Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Author Interview: Tessa Afshar (SQUEE! I LOVE HER SO MUCH)

Yay! Tessa Afshar is a favourite of mine and she is on my blog! And I am smiling so hard that the corners of my mouth hurt. I LOVE ALL OF HER BOOKS!  I LOVED Pearl in the Sand  and the moment I read it, I thought: I HOPE SHE DOES Ruth and she did.    In the Field of Grace more than met my expectations and it was one of my most anticipated books of the year!  To add, Tessa finally won the honour of the well deserved  Historical Romance Christy for Harvest of Gold. To add to that, it was through Tessa's blog that I discovered the British series Doc Martin which I love :) And she wrote me some nice things and I wasn't going to post them but even Rachels need encouragements sometimes so I am even posting those! Cause they make me smile  So you get it all, Blog!




Hi Rachel. First of all, I am delighted to spend time with you since you are one of my favorite bloggers. I really appreciate your invitation to hang out with you and your readers.


1.)What is the single most important message of the Book of Ruth to you?

In a few short pages, the Book of Ruth manages to give us a glimpse of God’s sovereignty and faithfulness through the most painful seasons of our lives. He doesn’t let go of us. He doesn’t forget about us. I love this story because it demonstrates that there are no outsiders in the Kingdom of God, no losers, no worthless outcasts. In His gracious hands, everyone finds enormous value. Shattered lives are restored. The impossible comes to pass.


2.)Ruth has such staying power. It is a story told again and again and referenced in literature and media-- even without its religious tenets. It is a story that is also often explored in fiction: sometimes even transposed to different time periods! While writing were you conscious of other fictional adaptations --- (yours is so unique. You begin WITH Boaz which was just so lovely ) ? Were you deeply involved in concentrating on your own revisionism of the tale focusing on the source material?



I intentionally try to avoid reading other versions of the book I am working on. I am writing fiction based on the Bible, so my focus is on the original text, and the world in which it occurs. The scariest part of writing this book has been the increasing awareness of the readers’ attachment to this story. With affection comes increased expectation. I would hate to disappoint my readers.



3.)The book is (as I expressed to many of my friends while gushing the moment I turned the last page) so knee-wobblingly romantic. Made more so by the lineage of poetry and symbol you suggest that Ruth and Boaz leave for their descendants. I always think of it as the Bible's Cinderella story. What are some of your favourite romances and why do you think the romantic aspect of Ruth and Boaz's relationship is so potent with readers?



Thank you, Rachel. I am delighted that the romance in the novel appealed to your heart.

Part of the reason the story of Ruth transcends time can be found in the relationship between these two unlikely characters: Ruth, a destitute Moabite widow and Boaz, a wealthy landowner of Israel. Boaz saw Ruth’s worth in spite of the fact that she was a nobody who had lost everything. The very heartbeat of romance for me is this recognition: being known at your worst, and being judged worthy of love and devotion in spite of it. These aspects of the story of Ruth captivate us.

But there is more! Boaz is an archetype of Christ in the Old Testament. He points to the Savior. I think there are elements of romance in Jesus’ relationship with us. He pursues us, protects us, loves us in ways we cannot imagine. Love means sacrifice, and Jesus fulfills the meaning of that word.

Jesus is our Boaz. That’s another reason this story resonates in our inmost being. We see shades of Jesus, accepting us, loving us, protecting us, cherishing us as we read about Ruth and Boaz.



4.)What strikes me most about your heroines--- and why I feel I identify with them so deeply--- is their flaws and the fact that they often wrestle with insecurity. They are at turns vulnerable and strong. And, they fight with self-esteem issues and feelings of displacement. How do you go about choosing which heroine you will next transpose into a fictional universe and is there anything that helps you colour them in so perfectly and dimensionally?




More often than not, God chooses deeply flawed men and women through whom He fulfills His purposes. That’s why so many of us can relate to them! A broken woman who rises above her circumstances to make the right choice, to cling to God, and to ultimately overcome is an inescapably powerful character to read about. I relate to her brokenness and am inspired by her victory. In my experience, all of us struggle with various kinds of insecurities. We doubt ourselves. We even doubt God. But in God’s hands these fissures that run through the very fabric of our being can turn into glory, because the light of His countenance can shine through them.



5.)Though your work is very much rooted in the Old Testament, the interception of grace is so transparent and--- I don’t want to give anything away--- but there is a scene in an olive grove that is very foreshadowing. How does the New Testament inform how your approach the Old Testament stories? How do you excavate the thumbprint of Grace before Christ’s time on earth?



While I was attending a secular book event, an Orthodox Jewish woman asked me if my book was written from a Christian perspective. I told her that I did my best to remain faithful to the Hebrew Bible and its rendition of the story. But I also admitted that being a Christian meant that my particular experience of God flowed into every page. Interestingly, she took the book, because she found that when Christians wrote novels based on Biblical characters, she could read the story and enjoy it, whereas when secular writers based their stories on Old Testament heroes and heroines, they often left disturbing thoughts in her mind.

I cannot write without confessing Christ. Confessing His love. His grace. His acceptance. His provision. My very soul cries out Jesus. I may never name Him. Never show Him. Yet He just pushes through my prose, because He has pushed through my soul. He informs everything I write.



6.)Finally, I hope that you have an idea of what Biblical story you might like to approach next --- what can we expect in the future?

