Wednesday, February 25, 2015


Theatre Theatre!

What is going on in the world of Torontonian Theatre?   I haven’t re-capped what I have seen in a while.

Before Christmas, a friend and I saw Arcadia: the Tom Stoppard rubik’s cube that still hurts my brain when I think about it.  It was so transcendentally intelligent as it switched between the present and a room of scholars and the Regency.  It was a wild maze of philosophy and romance and ideas and I have trouble winding my brain around all that happened.  It was more an exhilarating brain-dance than a night out at the theatre and I could deconstruct forever the platitudes it hoists itself upon and the vulnerable lows and depths it scrapes with its fluent and fragile word-span.

I loved it.

A friend and I saw Spring Awakening at the Lower Ossington a few weeks ago and I wasn’t sold on it.  Prior, I think the last Torontonian show I had seen was the usual Wicked launch that shows up every few years.

c/o the Star

On Saturday night, we trekked down to the Berkeley to see How Do I Love Thee: a painfully beautiful exploration of the tragic love between creative forces Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Browning.   Honestly, it was wrenching. First, it was light and airy as correspondence was exchanged between the two poets, name-dropping Wordsworth and Coleridge, and their letters (literally) filling the air.  To add, the director staged bawdy innuendo that flitted in perfect beat alongside the passionate letters crossing between them.   They intersected---emotionally and creatively--- and eventually decided to marry and take off to Italy. Penniless.  But, once they wed, Barrett Browning (Ba, to her friends) showed a side more Kubla Khan than Westminster Bridge: she was addicted to opium to laudanum and to brandy.   A love story more like a wretched passion piece, How Do I Love Thee takes the idea of two people trapped in a marriage unsure of how to make their creative minds soar while bound to the expectations of each other, their patrons and the world.  It also delves deep into the heart of addiction: made more tenuous by the fact that it propels creative juice.

One of the most vibrant and sensual pieces of theatre I have seen--- it is equal parts lusty and erudite, passionate and sizzling ---it buzzes with words and the two titular characters step into the skin of these Victorian romantics and move around so comfortably I was surprised I wasn’t watching an age-old film reel.

Definitely made me want to exhume all the bare bones knowledge I had on both from my time at University.

c/o Manitoba Theatre Centre 

Last night I saw the pre-Broadway production of The Heart of Robin Hood: a Shakespearian, cross-dressing acrobatic affair which reimagines the legend in more of the BBC vein than the Errol Flynn. Here, it is Marion who is the brains and guts behind the outlaw operation,  two steps ahead of the weaselly Prince John and the maniacal Guy of Gisborne.  Featuring the anachronistic musical flare of Parsonsfield, it is a buoyant but odd production that was a little too pantomime for my taste. That being said, the staging and the lush green set (used to within an inch of its life ) was breath-taking to behold.
I quite enjoy re-imagining Marian as a cross-dressing, sword-wielding force of nature more at home in the forest than in the traditional upscale life meted out for her in the castle.  There was a nice zest of feminism here tempered with the slow, expected romance---- but even as they wed you know that Robin will meet her on equal terms.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Of Love and Romance: The Many Examples of TV Romance by Rissi

Rachel's note: There are few readers who do more to help promote books and authors than Rissi at Scribbles, Scripts and Such .  Her evident passion for her favourite books and films ---and TV shows---is contagious!  Rissi often contributes to Femnista and is one of the shining stars behind the INSPYs awards! Thus, I definitely was eager to have her contribute this month :)  

The Many Examples of TV Romance

If there is one thing television writers excel at, it’s whipping audiences into a frenzy. Aside from the twists the puzzling plots take, where this element really becomes a problem are the romantic relationships. The writer’s put us through a roller-coaster, will-they-or-won’t-they tease. This causes us mere mortals’ trauma. Our fandom loving hearts cannot take those longing glances, all of which merely serves as a conformation that these couples are meant for each other. We all know who they are and squeal with pleasure (seriously, I’m not alone in this, am I?) when things seem to be falling into place and take to social media when something goes wrong. Here are some of the romances television has introduced us to.

