Wednesday, July 31, 2013

I take to writing again --- this time --- I can write about what I know: My CITY

As an aspiring writer, I realize that I need to keep my fingers tapping and my creative juices flowing.

There is a lot about writing that involves silence and waiting.  Rather than think and muse upon the finished book, I am encouraged to keep moving onward and upward producing more and keeping my little brain-wheels turning.

I wrote my first novel in a very intensive spurt and was very exhausted after it.   The querying and landing a place with an agency, the proposal and submission guidelines, the last-minute edits and suggestions--- all of it was scrunched together in the beginning part of this year and I needed a breather---which I happily took. To read, to recharge. To socialize with the people that I ignored while I was Boo Radley-ed up in my apartment and to watch baseball.

But  my fingers have started tapping again for a fresh new series idea: something that ( and this is the amazing thing about literary agents, they have brilliant ideas strewn from their close attention to market needs and trends) without a planted suggestion I never would’ve thought of trailing.

So now I am off and down the rabbit hole, hoppity hop, and giggling like a mad-woman because it is so silly and yet. so. Me.

As much as I enjoy the idea of my imagination planting a kernel which sprouts into a story of my own mental fruition; so I enjoy picking up a bread crumb and following a trail.

While my previous books (some in embryo ) take place in Eastern Canada, the new series idea is here. At home. In Victorian Toronto.

This locale is in and of itself, an exhale of relief for me.  While I am familiar with Nova Scotia from several trips and visits and musings and research, Toronto is my home.  Not my hometown. But, my home.    Weaving through the Old Town Toronto---through  the St. Lawrence neighbourhood, down Jarvis and the beginnings of the City of York. I love Victorian Toronto.  I love Toronto in general. I am in love with my city and setting a book here just sends little shivers down my spine because my city is so ingrained in my consciousness and so accessible.  When I write of Halifax I still  rely on a map. I don’t need a map of Toronto, I can walk its circumference with my eyes closed: looping down alleys, taking lesser known paths, following the peal of the St. James Church bells.  I know the smell of the harbour and the slip slope of the skyline as it would have looked before we planted skyscrapers. I know Toronto.

So I am kind of in love with this new book idea because I am kind of in love with where I live.

And while I am in love I giggle at the prospect and where my funny little brain comes up with this stuff.  Like, really giggle.

Giggle like this, giggle.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Harvest of Gold by Tessa Afshar

This week, the

Christian Fiction Blog Alliance

is introducing

Harvest of Gold

River North; New Edition edition (July 1, 2013)


Tessa Afshar


TESSA AFSHAR was voted "New Author of the Year" by the Family Fiction sponsored Reader's Choice Award 2011 for her novel Pearl in the Sand. She was born in Iran, and lived there for the first fourteen years of her life.  She moved to England where she survived boarding school for girls and fell in love with Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte, before moving to the United States permanently.  Her conversion to Christianity in her twenties changed the course of her life forever. Tessa holds an MDiv from Yale University where she served as co-chair of the Evangelical Fellowship at the Divinity School.  She has spent the last thirteen years in full-time Christian work.


The scribe Sarah married Darius, and at times she feels as if she has married the Persian aristocracy, too. There is another point she did not count on in her marriage-Sarah has grown to love her husband. Sarah has wealth, property, honor, and power, but her husband's love still seems unattainable.

Although his mother was an Israelite, Darius remains skeptical that his Jewish wife is the right choice for him, particularly when she conspires with her cousin Nehemiah to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. Ordered to assist in the effort, the couple begins a journey to the homeland of his mother's people. Will the road filled with danger, conflict, and surprising memories, help Darius to see the hand of God at work in his life-and even in his marriage?

A hidden message, treachery, opposition, and a God-given success, will lead to an unlikely bounty.

If you'd like to read the first chapter of Harvest of Gold, go HERE.

Theatrical Adventures: 'Anything Goes' and 'Great Expectations'

Anything Goes contains a slipshod plot (plot is a strong word) to which P.G. Wodehouse was contributor about the crazy happenings, disguises and mistaken identities aboard a cruise ship. I won’t go into the plot, or lack thereof, because, like most screwball comedies of the 1930s, it really doesn't matter. It is the antics, the characters and the chemistry and…here… the singing and the dancing that make this a visual and musical treat.

