Survival by Barbara Trendos – Book Review

Survival-new-picStalag Luft III was a WWII German POW camp for officers, made famous by the 1960s movie, The Great Escape, starring Steve McQueen.

I met Canadian author, Barbara Trendos, in 2010 at Sabino Springs Writers’ Retreat in Arizona. She has since written and published her book about her father’s war experience with the RCAF and incarceration as a POW in Stalag Luft III, titled, Survival: My Father’s War as an Air Force Gunner and POW, published by Stone’s Throw Publication.

Trendos’ book reminds us that the newly trained fliers from Canada’s RCAF training schools were merely boys, some in their late teens, but most in their early 20s, eventually flying under Royal Air Force Command in Britain. Training was diverse, quick and intense. They were green, away from home and eager to do their bit for king and country. And at times, they were afraid.

Imagine your plane being strafed, going down over enemy territory. Never before jumping from a plane by parachute, you poise on the edge of an open, burning plane, mustering your nerve to throw yourself into complete darkness at 12,000 feet. Famously the Air Force lost many of their young fliers in that frightening situation.

Barb’s father, Albert Wallace, is 96-years old now. Like many of his luckier flying buddies who survived the drop, he was captured in Germany and held with thousands of other POWs for 2 years in Stalag Luft III. The men lived with daily shortages, overcrowding, boredom, cold, heat, deprivations and punishments at the mercy of German command. (Wallace made a lifelong commitment to the Red Cross for the life-saving packages that helped him and others survive their ordeal.) For a while, he bunked in the room at the same time the planners of the great escape furiously dug the entry to the famous tunnel, a daring escape ending in the death of over 50 men.

After 2 years, as rumours of German capitulation circulated in the camp, the prisoners were force-marched long distances in bitter January weather to other locations to avoid Russian liberators, hundreds dying enroute from exposure, illness and starvation.

Barbara elected to tell the story in her father’s voice in Log Book form. It’s an effective technique to write in a young man’s voice of the era, the reader noticing how the boy’s maturation under difficult circumstances brought decisions that likely saved his life.

For WWII Air Force buffs the book is a valuable source of information about early days of training in Canada, the Air Force assemblage in Britain, and insights into the conditions of German POW camps that did not abide by the Geneva Convention for decent standards of treatment of prisoners.

Barbara Trendos travelled a great deal for her research. She tapped into other prisoners’ log books, contacted children of POWs and investigated military records. The thoroughness of information told to us in this short diary is captivating.

The Jesuit Letter by Dean Hamilton – Review

the-jesuit-letter-cover1The Jesuit Letter

Dean Hamilton

365 pages

Published by TyburnTree Publishing, 2014

ISBN 9780993917400

The Historical Novel Society recently selected The Jesuit Letter as Editor’s Choice for their winter issue, and long-listed the book for the Historical Novel Society Indie Award.

Author Dean Hamilton’s book, The Jesuit Letter, set in summer 1575, is the first book in a series about Englishman Christopher Tyburn. We learn from back story that four years earlier as a young scholar, Tyburn left Cambridge University to join Queen Elizabeth’s army in support of Protestant rebels in the Netherlands. The rebels were in bloody religious warfare with their Catholic Spanish masters. Tyburn survived the cruel conflict by his wits and his sword, barely cheating death.

The story begins with Tyburn returned from war and working as a player with a troupe of entertainers travelling by caravan from London to Strafford, Warwickshire. Late at night the rowdy thespians discover a fellow-player’s murdered body on a dark road. Around the dead man’s shoulders is the handsome cloak he’d loaned to Tyburn earlier that day; and in his hand, a waxy Papist amulet. Thugs had spied Tyburn wearing his friend’s borrowed cloak while intercepting a coded letter between a Jesuit priest and an unknown correspondent. Tyburn realizes the hideous roadside death that killed his friend was meant for him. How can he right this injustice?

Tyburn is known by his fellows as a gripper, an Elizabethan term for someone who is curious and tenacious. While those around him don’t always understand his motives, Hamilton shows the reader a flawed protagonist with underlying decency and sense of fair play.

img_1492It helps to know a little background. Although avarice among wealthy landowners underscored the 1558 – 1603 reign of Queen Elizabeth I, the Elizabethan period was one of England’s most glorious eras, an age of discovery and exploration. Central to Hamilton’s theme in The Jesuit Letter, is Elizabeth’s establishment of the dominant Protestant Church of England.

In her sister’s earlier reign, Catholic Queen Mary established the Catholic Church’s supremacy, which led to the persecution and execution of resistant Protestants, considered heretics and disloyal to the Crown. When religious supremacy reversed with Elizabeth’s Protestant ascendancy, Elizabeth chose tolerance for practicing Catholics, insisting only on their loyalty to her, and discretion in their worship. That leniency would change over the years.

Hamilton’s prologue introduces us to the secretive behavior of wealthy Catholic landowner, Edward Arden. He hires and acts as protector to a Catholic priest, Hugh Hall. The priest conducts secret masses at Arden’s manor home. Prominent Protestant neighbours resent Arden. They in turn hire thugs to intercept his letters to a Jesuit priest, to prove to Queen Elizabeth that Arden’s clandestine actions are disloyal to his oath to the Crown, and therefore treasonous and punishable by death. Providing evidence of Catholicism (often obtained unlawfully) could lead to the Crown confiscating Arden’s family lands and removing his titles. A grateful Queen was known to award those same lands to conniving and snitching neighbours.

Thrown into this cauldron is a writ issued by Pope Pius sanctioning the right of Catholics in England to deprive Elizabeth of her throne. The Pope sends undercover Jesuit priests throughout England to expand Catholic influence. Finally, Elizabeth orders all Jesuits and Catholic priests be driven from the kingdom.

img_1494It’s at this point of history that the story in The Jesuit Letter begins, narrowing larger themes of religion and persecution to the affected lives of players, townspeople, minor officials and ruffians in Warwickshire. A whiff of suspicion about a Jesuit priest’s correspondence between wealthy Arden and the Pope’s emissaries unleashes an evil plot.

Hamilton cleverly includes characters that lived in that era: 11-year old William Shakespeare; prominent landowner, Edward Arden, and his hired priest, Hugh Hall, who is thinly disguised as a gardener; and despicable Richard Topcliffe, a sadistic aristocrat who relishes the hunt for Catholic sympathizers. The Earl of Leicester, known advisor of Queen Elizabeth (and lover) appears, too.

We wonder why this well-educated but impoverished returning soldier is a player with the Earl of Worcester’s Men travelling troupe. It isn’t until the last few pages that we discover the depth of the plot. Suffice to say that performing troupes had far-ranging mobility in Elizabethan times. Wealthy patrons arranged for troupes’ flags, liveries, letters and writs to protect them from Bailiffs and Puritans. The rich hired players to entertain in manor houses, and the poor clustered in local inn yards, enthralled by costume and song. Tyburn’s early education and steady demeanour allow him to pass comfortably between wealthy and poor alike. Although players are poorly regarded in a laboring society, they offer lively diversions with political songs, Morrish dances and playacting at a time when very few can read or write.

Hamilton’s plotting is masterful. Through flashbacks and third person perspectives he leads the reader through intrigue and near impossible situations. Minor characters, often thugs and thieves play roles to advance the story. Wealthy aristocrats plot devious schemes, hiring unscrupulous back alley ruffians to carry out dirty deeds for a few sovereigns. We peek into the contrasts between arduous workaday merchants, tanners and farmers toiling for bread, severely limited by the whims of the prosperous and privileged. The poor are hopelessly poor, the merchants hold tightly to emerging powers, and Puritans add severity to morality.

img_1496Much of the action takes place in the market town of Stratford situated on the Avon River. Hamilton introduces a distinct Elizabethan atmosphere with colourful settings in cobbled inn yards and dingy public houses where patrons complain the ale tastes more like piss. The players’ caravan traverses moonlit, rutted roads through pastoral fields. Thugs populate filthy back alleys. Merchants and councilmen ensure successful markets by tightening their strict codes. Rich and powerful disdain all.

Eleven-year old Will Shakespeare plays an important companion role in Tyburn’s path to discover the truth behind the plot of the greedy, grasping deBrage family and salacious Richard Topcliffe. Balancing many characters of varying backgrounds is a talent Hamilton writes convincingly. He feeds the reader just enough information in twenty-one chapters to make us eager to read on. Tension builds in each chapter, making readers fear there is no resolution to desperate escapes and maltreatment of innocent victims. There is a thread of romance for Tyburn in this story, which at times seems impossible to fulfill.

The climax of the story is well crafted. Hamilton keeps the reader on the edge in a final showdown between good and evil. I want to shout: Don’t go in there, for a nail-biting scene I feared would turn the tables on our hero.

Hamilton has a gift for capturing the language of the Elizabethan period. Only dedicated research could make believable old terms (with explanatory footnotes). Whether through curses, pleadings, teasing or descriptive passages, this even-handed sprinkling never gets in the way, only enhances.

img_1495Sir Thomas Lucy:

“The infernal machinations of the Papists and their anti-Christ Pius are legion. They would overthrow our Blessed Sovereign and place a reign of terror and devil-worship in her place. They would burn the righteous and lift high the traitors that lurk amongst us. They would,” he spat, “ place a Spaniard or that bitch-queen Mary on England’s throne.” Later … “Despite our exquisite queen’s expressions of tolerance for their heresies, or more like because of it, English Papists are growing in numbers. Clemency! Hah! It’s a fool’s policy. They breed treason like whores breed bastards. Show me a Papist and I will show you one with a liar’s visage, deformed of countenance and of evil manner. Vipers breed vipers, and we must ferret out this particular nest and expunge it”.

Tyburn is a likeable character: taciturn, discreet, principled and loyal. He brings out these qualities in his accomplices. He drives himself to unravel mysteries and expose plotters implicating him in their dark schemes. We root for him. We want him to get the girl in the end. We want him to protect children and the wronged. The Jesuit Letter is a satisfying read.

A 5-page sneak preview of Hamilton’s 2016 book that continues Tyburn’s exploits, titled, Thieves Castle, and named for a fictional London gang, presents at the end of the book. I’m curious about the troubles Hamilton imagines for Tyburn in the second of this series of historical fiction.

13995045Interview with Dean Hamilton

How did you publish your book?

TyburnTree Publishing is my own publishing name. I decided to create a self-publishing identity. The basic process you follow in any self-publishing endeavor is: Write. Edit. Rewrite. Edit again. Edit again. Edit again (and so on) until you reach the point where you think you have a viable book. Where that point lies is dependent on the author.

With self-publishing you own the entirety of the process. The end results, along with the mistakes, are dependent on you. How much work a self-published author puts into ensuring the quality of the end result may vary considerably. In my case, I made the decision to self-publish after sending out about 35 – 40 agent queries on my finished work. I found the lack of response disheartening, so rather than continue to reduce my own morale and confidence in my writing, I decided to move forward and self-publish.

Why did you choose Kickstarter for your project?

Crowd-funding projects offer many different sites, but the two most prominent were Kickstarter and IndieGo-Go. The key difference between them is that Kickstarter forced me to set a specific fiscal goal. If I failed to meet the set budgeted goal, I would receive nothing. I felt the discipline of a set goal would force me to develop the project and focus on my work. With IndieGo-go you keep whatever funds you raise. Running a crowdsourcing campaign of any type is a tremendous amount of work in a very short time frame.

I used the raised funds for hiring a professional editor and a professional graphic designer to develop the cover. At the end of the day I raised just over $3000 from about 45 backers, all of whom invested in the development of the book. It was important to me that the book should be of the highest possible quality, to ensure readers received the best possible reading experience for their money. At the end of the day, self-publishing is a huge amount of work but intensely gratifying when you can hold your book in your hand.

What about the Elizabethan period appeals to you as a writer?

The Elizabethan era sits at the cusp of what could be considered the rise of the modern era at the end of the medieval world. The New World was being discovered. There were new schools of thought in art, literature and science. The Renaissance exploded across Europe, and in particular England, with the rise of the early theatre and Shakespeare. This environment spoke of tremendous cultural and societal flux.

As a writer, there is an endless fascination with the colour, ambiance and well-documented characters that sprang forth in the Elizabethan era. One of the things I’ve tried to do in my work is reflect a world outside the court and the nobility. Most fiction embedded in the Elizabethan era tends to be bodice-ripping tales of Court intrigue, set amidst the silken splendor of palaces. Mine tends to hang about in ale-soaked taverns, muddy streets and fetid back-alleys where cold steel by lantern light offers redemption or grim death.

What is your method for plotting the story?

The seeds of the Jesuit Letter sprang out of reading Stephen Greenblatt’s Will in the World, a biography of William Shakespeare. I ran across some of the questions related to how much exposure Shakespeare had as a child to the many travelling theatre troupes that rolled through Stratford; coupled with the notes about the sudden reversal of his father, John Shakespeare’s economic position after 1575 and linkages to his supposed Catholicism. That led me to pulling various threads together including the timely arrival of a theatre troupe along with a heinous murder. The more intricate aspects of the plot were threaded together over a three-year period of intensive research about the era.

Your use Elizabethan language very effectively. How did you go about researching for The Jesuit Letter?

My research involved a great deal of reading of original source documents, plus the creation of a fairly extensive glossary, along with pulling from existing works. I ended up with an extensive library on my shelves at home and a large annotated vocabulary spreadsheet.

Dean Hamilton works as a marketing professional in Toronto, Ontario. He is married with a son. His novella Black Dog won second place in Inkitt’s “Reclaim Time” story competition. The Historical Novel Society recently chose The Jesuit Letter as their Editor’s Choice selection for their winter issue and currently long-listed the book for the Historical Novel Society Indie Award. He is currently working on the second in the Christopher Tyburn series, Thieves Castle due in 2016.

See his Elizabethan blog: http://www.tyburntree.blogspot.com

Twitter: Tyburn__Tree

The Jesuit Letter available:

Amazon.com (or Amazon.ca , UK etc.)

Print Version: http://amzn.to/1LTtQOe

Kindle: http://amzn.to/1PqYlNS

Chapters /Indigo /Kobo

Through the Glass by Shannon Moroney – Book Review

 

readherbookelement13Canadian Bestselling Memoir based on Restorative Justice 

Would I marry a man who had served 10 years in prison for murdering a woman in a crime of passion? I asked myself this question before meeting author, Shannon Moroney, at Turquoise Waters Writers’ Retreat at Sandy Lake, Ontario in July 2014.

Allyson Latta, Copy Editor for Shannon Moroney’s book Through the Glass (published by Doubleday), arranged for Ms. Moroney to speak to a group of writers about her decision to write a memoir about a three-year period when the trusted husband she’d married only a month before, betrayed her by kidnapping and sexually assaulting two women.

After the shocking tragedy of the kidnappings and rapes, the author’s experiences, and her ensuing battle within our Canadian justice system, which failed to support her as a physically uninjured victim – victim nonetheless – is a story of outreach, survival and transformation. Ms. Moroney spoke to us for nearly 6 hours, not only about the sadness and concern she feels for the victims, but also about healing through the writing process, attaining an agent and acquiring a publishing contract.

