Showing posts with label humour. Show all posts
Showing posts with label humour. Show all posts

13 October 2019

Dr. Frank Warsh: Coroner to Crime Writer


Dr. Frank Warsh is a coroner and the author of The Flame Broiled Doctor from Boyhood to Burnout in Medicine and Hippocrates:The Art and The Oath

Death is his job - literally - so how does his job inform his new foray into crime fiction? Many doctors will grumble at the unrealistic depictions of doctors in film and books. Doctors will grumble even more loudly at the depictions of patients and families - because that is the important part of medicine. So, does a coroner write crime fiction differently than a lay person?

• What is the actual job of a coroner?

“The core of the job is determination of cause and certifying the death.

“The cause of death is what killed you. The manner is part of the set of conventions we use to describe a death. The manner is what’s being referred to when a character on a cop show says, “the death was ruled a homicide”. That statement is screenplay silliness for two reasons. First, rulings come from judges, not Coroners or Forensic Pathologists. Second, the manner of death follows from the cause, rather than being determined independently.

“Unlike the myriad causes, there are only four manners by which a person can die: natural, accident, suicide, or homicide.

“Again, the manner follows from the cause. If somebody dies from a heart attack, that’s a natural death. If it’s a hanging, barring some very, very compelling evidence of foul play it’s a death by suicide. The old Coroner’s joke is calling a gunshot wound to the chest a natural death, because if you’re shot through the heart and lungs, naturally it will kill you.”

• Why would people want to read Coroners’ stories?

“Clearly there’s overlap between Coroner work and crime investigation. My job is quite literally the intersection between police procedural and medical procedural work.

“It’s hard to overstate how important the job of Coroner is and can be, speaking for the dead as the motto goes. Most untimely deaths are not the result of a crime, but rather workplace accidents, substance abuse, an individual’s traumatic upbringing, systemic problems in institutions, or failures by society as a whole. Obviously these stories matter to people in positions of authority and policymakers. But fictionalized, they can teach us a lot of truths about human nature and how far we still have to go. It’s a job that allows for genuine sober reflection, rather than just reacting to the daily noise of the news cycle.

“A former patient, who’s become a cherished friend since I left practice, had a daughter that died from an overdose after a long struggle with drug use. Happens every day, no question. But the young woman had been a repeat victim of sexual violence from a very early age. Worse still, she suffered years of trauma at the hands of a broken mental health care system the family desperately needed to work. We take it for granted that our institutions are the “good guys”, working only in the best interests of the sick and the vulnerable. That’s far from a guarantee, no matter what we’d like to think. Fiction is a perhaps a safer way to face these truths, because there are no real-life stakes to the story being told.

“Now that covers the interesting and important reasons to read Coroner stories, but I’d be remiss if I left out how entertaining, even funny, Coroner work can be.

“Setting aside gratuitous cartoon deaths you might find in a Quentin Tarantino film, death in and of itself isn’t entertaining. It’s death *investigation* I find entertaining. Some of the fun comes from the characters you meet – police, undertakers – that have personality quirks or morbid senses of humor you don’t find in health care settings. Sometimes it’s the loved ones of the dead who can throw you for a loop.

“And sometimes the investigation itself is full of absurdities, completely at odds with what we expect from all the highbrow detective stories we might read or see on TV. Closets full of Costco-size jars of weed. Bongs on display like sports trophies. Porn playing on a loop while you scour an apartment for medical records. You can’t make this stuff up.

“Earlier this year, I happened to attend six deaths in a row where the person had died on the toilet. To the individual families, those are tragedies. To the poor schlub Coroner – me – it’s a Saturday Night Live sketch, the absolute antithesis of the glamorous, high-tech investigations portrayed on CSI.

“Real life – or real death, I suppose – is stranger than fiction, and quite often funny as hell. These are the kinds of stories I’m now looking to tell, in short story form for the time being.”

• Thoughts on commercial success?

“You need your finger on the pulse of the audience to find fortune as a writer, and the only pulses I feel these days have stopped.”

27 July 2019

Themes in Novels (in which Bad Girl discovers she’s not so flaky after all…)


One of the great discussions in the author world is whether your book should have a theme or not. Of course it’s going to have a plot. (Protagonist with a problem or goal and obstacles to that goal – real obstacles that matter - which are resolved by the end.) But does a book always have a theme?
Usually when we’re talking ‘theme’, we’re putting the story into a more serious category. Margaret Atwood (another Canadian – smile) tells a ripping good story in The Handmaid’s Tale. But readers would agree there is a serious theme underlying it, a warning, in effect.

Now, I write comedies. Crime heists and romantic comedies, most recently. They are meant to be fun and entertaining. So you can imagine my surprise when I discovered recently that all of my books have rather serious themes behind them.

Last Friday, I was interviewed for a CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) mini-documentary featuring female Canadian crime writers. During this, the producer got me talking about the background to my most awarded series, The Goddaughter. This crime caper series is about a mob goddaughter who doesn’t want to be one, but keeps getting dragged back to bail out her inept mob family.

I know what it’s like to be a part of an Italian family that may have had ties to the mob. (In the past. My generation is squeaky clean.) The producer asked me If that informed my writing. Of course it did. But in our discussion, she stopped me when I said: “You are supposed to love and support your family. But what if your family is *this* one?”

Voila. There it was: a theme. All throughout the Goddaughter series, Gina Gallo grapples with this internal struggle.
So then I decided to look at my other books. The B-team is a spin-off from The Goddaughter series. It’s a funny take on The A-team television series. A group of well-meaning vigilantes set out to do good, but as this is comedy, things go awry. In fact, the tag-line is: “They do wrong for all the right reasons…and sometimes it even works.”

