The Rocket – A Great Movie To Lift Your Spirits

The RocketWith endless bad news on TV, I found a lovely escape and a great beginning to the new year when I watched The Rocket, an inspirational Australian film I took out of the West Vancouver Library. I didn’t know what to expect but the cover said it had won a number of awards—turned out to be 28 wins and 28 nominations—and  when I checked Rotten Tomatoes, it had received a 98% rating. Impressive.

I’ve seen a lot of films in my life (due largely to my acting and screenwriting ventures), and in fact, have produced a few short ones with my grandson, Michael Stevantoni, who’s won a few awards. I’m in short, a movie buff. Have been since I was dragged to the cinema when I was five. My mother couldn’t get enough of them, so we’d walk close to a mile in Winnipeg in all seasons, as we had no car, and sit through newsreels, cartoons, trailers and two features. Yes, two features.

Rotten Tomatoes is right. The Rocket does not disappoint at any level. It’s a winner from the first frame, when we’re introduced to the lead being born in Laos, one of twins, which apparently in their culture is not a good sign. This fact dogs him throughout the story.

The cinematography of the Laos landscape is stunning, as is the story about this young boy and his family and how they manage to survive when a proposed dam threatens their home and livelihood. The rocket in The Rocket refers to both unexploded mines left from America’s covert war in Laos and a rocket festival, where anyone with the ability to build one that pierces the clouds to bring rain can win a prize beyond their wildest dreams. There is even a wonderful James Brown look-alike character who’s down on his luck but plays a big part in this young child’s life.

Though it was filmed in a foreign culture,  the family dynamics between the husband and wife, the child and his parents, the husband and his mother, are universal. The acting is superb and I didn’t detect a false note anywhere.

And as a writer, I welcomed the message in this story. Don’t give up despite the odds!

If you’ve seen this movie, I’d love your thoughts. If you know of another great movie that lifts your spirits, I’d love to hear about it.

Have a great year!

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From My Vantage Point The World Is Promising

P1020986It’s almost year end. From my vantage point, I look back at what I’ve experienced but also look ahead and wish for what I’d like to see happen.

2014 has been a wondrous year for our family, health-wise and travel-wise. Robert and I had a magical trip to Machu Picchu and a cruise around the horn, landing in Buenas Aries. We and our daughter Karen drove our grandson, Michael, down to L.A. for his first year film studies. We also flew twice to see our other daughter, Robyn, and family in Toronto, where we saw a number of Soulpepper Theatre plays, featuring our son-in-law, Diego Matamoros, and heard our granddaughter Chloe sing in a local community centre.

I also published my debut novel, A Cry From The Deep. Since then, it’s been a whirlwind of learning the business side of all that and getting on with my other writing.

Though the news on TV is often troubling, from my vantage point, the world is promising because of all the fabulous people and cultures within it. I think about how we can work together to ensure a better world for our children and grandchildren. We need to accept and celebrate one another’s differences, whether it’s faith, colour of skin, or sexual orientation. We are not that different when it comes to what we all want out of Life.

We also need to clean up our planet, treasure nature and what it offers us in its beauty. Yes, it’s a big job, but when I think about what one person can do, like our 2014 Nobel Peace Prize winner,  Malala Yousafzai, just think of what we can do if we work hard to promote a message of peace, tolerance, and charity.

So, whether you celebrate Hanukkah this time of year or Christmas, or are an Atheist, or a Buddhist, or a Muslim, (who do celebrate Christmas in a way) or whatever, I hope that together we can join hands and make a better world.

Wishing you and yours Peace and Joy in the coming year.

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What Dreams Tell Us

 From Life Magazine  September 1995. Photograph by Bill Binzen

From Life Magazine September 1995. Photograph by Bill Binzen

I’m a believer in what dreams tell us. I grew up in a house where dreams were discussed over morning coffee. My mother and baba would get out a tattered dream book to find out what their dreams meant.  For them, everything in a dream was symbolic of something else.

