Welcome back, mystery readers!
I’m thrilled to be re-launching It’s a Mystery Podcast today after many months.
In the coming weeks I’ll have an interview with a new mystery author every Monday and we’re going to change up the format slightly. The first 10 or 15 minutes of each episode will be a reading from my guest. We’ll tell you a story!
After that, I’ll interview my guest and ask them about their characters, their inspiration, and what drives them to write their books.
This week, we’re kicking things off with me reading from my new mystery, Lark Lost. Here’s the transcript, if you’d rather read than listen.
Lark Lost is a free download and you can get your copy here.
You can also click here to listen to the interview on YouTube.
I heard the raised voice before the automatic door whooshed open in front of me, releasing me into the hot July night.
“I’m not going to ask you again, sir. Please move along.” The security guard made the word ‘sir’ sound like an insult.
The young man was sitting, slouched against the outer brick wall of the grocery store, slumped but defiant, a woolen toque crushed onto his skull despite the warm night. The baseball hat he was holding, dome down, in his right hand flapped briefly against his outstretched legs.
“Imma waiting….” he began, but the security guard was exasperated.
“You can’t sit here.”
I hiked my canvas grocery bag up higher on my left shoulder and walked over to stand at the thin soles of the slumped man’s sneakers. I looked at the security guard but didn’t recognize him.
“Trouble, officer?” I said, smiling.
He wasn’t in a joking mood. “He needs to leave. Store rules.”
The young man was named Rory. He rolled his head backward, eyes mostly closed. Then he glanced at the guard. “See?” he said, briefly confident. “I tol’ you I w’s waitin’. Sh’s here f’r me.” He flapped the baseball hat toward his chest.
This wasn’t true, but I reached down anyway and grabbed his right arm and tried to heave him to standing. He was a human-sized wet noodle, however, and I was struggling. I felt rather than saw someone walk behind me, and then a man appeared on Rory’s left side.
“I’ll give you a hand,” he said, reaching down.
Together we got Rory upright. Then we were able to cradle one of his elbows each and get him moving toward the street.
“I’m David,” the man said, looking around Rory at me. He had dark hair, thick, dark eyebrows and a pleasant, open expression on his face.
“I’m Freddie,” I said.
“That’s an unusual name for …” He trailed off.
“It’s okay. You can say it. ‘For a woman.’” I smiled at him. “I’m named after my grandmother. Alfreda.”
“Oof,” he said.
I laughed. People usually cover up their reactions better when I have this conversation with them. “Right?” I exclaimed. “Who would want to be called Alfreda? Hence…Freddie.”
“I think you made the right choice.”
We reached the public sidewalk, Rory slightly wobbly but still moving between us, like an oversized toddler learning to walk between his parents.
“Where to?” David asked.
I glanced to my right and saw what I’d been hoping for. “There,” I said, pointing. “The next corner.”
This was not the first time I’d seen Rory drunk. I had known the too-slender man of indeterminate age—probably mid-20s, though he looked older—for four or five years, although we were not friends. I didn’t know his last name, and he didn’t know mine. We first crossed paths because I live in the neighborhood where he panhandles. As often as I can, I give him a few dollars. Sometimes when I have a big load of groceries, he will offer to carry some of my bags home, and I’ll pay for that service.
An articulated trolley bus rattled past us and stopped with a teeth-clenching squeal of brakes at the next bus stop, outside the corner store at Main and 14th. I could see a man there, talking to three boys, all smoking cigarettes and standing in a way that they likely thought made them look both cool and tough. To me, they just looked young.
David, Rory and I crossed 14th Avenue and the cigarette boys scattered like pigeons as we stepped up onto the curb.
Christopher’s brow lowered with concern as we approached him.
“I think this belongs to you,” I said.
Rory’s noodle legs gave out on him again before we reached his friend. Somehow, between us, David and I were able to spin him around so that when we lowered him onto the sidewalk his back was up against the two newspaper boxes positioned forlornly at the curbside, relics from an era that didn’t know it was over yet.
Christopher looked down at his friend and then back up at me. His dark eyes glittered slightly in the streetlights, and he seemed to be taking Rory’s situation in stride.
“Well, here’s another fine mess you’ve got me into,” he said, but without rancor, a slight smile on his face. He loves to quote from movies.
“Laurel and Hardy.” Then he said, “Hi David.”
