Monday, August 31, 2009
The story of new author Sarah McCoy was one of those. Sarah wrote a novel, shopped it around, and got some positive feedback and a rejection from an agent. So she enrolled in an MFA in creative writing and wrote some short stories, then a novel. She then began querying agents again, this time successfully, and signed a two-book deal with a publisher. The article finished by saying that “pursuing an MFA was integral to her path to publication.”
Further into the magazine were examples of “Real Queries That Worked”—and the agent’s comments about why they worked. One author mentioned in his query that he was a graduate of an MFA program, and the agent says that this caught his attention. I know that an MFA could make me a better writer, but I’ve always wondered if it would make a difference with a publisher or agent. Here was confirmation that it would.
Then I found the column “MFA Insider” with an article titled, “Your Goal: Become a Better Writer.” Author Joshua Henkin says, “There are many reasons—some better, some worse—why people choose to get an MFA. They want to be in the company of other writers. They hope to immerse themselves in a culture that takes their work seriously. They wish to make professional connections. For me, it was simpler: I wanted to get better. And I sensed that getting better involved taking writing workshops.”
That resonated with me. Over the last year, I’ve questioned my desire to pursue grad studies. Moving is a lot of work, and we’ve done that twice in the last two years. Sunshine is a year and a half now, and we want more kids. Doing an MFA would be a lot of money, a lot of time (two years minimum). Maybe I should just keep going to conferences, keep reading writing books, keep participating in writer’s critique groups.
And yet, as Henkin listed the benefits of an MFA program, I knew I had to try once more to get in. So I’m dusting off my portfolio and giving it another shot.
Friday, August 28, 2009
We met after I got off work, and he was okay. Someone had pulled a u-turn in front of him, and he'd laid his bike into the side of their car and walked away from the accident. His bike needed new front forks.
We were talked about that story at my uncle's place on Sunday over lunch. My younger brother, my hubby, and I were helping my uncle put a new roof on his house. After lunch, my brother got back up on the roof and I cleaned up lunch. When I walked outside, my brother said, "Call mom." Apparently my twin had been in another motorbike accident.
We spent the afternoon making phone calls and waiting for phone calls, trying to fit the pieces together: Cranbrook, BC. Winding road. Head-on collision. Alert and talking. Ambulance on its way. My brother's buddies stayed with him to the hospital, through the tests, calling us regularly, until the hospital airlifted him to Calgary. Then they had to ride their bikes home.
Monday morning we all showed up at the hospital. He was in ICU and only two people at a time were allowed to see him. When I walked in, I began shaking. My brother has been called the Kamikaze Kid. He's a heavy duty mechanic. The guy who keeps working when everyone else has quit. And here he was, connected to a zillion tubes, motionless in a hospital bed.
I wrote. I sat beside his bed, watching him sleep, squeezing his hand to let him know that I was there, and moved a pen across a page in an attempt to sort through my emotions. When they took him for x-rays, my mom and hubby and I went for lunch. In the afternoon, we sat with his three biking buddies, waiting for him to get back from tests, and finally heard the story of what had happened.
What choked us up was all the people who were there to help after the accident. Two nurses (one on her honeymoon) and a paramedic took care of my brother. A local guy gave directions to the ambulance, because my brother's buddies weren't sure exactly where they were. Others directed traffic around the accident on a narrow two-lane highway. They left contact information with my brother's buddy, wanting to know that my brother was okay after he left them.
We'll drop by to see my brother again this afternoon. He's out of ICU, but still in pain and spends most of his time sleeping. So we sit by him. Just being there. For him and for us.
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
Eugenia Cooper, or Gennie as she prefers to be called, is a huge fan of Mae Winslow, Woman of the West. She keeps her reading tastes to herself, however, for the New York social circles that she moves in wouldn’t appreciate either the “penny dreadfuls” or Gennie’s wish for adventure. However, when her parents go to Europe for a month and her maid comes to her with a problem, Gennie has the chance for the adventure she wished for.
In Charlotte Beck, the headstrong and mischievous ten-year-old daughter of mining tycoon Daniel Beck, Gennie finds her adventure. Coddled by her papa, Charlotte is used to getting her own way from those around her. Gennie, however, refuses to give in to the girl’s antics, and begins to lay down the law. There’s a fun case of wrong assumptions as Gennie takes Daniel for a neglectful father and Daniel finds Gennie an overly strict governess—and neither knows who is the stranger they are falling head-over-heels in love with.
