Category: My books (Page 1 of 6)

Quirks and Traits

I’m rereading a book where one of the main characters is an editor who mentally parses interesting words in her thoughts. E.g. while struggling with the onerous task of clearing her basement she thinks “Latin: onerosus, meaning ‘burden”.” This mental editing is a character quirk that has nothing do to with moving the plot forward, but it makes the character interesting and unusual, and keeps this reader turning pages.

Many authors use quirks in character building —

  • Colin Dexter’s Morse solves the Times crossword in record quick time.
  • Miss Marple knits and eavesdrops
  • Abby on NCIS covered in tattoos and piercings, looks scary but is kind and loving.

In science, trait refers to a characteristic that is caused by genetics, e.g. blue eyes. A quirk is defined as a peculiarity of behaviour, a mannerism. In the old TV show “Monk” the main character suffered from OCD. I’m sure living with that condition is very hard, but in the show Monk’s obsessive straightening and tidying and germaphobia is entertaining. In the British show, “Professor T,” the main character has a similar quirk. 

Habit, mannerism, trait, quirk, foible, idiosyncrasy . . . all mean more or less the same thing, but the consistent definition for “quirk” in different dictionaries is that the characteristic is strange, weird, peculiar or unexpected.  Whatever you call that odd thing your character does, the weirder you make it, the better when it comes to keeping your readers engaged. 

I think the trick to writing quirky characters is to keep the behaviours off-beat. A quick search of the internet turned up a list of 500 character quirks. Among the things listed are computer nerd, pacing when thinking, chewing fingernails, chewing gum . . . In my opinion, these habits aren’t weird enough to qualify as quirks.  

The quirk must be unique and unexpected. The first time I saw a movie where a daring-do hero was afraid of clowns I was delighted. Since then, I’ve seen that meme overused and it has lost its power. Now, whenever a clown comes on screen, I expect the cop/fireman/soldier to fear it. 

So, what would be some fun quirks to incorporate into a romance? Perhaps the heroine never meets a man without visualizing him as her groom. If he’s “the one,” we go directly to HEA. If he’s not “the one” the way in which the vision dissolves could be fun. e.g. he melts, or he grows a monkey tail and swings through the trees, or he explodes and destroys the wedding chapel.

In the old television show, Remington Steele, the title character solved mysteries by relating them to old movies. I found that quirk memorable and it heightened the dissonance between him and his lady boss, who was a trained detective. In that case, the quirk served to make the character unique and added to the romantic tension of the story.

In my book, The Man for Her, Lottie’s hatred of the search for gold could be described as a quirk, but I’d be more inclined to call it a learned characteristic since it comes from experience and, therefore, not that unexpected. Still, for a story set in the gold rush, having a heroine who hates gold is a bit quirky.

Not every book will have a quirky character. If they did the quirks would quickly become stale and boring. Still, if you can incorporate a little oddity into one of your characters, readers will remember.

Please share your favourite quirky characters in the comments below.

 

 

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Opening Pages

My writers group held a get-together on the weekend, where we celebrated meeting in person, enjoyed lunch and had few laughs. We also read and critiqued two anonymous pages of writing from each person present. It took me several tries but I finally came up with the two opening pages of my WIP. that I felt comfortable sharing. I’ve posted them below and would welcome your comments.  I’ve entered the group’s comments in blue.

 

 

Saskatchewan, Canada, 1917

A mournful train whistle echoed across the empty prairie, just as Kirsten Swendsen stepped onto the stoop of Glenrose County School #5 and locked the door behind her. She narrowed her eyes and watched as the great steel beast clanked and hissed to a halt at the town station. Even from a distance she could discern a woman descend from the passenger car. After the briefest of pauses, the train thundered on its way, leaving the lone figure, erect and still, on the platform.

A shiver of unease snaked down Kirsten’s spine. Women did not travel alone in these parts. Immigrant women always arrived with a husband and often children in tow. A single woman was most likely bound for a brothel but they usually headed for the cities. Glenrose was too small to have a red-light district, but some of the hotels were known to have a “back room” where single men could “relax.”

She pursed her lips. One thing about the war, it had emptied the prairies of virile young men. The woman at the train station would be hard-pressed for customers.

A flock of geese flying low overhead roused Kirsten from her reverie. Today was threshing day at Luke Walden’s farm. She’d promised to help in the kitchen. Poor man, she thought, as she stepped up into her gig. She and her family were relative newcomers to the area, but she’d heard the rumours. Luke Walden’s wife had runaway with an actor ten years ago, leaving him to run his farm and raise his children alone. Her heart clenched. Luke was a good man. He deserved better.

