Socializing Through a Pandemic

Summer’s here and many fun events are returning to British Columbia. I’ve just finished facilitating an 11-week long spring session of the creative writing program offered in our city. The group was small, but I’d still been a little worried about exposure to Covid. Hospitalization rate were still fairly high in April but have been going down since then. Happily, the rec center gave us a large room in a quiet part of the building, so we felt safe. One of my students came down with Covid and was away for one week, but no one else was impacted.

As I write this, my daughter’s place of employment currently has about ten percent of their staff sick with Covid, after having been encouraged to return to work. As you can imagine, those who work in a common area are the ones who are sick. Those who have their own offices are so far staying healthy. Still, ten percent is a lot.

The cautionary tales I’ve been hearing from medical experts tells me that it’s probably still a good idea to wear my mask in public indoor places. Like many of you, I’m also eager to get back to socializing, especially when it comes to writing events. I turned down two invitations to indoor book launches this spring. I had no idea how many people would attend, how large the venue was, or whether the room was well ventilated. Generally, I don’t feel particularly anxious about most things, when you’re babysitting a two-year-old most weekdays it seems wise to be cautious.

Having said that, I’m attending two outdoor events this week. One is a BBQ with my old employer at Simon Fraser University. Since 97% of the university’s population is vaccinated, I figure it should be okay, although I’ll keep my hand sanitizer close by.

I’m also a vendor at an outdoor mini-craft fair at the TownShip7 Winery this Sunday. This is one of my favourite venues, as the event has musical entertainment and the artisans will be spread apart. Wine tasting, bookselling, and music in a vineyard is a wonderful way to spend the day. The event is also fundraising for the Osteoporosis Society. I know that some of you live in the Lower Mainland, so if you have some time and enjoy wine tasting, this is a great opportunity to get out and enjoy what will be a bright, sunny day.

I’ll be participating in another Art on the Vine event in late August and also selling books at a local Farmer’s Market on Thursday July 14th. So, yes, I’m socializing more, but honestly, I’ll be taking precautions.

For those of you who are looking for more free crime fiction reads, I’m taking part in another BookFunnel offering until the end of June. This is the Women Solve Crime Mystery Giveaway and a good number of the 30+ offerings are cozies, which make great beach reads. The link HERE.

How about you? Are you over Covid anxiety and attending events this summer, or are you still a little anxious?

My 5-Star Reads So Far This Year

I’ve been catching up on reading these past few weeks. So far, I’ve read 20 books this year, which is five books behind my normal schedule. But whenever I’m staying over at my daughter’s for babysitting duties, the evenings are spent catching up on blogs, newsletters, and books.

The eclectic mix of genres have been truly enjoyable reads. Two of the crime fiction authors, J.T. Siemens and Winona Kent, were guest bloggers earlier this spring, but I want to mention them again as they’re excellent writers who deserve more attention.

To Those Who Killed Me by J.T. Siemens, is a gritty, noir mystery that reveals the darker side of Vancouver. J.T.’s Instagram account shows interesting black-and-white photos of some of the actual venues mentioned in his book. The photos beautifully capture the book’s noir feel.

Ticket to Ride by Winona Kent is a delightful amateur sleuth-based mystery set in England, featuring musician and new private detective Jason Davey. I love Winona’s descriptions and the way she incorporates family dynamics into her stories. There’s a lot of heart in her books as well as terrific storytelling.

Silver Bells by C.J. Hunt, is a heartwarming Christmas romance. It’s also a novella that you can read quickly. The romantic scenes are nicely written and the book’s contemporary concepts about a single dad trying to run his business and a woman who’s sold her startup company and is rethinking career options are relatable topics.

Given all the cold, rainy weather in my area last month, it seemed only natural to read another Christmas novella. Crimson Frost by J.P. McLean is a suspenseful supernatural story. Given that the protagonist is only 19, it likely falls into the YA category, but this is a riveting story for all ages at any time of year. Grief, turbulence, and the supernatural elements added to the enjoyment for me.

The Library of Legends by Janie Chang is an amazing historical fiction novel set in China in 1937. The Japanese have invaded the country and the university students are forced to flee by undertaking a 1,000 mile trek to safety in the country’s interior. What struck me was the exceptional writing and the way Janie incorporates mythical fantasy with reality. The story is based on her father’s real-life experience. Absolutely riveting.