Gennie’s spunk throughout the novel impressed me. She might be used to curtseying to royalty, but she isn’t afraid to tackle washing dishes or dusting books. Her ability to shoot and her inability to ride were a bit surprising. And for someone who was supposed to be a governess, she seemed to spend very little actual time with her charge.
Each chapter of the book begins with a half-page from the adventures of Mae Winslow, written in an appropriately over-the-top dime novel style that was amusing and paralleled Gennie’s adventures. In the end, Gennie gets her chance to ride off into the sunset in good Mae Winslow style—but not before a series of twists and turns that kept me turning pages to find out what happened next.
And on the topic of endorsements that impressed me, this book got a glowing one from the king of Christian westerns, Stephen Bly, who says, “The gap between fiction and reality turns out to be much smaller than Eugenia Cooper realizes when she makes a last minute, ill-planned decision to hop a train to Denver in 1880. With excitement, romance, and humor, Kathleen Y’Barbo spins a tale that captures your mind. The author’s enthusiasm for writing spills out of every scene, creating, as it should enthusiastic readers.”
I’m happy to count myself one of those enthusiastic readers (and apparently that was obvious enough to my husband that, when I'd finished reading the book, he picked it up too and read it in one night. And liked it.). Western fans will want to lasso themselves a copy of this book faster than Mae Winslow can draw her Colt.
This book was provided for review courtesty of the publisher or publicist.
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
The premise of the novel is that Lillian is horrified to discover a painter had observed her grief when she thought herself alone at the Rose House, yet in the first chapter of the novel, she runs away from the Rose House after finding two other men—one with a cell phone and one with a camera photographing her—there too. If she knew she was observed by a photographer, why her huge shock at being observed by an artist who then painted her?
In her endorsement of the novel, Patti Lacy says, “Don’t get lulled into a sense of calm; the story line casts suspenseful shadows on this masterpiece of women’s fiction.” However, I found the suspense rather flat. At the beginning, it is hinted that Lillian’s husband and children were murdered and the police are conducting an investigation; Lillian also fears she is being followed. Then four years suddenly lapse without warning (no little “Four Years Later” note), and the investigation and fear of being followed are forgotten. There weren’t enough details or information to support the suspense, even when the author tried to bring it up again later in the novel.
Forkner does have a way with words, as many of her descriptions showed. The opening paragraph—or opening sentence—made me read it twice: “It seemed to be a cottage that was alive, but it was only the vines twining in on themselves and clinging to the structure that were living, not unlike the memories and feelings people had attached to the house over time, making it mean more than mere sticks, pieces of wood, nails, and peeling paint could ever imply on their own.” That completely captures the essence of the Rose House—a beautiful, brilliant opening to a story centered around a building that almost seemed to be a character itself.
I appreciated that Forkner didn’t make it easy for Lillian and her sister Geena to reconcile, nor did she downplay Geena’s struggles to give up her addictions and make a new life for herself. Aunt Bren, however, didn’t seem real, but more of someone for both Lillian and Geena to call as a way to give the reader information.
It was only when I reached the end of the book did I realize that this book is also a sequel, though it stands on its own in a way. The story of the Rose House is told in another book, Ruby Among Us, which explains why the story that I kept waiting for in Rose House never came out. Overall, I found it a disappointing read—one that could have been as breathtaking and beautiful as the cover, but was instead rather flat and uninspiring.
This book was provided for review courtesy of the publisher or publicist.
Monday, August 24, 2009
One thing I found amusing was the Pride & Prejudice subplot in the story, especially since the group studies Jane Austen’s classic. Maria is the town spinster, owner and manager of the struggling five and dime store, and is forced to sell the family farm. Evan, the buyer, and James Delevan, his lawyer, are a perfect Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy to Maria and her sister Daphne’s Elizabeth and Jane. Patillo doesn’t completely wrap up this story at the end of the novel (perhaps leaving room for a sequel), but the subplot is strong enough that readers should know what happens next.
