Sam Wiebe: Invisible Dead Sunday, Jul 24 2016 

Please welcome Canadian author Sam Weibe, to talk about what he’s learned about the publishing world:
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The more you do something, the better you’re supposed to get, but I’m not sure that applies to writing. In some ways, each book is its own thing. Since my second novel, Invisible Dead, has just been published, I’ve been thinking about what I learned from my first novel, Last of the Independents, what lessons I can take away.

When I wrote Independents, I didn’t know anything about the market–and still don’t, really. A lot of people claim to know what works, what sells, what’s hot. This is guesswork presented as fact–if it weren’t, there’d be no discount bins in bookstores.

People will also tell you horror stories of working with publishers, having their novels’ setting changed from Toronto to Detroit, their endings changed, the soul of their fiction bled away by callous editors and money-hungry publishers. This hasn’t been my experience at all–maybe I’ve just been fortunate.

Last of the Independents won a Crime Writers of Canada manuscript award, and was published by Dundurn Press. By the time it came out, I had finished the manuscript of my second novel, and was ready to send it out.

When I first started submitting Invisible Dead to agents, I had interest, but often the agent didn’t ‘get’ the book, or wanted to make it something else. One agent actually told me she liked the story, but that it was “too much like a detective novel.”

Well.

Thankfully, Chris Bucci at the McDermid Agency got the book. He knew the market and had smart suggestions, but he never asked me to change the substance. It remained set in Vancouver, rather than being moved to Seattle or Los Angeles, and the characters and story remained intact.

When Chris submitted Invisible Dead, we had a few offers, one of which was quite generous. But Chris knew that Craig Pyette at Random House would be the ideal editor. There were a tense few days of waiting to see if a deal would be made, but happily it worked out. Happier still, Craig also got the book.

What do I mean by ‘got the book’–that they loved it unconditionally? Hardly. The book went through a rigorous editorial process. What it meant was that the changes Chris and Craig asked for made the book better.

To me, that’s the key–any change that might improve the novel is worth considering.

With Invisible Dead, I wrote the book I wanted to read–a book about Vancouver. I wanted to use the private eye novel as a vehicle to examine systems of power and violence, and to look at who counts and why. Vancouver is really no different than Seattle, Minneapolis, Juarez; it has its problems with land and money and sex and violence, but these are ultimately universal concerns.

The publishing process for Invisible Dead has been an exercise in faith. I have no idea about the relative success of the book, except that the form it’s being released in is what I envisioned. This is the book I wanted to write. Every writer should be so lucky as to have that experience at least once.

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Sam Wiebe is the author of the crime novel Last of the Independents, which won the Kobo Emerging Writer Prize and an Arthur Ellis award. His second novel, Invisible Dead, was published this June. His short stories have appeared in Thuglit, Spinetingler, and SubTerrain, among others. Visit Sam: http://www.samwiebe.com

https://www.amazon.ca/Invisible-Dead-Wakeland-Sam-Wiebe/dp/0345816277/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1465195218&sr=8-1&keywords=sam+wiebe

https://www.chapters.indigo.ca/en-ca/books/invisible-dead-a-wakeland-novel/9780345816276-item.html?ikwid=sam+wiebe&ikwsec=Home&ikwidx=0

Meg Wolfe: The Charlotte Anthony Mysteries Wednesday, Jul 20 2016 

Please welcome author Meg Wolfe, who will talk about her Charlotte Anthony Mysteries: (more…)

Tony Lee Moral: Ghost Maven Sunday, Jul 17 2016 

Please welcome Tony Lee Moral, who will talk about writing YA novels, his in particular! And the difference between mystery and suspense:

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Writing Young Adult: Ghost Maven by Tony Lee Moral

In my Young Adult novel Ghost Maven, I dive straight into the action with a kayaking trip in jeopardy in Monterey Bay, California, which quickly puts the central character in peril. Teen readers are impatient, and like to get to the story quickly, rather than having to wade through pages of backstory or exposition. So I start with Alice, the heroine who tells the story in the first person, in great danger, and facing her worst nightmare – open water and the fear of drowning.

Having lived in Monterey and Pacific Grove for two years, where the novel is set, this story about teens is incredibly personal to me. I walked the coastal paths Alice walked, taking in the blues and greens of Monterey Bay. I kayaked over the underwater kelp forests, marvelled at the diaphanous moon jellies in the Aquarium, and smelt the salty sea breeze during many long strolls along Carmel’s sandy beach. It’s a magical place to live, and one where I feel very at home with nature.

I start the novel with a quick succession of chapters, using famous landmarks around Monterey Bay, such as the Aquarium, Point Pinos Lighthouse, Point Lobos forest, Big Sur and Cannery Row. These are places rich in history and literature, from John Steinbeck to Jack Kerouac, as well as shrouded in mystery. Some are even linked to the supernatural. Point Pinos Lighthouse, for example, is said to be haunted, a plot device I use during the thrilling denouement of the novel.

Having written three books on Alfred Hitchcock, I specialise in mystery and suspense. Many readers become confused by the two terms. They are actually two very different processes. Mystery is an intellectual process like a riddle or a whodunit. The mystery of Henry, who saves Alice from drowning, is: who is he really? Is he a ghost? Where does he come from? What secrets does the island hold which he inhabits? What happened to Heather, the high school prom queen? These are all mysteries that run through the book.

