2017: So much to be thankful for

Ed reading at Sleuth of Baker Street.

2017 is on its way out, and I have much to be thankful for throughout of it. First of all, for  my wonderful husband Ed Piwowarczyk. His patience (with me) never ceases to astound. He’s the first reader of my writing, and he edits the finished product. We’ve been married for 23 years, although we met many years before that when we worked at Excalibur, the student newspaper at York University. We dated for a few months, but went our separate ways because I was too bull-headed to realize what a treasure he was. God and the Universe gave me a second chance years later.

Linda Cahill at Bouchercon 2017.

I’m also thankful for great friends, too numerous to list here. Several stand out, though: Linda Cahill, who I’ve known since our school days and now a mystery writer herself. And the generous, talented women in the Mesdames of Mayhem, my writers’ network. Kahlil Gibran says in The Prophet, “Your friend is your need answered…For you come to him with your hunger and you seek him for peace.”

The Mesdames went on to more successes in 2017: a booth of its own at Word on the Street in September, a table at Limestone Expo in Kingston in May, and many, many readings at libraries. The highlight for the group, of course, was the publication of 13 Claws, a collection of stories by Carrick Publishing. It had a great launch at Sleuth of Baker Street bookstore in October. And it scored a great review from the Toronto Star‘s Jack Batten, including well-deserved mentions of stories by Madeleine Harris-Callway and Catherine Dunphy. Ed edited the collection, and he and I both had stories in it.

With Passport to Murder at its Bouchercon launch.

My novel-writing students at George Brown College continue to inspire me with their enthusiasm and determination. My 2017 personal highlight was having my story, “The Queen-Size Bed,” included in Passport to Murder, the story collection complied for the Bouchercon 2017 crime writing convention that was held in Toronto in October. It was a thrill to see my writing in the same volume as stories by Janet Hutchings, editor of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, and Michael Bracken, recipient of a 2016 Derringer for a lifetime achievement in short mystery fiction. “The Queen-Size Bed” is set in Cuba, my favourite winter vacation spot.

Ed and I returned to Cuba in February where we took in the Legendarios del Guajirito show with artists from the Buena Vista Social Club and the Afro-Cuban All Stars. Their music had the crowd on its feet.

We spent 10 days in Haliburton (God’s country!) in July, and revisited cherished landmarks such as the Haliburton Sculpture Forest and (the real) Raven Lake. In September/October, we visited Europe, specifically Budapest, Prague and Vienna. Bewitched by the strong Hapsburg women.

As with any year, there were passings to mourn in 2017. Thankfully, no one close to us, but several beloved artist celebrities whose work touched us. These include music legends Gord Downie and Fats Domino, and, only two days ago, mystery writer Sue Grafton.

Goodbye 2017. Much to look forward to next year!




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A Joyous Christmas!

A peaceful, happy Christmas to all of you!

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Novel-writing workshop!

I’ll be giving a three-hour workshop on novel writing Saturday Nov. 18, 1-4 p.m., at Toronto’s Annette Street Library, 145 Annette Street.

The workshop is free, but you’ll need to register by submitting the first page of your novel-in-progress. We’ll be critiquing these pages in the second half of the workshop because first pages are crucial in getting the attention of a publisher or agent. Drop off your page with library staff by Sat. Nov. 11, or call 416-393-7692 to ask about faxing it.

Hope to see you on Nov. 18!

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Scratching beneath the surface of 13 Claws

The Mesdames of Mayhem and their readers turned out at Sleuth of Baker Street yesterday to launch 13 Claws. And a fabulous time was had by all!

Launch party planner Catherine Dunphy (shown above with Ed Piwowarczyk) had issued strict orders for author readings: keep them short! Most of us followed Cathy’s edict, and the result was entertaining and it sold books. Here is an excerpt from Cathy’s “Animal Crackers,” which was pronounced “an especially clever story” by the Toronto Star‘s Jack Batten.

“Refill?” It was the waitress. She lifted the pot of coffee high and poured right onto his hand.

