Hikes & Ice

On January 25th, I fell on an icy Calgary sidewalk and injured the muscles around my hip. During the following week, I thought I was recovering enough to do a hike in the mountains and then a long walk on ice-covered Lake Louise. Two days later I couldn’t hobble across my kitchen without feeling pain. This prompted me to see my doctor and a physiotherapist.  

An X-ray determined no fractures, broken bones, or misalignment. The physiotherapist thought my injuries were relatively minor and said they should resolve in a few weeks with rest, exercise, and physio treatments. The problem was that I was scheduled to leave in two weeks for a hiking holiday in Arizona with 33 members of my Calgary hiking club. The physio and I doubted I’d be able to hike by then and, if I could, the exertion might set my recovery back, as it had done on the earlier hike and Lake Louise walk.

I still planned to go on the trip but prepared to spend some or all of the days resting my hip in the Airbnb house my husband Will and I were renting with some other club members. I downloaded numerous books to read and organized writing work to do on my computer. It wouldn’t be terrible to relax outdoors in warm sunshine and I’d still enjoy evening dinners and entertainment with the group, but the prospect of missing the main purpose of the trip was disappointing. 

My progress through four physio sessions was slow. I faithfully did my exercises and barely stepped outside for two weeks. The weekend before we left, I tried a few neighbourhood walks. After half an hour, my hip was sore and I couldn’t wait to shuffle home. 

Will and I flew to Phoenix on February 20th and spent the next day walking around Scottsdale. My hip was fine but tired by the end. I still decided to try the shorter version of first hike the following day. To my surprise, I felt no discomfort with my hip. Nor did my muscles bother me much the next morning. So I joined my fellow hikers again and then again on day # 3. All of these hikes involved clambering over big rocks. How many rocks could there be in Arizona? 

Day # 4 featured a hike along Saguaro Lake, which I’d done seven years earlier and recalled as being relatively easy. The elevation was less than that of first three hikes and the lakeside trail was mainly dirt with small rocks to step around. A picnic lunch and relaxing boat cruise on the lake followed and then an evening at the Silver Star dinner theatre with 1950s & early 60s that brought back memories. 

The fifth day’s hike was longer the previous ones (about 14 km vs 8 km). I suggested to my housemates that we do something shorter, but they wanted to go with the group and I went along. I’m glad I did and I enjoyed the first half of the hike, but my hip ached with every step of the last section. I decided 8 km was the limit for my hip. The highlight of this hike was a rare crested saguaro cactus. The abnormal growth formation at the top is found in one in roughly 10,000 saguaros. 

On day # 6, we drove to Wilcox, Arizona, our gateway to the Chiricahua National Monument. The first afternoon we did an 8 km hike over comfortable terrain to a view of Natural Bridge. 

For our final hike of the trip, the plan was to do a 14+ km long loop. After six straight days of hiking, nine of us opted for a shorter loop through fabulous scenery at a leisurely pace. It was the one day I wanted to keep on walking at the end. 

The forecast called for rain starting at noon, but the sunshine stayed in the park. Will and I enjoyed a late lunch at a beautiful viewpoint.  

Now I’m home and my hip still feels a little sore, but I can’t say the seven days of hiking set my recovery back. I’m grateful I was able to experience so many wonderful sights and great companionship on the trails. These days, I’m giving my hip its well-deserved rest, doing my exercises faithfully (more or less), and trying to avoid another fall on Calgary’s icy sidewalks.     

Romantic Subplots are Fun

I don’t write romance novels, but most of my mystery and suspense books have romantic subplots. This shouldn’t be surprising since I love Jane Austen’s novels, which always centre on romance. A few years ago, while visiting my friend Barb in the UK, we went to Jane Austen’s home in Chawton and dressed in costumes of the times. 

Jane Austen had the romance formula down pat – keep the lovers in conflict and separated through the story until the end, when they realize they are right for each other. Their conflict and separation can be caused by external problems (family objections, war, geography) and/or internal flaws.  

