Saturday, 23 December 2017

Book Review: Room of Marvels
On one of our pastor's first Sundays at our old church, he said he and his wife wanted to reclaim the word and notion of "imagination". As a fiction writer, I was inspired and encouraged by his bold statement from the pulpit. I often felt my dabblings in creative writing were something to be slightly ashamed of.

Sometime afterward, I considered imagining heaven would be a worthy pursuit. I was excited to try, but once I began I came up with almost nothing. Golden streets, a big city, angels. I wanted to imagine, but I couldn't get far. I gave up. Unlike James Bryan Smith in Room of Marvels, I didn't consider meeting the people there. Smith does and in doing so, has written a poignant book. While his book is fiction and doesn't claim to be fact, it is a fascinating imagining of what heaven will be like.

The story behind Room of Marvels makes the novel even more important. Smith himself experienced the deaths of a close friend, his young daughter and his mother within two years. Understandably, he was left with deep grief and unanswered questions. This book became his therapy.

In the book, Tim, the main character, attends a silent spiritual retreat to help him cope with the deaths of his best friend, daughter and mother. He struggles with the stillness and silence but is encouraged by his spiritual director to rest and meditate on a passage in Luke. After a couple of days, Tim is still feeling desperate. He prays that God will speak to him and falls asleep. Then he dreams of a cottage where he meets his old barber, a kind and friendly man who died several years ago. The story continues with him being led through different exercises by various important people in his life which strip away guilt, shame, his mask of perfection and tendencies to control. These people and experiences help prepare him for entrance into the room of marvels.

I enjoyed this book much more than I expected. It reminded me of other books including Paul Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress, The Last Battle by C.S. Lewis and Henri Nouwen The Genesee Diary. It's a little bit raw in places, but it is heartfelt and deeply moving. I recommend it as a kind of friend to someone walking in grief or as a guide to someone wishing to better understand the process. 

Wednesday, 20 December 2017

Write Brain Workbook Prompt Post #2

I posted yesterday about using prompts from The Write-Brain Workbook. Here's another. I've use italics to show the prompt provided.

Very Touching
From The Write-Brain Workbook
by Bonnie Neubauer

Late night city streets were the perfect backdrop
For ice skating across the smooth pond.
Sharp edges threatened to trip my companion,
But I sailed across the frozen surface
In circuitous formation,
Winding past pitted marks.
My mind flowing with memories
Scratchy scarves and mittens,
Pebbled lakes and rivers.
I choked on tears.
My partner noticed nothing,
Stumbling across the pond,
Staring at his feet.

I recently learned at a workshop on Critical Creativity with Amy Burvall that writing prompts work because "Creativity works better with parameters.

Tuesday, 19 December 2017

Writing Prompts from The Write-Brain Workbook
I am so grateful my artist-friend Sylvia finds so many ways to encourage and spark my writing endeavours. For my fortieth birthday, she gave me The Write-Brain Workbook by Bonnie Neubauer. My Right-Brain wanted to tuck in and complete one a day right away, but work and other writing projects stymied my initial efforts and I shelved the book after February. Yesterday my poet-friend Susan suggested some small writing prompts over the holidays might be better than taking a total break. "I know just the thing," I said.

In true writer style, I feel the need to share even these small attempts. Here's one for today. I plan to share a few more.

"Describe the ideal place to write"

The post card arrived. I sat in the cafe along a cobbled street. The strains of a violin drifted from the window above, just a hind of Debussy. My tiny cappuccino cup clinked when I lifted it to sip the fragrant blend. I set it down and read the short inscription. "Dear Sam, We were overjoyed to see your latest book at the stand in Bath. We plan to join you soon. Am now delving into After His Heart." I flip the card, studying the photo of my mentor's former residence and return to my pen. I quickly disappear into my imaginary world of suspense.

Wishing you creativity over the holidays.

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

Book Review - The City of Ember
This is one of those books I wish I had written. How does someone write a book that is as interesting to adults as it is to children? DuPrau has created empathetic characters in Lina Mayfleet and Doon Harrow that are both innocent and mature.

Her imagined post-apocalyptic world is both ingenious, depressing and sweet. The science is present without dominating the story-line. I think it is her strong plot, however, that made it impossible to put this book down. The elements of suspense and mystery are strong. This is the perfect book for a child and parent book club. 

Monday, 20 November 2017

Book Review: The Last Neanderthal by Claire Cameron
What I've really enjoyed about Claire Cameron's books so far (see my review of The Bear here), are her ideas. I can imagine her  wondering about something interesting and suddenly it grows into a story. In The Last Neanderthal, Cameron begins wondering about the fact that Neanderthals and modern day humans share a small percentage of DNA. So how did that first meeting go? 

