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Another Reason to Write

Our Linda

Our Linda

For the last year and a half my family has borne the sadness of a sister diagnosed with cancer. We’ve all hoped and prayed only to have our best wishes come to a crushing end last week. You can imagine the sadness; it seems not one family can escape this dread disease.

Linda Garner VanWinden fought long and hard from the first diagnosis to the second news that the cancer was back and from the realization that this would be the fight of her life to the final bad news.  Pain was her constant companion, none of the multitude of drugs being enough to free her. But she held her head high, rarely stopped working on her next amazing project, and thoroughly enjoyed every moment she could with the many friends and family who loved her.

Such an outpouring of love, gratitude, and sadness has filled all of our lives over the past week that we all realize just how appreciated Linda was. A gifted soprano who could have had a stunning professional career, she chose instead a loving husband and family. She passed on her great musical knowledge to countless students and choirs and is treasured for all of those gifts and more.

So how does all of this relate to my writing?

Last week I spent as much time as I could pushing forward with revisions to The Loyalist’s Luck for one simple reason: I could lose myself there. I could escape from my wretched heart and work on my second book in the Loyalist trilogy: The Loyalist’s Luck. 

And hours before my sister passed, I had an epiphany. Linda was one who believed in my writing abilities early on. She stored my extra flash drive and swapped it out periodically as I revised. Her home was a safe haven for my backup. When The Loyalist’s Wife came out last summer, she read it and proclaimed far and wide her pride in me and my writing. And that was a very large audience. The church was full for her funeral. Five hundred people came to bid her farewell.

We left the sanctuary listening to a marvellous trio recorded only a year ago at a spontaneous concert for cancer research organized by one of Linda’s students. The trio? My brother, Keith on tenor, my famous sister, Donna, singing alto, and lovely Linda, whose soprano soared with hope and pure joy. Here is an admittedly imperfect video of the girls singing The Lord is My Shepherd a year ago. But listen, just listen.

The Lord is My Shepherd: Linda VanWinden and Donna Garner

Another reason to write? Well, actually, I’ve two: to keep my mind off my aching heart and to finish this novel that I’m so proud to be dedicating to my lovely sister.

 
19 Comments

Posted by on July 18, 2014 in Personal History

 

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On Being a Wordsmith

A Hundred Poems About Flowers by Robyn Marie Butt

A Hundred Poems About Flowers by Robyn Marie Butt

My writing friend and I share teas and talk, through hot days and shivery snow storms. About writing mostly. Sometimes our thoughts are of dreams and ideas and, every once in a while, of a shared passion: words.

Robyn Marie Butt lives about a mile from me. On the farm which was her family’s growing up place, a sweeping, idyllic wonder of willows, old barn wood,  pine needles, summer camp, and a huge pond where herons dip and ducks flip their emerald necks in perfect water.

She is a writer.

Check out her extensive resume here on the Boularderie Island Press website and then come back to wander with me through her latest book, A Hundred Poems About Flowers: The First Twenty-Five.

Now, I am not that girl who slips into poetry willingly. I taught English and, thankfully, came to have a slight understanding of its beauty but that’s all. Words in storied bouquets wrapped up in plot and character are more my thing.

But I bought my friend’s book.

And she took me to places I’d never allowed myself to know. Through the flowers her poems touch, Robyn fingers poignant parts of her life, her loves, her soul. And, along the way, she has touched my own.

Her book is a series of poems and with each a painting of the flowers in the spotlight, each painted by a local artist. To give  you a small sense of the talent of this poet I’ve inserted a portion of my favourite poem, the last one in the book, Lily (apologies to Robyn for the inexact spacing here.)

I have sat in a garden
at Glendower (now overgrown)
I have sat there
slim and bare-legged, sweat dried
from a summer run
alerted by the tenderest of tickles
and watched a bumblebee
landed on my thigh
stretch its pencil-stroke
tongue
to lick my sweat
lick and lick
gathering the taste of me
for her children’s honey

I have been loved
by a garden
and by its keeper.


And I, I have been touched by Robyn Marie Butt’s poetry.

Robyn Marie Butt

Robyn Marie Butt

 
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Posted by on July 2, 2014 in Authors

 

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How To Find Great Books To Read

book shelves in NorwichDo you ever wander the big book store aisles and feel overwhelmed? First of all there are the shelves and displays full of placemats and candles, fuzzy animals and cozy blankets. And then the bargain shelves can be filled with unbelievable titles you’d never read in a million years.

