Category: Uncategorised (page 1 of 13)

A Bride for Brynmor — review

 

My latest historical read was this tale by Jacqui Nelson. I’ve long admired Jacqui’s work and her new novel is no exception.
Hope you enjoy it too.
Back Blurb
Can a sister who’s lived only for others find freedom with one man? Family has always come first—for both of them. He’s never forgiven himself for letting her go. She’s never forgiven herself for almost getting him killed.

When Lark and her songbird sisters are separated fleeing their cruel and controlling troupe manager, only Brynmor Llewellyn can help Lark save her sisters and escape to the far west. But Lark wants more. And so does Brynmor. When they’re stranded in a spot as difficult to guard as it is to leave—a rustic cabin at a train junction between Denver and the mountain town of Noelle, Colorado—they find themselves fighting not only for survival but for redemption, forgiveness, and a second chance for their love.

Will the frontier train stop of Songbird Junction be Lark and Brynmor’s salvation? Or their downfall when her manager, a con artist who calls himself her uncle but cherishes only his own fame and fortune—demands a debt no one can pay?

A note about story links: A Bride for Brynmor is the first book in the Songbird Junction series. This American Western Historical Romance is a sweet rated standalone read, but it also includes characters (such as reader-favorite Grandpa Gus Peregrine) featured in my Noelle, Colorado, Christmas storiesThe Calling Birds (set in 1876) and Robyn: A Christmas Bride (set in 1877).

Welcome to Songbird Junction where Welsh meets West in Colorado 1878. The journey to find a forever home and more starts here. Brynmor, Heddwyn, and Griffin Llewellyn are three Welsh brothers bound by blood and a passion for hauling freight—in Denver where hard work pays. Lark, Oriole, and Wren are three Irish-Cree Métis sisters-of-the-heart bound by choice and a talent for singing—in any place that pays.
The book is for sale here
Enjoy!

 

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The Cost of the Vote

 

Monday was voting day in Canada, our 43rd general election since Confederation in 1867. I voted on a miserable, stormy day and gave thanks for the privilege. As Sir Winston Churchill said, democracy is the worst form of government except for all the rest. 

2019 is also the 90th anniversary of the “persons case” in which women were declared by the Privy Council of Great Britain to be legal persons in Canada, and therefore entitled to election to the parliament.

In the 21st century it is hard to imagine that women could be declared legally non-persons, but such were the prejudices and self-interest of men. In fact, throughout history, power has had to be wrested from one class to the next.  The barons  of England gained power from the king with Magna Carta, but they wouldn’t share with the commoners until forced. Those with land wouldn’t share power with renters, until forced. Whites wouldn’t share with Indigenous peoples and men wouldn’t admit women to the halls of power, until ordered to do so.

Canada derives its parliamentary system from Britain, so the history of the UK shaped our own.

Even in the US, founded on the principles of freedom and “no taxation without representation,” the founding fathers conceived the Electoral College as a way to keep the “riff raff” from having too much power.

 It seems everyone who champions the cause of democracy, changes sides when they have something to lose. 

But the human spirit is stronger than politics.  Men and women insist on being part of the process, not mere subjects commanded by the whim of a monarch. Every time I mark the X on my ballot, it tip my hat to those who fought for that right.

  I especially raise a teacup to the women who suffered ridicule, slander, incarceration and the torture of force feeding, that I might have a say in my country’s government.  Thank you famous five, and all the others who worked to secure my rights.

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Canadian Thanksgiving

For those of you who don’t live in Canada, let me explain that we celebrate Thanksgiving — a harvest festival– on the second Monday of October. It’s a great time to give thanks as the garden crops are safely stored, the apple and pear trees and begging to be picked and pumpkins brighten the farmer’s fields with their stunning orange. Not only that, but the trees are turning colour. It is a most beautiful time of the year. Who wouldn’t give thanks.

Traditionally, we celebrate with a big turkey dinner with friends and relatives. We eat too much, enjoy pumpkin pie with whipped cream and then go back and snare a few more bites. I’m writing this post while still feasting on left over turkey. I love turkey sandwiches.