First there is CW’s Arrow and its titular character Oliver Queen. This relationship seems to be destined to “torture” us forever. We all know he and Felicity Smoak are meant for each other, but does he? Nope. Seems Oliver wants to go self-sacrificial and keep distance (in a romantic sense) from the woman he truly loves because he doesn’t want to put her in danger. Correct me if I’m wrong, but Oliver, this is dumb reasoning. Much as I love him, it had to be said. The logic behind that doesn’t compute because Felicity is firmly ingrained in Oliver’s life even if only in a professional capacity. She is a part of Team Arrow and of course, anyone could threaten her just for that. Still, if Oliver wants to be noble, let’s see how far it takes him.

ABC gave us an alternative in the short-lived Pushing Daisies which featured pie-maker Ned and his true love Charlotte – “Chuck.” In this quirky story, I’ve no doubt the two would have been together had it not been for the awkward impediment that if Ned were to touch Chuck, she’d die. You see, Ned has the unusual ability to bring people to life – as he did for Chuck, but if he touches them again, they die.

c/o pushing

1920’s Australia introduces us to lady detective Miss Phryne Fisher and Detective Jack Robinson. The attraction between these two is instantaneous. From the start, it’s obvious both are interested. Phryne is quite the sassy woman and Jack is married making them unattainable. But as time passes, Jack’s marriage ends in divorce and there is a moment that the pair nearly break down and spill what’s plainly written across their faces. Part of what makes this relationship so interesting is the differing personalities of the two: Jack is as “buttoned up” as they come. He’s a gentleman who isn’t the type to take advantage of anyone or anything. Phryne is the definition of a “modern woman” and seems to take pleasure in “shocking” Jack either with the things she says or the independent streak that is constantly getting her into tight fixes.

CBS’ The Mentalist is another complicated romance. Its hero, Patrick Jane lost his wife to a horrific murder prior to when we meet him, but working with the CBI (California Bureau of Investigation), the lead agent, Theresa Lisbon is someone who seems to reignite a spark in him. Whether he realizes that or not is another thing entirely. Jane’s broken spirit and heart prevent him from ever telling Lisbon anything while Lisbon is drawn to Jane because of his demeanor and unusual crime solving. In spite of his infuriating methods, she falls head over heels for him. Their relationship blossomed after a genuine friendship and when Jane actually does tell Lisbon the truth, I swear, I probably wore a smile for hours after watching that defining moment.

Then there are the marrieds. I don’t think a more wonderful couple has graced the screen than Peter and Elizabeth Burke. These two… I adore them. Their relationship may be glossed over in some regards, but it also shows the ups and downs of marriage. The Burkes hit snags along the way yet through it all, they’re a “solid” relationship that TV writers don’t usually give fans. It’s a happy relationship that starts with a happily ever after and answers that age-old question “what comes next.”

No matter your favorite television romances, there is the common thread of winks and teasing that never seem to let up. It’s clear romance sells because nearly every procedural has one in their story. The writer’s might think that this is what keeps us glued to the television screen when in reality, a couple actually getting together can make any story that much stronger. But the secret is they also know that no matter how long the “slow burn” develops, we aren’t likely to abandon our fandoms. Cleary, we’re in it for the long run with these couples. 

Find Rissi on twitter 

so many books that I did read

Lately I have been writing a ton ( get ready for Jem and Merinda, guys!)  and featuring Love and Romance here on the blog.

in honour of a recently discovered new Holmes story c/o I Hear of Sherlock

I have also been at Breakpoint:
Review: McFarland, USA ( thanks to Disney and Graf-Martin for the screening)

and at Edgy Inspirational Romance:

But I have been reading:  

Snippets, kittens! lots of snippets!

Texts from Jane Eyre by Mallory Ortberg: The Wuthering Heights and the John Keats ones were my favourite. Holy cow!

When Beauty Tamed the Beast by Eloisa James

Friends, this made me laugh super hard. It was also steamy and smart and complete with a crumbling castle and a House-like hero plagued by constant pain and grumbles. I especially enjoyed learning about medical history of the Regency period

The Massey Murder:
YOU GUYS ! I love this book. I can't even.... I CAN'T EVEN! I can't even


I am so obsessed with Edwardian period Toronto and this was a brilliantly researched exposition of a lost world. The class system, the raging far-away Great War, the shifting tides of Social convention and the power suddenly given women.