Was there a theme behind this premise? Was there a *question asked*? And yes, to me, it was clear.

In The B-Team, I play with the concept: Is it ever all right to do illegal things to right a wrong?

Back up to the beginning. My first series was fantasy. Humorous fantasy, of course. Rowena Through the Wall basically is a spoof of Outlander type books. Rowena falls through a portal into a dark ages world, and has wild and funny adventures. I wrote it strictly to entertain…didn’t I? And yet, the plot revolves around the fact that women are scarce in this time. They’ve been killed off by war. I got the idea from countries where women were scarce due to one-child policies. So what would happen…I mused…if women were scarce? Would they have more power in their communities? Or would the opposite happen. Would they have even less control of their destinies, as I posited?

A very strong, serious theme underlying a noted “hilarious” book. Most readers would never notice it. But some do, and have commented. That gets this old gal very excited.
I’ve come to the conclusion that writers – even comedy writers – strive to say something about our world. Yes, I write to entertain. But the life questions I grapple with find their way into my novels, by way of underlying themes. I’m not into preaching. That’s for non-fiction. But If I work them in well, a reader may not notice there is an author viewpoint behind the work.

Yes, I write to entertain. But I’ve come to the conclusion that behind every novel is an author with something to say. Apparently, I’m not as flaky as I thought.

What about you? Do you look for a theme in novels? Or if a writer, do you find your work conforms to specific themes?



Got teen readers in your family? Here's the latest crime comedy, out this month:

On AMAZON

27 April 2019

Murder at the Crime Writing Awards (With the usual 'pee first' warning - see bottom)


Someone slipped up and made me a finalist in two categories for the Arthur Ellis Awards for Crime Writing this year (The B-Team, Novella, and A Ship Called Pandora, short story.)  Naturally, I’m up against some of the best (here’s looking at you, yet again, Twist Phalen.) 

By strange coincidence, I’m also emceeing the awards on May 23.  Which goes to show how truly confusing we can be in Canada.  Because you see, in days of yore (ten to three years ago) I was the one organizing the gala, along with a team of truly wonderful but sweetly innocent individuals who had no idea what they were signing up for. 

The short list announcement yesterday got me thinking about my first time organizing the event.  I believe this may have also been my first post on Sleuthsayers.  Yes, that many years ago.  Time for a revisit.  Warning: This is nonfiction. I swear. 

MURDER AT THE CRIME WRITING AWARDS
Okay, I haven’t done it yet.  But I may soon.

I’m the Executive Director of a well-known crime writing association.  This means I am also responsible for the Arthur Ellis Awards, Canada’s annual crime writing awards night, and the resulting banquet.

I’ve planned hundreds of special events in my career as a marketing professional.  I’ve managed conferences with 1000 people attending, scarfing down three meals a day.  Usually, we offer a few choices, and people choose what they want.  They’re pretty good about that.  People sit where they want.  Simple.

Granted, most of my events have been with lab techs, doctors, nurses, and other health care professionals. 

It is not the same with authors.  Nothing is simple with authors. 

THE SEATING ARRANGEMENT
A can’t sit with B, because A is in competition with B for Best Novel.  C can’t sit with D because C is currently outselling D.  E can’t sit with F because they had an affair (which nobody knows about.  Except they do.  At least, the seven people who contacted me to warn me about this knew.) G can’t sit with H because G’s former agent is at that table and they might kill each other.  And everyone wants to sit with J.

THE MENU
The damned meal is chicken.  This is because we are allowed two choices and we have to provide for the vegetarians.  We can’t have the specialty of the house, lamb, because not everyone eats lamb.  We can’t have salmon as the vegetarian choice, because some vegetarians won’t eat fish.

So we’re stuck with chicken again.

P writes that her daughter is lactose intolerant.  Can she have a different dessert?

K writes that she is vegetarian, but can’t eat peppers.  Every damned vegetarian choice has green or red pepper in it.

L writes that she wants the chicken, but is allergic to onion and garlic.  Can we make hers without?

M writes that her daughter is a vegan, so no egg or cheese, thanks.  Not a single vegetarian choice comes that way.

I am quickly moving to the “you’re getting chicken if I have to shove it down your freaking throat” phase.

Chef is currently threatening the catering manager with a butcher’s knife.  I am already slugging back the cooking wine.  And by the time people get here, this may be a Murder Mystery dinner.

Postscript:
Nobody got murdered, but a few got hammered.  


Melodie Campbell’s caper novella The B-Team has been shortlisted for the Arthur Ellis Award.  You can pick it up for a steal (sic) at Amazon, B&N, Chapters, and all the usual suspects.  Even Walmart, because we’re a class act.  Sometimes even Zehrs.  I’ll stop now.

 The 'pee first' warning is given when humorous material follows.  'Nuf said.
 

09 November 2018

The Power of Prepositions


by Leigh Lundin

Far away and four times a thousand and one nights ago, this tale appeared in Criminal Brief. Dial in a little Rimsky-Korsakov and read on.


