Spring Break

During this past winter of staying home, I looked forward to a spring getaway with my husband Will and our son Matt. With travel outside of Canada and our province of Alberta restricted this month, we booked a four-night stay in Canmore, an hour a half drive from our Calgary home and just outside the entrance to Banff National Park. 

Easter Monday, we drove directly to Banff and ate our turkey sandwiches on a bench by the Bow River. Despite the sunshine, a breeze made the 3 degrees Celsius (37.4 F) temperature cool for sitting out. We soon warmed up on our hike up Tunnel Mountain. Sections of mud and ice typical of early spring made us glad we’d brought our cleats. At the top, we rested on Muskoka chairs half buried in snow and enjoyed the panoramic views of Banff. 

Day two of our trip was sunny and warmer. Will and Matt went skiing at Lake Louise, while I spent a summer-like day in Canmore. In the morning, I checked out the local stores and bought a salad and bread for our lasagna dinner. My afternoon walk followed part of the town’s extensive trail network. The rest of the day I read on our balcony, looking out at the Three Sisters and HaLing mountain peaks. Will and Matt had a perfect ski day — sunny, warm, uncrowded, fresh snow from a weekend snowfall. I didn’t envy them, since I’d preferred my lazy time.   

                                              Balcony view from our AirBnb apartment

Lake Louise ski hill

The weather turned cooler on our third day and cloud mingled with sun. We stayed close to Canmore and hiked up to Grassi Lakes, an icy trail we couldn’t have managed without cleats. At the top, we were surprised and pleased to find the ice on the lakes had melted to reveal their clear, green colour. After lunch, we walked the riverside portion of the trail I’d done the previous day and continued farther. We talked about returning later this spring with our bikes to explore the whole Canmore pathway network.  

                                                                        Grassi Lake

              Former railway bridge on Canmore path – Will didn’t hold the camera straight

Rain blew in that evening and we woke up to a snow-draped town. Matt’s weather app forecast a relatively nice day at Lake Louise with only 17 percent chance of snow. We drove west. As we approached the village of Lake Louise, we hit steady snow and low cloud that made the mountains almost invisible. Hoping the sky would clear later, we opted for a morning hike through a wooded area. The snow continued, but we drove up to the famous lake anyway. Everything was so white, we could hardly tell where the lake ended and the mountains began. We gave up on a viewpoint hike and walked along the lakeshore. When we returned, blue sky started to appear and we left the lake in sunshine. 

Winter conditions at Lake Louise, summer on our Canmore balcony, in-between temperatures the rest of the time. That’s spring in Alberta.

                                                             Lake Louise village trail

Will and Matt on our Canmore balcony

Meghan, Harry & The Crown

Like millions of people in North America and Britain, I watched the recent Oprah Winfrey interview with Meghan Markle and Prince Harry. When the couple married almost three years ago, my husband and I happened to be in the UK on vacation. We visited the church at Windsor Castle, where the wedding would take place and watched the preparations underway. On May 19, 2018, the day of the event, we took a train from the Lake District to Edinburgh. At the train station, we watched a woman set up a festive table with afternoon tea for sale.

Train station in the Lake District, UK, May 19, 2018

Meghan and Harry’s honeymoon with the press and public deteriorated quickly after that, as did their relationships with people in the royal family. A year ago they gave up their duties as senior royals and moved to Canada, a Commonwealth nation where Meghan had lived and worked as an actress. When the UK and Canada refused to pay for their long-term security, they settled in California with plans to pursue non-regal ventures. In their interview with Oprah, they said that unfair and hurtful treatment by members of the royal family, the palace establishment and the British media forced them to take these steps.

Harry, Meghan and Oprah

Everyone I know, including me, has watched the Netflix series The Crown, which chronicles the life of Queen Elizabeth II from girlhood to recent times. A theme I take from the series is that the personal lives of royal family members come second to protecting and preserving the institution of The Crown. In the Oprah interview, Harry said that all of his relatives are trapped in their royal roles. The Netflix show suggested the Queen might have been happier living a simple life in the countryside with her horses and dogs. But then she wouldn’t have fame, fortune and a place in history. Many would choose the trap.

The Queen at one of her country estates

The media loves drama. It sells newspapers and gets people to watch shows like the “bombshell” and “explosive” Oprah interview. The UK tabloids exploited and maybe created the Meghan vs Kate conflict. This narrative serves The Crown if  Kate generally comes across better, since she’s a future queen. Harry told Oprah that the royal family needs positive coverage by the press. The monarchy isn’t secure forever and the country has many anti-royalists. While the Queen is beloved, her successor Prince Charles isn’t. But Will and Kate look on track to replacing the Queen in people’s hearts. They also have three children ahead of Harry in the line of succession. Harry’s drop to the # 6 spot makes him less important to The Crown. That’s why their son wasn’t made a prince and the palace made little effort to protect Meghan from media criticism and lies, as she said in the Oprah interview.

