Tuesday, December 13, 2011

War Horse

Fellow RWAC member Kelly Boyce just updated her blog with a discussion of a movie she'd like to see. So, I'm going to play monkey see, monkey do. I stumbled across the trailer for Steven Spielberg's new movie, War Horse, the other day. Of course it sucked me in - the cinematography looks beautiful and the World War 1 setting hooked me. I made up my mind that I'd like to see it - unless it had a tragic ending. I did a little searching and found out it doesn't. So, I'll probably take it in over the holidays if it's in the theatres here.

It's always amazed me that the bond between humans and animals can run so deep that they will accompany us through the worst hell we can create. I'm looking forward to seeing this. People of blogland, are you planning on seeing any movies over the holidays?

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Shattered Signing at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic

As I’ve said before, I belong to an absolutely awesome chapter of Romance Writers of America. A few weeks ago I had a chat with Tara MacDonald, one of our members who has a marketing background and an up-and-coming company called Charlie Mac Productions, about possible promotional ideas for Shattered. I was floored when, a few days later, Tara got back to me with the news that she wanted to use my book as a test case for her company and promote it for me. She lined up fellow RWAC member Shawna Romkey and Richard Black from Rich Graphics, and in less than two weeks they had a new website in the making, promotional materials created and a signing arranged at the perfect venue – the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic in downtown Halifax. All I had to do was show up.

This is the entrance to the Explosion Exhibit. Fellow RWAC member Julia Smith, a talented photographer as well as an author, snapped me surrounded by history. She took all the other photos here as well.

We had a lovely fruit wreath by Fruitful Expressions and gingerbread cookies from Sweet Smiles Pastry Cafe – which proved very popular with one guest in particular, who made off with an armful. One young guest told me that she liked eating gingerbread men, but didn’t like smelling them.

To each his own – I love the smell of gingerbread, and these were delicious.
The reading took place in the museum’s small craft gallery. Liam and Alice’s world felt very near as I talked about what life was like in wartime Halifax.

I chose to read the scene from Shattered where Liam and Alice dance for the first time, and Liam has his first encounter with Alice’s brother Carl. RWAC members Pat Thomas (my amazing editor) and Michelle Helliwell also came out in support. Here’s the whole crew after the reading. From left to right we have Tara, Michelle, Shawna, Me, Pat and Julia.

And here I am signing copies by the museum gift shop.

I confess I’m an introvert. Even after years at the front of a classroom, speaking to an audience takes energy, but talking about the history behind Shattered and reading from the novel here, surrounded by graceful masts and sails and with the museum’s Explosion exhibit close by, was a joy. The Beatles said it best...there’s nothing like a little help from your friends.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Meet Author Sara Trimble

Hosting other authors on my blog is something I'm resolving to do more of in the coming year. I'm starting today by featuring author Sara Trimble, who I met a couple of years ago on Writing.com - a great place to connect with writers, by the way. Sara's a busy young mom who somehow finds the time to pen novels. She and I also share an appreciation for the simple things in life - she's a country girl to the core.

Sara is new to the world of publishing, though not to writing. She has one published novel, two in the final stages of revisions and a stack of stories ready to work on. She's also venturing out of her comfort zone of Romance to work on a new suspense novel, which she hopes to have done by December 1st. When she isn’t writing, Sara spends her time with her three children and her husband Justyn, hanging with friends, and just enjoying life. You can find her at her website, follow her blog, tweet her, or find her on Facebook. She loves to hear from her readers so send her an email at saratrimble@saratrimble.com. If anyone is participating in NaNo, feel free to buddy her at youngmomx3. Don't forget to check out the new movie trailer for her debut paranormal romance, Heart Over Mind. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ws0EXm5tsI8

What got you interested in writing?

The very first time I remember being excited to write was for Halloween in 4th grade. We had an assignment to write about a spooky event and I ended up writing a five page story when everyone else had only written two paragraphs. My teacher loved it. Apparently though, I've been wanting to be a writer since I was six. I have a 1st grade folder that my teacher created for us. In the section “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I put creative writer.

How long have you been writing?

I've been writing since I was little but I didn't start trying to make a career of it until January of 2005.

What advice would you give a new writer just starting out?

Don't try to be just like everyone else. If you have an idea for a story, don't abandon it just because it's different than what your favorite authors create.

Have you ever suffered from writer’s block?

Unfortunately, I have and currently am. I'm still at that stage that I've yet to figure out how to beat this horrible scenario.

To you, what are the most important elements of good writing?

Great, believable characters. I think without strong, diverse characters, the book won't do much.

Tell us about your latest book.

Right now, I'm deviating from romance to try my hand at suspense/thriller/mystery. Gemma Davis, FBI, is called to the end of the world, Bayou Point, by her ex-fiance, when an arm is found inside the stomach of an alligator. DNA results show that the limb belonged to a young girl who'd gone missing four years prior. Claude worries at the find, as there are still sixteen other girls, approximately the same age and type, still missing.

Gemma agrees to visit and gets in over her head when she discovers a sinister secret about the town, and it's occupents, that could end up getting her killed. Nothing and no one is as it seems. The deeper she digs, the worse the outcome gets for the missing girls. Who is taking them, and why? How is that they've never been seen or heard from since their disappearance? And how were these intelligent, careful girls, all kidnapped without one single witness.

Gemma has to probe carefully to answer these questions and solve the case. And she has to watch her back in the process.

What comes first for you, the plot or the characters?

To me, plot comes first. I like to develop my plot and then the scenario tends to cause the characters to evolve into who they'll be.

What books or authors have most influenced your writing?

Lindsay McKenna, Caridad Pineiro and Patricia Cornwell really influenced the type of writing I wanted to do. I enjoy each of these wonderful women's books and would love to be as successful as they are.

Are you working on anything at the present you’d like to share with us?

I started writing my new book In the Bayou for NaNoWriMo, which is when an author tries to write a 50,000 word book in one month. I knew I wouldn't be that successful, though I'd have loved to, but I did get a lot done on it and think it will be a great book when I'm finished with it.

What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

I love to spend time with my three children, go fishing, hunting or to the river with my husband, and spend time with friends. I try to enjoy each day of my life. Everyone I know tells me I live the life of a typical country song and I can't say I'd change one bit of it.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Thursday Thirteen

I'm guesting today on Julia Smith's blog, with thirteen stranger-than-fiction facts about the Halifax Explosion. Hop on over and join us!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Remembering: The Anniversary of the Halifax Explosion AND Shattered signing

The anniversary of the Halifax Explosion is only a few days away. December 6, 1917 was a bright, sunny morning, mild for December, with no hint of what fate had in store as people went about their morning routines. Shortly after 9:00 am Mont Blanc, on fire and abandoned by her crew, drifted into Pier 6 in Richmond and detonated.

The watch above, stopped at the time of the Explosion, is part of the collection of the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic here in Halifax. No matter how often I've seen it, the museum's Explosion exhibit still makes me shiver. A nightgown stained with soot, a young boy's schoolbag,a child's drawing of a ship - the personal items bring a poignant sense of connection. For me, the fascination of history is that human nature always has been and always will be the same. Only the circumstances change.

The item at the museum that really gives me chills is a little china souvenir cup, about the size of a demitasse, that was found in the rubble of a home, one of the only things left intact. It has 'Remember Me' written on it. And so we do.

Next Sunday, December 4, from 2 to 4 pm, I'm going to be signing copies of Shattered down at the museum. If you're in Halifax, drop by, walk through the Explosion exhibit and visit the Titanic exhibit as well. Both are well worth a visit. See you there!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Kid is Back

I've been watching NHL hockey for as long as I can remember. Growing up in Montreal in the glory days of the Montreal Canadiens, I really had no choice. The city lived and breathed the game. Players like Jean Beliveau and Maurice Richard became local legends. If you're Canadian, you know what I mean. If not, I can't explain it.

There's a beautiful novel, The Divine Ryans by Wayne Johnston, that conveys the fascination of hockey in a wonderfully poetic way, while telling a poignant tale of a young boy's coming of age. Like Draper Doyle Ryan in the novel, I hated being sent to bed after the first period, and I remember when I was first allowed to stay up to watch a whole game on TV. When the Soviet Union played Canada in the 1972 Summit Series, we watched in school, sitting on the edges of our seats. The teachers knew we weren't going to get any work done anyway.

