Sunday, May 31, 2009
I arrived with my father’s punctuality—fifteen minutes early. Enough time to find the washrooms, peruse all the pictures in the lobby, read about the current exhibit, visit the washrooms again, stare out the front doors to see if he was here yet, and reread the flyers on the current exhibit. All the while thinking about how, since I’d returned from my summer in Australia and we’d started our final year of university, we’d gone from seeing each other about every two months to about every two weeks.
He finally came up the steps, teased me about being early, and we headed into the Alberta centennial exhibit. I was reading one of the displays on the wall when he came up beside me and wrapped his hand around mine. My heart rate went from 80 to 160 in one second. In that instant, I knew without a doubt that we weren’t “just friends” anymore. Not that anyone, including us, had ever really believed that.
When he asked me about where in Alberta there was a UFO landing pad, other than St. Paul, I couldn’t have told him the answer even if I had known it. Maybe he could tell that his hand on mine was scrambling my brain waves. Or maybe he was just having fun teasing me about something I didn’t know. Either way, the twinkle in his brown eyes and the smile worthy of Rhett Butler curving his lips made it even harder to think. UFO landing pad? There’s one in Vulcan? Fascinating.
We wandered on, pausing before the information about the 1988 Calgary Olympics, which I viewed with interest, while his eyes again began twinkling. He had grown up in Calgary and remembered the Olympics—while I had barely been in preschool at the time. There was much elbow-jabbing and teasing about our age difference before we took seats to view a short film about Alberta. I couldn’t tell you what it was about, but I could tell you how his arm felt curved around my shoulders.
We explored the LEGO exhibit and the toy exhibit and then went through the regular exhibits—the Aboriginal gallery, the bugs, the rocks. By the time we finished, we were thoroughly museumed out, but unwilling to call it a day yet. Our feet took us outside to the gazebo and then down the trail to the river valley. When we returned, it was getting close to supper time, so we jumped into his truck and went in search of a meal. I called my parents to say I didn’t know when I’d be home.
The meal led to a movie which led to coffee which led to a long discussion back at the gazebo that finally, some dozen hours after I’d met him at the museum, brought us to an understanding about our relationship. Later, my friends would call that our “marathon date.” We just call it our first date.
Friday, May 29, 2009
The only problem is—how do you find such a critique group? My first attempt at joining an online critique group fizzled. We submitted and critiqued for a few months, but then summer hit and we took a break that never ended. I was unable to find other writers in my geographical area, and too broke to pay for the critiques offered by numerous published authors willing to help newbies like me.
Some websites, like FanStory, FaithWriters, and CoffeeHouse for Writers offer online critiques. I’ve heard good things about FanStory but haven’t ventured to join yet. I posted one story in the FaithWriters critique forums, but found that I was giving way more detailed critiques than I was receiving. “Great story” didn’t help me know where I needed to improve. Entering FaithWriters’ weekly challenges provided some feedback, in the form of readers’ comments and where I placed in the contest.
Recently, over at So You Wanna Be Published, author Virelle Kidder admitted that “The best thing in my writing life is my critique group.” She talks about how her group got started and where all the members are now, and gives a bit of advice about critique groups. The article inspired another blogger, Steena Holmes, to start her own critique group.
As Steena says, we all “need someone with fresh eyes to view my work and see those errors that I can't see anymore.” I’ve jumped into Steena’s group and am looking forward to learning with her. If, like me, you’re also looking for a critique group, come join us.
Thursday, May 28, 2009
Check out the recent ABC Nightline piece about Cindy and her titles When the Heart Cries, When the Morning Comes, and When the Soul Mends. It’s an intriguing look at Amish culture and the time Cindy has spent with Amish friends. Cindy’s new book The Hope of Refuge hits store shelves August 11, and is available for preorder now.
