Murder on the slopes in British Columbia!
My guest today is Arthur Ellis Unhanged award nominee Kristina Stanley. Kristina has a trilogy of mystery novels set at a fictional ski resort and you’ll hear Kristina share how she was inspired to write this series.
The excerpt from Descent that Kristina reads led me to ask about the ‘confidence gap’ women often encounter when applying for jobs. And we also talk about Kristina’s writing process and her business that helps other writers improve their work.
This week’s mystery author
Kristina Stanley is the creator of Fictionary, a story editor, and best-selling author of the Stone Mountain Mystery Series, the stand-alone mystery Look the Other Way, and the non-fiction titles The Author’s Guide to Selling Books to Non-Bookstores and Your Story Editing Journey.
She is a Story Editing Advisor for the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi).
She’s published by Imajin Books and Luzifer-Verlag (Germany). Her short stories are published in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine and Voices from the Valleys anthology.
Crime Writers of Canada nominated Descent for the Unhanged Arthur award.
To learn more about Kristina and all her books visit KristinaStanley.com
Press play (above) to listen to the show, or read the transcript below. Remember you can also subscribe to the show on Apple Podcasts. And listen on Stitcher, Android, Google Podcasts, TuneIn, and Spotify.
Excerpt from Descent
“Any security issues with race training today?” Kalin Thompson asked Nick Jones, the director of security at Stone Mountain Resort.
Nick and his wife sat within the glow of the fireplace in the Powder Hound Restaurant.
Kalin had a few moments before Ben was to meet her, and she stepped close to the crackling flames, warming her legs.
Ginny smiled at Nick and caressed his arm. “Today’s our anniversary. Thirty-four years, so Nick is taking the night off.”
“Congratulations.” Kalin shook his hand. Sweat covered his palm, slippery against her skin. “I’ll leave you two alone.”
Nick clenched her hand, yanking her forward.
“Ginny—” He released his grip and slumped sideways.
Kalin leaned across the table. Her fingers touched the fabric of his sweater, but she missed grabbing his sleeve.
His head smacked the slate tile.
Kalin launched around the table and collided with Ginny at Nick’s side. She knelt beside him, checked for a pulse on his neck and found none.
“Get the AED,” Kalin called to the bartender, who stared at her with unblinking eyes.
With her heart rate revving, she pointed toward a set of swinging doors and hoped he couldn’t see her hand shake. “The defibrillator. It’s hanging on the kitchen wall.” She kept her eyes on him until he turned toward the equipment.
A server hovered nearby. Kalin cleared her throat to steady her voice. “Call 911, then security. Wait, not security. Call ski patrol.”
“How do I find ski patrol?”
Kalin tossed her phone to the server. “Call 911 first. Ben’s is the last number dialed. Call him second. He’s already on his way here.”
Ginny leaned over Nick, her reading glasses swinging from her neck, and shook his shoulders. “Nick. Nick. Answer me.”
Kalin grabbed Ginny’s hands. “He needs CPR. Step back. Okay?” Precious seconds were lost as Ginny got herself under control. Kalin blew two breaths into Nick’s mouth, ignored the sour aroma of recently eaten garlic, and began the count of thirty compressions.
While she pumped his chest, a patron gently placed a napkin on Nick’s bleeding forehead. After three rounds of compressions, sweat pooled at the bottom of her spine. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Ginny crouched beside her, rocking to the beat of her chant, “No. No. No.” Tune her out. Just keep pumping.
Kalin released a breath when Ben pressed his palm between her shoulder blades. She stopped pumping at the end of a compression cycle and shifted, giving him space to access Nick. She braced her hands on the top of her thighs, tucked her chin and took a moment to calm herself. She clenched her fists and shoved herself off the floor. Dirt from the slate tiles covered the knees of her jeans, and she wiped them, leaving sweat marks on the denim.
Ben dropped his toque and ski gloves on the tile and kneeled beside Nick. He cut Nick’s cable-knit sweater and the white T-shirt he wore underneath, exposing his torso, and shaved two patches of grey chest hair. He placed electrode pads on Nick’s chest and waited for the AED to analyze his heart rhythm. “It’s recommending a shock.”
Kalin pulled Ginny away from Nick, keeping her arm around Ginny’s shoulder. “Ben knows what he’s doing.”
“I’m clear. You’re clear. Everyone’s clear,” Ben said. After the initial shock didn’t establish a normal rhythm, the AED repeated the shock two times.
Ben turned his attention away from Nick and toward Kalin. He shook his head.
“Keep going. I’ll empty the restaurant.” She resisted a surge of grief and turned to the bartender. “Stay with Ginny.”
The restaurant manager came out of the back office.
After taking in the scene, Kalin approached the manager. “I need you to help me clear the room.”
“But people are still eating.”
The conversation had ceased, and all eyes turned toward Ben and Nick. One man held his fork between the table and his mouth. A woman clutched a napkin to her face.
“No one’s eating anymore. Offer a voucher or a full refund. Whatever it takes to get people out quickly. They’ll understand. Your staff can help. It’ll keep them busy.”