I do have an idea percolating in the back of my mind. But I am not at liberty to reveal the details yet. How annoying is that?
Author photo care of her facebook site 



Rachel, thank you so much for spending time with me. You made me think hard with your unique questions. Thanks for being such a joy as well as an encourager. I so appreciate you.

Tessa

follow her on facebook and twitter 

Monday, July 28, 2014

Litfuse Blog Tour: the Butterfly and the Violin

I really enjoyed the treatise on the artist’s spirit surviving the most treacherous circumstances in this talented debut by Kristy Cambron.

In present day, Sera and William overcome heartache and find common ground in their search to exhume the histories hidden in a passionate old piece: a mournful and melancholy portrait of a violinist, Austria’s sweetheart, Adele Von Bron, reduced to the undignified squalor of Auschwitz.

In the past, Adele’s story is played out with equal parts funerary minor and joyous, gold-edged Vienna waltz: a woman passionately in love with a man wrong for her, the apple of Vienna’s musical eye. Juxtaposed: art and music intertwine to create a tapestry of hopeless circumstance, life and love beyond the gritty horrors of a concentration camp.

[Can I take a moment just to talk about the whole Vienna Prelude-ness of it all! Like, frig! We all know VP was my first Christian fiction book ever and it inspired my entire life and my lifelong dream trip to Austria and my obsession with the glory of the world’s most too-much-whipped-cream city Vienna. I love the haunting refrains of music clashing with the martial law of the Nazis: descending darkly upon a glittering city and urgh! …. So awesome. Here's my Christian Classics edition featuring VP]




Cambron excels at interweaving intensive research into her fictional canvas. This is made more potent by her obvious affinity for any artist. Her passion for art ( a subject she has obviously studied intensively ) as well as her passion for glistening European locales such as Vienna and Paris are evident in her lavish descriptions. 

Cambron has put forth a lyrical and naturally well-written story here and the writing doesn’t seemed forced. To add, she has expertly plotted both the contemporary framework and its historical counterpart and often the action in the modern day sequences mirror the burgeoning relationship between William and Sera. If Vladimir and Adele pursue a moment to dance, then we find William and Sera at a wedding. If Adele ponders love-lost, then Sera, in modern context, is seen ruminating on her past love.  She fits both pieces of the puzzle together well.  When it comes to the realization of the portrait’s mystery and all loose ends are tied up, the reader is left with a satisfactory sigh.  What is that line--- is it Chekhov? –about not putting a gun on a table in Act I if it doesn’t go off in Act III? And so it is here: a breadcrumb trail of little mysteries that all resolve at the end.


I also really liked the equalizing nature of art pursued.  In the camp, art of all kinds and mediums is excavated in a hidden warehouse.  The artists: visual, written, and with the addition of Omara and Adele’s orchestra, musical, risk their lives to thumbprint their creativity on a vapid space and reclaim the passion and burning desire of expression. They will be remembered: somehow in some way.  To add, artistry is just one more equalizer in a realm that vanquishes social class. Adele is from a highbrow family, late of parties and money, but, like everyone else, the concentration camp strips her of social class.  She cannot hide behind her name and family. There is one particularly poignant moment where interred Omara and Adele play in their prison finest for Nazi officials who recognize Adele for her former stage presence. The strange and exhilarating clash really resonated with me.   By the end, when Adele is forced to play for what will be her last time publically, she shows the same defiance: even undergoes a bold act that warrants severe punishment.

Going to this JUST so I can ask Kristy hair questions 



Butterfly is a stirring, well-written and literary debut.   However, a few things gave me reservation.  With the exception of Susan Meissner, I am not a huge fan of contemporary frameworks bordering historical stories.  I tend to want to get back to the historical: as that is my first passion as a reader.  William and Sera’s story was technically well-written, but I didn’t feel for them and their contemporary romance took me out of the magic that was taking place in 1940s Europe. Indeed, I kept hoping I could get their parts over with to get back to the real story. It is far more interesting. To add, I sensed Cambron also much preferred her historical characters and settings and the passion infused in Adele and Vladimir and their counterparts just made William and Sera’s strand-of-story pale in counterpart. Their characterization, as well, lacked the same dimension of their historical reflections.  Because I will be reading Cambron’s next ( she possesses a gifted pen and a lot of potential ), I am hoping that I will find sterner spiritual truths apparent throughout. In Butterfly, the overt Christian themes were slightly dormant until the latter half of the book and the subject matter loaned itself to a far stronger perusal.  I will, however, note the sage and inspired wisdom of Omara, orchestra leader, who reminds us of art as worship.



Friday, July 25, 2014

Captured by Love: Behind the Scenes --- CASTING CALL and Giveaway with guest Jody Hedlund

So happy to have Jody Hedlund on the blog today! Leave a comment below answering Jody's question and I will randomly draw a winner for a copy of the book



Behind the Scenes of Captured By Love
The Movie Cast of Characters From Captured by Love
Every time I start a novel, I find a model or actor/actress to represent each of my main characters. I usually wait to do this until after I've fleshed out the characters a little bit and gotten to "know" them. Once I'm familiar with their personalities, quirks, strengths, flaws, etc., then I'm better able to narrow down someone to play the role.
The search for just the right person is sometimes time-consuming. And I often end up changing people a couple of times before finally finding the one I like the best.
Pierre the Voyageur and Heart-breaker:
I had the most difficult time finding an actor to play the role of Pierre Durrant. I wanted someone with a French lineage because Pierre is of French-American descent (having had a French father and American mother). I needed a dark-haired, dark-eyed, rugged-looking man who exuded the strength of a voyageur.
I chose the young version of the French actor, Olivier Martinez. I would have liked him to be slightly more humorous with a cocky smile and laugh. But this particular picture of him has the kind of smile Pierre would have worn that says, "I'm good-looking and I know the effect I'm having on you."