Back then I watched the Saturday night games with my father; now I watch with my hubby. Though DH considers the Toronto Maple Leafs his team (loyalty really can be taken too far), we've followed the career of Nova Scotia's own Sidney Crosby with interest since he stepped onto the ice with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Crosby seems to one of those players who has a date with destiny. At twenty-four, he's captured every honour hockey has to offer, including the Stanley Cup and Olympic gold, and he's done so with as much class as athletic brilliance. So, last winter when he took a hit on the ice and ended up with a career-threatening concussion, I wondered if perhaps all that glory had come to him so soon for a reason. I imagine he wondered, too.

Last night, after almost a year of recovery, Sidney returned, with little advance notice. Networks scrambled to televise the game. The greatest player in hockey today didn't disappoint. Five minutes into the first period he scored a highlight-reel goal. With millions reading his lips, he roared "f**k yeah!" while the crowd went ballistic. If the lights in the arena had gone out, no one would have noticed for the joy and relief lighting up his face.

Way to go, Sidney. It's been a long year, but you're back. Enjoy it. We will.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Julia Smith: The Curtain Opens

The talent, originality, determination and downright awesomeness of the people in Romance Writers of Atlantic Canada, my local chapter of RWA, are amazing. Seriously. I leave every meeting awed by the energy and intelligence that crackles in the air. Not to mention the fact that the restaurants where we lunch have learned to put us in a room by ourselves. This group just can’t contain its enthusiasm for the craft and business of writing.

One of those passionate writers is Julia Phillips Smith. Julia is a filmmaker, author and blogger extraordinaire, and today, she’s celebrating the triumphant conclusion of an eight-year creative journey. At the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 2011 (cue dramatic music), I’m delighted to help her launch her debut novel, SAINT SANGUINUS.

This book is a prime example of why indie publishing is a boon for authors and readers. It’s a dark, richly layered story with complex, tormented characters that are worth the reader’s time to explore, but it doesn’t fit the mainstream publishing mold. Intrigued? Read on.

WARNING: Must love vampires.

1. Julia, tell us a little bit about St. Sanguinus. Who are the main characters? Where does the plot take them?

SAINT SANGUINUS tells the story of Peredur, a Welsh Dark Ages warrior on his last raid against the Irish who attack their settlements in the absence of the Romans. Peredur wants to gather as much battlefield spoils as he can before approaching Tanwen’s father, intending to ask for her hand in marriage. But a spear to his chest puts an end to his dreams, and as he curses God with his dying breath, his curse calls forth a member of the Brethren to gather him to their work.

Tanwen refuses to believe her beloved is truly gone. Under pressure from her family to wed another from their village, Tanwen retreats to the solace of Cavan, the wise woman’s son. His unrequited love for her sparks Cavan to reveal what has really become of Peredur—he is now a vampire.

Cavan has kept his sorcerer’s powers a secret from their village, but now he promises Tanwen that if she truly wants to reunite with her beloved, he can summon a vampire to turn her. What he doesn’t tell her is that Peredur is not like other vampires. As a member of the Brotherhood, it is his task to stand between humans and vampires, ensuring one side doesn’t completely annihilate the other.

2. Where did you get your inspiration for this story?

My first NaNoWriMo gave me this story.

Being a long-time fan of Chelsea Quinn Yarbro’s historical vampire series following the Count Saint-Germain--which always focuses on the less glamorous problems of being an immortal who needs to live among humans--for my first NaNo, I let myself follow the similar problems of all the baby steps of becoming a vampire, from the very first moment of transformation.

I followed Peredur’s story almost exclusively. During another NaNo, I switched POVs and followed Tanwen. The sleep-deprived dream state of NaNo made all the difference for this story, as I went to places I never normally would have gone.

3. What’s your take on the pros and cons of self-publishing in today’s ever-changing market?

I’m quite enamoured with the whole indie self-publish thing, so I can only see the pros. I always knew I had a story that didn’t fit in the parameters being purchased by traditional publishers. To be honest, I never really tried to force my story to fit that market. When I wrote it, I had no idea that there would be an explosion in e-books or a renaissance for under-used story settings and time periods.
But now – voila! The e-reader market is insatiable, and publishing has embraced niche markets, including the smaller traditional print houses. Writers can actually write the book-of-the-heart. It’s the equivalent of being able to do an art house film rather than trying to turn it into a Hollywood blockbuster.

4. You have a background in film. How do you think your training influences your writing?

Well, it makes me reference art house films rather than publishing, for a start. Also, when I was having huge challenges merging those two separate NaNo novels into one book, the only thing that made sense to me was Blake Snyder’s screenwriting how-to, SAVE THE CAT and its sequel SAVE THE CAT GOES TO THE MOVIES. I have no idea why. It’s just the way my brain works, I guess.

It also makes it easier to write and direct my own book trailers:



To be honest, my screenwriting training made learning to write novels a rather hit-and-miss affair at first. To quote early critique reader Kelly Boyce: “Take it out of here (gesturing toward my head) and put it on here (gesturing toward the paper).”
That’s because screenplays only contain brief descriptions of action, minimal indications of setting, and dialogue. Period. There are no qualifiers as to how the dialogue is delivered—that’s the job of the actor and director. No details as to the tone of the scene—that’s the domain of the cinematographer and art department, and later the editor.

In writing the novel, I can’t just say:

PEREDUR takes a sword from VELLOCATUS. He swings it to get the feel of it.
A little sparring.

But if I were writing a screenplay, this would be how the scene would be laid out.
In the novel, I have to add Peredur’s emotional reaction to being reunited with a blade. I have to include the detailed specifics of the sword fight, remembering to add in the sounds of blades clashing, vampires growling, etc.

5. If you were casting St. Sanguinus, what actors would you choose to play the main characters and why?

I always cast my main characters. I find it easier that way. I generally collect screenshots of the actor in scenes with a similar emotional tone to my story, and make a character file on my computer or often a 3-D collage. It’s my film thing—I’m extremely visual.

Peredur looks and sounds and moves a lot like Gerard Butler, especially the Attila/Beowulf/300 version. Why? He’s got an exceptional warrior body type and the fighting skills to match, he’s got that crazy maniac energy running under the surface that personifies Peredur’s attachment to life, and he’s got the all-important lurking melancholy that Peredur needs.

Tanwen is very Eve Myles-like. She’s in Torchwood. She’s got that lovely Welsh face, a ferocity that Tanwen needs, and she tends to exude more of a woman vibe than a girl vibe. Tanwen can’t be girly.

Cavan most resembles retired National Ballet of Canada principal dancer Rex Harrington, but a fairer, blond version. He carries himself like a prince, which Cavan would do. He’s extremely mesmerizing in person, which is very Cavan-like. And he portrays the most haunting expressions of despair.

6. I’ve known you long enough to know you love dark, tragic stories. What is their appeal for you?

I just love my heroes to go through a lot of passionate emotion. The darker, the more tormented the better. If they’re too stoic, too shiny, their emotional journey doesn’t mean as much to me. If my hero gets pushed right to the very brink of sanity or physical endurance—or both—then where he goes from there, how he picks up the pieces and prevails really stirs my heart.

As for my heroines—I give my female characters enough edge that I don’t really refer to them as heroines. Either they carry extreme emotional baggage that they ultimately find the courage to leave by the wayside, or they behave in decidedly un-feminine ways.

If you give me a choice between Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark/Iron Man character and Christopher Reeve’s Superman, for example, there’s no choice as to which one I’m most attracted. Don’t make me say which one.

As for female characters—Anne Elliot from PERSUASION is my favourite Jane Austen heroine, hands down. I much prefer her zigzaggy path to happiness, with much of the blame on her own shoulders, than even Elizabeth Bennett’s self-possessed and independent road to enlightenment.

7. What authors have influenced you as a writer?

Well, of course Chelsea Quinn Yarbro’s magnificent Count Saint-Germain, as well as her female vampire character Atta Olivia Clemens, who has her own three-book series, definitely made me think about the missing scenes in most vampire tales—and made me want to fill those in.