Not to mention the amazing court scenes when a British domestic is pitted against one of the titular families in Toronto's WASPY heritage

I can't even talk about how much I loved this. I just loved it. I LOVE IT! Charlotte Gray has long been one of Canada's most narrative and lyrical historians and her work is so excessively readable; but this! This hit all the right chords. It is a time period I cannot get enough of in the city of my heart.

The Mockingbird Next Door: mea culpa, Nelle, whether or not you approved this book I was darn entertained by it and loved seeping into the life of one of my favourite enigmatic authors.  It's like Maycomb county is trapped in a time capsule 

The Family Way and The City of Darkness and Light by Rhys Bowen:  I love Molly Murphy. I love Sid and Gus.  WTF! Why did she marry Daniel Sullivan and why can't he be better? Like, come on. 

Songs of Sorrow: This is a really fabulous look at the capture and history of culture. I enjoyed the passion behind the pain-staking research done in cultivating and preserving an inimitable part of human experience. Perfect for Black History month and of interest to historians of social, culture and musical lines, Songs of Sorrow is a glorious, in-depth look at a multi-layered and multi-faceted cultural history. (netgalley copy on behalf of Univ of Mississippi Press )

The Angel Court Affair  I love Anne Perry. I love Thomas Pitt. I am surprised that a series I have been reading for well over a decade continues to peal fresh and new.  There is something so alluring about the end of the Victorian era: a period of immense change chugging along and the sudden looming of a century that renders earth's inhabitants recognizably apprehensive.   Perry paints a broad canvas here as Pitt et al track a killer and there is something fluid about the exposition of the case.  I haven't read all of the Pitt books and rarely have trouble catching up ( received from Random House for review)

Who’s Picking me Up from the Airport? Refreshing, hilarious and completely candid. This is probably the most stomachable book on Christian singlehood I have ever read. Johnson has a sly straight-edge wit that just resonated and made me laugh hard. She balances a warmth and understanding for the plight (especially in evangelical circles) and counters it with a humorous dose of self-deprecation. Honestly the only tolerable Christian singles book I have ever read. She is a voice to share, cherish and snortle at! ( received from Zondervan)

The Last Heiress gorgeous cover art!!! really enjoyed the underlying tensions wrought of the civil war and the clash of american and british cultures and traditions. Ellis possesses a spry and winning sense of dialogue and her historical insertions were first rate. To add, I quite enjoyed the parallel examined in twins Abigail and Amanda: both from different worlds yet sharing the same face. This theme paired well with the book's high moral stakes. Fans of Tracie Peterson and Judith Miller will find a happy home here (received from Harvest House )

Love Arrives in Pieces: St. Amant's best so far! This is a heart-wrenchingly honest look at the pain of divorce and death. Two realistically flawed and hungry people find love in each other and restitution in their Saviour. Gripping, real and never without hope, St. Amant speaks to a troubling situation with candour and grace that will help her find a new set of readers. She is breaking the binds of CBA convention and speaking straight-forwardly about finding God's path beyond human expectation. More than a contemporary romance, Love Arrives in Pieces is a treatise on God's ability to help humans reconcile with each other, with Him and with themselves. A great "finally letting yourself off the hook" book this will reach plenty of hurting souls. (with thanks to Zondervan)

Scent of Triumph Took me awhile to get into this one, but I certainly enjoyed the unique slant on WWII fiction ( a setting that has become very popular of late). Not wholly likeable characters--- but believable ones---- and the journey from the European theatre, across the ocean, and to the States was a wonderfully wrought canvas.
One of the most intriguing aspects of the book for me was the art of scent-making. There is a chemistry married with a passion that shows obvious research.
A competent first read (for me) by a talented storyteller.  ( with thanks to St. Martin's)

The Executioner’s Daughter: What an interesting interesting fable-like patch of folklore this is. Woven with magic and set against the tumultuous life of London’s ominous tower, Moss and her blacksmith father ( not to mention Salter, the sly river rat) pepper an unforgettable children’s tale. Lush, sparse and so vivid, this reminded me why I love Children’s Literature as much as I do. (thanks to Egmont)

Victorian Fairy Tales ed. Michael Newton: I am so fascinated by fairytales and this scholarly annotated version from Oxford really gives you a sense of the rhetoric and symbol that best resonated with the Victorian populous. The dark, the grotesque, the grim and the hopeful—these radiant tales pit against the twists and turns of a topsy-turvy century. A wide range of authorial voices and expert notation allow you to steal into the past and the firelight’s glow of a century long gone by. Great place to find work by Thackeray, Ford Madox Ford and Oscar Wilde not generally explored in the Western Canon.

