Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Pavanes, Italian Songs & Yankee Doodle

My most recent novel, released on the 15th of August, Pavane for Miss Marcher, is set in the post American Civil War era in a small Maine village. Throughout the novel, my love of music and singing forms the connecting tissue between the heroine, Cathryn Marcher, her students and her antagonists as well as the hero, Rupert Smith. 

My love of music has played a significant part of my personal life as well. When I moved to Wales many years ago, I married into a musical family. Although I had taken a few years of piano lessons as a child, my lack of musical knowledge undermined my efforts to assimilate into a country known as a nation of musicians. I had sung solos and performed in musicals as a young woman but those experiences were inadequate in my own estimation to win the hearts of my in-laws.

My husband is a professional musician! How was I to measure up in comparison? 

Pavane for Miss Marcher is, in a way, a tribute to music and to the American contribution to the rich heritage of world music. The novel is also about healing and reconciliation between enemies, as well as strategic retreats in the face of overwhelming odds. And is a tribute to the strength of the American spirit, the will of a nation to overcome its differences and threats to its survival.

1871. The war has been over for six years but Rupe Smith still fights his demons. Ten years have passed since he left his Maine village. His Wyoming ranch is the one place he wants to be and the last place he can be. There is no escape from the guilt of his parents’ grief or his longing for the girl whose one letter kept him alive, without knowing she is beyond his reach, married and raising a family.
 Cathryn Marcher is not the giddy, giggling girl with high ideals she was before the war. The woman who waited for Rupert Smith’s safe return has no doubt she isn’t the reason he has finally come home. The haunted expression on his handsome face reminds her of the outcome, the horror and suffering of war she saw close at hand, all those years ago, in the faces of soldiers she nursed in Boston.
 Captain Smith and Miss Marcher share a love of music but Cathryn must hide her disappointment when Rupert chooses to sing in harmony with the widow, Mrs. Miller, whom the residents of Oslo Hill believe will be his bride.
 Susan Miller's disdain for her voice teacher, her rival for Rupert's love, is matched by Colonel Jericho Colson's loathing for his fellow Union Army officer, his rival for Cathryn's heart.
Years ago, as a Christmas gift, my husband arranged for me to have singing lessons for six weeks. The gift became "the gift that kept on giving" for nearly ten years! That experience, besides giving me the confidence to perform as a solo soprano on St. David's Day before a Welsh audience and join several semi-professional choirs, also gave me the knowledge to write this book. 


Saturday, August 12, 2017

The Consumer Dilemma

by Karen McCullough

And now, for something completely different...

My shiny new printer.
My printer died a few days ago – without warning or notice. It printed a few pages with no issues, then the next time I sent something to it, I got a message about an internal error. I did the usual things – turned it on and off, several times, turned it off and held down the power button to reset it, double-checked all the cables, looked at the ink cartridges, searched for paper jams – all to no effect. As a last resort, I looked up the problem on Google.

I wasn’t alone having this problem with this particular printer. In fact, I had a lot of company if the number of threads and complaints on various forums was an indicator.  A few people suggested a trick that had worked for some and didn’t for others. I tried it. Count me among the unlucky. My printer sat there like the useless lump of plastic it basically is now. Several people for whom this trick hadn’t worked had contacted the manufacturer, only to be told that if the printer was out of warranty, the owner was out of luck. But they’d sell you a nice, shiny new one! At a discount!

That sent me on an online quest for a new printer. I started, as I usually do, at ConsumerReports.org, where I have a subscription. After choosing the options I needed, I narrowed down my choices. An interesting feature to the CR site is that they collect feedback from actual users of the products as well as reporting on their own testing. In the case of the two highest rated printers on their list, the consumer feedback was abysmal. They were also both from a company I’d sworn I’d never buy from again.

A few lines down I found a couple of printers that had decent CR ratings and also got pretty good feedback from users. For each printer I considered, I went to both Amazon.com and Staples.com to compare prices and user feedback on the same items. Using all of those I decided on the printer I wanted.

And now the dilemma. For the same printer, Amazon has it list $20 cheaper than Staples. Shipping is negligible because I have Amazon Prime and Staples Rewards. Also I’d recover some of the price difference at Staples in the form of Rewards dollars. But even so it would still be cheaper to buy it from Amazon. In the interest of honesty, I do buy a lot of things from Amazon, often things I find hard to get elsewhere. But I very much want Staples to survive. I want Amazon to have some competition in the office products sector. An Amazon that basically controls an entire retail niche is a dangerous beast.