This picture shows more of the reality of his situation, especially all of the danger he finds himself facing as the book unfolds.


Angelique the Heroine:
I chose curly-haired red-headed Jessica Chastain to fill the role of Angelique Mackenzie. Although Angelique hasn't had much to smile about in her young life, Pierre always has the ability to make her laugh with his playful antics and fun-loving ways.


Angelique is a caring and selfless, giving up her own meager fare of food for her adopted mother, Miriam. Although Angelique is beautiful, she tries to hide behind the plain clothes, high collar, and tight bonnet her step-father requires her to wear.
She's much more comfortable in a canoe catching fish than in a ballroom dancing. She'd much prefer swimming and splashing in her secret pond than sipping tea in a fancy sitting room. And she'd rather climb a tree barefoot than dress in the fanciest gown and slippers.
Jean the Brother and Fiancé:


Brett Tucker is cast as the fair-haired Jean Durrant. Jean adores his childhood friend, Angelique, but he knew that she always preferred Pierre. After Pierre ran away from the island,  Jean was happy to have Angelique's attention all to himself.  To help her escape her step-father and to give her the home she longs for, Jean asks Angelique to marry him.
Before they have the chance to be married, the British invade the island and require every American male to swear an Oath of Allegiance or be deported. As a farmer, Jean loves the island and loathes to leave Angelique and his mother behind at the mercy of the British. But his loyalty to his country and his honor demand that he do the right thing.
Little does he anticipate that while he's gone fighting in the war, Pierre will come crashing back into their lives and disrupt all of their carefully laid plans.
As you can see from the pictures and descriptions, Angelique is caught in the middle of two very appealing men! She has a tough choice ahead of her. Will she stay with loyal, steady, loving Jean? Or will she chase after the wild, carefree man who's already broken her heart once?
There you have it, dear readers! Which of the heroes do you like better? And why?


Thursday, July 24, 2014

Author Interview: Kate Breslin



When I read For Such a Time I knew I was dying to have Kate Breslin on the blog. Her work is genius and this, her first book, a masterpiece. I was so moved.

You can read my review of the book here on Novel Crossing but I also wanted to make sure I was featuring Kate on my blog.


1) WHAT HAS BEEN THE MOST UNEXPECTED PART OF YOUR WRITING JOURNEY THUS FAR?
Oh, Rachel, where do I start? J Aside from getting published (after twenty years of trying, I wasn’t sure it would ever happen,) I was surprised at how much is involved in the actual publishing process: revision letters, line edits (galleys), final checks, promotion, marketing, and deadlines for the next book. It’s thrilling, hectic, and sometimes feels like riding a roller-coaster. I was also surprised at the wonderful response to For Such A Time. Writing is such a solitary occupation; it’s incredibly gratifying to connect with readers who love your characters and their journey as much as you do. To know that your passion has inspired someone else. I think it’s the best gift a writer can receive.


2) I WAS REALLY, REALLY HAPPY YOU FELT THE FREEDOM TO COLOUR OUTSIDE OF RIGID HISTORICAL LINES IN ORDER TO PAINT A COMPELLING TALE WHILE STILL MAINTAINING THE AUTHENTIC ESSENCE OF A CRUEL TIME PERIOD. WHAT WERE THE HARDEST CHOICES YOU HAD TO MAKE IN TERMS OF INSERTING HISTORICALLY AUTHENTIC FACTS AND THOSE THAT WERE CREATED FOR THE STORY?
My most difficult task lay first in finding a setting for the story. I wanted to provide accuracy in regard to the conditions of the concentration camp without making the novel too excruciating for the reader. It also had to be a place where a relationship between a Jewess and a Nazi officer felt believable. I finally decided on Theresienstadt, a Nazi transit camp for Auschwitz in Czechoslovakia during WWII. I was able to plot my story around a real historical event which occurred there, and some of my fictional characters I based loosely on prisoners’ first-hand accounts in the camp. Beyond that, I distilled much of my research and created fictional yet plausible situations to fit with my fictional “Esther” storyline. I’d like to say here, too, that it was important to me to provide the facts as they really occurred at Theresienstadt, and they’re included in my Author’s Note at the end of the story.



3) WHAT ROLE HAS HISTORICAL FICTION PLAYED IN PREPARING YOU FOR YOUR WRITING LIFE. ARE THERE ANY BOOKS THAT INSPIRED FOR SUCH A TIME?
Historical fiction has had such a tremendous influence on my writing! I learned to love history through reading some of my favorite authors through the years, “getting a history lesson without knowing you’re getting a history lesson.” The Book of Esther from the Bible was my inspiration for writing For Such A Time, but authors Corrie ten Boom, Elie Wiesel, David Morrell, and Gordon Glasco were among those who inspired me along the way. Ironic for someone who daydreamed during high school history class! J

ANY READER OF FOR SUCH A TIME RECOGNIZES HOW WELL THE STORY OF ESTHER TRANSPOSES TO A 20TH CENTURY CONTEXT. ARE THERE ANY OTHER BIBLICAL TALES YOU WOULD LIKE TO RETELL? Thanks, Rachel. Yes, absolutely! While I have no retelling stories in the works currently, I’d eventually like to explore writing about Rahab (Book of Joshua) Abigail (Book of 1 Samuel) or maybe Susanna (Book of Daniel.)

