Category: For Readers (page 1 of 10)

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.

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?

The Look of Love

Just what is the look of love? Artists have tried for centuries to capture it in oils. Poets write verses to it and writers of romance cover pages and pages with words to describe that special quality of expression.

Sara Teasdale wrote: Strephon kissed me in the Spring, /Robin in the fall, /But Colin only looked at me/And never kissed at all.  Sterphon’s kiss was lost in jest,/Robin’s lost in play,/But the kiss in Colin’s eyes/Haunts me night and day.

“. . . take down this book/And slowly read, and dream of the soft look/Your eyes had once. . .” W.B. Yeats

The look of love is that glow in the eye, the softness of the mouth, the unmasked face. It is the longing to gaze endlessly at the beloved. There is a tenderness that moves me to tears — usually.

Last week, at the mall, I saw that look, but this time it made me smile. On a bench sat a very large dude. He looked like a pro football player, maybe a linebacker. In his big hands he cradled a tiny, little baby.  He raised her up so they were nose to nose and the look on his face was pure love. My heart melted, but I had to smile at the incongruous picture they made.

Years from now, when his teenaged daughter is driving him nuts, I hope he remembers that moment.

I hope we all remember such moments when stress, fear, worry, deadlines, and endless demands overwhelm us.

Love is stronger than hate. 

Doors to History

A visitor to Victoria today is greeted with all the accoutrements of a building boom.  Cranes dot the skyline. Streets are torn up, traffic diverted and sidewalks are barred with portable fencing. On a recent trip into downtown I discovered that most of the antique stores I intended to visit, had closed up shop.  Welcome to the twenty-first century.

 

I guess today’s Victoria is somewhat reminiscent of the days when gold-seekers swarmed the streets. It all began on Sunday, April 25, 1858 when townsfolk were returning from church.  The “Commodore” – a wooden side-wheel American steamer, entered Victoria harbour and 450 men disembarked – typical gold-seekers, complete with blankets, miner’s pans and spades and firearms. Within a few weeks a town of approximately 230, had been invaded by over 20,000 adventurers and gold prospectors.

While the great majority of these people were transients, the rush of gold-seekers transformed the sleepy village of “Fort Victoria,” into a bustling centre for commerce.  A wild land-boom followed.  Lots that had languished on the market for $25.00 were snapped up a week later for $3,000 each.  For most of the nineteenth century, Victoria remained the largest city in British Columbia and was the foremost in trade and commerce.

I’m sure the original residents felt as bewildered as I do at the sudden and drastic change to their home town. Suddenly there was building everywhere. And what building it was!

The Empress Hotel greeted travellers arriving by water. Rattenbury had designed the elegant legislature building to replace the burned down “bird cages.”

Banks created cathedrals of finance, complete with coats of arms. Church spires dominated the skyline.

Victoria looked the part of a jewel in the British Empire.

Subsequent building booms have seen many historic buildings torn down and others altered dramatically. But there are still hints of Victoria’s Imperial past.  You find it in funky doorways. 

Morris Tobacconist

Many of the original rounded entries, with curved windows on the side have been modernized in the interests of economy and efficiency, but a few remain.  Look for them in “old towne” along Government and Wharf Street.

 

 

These are just a few of the treasures I found.  Do you have a favourite doorway in Victoria?  In your hometown?  Why do you like it?

Joy and Thanksgiving

Canadian Thanksgiving occurs this weekend.  It is one of my favourite holidays, celebrating harvest and the abundance of the land. During our stretch of sunshine at the end of September I got into Thanksgiving mode a little early.  

We picked pumpkins, 

                                                              harvested apples,

 

and gathered seed for next year’s flowers.

.  

 

  

                                    We were dazzled by dahlias and 

enchanted with a late blooming rose.

 

My world teemed with abundance.  My soul stretched and soared in gratitude.

Then, to top it all off, we attended a stage production of “Glorious” by Peter Quilter.  This is the story of Florence Foster Jenkins, the world’s worst opera singer.

And she was a terrible singer.  She tackled the most demanding coloratura repertoire and murdered it in spectacular fashion.  I couldn’t stop laughing.  Apparently her real life audience laughed too, but they loved her and she was invited to sing at Carnegie Hall in New York City.  Why?

