Monday, April 28, 2014

a Weekend of Theatre: 'The Last Confession' and 'Of Human Bondage'

I had the opportunity to see the Last Confession on Friday as it begins its World Tour from the West End and it was magnificent. David Suchet was riveting and his character’s struggles with faith and doubt put me in mind of Salieri in Amadeus.  It is a deep, musing and reflective piece that sits well in the minimalist staging. Expert acting on all fronts and just a really, really strong piece. It is more than a murder mystery entrenched in the history of the short-lived office of Pope John Paul I, it is a rumination on faith and doubt.  Cardinal Bernelli ( Suchet) walks us through a realistic voyage of uncertainty.  A man wanting to implement long-due changes amidst the Vatican politics shrouded in thousands of years of tradition.  When he reminded the pope that Christ was the greatest revolutionary you could hear a pin drop in the theatre.  This takes a sensitive subject, a religious tradition held highly and respected greatly and treats it with the reverence it deserves while offering a microscopic lens into a startlingly powerful church institution that, like any organization, is riddled with human fallacy.

I very much enjoyed learning a little bit more about Suchet's personal relationship with Christianity in these interviews:

On Saturday, I went to Soulpepper’s production of Of Human Bondage. Soulpepper excels at taking classic pieces and transposing them into works of playwriting brilliance. Take Parfumerie and last year’s Great Expectations.  Gregory Prest was born to play Philip Carey and this delightfully harrowing treatise on art and love and poor choices is never tiresome. It can’t be: it is a mirror to which we glimpse pieces of ourselves. A really humanistic piece. It opens in an operating theatre where several medical students are seen sawing at a cadaver, when the tarp over the supposed body is lifted, we realize that it is a cello instead. Thus begins the interesting juxtaposition of art and science waging war in the soul of troubled, club-footed Philip Carey.

Like it or not, Maugham’s characters often border on the despicable because they so intimately mirror our own flaws and shortcomings.  You will hate Mildred, you will feel greatly for Norah Nesbit and you will want to shake Philip Carey until his teeth rattle.  Perhaps the most striking part of Of Human Bondage is its conception of art as seen in the recurring symbol of a Persian carpet. Like life, the carpet is woven with the most interesting and illustrious design; but the most delicious aspect to it is the inherent and eventual flaw one finds therein. At the end, when this theme is culminated in a jubilant climax to clash with the rather bleak events that went beforehand, it propels Philip to take his new wife into his arms and dance: despite his physical limitation and to denounce the uncertainty and despair that befell him.

To rescind all of this brilliance, I see We Will Rock You  on Wednesday.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Author Q and A: Hillary Manton Lodge

Once upon a time a Rachel took a book the friendly folk at Waterbrook sent her on an airplane and read it in a flash.

It was so unique and it reached out to her and its voice was so compelling and it made her want more. Immediately. Like the best appetizer....

So, obviously, being the squealy author fangirl she is, she was all: NEED TO FACEBOOK THE HECK OUTTA THIS and then she connected to Hillary and now they talk everyday and everyone is happy.

My official review of  A Table by the Window will appear on Novel Crossing at some point. Until then,
Hillary talks to us:

1.) Tell me about your writing process. Do you outline first? Plot? Did you always have three books planned for this series?

I do outline – I’ve gotten in trouble when I don’t, because I’ll get terribly lost and panicky. First, I start with a hand-drawn timeline with lots of squiggly lines and squashy words, and then build out to a bulleted synopsis. However, I always find scenes within scenes within scenes, so no matter how much I outline, I’ll always wind up surprised in some way.

Long ago, in the beginning, Juliette and Neil’s story was a standalone book. But once the plotline with the grandmother came into the picture, it became three books pretty quickly – there’s actually a lot to that subplot. While it’s been overwhelming, sometimes – writing the first book was like writing the longest first act in the world – I really like the space that the story has, over three books, to grow and take root. It feels plotted but not rushed.

2.) What was the most challenging part of the process which brought Table by the Window to our bookshelves?

