Phyllis Entis

Award-winning mystery writer and food safety microbiologist


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My interview with Don McCauley (The Authors Show)

2019-Seal-TopFemale-Winner-Mystery-300dpiAs part of the bling surrounding my award as 2019 Top Female Author (Mystery/Suspense/Thriller), I was interviewed recently by Don McCauley of The Authors Show.

Don sent me a list of questions in advance of the interview. Once having been a Girl Guide, I was happy for the chance to ‘Be Prepared’ with an answer to each question.

Since many of you may not have had the opportunity to listen to the interview when it aired on July 30th, I thought share some of those questions and answers with you today.

Who do you write for?

I write for myself, first of all. If I don’t like my characters or my story line, no one else will. 

Secondly, I write for my fellow lovers of classic detective fiction – fans of Phillip Marlowe, Sam Spade, and Kinsey Millhone. Third of all, I write for my father. My sister once commented that I write the sort of books he used to like to read. Her observation is always at the back of my mind when I’m writing. 

My father was not a fan of blood and gore, beyond what is absolutely necessary to a story. Nor was he fond of sex scenes or lewd behavior in the books he read. My books aren’t entirely clean: there’s the occasional swear word, where appropriate. As for sex scenes, I don’t want to reveal any spoilers, but I don’t think The Gold Dragon Caper would necessarily pass muster with the Clean Indie Reads Facebook group.

Is there a central message in your books?

Not deliberately. I’m just trying to write stories that people will enjoy reading. I think I can do that without resorting to extreme violence, serial killers, and extraneous sexual encounters.

What is the most important idea you are sharing in your book that will add value to the reader’s life?

My husband and I owned and operated our own small business for more than twenty years. We worked together successfully, because we each valued and respected the other’s expertise and integrity. I couldn’t have had a better business partner.

In the relationship between Damien and Millie, I try to share that same sense of caring, trust and partnership which formed the basis of my relationship with my own husband. A married couple can work together, play together, and stay together successfully if they are sensitive to and understanding of each other’s needs.

What does it mean to you to be one of the top female authors this year?

Validation. I am not a fan of popularity-based competitions, and do not enter them. To have received an award in a juried competition is very special. 

Tell us your most rewarding experience since publishing your books?

I had a cousin who was a world-renowned dentist and professor of dentistry. He passed away last year. 

Cousin Harry read mostly non-fiction. He almost never chose to read a detective novel. Yet, he decided to take my second book, The White Russian Caper, with him on a holiday cruise a few months after it was released. Upon returning home, he sent me an email, calling the book a ‘tour de force,’ and adding: “Most impressed am I with your ingenuity, creativity, intellect, research and ability to keep people like myself glued to the suspense of the story. I rarely take time out to read fiction. You produced a convert.”

I cherish that email.

Did your environment or upbringing play a major role in your writing and did you use it to your advantage?

All four of my grandparents were of East European-Jewish stock. I grew up surrounded by traditional values and traditional practices. My heritage informed the significance of an old Russian medallion in my second book, The White Russian Caper. Also, Millie’s grandfather, a minor character in The Chocolate Labradoodle Caper is a quiet tribute to my own maternal grandfather.

If someone wrote a book about your life, what would the title be?

“Send in the Clones”

I have a habit of committing to projects without considering how much time and energy they will consume. This includes researching one or more new book projects, beta-reading for some of my Street Team members, writing reviews, maintaining my eFoodAlert blog site, grooming the dog, cleaning the house, and all the other daily minutiae of life while still finding time to work on my current manuscript. It reaches a point where I feel guilty if I sit down in an easy chair, book or iPad in hand and just read.

After going through a period of hyperactivity, I find myself wishing for a clone to take on the less fun tasks. Instead, I try to cut off making additional commitments until I have caught up.

How would you describe your writing style?

When working on one of my detective novels, I tend to be a ‘seat of the pants’ writer. I have a rough idea of the main plot when I begin, but no formal outline. I tried outlining, and found that the finished manuscript bore almost no resemblance to the initial outline. I do keep track (or try to keep track) of characters: their names, physical attributes, personality quirks, et cetera. This is especially important when writing a series in which several of the characters make return appearances from one book to the next.

My approach to non-fiction writing is much more structured. I am in the early stages of writing a book on the pet food industry. I have completed a formal outline, and have been carrying out my research (mostly on the internet, of course) to flesh in the necessary technical details. Even so, I expect I shall deviate from the outline as I actually start to write.

Why do you write?

I write to keep my brain alive. I write because it feels good. Because it’s fun. I love creating a world in which I have control over the outcome of events. A world in which the good guys (usually) come out on top.

Writing is an escape for me. I hate what has been happening to the political climate in the US in the last few years. Writing helps me to close my ears when the tumult becomes unbearable.

What do you hope to accomplish?

