Sunday, 17 June 2018

B-Team in great company

Hot Damn! One of the coolest things for a writer is being next on the shelf to your very favourite author: in my case, Andrea Camilleri (Montalbano). Thanks to a reader for sending this in! (Indigo/Chapters, Burlington)

Monday, 11 June 2018

Warning: Political humour: The Independent State of Penetang

Warning: Like most comedians, I'm an equal opportunity humorist.  Left or Right, it's all fodder.  Today, it's the Liberal Feds.  
Next, I'm just waiting to see what Doug Ford will inspire...

09:36, Parliament Building East Wing

“This is weird,” said Mark, flipping through screens.


“It says here that Penetang has declared independence.”

The other civil service head looked up. “Where is that? In Africa?”

“Somewhere north of Orillia, I think. Or maybe Parry Sound.  I’m looking it up.”

The older man frowned. “You mean the county of Penetang?”

“Seems like it. They’ve blocked the roads, it says here.  Just a sec.” 
He scrowled further.  “They’re using tractors and farm equipment.  And cows.”

A gasp.  “They’re sacrificing cows?”

“Nope. Herding live ones.  The cars can’t get by.”

“Merde. We need to inform the Prime Minister.”

11:00, Live from Penetang

“This is Mandy Flambeau, reporting from rebellion headquarters, at the Puckyew community hockey rink in downtown Penetang.  It’s sort of quiet here, Len.  Maybe they’re all out on the protest lines?  Oh wait – I see somebody! Sir, sir…over here.  Can you tell us what this rebellion is really about?”

“Taxes.  Sick an’ tired of those federal freeloaders takin’ our taxes and spending them in the city. We want our money spent here.  Not on subways and free daycare for city folk.”

Gasp.  “Daycare?  You’re against daycare?”

“You see any kids around here? No young people in Penetang anymore.  No jobs for them.  Only seniors now.

“You want free daycare for seniors?”

13:43,  The Prime Minister’s office.

“Mr. Prime Minister, we have a situation.”

<groan> “Not another Tweet from the Twit.”

“This is local, sir.  I need to brief you on the rebellion in Penetang.  PETA have moved in. Because of the cows.”

“Say what?”

“The rebels in Penatang have blocked the roads with cows.  And now PETA has established protest lines to protect the animals.”

“Hmmm… Are you thinking what I’m thinking?”

“Sir, I think we have an opportunity here.”

“A photo op?  Oh goodie!  What do they wear in Penetang?”

“Uh…overalls and flannel shirts?”

“Awesome.  Get Holt Renfrew on the line.  We want these Canadian made.”

“Yes sir.  Will you be leaving immediately?”

“I’m texting Sophie and the kids.  Maybe we can make a vacation out of it.  Does the Aga have a place up there?”

14:00, Back at East Wing:

“Mark, are you from farm country?”

“Nope. Born and bred here in Ottawa.”

“We may be overacting.  Maybe this won't be such a crisis. The cows.”

“What about them?”

“They’ll simply go home to be milked at five.”

to be continued, unless someone pays the writer to stop...

Thursday, 7 June 2018

Golden Oak Awards Today! Here's what I'm going to say...

With THE BOOTLEGGER'S GODDAUGHTER shortlisted for the OLA Golden Oak Award, I've been asked to give a short talk at the award ceremony.  Here's what I'm saying:

I thought you might want to know how books happen.

Anyone who has read The Goddaughter books knows they are comedies.  But you may not know that I got my start writing standup.  I wrote for comedians, and I also had a newspaper humour column.

About ten years ago, Orca Book Publishers wanted to add comedy to their Rapid Reads line.  All the books they had at the time were pretty serious.  So they asked if I’d write a comedy series for them.

The Goddaughter series is about a mob goddaughter who doesn’t want to be one.  But her mob family can’t do anything right, so she’s always dragged back in to clean up the mess. 

It’s a perfect series for me to write, because although I’m not a mob goddaughter, my family had family that was in the mob.  Plus, I lived close to Hamilton.  I could set the books in Hamilton, which is a fun and quirky place.

Now, writing books is a lonely job.  You basically sit alone at a desk for hundreds of hours.  And when your book comes out, it’s sort of quiet.  It’s not like you’re at a play, and people applaud at the end of it.

So feedback from readers is SO important.  When The Goddaughter came out, I got in touch with the Hamilton Literacy Council.  Asked if they wanted to be involved in the launch.  They said yes, and seven books later, I’m happy to call many of their students my friends.

So when I asked what they wanted me to write next, they said, “We want a romantic comedy!”  My publisher listened.  And Worst Date Ever came out this fall.

I guess what I’m saying is, we really do listen to you.  My goal in writing these books is to make reading fun.  For *you*.

And so, The Bootlegger’s Goddaughter is shortlisted today.  I’m so very grateful.  But you know what I’m even more grateful for?  At the launch of this book, a man came up to me and said, “If it weren’t for the Goddaughter books, I wouldn’t be able to read now.”

I can’t tell you what that meant to me.  It's made all the difference.  Please, please, if you really like a book, let the author know.  It goes two ways.   

