Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Creepy Holidays

Over Christmas, my youngest niece came clean, declaring her disbelief in Santa Claus. Which is kinda' sad. I think part of the joy of Christmas is fooling kids, messing with their minds and filling them full of ludicrous stories.

When asked why she quit believing, she replied, "It's ridiculous." Well, yes, the world's youngest pragmatist. Santa Claus is ridiculous, when you think about it. I mean, come on, how can one (albeit, supernatural) person load up a single sleigh full of toys for all the good boys and girls in the world? And as my older niece blatantly said, "It never mattered how bad I was. I still got everything I wanted."


It got me thinking. Sure, the Santa myth is crazy. But the Easter Bunny is even more out there. I know what Easter's supposed to be about. So how in the world did the holiday
end up revolving around a giant, scary bunny delivering chocolates? And isn't that creepy? I used to stay awake on Easter eve, fearful of the giant rabbit hop-hop-hopping through our house. Furthermore, Santa broke in through the chimney. How'd the bunny get in? Even as a kid, I wanted to declare "wabbit hunting season."

Then there's the Tooth Fairy. Good Gawd. It's gross enough that parents save their children's teeth. But for a fairy to sneak into your bedroom and collect teeth puts a whole new spin on obsessive-compulsive behavior. What's he (she?) do with those teeth? Why does he want them? And pay for them? In our holiday talks, my older niece said she knew it was all hokum when her cousin got paid about twenty dollars more for a fallen soldier of a tooth.

I'd love to keep the ol' holiday myths alive. But, frankly, they're all frightening. Strange creatures creeping into your house at night. Why they can't just knock on the door, use the postal service, whatever? Nope, instead they're acting like boogeymen. Something to warm the hearts of children everywhere.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

A serious case of Claus-trophobia

No one loves Christmas more than me. But the big red guy at the center of it all? Creepy.

Have you guys seen the original German "Krampus" visualization? I mean, "Big K's" name alone probably terrifies women, but this guy's absolutely horrendous looking. Cloven-hoofed, horned, and he eats children. MERRY Christmas, everybody, Merry Christmas.

But back to the good ol' fashioned representation of Santa Claus. Still kinda spooky. I present my case:

A) A fat, old man with a beard who makes toys.

Well, get a life. And, really, toys are for kids. Kringle, katch a klue.

B) Santa makes a list. Then he checks it twice.

Okay, it's weird enough Santa makes a list, clearly he has a lotta' time on his hands. But poring over said list, time and again just seems sorta' anal-retentive. And by the way, who's Santa's boss, anyway? Who's paying his wages? How can he afford a full-time staff of elves? Reindeer food can't be cheap.

C) He sees you when you're sleeping.

I don't know about you, but I've got a restraining order out on the guy.

D) Santa laughs like a rusty, runaway train. Constantly.

How is that supposed to inspire warmth and good tidings? When I hear "ho, ho, ho," I run for cover, cowering beneath my bed. Spooky.

E) Like Kathie Lee Gifford and the Kardashians, Santa runs a "sweatshop."

Forget about that little dentist elf. That's a story for a different time. Seriously. Elves need to unionize.

F) Santa drops down chimneys.

Every Christmas, I shove the sofa in front of the chimney. Worse than an unwanted dinner guest. And much scarier.

G) Santa beats reindeers with a leash.

PETA, take note. And he laughs maniacally while abusing the poor creatures.

H) Sometimes Santa brings socks.


There you have it. You're welcome.

Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah and Kwanzaa and any other holiday I neglected to mention, everyone!

Friday, December 19, 2014

The Peter Pan Conumdrum

Well, we watched the recent live musical TV presentation of Peter Pan and clocked out half-way through. Too many "Lost Boys" twirling and prancing around.

We tuned in for Christopher Walken, an always interesting presence, even if he does subscribe to the school of Rex Harrison speak-singing. No problem. Guy's bizarre enough, I'd watch him read a French restaurant menu.

But. And we're talking a big But. Is it weird that I found Peter Pan attractive? It's clear she's a hot gal flying around, pretending to be a boy. Not for a minute did I think she was a boy, even with all the so-called masculine posturing. Her hips don't lie.

