Is there a silver lining in the American election? I think so.

Here are my  thoughts after last night’s win: there are some silver linings we shouldn’t lose sight of. There was no revolt in the streets,  and no armed insurrection, which I feared might follow a Clinton victory. I worried that if elected, Clinton would be assassinated. That’s a relief.

With Trump having the Oval Office and GOP in control of House and Senate, the GOP will have no excuse when it can’t execute Trump’s agenda or live up to the hype he’s created.

And, since he’s fundamentally incapable of being briefed and doesn’t read, he won’t like the job he was given and is unlikely to do it well. Dissatisfaction will rise quickly from those who trusted him to bring change and those who try to advise him and are dismissed out of hand. Expect lots of of turnover. He owes nothing to the GOP but they don’t owe him anything either; knives will be out.

The media, which found him so amusing and then created a false equivalency between him and Clinton won’t do that anymore: they will cover the mistakes and missteps without the white noise. We’ll get more accurate coverage and less partisan screaming.

If we’re lucky, the media will pay less attention to polls. Maybe they’ll even be banned altogether. Wouldn’t that be something? Right now, people make decisions based on the equivalent of astrology. At the very least, there will be more skepticism about their reliability.

And finally, it gives the Democrats time to find new blood and rebuild, knowing that Trump can’t serve any longer than the eight year maximum term. He may not make it for the first four. He’s the type, if he dislikes it, to simply quit. It’s not an easy job for anyone, particularly someone as thin-skinned as he is. He’s 70 years old; he has already physically aged as a result of this campaign. Governing will age him quickly. Just look at Obama and Bush.

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Bob Bickford and me at Arnprior Library!

Had a lovely authors’ event at the Arnprior Library last week. It was a terrible night out (pouring rain) but about 20 people came out to ask questions. (Bob’s a local author so I’m sure that’s why the good turnout). I brought a dozen chalk outline cookies with me, courtesy of Holland’s Cake and Shake (thanks Michael!)  and they were snarfed up in seconds. Here are some pics,  courtesy of Karen deLuca.


The library always does up a great poster. Karen deLuca, the librarian, asked us to sign it; apparently the library posts them up even after the event (thanks, Karen!).


Bob was a little nervous about appearing in front of a home town crowd, as you can see from his expression. I can’t remember the question, but we got some great ones (clearly I’m a little pensive in this shot!).

We were asked if we believed in ghosts, since we both write about them (I don’t, Bob does), and who our target audience is. (I said I write for myself,  primarily; Bob says he writes for readers.) And as always, lots of questions about the writing process itself, and what inspires us.

We did have an interesting back and forth about where our characters go when we’re not writing about them. I think we both felt that we channel them, and that their stories are already out there for us to discover and then polish until we get them right. I used the analogy of the seance where the medium sees a male figure but struggles to figure out if it’s a husband or son or someone’s brother; there’s a lot of guesswork involved for sure until the picture emerges more clearly.



It’s my second time speaking at the Arnprior Library as part of Ottawa Writers Fest festivities; I hope to be invited back! (And if you haven’t yet done so, grab a copy of Bob’s book, Deadly Kiss. I blurbed it for him, and really enjoyed it. He says there are four more on the way.Four! )


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Book signing and astro-navigation and the power of stars.

I was at Carlingwood Mall today signing books at Coles and as always, I met some really lovely people. One was an  elderly gentleman who came over to chat with me – he was having trouble walking and shuffled about with a cane, but he was the kind of man who cared about his appearance, with his white hair and his carefully coordinated, neatly pressed suit and tie. coles-1

He told me he had worked on the first computer in Canada back in 1951 and that it was almost the size of Coles itself, but that it wasn’t much more than a glorified slide rule.

As we chatted, I learned he had been an engineer, that he had travelled to China, that he spoke six languages, including Ojibway and Inuktitut, and that he had once sailed the Atlantic steering only by the stars.

Getting old was horrible, he said, and shook his head: he couldn’t remember things the way he used to, and he just wanted a book to escape with. He’d done enough thinking, he said; he’d done nothing but think for a lifetime.

“It sounds like you’ve had an amazing life,” I said, and he agreed, but he thought it was ironic that a man who used to steer by the stars — an astro-navigator, he called it– couldn’t make his way around a shopping mall. He’d taken off all his clothes one night last week,  he said, “I can do that, since I live alone” — and lay on the grass and looked up at the stars. He couldn’t remember their names anymore but he still recognized them, and I had the sense of the stars, of the sky, as being his companion over the decades.

