Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Summer Reads

Quick and Snappy one-liner reviews

Pride Prejudice and Cheese Grits by Mary Jane Hathaway is a compellingly sweet, ultra-fun, Southern-fried homage to Austen. I particularly enjoyed a romance set in the world of academia as that is something that the CBA doesn’t explore often.   The author’s snarky (yes, snarky) and sassy rhetoric just kept the pages flying

Lady of Eve:by Tamara Leigh and THIS is the “clean” version. But, friends it is still sizzling. The tension is …. Well…. Sorry… needed to fan myself ;)  I was really impressed with this well-layered and thoughtful medieval romance.  I read it on a bus trip two and from Stratford to see a few plays and it was just the perfect distraction.  A perfect summer read for you historical fans

Afton of Margate Castle: by Angela Hunt What a sumptuous ride!  I had no idea that Hunt was capable of this level of narrative bliss. I mean, I knew she was good… but Afton was an entirely different and brilliant experience.  I read it on a reading-vacation and just absolutely swooned and swayed by the romance, the heartbreak, the meaty melodrama, the historical verisimilitude and the penchant for character and detail

The Troubadour’s Quest: I was so very sad one night when I was too tired, my eyelids drooping, to keep reading it before bed. I wanted to keep going and sleep just got in the way. There are mistaken identities, unrequited love, chivalrous deeds and a glaring, glowing sacrifice.

Stealing Adda by Tamara Leigh is a cerebral and wily look at a romance set against the travails and triumphs of a popular romance writer who is being poached by a rival company. I really enjoyed Leigh’s first-hand look into the industry as a whole especially when pitted against the changes we have seen even since this book’s first arrival on shelves.

Match of Wits: by Jen Turano is another romantic comedy in the same vein as its predecessors, light, fluffy, predictable and the perfect choice for a summer’s afternoon.

Full Steam Ahead by Karen Witemeyer excels at presenting an interesting part of history: steamship engineering and has just a waft of Beauty and the Beast sensibility in the folds of its central romance. 

Monday, July 21, 2014

That one time David Marciano followed me on twitter...( this is SO a teenage fan letter)

Once upon a time there was a Canadian girl named Rachel

When Rachel was an early teenager in the 90s, she thought David Marciano was the coolest thing on the planet.

Basically because he played Ray in her favourite show of the time, Due South.  Now Ray was a brilliant character and expertly acted.  And Ray was a romantic and Rachel LOVES romance.

For example:

1.) Ray loved his Buick Riviera! (Sigh... I mean who DOESN'T WANT A BUICK RIVIERA!)
2.)Ray told a story about his parents and how his father fell in love with his mother because she ate cheesecake with a knife and a fork which he thought was just fab
3.)Ray LOVED his city.  HE LOVED Chicago ( which, in Due South, is basically just 1990s-era Toronto, but you get the picture)
4.)Ray had two awesome girlfriends: one was an FBI agent he fell in love with on first sight and would "bet his soul on" and the other was a mafia don's sister---- oh my gosh and they dance to My Foolish Heart and an ex-wife that was played by his real-life wife OMG!

5.)Ray was a nostalgist: he lugged up an old pool table that belonged to his father. Now patriarch of his family and head of the homestead, he wanted to make sure the one memory he had of his absentee father was shared with his friends from work: mainly Benny the mountie and the lieutenant and Huey and Louie.
6.)Ray had a smile that lit up his eyes and transformed his face.  The actor and the character were synonymous... I thought Marciano must be Ray. I was young. HOW COULD HE NOT BE?
Nonsense, of course he was. All the good Ray stuff.
7.)Ray had an awesomely natural laugh.
8.)He also had this way of slightly shrugging his shoulders all innocent when you knew, deep down, he was a force to be reckoned with....
9.) Ray was the best friend ever.  Like he would do ANYTHING.  I like him.
10.) HE WAS THE BEST BIG BROTHER! He really took care of his sister Francesca, even when, like, Colm Feore showed up and was all: I AM PLAYING A TERRORIST
11.) Ray could decide what women he wanted to date by what aisle she shopped in at the grocery store.

Ray + Diefenbaker = EPIC

So, Rachel, knowing that Due South was filmed in Toronto thought that some fortuitous day she would just be walking about on a visit to the city she did not yet live in and bump into him. Because why not. It was her grand destiny.

It was her birthday wish from ages 12-16.. like the kind you do when you wish on stars and stuff ---when all the problems in your kid-universe amount to not finishing your homework.

And all the other girls were like: BRAD PITT! and THAT GUY FROM 'PARTY OF FIVE' and Rachel was like: umm. nope. I wanna meet David Marciano.

It never happened.

So she wrote him into a book that will never see the light of day: about a Broadway musical in Toronto and he played the conductor of the orchestra and he was THE BEST CHARACTER and she figured that it would somehow be published and she would be recognized as a literary prodigy and make a billion dollars from the film royalties....

(also, never happened. But, darnit, David Marciano, did I have a good role for you...)

Look here, Girl From the Matrix, let me find you some good wine because I am Italian and I know how

Then David Marciano followed her on twitter.   And it's ridiculous how giddy it made her. So giddy she started talking in the third person and wrote an ENTIRE blog post about it.

Because the internet is fabulous and her early teenage self could not have fathomed that this is the world she would someday live in...

A world that is bright and wonderful full of travel and opportunities and culture and art, where she lives in the city that occupied her mind in the 90s, where David Marciano found an awesome role on Homeland ( a show she doesn't watch, but nods respectfully at )

and where David Marciano follows her on twitter.
I've had the opportunity to meet many celebrities and interact with several on social media.  But this one wins.

This one is the coolest. Of all Time.

so, tables turned, who is your favourite Social Media run in?

