Celebrating Black Water season

It’s officially spring, and early spring can be a deadly season on Canadian lakes as the ice recedes and black water appears. Those who depend on boats and snowmobiles to reach their homes will find this a tricky time of year for travel.

But stretches of black water persist throughout the entire winter in some areas, a boon to snowmobile skippers. I’m thinking, in particular, of the stretch of water beneath the Dorset Bridge that links two arms of Lake of Bays in Dorset, Ont.

Snowmobile skippers start their machines on firm ice and scream full-speed until they hit open water. The objective is to stay on top of the water until they reach the far bank of ice. Racing at high speeds with the throttle open keeps the machine’s wide tracks on top of the water.

But not everyone makes it to firm ice, and most snowmobile skippers wear wet suits. Small businesses have grown up in the Dorset area to rescue submerged machines, and they charge hefty fees to do so.

Check out a video of snowmobile skipping in Dorset here.

(Intrepid snowmobile skippers are at it in the summer as well. Summer snowmobile skipping is something like jet skiing. But the winter sport, with exposure to frigid black water, is far more deadly.)

Watching snowmobile skippers in Dorset a few years ago gave me the idea of including

winter snowmobile skipping in my second Pat Tierney mystery. And sparked the idea for the novel’s title BLACK WATER. And for the cover design–that’s Pat on a snowmobile in March navigating black water.

To celebrate black water season, BLACK WATER is FREE for the next three days on ALL Amazons. You can download it here.

SAFE HARBOR, the first mystery in the series, is also on sale for the next few days for 99¢ in the U.S. on Amazon.com and for £.99 in Britain on Amazon.co.uk. Unfortunately this particular Amazon sale isn’t being held in Canada.

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St. Paddy’s Day, Polish-style

My Polish-Canadian hubby Ed Piwowarczyk loves St. Paddy’s Day. He’s wearing a green shirt today and whipping up his favourite lamb stew with Guinness. I’m making my Irish-Canadian mother’s traditional March 17 dessert, lime Jello.

When we were in Dublin a few years ago, we told an Irish woman we were chatting with in a pub that that my background is Irish and Ed’s is Polish. She remarked that that was a strange combination. Ed replied that the two nations have a lot in common. “They’re both passionate about their beliefs,” he said. “And they both backed lost causes.”

Here’s Ed’s Irish stew recipe:

3 pounds lamb shoulder, cubed; 3 large carrots, peeled and sliced; 3 parsnips, peeled and sliced; 6 stalks celery cut into slices; 1 half-pound of peeled white pearl onions; 1 cup pearl barley; 1 pound white mushrooms; 1 12-ounce can Guinness stout; 2 cups beef broth; 1/2 tsp. black pepper; 1/4 tsp. thyme; 1 cup half-and-half; 4 minced garlic cloves.

Brown the meat in a little oil. Add the onions, garlic, carrots, parsnips and celery, and saute. Add the Guinness, beef stock and barley, and cook over medium heat until just boiling, then reduce heat and simmer for 3 hours. Stir occasionally.

There are no cubed potatoes in the stew. That’s because we eat it over mashed potatoes.

We’ll wash it down with lots of Guinness. And then we’ll watch The Quiet Man.

Beo fada agus rathúil!

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‘Sensitivity’ editing

Another editor to hire: sensitivity readers to scan for racism, sexism, transgender issues,wtdcx9-t_400x400 depiction of chronic pain, depiction of a terminal illness, and no doubt much more. This article says the publishing industry recognizes that “offensive content” is a real concern.

And the concern may make writers think twice about writing.

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R&R (rum and rumba) in Cuba

dscf1007Sure didn’t feel like winter on Cayo Santa Maria with daytime highs around 29 C. And our timing was pitch perfect–missed a lot of snow in Toronto while we were hoisting mojitos.

The highlight of the week was the Legendarios del Guajirito show with artists from the Buena Vista Social Club and the Afro-Cuban All Stars. El Guajirito is the Havana club made famous by the legendary Buena Vista Social Club, and on Monday nights its show comes to Cayo Santa Maria. The music sets the crowd on its feet!

Shots below: Ed in his element, our perfect beach and the Legendarios del Guajirito with Tropicana star Maida Mitchell in centre stage.


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Two minutes with librarians

shiny1Joined 18 other crime writers at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre this afternoon pitching our books at the Ontario Library Association’s annual Super Conference. Each writer had two minutes to tell librarians about his or her most recently published book or novel. I spent mine talking about Raven Lake and the cottage rental scam.

