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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20 Genders And More, Really?

This morning—while taking a break from writing a novelette, one that shows sex in the 50s—a letter to the editor in a recent Maclean’s magazine caught my attention. The writer mentioned that the government of Ontario’s sex ed. program is planning on teaching six genders, when in fact, there are more than 20 genders considered in some countries.  More than 20? What? I had no idea.

genderbread-person-gender-identity-graphic

From Sam Killerman’s Website

I was aware of that there were more identities than heterosexual and homosexual. The transgender and transvestite population have been making news in print, film, and television in the past several years, but 20 genders and more, really?

As a teen growing up in Winnipeg during the 50s, society from my perspective was largely heterosexual with the odd person who wasn’t. (Note the word “odd”, but that was how this person was viewed back then.) That odd person was considered a “fruit”, “pansy”, “homo”  and “queer”.  They were not nice terms; they identified those who didn’t fit the so-called norm, the general public’s view of men and women.

As I think back, these names were born out of ignorance. Those men and women who were gay—not a term used back then—were relegated to the sidelines. Many back then didn’t dare show their sexuality for fear of being ridiculed or ostracized in some way. So, in essence, we didn’t know that there were more than the “odd” person in our midst who were of a different gender than straight male and straight female. It must’ve been very painful to live in fear of being discovered for who you really were.

When I became a social worker, and also an actress, I ran into quite a few gay men, who became dear friends. I lost a couple to Aids in the 70s, a tragic time for all. On the positive side, it was the time that gay men and women were emerging from the shadows. By then, I had moved with my family to Vancouver, a city that embraced diversity.

I also worked in mental health in the 70s and 80s, a time when homosexuality was a diagnosis, a condition that psychologists and psychiatrists tried to cure people from. I never bought it. I kept thinking, why would anyone choose homosexuality when society was so unkind as a whole?  It’s not a choice. We are who we are.

Desert HeartsIn the late 80s, during the Vancouver International Film Festival, I saw Desert Hearts, a film about two lesbian lovers. The audience was full of female couples, who hooted and hollered when the action got steamy on the screen. I enjoyed their free expression and their obvious joy at seeing two women in love with one another.

Today, gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, two-spirited and queer community celebrate together annually in Gay Pride Parades worldwide. In major North American cities, it’s common to see same-sex couples embrace or hold hands on the streets. See GLBTTQ Canadian Rights Timeline.

In recent years though, as more and more states in America have legalized same-sex unions, there’s been a backlash in the mid-western and southern ones, where lawmakers have tried to prevent same-sex couples from marrying. I can’t believe the fear that drives them to block a union of love they don’t understand. These lawmakers believe it’s an un-Christian act. How do they know that Jesus wasn’t gay? Or some of his followers? What are they afraid of? It’s not catchy.

From Wikimedia

From Wikimedia

No one can influence anyone to be one gender or another. You just are, however you’ve come into this world. And the beauty of that nature needs to be celebrated in all its colors. No wonder the rainbow flag has been adopted to represent the variety of genders in our midst.

Of course, I had to look up these 20 and more genders, and found that The Daily Beast reported on Facebook’s 51 genders. Wow! Prior to reading this, I was of the mind that there were basically three main categories: heterosexuals, homosexuals, and transgendered persons. Obviously, from reading this list, sexuality is more complicated than that. And if you step back and consider our world with over seven billion people, why wouldn’t it be?

Thoughts? I wonder how we can move forward in society without fear of the different and embrace all the colors of the rainbow. Surely, there’s room for all of us.

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What’s So Special About St. Patrick’s Day?

The Greens of Ireland

The Greens of Ireland

Ah, I love the Irish. I toured Ireland with my husband, Robert, in 2009 to visit my first cousins, who, prior to that, I hadn’t met.

I fell in love with the land and its people. St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated now world-wide, wherever the Irish are and where the people who love them live.

March 17th, the day Saint Patrick died, commemorates the arrival of Christianity in Ireland. But why celebrate his death? Because in the Christian religion, that’s the day he began living with God, his Father in Heaven. According to the church, that’s when true life begins.

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The Three-Leafed Shamrock photo by Diana Stevan

On St. Patrick’s Day many wear  shamrocks and/or green clothing (known as the “wearing of the green”).

It is believed that St Patrick used the shamrock, a three-leaved plant, to tell the story of the Holy Trinity to the pagan Irish.

I loved Ireland so much that I incorporated a lot of what I saw into my debut novel, A Cry From The Deep, where half my story takes place.

In the following excerpt from my prologue, which takes place in 1878, Margaret O’Donnell prays to St. Patrick, thanking him for his help.

““`

While her father went off to arrange a rowboat, her grandmother braided some fresh primroses into Margaret’s long auburn hair. She couldn’t see the ocean from where she sat, but the thought of James waiting for her on the ship was enough to make her squirm.

“Now, Margaret, you’re goin’ to make your old granny cross if you don’t put a stop to your movin’. I can’t promise you a handsome head if you keep twitchin’ this way and that.”

“Sorry, Granny, I’m too—”

“I know, child. You don’t have to tell me,” said the old woman as she wove in another primrose.

“All I can say is the good Lord’s been lookin’ out for you. Goodness knows what you would’ve done if he hadn’t come back.”

What she would’ve done was marry Barnaby Athol, the middleman for their landlord, to keep from starving in the future. After she’d accepted his offer, she’d prayed to St. Patrick, telling the saint it wasn’t Barnaby’s withered leg that repulsed her, rather it was his mean ways with his tenants. She silently thanked the saint for bringing James back.

““`

And may the luck of the Irish be with you. Any comments or shared stories are always appreciated.

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Why Do Writers Write What They Write?

 

The question of why writers write what they write 180px-Beloved_by_Toni_Morrisoncame up a while back, when I caught an interview that Stephen Colbert did with author, Toni Morrison, a Pulitzer and Nobel Prize winner, who started writing at age 39.

Stephen asked Toni Morrison if she was undergoing a mid-life crisis at the time. She responded that her decision to write could be defined as that. She had noticed that there were no stories of how racism affected black girls, poor girls, and the hurt they experienced because of that. So, she wrote Beloved, The Song of Solomon among many.

I recently read, Blessed Are The Contrariansby Rob Piccoli. This is a book of essays which raises big questions about religion, politics, nature and health. Rob is both a philosopher and a conservative writer living in Italy, who uses examples not only from his native country but also from America, as well as ideas from Montaigne, Emerson, G.K. Chesterton and others. Because he is well read and educated, he wrote his book because he could offer a unique perspective on the conflicts happening today.

I thought about the novel I had just written, and why I wrote what I wrote. A Cry From The Deep is a story of love everlasting, the kind of love I grew up with. As some of you may know from reading my blog, I’m a sucker for romance, the kind that’s respectful of both sexes. It seems we have less and less of that kind in films and stories today. The romantic dance of love that men and women are capable of doing sometimes gets lost in today’s busy world, in the liberal openness of our times, and in the overt sexuality in films. I’m not advocating for censorship but I am advocating for more romance in our lives.

I think I wrote the kind of novel I wanted to read. One where love, the idea of eternal love, was there. The commitment that kept a couple together, and I don’t care if they’re straight or gay or whatever, but the idea of love everlasting is one I hope we don’t lose sight of.

Why do you write what you write? What got you started? What did you feel you needed to say? 

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