Category: Writing life (page 1 of 10)

Christmas Book Madness

A funny thing happened on my way to book Nirvana this Christmas.  For anyone who asks, I’ve told them I love books for Christmas. My husband knows this, my neighbour knows this, my best friend knows this, even mere acquaintances know this. Apparently, I’m quite vocal about my favourite authors as well. Louise Penny is a “must” buy for me and she had a new book, Kingdom of the Blind,  out just in time for Christmas. I got three copies!

Dear Evelyn by Kathy Page just won the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize. She is a British Columbia writer, living on Salt Spring Island. It’s a kind of love story – the history of a very long marriage that begins in World War II. My neighbour and I belong to the same book club and I was sure she’d like it. So I bought it for her as a Christmas gift, knowing I could borrow it later. Well, my darling husband heard me talking and a copy of the book showed up under my tree.

Jack Knox is a local columnist with a wry sense of humour. I bought his latest book to give to my husband. But before he opened his, I opened one from him to me.

Fortunately, all the replica books can be exchanged so I’ll still have lots of new reading. It’s also nice to know that my friends and family actually listen when I talk books. 🙂

I read all of Dear Evelyn on boxing day. Lovely writing and a story to pull at your heartstrings. Evelyn and Harry belong to “the greatest generation,” and their stories are worth hearing over again. I’m glad Ms. Page preserved this one so beautifully.

Kingdom of the Blind was devoured in two days. Louise Penny is a master at making the reader turn just one more page. Fortunately there were enough leftovers in the fridge that we didn’t starve while I followed Armand Gamache and his team from the idyllic village of Three Pines into the darkest streets of Montreal and out again. A very satisfying read, though I felt a little sad at the end. I’m hoping there’s another book to restore the joy in the Chief Inspector’s life.

There are still three new books by my bedside and I’ll filch Rick Mercer’s Final Report when my husband finishes it.

Books, books, and more books. It’s been a great Christmas.

If you got some good books at Christmas — or even double copies — please share in the comments below.

Good Will – Take Three

Christmas is almost here. Have you done your baking, shopping, wrapping, cleaning? All those Christmas chores threaten to rob the holiday of its true meaning. I hope this little collection of “good will” stories helps you to remember “the reason for the season.” 

Story One:  While hustling out of the rain the other day I went to enter a narrow doorway, with a triangular step. Not the easiest of entries but no a problem for me. I’m quite able. However, an elderly gentleman stood in the rain to hold the door for me. Feeling a bit embarrassed to have put him to the trouble, I mumbled thank you. “My pleasure,” he said, with such genuine warmth that I believed he enjoyed performing that small service. I went on my way with a Christmas glow in my heart.

Story Two:  While standing in the check-out line of my local grocery the clerk and I were exchanging stories of political correctness run amok. Every year it seems, Christmas is the victim of some outrageous slander — like declaring “White Christmas” racist.  The white is about snow, people.   Anyway, I shifted the conversation by explaining about this blog and my collection of good will stories. Three people cheered and one asked for the URL of my blog. So, lady in Fairway checkout, if you’re here, Merry Christmas, and thanks for making my day.

Story Three:  this incident was perhaps more an accident than an act of good will, but it made me happy, so I’ll include it anyway. My husband and I were touring the Butchart Gardens to look at the lights. They are absolutely stunning! In one window was an installation of a toy train, with mountains and tunnels and a curling rink and a carousel. I was trying to take a picture when a young lad, so overcome with excitement jumped in front of my camera. Another little girl was fascinated by the toy merry-go-round so I asked if she’d ridden the real one in another part of the Gardens. Her eyes grew round as saucers. “Can I?” She vibrated with excitement. We all shared a moment of Christmas cheer. Thank you, generous parents, who allowed strangers to share in their children’s wonder.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this series of good will stories. I’ve been delighted to read the ones you contributed in the comments section. Please keep them coming.

This will be my last post until after Christmas. I wish you all a joyful and blessed Christmas. May you know peace and good will throughout the season and in the new year.

Peace, Good Will

 

‘Tis the season of frantic shoppers, aggressive drivers, wild-eyed bargain hunters and parking lot fender benders. The newspapers are full of stories of selfishness and greed and down-right bad manners. As an antidote, I’m collecting stories of generosity, selflessness, and kindness.

For the month of December I’ve got “good deeds” on my radar. Not the seasonal ones like serving dinner in a homeless shelter, or putting a float in a parade, or being a secret Santa to a shut in. Those are certainly good deeds and kudos to everyone to participates in those kinds of activities.

But for the purposes of this blog, I’m collecting  small acts of kindness, the unorganized kind. The kind that spread the Christmas Spirit everywhere and anywhere, even in unexpected places.

