Month: June 2022

How Old is Too Old?

Since my last post here, I have been the soloist at a wedding. What a treat! So many happy smiles. So many good wishes. So much love in the room. So many grandchildren in the wedding party.

Yes, I said grandchildren. The bride and groom at this wedding were both over 75.

In the romance world the shorthand for couples over thirty is “seasoned,” although I’m not sure a 30 year old has enough life experience to be considered “seasoned.”  I think the couples in these stories should be at least 50+ to qualify for the term. Then again, the older I get, the cut-off age for elderly gets younger!

I did a little research with authors who write older couples and found that editors used to get squirmy when the characters, especially the romantic heroine, was over 30. So all those, “second chance” books would be hard sells. Come to think of it, a major publisher used to put out a romance line called “second chance.” It folded. Perhaps the protagonists were considered too old by readers?

In my “Prospect” series, all of the heroines have had major life events before the story begins. Lottie, in The Man for Her, has loved and lost, and borne a child out of wedlock. Emma, in Her One and Only, has suffered a broken engagement, a scandal and her father’s death, before coming to Prospect, looking for a second chance. Louisa, in Her One True Love, has spent years caring for a tyrannical father before escaping to Prospect and a chance for a new life.  

So all of my heroines are mature women even though I did not consider that I was writing “seasoned” romance. Still,  I consider the events before the books begin essential to the love stories that follow. Having been “seasoned” by life, these women have a deep appreciation of the gift of true love — perhaps a better appreciation than their more naive counterparts.

Many romance readers yearn for that first passionate love of a girl on the precipice of womanhood. That is a magical moment, and one worth celebrating. No wonder readers devour those stories. But, could love be “sweeter, the second time around?”

Years ago I sang at another wedding and couldn’t hold back the tears as I looked at the  youthful faces of the bride and groom. I knew the years ahead would have some hard days, and I feared their love would be tested.

But as I looked at the love beaming from the grandmother’s face at last month’s wedding, I couldn’t keep the smile off my own face.

Love, at any age, priceless.

What do you think, dear reader? Do you want romances about first love or are you willing to read about the second time around? What is the ideal age for your romantic heroine?

Voice your preference in the comment section below.

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7 Wonders


doing homeworkA schoolgirl, when asked to name the seven wonders of the world, skipped the pyramids and the Taj Mahal and came up with this list.  The seven wonders of the world are:
1. to see
2. to hear
3. to touch
4. to taste
5. to feel
                                                                  6. to laugh
                                                                   7. and to love.

The child may have failed her social studies exam but she nailed it for fiction writers. 

These days much of the author world is is focused on marketing,  Do ads work? Do we know an influencer? Can we find a niche? What’s the ROI on a publicity campaign? Should I buy space on a highway billboard?

With all these business questions hovering about our writing, we sometimes forget about craft. But craft is paramount. Without it, marketing is selling an empty promise.  

So, let’s take a little time today to think about the art of writing as opposed to the science of selling. 

One of the first “rules” a newbie author encounters is “use the five senses” — the first five wonders in our schoolgirl’s list. I notice she left off smell and that’s a really important one. Scent conjures up emotions and memories faster than any of the other senses.

But the senses alone aren’t enough for fiction. 

I’m reading a travel book just now . Here’s a description of town of St. Ives. “From the station we walk a jagged route along beach and cobble streets into town. A maypole dance is taking place just off the foreshore,  . . . Children skip and weave ribbons in a twisting rainbow.”

This passage uses the sense of sight but it misses out on feeling, laughing and loving. While colourful exposition is fine for a travel book, it is too shallow for good fiction.

By contrast, consider “The peaceful sea sighed as it lapped gently onto the white sand. . .” A.M. Stuart, Evil in Emerald. 

In the St. Ives example, we are observers only. We see the children skip, we see the jagged route, but we are indifferent. The second example adds feeling to the senses. Sighed and lapped are evocative words that draw the reader into the mood of the story. We expect romance — or mayhem, but we are no longer mere observers. We are participants.

**

“The Marsh stretched before them, smiling and lush in the September sunshine, yet with a suggestion of eery loneliness, about it. . .  ” Georgette Heyer, The Unknown Ajax. Even though Heyer is known for her light touch and sense of the ridiculous, this example shows her skill at conjuring a dark mood, in the midst of sunshine. 

**

“Intense wind picks up – fifty miles-per-hour gusting to sixty. Tide’s out, fishing boats and dories askew in the bay.” Here the travel book tells me the author is experiencing rough weather. But, although he may feel the wind, the reader doesn’t. We merely observe.

“My house stands at the edge of the earth. Together, the house and I have held strong against the churning tides of Fundy. Two sisters, stubborn in our bones.”  Ami McKay, the birthhouse. Ms McKay gives only a minimal description, “churning tides,” but the reader is drawn into the battle to survive on the edge of a heaving ocean. 

