I’m delighted to be visiting award-winning author JP McLean’s blog today. JP has given me a great set of questions to answer, so please drop by and check it out!
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:
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:
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.
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
I’m delighted to announce that prehistoric fiction author, Jacqui Murray has just released the second book in her Dawn of Humanity series, Laws of Nature. Jacqui writes about time periods that few authors tackle, and she does it beautifully. Have a look at today’s quick Q & A for insights on the time period Jacqui explores:
- What is Lucy’s relationship with animals?
Lucy and her kind considered animals the alpha in their environs. They believed them like themselves—able to plan, make tools, and evaluate circumstances—and treated as respected equals, maybe even superior because of their strength and dominance. Because of this attitude, animals and man thrived together.
- Prehistoric fiction sounds boring.
Not at all. I used to call the Man vs. Nature trilogies “prehistoric thrillers” because the stories share many traits found in that genre—flawed super-heroes, death-defying events, a small group entrusted to save the world despite impossible circumstances. If you like thrillers, you’ll like these prehistoric fiction trilogies. The stories aren’t about grunting cavemen who beat their enemies with clubs. It’s about the evolution of what makes us human—culture, art, body adornments, religion, decision-making, problem-solving, and more. The trilogy, Dawn of Humanity, and this story specifically deal with the nascence of those characteristics. Without claws, sharp teeth, and thick skin, we relied on our developing big brains to outsmart enemies. That’s what I focus on.
And, unless you define “boring” as spending most of their daylight searching for food, fighting for their lives, and sleeping, their lives weren’t boring either. Those “needs”—the lowest in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs—consumed most of their time but not all. They possessed curious minds (which arguably, Boah’s pre-Homo genus and Ump’s proto-wolf kind lacked), asked questions, wondered why, and made decisions based on thoughtful consideration rather than instinct. Both Lucy’s and Xha’s kinds are hundreds of thousands of years from discovering the beauty of art, music, poetry, and abstract concepts but because their brains were evolving the ability to handle those advanced concepts, I show how some of them might have begun.
Here’s the book’s summary:
In this second of the Dawn of Humanity trilogy, the first trilogy in the Man vs. Nature saga, Lucy and her eclectic group escape the treacherous tribe that has been hunting them and find a safe haven in the famous Wonderwerk caves in South Africa. Though they don’t know it, they will be the oldest known occupation of caves by humans. They don’t have clothing, fire, or weapons, but the caves keep them warm and food is plentiful. But they can’t stay, not with the rest of the tribe enslaved by an enemy. To free them requires not only the prodigious skills of Lucy’s unique group–which includes a proto-wolf and a female raised by the pack–but others who have no reason to assist her and instinct tells Lucy she shouldn’t trust.
Set 1.8 million years ago in Africa, Lucy and her tribe struggle against the harsh reality of a world ruled by nature, where predators stalk them and a violent new species of man threatens to destroy their world. Only by changing can they prevail. If you ever wondered how earliest man survived but couldn’t get through the academic discussions, this book is for you. Prepare to see this violent and beautiful world in a way you never imagined.
A perfect book for fans of Jean Auel and the Gears!
Click Here to see the Book Trailer: https://youtu.be/gbyA9rDSy9k
Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular prehistoric fiction saga, Man vs. Nature which explores seminal events in man’s evolution one trilogy at a time. She is also the author of the Rowe-Delamagente thrillers and Building a Midshipman , the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. Her non-fiction includes over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, reviews as an Amazon Vine Voice, a columnist for NEA Today, and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. Look for her next prehistoric fiction, Natural Selection, Winter 2022.
Connect with her on Social Media:
Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/Jacqui-Murray/e/B002E78CQQ/
It’s a great pleasure to welcome back fellow Canadian author, Darlene Foster, who’s just released her 8th installment in the Amanda Travel Series, Amanda in Malta: The Sleeping Lady. I had the privilege of meeting Darlene in person at a book signing before COVID. We’re hoping to meet again as travel restrictions lift so I can buy a signed copy! For those of you who aren’t familiar with this amazing series, here’s a quick Q & A:
Can you tell us more about Amanda?
Amanda is a twelve-year-old girl from Calgary, Alberta. She is the only child of Evelyn and Don Ross, both accountants. She loves to read, is interested in history and enjoys cooking. Her parents work long hours so she likes trying different recipes for them, especially ones from places she has visited. She is inquisitive and kind and always wants to help people. This gets her in trouble sometimes. She loves animals but has no pets of her own. Once she travelled to visit her Aunt and Uncle in the United Arab Emirates, she was hooked on travel. She never passes up a chance to travel to someplace new.