I worked on some iteration of Table for three years. During that time, my husband and I experience a lot of upheaval – my husband switched jobs, we moved five times, and we were travelling a lot. So while I was writing, I could barely keep my head on straight. It took some serious editing and rewriting to get the whole thing to work cohesively. I learned a lot during that process, about how to decide what to toss and what to keep, about how to make sure the bits I kept really earned their place. I’m very pleased with how it turned out.

3.) What is one thing about publication you wish you had known before your literary adventure began?

Synopses really are your friend. I fought them hard for the longest time, but working without a thorough one while on contract/deadline is just a recipe for disaster. I used to be afraid that it would take the spontaneity out of the text, and it’s not true. Synopses just provide a framework for the spontaneity.

4.) Favourite CBA novel?

No question, Siri Mitchell’s Chateau of Echoes – reread it every year. There are other CBA novels I love, especially some of Lisa Samson’s works like Women’s Intuition and Club Sandwich, but Chateau is the one I reach for over and over. It has everything – food! A castle! A mystery! I appreciate how Freddie isn’t spunky and gorgeous and nice. Instead she’s prickly with a past, pretty but unusual. She knows who she is, and she’s not fighting to make people like her. Into this walks a guy and his dog, and they change each other.

5.) Tell me something about the Mindy Project

I love Mindy! I think my favorite episodes are the ones that reference classic Chick Flicks – like “Harry & Mindy” in Season 1. The throw-away one-liners kill me. And I love how the romantic lead’s named Danny (but that’s some bias showing).

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

So Fair a Lady by Amber Lynn Perry

Boston, MA 1773: Shards of Eliza Campbell's life crash to the ground when she discovers a devastating secret: her father was a spy for the Sons of Liberty. Determined to uncover the truth, not even a marriage proposal from the dashing British Officer Samuel Martin can dissuade her. When rescued from British capture by handsome patriot Thomas Watson, Eliza discovers what her father risked his life for and yearns to know more. But will her budding attraction to this courageous patriot damage her already wounded heart?

After years of being blackmailed by Officer Martin, Thomas plans to start a new life in the small town of Sandwich. However, when his actions place Eliza and her sister in danger, he must act quickly to protect them from falling into enemy hands. If the three of them are discovered, their lives will never be the same. Now, not only must he protect Eliza, he must protect his heart from a love that is sure to wound him far greater than any British soldier ever could.

Know what is funny? I have been reading Christian historicals forever and 99 per cent of them are by American authors and so few of them are set during the Revolutionary Wars. This has always baffled me. People, if you’ve got it, flaunt it! This is a fascinating period of history and I have always enjoyed the surmounting tension that cracks an inevitable rift which births the American nation. Amber Lynn Perry also loves this period to distraction as is evident in her pitch-perfect historical romance So Fair a Lady.

I confess I am not one to read independently-published fiction: mainly because I am always a little skeptical about its editing. Fortunately for me, and for you, prospective reader, Perry is a professional. There is nothing in this book that would lead anyone to believe its publication was one sought independently by its author. Indeed, the prose is so crystalline and scintillating, the characterization so well-rounded and the pacing so perfect, it is a far stronger offering than many books of similar ilk who have their home in mainstream publishing. Also, can we say cover love?

There are several historical romance tropes that are followed here: the spunky heroine who must feign a marriage of circumstanc while falling for the unlikeliest of heroes as the proper old suitor is revealed to have off-colour circumstance; family circumstances ( in this case, secret Patriotism, traitorism! spies!) are exhumed and the heroine must re-discover her identity against the pitfalls of a long-buried familial ideology while the hero picks up the ramifications of this fall-out in stride; two people who fight their attraction for each other, often jumping hurdles of mis-understanding that ruffle their journey toward their deserved happy end.

In Perry’s capable hand, these conventions are sought in unique light.  She knows the genre well and she imparts into the traditional her own strengths such as the characterization mentioned, some surprisingly beautiful prose and a strong sense of historical fact.

At one point, our hero Thomas ( he of the printing press—sigh! ) must see our heroine Eliza ( wrought with gumption) and her believable younger sister to safety in Sandwich, Mass.  Their moonlit-canopied adventure, met with danger and unpredictable elements was presented with perfect exposition making it one of my favourite sequences in CBA historicals this year.

There is a strong and encouraging faith element made more potent when explored in conjunction with a tenuous time in history where everyone was acting on conscience and principle. Perry does well at making the motives of both sides understandable and human.

