Phyllis Entis

Award-winning mystery writer and food safety microbiologist


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A Labour Day Tribute

Version 2My grandfather, Jack Quint, was a union man to his core.

A “stitcher” in Montreal’s garment district from the time he was sixteen, my Zaidie joined the United Garment Workers Union in 1905. For as far back as I can remember, he was the Recording Secretary of Local 209.

In 1969, he was asked to contribute an article to the union publication l’Aiguille (The Needle) about his experiences during the early days of the needle trade in Montreal.

I first shared this story on my Prompt Prose blog in 2013. Today, I am doing so again in honour of Labour Day and of my grandfather.

These are his words:

“As a lad of 16, I arrived in Montreal with my father in 1904 from Vilno, Russia.

Finding it most necessary to obtain a job, I was advised to become an apprentice operator in men’s clothing. According to the arrangement, I paid the contractor ten dollars and worked four weeks without pay. From then on he paid me three dollars a week, which was barely enough to pay for room and board. My dad gave me ten cents a week for spending money.

Six months later I asked my boss for a raise. He refused, saying that he could hire an apprentice who would pay him ten dollars. So, after much effort I found a job for five dollars a week. This was considered pretty good pay and I was quite pleased.

In 1905 I became a member of the United Garment Workers, paying ten cents a week for dues. A couple of years later an Independent Union was organized but it did not last very long. 

In 1911 I worked for H. Kelbert. The shop was on the fifth floor. We were denied the use of the elevator so we went on strike in protest. The United Garment Workers came to our rescue. Sam Gandis organized the tailors. We won the strike. During this episode, I became a member of Local 209. 

A year later I was working at B. Gardner. Mr. Gardner was the president of the Employers Association. The union called a general strike. The bosses hired scabs to replace us. Gardner’s shop had the most scabs. These scabs ate and slept in the shop. The Association hired an agent to bring in scabs from Toronto. When we learned that a large group was coming in, we organized a committee to meet them at the railroad station. There we found numerous police and detectives and the scabs were escorted to the Queen’s Hotel.

While we were picketing the hotel, I heard my name being called. I looked up on the balcony and saw that it was my wife’s brother, Morris Lapidus, who was a vice-president of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union. I then learned that the “scabs” were really union people. It seems that when the I.L.G. found out that the agent hired by the Association was in Toronto, they called him and offered to supply the “scabs.” A deal was made whereby the agent paid each man ten dollars. The Association agreed to pay transportation and lodging. 

The “scabs” never went to the shops; instead they joined a meeting of the strikers at Coronation Hall. When the bosses discovered what had happened, they gave up and the strike was settled. The important benefit we won was the reduction of hours from 60 to 55. 

In 1914, we joined the Amalgamated and our local maintained the same number “209.” I became the recording secretary of the Executive Committee and held that position for 38 years. Local 209 was the largest local, but it was always in financial trouble because it was constantly helping out our poor members, especially when they were sick, and donating to many charitable institutions. 

The Amalgamated has gone a long way since those years. We now have benefits we never dreamed of in those early days of our struggle. The members of Local 209 were always in the front lines of every fight to improve conditions. There were leaders like Benny Cotler, Peretz Tonchin, Issie Lighter, Jack Potashner, Issie Stolovitch and so many others to whom we owe much for the good things we have today. 

I am still a member of the Amalgamated and am employed at the Freedman Company. I am very proud of my local and our Union. We have come a long way from the sweat shop conditions of 1904. After spending a lifetime, 65 years, in the Montreal clothing industry, I should know how tremendous our progress has been. And progress we will continue to make in the years to come as long as we faithfully support our Union. I hope I will be around to see it and share it with all Amalgamated members.”

The United Garment Workers and other unions fought for fair wages, safe working conditions, and basic human dignity. Their members risked their livelihoods – sometimes their lives – to achieve even modest improvements.

I am tremendously proud of what my grandfather and others like him achieved.

Imagine what life would be like today without their courage.

Imagine what life is like for workers in those countries where the basic protections and benefits won by these brave men and women do not exist.

 

 


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Book #5 has a name

Some books evolve from the title. The Green Pearl Caper was one of those.

Some titles evolve from the book.

And so it has been for Book #5 in the Damien Dickens series.

I started writing this book with a tentative idea for a title, but without feeling certain it was the correct one. I thought the perfect title would suggest itself naturally, as I drafted the first couple of chapters.

Boy, was I ever wrong.

It has taken the better part of a year, and more than 55,000 words of text, before I could bring myself to decide what to name my current work-in-progress.

Curious?

The opening paragraphs of the Prologue contain a clue to the title. See whether you can figure it out.

Colin Hewitt wrestled the 1976 Ford pick-up truck off Route 99 and onto County Road J22. The power steering was anemic, the tires almost bald. The transmission grated, the brakes squealed, and the suspension was shot. Nevertheless, he counted himself lucky. The truck had only cost him $500.

He pulled over to the side of the road and consulted his map. Luna Azul was about 10 miles dead ahead. He put the Ford into Drive, muttering an oath as the gears ground, then caught. With the suspension bottoming out at every bump and rut in the poorly maintained pavement, Colin drove the rest of the way to his destination.

