Thursday, July 14, 2016

Guest Blog... Come on by.

Today I am guest blogging at Anastasia Pollack's Blog, Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers. 

Want to know more about the setting and inspiration of my Marshall House Mystery novels?

In this blog I give details about three stops on my research trip to London, UK.

anastasiapollack.blogspot.ca/2016/07/travel-to-london-with-guest-author.html




The Old Operating Theatre at the original St. Thomas hospital, now open as a museum.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Reading Maud: LM Montgomery Heritage Society Book Club - The Blue Castle

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of attending a new book club hosted by the LM Montgomery Heritage Society in Norval, Ontario. The book club is a new venture by the group to help the community celebrate their most famous resident, LM Montgomery, and bring more attention to her vast legacy of literary works.  From 1926-1935, Montgomery lived at the Manse, a Victorian red-brick charmer that still still stands next to the Norval Presbyterian Church. The LM Montgomery Heritage Society has recently launched a fundraising campaign to buy the Manse with the intention of transforming it into a museum about the author.

Even though I live a fair distance away from Norval (a good 1.5 hours driving), I knew as soon as I heard about the book club that I had to join. Not only is LM Montgomery one of my favourite authors, but the first book to be studied was THE BLUE CASTLE, which is my absolute favourite book written by her. The book is the only book solely set in Ontario and features an area known as Muskoka, Ontario’s cottage country north of Toronto, and actually only a very short drive from where I currently live.

The book is about twenty-nine year old Valancy Stirling, a self-described homey woman  who has never had any marriage prospects in her entire life and as a result is forced to endure a dull, suppressed existance with an overbearing mother and ruthlessly disapproving aunt. In fact, the entire Stirling clan seems determined to cut down Valancy at every turn, comparing her to her cousin Olive, who has beauty and beaus aplenty. Things take an interesting turn though when Valancy’s doctor tells her that she has a severe heart condition and can only expect to live for another year. Facing her own death, Valancy begins her own kind of rebellion, defying her family’s firmly held beliefs and forging her own path into the future that eventually leads her to love and a freedom she never knew before.

What’s great about the book club is that many of the attendees not only know the story of THE BLUE CASTLE, but they also know the story of Lucy Maud Montgomery as well. Many parallels were drawn between the life of Valancy and Maud.  Firstly, Montgomery did not marry Rev. Ewan Macdonald until she was well into womanhood. Instead she remained in Cavendish caring for her grandmother, who had raised her, while keeping her engagement secret. For this, Montgomery most likely endured the same demeaning comments directed at Valancy for being an old maid or "spinster". During this period in history, women were often believed to have little value without a man which forced unmarried women to rely on their families to support them. Valancy was one such woman, afraid to say or do anything to contradict her family whom she depended upon for her livelihood.

It was also observed that the strict rules of the Stirling home were similar to the strict upbringing experienced by Maud. For instance, as a child and young woman, even after earning a tidy sum from the success of her early books, Maud was not permitted to change the décor of her bedroom.  As well, both Maud and Valancy were not permitted to do much outside the regular routine set out by the exacting standards of their caregivers.  In the book, Valancy escapes her daily drudgery by dreaming of her Blue Castle, a fantasy world where she can change and move about anything at will.  In her diaries, Maud confessed to have a fantasy world of her own in which she says she often retreated to when her days with her grandparents were particularly difficult to bare.

I noted during the book club meeting that to me the book had a very feminist message embedded in it, where Maud depicts the constricted life of a Edwardian/post-war woman and then gives her the fortitude to set her own path breaking free of the tethers of society, in this case the exacting standards of the Stirling clan. A book club member pointed out that when THE BLUE CASTLE was first published it was banned by a number of schools as being too risqué. Authorities feared it would encourage rebelliousness. It was also noted that the book was released at the same time Maud moved with her family to Norval from Leaskdale, Ontario, a change that saved her from having to face any disapproval from parishioners of her husband’s congregation. The move allowed Maud a fresh start and a clean slate with which to make an impression.

From my perspective THE BLUE CASTLE is one of the best works written by LM Montgomery. In it she explores many themes including societal expectations and breaking free from the bonds of fear, but it also explores the meaning of real friendship and Christian charity. The romance as well is very sophisticated, reminiscent of Gilbert and Anne, but with a connection to the natural world of Ontario’s Muskoka that makes it shine all on its own.



Next month we are reading JANE OF LANTERN HILL. Join in and check back for a full report on what was discussed at the meeting, until then, happy reading Kindred Spirits!

Monday, April 4, 2016

PRAYERS FOR THE DYING Cover

I'm so pleased to reveal the cover for my new book, PRAYERS FOR THE DYING. 



