Category: For Readers (Page 1 of 19)

Generation Gap

doing homeworkI didn’t post to this blog last week because I had out-of-town company. In fact, I had out-of-province company. It was wonderful to have family come for a visit — a reminder of the special bond of kinship. I was thrilled to discover my great niece is a reader. A visit to my local book store was a highlight of the trip for her. Her brother was more intrigued by the toy store next door. ūüôā Her choices were all unknown to me. In fact, we didn’t have any book references in common.¬†

 

Co-incidentally I read an interesting paper at Writer Unboxed on the need to “explain” our use of language. The question was whether the reader would “get” the author’s references. I was astonished to learn that a seasoned author presented draft ms to young critique partner only to find the reader didn’t understand the allusion to women in the 1950’s attending university in order to obtain an MRS. degree.¬† That was such a common conception in my day I simply assumed it was part of our collective conscience.¬† Now I question all the idioms I thought were universal. How many people who hear “David and Goliath” know the Biblical story? If a rogue “meets his Waterloo,” does the average reader understand Napoleon’s defeat at that place?

My aforementioned great-niece is a “tween” and very specific about the books she reads. The Baby-Sitters Club is top of the wish list. She’s also keen on mysteries, however, despite high praise from her mother, grandmother and great-aunt, she refuses to read Nancy Drew!¬†

How will our generations talk to each other if we don’t have the same reference points?¬† If coming generations don’t read the classics like Little Women, or Anne of Green Gables, where will we find common ground for conversation let alone for reading? To be fair, I haven’t rushed off to the YA section of my library in search of Dog Man either.¬†

My book club meets today. The book under discussion involves a different culture and contains many culturally specific words. The author made no attempt to explain these terms to the reader, leaving us with the choice of putting the book down while we hunted up a dictionary, or skipping the unknown word and carrying on with the story. The approach did not resonate with me. I would have preferred that the author make some attempt to describe a piece of clothing rather than merely assign a foreign word and put the reader to the trouble of researching the vocabulary. Again, I must review my own writing for references that may be meaningless to some readers.

It seems authors must always be prepared for new challenges. And we must seek the balance between assuming our readers share our background and education and treating them like preschoolers who must have every word explained.

What do you think? Do you want plentiful explanation in  your fiction reading or do you just want to get on with the story?

 

Views: 23

Jane and the Brand

 

This week my book club meets and we are each bringing a different book by Jane Austen. I chose The Watson’s,¬†which was an unfinished fragment left by Miss Austen when she died. Various members of her family tried to complete the ms using Jane’s notes and her sister’s (Cassandra) recollections. Each of these writers used the original manuscript and then tagged on an ending of his/her own, trying to imitate Jane Austen. The version I read is one completed by John Coates — no relation of the Austen’s — that is a rewrite of the whole book, including the part that Miss Austen left unfinished.

It must have taken considerable¬†confidence to re-write the famous author’s original words, but Coates argues that she left only a rough draft and would have edited it herself if she had ever finished it for publication. The result is seamless. I cannot tell what is original to Austen and what was added by John Coates.

This book was a very enjoyable read, but I felt it hadn’t the depth of Austen’s finished works and lacked the humour and gentle mocking of “society” so wonderfully achieved in the major novels. Still, reading what is essentially a rough draft makes it easier to recognize the main characteristics of a Jane Austen novel.

To use modern terminology, the book follows the Austen “brand.” We have a gaggle of sisters, an ailing father, a great need for husbands, faithless suitors, a worthy but awkward hero, a country ball, gossip, and the many restrictions placed upon young ladies of this age. (If reading about the powerlessness of women of that era, whether rich or poor, doesn’t get your women’s lib passion frothing, you’re missing the point!)

Over the years I’ve read many articles and attended many lectures on “branding.” Often the emphasis is on visual similarity like covers and websites being instantly recognizable as belonging to a particular author. Since Jane Austen’s books were first published, they have gone through many editions and different publishers, so the “look-alike” covers don’t apply. But, I think, her story elements are just as reconizable as production elements like cover-art and author name.¬†

The branding lectures often focus so much on the art, the colours, the fonts, and the back blurb that they overlook what is between the covers. But, when it comes down to it, don’t readers come back to their favourite authors because of the story, the style, the voice, and the reliability of the writer to spin a tale that resonates and satisfies.

