Category: For Readers (Page 1 of 17)

Christmas Short Story

Christmas seemed a long way off in November, now it is rushing forward at breakneck speed. So, I’ve been working on my annual short story. After numerous re-writes, I thought I had the text ready to publish. My friend had told me about using the reading tool on microsoft so I thought I’d do one last check using that. I found one typo and one repeat word but listening to my words read by a computer voice was . . . an experience.

For some reason, the computer voice did not recognize the name of my heroine — even though a google search showed it does exist. The word the computer used was totally mangled. For those who may have received the story, the heroine’s name is Riona, pronounced ree-owe-na. 🙂

I live in Canada and have always referred to my mother’s mother as grandma. Pronounced grand-ma. The computer must have been programmed in the southern States because it pronounced my grandparent as grand-maw. I had a hard time picturing the woman I’d written about sipping tea from a china cup with “maw” at the end of her name.

Usually, I do a final proof by reading the work aloud, myself, but that can put a strain on the voice and I’ve got a cough, so the computer option seemed like a good idea. It certainly speeded up the process, and reminded me that readers will come from different regions and different backgrounds. 

I’ve had a trying day arguing with various templates on the computer, but my story is now written, edited, and published in my newsletter. If you want to read it, please join my newsletter   here.  

If you are frantically working on Christmas projects, take time to savour the moment. You’ve still got seventeen days. Put some carols on your sound system, bite into a piece of shortbread, and remember the reason for Christmas.

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Remembrance Resource

Although we are now heading into the Christmas season, I want to share a resource I came across as part of our Remembrance Day activities.

Our local newspaper does an excellent job of connecting readers with the actual people who went to war. For one thing they run a “remembrance” page where families can commemorate their loved ones. One item clutches at my heart strings–a family of seven, four brothers to WWI and three more to WWII. On first glance I thought the family was lucky since only one brother was killed in action. On a closer reading I found that the surviving brothers of WWI were all invalided out. One suffered shell-shock (we call that PTSD now) for the rest of his life.

However, the newspaper cannot tell all the stories, there are too many. Into the breech has come Vancouver Island University with its “Letters Home” project. The university has collected letters written by soldiers away from home and sent to their families. In November, copies of those letters are delivered to the current occupant of the house at that address.

The recipients are surprized to to receive a letter written from the trenches a hundred or more years ago, but most are touched by the message, and reflect on the young man (only men were in combat at that time) who left home and family in the cause of justice and freedom.

What makes this project unique and wonderful is the fact the letters are not held in a museum. Rather they are digitized and then returned to the family that owns them. Thus Canadians can read the real life experiences of our soldiers without depriving the families of a precious artifact.

So far the university has digitized 30000 letters and thousands of photographs. The database is searchable and available to the public for free. It can be found at canadianletters.ca.

I took a quick look and was immediately drawn into a story. The first letter on the landing page was from a young man wondering why Marjorie hadn’t written. I wanted to jump back in time and give Marjorie a stern lecture. Then I wondered if Marjorie had become ill or maybe died herself and no one had the heart to tell her soldier-beau. Or maybe Marjorie had written but the letters were intercepted. Of perhaps . . .

Look at the story possibilities that jumped to mind after reading only a few paragraphs. For writers of fiction, this database is a treasury of ideas. For people living in a former soldier’s home, they are a window to the history of the house. For citizens who weep for the lives lost, the dreams unfulfilled, and the heartbreak of millions, the letters are a way to honour our brave men and women who sacrificed so much that we might live in peace.

On this day of American Thanksgiving celebrations let us give thanks to our veterans for their service.

 

 

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5 Reasons Your Book Should Sing

Over the summer I reread  Georgette Heyer’s Sylvester.  I have all her romances on my keeper shelf, but I’d forgotten this one, so it was like reading it for the first time. What a treat! When I finished it,  I picked up New Girl in Little Cove by Damhnait Monaghan. This book is set in modern day Newfoundland. I felt as though I’d switched the soundtrack from Mozart to Great Big Sea.

That got me to thinking about the music I might associate with my own books. For the Prospect Series, Gord Lightfoot’s Canadian Railroad Trilogy was an obvious choice. It combines the excitement of opening up a new land with the hardships that come with the adventure. The fact the song has three parts plays well into my storylines as well.

I’m currently working on a short read with an older couple. I don’t have a particular song in mind, but I’m thinking of a community dance. I went to many of those in my younger years. The music ranged from waltzes to square dances to The Twist — the music wasn’t the most important thing–it was who chose you for a partner! And yes, in those days the boys did the choosing and the girls did the hoping. With that image of the town Odd Fellows Hall and the homegrown band in my ears, I can stay in the story world more easily.

