Month: November 2019

The Life of Books

Beacon BooksI had to cull my keeper shelf recently.  Actually, I have more than one shelf but they were all full. How to divest oneself of books? Each one I took off the shelf inspired a memory or recalled an old friend or shouted “classic.” I kept putting them back. Eventually, I filled a shopping bag with books I’d gotten at workshops, old Christmas gifts and a few mistaken purchases. Then I made a trek to my local used book store. (Photo  above)

The whole experience got me thinking about the life of books. They come home from the book store all crisp and new — no coffee stains on the cover, no dog-eared pages. They have that new book smell. What a treat.new books

Some I will read over and over until the covers fall off. Some will get passed on to friends. Some will still be on the shelf when my executor has to get rid of them. Many, though, go to the used book store.

Beacon BooksOur town has a reputation for being a “book town,” so there are many used bookstores to choose from. The general one, seen here, is run by a woman who used to own a new book store. She’s a genius at knowing everything on the shelves and being able to put her hand on just the book for you. Every time I take in a bundle to drop off, I come out with others. My goal is to have a net reduction in books, but it’s not easy.

Haunted booksWe’ve also got this one — a more specialized store with lots of antique books, maps, globes . . . Another dangerous place for a book lover to spend time. Many of the offerings on these shelves are no longer available new. book caseNotice the shelves themselves are old-fashioned bookcases with the window that drops down to keep the dust off the shelf. This is a place to search out old records, travel journals, and historic photos — along with a few current spy novels.

 

book tower

remains of book tower

Russell BooksRussell’s in Victoria has just set a Guinness Book of Records for the tallest tower of Guinness Books. They reached six metres. You can see the remnants of the tower in this photo. The undertaking was to mark their move into new digs. The old store across the street was a bit of a rabbit warren, but with it’s own charm. The new store is spacious with an escalator so the hunt for your favourite author is not so daunting.

Then we have the “little” libraries popping up on street corners and rural cross-roads. These are charming little creations where one can leave a book or take a book. The inventory is limited and often eccentric, but still the books go on to another reader. There’s even a take and leave shelf at my husband’s marina.  Most thrift stores will accept a few volumes. No one likes to throw away a book, least of all me.

Sidney libraryOur local library has decided that books are low on its list of priorities. They want to be a community centre instead. For lovers of libraries, this policy is anathema. You can see in this photo that there is seating space and computer terminals but not much in the way of books. Maybe that’s why we have such a rich offering of second-hand book stores.

We used to have a book bin that accepted old books and distributed them to remote communities who were happy to have them in their libraries or schools. That service is now defunct so in my area, at least, books eventually end up in a recycle depot where they are trashed. I know the result is recycled paper, but it still makes me wince to think of a book becoming compost. 

E-books obviate the need to physically dispose of books we no longer want, but from the groaning shelves in our used book stores it seems the paper book is still popular. Where else will you get gilt-edged pages and engraved frontispieces?

So, my love affair with books goes on. What about you? What do you do with old books you can no longer keep?

 

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Cinderella and #Me Too

By coincidence, I’ve recently read three books set during the world wars. Even after all this time, those two conflicts call up profound revelations about the human condition. What is a hero? What is compassion? What is friendship? What gives meaning to life? I found the stories unbearably sad.

I was also struck by the depth of societal change wrought by WWI in particular. The old class system was broken down. When servant and master fought shoulder to shoulder in a muddy trench, there was no going back to doffing a cap to your “betters.”

Women, especially upper class women of privilege, were thrown up against brutality they’d never imagined let along touched. Yet, there they were, driving ambulances, nursing men who cried for their mothers, dealing with lice and filth and blood and excrement. Some of these women had never drawn their own bath. Now they were expected to bandage a weeping stump where a leg had been. When the war ended, there was no going back to the ignorance of their former lives. Even those who “kept the home fires burning,” had tasted independence. They’d worked for a wage. Made decisions about their own lives and those of their children without the help or hindrance of a male relative.

When the guns fell silent in 1918, the world was a far different place than that of 1914.

I think the “me too” movement has had a similarly profound effect in North America now, especially in how men and women relate to each other. Since I write romance — stories about men and women falling in love — this new reality affects me as a writer and as a reader. Do the old tropes still work? Is Cinderella part of the problem instead of the solution?

I don’t know the answers, but here are a few thoughts.

I never did like the arrogant, alpha male, who patted the heroine on the head and told her to trust him, or worse, pushed her around, caused her pain and refused to explain himself. Why did women fall in love with him? I don’t know, but scores of female readers did — and do. The Harlequin Presents line, with its emphasis on the alpha hero, is still one of its most popular offerings. With the pendulum of society swinging to female power, this phenomenon is hard to explain. Then again, romance is escapist literature, so maybe that annoying alpha hero is part of the escape.

The “kick ass” heroine has been around for decades, punching and shooting her way through any obstacle in her path. Even before “me too” fantasy romances especially, teamed with warrior princesses and empowered crones. Can these heroines “fall” in love, or do they have to make a rational decision about mutual interests and the survival of the species?

So what about the old-fashioned romance? Those little dime-store novels that catered to women’s longings and created an industry? Can we still write about women who like pretty things? Who want a home and a family? Who like a man who holds doors and brings her flowers? Do these stories belittle women? Can a beta male be a hero?

In my Prospect series, the heroines are all strong, independent women. Lottie, an unwed mother, runs a prosperous farm and makes a home for herself and her son. The man who wins her heart has to offer more than superficial courtesies, but he can’t be a bully.

