Thursday, February 9, 2017

My Winter of Discontent

There have been other times in my life when I have felt this kind of malaise. Usually, though, it hasn't lasted long. Normally it doesn't tip into the edge of discontent the way this one has.

The kind that stays my writer's hand.

Logically, I could point to lots of reasons for this particular bout of despondency.

I was physically ill for a couple of weeks - which is extremely unusual for me. My constitution is normally robust. Not only that, the cold/flu occurred over Christmas, one of my favorite times of year, and knocked me out for most of it. Couldn't even see our friends on New Year's Eve.

In our area we only had 4 days of sun in January. It was mild but damp and dark.

Recently I've either personally or through family and friendship experienced a great deal of loss, disappointment or frustration, and it doesn't seem to stop.

I hurt my knee and spent weeks in pain.

This all adds up to melancholy, right?

Yes, but my gloominess also led to being unable to write. Often, it's been the opposite. When I'm happy, I spend too much time socializing and don't write regularly enough. This year, I had the space and the time, but no will.

Maybe this is simply Writer's Block, as defined by Wikipedia.
"Writer's block is a condition, primarily associated with writing, in which an author loses the ability to produce new work, or experiences a creative slowdown."

But no, it seems deeper than that. It's somehow aligned with a general feeling of disappointment.

My male* author hero John Steinbeck said, "The writer must believe that what s/he is doing is the most important thing in the world. And s/he must hold to this illusion even when s/he knows it is not true."
*Margaret Laurence is the female version.

I no longer believe. Nor do I have the capacity for delusion.  My books are not selling and my scripts have not been optioned.

I wonder if the lack of financial success is the problem. Have I become a salesperson instead of a writer? Is my hand stayed because I am a sore loser?

I begin to realize that, at my age, the chances of  becoming a famous (and rich) author - which were already low - are even more diminished than when I was young. By now I thought I'd have written a Grapes of Wrath. 

 I remind myself over and over that I have the best family and friends in the world. My network is incredibly supportive and loving. They're smart and fun and understanding and wise.

That doesn't help, because I miss them. I could have them swirling around on a daily basis and be very happy. I've dreamed of a family/friend compound for years and now, finally, I realize that it's just a dream.

I remind myself that I live in the best country in the world. That doesn't help because the news lately has been...well, horrible. Frightening. I feel like hiding under my desk again just as we did in school in the '50's.

I remind myself that I am rich in comparison to very, very many people the world over. That doesn't help because I just feel guilty (first world whiner!) and sad (I dreamed that we'd have abolished poverty by now).

I look around and notice that a lot of people - particularly women, particularly my age give or take a couple of years - are feeling a similar discontent. 

So back I go to my Johnny Steinbeck.

"When a condition or a problem becomes too great, humans have the protection of not thinking about it. But it goes inward and minces up with a lot of other things already there and what comes out is discontent and uneasiness, guilt and a compulsion to get something--anything--before it is all gone.”

I think he's right. I have a theory that I can trace my particular malaise (and that of many around me) back to the 1960's. We who grew up in the sixties (i.e. preteen to adult years) had such high hopes.

We marched. We believed in love. We thought we could overthrow the moribund, sometimes corrupt and evil systems and replace them with a world that would be fair and even kind. A world that fed everyone, put a roof over their heads, gave them something meaningful to do every day.

We did have some measure of success. The world appeared to be moving in the right direction. A little more peaceful, a little less poverty, a recognition that we must shepherd, not abuse, the earth.

But now? In 2016-17...what now...?

I cried through The Butler because the narrative made it clear that we haven't changed enough. I felt horrible after Hidden Figures because all those accomplishments appear to be for naught.

People..."don't get knocked out, or I mean they can fight back against big things. What kills them is erosion; they get nudged into failure. They get slowly scared...It's slow. It rots out your guts,” said Johnny's character Ethan in The Winter of Our Discontent. Is that what happened to my (our) sixties dreams?

We are still marching. There appears to be more hate than love. The corrupt systems are back in place and growing. "We can shoot rockets into space but we can't cure anger or discontent," said Johnny S.

But oh, I had such hopes and expectations! 

In desperation re my writing, I peek back into a book I read and reread for twenty years but haven't touched in ten: Writing Down the Bones, by Natalie Goldberg. There on the title page, an inscription from my friend Merci, who died two years ago and for whom I pine every day. "For the occasions when 'my hands have sprung shoots, crawled away from me like a deserting mother'." Her poem hits me in the gut.