She refused to allow her association with a perceived monster to dictate her humanity. We cannot forget that she lost a much beloved, but (unknown to her at the time) flawed husband. She lost her privacy. She lost her job as a high school Guidance Counsellor. She lost friends. She lost her sense of who she was as a person and the future she’d planned for her life.

At times the justice system dragged slowly through its complicated process, only to bluntly arrive at mind-boggling decisions that protect the rights of criminals, but left little room for protecting victims. Moroney’s determination to make sense of her husband’s role by staying in touch with him was controversial, and challenged some to believe that she was naïve, foolish, or (her worst fear) complicit.

But her belief that criminals also have rights for timely psychiatric treatment turned her into an advocate for change. Waiting 5 years for treatment in a system where there is one psychiatrist for 600 inmates went against all of her beliefs and training.

But you’d have to understand the influential principles of her birth family, and the career she’d chosen to help homeless and challenged youth in the justice system – a convincing argument for the woman’s sincerity and intellect. Before dating her husband, she interviewed her husband’s parole officer and prison psychiatrist many times to feel comfortable with the knowledge that her husband-to-be had paid his debt to society for his teen crime. The professionals confirmed that he’d been a model prisoner and fulfilled the requirements of his parole for many years. After speaking to Shannon and reading her book I’m convinced of Moroney’s positive nature.

In the aftermath of the crime, after years of knock-downs, Moroney suffered Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), anxiety, depression, weight loss and sleeplessness. Her family’s and close friends’ love and support sustained her through the fears, doubts, impoverishment of life and spirit and constant travel for jobs, court dates, prison locations and temporary places to stay.

There is redemption in her journey. Due in part to her belief in restorative justice she continues to fight for victim and prisoner rights. She returned to university and graduated with an MA, her dissertation based on a passionate interest in trauma recovery and restorative justice. Her life mission as an author and public speaker is to change treatments for prisoners, people who are often childhood victims themselves, and victims of criminal or traumatic crimes.

I was living in a landscape of broken dreams. As I tried to construct new ones, I found myself holding back with uncertainty. … I wanted to be able to trust and connect again. Shannon Moroney

Maeve Hughes, Botanical Artist – Review

Fiddleheads by Maeve Hughes Honourable Mention March 2014
Fiddleheads by Maeve Hughes
Honourable Mention March 2014

In April 2013, my sister, Maeve Hughes, and I crawled on hands and knees in local woodlands to photograph one of our favourite spring plants, the Trout Lily. We captured delicate stages of development as the plant sprouted from under dry winter leavesAs a Botanical Artist Maeve uses this photographic memory to create watercolour paintings, or coloured pencil drawings.

A year later, Toronto’s Todmorden Mills Papermill Gallery featured The Botanical Artists of Canada Juried Art Show titled The Four Seasons. Jurors, Pamela Stagg, Kathryn Chorney, and James Eckenwalder, selected 64 outstanding works for the exhibition. Artists submitted from Newfoundland, Quebec, Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia.

Artworks are juried before acceptance in the show. My sister achieved placement for four of her submissions in the Watercolour category.

Fiddleheads by Maeve Hughes, Honourable Mention March 2014
Fiddleheads by Maeve Hughes, Honourable Mention March 2014

See Maeve’s Coloured Pencil winning entry, Rosehips, from  November 2012 juried competition. This year Maeve earned two Honourable Mentions for Trout Lilies and Fiddleheads. Acclaim for her work makes crawling around damp woodlands in chilly spring weather worthwhile.

Months of preparation by the executive and membership of the Botanical Artists of Canada paid off with a well attended show. Heritage venue, Todmorden Mills, is an excellent locale for hosting an art show of this calibre. A record-breaking number of guests at the opening reception enjoyed a buzzing ambiance and delicious food and refreshments.

Congratulations to Best-in-Show winner, Quebec artist, Lilyane Coulombe, and to all selected artists who represented their categories.

I’m proud of my sister’s accomplishments. She is a serious student of Botanical Art, taking weekly watercolour classes at the Toronto Botanical Gardens with instructor Leslie Staples. And she meets monthly with a group of Coloured Pencil artists who appreciate the discipline of this art form. Botanical artists painstakingly study plants to reproduce incredible likenesses in various media. It’s delicate work, requiring a steady hand and dedication to perfection.

2014 Jurors:

Kathryn Chorney MScBMC is an avid nature journal-er, friend of fungi, and science/nature/medical illustrator. She is a full-time professor at Sheridan College where she teaches Scientific Illustration. An award-winning artist, Kathryn is a member of the Guild of Natural Science Illustrators (GNSI) as well as the Southern Ontario Nature and Science Illustrators (SONSI).

Pamela Stagg came across a hidden talent at a workshop at Toronto’s Civic Garden Centre in 1987, her first solo show came only a short time later in 1989, and in the same year three of her works were acquired by North America’s most important collection of botanical art. By 1991, she was awarded the world’s top prize for botanical illustration, the Royal Horticultural Society Gold Medal. Recently  a commission by the Royal Canadian Mint to design the Trillium Coin for the prestigious Pure Gold Coin series. Pamela’s book Roses: A Celebration, published by Northpoint Press in the Fall of 2003, containing more than thirty of her original paintings. It is available in major bookstores in Canada, the US and UK.

Dr. James E. Eckenwalder, Associate Professor in the University of Toronto’s Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology. Dr. Eckenwalder’s area of interest is plant systematics.

Funny, Funny Sonia Day

I’m taking baby steps for planting a little vegetable patch in the spring.

No, I’m not moving to the country. Years ago when I lived in the country for three years, every quirky thing about old houses and living in the country, author Sonia Day experienced, too (except she had trespassers growing marijuana in the woods. But somehow when Sonia writes about it, it’s funnier. I wasn’t as philosophical about finding mouse droppings in my cutlery drawer as Sonia was about tolerating squirrels in her walls.

Sonia Day's memoir Middle-Aged Spread - Moving to the Country at 50.
Sonia Day’s memoir Middle-Aged Spread – Moving to the Country at 50.

Sonia’s gardening column, The Real Dirt, appears every Saturday in the Living section of The Toronto Star Newspaper. I met her last week when she was guest speaker at the Markham Gardening Club meeting.

Sonia is funny — in a self-deprecating I’ve-got-a-secret brand of humour. She admits that as a girl, she had aspirations of becoming an actress. For us, she hams up her reading from her book with minor costume changes. I knew I was going to enjoy her writing when she likens buying real estate to sex:

Get to the fifty mark and those two little words, real estate (and especially country real estate) take on an irresistible ring. They become the most seductive words on the planet. In fact, often as not when you’ve achieved a certain maturity, at least in years, the prospect of a fling with real estate is like sex. Only better. You get all the same ingredients — the same lustful glances, the same thrill of discovery, the same need to compete with others who have more to offer than you do, the same agonies of rejection, the same orgasmic bliss of fulfillment if you get lucky in the end — yet there’s no need to take your clothes off.

Underlying the humourous descriptions of the characters she meets in the country, and the events that thwart Sonia’s plans to plant whatever she wants in her garden, she soon learns that the locals are a wealth of common sense about planting, that there is good reason for hunting, that dependable neighbours are a blessing, that nature is utterly mesmerizing when it’s not choking you with bindweeds, or eating the leaves off your baby plants, or scurrying in your house walls, or digging holes in the banks of your pond, or …

Sonia is polar opposite to gardening snobs she calls hoity horts, or tree-huggers she calls eco-evangelists. The country has taught her lessons: plant  for the conditions, prepare for nature’s unpleasant invasions and give way in degrees, appreciate your neighbours and take their advice, get a cat (or four), enjoy the beauty and adventure of each season, look up at the stars, listen to the coyotes howl. Sonia admits that she and nature are an imperfect twosome at times. She has responded by planting beautiful floral and vegetable gardens that thrive. She won’t waste her time and resources on bending the rules.

It is Sonia who gives me a garlic bulb from her garden. It’s my singular act of gardening before winter. Split the buds off the bulb and plant them in the soil. I won’t know if this will be a success until spring. (Update Spring/Summer 2013 – success!)

Sonia’s Books:

The Untamed Garden. A revealing look at our love affair with plants.

Incredible Edibles: 43 Fun Things to Grow in the City Praised as “a clever take on the vegetable gardening craze” by the Washington Post. Won Silver at the Canadian Cookbook Awards.

Highlights: lovely colour pictures by Barrie Murdock on every page. Easy to read advice about veggies, verbs and fruit that you can grow in the city. Also exciting recipes. Everything from Mojito mint to container-friendly tomatoes. All personally tested by Sonia.

Middle-Aged Spread, Moving to the Country at 50 a humorous memoir. Sonia buys, on impulse, a ramshackle homestead in the country–and discovers a brand new life plus a host of quirky characters.

The Urban Gardener: How to grow things successfully on balconies, terraces, decks and rooftops.

The Urban Gardener Indoors: How to grow things successfully in your house, apartment or condo.

The Complete Urban Gardener: How to grow things successfully indoors and out. Combines both the above books.

The Plant Doctor: A practical guide to having a healthy garden

Tulips: Facts and folklore about the world’s most planted flower

Alissa York and Terry Fallis

I attended Writers’ Community of Durham Region and Writers’ Community of York Region meetings and listened to two exceptional Canadian writers speak about their process.

Author Alissa York
Author Alissa York

ALISSA YORK published bestselling novels, Fauna (shortlisted for the Toronto Book Award), Effigy (shortlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize) and Mercy; stories from her short fiction collection Any Given Power have won both the Journey Prize and the Bronwen Wallace Award. She is 2013 (Feb – May) Writer in Residence for the Toronto Library.

“Receptivity” was her topic for the WCDR meeting. Many people ask Alissa where she gets her ideas for her novels. Beyond the obvious – newspapers, popular culture – she is open to and welcomes new ideas outside of her knowledge, figures out what she must do to expand on them, and finds the courage to go forward to learn what she needs to know from various sources. She keeps a detailed filing system for her notes (and warns to beware the rabbit hole of research), writes scenes and arranges them by character, writes them on index cards, writes from each character’s point of view, cuts them up and puts them on the floor to arrange into a story. By dissecting her current book, Fauna, Alissa invited us into characters’ attributes and what forces affect their lives before she writes her story.

Author Terry Fallis
Author Terry Fallis

TERRY FALLIS  guest speaker at WCYR and author of The Best Laid Plans and its sequel, The High Road, satirical novels of Canadian politics. His first novel, originally self-published 2007 won the 2008 Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour. McClelland and Stewart published it in September 2008. The book won the Gold Medal in the Independent Publisher Book Awards in the Regional Fiction – Canada East category. In 2010, the Waterloo Region chose The Best Laid Plans as winner of the One Book-One Community. In February, 2011, The Best Laid Plans was winner of CBC Canada Reads as the essential Canadian Novel of the Decade. A six-part mini-series based on the book will appear on CBC-Television.

The High Road was a finalist for the 2011 Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour, 2011. Up and Down, Terry’s third novel appears in September 2012.

Terry’s self-deprecating humour about his naivety as an emerging writer (after a political career and current Public Relations business) is always appreciated on author tours. We’ve all been where Terry was: emotionally uncertain, dashed and hopeful on the road to becoming a writer. But under the humour is a serious writer. He makes it clear that his process is methodical start to finish. He likes to make fun of his logical and boring engineer’s mind, not given to skipping around on the page. He plots carefully in a notebook before he works on a manuscript. From the time of writing his first novel to his current novel, Terry continues an unusual marketing tool, podcasting his stories in instalments from his website. He believes podcasting contributes to his success.

Both writers are funny, relaxed, knowledgeable and approachable. The meetings are a great way to connect with successful writers who are happy to share their process and encourage writers.

Bienvenue Oh Trout Lake Review

isbienvenue19poster_web_1-preview

Published review Bienvenue Oh Trout Lake in Stouffville Tribune Newspaper.

Markham Little Theatre players (and all little theatre players) deserve accolades for their devotion to great productions for no personal monetary gain, simply the joy of performing.

Knocked out by the professionalism of local playwright Neil A. Marrs’ second play (his first play P. S. Uncle Angus won Best Production for a Drama in 2011), I wrote a review for Bienvenue Oh Trout Lake that appears in The Stouffville Sun Tribune.

Players memorize, rehearse and deliver lines and hold down day jobs, too. A small army of behind-the-scenes volunteers construct sets, promote and sell tickets, create costumes, decorate sets, manage box-office, and more.

Give yourself a treat. Visit Stouffville’s Lebovic Centre for Performing Arts and Entertainment, located in the heart of Stouffville on Main Street behind the clock tower.

Markham Little Theatre is a not-for-profit organization, a registered charity and all-volunteer community theatre group, active since 1966.

 

 

Finalist for Whispered Words Anthology

img_33461Whispered Words, third in a series of  Writers’ Community of Durham Region’s annual prose contests received 220 international entrants.

I entered two stories in the Whispered Words contest: one humourous titled, Whisper Road, one serious titled Kidnapped; both as finalists and Kidnapped appears in the anthology.

 

Launch: Each spring a 3-person organizing committee (WCDR members: Ruth E. Walker, Theresa Dekker and Heather O’Connor) launch the short story contest. For a $20 fee writers submit 1,000 words for the opportunity to win $1,000, or two lesser money prizes, or honourable mentions, feedback on their writing skills and inclusion in a published anthology.

Behind the Scenes: For months each submission advances through the scrutiny of first level judging, which selects twenty-five finalists for the top-tier judging professionals’ consideration. All entrants receive feedback on their stories. The top twenty plus stories appear in an anthology published by Piquant Press. This year the esteemed judge assessing the winning and honourable mentions was author Antanas Sileika, director of the Humber School for Writers.

Author Deepam Wadds
Author Deepam Wadds

And the winner is … Deepam Wadds. Her winning entry titled, What’s Left, received comments from Judge Anatans Sileika. This heartbreaking story of loss is written with restraint and intelligence and contains within it a kind of mathematical puzzle that one is tempted to decipher, although that may not be possible. Utterly devoid of sentimentality, the story invited the reader to put herself in the position of the narrator and imagine the strangeness of loss and character transformation that a physical affliction might cause.

Deepam’s first novel, The Cost of Weather, is being considered by Penguin Books, and she is currently writing a memoir. 2nd PlaceBlair Bourassa (currently teaching writing classes at a medical college in Saudi Arabia) with his story titled, A Dream on Fire. 3rd Place: Janet Hinton (a playwright and former teacher in a West African girls’ boarding school) with her story titled, Vigil for Mrs. P. Honourable Mention: Lisa-Marie Brunnen (Calgary, Alberta) for Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme and  Barbara Baker (Alberta) for No Way.

Artist/Illustrator Carol Pike
Artist/Illustrator Carol Pike

The fun part … The organizing committee arranged the anthology launch at Ajax Ontario’s Azian Cuisine Restaurant. It was a celebration for writers, an opportunity to listen to the winning writers read their stories at the mic, and a chance to greet, and thank, hard-working organizers, publishers and other writers for their contributions. Among the guests was artist/illustrator Carol Pike who won the book cover design contest (and $150). Our band of authors felt pleased to have author W. F. Lantry attend. He and his wife and son drove from Maryland to join us. I hope the couple’s six-year old boy enjoyed his visit to Niagara Falls the day after the launch.