Cameron tells the story through two lenses, first through Rose, an archaeologist who makes an incredible discovery in France and then through Girl, the very Neanderthal Rose uncovers. Cameron's writing style is fresh and clear. She creates empathetic characters and her stories are never predictable. I get the feeling she really cares about her characters.

My one question, as a fellow mom who has watched the movie The Croods countless times, is if this movie inspired her in any way. The opening scene, Girl, Big Mother and Him really reminded me of the Croods. I could be wrong. 
Maybe it was just settled there in her subconscious. Haha. My book Taking Comfort was partially inspired by Veggie Tales. Can't help wondering if this happens to other parent-authors!

Friday, 22 September 2017

Book Review: The Long Way Home
This is book ten in Louise Penny's Chief Inspector Gamache series. I enjoyed how this book returned to the world of art. Clara Morrow takes a central role when her husband Peter goes missing. Penny is brilliant in recreating her series with each book. No book follows a formula.

In The Long Way Home the characters research and travel from Three Pines to Montreal to Quebec City to Baie-Saint-Paul to Tabaquen. I wonder if Penny writes about these places just so she has an excuse to visit them. It certainly feels as though the reader is travelling along with the characters. It's fascinating to have the story lighting the way.

I can't recommend these books highly enough. It was another satisfying read, although I missed having the grumpy Jean-Guy from earlier books. I'm sure he'll be back. I'm glad he got to be relatively happy for one book!

I especially enjoyed this description on p. 76. "The bar was, in fact, a library. . . Where Jane Austen could sit and read. And get drunk, if she wanted." :)

Sunday, 17 September 2017

Pastors' Wives Book Review
I found this book by Lisa Takeuchi Cullen while looking for an agent for my book After His Heart, a novel imagining King David as a modern day worship pastor in a megachurch told from the point of view of three of his wives. I was charmed by Lisa's blog and her description of Pastors' Wives. The setting is megachurch Greenleaf in Atlanta. The book begins with Ruthie and her husband moving to Atlanta to work at Greenleaf Church. The story is told from three points of view, Ruthie, Candace Green, wife of the senior pastor and Ginger, wife of Timothy Green, pastor of Newleaf Church.

The most interesting aspect to me was that Ruthie does not share her husband's faith. It was fascinating to see the inner workings of Greenleaf through her eyes. From Lisa's blog, it seems that Ruthie's perceptions are similar to the author's. Lisa discovered the lives of pastors' wives while on assignment with Time magazine. She was so intrigued that after writing her article, she says "the women (she) interviewed kept bothering (her)." She was inspired to create a TV series about Pastors' Wives which turned into this novel.

I was also drawn to this novel because I am a pastor's wife. However, I would have to say the experiences in this novel are almost entirely foreign to me. I think this if for three reasons. Number 1, we have never belonged to a megachurch. Number 2, we have always lived in Canada. And number 3, this is a work of fiction so there is way more drama. Thank goodness my life is not like theirs!

Lisa is an excellent writer and especially skilled at creating layered, realistic characters. She creates brilliant twists and turns in her plot. While this novel features a plethora of Christian characters, it is not a Christian novel. Rather than trying to bring the reader to Christ, this novel uses Christian characters and setting to tell a great story. I recommend it and look forward to reading more by this clever author.

Saturday, 2 September 2017

Meeting Louise

Louise Penny appears at St. Andrew's Wesley Church on Monday, August 28
I have been a big fan of Louise Penny since my friend Dianna recommended her books in 2015. I've read the first nine books and am working on book ten. I've written several reviews for her books including Still LifeBury Your Dead, The Murder Stone, and How The Light Gets In. Penny has the gift of writing intriguing, intelligent, suspenseful and compassionate murder mysteries. They also have some surprisingly funny moments. So, when I got an email from Vancouver Wordfest saying she was coming to town, I had to go.

I invited my friend Sue who is a fellow Penny fan and we arranged to go together to St. Andrew's Wesley United Church on Monday, August 28. It was a sweltering evening, somewhere around 30° Celcius. The church filled up early with hundreds of Penny fans. Everyone looked as excited as I felt to hear from this talented Canadian author. 

The moderator for the evening welcomed us to "The city's largest sauna" and he wasn't far off. Women in every direction fanned themselves with any paper they could find. But it was worth it to hear from this well-spoken former CBC journalist. 