It's the fifth book in the Marshall House Mystery series, featuring Peter Ainsley and Margaret Marshall. Now available for pre-orders with Amazon for release May 31st. Tell your friends. Add it to your Goodreads. Help me celebrate an amazing milestone for what is quickly becoming a must-read series in historical mysteries.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Another Creative Side of Me

A little known fact about me is that I went to art school for four years in place of traditional high school. A bit like a Canadian Juilliard, I auditioned in Grade 8 for entry into an Integrated Arts Program at Eastwood Collegiate Institute in Kitchener, Ontario. While doing the standard school credits, my timetable also included a HEAVY dose of drama, visual arts and vocal music. It also included a specialized English stream that focused heavily on Shakespeare and other aspects of the arts community.

 Due to my lack of confidence and an abundance of anxiety, my drama performances left a lot of room for improvement. My artwork, as well, lacked refinement. I tried and tried, but I wasn't able to convert that masterpiece in my head into something equally stunning on canvas. Somehow, in the four years of school, I was able to make a name for myself as a writer. I loved writing and was often called upon by my classmates to write skits and plays. My writing seemed to be only place that I felt comfortable, even though I never won awards or much recognition from others.

While many of my fellow graduates went on to study the arts in post-secondary I couldn't. Not only did I lack the funds, but I also lacked family support which required me to get a diploma as quickly as possible. I needed to work to support myself and four years of university with low employment prospects (that starving artist trope holds true in many cases) wasn't the type of employment that could pay back my student loans.

So I went to Journalism school and never looked back. I always said I would go back, maybe work in community theatre, perhaps volunteer, and maybe get back into painting one day.

But then I got married and had children.

As time went on my adult life separated me farther and farther from that artistic side of me. I did, however, raise my children with frequent visits to the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO). I've done art projects with them and taught them about Van Gogh, Matisse and Renoir, to name a few. We listen to classical music and they've taken music lessons. I've loved teaching them about Shakespeare and taking them to the Stratford Festival Theatre and Shaw Festival in Niagara. We don't live near Kitchener any more so they don't have access to the same school I did, but they are still active in their regular high school's arts activities and that makes me happy.

My intense study of the arts has affected my life in surprising ways. Not only can I paint baseboard trim WITHOUT the use of painter's tape, but I can also decorate a cake like nobody's business.



My son's 13th birthday cake. He had a Dungeons & Dragon's party.

Both my kids' birthdays are in March and ever since they were little I've made their cakes. I'd ask them what theme they wanted their cake to be and have gotten a range of replies over the years. Pirates. Princesses, Lego, Minecraft,  I have to say my skill with icing has improved more than my skill with a paintbrush.


My daughter's Sweet 16 cake.




A Fairy House cake for my daughter. 



A Minecraft cake I made last year, complete with checker board insides. This was finicky but fun to reveal at the party. 



A Lego Pirates cake, which is really a Bundt cake and ramekin dish inverted and covered with icing.


My first rosette cake. 

I used fondant once and we all hated it. For the most part I stick with the basics and haven't resorted to buying every gadget and gizmo available for the budding cake artist. I have a few piping bags, and have purchased maybe six tips total over the years often buying just one tip at a time when I have a specific technique in mind. Buttercream icing is my go-to recipe and this year I stumbled upon this video on Youbtube that has helped me make the most mouthwatering icing ever, 

Getting creative and coming up with a design is the funniest part of the process. I am often surprised at how well some have turned out, but there have also been times when it didn't work out as well as I had planned. It doesn't matter because according to my kids they have all been wonderful.

The last time I stepped on stage may have been over a decade ago (ahem..or more) and I'll never be a famous artist, but my background in the arts has impacted my life in so many other ways. I don't think of those years of study as a waste, but rather a huge step in the culmination of skills that I can draw upon to do some fun and amazing things, including, but not limited to, writing some stellar novels. 

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Ending the Hangover; Loving the Process

You know the feeling... you've devoted numerous hours of your free time lost in a fascinating book, learning about new locales and befriending interesting characters. Somehow in the process you've become enraptured and begin looking for any excuse to ignore your daily life so you can crack open your new favourite book hoping to get lost in its pages. So rare is this feeling. How wonderful it feels to have found a story, an author, a protagonist that speaks to you like no one else. And then...

It's over.

If you're lucky the author will have a backlog of material to dive into while you wait, but sometimes you're not so lucky.