What we have here, splayed like a deck of shiny playing cards, is the best of the crème de la crème Cole Porter.  More than any other musical featuring his prolific work ( I think, first, of Kiss Me , Kate ) Anything Goes has a songlist that shines with De Lovely, the titular song, Blow, Gabriel, Blow and the eerie discordance of Easy to Love.

His lyrics, easy to trip over the tongue and far deeper and list-like ( think You’re the Top, I Get a Kick Outta You) than meets the ear, add a deft layer to an otherwise frivolous story about a rag tag crew at sea.

The Roundabout Theatre production starring Rachel York ( who is a goddess. I first saw her on stage in Kiss Me, Kate  in London's West End  and have worshipped her voice forever ) features a brilliant orchestra, expert direction and staging, succinct choreography, energy and flair which garnered one of the most enthusiastic audience responses I have ever seen in a theatre.

I was boggled by the immense talent of everyone on stage: no one hit a wrong note, the voices were high and belty and, in York’s case, brandished with the salty cadence of a brash, golden-tongued dame of the age, the tapping was fleet and fast and the comedic timing was to die for.

This is a musical throwback to a golden époque.  For those who are tiring of the technical spectacles that Broadway has become ( don’t get me wrong, I love me some special effects; but we don’t always need flashes and bangs) then what you have here is a stage set for the showcase of supreme talent: led mostly by York who is so riveting, dashing and jaw-droppingly gorgeous and brassy that you might not be able to take your eyes off of her throughout the production.

                                                                         * * * 

In stark contrast, I had the opportunity to see Soulpepper’s intelligent remount of Great Expectations last night, adapted and directed by Michael Shamata.  who, for the Soulpepper lot,  is no stranger to Dickens having his thumbprint on the renowned version of a Christmas Carol they stage every other year.

First and foremost, I was entranced by how much of the original text he used ---- wavering from some of the usual nuances of adaptation and including more of the story than I thought was possible.  Having seen and studied adaptations of this novel for decades, I know the usual ways that directors decide to cut and paste the story and bring it to light due to restraints of time and audience limitation.   Shamata’s version doesn't talk down to us. But, I do wonder if some of the off-hand way the guiding information that sews up this complex plot is soliloquized quickly and not without confusion to the audience.  I was with a friend who had no previous knowledge of the source material and could completely understand what facets of the tale threw her off when presented in a quick and somewhat hurried manner.

The language transposed with Dickensian flair and uttered with such supreme confidence by Jeff Lillico’s Pip was a bit of genius. He opens the play as a retrospective Pip, immediately uttering some of the most famous lines of the book as he looks back on his childhood. There, the sparse staging ( theatre in the round, a handful of chairs, a bricked beam that acts as chimney and building side and forge alike ) gives way to the imaginative marshes: the lighting at times eerie, exuberant and, when Pip finally reaches London to experience his eponymous expectations, muddled and bright.

The action on the stage melded well with the space and I was caught immediately in imaginative flux: my brain sinking into the depth of the story and the fascinating aura of each and every character.   Lillico is a strong, if dour, Pip who tends to forget the moments of lightness.  He whines a lot about his past decisions
 ( well-wrought considering what an insufferable and ignorant snob he becomes in Act II ) ; but we rarely see that counterbalance—something I love about Pip--- he has a tough circumstance, sure , but he meets it with gumption. 

Kate Trotter’s Miss Havisham, doesn’t possess the psychological complexities of the character: rather features a prominently bitter old lady who is a hybrid of depression and anger.  At times, I found her grating. She could have been softer. She needn’t have raised the  timbre of her interestingly squeaky voice or flourished large movements in order to convey the heartbreak of her past. 

Herbert Pocket was a delight. There, nothing more to say on that. DELIGHT.

Uncle Pumblechook and Magwitch were passable ---both made more so by some of the great lines given both.   A side note: Pip, as narrator, often intercepts the fastly spinning action with beats of lines quick and succinct that help the flow of the story while reiterating his importance as the center of it. It is his biased perspective and he has every right to break the action and swiftly speak to the audience. 

