CYBER CAFE: Meet June Lorraine Roberts

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June Lorraine Roberts

I first met June in cyberspace. She’s a great supporter of fellow crime writers, their books, events and websites via her blog, Murder in Common.  We finally met in “meat space” at Toronto’s latest Noir at the Bar event organized by fellow crime writers, Tanis Mallow and Rob Brunet. A true pleasure to chat and to listen to her work!

Fans of crime fiction will enjoy June’s book reviews and recommendations.  Read on!

 

Welcome, June! Do tell us how you started Murder in Common. 

Thank you Madeleine for inviting me to your blog. It’s great getting to know new authors and I’ve been a fan of your work since you read Windigo Fire at Noir at the Bar Toronto.

Crime fiction (CriFi) is the main theme of Murder in Common. Occasionally you will find opinion pieces on writing and the terrors and joys of expressing yourself with the written word.

I had to look-up the date of the inaugural post, it was October 7, 2013, and was titled “The Art of Reading.” It took a while for me to find my online voice for this blog and for now, I’m happy with it.

Generally my posts are published weekly from mid-September to the end of June. The summer hiatus provides reading time and a brain refresh. I can however, be coerced to post by a debut author’s book launch.

Why crime fiction?

Reading crime fiction is something I’ve done from a very young age. Phyllis A. Whitney, Mary Roberts Rinehart and Patricia Highsmith are the authors I remember most. Of course all Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys books were devoured.

Tell us about your followers.

What a pleasure to discover that my blog has reached readers from around the world. No surprise , of course, that CriFi is of interest. Geographically, the furthest readers from Canada are in Australia. The countries of readers that were a surprise: South Korea, Finland, Romania and Russia.

When someone asks for more information about a book, I know that my post has captured enough attention to warrant the question. That’s really how I write most of my posts, to initiate conversation. The dialogue with my readers is really the best part of writing online.

An author once referred to Murder in Common as a curated site. That took me aback and had me thinking about what I was putting out there. The truth is she is correct, and the basis for curation is opinion. I am opinionated about the books I’ve read. However, I don’t view my site as a review site exactly. I refer to the books I post about as “Recommended Reading.”

While my preference is Noir, there are lighter crime books that I have enjoyed and therefore I write about them. All in all, those books that have captured me for various reasons: characters, plot, deviousness, imagination and that certain turn of phrase that makes me smile. Or horrifies me.

I’m also quite pleased when my posts about writing garner feedback. My contribution in this area seems to be appreciated which is both rewarding and informing.

Which blog is your personal favorite?

My personal favourite is “Come Home to Giles Blunt” where I talk about leaving the mainstream of highly promoted USA best sellers, and discovering the writers producing wonderful work right under our noses. (Hear! Hear! MHC)

Almost three years later I had the privilege of reading my flash fiction at Noir at the Bar Toronto the same night as Blunt. The group picture was the bonus of reading with other Canadian talent and it was a terrific experience.

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Authors: Back L-R: June, Peter McGarvey, Rob Brunet, Dee Wilson, Tanis Mallow                                     Front L-R: Giles Blunt, John McFetridge, Dietrich Kalties, Rosemary McCracken

How can readers follow your blog?

Murder in Common has a Follow button which most WordPress users take advantage of. Otherwise you can sign-up via email subscription. All constructive feedback is greatly appreciated.

Thank you, June. It was a pleasure to meet in Cyber Café and I look forward to reading your own crime fiction soon!

 

 

MY NEW BOOK: GLOW GRASS & OTHER TALES – LAST EXCERPT!

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AMDUR’S CAT

This light-hearted story is my personal favorite. Tiddles is based on one of our beloved cats and he lives again in this story. Some of the antics at the Ministry of Health were inspired by a certain notorious Toronto mayor – and I leave to you, dear reader, to decide which ones are true and which are pure fantasy!

 Published in Thirteen, An Anthology by the Mesdames of Mayhem, Carrick Publishing, 2013.