I thank my Life Writers Ink writing group members, Ruth Zaryski Jackson, Cheryl Andrews, Anahita Nepton Printer, Dace Mara Zacs-Koury for thoughtful critiques that raise the bar for each project.

 

Half Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan – Book Review

0887627412At the Ontario Writers’ Conference, May 5, 2012, each attendee received a tote bag and 4 current books, arranged by Shelley MacBeth of Blue Heron Books.

I received Half-Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan. I’d recently read her first novel The Second Life of Samuel Tyne (2004). She waited a long time before bringing out her award-winning second novel, and it is worth the wait. She perfected her storytelling skills in the intervening years.

Berlin. Paris. Jazz. Race. Blues. Louis Armstrong. Nazis. Musicians. Booze. Women. Respect.

The book was on my To Read list since it won the 2012 Scotiabank Giller Prize for Fiction, was finalist for Governor General’s Literary Awards, finalist for Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize, finalist for Man Booker Prize, longlisted for the 2012 Orange Prize for Fiction and finalist for Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize.

The industry buzz around this book is remarkable. If you’re looking for a unique reading experience, where voice is consistent from front to back, this is the book for you. Edugyan switches her story between the early 90s to pre-WWII Germany and the Paris occupation.

Ontario Writers’ Conference, 2012

1086260419Did you seem them? The red high heels? The pretty woman with the slim ankles? I did, although I went to the 2012 Ontario Writers’ Conference to absorb writerly things like meet writers, authors and publishers. I can’t forget the red shoes. I had red high heels about 25 years ago, tiny silver studs dotted 4″ stilts, and  pointy toes. Nice memory: but May 5, I wore solid black leather comfy shoes with air-cushioned rubber soles and raised instep. You see it all at the OWC.

Sherry Hinman opened the day-long writers’ conference at Pickering’s Deer Creek Golf Club at 9:00 am, acknowledging a team of dedicated volunteers you can find here. Kudos to everyone for running the conference like a well-oiled steampunk gadget.

  1. Barbara Hunt–  Co-chair & Programming
  2. Sherry Hinman–  Co-chair & Treasurer
  3. Kevin Craig–  Registration & Festival of Authors Coordinator
  4. Deborah Rankine–  Venue Coordinator
  5. Janet Boccone–  Printed Materials & Blog
  6. Sandra Clarke–  Logistics Coordinator
  7. Cynthia Englert–  Sponsorship & Volunteer Coordinator
  8. Cathy Minz –  Website Liaison & PR
  9. Anne MacLachlan –  Secretary
Author Caroline Wissing
Author Caroline Wissing

What better way to encourage emerging writers than to feature the accomplishments of author Caroline Wissing, who read from her debut novel Voiceless. It takes courage to read to a conference room filled with authors, writers, readers, agents, publishers and women wearing red high heeled shoes.

 

 

 

Author, Teacher Gwynn Scheltema
Author, Teacher Gwynn Scheltema

Popular teacher Gwynn Scheltema facilitated my morning workshop, The Art of Pacing. Gwynn hides powerful messages behind a relaxed teaching style that focuses without fanfare. She leads a logical progression to reveal techniques that editors look for in assessing manuscripts. Hands on exercises helped to implant (imprint?) the concepts (and had me wondering if my manuscript has a saggy middle.)

 

Mark Lefebvre and Cynthia Good
Mark Lefebvre and Cynthia Good

Co-chair Barbara Hunt introduced Plenary Session speakers Cynthia Good, founder of the Creative Book Publishing Program at Humber College, and Mark Lefebvre, Director of Self-publishing and Author Relations at Kobo Inc. The topic Storytelling 360: Storytelling in a Digital Age helped us wade through the complexities of modern publishing and the impact of technology. Publishers have been reacting to change for years, and in most cases, forging ahead to accommodate the media choices authors face today. Here are a few buzz words: post a chapter, partner publishing, trans-media, interactive websites, apps, games, digital storytelling, ebooks/ereaders, feed subscriptions, Twitter, GPS location based, Kobo, gamefication. Be prepared for mesmerizing software and technologies that will require refining for the groundswell of transitions in the future.

Guest speaker, publisher and editor Douglas Gibson entertained with Stories of the Storytellers. In a long publishing industry career Gibson hobnobbed and duked out editing decisions with some of Canada’s best-known authors. From a collage of author caricatures, audience members yelled out favourite names, triggering Gibson to tell amusing insider stories that reflected on the author as only an insider relationship and trust would allow. Gibson was the man in the room (and the fly on the wall).

The Scotiabank Giller Prize is Canada’s most distinguished literary prize, awarding $50,000 annually to the author of the best Canadian novel or short story collection published in English. The award was established in 1994 by Toronto businessman Jack Rabinovitch in honour of his late wife Doris Giller, a former literary editor for the Toronto Star newspaper. OWC presented the Cornerstone Award to Jack Rabinovitch (accepted by his daughter in his stead).

Musician George Craig
Musician George Craig

This is the moment I first spotted the red high heels. I crouched to take a photo of guitarist George Craig, brother of author and poet Kevin Craig. George sang Block Buster, a song with music and lyrics written by author Adele Simmons. The girl in the red high heels turned her legs to reveal the flashy glitter and tiny painted toes peeking out. I refocused on George who next sang Word by Word, his musical composition with lyrics provided by Kevin Craig. The musical interlude was a thoughtful reminder of the crossover between exceptional musical talent and poetic writing.

I attended the afternoon workshop How Absurdity, Magical Realism and Steampunk Can Change Your Writing Life facilitated by author and actress Adrienne Kress. Did you know that absurdity is the conflict between meaning and life (The Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams); that magical realism is where the inexplicable isn’t explained (One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez); and steampunk is techno fantasy where technology has no plausiblilty (The League of Extraordiary Gentlemen by Alan  Moore)? Me neither. But I think red high heeled shoes can be absurdist or magical realism, but not steampunk.

Facilitator Adrienne Kerr addressed Thriving in a Changing Market in my second afternoon workshop. Proof of changing times:  typewriters are no longer manufactured and the Britannia Encyclopedia is now available only in digital form. There is a sea change in how readers source content, and in today’s market we behave by using all forms of genre and technology to meet our needs. We have to question if new trends make us lazy, or overstimulated, or set up too-high expections. Will print on demand explode? Is it self-serving? Will publishers become obsolete? Are editors, fact-checkers and designers essential for quality?

Author, Teacher Wayson Choy
Author, Teacher Wayson Choy

As patron and closing speaker of OWC, Wayson Choy challenged writers to bring clarity to their work, and to look for a place for their writing. Focus and commit this year. Buy and study The Writers’ Market. So enchanted were we with his gentle voice.

I watched the red high heels leave the room. I hope the shoes walked the girl to a higher literary purpose.

Ontario Writers’ Conference Festival of Authors

overviewFestival of Authors banquet room at Pickering’s Al Dente Restaurant buzzed with authors, writers and readers at the kick-off event for the 5th Annual Ontario Writers’ Conference, May 4, 2012.

Authors’ read from their books after a mix-and-mingle with drinks and hors d’oeuvres. Books made available from Shelley MacBeth of Blue Heron Books.

Shelly MacBeth of Blue Heron Bookstore in Uxbridge and Author Wayson Choy, official patron of the Ontario Writers' Conference
Shelley MacBeth of Blue Heron Bookstore in Uxbridge and Author Wayson Choy, official patron of the Ontario Writers’ Conference

mc-herrara

 

 

 

 

MC for the weekend event is Durham Region Improv Artist, lively  Stephanie Herrara from Durham Improv, which offers workshops, fund-raising and corporate events.

 

Author/Poet Jonathan Bennett
Author/Poet Jonathan Bennett

Jonathan Bennett was the first reader, introducing five poems from his book of poems, Civil and Civic. Two other books are Entitlement and After Battersea Park. How amusing to hear how Jonathan and a writer friend challenge each other to write about things that at first glance appear unpoetical, stretching their skills with mischievous competition.

 

Author Eva Stachniak reading from The Winter Palace
Author Eva Stachniak reading from The Winter Palace

Eva Stachniak read from her book The Winter PalaceI recently read Eva’s book of Russia’s Catherine the Great and her court intrigues. It was a treat to listen to the author’s voice in the reading.

I had to leave the event before authors Marina Nemat and Brad Smith gave their readings. However I did attend an author event with Marina Nemat after the success of her book Prisoner of Tehran. She has since followed up with After Tehran: A Life Reclaimed. Brad Smith’s success with his books All Hat, One-Eyed Jacks, Busted Flush, Big Man Coming Down Road & Red Means Run gives me a list of reads for my growing Must Read file.

Volunteer committee members for the Ontario Writer’s Conference spend a year pulling together endless details to present a professional event for writers. The more I attend writing events, the more my knowledge about the discipline of writing expands. Relationships with fellow writers grows stronger with each reunion. My appreciation of OWC volunteers deepens. I’ll follow-up this post with my day, May 5 at the Ontario Writers’ Conference at Deer Creek Golf Club in Pickering.

The Occupied Garden by Kristen den Hartog – Book Review

img_1793Twice in four years Kristen den Hartog turned up in my life with timely messages about writing memoir.

Our first meeting was 2008, Kristen as guest speaker for Allyson Latta’s Memoir Short Story Awards Night and Alzheimer’s Fundraiser in Unionville, Ontario. Although before that time Kristen considered herself a fiction writer, she and her sister, Tracy Kasaboski, collaborated to write and publish an acclaimed family memoir The Occupied Garden. The story chronicles the emotional events affecting their paternal family under Nazi occupation in Holland during WW II. Kristen’s message in 2008, as was her message April 15, 2012, as guest speaker for the Writers’ Community of York Region (WCYR), is that detailed research will take up a lot of your early time with writing a book.

Memoir writers have a sense of family myth gleaned from passed down tales, retold to either strengthen or dilute judgments. For Kristen and Tracy, with little concrete information other than a handful of memories from their father and his siblings, the research process revealed a depth they didn’t believe existed before their curious journey into truth. The two women committed to writing only events that actually happened, although within the telling, they used a perhapsing technique to help the reader sort through hazy details, or project the likely reactions of the people involved with the events. Knowing the myths helped pinpoint the likely behaviours within situations their parents and grandparents experienced.

The sisters currently collaborate to write a second family memoir, but this time the WW I era, to include their maternal grandparents in England. When first considering a collaboration on a book, Kristen doubted her ability to switch from fiction to memoir. But once embraced, she found the process challenging and rewarding at the same time. She and her sister research and write by email, as they live far apart. Sharing the burden of research and the joyous eureka moments of discovery is fulfilling for them.

From Kristen I learned that involving interested family members in the writing process might be helpful to me as well. I haven’t shared much of my writing with my family because I don’t want to influence their memories of our post WW II decade, the era for my story. But I’m the youngest daughter of three, and more and more I feel I need my older sisters’ collaboration for shared memories, story direction and separating lore from truth.

Kristen was born in Deep River, Ontario: a town small enough to know your neighbours, shop at businesses on Main Street, worship at one of the denominational churches, belong to the community library and go to the only movie house. Her observations mirror some of my own while growing up in the Cliffside area of Scarborough, which in the 1950s was one of many separate neighbourhoods springing up along Kingston Road east of Toronto. Settings for Kristen’s books often rely on recollections of small town living and the interactions of residents in isolated communities. Tied closely to that theme is the development of family relationships: how we see ourselves in a neighbourhood, how we treat our neighbours, how we hide things from each other within a family, where the disillusions take dangerous turns.

Memorable Moments:

  1. Speaking about memoir, Kristen emphasizes writers don’t always know the true story until they research the threads. Family myth and recollections are often clarified and expanded after digging deeper into the history of events.
  2. Conduct detailed research first, develop the story second, and continue to research as you write. Second drafts are fun if you’ve done your early research well.
  3. To find the most effective point of view to tell a story you sometimes need to break some rules.
  4. Collaboration for family memoir with can be a challenging experience that requires trust and respect for each other’s skills.

and_me_among_them_3Kristen is soft-spoken and diminutive, a stark contrast to the main character in her recent book And Me Among Them. It’s a story of Ruth,  a child born with a genetic disorder that leads to giantism. We follow a family and the disturbing dynamics within a neighbourhood: cruel classmates, a backward doctor and conflict between Ruth’s parents. The parents’ conflict is a strong secondary plot that parallels their inability to protect Ruth as she outgrows her clothes, her shoes, her room and her friendships. Kristen’s chosen point of view breaks the rules, but is so masterfully done, we’re believers.

 

the-girl-giantKristen is in the unique (and enviable) position of publishing her book, And Me Among Them published in Canada with Freehand Books, and the same book published in the US titled The Giant Girl by Simon & Schuster. When asked if different covers and titles will cause confusion for her readership. In gentle Kristen fashion, she smiles and says she believes it is a positive marketing decision and embraces the experience.

Short Story Success

is

Blowing my horn (twice).

 

The Writers’ Community of Durham Region (WCDR) sponsors an annual short story contest, and this year the topic was Whispered Words. Some of the top 25 semi-finalists’ stories will appear in an anthology this spring. I entered two stories, and both were semi-finalists. One is selected  for the anthology Whispered Words, titled Kidnapped. There were twice as many entrants as the year before, and entries came in worldwide. First place winner (and awarded $1,000) was WCDR member Deepam Wadds.

The Canadian Federation of University Women (CFUW) representing Aurora and Newmarket held a short story contest with the topic Life Lessons. The short story I entered titled Harmless received an honourable mention. There will be a reception and awards evening for the winners on April 17, 2012.

I thank my Life Writers Ink writing group members, Ruth Zaryski Jackson, Cheryl Andrews, Anahita Nepton Printer, Dace Mara Zacs-Koury for thoughtful critiques that raise the bar for each project.

 

Boomer Rant

Recent baby-boomer-bashings from a Gen-X source convinced me to enter a Word Weaver Newsletter Challenge: to write a 350-word letter to the editor. Chafed by criticism for my generation, I urge Generation X to improve the world many complain Boomers have ruined. To read my rant in the January Issue of Word Weaver, scroll to page 4. And while you’re there, read the entire newsletter. Editor Cathy Minz volunteers her services to make this publication a meaningful forum for writers. The Writers’ Community of Durham Region (WCDR) sponsors the newsletter.

Screen shot 2016-05-18 at 1.41.21 PM

Reflections from Shadow by Malcolm Watts – Book Review

Membership in two writers’ organizations, WCDR & WCYR has benefits – like learning from published authors. Enviable few make a living by writing. And there are closet writers whose scribbles will never see the light of day. But in the middle are writers who create publishing opportunities, while holding down day jobs.

Meet author Malcolm Watts, one of a handful of founding members that launched the successful Writers’ Community of York Region in September 2011.

reflections-from-shadow
Reflections from Shadow by Malcolm Watts

Watts was the 5-minute reader (time designated at each meeting for a selected member to read his/her written work to the group) at the January 2012 WCYR meeting. Malcolm read from his published book, Reflections from Shadow, A Novel.

