Tuesday, July 29, 2008

March by Geraldine Brooks

Hope I didn't scare y'all with my "hippie girl" stuff (as Rene put it *g*).

On to other things now, such as my review of March by Geraldine Brooks. It won the 2006 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and after reading it, I understand why it was accorded such an honour.

Readers of Louisa May Alcott's Little Women will remember that throughout the classic tale of four young girls growing up during the Civil War, the father is absent. In her book, Ms. Brooks imagines what his life was like while he was away from his family, serving as an army chaplain. We meet him following a major battle, during which he tried, but failed, to save the life of a young soldier. Wracked by guilt, he goes in search of those who survived, only to discover his unit has taken shelter in a house he first visited as a young, and very different, man.

This revelation precipitates the first of many flashbacks, in which we learn about how he made and lost a fortune, met and fell in love with Marmee and the work they did in support of the Abolitionist cause. The flashbacks are interspersed with his narrative about his work on a Union protected plantation being run by a Northerner employing freed slaves, where he teaches the workers to read.

We also watch as he struggles to write letters home without revealing the horrors of his situation and how he tries to comes to terms with certain actions he committed in his past. The story intersects with the events in Little Women from time to time. Seeing Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy from another point of view is fascinating, as are the glimpses of a very different Marmee from the one created by LMA.

March himself is loosely based on Louisa's own father, Bronson Alcott (Little Women was semi-autobiographical), though his occupation as a chaplain is purely fictional. Having read bios of LMA and some of her non-fiction, I recognized those elements while reading the novel.

Her descriptive prose and natural dialogue ring true to the period while the balance of past and present is superb. Flashbacks can dominate a book, yet hers only serve their intended purpose, adding depth to an already complex and tormented protagonist.

Nor does she stint on historical detail - especially in the battle and hospital scenes. Readers with a weak stomach have thus been warned, but I urge to you forge ahead with this book regardless. The violence and gore are never gratuitous and are in fact necessary to experience the full power of the story.

If you're looking for an absorbing read, full of history and human emotion, pick up this book and lose yourself in it.


Currently Reading: The Scarlet Lion by Elizabeth Chadwick
Link of the Day: Cindy Vallar's Researching and Writing Historical Fiction Resources

Thursday, July 24, 2008

The importance of Nia...

Long time readers of this blog have probably heard me mention Nia before. The Nia site explains it way better than I can.

This morning I went to my first class in four weeks. To many people, this may not seem significant, but to me it definitely was. For the first time in almost two years I went a month without Nia. And only over these last few weeks have I discovered how important it is to my physical and mental well-being. No wonder my hubby insisted I sign back up for the next session.

Nia is more than physical exercise - it's a total mind/body workout that helps you reconnect with yourself. Yeah, I know - some of you are rolling your eyes right now, but unless you've tried it, you won't understand.

It's about losing yourself in the movement and the music, freeing your inner child and playing with space and rhythm. The music is a blend of new age, contemporary and yes, even some Celine Dion (honestly - her French stuff works really well in this context!)

One of my favourite pieces, from the album Opal (the routine itself focusses on Stability and Mobility), is Exploration by Karminsky Experience

Admittedly, the instructor whose classes I attend here on the Sunshine Coast is also part of the reason - I've no idea if other sessions are as fun.

Since coming home this morning, my mood has definitely been lighter and now I know that at least some of my grouchiness over the last few weeks has been due to the lack of Nia.

Interestingly enough, the feeling I was experiencing was similar to that when I don't write for a while. I guess Nia appeals to the same inner force that creating characters and worlds does.

Is there some exercise you enjoy without which you feel less than yourself? I'd love to hear about it :)


Currently Reading: The Scarlet Lion by Elizabeth Chadwick (I'm going to finish it now I know I should soon have my hot little hands on A Place Beyond Courage)
Links of the Day: Nia Canada and Nia USA

Monday, July 21, 2008

Quick post with a great link...

I was going to post a review of Geraldine Brooks March today, but time is getting away from me. I'll try to get it up over the next couple of days. I'm also going to post something about Grace Elliott's Journal of my Life During the French Revolution - another great read.

Instead, I'm sending you over to Elizabeth Chadwick's blog, Living the History and her post A Novel Experience, in which she outlines her writing process in detail, complete with sample pages from her mss at various stages.

Writers will be especially interested in this post, but I recommend it for anyone curious about how authors work.



Currently Reading: Nothing - I finished two books on the weekend and have to dig into the TBR pile later today

Link of the Day: Author Cindy Procter-King's blog,
Muse Interrupted

Thursday, July 17, 2008

A post of pics...

