Friday, 22 September 2017

Book Review: The Long Way Home
This is book ten in Louise Penny's Chief Inspector Gamache series. I enjoyed how this book returned to the world of art. Clara Morrow takes a central role when her husband Peter goes missing. Penny is brilliant in recreating her series with each book. No book follows a formula.

In The Long Way Home the characters research and travel from Three Pines to Montreal to Quebec City to Baie-Saint-Paul to Tabaquen. I wonder if Penny writes about these places just so she has an excuse to visit them. It certainly feels as though the reader is travelling along with the characters. It's fascinating to have the story lighting the way.

I can't recommend these books highly enough. It was another satisfying read, although I missed having the grumpy Jean-Guy from earlier books. I'm sure he'll be back. I'm glad he got to be relatively happy for one book!

I especially enjoyed this description on p. 76. "The bar was, in fact, a library. . . Where Jane Austen could sit and read. And get drunk, if she wanted." :)

Sunday, 17 September 2017

Pastors' Wives Book Review
I found this book by Lisa Takeuchi Cullen while looking for an agent for my book After His Heart, a novel imagining King David as a modern day worship pastor in a megachurch told from the point of view of three of his wives. I was charmed by Lisa's blog and her description of Pastors' Wives. The setting is megachurch Greenleaf in Atlanta. The book begins with Ruthie and her husband moving to Atlanta to work at Greenleaf Church. The story is told from three points of view, Ruthie, Candace Green, wife of the senior pastor and Ginger, wife of Timothy Green, pastor of Newleaf Church.

The most interesting aspect to me was that Ruthie does not share her husband's faith. It was fascinating to see the inner workings of Greenleaf through her eyes. From Lisa's blog, it seems that Ruthie's perceptions are similar to the author's. Lisa discovered the lives of pastors' wives while on assignment with Time magazine. She was so intrigued that after writing her article, she says "the women (she) interviewed kept bothering (her)." She was inspired to create a TV series about Pastors' Wives which turned into this novel.

I was also drawn to this novel because I am a pastor's wife. However, I would have to say the experiences in this novel are almost entirely foreign to me. I think this if for three reasons. Number 1, we have never belonged to a megachurch. Number 2, we have always lived in Canada. And number 3, this is a work of fiction so there is way more drama. Thank goodness my life is not like theirs!

Lisa is an excellent writer and especially skilled at creating layered, realistic characters. She creates brilliant twists and turns in her plot. While this novel features a plethora of Christian characters, it is not a Christian novel. Rather than trying to bring the reader to Christ, this novel uses Christian characters and setting to tell a great story. I recommend it and look forward to reading more by this clever author.

Saturday, 2 September 2017

Meeting Louise

Louise Penny appears at St. Andrew's Wesley Church on Monday, August 28
I have been a big fan of Louise Penny since my friend Dianna recommended her books in 2015. I've read the first nine books and am working on book ten. I've written several reviews for her books including Still LifeBury Your Dead, The Murder Stone, and How The Light Gets In. Penny has the gift of writing intriguing, intelligent, suspenseful and compassionate murder mysteries. They also have some surprisingly funny moments. So, when I got an email from Vancouver Wordfest saying she was coming to town, I had to go.

I invited my friend Sue who is a fellow Penny fan and we arranged to go together to St. Andrew's Wesley United Church on Monday, August 28. It was a sweltering evening, somewhere around 30° Celcius. The church filled up early with hundreds of Penny fans. Everyone looked as excited as I felt to hear from this talented Canadian author. 

The moderator for the evening welcomed us to "The city's largest sauna" and he wasn't far off. Women in every direction fanned themselves with any paper they could find. But it was worth it to hear from this well-spoken former CBC journalist. 

Here are some of the things I will remember about the evening:

Louise thinks of her characters through the lens of Helen Prejean's quote "People are more than the
Some of the incredible stained glass at St. Andrew's Wesley
worst thing they have ever done in their lives." She said this gives her compassion for her characters.

Louise said writers need to write their first draft with their playful, creative selves. Leave the critic for the revisions.

Penny does research to a certain point and then makes the story work for her, even if she doesn't get all of the facts right.

Her husband died about a year ago. Louise said she took 6 weeks to two months off of writing, but when she returned to her book, she found it comforting and healing. Her husband is the inspiration for her main character, Chief Inspector Armand Gamache and it feels like, through continuing to write his character, her husband remains close.

I am so glad I went and I am thankful I still have more Louise Penny books to read. 

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Book Review: Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

I was looking for On Writing by Stephen King to give to my Dad for Christmas. The book store did
not carry the book, but the bookseller insisted Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott was even better. "Even my friends who don't write loved this book. It's hilarious!" With no time left to shop, I took her word for it and bought the book for my Dad.

A year and a half later, he lent me the book. (I'll admit, I pestered him about it ever since I gave it to him!) While I wouldn't say it is better than On Writing, I would say it is as good as On Writing. They are, of course, writing about different experiences and genres, but they had some striking similarities. Both are recovering alcoholics. Both encourage you to write every day and both are excellent storytellers.

I highly recommend this book to all writers. It gives excellent advice on why it is important to write, even if you never get published. I gives writing dignity far beyond publication.

