A Prince Among Men

DadOn this Father’s Day, I look back and remember my dad, who was a prince among men. Tall, handsome and smart, he didn’t make his mark on the masses, but he made his mark on me. I feel blessed to have had such a kind and loving father.

We used to dive for stones in Lake Manitoba, tickle one another and play chess at the cottage on Lake Winnipeg. I loved how he would swim on his back and invariably kick his legs, splashing me and then laughing as he got away with his surprise.

He taught me how to swim at Grand Beach, throw a baseball far for my high school games, ride a bike and drive a car. I learned to appreciate nature, when he took the time to observe new growth on a balsam tree or a woodpecker in the woods. Loving tongue twisters, corny jokes and quoting poetry, he taught me love of the word which led me to writing, so I thank him for that. I also thank him for leaving me with an appreciation of man, and what it takes to be a good man.

To all the good men out there, I hope you’re having a good father’s day, or will be a good father yourself some day or showing love in whatever way you can. And to those, who didn’t have a good father, I’m sorry. My dad didn’t have one either, but  he didn’t follow in his dad’s footsteps. It’s funny, Dad died in 1985, thirty years ago, but I still tear up when I think of him and how much I miss him.

For me, there can be no greater success in life than being successful at loving those in your care. Happy Father’s Day to all.

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I Once Had A Farm in Ireland

My mother’s family were farmers, so when I heard about Siggy Buckley’s blog tour about her book on organic farming, I Once Had A Farm In Ireland, I wanted to hop on. As well, since half my debut novel takes place in Ireland, I was naturally intrigued. And then, there’s the whI Once Had A Farm In Irelandole business of organic foods. I studied foods and nutrition on my way to earning a Bachelor of Home Economics degree, so I’ve always been concerned about the quality of food we eat.

When I mentioned to my family that I was going to post about Siggy’s book, they said her book sounded like an Irish take on that very popular book, My Year in Provence.  It turns out like that one, Siggy Buckley’s book is also a memoir. Now, who doesn’t like books about travel, adventure, and occupation in interesting countries? So, please read and enjoy, I Once Had A Farm In Ireland: Living The Organic Lifestyle  Available from Amazon.com

About the book:

A wheelbarrow, a cable drum, gardening tools, and a pickaxe are unusual items on a wedding registry. They are what Mac and Siggy, a German professional couple, need to fulfill their dream of organic gardening. When Chernobyl blows up a few years later, they are scared enough to undertake fundamental changes in the lives of their young family to seek a simpler and healthier lifestyle in an unspoiled country.

They buy a farm in Tipperary, Ireland. They give up their jobs, friends and home to raise their children in an unpolluted environment. Although Siggy shares her husband’s environmental convictions, she would prefer a warmer climate, maybe an olive farm in Tuscany.

A period of intense learning and acquiring new skills follows: how to raise chickens, pluck geese, breed cattle and sheep, and how to grow all kinds of vegetables. Soon they find out that farming means a never ending workload. They almost kill themselves ─and each other─ to produce healthy food.

I Once Had A Farm In Ireland not only gives advice for budding organic gardeners but it is also the story of a woman who sacrifices her own ideals for the sake of her family until she discovers her own dreams.

For more on the author: Siggy Buckley, you can visit her website

She’s also on Goodreads and on Twitter @Hernibs.

Educated in Germany with a Master’s Degree in English, Siggy Buckley lived in Ireland for over 15 years, first teaching at the University of Limerick as an adjunct professor, while building up an organic farm. She later ran her own businesses in Dublin before coming to the USA in 2003. In 2005, Siggy married an American and pursued her life-long dream of writing.

After reading all of the above, aren’t your curious? I certainly am.

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Are Pulitzer Prize Winning Novels For Everyone?

all-the-light-we-cannot-see-9781476746586.in01I recently read All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, Pulitzer prize winner 2015. Though his book wasn’t a page turner, I didn’t want to stop reading once I’d started. I’ve read many books set during World War II, the majority showing conflict between the nations at the time or about the Holocaust, but this one is different. It’s about two young people, a blind French girl and a German orphan boy, and how the European battles impact on their lives. Through their journeys, the author takes us behind the scenes of war.

I find Pulitzer prize winning novels curious. A jury decides which American novel is deserving of the honour, which proclaims to the world that the author of the Pulitzer prize winning novel has risen far above the others in the way the story is told. And yet, are Pulitzer prize winning novels for everyone?