Saturday, July 19, 2014

SHHHHH ~ you haven't seen me ;)

Still at the Dickens conference here in glorious Chicago

and skipping the annual general meeting to read CC Humphrey's AMAZING new novel back at my dorm room

Thursday, July 17, 2014

I Hear Fictional Voices of My Own Making!

So I am at this Dickens Conference and really am having a fabulous time of it all and learning a ton and just soaking up all of this knowledge and the fact that anywhere I turn in a sea of strangers, I automatically have commonalities with all of them.

Today, one of the brilliant lecturers, a gent from Kent, England, late of the University there ( and who was able to tell me about the imaginative typography of the marshes so I can someday trace the great Great Expectations Literary Tour of Dreams)  mentioned how Dickens was so attuned to his characters that he ( among other things) .....

a.) knew far more about them than what made the page--- hence discussions with his illustrators with characteristics and nuances that were never interwoven into their literary lives in print

b.) that he knew that his time with them was tenuous---he was their keeper until they set out into the wide world, were appropriated by many, and he would encounter them in varied, strange and wonderful ways 

c.) he could HEAR THEM TALKING TO HIM. He knew his characters so well that he could hear their voices.

Of course, as is the case with an enthusiastic collective of people all milling and mulling serendipitously over a shared concept, there were gasps of appreciation and revelling in our favourite characters and personages from "Dickensland" and his wide canon as well as the depth to which he knew the page-friends that would spring from his pen and into our heads and hearts

... Of course ....

But, it made me cherish my writing ( I'm not Dickens. I am not comparing myself to Dickens. Heck! )   insofar as experience because..... bloggies.... I can hear the voices of my characters.

I know their voices, their inflections. I have that. I have talked before about the physical ache I had when I sent my most recent book into the world and that is borne of the fact that, like Dickens before me, I was so in tune with them, and so invested in them and so close to them mentally and emotionally that I can make out each inflection. They yap at me.  They jabber.

It doesn't happen with every book I have written. But the most recent?  My lovely female detectives and the men in their adventurous lives?  I can hear them.

Look! i am in CHICAGO! 

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Rachel in Chicago

Hi bloggosphere,

I am currently in Chicago!!!! with the fabulous editor of Dickensblog, our friend Gina Dalfonzo as well as a bunch of other Dickensian enthusiasts.

Looking forward to having lots of fun and stories to share!

Monday, July 14, 2014


I am SO into this show right now and you should be too!

Like I love Athos to distraction: he is the Fleur de Lys Sydney Carton

he deserves this super romantic snapshot sequence in filtered romantic light

And then there is "I was Lancelot before, Remember?" Aramis He has credentials!

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Even Christians watch Game of Thrones

I should preface this by saying I do not write this recommending that believers watch Game of Thrones.  It is very intense viewing and will be obviously offensive to many. I certainly shiver to think anyone under the age of 18 would even go near it, no matter its popularity and allure.  Further, I find a lot of the violence and sexual content completely gratuitous.    I do, however, want to address the fact that many people of faith are drawn to the story and watch it, despite its dishonourable content.  Several Christians of my acquaintance, including myself, sheepishly admit to it, hold semi-private conversations and indulge. To those who cannot possibly understand why those who are cited to live a moral existence would be drawn to “worldly filth” I write this to perhaps give a smidgeon of understanding as to why Christians watch something so unprecedentedly embraced by society-at-large. It is a cultural Leviathan.  Next, I should offer a caveat, if you find yourself to be someone who struggles with content that is explicit and this is something that might cause you to teeter on a downfall or inspire you to act in a way less than holy, then stay away. Garbage in-garbage out.    But I have faith in fellow believers. I believe they can watch, engage, discuss, take the good parts and spit out the bad.  I believe that media doesn’t have to seep into our bones and force us to act in unholy ways. Mostly I think that believers should be aware and not immediately condemn without acknowledging or exploring why something is popular and what their fellow followers might find worthy therein.

Game of Thrones: believe me! The writing is brilliant.  Those history buffs will find so many parallels between Martin’s fictional world and the historical War of the Roses. Beyond the cursing and the gratuitous sexuality, it is brilliant. Ingenious. I can think of few other  artistic endeavours so epic in scope.  And few that sprawl over so many characters, viewpoints, narrative perspectives and, even, within the context of the imaginary world, countries.   It is several balls being juggled in the air and each character is well-developed and each of their world’s fully realized. It is breath-takingly intense, highly political and endlessly surprising---- to add it forces its viewers to confront the darkest parts of human nature.
Here are some of the reasons your friends might be leaving Sunday night service and turning on gasp! HBO:

Christians (like all other humans) are lit by a spark to find a world they can mirror to their own: despite its debauchery, dark and light exist everywhere. Violence and civil war are rampant throughout the world. There are several different examples of religious practice within the world of Martin’s Westeros. When Battlestar Galactica aired several of my Christian friends engaged in discourse on its current parallels.  Jesus spoke in parables for a reason: we are drawn, as humans, to stories which outline some of the principles and shortcomings humans are in possession of and culpable of.

Honour in the chivalrous sense is one still highly regarded.   The knights of yore embody a moral code that we as Christians strive toward.   Brienne of Tarth is one of the strongest female role models on television. She knows what it is like to dedicate her life to a cause that might result in her death.  She remains pure of heart

We are conditioned to try and find the good and the redemptive-- even in the most unlikely examples. I mean, honestly, if these characters live long enough they might prove to have hidden depths.   I must confess to wanting to see what their true colours will reveal. Will they be loyal, will they betray or dissent? I so achingly want to be proven wrong by villainous acts and yearn to find bonds between them that might prove them to be redemptive figures. Jaime and Tyrion, Arya and the Hound---what interpersonal relationships might force these somewhat depraved examples of self-serving humanity to display snippets of light.    ( I love the bear-in-the-arena rescue scene between Brienne and Jaime! That’s what I’m talking about! )  Many people would admit to being attuned to the unexpected fates of the characters---and Martin is notorious for “killing people off” and no one is sure from book-to-book or, here, from episode-to-episode who will survive--- but I do think we are allured to characters we want to prove us wrong.

