Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Of Christmas Trees, Mystery, Magic, and Gourd King Wenceslas

Mystery and magic rest on the boughs of Christmas trees, waft through the excitement of Christmas
Eve, and drape richness over Christmas Day. I grew up on a prairie farm that didn't have a single evergreen tree growing on it. When December rolled around, the local lumberyard brought in small Douglas firs from British Columbia, and my siblings and I accompanied Dad into the cavernous, cold, dark depths of the yard's warehouse to choose a Christmas tree. Squashed and flattened in transport, the chosen fir miraculously relaxed in our house and spread its scented boughs, which I wonderingly adorned with frosted spheres, shiny icicles and balls, strings of gold and red beads, and tinsel. Soon the mystery and magic which had begun in that darkened warehouse sang through our old farmhouse's living room. It didn't matter that the floor tiles were worn, or that a white rag had been stuffed into a crack in a window frame. New, sudden, exquisite beauty stood in the midst of all that had been normal and everyday, but was somehow no longer normal and everyday because of Christmas.

As a university student, I came home for Christmas and decorated my parents' tree, adding cranberry and popcorn garlands, which my mother loved. As a young wife, I made the same garlands and also crafted wheat ornaments and hung miniature wooden musical instruments – a gift from my sister-in-law – on my own Christmas tree. As a mother of two young children, I arranged my sons' paper chains among our Christmas tree's branches. One December, the boys and I painted round mini-gourds with stars and sheep, angels and the nativity scene, even Good King Wenceslas out in the snow. When our village hosted its annual Festival of Trees, my family decorated a 'Gourd King Wenceslas' tree with those painted ornaments from my garden.

This year, my husband and I cut a pleasing but unpruned balsam fir on our land the day before our first major snowstorm. We carried it home, fondly recalling the many winters our sons had helped us to choose a Christmas tree and then to haul it home on a toboggan or drag it stump-first across frosted grasses. While snow fell the following afternoon, I trimmed the fir, carefully opening boxes of decorations which included two of my original wheat ornaments and a half dozen of the miniature musical instruments. None of the painted gourds survived the years, but a tiny birch bark box made by my older son and a silver-and-gold-sprayed arrangement of wee sea shells glued together by my younger son did survive, and I gently attached their strings to the ends of twigs.

I found places for other decorations and realized that, with the exception of red and gold shiny balls I bought years ago to decorate a Festival of Trees fir on behalf of the local skating club, and with the exception of red, white, and green crocheted mini-stockings I bought from my craft-selling sister, all the remaining ornaments which passed from my hands to our 2013 Christmas tree were gifts to my husband, sons, or me: the delicate glass tops from dear friends, the quilted candy canes and reindeer from a sister, the starched, delicate snowflakes crocheted by my piano teacher's mother, and more. So many more. I felt as though I cradled years and friends and unspoken but not unknown love in my hands and set them out on our tree.

From my desk, I can see it now – well, half of it – through the living room doorway. The lights I spiraled around it are incandescent specks of pink and red, green and yellow and blue. I plugged them in this afternoon – long before dark – because I knew I could see the tree from here. Part of me is still the little girl who went with her dad to choose Christmas trees in a big, dark lumberyard warehouse. And part of me is still the little girl who decorated those trees and stared at them in wonder, caught up in the mystery and magic of Christmas.
Have a joyous and blessed Christmas and happy and healthy New Year!   Do you have a favourite tree ornament or Christmas tree story?


If you enjoyed this post, check out my website at Today, I'm blogging about Wrinkled Ice for Christmas.

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Donna Alward's Top 10 Reads of 2013

by Donna Alward

I keep track of my reading on Goodreads and am currently *slightly* behind my goal of 52 books for 2013. I’m hoping a surge of holiday reading over the next few weeks gets me to 52… I’m very close! And I may read something utterly fantastic before January 31, but for now I’m going to share my top 10 reads of 2013 as of this week. And they are in no particular order. These books all stood out for me in one way or another.

10. His Country Girl by Jillian Hart. This was a TBR backlist book and I wish I’d read it sooner because it was very well-crafted from a structure perspective. If you’re a writer targeting series romance, this is a good book to read for structure and pace. And if you’re a reader: enjoy.  