Merci and I promised each other we'd make contact after we died. I had been waiting. And here it is, a message when I most need it.

"To be alive at all is to have scars." Johnny's character Ethan is, of course, perfectly correct.

Perhaps I am simply changing. 

"A day, a livelong day, is not one thing but many. It changes not only in growing light toward zenith and decline again, but in texture and mood, in tone and meaning, warped by a thousand factors of season, of heat or cold, of still or multi winds, torqued by odors, tastes, and the fabrics of ice or grass, of bud or leaf or black-drawn naked limbs. And as a day changes so do its subjects, bugs and birds, cats, dogs, butterflies and people.”

Johnny S. is eloquent, brilliant.

"Warped by a thousand factors of season", of sixty-seven years of seasons. Saddened by disappointment, by grief and fear and tragedy. Yet buoyed by new birth, by love and joy, by growing and changing relationships.  I am perhaps not so much warped as angled, twined, into another shape. Older, lumpier, lined.

Rather than say, I am the one who helps, I am the cheerful, optimistic one, not the one who needs help - open up to the possibility of reaching out, of saying, I need to walk slowly right now, not run.
I need redefined dreams and goals.

I must learn to not expect so much of myself (or the world). I am heading toward realistic goals, perhaps. Becoming, painfully, older and wiser.

In addition, perhaps my definition of success needs to change.

The world is a better place. Despite the rhetoric of politicians and competing noise-makers, poverty and violence have changed for the better. There are creative solutions to environmental problems being devised as I type. Maybe my definition of world success has been too grandiose.

Maybe, too, my goals of success in writing have been too lofty. I have won awards. I have sold some books; around the world, as a matter of fact. No, I didn't get famous and I didn't get rich, but I have an appreciative readership. I have committed words to paper and had them published by someone who appreciated them enough to invest in them. Maybe that's all I will ever achieve and isn't that all right?

Perhaps I'm ready to just write for me. For the pure bliss of discovering the exact word or phrase. For the rush when a character veers off on an adventure I'd never even thought about. For the ecstasy when my fingers fly across the keyboard as the subconscious overtakes the editor and I am lost in creation. Don't think about deadlines, editors, competition. No expectation of any other success.

Natalie Goldberg says that writers should ask themselves often: Why do I write? Her answers include this one. "I write out of total incomprehension that even love is not enough and that finally writing might be all I have and even that is not enough. There are times when I have to step away from the writing and turn to face my own life. Then there are times when it's only coming to the writing that I truly face my own life."

Perhaps that's what I am doing. Stepping away to face my own life. 

In the meantime, I will turn down the noise of the world. Write for pleasure and see what happens. Sometimes, do nothing at all. Walk slowly.

Encourage others to do the marching.

For now, step back, slow down, see what happens. Realizing that even this decision could change, or not be enough, and that I might turn back to the writing at any moment. I might get up again and march. In the meantime, let the expectations, the noise, fade away.

Move toward peace, calm, wisdom. Give myself a break.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016


My husband has PD - Parkinson's disease. It's a neurological disease, a quirk of the brain in which the cells that produce dopamine wilt away. Dopamine helps control movement, among other things. If you don't have enough of it, things start to go awry.

It's a sneaky bugger and has probably been worming its way through my husband's brain for at least a decade, maybe two. The non-motor symptoms are often not loud enough signals to alert you that things are not right. Every one of these symptoms, as examples, can be explained by something else: change in taste and smell (that's just the way I am); swallowing difficulties (maybe I'm allergic to milk?); nausea and vomiting (I've got the flu); constipation (something I ate?); unexplained changes in weight (How come you're losing weight and I'm not?); dementia and cognitive impairment (Did you just forget and or were you not listening to me?); depression and anxiety (Maybe you need a change of scenery); sexual dysfunction (age?); excessive daytime sleepiness (age?); REM sleep behaviour disorder (you were sitting up lecturing while asleep last night ha ha); restless leg syndrome (body pillow in the middle of the bed prevents you from kicking me).