I am a competitive person; however, my biggest competition is myself. I enjoy sharpening my writing skills from book to book. I have several beta-readers who help me to avoid the worst pitfalls in my plots, syntax, and presentation. I listen to them and incorporate most of their suggestions both into the current manuscript and into subsequent works.

Bottom line, I hope to provide enjoyment to my audience through my writing. My goal is to have each of my new books be hailed as ‘the best one yet’ – to read a review that says “Phyllis Entis keeps getting better and better.” If I can achieve that goal, I’ll know that I haven’t disappointed my readers.

 

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Welcome to Victoria, my new home

Victoria, located at the southern tip of British Columbia’s Vancouver Island, is not Canada’s oldest city. That honour goes to St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador, founded in 1497.

Our new home doesn’t even crack the top ten among the oldest Canadian cities, missing that list by 50 years.

Victoria was founded as a Hudson Bay Company trading post in 1843, and was incorporated as a city in 1862, just five years before the British parliament passed the British North America Act, giving birth to the Dominion of Canada.

In spite of its relative youth, Victoria lays claim to being the site of the oldest Chinatown in Canada, the oldest synagogue in continuous use in Canada, and the oldest Masonic Lodge in British Columbia.

Victoria’s Chinatown is situated on the northern fringe of the city’s downtown core, just a couple of blocks away from Centennial Park and City Hall, and a 15-minute walk from the Empress Hotel, the Inner Harbour, and the grounds of the British Columbia Parliament buildings.

We lived in a vacation rental apartment one block south of Chinatown while we were waiting for our furniture to arrive from California, and we had the opportunity to explore the area.

The Gate of Harmonious Interest, at the corner of Fisgard and Government, adorns Chinatown’s main commercial block.

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There are several narrow alleyways, lined with shops, that connect Fisgard to Pandora, one block over. One of these is Fan Tan Alley.

 

The Chinese population of Victoria holds education in high esteem. The Chinese Public School, built in 1908, is still in active use today.

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Wherever you turn in Chinatown, there is a reminder of the heritage of this historic part of Victoria.

 

If you’ve enjoyed this first visit to our new home town, please stay tuned for additional glimpses into Victoria and Victorians.


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I’ll beat my drum

“I’ll march my band out, I’ll beat my drum” – lyrics from Don’t Rain on my Parade (Funny Girl)

I am one of those people who – happily or otherwise – is afflicted with the tendency to channel musicians inside my head.

Today’s guest artist is the great Barbra Streisand, in her role as Fanny Brice.

One of the most difficult chores for me as a self-published novelist is marketing. Selling myself – more specifically, my work – to the world.

I grew up in an era and in a family in which modesty about one’s accomplishments was the norm. Bragging or boasting was frowned upon. Blowing one’s own horn, or beating one’s own drum, was discourteous. It just wasn’t done.

But to be a successful author – to actually sell my books to strangers – I had to learn to promote myself. To learn that it is okay to brag about my accomplishments.

Today, strange as it still feels, I am beating my own drum.

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This juried award was bestowed in recognition of The Gold Dragon Caper, fourth of the Damien Dickens Mysteries.

I am grateful to the readers and writers who nominated me for this award, and to The Authors Show for sponsoring this annual competition.


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My Secret Garden

It’s official!

Those of you who guessed Victoria are correct. You may pat yourselves on your collective backs. To claim your promised Audible download code, please drop me an email.

In the coming weeks, I’ll share a few stories about our new home town. Today, however, I thought to welcome you into my new backyard.

It is fair to say that we now live in a park. Deer roam at will (although not while I’ve had camera in hand), squirrels scurry and robins search for worms. Shalom and I even encountered a peahen (that’s a female peacock, for the uninitiated) on one of our evening walks.

I took these photos today of our garden to share with you. Please come on in.

The trunk of a Garry Oak surrounded by flowering shrubs (not yet in bloom)

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The Garry Oak is native to southeastern Vancouver Island and some of the Gulf islands. It is a protected species. We are fortunate to have a spectacular specimen in our garden.

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A lush corner of the garden

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The entire backyard is deer-proofed and hedged with mature rhododendrons.

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Shalom thanks you for visiting, and invites you to stop by and play with her.

 


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Jake – In the Beginning

Last month, I told the story of my nephew (and Godson), Jake Bloomfield, who died on May 1st at the age of thirty.

Yesterday, while unpacking some books, I found this letter. It was written by my husband, Michael Entis, just a couple of weeks before Jake’s seventh birthday.

“Sometime on Friday afternoon, March 1st, a special birthday party will take place at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children. Jake Bloomfield turns seven on that day.

Jake has been a patient at the Hospital more or less full time since the beginning of 1996. Jake has a brain tumor attached firmly to his brain stem. Since early January, Jake has heroically undergone four surgeries. This is Jake’s story.

