Five Things Friday: Mini-Interview with Author Suzanne Craig-Whytock

This week’s interview is with spooky-tale-teller (and pretty “dang” funny!) author Suzanne Craig-Whytock!

Willow Croft: Writers tend to have pretty active and wild imaginations, and I think your blog captures how free ranging our minds are. So, I was curious, what kinds of inventions have you filed imaginary patents for in your head? (Inspired by your post about the underground network of nefarious kayak thieves: https://educationalmentorship.com/2021/09/12/rendezvous-with-destiny/.)

Suzanne Craig-Whytock: I don’t think I’ve ever really imagined an actual invention—I’m more of a “MacGyver”, which is to say that I use other people’s inventions to solve problems of my own. I get that from my dad, who was a trained toolmaker, and he could make any tool you could think of with an Allen key and some contact cement. Me, I’m good with SOS pads, pushpins, and paperclips, which you can do just about anything with. Zipper pull on your boot broken? Paper clip. Screen on your hair dryer clogged? Paper clip. Feel like poking a hole in something? Paper clip. Bored at work? Paper clip. I could fashion a chain to keep my kayaks safe from those nefarious kayak thieves with paperclips twisted together, and it would make them crazy trying to undo it. Enough said.

Willow Croft: At risk of upstaging your “theatrical metal chair” *drops voice to a stage whisper*, who would you want to portray you in a stage play of your life?

Suzanne Craig-Whytock: Yes, I have to keep this on the downlow because I have several melodramatic or obnoxious pieces of furniture in close proximity to my computer. But to be honest, if someone was going to make a stage play about my life, it would be an absurdist play along the lines of Ionesco’s The Bald Soprano, and I would want Tina Fey to portray me. I think she understands how to take weird and sometimes awful things and find the humour in them. Also, in any play about my life, I have forklift arms and everyone calls me by my superhero name, Heavy Metal.

Willow Croft: As a teacher/substitute teacher, I know that the classroom environment can be pretty surreal at times. So, what’s the strangest thing that’s ever happened while you were teaching (that you can share)?

Suzanne Craig-Whytock: I taught for almost twenty-five years and loved every minute but yes, there were certainly some strange things that happened during that time. Two things come immediately to mind:

I had been studying the Greek play Lysistrata with my senior IB students. I always had my kids perform whatever they were studying, and this group insisted that they stay true to the original when it came to costumes, which of course meant togas and masks, as well as large fake breasts for the female characters (played by the boys) and exaggerated ‘manparts’ for the male characters (played by the girls). I had no problem with this and gleefully helped them use balloons, soccer balls and whatnot to get that ‘authentic’ feel. We were right in the middle of a particular scene where one of the boys was jumping up and down, accompanied by the bouncing of his chest balloons, and the girls were swinging their own balloons around quite proudly, when suddenly my principal came to the door. We looked at each other, me slightly aghast, but she didn’t bat an eye. “I’ll come back later,” she said, and we carried on.

I was also the supervisor of a summer school site for several years, and I’ve had numerous encounters with students under the influence of a variety of things, which I’ve written about on my blog (Weeks 89 and 90, when I was still calling things ‘Weeks’). Some of those encounters are incredibly humorous.

Willow Croft: In all your antiquing/Big Junk Day adventures, have you ever acquired an item that was haunted?

Suzanne Craig-Whytock: Ooh, what I wouldn’t give to have found something haunted at the side of the road! I did have an issue with a baby monitor once when my daughter was little—I actually used that situation as inspiration for a chapter in my latest novel The Seventh Devil. And I had a Wizard of Oz music box that would randomly start playing, to the point where I buried it in the garden. There was definitely a ghost in my last house, although the current one, despite it having a doctor’s office in it at one time, is remarkably ghost-free, more’s the pity. I guess no one ever died from malpractice here. We did have a few days after my husband and daughter demo’d the front porch of our 1906 house where there were some shenanigans in a back room (doors randomly opening, chandelier flickering), but I told whatever it was to cut it out, very sternly, and we’ve had no problems since. The noises in our attic are all caused by critters. Obviously.

Willow Croft: And, last, but definitely not least, if you were magically transported into one of your Paris paintings, what would you order at your favourite Parisian café? Alternatively, or in addition, what would you be reading?

