Writing for the Short Story Market

With the pandemic decimating live theatrical productions, not to mention live book events, marketing novels and plays has become more of a challenge than usual.  Therefore, I’ve been delighted to discover the enjoyment of writing for the short-story market. Until I started to explore the opportunities, I never realized how many magazines and anthologies put out calls for mystery stories. Having done so, I was delighted to have four stories in print during 2021, all fun to write, and all with a personal twist lurking behind the mystery plots. “Ill Met by Moonlight, Proud Miss Dolmas” in Moonlight and Misadventure used my experiences as a high-school drama teacher; “The River of My Return” in This Time for Sure used a past trip to Louisiana for a setting; “The Three Lives of Thomasina Bug” in Pets on the Prowl unashamedly related details of how we acquired our cat; and “Number 10 Marlborough Place” in EQMM was built around memories from my childhood in post-war England. Now, with 5 new stories already scheduled to be published in 2022, I’m definitely inspired to keep writing. More details on those to come in the future. In the meantime, it’s time to get to the laptop and produce a few more!

 

Bouchercon may be cancelled but the wonderful anthology is still available. Don’t miss out on the great mystery stories in THIS TIME FOR SURE!!

So sad that the conference had to be cancelled but it’s time to show some Bouchercon love! We’ll all miss being in New Orleans together–but maybe a book will help? And buying the terrific Bouchercon Anthology THIS TIME FOR SURE will make a huge difference. This gorgeous limited-edition hardcover will include bookplates from some of the authors–and when the books are gone, they’re gone! It will definitely be a collector’s item–the anthology from the conference that didn’t happen!

With brand new short stories from Craig Johnson, Charles Todd, Kristen Leopionka, David Heska Wanbli Weiden, Alexia Gordon and Elizabeth Elwood, and edited By Hank Phillippi Ryan.

Click here to snag your copy before they are all gone!   https://downandoutbooks.com/bookstore/bouchercon-2021/

Moonlight, Misadventure and Memories of a Drama Teacher

When I saw the title, Moonlight and Misadventure, the first thing that came to mind was a quote from William Shakespeare: “Ill met by moonlight, proud Titania.” After all, A Midsummer Night’s Dream is the epitome of moonlight and misadventure—and having thought of the play, I immediately thought back to the time I spent as a high-school drama teacher. What better subject for a mystery story to fit the theme!

I had many great memories to inspire the plot. One was slipped in early in the story. I really did have a Principal who had my studio theatre dismantled because a maintenance supervisor complained that it had not been built with union labour. It was so satisfying to sneak that tidbit in: how, with the help of the Math teacher who taught on the floor below my English room, I filed a grievance and got the theatre restored. However, the main conflict in the story arose from differences in philosophy of education. When I began teaching in the seventies, I was hired as an English teacher, but, because of my stage experience, was assigned drama classes. Traditionally, these had been held in an ancient portable unit where the noise level was least likely to intrude on academic classes. Drama classes in recent years had been improv sessions where students were encouraged to let it all out as exuberantly as possible.

I resolved to change that. If I had to teach drama, students were going to study stagecraft and voice projection, and what’s more, they were going to learn lines. The students rose to the challenge, and before the year was out, my enthusiastic troupe was itching to attempt a full-length production. Rather than use the stage in the gym, with its poor acoustics and lack of ambience, I asked the principal if we could convert our portable into a studio theatre where I could double-cast plays, mount longer runs and provide more opportunities for students to showcase their talents. Having got the okay, we scrounged the necessary equipment, and with help from janitors and shop teachers, converted the portable into a fifty-seat studio theatre. An exciting two years followed and the program was a great success.

However, when a new Principal arrived the following year, he, like Miss Dolmas, was all for free-expression and questioned my structured classes. Also, like Miss Dolmas, he was gone within the year, but not in the drastic fashion depicted in my story. And, to be fair, before he left, he changed his tune and admitted that he was impressed with our program. Still, the memory of that initial confrontation gave me the stimulus for the “misadventure” in my plot. So thank you, Moonlight and Misadventure. It was great fun being able to relive those experiences in my story. Fiction is always full of truths, and it’s deliciously satisfying to use those moments to drive a plot.

