Category: My books (Page 1 of 5)

Tips for the Long Run

Ironically, as we come out of lockdown and into a semblance of normal life, people seem to be experiencing more stress than ever. The formerly cheerful checker at the grocery store scowls and tells you to wait while she santitizes her station. The server who was glad to get his job back, is grumpy about wearing a mask. And all those self-appointed behaviour police who rant and rail and ramp up the fear quotient about perceived health code violations don’t help. The attitude of “we’re all in this together” seems to be crumbling at the edges. 

Perhaps people are just tired. Tired of uncertainty, tired of zoom, tired of trying. But I think there is more at work here. I think we have a case of thwarted expectations. Even while health officials warned us that we were in for months and maybe years of doing things differently, we subconsciously thought when the lockdown ended we’d go back to “normal.” Now the reality of “not-normal” is setting in and we’re finding it hard to take.  Kind of like we were promised a puppy and we got a goldfish. Nothing wrong with the goldfish, but it’s not what we wanted. Some would just like to flush the fish.

So, how do we go about coping for the long run? Here are a few suggestions.

  • Read

 Especially read fiction. Fiction is story and story is filled with characters and characters  take us out of ourselves. For a little while we can be someone else, live in a different  world and experience family and friends and (maybe) happy endings. We could all use   happy endings these days, so pick up a romance — or a mystery, where justice prevails.  That’s a kind of happy ending too. While we are keeping distant from our real  life   friends, we can get up close and personal with these fictional characters. We can    laugh and sing and hold hands.

  • Look for the Upside

Amid all the civil unrest, the tragedy of racism, the pain of death, there is still good news in the world. There are people performing good deeds, making music, telling jokes, volunteering, making the world better. When you’ve seen enough of the bad news, go for some good news. Our local television station, CHEK, has made lemonade out of lemons by turning the sports segment — there are no sports at the moment — into The Upside. Here the sports caster and the weatherman collect quirky stories from around our Island and broadcast them on the nightly news. It’s silly and kooky and a lot of fun. It brings people together and it generates lots of smiles. When you’re feeling down, go for the Upside.   

 

  • Walk 

Or run or bicycle or turn handstands. The point is to move, thereby releasing    endorphins, our own little happy hormone. If possible exercise outdoors. Don’t wear   earplugs. Shut down the artificial world and tune in to the natural one. Birdsong,  crickets, rustling grass, soughing boughs, barking dogs — all these things help to restore   our mental balance. In Canada, our national broadcaster, has created “Hello Spring” to lift people’s spirits. If you can’t hike into the back country yourself, they’ve brought the back country to you with clips of bear cubs emerging from their den, a hummingbird  feeding her young, fox kits discovering the world, and many more moments to remind   us  that the natural world is bountiful and open to all.        

  • Work 

In her post in Writer Unboxed,Sandra Callender  about the importance of writers in a time of social turmoil. Violence, she posits, comes from a lack of human connection. When our physical human connections are severed, our fictional connections become even more important. Writers create an antidote to violence. 

If you are a writer, write.   If you are a musician, make music. If you are an artist, paint. If you are a knitter, knit, if you’re a doodler, create the most elaborate doodle of your  life.  In the comments section of that same post Vaughn Roycroft shares a bit of folksy  wisdom about work. Nothing good comes of worry, he says. At least if you’re working, you are getting something done.                                                                                                                         

I subscribe to that belief myself and even used it in my first book of the Prospect Series, The Man for Her.  Whenever Lottie felt overcome by her problems, she worked. She got  something done. She got through it.

                                                                                                                                                                                                           

So, I was “working” in the garden the other day, removing diseased leaves, down on my knees with my face mere inches from the thorns when I spied this beauty hiding behind a branch. Working not only got something done and released my endorphins, it surprised me with unexpected beauty–the upside to a tedious chore.

Hang in everyone. We are all in this together and we’re in it for the long haul. 

Please share your upside stories in the comments below.