Or do you head into the local library and end up totally put off by the worn books lining the shelves? You pick one up (I like the long ones!) and sneeze in its dust. Or you try a well-thumbed one only to wonder how many hands have touched its every page.

And yet, you love to read. Your favourite Christmas present is books or book store gift certificates. You frequent the library as often as the grocery store and pay next to nothing. Finding a new book from one of your favourite authors and losing yourself in it is about the best way to spend an afternoon.

Don’t get me wrong. I love book stores and libraries. I just realize there are some better ways to search them for treasures.

Five Ways to Find a Great Read

  1. Ask the librarian. People who work in libraries invariably love to read and if you find someone who loves your favourite genres your work is most likely done.
  2. Book stores often have “Picks” tags on books they are featuring. Some of those employees read voraciously, so much so that they have their own sticker affixed to their favourites. And they’ll even write reviews sometimes, which might be posted in the store or online.
  3. Read book columns in the newspaper as often as you can. These will show what books are popular and selling well. Chances are bestsellers will be enjoyable but you’ll be wise to vet them in other ways as well. I’ve been fortunate to have The Loyalist’s Wife on our local best seller list many times in the last months thanks to our wonderful book store.
  4. Listen to others who read what you like to read. Years ago a friend with whom I taught started telling me about great historical fiction. Lynne introduced me to Sharon Kay Penman’s amazing The Sunne in Splendor  and I’ve never found any duds in all of the rest of Penman’s books. I’ve been an ardent fan ever since. Ask your sister. While historical fiction always thrills me, through my sister, Linda, I’ve met several other excellent books. We shall an affinity for great stories and stellar writing. When she mentions a title to me, I listen. She got me to read The Help and many more.
  5. When in the library find the shelf of wonderful new releases. This is now my go-to place and I delight in finding books in the same pristine shape as those I buy. I know, this is a foible, for sure, but it’s me.

Joining a book club is something I’ve always wanted to do and I even tried to start one a few years ago. We met at a friend’s house, about six of us, and had a discussion ostensibly about The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown’s huge hit. Unfortunately the discussion wandered away from the book and we, good friends all, mostly talked about kids and husbands, politics and religion, and the latest good recipes, if I remember correctly. These days I get a thrill out of visiting book clubs as a guest speaker.

In the comments below, feel free to share your best ways to find great books to read.

For All Lovers of Historical Fiction

Available Now: The Loyalist’s Wife, the first book in The Loyalist Trilogy!

by Elaine Cougler, winner of the WCDR 2014 Pay It Forward Scholarship

The Loyalist's Wife_Kindle_1563x2500

When American colonists resort to war against Britain and her colonial attitudes, a young couple caught in the crossfire must find a way to survive. Pioneers in the wilds of New York State, John and Lucy face a bitter separation and the fear of losing everything, even their lives, when he joins Butler’s Rangers to fight for the King and leaves her to care for their isolated farm. As the war in the Americas ramps up, ruffians roam the colonies looking to snap up Loyalist land. Alone, pregnant, and fearing John is dead, Lucy must fight with every weapon she has.

With vivid scenes of desperation, heroism, and personal angst, Elaine Cougler takes us back to the beginnings of one great country and the planting of Loyalist seeds for another. The Loyalist’s Wife transcends the fighting between nations to show us the individual cost of such battles.

Purchase The Loyalist’s Wife on Amazon here.

 

 

 
2 Comments

Posted by on June 18, 2014 in Book Clubs, Readers

 

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How To Publish and Keep Control

IMG_2433_editedSo you write a book, and it takes you a year, and you think the next step is handing it to a publisher. That’s what I thought seven years ago. And then came revision, character arcs, economy of words, and a host of other writing no-no’s and must-do’s.

For five of my six years to publication, traditional publishing was absolutely the way I wanted to go. The marvellous books I’d read were published by the big houses, and I longed to follow that tradition.

Throughout all the conferences, workshops, online searches, critique groups (even one I started myself), and connections with writers, I dreamed of finding a publisher. I pitched, queried, rewrote and rewrote and rewrote. Somewhere along the way, however, I learned something else. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on June 11, 2014 in General, Writing Tips

 

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A Lick and a Promise: The Loyalist’s Luck New Cover

The Loyalist’s Luck_cover_apr1.indd

Today’s post is a promise of things to come for those who love a great historical novel. Following on the tail of last year’s The Loyalist’s Wife,

The Loyalist’s Luck

is scheduled for release this fall.