5) CAN YOU GIVE US A SNEAK PEEK INTO YOUR 2015 RELEASE?

I’m still typing away on the next novel for Bethany House, but I can tell you it’s another historical romance, this time set in Britain during WWI. The story involves a beautiful Suffragette and a mysterious aristocrat, with a dash of “Downton” and a bit of intrigue. NOT BY SIGHT should be out in summer of 2015.

Once again Kate, thanks so much for taking the time to answer questions about your masterpiece of a debut novel.

Rachel, I so appreciate your support, not only for your beautiful review of the story, but for hosting me today on your blog!


Visit Kate on the web
Find Kate on twitter

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Summer Reads

Quick and Snappy one-liner reviews


Pride Prejudice and Cheese Grits by Mary Jane Hathaway is a compellingly sweet, ultra-fun, Southern-fried homage to Austen. I particularly enjoyed a romance set in the world of academia as that is something that the CBA doesn’t explore often.   The author’s snarky (yes, snarky) and sassy rhetoric just kept the pages flying

Lady of Eve:by Tamara Leigh and THIS is the “clean” version. But, friends it is still sizzling. The tension is …. Well…. Sorry… needed to fan myself ;)  I was really impressed with this well-layered and thoughtful medieval romance.  I read it on a bus trip two and from Stratford to see a few plays and it was just the perfect distraction.  A perfect summer read for you historical fans


Afton of Margate Castle: by Angela Hunt What a sumptuous ride!  I had no idea that Hunt was capable of this level of narrative bliss. I mean, I knew she was good… but Afton was an entirely different and brilliant experience.  I read it on a reading-vacation and just absolutely swooned and swayed by the romance, the heartbreak, the meaty melodrama, the historical verisimilitude and the penchant for character and detail

The Troubadour’s Quest: I was so very sad one night when I was too tired, my eyelids drooping, to keep reading it before bed. I wanted to keep going and sleep just got in the way. There are mistaken identities, unrequited love, chivalrous deeds and a glaring, glowing sacrifice.

Stealing Adda by Tamara Leigh is a cerebral and wily look at a romance set against the travails and triumphs of a popular romance writer who is being poached by a rival company. I really enjoyed Leigh’s first-hand look into the industry as a whole especially when pitted against the changes we have seen even since this book’s first arrival on shelves.

Match of Wits: by Jen Turano is another romantic comedy in the same vein as its predecessors, light, fluffy, predictable and the perfect choice for a summer’s afternoon.


Full Steam Ahead by Karen Witemeyer excels at presenting an interesting part of history: steamship engineering and has just a waft of Beauty and the Beast sensibility in the folds of its central romance. 

Monday, July 21, 2014

That one time David Marciano followed me on twitter...( this is SO a teenage fan letter)

Once upon a time there was a Canadian girl named Rachel

When Rachel was an early teenager in the 90s, she thought David Marciano was the coolest thing on the planet.
OMG! 

Basically because he played Ray in her favourite show of the time, Due South.  Now Ray was a brilliant character and expertly acted.  And Ray was a romantic and Rachel LOVES romance.

For example:

1.) Ray loved his Buick Riviera! (Sigh... I mean who DOESN'T WANT A BUICK RIVIERA!)
2.)Ray told a story about his parents and how his father fell in love with his mother because she ate cheesecake with a knife and a fork which he thought was just fab
3.)Ray LOVED his city.  HE LOVED Chicago ( which, in Due South, is basically just 1990s-era Toronto, but you get the picture)
4.)Ray had two awesome girlfriends: one was an FBI agent he fell in love with on first sight and would "bet his soul on" and the other was a mafia don's sister---- oh my gosh and they dance to My Foolish Heart and an ex-wife that was played by his real-life wife OMG!

5.)Ray was a nostalgist: he lugged up an old pool table that belonged to his father. Now patriarch of his family and head of the homestead, he wanted to make sure the one memory he had of his absentee father was shared with his friends from work: mainly Benny the mountie and the lieutenant and Huey and Louie.
6.)Ray had a smile that lit up his eyes and transformed his face.  The actor and the character were synonymous... I thought Marciano must be Ray. I was young. HOW COULD HE NOT BE?
Nonsense, of course he was. All the good Ray stuff.
7.)Ray had an awesomely natural laugh.
8.)He also had this way of slightly shrugging his shoulders all innocent when you knew, deep down, he was a force to be reckoned with....
9.) Ray was the best friend ever.  Like he would do ANYTHING.  I like him.
10.) HE WAS THE BEST BIG BROTHER! He really took care of his sister Francesca, even when, like, Colm Feore showed up and was all: I AM PLAYING A TERRORIST
11.) Ray could decide what women he wanted to date by what aisle she shopped in at the grocery store.


Ray + Diefenbaker = EPIC



So, Rachel, knowing that Due South was filmed in Toronto thought that some fortuitous day she would just be walking about on a visit to the city she did not yet live in and bump into him. Because why not. It was her grand destiny.