I believe it was because of her exuberant joy.  She loved music, loved singing.  It brought her unparalleled  happiness and she wanted to share that happiness with the world.  I think she felt the same way on stage as I feel when I gloat over the harvest from my garden.  We are uplifted, exultant and full of joy.

At this time of thanksgiving, I wish all my readers overwhelming joy, the kind that cannot be contained in a safe, conventional life.  I wish you the exuberance of my dahlias and the bursting enthusiasm of Florence Foster Jenkins.

Happy Thanksgiving!

I

Kneading the Generations

I made scones for lunch the other day. I did it the old-fashioned way with a sifter, a pastry cutter and my hands. No machines.  Don’t get me wrong. I love my bread maker, but I miss the experience of working the dough. There is something eminently satisfying about kneading bread. I love how the dough changes from sticky and formless into a smooth, round ball as I work it.  I love the gentle movement of pressing the heel of my palm into the dough, flipping and turning it.  I like the way this timeless activity connects me to my foremothers.  Generations of women have performed this same task, turning flour, fat and yeast into tasty food for a family.

This photo of my grandmother, at an advanced age, baking bread at the kitchen table evokes feelings of warmth, and family, and connection. You can’t see it in the photo, but all around her, her daughters and granddaughters are preparing Christmas dinner. It’s one of my favourite memories.

In my wip, the heroine has devoted herself to making a home for her sister. She succeeds, but her success is hollow when she realizes that she had provided shelter, but not “home.” I think I’ll have her make bread.  The kneading will connect her to the place.  The smell of fresh bread will put heart in her hearth.

Any other fans of kneading out there?

The Secret Sauce

What’s your secret sauce?

That was the question raised by Shannon Mayer at a workshop last weekend, sponsored by VIRA.  She compared writing a story to baking a cupcake.  Each needs the basics in the recipe, but the thing that sets one story (cupcake) apart from another is the author’s secret ingredient.

Some authors tickle the reader’s taste buds with humour, or snappy dialogue, or heroic characters, or memorable secondary characters. Others can trigger deep emotional responses in the reader with the authenticity of the emotion on the page.  The trick, says Ms Mayer, is to determine what your own special ingredient is, and then to include it in all your stories.  Readers will come to look for that favourite flavour in your writing and be loyal to you.  Leave out that secret spice and readers will be disappointed.

So, I’ve been thinking . . . who has that special recipe that draws me back over and over? Do I have a recipe of my own?  When I started writing historical romance, I discovered Maggie Osborne.  It seemed every idea I wrote about, she’d already done it – only better.  In some ways I was encouraged that I shared ideas with a writer of her stature.  In other ways I felt defeated because I could never write like her.

Then again, none of us can or should write like another. If we imitate, we are not authentic.  If we copy, we don’t discover our own tantalizing flavour.

So, what is my secret ingredient? Not sure I’ve nailed it yet, but one reader said my writing “feels happy.” Another said they are “sun-shiny.”  I think I’m getting a hint here.

It seems to me that many writing experts are pushing for grittier, more angsty work, so finding an audience for “happy” is not an easy path. Still, I believe there is enough angst and grit in our everyday world that we need some cheerfulness.

What about you, dear reader? Do you respond to dark and dangerous? Do you enjoy a vacation in a sunny tale? Have you found the secret ingredient from one of your favourite authors?

North of the Border

Not my usual blog day, but I wanted to share the link to my guest spot on North of the Border with Jacqui Nelson.  Come on over and leave a comment for a chance to win an e-copy of The Man for Her.

What Socrates Knew

For some bizarre reason I decided to use the end of summer to brush up on my philosophy reading. Don’t ask why!  I haven’t wanted to work outside because the temperature has been uncomfortably high.  Then we had smoke filled skies for a week—forest fires burning out of control in other parts of the province but a weather system that sent the smoke our way and kept it low to the ground.  In this atmosphere I picked up The Consequences of Ideas, Understanding concepts that shaped our world, by R.C. Sproul. The book had been on my TBR list for a while. I guess I thought some difficult reading would prove an antidote to bad air.

