Month: October 2017

Beginnings

This weekend I attended a meeting of my local romance authors group, where the workshop topic was “Brilliant Beginnings,” as presented by Vanessa Grant. We talked about hooks, and power words, and story questions, and tone, and sensory input and dialogue.  Everyone could agree on the importance to those qualities.  We also suggested a hint of the conflict should be present and something of the main character’s personality or background.  Quite a lot to pack into a few opening sentences, but we blithely agreed it could all be done.

Then we broke into groups to analyse the openings of several well-known authors and couldn’t agree on anything! In my group, I found the opening lines of Kristan Higgins’ novel, A Perfect Match, made me laugh.  I definitely wanted to read more.  Others in my same small group complained about a lack of conflict, not enough sensory detail and lack of story question.  When other groups reported in, there was a similar difference of opinion.

I was delighted to find disagreement.

I have maintained for some time that the axiom, “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure” applies to writing too. Readers have individual tastes, as do writers.  I may find a book that includes a character hooked on x-stitch intriguing while someone else may dismiss it as too old fashioned.  Some readers like lots of explicit sex, others, like me, prefer to close the bedroom door.  There is no one-size fits all.

This is not to say that studying writing, learning the techniques of successful authors, and  practicing the craft is pointless.  Those exercises are extremely valuable.  For by studying, learning and practicing an author can find her own style, her own set of “rules” and the readers who respond.  But as one who finds rules or templates hard to follow, I’m always seeking vindication.  Those who lecture on “this is how it’s done,” scare me.  I’ve tried to force myself into someone else’s shoes and my muse dried up completely.

So, I say “amen” to a difference of opinion.

What about you, dear readers? Want to play the opening lines game?  Here’s a few examples of my favourites.  Feel free to disagree.

“A fox got in amongst the hens last night, and ravished our best layer,” remarked Miss Lanyon. “A great-grandmother, too!  You’d think he would be ashamed!”  Venetia by Georgette Heyer

1801—I have just returned from a visit to my landlord—the solitary neighbour that I shall be troubled with. Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

As Clara Morrow approached,  she wondered  if he’d  repeat the  same small gesture  he’d done every morning. 

It was so tiny, so insignificant. So easy to ignore.  The first time. The Long Way Home by Louise Penny

I live with my father, Ray Nickel, in that low brick bungalow out on highway number twelve. Blue shutters, brown door, one shattered window.  Nothing great.  The furniture keeps disappearing, though.  That keeps things interesting.  A Complicated Kindness by Miriam Toews

My house stands at the edge of the earth. the birth house by Ami McKay

 Maggie Ann Keaton swung shut the wrought-iron gates of her new home and secured the chain and padlock, giving them a hard tug to make sure they held, and hung a “No Admittance,” sign just for good measure. Love and Lilacs by Mary Alice Valdal

“I can’t believe we’re arguing about a waterbuffalo.” Annie Rush reached for her husband’s shirt collar, turning it neatly down. Family Tree by Susan Wiggs

Fear churned in Allie Tillman’s nervous stomach, like a butter paddle in a jar of thick cream. Bobbins and Boots by Shanna Hatfield.

Share your thoughts in the comments section and be entered to win a free e-copy of The Man Who Hated Christmas.  Winner announced Nov. 1, 2017.

If you enjoy dissecting the openings to books, the blog Writer Unboxed runs a regular feature called Flog a Pro.  Enjoy!

Thanksgiving

Practicing gratitude is always a good idea, but here, in Canada, we set aside the second weekend in October to give thanks particularly for the harvest.  This is a wonderful season of the year, warm days, cold nights, the leaves turning to scarlet and gold, and the bounty of field and garden coming to fruition.  Thanksgiving is one of my favourite holidays, not only because I love the harvest, but because it’s an excuse to feast with friends and family, to have a day off work and be done.  No weeks of shopping, baking, wrapping, decorating, concert-going and entertaining. Décor can be as simple as a pumpkin on the doorstep or coloured leaves scattered across the dining room table.  And when it’s over, it’s over.  Cook the pumpkin and make pie.  Throw the leaves in the compost, and life goes back to normal.