Dauntless by Dina Sleiman: Fresh, snappy voice, brilliant dialogue and interesting play with narrative that almost seems omniscient at times while recalling the ballads and tales of yesteryear with a Robin Hood flare.....these are only the technical aspects that sew up this competent novel. This will be a sure-fire crossover it with the general market due to its fast-pace and colourful characters. Loved the action, loved the banter between Merry and her band and enjoyed learning about Timothy. Perfect historical detail meets fun and adventure! I loved Allen and I loved the promise of a love triangle :)

Fans of Melanie Dickerson will eat this up. YA fiction with immediate crossover appeal.

(thanks, Bethany House)

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Of Love and Romance: Kara Isaac

YAY! Kara Isaac is here!  I love her!!! We both hang out on Novel Crossing and she is just the most fun! Also, she's a Pastor's Wife and I grew up a PK so we have so much in common!!

The Worst Advice You’ll Ever Get On Writing Romance

Hi, my name is Kara and I have a confession. I write romances and not much makes me happier than a great romantic comedy (book or movie) but I am totally ambivalent about Valentine’s Day.

I also know nothing about writing romantic scenes. Which is what Rachel suggested that I write my Valentine’s love and romance post about. So she really picked the wrong gal for this one. Sorry, Rach!

Here’s the thing. Evidence suggests I’m not horrible at this romance gig. I have a few contest wins to my name, an awesome agent, and editors have said nice things, so why the fear that I’m finally about to be outed as a fraud when someone asks me to write about writing romance?

Let me go on a little tangent. You know, how when you were growing up, you had the list? The one that delineated the spiritual/emotional/physical characteristics of your soulmate-true-love-forever-God-ordained perfect match?

And then you met him. That guy who ticked every single box on that list. And you connected with him on the same level as you do with the average potted plant.

And it made no sense. This was the guy. Who fit the list. Yet where there should have been crazy chemistry there was the romantic equivalent of a bowl of wet cornflakes.

This is why I feel completely out of my depth giving anyone advice about writing romance. Because, like people, often your characters either have the magic or they don’t.

And sometimes there is no reason why. You’ve done their Myers-Briggs profiles, delved into their hurts, strengths and weaknesses, done everything it is possible to do to make your fictional couple the perfect match. Then you put them together on the page and **crickets chirping**

True story. I had one of my manuscripts all planned out. My heroine was going to be on a call-in radio show and be re-connected with an ex-boyfriend. It was going to be Nicholas Sparks meets Becky Wade meets Francine Rivers kind of romance awesome.

Until, before the poor ex-boyfriend could even pick up the phone, my heroine went and fell for the radio show host. This guy who was supposed to be in one scene, only there because I needed his show to connect my two estranged true loves, suddenly took over my whole story. Why? Because this crazy chemistry showed up on the page and refused to be hustled into the professional plutonic scene it was supposed to be.

That’s why I can’t get anyone advice about writing the kind of tingling, happy grinning, crazy chemistry, romance that people want to read. Because, I honest to goodness, don’t know exactly how it happens.  All I know is that if you can get two characters on the page who spark, then your biggest battle in writing a romance that people want to read is won.

And that, dear Rachel’s blog readers, is my truly best advice on writing romance. You’re welcome J

So let’s talk books, chemistry, and romance. Who are your favourite fictional characters who have the kind of burning-up-the-pages that I’m talking about?

P.S. You know that list? Top of my list was “no facial hair” (sorry, I mean top of my list was “loves Jesus”, then “no facial hair”). Guess what, still hate facial hair. I look with pity upon all those women who have to tolerate their husbands doing Movember and growing giant slugs on their faces. Exception to the rule: my husband. I’ve seen him without it once and told him to never ever ever ever EVER do that again. God works in mysterious ways, people. 

