Sunday, 8 January 2017

Once Upon a Book Club: Part Three

It was February, 2010.  The doorbell rang.  Hurray!  My new book club arrived with their books and winter coats.  A couple of brave souls tried the Negus.  "It's wicked!" said Christine, although she turned down a second cup.

We gathered in the living room on mismatched couches with the propane fire glowing.  It wasn't exactly Regency, but it was the best I could do.  We found the rose water in the Little Iced Cakes a surprising (and not necessarily nice) taste on our modern Canadian palates.

Usually our gatherings begin with sharing personal stories and troubles, although I don't recall what we discussed that night.  I remember that we turned the talk toward the book sooner than we usually did.  Perhaps we all wanted to get it over with.

I asked the questions I'd prepared about my book Expectations (See Once Upon a Book Club: Part Two).  Here's what I remember of the answers:

"The language was easy to follow."
"I hated Lydia.  She was horrible."  (This made me laugh.  I loved writing Lydia, but I may have gone too far.)
"Some parts were so well written while others weren't.  I'm not sure why."  (I was grateful for the honesty, but I wish I had asked which scenes I should fix.)
"I liked the part with the pig." (See chapter XII).

All in all, my friends were extremely kind in their reviews, but the night was all a bit awkward.  I'm grateful they were willing to try the book club experiment, but I haven't repeated it since.  I'd love to hear if any other writers have tried this!  

For a great story about the good, the bad and the ugly in book clubs, I highly recommend a Morley's Book Club by Stuart McLean

Saturday, 7 January 2017

Once Upon a Book Club: Part Two

Once I baked my Little Ice Cakes and placed my Negus in the crockpot (See Once Upon a Book

Club: Part One
 for details), I settled the kids into bed and began to worry that having my own book as the book club that month was a mistake.  What if no one came?  What if they all hated the book?

Like the book nerd I am, I prepared some questions for our book discussion.


1. What was your experience with Pride and Prejudice before reading Expectations? (ie movie, book, heresay etc.)

2. Did you find the language difficult and if so, did it become easier at some point?

3. Did you find the Austen characters I used stayed true to Pride and Prejudice?

4. Which character could you best relate to? Least relate to?

5. Was there a particular scene you found especially humorous?

6. Were you disappointed with any of the occurrences in the novel?

7. Were you surprised by any of the customs? If so, which ones?

Did anyone show up?  Follow my blog and find out!

Friday, 6 January 2017

Once Upon a Book Club: Part One

I've been very lucky in book clubs.  Three times, I've found a group of women who share a love of books, but more importantly the desire to encourage and support one another.

When I was fairly new to our Alberta home, I published my first book, Expectations: A Continuation of Pride and Prejudice.  I had a long list of ways to promote and distribute my book.  I couldn't wait to share it.  I dreamed of book signings and readings and I wanted it to be part of my newfound book club.  The women were willing to try it out and buy their own copies of my creation.
I checked out The Jane Austen Cookbook from JASNA Calgary and imagined making each of the strange recipes.  In the end, I settled on Negus and Little Iced Cakes.  Here are the ingredients for Negus:

1 pint port wine
1 lemon
12 sugar lumps
5 cups boiling water
Grated nutmeg

I followed the directions which included rubbing the lemon with the sugar lumps, and kept the concoction warm in my modern crock pot.

The Little Iced Cakes required rose flavouring which I'd never heard of and couldn't find in our little rural town.  After searching the internet, I found a small convenience store in Calgary which sold the ingredient.  I stepped into the culinary wonderland with my then two-year-old son in tow.  We found the pretty clear bottle along the shelves and waited in line to pay.  Ahead of us was a man with a long white beard.  My little guy said "Look mummy.  It's Moses!"  A memorable experience, indeed.

Follow my blog to read the rest of the story!

Thursday, 15 December 2016

I finished my first draft!! Now what?

I've been anticipating the end of my first draft for about a month now.  I could see the loose threads of several stories beginning to come together.  Plus, the word count was creeping up.  I even jumped ahead and wrote the last scene, as it sat in my mind, ready.  Then, of course, I had to go back and fill in the rest.