You have the power to make a difference to her.

Thursday, 31 May 2018

A SHIP CALLED PANDORA - Mystery Weekly June issue!

Most people know me as the author of THE GODDAUGHTER crime caper series.
However, I actually got my start writing sci-fi fantasy short stories, back when we had pet dinosaurs. 
(These days I write more novels. The Rowena books are fantasy; Code Name: Gypsy Moth is sci-fi.)

It isn't often that I get a chance to genre-mash my two favourites.  But hell, it's fun when I do.

Now appearing in MYSTERY WEEKLY, JUNE ISSUE: my favourite short story in a decade:  


Tosh Malloy has a fast ship and a regulation blaster.  Years ago, she made the change from intergalactic smuggler to Witness Protection Marshal.  She’s particularly good at making people disappear. But now a troublesome Showgirl client threatens to upend Tosh’s perfect record…

Paperback is available through click here  
Digital through, click here

Sunday, 13 May 2018

Why I could never be a Modern Fiction Novel Heroine

Let’s call her Tiffany.  Nah, too twee.  How about Jen.  Meet our
fiction heroine, Jen.  She’s a modern girl. Has her own condo. Drives a car. Lives in the city. Has a meaningful job.  All in all, a typical modern heroine of a fiction novel.    

Sounds reasonable, but I couldn’t be her.  I’m all for ‘suspension of disbelief’ in fantasy, but my world requires more human elements.  To wit:


1.  They look great all the time.

By this I mean: she gets up in the morning, perfect quaffed.  She dons clothes for her work day.  Maybe goes for a jog.  And spends absolutely no time in front of the mirror swabbing on makeup or doing her hair.  Did you ever notice fiction novel heroines look great in the morning without doing anything?  They may have a shit-load of angst about their personal lives, but apparently, they have Barbie doll hair.

As of immediately, name of heroine is changed to Barbie.

2.  They never eat.

Oh, they got out to dinner a lot.  You may even hear them order food.  But when it comes, do they ever eat it?  No! Barbie is far too busy arguing with her dinner companion, and then getting upset.

So many books, so many meals where our intrepid plucky heroine says, “oh my, I’m so upset, I couldn’t eat a thing.”

What is it with these feeble women who can’t eat?  Who the hell are they?  What do they exist on? 

When I’m upset, I eat, dammit.  Gotta fuel up for the famine that’s going to come sometime in the next 400 years.

If I hear another TSTL heroine say she’s too upset to eat, I’m going to shove the virtual dinner in her vapid virtual face and watch her choke to death.  Oh.  But then someone would have to rescue her.


3.  They never go to the bathroom.

Twenty-four hours a day, we’re with this dame.  Does she ever go to the loo?  I mean, for other than a quick swipe of lipstick and a gabfest with friends?

Do none of these women have periods?

Do they not have to offload some by-products?  EVER?

Oh right.  Barbie is always too upset to eat a thing.  Therefore, nothing to offload. What was I thinking?

Cranky author disclosure:  Just so you know, Gina Gallo of The Goddaughter series loves her food.  You’ll see her eat it.  She sneaks off to the bathroom (offstage, so don’t freak.)  She looks like shit in the morning. Just like me.  Even Rowena of my fantasy books goes to the outhouse and enjoys her meals.  (Not at the same time.)

Monday, 30 April 2018

A Million Tiny Steps

I'm paraphrasing Jane Friedman here, when I say:
"Success takes a million tiny steps."

People always ask me what's the hardest part of being a college fiction writing teacher.  Is it all the tedious marking?  Having to read beginner attempts at writing in genres you don't want to read?  The long hours teaching at night, at the podium?

I don't teach that way (at the podium.)  I'm a desk-sitter.  But it's none of that.

By far, the hardest part of being a writing instructor is telling my students about the industry.  And in particular, that they aren't going to knock it out of the park with their first book - the one they are writing in my class.

It's hard, because they don't want to believe me.  Always, they point to one or two authors who make it to the bestsellers list on their first book.  "So and so did it - why won't I?"

What they don't know is that the book on the best-seller list - that author's "debut novel" - is most likely NOT the first book the author wrote.  Industry stats tell us it will likely be their 4th book written.  (3.6 is the average, for a traditionally published author.)

My own story works as an example.  My first novel published, Rowena Through the Wall, was a bestseller (yay!)  But it wasn't my first novel *written*.  It was my third.  And before that, I had 24 short stories published, which won me six awards.  (Six awards, students. Before I even tried to get a novel published.) 

Each one of those short stories, each of those awards, was a tiny step.

About that first novel: it was horrible.  So horrible that if anyone finds it on an abandoned floppy disk and tries to read it, I will have to kill either them or me.  It was a Canadian historical/western/romance/thriller with a spoiled, whiny heroine who was in danger of being killed. No shit. Even I wanted to kill her.  The second book was also horrible, but less horrible.  It was a romantic comedy with a "plucky heroine" (gag) and several implausible coincidences that made it into an unintentional farce. 

By the time I was writing my third and fourth novels, I got smarter.  Apparently, I could do farces.  Why not deliberately set about to write a humorous book?  And while you're at it, how about getting some professional feedback?  Take a few steps to become a better writer?

