Tag Archives: #amwriting

Romantic Subplots are Fun

I don’t write romance novels, but most of my mystery and suspense books have romantic subplots. This shouldn’t be surprising since I love Jane Austen’s novels, which always centre on romance. A few years ago, while visiting my friend Barb in the UK, we went to Jane Austen’s home in Chawton and dressed in costumes of the times. 

Jane Austen had the romance formula down pat – keep the lovers in conflict and separated through the story until the end, when they realize they are right for each other. Their conflict and separation can be caused by external problems (family objections, war, geography) and/or internal flaws.  


In my first novel, A Deadly Fall, my heroine/sleuth Paula struggles with both types of problems. She falls for a man who is a suspect and she’s committed to a boyfriend (two external impediments). Internally, she’s burned from her recent divorce. As the story progresses, Paula learns she must take risks to find love again. 


In book # 4 of the series, Paula and her current boyfriend are stranded on different continents due to the COVID-19 world shutdown. Their separation challenges their relationship. But the novel’s greater romantic subplot belongs to Detective Mike Vincelli, a secondary narrator. Mike is attracted to a coworker, but his fear of failure and reluctance to shake up his comfortable life conflict with his desire to make their involvement personal.


Typically the romantic subplot reflects the protagonist’s personal journey in stories that are primarily about other things–finding the treasure, defeating an enemy army, solving a murder. While navigating romantic entanglements, heroes and heroines learn the lessons they need to resolve their problems.

    
My current mystery-novel-in-progress, A Killer Whisky, has two romantic subplots. The main one features my two story narrators, Katharine, who witnesses a suspicious death, and Bertram, the detective investigating the case. The story is set in 1918, during the last days of WWI.

Katharine’s loyalty to her husband fighting in France clashes with her attraction to the attentive detective. Bertram’s obstacles are largely internal–he can’t move past the deaths of his wife and son. Through the story events, Katharine and Bertram must discover what they want in life after the war is over.

  
A Killer Whisky’s second romantic subplot involves two suspects, who are non-viewpoint narrators. Their romance fuels the murder investigation plotline. I find their relationship fun and am curious to see how it works out.


Or doesn’t work out.

 
When romance is merely a subplot, it doesn’t have to follow the romance novel tradition of bringing the lovers together in the end. Actually, my impression is that romance novels today don’t require this either. I can’t think of book example but a successful romantic comedy movie springs to mind ** spoiler alert ** My Best Friend’s Wedding.


Whatever your current romantic journey — Happy Valentine’s Day!

         Me in Puerto Vallarta with Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. Their grand romance had numerous ups and downs that captured the world’s imagination.  

Happy Rabbie Burns Day!

Last May my husband Will and I saw the John Steinbeck play, Of Mice and Men, at the Leeds Playhouse in England. This theatre experience was different from our one the previous week in London. Tickets in Leeds were about a quarter of the London price. That Tuesday the Leeds theatre was a quarter full and we were probably the only non-Brits present. In London we packed the theatre with a large number of tourists. 

Of Mice and Men is set in the United States during the Great Depression. It tells the story of two migrant workers who dream of owning their own farm. Being Steinbeck, their dream turns to tragedy at the end. Before seeing the play, I wasn’t familiar with the story, but afterward references to the novel kept popping up. This began later in our holiday, when we visited Alloway, Scotland, the birthplace of Robert Burns, who is widely regarded as Scotland’s National Poet. 

                                                  Burns birthplace cottage, Alloway, Scotland

Viewed as a poet of the working class, Burns wrote in a light Scots dialect. He’s affectionally called Rabbie by his Scottish fans. Of course, we’d sung his song/poem Auld Lang Syne on numerous New Year’s Eves, but on this visit we learned that another Burns’ poem, To a Mouse, was the inspiration for Of Mice and Men. Burns wrote the poem after he accidentally destroyed a mouse’s nest with his plough and realized that, with its nest gone, the mouse wouldn’t survive the winter. These lines inspired Steinbeck:

The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men
    Gang aft agley,
An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,  For promis’d joy! 


 When I returned home from my trip, a library book I’d put on hold was waiting for me: Prince Harry’s memoir Spare — I confess I read it. While discussing his teenage lack of interest in literature and academics, Harry says the one book that grabbed him was Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, which was assigned in his English class. He liked that the book was short and, unlike Shakespeare, the plain language didn’t need a translator. Most of all he could relate the story’s themes of friendship, brotherhood, and loyalty to him and his brother William. The brothers’ story ebbs and flows through Harry’s memoir and crashes at the end. 


In 2009 Burns was voted the greatest Scot by the Scottish public in a contest hosted by a Scottish TV show. Since then Burns has run into criticism. Some feminists interpret his lusty poems and lifestyle as sexist. He had twelve children by four women. Seven were illegitimate, including the first four by his wife Jean Armour. By Scottish law they became legitimate after the marriage. According to a museum plaque, Jean raised one of the illegitimate children born after she and Rabbie married — it gets complicated.  