Jo Beverley’s historical romances—especially her Georgian period Malloren family series and the late Regency Company of Rogues series—are my auto-buy books in that genre. Again, she sets up stories that never follow the road most taken. A twice-jilted heroine who has a club foot? Not appearing in most historical romances, but the heroine of HAZARD not only has one, but is paired up with a sketchy gentleman serving as a secretary to a viscount. Social class issues—my favourite!

I also have to say Catherine Cookson, although to tell you the truth, I haven’t read even one of her books. Hmm? How does that work? Well, a whole series of adaptations of her books were made by British producers ITV, many of which have become some of my favourite British historical dramas. The writing in all of them is so layered, and I never saw the character arc reveals coming. Favorites from those: The Girl (with Jonathan Cake), The Gambling Man (with Robson Greene) and The Fifteen Streets (with Sean Bean.)

8. Tell us about what you’re working on now.

I’m working on my dark fantasy story featuring Scorpius, the former falconer’s apprentice who keeps one step ahead of deadly political games—until he and his master are captured and held for ransom by a rival noble house. Will his freedom be worth the price he must pay to the lady for whom he now owes a life debt? Especially when her chief interest lies in learning to summon the dragons which plague their land?

9. Will you share an excerpt with us?

With pleasure:

Peredur hung forward, his arms stretched awkwardly behind him, bound behind a large tree. Now fully awake, he tried to stand upright and surge forward, but the bonds held.

His brethren gathered all around the tree. Melnak who stood farthest away in the shadows, pulled his amulet from where it hid in his robes then lifted it over his head. As he approached, Melnak said, “God our Father, our brother now descends into the trial you have given him.”

The brethren intoned, “Our Father, hear us,” just as Peredur’s body began to jerk away from the amulet as though compelled to do so. Melnak brought the shining polished bone to rest against the bottom rib of Peredur’s left side.

For a moment Peredur couldn’t see. All before him was blinding white light.

When he came to, Peredur sensed he was somewhere else entirely, no longer bound to the tree.

In the distance, a figure waited for him, a miserable bent man barely clothed in rags. Peredur tried to join him, but at the hint of motion his legs shot through with fiery tendrils. The figure turned his face to see who approached.

Such a man. His face held the expression of one who had endured a torturous vigil, rather like the one from which Peredur could not free himself. But the face also held a beauty that hurt to see. Peredur wanted to turn his face away, but the gaze of those tormented eyes held him and despite the pain, he forced a step or two forward.

I’m coming, Peredur tried to tell him, but the bent figure lowered his head as if overcome by agony after all. Peredur grit his teeth and pushed forward with all his might.

His feet finally moved, but suddenly it seemed the saint was miles from where Peredur could reach him. Peredur’s heart sank.

He remembered in his boyhood, how heavy the sword had been at first, when the sword master made him swing it again and again. His legs just now were the same. They rebelled against his commands.
Move! he shouted at them. Move!

Anger at the injustice of it coursed through him. As the anger rose, the binding stiffness released his legs and his steps grew easier.

Peredur wanted to race to the saint’s side, but what use would there be in that? Now that he could move, he walked with dread toward the fallen bundle of rags and limbs. Kneeling there, he took the saint in his arms and brushed the matted hair from the bruised face.

Saint Cittinus’ eyes fluttered open.

Peredur looked down at the youthful saint in his arms, made old before his time by the captivity and mistreatment he’d endured. As if for the first time, Peredur saw the clear white line of a scar across the saint’s neck, as if a rope had choked him there.

Saint Cittinus looked into Peredur’s eyes. Those cracked lips moved. Instead of ‘I thirst,’ the saint spoke clearly, if softly. “We have no one else to fear,” he said, “but our Lord God. Who is in Heaven.”

Peredur nodded. He stayed as he was and watched the saint expire before his eyes. All the while his angel never took his hand from Peredur’s shoulder.

Saint Cittinus faded from Peredur’s grip, though he still felt the weight of him in his arms. No sooner than he’d seen it, but Peredur came to.

He found himself still straining in his bonds against the tree. With breathtaking intensity, the pain in his rib returned. Melnak held the amulet to him still, with unyielding grimness.

He thought of the scar upon the saint’s neck. Instead of struggling and cursing as Peredur had done on the battlefield against the spear, Cittinus had accepted the wound that had given him the scar.

It was time to stop fighting.

Don't miss Julia's blog, A Piece of My Mind or her website, Julia Phillips Smith .

St. Sanguinus will be available from Amazon with the next few days.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Let There Be Peace on Earth

Today's the day for blog blast to peace. People all over the world will be blogging, tweeting and facebooking about peace, about ways to make the world a better place. What is there to say that hasn't already been said?

This past Thanksgiving (Canadian Thanksgiving, in October), with my parents at our family cottage, after a turkey feast and a few glasses of wine, Mum and Dad started reminiscing. Dad had been reading my World War 1 novel, and the talk turned to their memories of the end of World War 2, when the soldiers began coming home. My parents were small children at the time, but two of my mother's uncles were overseas. Both returned. Mum still has letters they wrote home during the war. They are poignant for their very ordinariness, full of questions about brothers and sisters and doings on the family's small farm. Letters written by two young men who, in the normal run of things, would probably have never traveled outside of Canada.

In rural Nova Scotia there were no parades, no marching bands to greet them. The men came home one by one and each family welcomed them in its own way - a celebratory dinner, a round of visits to relatives. Then, life returned to its usual quiet routine, with a weight of anxiety removed, just as it does now when soldiers come home from Iraq and Afghanistan. But for each soldier and each family, life is permanently altered. The person who comes home is not the person who went to war.

One of my great-uncles was in Holland at the war's end. He couldn't say much in his letters and, according to my mother, he never spoke of his experiences, but they left him so badly shaken that he never recovered. I think he might have been involved in the liberation of some of the concentration camps, and he just couldn't process what he saw there.

We tend to think of war as tragedy on a large scale. Perhaps peace would be easier to achieve if we remembered more often that war is really thousands of personal tragedies woven together. Maybe that's the way to make 'never again' a reality.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Haunted Halifax

Who doesn’t like a good ghost story? And where better to find them than here in Halifax? The unfortunate victims of the Titanic sinking in 1912 were brought here, and some were buried here. Then, in 1917 there was the Halifax Explosion, with its tragic loss of life, but the city’s two hundred years of colourful history before that has also yielded a rich harvest of spooky tales. With Halloween approaching, I couldn’t resist sharing some of the best with you.

Since its founding, Halifax has had its share of bars and brothels that catered to soldiers and sailors on a spree. In olden times, many of the dives were clustered in the area around Citadel Hill, close to the military barracks. Barrack Street was home to the city’s most unsavoury characters, none more unsavoury than young James Bossom.

James Bossom senior ran one of Barrack Street's most notorious taverns,and the apple didn't fall far from the tree. James junior was a bully and street tough, so thoroughly disliked that when he was murdered, some people demanded that his killer, Smith D. Clark, go free because he'd done the city a service, while James' cronies rioted, insisting Clark be hung. Apparently he was sentenced to death, but was pardoned by Queen Victoria on the occasion of her marriage, because of the extenuating circumstances (Bossom had taunted and threatened him repeatedly.)James was buried in the Old Burying Ground - with his murderer’s name on his headstone.

Old Burying Ground

When I saw this stone a few years ago, I just had to find the story behind it. Here it is, briefly told by a local historian. If you'd like a complete version, click here.

Another suitable story for the season is that of the Five Fishermen Restaurant and Grill, a downtown restaurant that specializes in fine seafood – with a side of the supernatural. You see, the two-hundred year-old building that houses the Five Fishermen was once a funeral home. The bodies of Titanic victims were taken there, as were those of Explosion victims. Diners and staff have experienced mysteriously mobile cutlery, disembodied voices and shadowy apparitions. Good for the appetite? I guess that’s a matter of opinion.

The fort on Citadel Hill is also said to be haunted. Visitors to the historic site have reported strange occurrences – such as sightings of uniformed men who are believed to be costumed staff until they vanish through walls. Ghostly voices have been heard there as well.