The Power of Prepositions
by Leigh Lundin

Aladdin was getting along in years and found that he was unable to pitch a tent as he had done in his youth. Smart as well as lucky, Aladdin still had his magic lamp and, frugal with his wishes, he had one wish left.
He rubbed his lamp and the génie appeared. Aladdin begged him, “My camel can no longer thread the needle. Can you cure my erectile impotence?”
Genie said, “I can whisk away your problem.” With that, he rubbed his hands, evoking a puff of billowing blue smoke. Genie said, “I’ve dealt you a powerful spell, but at your age, you’ll be able to invoke it only once a year.”
“How do I use it?” asked Aladdin.
“All you have to do is say ‘one, two, three,’ and it shall rise for as long as you wish, but only once a year.”
Aladdin asked, “What happens when I’m exhausted and I no longer want to continue?”
Genie replied, “All you or your lady has to say is ‘one, two, three, four,’ and it will fade like a Sahara sunset. But be warned: the spell will not work again for another year.”
Aladdin galloped home, eager to try out his new powers of the flesh. That evening, Aladdin bathed away the dust of the desert and scented himself with oil of exotic myrrh. He climbed into bed where his resigned wife lay turned away, about to slip into Scheherazadic dreams.
Aladdin took a deep breath and said, “One, two, three.” Instantly, he became more aroused than he ever had in youth, a magnificent happenstance of tree-trunk proportions.
His wife, hearing Aladdin’s words, rolled back toward him and said, “What did you say ‘one, two, three,’ for?”
And that, dear readers, is why you should not end a sentence with a preposition.

07 October 2018

Talking Turkey


by Velma

Tomorrow Canadians celebrate Thanksgiving and, in case you wondered, Liberia celebrates Thanksgiving the first Thursday in November. The time or place matters little to bachelors who celebrate the holiday much the same no matter when or where.


A Bachelor Thanksgiving
in honour of the Canadian holiday
arrangement in ironic pentameter
by deservedly anonymous


Thanksgiving cornucopia
I think I shall never sniff
A poem as lovely as a whiff
Of turkey and mashed po—
tatoes and frozen snow–

Peas in vast disproportion
As I gulp another portion.
Cranberry sauce, count me a fan,
Maintains the shape of the can.

Cheap beer and cheaper whiskey
Makes the shallow heart grow frisky.
Three litre jugs of screw-capped wine
First tastes horrible, then tastes fine.

Deli turkey, cellophane wrapped.
Processed ham and all that crap.
Sherbet, ice cream, anything frozen,
Packaged cupcakes by the dozen,

Ruffled chips and onion dip,
Reddi-Wip and Miracle Whip,
Maple frosting found in tins
Hide the worst culinary sins.

Seven-fifty millilitres of
Grain vodka labeled Scruitov,
Cheap brandy and cheaper beer
First smells awful, then tastes queer.

Pumpkin pie and store-bought cake,
Anything I need not bake.
If it’s boxed, if it’s canned,
I’m no gourmet, only gourmand.

Chorus    

Baseball, football on the TV.
One spilt bowl of poutine gravy.
This little poem with each verse,
I give thanks if it grows no worse.
vintage post card wreath turkey

vintage post card children, turkey, pumpkin

We admit nothing except Happy Thanksgiving. Graphics courtesy of Antique Images, The Holiday Spot, and Spruce Crafts.

27 May 2017

If The Goddaughter moved to other Genres (a seriously non-serious post)


Last year at about this time, my publisher gave me a challenge.  “We want to try some women’s
fiction for the Rapid Reads line,” she said. "So I need a book from you by August."

Huh?  Me, the scribe of mob comedy, write Chicklit?  Romance?  Okay, can I make it funny, I asked?  Luckily they went thumbs up.  And so WORST DATE EVER comes out in September this year.

More on that later.  This column is about something else.

Point being, all this writing-out-of-genre got me thinking.  Crime has always been my thing.  I write about a mob goddaughter who doesn’t want to be one.  Her inept mob family never gets it right.   

What would happen if Gina Gallo, the original mob goddaughter, were to be dragged kicking and screaming out of crime, and plunked right down into another genre.  Or three.  So here goes.

Western:
(on a stage coach near you)

Gina:  “Please move over.  You’re taking up two seats.”

Bad guy Cowboy: “Hey little lady.  You can sit right here on my lap.  What’s a pretty little thing like you doing with that mighty big revolver, anyway?”

Gina (demonstrating):  <BLAM>

Cowboy drops to the floor.

Gothic Romance:
(in a seriously spooky old manor)

Fiendish male character, rubbing hands together:  “You’ll never escape me, my pretty.  Never!”

Gina (looking around): “Are you sure this isn’t a set for The Rocky Horror Picture Show?”

Fiend:  “Enough!  You’ll be my wife with or without the church.”

Gina (extracting knife beneath skirt): <THWOCK>

Fiend drops to the floor.

Literary:
(at a slam poetry evening)

Male Poet:  “Stop.Cry.Laugh.Love not war.Peace not profit.Climate change.Capitalists.Love crimes.War crimes.Killing oceans.Killing whales.Every other cliché you can think of.Pain.I’m in pain.A pain so great.

Gina: <BLAM>

Poet is out of pain, and so is everyone else.

To be continued…(or not, if someone takes out the writer first)

Just released!  THE BOOTLEGGER’S GODDAUGHTER, book 5 in The Goddaughter series
“…the work of an author at the absolute top of her game” Don Graves, Canadian Mystery Reviews



On Amazon

02 April 2017

Nothing to Crow About


by Leigh Lundin

April Fool's Day has passed, but…

Attempted Murder

attempted murder of crows
Attempted Murder

03 November 2016

Stun Gun


by Velma

My friend Sharon sent this email that has been floating about for years, author unknown.
Last weekend I saw something at Larry’s Pistol & Pawn Shop that sparked my interest. The occasion was our 15th anniversary and I was looking for a little something extra for my wife Julie. What I came across was a 100,000-volt, pocket/purse-sized taser. The effects of the taser were supposed to be short lived, with no long-term adverse effect on one’s assailant, allowing her adequate time to retreat to safety.