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
I’ve heard a few Trekkies complain about the “alternate reality” or “time warp” of the movie. But, as I laughed to my husband when we exited the theatre, since I’ve never seen the first series, I had nothing to compare this one to. I thought it was a really good movie. I liked the character development and the interplay between the characters. There was enough action to keep the story moving, yet not so much that it was entirely action and no plot. And killing wasn’t glorified, as it has been in a couple other movies we’ve watched recently.
Our dinner was partly courtesy of a gift certificate my husband won at a fundraising ball for our local emergency services. He had worn his kilt, since it “fit in” with the red serge of the RCMP and the dress uniforms of the EMTs and firefighters. Several people complimented him on it, and he had fun explaining that he’d bought it for the wedding and so his “wedding dress” cost more than mine. The MC called upon random tables to answer a trivia question for the chance to win gift certificates, but when he called our table, he paused and then asked, “Are you the fellow with the kilt? Just come up here and you can have the prize!”
On Saturday night, my husband and I watched Shrek and Shrek II. Those are my two favourite movies, but he doesn’t like animated movies very much. He had looked them up on the library website to see if our library had both of them. When we were at the library on Friday, he casually wandered over to the kids’ DVD rack and found them, then sent me to peruse some magazines while he checked them out. I knew he was up to something, and it was a very nice surprise on Saturday night—an early anniversary.
Monday, May 25, 2009
Today I've continued the decluttering, as I tried to put away some of the more "useful" things we found in yesterday's blitz—like the mountain of paper pads that would get anyone through at least a year of university courses. The possibility of another move has me taking my brother's advice: "Next time I move, I'm going to throw more stuff out!" I've been a bit more ruthless about things that haven't been used since before our last move—or even before my first move.
One of our friends told us when he visited last summer that everything he owns fits into a suitcase. While I realize that is vastly impractical for a married couple with a baby, I admire his example of simplicity and faith. He is able to simply pick up his things and go wherever God calls him to go—university in Ottawa, outreach in China, discernment in religious communities across North America.
Sometimes I think we get too caught up in "stuff"—getting the latest gadgets or wanting more things. My husband and I are bad about collecting books (as is attested not only by our many bookshelves, but also the boxes of books hiding in the closets that we didn't even unpack because we haven't bookshelves to hold them). They are all good books—but I catch myself wondering why we hang onto them when we haven't read some of them and may not read others more than once or twice.
And so, with another move hanging over our heads, I'm trying to simplify a little and to let go of things that I don't need.
Friday, May 22, 2009
In the novel, Antoine and his brother, Captain Charles Daniel, arrive at the same time, but in history, Charles had established his fort there some three years earlier. Antoine spent only a year here before being sent to Quebec, and it is in this year that Cibou takes place. From the little I’ve gathered of Antoine’s story, it seems that Susan captures his character and portrays him very well in the novel.
Saint Antoine Daniel was born in France in 1601 and joined the Jesuit order at the age of twenty, after completing three years of university—two in philosophy and one in law. He taught in the Jesuit colleges from 1623-1632.
During the time he was teaching at Rouen, a young Huron student was sent there by a missionary in Quebec. While it’s unknown whether Antoine taught this Huron, Leon Pouliot asserts in the Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online that “the presence of the young Huron at Rouen did not escape Daniel’s notice, and it may be that it played some part in his missionary vocation.”
Antoine was sent to Cape Breton, Canada, in 1632. He spent a year at his brother's fort there before being sent to Quebec.
In Quebec, Antoine worked with Jean de Brébeuf, another Jesuit missionary and martyr, at the Huron mission. Pouliot notes that Antoine “made rapid progress in learning the language, and he had soon taught the children to sing the Pater and the Credo in Huron.” He also founded a school for young Huron men in Quebec and was in charge of it for two years.
In 1648, fifteen years after Antoine arrived in Quebec, war broke over the mission. While the Huron men were gone, their enemies, the Iroquois, attacked. While the Iroquois were trying to get over the walls, Antoine gathered his people into the chapel and said Mass. He gave the people general absolution and baptized those ready to join the Church. Then, still dressed in his vestments, he went to meet the attackers.