We like Christ figures--- and disciples to a cause: and, if those in their pure Biblical sensibility are not so clearly drawn, those who die for a cause or strive to uphold their cause. Think of darling Sam and Jon Snow up on the wall defending their world from the beastly, dastardly creatures beyond.     To the same end, the men who died defending the Wall from intruders, asserting their honour to death and never swaying from their purpose, late in the most recent season.   Think of Ned Stark who, face it, was one of the most honourable figures in a smattering of less-than-worthy inhabitants.

We identify with outsiders: Jesus was an outsider. He coloured outside the lines and was the thorn in the side of political discourse.  He shook up thousands of years of stern religious teaching. He was a radical.

We are all about stories that implore us to finish the Quest: think of the popularity of Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter within Christian circles.

And finally, because I like to plug my favourite character------

Tyrion Lanister: sorry it’s true. He is a very interesting and engage characters, sometimes Machiavellian, the product of a family who outcast him and often deserving our compassion and empathy. He’s a great character.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

What this pre-published novelist learned from her popular published article....

 Even though my publication dream is fiction, I often contribute to other sites ---with book reviews—and with statements on church culture.I recently wrote a piece that has garnered some of the response I expected it to, but on a larger scale than I could have anticipated.  I knew going into it that it would be an interesting subject that would inspire some dissonance and I did the best I could to prepare.  

I used this experience to note what is helpful and what is not when working with a difficult topic on a large social media forum.

Sit back and watch: learn what your tone is. Learn and be surprised at how your words are read by those who don’t know you from a hole in the ground.  Take notes. If you thought you got a point across in a lucid manner and yet people stumble with it, you can note it for next time.

Recognize the banner you are presenting.  Everything can be shared, tweeted, linked and copied and pasted. Snippets can be taken out of context.  The internet is a wonderful sphere for dialogue and discussion. But it is also a Leviathan.   It can swallow you up.

With weighty subjects come weight and responsibility.  It is your job to make sure you are speaking in the most balanced way you know how.  Don’t post for the sake of posting. Make sure that you feel that you are speaking as a disciple. Make sure you are read up on the theology and scriptures you reference ( whether blatantly or not ) and have an underlying thesis. Know your missive.  I was lucky to have an editor who knew my intention and was invaluably helpful.  Run it by some of your friends and critique partners.

People who have taken the time to share emotional and personal responses are reaching out and deserve feedback.  Speak in love.  Get your Ephesians on. Bank time to respond to them each in turn and make sure you are understanding their view—all Atticus Finch like—in the best way you can.  We are fishes swimming in different ponds with different worldviews who all feel we have the right and best intentions. This can cause dissension and collision ( which is wonderful if done in an informed way) but don’t be a catalyst for petty hate and indignation.

As Christians we are responsible for our words: but we cannot feel guilty over points and intentions whose tone was apparently misread and we must trust that our Great reader knows our heart and thus our intent.  You cannot be responsible for those who will glean certain tenets from your discussion than you intended and you must be prepared for that.

Choose which forums to engage in and, most of all, choose which hills you are willing to die on. Don’t fight anything merely for the sake of fighting it. Rather, ensure that the only dissonance you provide to discussion comes from a core belief that your response will somehow enlighten or is meted from your deepest convictions.  The internet is a marvelous place filled with people from all walks of life, many experiences and many viewpoints. Invariably, they will differ from some of your own. 

Being moderate and polite doesn’t mean relinquishing your backbone.   Recognize that you may be Proverbs 31:8-ing and recognize that you may be speaking for a demographic who don’t feel that they have a voice.

If you find yourself coming up against a certain statement over and over again, write a response you can copy and paste.  Edit it and read it and pray over it. That way you have been ruminating on it to the best of your ability and are not just throwing immediate reactions into the world. Pause. Meditate. Hesitate.

Keep an open blank document to write knee-jerk reactions to comments that stir you: that way you get it out of your system without regretting pressing send. Who knows who will see and share those hasty gut responses. Be Ye Smart.

You are being watched:by One whose name you are writing in. By non-believers whose only initiation to the topic may be your social media presence and by industry professionals.   Don’t write anything that can ostracize you.  Your viewpoints may differ from others but the way you present them is how you should be measured.

Separate the comment from the commentator: it’s hard ---but don’t immediately impose personal judgments. Take these things apart and recognize that the internet is wonderful for dialogue but it is not the same as reading tone and body language over coffee.......

Don’t be silent. God gave you a voice. In this case He gave me the opportunity to write a piece that reflects part of the underscore of a novel I currently have on submission.  I gleaned that the dialogue is relevant and thus that my novel does have a place. What a great feeling.   

Monday, July 07, 2014

My Writing Process: Blog Tour

I was tagged by the wonderful Kiersti Plog and while I didn't round up anyone else to participate, Please feel free to carry onward! I first learned of Kiersti last year at my first ever ACFW banquet where she won the Genesis for Historical Fiction. I was madly attracted to her story ideas and have followed her blog ever since. Here is her blog post on her writing process:

My "Bible" for the Bachelor Girl's Guide to Murder: research and character notes

1.)What am I working on: I am kind of mapping out the second of a proposed trilogy I am shopping about a pair of Edwardian female detectives who don male clothes and solve mysteries. They're very Sherlock and Watson: attempting to employ their fictional heroes' methods of deduction and are consulting detectives: kind of anomalous in an age where women were mainly relegated to hearth and home ...