So—do I pay more and support Staples – an enterprise of dubious long-term stability, or take the devil’s bargain from Amazon? What would you do?

No, I’m not going to tell you what choice I made.  It’s done and I now have the new printer. But I want to know what you would do, and why.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Honest People


By Fran McNabb

Sometimes we only hear about the bad things that people do, and there is certainly enough of that to go around. Every evening the news bombards us with disheartening and sometimes tragic events that take place around the world. Today, I simply want to share something good that happened to me.

I recently attended the RWA National Conference in Orlando, FL. The entire five days were filled with exciting and sometimes exhausting events. With over 2,000 attendees I’m sure there were happenings that brought out the worst in people, but I didn’t see any of it. My days were filled with meeting new authors, visiting with old friends, sitting in workshops where information was shared, and listening to speakers’ uplifting and encouraging talks.

On the return trip home at the airport something happened to me that I'd like to share. Trying to juggle my carry-on, my purse, and a laptop that I had to remove from its carrier, I was not the most coordinated traveler. I plopped down in a seat next to my friend who was picking me up and waited for my luggage to come out on the conveyor. No problem. I retrieved my huge suitcase, picked up my carry-on and walked out to the car with my friend. As we were loading, I realized I’d forgotten my computer.

Like all authors my computer holds my life, my thoughts, my manuscripts—things that were irreplaceable. I panicked. We had walked at least ten minutes from the luggage area so my friend thought it would be quicker to drive me. It wasn’t. We couldn’t go straight to the luggage area door. We had to follow the signs out of the airport and then to reenter the parking area. I tried to remain calm, but I thought I was going to hyperventilate.

When she pulled to the door, I jumped out and ran through the door. I’m sure I looked like a wild woman with arms swinging, eyes bulging, and breathing as fast as I could. I was sure the computer would be gone, but as I turned the corner, I was amazed to see my computer on the seat next to a couple.

When the man saw me, he chuckled. “I figured someone would come flying through those doors to claim this. You have to be that person.”

Wow. The man and his wife had sat there and waited for me to return. He understood how important something like a computer was to the owner. He could’ve picked it up and disappeared in the crowd, but he didn’t.

When I got to the car holding my computer close to my chest, my friend was as thrilled as I was. She said several people came out laughing and she assumed they had seen me flying through the luggage area. I, too, had to chuckle at how I must've looked.

Honest people. Yes, there are still honest people in this world. Did I think to ask the man his name? No. I did thank him and his wife, but I never asked his name to send him something in return for his good deed.

As I sit here typing this on my laptop, I have to say thank you, thank you, thank you to all the people in this world who still hold on to admirable qualities like honesty and thoughtfulness. We might only hear about the bad in this world, but I know for a fact that good people still exist.

 FRAN MCNABB lives along the Gulf Coast, but loves participating in writing conferences. She has eight published tender romances, which something use her beloved Gulf Coast as the setting. She loves reading, writing, painting, and boating. Visit her at www.FranMcNabb.com or at mcnabbf@bellsouth.net
 

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Of War, Movie-Making and Boxes

by Janis Susan May/Janis Patterson

Last Saturday, after a bookfair/signing at a local library, The Husband treated me to a trip to the IMAX theatre to see DUNKIRK. Being an amateur WWII historian (his reference books cover one entire wall in our newest library) as well as being a Navy Captain retired after 32 years’ service, he was so excited about this film. As a veteran of the film and TV industry myself, I must admit a certain curiosity about it as well, if only to see if all the hype was justified.

It was.

DUNKIRK is a masterpiece of filmmaking, but it is not what we would think of as a ‘movie.’ It’s too big for that.  We were sitting in padded seats in a comfortable theatre, but otherwise I imagine it was as close to being in an actual battle as possible. There are a few continuing characters, but they have no or minimal backstory, and we have no idea of what happens to them after the movie ends.  Everything is immediate and in the moment. There is no overarching ‘documentary’ or ‘instructional’ feel. Each moment is as if seen through one person’s eyes, but using lots of different people. The action is sometimes out of sequence – or seems to be, I could never figure that out – but is very evocative of what I think it must have been like for someone actually being there. Without, of course, the hideous awareness of an immediate and possibly very messy death.