Last but not least, is the romantic suspense story Lure by W.L. Hawkin. To me, this book raises the bar by incorporating exquisite writing with real-life tragedy centered around missing  Indigenous women, a topic that has a troubling, longstanding history here in British Columbia. Wendy adds layers to the story by adding a mystery whodunit and a haunting, spiritual component. It’s one of those stories that’s stayed with me.

That’s it so far. I’ve read a number of nonfiction titles related to writing but I hope to explore many other topics this year.

CWC Winners Announced and Planning for Summer

Last week, the Crime Writers of Canada Awards of Excellence winners were announced. It’s always exciting to see the short list of nominees in April and the announcement of winners in late May. I know a number of the nominees from the Vancouver area, including this year’s best crime novel winner, and am delighted to see their work recognized. You can find the full list of nominees and winners HERE.

As you all know, a lot’s gone on in the world since I last blogged a couple of weeks ago, and little of it’s good. It’s a tough time for creators on many levels, but I forge ahead because writing and editing have always given me a safe space to ease my mind from horrific news stories. So, I’ve been editing steadily, and working on a pre-release plan for my Casey Holland novella. I’ll launch the book on September 8th, which seems both far away and all too soon, depending on my state of mind.

I have a to-do list of pre-publication work to help me stay organized. I also want to take one more look at the novella before it’s ready for uploading on Amazon and other sites. It won’t be a quiet, slow-paced summer, but it will be an eventful one.

Ellie likes to sit on her bike & ring the bell

Ellie will have a little brother or sister in August. My son-in-law and hubby will be taking vacations to help out on the home front, but we won’t be traveling this summer, which is probably for the best this year, especially since gas is $2.22 a liter as I write this.

It’s a bit strange to plan my publishing schedule around a little person who isn’t here yet, but my writing life has always been planned around kids’ and employers’ schedules. Somehow it always works out.

How about you? What are your plans this summer? Will it be creative? Relaxing? Busy? Or slow and relaxed?

Virtual Mystery Conference, May 24 – 28

I’m back to babysitting this week, so things are a little slower on the writing front, however, I wanted to share info about the Maple Leaf Mystery Conference coming up next week.

It’s a virtual event and for a $25 fee you can attend interviews with Ian Rankin, Rick Mofina, Maureen Jennings and many others. There will also be several panel discussions over this four-day event on a variety of topics for mystery readers and writers. For more info about the program and registration, please check out the link HERE.

I’m not affiliated with the conference and won’t be able to participate this year, but a number of my colleagues are taking part, and I’m excited for them. I will be taking part in a conference in mid-August, but I’ll save that info for a later date.

Mother’s Day Fun and Writing Updates

After three months of babysitting most weekdays, I’m on holiday this week. My S-I-L is taking the week off and guess what he’s doing? Toilet training Ellie. Yes, they’ve read up on the topic, seen a video, I think, and feel they’re ready. Let’s hope Ellie feels the same. 😊

At 21 months, she’s already using “no” a lot and having the occasional tantrum when things don’t go her way. I’m sure it’s been quite a week, but this is one of the great things about grandparenting. The responsibility isn’t mine, at least until next Monday.

As you can see from the photo, we enjoyed a happy Mother’s Day with my son doing most of the cooking. My daughter’s next baby is due in mid-August, just after Ellie turns two, so more fun is coming up, and more big changes.

On the writing front, work continues on the urban fantasy. After going through a long and invaluable critiquing process I’ll be reaching the end of that part of the process in a few more weeks. Perhaps then, I’ll look for beta readers in earnest, but it would be a huge commitment for them, so I’m thinking of what I should offer in return. A gift card perhaps? A quid pro quo arrangement?

I’ve also finalized decisions about the jacket design for the Casey mystery novella and am working on nailing down a September release date. There are also some archived online workshops I’m catching up on this week.

As you can see, I’m not slowing down on my holiday. But the weather’s been rainy and uncharacteristically cold in my neck of the woods, so why not catch up while things are good and I’m motivated?

Free and Discounted Mysteries For You

Before I launch into today’s topics, I want to say that Canadian Independent Bookstore Day last Saturday was a great success for our local store, Western Sky Books. This was their best event ever, and it was heartwarming to see supporters come out in droves. It was great fun to see a number of writers I hadn’t seen in person in more than two years, and one author I hadn’t seen in a decade!

So, here we are in May, one of my favorite months of the year. The weather’s warming slowly although there’s still a fair bit of rain and cloud hovering over BC’s lower mainland these days. Flowers are blooming, albeit slower than last year. Since I was married in mid-May nearly 34 years ago and our family always celebrates Mother’s Day, it’s a special month.

