Category: For Readers (page 1 of 7)

Flowing Waters

Spring has arrived in my corner of the world.  Blossoms popping out of the ground, buds swelling on the trees and ditches full of running water.

Don’t know if it’s the weather, but the creative juices are flowing afresh for me too.  I’ve an idea for a spin-off from my latest book (to be released in early summer).

This is that lovely honeymoon stage of the writing process.  The stage where I believe the book will be easy to write, the story will come together like magic and the finished product will be brilliant.

This is also where I employ my favourite plotting method.  The one where I lie on the couch and stare at the ceiling, letting words and pictures and ideas float freely through my mind.  Kind of like looking at clouds when I was a kid. No barriers to the imagination. The part before the hard work.

All the school children in my district are on spring break.  I feel a bit like I’ve been let out of school too.

Happy Spring, everyone.

Change the World?

 Placido Domingo is said to have given this advice to a young musician.

  • Give the audience your all, even your mistakes.  You are human.
  • Put on a smile.  It is a gift.
  • Never stop trying to change the world, no matter what your age.

It is that last point that intrigued me.  As writers we rarely meet our audience face-to-face so they won’t know if we smile.  Writing allows time for re-writes, proofing and corrections, so we have a chance to correct out mistakes before they are in the readers’ hands. 

Change the world?  That is what the arts are all about.  No matter if we write or sing or paint or sculpt, the artist’s job is to change or clarify the way people view the world.  We evoke emotion that inspires action.   One has only to pick up a newspaper or turn on the television to realize our world is beset by problems that are overwhelming to the individual.  It would be easy to take refuge in cynicism or ignorance. Yet, collectively, we can make a difference.  The artists among us have a responsibility to reach that place within humanity to urges us to build a better world.

Remember “Silent Spring” by Rachel Carson.  Published in 1962 it inspired the environmental movement that began in earnest two decades later and resulted in the ban on DDT.

Consider the “Singing Revolution” where hundreds of thousands of Estonians gathered to sing forbidden patriotic songs as a protest against occupation by the Soviet Union. Estonia is now a free nation.

Aesop used story to illustrate and motivate in his famous fables.  Who doesn’t know the tale of the tortoise and the hare, with it’s moral of perseverance over flash and dash. Written over 2500 years ago, the lessons still resonate.

Setting a romance novel alongside these great works may seem presumptuous, but romance is read by millions of women.  In the past few months we’ve all seen the power of women united in a single cause.  The romance genre has been routinely dismissed by academia, but now various universities are offering courses on it.  That’s the power of good story-telling; the power of art.

I’m a fan of Mr. Domingo.  His advice resonates with me.  I do try to give my best in all circumstances.  You can’t see it, but I’m a smiling sort of person. Change the world?  That’s a big task.  Still, my stories celebrate love. They illumine positive relationships between men and women and children.  They are hopeful. They are uplifting.  They portray a world of decency and faith and good neighbours. That’s how I try to change the world.



Opening Lines

Heading into my final round of editing this week. I’m very excited and scared to death at the same time.  This book, the third in the Prospect series, has been a long time in the incubator.  Now that it’s ready for publication, I want to get it “right.”

I’ve already made several passes through the ms on the computer, now I’ve printed it out for a final read. My twentieth century brain “sees” things on paper that it misses on a screen.

Aside from the usual eye out for typos and inconsistencies, like changing hair colour or a week with two Mondays, I want the story to engage the reader right from the start. I’ve been studying opening lines in my favourite books, reading advice columns and watching “flog a pro,” on Writer Unboxed.  Ray Rhamey  writes a regular feature on that blog where he quotes the opening paragraph or two of a best seller and asks readers if they’d turn the page.  It’s a fun game, but I’m often at odds with him.  Rhamey wants lots of tension and action in the opening lines.  I understand that.  It’s a great hook.  Yet, when I check out my favourite stories, they often begin slowly, setting the scene, hinting at a problem but not diving straight in on the first page.  Many books on my keeper shelf begin with dialogue, which may seem innocuous but speaks to character and motivation.

Advice for writers always emphasises the importance of the opening line. It should ask a story question, hint at the protagonist’s character, introduce the setting and exhibit the author’s “voice.”  All in ten words or less.

