Cloud Cover, by Jeffrey Sotto: A Review.

Cloud Cover balances the specific with the universal with ease and elegance, a tribute to the author Jeffrey Sotto’s skill. The protagonist of the book is a 30-something, gay, Filipino man living in Toronto, which could have made some readers feel the story is beyond their experience. The character of Tony is drawn with precision: he is not an everyman. He is himself, flawed and damaged, from external and internal causes, and relatable to anyone who has dealt with personal loss or rejection.

This isn’t to say Cloud Cover is an easy read. Tony’s bulimia is described in some detail, and he is likely to exasperate the reader as much as he does his friends. On the other hand, parts of Cloud Cover are laugh-out-loud funny, a nice balancing act from the author.

I found myself really caring what happened to Tony, both in his new, hopeful relationship and in his work towards healing. Sotto moves Tony past his ‘identity’ to find commonalities of the human experience: the devastation of grief; the joy of true acceptance; the pressure to conform. Nor is Tony’s life always bleak: he finds contentment, sometimes happiness, in parts of his life; a compromise, but one that will be well understood by many readers.

Sotto develops the story with compassion tempered by a clear look at the realities of a mental health disorder. Ultimately Cloud Cover is a hopeful book, but in a realistic way. There is no easy fix, no person but Tony who can turn his life onto a track less damaging, and not without significant, difficult work. But he can, by the end, see at least a hint of the sun behind the clouds, and the reader is left believing in a better future for Tony. Strongly recommended for readers of contemporary novels with believable, realistic protagonists.

Reviewed for Coffee and Thorn Tours.


Author Jeffrey Sotto

Jeffrey Sotto graduated from The University of Toronto, majoring in Film Studies and English Literature. He was the screenwriter and script consultant of the Canadian short films The Tragedy of Henry J. Bellini (2010) and Sara and Jim (2009), respectively.
Cloud Cover, his first novel, published in 2019, won a Best Indie Book Award (BIBA) for LGBTQ Fiction, an Independent Publisher Bronze Medal Book Award (IPPY), and a Literary Titan Book Award. It also briefly topped the Amazon bestseller list in LGBTQ fiction upon release. He published his second novel, The Moonballers: A Novel about The Invasion of a LGBTQ2+ Tennis League … by Straight People (GAY GASP!) in Spring 2022.


Jeffrey is also an advocate for mental health and eating disorder awareness and recovery, having shared his story on CBC Radio, Global News, and Sheena’s Place. He is currently a peer mentor at Eating Disorders Nova Scotia (EDNS). He will be contributing to the anthology Queering Nutrition and Dietetics: LGBTQ+ Reflections on Food Through Art, to be released in December 2022. Finally, in 2023, he will be appearing in the docuseries Wicked Bodies by Truefaux Films, which focuses on fostering positive culturally competent engagement in treatment and support centres, universities, and non-profit programs working with LGBTQ+ groups with disordered eating and body dysmorphia.


He is a self-proclaimed “cubicle dreamer,” tennis addict, and compulsive social media duckfacer.

How Has Writing Changed Me?

A guest post by Kathleen Marple Kalb (Nikki Knight)

Saved by the Work

When my husband and I walked our son into his first day of kindergarten, I knew our lives were changing. But not quite the way I thought they would.

I came home that morning and started writing fiction for the first time in more than twenty years. As a teenager, I’d written for fun, and even tried, unsuccessfully, to sell an historical novel. Now, with several free hours a day, I wanted to try again with everything I’d learned as a journalist and a person.

I didn’t know then how much I still had to learn.

That first book, a mystery set at a Vermont radio station, featuring a young, single woman – think Stephanie Plum with moose, only not as good – didn’t sell. Neither did the next book. The third one did, but that was only half of the story.

While I was querying that third book (you may know it as the Ella Shane mystery, A FATAL FINALE) my husband was diagnosed with cancer. He was in remission by the time my agent sold it, and there was a brief period where it looked like everything was coming together.

Then came Covid.

And suddenly, my fun little escape project became a lifeline.

During the run-up to publication, I had enough time to work on other things, including a new version of that Vermont mystery. This time, the main character was a grownup and a mother, but the place was the same. A warm, wonderful, safe little town with a diverse cast of people who borrowed from my colleagues.

The first Vermont book was done when the lockdown hit, but I was working on the sequel. And as that short lockdown wore into months and more than a year of virtual school, that little town became my happy place.

I’d sit on the couch in the basement office we’d fitted out as a schoolroom, keeping an eye on my son’s virtual fifth grade, first finishing the second book, and then writing short stories.

The work saved me.

Even as the real world fell apart around us, I was able to return to my happy place whenever I opened my laptop.

Not just that, I learned a new form, short stories. Initially, I wrote one for my Sisters in Crime chapter anthology. I wrote it only to be supportive and assumed it would be rejected. Turned out I loved writing it, and it was accepted.

Soon, I was writing short stories set in the world of the Vermont book and enjoying both the pleasure of hanging out in my happy place, and the satisfaction of producing a finished piece of work in a short time.

Relishing the challenge of creating a good story in a small space.

Exploring the world of my characters for story ideas.

Escape, sure.

But growth as a writer, too.

These days, as we settle back into whatever life looks like after the pandemic, we’re starting to forget how hard it was to stay focused and sane during the height of it. Writing, and particularly writing Vermont stories, pulled me out of the anxiety and kept me moving forward – even if I didn’t know what was out there.