Of course, the whole point of the day is to remind us to be grateful for the many blessings in our lives. Here is my list of writerly gratitudes.

  • Great books. This year I’ve found myself lost in a story over and over again. I’m so grateful to those authors who churn out a compelling tale that takes me beyond myself.
  • Writer friends. We’re a strange breed, we writers. We live in our heads most of the time. We’re always wondering “what if . . .?” It’s good to have company in the wilderness.
  • The internet. For all it’s flaws and dangers — and there are many– the internet allows me to look up facts in a few minutes rather than the hours needed to go to a library and find the proper reference book. It also allows me to stay in touch with all those writer friends, from Australia to my own back door.
  • Libraries. My own library has reorganized itself, much to my chagrin, to be a “happening place” with a very meagre supply of actual books. I hope that is an anomaly. I love walking into a well stocked library and browsing the stacks. Who knows what gem will appear?
  • Authors who share. As well as reading many great books from excellent authors, I’ve been able to attend workshops from first rate teachers. I can read blogs daily, weekly, or on occasion from people who understand both the craft and business of books. I can send an e-mail to someone I’ve never met and get a helpful reply. Authors truly are terrific.  As a side note, Margaret Atwood has just won her second Booker Prize for Literature.  She is donating her share to the Canadian Indigenous charity, Indspire, one she has previously helped with her late friend and First Nations leader, Chief Harry St. Denis.    
  • All those scribes from every time and place who “wrote it down” so that succeeding generations will know the facts and the stories and the details of everyday life that the historians might leave out.

Happy post Thanksgiving to everyone. May your shelves be filled with lovely books and your mind spin out stories to transform the world.

P.S. Feel free to share your own writerly thanksgivings in the comments section.

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Deep Point-of-View

I had been going to write about deep point of view today. Until I went outside. On a perfect fall day, all cerebral activity vanished and I had only emotion.

The bounty of this earth stirred my soul to gratitude and wonder. Look at this little apple tree, laden with fruit. And these, boxes and boxes of apples from the Golden Delicious.  We haven’t even touched the Northern Spy or the Ida Red.

My heart overflows. I must share–both the fruit and the feeling.

Not content with apples, I look about and see the fuchsia glowing in the sunlight.

Dahlias     burn red like fire and shine white like ice.

 

The last roses of summer perfume the air.

Fall, the season of harvest, overwhelms with its abundance, its extravagant grace.

Over the past week, we’ve heard a lot about climate change and the fragility of our planet. It is a cosmic topic, perhaps requiring an astronaut’s view to comprehend. But I can see the bounty of my orchard, the beauty of my garden, and tremble for them. 

Guess I did write about deep point of view after all. Mine. No skimming the surface here with words like “she worried,” or “he felt.” This page holds emotion with a capital E. That’s what a romance reader wants in our books.

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Calico Cats Part Three

It’s been a helter-skelter kind of week, so I thought I’d bring you more wisdom from the calico cats — both for writing and for living.  Here goes.

 

 

 

 

If you get hung up, just hang in there.

 

Nothing like sunshine to beat the blues.

If you’re stuck up a tree, enjoy the view.

Cute always works, especially if you can perfect the innocent look.

Don’t be afraid to reach high. Explore new places.

Share, it’s the right thing to do.

Love your sister — and fellow writers, too.

Treasure the moments. We grow really fast.

You’re never too big for a lap.

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Character and More

Vancouver Island Romance Authors held its annual all-day workshop last weekend with presenter Eileen Cook. Eileen is a member of The Creative Academy and one terrific teacher. Before becoming a successful YA author, she studied psychology and worked as a counsellor. Using that training and experience she is able to provide unique insights into personalities — both real and fictional — that helps her to create complex, interesting and captivating characters. She shared some of her wisdom with us.

One of her hints in the first part of the workshop was to create a character timeline from birth to page one of your novel, from that character’s pov. If an event was positive, you wrote it above the line, if negative, below the line. This showed that, apart from the event itself, we learned the character’s belief about that event, and thus had insight into her motivations and goals.