Yet it bugs, bothers me like that itch in the middle of your back you can't reach.

This damn musical's got me thinking, never a good thing. Why is Peter Pan always portrayed by a woman? What's up with that? Is it someone's subversive idea to twist gender roles and make males uncomfortable? It's like a distaff version of a Kabuki actor. 

What's that old saying? "Peter Pan's the 'boy' every male wants to be with and every female wants to be?" That doesn't seem quite right. Seems kinda messed up, in more ways than one.

I mean, if Nick Nolte were flying around on a wire in green tights, I wouldn't find him attractive. Who would, right? (But, come to think of it, I'd kinda' like to see that, I think).

My wife says a female portraying Peter Pan is tradition. Okay, I'll bite, but a tradition started by whom? Some transvestite Broadway producer?

(Cue scene:)

"I wanna' make 'Guys and Gals.' Bigger, bolder and better! (Spreads hands while chomping on a stogie). But, hold the gals, make it all guys, just put 'em in dresses. Brilliant! 'Guys and Guys Pretending To Be Gals!' I tell ya', we can't lose!"

Musicals are a weird beast. People don't generally break out into song while walking down the street. Well, maybe some do. But I digress.

I just never expected Peter Pan to upset my entire world-view. And, yeah, I still find whatever-her-name-is attractive, green tights and all. Especially the green tights. It's not easy being green.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Interview with a werewolf (and, um, Babe Ruth's underpants)

I'm a fan of the sibling writer team of Heather Brainerd and David Fraser. Their Josie Picado mystery books are a fun hoot-and-a-half. Here in the Midwest, we usually only accord one hoot, so you know the books have gotta' be good. Recently, they launched a new MG series that's fun for all ages. I had to hit 'em up about it.

*Stuart: Shadows of New York seems tailor-made for my geek sensibilities. There’s a werewolf nanny, a cad of a vampire, an awkward leprechaun, not to mention a wraith wreaking havoc across New York City. Not a question, but thank you!

*Heather: Um, you’re welcome. We just write what we like. It’s a happy coincidence when other people like it, too. 

*Stuart: You're giving me that "geek" look, Heather. Whatever. I'm used to it. Anyway, I enjoy how you and your brother, David, don’t write down to kids. It reads well for adults, too. 

*Heather: Between the two of us, we have five tweens/teens. (The teens were tweens when we started writing The Manny (its working title back then). So we kind of know the age group pretty well.

*Stuart: Josh seems like a well-adjusted kid for having basically “absentee” parents. I think that’s kinda’ cool. Still, he has a penchant for pushing, spying, prying where he shouldn’t. Frankly I think his “manny” is a little too lenient with him. Maybe a good time-out is in order?

*Heather: Yeah, Josh could do with a trip to the naughty stool, as we used to call it. But this is Aiden’s first full-time nanny gig. He’s still getting the hang of things.

*Stuart: Speaking as a parent, boy needs more than the naughty stool. Take away his iPhone! Just sayin'. Rosemary, on the other hand, speaks and acts like she’s Katherine Hepburn in a screw-ball comedy. I’ve never met a six-year-old like this. Please TELL me she’s not based on one of your children.

*Heather: Actually, I think she’s an awful lot like Dave’s younger daughter. My niece loves sparkly fashion, Disney princesses, and Doctor Who. A girl after my own heart.

*Stuart: Doctor Who? Yay. Sparly? Ugh. So, is Brad Pitt a werewolf or vampire groupie? I saw him pop up in the book.

*Heather: Werewolf, since they make great nannies. Plus, he’s trying to forget the whole Interview with the Vampire debacle.

*Stuart: Aren't we all? Moving on..."Babe Ruth’s underpants!” Lol. And explain. 

*Uh-oh, here comes Dave: Hi, everyone. This is Dave hijacking this answer. The sad fact is that it was just one of those things that show up from out of nowhere. There was no real thought process. However, that seems like a lame answer, so I'll come up with a better one. Here we go...

I live a little over an hour from Cooperstown, NY, home of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. I try to get there once or twice a year, usually coinciding with something like an old timer's game. One visit happened to be at the same time as a special exhibition entitled, "Major League Skivvies: The Uniform You Don't See." They had things there from George Hendrick's socks to, you guessed it, Babe Ruth's underpants. I thought that was the coolest thing in the world. A day or two later, I was working on The Manny. I needed something that a New Yorker might yell when shocked and Babe Ruth's underpants were still fresh in my mind.
 We now return you to your regularly scheduled interview.

