Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Killers in the Pen, by J.C. Kavanagh


The Twisted Climb 

Book 1 of the award-winning Twisted Climb series


It was known as 'KP' to inmates and guards, but to Canadians, the Kingston Penitentiary was the maximum security jail home to Canada's nastiest criminals. Its 178-year history saw thousands of offenders incarcerated until 2013, when the Canadian government determined that the buildings were not equipped to handle the challenges of modern technology. It was designated a National Historic Site due to, among other things, "the number of its physical facilities of special architectural merit that survive from the 19th century." The penitentiary was then decommissioned and has been operating as a tourist attraction since 2017.

It was during a non-lockdown Covid breaks last autumn, that I made the trip to Kingston to stroll through the most notorious prison in Canada. The 90-minute tour was conducted by a former prison guard who shared a few stories about criminals who escaped the confines of the jail. Most were found, and most found due to their own stupidity. One convict successfully escaped after fooling two separate Wardens but then came back because he forgot to steal the stash of cash one of the Wardens kept in a safe. Another fellow, after successfully escaping, sent the Warden a letter from his 'safe' house and included the address on the envelope. Police were dispatched and the felon was returned to KP in handcuffs and leg irons.

Eerie feeling standing where so many felons have stood.

Construction at the Pen began in 1833 while King William IV reigned over the Commonwealth, which comprised the fledgling Upper and Lower Canada (later the provinces of Quebec and Ontario). The jail was originally one large stone block containing 154 cells in 5 tiers. There were other outbuildings including sheds, stables and separate lodgings for staff, who lived within the gated facility. Back then, the only thing keeping the inmates 'in' and visitors 'out,' was a 12 foot high wooden, picket fence. It was the largest public building in Upper Canada.

In 1835, six inmates were the first to call KP their home. The original cells were 2.4 feet wide, 8 feet deep and 6.7 feet high. A separate cell block housed the female convicts, who laboured as seamstresses. Construction continued as more wings were added containing shops for carpentry, shoemaking, blacksmithing, tailoring and rope making. A permanent hospital was completed in 1849. A central dome, connecting the four cell blocks, was added in 1860. The facility was noted for its architectural beauty.

Inner courtyard.

One of four cell blocks.

The recreation yard.

The front entrance.

The 'Hub' where guards monitored entrances to each cell block.

32 foot limestone walls form the Pen's perimeter

The Pen was known as Canada's Alcatraz and was notorious for housing the worst-of-the-worst criminals in Canadian history, including killers Paul Bernardo, Russell Williams, Michael Rafferty and Mohammad Shafia. (I have chosen not to disclose their heinous crimes.) These offenders were locked up for 23 hours a day in protective custody in the Lower-H cell range. Jail cells for these men were upgraded with plexiglass shields over the metal bars. Why? Two reasons. To prevent other prisoners from hurling objects into the cells and to prevent the killers from hurling their own human waste at the guards. 

Several riots occurred at KP, including the most serious riot in 1971 where inmates held six guards hostage over a period of four days. During this riot, sex offenders were rounded up at The Hub and a mock trial took place with the inmates acting as jurors and executioners. The sex offenders, deemed 'undesirables,' were covered in sheets, shackled to metal chairs and beaten with metal rods by other inmates. Two of these offenders were killed but the guards were not harmed. The majority of these guards, after surviving incarceration by convicts, decided to change careers. 

In the years since that riot, many changes were implemented at the jail, including a substance abuse program, family violence prevention program, AAA meetings, and a progressive educational program. A high school diploma was mandatory - inmates without the certificate were placed in classes where they were paid to attend. All inmates earned $6 per day, whether they were in school or 'working' at one of the many trades taught at the jail.

When the Pen shut down for good, a modern maximum-security facility had already been completed in a neighbouring city. The KP convicts were transferred there.

I've always been fascinated with Canadian history and my tour of the infamous Kingston Penitentiary quenched part of that fascination. Would I go back there? No. Sometimes historical places, even those with majestic architecture, are not worthy of a second visit. The horrors within those walls still reverberate in every metal bar of every cell.