I tried out my idea on my author friend in Australia and learned that she had specific songs in mind when writing her books too. “Yes my books do have theme songs… although not always logical. Evil in Emerald was ‘Cat Like Tread’ from Pirates of Penzance, The Postmistress was ‘Peter Hollens Shenandoah’ and The Gold Miner’s Sister was ‘Shallow’ from the latest Star is Born movie. The oddest was probably ‘Arms’ by Christina Perri which was the theme for Gather the Bones.

So, why have a soundtrack for your story?

  1. Tone  The soundtrack playing in your mind will keep the tone of your writing consistent. The English language is rich and varied. Authors have many choices for the “right” word. A song can help make those choices better. Is your book a stately gavotte or a rollicking sea shanty?
  2. Mood  Even though stories move through light and dark times, a book can be strengthened if there is a consistent mood. War stories carry that hint of danger even when we aren’t on the battlefield. Children’s books are full of wonder, regardless of the actual scene. When the reader puts down the book, what do you want her mood to be?
  3. Setting  I am an author who views setting as a “character” in a story.  The mountains in my Prospect books, for example, played a role in the heroines’ reflective scenes. Those towering peaks gave strength and courage to Lottie and Emma and Louisa.
  4. Inspiration  “What happens next?” is a constant question before a writer.  The lyrics or the music of your soundtrack can provide some ideas. Country and western songs are legendary for telling a complete story from joy to heartbreak in only a few lines.  Tammy Wynette’s   Stand by your man, give him two arms to cling to
    And something warm to come to/When nights are cold and lonely.–might provide the nudge to take your story down a different path.
  5. Fun  Sitting at a keyboard or holding a pen over a lined notepad, can get lonely and dreary.  We all start this journey because we want to tell a story, we love words, we want to send our ideas into the world. That’s the part that makes us want to write. But the process from idea to finished work can be a slog. The soundtrack playing in our heads can remind us to have fun. Maybe we could all “Whistle While You Work.”

What about you? As a reader do you hear music in a book? As a writer do you consciously choose a soundtrack to accompany your story?

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My Summer Vacation

    In my part of the world, school starts this week. Even though I’m long past school age, at this time of year I still get the urge to purchase a clean note-book and a sharp pencil with a fresh eraser. Another back to school ritual is the “how I spent my summer vacation” essay. I think teachers used that topic in the first week to give themselves time to organize the classroom and memorize the students’ names. Anyway, here’s my essay.

       First, I took a break from writing this blog. I don’t cope well with hot weather and we had lots of hot days this summer. The weeds flourished, but the garden suffered from a cold, wet spring. Even plants that grew well failed to produce much fruit as the bees were missing at the vital time. For years we’ve been hearing about the loss of honey bees and how that effected the honey producers. This year, every gardener in my neighbourhood witnessed the effects of no bees first hand.  I’m preparing for next spring by hunting for bird feathers on the beach. If it is too cold for bees at blossom time, I’ll use the feather for a little human-assisted pollination. 

The lovely Jennie Crusie hosts a blog called Argh Ink One day a week she asks the question, “What made you happy this week?” I love reading the answers. Happiness, it seems, comes in many different forms. For me, happiness is good friends. So I’ve spent a good part of vacation time re-connecting with friends finally coming out of COVID protection. I know the virus is still out there and poised to whack the world again, but we’ve all been lonely these past few years so I’m hoping the endorphins released by laughter, along with all my vaccines and boosters, will help my immune system win the battle. Plus, I’m staying off cruise ships. I know a lot of healthy people who went on a cruise and came home with COVID.

    Over the Labour Day weekend, I had triple happiness as I was able to combine my garden, friendship, and nostalgia with a trip to our annual Fall Fair.  The photo at left shows my ribbon haul. I consider it a win if I get ribbons on at least 50% of my entries and enough prize money to cover my entry fees and my admission to the grounds. I declare success on all fronts this year.

   I reconnected with my farm roots as I walked among the horses and cows and chickens and sheep. (See photo at top.) Jeans and straw hats bring happy memories. Score one for nostalgia.

   Then,  I met my friend at the fair. We’ve been doing that for over twenty years. This  long friendship makes me happy. Our fair experience together is also a happy one. I give her produce from my garden, she makes jam and wins a prize. We’re in this together!

    Speaking of friends, my pen pal from the other side of the world is a “best seller” in Canada with the first book in her Guardians of the Crown series, By the Sword. So, I’m happy for her.

   So, the first day of school is over. I’ve written my essay. Tomorrow the real year begins.

  What did you do for your summer vacation? Did it make you happy? 