Way Too Cool!

Long story short, I bought the device and brought it home.

I loaded two AAA batteries in the darn thing and pushed the button. Nothing! I was disappointed. I learned, however, that if I pushed the button AND pressed it against a metal surface at the same time; I’d get the blue arch of electricity darting back and forth between the prongs.

Awesome!

Unfortunately, I have yet to explain to Julie what that burn spot is on the face of her microwave!

Okay, so I was home alone with this new toy, thinking to myself that it couldn’t be all that bad with only two triple-A batteries, right?

There I sat in my recliner, my cat Gracie looking on intently (trusting little soul) while I was reading the directions and thinking that I really needed to try this thing out on a flesh-and-blood moving target. I must admit I thought about zapping Gracie for a fraction of a second and thought better of it. She is such a sweet cat. But, if I was going to give this thing to my wife to protect herself against a mugger, I wanted some assurance it would work as advertised. Am I wrong?

So, there I sat in a pair of shorts and a tank top with my reading glasses perched delicately on the bridge of my nose, directions in on hand, and taser in another.

The directions said a one-second burst would shock and disorient an assailant; a two-second burst was supposed to cause muscle spasms and a major loss of bodily control; a three-second burst would reportedly make your assailant flop on the ground like a fish out of water.

Any burst longer than three seconds would waste the batteries. All the while I’m looking at this little device measuring about 5-inches long, less than ¾-inch in circumference; pretty cute really and (loaded with two itsy, bitsy AAA batteries) thinking to myself, ‘No possible way.’

What happened next is almost beyond description, but I’ll do my best.

I’m sitting there alone, Gracie looking on with her head cocked to one side as to say, ‘Don’t do it, moron,’ reasoning that a one-second burst from such a tiny little ole thing couldn’t hurt all that bad. I decided to give myself a one-second burst just for the heck of it. I touched the prongs to my naked thigh, pushed the button and…

Holy Mother Of God!

I’m pretty sure Hulk Hogan ran in through the side door, picked me up in the recliner, and then body slammed us both on the carpet, over and over and over again. I vaguely recall waking up on my side in a fetal position with tears in my eyes, body soaking wet, both nipples on fire, testicles no where to be found, my left arm tucked under my body in the oddest position and tingling in my legs! The cat was standing over me making meowing sounds I had never heard before, licking my face, undoubtedly thinking to herself, “Do it again, stupid, do it again.”

Note: If you ever feel compelled to mug yourself with a taser, one note of caution: there is no such thing as a one-second burst when you zap yourself. You will not let go of that thing until it is dislodged from your hand by a violent thrashing about on the floor. A three-second burst would be considered conservative.

A minute or so later (I can’t be sure, as time was a relative thing at that point), I collected what little wits I had left, sat up and surveyed the landscape. My bent reading glasses were on the mantel of the fireplace. How did they get up there? My triceps, right thigh and both nipples were still twitching. My face felt like it had been shot up with Novocain, and my bottom lip weighed 88lbs. I had no control over drooling. Apparently I’d crapped my shorts, but was too numb to know for sure, and my sense of smell was gone. I saw a faint smoke cloud above my head, which I believe came from my hair.

P. S.
My wife loved the gift and now regularly threatens me with it!
P. P. S.
I’m still looking for my testicles and I’m offering a significant reward for their safe return!

If you think education is difficult, try being stupid!

09 May 2015

How to Write Mob Comedies in your own Home Town, and not get Taken Out by the Family



Land of Ice and Snow, Smoggy Steeltown, and the Italian Mob
Or…
How to Write Mob Comedies in your own Home Town, and not get Taken Out by the Family

by Melodie Campbell

It all closed in on me at the launch of THE GODDAUGHTER mob caper in Hamilton. Eighty-five people stood waiting.

The local television station had cameras in my face.  So far, it had been an easy interview focused on my awards and comedy career. The fellow was charming.  I liked him a lot.  Then he dropped the bomb.

“So…have you ever met a member of the mob?”

I didn’t like him so much anymore.

Yikes!  Hesitation.   A lot of feet shuffling.

“Yes.” I said, very precisely. So precisely, that everyone in the room laughed nervously. “In fact, I had to wait until certain members of my family died before getting this book published. ‘Nuf said.”

The ‘nuf said’ was the closure.  He got it.  Being a smart lad, he even let it drop.

Because frankly, I was speaking the truth.  I did wait until certain people died.  Some of them were in Sicily, but more were in Canada.  Some even died from natural causes.  (“He died cleaning his rifle” was an unfortunate family expression, meaning something entirely different, if you get my drift.)

This made me think about how close you want to get in a book to real life.

As writers, we research a hell of a lot.  Of course, I did research for The Goddaughter series.  Some of the study was pretty close to home, as I riffed on memories from my childhood.

My first memory is of a family reunion at a remote farmhouse in Southern Ontario. I was not quite three, and tears were streaming down my face.  Big scary uncles picked me up. They tried to console me by speaking softly. But I couldn’t understand them because they were speaking in Italian, or more specifically, Sicilian.

Those were the days of Brio and cannoli after mass on Sunday mornings.   And gossip about other relatives, one of whom was a famous boxer.  My aunt’s friend, the singer (one of a trio of sisters) who could not escape the clutches of a mob underboss in the States; he wouldn’t let her go.  I remember the aunts clamming up about this, when I ventured into the room looking for Mom. 

I was a darling of the family, with dark curly hair and big evergreen eyes. Later, when I grew up curvy and was tall enough to model, they doted on me. So my memories of growing up in such a family are decidedly warped.