The first Vermont book, and many of the stories are out in the world now. And so am I – a better writer, and a more focused professional. I hope, too, a much more aware and understanding person.

And grateful.


Kathleen Marple Kalb describes herself as an Author/Anchor/Mom…not in that order. An award-winning weekend anchor at 1010 WINS Radio in New York, she writes short stories and novels, including the Ella Shane Historical Mysteries for Kensington and, as Nikki Knight, LIVE, LOCAL, AND DEAD, a Vermont Radio Mystery from Crooked Lane. Her stories are in several anthologies, and she was a 2022 Derringer Award finalist. She, her husband, and son live in a Connecticut house owned by their cat.


Are you a writer who’d like to contribute to this series? Leave a comment below and I’ll get back to you!

Storytellers: New Cover!

Like interior decoration and wardrobes, book covers can need updating. Bjørn Larssen has a new cover for his haunting novel Storytellers, and I’m pleased to show it to you today.

If you don’t tell your story, they will.

Iceland, 1920. Gunnar, a hermit blacksmith, dwells with his animals, darkness, and moonshine. The last thing he wants is an injured lodger, but his money may change Gunnar’s life. So might the stranger’s story – by ending it. That is, unless an unwanted marriage, God’s messengers’ sudden interest, an obnoxious elf, or his doctor’s guilt derail the narrative. Or will the demons from Gunnar’s past cut all the stories short?

Side effects of too much truth include death, but one man’s true story is another’s game of lies. With so many eager to write his final chapter, can Gunnar find his own happy ending?


My 2019 Review:

Set against Iceland’s harsh but beautiful landscape in the late 19th and  early 20th century, Bjørn Larssen’s debut novel Storytellers explores the multi-generational effect of the evasions, embellishments and outright lies told in a small village. The book begins slowly, almost lyrically, pulling the reader into what seems like situation borrowed from folktale: a reclusive blacksmith, Gunnar, rescues an injured stranger, Sigurd. In exchange for his care, Sigurd offers Gunnar a lot of money, and a story.

But as Sigurd’s story progresses, and the book moves between the past and the present, darker elements begin to appear. Gunnar’s reclusiveness hides his own secrets, and the unresolved stories of his past. As other characters are introduced and their lives interweave, it becomes clear that at the heart of this small village there are things untold, things left out of the stories, purposely re-imagined. Both individual and collective histories – and memories – cannot be trusted.

The book was reminiscent of Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Buried Giant, in both theme and mood. Both books deal with the unreliability of memory; both are largely melancholy books. And perhaps there is allegory in them both, too. Storytellers is a book to be read when there is time for contemplation, maybe of an evening with a glass of wine. It isn’t always the easiest read, but it’s not a book I’m going to forget easily, either.


Bjørn Larssen is an award-winning author of historical fiction and fantasy, dark and funny in varying proportions. His writing has been described as ‘dark,’ ‘literary,’ ‘cinematic,’ ‘hilarious,’ and ‘there were points where I was almost having to read through a small gap between my fingers.’

Bjørn has a Master of Science degree in mathematics, and has previously worked as a graphic designer, a model, a bartender, and a blacksmith (not all at the same time). He currently lives with his husband in Almere, which is unfortunately located in The Netherlands, rather than Iceland.

He has only met an elf once. So far.


Purchase links on Bjørn’s website.

How Has Writing Changed Me?

A guest post by J. Dalton

I’m pretty new to writing as I didn’t start until I turned 64.  That was back in 2016 when I was diagnosed with CML Leukemia.

Getting Leukemia was a slap in the face that turned my life upside down.  I lost a job I absolutely loved because of that, and thought I was going to die.  Now that I am on the other side of it, I can honestly say that it turned out to be a good thing. It forced me to face my own mortality and look back on my life and the legacy I would leave.  Now, I don’t fear death anymore, and I am no longer totally focused on work.  I have found that family is the most important thing in my life.

With all of the high dose Chemo pills I was taking and the side effects they caused, (constant Pleural effusions where fluid would build up in the sack around my lungs making it difficult to breathe), there wasn’t much I could do physically any more, so I had this crazy idea that I would write a book for my grand-kids, after all, how hard could it be?  (What the heck was I thinking?) That was the beginning of The Gates to the Galaxies Sci-Fi series.

Now, I’m seven books into the series and working on number eight, and I’m pretty sure not many people write the way I do.

I’m not the kind of author that can sit down at the computer and pound out a chapter or two.  All of my Sci-Fi stories are based on my dreams.  They come to me in full color like I’m watching a high def movie where each character speaks in their own unique voice.  I dream a chapter or two each night when I’m “in the groove”, as I call it, and the next morning, I just write down what happened in the dream.  I can go days without anything going on, then every day for weeks I dream about my story and sit down and write.

In my books, the villains, called the ‘Ones’ speak in musical notes and telepathic emotions that have different meanings when spoken in a different key. 

I think this concept came from when I was a child.  Music was a big part of my life back then from piano lessons, band, chorus and being exposed to a wide variety of musical styles at home like country, big band and of course, the classical music in the cartoons of my childhood.  I would often just close my eyes and hear the music speaking to me as I made up words in my head to go along with the tune, so that became an integral part of my stories.

I don’t think of myself as an author or writer, but rather a story teller.  Money, (or sales) never was a driving factor in doing this.  All I ever wanted originally was to have my grand-kids and then eventually, other people read my stories and react to them. 