First - thanks to those who continued the Blogs of Excellence after being tagged here. If you haven't been by in a while, you might want to check that post (below this one) to see if you made my list :)

Lots going on here - I'm job hunting and also working on final edits to What the Heart Remembers so I can submit it to an editor (unsolicited). Below are some pics I've taken over the last couple of weeks:

Cats in the heat (as promised to Melissa)

Cruise ships on the Strait of Georgia - not far from our house. You'll have to click on the photos to actually see the ships properly - there are three big cruise ships (two side by side on the left) and in the far distance is the ferry heading back from Nanaimo - it's not much more than a white speck, but it was neat to see them all from our little perch:

Gibsons and Davis Bay - the roses are in Gibsons (right across from the Persephone - I do intend to look like a tourist one day soon and take a photo of it. The statue in the background is of George Gibson) while the daisies are in Davis Bay, where Sean and I had lunch yesterday.

Hope you enjoyed this little slice of life on the Coast :)


Currently Reading: Journal of My Life During the French Revolution by Grace D. Elliott
Link of the Day: The Beachcombers

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Blogging Excellence Award...

While doing my regular blog rounds this morning, I discovered that my friend Lucy has nominated me for the Blogging Excellence Award!! Very cool. So now I get to build a list of my own :)

Other than Lucy's great site, I highly recommend these excellent blogs:

It was a Dark and Stormy Night - fellow Canuck Kelly Boyce is an inspiration to those of us who don't work quite so hard at our writing. She's so dedicated, it makes me remember that the only way to get an ms finished and onto an editor's desk is to work on it! She can also be counted on for pics of Christian Bale on a fairly regular basis - if that kinda thing is of any interest to you at all *g*.

Grosvenor Square - Melissa Marsh is a kindred spirit and her blog is a wonderful mix of writing tips, historical info and the day to day adventures of family life.

A Little Cheese with that Whine - Rene's blog is always a great read as she keeps us current with both her writing and family life plus her sidebar lists books related to history and writing. And you know, one can never have too many books *g*.

Reading the Past - Sarah Johnson keeps you up to date on the work of historical fiction, digging up all kinds of info and posting news of interest, no matter what era you like to read in.

Doubtful Muse - the DM's perspective, that of a small independent publisher, is a fascinating view of the publishing world OUTside of NYC. She also posts great family anecdotes and lovely pics of her beautiful home just off the coast of Washington State.

Sandra Gulland Ink
- follow Sandra's life as a published author. She recently took us with her on her Mistress of the Sun promotion tour, complete with video, pictures and details of the various events. Not only that, she shares craft and industry info of interest to writers - always a bonus!

Living the History
- medieval fiction writer extraordinaire Elizabeth Chadwick's blog features a fascinating blend of history, promotion for her novels and great photos of her various travels round England.

Early Modern Notes - I love this blog and always find links of historical interest there. If you love early modern history, it's worth adding to your blogroll!

Jane Austen's World
- this blog is a treasure trove for lovers of Regency and Georgian history. I've found some very cool stuff through it.

Dear Author - Jane and her friends review books, talk about trends in fiction and feature industry news - a wonderful complement to the Smart Bitches' site.

BookEnds, LLC
- for ANYONE looking to get published, this blog is a must-read. The agents there give great advice, run contests from time to time and keep you abreast of changes in the industry. Plus they link to other blogging agents, including Jenny at LitSoup.

I could keep going as there are many more great blogs out there, but then the list would be endless. And the ones above really do make up the core of my blog reading.

If you've been tagged and happen to drop by, please do try to find the time to nominate your own blogs of excellence :)


Currently Reading: March by Geraldine Brooks
Also Currently Reading: Journal of My Life During the French Revolution by Grace Dalrymple Elliott
Link of the Day: Original Sources and Texts from the 19th Century

Monday, July 07, 2008

Weekend report...

First, belated Independence Day wishes to my colleagues south of the border :)

Our weekend was by turns relaxing and quite busy - a nice mixture, actually.

But first I'll start with another couple of deer photos. On Friday morning I was sitting at the kitchen table and a movement outside caught my eye. I turned to look, and it was a deer :) By the time I got my camera, she had moved to the front of the house:

Once she saw me, she ran back into the forest. A few minutes later, however, she reappeared, from one of the paths I cleard:

Chloe was in one of the windows, so they had a staring contest for a while, before the deer turned and wandered away.