I was surprised and delighted to discover an exciting new voice in CBA historical fiction. 

This book is only 4.00 in kindle edition and it is worth every penny. Support this magnificent new voice and treat yourself to an engaging Colonial romance.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Am writing...erg....blergh...death

Writing this book is the most fun I have ever had, the hardest challenge I have ever taken. Some days I feel so exhilarated I cannot believe that I have bought into the high of this word-dripped drug. The other days I feel like I want to rip myself away from it, even if it severs vital artery and  I bleed to death.

Writing a book is hard. Writing a book is harder when you also have a career and are judging two literary contests and are committed to a lot of free-lance stuff.

Writing a book is hard when you are a book reviewer who reads carefully and speaks to books with authenticity. I am known for being a little outspoken on the book front and I have high standards. So, imagine, bloggies, the standards I place on myself: we be talking Empire State height.    And I try to avoid every pitfall I have ever hated in a book which means that my book gets so many re-writes in hopes of avoiding a black chasm of cliche doom that I cannot remember what is a cliche anymore and what is not.

Writing a book is an ebb and flow. One moment you are euphorically slipping down a rainbow of love for your characters and plot and the one time you spun in that sentence you don't remember writing and you respond:  I be clever, yo!   The next moment you are laying face down on your bed certain that you have 92 000 words of pure and utter trash ( there were 96 000 words of pure and utter trash; but you just JUST on your work lunch break snipped 4000.  You hurt when you did it... so you added them to the Deleted Scenes folder where all the lovely ideas-in-embryo go to languish in limbo, word purgatory, cutting room floor ).

I am on probably the 87 billionth draft of this book.  I am never satisfied with it and I love it and hate it and want to hug it and beat it up.  It ain't peachy.

If this book never gets published, I would still be devoting every single second to it, waking at 4:30 to scribble and second-guessing every second line, working my brain into a flurried frenzy so that I cannot remember what day it is but I have memorized that entire re-written paragraph in chapter III.

Writing a book is an obsessive pursuit.  You have to be willing to fall into it and it will, will, will consume you. Especially if, as for me, the book you are writing is the one true love of your life. These characters are my friends. More than friends. They are little Rachel niblits being flung into the wide world where they will be weighed and measured and evaluated and yes---even rejected.

And if you are not a writer you cannot understand. If you are an un-contracted author you wonder about the tangibility of it.  You worry that people will think it just a hobby. You worry that they judge the every waking hour and midnight scribble sessions and weekend-long revision jaunts just because you don't have a publication date or a  publisher.   If you are not a writer you cannot understand the mental platitude in which you reside. You only want to think about your book, muse about the book, create the book and talk about the book.  Rather like you are in a new relationship and you wait for a conversation interval to squeeze in your new beloved's name. No matter how inane or magnanimous, there is nothing but the book. The book is a living organism and in it are all the cells and veins and valves that pulse and beat and thrive. Book world is the best world.

But you hate it because what if book world is no good?

Agents say that the process on the road to submission is getting the book to the point where it is the best it can be.   My best on this book seems like a big, scaly cliff that one moment I haven't the momentum to climb while the next I have sewn two kites together and flung myself over it buoyantly and why hasn't someone sculpted a bronze statue of me yet?

I snatch out and put back in, I re-arrange and would bite my nails to the quick if they weren't painted in pretty shellac and I worry and worry and insufferably worry.

The hardest is the rather ironic juxtaposition of wanting to have more self-confidence while being scared of confidence.  As long as I have the self-confidence of a gnat, no rejection can really hurt me.  How far can I fall? I won't be ashamed. I never believed in that great of a thing for myself to begin with and I have realistic expectations. But, to be a writer is to be strong enough in your conviction to place the words on a platter and serve them plated well and with refined presentation.  You believe that they will reach the right, ripe palate.

And it is the cliche-est of the cliches, but some people liken it to family and I get it.  This is my book family and what if they are at their first elementary school track even and break the pole before they even get over the high jump bar?  What if all my ideas are void and the words I position in them the worst words possible: not, as Ms. Isnor McVeigh told me in grade 12 English The best words in the best order.

