Friday 25 May 2012

IT'S A GUY THING - reprinted with permission

I should know better. After all, I was on the boy’s baseball team in grade six.  I know there are things about men that we females can never hope to understand.  But when the guys – three of them – said, "we’re going camping on crown land this weekend – wanna come?” – I lost my mind.  I went.


“Why are you guys wearing hats, even when the sun is down and It’s not cold out and none of you are bald?”  They all look at me, puzzled.

“It’s a guy thing,” Wil explains.  The others nod.  It’s perfectly obvious.  What ISN’T obvious, is the bathroom.

“Where is it?” I ask.  Everyone looks around.

“That way,” says Bob, pointing to a landmark thirty miles off. “Usually I can’t wait tho.”  He puffs thoughtfully on a cigarillo.

I go look for a bush.


“We need a fire,” says Karl.

“A BIG fire.” Wil looks to me, quite serious. “It’s a guy thing.”

The guys nod in unison. This is not surprising. We do need a fire. I’ve been saying so for hours.  It’s so dark we can’t find the tents.

“Who’s got a match?” I say helpfully.  Everyone gasps.

“A match?”

“Good Lord woman - a match?  In the wilderness?”

I might as well suggest sending out for Pizza Pizza from the cell phone.  Which is not a bad idea, because if we don’t get a fire going soon, we’re all going to starve.

Karl comes back from the truck.  “Flint and steel.” He holds it up for my benefit.

“You have to make do with primitive things in the wilderness,” he explains patiently.

I don’t bother to ask where you get steel in the wilderness.  This is something only guys know.

Karl gets to work. After several minutes of vigorous activity, he is puffing into a gorgeous little fire – really sweet – which immediately burns out.

They stand around wearing frowns.

“Looks a little weak there.” Everyone nods.

“Not a problem. Got just the thing.” Karl goes back to the truck for a small can.

“Stand back,” he orders.  A small wave of fluid hits the ex-fire, which immediately leaps into twelve foot vermillion flames accompanied by a loud WHOOOOSSSSHHHH.

“What IS that?” I yell from twenty feet away.

Karl grins diabolically.  “Naptha.”

************continued next week***********

Saturday 19 May 2012

CHARIOTS OF THE GUYS - more humour about men and cars (reprinted with permission)

This is the humour column that started off my comedy writing career in the 90s, and has been reprinted many times.  Especially by women editors :)

One of the things I hate even more than high school reunions is buying a new car.  It’s not that I don’t like cars.  I am really quite fond of them. Especially in winter.  What I don’t like is the buying process.  There is something inherently different about men and women when they go looking at cars in a dealership.  You even have to wonder if they are members of the same species.

Husband (reverently caressing cold metal with both hands):  “Look at this beauty!  4.0 litre, five speed, Recarro seats, mag wheels, racing suspension, electric moon roof, power mulcher, moog synthesizer, ballistic missile launcher…”

Wife:  “It’s red.  I hate red.”

This basic lack of communication goes right back to the way men and women look at ‘things’.  Amazingly, they can be looking at the same thing and see something entirely different.  Men, for instance, will look at a car as if it something beyond a box with four wheels that moves forward and backward.  To them, it is not merely a car.  Nope.  It is the culmination of adolescent dreams, the elusive mistress of middle age, the Ben Hur of all chariots.  Me, I’m more concerned with whether it will get me to the shopping mall and back without falling into a million pieces.  Which is why we had this misunderstanding at the dealership last weekend:

Me:  “This car has two seats.”

He (enthusiastically checking the interior):  “Yes!  Aren’t they great?”

Me:  “I’m not denying they are very nice seats.  Beautiful, in fact.  But there are four of us.”

He (looking irritably at the kids):  “They’re young.  They’ve got legs.”

Kid One:  “But Dad…where are we all going to sit when we have to drive someplace?”

He (aghast):  Good Gad, you’re not actually expect me to drive this car on the road?  The paint might get chipped.”