But a current CBA buzzword is somehow Contemporary Romance --the industry, for those of us who follow it, is a bit of a pendulum, swinging this way and that, I want to make sure I always have something in my back pocket for my agent and to show--without, of course, compromising the integrity of my voice. So, I am trying my hand at a Contemporary Romance set during a monumental season of a Summer Stock theatre festival. I love musicals and theatre and performance and I find this is just the most fun backdrop.

2.) How does my work differ from others of its genre: I think, especially in Christian historical fiction, marriage is the endgame. My heroines dapple in romance, certainly; but they will be not be swallowed into a union as some fictional counterparts are --- inasmuch as they maintain their independence. So often, characters that are married at the end of book one in a series are somehow shifted to the sidelines in the next book so that another character can take centre stage. I also think there are not a lot of Christian historicals wherein the primary relationship centres on female friendship. When my agent came back from ICRS last year and spoke of the rise in romantic suspense and suggested I try my hand at something Sherlockian--- I wanted to impose my voice and unique perspective on CBA fiction as well as feature two remarkably strong women who colour outside the lines of propriety. Finally, my heroines are Canadian. Yes, they cross the border into the States( the second book will take place in Chicago ); but they are not American by birth. In my contemporary romance (in embryo), my hero is a Chicago native who transplants himself into a small Canadian town for the most surprising of reasons. The culture clash is fun.

Long ago brainstorm session for Jem and Merinda, my bachelor girl detectives, on white board. Of course, things changed a lot; but their core concepts and motivations and character traits are the same 

3.) Why do I write What I do: I write what I do on behalf of women like me who often find it difficult to find heroines we relate to in Christian fiction. Strong, independent and intelligent women who maybe don't fit into the domestic role but still have a lot to offer in a strange but intriguing divorce from the usual feminine archetypes. I've read Christian fiction since I was a little kid and read about five books in this demographic and genre a week so I am well-versed in the tropes and conventions; but also in its limitations. I would like to see it appropriated by some stronger, edgier voices while still painting within the lines of grace and redemption. I'm also Canadian--- not "exotic" by any stretch of the imagination but certainly a minority in the CBA. I think its important for the CBA to recognize that while America is the hub of publication, the readership is worldwide. I also write Christian fiction because I am called to do it. If I wasn't called to do it, I would write detective stories for teenagers. But I just have a passion for this world and this industry and have since I was a little kid. So, CBA fiction it must be. I think stories can be transformative. I think words and sequences, filters of narrative dark and light allow an author to reach into the mind of readers. It is a really weighty task to be charged with reaching inside the mind of a reader and, hopefully, using discernment to impress upon them themes of grace, redemption and the most amazing Story ever told.

4.) How does my writing process work:
I piece together ideas and sew them up like a patchwork quilt. If I have an idea for a scene or sequence, I write it immediately, not caring about whether it is at the beginning of the book, I just need to get it done before the idea and its inspiration goes away. Then, with historical fiction, research. Tons of research. Hours and hours of reading and mapping. My first shopped novel was set during the Halifax explosion so I immersed myself in all of that and book-ended that with the amazing online photographic archives. When I decided to set my Sherlock idea in Edwardian Toronto, it was easy in the fact that I live in the City and I had it as a canvas ( albeit a 21st century one ) near to me. To supplement what I could learn from roaming about, I spent weekends at the archives ( the joys of being a writer with a full time job) and spent hours looking through archival photographs and city plans. To add, I read everything about the city's social, cultural and legal formations as well as the immigrant influx of the city to get a sense of what I would do. It was during some reading that I stumbled upon Toronto's Morality Squad: a legal means of restraining women suspected of vagrancy that I really delved deeper. Fashion, theatre, automobiles, and journalism supplemented a lot. Gosh, the research. So, after I had all that research, I white-boarded. Big bristol boards with marker and I thought up all the scenes that I wanted and needed to happen in order for a stern beginning, middle, end, and of course, it being an homage to Sherlock, denouement. Then I created a Bible of all character facts. Proposing a trilogy means I cannot have anything anachronistic when it comes to my characters, so I log all sorts of things. Once I had those things well under way I started writing. I wrote and wrote and wrote. I would say maybe 60% of what I wrote ended up shaping the final product. For the 100 000 words we submitted, I wrote twice that. It was experimental; but going into the next book, I know what I am doing and have the characters and their world and so a lot of that preliminary stuff has gotten easier. I am off to Chicago next week where I hope to visit a few places integral to my second detective novel as well as get a feel for the hometown of my Cont Romance hero.

Your turn:
Step one: acknowledge the person and site who involved you in the tour

Step two: Answer the 4 questions below about your writing process:

1) What am I working on?

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?

3) Why do I write what I do?

4.) How does your Writing Process work

Stratford: Man of La Mancha and Crazy for You

So, Stratford! Such a good place, right?  and such good theatre.
There were a few seasons where I felt they were trying to find their pace again and defaulted to my die-hard Shaw love; but when they announced they were doing Crazy for You and La Mancha this year for their musical selections, I knew that I really wanted to go.

For those of my blog readers who are unfamiliar with Stratford: it is a premiere Shakespeare festival which began in the early 1950s by a journalist who wanted to revitalize the town's tourism.  You will understand if you go there, it is gorgeous. At first it was mainly Shakespeare and while they still feature several plays by the Bard a year, it has expanded.  Because it is so popular and the tourism from all over the world is so high, the talent is high and you can expect first-rate productions with talent who has done their stint in Toronto, the West End and Broadway. But, to add to this, they use mostly homegrown talent which allows Canadians to be proud of their thespian output.