There were many times as a child, when I was about to go to school, that my mother would say, “Be careful today. I had a bad dream.” Often, that meant that she had been laughing or singing in her dream, which to her meant that the opposite would occur and she would soon be  crying over some disaster. She believed that dreams foretold the future, even though I could not remember one time when she was right.

I do remember one time that could be true. It was when my husband, Rob, dreamt his mother and aunt were sitting together in hooded cloaks. It was a scary dream as they weren’t talking; they were silent. A few days later, we learned that his younger brother had passed away. Was the dream foretelling the tragedy, or did my husband dream that because his younger brother, who was sick with cancer, was on his mind? I think the latter, though dreams like that do give you pause. It seemed that Rob had connected with his family across the miles.

Film Noir Wikipedia

Film Noir Wikipedia

For twenty-five years, I worked as a clinical social worker and saw many people in therapy for all kinds of problems. One of the subjects that would crop up from time to time were dreams. Some recurring dream or nightmare that plagued the person who came to see me.

One client told me she was afraid to go to bed at night because she kept dreaming about a spider crawling on her. She would wake up in terror. In my interpretation, the spider was symbolic of how she was feeling about her life. She wasn’t in control. She was allowing others to dictate how she should be. I suggested she could change the outcome in her dream. She could tell herself that the next time the spider appeared she’d be ready with a slipper to shoo it away. That conscious thought could seep into her unconscious and make a difference. She went one step further. When she returned to see me, she told me that she had put a slipper under her bed and after that, she didn’t have the nightmare again. She also began to feel stronger in life.

I also had recurring nightmares as a child. Night and the CityIn my early elementary school years, my parents would take me once a week to a double feature at the cinema. I saw many film noir movies, the kind that featured John Garfield, Richard Widmark, or Robert Mitchum. They were black and white stories about killers on the loose. Tall shadows loomed large on the screen. Is it a wonder that I dreamt of some man­­­­—with his shadow—climbing up the staircase to my bedroom, getting closer and closer until I woke up in a panic just before he reached my door? I continued to have those nightmares until I took karate lessons in my early twenties. Once I had some fighting skills, those nightmares went away.

So with that kind of background, is it surprising that I’ve featured dreams in my debut novel, A CRY FROM THE DEEP. Catherine Fitzgerald, an underwater photographer, is bothered by nightmares after she buys an antique ring at a flea market. In her case, her dreams have nothing to do with her reality or do they?

What about you? Have you been ruled by dreams? Do you have some dream that has stayed with you? What do you think dreams tell us?

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What Does A Ring Say About Love?

What Does A Ring Say About Love? That popped into my head this morning, as I thought about how my story, A Cry From The Deep , came to involve a ring of such significance. I can’t remember how I came up with the idea of having an antique Claddagh wedding ring play such a major role.  A ring linking one woman from the distant past with a woman in the present.

claddagh ringThe Claddagh Ring symbolizes “love and friendship”.  A wedding ring is a concrete promise of commitment…till death do us part. Eternity…a beginning without an end. Everlasting love.

Wikipedia states that it’s “widely believed that the first examples of wedding rings were found in ancient Egypt.” Back then, about 3000 years ago, rings were made by braiding hemp or reeds and then exchanged by the bride and groom. The circle was the symbol of eternity, and the ring a sign of never-ending love between the couple.

In my novel, I talk about a promise that would not die. A ring from Ireland symbolizes that promise. I wonder if you have a ring that has special meaning, one that you will carry to the end of your life.


Ponte Vecchio, Florence, Italy

Ponte Vecchio, Florence, Italy

I was married with one ring, a simple white gold band, and then later when my husband and I were backpacking through Europe with our children, fifteen years later, we found another on the Ponte Vecchio in Florence, Italy.


We saw this artisan carving 18K gold rings and they were so beautiful that we bought matching ones.

wedding ringI treasure it but notice, because of the softness of the gold, the design is wearing with time, much as I am.

I remember my mother talking about her ring, the one she got from my father in the dirty thirties, the depression that hit North America like a knockout punch. She said, “my diamond is so puny.” I think this was after she had admired my mother-in-law’s that was a karat and a half. Jealousy had reared its ugly head. My mother’s ring was indeed tiny, but was it really that important how big her diamond was, or was it more important that it was the symbol of my father’s love for her? It was all he could afford.