            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 came 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.

            He 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 that 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.

             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.

     No sign of the lion.

**

 

MY NEW BOOK: GLOW GRASS & OTHER TALES – EXCERPT 8

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The Ultimate Mystery

 This cross-over tale stemmed from an idea that had nagged me for many years. It poses the question: What is a deity?

 Published in World Enough and Crime, Carrick Publishing, 2014.

 Finalist, Derringer Award, Long Short Story, 2015

In this excerpt, we see two parallel worlds: the underground kingdom where Lily exists and the isolated prairie farm where her earthly counterpart, Lucy, dwells.

Lily rarely saw diggers her size, since children fared poorly in the tunnels. Many died because they did not get enough to eat. During the frequent rock falls and tunnel collapses, children were more likely to lose their lives. Often, when she and Maria picked their way through the aftermath of a catastrophe, she’d see small limbs protruding from the debris.

            More disturbingly, she’d heard stories about guards taking young ones to the Supreme Ruler. In the dark, the other diggers whispered that those children simply disappeared. The guards had their way with them. Then ate them.

            She asked Maria if this was true.

            “Of course not,” Maria replied. “If we uphold The Law, the Authorities take care of us. That is the social contract our ancestors made long ago. We work to support the Supreme Ruler and the Authorities – and they feed us and keep us safe.”

            Which really means we dig and dig for nothing, Lily thought. Their food consisted of chunks of matter heavily processed at The Centre. On rare occasions it tasted sweet, but other times it tasted foul and bitter. Her fears multiplied.

            “Is there meat in the food?” Children? she wanted to ask.

            “No, not for diggers like us,” Maria replied. “Only the privileged eat meat. Meat keeps them strong so they can take care of us.”

           In other words, the Authorities and the guards ate meat. But so did the hunters who left the citadel to forage for food. At the rare gatherings with other diggers, Lily heard exciting tales about the hunters’ exploits. Rumour had it they did not always bring back all the food they found, even the precious meat.

            “That means the hunters are breaking The Law!” Lily whispered to Maria.

            “The hunters must sample their takings,” Maria said, hiding a smile. “To make sure that the food is fit for the Authorities.”

            “I want to be a hunter.”

            “That is not your rank. You are a digger. The Authorities decided this for you when you were born.”

            “Why? And don’t just say they obeyed The Law. Who made The Law anyway?”

            “The Goddess made The Law and everything in our world.”

            Lily thought this over. Every digger knew the Goddess made the world, and that She had created the Authorities in her own image. Of course, no one had any idea what the Goddess looked like, or the mechanism whereby She passed on Her word to The Authorities.

            “What if the Goddess got it wrong?”

            “Enough! No more questions.”

            Not understanding the reasons for what happened in the world made Lily feel stupid. She longed to go to school, but education of diggers was forbidden. Learning was reserved for the privileged. Maria reminded her yet again that their low status was an advantage: to be overlooked meant to be safe.

            “Are hunters allowed to learn?” Lily persisted.

            “Only enough to navigate the Outer World, so they can bring food home to our citadel.”

            Now, more than ever, Lily wanted to become a hunter.

***

            Lucy fidgeted on her kitchen chair. Every day Mom made peanut butter sandwiches for lunch, to save money, so Dad could have steak for dinner. To keep his strength up, Mom said. Because he was the one who travelled to earn money for the family.

            “Time for your lessons, dear.” Miriam gathered up their dirty dishes, clearing the way for Lucy’s textbooks.

            “Why do I have to learn at home? Why can’t I go to school like other children? And don’t just say it’s God’s will.”

            Miriam sighed. Lucy was always so full of questions. “Your father and I decided to home-school you the day you came into our lives. Public schools don’t follow God’s word, so the children there just learn about sex and drugs. I know you’re lonely, but out here we’re safe. And you’ll stay pure.”