It was her birthday wish from ages 12-16.. like the kind you do when you wish on stars and stuff ---when all the problems in your kid-universe amount to not finishing your homework.

And all the other girls were like: BRAD PITT! and THAT GUY FROM 'PARTY OF FIVE' and Rachel was like: umm. nope. I wanna meet David Marciano.

It never happened.


So she wrote him into a book that will never see the light of day: about a Broadway musical in Toronto and he played the conductor of the orchestra and he was THE BEST CHARACTER and she figured that it would somehow be published and she would be recognized as a literary prodigy and make a billion dollars from the film royalties....

(also, never happened. But, darnit, David Marciano, did I have a good role for you...)

Look here, Girl From the Matrix, let me find you some good wine because I am Italian and I know how



Then David Marciano followed her on twitter.   And it's ridiculous how giddy it made her. So giddy she started talking in the third person and wrote an ENTIRE blog post about it.

Because the internet is fabulous and her early teenage self could not have fathomed that this is the world she would someday live in...


A world that is bright and wonderful full of travel and opportunities and culture and art, where she lives in the city that occupied her mind in the 90s, where David Marciano found an awesome role on Homeland ( a show she doesn't watch, but nods respectfully at )

and where David Marciano follows her on twitter.
I've had the opportunity to meet many celebrities and interact with several on social media.  But this one wins.


This one is the coolest. Of all Time.

so, tables turned, who is your favourite Social Media run in?

Saturday, July 19, 2014

SHHHHH ~ you haven't seen me ;)

Still at the Dickens conference here in glorious Chicago

and skipping the annual general meeting to read CC Humphrey's AMAZING new novel back at my dorm room


Thursday, July 17, 2014

I Hear Fictional Voices of My Own Making!

So I am at this Dickens Conference and really am having a fabulous time of it all and learning a ton and just soaking up all of this knowledge and the fact that anywhere I turn in a sea of strangers, I automatically have commonalities with all of them.

Today, one of the brilliant lecturers, a gent from Kent, England, late of the University there ( and who was able to tell me about the imaginative typography of the marshes so I can someday trace the great Great Expectations Literary Tour of Dreams)  mentioned how Dickens was so attuned to his characters that he ( among other things) .....

a.) knew far more about them than what made the page--- hence discussions with his illustrators with characteristics and nuances that were never interwoven into their literary lives in print

b.) that he knew that his time with them was tenuous---he was their keeper until they set out into the wide world, were appropriated by many, and he would encounter them in varied, strange and wonderful ways 

c.) he could HEAR THEM TALKING TO HIM. He knew his characters so well that he could hear their voices.

Of course, as is the case with an enthusiastic collective of people all milling and mulling serendipitously over a shared concept, there were gasps of appreciation and revelling in our favourite characters and personages from "Dickensland" and his wide canon as well as the depth to which he knew the page-friends that would spring from his pen and into our heads and hearts


... Of course ....


But, it made me cherish my writing ( I'm not Dickens. I am not comparing myself to Dickens. Heck! )   insofar as experience because..... bloggies.... I can hear the voices of my characters.

I know their voices, their inflections. I have that. I have talked before about the physical ache I had when I sent my most recent book into the world and that is borne of the fact that, like Dickens before me, I was so in tune with them, and so invested in them and so close to them mentally and emotionally that I can make out each inflection. They yap at me.  They jabber.


It doesn't happen with every book I have written. But the most recent?  My lovely female detectives and the men in their adventurous lives?  I can hear them.


Look! i am in CHICAGO! 

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Rachel in Chicago

Hi bloggosphere,


I am currently in Chicago!!!! with the fabulous editor of Dickensblog, our friend Gina Dalfonzo as well as a bunch of other Dickensian enthusiasts.

Looking forward to having lots of fun and stories to share!



Monday, July 14, 2014

MUSKETEERS !!!!



I am SO into this show right now and you should be too!


Like I love Athos to distraction: he is the Fleur de Lys Sydney Carton


he deserves this super romantic snapshot sequence in filtered romantic light


\
And then there is "I was Lancelot before, Remember?" Aramis He has credentials!



Saturday, July 12, 2014

Even Christians watch Game of Thrones

I should preface this by saying I do not write this recommending that believers watch Game of Thrones.  It is very intense viewing and will be obviously offensive to many. I certainly shiver to think anyone under the age of 18 would even go near it, no matter its popularity and allure.  Further, I find a lot of the violence and sexual content completely gratuitous.    I do, however, want to address the fact that many people of faith are drawn to the story and watch it, despite its dishonourable content.  Several Christians of my acquaintance, including myself, sheepishly admit to it, hold semi-private conversations and indulge. To those who cannot possibly understand why those who are cited to live a moral existence would be drawn to “worldly filth” I write this to perhaps give a smidgeon of understanding as to why Christians watch something so unprecedentedly embraced by society-at-large. It is a cultural Leviathan.  Next, I should offer a caveat, if you find yourself to be someone who struggles with content that is explicit and this is something that might cause you to teeter on a downfall or inspire you to act in a way less than holy, then stay away. Garbage in-garbage out.    But I have faith in fellow believers. I believe they can watch, engage, discuss, take the good parts and spit out the bad.  I believe that media doesn’t have to seep into our bones and force us to act in unholy ways. Mostly I think that believers should be aware and not immediately condemn without acknowledging or exploring why something is popular and what their fellow followers might find worthy therein.