In my first novel, A Deadly Fall, my heroine/sleuth Paula struggles with both types of problems. She falls for a man who is a suspect and she’s committed to a boyfriend (two external impediments). Internally, she’s burned from her recent divorce. As the story progresses, Paula learns she must take risks to find love again. 

In book # 4 of the series, Paula and her current boyfriend are stranded on different continents due to the COVID-19 world shutdown. Their separation challenges their relationship. But the novel’s greater romantic subplot belongs to Detective Mike Vincelli, a secondary narrator. Mike is attracted to a coworker, but his fear of failure and reluctance to shake up his comfortable life conflict with his desire to make their involvement personal.

Typically the romantic subplot reflects the protagonist’s personal journey in stories that are primarily about other things–finding the treasure, defeating an enemy army, solving a murder. While navigating romantic entanglements, heroes and heroines learn the lessons they need to resolve their problems.

My current mystery-novel-in-progress, A Killer Whisky, has two romantic subplots. The main one features my two story narrators, Katharine, who witnesses a suspicious death, and Bertram, the detective investigating the case. The story is set in 1918, during the last days of WWI.

Katharine’s loyalty to her husband fighting in France clashes with her attraction to the attentive detective. Bertram’s obstacles are largely internal–he can’t move past the deaths of his wife and son. Through the story events, Katharine and Bertram must discover what they want in life after the war is over.

A Killer Whisky’s second romantic subplot involves two suspects, who are non-viewpoint narrators. Their romance fuels the murder investigation plotline. I find their relationship fun and am curious to see how it works out.

Or doesn’t work out.

When romance is merely a subplot, it doesn’t have to follow the romance novel tradition of bringing the lovers together in the end. Actually, my impression is that romance novels today don’t require this either. I can’t think of book example but a successful romantic comedy movie springs to mind ** spoiler alert ** My Best Friend’s Wedding.

Whatever your current romantic journey — Happy Valentine’s Day!

         Me in Puerto Vallarta with Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. Their grand romance had numerous ups and downs that captured the world’s imagination.  

Happy Rabbie Burns Day!

Last May my husband Will and I saw the John Steinbeck play, Of Mice and Men, at the Leeds Playhouse in England. This theatre experience was different from our one the previous week in London. Tickets in Leeds were about a quarter of the London price. That Tuesday the Leeds theatre was a quarter full and we were probably the only non-Brits present. In London we packed the theatre with a large number of tourists. 

Of Mice and Men is set in the United States during the Great Depression. It tells the story of two migrant workers who dream of owning their own farm. Being Steinbeck, their dream turns to tragedy at the end. Before seeing the play, I wasn’t familiar with the story, but afterward references to the novel kept popping up. This began later in our holiday, when we visited Alloway, Scotland, the birthplace of Robert Burns, who is widely regarded as Scotland’s National Poet. 

                                                  Burns birthplace cottage, Alloway, Scotland

Viewed as a poet of the working class, Burns wrote in a light Scots dialect. He’s affectionally called Rabbie by his Scottish fans. Of course, we’d sung his song/poem Auld Lang Syne on numerous New Year’s Eves, but on this visit we learned that another Burns’ poem, To a Mouse, was the inspiration for Of Mice and Men. Burns wrote the poem after he accidentally destroyed a mouse’s nest with his plough and realized that, with its nest gone, the mouse wouldn’t survive the winter. These lines inspired Steinbeck:

The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men
    Gang aft agley,
An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,  For promis’d joy! 

 When I returned home from my trip, a library book I’d put on hold was waiting for me: Prince Harry’s memoir Spare — I confess I read it. While discussing his teenage lack of interest in literature and academics, Harry says the one book that grabbed him was Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, which was assigned in his English class. He liked that the book was short and, unlike Shakespeare, the plain language didn’t need a translator. Most of all he could relate the story’s themes of friendship, brotherhood, and loyalty to him and his brother William. The brothers’ story ebbs and flows through Harry’s memoir and crashes at the end. 