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2 Real life Heroines

 

International Women's DayOne of the most common tropes of the romance novel is that the heroine be daring, spunky, and unconventional.  Milquetoast heroines rarely invoke readers affection and long-term attention. Lottie, in The Man For Her, is just such an unconventional heroine, unwed mother and tough farmer in a man’s land.

Monday was International Women’s Day, so in tribute to daring women everywhere I present to you two real-life women who dared, who defied the conventions of their time, and travelled the untrodden paths.

Martha Louise Black was born  in 1866, one of twin girls. When the their father was invited to meet his first children, he commented gravely to their mother that he was sorely disappointed. He had wanted a son.  Her twin did not survive, but Martha grew strong and beautiful and intelligent. She received a first class education and was presented to society. She married Will Purdy and for ten years lived the life of a society hostess in Chicago. Then gold was discovered in the Klondyke.

Martha, her brother George and husband Will made plans to travel to the Yukon and cash in on the gold rush. However, at the last minute, Will changed his mind. Martha was incensed and refused to give up her plans. Travelling with her brother and three other men, she set off on the gruelling trip north. The took a steamer from Seattle. The boat was dirty, crowded and overloaded. The captain frequently drunk. There were no luxuries aboard and Martha learned to use her dishpan for breadmaking, bathing and clothes washing.

When they reached Skagway there was no accommodation and they slept in tents or a lean-to on piles of hay. They had money, so instead of carrying their supplies up the 42 miles of the Chilkoot trail, they were able to hire packers. Still the sight of hundreds of dead horses who’d slipped and fallen to their deaths, filled Martha with fear. Her long skirts, corsets and bloomers hampered her as she struggled through sucking mud, clambered over sharp rocks and eventually  faced the final 3000 foot climb up a nearly vertical rock face. She was so tired that the men behind helped to push her up the last 100 feet. When she stumbled and cut her foot on a sharp rock, she sat down and wept. Her brother, unmoved by her distress admonished her to “buck up and be a man!” (From her memoir My Ninety Years.)

When they arrived at the top of the trail, she was was cold and miserable and asked for a fire. Wood cost two bits a pound. Her brother relented and order a five dollar fire. It lasted for one hour but long enough for her to warm up and dry her clothes.

As if the climb up the Chilkoot wasn’t hard enough, she then had to get down another steep, rock-strewn trail that left her with bleeding hands and feet. The final leg of the journey was by water through rapids. It was rumoured that any man who took a woman on that dangerous journey would be fined $100.00. Martha went anyway, nearly capsizing in the Miles Canyon. She finally arrived in Dawson City in 1895.

The promise of gold did not materialize as she had hoped, but she fell in love with the North. Although she returned to her home for a few years, she was not content and returned to Dawson City. In her memoirs she writes, “what I wanted was not shelter and safety, but liberty and opportunity.”

Martha went on to sell her gold claims, operate a sawmill and raise two of her sons in Dawson. She married George Black who was eventually appointed to be commissioner of the Yukon. Martha Black moved into Government House as its chatelaine. She made sure the “people’s house” was open to men and women of all standings, not just the wealthy and powerful.  George recruited a regiment to serve in WWI and Martha joined him in London. When the war was over they returned to Canada and George continued in politics, eventually becoming the speaker of the House of Commons. Years later, with George in poor health and herself aged 70, Martha ran for the Yukon seat in parliament and won.

commemorative plaque to Mrs. Black

Honouring Martha Black

Martha died at the age of 91, in her beloved Yukon.

 

 

 

In 1908 Agnes Deans Cameron, having lost her teaching certification, was making a new life for herself as a travel writer. To this end she set out with her niece, Jessie, to travel to the Arctic Ocean. She went to the premier travel company of the time, Thomas Cook, to make the arrangements. Despite their claim to have guides everywhere, the Cook company could not provide a route or transportation to the Western Arctic. They suggested she go to Egypt instead!

map of Cameron's Arctic journey

map of Cameron’s Arctic journey

While the Thomas Cook Agency could not get Agnes to her destination, The Hudson’s Bay Company could. They also supplied a letter of credit that could be used to buy “bacon and beans and blankets, sturgeon-head boats, guide’s services and succulent sowbelly, at any point between Fort Chimo on Ungava Bay and Hudson’s Hope-on-the -Peace, between Winnipeg-on-the-Red and that point in the Arctic where the seagull whistles over the whaling -ships at Herschel.” (Cameron, The New North.) 