Game of Thrones: believe me! The writing is brilliant.  Those history buffs will find so many parallels between Martin’s fictional world and the historical War of the Roses. Beyond the cursing and the gratuitous sexuality, it is brilliant. Ingenious. I can think of few other  artistic endeavours so epic in scope.  And few that sprawl over so many characters, viewpoints, narrative perspectives and, even, within the context of the imaginary world, countries.   It is several balls being juggled in the air and each character is well-developed and each of their world’s fully realized. It is breath-takingly intense, highly political and endlessly surprising---- to add it forces its viewers to confront the darkest parts of human nature.
Here are some of the reasons your friends might be leaving Sunday night service and turning on gasp! HBO:


Christians (like all other humans) are lit by a spark to find a world they can mirror to their own: despite its debauchery, dark and light exist everywhere. Violence and civil war are rampant throughout the world. There are several different examples of religious practice within the world of Martin’s Westeros. When Battlestar Galactica aired several of my Christian friends engaged in discourse on its current parallels.  Jesus spoke in parables for a reason: we are drawn, as humans, to stories which outline some of the principles and shortcomings humans are in possession of and culpable of.


Honour in the chivalrous sense is one still highly regarded.   The knights of yore embody a moral code that we as Christians strive toward.   Brienne of Tarth is one of the strongest female role models on television. She knows what it is like to dedicate her life to a cause that might result in her death.  She remains pure of heart



We are conditioned to try and find the good and the redemptive-- even in the most unlikely examples. I mean, honestly, if these characters live long enough they might prove to have hidden depths.   I must confess to wanting to see what their true colours will reveal. Will they be loyal, will they betray or dissent? I so achingly want to be proven wrong by villainous acts and yearn to find bonds between them that might prove them to be redemptive figures. Jaime and Tyrion, Arya and the Hound---what interpersonal relationships might force these somewhat depraved examples of self-serving humanity to display snippets of light.    ( I love the bear-in-the-arena rescue scene between Brienne and Jaime! That’s what I’m talking about! )  Many people would admit to being attuned to the unexpected fates of the characters---and Martin is notorious for “killing people off” and no one is sure from book-to-book or, here, from episode-to-episode who will survive--- but I do think we are allured to characters we want to prove us wrong.


We like Christ figures--- and disciples to a cause: and, if those in their pure Biblical sensibility are not so clearly drawn, those who die for a cause or strive to uphold their cause. Think of darling Sam and Jon Snow up on the wall defending their world from the beastly, dastardly creatures beyond.     To the same end, the men who died defending the Wall from intruders, asserting their honour to death and never swaying from their purpose, late in the most recent season.   Think of Ned Stark who, face it, was one of the most honourable figures in a smattering of less-than-worthy inhabitants.

We identify with outsiders: Jesus was an outsider. He coloured outside the lines and was the thorn in the side of political discourse.  He shook up thousands of years of stern religious teaching. He was a radical.

We are all about stories that implore us to finish the Quest: think of the popularity of Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter within Christian circles.


And finally, because I like to plug my favourite character------

Tyrion Lanister: sorry it’s true. He is a very interesting and engage characters, sometimes Machiavellian, the product of a family who outcast him and often deserving our compassion and empathy. He’s a great character.



Thursday, July 10, 2014

What this pre-published novelist learned from her popular published article....


 Even though my publication dream is fiction, I often contribute to other sites ---with book reviews—and with statements on church culture.I recently wrote a piece that has garnered some of the response I expected it to, but on a larger scale than I could have anticipated.  I knew going into it that it would be an interesting subject that would inspire some dissonance and I did the best I could to prepare.  

I used this experience to note what is helpful and what is not when working with a difficult topic on a large social media forum.


Sit back and watch: learn what your tone is. Learn and be surprised at how your words are read by those who don’t know you from a hole in the ground.  Take notes. If you thought you got a point across in a lucid manner and yet people stumble with it, you can note it for next time.


Recognize the banner you are presenting.  Everything can be shared, tweeted, linked and copied and pasted. Snippets can be taken out of context.  The internet is a wonderful sphere for dialogue and discussion. But it is also a Leviathan.   It can swallow you up.


With weighty subjects come weight and responsibility.  It is your job to make sure you are speaking in the most balanced way you know how.  Don’t post for the sake of posting. Make sure that you feel that you are speaking as a disciple. Make sure you are read up on the theology and scriptures you reference ( whether blatantly or not ) and have an underlying thesis. Know your missive.  I was lucky to have an editor who knew my intention and was invaluably helpful.  Run it by some of your friends and critique partners.


People who have taken the time to share emotional and personal responses are reaching out and deserve feedback.  Speak in love.  Get your Ephesians on. Bank time to respond to them each in turn and make sure you are understanding their view—all Atticus Finch like—in the best way you can.  We are fishes swimming in different ponds with different worldviews who all feel we have the right and best intentions. This can cause dissension and collision ( which is wonderful if done in an informed way) but don’t be a catalyst for petty hate and indignation.


As Christians we are responsible for our words: but we cannot feel guilty over points and intentions whose tone was apparently misread and we must trust that our Great reader knows our heart and thus our intent.  You cannot be responsible for those who will glean certain tenets from your discussion than you intended and you must be prepared for that.