In 2009 Burns was voted the greatest Scot by the Scottish public in a contest hosted by a Scottish TV show. Since then Burns has run into criticism. Some feminists interpret his lusty poems and lifestyle as sexist. He had twelve children by four women. Seven were illegitimate, including the first four by his wife Jean Armour. By Scottish law they became legitimate after the marriage. According to a museum plaque, Jean raised one of the illegitimate children born after she and Rabbie married — it gets complicated.  

Others criticize Burns for accepting a job as bookkeeper for a Jamaica slave plantation. In the end, he didn’t go to Jamaica for personal reasons. 

It might also be that the Scots dialect in Burns’ poems has fallen out of favour with younger readers, like Shakespeare’s language for Prince Harry, and doesn’t resonate with an increasingly diverse public.

But many Scots around the world still adore Burns and celebrate his birthday, January 25, at Burns’ dinners, which traditionally include such iconic Scottish features as a bagpiper greeting guests and a whisky toast to the haggis.  

Mexican Celebrations

The Day of the Dead displays were still on the Malecon when my husband Will and I arrived in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, on November 15th. Plaster and papier mâché skulls, altars, and Catrinas lined the ocean boardwalk, remnants of Nov 2nd’s Dia de los Muertos – the day many Mexicans honour their deceased relatives and friends with celebrations, parades, and visits to gravesites. The Malecon’s most impressive display was the elegantly dressed skeleton lady standing 74 feet 4.9 inches tall. Last year the Guiness Book of Records declared her the tallest Catrina in the World. In 2023 she returned in a new outfit that shimmered in the breezes. At night a loudspeaker piped her voice to the Malecon crowd, “I am the most beautiful woman in Puerto Vallarta.”

Monday November 20th was Revolution Day, a national holiday in Mexico. Will and I got curbside seats for the parade, which features school groups dressed in traditional costumes, often in the colours of the Mexican flag – green, white, and red. The parade moves in a stop and start style as the groups stop to perform dances and acrobatics for the crowd. We really enjoyed the first few acts, but then ten, fifteen, twenty minutes passed. The children gathered in shady spots to wait. By then we were getting hot and retreated to our hotel pool.

Mexico doesn’t celebrate Thanksgiving, but restaurants offer US Thanksgiving dinners for tourists. Will and I treated ourselves to a buffet Thanksgiving meal at a beachfront hotel.

Before dinner, we worked up an appetite with a Malecon walk and discovered that our Giant Lady had been dismantled. Her head and bones awaited pickup the following day.

Before we left downtown Puerto Vallarta for our relaxing beach week, stores and hotels were setting up displays for Christmas, another festive time of year in Mexico. 

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! Feliz Navidad y Prospero Ano!

Bouchercon San Diego & more

Calgary’s first snowfall of the season has got me dreaming about my holiday in California this September. The main purpose for the trip was to attend Bouchercon World Mystery Convention in San Diego. My husband Will (an avid mystery reader) and I spent four interesting days attending panels and events like Speed Dating for Writers and Readers and the New Author Breakfast. Both were more fun than I’d expected and popular enough to fill the large rooms by 7:00 am. When we weren’t occupied with the convention, we enjoyed the views from our hotel in the San Diego Marina. 

After the convention, we stayed an extra day in San Diego to see a little more of the city. We walked along the boardwalk and took the short ferry ride to Coronado Island, an upscale vacation beach community. The highlight was a concert in the park featuring a great cover band. Hundreds of people gathered. Since we didn’t have chairs, we stood at the front and danced to songs like “Witchy Woman” and “One of These Nights” made famous by the Eagles.   

From San Diego, we drove to Julian, a “hippie” town located in the apple-growing hills east of the city. In addition to exploring the quirky, historic former gold mining town, we gorged on apple pie – arguably the best I’ve ever had. A half dozen bakeries produce pies for tourists, many of them day-trippers from San Diego. 

Sunshine, warmth, ocean, books, wine, apple pie — pretty much a perfect trip!