Questions Asked of Authors, Pt 1

Dragon in flight in Western Skyrim

No matter what genre we write in, authors are always asked, “Where do you get your ideas?” For us, the answer is more simplistic than our readers want to accept.

“Everywhere.”

“No, but really.” Is a common reply.

We really do get ideas from everywhere. From a snippet of an overheard conversation. From a headline glanced while we wait in line to pay for our groceries. I once got a story title from a sound I heard in the woods, that still defies explanation. I thought it sounded like a sneezing moose. Do moose sneeze? I suppose they must. And off I went on a thoughtful sideroad about why a moose might sneeze. What might they be allergic to? And so on.

My Eldest Son (as I have always referred to him online) got me playing The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim and Elder Scrolls: Oblivion. I don’t play as much as many people have, I’m fairly sure I don’t have a hundred played hours logged over both games. But Skyrim, most especially, lights my imagination on fire! There are numerous quests a player can undertake, or they can choose to just explore. One can stick to the roads, or choose to wander the mountains and valleys following their gut. Or they can follow a harsh, snowy and windswept coast. A player can choose to travel alone or travel with companions, or they can join one, or all of, the multiple factions. There are even more choices available if one installs “mods”, program upgrades, modifications to the game that can enhance or change the game experience. This is only a rough explanation, but I mention it because these mods (of which there are hundreds) can be inspiring as well. Many gamers, including an 82-year-old great-grandmother, have been so inspired by their gameplay that they’ve gone on to write stories based on their adventures in Skyrim’s provinces. Myself included.

Many others look at the stories we’ve already been told and try to imagine how the story might have played out from a different character’s perspective. This is popular especially with fables, fairy tales, and legends. Often, a story inspires us to rewrite it so that one character might get justice, or be forced to deal with the consequences of their actions, or write the tale with a completely different ending. Songs too are a great source of inspiration – both lyrics and the mood the melodies inspire. Some authors imagine their pets as characters, while others like to play with possible futures or alternate history. Even the mighty Stephen King has done this.

So if you ever ask an author where they get their ideas from and you think they’re dismissing you if they tell you “Everywhere”, consider that perhaps they’re telling you the truth. Maybe they are one of the lucky ones whose ideas and inspiration flit around them as thick as a mob of insects.

If you could ask an author anything, what would it be? Leave your questions in the comments section!

Introducing Uclandia

Uclandia is a single continent that has been separated into four Provinces all centered around one city. The city of Emperors – Imperial City.

Provincial borders have moved from time to time as the rulers lost ground or took it to suit their purposes through the ages. Uclandia’s various Emperors may or may not have taken notice.

This is a land rich in history, Gods, Goddesses and Saints.

It’s also about to be thrown into upheaval to suit the power-hungry whims of one woman who will fight for absolute rule. Over everything.


Banern Province is the Northern-most province, whose capital city is Wintershire

High in the mountains, it’s cold, windy, and generally not an easy place to live. Not much grows there. What Banern is known for, other than the cold, is its Habgar farms. Habgars would be most closely related to your goats. Only larger.

Banern Province exports Habgar fur, meat, and horn as well as silver, nickel, and various gemstones.

Uisgern Province (pronounced whis-gern) is in the east of Uclandia. The capital city is Eras.

This province is sunny, breezy, and generally pleasant to live in, although they can have fierce storms in the winter. Uisgern is home to fisherfolk, net makers, boat builders, artists, and instrument makers.

Uisgern exports fish, dried seaweed, pearls, various vegetables such as Praitubers, and leafy plants such as Vanasoom, which is used to make a tea-like drink.

The College of Kinderven is in Eras.

Glasgern is the Southernmost province in Uclandia, and the capital city is Fasach.

This province is known for its humid, tropical environment and the forests that grow there.

Glasgern exports wood, both common and exotic, and alchemy ingredients such as Tomba bark and lichens, tree flowers, and seoda mead.