 
Choose which forums to engage in and, most of all, choose which hills you are willing to die on. Don’t fight anything merely for the sake of fighting it. Rather, ensure that the only dissonance you provide to discussion comes from a core belief that your response will somehow enlighten or is meted from your deepest convictions.  The internet is a marvelous place filled with people from all walks of life, many experiences and many viewpoints. Invariably, they will differ from some of your own. 


Being moderate and polite doesn’t mean relinquishing your backbone.   Recognize that you may be Proverbs 31:8-ing and recognize that you may be speaking for a demographic who don’t feel that they have a voice.


If you find yourself coming up against a certain statement over and over again, write a response you can copy and paste.  Edit it and read it and pray over it. That way you have been ruminating on it to the best of your ability and are not just throwing immediate reactions into the world. Pause. Meditate. Hesitate.

Keep an open blank document to write knee-jerk reactions to comments that stir you: that way you get it out of your system without regretting pressing send. Who knows who will see and share those hasty gut responses. Be Ye Smart.

You are being watched:by One whose name you are writing in. By non-believers whose only initiation to the topic may be your social media presence and by industry professionals.   Don’t write anything that can ostracize you.  Your viewpoints may differ from others but the way you present them is how you should be measured.

Separate the comment from the commentator: it’s hard ---but don’t immediately impose personal judgments. Take these things apart and recognize that the internet is wonderful for dialogue but it is not the same as reading tone and body language over coffee.......



Don’t be silent. God gave you a voice. In this case He gave me the opportunity to write a piece that reflects part of the underscore of a novel I currently have on submission.  I gleaned that the dialogue is relevant and thus that my novel does have a place. What a great feeling.   

Monday, July 07, 2014

My Writing Process: Blog Tour


I was tagged by the wonderful Kiersti Plog and while I didn't round up anyone else to participate, Please feel free to carry onward! I first learned of Kiersti last year at my first ever ACFW banquet where she won the Genesis for Historical Fiction. I was madly attracted to her story ideas and have followed her blog ever since. Here is her blog post on her writing process: http://kierstiplog.com/blogtour

My "Bible" for the Bachelor Girl's Guide to Murder: research and character notes




1.)What am I working on: I am kind of mapping out the second of a proposed trilogy I am shopping about a pair of Edwardian female detectives who don male clothes and solve mysteries. They're very Sherlock and Watson: attempting to employ their fictional heroes' methods of deduction and are consulting detectives: kind of anomalous in an age where women were mainly relegated to hearth and home ...


But a current CBA buzzword is somehow Contemporary Romance --the industry, for those of us who follow it, is a bit of a pendulum, swinging this way and that, I want to make sure I always have something in my back pocket for my agent and to show--without, of course, compromising the integrity of my voice. So, I am trying my hand at a Contemporary Romance set during a monumental season of a Summer Stock theatre festival. I love musicals and theatre and performance and I find this is just the most fun backdrop.


2.) How does my work differ from others of its genre: I think, especially in Christian historical fiction, marriage is the endgame. My heroines dapple in romance, certainly; but they will be not be swallowed into a union as some fictional counterparts are --- inasmuch as they maintain their independence. So often, characters that are married at the end of book one in a series are somehow shifted to the sidelines in the next book so that another character can take centre stage. I also think there are not a lot of Christian historicals wherein the primary relationship centres on female friendship. When my agent came back from ICRS last year and spoke of the rise in romantic suspense and suggested I try my hand at something Sherlockian--- I wanted to impose my voice and unique perspective on CBA fiction as well as feature two remarkably strong women who colour outside the lines of propriety. Finally, my heroines are Canadian. Yes, they cross the border into the States( the second book will take place in Chicago ); but they are not American by birth. In my contemporary romance (in embryo), my hero is a Chicago native who transplants himself into a small Canadian town for the most surprising of reasons. The culture clash is fun.

Long ago brainstorm session for Jem and Merinda, my bachelor girl detectives, on white board. Of course, things changed a lot; but their core concepts and motivations and character traits are the same 




3.) Why do I write What I do: I write what I do on behalf of women like me who often find it difficult to find heroines we relate to in Christian fiction. Strong, independent and intelligent women who maybe don't fit into the domestic role but still have a lot to offer in a strange but intriguing divorce from the usual feminine archetypes. I've read Christian fiction since I was a little kid and read about five books in this demographic and genre a week so I am well-versed in the tropes and conventions; but also in its limitations. I would like to see it appropriated by some stronger, edgier voices while still painting within the lines of grace and redemption. I'm also Canadian--- not "exotic" by any stretch of the imagination but certainly a minority in the CBA. I think its important for the CBA to recognize that while America is the hub of publication, the readership is worldwide. I also write Christian fiction because I am called to do it. If I wasn't called to do it, I would write detective stories for teenagers. But I just have a passion for this world and this industry and have since I was a little kid. So, CBA fiction it must be. I think stories can be transformative. I think words and sequences, filters of narrative dark and light allow an author to reach into the mind of readers. It is a really weighty task to be charged with reaching inside the mind of a reader and, hopefully, using discernment to impress upon them themes of grace, redemption and the most amazing Story ever told.