“How are you, bud?” David bumped fists with Christopher. “Do we need to call an ambulance or anything for Rory?”
Christopher shook his head. “I don’t think so. He’ll just sleep it off there and then we’ll go home.”
“Okay. Well, you’ve got my number if you need anything.” David was taking steps back toward the way we’d come.
“Thanks.” Christopher smiled and gave him a small wave.
“Nice to meet you,” David said to me.
“Likewise,” I said.
He looked both ways and then crossed the side street. I glanced at Rory and could see he was already snoozing peacefully, his head on his chest.
I knew a little more about Christopher than I did about Rory. I knew he had been diagnosed with mental health issues and that he took medication when he could afford it. I thought he had family in the Fraser Valley, outside the city. He’d been looking for a job, applying at restaurants to be a dishwasher. In addition to being a movie fan, he loves to draw and write and read poetry. That final interest was a surprise to me when, one afternoon the previous spring, I saw him reading a battered copy of As I Walked Out One Evening outside a different corner store. How often do you find people reading poetry these days?
For several years, Christopher and Rory slept rough in Queen Elizabeth park, a couple dozen blocks from where we stood, and I would often see them carrying their sleeping bags around with them during the day. But about six months ago the two men applied for, and were granted, suites in a brand-new social housing building near First Avenue. When they’d moved in, they were both excited and proud of their homes. The stability seemed to have agreed with both of them, and they had looked healthier and cleaner since moving in.
Christopher apologized for his friend. “He’s had a rough couple of days.”
I nodded. “I get it. I’ve had some rough days myself.”
The heat of the summer night was stifling, and I could feel trickles of sweat on my back and under my arms. I was wearing my lightest, breeziest maxi dress, but even if I’d been naked, I would have been too hot. I pushed some hair off my face and a thought occurred to me. I went into the corner store and bought two bottles of water and brought them back out to Christopher.
“You guys need to stay hydrated.”
“Yes, ma’am,’ he said, smiling, and shifted his sketch pad to his left hand to accept the bottles.
“What are you drawing tonight?”
He set the bottles down and turned the pad to show me a pencil sketch of a dragon rearing up on its hind legs, blowing flames. There was an incinerated pile of ash on the ground below the flames.
“Anyone you know?” I said, pointing to the ash.
He grinned and turned the pad back toward himself to consider this. “Maybe it’s my sixth-grade math teacher, Mr. Burns.”
“Fractions.” I shuddered. “He deserved it.”
All the windows in my house were open. Some of the curtains were closed against the sun, but in my studio, which faced south specifically for the abundant light, I was melting. Facing south is an advantage for catching every drop of light in gray and rainy Vancouver, except during the 10 days a year or so when the temperature becomes abnormally, uncomfortably hot. I had a kitchen dish cloth on a table beside my easel so that I could wipe my painting hand, and my neck, dry every few minutes. There hadn’t been a breath of air or a cloud in the sky for over a week.
I’d been struggling much of the morning, trying to find the right color of green for some leaves on an arbutus tree I was painting. The heat seemed to have melted my ability to be creative.
A thud and then a stream of profanities floated up and reached my ears through the open studio windows. Ellie, my tenant, must be home. I glanced up from the easel and saw her standing over two grocery bags that were spilling their contents onto my back lawn.
I walked over to a window and stuck my head out. “Need some help?”
She looked up at me, her eyes hidden behind enormous, but stylish, bug-eye sunglasses. “Have you got a gun I could shoot myself with?”
I put my paintbrush down and went downstairs and then out the back door and down the porch steps, grateful for the distraction. I picked up the two canvas bags on the lawn, put the bags of chips and boxes of crackers that had fallen out back inside them and followed Ellie into the laneway house that took up a third of my backyard.
She was stalled by the front door. “As soon as I can find my fu…. Oh, wait. Here we go.” She pulled a key ring out of her purse. It had cascading clusters of keys, obviously, but also several dangly, decorative fob things, and a couple of clip-on additions that branched out from the mother-ring. I could not imagine how anyone could ever have enough keyholes to fit all those keys. Also, you’d think the size of the whole apparatus would make it impossible to lose, and yet it was something Ellie was constantly searching for.