“Fuck!” he barked.

The waitress apologized and blocked his way as she dabbed at his arm with paper napkins.

Ed Piwowarczyk, our sole monsieur, edited the anthology. Here is the opening of his story, “Snakebit.”

Jake Turner studied the blonde as she entered The Hideaway. Her denim shorts highlighted shapely legs, and a white  tank top accented perky breasts (this earned Ed a swat from Cathy Dunphy). A sexy package, he thought.

With my luck, she’s probably trouble with a capital T.

13 Claws is a collection of crime-fiction critter stories. And Ed and Madeleine Harris-Callway, the Mesdames’ founder shown above, both focused on snakes. Here’s Madeleine’s take on the real estate industry in “Snake Oil”:

Wolfbrand’s greatest legend centered on a semi-detached house where an elderly woman had been lying dead for a month. Amelia sold the corpse-free half of the semi after convincing her young buyers that the stink permeating their prospective home would dissipate once they installed a sewer back-up. Hence the 5% discount.  The couple took the bait and with it, Wolfbrand’s homegrown guarantee: You Bought It, You Got It.

Lynne Murphy was in high spirits, celebrating a significant birthday and presiding over a large cake.  Here’s Lynne, speaking in the voice of Simba from “The Lion King.”  Simba is a cat with delusions of grandeur.

I trained her to play the fetch game with a catnip mouse. She learned to throw it for me, and I would pounce on it while it was still in the air and pretend to kill it. Then I would bring it back to her so she could throw it again. She got quite fond of the game, and sometimes I had to hide the mouse to stop her from playing.

Catherine Astolfo was awarded the Arthur Ellis Award in 2012 for best crime short story. Her contribution to 13 Claws, “The Outlier,” may be another winner. Here is how it opens:

If I’d paid attention to Marvin, none o’ this would have happened. For that matter, I should have seen the signs left by the burglar when he cased the joint…

I’m an outlier, a person who comes from away, so I get even less attention from any of the harbor dwellers. Which suits me fine since being out of contact is my goal.

Edgar Award-winner (2004) Sylvia Maultash Warsh read from “The Ranchero’s Daughter,” a story that revolves around a small dog. Here’s what Sylvia’s protagonist has to say about his beloved pet:

I myself was cheered by a tiny dog who adopted me on the street a few years ago. She was too straggly to have an owner, and though hesitant at first–she was not a man’s dog–I took her home. I named her Luz, since was a light in my life. I have a tendency toward melancholy, which she alleviated with a touch of her diminutive paw.

Lisa de Nikolits, shown below, takes on the Mob in “Mad Dog and the Sea Dragon.” In her noir tale, two sisters plot to take down a ruthless crime boss. Here is an excerpt from it:

He paused to take a breath. “The whole Esposito family was hoods. The father had done time, the third brother was in prison, the two sisters were thieves. But the mother was behind the whole thing. Mothers. The root of all evil.”

He fell silent and turned to look at Mad Dog Esposito again. I thought I had lost him, and I struggled to think of something to say. I panicked. Things had seemed to be going really well, but now they had come to a grinding halt. My sister had given me a bunch of lines to use but I couldn’t remember any of them. My mind was a complete blank, and I felt close to tears. I was going to ruin this before it even started.

The Mesdames’ publisher Donna Carrick (Carrick Publishing, shown below with husband Alex) contributed “The Right Choice” to the collection. Here’s how it opens:

There have been times when I regretted my tendency toward impulsive decision-making.

It’s not that I consider myself to be stupid, or rash. I do my best to think things through.

Rather, it’s that my process is a quick one by most standards, and involves a great deal of reliance on gut instinct.

For the most part, my gut has served me well.

Arthur Ellis Award-winning author Rosemary Aubert, shown below, added another cat story to the collection. Her “Kitty Claws Comes to the Rescue” was sparked by memories of a special feline:

I thought at first that it was the cry of a child. Great gasping screams only a few feet from my doorstep sounded through the door itself and echoed down the narrow outer hall, which, though thickly carpeted, seemed to absorb none of the sound.