On Saturday morning we had errands to run in Sechelt, combined with some work for Sean. As I was getting ready to go out to the car, I looked out the front door and saw this:

Aren't they adorable? The dogs belong to two of our neighbours. Their houses are side by side and the dogs are best friends. When one goes away, the other sits sadly outside the other's house, awaiting their return. We're included on their daily rounds and they consider us part of their territory. As we don't at this time have a dog, we consider them a bonus. They are lovely dogs - well-behaved and friendly.

As we drove away, they didn't bother to move:

They were back Saturday evening when we went out to have a campfire. Apparently they were concerned whoever was rustling paper and chopping wood was up to nefarious deeds, so they came bursting through the trees at the front of the house, barking madly. When they saw it was Sean and me, they stopped dead and began wagging their tails, then mooched about a bit before trundling back to their guard positions on the road.

Yesterday we spent a good part of the day out on the septic field, raking, picking up stones and sticks, clearing sand off rocks and tree trunks. Though it wasn't too hot, we found it thirsty work, so relaxed later in the afternoon on the deck with beer and burgers :)

We finished off the day putting away laundry and watching the film version of a book written back in the 1890s by a nine-year old girl. It's an interesting story with some remarkable observations from a child of that age. Hugh Laurie is one of the stars. One thing we couldn't quite figure out is if it was made for adults or children. While much of the film would appeal to a child, there were some elements in it that were a little too adult. I'm going to check out the book and see if a couple of the lines of dialogue I'm referring to actually appeared in the original, or if they were added to the screenplay.

I have lots of busy work this week, related both to my ms AND to my continuing job search. So with that, I must get on with it.


Currently Reading: Journal of My Life During the French Revolution by Grace Dalrymple Elliott

Link of the Day: Paperbackwriter's Novel Outlining 101

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Reading Meme...

PLEASE NOTE - this post is a mess as I used the draft.blogger option (in which you can schedule posts) and something has gone wrong with their line break coding, which seems pretty much impossible to fix. I'm still trying, so please bear with me.

I found this at Sam's blog and thought it looked fun - perfect for a Saturday post:

Do you remember how you developed a love for reading?

Not at all - I just remember reading all the time as a kid. What are some books you read as a child?
Anything by Enid Blyton (Famous Five, Secret Seven, St. Clares, Mallory Towers etc), the Chalet School books by Elinor M. Brent-Dyer, LIW's Little House books, LMM's Anne series and others (Emily etc), Caddie Woodlawn, The Witch of Blackbird Pond and oh, so much more.

What is your favourite genre?

Historical fiction of any flavour and stripe - mainstream, romance, mystery, suspense. If it's historical, I'll generally give it a try! But I also enjoy Women's Fiction of most shapes and forms, especially anything by Marian Keyes, Cathy Kelly and Catherine Alliot

Do you have a favourite novel?

It all depends on when you ask me. Anything by Elizabeth Chadwick, Sharon Kay Penman or Sandra Gulland comes to mind, but then again, I'm also a HUGE fan of Susan Howatch's masterful The Wheel of Fortune.

Where do you usually read?

In the living room, my little library, the deck - often with a cat on my lap! (though not out on the deck - too many predators out there for them to be safe if they decide to go exploring).

When do you usually read?

In the evening. If I try to read any other time of day, I get sucked in and don't accomplish much else :) Except when I'm on vacation, then the book comes out at lunch and rarely leaves me hand.

Do you usually have more than one book you are reading at a time?

Yep - not unusual for me at all. My husband doesn't understand that.

Do you read nonfiction in a different way or place than you read fiction?

It depends on what it is. If it's non-fiction for research, then yeah, I've very slow and deliberate and skip around in the text. But if it's for pleasure, I just read like I normally would.

Do you buy most of the books you read, or borrow them, or check them out of the library?

At one point I bought a lot of books, but now I borrow a ton from the library. It's so easy and the ILL librarian at the Sechelt Library is fantastic - she can get me pretty much anything!

Do you keep most of the books you buy? If not, what do you do with them?

Not any more. I used to, though. Now I give away the ones that aren't absolute keepers.

If you have children, what are some of the favourite books you have shared with them? Were they some of the same ones you read as a child?

No children, but I'm hoping to share my favourite books with my nephews and nieces. My older niece has already read Heidi and the Little House books - hopefully I'll share more with her in the coming years.

What are you reading now?

Right now, nothing. Wait, no, that's a lie - I am rereading SH's The Wheel of Fortune, but had put it aside when some other books came into the library for me. But they're all done now, so I'm back to that. Unless something else catches my fancy - possibly March by Geraldine Brooks or Ysabel by Guy Gavriel Kay - they're in the living room.

Do you keep a TBR (to be read) list?

More like a TBR bookshelf (or two)

What's next?