Amanda and Leah seem to be very good friends. How did they meet?
Amanda first met Leah when she visited the United Arab Emirates in Amanda in Arabia: The Perfume Flask. Leah lived in the same apartment block as Amanda’s aunt and uncle. The girls got along right from the start even though they are quite different. Leah is English and well-travelled as her father’s job takes them to many countries. After the adventure in the UAE, Leah and her parents invite Amanda to spend a week with them in Spain at their timeshare. She also visits Leah in England and Leah visits Amanda in Alberta. Whenever they get together, they tend to have an adventure or a mystery to solve. Like all friends, they don’t always agree with each other, but they always have each other’s back.
Amanda receives a postcard from her best friend, Leah, and is surprised to learn that she is in Malta with her aunt. Reading between the lines, she senses Leah is in trouble. Desperate to help her, Amanda travels to Malta with her classmate Caleb and his parents.
Amanda is intrigued by this exotic island in the middle of the Mediterranean, full of colourful history, sun-drenched limestone fortresses, stunning beaches and fascinating birds. But…who is killing the protected birds? Who stole a priceless artifact from the museum? And why is Leah acting so strange? She couldn’t possibly be involved in these illegal activities, or could she?
Join Amanda and her friends as they visit ancient temples, an exciting falconry and the enchanting Popeye Village, as they try to get to the bottom of the mystery of the Sleeping Lady.
Be sure to read all the books in this exciting Amanda Travels series!
1. Amanda in Arabia: The Perfume Flask
2. Amanda in Spain: The Girl in the Painting
3. Amanda in England: The Missing Novel
4. Amanda in Alberta: The Writing on the Stone
5. Amanda on the Danube: The Sounds of Music
6. Amanda in New Mexico: Ghosts in the Wind
7. Amanda in Holland: Missing in Action
8. Amanda in Malta: The Sleeping Lady
Excerpt from Amanda in Malta:
Max gingerly stepped out from behind the shrub.
“Miss Leah is in trouble. Her aunt is being crazy. The mean men want them to steal something and Miss Leah says no.” He gave his head a shake. “It would be very bad to steal from the museum.”
Amanda gulped. “What do they want them to steal?”
“The Sleeping Lady. She is very old and was found in the underground temple called the Hypogeum. She is now in the Museum of Archaeology in Valletta. They want them to steal her and then they can ask for much money to give it back.”
“You mean they want to kidnap a lady?” Caleb scratched his head.
“Well—not a real lady. She is a small figure from a long time ago.”
Amanda took her feet out of the water and started walking around in circles. “Let me get this straight. Some people want Leah and her aunt to steal a precious artifact from the museum, so they can hold it for ransom. Is that right?” She stopped in front of Max and poked his chest. “Who are these people anyway, and why do they think Leah and her aunt would be willing to do something like this?”
“I-I am just the messenger, Miss Amanda. You need to come and get Miss Leah out of the house. It is dangerous there. Those men have guns.”
“G-guns?” Amanda paled.
“Yes. They use them for hunting.”
“Sounds like we need to get Leah out of there—and fast.”
The buy links
Amazon Canada here
Amazon UK here
Amazon US here
Barnes and Noble here
Darlene Foster grew up on a ranch in Alberta, Canada, where her love of reading inspired her to see the world and write stories about a young girl who travels to interesting places. Over the years she worked in rewarding jobs such as an employment counsellor, ESL teacher, recruiter, and retail manager, writing whenever she had a few spare minutes. She is now retired and has a house in Spain where she writes full time. When not travelling, meeting interesting people, and collecting ideas for her books, she enjoys spending time with her husband and entertaining rescue dogs, Dot and Lia.
Social media links
I’m delighted to host Canadian crime-writing friend and colleague Winona Kent today. She’s just released a new mystery that music fans will especially love, called Lost Time, which you can learn more about on her website at http://www.winonakent.com/losttime.html
Also, the first two chapters are available at http://www.winonakent.com/losttime-chapters.html
Winona’s prepared a fascinating piece for this blog about an intriguing connection between her life and that of her fictional character, Jason Davey. Now, in Winona’s words:
I’m terrified of lightning – and so is Jason Davey, the main character in my new mystery Lost Time.
Jason has good reason to be afraid – his father was killed on a golf course by a rogue lightning strike. There are a couple of thunderstorms in Lost Time and I have no trouble at all describing Jason’s terror when they happen – one jolts him out of his sleep, and the other strikes when he’s sheltering in the back of a police car. Here’s a spoiler: the police car gets a direct hit.