Glasgernians whose families have lived there for multiple generations tend to have a bit of a dusky skin-tone, (think of a deep tan on our world)

Luingern Province (pronounced Loo-in-gern) stands at the Western flank of Uclandia. The capital city there is Fort Fairadell.

This Province makes use of two distinct regions within its borders and exports herbs, vegetables, copper, and a unique type of metal only made in Luigern Province. It is said to have different patterns depending on whose forge it was made at and never dulls. Fort Fairadell is the birthplace of the current Emperor, Fergus Euradech. Luingern Province is bisected by a line of low mountains, The Chonaic Ridge, which separates the Province into a green and lush seaside region, and dry, hard land on the interior side of the mountains.

Which province would you want to live in?

Next time, I’ll introduce you to some of the folk that call Uclandia home.

Hunting Gold ~ A Book Review

I love all of the Cantor Gold novels, but I’ve been remiss in reviewing them properly.

Something I’ll be correcting in the days to come.

Hunting Gold” by Ann Aptaker is the latest installment in Cantor Gold’s adventures, and the most gripping one yet!

Cantor Gold stands out. For her wardrobe choices, her background and her scars. But while she is dapper and charming, she also hides a tortured heart. She’s made enemies too, lots of them. But she also has a loyal few friends. They become her lifeline while she’s being targeted and thrust into the police spotlight, forcing Cantor to make an alliance she would never have expected, just to stay on the right side of the law. Which for her, is a bit of an anomaly.

This installment in Cantor’s series is more fast-paced than the others. Someone is clearly targetting Cantor and they don’t give her a moment’s peace to stop and figure things out. They just keep killing and thrusting her into the middle of it.

Hunting Gold is darker than the other books in this series, and considering the last book, that’s really saying something. With every installment in this series, the pressures are greater, the stakes are higher and the potential for loss to Cantor goes far beyond the art she somehow smuggles. 

So don’t read this if you’re looking for fluff. Read this if you want terrific, gritty wordscapes. Read this if you want something different in your books. Read this if you want to be plunged headlong into a fast-paced fight to prove Cantor’s innocence. If you want to be sucked into a world of crime, demanding criminal kingpins and characters that won’t let go long after you’ve turned the light out.

If you’re already a fan of Cantor Gold, you’ll love this book.

If you aren’t, you can absolutely enjoy this book without needing to read the others, but you’ll want to when you’re done with Hunting Gold. Go to Bywater Books and get all of them.

If you’ll pardon me, I have to go lift a glass of Chivas Regal in Cantor’s honor.

Hang On, We’re Pivoting!

Sometimes, a book is a little like an omelet.

It’s made of different layers of goodness. Characters, setting, motivations, clues…it all makes a hefty thing you can’t wait to sink your teeth into…you think.

But as you wait for this gargantuan thing to cook, and be done, you can’t help but think ‘It’s taking too long. What’s wrong with it?’ And then, you come to a stunning realization.

You don’t love it as much as you should. You lose your appetite for it. And you feel bad. So you turn the stove off and your creation just…sits there. You go away for a little bit, hoping to come back to it once you think you love it again. But you just don’t.

And that’s where I found myself with Body In The Bush. Which is why it has been months since you’ve heard from me. For which I apologize.

I went off and wrote some different things. Things that I’ll be sharing with you in the very near future. Things that are quite different from crime fiction, that’s for sure!

You know how a basketball player plants one foot on the court and pivots to throw off the guy guarding the net? That’s what I’ve done. I’ve pivoted. I have set crime fiction aside and have been playing in the fantasy realm again. And it has been FUN, my friend, with a capital FUN!

I’m a few chapters into a new story that involves swords, made-up worlds and…here, let me show you…

Naledi Meridian has killed a man, and for that, she has been banished.

His death was entirely unintentional. She was hacking away at the goblin, slipping in its blood, falling back under the weight of it, and her Guild-Brother stepped in too close.

There was no time to stop the arc of her sword as they locked gazes. Her blade was already on the way down. She was horrified to see it slice through his neck before it killed the goblin too.

It makes no difference that she was consumed with dismay at the ghastly thing she’d just done.