I thoroughly enjoy these visits to the OLA conference. They are opportunities to catch up with crime writers from across the country. And they’re golden opportunities to meet some of the people who run our public librarians. Librarians are truly writers’ best friends. They support us, promote us and seem to enjoy reading our books.

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Learning about story structure

This Tuesday evening, my 12-week course, Novel Writing II: How to Develop Your Novel, starts up again at George Brown College. Will it guarantee that students write a best-selling novel? Nope. Sorry, but too much depends on the individual writer. Learning to write fiction is something like learning to roller-skate. You fall, you get up, you try again. And you only succeed if you keep at it. And having the completed novel published is yet another series of hoops to go through.

thBut I’m looking forward to working with a new group of writers. They’ll all come to the class with some background. Most will have taken Novel Writing I at George Brown or an equivalent at another institution, some will have had short stories published. So they’ll all be familiar with the all-important “keeping at it” aspect of writing. And, best of all, they’ll all have started novels, which we’ll workshop in class.

We’ll be looking in depth at story structure in the weeks ahead. Because if a writer doesn’t have a structure for his or her novel, he won’t have a novel, just a series of scenes.

Plotters will learn to plan out a story framework before they start writing. And pantsters–those who like writing organically or “flying from the seat of their pants”– will have a road map they can check as they go along to see if they’re on track.

A great byproduct of understanding story structure is that it cures writer’s block. The reason for writer’s block — that sorry state of staring at the computer screen with no words coming — is not knowing enough about the craft of novel writing know what has to come next. But writers who understand where they are in terms of plot points will know the next steps they need to take in building their novels.


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2016, year of the Raven

2016 has been a good year. Although, after 2015 went out with a dreadful bang, I wasn’t sure how it would shape up. In December 2015, I sold my beloved stone cottage in the Haliburton Highlands, and the decision to sell was a difficult one. I loved my retreat on Saskatchewan Lake, and the Highlands township with its granite rock formations and its waterways, but maintaining two homes had become too much work. I had to choose between them, and Ed, my husband, is a city boy. What more can I say?

The Stone Cottage

The Stone Cottage

I must have subconsciously wanted to make my departure as difficult as possible, and this resulted in a terrible fall down stairs when I was alone at the cottage. I missed my footing when I was carrying down a large bag of bedding. For weeks, I looked like a battered wife, my face black and blue, the muscles in my arms and legs and shoulders aching. A bruise on my leg became infected, and I couldn’t leave home for weeks. To say the year ended badly would be an understatement.

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000040_00070]Six months later, Raven Lake, my third Pat Tierney mystery, was released. And it was the major highlight of my 2016. The novel was inspired by my summers in the Highlands, and it is my tribute to a very special part of the world: there are kayaks; a chain of lakes; the fictional town of Braeloch, which is a composite of Minden and Haliburton Village; the storage lockers in the village of Carnarvon; the Dominion Hotel; the sport of snowmobile skipping; and much more.

Although I am no longer a Highlands property owner, I’m keeping my ties with the area. Ed and I rented a cottage on beautiful Boshkung Lake for a week in July, and I discovered a sweet little bed and breakfast in Haliburton Village where I spent a few days in August, and to which I hope to return in 2017.

And the Highlands community continued to back a writer who has set two mysteries in the

Minden, Ontario

Minden, Ontario

area. (Black Water, my second Pat Tierney mystery, took Pat to Braeloch for the first time.) After Raven Lake was released, The Minden Times interviewed me for a third time. As did the community radio station, Canoe FM. These two media outlets have supported all three Pat Tierney novels.

The Raven Lake in my novel is a fictional lake, not the real Raven Lake off Highway 35 south of Dorset. But several Raven Lake cottagers liked the reference and purchased the book. When I arrived for the book launch at Toronto’s Sleuth of Baker Street bookstore on June 25, I was told by the store’s co-owner Marian Misters that the president of the Raven Lake Cottagers Association had just ordered six copies.

In the fall, the Haliburton Highlands Writers and Editors Network invited me to give a workshop on novel writing for its members. It was held October 15 at the Minden Hills Cultural Centre.

Have you ever noticed that when one door closes, another opens? In 2016, I was no longer dividing my life between my home in Toronto and the stone cottage on Lake Saskatchewan, which freed up more of my time. Which was a bonus, because in January 2016, I started teaching novel writing at George Brown College in Toronto. Working with students who are seriously honing their writing (Novel II, my course, is designed for students who have already taken a beginning level course) is exhilarating, but takes a lot of my time. Two hours of each three-hour class are devoted to workshopping students’ writing. And that means a lot of reading each week.

Novel II: How to Develop Your Novel starts up again on Jan. 10.


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