She shook her head, then glanced over her shoulder. The woman still waited on the platform. Kirsten squared her shoulders and dismissed her fanciful thoughts. Luke’s wife had been gone too long to come back now. Everyone assumed she had died. Gathering the reins into her hands, Kirsten clicked her tongue, and set her horse to a brisk trot. A day at the Walden farm would lift her spirits, even if the work was hard.

 

At the sound of wagon wheels, the woman at the train station lifted her head, breathing in the smoky mist of a prairie morning. Kathleen Walden. She tried the name on her tongue and found it strange. For the past ten years she’d called herself Kitty O’Hearne. Kitty had suited her – a coquette with sharp claws, sleek and serpentine, gliding soundlessly through the night, then curling into a warm lap with a throaty purr.

 

 

 

I had been expecting a line-by-line critique re writing style, grammar, tone, etc. Instead the group pounced on the two characters, pronounced Kirsten dull and wanted to see Kathleen as the heroine, despite the fact she’d abandoned her husband and children to run off with an actor. What do you think?

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The Future is Back

All the best writing coaches tell us to start our books at the point of change. This is the time and place where the characters become interesting, where they have to give up old ways and find new ones, — or not. Even if they do not change, they will have examined their values and relationships and made a conscious decision about who they are and who they want at their side for the rest of life’s journey. I’m talking romance genre here. In my books, Her One True Love and Her One and Only, I heeded this advice and began them at the time the main characters set out on a new live. In her One and Only, Emma Douglas has fled from scandal in California to begin again in the frontier town of Prospect, British Columbia. Louisa Graham, in Her One True Love, is newly freed from the control of her rigid father and ready to embark on a new venture of her own. The point of change makes excellent starting points for these stories.

In the real world though, the point of change may not be so clear cut. In my world, we are coming out of the COVID 19 restrictions and trying to get “back to normal.” Yet many of us struggle with what the rest of life will look like. After so many months of restrictions I’ve gotten used to days uninterrupted with appointments and obligations. We’ve stuck close to home and our entertainment has been on screen. Am I ready to make the effort to go out, to mingle with other people–especially the unvaccinated–to put on tight shoes and style my hair?

Last week I met up with an old writer friend and that was terrific. I wore sandals and windswept hair. We hadn’t seen each other face to face for two years to there was no end of stuff to talk about, but we kept circling back to “what now?”

In fiction that is a fun question. It can be answered with adventure, romance, murder, treachery, a new job, a new skill, a career move, a baby . . . the possibilities are endless. In real life, we have a more difficult time. In many ways, neither of us want to go “back” to the way things were, and in the writing industry there is no going back anyway. Reader’s demands have changed since we first went into lockdown. The publishing industry, whether traditional or self publishing, never stopped evolving while we were huddled at our desks in isolation. 

In the past eighteen months friends and acquaintances have changed, some have passed away, some have moved away, some have decided not to rejoin the groups we had before. So when our clubs hold in-person meetings, the people present won’t be the ones who were there before. The places we volunteered are under new management, our work friends aren’t coming back to the office. 

I do believe starting a story at the point of change is an excellent practice but the experience of closing down and now re-opening reminds me that change is not always exciting, not always positive, not always an opportunity. Change may be confusing, it may diminish our world instead of expanding it. Change is noisy and unsettling and uncertain. Great attributes in a story, a bit uncomfortable in real life.

When lunch was over my friend and I travelled in opposite directions, but writing will still hold us together. The writing may change, but we’ll still be putting words on the page. I found that certainty reassuring.

What about you, dear reader? Are you embracing the reopening of society? Are you rushing off to catch up on all your old activities? Are you staring and the calendar and wondering how you used to fill your days? Please share your words of wisdom in the comments below.

 

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Killing My Darlings

This has not been a happy week for me.

I started the rework on an old ms with high hopes. I had a new heroine and planned to turn the old one into the antagonist. In the original story she was a villain and I had hoped to reform her in this novel. Turns out, I couldn’t. Even as the author I could not make her likeable — she is sexy as hell and dangerous–but just too selfish and self-centred and manipulative to have my lovely hero love her again.

The new heroine doesn’t show up in such bright colours but she is loyal and steady and smart and becoming and generous and has a heart for the misused hero. Still, when I write her description beside that of the original, she comes off as bland. I’m afraid readers will think the hero has settled for second best when he chooses her. 