And so very sorry.

Her Brothers and Sisters in the Protectors Guild will no longer speak to her. They have banished her from the Guild House.

Naledi travelled to the house of his widow, in order that she might give her the share of the money she was paid for the job. She refused to speak to Naledi as well. So the tall fighter dropped the coins into the palm of the warrior’s young son and left.

Naledi travelled for a few days to speak to the head of the Protectors Guild. She was hard to track down, considering Naledi was no longer welcome in any of the Protectors Guild Houses. But they eventually crossed paths. She wouldn’t listen to Naledi’s side of the horrible fight, she was so filled with rage that Naledi had taken that poor man’s life. She told her that if there was any hope of redemption at all, it would come at a cost. Twenty bear pelts. 

And so Naledi was banished until her return with twenty bear pelts.

But I suppose I should backtrack somewhat in my tale and explain who Naledi was and why she was in the Protectors Guild…

And there you have it…the beginning of A Throne Built On Stars.

If you enjoy a good tale with swords and magic, you’ll like this one. If you like political intrigue, machinations, greedy rulers with a thirst for more power and cold ale, you’ll like this one.

I hope you’ll hang around and get to know Naledi. But in the meantime, shout out in the comments section and let me know if you like fantasy, or if you’re outta here.

Ted Bundy Was Not Skilled With Skates & A Stick!

I’ve been writing my mystery novel, “Body In The Bush” for so long now, I’m not even sure how long it’s been. For most of that time, I’ve had the idea to also produce a “murder book”.

You see, one of the characters is a vigilante killer who is unnamed for most of the book. Their chapters are written from a different point of view than the rest of the book in order to put us into their head. To “ride-along”, in a sense. One of the things that I find interesting is that this character wasn’t planned. While I have notes on all the other major characters, I have none on this character. They just stepped from the ether one day, slightly twisted and whispering in my ear what they were going to do.

You hear authors sometimes talk about how they were woken by some brilliant idea, but it had never happened to me…my sleep is far too fractured and messed up for that.

But one night, it actually happened!

I was so glad that I’d kept the notebook and pen beside the bed, I scribbled it out in my haste to get it all down before the dream I’d seen it in disappeared. (For the record, I don’t remember my dreams often, so when I do, it’s a big deal.)

For reference, this was before any of us knew what COVID was.

In the dream, I saw my vigilante adding little mementos, trophies really, to this photo album with a peaceful gaze. A scrap of denim from the drug dealer that should never have been released from jail, a bit of hair from the wife-beater…you get the idea. I saw the album as the sort of thing that teenage girls used to keep back in the 50s. Ticket stubs from concerts, maybe a lock of hair from the boy they carried a torch for, a photo of the movie star or singer they crushed on…do teenage girls still do this? My point is, I could see this vigilante killer/serial killer keeping their little trophies, and I could easily envision this as a very real, physical and tangible item that a reader could actually hold. But who would want such a thing?

Off to the web, I went. Apparently, the collecting of such items is known as murderabilia, and it’s an insanely popular thing! I spent a few minutes roaming through serialkillershop.com becoming more horrified the further I went. I’m worried someone would find my prop in bad taste, yet I could buy a t-shirt that says, “I had a killer time at the Jim Jones Kool-Aid festival”. Oh my God! At least my collection is fictional!

Over at the Murder Museum, one can buy a vial of dirt from Jeffrey Dahmer’s childhood home, wood pieces from Ted Bundy’s cellar, a lock of Charles Manson’s hair and an extracted tooth from Hadden Clark for $666.00! (Because of course it would be $666)

Why would anyone pay money for these things?!

It has been pointed out to me that this sort of collecting isn’t too far off other collections. 

I disagree. I think there’s a world of difference between collecting pens that past Presidents & Prime Ministers used to sign documents into law and serial killer’s teeth! This isn’t Sidney Crosby’s hockey card we’re talking about. Ted Bundy is famous because he was evil, not because he was skilled with skates and a stick!