The symptoms hide and seek, too, play tag with one another; not one of them stays long enough, so you don't connect the dots. At least, we didn't. Three or four years ago, I noticed the depression and anxiety stayed around, however. Though my hubby is my opposite as far as introversion (him) and extroversion (me), he has always been friendly, funny (telling corny jokes til we begged him to stop), loving and happy. He sang like an angel! Played the guitar beautifully. When I coaxed him out for social engagements, he had a ball. He gardened, did handyman stuff around the house, snapped gorgeous pictures, took videos of life events, played with the grandkids and always, made me laugh.

It wasn't anything overt. I didn't put the signs all together. I thought he was bored and therefore depressed. I knew he was tired of the traffic around our city, so I coaxed him into moving to a smaller town. I talked him into spending a few months in Florida two years in a row.

Not until the resting tremor arrived did I start to think there was more to this "boredom/depression." First the right arm, then the right leg. Particularly at times of stress. On our way home from Florida two years ago, I thought there was something wrong with the car, but it was the jerking of his foot on the gas pedal.

It took a long time to get a final diagnosis. Many health professionals declared it wasn't PD because Vince didn't (and still doesn't) have all the motor symptoms. So far, the motor symptom part has remained in his right arm and leg. But no one should state categorically, "it's not PD" because it's a bespoke disease. Tailored just for you, dependent on how the individual's brain reacts to the loss of the dopamine chemical. As the guide for the newly diagnosed from the Michael J. Fox Foundation states:

"Which symptoms develop, and how severely and quickly, is unpredictable in PD and varies widely from person to person. Common symptoms include tremor, slowness, stiffness, rigidity, difficulty initiating or controlling movement, balance problems, unpredictable movements, cramping, and speech and swallowing problems. Cognitive problems, such as short-term memory loss, difficulty following complex instructions, or a loss of multitasking ability, may also occur. Clinical depression, anxiety and apathy are often caused by PD. Some people will have several symptoms. Others will have only a few."

We were eventually referred to a movement disorders clinic, where a neurologist with special training in Parkinson's gave Vince the diagnosis. It was almost a relief. All the mysteries were solved. Vince was relieved that, as bad as the news was, PD isn't fatal. He also wasn't crazy!

I've learned that my incessant questioning ("Are you happy?") wasn't just from my own insecurity. PWPD (people with parkinson's disease) have a rather grim or not easily determined facial expression. I realized I hadn't noticed the crinkly-eyed relaxed face for a long time. It's hard to describe, because he does still smile, but his natural countenance has changed over the years. It's most noticeable for a partner, since we all rely on body language so very much.

I also have to learn to handle Vince's anxiety. Know when to pull back or rearrange. Realize that his reactions to noise or a crowd or some little thing going wrong are sometimes exaggerated by the disease, not the situation. Learn different ways of calming him or allowing him to remove himself from the area. Which even might mean that I, the party animal, will have to slow down too! Learn some different ways of being happy and satisfied.

I admit I hate the unpredictability of PD. I like to plan ahead. So the fact that the symptoms might progress slowly, might never appear, or might lunge up unexpectedly at any time, drives me a bit nuts. In this case it's probably better not to know. Go with the flow. Something I rarely do but ought to learn. Focus on the present. It's a skill I've never acquired, but it's not too late. 

I have my writing and, while Vince is still independent at home, he doesn't mind when I flit about. So I've booked a couple of trips by myself or with others this year and one with Vince. I don't particularly like traveling without him, but I'll keep myself busy taking pictures to show him. I also have a few writing projects to complete.

Thus life goes on. Different perhaps than anticipated, but still wonderful.

We're incredibly lucky in many many ways. New babies in our family and extended families and all kinds of little ones racing around, whose voices keep us in awe and in love.

We're still learning, researching, talking about it with our wonderful adult children, our other family and our friends. Our neighbor in the condo corporation has PD and she has shared a lot of information with us. Our next steps are clear. Eat better, exercise, explore the medication options.  The eat better and exercise steps will be good for me too. Plus the learning to slow down...though I'm a bit of a slow learner there, ha ha.

Thanks for your emails and words of support and hugs and honest talk and just for being there.
(PS My daughter and her partner gave Vince a donation in his name to Parkinson's Canada as a Christmas gift. They're a wonderful organization and we've already gotten huge amounts of information from their website.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

MY Brantford! My Little Town Part 3

 Nothing but the arts and theatre back in my little town! (Sorry, Paul.)

Brantford is a surprisingly busy hub of cultural activity. Perhaps part of the reason for this is that we  have a rich history provided by creative, courageous and determined people.

