musings from Canadian author Cheryl Cooke Harrington ... home of The Write Spot

Wednesday, May 04, 2016

It's May!

Instead of a story post this week, I'm sharing a few of my reasons for celebrating this merry month of May – the very best month of the year.

Lily-of-the-Valley blooms in May. It's always been my favourite flower, delicately beautiful and sweetly fragrant. In the language of flowers, lily-of-the-valley means "return of happiness" – the very definition of spring.

I was born in May, so my birthstone is the emerald, a glorious green and glowing crystal, considered the symbol of hope and love.

My mother's family name was May. Here's the clan in 1923, all looking a bit grim, no doubt because this photo was not taken in the merry month of May. My grandfather is the handsome fellow second from the right in the back row. (Bow ties are cool!) I can see myself in my grandfather's face. Grandma is seated directly in front of him, holding my Mom. 

In my part of the world, May means the end of a long winter and the return of balcony weather. Finally! Sam likes nothing better than watching birds, sniffing the breeze, and interrupting my reading every five minutes to open the door so he can go in… no, out… no, in… (Note to self: get a cat flap.)

This year, May marks the first anniversary of my retirement from The Day Job. A job which, much as I loved it, left precious little time for reading, writing, and long walks on the beach. I've spent an enjoyable year trying to catch up on all three but there are so many books and so many unwritten words … and the beaches! I shall soldier on.

This May also marks a full year of weekly Wednesday blogging and nearly a year of my every-other-week project, The Write Spot. It's been a good blogging year – a busy blogging year – so I've decided to take a break this week to relax, recharge, and concentrate on getting my favourite month off to a memorable start. Which begs the question: if I blog about why I'm not blogging does it still count as a blog? ;-)

I'll be back next Wednesday to share The Write Spot with Louise Treger, author of the wonderful historical novel, The Lodger. If you haven't read it, you really, really should. (Here's my review.) 

Wishing you May flowers and sunshine … and May the Fourth be with you!

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stillpoint is the blog of Canadian author Cheryl Cooke Harrington

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Wednesday, April 27, 2016

The Write Spot: Cathy Ace

Cathy Ace was born and raised in Swansea, South Wales, and worked in marketing communications for decades across Europe. Having migrated to Canada in 2000, she now lives in beautiful British Columbia, where her ever-supportive husband (and two chocolate Labradors) ensure she’s able to write full-time.

Bestselling author Ace writes two series of mystery books: the Cait Morgan Mysteries, and the WISE Enquiries Agency Mysteries. Her fourth Cait Morgan Mystery, The Corpse with the Platinum Hair, won the 2015 Bony Blithe Award for Best Canadian Light Mystery.

Welcome, Cathy Ace, to the twentieth edition of The Write Spot, a bi-weekly author series spotlighting the many and varied places where writers write.

I must start by saying I thoroughly enjoyed The Corpse With the Garnet Face – five stars! With smart mysteries and interesting locations, this series gets better with every instalment.  Protagonist Cait Morgan is one of those book people I'd love to meet in real life. She's a middle-aged, Welsh-Canadian criminologist, a 'woman of size' with a brilliant mind who struggles a bit to cope in social situations. She's strong, capable, and opinionated but underneath, just wants to be liked. I think we'd get along famously and I'm delighted to host her creator here on the blog.

Cathy, please tell us a bit about your Write Spot.

My study is the place where I feel most calm. It's painted in a soothing aqua colour (walls and ceiling) with all black furnishings and even a black carpet - it makes me feel almost as though I'm in a pool of tranquility. It also offers super views of the garden and a lot of desk space so I can spread out my research notes and all the other bits and pieces I accumulate when I'm in "prep" phase.

As for the back deck - well, the views are spectacular, and I enjoy being outside in the fresh air, while having the awning to protect me from either too much sun or the rain.

Other than your computer or laptop, what's the one thing you couldn't be without in your Write Spot?

Honestly - my dogs...two chocolate Labs named Poppy and Gabby. Even when they are fast asleep, their snoring (yes, snoring!) keeps me company. I enjoy the sense of companionship, and I'm able to take them for a walk when I need to stop, stretch, walk and think.

Poppy and Gabby are lovely girls! How nice to have faithful companions at you side while you write. What are you working on now?

