Monday, August 29, 2011

The Family Business

Pictured left is the t-shirt my daughter Kate wanted to get made when Canadian Voices Volume 1 was published. I might actually have gone for it if we had the spare cash.

Sam, my son, offered to go door-to-door. I didn't allow that either, but I did let him take the book into school. He sold two copies.

When Under A Texas Star was released in eBook format, he took my postcards to school to hand out to teachers. His idea, not mine. Kate is at high school now and doesn't have that kind of relationship with her teachers - so she hit up her bf's mother instead - and her bf.

Whenever I start feeling overwhelmed by the amount of marketing an author has to do these days, I remember my children and know that I'm not alone. This is a family business.

It's not just Kate and Sam. My nieces Sophie and Claire are part of my support system. Nor is it just book promotion that they help with. Many's the dinner that has been prepared by Kate or Sophie when I've been working to a deadline - or just on a roll. All show great patience when I use them as a sounding board or need to have questions repeated because my mind is elsewhere.

There are days when I'm convinced I'm getting no where  - "nobody likes me, everybody hates me...". Seeing Under A Texas Star on my bookshelf helps. I'm not just a published writer (been that for a couple of decades now), I'm a novelist. More than that, I'm a novelist with a Lego cowboy holding a Brickarms Colt Navy revolver, thanks to my son.

I've been the administrative manager of the Arthur Ellis Awards for a couple of years now. That is also a family enterprise. Sam helps with the hefting and unpacking of boxes. Kate is an able admin assist. Checklists are always easier with a second person helping.

I bring this up because both of them have asked if I'll enter my work in the contest. So far I've said no, partly because I am administering the contest. This was fine until Sam saw an Arthur in person. He loved the  hanged man and wanted me to have one. For my birthday he came up with the next best thing...

I love my family!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

A Moment in History

On The Hill
We were on our way to Ottawa when we heard that Jack Layton died.

I won't pretend to know much about the man, but I admired his style. In a dirty profession, he seemed by a bit cleaner than his opposition. Also, NDP was the first party I supported. I haven't supported them all the time since that first election when I exercised my right to vote, but often enough. I have a sentimental attachment to the man who brought the party to the position of Loyal Opposition.

My condolences to Jack's family and friends... and even his enemies. He will be missed.

On Bank Street

Monday, August 15, 2011

Under A Texas Star - Character Sketches


When other teenage girls were dreaming of a rich and/or famous and/or handsome husband, I dreamed of having my own butler. I wrote a story about him once. He would bring me tea and toast in the morning, make sure my clothes were clean and pressed, oversee the house and grounds keeping staff, be quietly in love with me, willing to stand up to me, and loyal to the death.

Movies like My Man Godfrey (and an intense dislike of house work) inspired my creation of the perfect butler/valet/lover. He was further influenced by a myriad of characters from Batman’s Alfred to Wooster’s Jeeves with a touch of Yoda for good measure.

George Victor Fredericks - known only as Fred in Under A Texas Star - is the result. One little wrinkle in the picture of the perfect valet cum major domo, Fred works for Jezebel the proprietor of Fortuna’s best saloon, casino, dining establishment and bordello.

In my dream cast, he might be played by the properly English Ralph Fiennes or Canadian Hugh Dillon. As a young man, he might have resembled one of the Saxe-Cobourg princes (like Albert Victor above). Fred’s past is murky and involves a violent crime which forced him to leave England and make his way in America.

In Under A Texas Star, Fred is the very model of a gentleman’s gentleman. Unfailingly polite, of service without being servile, he manages Jezebel and her staff with a velvet-covered iron rod. He has known Jase Strachan since he was a young, wounded soldier, rescued by Jezebel while escaping Richmond. A decade later, he still refers to the Texas Ranger as Master Jason and treats him accordingly.

“Sir?” Fred pointed to a chair. 
“I can shave myself.” 
“Please, sir. I've seen what happens when you shave yourself.” 
Marly sputtered on a mouthful of milk. 
Jase grumbled something unintelligible and sat down. 
“I'm thinking I'll keep a moustache,” he said. 
“As we well know, Master Jason, a moustache does not become you.” 
“That was years ago.” 
Marly watched in fascination as Fred lathered Jase's whiskers. Despite Jase's protests, the moustache was the first to go.

To Marly, Fred becomes a mentor and father figure. He helps her maintain her masquerade as well as teaching her useful skills like how to shave a man and how to make a decent pot of coffee.

As promised, Fred came over to the office so Marly could do the evening patrol. All was quiet and the chore was quickly accomplished. When she returned, Fred set out a sweet plate, then taught her how to make drip coffee.
"You might have better luck with this than the modern percolator from the office," he said.

After checking on her prisoners and making sure the back door was firmly locked, she put her rifle on the rack. Fred insisted that she take the more comfortable chair behind the marshal's desk.

When he had poured the coffee and trimmed the wick of the lantern, he sat opposite her and nibbled on a biscuit.

"Nothing is going on in town tonight," she said. "The only ones left are the hardened gamblers and the quiet drinkers. I might end up bringing in one or two of the drunks if the night gets cold."

"And the gamblers?"

"Any trouble they cause will be amongst themselves and over before I can do anything."