But enough of that. I'd rather write about Book 3 of The Twisted Climb series. What happens to Dick after falling/jumping off the dream world cliff with Jayden and Connor? Has Georgia been saved? And Patty - that wicked mother of Jayden's, what is she doing? So much action. So much drama. Stay tuned.  If you haven't read The Twisted Climb or book 2, Darkness Descends, you need to check it out now. You won't be disappointed.

Stay safe everyone!

J.C. Kavanagh, author of

The Twisted Climb - Darkness Descends (Book 2)
voted BEST Young Adult Book 2018, Critters Readers Poll and Best YA Book FINALIST at The Word Guild, Canada
The Twisted Climb,
voted BEST Young Adult Book 2016, P&E Readers Poll
Novels for teens, young adults and adults young at heart
Twitter @JCKavanagh1 (Author J.C. Kavanagh)
Instagram @authorjckavanagh

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

What is a ‘grammar nazi?’ Mohan Ashtakala


The use of the lower-case word ‘nazi,’ to describe an extremely authoritarian person, came into vogue in the 1950-60’s. It found popular usage in the description of fanatics of all kinds, such as ‘surf-nazis,’ whose zeal in the search for a perfect wave knew no bounds. More recently, audiences were introduced to the ‘soup nazi,’ an ill-tempered restaurant owner who had the habit of throwing customers out of his establishment, in the Seinfeld television series.

A grammar nazi is one who is obsessed with the formal rules of grammar. They are also eager to point out these ‘errors’ in others’ writings. Grammar nazis are usually amateurs with strong opinions on the usage of the rules of grammar. They are not to be confused with professional editors who wield a pen with the same expertise that a Japanese chef uses his trusty knife. The editor’s intent is to help the author refine his or her craft; the grammar nazi is more interested in proclaiming his or her expertise, especially on social media.

One of the issues is that grammar nazis accept only Standard English, while ignoring many other forms of English, such as Black or Asian English. Another defining characteristic of this type is the pointing out of inconsequential errors, usually done by mistake, while diverting attention from the plot itself.

All writers, even editors, make the occasional mistake. It happens. But it would be a mistake to judge writing only by its strict adherence to the rules of grammar. More important to most writers is the ability to create interesting characters, a compelling plot and the construction of well-written sentences.

We have all come across grammar nazis. My experience is that it never pays to engage in an argument or even a discussion with them. It is a losing proposition and only serves to encourage them in spouting further grammatical rules. Best to continue writing!


Mohan Ashtakala ( is the author of The Yoga Zapper, a fantasy, and Karma Nation, a literary romance. He is  published by Books We Love (

Monday, June 14, 2021

Say it with Sheila Claydon

Weather-wise, I don't know what the winter of 2020/21 was like in the rest of the world, but in the UK it was cold and wet, and the dreariness dragged on into spring. When the sun should at least have been trying to shine it stayed tucked away behind a blanket of grey cloud, and the rain kept on falling. The outcome, where I live on the northwest coast, was overflowing ponds, puddles everywhere, and, as the weather warmed slightly, lush grass and greenery. No flowers though. Everything was waiting for the sun to break through. Then it did, and my goodness the wait was worth it.

Too eager to show off, many of the plants burst into bloom before their time so that late winter, spring and the beginning of summer plants have been fighting for space all at once. And the growth is like nothing I've ever seen. Everything has doubled in size thanks to all that winter rain so that gardens are full to overflowing with colour and foliage. 

Waking up in the morning and stepping outside into all that beauty and colour makes every minute of the day worth living. Memories of that long winter are fading fast as another and then another plant bursts into bloom. And eating lunch outside under a pergola drooping with roses and honeysuckle, or drinking coffee in our tiny courtyard where the dramatic leaves of hosta provide a backdrop to pansies, pinks, and campanula is an absolute joy. 

In case you haven't realised it yet, I love flowers! My mother was a florist, which probably accounts for some of it at least, and my book Bouquet of Thorns pulls everything together. I know how to care for flowers because she showed me. I know how florists work because I watched her. And when I married I discovered that my mother-in-law was not only a keen gardener but someone who wanted to share her expertise and knowledge, so my garden now pays tribute to both of them. It has flowers that were originally cuttings from my grandmother's garden, there are plants my mother-in-law bought, planted for me and showed me how to care for, and the tubs and displays, while not as beautiful as the ones my mother would have planted, are as close as I can get. 