Then he did what all men have been programmed to do from the beginning of time.  He kicked the tire.  I’ve often wondered about this practice.  And I expect Ben Hur’s wife pondered the very same thing two thousand year ago, when good ole Ben whacked the wheel of that Roman chariot with his leather sandal.  Exactly what purpose does this serve?

I’ll never understand it.  But as far as I can see, all of this started about forty thousand years ago when Urgh the slightly-brighter-than-normal Neanderthal invented the wheel.  Irma, his loyal wife, stood on the sidelines shaking her head, while Urgh enthusiastically painted on racing stripes.  “Argh urf org grunt bfff bfff,” she said (loosely translated to, “Oh dinosaur droppings, not another blasted toy.  When will this ever end.”)  And of course, it hasn’t yet.

Saturday 12 May 2012

A Jury of Her Peers - the sweetest kind of honour

I never thought anything could compare to the high you get when your first child is born.  So it rather shocked me when – Alex and Natalie stop reading now – I experienced something akin to that high again last Thursday night at the Arthur Ellis Awards short list event in Toronto.  I had actually made the short list!  And dang, wasn’t that a kick.

But also alarming.  I raced home to dig out my ‘bucket list’ written 23 years ago, written in 1989 when I won my first writing award (Canadian Living Magazine).  Damn straight, I’ve been kicking around a long time, decades longer than most of my colleagues realize. 

This list of What-I-must-accomplish-before-I-die also included such items as “Learn to dance Flamenco,” and “Fly a plane.”  Flamenco got a tick in 1996 (damn hard on your feet) and so did plane (except I ran out of money during the whole pilot training thingy and had to metaphorically bail). That list also included a few other items, one of which was rather hot (I invite people to comment by guessing what THAT was.  If you’ve read Rowena Through the Wall, you may come close.) 

One by one, I had crossed all these items off my list.  Except one. 

Back in my home office with the lovely arched window and the rickety desk, I opened the old claret journal (paper journal, of course – no smart-phones back then.)  There it was, page marked with a post-it tab:  “Bucket list.”  And the only remaining uncrossed item: “Be a finalist for a major writing award.”

Not the winner, you note.  Nope – my goal back then was to be in good company.  And dammit, Thursday night put me in the best.

I’ve won six awards for fiction before.  This year I was a finalist for the Derringer.  But in no way did that begin to reach the thrill of being shortlisted for the Arthur Ellis Award for short stories, at our Crime Writers of Canada event, with so many of my author friends in attendance and cheering me on.

Bless them.  Writers are the best people in the world.  They are the smartest people I know, always using their minds.  And they have big hearts.  They know the true joy that comes from being assessed by a jury of your peers, and found worthy.

For on Thursday night last week, I discovered that “A Jury of Her Peers” is the highest court.  The title of that celebrated short story by Susan Glaspell rings in my head and heart.  And I am supremely grateful.

Saturday 5 May 2012

Have a pint with Jill Edmondson

Today, we’re interviewing Jill Edmondson, a well-known Toronto wit and author of the Sasha Jackson mystery series. Usually I would ask readers to imagine themselves having a chat with Jill in a cozy coffee house. Pull up a chair…plunk the latte on the table.

Nah, that doesn’t work. Not for my pal Jill. Nope – I’m thinking The Roof Lounge bar at the top of the Hyatt. Too posh, Jill? Okay, let’s go to The Pilot Tavern for a pint of wheat beer and lots of laughter.


1. I fell over laughing when I read the first phone sex scene in Bride and Groom. Tell me about your research for that.

Years ago – 1990? – while channel surfing, I came across an episode of Phil Donohue. He was interviewing phone sex workers. It turns out that these sultry voiced vixens were bored, suburban housewives. They basically said that they did the phone sex job while in their bathrobes, baking cookies or whatever. What a disconnect! I filed it away until I could figure out how to use it.

2. How is Sasha like you? How would you like to be more like her?

Sasha and I are about 99% alike. We have the same philosophies, outlooks and attitudes. The food she consumes, the places she hangs out, the clothes she wears – that’s all me.