In my story, the ring has its own journey. Do any of your rings have stories to tell?

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Freedom Is Not Free


Corporal Nathan Cirillo

Given the recent events in Ottawa, where an Islamic jihadist shot unarmed reservist, Corporal Nathan Cirillo, in the back at the Tomb for the Unknown Soldier, and that Nov. 11th is Remembrance Day in Canada and others in the  Commonwealth, I thought it fitting that I re-post my thoughts with some revisions from a year ago. It’s the day  we honor our veterans and those we’ve lost.

We in Canada were shocked and deeply saddened to hear of Cirillo’s untimely death and to also discover that we had been harboring someone (unnamed here deliberately) who did not value what we value as Canadians. A terrorist who had no right to live in our beautiful land. He had lost that right when he adopted his jihadist thinking.


We, in Canada and the USA, pride ourselves in sharing the belief that we can all live together in harmony, regardless of cultural and religious differences. And to a great degree, we have succeeded. We have also as nations fought and died for the right of others to live in this way. That’s what we commemorate on Remembrance Day.

In the fall of 2013, my husband and I visited the National Mall, in Washington, D.C., an almost two mile long public space incorporating a reflecting pool and major war monuments. To stand there and look down that mall—the Capital at one end, the Lincoln monument at the other—is an unbelievable experience. The magnificence of the design in that open space underlines the strength and beauty of America.


World War II Memorial

The war monuments are of such grandeur that you can’t walk by them without thinking of the human tragedy of war. Lives lost and spirits crushed. Dreams dashed. Families broken. It’s stunning to read how many tens of thousands have died for their country.

Unfortunately, it’s a universal story. Every country has lost sons and daughters to war.

We first stopped at the relatively new World War II Memorial. What’s striking about it are the bronze reliefs on it, depicting scenes from that time.


One of the bronze scenes at the WWII memorial

I had three uncles in that war. They were from a small town in Manitoba; they came from a poor family. War was adventure, a steady pay check, and a call of duty. One was in the air force, two in the army. They all came home, but were forever scarred by what they’d seen.


Korean War Veterans Memorial

The Korean War Veterans Memorial commemorates another one where Canadians,  Americans, and their allies fought side by side.

Another war that grabbed its young, and those who made it back were older before their time.




They Come to Honor The Fallen

The last one we visited was the Vietnam War Memorial. A massive dark stone wall with the names of Americans who didn’t return.

Canadians didn’t fight in Vietnam, but we know the story. The horrors, the sacrifices, and the madness of war played out daily on our TV screens in the 60s and early 70s.



Bronze Soldiers look on the Vietnam Memorial

The Vietnam memorial touched my husband and I the most. Partly because it was the freshest war, the one in our lifetime with no easy answers. And partly, because there are still plenty of survivors and family members who visit and pay their respects.

There, I witnessed a father looking for his son’s name on the stone.


A volunteer tries to ease the pain.

I saw a former soldier cry when a volunteer made a rubbing of his friend’s name, or maybe it was his brother’s, and a man shake with sorrow as he ran his fingers over the engraved letters.

I didn’t lose anyone in this war, but just seeing all the dead listed and the tears around me,  I couldn’t help but feel some of the pain of those who did.

At the end of the day, I was left with this thought, etched on a stone near the Korean Veterans Memorial. FREEDOM IS NOT FREE.

Freedom Is Not Free



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My compulsion is to write. I can’t not write.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines compulsion as a :  an act of compelling :  the state of being compelled b :  a force that compels and 2 :  an irresistible persistent impulse to perform an act (as excessive hand washing); also :  the act itself  In other words, an obsession.

What got me thinking about Herb and Dorothycompulsion in general was a documentary I saw the other day called Herb & Dorothy.

The Vogels were a New York city couple with a modest income—he a postal clerk, she a librarian—who managed to amass an extraordinary collection of minimalist and conceptual art in the post 60s. They amassed it through their compulsion to buy. During their off-work hours, they would prowl Soho and any other place a struggling artist hung out and buy up to six or seven pieces at a time. They couldn’t not buy a painting by a budding and promising artist.