We also know that Alice has suffered a terrible trauma in recent months, as her Mom died of a long illness, so is what she is seeing real? I wanted to create an atmosphere of uncertainty and delusion, which is why I wrote the scenes early on when Alice isn’t really sure if she’s seeing Henry or not. Is he a figment of her imagination? So the first half of the novel is devoted to who Henry is and why he holds such a spell over Alice.

Suspense is an emotional process in the reader, rather like a rollercoaster ride, or a trip to the haunted fun house. As Alfred Hitchcock once said, “In all suspense you have to give the reader information, so that they have something to be anxious about.” The suspense in Ghost Maven is: what will happen when Alice finds out who Henry really is? How will she react? What will she do? What will happen when the other sailors come looking for her? This suspense drives the narrative core of the book and invites readers to keep turning pages.

When writing Young Adult fiction, I think it’s very important to channel your inner teen. Ghost Maven revolves around the many first experiences of being a teenager such as: going on a first date, first love, and first prom date. Falling in love and losing a parent are intense feelings for a teenager, both of which Alice goes through, and which I can relate to. Teenagers don’t tend to think of their own mortality, as they have their whole lives stretching ahead of them. It’s only after Alice loses her Mom that she starts to think about the possibility of an afterlife and then Henry appears.

Writing authentic teen dialogue is important, especially if you want young readers to connect with your story. As a zoologist and psychologist by training, I find it fascinating to observe people and listen to the way they speak. When I’m in a queue at the movies for example, I enjoy listening to others talk about the film they have seen or are about to see, and I have three teenage nephews who banter and are fun to listen to. Capturing the intensity and feelings of being a teenager is vital, where everything seems so exaggerated. But I was wary of using slang, since it quickly dates your work.

Another challenge I had was that Henry and Alice are literally from two other worlds, so Henry’s style of speech was more formal and romantic; the flip side to Alice’s modern style. Anything that doesn’t advance the plot or characters should probably be cut. In early drafts I had scenes of Alice shopping in the outdoor markets of Monterey for California artichokes (which I love), but these scenes were the first to go. My advice when writing for teens is more immediate scenes and less narrative summary.

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Tony Lee Moral will be signing copies of his Young Adult novel Ghost Maven at Old Capitol Books, 559 Tyler Street, Monterey, California on Saturday 3rd September at 2pm.

Copies of the book are available in October through Saturn’s Moon Press and check out the new website at www.ghostmaven.com

Bonnie Toews: The Consummate Traitor Sunday, Jul 10 2016 

Welcome Bonnie Toews, a retired journalist and veteran’s advocate, who will describe the impetus for her upcoming trilogy and its first installment, The Consummate Traitor.

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THE MYSTERY OF STORY TELLING

Do you ever wonder how novelists come up with the stories they write?

Sometimes a plot pops to mind and writers develop characters to make the plot work.

Most of the time, however, writers will tell you that a character just bounds to life in their imaginations, and often that character comes with a name he or she refuses to relinquish. In getting to know this imaginary person, writers explore his or her upbringing – experiences, interests, beliefs, dreams and biggest fears. Within the life of the character a plot evolves around the people he or she has met and the reason for the choices made within these relationships.

No story can sustain suspense unless the main characters face and overcome their deepest fears. Fear drives their motivation to act the way they do, and their actions, along with the consequences of their actions, set up the story line.

I enjoy intrigue and solving puzzles, so my first novel grew out my anger at what I considered the sheer stupidity of the death of a British woman agent in WWII. I found her in a biography of Winston Churchill’s master spy, INTREPID, and how he developed London’s civilian spy agency called SOE (Special Operations Executive) in 1940. SOE’s agents were dropped into Nazi-occupied countries to help train and support Resistance movements.

This agent’s code name was Trudi, and she was related to King George VI. What if she lived? What would her story be?

In imagining all the possibilities, a “mirror” character evolved – a sister-in-spirit. The result: THE CONSUMMATE TRAITOR featuring Lady Grace Radcliffe, a concert pianist and second cousin to England’s King George VI, and Lee Talbot, an American war correspondent. What happens to these two women reveals a secret England has never wanted exposed.

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AUTHOR BIO
A retired journalist, Bonnie Toews is a veterans’ advocate, who uses fiction to bring attention to conditions she has found at the “crossroads of humanity.” In novels of wartime intrigue and suspense, she expands on true events to reveal the political betrayal of our military veterans.

The first novel in her “Trilogy of Treason” – THE CONSUMMATE TRAITOR – is available at amazon.com (http://www.amazon.com/Consummate-Traitor-Bonnie-Toews/dp/1461015383) and on her web site (https://www.amazon.com/Consummate-Traitor-Trilogy-Treason-Book-ebook/dp/B016C9E3IW?ie=UTF8&keywords=the%20consummate%20traitor&qid=1464884395&ref_=sr_1_1&sr=8-1)

Sally Carpenter: The Quirky Quiz Show Caper Friday, Jul 8 2016 

Please welcome guest Sally Carpenter, who will explain the genesis of television quiz shows that led to her new publication, The Quirky Quiz Show Caper:

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TV Quiz Show Capers
By Sally Carpenter

Television game shows: fact or fiction?

When big money quiz shows hit the American airwaves in the 1950s, their popularity grew so fast that nobody knew what to do with them. No laws existed that prohibited cheating on the programs.

Gerital, the sponsor of “Twenty One,” was unhappy with the show’s debut in 1956. The producers, Dan Enright and Jack Berry (also the host), were ordered to make changes.