Some famous actors who have found home on the Stratford Stage include James Mason, Alec Guinness, Maggie Smith,  Jason Robards, etc., etc., etc.,

The other cool thing about Stratford is that it goes out of its way to provide an optimum theatrical and cultural experience which includes, of course, the gorgeous grounds the Festival theatre is set on  and the sites around town: the Avon river and its famous swans, the Shakespearian gardens,  and the quaint 19th Century typical-Ontario town.  

Crazy for You is a plotless wonder and it is supposed to be because it is built around amazing dance sequences and a bevvy of standard classics by Ira and George Gershwin.    I must confess to being a little confused that they chose the Festival Theatre ( theatre in the round a la the Globe) as the venue for the massive tap sequences; but they used the space as well they could.  The orchestra was amazing, the chorus was amazing. The only other time I have seen the show professionally was when I was a teenager and it was in Toronto at the Royal Alex (for years) and saw Ruthie Henshall and Mickey Rooney and so I cannot compare all of the choices they made but I can applaud the casting and the fresh take on the Susan Stroman-famous dance numbers.  Our Bobby Child is basically Gene Kelly in talent, scope and adorkableness ( but with a better singing voice)  and the other stand-out for me was Tom Rooney who played Bela Zangler with all of the physical comedy that sends What Causes That over the top.

Actually, it's a good thing I found Tom Rooney so exceptionally talented because after a few hours of rambling, exploring and pub-eating, I crossed over to the Avon Theatre and saw him as Miguel de Cervantes in Man of La Mancha.

Guys, can we just get the problems that Man of La Mancha has out of the way? When done poorly, it is poor. Like, really poor. It is not an easy musical ---what with its whole meta thing--- and it is not a happy musical. It is set in the squalor of a prison and you know that several of the inmates will be led out to be tortured and purified (burned at stake ) by the Inquisitors.   And yet, this is the stage-within-a-stage that launches the picaresque tale of a delusional knight errant, Don Quixote, and his faithful squire Sancho Panza.   They embark on a castle---actually a decrepit inn run by a sympathetic innkeeper and housing rowdy muleteers who are abusive of the lady-of-the-knight Aldonza, whom Don Quixote immediately replaces as Dulcinea: holder of his heart and lady fair he will slay dragons for .

The music is also unbalanced in the show (not the cast's fault; nor the orchestra's part, rather the score and songs themselves) and while Impossible Dream and the title song sat very well in Tom Rooney's voice, the range was evidently difficult when it came to Robin Hutton's turn as Aldonza.  Not entirely her fault, I cannot imagine how difficult that part is to sing.  It's unbalanced but the cast and the choices made here are amazing. I ADORED Tom Rooney and you will too!

There were some great directorial choices here and I especially liked the exchange between Aldonza and Cervantes that you see in the video below.

Friday, July 04, 2014

Happy Fourth of July

Hello Americans--

Happy Birthday to y'all!

This is by far my favourite video I have ever seen celebrating your country and this great firework-filled event.

It has everything: eagles, the Statue of Liberty and singing penguins and chickens.....

also the Americanest American in the History of Yankeedom: Sam the Eagle

Thursday, July 03, 2014


Okay. So I have an iPad and iPod and am a die-hard Mac user. But I was scared of touchscreen so kept a blackberry as my phone.  No longer,people. Trigger happy with my new iPhone toy. 

Monday, June 30, 2014

"Someday, Someday, Maybe" by Lauren Graham

"My deadline is here...and it isn't even a tough call to say whether or not I've achieved what I came for--- no agent, no job, and as of tonight, no boyfriend ---or whatever it is a person who says he loves you but ignores you in public should be called. ...How'd it get this far and not go pop!?"

Franny Banks has six months left on her self-imposed deadline to make something of herself and her struggling theatrical career in New York City.

The mid-90s is awash with change and popular culture is asserting itself in the strangest ways: cool people are sporting the Rachel, one's Filofax is how daily life is recorded and Windows 95 is a must if you want to apply for any sort of secretarial work.  Into this, Franny goes on auditions, dates men who are wrong for her, attends acting classes and tries to figure out who she is and how to become the person with the je ne sais quoi that will no longer land her the perfect agent but the role of a lifetime.

It is Franny's insecurity and her vulnerable, quirky, Poptart voice which dazzles in this competent and snort-diet-coke-out-your-nose offering from talented actress Lauren Graham.  Here, Graham obviously imparts her wisdom and knowledge as a successful actress but also her inherent intelligence.  The book is winsome, a snapshot of a culturally significant time and a buoyant and bubbly slice of life from a decade hallowed by nostalgia for many.

One of my favourite aspects of the novel---besides being given a sneaky glimpse into Franny's FiloFax life and recordings of her auditions, shopping lists and cheese puff addiction, were the inserts of scripts that Franny was auditioning for (brilliant: soap operas! zombies!) and the taste of New York through Franny's eyes.  Franny at The Phantom of the Opera is one of my favourite sequences in any book of late.

And some quotes:

"I'm enclosed on either side of a sort of Dan-tent"

"....Dan kissing while Stockard Channing gazes down on us, her pastel pencil red lips smiling in approval"

Speaking of the Phantom chandelier: "When the audience bursts into thunderous applause, I'm swept along for a moment against my will, if by nothing else but the feeling of being part of something---whatever that something is."

"By mistakenly acting like someone with confidence, I found the real personality I always hoped was buried beneath the other one--- the one I used to have
--full of doubt and unattractively low self-esteem. By accidentally acting like the me I wanted to be, I've convinced someone I'm actually that person and I've nearly convinced myself."