I think lots of writer advice books are geared to high-concept stories – thrillers, action novels, suspense; the type of book, that when turned into a movie, opens with a gun fight or a car chase.

Romantic movies usually start more gently. “You’ve Got Mail,” begins with a long sequence of shots setting the location in Seattle.  “Casablanca” starts with a map and ominous music while a voice over sets the scene.  In a book, that would be omniscient author. “Titanic” is a sepia scene of passengers waving from the deck of a cruise ship.  There are other examples, but you get the idea – no gun fights.

My book starts with setting, gold rush town in 1888. The heroine is excited about a new business venture.  She has risked her inheritance.  She has a sister.

There’s more, of course, but if we were to follow Ray Rhamey’s model, that is all you would get before he asked the question “would you turn the page?”

Over to you, dear readers. How do you like your opening lines in a romance?  Would you read the next line after this opening?

On a hot sunny morning Louisa Graham stood on the boardwalk of Prospect’s main street and pointed with pride to the brand new sign over the photography studio.  “What do you think?” She craved her sister’s approval.

Twists and Knots in Yarn

On Valentine’s Day is seems appropriate to talk about expressions of love–handmade love. As witnessed by the response to last week’s blog, quilters love their craft .  This week, let’s hear from the knitters and crocheters.

I’m more adept with needles and yarn than I am with needle and thread.  As usual the impetus for my projects is a baby in the family.  This little blanket is not much to look at, although I tried to dress it up with a picot border, but it is made of a yarn that babies love.  It is very, very soft and the little ones always reach for it when they want to snuggle down.

This was a more ambitious project and one of my favourites. I loved the soft texture of the yarn and warm cream colour.  I did not love sewing it all together!  Each square is made up of four little squares. I had eighty short seams, then twenty long seams to do, then a border.  By the time I finished I was vowing never to tackle that project again.


For the next project I used a technique where each little square is attached to the next little square as you go along! There is a term for this but I can’t remember what it is.  I’ve tried Google, but they only help when you can tell them what you’re looking for. J  Anyone here remember the name of this technique?

And while I’m on the subject of baby projects, here are a couple of crocheted blankets I made to welcome newborns to the family. The pattern is all printed on a grid so I had to get a magnifying light to read it.  Very easy to lose count of the stitches.  The one with the pig I did twice as the first effort was lost in a house fire.  I thought, if I could replace at least one of the items destroyed it might help to ease the family’s pain.


Not all my projects are for babies. Here is an afghan I started to use up the leftovers in my stash.  My friend persuaded me to put it in the fair, where it won a “special mention.”  The judges loved the colours but noticed that I’d run out of yarn on one stripe and had to substitute another.  Just like with quilting, I like to use up my left over bits.

Anyone else want to share? I’d love to see pictures of your favourite projects.

Do you like to read about household arts in your favourite books? I enjoy weaving a bit about my hobbies into my books.  In “The Man for Her,” the heroine is adept with needle and thread.

And please, if you know the name of that technique for knitting one square onto another, please tell me.

Happy Valentine’s to all my readers.



Are you a quilter?  My friend is a first-class practitioner of the art.  Here is one of her machine-stitched prize-winners at our Fall Fair. See the blue ribbon in the lower left corner?

In my heart, I’m a quilter, but my skill level sets me as rank amateur.  Still, I keep trying.  I love quilts for special occasions.  Here are a couple I made for new babies in my family.  I get along all right in putting the pieces together and in doing the stitching – I prefer hand stitching to machine stitching, but I really have trouble finishing the edges.  I’ve tried adding a border, turning the bottom up over the top and turning the top down over the bottom.  All come out as less than picture perfect.

The examples on this page are made of new material and designed as artwork, that’s the modern way.  But what really appeals to me about quilting is the old-fashioned notion of using up scraps of worn-out items to create something new and useful and beautiful.  That was the impetus behind the pioneer woman’s quilt-making.  That and the quilting bee, I would imagine.  An opportunity to spend an afternoon with other women, catching up on the neighbourhood news, exchanging recipes, and having a cup of tea together would seem like a vacation to our hard-working foremothers.  And at the end of the day they had several finished quilts and a perfect excuse for taking the day off from their other household chores.

