Friday, 30 May 2014

The A Word

by, Deborah Hale

One of the toughest days of my life came when my busy, quirky adorable four-year-old twins were diagnosed with autism. We had sensed for awhile that they weren’t like typical little boys their age. They’d been very late talking. They had trouble concentrating on one activity for any length of time. They had meltdowns over strange things like the sound of a music box or anything being blown away by the wind. Despite that and my background as a special needs teacher, I wasn’t prepared to hear “the A-word” applied to my little guys. Suddenly our future seemed to darken with more scary questions than bright possibilities. Would they be able to attend school, find work or make friends? Would I have to give up my dream of becoming a published author to spend the rest of my life caring for them?

Fortunately we discovered there were programs and services available to help the boys develop to their potential. Remarkable individuals like Temple Grandin showed that autism did not have to limit their future. Almost twenty years later, the boys have both graduated high school with honours and shared the technology medal for their graduating year. One is now employed in the field of information technology and the other is enrolled in post-secondary IT program. There are still challenges, like making and keeping social connections, but in most ways the boys have surpassed my best hopes for them. I wish all families affected by autism could say the same.

But much remains to be done, particularly for individuals with more severe forms of autistic disorders. Organizations like Autism Nova Scotia provide a wealth of information, support and advocacy for those on the autistic spectrum and their families. I have been proud to support their fundraising efforts in the past. This year I am grateful to my fellow authors of RWAC who have donated a Kobo Arc e-reader loaded with copies of their digital books for the silent auction to take place at the “Eat It All For Autism” event on June 16th at Rock Bottom Brew Pub. With Scotiabank generously matching donations, I hope we will raise a nice sum to help Autism Nova Scotia continue its important, life-changing work!

For more information about Autism Nova Scotia visit:

Thursday, 29 May 2014

Five Books...

By, Kate Robbins

Five books that changed my life? WOW, that's a pretty big claim. I think it would be easier for me to list the five books that I absolutely adore and that have stuck with me over the years for various reasons. It's a brutal task to widdle down to five, but here's how it shapes up. These aren't in any particular order either. That's simply not possible.

The Count of Monte Cristo, Alexandre Dumas

I have a really old, beat up copy that used to belong to my Dad and it, of course, reminds me of him. Unlike most books I now read on my Kobo, I was always aware of this book's length while reading. But the payoff was huge. I swear reading it was its own workout. Having said that, it's the ultimate story of revenge. Edmond Dantes has been wronged and it lands him in prison to rot. They say revenge is best served up cold. Well Edmond gets his revenge, but does he really win?

I loved this story and lemme tell ya, Jim Caviezel does a pretty fine Edmond Dantes in the 2002 movie. Surprisingly, the film adaptation was not a disappointment. So if you want something thick, dark, and intense, pick up The Count of Monte Cristo. I now have copy on my Kobo. I wonder how long it will take me to read this time.

Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen

No shocker there right? The first time I experienced this story was an old VHS copy from a bad CBC signal. Didn't matter. I watched the entire A&E mini-series in one sitting. Poor hubby tried unsuccessfully to get my attention several times and finally gave up to go out with his buddy.

The Bennets have a problem. They have five daughters and no son to inherit their small estate. As such, upon his death, Mr. Bennet's country manor will be entailed away to one Mr. Collins, his younger cousin. Poor Mrs. Bennet feels the effect of their trouble keenly and often professes her anguish over the injustice saying they will be, "...left to starve in the hedgerows." Second eldest Lizzy Bennet swears she will marry for nothing short of true love. And it will not be to the arrogant, insufferable likes of Fitzwilliam Darcy. Even if he does have ten thousand a year and a grand estate in Derbyshire.