WCYR encourages published writers to show (and sell) their books at monthly meetings. I talked to Malcolm about his book, his decision in 2004 to self-publish with Trafford Publishing, his choice of cover art, the process of writing, his other books and how publishing has changed in the last decade. After listening to his 5-minute reading I knew I wanted to read Reflections from Shadow. Malcolm’s short reading introduced a likable protagonist, humour and tension. If all of that happened in 5 minutes, I needed to find out what will happen over 310 pages. I was not disappointed.

img_9209What struck me is Watt’s even pacing and concise language. He’s a master of dialogue, never dragging the reader into tedious setting details, but offering enough to satisfy the reader’s curiosity about time and place.

He transports us through the 1960s and 70s, all in the head of Jared, a troubled and confused child, teen and young man. Showing the reader an orphaned boy’s poor self-image, due to a birth scar on his face and the bullying that comes from it, Watts cautiously introduces us to sexual abuse and a Christian parent’s skewed philosophy that is physical abuse.

These and similar incidents shape Jared and his shameful descent into behaviour that leads to being a runaway. Jared is a loner, confused by troubled recurring dreams Watts hints at. The dreams become meaningful at the climax of the story.

The reader never loses sight of the idea that Jared could be anyone’s son, reacting to a confusing world. What would it have taken to save him from his journey into mental illness and desperation? Read the book to find out.

Goodreads Interview with Malcolm Watts – an excellent revelation about why Malcolm wrote this book, and why it took him 6 years to write about concepts that are worrisome for society today.

Amazon

Google Books

 

Published in The Anglican Journal

isThe Anglican Journal accepted my story A Light in the Dark for the December 2011 issue. The journal has inspired the faithful since 1875. It’s the faith I grew up knowing, and although I don’t attend church now, I’m pleased to be a small contributer to its tradition.

I miss my Anglican mother since her death, especially at Christmastime. For decades she subscribed to The Anglican Journal. If what she believed is true, she’ll be smiling down, pleased to see the story about the kids from my Anglican Young Peoples’ Association (AYPA) group in 1960. We were faced with the frightening spectre of unhappy aging at a 1960 Christmas Carol Sing in a derelict nursing home in Scarborough. The event transformed this self-centered teenager, strengthening awareness and compassion for the poor, old and infirmed. In many ways the story is a tribute to the group’s spirited leader, Dave. He was the light in the dark.

Click to read the story: A Light in the Dark

I thank my Life Writers Ink writing group members, Ruth Zaryski Jackson, Cheryl Andrews, Anahita Nepton Printer, Dace Mara Zacs-Koury for thoughtful critiques that raise the bar for each project.

McIntyre Guest Reviewer on “Memories Into Story” Website

is

Read Mary E. McIntyre’s review on Allyson Latta’s website

Allyson LattaStory Editor for Ian Brown’s award-winning book The Boy in the Moon,  published my review of Brown’s appearance as Guest Speaker at the September WCDR meeting. A standing ovation for Brown’s message was a heartfelt endorsement of a ten-year dedication to his writing process, and a 15-year dedication to his disabled son.

Allyson Latta is a writing teacher and independent literary editor who has worked with many of Canada’s most respected authors on award-winning fiction and nonfiction books for adults and young adults.

Allyson Latta will be guest speaker at the November 13, 2011  luncheon meeting for the Writers’ Community of York Region (WCYR).

To learn more about WCYR

Summer on Fire by Kevin Craig (Review)

summer-on-fireAuthor Kevin Craig’s Young Adult novel Summer on Fire reminds me that fifteen-year old boys, like the three small-town boys Craig writes about in his book, have struggled with growing-up issues since time began. No longer children and not yet men, Craig’s three main characters, Zach, Jeff and Arnie face adult problems with adolescent reasoning skills. They aren’t always right, but they learn the repercussions of their actions born out of fear and panic, loyalty to friends, loyalty to family, respect for authority figures and disdain for bullying.

Craig tells the story from Zach’s point of view, a likeable boy with a stable family, although his older sister’s blatant sexuality is an issue for boys on the brink of discovering an interest in girls. It’s also the story of Zach’s handsome and cool best friend Jeff, whose father and brother are brutal bullies and troublemakers. Jeff’s mother shrinks into a shadow of her former self as the worrying mystery within the story unfolds. A third friend is overweight, whiny Arnie, who the two boys tolerate, and in truth, I never ascertained why. Arnie’s mother stuffs her son with junk food and fawns over his two friends, a situation which is a source of amusement between them. So why is Arnie a friend to them? Because they are nice guys and feel sorry for him? Because he lives nearby and they’ve known him all their lives? Because he advances the story?

Craig has studied the craft of storytelling. He hooks the reader’s interest immediately, building a strong foundation on which to follow the boys’ panicked actions after they mistakenly set a barn on fire. He confronts them with the news that a body is found in a house fire beside the barn, which they feel responsible for. Following is a series of events involving concerned parents, annoying siblings and curious neighbours – and just when the reader hopes the boys are in the clear, Craig throws us more plausible plot twists to ramp up the tension. In the end, there is heroism, redemption and punishment.

I’m unfamiliar with writing Young Adult stories, but since reading Summer On Fire I learned what I believe are essential basics for the genre.

  • A reader must relate to the characters and feel empathy for them (that goes for all writing)
  • Lots of action and plot twists that come out of action (youths love roller-coaster action)
  • Young adults won’t tolerate fussy descriptions of place or weather reports. They roll with believable, fast-paced dialogue.
  • Age appropriate language and action

Craig’s dialogue rings true. His ability to put his mind back to being an irreverent 15-year old boy, sharing the humour and sarcasm, frustration, fear and false bravado that young boys feel is believable. Through his characters we dread the bullies, laugh at the ridiculous, empathize with parents and root for the good guys.

I highly recommend Summer On Fire, published by MuseItUp Publishing to parents looking for a great book for a young teen. Available at Chapters.

An Embarrassment of Mangoes by Ann Vanderhoof – Book Review

coverMy friend and mentor, Allyson Latta, organized a September evening for her book club friends and their friends to meet author Ann Vanderhoof. Ann’s travel memoirs An Embarrassment of Mangoes: A Caribbean Interlude and The Spice Necklace (Random House) celebrate sailing in Caribbean waters — not 2-week escapes, but 2-year explorations of Caribbean culture and cooking.

From Dream to Reality

Ann and husband Steve Manley worked for Cottage Life Magazine, Ann as Editor and Steve as Art Director. Weary from deadlines and work pressures, they put together a 5-year plan to save their money, pay off their mortgage, buy a 42-foot sloop, rent their house in Toronto and sail into the unknown. Who doesn’t have that dream?

cover-1Steve was an experienced sailor. Ann was not. She agonized over concerns for sailing at night alone at the helm, especially as Ann was known for seasickness. They overcame their concerns and learned they complemented each other on their voyage. Ann found a remedy for seasickness, and both gained physical strength and good health from the sailing lifestyle.

On their return from the first 2-year voyage they underwent the plan again so they could revisit and explore the islands for a second book, this time including more recipes.

The Lights Goes On

Once Ann had recounted the logistics of making their grand escape happen (humourous anecdotes of reducing their living space to a small boat, and wondering if the relationship could survive close quarters), her face lit up with enthusiasm for the overwhelming generosity of the native islanders who welcomed her and Steve into their homes. They taught them how to cook local foods and became their friends. The couple sailed over 7,000 nautical miles, dropped anchor in 16 countries and visited 47 islands. Because Ann kept an ever expanding journal and wrote down her experiments with new recipes, she was able to write about her experiences when she returned to Canada. She discovered “island time,” a view of life that helps to sort priorities into practical activities to sustain their journey, and calmer times for discovering cultural adventures awaiting each anchorage.

Author Ann Vanderhoof
Author Ann Vanderhoof

Blue ocean, island landscapes, bustling ports, lush countryside and the friendliness of generous islanders seduced the couple. They had their share of lightning storms and rough seas, but Ann explained that “island time” meant they could change their schedules to suit the conditions, an acquired benefit for Type-A personalities shedding fast-paced North American work lives.

Almost every day brought a learning experience about the variables of island life, each island with its own history, resources, economics, culture, personality, agriculture and beliefs. The oceans offered up a bounty that Ann transformed into delicious meals she cooked in her tiny galley kitchen onboard Receta.

The Plan

Ann’s life has taken a new direction due to her experiences on the sloop. She and Steve sail for 6 months every winter. Ann is busy with book tours, and is a freelance writer for magazines like Gourmet, Islands, and More. She has become an expert to other travellers faced with tiny kitchens on the open seas. Naturally friendly, the petite woman is an example to those who consider the risks and adventures of the sailing life in the Caribbean.

img_6792An Embarrassment of Mangoes was an Amazon Top Ten Book of the Year for Travel and a national bestseller in Canada.

I bought her book An Embarrassment of Mangoes. How could I resist after Ann brought an aromatic array of Caribbean spices for us to experience. The Caribbean seduces again.

Ann’s Vanderhoof’s Blog

To see a video of Ann reading from her new book The Spice Necklace.

To see a video of Ann’s interview for Bookbits

Standing Ovation for Canadian Author Ian Brown

Award -winning memoir, The Boy in the Moon by Dan Brown
Award-winning memoir, The Boy in the Moon by Ian Brown

WCDR hosted Canadian journalist and author Ian Brown at the September Breakfast Meeting in Ajax Ontario. My writing group Life Writers Ink attended.

Brown received a standing ovation for his talk about the 10-year process of writing his book The Boy In The Moon: A Father’s Search For His Disabled Son

To read my complete review as guest reviewer on Allyson Latta’s website.

Brown took us from irreverent laughter to heartbreaking sadness. There are only 150 children in the world with the genetic disorder that is his son’s severe disability. The initial care and understanding of their son’s disease occupied the parents in shifts for 24-hours-a-day. The story of coping with his son’s limitations and the pressures resulting from it, show the amazing lessons learned from a father’s compassion. The journey he and his family take every day to bring quality of life to their child is remarkable. The audience gave Brown a heartfelt standing ovation.

Ian Brown with Mary E. McIntyre
Ian Brown with Mary E. McIntyre

 

Tips from his talk about the writing process: 

  • Celebrate the individual in the face of doltish generalities
  • Confession is bad, candour is better

 

 

 

Ian Brown’s Bio:

Won the Charles Taylor Prize, a $25,000 prize which recognizes excellence in literary non-fiction

Idaho Students React to “Love Letters”

Publisher/editor of Dream of Things Press, Mike O’Mary, shares feedback from students at the College of Idaho who reviewed stories from Saying Goodbye anthology as part of their curriculum on death and dying. My story Love Letters appears in 2010 anthology, Saying Goodbye.

Comment from Professor Jann Adams, Department of Psychology, College of Idaho

saying-goodbye-front-cover-194x3001This is a book that meets a need for teachers of death and dying classes.  Most of the books currently available are either directed at people who are going through a grief process due to the loss of someone important to them or are fairly dry academic type books that focus on the physiological (and some psychological) aspects of dying.  This book gets to the heart of what I have been focusing on in my course – that life is filled with loss of all kinds and we can learn from each one and ultimately experience life more fully.  The stories in this book do a wonderful job of showing that out of loss there are new beginnings. I recommend it for any teacher of death and dying classes.  I also recommend it for anyone who is struggling with a loss – no matter what kind.

Royal Canadian Navy Training, Halifax WWII
Royal Canadian Navy Training, Halifax WWII

Love Letters is a story about my wish to read my parents’ wartime correspondence: letters sent between Toronto and Halifax during WWII when Dad served with the Royal Canadian Navy. The sealed box of letters came to my attention when Dad and I cleared out his house the month after Mum died. He informed me of the pact he’d made with Mum to destroy the letters before anyone could read them.

I hoped to change his mind. I was curious to learn first-hand gossip surrounding my parents’ circumstances while renting a room at my grandparents’ home, at a time of food rationing and other shortages. I had two older sisters born in wartime and I wanted to know Mum’s views on motherhood.

Danforth Ave. & Pape Ave, East York, Toronto, 1940s
Danforth Ave. & Pape Ave, East York, Toronto, 1940s

I suspected the letters would be informative about Dad’s plight as a navy officer. I believed I would learn how Mum and my aunts coped with their husbands being away overseas. Dad was stubbornly resistant to my appeals. Without telling me, he invited my brother to burn the letters in a barrel in Dad’s backyard. When I found out later, I felt a terrible loss. But so did Dad. I’d lost sight of the promise he’d made to my mother, but he’d lost a vital link to their past. Unfortunately, he had macular degeneration and was never able to read the letters himself. Everything I wanted to know went up in a puff of smoke.

Student Comments on QuestionIn “Love Letters” by Mary E. McIntyre, the author wants to read old letters her parents wrote to each other, but her father keeps his vow to destroy them after his wife’s death.  Did the father make the right decision?  Why or why not? Answers

I thank my Life Writers Ink writing group members, Ruth Zaryski Jackson, Cheryl Andrews, Anahita Nepton Printer, Dace Mara Zacs-Koury for thoughtful critiques that raise the bar for each project.

 

Dreaming Kathmandu by Glenn Forbes Miller – Book Review

kathmandu200By good fortune I met Glenn Forbes Miller, poet and author, at Markham Ontario’s 16th Annual Art in the Park. While meandering the Markham Museum grounds in a heatwave I chatted with wilting artists, sculptors, artisans and jewellery crafters.

Markham resident, Glenn Forbes Miller, tended a remarkable collection of photographs taken by his son, Andrew, on a family vacation in Nepal. Glenn and his wife, Graz, had planned a 200-mile trekking adventure in Nepal in 2008. Their adult children, Andrew and Megan, who’d lived apart from them due to work and schooling, joined their parents for a once-in-a-lifetime trek through the rugged Himalayas at high altitude.

I admired the images of Nepal’s people, scenery and culture, and enjoyed talking to Miller about his writing process. As an emerging writer myself, with an interest in other writers’ first books, I bought Dreaming Kathmandu.

When least expected, a gem falls into your hands. Miller, a retired English teacher, tells an honest story of family conflict arising from familial confinement and generational differences. But when the wrangling ends, as it must for the trip to progress, Miller’s language flows as deeply and musically as the Marsyangdi River they follow for the first ten days of their journey from the gates of Kathmandu to the river’s glacial source, Manang.

Miller’s reflections on the elusive quality of memory resonates with all memoir-writers.

“Only the present moment has substance, ephemeral though it be. All the rest, the remembered stuff, is but a dream of what once was, a dream of our pasts that floats in mist-like oblivion, where time can blur and shift, and places can melt into one another; where memories become altered, overstated or understated, conflated, redacted, and massaged into a spin that we believe to be the story of our lives; and that story, like dreams, can be recalled only in the barest outline, if we can remember the story at all.”

Nepal shunned the world beyond her borders until the 1950s. Primitive (medieval) conditions were the norm in the remote country bounded by isolating mountains. Miller and his wife are at times disappointed but forgiving of the challenging rustic charms facing them: poor sanitation, limited food selections, lack of electricity, cramped sleeping arrangements on cots, and weariness from lack of sleep at high altitudes.

Conflicts arise when their worldly and healthy adult children complain about the food, the crudeness of the overnight facilities, and lack of modernity. In the end, they manage  to overcome pettiness and impatience to plod one foot ahead of the other to their shared goal. Celebrating their triumph, in the company of their Sherpa guides, is what they will remember for a lifetime.