Chief Joseph Brant
Later, I'll do a blog on that history, including Joseph Brant and the Six Nations, because that topic deserves a whole piece. However, I'll mention here a couple of the cultural centres the Six Nations provides right next door.

Brantford was named after Chief Joseph Brant, who forded The Grand River along its banks and created a village.

In the 1800's and 1900's, Brantford was a manufacturing centre, home to such international companies as Brantford Cordage, Cockshutt Plows and Massey-Harris (Ferguson) farm equipment. That second to last name is a seque into my blog on culture.

Lawren Harris

Artist Lawren Harris was born in Brantford! One of my favourites of the Group of Seven artists, I had no idea he was born here to the famous Harris lineage. 

Speaking of art, Vince and I have been to the Glenhyrst Art Gallery many times, often showing it off to friends. The beautiful home and gardens belonged to Ernest Cockshutt. He bequeathed it to the city for residents to enjoy in perpetuity. Now the house boasts an art gallery, a tea house, a sculpture-filled garden, and a gathering place for local artists and lessons for beginners. Wandering through the property costs nothing; donations only. At holiday time, the entire garden is lit up with lights in various forms.

Thanks to another philanthropic family, we have a stunning theatre, The Sanderson Centre.  It was originally a vaudeville and silent movie house. Now it's an architectural beauty, with great facilities and sound. We've attended quite a few performances there (including Robert Bateman and Burton Cummings) and plan to do more in the future.

The satellite campus of Wilfrid Laurier University (Vince graduated from WLU!) has added a great deal to downtown Brantford. Not only that, but they have public lectures, which Vince and I have attended. Recently we got to see Senator Murray Sinclair on stage, speaking about aboriginal issues. Brilliant!

Emily Pauline Johnson's  (Tekahionwake) homestead is next door! As I write this, she is one of the five finalists to appear on a Canadian bill. I voted for her. For a perspective on why she should win that matches my own, go here: Toronto Star. My granddaughter and I toured the home at Chiefswood National Historic Site, which is when my admiration for Johnson took root.

Chiefswood is also the site of the magnificent Grand River Pow-wow, which everyone should attend at least once. We are always thrilled and awed by its majesty.  The first time Vince and I went, I was researching for a scene that appears in Sweet Karoline.

 The Woodland Cultural Centre has deepened my understanding of First Nation issues. There is an incredible amount of information and learning displayed in sometimes shocking reality, yet designed for young and old to be educated.

The Mohawk Residential School stands on the same property, a  haunting testament to a shameful time. I used this site in a short story contained in Thirteen.

I've felt at home since I arrived in Brantford. Perhaps because I spent quite a bit of time here in the past, with my children, particularly in nearby Burford/Mount Vernon, where the Henderson family had a farm.  My children's heritage is fascinating.

This is a picture of my daughter and son on their Grandpa's knee at the farm. Richard Henderson's great-uncle Cyrus owned the property.

 A picture from the Expositor, an article on honouring Cyrus for his commitment to the community through the rod and gun club. Richard is there on the left, as is Cy's sister Maggie. Later, they named the street Henderson Road. Cyrus and his siblings and parents are all buried in Burford.

The Brantford Library is a wonderful facility, especially the downtown branch. All kinds of cultural events occur here and are sponsored and supported by the library staff. Even I have been a guest speaker AND - they carry my books!

Of course I can't cover everything in one short blog, but I have highlighted the (so far) most meaningful cultural experiences for me, back in my little town.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

MY Brantford! My Little Town Part 2

A River Runs Through It (memories of Brad Pitt zing through my head.)

Can't help but sing. "Ain't nothin' but the river running through my little town." (Sorry, Paul.)

The mighty Grand River wends its way through Brantford, forcing the artificially constructed bits of humanity to curl around it instead of going straight. Several bridges ford the water so people could continue to spread around the town.

There's a fabulous article in the Globe & Mail from 2015 that writes eloquently about The Grand:

E. Pauline Johnson grew up on the banks of the Grand at Chiefswood and penned beautiful words about its currents and majesty. Walter Gretzky learned to skate on the frozen places and taught his son Wayne to navigate the rough spots.

For a time, The Grand was fouled by industry, when Brantford was a huge manufacturing town. But sensibilities have changed, the town has changed, and so have other places along its 300 kilometre trek to Lake Erie. Now the waters are, if not pristine, at least clean enough to canoe on.