I'm in an editing phase on two books: Cait Morgan Mystery #8 The Corpse With the Ruby Lips (due out in November 2016) and The WISE Enquiries Agency Mystery #3 The Case of the Baffled Bookseller (hopefully due also in fall 2016). As soon as they are off for more editing with their respective editors I have some secret plans afoot!

I'm looking forward to both! Where can readers find out more about you and your books?

Visit me at my website, or connect on social media:

The Corpse With the Garnet Face, book seven in the Cait Morgan series, finds the eccentric Welsh criminologist-sleuth accompanying her husband Bud to Amsterdam to try to unravel a puzzling situation.

To Bud’s surprise, he discovers he has a long-lost uncle, Jonas, who’s met an untimely death. Bud's mother assures him Jonas was a bad child, but, from beyond the grave, Uncle Jonas begs his nephew to visit the city he adopted as his home to delve into the life he built for himself there, founded on his passion for art.

With an old iron key as their only clue, Cait and Bud travel to Amsterdam to solve the cryptic message left by Jonas—and to honor the final wishes of a long-lost relative.

About The Write Spot:
I've always been fascinated by what goes on behind the scenes. Whether it's backstage photos from my favourite play, a peek into the kitchen where a chef is working her culinary magic, or simply a glimpse through an uncurtained window into a stranger's private world, there's an undeniable thrill of discovery, a sense of secrets shared. It's no surprise, then, that I'm immensely curious about where other writers do their work. I've blogged about it before in this post about my own 'write spot' and so enjoyed the comments, I was inspired to launch a regular feature here at stillpoint. Watch for The Write Spot every other Wednesday and join me as I discover the many and varied places where writers write.

stillpoint is the blog of Canadian author Cheryl Cooke Harrington

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Wednesday, April 20, 2016

window cats...

The black and white cat showed up one sunny afternoon, lounging on the front porch of our old farmhouse as if she belonged there. Tail twitching in response to my murmured, "hello, stranger," she eyed me warily as I climbed the steps to unlock the front door. When I turned to introduce myself properly, the cat had vanished.

She turned up again an hour later, nose to the kitchen window, gaze fixed on the chicken I was preparing for the stew pot. She opened her mouth and meowed loudly – a hopeful, "feed me now" plea. It is a wise cat who knows a soft touch when she sees one.

I found an old saucer, filled it with milk, and delivered it to the porch. Poor cat was obviously hungry and fell upon that milk as if she hadn't seen food in days. I sat on the steps and watched her lap-lap-lap until the saucer was clean. She gave her whiskers a quick swipe and sat back on her haunches to study me for a long, thoughtful moment. I spoke softly, inviting her to move closer, asking where she'd come from and if she had a name. The cat blinked and walked away.

She appeared at the window again at dinner time and scored herself a small plate of chicken scraps along with a chorus of can-we-keep-her-pleases from my three young sons. I was tempted. Their Dad took a firm stand in the absolutely not camp, claiming he'd never liked cats and we were all a bit allergic and there was absolutely no way that thing was ever coming inside.

Window cat came back the next day, and the next, quickly abandoning her stand-offish manner in favour of pats and strokes and much admiration from four out of five of the humans in residence – never inside, of course.

A few days later, I might have accidentally added a box of cat chow to my grocery cart. And middle son might have dug out an old curry brush, unused since the death of our much-loved dog the year before. Soon, the kids and I had christened our window cat Cookie – a name reserved for favoured family pets

Our window cat had managed to make herself a member of the family in less than a week. She was beginning to look quite plump and healthy, too, her dingy grey coat growing cleaner and glossier by the day, thanks to an entourage of willing brush-wielders. Somehow she'd even forged a truce with hubby. He grudgingly admitted she'd be useful for keeping the mice away from the chicken feed. She could stay, but only as an outside cat. It wasn't long before I noticed him leaving the greenhouse door ajar for her. Nobody likes to stay out in the rain, after all. (We did not speak of this.)

And did I mention that our window cat was looking a bit plump? The reason soon became obvious. Cookie was pregnant. First order of business was a trip to the vet, who pronounced her fit and healthy and sent us home with a vitamin supplement and a strict deadline for a follow-up visit and spay. Cookie was tremendously annoyed by the car ride, shredding her cardboard travel box in protest, but once home again all was forgiven, thanks to a little sweet talk and a generous handful of her favourite treats.

