Wednesday, May 28, 2014

What I write and what I don't write

I've been tagged by author Anneli Purchase in a blog hop - Three Things I Don't Write and Three Things I Do Write. 

For fascinating adventure and romance by Anneli go to her web site. 

Three Things I Don't Write and Three Things I Do Write. 

What are three things I don’t write?

If you had asked me this question a few years ago, I would have said I don’t write sci-fi, yet that’s what I did in my Em and Yves series. So that’s one gone by the wayside. I can’t see myself ever writing horror or fantasy as I never read those genres. And I know there is no poetry in me so that’s out too. I won’t write romance either—no heaving bosoms and throbbing members in my books.

Three things I do write.

Love stories and that’s very different than romance. Love stories are about people and relationships that are the essence of our being. I can’t imagine a life for anyone without a love story in it—and I’m not talking just romantic love.
I write to entertain. For example my blog bits include snippets meant to make the reader chuckle or even laugh out loud.
I write to inform. I believe people read novels to learn so I try to include information from my experiences—living in Mali, for example—to show readers a bit about other people and other lives. I also blog about writing.

My current work in progress, which may be a combination of YA and Boomer Lit, is leading me on a merry chase as the ideas flow. Yes, I’m having fun with it and that’s the most important thing about writing for me. It’s fun. 

Friday, May 23, 2014

How did you get hooked on reading?

M said:

Perhaps because I'm an only child books were ever-present friends and I immersed myself in them from an early age. My father was an avid reader and he introduced me to his library when I was young, encouraging me to read what he felt were age-appropriate selections from his collection. I now have his library integrated with my own. He favoured Canadian and British authors and anticipated new publications from favourite writers. He particularly enjoyed historical novels such as those penned by Thomas Costain and Pierre Berton, authors I could read when young and revisit later on and appreciate differently. I was always given books at Christmas and on my birthday, this still being my fervent request. The women in the book club to which I belong have eclectic tastes. Some of these women either are British or married to Brits. Because of this my horizons have been expanded to include authors I might not have readily found or gravitated to. And so my passion continues to be fueled.

And what, Darlene, sparked your passion? 

I was an only child on a farm in Saskatchewan—isolated and lonely—for many years before my sisters came along. Mom and Dad were poor so I had few toys and fewer books. Little Lulu comics were a huge treat and I poured over them endlessly. (I wish I had kept them.) Once in a while Dad had a little extra money and he'd buy the big fat edition. You can imagine my delight.

Then I started school in the one-room school house and discovered books. I read all that the little book room at the back had to offer and then read them again. Moving to the city brought the miracle of the bookmobile that came to our corner. But, there was a problem. I could only take out 3 books at a time. I'd pick 6 or 8 that interested me and then agonize over which 3 to take. 

Now all these years later, I still prefer books to all other forms of entertainment.

One child with no books, another surrounded by them and both become avid readers. Perhaps the need to read is within the child more than the circumstances. 

And those who come to reading as adults?

A said:

A friend came to visit my husband and me when we were young newlyweds. She brought along a woman from France. Over dinner, the discussion turned to books. I hadn’t read them, but I’d seen the movies. I realized during the conversation that I missed so much by not reading. I felt my understanding was inadequate. I wanted to read, to catch up. I asked the women what to read. There was a second hand book store a block away. We went over and the French woman began pulling books off the shelves. I went home with a brown paper bag full of books, pulled out Crime and Punishment and began to read. I haven’t stopped since.

P said:

I came to reading late in life. As a child, I hated books. My mother had died; my 14 year old sister was taking care of us. My father was away a lot, and when he was home, he hid behind books, rarely interacting with us. Books, his refuge, were my nemesis.

We were poor. I had no shoes to go to school in. My mother's family had a business—a trading post type of store. We kids played in the sandbox with the family silverware. My schooling was limited to grade five so reading, for me, was not easy. Years later, when my husband was ill, I needed an escape from the caregiving. My daughter-in-law found books that were easy to read and at the same time interesting. I read one, then another and another. Now, reading is a pleasure I wouldn’t want to be without.

And you? What’s your reading story?

Friday, May 16, 2014

My daughter hates my book

“Argh! I hate this!” It’s my daughter speaking.
My heart sinks. She’s reading my first novel. Surely, it’s not that bad. “Why?” I ask. Do I really want to hear the answer?
“It’s a great story, Mom. I’m totally into it and then, bam, I read a part and I see you. Jolts me right out of the book.”
Well, that makes sense, I guess, since this reader knows me so well. But I start to worry a bit when I hear similar comments from close friends. Oh, no, I think. I’ve done something terribly wrong.
Or have I? My daughter’s comment gets me thinking. If we knew the authors of the books we read, would we be saying the same thing? To what extent do authors reveal themselves in their fiction? Can authors completely distance themselves from their writing? Would we want them to?
Recently Jim Ainsworth wrote a piece on Venture Galleries ( about the importance of making connections with others. He quoted Professor and writer John Dufresne  who says, “A book should offer hope. It should lift up the reader. It should give the reader a reason to live—should he need one. Life is not easy for any of us, but the pain of loneliness is often unbearable. The writer is saying, among other things, ‘You’re not alone.’”
And what better way can a writer say, “You are not alone,” than by imbuing their stories with the strength and gift of their presence?