Jake’s life began almost seven years ago in Mississauga. During his first two years of life, his speech and walking skills evolved at a much slower pace than the average child. With much patience on the part of his parents, the dedicated help of speech and physiotherapists, and especially Jake’s own willingness to see his way through the challenge that life had thrown at him, by the age of two, he was walking and making himself understood to all those that loved him.

img038At around the age of three, Jake’s father, Harvey, took a photo of Jake with a lopsided smirk on his face. That photo together with the caption “Make My Day” found its way into the Toronto Star (Mississauga Supplement). Little did Jake’s parents realize that Jake’s lopsided smirk was a reflection of the brain tumor that they were to discover only six months later.

It was a routine visit to the pediatrician that brought Jake and his parents, Barbara and Harvey, to the biggest challenge of their lives. Their doctor noticed a slight droop on one side of Jake’s face and suggested that they visit specialists at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children. Before very long, Jake and his parents met Dr. Humphreys, a highly respected pediatric neurosurgeon at the Hospital.

Dr. Humphreys determined that Jake had a very difficult brain stem tumor which had afflicted him since birth. An operation was scheduled and Dr. Humphreys was successful in removing about 1/3 of Jake’s tumor. The tumor was found to be benign (a low grade astrocytoma). Given Jake’s age, the doctors elected not to be more aggressive. They hoped that by disturbing the tumor and reducing its size, it might not develop further.

For three relatively peaceful years, Jake was able to resume the normal life of a youngster. Despite his disabilities, Jake’s endearing personality brought him close to his many friends, teachers and relatives.

In the summer of 1995, Jake began to suffer intolerable and persistent headaches. Jake was now six years of age. Once again, his parents escorted him to the Hospital for Sick Children. Dr. Humphreys determined that Jake was suffering high pressure headaches which could only be relieved by the implantation of a shunt, a device designed to relieve the pressure on the brain caused by excessive accumulation of cerebral spinal fluid. Jake had a shunt installed and a week later went home with his parents.

Then, it was December 1995. Jake’s world began to crumble. The headaches came on again, stronger than ever. And again, they marched back downtown to that hospital that was just too familiar. In mid-January 1996, Dr. Humphreys replaced Jake’s shunt due to low pressure headaches. A week later, he performed another surgery due to high pressure headaches. Jake was sent home for brief periods following each surgery. But the headaches continued to return to him relentlessly. In desperation, his parents once again rushed him back to the hospital. The doctors, using the most modern methods available in Canada, determined that Jake’s tumor had grown back and that he would, once again, have to undergo the surgeon’s knife.

Earlier in February (it feels like an age ago), Jake underwent his second major brain surgery to have his tumor “debulked”. Since that surgery, he has had still another surgery to remove his latest shunt device, which had become contaminated with a stubborn bacterial infection (Staph aureus). As I write this article, the doctors at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children are working tirelessly to rid Jake’s body of this bacterial alien.

On Friday, Jake turns seven. I’m his Uncle Michael (and also Jake’s Godfather). I would dearly love to wish Jake a wonderful seventh birthday and to express the fervent hope that Jake will enjoy many, many more birthdays surrounded by his many friends and devoted family.”

Michael sent this letter to Emery Worldwide. The international freight company orchestrated the delivery from San Diego, California of Jake’s birthday present – a model train set – to his hospital room, adding their own gift of a model airplane to the shipment.

Emery’s World (the magazine for Emery Worldwide employees) published a condensed version of the story in its July/August 1996 edition.

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Journey’s End, Part Two

It’s time for another set of clues.

Here are some examples of the heritage architecture of our new Home Town, all within walking distance of each other.

Masonic Temple, built 1878

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Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association and Chinese Public School, built 1909

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Congregation Emanu-el, built 1863

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A peek down the length of Chinatown’s Fan Tan Alley

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One final hint. If you open one of the images from my first post in a new tab and magnify it, you will find the answer to the riddle embedded in the image.

Come on, mystery lovers. Prove yourselves worthy partners in the Dickens Detective Agency. Solve this riddle! 


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Journey’s End

We arrived at the start of our new adventure on May 20th.

We are here to stay.

Shalom is tired of all the moving about and is ready to settle down in our new home.

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“Where are we?”

We are in a town that loves dogs and bicycles. A town that cherishes its heritage. A town that welcomes newcomers and is conscious of the environment.

A town with its very own Gold Dragon!

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To get here, we crossed bodies of water. But we didn’t need to leave the car (except for our overnight stops along the way).

Here are a couple of visual clues to help you figure out the answer.

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This utility box has been wrapped with an enlarged 1954 aerial photo of the town.

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If you think you have figured out where we have landed, feel free to comment. In honour of our move, for the next 72 hours (or until supplies last) I shall give a free download code for the audiobook edition of The Gold Dragon Caper to everyone who gets it right.

If no one has the correct answer by then, I’ll post a couple of additional clues.

Please play fair. If I have already told you about our moving plans, do not post a spoiler.

Your time starts NOW!

GO!