Spending my last week in Jane Austen world, I’ve wondered far from the Canadian frontier, and gold prospectors, and building a new country, but it has been fun to take a ” walk on the tame side,” just for a change.

What about you? Are you a confirmed “Janeite?” Do you have a favourite Jane Austen novel? A favourite character? Or are you firmly in the modern world and have no time for picnics and balls and changing your clothes five times a day?

 

Views: 34

To Love and to Cherish

Why do we read romance novels? For most, it is the desire to experience again that rush of first love — the euphoria, the hope, and the passion. Writers who can tap into that moment meet the expectations of the genre and attract readers by the hundreds of thousands.¬†

And why not? Can anything be better than falling in love? 

I’ll betray my age, when I say yes, there is something better. There is living and loving throughout life, sharing all the ups and downs, the heartaches and the joys, with a beloved partner. Living the “for better, for worse” part brings a deep contentment that may not be thought of in the excitement of a wedding.

How many twenty-somethings really imagine living together in old age when they blithely promise “in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, so long as we both shall live?” Youth is blessed with a sense of immortality. Despite all the evidence to the contrary, the young believe that “it won’t happen to us.” We’ll never need a cane, we’ll never lose our figure, our skin will never wrinkle, our strength will never wane. In this case, denial is a good thing. It makes us take risks, it makes us hope, it keeps the human race trying to make a better world. It keeps the human race alive.¬†

There is a subset in the romance genre called “seasoned romance,” that features older characters as the love interest. Some of these books consider thirty to be “seasoned” but I think they miss the mark. It takes a lot of living to be well and truly seasoned. But what a joy when one reaches that stage of life when the bloom of youth is gone, some dreams have been set aside, some ambitions unrealized,¬† to find that even then, you are cherished by a loving spouse. Someone still sees you as beautiful, someone still thinks an hour in your company better than a week at the carnival, someone will still kiss your hurts and make them better.

I love that word – cherish. It means so much more than love. To cherish to to act, to decide, to care for and to support. Love, as an emotion, is fickle, fleeting and unreliable. Cherish is steadfast.

There is a song, “I”ll Walk Beside You,”¬† that sums up this idea. I can’t listen to it without a tear in my eye. I’ve provided a link to a recording by Kenneth McKeller. Bet you can’t listen to the end without a clutch of your heartstrings.

I’ll Walk Beside You

I’ll walk beside you through the world today
While dreams and songs and flowers bless your way
I’ll look into your eyes and hold your hand
I’ll walk beside you through the golden land

I’ll walk beside you through the world tonight
Beneath the starry skies ablaze with light
Within your soul love’s tender words I’ll hide
I’ll walk beside you through the eventide

I’ll walk beside you through the passing years
Through days of cloud and sunshine, joys and tears
And when the great call comes, the sunset gleams
I’ll walk beside you to the land of dreams.

— Edward Lockton and Alan Murray

Views: 200

7 Reasons I Love Heroes

My writers group held a workshop last week on the anti-hero. Most people in the room could rhyme off whole lists of such characters and always with a little sigh, a yearning for the “bad boy.” The anti-hero is a very popular trope in modern day romance, not only in books but also in movies and television.¬†

To create the anti-hero archetype, we needed to look at heroic qualities and then turn them around. 

 


Hero                                                              Anti-Hero

     Selfless                                                                      Selfish

    Brave                                                                          Cowardly

   Honest                                                                        Dishonest

    Loyal                                                                            Untrustworthy  

   Moral                                                                          Follows his own code

   Kind                                                                               Self-centred

   Acts for the good of all                                     Acts only for himself


Of course,¬† these seven attributes are only a partial list of traits of both characters, but I’d choose the ¬†“hero” over the “anti-hero” any day of the week.¬† I admit to finding the scoundrel style anti-hero amusing, think Professor Hill in The Music Man, or Bret Maverick¬† ¬† but do I¬† really want that man in my life? Could I trust him in the long run? When would his charm become irritating? When would he run off and leave me destitute?¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬†

In our cynical world it is fashionable to scoff at the guy in the white hat, but I like my old-fashioned heroes. Matt Dillon in Gunsmoke, risked his life over and over again to keep the town safe. He was loyal. He was honest. He watched out for the misfits. You could trust your life to a man like that. 