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A Beginning

The calendar reads July, summer, hot days, lazy days, vacation days, winding down days. January or September is the time for new things, days when the weather is sharp and clear, the garden is put to rest and a new term has begun. Yet, today I began work on two new projects. When the mood strikes . . .

First I organized a reading list for my book club. We won’t meet until September but many of us like to have the reading list in advance so we can get a head start. We’ll read nine books over the fall and winter. We take December, July and August off. The suggestion list is long and enticing. I had a hard time paring my choices to nine. Some I’ve read before, like The Dictionary of Lost Words. Much as I enjoyed that book and think it would make for a great discussion, I didn’t vote for it because there were so many other intriguing suggestions.

Ann Patchett is on the list and she’s one of my favourites so one of my votes went there. There’s a history of Victoria that I want to read even if it doesn’t make the final cut.  There’s a family saga that will go into my TBR pile, along with a romance, a couple of mysteries and a Canadian Classic, Fifth Business, by Robertson Davies. There is a book set in Japan, another written by a First Nations author and another set in Afghanistan. 

I’ve mentioned my book club before on this blog. We’ve been reading together since 2000, with the same core members. Of course, over twenty two years there have been some changes. We all started out as working women and now we’re all retired. We’ve seen each other through some major life changes, like big moves or the loss of a parent or a spouse. We’ve read nearly 200 books — everything from children’s literature to William Faulkner. Through the medium of books, we’ve gotten to know each other very well. 

The marquis at my local gas station reads “the best antique is an old friend.” Well, my book club is full of some genuine “antiques.”

The other new thing I’ve started is a contemporary story with a “seasoned” heroine. Since I usually write historical with twenty-something heroines, this is a whole new endeavour, but I’ve started it in July, so there must be something drawing me on. 

One of the advantages of growing older is that we become more secure in who we are. I’m hoping that attribute will be one of the main characteristics of my heroine. Instead of a girl/woman feeling her way into adulthood, I’ll write about a woman who knows her own mind. Who knows what she values in a partner, and knows the cost of love is often heartbreak.

I hope you are all enjoying the lazy, hazy days of summer. Unless you live in Australia, in which case I hope you enjoy the nip of frost in the air and a warm apple cider by the fire.

 

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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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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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Evil in Emerald

 

EVIL IN EMERALD, is the third of Harriet Gordon’s adventures and is available now in print, Ebook and audio.

Harriet Gordon turns her talents to musical theatre, joining the cast of the Singapore Amateur Dramatic and Musical Society’s latest production – Pirates of Penzance. However tensions run deep within the company and when the leading man is found murdered, Harriet and Curran are drawn into a complex web of lies and deceit.

I’ve just finished reading this latest Harriet Gordon Mystery by A.M. Stuart. When I told my friend, the author, I intended to feature it on this blog, she kindly sent along the following;

 

Hi Alice

Thank you so much for inviting me back to your blog to talk about my Harriet Gordon Mystery series.

Today I thought I would share with you what it is I love about reading and writing historical mysteries.

A good mystery novel – or TV series – is my catnip. It began as a teenager, I devoured Agatha Christie and I think her writing more than anything sowed the seed of my love of a good mystery. Like romances, which promise the reader a happy ever after, genre mysteries are premised on the expectation that good will triumph over evil.

After writing a number of romantic historicals (as Alison Stuart), I found mystery elements were creeping into the stories and felt the time had come to turn my hand to writing my own mystery … maybe combining all the things I loved about writing my romantic historicals with a mystery to solve. Drawing on my life in Singapore, the Harriet Gordon Mysteries came into being…

What is it I find so fascinating about this genre?

  1. I love creating a puzzle for the readers to solve with a twist in the tail. I often don’t know ‘who done it’ until I get to the end of the first draft!
  2. There’s something about the Edwardian era – those golden days before World War One when the sun never set on the British Empire (while also acknowledging the dark side to that past).
  3. There is also a huge challenge in solving crimes without the benefit of modern science. In 1910 the height of forensic scientific advancement was the use of fingerprinting and photographs. Those were the days when the investigator’s main investigative tool was his or her own common sense and curiosity.
  4. And finally I have loved creating a series with characters I know almost as well as my own family. I am more than a little in love with Curran and Harriet is my best friend and I look forward to meeting them in each new book as they slowly reveal their own character arcs.

I really do have the best of both worlds… historicals with the potential of romance, action, adventure and of course an intriguing (I hope) mystery to solve! —Alison

Me again — As a veteran of amateur productions of Gilbert and Sullivan I had a great time reading all the backstage chatter in this book.  The character of a leading lady who is too old for the role is almost endemic among amateur theatre groups, and I’ve often heard mutterings among chorus members that sounded like murder.