My fear of lightning comes from growing up in Saskatchewan, which has some of the most spectacular thunderstorms in the world. Our back yard was home to the biggest tree in the neighbourhood, an 80-foot-high balsam poplar. When the storms blew over (usually in the middle of the night) I’d bury myself under the sheets and blankets and, nearly-suffocating, I’d count the seconds between the immense flashes of white light and the inevitable crashes of thunder. My biggest fear was that our tree would be struck and that the electricity would travel through its massive root system and come up into our house and kill me. Or the charge would jump from the tree to my bedroom window and explode through the glass and kill me. Or the lightning would splinter the tree and it would crash down on our roof and onto my bed and kill me.
I have actually been in a building that got a direct hit and I noted two interesting things. One, there was absolutely no thunder. Just an immense flash. People across the street heard the deafening boom. But not us. And two, at the moment the lightning struck, I was sitting at my computer and the computer blinked off and I felt like I’d been punched hard in the chest.
Jason experiences much the same phenomena in Lost Time. And the result has an incredibly profound effect on him.
In all the years I lived in Saskatchewan, our tree was never hit. It was a majestic specimen – a bit messy, with its sticky buds and its red hanging catkin flowers – but we loved it. It survived the storms and lived on after my dad died and my mum moved away to Vancouver to be with us. Its end came when the new owners of our house decided the back yard would look better without a big messy tree blocking their view of the sky. But then again…who knows…perhaps they, too, were terrified of lightning strikes in the middle of the night…
Amazon Links: (this is Canadian but the ebook and paperback is available on all Amazon sites)
Winona’s website: http://www.winonakent.com
Today, I’m delighted to host children’s author Eileen Holland. As members of the same critique group, Eileen and I have known each other for years, and I was thrilled when her publisher launched Eileen’s first Sophie Trophy novel last year. The second in her series, Sophie Trophy Too, was released this spring. Eileen’s written a piece that I think many authors can relate to. Enjoy!
Writing Sophie Trophy and Sophie Trophy Too: Cultivating Scenes While Drifting Off to Sleep
As the author of Sophie Trophy and Sophie Trophy Too, I’m often asked how I came up with my story ideas.
I was teaching in Coquitlam, B.C. one day when two girls cried out, “Mrs. Holland, a spider is lowering itself into your hair!” I stepped away just in time, and the class roared with laughter.
Nights later, I was in the transitional phase between wakefulness and sleep when I realized that a funny book could be built around that spidery moment. This time, the spider could actually land in the teacher’s hair. And it could be Sophie’s friend’s Show-and-Tell spider terrorizing the teacher. Sophie could fixate on things, like saving teachers in peril—and spiders in peril, too. Sophie could struggle at school, her imagination and good intentions misunderstood. Young readers would recognize her. There are students like her in every class. Her foibles would help them realize that everyone has issues. Her big heart, humour, and honesty would help them warm to her.
Resisting the urge to succumb to sleep’s call, I flicked on the light and searched the drawer of my bedside table for paper. Unearthing a ratty NHL calendar page, I scribbled down several scenes. It’s lucky I did, or Sophie Trophy would never have been written.
There’s a reason the daily writing we do resurfaces in our thoughts as we drift off to sleep. Most of our daytime distractions take a back seat at bedtime: texts, emails, appointments, dislodged buttons, meal planning—the list is lengthy. Scene directions considered earlier in the day—the very design of sentences, paragraphs, and dialogue in order to build tension in our stories—sally forth from our subconscious as our waking moments dwindle. Barry Gordon, John Hopkins University professor of neurology and cognitive science explained what happens in Scientific American:
“The vast majority of our thinking efforts goes on subconsciously…. Only one or two of these thoughts are likely to breach into consciousness at a time…. Although thoughts appear to ‘pop’ into awareness before bedtime, their cognitive precursors have probably been simmering for a while.”
When my search for a theme for Sophie Trophy Too started, I realized falling asleep one night, that there was a way Sophie could get into mischief in every corner of the school. I envisioned a flashlight-crazed Sophie making shadow puppets … in the staffroom closet! The next morning, minutes prior to awakening, I imagined the principal, Mr. Homework, discovering Sophie’s flashlight antics … in the medical room. Both times, I groggily jotted down the scenes before they faded from memory. The storyline about a new student in Sophie’s grade three class came later. Sophie is certain they should be friends. But every time she tries to get to know her, disaster strikes in hilarious ways.
Due to my sleep-aided writing skills, I had two precious book-starter scenes anchored as I faced the morning. The day’s writing hours beckoned.
Eileen Holland is the author of Sophie Trophy (Crwth Press, 2019, ages 7-9, short-listed for the 2020/2021 Chocolate Lily Book Award), and Sophie Trophy Too (Crwth Press, 2020, ages 7-9).