Hence, “killing my darlings.” All the flair and power I put into the description of the now villain has to be tempered and the bland heroine spiced up. The latter is fun, the former is painful. Stephen King wrote: Stephen King wrote, “kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.”

Well, my egocentric little scribbler’s heart is breaking. Maybe I can just save those words to an outtake file somewhere. 😉

What about you, fellow authors? What do you do when your favourite passage has to go?

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What Makes a Heroine?

 

 

   A lone woman alit from the caboose of an early morning freight train.  She stood, silhouetted against the pale dawn, a tumble of black curls cascading down her back, a shabby valise crumpled at her feet.  She was the kind of woman who drew men to her like foxes to a vixen.  Yet, when they looked into her eyes, they averted their gaze and slunk away.  She saw too much, this ripe, fecund female; saw the hunger in their bellies, the lust in their loins and the evil in their souls.  In her charms were both rapture and damnation.  Few men would risk their souls to claim the promise of her full hips and overflowing breasts.

   Exiting the school house Kirsten Swendsen narrowed her eyes to study the stranger who looked so at home in Glenrose, Saskatchewan. As the truth dawned, animosity shattered her schoolmarm serenity. Runaway, adulteress, unfit mother, indecent, wanton . . . the list of Kathleen Walden’s sins filled many a gossip’s chatter. Kirsten had no doubt the woman at the train station was Kathleen, come back to damage the lives of her children and husband again. Rage jolted along her veins. Without weighing the consequences, she stepped into her gig and turned the horse for Walden farm.  

 

   Here is the question. Which woman should be the heroine of this book? Kathleen has lots of baggage from a previous novel. Can a woman who has abandoned her children and disgraced her husband be convincingly rehabilitated so that the reader believes her wronged husband can love her again? 

  Kirsten is a schoolmarm in every sense of the word. Can an opinionated, rule-ridden, super-achiever be a romantic heroine? Can a man who has loved Kathleen love her antithesis?

  As a reader, which woman would you root for?

  All comments gratefully received.

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On Being a Student – Again

doing homeworkMoving along in Laurie Schnebly’s “Plotting via Motivation” course. . .I’ve learned that taking a workshop on-line instead of in person has some surprising benefits. The most important one for me is thinking time. I’m no good at those brainstorming sessions where everyone in the room calls out possibilities and questions. My ideas need time to brew. They grow from a glimmer to a beacon when they can swirl around in my brain for a while, so when I complete my homework assignment, I’m satisfied that I’ve answered the right questions. 

Another surprise is my pleasure in doing homework. I shouldn’t be. I liked school and homework was part of the package.  The best part of homework is getting it back with the teacher’s comments. An in-person class doesn’t allow the presenter enough time to do that. With the on-line course I get a personal response from Laurie on each assignment. That is so helpful because it deals with the particulars of my story, not just the generalities of plotting.

There is one aspect of the course that is no surprise. I’m terrible at plotting! The beginning comes together fairly well and I know how it should end, but that dratted middle sags in an exercise as much as it does in a full-length novel. Hence, one of the reasons I took this class.  

And that brings me to another reason I’m taking this class. Laurie Schnebly is a terrific teacher. She infuses her lectures with clear examples from various genres so whether  students write horror or romance, adventure or shape-shifters, they can feel at home in the class. 

Finally, I’m becoming intrigued with this character I made up just for practice. Who knows I may find a full-fledged novel here, or at least a short story. 

As the garden work picks up I find myself doing a lot of math. I need to know how much fertilizer to apply per square foot. So I need to determine the square footage. I need to convert tablespoons to cups. How many cubic meters in my wheelbarrow? How many litres in a gallon? When I left school I had hoped to be done with arithmetic forever but it is essential to modern life. Similarly with this writing homework. I hope the lessons learned here will prove useful for the rest of my writing career.

Over the years I’ve taken many workshops from some of the best in the business. I like the personal contact. I enjoy meeting other writers. It’s fun to get a day away from home with lunch laid on. I have a whole file drawer full of the notes and handouts from those workshops. When I read the notes I’m convinced I should be able to write a novel just by following the pattern set out for me. Yet, somewhere along the way, I just can’t get my thoughts to fit into the pattern presented. Having Laurie’s personal feedback makes this workshop special. I highly recommend it. You can see her upcoming classes offered through writeruniv.

This sounds like a total fan-girl article because it is. Feel free to add the names of your own favourite teachers in the comments below.

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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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