In Bouquet of Thorns, Sarah is trying to establish her own flower shop. Unfortunately she also has to manage her brother's run down wine bar when he is awarded a travelling scholarship. Working long hours, using the profits from her own business to prop up the wine bar, and trying to pacify her disgruntled boyfriend, she is too tired to think straight as she lurches from one catastrophe to the next. And even worse is the fact that Sean Marlow, with his Viking warrior beard and piercing blue eyes, always seems to be at the bottom of them.

It's a story about love amongst the flowers. What could be better?

Sunday, June 13, 2021

The Company of Writers


   My site at BWL Publishing


Mercies of the Fallen has just been awarded First Place in the Laramie and Chatelaine Awards!

I love the company of writers! In my office bookshelves are framed photos of treasured author friends I've met all over the world.  We sometimes meet at conferences, at writing classes or library-started critique groups. My latest writer friends are co-entrants in writing awards... we have congratulated and supported each other through long lists and short lists notifications. We've happily shared announcements of making it to finalist levels, then attended award ceremonies together.

Even when it's in the same category, we don't consider ourselves in competition with each other... no one can tell your story but you. We read, review and enjoy each others' work. When we're together, we eagerly talk shop, method and survival in a difficult profession.

I hope you'll find a community of fellow writers or readers who will become lifelong friends!

Saturday, June 12, 2021

Book Covers Paint Pictures


                  Please click this link for book, author and purchase information.

I like BWL's process for designing book covers. It begins about six months before a book's release, when we authors fill out a Cover Art Form. This includes factual information, such as the book title and author name to appear on the cover, a back cover book blurb, details about the story, keywords for online searches, and -- my favourite part -- ideas for cover images. After we submit the CAF, Art Director, Michelle Lee, designs our covers from purchased stock images. She combines and manipulates the images and adds background and other elements to create covers that hint at the story inside.  

I published my first BWL novel, Ten Days in Summer, in 2017.  At that time, the CAF stated that most of the covers would feature at least one person. When I searched for people images on the stock images website, I discovered a few problems. My main character, Paula Savard, is an insurance adjuster. A keyword search for her gender and job turned up images of women meeting with clients or examining construction sites and damaged cars. In this story, Paula investigates a building fire with a suspicious death. I expanded my search to 'female detective' and got pictures of women holding guns and magnifying glasses. The women looked in their twenties, while Paula was fifty-two. My search for 'professional women in their fifties' unearthed a few possibilities, although none looked like my image of Paula.  

A basic problem with people images on novel covers is that writers and readers form their own images of fictional characters. My searches made me realize that a full picture of Paula might inhibit this reader engagement, although partial images still maintained enough mystery. This explained why rear-view images of women had become popular in novel cover art, but so common they were now considered cliché.  

For the CAF, I chose the best of the images I could find for Paula, plus female images shrouded in mystery -- a woman's legs in cowboy boots, eyes peering through a hole, and a silhouetted woman in a cowboy hat. Since the story backdrop is the Calgary Stampede and the second most prominent character is a self-styled cowboy, I added images of cowboys in silhouette, the Calgary skyline, and fire, for the incident that sets the story in motion. 

I sent the CAF to Michelle, who found images for the cowboy, fire and skyline that were different from the ones I'd suggested. She meshed them together to produce a cover better than any I could have dreamed up myself. 

Two years later, BWL reissued the first book in my Paula Savard mystery series. During this time, the trend in cover design moved away from people to symbolic images. Now the CAF stated that most BWL covers would not feature people unless we insisted. I searched for people images anyway, since I found this fun, but was glad to focus on images related to the story setting and mood. For the new cover of A Deadly Fall, I sent Michelle images of the Calgary skyline, falling leaves, fall trees, and pathways through fall woods. The murder takes place on a Calgary walking path in -- you guessed it - fall. Michelle scored another hit with a cover design of leaves framing the Calgary skyline in glorious fall colours of gold, orange and yellow, along with the red of Calgary's Peace Bridge. 