He decided to buy a book, and I signed it for him, and he left, and then he  came back  a few minutes later and said his name was John, and that it translated into Chong in Chinese, and that the person who had told him that — “a travel guide, or Chinese espionage agent, as they all are” had joked with him that they must be related. “It is one of 100 family names in China,” he said. “It meant I was related to millions of people,” and he laughed at the thought of being their cousin.

He pointed out the banner across from Coles that said “Welcome to China” and taught me how to read the Chinese symbols beneath the words that meant “Middle” and “Jade” and said because Jade was imperial that meant “Middle Kingdom,” because that’s how the Chinese see themselves.

And then he thanked me in several different languages, including Ojibway, and said he was sure he’d enjoy reading UMBRELLA MAN, and went on his way.

He was a fascinating man with the kind of effortless brilliance  and humour that made me wish I’d met him in some other parallel universe when he was younger or  I was older, the kind of man who makes you think about ageing and loneliness and the power of stars. I think — I hope– he’ll like Hector Apiro.

Before I left Coles, shortly after the book signing ended, Keith, one of the employees there handed me this letter that was sent by a Vancouver reader  named Frank back at the end of September . It made the rest of my day memorable too– all in all, a very nice day.  fan-letter

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A reader asks: why did I change the place names in Havana for my series?

I had a comment today on the blog from a German reader who pointed out that the place names I’d used for a hotel and bar in The Beggar’s Opera were inaccurate and wondered if I’d changed them for a reason.The answer is yes.

The bar is a very famous one in Havana and its name has been trademarked by a US company that has a bar of the same name in the US. (I’ve also seen the same name on a bar in the Czech Republic.) I contacted the US corporation to see if they had any problems with me using the real name as I knew the book would be published in the US, and they said not as long as there weren’t any negative connotations to its use. If it was connected to an assault, however, that could be troublesome.

Since the fictional bar is the site for prostitution and a tourist being drugged, I decided to change it to something else to avoid potential liability. (I know we have disclaimers that say the characters and events are fictitious, but I wasn’t satisfied that was enough.)

But that also got me thinking. What if I used the real names of these locations and readers believed these kinds of things really happened at them? That really wouldn’t be fair to these wonderful establishments, so I decided that I’d rather fictionalize the names. I also renamed a famous alley in Havana as well as the hotel and the park across the street.

The reader also wondered why I referred to a “Mariachi-style” bands instead of SON, and pointed out that Mariachi bands are Mexican. Yes, that’s true. But the point of view I was writing in at the time was from a tourist who wouldn’t know the difference.

I appreciate readers’ questions and am always happy to answer! I decided to answer this question right on the blog as I’m sure other readers who have been to Cuba wondered as well.

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Updates! I’m Back!

I am finally emerging from the blue funk of all the tragedies and mishaps that bedevilled me this summer. I don’t know if any of you have ever had a relentless series of bad luck but it’s exhausting. I’d hit the point where I was almost afraid to leave the house because I didn’t know what I’d find when I got back. But slowly, things are returning to normal. Or the new normal, I guess.

I’m starting to feel my old energy coming back after a month or two of being flattened by life’s random, arbitrary gut-wrenching stomach punches. (Although my brother Mike,  who had the terrible cycling accident in August,  doesn’t think they’re random at all. He often says he thinks  that God is actually out to get us at times. It sure felt that way this summer.)

Mike is at home and walking again, and seems to be mending incredibly well from his injuries, which is great news. He had a couple of weeks where he couldn’t move his right foot, so we were all pretty worried.

Manotick Tree Farms came out on Thursday to plant  a new birch tree in the front yard to replace the big healthy one that the other tree service cut down by mistake. It may be skinny and a bit leggy but it makes me ridiculously happy to look out the second floor window and see leaves again, however sparse. She’s got a good home. I hope she thrives here.

The roof has been repaired from all the damage caused when my huge honey locust tree came down in the back yard during the storm.

(So sweet: the guy who came out to do an assessment  from Sanderson Roofing told me I looked like I needed a hug after I told him what had happened. He climbed up on the roof to take a look and a few minutes later, I heard “bam-bam-bam”. He came back down and told me they’d decided to go ahead and fix it for me while they were here rather than send out a crew. He only charged me for a one hour service call.)