Kara Isaac lives in Wellington, New Zealand. By day she is a mum of two, pastor's wife and public servant. By night she is a professional bather, tidy upperer, peace negotiator, laundry folder, closet Bachelor fan, and occasional romantic comedy writer. Represented by Chip MacGregor of MacGregor Literary Inc. she loves to connect with fellow romance lovers on Twitter @KaraIsaac and Facebook at Kara Isaac - Writer 


Rene Gutteridge: The Real Message behind Old Fashioned 
Sara Goff A Plan for Love 
Roseanna White: Cover Reveal The Lost Heiress 
Shouldn't I Be in Study Hall Right Now? by Carre Armstrong Gardner 
Henry Higgins and Eliza Doolittle by Gina Dalfonzo
Meet cutes with Nichole Parks 

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Spotlight Tour: Jill Mansell "The Unexpected Consequences of Love"

The Unexpected Consequences of Love
By Jill Mansell
Sourcebooks Landmark
Women’s Fiction
February 3, 2015
ISBN: 9781492602088

Sophie has no interest in finding love. But what happens when love finds her?

Sophie Wells is a successful photographer with a focus on putting the past firmly behind her. When Josh Strachan returns to the seaside town of Cornwall from the States to run his family’s hotel, he can't understand why the fun, sexy girl has zero interest in letting him—or any man for that matter—into her life. He also can't understand how he's been duped into employing Sophie's impulsive friend Tula, whose crush on him is decidedly unrequited. Both girls remain mum about the reasons behind Sophie’s indifference to love. But that doesn’t mean Josh is going to quit trying…

Buy THE UNEXPECTED CONSEQUENCES OF LOVE by Jill Mansell: Amazon | B&N | BAM | !ndigo | IndieBound | Kobo

With over 9 million copies sold, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Jill Mansell writes irresistible and funny romantic tales for women in the tradition of Marian Keyes and Sophie Kinsella. She worked for many years at the Burden Neurological Hospital, Bristol, and now writes full time. She lives with her partner and their children in Bristol, England.

Connect with Jill Mansell: Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads


“Nearly done… Oh, it’s you.” Turning, she glimpsed him in the doorway and straightened up. Nodding at Griff, she said, “Have you come to get him? He’s shattered now. I’ve just finished the shoot.”
“I know, I saw the family driving off. And I am sorry. Dot did warn me about the door-opening thing,” Josh admitted. “I just forgot about it. Can I blame it on the jet lag?”
She gave him a look. “Only if you’re a complete wuss. You’ve had a whole week to get over it.”
Her eyes were bright and sparkling, silver-gray with very white whites. Her well-defined eyebrows were dark but tipped with gold and there was a smudge of mud on her left temple.
It wasn’t an expression he’d ever thought of using before, but it occurred to him that she had joie de vivre.
“True.” He dipped his head in acknowledgment. “All my own fault. So how did it go in the end?”
“Come over here and I’ll show you.” Leading the way across the room, she picked up her camera and began scrolling through the shots, starting with the half dozen or so pre-Griff originals, then on through the second stage of the shoot.
“These are great.” Josh nodded at them, genuinely impressed. “So it ended up not being such a disaster after all.”
“Thanks to me being a complete genius,” she agreed happily. He liked her attitude. “What’s your name?”
“Hi, Sophie. I’m Josh.”
“I know. Haven’t you noticed everyone whispering about you since you’ve been back?”
“Not really. Well, maybe a bit. You don’t take much notice after a while.” He paused. “Do you have a business card?”
She took one from an envelope in the side pocket of her black canvas camera case and handed it over.
Sophie Wells Photography. Portraits, Weddings, Commercial was written in silver on a black background, along with her contact details. Josh noticed that as well as the bracelets on her left wrist there was a key attached to a plain silver bangle. He reached out and touched it briefly. “What’s this for?”
“It’s the key to my secret Swiss bank account.” “Amazing. I didn’t know Swiss banks used Yale locks.”
A dimple appeared in her left cheek. “I started wearing it after I locked myself out of my flat three times in one week.”
“Look,” said Josh. “I still feel terrible about the photos.” “No need. I told Emma I’d do them for free.”
“But that means you’re losing out. Which is even worse.” Sophie shook her head. “They all like what we ended up doing instead. Emma’s still happy to pay.” “But their clothes…”
“They live on a farm. She says the mud’ll come out in a boil wash.” “But when I came back here with Griff, she was in tears.”
“I know, but you weren’t actually to blame for that. Relax,” Sophie said cheerfully. “It’s your lucky day. You’re off the hook.”
Women, he’d never understand them. Still, it was a positive result. Somewhat distracted by her eyelashes—were they also gold- tipped beneath the mascara?—Josh said, “Fine then. So long as you’re sure. Can I ask you a personal question?”
“You can try.”
He was charmed by her easy smile, playful humor, and feisty can-do attitude. Okay, and her body was pretty amazing too. “Are you single at the moment? Or seeing someone?”
If she were, he would have to say with good-natured regret, “Well, that’s a real shame,” and leave it at that.
“Me? Oh no, I’m not seeing anyone.” Sophie shook her head. “Completely and utterly single, that’s me.”
Excellent. Enjoying her honesty, Josh said, “So would you like to come out for dinner with me one evening?”
“It would have to be an evening.” Sophie nodded gravely. “Otherwise it wouldn’t be dinner; it’d be breakfast or lunch.”
“Definitely evening,” he agreed. “We could do it tonight if you like.” This is going so well.
“Oh, I can’t.”
“Yes, bit short notice. Friday, then? Or Saturday? You choose, whenever suits you best.”
But even as he was saying it, Sophie was shaking her head. “Sorry, no… I mean, thanks for asking, but I can’t meet you for dinner.”
“Right.” Taken aback, Josh said, “Not at all?” “No.”
“Okay. That’s fine.” It wasn’t remotely fine. What was going on? Did she have a small baby at home, or an elderly relative who couldn’t be left unattended? “Am I allowed to ask why?”
Her eyes sparkled. “Oh dear, are you offended?” “Of course not,” lied Josh.
Sophie gave him a who-are-you-kidding look. “I think you are. Don’t be. I’m just pretty busy right now.”
“So maybe in a couple weeks?” He couldn’t quite believe he was still asking.
“Look, thanks again, but no thanks. I just don’t really want to go out to dinner with…anyone.”
Aaaand another knock-back.
“No problem.” Josh wished he’d never started it. “Sorry.”
He managed a rueful smile. “Hey, all I need is a few months for my ego to recover. I’ll be fine.”
“It’s not you.” Sophie’s mouth was twitching. “It’s me.”
Okay, now she was making fun of him.
“Well, obviously,” said Josh.

Rafflecopter Giveaway for one Jill Mansell bundle: *click link below*
(Giveaway open from until Feb 27)uary 26 – February 27

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Of Love and Romance: The Real Message Behind 'Old Fashioned'

Delighted to have special Valentine's guest Rene Gutteridge on the blog today talking about Old Fashioned 

I loved this movie!  Though it is not showing in Canada right now, I was so privileged to watch a preview copy.   If you would like to read some of my thoughts on it, please go here 

Another note: Old Fashioned is a movie which resonates with the Christian experience and speaks best to the Christian experience. Please keep this in mind if you decide to see it. 