Sample Chapter of Sophie Trophy Too: https://www.crwth.ca/product/sophie-trophy-too-by-eileen-holland/
Amazon.ca: Sophie Trophy Too: https://www.amazon.ca/s?k=Sophie+Trophy+Too&i=stripbooks&ref=nb_sb_noss
Amazon.ca: Sophie Trophy: https://www.amazon.ca/s?k=Sophie+Trophy&i=stripbooks&ref=nb_sb_noss_2
Kobo Kobo: Sophie Trophy and Sophie Trophy Too both available at: https://www.kobo.com/ca/en/search?query=Sophie+Trophy
BC bookstores with copies of Sophie Trophy and Sophie Trophy Too on their shelves:
Western Sky Books (Port Coquitlam) https://www.westernskybooks.com
Kinder Books (Coquitlam) https://kinderbooks.ca;
Vancouver Kidsbooks https://www.kidsbooks.ca;
I’m delighted to host Jacqui Murray whose prehistoric fiction sounds absolutely fascinating. I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting Jacqui in person, but we’ve become friends thanks to WordPress and a mutual love of reading and writing. Jacqui has just released Book 3, Against All Odds, in the Crossroads trilogy, but Jacqui will tell you all about it!
The Universe That Connects My Novels
A million years of evolution made Xhosa tough but was it enough? She and her People finally reach their destination—a glorious land of tall grasses, few predators, and an abundance that seems limitless, but an enemy greater than any they have met so far threatens to end their dreams. If Xhosa can’t stop this one, she and her People must again flee.
The Crossroads trilogy is set 850,000 years ago, a time in prehistory when man populated most of Eurasia. He was a violent species, fully capable of addressing the many hardships that threatened his survival except for one: future man, a smarter version of himself, one destined to obliterate all those who came before.
This book is part of the trilogy Crossroads which is itself part of a bigger Universe called Man vs. Nature. It is a collection of trilogies, each dealing with a seminal point in man’s evolution as we grew from helpless prey to dominant Alpha. The first trilogy, Dawn of Humanity, is set 1.8 million years ago and features Lucy, a Homo habilis. She and her kind were the first creatures to create tools, routinely walk upright, and solve problems they’d never before encountered. But Lucy had thin skin, no claws, and tiny teeth–pretty defenseless in a world of sabertooth cats and thick-hided mammoth. There was no reason to believe she’d survive much less thrive. In Dawn of Humanity, I show you how she took control of her world. Book 1, Born in a Treacherous Time, is already published. I’ll start Book 2 and 3 soon.
The second trilogy is Crossroads featuring Xhosa, a Homo erectus. Xhosa and her kind were tough, resilient, brilliant for their time, and the inventor of many of man’s greatest creations–fire, clothing for warmth, and sophisticated tools. This also was the first of our genus to leave Africa and spread throughout Eurasia. The trilogy title, Crossroads, comes from that concept, following groups of Homo erectus from five different parts of Eurasia (and Africa) who come together in the Levant about 850,000 years ago.
The next trilogy with the working title of Savage Land will be Cro Magnon man. He had a bigger brain than even modern man, sophisticated tools, and advanced weapons. Unlike any before him, he buried his dead, had forms of art, decorated his body, and is considered by some to be a sub-species of modern man. I can’t wait to start this trilogy. Their development and advancements promise an exciting story!
All of these trilogies together make up the Universe of Man vs. Nature. As a group, they deal with man’s evolving ability to solve problems, think critically, defeat enemies, pursue actions that are apart from instinct, and in general, facilitate our rise to dominance in the animal kingdom.
OK, I know that’s a lot. Any questions?
Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman , the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy, the Rowe-Delamagente thrillers, and the Man vs. Nature saga. She is also adjunct professor of technology in education, blog webmaster, an Amazon Vine Voice, a columnist for NEA Today, and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. Look for her next prehistoric fiction, Laws of Nature, Book 2 in the Dawn of Humanity trilogy, Winter 2021.
A perfect book for fans of Jean Auel and the Gears!
Excerpt: Chapter 1
The foothills of the Pyrenees
They came out of the mountains, hair frozen in sparkling strands, hands and feet wrapped in shredded pelts, ribs etched against their skin under ragged hides white with snow, faces haggard with fatigue. Blood crusted scrapes and gashes, many recent, others almost healed, reminders of the violent struggles endured on their journey.
Though their steps flagged, not one of these upright creatures exhibited a hint of defeat. All males and a few females carried at least one spear, some two, many with warclubs strapped to their backs. Despite the anxiety and fear of entering this foreign land, hope energized them today, that their migration might be at an end.