Apparently, the Iroquois were so surprised by this that they halted their attack for a few minutes. Those minutes perhaps gave some of the people a chance to escape. Then the Iroquois showered Antoine with arrows and threw his body into the flames that consumed his church.
Saint Antoine Daniel, also known as Saint Anthony Daniel, was canonized in 1930 by Pope Pius XI. He was the first missionary to the Hurons and the second Jesuit martyr in New France. According to Pouliot, Antoine, “even after his death, inspired in his brother missionaries a wealth of tenderness and encouragement.” His superior, Father Raqueneau, wrote that Antoine was “a truly remarkable man, humble, obedient, united with God, of never failing patience and indomitable courage in adversity.”
Today, there are several Catholic churches, a YMCA and a Catholic school in Ontario named for him. His feast day is October 19.
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
Most of the time, she was content to either crawl or use furniture to pull herself up. If I tried to let her stand up on her own, it became a game, as she fell down laughing so that I would stand her up again.
My husband caught her first steps on her own, as she walked from a girl at church to him—four steps. She didn’t repeat that for another month or so. We encouraged, but as long as she could crawl, she didn’t see the point in walking. We thought that perhaps a visit from another baby her age who was already walking would give her the idea. She just crawled after her friend.
Then just before Easter, in the space of about a week, she started walking. It was the four steps at first, between my husband and I or one of us and some furniture. Then further. Over Easter break, we visited several families who had children her age or size who were walking. Now there was motivation to chase them, to keep up, to be like them. By the time we got back, she was motoring, confident in her newfound skill.
Sometimes, like a windup mouse, I put her down just to watch her go, hands in the air as if she’s holding invisible fingers, picking up each foot carefully with that curious baby gait. A small change in the flooring or a crack in the sidewalk will trip her. She steps over the doorframe carefully, hanging onto my fingers or the door until she’s navigated the bumps.
This weekend, as we visited her grandparents and attended a family reunion, there were oohs and aahs over how big she’s grown, how well she was walking, how much she could chatter (nonono, yeah, cookie, doodleydoodley).
At the beginning of the weekend, walking on the lawn was a challenge—the grass seemed to catch at her shoes and there were uneven changes in the lawn. By the end of the weekend, she was marching around the lawn like it was a smooth hardwood floor. The stairs at the front of the hall drew her attention, no matter where I tried to carry her to distract her.
So I watched while I visited as she ventured across the lawn on her own, hands out, pausing to watch the other children playing, picking herself up if she encountered a sudden hole, until she reached her goal. I found myself grabbing the camera, wanting to capture the moments and hang onto them.
Monday, May 18, 2009
I was in university before I saw Ian Tyson in concert. He came to our small-town auditorium and, even though he was in his seventies and fighting laryngitis, gave one of the best concerts I've ever been at. We were on his right, just a few seats above the stage, but when the lights when down, it seems like it was just us and Ian. He sang a nice mix of old songs and new songs, and we brought him back out for two encores.
After the concert, I headed for his sales table. I'd be moving out soon, and it was time to have an Ian Tyson CD in my own collection. But then it was hard to pick which one—an old classic that I'd grown up listening to, or one of his newer ones?
I ended up with an old classic, and I popped it into the CD player the other day. I sang along to the first few songs on the disc, but when "Springtime in Alberta" started playing, I began to laugh. That's exactly the sort of weather we've been having this spring. It was sunny and hot last week, and Sunshine was having fun going to the park. This week, it's been cold and rainy again, and I've been keeping her inside.
And so I give you "Springtime in Alberta," in honour of an Ian Tyson spring.