So what's a writer to do once they've finished the first draft?  Since reading On Writing by Stephen King, I've mostly been following his advice.  "Congratulations!  Good job!  Have a glass of champagne, send out for pizza, do whatever it is you do when you've got something to celebrate. . . Take a couple of days off -- go fishing, go kayaking, do a jigsaw puzzle -- and then go to work on something else. . . How long you let your book rest. . . is entirely up to you, but I think it should be a minimum of six weeks."  Stephen King, On Writing p. 196-197

So this morning, I finished my first draft.  I turned to my husband (who was fortunately home) and said "I finished my first draft!!"  He asked how many words.  "70727!" I said proudly.  I recorded the date, page number and word count in my little notebook with the words "1st draft complete. Ahh.  Then he went to work while I celebrated with toast and a second cup of coffee (it was too early for champagne and pizza.)  Then I added a few more details.  Then I save it and emailed it to myself.

Next a nice hot bath, a little read, a nap on the couch and another little sentence at the end of the book.  I think I'm ready to let it rest.  In the meantime, here's a little warning that it's not a Jane Austen adaptation this time.  However, I think my main character has many similarities to Elizabeth Bennet in that she loves dancing and isn't afraid to draw out a quiet man.  Here's a little picture clue as well.

Monday, 28 November 2016

Can Writer's Dance?

I'm extremely blessed to have a fun and creative husband.  Sunday night, he set up a mystery date for us in the city.  Waiting in the ferry line-up, he revealed we were going English Country Dancing at a Legion in Kitsilano.  I would not have guessed that!

Phil and I took ballroom dancing when I was pregnant with our first.  It was a fun way to meet people, but became increasingly difficult with my growing belly.  That was thirteen years ago.  Now our baby is old enough to baby-sit, so we are free to dance again.  But should we?

English Country dancing is the type shown in Jane Austen movies.  It has similarities to square dancing in some of the shapes, patterns and steps.  For instance, a do-si-do is called "back to back".  The English Country Dance group in Kitsilano is an amazingly welcoming place.  Phil called ahead and was greeted by the woman he spoke to as soon as we arrived.  We were whisked away to the dance floor so we wouldn't miss the first dance.

We were each assigned a more experience partner and were immediately walking through our first dance.  There was a live band including a piano, fiddle, bodhran and several others.  My partner was patient and encouraging as I frequently went the wrong way or stood looking widely confused.  The best advice came from the caller who said, "whatever you do, don't panic!"  After each dance, we traded partners and learned more steps.  I felt okay about the first three dances, but then my brain began to fail me.  At one point I stood in the middle of the floor with absolutely no clue what came next, but I did not panic and the moment passed.

I don't know if it's because I'm getting older or because I've recently moved and want to keep things low key, but I find I have fewer things I actually enjoy doings.  I like to be home, read, write, go for walks and have coffee with friends.  I'm glad my hubby still surprises me into trying new things from time to time.  I don't know if writer's can dance, but I think we, like everyone else, should try.  If nothing else, it will probably make a great scene in a story one day.

Saturday, 26 November 2016

Book Review: The Vancouver Stories

I bought this collection of short stories and novel excerpts in the hopes of attaching stories to my new
home.  I imagined beautiful odes to our incredible surroundings, mysterious histories and poetry.  Instead, this collections seemed dedicated to the weird and depressing.  I supposed it has something to do with Douglas Coupland being the mind behind the collection.  His introduction states that he wants to disprove the idea that Vancouver is just a "nice" city.

This book included an excellent variety of writers.  From Pauline Johnson to Alice Munro to Shani Mootoo, I was introduced to many Canadian writers I had never read before.  I found The Bravest Boat by Malcolm Lowry extremely irritating, even with it's surprise ending.

I especially loved Alice Munro's story, which included a reference to my new home.  "The last days of May are among the longest of the year, and in spite of the ferry-dock lights and the lights of the cars streaming into the belly of the boat, she could see some glow in the western sky and against it the black mound of an island -- not Bowen but one whose name she did not know -- tidy as a pudding set in the mouth of the bay."

I was intrigued by Timothy Taylor's excerpt from his novel Stanley Park titled The Canvasback which tells the story of a a chef meeting his father at night in Stanley Park.  His father, The Professor, is so obsessed with studying the homeless people who live there that he has moved in with them.  He pridefully displays his ability to survive in the woods by killing and cooking a duck.  I am similarly curious about what happens at night in this amazing park.