As a photographer Andrew’s photos (which appear in the book) capture the family’s interactions with the Nepalese people, the snow-capped mountain scenery, the villages tucked into ledges, and the dependable Sherpa guides. And Miller, The Diarist, sets himself apart to journal the details that bring the story alive:  chance encounters with the native Nepalese and their costume and customs, overcrowded dining halls filled with exhausted trekkers, temples, prayer bells and pennants, belligerent tourists, and the bond between his family and the Sherpa guides, Dorjee, Thorang and Motee. Graz and Megan, alternating between athleticism and stoicism, altitude sickness, fear and flu, keep up with the men and at times supersede them.

Excerpt (first person):

Morning on the hotel terrace. I shield my eyes and watch the sun blaze over the opposite hill and into the valley. Its glare fans into a flaring aureole; light streaks into the hollows onto a family of four scrawk-ing crows winging across the canopy of deciduous trees. From early morning fires, woodsmoke drifts over the valley floor like wisps of fog. The forest floor thins up the slope onto the green grasses on the west hill, slopes dotted with stone homes and rice-green terraces. On the lip of the garden terrace below my feet, silhouetted in the sun, broadleaf banana leaves are suffused in a luminous green. At Bahundanda, on the lip of the Mountain View Hotel terrace, light etches and space blooms.

Altitude sickness is a genuine concern for trekkers over 8,000 feet, and the family planned to reach heights of 15,000 feet. Decreasing oxygen molecules in the bloodstream increase the breathing rate. Ill temper, headaches, nausea and dizziness can follow oxygen depletion, and differs by degrees for everyone. Andrew was most affected by the heights. Graz was most fearful of the rock slides. Megan had symptoms of flu, and Miller attempted to fulfill their dreams according to health, budget and schedule.

Excerpt (third person):

Crossing the frozen, rutted road, he hunches his shoulders against the cold, his journal clamped under his arm. The pleasant bite of the tenters’ camp smoke slurs into memory: his grandmother’s wood-burning stove and the thick-creamed porridge that she gave him for breakfast dotted with blueberries picked from the side of the farmhouse; the ripping whine of the bucksaw and the fresh-cut smell of the stacked winter wood; the heat from the grey stovepiping overhead running from the stove through to the parlour with its burnt reek of brass ashtray stands; then his Nana’s gentle voice calling him, “Son, go tell the old fella to quit rakin’ his leaves and c’min for his tea.” This olfactory olla podrida of memories has slowed his walking, and he stops, wanting more, but self-consciousness had dispelled the stew — the memories are gone … gone with their revenants.

Like me, you might need a dictionary handy. Miller is foremost a poet. He loves language and effectively melds beautiful English words into his prose.

Here’s a sampling:

erumpent, petard, lambent, candent, tintinnabulation, fulgent, ratiocination, figurant, cavil, intaglio and intagliated, provender, belletristic, cyanotic, carbuncular, wimples, solipsistic, glaucous, gibbous, similacrums, couloirs, laving, unnictitating, declivity, lutescent, swart, deliquescing, revenants, contrapuntally, clatterynge.

Together, the words look and sound archaic, but a gentle sprinkling in the right places is Miller’s talent. And perhaps when describing a culture such as the one experienced by his family in Nepal, one would be tempted to dig deeper into the word bag to anchor the images with the ancient, where much of Nepal continues to thrive.

Dreaming Kathmandu by Glenn Forbes Miller (2010)

Published by General Store Publishing

About the Author

Glenn Forbes Miller is a retired high school English teacher but keeps his hand in by supply teaching for the Toronto Board of Education. His wife, Graz, is a retired high school biology teacher. Trekking and travelling are high on their priority list. In addition to their trek in Nepal, they have walked the famous El Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route across northern Spain; they have visited Athens and a number of Greek Islands and, in the same trip, Turkey; they have been to Macchu Picchu in Peru and to the Amazon River; and they toured Morocco and surrounding areas in 2010.The author enjoys reading ancient history and writing poetry; and is into photography and outdoor sports.

 

Storm Warnings at Stouffville’s Nineteen on the Park

Stouffville Main Street Clock Tower
Stouffville Main Street Clock Tower

Stouffville has a unique historic building tucked into Civic Square behind Main Street’s clock tower. Built in 1903 as a concert hall, it is one of the oldest and most culturally significant buildings in Stouffville’s downtown core. In the early years, an upstairs concert hall (with a small area for a temporary library) entertained performers above Stouffer’s garage downstairs. From 1923 – 33 it was Sidney Schmidt’s silent movie house until remodelled as The Stanley Theatre, which in 1949 became the National Theatre Services. The Town of Whitchurch-Stouffville bought the building, and it served as municipal offices for many years.

In the new millennium there was a move afoot to demolish the building to make way for a higher use. But with valuable support from the arts community, heritage experts and nostalgic residents, the town designated funds to revitalize the building, now their centrepiece, Lebovic Centre for Arts & Entertainment. Launched as a multifunctional cultural facility in May 2009, the venue is affectionately called Nineteen on the Park.

1287165022ninteenopntheparkOn June 3, I went to see the play Storm Warning by playwright Norm Foster and directed Kathryn DeLory. Read my review of this excellent production presented by Markham Little Theatre, posted on the Stouffville Sun Tribune website.
 Community theatre groups are made up of volunteers with a passion to entertain. Hard work goes into set design, rehearsals, ticket sales and promotion. Please consider supporting community theatre in your area.

Wild Words Book Launch & Reading

img_44911Giving voice to your written words at a microphone is like standing naked on a busy street corner. I’ve never done that, at least I don’t think I have, but I can imagine passersby pointing and laughing as I flee.

Last night the WCDR hosted the Wild Words Book Launch with 80 guests at the Azian Restaurant in Ajax. I didn’t think I was nervous about reading until about 1/2 hour before the event. Thankfully I had my buddies, Shirley and Liz for support and distraction, staving off performance anxiety.

The Anthology Contest Committee successfully launches books every year. So they know what they’re doing (and can’t say enough about the variety of delicious Thai finger-foods they provided). I was third on the reading roster. Good – anything but first or last – which is reserved for the first and second place winners of the contest – so I had nothing to worry about.

As WCDR President James Dewar announced my bio, my friend Shirley slipped me a note to tell me to hold my pages with two hands so they don’t shake. I found my feet and walked to the microphone. Nothing prepares you for the moment when all eyes are on you and you have to make your voice come out of your throat.

img_44951When I was about 10 years old, I performed Marilyn Monroe impressions for my family. It was a big hit. So I drew on my inner ham and launched my story. I’d like to say you could hear a pin drop as the audience leaned in to listen to every word. But in truth, I zoned in (or out) and couldn’t tell if the restaurant kitchen was on fire. I did get a few laughs in the right places, so I’m  assume things went according to plan.

The judge for the contest, author Susanna Kearsley (who gave my story an honourable mention), spoke positively to the contributors to the book. She also said that public reading doesn’t get any easier. Great. Hopefully my inner ham and I will have more opportunities to practice reading in public.

Want to buy the book?

More on the book and the winners

I thank my Life Writers Ink writing group members, Ruth Zaryski Jackson, Cheryl Andrews, Anahita Nepton Printer, Dace Mara Zacs-Koury for thoughtful critiques that raise the bar for each project.

 

Wild Words Anthology Book Launch

wild-words-picture-2502I’ll read my story Evil on Her Mind at the WCDR (Writers’ Community of Durham Region) May 26 book launch in Ajax.

Mark Thursday, May 26 on your calendar. That’s the date we launch Wild Words, an anthology of the best entries from a recent prose competition. The book launch takes place at Azian Cuisine from 7:00 – 9:00 p.m. You will find Azian Restaurant at 1995 Salem Road North at Taunton Road.

Several of the prizewinning writers will read their entries. Copies of the anthology will be on sale for $14.95 and many of the contributors will be on hand to chat with guests and sign books.

Wild Words attracted entries from across Canada and around the world. Contest organizers are delighted with the response.

Winner of the cover art prize is Ivano Stocco.

The event includes appetizers and a cash bar.

Want a copy of the book? CLICK HERE.

I thank my Life Writers Ink writing group members, Ruth Zaryski Jackson, Cheryl Andrews, Anahita Nepton Printer, Dace Mara Zacs-Koury for thoughtful critiques that raise the bar for each project.

 

Anne Lamott Wisdom for Writers

Anne Lamott’s 1994 best-selling book Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life (Pantheon Books/Random House), published in pre-internet days, narrows down the avalanche of online writing tips to a few pertinent basics.

Lamott, an irreverent and humourous writer, (and admitted reformed alcoholic), makes no secret of her bumpy writing life.

Tip #1: Apply this principle to an overwhelming writing project.

Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he’d had three months to write. [It] was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, ‘Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.’

Break down your story one scene, one memory, one exchange at a time. Bird by bird.

Tip #2: Writing First Drafts

I’d write a first draft that was maybe twice as long as it should be, with a self-indulgent and boring beginning, stupefying descriptions of the meal, lots of quotes from my black-humored friends, that made them sound more like the Manson girls than food lovers, and no ending to speak of. The whole thing would be so long and incoherent and hideous that for the rest of the day I’d obsess about getting creamed by a car before I could write a decent second draft. I’d worry that people would read what I’d written and believe that the accident had really been a suicide, that I had panicked because my talent was waning and my mind was shot.

Writing a first draft is very much like watching a Polaroid develop. You can’t–and, in fact, you’re not supposed to–know exactly what the picture is going to look like until it has finished developing.

Guardians of the Wild by Robert J. Burns – Book Review

Parks Canada’s: To preserve Canada’s natural landscapes for everyone to enjoy

Guardians of the Wild by Robert J. Burns and Mike Schintz
Guardians of the Wild by Robert J. Burns and Mike Schintz

Guardians of the Wild: A History of the Warden Service of Canada’s National Parks

Bears and bureaucrats, timber and telephone lines, poaching and predators, fires and families — appear in this fascinating study of Canada’s National Park wardens.

Authors, Dr. Robert J. Burns and Mike Schintz trace the evolution of the warden service as a way of life in the early days of Canada’s National Parks. The warden service, integral to Canada’s National Parks from earliest days, has changed its role due to the evolution of the parks system, societal expectations, environmental concerns and technology.

 

Guardians of the Wild is a study of real people and their trials, triumphs and tragedies. The book is a tribute to park wardens for their lonely patrols on horseback, with pet dogs and danger often their only companions. Isolated in rudimentary cabins, they searched out and fought forest fires, tracked and arrested poachers, protected big game animals, coordinated rescue operations, cleared trails and transported equipment. Long hours and dangerous work took a physical toll on many veteran wardens. With a mix of survival skills and good public relations, early wardens were pioneers and ambassadors for the Parks agency.

With over 60 historic photographs and drawings, the book portrays the stories of the wardens and their families for nearly 100 years. The collaboration between Dr. Burns and Mike Schintz tells a tale of our early Canadian landscapes as seen through the eyes of the warden service. The service was, and still is the eyes and ears for policy makers who commit to a lasting preservation and enjoyment of our National Parks.

Dr. Robert J. Burns, writer/author, historian, Heritage Resources Consultant and member of the Canadian Professional Association of Heritage Consultants, living in historic Sparta, Ontario

Mike Schintz (deceased), author and a 39-year veteran of Canada’s National Park Warden service; one of his books was Close Calls on High Walls, a reference to the warden mountain rescue duties that developed once visitors started heading above the tree line.

Guardians of the Wild  is nonfiction published by University of Calgary Press

Canadian Authors at Wyndance Golf Club

Ontario’s Blue Heron Books hosts Wine and Cheese Night with Exceptional Canadian Authors at Wyndance Golf Club, May 9, 2011

It’s no surprise to locals that Blue Heron Books in Durham Region, Ontario, was short-listed for the 2011 Canadian Booksellers Award. Booksellers vying for the CBA Libris Award 2011 include trade, specialty and campus bookstores from all over Canada. Congratulations Shelley! Looking forward to the June announcement of winners.

Shelley MacBeth, owner of Blue Heron books, asked writer, creative writing teacher and therapeutic counsellor, Sue Reynolds, to act as the evening’s Master of Ceremonies. Sue introduced three women authors, each reading a short excerpt from her book. Sue asked questions about the responsibilities of writers, and opened the floor to questions.

Authors Camilla Gibb, Suzanne Desrochers and Susanna Kearsley
Authors Camilla Gibb, Suzanne Desrochers and Susanna Kearsley

Camilla Gibb:

Camilla’s recent project was to select the best Canadian literary memoirs for an anthology The Penguin Book of Memoir. Her book Sweetness in the Belly was the April choice for the Writers’ Community of Durham Region Reading as Writers book discussion group. She is the guest speaker for the WCDR June Breakfast Meeting.

 

 

Suzanne Desrochers:

Suzanne’s first novel is Bride of New France. Suzanne has a French, Irish and English heritage, that stretches back 400 years in Canada. She felt drawn to write about the early period of New France in Canada. Very little is known of women’s stories in the period and Suzanne delved into the records to research facts she expanded to an interesting adventure story.

Susanna Kearsley:

Susanna’s recent book is The Rose Garden. Her love of writing historical fiction (particularly  the Jacobean period) has attracted Susanna a strong fan base and the Catharine Cookson Award among others. She generously gave her time to judge the Writing Community of Durham Region’s 2011 Short Story contest Wild Words.

The three writers, for periods in their lives, lived outside of Canada, or travelled extensively. All agreed (emphatically) that a broad multi-cultural acceptance of Canadian writers enriches and challenges a narrow Canadian identity. All Canadians lend a voice to global perspectives.

M.C. Sue Reynolds, Camilla Gibb, Suzanne Desrochers, Susanna Kearsley

Sue Reynold’s first question, how important is truth in writing? opened up a thoughtful dialogue.

I will not attribute quotes to a particular writer, but here are a few items I jotted down that the three discussed and agreed upon.

 

  • Readers want to read truth and will not accept less (especially in memoir)
  • Writers bring their own experiences and interests to a story
  • Writers have an ethical responsibility to research and interpret researched material responsibly
  • Because stories are character driven, writing stories of historical periods are effective if written through the eyes of the characters and their limitations of  knowledge
  • Writers lend a voice to the unheard, portrayed with empathy and respect

These women are passionate about writing. Recognition for their books came to them because they wanted to get it right. Each is curious about the human experience, whether it be through historical romance or current storytelling. They believe that readers are intelligent interpreters. They know from writing influential and credible books, they work from truth, and responsible writing.

Published in From the Cottage Porch Anthology

from-the-cottage-porch-200x300My story, Cookie Goes Swimming, selected for anthology about cottage experiences in Ontario, a diverse collection of short stories, memoirs and poems by thirty-one Canadian writers.

Jessica Outram, Editor of Sunshine in a Jar Press hosts a reading May 7, 2011 (2:00 – 4:00) at the Safari Bar and Grill, 60 Randall Drive, Ajax.

Picnicking on the rocks of Georgian Bay, relocating an outhouse in Muskoka, or catching tadpoles at Algonquin Park: From the cottage Porch captures the spirit of cottage country in Ontario.

Imagine the day unfolding from your favourite Adirondack chair on a porch. The anthology begins with the sounds of sunrise and moves through the dynamic and surprising events of morning, afternoon, evening and night at the cottage.

