Klaus Schwamborn crafts crime in cyber-space

Cyber-thriller writer Klaus Schwamborn joins me today on Moving Target. Klaus was born in Cologne, Germany, and has worked as a software engineer on several continents. He and his wife now live outside Toronto. His debut novel, Emily, was released by Olympia Publishers in 2018, followed by Dreamland earlier this year.

Klaus Schwamborn.

Moving Target: Emily, Dreamland and Gemini, your novel that will be released in 2020, are cyber-thrillers, stories set in the world of cutting-edge communications technology. Klaus, why do you write cyber-thrillers and what does that sub-genre mean to you?

Klaus: Having worked in the technology industry my entire working life, this is a world I understand. Cyber-crime is very real in today’s world of information availability. People and corporations use communications technology for personal gain. Most companies do not openly admit to having their information stolen, knowing that their investors will lose confidence in them. My stories expose how cyber-fraud is so easily carried out.

Moving Target: What research have you done for your novels?

Klaus: All the technologies described in my novels are real and based on what I’ve encountered in my own work; however, I’ve altered some narratives to protect proprietary information. The novels are set in real places, mostly cities and countries I’ve been to or lived in. Places I haven’t been to I’ve researched through the Encyclopaedia Britannica or Microsoft’s Encarta. Google Maps and Google Earth were also invaluable sources of information.

Moving Target: Are any of your stories based on people you know or real events you’ve gone through?

Klaus: All my characters are composites of people I’ve met or worked with throughout my adult life. It may be difficult to believe that my antagonists are based on real people and the situations they’ve got themselves into, but sadly people like that do exist. I’ve built the worst aspects of human nature into my antagonists, and the very best of human nature into my protagonists to suit my storylines. Office politics, business dealings and humorous situations are all taken from real life.

Moving Target: Do you have a plot nailed down when you start writing?

Klaus: Yes, I know exactly what my plot is before I start writing. Then I build a story and characters’ relationships around that plot.

Moving Target: What gives you the most trouble to write?

Klaus: Describing characters and places in exactly the way I want them to be seen by the reader.

Moving Target: Getting published is a long and often bumpy journey. Do you have an amusing anecdote about your Getting Published experience?

Klaus. Being steered in the wrong direction by individuals claiming to be publications managers or literary agents with the sole intention of getting money out of me. It wasn’t amusing then, but in retrospect, I find it very funny just how many opportunists are out there.

Moving Target: Tell us about your writing schedule.

Klaus: I carry a phone or tablet with me at all times, and take notes about the people I encounter and situations I find myself in. These notes usually become part of a story; sometimes just a small paragraph, other times one or more chapters. If I get an idea, I will write it down regardless of the time of day. It can be after midnight or before breakfast. There is no set time of day or night when I sit down to write.

Moving Target: What has been the worst advice you’ve received as a writer?

Klaus: That I needed a publications manager, that I needed to belong to a guild or a union, and that I needed to have previously published works in order to be published. I was also bombarded with email from people who wanted money so they could advise me on the best route I should take, usually self-publishing. I still get many of these emails today, and they are all redirected to my junk folder. Being ignorant about how to get your novel published and about the publishing world in general can be costly.

Moving Target: Tell us about your next novel and when it will be released.

Klaus: Gemini is in the final stages of production and will hopefully be available early next year. It is not intended to be the third part of a trilogy, but it is the third novel about the fictitious SkyTech Corporation. The fourth SkyTech novel is already in the making. The plots of each novel are different, although they all involve cyber-technology. And I build on the relationships of the primary characters in each consecutive story.

Moving Target: What actress would you like to play your protagonist in the movie adaptation of Emily?

Klaus: With most of the characters I’ve created, I had a very clear idea who would be the perfect actor or actress—except for my protagonist Emily. The closest I came to in looks was a pencil sketch I made of Emily. But after reading all three novels (several times), my wife Francesca suggested that Kate Hudson would be perfect in the role. She was absolutely right. Francesca can also take credit for Gemini, the title of the third novel.

Kate Hudson in the title role in Emily?

Moving Target: Thank you, Klaus!

