I was early for my morning walk with friend, TO Poet, so I checked my email and could not believe my eyes. TWO nominations for the Crime Writers of Canada Awards PLUS nominations for many dear author friends. Wow!
My black comedy story, “Must Love Dogs – or You’re Gone”, was my first British publication. It was published in Gone, An Anthology of Crime Stories, edited by Stephen J. Golds for Red Dog Press. My inspiration was an anecdote my dog-owner friend told me about a dog who ate anything, including an electronic car key. And I worked in that most Canadian of settings, Niagara Falls and set the stage in winter. Much fun writing – and rewriting – this one.
Erik De Souza will be interviewing all the finalists for the CWC podcast, including me! Erik believes it’s unusual for an author to be nominated in two categories, so I am doubly honored that my novella, Amdur’s Ghost, is also a finalist. It is part of the Mesdames of Mayhem’s fifth anthology, In the Spirit of 13where “spirit” can mean ghost, demon or even alcohol!
Amdur’s Ghost is my second story about beleaguered civil servant, Dr. Benjamin Amdur. To fight the right-wing politicians bent on destroying Ontario’s public health care system, Amdur taken on the job of Medical Officer of Health at the province’s most obscure public health department. The new Minister of Health pressures him into finding her missing ex-husband, Nigel Brown, who coincidentally was Amdur’s predecessor. Brown has vanished without a clue to his whereabouts, but then Amdur gets a note from the local spiritualist medium…
The winners of the CWC Awards will be announced on May 25th at 12 noon. Fingers crossed!
Really looking forward to the Zoom launch of In the Spirit of 13, the Mesdames and Messieurs of Mayhem’s 5th anthology in celebration of our 10th anniversary. Entry is free but guests must pre-register with the publisher firstname.lastname@example.org
Sometimes wonderful events cluster. The Mesdames of Mayhem had a full page article in the Toronto Star by Briony James. A huge thank you to my friend, Sylvia Warsh, who landed us this terrific publicity. Here’s the link:
On Sunday, October 30th we launched In the Spirit of 13, our fifth anthology in celebration of our 10th anniversary at our favorite bookstore, Sleuth of Baker Street. It was a smash success! Despite worries about resurging COVID, Sleuth was packed with our fans, friends and family.
And then I woke up this morning to the amazing news that my story, Last Island, is the cover story on Mystery Magazine this month! Wow!
I’m really excited about our upcoming launch at Sleuth of Baker Street Bookstore, this Sunday, October 30th at 2 pm. It’s the Mesdames and Messieurs of Mayhem’s first public appearance since the beginning of COVID!
And here’s our blurb: Ghosts and demons and booze, oh my!
To celebrate our 10th anniversary, we Mesdames and Messieurs of Mayhem have let our imaginations run wild to bring you our fifth anthology, In the Spirit of 13. Does “spirit’ mean ghost or demon – or debunking of same? Or simply the evil in twisted human hearts? Or could it be alcohol? You must read these 23 tales to find out!
The Mesdames and Messieurs of Mayhem are established award-winning authors as well as talented new writers. We aimed to keep our stories light-hearted to counter the world’s troubled times, but some of them have strayed into the dark. We are crime writers after all!
Laugh, shed a tear and prepare to be deliciously frightened.
Lots happening this beautiful summer to share with you. First of all, I’m delighted to reveal the striking cover of Red Dog Publishing’s GONE anthology. I’m honored to have my story, “Must Love Dogs – or You’re Gone”, in this collection. GONE will be available for pre-order August 1st.
And I had a wonderful opportunity to be part of the Dead to Writes podcast where fab designer, Sara Carrick, reveals her secrets behind the cover for In the Spirit of 13, the Mesdames of Mayhem’s 10th anniversary anthology. In discussion with publisher, Donna Carrick and the story wrangler (me).
It is my great pleasure to welcome my mentor and fellow crime writer, Lynne Murphy to Cyber Cafe. For the past 20 years, Lynne has been the leader of our writing critique group. We’ve gone through many ups and downs of the writer’s life together, but more importantly, champagne parties to celebrate our many triumphs.
Lynne can’t help being funny. She is the creator of the gang of feisty residents in the Golden Elders Condo. The ladies are the heroes of stories in several Sisters in Crime and Mesdames of Mayhem anthologies. Lately, she’s penned darker tales like “The Lady Killer” in the upcomingCWC Anthology, Cold Canadian Crime and “The Trespassers” in the Mesdames new book, In the Spirit of Thirteen.