I thank my Life Writers Ink writing group members, Ruth Zaryski Jackson, Cheryl Andrews, Anahita Nepton Printer, Dace Mara Zacs-Koury for thoughtful critiques that raise the bar for each project.

The Polished Hoe by Austin Clark

In a former post I talk about late-life creativity. Author Austin Clarke spent a lifetime building his writing credentials before winning four prestigious prizes at seventy:

  • Giller Prize for fiction (2002),
  • 16th Annual Trillium Prize,
  • Commonwealth Writers Best Book Award for Canada
  • Caribbean region (2003) and the Commonwealth Writers Award for best book.

bk-polished-hoeThe Polished Hoe by Austin Clarke

On the fictional island of Bimshire (thinly disguised, Barbados), a twenty-four hour Bajan Creole conversation between Mary Matilda, a plantation manager’s mistress of mixed-colour parentage, and black police officer “Sarge,” her childhood friend, unravels the secrets and prejudices of the 1950s post colonial era.

From the 1600s to as late as the 1970s, growing sugar cane on plantations and related industries dominated island life. Mary Matilda summons Sarge to the Great House to take her statement about a murder. Ingrained racial prejudices leftover from British rule fetter a small tropical island’s informal justice system. The two middle-aged acquaintances bumble through their exploration of the injustices that affected them all their lives, and led to murder.

In the 30s, plantation manager, Mr. Bellfeels selected pretty Mary Matilda as a girl/child to ripen as his intended mistress. His power over the fatherless girl, and her mother, left her no choice but to comply with his unwelcome advances and whims. When she survived two miscarriages and produced Bellfeel’s only son, Wilberforce, he ensconced her in the gilded cage of the Great House, located a short distance from the Main House where the official Mrs. Bellfeels and her daughters lived in the rarefied air of white privilege.

From a distance, Sarge has loved this same girl/child since he was a boy. But her circumstances as the hated Bellfeel’s mistress put a wedge between them, a social chasm. And Bellfeel’s generosity to Mary’s son Wilberforce, educated in England and returned to Bimshire as a doctor puts more social distance between them than the colour of their skin.

This book, like many others, chronicles the powerlessness of people judged by their slave history, the colour of their skin, and in the case of mixed-blood, a woman’s role as a sexual being. The ugliness of power and prejudice makes people afraid. Clarke hints at the ugly truths of how the circumstances of their limited dreams and ambitions form inevitable outcomes for the characters.

The book has moments of repetition that might well have been left out. But the Bajan-Creole language is beautiful, not overdone as it might have been. Night enfolds the couple in the Great House, a secret underground tunnel oozes stories of a gruesome past, and cut sugar cane fields crackle underfoot. The revelations about the murder are withheld until the end, as Clarke intended. The curiosity to know keeps the reader intrigued.

Mary Matilda:

I first began to regret the life that was mark out for me, when I realize they were keeping me far from people like you and Clotelle, Sis, Gertrude, Pounce and them-so, deliberately. Ma, and even Gran, wanted to bring me up different from you, and closer to the Plantation way, different from the Village. So, I was left half-fashioned as a person; in between. Not fish and not fowl. Not white and not black. A half woman. Half a person. Or, as the Villagers say behind my back,’ not knowing my arse from my … you know what!

Percy (Sarge):

I feel like, like doing something to Mr. Bellfeels, and this whole case, to exterminate him from existence. You know what I mean? If it was possible, for me, or for you, or for any Tom-Dick-and-Harry, to do something to Mr. Bellfeels, to make him disappear. Just disappear off the fecking face of the earth — pardon my French, Mary-Mathilda. And nobody miss him. Like invisible. Like a kind of extermination. You know what I mean?

…and make my life easier, from having to write down a lotta evidence in a Statement I have to take from you; and hand-in to the Commissioner, first thing tomorrow, Monday morning …

There is something undeniably magical about the story. I recommend it.

The Polished Hoe is published by Thomas Allen Publishers.

The Paper Garden by Molly Peacock – Book Review

9335839My sister, a Canadian Botanical Artist recommended I read Molly Peacock’s biographical tribute to 18th Century gentlewoman, Mary Grenville Pendarves Delany  (1700 – 1788). Vaults in London’s British Museum protect Delany’s astounding late-life creation of 985 floral paper collages (mosaiks) and artistic treasures.

Through family letters passed down for generations, Peacock reveals the strong character of a woman from a minor branch of an influential family tree in Britain. At a young age, her uncle, the powerful and famous Lord Landsdowne, forces her into a loveless marriage with a titled but drunken older squire (Pendarves). She is sixteen, powerless and miserable.

When after nine years Pendarves dies, leaving her with her youth and a pitiful inheritance, Mary Granville Pendarves plots for an appointment to the Georgian court as a Lady-in-Waiting. She waits in vain. The imaginative and industrious woman patiently develops her needlework skills, spurns potential suitors, writes letters to a beloved sister and develops a passion for the natural world and the beginnings of artistic talents.

In mid-life, the self-sufficient widow meets, falls in love with and marries her second husband, an Irish clergyman of modest means (Delaney). She blossoms with the freedom to love and be loved. Their relationship flourishes with their combined obsession for gardening. Among her influential acquaintances she meets in her long and fruitful life: Jonathan Swift, John Wesley, Lord Baltimore and George Frederic Handel. Her second married life is nomadic at times, crossing the rough Irish Sea to connect with family and friends in England. Sadly after 23 years, Mr. Delany dies. At age seventy-two, the widow picks up her scissors and pastes thousands of pieces of colored paper to black backgrounds, a floral culmination of her life’s work.

As an acclaimed Canadian/American poet, Peacock’s prose is poetic. Effective romantic and sensual floral imagery portrays the bitter truths about love, marriage, grief, childlessness, and inspiration, explaining the satisfying burst of exceptional late-life accomplishments for this woman and the author herself as a writer in our present century.

The book is a window through which we view feminine roles in the 18th century, and how family values affected women. Peacock introduces just enough political maneuvering, fashion, philosophy and hints of lively gossip to portray a fascinating period before the Industrial Revolution changed the world forever.

Each chapter begins with a reproduction of one of Mrs. Delany’s botanical paper mosaiks, which Molly Peacock correlates to events in the woman’s life. The quality of the book jacket and the paper quality for the pages is superior, as Peacock intended to honor the woman and the art.

Peacock’s video about Mrs. Delany’s craft can be found here. If like me, you will be all-thumbs just watching Peacock’s 21st Century process. Three hundred years ago, Mrs. Delany perfected the art form when she had to hand-dye her own paper, utilize simple unrefined tools, and depend on natural lighting as her vision diminished.

Nonfiction published by McClelland and Stewart.

To read a more detailed review accepted for publishing by University of Toronto Creative Writing Teacher and Story Editor for Random House Canada, Allyson Latta, view here.

Brick Lane by Monica Ali – Book Review

bricklaneMonica Ali’s first book of fiction, Brick Lane, swirled with controversy within England’s Bangladeshi communities in 2003. For her portrayal of a family making a new life for their children in a new country, Ali achieved acclaim — and derision. At the same time she was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize for Fiction in 2003, and voted Granta’s Best of Young British Novelists, and later Ruby Films made a movie of the book, Bengali Muslim activists of London’s Brick Lane community organized a protest march, going so far as to threaten book burnings. Activist Germaine Greer and author Salmon Rushdie supported the cause against what they believed was a misrepresentation that fed a backlash of growing anti-Muslim prejudices in the Western world.

Through the experiences of one Bangladeshi woman, Nazneen, we follow the life of a dutiful Bengali woman, plucked from her rural homeland and trapped in an arranged marriage. She copes with the correct behaviours of being respectable, and dull, in a London housing project. She arranges for sewing piece-work in her home, and her husband reluctantly agrees. Nazneen’s husband, Chanu shows Ali’s best characterization skills. Twice as old as his 18-year old bride, pompous but kind, he fails at every turn, all the while dreaming of the day he can take his wife and resentful children back to Bangladesh. Over the years, their only infant son dies, two daughters grow up British, a sister back in Bangladesh needs rescuing, Nazneen has an affair with a younger man and Chanu’s job losses stack up. Reverence for homeland, frustrations with prejudice, poor living conditions and rebellious children, play a role in breaking this striving man’s spirit.

Nazneen’s complicity in the accepted traditions of how a respectable Bengali wife lives, suffocates me. And perhaps this is where controversy comes in. Not for a minute did I relate this book to the greater problem of our perceptions of Islam in our world today. The book was about immigration and prejudice, women’s voices and women’s rights, children chaffing against restrictive, frightened parents and increasing gang violence and drug use. We know it’s there and no amount of denial can erase it from modern city living.

The book informs of a culture that views women as second-class citizens, but in this case, a husband is not cruel, nor does he intentionally demean his wife. Their relationship is complex, and in many ways respectful. It is for their daughters that the worst clashes of culture exist. They are British now, not Bangladeshi, and they want to stay that way.

A trailer for the film is evocative of the sometimes beautiful and moving images that Ali writes so well. Without a book like this, and the controversy from it, how else will governments recognize their failings and find remedies to the divide that exists within the immigrant experience.

Brick Lane Movie Trailer

Charles Foran – Canadian Charles Taylor Prize

charles-foran-winner-of-charles-taylor-prize-for-nonfictionOn the heels of his exciting win of the Canadian Charles Taylor Nonfiction Prize ($25,000) for his book Mordechai, The Life and Times, the Writers’ Community of Durham Region (WCDR) presented Charles Foran as our Guest Speaker, March 12, 2011

Mordecai, The Life and Times, (Knopf Canada) took Foran four years to write. Capturing the distinct voices of Richler, a controversial Canadian literary giant, was the focus of his informative and entertaining talk. In essence, the message that came through to me is: If your writing voice is not similar to your speaking voice, or storytelling voice, your writing voice will likely fall flat. Foran cited four examples of the speaking and writing voices of Mordechai Richler to illustrate his point.

wcdr-charles-foranForan graciously sat through the announcements for the finalists and prize winners for the WCDR Wild Words short story contest — and I didn’t see him yawn once. Probably because memories of his own early writing struggles are what bonds dedicated scribblers in the writing community. I’ve said it before, Writers are a generous bunch.

I purchased Foran’s book Join the Revolution, Comrade, Journeys and Essays. Foran is a man whose observations as a foreign journalist give him the qualifications to contemplate and interpret world hot spots (and I don’t mean dance clubs).

Foran is no newcomer to the literary world. He met deadlines for fiction writing, nonfiction, essays and journalism for years.

FILE: YORK’S DAILY BULLETIN

Foran Wins Charles Taylor Prize for Nonfiction

Daily Motion 5 Minute Media

In 2004, my mentor, Allyson Latta, interviewed Foran about his novel, The Last House of Ulster

2011 Five Finalists for Charles Taylor Nonfiction Prize

Stevie Cameron for On the Farm: Robert William Pickton and the Tragic Story of Vancouver’s Missing Women, published by Alfred A. Knopf Canada

Charles Foran for Mordecai: The Life & Times, published by Alfred A. Knopf Canada. 
published by Knopf Canada.

Ross King for Defiant Spirits: The Modernist Revolution of the Group of Seven published by Douglas & McIntyre / McMichael Canadian Art Collection

George Sipos for The Geography of Arrival: A Memoir published by Gaspereau Press

Merrily Weisbord for The Love Queen of Malabar: Memoir of a Friendship with Kamala Das published by McGill-Queen’s University Press

What Disturbs Our Blood by James Fitzgerald – Book Review

bloodcover_jpg_682245gm-iWhat Disturbs Our Blood is FitzGerald’s second book. He shook the establishment a few years ago when he unveiled the secrets of Canada’s upper crust in Old Boys: The Powerful Legacy of Upper Canada College. Sexual abuse led to charges and convictions of three former teachers, and launched a class action lawsuit against the college in 2002.

What strikes me on reading What Disturbs Our Blood is the depth of research FitzGerald did to reveal the sad truths of the lives of his grandfather and father, both renowned doctors. The book is a hard look at the FitzGerald male line, its strengths, its weaknesses and the mental illness that compelled these men to commit suicide. At a time when the world honoured and respected them for their accomplishments in developing life-altering advances for the public good, establishing world-famous Connaught Laboratories and monumental public health networks with international recognition, the two men eventually struggled with self-destructive behaviour.

Fitzgerald embarks on a journey of discovery, bent on understanding and thwarting a suicidal curse that afflicts the male generations before him.

FitzGerald is a capable storyteller. Not once does he trot out the facts without weaving them into the context of the times: 19th century Irish immigrants, small-town Ontario, determination to excel, development of world health initiatives in Canada, two devastating world wars, Depression Era, privileged educational opportunities, the Jazz Age and post-war booms.

Tribute to Gerry FitzGerald (1882 – 1940)
Through generational time lines, the author shows a balanced view of where all went right, and where all went wrong. The author knew little about this mysterious grandfather. A family’s conspiracy to shroud his shameful death put out the flame of the man’s personal achievements and his achievements for Canada.

How can it be that men of such brilliance and vision, men on the front lines of miraculous public health cures that today we take for granted, and men associated with the best minds in psychiatry succumb to hellish depressions for which they see suicide as their only answer?

The author begins his book with his early remembrances of growing up in his grandfather-built home on north Toronto’s privileged Balmoral Street.

I was dipped in the lukewarm baptismal waters of Grace Church on-the-Hill, an austere High Anglican enclave of grey stone that gravely watched over neighbourig Bishop Strachan, the private girls’ school my sister was destined to enter: henceforth, the rituals of my young life would continue to mesh with these institutional vestiges of the Family Compact, the nineteenth century ruling class clique of the British colony of Upper Canada.

Author’s father’s descent into depression and eventual suicide:

my father took more and more time off work. He was having a nervous breakdown, but we pretended not to notice. He cried to my mother that he was all washed up, that he could not handle his job any longer, and cancelled appointments with his patients. Only during my archival searchings decades later did I discover that he had been invited in June 1966 to attend the official opening of FitzGerald Building, a new laboratory facility on a three-hundred-acre property north of the city, honouring the memory of his illustrious father. Engulfed by a merciless malaise, he declined the invitation.

Author’s grandfather’s descent into depression and eventual suicide:

Gerry rests at Connaught Farm, an unprecedented disruption of his long-standing work routine. He has spent his life deftly balancing work and holidays, recharging his body each summer to take a run at the busy fall term. But this fall, it’s as if a steady trickle of blood is leaking from the hull of a battered frigate, sapping his waning reserves of strength. He tries to keep himself occupied with rug weaving and other hobbies, but instead waves of apathy and agitation roll over him: each night, he swallows tablets of Nembutol to quell his insomnia. Edna handles his correspondence and postpones meetings.

The book is an insider’s look at Canada’s role in supplying a desperate world with preventative immunization against diptheria, smallpox, rabies, polio, diabetes, and allergies, a country becoming a world leader in inexpensive public health and quality controls.

But equally fascinating is a ramble through the early Freudian camp of psychiatry, which was opposed by leading doctors and suspicious non-believers in North America, choosing instead more invasive and ultimately more devastating treatments: Metrazol, lobotomy, insulin coma treatment and electric shock treatment. The North American model finally changed over from the early premise that insanity is associated with sin, or poor blood lines, which shamed the mentally ill to endure secretive denial, alienation and ineffective experimental brain and body cures that left many dazed and useless, or worse, dead.