So I don’t feel so bad about the “murder book” prop that I’d like to create one day. I envision auctioning it off to benefit charity. Maybe my local food bank or shelter for abused women & their children.

What’s your take on all this?

What Crime Scene Tape & School Buses Have In Common

The detective flashed her credentials to the officer standing guard near the flapping yellow crime scene tape. He nodded briskly, raindrops flying off the end of his nose, and lifted the crime scene tape for her to duck under.

It seems like crime scene tape has been around forever. Both a barrier and a warning, it is a psychological tool and method of control. Did you know that in some parts of the United States, you can be arrested fined and imprisoned for crossing the tape? Can’t you just see two inmates sitting around a table in the prison cafeteria…one turns to another and says, “What are you in here for? Assault? Gunrunning?” The second one turns, red-faced and replies, “I ducked under police tape…”

Seriously though, the more people there are wandering around a crime scene, the more contaminated that scene will get, according to ‘Locard’s Theory of Transfer’.

Edmond Locard was a French criminologist, perhaps the first CSI. In 1910, The French Police allowed Locard to create the first crime investigation laboratory, thereby making him the first crime scene investigator. Through his work studying crime, he said that every criminal who commits a crime, leaves a trace. 

Wherever he steps, whatever he touches, whatever he leaves, even unconsciously, will serve as a silent witness against him.

This became known as ‘Locard’s Principle’. 

Put another way, when someone, criminal or not, interacts with a crime scene, even just wandering around, they take some trace away while inadvertently leaving behind some small trace of themselves. Bad for a criminal, good for the investigators. You can see how random people wandering around a crime scene can impact the investigation.

Do you know what crime scene tape and school buses have in common? High-visibility yellow can be easily seen by those who are color-blind. Because of the way light bounces off the rods and cones in our eyes, we see yellow more quickly than red. So even though you would think red would be a more commanding color for barricade tape, yellow is seen more easily and quickly by our eyes. Which is why, in 1939, school buses were mandated to all be painted the same high-visibility yellow shade. 

Back to our crime scene. For investigators, crime scene tape is more useable than say, traffic cones. Tape can be tied to any structure that is pre-existing at the scene, such as a tree or picnic table. It can be taped to the side of a building, across a door, or stapled. It’s lightweight and comes in 1000 foot rolls. 

And for our young rookie guarding the tape in the rain at the opening of this short piece, thankfully, crime scene tape is weatherproof. Too bad he isn’t!

Crime Museum

A&E: Crime Scene Tape, The Back Story

https://www.aetv.com/real-crime/crime-scene-tape-the-back-story

The Scarlet Seed of Death

Jequirity seeds

A small scarlet seed used by jewellers could be an untapped murder tool in the hands of a mystery author.

Jequirity beans, also known as rosary peas, come from the Abrus precatorius bean. These beans contain a protein known as abrin, which is highly toxic to humans. Unfortunately for mystery authors, we don’t know the amount one might need to make another ill. But we do know that symptoms of A. precatorius poisoning might not make themselves known for days.

When symptoms do make themselves known, they may include nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and diarrhea that can worsen and become bloody. Patients might also experience fast heart rate, headache, hallucinations, lethargy, seizures, fever, and organ failure. There is no antidote for abrin poisoning.

Terrible for anyone who has unknowingly eaten any. Quite handy for a mystery author such as myself.

Source: National Capital Poison Center

Because You Never Know…

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Personal situational awareness is being aware of what is happening around you, where you are in relation to other people or things, and what potential threats there might be to your personal safety. Everyone’s situational awareness is individual and potentially different. How we read a situation can be influenced by the type of information we’ve been given, our own experience and whatever distractions are present. Every environment provides unique conditions that will challenge your adaptability. Developing a practice of educating yourself on environmental surroundings is the best way to circumvent preventable threats to you or others.

Knowledge is power, and it’s absolutely true where situational awareness is concerned. 

But if this is all new to you, where does one begin? 

View each new setting as an opportunity to practice situational awareness.