Vince and I have been on The Grand River Cruise several times, particularly the sunset dinner package. Not only is the navigation of the waters smooth and calming, but the information is fascinating, and the food is great. I am very sure we'll do it again next spring or summer or fall!

Another place we frequent with the grandkids is Wacky Wings. It's like Chuckee Cheese for older kids. They have a blast and quite literally go a little squirrelly. But that's what our job is: to spoil the crap out of them, wind them up, and send them home.

In case you think we just encourage gambling, we also take the grandkids to Earl Haig Park for a swim in the summer. Or Brant Park. Or The Wayne Gretzky Centre. All great places to run around, splash, and pretend we're in the middle of the ocean with sharks all around (or people, as the case may be).

We love to shop at the Farmers' Market, which is open Fridays and Saturdays all year 'round. Vince remembers when he took the streetcar to the location up the hill when he was young. At one time a canal ran straight through the town, connecting The Grand to the markets on the Great Lakes.

Tomorrow, I'll introduce you to some cultural aspects of my little town.

Monday, November 28, 2016

My Brantford! My Little Town!

 Nothing but the beer and buyin' back in my little town! (Sorry, Paul.)

I am taking a page from my friend and fellow author, Madeleine Harris-Callway, who wrote about her neighbourhood recently. I found her blog to be very interesting, so I figured I'd just copy her.

A little over 2 years ago, my husband and I moved to the small city of Brantford from my birth place, Brampton. I had to stay with a BRA city and besides, my daughter and her family live here.

I have, over the last 28 months, learned a great deal about my new home and I must say, I love it. I find its history fascinating and I am proud of its accomplishments. Over the next three days, I'm going to highlight a few people, events and places for you!


Does any other town have Mike on a Bike? I doubt it. Mike has been described as one of the best loved people in Brantford. He embodies the friendliness and innocence that we all want to see in our communities. He rides his bike through Brantford and Six Nations, smiling, making kind remarks, waving, and sometimes stopping to sing and dance with you. No other person spreads such joy (that I know of). I've only met Mike once, but I've seen him riding around town a lot. He always makes me smile, gives me a wave or a thumbs up.


My husband used to visit Brantford when he was a kid because his maternal grandmother and a whole bunch of aunts and uncles and cousins lived here (some still do). Vince swears we have the best french fries in the province. He may be right, according to Trip Advisor.

Stan's Fries has been around since 1950. The truck is now surrounded by a plaza, but that doesn't stop people from lining up. Stan the Chip Man died in 2009, but his legacy lives on.


In March, before any nice weather arrived, my granddaughter persuaded me to line up at yet another iconic Brantford foodie landmark. This time it was ice cream.

The waiting crowd stood in a biting wind, shivering and grinning at each other sheepishly. One woman commented, "Are we nuts?" which was followed by huge laughter and merry agreement from everybody. But - it was opening day for Dairee Delite and definitely the place to be!


We also have Captain Kindness! He walks around town spreading random acts of kindness wherever he goes. He recruits young people to help him out.

He visits schools to spread the word and talk to kids about the "superheroes" in themselves. We all know people can't love others if they don't love themselves, so I believe his message is one of the best I've ever heard.

5. WTF -

Yes, we have WTF, which stands for What the Festival, of course.  Not exactly the music my hubby and I listen to these days, but man, the young 'uns love it.

6. Bell City Brewery -

We just discovered this gem during our second summer. Great beer tasting, fabulous food, friendly owners/operators. What more could you ask for?

7. OLG - Brantford Casino

Oh yes! We have a casino! Happens to have a great restaurant in addition to the gambling.

I'll be back tomorrow for more on Brantford, MY little town!

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Fantastic Special Guest, Andy Peloquin: All About Fantasy


I'm really happy to host author Andy Peloquin, particularly because, as a mystery/crime writer, I usually host authors in my genre. But it's great to break out of your norm and go for something completely different now and then! Andy's fantasy series is great, so I hope this will serve as a learning blog as well as an introduction to his work (or to the next book in the series for current fans).  

Lament of the Fallen debuted two days ago, so you can pick it up NOW. Right here!