They were warm and loving.  Very witty.  Loads of fun.  And massively protective.

In the screwball comedy THE GODDAUGHTER REVENGE, you will find a mob family that is funny and rather delightful.  Gina loves them, but hates the business.  She is always trying to put it behind her, and somehow gets sucked back in to bail them out.  I wanted to show that ambivalence.  You are supposed to love your family and support them.  But what if your family is this one?

How close is too close to home? I do cut pretty close in describing Hamilton.  The streets are real. The names of the neighbourhoods are real. I even describe the location of the restaurant where the mob (in my books) hangs out. I changed the name, of course, because the last thing I want is readers thinking this hot resto is really a mob hangout.  And besides, it’s fun when fans email me to say, “When they all meet at La Paloma, did you really mean XXX?” Readers feel they’ve been part of an in-joke.

THE GODDAUGHTER series is meant to be laugh-out-loud funny.  But there is an adage that states: Comedy is tragedy barely averted.

No kidding.  I’ve been writing comedy all my adult life.




The Toronto Sun called her Canada's "Queen of Comedy."  Library Journal compared her to Janet Evanovich.  Melodie Campbell got her start writing standup. www.melodiecampbell.com
 

08 November 2014

Comedy Writer Falls Right Over Cliff - Worst Typos EVER


By Melodie Campbell

Ever make a really bad typo?  I mean really bad.

My worst ever professional mistake was in an Annual Report for a one-hundred-million dollar corporation, when I was the director of marketing and communications.  Unfortunately, an innocent little ‘t’ went missing from the word ‘assets.’  The board was not amused by “This year, we experienced an increase in corporate asses.”

Recently, I found out what one little vowel can do to Rowena and the Dark Lord, book 2 in the Land’s End series.

Okay, REALLY uncool when you misspell the name of your own book on a guest blog.

Rowena and the Dark LARD is probably not the best way to get sales for a ‘Game of Thrones Lite’ fantasy series.

However, as I do write comedy, I'm thinking about a parody.
Is it okay to write a parody of your own book?

Draft one: Rowena and the Dark Lard

Synopsis 1: Rowena moves back to Land’s End and opens up a bakery.

Synopsis 2: Cedric’s use of dark magic goes totally out of control, and so does his appetite.

Synopsis 3: Thane and Rowena return to Land’s End and become pig farmers.

Synopsis 4: Rowena messes up another spell that causes all who look at her to turn into donuts.

Synopsis 5: Rowena kills off Nigella Lawson in a battle with pastry rollers, and assumes the role
of Prime Time Network Food Goddess <sic>.

Synopsis 6: Someone takes a totally justified whack at the author. End of series.

Postscript: Recently was quoted by someone as the author of ROWENA AND THE DORK LORD.  Trial for murder is pending.

Post postscript (where is a Latin scholar when you need one?):  Another contract out for the professional book tour company hired by my publisher last month, who, in all their advertising, inadvertently switched book 3 Rowena and the Viking Warlord to…wait for it…Viking Landlord.  Yup.  Obviously there will be hell to pay if you forget the rent. 

Have you some spectacular typos in your past?  Share them here!  I'll feel better.

25 October 2014

The HIGHS and Lows of being an Author


by Melodie Campbell

(This was the second half of my Mattress of Ceremonies (MC) address at the Bloody Words Mystery Conference Gala in Toronto this June.  Which was a blast and a half.  I even have a photo of me giving this address.  It actually looks like me, which will be explained below. The Spanish Flamenco outfit cannot be explained.)

We all know the highs.  Those delirious times when you win awards and/or get a royalty cheque that takes you and your family to Europe rather than McDonalds.

I’ve had a few highs this year, winning the Derringer Award and the Arthur Ellis Award in Canada.  And I’m exceedingly grateful for them.

Because - thing is - authors get a lot of lows.  It's not just the bad reviews and rejection slips.  For some reason, most of my lows seem to cluster around that scariest of all activities: the book signing.

Some people think the worst thing that can happen is nobody shows up.  Or when you’re on a panel of 4 authors, and only three people show up.

But that’s not the worst.

1.     Worse is when five people show up for your reading.  And they’re all pushing walkers. And half way through, when you’re right in the middle of reading a compelling scene, one of them interrupts, shouting, “When does the movie start?”

Sometimes, even large crowds don’t help.

2.     I did an event this year with two hundred people in the audience.  I was doing some of my standup schtick, and it went over really well.  Lots of applause, and I was really pumped.  I mean, two hundred people were applauding me and my books!  A bunch of hands shot up for questions.  I picked the first one and a sweet young thing popped up from her seat and asked in a voice filled with awe, “Do you actually know Linwood Barclay?”

3.    Another ego-crusher:  I was reading in front of another large crowd last year.  Same great attention, lots of applause.  I was revved.  Only one hand up this time, and she said, in a clearly disappointed voice:

“You don’t look anything like your protagonist.”

So I said, “Sweetheart, not only that, I don’t look anything like my author photo.”

4.     One of the best things about being a writer is getting together with other writers to whine about the industry.  I was at The Drake in Toronto this year with a bunch of other Canadian crime writers, Howard Shrier, Robbie Rotenberg, Dorothy McIntosh, Rob Brunet… who am I missing?

We were whooping it up in the bar, moaning about the book trade.  Someone bought a round.  And another.  And then I bought a round.  And soon, it became necessary to offload some of the product, so I went looking for a place to piddle.  You have to go upstairs in the Drake to find washrooms, so I gamely toddled up the stairs, realizing that I couldn’t actually see the steps.  I was probably not at my best. 