Some of the sequences were far too long – in my seldom-humble opinion – such as the running with a stretcher scene, but are understandable in the context of ‘one person’s eyes.’

The scope of the film is gigantic, gargantuan, enormous – just a list of the stuntmen alone is like the population roster of a small town. The number of extras (most of whom just stood in neat lines waiting to be rescued or falling down from the German strafing) was even greater, though they received no screen credit. What was mind-boggling to me was that these hordes of men shown on screen are a mere pittance compared to the numbers who were involved in the actuality. Overwhelming!

Even though I am something of a movie buff and worked in the motion picture/TV business for over a decade, I only recognized two actors – Sir Kenneth Branagh and Sir Mark Rylance, both extravagantly talented Englishmen – and both were so submerged into their roles it took a while for me to do that! If I have a quibble with the casting, it is that with only two or three exceptions, every man in the movie was dark haired and dark eyed, and as they were all unfamiliar to me that made them almost impossible to tell them apart. Thank heavens one of the main ones had a mole on his chin, so at least I could recognize him.  But – perhaps that was a deliberate choice of the director to show the interchangeability of soldiers in wartime?

One of the main selling points about IMAX is that it makes you ‘feel as if you’re part of the action.’ I must beg to disagree. First of all, it’s hard to feel part of the action when you’re reclining in a chair with your neck uncomfortably bent so you can look upward. That I could live with, though, but what loses me to IMAX is the distortion caused by the fish-eye of the dome. I do want to see DUNKIRK again, but in a flat screen format. I think it will be a lot more emotionally grabbing if the wings of a Spitfire fighter don’t curve up like a bird’s. Also – a word of warning. If you have a fear of water be prepared to spend a fair amount of time with your hands in front of your face. I am and I did.


So – to drag this post kicking and screaming back to somewhere approximating writing, I would say that DUNKIRK is a valuable lesson in stepping/thinking/creating outside the box. Far too often people and publishers talk about wanting ‘something the same as _____(insert bestseller or writer’s name here)…  but different.’ As writers we should dare to step out of the box occasionally. DUNKIRK did, and while it is most definitely different, it is gloriously spectacular. It deserves to win just about every Oscar going.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Dangerous Excursions

At a gathering of writers in my locale, I had a discussion with a fellow Historical Romance author who, when I mentioned the era of my soon to be released novel, said “You had better be on the right side of history if you’re writing about that period.”

If there is anything more censorial to be said to a writer than that, let me know.

After reading broadly and without bias about the American Civil War, I came to see that there are always two sides of an issue and making a dictatorial proclamation of “right” can only lead to more conflict.

While I have strong beliefs about the evil of slavery, I also know that this evil has existed through the millennia since human beings discovered they did not have to kill their enemies. And slavery exists today. We only have to watch the evening news to hear stories of human trafficking, in ways that are exactly as they were hundreds and thousands of years ago.

Slavery will continue to exist as long as human beings exploit one another for profit and excuse their actions with convenient interpretations of superstitions and prejudices that condone the exploitation of the “other,” the “enemy.” And, especially, the vulnerable and the desperate.

There is no civilization or culture in history that was not and is not guilty of this behavior, including African, Asian, Greek, Roman, Native American, Persian, Arabian, Judaic, et cetera, et cetera.

Therefore, as much as we would like otherwise, there is no “right” side of history.

Writers are particularly vulnerable to censorship, even those of us who shy away from controversial areas. We can either write in all honesty about our fellow humans, or we can take the safe route of “right” (accepted) side, thus contributing to further division and conflict.

In my forthcoming novel, I have chosen to see the good and evil on both sides of the conflict. After all, every conflict is based on the interaction of human beings and their institutions. Novels thrive on conflict. I could have ignored one side of the conflict between the North and South, or whitewashed one side while tarring the other.

But then, how could I have written about the struggle of my hero and heroine to come to terms with how that monumental conflict affected their actions and ability to come to terms with one another?

To write about a period of time in human history, is to embrace the opportunity to examine our own prejudices and preconceptions. Not to engage in that exploration is to deny the ultimate human truth: none of us is perfect.