Here are some of the things I will remember about the evening:

Louise thinks of her characters through the lens of Helen Prejean's quote "People are more than the
Some of the incredible stained glass at St. Andrew's Wesley
worst thing they have ever done in their lives." She said this gives her compassion for her characters.

Louise said writers need to write their first draft with their playful, creative selves. Leave the critic for the revisions.

Penny does research to a certain point and then makes the story work for her, even if she doesn't get all of the facts right.

Her husband died about a year ago. Louise said she took 6 weeks to two months off of writing, but when she returned to her book, she found it comforting and healing. Her husband is the inspiration for her main character, Chief Inspector Armand Gamache and it feels like, through continuing to write his character, her husband remains close.

I am so glad I went and I am thankful I still have more Louise Penny books to read. 

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Book Review: Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

I was looking for On Writing by Stephen King to give to my Dad for Christmas. The book store did
not carry the book, but the bookseller insisted Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott was even better. "Even my friends who don't write loved this book. It's hilarious!" With no time left to shop, I took her word for it and bought the book for my Dad.

A year and a half later, he lent me the book. (I'll admit, I pestered him about it ever since I gave it to him!) While I wouldn't say it is better than On Writing, I would say it is as good as On Writing. They are, of course, writing about different experiences and genres, but they had some striking similarities. Both are recovering alcoholics. Both encourage you to write every day and both are excellent storytellers.

I highly recommend this book to all writers. It gives excellent advice on why it is important to write, even if you never get published. I gives writing dignity far beyond publication.

It reminded me that writing a book as a gift is a wonderful idea. My book Expectations was a birthday gift to my sister. I think my other books were gifts to myself; books I wanted to read. I want to try Lamott's suggestion to write a book as a gift to a writer I really enjoy reading. She also recommended writing letters to friends and family, describing important things in detail to be remembered. Lamott had beautiful, poignant things to say about writing, reading and life throughout her book. While I recommend you read it for yourself, here are a few gems:

"Ever since I was a little kid, I've thought that there was something noble and mysterious about writing, about the people who could do it well, who could create a world as if they were little gods or sorcerers." (xxvii)

(Lamott's answer to why she writes.) "Then I add that other than writing, I am completely unemployable." (xxviii)

"Books help us understand who we are and how we are to behave." (15)

"Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts." (25)

"The writer is a person who is standing apart, like the cheese in 'The Farmer in the Dell' standing there alone but deciding to take a few notes." (97)

"I honestly think in order to be a writer, you have to learn to be reverent. If not, why are you writing?" (99)

"Becoming a writer can also profoundly change your life as a reader. One reads with a deeper appreciation and concentration, knowing now how hard writing is, especially how hard it is to make it look effortless." (233)

"Writing and reading decrease our sense of isolation. they deepen and widen and expand our sense of life: they feed the soul." (237)

Thursday, 3 August 2017

Summer Reading: Audiobook edition

Our family recently returned from a two week family vacation that covered 3 provinces, over 3000 kilometres and at least 40 hours in the car with two 40-somethings, a new teenager and a ten-year-old. We learned several years ago that the best way to do this is with a stack of audiobooks.
This year, our family listened to several Stuart McLean stories from the Vinyl Cafe, Louis Sachar's Wayside School Series and our favourite The Tiger in the Well (Sally Lockhart #3) by Phillip Pullman. We listened to the first book in this series (The Ruby in the Smoke) the summer before and loved the story, so we picked up what we thought was book 2. Unfortunately we missed the book between, but we were still able to enjoy and follow the story.

Expectations on amazon
I've been hoping to turn one of my books into an audiobook. I looked into Audiobook Creation Exchange which sells audiobooks on Audible, amazon and iTunes, but at first, they weren't open to Canadian clients. Then, just before our holiday, I received the good news that now accepts Canadian authors. I signed up as soon as I could and submitted a script for potential actor/producers to read. I began to lose hope when I hadn't received an audition before I left. A few weeks later, I had a message. Someone was willing to narrate my book!

It was a thrill to hear my book Expectations, read by a British woman. I listened several times and shared it with my husband and kids. They confirmed that she was the one. She has currently accepted my offer and I am awaiting her first 15 minutes. I will be sure to post with updates. Can't wait!

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Book Review: Crafty TV Writing
I've taken a hiatus from my blog lately. After finishing the 2nd draft of my 10th book, I decided it was time to try something different. I enrolled in a Scriptwriting class through Coursera and wrote a TV Pilot. Trying something new and getting feedback from my peers was both exhilarating and overwhelming. Which led me to read Crafty TV Writing by Alex Epstein.