I made it to the landing at the top and scanned a door in front of me.  It had a big “W” on it. That seemed sort of familiar, but fuzzy, you know?  Then I saw the door to my left.  It had an “M” on it.  So I thought, ‘M for Melodie!’ and walked right in.

Howard, I think you had probably gone by then, but the guy at the urinal asked for my number.

Melodie Campbell writes funny books, like The Artful Goddaughter. You should probably buy it because she, like, writes about the mob.

13 September 2014

Tagged and Bagged! This Writer of Mob Comedies Spills the Goods


I should have known there would be a price. 

Back in 2012, when Steve Steinbock reviewed The Goddaughter in Ellery Queen’s Jury Box, I was ecstatic.  <So was my publisher.  Ellery Queen ROCKS!>

Steve called my book hilarious. I called Steve my hero. Little did I know, two years and three books later, that he would be tagging me on SleuthSayers.

Oh Steve, thy devilish one.

Many of you remember Steve from the days of ‘Criminal Brief, the blog.’  <There are a hundred ways in which I want to play with the word ‘brief’ right now, but I will refrain.>  Steve and I met years ago at a Bloody Words Mystery conference in Toronto. We discovered that, as teens, we shared a mutual pash <lovely Brit expression there> for Dark Shadows, the original series.

I like and respect Steve.  I also fear him slightly <EQ and all> so hastily accept the tag.

What Am I Working On?

The Goddaughter Caper.  Or A Coffin for the Goddaughter.  Or A Body for the Goddaughter.  Or The Goddaughter’s Coffin Caper.

Somebody help here!  Book 4 of the Goddaughter trilogy <sic> is nearing completion, and I need a title.  I started with the 3rd example in the list above.  I’m leaning toward the first.  Of course, Orca Books may throw all those out and come up with their own, but I’d still like to hear from readers in the comments below.

Gina Gallo and her inept mob family are back in biz.  This time, bodies are showing up in all the wrong places.  The second book in the series, The Goddaughter’s Revenge, won both the 2014 Derringer and Arthur Ellis awards for best crime novella. <author is over the moon>  The third in the series, The Artful Goddaughter, came out last week.

For those new to the series: Gina is a mob goddaughter in the industrial city of Hamilton (The Hammer.) Try as she might, she can’t seem to leave the family business.

How Does My Work Differ From Others In The Same Genre?

Library Journal said it well:  “Campbell’s comic caper is just right for Janet Evanovich fans.  Wacky family connections and snappy dialog make it impossible not to laugh.” 

When people ask what I write, I say ‘comedies.’  Then I give the genres (crime capers and time travel fantasy.) My books are comedies first and foremost.  I look for plots that will lend themselves to laughs.   
 
Why Do I Write What I Do?

A Greek Mask

Some people are born beautiful.  But most of us aren’t, and we look for ways to survive the slings and arrows of life.  Sometimes we choose to hide behind a mask.  That Greek Comedy mask was the one I picked way back.

Comedy is Tragedy Barely Averted

My younger brother is autistic.  Our home life was stressful and at times, sorrowful.  When I was a teen, as a means of self-preservation, I looked for the ‘funny.’  More often than not, I made fun of myself.  This was easy to do.  I knew the target well and there was a wealth of material.  And it didn’t hurt anyone else, so people liked it.

When I left school and had a ‘real’ job, I started writing stand-up on the side.  I rarely delivered it – usually I wrote for others. That led to a regular newspaper humour column, and more.
So when it came to writing novels, I fell back into ‘safe mode.’  Write it funny. 

How Does My Writing Process Work?

I teach Crafting a Novel at Sheridan College in Toronto, so I’m pretty immersed in craft.  Not surprisingly, I’m a plotter. I don’t start writing until I know the ending.  But I’m a forgiving plotter.  I don’t plan out every scene.

Sometimes a plot idea will trickle around in my mind for a year.  When the ending clicks in, I sit down to do a basic three-act plot diagram.  I teach this method, and I use my own books as examples.

So… once I have my inciting moment, first, second and third crisis, and finale firmly in my head, I sit down to write.  I start with the opening/inciting moment.  Then I usually skip to the ending, and write the climax and finale.  Then I go back to the beginning and write forward.

For me, it’s important to know that I like the characters and plot enough to stay with that story for the months to come.  That’s why I write the beginning before I spend much time doing outlines.  I need to know that I can live in that world, and enjoy it.

Advice to aspiring writers:

It's not romantic.  But it's the truth.  If you are going to be a writer, you have to love the actual act of writing: by this I mean, hands on keyboard, butt in chair, all by yourself, pounding out stories that the characters in your head are demanding you tell.

Of course, coffee and a wee dram o’ whiskey help.

Melodie Campbell drinks coffee and single malt somewhere south of Toronto.  The Artful Goddaughter is now available in stores and online.

19 July 2014

I Am Not a "sexy porn gerl" and other Twitter Mishaps


Okay, I admit it.  I'm a literary slut.
My mentor, the late novelist Michael Crawley, called me that because I write in several genres (mystery, time travel, fantasy.)  Sometimes all at once in the same book.  This girl gets around.

But these days - like everyone else - my publishers are turning me into a social media whore. (Whoops, did I say that on prime time? <blush>)

"Frolic on Facebook!" they say.  "Tattle on Twitter!" they insist.  "Get out there!"

I'm out there, all right.  I'm so far out there, I may need mouth to mouth and a slug of scotch to crawl my way back.  (Yes, what follows is the absolute truth.)