There are a lot of different concepts in my books that most Sci-Fi stories don’t use and I think, based on the reviews I’ve gotten so far, that once people read my books, they enjoy them.  That’s the most rewarding feeling to me.

As I said, for me the writing part is the easiest as I simply tell the stories of my dreams.  Marketing, on the other hand, is something I struggle with but I keep working at it. 


J.Dalton’s books can be found on Amazon.

Connect with him on Twitter using @JDaltonAuthor


Are you a writer who’d like to contribute to this series? Leave a comment below and I’ll get back to you!

WHAT THREE THINGS?

By Helen Hollick

Hello Marian, thank you for inviting me onto your blog. You asked me to tell you and your readers about the books I write. Where to start!

I used to write straight historical fiction: my first Pendragon’s Banner Trilogy was about King Arthur with a setting in Roman Britain in the 5th to 6th centuries. These were originally published back in the early 1990s – so I’ve been writing for a lo-o-ong while now! My intention for the trilogy was to strip away all the myth and magic of then Medieval Christian-based tales and write the books as ‘what might have happened’. Not for me the familiar ‘love triangle’, there is no Lancelot in my story, no Holy Grail, no Merlin either. I saw Arthur as an ambitious but capable war lord, Gwenhwyfar (Guinevere) as an equally capable woman. They love each other but are two people with intelligent minds – and firm ideas which often clash. I used the earlier Welsh legends, which are far more interesting and very different from the later Medieval tales.

Following these, I moved to the 11th century and the events that led to the Battle Of Hastings in 1066. I am a firm supporter of King Harold II, so this story is written from the English point of view – stripped of all the Norman propaganda. The other book is the story of Emma of Normandy – Queen Emma of Anglo-Saxon England. She was married to Æthelred the Unready and then to King Cnut. One of her sons was Edward the Confessor, so a prequel story to the people involved in the subsequent Norman Conquest of England.

I turned to crime during the months of lockdown – fictionally, that is. I branched out into writing cozy mysteries. My Jan Christopher Series are quick read novellas set in the 1970s against the background of my years of working as a library assistant – with the twist of a murder mystery included. There are two in the series published so far, I plan more!

My favourites, however, are the Sea Witch Voyages. I wrote the first, Sea Witch back in 2005/6 when I wanted to read something as good as the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie – but for adults (with some adult content, some adult scenes and language, and some violence.) I couldn’t find what I wanted to read so I wrote it myself. I have just published the sixth in the series, Gallows Wake, with a short read novella prequel, When The Mermaid Sings as a bonus read.

So, three things that I care passionately about in my writing?

1) My Characters. I fell hopelessly in love with ‘my’ Arthur, mind you, I was in that man’s mind for more than ten years (it took me that long to write what eventually became The Kingmaking and half of Pendragon’s Banner!) I am even more in love with my pirate (well, ex-pirate now,) Captain Jesamiah Acorne.  Funnily enough, I did notice, a while ago, when looking through bits of The Kingmaking, just how alike Arthur and Jesamiah are! They are both rough, tough guys. Both formidable when angry, but quick to laugh, both determined, both loyal in their own way – both would willingly die for the woman they love, even though tempers often flare between them. Honour is important for both of them – although both are also ruthless when needs must. They both have a solid, reliable friend and I wanted to portray them both as men who cared, who hurt when their hearts were broken and who drowned their sorrows …

2) I care about creating a feeling of believability. ‘Harold’ and ‘Emma’ both had a lot of historical fact to base the outline of the stories on: history tells us that this, this and this happened, and when and where it happened. The novelist has to decide (OK, make up) the whys and hows. For ‘Arthur’ there is nothing to go on – let’s face the truth, King Arthur did not exist (although he might have been an amalgamation of several notable post-Roman war lords.) So for the ‘facts’ I researched post-Roman Britain and used what little we do know as the basis for my trilogy. I also extensively used my knowledge of horses.

For ‘Jesamiah’ some of the elements in the Voyages are supernatural or fantasy – the love of Jesamiah’s life is Tiola, a White Witch, a Wise Woman of Craft. To balance the ‘made-up’ bits I was as careful as I could be to get the ‘real’ bits right, in particular the sailing scenes aboard Sea Witch. I also used quite a bit of factual history from the early 1700s – although some I did ‘bend’ a little to suit my timeline (but I mention what I changed in my author’s notes.) I have absolutely no knowledge of sailing Tall Ships, though. Fortunately there are a lot of good books to use for research and I have a wonderful friend in the author James L. Nelson who checks my sailing scenes for me – and doesn’t laugh too loudly at my bloopers!

3) I suppose my third passion is for writing the book I want to read. ‘Arthur’ I wrote because I have never liked the later Medieval tales. I could never see Arthur as the sort of king who would go off and leave his country for years (although Richard I, did). Nor could I see Gwenhwyfar as being so stupid as to have an affair with Lancelot (who, actually, I didn’t like anyway.) The familiar tales, I believe, were written as propaganda to get men to go off on Crusade, and to justify Richard I, the Lionheart’s obsessions.

‘Harold’ and ‘Emma’, were the same, I wanted to write their stories as they ought to have been written. As for Jesamiah, well, he’s entirely made up, but as I said earlier, I wanted to immerse myself in a swashbuckling, enjoyable and engrossing adult nautical adventure … I didn’t expect that first Voyage, however, to turn out to be such a successful series!

