Moving Target gets a facelift!

Today Moving Target gets a new look with a brand new banner designed by Sara Carrick. After six-plus years, it’s about time I gave the blog a facelift.

The new banner — at the top of this page — displays the covers of my three Pat Tierney mysteries, Safe Harbor, Black Water and Raven Lake. Note  Safe Harbor‘s fabulous new cover, also designed by Sara Carrick:

“Progress is impossible without change” — George Bernard Shaw.

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“Black Bear Country” in Mystery Weekly magazine!

The heat and humidity of the past few days have me looking forward to our lakeside retreat in Haliburton at the end of July.

But a vacation in the Canadian wilderness can hold unexpected surprises, as Henry and Ellie discover in “Black Bear Country.” My story is included in the July 2018 issue of Mystery Weekly magazine, along with good reads by Caroline Misner, Jim Doherty, Leslie Elman, Peter DiChellis and Lance Dean.

Paperpacks and digital copies available at and


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Kingston on my mind!

Kingston, Ontario, will always have a special place in my heart. I spent a year at teachers’ college at Queen’s University after finishing my bachelor’s degree in Montreal. The move to Kingston meant I had finally left my parents’ home. I was living on my own and loving it!

This past Friday, Ed and I headed east on the 401. About 50 kilometres before Kingston, east-bound traffic came to a stop. There had been a major accident on the road ahead of us, and we spent the next two-and-a-half hours wondering what had happened and worrying whether our bladders would hold out until we reached a service station. The traffic finally picked up and vehicles were allowed to exit at the town of Odessa. It was only later in the day that we learned that there had been a major accident with two fatalities on the road ahead of us.

Kingston Penitentiary’s front entrance.

After the washroom, our destination was the Kingston Penitentiary. The former maximum security prison was opened in 1835 and it closed in September 2013. And tours of the buildings and grounds are now given from May to October. I’d passed this fortress every day when I was at teachers’ college. I wanted to see what it was like inside!

Our young guide took us to various stations in the prison — cell blocks, the guardhouse under the main dome, the recreation yard, work areas — where former prison guards told us stories of what went on in these areas when they worked there. All the former  guards we met had worked in the prison for 30+ years and seemed to have enjoyed their work. I hadn’t realized that there had been a four-day riot, resulting in the death of two inmates and the destruction of much of the prison, only a few months before I arrived at teachers’ college. It’s a wonder my parents had allowed me to leave home!

Above: Ed in his cell in Kingston Pen.

Behind bars at Kingston Pen.

Over the years, Kingston Penitentiary has housed many notable and notorious inmates. James Donnelly, patriarch of the Black Donnellys, spent seven years in the Pen after his sentence to be hanged for the murder of Patrick Farrell was reduced to a jail term. Others of note are the infamous serial killer and rapist Paul Bernardo; serial killer Clifford Olson; Russell Williams, former commander of CFB Trenton, who was convicted of killing two women in 2010 near the military base; and Grace Marks, the Irish-Canadian maid who was convicted of murdering her employer and whose story inspired Margaret Atwood’s novel Alias Grace. Wayne Boden, the Canadian “vampire rapist” (so called because he liked to bite his victims, which led to his conviction), died in Kingston Penitentiary in 2006.

Right across King Street from Kingston Pen in the former Warden’s residence is Canada’s Penitentiary Museum. It houses a fascinating collection of inmates’ ingenuity, such as shivs made from toothbrushes, a stack of dinner trays that was used in an attempted escape, and prisoners’ artwork.

At the Sisters in Crime table in the book room, from left to right: Madona Skaff, Terri Dixon and Marilyn Kay.

On Saturday and Sunday, Ed and I got down to the main purpose of our visit to Kingston: Limestone Genre Expo, the annual conference of the sci fi, fantasy, horror, romance and mystery genres. It was a chance to catch up with our mystery writer pals, and to learn more about other literary genres. I spoke on a panel on Why Do We Love a Good Whodunit?, read from my mystery novel Raven Lake, and hung out a lot in the book room.

Ed and I attended a terrific two-hour panel titled Genre 101 for Genre Writers to learn more about the conventions of horror and sci fi writing. A top project for the summer is to read some classic horror stories so I can learn what has been done before and how it works in the hands of the masters. I’m also keen to read The Physics of the Impossible to find out what theoretical physicist Michio Kaku thinks may be possible in the near and distant future. I’m not a scientist so I need a good explainer.

In the photo above, Katherine Prairie (left) and Lisa de Nikolits are hard at work selling their books.

Author Madeleine Harris-Callway

Photos by Ed Piwowarczyk.

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An Arthur Ellis for 13 Claws!

Last night, Catherine Astolfo’s “The Outlier” was named the winner of Crime Writers of Canada’s 2018 Arthur Ellis award for best short story.

“The Outlier” appeared in the Mesdames of Mayhem’s crime fiction anthology 13 Claws, published by Carrick Publishing last fall. It is Astolfo’s second Arthur Ellis for best short story. She won the award in 2012 for “What Kelly Did,” published by NorthWord Literary Magazine. That year, she also won the CWC’s Derrick Murdoch Award for her service to Canadian crime writers.

Congratulations, Cathy and Carrick Publishing!

Click here for a complete list of 2018 Arthur Ellis winners in all categories.

The Arthur, presented to winners of Crime Writers of Canada’s annual awards.

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Limestone Genre Expo!


Huge book event! Workshops, panels, readings and … books, books, books!

