Thrilled to be featured on the cover of Black Cat Weekly!

A man is shot dead inside a locked room. He’s found seconds later. No one else was there. Suicide seems the obvious answer, yet Detective Constable Annie Blake thinks it was murder. Can she prove it? Find out in my locked-room mystery, “The Chess Room.” Lots of other fascinating reads within the magazine, too. A treat for mystery lovers. The issue can be purchased here: https://bcmystery.com/black-cat-weekly-28-1/

 

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 soon 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.

The Three Lives of Thomasina Bug

We first met Thomasina Bug six years ago. We were staying at our Pender Harbour cottage and I was out for an evening walk with my husband, Hugh, and our daughter Katie, who had driven up from Vancouver to stay with us for a few days. It was a lovely September evening but the light was fading quickly, and, as we walked by the Sundowner Inn, we noticed a little striped kitten sitting on the steps.

The Sundowner Waif

Katie, who had no pets at that time, wanted to take it home, but as her father pointed out, the kitten very likely belonged to someone in the area. However, we did nip back to the cottage, filled a small dish with our own cat’s Fancy Feast and ran it back to the little tabby. She was still sitting on the steps and she gratefully polished off the dish of food, after which she allowed herself to be stroked and petted. Katie was returning to town the next day and she was loath to leave the kitten there, but we headed home, assuring her that we would keep a look out for it and try to find out whether or not it was a stray. However, for the remainder of our stay, there was no sign of the kitten so we assumed she had returned to her home, wherever it was.

Still hanging in there

We were in town throughout the winter and did not return to the cottage until the spring. Still, a few days after we came back, we were delighted to see a full-grown version of our kitten peering at us from the bushes when we were out for a walk. I took a photograph and sent it to Katie, letting her know that her kitten had survived the winter and was still going strong. We only occasionally saw the cat throughout the summer, but once in a while, we observed her staring at us from a tree or skittering about in the bushes when we walked on the road that led to the pub.

The shack next door

The following year, the cat started to show up closer to our own property, even sometimes streaking across our garden during her morning foray for wildlife. She was a particularly pretty tabby and, in the absence of knowing her origins, I christened her Thomasina. We were staying for the whole summer, and after a while, we realized that she was living in the derelict and uninhabited cottage next door to us. Once we knew where she was based, we began taking treats with us on our morning walk and stopping to give her a snack as we passed by. We were sad that year as our own cat, Minx the Manx, had died the previous September, so we particularly enjoyed our visits with Thomasina.

Going feral

One day, we saw a car pull up in front of the derelict cottage and our neighbour who lived a little way up the hill got out. Hugh went down to talk to him and saw that he was giving Thomasina a tin of Friskies. Thomasina, it turned out, was his cat. Hugh had been right that the kitten had a home. She had been well looked after for those early years and had given birth to two sets of kittens during that time. However, when her owner had her spayed and kept the second set of kittens, Thomasina left home.

Not too wild for a cuddle

Who knows what decided her to go semi-feral and free-wheel it in an uninhabited wreck of a house? Fed up with motherhood? Bullied by her kittens? An adventurous and independent spirit? It was a mystery. She was certainly affectionate. She loved her visits from her owner, and when Hugh picked her up for the first time, she purred for him too. But only for a moment. Then she wriggled free as if to say, “That’s enough.”

Morning walk Temptations

At this point, we also found out that her name was Bug, so that is how she became Thomasina Bug. We continued to give her treats, and our neighbour was happy to know someone else was looking out for his vagabond kitty. He was worried about her living rough and had tried to bring her home, even attempting to keep her in and make her stay, but she simply threw tantrums and demanded to go out, whereupon, she headed back to her chosen spot. Over the course of the summer, Thomasina Bug, when not out on her rounds, would watch us from the roof of her shack, and gradually, she began to venture into our garden.

The garden visitor

The treats morphed into bowls of Meow Mix and by the end of the summer, she would come right to our back steps to eat. We would sit out with her and keep her company, and she would sometimes hop onto our laps and purr, although she raced away the moment we opened the cottage door. No way was she going to be corralled again.

The chin scratcher

However, she became a regular visitor in the garden. She liked Hugh’s vegetable patch. All those bean poles made great cover when she was hunting. She also liked the boot-brush at the foot of our steps and luxuriated in scratching her chin on it. We were very sad leaving her at the end of the summer, although we knew that her owner was still looking after her and she always had the option of going home.