Choose an excerpt or two to illustrates one of your three topics.

1a. From The Kingmaking

With a short, exasperated sigh, Cei strode over to the drunkard. As he was about to shake the man’s shoulder, he broke into a chuckle. Ah no, the poor tavern keeper could not give this one to the street.

Roused by Cei’s persistent nudging, Arthur staggered unsteadily to his feet.

It was only a short journey to the palace but, hampered as he was by the almost dead weight of his companion, it took Cei a while to reach their assigned rooms, where, laughing, he waved Arthur’s sleepy servant aside. “Go back to your bed, I shall tend your master.” He seated Arthur on the bed and pulled off his boots. “An enjoyable evening, I assume. Trust you to spoil it by getting yourself over full of wine.”

1b. Excerpt from Sea Witch, the first Voyage

Waking several hours into the fore noon to a thundering headache, Jesamiah staggered to his feet. He tottered to the  door, peered out, squinting at the brightness of the morning sun.

Rue stepped forward offering a pewter tankard. “Drink this.”

Hesitant, Jesamiah took it wrinkled his nose at the foul looking liquid. “What is it?”

“Old French recipe. Brandy, ground garlic with ’alf a pint of ale. Deux œufs – fresh-laid is that cackle fruit – a pinch of gunpowder and melted pork lard.”

Jesamiah sniffed again at the concoction. He poked a finger into it and picked out a piece of floating egg shell. “I don’t care for raw eggs.”

“Just drink it.”

Doubtful, Jesamiah raised it to his mouth. Changing his mind, offered it back.  “Later perhaps.”

“Écoute mon gars,”  Rue said finally losing patience. “Look, my friend, you lead us like the brilliant captain you are or we leave you ’ere in this God-forgotten emptiness, with as many bottles of rum as you please.”

Jesamiah looked from Rue to the tankard. Hesitant, he raised it to his lips. “It smells foul.”

The fouler the medicine, the quicker the cure, or so ma mere used to say.”

“What was she? The village poisoner?”

Both these scenes get across to the reader that the men have good, reliable friends, and that broken hearts can be dulled by drink, but not mended. The mending, of course, comes later in the stories!

THE VOYAGES

SEA WITCH   Voyage one

PIRATE CODE  Voyage two

BRING IT CLOSE  Voyage three

RIPPLES IN THE SAND  Voyage four

ON THE ACCOUNT  Voyage five

WHEN THE MERMAID SINGS  A prequel to the series

(short-read novella)

And just published…

GALLOWS WAKE

The Sixth Voyage of Captain Jesamiah Acorne

By Helen Hollick

Where the Past haunts the future…

Damage to her mast means Sea Witch has to be repaired, but the nearest shipyard is at Gibraltar. Unfortunately for Captain Jesamiah Acorne, several men he does not want to meet are also there, among them, Captain Edward Vernon of the Royal Navy, who would rather see Jesamiah hang.

Then there is the spy, Richie Tearle, and manipulative Ascham Doone who has dubious plans of his own. Plans that involve Jesamiah, who, beyond unravelling the puzzle of a dead person who may not be dead, has a priority concern regarding the wellbeing of his pregnant wife, the white witch, Tiola.

Forced to sail to England without Jesamiah, Tiola must keep herself and others close to her safe, but memories of the past, and the shadow of the gallows haunt her. Dreams disturb her, like a discordant lament at a wake.

But is this the past calling, or the future?

From the first review of Gallows Wake:

“Hollick’s writing is crisp and clear, and her ear for dialogue and ability to reveal character in a few brief sentences is enviable. While several of the characters in Gallows Wake have returned from previous books, I felt no need to have read those books to understand them. The paranormal side of the story—Tiola is a white witch, with powers of precognition and more, and one of the characters is not quite human—blends with the story beautifully, handled so matter-of-factly. This is simply Jesamiah’s reality, and he accepts it, as does the reader.”

Author Marian L. Thorpe.

BUY LINKS:

Amazon Author Page (Universal link)https://viewauthor.at/HelenHollick

Where you will find the entire series waiting at anchor in your nearest Amazon harbour – do come aboard and share Jesamiah’s derring-do nautical adventures!

(available Kindle, Kindle Unlimited and in paperback)

Or order a paperback copy from your local bookstore!

ABOUT HELEN HOLLICK

First accepted for traditional publication in 1993, Helen became a USA Today Bestseller with her historical novel, The Forever Queen (titled A Hollow Crown in the UK) with the sequel, Harold the King (US: I Am The Chosen King) being novels that explore the events that led to the Battle of Hastings in 1066. Her Pendragon’s Banner Trilogy is a fifth-century version of the Arthurian legend, and she writes a nautical adventure/fantasy series, The Sea Witch Voyages. She is now also branching out into the quick read novella, ‘Cosy Mystery’ genre with her Jan Christopher Murder Mysteries, set in the 1970s, with the first in the series, A Mirror Murder incorporating her, often hilarious, memories of working as a library assistant.

Her non-fiction books are Pirates: Truth and Tales and Life of A Smuggler. She lives with her family in an eighteenth-century farmhouse in North Devon and occasionally gets time to write…

Website: www.helenhollick.net

Newsletter Subscription: http://tinyletter.com/HelenHollick

Blog: www.ofhistoryandkings.blogspot.com

Facebook: www.facebook.com/HelenHollick Twitter: @HelenHollick https://twitter.com/HelenHollick

Writing for Effect

A Dialogue with Eva Seyler

Eva Seyler is the author of four historical novels or novellas. Here, we discuss how she weaves emotion and reaction into her books, while maintaining a simple style.


