Tag: contest

My Vintage Fails

This is a photograph of a jar of water.  The only product I managed to seal in a vintage jar with a glass top, a rubber ring and a metal screw top.  I tried three times to put up a jar of preserves “like my grandmother did.”  That’s the language in the catalogue of our annual fall fair.   In honour of Canada’s 150th, the theme of the fair this year was “heritage seeds and breeds” with an emphasis on “vintage” everything.  When I saw the class for “vintage preserves” I thought it would be a snap.  I remembered the jars on the canning shelf at home, filled with strawberries and raspberries and peaches.  The fruit sucked tightly to the top while the bottom quarter of the jar showed only syrup.  That’s how you know the jar has sealed properly.  The vacuum pulls the fruit to the top.

I have a green gage plum tree — heritage breed, thought I.  The green plums in my vintage jar will look nice.  I’ll enter the category.  After a hunt through thrift stores for a vintage jar and a visit to the hardware store for new rubber rings, I set about to make my one jar of preserves.  Thirty minutes to sterilize the equipment, make the syrup and cold pack the jar. Then 20 minutes in the canner.  Don’t know why my mother made such a big deal out of such a simple operation.

Ahem!  The seal leaked.  My canner was full of plum syrup and the fruit, packed against the top of the jar when I took it out of the canner, slowly sank to the middle in a ragged mess.  So . . . not so easy after all.  Oh well, I’ve got more plums.  Try again.  This time I took extra care to be sure the top of the jar was free of any drops of syrup and wiped dry before I added the rubber ring, the glass top and the metal band.  Into the canner it went, but despite having the heat turned to high, it took forever to get the water back up to a rolling boil.  Result?  Leaked juice and floating fruit.  Funnily enough, when I tried to open the jar it was very well sealed and I had to pry a knife into the rubber ring to get it to open.  Sadly, the syrup no longer covered the fruit.  Not a prize winning effort.

Just to prove something to myself, I repeated the canning process with nothing but water in the jar.  It sealed, but I couldn’t put that in the fair.  I resorted to a different vintage jar, filled with marmalade and sealed with paraffin, another vintage method of finishing off preserves.  The judges thought it was “just lovely,” but didn’t warrant a ribbon.  Sigh!

Despite my multiple failures, the experiment was worth every minute.  As an author of Historical Romance, I’m always on the lookout for authentic information on life as it was lived in other times.  It’s one thing to go to a museum and look at an old-fashioned kitchen, to see jars of preserves on the shelf and to admire a hem-stitched pillowcase.  It’s quite another to participate in the creation or use of those items.  So, my failure was a great learning experience.   As Henry Ford said,  “The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing.”

Well, I’ve learned quite a lot, including renewed admiration for my foremothers.  If I couldn’t get the water to boil and the seal to hold with all my modern conveniences, including an electric stove, imagine doing it on a wood-fired cook stove during an Ontario summer.  No wonder they got up at dawn, eager to get the work done before the hottest part of the day.  They used the sweltering afternoon hours to do “light” work like mending and knitting and singing to children.  I bow before their skill, toil, and indomitable spirits.  I also apologize for every time I took them and their work for granted.

Oh, one other thing.  I did win a “best in show” rosette for my bowl of roses.  It’s nice to have a few successes to temper the failures.

 

Remember to comment on this blog to have your name entered to win a copy of my e-book, “The Man Who Hated Christmas and other short stories.”  Winner announced Nov. 1, 2017.

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What Makes a Good Cover?

 

I’m at a stage in my writing where I’m looking at cover designs for a new release of Christmas short stories. Wanting to do it “right,” I Googled best selling e-books, holidays  on amazon.com.    A glance at all those naked torsos made me laugh and decide I’d better try another category.  There is not a naked male in any of my stories where the tone is light, whimsical, and just a bit magical.

This time I tried “clean and wholesome.”  The tone is more suited to my stories but a lot of the covers seemed dark, to my eye.  Maybe it’s my age, but reading a title against a black or navy or even dark red background is hard work.  I know, I can magnify the image, but if I were a reader hunting through a long list of Christmas anthologies, I doubt I’d have the patience to enlarge each image.  I’m more apt to pause at the one that catches my eye without any effort on my part.

A quick search of “anthologies,” presented even more black-toned covers.  I know many best selling authors  tend toward this style and readers must like them or the authors wouldn’t be “best selling.”  Still, if I’m looking for a cover for my book, I want it to be pleasing to my eye.