**

MY NEW BOOK: GLOW GRASS & OTHER TALES – EXCERPT 7

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THE LIZARD

This story began when a friend told me about her daughter’s new pet, an animal the daughter wasn’t looking after properly. It started life as flash fiction for Maureen Jenning’s course on creativity, then grew into a longer story.

 Published in Crimespree Magazine, Summer Issue 2013 and reprinted in Kings River Life Magazine, August 2014. Also reprinted in the 2014 Bloody Words program book, the final year for Canada’s national crime fiction conference. 

Winner of the Bony Pete Award for Best Short Story, 2012.

In this excerpt, Margaret visits her daughter, Jennifer and discovers that she’s waiting for her drug dealer boyfriend, Paul’s return.

“I’m worried about your iguana,” Margaret said. “It seems to be in pain. It can’t move its leg properly. Why don’t I take it to my vet and let him take a look?”

            “Forget it!”

            “I’ll pay for the vet.”

            “How much?”

            Margaret shouldn’t have mentioned money. The social workers had warned her never to mention money in front of Jennifer.

           “How much would you pay? How much have you got with you?” Jennifer’s eyes shone with a frightening hunger.

            Margaret fumbled in her purse for her wallet. “Here’s fifty dollars. That’s all I have with me.”

            “Fifty bucks? That’s it?” Jennifer snatched the bills and shoved them into the waistband of her sweatpants. “That’s no help.”

            “When was the last time you ate something?”

            “I’m fine. Leave me alone.” Jennifer bounced off the sofa and ran over to the window. She parted the dusty slats of the venetian blind with her fingers to look out. “God, Paul, where are you? You said you’d be back right away.”

            How could Paul have such a hold on her daughter? He was years older, sickly thin from his life on the streets. He reminded Margaret of a furtive wet mole.

            “How long has he been gone?” she asked.

            “All night.” Jennifer chewed her thumb the way she used to in grade school. “He told me to sit tight and keep the door locked. That he’d take care of the problem.”

      “What problem?”

            “Business.” She looked at Margaret. “If you really want to help, give me fifty thousand dollars.”

            “What! Paul owes someone fifty thousand dollars? What happened?”

            “He screwed up, OK? Happy now? Quit asking me questions. Since you don’t want to help me, get out.”  

            “Jenny, please. I don’t have fifty thousand dollars to give you. Even if I did, we both know it wouldn’t change anything. There will always be a next time with Paul. And a time after that.”

“Well, this time he’s dead. And I’m dead, too.”

**

 

MY NEW BOOK: GLOW GRASS & OTHER TALES – EXCERPT 5

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INCOMPETENCE KILLS

 Ever get fed up with people who really don’t know how to do their jobs? That’s what led to this flash fiction story.

 Published in Excerpt Flight Deck 1: Starship Goodwords, Carrick Publishing, 2012.

 

Competence is a commodity in low supply. Amazing that the world functions at all really. But incompetence does have an upside: it creates such temping opportunities for predators.

Like me.

You’d never give me a second glance. In appearance, I’m pale and bland. The only remarkable thing about me is a black spot under my thumbnail. If you bothered to get to know me better, you’d recognize it as a sign of my true nature.

Inconspicuous and invidious.

How trusting you people are. The coffee cup unattended in the food court, the step too close to the subway platform.

Innocent and inattentive.

Lucky for you that I’ve learned to, shall we say, engineer my violent tendencies…

**

MY NEW BOOK: GLOW GRASS & OTHER TALES – 4TH EXCERPT

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CHRISTMAS IN ALICE

Our visit to Alice Springs in Australia led to this story. Although the resort hotel is fictional, the Henley Boat Races on Old Todd are indeed real. In this story, Margaret, a Canadian married to an Australian, flies to Alice Springs to help an old university friend implicated in a fatal accident.

Published in Blood on the Holly, A Christmas Anthology, Caro Soles ed., Baskerville Books, 2007.

