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!