From the producers’ point of view, rigging the show made dollars and sense. The public wouldn’t watch thirty minutes of contestants saying, “I don’t know,” so the producers had to make sure the players knew the answers.

If the public liked a particular contestant, the producers kept that person winning for as long as possible. Ties and rematches produced drama and suspense. After all, quiz shows were entertainment, not games of skill like the Olympics.

If you’ve seen the movie “Quiz Show,” you know how contestant Herb Stemple was ordered to deliberately lose on “Twenty One” to allow Charles Van Doran to win. In reality, other contestants beside Stemple complained to the FCC about their treatment on the show.

“Twenty One” contestant James Snodgrass had received the answers in advance and mailed them back to himself via registered mail as proof of cheating.

Other shows were also dishonest. On “Dotto,” contestant Ed Hilgemeyer found a notebook containing answers fed to his competitor, Marie Winn.

A young Patty Duke was coached to win on “The $64,0000 Challenge.”

During a grand jury investigation of “Twenty One” and other shows, more than a hundred persons were found guilty of perjury–but nobody was indicted for cheating.

Dan Enright and Jack Berry laid low for many years but reunited in 1976 to produce a new (and hopefully honest) string of successful game shows, including “The Joker’s Wild” and “Tic-Tac-Dough,” showing that bad guys still win in Hollywood.

Even with anti-cheating laws in effect, some game shows are still less than honorable. On Fox’s “Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire,” Darva Conger bested 49 other women for the hand of Rich Rockwell, who actually owned little more than a 1,200-square foot house with a broken outdoor toilet. Their marriage was annulled.

Also on Fox, Gabe Okoye and Brittany Moyti on “Million Dollar Money Drop” gave a correct answer that was declared wrong. When asked, “Which of these items was sold first in stores,” their response of “Post-it Notes” over “Sony Walkman” was ruled incorrect. After the mistake was spotted, the pair were allowed to return to the show but they lost anyway.

In 2010 Fox was producing “Our Little Genius,” in which child prodigies were asked difficult questions. When the parent of a contestant told the FCC that the producers had given the child some of the answers in advance, the show was pulled and never aired.

Apparently the Fox network is not as sly as it thinks.

In my new cozy, “The Quirky Quiz Show Caper,” former teen idol Sandy Fairfax is a panelist on a rigged game show. What does Sandy do when the producer demands that he “take a dive” on live TV? You’ll have to read the book to find out!

https://www.amazon.com/Quirky-Caper-Sandy-Fairfax-mysteries-ebook/dp/B01ERVIAVS?ie=UTF8&keywords=quirky%20quiz&qid=1461623900&ref_=sr_1_3&s=books&sr=1-3

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Sally Carpenter is native Hoosier now living in Moorpark, Calif.

She has a master’s degree in theater from Indiana State University. While in school her plays “Star Collector” and “Common Ground” were finalists in the American College Theater Festival One-Act Playwrighting Competition. “Common Ground” also earned a college creative writing award and “Star Collector” was produced in New York City.
Carpenter also has a master’s degree in theology and a black belt in tae kwon do.
She’s worked as an actress, college writing instructor, theater critic, jail chaplain, and tour guide/page for Paramount Pictures. She’s now employed at a community newspaper.

In her Sandy Fairfax Teen Idol series are: “The Baffled Beatlemaniac Caper” (2012 Eureka! Award finalist for best first mystery novel), “The Sinister Sitcom Caper,” “The Cunning Cruise Ship Caper” and “The Quirky Quiz Show Caper.”

She has short stories in two anthologies: “Dark Nights at the Deluxe Drive-in” in “Last Exit to Murder” and “Faster Than a Speeding Bullet” in “Plan B: Omnibus.”

She penned chapter three of “Chasing the Codex,” a group mystery written by 24 authors with Cozy Cat Press.
She blogs at http://sandyfairfaxauthor.com and ladiesofmystery.com.
She’s a member of Sisters in Crime/Los Angeles. Contact her at Facebook or scwriter@earthlink.net.

Emily Winslow: Jane Doe January Monday, Jul 4 2016 

This review represent a departure in two ways on our American Independence Day. First, Auntie M usually does crime fiction but occasionally adds a book in a different genre she thinks you should not miss. This is one of those occasions.
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Second, I am stepping out from behind my third person Auntie M persona to address readers as myself, because this book contains such a personal story that I feel it deserves that approach. It’s deliberately posting on the 4th of July because of all of the very American ideals the book addresses. It’s an absorbing and literate read, and I hope readers will take the journey offered with emotional insight into a rape case, offered by the victim herself.

I became acquainted with author Emily Winslow through her crime series, set in Cambridge where she lives. The series feature investigators Morris Keene and Chloe Frogman, and the novels are told in multiple first person narratives. The series is acclaimed for its ability to bring each character’s situation to life, and can be read as stand-alones in terms of the mystery. So far these are: The Whole World, The Start of Everything, and The Red House. I knew Winslow been a victim of rape during her college years from an article she’d written years ago that I’d read.

It is while Winslow is working on revisions to The Red House that she gets news that is at once startling and will turn her world upside down. A man arrested in New York has DNA that matches the eerily similar rape in Pittsburgh to hers, only a few months later. Winslow’s goal early on is the premise of this memoir, and she states it in her opening: To get to say what happened; and to be who he’s punished for.