The strongest cast member was Oliver Dennis who may actually be my favourite actor in the Soulpepper Company so wide and competent is his range. The play does extremely well at diving deep into the Pip and Joe relationship and its fundamental crux in Pip’s development.  Their friendship is early established as his Joe’s innate greatness.  Having already taken liberties of some plot points ( due to time constraints, I am sure),  Joe’s payment of Pip’s debts at the end ( in my estimation the most poignant and important part of the story ---symbolically and figuratively) sinks somewhat into the general act of Pip falling on the recently wedded Joe and Biddy’s kindness and their giving their forgiveness freely.

Double casting is not a favourite device of mine; but here, is quite wonderful:  Wemmick/Joe, Estella/Biddy, Mrs. Joe/ Molly.  Each actor is so confident and so changed that you do not think at all of their pairings, rather lose yourself in each individual scene.

The ending is not as stark a contrast as Pip has fed us his self-awareness of his ingratitude throughout.  These narrative breaks are not unlike the same disposition of the novel and show that Schamata is confident with his source material.

It isn’t without flaws; but those flaws are borne of adapting a perfect work of literature and its transposition to another, shorter medium.  The careful attention to detail as well as the obvious love the director and I share for the story set it with the best of literary stagings I have seen.  I often think that the best adaptations are not those without liberties; but those which capture the essence of the novel. This captures the essence of the novel. 

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Summer Update

muskoka is gorgeous
I  have been abandoning this blog for the beautiful weather, films, friends, food, social events, sunshine and baseball ---for that, I apologize; but such is summer in my gorgeous city

First off,  I wanted to take a moment to introduce you to Bala, Ontario --- it was during Vacation here that LM Montgomery was inspired to write The Blue Castle.  Deerwood, Valancy’s residence, is based on Bala and Barney’s Island on Lake Mistawis ( actually Lake Muskoka) is right nearby.  It is a gorgeous part of Muskoka, Ontario and just breathes Blue Castle: the penultimate moment at the train tracks? Yep, you can often hear a train speed through Bala.

bala has a waterfall :-)
I am a huge fan of literary (fictional) pilgrimages and a huge fan of the locales in which I grew up: in little northern Orillia, summers spent at the cottage in Muskoka, so if you are ever in this area, please go. 

Now, on to what I have been reading/ viewing

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion: quirky, fresh, reminded me of As Good As it Gets. Cinematic

The Kingmaker’sDaughter by Philippa Gregory: lush, expected, soapy, visceral, regal, Richard III, malevolent

Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell: heartbreaking, earnest, nostalgic, sparse, bubblegum narrative that pops, sweet, salty language, bitter, cold, warmed by music

Miss Buncle’s Book by D.E. Stevenson: reminded of TheodoraGoes Wild; sweet, British, a touch of Cold Comfort Farm, anecdotal, hopeful, rural, whimsy

Mistaken by Karen Barnett ( head over to Novel Crossing to read my review)

The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty: straight cut, evocative, 19
20s, flapper, exquisite, tortured, convoluted


Despicable Me 2  See here
The Lone Ranger: go for the scenery. Amusing. Plotless. Pretty
The Way, Way Back: nostalgic, Nat Faxon and Jim Rash should write everything, sweet, bond, funny, throwback, John Hughes, awkward, coming-of-age, stirring
Frances Ha: black and white, modern dancer, displaced, New York, camera angles slitting through fractioned action

Monsters University: colourful, friendship, bright, silly, gooey joy

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Despicable Me 2: The best RomCom of the year and the utmost champion of the Alternative Family

When we last left Gru and his lovely little minions, they were dancing after an impromptu recital staged by Gru’s adopted orphans, Margo, Edith and Agnes because he missed the first one while charging to the moon in a pink space suit blotted by the fact that his washing machine is now shared with three precocious girls.

Now, he is very much the family man: having traded villainy for jams and jellies and the minions, rather than being wily and helping him execute disastrous and dastardly capers, keep house and run around and test jam and are just kinda what they always were: little yellow bouncy jellybeans of incomprehensible fun.