Oh, and one point that didn’t make it into the story, though I relished the memory all the same: The Math teacher who advised me to file a grievance—he and I will be celebrating our 45th wedding anniversary this December.

 

Whether it’s vintage Hollywood, the Florida everglades, the Atlantic City boardwalk, or a farmhouse in Western Canada, the twenty authors represented in this collection of mystery and suspense interpret the overarching theme of “moonlight and misadventure” in their own inimitable style where only one thing is assured: Waxing, waning, gibbous, or full, the moon is always there, illuminating things better left in the dark.

Featuring stories by K.L. Abrahamson, Sharon Hart Addy, C.W. Blackwell, Clark Boyd, M.H. Callway, Michael A. Clark, Susan Daly, Buzz Dixon, Jeanne DuBois, Elizabeth Elwood, Tracy Falenwolfe, Kate Fellowes, John M. Floyd, Billy Houston, Bethany Maines, Judy Penz Sheluk, KM Rockwood, Joseph S. Walker, Robert Weibezahl, and Susan Jane Wright.

Click here to find it at your favorite retailer.

After Rebecca and Other Mystery Stories – The latest addition to the Beary Family Mysteries

I first read Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca when I was fourteen and was so enthralled by the book that I continued reading long into the night. I would never have thought of basing a story on the novel’s theme, but there is a stretch of road on the Sunshine Coast that evokes the description of the approach to Manderley and the power of suggestion has been at work every time we have driven that route. Since the Coast is the place where I do most of my writing, it was inevitable that a story on the Rebecca theme would ensue one day.

That story became “After Rebecca”, where Philippa Beary, travelling through a storm on her way back from Montana, is unnerved when she comes upon an eerie lakeside estate that bears a remarkable resemblance to the setting of the book. She is even more disturbed when she learns that the eerie mansion holds the secret to a murder. Between the thoughts of the troubled wife whose husband is suspected of murder and the narrative that follows Philippa’s adventures as she tries to unravel the truth of what really happened at the estate, “After Rebecca” provides an intriguing puzzle for mystery lovers and nostalgia for those who remember the book that inspired the story.

With the War Veterans

“After Rebecca” is followed by seven mystery stories, many of which have roots in settings that are familiar to me. I spent several years as a Pets and Friends visitor at the George Derby War Veterans’ Hospital and have many happy memories of the people I met there. From those experiences came “Remembrance Day”, a story that tells how the search for a missing veteran ultimately provides the solution to a local murder.

La Boheme – a very old picture from my opera-chorus days.

“Mimi’s Farewell” stems from my years in the chorus of the Vancouver Opera, and “The Camera Lies” was prompted by the periodic visits of movie crews to Robert Burnaby Park. A trip to PEI and the Charlottetown Festival inspired “Journeys End in Lovers Meeting” and “The Boat Chain” was suggested by the sight of boats rafted together off the Marine Park in a sun-drenched Pender Harbour.

The Boat Chain

As a reader, I always gravitate towards cold-case scenarios or historical mysteries, so I enjoy writing these types of tales as well. Therefore, two stories in the book deal with incidents from the past. “The Feast of Stephen” is set in a late-Victorian mansion during a snowy Christmas and it tells how a child’s kindness to a vagrant brings closure to a mystery that dates back to World War II. “Two Late the Verdict” harks back to the Swinging Sixties and is set during the trial of two teachers who are facing charges of sexual assault forty years after the fact.

The towers and turrets of a late-Victorian New Westminster mansion

In spite of the variety of subjects and settings, all eight stories continue the ongoing story of the Beary Family, and particularly provide a satisfying conclusion to Philippa’s story. When I first published this post, I asked the question: Will the series end here, or will there be a seventh Beary book? Maybe. After all, Richard is still at loose ends.  Well, as it turns out, one of my pandemic projects has been to write that seventh book, but this time, it is going to be a Beary mystery novel.  More to come on this in the next few months.