 

Outside the rain had stopped, but even under the dull overcast, the desert heat seared her skin. Enormous ghost gum trees edged the hotel driveway. Margaret followed their chalk-white trunks out to the main road, fragments of their brittle bark crunching under her sandals. Immediately the flies sprang upon her, invading her mouth and nostrils.

Beating them off, she hurried down the main road, the incongruous roar of a river filling her ears. She spotted the bridge over Old Todd a short distance away, just as Constable Owen had said.

A rickety metal barrier prevented her from crossing over, but from where she stood on the road, she had a clear view. A foaming brown torrent sluiced under the bridge. Branches and debris tore past. Black oaks leaned like charred match sticks into the flood. No one could survive a fall into those waters, not even a giant like Constable Owen.

Several police officers were searching along the far bank close to the raging river. She recognized Owen who looked up and waved to her. Margaret half-raised her hand in reply. The flies settled on her again. She turned and walked swiftly back to the hotel.  

“Cheer up,” Imogen said, when Margaret returned. ”Grab some tucker from the breakfast buffet. Christmas present from me to you. Do you good.”

Perhaps coffee would help, Margaret thought and thanked her. She joined the crush of guests charging the buffet tables set up in the dining room, but her appetite was gone. She filled two bowls of fruit salad, one for herself, one for Eileen, and found a table.

Alone in the crowd, she pulled the digital camera from her purse and switched it on. An image of Uluru in the rain popped up on the screen, the rock’s blood red surface laced with streams of water. She flicked through dozens of photos of gaudily dressed tourists who were hugging koalas, brandishing gift store souvenirs or raiding dinner buffets. A cheerful, heavy-set woman centred in a lot of them. Eileen appeared only once, standing next to the white Christmas tree in the lobby, her narrow face barred with shadow.

The last image was black.

“Fine little camera, that.” Imogen had appeared at her table. “Lots of you Americans like it.”

Margaret slipped it back into her purse.

“Can I ask you something?” Imogen took the chair opposite her. “Have the police found Phyllis?”

Margaret shook her head.

“It’s stupid to hope, I know.” The girl’s face crumpled. “I should have stopped them. Eileen couldn’t possibly have meant the Henley Boat Races. I mean, that’s stupid. But Phyllis was so keen. She wanted to see every last thing in her guidebook. She was such a lot of fun, such a nice lady. Everybody liked her.”

Everybody liked her. That’s what they’d said about Laura, too.

“Her son gave her the trip,” Imogen went on. “He’s flying in tomorrow. He’ll never feel the same about Christmas now, will he?”

**

Back in the room, Eileen was sitting up in bed, hands splayed on the sheets. She snatched the bowl of fruit salad from Margaret and stared into it. “Why do they always put in cantaloupe?” she grumbled.

“Eileen, we need to talk,” Margaret said, setting her purse down on the writing desk. “About Phyllis Redding.” She watched Eileen chew the pieces of woody melon. “Her son will want to know what happened to his mother.”

Eileen lifted a bony shoulder. “Nothing happened to her.”

“Don’t be like that.”

Eileen shoved more salad into her mouth.

“If you say nothing, people will think the worst. No one can blame you for an accident.”

“Don’t treat me like an idiot.” Eileen’s bowl tipped over, the dregs of syrup staining the sheet.

“I want to help, but I can’t if you continue this way.”

“OK, fine.” Eileen was getting loud. “We were on the bridge. She walked down into the dark.”

“What do you mean?”

“I guess she wanted to take a closer look at the river.”

Margaret sat down. “Why didn’t you stop her?”

“Why should I? She never listened. All she did was talk. Talk, talk, talk. Everything was always so wonderful, like fucking Disneyland.”

For an instant something primal flashed into Eileen’s face, the way it had in graduate school when she smashed the glass tubes of her failed experiments into the sink, one after the other.

**

GLOW GRASS & OTHER TALES

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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!

 

 

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.