In 1992, when a student at Carnegie Mellon University’s prestigious drama school, Winslow is attacked when a man follows her into her apartment building and brutally rapes her, smothering her screams with his hand pushed over her face and mouth until she quiets. She files her report, stays in school, lives with friends, and writes poetry about the incident to cope. She ultimately decided acting is not for her.

But as she grows and matures, marries a Brit, has two sons and moves to Cambridge, she never stops pestering the Pittsburgh detectives about her case. She calls herself “a beggar”, calling them every few years to ask them to look again at her case, always talking to someone new. Detectives retire, move on, transfer. Each call means having to explain who she is, explain the case again, “because no one remembers, except for me . . . And him.”

She takes to pestering detectives to test her DNA against this new arrest, and after an agonizing wait, gets her answer: it’s a match. She was raped in January, while the other woman, also a match, was raped in November, and both by a man with a history or serial rape, an ex-con named Arthur Fryar, who resists extradition from New York to Pittsburgh, despite its eventuality. Winslow will get her chance to fly to Pittsburgh for pretrial hearings that will hopefully bind him over for trial–the trial of Fryar for raping her, Jane Doe January, as she’s referred to in court documents to protect her privacy, and the other woman, Jane Doe November.

The bulk of the book is taken up with Winslow’s preparation for this trip and then for the upcoming trial, working with a series or prosecutors and attorneys, linking with the old detective on her case, a powerful ally, and trying to shield her two young sons from what is happening even while trying to explain it to her British circle of friends.

She will encounter a very American vs British culture gap: she longs to be asked for details about how the hearing went after the huge emotional and physical trip to Pittsburgh, but she’s initially disappointed when she slams up against true Brit reticence. Her English friends are reluctant to probe, worried about upsetting her when she’s desperate to ventilate about the experience. Then Winslow realizes she must give them a clue, permission even, to indicate she’s willing to talk it all. It’s a very American concept, she notes, to need help by talking and sharing.

She finds great support from her husband, and a clear friend and wonderful outlet in a college chaplain, and bonds closely with him. She spend hours Googling Fryar, trying to understand what would make a person rape a stranger. She learns he likes his victim’s legs and decided she will rob him of the opportunity to see hers in court and wear pants. She finds his family roots, the other crimes he’s committed, the way he’s tried to escape justice for years. The ending of this episode comes as Winslow is shattered in grief, and is totally unexpected, yet it is clear she has grown stronger from the experience.

Winslow is brave enough to document her feelings as they hit her, even as she recognizes that some might question them. She brave enough to share them, despite being clear that at times she was very needy. She has the right to be needy for what she is going through, what she went through, and what she still lives with.

This is not a social treatise or a commentary on a black man raping a white woman, nor should it be. This is one very honest woman’s story, told in such a way that it almost reads as a suspense legal thriller. As such, it’s very different and difficult to characterize, and I feel should stand on it is own merits. This is a truly intimate story about the process and emotions one woman undertakes in trying to bring her rapist to justice over two decades after the act, and what she learns about herself in the process. Highly recommended.

With grateful thanks, Emily Winslow agreed to answer a few questions regarding Jane Doe January:

Marni Graff: I know you’ve written articles before about the rape you endured years ago, which I read because I enjoy your crime series. But this is a very different and personal book. You allow readers inside your private thoughts and actions during a year filled with stresses and heartache. You don’t flinch or look away when many others would have during an intimate look at the long-delayed prosecution of your serial rapist. What influenced that decision to allow readers inside this painful journey?

Emily Winslow: My first audience for this work was myself, and the value in it was in being as direct as possible about what I understood, what I felt, and what I wanted. I needed to figure all of that out, as honestly and as fully as I could.

Now that I’m a little more distant from the prosecution (it ended almost two years ago), I’m developing some perspective I didn’t have then, but I value the immediacy of the book as it is, and the way that it’s an artifact of exactly what I went through at that time, in all of its intensity and specificity.

When I first decided to publish, I was still very close to it, and the feelings and opinions I described in the book still felt very “of course!” If I had taken more time before publishing, I might have second-guessed myself. I’m glad that I didn’t.

People often mention the therapeutic value of “getting it all out there,” but for me the deeper layer of value came from taking what I admitted on the page and using my skills to shape it into something that stands alone, apart from me. I hope I made something out of it that’s more than just a factual admission of the whole experience. I wanted to write something well-structured, well-told, beautiful. That attempt is what felt comforting to me.

So it seemed natural, as a writer proud of my work, to publish.

MG: As a mystery writer, I understand how authors put themselves, people they know, even situations they’ve been in, into their work. Sometimes this is deliberate but it can also happen in unexpected ways that are only recognized long after the writing is complete. You had this experience upon reflection: a known mirroring of a character, plus an unknown mirroring. The revisions you were doing as you experienced this stressful year led to that revelation. Was this startling, or more of a surprise when you realized the genesis of one of the characters in your latest book?

EM: It’s always startling to me when I discover a hidden motivation or personal meaning behind my choices in fiction, but they’re inevitable! I do make a lot up, but it’s often using bits of memories, hidden feelings, and unconsciously figurative images of real things. Even one’s observations of others describe one’s own filters and assumptions as much as they describe what’s being seen. That’s part of what makes using fictional first-person narrators so interesting, and it applies to myself as the author as well.