Suzanne Craig-Whytock: Ah, Paris! I’ve never been there, but I dream of the day, and I live vicariously through my gorgeous, drippy, impressionistic paintings. I imagine myself sitting there along one of those streets—it’s raining lightly but I’m under an awning, sipping a glass of Sauvignon Blanc. I don’t know if I’d be reading anything–most likely I’ll be writing–but if I was reading, it would be my favourite poet, T.S. Eliot. And my husband Ken is there too, enjoying a glass of Merlot and taking photographs of the scenery. Maybe one day…

~~~

Haunted by this interview and want to investigate Suzanne Craig-Whytock’s spooky books? Check out this link, here, if you dare! https://canadianauthors.org/national/mbm-book-author/suzanne-craig-whytock/.

Also, explore another dimension of Suzanne Craig-Whytock’s “weirdly wonderful aspects” (her words) at her funny-as-all-get-out blog, “My Dang Blog”: https://educationalmentorship.com/.

Now, go find some haunted antiques. Or just drink wine and pretend you’re in Paris. (I know that’s what I’ll be doing!)

Five Things Friday: Mini-Interview with Author Jan Olandese

This week’s author interviewee is Jan Olandese of the Book ’em Jano “Ghosts, Tall Tales & Witty Haiku” fame: https://bookemjanoblog.wordpress.com/.

Willow Croft:  If you were a ghost trapped within some sort of culinary loop where you could only eat one dish over and over again for eternity, what dish would you choose, and why? 

Jan Olandese: A fascinating question! One doesn’t think of ghosts chowing down! Then again calories wouldn’t  be an issue, would they? “Hmmm.” But then again there’s Eternity. Eating one dish forever sounds like a purgatorial thing, rather akin to the Root Canal Waiting Room or the No Escape Golf Bunker. Nonetheless:  I’d go for a really great thin crust pizza with a good cannoli for dessert. Remember, they didn’t say “Leave the gun. Bring the cannoli” for no reason! 😉

Willow Croft: To break up the monotony of eating the same dish forever and ever, what would be your preferred location to haunt for said eternity? Is there a particular person you would also like to terrify with your spectral presence?

Jan Olandese: That’s easy:  Laguna Beach, CA. The shopping (or maybe from a spectral perspective shoplifting) is great, there is good coffee, the beach is brilliant and the weather is always fine. Also the populace are … diverse enough that a ghost would blend right in. 😉 I have zee-ro desire to haunt anyone. Onward and upward, you know. 😉

Willow Croft: Turnabout is fair play, so what historical/notable figure from the past would you want to invite to haunt your home?

Jan Olandese: Aaron Burr. He was many things but never boring.

Willow Croft: So, we’ve covered the pararnormal–now onto monsters! What cryptozoological creature would you most hope to encounter?

Jan Olandese: Gosh. I thought about that…Bigfoot? Nope…bad posture and worse breath. I’ll take Nessie. I would love to actually find the Loch Ness Monster and have the equipment to capture/verify/validate its existence, especially as there is supposed to be one in Lake Okanogan, which crosses the border at Washington State and British Columbia. There are probably more sightings of others but these two have lots of lore attached.

Willow Croft: Anyone who’s familiar with your hilarious “mob haikus” might also be speculating which mafia don/mob boss you were before you entered witness protection and were relocated to this day and age courtesy of time travel. So, hypothetically speaking of course *wink wink nudge nudge*, if you had actually been in the mafia, what rank/title/position would you want to hold, and what would your mafia nickname be? Alternatively, what real-life mafia figure would you want to be?

Jan Olandese: How did you know?!! Who leaked!! Erm, okay. I’d want to be the consigliere so I could give advice/listen/strategise. Unfortunately other titles tend to have short lifespans.  My nickname…that would be “Yes, Ma’am!”

Meet My New (Imaginary) Friends—The Little Fears (created by author/artist Peter Edwards)

(Caution: Sleepy-writer thoughts lie ahead.)

Writing.

More isolating than I expected.

And I love being alone.

It feels safe.

But writing brings on a whole different kind of aloneness.

It’s not a very still and quiet alone.

Too many pesky thoughts and ideas. Too many noisy inner voices.

Things start to get muddled up.

In a surreal Dali-esque mad artist kind of way.

You begin to want a real presence. (As I allude to in my poem Tidal Pool).

But people are also distracting.

And you have a book to write.

Unlike your characters, you can’t customize your interactions with people.

Which makes you feel lost. Full on, fairy-tale-waif-in-the-woods lost.

And, so, when I sat down to compose this review of Peter Edwards’ books, I was trying to figure out where to start.

Then a thought spoke.

Just one.

It said “The Little Fears are good company.”

Granted, probably not the kind you would bring to the office party.

Or to your neighbourhood potluck.

But they are, strangely enough.

The quirky nature of the Little Fears helps banish the feeling of alienation you get from the day job and the real world.