I really enjoyed Epstein's style and voice throughout the book. He is both practical and entertaining and I think anyone who enjoys watching television would find this book interesting. It's even better for someone who wants to write for television.

Prior to my scriptwriting course, everything I knew about writing for TV I learned from watching Seinfeld. Which in hindsight, wasn't such a bad education. Epstein, however, adds to what I learned there. His book is divided into three parts: Thinking Inside the Box, The Writer's Toolkit and Working in TV Land. Part one dissects the technicalities of scriptwriting including the hook, characters, show bible, springboard and more. Epstein frequently refers to TV shows on air to illustrate his points. Part Two focuses on weakness in scripts and how to fix them including how to take and use criticism. Part Three outlines what it's like to work on a TV show and explains some of the different writing jobs.

The version I read was written in 2006. I don't think Epstein has updated his book since then. His TV references could use some more recent references and I had to wonder if some of the formatting and inner workings of television have changed since then. Still, I think it is well worth reading and feel I have a much better picture of what it would be like to work as a writer in television. Alex also shares a lot on his blog, which I plan to start reading.

Sunday, 30 April 2017

Book Review: All The Little Live Things

This novel by Wallace Stegner was first published in 1967. Retired couple, Joe and Ruth
Allston, move to the country in California to rest and try to recover from the death of their son. They are distant with their neighbours until Marian and John Catlin move in next door. Joe is instantly attracted to Marian and her optimistic, firm belief in the goodness and perfection of nature. He loves to argue with her and soon comes to feel that she is the daughter he's always wanted.

In opposition to all Joe values, a young hippie, Jim Peck, asks to squat on Joe's land. Joe wants to say no, but Jim has some sort of power over Joe, in that he reminds Joe of his son, Curtis. Jim is quick to disobey every rule Joe makes. He steals electricity and water, throws his garbage all over the place, has several friends move in, and builds himself a treehouse, when all Joe agreed to was a tent.

I found it difficult to empathize with Joe until he met Marian. His love for her and his devotion to her family when they discover her secret is admirable. Yet, I couldn't help wondering if Marian he would have loved her as much if she wasn't about to die. I never understood Jim Peck. He seems to be there as an annoyance to Joe whom Marian tries and fails to redeem. Most of the characters in this book are difficult to like. Ruth and Marian are the exceptions. I kept wondering what the book would be like if it were told from their points of view. Even Joe had trouble trusting his own perceptions.

Most of the book is within Joe's thoughts, feelings and ideas. It goes against everything I've learned about writing fiction. Yet it won The Commonwealth Club Gold Medal. It makes me wonder if fiction has really changed this much in 50 years. Perhaps it must when we consider how much the world has changed in that time. I learned a lot about the flora and fauna of California. 

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Book Review: Anna of the Five Towns
This is a very strange story, by modern standards. Of course, it was first published in 1902, so I should not be using modern standards, but I can't help myself. Anna is the daughter of a miser, living in a small town in England. They live extremely frugally while her father signs and accepts bank notes and interest on her behalf. Anna and her little sister Agnes attend a Wesleyan Sunday School where Anna teaches.

There seems to be some hope of escape for Anna. Firstly, in her coming of age. At twenty-one, she inherits a great deal of money. Rather than taking the money to at least buy some new clothes, Anna turns over her cheque book to her father and continues on as if nothing has changed. Except now her father wants her to chase down her creditors. The other form of hope comes in the person of Henry Mynors. Henry is kind and gentle and seems to admire Anna, for unknown reasons. I thought at one point he was just after her money, but this only seemed to be a bonus for him.

Anna is also embraced by the Sutton family after attending a revival meeting and coming away with mixed feelings. They are everything warm and generous, though they tend to spoil their daughter, Beatrice. Mrs. Sutton is especially lovely and the family invite her and Henry to join them on vacation on the Isle of Man. Here, I began to imagine Jane Fairfax on holiday with the Campbell's in Jane Austen's Emma, but it was nothing so light and fun. Instead, Anna is pensive and worried and Beatrice grows seriously ill.

I liked the book, but the ending was a disappointment. If Bennett wrote the book to be a suspenseful mystery, then his ending was a success. I never saw it coming. However, this did not seem to be written as a mystery and so the ending left me unhinged. What in the world was he trying to say? May have to dig into that one!  