Should have seen it in your eyes
I could never read those eyes
So lost in love was I
They'd always take me by surprise
You were dreaming of the southland
Ah, your love comes and goes
It's just like the weather babe
Only heaven really knows
Just like spring time in Alberta
Warm sunny days endless skies of blue
Then without a warning
Another winter storm comes raging through
And the mercury's fallin'
I'm left all alone
Just like spring time in Alberta
Chills me to the bone
I can see the storm clouds comin'
Lord they're dark across the sky
The same look that I'veseen so many times
When I've looked into your eyes
So I'll turn up my old collar
Pull my hat way down low
Wind's getting colder now
Dropping down to near zero
Just like spring time in Alberta
Friday, May 15, 2009
On your website, you say that you think about the reader all the time. Can you elaborate on this?
I write women’s fiction, and when I write (or even when just thinking ambout a book or story I’m working on) I keep my readers firmly in mind. I ask myself all sorts of questions – like “Will this interest her?” “What is the best reading experience?” When I write a scene, I read it over and over, editing out all the bits I think will weight the reader down, slow her enjoyment of the book, or over-explain.
I respect my readers, I know they are savvy and intelligent – so I work to craft books that are a partnership between reader and writer – we’re in this together! A book without a reader is useless. So when I sit to write, my reader is the only person who matters.
This year, you launched a new blog called Novel Matters, where you discuss books and writing along with several other writers. Why did you decide to do this?
I’m thrilled to be partnering with the talented women of Novel Matters – Kathleen Popa, Sharon K. Souza, Patti Hill, Debbie Fuller Thomas, and Latayne C. Scott. All of us are contracted with an agent at Books & Such Literary Agency, and our fantastic agents brainstormed the idea of putting the six of us together for a joint project. We loved the idea, and now, not a day goes by that I don’t thank God for giving our agents this wonderful idea. My life is enriched for being apart of it.
What is your best piece of advice for writers trying to get published?
Find your authentic authorial voice. Nurture it, cultivate it. Spend time thinking about what is unique about your way of seeing the world and then writing about it. And remember being published is just one step on a larger journey – count the cost before plunging in.
Thanks for having me on your blog. I love to chat with readers, so I’ll pop in an respond to comments as they come in. Feel free to ask questions or just say “hi!”
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
I agreed with her up until that point. However, she went on to say that the lack of self-esteem in our youth is a result of a lack of self-esteem in parents. Thus parents need to be role models, giving their children the “gift of healthy self-esteem.” Okay, sure. However, I think there’s a deeper root to this problem.
In her book In Praise of Stay-at-Home Moms, Dr. Laura Schlessinger talks about a couple women who “could not stay at home with their children: one because she did not want to give up the lifestyle that she can have because she makes good money; the other because she doesn’t have the patience – it would drive her crazy to stay home with the kids. ... All I could think of when I read that was, I hope the children never hear her saying that. Can you imagine the pain they’d feel, knowing they were either a burden to their mom’s sanity or an impediment to financial gain? Talk about having self-esteem issues!”
Why do so many of us struggle with our own worth? Because the message given to us by society is that children are a burden. They get in the way. They cost too much money. They keep their parents from having fun or doing other things. So those families with lots of kids are “crazy.”
As the MWLM blogger said, we as parents need to model self-esteem and teach it to our children. There are days when I look at Sunshine and I’m just amazed that she is part of my life. I want to hang onto the moments when she makes my husband and I laugh out loud. When she reaches out her arms to hug one of us. When she tries to imitate the things that we do. I hope that we can hang onto those moments and show her, every day, that she is worth so much to us—and show her in such a way that she will never hear the message our society gives.
Monday, May 11, 2009
As spring comes and I watch the Canada geese flying overhead, honking their way north after the winter, I remember a Canada goose who spent one summer on our acreage when I was growing up.
Someone found her wandering on the road and brought her to us because they knew we had animals. We didn’t know what she was, but we had a duckling named Boris, so we kept this new gosling and named her Igor.
When we got her, she fit perfectly in the palm of my hand, a little round, downy bird with webbed black feet, a small black bill, and beady black eyes. If I talked to her, she would make soft whistling noises in reply.
