Monday, April 30, 2012

When Once Is Not Enough

Do you re-read your books? I do, and not because I don’t have anything else to read. Most of us who read know about The Power of One. My granddaughter introduced me to this book which has become famous around the world.
In Australia, Bryce Courtenay is the bomb. He’s as well known as Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman combined. In addition to The Power of One, he has written several other books set in Africa, one of which tears me apart every time I read it. In interviews, Bryce has said that Peekay in The Power of One is based on himself in his earlier life, but I suspect that the story of Tom Fitzsaxby in Whitethorn is also influenced by his early years.
I’m constantly amazed that Mr. Courtenay can capture so clearly the voice of a young boy as narrator for his stories. The humour, the heartbreak, the wonder, it’s all there in his exquisite prose. Not only are his stories hugely entertaining, but he manages to slip in some history in each book...some more than others.
It’s unfortunate that Mr. Courtenay isn’t more widely known in the US. I’m inspired by him, and if you go to his website at I think you’ll be inspired too...especially the part about why he was kicked out of Africa.
My all-time favourite Bryce Courtenay book is Four Fires. Set in Australia, it has it saga, a love story and a good dose of history. As with his African books, you gain insight into the lives of the characters as well as life in a small Australian town of that era. I never tire of this book.
I re-read lots of authors but while we’re “down under” there are two more authors whose books in my library clearly show the signs of having been read more than once:  Colleen McCullough and Patricia Shaw. McCullough is of course widely known for The Thorn Birds, but I particularly enjoy Morgan’s Run, a gritty but ultimately satisfying tale. On the lighter side, Patricia Shaw writes what I loosely call adventure sagas, generally with a love story thrown in for good measure. She’s not easy to find in our local Canadian book stores, but the next time I order from Amazon, I’ll throw in a couple of Patricia Shaw books for good measure. I'll probably read those again as well.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Tiptoeing Through the Minefield

Sex or no sex, that is the question. Okay, I’m being ‘cute’ but today romance authors are thinking very carefully before they sit down to write that next novel.
Why? Because somebody sneaked in when we weren’t looking and moved the the great delight of readers and writers alike.
  Nowadays, a reader can search online and find stories that run the gamut from literary porn to erotica, to “Mommy porn”, to romance with sexual elements, to sweet romance. And there are readers for every level of sexuality. We all know readers who enjoy several levels, and why not?
  I have a writer friend who claims that a book isn’t a romance without some sex. “It’s bound to happen,” she argues. “When a man and a woman love each other sex is a natural result, so why not write about it?”
  “Because it’s not necessary.” This from a friend who writes “sweet” romances. “It may happen, but do you have to describe it?”
  They come to an impasse every time.
  There are arguments to support both points of view, and when you get right down to it, it’s up to the reader to choose her preferred level of sensuality.
  I write romance because it’s the genre that makes me comfortable as an author. By its very nature, romance is an emotional subject, and I like to develop the emotional side of my characters, along with the inevitable conflict that arises between them. I’ve written books with sexual elements as well as books where the two main characters go into the bedroom and shut the door. The constant is that there is sexual tension because I don’t see how a romance can be realistic without it.
  Paramount over everything is the story. I’ve made up stories about people all my life. Does that make me a voyeur? Perhaps. I see a couple sitting in the park, or a man and a woman meeting at a coffee shop and my imagination takes off–sometimes without my permission. I also like a good story line with my romance. It’s not the main ingredient–the book is a romance after all–but I like to weave in a surprise, or a twist near the end that makes the reader smile. Maybe they’ve already figured it out along the way, but when it’s revealed, they can say “I knew that”, and finish the book with a smile on their face.
  Because that’s what it’s all about, after all...entertainment. Enjoy.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

A Rose By Any Other Name

What’s in a name? It’s a good question. When I was young I disliked my name but then I don’t think that’s unusual. I wish I could say that I learned early on that our name doesn’t define us, it’s what’s inside that’s important. Alas, that didn’t come till much later in life.
  I started thinking about names this week when I found myself part way through my current work only to realize that the female character’s name didn’t suit her. She’s a gentle, sensitive character and the name I’d given her didn’t reflect least in my opinion. Interesting, isn’t it, how you and I can hear the same name and yet react so differently.
  How do I name the characters in my books? If a name doesn’t come right away, I often resort to the many lists on the internet. It’s wonderful to be able to go back and see what names were popular in the 1950s. Some sites have names as far back as the 1800s. Run down a list of popular names and you’ll often see names that were in the headlines that year. I wonder how many Kates will be named in the next year or so? It’ll be fun to go back and look in a few years.
  Some of my friends have confessed to scanning my books looking for familiar names. I don’t know about other authors, but I’m not even remotely tempted to use the names of friends or family in my books. After building up an image in my mind of the character, why would I muddy the waters by using the name of someone I know? Not happening.
  So stop looking for your name and get reading. And I hope you enjoy.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Tell Me A Story

  I saw a television story a few years ago about Don Hewitt, the creator of 60 Minutes. According to the program, he would ask his journalists to “Tell Me A Story”.
  I love telling stories. If it’s a good story, readers will want to read it, and that gives me a warm fuzzy feeling.
  Is storytelling becoming a lost art? Are we so inundated with digital content that we’ve forgotten the art of sitting around a campfire, swapping stories? Consider the societies in the world that pass on knowledge verbally. Stories handed down for hundreds of years, virtually verbatim. It boggles the mind. Could we do that? I doubt it.
  I find myself wishing that I had listened more closely to the people in my life who had unique stories to tell. My grandfather on my father’s side worked on building the CPR across Canada. He was obviously highly skilled, as he was allowed to bring his family on the train as they moved. What I’d give to go back in time and hear his experiences.
  My grandmother on my mother’s side emigrated from Ireland with my mother after her husband was killed in WWI. She must have been a great storyteller because I recall her telling me how she worked in the linen factory. The details escape me, but she was young at the time and worked in a confined space where the looms whizzed very close to her. Come back, Grandma. I’d like to hear more.
  My own father rode the rails with a friend across Canada in the “dirty thirties.” He and a Peeler were hauled off the train by the police in Alberta and sent to work on a farm. Probably the best food they had; they went back the following year and worked there again. He told me about the hobo camps along the way, and how he actually rode on Kettle Valley section of the railway, only a portion of which still exists as a tourist destination in the town where I now live. Dad also worked in a gold mine in northern Quebec as a mucker. His knuckles were misshapen for the rest of his life, but he was still a sight to behold when he was fly fishing. How many people do you know would say "no thanks" when National Geographic asked to film him fishing? That was my Dad.
  My husband told me stories about a year spent commercial fishing off the west coast of Vancouver Island. He told me of foggy nights in his bunk, listening to the screws of huge tankers coming close, closer, and then finally passing. Or of circular bait balls of fish measuring fifty feet across, dotting the surface of the ocean as far as could be seen.
  I can’t get those stories back now, but these days I’m more likely to slow down and say “Tell Me A Story.”