Now I will outrage Jane Austen fans by suggesting that Mr. Darcy is not a hero.¬† He is arrogant, rude, self-centred. He has no compunction about destroying Jane and Mr. Bingley’s happiness, because of his pride. Where is the kindness in that? Admittedly, by the end of the book he has acted to protect Elizabeth and her silly sister but only because he can’t help himself from loving Elizabeth, not from any innate kindness. It sounds very romantic that Mr. Darcy will sacrifice himself for love but really . . . what kind of marriage lies ahead? Elizabeth will have all that lovely money but will she spend the rest of her life apologizing for her family? For not being the woman he would choose if love hadn’t played havoc with his plans? Will he always look down his nose at her? Will she always be “less than?”

I predict Jane and Mr. Bingley will have the happier life together.

The heroes in my books are definitely “white hat” types. Sean O’Connor in The Man for Her, has set aside his own dreams for years in order to look after his family.¬† He is brave –the rustler scene; loyal — the fist-fight over Lottie’s honour; kind — the way he treats Michael.

In Her One and Only, Grey North has some dark secrets in his past, but he puts aside his own desires to please his mother. He goes out of his way to protect Emma when secrets from her past threaten her life. He behaves honourably when he realizes he has compromised her.  He is a community leader in the growing town of Prospect, and he wins our hearts with a lavish gesture to show his love for Emma.

In Her One True Love, I’ve given heroic qualities to two men. Jack Kendal is a mounted policeman, committed to serve and protect, even at great personal cost. Daniel Stanton is a clergyman, his life dedicated to helping and serving others. Louisa has a hard time choosing between these two men because both are selfless, brave and kind. They fit the model of a hero.

In our politically correct world the term “hero” is being replaced with protagonist or main character. Those terms work well for the anti-hero, but they are too wishy-washy to describe the real hero of my romances. I’m old-fashioned enough to want the “good buy” even if he finishes last, over the “bad boy.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Views: 52

Join the Choir — Live!

Happy spring, every one.

This post is late going out because I’ve been busy with happiness.¬†

This morning the World Happiness Report  came out. My country, Canada, ranks 15th in overall happiness and Finland ranks as number one, again.  Interestingly, in Canada, the under thirty cohort ranks as the unhappiest group in the country. Researchers suggest that social media is partly responsible. Younger people are on their devices much more than older Canadians. As we all know, social media highlights bad news, anger, outrage and disaster. No wonder constant users are less happy.

Last week, I went to a vocal workshop. I didn’t learn much about vocalizing that I didn’t already know, but the presenter made quite a case for singing in a choir. Since 99% of the particpants were choristers, he was, literally, preaching to the choir. ūüôā He did have some impressive research to back up his message. Singing promotes longer and happier life. For one thing, singing is a physical exercise and requires good breathing technique. More oxygen to the body promotes better physical health and better cognitive health. Singing makes us happy so joining the choir relieves depression.

Singing in a choir is also a social activitiy and that brings me to the point of this post. I haven’t spent a lot of time at the keyboard this week because I’ve been meeting with friends. As we all know, reading and writing, by nature, are solitary activities. Much as we all enjoy losing ourselves in a story or getting really stuck into the writing, we need to take time away from being in our heads and go out and be with others.¬†

As a writer, I keep in touch with a few writing friends — we had coffee together on Monday. Time spent with them keeps me in the writing mindset, but it also opens my mind to other points of view, to news from the writing world and to some hearty laughs over any number of things.

Later today, my book club (readers) meets. We’ll chat about the latest book on our list — another “misfit” story — and discuss if the author was successful at involving us with her characters. If so, why. If not, why not. Kind of like the “compare and contrast” questions on a school literature exam. We’ll also catch up on each other’s family news, lament the state of the world, and find lots to laugh about.