Then there’s Canada’s oldest church, St. Paul's Anglican, just across from City Hall. From a sidewalk on the right side of the church, the shadowy silhouette of a man's face can easily be seen in an upper-level rounded window. The face supposedly belonged to a one-time assistant at Saint Paul’s, who died in the Explosion. Though the window has been replaced, the silhouette remains.

It was a ghost story that inspired me to write Shattered. A friend of mine who lives in the North End told me she came home from work one day, looked in her kitchen window and saw a man in old-fashioned clothes, sitting at her table. As she told the tale I pictured her visitor – blond, stocky, with hazel eyes and a tough-looking face. The kind of man who’d fight someone in an alley for the heck of it, then drink with him afterward. Like Liam Cochrane.

People of Blogland, do you have any good ghost stories to share?

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Real Men Read Romance

First things first: My Jeopardy contest isn’t over yet, so if you think you know Halifax history – or like looking up arcane facts on Google – skip down to the next post and play along!

Now on to today’s thoughts.

Over the past few days, a couple of male readers (who are also authors) have told me how much they enjoyed Shattered. This is really gratifying, as I always assumed the story would appeal mostly to a female audience. These gentlemen have got me thinking: How many real men read romance? And how many will admit it?

Here’s a hypothetical plot line for you: Loner hero with a dark past comes across an attractive young damsel in distress. He wants nothing to do with her but his protective instincts won’t let him be, so he helps the lady out. They have all kinds of adventures, and in the process the brooding hero decides being in love is more fun than brooding. The bad guys are dealt with and the happy or learning-to-be-happy couple ride off into the sunset together.

Sounds like a romantic suspense? Of course. It also sounds like a good old-fashioned Western, the kind I grew up reading, written by and for men.

I read these books as a teenager for one reason: I found them incredibly romantic. The heroes loved their women with a passion, even though the passion wasn’t explicit: Louis L’Amour once said he avoided writing sex scenes because when he read them in other authors’ books, they always seemed like an ordeal or an athletic competition, and Zane Grey was restricted by the publishing strictures of his time, though both wrote scenes that were passionate to a point. The heroes also treated their women with respect, something else that I appreciated, then and now. Cross the line between alpha and ass, and I’m putting the book down.

The difference between men’s romances and women’s romances is, of course, point of view. Which makes me wonder – why aren’t there more female and male authors teaming up to write love stories, with the man writing the hero’s point of view and the woman writing the heroine’s, so that the two are balanced and as authentic as possible? Would those books sell like hotcakes, or would it be a case of pleasing no one by trying to please everyone?

I haven’t analysed my own books to see what proportion of each story is told from the hero or heroine’s point of view, but I know McShannon’s Chance and Shattered are both weighted in favour of the hero. This wasn’t intentional on my part. The male characters just came to me first, leaving me with the job of finding them suitable mates. The fact that men find Shattered appealing makes me think I did a reasonable job of getting inside Liam’s head and writing from his point of view. So, Dan Strawn and Desmond Haas, thank you for the kind words!

Friday, September 30, 2011

It's Jeopardy Time!

Okay, I'm a history geek. No, a history nerd. Trivia turns my crank. My mind is a vast storehouse of miscellaneous and utterly useless facts. In other words, I'm a Jeopardy natural.

So, it's time to indulge my affinity for the arcane in the form of a contest. The following are seven answers, Jeopardy style, to questions related to the Halifax Explosion. The first person to supply the corresponding, properly phrased questions, and subscribe to my new newsletter (see the sidebar link) will receive a twenty-five dollar Amazon gift card. All other entrants who subscribe to the newsletter before the contest ends will be included in a draw for a print copy of Shattered when it becomes available, which should be before the end of October.

Some of these facts will be known to locals, but not all. They can be found on this blog, by a quick Google search, or in the historical note at the end of Shattered. Good luck!

Remember to phrase your responses in the form of a question. Here we go:

1. On this date, the Halifax Explosion occured.

2. A shattered watch in the Explosion exhibit at Halifax's Maritime Museum of the Atlantic is stopped at this hour, when the Explosion occured.

3. The Explosion was caused by a collision between these two ships.

4. Knowing that the city was in danger, I stayed at my telegraph station to send a warning message to an incoming train. I lost my life as a result.

5. This U.S. state quickly came to Halifax's aid after the Explosion, and is still acknowledged with a Christmas gift each year.

6. The North End Halifax neighbourhood hardest hit by the Explosion, got its name from this American city.

7. The neighbourhood that was built in the devastated part of Halifax bears this name, because of the material used in its construction.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Shattered is Live!!

Shattered is now available at Smashwords! It'll take a few days to hit Amazon and the other e-sellers, and I'm waiting for the print proof from CreateSpace, but the book is available. Here's the link:


My third book! Squee!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Shattered Update, or Jumping Into the Deep End

I received my cover for Shattered from Kim Killion at Hot Damn Designs last week. Here it is. All I can say is squee! I think she captured the mood of the story very well and produced an elegant, classy design.

So, I’m going to be self-publishing this one. The print book block is ready to go, and I’m waiting to get the formatted e-book files back from Lucinda Campbell, who’s doing them for me. Then it’ll be time to take a deep breath and upload them.

I feel a bit like I did at eight when I snuck up the ladder of the high diving board at the pool when no one was watching, and jumped. There’s a sea of what-ifs below me. What if the book doesn’t sell? What if I end up feeling that, by opting out of the months or years of querying and waiting that goes with searching for a Big Six publisher, I’ve sold my story short? What about the companion book I’ve already started writing, and the two others I have planned?

Yesterday, a very high-profile Harlequin editor visited my chapter of RWA, spoke to us and heard pitches. She was kind enough to read the first chapter of Shattered, and had some very positive things to say about it. She called it ‘a page-turner,’ but was very direct in telling me during my pitch session that the story wasn’t suitable for Harlequin. Am I jumping the gun in believing that it isn’t suitable for other Big Six publishers either?

I guess I’ll never know. Finding out would mean risking months during which the publishing industry will continue to shift, opening new doors and closing others. Months in which I could have been selling books and building a readership. Taking the route I’ve chosen simply involves different risks. I’ve had enough feedback to be confident that I have a good story to sell, with an attractive cover. I have a writing community to turn to for input on marketing. All that’s left is to take the leap and have faith that what’s meant to be, will be.

Sort of like falling in love. We all need to take a leap of faith now and then. I guess that’s what romance is all about.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011



I love serendipity – the word and the thing itself. It just makes you feel like something is meant to be.

The epilogue to Shattered ends with the launching of the Bluenose in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia on March 26, 1921. For those of you who aren’t familiar with her, the Bluenose was a racing schooner, built to challenge the American fleet out of Gloucester for international bragging rights. Under her captain, Angus Walters, she earned a place in Canada’s history, and on our dime. I thought it fitting that Liam’s life as a shipwright begin with his taking a hand in her building, but when I came to write the epilogue, I realized I needed details. What was the weather like the day the Bluenose was launched? What kind of an occasion was it?

Last week, my husband had to spend a morning in Lunenburg for work. I gladly went along. Lunenburg is a UNESCO world heritage site due to its striking architecture, and a Mecca for a history geek like me.

While DH was working, I walked down to the waterfront and stood at the spot where Bluenose slipped into the water ninety years ago. Then I stopped by the Fisheries Museum. I walked out with the following first hand newspaper account of the launch:

Amid the cheers of the assembled multitude, blessed by a bright clear sunshine and sea upon which there was never a ruffle, Canada’s challenger for the great International Schooner Race, took the water at 10 am this morning. The launching was without a hitch. Nothing untoward marred the splendor of the occasion…

Gaily decorated and carrying her name flag, the Bluenose took to the water as her natural element, to the accompaniment of O Canada, played by the 75th regimental band and the enthusiastic demonstration of the thousands who thronged the waterfront…

So now I know. Just when I needed to. Gotta love serendipity.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Trailer for Shattered

I’m waiting for feedback from a RWAC chapter mate who’s graciously agreed to read Shattered for me. Fingers crossed! In the meantime, I’ve been playing, creating a trailer for the story, with the above result. It’s an interim version, of course, as I don’t have a cover yet.

I’m going to take a little time to consider the book’s future, query a few publishers and look into the self-publishing process. I can’t even guess at a release time yet, as that will depend on the route I choose, but I’m hoping for next spring, earlier if I self-publish. I’ll post updates here, of course.