(To the left are the people responsible for writing this thing. For once, you can't blame me).


*Stuart: (I think Dave's a lil'...well..."psycho-killer". I'll never forgive the interview he did with me!). There’s a chapter where there’s a detailed walk-through of a video game. It had me worried at first, thinking you or Dave, your sibling writing partner, were getting their nerd on. But you do tie it in to the tale quite cleverly.

*Heather: Thanks. That scene was totally Dave. I am so not a gamer. But I love the way he handled it.

*Stuart: Figures. Back on track, I was concerned about some of the characters’ names. I mean, “Larry Fancypants?” But I should’ve had faith. You explain it in a funny and surprisingly logical manner. One of the things I really like about the world you and Dave have created is the coherence and how it all hangs together. Did you guys create the Imaginary World first, plot later? How’d it come about?

*Heather: We don’t plot. Dave and I are total pantsers (though not of the fancy variety). We call our writing method “driving blind.” Makes for a fair bit of revision to create coherence, but that’s what works for us. Oh, and those wacky names? Our kids came up with them.

*Stuart: Kids. Whaddaya' gonna' do? In the book, we meet two different queens in the Imaginary World of Shadows of New York; the Queen of Shadows and the Queen of Fairies, both of whom I like. Tell me, in the sequel (there is going to be one, right?), is the Queen of Werewolves, Mira, going to play an integral role?

*Heather: Oh yes, Mira is an integral part of the next book in The Manny series. Or maybe not. We’ll see where it takes us.

*Stuart: The ending. Without giving anything away, I felt one of the villains didn’t get enough comeuppance and that the heroes were more forgiving than I certainly would’ve been. Now, I kinda’ think I know why you and Dave wrote it this way. Shadows is a MG book; bloody retribution probably isn’t the best thing for young readers. LOL. And it dovetails with a nice message about the nature of friendship. Am I on the right track here?

*Heather: Yes, you’re on the right track. And keep in mind that the villain in question will be serving penance for the next two centuries, so it’s not exactly a clean getaway.

*Stuart: Not enough penance in my opinion. So…Lady GaGa is the President of the Imagine Nation. LOL! A shame you couldn’t have used her “real” name. But it was a funny touch.

*Heather: We did use her real name until we begrudgingly changed it. It’s good to know that the President’s true identity is clear to readers.

Thanks for hosting us, Stuart! 

Stuart: Most welcome! 

What's it all about? In case you hadn't gathered yet:

What do you do when your view of the world gets turned on its head? Eleven-year-old Josh Cooper is surprised when his new nanny ends up being a dude, but that pales in comparison to how he feels when he learns the nanny, Aiden, is also a werewolf. Aiden teaches Josh about the Imaginary World, even introducing him to his friends Larry Fancypants (a suave-yet-goofy vampire) and Steve Lickerman (a tall-yet-meek leprechaun). This fascinating world seems harmless, until Josh learns of the shadowy wraith that’s stalking New York, attacking creatures and stealing their powers. As werewolves are ideally suited for fighting wraiths, Aiden is called upon to help capture the elusive Mr. Midnight, unintentionally drawing Josh even deeper into the strange and mysterious.

MuseItUp Publishing:


Friday, December 5, 2014

Thanksgiving at Otto's Diner...pray you get out alive

Thanksgiving has come and passed and, dang, if I'm not exhausted.

My wife and I spent it in Oklahoma with her family, an enjoyable time. But the trip there was anything but.

Somewhere in the middle of Oklahoma we needed lunch. Inspiration struck me (usually not a good thing) and I suggested we find a "good ol'-fashioned diner." I told my wife it'll be an adventure. Which was really dumb of me because our "adventures" are tantamount to trauma.

Lo, and behold, "Otto's Diner" reared its little dingy head along a strip of dilapidated stores on Main Street in Woebegone, Oklahoma.