Robyn Harding's The Journal of Mortifying Moments - when it arrives at the library, which should be soon.

What books would you like to reread?
Some of my Elizabeth Chadwick collection, Susan Howatch's Penmarric and Cashelmara - oh, so many others.

Who are your favourite authors?

Elizabeth Chadwick, Tracy Chevalier, Susan Howatch, Jo Beverley, Mary Jo Putney, Sandra Gulland, Marian Keyes, Catherine Alliot,Sharon Kay Penman, Barbara Erskine, Cathy Kelly, Anya Seton, Edith Pargeter/Ellis Peters, Kathryn Smith - oh so many others I can't even call to mind right now.

Anyone else want to play along?

Currently Reading: The Wheel of Fortune by Susan Howatch

Friday, July 04, 2008

Common misconceptions from history...

It's funny how certain ideas become engrained in common knowledge, things that are often, in fact, wrong.

Case in point - the Bastille was a Paris prison, but it was never used as one during the French Revolution. In fact, it was destroyed during the summer of 1789, following its storming by the mob on July 14. Yet when I mention that my heroine was in a prison in 1793, inevitably people assume I'm talking about the Bastille. This happened just last week on a list I'm of which I'm a member and the historian in me was compelled to clarify. I even found a reference to it being used as a place of detention in an extremely popular novel, much touted by many reviewers. Alas, that evidence of lack of research added one more negaitve to the book as far as I was concerned.

As writers, we must remember to check EVERYTHING. Especially those things we THINKwe know, things that have entered into commonly accepted knowledge. Do NOT be fooled into believing you don't have to research facts and ideas to which you've been privy for years. That way madness (and irritation on the part of your readers) lies.

Case in point # 2 - I had my hero and heroine wander into a coffee-house together in 1793 London. During one of my final passes of the ms (I'm planning to submit it yet again), it jumped out at me once more, having niggled at me for months. Sure enough, some quick online and book reasearch (thank goodness for my private library) informed me that there was no way my heroine would be allowed in. So now I'm rewriting that particular scene and setting it in a tea house instead. One I've found ample evidence of through original sources available on Google Books.

If by some miracle this ms had been accepted and passed through various copy-edits without anyone catching this, I would have been mortified when a reader pointed out such a huge mistake. To some people it may not seem huge, but for me it is. And all because I wrote that scene without really thinking much about the little details, such as the presence (or not) of women in coffee-houses in 18th century London.

Do you have a similar near goof-up to relate?

Oh, and, Marie Antoinette never did say "Let them eat cake!"

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Canada Day and more...

As I mentioned in my previous post, we had plans to go to Gibsons for Canada Day events. The highlight of the celebration there was the arrival of the canoes from Pulling Together - their final stop.

It was a gorgeous day with perfect temps for standing down near the water and watching the canoes come in from the Strait.

We first spied them from the pier:

It was cool to see the canoes in a line like that :)

Within a few minutes they pulled into the harbour:

and began lining up along the shore for the welcome ceremony featuring dignitaries from the Squamish band and local politicians:

At last everyone had arrived:

The ceremony lasted about 45 minutes, with the glorious scenery as a backdrop.

After it was done, Sean and I wandered around a little more, then headed to the radio station, then home. No fireworks here on the Coast on July 1 - they save them for Sea Cavalcade, later this month.

It was a nice evening, so we bbqd a pizza, read for a while, went for a walk, then retired after a busy day. One of the best things about the fine weather was that we were able to ride into Gibsons on the motorcycle - easier to park and so much fun to feel the wind.

Yesterday I did an extra shift at the library, then came home to work on backing up my computer. The desktop needs to be stripped and have Windows reloaded. I have so much crap on it, the hard disk is almost full and the poor Registry is hopelessly overloaded. Sean is an expert at the hardware side of things - lucky for me :)

One more thing I wanted to mention - and yes, despite the fact it's July, it's hockey related. Last month, Dan Cleary became the first Newfoundland/Labrador-born player to win the Stanley Cup as a member of the Detroit Red Wings. On Monday he escorted the Cup on its tour of the province. What impressed me the most was that instead of taking it to his hometown of Harbour Grace first, he went instead to a St. John's children's hospital. Such a thoughtful gesture, don't you think?

Ok - on with my day.


Currently Reading: Just finished Rosie Meadows Regrets by Catherine Alliot
Link of the Day: Pulling Together

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Happy Canada Day...

to my fellow Canucks :) We're heading into Gibsons this afternoon for the celebration there.

Hop on over to Cindy Proctor-King's blog for some classic Canadiana!

Enjoy celebrating Canada's birthday - however you choose to do it.