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Students in Mali vs Canada

As a CUSO volunteer, I taught school in Bamako, the capital of Mali. When I traveled to Mali many years later, I was invited to the school I had taught at as a guest speaker for the English as a Second Language students. I would be the “document authentique.”
I visited the grade 11 and grade 12 classes. I promised I would answer any question they asked as long as they used English. The students astounded me. They asked about racism, abortion, women’s rights, our political system, and differences between Canadians and Americans. They were curious about my reasons for being in Mali and about other countries I had visited.
When our Malian friend, Raymond, came to Canada I decided to take him to school with me as guest speaker in my French as a Second Language classes. I explained who he was and told my students that he was an Olympic athlete, coach, and, at that time, an Olympic level referee. I encouraged them to ask any questions they liked. They wanted to know if it was hot in Mali and what he ate. He was gracious with his replies. I decided that their limited language skills were getting in the way and offered to translate. The questions were still banal. Disappointed with the kids, I took Raymond home at noon. There was no point in putting him through more of that.
What bothered me then, and still does, was the great divide between the two groups of students. Some of that may be attributed to age differences. The girls in Mali were seventeen-year-olds and my students fourteen. But I’m not convinced that’s a good enough excuse for their complacency and the superficiality of the questions they asked.
Can I chalk it up then, to the affluence of our society, to the ease with which our every desire is satisfied as contrasted with Malians who grow up facing daily hardship—the hunt for food, for firewood, for water…?
What, if anything, would make a difference for our students? When I ask myself that question, books loom large in my mind as the answer. I grew up in a poor home. We always had enough to eat, but certainly didn’t have extras. A five-cent comic book once in a while was a huge treat: the fat twenty-five cent comic rare and treasured. Books, when I could get my hands on some, were life to me then. They still are.
For me, reading is a deep and satisfying activity. Novels spark my curiosity, teach me about the world, about people—character, motivation, emotions. Books make me think and wonder and ponder.
Is that what’s missing in the youth of today? Engrossed with all the available social media—and not having to worry about their very survival—are they missing deeper meanings and understandings? Would reading books make a difference? I think so. Books do have power—more power than some people would like. Why else would they be banned or burned? 
“If we encounter a man of rare intellect, we should ask him what books he reads.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

How sexy do we have to be to sell our books?

Every morning I lie in bed listening to the birds, my eyes on the palm tree, waiting for the morning when the dangling frond will have succumbed to gravity and released its fragile grip on the tree. The frond proves to be tenacious and day after day, it clings to life while the younger fronds, tall and erect, reach eagerly for the sky. Below them fronds begin to bend, then droop and finally sag with age.
Every morning my granddaughter bounds into my room. “Hi grandma. Let’s play.” She’s like the new fronds at the top, eagerly reaching for the joys of the new day. And me? I’m somewhere in between—a middle aged frond, not yet drooping, but certainly not possessing the energy I once had.
We live in a society that worships youth. Perfect wrinkle free bodies populate ads and television and movies. A Hollywood agent told me that no self-respecting star would agree to play a mother—not before she was in her fifties at least. The same rule doesn’t seem to apply to men, but that’s a whole other topic.
Those of us who are older bemoan the emphasis on youth, the obsession with youth, the lack of respect and regard for age and wisdom, but watching the palm, I wonder if we have it wrong. Are the young, with their energy and enthusiasm more important? Certainly they are essential to the future of our society. It is they who will take care of us as we age and, like the dangling palm frond, eventually succumb to our fate.
With the great desire to have some decent sales of my books before I die, I ask: “From the authors’ perspective, how does our age affect our promotion and sales?”
Brian Feinblum says it best. In his blog, “Are authors sexy enough for the books they write?” He says, “‘They say not to “judge a book by its cover,’ but do consumers judge a book by the age (and looks) of its author?”
Good questions. Being a young attractive author should be an advantage for marketing books. We market through social media which lets readers into our lives, lets them see and hear us, and that may influence buying decisions. So, if we are older authors, do we hide away, or pretend to be younger, or do we flaunt our age?
Or do we ignore the question and get on with the job? Perhaps Mr. Feinblum has it right when he says, “what really counts is the seductive beauty of words.”