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Reading for Love

One of the side effects of my Christmas indulgence in books has been recovering my joy in reading. As a writer, I read — a lot. But I read about the business. I read books on craft. I read books written by my writing colleagues. I read in my genre. I read to learn the trends in fiction. But all that reading can sometimes feel like a chore. Taking a “reading break” over the holidays reminded me of how much I love a good story. From my earliest memories of bedtime stories to the latest novel, a good book has transported me to other worlds and other times. It has introduced me to characters who have stayed in my memory forever.

  •  Rumpelstiltskin.  What a name! But whenever I look at a pile of  straw, I remember the little man who could weave it into gold.
  • Green hair, quite fashionable now, takes me to Prince Edward Island and a red-headed Anne who hated her hair.
  • Inspector Gamache is firmly embedded in my heart, rather like a grandfather I’ve heard about but never met.
  • Hester Prynne. Just the mere mention of her name puts me in a rage.
  • I still ache for Rhett and Scarlet. How could they hurt each other so?

I’ve just turned the last page of The Piano Maker.  Part mystery, part romance, this book included some fascinating details on how pianos are made. I don’t need to know those details to enjoy my piano, but the information is another reminder that reading for pleasure is not a waste of time, as some of our more Puritan ancestors might insist. Reading for pleasure broadens the mind, enhances the spirit and lifts the heart. It’s also a great way to make new friends. “What are you reading?” is a great conversation starter.

If you’ve finished this blog, go read something. I hope you’ll read one of my books, but that’s not necessary. If you are blessed to live in a part of the world where books are plentiful and the ability to read is ordinary, take advantage, and count your blessings.

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Book to Movie

Christmas is over, the weather is nasty, and I’m feeling lazy. As a result I’ve watched a lot of television lately. My primary impression from my binge is that network television has nothing to offer. I’ve even taken to watching sports!

 My programs of choice are CBC news, Knowledge network and PBS. Makes me wonder why I’m paying for cable. My secondary choices are movies, and that leads me to today’s topic.

I like romance. Romantic movies that make me laugh or cry feel like time well-spent. The old ones with Hepburn and Tracy, Rock Hudson and Doris Day, or Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant are guaranteed to lift my mood. I don’t care that the war-between-the-sexes is old hat, or that modern women aren’t nearly so concerned about their virtue as their counterparts in the movies of the fifties and sixties. The films are entertaining. I can suspend disbelief for an hour or two and just enjoy.

The newer movies,( they don’t seem to have a romantic pairing like Hudson and Day) are more problematic. (I’m speaking here of the made for TV versions, not the block-busters playing at a theatre near you.)

In these films, the characters seem plastic. Their teeth are too white. They are too good to be true and they are so politically correct they come across as insipid. Sometimes I’ve recognized the story from a book I read and enjoyed, yet when I see it on the screen, I’m embarrassed for the “romance” community. So what happened between the page and the screen?

Part of it might be the casting. The actors chosen are very photogenic, but seem to have no personality. The fictional towns that are so appealing in the written word, feel like Hollywood sets in the movies. The storylines are the same ones used in the books, but on paper, the conflict feels significant. On the screen, it feels contrived.

So, sorry Hallmark, I’m going to look out the old classics when I want to watch a romance and skip your bland offerings.

Have I offended anyone? I’d love to hear a spirited defence of a made-for-TV romance movie. Tell me your favourite. I’m open to changing my mind if the evidence is there.

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If You Could Visit. . .

As mentioned before, I follow the blog Writers Unboxed. Some time ago, in response to a post about discouragement, Donald Maas wrote what amounts to a love letter for writers.  I printed out parts of it for future inspiration. You can read the whole post here.

After the Christmas break, I’m getting back into my writing routine, but finding it hard to pick up the pieces of the story. I’ve re-read Mr. Maas’ post and found one of his suggestions really touched a chord in me. He asked about my story world. If I could visit, where would I go, who would I speak to, what would I eat, where would I lay a flower? Just reading those lines seemed to give me permission to turn “work” into “play.”