I get asked a lot if my experience as a victim is what pushed me to write crime novels. I honestly don’t know. A lot of people enjoy reading crime fiction without having a personal experience to justify it, and I write crime because I like reading it: I like its huge emotions, life-and-death stakes, the puzzles of its plots, and the challenging themes.

I do think that my personal experience might be what pushes me to be as serious as I am about the effects of crime, on all of the characters. Victims, perpetrators, witnesses, investigators… They’re all affected by the painful events that bring them together.

MG: Many people would not have been as open as you have been in this haunting memoir that is brutally honest. What has been the reception to the book from your family, your friends, and your Cambridge circle? What it what you expected?

EW: The reception from people I know has far exceeded my expectations and even my hopes, in kindness, understanding, and support. I’m very grateful. The reception from readers I don’t know has also been mostly warm, but occasionally there are reactions I wasn’t prepared for. This subject brings out big feelings and strong opinions, and people have assumptions and expectations about the way that victims should be. I focus on the people I know, my daily routines with my family, and the next book (a continuation of my mystery series set in Cambridge).

G. J. Brown: Long Before I Fell, prequel to FALLING Sunday, Jul 3 2016 

From time to time, Auntie M likes to mix things up a bit so her readers won’t get bored with straight book reviews. Today she’s thrilled to welcome Gordon Brown, whose new book FALLING is out in the US through Down & Out Books. Gordon is a great lad and crime fiction promotor extraordinaire, who helped start Scotland’s International Crime Writing Festival, Bloody Scotland. Today, he’s here with the prequel to his book as a treat for Auntie M’s readers:

Long Before I Fell

The room is designed to put the occupant in a state of mild panic. There are two comfortable but incongruous armchairs, sitting opposite each other. Both have signs of wear and tear—blue leather, fading to holes on the armrests.

The floor is wooden, real wood not fake laminate, with decades of use and abuse. It was once shining dark oak reclaimed from an old house but years of neglect have transmuted it into stained, warped planks separated by gaps packed with dust, dirt and crap. There are no windows and the only door is locked. The walls are magnolia, fresh, as if someone had started to think about selling the place. The ceiling is bare concrete with a small light fitting above the door. The bulb is fifty percent less powerful than it needs to be.

Below the light and above the door sits a small, scabby grey grill. The slats are furred from years of non-cleaning. A small hiss hints at some form of air movement from inside. It’s not air conditioning; the temperature in here is high enough to keep food warm before serving.

I’m sitting in a Marks and Spencer’s charcoal grey suit. It’s a few seasons past its best but in my trade the cash margins do not warrant new suits very often. My shoes are twice re-heeled rejects bought from TK Maxx. I’ve never heard of the brand printed on the insole but that means it’ll be well known to those with thicker wallets. My shirt is staining under my armpits as the lurid green that so appealed when I saw it for a fiver in the charity shop a few months ago is excelling as a sweat highlighting colour. I’m nervous enough without advertising the fact so graphically—so my jacket is staying on.

I’m sitting with a small briefcase clutched in both hands. I’ve had the case since I graduated from University. A present from an old girlfriend. The lining inside is ripped in several places but its outward distressed state is cool in certain quarters.

The briefcase contains one stapled sheaf of papers. They are my hope and my support. That is if, and if is small word for a large prayer, they stand up to scrutiny. There are five sheets, each one hand written and each one signed. There’s a lot riding on them.

I play with the lock on the front of the bag. Broken and without a key it stays shut with the aid of a small piece of cardboard.

The handle of the door turns and in walks a man I’ve never seen before. I stand up, my briefcase clasped to my chest. ‘Hello, I’m…’

‘Charles Wiggs. I know.’ The visitor ignores my outstretched hand. He’s dressed to heighten the rooms menace quotient. Black suit, black waistcoat, black tie, black shoes, white shirt and dark glasses. I’m thinking Matrix here. He’s clean shaven with a cropped hairstyle that looks DIY. Nose hair crowds both nasal passages, at odds with the neatness of the rest of him. He’s a little under six feet tall, wiry but with a beer gut that the suit is cut to try and hide.

‘So, Mr Wiggs, let’s get down to business.’ He perches on the edge of one of the chairs as if he’s expecting this to be a short meeting. ‘You’re here for a specific purpose and I’m short on time.’

There’s not much to say to that. This is the latest step in a six-month journey that started with a rather innocuous letter from a firm called Retip asking me to give them a call.

Nasal Hair, for want of a better name since he did not introduce himself, has an iPad in one hand. He’s doing that sweeping thing with it. He looks at me. ‘Two years and struck off as an accountant.’

He returns to the iPad and waits for a reply. I’m not sure whether this is a threat, an offer or the name of a new movie. I play dumb; I’m good at that.

‘How would you cope with two years and struck off as an accountant?’ This time he doesn’t lift his eyes from the screen.

‘Two years of what?’

He does the fingers opening wide trick on the iPad. ‘Jail.’

‘Really?’

‘What about four years and a fine?’

Okay, so this is some new game. I fire back. ‘I’ll raise you six years, a larger fine and a weekend in a country house hotel.’

Nasal Hair lowers the iPad. It looks like it hurts for him to do so. ‘Mr Wiggs, you do realise why you’re here? Flippancy is not something I would advise at this stage.’

I thought myself good at this. After so long in the profession I know how the game is played. Every step so far had been by the book. His tone was making me wonder if I’d missed something. ‘Mr…’ He doesn’t offer a name so I keep going. ‘Look, what’s with the jail thing?’