All of them—Xhosa and her tribe, Pan-do and his, Wind, Zvi, and Seeker—had been chased from their homes by enemies. In their flight, they found each other. It took time to work through their differences but now they traveled side by side, respected ideas not theirs, and called themselves the People.
Their charismatic Leaders—Xhosa, Wind, and Pan-do—were known as reliable friends to those who earned their trust and dangerous enemies to those who opposed them. Two wolves—Spirit and Black Wolf—journeyed with them. Though the People lacked the animals’ sharp claws, dense fur, and piercing teeth, each considered the other “pack” and would defend them to death.
The exhausted group straggled down the gently sloping flank, feet shuffling carefully over the slippery scree. The ground changed from talus to stunted tufts of grass, sparse and brown which made walking easier. Optimism shone from their faces even as their tired eyes flicked side to side in search of unexpected movement, ears strained for out-of-place noises, and noses sniffed.
Rather than continue across the meadow, Xhosa led the People into the shade of the edging forest.
“Do you smell it, Wind?” Anticipation filled her gestures.
She and Wind, pairmates as well as Co-Leaders, stood quietly, absorbing their surroundings. Light filtered lazily through the canopy, the shadowed ground dappled with patches of warmth. She sniffed in the essence of wet earth and rotting leaves, the mustiness of moss, and something else much more enticing.
“It’s there.” She pointed and strode forward, lengthening her stride.
An icy gust whipped down the hillside through the shadows and raised bumps on her arms but she ignored it. The forest gave way to open sky and searing heat. It was too hot for her thin pelt but she didn’t stop to remove it. Green stalks swayed as far as she could see, edged on one side by more mountains and the other by some sort of leaves and branches. Sunlight glinted off the rippled surface of a distant river as it curled over the terrain.
“Dung!” The scent overpowered every other odor.
Wind huffed to her side. “It’s been a long time since we smelled dung that wasn’t frozen.”
“We did it, Wind.” Her eyes glistened with relief.
For most of a Moon, dread gnawed at her courage and left her wondering if following the guidance of Seeker—a boy barely a man—was a mistake. But Seeker assured her in his ebullient way that once out of the hills, their new homebase would welcome them. Xhosa wanted to believe him because she wasn’t sure what else to do. Nor did she know what to do if it didn’t work.
Wind motioned, arms inclusive, “It’s beautiful, Xhosa.”
Siri, Pan-do, Ngili, the wolves Spirit and Black Wolf, and the rest of the People gathered around Xhosa and Wind, eyes locked on what lay in front of them.
Pan-do whispered, “We made it.” His eyes were moist, mouth open.
Ngili, the People’s Lead Hunter, motioned, hands close to his body. “With all this grass, Gazelle or Mammoth must be nearby.”
Dust, the Lead Scout, trotted up, coming from a tall cliff far ahead on their forward path. “I think there are caves there.”
The People hadn’t slept in a cave since leaving Viper and the Mountain Dwellers. It would be a treat if true.
Xhosa looked behind. Shadows already stretched as far from the bottom of the rocky slopes as sunlight to the top. Daylight would soon end.
“We don’t have much time. Let’s rest and then see if those are caves.”
Ngili, the People’s Lead Hunter, motioned, fingers spaced out, palms up, “I’ll go with Dust to check.” He added a swift spread-fingered swipe with first one hand and then the other, followed by a quick bob of his head and a puff.
Xhosa brushed both hands down her sides. Go.
The People spoke with a complex combination of hand motions, facial expressions, body movements, and sounds augmented with chirrups, snaps, hisses, and whistles. By the time Ngili finished talking, Xhosa knew how many would join him, where they would go, and how long they’d be away. The People’s communication was sophisticated but quiet, a precaution especially in unfamiliar areas. Unusual sounds—voices, for example—stood out. All animals made noises but few as varied as the People’s. Why alert Others who lived here to their presence? Xhosa would do that in her own time, in her own way.
Dust, Ngili, and two scouts soon receded into the landscape, the only evidence of their passage a slight disturbance in the slender waving stalks. Despite the dung scents, the abundant plant food, and the glisten of a faraway river, Xhosa crossed her arms over her chest and paced.
Something is wrong.
She searched the forests and the rippling field that had swallowed up Dust and Ngili . Xhosa possessed the ability to see great distances in sufficient detail to find trails, footprints, movement, or the glitter of sun off eyes.
She saw none of those and that made her more uncomfortable.
With this wealth of food and water, Others should be here.
Wind motioned, palms flattened against his chest, “The mountains we crossed touched Sun. They’re cold and barren. Few can do what we did to get here, Xhosa. We are safe.”