Kalin returned to Ginny. “Has Nick been sick?”
Ginny wrapped her silk scarf around her shoulders and chest as if trying to hold herself together. “He had a cold that turned into walking pneumonia, but he’s better now.”
“Is he taking any medications?”
Ginny shook her head, and her dewdrop earrings swung from her lobes. “He’s going to be okay, right?”
Ben performed a second round of CPR with the tick-tock of the AED’s metronome timing the compressions, but Nick’s vital signs remained absent.
No one answered Ginny.
Ginny squished Kalin’s hand. “Kalin?”
“I don’t know.”
The paramedics arrived. One pulled a stretcher, and the other carried a defibrillator.
“How d’you get here so fast?” Kalin asked. Stone Mountain Resort was nestled between two peaks in the Purcell Mountain Range at twelve hundred meters above sea level and was separated by eighteen kilometers of rough highway from the nearest town of Holden, British Columbia.
“We were at the resort on another call.” The paramedic glanced at the staff guiding patrons to the door or closing bills. “We’ll load and go, and treat during transport.”
The paramedics lifted Nick onto the stretcher and wheeled him toward the exit. Ginny hung on to Nick’s ankle, her high-heeled boots clicking on the tile as she kept pace.
Kalin’s eyes roamed the restaurant until she found the server who had her phone. She called her boss first. Gavin Reed was also Nick’s boss and the president of the resort. “Nick Jones collapsed in the restaurant. I think he had a heart attack.” She took a calming breath while Reed spoke, then said, “He’s been taken to the hospital. Ginny is with him.” She finished the conversation and turned her attention back to the people in the room.
With the last of the restaurant’s patrons cleared from the room, the servers, bartender and manager huddled together in front of the fireplace. The flames licked and danced around the wood, emitting a campfire odor. Two of the women cried, and the rest of the group sat in silence.
Ben joined Kalin, tucked her hair behind one ear and rested his palm on the back of her neck. “You okay?”
Kalin allowed herself the luxury of a full-body hug. She snuck her arms underneath his ski jacket, buried her nose in his brown, curly hair and breathed in the scent of his shampoo. Instead of answering, she nodded, and his stubble scratched her cheek.
She removed her sweater and folded it over the nearest chair. Using her thumb, she scrolled through the contacts in her phone and called the counselor the resort kept on retainer. After she finished the call, she joined the employees.
“This is a lot to take in. The resort’s counselor is on her way. She’ll lead you through a debriefing. If any of you feel like talking, in a group or alone with her, she’ll be here in half an hour.”
“Is he dead?” the bartender asked.
Kalin pressed her lips into a combination of a frown and a smile, an expression she knew made her appear empathetic. “I don’t know. Gavin Reed is going to meet Nick and Ginny at the hospital. He’ll call me when he knows something.”
“He didn’t look good,” one of the servers said.
“No, he didn’t.” Kalin addressed the manager. “Why don’t you take everyone to a conference room and wait there?” The Powder Hound Restaurant sat at the base of the ski hill, a five-minute walk from the administration building that housed Kalin’s human resources office, the accounting team and conference rooms. Distancing the employees from the scene would be good for them. Kalin wanted to distance herself, too. But not yet.
“Who’s going to clear the tables?” the manager asked.
“Ben and I can do that later. Don’t worry about things here. It’s more important your team gets a debrief session.”
Kalin called the director of lodging and explained the situation. “Who do we use to clean blood and body fluids?”
Instead of giving her the information, he offered to contact the specialized company and get the cleaning done. With that taken care of, she couldn’t put off the next call any longer. She phoned Fred Morgan and told him the news. She heard his intake of breath and stayed silent for a moment. Fred, the manager of security, had reported to Nick for twelve years.
“How many security officers are on duty?” she asked.
“They need to be told. Do you want me to meet with them, or do you want to come in?”
“I’ll come in. Thanks for calling ski patrol and not security. The officers are close to Nick. They would’ve had a tough time treating him.”
Alone in the restaurant, Kalin and Ben sat in silence waiting for her boss to call with an update. All that remained of the tragic event were the remnants of Nick’s shirt, latex gloves and tiles stained with blood.
Kalin’s boss expected her in his office at eight-fifteen to talk to her about Nick Jones’s death. Probably about her breach in protocol.
The experience of treating a colleague had left her exhausted, and after she’d locked the restaurant and gone home, she’d stumbled into bed. She hadn’t had time to process what the death of a director meant and wasn’t sure if she was about to be reprimanded.
She snowshoed to work, wearing a fleece top underneath her ski jacket and thermal underwear beneath her ski pants. She entered the administration building and traded her winter boots for hiking boots. Once inside her office, she dropped her headlamp and bear spray on her desk.
After hanging her jacket on the hook behind her door, she walked to Gavin Reed’s corner office. The sun rising over the Purcell Mountains pulled her attention outside and away from the photos of Reed’s son ski racing. Ian Reed in action dominated the interior walls.
In a nervous habit, she tightened the elastic holding her shoulder length hair in a ponytail. She fluffed her bangs using her fingertips. She’d learned there was no point in straightening her hair before her trek to work. She could ignore a bit of frizz and curl in order to stay fit.