Meanwhile, I’m enjoying a break and savouring the feeling of finishing another project. I’m pleased with this one and hope that however and whenever it finds its way to you, readers will enjoy it too.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Shattered is Done!

I love this picture of Halifax as it once was. Old photos always give me a feeling of something like homesickness. It really makes me wonder about reincarnation.

Finished major rewrites on Shattered Monday evening. This story is almost ready to go off into the world. Yesterday I tackled the synopsis. Time to take a deep breath and a break.

I see that I’ve written another rather herocentric story. I think that’s ingrained in me, thanks to all the herocentric stories I read growing up. The plot revolves around Liam’s journey toward healing. I found him a little difficult to get to know, but of course, I eventually fell in love with him. He’s earned his flaws. He’s like the ‘Tommy’ in Rudyard Kipling’s poem:

We aren't no thin red 'eroes, nor we aren't no blackguards too,
But single men in barricks, most remarkable like you;
An' if sometimes our conduck isn't all your fancy paints,
Why, single men in barricks don't grow into plaster saints

As always, some of my secondary characters have done their best to divert me. I’d like to write the story of Liam’s brother Nolan and his wife Annie (What is it with me and prequels?), and definitely the story of Alice’s brother Carl. Who might be waiting for him? He’d definitely need a strong woman to bring him around. Recipient of a Military Cross, tough as nails, with a frightened little boy hiding deep inside – Carl is definitely hero material.

But for now, after a little vacation, I’m going to switch gears and finish my children’s novel. It’s been on the back burner too long. I’ll leave you with an excerpt of Liam and Alice’s first dance, and Liam’s first encounter with Carl. What a pair of Irish hotties –er, hotheads. Enjoy.

He took Alice’s hand and drew her into his arms. Dancing and the heat had brought the blood to her cheeks, and her eyes sparkled like running brook water again. Although she blushed, he sensed no shyness in her body. She fit naturally in his arms, as if she belonged there.

Yeah. She sure isn’t a kid anymore.

Then, like a bolt from the blue an image flashed into Liam’s mind, Alice dancing close, nestled in his arms with her head on his shoulder. Jesus, Mary and Joseph, where did that come from? She’s Georgie’s sister! He loosened his hold on her, but that didn’t dull his awareness of every slender curve, of her light floral perfume. Worse, he saw in her eyes that she’d felt the awareness between them, too.

Before he could make an excuse and abandon her, the band ended the waltz with an extra flourish. The leader bowed to the crowd. “Catch your breath, ladies and gentlemen, while the chair of your Social Committee says a few words. I give you Mrs. Frances Henneberry.”

Everyone returned to their seats, Liam with a sigh of devout thanks. He angled his chair to put Stephen and Alice out of his line of sight.
As far as I’m concerned, friend, she’s all yours. Good luck keeping her. Thin, sharp-faced Mrs. Henneberry stepped onto the platform with a self-conscious smile and cleared her throat.

“Ladies and gentlemen, it’s wonderful to see you all here, supporting our parish’s efforts to ease the suffering of helpless civilians overseas. There is more than one person here tonight who could tell us first-hand just how severe those sufferings have been and what our sons and brothers have sacrificed in the effort to end them. The least we here at home can do is – ”

“Shut up. That’s the least you can do.”

The words carried clearly from the corner nearest the O’Neills’ table. Every head swiveled. Georgie blushed a deep red. Alice’s face blanched pearl-white. In the shadows just beyond the lighted platform, Carl leaned against the wall, his face flushed with heat and liquor. No one at the table had noticed him come in.

An older, heavier Carl than Liam remembered, with a harder face. The tough kid had grown into a tough man, with an added belligerence. One look at his glazed eyes told Liam Georgie’s brother was a loose cannon.

He and Stephen got up at the same instant and started toward the corner. Stephen got there first and planted himself in front of Carl.

“You’ve said enough. Your sisters are here.”

“I’m not leaving ‘til I make my point.” Carl pushed Stephen back and raised his voice again. “That old windbag hasn’t got anyone at the front. She doesn’t have a clue.”

The scathing words on Liam’s tongue died there. Up close, Carl reminded him too much of men he’d seen in hospital, men who woke in the night screaming as he’d done more than once. Men who spent their days looking at the world through vacant eyes. And Mrs. Henneberry annoyed the hell out of him, too.

“You’re right, Carl. She doesn’t. This isn’t the place for either of us. Come outside and get some fresh air.”

Fists clenched, Carl took a step forward. “Don’t bullshit me, Liam. I’m not going anywhere until I’m good and ready. Who do you think you are, anyway? Your little brother isn’t the only one who’s been killed overseas, you know. Just –”

Liam didn’t hear the rest of the sentence. Rage blotted out his compassion, rage and the memory of Michael-John’s wide, sightless dark eyes. His first punch landed hard in Carl’s belly. The second hit his jaw, knocking him backward and throwing Liam off-balance. They hit the floor, fists flying. The next thing he knew, Nolan was dragging him to his feet while his father and Stephen pinioned Carl. Liam shook his brother off and dove at Carl, only to have his bad leg collapse and land him back on the floor. Nolan helped him up again and got a firm grip on his arms.

“What the hell? Liam, stop it!”

The girls stood nearby now. Georgie’s eyes sparkled with anger, but the strain on Alice’s face did more to clear the haze from Liam’s mind. He stopped struggling with Nolan, took a deep breath and swallowed. The metallic taste of blood in his mouth made his stomach churn.

“The son of a bitch insulted Michael-John.”

Nolan released his hold and took a step toward Carl, putting himself in the man’s face. “If I ever hear of you mentioning my brother’s name again, I’ll finish what Liam started. Dad, Stephen, get him the hell out of here.”

Still winded from Liam’s first blow, blood trickling from his nose, Carl didn’t offer much resistance. Liam figured he’d gotten the worst of the encounter himself, a split lip and what would likely be a magnificent shiner. A couple of older women were on the platform trying to soothe Mrs. Henneberry, who looked on the verge of tears. He should go and say something to her, but at the moment he couldn’t find the words. He shrugged Nolan’s hand from his shoulder.

“I’m getting out of here. Apologize to Georgie for me, would you?” Without waiting for an answer, he walked out.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Music and Musings

Last night, my friend Kathy – the gifted musician who played at my book launch in March – invited me to hear her play in an orchestral concert downtown. The evening was a double treat, as the concert took place in one of Halifax’s beautiful historic churches, Fort Massey United, where I’d never been before.

History geek that I am, whenever I attend an event in an old church, I make a point of arriving early to explore the building and read the memorial plaques on the walls. In particular, since I began Shattered I’ve been seeking out the plaques in memory of soldiers who fell in the Great War.

Every old church in the country has these memorials. Out of a total population of eight million, Canada sent over six hundred thousand young men and women to the Great War and more than one in ten didn’t return, so that’s not surprising, but I got a surprise at Fort Massey. It has three plaques in memory of five brothers who died overseas between 1914 and 1918. Four of the Stairs boys were killed in action over the course of the war, and the fifth, who had earned a Distinguished Service Order, died of influenza less than two weeks after the Armistice was signed. I stood there looking at the names on the tarnished brass and wondered how their parents were able to go on living.

Then I settled into my seat for the concert. As the orchestra sent Mozart’s ‘Magic Flute’ ringing into the rafters, I counted my blessings. I suppose part of the poignancy of old tragedies is that there’s nothing we can do about them but imagine.

Lest we forget.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Summertime and the Living is Easy

Hello, long time no see! Here's a little eye candy treat to begin. This is Colin Hemsworth, my inspiration for Liam Cochrane.

Time to catch up. It has been a while, hasn’t it? Our Nova Scotia non-spring has rained itself away, and now it’s summer.

We spent the Canada Day weekend at the cottage. The weather was fine, the lake was wonderful for swimming and the Terrible Tollers were in heaven, though poor Chance paid the price yesterday. He forgot that he’s not a pup anymore, and keeping up with Echo left him sore and tired, but today he’s his usual self again.