At six feet tall in her stockings, Ellie is an imposing figure. Today she was wearing sandals with a small heel, and yet her hair still brushed the doorjamb as she walked into the tiny house. She had her long, dark curls styled in what I would call Dolly-Parton-meets-active-volcano; piles of hair were loosely scattered around her cranium. Whenever I’d tried the same style, I looked like I’d just come out of a tumble dryer. On Ellie, the curls and waves looked elegant and effortless.
I followed her down the hall into the kitchen / living room. My arms were aching by the time I set the bags down. Ellie wiped her brow and leaned both hands on the kitchen island.
“Could it be any hotter? I need a drink. G&T, honey?”
It was 10:30 am. I shook my head.
My tenant began unpacking her grocery and tote bags, all while narrating the story of her day thus far. She was a partner in a hair salon near Granville Island, which was a never-ending source of drama between the unreliable stylists, the demanding customers, and her two business partners. I was never sure how much of the drama was self-induced. Ellie seemed to thrive on chaos, as evidenced by the overflowing bags that surrounded us now and the laundry piled high on her couch (maybe dirty, maybe clean; I was never sure). The small patio glimpsed through the glass door had about one square foot of open space, the rest of it covered in plant pots, furniture and kitschy doo-dads.
Ellie glided around her kitchen, elegant in a sleeveless pink dress that looked like it might be made of silk, her dark chocolate skin glistening from the heat. The chaos in her life never extended to her appearance, which was always camera ready.
I sat on one of the barstools on the far side of her kitchen island and watched as she made the mess worse by unpacking the bags we’d brought in. She’d lift out a bag of rice or a package of crackers, but rather than put it away, she’d become distracted by the next thing and set the rice or crackers down on the counter or stove top. How she ran a successful business was beyond me. I often wondered if her partners kept things in order, though according to Ellie they were hopeless.
“…and then, this little tart in a dress made of overalls…” She looked up at me and wrinkled her nose. “Can you even? Ugh. Anyway, she decides it’s just too hot to work and leaves. Leaves the shop!” Ellie’s voice rose with incomprehension. “I said, ‘Honey, if you leave us here with your customers, don’t plan on ever coming back.’ Do you know what she said in response?”
I shook my head.
“She said…” Ellie set the container of ice cream she’d been holding down on the countertop, and I could tell she was going to forget about it immediately. “That little cow said, ‘Works for me. Bye, bitch.’ And she left. Can you even? ‘Bye, bitch’? Nobody bye bitches me.”
The tirade continued. After a few minutes, when Ellie still hadn’t touched the ice cream again, I couldn’t stand it any longer. I tiptoed around the bags and scooted around Ellie herself to grab the container and take it to the freezer.
“Thanks, hon. Grab me that gin bottle, will you?”
I handed her the the blue bottle from the freezer. Her right hand was holding a small lampshade with a beaded rim that she’d pulled out of one the bags, and in her left was a wad of crumpled papers. She couldn’t take the gin bottle from me until she let go of something. I took the papers from her and went to set them down when something caught my eye. A face staring out from the top page. I rifled down through the five or six sheets below the top one and realized each page had the same image on it.
“What’s this?” I said, looking at Ellie, who was splashing gin into a tall glass.
“What, honey?” She squinted at the papers. “Oh, that young man who wears the two hats gave those to me outside the grocery store.”
“I don’t know. He wears that disgusting toque even in this heat, and then has a baseball cap on top of it.” She shuddered and set the gin bottle down on the counter, top off, and began rummaging around in her fridge, looking for tonic and a lime, I assumed.
“The guy with the two hats is Rory. He gave these to you?”
She pulled her head out of the fridge. “Like I needed another thing to carry.” Ellie’s expressive brown eyes rolled up in her head. She acted the imperious queen, but I’d never seen her pass anyone on the street who was asking for money without giving them not only some of the bills from her wallet but also a smile and a little chat. “He’s plastering those all over the ’hood and asked me to post one. Where exactly he expected me to do that, I do not know. Do you know that guy?” She touched the pages in my hand with a sharply pointed fingernail painted bright pink to match her dress.
I’m not sure if I answered her. Staring back at me from the paper were the kind eyes and distinctive sharp cheekbones that I’d recognize anywhere, even in this grainy black and white photo. The word ‘Missing’ was handwritten below the image. It was Christopher’s face.
Interview with Alexandra Amor
I hope you enjoyed that little teaser of the first book in the new Freddie Lark mystery series. I really enjoy writing it and I’m enjoying writing the next one. Actually, that’s what I’m working on now.
