Month: Nov 2017

Filling the Well

 

Lately my life has been beset by small frustrations, unwelcome tasks, and a nagging malaise. My usual rosy outlook has darkened with the gloomy skies.  Cynicism has planted negative thoughts in my mind. Content has become a stranger.  Until . . .

I attended the symphony.

Music is a constant companion to my days. I turn on the radio first thing in the morning and I fall asleep to favourite recordings at night, but seldom to I really listen.  I’ve too many things to do.  So, taking three hours from my busyness  to just listen is a rare treat.  Not only that, but a night at the symphony afforded me the opportunity to hear a live performance. 

Even the most wonderful recording of the most wonderful orchestra in the world cannot take the place of  live music. To participate, as hearers, in the music-making,  to watch the conductor as he coaxes his vision from the players, to breath with the instrumentalists as they bring the composer’s work to life – that is something to experience first hand.

On this night Elgar’s Enigma Variations was on the program, an old warhorse in the symphonic repertoire.  I’ve heard it before, in recording and live, yet I fell under the spell of the music all over again.  By turns playful, bombastic and tender, the first eight movements brought a smile to my face. Then, lush and romantic, the melting melody of the ninth variation (Nimrod). A tidal wave of sound, crashing over the audience, carrying us into the deep waters,  beyond  understanding into a realm of pure emotion.  I float, as though on a great ocean,  rocked in the billows.  My heart expands to embrace the whole world. I breathe purity into my lungs. Cares and duties fade to nothing, there is only the music, achingly beautiful. At last the melody ebbs, brings me to the shore, and lays me gently on the warm sand. I am renewed, my soul refreshed, and my spirit peaceful within me.

I have “filled the well,” as Julia Cameron suggests.

As writers and humans, we all need to fill the well from time to time. As we head into the busy Christmas season, I urge you to be kind to yourself.  Attend a concert and listen with your heart.  Sit in a field of lavender and breath deeply.  Ski through a snow covered forest and hear the silence. 

Whatever brings you solace, seek it out, explore it with passion, embrace it with your whole being.  Then, refreshed and filled, you are equipped to bring joy and exuberance and ardour to your normal days.  You will be blessed and you will be a blessing to those about you.

How do you replenish the creative spring within? Please share in the comments section.  You just might bring inspiration to another.

 

Book Bites

There’s a new kid on the block when it comes to connecting readers and writers, Book+ Main Bites. With the proliferation of self-publishing and e-books, there are now more than a million books published every year. The challenge for authors and readers is to discover each other in that tidal wave.

Amazon and other e-publishers use a limited number of categories to help readers find the books that appeal to them, but “romance” is a very broad category, even if you break it down to contemporary and historical. Is your historical a Victorian era novel set in London, UK, or a Victorian era novel set in India, or Africa or Canada? Is your “western” contemporary or historical? Is it about wagon trains or gold prospectors? Is it Little House on the Prairie or a cattle drive?

Personally, I know I’m overwhelmed when I search e-book sites. There is so much to choose from and so much that does not appeal to me. As a recourse, I generally stick to authors I already know—and that means I miss out on some great new writers and they miss out on a new reader.

Book Bites + Main attempts to address this problem by having a very long “tag” list. It is the only place where I’ve seen “Canadian” as a search word.

Most book sellers allow browsers to read a sample of the book before purchase. On the Book Bites site, samples from inside the book are posted by authors so readers see that first.

Each “bite” an author publishes must have a photo attached, but not the book cover. That seems like an odd rule to me, but it does give me an opportunity to find other images that reflect the tone and time of my book.  There are no “teasers” allowed, so I must find a portion of text that I think will intrigue the reader and make her want to read more.  I’ve decided not to use the first page of my books, since that is available at retailers.  Instead, I’ve chosen some “bites” from well inside the book.

I’ve signed up for a trial period to see how it goes.  It’s all an experiment for now.  I’ll try posting other kinds of “bites” and use other tags.  Hope I get some “likes” and a few comments.  Then I’ll know if I’m connecting to readers.

The site is free for readers, so go check it out.  You never know — you may find a new favourite, or connect with other readers and form an on-line book club.  May page is here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Call of the Pipes

 

There’s something about bagpipes that stirs the soul. Why else account for their use in battle?  Soldiers, tired, defeated, and frightened, will rise from their cover and follow the piper one more time into the fray.  Over and over in history, that scenario has played out.  One notable example is Canada’s VC winner, James Richardson. I’ve written about him here.

Recently, at a Remembrance Day service at our local cenotaph, I watched the pipe band marching past and felt the excitement race through my veins, but when I watched closely, I did a double-take. I had always believed those blowing the bagpipes were male members of Scottish clans. Not this time.  The band I saw had an Asian man, a black man, and a few women, wearing kilts, and proudly piping out “Scotland the Brave.” Welcome to Canada in 2017.

“That would never happen.” These dismissive words have blighted more than one budding writer’s career.  Even when the event in question is a true-life example, the editor or beta reader insists it is too far-fetched to be used in fiction.  Book guidelines say the editor is looking for something “new and different.”  The invisible subtext likely reads but not too different.

