Month: April 2018

Books that Matter

My book club recently read a book titled, The Book That Matters Most, by Ann Hood.  The book tells the story of people in a book club where a year’s reading was chosen from the “book that mattered most” to each member of the group.  

I won’t go into detail of the book, but I will say that in my book group, we were all struck by the title, “the book that matters most,” and had a really fun evening discussing the books that have been most meaningful in our lives.

Of course, I put the Bible, at the top of the list. The Word of God has transformed millions, even billions of lives over time and shaped much of Western thought.

But leaving aside the Bible, we played with the notion of books that mattered. For many of us, it was childhood books., those tattered volumes that taught us to love reading.  For me I’d say Mother West Wind Why Stories, by Thornton W. Burgess. Burgess was a conservationist who wrote about the natural world, particularly animals, for children. This site lists his work totalling 172 books. My mother had read many of the books aloud as bedtime stories. My brothers and I knew all about Sammy Jay and Unc Billy Possom, and Grandfather Frog, and Reddy Fox, and Blackie the Crow. By the time we reached Mother West Wind our family was growing and Mom was short of time. It was also a period when I was learning to read for myself.

In school we had Dick and Jane books. If ever there was a series designed to discourage reading, that was it. How boring is “Look, look. See Dick. See Dick run?” Using those texts, I’d learned to read words, but Mother West Wind was the first time I read a story for myself.

Another of our book club named Anne of Green Gables as a seminal book for her. The reason? Her teacher read it aloud to the class. My friend’s home was different from mine – no one read bedtime stories. So, for her, hearing a book read aloud left a lasting impression.

Our group had a lively time calling up Nancy Drew, The Hardy Boys, Cherry Ames and Little Women as favourites from childhood. One woman mentioned Catcher in the Rye, a book that was included in Ms Hood’s novel. My friend read the book as a teenager and found it “perfect” for the time.

As an adult, I discovered Georgette Heyer while travelling through non-English speaking countries. When I found Frederica in a book store, I had to buy it. It was my first experience of Regency Romance and opened a whole new world of books to me.

My book club had a delightful evening. I won’t expand on our discussion of The Book that Matters Most, you can read it for yourself and form your own conclusions,  but we all agreed that the title was a great conversation starter and proved that books matter.

How about you? What book matters most in your reading life? Leave a comment and I’ll enter you in a draw to win an advance copy of my not yet published book, Her One True LoveTwo winners to be announced May 2, 2018.

 

To Tell or Not to Tell

 

 

My local authors group, VIRA, held their monthly meeting on Saturday. It was great to mingle with so many talented women.  The sharing of information, achievements, heartaches and life events during our “accolades” time is truly inspiring.  For many, that would be enough, but we had a workshop as well, presented by Susan  Lyons (w/a Savanah Fox, Susan Fox.)

Susan had asked the group beforehand what they’d like to work on. The response was huge and wide-ranging.  I wondered how she’d by able to turn all the varied suggestions into a cohesive workshop.  But Susan is a very organized person. She took everyone’s pet problem and lumped it into the challenge of conflict. 

Makes sense doesn’t it?  If you’re trying to develop a plot, external conflict is essential.  If you want to create memorable characters, they need internal conflict.  If you want emotional intensity for the reader, it starts with conflict. If you have a sagging middle, turn up the conflict.  Nearly all the difficulties writers encounter in creating a great story, can be addressed through conflict — or struggle, if you prefer that word.

Once she’d laid out the basics of conflict, Susan divided us into small groups – very small, three—and let us brainstorm. Using Deb Dixon’s formula of Goal/Motivation/Conflict, we talked about character, theme and plot in our work-in-progress.

I’m a little nervous of these types of exercises. Either I have nothing to say because I cannot create on the spot, or I’m afraid that my work is too new to withstand the scrutiny of other opinions.  When I start a story, it’s a bit like digging a well.  When the first trickle of water appears, I must be very careful not to damage the water table or the geology of the site.  One mistake and the water disappears.  It can be the same with story.  One criticism, one chance remark, and the “idea”, instead of developing, vanishes.

In my little group we had one story nearly finished, one that was well-started and mine, which is still a glimmer.

When the session ended, Susan was enthusiastically thanked. Everyone in the room had learned something, either about the story she was working on now, or one she might tackle in the future.  Despite my misgivings about “crowd-sourcing” my story, I got some good ideas and no damage occurred.  A very successful afternoon.

 

What about you?

As a writer, do you like to talk about your project from the first inkling or do you prefer to have the story down on paper before you share?

As a reader, do you like to see work in progress, or do you want the author to give you only the finished and polished version?

 

Down the Rabbit Hole – Research

What I learned this week while writing my “discovery” draft is that I need to discover some more historical facts. To that end, I’m reading 40 Years in Canada, by Samuel B. Steele. This is a wonderful, first hand account of the formation of the North West Mounted Police and they’re trek west in 1874-75. The impetus for this undertaking was to end the whiskey trade that was devastating the First Nations of the western plains.  In Steele’s day, they used the term Indian or Redman.  He writes “For the credit of the Dominion and humanity, it was absolutely necessary that a stop be put to the disgraceful scenes which were daily enacted on the Bow and Belly rivers and in the Cypress Hills.”

I’m a real fan of Sam Steele, who seemed to meet hardship and trial with good cheer and hard work.  He offers his greatest praise to men who did not grumble and who vied with each other to carry the heaviest load or make the most trips back and forth on the near impossible portages from Lake Superior to Lake Winnipeg. And he did it all “for humanity.”

As we live in an age marred by corporate greed and a “me first” attitude, it brought joy to my heart to read that when, after a march of 1,959 miles, a new fort was established, the first structures built were stables for the horses, then barracks for the men and lastly, quarters for the officers.

Much as I’m enjoying Sam Steele’s memoirs, they do not provide me with the details of a pioneer woman – what she wore, how she cooked, what she did for a sick child.  I’ve another book, Never Done—Three Centuries of Women’s Work in Canada, written by The Corrective Collective, and published in 1974.  This volume attempts to tell “her-story.”  The title comes from the old saying, “a man works from sun to sun but women’s work is never done.”

The authors have tried to tackle women’s history in Canada from the time of New France and les Filles du Roi through to World War One.  The resource yields many interesting facts such as, in 18th century Halifax the Inspector and Surgeon General was paid a guinea a day to operate a hospital.  The Matron of said hospital, while responsible for changing bandages, cleaning wounds, administering medicines, applying poultices, arranging food preparation, ensuring hospital maintenance and sweeping the floor, received no salary. (Picture me shaking my fists!) However, aside from sending me into a rage, the book is still sketchy on the details of daily life in a gold rush town.

Next stop, B.C. Archives.  They have letters and diaries on file.  Here’s to “discovering.”

A “Paws”

I’ve had a really busy Easter weekend — lovely, but busy.  Now I’m off “discovering” my story in draft form.  I’ll report on that later.  Meanwhile, here’s a picture of my cat for your enjoyment.

 

This is my black cat soaking up a few rays.

This is my tabby cat soaking up a few zzz’z.                                                               

Happy Easter week to you all.  May you “discover” many wonderful things.

 

 

© 2018 Alice Valdal

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