What if no one loves them ? My book people?  It is impossible not to take it personally as these book people are me.

The only thing is confusing, degrading, sickening, heartlessly soul-sucking, achy and blergh. BLERGH.

There is no winning to this.

And honestly, the back tension is killer. Right? right.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Casting Dean Priest in the Emily Trilogy movie of the mind

oh Dean Priest.

We all know I love the Emily Trilogy and at one point in my formative years when I was going through "but Rochester's controlling mopiness is hot" phase, I of course fell for possessive, problematic and Byronic Dean.

For years I have tried to cast him and it's not until I was writing last night and thought: wouldn't it be swell if I could anachronistically describe a character as "handsome in a creepy kind of way... like Peter Sarsgaard" that I thought:


I mean An Education? DEAN DEAN DEAN

Friday, April 04, 2014

Incorrigible by Velma Demerson

1939. Canada and the World are on the brink of war fighting for freedom on a global scale; but in Toronto, an antiquated law will ruin a young woman’s life forever.

Doing research for my book, I stumbled upon the late 19th Century Female Refuge’s Act which was a ridiculous attempt to clean up the streets of women of dubious moral character.

Without any real substantiation, a woman could be tried (without representation and often just on the witness account of one man alone ) and imprisoned should she be deemed incorrigible.   It seemed, often, that petty theft was less of a crime than women who were suspected of vagrancy. A woman walking alone at night or with a too-short hem or with a few mistakes in her past or with parents who deemed her unruly could be sequestered in the Andrew Mercer Reformatory.  Public drunkenness which would merely illicit a sneer and maybe a bit of a rough warning for a man was an imprisonable offense for a woman as was carrying a child out of wedlock. If you were an unmarried woman between the ages of 16 and 35, deemed in your prime childbearing years, you were never truly safe.

18 year old Velma Demerson had two strikes against her when she was hauled off to court and thus to prison: she was carrying an illigetimate baby and her fiance was a Chinese immigrant. What happened to her at the Mercer Reformatory is a bleak and horrific tale of a justice system rife with double-standards, unspeakable loop-holes and atrocious treatment of women as inferiors.

Velma’s life story, Incorrigible, is told in a brusque, frantic and extremely honest manner. Candid. Frenetic. Intense. She didn’t hold anything back as she expelled her tale of shame, embarrassment and harassment in a city that always prides itself on its treatment of minorities and social consciousness. While she uses the space of her memoir to extrapolate her history and her parent’s dysfunctional relationship as well as her burgeoning feelings for Harry Yip, another social “other” with whom she connected and fell in love, she also provides first-hand evidence to appalling eugenics testing the inmates at the Mercer were forced to undergo in an attempt to link physical ailment and attribute to moral degeneracy. 

In a stomach-turning and appallingly forceful truth, Demerson’s life story forced me to confront the inhumane and objectified treatment of women in recent history.   While the Canadian government (years later) offered restitution and compensation, the emotional turmoil and abject humiliation Demerson suffered was keenly felt by me. Moreover, she explores the ramifications of the criminal acts against her in the illness her baby suffers from ( she has him while still under custody) and the disintegration of her relationship with her eventual husband whose union with her forced her to renounce Canadian citizenship and identify Chinese.

It’s almost baffling to recognize that her story has been swept under the carpet while history classes teach of Canadian’s exceptional war involvement.  We are so quick to pride ourselves on our racial and moral and social tolerance and yet the Female Refuges Act was not relinquished until 1967.

Demerson’s story is not the only one silenced, broken by her brave activism and her desire to speak out; but it is a staunch and needed representation of a voiceless tribe of women who were brutally treated, tortured and held down: often on circumspect and faulty charge.

WARNING: This is a very graphic and disturbing story and any prospective reader should know that in order to speak truth, Demerson has to go into graphic and disturbing detail.

Read more about Velma here 

All the Stuff

Here's what happened this week:

I finally connected with Internet Barney Snaith and we chat and stuff! So cool

I was featured at Anne Mateer's blog as a Portrait of a Reader 

I am in the final stages of my first Herringford and Watts novel ( yay Jem and Merinda solving murders in Edwardian Toronto! )

and Mindy and Danny got together and it was magic!