I knew we were in trouble as soon as we stepped inside. An aqua, orange and brown motif burned my eyes, all the colors of the Scooby Gang Mystery Machine. Squiggly lava lamp burps covered the laminated table tops. Some sorta cryptic type-written code filled the menu, clearly designed as an inside joke that unfortunate tourists weren't privy to. No one in Otto's appeared to be under sixty years old.The Twilight ("years?") Zone of diners.

Immediately, we were thrust into the nebulous world of
surrealistic dining experiences, hustled to a table before we could beat feet. I asked the very tired waitress if they had Coke Zero which totally stumped her. She hemmed, hawed, looked at me as if I'd shot a president or something. Tossing up her arms, she said, "we got Pepsi."

My wife asked if they had a low-fat salad dressing. Again, the waitress was mystified, clearly having never heard of such a strange beast. She turned around, opened a small refrigerator. Like a game-show model (except, not), she waved her hand over a grocery store selection of four bottles of Kraft dressings. "Got Ranch, honey."

Remarkably still in the spirit of the holiday, I ordered chicken fried steak and mashed potatoes. Because everyone knows small towns do those sort of things right. Right? Wrong. Straight out of a box and tossed into a microwave. Who knows what kinda' animal sacrificed their life posing as a "chicken fried steak." (Um, come to think of it, is chicken fried steak cow or chicken? Spam, maybe?)

I knew we'd entered "Children of the Corn" territory when the elderly regulars started bleating loud jokes about "Spaghetti Red," using it as a taunt, perhaps a challenge. Maybe a death threat. Brrr. Chilling. I'm still wondering what was so funny about "Spaghetti Red." The color connotation alone is the stuff of nightmares.

You know, the old guy who kept coming by to ask how everything was (presumably Otto) seemed nice, obviously taking pride in his culinary masterworks. I didn't have the heart to tell him everything sucked.

Worst of all, our waitress hovered three feet behind us while we ate. Watching us. Very carefully. Waiting. Perhaps for a tip? Or...waiting to grab us in an alley as we left.

My poor, full bladder had to wait. I didn't want to end up on someone's plate as "Spaghetti Red."

I do have to say, however, the wall photo of the ghost dog was kinda' cool. Oh, sure, a "ghost dog" they all take for granted, no big deal. But ask 'em about "Coke Zero?" Pure lunacy.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The hidden horrors of Star Trek

I've never been a rabid Star Trek fan.

Sure, as a kid I begged my parents to let me watch the original series. It's what we talked about on the playground. A rite of passage in the '60's. Camping out on the floor in front of the TV, watching Shatner put the moves on a multitude of mini-skirted alien babes. I'd snarf down a "3 Musketeers" candy bar while breathing in the exotic worlds and aliens. Space helmets were pointless while Shatner chewed up the scenery, sucking up the oxygen around him. My hero. For a kid? Heaven. Naturally my brothers made fun of me for it, little realizing one day the "geeks" would inherit the entertainment industry. I mean, one of my brothers still belittles people for reading books. I know, right?

Back on track...recently my wife and I had a chat about Star Trek. I told her I wished I could teleport (because I hate traveling, love the destination, despise the journey..."are we there yet?"). She said, "No, you don't want to teleport." Curious, I asked her why. My mistake.

The answer horrified me. As it will you, too.

Apparently the teleporter doesn't just "transport" molecules, DNA, flesh, bones, the gnarly works. No, nothing that nice and tidy and comforting. My wife explained, "The Enterprise crew dies every time they teleport. Basically, they're clones."

WHA? "Live long and prosper," my ass!

An absolutely horrifying concept. I had no idea, not a clue.  

Childhood dreams shattered ("Shatnered?"). Nightmares ensued. Never again would I look at the silly voyages of the Enterprise in the same light again. I mean, we all know about the "Red Shirts," right? (For the uninitiated, any time a red-shirted crew member beams down to a planet, they basically have "Dead Man Walking" emblazoned on the back of their red shirts). But the entire crew? Dead? Again and again? I spent my childhood years watching stunt doubles. Clones, for God's sake! How many Shatners can the universe handle?

No wonder "Bones" was always kinda' pissy about the teleporter. "I'm a doctor, Jim, not a reconstituted corpse!" Now I'm severely locked into "Team Bones," forget about the Shat.