"I can almost see the letters that formed the words suspended in the air between us. Part of me wants to bat them away and watch them fall to the ground by making a joke or saying something deflective, but I also want to leave them floating there to savour the compliment for just a second more."

"The moral of the story is---stand up for what you believe even if its a silly technicality that means losing a job."

"The only thing you have that isn't in the hands of a dozen other people is your sense of what's right for you."

Friday, June 27, 2014

'All's Fair in Love and Cupcakes' by Betsy St. Amant

First off, how cute is the title? and the cover?  Tres cute, right? I love Betsy. We both hang out in this amazing Gilmore Girls facebook group where we collectively watch episodes and talk about Luke Danes, the Gilmores and...well...basically lots of fun stuff. Thus, I was thrilled when she signed a two book contract for Zondervan and those of us already initiated with her fun, buoyant voice would have the opportunity to explore her writer's range a little more.

Lucas is in love with his longtime friend Kat, Kat is in love with her longtime friend Lucas; but it will take a reality Food Network cupcake competition to move their relationship beyond the chocolate, vanilla and strawberry filling of Bayou Bend and to the tantalizing and confectionary world of true love.

This is a sweet romp of chicklit suitable for a summer afternoon. I read it on vacation with a stash of jelly bellys by my side and may I recommend something sweet nearby?  You must have something sweet nearby. St. Amant excels at innovative descriptions of sumptuously decorated cupcakes.

The other aspect that really sets this novel apart is St. Amant's obvious research into the world of reality tv shows and cooking competitions.  The excitement and behind-the-scenes descriptions of Cupcake Combat were welcome here.   Kat even drags her friend/long-time crush along for the exhilarating ride.

A sweet, predictable romance with fondant twists told by a pen that competently works within the comfortable lines of contemporary romance.

Will definitely satisfy your sweet tooth: especially if your taste runs along the lines of a blue-eyed high school football coach.

This book releases in September so get it on your pre-order list now

Find Betsy on the web
Follow Betsy on twitter

I received this advanced copy from Zondervan via Netgalley

Monday, June 23, 2014

The Best 5 'Due South' episodes

Bravo ran out of Flashpoint episodes to re-run, it would seem, because they are re-running Due South.  

So when you're eating dinner and channel surfing and you're like: Where's Flashpoint?You can have Due South instead.

Rachel's Top Five Due South Episodes (note: there were four seasons of Due South; but we only care about the first two )

1.) North  So Benny was shot by Ray (accidentally ) while in pursuit of femme fatale Victoria Metcalf (Haggis and company use a lot of popular tropes) and to make it up to him, Ray escorts Benny to the Canadian wilderness to help re-build his father's exploded cabin.  Instead, their little plane is hi-jacked, Benny is blinded and paralyzed and Ray and Diefenbaker ( the wolf ) have to figure out how to get them out of the wilderness....with Benny still intent on being a good mountie and finding his man.  I mean, obviously, the chemistry between Gross and Marciano is pitch-perfect --- but here it is even more so: especially when it comes to Gross' comic performance as a man a little loopy from a head injury. Probably the best sophomore season starter ever

2.)  Manhunt I love this one. This is just great writing and great Canadian stereotyping and great comedy. This is Leslie Nielsen's first appearance as Sergeant Buck Frobisher, RCMP  and together he and Benny and Ray have to hunt down an old criminal. The moments where Benny and Buck attempt to saddle up outside the Canadian consulate and Buck falls off the horse so they have to take a cab? That's just genius.  Paul Haggis wrote this (obviously).

3.) The Man Who Knew Too Little As a grown-up and a writer I appreciate things that the show did very well.  It inserted cultural stereotypes from both sides of the border, and nodded to each country's history; but it also excelled at characterization.   Big time.  There are so many canonical preferences made that add to this kind of multi-dimensional mythos.  I mean the premise itself is so far fetched; but the characters leap off the page (erm...screen). The show is at its best when it plays on the tenets iconic to the leads.  In this episode, Ray's first love, his 1971 Buick Riviera plays a huge role.   It becomes a kind of pseudo-character. Odd, because it's a car. Benny is commissioned to take prisoner ( and pathological liar) Ian MacDonald across the border to Windsor while Ray wants to high-tail it to a detective's convention in Florida. Unfortunately, Benny needs transportation.  So together, with Diefenbaker, they take Ian on the most monumental cross-border trip ever.... pursued by the Canadian mob and enlisting the help of the most Canuckiest Canucks in the history of Canuckdom.  It's smart and fast.

4.)Bird in the Hand  Benny has the responsibility of keeping his father's killer protected from gun smugglers; but emotions and thoughts for revenge run high. This is a particularly Toronto-y episode: the Waverly Hotel, the Distillery district; but also incorporates the elements that make the show work particularly well: lots of Benny and Ray banter ( in that we-love-each-other-to-death way) and lots of throw back to Benny's relationship with his superman mountie father.  It's also just funny. If it's on, you should watch it. I mean Dean McDermott is an amazing Constable Turnbull.

5.) The Deal  This is the first time that we meet Frankie Zuko: Ray's mafioso nemesis.  I honestly think I had no idea what the Mafia was until I saw this episode as a kid. Informative.  A thief steals money from a church poor box in Zuko's hood ( just your run-of-the-mill Corktown Toronto church in actuality) and Benny and Ray track him down using Benny's Sherlockian sense of deduction and the clue of a: "Bindlestitch!" "Benny, you have got to stop swearing in Eskimo."   I particularly like the Ray-centric episodes and the show does well at balancing the two of them.  When Ray confronts Zuko in the gym during a one-on-one basketball game and beats the crap outta him, I was like: go Ray.