Colin Firth will forever epitomize Mr. Darcy. They can remake this movie a million times and I'll never forget this version. After I watched the movie about ten times, I sought out the book. Surprise, surprise, Dad had a copy in the bookshelf. :) Then I got a copy from a friend, then I saw another copy I liked. Ok, so I have a book fetish. It could be worse. I've now read the book and seen the movie so much that friends won't watch it with me anymore because I quote lines. Everyone's lines. "Oh Mr. Bennet why must you be so tiresome!"

The best part of the A&E adaptation of the novel? Austen's brilliant dialogue is intact. Capital, capital!

The Outsiders, S.E. Hinton

I was at the prime age for the movie adaptation when it came out in 1983. My bedroom walls were plastered for quite a while after that with posters of Tom Howell, Matt Dillon and all da b'ys. I had a lot of John Taylor posters too, but that's a post for another day.

The Outsiders was published in 1967 and captures the social struggle of kids from both sides of the track. From Kobo: "Ponyboy can count on his brothers and his friends, but not on much else besides trouble with the Socs, a vicious gang of rich kids who get away with everything, including beating up greasers like Ponyboy. At least he knows what to expect--until the night someone takes things too far."

The Outsiders is a coming of age story focusing on the barriers that exist between social classes. Many stories featuring the underdog have a HEA. This one doesn't. That's what I love about it.

The Life of Pi, Yann Martell

God I loved this book, and now my 13 year old son is reading it and I can't wait for him to finish so we can talk about it. I have two copies in print and only one in my house. I have gotten it back from one person and then said, "You have to read this book," to another. I now have it on my Kobo too. Perhaps that's the only way I'll keep it.

Martel weaves so much magic into this story which on the surface is a straight on tale of a young boy's struggle to survive, but underneath is so much more. This book was definitely one of the more memorable book club discussions we've had. I think we were equally divided on how we interpreted it and ultimately what it all meant. This book was thought provoking, poetic, and reading it was like watching a painter create a masterpiece.

I haven't seen the movie for this yet, as I've been waiting for Nicholas to finish it so we can watch it together. :)

Blindness, Jose Saramago

Ok, so if you're planning to read this book, know that once you pick it up, you won't put it down. Saramago's style is jarring at first but the lack of punctuation makes the writing more dense and works to pull the reader further into the story. There were times I was physically ill reading it, but couldn't stop. This is the kind of book I will only read once. The story is so gripping and raw that I honestly don't think I could put myself through it again. And I don't really need to. I remember it in vivid detail from reading it some ten years ago.

I haven't seen the film, and I don't think I will. It's a brutally powerful story and I have my takeaway from the book. Having said that, the story explores the fine lines that hold our society together and how quickly they snap when faced with severe adversity. I think the reason this story got to me so much was because of the very real possibilities Saramago explores. And I'm not talking about the virus itself. I mean the social breakdown that follows. You don't have to look far to see the author is on the mark.

Honourable mentions (I widdled #4 and #5 spots down to five books and struggled to select the last two. Here's the other three.):

To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee - Ahhhh Scout. What can I say? You've stayed with me forever.
Pale Fire, Vladimir Nabokov - Totally fell into the author's trap, then figured it out and WOW!
Rush Home Road, Lori Lansens - I bawled like a baby.

Debbie Robbins writes Scottish Historical romances and lives in St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador. Find her online at Into the Highland Mist.

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Help I’m pitching to Producers!

by Renee Pace (young adult author)

Okay I just had to write that because it sounds cool and it’s actually true. I’ve been very fortunate to have some heart-to-heart conversations with one of my local provincial agencies who has a new mandate to converge the literary, film and music industries. And because I can be outspoken and tell it like it is, I politely pointed out that these three industries DO NOT talk to each other. No idea why? It could be that we’re each heads-down in our own little world and fail to make the effort, but it’s also the sad truth that it’s hard for writers to even find local producers.

Nova Scotia might be a small Canadian province but talk about star power – think Trailer Park Boys, who are once again gearing up to start filming in the province. Think Haven, set on the beautiful South Shore and a show I will readily admit to LOVING and then think of the wonderful Ellen Page, who grew up in my city of Halifax.