  • Story One: While waiting in a line-up outside Tim Hortons I encountered a young dad taking his little hockey players out for hot chocolate after an early morning practice. Reason enough to give him a pat on the back. But, he went further. He talked to a young man sitting on the sidewalk. Asked if he was hungry, exchanged names, then offered to bring him a breakfast sandwich. The young man on the sidewalk opted for a donut instead. The dad obliged, even after trying to talk the young man into a healthier choice. I was so uplifted by that dad’s good deed, I emptied my purse into a collection box when I finally reached the counter.
  • Story Two: I lost a prized jacket. Searched the house top to bottom several times. Looked in the most unlikely of places. Retraced my steps. Finally, in a last ditch effort, I called the airport. I was sure I hadn’t worn the jacket when I went to the coffee shop there, but  I was ready to try anywhere. Lo and behold, I did wear the jacket and left it hanging on a chair. Some honest soul found it and turned it in to lost and found. Two days after the jacket went missing, the commissionaire produced it from a back room and restored it to me. I am so very grateful to the people who enabled me to get my coat back. It would have been so easy just to walk away with it.
  • Story Three: I needed to make a left-hand turn mid-block. An oncoming vehicle stopped, allowing me to turn and freeing the line of traffic jammed up behind me. Thank you lady driver. You are a remedy for all the angry drivers out there who drive down the shoulder, cut in and out of traffic and steal parking spaces. I hope you have a Merry Christmas and that your act of kindness inspires others.

So, that’s my list for this week. Watch for more as I celebrate the Christmas season. Please share your own story of peace and good will in the comments section. Let kindness reign!

Read to Me

I was in contact with two elderly friends last week. Both are the same age, both are underweight, both have a vision problem that means they cannot read.  One misses newspapers more than anything. The other misses reading piano music.

One is quite robust, despite her tiny size. She works out for an hour every morning and insists on walking everywhere, even though she can’t see the pavement under her feet. The other is extremely frail and requires help to move from bed to chair and back again.

Both have found solace in the spoken word. One listens to audio books while doing her workout. She says twenty minutes just flies by when there’s a good story playing through your earpiece. She has just discovered , Wives and Daughters, by Elizabeth Gaskell. The audio version takes about twenty hours, as compared to the usual ten hours for most books, but my friend finds the writing and the reading so engaging she’s happy to keep listening. In fact, she plans to look for more of this author’s books in audio form.

The other has a volunteer who sits with her one afternoon a week and reads aloud from a paper book. They are about to start , The Thorn Birds, by Colleen McCullough, another tome.

What struck me about these two ladies, apart from their similarity in age and vision impairment, is their joy in listening to a story. Note, even the news junkie would rather have a story playing on her device than a newspaper article.

There’s something wonderful about being read to. In my day, a bedtime story was a requirement from every parent to every child. Even when I could read for myself, my brothers and I loved gathering in the living room of an evening and listening to our mother read aloud. We had stories from the Family Herald, books by Thornton W. Burgess, Bible stories, Mother Goose tales, Pollyanna and Anne of Green Gables, and my mother’s voice.

From listening to my two friends, I realize that we never outgrow that “read me a story” stage.

My Mom didn’t do funny voices, but she read at a pleasing pace, in a clear voice and loved the story. Other parents excelled at “voices” when telling bedtime stories. I had a cousin who could “tell” stories as she made them up.

Some authors read their own work for audio books, others hire voice actors. Whatever the method, it seems “read me a story,” is a universal desire that technology has expanded but cannot displace. Three cheers for those who still read aloud to their children – or grandparents – and congratulations to the techies who figured out that we all want to “hear” a story.

What about you? Do you want to listen to a story? Do you prefer live readers or digital versions? Do you ever consider reading your own work aloud to an audience?

Leave a comment and receive a copy of my latest Christmas short story.

The Look of Love

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love is stronger than hate. 

Joy and Thanksgiving

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

We picked pumpkins, 

                                                              harvested apples,

 

and gathered seed for next year’s flowers.

.  

 

  

                                    We were dazzled by dahlias and 

enchanted with a late blooming rose.

 

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Thanksgiving!

I

Kneading the Generations

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

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

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

Any other fans of kneading out there?

Life and Roses

This week my blog takes a break from writing mode to real-life mode.  It’s my annual brag-fest. 

The fall fair in my region was held over the Labour Day weekend.  I entered a number of roses and I won a lot of ribbons, including a couple of “best in show.” 

Of course, I only enter the exhibit.  The roses grow and flower and fill the air with sweet scent just because they are roses.  How often we humans try to take credit for something the Creator has done. Still, I get a big kick out of being part of the fair — and the ribbons are nice too.

 

 

If you’d like check in on me wearing my writer’s hat this week, go to  the North of the Border — a segment on the Get Lost in a Story blog, where I am the guest of Jacqui Nelson.  You’ll find lots of information on some of my favourite spots in Canada and one of my favourite Canadian authors.  You can also enter a draw to win a book. The post goes up on Thursday, Sept. 6,

What Socrates Knew

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

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

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

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

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

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

Truth.

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

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

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

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

 

“Stuff Happens”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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