The Tao of Doo

In his kind and generous review of my first mystery, DEATH NOTICE, author James Reasoner said the plot was vaguely reminiscent of something found in Scooby-Doo, only played seriously. He meant it as a compliment and I took it Read more


Another October, another release date. Since BAD MOON is my second book, you would think I'd be used to it. But nope, I'm not. BAD MOON's publication date feels as surreal as DEATH NOTICE's did last year. For readers, the Read more

Writing With ... Louise Penny

I am thrilled beyond words to welcome one of my favorite writers, Louise Penny, whose Armand Gamache mysteries have appeared on bestseller lists worldwide.  Her last book, BURY YOUR DEAD, won the Ellis for best mystery in Canada, and Read more

Is Browsing Dead?

I'll be the first to admit that I was a nerdy teenager. Not pocket protector nerdy, but no sports star, either. I was bookish, I guess you could say. I read A LOT back then, and nothing pleased me Read more

Why We Left Earth

Outer space has always been a mystery. Even before mankind fully grasped its vastness, they wanted to go there. Early astronomers, fascinated by the stars, invented ways to get a closer view. Think Copernicus, Galileo, Cassini. Writers not content Read more

Short-Short Story Contest Winner(s)

Posted on by Todd Posted in Just For Fun, Wonderful Web | 3 Comments

A month ago, I asked readers to write a short-short story inspired by this pulp magazine cover from the ’50s.

I received quite a few great entries that spanned all genres, styles and viewpoints. Two stories ultimately stood out for me, not just for their interpretation of the magazine cover but for the way they captured a distinct mood and tone in just a few short sentences. Yet their styles were so completely different that it was impossible for me to choose just one winner.

So I didn’t.

That’s right. I copped out and picked two winning stories. The first winner is Lesann Berry, who took the point of view of the anguished octopus. The second winner is Brian Ferguson-Avery, who approached the theme with surreal humor. Both Brian and Lesann will have an octopus adopted in their names via The World Wildlife Fund. You can learn more about the WWF by going here. For taking part, the other particpants will have $25 donated to the fund in their name.

And now, without further ado, the winning stories:

Rousing the Kraken
by Lesann Berry

The octopus propelled his massive slick body forward in surges, a jet of propulsion emitting a cloud of bubbles in a feathery wake. Primordial and deadly he gnashed the sharp curved edges of his beak, a true leviathan from the deep, called forth by the mortal cries of his brethren.

Kraken’s progress was silent.

Crawling across the seabed, thick curls of muscle undulating, he strategized. To evoke fear he would cloud the water with an inky burst and snake ebony arms around his victim. The puny creature might strike his chromatophoric hide with a sharp blade. It would not save him. Contracted tentacles would clamp hard-edged cups across the man and squeeze, stopping only when the final bubble of oxygen burst from the wretched body. He would disarticulate the remains, tearing the human into sloppy shreds.


Wakened from his dormant repose, cradled deep in the stygian darkness, centuries of animosity would be recompensed. The moment of consequence arrived. Today was atonement time. The world changed during his absence, modern ships were sleek and fast, more powerful than the creaking vessels of old.

No matter.

He would take the men one at a time until they came below no more. Like the sailors of yore spinning wild stories of outlandish beasts, each man would learn respect for Kraken’s might. The human trail of destruction must cease, no longer befoul the clean clear water.

Shadows at the mouth of the cavern shielded his bulk. Tenebrous fingers of gloom provided cover. His target would learn too late to elude his dark embrace. Kraken readied. The indistinct shape of the miniscule boat bobbed far above on the surface.

The overhang of shell encrusted rock dredged up antique memories of aching songs filled with praise that honored his vengeful watchful gaze. Ancient men called him the protector of the seas, but no longer.

The harrowing recall of a more recent day filled his senses.

Ripples of sound carried to the trench depths where he slumbered in cold sightless dark. The pitiful cries wakened him. He smelled blood filtering through the water long before his three hearts sluggishly worked his heavy mass upward. Dim sunlight, blocked by the floating clouds, stained his world maroon. Searching the dimness, he’d collected their remnants gently rubbing over salt grass stems only inches above the pebbled floor of the surf-washed cove. They were descendants of his line, butchered into hunks of severed flesh. Tiny arms with delicate blue-tinged tentacle disks still adhered to the rocks as though clinging for protection.

His anguished scream made the ocean go silent. A glance told the story. The greed of men was unchanged. Senseless violence wreaked on the innocent for the handful of glittering stones plucked from the base of the cliff. Treasure from the wrecked galleon spilled around the reef, three centuries of water movement dispersing the shiny mass into a thin veil.

A human figure plunged into the water, began to descend.

Sentient and patient, Kraken waited.