So what do I suggest? Let me touch base with some authors I know who are ready to pitch, and you provide the producers. Well, it’s now ballooned into an author/producer workshop with the talented Jan Miller, who has a track record I’m in awe of and at the end of this month 10 local authors are pitching their books/series to 5 producers. Miller is an international consultant for CMPA, specializing in film and television co-production and co-venturing. She also continues to present one of the top Pitching & Concept Development Workshops in the world including Havana, Poland’s ScriptEast, Cartagena, Berlin’s Talent Campus & Cannes. 

Can I just insert here how nervous I am but also how excited I am to be able to make this event a reality. I also like to view this as a first step.

So after getting all the other authors pitches ready and of course reading them, I thought, “OMG my pitch sucks”, but I sent it out there and now I’ve got to really nail it so I can make it sound viable and interesting. And guess what – my series is interesting and no matter what, for me, this is a learning experience.

I thought I’d share my pitch and what’s usually asked from an author. It might not look like a lot but trust me it was work to put it together. For those that don't know what a Log Line is - it's basically your elevator pitch.

Renee Pace
Title: Siren’s Lure
Genre: Family
Log line: H2O meets Degrassi High, except the only person saving this small town is Gemini — a Goth teenager struggling with algebra and her newfound siren powers —  and who’d rather lust after the Captain of the Hockey Team then save her kingdom.
Siren’s Lure: First Test is a paranormal young adult novel and the first book in my new young adult family series. The book centers around Gemini, who must learn to adjust to grade 10. Besides facing her new academic challenges like algebra, she must mask her newfound appearance and take on the persona of a Goth—ensuring no one gets close to her and discovers her secret—she’s not human. That reality she learned hard over the past summer when two things changed her life and not for the better. First, she went into the sea, something her father had forbidden her to do, and transformed into a creature of myth—a Siren. Then because of that the two people who loved her more than life itself, her mom and dad, were kidnapped.
Now Gemini must learn to cope with her new Siren abilities, find a clue to where her parents have been taken while racing against the high tide to avoid the Guardians of the Seven Seas Council who want to kill her. She can’t trust anyone, especially not her biological Siren She-bitch mother who claims she wants Gemini to reclaim her rightful place as Princess. To top that off, if she doesn’t past her algebra test she’s going to fail and be sent to the nerd class.
She might be all Goth-like, but Gemini knows the only way she’ll escape this small town with its high school drama queens, overzealous testosterone filled hockey players and the undersea demons chasing her is discovering the truth— freeing her parents and passing all these life or death tests. After all, in her new reality, failure doesn’t mean F, it means death.

Writer credentials:
Renee Pace is the pen name of romance author Renee Field who has written 15 romance novels. Her first young adult novel, Off Leash, was a semi-finalist in the Amazon Novel Breakthrough Contest. In the past three years she’s penned four young adult novels and is currently working on the second book in her Siren’s Lure young adult paranormal series.

Monday, 26 May 2014

The Devil Made Me Do It Book Two: Speak of the Devil series

by, Shawna Romkey

I’m pleased to share with you the cover of my upcoming release, The Devil Made Me Do It! I love it! It’s beautiful yet disturbing. Great mix!

The Devil Made Me Do It

Coming July 1 - Go to hell!

The demons strike back!

Lily is working with the angels to stifle the last of the demon outbreaks and to figure out how to stop the Silence of God, so life can get back to boring normality. But all hell breaks loose when she’s stolen from school and brought face to face with the devil himself. Lily has to find her way back home to Luc, crack the prophecy that breaks the curse silencing God, and figure out how she and Luc can ever really be together; but Lucifer has other plans for her that don’t include her ever getting out of Hell in tact.

I have some fun things going on at my blog for the rest of the month, too, if you want to come by for a visit.