To prepare for this journey that require shooting rapids, navigating sandbars, sleeping under the stars, cooking over an open fire and sharing the air with mosquitos and horseflies, Cameron cut her hair, opted for a wide-brimmed campaign hat and sturdy shoes. She kept her thick skirts but added several short jackets. She also had to take her own tent, mattress, blankets, raingear, hatchet and copper kettle.

Agnes Deans Cameron at Fort Simpson

Miss Cameron in front of old sun-dial at Fort Simpson [from back of photo] B.C. Archives F-08820

The journey began easily enough with the train from Winnipeg to Edmonton. Then it was on to Athabasca Landing over a treacherous road called the “bugs, mud and moonshine trail.” They were supposed to ride in the mail stage, but the mud was so deep that passengers walked to lighten the load for the horses.

From Athabasca Landing they took to the water, running 90 miles of rapids in open, flat-bottomed scows. By the time they reached the Mackenzie River and the Hudson’s Bay stern-wheeler, the S.S. Grahame she is overjoyed to have a room with a bath!

Most of the rest of their journey was by water, sometimes in canoes or rafts, other times in a stern-wheeler. Along the way they visited Indigenous settlements, missionary outposts and Hudson Bay forts. Agnes made copious notes and took rolls and rolls of pictures for the books and articles she intended to write when the journey was complete.

The return journey was just as rigorous, but this time she knew what to expect. After six months, she returned to Winnipeg, her mind full of the images she’d seen and predictions for the lumber industry, the oil patch, and Arctic sovereignty.  The  provincial legislature in British Columbia offered to reinstate her teaching certificate, but Agnes was now focussed on the larger world. She became an international traveller, writer and lecturer. She took up bicycle racing and drove in car rallies. She died suddenly of appendicitis in 1912. Her funeral was one of the largest Victoria had ever seen with most of the elite of the city in attendance.

As one who is more settler than seeker, I can’t help but admire the determination and passion these two women showed in seeking their own paths despite the obstacles, not least of which was the fact they were women.

When we read of gritty heroines in our romance novels, let us not forget the real-life women who dared to go their own ways.

 

I

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Cinderella and #Me Too

By coincidence, I’ve recently read three books set during the world wars. Even after all this time, those two conflicts call up profound revelations about the human condition. What is a hero? What is compassion? What is friendship? What gives meaning to life? I found the stories unbearably sad.

I was also struck by the depth of societal change wrought by WWI in particular. The old class system was broken down. When servant and master fought shoulder to shoulder in a muddy trench, there was no going back to doffing a cap to your “betters.”

Women, especially upper class women of privilege, were thrown up against brutality they’d never imagined let along touched. Yet, there they were, driving ambulances, nursing men who cried for their mothers, dealing with lice and filth and blood and excrement. Some of these women had never drawn their own bath. Now they were expected to bandage a weeping stump where a leg had been. When the war ended, there was no going back to the ignorance of their former lives. Even those who “kept the home fires burning,” had tasted independence. They’d worked for a wage. Made decisions about their own lives and those of their children without the help or hindrance of a male relative.

When the guns fell silent in 1918, the world was a far different place than that of 1914.

I think the “me too” movement has had a similarly profound effect in North America now, especially in how men and women relate to each other. Since I write romance — stories about men and women falling in love — this new reality affects me as a writer and as a reader. Do the old tropes still work? Is Cinderella part of the problem instead of the solution?

I don’t know the answers, but here are a few thoughts.