Eva:

“Writing for effect”, in my books, is all about the characters.

Snogging 

I’m notorious for writing gratuitous snogfests that (often) don’t make it into the finished projects (for example, there’s an extremely un-kid-friendly RageSex scene that did not make it into The Summer I Found Home because it’s designed to be appropriate for kids). 

The scenes that do make the cut have to meet a few criteria: they need to signify something about the characters’ development, and they need to be focused on emotions rather than mere physicality. The goal is for what I don’t say, what is left to be read between the lines, to be as punchy as what I do say.

His voice caught as he wove his fingers into my hair and searched my eyes. “I am abominably drunk but I will show you things…” 

He bent close, his mouth exploring my throat and shoulders and breasts. His restless, certain fingertips called forth blissful whimpers from deep within me. Clothing shed, skin on skin, fingers of one of his hands interlacing with mine while the other hand like a magician’s called forth sense and life I hadn’t known existed. His mouth on mine, tasting of brandy and cigarettes and heaven, layer upon layer of feeling, sinking—drowning, but never dying, curiously alive, singing strings within. He was intense and he was focused and he knew what he was doing. 

Marian’s reaction:

My sense here is that the narrator is inexperienced, if not virginal: ‘sense and life I hadn’t known existed’. Perhaps she’s taking a risky step here?  And that the man is experienced, and both cultured and perhaps a little disreputable: – ‘abominably drunk’ – not the language of an uneducated man; the brandy also suggests this.  How far off am I?

Eva:

Right on every count. She’s been married before, but the husband was, shall we say, unimaginative at best—and it is a risk because this man is her best friend’s husband. (This snippet is from Ripples, the companion novella to The War in Our Hearts.)

Snappy dialogue 

Louise and George’s banter in The Summer I Found Home and its sequels has segued into an experiment: trying a brand-new (for me) style of dialogue that is intended to evoke the frenetic energy of 1930s-40s screwball comedy. I’m trying to perfect this for a WIP that’s third down the release pipeline: basically, using as few dialogue tags as possible, but still making it clear who’s speaking. 

Just one example of many from the WIP in question:

“I mean, friendship is wonderful. Everything is more fun with a friend. But imagine having, say, me for a friend, Miss Shipton.”

“I wasn’t aware we were friends. Anyway, I’m home now, you needn’t linger—”

“We could be. Friends, that is. Not home. We could be that too. I mean. Together.”

“Are you this eloquent and seductive with all your lady friends?”

“Oh no. Much more with them.” 

“You flatter me.”

“You hoover all the panache right out of me.”

“How romantic.”

“As I said.”

“Will you stop leaning in that impertinent way?”

He was too close, his forehead nearly touching hers. “What kind of person do you want to marry, Miss Shipton?” 

Marian’s reaction:

The short and sometimes interrupted sentences are very effective here, and it’s easy to follow who’s speaking by the inclusion of ‘Miss Shipton’ and/or ‘lady friends’. And then at the end the tone changes to more serious, simply by the dialogue becoming slower and a full sentence, and, the inclusion of an action tag prior to the dialogue. Was that your intent?

Eva:

I’m not sure I thought it out that thoroughly, but it’s true!

Simplicity 

Another strong aspect of my style is staying sharply on point. I don’t write flowery descriptions of scenery or events. I’m not against such things, by any means—it’s just not something that comes naturally. This Great Wilderness, at over 90,000 words, is incredibly long for me. Usually my books (including my two earliest, experimental novels) run considerably shorter. The Summer I Found Home is only around 62,000 words. 

I attribute this to focusing on character development and the specific events that drive that development. 

As with my snogfests and sex scenes, setting descriptions must enhance character development. Here’s an example from This Great Wilderness that encapsulates the scenery in a few short paragraphs, and the description is directly related to the state of Leni’s mind. 

The scenery is stark and incredible. There is the brown, desert-like landscape going one direction, like what the American West always looked like in the cowboy pictures we sometimes sneaked out to see when I was little. 

But face the other direction, and it is saw-toothed mountains, and snow, and ice, and vast lake. 

Two worlds. The desert is my life with Mauritz. The mountains are my life now. Both of them are terrifying to me, and the solitude is immense.

Marian’s reaction:

I’m sure this has a formal definition in writing (it’s not quite pathetic fallacy), but I couldn’t find one – the landscape reflecting the emotions of the narrator. It’s one I use a lot myself. I particularly like the starkness and simplicity of the contrast here between the desert and the mountains, and the threatening aspect of the mountains: ‘saw-toothed’ and cold. But the lake – water is usually a symbol of life and renewal – modifies that. Was that your intent, to suggest to the reader that there is hope for Leni In this new environment?

Eva:

I had not thought of the water aspect! At least not consciously, but that’s an absolutely legit interpretation, and it’s true that the wilderness does bring her back to life.


