Month: July 2020

The Mighty Pen

Browsing through one of my favourite blog sites, Writer Unboxed, I came across a title, “Pens, Ranked.”  

As someone who prefers to write my first draft in longhand, I was very excited to see what the experts had to say about pens. Turns out, the post was a humour piece and not a serious study of writing instruments. Although, in this day and age, a little humour is never misplaced.

But, now I was on a mission. I have my own favourite pens. My penmanship is awful, so a fine point is my preference. For some reason it makes my scrawl look better. The grip is also important. Many of the commentators on the WU site liked a fat pen, but I prefer a slim one with a non-slip grip.  I’ll take a ballpoint over a fountain pen, even though I like the elegant look of the latter.  This elegant number was a gift from dh when I sold my first manuscript. I imagined myself using it for autographs at book signings. NOT! This expensive beauty leaked just as badly as the cheapies that blotted my grade three exercise books.

On further searching the internet I found a site that had actually rated the top 100 pens, including ballpoints, gel pens, fountain pens, and felt-tips. Their choices sometimes surprised–and to judge by the comments a lot of people disagreed with the editors decisions–but I did like their judging criteria.

Smoothness: How easily does the pen glide across the page? 

Smudging:  Especially important for left-handers.

Bleed-through:  A major failing for lots of felt-tips and fountain pens.

Feel: The shape of the pen must fit the shape of the user’s hand.

Looks:  A totally subjective call.

For myself, smoothness and feel are primary details. I hate a pen that catches and scratches on the page, or one where the ink skips. I like those little rubber grips the manufacturers have added to the straight, stick pen. I can write for hours with that nifty little detail and no cramping in my fingers. This little give-away pen used as a promotional tool is one of my all-time favourites. It is also purple and sparkly. 🙂

Having discovered that there are people who spend their days ranking writing instruments I kept scrolling and came upon some amazing facts, like a fountain pen that retails for over $2000.00. Really, that’s a 2 with a dollar sign in front and four zeros afterwards.  Could you imagine carrying that in your purse?

I also discovered that there are whole shops devoted to pens — and ink and luxury stationary. How many dollar apiece stick pens does a retailer have to sell to pay the rent on that storefront?

Pens are so common we take them for granted, toss a handful into a desk drawer, add a few to a bag and maybe leave one or two in the car for emergencies. But a pen is a magnificent tool, underappreciated because it is commonplace. 

Since the days of antiquity humans have devised various writing instruments to record our stories. Apparently our desire to leave our mark on the cave wall, is as old as mankind. 

The pen is one of the primary tools of civilization. It allowed communication over long distances. It preserved the works of Shakespeare. It transferred the ideas of Galileo and Newton to paper, and thus making them available to the world.  The innocuous, unappreciated little writing stick littering your desk is indeed mighty.

The Egyptians used a reed pen for thousands of years but the invention of the quill pen in the seventh century revolutionised the art of writing. Using a bird feather, like goose or swan, one could use the hollowed stem to draw ink out of a well and transfer it to paper in a smooth line — writing.  At first people wrote in large, block letters to accommodate the shortcomings of the pen, but over time improvements to the writing tool led to changes in style with cursive becoming common. Those beautiful copperplate letters one sees on old documents were only possible because of the quill pen.

By 1822 the steel pen was invented. It was an improvement on the quill pen because it had a more durable tip, but it still required the writer to sit at a desk with an inkwell and dip his pen frequently to maintain a supply of ink. Then, in 1827 the fountain pen was developed by a Romanian, Petrache Poenaru. This pen was never totally satisfactory, but Lewis Waterman refined the design to create a three channel feed fountain pen that maintained a steady flow of ink and was portable. The act of writing was set free from the constraints of the desk and the inkwell. A portable pen, with its own supply of ink, changed everything– commerce, law, the arts and everyday lives.

By 1888 the first ballpoint was introduced and later refined by Lazio Biro in the 1930’s. The name Biro became synonymous with a simple, ballpoint pen. It was especially important to the RAF during WW2 because, unlike a fountain pen,  it could write at high altitudes.

Felt-tips, gel-pens and other variations have followed, but they are refinements on the original principles developed by Waterman and Biro.