Xhosa could hear in his voice, see in his gestures, that despite his bravado, Wind too felt uneasy about what they didn’t see and hear.
But she grinned. “I don’t know how I survived without someone being able to read my thoughts.”
She trotted over to a stream that fed into the river she had noticed. She stretched out on her belly, flat on the soft grass at the water’s edge, and took a long, satisfying drink of the sweet liquid. Thirst quenched, she collected handfuls of the tender shoots of new plants growing along the shore, ate what she wanted and tossed the rest into a communal food pile that would be shared with all the People. It was already filling up with fat fish speared from the slow-moving pools beside the river, tasty reeds and cattails, and even a handful of eggs plucked from nests not hidden well enough along the shore and in the roots of trees. The wolves snapped birds from the air and swallowed them almost whole, coughing up feathers.
Xhosa leaned back on her hands, sniffing the unique fragrance of each group member. Zvi was sweaty from wrestling with Spirit. Siri smelled sourly of hunger but she wouldn’t eat until Honey’s bleeding foot was wrapped in mulch and leaves. The females with new babies exuded the pleasant aroma of milk. Some scents jumbled together making them impossible to identify. When Xhosa became Leader of the People, before it merged with Pan-do’s and Hawk’s, the People had been small enough that she could recognize everyone by their odor. Now, she kept track of her tribe while Pan-do did the same with his. Wind helped everyone.
Done eating, the People sprawled on the warm ground, soaking up Sun’s remaining rays, chatting contentedly with gestures and the occasional sigh. Water dripped from their thawing bodies, soaking into the thirsty ground, as the remaining ice and snow on their pelts and in their hair melted away.
Xhosa and Wind sat apart from the others, on a log long ago softened by rot. She uprooted handfuls of grass and wiped the sweat from Wind’s body, as he did hers. The soft scratch felt good and the earthy fragrance reminded her of times long gone. When he finished, she harvested chunks of green moss from the log’s decaying bark and stuffed them into her neck sack. All the People wore one of these around their necks. Even the wolves did when they were migrating.
Finished, she leaned against Wind and closed her eyes. In a group of Others, her pairmate stood out. A Big Head, the People’s traditional enemy, the ones who drove Xhosa and her tribe from their long-established home, Wind had earned Xhosa’s trust by saving her life more than once and then, as a member of her People, sharing Big Head spear tricks and warrior skills with her Leads. Before long, each of them individually told her that thanks to Wind they could now defeat an attack which they couldn’t have done in the past. Whatever distrust her People harbored toward him faded away.
“Xhosa!” Dust panted up to her. “I found a cave. And we found trace of a herd. Ngili is tracking it.”
By the time Sun settled into its night nest, the People were ensconced in the cave Dust found. They had to squeeze together to fit but all were thrilled to sleep without waking to frozen toes and numb fingers. Stone and Zvi—the burliest of the People—lugged rocks in and Siri built a fire that quickly warmed the interior. The subadults gathered kindling to feed it and arranged who would be responsible throughout the night for keeping it lit.
Usually, the wolves slept scattered among the People but with Black Wolf close to delivering her pups, she dug out an opening in the back and claimed it as her den. Then she settled to her belly, one leg forward, the other bent back, eyebrows twitching.
Xhosa strode toward the nest she would share with Wind but stopped at the sight of Seeker, weight on his bottom, legs crossed in front of his body in the uncomfortable position he preferred. His pairmate Lyta curled next to him with their best friend, Zvi.
Xhosa approached Seeker. “You are not outside.”
Every night as long as Xhosa could remember, the enigmatic male lay on his back, gaze fixed steadily on the star-dotted sky, spouting what to Xhosa sounded like gibberish to whoever listened. Intermittently, he leapt to his feet and spun dizzying circles or bounced from one foot to the other, huffing and chirping. Lyta and Zvi would either join him or watch. He once explained to Xhosa that this was how he studied the changes in the night sky—the appearance and disappearance of particular stars or their movement in relation to each other—so he could guide the People accurately. This nightly process was how they had moved from the distant start of Endless Pond to this cave where Endless Pond seemed to end.
He didn’t respond to her statement, didn’t even acknowledge her. That worried Xhosa. She hadn’t been able to shake the feeling that danger lurked around them, somewhere. Seeker’s anxious look didn’t help.
She squatted at his side and added a question to her declaration. “The stars aren’t talking to you?”