Eva’s contact information is at https://linktr.ee/theevaseyler  Find out more about her and her books at https://www.evaseyler.com/

Writing for Effect: A Dialogue with Jamie Tremain

Jamie Tremain: aka Liz Lindsay and Pam Blance

Currently, Jamie Tremain has two series. The Dorothy Dennehy Mystery series is in the mystery/crime genre revolving around a female private investigator, Dorothy Dennehy.  The story is set in Portland, Oregon. Her office is aboard a houseboat, ‘The Private, Aye?’, moored in the Willamette River. She has a solid circle of family and friends who assist in her cases.  By the time we’d written the second book, we realized what we seemed to enjoy from writing this series, and Grant’s Crossing, is the building of character dynamics and relationships with one another.

Grant’s Crossing is our second series and is a mystery/amateur sleuth series. It might have cozy ‘overtones’ but doesn’t classify as a cozy.

It’s set in rural Ontario. We have two main characters, Alysha – owner of the home, and Dianne – a resident, and the story is told from each of their POV in first person. The setting is an old farmhouse converted to house 8 retired seniors in a guest-home type environment. 

As mentioned above, we feel our strength, and passion, in these stories has evolved to focus on character relationships, to show what life can do to all of us and how we cope or carry on. We’ve been successful based on comments and feedback received from readers.


Emotion of Characters, Witty Dialogue, and Diversity are the three topics we’ve chosen. They dovetail into each other as we build stories that portray life experiences on different levels a reader can relate to, while still providing a crime or mystery to solve.


Emotions of Characters – The Goal to build relationships built on human experiences common to readers.

These are two scenes from Lightning Strike, the second book in our Dorothy Dennehy Mystery series. Our protagonist, P.I. Dorothy Dennehy has learned her fiancé, Paul, has been murdered.  The first scene is her father, Max, trying to comfort her, and the second scene is Dorothy waking up from a dream the day of Paul’s funeral.

“Why did you change your clothes? she asked, wondering why his casual jeans and sneakers had disappeared. Now he wore his best corporate attire. Perfect tie and polished shoes.

“I had to change, Dee. You know what today is. Have to look my best.”

She awoke with a cry on her lips and a breaking heart. As the dream’s images fluttered away, she sighed. “You always looked your best, my love. I miss you so much and today will be the hardest day I’ve lived through.”

Marian’s thoughts:

Dreaming of lost loved ones is a common human experience. Dreams, too, often have hidden meanings. If I read into the scene that Paul’s message to Dee is that she must put on her ‘best’ today: best clothes, best front, best control – to change her real feelings to get her through this hardest day – would I be reading something into it you didn’t mean?

Jamie Tremain:

We think you’ve reacted as we intended. And without “knowing” our character Dorothy, this is even more true because she is a strong and independent woman, but the death of Paul has knocked her off her feet, and in addition to his funeral she knows that she, as a private investigator, is going to do her best to solve his murder. So, control of her emotions is paramount to her staying level-headed. Her grief will be put on hold. And Paul would have known that, as well.


Dialogue – The Goal to bring humour at times, but to always show that our characters are “human”, subject, for example, to petty backbiting, or one-upping.

We have fun with some characters’ dialogue scenes. This is from Resort to Murder, the second book in our Grant’s Crossing series. Our characters, most retired, live together in a small retirement “guest” home – Leven Lodge. Mealtimes can be lively due to their various personalities.

Rose changed the subject. “Anyway, I hope the investigation wraps up soon so the spa can reopen. I’m anxious to try out some of the services they offer.”

“Maybe they can do something about those wrinkles,” sniped Minnie.

“At least I know what a spa is for,” retorted Rose.

I settled back to watch the show, but Nina broke things up. “Now ladies. Let’s not bicker. Life’s too short. I’d hoped to make use of the spa while I’m here as well, but if it doesn’t work out, c’est la vie. That’s French you know.” The barb hit its mark with Minnie.

“Well kiss my derriere. That’s French too.” Minnie smirked. Then she exited the room. I noticed Lily’s small grin as she watched our wicked witch’s departure.

I had a feeling breakfast congeniality was done.

Marian’s response: 

Writing ‘gurus’ often say that no dialogue tags other than ‘said’ and ‘asked’ should be used. (Not that I agree with it!) Here you’ve used a variety of other tags and descriptors. Can you expand on why you chose them?

Jamie Tremain:

When we were traditionally published with our first 2 books, we had an amazing editor. Her opinion favoured avoiding the overuse of ‘said’ and it stuck with us. Not that there is anything wrong with ‘said’, but I (Liz) recently read a book, where about ten consecutive pieces of dialogue were tagged with ‘said’, and I found it boring, as if the writer couldn’t find something more descriptive to use. Balance is key, because to overuse any tag runs the risk of reader turn-off.

The narrator and Lily both seem a little detached from the bickering. You convey this both through the use of ‘watch’ and the fact that neither speaks. Were those conscious choices?

Jamie Tremain:

Definitely on Lily’s part, yes. She is an introvert, overshadowed by her extroverted twin sister. As for the narrator, yes as well. She enjoys being a bystander during these exchanges, although she has been known to stir the pot when it suits her.


Diversity – The Goal to have diversity in various forms, woven into a story so that it’s done in a way to make it seem natural and not because we have to tick boxes.

Without really intending to, we find our Grant’s Crossing series has touched on several areas of diversity, most done in subtle ways, to hopefully show diversity is taken for granted, and not a big deal to be fussed about. We’ve touched on Aboriginal issues, mental health, have had a gay character, and, aging is a general theme throughout. We, as writers, hope it’s a reflection of ourselves, that diversity is, and should be, a natural part of life’s fabric.