I’m still teaching, as my Grade 10 students have not yet finished their courses due to their late start in the fall. It’s fun having the school more or less to ourselves, doing math over coffee and discussing Canadian history over lunch. I’m not sure what September will bring, but I know I will sorely miss these girls whenever we part company. They make teaching worthwhile. The slower pace is nice, too, as I spent the last half of the winter and spring juggling teaching and evening tutoring. That’s the main reason for my spell of silence here. Something had to give.

I’m plugging away on revisions with Shattered. The second half of the book needed a major overhaul. I hope to have it submission ready by the end of the month. Then, it’s on to the children’s novel. It will make a nice change, I think.

This morning, I re-read the three chapters I have written of Nathan Munroe’s book, likely the last in the Wallace Flats series. I couldn’t help grinning. There’s something about Nathan that always makes me smile, and Colin McShannon does, too, scrappy little Yorkshire terrier that he is. Each of my book people has stolen a corner of my soul. That’s why I write.

My fitness program is progressing as well – 15 pounds down and, ideally, another 15 to go. Slow but steady wins the race. It’s nice to be able to wear some clothes that haven’t fit me for a while.

A good number of my RWAC chaptermates, including Donna Alward, Kelly Boyce and Julia Smith, just returned from Nationals in New York. I won't confess to a tinge of envy – I’ll admit that I’m absolutely green! Check out their blogs for the scoop on the Big Apple.

People of Blogland, I hope you’re having a great summer. What are you up to?

Monday, April 25, 2011

A Piece of Heaven

Unlike last year, when the warm weather arrived in March, spring has taken its time arriving here in Nova Scotia. That said, I think it’s finally here to stay!

To mark Easter and both our birthdays, my DH and I spent this past weekend at our family cottage. It’s on a small, secluded lake with not another building for miles, and to us, it’s our little slice of heaven.

My father, his brother and my cousins built the cottage twenty years ago. Since then, it’s hosted countless good times. The best Christmas turkey I ever ate was cooked in the old wood stove we used to have there. My father has tapped the maples and made syrup there. The road is usually impassable by car in the winter, and the first trip in each year is the real beginning of spring.

This weekend, Dad picked Mayflowers for me as he does every year.
Echo and Chance swam to their hearts’ content and came home two tired, blissful Tollers.

We had a delicious Easter dinner of roast beef with all the trimmings, with cheesecake for a birthday dessert. Delicious!

In January, I decided that my word for this year would be GRATITUDE. Among the things I’m grateful for, a place where I can wake in the night to hear owls calling, swim with loons, hear woodthrushes singing at sunrise, reconnect, rejuvenate and celebrate, is very near the top of the list.

As is my mom’s cheesecake!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

A Night At The Theatre: West Side Story

I’ve always had a soft spot for musicals, so, when I got the chance to attend Neptune Theatre’s production of West Side Story last night as part of their Word of Mouth program, I was delighted.

The classic tale of star-crossed lovers, inspired by Romeo and Juliet, takes place against a background of racial prejudice and street violence in Manhattan. The Sharks, a newly formed gang of Puerto Rican immigrants, are battling for turf with the Jets, an established gang of white Americans, many of whom are the children of immigrants themselves. Though the story is told with a lot of street slang that’s dated to our ears, it doesn’t matter. The conflict is timeless.

Tony, the founder of the Jets, now out of the gang, falls in love with Maria, the young sister of Bernardo, commander of the Sharks. Their love sparks a gang war, with tragic consequences. It isn’t difficult to imagine the story playing out on inner-city streets today.

I expected to see a lot of high-octane dancing and passionate acting, and I wasn’t disappointed. Choreographer Jim White has done a masterful job. I was sitting near the front of the hall, and the energy onstage hit me in waves. Chino (Dani Jazzar), second in command of the Sharks, radiated danger. Tomboy Anybodys (Allison MacDougall) made me smile. The Jets’ number “Gee, Officer Krupke” had me laughing out loud. In particular, Stephenos Christou as Maria’s brother Bernardo and Dayna Tietzen as his girlfriend Anita came close to stealing the show. Together they sizzled, and separately, Tietzen’s passion matched Christou’s menacing anger.

Anwyn Musico as Maria brought a lovely mix of innocence and charm to the role. Her strong soprano voice handled the music very well. I felt that she could have showed more angst at times, but she poured plenty into the final scene of the show, where she needed it most. Her Tony, Liam Tobin, impressed me with his handling of the music as well. Though Tobin didn’t give Tony the edge one might expect from a former gang leader, he still shone. I couldn’t help wishing the story could end happily for him and Maria, and isn’t that what a tragic romance should do? As a whole, this show was a real treat.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

The Boys of Summer are Back!

Well, beat the drum and hold the phone - the sun came out today
We're born again, there's new grass on the field
Roundin' third, and headed for home, it's a brown-eyed handsome man
Anyone can understand the way I feel

Centre Field, John Fogerty

The major league baseball season opened last night. I settled in with an Oatmeal Stout and watched the Toronto Blue Jays trounce the Minnesota Twins in a 13-3 romp. I'm born again, there's new grass on the field.

I fell in love with baseball during the two university years I spent in Montreal. The Expos were in their heyday then, with Gary Carter, Andre Dawson, Tim Raines and company. I used to listen to Dave Van Horne and Duke Snyder call the games on the radio and dream of warm summer days, even in the doubtful weather of early April.

I enjoy the speed of hockey, but I enjoy the pauses in baseball. It's a different kind of drama, with the buildup before each pitch, each at-bat like a scene in a novel. It also appeals to the history buff in me, with time for interesting tidbits about games and players past.

Last night's game had all the best ingredients - home runs, flashy defense, speed on the bases, and the right team won! Three cheers for the Boys of Summer!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

The first draft of Shattered is DONE!

Liam and Alice have found their happily-ever-after …or rather, they’ve found each other and promised to rebuild their lives together. Happiness will take them some time. This is definitely a book that has to have an epilogue, just as Halifax did. The above photo shows reconstruction happening circa 1918, and here's a modern street scene where destruction once reigned.

I’ve found it isn’t easy to write about the devastation of a place you know and love, even if it all happened over ninety years ago. The recent tragedies in Japan and New Zealand haven’t made it easier, but after all, Halifax’s story does have a real happy ending. The human spirit is unstoppable. Now, I have to go back to the beginning and make sure I’ve done my characters justice.

I wish I could step back in time, just for a day, and see the community of Richmond as it used to be. All the accounts I’ve read are full of real affection. I think it was a place where I would have liked to live, an unpretentious neighbourhood where people knew each other’s dogs and cats and kids, with backyards big enough for a milk cow and a few hens. The Hydrostone District that replaced it – named for the cement blocks used for rebuilding after the Explosion – is attractive, with rows of neat garden homes and a strip of fashionable stores and restaurants, including my favourite French bakery.

It’s become a trendy and relatively expensive part of town, but it’s less to my taste than the old neighbourhood would have been. Still, the Hydrostone is a testament to the resilience of Haligonians, and so I appreciate it too.

Now back to work.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Folk Friday: Down and Dirty

Surfing Amazon discussion boards the other day, I came across a comment from a reader who said she didn’t care for historical romance because ‘let’s face it – the women back then were hairy and the men stinky.’ She was actually praising a historical that she’d picked up against her inclination, but she started me thinking. Just how bad was hygiene in ‘the good old days’, meaning the mid-Victorian era where I set my stories?

There’s no denying that in some places and situations, it was awful. I’ve read of discussions in the U.S. Cavalry about allowing soldiers water to bathe once a week. For troops on the march or cowboys on cattle drives, washing would not have been a priority, nor would doing laundry. Eww! But what about the ordinary folks leading settled lives?

The wood stove was the heart of a rural home, and those old ranges really were an example of appropriate technology. We used to have one at our cottage, and I loved it. The first person up started the fire, and it burned all day, winter or summer. The stove’s boiler provided hot water for cooking, cleaning and bathing.
While getting out the wash tub and filling it for a full bath would have been a production, there were basins and ewers. I imagine most people washed at least once a day.

By the end of the Civil War, doctors had made the connection between cleanliness and health and it had started to filter down to the general population. If a man had done his time in the Army and experienced the discomfort of being truly filthy, I think he’d welcome cleanliness. So, stinky heroes? Maybe at times, but I make my guys wash!