Happy to see us back

As soon as we returned to the cottage the following spring, we hurried next door and called her name. In a trice, Thomasina Bug hopped out from under her shack and greeted us enthusiastically. She seemed very happy to see us, and she chowed down her treats greedily, though we noticed that she hadn’t lost weight over the winter. If anything, she looked chubbier.  The same pattern immediately kicked in: morning-walk treats, afternoon garden visits. We’d often talk with our neighbour when he came to feed her. Thomasina Bug had him well trained.

The best of both worlds?

As he said, she had the best of both worlds. Total freedom, but loving humans looking out for her and providing for her needs. It appeared that her morning rounds had increased in area and she had a variety of doting humans on her circuit. But perhaps because we were so close to her base, she became particularly attached to us. Instead of watching us cautiously from her roof, she would bound over the moment she caught sight of us, whether we were in our garden, walking on the street, or out chatting with the neighbours. This time, it was even more of a wrench to say goodbye to her at summer’s end, and it almost seemed as if she understood.

Condescending to nap on our back steps

That winter passed quickly. My new play was being produced by Vagabond Players and I was both director and producer, Hugh was building the set, my friend Jacqollyne Keath and I were creating a particularly complicated sound design together, and the time simply whipped by. Before we knew it, it was spring again, and we returned to the cottage even earlier than usual, very eager to see how our semi-feral friend was doing. Once again, she greeted us rapturously, and this time, a little reproachfully.

Do I dare enter?

Before long, we noticed that she was starting to take her midday nap on our back steps, so one day, Hugh opened the screen door and invited her in. She skittered away and kept her distance, but Hugh left the door open. I was on the couch working on my laptop that afternoon, and suddenly I sensed movement on the deck. I looked up to see Thomasina Bug standing at the French doors and staring into our living room.

First complete circuit

The moment she saw that I’d noticed her, she scurried away, but within the half hour, she was back again. This time, she made a cautious foray into the room. Then another retreat. Gradually, over the course of the afternoon, she increased her incursions, finally making it all the way round the couch, although she ducked and ran when I bent down to pat her. Still determined not to be imprisoned.

Discovering Minx’s toys

The next day, she was back again. This time, she found one of Minx’s old cat toys. Before I knew it, she was rolling and romping all around the room, tossing and batting the toy with a hilarious mix of ferocity and playfulness. Then, all played out, the hopped onto Hugh’s armchair and settled herself there for the next hour.

Claiming Hugh’s armchair

Come evening, she was off again for her night manoeuvres, but the next morning, she was back the moment we were up. That afternoon, we found her tucked up on the bed, and that night, she looked at me reproachfully when I shooed her out for the night and reminded her that she wasn’t our cat. The next morning, as we had our tea in bed, we glanced at the bedroom window and saw a little striped face peering through. Hugh got up to open the door and she marched in, jumped on the bed and settled down as if she owned the place.

Testing the bed

That night, as I was putting her out, I was talking with Katie on the phone. On hearing what was happening at our end, Katie wailed, “Oh, I can’t stand it! How can you?” My response: “We can’t keep her in. She isn’t our cat and we can’t make her dependent on us.” But of course, two nights later, we broke down and Thomasina Bug spent the night with us—that is, until the early hours of the morning when she decided to chase her tail all over the bed. At this point, she was evicted. But during our morning tea, she was meowing at the window again.

The kitty condo

Thomasina Bug soon became a regular presence in the cottage. She discovered Minx’s kitty condo where we set daily treats for her to find. No more need to dispense Temptations during our walks. She became a constant lap cat, always hopping onto whichever one of us was sitting down, and looking quite put out if we were on our feet and no laps were available.

Helping me write

She kept me company when I fired up my laptop, perching on my legs with determination as well as indignation because my lap was taken up with something other than her. The summer went by remarkably smoothly. When Katie came to visit with her dog, Puck, and her cat, Bernice, Tommy Bug would sulkily retire to her old haunt for the day, sometimes glaring from the fence between our properties, but come night, when the grand-pets were tucked up in Arvy, she would hurry back and reclaim our bed for the night.

The musical connoisseur

To our surprise, Thomasina Bug turned out to be a music-loving cat. She was intrigued whenever I vocalized, and would sit at my feet and listen to me sing, unlike Minx, who had always departed in a huff at the first notes.  She cracked us up one evening when we were watching a fifties musical on TCM, for the moment Kathryn Grayson burst into song,Tommy Bug turned to look at my end of the couch as if to say, “Is that you?” I found that all I had to do if she lingered outside too late on long summer evenings was stick my head through the double doors and trill a verse or two, and she would immediately race up the stairs, shoot through her cat door and roar inside for bedtime.