I never did like the arrogant, alpha male, who patted the heroine on the head and told her to trust him, or worse, pushed her around, caused her pain and refused to explain himself. Why did women fall in love with him? I don’t know, but scores of female readers did — and do. The Harlequin Presents line, with its emphasis on the alpha hero, is still one of its most popular offerings. With the pendulum of society swinging to female power, this phenomenon is hard to explain. Then again, romance is escapist literature, so maybe that annoying alpha hero is part of the escape.

The “kick ass” heroine has been around for decades, punching and shooting her way through any obstacle in her path. Even before “me too” fantasy romances especially, teamed with warrior princesses and empowered crones. Can these heroines “fall” in love, or do they have to make a rational decision about mutual interests and the survival of the species?

So what about the old-fashioned romance? Those little dime-store novels that catered to women’s longings and created an industry? Can we still write about women who like pretty things? Who want a home and a family? Who like a man who holds doors and brings her flowers? Do these stories belittle women? Can a beta male be a hero?

In my Prospect series, the heroines are all strong, independent women. Lottie, an unwed mother, runs a prosperous farm and makes a home for herself and her son. The man who wins her heart has to offer more than superficial courtesies, but he can’t be a bully.

Emma comes from a world of privilege but must now stand on her own in a harsh country. She won’t trust any man who wants to “take care of her.” She did that once and was betrayed. The man who wins her heart will respect her toughness while seeing through the uncompromising exterior to the passionate and tender woman beneath.

Louisa has been controlled and shamed by her father for her whole life. She sets out to rescue herself, build an independent life in her own home and her own shop. She’s not immune to some light-hearted flattery, but the man who wins her heart must be her equal, not her superior, nor her footstool, and nothing at all like her father.

I think these books can stand scrutiny in the “me too” era while still appealing to women searching for a softer heroine.

What are your favourite romances? Are they fairy-tales with a prince to rescue Cinderella? Are they battle stories with female generals? Are they boy-next-door fiction where she turns out to be a hired assassin?

I’d love to hear your recommendations.

 

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Summer Time and . . .

the livin’ is easy or it’s full steam ahead. 

I’ve just been listening to CBC radio two and both Julie Nesrallah and Tom Allen have remarked on W.A. Mozart’s remarkable productivity during the summer of 1788. In a matter of weeks, Mozart completed three symphonies, two operas, a significant number of chamber works and gave numerous performances in various European capitals.  He accomplished  all this while in desperate financial straits and while his infant daughter took ill and died. Truly an incredible burst of creativity.

For most of us though, summer is a time to relax, read for pleasure only, visit with friends and relatives and smell the roses. When I was a kid, the end of school signalled summer vacation. The days seemed to stretch into forever. Routines and schedules vanished. We showed up at mealtimes, but the rest of the time was for entertaining ourselves.

We crawled through the long grass playing “cowboys and outlaws.” We built hay forts in the barn. We lay on our backs gazing at the sky and finding pictures in the clouds. We bombarded any available adult with requests to take us to the lake for a swim. On the way home, ice cream cones were essential. There was always a dog for companionship. Usually we could find kittens in the barn. As I remember, those summers were a sunny idyll.

One of the first bits of advice given a beginning writer is “write what you know.” There are many who will argue with that maxim. After all, you don’t have to be a murderer to write a thriller. You don’t have to be an astronaut to write a space fantasy. I didn’t experience the gold rush first hand, but I’ve set my Prospect series in that era. Still, “what I know” from those childhood summers has crept into the story. In The Man for Her, Sean, afraid of heights, has to climb to the top of the hay mow. The barn of my childhood helped me write that scene. When Michael brings a box of kittens into the kitchen at Pine Creek Farm, bits of myself play into the scene.

As a grown up, I miss those summers. Mostly, I miss the promise of those summers. At the beginning of July, everything and anything seemed possible. September and a return to school were too far in the future to even contemplate.