The example concerns a new couple, Sasitha and Bachan Patel, who have taken up residence in Leven Lodge – from the third book in the series, Acting Off-Script. It’s a small town in rural Ontario, with little familiarity of East Indian customs.

I decided to ask about a question I had. “I noticed you’ve placed some beautiful small candles in the front room. Are they for a special occasion?”

Sasitha beamed. “Oh yes, my friend. These are for celebrating Diwali. So important for us.”

“Festival of Lights,” interjected Bashan. “Lighting these candles, for us, means we are getting rid of the darkness. The darkness can be meaning bad vices, such as greed.”

From what I knew of the Patels, greed was a foreign concept to this generous and kind-hearted couple.

Marian’s thoughts:

You have subtly captured the rhythmic speech patterns of West Asian immigrants speaking English. Did you worry about being accused of stereotyping in the name of diversity?

Jamie Tremain:

The Patels are my (Liz) characters and have been modelled after a former co-worker, whom I am very fond of.  The speech patterns were part of everyday work life. Honestly, if a reader feels this is stereotyping, then, with respect, that would be an inaccurate assumption.  Earlier in the book, the Patels give an account of how they came from India, lived in Scarborough, and ended up in Grant’s Crossing. We thought having a retired married couple, who happened to be East Indian, would be an interesting dynamic to add to the mix of characters living at Leven Lodge.

Was the use of ‘foreign’ in the last line purposeful? To me it creates an effective dissonance between the idea of ‘foreigner’ and how we all share universal human attributes and concepts.

Jamie Tremain:

That’s an interesting observation, Marian. It wasn’t intentional, but we agree with your assessment of its use.


One final question from Marian:

You strive to show character relationships, ‘to show what life can do to all of us and how we cope or carry on’. Author intent and reader interpretation can be very close, or it can be very far apart. Art is a tension between the creator(s) and the ‘consumer’, the person experiencing it. Have you had feedback from people whose interpretation was far from what you intended?  If so, how did you handle it? (And if not, how would you handle it?)

Jamie Tremain:

We’ve been told our character relationships are a focal point of both series, and so we now make a conscious effort to create life situations for our characters that most people could relate to at various times in their lives – aside from finding murdered bodies, of course!

The most feedback we received was when we “killed” Paul in the second book of our Dorothy Dennehy Mystery series. Readers who had enjoyed the first book were dismayed, and even a little angry, that we’d dispatched him. We didn’t expect the level of disappointment but were gratified in a way because it showed readers connected with the character. And it made us realize that a mystery is not just about the crime to be solved, but it’s about the characters. So having the strong feedback about killing Paul was valuable.

Every reader has their own viewpoint and interpretation on what they read. We’ll continue to create scenarios we hope are relatable and always welcome feedback, be it positive or not, on how we’ve tried to portray relationship dynamics. We may be the author, but we can always learn from our readers, as well.


Links:

Web: http://www.jamietremain.ca/   

Blog : https://jamietremain.blogspot.com/

Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.ca/Jamie-Tremain/e/B06X1FFCCF/ref=dp_byline_cont_pop_ebooks_1

Books2Read :  https://books2read.com/ap/nObabJ/Jamie-Tremain

Facebook:   https://www.facebook.com/jamietremainwrites

Email: jamietremainjt@yahoo.com


Would you like to be part of this series? Authors published or unpublished are welcome – leave a comment and I’ll get back to you.

I Began with a Landscape

Thoughts on Worldbuilding, Part I

“Observing the interplay of minute details…within the larger, overall picture, sensing the tension between the revelatory particular and the general condition…the written stories we most trust about life begin to take shape.” 

Barry Lopez

Worldbuilding. There are a thousand blogs and articles and books on how to worldbuild in fiction. I wouldn’t be adding to them, except I was asked to. For years, my response to the readers and authors who ask me how I created the (apparently) immersive, believable, world of my books has simply (and honestly) been, “I don’t know. I just write.” 

But being asked to share my ‘wisdom’ on this subject made me analyse it – or try to. With the serendipity or synchronicity that often, I find, happens, I had started to read Barry Lopez’s last book, Embrace Fearlessly the Burning World, a collection of essays. Lopez is a writer I have returned to over and over; like Annie Dillard and Robert MacFarlane, his relationship with the natural world goes far beyond empiricism. And from the quote above, I began to see a way to explain how my fictional world came into being. At the heart of that creation is the often-given advice: write what you know.

Earlier in the summer I’d begun a stop/start/continue exercise to combat a growing sense of irritation and dissatisfaction with my life. Part of the exercise is to define what is important to you; what you truly care about. I knew that during the pandemic years, I’d lost sight of some of it.             

Here’s what that analysis showed me:

As I studied this result, I realized that these are not just the things I care about deeply. These are the things I know and have spent my days on. And as Annie Dillard wrote: “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”

Write what you know. What do we know better than how we spend our days and our lives?

I took those eight identified foundations of my life, simplified it a bit, and created this slightly wonky Venn diagram:

At the intersection of these six passions, where their interplay of both detail and general weave together, is where, for me, worldbuilding occurs.  The world of my books – its ecology, geography, history; even its languages, arose from what I have spent a large part of my time on for over fifty years. Tolkien, the philologist, began with languages and built a world around them. I began with a landscape.