I know exactly where I’d go in Prospect. I’d visit the Rockingham Hotel and have tea with Emma North. I’d wander the boardwalks and drop in at The Mercantile. No doubt Bella Barclay will give me an earful about the latest goings on. I’d wander by Rev. Stanton’s church and spend a little time by the duck pond. Nothing like squabbling ducks to raise the spirits.

At the end of the day, I’d hire a horse and take the road through the woods to Pine Creek Farm. When I reached the house, I’d leave my horse and walk up the hill to the orchard. There I’d sit on Sean’s bench beneath the Sweetheart Tree and watch the sunset. I might feel a little melancholy remembering Lottie’s early life, but from my perch, I can see Bridget and her little brother playing tag on the verandah. Present joy replaces past sorrow. I’ll linger until I see Sean and Michael come in from the fields and know the family is sitting around the kitchen table, secure, happy and full of love.

Now that I’ve had my imaginary visit to Prospect, I’m eager to pick up my pen and continue the story. Thank you, Donald Maas for your insight and your compassionate words for writers.

How about you? Any story places you’d love to visit in person? Would you go back in time to Green Gables, perhaps, or are you a seeker who longs to float among the stars with Mary Robinette Kowal? What makes you want to visit a fictional place– the people? the landscape? the time period? Would you visit Prospect if you could? If you don’t know the gold rush town of Prospect, B.C. visit my books page and meet some of the characters.

 

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Christmas Book Madness

A funny thing happened on my way to book Nirvana this Christmas.  For anyone who asks, I’ve told them I love books for Christmas. My husband knows this, my neighbour knows this, my best friend knows this, even mere acquaintances know this. Apparently, I’m quite vocal about my favourite authors as well. Louise Penny is a “must” buy for me and she had a new book, Kingdom of the Blind,  out just in time for Christmas. I got three copies!

Dear Evelyn by Kathy Page just won the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize. She is a British Columbia writer, living on Salt Spring Island. It’s a kind of love story – the history of a very long marriage that begins in World War II. My neighbour and I belong to the same book club and I was sure she’d like it. So I bought it for her as a Christmas gift, knowing I could borrow it later. Well, my darling husband heard me talking and a copy of the book showed up under my tree.

Jack Knox is a local columnist with a wry sense of humour. I bought his latest book to give to my husband. But before he opened his, I opened one from him to me.

Fortunately, all the replica books can be exchanged so I’ll still have lots of new reading. It’s also nice to know that my friends and family actually listen when I talk books. 🙂

I read all of Dear Evelyn on boxing day. Lovely writing and a story to pull at your heartstrings. Evelyn and Harry belong to “the greatest generation,” and their stories are worth hearing over again. I’m glad Ms. Page preserved this one so beautifully.

Kingdom of the Blind was devoured in two days. Louise Penny is a master at making the reader turn just one more page. Fortunately there were enough leftovers in the fridge that we didn’t starve while I followed Armand Gamache and his team from the idyllic village of Three Pines into the darkest streets of Montreal and out again. A very satisfying read, though I felt a little sad at the end. I’m hoping there’s another book to restore the joy in the Chief Inspector’s life.

There are still three new books by my bedside and I’ll filch Rick Mercer’s Final Report when my husband finishes it.

Books, books, and more books. It’s been a great Christmas.

If you got some good books at Christmas — or even double copies — please share in the comments below.

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Good Will – Take Three

Christmas is almost here. Have you done your baking, shopping, wrapping, cleaning? All those Christmas chores threaten to rob the holiday of its true meaning. I hope this little collection of “good will” stories helps you to remember “the reason for the season.” 

Story One:  While hustling out of the rain the other day I went to enter a narrow doorway, with a triangular step. Not the easiest of entries but no a problem for me. I’m quite able. However, an elderly gentleman stood in the rain to hold the door for me. Feeling a bit embarrassed to have put him to the trouble, I mumbled thank you. “My pleasure,” he said, with such genuine warmth that I believed he enjoyed performing that small service. I went on my way with a Christmas glow in my heart.