Tomorrow I’ll go to choir practice and the day after that I’ll visit with an older writer friend who has been bereaved. Kudos to her for knowing the value of coffee dates even in the midst of grief.

I can read and write by myself. I can find news in the media or on-line. But I don’t get the sharing and laughter that face-to-face meetings allow. Do you know that loneliness is now ranked as a health risk? That doesn’t mean a person has no people around. The studies refer to the “lonely in a crowd” feeling. Writers and readers might recognize this as a trope in poplular fiction. But, even though it can underpin a good story, it is not good for mental health.¬†

So now you know my excuses for the delay in posting this blog. 

Now do yourself a favour and go join a choir!

 

 

Views: 69

Why Use a Remote Narrator?

It seems every magazine article, blog post or email I’ve read this week talks about getting readers to “feel” the emotions of your story. Mostly the writers conclude that writing in deep POV is the way to get that emotional reaction from readers. For those of us who’ve been in the game for a while, this is not new advice.¬†

I remember when I was a brand new writer, as yet unpublished, attending a workshop with Lynn Kerstan (Yes, it was a long time ago.). She talked about getting into character when she was writing from a male point-of-view. She said she’d sprawl in her chair in typical manspread style, loosen the top button of her jeans, roll her sleeves up to the elbows and stare at the ceiling while pretending to chew on a cigar.¬†

Remember, this was a long time ago. My apologies to the sensitive males among us who would never act in that way. The point is, she was trying to physically take on the characteristics of her male characater in order to write in his deep point of view.

As I write historical fiction, I often find a visit to a museum or one of the lovely old store fronts in my town help to put me in the right frame of mind for the story. Vintage fashion is a sure key to open the door to women’s lives in the late nineteenth century.

Given all that, I was surprised that the two most recent books I read, set the narrator at a distance from the main characters. The reader was not “in” the story, she was “watching” from the outside.¬†

Why would an author do that?

In both cases, the plot centred on survivors of extreme violence, one a soldier from WWI and the other an officer in a rural police force. One might think that the writer would want the reader to experience the trauma of these characters but perhaps that was too intense, maybe even from the author’s perspective. Perhaps she was afraid that too much gore would turn the reader away.

Also, it wasn’t the actual traumatic event that was key to the story, it was the effect of the event on the characters years later. The retired soldier who could never close his eyes without seeing the battlefield, who could never get the stench of rotting flesh from his nostrils. The police officer who fears for his life every time he knocks on a door or makes a traffic stop.

As might be expected these stories were slow moving. The change that happened occurred largely in the chracters’ minds and in their relationships. Still, the books were memorable. I’ve no doubt the characters and ideas expressed in them will dwell in¬† my mind. I’ll have more compassion for the police officers and others who deal with the horrors of modern society. Every day on the news we hear of a shooting or an accident with deaths. The news stories don’t tell us the gory details.¬†

In the police officer story the narrator relates a bus accident with seniors. The officers spent all day “matching body parts.” And that was only one day. The horrors build on each other day after day, year after year. When you think about it, it’s a wonder any of our first responders manage to hang onto their humanity. During COVID we hailed them as heroes. They are still heroes, even if the pandemic has abated.

The books I read were gifts. I don’t think I would choose a story with a remote POV, but I’m glad I read them. With all the experts shouting deep POV at us, it is enlightening to read from a different perspective.

Isn’t that what makes books so wonderful? You never know what insights lurk between the covers.

 

This week two books from “observer” narration.

Views: 80

Role of the Story Teller

One of the happiest times of my week is Saturday morning, when my husband and I listen to a story on CD. Often that story is told by Stuart McLean. I’ve written about Stuart before on this blog. Follow the link if you want to re-read. He died seven years ago this month, and yet, his stories still bring me to tears and make me laugh out loud. What a legacy.¬†

Listening to his tales makes me think about the role of the story teller. As writers I’m sure we’d love to think our tales will touch people years after we’ve gone.¬† If so, what kind of legacy do we want to leave?