Shawna Romkey, teacher by day, writer by night (or day or whenever anyone leaves her alone long enough to get some work done). Bestselling YA / NA paranormal author of Speak of the Devil. The second in the series, The Devil Made Me Do It, will release July 1.

Shawna is from Kansas City, Missouri, but resides in Nova Scotia in a house by the sea with her husband, two sons, and currently two dogs but that’s subject to change depending on the local homeless dog population.

For more info, check out her website at

Friday, 23 May 2014

Fiction, the Good Lie – No. 3: Building Emotion

by Magi Nams

"While "tone" is the writer's attitude, "mood" is the feeling the reader gets from the writing." (J. J. McConnachie, Writers Block NZ)

Last year, I attended a writing workshop on tone and mood taught by the award-winning Canadian novelist Donna Morrissey. The first question Donna asked the group was, "What do you want the reader to feel?" She went on to say that because readers can't hear inflexions in voices the way listeners can, "tone and mood add flavour to the writing." Donna told us that readers connect with characters through the emotion they feel as evoked through the writer's choice of words. She also said that readers don't have to like a character or scenario, but must understand that character or scenario. And because emotions are universal, often that understanding comes about via the reader relating to the work emotionally. That is, a reader reacts to moods an author creates within a piece of work, which all work together to set the overall tone of the piece. So, effective fiction writing means connecting with readers on a deep emotional level.

For most of the workshop, Donna challenged us to create emotion in our writing through various creative exercises. The first dealt with setting. Can you guess which emotion I tried to evoke in the following assignment about a person approaching a house?

Shadowed, the house's normally warm wood wasted dull and lifeless. Petunias bowed vivid heads in tumbling cascades of tears from planters. Windows stared blankly – so many empty eyes looking at nothing. The porch railing seemed a cage intended to stop a person from stepping off the deck into nothingness or running madly until you fell, hands grasping at grasses, at tree roots. The cold flagstone walkway epitomized broken plates of memories separated by the coarse gravel of death.

The emotion is grief, right?

Donna told us, "In order to feel something, you must believe it." In other words, we must engage readers with believable writing. "Let them judge what the emotions are, rather than telling them. Once they make that judgment, they're in."

As I've mentioned before, Donna is an amazing presenter. Her workshop had us hopping from basic description to characterization to dialogue to free association, all in pursuit of  building emotion that would trigger readers' feelings. I think I got better at 'emotion-building' as the workshop progressed, but it was hard, mind-stretching work. And wonderfully liberating. Below are two examples of what I wrote to create emotion through character, with the first assignment involving one character, and the second assignment involving two characters. No dialogue in either one.

Her fingers trembled as she tugged up black nylons and clipped the tops into black lace garters. The scarlet dress's satin fabric slid smoothly over her head, revealing her cleavage and the quick rise and fall of her chest. Then she stepped into red sandals, knowing their four-inch heels made her legs look a mile long. She took a small practice step, then a long one, straightening her shoulders and thrusting out her breasts. When she walked past a mirror, she paused to check the dress, the shoes, and her hairdo. Never once did she meet her eyes. 

An oar thuds against the gunwale, my brother fighting to control it. The dingy lurches, the horizon tilting. I huddle near the bow, spray tossed onto me dripping down my neck and seeping through my thin jacket. I stare at the young man who once raced with me laughing through meadows and who braided daisy wreaths for me to wear on my head. Eyes grey as the wind-tossed waves, he looks past me, his jaw hard like granite, the muscles in his bare forearms bulging and writhing like snakes beneath his skin. I pull my shoulders in, feel water seeping into my shoes, and stare out at the sea.

In the first example, I was aiming for a blend of nervousness and shame. In the second, anger in the brother and despair in the sister.