He lifts the iPad up and fiddles with it again. I wonder if he’s checking me on Google? I Googled myself once and found a single reference to me joining Cheedle, Baker and Nudge. It was below a reference to a guy called Charles Wiggs who had been arrested for exposing himself on the beach near Santa Monica.

The sound of a cat meowing slips from Nasal Hair’s machine. He gives it his full attention and I think I’ve been demoted to a level that lies beneath checking new emails. The cat kicks in again and I’m forced to sit back and wait while he catches up on shit.

‘So do we have a deal?’ He half drops the iPad to his side. Not quite wanting to go the full hog and lay it down.

‘We haven’t discussed any deal, and by the way, you owe an apology to Sarah.’

‘I told you, Mr Wiggs…’

‘Sarah is very important to our company. Do you know her? Sarah Gilmore. Nice lady. In her sixties, not quite sure how well into her sixties but looking good on it. She does some bookkeeping for us. Has a cat, sounds a little like your email alert. A tom. She had it done a few years ago. A bit late in my opinion. Story goes it’s the father to half the cat population in the area. Then again you can’t blame him. A bit fat now though. Anyway Sarah is a sensitive lady and takes things very personally.’

‘We met Miss Gilmore and others.’

‘I know.’

Sarah had been scared to death by the meeting. They can have a go at me. They can have a go at the others—we’ve all been around long enough to take it. But Sarah? That’s below the belt, even if you were wearing your belt round your ankles. I’d almost considered not coming. I lean forward. ‘Lawyer.’

‘Sorry?’

‘I’ll need a lawyer if we are looking at a deal.’

‘Why?’

‘To hold his hand and listen to my mum’s old 78’s.’

‘Funny. Accept our deal and then we can get down to the brass tacks.’

‘What deal?’ I struggle not to swear. There are times in my life when I meet people and wonder if it is me or is it them. I learned long ago that no one ever thinks it’s them. Except me. I think it’s me all the time. Does that make sense? No. Let me explain.

In this world you need someone to blame for all the shit that goes down, and in my experience, no one ever thinks it’s them at fault. So I figure why shouldn’t it be me. Why not? It makes life easier when you take the blame for things. ‘Who ate the last biscuit?’ ‘Who left the toilet seat up?’ ‘Who was supposed to lock the door last night?’ Take the blame and move on. It just helps the world run bit smoother. Except not now. It’s okay to be thought of as the ‘never closes the toilet seat man.’ The consequences for that are minimal. The consequences of getting this wrong are a little more serious. ‘Excuse me but who are you?’ I feel I should ask.

‘So do you want the deal?’

‘What deal?’ I’m sounding like a stuck record.

He shakes his head and stands up. His perfect black suit falls back into place. A tiny spot of dirt, sprung from the floorboards has landed on his shoe. He examines it, raises his foot and flicks at the offending fleck. Satisfied that all is right with his apparel he knocks on the door and is let out.

I’m left to stew in the rising heat. No doubt a temperature selected by hired psychologists to maximise the discomfort for a person. I’ll expect the white noise, water boarding and stress position in due course.

The entrance of someone new catches me by surprise. The theme is black again. This time black skirt, jacket, high heels, stockings and a white blouse. ‘Hi. I’m here to get your signature.’

‘You are?’

‘It will formalize our deal.’

‘We have a deal? And when did I agree to this?’

‘Just now. My associate just told me.’

‘He did? And you are?’

‘Are you happy with an electronic signature or would you prefer to use pen and paper.’

She’s in her early-forties, hair tied tight and a lack of make-up that doesn’t detract from her looks. She doesn’t need the stuff. I’ll call her No Make-up for the moment. ‘Look, who are you?’

‘Electronic then?’

‘No.’

No Make-up tilts her head a little. ‘No, what?’

‘No to anything. No to signing—electronic or paper. No to being here. No to coming here in the first place. No to this room. I mean, in this day and age, who holds interviews in a room like this. All in all the answer is no.’

‘So you don’t want the deal?’

‘What deal? We haven’t discussed a deal. There’s no deal. If you want a deal, tell me what deal you want. I have signed testimonials to our work in this bag. Do you want to see them? Will that help?’

‘We won’t make this offer again.’

‘What offer?’ This time I know it’s not me. It’s definitely them. It’s so them that if you opened the Oxford English Dictionary up at the word ‘them’ there wouldn’t be a written description lying there—instead there would be two small, passport size pictures of Nasal Hair and No Make-up. That’s how them, they are. ‘Look I’m not sure how this is supposed to work.’

‘Is your middle name Tyber?’

My head grinds to a halt as my brain stalls. ‘Sorry?’

‘Tyber. Is you middle name Tyber?’

‘What? I mean what? I mean…’ Shit I don’t know what I mean.

‘I had a boyfriend once that was called Tyber.’

‘Congratulations. And this is relevant how?’

‘If you were on your own in the desert and had run out of water, how long do you think you would last before you drank your own pee?’

I check that today is still Tuesday and that I’m still on the planet. I then check the room to make sure that someone else hasn’t snuck in and is now No Make-up’s new target.

I stand up, still clutching the bag.

No Make-up moves to cut me off. The door opens and Nasal Hair comes back in. He stands behind No Make-up. ‘Did he sign?’

She shakes her head. ‘He won’t even tell me if he’d drink his own pee.’