Story Two:  While standing in the check-out line of my local grocery the clerk and I were exchanging stories of political correctness run amok. Every year it seems, Christmas is the victim of some outrageous slander — like declaring “White Christmas” racist.  The white is about snow, people.   Anyway, I shifted the conversation by explaining about this blog and my collection of good will stories. Three people cheered and one asked for the URL of my blog. So, lady in Fairway checkout, if you’re here, Merry Christmas, and thanks for making my day.

Story Three:  this incident was perhaps more an accident than an act of good will, but it made me happy, so I’ll include it anyway. My husband and I were touring the Butchart Gardens to look at the lights. They are absolutely stunning! In one window was an installation of a toy train, with mountains and tunnels and a curling rink and a carousel. I was trying to take a picture when a young lad, so overcome with excitement jumped in front of my camera. Another little girl was fascinated by the toy merry-go-round so I asked if she’d ridden the real one in another part of the Gardens. Her eyes grew round as saucers. “Can I?” She vibrated with excitement. We all shared a moment of Christmas cheer. Thank you, generous parents, who allowed strangers to share in their children’s wonder.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this series of good will stories. I’ve been delighted to read the ones you contributed in the comments section. Please keep them coming.

This will be my last post until after Christmas. I wish you all a joyful and blessed Christmas. May you know peace and good will throughout the season and in the new year.

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Good Will, Take 2

Last week I started a Christmas hunt for good news stories. Readers responded. Thank you for spreading good will at Christmas. I’m especially delighted to note that kindness is contagious. One good deed inspires another. Let’s keep spreading peace on earth. Here are my stories for this week.

Story One: A friend reported a touching story from her workplace. It seems one of the maintenance staff is Indigenous. Her mother was a master beader, creating lovely objects and selling them as a business. One prized item was a lampshade. It was sold, then pawned, then redeemed and sold again and pawned again. The last time it appeared in the pawn shop, the owner set it aside. He knew the bead-maker and he knew she was in the last stages of terminal cancer. A month after the mother died, the pawnbroker contacted the daughter, my friend’s colleague, and offered the lampshade to her — a remembrance of her mother.

Story Two: A group of young school girls was given a prize for some charity work they’d done. The teachers and parents expected the girls to throw themselves a party. Instead, the group decided to use their prize money to help others at Christmas. They made soup and sandwiches which they distributed to the homeless, along with a small Christmas gift, Those who received were very grateful. Those who gave were happy to see their good fortune benefit others. Wouldn’t surprise me if that group of girls gets into the “giving” business on a regular basis.

Story Three:  Over the years, I’ve encountered my share of grumpy, disinterested by-the-book postal clerks. Especially at Christmas time. This week I found an antidote. I took my parcel to a small postal station, and found a cheerful clerk who weighed and measured my parcel, then checked the address. The postal code turned up an error. So, she waited while I made a phone call, then produced the required writing utensil to correct the address and sent it on its way. All the while chatting cheerfully about homemade Christmas decorations.  That little postal station is now my mailbox of choice!

So, there are my stories for this week. Please add your own in the comments section. Let’s keep the good news flowing against the tide of anger, and hate and incivility.

By the way, I’ve just completed my short story for Christmas 2018. Get your own copy free by subscribing to my newsletter. (see right side bar.)

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Peace, Good Will

 

‘Tis the season of frantic shoppers, aggressive drivers, wild-eyed bargain hunters and parking lot fender benders. The newspapers are full of stories of selfishness and greed and down-right bad manners. As an antidote, I’m collecting stories of generosity, selflessness, and kindness.

For the month of December I’ve got “good deeds” on my radar. Not the seasonal ones like serving dinner in a homeless shelter, or putting a float in a parade, or being a secret Santa to a shut in. Those are certainly good deeds and kudos to everyone to participates in those kinds of activities.

But for the purposes of this blog, I’m collecting  small acts of kindness, the unorganized kind. The kind that spread the Christmas Spirit everywhere and anywhere, even in unexpected places.