 

To order After Rebecca and Other Mystery Stories: https://amzn.to/2u21n6o

Christmas Present, Christmas Past

There we were, forced to spend Christmas apart from family and friends, our bubble consisting of me, Hugh and Thomasina Bug. As we toasted each other over the dinner table, elegantly set with the good china for our turkey dinner for two, alongside a third placemat on the floor set with the good china for a Fancy Feast turkey and giblets dinner for one, we observed the fact that Christmas Present had been notably more serene than many Christmases Past. Our zoom meetings with our daughters and their families had been enjoyable; our present opening had been considerably less messy than usual; our turkey-breast dinner had been far less arduous than cooking for a crowd and had allowed us ample time to put our feet up, relax by the fire, and read our books.

Over dinner, Hugh and I gleefully reminisced about some of the more memorable Christmases of previous years. There was the year that Max, our not-so-ho-hum husky bit Katie’s godfather and caused the evening to end with a hospital visit. Another year, my father flew into a rage because dinner was held up when my brother and his wife spent the day visiting friends and didn’t dawdle in until late-afternoon. That was a particularly memorable occasion for me as it was the Christmas I’d brought my future husband home to meet my family. Amazingly enough, Hugh still married me, and very sweetly confided that he was used to these sort of ding-dongs. I thought he was just being kind, but a few years later, I learned the truth of his words when his mother announced that she would not be attending Christmas dinner if we invited Hugh’s Aunt Doris. Thus Christmas Day was spent in a drama of negotiations as Hugh’s sister tried to make her mother stay for dinner, after discovering that we had ignored her edict and that Auntie was enjoying a glass of sherry in the living room. No, Christmas was not always a time of peace and goodwill. Our daughters’ godmother, a charming, highly educated woman of First Nations heritage always enjoyed political sparring with my charming, highly educated father of British heritage, but after the third drink, the atmosphere deteriorated. The moment I heard the word, Colonialism, it was time to escape to the kitchen and lie low.

I had my gripes too. The thing that rankled me the most about hosting Christmas dinner was the fact that the guests inevitably arrived early in the afternoon; drank and socialized all day while I slogged through the cooking; ate heartily once dinner was served; and continued to drink and socialize while I slogged through clean-up. Then, the moment I took off my apron, prettied myself up and returned to the living room, ready to party, they generally all stood up and said it was time to leave.

Yes, COVID, for all its horrors, has definitely changed the format for Christmas Present. No carol services, no family gatherings, no parties, but we’ve also avoided the months of debate over whose turn it is to host and which set of parents are to visit which set of kids. We’ve avoided the battle of who goes where, because no one is going anywhere. And instead of seeing our girls, their mates and our grandchildren on separate days and travelling miles to do it, we saw them all and chattered with them, courtesy of technology, as we cooked dinner on Christmas Day. And after dinner, we put our feet up, tucked Thomasina Bug in our laps, and watched a fabulous production of Holiday Inn taped from PBS. Christmas Present was really not so bad after all.

For Father’s Day: A Tale of Two Max’s

Max and dogsMax’s original owner was most apologetic when she found out that my father’s name also happened to be Max.  I assured her, truthfully, that my father would be delighted to have a four-legged namesake.  Maxwell Henry French was renowned for his love of dogs—and for the way he kept acquiring them and sending them home during the years he was working in the USA, much to the irritation of my mother.  My father was one of the citizens who spearheaded the community movement to oppose the introduction of leash laws in Lighthouse Park, and after he died, columnist, Trevor Lautens, expressed regret at the disappearance of the “erudite old gentleman in the pith helmet” from the local scene.

mavAt one time, the French household had four dogs.  The first of these was Maverick, the hell-raiser, who was all-DOG in the days when all-DOG behavior was tolerated.  He chased vehicles, terrorized the mailman, dug holes for his bones halfway to China, fought the male dogs and went AWOL to court the females.  Back then, the neighbours accepted his roving nature, referring to him as “The dog with the flirtatious tail” and chortling at his adventures.  We lived next door to a racing driver who used to beam admiration at the way Maverick, even in his arthritic old age, could accelerate up the driveway when a motorbike went by.

circeMaverick’s old age was enlivened by Circe, the tiny German shepherd pup, who charmed every cargo worker at Vancouver airport when my father had her shipped up from San Francisco the day before my mother was due to leave for England.  Needless to say, my mother was not impressed.  However, I assured her that I could manage in her absence, even though I was serving as house manager for Theatre in the Park that summer, and finally, with a skeptical look in her eye, she left me to it and got on the plane.