I recently cleared out several bags of fabric scraps that are never going to make it into a quilt of mine, but I’ve kept enough that if I’m ever struck with a burning desire to frustrate myself again, I’ve got bits of red velvet for the heart of a log cabin design.

One of my favourite examples of quilting is a wall hanging my mother made years ago.  She used bits of fabric from my old clothes.  I can look at that hanging and see the blue velvet of a flower-girl dress I wore when I was five, or the embroidered white organdy of my graduation dress, or the red velvet she remade many times as a Christmas dress for her daughter.  I also see one of her favourite blouses and something in mustard yellow that I hope neither of us ever wore as a garment.  To me, this hanging represents the spirit of the quilt; practical, beautiful, and glowing with love.

But, our foremothers were creative as well as practical.  They could have just cut out squares and sewn them together to achieve the practical and useful portion of the equation.  However, they looked around them, and just like an artist in paint, transferred the everyday of their lives into patterns that reflected the country they inhabited.  “Duck’s Foot in the Mud,” must have come from a woman living near a slough, where she saw the tracks of a waddling duck on a muddy bank.  Or how about “flying geese?”  I live on a migration path for Canada Geese and their twice-yearly honking and long vee formations always stir my soul.  Of course that shape belongs in a quilt.

For years I had a hand-made “grandmother’s flower garden” quilt on my bed.  It looked a lot like this one, with the yellow centres and single row of matching petals against a white background. Now it is worn threadbare, the colours faded, but the quilting stitches are still intact.  I keep it in a memory corner.  Maybe one day part of it will end up in a memoir hanging of my own.

And speaking of memories.  I had an idea for a project for the Fall Fair this year.  I took a bunch of my old prize ribbons (I win prizes for my roses, not my quilts) and wove them together to make this colourful hanging, the little one on the right with the “well done” ribbon.  No prize—my imagination continues to outrun my skill—but lots of fun and a great conversation piece.


What about you?  Do you quilt?  Do you have a favourite example?  Hand-stitch or machine?  Purpose bought fabric or scraps  from the rag-bag?  Share your thoughts in the comments section and win a free e-copy of The Man for Her, first book in my Prospect Series.  Limited to first five commenters only.


Item F-08807 in B.C. Archives- Susan R. Crease.

            Last week I wrote about the use of the word “idiot” in my ms.  This week, I’m showing you a portion of the unedited ms and my re-write. This if from a scene where Rev. Daniel Stanton goes down on one knee in the dusty road to propose.



The impatient mare tossed her head, and whinnied breaking the spell. Louisa gasped. “Get up, you idiot! What if someone saw you?  The gossip would be hotter and faster than a wildfire.”

            “Is that a yes, then?”  He rose to his full height with a lithe grace Louisa admired. Convention demanded that he conduct himself with dignity and decorum. It was easy to forget that, behind the collar was an attractive and athletic man in the prime of life.

            “No it is not a yes.”  Her chest ached and she felt an absurd impulse to scream. Shock, she assured herself, Too many shocks in too short a time. “I won’t marry to save face.”


          The impatient mare tossed her head, and whinnied breaking the spell. Louisa gasped. “Get up, Daniel, do.” She plucked at his coat, while trying to look in all directions at once, alarmed by his extravagant gesture. “What if someone saw you?  The gossip would be hotter and faster than a wildfire.”

            “Is that a yes, then?”  He rose to his full height with a lithe grace Louisa admired. Convention demanded that he conduct himself with dignity and decorum. It was easy to forget that, behind the collar was an attractive and athletic man in the prime of life.

            “No it is not a yes.”  Her chest ached and she felt an absurd impulse to scream. Shock, she assured herself. Too many shocks in too short a time. “I won’t marry to save face.”       

    Just a note, I did have her use the word earlier in the ms where she is laughing and clearly making a joke. Daniel did not take offence. Is that enough set-up to let the original of this passage stand, or do I need to eliminate the problematic word?