Sisters-in-law apparently getting along

Both Harry and Meghan made a point of telling Oprah they still get along well with the Queen. Harry followed up the interview by making it clear that the Queen and Prince Philip weren’t the unnamed royals who made racist remarks that were arguably the interview’s biggest bombshell revelation. This shows that the young couple’s intentions haven’t strayed completely away from their prime roles as members of the royal family—to protect and preserve the person who embodies The Crown.

Me with Harry and Meghan at a store in Windsor, UK, May 2018

The Oprah interview

On today’s BWL author blog I offer my 2 pence on the Meghan and Harry’s infamous interview with Oprah Winfrey. The couple has come a long way since their wedding almost three years ago at Windsor Castle.

Me & friends in Windsor, UK

Great deal!

Until March 13th, you can buy ebooks of my novels for 50 % off ($1.49 USD) at  Smashwords.

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How will writers handle this pandemic?

When I attend Zoom meetings with other writers, someone always asks if we’ll write about the current pandemic in our fiction. Invariably a couple of people reply they’re so so tired of COVID-19 that when it’s over they won’t want to write or read anything about it. They hope to move on and write stories that imagine the pandemic hadn’t happened.

Given publishing timelines, most novels published the past year were written before the authors knew about COVID-19 or anticipated its enormous impact. This winter I’ve read a few novels set in our contemporary time and have had no trouble reading about people meeting in restaurants, attending parties and generally living like it’s 2019. The only novel that jarred me was one that specified the year was 2020 and mentioned COVID-19 as a past event. I assume the author added this topical reference on the assumption we’d be done with the pandemic by the book’s fall release. My conclusion is you can write a contemporary novel that ignores the coronavirus, but it’s best to either keep the year vague or indicate that it’s set before March 2020, when only someone living a cave would have missed the great changes to our society.

Timeline of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Canada, January – April, 2020

Other writers in my Zoom meetings expect they will explore the pandemic in their fiction, as they would do with anything that affects them profoundly. Some have already written short stories and poems about it. COVID-19 can be central to a story or simply part of the landscape. Your protagonist might be working from home, instead of going to her office. She might engage with friends and family on Zoom, in addition to the usual phone calls, letters, emails and text messages. When she does meet someone in person, his mask–or lack of mask–becomes a descriptive detail like his hairstyle or baseball cap. She might suddenly realize she’s standing too close to him and leap backwards. The pandemic could provide our stories with fresh descriptions, until they become overdone because everyone is writing about COVID-19. There’s a risk of saturating the market with too many coronavirus stories for readers who will have largely put the pandemic behind them.

Writers can avoid dealing with all this by setting their stories after COVID-19, which, hopefully, won’t be far in the future. But, in the post-pandemic world people won’t necessarily be partying like it’s 2019. How soon will it be before we’re comfortable shaking hands with strangers and hugging acquaintances we meet? Will we stop doing these things for good to avoid catching all kinds of viruses? The common cold can drag someone down for weeks. The regular flu can kill. Is a handshake worth the risk? For these same reasons, will stores maintain some of their protective measures–plexiglass at the checkout counters, socially distanced lineups, one way aisles and hand sanitizer stations? Will buffet dinners be a thing of the past? Will airlines require passengers to keep wearing masks on planes or will most passengers choose to to wear them to avoid sharing diseases? Writers will need to know these details if they send their character to an exotic location or to the grocery store.

This makes me think that writers of realistic contemporary fiction will have to deal with the pandemic, whether they want to or not. I suspect that when we’re over COVID-fatigue most writers will find themselves processing the experience in their memories and work. Already, I feel a bit of nostalgia for the early days of COVID when few people wore masks in public and grocery store shelves were often picked clean of canned goods, frozen vegetables, milk, eggs and, of course toilet paper. One store I went into had a clerk guarding a stack of toilet paper to make sure no hoarders grabbed an extra package. That’s a detail future readers of COVID-19 stories will find bizarre and informative about our pandemic.

When will we feel comfortable in crowds like this?

Writing About the Pandemic

I identify with this cat , watching the world from distance - although Netflix and other streaming services have kept me entertained through the pandemic

The pandemic is still at the top of most of our minds, but when it is finally over will writers want to put it behind them or explore it in their stories? I ask this question on today’s BWL Author blog.

Where do I get my ideas?