The Ins and Outs of Fantasy by Andy Peloquin

A lot of people don't understand the "fantasy" genre. To many, the idea of fantasy brings to mind elves, dwarves, magic, sorcerers, dragons, and all those other typical fantasy tropes found in books like Lord of the Rings and The Song of Ice and Fire (Game of Thrones TV show).
But the genre of fantasy is actually much broader than that! Most fantasy books don't involve those elements. Instead, they (as Wikipedia describes them) "use magic or other supernatural elements as a main plot element, theme, or setting."
There is really only one rule for a book to be classified as fantasy: There has to be something fantastical, be it magic, magical/supernatural creatures, or an alternate world.
Let's take a look at some of the different types of fantasy:
-        Urban fantasy takes place in the modern world (usually a city), but with fantastical elements mixed in. Harry Potter is urban fantasy.
-        Epic fantasy or high fantasy takes place on other worlds, ones with little or no connection to Earth. Lord of the Rings is epic fantasy.
-        Portal fantasy involves people traveling from our Earth to an alternate fantastical world. The Chronicles of Narnia could be considered portal fantasy.
-        Dark fantasy involves elements of horror (monsters, demons, serial killers, etc.) in a fantasy world. Elric of Melnibone  is a dark fantasy series.
-        Historical fantasy is historical fiction with fantastical elements mixed in. The Outlander series is historical fantasy.
These are the most common fantasy genres, though there are many more (grimdark, sword and sorcery, heroic, juvenile, paranormal romance, etc.).
The Last Bucelarii series is firmly set in the dark fantasy genre, with elements of the grimdark sub-genre. The series involves demonic creatures and other elements of horror, but it qualifies as grimdark due to the amoral, violent, and gritty nature of the world in which the Hunter and the other characters live.
For those who are used to more "classic" fantasy genres (epic, heroic, sword and sorcery, etc.), delving into the dark world of grimdark/dark fantasy may be a bit difficult. To go from shining heroes and noble intentions to death, violence, treachery, murder, mayhem, and monsters can take adjusting. But as you get into it, you'll find the gritty nature of the books have a lot more in common with real life than you might think. If you're anything like me, you'll be hooked in no time!

 Thanks, Andy! I have a feeling I'll develop yet another obsession. Here's all about and how to get Andy's books (including book one if you haven't read it yet):


The Last Bucelarii (Book 2): Lament of the Fallen
A faceless, nameless assassin. A forgotten past.  The Hunter of Voramis--a killer devoid of morals, or something else altogether? (The Last Bucelarii--dark fantasy with a look at the underside of human nature)
The Hunter of Voramis is no more.

Alone with the bloodthirsty voices in his head, fleeing the pain of loss, he has one objective: travel north to find Her, the mystery woman who plagues his dreams and haunts his memories.

When he stumbles upon a bandit attack, something within urges him to help. His actions set him at odds with the warrior priests commanded to hunt down the Bucelarii.

Left for dead, the Hunter must travel to Malandria to recover his stolen birthright. There, he is inexorably drawn into direct conflict with the Order of Midas, the faceless, nameless group of magicians that holds the city in a grip of terror. All while struggling to silence the ever-louder voice in his mind that drives him to kill.

From feared assassin to wretched outcast, the Hunter's journey leads him to truths about his forgotten past and the Abiarazi he has pledged to hunt. His discoveries will shed light on who he really is…what he really is.

Fans of Joe Abercrombie, Brandon Sanderson, and Brent Weeks will love the Hunter…



Andy Peloquin: Lover of All Things Dark and Mysterious


Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Special Guest Judy Penz Sheluk, has Skeletons in the Attic!

I'm very pleased to host Judy Penz Sheluk, author and Sister and Crime Writers of Canada colleague.  For everyone, this blog will be a fabulous insight into how an idea grows into a book. For those of you who haven't read Judy's books/short stories, this will also serve as a great introduction.
- Cathy

Judy Penz Sheluk: Skeletons in the Attic 

Leith Hampton placed the will in front of him, smoothing an invisible crease with a well-manicured hand, the nails showing evidence of a vigorous buffing. I wondered what kind of man went in for a mani-pedi—I was surmising on the pedi—and decided it was the kind of man who billed his services out for five hundred dollars an hour.

He cleared his throat and stared at me with those intense blue eyes. “Are you sure you’re ready, Calamity? I know how close you were to your father.”

I flinched at the Calamity. Folks called me Callie or they didn’t call me at all. Only my dad had been allowed to call me Calamity, and even then only when he was seriously annoyed with me, and never in public. It was a deal we’d made back in elementary school. Kids can be cruel enough without the added incentive of a name like Calamity.