We set up a large wooden box on the side porch and lined it with newspaper, hoping Cookie would think it suitable for a nursery. A smaller, covered box at one end contained clean straw and a comfy old blanket for mama cat's nesting pleasure. She took to it right away. She also took to wearing the collar we gave her, complete with her name and our phone number on a metal tag. The latter caused much grumbling and rolling of eyes on the hubby front. But when Cookie disappeared just before her due date, guess who lead the search party?

Thankfully, Cookie hadn't wandered far. She'd given birth in a nest of dried grass, sheltered by a pile of rubble in a hollow on the far side of the lawn. Heavy rains were forecast and we feared her four tiny kittens would be washed away in the deluge. We needed to move the little family to the shelter of the porch, but in order to do that we'd have to coax Cookie away from her babies. Food was the answer. She'd been gone for three days and was sure to be ravenous. I gave the cat chow box a noisy shake and, sure enough, mama Cookie appeared, trotting eagerly up to the porch. While she ate her fill and lapped up some water, hubby rescued the litter, gently tucking the babies into their nursery box. I confess to holding my breath as I introduced Cookie to this new arrangement, half expecting her to either reject the kittens or stubbornly return them, one-by-one, to her den across the lawn. But she seemed quite pleased with the comfortable arrangement and settled in to enjoy life as a proud and pampered mama.

The kittens thrived. And while they ate and played and grew, (and grew!), I got busy. Four little kittens were soon going to need new homes. I put the word out to family and friends, pestered, cajoled, and described their adorable kitty paws and sweet pink noses until people ran to hide when they saw me coming. But honestly, how could anyone resist these little cuties?

This photo was taken on one of their first explorations beyond the big box. The wee cutie on the far right, sporting a single black dot on her left side, was an enthusiastic climber and extremely fond of my youngest son, J. He'd always been a bit nervous around dogs and cats, preferring to watch from afar but not touch or be touched, so when he named the kitten Dot and welcomed her onto his lap, we were doomed. Dot would stay with us. And not only stay, Dot would become an indoor cat. (Hubby, like the rest of us, would do just about anything for J.)

If you look closely at the far left of the cat family photo, you might spot a tiny black blob with four white paws, neck-deep in the daylilies. Always adventurous, that black kitten went home with Kate, my best friend since childhood. Named Pepper by her new family, she lived a long and happy almost-twenty years as a city cat in west-end Toronto. Here she is, still adventuring as an elder cat.

The two remaining fluff balls eventually found homes, too. One with my niece, the other with a co-worker's mum.

But that's not the end of the story. Not even close.

One evening a week or so after her kittens moved on, Cookie appeared at the window with a friend in tow, a calico cat, grubby and hungry and very, very pregnant. Hubby issued a firm and final pronouncement: "Absolutely not!"

We named her Patches.

The two cats settled into Cookie's big box nursery and together they raised Patches' litter of five. 

Somehow, we found new homes for all those kittens, too. Cookie and Patches both eventually visited the vet to be spayed and vaccinated, and both returned to the farm as carefree lady-cats with plenty of mice to chase and a warm greenhouse where the door was mysteriously always left ajar.

I'd love to end this tale with "happily ever after" but the truth is bittersweet. In 1993, we purchased a home of our own, a move that took us less than half a kilometre down the road from our much loved rented farm on the outskirts of Box Grove to a sturdy heritage home in the village. Unlike the isolated farmhouse, our new home sat close to a busy road. Outdoor cats Cookie and Patches would face danger from traffic there, and we knew they wouldn't willingly abandon the farm they knew as home. Our sweet Italian landlady came to their rescue, admitting she already loved her piccoli tesori (little treasures). It seems they'd been walking up the lane to enjoy second breakfast with her for months. Who knew?

Mama Giuseppina promised the cats would have plenty to eat at her house and said we should visit whenever we liked. Within a month, those two sly felines were sleeping on Mama G's bed, feasting on her table scraps, and toasting their toes by her fire – outdoor cats no more. It makes me happy to think of them that way.

Of course, little Dot moved with us to the new house. We did our best to take the right precautions, confining her first to her crate and then to a single room while we settled in. But somehow, amid the chaos of the move, she escaped. Our first hope was that she'd made a desperate run back to the farm, but there was no sign of her there or anywhere along the road. Weeks passed. Little Dot had vanished without a trace. I wanted to believe she had her mother's good instincts. That she showed up at a window and convinced some kind person to take her in, feed her, and care for her. But I couldn't help fearing the worst.