“Where do you get your ideas?” This might be the number one question readers ask authors.
My quick answer is that ideas pop into my head all the time and they come from everywhere. My personal experience, conversations with other people, places I’ve lived in and visited, the news, books I’ve read, TV, movies, perhaps a painting or line of music.
This winter, I’m editing a novel-in-progress, book # 3 of my Paula Savard mystery series, while mulling ideas for book # 4. With a series, many of the basic ideas are already there. I start with my sleuth, Paula, a fifty-five year old insurance adjuster, and her cast of supporting characters, who impact her personal life and, in some cases, her sleuthing. Paula and most of her family, colleagues and friends live in my home city, Calgary Alberta. I could send Paula to another location for all or part of the next book, but I see her as grounded in Calgary. Unlike me, Paula isn’t drawn to travel, although book # 3 presents her with a future travel opportunity. For now, I think her adventures in book # 4 will continue in Calgary.
An often deserted pathway behind Calgary’s Saddledome arena inspired my idea for the murder in the first Paula Savard novel, A Deadly Fall.
My current novel-in-progress, Winter’s Rage, ends in January 2020, with Paula at a crossroads in her life. Book # 4 will begin with her dealing with that situation. I’ve decided it will take place in spring, since Paula’s first three mysteries happened in fall, summer and winter. But which spring will this be? January 2020 was right before COVID-19 changed the world. Will we next meet Paula in spring 2020, as she grapples with the start of the pandemic both personally and at work? Or will it be spring 2021, when the the pandemic is (we hope) nearing its end? I could jump over the virus and set the novel in spring 2022. This would make the time frame more contemporary to my publication date, although I find it hard to envision the post COVID-19 world. What things will return to the old normal and what will be the long term changes? The year I choose for this fourth novel will affect my ideas for it. Thoughts to mull during the winter.

Calgary’s annual Stampede parade prompted ideas for a major character and an inciting incident in my second novel, Ten Days in Summer.
While Paula got into solving mysteries as an amateur sleuth, I decided her subsequent ventures would come from her insurance adjusting work. Ten Days in Summer starts with a suspicious death resulting from a building fire. Paula naturally becomes involved in the course of investigating the property fire insurance claim. In Winter’s Rage, she adjusts a hit and run collision and gradually suspects the fatality was no accident.
This quiet, suburban Calgary street plays a large role in Winter’s Rage.

For book # 4, I’m thinking that burglary could make a good cover up for murder. Last spring, my husband and I bought e-bikes at a local bicycle shop. I was intrigued by the store’s booming business. With most of their usual activities shut down for the pandemic, Calgarians sought outdoor activities and many of us updated our old bicycles. That store and the two guys operating it are giving me ideas for the crime that will launch Paula’s next mystery.
I also want to include a ghost in book # 4, because ghosts both interest and frighten me. At the end of Ten Days in Summer, Paula’s office moved to Inglewood, Calgary’s oldest neighbourhood. Many ghosts lurk in Inglewood, a location for Calgary’s haunted walking tours. The ghost rumoured to haunt her historic office building will challenge rational Paula, who doesn’t believe in other worldly happenings.
A ghost walking tour of Inglewood inspired my choice of  this “haunted” building for Paula’s office.
All of these bits and pieces, swirling in my mind, will converge into the start of a story, when I eventually sit down and write the novel. As the story moves along, it will pluck more ideas from my usual sources. That’s the plan, anyway, and it’s how I get my ideas.

E-biking last spring triggered ideas for my next novel

New Ideas

In my BWL author blog post for the new year, I discuss how how I get my ideas for my stories.

Inspiration

Happy New Year

I hope your Christmas celebrations were happy this year, despite the difficulties. Calgary was fortunate with its weather. A few days before Christmas, we got a huge dump of snow, which made for a pretty holiday season. The weather turned relatively mild after that. High temperatures slightly above freezing and abundant sunshine continue into January. I find our city parks crowded on weekends, with people making the most of what’s available during Calgary’s lockdown. Between writing, reading, clearing out my basement clutter and outdoor activities, I expect to have plenty to keep me occupied this winter. Best wishes to you all for a healthy and happy 2021.

Lake turned skating rink in Carburn Park, Calgary

Deer wades through snow in Carburn park

Snow shoeing on our neighbourhood golf course

Happy Soltice

I write this minutes after sunrise in Calgary, at 8:37 am, this shortest day of 2020.

Sunrise in Calgary

My clutter clearing project continues (see my recent blog post). Yesterday, in a box of old papers, I stumbled upon an article from Writer’s Digest magazine, ‘How to know when workshop criticism is useful or destructive, irrelevant or priceless.”  The article published in the late 1990’s or early 2000’s shows how times have changed. Among irrelevant criticism, author Nancy Kress includes comments from people with a political agenda.  She writes, “I have heard stories condemned for their negative portrayals of a woman, a union organizer, a military officer, a high school teacher and a wolf (the latter condemnation came from a wildlife advocate).  None of the criticism dealt with literary concerns (“This portrait isn’t convincing”). Instead, each centered on a political concern (“When you show a woman as weak and manipulative, it just reinforces stereotypes”).” I don’t know if Kress’ comment was controversial at the time, but I doubt today she’d advise writers to ignore a critique centered on insensitivity to a particular group.

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