Look, I'm by no means a "Trekkie." I've never watched the series where the Reading Rainbow guy wears an air filter around his head. Or the series where some dude has a back-bone running down his forehead and says things, in a very deep and serious voice, like, "Captain, there are strange, sticky substances enveloping the nucleon TV dinners." Didn't watch any of those. I always thought a "Klingon" was a sock stuck to a sweater in the dryer.

But part of my childhood died the day my wife clued me in to the ugliness of the televised future.

"Beam me up, Scottie?" Um, no thanks, Scottie. How about, "Scottie, book me on the next interstellar Greyhound bus to Hemrrhoidon 12?"

Friday, November 21, 2014

Hangin' with interstellar travel agent (actually writer) Rosalie Skinner

I'm stoked to host writer Rosalie Skinner today. She's Australian. Yeah, yeah, yeah, she's a terrific author, but did I mention she's Australian? Mega bonus points. Let's get started...

*Rosalie, I really enjoy your prose. It’s evocative, descriptive, sometimes old-fashioned and at times quite lyrical. Did you adopt this style to fit fantasy writing in general? Is it your usual style? Would you change it if you wrote a contemporary thriller or other genre?

Stuart, first off, thanks for having me as a guest. You were correct when you said your questions would take some answering. I will endeavor to answer truthfully and where I can’t I hope my attempts at least sound believable.

My voice I guess is fairly old fashioned when I write fantasy. The location of the chronicles is on a planet where modern language would seem out of place. If, or should I say, when, I write in another genre, I am pretty sure my ‘voice’ and the language used would reflect the change. Or, perhaps I am just old fashioned and love to use archaic words. 

*I believe you said that Adrift: In Search of Memory is a stand-alone book in your Chronicles of Caleath series. To be honest, I was just as confused as the protagonist during some of the information drop scenes. But I’m dumb. That’s the bad news. The good news is it’s intrigued me to read from the beginning. I’m curious if the other books would enhance the enjoyment of Adrift.

I hoped ADRIFT: In Search of Memory would stand alone. Caleath/Tag spends much of the time confused, so perhaps that’s not such a bad thing. You and he can both complain to the author.

*Clearly, you know your way around the world of sailing. I felt like I was out on the seas of turmoil with Tag Seawell. Did you toss on an eye patch, tour the world on a fishing boat, and growl, “arggh” a lot? Or is this the result of extensive research?

Arrgh. Ya’old landlubber, was’t the eye-patch what gib’it away? I drew a line at the eye-patch, but have sailed under a jolly roger. Thankfully we weren’t shot out of the water. Plenty of research, wonderful hours spent on sail boats, whale watching vessels and fishing boats. Every trip out of the harbor helped. Having access to, and a tour guide’s notes, while exploring the Bark Endeavour and climbing over Notorious a visiting pirate ship also helped gain an insight into what it would be like traveling aboard a tall ship.

In Australia we are lucky to have a scheme available where young people can learn about sailing aboard a tall ship. So, we sent each of my three kids for a ten day trip on the tall ship, the Young Endeavour. When they returned I used their experiences to add to my own. My son is a skipper of a dive boat and swims with sharks most days. He proof reads my sea faring stories. It sure helps having an expert available.

*I imagine it was tempting to keep your kids afloat. I kid, I kid. 

Memory plays such a huge theme in the book, almost a character in itself. As a newcomer to the series, I feel somewhat like Tag/Caleath in that I’m discovering identity, characters, worlds along with the protagonist. Intentional?

Yes, of course it is. Phew, that was an easy one.

*”Balls of a hairy goat!” I think this is my fave catch-phrase, well, maybe ever. Where can we get t-shirts?

Let me know your size and preference for long or short sleeve! I can do anything through Vistaprint. LOL.

*I read that your daughter inspired Caleath’s triumphs and struggles. In what way?

I will explain as part of a later question… if that is allowed.

*Your books are billed as fantasy/science-fiction epics. The first part of Adrift is firmly anchored in the fantasy genre with dragons, death as a character, sorcerers, quests, and other such tropes. Then suddenly sci-fi elements are introduced just as Caleath begins to remember parts of his past. Coincidence? A commentary on progress?