The Real Message Behind Old Fashioned
By Rene Gutteridge

                  Years ago, when my husband and I were first married, we decided to boycott Valentine’s Day.  Besides the awful commercialism of it, it also brought along with it false senses of emotion.  In our youth, getting a card or a bear or a chocolate rose meant we were valued.  If those items were received, it sent us on highs that rivaled certain subsets in Colorado, and lows if our school lockers remained empty.  In our college days, spending Valentine’s Day alone was cause for consideration of our very existence.  Will anybody ever love me?  Am I destined to spend life alone?  Am I worthy for even the sun to shine upon me? 
Then, as a young married couple, it was unclear if a box of chocolates was sufficient or if it should be diamond earrings.  Nobody knew.  Hallmark’s message was pitting itself against Kay Jewelers and it was just so darn confusing.
                  For that reason—and the fact that we had little money—we decided to blow off Valentine’s Day, nobly—if not naively—choosing to love each other like every day was Valentine’s Day.
                  The sentiment mentioned above lasted about a year, until wedded bliss wore off and we mistakenly decided we could afford a house. Suddenly, our pupils were not heart shaped anymore.
                  The actual boycott of Valentine’s Day lasted a full five years, until our firstborn was old enough to understand what Valentine’s Day meant: gifts of candy that he wasn’t allowed to normally have.  This in fact was its own lie.  He had candy every day—rewarded at preschool for saying his alphabet, rewarded at home for aiming at the toilet. Somehow Valentine’s Day had convinced us that this was the only day that candy should be had, when in fact candy was had whenever we wanted.  So Valentine’s Day was not spent gifting each other, but rather our children, then stealing their candy after they went to bed because they don’t need all that.
As our kids grew older, Valentine’s Day became a chance to buy them cool things and win unprecedented favor, according to the Today’s show, until it turned into the holiday where they expect cool things because of their belief that they are highly favored.  Now we spend the week of Valentine’s Day lowering everybody’s expectations.  “A new iPhone?” they’ll ask.  “How about new ear buds,” we reply.
                  My husband, Sean, and I have been married 19 years. I can honestly say they’ve gone by in a flash.  Our life circumstances in general have had a lot of different challenges, and in place of romance, we’ve often times relented to simply trying to survive particularly rough seasons.  Some people may rebuff this, scolding us for not taking the time to date each other and spend certain anniversaries on Groupon cruises.
                  But what has been forged through these fires has been something awfully deeper than date night.  Those vows we spoke to each other years ago have become rock solid.  We have found ourselves on the other side of them, realizing we didn’t just say them, but kept them.  You sort of come crawling out of the tar pit with your backside smoking.  You collapse to the ground, reach for one another with grotesque, black, melty hands and say, “My gosh, we made it.”  You might smell like a rancid version of sulfur but you’re not leaving the other man behind.
                  As you can see, I’m the picture of romance.  The truth is, I’m not a big fan.  The idealist behind Valentine’s Day—Cupid himself—is sort of where the problems start, and it’s downhill from there.  Not that romance doesn’t have its place. But when all your feelings begin and end on the shallow  sensibilities of a pudgy man-child in a diaper, you’ve already shot yourself in the foot with the kind of weapon only Jennifer Lawrence wields well.
                  So, when Tyndale asked me to read Rik Swartzwelder’s script for Old Fashioned, to see if it was a project I could wrap my enthusiasm around, I wasn’t thrilled at first. Though Tyndale has a talent for picking worthwhile, out-of-the-box projects, I assumed from the title that Old Fashioned would be the kind of story that you’d expect from the genre—the delightful little wrapped chocolate inside a predictable heart-shaped box.
                  I opened the script up late one night, intending to read thirty or so pages just to get a feel for how romancy this thing was going to get. I figured I’d need a good, stiff espresso in the morning to push myself through the rest of it.  My view is that romance carries you about as far as a man can reasonably carry a woman without grunting—which is basically just on the other side of the threshold.  Then you’re dropped with a thud and forced to dust yourself off.  Romance as the world has shown us lasts as long as the heart shaped chocolate box, the one with a measly five chocolates.  You couldn’t spring for the one with twenty?  
But Old Fashioned surprised me.  This was not, as people have presumed, a story about the right way to do romance.  “We’re Old Fashioned, you’re not, so we’re better than you.”  Deep within this story is this amazing gem…the thing that I emotionally collapsed over…the reason that I wanted to be, I desperately had to be, a part of this project.  The reason why I read it straight through that night.
                  The story is about brokenness.   It’s told through the eyes of two characters.  By-the-book Clay is the epitome of brokenness through sin, climbing his way back to forgiveness through rules he’s imposed upon himself and everyone else.  Free-willed Amber is running from a past and a life that has brought her nothing but grief, refusing to be caged by anything ever again, including a man.
                  These two characters find their way to each other, perplexed by the other’s choice of coping mechanisms.  In the midst of viewing themselves as virtually unlovable, they find the courage to love anyway.  And birthed right there is healing.  And from healing, hope.  And from hope, love.  And from love…date night.
                  What drew me so much to Old Fashioned was that it was real.  So often we want to idealize romance, and in particular Christian romance and love.  We want to step it out like an AA program.  We want an owner’s manual as if it were a Buick.  We take Solomon’s book on love and forget the heart- rending stories of the other lovers of the Bible, whose commitments to one another withstood some of the harshest, most treacherous and least romantic environments ever recorded.
                  Old Fashioned will make you squirm, because it reveals two characters crushed by a broken world, chained to unsightly pasts, clawing their way to feeling loved again.  You’ll squirm because you’ll see yourself in them.
                  That’s what hooked my heart.  That’s why I cried when I read the script, and then cried again when I wrote the book and then again when I watched the movie.  There is a line in the book: Be a good steward of your pain.  This story sheds all the preconceived notions and sparkly fairy dust of what worldly and Christian romance should be, and simply follows two characters along a painful path of self-discovery right into God’s grace.
                  At 42, romance looks different to me than it did when I was 22, and even 32.  The landscape has changed.  The priorities have changes.  The definition has changed.  I no longer feel the guilt of months gone by without date night.  The other day Sean and I went couch shopping.  More fun couldn’t have been had.  We walked around, plopping our backsides down on various cushions, trailed closely by sales-associate-by-commission Graham, who was desperately hoping we’d pick one sooner than later, and something over five-hundred bucks please.  (We could see it in his eyes.)  We wandered into the leather and entertainment section and dreamed about a 60 inch TV in front of leather recliners that had butt warmers and blue tooth surround sound that filtered through the night-glow cup holders on each arm. 
                  As we left, Sean quipped, “You know you’re old when couch shopping is a date!”  And we laughed about that and had Starbucks and reminisced about our first couch.  Why,” Sean asked, “did we pick out that pattern?”  We spent a good half hour trying to remember, because it was hideous.
                  After you spend time by book or movie or both with Clay Walsh and Amber Hewson, you will find yourself cheering these two on, not because they’ve hands down beat out every romantic endeavor known to man, but because they crawled out of the tar pit, learned of their great value apart from one another, and found forgiveness and healing from their own brokenness, so they could be together.
                  But let me just warn you now—this story has managed one of the most romantic endings I’ve ever had the pleasure of writing.  And I gobbled it down like a box of chocolates. Why?