Months later, I was surprised to see Dot's sweet little face gazing out at me from a window on the far side of the village. At least, it sure looked like our Dot. When I tapped on the door to inquire, the woman who answered was brusque. No, she hadn't found a stray cat. No, her Molly couldn't possibly be our Dot because Molly had been hers "forever." Maybe that was true. Or maybe the woman simply feared I'd try to claim the cat she obviously loved. Whatever the truth, J and I chose to believe the little face in the window really was our Dot, gone from our lives but safe and loved in her forever home.

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stillpoint is the blog of Canadian author Cheryl Cooke Harrington

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Wednesday, April 13, 2016

The Write Spot: Donna Fasano

Donna Fasano has been writing romance novels and women's fiction for more than twenty-five years. Her very first book, Mountain Laurel, was a finalist in the Romance Writers of America RITA contest. The book caught the eye of editor Tara Gavin, and once the book was published, Donna finally felt she could call herself a professional writer. Her stories have been published by Silhouette Books, Harlequin Enterprises, and Montlake Romance. 

Donna is a three-time winner of the HOLT Medallion, a CataRomance Reviewers Choice Award winner for Best Single Title, a Desert Rose Golden Quill Award finalist, and a two-time winner of Best Romance of the Year given by book review blog BigAl's Books and Pals. With 4 million copies sold worldwide, Donna has seen her books published in two dozen languages. Her novels have made the Kindle Top 100 Paid List numerous times, climbing as high as #5.

In 2010, Donna began self-publishing some of her titles and says she finds independent publishing an exhilarating challenge that keeps her on her toes. One of her greatest joys was to see her self-published novel, Reclaim My Heart, make the USA Today Bestseller List. Now that was quite an achievement!

When she's not dreaming up new romantic stories, Donna can be found walking on the beach, searching for seashells, or driving in her little 2-seater Miata. She loves spending time with her husband and their Australian cattle dog mix, Roo.

Welcome, Donna, to the nineteenth edition of The Write Spot, a bi-weekly author series spotlighting the many and varied places where writers write. I love your and surf view! Please tell us what makes this The Write Spot for you.

I can tell you in two words what makes this the best spot for writing: the beach! There is something about the ocean that calls to my heart. The sound of the waves is mesmerizing. The Atlantic Ocean stirs my creativity in a way nothing else does, except maybe my husband (*grin*), and seeing the moon hanging over the inky water is so romantic. Who wouldn't feel inspired by the sand, the sun, the surf?

Lovely to meet a kindred water spirit. My spot is on Lake Ontario, not the ocean, but the feeling is the same. Love the sound of those waves!

Other than your computer or laptop, what's the one thing you couldn't be without in your Write Spot?

That would be two things: pencil and paper. There is something nostalgic about the feel of writing with pencil and paper. My thoughts slow down, my mind calms, and I am able to more clearly see and hear the characters in my head. Early on in every story, I find myself taking copious notes on paper. I learn all about my characters, their physical descriptions, their wants and needs, their conflicts, their hurts and pains, and the better I know my characters, the more developed and richer my stories become.

What are you working on now?

I'm just about ready to put out my newest novel. It's book 2 of my Ocean City Boardwalk Series. The title of the book is Two Hearts in Winter. Here's the book's description:

Loss and betrayal have caused Heather Phillips to give up on love. She’s thrown herself into running The Lonely Loon, her Bed and Breakfast located on the boardwalk of Ocean City, Maryland. The "off season" in this tourist town is usually a time of rest and reflection for her; however, DB Atwell, a famous author, arrives at The Loon for the winter to finish his long-overdue novel. Daniel, too, has faced grief, and tragedy continues to haunt him. Once Heather and Daniel meet, their lives will never be the same.

Like all my books, Two Hearts in Winter will be available for Kindle, Nook, iBook, Kobo, and Google Play and also as a trade paperback. I hope readers will look for it. If they're interested in reading the first book of the series, Following His Heart, they can learn about it here.

Where can readers find out more about you and your books?

My blog is at

I play games and offer giveaways to my newsletter subscribers. Readers can sign up for my newsletter here.

Readers who buy paperbacks or Kindle versions of my books can follow me via my AmazonAuthor Page. Simply click "follow" located beneath my author picture.