I entered the Daphne DuMaurier Kiss of Death contest.  Sent the required partial manuscript.  Two out of four judges gave me near perfect scores, and one of them said:
"If this is finished, send it out immediately. If this isn't finished, stop everything you're doing right now and finish it. I can't imagine this wouldn't get published."

One more tiny step.

That book was The Goddaughter.  It was published by Orca Books, and the series is now up to six books.  (Six steps.) The series has won two awards. (Two more steps.)

I'm currently writing my 18th book.  It comes out Fall 2019.  Last summer, for the first time, I was asked to be a Guest of Honour at a crime fiction festival.  It may, just may, be my definition of success.

If you include my comedy credits, I have over 150 fiction publications now, and ten awards.

160 tiny steps to success. 

Conclusion:  Don't give up if your first work isn't published.  Take those tiny steps to become a better writer.  Take a million.

Monday, 16 April 2018

The Event Was a Success – Nobody Died (although some might die laughing)

Perils of a professional Event Planner

By Melodie Campbell (Bad Girl)

How do marketing and public relations professionals rate their events?
"It was a success.  Nobody died."
You think I’m kidding.  Hah!

I’ve been a professional event and conference planner since 1980, when I was part of the Bell Canada Golf Tournament committee.  That’s a lot of years.  In that time, I’ve arranged corporate promotional gigs, entire conferences, and classy fundraising dos.   

The key to event planning is the second word:  PLANNING.  We try to anticipate everything that could possibly go wrong, and plan for it.  Probably, we are the most anal, list-making people you would ever come across.  Even so, and even with a ton of experience, I’ve found you can’t plan for everything.  What can go wrong, you say?

Just wait.

1.  You can have water…and well, water.

Note to self: never trust your new staff with critical functions, like – for instance – the bar at a reception for 500.  She took care of the liquor license.  The cocktail food.  The entertainment.  The security.  The insurance.  Everything, in fact, except actually hiring the bars plus bartenders plus spirits.  One hour before the event-start, we were frantically on the phone with a nearby hotel, working a deal to borrow all the staff and spirits they could muster.  They came through, bless their extremely expensive hearts.  As conference-goers waited in the two interminable bar lineups, senior management sashayed up and down the line with lavish finger food to stall the riots.  “It’s so nice to see all the executives get involved like this,” said happy munchers, blissfully unaware of their near-dry event.

Said senior managers took turns on the bottle behind the stage.

Lesson learned: ALWAYS put booze and the serving of which at the top of your checklist.  People will forgive most everything.  But not that.

2.  But I thought Moose Factory was in the Prairies…

In Newfoundland, they have a nifty way to make a little extra money.  Moose insurance.  No, really.  I used to work for a really big health care association that had conferences across Canada.  The national conference was in St. John’s one year.  It took a lot of organizing to get the main sponsor’s huge demonstration truck across to the island of Newfoundland.  This was a million dollar vehicle filled with the latest scientific and medical equipment, for demonstrating to the lab manager attendees.  Not a shabby enterprise, and the highlight of our nerdy conference, seeing all those state of the art goodies.  That truck rocked.

Until it was totalled by a Moose on the highway. 

Lesson learned:  ALWAYS get moose insurance.  Yes, this is a thing.

3.  Bus 54, where ARE you?

Wine tour.  Yes, those words should never be allowed together.  People who go on wine tours invariably like to drink.  As you might expect, so do their bus drivers. 

It takes 45 minutes to get from Hamilton to Niagara Falls.  A convoy of six buses started out.  Three hours later, five buses made it for the dinner theatre.  The sixth made a slight detour to a winery and never got out of the tasting room.  Nobody there minded.  They had a kick-ass time in the attached resto.  I’m told everyone forgot about the dinner theatre in Niagara Falls.  We tried to reach them.  But ribald singing made it hard for people to hear their phones. 

Lesson learned:  Never *start* your event at a winery.

4.  Dogs and dragons…it will never work.

Twenty years ago, I joined the PR staff of a major urban teaching hospital.  Anxious to show our commitment to multiculturalism, we scheduled several ethnic lunch days in the cafeteria, complete with food and entertainment.  You can imagine our excitement when the local Chinese community agreed to bring costumed dancers with elaborate twelve foot dragon into our facility.

So it was with great pride and a certain amount of smugness that we had news media standing by.  Not only that, the local television station agreed to film the event.  All good.  Hundreds of people crowded in.  The music started up.  The dancers came on stage. The twelve foot long colourful paper undulating dragon was magnificent.  Cameras rolled.

Cut scene to our blind physiotherapist on staff, who came into the cafeteria with his seeing eye dog Mack.  Mack took one look at the huge dragon and took off, knocking over his master and a table full of authentic multicultural food.  Dog went crashing into dragon:  Rips, screams, people running, tables falling, and all this thoughtfully caught on camera for the six o’clock news.  “Hamilton Hospital celebrates Multiculturalism”

We called in every favour banked from every media person in town, to keep this off the news.

Lesson learned:  Okay, maybe not a success.  But only the dragon died.