Luna Azul wasn’t a town. It didn’t even qualify as a village. A tiny speck on the map, it lay some 40 miles north of Bakersfield and consisted of no more than a dozen weatherbeaten one- and two-storey buildings clustered around the junction of J22 and Avenida Agua Caliente. Crossing the intersection, he drove slowly past an orchard and two cattle feedlots. After about a mile, he spotted his turnoff, and swung the truck into a short dirt lane. At the end of the lane, he parked the Ford between a faded yellow panel truck and a refrigerated trailer bearing the name “Rancho Luna Azul”.

Colin stepped out of the pick-up, adjusted his imitation aviator sunglasses, and donned an Oakland Raiders cap to go with his faded blue jeans, white t-shirt and scuffed biker boots. His heart was racing. He needed to get this right. He needed to land this job. Everything – his wife, his child, his entire future – depended on it.

The action in this Caper begins in California. Before long, however, Damien is on the move again, leaving Millie behind to cope with their Carmel client while he heads back to Atlantic City to help Bruno, who has managed to get himself into trouble.

More than that, I shall not tell. Yet. 

Oh, I almost forgot. I was going to reveal the title of this Caper.

Have you figured it out yet? No? Then let me put you out of your misery.

The title of the fifth Damien Dickens book is

THE BLUE MOON CAPER

 


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Induction Rocks!

When we moved into our new home in Victoria, there was one thing we knew needed changing in the kitchen. The gas cooktop and its companion, a built-in deep fryer.

Neither my husband nor I enjoy using a gas range or cooktop. It’s hot, not easily modulated, and a pain to keep clean. And we have no use for a deep fryer.

We purchased our first magnetic induction cooktop eight years ago. It is by far the most convenient, energy-efficient way to cook. Safer than gas, more responsive than electric, induction has been popular in Europe for many years. For some reason, it has been slower to catch on in North America.

The only question mark haunting our project was whether we could find a matching piece of granite to fill the hole left by the deep fryer.

Fortunately, the original countertop fabricator had retained a couple of sizeable remnants in the company ‘bone yard.’ Once we resolved the countertop issue, the rest of the project went smoothly.

First, the plumber removed the old cooktop and capped the gas line.

Next, the cabinet maker removed the deep fryer, replacing it with a drawer to hold oven gloves and pot holders. And he installed wood supports to carry the weight of the new cooktop and the granite surrounding it.

After the electrician roughed in the 220V power connection for the new cooktop, the granite fabricator removed the old piece of granite and prepared the area for installation.

The new granite was set in place.

And our new Wolf induction cooktop was installed.

Thanks to my husband’s talent for logistics, the entire installation from removing the old cooktop to hooking up the new one took only three days.

Now we’re cooking! But not with gas.

Book 5 in the Damien Dickens series has been simmering alongside the kitchen project. I’m hoping to post a teaser – and maybe even a title – next weekend. Looking forward to seeing you then.


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Here, there be deer

Other places warn about deer crossings. Our neighbourhood goes one step further.

Almost daily, we see deer grazing our front lawn or strolling down our street. Shalom has taken to lying in front of the floor-to-ceiling living room window, chin on the windowsill, as she waits to greet our visitors with barks and bounces.

This is what she sees.

Typically, a lone deer will wander over and check out the breakfast buffet.

Soon to be joined by one or more friends.

After a while, the deer notice Shalom’s excited barking and pause to check for any sign of danger.

The “All Clear” given, one doe takes time out for a potty break while the other one stands guard.

I took a stroll this afternoon, hoping to stumble across one of the families of deer that roam through the area. There is one foursome we often see from our window, consisting of a stag (complete with antlers), a doe and two fawns.

I didn’t have any luck with that, but did have a fairly close encounter with a lone doe as I walked the path through our local blackberry patch.

The berries are starting to ripen. I shall need to dig out my recipe for preserves before too much more time passes.

The doe was kind enough to pose for me.

As I turned for home, I spotted this magnificent tree.

I hope you enjoyed this glimpse into our new neighbourhood. See you again next Sunday.


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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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Wake up and smell the roses, etc.

What better activity for a Sunday afternoon than to take a walk around the garden.

I hope you’ll join me for a stroll as I sample just a few of the abundant variety of trees, shrubs and flowers in our private park.

Roses

No Victoria garden would be complete without roses. It seems as though each time I look, I find yet another shrub peeking out from among its neighbouring plants.

Rose

I found this beauty surrounded by a plethora of other shrubs and flowers. I’ve not yet managed to identify its neighbours, but I intend to.

 

Small rose

This little one was hiding under our boundary shrubs, enjoying the dappled sunlight

 

Patriotic Roses

I thought this was a single rose bush, until the red flowers started to blossom. Now I have a Canadian rose bush, displaying the red and white of our flag

 

Japanese Maple

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There are several types of Japanese Maple. Our garden boasts a pair of the lace-leaf variety.

 

Pure Purple

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Meet my Cotinus Royal Purple shrub, trying to hide behind the hydrangea.

 

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Can’t you imagine the Cotinus flower bedecking a lady’s hat on Opening Day at the races?

 

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The fuschia also qualifies in this category. Can you see the purple hearts in the flowers?

 

A Flower of a Different Nature

 

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I hope you will tune in to my podcast interview with Don McCauley. Our 15-minute conversation about my journey as a writer will run continuously from 12:00am to 11:59pm (Eastern Daylight Time) on Tuesday, July 30th.

To access the interview, go to The Authors Show and click on the live link next to my name.

 


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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.