So, of course, I went to the door, and quickly opened it.

The second that I did so, the wailing stopped and I found, staring up at me, the most beautiful pair of blue-green cat eyes that I had ever seen.

Jane Petersen Burfield, shown reading below, brings a dragon to 13 Claws’ critter mix. Here’s the opening of “There Be Dragons”:

“There be dragons,” Katie read aloud from the illustration. As she squinted at the map in the old book, the creatures that illustrated the manuscript swirled. A soft green glow lit the map from within. Startled, Katie let the book slip from her fingers onto the dusty desktop.

“We’re not supposed to touch that book,” Georgie mumbled. Ever since their mother had died, he’d spoken in whispers.

Melodie Campbell, shown reading below, has two stories in 13 Claws. Here’s an excerpt from Melodie’s flash fiction tale “Dog Trap”:

“Strangled,” the taller officer said. “Neatly and quickly. She didn’t suffer much. We thought you’d want to know.”

Rick nodded and gestured them in. He watched with dull eyes as the two officers crossed to the other side of the kitchen. Carefully, he reached for the chair behind him and tried to compose himself.

“Husband?” he asked quietly.

And here’s the opening of my story, “Homebodies,” about a grouchy old man and his marmalade tabby:

A gentle pressure on my eyelids roused me from my afternoon nap. I opened one eye. Romeo was standing on his hind legs, a paw raised, peering intently at my face.

“Damn cat!” I hoisted myself into a sitting position on the sofa. “Get down!”  

Satisfied that I was still in working order, he sauntered out of the room, his tail waving like a plume.

“He was worried about you, Henry,” Ellie said when I told her about it over dinner.

“Worried where his next meal would come from,” I grumbled. “I’m the one who feeds him.”

The lead-up to 13 Claws included a short-story contest. Jane Burfield had come up with the idea of including a previously unpublished fiction writer in the collection, and a contest was announced. But there were so many well-written entries that it was decided to include three submissions in the anthology instead of just the winner. The winning story was “Night Vision” by Mary Patterson. The two runners-up were “Dana’s Cat” by Rosalind Place, and “That Damn Cat” by Marilyn Kay. These three writers had never previously had a story published in the crime-fiction genre.

Below, Marilyn Kay reads from her story, while Mary Patterson (white sweater) and Rosalind Place (blue sweater) look on.



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13 Claws unleashed!

It’s here! 13 Claws, the Mesdames of Mayhem’s third crime anthology, is hot off the press from Carrick Publishing.

The 17 tales by acclaimed Canadian crime writers are cozies, noirs and thrillers, and each has a critter in its spotlight: dogs, cats, snakes, dragons and more. “What devious minds these nice women have,” Maureen Jennings, author of the Murdoch Mysteries, says in her cover endorsement.

The Toronto Star’s Jack Batten adds that “there’s enough suspense and intellectual fascination built into the plots of the majority of stories to satisfy even the most ferociously cynophobic reader.”

Meet the Mesdames and celebrate their new release with them at 2 p.m. Saturday Oct. 28 at Sleuth of Baker Street bookshop in Toronto.

13 Claws is also available online.


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Memories of Bouchercon

Bouchercon 2017 was a fabulous four-day party set in Toronto. It ended on Sunday, but the memories will linger on.

The fruit of five years of planning by Toronto’s Janet Costello and Helen Nelson, the international conference at Toronto’s Sheraton Centre attracted 1,700 mystery fans and writers from around the world, including crime fiction stars Sara Paretsky, Louise Penny, Megan Abbott and Laura Lippman. Here are a few glimpses of the fun-filled days:

Right, my T-Rex Team at the pub trivia evening: Clockwise from bottom left, Madona Skaff, Becky Muth, Chuck Barksdale, Ed Piwowarczyk, myself, Chris F.A. Johnson and captain Madeleine Harris-Callway. We didn’t win, but we came pretty close to it with our masterful grasp of crime fiction trivia! (What does V.I. stand for in character V.I. Warshawski’s name?)