At this stage I think I must confess to coincidence. Now you mention it, though, I like the idea of the juxtaposition as a commentary on progress.

*Let’s talk about the character of Caleath, your protagonist in the epic series. Some of the other characters describe him as “arrogant.” At times, I’d agree. He’s also quite tempestuous. Yet he strives to take the moral high ground. I get the impression he hasn’t always been this way. Is the series a tale of redemption? How do you see Caleath?

Caleath is looking for redemption. He’s been through a lot before he reaches ADRIFT and rediscovers himself. By this time in his journey, he has grown from seeking revenge and relying on hate and rage to sustain him. He has almost completed his quest. He still has a few lessons to learn, challenges to overcome but he can see a light at the end of the tunnel.

*Again about Caleath. At the start of the tale, he’s committed to his goatherd lady love. As the adventure continues, he’s definitely tempted by several other women (also hinting at past dalliances with men). He’s ready to ditch his pregnant girlfriend at the end of the book until he sees her, remembers how beautiful she is, then changes his mind. Dude’s a “player!”

Is this a question? (Stuart: No, but it gives me more of a chance to blab.) Caleath has been in a few relationships during the previous books. Regaining his memory jolts recollections of those women and the relationships, not always successful, he shared with them. No wonder he’s confused when Tag is committed to the goatherd. Tag is committed to Naomi and protecting his unborn child. Now he finds himself thrown into the company of the feisty and attractive witch, Melody, during his struggle to remember who he is/was. All his confusion clears when he sees Naomi and Tag/Caleath remembers her faith, strength and vulnerability.

*The book’s packed full of action, Caleath running from one skirmish to the next, not to mention remembering his past adventures on different planets, different lives, even different clones. Yet there’s also time for introspection, even philosophy. Are all the books this lively?

I would like to think so, though I feel as I worked through the series each book improves on the last. They all have lots of action, adversaries, challenges, relationships and a little introspection.

*Okay, poor Caleath takes a beating (Thank God he has a special healing ability). He’s captured, beaten, stabbed, arrowed, burned by dragons on several occasions, runs around the countryside with bleeding feet…that’s just the start. Um, do you have it in for this guy, Rosalie? Perhaps a closet literary sadist?

In a previous question you asked how my daughter inspired the Chronicles. It seems pertinent to answer here. The chronicles loosely follow the journey/battle my daughter faces living with three chronic, painful, incurable but not terminal illnesses.

From the time she was first ill, at age fifteen, she has experienced a lot of pain, loss and dismay and yet her courage, strength and determination continue to inspire those around her. Often people don’t even realize she is unwell. Her smile hides the pain, the despair. Each day is a battle. Pain is constant. Only the depth varies. She was told she had had appendicitis but she didn’t even see a doctor because she was so used to the level of pain she just thought it was another day in her life.

So Caleath’s journey was written while I cared for my daughter. I watched her struggle as her future crumbled. Relationships fell apart, friends stopped dropping by, jobs failed and yet she refused to give up trying every avenue to manage her life. She now has a supportive partner and two children who make life worth living when the pain becomes too much.

Caleath, sadly, gets to face a lot of pain and disappointment during his journey. There is a light at the end of the tunnel though. Ooops… no spoilers.

*Bravo to your daughter, Rosalie!

Like an annoying child, I’m gonna’ hit you up with a question no parent ever wants to answer. Which book in The Chronicles of Caleath is your favorite? (And you CAN’T answer “I love them all the same.”).

Good question and no, I do have favorites. Although I enjoyed writing each book, as the story develops I think I enjoy the journey more. What am I trying to say? For me, ADRIFT: In Search of Memory and ADRIFT: The Fragile Sun (since in my mind they are one continuing story) were the most fun to write and most rewarding to revisit. I guess it’s the pirate life and sea faring adventures that draw me. Arrgh, the eye-patch is back.

*Alright, Rosalie's taken to the seas again. In the meantime, you can find out more about her adventures at Rosalie Skinner's Amazon page

Friday, November 14, 2014

One Plumber, Two Cracks

Everything was cool while the handyman ranted on about silicone, threading water tubes, calcification, old houses. Fine, whatever, have no idea what he's talking about, job done. He managed to make the Magical Refrigerator generate Magical Water again, all that mattered. Ta daa! Rabbit out of the hat, get out of my house now. Thanks.