In February I completed my CAF for Winter's Rage, book # 3 of the Paula Savard mystery series. This time, Paula investigates a hit-and-run collision that resulted in a woman's death. Images of a tire on a snow-covered road, broken windshields, and car headlights in the dark would suit the story, but I wanted this cover to continue the series style. One problem. A Deadly Fall's autumn time frame and Ten Days in Summer's building fire resulted in covers with similar colours. Yellow, orange and red don't evoke winter in Alberta. On the CAF, I suggested we bend the brand and go with white, blue or black winter shades. Michelle agreed. She created a scene of snowflakes falling on the Calgary skyline draped in snow, the Bow River shining ice. Yellow letters echo the two earlier novels.  

The front cover of Winter's Rage gives the first hint of the story. The back cover blurb reveals a little more. You can read what it's all about this August.                      

Friday, June 11, 2021

Writing 300 Words a day Will Give you a Novel in a Year, by Karla Stover

                                                                                                                                    I am a slow writer. Once upon a time, I would have been in good company: Margaret Mitchell spent ten years writing Gone With the wind; J.R.R. Tolkien spent seven years working on The Hobbit,  and Maya Angelou took fifteen years to write the final book of her autobiography. But when I read about others ( should there be an apostrophe?) writing habits, I realize I can't do the same. Of course, most of them were men where cooking, cleaning, yard work, dog walking--chores in general don't get in the way. However, I am always thinking. Does that count?  Right now, I am seven thousand words into Parlor Girls, my next book for BWL. Since it's a historical novel based on fact, there is always research to do. Here's an example: my protagonists have just arrived at a boarding house circa 1885. First I found one which fit what I wanted. I looked at the street and the neighbors. Then I went inside (virtually )and looked at the reception area. Up the stairs to a bedroom and once again, I had to research until I found one meeting my requirements. Another time, it took me a whole afternoon to find an appropriate toilet and then what to call it. Of course, I could have made it all up but I'm not comfortable with that; one reason is that I hate it when I'm reading something and a setting doesn't feel real to me. 

I decided to research the "slow writing" issue and found two comments, the first:

 “Not presently ready to begin writing” means you haven't done enough pre-writing to enable you to write under the framework “the words that I am writing are the words the reader will be reading.” ... Many writers who write painfully slow do not do the necessary pre-writing. It's not part of their process."

Well, that isn't nice. I moved onto the second:

"To write slowly is to write deliberately, and often the best way to write 1,000 words in an hour is to sit down with the intention of giving yourself more time and writing 300. Slow writing also has greater clarity, because your thoughts have time to form. Writing fast works when you know exactly what you want to say,

Much better.

The says, "It is the fast writer who uses language in a utilitarian manner. The slow writer prizes the texture of language, and all the richness that creates language." 

Now, we're talking.

I have had two dental procedures recently, and after the shots (why hasn't someone invented a way to make them less painful?) I just zoned out and mentally worked on what was next in my book. Then, I came home and wrote my thoughts. Another thing I've discovered is to work on what I want to say when I can't sleep or when I am super depressed from missing my parents and my brother. It keeps the pain of their loss pushed away.

Here's what two of the best writers had to say:

"Go wisely and slowly. Those who rush stumble and fall." William Shakespeare. Hah! So said the man wrote wrote at least 38 plays and 150 poems.

And to paraphrase Ernest Hemingway, "I don't want to empty the well of my writing." Since he wrote 9 short story collections, 9 non-fiction books, 10 novels / novellas, among many other things, his well must have been deeper and fuller than mine is.

At least I'm doing better than Anna Sewell (one book, Black Beauty) Edgar Allen Poe (one novel, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket ) and Emily Bronte ( just the one book, Wuthering Heights.) She did have a good excuse, though; she died.

That's it. That's all I have to say. It's time to fold the laundry, sweep the floor and move the hose. Then I'll get back to my book.

Thursday, June 10, 2021



My books available at Baldwin, Barbara - Digital and Print EBooks (

James Otis, Jr. (1725-1783)
                …Blow to head “unhinged his reason” (in 1769)
                …”got in a mad freak”
                …killed by bolt of lightning
Poor James encountered a number of difficulties even before he met with a tragic end, according to his tombstone at the Granary Burial Grounds in Boston, MA.

            However, he managed to live longer than Thomas Webb, who “died very suddenly, much lamented, on 8th July 1769 – aged 33 years”.