I had this book with me when we visited my in-laws, and my father-in-law picked it up and finished it before I did. He said he didn’t like it—there were too many main characters. I agreed with him on that point; following the stories of six ladies was a bit confusing in the first few chapters, until you got to know them all. Patillo handled it well, providing flashbacks in a few sentences to provide key information that couldn’t always be included in a scene itself because of the number of characters.
The characters’ stories were also very similar. Only Esther, the widow, and Merry, a wife and mother of four children, had unique situations. The other four had similar stories of high school romances returning to woo them again years later (up to forty years later, as in Eugenie’s case) and of not wanting to fall in love for fear of getting hurt. Overall, I enjoyed seeing how the characters supported each other and were able to find solutions together for their struggles.
I was halfway through the book before I realized it was a sequel. Readers of The Sweetgum Knit Lit Society may have less trouble with the multiple characters, because most (except for Ruth, who is replaced by Maria) return in the sequel. The Sweetgum Ladies Knit for Love stood well on its own because of Patillo’s skill with flashback. Overall, it was a quick and enjoyable—if somewhat predictable—read, and one that fans of Christian chick lit should be sure to enjoy.
This book was provided for review courtesty of the publisher or publicist.
Friday, August 21, 2009
I walked to the museum,
and viewed the people on display.
I read the posters and the placards
that told they lived this way.
I saw the things they did;
I looked at all their tools and toys;
I learned of what they drew and what they knew,
and what was played by girls and boys.
One display showed books and battles.
It told of their songs and their cries—
The things they taught and fought for
were spread before my eyes.
To the last display I went
qnd there it told how they had died.
I turned around and looked at them
and then I looked inside.
These people once had felt and fought
and now lived only here.
I looked at me, my people then.
I wondered—and felt fear.
When someday my own people are
the ones in the museum,
God let them teach and educate
those who come to see them.
Monday, August 17, 2009
Recently as my husband and I were unpacking books (always the biggest part of moving for us), I came across Journey to the Centre of the Earth by Jules Verne. I’d forgotten we had a copy—or maybe I didn’t know my husband had it. Anyway, it reminded me that way back in September, my husband and I had gone to see the movie when it came out.
It was the only movie playing at our small-town movie theatre and we wanted a night out together before he started teaching. Besides, I was kind of curious to see what Hollywood had done with Jules Verne’s classic. I should have known I would be disappointed.
On the positive side, I liked the fact that they didn’t just try to make the book into a movie, but rather made the movie to be a “sequel” to the book. That was about the only plus, however.
Parts of the story were too overdone – of course they’d manage to fall a gazillion feet into the centre of the earth without dying, and then of course they’d manage to get blasted out a gazillion feet on a geyser, again without dying. (Okay, I know it’s sci-fi and not real, but still, there could be some elements of believability—or enough plausibility to make me suspend my disbelief.)
The plot was stereotypical – computer-geek nephew coming to stay with forgetful professor uncle who hasn’t seen him in six years, a dad who disappeared ten years ago but leaves behind a touching letter to his son that the son just happens to find, and the guide who of course has to be female so that there can be a love interest.
That love interest was the worst part of the story. It was fake, it was shallow, it was unnecessary. The guide could have just as easily been a male and it wouldn’t have changed the story. (Or maybe it would have made it better – two sons discover what their fathers were chasing.)
I’ve seen too many movies lately where the love interest is unnecessary to the plot and so adds nothing to the story. It also contributes to a false idea about love—like, of course if you throw a man and a woman together for so many hours, they’ll always fall madly in love with each other.
Writers are constantly told that every part of our story must be necessary. Each character should have a unique identity that contributes to the story in a unique way, so that they couldn’t be anyone else. In the Batman movies, Rachel is necessary; she provides the motivation for some of Batman’s actions. In the James Bond movies, the woman is usually unnecessary, just a pretty trophy for Bond to flirt with.
The writers of the screenplay for Journey to the Centre of the Earth seemed to simply want a romance, without bothering to fit it into the plot in a real and meaningful way. It should be a challenge to us as writers to write real stories, real characters, real love.