Some years ago, I decided to recapture some of that summertime magic. I made a list of ten things that mean summer to me and set out to experience them all before Labour Day rolled around. My list included the scent of new mown hay, evenings on the swing outside, impromptu visits over the back fence and a swim in the lake. The lake trip required a picnic with egg salad sandwiches and chocolate brownies to make it complete. My friend and I often remark that that was a great summer even though we were both working full time.

Now that I’ve given up my day job, a lack of routine is “routine.” Still, the smell of fresh hay, an unexpected visit from a long-lost relative and an evening watching the sun go down, still capture the sense of summer for me.

What about you? Are your summer days “lazy, hazy?” Do you experience an outpouring of creativity? Do you feel the joy of that first day without school? What’s on your list of perfect summertime moments?

 

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Buzzwords and your Book

Buzzwords abound in our language. I sometimes liken them to buzz saws with their annoying noise. Words and phrases that used to be specialized jargon restricted to particular fields of study, like science or medicine, are now showing up in all manner of speech, especially politics and business. Such words grate on my ears. We hear them too often and usually they are meaningless. The Urban Dictionary defines a buzzword as “a seemingly intelligent word dumb people use to sound smart.” Hear! Hear!

One of my pet peeves, beloved by politicians, is “going forward.” Why not just say “in the future?” Are those people “going forward,” by walking, driving, or riding a hobby horse? Anyone who wants my vote won’t assault my ears with “going forward.”

Another irritant is “sit down.” People used to meet, often sitting around a conference table, in order to work out a problem, whether in labour negotiations, or community plans or any number of other events. Now the buzz is “we’ve got to sit down.”  No mention of what they’ll do once they plant themselves in a chair. Maybe they’ll just have a beer.

Yet, despite my objection to the whole genre, I went to a writers workshop where buzzwords were presented as a good thing. In this case, the words didn’t meet the Urban Dictionary’s definition, rather they were a kind of shorthand for writers and readers.

Words like “sweet,” “family saga,” “trust,” “vulnerable,” “danger,” “small town,” “rugged,” “glitzy,” send clues to prospective readers of what to expect in a romance novel. These clues are vital for successful marketing. Whether an author likes to apply them to her own work or not, she needs to understand them and what they mean for reader expectations. Anyone who has tried to sell an edgy, sexy romance under the guise of “sweet” will be skewered by readers. They feel not only disappointed, but misled.

On the flip side, writers can use those code words to their advantage, by working them into the blurb for the book. For some readers “small town” is an automatic buy, as is “ranch” or “cowboy.” An amazon.com search turned up over 50,000 books that used the word cowboy in the title!

Writers can also benefit from studying the buzzwords of the romance genre before they write the story.  By picking a few that apply to her novel, she can ensure she highlights the themes that resonate with readers, as she is writing.

Of course, there are authors whose work doesn’t fall cleanly into any one category . They have to work harder to attract their readers but attributes like beauty, trust, courage and transformation work across all genre boundaries, so even for the outliers, buzzwords can help in the writing and marketing of a book.

In my book The Man for Her, the blurb includes the words beauty, kindness, proud, strength, determination, temptation and love, all code words that readers look for. 

When I’m buying a book I look for time and place words, like WWI France, or North American frontier. Then I look for words to give me the mood and style of story. I like sweet, family, bravery, resolve, choice, and true love.

What about you, dear reader? What words on the blurb make you look inside the book?

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In Praise of Book Club

Twenty years ago, when book clubs were all the rage, my friend and I decided to start one. We had few rules. One was that members had to live in the neighbourhood.  Our winter nights are very black and often pouring rain. No one wanted to travel a long dark highway in November. The second rule was about the reading list. We wanted to push ourselves to read outside our usual book choices so we agreed that the reading list had to have books from a variety of genres. So, our choices included one each from romance, mystery, historical, biography, travel, hobbies, best seller, classic, children’s . . . you get the idea.

Over the life of the book club, our membership has changed a little, but four of the original members are still there and two others are eighteen year members. When we started, we were all working women. Now we’re all retired. We’ve seen each other through children’s graduation, the arrival of grandchildren, health challenges and the rough spots of life. And we keep reading across a broad range of topics.