‘Did you tell him about your boyfriend?’

‘Yes.’

‘The snake?’

‘Not yet.’

‘Should I?’

‘Do you think it’ll help?’

‘Maybe.’ He turns to me. ‘Mr Wiggs, how long is a snake?’

I have no idea what to do here. I can’t think of anything to say other than. ‘I think I want out of here.’

Nasal Hair stands firm. ‘A rough guess will do?’

‘What is wrong with you people? Let me out right now.’

‘Any guess and you can go.’

‘And I can go?’

‘And you can go.’

‘Shit. Twenty feet.’

No Make-up smiles. ‘Good answer.’

Nasal Hair is smirking. ‘One of the best. Now can I have the testimonials you talked about.’

At first it doesn’t register that he’s talking about the papers in my briefcase. He holds out his hand. ‘Good answer by the way.’

I surprise myself by extracting the papers and handing them over. He takes them. ‘We’ll be fifteen minutes. It’s hot in here. We’ll get you a cold drink.’

With that they exit and I stand like a lemon.

True to their words they’re back in quarter of an hour, cold Coke in Nasal Hair’s hand. ‘Sorry to have kept you. We’ve kept the papers. I’m assuming you have copies. Everything looks in order. Oh sorry, do you not like Coke?’

I realise he is offering the can to me. He pulls it away and shakes my hand. ‘So I think we can close this one.’

No Make-up nods. ‘After the snake answer I think we can say that we’ve found who we need.’ She turns to me. ‘You’re free to go.’

Half my head wants to spit out a rant. The other half tells me to get the fuck out of there. I walk towards the door and it opens.

‘Oh, Mr Wiggs.’ I stop and turn at Nasal Hair’s voice.

‘Next time it’ll be a lot easier if you remember the snake answer up front.’

The door closes behind me. I’m in a normal corridor with normal windows looking onto normal offices on either side. I’m not in some displaced world and I hear the sound of laughter from behind the door.

The man who opened the door for me hands me a piece of paper. ‘This way, sir.’ He gestures along the corridor.

I’m guided to the exit and take the lift to the ground floor. I step into the freshest air I have breathed in a long time.

I look at the piece of paper in my hand and open it. In neat Times New Roman it reads. ‘Thank you for your application. We are pleased to say that we are going to appoint Cheedle, Baker and Nudge as our accountants.’

It’s signed: ‘Simon Malmon, Managing Director and Karen Lewis, HR Director, Retip’

It wasn’t usually my job to interview new clients. I’m too low down on the pecking order but my boss had made a big deal of winning the account. How this was my opportunity to shine. It’s why I had been so nervous. Cheedle, Baker and Nudge isn’t in a position to turn down business at the moment. Retip might be run by some oddballs but if we only dealt with the sensible business people we would be bankrupt. I’d done my job and with a bit of luck they might give Retip to one of the new boys to look after.

I decide I need some caffeine. As I cross the road I look up at the forty story high building I’ve just left. I can’t tell which is their office and I don’t care. We’ve won the business, I’ll get a pat on the back, maybe a small bonus, and anyway, how much trouble could they be? The answer to that question was more than I could have ever imagined.

About G. J. Brown

G. J. Brown lives in Scotland but splits his time between the UK, the U.S.A. and Spain. He’s married with two children. Gordon once quit his job in London to fly across the Atlantic to be with his future wife. He has also delivered pizzas in Toronto, sold non-alcoholic beer in the Middle East, launched a creativity training business called Brain Juice and floated a high tech company on the London Stock Exchange.

He almost had a toy launched by a major toy company, has an MBA, loves music, is a DJ on local radio, compered the main stage at a two-day music festival and was once booed by 49,000 people while on the pitch at a major football Cup Final.

Gordon has been writing since his teens and has four books published–his latest, Meltdown, being the second in the Craig McIntyre series.

Gordon also helped found Bloody Scotland—Scotland’s International Crime Writing Festival.

E. D. Bird: Bitter Sweet Wednesday, Jun 29 2016 

Please welcome author E. D. Bird, here to talk about Bitter Sweet, set in southern Africa:

BitterSweet
Bitter Sweet is a fictional novel set in southern Africa. It includes many encounters with wild animals and unscrupulous people.

The book was written with the author’s accumulated mining experience and knowledge of the African wildlife, as well as that of the environment. While the setting is fictional, as are the characters, a great many of the historical locales have been moved from their rightful position and fitted into this imaginary place.

Hilton Shire, a recently appointed Private Investigator since the untimely death of his wife Sabrina, is on a mission of revenge, together with his brothers-in- law, Jordan and Kyle. They believe that Sabrina was murdered as a result of her investigation into the demise of Julie Curl’s husband a number of years before; they also believe that she was drawing close to resolving the mystery when she met with unmitigated violence.

Will Hilton get to the bottom of the mystery and avenge his wife before more killings take place?

Readers are taken on a relentless cat and mouse chase across the unforgettable southern African nations and Barbados. The unfolding adventure is menacing, perilous, intriguing and, in the end, could possibly be Bitter Sweet . . .