When Lucy Wilde and Silas Ramsbottom from the Anti-Villain League convince Gru to get back in the game to bring down a sleezy villain named El Macho, Gru is wary about how the strain of his old life will affect his new-found family bliss. But, old super villain habits die hard and with several nifty gadgets, Gru and Lucy go undercover at a mall cupcakery and all is spiffy…. Well… kinda spiffy… it inevitably  has to go to hades with explosives and squirt guns and dynamite-strapped sharks plummeted into volcanoes first.

The plot to Despicable Me  and its sequel is really quite a moot point.  Like most lovely, deliciously giggly things, it is the characters and the greater premises that entice us.   In the first, it was the blatant softening of Gru’s heart when his mischievous plan is foiled by the doting of doe-eyed orphans who worm their way into his affections and even coax him to go to the carnival.  In the second,  it is the established unit of alternative family that the curtain opens on: championing single-parent families, adoption, quirkiness,  and alternative families with its conjoining of Gru who is from God-knows-where (Transylvania? ) and  the delightful little girls who were left holed up in the worst establishment since Miss Hannigan took her turn at bathtub gin-making in Annie.

Gru has happily traded his lifestyle and the alternative family is sewn so tightly together  no one can doubt the sincerity of the paternal figure ( dude! He dresses up as a fairy princess ---albeit an ugly one –for Agnes’ birthday) despite the girls’ desire for a mother brandished through their encouragement of Gru to online date.

The result is possibly the best romantic comedy I have seen all year.   Dating is a huge motif.  The eldest girl, Margo, falls immediately Capulet-Montague in love with a sweltering, floppy-haired and be-accented boy she meets at the mall while Gru fights off his crazy neighbour’s best attempts at setting him up while confronting his puzzling attraction to his friendly new partner, Lucy Wilde.     All of the tropes and conventions: from a long love montage featuring Gru’s rose-coloured morning in flourishes of music, spunk, spark and bright as he realizes his love for Lucy to his battle with the telephone receiver he is afraid to pick up.  There are clips (cute clips ) of champagne shared and walks on beach as Gru falls for Lucy at the same time as warily keeping Margo from pursuing her affections.   The chip hat of despair ( if there can be such a thing ) at a Cinqo de Mayo party is just another RomCom emblem for mistaken moments and transitory passions, misunderstood subliminal messages and ….well…the pivotal climactic transposition between like and the pursuit of love.  A  flashback to Gru’s childhood and his hopeless pursuit of his class crush squelched by her belief that he has cooties ( he’s an odd looking thing ) falls, again, into romcom territory.

It’s very strange that in a sea of really horrible romcoms ( seriously. Name a good, smart 2013 romcom ), an animated movie emerges as front runner --- but it excels because at its core it has always had heart, has always been vulnerable, has always nudged the audience with possibility.   Take a moment in the first when a bunch of mothers benched with Gru watching their little girls at ballet practice, lean in and admire him as a single father.  In the same vein, the sequel finds Lucy Wilde glistening-eyed when she witnesses a lovely encounter between Gru and the girls at the mall.

He might have a pointy beak-nose and be a super villain with a strange accent, undertowed by even stranger cadences of speech; but darnit! If those girls adore him there must be SOMETHING there .

I don’t want to get into the denouement of the silly movie or how Gru and Lucy secure their romance; but I do want to commend the film on FIRST establishing the legitimate quality of the alternative family before establishing a potential mother figure.

The family unit is not lacking because of a mother figure, there is no cavity or hole and the viewer recognizes that if their world will just consist of Gru, the girls and that strange little beast-dog Kevin and a billion minion cousins and Dr. Nefario as a sinister elderly grandparent then that is a fine, fine world indeed.   

Even as Agnes wistfully ( okay, so she sounds more like an automaton zombie ) plods out the Mother’s Day poem for a school pageant wondering what a mother would be like, we know that if the mother never arrives from her cotton- candied- cloud dreams then she will still be just fine.   Observe the cute moment when she brings Gru, sitting melancholy on the front step as rain blasts him, an umbrella and keeps him company. This odd little unit has a good thing going .

When the girls are given a chance of a mother and Gru a chance at finding romantic happiness, we know it is not a necessity rather than a pleasantly unexpected addition.--- Something that online dating and a mapped out guide-to-love would never have wrought.

The alternative family is all and well and happy; but every once and awhile something else  can show up to cut and paste into the already well-carved life and that, too, can be dandy.

Also,  minions.