What was also striking about their acquisitions was the fact that they had little room to display them in their tiny apartment. Art work hung on every wall, and when space ran out there, they hung the canvases on their ceiling or jammed them into every conceivable corner, including under their bed. They became both collectors and hoarders.

They also had no idea how much their art collection was worth. It was never about the money. It was about what they felt compelled to do. It was their bliss. Mind you, they had an eye for talent, and they used it to bolster the egos of the artists who struggled to make ends meet. It was a win-win relationship.

At the end of their lives, when Herb and Dorothy’s energy had petered out, and Herb had to hobble from one artist’s studio to another hunched over with a cane for support, they gave their entire collection to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. It took several block-long moving trucks to empty their apartment. It was a puzzle to all how they’d managed to cram what they had collected into that tiny space.

Their compulsion reminded me of my own, my need to write. Mine wasn’t always like that. As a child growing up with immigrant parents, one of whom was illiterate, I would never have dreamt of becoming a writer. Though an honors student, the subjects of language and literature were a challenge. As I look back, I think it was a matter of confidence that I didn’t pursue writing at that time. But once I hit my 20s, I began jotting notes here and there, trying out a short story or a newspaper article, and entering an essay contest in a major fashion magazine, for which I won an honorable mention. I proceeded to buy journals which I filled right to the margins. But though I scribbled every chance I got, writing took a backseat while our children were growing up. It didn’t put food on the table.

I admit to being driven to write. The first thing I do now when I get up is put the coffee on and hit my computer. I find, that if I don’t create something new, there is something missing in my life. It’s like I need that jolt of new words on a page to settle me, much like a drug addict who needs a fix to calm his spirits.

Yes, writing is an obsession of mine, but it’s a positive addiction, much like running, that gives you a natural high. It doesn’t hurt anyone and brings me a sense of accomplishment, and in that, there is much satisfaction. I also sleep better when I’ve used my imagination to take me to a place I haven’t gone before. And for that reason, I have no intention of breaking, what for me, has become a delicious habit.

How about you? Are you compelled to do something? Some compulsion you wouldn’t mind sharing? I’d love to hear your comments.

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IMG_6374It’s book launch day! Okay, so I’m excited. What I need are some fireworks, a parade, and a paper bag over my head to keep me from smiling non-stop.

Yesterday, two boxes of books arrived. Some are gifts, others for Coho Books, an independent book store in town and others still for my upcoming book reading at the Campbell River library on Oct. 21st. I’m calling that event, Many Paths to a Dream, as it’s been a dream of mine to write a novel. For those of you who’ve read my bio., you know I’ve done a lot of different things in my life, but writing a novel has been my Mount Everest.

I’ve slogged up that mountain for many years, thinking that peak was too far out of reach. I’ve taken breaks along the way, sometimes ones to help out a family member, others for travel, but many times, I’ve strayed from the computer because I didn’t believe it was possible. But belief in oneself is a powerful tool.

So, drum roll please: a cry from the deep-ebook cover

A CRY FROM THE DEEP, a romantic mystery/adventure, is now available on Amazon, Kindle and through booksellers everywhere.

What’s it about?

An underwater photographer about to cover the hunt for one of the lost ships of the Spanish Armada buys a Claddagh ring and begins to have nightmares and visions more compelling than the hunt itself.

Here is my book trailer to give you some sense of the mood of the story.

And here is my First REVIEW, by Olivia, posting on her blog yesterday. ….And another lovely one by David Burnett for KINDLE BOOK REVIEW. I love the fact that there are these wonderful readers out there, who take a gamble on unknown writers like myself. I sent them advance copies asking if they wouldn’t mind reviewing them for me. I have to say it was a gamble on my part as well, as I had no idea whether they would like it or not. So far, so good. But as I’ve mentioned to friends, books are like art. We don’t all like the same thing, and that’s as it should be, otherwise this world would be a boring place.

