for all those soldiers and weapons. Simple pleasures – food, wine, relationships – are the order of the day.
Voila Montreal! The best food and social programs in Canada. Great bars andrestos, fab festivals winter and summer. Affordable housing. What’s not to like?The city’s new axiom is distilled in this artist’s street painting below: I want to rest in peace before I die.
And, in keeping with Montreal’s sparkling culture, amazing street art. Feast your eyes, readers. (Click on each image to view in more detail.)