I spent hours with Igor, holding her and talking to her. If I put her on the ground and walked away, she’d run after me as fast as her webbed feet could go.
I let her swim in the lamb’s water trough. After the first uncomfortable dip, she got used to the water and was happy there, undaunted when the sheep came for a drink. Noses in the water, they watched her going around and around.
As she got older, Igor began feathering out with the dark coloring of a Canada goose. She and Boris, a white duck, frequently spent their time in the sheep pen, and she was always ready to talk to me. I would squat down and she would come over, head low against the ground, whistling and chattering as she walked. Boris was always slightly behind her, but he didn’t have the confidence and charm that Igor had.
When Igor was feathered out I taught her how to fly by taking off running, knowing that she would follow me with her wings outstretched to keep her balance. One day when I did this she lifted off and flew a short distance. After that, it wasn’t long before Igor was flying further and further.
Several weeks later, I glanced out the front window to see a goose fly past. It was the first time Igor had flown without me. I went outside and found her on the front lawn, marching across to talk to me. After that, it was common to see her flying around the house or wandering around the front lawn waiting for me to take her back again.
In the fall, the wild Canada geese started flying overhead. Igor would cock her head at them, occasionally honking back. We watched her, wondering if she would follow them. When the first snows came, she was still here with Boris.
One day we were gone all day. I returned home to find Igor missing. Boris was nervously pacing about and quacking, lost without her. There were goose tracks all over in the snow outside the sheep pen, and I guessed what had happened.
Igor had flown out and wandered about waiting for me to come put her back in. When I never came, she flew again… and this time, she didn’t come back.
When the geese fly overhead now, I sometimes honk to them as I used to honk to Igor, and I wonder if she found a partner and made it to her southern destination.This is a story I wrote years ago, which was published in The Olds Albertan and Country Asides.
Sunday, May 10, 2009
"Being a mom, especially a SAHM, is a sacrifice of incredible dimensions and a real test of your ability to give (the never-ending variety), endure, postpone gratification, think of somebody else way, way above yourself from moment to moment, be patient beyond reason, and have a sense of humour and a willingness to admit weakness, ignorance, need, exhaustion, and nuttiness."
~Dr Laura Schlessings, In Praise of Stay-at-Home Moms
Saturday, May 9, 2009
Last night, I was checking out the Cup of Comfort series, as they've been recommended as an excellent market for creative nonfiction. One of their samples stories was beautiful - about a new mom struggling to adjust to mommyhood while her mother keeps telling her "I did it this way." Something every mom could identify with, I think. It also made me thankful for my mom and mother-in-law, who only gave advice when I asked for it.
In the last month and a half, I've submitted ten stories or articles—not huge, I know, but it's encouraging to me. I also sent out eight queries and got two positive responses. Sunshine's naptimes are just the right length—by the time she wakes up, I'm tried of staring at my computer screen and can't think about commas or cliches anymore.
Friday, May 8, 2009
Tami Taylor is a law student in the firm of Braddock, Appleby and Carpenter. The partners are well aware of her conservative religious convictions, so when a case arises involving a developer suing a preacher for libel and slander, they put Tami on it. It’s Tami’s job to understand and interpret the preacher. Tami approaches the case warily and tries to suggest alternatives to a lawsuit, but her suggestions are ignored—and her future with the firm hangs on her work in this case.
As the law suit develops, Tami is exploring the possibility of courtship with another lawyer in the firm, Zach Mays. She and Zach visit her parents for the weekend—to ask for permission to court. Tami knows Zach isn’t exactly the kind of guy her parents expected her to meet; he wears a pony tail, drives a motorcycle, and doesn’t seem to understand Tami’s faith. When Zach’s jokes land in bad humour, it seems that their courtship is doomed. Then a miracle changes Tami’s view of Zach’s faith.