Hairy women? Perhaps, but back then armpit and leg hair was taken for granted. It wasn’t until the advent of shorter skirts, sleeveless blouses and sheer stockings in the early to mid 20th century that advertisers set to work convincing North American women that body hair was unsightly. To this day, many European women don’t shave. I’ve also read that, due to the smaller proportion of fat in people’s diets back then, women in general had lower testosterone levels and therefore less body hair in earlier times. For facial hair, there were tweezers and, after 1903, safety razors.

The same advertisers have convinced us that all natural scent is a social crime, that we should be scentless or perfumed. We forget what a natural clean smells like. So, I’m not surprised that some readers find the thought of a hero who doesn’t use deodorant revolting, but to me the thought of a man who uses aluminum chloride as a substitute for soap and water is worse, and they’re out there.

So, when I read historicals, I don’t think too much about these things. How about you? Do considerations of cleanliness affect your choice of reading material? Inquiring minds want to know.

And for Folk Friday, here’s some classic Willie Nelson with wonderful photos to match. Enjoy!

Friday, March 11, 2011

McShannon's Heart Launch Celebration

Last night I marked the release of McShannon’s Heart with a launch party at The Company House, a cosy acoustic music venue in downtown Halifax. Friends and family showed up to help me celebrate: my parents, Everett’s cousin and his wife, neighbours and members of Romance Writers of Atlantic Canada, including Tara Macdonald of Charlie Mac Productions, who along with Frances Leary from Bconnected worked hard on publicity for the event. It was great to see Judith James there, and Julia Smith kindly snapped some photos. Here I am signing Julia’s copy of the book.

Everett, my DH, and Kathy MacGillivary, friend extraordinaire, provided the music, and I chimed in on a few tunes. It’s been a long time since I’ve played in public, but I felt more comfortable than I expected. I felt even more comfortable off the stage listening to Everett and Kathy float through jazz tunes.

Normally I’m nervous reading from my books, but not this time. I guess I’m slowly getting used to it. I enjoyed sharing Chelle and Martin’s first meeting, and the scene from Chance where Beth learns the perils of baking with a wood stove.

I’m blessed to have such a talented partner in life, an equally talented and generous friend in Kathy, and a family that is always there for me. Thanks to one and all for making the evening special.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Catching Up

Haven’t posted since Valentine’s Day. Life has been crazy. Can’t post the details here yet, but when I can, I will.

On the writing front, I’m holding a book launch celebration on Thursday, March 10, from 6 to 8 pm at The Company House, a cosy little acoustic music venue at 2202 Gottingen Street here in Halifax. Officially it’s a launch for Heart, but due to the twists and turns of Chance’s route to publication I never had a launch for it, so I’ll be reading from both. Everett McInnis, my other half, and Kathy MacGillivray, one of my best friends, will be providing the music. I’ll probably join in on a tune or two myself if my voice allows – right now I have a cold, so I’m not sure. It should be a fun evening. Tara MacDonald, from the RWAC marketing committee, and Frances Leary from BConnected are helping publicize the event. I can’t believe their supportive energy. I’m a very, very lucky author.

News flash – I just finished a telephone interview with Desmond Haas, a fellow author, for his online Romance Radio show! I think it went well, but I’m reserving judgement until I hear the recording. I’ll be posting links to the edited sound file when I get them. AND there’s a group book signing with RWAC at Chapters in Dartmouth Crossing on March 19. All this good, exciting stuff – and the not so good, stressful stuff – has my head in a whirl.
It also has me thinking about music for the launch party. I’m trying to come up with a few tunes that evoke the characters in my books. Here’s what I have so far:

1. She Mov’d Through the Fair: A haunting tune of love and loss, for Martin Rainnie. It’s the song I recorded for the trailer.

2. The Patriot’s Game: For Trey’s best bud, Justin Sinclair. “Come all ye young rebels and list while I sing, for the love of one’s country is a dangerous thing.” This song is about the troubles in Ireland, but it applies to civil conflict everywhere, with its tragic loss of young lives. Can’t find a good recording of this one.

3. Soldier’s Joy: For Nathan Munroe. I love Michelle Shocked’s version of this tune. War ain’t pretty. Soldier’s Joy is morphine.

Shaking hands and fingers that do tremble
Soldier's Joy has been a bitter pill
Though in battle, a brave man I resemble
Alone I am a coward without will

Since I couldn’t find a recording of her version, here’s Earl Scruggs doing the classic Appalachian version.

4. For Trey McShannon: Aaron Copeland’s Appalachian Spring. A beautiful, beautiful piece that for me, evokes Trey’s love of the simple life.

5. For Beth Underhill: Ashokan Farewell. I love, love, love this piece, no matter how many times I’ve heard it. For me, it evokes Beth’s grace and gentleness, and her underlying strength.

6. Finally, for Rochelle McShannon: I don’t know the name of this piece because it isn’t titled in the video, but it’s lovely and evokes Chelle’s wistfulness.

I’ve missed a couple of Folk Fridays, so I hope this makes up for it. I’ll let you know how the interview turns out. And if anyone has any other suggestions for music that suits my characters, I’d love to hear them!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Music is the food of love

There’s a magnet on my fridge that reads “If music be the food of love, play on.” My mother gave it to us when my DH and I moved into our house. It’s a pretty good description of our relationship.

I’ve told this story on my blog before, so forgive the repetition if you’ve already heard it. We met sixteen years ago. After a few years of not playing much guitar, I’d decided to take some lessons to get me motivated. I was working at Dalhousie University at the time, and one day I saw a notice on a bulletin board from a guitar instructor looking for students. I called the number, and the rest is history.

By the time my first lesson ended, I knew Everett was not only a fine musician but an excellent teacher – an uncommon combination. It took longer to make up my mind about him as a person. He’s quiet and reserved, not the kind of man you get to know right away. We talked mostly about music, nothing personal, but my lessons often seemed to run overtime.

I belonged to the Halifax Harbour Folk Society, and when it was my turn to act as host for the weekly coffeehouse session, Everett agreed to join me. That was a bear of a winter in Halifax, and when we left the pub it had started to snow. Hard. I insisted I’d be okay driving home, as it was only a few blocks. We said goodnight and got in our separate vehicles.

When I pulled into the parking lot of my apartment building, Everett’s headlights flashed in my mirror. I’d been so focussed on the road, I hadn’t noticed him following me. He bumped his horn and drove off.

I was impressed. He had a much longer drive home. We weren’t dating at the time, just beginning to become friends, but he’d gone out of the way to see that I got home safely. That was the night I began to wonder if he might be a keeper. When he stopped charging me for lessons, I knew he was thinking the same way.

We complement each other musically as well as we do in other ways. I can hear lyrics once and, if they affect me, I’ll remember them. Everett doesn’t remember lyrics, but he can lift the most complicated chords from a recording. He’s a true musician, while I’m really more of a poet who likes to sing. We also share an interest in science. Being a creative person, he understands when I glue myself to my laptop to write . He isn’t a fiction reader – technical manuals or science magazines are more his style – and he hasn’t read my books, but he supports me and gives me my space. We’re still playing on.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Colorado Dreaming

I had an amazing, vivid dream last night. It went on for what felt like hours, and at one point I woke, fell asleep again and tumbled right back into the dream.

It all took place in Wallace Flats, with my characters from McShannon's Chance. There was the town, laid out like a set from Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman. There was Neil Garrett’s saloon, the Bakers’ mercantile, and a lovely lake I wish I’d thought to put in the book.

In keeping with the Dr. Quinn theme, Beth looked a bit like an auburn-haired Jane Seymour. As for Trey, he surprised me. He had straight, coal-black, shoulder-length hair (I’ve always pictured him with shorter hair), a close-trimmed moustache, and a face something like Jude Law’s in Cold Mountain, almost fierce-looking. Of course he had deep, molasses-coloured eyes. Sigh. And his beautiful bay stallion, Flying Cloud. Another sigh. The only other characters to appear were a blond teenage boy – a version of Ben Reeves – and a young girl of eight or nine, Samantha (Sam). I have no idea where she came from. Perhaps she sprang from my mental image of Beth and Trey’s daughter Chelle. Sadly, no Nathan. I missed him and Lorie.