I have a downspout that was crushed and an eavestrough that still needs to be replaced but nothing urgent.

With that 35 year old giant honey locust gone (you can see part of the three foot stump under the wooden teepee),  I am planting sun-loving perennials and I also had new sod installed. Making lemonade, as they say, out of lemons. (Not sure what to do about that poor little sadsack ornamental to the left of the flagstone path – the tree guys knocked off most of its branches when they were removing the honey locust. I’m inclined to give it a chance and see if it can generate new ones.)



I’ve even started picking away at a new Charlie Pike novel (if it works, it could be the start of a new series). The story has Charlie back up north to investigate a cold case that’s caused another blockade put up to block logging near Manomin Bay. While he’s there, he finds a stray dog that he takes in. There’s a local psychic involved. Does she really see ghosts or is she making things up? Still sorting that one out.

And I have sent off the historical fiction ms – THE PEACE WOMAN’S DAUGHTER – that  I’ve been slogging away at for three (yes, three) years to my freelance editor, Alex Schultz, to see if it’s finally ready to pitch. I sure hope so.

Event-wise, I will be at Chapters Gloucester today from 1 to 3, at Coles in Carlingwood on October 15th from 11-2 and at the Arnprior Library with the brilliant Bob Bickford on October 20th at 7 PM. (Bob’s debut novel, DEADLY KISS, is mind-blowing. And particularly timely, in light of what’s been going on in the US with #BlackLivesMatter. It’s based on a true story of a black boy who was lynched for daring to kiss a white girl. Lovely writing, great plot. Loved the story.)

Anyway, if you’re around those areas on any of those dates, drop by to say “hi”! Always nice to see friendly faces, particularly after a summer like this one.


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Taking a break.

I haven’t posted for a while, and I’m going to make this my last post for the foreseeable future. I had a brother pass away this summer from terminal cancer. A few days later, another brother was in a terrible cycling accident (fractured vertebrae, broken ribs, bleeding on the brain). He couldn’t move one foot for about a week, but thank God, he’s  recovering.

All of this happened while I was in the middle of the stress of renovating an investment condo, so it was pretty overwhelming.

I left for the cottage for a few days last weekend to take a breather and came back to find a huge tree in the back yard had come crashing down on the roof. I asked the tree service that came to remove it if they could trim my beloved birch in the front yard; they cut it down by mistake. Pretty heartbreaking.

So the operative word for this summer has been uncontrollable, unwelcome change, and  I’m finding it’s all a bit much. I’m at that point where I would like to just crawl into bed and wake up to find out that everything’s back to normal, but of course, that isn’t going to happen. On the book front, needless to say, the last thing I’ve had on my mind is writing, or doing book events. I’m tired.

So I’ll be suspending this blog for a few weeks or more. I  don’t have any news to report anyway. UMBRELLA MAN wasn’t the big break through novel we’d all hoped for. It’s had great reviews, but in this world,  it’s all about sales. Right now I don’t have the heart to do the marketing required to promote it. With everything on my plate at the moment, I just have to remind myself that in the big picture, it’s just a book.  I have other priorities to attend to.

I trust you all understand. Wish me luck; I could sure use some.

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Toronto Star review of Umbrella Man!

Jack Batten of the Toronto Star reviewed Umbrella Man in today’s paper, and here’s what he had to say: Nice!

review toronto star

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Nice end to a bleak week.

It’s been a rough week in many ways, and so it was nice to have a bit of good news for a change. Margaret Cannon reviewed Umbrella Man  in The Globe and Mail book section today. Here’s what she had to say:

Peggy Blair’s Inspector Ramirez series gets better with every book. An Ottawa lawyer, Blair has a real knack for using her Havana setting, with its eccentricities born of necessity, as both a charming backdrop and a real guide to plot lines. This time out, Ramirez begins with a confrontation with Mama Loa. The witch doctor says people in the sky are going to die. Ramirez isn’t convinced. There hasn’t been a murder in Havana in weeks and who cares about clouds in the sky? When the prophecy kicks in (expertly done) there’s not just one, but several connected killings and yes, the sky is there, too. But this is no local curse or a shot of voodoo. This is plain old-fashioned KGB-CIA hit man-style killing. That makes it political, not personal, and Ramirez knows he’s on borrowed time.

I think I should get her to write my blurbs from now on! Thanks, Margaret!


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