The book hangover is the same for authors as well. A writer like me can spend a year or more on a single book, researching, plotting, writing and revising. The book becomes my lover and nemesis. My friend and foe. I get used to the rhythmic push and pull of storytelling. One week I am on top of the world, pleased with the progression of my story, and the next I fight the urge to highlight it all and hit 'delete'. As I come closer to the end, the crescendo, the piece takes on a presence all it's own. With one final read through I can feel the pride blossoming deep within me. My imaginary friends have come through for me once again, aiding my desire to write really, really good stories. We are one, them and I. We did it. We produced another tale to enthral and entertain.

And then it's over.

 The only way I know to end the sagging feeling of the book hangover is to dive into the next one almost as soon as the draft gets to my editor's email inbox. Months later, while readers are busy devouring my new release, leaving pleasant reviews (and sometimes not so pleasant ones) I am already deep into the next project. It's a feeble attempt to revive that feeling of euphoria, the feeling of escape and acceptance granted to me by my characters.

Don't get me wrong, I love hearing from readers about their experiences with Peter and Margaret. Often those notes come to me at very serendipitous times (usually when I am pulling my hair out over a particularly tricky passage or when I'm reeling from another lack lustre review). This period of reader celebration becomes a part of the ebb and flow of novel writing as well. Their enthusiasm becomes infectious, spurring me on when I feel like giving up and sometimes bringing plot ideas to light that I hadn't thought of before. And so it goes.

In the end, it's not about book sales or Amazon rankings. Writing a book is really about the intricate relationship between author, reader and the characters they cherish.


Monday, January 18, 2016

Change it up...Introducing A Marshall House Mystery series

After much thought, I've decided to rename my mystery series. Instead of being called A Peter Ainsley Mystery, my current series will be known as A Marshall House Mystery.

Why the need for a change?

The answers are simply this.... Although a wonderful character and definitely the mainstay of the books, Peter Ainsley is just one of the ensemble that readers have come to know and love. Margaret has proven to be invaluable not only to her brother, Peter, but also me, as the writer. Her involvement in the mysteries have become more and more evident as the series progressed.

As a proud feminist, I don't think I would be true to my beliefs if I allowed this strong female character's contributions to be overshadowed by her those of her brother. I feel that calling the series, A Marshall House series, will allow recognition of both Margaret and Peter as the protagonists, able to carry a story completely on their own or merely play a supporting role.

My plan for the Marshall House Mystery series includes six books.

CHORUS OF THE DEAD
DEAD SILENT
THE DEAD AMONG US
SWEET ASYLUM
PRAYERS FOR THE DYING (spring 2016)
SHADOWS OF MADNESS (spring 2017)

Once the sixth book is concluded my plans for the these characters change. How? I'm not exactly sure. There's no point in getting ahead of ourselves, but I do know that the series as it stands now will change. Future books will take on a new perspective, new series name and perhaps new branding.

Re-naming the Peter Ainsley Mystery series is part of my overall plan to create definable groupings of stories so that no matter how Margaret, Peter, Jonas and Julia change readers will be able to follow their tales and enjoy a good mystery,

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Soft Kitty & Copyright

Today a news story broke about the heirs of poet Edith Newlin suing CBS for using a slightly altered version of Mrs. Newlin's poem "Soft Kitty" on their hit television show, The Big Bang Theory. The use of the poem on the show was so well received it generated a host of paraphernalia (t-shirts, posters and stuffed cats) that not only helped viewers connect with the hit show, but also furthered the network's marketing reach.

So far today I have read three articles regarding the news including BBC, The New York Times and now CBC here in Canada. As with most stories I find myself inexplicably drawn to read the comments on the news outlet's social media pages. I guess it's my people-watching nature that begs me to find out what various people think about when it comes to what's happening in our world. I must say the comments left me rather astonished at the disregard for an artist's work and their rights to its use. Perhaps we as a society are influenced by our internet-easy ways that we perceive artwork as public domain. We think nothing of copying and pasting a beautiful computer altered fairy scene or landscape picture all over the internet with little regard to the original photographer. Heck, an entire social media venue, Pinterest, exists to satisfy our need to share images we find awe-inspiring.

Perhaps it's The Big Bang Theroy's popularity that leads many fans to chose sides so early on. The show is in it's 9th season, a testament to it's appeal. Humans are not free of bias and our celebrity worshipping culture tends to render us apologists whenever we hear of our favourite celebrity friends getting into any sort of trouble. Take Jian Ghomeshi for instance, a b-list celebrity here in Canada, who fell from grace in October 2014 when allegations of sexual assault surfaced in the media. Ghomeshi tried to spin public opinion by decrying the allegations as "an ex-girlfriend with an axe to grind". Many of his fans were quick to jump to his defence, even after only hearing his side. As more and more details surfaced regarding his improper advances and completely abhorrent behaviour the support for Ghomeshi dwindled and then completely dried up as five charges were laid against him and numerous women came forward with allegations. We, as a society, tend to side with the familiar faces and look less kindly on the unknown person. We may even tell ourselves "I know Sheldon and Leonard. There must be something else going on."


