6 Christmas Movie Favourites

DecemberDecember is here and with it an outpouring of Christmas fare on television. I watched my first one of the season on Sunday night. 

At the risk of sounding like an old fogey, I’ve got to say, “they don’t make ’em like they used to.” In my opinion, modern Christmas movies on television rely on sentimentality and perfect teeth instead of real meaning.

Here are my picks for great Christmas movies.

MiracleMiracle on 34th Street a story about truth. Is it only revealed in the five senses or can it be found in love and kindness and generosity? A story with universal implications.

 

 

It’s a Wonderful Life — Here the struggle is about the value of one man’s life. High stakes indeedwonderful life

Joyeux Noel —  Despite the title there’s not much joyous in this film but if you’re in the mood to stir your soul, this story of the humanity of ordinary soldiers and the inhumanity of the war machine, even at Christmas, is a stunner

.Joyeux Noel

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation — The comedy depends to a large part on slapstick, but at the heart of the story is a man who deeply loves his family and longs to give them one perfect moment at ChristmasChristmas vacation

home aloneHome Alone — Again we depend on gags for humour and excitement but who can’t sympathize with a little boy who wonders if his family has abandoned him? The story is about more than family Christmas. It’s about belonging.

A Christmas Carol — There are many versions of Dickens’ classic tale, but I like the 1951 version with Alistair Sims as Scrooge. It is a story about the struggle for a man’s soul. No wonder it still rings true 175 years since it was first told. Christmas Carol

These movies are deeply satisfying. They resonate with universal truths. They go deep into the human heart. They remind us that the season is about much more than mincemeat and tinsel. They remind us of the good in mankind and encourage us to find that goodness within ourselves and others. They reflect the true meaning of Christmas — love, sacrifice, angels singing with joy, sages bowing in homage to the Prince of Peace.

I’m off now to write my annual Christmas story for my newsletter subscribers. I’ll try not to be sappy. Maybe the heroine will have crooked teeth.

Subscribe to my newsletter (box at right) to receive your free story.

 

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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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The Cost of the Vote

 

Monday was voting day in Canada, our 43rd general election since Confederation in 1867. I voted on a miserable, stormy day and gave thanks for the privilege. As Sir Winston Churchill said, democracy is the worst form of government except for all the rest. 

2019 is also the 90th anniversary of the “persons case” in which women were declared by the Privy Council of Great Britain to be legal persons in Canada, and therefore entitled to election to the parliament.

In the 21st century it is hard to imagine that women could be declared legally non-persons, but such were the prejudices and self-interest of men. In fact, throughout history, power has had to be wrested from one class to the next.  The barons  of England gained power from the king with Magna Carta, but they wouldn’t share with the commoners until forced. Those with land wouldn’t share power with renters, until forced. Whites wouldn’t share with Indigenous peoples and men wouldn’t admit women to the halls of power, until ordered to do so.

Canada derives its parliamentary system from Britain, so the history of the UK shaped our own.

Even in the US, founded on the principles of freedom and “no taxation without representation,” the founding fathers conceived the Electoral College as a way to keep the “riff raff” from having too much power.

 It seems everyone who champions the cause of democracy, changes sides when they have something to lose. 

But the human spirit is stronger than politics.  Men and women insist on being part of the process, not mere subjects commanded by the whim of a monarch. Every time I mark the X on my ballot, it tip my hat to those who fought for that right.

  I especially raise a teacup to the women who suffered ridicule, slander, incarceration and the torture of force feeding, that I might have a say in my country’s government.  Thank you famous five, and all the others who worked to secure my rights.

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Canadian Thanksgiving

For those of you who don’t live in Canada, let me explain that we celebrate Thanksgiving — a harvest festival– on the second Monday of October. It’s a great time to give thanks as the garden crops are safely stored, the apple and pear trees and begging to be picked and pumpkins brighten the farmer’s fields with their stunning orange. Not only that, but the trees are turning colour. It is a most beautiful time of the year. Who wouldn’t give thanks.

Traditionally, we celebrate with a big turkey dinner with friends and relatives. We eat too much, enjoy pumpkin pie with whipped cream and then go back and snare a few more bites. I’m writing this post while still feasting on left over turkey. I love turkey sandwiches.

Of course, the whole point of the day is to remind us to be grateful for the many blessings in our lives. Here is my list of writerly gratitudes.

  • Great books. This year I’ve found myself lost in a story over and over again. I’m so grateful to those authors who churn out a compelling tale that takes me beyond myself.
  • Writer friends. We’re a strange breed, we writers. We live in our heads most of the time. We’re always wondering “what if . . .?” It’s good to have company in the wilderness.
  • The internet. For all it’s flaws and dangers — and there are many– the internet allows me to look up facts in a few minutes rather than the hours needed to go to a library and find the proper reference book. It also allows me to stay in touch with all those writer friends, from Australia to my own back door.
  • Libraries. My own library has reorganized itself, much to my chagrin, to be a “happening place” with a very meagre supply of actual books. I hope that is an anomaly. I love walking into a well stocked library and browsing the stacks. Who knows what gem will appear?
  • Authors who share. As well as reading many great books from excellent authors, I’ve been able to attend workshops from first rate teachers. I can read blogs daily, weekly, or on occasion from people who understand both the craft and business of books. I can send an e-mail to someone I’ve never met and get a helpful reply. Authors truly are terrific.  As a side note, Margaret Atwood has just won her second Booker Prize for Literature.  She is donating her share to the Canadian Indigenous charity, Indspire, one she has previously helped with her late friend and First Nations leader, Chief Harry St. Denis.    
  • All those scribes from every time and place who “wrote it down” so that succeeding generations will know the facts and the stories and the details of everyday life that the historians might leave out.