A CRY FROM THE DEEP is print on demand and therefore, not being stocked on shelves except in some independent bookstores, which is great for a number of reasons. It’s always difficult to predict in advance how many  copies will sell. In this way, a bookstore won’t be stuck with unsold copies. And think of all the paper that saves in our environmentally conscious age. I like that.

For those of you who are interested in buying my book ( and no pressure) you can order online from Amazon or others or ask your bookstore to order it in for you, as it’s being distributed through Ingram and available to booksellers everywhere.

Thank you again for all your support. This one took a long time to write. Would you believe over six years? It required a lot of research as it’s got all those underwater scenes, and the most I’ve ever done is snorkel.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy the read. And to those who aren’t interested, I’m fine with that. There are so many books, and so little time.

Comments on any of the above are always appreciated. And if you have any self-publishing questions, I’d be happy to let you know what I’ve discovered on getting this far.


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Giving Birth to a Book

Yesterday, I met with my friend, Karen Dodd, the author Deadly Switchof the delicious suspense novel, Deadly Switch. She’s been marvellous, coaxing me along, encouraging me, telling me that my book is more than ready. “It’s well overdue,” she said. She’s right. My novel, A CRY FROM THE DEEP, has been ready for months, and yet, I’ve been dragging my heels. Why?

Well, for one thing, I’ve been paying attention to how traditional books are published. My friend, Catherine KnutssonShadows Cast By Stars, got an agent, sat tight during a bidding war between two highly respected publishers for rights to publish her Y/A novel, Shadows Cast By Stars,  and then waited a few years for her story to reach the bookstore shelves. Giving birth to a book takes longer than nine months. It takes time to get it right.

With no publisher or agent to lean on, I embarked on my self-publishing journey with trepidation, realizing thereMy Temporary Life would be countless steps to my destination. It helped that I was supported by similar travellers I met along the way. They kept me going with their generosity of spirit and willingness to share what they had learned. Especially Martin Crosbie, whom I met at the Surrey Writers International Conference a few years back. He is the author of How I Sold 30,000 eBooks on Amazon’s Kindle, and someone I can now call a friend, someone who lives the philosophy of paying it forward.

Another self-published writer who has been more than Awakening cover for DStevan256x400generous is J. P. McLean, author of the mystery thriller series, The Gift. Jo-Anne, with her wonderful imagination, is always there when I call with yet another question.

And then there are those who shout their encouragement from their websites. Among them, Jonathan Gunson’s Bestseller Labs giving words of wisdom on how to write that bestseller and J.A. Konrath’s A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing, with his in-depth column on the whole publishing industry, its quarrels and accomplishments.

But I’d be neglectful if I didn’t mention the River Writers, my writers’ critique group. I’ve been so blessed to be in the company of these wonderful writers: Kristin Butcher, Jocelyn Reekie, Shari Green, and Janet Smith. They’ve seen every stage of my novel, and their constructive comments have coaxed more out of me than I thought was possible.

And of course, I couldn’t have done it without my family, cheering me on every step of the way. Grandson and film director, Michael Stevantoni, did my book trailer, which I’ll be showing soon. My greatest source of comfort, though, has been Robert—my husband, friend, lover and soul mate. He’s shown such patience with all my turmoil.

Yes, the self-publishing field is a mixed bag. There are too many books that need further editing, or more story development, or more thought put into their book cover designs, but there are also many gems in this group as well. Gems that agents and publishers have let slip through their fingers. Ones that deserve to stand alongside any traditional book out there.

I’m now hoping mine will shine in this pile, but one never knows, does one?  Writing a novel is like any other art form. It’s up to the public to decide whether the artist’s output is worthy of attention or not. And that’s how it should be.

So, with all these thoughts jumbled in my brain, I’m set to launch my book baby into the world. Exciting times!

My novel, A CRY FROM THE DEEP, comes out on Oct. 15th.

CR Branch Exterior 2011 002I’ll be doing a reading at the Campbell River Library, in Campbell River, British Columbia, on Oct. 21st at 6:30 p.m. For this and other events, I’ll be sending out a newsletter. You can find my sign-up form on the right side of this page.