            In one small section of the cemetery you find James and Thomas, along with others on whose tombstones are carved weighted words:
                “Sacred to the memory of…”
                “Here lies buried the body of…”
                “Here lies deposited the remains of…”
            Tombstones from the past tend to give us more history of the person than more modern ones, which often only have a name along with birth, death and possibly marriage.  I like to visit cemeteries in my travels. They are peaceful paths through a city’s history. Sometimes there are keys to what happened to the people but often we are only reminded of the finality of death.
                John MCluer esqr, who departed this life May 21, 1785, aged 40 years.
                “In the cold mansion of the silent tomb,
                How still the solitude, how deep the gloom.”

That doesn’t mean the messages on tombstones aren’t sometimes irreverent and we should take them with a bit of humor. Apparently not everyone in Dodge City liked McGill’s pastime, as this wooden marker in Boot Hill Cemetery implies. (“A buffalo hunter named McGill who amused himself by shooting into every house he passed. He won’t pass this way again. Died March, 1873.”) You have to wonder if one of the town residents didn’t “help” McGill find his final resting place.

                Original markers at the Granary Burial Grounds were slate and fairly similar in structure. I found quite a difference at the cemetery in Paris, where there was everything from flat individual markers to family mausoleums, some quite ornate.



You have to wonder what they were thinking with this one, right in the middle of the lane, which wasn’t very wide or exactly straight.

                Many people die as they lived, with humor and a touch of sarcasm. Some simply want to have the last word. When I decided to write about tombstones, an article happened to pop up on my Facebook page with humorous sayings people actually put on their markers. is the link.

                My visits to cemeteries wouldn’t be complete without a picture of standing stones we found in Scotland. This group was very small and out on a country road. There were no markers or information; we had found it from a tourist map, back before Google GPS. Is it a religious ceremonial site, directional markers for long ago travelers, or a burial site?

Writers and cemeteries appear to be equal targets for columnists and cartoonists!

“Live your life so your children will say you stood for something wonderful.” – on the headstone of a woman close to me who truly did make the world a better place for all who knew her.

Barb Baldwin

– When once asked why I write, I said, among other things, that I wanted to leave my name on something other than a tombstone. I have been fortunate to be able to do that.

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Why Writing Erotica is... Weird


I wanted to call this blog post: Neurotic Erotica, but I didn't think it quite got the point across. Now I am an avid fan of assonance. Chaotic Erotica, Psychotic Erotica, and Hypnotic Erotica were all valid choices, but the fact of the matter is erotica... and writing it... 

is weird. 

Now I'm not bashing the genre! I have greedily offered many hours of my life to the pursuit of reading words that might offer the slightest tingle or giddy laugh in the middle of a rainy day... or on a bus ride, or at work... or during... I dunno, a family reunion or somethi--


Not that kind of butt! Get your head outta the gutter.

...There is a world of difference between reading something spicy and writing your own. I am quickly learning this the hard way. 

Hur hur! No pun intended...

READING sexually explicit material is... well, discreet. It feels okay to do on a crowded bus or in lieu of your biology class, because the only thing giving us away is perhaps the front cover. But even cover pages are becoming less obvious! Unlike flipping the centerfold of an old playboy magazine during your daily Americano at that high traffic Starbucks downtown, we are free to wallow in our lewd literature because at the end of the day, it is head and shoulders classier, even if it isn't!

Even if it isn't... 😒😒😒

But personal taste aside, WRITING erotica--at least for me--is entirely different. Writing erotica is like tossing yourself off a cliff and hoping that someone catches you at the bottom and likes what you've happened to wear that day. It's being that weird woman at the typewriter, living out her own lecherous fantasies while she takes you along for the ride. It's... weird... 

...but only because we're inviting you. In fact... we hope you tag along and recommend us to all your friends!

"Captain Pedro's buff trouser soldier was in full salute at the sight
of Madame Avery's ankles on display..." This is sure to get five star reviews!

 On top of that, there is always the awkward time of completion where you sit and wonder if you really want to let everyone read your guilty pleasures. I'm talking #authorproblems. 

Like I've said before, I've read erotica. I'm not ashamed to say it! I READ SMUT! However, now that I am writing something that I want to eventually publish, but also has the potential to be terribly embarrassing/controversial/etcetera... there is the issue of whether I want to attach my real name to said piece of scandalous pron. 