After I had finished reading All The Light We Cannot See, I told my husband about it, thinking he would enjoy the read, especially since he’s read many books about that period. I was wrong. He didn’t enjoy the read. He read seventy pages and couldn’t get into it. He found the pace slow, and the interweaving of stories too distracting.

I have to admit it took me awhile as well, and I found the author’s flipping from one year to the next hard to follow. He went back and forth in time. There were moments when I had to stop and go back in the story to figure out where the characters were in relation to what was going on. But I stayed with it, because I liked Anthony Doerr’s use of metaphors and depictions of life back then. I also wanted to see what it took to win a Pulitzer Prize. Not that I have any hopes in that department, but a writer needs to read in order to write well.

I gave All The Light We Cannot See five stars. I didn’t read the other contenders for the Pulitzer prize but I do believe this one is deserving. It showed me the greys of war through the stories of two young people on different sides of the conflict, both struggling to make sense of what was going on around them, each one in survival mode.

With me loving the book and my husband rejecting its storytelling, I’ve come to the conclusion—surprise, surprise—that Pulitzer prize winning novels aren’t for everyone. And isn’t that wonderful? There’s room for writers like myself, and those who tell detective stories or write thrillers, science fiction, Harlequin and on and on. Our world would be very boring if we all loved to read and write the same kind of books. Don’t you agree?

Thoughts and comments always appreciated. 

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Book Launch of THE BLUE NIGHTGOWN

The Blue Nightgown cover2My novelette, THE BLUE NIGHTGOWN is set in the 1950s.

When Anna, the landlady of a rooming house, finds a blue nightgown in a tenant’s trash, little does she know it’ll bring out the sexual longings of anyone who comes in contact with it.

Launching a book is not the same as giving birth, nowhere near, but THE BLUE NIGHTGOWN is still my baby. Its gestation period was about ten years, which is ridiculous for a novelette, which is only one-fifth the size of an average novel. Perhaps I kept putting off the launch, because my story contains sexually explicit material—not easy to write about with any candor.

Though my novelette has adult content, it’s not erotica, nor does it have graphic content like FIFTY SHADES OF GREY. It’s women’s fiction, a story about one family’s secrets that highlight what sex was like in the 50s. Even though today’s films and discussion on social media show a greater openness about sex and sexuality, most of the public still prefer to keep that part of their life hidden. So that much hasn’t changed. We all have secrets.

THE BLUE NIGHTGOWN is now on sale as an e-book on Kindle. I hope you enjoy the read. And if you do, please leave a review on the site where you purchased my book.

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Putting Spice In Your Brand

AegyptischerBasar (2)What kind of writer are you? Do you have a series with a protagonist that shows up in every book you write? Do you write in the same genre? Do you think about your brand when you’re writing? What spice are you putting in your brand?

As I’m about to publish my novelette, The Blue Nightgown, I realize more and more the kind of writer I am. I also realize what I’m not.

When I look at writers like J. K. Rowling (Harry Potter) and Sue Grafton (Alphabet mysteries), who’ve written successful series using the same character(s), or the authors who’ve stayed in the same genre, like Stephen King (horror), John Grisham (legal thrillers), Nora Roberts (romance) and Nicholas Sparks (romance), I can see why they’ve become bestselling authors. They’ve given their readers a clear idea of what to expect with each succeeding novel. They created a brand that was reliable.

When I think of stories to write, I see that I’m not following their example. I find it hard because it’s not who I am.

First of all, I have no interest in writing a sequel for Catherine, the protagonist in my debut novel, A Cry From The Deep, though I have been considering doing something with her daughter Alex. She’s getting older, and she’s a lot of fun. I suspect once she reaches a certain age, she won’t be an easy woman to toy with.

As for genre, if you’ve read my biography, you’ll understand why I have trouble staying in the same genre. I like variety in life and in my books. I also write the way I read. I read everything, literary novels as well as commercial ones, classics and indie self-published ones. I also don’t read sequels, even if the first one was good.

Though I’m not following the lead of bestselling authors, I’ve since discovered that it doesn’t really matter, especially if I plan to attract avid readers like myself, who don’t read sequels or buy books in the same genre. What matters to me is a good story. And that is essentially what made the authors listed above so successful. They told a damn good story.