Next, we tackled creating emotion through dialogue, which was a whole new ball game. Again, Donna gave us some tips: "keep choreography minimal,"  "subtle is stronger," "focus on the emotion, not the facial contortions," "add small details to keep setting in mind." She said, "Dialogue is not about talking. It's about showing emotion and moving the story forward." She asked us to write a scene that was dialogue between two characters, with minimal narrative. Here's what I came up with:

Danny's mouth tightened as he looked at his seventeen-year-old daughter. "What are you going on about now, Rose?"
"It's you and Lise. You're both so scared."
"Scared of what?"
"Of losing each other."
"Losing each other? You're talking like we're married or something. We're just neighbours."
Rose rolled her eyes. "Yeah. Right. Remember telling me how she lit up like a light bulb when she got engaged in high school to that boy who died from a brain tumour?"
"Yeah. And we both know how she doesn't light up around me. So leave it be, Rose."
Rose stood. Her chin lifted. "You're right. She doesn't blaze around you. It's more like a soft glow. A blaze burns, Daddy. A glow warms."
"I'm going out to the cows."
"And she – she's so scared you're going to die like that boy did. When are the two of you going to see that you're meant for each other?"

I tried to make Rose bold, loving, and not afraid to speak her mind to her father. I wanted to portray Danny as having a close relationship with his daughter, but in total denial that his neighbour Lise might care for him.

For our last writing exercise, we did free associative thinking, which is basically writing whatever comes into your mind, although the aim was to portray emotion in a character. This was a really cool exercise that took me to where I'd never been before. I had no idea where it was going to lead me until I arrived. Here's what I wrote:

The baby socks don't pair up. Again. One's missing. My mother always said there was a laundry monster. I guess it ate that sock. Hmm… laundry monster. Piles of cloth diapers. Infant sleepers. Bibs. My husband's t-shirts. My jeans. She always laughed a girlish giggle when she talked about the laundry monster. And her eyes played happy games with me when she sang "Robin in the Rain" and "Waltzing Matilda."
She remembered those songs last time I visited her at the home. She didn't know who I was, but she knew those songs. She stared at me like I was a thief who'd stepped into her room. I told her I was the song lady and strummed my guitar and sang those old songs. Her face changed like sunrise was happening in her mind. Her wavering voice joined mine, growing stronger with each measure. At the end, she touched my arm. "Beth," she said.
"Yes, Mama. Beth."

Emotion is big stuff. For writers. For all of us.

Writing as Jenny Lee Winters, Magi is working on building lots of emotion into her first contemporary  romance A Look Across the Sand, which features a wildlife photographer heroine and rancher hero.

Magi also writes nature/travel non-fiction. Check out a red fox on the hunt at her blog

Thursday, 22 May 2014

5 Favourite Books ... Kind Of

by Linda O'Toole

I thought and thought about the 5 books that inspired me to be an avid reader and want to become a writer.  After thinking and thinking and nearly burning up all my brain cells, I could not come up with just 5 books, but I could come up with a list of authors that have inspired me, below are a just few of them.

Agatha Christie –There was just something about her inspector and his antics that drew me to the books when I was young and inspired my imagination to generate stories.

VC Andrews – the whole series of Flowers in the Attic – I could not wait to get to the next book to see where the story was headed.

Anne Rice – Lestat hooked me.  The story was so well written that it sucked me in and made me stay up late to finish.  Then I was hooked and had to have all of the Vampire Chronicles

The list goes on and on.  Stephen King, Danielle Steele, Jackie Collins, Mary Higgins Clark, and most recently all of those authors who belong to the Romance Writers of Atlantic Canada.

The commonality in all of the authors I read is their ability to hook me at the first chapter and keep me engaged until the very end.  Their characters are so well written you can see them in your mind, you feel a personal connection to them and you want to know how their story ends.

Although I do not buy many paper copies of books these days, I still search for new books in the same way.  First and foremost the cover or the title needs to gets my attention, then the synopsis needs to be written well enough that I have to have the book and I immediately download it.  If I like the book, then I will find more by the author and purchase those.