Vote for your swoon-worthy hero

The Novel Crossing gals had a lot of fun picking our Swoon-Worthy CBA heroes over the past several weeks and now you can vote for your top five.

For a recap:

Rachel's (ME!) heroes

Kara's heroes

Rel's heroes

Amy's heroes

Shannon's heroes 

Thursday, June 19, 2014

How I'm using Novellas to bridge book-writing time

This is really strange and I bet I’m the only person in the world who does this; but hear me out here.  Before diving head first into the actual writing of my second book in a proposed trilogy, I have started writing a novella....

A novella that takes place in the period between books 1 and 2 but is very separate from.   The other day I mentioned how I was playing and practicing with different points of view. This novella idea has given the opportunity to play around with a specific end goal in sight. Moreover, it allows me to keep my characters and world refined while I inch at research for my second book.
Paget illustration from the Five Orange Pips
I am finding it remarkably helpful.   I am fine-tuning my writing ( every time I write I get better at things: this comes from feedback, this comes from practice, this comes from actually completing projects I start ) and spending time with characters I missed while allowing me to feel that amazing, whirling-dervish feeling you get when their dialogue sparks and crackles and they begin speaking on their own.   To add, more and more publishers are introducing writers through novellas and series through novellas and having read quite a few of them ( Deanna Raybourn's, for example, Sarah Thomas' most recent) I have familiarized myself with their limitations of word count.

For my genre ( kinda detective story: hefty on the relationship aspect), novellas are a prime way to meet characters in different situations that are still authentic to my mapped trilogy timeline; while loosening a few ends that allows me to play on a smaller canvas.   Doyle’s short stories are a massive inspiration for this.  You got just enough action, just enough character development, and just enough Sherlock spotlight to keep you going.  Also, Doyle was able to marginalize his action and still pack an emotional punch.  While staying within the rubrics of short story metric, he still penned The Adventure of the Three Garridebs, for example and The Final Problem: both which are quite robust given the limitations of their word count.

So it’s a strange way to do things: write novellas that, like my trilogy, may never see the public light of day; but it’s exercise, it’s keeping in shape so that when I do mount full-on work of book II  (research is in embryo and so is outlining), all of it will be crisp and fresh in my mind.

My novella: Jem and Merinda investigate a murder at a policeman's baseball league game! awesome because i write while watching my Jays :)

Monday, June 16, 2014

on p.o.v.

Playing is fun. 

I've been playing with the characters I have missed since finishing the novel that introduced them to me.

And itching to start a second novel and continue on with them because I miss them.

I mean, technically, the book may never be contracted so the first book may not exist to anyone but me and the few people who have read it; but that doesn't mean I don't want to continue their story because I... I want to find out what happens to them.

danny castellano gif for no reason but that he's wearing glasses
I kind of know. When I presented my agent with my proposal I outlined the bare bones of books two and three: but that is just plot. That is just setting. That's like ice cream without the option of sprinkles.

So I am playing. My first book just naturally fell into two p.o.v's: One first person (my darling Jem, my Watson as it were) and third person (which worked to extend the scope of action with my lovely muckraker Ray).

In the second and third novels planned I need to expand the scope a little more. Half of book two takes place in Chicago and half of book three takes place with Merinda ( my lady detective ) at the barracks in Halifax.  I need my Merinda to have some action outside of Jem's sphere and with a completely new character I am introducing ( yes, he's a mountie. Yes, his name is Benedict ---though he goes by Benny) and I need Ray to be removed from both my lady detectives in Chicago until they can hop State-side and catch up with him.

I am playing with voice: I am trying to see if I can add a third person p.o.v for Merinda while maintaining Jem's first person and Ray's third. It's interesting. Often times I think, especially 'cause the pieces fell so easily in book one, can I get away with this? and of course I can-- I remind myself--because they are my characters and it is my book.

Authors do this multiple p.o.v thing all the time. The typical CBA way to do things is usually third person deep: rotating between hero and heroine.  Cathy Gohlke's Saving Amelie and Siri Mitchell's Love's Pursuit are two expert examples of multiple p.o.v.s being done very well....and very surprisingly. I think they are striking because they just seem so natural.  Jem and Ray's voices are natural for me to write in and they will be our guides in subsequent books; but now I am infusing some Merinda. Seeing where she takes me.  Again, plot wise and character wise, I have a solid inkling: but I am learning it doesn't have to be perfect or scrawled in stone. I am playing with her: in letters ( the epistolary thing can definitely give breadth and scope to extended plot lines and settings), in reports ( thank goodness I came up with a journalistic underscore to the whole thing. It's very useful) , in first (she's a little brash. I must admit.  She's very hard in first and I think a little too grating---like if Nero Wolfe were given the helm and Archie slinked off to the side) so over the weekend I played with her in third. Scenes and sequences that may never make it into a finished product but that are the equivalent of stretching or warming up. 

Exposition, yes; but experimentation? also, yes! one of the most liberating parts of the whole writing thing.

Friday, June 13, 2014

When we Were on Fire by Addie Zierman

I grew up a Pentecostal minister's daughter. My life was youth conventions and Sunday services and orchestra practices, Sunday school and camping trips and Wednesday night Bible Study and Friday night youth groups. I love Christ; but I sometimes hate Christians ---this was a hyperbolized, slipshod statement I would throw around to speak to the fact that a lot of His followers and their traditions and rituals gave me the creeps. But I never gave up on God. I always knew that at the heart was Jesus and if Jesus was there then all of this zealot fringe could be stripped away to expose His purpose at the core.