Emily can be purchased at Amazon.ca and Amazon.com. Dreamland is also available on Amazon.ca and Amazon.com.

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Black Christmas: slashing through the seasonal fluff

The Toronto house at 6 Clarendon Crescent where Black Christmas 1974 was shot.

Black Christmas 2019, now playing in movie houses, may be an antidote to Christmas cinema fluff. But it’s also worth taking a look at the original 1974 Black Christmas, a slasher film about a group of sorority girls who are stalked and killed by a crazed killer on Christmas Eve.

Panned by Canadian critics when it opened, Black Christmas went on to become a domestic box office hit. It is now considered a landmark movie of the horror genre, predating as it does Halloween, Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street, and My Bloody Valentine.

And the 1974 film is thoroughly Canadian. The screenplay was based on a script written by Roy Moore, whose storyline was sparked by a series of strangulations in Westmount, Quebec, between 1968 and 1971. The film’s director, the late Bob Clark, an American by birth, was an honorary Canadian best known for his work in Canadian film in the 1970s and ’80s.

Black Christmas was shot in Toronto in the winter of 1973-74, almost entirely inside the stately home at 6 Clarendon Crescent (in the St. Clair Ave. West and Avenue Road area), which was leased for the production. The beautiful old house never feels warm or safe in the movie, despite the raging winter wind outside; it’s a prison, rather than a home for its residents.

And who lives in this house? A young Margot Kidder, Andrea Martin (who went on to SCTV fame), Olivia Hussey and Toronto actress Lynne Griffin. Griffin plays the film’s first victim, whose grisly death by plastic bag became the poster image for the movie and an unforgettable moment in horror-film history.

A young Margot Kidder played one of the victims.

Most of the non-house action was shot on the University of Toronto campus.

Black Christmas holds up because it has character, humor and complexity. The sorority sisters feel like real young women, bright and independent, not the dumb victims of subsequent slasher flicks. And what seem like horror clichés in 2019—a killer on the loose, a first-person camera showing the action though the eyes of the faceless stalker, and the “final girl” convention—are all slasher tropes established by Black Christmas.

There was a loose remake of Black Christmas back in 2006—it borrowed the title, anyway—that was shot in Vancouver. It explained in painstaking detail who the killer was and why he became deranged. Backstory that the 1974 version wisely chose to keep back.

This year’s Black Christmas remake was shot in New Zealand. Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes says: “Better than the 2006 remake yet not as sharp as the original, this Black Christmas stabs at timely feminist themes but mostly hits on familiar pulp.”

The Solders’ Tower on the University of Toronto campus was the setting for a scene in Black Christmas.
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Remembering their courage: The Great Escape

Steve McQueen on the Triumph TR6 Trophy motorbike in The Great Escape. The dramatic fence jump was made by McQueen’s stunt double, Bud Ekins.

Celebrated Remembrance Day early last night by watching The Great Escape.

Loosely based on a mass breakout by Allied prisoners in a Nazi detention camp during the Second World War, John Sturges’ 1963 film is my favourite war movie, and one of my favourite movies period. Even though there isn’t a single woman in it. It’s a Boys’ Own adventure story about teamwork and loyalty, with an all-star cast including Steve McQueen, Richard Attenborough, James Garner, Charles Bronson, David McCallum and James Coburn.

Backed by Elmer Bernstein’s jaunty score, The Great Escape is great entertainment from its opening sequence right through to McQueen’s daring motorcycle bid for freedom, and its denouement following up the escapees outside the camp: hitchhiking, and on bicycle, bus, train, plane and rowboat.

McQueen’s iconic freedom jump and the movie’s other stunts are pure Hollywood, but The Great Escape is more than escapism. The determination of human beings to escape captivity is instinctual and makes a moving story. As senior British officer Ramsey (James Donald) tells the Nazi commander, “It is the sworn duty of all officers to try to escape. If they can’t, it is their duty to cause the enemy to use an inordinate number of troops to guard them.” The prisoners in Stalag Luft III organize themselves into teams, displaying amazing ingenuity in getting out of the camp and outfitting themselves to continue their flight outside. Attenborough’s Squadron Leader Bartlett says, “All this kept me alive.”