The Who’s Who of modern medicine are characters in this book. Nobel prize-winners and decorated award winners push through their ideals to create institutions, universities, laboratories and international connections. But many of those brilliant strategists couldn’t benefit from the advances themselves. The book is peppered with famous suicides that quite frankly boggle the mind.

I highly recommend this book published by Random House Canada for its style, insights, historical significance and hope that the author brings to sufferers of mental illness.

The Ghosts of Europe by Anna Porter – Book Review

ghostsofeurope_j_900482cl-3Journeys Through Central Europe’s Troubled Past and Uncertain Future

The Ghosts of Europe by Anna Porter
I picked up Porter’s book because it won the $25,000 Canadian Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing.

Twenty years ago I spoke to an elderly Polish couple, new Canadian immigrants to Canada after WWII. Their anti-Semitic remarks arising from memories of the Nazi invasion of Poland early in WWII alarmed me. The Polish woman, sixteen in 1939 and separated from her family, forced to work as a farm labourer knew the threat of harm to her family if she didn’t comply. Her husband had been a Polish soldier, captured early in the war by the Germans, spending the war years in prison camps. Their lack of empathy for the killing of Jews baffled me. In Canada the Holocaust went unquestioned as a barbarous crime, and the Western world championed Israel as a Jewish homeland.

Porter’s book goes a long way to explain why the Polish people, whose threatened borders by Communist Russia and Nazi Germany, overlooked the deeper Jewish situation.

Inside Stanislaw Kosta Church are memorials to those killed at Treblinka, Majdanek, Sobibor, Belzec, Chelmno, Auschwitz–place names that resonate with memories of the Holocaust. Here, however, it is not the Jewish tragedy that is being commemorated but the Polish tragedy that happened over the same years with almost as much brutality as the one that annihilated six million Jews. No other country saw as sustained barbarity as Poland, and none lost as large a percentage of its population during World War II: six million Poles were killed (including three million Polish Jews) — 20 per cent of the population, compared to 2.2 per cent in Holland, for example. After the devastation of the war, there was no interest here in the fact that 90 per cent of the Jews who had lived here had been murdered.

It was in Poland that the worst atrocities of World War II were perpetrated, with full knowledge of a traumatized population, both witnesses to and victims of bouts of brutal mockery, massacres in town squares, sadism, humiliation, unrestrained horror inflicted upon the non-Christian minority that had lived close to the Catholic majority for several hundred peaceful years. Poland had the largest Jewish population in Europe, and it was here, renamed by Germans, the Generalgouvernment, that the final solution was played out. This is where the locked boxcars from the rest of Europe arrived and disgorged their human cargo, some already dead or dying, and this where most of those who arrived alive were murdered in gas chambers and burnt in furnaces built for the express purpose of turning human beings into ash.

There are remnants of concentration camps throughout Poland, but only Auschwitz has remained relatively intact. The postwar Communists preserved the site but ignored the truth of what had happened here. The museum plaques listed the victims by nationality only. ‘Monument to the Martyrdom and Struggle of the Polish Nation and Other Nations,’ went the tagline at Auschwitz. The fact that more than 90 per cent of them were Jews was unimportant.

Until the early 1980s, scant public attention was paid to the Holocaust, no effort made by the educational authorities to single out the Jewish tragedy as separate from the Polish tragedy of the war years. The subject did not suit the curriculum’s focus on the great Soviet army sweeping over the Nazis, nor Moscow’s philosophy of class warfare. The Holocaust had nothing to do with class. Besides, East Germany had become a faithful ally, a bulwark against capitalism. The truths about the Holocaust were further complicated by the Communist Party’s anti-Semitic campaign of the late ’60s, during which time Jews were forced out of high positions in the army and government, many were interrogated, some expelled, other jailed. Ultimately, about fifteen thousand Jews were encouraged to emigrate. All those who did so lost their citizenship.

I’m on page 85 in the chapter on Poland. By page 278 I will have read chapters:

Nostalgia for the Habsburgs
Poland
The Last of the Great Resistance Intelligentsia
The Czech Republic
Slovakia
Hungary
Outcasts, Emigres and Exiles
Afterword

Quote by Porter:

History often becomes a political tool to be wielded when needed, distorted when convenient and hidden when harmful to one’s cause. Twenty years after the end of autocracy in Poland, the debate about the former Communists continues. As George Orwell predicted, whoever controls the present controls the past, and whoever controls the past controls the future.

With concerns for a strong European Union, Porter’s title The Ghosts of Europe: Journeys Through Central Europe’s Troubled Past and Uncertain Future, sheds light on issues arising from the complexities of political baggage, contested borders, racial resentments, economic strife and competing markets.

The Writers’ Trust of Canada announced Feb 16/2011 that Anna Porter won the $25,000 Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing for The Ghosts of Europe: Journeys Through Central Europe’s Troubled Past and Uncertain Future, published by Douglas & McIntyre.

The Golden Mean by Annabel Lyon – Book Review

9780307356208_012009 Rogers Writers’ Trust fiction prize, a finalist for the Scotiabank Giller Prize and the Governor General’s Award

How does author, Annabel Lyon, write an acclaimed book about the famous philosopher, Aristotle and his arrogant young student, Alexander the Great, without actually detailing their physical environment?

Perhaps I learned a simple lesson from this book: credit the reader with imagination enough to remember ancient Macedonia from history lessons learned in school. We already know in our imaginations what an ancient town, an ancient castle, an ancient market and an ancient war was like. Lyon doesn’t beat us up with exotic details. She saves details for character development.

What does the golden mean (associated with mathematics) mean to Lyon’s story?

Porter tasks Aristotle with educating a rebellious and high-strung young Alexander. By today’s standards Aristotle would likely seem nerdy and unsociable. But his interest to curb Alexander’s impetuosity, and to balance youthful aggression against weightier knowledge, caution, negotiation and fairness — concepts Aristotle developed through observation over years of study. Form and balance. This may sound like a typical teacher/student relationship, but Macedonia in 356 BC thrives in crude and brutal times. Loftier ideals such as democracy and fairness do not easily co-exist with threatened borders and disrupted trade routes. Kings and princes, queens and princesses kill each other for crowns.

To brush up on Alexander the Great and Aristotle, have a look at what wikipedia has to say.

Lyon’s setting is Pella Macedonia from 356 Bc to 352, when Alexander’s father, a powerful warring king enlists his former boyhood friend, Aristotle, to cultivate his son’s knowledge of science and philosophy. Along the way we are privy to the domesticity and relationship between the scholar and his wife, the birth of a daughter, a second wife, and a son.

There are intriguing segments where Aristotle, an expert in anatomy for all living creatures, teaches his students popular and accepted diagnosis for a range of human ailments, physical and mental. I wanted to shout, Don’t believe it. It’s not like that. But it will be many centuries before new beliefs in the humours improve medicine for mankind.

Porter chooses to have Aristotle narrates this tale of thwarted ambitions, domestic disappointments, fears for country, passion for learning and passion for war.

The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein – Book Review

515VmlwCjXL._SX330_BO1,204,203,200_The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein, published by Harper Collins, New York Times Bestseller

For animal lovers who look into the eyes of their beloved pets and imagine they commune with another human being, this book is a must-read. Stein’s quirky and entertaining fiction teaches us about life. He tells the story through the point of view of a terrier pooch named Enzo (named after Enzo Ferrari, founder of the famous Italian automobile). Enzo is a philosopher dog with a nearly human soul. For years he educates himself in front of the TV. His canine heart fervently believes a National Geographic documentary film he once viewed about Mongolia; when a dog finishes living his lifetime as a dog, his next incarnation will be as a man.

Enzo’s View:

In Mongolia, when a dog dies, he is buried high in the hills so people cannot walk on his grave. The dog’s master whispers into the dog’s ear his wish that the dog will return as a man in the next life. His tail is cut off and put beneath his head, and a piece of meat or fat is placed in his mouth to sustain his soul on it’s journey; before he is reincarnated, the dog’s soul is free to travel the land, to run across the high desert plains for as long as it would like. Not all dogs return as men, they say: only those who are ready. I am ready.

Stein gets down on all fours to live Enzo’s low-level world. With humour and pathos the writer projects Enzo’s advanced understanding of the humans he loves and depends on, and the humans trying to destroy those he loves. The surprise is how Stein weaves lessons about successful living into a metaphor of life as a car race–and Enzo buys into it heart and soul. Enzo listens to his master’s conversations, determined to learn human behavior from the parallel worlds of winners on the circuit and winners as human beings.

Toss into the mix the terrier’s owner Denny who dreams of stepping up his race ranking to the big leagues, Denny’s ailing wife Eve, a young daughter Zoe, Eve’s resentful parents Enzo calls, The Twins, a fatal illness, bleak circumstances and redemption. Lessons of the racetrack guide Enzo’s every enlightened and loyal moment. To the humans in his life he’s a good dog, but what they can’t see is what a good human being he becomes in preparation for his reincarnation.

Stein himself was a racing car driver and became involved with high performance driver education. His knowledgeable accounts of championship Formula One, Grand Prix and endurance car races, and the brilliant race strategies of respected drivers as seen through Enzo’s eyes is rich. The cover art of my copy shows a terrier wearing red driving goggles, his nose into the wind, his fur blown back with his red racing scarf – irresistible. There are several newer version with different dogs on the cover.

And Enzo feels frustrated by the stubborn humans he cannot warn of their bad behaviour — because he has no voice. The tender pooch worries over their mistakes and wrong moves, often from outside the house where he frets in isolation until reunited with them, picking up daily threads again. And he finds doggie ways to punish humans who deserve it.

You’re sure of where this book is going for Enzo, but the journey, and a satisfying heart-tug at the end make this book an uplifting read.

View: Book trailer.

A Howl for Mayflower by Dan Gilmore – Review

 

61666293Humorous, and darkly honest, Dan Gilmore’s bittersweet fiction tracks ordinary people coping with life’s curve balls. Who would choose loneliness? or painful self-recognition of Alzheimer’s? or the magnetic pull towards suicide? or the limited prospects of pregnancy at seventeen? Thrown together by circumstances, the four main characters in Howl for Mayflower face difficult choices at The Coronado Apartments in a shabby Tucson neighbourhood in Arizona.

See post at reading with Dan Gilmore

Lonely and demoralized, protagonist Tobias Seltzer philosophizes: Ordinariness is a great social force. Its power to leach vitality from the human soul is at least equal to the black plague.

Tobias’ decisive early steps out of ordinariness begin with a decision to find a low-risk male friend without having to change much about himself:

At the Cornonado, I decided there were three male candidates – the Hindu upstairs, Bennie what-his-ananda, who triggered in me a mild case of xenophobia; Randall Pruitt from down the hall, who had tried to shoot himself through the head after returning from Vietnam and succeeded only in turning himself into a harmless moron; and a man named Howard Gardener, who had recently moved into the late Abigail Kaufman’s apartment across the hall – Abigail, who died in her bathtub and soaked for a week before anyone smelled her.

But it is Tobias’ relationship with his quirky neighbour, Mayflower, a passionate woman desperate to experience life again before Alzheimer’s takes it away from her. She awakens Tobias to the unexplored potential of his early life. By caring for another, and by fighting for what is right, Tobias emerges from the mundane.

Thrown into this emergence is a 17-year old belligerent and pregnant girl, Naomi. Tobias champions her and Mayflower. He does not give up on the two women whom it would be easier to shut out of his life by losing himself in the books he loves. By participating in their lives he suffers bumps and bruises along the way.

Gilmore (who I met in Tucson in January 2011 when he was guest author at Sabino Springs Writers’ Retreat), through his books of poetry and prose, relishes writing quirky with an edge. His blunt view of truth resonates with readers, even when we squirm. He captures the characters’ dysfunctions and their attempts to recover.

Tobias Seltzer character:
I had never been a touchy person. I didn’t know what to do when someone hugged me. I felt repelled, almost painfully so, and at the same time wanted more of it.

Next evening I discovered that, once started, ending relationships was about as easy as kissing your elbow.

I willed myself to let go and run, but something in me was enraged. I wanted to do harm to this wasted piece of humanity.

I didn’t like myself. My life was falling apart. My experiment with relationships had been a bust. I wanted my old life back, the life of the contemplative scholar.

Mayflower character:
I thought I was the most desirable woman alive. Charles spent the whole evening cracking his knuckles. Afterwards, I insisted we go somewhere to dance. He had absolutely no sense of rhythm.

Obsessively organized men almost never have a sense of rhythm.

We need people who have answers even if they’re pretenders. Otherwise, we’d all go mad.

That’s what we have flesh for, dear, to keep us from breaking our bones when we love each other.

Naomi character:
It’s boring here. This place is dark and smells like Lysol. It’s like being dead or something. Don’t you get bored?

You know that minister I told you about? It never happened. I seduced him. Seducing someone that fat and that holy was easy. I liked seeing him swear he’d never see me again, the come begging like a worm. I like making people hate me. I like it that you hate me.

Some day, I’ll see the ocean. I’ll own a car, have long fingernails and paint them purple. I’ll use buckets of mascara and wear those hight platform sandals. I want to be young. I don’t think I’ve ever been young. I’m never going to get married or have another baby.

And then there is sassy Mrs. Choy, a Chinese coffee shop owner, and handsome Caravelo, the one-armed juggler, and Randall Pruitt, an unlikely hero. The book is fast-paced and loaded with believable dialogue interspersed with Tobias’ reflections that at times hold him back and at other times propel him forward.

If there is one disappointment, it is the handling of the character Howard late in the book. Once his purpose to the story is over, Harold disappears on his own life quest. I feel the unfinished business of character development in that decision.

I enjoyed this book.

Published by Imago Press

Night by Elie Wiesel – Book Review

night_cover_90x132Elie Wiesel, winner of 1986 Nobel Peace Prize
(a new translation by Marion Wiesel)

Wiesel’s book (and dedication to Holocaust memories) achieved for him a respected reputation, bringing him attention from the Nobel Peace Prize selection committee in 1986.

Wiesel’s concise writing style in the book Night has no place for fanciful words when documenting his Romanian Jewish family’s transport and existence in a Polish prisoner of war camp in 1944. Growing anti-Semitism in his home country, Transylvania, linked rumours forewarning concentration camp atrocities. No one could, or would, believe that such inhumanity existed. Jews didn’t run from the puzzling gossip and warnings, feeling relatively safe until herded into ghettos and finally transported across the border to German-run concentration camps.

At fifteen, Wiesel and his farther clung to the hope that they would survive together. They didn’t know what happened to his mother and siblings when they became separated on arrival at Birkenau and Auschwitz. Wiesel could not write about them for 10 years, but determined never to forget the hellish places of cruelty and humiliation.

For a book written in 1960 with a sparse following, Night was later translated into 30 languages. Thirty-seven years later, the book sold 300,000 copies annually in the United States alone. By 2006, about six million copies sold in the United States, possibly as a result of TV talk show host Oprah Winfrey’s endorsement with a new translation by Wiesel’s wife, Marion, and a new preface by Wiesel. On February 13, 2006, Night was on The New York Times Bestseller list for paperback non-fiction.