Last week we did a trip down memory lane recalling the books we’d enjoyed the most and those we’d disliked but that sparked great conversations. I had done a sort through my files and come upon bits of paper with scribbled titles that never made it to the actual reading list, usually because it would repeat a genre. At our next book choosing session, I’ll put those old titles up for consideration and see if they make it to the final reading list this time.

I haven’t used a book club in any of my novels but in the latest book of the Prospect Series, Her One True Love, my hero and heroine get to know each other while discussing books. Of course, in the 1890’s their “best sellers” were very different from ours. Here’s a sample:

“We should hear back in a couple of weeks. Now, give me your opinion of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Mrs. North has it in the library now.”

“Such a strange book.” She refilled their coffee cups. “I suppose it can be read as a treatise on the human personality. We all have good and evil contained within ourselves. Mr. Stevenson has presented the two sides of a man’s nature in an exaggerated form.”

They talked until the coffee pot was empty. Books, music, current events, Louisa found they had much in common. If it weren’t for the clerical collar, she could like Daniel Stanton very much. As it was she resolved to keep him at a distance. The minute they disagreed on anything, he’d go all stony-faced and quote scripture at her and remind her that she was a daughter of Eve and therefore responsible for the fall of mankind.

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Spring Suddenly

After all my whining about our cold, long winter (for Victoria) suddenly, it’s spring. The photo at the top shows the last remaining patch of snow in a shady spot in our yard.

Today marks the equinox and our temperatures have soared to record highs. Soon I’ll be complaining about drought and heat. 🙂 The crocus have burst into bloom. The heather is showing a happy, purple face and the forsythia buds are near to bursting. Those little red nubs in the ground are rhubarb shoots. That lovely red fruit is usually the first harvest from the garden and equates with spring in my mind. It’s also a tender reminder of my mother. She practically danced in the kitchen when she made pie from that first fresh food.

Maybe it’s the farmer’s daughter in me, but I’m very aware of weather. Is the ground warm enough for seeding? Does the sky hold thunder clouds? Are there enough bees around for pollination?

The Man for Her, the first book in my Prospect series begins with the weather. Now, if you go to how-to-write classes, they’ll tell you to not discuss the weather. But I think the weather is a great place to set mood and tone.  Here’s a sample.

1886

A glaring sun bore down on the small mining town of Prospect, bleaching the colour from the landscape and sapping the strength of its citizens. The streets were nearly deserted as people huddled indoors or in patches of shade, seeking respite from the unrelenting heat.

Only Lottie Graham was out and about, hurrying across the unnaturally quiet main street, her worn books kicking up small eddies of fine white dust. The heat and the dust filled her nostrils and choked her throat. It was late August and Prospect was desperate for rain. But not just yet, Lottie prayed, even as she wished for a breath of wind.

That book was published years ago and I still like it. Lottie is a farmer, or course weather is always on her mind.

What’s your opinion, dear reader? Are weather reports boring or a means to draw you into the story?

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Snowbound

I’ve been snowbound for a week — well maybe only two days — actually about four hours — but it seems like weeks. The first day felt like a holiday. After all “snow day” means we can read books all day.  I “had” to skip exercise class because the roads were dangerous. Another reason to like a snow day.

But, now I’m restless.  We haven’t been stuck in the house for days on end, but many of my activities have been cancelled. Saturday, my writers group had to give up its Valentine party because high winds and blowing snow made driving unnecessarily a foolish move. Made it to the pet store today for cat food — what’s my safety compared to the cat’s happiness? — but now we’re in white out conditions again.

I have television, radio, telephone and internet plus neighbours who can walk through the snow to visit. If I get cabin fever after a few days of semi-isolation, what was it like in the 1890’s on the frontier, the era of my Prospect series?

Frontier women in the north tell of parties that went on for days–isolated settlers were so glad of company from outside they would go without sleep just to hear music and see another face.