This weekend, I’m offering great deals on most of the titles in my 6-book Casey Holland series this weekend, which ends on May 9th. You can find the link to the entire series with just one click HERE. By clicking on that page, you’ll see that the combined price for all the books is under $10.

I’m also taking part in two BookFunnel events offering free mystery ebooks all month. One is the Leading Ladies of Mystery giveaway featuring female lead characters. The link is HERE.

The other offer focuses on mystery and suspense titles, with either male or female protagonists, which you can find HERE.

So, please take advantage of these opportunities. Summer’s coming and it’s time to load up your devices with new books as you prepare for holidays or at least a little more downtime. Couldn’t we all use some R & R and escapes into great fiction?

Celebrating Canadian Independent Bookstore Day

Every year, Canada celebrates independent bookstores and this year the celebration takes place on Saturday, April 30th.

As stated on the Canadian Independent Booksellers Association (CIBA) website, this is a day when authors, illustrators, readers, publishers, booksellers, and other supporters come together to celebrate indie stores. Managers and staff go out of their way to support authors, and as you can imagine, they’ve had a tough go of it during the pandemic. This year, stores are welcoming people back with open arms. The CIBA is also offering a contest for book lovers which you can check out on their website HERE.

For my local blogging friends, Western Sky Books in Port Coquitlam has invited me to take part in selling my books from 3:00 to 4:00 p.m. I’m thrilled to be sharing space with fellow authors Janie Chang and Priscilla Omulo. So, come by and say hi. Other authors will be at Western Sky throughout the day. To learn more, check out their website HERE.

Western Sky is the venue where I launched my 6th Casey Holland mystery in February 2020.

To those of you outside Canada, do you have similar events in the U.S., UK, or Australia?

Welcoming Guest Mystery Author, Winona Kent

I’m delighted to host colleague and fellow BC mystery author, Winona Kent, this week. She’s just released her 4th Jason Davey mystery, Ticket to Ride, which I’ve finished reading and really enjoyed. If you like entertaining whodunits set in England and are a music fan, then this book is a must read. Winona’s post discusses an interesting and relatable aspect about herself and one of the characters in her book so, take it away Winona!

After a gap of about eight years, I’ve made a concerted effort to embrace social networking. I’ve just released a new novel, and this time I’m determined to work flat out at promoting it online. If nothing else, it’s causing my creative brain to go into overtime. I haven’t been this busy in decades.

I’ve written all kinds of posts (I know I’ve driven my friends crazy on Facebook). I have a mix of out-and-out promo’s for Ticket to Ride, along with personal things like photos from my recent trip to England, and random, off-the-top-of-my-head thoughts. What’s been an eye-opener to me is the popularity of one of posts on my personal Facebook page…a celebration that I’d lost 45 pounds over the past couple of years, got my Type 2 diabetes stabilized, and managed to get myself off insulin in the process.

At last count, that post had 111 reactions and 124 comments. I think that must be some kind of record for me.

I guess the weight loss thing resonates with a lot of my friends. We’re all getting older (I’m 67), and we’re all going to come to terms with health issues, sooner or later. Obesity has recently been officially recognized by medical communities as a chronic disease, rather than a behavioural issue, and that’s opened up all kinds of avenues for therapies that are more successful than the usual “eat less and exercise more” advice that our GP’s have issued in the past.

One of the other things that has resonated with my friends is the upsurge in Type 2 diabetes. I was diagnosed in 2009, but I wasn’t at all frightened. My husband had been diagnosed ten years earlier, so I knew it could be treated and managed with meds, lifestyle and diet changes.

What I didn’t know – until it was pointed out to me by the physicians at the medically-supervised weight loss clinic I attended – was that insulin actually promotes weight gain. It’s a sad irony. I was told that if I could lose weight, I could take the strain off my pancreas, and it might start to work more efficiently again. Yet, the one therapy that helps regulate our blood sugar the most, and which is prescribed routinely as standard treatment, is insulin. Go figure.

Anyway, long story short, I lost 45 pounds and because my pancreas was able to start working more efficiently again, I was able to stop taking insulin. I’m still on three other meds which control my glucose levels (one of them is that once-a-week shot which, as a side effect, also promotes weight loss). But I’ve been able to say goodbye to those nightly injections into my upper thigh. (I could never inject into my stomach – it’s far too sensitive.)

One interesting side-effect of being familiar with insulin, however, is that I was able to use my first-hand, intimate knowledge of the stuff in my latest novel, Ticket to Ride.