There is no sermonizing on the horrors or the futility of war. Just the single-minded focus of these men. And, above all, their courage.

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Celebrating Horror Season!

Got into the Halloween spirit last night with a double bill: The Thing From Another World (1951) and John Carpenter’s 1982 remake, The Thing. Despite its schlocky title, lumbering Frankenstein monster and mad scientist, I was surprised to find how well the 1951 movie has held up.

Based on the novella Who Goes There? (a much better title) by John W. Campbell Jr., the story focuses on a group of military officers and scientists at an Arctic research station who accidentally release a malevolent alien from a block of ice. It’s a Cold War allegory with the creature (played by Gunsmoke star James Arness in monster drag) representing the threat of communism in America in the 1950s. But it probes deeper than that by portraying chief scientist Carrington (Robert Cornthwaite), a man willing to sell out his fellow humans to partner the alien, as the real menace.

With almost no special effects, The Thing From Another World generates plenty of thrills and chills with its tight plotting and fast pacing. Snappy pacing and clever dialogue—also seen here in abundance—are trademarks of producer Howard Hawks (The Big Sleep, To Have and Have Not), and some claim Hawks directed many of the movie’s scenes, allowing his protégé Christian Nyby to take screen credit.

Officers and scientists find a large object in the Arctic ice in The Thing From Another World (1951).

A bit of trivia: In the 1978 slasher film Halloween, the teens and the kids they’re babysitting are watching The Thing From Another World. And Halloween director John Carpenter went on to make another adaption of Campbell’s novella in 1982, titled—guess what?—The Thing.

The Thing is set in another icy outpost, this one a research station in the Antarctic, but it’s a very different movie. It is super visual, starting with a wonderful opening sequence in which a dog is chased by a helicopter over snow-covered tundra. Unlike the 1951 film, it is shot in colour and revels in gory special effects. But the real tension is generated by the high-stress situation: this alien is a shapeshifter that assumes the appearances of its victims. One by one, it devours the men on the base. Fear and paranoia mount as survivors wonder who among them are aliens.

The Thing bombed at the box office in 1982, and was denounced by critics. Roger Ebert called it “a geek show.” Vincent Canby of the New York Times dismissed it as “instant junk.”

But times and audiences have changed. The Thing’s gruesome special effects aren’t horrifying today; they’re camp. Suspicion and uncertainty are well understood. And the gay rights movement has noted a queer subtext to the all-male movie, claiming it’s about the straight community’s paranoia about gays and AIDS.

The Thing is now a cult horror classic.

It won’t scare you out of your boots, but it’s good entertainment for the Halloween horror season.

Movie poster for The Thing, 1982.

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A gala launch for In the Key of 13!

Yesterday, the Mesdames of Mayhem’s fourth crime fiction collection, In the Key of 13, was launched with great fanfare at Toronto’s Sleuth of Baker Street book store. Fourteen of the 19 authors were on hand to give short readings from their stories. Here they are!

Caro Soles, “Moonlight Sonata”: I have never lived in such an elegant place as this. It’s like being in another world here, with the gold-braided doorman and echoing black-marble vestibule. Up we go, Mother and I, in the golden cage to the fourth floor where more marble awaits.

Caro Soles, reading from "Moonlight Sonata."
Caro Soles, reading from “Moonlight Sonata.”

From my story, “Farewell to the King,” in which four young Montreal Elvis fans travel to Memphis for the King’s funeral: Then we were in front of the famous metal gates. Police officers were holding people back. I glimpsed the white mansion fronted by four pillars and two stone lions.

“Graceland, the King’s home,” Virgil, our bus driver, said.

“C’est extraordinaire!” Cécile’s voice was filled with reverence.

“Can we get off and take photos?” Mai-Lei called out.

“No, ma’am,” Virgil said. “Private service in there in 10 minutes.”

“I don’t care,” Toni shouted. “I’m livin’ my dream just seeing Graceland.”

Myself, reading from “Farewell to the King.”

Blair Keetch, “A Contrapuntal Duet”: Even as the music fades and I look back through the years, I wonder if the chime of the triangle had, in fact, been a warning bell.