I found the novel started a bit slowly with the weekend at Tami’s parents’ place. The lawsuit had barely been introduced before Tami and Zach were whisked out of the city. Those chapters seemed necessary to establish the nature of Tami’s upbringing and faith—the reasons that she would connect with Sister Dabney, the defendant in the lawsuit. While I enjoyed the back-and-forth between the characters and the moments of humour, I found the suspense lacking a bit.
The novel switches between Tami’s first-person perspective and the third-person perspective of Sister Dabney. Sister Dabney’s character is built slowly through the novel, and I enjoyed how Whitlow introduced her. At first, she seems almost crazy, definitely fanatical, and perhaps a little bit astray in her religious beliefs. However, as we get to know her, we come to understand her faith, her past, and her motivation in the lawsuit. More information is also revealed about the plaintiff, changing our opinion of him and his lawsuit.
One thing that surprised me was reading about a character such as Tami in a mainstream Christian fiction novel. She reminded me of the characters in Arms of Love. I’ve come to expect a sort of “generic Christian” in the Christian fiction market, not someone like Tami who wears skirts, refuses to work on Sunday, and practices courtship. It was also a bit surprising to meet such a character in a legal thriller. It was neat to see how Tami’s faith affected her choice of career, and I enjoyed a character who stood up for her convictions and was unique and different.
Overall, I enjoyed Higher Hope. Whitlow deserves his reputation as a “Christian John Grisham,” as one reviewer suggests. The characters were real and funny, the dialogue was quick, and the issues raised made the reader stop and think. This was the second book in the series, and I did wonder at times what was revealed in the previous book about Tami’s relationships with Zach and Vince, another young law student who would also like to court her. Otherwise, because the first book was about a different case (briefly mentioned in this book), Higher Hope stood well on its own.
This book was provided for review courtesty of the publisher or publicist.
Wednesday, May 6, 2009
In the article, author Molly Marsh says, “Although you may have watched your house value decline and your rainy-day fund dry up, there is still the sweet experience of crawling into the pages of a really good book. Reading is one of the best—and cheapest—sources of comfort, entertainment, and escape around.” Authors and book lovers are clinging to that, but movies and online reading are competing with the simple book.
I’m one of those people who loves cracking open a book—feeling the smooth cover in my hands, smelling the paper, watching my bookmark advance through the pages. I like curling up on the couch with a paperback for an evening. And while I do spend a lot of time online, reading blogs or email or websites, if I really want to read something, I want it in paper form, and I want to sit on the couch instead of my computer chair.
Marsh talks about the environmental impact of producing books, such as all the trees that have to get chopped down so that I can hold that little package of pages in my hands. When she puts it that way, I almost feel guilty about reading—especially when I remember the way we used to tear the covers off unsold paperbacks at the Husky gas station where I worked during high school, and throw the books in the garbage while we returned the covers to the publisher for a refund.
Marsh asks, “But what if publishers produced more books that didn’t require paper at all? Wouldn’t it solve a bundle of environmental problems if we did away with printed books altogether? With increasing Internet access and a number of electronic readers on the market, such as Amazon’s Kindle and Sony’s Reader, plus the ability to read books online and—coming soon—via cell phones, Blackberrys, or iPhones, it’s a logical question.”
So now I can stare at my computer for most of the day while I’m working—writing and editing—until I’m cross-eyed, and then stare at it some more in the evening while I’m relaxing too. Eye doctors are going to love that. Maybe Ray Bradbury wasn’t so far off in Fahrenheit 911—only books will become extinct simply because they’re replaced by technology. Makes me sad, not only as a reader, but as someone who hopes to someday publish a book. Maybe I won’t get to hold pages in my hand and see my name on the cover; maybe it’ll simply be a file on my computer.
Marsh closes her article by saying, “For now, the printed book is far from obsolete, though its story will continue to evolve—hopefully in physical forms and processes that are far greener. The digital revolution brings a host of new ways to enjoy a book, and at the end of the day, that’s what it’s about: good, fresh ideas and new ways of looking at the world. Whether it’s on paper or onscreen, good books will always comfort, delight, and sustain us—especially during the bad times.”