The Inciting Incident:

It started with the Berlin Brothel.  Lord knows why a brothel in Berlin decided to follow me on Twitter.  I don’t live in Berlin.  I’ve never worked in a brothel.  Don’t think I’ve even typed the word ‘brothel’ before now.  I certainly haven’t said it out loud.

Then some wag from Crime Writers of Canada said: “Maybe they’ve read your first book Rowena Through the Wall.  That’s it!  You have a following in Germany. The girls who work there have to do something in their downtime.”

Let me do a cyberspace blush here.  Okay, my first book is a little hot.  “Hot and hilarious” as one industry reviewer put it.  But it’s not x-rated.  It’s not even R, according to my daughter.  (Husband has yet to read it. We’ve hidden it well.)

Then friend Alison said: “It’s a brothel!  Maybe your latest crime comedy, The Goddaughter’s Revenge, is required reading by the owners.”

But back to Berlin. I didn’t follow them back. Somehow, that didn’t matter. The word was out.

‘Amateurvids’ announced they were following me.  Good, I thought.  I like nature films.  Take it from me, this outfit doesn’t film bunnies in the wild.  Well, maybe a certain type of wild bunny.

I didn’t follow them back.

Then ‘Dick Amateur’ showed up, wanting to connect. Author friend Gloria read a few of his posts and said: “You at least deserve a Pro.”

So I didn’t follow him back.

Next, I got “Swingersconnect” following me.  Swingers?  I get sick on a tire hanging from a tree.

I didn’t follow them back.

‘Thepornfiles’ were next in line.  I didn’t peek.

Then two days ago, an outfit specializing in ‘male penis enhancement’ turned up. Now, I ask you.  Do I look like a male in my profile photo?  Is Melodie a male name?  And not to be pedantic, but isn’t ‘male’ in front of the p-word a bit redundant?  Is there any other kind?

Which brings me to the tweet in my twitter-box today:  “Hey sexy porn gerl!” (Yes, that’s girl with an e.)  Let me state categorically that I am not now and have never been a “sexy porn gerl” (with an ‘e’ or any other vowel.)

You wouldn’t want me to be.  No one would.  For one thing, I can’t see two feet in front of me without glasses.  Things that used to be perky now swing south. And my back hurts if I bend over to pick up a grape. 

So I’m not following them back.

Melodie Campbell is an infant Sleuthsayer and this is her second column.  She writes comedies, including The Goddaughter mob caper series and the notorious Rowena Through the Wall S&S series.  (That was Sword and Sorcery, not S&M.  For the record.)

08 June 2014

The Age of Stone Surgery


kidney stonekidney stonekidney stonekidney stonekidney stonekidney stonekidney stonekidney stonekidney stone
Kidney stones give whole new meaning to writer’s block.

I recently experienced kidney stone surgery. I say this calmly, rationally, as if kidney stones weren't nature’s way of reducing all of us to the level of bawling babies incapacitated with pain.

Literature on the subject appears to have been written by sociopaths who’ve never experienced kidney stones. Take for example this sentence, “Some flank discomfort can be anticipated.” That’s like Germans telling the British during the London Blitz, “Expect a little noise and dust.”

You may have noticed roughly half the human race features external plumbing. Normally, I’m satisfied with this arrangement, but at times like these, not so much.

Now knowledgeable in three techniques, I recognized a need for a bit more depth of the subject matter. Following is my tutorial on the topic.

Kidney Stone Owner's Manual

A kidney stone forms as a crystal, the small ones the size of basketballs. Stones can have many shapes, all of them jagged. One might look like a claw from hell or another might resemble a spiked iron ball from days of yore. Note the wide variety at right.

This is not accidental. Let us step through the history of stone surgery, beginning with a prehistoric account.

Percutaneous Nephrostolithotomy

Ogg and his common-law wife, Uma, lived in the fruitful plains of nowhere important. Ogg had been a good provider, but recently, he’d experienced horrible, sharp pains in his lower back that felt like he’d been clobbered by a stegosaurus tail.

Sometimes the hurt grew so excruciating, he passed out, once with his chin in a patty of dinosaur dung. These painful episodes made Ogg very cranky, much to Uma’s annoyance.

He figured this was nature’s way of telling him to slow down. Ogg decided to turn his attention to the arts.

Uma was a delicate flower, relatively speaking with curvaceous 136~124~136 proportions. Ogg decided to honor his beloved by carving a life-size statue, which ironically weighed about the same as Uma with comparable warmth.

He took up his stone chisel and began chipping away where Uma said it made her butt look big. Abruptly, pain struck. Ogg writhed, saying “Ook-ah, ook-ah,” which roughly translated means “@$*#%€! Holy crap this hurts.”

Uma, who’d give birth to triplets, Gog, Magog, and Agog, didn’t have patience with Ogg’s whinging and whining. She rolled her eyes and muttered about men acting like babies.

But something inside Ogg shifted. Wracked with blinding pain in the throes of the seizure, he inadvertently chipped off a feature of his wife’s sculpture she much prized. Infuriated, she picked up Ogg’s granite club and bashed him solidly on the brow, which not only removed his mind from the pain, but toppled him backward onto his sharp stone chisel.
morning-star flail

Out popped a jagged, spiked sphere the size of a megalosaurus testicle. Such were often used as balls in caveman soccer, a very challenging game, especially while still attached to the megalosaurus.

“Oof,” said Ogg, with gratitude and relief. He picked up the spiked ball, hefted it, and muttered, “WTF?” which translates to “What the heck?”