9. Inferno by Dan Brown. You either love him or you hate him. I always enjoy his books and I think this one was my favorite of his because there were twists I seriously didn’t see coming, making it different from his other books.  

8. My Kind of Christmas by Robyn Carr. I’ve read most of the Virgin River series but this one is definitely up there with my favorites. It’s all down to the heroine, who is brave and gutsy and generous.  

7. Deliverance by Jennie Marsland. The follow up to Shattered, this is the story of the “villain”, Carl, and takes place partly in Saskatchewan and partly in Halifax.  

6. McShannon’s Heart by Jennie Marsland. Jennie hits my list twice because I just love her writing. She has great characters, lovely settings, and a wonderful writing voice. They are my comfort reads.  

5.  The Billionaire’s Fair Lady by Barbara Wallace. Great chemistry, and the "smoothing out the rough edges" really did make this a "Fair Lady" type story. It has a lovely fairy-tale quality and a cast of great characters that you love - and also a few you love to hate.

 4. The Girl on Legare Street and The Strangers on Montagu Street by Karen White. I love this series. I put these books together on my top 10 list because otherwise it would have been a top 11 and since they are in the same series… I’m so glad there is a fourth book to put on my TBB list.  

3. Rocky Mountain Haven by Vivian Arend. I don’t read a lot of “hot” romance, but here’s the thing about Vivian and why her books are so great: you get the hot stuff but you also get great characters and depth of emotion. The stories are rooted in emotional motivations which make them satisfying reads.  

2. The Sweetheart Bargain by Shirley Jump. The first in Shirley’s new series from Berkeley. I love the hero and heroine (and the hero’s disability makes him even more yummy IMO), but the old ladies are nearly show stealers. LOVE them! How I know a book is great? It makes me laugh – but also makes me cry. This one did both. And so did my last pick…    

1. Make My Wish Come True by Fiona Harper. This is Fiona’s brand new single title from Harlequin UK and it was fantastic! Warm, realistic, with enough humor to qualify it as Chick Lit and more Women’s Fiction with a touch of romance. To be honest? I could see this one as a movie.   So there you have it! My favourite reads of the year!

Donna Alward
Website |  Twitter |  Amazon | Harlequin

Monday, 16 December 2013

Musings – Crying at Weddings and Right Brain, Left Brain, and Getting a Good Night's Sleep….Part 2

by Pat Thomas

Summing up Blog Part One: I don’t cry at weddings if I do math when I begin to feel emotional. And I have a better sleep if I do math before I drift off. If I do the math, creative worrying doesn’t swarm inside my head, nudging away the hours of sleep I need. After a mathematical problem or puzzle, I just drift off.

In other words bedtime with Sudoku works wonders for settling my mind.


Where’s this leading?

Well, we’re not trying to put readers to sleep when they read our books – we want the opposite. We want them to become so absorbed in the stories they can’t put them down. We want them to love them and follow up with lovely reviews….

So, rather than the logic of math that distances emotions, we want readers drawn in, to have the lived-through experience when they read our novels. We want them to be swept away.

Louise Rosenblatt, an influential theorist on reader response, wrote that engaged readers ‘create and live the story with the author, as a reader.’  She explains that a transaction takes place when this happens: Each reader is changed and the text is changed because of what the reader brings to the text. She suggests everyone reads a different story though the book can be the same.

And Dan Strawn, an Amazon reviewer obviously agrees with Rosemblatt’s assessment because when he reviewed the novel, Shattered, he praised Jenny Marsland because she ‘achieved every writer’s goal: To tell an entertaining story by letting the readers feel as if they, not the story's players, are living the tale.’

In Rosenblatt’s, Making Meaning With Texts: Selected Essays, she explains The reader brings to the work personality traits, memories of past events, present needs and preoccupations, a particular mood of the moment and a particular physical condition. These and many other elements in a never-to-be-duplicated combination determine his[her] response to the text.’

Here’s a current illustration: Last month I was on the third and final pass of Julianne MacLean’s The Color of Hope and on that third read, I cried for the first time. On that pass, I was engaged as a reader, and totally drawn into her story.

It’s strange – though I’d already gone through the wonderful novel twice, that third read was when a lump formed in my throat and I shed a few tears.

