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.
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.
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.
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”.
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.
2015 was a tumultuous year – many upheavals, but all ended well. Friends fought but won against deadly medical challenges. Our daughter and her husband moved to Montreal – but settled happily in a lovely new condo. And it was the year of bittersweet farewells. Friend and teacher, Rosemary Aubert, retired her novel writing course at Loyalist College in Belleville. And in November, Anne Hillerman gave the sad news that this year’s Hillerman Conference would be the last. Both have been a source of joy and new friends for many years.
This was my first year as a “real” writer. In other words, a traditionally published novel writer. Though many of my short stories have appeared in print, like most authors, my secret longing was always to have a novel to put on my book shelf.
Windigo Fire was released late in 2014 by Seraphim Editions, a leading Canadian literary publisher with a 20+ year history. I’m delighted to be a Seraphim author: I still have to pinch myself sometimes. My publisher’semail of acceptance truly changed my life!
WF got great reviews and was a finalist for the Arthur Ellis Award for Best First Novel. Huffington Post Canada put WF on its fall list of Books for Book Clubs and Margaret Cannon of the Globe and Mail dubbed me ” a writer to watch”. And as it that wasn’t enough, my short story, “The Ultimate Mystery” in Carrick Publishing’s anthology, World Enough and Crime, was short-listed for the prestigious Derringer Award. Heady stuff!
I spent most of this year promoting Windigo Fire via readings organized through our group, The Mesdames of Mayhem , the Crime Writers of Canada (thanks Nate Hendley and Sharon Crawford!), the Writers Union and Noir at the Bar (thanks Tanis Mallow and Rob Brunet!) I also gave several workshops on how to get traditionally published to writers’ groups in Hamilton, Sudbury and Toronto.
Now that my friends, Cheryl Freedman and Caro Soles have retired, our national conference, Bloody Words, alas, is no more. So I tried out three new conferences: two on the west coast and one in Sudbury.
The Galiano Literary Festival is one of Canada’s best kept secrets, held in an idyllic setting on wildly beautiful Galiano Island. There a debut author, such as myself, can mix and mingle with the nation’s leading writers – even Elizabeth May, the local MP and leader of the Green Party!
Left Coast Crime was held in Portland, Oregon, this year, entitled “Crimelandia” in honour of the hilarious sketch show, Portlandia. Portland is an amazing city: the best microbreweries in North America, a fab retro city centre called the Pearl District and a light rail transit system that actually works! I had the honour of presenting Windigo Fire at the New Authors Breakfast and of moderating a panel on plot twists, which included friend and Canadian crime writer, Barbara Fradkin and fellow debut author, Ray Daniel.
LCC was a fine mix of cozy and noir, both sides having great respect for one another. I had a wonderful time hanging with fellow Canadians, Barbara, Robin Harlick, Linda Wiken and Vicki Delany. As you can see, conference seminars largely lost out to food and beer.
What really made LCC a winner was hitting it off with the Noir crowd, including two great Canadian writers,E.C. Brown and Sam Wiebe. If you haven’t read either of these guys, you’re missing some of Canada’s best crime fiction. Many thanks, too, go to friendly Americans Brian Thornton, Kate Dyer-Seeley and Hilary Davidson, terrific writers all – just don’t play poker with Brian!
In June, I headed north to Sudbury’s literary festival, Wordstock. Most southern Ontarians regard Sudbury as a remote northern outpost accessible by bush plane or snowmobile, but in fact, it lies a mere four hours north of Toronto via a modern expressway. That’s a lot closer than either Ottawa or Montreal. Presumably north of Barrie, Torontonians believe one crosses a Startrek-like quantum barrier into a wilderness empty of cars yet full of bears and moose.
Once again I had the privilege of meeting some terrific authors: poet Melanie Martila, radio personality and crime writer, Scott Overton and Laura E. Young, who has penned a fascinating history of Great Lakes swimmers, Solo Yet Never Alone.
Sudbury was a breath of fresh air quite literally. No smog, two pristine lakes and a water tower that looks very “War of the Worlds”(see photo above). Imagine, too, a book festival where the mayor officially welcomes the authors – Toronto wasn’t Ford-free yet – and where everyone enjoyed a performance by two of Canada’s comedy treasures: Terry Fallis and Sandra Shamas.
While busy promoting, I did manage to do some writing. Stumbling across an unofficial memorial garden near our cottage was a gift I couldn’t ignore. My suspense novelette, “Glow Grass” drew on this and it’s one of the 15 stories in The Mesdames of Mayhem’s latest anthology, 13 O’clock(Carrick Publishing). We Mesdames had a wonderful time promoting 13 O’clock via our cyber launch in September and in October, partying in the real world at our favorite bookstore, Sleuth of Baker Street.
As the year faded, it was time to refocus. I spent time in October learning Word Press so that I could take control of my website. My previous site required a software engineer to update it, so I scrapped it in favour of WP, the results of which you see here. My take: WP is easy to start, but time-consuming and challenging to master. Yet totally worth the time input!
In November, my friend, TO Poet, led our group of NaNoWriMo Misfits back to basics: writers write – go figure! NaNoWriMo is short for National Novel Writing Month and it challenges writers to produce 50,000 words in one month. Churning out this volume felt overwhelming at times, but I pulled it off. My second book in the Danny Bluestone series, Windigo Ice, took shape. More importantly, it kick-started my creativity: I have since then sketched out two noir stories. NaNoWriMo is a lifesaver for any writer who needs to refocus. (Read my previous blog, “Riding the NaNoWriMo Tiger” for the deets).
The year ended with another serious medical challenge for a fellow writer. Her crime writer friends got together and wrote a “chain story” to cheer her up. I was honoured and delighted to be part of the gang. The only proviso: total license. What lurid and outrageous imaginations were on display: cross-dressing, cute dogs, dragon ladies, Russian mafiosos, purple exploding dildos, oh, my! Most importantly, we made our friend laugh.
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?
13 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?
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.
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.
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…
My friends and I regularly run through Mt. Pleasant Cemetery. Why, you may ask? Well, traffic is light, the roads are paved and in good repair. The hundreds of species of trees provide shade in summer and in winter, its hardworking staff plow and sand the roads way before Toronto’s regular streets.
I first saw Mt. Pleasant Cemetery walking across the ravine bridge on St. Clair Avenue West. New to Toronto, my curiosity was piqued by what appeared to be small Greek temples set in distant greenery. These mythical structures proved to be the mausoleums of worthies such as the Eaton family, tombs that wouldn’t be out of place in a vampire movie.
Our futures can indeed prove strange. I had no idea then that I would end up living next to the cemetery, nor that my friends and I would run and bike through it almost daily. For the record all you bikers and hikers, once around the cemetery is about 7 kilometres.
Mt. Pleasant was established in 1873 on a 200-acre farm outside the city limits. Initially, only Roman Catholics or Anglicans were allowed to be buried here, but times fortunately have changed. Its 168,000 permanent residents now reflect Canada’s multi-cultural heritage in nationalities and faiths.
Which brings me to the resting place in the photo above. My running buddy and I spotted the little brass dog that guards the grave of Peter Worthington, founder of the right-leaning Toronto Sun newspaper and well-known journalist. What people may not know is that he was an eye witness to the assassination of Lee Harvey Oswald by Jack Ruby on November 24, 1963, as depicted in this world famous photo below.
A far sunnier and uplifting fact is that Peter Worthington was a strong believer in animal welfare and a long-time supporter of the Toronto Humane Society. We like to think that the little brass dog was once his pet who now stands by him forever.
November 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?
TO 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!
Not 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?
I 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.
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 Peteprize 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.