   I’d love to have your comments both on the original and the re-write. It is always easier, and more fun, to critique another’s work than our own! 🙂

P.S.  The photo at the top comes from the B.C. Archives.  I wanted to show you an historical image of a woman and a horse.  Most photos show only men, but there were horsewomen in our past as well.

Save the Cat


Blake Snyder’s classic advice to “Save the Cat” came forcibly to mind this week.  I was reading a best seller where the protagonist not only didn’t save the cat, he aimed a kick at it.  At this point my dh put down the book and refused to read further.

I carried on reading. The novel is a book club assignment so even if I don’t like it, I have to read it to justify my opinion.  In this case, I came to empathize with the hero—he had a hard life and in the end he did rescue the cat—but I did not identify with him.  In other words, the story was entertaining and well-told, but it kept me at a distance.

For some types of novel, that distance is not an issue, but for romance novels, we want the reader to enter into the story, to put herself in the heroine’s shoes and feel every heartbeat with her.  Having a heroine who even contemplated kicking a cat could eliminate a large readership.

This little vignette was a good reminder to me to choose story words and actions carefully. What may seem like good characterization to an author– being mean to a stray cat—may offend readers so deeply that they cease to be  readers.  Snyder’s example was intended to help authors write empathetic and complex characters. In real life, no one is all good or all bad.  Unless they are comic book caricatures, even villains will have at least one redeeming feature.  They care for their mothers, or they send money to an orphanage, or they rescue a stray kitten.

I had an object lesson on this topic in my WIP. I used the term “idiot.”  A beta reader found the word harsh, denoting anger and insulting to both the heroine, who says it, and the hero, to whom it is applied.  Such was not my intention.  I had used the term the way Georgette Heyer used it, almost as a term of endearment.  She also uses “stupid,” and “wretch” in the same way, playfully and with no intent to hurt.  Clearly, I’m not as skilled as Ms Heyer in portraying the meaning of the word in this way.

I could argue with my reader, or I could put in a long explanation of how the word “idiot” is intended in this context, but none of that would be helpful. If the word offended one person, it might offend others.  Why would I want to annoy readers when I could avoid the issue by re-writing the sentence?  I’m not suggesting that writers should water down their prose to be as bland as a blanc-mange but I do recommend paying attention to possible misinterpretations.

English is a living language and words change their meanings and connotations over time. For example, hussy comes from the word housewife and used to refer to the mistress of a household, an honourable position, the exact opposite to the disreputable woman it refers to today. When writing historicals it is wise to keep an etymology dictionary handy.  I find this one on-line useful.

So, now I’m going through my WIP on the hunt for unintended red flags. My heroines can still be strong, decisive, and, occasionally cranky and plain-spoken, but they must remain likeable.

So, thanks to Blake Snyder and the unsympathetic hero for warning me away from “idiot” unless I really mean it.

How about you?  Are there words or actions that cause you to close a book and write the author off your TBR list?  Are there themes that are auto-buy for you? I’d love to read your comments.


Resolution – Meh!


It’s the new year and media abound with lists of resolutions

  • 8 ways to a happier marriage,
  • 10 tips to lose those holiday pounds,
  • 6 foods for better health,
  • 101 reasons to exercise.

This blog will not give you any suggestions for resolutions.  If you’re like me, you are a work in progress, always seeking to enhance your lifestyle, to improve your mind, to work smarter, and to cultivate relationships.  Those are not one-off resolutions to be written down in January and checked off in February. They are part of daily life.

What I am doing to mark the  new year, is clearing my closets. Over the years, I have accumulated “stuff,” and lots of it.  There are rods full of old clothes, that I kept because they might be good for costuming, or I could wear  again if I lost that ten pounds. (See 10 tips to lose those holiday pounds.)  Those closet hogs are going to the thrift store.  If  those extra pounds ever disappear I want new clothes, not old ones.

Dated or broken electronics.  We are never going to need that old VCR and the idea of repairing a broken tv is just a pipe dream.  Off to the recycling depot they go.

Harder, are the old Christmas decorations.  They have sentimental value, even if they no longer go on the tree.  Apparently, they have monetary value as well.  I saw a set of my old tree balls in an antique store, priced at $30.00 for a box of nine. I’ve still got mine in the original box and I paid $3.99 on sale, according to the price sticker.  Anyway, I’m keeping the pretty cut ball ornaments, but those fabric ones the cat scratched up?  They can go.