Lynne has now published her collected works in Potluck together with her new novella, A Damaged Heart. And yes, that’s Lynne on the cover offering special brownies…
Potluck launches on Zoom this Saturday, April 23rd, at 2 pm, hosted by Lynne’s publisher, Carrick Publishing. All readers most welcome. Here’s the link: Launch Meeting – Zoom
MHC: Were you always a writer? Did you know from childhood?
I learned to read when I was four. I read everything I could get my hands on from then on. When you like reading so much, you want to write. There was a weekly paper in Saskatchewan called The Western Producer and it had a young people’ page called The Young Co-operators. Our motto was “We Co-operate.” The Saskatchewan spirit! They accepted contributions and it was a thrill when I was ten to see my fiction in print.
MHC: What draws you to writing crime fiction?
I like puzzles: jigsaws, crosswords, mysteries. I especially like stories with a twist, stories that surprise you. I hope there are some surprises in the stories in Potluck.
MHC: Potluck contains your collected short stories. I especially enjoyed reading about the adventures of the residents of the Golden Elders Condo. How did you come up with scenarios like growing marihuana in the flower beds?
We had a garden committee at the condo where I lived.One of my friends there had an arthritic shoulder and nothing seemed to help her. This was before marihuana was legal in Canada so I started thinking “What if?” The best stories seem to start with that, don’t they? Most of the stories about the Golden Elders are rooted in real events from my former condo.
MHC: Tell us about your new novella, A Damaged Heart. What inspired you to write darker this time?
It was the character I created, Kirsty. I started out writing about a man who had been a traitor during WWII and how that affected his daughter. But then Kirsty took over and the treason disappeared. She had a miserable childhood and there wasn’t much to be funny about. Although, she has her own dark sense of humor that pops up now and then.
The story I have coming out in Cold Canadian Crime, the new CWC anthology, is also very dark. Grim, in fact.
MHC: What do you especially enjoy about being part of an anthology, likethe Mesdames of Mayhem or Sisters in Crime?
I like how we all support each other. We show up for launches and buy each other’s books and write reviews if we enjoy them. It’s great to be part of a community.
MHC: Why do you believe that your stories tend to be humorous?
The humor sneaks in even when I’m trying to be serious. I mentioned the Western Producer: when I was about eight, I won a poetry contest they had for kids. My poem was called “Peaceful Thoughts Disturbed”, and it described the beauty of the landscape and ended with the line, “Yeow, there’s a bug down the back of my neck”. I was trying to be funny even then.
MHC: What will you be writing next? Will you explore other genres in addition to crime fiction?
I have a short story I’m working on right now about a woman in the Golden Elders who forgets to lock her door and comes home to find a man in her bed. That happens quite often in seniors’ residences, where people can’t find their own apartments. But this man is dead! I have a story in Potluck called “TheTrespassers”, which is more horror than mystery, but the horror is real.
DO JOIN US FOR LYNNE’S ZOOM BOOK LAUNCH, THIS SATURDAY, APRIL 23RD, 2 PM!
Novellas are relatively rare in crime fiction where formats are far more rigid than in literary and speculative fiction. Short story lengths greater than 5000 words are tolerated…barely. And novels must be no less than 65,000 and no more than 95,000 words.
No doubt the formats are dictated by business rather than artistic imperatives. The story or book length a publisher believes will hold readers’ attention spans.
So what is a novella exactly? A long story or a short novel? As an author whose work naturally tends to fall in this category, I believe a novella is a story with a linear plot but with more texture, atmosphere and complexity of character than can be captured in 5000 words or less.
The Orca Rapid Reads Series breathed life into the crime fiction novella. Mostly because of this series, the CWC Awards of Excellence have had enough entries to create and sustain a novella category. (CWC defines a novella as a story between 8000 and 20,000 words.)
The Rapid Reads series is aimed at adults who are ESL students, who have difficulty reading or those who simply want a fast satisfying read. Although the language is uncomplicated, the books are not simplistic. They are hard-hitting, with adult themes and they often focus on social issues.
It’s a challenge for an author to streamline their writing style without losing its essence. That’s why Orca contracted with leading Canadian crime fiction authors for the 68 books in the series, including my friend, Sam Wiebe.
Sam’s novella, Never Going Back (Orca, 2020) is one of the latest books in the Rapid Reads series. Its protagonist, Alison Kidd, is a tough young woman, a master thief who’s just gotten out of jail. She hated prison and she’s determined to go straight, but the local crime boss blackmails her into pulling off a risky job. If she refuses, her brother will be killed. Can she outsmart her old boss and save her brother and herself?