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Writing Holiday: A Visit to Storybrooke

As a writer, I find it's easy to get stuck in a pattern. Writing at the same time of day, in the same place, with tea on hand is often a good way to keep the story going. But sometimes, a break in in the pattern is refreshing, life-giving, and inspirational.

On March 21, I had the opportunity to visit Steveston in Richmond, B.C. It was filming day on Moncton street for Once Upon A Time (OUAT) on Moncton St. I've been watching OUAT since its inception and now my kids are hooked as well. Steveston is a picturesque and interesting place to visit whether you're a Oncer or not. Here are a few recommendations, if you're ever in the area.

Take a walk down Moncton Street

Some of the signs from the show stay up year round, while others are are only in place for filming.

Building used at Storybrooke Library.
Photo S.Adkins

Storybrooke Shoestore and Five and Dime
Photo S.Adkins

Mr. Gold's Pawnshop
Photo S.Adkins
Filming Day

If you want to visit Steveston on an OUAT filming day, check out Richmond Tourism's Facebook Page or Twitter Feed. They post filming dates a few days beforehand. If you plan to watch, be prepared to stand quietly where security staff direct. My kids find this tedious, so we take plenty of breaks between takes to shop, eat, and walk.

 Spoiler alert!  We saw a couple of scenes from future episodes.  What can they mean?

Mr. Gold and a mysterious woman standing in front of an ambulance
Photo S. Adkins

Why is Henry in a neck brace?
Photo S. Adkins

Steveston and Richmond boast hundreds of unique shops. After three visits, we've only begun to explore. Tourism Richmond (aka Storybrooke Post Office) has excellent officially licenced OUAT merchandise.  Nikaido (aka Standard Clocks) has delightful tea blends, pretty tea sets, exquisite pens, and fine paper products. The kids enjoy the collection of toys offered at Splash Toy Shop (aka Five & Dime Neighbor's). No visit with children is complete without a visit to the Candy Dish where you can get everything from Taffy to Fudge to OUAT-inspired confections. It's Posh is another great shop filled with unique Canadian-made gifts, OUAT necklaces, and antiques.

It's Posh
Photo S. Adkins
Food and Coffee

We loved eating at Cannery Cafe (aka Granny's Diner). The interior is not the same as in the show, but you can order Emma's favourite - Grilled Cheese!
Granny's Diner
Photo S. Adkins
This time, we tried Dim Sum at East on One. They offer live seafood, fast and friendly service, and affordable prices. We highly recommend the deep fried shrimp dumplings!
East on One
Photo S. Adkins
Steveston Coffee Co. (aka Storybrooke Coffee) offers a Dark Swan Latte and cozy atmosphere while Rocanini Coffee Roasters Cafe provides siphon coffee, a full espresso bar, and kid's hot chocolate.

In case you totally want to nerd out with Jane Austen Connections. . .

In conclusion, I couldn't help wondering if Once Upon a Time has any Jane Austen connections. For an interesting read on secret clues within the show, try the Sharp Elves Society blog here: Theory of Jane Austen Once Upon a Time Connection

The show's spinoff, Once Upon a Time in Wonderland, featured an episode where Alice is introduced to Mr. Darcy as a potential suitor. (How did I miss this??)

I figured there must be some crossover between actors on Once and any Jane Austen related film, but the closest I could come up with is Maggie Grace who starred in the Jane Austen Book Club as well as on Lost with many of the other Once actors including Regina (Lana Parrilla), Belle (Emilie de Ravin), and Zelena (Rebecca Mader). If anyone can add to this, please leave a comment!

Monday, 20 March 2017

Book Review: Gathering Blue

I first came across this book when I was teaching at a school in Saskatchewan. I was subbing and it
was time for quiet reading, so I took up the book lying on the teacher's desk and got lost in Lois Lowry's riveting novel. I later learned that Gathering Blue fits into Lowry's Giver series, but while there are overlapping circumstances and characters, each book can be read and enjoyed on its own.

Gathering Blue begins with the death of Kira's mother, Katrina. Kira sits for four days in the Field of Leaving until her mother's spirit departs. Then she must return to her noisy, crowded village where the small cott she and her mother shared has been burned to the ground to fight the spread of illness. Not only that, but Vandara, a cruel and rough neighbour, demands Kira forfeit her land and leave the village.  Kira was born with a twisted leg, which usually leads to abandonment, but Kira's mother fought for her life. Kira uses her wit to survive a near-stoning and demands Vandara bring her petition before the Council of Guardians.