Ogg instantly saw the possibilities and attached a chain to the stone ball and that to a heavy stick, creating the morning-star flail and inventing the phrase ‘my ball and chain.’ Now free of pain and armed with a dangerous weapon, he prowled the plains wiping out woolly mammoths and evangelizing the practice of neolithic stone chisel surgery, now part of urology health care plans everywhere.

Cylon jack-hammer
Electro-mechanical Hydraulic/Pneumatic Lithotripsy

The next advance in technology moved from stone chisel surgery to deploying a piston that could physically batter stones into smaller pieces the size of baseballs. In practice, a hairy man in a hardhat and full body armor passes a full-sized jackhammer up the urethra where he chips away while humming Sixteen Tons, entertaining the patient and staff. That’s “patient and staff” as opposed to the “patient’s staff,” which is unlikely to ever work again and forever be a source of agony.

Ultrasonic Shockwave Lithotripsy

Bible school students learn the rousing spiritual ‘Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho’ and the accompanying story, which is considerably more bloodthirsty in the details. (“Listen, Josh, are you sure He said wipe out every man, woman, child, bunny rabbit, puppy and kitten? And babies? And Achan’s family too? You joshing, man?”)

The Israelites marched seven times around the walls, shouted and sang like Yoko Ono, blew their ram’s horn trumpets, and the walls came tumbling down. In urology terms, this is called extra-corporeal shock wave lithotripsy.

That’s how ultrasonic works: You make lots of noise until its volume and frequency crumbles the hard stuff inside your kidney or the building next door. In theory. Some stones it doesn’t work on and it can sure as hell leave your insides bruised and littered like the arena of a demolition derby.

Flexible Pyeloscopy Surgery

Sometime during the Middle Ages, Spanish Inquisitors stumbled upon non-invasive (so to speak) techniques where stones could be tackled by traveling up the ureter. The invention is credited to Bernardo Extirpator XXVIII, a hard-of-hearing and none-too-bright torturer, immortalized by the famous words of his cringing boss as Torquemada lost his cookies. “Pie-hole! Sweet Jesus in Heaven, I said pie-hole!”
xistera

One of the conventional techniques has traditionally been ureteroscopy. The procedure is commonly called ‘basketing’ in which doctors playfully insert into the urethra a xistera, similar to the racquet used to serve 180mph pelota balls in the game of jai alai, except the medical device is about the size of an ordinary laundry basket. This doesn’t give the procedure its name, but afterwards the screaming patient is carried out in a basket.

Rigid Ureteroscopic Lasering

BSG © Garry King 2004
Basket extraction fell out of favor with the advent of Star Wars technology. A ureteroscope, a long, thin peeping device the size of a 37-inch television is sent up the ureter to determine where the stones set up camp. Once located, surgeons call in the big gun, a holmium laser-blasting weapon affectionately called Battlestar Galactica. It vaporizes the stone and the rest of a patient’s resolve not to scream like a 3-year-old.

Note ureteroscopic lasering is not the same as ureteroscopic tasering, invented by Bubba Joe Hadcock when he sat on his newly acquired stun gun. It was subsequently discovered, thanks to his invention, Bubba Joe didn’t have nor ever will have kidney stones. Nor kidneys for that matter. A simple solution to a complex problem.

Clonal Lithography

In its simplest form, the patient’s body is amputated to stop the pain and a replacement grown. Medical technicians cryogenically freeze a patient whilst a clone is fabricated. Conversely for advance planners, a clone may be prepared beforehand and itself cryogenically preserved.

In an in-patient, minimally invasive procedure, the encephalon is transferred in toto to the brain-case of the new host. Patients have been known to immediately resume texting, shopping, complaining about The View, and other normal activities.

The Stent

“Out-patient,” I thought they said but it was “Out-of-your-freaking-mind-patient,” talking about the stent removal. See, at the time of stone removal, they put in a piece of tubing like 3-inch industrial wiring conduit. In the wretched days after blasting the kidney stone, a stent allows pieces to pass through. Sometimes medics issue patients strainers in case the spleen or forgotten medical instruments fall out.

So Dr. Steven Brooks and Nurse Wendy corner me in a room where I hold them at bay with an impromptu lion-tamer chair. It's a swivel chair with spastic casters that would make any self-respecting lion roar with laughter, but my crazed appearance gives them pause.

Dr. Steven Brooks and Nurse Wendy tell me 99% of tough, be-all-you-can-be men opt for out-patient removal of the stent and only a wussy 1% choose being knocked out for hospital removal. Psychology is at work here: As the army knows full well, at the root of male bravery is fear, fear of showing fear. Otherwise, 99% would sensibly choose to be knocked out and wake up the following month fully healed.
automotive parts retrieval tool

So I say okay and put down my improvised lion-tamer chair with its twitching casters. I eye a previously laid-out, sadistic device that looks like an automotive parts retrieval tool, a flexible shaft with a spring loaded handle at one end and a three-prong claw at the other. Silly me, I look at this thing and naïvely wonder how it will slide up.

I say naïvely, because I didn’t realize they would insert yet a terrifyingly larger tube sized to accommodate not merely our automotive parts extractor but a full-grown ferret. I look at the diameters and realize someone hasn’t done the math. A shop vac hose can’t possibly fit up an opening the size of a soda straw, and if it could, no one would ever again sip from that straw.

ferret
@$*#%€! Holy mother of …!

Afterwards, I asked them to just let me lie there a couple of weeks to recuperate as I write these last few words and my will and testament. I hope this technical dissertation helps my fellow layman and laywoman. Meanwhile, my bladder’s shrunk to the size of a pea… Whoops! Wrong word. Gotta go!