Friday, August 14, 2009
Unpacking takes forever. It seems like every time I think we've unpacked most things, I turn around to find another box. Oh yeah, the rest of the books. Oh yeah, Sunshine's toys. Oh yeah, the spare bedding. It's slowly coming, as every day we unpack a couple more boxes—or stash them deep in a closet to save some work next time we move.
Have I mentioned that being close to family is really nice? In the last week, we've dropped in on my grandparents twice and had supper with my sister-in-law's family. I'm really happy that Sunshine has this chance to get to know her cousins and her great-grandparents better. When my uncle helped us move in, he invited us over for dinner sometime, and I thought, "Hey, yeah, it doesn't have to be Christmas or Easter now to see him for dinner. Cool!"
As I write this, I'm sitting in our local library trying to keep track of Sunshine (who either wants to help me type, read books in the kids' section, or try to figure out the candy machines by the door) and get all my online tasks done in half an hour. Our computer is set up, but we're still waiting to get Internet hooked up—Telus is being slow in sending us stuff. It's very frustrating. It's also shown me how much time I do spend online emailing and blogging. :)
Sunshine now says "Thank you" when we give her something. "Hello," "See ya," and "Bye" are among her favourite words (she's making friends with someone else here in the library right now). She's quite the chatterbox. She likes the books here in the library, and brought home three last time we were here: two little board books about the size of her hands, and one that sings to her when she pushes the buttons (thankfully the batteries are nearly dead and it sings quietly).
Sunshine now seems more settled in. She's been a bit clingier since the move (going on two trips right away after moving probably didn't help). Now that we've gotten more stuff unpacked, and she's had a chance to get used to the new place, she's a bit more comfortable. She likes the fact that she can open the cupboards here—our old kitchen had metal cabinets with magnet latches that she couldn't get into. She also likes climbing on all the boxes stacked about the house.
Wednesday, August 12, 2009
For example, I was excited when Francine Rivers gave a glowing endorsement of Bonnie Grove's book Talking to the Dead. Rivers is one of my all-time favourite authors and I was quite impressed that she read and recommended Grove's debut novel. However, Talking to the Dead was already on my must-read list, from what I'd heard about it on Grove's blog and other blogs.
On the other hand, I just finished reading Rose House by Tina Ann Forkner (review to come in August), and didn't like it. Yet as I scanned the page of endorsements, three names caught my eye. Ane Mulligan, editor and co-owner of Novel Journey, said, "I was captivated by the appealing characters and the story’s underlying mystery." I found myself wondering if I was missing something, that she liked the book and I didn't. Jane Kirkpatrick and Mary E. Demuth both praised Forkner's other book, Ruby Among Us.
I've seen discussions among new writers about trying to get endorsements for their work and whether endorsements really sell books. Randy Ingermanson wrote a column in the May 09 issue of Christian Fiction Online Magazine about how infrequently he endorses books. Big-name authors have lots to do besides reading new novels and writing nice things about them. Which makes it all the more impressive when I do see big-name authors endorsing books like Talking to the Dead or Ruby Among Us.
Yet I still wonder... do endorsements sell books? Do you notice them? Do they influence your decision to buy or not to buy the book?
Monday, August 10, 2009
Another surprise was finding out that the Thompsons spent their first winter together at Fort George. Last summer, my husband and I stopped by several historical sites in Alberta and Saskatchewan while visiting friends. One of those was Fort George and Buckingham House, NWC and HBC posts built within four hundred metres of each other. However, the forts burned down shortly after they were abandoned in 1800, so there are now only holes in the ground there. My husband and I only toured the museum, deciding not to make the hike out to see the actual forts.
Learning that Charlotte was there, however, made me want to go back there to look around again. My husband teased me about looking at holes in the ground, but when he had an interview in the area, I had my chance to go exploring again. A bored guide was happy to take Sunshine and I on the walk to the forts. There was, indeed, little left there, though frames and posts show the rough outlines of where the fort used to be. During the 60s-80s, there was quite a lot of archaeological work done there, but now grass has grown over the holes.
Our guide left us when I decided to hike the steep trail down the river. I was a bit surprised that the forts had been built on a bluff so high above the river. I guessed correctly that was because of flooding. The guide explained that the river often changed course and the forts needed to be built where the water couldn’t affect them. Still, as I huffed my way back up the trail, imagining voyageurs doing the same but carrying 90-pound packs of furs or trade goods instead of a 20-pound baby, and making the trip more times than I could count, I wondered that they couldn’t have found a better spot for the fort.