John and Lucy escape the Revolutionary War to the unsettled British territory across the Niagara River with almost nothing. In the untamed wilderness they must fight to survive, he, off on a secret mission for Colonel Butler and she, left behind with their young son and pregnant once again. In the camp full of distrust, hunger, and poverty, word has seeped out that John has gone over to the American side and only two people will associate with Lucy–her friend, Nellie, who delights in telling her all the current gossip, and Sergeant Crawford, who refuses to set the record straight and clear John’s name. To make matters worse, the sergeant has made improper advances toward Lucy. With John’s reputation besmirched, she must walk a thin line depending as she does on the British army, and Sergeant Crawford, for her family’s very survival.

Watch for upcoming news on this and other writing events. And if you haven’t  yet purchased the first in the Loyalist trilogy, here’s the link. I promise you won’t be disappointed.

For All Lovers of Historical Fiction

Available Now: The Loyalist’s Wife, the first book in The Loyalist Trilogy!

by Elaine Cougler, winner of the WCDR 2014 Pay It Forward Scholarship

The Loyalist's Wife_Kindle_1563x2500

When American colonists resort to war against Britain and her colonial attitudes, a young couple caught in the crossfire must find a way to survive. Pioneers in the wilds of New York State, John and Lucy face a bitter separation and the fear of losing everything, even their lives, when he joins Butler’s Rangers to fight for the King and leaves her to care for their isolated farm. As the war in the Americas ramps up, ruffians roam the colonies looking to snap up Loyalist land. Alone, pregnant, and fearing John is dead, Lucy must fight with every weapon she has.

With vivid scenes of desperation, heroism, and personal angst, Elaine Cougler takes us back to the beginnings of one great country and the planting of Loyalist seeds for another. The Loyalist’s Wife transcends the fighting between nations to show us the individual cost of such battles.

Purchase The Loyalist’s Wife on Amazon here.

 

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How Can You Justify Spending Money on a Writing Conference?

Last Friday I braved the drive to Ajax along the busy 401 past Toronto to attend the Ontario Writers’ Conference.

Should I go or should I give pass it by? I wondered. Especially since last year I paid my money but spent the weekend in the hospital. Nevertheless I signed up. I wondered about the wisdom of my decision the whole three hours and twenty-five minutes that it took me to drive the normally hour and a half route. Grrr. But I went and I met my friend, Sally, and we carried on.  Here are some of the things I learned in the full sessions and workshops I chose:

  1. Character, plot, setting. You can’t have one without the others. Of course we knew that but being reminded of the intricacies of each is always good.
  2. Authenticity. People want to know that the author knows what she is talking about.
  3. Whether to wiki or not depends on how crucial to the story the detail is. If it’s really important, go further than Wikipedia.
  4. Regarding research, you need to know ten times more about your subject than you actually use in fiction.
  5. Put setting details sparingly throughout the novel and not all at once.
  6. Pace revelation of detail throughout the book and only as needed to drive the plot or character development.
  7. Writing a good pitch before you start writing helps the writer consolidate just what the book is about. It’s also useful for that elevator pitch.
  8. Make sure the stakes are crucial. Why would anyone care about what is happening to your characters?
  9. For writers to write about what hurts allows readers into the story in an engaging way which captivates them.
  10. When you decide to write you are joining the human condition.

Of course meeting other attendees and reconnecting with those I’ve met before is always a terrific experience and luckily a lot of that happened. I connected with Terry Fallis who gave me great cover quote for The Loyalist’s Wife last year. He was the final speaker and once again connected on a professional level and on a more personal level with everyone there. The lunch speaker was Wayson Choy whom I had never met before. That afternoon I came upon him by himself in the anteroom and had a chance to express my appreciation for his knowledgeable and empathetic remarks to the crowd. Both of these writers have not let their great successes ruin them. They are most generous to those of us who haven’t scaled the heights yet.

While the conference did cost me quite a lot for its length I found it absolutely worthwhile. And the fact that every time we sat down again in the large hall my name was up on the screens overhead as one of the authors who published a book in the last year, well, that just was the icing on the cake. Oh. And a number of people knew my name when I introduced myself. That was fabulous. All in all the Ontario Writers Conference 2014 was a great break from editing and revision and gives me new energy to forge ahead on The Loyalist’s Luck.

 

Coming May 14, 2014!

The Loyalist’s Luck Cover Reveal

book two in The Loyalist Trilogy, coming in September, 2014

Purchase The Loyalist’s Wife on Amazon here.

The Loyalist's Wife_Kindle_1563x2500

Purchase The Loyalist’s Wife for your Kobo here

 
 

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