The only action I remember clearly was a horse race around the lake, which Trey and Cloud won in a thrilling finish. Everything else is hazy, but I woke feeling like I’d spent a wonderful few days with my characters in an idyllic setting, free (After all, I was dreaming!) of the harsher realities of the time. I wouldn’t mind going back every night.

Is the universe speaking to me? I hope so. I'm at a bit of a personal and writing low point right now, and I sure could use some inspiration. People of blogland, do you have any dreams to share?

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Release Contest and Excerpt

I’ve had a busy few days, arranging a book launch – tentatively set for March 10 – and generally tending to the stuff that comes up with a new release. Which brings me to one of those things – a contest!

I’m going to keep it simple. I’m always looking for ideas for this blog, so all I’m going to ask in order to be entered in a draw for a copy of Heart is that you comment on this post with a suggestion for a topic you’d like to see here – writing craft, historical, or otherwise – and that you follow my blog. I’ll run the contest until Valentine’s Day.

I also promised an excerpt, so I’ll give you the McShannons saying goodbye, not to be together again until the third book in the series (out next year if the Lord is willing and the creek don’t rise.) Enjoy!

Seagulls skimmed the harbor, their harsh voices at odds with their grace as they dipped and swirled, free as the sea breeze that carried them. Chelle took in a breath laden with the scents of salt water, tar and refuse, pungent and unfamiliar.

If the worth of a thing could be measured by the price paid for it, then freedom was precious indeed.

She’d never seen anything like New York before. She stood on the pier with her father and Trey, watching as sailors and stevedores went about their jobs, their shouts rising above the voices of other passengers saying their own farewells to family and friends. The city loomed in the background, its tall buildings creating a wall of brick and stone as cold and unforgiving as the light of the gray April morning. The scene didn’t seem real.
Rory had let her go without saying goodbye. Not a word, not a note.

Through the blur of shifts and changes as they made their way North, Chelle had refused to look back. If what she and Rory had felt for each other was love, it wasn’t worth regretting. Truth was truth, even if it broke her heart.

She felt miserably selfish. Everywhere along their route, people had been sober and preoccupied, preparing for what was all but certain to come. What right did she have to waste tears on a man who hadn’t wanted her, when the whole country was holding its collective breath, waiting for the first shot to be fired? If Rory could have seen the factories, the thousands of people in the New York streets, perhaps he would have understood why she couldn’t stay with him. The war was over before it had even begun. What would become of home, of the peaceful landscape she loved?

The McShannons had been exploring the ship, putting off the moment of parting, but the time had come when Trey had to go ashore. When they couldn’t delay any longer, Chelle threw her arms around her brother. She looked into his eyes and knew that this was tearing him apart, too.

He’d be traveling West, alone, through country that could be as dangerous as any battlefield. Her childhood playmate, her best friend. Trey might be capable and strong, but in so many ways, he was still a boy. Chelle didn’t want to make this harder for him, but she couldn’t let him go. She hugged him closer and laid her head on his shoulder.

“Trey, come with us, at least until the war is over. You can always come back then. Please. If we can’t get you on this ship, we’ll wait for another one.”

“It’s for the best this way, Chelle.” He lifted her chin and ruffled her hair. She felt him take a deep breath as he fought to control his voice. “It wouldn’t be any easier to leave you and Dad after the war, and what about Cloud? He’s waiting for me in that stable in Washington, remember? I’d have to sell him and that would take some time, even if I could do it, which I can’t. Maman wouldn’t want to see us going on like this.”

Somehow, Chelle steeled herself and stepped back. She couldn’t show less courage than Trey. “You’ve been the best brother a girl could have. Be careful. Write as soon as you get settled.”

“I will. You look after yourself too. Don’t worry about me, I’ll be fine. And so will you.” Trey hadn’t spoken to her about Rory, but his silent sympathy had done wonders to help Chelle through the days since leaving home. He forced a grin. “Someday you’ll be able to visit the finest breeding farm west of Kentucky. Give my regards to Uncle Jack and Aunt Caroline.”

Her vision blurring with tears, Chelle watched as Trey turned and wrapped his arms around his father. “Goodbye, Dad. The two of you take care of each other. I’ll write as soon as I can. You’d better get aboard.”

“Aye.” Colin put his hands on his son’s shoulders and looked up at him with suspicious moisture in his eyes. “I’m proud of you, lad. Always have been. Remember that, and remember you’re your mother’s son. Goodbye.”

Trey stepped away with a bleak, young smile. He looked like he couldn’t speak, and Chelle knew she couldn’t. How many years would pass before she saw him again? She followed her father back across the gangway. As the ship started out of the harbor, Chelle pulled her mother’s shawl closer around her, stood at the rail and watched her brother’s figure dwindle to a lonely gray dot at the end of the pier. The life she’d always known disappeared with him, and at the moment she didn’t think she had it in her to build a new one.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

In Print...Again!

I picked up my copies of Heart from Purolator this morning. My second book! You can probably see my grin from where you are.

The cover looks better in reality than it does as an image. It has a lot of bright, vibrant color, and it looks good next to Chance on my shelf - as different from each other as blonde, blue-eyed Chelle is from black-haired, dark-eyed Trey. I'll have to pick up a bottle of wine and celebrate tonight. These are the moments that make writing worth it.

Another excerpt coming soon!

Friday, January 21, 2011

Folk Friday: Weird and Wonderful Words

English really is a crazy, wonderful language. This morning, my co-worker in the ESL department arrived with a couple of calendars she picked up on sale last night. One of them gives a new unusual English word each day, and some of them are gems.

Frigorific – Sounds rather vulgar, doesn’t it? It means ‘to make something cold’, as in ‘a frigorific blast of wind’. When I relay this one to my DH, I’m sure it will find alternate meanings.

Grok – Huh? Sounds like a noise a bird makes. It means ‘to understand profoundly and intuitively’, as in ‘Margaret Mitchell really grokked character description’. The word was coined by Robert A Heinlein in his 1969 Science fiction novel Stranger in a Strange Land. It’s supposed to be Martian.

Acedia – apathy or boredom. This one has its origins in Latin. Acedia is a common condition this time of year, I’d say.

When I was growing up, my family had an elderly Nuttall’s English dictionary. It’s a great source of old words. One of my favourites is ‘slubberdegullion’, meaning a mean, dirty fellow. Drat, I should have had Chelle call someone that in McShannon’s Heart – but no, the word went out of use a couple of hundred years before Chelle was born.
What writer doesn’t love finding new words?

And yes, it’s Folk Friday. Since I’ve started rambling about language, Here’s a tune in Scottish Gaelic sung by Nova Scotia’s own Mary Jane Lamond. I love her pure, clear voice.
One thing I enjoy about Gaelic music is that the meaning of the lyrics is sometimes at variance with the mood created by the music. This piece is a good example. These songs weren’t written as art, they were written as forms of gossip and storytelling for people who had no time or reason to learn to read. At least this one isn’t about a grisly murder, as was one beautiful song I heard at a folk club meeting one night. I wished I’d been content not to know the meaning. Enjoy this one!

("Dómhnall Mac 'Ic Iain")

English Translation:

Ma dh'eugas Dòmhnall mac 'ic Iain If Donald son of the son of John dies
Eugaich e an cosnach He'll die employed
Ma dh'eugas Dòmhnall mac 'ic Iain If Donald son of the son of John dies
Bidh sinn air a thòrradh We'll be at his funeral
Ma dh'eugas Dòmhnall mac 'ic Iain If Donald son of the son of John dies
Eugaich e an cosnach He'll die employed
Ma dh'eugas Dòmhnall mac 'ic Iain If Donald son of the son of John dies
Bidh sinn air a thòrradh We'll be at his funeral

Gheobh sinn aran agus ìm We'll get bread and butter
'S càise na banaraich And the milkmaid's cheese
Gheobh sinn aran agus ìm We'll get bread and butter
Uisge-beath' an Tòisich And the Toiseach's whisky
Gheobh sinn aran agus ìm We'll get bread and butter
'S càise na banaraich And the milkmaid's cheese
Gheobh sinn aran agus ìm We'll get bread and butter
Uisge-beath' an Tòisich And the Toiseach's whisky