And I always did. Right from my first ‘apprentice novel’, begun when I was seventeen, the major theme of all my work has remained the same: the interrelationship between place and identity: what keeps us there, what drives us—or calls us—from it, how it shapes who we are both in its presence and its absence. In Empire’s Reckoning, the young Gwenna, visiting her mentor Sorley’s boyhood home with him, asks him about what it means to him. (The first-person speaker here is Sorley.)

“This all should have been yours.”
“I gave it to my brother,” I said.
“But you still love it here.” She shook her head in frustration. “That’s not right. More than love, but I don’t know how to say it.”
“Dùthcas.” She looked up at me quizzically. “I can’t translate it,” I said. “Belonging is close. It’s as if I carry this place deep inside me, and I hear it calling to me, always.”

This is the basis, the core of creation of a world for me. The bedrock. Place and culture are—or were—inextricably linked. The knowledge held and expressed in the tundra and taiga of northern Canada and the vast expanse of Australia are not the same, nor is the knowledge needed to navigate life in a big city the same as that needed to live on a ranch fifty miles from the next one. The next step in worldbuilding is showing that knowledge and its attendant skills in context, whether the world in question is real, quasi-real, or entirely fictional.

To be continued….

How Has Writing Changed Me?

A guest post by J.C. Paulson

On following your muse: it might just save your life, and other benefits.

When I awakened at three one morning a few years ago, as I had for months after a traumatic career ending moment, I was, for a change, not in tears.

I saw a (beautiful) reporter, a (stunningly handsome) cop, a (stupid homophobic) decision made by a church and a (dead) bishop. Where did that come from? Would I remember it all at a more reasonable hour of the morning?

Didn’t think so. But I did.

It became Adam’s Witness, a novel I never thought I’d write. Nor any novel, really.

I’m not much of a believer in intervention, divine or otherwise. Neither do I believe in astrology, but I am a perfect Virgo: analytical, critical, loyal to a fault . . . and very much with my feet planted on the hard unforgiving ground. Lightning bolts from heaven or any other mystical place do not, in my view, occur. At least, not to me.

But something happened. Somehow, my brain was trying to save my sanity, or perhaps myself. The mood did not actually improve much for a long time, in the overall; my father became desperately ill and eventually died, among other rather traumatic life events.

Even so, the creative muse eventually took hold and if nothing else served as a distraction. There’s nothing like diving into someone else’s life.

Even someone fictional.

And now, I am powerfully inclined to pitch my method of mind-bending to others. Simply, it is this: If a creative or athletic or other positive new thing is calling you, I advise answering the mental phone. Even if it’s hard.

Obvious by now is that my own escape from hell came via my creative cells, and I believe that most of us have those. Sometimes we have to go looking for them, but they are there; and in my view, they represent the best of ourselves.

Learning that I could actually sit down for longer than a few minutes, focus, type, research and write a book was an epiphany.

I am also here to tell you that publishing a book online and in print by yourself is not the easiest thing you’ll ever try, creatively or technically. Nor is trying to disseminate your new invention.

(I’m sure similar difficulties apply to all other pursuits.)

But I did it.

It boosted my self-confidence that I could learn something new — actually, several somethings. It cleared my mind of everything but my plot, characters, and message. Then it forced me to think, as they say, outside the box: how do you format a book on Amazon?

It also allowed me to blurt many of my strongly held beliefs (for example, why in the name of all that’s sane would some discriminate against or loathe LGBTQ people? Or any people?) when I had no other outlet.

To this day, I haven’t entirely sorted out why or how walking a new creative path changed my mind. Altered my brain, really. But it absolutely did. I’m quite sure it forged new synaptic pathways, and no kidding.

As to other benefits, there’s always a chance someone else might like, or even love, what you have made. Your book. Your painting. Your photograph. Your song.

You might make someone’s day. You might change their outlook for the better. You might entertain, or elevate, or excite.

But this is for certain. You have created something new and unique that did not exist before. And for that, my heartfelt congratulations.


Joanne (J.C.) Paulson, a long-time Saskatoon journalist, has been published in newspapers including The StarPhoenix, The Western Producer, the Saskatoon Express, allSaskatchewan and a variety of magazines.

She is the author of a mystery series including the novels Adam’s Witness, Broken Through, Fire Lake, Griffin’s Cure, and Two Hundred Bones, a novella. Her most recent works are a historical fiction/western novel entitled Blood and Dust, published by Black Rose Writing, and a wee children’s book, Magic Mack and The Mischief-Makers. Find her books via her website or on Amazon.


Are you a writer who’d like to contribute to this series? Leave a comment below and I’ll get back to you!

Empress & Soldier

A boy of the night-time streets; a girl of libraries and learning.

Druisius, the son of a merchant, is sixteen when an order from his father that he can neither forgive nor forget drives him from home and into the danger and intrigue of the military.

Eudekia, a scholar’s daughter, educated and dutiful, is not meant to be a prince’s bride. In a empire at war, and in a city beset by famine and unrest, she must prove herself worthy of its throne.

A decade after a first, brief meeting, their lives intersect again. When a delegation arrives from the lost West, asking Eudekia for sanctuary for a princess and support for a desperate war, Druisius is assigned to guard them. In the span of a few weeks, a young captain will capture the hearts of both Empress and soldier in very different ways, offering a future neither could have foreseen.

A stand-alone novel that can also serve as a second entry point into the Empire series. No previous knowledge of my fictional world is needed.

Electronic ARCs available after November 15, 2022. Email request to arboretumpress (at) gmail.com