If I were a humourist, I’d want to “leave ’em laughing,” as Stuart has done. If I were a crusader, I might like to highlight the plight of the poor, as Charles Dickens did. If I were a classicist, I might hope to retell Greek tales in modern language, like the opera composer Niccol√≤ Zingarelli. or William Walton.¬†

But I am none of those. I am a spinner of simple tales, told to a small audience, who want to read about love and happily ever after and maybe learn about a short period of history in Canada. What legacy can I leave?

I think Stuart McLean teaches me that tales do not have to be told on a grand scale, but they do have to be told with humanity. The characters we create must be relatable. No one is all good and no one is all bad. The “hero” of McLean’s stories, Dave, is about as awkward, and inept, and well-intentioned as a man can be. I don’t think any of the listeners aspire to mimic Dave’s misadventures. I think we do covet his goodness. Dave’s schemes inevitably go awry, yet, in the end, his kindness, his basic humanity, and his affection for both friend and foe shine through. A character worth emulating. A legacy worth leaving.

Lottie, in The Man for Her, is stubborn and headstrong. She rejects Sean’s love because he won’t bend to her will. Someone who has been disappointed in love could identify with Lottie. My hope, as an author and a caring human, is that, in the end, my story will touch that disappointed lover, show her another way, help her give love another chance.

The Christmas short stories I share with my newsletter subscribers are intended to lift hearts, to remind us of what Christmas is about. When we look for light in the darkest days of winter,  I want to bring hope, peace, joy and love to my readers.

The story I’m writing now is about an older heroine, who has loved and lost. Perhaps it will help someone learning one of life’s hardest lessons. Grief is universal. None of us can escape death. Our culture tries to deny death, or hide it away, but every human heart will suffer that great loss. If I can tell a story that helps one soul in grief, I have done a good thing.

My legacy will not show up in the history books, but I hope it will touch at least one person. I hope the tales I tell will make someone’s world a better place.

What about you, dear reader/writer? Do you wonder about your own legacy? What is your goal?

Views: 29

Terror in Topaz

Just finished reading Terror in Topaz, the fourth in the Harriet Gordon series by A.M. Stuart.¬† I’ve written about her other books, here, here and here.¬† All three books were set in Singapore in the early twentieth century.

For this adventure, the author takes us away from Singapore and into Kuala Lumpur. Harriet, one of the main characters, does not like KL and neither did I. ūüôā Which just¬†proves the author did a really good job of portraying this less than salubrious place.

As we’ve come to expect from Ms Stuart, the story is rich with local colour and a conviction that comes from the author’s own experience living in this part of the world. Harriet’s story takes place in 1910, during the period when the British Empire was at its height.¬† So, not only do we have the heat and humidity and mosquitoes of the Far East, we have them while wearing Edwardian clothing and trying to maintain a proper English attitude. Kuala Lumpur, smaller and more insular than Singapore, is particularly hot and sticky.

The mystery plot of this story concerns an infamous brothel named The Topaz Club, but there is plenty of intrigue surrounding the “upper class” English establishment as well. Curran’s mission, to investigate the club, is not as straightforward as it might seem. He learns early in the book that there is no one he can trust — except Harriet, of course. The story leads both characters into dangerous situations and, finally, a fight for their lives.

There are quite a number of sub-plots as well —¬† another love story, family betrayal, an unrelated murder, more murders . . .¬† Oops, don’t want to give away too much.¬†

Anyone who has followed the series knows that Harriet and Curran have had a long and complicated relationship. In this, book four, they finally declare their feelings. So, HEA? Maybe. I know the author is at work on a fifth instalment of the series and I doubt she’ll let our lovers have an easy road. At least, for now, the romance looks rosy.¬†

If you love a little mystery in your romance, or a little romance in your mystery, I recommend Terror in Topaz.

Views: 60

Feeding the Pioneer Spirit

I’ve been feeding my inner pioneer spirit this week. The long range forecast is for a cold winter. Since I live in a normally mild climate, suggestions of a real Canadian winter have me scrambling. I’ve worked diligently putting the rose garden to bed, pruning and picking up every bit of fungus infected leaf. What a job!

Apple Sauce

We harvested the last of the apple crop.