The collection also includes a poignant family story by Madelein Thien titled A Map of the City.  Thien is the most recent winner of The Giller Prize.  She certainly gave me a new way of seeing Vancouver.

It took me a while to get through and I don't think I understood some of them.  While this book was not what I was hoping it would be, I'm still glad to have read these stories.    

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

An Overheard Conversation

I am still having a great time taking my online Creative Writing course from Wesleyan University via Coursera.  It's inspiring to learn from other published authors and to get feedback from fellow writers.

I am currently studying the Craft of Character with Amy Bloom.  For this week's assignment, I was to imagine a conversation between two people overheard by a third person.  The first person was to be an "insider", the second and "outsider" and the third the eavesdropper.  In addition, we were limited to only three "speech tags", ie he said, she said.  Here's what grew in my imagination:


Guidance Counsellor
Pamela leaned over the giant industrial stove to stir the macaroni.  It was an ongoing battle to keep it from burning.  It had happened before and now the will to burn seemed ingrained into the oversized stainless steel pot.
            “That’s not how you do it, dufus.” 
Pamela heard a familiar, bored teenaged voice behind her.  She turned toward the buffet line-up and recognized Erika, a senior with striking long black hair and perfectly penciled cat eyeliner.  What was unusual was that she was speaking to one of the new grade eight students.  The boy hardly looked old enough to be standing in the cafeteria.  His hair was cut too neatly, his clothes looked brand new and his voice, when he spoke, had an unmistakeable squeak.
“I know how to get food, Erika.”
Pamela whipped her head from the scene to return to the noodles.  She wound the spoon around the pot, focussing on the bottom to release any resting pasta.
“You do not.  You’ve never done this before.  Let me help you.”
Erika’s voice had lost volume.  She must be worried that other students would notice the exchange.  She hissed.
“You have to get a tray first.  You can’t just grab a plate like you’re at home.”
“Why not? Look, it works.  I have food on my plate.  I’m going to be able to eat it.”
Pamela stole a peek at the pair and noticed that Erika had turned her back on the boy.  She bunched her long hair between her fists and gave them an exasperated squeeze.
“Where are you going to put your cutlery?  Or are you going to eat with your hands.  Seriously, how did Mom manage to raise you with so little brains?”
Pamela hid a chuckle in her white cooks uniform.  So, the popularity queen had an annoying little brother!
“Shut up.  Leave me alone.  I don’t need you.”
There was a loud clattering of broken plate and thudding food.  Pamela left her post to attend to the scene, but Erika and her brother were nowhere in sight.  Little hooligans!  But, when Pamela peered over the top of the sneeze guard she found the siblings bent over the mess, their heads together, scooping food and glass onto an extra tray.
“Don’t cut your fingers.” 
Sniffling was the only answer. 
“You’re gonna be okay.  I did this exact same thing my first day.”
Pamela gazed about, hoping no other students noticed the commotion.  Fortunately, it was halfway through lunch and most kids had already eaten and left.  No line formed behind the two students.  Pamela returned to the stovetop, whisked the steaming pot from the heat and poured the cooked pasta into a waiting sieve.
The rest of the conversation was too low for her to hear over splashing water and the clanging dishwasher.  She abandoned the noodles to check on the leftover food.  Erika was wiping the remainder of mashed potatoes from the floor with a handful of rough school napkins. 
“Thank you.  I should’ve listened.”
“That’s right you should have.” 
The mess was cleaned and Pamela reached out for the tray.  “Thank you.  Why don’t you help yourself to a new tray?  I won’t charge you for the spill.”
The boy’s dark eyes filled with tears. 
“Just a joke!  Really, the rest of the food’s just going in the trash.  Thanks for cleaning up.”
Pamela turned away.  She should have kept out of things.  She separated the macaroni into the prepared chafing dishes and then poured on the cheese sauce.  Kids always loved cheesy noodle day.  Even the seniors. She was all ready for tomorrow.  Now to clean up the rest of today’s mess.
The bell rang for the cafeteria to close and Pamela noticed Erika paying for her brother’s meal at the cash register.  He carried a tray with a full plate, cutlery and a glass.  He gazed out at the crowd of students and took a deep breath.  Erika murmured something before she strode away to her usual table.  Whatever it was made her brother smile, stand taller and face the chaos before him