I want to tell you a little bit about where the book came from and what inspired me. A little bit of the background creative information, which, as I said in the intro, is one of my favorite things.
This is a series, obviously, of contemporary mystery novels. My previous series, the Town Called Horse series, is set in 1890 in a fictional town in British Columbia. And I wanted to try then to write something in the current time where there’s technology available and all the normal stuff that we’re used to.
It’s certainly a different kind of challenge and one that I’m really enjoying. It’s been really fun so far to write those books.
Freddie lives in my old neighborhood where I lived in Vancouver for about 30 years. And it’s been a blast, remembering all the things about that neighborhood and the sights and the smells and the people and the sounds and all that kind of stuff. It’s a real treat to celebrate that neighborhood that I lived in for so long and honor it for all the time that I spent there. It’s been really it’s really a joy to touch back.
I’m not living there anymore. I live in a tiny town now on an island off the coast of British Columbia. And so writing about Vancouver really takes me back there. I can visit it without having to deal with the traffic headaches, which is really nice. So that’s been great.
As Freddie mentioned in in the prologue, she was named after her grandmother and her grandmother’s name was Alfreda. That was my grandmother’s name. A couple months ago, when I was noodling around thinking about ideas for this series and just seeing what was showing up, I wanted the name for the main character to be a little bit different. Something kind of unusual that people would easily remember.
And so I thought of my grandmother’s name. She was never called Freddie. She was always called Frieda. And interestingly, her husband, my grandfather, was named Fred. So they were Fred and Frieda. People always thought that was kind of funny.
When I thought of using that name, I thought, if people called her Freddie, that would be interesting and a little bit different. You don’t often hear women being called Freddie.
And then Lark I chose specifically, and I’m trying to decide right as I say this, whether or not to tell you what that’s all about. You know what? I think I’ll wait.
In the first full length novel, which will be called Lark Underground and should be available in April 2020 for purchase on all the regular online stores and at your favorite bookstore and library anywhere where you get your books, Freddie’s father explains where that name came from. So I’m just going to leave that there as a little bit of a teaser for you.
The other big thing about this book, but about really about all my books, is I’m really inspired by other forms of art, like television shows or movies or books where the themes are really about community and the families that we create from our friend groups for lack of a better way to saying it. So things that really inspired me are things like The West Wing or the TV show Parks and Recreation. There’s another TV show that ran for, I think, three seasons called Playing House. I think it was on the USA Network starring Jessica St. Clair and Lennon Parham.
I finally realized a few years ago that all of the art that I enjoy really focus on that sense of supporting one another, lifting one another up. The families that we create from our friendships and that kind of thing. So that’s really the focus of these Freddie Lark books.
I read somewhere recently that private investigators and detectives fulfill a superhero role for us as humans when we read about their stories. And I was wondering about what Freddie’s superpower is. And to me, it’s really kindness. She’s a really kind person, she’s a little bit out of her depth with the things that she’s getting into.
She’s not a trained police officer or even hasn’t even been trained as a private investigator. But justice is important to her as it is in every mystery novel. And it’s particularly important to her that she do the right thing. She has quite a strong moral backbone, which I liked.
I’m interested to get to know her a little bit better as I continue to explore while I write the next few books. As I mentioned, the next book is called Lark Underground. I’m about halfway done writing. The first draft should be finished in another two weeks, probably. So the middle of February 2020 and then comes to revising, which always takes the bulk of the amount of time. When I’m creating a book anyway.
Some people write really clean first drafts. And I don’t I mean, they’re not super messy or anything, but there’s definitely a lot of massaging. And going into greater depth in certain scenes. I could devote a whole podcast of that whole process. So I won’t bore you with that.
That’s about it for episode 71. I really hope you enjoyed listening and that you’ll enjoy this new format of the show.
Next week, I’ll be speaking to an author from the U.K. named Peter Bertram. Peter is the author of the Colin Crampton mystery novels. Those are based in Brighton, which is a town in England on the South Coast. And I think you’ll really enjoy hearing from Peter. I’ve interviewed him before and he’s been incredibly prolific since the last time I spoke to him and has, I think, a total of 12 books out now, which is amazing. All in the same series, all featuring Colin Crampton. So I hope you enjoy that.
And until then, happy reading. Talk to you soon. Bye.