What I Did on Spring Break, By Dirk Blade
by Brian Ferguson-Avery

I wish I’d have pledged Beta Chi.  There, they just suspend you from a tree and coat you in syrup and Coco Puffs and send the pictures to your girlfriend.  Here, I have to work kitchen shifts in the faculty dining room. My first year at Bayside University has turned out to be no day at the beach.

I’m waiting on Professor Ritter. He’s our fraternity advisor as well as my composition instructor. And what a hard-ass! He threatened to fail my essay that I’d plagiarized from an adventure magazine. “Write my order down, Blade. And spelling counts.”

I tell him we’re out of the sushi.  He folds his hands over his menu and smiles. “We both know where you can get more. Otherwise,” and he holds up an imaginary red pen, “see you next semester.”

So I don the wetsuit (magenta and red — university colors) and dive for free-range seafood. The mako sharks are too swift; my knife is too dull for fugu; and every other fish reminds me of Finding Nemo.  I’m about ready to gig a sorry-looking sea cucumber when I feel the tentacles wrap my ankle. 

I’ve felt these suction cups before. Ever since I beat him out for Homecoming King and class president, he’s dogged me.  It’s like this each time we meet.  The beast pulls me into his clutches.  I gasp, “Curse you, Seth O’LaPod!”  Through the bubbles at the top of my aquamask, my words emerge as “Blug blubble gub!”

He clicks his beak at me. “Sklorjuk!  X!ux!  Cracken-clack!” 

It probably means, “Curse you, Dirk Blade, for blackballing my place on the varsity football squad!” but it could also be Octopish for, “Yummy!”

I stab with my knife, but it can’t penetrate the creature’s rangy flesh. His eight tentacles outnumber my two arms, and I was never good at math. One encircles my torso, almost tender in its thick embrace.  Through the inky gloom — either he’s released his defense mechanism, or I’m blacking out — I see bloodshot eyes. 

“You’ve pulled your last all-nighter, Seth!” 

I strike at the iris closest to me.

Freed, I drift to the surface.  I reach the wharf and fresh, sweet air just as the aquamask breathes its last. 

“Get yourself back to the kitchen, Blade!” Professor Ritter tosses a glass of ice water in my face.  

“I nearly died, and all for your appetizers!”

“Quit whining.  I hired a new guy to help you.  He’ll join you in a minute.”

I stumble into the galley. I stand weakly at the sink and scrub out chowder bowls and ramekins.  As my shift drags on, I actually look forward to thinking about starting my essay.

I feel a tap on my shoulder. I turn. There, in a pool of rank bilge, stands Seth O’LaPod. 

“You!” I exclaim.                                               

“Your help arrives, Dirk Blade.”  He laughs in aquatic English. 

I reach for a crab fork.  It’s going to be a long evening.

Favorite Movie Posters

Posted on by Todd Posted in Musings | Comments Off on Favorite Movie Posters

Movie posters, just like book covers, have one simple purpose: Sell a product. That’s all they need to do. That’s all they’re expected to do.

Occasionally, though, something strange happens. The poster or book cover artist captures the imagination and creates something wonderful and unique. In the process of trying to sell a certain product, art is accidentally made.

Below are ten examples of movie poster work at its finest and why I love them.

THE IDES OF MARCH: Haven’t seen this poster before? That’s probably because it was just revealed yesterday. But, wow, what an image! The story of a campaign aide and a presidential candidate gets everything right, from the eerie split images of stars Ryan Gosling and George Clooney to the headline of the Time magazine cover also serving as the film’s tagline. An instant classic.

THE GOONIES: I admit, I picked this one for sentimental reasons. I loved this movie as a kid and the image of that ragtag group of friends hanging from a cave ceiling sparked my imagination big time. But it’s also a great example of the de facto movie poster style of the late seventies and early eighties. Gorgeously illustrated. Over the top. Completely indelible.

Speaking of illustrated movie posters, this is the one that defined Hollywood epics for the rest of time. This is big, bold, brash — just like the film itself. And that image of Vivien Leigh bursting out of her scarlet (get it?) dress while preparing to be kissed by Clark Gable against the orange sky of a burning Atlanta is still scorching more than 70 years later.

HALLOWEEN: Sometimes, simple is better. And you can’t get anymore simple than this sharp knife/jack-o-lantern mashup. In one spare image, the view learns everything he needs to know about the movie — Halloween. Big knife. ‘Nuff said.

ANATOMY OF A MURDER: Saul Bass was probably the greatest designer of opening credits that Hollywood will ever see. He was also a damn fine movie poster artist. Let’s review the evidence: Crude, but effective, silhouette? Check. Masterful use of typography? Check. Off-kilter blocks of bold color that bisect the poster? Check. The verdict: A masterpiece.

JAWS: My only complaint about this original one-sheet is that you don’t need all that text telling you who’s in it and what it’s based on. The image of that gargantuan shark hurtling toward our unsuspecting swimmer is enough. It helped turn Jaws into a smash hit, spawned more imitators than any other poster in film history and will forever make people swimming in the ocean wonder what’s lurking just beneath the surface.