Because it felt real.

Buy the novelization of Old Fashioned

Friday, February 13, 2015

Of Love and Romance: Locked Lips or Love Locks in Paris

[Rachel Note:  so excited to be able to share this post, originally found on Sandra Byrd's blog, for part of Of Love and Romance. Sandra is a versatile and supremely romantic voice in contemporary and historical fiction. Her most recent, Mist of Midnight, is a glorious gothic set in the ultra- Romantic Victorian era. ]

When I first told a friend that I was writing a post on the Love Locks of Paris, she teasingly asked if they related to chastity locks: those early medieval belts by which a Crusaders was supposed to reassure himself that his girl would remain true. Not quite!

Wander along the lovely Seine in Paris; stop at any number of bridges to enjoy a crepe, and the view. Many place you’ll notice the webbed metal railings alongside the stonemasonry and clasped to them are hundreds, often thousands, of padlocks. Sometimes they’re thinly scattered, with ribbons aflutter, sometimes they’re as thick as hoarding like bees on a honeycomb.

Locked Lips or Love Locks in Paris?

Although locks with lovers names have a history throughout European bridges dating back perhaps a hundred years, in Paris, they only began to show up in 2000. Most often they have “his” and “her” names on either side of the lock and then are hooked, permanently they hope, to the side of a bridge in the City of Light and Love. As long as the lock, lasts, so goes the hope, so shall the love.

According to an article in The New York Times, “The Paris town hall expressed concern: what about the architectural integrity of the Parisian landscape? One night about two years ago, someone cut through the wires and removed all the locks on one of the bridges. But in just a few months, locks of all sizes and colors reappeared, more conspicuous than ever.”

Alas, keeping love alive requires more than simply firmly clasping a lock to keep your lover true, whether it be a chastity lock or hooking a Shlage or Kwikset through the rails of a Parisian bridge. As French philosopher Marcel Proust, “We only love what we do not wholly possess.” Isn’t that the very opposite of a lockdown? Much better to lock lips, and perhaps put a ring on it, instead.

What do you say – delightful ode to eternal love or deadly-locked display? What makes love last for you?

visit Sandra Byrd on the web