Blair Keetch, reading from “A Contrapuntal Duet”.

Lisa de Nikolits, “Hit Me With Your Pet Shark”: Who’s That Girl by the Eurythmics wailed through the speakers, hitting the nail on the head.

Emma patted the sofa and beckoned to me. I was still standing there, the village idiot, and I forced myself to move, me, a muddy moth drawn to an acid golden flame. 

Emma reached up and pulled me down next to her and I lost my balance, nearly falling on top of her. An electric current jolted though me and I tried to shift to a more graceful position, flushing with embarrassment. She handed me the snorter and I took it with trembling fingers. I vacuumed a line, Joe handed me another shot and I threw it back. 

Thank God for Goldfrapp’s “Strict Machine.” The bass helped calm me a bit, but I was a cornered mouse. I saw Joe watching me and there was a look in his lizard eyes that told me to run away, run as fast as I could, but cool fingertips brushed my neck, and I closed my eyes, trapped by pleasure, a dumb creature unable to move. The sofa took the weight of another body, and I opened my eyes to see Emma rubbing Joe’s balls. I thought okay, so that’s how it’s going to be.

Lisa de Nikolits, reading from “Hit Me With Your Pet Shark.”

Jane Petersen Burfield, “Requiem”: I first encountered death when I was not quite four. After our old dog, Blackie, was put down, my mother took me to the garage to see him, collapsed in a wooden crate. I was sickened by the smell of damp cement and rotten fruit. I said a weepy goodbye, hugged my mom, and went upstairs to think.

Jane Petersen Burfield, reading from “Requiem.”

Madona Skaff’s “Soul Behind the Face”: The Great Leonard sat motionless on the wooden chair, his arms rested comfortably on the Plexiglass table before him. He controlled his breathing and the relentless need to scratch at the electrodes attached to his chest and scalp.

Madona Skaff, reading from “Soul Behind the Face.”

M.H. Callway’s “Brainworm”: Sur le pont d’Avignon, l’on y danse, l’on y danse…

Fiona huddled over her rapidly cooling coffee. Maman‘s damn tune wouldn’t stop. Even shock and awe couldn’t blast it from her mind. Her heart still hammered like a drum.

M.H. (Madeleine) Callway, reading from “Brainworm.”

Rosemary Aubert’s “The Beethoven Disaster”: To be successful in any encounter, you have to do three things: You have to focus. You have to make sure the person or people you are working for are 100% reliable. You have to stick to what you yourself know best.

Doug Purdon, reading from Rosemary Aubert’s “The Beethoven Disaster.”

Marilyn Kay’s “Her Perfume”: Despite the bright August sun, a chill wind swept through the ruined castle’s grounds and ruffled Julie’s chestnut hair. Shivering, she hugged her denim jacket close.

Marilyn Kay, reading from “Her Perfume.”

Rosalind Place’s “Bad Vibrations”: “I don’t know, Chris. Can’t the board do something? I’m thinking of packing it in.”

Amy ran her fingers through her hair as she sat down, flattening half of her carefully managed curls. It gave her the appearance of a crested bird, an image reinforced by her black sweater, black jeans and high-heeled black boots, now tapping anxiously against the auditorium stage floor. She felt nauseous and angry, as she often did after one of Neil’s so-called motivational meetings.

Rosalind Place, reading from “Bad Vibrations.”

Melodie Campbell’s “Death of a Cheapskate”: Dad died years ago, but I remember it clearly. Looking back, it seems remarkable that no one but me realized it was murder.

The phone call from my sister came late at night. “He’s dead,” Elaine said. “Finally.”

Melodie Campbell, reading from “Death of a Cheapskate.”

Lynne Murphy’s “Let the Sunshine In”: “I think someone is killing the residents in this place.”

Charlotte was well aware of cases that had been in the news: murders in nursing homes by caretakers. But people were watching out for that now. Weren’t they?

Lynne Murphy, reading from “Let the Sunshine In.”

Catherine Astolfo’s “Gentle Rain From Heaven”: Mersey hands her form with her ID to the policeman blocking the door. He examines the document closely, but does not look at her.