Clearing book shelves is harder still.  Some books were gifts, with the donor’s name on the inside page.  If I get rid of the book, am I telling the donor she no longer matters to me?  However, I got new books for Christmas, just like I requested, so space must be freed up.  I’ll take some old treasures to the used book store so someone else can enjoy them.

The basement and attic, I’ll leave to the man of the house.  It’s mostly his stuff in there anyway and I don’t have to look at it, except for my canning shelves.  They seem to be full of jars, yet when the season hits, I’m always running out of jam jars.  Another run to the recycle depot in my future.  Just because a jar is shaped like a bear, does not mean I must keep it.  I never put jam in an old bear jar.

Fabric, odd balls of yarn, worn out linens, these are the hardest tasks for me.  The last time I gave away my stash of yarn, I needed it a week later.  Even tiny scraps of pretty fabric can go into a quilt.  I dread clearing out my sewing supplies.  But it must be done.  The drawers are full and I’m still buying new stuff. However,  I’ve instituted a rule about not adding more storage space. Everything I have must fit in the space already allocated.


All this clearing and tidying and sorting gives me fresh energy. I feel as though I’ve cleared the decks for new adventures. The energy carries over into my writing life as well.  I’m better at seeing “stuff” in a stodgy sentence and throwing out the unnecessary words.  A ms that has languished for years is bound for the recycle.  It occupies space on my computer and in my mind but does nothing to promote my career.  Time to let it go.

There is nothing magical about turning a page on the calendar, but our culture seems to think January 1 is the start of new things. So, I take the first weeks of January as an invitation (command?) to clear out the dead weight of the previous months.  Then I feel refreshed and ready to go.

What about you? How do you mark the beginning of the year?

Christmas 2017

Five more sleeps and then…Christmas!  Do you still get excited?  Do you remember Christmases past as better or sadder?  Do you pull the covers over your head and wish the holiday were over?

I confess, I’m a lover of Christmas.  As a child I could barely contain myself as the house filled with scent of cinnamon and nutmeg, pine and spruce.  We shopped from the catalogue in those days and my brothers and I wore the pages to shreds as we debated and decided and debated again on which gift to give each member of our family.  Christmas morning was the most joyful time of the year.

I’m older now.  The family has spread far and wide.  Christmas dinner is a small affair, but I still love the season.  I love to put up the tree, to sing carols, to bake goodies that only appear in my cookie tins in December.  I love having friends come in to share a piece of Christmas cake.

And I love to read Christmas stories.  I hope you do too, because I have a new on for you. It’s titled “The Neighbour.”  Here’s a sample.  To read the complete story, sign up for my newsletter and receive your free copy.

Who Is My Neighbour?

Isobel Jordan drew a pan of shortbread out of the oven and set it on a rack to cool. With the edge of a spatula she lifted one cookie to peer at the bottom. Not black. An improvement on her last effort, but still not the perfectly golden rounds that Bella Barclay turned out.

She sighed and sat down at the kitchen table. She wished for a cup of tea but felt too defeated to fill the kettle from the pump, let alone add more wood to the stove. Instead, she nibbled on an over-done shortbread and stared out the window. Under a brilliant blue sky, the flat prairie lay smothered beneath a layer of deep snow, the surface marred only by the occasional rabbit track or bird scratch. Closer to the house, the sharply pitched roof of the barn drew a straight line against the sky. Johnny was out there now, coddling his team of big Clydesdales and mending their harnesses. At the edge of her vision, stretched the long rope running from house to barn. Johnny put it up every fall, even before the first snowstorm.

“A man can get lost in a blizzard three steps from his own door,” he’d said when she questioned him.

Her spirits lifted a little as she remembered last Christmas, her first as Mrs. Johnny Jordan. What a flurry it had all been. A mail-order bride. She shook her head in wonder. She’d been so desperate to escape the gold rush town of Prospect and her job as its school teacher, she’d answered a letter from Johnny Jordan in the Western Home Monthly. A husband, even one with a scarred face, seemed preferable to another minute of trying to keep order among the restless pupils in Prospect’s one room schoolhouse.