So, next time you scribble your name on a receipt, or jot notes for your next masterpiece, or doodle a cover design, say thank you to the humble pen. You hold in your hand one of the greatest inventions of the world.

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Beach Reads with Kathleen Lawless

Today, I’m very happy to dedicate this space to Kathleen Lawless and her most recent release. Kathleen and I have been part of the same writing group since way back when. In fact, when traditional publishing was the only way to go, she and I made our first sale in the same year. Since then she has built a career in the author business.  Over to you, Kathleen, and good luck with this latest project.

 

LAST CHANCE BEACH, Summer’s End

 

I have always found surfing a fascinating sport, where the surfer’s main opponent is the force of nature, so was thrilled to see surfing scheduled to make its Olympic debut this year in Tokyo.  Alas, with no Olympics this year, we’ll wait for next year to see the sport recognized by the world.  Which took a while, considering surfing originated in Hawaii in the 4th century a.d.

 

When I got a chance to contribute a romance story to the boxed set LAST CHANCE BEACH, Summer’s End, it seemed natural to have my hero and heroine be retired pro surfers.  And since I love a second chance romance, I decided they had been together years earlier in their professional surfing lives.  Fast forward to when they meet again, where for different reasons, neither has been on a surfboard in years.

They’re older, they’re wiser, they’re wary; of each other, and of getting back into a sport that once was their entire lives.  Like all good romances, BLUE SKY SUMMER ends happily, on the water and off.  Read on for a short excerpt.

The entire LAST CHANCE BEACH box set is on pre-order for only 99 cents.  That’s 14 brand new beach romances by 14 bestselling authors.  A new story every day for two weeks this summer.

 

From BLUE SKY SUMMER by Kathleen Lawless

 

Alisha spread out her beach towel and lowered herself onto it, straightening a floppy sun hat to shade her face.  It was the first time this week she’d ventured to this particular cove, home to the island’s surfers.  The break was small this morning, and the few surfers in the water looked like beginners.

She leaned back, resting her weight on her hands, and tried to remember what it had felt like the first time she’d caught a wave.  One initial rush of freedom, and she had been hooked. 

She’d barely settled in to watch the action and live vicariously  through others, when she saw a newcomer walk to the shoreline with a board under his arm.  Something about his long-legged, self- assured gait took her back fifteen years, and the first time she’d  seen Mark.

She gave her head a shake.  She hadn’t thought about him in years.  Much.  Just because this surfer was the same height and coloring . . .

As he positioned himself on his board and headed for the break, she pulled out her binoculars, more to reassure herself it wasn’t him.

She zoomed in, and the bottom fell out of her stomach.

It was Mark!

 

I hope you’ll join us at LAST CHANCE BEACH, where there’s always one more chance to fall in love.  https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08CV3GN3R

 

Kathleen Lawless blames a misspent youth watching Rawhide, Maverick and Bonanza for her fascination with cowboys, which doesn’t stop her from creating a wide variety of interests and occupations for her alpha male heroes.

Her hero, Steele, in UNDERCOVER, is a modern-day cowboy, so when she was wooed by a man called Steel— while he’s not a cowboy, he is an Alpha male and her forever hero.  Which is why all of her stories end Happily Ever After.

Not that she can ever stick to just one genre.  So many stories to tell—never enough time.

With close to 30 published novels to her credit, she enjoys pushing the boundaries of traditional romance into historical romance, romantic suspense, women’s fiction and stories for young adults.

Sign up for Kathleen’s VIP Reader Group to receive a free book, updates, special giveaways and fan-priced offers.    http://eepurl.com/bV0sb1

 

AMAZON | WEBSITE | NEWSLETTER | FACEBOOK | TWITTER | BOOKBUB

 

Thanks for being my guest, Kathleen. Love that Blue Sky cover.

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Who do you think you are?

Remember that old schoolyard taunt? It was usually aimed at the unfortunate pupil who did not conform to the standards of the “in” crowd on that day.  i.e boys don’t wear pink, girls don’t wear pants, and “blue and green should never be seen unless they’re in the washing machine.”

I remember, during high school,  raising and lowering my hems every September, because the fashion dictates for the day decreed that an inch more or less of knee dictated whether my school year was fun or miserable.