I loved the way this dystopian novel feels like it could be set in the past.  Rather than focusing on amazing technologies that replace humans, Lowry imagines a reversion to a hunting and gathering existence.  Kira and the other characters described in this novel are simple, yet fully developed.  I also adored the detail Lowry used to describe Kira's special gift in sewing, weaving and dying fabric.  Lowry writes a satisfying ending which ties the novel to The Giver, Messenger and Son.

I reread this book with the intent on studying Lowry's use of language and description, but was soon too wrapped up in the story. I think this is an incredible feat, especially when I already knew the ending. Twice this week, reviewers of my writing said I write for in a Young Adult style. At first, this was disheartening.  Then, I remembered Gathering Blue and decided writing for young adults is an honour.  Books I read at this time of life are the ones I remember most and had the most impact on the rest of my life. I highly recommend Gathering Blue to any reader, Young Adult or otherwise.  

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Book Review: Ordinary Grace

Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger is a fast-paced literary mystery filled with suspense and
universal themes.  The story is told from thirteen-year-old Frank Drum's, point of view.  Krueger cleverly uses Frank's inherent ability to eavesdrop in order to reveal clues and secrets along the way.  Frank, his younger brother Jake, older sister Ariel, father and mother are beautifully crafted, empathetic characters.  I enjoyed the fact that they are a likeable pastor's family.  There are very few good pastor's to be found in literature.

It was good to read a page-turner again.  I fully embrace my preference for plot-driven stories, although this book also has well-rounded characters and original descriptions.  I was surprised that I solved the mystery well before the book revealed the truth.  This is a rarity for me.  I'm often so swept up in story that I'm easy to trick.  Fortunately, the story is bigger than the mystery and I was still intrigued by themes of grace, life and death.

I have purposely not revealed the heart of the mystery in my review.  I don't want to give it away.  My one complaint about this book is that the ending moves too quickly.  Grief and anger are too soon overcome after death.  It was a bit too easy, even if miracles are involved.

Monday, 6 March 2017

Book Review: Jane and the Man of the Cloth
This is the second book in the Jane Austen Mystery Series by Stephanie Barron.  I'm afraid I've read them out of order,
but I think each book gives enough information to stand alone.  Once again, Barron does an excellent job of fitting the book into what we know of Austen's actual past.  Barron uses footnotes to point out where her imagined story fits into historical fact.  I greatly enjoy this mixture of fact and fiction.

Jane and the Man of the Cloth is set in historical Lyme and the mystery begins with the overturning of a carriage on the road between Bath and Lyme.  Jane's sister Cassandra is badly injured and they are forced to stay the night at a stranger's house at High Down Grange.  His manners are rough and barely civil, but Jane, Cassandra and their parents survive the night and make their way to Wings Cottage in Lyme.  Shortly afterwards, Jane wakes to find a man dead, hanging from a gibbet along the Cobb.  Jane's natural inquisitiveness plunges her back into her role as amateur detective.

I enjoyed the story, the setting and the characters.  It wasn't a quick read, but one that was worthwhile.  I always imagine it must be a delight to write these imaginative tales.  I agree with Stephanie Barron that Austen would have made a fine sleuth.

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Book Review: The Genesee Diary

“People expect too much from speaking, too little from silence. . .” p. 134

I first heard of Henry Nouwen via quotations in our church in Alberta.  His thoughts and skill with
words drew me to read more.

I took my time with this book, as I think is fitting.  It takes time to let these lessons and ideas find purchase in your heart and mind.  I highly recommend it for spiritual guidance.  It would be ideal reading for the Lenten season.

Here are a few quotations which especially spoke to me.  (I realize now a lot of them have to do with writing):

“After a day without any writing. . . I often have a feeling of mental constipation and go to bed with the sense that I did not do what I should have done that day.” p. 121

“My idea of love proves to be exclusive. . . possessive. . . and manipulative.” p. 84

“Someone might read what I wrote and discover something there that I myself did not see, but which might be just as valid as my original thought.  It seems important to allow this to happen.”  (Not sure where this came from)

“John Eudes showed me how much my compulsive behavior could be seen as part of a way of being in which everything is experienced in terms of an “ought”.  I ought to be here, I ought to think such and such, etc.  This way of being has many levels and touches many aspects of the personality.  But when I am able to start seeing some of its symptoms from a certain distance and recognize them as symptoms of the “ought” compulsion, then I can slowly go all the way down to its roots and choose another way of relating to the world.
“As John Eudes pointed out, the “ought modality” is closely tied up with the identity struggle.  As long as I am constantly concerned about what I “ought” to say, think, do, or feel, I am still the victim of my surroundings and am not liberated.  I am compelled to act in certain ways to live up to my self-created image. But when I can accept my identity from God and allow him to be the center of my life, I am liberated from compulsion and can move without restraints.” p. 202-203

Saturday, 18 February 2017

Whale Watching: For Jenny

"I am quite convinced that, with very few exceptions, the sea-air always does good."  From Austen, Persuasion Vol. 1 Ch. XII

Sometimes I get a bit squeamish about writing a blog.  Even though I enjoyed a lot of what this Ted Talk had to say, it made me feel like a blog is the lowest form of communication .