Publishing is a risky business, so publishing houses like to hedge their bets. If book A about a shape-shifter sold lots of copies, then they want more shape-shifters.  If book B about a werewolf tanked, they don’t want to see werewolves anywhere in your submission.

If you are writing something “different” don’t be discouraged. Remember someone had to be the first to write vampires, or steam-punk, or aliens, or a small-town knitting story.  And “real life” does give us some wacky examples of the non-probable. Like my pipe band, “different” but great!

Today, when “diversity” is all the rage, maybe a female of Chinese descent with a passion for bagpipes could be a captivating heroine. Or a male soldier returned from deployment in a war zone who finds solace in crochet – there are real life examples of that, too.

Finding the balance between the old and the new for readers and editors is never easy. What appeals to one reader as quirky and interesting, may elicit the “never happen” response from others.  In The Man for Her, my editor questioned the heroine’s long mourning period for her lost lover.  Yet, in real life, Queen Victoria mourned the loss of Prince Albert the rest of her life.

For writers, the best advice is still to write the best story you can, be true to your own vision, and keep trying.  Fads may come and go, but good writing will endure.  Combine good writing with some off-beat characters and you could be the next “big thing.”

Now, I’m off to listen to some bagpipe music, it will lift my spirits and send me forth with determination and courage.

An “Other” Vimy Memorial

With Remembrance Day approaching, my thoughts turn to the soldiers of my own country and others who went to war “to end all wars.”  That was the slogan attached to the WWI, or “The Great War” as it was called in the years between 1918 and 1939.

I wrote my fictional story, “When the Boys Came Home,” about a soldier returned from  WWI and the effects war had on him and on those he left behind.

Today, I have a real-life story to share.  The photograph at the top of the page is of one of the four original memorials raised at Vimy Ridge by Canadians.  They were replaced in 1936 by the iconic statuary that stands on the ridge today.

The father of a friend of mine, helped to build and install the cross at the peak of Vimy Ridge, three weeks after the ridge was captured.  Carpenter Andy Wallace of Victoria, along with Sapper McIver, both of the 44th Regiment out of Winnipeg, were ordered to fashion a cross to commemorate the thousands who died there.

Using the rudimentary tools they carried with them, the carpenter and the sapper worked on the eight-by-eight inch oak logs within range of the enemy’s guns. Concrete for the base was mixed and poured by other members of the regiment.

In a letter from A.C. King of Toronto to Andy Wallace after the war, Mr. King wrote:  “Here is a picture of the cross.  It doesn’t look so big but, boy, oh boy, that concrete took some mixing.”

The cross was about 12 to 14 feet high and about six feet wide.  It was held together by wooden dowels and had no inscriptions or carving on the cross itself.  There is a brass plate on the base that dedicates the memorial to “the memory of the officers, non-commissioned officers and men of the 44th Canadian Infantry who fell in the attacks on Vimy Ridge, the Triangle, and La Coulotte in April, May and June of 1917.”

The monument was originally erected on Vimy Ridge, France by the 44th Battalion in 1917. In 1924, the monument was moved to its present location in Vimy Ridge Memorial Park on Portage Avenue in Winnipeg by members of the 44th Battalion Association and next of kin. Plaques on the sides of the monument listed those in the 44th Battalion who had lost their lives during the Vimy Ridge battle. Dedicated in June 1926, it was restored by the Department of Veterans Affairs in June 1967 and by the City of Winnipeg in October 1992.

Andy Wallace

Thanks to my friend for sharing her story, and thanks to Andy Wallace for his service to Canada.

And the Winner Is . . .

Welcome to the month of November.  Now that Hallowe’en is out of the way, I’m ready to think about Christmas.  Actually, I bought one present in July so I’m feeling smug. 🙂  Now I have another Christmas gift to send.  The winner of The Man Who Hated Christmas and other short stories is . . . (drum roll) Laura Langston.   Laura is a frequent commenter on my blog, so I’m not surprised she won the prize.

If you didn’t win a copy of the e-book, it’s available on Amazon.com and Amazon.ca.  It’s also in KU so if you have a membership to Amazon’s library platform, you can read for free.    You can also read The Man Who Loved Christmas free on any device.

So, have you started your Christmas shopping?  Are books high on your list?  I confess that books are about the only item on my list.  I don’t need another scarf, or any kitchen utensils or more candles.  I love table linens but I can’t use all the ones I have now.

When it comes to books, my dh is great at surprising me with authors I haven’t read before.  I discovered Alexander MacCall Smith, and Ami MacKay that way.

If I get to choose, I’d ask for books by Kristin Higgans, Louise Penny,Susan Wiggs, Robyn Carr, Sheryl WoodsLiane Moriarty,  and Kate Bridges, to name a few.

I can also recommend the authors in my local circle of writer.  You’ll find them all here on the VIRA page.

Anyone else?  I’d love to hear about the books on your Christmas wish list.

 

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