Friday, July 11, 2014

Lou Allin - RIP

Many of you knew Lou Allin

I have only just heard that she lost her battle with pancreatic cancer yesterday.

To honor Lou, I'm reposting two of the pieces she wrote for Meanderings and Muses.

Rest in peace, Lou, you will be missed.

Tell Me the Landscape by Lou Allin

Lou Allin is the author of the Belle Palmer mysteries set in Northern Ontario, ending withMemories are Murder. Now living on Vancouver Island with her border collies and mini-poodle, she is working on a new series where the rainforest meets the sea. On the Surface Die and She Felt No Pain feature RCMP Corporal, Holly Martin, in charge of a small detachment near Victoria. In 2010 Lou will debut That Dog Won’t Hunt, a novella in Orca’s Raven Reads editions for adults with literacy issues. Her website and she may be reached at
Lou's work view is of Washington State across from the Strait of Juan de Fuca looking at Port Angeles

Tell Me the Landscape by Lou Allin
Northern Ontario and Canada’s Caribbean are as far apart in reputation as in distance, but they’ve been my home. Seven months of winter or of rain, I made peace with my environment by taking Ortega y Gassett’s advice:“Tell me the landscape in which you live and I will tell you who you are.” 
The Nickel Capital of Sudbury, ravaged for a century by logging, mining, smelting, and acid rain, is no longer the black moonscape where astronauts supposedly trained. In the thirty years that I lived there, an immense regreening program turned the city into a model of environmentalism. Rye-on-the-rocks brought back the grass, and over twenty million pine seedlings were planted in an effort shared by community, business, and government.
Living on a vast meteor-crater lake north of the city, I was blessed with crown land in all directions. Not only could I forge for hours on my own paths with my dogs, but I could paddle a canoe to quiet inlets where bass bit and peregrines nested on high cliffs. The landscape called me to sing its praises. In a paradise of two hundred lakes, I gave my realtor sleuth Belle Palmer a specialty in cottage properties so that she could roam, too.
My first mystery, NORTHERN WINTERS ARE MURDER, opened with a snowmobile accident and the cover picture of a hand frozen in a lake. Like me, Belle rode a modest 250 Bravo, VW of the snowmachine world. What better ending than a rip-roaring chase from jewel to jewel with the ice thawing at the edges? Winter freed us from summer’s limitations.
Switching seasons, BLACKFLIES ARE MURDER’s cover had a pail spilling blueberries and suspicious blood dotting the bushes. The bear-baiting in the initial scene was taken from memory, an ursine smorgasbord of doughnuts tied into alders and lemon pies on rock shelves. Bug dope stained every page, and I have the memory welts to prove it.
The wilderness was ideal territory for dogs, and Belle lived with Freya, a hardy German shepherd. But what about sending a mini-poodle puppy into a blizzard? BUSH POODLES ARE MURDERfeatured an apricot devil whose paws had to be thawed from ice balls every ten minutes on the snowshoe path. Tiny Strudel (Friday in real life) became a mighty huntress of shrews. On the cover she posed proudly in her Anna Karenina cape.

The beauties of autumn presented a new challenge in MURDER, EH? The final chase scene ended at Thor Lake, faithful to topographical maps. Since each of my books featured a relevant recipe, luckily a deserted cabin had the ingredients for nutritious bannock. To add a macabre touch, the remote lake, accessible only by train, was the scene of a murder-suicide this year.
The final entry, MEMORIES ARE MURDER served up the fly-ridden Burwash area, former scene of an Ontario prison from which no man ever escaped. Elk had been relocated there in a pilot program a few years ago. Belle’s old high-school boyfriend, a zoologist, came north to study the animals and drowned mysteriously. In another life-imitates-art moment, just before the book appeared, hunters found the body of a missing woman very near the opening scene location.

Though evidence pointed to the husband and an accomplice, charges have not been laid.

