The Mesdames of Mayhem and their readers turned out at Sleuth of Baker Street yesterday to launch 13 Claws. And a fabulous time was had by all!
Launch party planner Catherine Dunphy (shown above with Ed Piwowarczyk) had issued strict orders for author readings: keep them short! Most of us followed Cathy’s edict, and the result was entertaining and it sold books. Here is an excerpt from Cathy’s “Animal Crackers,” which was pronounced “an especially clever story” by the Toronto Star‘s Jack Batten.
“Refill?” It was the waitress. She lifted the pot of coffee high and poured right onto his hand.
“Fuck!” he barked.
The waitress apologized and blocked his way as she dabbed at his arm with paper napkins.
Ed Piwowarczyk, our sole monsieur, edited the anthology. Here is the opening of his story, “Snakebit.”
Jake Turner studied the blonde as she entered The Hideaway. Her denim shorts highlighted shapely legs, and a white tank top accented perky breasts (this earned Ed a swat from Cathy Dunphy). A sexy package, he thought.
With my luck, she’s probably trouble with a capital T.
13 Claws is a collection of crime-fiction critter stories. And Ed and Madeleine Harris-Callway, the Mesdames’ founder shown above, both focused on snakes. Here’s Madeleine’s take on the real estate industry in “Snake Oil”:
Wolfbrand’s greatest legend centered on a semi-detached house where an elderly woman had been lying dead for a month. Amelia sold the corpse-free half of the semi after convincing her young buyers that the stink permeating their prospective home would dissipate once they installed a sewer back-up. Hence the 5% discount. The couple took the bait and with it, Wolfbrand’s homegrown guarantee: You Bought It, You Got It.
Lynne Murphy was in high spirits, celebrating a significant birthday and presiding over a large cake. Here’s Lynne, speaking in the voice of Simba from “The Lion King.” Simba is a cat with delusions of grandeur.
I trained her to play the fetch game with a catnip mouse. She learned to throw it for me, and I would pounce on it while it was still in the air and pretend to kill it. Then I would bring it back to her so she could throw it again. She got quite fond of the game, and sometimes I had to hide the mouse to stop her from playing.
Catherine Astolfo was awarded the Arthur Ellis Award in 2012 for best crime short story. Her contribution to 13 Claws, “The Outlier,” may be another winner. Here is how it opens:
If I’d paid attention to Marvin, none o’ this would have happened. For that matter, I should have seen the signs left by the burglar when he cased the joint…
I’m an outlier, a person who comes from away, so I get even less attention from any of the harbor dwellers. Which suits me fine since being out of contact is my goal.
Edgar Award-winner (2004) Sylvia Maultash Warsh read from “The Ranchero’s Daughter,” a story that revolves around a small dog. Here’s what Sylvia’s protagonist has to say about his beloved pet:
I myself was cheered by a tiny dog who adopted me on the street a few years ago. She was too straggly to have an owner, and though hesitant at first–she was not a man’s dog–I took her home. I named her Luz, since was a light in my life. I have a tendency toward melancholy, which she alleviated with a touch of her diminutive paw.
Lisa de Nikolits, shown below, takes on the Mob in “Mad Dog and the Sea Dragon.” In her noir tale, two sisters plot to take down a ruthless crime boss. Here is an excerpt from it:
He paused to take a breath. “The whole Esposito family was hoods. The father had done time, the third brother was in prison, the two sisters were thieves. But the mother was behind the whole thing. Mothers. The root of all evil.”
He fell silent and turned to look at Mad Dog Esposito again. I thought I had lost him, and I struggled to think of something to say. I panicked. Things had seemed to be going really well, but now they had come to a grinding halt. My sister had given me a bunch of lines to use but I couldn’t remember any of them. My mind was a complete blank, and I felt close to tears. I was going to ruin this before it even started.
The Mesdames’ publisher Donna Carrick (Carrick Publishing, shown below with husband Alex) contributed “The Right Choice” to the collection. Here’s how it opens:
There have been times when I regretted my tendency toward impulsive decision-making.
It’s not that I consider myself to be stupid, or rash. I do my best to think things through.
Rather, it’s that my process is a quick one by most standards, and involves a great deal of reliance on gut instinct.
For the most part, my gut has served me well.
Arthur Ellis Award-winning author Rosemary Aubert, shown below, added another cat story to the collection. Her “Kitty Claws Comes to the Rescue” was sparked by memories of a special feline:
I thought at first that it was the cry of a child. Great gasping screams only a few feet from my doorstep sounded through the door itself and echoed down the narrow outer hall, which, though thickly carpeted, seemed to absorb none of the sound.
So, of course, I went to the door, and quickly opened it.
The second that I did so, the wailing stopped and I found, staring up at me, the most beautiful pair of blue-green cat eyes that I had ever seen.
Jane Petersen Burfield, shown reading below, brings a dragon to 13 Claws’ critter mix. Here’s the opening of “There Be Dragons”:
“There be dragons,” Katie read aloud from the illustration. As she squinted at the map in the old book, the creatures that illustrated the manuscript swirled. A soft green glow lit the map from within. Startled, Katie let the book slip from her fingers onto the dusty desktop.
“We’re not supposed to touch that book,” Georgie mumbled. Ever since their mother had died, he’d spoken in whispers.
Melodie Campbell, shown reading below, has two stories in 13 Claws. Here’s an excerpt from Melodie’s flash fiction tale “Dog Trap”:
“Strangled,” the taller officer said. “Neatly and quickly. She didn’t suffer much. We thought you’d want to know.”
Rick nodded and gestured them in. He watched with dull eyes as the two officers crossed to the other side of the kitchen. Carefully, he reached for the chair behind him and tried to compose himself.
“Husband?” he asked quietly.
And here’s the opening of my story, “Homebodies,” about a grouchy old man and his marmalade tabby:
A gentle pressure on my eyelids roused me from my afternoon nap. I opened one eye. Romeo was standing on his hind legs, a paw raised, peering intently at my face.
Satisfied that I was still in working order, he sauntered out of the room, his tail waving like a plume.
“He was worried about you, Henry,” Ellie said when I told her about it over dinner.
“Worried where his next meal would come from,” I grumbled. “I’m the one who feeds him.”
The lead-up to 13 Claws included a short-story contest. Jane Burfield had come up with the idea of including a previously unpublished fiction writer in the collection, and a contest was announced. But there were so many well-written entries that it was decided to include three submissions in the anthology instead of just the winner. The winning story was “Night Vision” by Mary Patterson. The two runners-up were “Dana’s Cat” by Rosalind Place, and “That Damn Cat” by Marilyn Kay. These three writers had never previously had a story published in the crime-fiction genre.
Below, Marilyn Kay reads from her story, while Mary Patterson (white sweater) and Rosalind Place (blue sweater) look on.