This. Zealot. Fringe. All of this permeated with a sort of zealous energy exacerbated by the commercial success of things like WWJD and See you at the Pole and purity rings, the evangelical counterpart to anything musically popular and the zest of marketing collateral---SWAG--- with heavy acronyms, drenched in the 90s passion for symbol and emblem: loud, florescent, proud.
But we were teenagers! We were kids. We hadn't figured out or own identities and it was so easy to conform to the evangelical tropes flounced at us in colour and light. Teenagers who loved hyped euphoria so gymnasiums full of swaying youths, light percolating from the semi-dark, staccato percussion of the thrum of drum beats of worship songs, the rousing call to actions, the heavenly tongues and spirit slayings were a spiritual mosh pit.  It was a world I was sure I should want to fit into; but not one I completely understood.

Addie Zierman has captured this world pitch-perfectly. A girl unsure of herself, desperate to be popular, desperate to conform to the Jesus Freak high that permeated her friends and her older boyfriend. She wanted so much to be in love…. And so much to love… .and so much to be on fire….

The book in its early incarnation was titled after Addie’s blog “How to Talk Evangelical” and if you speak the vernacular of 1990s hyper-high neon-lit evangelical craze, then this book will be a cocoon. A safe space. Addie is brave enough to speak for those of us who have gone on and settled down ( I don’t identify Pentecostal anymore and have left the rather more charismatic publically-spirit filled notions of my upbringing behind ) and tucked some of the more pronouncedly and beguilingly..erm…unique tenets of our past in our pockets.

She parades them and with this, a vessel full of memory and confusion and insecurities, for me, was overturned.
She speaks to the hopes and dreams ---in vivid detail—I am sure many of us young, spirited teenagers yearned to live out. A high school where being a Christian was the norm and the language was spoken fluidly --- no translation required . “If they came to Jesus,”, she ruminates during See you at the Pole, “jthese people in this school, none of that would matter anymore. We would all speak a common language. “Hey, how is your walk with God?.” They would say an would be asking me and I would be able to tell them.”

I identified so acutely with Zierman’s reminiscences that I felt that she was speaking to me on a deep level I keep hidden from my current Christian walk. I don’t retreat into thinking about some of the rituals of my background. I am lucky enough to have remained a Christian while removing myself from several of the puzzle pieces that---with me---just didn’t fit—when it came to belonging to a charismatic denomination and a fire-filled generation.

When she began to speak about her fear of being called to the mission field, I thought she had stolen my Precious Moments diary from my hand. For this, fair reader, tied with becoming a minister’s wife, were my greatest fears as a youth:
“Already, you feared that God might want to send you to those places. You’d been in Sunday school long enough to know how the story goes: the voice of God comes down from the sky and asks you to go and where you don’t want to go, to do what you don’t want to do. And you have to do it anyway.”

I am a firm believer that one steps into their faith when they leave their home and home congregation. Only then can a young person fully decide whether they believe their religion for themselves, or whether it is a product of tradition and obeying one’s parents. Zierman’s life and her incendiary relationship with God becomes more complicated when she attends university and subsequently when she marries young and settles on her own. Indeed, a missions excursion to China triggers an under-the-surface anxiety that rifts her relationship with God and also to her husband. In the last half of the book, Zierman’s candid recollections and bold extrapolation of every sinful thought and act are paraded and splayed like a deck of cards. She is, in short, remarkably brave to dig so deep into herself: using pronouns so that we readers who may feel the same way can, yes, appropriate these feelings; but also identify and most wonderfully cocoon ourselves in the safety of sameness.

Alcohol, straying into the tepid waters of an almost-affair and a rail against church institutions are how the raging fires, now strange embers, are settled and Addie must discover what parts of herself are hers and what parts are the bad fruits of an environment she was pressed into that she must cut away.
She removes religion from faith and her walk and herself and her marriage are stronger because of it.
And while she journeys she never bashes the faith, she never strays from God. Instead, so like me, she wrestles with the human extensions of His house on earth.

I read this book in one sitting, absolutely dazzled by its candor--- feeling lucky and nostalgic, bemused and safe.

My one disappointment with the book was the amount of swearing. I can’t help but feel that Zierman has ostracized part of what could be a potentially larger readership. We’re not talking a word or two for emphatic example, we’re talking several f-bombs. She does explain on the Convergent blog this decision and I commend her for mulling over it and defending it; but there are people I would recommend this book to that I feel I cannot due to the explicit language.
It is  a case of knowing one’s audience and while Zierman certainly understands her readership in so many ways, she bars, I believe, an even wider readership with an unnecessary (in my opinion) infusion of language.

We speak Evangelical, yes, but we need not speak in f-bombs to do it

(but gosh, the “feeling led” the prayer warriors the Christianese KILLS me. I laughed so hard ) Also her treatise on sex, marriage and being born-again are so spot on!


“Remember that first jarring moment you understood that the world was divided? Remember Amy Grant? She was the darling of evangelicalism, the first contemporary Christian musician to score a platinum record and show the world that evangelicals could achieve excellence in the arts” (this quote for Sonja)

“When he talked about faith, he used words like revival, words like spiritual battles and prayer warrior and sacrifice. He signed his e-mails and letters with the phrase Consumed by the Call”

“You sing, one song ending, someone starting another, worship strung together like lights on a string until the last song ends and the sound of the final note is so perfect, so absolute, that you all somehow know it is time to turn the motor back on, go back in.”

“I was so tired. I’d spent the last four years defending a faith I was sure was being attacked” ├čremember when you realized that your faith wasn’t being attacked? All the peer pressure and hatred that boiled up in the words of Christians I never experienced in high school. I was fine. But I had my armour on anyways. Gosh. What a world.

“And it occurs to you that the real work of faith has nothing to do with saying the right words. It has to do with redefining them, chipping away at the calcified crust until you find the simple truth at the heart of it all. Jesus.”

 I received this book from WaterBrook/Convergent