After leaving behind my plow truck, two snowblowers, five shovels, and a scoop, I moved to Canada’s Caribbean, the southeast coast of Vancouver Island, where the rain forest meets the sea. Bananas and kiwis grow in my yard. Bugs flee the salt air. “Welcome to Paradise,” the realtors say, but they know that BC also means “Bring cash.”
The climate is mild, neither too hot nor too cold. The snow-capped Olympic Mountains in Washington State across the Strait of Juan de Fuca assume a life of their own as mist rolls in and foghorns moan. But gone is the wilderness. The timber companies have been raping the land for over a century, threatening job losses if challenged. They own the major portion of the island and prefer to log near the water where it’s more convenient. Only through world pressure was the treasured Clayoquot Sound saved from the saw. With the market for lumber floundering, their latest plan is to convert their leases to real estate and reap a million dollars an acre. Only sensible zoning can prevent that, and it’s going to be a hard fight.
In my new series, starting with AND ON THE SURFACE DIE, Holly Martin, RCMP corporal, commands a small detachment west of Victoria. She may not have blizzards, but the book ends with a century typhoon that hit as I arrived in 2006. There was no Christmas that year, only two five-day power outages as thousands of three-hundred-foot Douglas firs fell uprooted across power lines, crushing cars and houses. It’s a rough way to make the front page of The Globe and Mail, my neighbour said, her seven-acre waterfront estate of Sitka spruces now a war zone. Woodpiles will be stocked for years, but burning the debris (landfills are scarce on an island) filled the air with smoke January to June.

Learning about my new home has brought more guidebooks. Instead of blueberries, we have salmonberries, salal berries, and the toughest plant in the world, Himalayan blackberries. Tomatoes won’t grow on this windy coast, but artichokes thrive. Bald eagles soar, and western jays squawk. We still have bear aplenty, and deer, too, but elk have replaced moose. How odd that the island has no foxes, but small wonder that it has a rabbit overpopulation. No poisonous snakes, but poisonous salamanders. And an unusual gift, banana slugs, a helpful detrivore which scours the environment and has only one lung! Always present is the generous beast of the Pacific, bringer of crab, shrimp, salmon and “hali,” in this former fishing village, Sooke. With its intertidal zones, world-famous Botanical Beach sets the murder scene in AND ON THE SURFACE DIE. At low tide, the sea creatures emerge. Mussels, starfish, anemones, rock crabs, and the primitive chitons, especially the gum boot variety, huge pink erasers weighing several pounds.
As I was an ambassador for Sudbury, showing its beauties to the world, I’m now sounding warnings for this spectacular part of Canada. Vancouver Island stands on the brink of disaster not only because of the logging, but because so many people want to come and live here. Locals feel like “pulling up the drawbridge,” and perhaps the rising ferry fares will do that. It’s not just our whales that need saving from “development” and the attendant pollution. It’s the land itself. Will the green forces succeed or will we be paving paradise again?

I'm the Bush Poodle, not the Blind Poodle by Lou Allin

Born in Toronto, Lou Allin grew up in Cleveland. She received a PhD in English Renaissance Literature and spent three decades in Northern Ontario as a professor of English.
With a cottage on a frozen lake as her inspiration, she started her Belle Palmer series, featuring a realtor and her German shepherd, beginning with Northern Winters Are Murder.
Lou has moved to Canada’s Caribbean, Vancouver Island, with Friday the mini-poodle and Zodie and Zia the border collies, overlooking the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
Her island series stars RCMP corporal Holly Martin: And on the Surface Die, She Felt No Pain and the upcoming Twilight is Not Good for Maidens.
Lou’s standalones are A Little Learning is a Murderous Thing (set in Michigan)and Man Corn Murders (Utah). That Dog Won’t Hunt is designed to appeal to reluctant adult readers. Watch for Contingency Plan in the same series.