cmCirce and Maverick enjoyed their time in Stanley Park.  Circe sat in her puppy cage by the stage door and received adulation from the cast members of My Fair Lady and Oliver as they reported for duty.  Maverick, I simply handed to the usher who was distributing programs, and other than the occasional lunge at a police horse, he managed to behave appropriately.  For a feisty dog, he was remarkably tolerant of Circe.  We put it down to their first meeting.  Circe was only five weeks old and had been taken from her mother too soon.  The moment we got her home from the airport, she walked underneath Maverick, mistook his private parts for the food source her mother had provided, and chowed down with misguided optimism.  They were firm friends ever after.

plMaverick and Circe were augmented two years later by Cerberus and Diana, shepherd pups also shipped up from San Francisco.  By then we also had Lighthouse, the cat named after the park where we had found him.  By now, the neighbours’ standard joke repertoire included anecdotes of how my absent father kept my mother in bondage through pet care and his burgeoning zucchini patch.  My mother, bless her, smiled serenely and carried on.  Therefore, it was typical that it was my mother who stepped up to the mark when, the day after I acquired Max, I needed him to be puppy-sat while I attended a dentist’s appointment.  This, of course, was many years later, by which time, all four dogs in the French household had passed on, so I suspect she was quite happy to have a dog in the family that could be enjoyed and returned, rather like the grandchildren.

mm
My mother, Olive Maud French, with Maverick

As I was still going to the same dentist I had attended since teenage, my appointment was in Ambleside, so my mother bussed in to meet me, took charge of Max, and walked him along the waterfront while I had my teeth cleaned.  Max, affably, let my mother take the leash and trotted off with her, obviously knowing another pushover when he met one.  Dr. Mielke, watching their retreating backs through his window, informed me that everything was under control.  He added, “He’s a real little box, isn’t he?  Sturdy little guy.”

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Young Max – “The sturdy little guy”

Mum gave Max a very good report when they returned.  Then we drove him out to Kensington Crescent to meet his namesake.  He and Dad took to each other right away.  Dad proceeded to walk him around the crescent and show him to the neighbours.   When we returned to the house for lunch, Dad sat Max at his elbow and snuck him tidbits.  Max accepted the treats and adulation with equanimity, and thus began a blissful relationship—a shared name and mutual admiration.   The shared name was actually very appropriate, since the two also shared Max-like personality traits. They were both alpha males with a temper, both very clever, and both extremely possessive of what was theirs.  Max, the dog, guarded his food ferociously, and Max, the man, was renowned for his thrift and the tight grip he held on his assets.  Both were also subject to delusions of grandeur.  Max, the dog, would take on opponents twice his size; my father thought nothing of challenging big corporations and government bodies.  When asked what the M.H. in M.H. French stood for, he would reply, “Maximilian Hannibal.”  Fittingly, my father’s gravestone carries a quote from my play, Renovations, which refers to his peripatetic nature, along with a dog and a dollar sign.

Hugh
Hugh loved to call out, “Max, Come!” when my father came to visit.

My husband loved the fact that his father-in-law shared a name with our dog.  Hugh took great delight in calling, “Max, come! or Max, sit!” when my father came to visit.  Dad took all this cheerfully.  Anything to do with Max, the dog, was borne with good humour.  My father’s birthday’s always included a card from Max with appropriate wording such as:

Unlike his namesake, Little Max does not pay any income tax,
But still we doubt if Herr Mulroney, wants chew toys laced with baloney.

Max was forgiven a multitude of sins, such as the time he chewed up the rose bush we had bought for Mother’s Day.  He was always a welcome visitor in Nana and Gamma’s house, and his tail wagged ferociously whenever they came to visit us.  Every trip to West Van would begin with my father and I meeting in Lighthouse Park and walking Max around the ten-minute trail.  The two Maxes had a bond that was really special.  I still get choked up when I remember our first visit to the house on Kensington after my father had died.  Max spent the entire time looking in all the rooms, searching for his namesake.  But that was at the end of the relationship.  That first trip to West Vancouver was the beginning, and there were wonderful years of walks and congenial visits ahead.  Max and his namesake were off to a great start.