4.) How does my writing process work:
I piece together ideas and sew them up like a patchwork quilt. If I have an idea for a scene or sequence, I write it immediately, not caring about whether it is at the beginning of the book, I just need to get it done before the idea and its inspiration goes away. Then, with historical fiction, research. Tons of research. Hours and hours of reading and mapping. My first shopped novel was set during the Halifax explosion so I immersed myself in all of that and book-ended that with the amazing online photographic archives. When I decided to set my Sherlock idea in Edwardian Toronto, it was easy in the fact that I live in the City and I had it as a canvas ( albeit a 21st century one ) near to me. To supplement what I could learn from roaming about, I spent weekends at the archives ( the joys of being a writer with a full time job) and spent hours looking through archival photographs and city plans. To add, I read everything about the city's social, cultural and legal formations as well as the immigrant influx of the city to get a sense of what I would do. It was during some reading that I stumbled upon Toronto's Morality Squad: a legal means of restraining women suspected of vagrancy that I really delved deeper. Fashion, theatre, automobiles, and journalism supplemented a lot. Gosh, the research. So, after I had all that research, I white-boarded. Big bristol boards with marker and I thought up all the scenes that I wanted and needed to happen in order for a stern beginning, middle, end, and of course, it being an homage to Sherlock, denouement. Then I created a Bible of all character facts. Proposing a trilogy means I cannot have anything anachronistic when it comes to my characters, so I log all sorts of things. Once I had those things well under way I started writing. I wrote and wrote and wrote. I would say maybe 60% of what I wrote ended up shaping the final product. For the 100 000 words we submitted, I wrote twice that. It was experimental; but going into the next book, I know what I am doing and have the characters and their world and so a lot of that preliminary stuff has gotten easier. I am off to Chicago next week where I hope to visit a few places integral to my second detective novel as well as get a feel for the hometown of my Cont Romance hero.




Your turn:
Step one: acknowledge the person and site who involved you in the tour

Step two: Answer the 4 questions below about your writing process:


1) What am I working on?


2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?

3) Why do I write what I do?


4.) How does your Writing Process work

Stratford: Man of La Mancha and Crazy for You

So, Stratford! Such a good place, right?  and such good theatre.
There were a few seasons where I felt they were trying to find their pace again and defaulted to my die-hard Shaw love; but when they announced they were doing Crazy for You and La Mancha this year for their musical selections, I knew that I really wanted to go.

For those of my blog readers who are unfamiliar with Stratford: it is a premiere Shakespeare festival which began in the early 1950s by a journalist who wanted to revitalize the town's tourism.  You will understand if you go there, it is gorgeous. At first it was mainly Shakespeare and while they still feature several plays by the Bard a year, it has expanded.  Because it is so popular and the tourism from all over the world is so high, the talent is high and you can expect first-rate productions with talent who has done their stint in Toronto, the West End and Broadway. But, to add to this, they use mostly homegrown talent which allows Canadians to be proud of their thespian output.

Some famous actors who have found home on the Stratford Stage include James Mason, Alec Guinness, Maggie Smith,  Jason Robards, etc., etc., etc.,

The other cool thing about Stratford is that it goes out of its way to provide an optimum theatrical and cultural experience which includes, of course, the gorgeous grounds the Festival theatre is set on  and the sites around town: the Avon river and its famous swans, the Shakespearian gardens,  and the quaint 19th Century typical-Ontario town.  




Crazy for You is a plotless wonder and it is supposed to be because it is built around amazing dance sequences and a bevvy of standard classics by Ira and George Gershwin.    I must confess to being a little confused that they chose the Festival Theatre ( theatre in the round a la the Globe) as the venue for the massive tap sequences; but they used the space as well they could.  The orchestra was amazing, the chorus was amazing. The only other time I have seen the show professionally was when I was a teenager and it was in Toronto at the Royal Alex (for years) and saw Ruthie Henshall and Mickey Rooney and so I cannot compare all of the choices they made but I can applaud the casting and the fresh take on the Susan Stroman-famous dance numbers.  Our Bobby Child is basically Gene Kelly in talent, scope and adorkableness ( but with a better singing voice)  and the other stand-out for me was Tom Rooney who played Bela Zangler with all of the physical comedy that sends What Causes That over the top.





Actually, it's a good thing I found Tom Rooney so exceptionally talented because after a few hours of rambling, exploring and pub-eating, I crossed over to the Avon Theatre and saw him as Miguel de Cervantes in Man of La Mancha.

Guys, can we just get the problems that Man of La Mancha has out of the way? When done poorly, it is poor. Like, really poor. It is not an easy musical ---what with its whole meta thing--- and it is not a happy musical. It is set in the squalor of a prison and you know that several of the inmates will be led out to be tortured and purified (burned at stake ) by the Inquisitors.   And yet, this is the stage-within-a-stage that launches the picaresque tale of a delusional knight errant, Don Quixote, and his faithful squire Sancho Panza.   They embark on a castle---actually a decrepit inn run by a sympathetic innkeeper and housing rowdy muleteers who are abusive of the lady-of-the-knight Aldonza, whom Don Quixote immediately replaces as Dulcinea: holder of his heart and lady fair he will slay dragons for .


The music is also unbalanced in the show (not the cast's fault; nor the orchestra's part, rather the score and songs themselves) and while Impossible Dream and the title song sat very well in Tom Rooney's voice, the range was evidently difficult when it came to Robin Hutton's turn as Aldonza.  Not entirely her fault, I cannot imagine how difficult that part is to sing.  It's unbalanced but the cast and the choices made here are amazing. I ADORED Tom Rooney and you will too!



There were some great directorial choices here and I especially liked the exchange between Aldonza and Cervantes that you see in the video below.