Happy post Thanksgiving to everyone. May your shelves be filled with lovely books and your mind spin out stories to transform the world.

P.S. Feel free to share your own writerly thanksgivings in the comments section.

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Deep Point-of-View

I had been going to write about deep point of view today. Until I went outside. On a perfect fall day, all cerebral activity vanished and I had only emotion.

The bounty of this earth stirred my soul to gratitude and wonder. Look at this little apple tree, laden with fruit. And these, boxes and boxes of apples from the Golden Delicious.  We haven’t even touched the Northern Spy or the Ida Red.

My heart overflows. I must share–both the fruit and the feeling.

Not content with apples, I look about and see the fuchsia glowing in the sunlight.

Dahlias     burn red like fire and shine white like ice.

 

The last roses of summer perfume the air.

Fall, the season of harvest, overwhelms with its abundance, its extravagant grace.

Over the past week, we’ve heard a lot about climate change and the fragility of our planet. It is a cosmic topic, perhaps requiring an astronaut’s view to comprehend. But I can see the bounty of my orchard, the beauty of my garden, and tremble for them. 

Guess I did write about deep point of view after all. Mine. No skimming the surface here with words like “she worried,” or “he felt.” This page holds emotion with a capital E. That’s what a romance reader wants in our books.

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Calico Cats Part Three

It’s been a helter-skelter kind of week, so I thought I’d bring you more wisdom from the calico cats — both for writing and for living.  Here goes.

 

 

 

 

If you get hung up, just hang in there.

 

Nothing like sunshine to beat the blues.

If you’re stuck up a tree, enjoy the view.

Cute always works, especially if you can perfect the innocent look.

Don’t be afraid to reach high. Explore new places.

Share, it’s the right thing to do.

Love your sister — and fellow writers, too.

Treasure the moments. We grow really fast.

You’re never too big for a lap.

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Character and More

Vancouver Island Romance Authors held its annual all-day workshop last weekend with presenter Eileen Cook. Eileen is a member of The Creative Academy and one terrific teacher. Before becoming a successful YA author, she studied psychology and worked as a counsellor. Using that training and experience she is able to provide unique insights into personalities — both real and fictional — that helps her to create complex, interesting and captivating characters. She shared some of her wisdom with us.

One of her hints in the first part of the workshop was to create a character timeline from birth to page one of your novel, from that character’s pov. If an event was positive, you wrote it above the line, if negative, below the line. This showed that, apart from the event itself, we learned the character’s belief about that event, and thus had insight into her motivations and goals.

                  I tried the exercise for my own real life and noticed that many of the events I would have put below the line in real time, in hindsight went above the line. An interesting outcome that matches my optimistic outlook. For a character in a book, having her hang on to the negative might make for a more interesting story.

                Eileen emphasized that “belief” about an event could be more powerful than the event itself. It is the character’s belief about her body, her parents, her job, her boyfriend . . . that creates the consequences that lead to story.  I’ve been watching for that concept in real life. I know a couple who has left their church because they “believe” they can’t make connections. When I look at their circumstances, as an observer, it seems to me they had plenty of friends. Yet, in terms of their action, it is their belief, not my observation that counts.

                Similarly, I look at my heroine, racked by guilt. In my gentle, authorly way, I want to remove her burden and show her she’s not to blame for an accident, but that would be the end of the story. Much better for her to suffer and struggle until, with the love of the hero, she forgives herself.

There were more wonderful lessons during the day, but Eileen ended with a talk about the life of a writer. It ain’t easy! We meet with rejection in the pre-publishing world and we meet with damning reviews in the post-published world. Family, friends and colleagues may ask why we “waste” our time writing “that stuff.”

Mark Twain said: Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great.” 

Eileen echoed that advice and encouraged us to use positive self-talk as well as to cultivate supportive friends. VIRA is a lovely group of writers who encourage, engage and empathize with one another. Most writers need something like VIRA, whether it’s a formal organization or a few supportive friends. We want our characters to be kind to children and puppies. We should be kind to ourselves.

All in all, it was a wonderful way to spend a Saturday. Attendees have all been raving about how inspired they feel, how eager they are to get back into their work, and how many ideas are raging through their imaginations. A workshop that doesn’t end when the day is over is a gift. Thanks, Eileen.

To connect with Eileen about your own writing, go to https://ccscreativeacademy.com/ You’ll benefit from her wisdom along with others.

 

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