Sam’s hard-hitting, critically acclaimed Dave Wakeland series and his debut novel, The Last of the Independents, are both written very much from a man’s point of view. I was intrigued that Sam chose a woman hero for Never Going Back. Could he pull it off?
I’m delighted to say that, yes, Sam did! Alison Kidd is a terrific and likeable character. (More books and stories with strong women, Sam!) The plot has the twists and turns of a switchback highway and the suspense that goes along with it. An excellent thriller!
Strange times, readers. But happily, at long last we can attack our TBR piles. Definitely time to indulge in feel-good literature even when one is drawn to the dark side – and noir.
The answer? Black humour and you will find plenty in the terrific anthology, Knucklehead Noir (Coffin Hop Press) edited by Robert Bose and Sarah L. Johnson. The byline says it all: When there’s no room left in jail, the idiots will walk the streets. Believe me, when you’ve finished these 15 stories (most new, some reprinted) by leading Canadian and American noir authors, you will feel much better about your own life, family, friends, job and COVID-19.
Leading off these tales celebrating idiots is one of my personal favorites, “Two Kangaroos Chained to a Piss Pot” by Jason Pearce. Angus arrives home with the Christmas gifts he made in jail, like the shiv his little brother can use as a toothbrush. Handy! But when he robs his local grocery store of beer and smokes, things go awry in the most Canadian way. “Honeymoon Sweet” by US screenwriter, Craig Faustus Buck, is the Macavity award-winning tale of marry in haste, repent at leisure. The same warning continues in “Work at Home Opportunity! Perfect for Single Moms” by Laurie Zottmann. Single mom, Chucky Jensen, struggles to sell stolen yoga pants at her kid’s school fair while fending off bitchy competitors and hiding the freshly dug hole in her garden from her nosy neighbour cop.
Golden Derringer winner, Michael Bracken, pens a cautionary tale about wannabee robbers of adult stores in “Sex Toys”, but Pamela Kenney gives us hope in “All in a Day’s Work”. You may change your fate if your kidnappers are dumber than you. The criminals in Chris R. Young’s story, ” Thick as Thieves”, are certainly thick. They mess up a job -no kidding!- and get caught in a hilarious twist of fate.
More inept wannabees appear in Tom Barlow’s, “Hic”. Andy tries to outdo his jailed brother, while sleeping with his brother’s devious ex, but his nerves set off a fit of hiccups and disaster. Jaclyn Adomeit’s story, “Scratch and Sniff”, skillfully blends suspense and humour in hero Nathan’s quest to smuggle drugs into an oil drillers camp. And the sad irony continues in Brent Nichols’ “Go Fish”, where a poacher steals a drowning victim’s cell phone only to find out that the vic has powerful friends bent on a watery revenge.
Another personal favorite is “Johnny Money”, by Steve Passey, where hardened gangster, Johnny, looks out for his vulnerable younger brother, Ricky. American noir author, Steve Brewer, shows his humorous side in “Cemetery Plot” where a trio of idiots try to kill each other off in a graveyard. Convenient because who looks for a murder victim in a cemetery?
Events turn downright bizarre in the cross-genre story “Soft Opening” by Will Viharo. Porn merchants learn that it’s never a good idea to cross an alien. In “Beer Run” by Scott S. Phillips, Radio Ketchum fights to retrieve a beer shipment stolen from his terrifying mother’s bar. And in Axel Howerton’s “The Aluminum Eagle”, we travel back in time in a thoroughly enjoyable homage to Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack. And rounding up the collection is the flash story, “Liner Notes” by editors Sarah and Rob where a hapless photog learns the hard way that his pics may be a goldmine, but not in the way he dreamed.
And 13 Claws struck gold at the Arthur Ellis Awards with a win by friend and fellow Madame of Mayhem, Catherine Astolfo for her story, “The Outlier”.
This is a tale so noir, Jack Batten, the Toronto Star critic said: Catherine Astolfo’s story involving a pig, for example, offers an intriguing way of giving Paul Bernardo himself a case of the chills.
Not to forget that we received THREE further nominations for “There be Dragons” by Jane Burfield and “The Ranchero’s Daughter” by Sylvia Warsh and my own novella, “Snake Oil”, about which Jack said: M. H. Callway’s tale mixes snakes and the real estate business in a way that will make readers run a mile from both.