VERTIGO: Saul Bass again, this time illustrating Hitchcock’s fever dream/confessional of psychosis and obsession. The doomed couple plummeting into that vortex would be enough for any poster. Yet Bass layers on his trademark typefaces and puts it all against an orange background that’s as unusual as it is perfect.

FUNNY GAMES: I have no idea why director Michael Haneke remade his 1997 thriller about a family tortured by two teenagers. I haven’t seen the movie and I probably never will. But it gave us this poster, a heart-stopping close-up of tear-streaked Naomi Watts. It gets extra props for putting the type near the center of the poster, letting the brutal, beautiful image fill the frame. Unforgettable.

FARGO: Leave it to the Coen brothers to take all the innocence out of needlepoint. This wholly original movie about crime and punishment in the frozen north needed an equally original poster. It leaves the viewer both stunned and amused. Did they really just reproduce a brutal crime scene in needlepoint? Yes. Yes, they did.

THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS: This poster is so well-known that it’s easy to forget just how revolutionary it was at the time of the film’s release. The Oscar-winning star’s face is hazy and barely recognizable. Her eyes feel like they’re staring right into your soul. Her mouth is covered by a moth with a skull on its back. And there’s something strange about that skull that might warrant a much closer look. The result is startling, electric, hypnotic. Pure movie poster perfection.

Writing With … Jennifer Hillier

Posted on by Todd Posted in Writing With | 5 Comments

Today, I welcome Jennifer Hillier, author of the new thriller CREEP. Jennifer Hillier was born in Toronto, which is where she spent the first three decades of her life. When her husband was offered a transfer to Seattle, she didn’t know which would be worse: leaving Canada or moving to the West coast. She spent her first few months on American soil bemoaning her existence and writing her first novel. Now nicely settled in the Pacific Northwest, the only thing she misses — other than family and friends — is snow.

Q. Tell us about your book and what inspired you to write it.

CREEP is a psychological thriller about a sexually addicted college professor who is stalked and terrorized by her teaching assistant, who’s also her former lover. I wanted to write a novel that focused on a protagonist who makes mistakes. Sheila, the college professor in CREEP, is intelligent, kind, and loving — and she’s also a sex addict who engages in an affair with her teaching assistant. She makes terrible choices which might get her killed. Can she dig herself out of the mess she’s created for herself? Can she learn from her mistakes and redeem herself? Can readers root for a protagonist who’s seriously flawed? Those were some of the questions I wanted to explore. And, of course, I wanted to write a good old-fashioned serial killer story on top of it all.

Q. Did you need to do any special research for the book? If so, what’s one of the most interesting facts you discovered?

My villain, Ethan, likes to play around with disguises, so I spent some time researching silicone masks and special effects movie makeup. I watched quite a few YouTube videos and was freaked out by how real some of these transformations can be. You know how you can buy rubber masks at Halloween that cost around thirty dollars? You can also buy masks that cost thousands of dollars, and it’s scary how real they look.

Q. Many people are content to just be readers. How did you become a writer?

When I was a little kid, my Dad refused to read me bedtime stories because he thought it would be more fun and interesting to make them up. So for years, that’s what we did together every night before bed. As I got older, still bitten by the storytelling bug, I started to make up stories on my own and write them down.

Q. What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

I work from home all day, so I relish every opportunity to get out of the house. I love exploring new restaurants, going shopping, and spending time with friends and family. I also love to travel, and I try and get back to Toronto a few times a year.

Q. What are you reading right now?

I’m in between books at the moment. I just finished THE HELP by Kathryn Stockett, and GOOD IN BED by Jennifer Weiner (every so often I crave reading books that are completely outside my genre, and these two fit the bill perfectly). But I just bought Will Lavender’s DOMINANCE and Jon Ronson’s THE PSYCHOPATH TEST, so I’ll be starting those this week.

Q. If you were stranded on that proverbial deserted island, what five books would you want to have with you?

IT by Stephen King (my favorite King book), FIGHT CLUB by Chuck Palahniuk, THE HUNGER GAMES trilogy by Suzanne Collins (I’m going to cheat and count this as one big book!), THE PRINCESS BRIDE by William Goldman and a nice, fat textbook describing exactly what I need to do to survive on this proverbial deserted island.

Q. What’s your favorite movie?

The Shawshank Redemption is my all-time favorite. A close second would be The Princess Bride, and tied for third would be Fight Club and Almost Famous.

Q. What’s your favorite food?

Chocolate. And if it’s wrapped in pastry, so much the better.

Q. Cats or dogs?


Q. Name one thing that people would be surprised to learn about you.

I may write thrillers, but I’m the biggest scaredy cat you’ll ever meet. I jump at the slightest sound, and when my husband’s not home, I have to sleep with the lights on. It’s pathetic, really.