The first page under “historicals,” provided a little more colour, but most had too much heat for my, as yet unpublished, anthology.

Finally I had a look at some of my favourite authors’ covers. Debbie MacComber covers have the right tone for my stories.  There is a softness about them and a sense of “home” that appeals to me, and reflects the mood of the stories I tell. Lisa Wingate has some beautiful covers, at least I think they are. Robyn Carr uses flowers and beaches and porches.  Light, cheerful colours make me want to open those books.

I found sponsored ads on the amazon pages of these writers that caught me up short. The covers were nothing like the ones the marquee authors used and I wonder if the stories were similar.  These are sponsored ads, so Debbie MacComber, etc. are not endorsing either the covers or the stories.  It behoves readers to check out those sponsored ads carefully and not assume the books are similar to the top-name writers.

It’s important to know one’s limitations, so in the end, I turned to the fabulous Dawn Charles at Book Graphics to create a cover for my stories. I know she’ll do a good job and she’s lots of fun to work with, but I’m still interested in what readers look for in a cover.

Do you like black? Do you like lots of muscled torsos?  Do flowers make you yawn?

Leave a comment and I’ll put you in a draw for the new book. Winner announced  Nov. 1, 2017.

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Why Not Love?

At a recent writer’s workshop, we spent a lot of time discussing the topic of what drives a story?  What makes the reader turn the page?  Answer: the character’s goal.  Cinderella wants to go to the ball.   Scarlet O’Hara wants to save Tara.  Lady Mary wants to secure the inheritance of Downton Abbey.  And so the story begins.  Will Cinderella get to the ball?  Can Scarlet save her home?  Will Lady Mary secure the family inheritance, even if it means marrying a solicitor?

Catch the crook, send the murderer to jail, win the war, build the skyscraper.  These are all big, concrete goals on which to build a story.  A  character may fall in love along the way, but the story does not start with that goal.  Even Mrs. Bennet who makes no bones about her desire to find husbands for her daughters, preferably husbands of standing and wealth, never suggests her daughters might fall in love.

In Western Historicals, like I write, the heroine is usually too busy building a home, making a living and keeping herself safe to have much time for looking for love.  Since these are romance novels, the reader knows the heroine will fall in love, but it’s not the driver of the story.  Our heroine might want to win a spelling bee, or sew a quilt or build a house.  Small, concrete, measurable goals.  There may be layers to these goals.  She may want to win the spelling bee in order to get a scholarship, so that she can attend law school, so that she can prosecute slum landlords, because her mother died when a railing  went unrepaired.  In this case, a small personal goal carries  a large, public benefit.  Great story premise.  It could be written as women’s fiction, literary fiction or mystery.  If it is written as a romance,  our heroine better find true love along the way, but we don’t start the story by saying the heroine wants to find love, so she’ll go to law school and, by the way, she has to win the spelling bee first.

The closest I’ve seen is  Maggie Osborne’s Silver Lining.  The heroine is asked what she wants and she answers, “a baby.”  Not a husband, not to fall in love, but a baby.

So, why is the greatest of human emotions,  considered too frivolous to be the driver of a story? Perhaps because that’s the way it is in real life too.  We teach our children to be achievers, to build careers, to be good people, but does a mother ever say to her daughter,  “Never mind all that stuff.  You can fail at school.  You can never have a job.  I don’t care.  Just find your true love.”  No, we train for, practice for and strive for career, money, power, and a nice car.  Love, the most important factor in life, is supposed to be a by-product.

For all that romances are denigrated as formulaic, I believe they are harder to write than other genres.  The writer of a mystery novel can fulfil the premise of the genre by solving the crime.  She may choose to develop sub-plots around a love interest, or a family feud, or saving the environment, but these are subplots, not necessary to the genre expectation.

In a romance, we must find true love for the hero and heroine, but we have to do it as an aside.   The writer of romance needs at least two plots in every book, the external goal and the love story.  The writer of inspirational romance needs three — the initial goal, the love story, and the God story.  Not an easy assignment.

So, what do you think, dear readers?  Have you ever read a book where the heroine’s stated goal is to find true love?  Would you be interested in a heroine who devoted her life to finding a soul-mate?

Please share your thoughts in  the comments below.

Sign up for my newsletter for a chance to win a free copy of  Her One and Only.

Contest closes March 31,2016.

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