I did quite a lot of research on top of what I knew. I tasted it. Interesting. I smelled it. (Yes, insulin has a very distinctive smell – it’s the preservative.) I looked into all the different types (there are several, long-acting and short-acting, depending on your particular needs). And I looked into real cases of deliberate massive insulin overdose. And how they were treated. And what the recovery rate was. I had to read a lot of articles in peer-reviewed medical journals. Fortunately, before I retired, I worked in the Faculty of Medicine at UBC.

It was all for a good cause. My main character has a particularly harrowing run-in with insulin in Ticket to Ride. And you can be absolutely certain, when you read it, that I know exactly what I’m talking about.

Ticket to Ride was released on March 26.

More info at my website:

http://www.winonakent.com/tickettoride.html

Winona Kent is an award-winning author who was born in London, England and grew up in Canada, where she completed her BA in English at the University of Regina. After moving to Vancouver, she graduated from UBC with an MFA in Creative Writing. More recently, she received her diploma in Writing for Screen and TV from Vancouver Film School. Winona has been a temporary secretary, a travel agent, a screenwriter and the Managing Editor of a literary magazine. She’s currently serving on the Board of the Crime Writers of Canada and is an active member of Sisters in Crime – Canada West. She lives in New Westminster, BC, where she is happily embracing life as a full-time author.

Here’s some ordering links for a Ticket to Ride:

Amazon Canada: Paperback, ebook

Amazon US: Paperback, ebook

Amazon UK: Paperback, ebook

Barnes & Noble: Paperback, ebook

Apple books, Kobo

Introducing Guest Author, J.T. Siemens

This week, I’m delighted to introduce you Vancouver mystery author, J.T. Siemens, who’s just released his first thriller, To Those Who Killed Me. How’s that for a great title? Jeremy kindly sent me a copy of his book, which I read and absolutely loved. This is a gritty, hard-boiled novel that depicts the darker side of Vancouver in a realistic, heartbreaking way. Check out the book blurb:

Disgraced ex-cop Sloane Donovan has relied on her job as a personal trainer to keep her mental illness and PTSD in check—until she finds a close friend dead, apparently by her own hand. Obsessive demons triggered, and doubtful of the official narrative, she teams up with Wayne Capson, a law-bending P.I., to find out who really killed her friend. The search leads Sloane from Vancouver’s wealthiest enclaves to the street’s darkest corners, questioning and tracking millionaires, predators, sex workers, and even former law enforcement colleagues—as she uncovers a shadowy web of deceit. J.T. Siemens’s To Those Who Killed Me is a debut that provides a heavy dose of hardboiled suspense and introduces a fiery new heroine in crime fiction.

In many of the mysteries I’ve read over recent years, the majority of male authors choose to write about male protagonists, but Jeremy hasn’t. So, the question is:

Why did you choose a female protagonist?

Answer: The character of Sloane Donovan came out of a short story I wrote a while back, in which a woman discovers her friend’s body hanging in the woods. It was well received, and I was fascinated with the character enough to want to explore her further in the form of a crime novel. In the fitness industry where I worked at the time, some of my colleagues were kickass, athletically dynamic women, who could probably clean the clocks of most men. Aspects of Sloane’s physicality come from some of those women. Sloane also has bipolar disorder, and has an on-again/off-again relationship with her meds, which makes her unpredictable, as well as someone who frequently steps outside of conventional means to achieve her ends. I was also fascinated to explore how someone’s mental illness, while initially perceived as a liability, might actually be an asset when it comes to getting the job done. As a result, Sloane uses methods in To Those Who Killed Me that a man simply could not get away with. Those elements make for a fun character to write, and hopefully an exciting one to read.

Jeremy’s bio:

Photo by Tamea Burd Photography

J.T. Siemens moved to Vancouver to become a personal trainer, but feels fortunate to have discovered his true love: writing crime fiction. After studying screenwriting at Capilano University, he followed it up with creative writing at the University of British Columbia and Simon Fraser University. To Those Who Killed Me, his first book in the Sloane Donovan series, was nominated for the Arthur Ellis Unhanged Award, and will be published by NeWest Press in spring of 2022. His short fiction has appeared in Mystery Weekly, Down in the Dirt, and CC&D.

For more information about Jeremy, check out his website at jtsiemens.ca

To order the book, please check out any of the following links:

From publisher, NeWest Press: https://bookshop.newestpress.com/products/to-those-who-killed-me

Cdn. Amazon

U.S. Amazon

UK Amazon