I’ve given away several bushels and am now making apple sauce from the ones with spots. I’ve got my mother’s old colander and pestle.

 

 

When I first set up my own household I bought a new one but it was useless. The shape was wrong. The peelings (which give such lovely colour to the sauce) clogged up the holes and I ended by throwing out more sauce than keeping it.¬†When Mom broke up her household, I got the applesauce maker and I’ve been happy ever since.

 

I’ve seen social media posts making fun of old homemaking skills but I don’t laugh. For me, those skills are a tie to my foremothers. They speak of thrift and inventiveness. They remind me of the hardships overcome by those who came before me. I love quilts that are made from scraps of old clothes or leftover sewing yardages. Modern quilts, with fabrics purchased specifically for this work of art, are stunning and creative. But, I like to think of the frugal homemaker who salvaged usable bits from worn out clothes to make something lovely that would keep her family warm. The news has been filled lately with the amount of wasted textiles in landfills. The women who made quilts new all about recycling long before it became a “thing.”

I feel the same about my applesauce. It’s a great way to use the fruit that has bruises or worm holes. Just cut out the bad parts and use what is good. Maybe that would be a good motto for life — discard the bad parts and use what is good. Part of the “good” has been the gratitude from recipients of my surplus crop. Those who live in apartments, or long-term care no longer have an apple tree at the door, but they have memories.¬† A fresh, hand-picked apple (even and imperfect one) brings smiles to their faces.

Practising these old arts also helps my writing. I can read about peeling apples, but that’s not as immediate as holding the peeler in my hand. I know the pleasure of a long curl of apple peel. I know the pain of a cramped hand. I know the feel of juice running over my fingers. I experience the crunch of a Northern Spy between my teeth. One of the current buzz words for writers is “authentic.” Sowing, nurturing, reaping and preserving the garden add authenticity to my tales of women in an earlier time.

Anyway, I’ve been happy channelling my ancestors this week as frost touched the ground and I held a crisp, red apple, fresh from the tree, in my hand.

What pioneer skill makes you happy?

Views: 77

Where is This?

In my writing, especially the historicals, setting is important. I spend many hours drawing maps of my fictional towns, showing the placement of a school, a church, a saloon, and the layout of the streets. I find this exercise grounds me in the place and gives me a stage where the characters can act out their stories.  Even Lottie, of The Man for Her, who lives on a farm is anchored in place by the town of Prospect.

The setting of my work in progress is not cooperating. This is a contemporary story with a mature hero/heroine love affair. They are both farmers, so the nearby town is less relevant to the story, but it is relevant to me, the author. Until I can nail down the setting to my satisfaction, I have trouble getting the characters to play their roles. Frequently, I have to backtrack to set them in physical spaces, and figure out how they got there from where they were in the previous scene. The result can be disjointed and awkward. I need to find “home” for these characters.

One of the constraints for my setting is the action of the story. My heroine has to live in an area with a big enough population to support a farm-gate market. However, the characters need to interact on a village scale.¬† That is, lots of local gossip, everyone knowing everyone else’s business, the Women’s Institute, church bazaars, stockyard . . . In truth, my setting problems are the same problems that beset market farmers in real life. Live close enough to a city to sell your produce directly and the price of land is beyond your reach. Live in a more remote area and there aren’t enough local customers to make your business thrive. On-line marketing works for book sales and handcrafts, but you can’t sell fresh carrots through the mail.

I always make my settings fictional but usually based on an actual place. I have a regional place in mind, but, for the purposes of the novel, I need to narrow the scope to a single, farming community with a small town at its heart. And, I need a place name. What about Valleyfield? Valleyview? Both of those names show up in my Canadian atlas. Do they resonate? Many real towns use the founder’s name, like Campbellton, or Chesterville, but those names don’t contribute to the story unless the story concerns Campbells or Chesters. I need something more evocative. Meadows? Leeside? Cedar Creek?¬† Plenty? Sweetland?

What do you think, dear readers? I really need to anchor this story on the land. Drop your suggestions into the comments section. If I use one of yours I’ll credit you on the title page of the book.

Views: 161

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