It reminded me that writing a book as a gift is a wonderful idea. My book Expectations was a birthday gift to my sister. I think my other books were gifts to myself; books I wanted to read. I want to try Lamott's suggestion to write a book as a gift to a writer I really enjoy reading. She also recommended writing letters to friends and family, describing important things in detail to be remembered. Lamott had beautiful, poignant things to say about writing, reading and life throughout her book. While I recommend you read it for yourself, here are a few gems:

"Ever since I was a little kid, I've thought that there was something noble and mysterious about writing, about the people who could do it well, who could create a world as if they were little gods or sorcerers." (xxvii)

(Lamott's answer to why she writes.) "Then I add that other than writing, I am completely unemployable." (xxviii)

"Books help us understand who we are and how we are to behave." (15)

"Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts." (25)

"The writer is a person who is standing apart, like the cheese in 'The Farmer in the Dell' standing there alone but deciding to take a few notes." (97)

"I honestly think in order to be a writer, you have to learn to be reverent. If not, why are you writing?" (99)

"Becoming a writer can also profoundly change your life as a reader. One reads with a deeper appreciation and concentration, knowing now how hard writing is, especially how hard it is to make it look effortless." (233)

"Writing and reading decrease our sense of isolation. they deepen and widen and expand our sense of life: they feed the soul." (237)

Thursday, 3 August 2017

Summer Reading: Audiobook edition

Our family recently returned from a two week family vacation that covered 3 provinces, over 3000 kilometres and at least 40 hours in the car with two 40-somethings, a new teenager and a ten-year-old. We learned several years ago that the best way to do this is with a stack of audiobooks.
This year, our family listened to several Stuart McLean stories from the Vinyl Cafe, Louis Sachar's Wayside School Series and our favourite The Tiger in the Well (Sally Lockhart #3) by Phillip Pullman. We listened to the first book in this series (The Ruby in the Smoke) the summer before and loved the story, so we picked up what we thought was book 2. Unfortunately we missed the book between, but we were still able to enjoy and follow the story.

Expectations on amazon
I've been hoping to turn one of my books into an audiobook. I looked into Audiobook Creation Exchange which sells audiobooks on Audible, amazon and iTunes, but at first, they weren't open to Canadian clients. Then, just before our holiday, I received the good news that now accepts Canadian authors. I signed up as soon as I could and submitted a script for potential actor/producers to read. I began to lose hope when I hadn't received an audition before I left. A few weeks later, I had a message. Someone was willing to narrate my book!

It was a thrill to hear my book Expectations, read by a British woman. I listened several times and shared it with my husband and kids. They confirmed that she was the one. She has currently accepted my offer and I am awaiting her first 15 minutes. I will be sure to post with updates. Can't wait!

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Book Review: Crafty TV Writing
I've taken a hiatus from my blog lately. After finishing the 2nd draft of my 10th book, I decided it was time to try something different. I enrolled in a Scriptwriting class through Coursera and wrote a TV Pilot. Trying something new and getting feedback from my peers was both exhilarating and overwhelming. Which led me to read Crafty TV Writing by Alex Epstein.

I really enjoyed Epstein's style and voice throughout the book. He is both practical and entertaining and I think anyone who enjoys watching television would find this book interesting. It's even better for someone who wants to write for television.

Prior to my scriptwriting course, everything I knew about writing for TV I learned from watching Seinfeld. Which in hindsight, wasn't such a bad education. Epstein, however, adds to what I learned there. His book is divided into three parts: Thinking Inside the Box, The Writer's Toolkit and Working in TV Land. Part one dissects the technicalities of scriptwriting including the hook, characters, show bible, springboard and more. Epstein frequently refers to TV shows on air to illustrate his points. Part Two focuses on weakness in scripts and how to fix them including how to take and use criticism. Part Three outlines what it's like to work on a TV show and explains some of the different writing jobs.

The version I read was written in 2006. I don't think Epstein has updated his book since then. His TV references could use some more recent references and I had to wonder if some of the formatting and inner workings of television have changed since then. Still, I think it is well worth reading and feel I have a much better picture of what it would be like to work as a writer in television. Alex also shares a lot on his blog, which I plan to start reading.

Sunday, 30 April 2017

Book Review: All The Little Live Things

This novel by Wallace Stegner was first published in 1967. Retired couple, Joe and Ruth
Allston, move to the country in California to rest and try to recover from the death of their son. They are distant with their neighbours until Marian and John Catlin move in next door. Joe is instantly attracted to Marian and her optimistic, firm belief in the goodness and perfection of nature. He loves to argue with her and soon comes to feel that she is the daughter he's always wanted.

In opposition to all Joe values, a young hippie, Jim Peck, asks to squat on Joe's land. Joe wants to say no, but Jim has some sort of power over Joe, in that he reminds Joe of his son, Curtis. Jim is quick to disobey every rule Joe makes. He steals electricity and water, throws his garbage all over the place, has several friends move in, and builds himself a treehouse, when all Joe agreed to was a tent.

I found it difficult to empathize with Joe until he met Marian. His love for her and his devotion to her family when they discover her secret is admirable. Yet, I couldn't help wondering if Marian he would have loved her as much if she wasn't about to die. I never understood Jim Peck. He seems to be there as an annoyance to Joe whom Marian tries and fails to redeem. Most of the characters in this book are difficult to like. Ruth and Marian are the exceptions. I kept wondering what the book would be like if it were told from their points of view. Even Joe had trouble trusting his own perceptions.

Most of the book is within Joe's thoughts, feelings and ideas. It goes against everything I've learned about writing fiction. Yet it won The Commonwealth Club Gold Medal. It makes me wonder if fiction has really changed this much in 50 years. Perhaps it must when we consider how much the world has changed in that time. I learned a lot about the flora and fauna of California.