A final flourish, he thrust an electronic pad toward me to sign, the last step. I scratched indecipherable hieroglyphics on it because who can really write on those things anyway? Whatever it takes to get back to normal.

But the handy-guy had an itch in his craw, a metallic glint in his eye.

Crap. Trouble.

Just my luck to connect with a handyman who wanted to do a thorough job. For this self-proclaimed hermit, it felt like an invasion. Big time.

A seeming afterthought, the handy-guy decided to check the ice-maker. Battles have been won over weaker appliances and clearly I lost.

Parts were torn out. Indiscriminately, frozen food was dumped into the sink. A wrrrrrnch drew black marks across the floor when he yanked the fridge from the wall. No way out, no help, no mercy.

Dave--by this time, we'd reached first name status--told me the ice-maker was WAY off. Parts were out of order, not connecting, a screwed up puzzle where the pieces didn't lock together. With a sad shake of the head, Dave asked, "Has your fridge EVER made ice?"

I had no choice. Like being drafted into a war I was politically opposed to, Dave enlisted me into service. My duty as a home-owner. Handy-man's soldier.

Together, we unloaded the rest of the food from the freezer. Shelves were dismantled, nuts and bolts unscrewed. Frozen syrup draped my arms, gross and sticky and invigoratingly manly. We swept webs and sweat from our brows. Then we cursed, laughed, reveling in our recent shared good times.

I put on music. Manly working music. We sang Hall & Oates songs. I was tempted to don a pastel colored sports jacket, roll up the sleeves, and pump my arms like a jackhammer. Just like Hall did in that awful '80's music video (or was it Oates? I  can never tell the difference. They're pretty interchangeable except the shorter one bebops around "oohing" and "ahhing" on occasion). My dog howled, joining the fun. At that moment, nothing mattered except appliances.

I felt empowered, mechanically apt for the first time, well, ever. Flipped a wrench and actually caught it. Muy macho. Then the job was done. As were my dreams of finally feeling useful around appliances.

Without so much as a smile, Dave left. Grabbed my money off the table, no looking back. A cough of smoke from his truck's exhaust and he vanished out of my life.

I felt so used.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Call for the stunt double! Death Scenes with author Sara Jayne Townsend

Something special today. An interview with a terrific British mystery writer, Sara Jayne Townsend. When you read the following, please do so with a British accent in your head. It's like gravy.

*Welcome, Sara. At first, I was under the (mis)impression Death Scene was going to be a horror tale as I knew you enjoyed writing and reading horror. To my surprise, it was a cozy mystery. My first! And a very good read. Is this your usual genre?

 *Your heroine, Shari, was born in England then moved to Canada. Yet she seems to hate Canadian weather. I’m wondering…why is she living there?

SJT: I describe myself as a crime and horror writer, but I was a horror writer first – from age 14, when I wrote my first horror novel. I started to discover women crime writers such as Sara Paretsky and Sue Grafton in the early 1990s, and by the end of the 90s, horror seemed to have dropped out of favour, in the UK, at least. I loved reading crime so much I thought I should start writing in this genre, since it was selling better than horror was at that time. I didn’t have the confidence to write a police procedural, so I decided to create an amateur sleuth. Thus Shara Summers was born. SJT: There’s a lot of personal experience from me in Shari, including my dislike of Canadian winters. I went to Canada as a child when my family emigrated there and I came back to the UK when I finished high school, while they stayed in Canada. And the winters had a lot to do with it. I wanted to give Shari an affinity to Canada, so I had her stay there. But my dislike of the cold is so overpowering I can’t imagine how anyone could love it, and so she shares that trait with me.

*I, too, hate the brutal midwest winters. What am I doing here again? There’s an awful lot of background color about the world of acting, all of it ringing true. Do you have personal experience in that field?