I am inspired to keep writing by a few faithful readers, especially my sister.  I shouldn't be surprised as she was the inspiration behind my first published book Expectations.  So, to say thanks, here's a little video I thought she would enjoy from Monday, Feb. 13.  (If you look hard enough, you can see the whales.)  Happy weekend!



Thursday, 9 February 2017

The Woman in White: Book Review

I knew nothing about this classic when I picked it up on my friend Angela's recommendation.
 Neither did I realize the great length as the initial copy I had from the library was a small edition with miniature print.  I could not finish it in three weeks, so borrowed my mother's copy.  She bought it because she read it was one of Nora Ephron's favourite books.  This copy revealed I was in for a 772 read!

This book is categorized as a Gothic novel.  Most of my knowledge of the Gothic novel is based on Jane Austen's satirization of the genre in Northanger Abbey.  This book tells a great mystery and is filled with memorable characters.

Wilke Collins was a good friend of Charles Dickens and I could see similarities in his characterizations and dialogue.  I was also intrigued by the narration of the story.  It is told in letter form from several character's points of view.  Collins does an excellent job of writing in different voices.  Experimentation with narrative voice seems popular in classic novels.  While most of our modern
Banff Springs Abbey
novels are told by a nebulous third person, Collins, the Brontes and Austen (in Lady Susan) enjoy telling their stories as letters.  There is something personal about this format if one imagines they are the intended recipient of the letters.

Collins epistolary style serves a distinct purpose in The Woman in White.  The initial narrator, Walter Hartright, intends to tell the of the mysterious Woman in White in order to set it straight.  In many ways, Hartright acts as a detective in this story.  I enjoyed the development of his character throughout the novel.  He at first seems to be a Mama's boy with little worldly experience, but the mystery itself reveals the strength and determination of his character.

The novel features two unforgettable Italian characters.  Professor Pesca at first seems earnest and ridiculous and his quaint turns of phrase are expertly recorded, but he later becomes and integral piece of the puzzle.  Count Fosca is another larger than life character and I would love to see him well played on screen or stage.
Marian Halcolmbe is a worthy assistant to Hartright's detective work.  She is strong and courageous, but a bit inhuman in her selflessness.  Her Uncle Frederick Fairlie is another memorable character, not unlike Mrs. Bennet in his nervous confinement, but one hundred times more harmful.

I enjoyed the mystery of the book and was continually surprised by the way Collins put the puzzle together.  The language was enjoyable, but it took some effort to get through 772 pages.  I couldn't help wondering how a modern editor would change this book! 

Friday, 3 February 2017

"Something that will amaze the whole room"

``Both,'' replied Elizabeth archly; ``for I have always seen a great similarity in the turn of our minds. -- We are each of an unsocial, taciturn disposition, unwilling to speak, unless we expect to say something that will amaze the whole room, and be handed down to posterity with all the eclat of a proverb.''  Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice, Vol. 1 Chapter XVIII

This is one of my favourite quotes from Pride and Prejudice.  It's one of those precisely-worded descriptions that make me say "Yup, that's me."  So maybe that's why, 15 years later, the following still bothers me. 

In order to get into the College of Education, I had to pass an interview.  The three experienced teachers tasked with letting me into the college asked me the following perplexing question:  

"If you had a teacher friend tell you she didn't want to continue teaching because it is too difficult nowadays, what would you tell them?"

I wonder how Subgirl would have
answered the question?
My answer was something like this.  "Firstly, I would tell them they should probably talk to their principal because I'm not even a teacher yet, so I'm probably not the best person to give advice.  Secondly, I might tell them teaching has always been difficult.  While families today may struggle more with divorce and remarriage than in the past, I know my grandfather went to a one-room school house where one teacher taught 50 students in all grades.  Most of her students spoke only German while she only spoke English."

Their blank stares and puzzled expressions told me this was not the answer they were looking for.  I failed to "amaze the whole room."  

I still think I gave a fine answer.  I would love to know the answer they were actually looking for.  