On the first two reads, my needs and preoccupations were as a critical editor; my focus was to dissect plot and story and structure and use of words and punctuation and more. My approach was analytical and systematic, and no wonder I didn’t have that emotional response. My analytical approach was like doing the math at a wedding. I couldn’t place myself in the story and let myself be swept away.

So what does this mean for you as a writer?

Perhaps you have written the best story of your life.... Everyone who reads it, all your family and friends agree it’s your best.

That may be true, but before you upload it I suggest you ensure there are no small errors and inconsistencies, ones you may not notice – but others will.

If there are errors and typos the goodness of your efforts can be lost to readers who aren’t invested in you, personally. They may have to ignore too much and work too hard to get the story, like the reader who wrote this funny note to herself.  She’s obviously not swept away.

Here’s something else to consider: With the popular use of e-readers, and inexpensive book downloads, readers are sometimes impatient, not willing to waste time on books they don’t connect to right away. If they don’t like the first ten pages they just put the book away and download another.

A couple mistakes and inconsistencies in the first few pages, and some readers remove themselves from your story. It’s so easy to move on without investing much.

Little errors, unimportant to some, can interfere with the lived-though experience of other readers. And when errors are noticed, some readers become critics immediately rather than working to tighten their emotional connection to the story.

Some readers are distracted by the first error and can’t see beyond that mistake to appreciate the story. Others continue to read – but they may continue to read to find every error before writing a scathing review.

So, beware. Have your work properly edited so more readers will be swept away by your books. That will boost sales and bring great reviews.

Ensure that level of care, so readers don’t just sweep your books under the carpet.

We don’t want that.

Visit Pat at her website

Friday, 13 December 2013

Musings – Crying at Weddings and Right Brain, Left Brain, and Getting a Good Night's Sleep….

by Pat Thomas

I confess: I am emotional at weddings. The whole fairy tale thing and the promise of a happily ever after often bring me to tears.

A friend suggested I could stop the tears easily if I did the math – mental math.

 Tears, or mental math? A no brainer, right?

Adding, subtracting, multiplying, dividing – I tried them all and can report that doing the math works for me.  Since I’ve consciously turned on the left side of my brain I don’t cry at weddings. And there’s an added bonus I’ve discovered: Math at bedtime helps me sleep better.

How so?

For years, I’d read a novel before going to sleep – usually a romance to sweep me away from the daily grind. I love Bev Pettersen’s racetrack mysteries…with hints of romance, and those regency romances like To Marry The Duke and My Own Private Hero or the contemporary Color of Heaven Series by Julianne MacLean. Reading books like these took my mind off the wagons that circled and tired me out.

Still, when I closed my eyes, my mind didn’t want to relax. It roamed and worried and plotted long after the books closed and I’d have fight to get to sleep, sometimes for hours. Many weeks I averaged three to four hours a night, did my housework in the middle of the night when I was awake and was tired most of the day. My doctor said sleeplessness is common as we age; that it is normal for me to sleep less as I grow older.

Yikes! His assurances didn’t make me feel better.

If I accepted that sleeplessness comes with ageing, then there’s no remedy because I wasn’t going to stop that process. So I read later into the night and sometimes when I put my novel aside I’d close my eyes and pray for sleep. Often, my mind raced over life’s problems, bills, and worries about family and things I had to do… deadlines to be met.

I’d done some research after the math remark and learned the right side of the brain works through scenarios, runs over plots, and I figure that’s also where all the worrying happens.

I wondered: If I focused on math after the reading, and rested that creative side before closing my eyes, would I get a better sleep?

Yes, it worked and here’s what I do now. I still read those great novels at night, but afterwards I spend five or ten minutes on Sudoku. The math seems to stop impatient and worrying thoughts from taking off to the right when I turn out the light.  

A bedtime Sudoku works amazingly well for me. If you’re having trouble getting the hours of sleep you deserve, why not try this?

And why am I not surprised?

As a child, my mother used to tell me to count sheep if I couldn’t sleep and my father would suggest I count backwards from one hundred – more than once if it didn’t work the first time…

Did they have insider information back then? Not likely, but the tradition of counting sheep and counting backwards is still offered by  parents of children who can’t get to sleep at bedtime.

My revelation is that doing a Sudoku at night helps me get a better sleep in the same way counting sheep might work for a child.