Wiesel is a scholar, a blessing attributed to his father for encouraging him to study humanism and literature. His mother encouraged him to study the Torah. For this boy to lie, cheat and beg for his life, and his father’s life, to suffer unspeakable indignities and to doubt his faith at such a young age is heartbreaking.

For those who think Holocaust stories are overdone in literature, this book serves as a reminder of what can happen when we bury our heads in the sand.

Elie Wiesel:
…to stand silent and indifferent is the greatest sin of all …

The Elie Wiesel Foundation

Ars Medica Delivered by Canada Post

mcintyre-family-2010-l-ars-medica2010 ended with an exceptional treat for me. On Dec 30 Canada Post delivered a copy of ARS MEDICA, a journal which features my submission The Day After.

What is ARS MEDICA?

It’s a biannual literary journal that explores the interface between the arts and medicine, and examines what makes medicine an art. ARS MEDICA allows a place for dialogue, meaning making, and the representation of experiences of the body, health, wellness, and encounters with the medical system. Content includes narratives from patients and health care workers, medical history, fiction, creative nonfiction, poetry, and visual art.

Since the inaugural edition in October 2004,  ARS MEDICA remains the only medical literary journal of its kind in Canada, and one of only a handful of such journals in the world, in the rapidly developing international field of the medical humanities.

Participation Through Dialogue

In Canada, our healthcare system often mystifies us. We complain about wait times in emergency rooms, too few specialists to meet healthcare demands, costly medical procedures, one-two-and-three tier options… . We feel powerless to be heard by policy-makers who struggle to reduce costs and offer Canadians high standards for medical treatments across this country.

Ars Medica offers healthcare professionals and the public an opportunity to participate in a dialogue through written and visual disciplines. Know that your voice  may impact policy, or impact practitioners’ attitudes and procedural choices. Medicine and art DO mix thanks to this little journal that speaks for everyone who has a story to tell.

What every writer/artist knows

Getting work published is difficult. Start ups for journals are difficult. Funding for the arts is difficult. Finding dependable publishers, editors, copyeditors and administrators is difficult. The creators of ARS MEDICA have a goal: to propel the concept and tenuous link between medicine and art to the forefront.

Submission Guidelines for ARS MEDICA

Positive Reviews for Saying Goodbye

Book Reviewer, Janie HS
Book Reviewer, Janie HS

Author JHS of Colloquium reviewed the anthology Saying Goodbye. She selected my short story, Love Letters, as the author’s favourite. Read the review of Saying Goodbye, and my story Love Letters by clicking Saying Goodbye Book Review

I thank my Life Writers Ink writing group members, Ruth Zaryski Jackson, Cheryl Andrews, Anahita Nepton Printer, Dace Mara Zacs-Koury for thoughtful critiques that raise the bar for each project.

 

Dream of Things Accepts Story, Love Letters

Dream of Things book publisher and online book retailer, Mike O’Mary, and his editing staff, selected my story Love Letters for the October release of Dream of Things anthology titled Saying Goodbye.

Editor, Julie Rember, sent me a few editing changes for approval. With the contract signed and delivered, all that is left for me to do is withstand the wait to see the book in print.

I thank my Life Writers Ink writing group members, Ruth Zaryski Jackson, Cheryl Andrews, Anahita Nepton Printer, Dace Mara Zacs-Koury for thoughtful critiques that raise the bar for each project.

Published Poem in Grade 10 Poetry Module Textbook

live-lines-cover-pagePoem, Ugly Like a Scar, selected for Ontario textbook

I fit an angry teen into my granny brain. Why? In response to the Writers’ Community of Durham Region (WCDR) broadcast for poetry from Pearson Educational Publishing. Fall 2009 the publisher needed poetry for the May/June edition of applied language arts, English 9 – 10, Poetry Module, “Live Lines.”

The topic: teens in family conflict. The poem had to appeal to 15-year olds, mostly boys, and no profanity. I threw on a hoodie, slammed my office door, shoved ear buds into my ears, slouched in front of my computer, and wrote a poem titled, Ugly Like A Scar.

After two months a Pearson Publishing Freelance rep sent me a Permission Request to include my poem in the textbook: 45,000 copies (approx. 80 pages), 1,500 Teacher’s Guides, Audio rights downloadable to MP3 player – 1,500 users (classrooms) and Electronic rights, student password-protected web site – 1,077 users (classrooms), ISBN: 0135118263

I emitted a grandmotherly whoop of satisfaction. As a former teacher, I hoped my poem would resonate with troubled teens. Then I switched gears and thought of the impact the publication held for me as an emerging writer. I solicited members of my writing group, Life Writers Ink, and Allyson Latta, Writing Coach, and Deborah Windsor, President of The Writers’ Union of Canada, to learn how to handle the offer. With their help, I concluded the contract to my satisfaction.

I came close to hugging the Canada Post delivery man when I saw the book-sized envelope he held out. I took it from him (more of a snatching motion). He barely turned around before I shut the door and peeled back the cardboard flap.

It’s a bittersweet moment to pull your book (well, a Poetry Module with my poem on page 42) out of an envelope and have no one to whoop it up with on the kitchen tiles. I admired the glossy graphics on the cover and flipped through the Contents pages until I read, Ugly Like a Scar by Mary McIntyre. Even with the radio off, I heard music. There I was, nestled between pages featuring luminaries Margaret Atwood and Emily Dickinson.

I phoned my husband’s cell. Disappointed, I had to leave him a message. I emailed my writing group members, Life Writers Ink. Congratulations trickled in. I phoned my sister who was generous enough to say yes when I invited myself to show off my book over the pretense of afternoon tea. I emailed my other siblings … Can’t wait to see it, Mar, my kids …, Great, Mum.

I settled down after a week. I removed the book from the coffee table. Pearson Educational Publishing chose exciting graphics on every page — a feast of images for the high-tech students who would never tolerate the boring Poems to Remember textbook I learned from in Grade 10. (To view the first 21 pages of the textbook)

live-lines-poem-ugly-like-a-scar

I thank my Life Writers Ink writing group members, Ruth Zaryski Jackson, Cheryl Andrews, Anahita Nepton Printer, Dace Mara Zacs-Koury for thoughtful critiques that raise the bar for each project.

The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli – Book Review

41jV19Td2eLTatjana Soli’s debut novel The Lotus Eaters (St. Martin’s Press, New York), set during the Vietnam War in the 60s and 70s, shows the deadly risks combat photographers took to bring headlines out of chaos. The story begins in the last days of the conflict, with panicked Saigonese crowding the gates of the American embassy, begging for helicopter rescues out of the enemy-occupied city. A desperate American combat photographer, Helen, and her wounded Vietnamese lover, Linh, navigate the streets and alleys amidst a fleeing population. Helen delivers Linh to the care of the Americans and chooses to return to the streets of Saigon for an opportunity to photograph the occupation.

Ten years earlier, Helen arrived in Vietnam as a novice photographer whose purpose it was to find evidence of her veteran brother’s death in a mismanaged battlefield in Vietnam. While in Saigon she falls in love with a veteran combat photographer, Darrow. Through his eyes she sees the raw ugliness of combat. She is a conflicted American woman striving for equality in a male-dominated field. Danger tests her courage and her ability to understand a confusing foreign war. Her admiration for the Vietnamese people is further questioned when confronted with opportunists and traitors.

The book is well researched. Immersed in noisy, smelly jungles, swamps, rivers and rice paddy battlefields, we sense the enemy hidden all around. We lament the senseless slaughter. There are no villains, only people trying to survive against hopeless odds.

For me, there are two minor flaws. I’m not convinced why she loved a married, bitter, battle-worn combat photographer who secretly respected her as an equal, but treated her shabbily. The story is about finding courage and overcoming fear for a greater cause. At times, Helen seemed too girlish. She often considers whether she should go back to America, and leave it all behind. Why does she stay? Is she a shock junkie?

The following review by The Washington Post may shed some light:

Lotus eaters, in Greek mythology, taste and then become possessed by the narcotic plant. Already an accomplished short story writer, Soli uses as her epigraph a passage from Homer’s “Odyssey” in which the lotus eaters are robbed of their will to return home. It is a clue, right from the start, that this novel will delve into the lives of those who become so fixated on recording savagery that life in a peaceful, functioning society begins to feel banal and inconsequential. —The Washington Post

It isn’t until the last few pages that we learn the fates of Linh and Helen after the collapse of Saigon.

Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri – Book Review

51oM0M6QkhL._AA160_Acclaimed writer, Jhumpa Lahiri, won the 2000 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for her collection of short stories Interpreter of Maladies. Her first novel The Namesake was made into a movie of the same name. I have seen the movie and recommend it.

In her more recent collection of eight stories Unaccustomed Earth, Lhairi continues to explore the Bengali-immigrant experience. Her point of view is primarily that of the children of Bengali immigrants, chronicling the struggles they face to adapt to American culture. Caught between parent-imposed expectations and the pressure to fit into conflicting American mainstream values, the children carry a burden of guilt and secrecy.

Lahiri’s characters are not representative of all Bengali immigrants. She has transported well-educated Bengali men with arranged marriage wives to America’s northeastern seaboard. The men are professionals and academics in respected positions, while their wives are traditional Bengali homemakers having limited opportunities to realize a greater potential. But it is the children who must walk the line between parental expectations and the cultural differences confronting them in the outer world. As privileged children, they attend expensive boarding schools and Harvard. But academic achievements can’t protect them from the sense of uprooted-ness that dogs them along their paths. Inter-racial marriages, raising children non-traditionally, running away from Bengali identities, alcoholism and striving to please by succumbing to traditional marriages are some of the issues they contend with.

Lahiri’s New England settings are a striking counterbalance to the references to Bombay and Calcutta, interspersed with a broader global experience enjoyed by the second and third generation living abroad. These are stories of displaced persons who long for home, but cannot always decide where home is for them.

Never Look Away by Linwood Barclay – Book Review

6678884I read two Linwood Barclay books recently: a paperback copy of No Time For Goodbye and a hardcover Never Look Away (Doubleday Canada). The genre is Fictional Thriller.

Barclay’s male protagonists in both books share many traits: nice guys trying to do their best to keep a lid on a situation where a pretty wife is either delusional, or a suspected murderer. Both men have one child between the ages of four and ten. Both men employed in middle-income jobs.

Barclay figured out a tidy formula for throwing suspicion over lesser characters, leading the reader into the game of Who-Done-It. Detectives are suspicious, tenacious and forgiving. Parents are mostly good people who have grown up children’s best interests at heart. Villains have guns.

I’m not convinced Barclay has nailed the children’s roles in either book. There’s a lot of angst over protecting a child, but it seems contrived at times. The view of the children is adult-centered. The plastic kids are easy to convince to do what they’re told by loving parents. Not always my reality.

This is not a genre I normally read. I attended Linwood Barclay’s author reading hosted at Wyndance Golf and Country Club and sponsored by Blue Heron Books of Uxbridge. The author is an easygoing, congenial writer, and he makes no claim to have written literary classics. He likes his genre, writes it well and has achieved international success for it.

Barclay advances most of the story in Never Look Away, with dialogue, relying on minimal setting details to keep the reader interested in the characters.

He effectively describes the lives of a depressed middle-aged couple, writing, She led me into a living room filled with furniture that I was guessing had been handed down to them from their own parents … Cheap landscapes hung so high on the wall they nearly lined up with the ceiling.

And again he captures an unattractive trait of a villain writing, At last night’s dinner at the Big Boy just off the interstate, he’d had his meal half eaten before she had her napkin unfolded on her lap. He was shoveling it in like the restaurant was in flames, and he wanted his fill before his hair caught on fire.

Barclay kept my attention enough to finish the 412 pages it took to string out a conclusion to the mystery. In both books, I was about thirty pages from the end and couldn’t imagine how he would tie up the loose ends in so few pages. But perhaps that’s a sign of a well-written mystery formula – something I had to learn. I wasn’t on the edge of my seat, but for the thriller readers out there, I’d say it’s a satisfying read.

The Disappeared by Kim Echlin – Book Review

6098557Author, Kim Echlin, spoke about her book, The Disappeared, at an author reading sponsored by Blue Heron Books at Wyndance Golf and Country Club. I reviewed Echlin’s book for The Writers’ Community of Durham Region website category: Reading as Writers, Fiction. The book was short listed for the Scotiabank Giller Prize in Canada.

I can’t stop thinking about Echlin’s story. She writes about events that happened in Canada and Cambodia during the time of my youth, the Sixties, when I should have been better informed about Cambodia’s reign of terror – but wasn’t.

Told first through the experiences of a 16-year old girl in Montreal, the author confronts the reader with the sensual details of blind love – love that flies in the face of convention, love that cares nothing for the cultural differences of two lovers, or the geography that separates them. The author, through an effective economy of language, captivates the reader with images of Montreal’s smoky jazz clubs, tawdry rooming houses and precious moments of sharing between disparate characters.

But it is the eventual rediscovery of the couple many years later in Cambodia that sinks its teeth into your skin. The author layers political complexities in a post Pol Pot regime with the woman’s tenacious personal journey, demanding the reader to recognize the realities of survival after international newspapers abandoned the story of Cambodian genocide.

Echlin introduces us to heart warming characters that journey with this devoted woman in her exploration of the home of her lost lover, realistic and believable. It is no surprise that this fascinating book was short listed for the Giller Prize in fiction.

Excerpt:

We could survive a whole weekend on five dollars. There was always a bag of rice and we brought home fresh fish from Chinatown and fifty cents’ worth of greens and a couple of oranges. We knew a café on Crescent Street where we could sit the whole afternoon with one coffee and we got into L’air du temps through the back entrance. Sometimes we walked up the mountain and threw snowballs over Beaver Lake and when our fingertips began to freeze we went into the churches. I like St. Joseph’s oratory best, its gloom and incense and hidden stairways.

 

Grandmother’s Necklace Anthology Book Launch

9781554524624-usGrandmothers to Grandmothers’ Anthology launch in Toronto

A member of my Life Writers Ink writing group, Ruth Zaryski Jackson, contributed two poems to an anthology, Grandmothers’ Necklace, compiled by Patricia Anne Elford and published by Epic Press. All profits for the publication go to the Grandmothers to Grandmothers Campaign started in Africa and sponsored by the Stephen Lewis Foundation.

I attended the Grandmothers to Grandmothers fundraising concert at the Toronto Bloor Street United Church, April 24, 2011, sponsored by the Togogo Grannies of Bloor Street United, and the Old Orchard Blossoms of St. Timothy’s Anglican Church.

In 2006, Stephen Lewis, Canada’s Special Envoy for HIV/Aids, informed Canadians of the heartbreaking African HIV epidemic that leaves impoverished grandmothers responsible for raising grandchildren after their own children die of AIDS. With little income, these brave women open their hearts and homes to staggering numbers of bewildered orphans, doing their best to offer family life, often with little ability to educate or improve the prospects for children facing a harsh world.

In March 2006, on the eve of International Women’s Day, the foundation launched the Grandmothers to Grandmothers Campaign to mobilize support from Canadian Grandmothers. At the time, there were six groups of Canadian Grandmothers who had chosen to fundraise and send proceeds to the foundation to help support their peers in Africa. Today, there are over 200 groups and the campaign has raised over $7 million.

Grassroots humanity at its best.