I might sound a bit like a curmudgeon and I do love Christmas, but I feel the “festivities” have replaced the “festival.” Thanksgiving, so far, has escaped that fate, although I have friends who love to ramp up the decorations.

While Thanksgiving in Canada celebrates the harvest of food crops, it doesn’t hurt to remember the other harvests in our lives.  For a writer, a finished manuscript it a lot like harvest – a project that has been seeded and tended and weeded and cultivated and finally comes to fruition.  For a knitter it could be a year’s worth of handknit socks, or afghans or dishcloths.  For a potter it could be store full of thrown, fired, painted, glazed and fired again pottery.

In our lives we have relationships to nurture and be thankful for. Memories of loved ones who have passed but who still bless our spirits. Family who may frustrate and delight us in the space of a few minutes but who are “ours” bound together for life in the rich soup that is parents and children, cousins and aunts, in-laws and steps, siblings by birth or adoption.  I’m never-endingly grateful for the messy, swirling mass of humanity that is my family.

I count Canada among my blessings, a beautiful land where we promote peace with our enemies and foster friendship with our neighbours.

My church– where I worship without fear– nurtures my soul and surrounds me with fellowship.

Newscasts of the day are filled with horrors, disasters, and evil deeds. It is easy to believe that the world is a dark and terrible place.  As an antidote to that litany of grief, go count the pumpkins, and practice gratitude for the deeds that are loving, the people who race to help when disaster strikes, and for the everyday moments of compassion, heroism, and generosity that never make it to the nightly newscast. Those moments give us hope, they deserve our attention, and must be on our gratitude lists.

Hope your Thanksgiving was filled with warmth and laughter, good food and good friends – and maybe a good book.

High Fashion in Hats

 

Continuing my search for historical authenticity, I’ve been looking at women’s hats in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Hollywood has given us all an idea of headgear from previous ages but not all movie depictions are accurate.  I once saw a version of a Jane Austin novel where the women wore Victorian dress – billowing sleeves, tight waists and voluminous skirts – not the slender silhouette of a Regency lady.

One way to determine what people wore, is to look at photographs of the time and place. The B.C. Archives contains a wealth of such information.  The archives can be searched on-line anywhere, or in person at 675 Belleville Street,Victoria, BC.

 

Hannah Maynard multi-exposure

Hannah Maynard, Victoria’s own lady photographer, took hundreds of pictures of our province and its people between 1862 and 1912, many are self-portraits as she studied the science and art of photography.  There are no hats in this one, where she shows herself pouring tea on herself in a multiple exposure print of herself at a tea party, made up of herself, herself and herself, but it illustrates her sense of humour.

 

For the purposes of this blog, I’m focussing on hats. I’ll save sleeves, necklines and corsets for another day.

 

Indian Annie

Here we have a picture of “Indian Annie” from 1879 taken at Yale, B.C. Annie is an Indigenous woman, but she wears European garb in this photo.  Her hat is straw, broad-brimmed to protect her from the sun and low crowned.  A very practical accoutrement.

 

Hannah Maynard again, in the 1880’s wearing a typical hat for a woman of her standing in the city of Victoria.  A modest affair, with a rolled brim, and feather ornament on a low crown.

 

 

 

By 1890, headgear was more elaborate. This photo is of Evelyn Berens, an Englishwoman who went adventuring with her husband in the Rocky Mountains.  Note the high crown and the elaborate ornamentation.  Of course, just like our celebrities, she wore the latest and most extravagant of the current fashion.

 

Violet 1900

If Ms Berens was in the forefront of fashion, this young woman, Violet wasn’t far behind. The photograph was taken in 1900 and shows a higher crown than previously.  The brim is wider and tilted forward while the piled ribbons speak to a more elaborate direction for ladies hats.

 

And just to show that fashion is cyclical, this towering concoction is offered to any woman with a mailing address. It comes from the 1877 Eaton’s catalogue.

I’ve listed some reference sites below if you want to explore more, but I warn you, gentle readers, you may feel you’ve gone down the rabbit hole when you delve into the lives of our foremothers.

References:

B.C. Archives> Portraits> Women

Mail Order Catalogues in Canada

Hannah Maynard

B.C. Historical Newspapers Collection

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