To the side, Lyta wriggled, not comfortable in the seated position Seeker preferred but determined to try because Seeker liked it so much. Zvi crouched on the balls of her feet, the more traditional pose. She’d tried to sit on her bottom, legs crossed in front, but kept falling backward. Besides, it took her too long to rise from that position which meant if Lyta needed help, she couldn’t respond quickly. Squatting, for her, made more sense. Seeker didn’t care. He expected all to do what worked for them. Both his best friend and his future pairmate were long accustomed to his eccentricities.
Finally, Seeker offered Xhosa only a confused frown.
That’s not a “Yes they are,” and that raised the hair on her neck. Before she could ask more, Ngili scrambled through the thistle barrier the youngsters had placed around the cave’s mouth to prevent the entrance of intruders and hurried toward Xhosa.
He motioned, “I lost the herd’s trace in the dark. I’ll try again tomorrow,” and then raced toward where the hunters had gathered. They were all tired. Some would mate before sleeping but not Ngili. He hadn’t given up hope that his pairmate, Hecate, would come back.
After a final glance at Seeker, Xhosa joined Wind in their nest. She squatted behind him and teased the dirt and debris from his long head hair, occasionally focusing on a difficult tangle until her fingers could move easily through his hair. When she finished, he did the same for her.
As he groomed, he said, “I’ll join Ngili tomorrow. If there are herds, we will find them.”
“Pan-do and I will continue with the People.”
They said nothing more, both enjoying the calming feel of nails scratching on their skin and the intimacy of someone they trusted implicitly. Done, both fell asleep.
The first rays of daylight filtered into the cave. Black Wolf was already outside, padding back and forth restlessly, huffing uncomfortably. Wind left with Ngili and a handful of scouts, knowing Xhosa would leave a trail to wherever they settled when Sun’s light ran out. Though Spirit usually went with the hunters, today he stayed with Black Wolf.
Xhosa and Pan-do led. Dust copied their pace and direction but a distance away. With Ngili and Wind searching for meat, Xhosa focused on finding a cave large enough for the People. They strode onward, gaze sweeping the landscape, everyone grazing on berries, roots, and worms as they walked. Sporadically, Xhosa heard a faraway squawk or glimpsed a covey of birds as they exploded into flight, fleeing an unknown threat. It was the direction Ngili and Wind had gone, and told her how far they’d gotten.
The People rested by a waterhole. They searched its shoreline for prints but found none. Wherever the herds lived, they didn’t drink here so the People moved on, through copses of young saplings and around a bed of haphazardly-strewn boulders. The air tasted of flowers, warm earth, and the mild tang of salt, but the dung they found was hard and old.
Xhosa touched Pan-do’s hand and both stopped, eyes forward. “Do you smell that? It reminds me of Endless Pond.”
He pointed to his strong side and the direction they were walking. “From there and there. How can it be on two sides?”
Xhosa tingled. One of her People—Rainbow—had abandoned them long ago, taking many males and females with him. Others she and her People ran into while migrating here told her Rainbow traveled the same route she did but along the opposite shore of Endless Pond. For him, as for her, this was as far as he could go without folding back on himself.
If they got this far. If any survived.
She pushed aside those thoughts. Before searching for whatever remnants remained of Rainbow’s group, the People must find a homebase. All they suffered to get here—the interminable walking, the loss of Hawk, the death of groupmembers, Nightshade’s treachery—was for naught if they didn’t establish a home.
Spirit bumped her leg. Black Wolf panted at her mate’s side, her belly almost touching the ground.
Xhosa motioned, “Your mate’s pups won’t wait much longer. We will find a den for her.”
Spirit took off, his movements graceful and fluid with Black Wolf lumbering after him.
Not much later, Pan-do squinted ahead. “I think Spirit found a cave.”
Xhosa leaned forward, narrowing her gaze, and finally saw where Spirit stopped. He sat on his haunches at the base of a cliff, facing her, nose twitching, tail swishing the dirt behind him.
It took the rest of the day to cross over the craggy scrubland, up and down the deep ravines, and around the occasional spot of slippery ice. The cave proved too small for the People but not for Black Wolf’s needs. With much scuffling and panting, she created a nest for her pups and disappeared into the cool dark hole. The People settled outside, under an overhang that would protect them from rain and predators, and far enough away to not bother the new mother. As soon as Ngili and Wind arrived, shaking their heads that they hadn’t found a herd, they left again to search for signs of a trail left by former inhabitants of this cave.
Xhosa’s chest squeezed and her stomach knotted. Spirit padded up to her side, hackles puffed, nostrils flaring. He agreed. Something about this area made her tingle but for now, until Black Wolf finished, they must stay.
A perfect book for fans of Jean Auel and the Gears!