                  I tried the exercise for my own real life and noticed that many of the events I would have put below the line in real time, in hindsight went above the line. An interesting outcome that matches my optimistic outlook. For a character in a book, having her hang on to the negative might make for a more interesting story.

                Eileen emphasized that “belief” about an event could be more powerful than the event itself. It is the character’s belief about her body, her parents, her job, her boyfriend . . . that creates the consequences that lead to story.  I’ve been watching for that concept in real life. I know a couple who has left their church because they “believe” they can’t make connections. When I look at their circumstances, as an observer, it seems to me they had plenty of friends. Yet, in terms of their action, it is their belief, not my observation that counts.

                Similarly, I look at my heroine, racked by guilt. In my gentle, authorly way, I want to remove her burden and show her she’s not to blame for an accident, but that would be the end of the story. Much better for her to suffer and struggle until, with the love of the hero, she forgives herself.

There were more wonderful lessons during the day, but Eileen ended with a talk about the life of a writer. It ain’t easy! We meet with rejection in the pre-publishing world and we meet with damning reviews in the post-published world. Family, friends and colleagues may ask why we “waste” our time writing “that stuff.”

Mark Twain said: Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great.” 

Eileen echoed that advice and encouraged us to use positive self-talk as well as to cultivate supportive friends. VIRA is a lovely group of writers who encourage, engage and empathize with one another. Most writers need something like VIRA, whether it’s a formal organization or a few supportive friends. We want our characters to be kind to children and puppies. We should be kind to ourselves.

All in all, it was a wonderful way to spend a Saturday. Attendees have all been raving about how inspired they feel, how eager they are to get back into their work, and how many ideas are raging through their imaginations. A workshop that doesn’t end when the day is over is a gift. Thanks, Eileen.

To connect with Eileen about your own writing, go to https://ccscreativeacademy.com/ You’ll benefit from her wisdom along with others.

 

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A Better Writer

titleRead A Better Man, Louise Penny’s latest book over the weekend. I finished it late on Sunday night and have moved on to a new novel. Yet Penny’s story continues to haunt me. Why?

I asked myself that question as a writer, not a reader. What is it about her writing that gets inside my head and refuses to leave? Can I learn from her to make my own work more compelling? I found a number of answers.

First: Compelling Characters.

Everyone who has ever taken a class or a workshop in writing fiction knows compelling characters are key to a successful novel.

Penny’s characters are all well-rounded, complex, interesting and tug at the heart strings. I don’t want to go into a long review here, so I’ll concentrate on the lead character, Armand Gamache, a senior officer in the Sûreté du Québec. Gamache is an emminently appealing character, kind, honest, brave, loving, loyal—and deeply wounded. As a police officer he has seen and done things that cut to his soul. He has been betrayed by colleagues, attacked by politicians, shot by criminals. Penny creates scenes of evil and hate and greed and she puts Gamache in the middle of it. She tries his principles, tempts him with an easy way out. She hurts him deeply, yet he remains true to himself and what he stands for. As a reader, I’ve come to trust him, depend on him to get me through the terrible events of the novel and show me that justice will prevail, that good men can, if not win, at least survive.

The wounds, I believe, are what makes Gamache so relatable. I’m too soft when it comes to hurting my characters. I like them and I don’t want to make them suffer, but the suffering is where real character is displayed. It is where readers identify with characters and ache for them and cheer for them and read on until they are safely home again.

Second: Appealing setting

The village of Three Pines plays a large role in the stories. It’s a bit like an English village that you might find in a Miss Marple mystery, but it is deeply Quebecois. The bistro, the village green, the duck pond, the old church, the book store, and B&B – these are all Quebec, with harsh winters, hot summers, mosquitos, and no WiFi.  All the instant communication a modern culture takes for granted, must slow down in Three Pines. This lack of speed in the village is a wonderful plot device, stretching out the suspense. It takes time to get reports, it takes time to run down leads, it takes time to receive orders. If you’re really in a hurry you can drive a few miles out of town to where there is cell phone reception, but that takes time too.  Everything takes time and we settle into Three Pines like a comfortable old armchair. We probably want a latte and a wood-burning fireplace, and good friends and good conversation. We want to luxuriate in the slowed down time of this village.