Right, the Friday afternoon panel, Location, Location, featuring five authors talking about our novels’ unique settings. From the far left, moderator Stanley Trollip, co-author of the Detective Kuba mysteries who travelled from Cape Town to the conference; Stephen Mack Jones; myself; Craig Faustus Buck; and Ruth Ware. We all agreed that good settings become important characters in novels.

One of my highlights was the Saturday evening authors’ signing of the Bouchercon anthology, Passport to Murder. I was thrilled to be among the 22 authors with stories selected for the collection (culled from about 120 submissions). All  stories had to include some form of travel, and a murder or an attempted murder. My story, “The Queen-size Bed,” is set in Cuba. The collection was published by Florida-based Down&Out Books, and all proceeds go to support literacy at Frontier College.

Here’s a shot of all the Passport to Murder authors who made it to Toronto. I’m second from the end, back, at the far right.


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Budapest, Vienna and Prague

View from the Fisherman’s Bastion, Budapest, on the Buda bank of the Danube.

Just back from three cities that I missed on previous visits to Europe: Budapest, Vienna and Prague. We started with Budapest, a city I’ve long wanted to see. Hungary’s capital has magnificent architecture, all the more stunning at night when many buildings are illuminated; a rich history; and it is a city of hot-spring spas. My only disappointment was discovering that the Danube is brown-grey, not blue.

House of Terror, 60 Andrassy Boulevard, Budapest

Housed in a neo-renaissance residence on stately Andrassy Boulevard, Budapest’s House of Terror is a chilling memorial to the victims of the fascist and communist regimes in 20th-century Hungary, including those detained, interrogated, tortured and killed in its basement. The fascist Arrow Cross Party called the building the “House of Loyalty.”  When Hungary came under under Soviet occupation in 1945, 60 Andrassy Boulevard housed the State Security Authority, which orchestrated a network of informers that watched Hungarians in factories, in offices, at universities and in theatres, recording their every move.

Schloss Schonbrunn,  the summer residence of the Habsburgs in Vienna, was the favourite

Gardens of Schloss Schonbrunn in Vienna.

home of Empress Maria Theresa, who received the palace as a wedding gift from her father in 1736. Maria Theresa is a woman I greatly admire; a strong ruler who forged alliances with other European houses through her children’s marriages (she had 16 sons and daughters), she knew exactly what she wanted–which is the key to getting it. Later, Schonbrunn was the playground of the free-spirited Empress Elisabeth of Austria (Sisi) who was assassinated in 1898.

Ed had visited Vienna before, but on this trip he explored some of the Viennese landmarks

The Wiener Riesenrad.

in one of his favourite films, The Third Man. Set in post-World-War II Vienna, the city takes on a life of its own in this 1949 movie, adapted from a Graham Greene novel, and starring Orsen Welles, Trevor Howard and Joseph Cotten. Ed tracked down the Hotel Sacher, home of the famous Sachertorte, and the Cafe Mozart, two important settings in the film. And he took a spin on the Wiener Riesenrad, the giant Ferris wheel in Prater Park where a pivotal scene was shot.

Our hotel in Prague was built on land close to Prague Castle that is leased from the monks of St. Norbert’s Monastery. The good monks operate the Strahov Monastic Brewery. Ed took this photo (below) of one of the brewery’s trucks, which advertises its current fall lager with the curious name of Antidepressant. A waiter at the brewery pub assured us that the lager is made with herbs that prevent depression. “Drink all you want,” he said. “No side effects.”

Ed, on The Third Man trail.

Note the brewery’s website at the bottom of the image on the truck: http://www.klasterni-pivovar.cz. The word “pivo” is Czech and Polish (Polish uses w’s instead of v’s) for “beer.” Var means “maker,” therefore “pivovar” means “beer maker.”  Ed’s surname, Piwowarczyk, translates into “son of a beer maker.” Which makes him well qualified to sample the suds in the countries we visited.

“Antidepressant” beer made by the monks of St. Norbert in Prague.





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