That’s my goal. To work on telling a good story. The spice in my brand is the variety in my writing. Just as I’ve loved having different experiences in my life, through work and travel, I love exploring different genres and ways to tell a story. A Cry from the Deep is a romantic mystery/adventure with a nice dose of paranormal. My novelette, The Blue Nightgown is women’s fiction (a family drama).

I’m also polishing up two more novels that are close to seeing light. One is historical fiction and the other, well women’s fiction again, but one that takes place largely on a psychiatric ward in the 70s.

What will this do for my brand? Time will tell. But for me, variety is indeed the spice of life.

What about you? Do you believe authors are better off staying in the same genre? Do you believe that readers will fall off if the writer deviates with each succeeding book? Are sequels more successful than one-offs? Or are you like me, putting spice in your brand through genre bending or changing genres? Comments are always appreciated. 

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Cover Reveal for THE BLUE NIGHTGOWN

I’m quite excited to show you the cover for my novelette, THE BLUE NIGHTGOWN, which I hope to publish some time this month.

Storyline: When the landlady of a rooming house in the 1950s finds a blue nightgown in a tenant’s trash, little does she know it’ll bring out the sexual longings of anyone who comes in contact with it.

The Blue Nightgown cover2

I started writing this story about ten years ago, but along came A CRY FROM THE DEEP, the debut novel I published on Oct. 15, 2014, and my attention was diverted. If you want to know more about this time slip romantic suspense, which has garnered great reviews, have a look here.

It seems so long ago now that the first ten pages of THE BLUE NIGHTGOWN were shown to Steven Galloway—author of The Cellist of Sarajevo—in a workshop, and he was most complimentary. With that kind of encouragement, I figured I had something going.

Here’s the opening of THE BLUE NIGHTGOWN to whet your appetite for more:

“You take care of yourself, Norma,” Anna said. “Watch out for those bulls.”

“Don’t worry, I will.” And with a laugh, the girl from room four was out the door.

Anna shook her head, knowing full well that Norma was going to get knocked around a bit more before she came to her senses. If she ever did. But there was no point in spending any more time worrying about her; Anna had to get on with the job of cleaning the mess Norma had left behind.

As for the COVER above, I had the pleasure of working with my grandson, Michael Stevantoni again. I co-produced a number of his short films. This time, he designed the cover for my novelette. If you haven’t seen his website, you can find it here. He’s a very promising filmmaker.

Comments are always appreciated.

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Finding Graham Greene And The Mob In A Havana Hotel

Hotel Mercure Sevilla

Hotel Mercure Sevilla

A few weeks ago, I mentioned the Hotel Mercure Sevilla, where we recently stayed, and where Hemingway wrote some of Farewell To Arms.

It turns out that the hotel is legendary for more than that.

It’s where mobsters – Lucky Luciano, Al Capone, and Meyer Lansky – conducted business in the 1920s. It was called the Hilton Baltimore back then, and had a casino.

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And Josephine Baker was one of the performers who entertained the guests.

But the hotel also has links to another very famous entertainer, Graham Greene, author of many prize-winning novels. Typically when I go on holidays to some other country, I like to read works that tell me something about the country I’m visiting. So, I read The Old Man And The Sea by Hemingway, and Our Man In Havana, by Graham Greene.

I was surprised to discover, while I was there and in the midst of reading Greene’s novel, that he had used the Hotel Sevilla as backdrop in his Our Man In Havananovel, a story about Wormold, a vacuum cleaner salesman, who becomes an unlikely British spy just before the Cuba’s revolution.

Maybe the hotel’s criminal past inspired Greene to use it in his novel to emphasize the shadiness of what his protagonist was involved in.

“They groped their way through the darkness of the Seville-Biltmore Bar. They were only dimly aware of their fellow-guests, who sat crouched in silence and shadow like parachutists gloomily waiting the signal to leap.”

You have to admit, that excerpt from Our Man In Havana is wonderful writing. It’s always a delight to discover a writer, even one that has departed.

5th floor of Hotel Sevilla

5th floor of Hotel Sevilla

And then when I read, “the rooms were built as prison-cells round a rectangular balcony”, I could see it, as our room was on the fifth floor.

And of course, the line, “ Wormold got to the bottom of the stairs while Dr. Hasselbacher was still manoeuvring the first step; 501 was close by”, prompted me to investigate that very room. It was just down the hall from 509, the room where we stayed.