  • Story One: While waiting in a line-up outside Tim Hortons I encountered a young dad taking his little hockey players out for hot chocolate after an early morning practice. Reason enough to give him a pat on the back. But, he went further. He talked to a young man sitting on the sidewalk. Asked if he was hungry, exchanged names, then offered to bring him a breakfast sandwich. The young man on the sidewalk opted for a donut instead. The dad obliged, even after trying to talk the young man into a healthier choice. I was so uplifted by that dad’s good deed, I emptied my purse into a collection box when I finally reached the counter.
  • Story Two: I lost a prized jacket. Searched the house top to bottom several times. Looked in the most unlikely of places. Retraced my steps. Finally, in a last ditch effort, I called the airport. I was sure I hadn’t worn the jacket when I went to the coffee shop there, but  I was ready to try anywhere. Lo and behold, I did wear the jacket and left it hanging on a chair. Some honest soul found it and turned it in to lost and found. Two days after the jacket went missing, the commissionaire produced it from a back room and restored it to me. I am so very grateful to the people who enabled me to get my coat back. It would have been so easy just to walk away with it.
  • Story Three: I needed to make a left-hand turn mid-block. An oncoming vehicle stopped, allowing me to turn and freeing the line of traffic jammed up behind me. Thank you lady driver. You are a remedy for all the angry drivers out there who drive down the shoulder, cut in and out of traffic and steal parking spaces. I hope you have a Merry Christmas and that your act of kindness inspires others.

So, that’s my list for this week. Watch for more as I celebrate the Christmas season. Please share your own story of peace and good will in the comments section. Let kindness reign!

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Read to Me

I was in contact with two elderly friends last week. Both are the same age, both are underweight, both have a vision problem that means they cannot read.  One misses newspapers more than anything. The other misses reading piano music.

One is quite robust, despite her tiny size. She works out for an hour every morning and insists on walking everywhere, even though she can’t see the pavement under her feet. The other is extremely frail and requires help to move from bed to chair and back again.

Both have found solace in the spoken word. One listens to audio books while doing her workout. She says twenty minutes just flies by when there’s a good story playing through your earpiece. She has just discovered , Wives and Daughters, by Elizabeth Gaskell. The audio version takes about twenty hours, as compared to the usual ten hours for most books, but my friend finds the writing and the reading so engaging she’s happy to keep listening. In fact, she plans to look for more of this author’s books in audio form.

The other has a volunteer who sits with her one afternoon a week and reads aloud from a paper book. They are about to start , The Thorn Birds, by Colleen McCullough, another tome.

What struck me about these two ladies, apart from their similarity in age and vision impairment, is their joy in listening to a story. Note, even the news junkie would rather have a story playing on her device than a newspaper article.

There’s something wonderful about being read to. In my day, a bedtime story was a requirement from every parent to every child. Even when I could read for myself, my brothers and I loved gathering in the living room of an evening and listening to our mother read aloud. We had stories from the Family Herald, books by Thornton W. Burgess, Bible stories, Mother Goose tales, Pollyanna and Anne of Green Gables, and my mother’s voice.

From listening to my two friends, I realize that we never outgrow that “read me a story” stage.

My Mom didn’t do funny voices, but she read at a pleasing pace, in a clear voice and loved the story. Other parents excelled at “voices” when telling bedtime stories. I had a cousin who could “tell” stories as she made them up.

Some authors read their own work for audio books, others hire voice actors. Whatever the method, it seems “read me a story,” is a universal desire that technology has expanded but cannot displace. Three cheers for those who still read aloud to their children – or grandparents – and congratulations to the techies who figured out that we all want to “hear” a story.

What about you? Do you want to listen to a story? Do you prefer live readers or digital versions? Do you ever consider reading your own work aloud to an audience?

Leave a comment and receive a copy of my latest Christmas short story.

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Name that Hero

 

I’m working on a new story with an “interesting” hero. He’s a medical doctor in a gold rush town. He is highly skilled but has no bedside manner. He has red hair that sticks up in a halo around his head. His childhood was marked by abandonment – mother died, series of housekeepers, father oblivious to child.