By some coincidence, I’ve been watching a number of TV shows on women’s rights. Needless to say, they make my blood boil, but they have also disturbed my sense of security. When not conforming to the dictates of society resulted in jail time for a woman in the twentieth century, I’m reminded that freedom is a fragile treasure.

 

In 1938, Los Angeles kindergarten teacher Helen Hulick witnessed a burglary, and was called into court to testify against the suspects. But, when she arrived, the conversation quickly turned from the crime at hand to what she was wearing: a pair of slacks. The judge ordered her to return at a later date wearing a dress. When she returned in pants, he cited her for contempt of court and sent her to jail.

A brief history.  

Follow the link above for a brief history of women in pants. We might think the controversy over what women wear is absurd, but it points to the larger issue of conformity. Who decides what a woman should wear? Who decides on a school dress code?  Who decides when the “traditional” should  change? Who decides social mores? Who decides that women must wear hats indoors and men must remove them? Who wields power over others?

Ignaz Semmelwies

–a Hungarian doctor discovered that women in maternity wards overseen by men died more often than in maternity wards overseen by female midwives. His observations led him to the theory of germs carried on the men’s hands from the autopsy room. The midwives did not perform autopsies. He ordered the doctors on the maternity ward to wash their hands after leaving the autopsy room. The deaths on the maternity ward dropped. For his trouble Semmelwies was vilified by his fellow physicians and eventually committed to an insane asylum, where he died of sepsis from a beating. The physicians stopped washing their hands and the death rate on the maternity ward they staffed, soared.

Every discovery in history has come about because someone has refused to accept the conventional explanation and thought outside the box. The Wright brothers and others imagined that flight was possible. Galileo postulated that the earth revolved around the sun and not the other way around. He was condemned for heresy and spent the rest of his life under house arrest. Emmeline Pankhurst thought women should vote, and went to jail and suffered force-feeding for her beliefs.

There are countless examples of those who defied convention, suffered for their beliefs, and were eventually vindicated by later discoveries.

Lest you think the suppression of freedom is a relic from history, consider our present practice of “online shaming.”

That schoolyard cry of “who do you think you are?” amplified by social media, has tremendous power to repress freedom of thought and action. In some cases the “shamer” has misidentified a person or action. In others, they are bent on imposing their own beliefs on dissenters.  George Orwell wrote 1984, in 1949.  When I studied it in school, along with The Chrysalids, Brave New World and Fahrenheit 451, I thought such absurd worlds could never really exist. We’d “won the war” freedom was guaranteed. Now I’m not so sure.

When I wrote The Man for Her, I thought having the heroine wear men’s clothing showed her practicality and strength. Having considered the history of women in pants, I’m even more proud of my unconventional heroine. 

Most romance heroines are feisty, plucky, free-thinking women who defy the conventions of their day. They marry for love rather than position. They work in traditional male jobs. They are entrepreneurs and astronauts. They chose their own path despite the odds. We admire these heroines. We love to read their stories. But consider the woman who went to jail for wearing trousers, and understand that our fictional heroines are risking their reputations, their livelihoods and maybe even their lives when they go against the traditions of their world.

As I said, freedom is precious. We must never take our rights for granted. They were won for us by brave and committed women.  Don’t let the bullies frighten us into submission.

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The Goldminer’s Sister

Today I’m cheering for my friend Alison Stuart and the official release day of The Goldminer’s Sister. The book is part of Alison’s Maiden Creek series, set in Australia and published by Harper Collins under their Mira-Escape imprint.

A glance at some early reviews only whets the appetite for this historical romance from “Down Under.”

Alison Stuart’s research is meticulous and her historical novels an absolute delight to read. This one was exceptional, with heart rushing suspense, light, well written romance, and strong women characters. Highly recommended. Brenda on Goodreads.

 

 An absolutely fantastic story about family, love, loss, greed and mystery.  from Jessica’s reviews.

The suspense and mystery had me hooked and I didn’t want to put the book down. Chapter Ichi   

Alison also writes as A.M. Stuart and is achieving success under both names. A.M. Stuart is the author of the Harriet Gordon series set in Singapore. You may have read Singapore Sapphire. There is a new book, Revenge in Rubies, coming in September.

Since we’re all staying close to home and having our vacations in the back yard, why not enjoy a good read and learn something about a different part of the world at the same time?

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