Much to my delight, the hotel had a ceramic plate beside the 501 door, mentioning the fact that the author had written about this room in his novel. I love little surprises like that. Maybe it has to do with the fact that I love writing and reading so much, that I place stock in the well-written word and a story that is rooted in reality.

819As for the hotel today, I did see some young men on laptops in the lobby, tapping away while a couple of opera singers were entertaining the guests.

Were the laptop enthusiasts writers? I don’t know. But since I’m an opera fan, it bothered me that they were oblivious to the arias that were being sung so beautifully.

But then again, maybe they were writing an epic story. Or maybe they were just using the Wi-Fi in the hotel, a service not easily found in Havana.

Comments are always appreciated.

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What’s A Time-Slip Novel?

The other day, when I was asked on Goodreads’ Ask An Author, “Where did you get the designation “time slip? I’ve not seen that before,” I was reminded that I hadn’t seen that term either before I published my debut novel, A CRY FROM THE DEEP

No, I didn’t know about time slip, only time travel. I’d read Diana Gabaldon’s novel, OUTLANDER, and in fact, an old movie—I’ll Never Forget Youabout a scientist who goes back in time and falls in love—inspired me to write my story.

Time SlipI first learned about time slip from David Burnett, of The Kindle Book Review. He had emailed me and told me he couldn’t find my book online to post his review.  He had received an e-book in advance of my publishing date, one of a number I had sent out on spec. (My plan was to have reviewers in place so that when my novel went on sale, the reading public would have some idea of what they were getting.)

I wrote David back, telling him that my book wasn’t published yet, but would be soon, and would he mind if I contacted him when it came out, so that he could post his review? At that point, I had no idea of what he might say, but my thinking was a review was better than no review. And those who are starting out with their debut novels know how important reviews are.

David replied, “You better let me know as I’m giving you a five star review.” Now, how wonderful is that?

When my book was published on Oct. 15, 2014, and David posted his review, I noted that he mentioned, “in a time slip novel”, etc. etc.  His term time slip both delighted and surprised me, as I hadn’t known there was such an entity.

Though a time travel story inspired my romantic mystery, I had used time in a different way. My protagonist, Catherine Fitzgerald, dips into the past for brief periods, in other words,  she slips in and out and out of time quickly and briefly, each time slip triggered by an image, a scene, or an object. How I  came up with that, I have no idea, but I do believe that Catherine had a say in it.

That is why I had such joy writing this story, as the characters spoke to me on occasion. And if you think that’s crazy, ask any writer. When you’re in the zone, the characters come to life and give direction. In fact, I had so much fun telling this tale, that I’ve now begun to write a time travel Y/A novel. I hope I can manage to finish this one, as it’s kind of personal.

For more on time slip, see Wikipedia.

Have you heard about time-slip stories before? And if so, can you recommend any? And thank you in advance for any comments. Always love to hear from readers.

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Cuba and Hemingway

Having just returned from two weeks in Havana, I have so many stories bubbling in my head. One of them has to do with Nobel prize-winning author, Ernest Hemingway. There are tours given by a number of operators to all of his haunts: the bars he frequented, the hotel room where he wrote, and his home outside of Havana.

It’s not surprising that he’s so revered by OldmanseaCubans. He loved the country and the people so much that when he won the Nobel prize for his novel, The Old Man And The Sea, he gave his award to the Cuban people for inspiring his  story.

Essentially, this book is about an old fisherman, a young boy and a fish; but it’s more than that. It’s about the power of the human spirit to keep going despite all odds. It’s also about the dignity of nature and old age.

To honour the writer, the fishermen of Cojimar—the little fishing village where Hemingway liked to hang out and drink with the locals—raised money for P1030741a bronze sculpture of Hemingway, which now sits in the bar, Floridita, where he liked to drink daiquiris.  

Hemingway was a man, larger than life itself. He bravely re-imagined how to tell a story by trimming unnecessary adverbs and adjectives. He got inside his character’s heads and gave us the inner dialogue we all have as we travel the ups and downs of daily living.

I  was surprised to discover that there were no chapters in The Old Man And The Sea, and yet, I didn’t feel like I was waiting for a break so that I could stop reading until the next time. Also, the storyline wasn’t one I would’ve ordinarily picked up, but once I started, I was quickly drawn in. And that’s because the subject matter is about life itself, through the mind of an unlikely hero—a fisherman.