He followed in his father’s footsteps and became a doctor. He and his father lived together in the family home and worked together in the family practice. There were no women in their lives. My hero had been in love once, but she’d walked out on him.

His life seems set on its course and he has given up on feeling lonely. This is just the way it is.

Stuff happens– don’t want to give away the story– and he heads west, ending up in Prospect. He’s the only doctor for miles around so no one argues with his dictates, even though his patients grumble at his high-handed methods.

For some reason, I want to name him Rupert. It’s an odd name, but, in my mind, it suits him.

Here in British Columbia we have a town of Prince Rupert and when the Hudson’s Bay Company sold their holdings to the Dominion of Canada, the area was called Rupert’s Land. Both were named in honour of a cousin of Charles 1, Prince Rupert of the Rhine.

Prince Rupert’s family fled civil unrest when he was a baby. He grew up in exile, then landed at the court of his English royal relatives as an adult,  He was a skilled horseman and soldier, fighting for the Royalist cause against the Roundheads. He was also a businessman who became the first governor of the  Hudson’s Bay Company.

Other Ruperts include

The name seems to have been much more popular in Britain than in North America.

So, what do you think? Could you fall in love with a hero named Rupert?

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1918 – 2018

 

Remembrance Day this year is particularly significant as it marks the 100th anniversary of the end of WWI, the War to End All Wars.  With that hopeful thought in mind 620,000 men and women from Canada, with a population of just eight million, enlisted. In 1914 they went off with flags flying and trumpets blaring only to land in a hell none could have imagined. When they died, more took their place.

The impact on the country was incalculable. We lost 66,000 men, while another 127,000 were wounded. At that time, no one counted the mental wounds of returning soldiers. One mother in Winnipeg had seven sons in the army and two were killed. Countless families lost fathers, brothers, sons, husbands and uncles. Losses were staggering. For example, at the Battle of Beaumont-Hamel  800 Newfoundlanders went into battle on the first of July, 1916.  Only 68 could answer roll call the next day. The dead included 14 sets of brothers.

So many leaders of the future were lost, artists, writers, industrialists, politicians, inventors, educators and bread-winners. The loss to the country goes well beyond mere numbers. The heart of Canada had been broken. The memorial at Vimy Ridge, shows the figure of a mother weeping for her sons. It is called Canada Bereft.

My first emotional encounter with the war came in my adolescence when I read Rilla of Ingleside, the last of the “Anne” books by L.M. Montgomery. Rilla, Anne’s youngest child comes of age during the Great War. Her favourite brother, Walter, says, “Before this war is over. . . every man and woman and child in Canada will feel it. . .It will be years before the dance of death is over . . . And in those years millions of hearts will break.” 1

In the end, Walter goes to war to save his own soul for he cannot live with the knowledge that the weak and defenceless are dying. I had an uncle who fought in the first war, he was wounded and the bullet hole in his shoulder made his young nephews stare. But my uncle never spoke of his experiences. Walter Blythe, a character in a book, made the war real for me. That’s the power of fiction, it can speak truth in ways real people cannot.

In later years, I’ve watched old film and been angry and heart-broken by the stupidity of trench warfare – all those young lives squandered for a few meters of mud. I’ve hated the generals and the politicians and armament manufacturers  who created the war. I’ve questioned the history books who spoke of “winning.” I’ve been heart-sore at the images of laughing faces eclipsed by carnage.

But whatever my mood, whatever the weather, whatever my view on conflict,  on November 11, at the eleventh hour, I honour the brave men and women who left home and country and sacrificed their all to do what they thought was right. Duty seems an outmoded concept in our time, but for those who followed the drum, it was the highest calling.

One hundred years since the guns fell silent on that first Armistice Day. Pray God, they fall silent again.

1  L.M. Montgomery, Rilla of Ingleside,  McClelland & Steward, Ltd. Toronto, 1947, p.84

 

 

 

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