The wild one

We also discovered that she was a great hunter, but not a serial killer. While she delighted in bringing us mice, birds, and even, on one occasion, a bat, all were presented alive. Her habit was to bring her trophy in, open her mouth with a “Tada, look what I’ve got” gesture, and set the terrified critter loose. Hugh became adept at cornering and freeing the assorted prey, and Thomasina Bug would spend the rest of the day searching the cottage and trying to figure out what had happened to her catch. She certainly loved to play outdoors, but more and more, she was becoming dependent upon the shelter our cottage provided, and we noticed that on inclement days, she would luxuriate in tucking up inside where it was warm and dry. Our enjoyment of our lovable visitor became mixed with feelings of guilt over what would happen to her when we returned to town.

Now I have a cat door

It was ridiculous to be so worried about a cat who had coped independently for three years, living rough and clearly thriving on it, but more and more, we worried about her hanging out in the wreck of a house next door for yet another winter. We’d seen rocks and debris appear on the site, and were concerned that someone might have thrown them at her. There was also the worry of fire or instability in the building. Our neighbour was worried about her, too, and expressed the hope that we would adopt Thomasina. He was sure she would stay with us if we kept encouraging her. He also suggested that we take her to town with us when we returned, but we felt she could never adjust to being an indoor cat.

So sad to be left behind

Finally, we compromised. Hugh installed cat doors at each end of our screened-in deck and put a cozy bed for her under the deck table, thus creating a safer space for her than the shack next door. Then we arranged that our neighbour would feed her there in our absence. However, when we returned to the cottage after a week in town, we were told that Thomasina Bug had simply hung around our property and moped in our absence. The following month, we repeated the experiment. This time, when we returned, Thomasina Bug was lying on the deck chair, her head drooping between her front paws and her entire body language dripping misery. When I picked her up, she burrowed into my chest and glued her head to my neck. Our neighbour was right. It was time to adopt her.

Test run

He made the registration over to us and nervously, we bit the bullet and did a test run, taking her to the vet to get her shots. Tommy Bug behaved impeccably, making everyone in the Sechelt Animal Hospital fall in love with her. She also survived the forty-five-minute drive each way without much ado. The next step was to see if she’d use kitty litter, which was an essential if we were going to take her to town. We started out by putting a kitty-litter box in the cottage. Tommy Bug ignored the litter box for several days, but one morning, having been outside for hours, she marched in, did her business in the litter box, and then roared back outside to play some more. Okay, so she did know what to do with the box.

The town explorer

We began to keep her in at night and, sure enough, she used her litter box when necessary. Then came the big day and the test run to town. Her former owner saw us as we drove by his house, so we stopped to say hello. He grinned to see his little Bug sitting sedately in her cat cage, all set for her trip to the Lower Mainland. When we arrived at our town home, we rushed her cage upstairs to our bedroom and set down her food and litter box, along with a pile of toys.

Any bed will do!

The moment we let her out, she hid under the bed and remained there for half the day. However, by evening, she ventured out, and that night, she tucked up on our bed and slept soundly. By the next day, she was exploring everywhere and treating the three floors of our house as her ‘circuit’, skittering by us with a look on her face that said, “Can’t stop, places to check out and bugs to eliminate.” In no time, our house became a no-fly zone.

Back at the cottage again!

It amazed us how this independent little cat adapted to all the changes and the running back and forth. She was a trouper, going between house and cottage, and happily reclaiming her territory at both ends. However, her former owner was right about her strong will and determined nature. It was obvious that she preferred being at the cottage where she could enjoy the great outdoors as well as the comforts of home.

The Bug’s new home.

And in 2019, Thomasina Bug got her way: we sold up in town and proceeded to build a new home, in the period style of our town house, as an addition to our cottage.  Thomasina Bug became the inspector, watching every stage of the lengthy build, and when we finally got our goods out of storage and moved into the new part of the house, she seemed delighted to be reunited with all the furnishings she had become familiar with in town.

Finally got my way!

Of course, there were other reasons why we decided to move to the Sunshine Coast, one of which was that it is a far better location for me to get on with my writing projects, but our daughters take great delight in telling their friends, “Mum and Dad moved because of a cat!” It took Thomasina Bug six years, but she finally has the ‘best of both worlds’ in every sense. I wonder if she was planning this all those times she watched us from the roof of her shack.

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.