"You learn quickly. You and Marshal Strachan make a good team. But for two things, I would have your appointment as the town's lawmen become permanent."

"Two things?"

"One, neither of you would accept the appointment," Fred said.

She shook her head, bemused. It was difficult to shake the feeling that in his terribly stiff English way he was laughing at her.

"I suspect I know what you are thinking," he said. "If I have learned nothing else, I've learned that age does not always bring wisdom. Nor has my experience supported the idea that there is a weaker sex. I hear you've learned to play chess. Would you like a game?"
She suspected the game had already started.

All that and breakfast brought to me each morning? I still dream of having my own “Fred”.

Under A Texas Star is available in paperback at, and Barnes and Noble on sale in eBook format at , and Smashwords.

Meet Jase Strachan on Nighthawk

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Guest Blog: Sherry Isaac

Welcome to guest blogger Sherry Isaac.
Sherry and I met in a church basement a couple of years ago. We both had stories accepted in Canadian Voices Volume 1. She got me involved with readings at Prana Cafe. I got her involved in Crime Writers of Canada. We've both come out with our first books in the same summer and now we've both guested on each others blogs.
Also check out an interview with one of Sherry's characters on Nighthawk Talk.

Life Scripted

Life isn’t scripted, but sometimes life makes for good script.

Or manuscript.

As the mother of four, I have oodles of fodder. Our dinner table talk is filled with stories. Some, admittedly, not suitable for print, due more to the amount of embarrassment to the protagonist rather than illicit content.

I started a tradition when I moved east and traded open prairie for Toronto skyscrapers. Tucked into Christmas cards a one-page letter, double-sided, narrow margins, 10-font type, encapsulated the past year of our busy lives.

I wasn’t writing for prosperity. I was keeping in touch, late at night, head bent over kitchen table, after the children went to bed. I always wanted to be a writer, a yearning I kept to myself because I was afraid to believe in the impossible. The letters were a secret indulgence in dreams.

And the letters cracked up my relations. Compliments rained in, along with comparisons to Erma Bombeck’s no-holds-barred, crayon-on-the-wall style. Compliments from friends. Compliments from critical family.

The spark was ignited.

Maybe I could write. Not that I would ever aspire to become the next Ms. B, but family anecdotes are fun. Bu maybe I could write fiction.

No matter the genre, life can’t help but trickle into fiction. Characters, conflicts, setting, relationships.

How could life not?

True life is as satisfying to write as fiction, and sometimes more. To take a real situation and massage it into pleasing prose, into storytelling art, and elevate it from dinner-table chatter to print, is a gift to my family. Recording family life is an honour. It is a labour of love.

If I Find It, Can I Hit You With It is featured in Storyteller (In Our Words, Inc., July 2011). An excerpt is printed here for your enjoyment. Only the names have been changed to protect the embarrassed.

If I Find It, Can I Hit You With It?

Mom, I can’t find my sweater. I can’t find my Frisbee. I can’t find my calculator, and I have a test today. I can’t find my lunch kit, my yellow shirt, my Etch-A-Sketch, my mood ring. Our days were riddled with missing items; the morning rush as we readied ourselves for work, school and daycare our witching hour.

One morning, big brother Jeremy was on the job while I took rare advantage of the unoccupied toilet. “Mom, Oscar can’t find his stop watch and he needs it for show and tell!”

“Tell him to look in his dresser,” I called from behind the bathroom door. “It should be in the top drawer, on the left, next to his Batman underpants and under his Joker pyjamas.”

“He says he’s already looked. I have to go or I’ll miss my bus.”

“It’s not there!” Oscar wailed, his campaign abandoned by his only brother.

“Then look again.”

“But I looked and looked and I still can’t find it!” My 7-year-old’s feet tapped a staccato rhythm on the carpet. From the tone in his voice I could tell he was on the verge of tears. It was a tragedy, to be sure.

Motherhood had induced me to become an expert at a variety of tasks: I could answer the phone and carry on an articulate conversation with a mouthful of toothpaste, I could nurse a baby as I folded laundry, and I could stop my urine in midstream for an indefinite period of time while I went in search of a missing stop watch. It was neon yellow and plastic, a give-away at a local store’s grand opening. Oscar was the store’s one-hundredth customer. The sentimental value was immense.

My son, glued to my heels, made wild accusations against his sister. “Savannah took it. She took it and she broke it. She took it and she broke it because I walked into the store before she did!”

Savannah popped her head into the hallway, dressed for school and armed with a blow dryer, her head still wrapped in a towel. “You shoved your way past me, you little twerp! And it’s a stupid prize, anyway. It doesn’t even work.”

I opened Oscar’s top drawer while he peered around my right hip. On the left, next to his Batman underpants and under the Joker pyjamas, lay the coveted stopwatch in all its fluorescent glory. I picked it up and handed it to him. “What did I tell you?”

“Well, it wasn’t there a minute ago!”

Of course not.

Winner of The Alice Munro Short Story Award, Sherry Isaac’s tales of life, love and forgiveness that transcend all things, including the grave, appear online and in print. Her first collection of shorts, Storyteller, debuts July 2011. For more information, or to order an autographed copy, click HERE.