SJT: I spent a lot of time in the 80s, 90s and 2000s doing amateur dramatics, and loved it. That’s one of the reasons I decided to make Shari an actress. I toyed with the idea briefly of going into theatre professionally when I left school, but I was never really good enough to make a success of it. Once I decided I only had time to pursue one creative vocation that wasn’t going to pay around the day job that would be necessary to pay the bills, I decided it had to be writing, not acting. So instead I’m sort of living the actor’s life vicariously through Shari. I do have a number of friends who have done acting professionally for at least some part of their lives, and I collected anecdotes from them all when I was doing research for the book. Many of those anecdotes are blatantly stolen and stuck almost verbatim into the story. But I have given credit to said actors in the acknowledgements.

*One thing I’d like to warn your readers about? Don’t read the acknowledgments until after you’ve finished reading the book! Major spoiler alert!

SJT: I guess that’s true and I never really thought about it, I was just giving credit to a person who had a major influence on how the plot worked out. The book has now been published twice, with the same acknowledgements both times. I guess I assumed they would end up at the back of the book. But it’s probably good advice – read them last!

*I enjoyed the relationships in the book. The way Shari and her mother interact, prickly conversations and battling personalities struggling to be dominant over one another; how people react toward the rapidly deteriorating health of Aunt Ruthie--part empathy, part sympathy, all bother. Very universal. I’ve lived through very similar family situations. Good job. How much is true for you, Sara?

SJT: I have two younger sisters, so sibling rivalry was familiar to me as I was growing up, as I suppose it probably is to everyone with siblings. A major theme of the novel was family ties and the fact that you can’t escape your family’s love no matter how far away you run. I would like to emphasise that I did not base any of Shara’s family members on any of my own. But I think family tensions are familiar to most people.

*Shari is a strong, independent woman. But sometimes it seems she puts her needs before others. She doesn’t appear to have a very good relationship with her family, having rarely seen them. Now I know there’s a geographical barrier, but how do you see her? Well-adjusted, self-centered…maybe a little of both?

SJT: I don’t think she’s very well adjusted. She has a lot of emotional baggage. And she is a tad self-centred. But I think a lot of actors are – you have to be acutely aware of yourself to be able to act, and that can come across as being rather narcissistic. I wanted Shari to have flaws. Perfect characters are boring. She’s far too nosy for her own good, but what amateur sleuth isn’t? She has commitment issues, because I decided that relationships with problems are far more interesting than ‘happy ever after’ kind of relationships (but as is evident I’m not a romance writer). But she also stands up for what she believes in, and will fight for a cause she’s passionate about, and I hope this makes her sympathetic to readers, despite her flaws.

*I agree. Perfect is boring, flawed is fascinating. But here's something that's been bothering me...please tell this clueless Midwesterner what in the world Marmite toast is!

SJT: Marmite is a yeast-based spread that you have on toast for breakfast. It’s got a meaty kind of taste, but it’s vegetarian friendly. Brits are firmly entrenched into one of two camps – Marmite lovers and Marmite haters. There’s no middle ground with Marmite. Australians have a similar product, called Vegemite. But it’s not something available generally in North America. I decided it would be a way of showing Shari’s British roots, by having her miss Marmite and getting her mother to send it to her when she’s in Canada. And by the way, I’m in the ‘Marmite lover’ camp.

*In the chapter where the romantic interest is seducing Shari, she remarks many, MANY times about his lovely, long eyelashes. Is this a subtle way of showing she’s getting sloshed? Or do you, um, just like guys’ eyelashes?

SJT: What can I say? Romantic scenes are not my strength. I wanted a subtle way of showing her attraction, and that she was getting slowly sloshed, without having say it. So I decided to have her keep noticing his eyelashes. I think it’s fair to say that Shari likes long eyelashes on guys (without giving away spoilers, she sort of does it again in the second book). I don’t think the same thing can be said for me. Though I do share Shari’s fondness of hunky blonds. Especially Chris Hemsworth. Now he can throw his hammer in my direction any time. Uh, sorry, where were we??

*By Odin's nostril hairs, Sara has thusly spoken! Thor is the man to beat!

Alright. Done, now. Here's a cool sneak-peak at the sequel's cover:

The first book in her amateur sleuth series about Canadian actress Shara Summers, DEATH SCENE, is now available, with the sequel, DEAD COOL, released on 25 November and available for pre-order. Visit the MuseItUp Publishing book store to buy both:

You can learn more about Sara and her writing at her website at or her blog at