So my suggestion to you is this: If you’re not getting enough sleep and have to fight to get there, I suggest you try a bedtime Sudoku or do math problems after you read or watch TV. See if that helps. What can you lose?

Not sleep.

To be continued in Part Two Blog: Musings – crying at weddings and readers’ emotional connections to text…right brain, left brain, and getting a good night’s sleep….
Monday, Dec. 16th 

Visit Pat at her website

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

What Happens at the RWAC Christmas Potluck Stays at the RWAC Christmas Potluck

For nearly a decade now, Romance Writers of Atlantic Canada has wrapped up the year with a Christmas Potluck afternoon held at the home of one of our members.

It all begins with everyone gathering together, partaking of a cheery beverage of choice and catching up with everyone (since we haven't seen each other for...a few weeks?...)

If you have a Christmas sweater, now's your chance.

Eventually we get around to eating all the delicious food everyone's brought along.

Once we're fortified, the real fun begins -- the Yankee book swap, wherein each guest brings a wrapped bookish gift, adds it to the pile of prezzies, and then numbers are drawn to see who goes first to choose and unwrap the first gift.

The second person gets the option of stealing the first unwrapped gift, or taking a wrapped gift from the pile. And so on -- as soon as a hot item is revealed, the stealing gets fast and furious amongst the mild-mannered writers.

The laughter begins as the steals go into play.

An awesome steal gets applause.

And more laughter.

The victor!

This year there were duelling hot items: 31 Days to Millionaire Marketing Miracles by Tracy Repchuk

And an autographed copy of An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth by Col. Chris Hadfield 
Phew...that was a record for stealing, I think. Until next year, may the odds be ever in your favour...

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Photo by Helen Tansey

Monday, 9 December 2013

A Different Hue. Colors you may not have heard about.

by Georgiana Harding

Wanted to share about something I’m knowledgeable and passionate about–decorating. Yet, when I started researching on an idea, I found something I didn’t even know. It was in an article on the HOUZZ website by Charmean Neithart, an interior designer. Thought you might find it interesting as well.
You never know when you might need to pump up your vocabulary describing a color in your future writing. Often times color names are over-worked. A few of these I’d heard about, but most of them, hmm…no. Some sound really cool, but don’t tell anyone I told you to use the word fulvous instead of yellowish-brown…giggle.
SMALT: is a deep blue pigment typically used in ceramics. Smalt is a glass created when cobalt salts are added to molten glass. It has a subtle purple undertone and much like cobalt has a luminescent quality, making it look backlit.

BYZANTIUM: a vibrant shade of purple that can be confused with fushia. While fushia is a bold color derived from pink, byzantium is derived from purple and is much deeper.

CORDOVAN: is a rich shade of burgundy/brown, most commonly used to describe leather. The name originates from the city of Cordova, Spain.

VERMILLION: a bright red to reddish orange. It can also be called Chinese red because it is used in making Chinese lacquer ware.

SIENNA: is a reddish brown earth color, which originates from Siena, Italy, and describes a clay that consists of iron oxide and manganese oxide.

GAMBOGE: a deep mustard yellow. It gets its name from the gamboge tree, which excretes a sap that is mustard yellow.

FULVOUS: is a variation of brown but can be described as having yellow undertones. It is inspired by the feathers of ducks and birds.

PAVO: an electric blue referring to the peacock feathers. Best described as between a royal blue and a deep turquoise.

VERDIGRIS: when copper is exposed to a moisture, it turns a shade of this green. Known to represent nobility.

AUBERGINE: a deep brownish purple inspired by the exterior color of an eggplant.

LICHEN: is a murky shade of grayish-yellow green. This mellow green is inspired by the plant-like moss growing in shady spots around tree trunks.

MALACHITE: a vibrant green very similar to emerald, but the undertone is gray, which emerald does not have.

AUREOLIN: this is a bright, vivid yellow also referred to as a cobalt yellow. This sassy shade looks great with blues and grays.

BOLE: a brownish-red hue that really looks like chocolate, which teams up well with other neutrals and black.

I always pin down a color by saying, cobalt blue or eggplant. Wonder how my son-in -law will react to hearing about these?
Hope you found this helpful for naming a color in a new way.