What did I learn from the trip? Well, the fort had been in a state of disrepair when David and Charlotte showed up. David mentions having to rebuild several buildings to prepare for winter. After they left, the fort closed for good; David’s winter there was probably a last attempt by the NWC to make some profit from that area.
It was also interesting to actually walk the distance between the forts and from the fort down to the river, to get an idea of what that would have been like for David and Charlotte. And now I can describe the fort’s location, down to the Saskatoon bushes growing everywhere that surely provided plenty of occupation for Charlotte.
Friday, August 7, 2009
Allie Fortune is a PI with a personal agenda: find David Rubeneski. As her story progresses, flashbacks fill in the details of her relationship with David and the reason she’s desperate to find him.
Allie is searching for clues about David when Mary Gordon shows up on her doorstep with a strange story. Although she’s dubious about Mary’s story, Allie agrees to help her for a few days. Then FBI agent Jack O’Connor reveals that Mary has lied to Allie, and Allie happily terminates their relationship. Until Jack offers Allie a chance to find out what happened to David—in exchange for tracking down Mary and the treasure that she and her husband stole from a museum in Berlin at the end of the war.
Her love for David keeps Allie from falling for Jack as they begin working together. But when the only man who has any clues is murdered, the stakes get higher. The Soviets and East Germans are also after the treasure. While the Soviet/East German/FBI plot may seem a bit clichéd, it fits with the post-war era mystery genre.
In an interview with Novel Rocket, Mills talks about the process of writing Miss Fortune: “That winter I wrote a first-person detective novel and felt like I’d finally found my sweet spot. The combination of first-person style and mystery just clicked in me.” Allie's voice brings the novel alive, giving the reader a good sense of her gutsy personality. While some of Allie's deductive skills echo those of Sherlock Holmes, this novel needs no comparison to other mysteries.
Some readers may not like the faith elements of the story, which seem tacked into the book to make it fit the Christian fiction market. The story wouldn’t have changed if Allie’s brief doubts about God and later “conversion” were removed.
Mills is the mother of three children and lives in Alberta. According to Novel Rocket, she "collects swords, raises Golden Retrievers and has a house full of hamsters, guinea pigs, turtles and puppies. She loves motorbikes, film noir, Humphrey Bogart and The Maltese Falcon."
Miss Fortune is just as intriguing as its cover suggests. This debut novel reveals a talented new Canadian writer with a flair for mystery and historical details. Fans of Miss Fortune will want to check out its sequel, Miss Match, which takes Allie to Europe in search of David.
Thursday, August 6, 2009
He printed the classifieds, I called a few landlords, and we packed our stuff and hit the road. That evening we stopped at friends' on the way (we usually try to break up the seven-hour drive as Sunshine gets bored after about three or four hours). The next day, we looked at four places to rent and found one that we liked. We told the landlady we'd take it, and drove back to the city to run a few errands there before taking off on holidays for the weekend.
On Monday, we were back at home, packing and getting ready to move. My husband's parents showed up on Wednesday with a pickup truck and a brand-new cattle trailer, and we began loading it up. The trailer was a foot narrower than the trailer that we had used to move last year, and so my father-in-law, with precise mathematical calculations suiting a retired engineer, predicted that we'd need a second trailer. My uncle was ready to bring his trailer up—until we got everythings stashed into the first trailer.
My in-laws took off with the trailer Wednesday night, and my husband, Sunshine, and I camped out on the floor of our now-empty house. The next day, we cleaned the house, went for lunch with friends, did the walk-through with the landlord, said goodbye to a few more friends, and hit the highway. On the weekend, we went to a reunion at my husband's Bible school. Then on Monday, we were unpacking the trailer at our new place.
It's been fun to see the new place slowly turn into a home, as our things get settled and organized and make the place ours. The previous tenants painted it wild colours—mustard yellow, cranberry red, dark purple, lime green—so we'll be repainting a few rooms. We're liking the ten-foot ceilings, especially with some of my tall furniture. And it's fun to run into my grandparents at the gas station and be able to invite my husband's parents over for dinner.