I vaguely remember the Locke-Descarte theory from philosophy 101, a required course for general arts students in my university days, but Sproul goes back centuries before those two great thinkers. In the 5th and 6th Centuries B.C., Pythagoras, the mathematician,  Heraclitus, Parmenides, Zeno of Elea, Anaxagoras, were all creating systems of thought to explain reality, the universe, cosmos, man’s purpose, and God, among other concepts.

I didn’t recognize most of these names, but it was interesting to read of ideas we now take for granted, universe, for example, before they were universally accepted. That, of course is the point of the whole book—to show how one idea, or philosophy, leads to another and how each is built on the ideas of those who came before.

By the time I reached the chapter on Socrates, I felt I was coming into familiar territory. We’ve all heard of the Socratic method of teaching.  However, before I could read about good old Socrates, the author introduced me to Gorgias, a radical skeptic.  If you thought skepticism was a modern concept, remember that Gorgias was born 500 years before Christ.  Gorgias declared that there is no truth. He practiced rhetoric, the art of persuasion in public discourse.  Rhetoric was not to proclaim truth, but to use persuasion to achieve practical ends, regardless of truth.  To some degree, he could be seen as the forerunner to advertising.

Enter Socrates. He abhorred Gorgias theory. Truth could not, should not, would not be denied. The death of truth, said Socrates, would mean the death of virtue, and the death of virtue would spell the death of civilization. Without truth and virtue the only possible outcome is barbarianism.

Aha! This is why I took up a philosophy book decades after it was required reading.

Truth.

We cannot live in a civil society, with all its benefits, if we do not acknowledge truth. As writers, I believe, we must speak truth.  Even if we write fiction, we must acknowledge the underlying truths of the world we build.  In my fiction, the laws of gravity exist, time exists, history exists, two plus two equals four.  For writers of fantasy, those things may be different, but once the fantasy world is set, it too operates by its truth.

Some fiction writers like to joke that they tell lies for a living, but a falsehood is not the same as fiction. When we write creatively, the reader knows the story is an invention. She has agreed to suspend disbelief for the duration of the narrative. There is no attempt to hoodwink the reader into believing what she reads is factual.

A falsehood on the other hand, is a deliberate attempt to mislead, to convince the audience that something that is not true, is true.

For the skeptics and cynics among us, Gorgias may be hailed as a hero. For me, I’ll stick with Socrates.  We dare not deny truth.

 

“Stuff Happens”

Kathleen McCleary at the Writer Unboxed blog posted last week about an American survey that shows the books we read as children remain the best loved books of most adult readers.

I can understand that. In my post on The Book that Matters most, I noted that the people in my book club referenced books of their youth as being the most influential stories they had read. Granted, my book club is a small sample, but it reflects the much larger sample cited in Ms McCleary’s post.

McCleary believes the reason we love our childhood books is because “stuff happens.” Compare Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland with Waiting for Godot, and the thesis becomes clear. Alice encounters all kinds of “stuff happening,” as she journeys through the rabbit hole.  Nothing happens at the bus stop while Didi and Gogo wait for Godot to show up.  I remember the first time I saw the play. I was outraged that I’d sat through it all listening to these characters speculate on the state of the absent Godot and a few other non-sequiturs and then have them amble off-stage.  The play was over and nothing happened! Academe considers Waiting for Godot one of the most significant English language plays of the twentieth century, but it doesn’t show up on many “I loved this story” lists.

I like “stuff happens” as a plotting device. An author can outline her story as the inciting incident and then this happens and then this and then this and then this . . . until “they all lived happily every after.”  It not nearly so elegant a device as Deb Dixon’s Goal, Motivation, Conflict, or Campbell’s The Hero’s Journey but it keeps the importance of action in the forefront of the writer’s mind.

We don’t all write adventure stories or grand operas, but action is important in any good story. Even books which focus on character development and a journey of self-discovery need action to hold the reader’s attention and give the character a framework to make that journey.

I’ve never used the “and then. . .” method as a writing aid, but whenever I’m stuck, I ask myself, “What will make the reader turn the page?” The answer to that question is usually, “something happens.”  And then, something else happens.

What about you, dear reader? How important is “stuff happens” in your reading choices?  Can you wait for Godot and engage in philosophical discussion or would your rather encounter a March hare? Do books you read when young still resonate?

Older posts

© 2018 Alice Valdal

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