“I’m not so odd, after all,” you tell yourself. (Even though you have developed the bad habit of talking to yourself ever since you first decided to become a writer.)

Oh, the art, too. It tickles something in my (Jungian, I hope, not Freudian) subconscious. Like when Peter invited his blog followers to create something based on his art and characters.

Durthi, the plant shaman, was very evocative for me—I love the idea of plants and animals having powerful agency against humans.

Overall, in decrypting the pun-based humour of the little stories, your mind focuses; becomes grounded. And then the laughs come. Or groan, as the back of some of his Little Fears books proclaim.

But I find myself chuckling more often, when I read his books and his blog posts.

They not only take the edge of my ever-circling mind, they take the edge off my horror-in-real-time, confusing, mucky mess of a life.

And I don’t feel so lost.

Or alone.

For I have Edwards’ Little Fears to keep me company. (Visit his blog here: https://littlefears.co.uk/)

(My favourite pun was the Stephen King cameo, by the way. In case you were wondering…)

Adopt some of your own Little Fears on Peter’s Etsy page: https://www.etsy.com/uk/shop/LittleFears.

Little Fears books by Peter Edwards:

Capricorn

Grey Moon

January

Seeking Hydra

Spiders

Are there ANY bad restaurants in France?

 

Why, yes! Well, according to Alexander McCall Smith in his latest Paul Stuart novel, The Second-Worst Restaurant in France. (I still find it hard to suspend disbelief that France could have a terrible restaurant. Hence the appeal of Smith’s great title!)

But this book was delicious enough to make up for the book’s restaurant that’s being run into the ground by a restauranter-hopeful named Claude.

It reminded me of how much I love to read. More than that, though, it also appealed to my former self that used to work in the restaurant biz, and loved shows like Restaurant Impossible and Kitchen Nightmares back when I had access to cable in a non-rural, non-frontier locale. This book is a great literary version of that.

But, more than that, I found that the side character of Chloe (Paul’s mysterious and unconventional cousin) upholds what Alexander McCall Smith does best–using the main character to develop secondary characters that are just as interesting, if not more so, than the main character. And, without giving away too much, I also related to the character of Hugo–a sensitive individual trying to create his own life based on his ideals and passions. During the course of his journey, he’s aided by Paul in fulfilling these dreams. And I can really relate to Hugo at his stage in life, even though he’s a lot younger.

(This review contains spoilers!)

This is where I struggled with the book. I love the works of Alexander McCall Smith that I’ve read but my own life development stage and mindset as I enter middle age sometimes made The Second-Worst Restaurant in France an emotionally fraught read. And, boy, did I have bias in spades that was hard to put aside while I read the book that I won via a Goodreads giveaway hosted by the publisher, Alfred A. Knopf.

But that’s also the great thing about reading. It’s just you and the book and the characters that feel real enough to debate with in the privacy of your own mind and feelings.

As most writers will agree. Especially when you find out that Paul Stuart can’t work in his apartment where, for some reason, his girlfriend has decided to bring her noisy two cats for a staycation at his apartment, even though she has a flat of her own.

Anyone who’s ever had cats would be like “why on earth would she do that?” Naturally, the cats complain a lot to Paul about the situation, but he’s got a book to write, and eventually has to relocate his writing space into another apartment that Chloe offers him use of.

Poor Paul.

But the apartment doesn’t suit him either, as there are a bevy of young people upstairs doing what they do best–making sure everyone knows they are there with lots of loud music. 

And poor Paul ends up in a silly man-predicament with the younger woman, where he swears the interaction they have in the store is “innocent” to his girlfriend Gloria, who witnesses the weird olive-feeding interaction that somehow gets mistaken for a kiss. Let’s hear it, everyone: a big, resounding “Innocent, my a**!” *laugh*

So, poor, poor Paul has to pack up and relocate to the French countryside to finish his book that he doesn’t even want to write, but in between lecturing his experienced, worldly secret agent cousin about how to act and think, and nurturing poor, belittled, sensitive, chef-hopeful Hugo in fulfilling his cooking-promise, he realizes he doesn’t want to write the book he was working on, about the philosophy of food, and he also realizes that nobody will want to read it, either, despite the fact that his influential editor/girlfriend Gloria has pulled strings and gotten a publisher to back it.

So, wonderfully understanding and supportive Gloria arranges a whole other wonderful project for Paul to undertake, all the pieces fall into place, and everything is happily ever after–all thanks to Paul, presumably, not Gloria and Chloe (who comes to the aid of a local mother-to-be in an unconventional and fascinating way)–in the idyllic French countryside villa that I, and a million other hardworking writers who are also working day jobs (like me) and (unlike me) also trying to raise kids and maintain romantic relationships, are probably thinking that poor Paul is anything but poor.