As for being ready, I’d been ready for the past ninety-plus minutes. I’d been ready since I first got the call telling me my father had been involved in an unfortunate occupational accident. That’s how the detached voice on the other end of the phone had put it. An unfortunate occupational accident.

I knew at some point I’d have to face the fact that my dad wasn’t coming back, that we’d never again argue over politics or share a laugh while watching an episode of The Big Bang Theory. Knew that one day I’d sit down and have a good long cry, but right now wasn’t the time, and this certainly wasn’t the place. I’d long ago learned to store my feelings into carefully constructed compartments. I leveled Leith with a dry-eyed stare and nodded.

“I’m ready.”

What would eventually become Skeletons in the Attic started life at the food court in the Upper Canada Mall in Newmarket, Ontario, Canada. I was sitting with my friends, Larry and Charlotte, having lunch and catching up on life in general. Inevitably, the conversation turned to writing.

Charlotte and I had met at a creative writing workshop a decade ago, and Larry is a retired criminal prosecutor working on his first novel, a legal thriller set in the 1950s. The conversation went something like this:

“I’ve been thinking about starting a new series.”

“Why not write the sequel to The Hanged Man’s Noose?” Larry asked. Larry’s always the practical one.

Because I hadn’t found a publisher yet. Because I couldn’t bear to write a second book when the first one in the series hadn’t sold. Because if I didn’t start writing another book, maybe I never would, and that scared me more than I was willing to admit.

“I thought I’d try something different. Write this book in first person, from the protagonist’s point of view.” [For those of you who haven’t read it, The Hanged Man’s Noose is written in third person with multiple (though primarily two) POVs.]

“Do you have a title yet?” Charlotte, this time.

“No, but I’m thinking of calling my protagonist Calamity Barnstable. Callie for short.”

Charlotte frowned. “I like Calamity and Callie. I don’t think I like Barnstable. Makes me think of a barn and a stable. Maybe Barnes would be better.”

“Maybe,” I said, although I knew it was already too late.

Calamity (Callie) Barnstable had just started living inside my head. She’d be thirty-six, the only child of two only children. Her father had raised her, because her mom had walked out on them thirty years before. She had black-rimmed hazel eyes and a virtually uncontrollable mass of curly brown hair. And she was single, having inherited the Barnstable loser radar when it came to relationships.

I had dated a guy one summer, a triathlete with a fantastic body but not much else to offer. We’d spent more than a few days at that beach while he practiced open water swimming and I admired his form. Unfortunately, I discovered the only thing he was faithful to was training.

“What’s the premise?” Larry asked, interrupting the work-in-progress going on inside my head.

“Her father dies in an at-work accident and leaves Callie everything.” I explain the backstory about her mom leaving.

“Is the father’s death suspicious?” Larry again.

“Hmmm. That’s a good question. I’m not sure yet. The premise is that Callie inherits a house she didn’t know existed, under a very interesting condition.”

“Which is?” Both of them, now. I lean back and smile. I’ve piqued their interest.

“She has to move into the house and find out who murdered her mother.”

“I thought you said her mother left Callie and her father,” Larry said. Did I mention he was a retired prosecuting attorney? Nothing slips by Larry.

“That’s just what Callie’s been told. I still have to flesh out the details.”

“It sounds interesting,” Charlotte said, always the peacemaker. “Where does the story take place?”

“In Marketville. It’s a fictional commuter town about an hour north of Toronto.”

“Marketville, eh?” Larry grinned. “Sounds a lot like Newmarket.”

“Doesn’t it just?”

Judy Penz Sheluk’s debut mystery, The Hanged Man’s Noose was published in July 2015 by Barking Rain Press.

Skeletons in the Attic, the first book in her Marketville Mystery Series, was published by Imajin Books in August 2016. 

Judy’s short crime fiction appears in World Enough and Crime, The Whole She-Bang 2, Flash and Bang and Live Free or Tri.

Judy is a member of Sisters in Crime, Crime Writers of Canada, International Thriller Writers and the Short Mystery Fiction Society. She lives in Alliston, Ontario, with her husband, Mike, and their Golden Retriever, Gibbs. Find her at, where she interviews other authors and blogs about the writing life.

Skeletons in the Attic will be released on August 21st in trade paperback and Kindle formats. It is now available for pre-order on Kindle for the special introductory price of .99 (regular $4.99) Find it here:

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