Others criticize Burns for accepting a job as bookkeeper for a Jamaica slave plantation. In the end, he didn’t go to Jamaica for personal reasons. 


It might also be that the Scots dialect in Burns’ poems has fallen out of favour with younger readers, like Shakespeare’s language for Prince Harry, and doesn’t resonate with an increasingly diverse public.


But many Scots around the world still adore Burns and celebrate his birthday, January 25, at Burns’ dinners, which traditionally include such iconic Scottish features as a bagpiper greeting guests and a whisky toast to the haggis.  

Bouchercon San Diego & more

Calgary’s first snowfall of the season has got me dreaming about my holiday in California this September. The main purpose for the trip was to attend Bouchercon World Mystery Convention in San Diego. My husband Will (an avid mystery reader) and I spent four interesting days attending panels and events like Speed Dating for Writers and Readers and the New Author Breakfast. Both were more fun than I’d expected and popular enough to fill the large rooms by 7:00 am. When we weren’t occupied with the convention, we enjoyed the views from our hotel in the San Diego Marina. 

After the convention, we stayed an extra day in San Diego to see a little more of the city. We walked along the boardwalk and took the short ferry ride to Coronado Island, an upscale vacation beach community. The highlight was a concert in the park featuring a great cover band. Hundreds of people gathered. Since we didn’t have chairs, we stood at the front and danced to songs like “Witchy Woman” and “One of These Nights” made famous by the Eagles.   

From San Diego, we drove to Julian, a “hippie” town located in the apple-growing hills east of the city. In addition to exploring the quirky, historic former gold mining town, we gorged on apple pie – arguably the best I’ve ever had. A half dozen bakeries produce pies for tourists, many of them day-trippers from San Diego. 

Sunshine, warmth, ocean, books, wine, apple pie — pretty much a perfect trip!  

Hosting a Book Launch

Last month I held my first in-person book launch in 4 1/2 years. Fifty people gathered in The Treehouse at cSpace, which is located in Calgary’s former King Edward Junior High School. I had toured the renovated building when cSpace opened in 2017 as an arts and community hub and fell in love with the Treehouse meeting room. Its top floor setting, three walls of windows, and outside deck offer panoramic views of the city. On September 21st the weather was perfect for an evening event.  

Prior to the launch, I often wondered if the effort was worth it. After I settled on the venue and date, the first step was sending out invitations. I created a Facebook Event page, invited my Facebook friends who live in Calgary, and kept the page active with comments to stimulate interest and discussion. In one comment I talked about cSpace and urged people to come to the launch to see what this unique building is like. In addition to numerous artist studios, cSpace houses community groups for seniors, indigenous peoples, writers, and those interested in speaking French. 

For friends not on Facebook, I created an invitation, which I emailed to each person. I started out wondering if anyone would come. But eventually enough people said “yes” that I realized I’d get a good crowd. Then new worries set in. Would they enjoy themselves and be glad they came?


During the week before the event, I purchased wine, juice, and snack food: cheese, crackers, vegetables and dip, and desserts.  


I developed a PowerPoint presentation, which focused on Calgary locations that inspired my story. I combined these with readings from the novel interspersed through the presentation. My first reading featured my protagonist Paula Savard in her office in Inglewood, Calgary’s oldest suburb. In my mind, Paula works in this four-story brick building on Inglewood’s main street. My added touch: the building is rumoured to be haunted.   

For fun, at the end of my talk, I added a trivia quiz. Since the novel takes place in spring 2020 during the first COVID-19 lockdown, the ten trivia questions all related to COVID-19. I took my questions from the COVID timeline that I’d made for the novel to remind me of what was happening in the world on the story’s dates. To test your memory, here are my first two trivia questions:

  • On what date did WHO (World Health Organization) declare COVID-19 a pandemic? Month, day, year required.
  • Shortly after this declaration, what celebrity couple announced in Australia they’d tested positive for COVID-19?   

The questions turned out to be too hard. The winner only got three right and received her prizes, which were priceless during the lockdown: hand sanitizer and a roll of toilet paper. 
I wrapped up the presentation with random draw prizes: two mystery puzzle books and two sets of playing cards because a character in the novel has a gambling addiction that affects the plot. 

Then everyone gathered for conversation, wine, food and drink. I signed books and talked with as many guests as I could. From the buzz in the room and comments afterward, I think people enjoyed the event. 
Was the work and strain I put into launch preparations worth it? I don’t know. It’s fun to to host a party to celebrate something good in life and now I have these wonderful pictures with friends who made the effort to attend and cheer on my writing. 

Calgary Herald Bestsellers List

Since I no longer subscribe to physical newspapers, a friend emailed me this clipping from yesterday’s Calgary Herald. Nice to see Spring Into Danger listed in actual print.

In the old days, I used to laminate newspaper clippings of my articles and previous appearances on Calgary’s Bestsellers List. Now I save them to my digital files.