The author does not have to be a New York Times bestseller to peak my interest in their work, and they do not have to have other books published.  It is the writing that draws me in.  In this day of self-publishing the world is treated to many wonderful authors that we may not have been offered the opportunity to read if they went the traditional route.  I have found many new authors to add to my favorite reading lists this way.

I have always wanted to be a writer, but it was one of those things that got put on the back burner while life got in the way.  From an early age I had an active imagination and made stories up about the people I had seen while I passed the time in line ups or while sitting and people watching.  Some of my favorite authors would influence the type of stories, and they would also influence the kind of characters I would make my muses into.  I still like to do this.

This weekend while sitting on the boat at the Marina I watched as a lot of people arrived to go out to race.  There was one particular group of sailors that caught my eye and my imagination started inventing a story for them.  Who knows these guys may be part of my next story.

I am sorry that I did not take writing seriously over the last couple of decades, because now I am trying to write down all my remembered stories and characters and I feel a need to capture every one of them to my own detriment.  While sitting down to capture one remembered idea a new one pops into my head and I have to write that one down.  I find it very difficult to make myself sit down and finish one.

The other thing that influenced my delay of taking my writing seriously was that I believed authors lived in exotic places and lived exotic lives.  Whenever I heard a story about an author, the story was always about how they lived the life of a recluse on a deserted property or lived in an exotic location.  Imagine my surprise when I discovered and joined the local writing group to realize I had read and truly enjoyed many of their books!  I will be forever grateful to those amazing women for the inspiration, help and encouragement.

The time to start getting serious is now, all my excuses have been proven useless.  Who knows maybe someday, 30 years from now and if I am truly blessed, when someone is asked to blog about authors they have read and liked my name might appear somewhere on their list.

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Favourite Books...for today at least

by Michelle Helliwell

Favourite books for me is a tough question, because it depends on the mood I’m in. The list of books I’ve read is long (though not as long as some) and while I enjoy many, a lot are forgettable pleasures. There is nothing wrong with that of course! In my list are five books that have had an influence or have stuck with me since I first read them.

Little House in the Big Woods, Laura Ingalls Wilder. I’ve not read the entire Little House series…indeed, I don’t think I got past book two, but this volume I read from time to time now, even as an adult. They transport me to another time and reality, and I never fail to be struck by how ingenious people had to be to survive. Without fail I read the Christmas chapter in December, and if I'm feeling particularly crappy I can just dive into any part of the book and immediately feel better.

The Book of Three, Lloyd Alexander. I received this book from my mother, and it (along with the rest of the series) was my introduction to Fantasy, my primary source of reading for many years. I cried when the series was done – perhaps the first time I ever mourned the end of a book – and influenced my future reading like no other book had before - or maybe since.

Fifth Business, Robertson Davies. I’ve read six or seven books by the great Canadian master, but this is by far my favourite. It follows the life of Dunstan Ramsay, his search for miracles and meaning, and has some of the greatest quotes ever to come out of a single Canadian novel.

The Viscount Who Loved Me, Julia Quinn. This was the first book I read by her, and it still might be my favourite. It was not my first historical romance novel, but her voice and command of characterization have given me something to shoot for. Whenever I read it (and I re-read it from time to time) I start with that one and read through to From Sir Phillip with Love because I just can’t stop. And that’s the experience I want other readers to have when they read my books.

On Writing, Stephen King. Part memoir, part instruction, I re-read this when I need a proverbial kick in my writing ass. It’s a study in addiction, in recovery, in resilience, the last trait writers must have if they even want to think about success.

Honourable mentions include Harry Potter, which taught me to love reading again after my Master’s degree nearly drained me of it, Jane Austen for introducing me to Mr. Darcy and Captain Wentworth, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories, and Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan series for writing a heroine I absolutely fell in love with.

(See, it's hard to choose just five!)

Michelle Helliwell is an aspiring historical romance author and lego video game addict. She tweets infrequently at @mlhelliwell, blogs more regularly at, and pins far too much.