But it’s proof positive that a main character doesn’t have to be likeable in order for you to fully engage with a book. And that’s why I like books so much. So much diversity there that gets left out of movies.

And, despite my mixed critique of Alexander McCall Smith’s book (which, again, I liked so much I read it twice!); yes, I’m a fan! I would definitely read more of the Paul Stuart series, including his first book in the series, and others. It comes down to the writing, which is, as always with Smith, so good!

And the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency is fabulous, of course! Visit Alexander McCall Smith and discover his fantastic writing and compelling characters for yourself, here: https://www.alexandermccallsmith.com/.

 

Clowns That Don’t Go Bump in the Night…

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What could be better for my forthcoming birthday (September 20) than a whole book of horror stories featuring clowns?

The fact that my story’s among them!

So, “send in the clowns,” and don’t forget to bring balloons and plenty of gifts! Or, you can make my wish (and those of the other authors) come true, and buy the book, here: Bloody Red Nose: Fifteen Fears of a Clown.

Still here? Yes, you. You in the corner, clowning around. Well, I can’t get you an invite to clown school on that audition, but if you want more information about the book, check out Editor Dave Higgins’ blog post: https://davidjhiggins.wordpress.com/abstruse-press/fears-of-a-clown/bloodyrednose/.

Still can’t get enough clowns? Do you take your horror with a splash of humour? Well, Dave Higgins has released not one, but two, clown-featured books. Perhaps this one will help rekindle your childhood dream of becoming a clown. (Or not? I’ll have to read it, myself, to find out.) If you read Deadman Humour: Thirteen Fears of a Clown, please no spoilers. That’s worse than a clown without a smile!

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Sadly, I never did run away to join the circus. Which was probably a wise choice, as I imagine it would have been rather difficult to liberate elephants, giraffes, and lions as a twelve-year-old. Nevertheless, I do have a little bit of circus cred by association with my hometown, where I was raised, which was the winter headquarters of the Ringling Circus. (Until they moved to Venice, Florida.) Which, these days, I suspect that the Gulf Coast of Florida is pretty much all one swath of strip malls and gated communities with some six-million-dollar condos thrown into the heart of Floridian downtowns, just to give the residents a chance to kvetch about the slightest noise after 9 p.m. Or support noise meter companies. I forget which.

But don’t worry, even though more and more of Florida’s wetlands, wild areas, and farmlands are being parceled up and sold to developers by local politicians to become an on-every-street-corner Walgreens, or a toxic-turfed six-bedroom McMansion, you can still find sparkling sequins of circus history in Sarasota.

Check out the circus museum that’s part of the Ringling Museum historio-industrial complex: https://www.ringling.org/circus-museum. (Beware the museum’s staff, though; they can be more terrifying than any nightmare we writers can dream up. And enter into the gift shop at your own risk.*)

If you’d like a more genial experience, visit Bob Horne at his restaurant, Bob’s Train. His knowledge of circus from his own experiences, and his vibrant recitation of circus history, will add life to the museum visit. In fact, his own restaurant is filled with photos and memorabilia from the circus, and is the perfect setting to read certain clown anthologies (Can I drop any more hints?).

If you need any more convincing, yes, the restaurant is in an actual Pullman railroad car. Oh, and on the very same track is JoMar. Yes, that JoMar (look it up!). Which Bob Horne is restoring.

Here’s the link to Bob’s Train: https://www.bobstrain.com/location. (But I can’t promise there will be clowns.)

 

*I was born in Bradenton, and grew up in Sarasota. For those not from the area, that pretty much means I have carte blanche to be as snarky as I want to about my hometown(s). And it’s a gold mine for snarky humorists, let me tell ya.

 

Collaborating with the Little Fears Creator!

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It was a fantastic experience to work with the designer (and storyteller) of the delightfully deranged Little Fears.

Of his many Little Fears characters, I selected Durthi, the plant shaman…

(Available here: https://www.etsy.com/listing/657781326/durthi-portrait-a4-minimal-art-print?ref=shop_home_active_10&frs=1)

Check out the story, illustration, and video here: https://littlefears.co.uk/2019/05/05/the-shot-not-heard/.

It actually gave me chills when I listened to it, and I wrote the dang thing!

Read his  books if you want to meet the rest of the creepy, yet charming, Little Fears!