This weekend! Saturday May 26 and Sunday May 27.

Holiday Inn Waterfront, Kingston, Ontario.

Check out the schedule here.


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The Mesdames love a good chat!


This weekend, four Mesdames of Mayhem — M.H. Callway, Melodie Campbell, Lisa de Nikolits and myself — got together with Vanessa Westermann to talk about our writing, and why and how we do it.

It was great fun to revisit how we came up with the animals we wrote about in the Mesdames’ most recent anthology 13 Claws, the Canadian settings — or not — in our fiction, and our advice to aspiring writers.

This is what we chatted about with Vanessa.  Check it out!

Vanessa Westermann is an avid crime fiction reader, a reviewer, a blogger, a former Arthur Ellis Awards judge and a writing instructor. She is also the author of a mystery novel, An Excuse for Murder, which she is currently sending out to agents and publishers.

Thank you, Vanessa Westermann, for hosting the Mesdames of Mayhem on your blog. And much success with you mystery novel.

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Ed makes his Noir debut

Hubby Ed Piwowarczyk made his debut at Noir at the Bar last night, joining Rick Blechta, David Chilton, J. Kent Messum, Jeffrey Round and Jessica L. Webb in the spotlight at Toronto’s Wallace Gastropub.

Here’s the excerpt he read from his noir tale “Snakebit” in 13 Claws:

Sadie motioned Turner to come over. “Meet Mateo Rodriguez. Best snake wrangler in Arizona.”

Rodriguez grinned and squeezed Turner’s hand.  “Pleased to meet you, señor.”

Turner flinched and turned away from the small dark eyes boring into him.

Then Rodriguez fixed his gaze on the snake tattoo on Turner’s right forearm—a diamondback rattlesnake with an oversized head, fangs bared, coiled and ready to strike. “El serpiente. You like?” He laughed. “You have come to the right place.”

Turner flexed his fingers as Rodriquez released his grip.

Rodriguez turned to a cinder-block building and motioned Turner and Sadie to follow him. “Come! I have some work to do. Sadie, she has seen this many times, but you will find it interesting, señor.”

“How did you meet this guy?” Turner asked Sadie as they followed him.

“I used to ride horses out here when I was a teenager,” Sadie replied. “One day, my horse got spooked by a rattler. I was thrown, but luckily for me, Mateo was in the area hunting for snakes. He captured the rattler, calmed my horse and got me back to the base. The medic told me I was lucky I hadn’t been bitten and only had a few scrapes and bruises.

“I looked Mateo up to thank him. He showed me around his place and explained what he did. I became fascinated with his snakes and his work, and offered to help him in any way I could.”

“This is a business?”

“Quite profitable, actually.” Sadie paused. “I guess you could say Mateo became my mentor. I learned about snakes and the desert. We kept in touch after I went to college—and after I married Charlie.”

Rodriguez stopped in front of the cinder-block building. “Mi casa de serpientes. Wait here, por favor.”

“That’s Mateo’s snake house,” Sadie said. “He’s got about a dozen or more species in there, mainly rattlers, a couple of hundred snakes altogether. The interior is light- and temperature-controlled.”

Rodriguez emerged from the snake house with a few clear plastic bins, each holding a rattlesnake, and long-handled metal tongs with a C-shaped end.

“What’s he going to do?” Turner asked.

“Milk them.” Sadie laughed at Turner’s puzzled look. “Extract their venom.”

Using the tongs, Rodriguez lifted a snake about three and a half feet long from one of the bins. The rattler had brown blotches that stretched down its back and faded into white and black bands at its tail.

“That’s a Mojave rattler,” she said. “It has the most potent rattlesnake venom.” She paused. “There are two strains of Mojave rattler venom. One strain, considered the more lethal, attacks the nervous system; the other destroys red blood cells. Some Mojaves have strains of both.”

“What happens if one of them bites you?”

“Let’s see.” Sadie counted off on her fingers as she recited. “Shortness of breath, double vision, difficulty swallowing and speaking, nausea, weakness or paralysis of the lower limbs, involuntary tremors of facial muscles and respiratory failure.”

“How do you know this?”

“Research. I’ve learned to respect all rattlers. It’s best to stay out of their way.”

Rodriguez placed the snake on a foam pad on a small table. At the table’s edge was a glass funnel—its mouth covered by a thin, waxy membrane—suspended over a vial.

He grabbed the snake with his left hand and fit the snake’s fangs over the side of the funnel. The rattler bit the membrane, releasing a yellowish venom. With his thumb and middle finger, he depressed two glands near the reptile’s jaw to extract all the venom. Then he maneuvered the snake back into its bin.

Rodriguez repeated the procedure with more snakes that hissed and rattled to signal their displeasure, until the vial was about three-quarters full.

“All that trouble for that?” Turner remarked.

Oro, señor,” Rodriguez replied as he capped the vial.

“Liquid gold,” Sadie said. “It’s worth thousands. He freeze–dries it and ships it to clinics, labs and universities. They use it for research and to make antivenom.”

Rodriguez beckoned them to follow him into the snake house. “Come! Let me show you my beauties.” He ushered them in and stopped to place the vial in a compact fridge. Then he pointed to racks along two walls. He smiled. “There are Mojaves, western diamondbacks, sidewinders, corals—”

“That’s it for me.” The snake house was creeping Turner out. “I’ll wait outside.”

Rodriguez shook his head in feigned disappointment and pointed at Turner’s tattoo. “Señor, I thought you might enjoy being among your own kind.”


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