Only use your phone, e-reader or iPod after you’ve determined you’re in an area where it’s safe to do so. Look up occasionally to re-scan your surroundings and make note of any changes. If you’re using headphones, consider using only one, or keeping the volume as low as possible in order to still be able to hear what is going on around you. Going shopping? Make note of where the exits are, and keep track of where the closest one to you is at all times. You might be thinking of a flight attendant at the front of the plane pointing out the exits, and you’d be right. There’s a reason they cover this before the plane leaves the ground. Just in case passengers need to know. “Just in case” happens more often than you might realize. Think of how many shootings have taken place in malls, clubs, schools and movie theaters in recent years. 

Many people have a sense of “personal space” that is usually about five feet. With COVID being an ongoing presence in our lives, personal space has expanded to six feet. Extend your awareness to a range of twenty-five feet if possible. Be hyper-aware of your surroundings. Marines have a saying, “Keep your head on a swivel”. I tell this to my sons all the time. Basically, it means, move your head along with your eyes. Out here in the woods, that applies as much to watching for holes on the trail as it applies to watching for bears. 

When dealing with other people, someone’s hands and face are good indicators of their intent. This includes hands being hidden from view, the downward cast or shifting of eyes, or inappropriate hand gestures or staring. It is during these times that listening to your body’s “gut” feeling can prove beneficial. It might just save your life. 

Good awareness habits should be built into daily activity. Some examples include describing people and places to yourself as you explore locations, identifying and familiarizing yourself with any and all exits, and keeping yourself on alert. Memorize license plates while in traffic or in a parking lot in order to bolster your sense of attentiveness and recollection. If self-defence courses are not an option, consider carrying personal protection such as pepper spray. Robberies and assaults are crimes of opportunity; don’t make yourself an obvious target! 

Practice devising alternate methods of escape if your primary exit becomes unusable. Not just in buildings, but in public transportation, elevators, and even in outdoor environments. This principle can also be applied to travel routes, and being conscious of obstacles, choke points, alternate routes, and so on.

Utilize walls and other barriers to protect your back and sides and maximize your field of vision, taking care not to back yourself into a corner. Practice this in public places, such as restaurants, waiting rooms, or shopping malls. When your range of vision is limited, get creative about ways to expand it and give yourself an advantage – practice utilizing store windows and car windows to detect threats you wouldn’t be able to see otherwise.

Learn to trust your instincts; if something doesn’t “feel right,” there is likely something wrong. Even at work, knowing that an office door locks from the inside or that a desk can be moved to barricade an entrance might be critical in case of a workplace crisis, such as an active shooter. Sudden and unexpected workplace violence has happened more often than you might realize. It happens even up here in “polite Canada”. 

Whatever you do, trust your gut. If you get the sense that something is wrong or doesn’t add up, don’t ignore it. Your instincts exist to protect you – it is always better to be overcautious than to ignore warning signs that turned out to be legitimate. Your gut might keep you from becoming a statistic, or worse, a victim.

Have you ever experienced a time when your gut kept you safe? Alternatively, have you ever been a victim of crime?

Your One Wild & Precious Life

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean –
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down –
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

– Mary Oliver

Murder and Gold~A Review

I wasn’t sure if I would be able to properly enjoy Cantor Gold since I was jumping into the midst of a series without reading the books that came before. But WOW! What a ride!

Cantor is the lesbian Sam Spade I didn’t know I was missing. She’s brave, honourable in her own way and unapologetic. But in this book, someone seems to be setting her up and she’s got her hands full trying to stay ahead of the law and a mob boss she can’t fully trust.

This was my first introduction to Ann Aptaker’s writing, and I’ve come away a  BIG fan. Her pacing is as fast and tense as a roller coaster ride and doesn’t let you breathe even for a minute. I cheered for Cantor every step of the way, even though at the beginning, I didn’t know her. Now? I’d be proud to call Cantor my friend, and I can’t wait to get my hands on the rest of her story while I anxiously await the next book in the series.

Many thanks to Ann for putting Cantor on the page for all of us to enjoy, and to Bywater Books for the review copy.