Third: Beautiful writing

Penny’s prose is almost poetic. She is obviously well-read and educated, referencing art, literature and politics, yet her language is not beyond the understanding of most readers. She doesn’t dazzle with long words and convoluted sentences, but there is a poet living in Three Pines and her phrases creep into the narrative and make it sparkle. There is also a foul-mouthed duck who roots us firmly in the modern culture. In other words, Penny has a recognizable and enthralling voice.

Fourth: Dynamic Plot

Since these are murder mysteries one would expect lots of plot turns, but Penny is a master at throwing in an unexpected twist. Even when you think a character has won, he loses. Even when Gamache seems defeated, he has an ace up his sleeve. I am always in awe of people who can plot out even a simple mystery, With Penny’s serpentine plot twists, I can only marvel.

This is only a brief analysis of what I think makes her books so remarkable and none of it is new. All of these points are developed in how-to-write books, workshops and university courses, but Louise Penny has provided us with a masterful example.

Even if you write lighter stories, where romance and humour are more important than danger and crime, I recommend any of Ms Penny’s books as a great learning tool — and a wonderful way to spend a weekend.

Anyone else a fan? Who’s your favourite writer. Does he/she get inside your head and refuse to leave?

 

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Winner!

We interrupt this blog post to bring you the author’s annual brag fest. The fall fair was on the long weekend and I won some prizes. Not as many as some years, but still enough to encourage me to try again next year.

By the Friday before the fair, I’m worn out with fretting and primping and second guessing myself and I wonder why I bother. Then I win some ribbons and by Tuesday, I’m looking at the catalogue to see what else I might enter next year. 

I encouraged a friend to enter this year for the first time. She did and then spent two weeks telling herself not to get too worked up about it all. “It’s only a country fair.” “It doesn’t matter if the judges like my rose. I like it,” and other depressing sentiments of that sort. When she won a first prize she jumped up and down like a school girl, squealing, “I won, I won, I won.” 🙂  

I think writers are like that too. Give them a little encouragement and they jump into the next story convinced it will be the best ever, maybe even earn a movie contract.  So, hope, is a universal trait. That’s something writer’s can use in crafting their tales. Since I’m a naturally hopeful person, my stories are full of hope and it is usually fulfilled. Others take a more pessimistic view and they create characters without hope. This too can serve the story well. Someone with no hope of winning, of finding a better path, of being loved . . . sounds like a perfect villain.

Another universal trait is the desire to win. Whether it’s a blue ribbon at the fair, or a mega-lottery prize or a foot race or an election. We all want to win something. “How to” books on writing ask the author to define her character’s goals. If the word “goal” doesn’t spark your imagination, try asking what your character wants to win.  It means the same thing, but sometimes we respond to a different word more effectively. For myself, I wrestled with “conflict.” Then I heard someone use the word “struggle,” and I understood what story-conflict means.

And if you’re looking for a plot for your next romance, try the country fair. Lots of intrigue in the judging tent, conflict among the exhibitors, skullduggery in the garden. The possibilities are endless. And at the end, your heroine can come home with a fistful of blue ribbons.

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Singapore Sapphire

Set in the far east, Singapore Sapphire isn’t my usual cup of tea, but I like the author, A.M. Stuart, so decided to try the book.

The far east is still not my favourite place to visit, even in fiction, but I thoroughly enjoyed this first of the Harriet Gordon mysteries.

The story takes place at the beginning of the twentieth century, before two world wars changed the order of things for the British Empire. In the midst of the Malay jungle we have a Church of England school and a proper Cricket Club. Alongside these pillars of the ex-pat community are the Dutch traders and native Malays, Chinese, and Burmese. All thrown together in the heat and damp of Singapore. Along with murderers and thieves and smugglers, the climate itself acts as an enemy to European sensibilities. Fine buildings fall into decay, mouldering away almost as soon as they are erected. Rot seeps up from the docks, corruption lurks behind fine facades.