I’m the Bush Poodle, not the Blind Poodle
by Lou Allin
          "The hunchback of Notre Dame with a Rastafarian haircut. Cute," Belle Palmer observed as a six-pound bundle of coppery fur with a woolly chest squirrelled past, leaped to pose standing on thin, shaved legs on a rocky outcrop, and then sprang off to clamp onto Freya's nodding German shepherd tail until long hairs dangled from its tiny jaws. An insult to the dog kingdom, she thought, a $700 rodent.
          "Strudel's her name. She's good enough to eat," Miriam MacDonald said.
          How many dogs have their own mystery novel? I’m a writer and a dog lover, so all of my dogs get that privilege. This excerpt comes from Bush Poodles are Murder,written in 2001. Friday (her real name) is now ten and blind. It’s both a special responsibility and a great honour to have her as my friend and companion.
          I first saw Chile Pepper (as she was called by her breeder) when she was eight weeks old. We had gone down to southern Ontario to buy a mini-poodle to fit well with our German shepherd when traveling in our truck’s extended cab. At that time we thought that poodles were low maintenance since they didn’t shed. Big mistake, that.
          The GMC’s rear seats had been replaced with a padded platform. That’s where Friday’s crate went. Her 120 pound  “brother” Nikon was instructed firmly not to approach the baby. He became her guardian for the five years he had left, a gentle giant.
          On our honeymoon night we camped in a crowded provincial park near a shale beach. It was humid and hotter than hell, even for Ontario. As we took her leashless around the large campground, she stayed by our feet like a furry magnet. But just in case, we put a collar and rope on her and tied her to a picnic table while we made dinner. Like a wild colt, she thrashed and screamed like she was being tortured. What she was telling us was that she was bonded. Friday was smart enough to know that she was home wherever we were.
          As we sweltered in the small tent, flaps open, with our two dogs and bulky air mattresses, Nikon stepped out for a breath of air. Fumbling in the dark, I went after him. When he got back in the tent, he stepped on the keys and hit the remote horn. The truck started blasting all over the campground, waking two hundred people before we found the control tangled in the sleeping bags. It was an auspicious start.
          How could I resist putting her in my next series book? To hype the necessary conflict, I made her a spoiled little girl, but a gutsy heroine in the final scenes where she and the main character find themselves without shelter during a Northern Ontario blizzard. There’s a reason that in the picture she has blood on her mouth and a look of satisfaction. She’s also wearing her Anna Karenina cape. A picture of her jumping with snow in the background put her on the cover of Dogs in Canada. Not bad for a six-month pup.       
          Since we lived in the woods, aka the bush, she was out every day, winter and summer, hiking or snowshoeing. A mighty mouse, she was fearless but prudent. Speed was her salvation. Once an agile young Doberman met us around a corner and started chasing her. Off they went down the woodsy paths and out of sight. “My money’s on the poodle,” my partner said. I envisioned the worst, but in a few minutes, back she came, having led the hapless Dobe on a wild chase and looping back through the woods. Agile lightning.
          Even at -25C, she never missed a trek, wearing her monogrammed purple fleece and nylon parka with slots for handwarmers. The corkscrew nature of poodle hair meant that her paws would become duck feet and have to be “deballed” every fifteen minutes. Once we tried a pair of Mutlucks, but they flew off as she sped along. I tied them in a fir tree on our favourite path.
          As five years passed and we moved to Vancouver Island, Friday’s night vision was worsening. An exam showed the beginning stages of retinal atrophy, a  common genetic weakness. Since the onset occurs after the age of five, her parents wouldn’t have shown the disposition.
          She carried on normally for a few more years as we moved into border collies and started agility training. Friday would chase hell for leather after the bouncing tennis balls from the Chuck-it. Woe to the border collie who got in her way. She was Alpha Bitch at fifteen pounds. She soon adapted to the winter rains and traded her parka for a yellow rain slicker.
          Two years ago, cataracts put her lights out. There was no use operating on them with the underlying retinal problem. But the blindness had come so slowly that she adapted perfectly. Now she uses her sense of smell and hearing to follow our feet into the rainforest and up and down clear-cut roads. Only near a precipice do I use a leash just for precaution.
          When we reach a lake or creek, she remembers that she used to dive for stones, pull them onto shore, and then paw at them in an homage to her terrier roots. She still does this at shore’s edge, but we spit on the stone so that she can better locate it and drop it only inches from her powerful nose. She’s still in on the game! Next treat for her will be a salmonberry or blackberry as they ripen on our magical island. As for mud, she slogs with us through the worst bogs in spring, navigating roots and rocks and up to her knees in muck. At home it’s into the bathtub with me for a good soaping.
          Does she bump into things? Of course. She gives an “oof,” has a restorative shake, and marches on. We never leave her behind, even when we’re backpacking into the wilderness where she might (and we might) might be cougar bait. Life is no fun behind the door. Inclusion is a debt we will happily pay for the years of happiness she’s given us.
          In the tri-level house, she goes up and down the stairs like a pro, then jumps onto the ottoman where she holds court in safety while the border collie chases a toy. The ritual is familiar. “Ready, steady,” then “break!” On the last word, she jumps to a pouncing position. “Ruff, ruff!” she calls down in that commanding poodle way. She’s still participating.
           While she used to jump on the bed with aplomb, that was one trick she had to abandon, or so I thought. Having been in a kennel for a few days while we flew to Arizona, she was very excited on my return. She leaped up on pure faith when I patted the bed. The other day she did the same thing in the rear of our Ford Focus wagon where she rides in a crate. So eager was she to leave for the walk that she leaped up into the back by herself. Our border collie Zia, already crated, might have been telling her that the way was clear.
          Friday depends on us to watch out for her without setting too many limits.  She is as much a lover of life and challenges as she ever was, teaching us lessons about bravery and adaptation AND the sheer joy of action. I’m not her owner. I’m the partner of one very intelligent and truly amazing little dog.


Mason Canyon said...

So sorry to hear of her passing. The book world has lost another wonderful voice.

Anonymous said...

I did not know her or her work but I find these pieces very touching.Thank you. Thelma Straw in hot Manhattan