Are you thinking of giving birth to a book? If you are, I’d be glad to give you any tips that I’ve learned along the way, or steer you to someone who knows.

Any comments are always appreciated. 

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Setting the Stage in Fiction

I spent quite a few years honing the craft of writing screenplays, which is useful in setting the stage in fiction. It’s natural for me to think visually when I write. I see the scenes—the rooms or outdoor spaces with people and objects in them.


Me painting a landscape from a photo.

However, I also know that too much detail can bore the reader. I used to read James Michener, loved his tales, but skipped over his lengthy descriptions of places.

Because of my own taste in reading, I try to paint the scene with just enough words to give the reader a sense of the place, but just like painting with real paint, I don’t want to overdo it. Picasso said, not only is it hard to start a painting (substitute novel), it’s also hard to know when to stop. I want the reader to see what I see, but I don’t want to give them so much that their eyes glaze over, or they lose track of the story.

In my debut novel, A CRY FROM THE DEEP, I used my imagination but I also used photos to inspire me to set the stage. Fortunately, it wasn’t a big stretch, as my husband, Robert, and I have traveled extensively and to most of the places in my novel—Provence, Miami, New York city, and Ireland.

[Killybegs. Co. Donegal, Ireland]

Killybegs,County Donegal, Ireland at an earlier time

Though we toured Ireland, both the north and the Republic, the one place we didn’t get to was the town of Killybegs, which figures largely in my story. For that, I relied on the internet, both photos and tourist information.

In fact, I discovered that a couple of celebrities, Matthew Broderick and Sarah Jessica Parker, share the same love of the place. That information sidetracked me a bit, as any research in any area can.

Because of these visual aids and added informational nuggets, I felt at times that I was walking and driving down the Irish roads in my novel along with my characters. That is one of the joys of writing, to go wherever the people in my story take me. It’s what keeps me in my seat at the computer.

What do you do to set the stage in fiction? Is your imagination enough? Or do you use photos from your travels or otherwise? Do you tear articles or pictures out of magazines or newspapers? Or use the internet as a tool? How about sketching? Anyone try that?

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Has Free Sex Killed Romance?

Today, unlike two generations past, couples engage in sex without a commitment. But has free sex killed romance?

I’ve been noticing for awhile that they don’t make Dr. Zhivagobig romantic movies anymore. For decades, Hollywood made wonderful romantic films. Some of the best were Gone With The Wind (1939), Casablanca (1942), Dr. Zhivago (1965), Love Story (1970). There was even that wonderful time  in the nineties that saw the production of When Harry Met Sally (1989), Sleepless in Seattle (1993), While You Were Sleeping (1995), The Bridges of Madison County (1995) and then more recently, The Notebook (2004). Since then, the romance genre has evolved into supposed love stories, where couples connect—kissing and fondling are fast tracked—and before long, they are ripping each other’s clothes off and having sex.

Films and books, reflecting our times, no longer tell stories of couples moving slowly towards commitment. The so-called courtship period seems to have vanished.

Nor are there many contemporary books that show a couple falling in love and taking time to consummate their relationship. In the fifties, magazine articles asked, “Should you kiss on a first date?” By the seventies, it was “Should you have sex on a first date?” Today, the magazines are explicit about orgasms, how to please your mate, oral sex, and whether Miley Cyrus went too far with her twerking.

bridges of madison countyThe recent number one bestseller was Fifty Shades of Grey. It was no Bridges of Madison County, where a photographer passing through a town falls in love with a married woman hungering for romance and passion. Fifty Shades of Grey is largely a sex story, with all manners of S & M propelling the characters and the simple plot forward. This book would’ve been considered pornography a decade ago, but with every sexual barrier between men and women removed, erotic stories have entered the mainstream.

But has all this free sex killed romance?  Is this why more than fifty per cent of young people are living alone? Do they need company if they can have sex without marriage? I’d love to know what you think. If you think romance still exists—more than on just on Valentine’s Day—why  aren’t films and books in recent years reflecting this more?

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