Emma comes from a world of privilege but must now stand on her own in a harsh country. She won’t trust any man who wants to “take care of her.” She did that once and was betrayed. The man who wins her heart will respect her toughness while seeing through the uncompromising exterior to the passionate and tender woman beneath.

Louisa has been controlled and shamed by her father for her whole life. She sets out to rescue herself, build an independent life in her own home and her own shop. She’s not immune to some light-hearted flattery, but the man who wins her heart must be her equal, not her superior, nor her footstool, and nothing at all like her father.

I think these books can stand scrutiny in the “me too” era while still appealing to women searching for a softer heroine.

What are your favourite romances? Are they fairy-tales with a prince to rescue Cinderella? Are they battle stories with female generals? Are they boy-next-door fiction where she turns out to be a hired assassin?

I’d love to hear your recommendations.

 

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6 Influences on Perception

I’ve been thinking a lot about perception lately, because I’ve had cataract surgery. What do I see before the surgery? What will I see afterward? Do I want distance vision or close-up vision? What happens with colours? Can I drive at night? What matters most to me?

When it comes to my eyes, my answer “all of it.” But even with the best eye-sight in the world, we still have blind spots in the way we perceive the world. e.g. As a woman of faith, I see a rainbow as a reminder of God’s promise to Noah. A secularist may see some pretty colours in the sky. A physicist may see an example of refractive light.

What does this have to do with writing? More than you might think. Perception and point of view are often used interchangeably, but they are not the same thing. Typically we think of point of view means whose head we are in. If we are in our heroine’s head, the story is told from her point of view. True, but not enough for compelling story-telling. How often have you heard the advice to write in “deep” point of view. That is, get deep into your character’s head and heart and soul to make her come alive to the reader. That’s where “perception” comes in.  How does your character perceive events? Not just what she can see and hear and touch and smell. Perception is how she evaluates those sensory inputs. And that, of course, relates to character.

Here are some examples of perception on a single event. A woman heads off to work, but her car won’t start. How does she perceive this circumstance?

  1. The optimist may run for the bus, assuming that one will come along at the right time and get her to the office only a little late.
  2. The pessimist goes back into the house and cries, defeated before she even begins, sure she’ll be fired for being late. She’ll run out of money and miss the mortgage payments on her house and she’ll end up begging on the street with no one to help her.
  3. The self-made woman will open the hood and get out her toolbox. She has already learned auto mechanics for just such an event.
  4. The femme-fatale walks onto the street and waits for a man to come to her aid. If she’s good at her character she won’t have to wait long!
  5. A witch might try casting a spell. — I told you character and perception go hand-in-hand. 🙂
  6. A pragmatic woman might call her garage, then her boss and get on with the day without any hysterics.

These are only six possible reactions to an obstacle but they illustrate how character influences perception.

I’ve just read an old mystery by Mary Higgins Clark where a psychopath manages to perceive everything that happens as proof that the people around him are responsible for all his misfortunes and they must die. Scary stuff, but by his own perception, entirely reasonable.

Self-talk accompanies most of us most of the time.  If our internal messages are negative, we take on a defeated attitude, if they are positive, we’re motivated to succeed. Athletes visualize themselves winning the race, clearing the bar and standing on the podium as they train. The positive images result in better performance.

Understanding perception can help writers keep a clear perspective on their own work. It can also help them create characters that are unique and consistent and memorable for readers.

I’ve had my cataract surgery and had a multi-focal lens implanted. It works almost as well as young eyes. I can clearly see the panorama outside my window, and the computer screen in front of me and the instructions on my eye-drop prescriptions. My “perception” of modern medicine is awe.

How do you perceive the protagonist in your book? What character trait is most attractive to you either as a writer or a reader? How does that trait influence the character’s perception of events? Please share.

 

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A Bride for Brynmor — review

 

My latest historical read was this tale by Jacqui Nelson. I’ve long admired Jacqui’s work and her new novel is no exception.
Hope you enjoy it too.
Back Blurb
Can a sister who’s lived only for others find freedom with one man? Family has always come first—for both of them. He’s never forgiven himself for letting her go. She’s never forgiven herself for almost getting him killed.

When Lark and her songbird sisters are separated fleeing their cruel and controlling troupe manager, only Brynmor Llewellyn can help Lark save her sisters and escape to the far west. But Lark wants more. And so does Brynmor. When they’re stranded in a spot as difficult to guard as it is to leave—a rustic cabin at a train junction between Denver and the mountain town of Noelle, Colorado—they find themselves fighting not only for survival but for redemption, forgiveness, and a second chance for their love.

Will the frontier train stop of Songbird Junction be Lark and Brynmor’s salvation? Or their downfall when her manager, a con artist who calls himself her uncle but cherishes only his own fame and fortune—demands a debt no one can pay?

A note about story links: A Bride for Brynmor is the first book in the Songbird Junction series. This American Western Historical Romance is a sweet rated standalone read, but it also includes characters (such as reader-favorite Grandpa Gus Peregrine) featured in my Noelle, Colorado, Christmas storiesThe Calling Birds (set in 1876) and Robyn: A Christmas Bride (set in 1877).

Welcome to Songbird Junction where Welsh meets West in Colorado 1878. The journey to find a forever home and more starts here. Brynmor, Heddwyn, and Griffin Llewellyn are three Welsh brothers bound by blood and a passion for hauling freight—in Denver where hard work pays. Lark, Oriole, and Wren are three Irish-Cree Métis sisters-of-the-heart bound by choice and a talent for singing—in any place that pays.
The book is for sale here
Enjoy!

 

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