P1030642Another stop on our walks through Havana was La Bodeguito del Medio, a tiny bar overwhelmed by tourists waiting for one of the mojitos lined up on the bartender’s bar.

The crowd wasn’t there so much for the drink as it was for the fact that Hemingway used to stop there to drink that particular rum cocktail.  The bar’s walls are covered with signatures, both outside and inside, paying homage I assume to the writer; and on one wall facing the street, is hung a rendering of Morgan Freeman. I suppose he was a fan as well.

While he was in Havana, Hemingway

Hemingway's Typwriter

Hemingway’s Typwriter

also liked to write in room 511 in the Hotel Ambos Mundos. It was where he wrote some of For Whom The Bell Tolls It’s a small room, now preserved as a museum. It boasts a fine view of the city, a twin bed, a bookcase, various memorabilia, and his typewriter (protected by plexiglass).

In Hotel Mercure Hemingway SevillaSevilla, where we stayed, management also claims that Hemingway wrote some of For Whom The Bell Tolls on their premises, and displays a letter from the author, attesting to that fact. It seems that all of Cuba is calling Hemingway one of their own.

Although we didn’t visit his house outside of Havana, it’s listed in guide books as containing 4,000-6,000 books, which were appropriated by Fidel Castro when he took over running the country. As they say, if you want to be a good writer, you have to also be an avid reader.

Though I elected not to drink at any of the bars he frequented as the tourist prices of dauqiris and mojitos were twice what they were elsewhere and I didn’t see the point, I appreciated how many fans Hemingway still has. The museum guide at the Hotel Ambos Mundos mentioned that even the award-winning Canadian author, Margaret Atwood, had visited his room. And for a writer, whose occupation is often to sit alone in front of a computer, typewriter or notepad, that’s really something, isn’t it?

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Pushing Boundaries

For writers and artists, pushing boundaries is a natural act.  As creative spirits, we want to test how far we can go. Look at how the book Fifty Shades of Grey changed the publishing landscape. How about film and television? I’m stunned at the explicit sex and violence in prime time. We’re also pushing the boundaries in space with the recent launch of a joint Russian and American one-year mission to the international space station.

Manuel Roque

Manuel Roque at Vancouver International Dance Festival

And we keep pushing.

A few days ago, I went to see Manuel Roque at the Vancouver International Dance Festival. I wasn’t sure what I’d be seeing, but I wanted to take our granddaughter as she’s into dance.

It turned out to be less dance and more an existential comment on our times. It was billed as “…a celebration of the human race in case of it’s possible disappearance.”   The soundscape even included an excerpt from one of Stephen Hawking‘s works.

What was so unusual about this presentation was how Manuel Roque broke the fourth wall, that invisible wall between performers and audience. In theatre, the wall gives  performers the freedom to create a story for us, the audience, to contemplate and enjoy. An illusion of another time and place. We can watch life unfold without necessarily getting involved. Of course we do through our emotions, but if we decide to tune out, we can, and no one will be the wiser.

Well imagine my surprise, when during the performance, Manuel Roque began crawling off stage through that fourth wall, towards me. I was sitting in the first row. He grabbed my boot, and then proceeded to climb on top of me. Yes, that’s right. On top of me. Next thing I knew, I was hugging him. You have to know that before he left the stage, he had been crying out in different ways. So, when he climbed onto my lap, I felt sympathetic and put my arms around him.

When I described the event later to my daughter, she said, “It’s a good thing, Mom, that you aren’t a victim of abuse.” I hadn’t thought of that. Perhaps Manuel had the sense by looking at me, that I wasn’t vulnerable in that way. I’m now curious to know how he made his decision.

In the midst of my hugging, he continued climbing over me into the row behind and did the same to others for two more rows. What was also surprising is how effortlessly he did it. I did not feel violated, nor did I feel his weight. He succeeded in pushing the boundaries and etching his performance into my memory.

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Set of Manuel Roque at Vancouver International Dance Festival

Before the program began the stage was set with two white plastic chairs. I now see it’s where we can sit and let our imaginations take us to places we didn’t think possible.

This “dance” piece made me think about life and our connections to one another. What we can do and who we can be. The limits we set are in our control more than we think. It’s a lesson not only for writing but for life. It’s exciting to push those boundaries, to stretch ourselves and realize our potential.

I’d love your thoughts on thisHappy writing.

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