I know you're proud of me for becoming a 
published author, Mom... but my new book has tentacles... and people
who sit on cakes for fun...

On one hand, doing so will ensure that I receive sales from my usual group of fans. It means I can do book launches, online video giveaways, signings, you name it! But... it also means that people will know I wrote it. It means other weirdos may see me as their own personal sexy safe space. It means people might think I'm into all the weird stuff I write... it means...




that my family may read it. 


So what do I do!? Narcotic Erotica! That's what I should have named this post, because if I ever finish my next work in progress, I am going to need narcotics to get through the marketing phase!--which, by the way, is the devil.

How do other authors cope?! How do they continue on writing salacious material without an alias and without having awkward dinner conversations at Christmastime with grandma?! What in the heck do I do?? How do I respond to the question of... hey there, Vanessa! Heard you were coming out with a new book! What's it called? 

It's called...Lord of the Flings, Middle Girth...
thanks for asking Auntie Anne 

So I am at a loss. I suppose I should just write the darn thing first, figure out what to do later. But still... it's eating at me... I need to figure it out! Any advice? I know what George's response would be at least... 

Just don't finish it!

But what about yours? What would you do? 


Nom de Plume or Pen Name by J. S. Marlo



A ‘pen name’ (also called a ‘nom de plume’ or ‘literary double’) is a pseudonym adopted by an author. The term ‘pen name’ comes from the 1800s and is a translation of ‘nom de plume’. The French word ‘nom’ means ‘name’ and ‘plume’ refers to a quill—a feather used as a ‘pen’.



It is believed that the first recorded pen name was ‘Clarinda’. It was used by an anonymous Peruvian poet, generally assumed to be a woman, who wrote in the early 17th Century.


Many different reasons prompt an author to write under a different name than his/her birth name.


To conceal the author’s gender:

-       It was common in the 18th & 19th centuries for female authors to adopt male or neutral names in order to be taken seriously by readers. Mary Ann Evans wrote under the pen name George Eliot. Charlotte, Emily, and Anne Brontë published under the names Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell.


To avoid confusion:

-       An author may use a pen name if his/her real name is likely to be confused with that of another author or other significant individual. British politician Winston Churchill wrote under the name Winston S. Churchill to distinguish his writings from those of the American novelist Winston Churchill.

To conceal the author’s real identity:

-       An author may want to hide his/her writings from his family & friends if he/she thinks they might disapprove or feel ashamed. Eric Arthur Blair used the pen name George Orwell so his family wouldn’t be embarrassed by his time in poverty.

-       An author may also use a pen name to avoid retribution. David John Moore Cornwell was a MI6 spy who couldn’t write about his work, so he wrote spy novels under a pen name John Le Carré.


To appeal to readers:

-       An author may use different pen names if he/she writes different genres of novels to target specific readers. Eleanor Robertson write ‘romance’ novels under the name Nora Roberts and ‘romantic suspense’ novels under the name J. D. Robb.

-       An author whose name is too common, too difficult to spell, too foreign, etc...may want to choose a pen name that is more appealing or easily recognizable to readers.


To gain marketing advantage:

-       An author with a last name starting with Z may not want his/her books to be placed at the bottom end of the last shelf in a bookstore. He/she may want a last name that places his/her books on the same row as a best-selling author.

-       A prolific author may also decide to use different pen names in order not to flood the market with too many books under the same name.


To change name for reasons unrelated to their real names:

-       An author may use his/her nickname, the name of a departed loved one, a name made up of his children’s names, or any other names, to get a fresh start—or just because he/she feels like it.


When I signed a contract for my first published novel, I had to decide if I wanted to use my birth name or a pen name. At the time, I was writing free novels online under the pen name ‘Marlo’. A part of me wanted to use my birth name even though my last name is French and could easily be mistaken for ‘Grant’, but then I also feared I might lose followers if I gave up Marlo.



‘Marlo’ was a nickname based on my first name Marlene and given to me by my husband many decades ago. It looked weird with my real last name, so I tried combining Marlo with my kids’ names, which didn’t work either. In the end, I used the first initial of the main characters in my online stories, J & S, and kept Marlo as my last name.


For better or for worse, this is how I became J. S. Marlo 

Happy Reading & Stay Safe




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