Harriet Gordon is an interesting character, widowed and hiding the secret of her time in Holloway prison for women, she is both bold and timid, bowing to conventions in her brother’s house, yet poking her nose into police business and seeking to solve a murder. There’s a hint of romance, even though it seems doomed at the outset.

Although Singapore is not on my list of places to visit, the author clearly knows and loves the area. Her descriptions of sights and sounds and smells brings the city and the time alive and will appeal to those with a taste for exotic locales.

I read the book in paperback but it is also available in e-book.

You don’t often see book recommendations on this blog because I only promote those I’ve actually read and enjoyed. Singapore Sapphire is a good read with lots of twists and turns in the plot and lots of historical and geographical detail to thrill the armchair traveller. 

I’ll be watching for the next Harriet Gordon mystery.

What about you? Read any good books lately?

 

 

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The Forgotten Sense

“Use the five senses,” is familiar advice to all writers. Just as news reporters use the 5 W’s — who, what, where, when, and why to check their stories, fiction writers can use sight, sound, smell, taste and touch to enhance the emotional impact of their tales.

 

Nothing triggers memory like a smell. I have two four-month old kittens. They were born in the country and at only eight weeks of age they related to smell. We had transported them 2500 miles, from the prairies to the coast, but when the scent of new-mown hay wafted through an open window, they stopped playing and sat up as tall as they could, their little noses twitching mightily as they inhaled the aroma of home.

Psychiatrists will tell you that smell can trigger forgotten memories, and stir the emotions. The perfume industry is built on that premise. A simple fragrance won’t make people spend hundreds of dollars on an ounce of liquid, but the emotions that fragrance elicits, will pry open the  purse.

Because scent has such a powerful effect on the emotions, good writers use that correlation not only to describe a scene but illuminate characters and draw the reader into an emotional  connection with the protagonist of the story.

Out on my bicycle I gloried in the number of summer smells I encountered on my ride–lavender, roses, ripe blackberries, fecund soil, dusty hay,  a horse barn . . . I inhaled them all with a smile to my face and joy to my heart.  I should be a natural when it comes to using scents in my novels. Sadly, while I enjoy the fragrance of my garden, I’m not good at incorporating the fifth sense into my writing.

In my wip I reference the smell of clean mountain air — a lost opportunity. Clean mountain air is generic. If I said, “clean mountain air filled her lungs, driving out the stench of the immigrant ship, erasing the odor of poverty and desperation” I’d have done a better job of placing the reader in the story and giving her a reason to root for the heroine.

There are many literary works devoted to smell, but I thought I’d investigate the romance genre for tips on how to include the forgotten sense in my writing.

“His face and eyelids were swollen and he was beginning to stink like rotten meat.” The Silver Lining by Maggie Osborne. Maggie Osborne is a favourite of mine, even though she is no longer writing. Notice the words here– “stink” “rotten–deeply evocative. She could have said “smelled bad,” and the impact would have been lost.

“When I pull loose wrap off the top of the bottle and  stick my nose in, it is agreeably, deeply sour.” How to Bake a Perfect Life, by Barbara Samuel. I knew I’d find examples of cooking smells in Barbara Samuel’s work. What I like about this example is the paradox of “agreeable” and “sour.” Most of us consider sour an unpleasant odor, not an agreeable one. However, it you are making sourdough starter, the concept changes.

“The scent of fresh blood on an undercurrent of primeval decay choked Elodie Rousseau, nearly bringing her to her knees.” Choosing Bravery by Jacqui Nelson.  Jacqui writes historical westerns. Aromas can conjure up the old west in a few words. The “scent of fresh blood” is a generic phrase, but “primeval decay” and “choked” lift this sentence from ordinary to memorable.

I’m now off to scour my work-in-progress for missed opportunities to use the power of scent in my story.

How about you? Any favourite “smelly” writing examples you’d like to share?

 

 

 

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