She bit into another cookie and made a face as the taste of charred sugar filled her mouth. Gloom descended once more. Before she left town, Prospect’s best cook, Bella Barclay, had given her a sheaf of recipes. Yet Isobel’s efforts never produced the desired results. Had Bella deliberately sabotaged the recipes?

She jumped to her feet and set about washing the mixing bowls. Bella would never do anything so underhanded. It was just her own bad mood that had produced such thoughts. And why was she in a bad mood? She scrubbed hard at a bit of stuck-on dough. Because she was a foolish, ungrateful woman, that’s why.

She set the bowl on the draining board with a sharp thump. She’d chosen to marry Johnny because she wanted peace and quiet and a kind husband. Which was exactly what she’d got – and a little more besides. She felt her cheeks warm and knew she blushed.

She looked out at the silent, white world and banged a pot hard against the stove, just to hear the clang. She wouldn’t have believed a body could get too much peace and quiet, but . . .

The kitchen door opened and Johnny surged in, bringing with him a shower of snow, and the smell of out-of-doors and horses. Her mood lifted. The sight of her broad-shouldered, handsome husband never failed to move her. Despite the disfiguring scar on one side of his face where a snapped chain had struck him as a child, he was handsome. The other side of his face was perfect. And his heart was large and kind, and to her amazement and delight, full of love for her. Just because he didn’t relish the sound of his own voice didn’t mean he was indifferent or neglectful. He was just Johnny, a man who preferred action to words.

To read more of this story, fill in your e-mail address and click on the sign-up form at the right side of this page.  You will need to confirm your e-address from your e-mail.

Have a Merry Christmas.  I’ll be back at this site in the new year.

Finishing Touches

One of the Christmas traditions on my list is a handmade tree ornament for each of the children in my clan who are under eighteen. I started the practice when I moved far away from my birth family.  Although I kept tabs on everyone, I was not up-to-date on the interests, needs and desires of the youngest generation.  Some said I should just forget about presents, but I like Christmas.  I like the excitement of wrapping a gift, of hiding it under the tree, of watching the smiles on Christmas morning when someone receives exactly what he wanted.  Besides, I worried I’d become nothing but a name in my extended family if I didn’t do something to maintain a presence with young relatives I rarely saw face-to-face.  So, as a compromise, I agreed not to spend much money and my siblings agreed I could send little remembrances. 

All went well for the first generation. There were eight of them.  A manageable number.  When each of them reached the age of eighteen, they had a collection of eighteen ornaments for their own tree.  (I assumed the kids would move out of the family home and set up on their own.)  At first, I didn’t know whether my idea was well received or not, but in later years I’ve heard from nieces and nephews that my gift to them had a special ceremony all of its own.  In one family, it was the only gift to be opened on Christmas Eve and then hung on the tree.  Another wrote to me years later, when she was a mother herself, about unpacking her collection of hand-made ornaments and explaining them to her children, and feeling loved. 

So, now I’m full of warm fuzzies, and could have said “my work is done,” but instead, I started in on the children of the children. Now there are thirteen ornaments to be made every year, often in a mad, last-minute scramble.

This year, I tried to get ahead of the game by completing the ornaments in October. I set them aside, feeling smug, with a note that they needed a few finishing touches, but I had lots of time.  NOT! 

When I went to package up the gifts, I realized there were many finishing touches still needed. Names to add, loops to attach, ribbons to affix.  I was, once again, behind the eight ball.

As a writer, there is a lesson for me here. That first draft, or even second draft, that I confidently put away saying it only needs a tweak here and there, is not ready for other eyes.  In this age of instant communication, it is wise to pause before hitting the publish button.  Novels, short stories, social media posts, even e-mails, can all benefit from fine tuning.  Where my ornaments needed ribbons and tags, my prose might need tightening, the plot might need clarification, the characters could do with some polish.

I’m happy to report, that my Christmas gifts, with loops and ribbons attached, are all in the mail, carrying love from me to little folk I may not have met but who hold a place in my heart.

What about you? Any Christmas traditions in your family you’d like to share? A favourite book? Movie you have to watch?

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