I also luxuriated in the highly regulated Edwardian Society of the time. Even in Singapore, proper English dress codes must be observed — never mind the heat and humidity! 

If you haven’t already read the two previous novels in this series, here’s a bargain for you. The second Harriet Gordon Mystery, REVENGE IN RUBIES, is currently on sale for US$1.99… these price reductions come around very rarely so grab it while you can! 

To find out more about Alison visit her websites www.alisonstuart.com or www.amstuartbooks.com

 

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That Word Game

I’ve caught the “Wordle” bug. It was a brilliant move on the part of the game’s creator to post only one word per day. Otherwise millions of players would spend their days playing instead of getting on with life. I was pretty pleased with myself after the first few games as I nearly always solved the puzzle in three tries and often got it in two.

Then the game was sold to the New York Times and the words got a lot harder — at least in my opinion. But now that I’ve been doing the NYT version for a bit, I’m getting better at it. Puzzles for the last two days were solved in three lines. English words do follow “rules” although sometimes it is hard for foreign speakers to understand them. Heck, it’s hard for native speakers to articulate the rules about “ough” for example but I find the Wordle game makes those letter combinations clear. The more you understand about the function of vowels and their combinations, the quicker you will solve the problem.

The game is being used by teachers too. Here in British Columbia an adapted version is being used to revitalize indigenous languages of the Gitskan people. Games are a great teaching tool. As an aside, the comic strip, “Take it from the Tinkersons,” has a  teacher tricking his student into solving math problems in order to open a box. Isn’t it odd that learning for the sake of knowledge is seen as dull and boring, but learning for the sake of winning a prize is madly popular?

I notice others are sharing their Wordle score on facebook and I’ve done a little bragging there myself. We all like to be winners. Maybe that’s good advice for authors. Readers like winning so create characters who overcome difficulties to “win” whether that’s a job, a university degree,  a triple Axel, or true love. Readers will be rooting for them to “win.”

Part of the genius of Wordle is that there is only one word per day. However, if you can’t get enough of puzzling with words there is another site, Quordle.com , that lets you test your skill with four connected words. I just tried it and lost thirty minutes of my day, and that was just with a practice set.  I’ll try it again for real tomorrow.

For some “fun with words” is a contradiction in terms but for me it really is fun. If you’re playing, please feel free to share your best score in the comments below. If you are just finding the game, congratulations and good luck.

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Passive Heroine

 

     Recently on Writer Unboxed there was a discussion about passive characters. Now, 99% of writing coaches tell us to avoid passive characters like COVID-19. Thus, I was flummoxed by the suggestion that passive characters could be the protagonists in a story.

I’m now reading a book with a passive heroine. Despite threats to her home, her livelihood, and her beloved village,  she refuses to act. Why? She’s shy.

I can’t imagine how that premise got by an acquiring editor, but it did. The book is published by Random House.

The plot, setting and secondary characters are all appealing enough that I’m still turning the page. But, for all that there have been some laugh-out-loud moments, I’m still annoyed by the heroine. Surely she’ll have to break out of her shell sometime, but I’m half-way through the book and it hasn’t happened yet.

Perhaps the author hoped to provoke empathy in the reader by showing the heroine incapacitated by her extreme shyness, but in this reader, she only provokes irritation. Not a great way to promote sales.

In his book, Writing the Break-Out Novel, Donald Maass has a whole chapter on characters. The first requirement he lists is “larger than life.”  When your main character hides in a corner, it is hard to think of her as larger than life. In The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes, Jack Bickham says, “don’t write about wimps when you can build strong, active characters.” Dwight Swain says the character “must care about something, feel that some aspect of his world is important — important enough to fight for.”

If all these giants of the writing business urge authors to create active characters, how did I end up reading a book about a crybaby? I well remember one of my many rejection letters saying that the heroine, whom I loved for her strength in the face of catastrophe, was too reactive. This editor wanted the lead character to “drive the story,” to be the agent of change, not to merely respond to situations beyond her control. 

The reviews for this passive heroine novel are mostly favourable, with many middle-of-the-road ratings. I ordered the book from my local library on the recommendation of some other authors. Despite my annoyance with the protagonist, I do find the writing engaging and the secondary characters are a world of fun.

What have I learned from all this?

Even the best advice in the world, is imperfect. An author can use that wisdom to improve her craft, but the story she writes must resonate with the writer if it is to resonate with the reader. I’m grateful for all the coaches and teachers and authors who have shared their knowledge and advice. I’m also grateful to this annoying heroine for showing me that adherence to “they say” is not the only route to publication.

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