Finally, the policeman raises his eyes to look at her. He has discovered the only unique thing about her.

“Mer-zee?” he asks, saying her name like the famous river.

“No, Mer-see. As in, ‘The quality of mercy is not strain’d. It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven.'”

Catherine Astolfo, after reading from “Gentle Rain From Heaven.”

Sylvia Maultash Warsh’s “None Shall Sleep”: Galina’s mistake was to tell her understudy a stupid little joke. She whispered in the girl’s ear: When we are finally paid our wages, I will splurge and spend it all on a tin of herring. Her understudy, recognizing the opportunity, relayed the conversation to the committee head, who informed the police. It turned out to be treason to imply that the government had not paid its artists for months, or that government-run stores were empty. Galina was sentenced to five years in a labor camp for anti-Soviet activity, while the understudy was promoted to Galina’s role.

Sylvia Maultash Warsh, reading from “None Shall Sleep.”

Donna Carrick’s “Solace in D Minor”: As a child, I was fully aware of how special our father was. He was a superstar, the proverbial “whole package,” loved by millions, and he was my hero.

Dad was a real father, one who spent time with us, as precious as that time was. He blessed us with genuine love and a unique outlook on life.

I remember the day he gave us “the talk”–the one about our family’s wealth and privilege.

“Money,” he said, “is a fortress. It protects us from the outside world. It shields us from the consequences of our actions.”

“But never forget, girls, it’s also a prison.”

Donna Carrick.

Ed Piwowarczyk’s “The Ballad of Will Robinson”: My name is Will Robinson, same as that kid on that ’60s TV show Lost in Space. My fictional counterpart had a robot who warned, “Danger, Will Robinson, danger!” Too bad that robot wasn’t around when Rose Connelly entered my life.

Ed Piwowarczyk, reading from “The Ballad of Will Robinson.”

Thank you to our host, the lovely Marian Misters, co-owner of Sleuth of Baker Street book store!

Marian Misters of Sleuth of Baker Street.

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In the Key of 13: crime fiction stories to celebrate!

The Mesdames of Mayhem’s fourth collection of crime fiction has been released by Carrick Publishing. In the Key of 13 is now available on Amazon. And, for those of you in the Toronto area, we hope you’ll join us in celebrating the collection’s print launch at Sleuth of Baker Street book store at 2 p.m. October 26.

The 19 stories in the anthology range from cozy to noir, and all are on the theme of music. Many of the authors are winners of or finalists for major crime writing awards. Blair Keetch is the winner of the Mesdames’ 2019 contest for emerging crime writers. His story, “A Contrapuntal Duet,” is his first published story.

Jack Batten, the Toronto Star‘s crime fiction reviewer, gave the collection a fabulous review today. Here’s the link to it!

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Sharpen your pencils! New collection set for 2020

Judy Penz Sheluk has come along way in the four years since her debut novel, The Hangman’s Noose, was published by Barking Rain Press. The Canadian author now has two Amazon bestselling mystery series, and she has set up her own publishing company, Superior Shores Press. This June, Superior Shores released a multi-author short story collection, The Best Laid Plans. I was delighted to have my 2013 story, “The Sweetheart Scamster,” reprinted in it.

Judy has now put a call out for submissions for Superior Shores’ second crime fiction collection. The title will be Heartbreaks & Half-Truths: 21 Stories of Mystery & Suspense, and it will be released June 18, 2020. This is another great opportunity for crime fiction writers to see their work in print!

The theme of “heartbreak and half-truths” must be an integral part of the stories’ plots — which would seem to give authors plenty of scope. The collection will feature cozy, locked-room, noir, historical and suspense stories; speculative, sci-fi, fantasy and paranormal tales will not be considered. Submissions can be previously published, although they can’t be currently available online, and preference will be given to new material.

Length should be approximately 1,500-5,000 words.

Deadline for submitting is Jan. 15, 2020. Send entries to JUDY@JUDYPENZSHELUK.COM with “Heartbreaks & Half-Truths” in the subject line.

Judy Penz Sheluk.

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