But, I have never done a break and enter (although it is on my bucket list!) I’m also not a slender hot blond who sings and plays the drums. Singing is a lost cause, but maybe one day I’ll learn drumming. I just like to hit things.

3. Those bar scenes are hilarious. I’m thinking of the S&M bar from The Lies Have It, in particular. Did you get some of your material for this novel ‘on the job?’

The first 30 pages of The Lies Have It are all pretty much true (but I changed the names of people).

I was a post-secondary student for about 13 years (not quite consecutively). While pursuing whatever diploma or degree or certificate, I worked at various bar jobs. Truth is really stranger than fiction! The people I’ve met, the things I’ve seen were often head-shakingly hilarious. I once got tipped a condom covered cucumber by an indie film producer. I’ve served famous people who acted like total dickheads. I’ve waited on many blind dates and Valentine’s Day break ups. I’ve seen a guy eat Fettucini Alfredo with his hands. At one bar, I would receive either flowers or a Teddy Bear every week from some creepy regular who had a crush on me.

Many of my bar and life experiences end up in my writing, in some way shape or form.

4. Lots of great sexual tension in your novels. Not everyone can write that. How do you ‘warm’ up for writing those scenes?

I buy myself a dozen roses, and eat raw oysters. Then I put on something silky and write by soft candlelight while listening to Barry White’s Greatest Hits.

5. You have three novels in the Sasha Jackson series out now. What was the hardest scene to write, and why?

No scene in particular is hard to write. For me the difficulty is the HOW.

I can easily come up with a murder victim, I can easily create a few suspects. Motive is not a problem (revenge, greed, lust, etc. are all pretty basic). So, I know from the get-go whodunit and why. I also know at the outset what the method or weapon is. In other words, I know before I start that it was Colonel Mustard, in the Library, with the Revolver.

The difficulty for me is in playing fair with the reader. By that I mean that an author has to pepper in enough clues so the reader has a chance of figuring it out, but doing so without making the culprit obvious is damn hard.

6. You did some interesting papers and some interesting research for your MA. Tell us about your nerdy, academic side.

Dead Light District came about 100% as a result of a paper I did for my Master’s. The course was “Equality in Context” and the essay was on Human Rights in the Sex Trade. I came across so much interesting albeit heartbreaking information on that world. I knew I couldn’t just ignore the stuff that didn’t make it into the essay. So, I turned a lot of the left over research into a novel. It only took five months to write Dead Light District.

I also did a neat paper on the evolution of women in the hard boiled tradition. Here’s a link to it; it’s one of my pieces of writing that I am really proud of.:

7. I love first person novels. Why do you write first person, and have you ever written third person?

Writing in first person comes easily. I have never tried to write in third person. I may give it a whirl at some point, though, as it does open up some doors for a writer, especially a mystery writer. We’ll see...

8. Do you ever write straight?

Nah… I sniff some glue and suck back a 40 oz bottle of Single Malt before I start.

9. What’s next for Sasha? What’s next for Jill?

Well, Sasha # 4 and #5 are in progress.

#4 will be called Frisky Business. It’s about 1/3 or 1/2 done or so. Book #5 is underway as well (and it will be very easy to write… when I get #4 done).

But but but!!! I really like nonfiction (it’s all I ever read) and I have a few nonfiction things in the works. I may try to finish one of them before knuckling down with the Sasha books again.

One of the nonfiction books is a bio of a guitar God, one is about money, and the third is Canadiana. No idea which I’ll finish first.

10. What is your writing routine?

I do not have one! I understand that many writers feel they must do a certain number of words a day, or that they must write every day from X o’clock until Y o’clock. If I did it that way, I’d hate it and would never do it. I write when I feel like it, when I have time, when I’m not distracted by other things. I can go for months without writing a damn thing.

I take a laptop with me on vacation and do the final edits of whatever I’m working on. I finished Dead Light District in Panama and The Lies Have It was completed in Italy. Basically, writing is an excuse to go on vacation ;-)