**

“A man sitting in a chair in the sun, reading a paper, and three children kicking a ball about. A dog jumping around the children and barking. The scene before her was so ordinary after what she had just  been though that she almost laughed in disbelief. ” Tracy Chevalier, A Single Thread

Can you identify with the terror of the heroine in this example? We see and hear a pleasant scene, yet the last line draws us into the emotion of the moment. This is more than a travelogue.

**

“She watched as [they] strolled across the village green. At first she thought they were going to the bistro for a nightcap, but then they veered to the right. To the light of Clara’s cottage.

And Reine -Marie heard them knock on her door. A soft, soft, insistent knocking. . .” Louise Penny, The Long Way Home.

Note how the word choice entices the reader into the drama. “veered” instead of “turned”, knocking that is “soft” yet “insistent.” There should be a great distance between the reader and the story at this point. We are watchers observing a watcher, and yet we sense the danger/intrigue/menace/heartache of the unfolding events.

**

“A glaring sun bore down on the small mining town . . . bleaching the colour from the landscape and sapping the strength of its citizens.” Alice Valdal, The Man for Her.  In this opening sentence I’ve set an ominous mood with oppressive heat and listless citizens. The reader not only observes the street, she feels sweat under her collar.

**

“[The dog’s] head would rise like a periscope and he would slide over the edge of his basket and work his way into the bedroom, keeping low to the ground, as if he were hunting. He would stop a foot short of the bed and cock an ear and listen . . . his nose only six inches away.” Stuart McLean, “Arthur”

Laughter, the sixth wonder. No reader can be disengaged from a story that makes her laugh. Shakespeare knew this. Even in his most heart-rending tragedies, he included scenes of comic relief. An audience, or a reader, needs release from tension. Put a little laughter in your story. Your readers will thank you for it.

**

“In her dreams Evelyn would always return to a pristine white beach where the sand felt soft between her toes and Henry’s hand was warm in her.” Joanna Nell, The Last Voyage of Mrs. Henry Parker.  Here we have the seventh and greatest wonder of them all, love.

**

In science class we are taught that the five senses are sight, smell, hearing, touch and taste. As writer’s we should include the school girl’s wonders, feeling, laughter and love.

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Our Little Libraries

I took a mini holiday last week and visited Coombs, a tiny village about a three hour drive from my home. While wandering the boutiques I saw this jumble of books through an open doorway. There were at least three more doors, all with teetering piles of used books. If anyone thought paper books were dead, think again. 

Since my own public library has removed most of its books and replaced them with computers and dvd’s my browsing ability has been hampered. So I have become a regular at used book stores and  “little libraries.” Those little neighbourhood “bring one/take one” stands have filled a need, not just for me, but for many. On lower Vancouver Island we have over 600 of them, which have received over 67,000 books. That’s just counting the “professional” supplier. No one knows how many volumes are off the shelf before they are counted. I heard that a copy of How to Knit and Felt with your Cat’s Fur was swooped up seven minutes after it landed in a little library.

The little libraries reflect the communities they inhabit. Fourteen of our 600+ include a seed drawer. Victoria is a city of gardens after all. Jigsaw puzzles and art supplies are also exchanged. 

used books galore in Coombs

In other words, the little libraries are meeting the needs of the community in a way the public library never did or could.

There are five of these delights within a one mile radius from my house so when I want something to read, it’s an easy walk. I’ve brought home all sorts of books — romance, history, travel, lifestyle, adventure, mystery — if I don’t like them, I can put them back and take something else. The freedom encourages me to take chances.

One of my latest picks turned out to be a gem.  I almost didn’t take it home. The title is Republic of Dirt and it looked as though someone had dropped it in the dirt. Still, the mule on the cover intrigued me.

The story has four narrators, each in the first person. Again I had doubts,  but the narrators turned out to be so engaging and so individual I couldn’t stop turning the pages. Not only that, the book had me laughing out loud. 

As a writer I can never leave off the editor’s hat when I’m reading, so much as I enjoyed this story, I also took a lesson from the author on creating unique voices for different characters. As a bonus, the story is set on Vancouver Island.

I so enjoyed this treasure from a little library, that I checked out the author and found she is a critically acclaimed writer, winner of the Leacock Medal for Humour for the book I’m reading. Her other works have been on best seller lists, and book of the year lists. A young adult series is being turned into a TV show. Since the book I read is the second in a series, I’ll recommend the first one to my book club for next year’s reading list.

So, three cheers for our little libraries who have kept books out of the landfill and put them into the hands of readers instead.

If you are lucky enough to have a little library in your neighbourhood, go check it out — you may find hidden treasure.

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