The early morning exercise had pulled her out of her funk from the night before but meant she’d be wearing her ski clothes for the day. A quick sniff at the armpit of her fleece. All good. Who wants to stink in front of the president?
Gavin Reed stood and greeted her. Neatly dressed in a button-down shirt and ironed jeans, her six-foot-two boss angled his neck to look down on her, and she straightened her back, making herself taller. When she turned fifteen, she’d shot up like a fast-growing poplar tree to five-foot-ten, towering over the boys in her class. After all the teasing she’d taken, she discovered she found shorter men attractive. Lucky Ben.
“I’m sorry about Nick,” Kalin said.
“Thank you for everything you did last night. I hear you performed exceptionally well. Ginny said you took charge and asked me to pass on her thanks.”
Generous, considering Nick died. Kalin wasn’t about to admit to her boss how scared she’d been and that she’d functioned as if she were on autopilot. Both the hospital and the ambulance dispatch center were in Holden. In a snowstorm, the drive could take over an hour, and for that reason, first-aid training for managers was mandatory. That training had pulled Kalin through the night before. “How is she?”
“As well as can be expected. Have a seat.”
Kalin sat in a chair opposite from Reed, and the leather creaked. “Was it a heart attack?”
“Sudden cardiac arrest. The doctor evaluated the AED data and will debrief Ben today. When she’s ready, I’ll ask Ginny what help she needs.” Reed cleared his throat. “Nick held a key role, and I know this sounds harsh, but we have to fill his position immediately.”
It did seem heartless to post Nick’s position right away. Thanks for your years of service, sorry you’re dead, but we need a new security director. She gave herself an imaginary slap. She was being unfair. Reed had a resort to run. Ski race training had started, and she was sure he had things to worry about other than security. “What about Fred Morgan?”
Reed scratched the back of his neck. “I don’t think he’s ready. He hasn’t shown the required leadership skills.” Reed must have seen the look of surprise on her face because he tempered his comment. “He’s good at his job, but he’s not a forward thinker. He’s knowledgeable about security, and he manages his team well, but I don’t believe he can strategize at the level I need.”
Kalin couldn’t argue with Reed’s assessment. Fred was solid, but he did tend to focus on immediate issues. “Okay. I’ll update the job description. I’m sure no one’s changed it since Nick filled the role. After you’ve approved it, I’ll post it on the relevant sites.”
“That’ll take too long. With the resort opening in three weeks, I need someone now.”
“I can try a headhunter.”
“I was thinking an internal hire.”
Mentally, Kalin ran through the list of managers at Stone Mountain, but before she came up with a recommendation, Reed spoke.
“You’ve done an excellent job managing HR. I’ve seen significant improvements in the department since I moved here. I’d like to combine human resources and security into one group and promote you to director.”
Security patrolled the premises, answered alarms and investigated thefts. They were first responders to anything requiring the Royal Canadian Mounted Police or paramedics. Kalin thought of the team as a mini police force, which would make her a mini police chief. “I’m flattered, but I’m not sure I have the experience.”
“I don’t think that’s true. You handled the situation last night perfectly. I’ve talked with the other directors, and they agree you’re a good choice. Fred knows the day-to-day details and can help you.”
Only if he doesn’t resent me. “I’m not convinced I’m the right person.” Kalin wasn’t sure she wanted the promotion. She’d moved to the British Columbian interior eleven months ago, and with her HR background, she excelled at her current job. The HR office opened five days a week, meaning she didn’t work nights or weekends. She had a solid team in place. It was a sweet setup. In contrast, security operated around the clock and would cause a significant lifestyle change, but maybe it was a choice of moving her career forward or having a personal life.
Reed interrupted her thoughts. “You broke protocol by calling ski patrol instead of security.”
“You made the right call. That’s the type of quick thinking we need in a director. HR and security are both about dealing with people. Your leadership skills are more important than specific security knowledge.”
Maybe. HR dealt with staff issues. Security dealt with guest issues. Both could be difficult, but security issues were more likely to end up in the media or in dealings with the RCMP. The power and excitement of the position tempted her, but without relevant experience, she might fail.
Reed continued to pressure her and explained her new compensation package.
“How much time do I have to decide?”
“I’d like to know now.”
Kalin had the fleeting thought she should discuss this with Ben, but it’s not as if they were married or even engaged. This was her career and her decision. And it was a lot more money, so Ben would have to suck it up and go along with her. “If I accept, I have one request. I’d like to promote Tracey to the HR manager.”
“She’s too young.”
“She’s twenty-two, but she’s been in her role since she was nineteen. She knows the department and is good with people. Most of our employees are in their early twenties, and they relate well to another young person. I think she’s ready.”
“With both of you still here, you have time to post and recruit for the job.”
“I’m not sure about that. We aren’t fully hired for the winter. We have a new staff housing building to bring online, and if I have to focus on security, I’d like Tracey to take over my role. We can hire a replacement for her much easier.”
“Okay.” Reed gave a curt nod. “You can promote her, but it’s your responsibility to make sure she succeeds.”