Max
Max
Max
Max

 

An excerpt from Strings Attached: The Story of Max, the Ho Hum Husky

Thoughts from a Sidelined-as-a-Senior Lady of Shalott .

Oil painting by John William Waterhouse 1888

I can’t decide whether Tennyson or Orwell best reflects my mood at the moment, but both writers certainly resonate, now that living through a screen is the safest way to connect with the outside world. Tennyson’s Lady of Shalott, of course, wasn’t even able to look out of her window without sacrificing her life, but when she said, “I am half sick of shadows,” she certainly reflected the way so many of us feel, given that we’re unable to visit, hug and engage with the people we love. In my case, it’s not Sir Lancelot that tempts me to defy the curse, it’s our adorable seventeen-month-old granddaughter who is growing and developing apace, but the feeling is definitely the same.

However, when our television set daily brings Big Brother and a parade of solemn faces from government and health officialdom, telling us how the War on the Virus is going and what we have to do in order to comply and assist in the battle, George Orwell comes to mind. The sad reality is that, whether reminiscent of a Victorian poem or a twentieth century novel, the curse, threat, or whatever we call it is out there and our behaviour is bound by external forces over which we have little, if any, control.

My husband and I never really felt that we were old until this terrible pandemic hit and we were informed that people over sixty-five had to stay at home. Hugh and I always tended to be ‘get out there and join in’ sort of people, so being side-lined is a novel (pardon the pun) experience. Watching from our isolation, it’s sad to see so many hopes and dreams dashed, and sad to realize the danger the brave people in the front lines are having to face on a daily basis. I’m sure many, like us, feel angry at times at the disruption to so many lives and the realization that things will not simply bounce back to where they were in pre-pandemic days. There’s also a natural desire to point fingers and lay blame—this should have been done faster; that should have been obvious much sooner—but at some point, we need to figure out how we became so vulnerable and what changes should be made for a safer future.

Lots of questions come to mind. Have we  been negligent in critical areas? Has the terrible impact on senior homes been the result of hiring part-time caregivers (with no benefits) who have to work in more than one place to make a living wage? Have we made international travel too easily accessible and should we be prepared to accept more rigorous quarantine requirements to ensure that people do not carry communicable diseases between countries? Should some products and services be manufactured within our own country to ensure we never face the alarming shortfall of critical supplies that has occurred with the current pandemic? Are we going to continue buying products from countries where human rights are ignored and working conditions are such that we would consider them unacceptable? If so, are we prepared to continue looking the other way so we can continue to get cheap goods, or will we be prepared to pay more for the same items made by our own citizens working for a decent wage?

There are a lot more questions that need to be asked. I certainly don’t know the answers, but I am sure we can’t wait for this to pass and assume that things will be the same afterwards. I try not to dwell too much on the fact that the world has become a darker and more frightening place, or that the road to recovery will be long. Now, I simply hope that there are no other catastrophes waiting in the wings, for there is always the danger that one crisis triggers other problems. However, Hugh and I try to be optimistic, since that is the best way to cope and move forward. We are so grateful for those who are out there in the front lines, helping those who are ill and keeping the supply chains moving. They truly are the heroes of the hour, and if nothing else, this crisis has underlined who the truly essential people are in our society. Here’s hoping that when we make it through to better and safer times, they will continue to be valued as much then as they are now.

Second production of Shadow of Murder coming soon.

The Morton family suffered a tragedy when their daughter was the victim of a serial killer. Two decades later members of the family gather at the Marshlands Hunting Lodge, where unbeknown to them, two people are present who are connected to the earlier crime. A storm causes landslides that render the access road impassable, and before long, another murder takes place.

 

Vancouver Island’s Portal Players will be presenting Elizabeth Elwood’s Shadow of Murder, Friday and Saturday evenings at Port Alberni’s Capitol Theatre from February 21 to March 14. Directed by Jacqollyne Keath, this will be the second production of the murder mystery play, which is set in an isolated hunting lodge in a mountainous area of British Columbia. An entertaining thriller with lots of twists and turns, Shadow of Murder received high praise at its New Westminster premiere in 2011 and promises to provide another exciting evening of theatre with this fine new production.