Social Media contacts:
Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/Jacqui-Murray/e/B002E78CQQ/
Website: https://jacquimur ray.net
After releasing a new novel, one of my ongoing promotion tasks is to write guest blogs and find bloggers who are willing to host me. I remember asking you all for advice about whether to try a blog tour and the majority of responses advised against it. The reasoning was that the amount of time it takes to write twenty to thirty blogs doesn’t pay off in subsequent sales, especially when you factor in the cost of hiring someone to arrange a tour. Sure, you could organize a big tour yourself, but it takes a great deal of effort to find willing hosts, keep track of posting deadlines, and stay engaged in the process.
So, I’m preparing just a few blogs, at my own pace. I thought it would be challenging, but once I started thinking about topics, ideas began to flow. Some of the blogs are specific to The Blade Man and others are about writing in general. It’s actually been fun to reflect back on my career, the things I’ve learned, and acknowledging the people who inspired me.
To date I have three lined up for June, which I’ll repost when the time comes, and I’ll be searching for more opportunities as we move into July. I’m not planning to appear more than once a week, which is plenty for me.
All in all, I’m off to a good start, but I’m looking for more hosts, so if you’re interesting in hosting me, please let me know at email@example.com.
And I’m always open to hosting authors in all genres, as we can all learn something from one another.
This week, I’m delighted to host Canadian mystery author, A.J. Devlin. A.J.’s second mystery, Rolling Thunder, will be released by NeWest Press on May 15th. You’re going to love this book, but here’s A.J. tell you why:
“Why roller derby?”
That’s the first question I’m asked when I tell people about Rolling Thunder, the sequel to my debut mystery-comedy novel Cobra Clutch.
The follow up to ex-professional wrestler turned private investigator “Hammerhead” Jed Ounstead’s first case definitely stands apart – but there are also significant similarities between both books.
In Cobra Clutch “Hammerhead” Jed reluctantly re-enters the world of independent pro wrestling after his friend and former tag-team partner has his precious pet python and ringside gimmick kidnapped and held for ransom. Indy wrestling seemed like the perfect backdrop to introduce a first-time sleuth whose intimate knowledge of the wrestling biz actually gives him a leg up on the police from time-to-time, and that advantage plays a key role in Jed’s investigation.
Rolling Thunder picks up just under a year after the events of the first book, and the connective tissue between the two stories is that a lady wrestler Jed encountered during his search for the missing snake has since left the squared circle and joined the hard-hitting, badass, anti-establishment world of women’s flat track roller derby. When the team’s coach goes missing before playoffs and the derby girls decide to hire a PI, Jed’s old acquaintance tells them she knows just the guy for the job.
Both independent wrestling and roller derby might be considered fringe sports by some, but to the grapplers, skaters, and fans nothing could be further from the truth. Both subcultures are rich with intense passion, incredible athleticism, and an absolute love and devotion to their respective, counterculture crafts.
So while “Hammerhead” Jed encounters some familiarities as he delves into the derby world, it was also fun to have him navigate unfamiliar terrain, which in many ways, makes his sophomore sleuthing adventure his most challenging – and dangerous – case yet.
*** Thank you to Debra Purdy Kong for giving me the opportunity to promote Rolling Thunder on her Mystery Deb crime fiction blog.
You’re very welcome, A.J. Your type of book is exactly what readers need right now. Here’s a little more info about A.J. and his books:
A.J. Devlin grew up in Greater Vancouver before moving to Southern California for six years where he earned a B.F.A. in Screenwriting from Chapman University and a M.F.A. in Screenwriting from The American Film Institute. COBRA CLUTCH, the first entry in the “Hammerhead” Jed ex-pro wrestler turned PI mystery-comedy series, was nominated for a 2019 Left Coast Crime “Lefty” Award for Best Debut Mystery and won the 2019 Arthur Ellis Award for Best First Crime Novel. For more information on A.J. and his books, please visit ajdevlin.com.
ROLLING THUNDER will be released by NeWest Press on May 15th and will be available in both print and e-reader formats on Amazon, Indigo, Kobo, Apple Books, Barnes & Noble, Nook Books, other online retailers, as well as local Greater Vancouver independent bookstores Massy Books, Macleod’s Books, The Paper Hound, and Pulp Fiction — who all offer deliveries and curb side drop-off.
As of April 21st the audiobook for COBRA CLUTCH can be found at the following locations: Audible, Kobo, Google, Findaway, Bibliotecha, Hibooks, Scribd, Playster, Downpour, ABC (not connected to the TV channel), Libro FM, Recorded Audio, Hoopla, OverDrive, and Storytel.
ROLLING THUNDER LINKS:
COBRA CLUTCH AUDIOBOOK LINK