The author was born in Scotland during 1955 and married in 1975. Bird’s parents immigrated to Zimbabwe (Southern Rhodesia as it was then) in 1957 and has lived there ever since. E.D. has two adult sons, the eldest of whom lives in New Zealand while the youngest, who has provided the author with two grandsons, resides in England. Bird was divorced during 1987, but remarried the same person on the 20 th anniversary of their original wedding date and they remain together living happily in Bulawayo with their two rescue dogs. The author is an animal lover and has over the years had a variety of pets including horses, dogs and cats, but dogs are definitely the favourites and at one stage there were eight different breeds in the household. E.D. Bird worked for a firm of attorneys for thirteen years and during the final three of those studied law by correspondence, but was forced to give up those lessons after the divorce and joined the family business, a gold mining enterprise. Having been brought up in a rural mining environment and having been primarily involved in mining for a lifetime, there is a sound base for the fictional events created in the books. http://www.edbirdbooks.com

John Farrow: Seven Days Dead Sunday, Jun 26 2016 

SevenDaysDead

Auntie M met John Farrow, as author/playwright Trevor Ferguson calls his crime fiction incarnation, last fall at Bouchercon. She found there to be similarities between the tall, slender Canadian and his fiction counterpart, retired detective Emile Cinq-Mars. Perhaps Emile’s long, Gallic nose, of which much has been made by characters unable to avoid, is the character’s alone, but Auntie M is thinking more of the way both men are deep thinkers, prone to lapses into thought processes, and yet totally aware of their surroundings.

It’s no surprise that the first in the trilogy within the series focusing on extreme weather called The Storm Murders proved such a hit, with its action starting in a blinding whiteout snowstorm. This second, Seven Days Dead, takes readers with Emile and his wife Sandra to the island of Grand Manan, off the coast of Maine in New Brunswick during the high seas of a torrential storm in the summer.

They are not the only ones to make it to Grand Manan, a guardian of the Bay of Fundy. Maddy Orrock has been summoned from Boston to her dying father’s bedside. She’s hoping for answers to long-held questions during their estrangement and needs to be there before he passes, and is willing to risk a rough crossing to the island under the careful guidance of fisherman Sticky McCarran.

The Reverend Simon Lescavage has also been summoned by Alfred Orrock’s housekeeper at the command of the dying man. She escapes into the wind and rain of the storm as soon as he arrives, leaving the man to face his embittered companion for one last time.

These characters are only a few of the people Emile and Sandra will meet, a band of eccentric islanders with their own strange habits and customs, as they make their way to their rented cabin and indulge in a day or two of hiking and local food. And then a grisly murder is discovered, and soon a second one is feared, and Emile is asked to assist the local Mounties with their investigation.

Farrow does an excellent job of describing the setting and how that wildness is reflected in the people who live on the island. The isolated landscape, treacherous as it is beautiful, entices many to visit but few will stay, and those who do have developed a way of living that seems strange to outsiders. It will be down to Emile, an outsider looking in, to see his way into the motives and reasons for murder, but at what cost to him and Sandra?

Auntie M enjoys this series and the characters and relationship of Emile and Sandra. These are well-rounded people with their own feelings and lives, separate from the cases Emile often finds himself mired in. Each island character is well-drawn and distinctive, and the resolution of the case will find twists and surprises for the reader, as well as jeopardy to Emile and Sandra, before its solved. A literate thriller told in an atmospheric way with more than a hint of droll humor at times.

Noah Hawley: Before the Fall Sunday, Jun 19 2016 

If the name Noah Hawley rings a bell, it could be because he’s the Emmy and Golden Globe winning creator of Fargo. But soon you’ll remember his name because he’s the author of the thrilling new novel Before the Fall.

This is strong literary writing, with earnest, realistic characters and a main protagonist whose story you’ll want to follow to its conclusion. Scott Burroughs is a painter who is afraid his prime time is in the his past, languishing on a bed of memories he can’t shake. He’s recently developed a breakthrough in his paintings, and needs to leave his Martha’s Vineyard home for appointments in New York to set up shows.

He’s befriended Maggie Bateman, whose husband, David, is a media mogul. She invites him aboard their private jet to fly to NY. What could be more enticing? In a quirk of fate, Scott almost doesn’t take the plane, but then he decides to go and boards in time for the flight. Also on board are the Bateman’s son and daughter, and a second multi-milliionaire, Wall Street banker Ben Kipling. Staff is a security man, the pilot, co-pilot and flight attendant.

Sixteen minutes later the plane crashes into the ocean. Scott and JJ, the Bateman’s four-year-old son are the only survivors, and only do so through a heroic swim of Scott’s that saves their lives. Its description alone is worth the price of the book.

What happens next involves intense media speculation and scrutiny, combined with the sudden interest of too many acronyms for Scott: FBI, NTSB, even Homeland Security all want to know what caused the crash. Could it have been an act of terrorism? Maybe Kipling was involved in money laundering. There are too many maybes and too many lives involved, and each must be thoroughly investigated, including if ISIS was involved.

Hawley introduces each character in rotation, with Scott’s story the constant, moving the story forward as the investigation progresses. He will meet Eleanor, Maggie’s married sister, now entrusted with the care of her young nephew, who is suddenly mute at times except to Scott. He will turn to a friend for a safe haven and find the media blows up his stay at her apartment into an affair. Most of all, he will wonder where his own future lies.

This is accomplished, nuanced writing, dropping into each character’s life and where they came from, even the dead victims. We see how they lived before the crash and for others, how they deal with what’s happened, depending on their role in the story. It’s a different and fascinating approach, and Hawley’s prose will draw you in and keep you flipping pages to find out what really happened to that jet and where Scott’s future lies. Highly recommended.

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