Some pioneers dealt with the loneliness through hard work — chopping wood, carrying water, feeding livestock– and artistic pursuits. Sailors carved scrimshaw to wile away hours of inactivity.  Some, usually men, took to whittling elaborate figures. Women could never afford to be idle. They turned their creativity to making quilts.

 

Some went mad.

In his short story, “One’s a Heifer,” Sinclair Ross writes

“You don’t know how bad it is sometimes. Weeks on end and no one to talk to. You’re not yourself–you’re not sure what you’re going to say or do.”

I remembered hearing my uncle talk about a man who had gone crazy living alone. And this fellow Vickers had queer eyes all right.

The heroines in my books always turn to hard work as a way to get through tough times. Perhaps that’s a nod to my farming background. There is always work to do — and productive work will keep you sane.

Anyone else with snow day tales to tell? Leave a comment and receive a free copy of my short story “Faith” about a woman whose plans are overset by a snowstorm.

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Nineteenth Century Internet?

Driving in the last spike

 

In 1886, the time period for my first book in the Prospect series, there were no railways through the rocky mountains in Canada.

Lottie Graham, the heroine of the first book, The Man for Her, had to travel by stage and boat and horseback to reach her destination in the mountains. The journey took months. By the time her sister, Louisa arrived in the latest book, Her One True Love, the railroad had been pushed through at incredible cost, but what a feat of engineering it was. Tunneling through solid rock, skirting along river banks and crossing fantastic trestles, the Canadian Pacific Railroad helped to bring B.C. into Confederation, brought down the government of Sir John A. MacDonald and made the trip from Toronto to Vancouver in four days.

Banff Springs Hotel

To put it into modern terms, the railroad was like the internet of its day. Newspapers could be delivered in under a week. Where Grey North, the hero of Her One and Only,  read of his father’s death weeks after the event, railroads meant telegraphs and communication across the world in mere hours. Goods could be shipped year round, not just during the summer months when waterways were open. Tourism boomed. The railroad brought thousands of wealthy visitors to the spectacular lodges in Banff and Lake Louise. New industry flourished and railway towns such as Field B.C. sprang into existence.

In my current work-in-progress, Prospect is still on the edge of the wilderness, but it is accessible to anyone with the price of a railroad ticket. Hopeful Adams, and his donkey have come from Louisiana to join the hoards of gold seekers. Scarlett, a saloon girl, comes from the deep south of America. The heroine, Verity Chance, has come from Ireland, and the hero, Dr. Nordale hales from Montreal. All have come together in Prospect to seek their fortunes—some on the creeks, others in the town. It is an exciting time to be in Prospect.

Gord Lightfoot is a well-known Canadian folk singer. One of his iconic songs concerns the building of the railroad. The opening line is”there was a time in this fair land when the railroad did not run.” He goes on from there to describe in music and poetry the building of “an iron road running from the sea to the sea” It is one of my favourite history lessons. You can listen to it here.

Some years ago my husband and I took a rail journey from the Pacific Ocean, across the mountains, the prairies, Ontario and Quebec, the Maritimes and arrived on the Atlantic coast. We had to change trains twice. There was no steam engine but the excitement of boarding the train is something I’ll never forget. The tedium of airport security, the cramped, airless conditions on board a jet plane has made air travel lose its appeal for me, but the thundering of steel wheels on a steel track makes my heart beat high.

It saddens me to see tracks abandoned, or even torn up in our modern age. Roads and transport trucks have replaced the freight cars but they are not nearly as efficient or as clean energy as a locomotive. Not to mention that the railroad cemented our disparate colonies into one nation stretching from the Atlantic to the Pacific and up to the Arctic.  In later years thousands of immigrants peopled the prairies, arriving by train.  There’s romance  in riding the rails, falling asleep to the clacking of steel wheels and eating breakfast in a luxurious dining car.  If one has time, it’s the best way to travel.

What about you, dear readers? Do any of you have a railway story to share?

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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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