I'm also on:

Cheryl, thank you so very much for having me on The Write Spot!

My pleasure, Donna. Looking forward to Two Hearts in Winter!

About The Write Spot:
I've always been fascinated by what goes on behind the scenes. Whether it's backstage photos from my favourite play, a peek into the kitchen where a chef is working her culinary magic, or simply a glimpse through an uncurtained window into a stranger's private world, there's an undeniable thrill of discovery, a sense of secrets shared. It's no surprise, then, that I'm immensely curious about where other writers do their work. I've blogged about it before in this post about my own 'write spot' and so enjoyed the comments, I was inspired to launch a regular feature here at stillpoint. Watch for The Write Spot every other Wednesday and join me as I discover the many and varied places where writers write.

stillpoint is the blog of Canadian author Cheryl Cooke Harrington


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Wednesday, April 06, 2016

oh, traitorous nose!

Close your eyes and sniff:

Photo by Marisa DeMeglio | CC-BY-2.0

On second thought, don't close your eyes. Just gaze upon the pretty lilacs and let your olfactory memory go to work.

For many people, the image alone will be enough to trigger a vivid scent memory, a scent likely to conjure thoughts of springtime, sunshine, warm breezes and gentle rain.

I should be so lucky.

Oh, the lilac image does trigger a scent memory for me, no doubt about that. But no sweetly perfumed breezes come to mind. Instead, my traitorous nose conjures a dank and earthy funk.

It all began on a warm spring afternoon in 1986. Friends and family had been invited to the farm for a celebration of my parents' wedding anniversary. After days of intense preparation, the feast was ready. Our little house looked bright and fresh as could be. Even our three rambunctious sons had been scrubbed clean. As party hour drew near, I took a moment alone to admire the table. Set with grandma May's treasured Limoges china and our special occasion crystal glassware, it sparkled, ready for company.

"Mom!" The screen door slammed and middle son bounded into the house looking slightly less scrubbed than I remembered. "Dad wants to know if—"

He fell suddenly silent, his smile fading away and his nose wrinkling. Before I could ask what was wrong, he took a giant step back and said, in a horrified tone, "It smells bad in here, Mom."

As I moved to join him in the hallway, I caught a whiff of it, too. And there was no mistaking that smell. Dead mouse.

Mice are an inescapable fact of country life and, for the most part, we chose to live and let live, as long as the mice chose wisely and stayed outside. Inside, they were rodent non grata and definitely not welcome at our party, dead or alive.

Middle son rounded up his brothers and we organized a search. The odour was strongest in the front hall and near the cellar stairs but despite poking, prodding, and sniffing in every possible nook and cranny we had no luck finding the stinky culprit. Our guests were due to arrive in less than an hour. The smell was growing stronger by the minute. What to do?

The day was warm, with a gentle, steady breeze, so my first step was to open all the windows. That's when middle son remembered what he'd been sent to ask me. "Do you want Dad to cut some lilacs for the house?"

Yes! Our lilac hedge had some of the most aromatic flowers I'd ever encountered. Their sweet, long-lasting fragrance was exactly what we needed to disguise the presence of a not-so-dearly departed mouse. While I pulled out every vase I could find, plus a few big mason jars for good measure, the boys helped their dad cut lilacs. Masses and masses of lilacs. We placed them in the front hallway, beside the cellar door, in the living room and sunroom—even in the bathroom. They looked lovely and, more important, they smelled lovely… like springtime.

The party was a success—great company, good food, happy times. Everyone loved the lilacs. We even sent bunches home with a few people. Only later, with windows closed against the cool evening air, did the scent of mouse begin to insinuate itself again, mingling with the fragrance of cut lilacs until the two smells became one.

Days passed. As the flowers faded, so did their fragrance. The smell of death faded, too, and we never did find the mouse. Its dry bones remain entombed forever inside the walls of that old house.

lovely lilacs
Liam Moloney | CC-BY-SA-2.0

The following year when the first lovely lilacs burst into bloom in our garden, I was eager to visit them, to bury my face in the pale purple flowers and revel in the scent of springtime. That's when I first discovered the awful olfactory truth. And thirty years later, that truth still applies. For me, the sweet, heady perfume of lilacs will always carry a base note of mouse.


Mouse image by George Shuklin | CC-BY-SA-1.0

stillpoint is the blog of Canadian author Cheryl Cooke Harrington

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