I made it into the College of Education and have had many wonderful years of teaching, but it's just something that pops up once in a while and makes me wonder. 

Friday, 20 January 2017

Sunshine in January

I once had a poet friend ask me if the poems in my book Defacing Poetry were meant to be well-written.  Hahaha.  I can only assume this means they aren't great.  Even though I'm no poet, I can't help but indulge myself in a poem once in a while.  This sunny, warm day in January demanded verse.  This one is illustrated with photos to help those who dare to read on.

Sword ferns spreading tentacles

Rainwater streams glucking a refreshing refrain

Hemlocks holding steady
Hello the jolly holly

Arbutus spreading arms to heavenly views

Warm winds boxing with cold

A little video as well:

Sunday, 8 January 2017

Once Upon a Book Club: Part Three

It was February, 2010.  The doorbell rang.  Hurray!  My new book club arrived with their books and winter coats.  A couple of brave souls tried the Negus.  "It's wicked!" said Christine, although she turned down a second cup.

We gathered in the living room on mismatched couches with the propane fire glowing.  It wasn't exactly Regency, but it was the best I could do.  We found the rose water in the Little Iced Cakes a surprising (and not necessarily nice) taste on our modern Canadian palates.

Usually our gatherings begin with sharing personal stories and troubles, although I don't recall what we discussed that night.  I remember that we turned the talk toward the book sooner than we usually did.  Perhaps we all wanted to get it over with.

I asked the questions I'd prepared about my book Expectations (See Once Upon a Book Club: Part Two).  Here's what I remember of the answers:

"The language was easy to follow."
"I hated Lydia.  She was horrible."  (This made me laugh.  I loved writing Lydia, but I may have gone too far.)
"Some parts were so well written while others weren't.  I'm not sure why."  (I was grateful for the honesty, but I wish I had asked which scenes I should fix.)
"I liked the part with the pig." (See chapter XII).

All in all, my friends were extremely kind in their reviews, but the night was all a bit awkward.  I'm grateful they were willing to try the book club experiment, but I haven't repeated it since.  I'd love to hear if any other writers have tried this!  

For a great story about the good, the bad and the ugly in book clubs, I highly recommend a Morley's Book Club by Stuart McLean

Saturday, 7 January 2017

Once Upon a Book Club: Part Two

Once I baked my Little Ice Cakes and placed my Negus in the crockpot (See Once Upon a Book

Club: Part One
 for details), I settled the kids into bed and began to worry that having my own book as the book club that month was a mistake.  What if no one came?  What if they all hated the book?

Like the book nerd I am, I prepared some questions for our book discussion.


1. What was your experience with Pride and Prejudice before reading Expectations? (ie movie, book, heresay etc.)

2. Did you find the language difficult and if so, did it become easier at some point?

3. Did you find the Austen characters I used stayed true to Pride and Prejudice?

4. Which character could you best relate to? Least relate to?

5. Was there a particular scene you found especially humorous?

6. Were you disappointed with any of the occurrences in the novel?

7. Were you surprised by any of the customs? If so, which ones?

Did anyone show up?  Follow my blog and find out!

Friday, 6 January 2017

Once Upon a Book Club: Part One

I've been very lucky in book clubs.  Three times, I've found a group of women who share a love of books, but more importantly the desire to encourage and support one another.

When I was fairly new to our Alberta home, I published my first book, Expectations: A Continuation of Pride and Prejudice.  I had a long list of ways to promote and distribute my book.  I couldn't wait to share it.  I dreamed of book signings and readings and I wanted it to be part of my newfound book club.  The women were willing to try it out and buy their own copies of my creation.
I checked out The Jane Austen Cookbook from JASNA Calgary and imagined making each of the strange recipes.  In the end, I settled on Negus and Little Iced Cakes.  Here are the ingredients for Negus:

1 pint port wine
1 lemon
12 sugar lumps
5 cups boiling water
Grated nutmeg

I followed the directions which included rubbing the lemon with the sugar lumps, and kept the concoction warm in my modern crock pot.

The Little Iced Cakes required rose flavouring which I'd never heard of and couldn't find in our little rural town.  After searching the internet, I found a small convenience store in Calgary which sold the ingredient.  I stepped into the culinary wonderland with my then two-year-old son in tow.  We found the pretty clear bottle along the shelves and waited in line to pay.  Ahead of us was a man with a long white beard.  My little guy said "Look mummy.  It's Moses!"  A memorable experience, indeed.

Follow my blog to read the rest of the story!