Even if we put aside our celebrity bias we are left with an inherent distrust of any litigation. It's been my experience that the general population is grossly uneducated on the issues around lawsuits and the court system. We tend to rely heavily on the court of public opinion and not on the real facts of law.

Many of the social media comments I saw included the question; "why now? Why would a lawsuit be launched now after CBS has been using the poem for years?"

To me, the question is irrelevant. Whether the poem just aired on screen last night or last decade, it doesn't matter. Mrs. Newlin's rights extended 50 years following her 2004 death and until 2054 the rights to the poem remain with her heirs. That's the law. From what I have gathered from the articles, the lawsuit was initiated recently after one of Mrs. Newlin's daughters completed an online search, looking for material to use in a biography of her mother's life, and discovered the show had been using her mother's poem for a number of seasons.

"Somebody is clearly low on cash" was another sound bite I saw relentlessly repeated.

Of course because lawsuits like these are inexpensive for the initiator and fairly easily undertaken [insert sarcasm]. In reality lawsuits are freaking STRESSFUL. They wreck havoc on personal lives and often result in loss of respect amongst people who perceive the pursuant as an opportunist. Lawsuits are costly in regards to time, money and community respect. Even if the case is found in favour of the filer the very fact that they filed in the first place is a strike against their respectability. No one enters into a lawsuit lightly. It's our ignorance regarding civil law that feeds our mistrust. Somehow in North America we have equated a lawsuit with easy money and that makes us hard working, middle class souls angry. As far as I see it, we need to stop looking down our noses at lawsuits and we need to reserve judgement. Some lawsuits are complete shyte filed by rich elite with nothing better to do, while most are legitimate lawsuits that bring to light issues that need to be addressed. Often times a lawsuit filed for millions of dollars is settled for much, much less.

"Please, the writer should just be happy for the exposure."

Of all the comments I read this one got my goat. Rising musicians are often asked to play at clubs and venues for free, their payment? Exposure. We don't ask Rhianna to perform for free or Justin Beiber. We understand that they have expenses and compensate them for their time and talents. A struggling artist should be treated just as fairly, if not more so. A writer has a similar plight. The poem Mrs. Newlin wrote is most likely part of a large body of work produced over what appears to me to be a long, long lifetime. At the very least she should be given proper credit and even though she has passed away she deserves the compensation. It doesn't matter that her work received notoriety after her death. Had her poem been so successful in life it would have meant a nice nest egg to pass on to her family.

There is a reason copyright extends beyond a writer's death. Imagine how society would take advantage of an artist if we knew their work was public domain upon their death. We'd never buy another CD, novel or Thomas Kincade puzzle while the artist lived. We'd quickly catch on to the fact that if we just wait until they die we can all have a free for all. We'd be producing Christmas cards and music videos left and right, using the artwork of the greats who kicked the bucket just yesterday. Oh the profits we could make off the hard work of the artists. Imagine what would have happened after Terry Pratchet's death this past year. All the money from Mr. Pratchet's books divided up amongst overnight presses cashing in on an author's death notice. It turns my stomach. Mr. Pratchet would have been hard pressed to create a living from his art and may not have been able to produce such a prolific portfolio of work.

Creating art, whether it's music, novels or paintings, is hard, hard work. I personally know what it's like to be a mid-list author. I have four books to my credit, and all are selling nicely. From what I understand I make a good wage for an author. I make a great wage for a self published author. Do I make enough to say I make a living? No. Not even close. I spend a year on each book. Which amounts to a minimum of 10 hours a week, but more often is 20 hours or more depending which stage of the process I am on. Am I fairly compensated for my 10-20 hours a week? No. It's even worse when I find my books illegally sold on a pirating site. It's my words, my hard work benefiting the bottom line of someone who only copied and pasted. It's theft, plain and simple.

I will readily admit that I hold a bias when it comes to copyright cases. I am not ashamed to admit that when faced with a news story like Soft Kitty that my knee-jerk reaction is to side with the artist, the artist who shouldn't be expected to work for free, for exposure, for multi-billion dollar conglomerate cashing in on the work of nursery school teacher from New Hampshire.

*I've included a picture of my cat, Theadora, who is a very soft kitty.