What would be more appropriate for Valentine’s Day than a blog post about romantic subplots in novels? https://bwlauthors.blogspot.com/
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.
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.
My BWL blog post this month is a photo-blog of my recent trip to Mexico. The lingering statues for the Day of the Dead were a highlight. https://bwlauthors.blogspot.com/2023/12/mexican-celebrations.html#comment-form
It’s been hard to return to the land of ice and snow.
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!
On today’s BWL author blog, I reminisce about holiday in southern California in late August-September. It’s even relevant to my writing. https://bwlauthors.blogspot.com/
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.
Today on the BWL author blog I talk about my September book launch for my new novel, Spring Into Danger, and describe the planning that went into it. https://bwlauthors.blogspot.com/
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.
Thanks to a great turnout at my book launch, my novel, Spring Into Danger, hit #1 on today’s Calgary Herald Bestsellers List. Here I am on the list in pretty good company.
Compiled from information from Owl’s Nest Books and Shelf Life Books.
30 Sep 2023
FICTION 1. Spring into Danger
Susan Calder. After thieves break into a store and steal two bicycles, a psychic phones Det. Mike Vincelli.
2. Brave Like the Buffalo
Melissa Allan and Jadyn Fischer-mcnab. A children’s book with a message that will inspire all readers.
3. The Last Devil to Die
Richard Osman. It’s rarely a quiet day for the Thursday Murder Club when shocking news reaches them — an old friend has been killed.
4. Lady Tan’s Circle of Women
Lisa See. The latest historical novel from See, inspired by the true story of a female doctor from 15th-century China.
5. Fourth Wing
Rebecca Yarros. Friends, enemies, lovers. Everyone at Basgiath War College has an agenda.
6. The Covenant of Water
Abraham Verghese. A shimmering evocation of a bygone India.
7. Never Whistle at Night: An Indigenous Dark Fiction Anthology
Shane Hawk and Theodore C. Van Alst Jr. (editors). Many Indigenous people believe whistling at night can cause evil spirits to appear.
R F Kuang. White lies. Dark humour. Deadly consequences.
9. Tom Lake
Ann Patchett. Patchett once again proves herself one of America’s finest writers.
10. Lessons in Chemistry
Bonnie Garmus. Elizabeth Zott is a scientist who becomes the star of a beloved TV cooking show.
NON FICTION 1. The PDT Cocktail Book: The Complete Bartenders Guide From the Celebrated Speakeasy
Jim Meehan and Chris Gall. Jim Meehan, PDT’S innovative operator and mixmaster, is revolutionizing bar books.
2. Run Towards the Danger: Confrontations with a Body of Memory
Sarah Polley. Oscar-nominated screenwriter, director and actor explores memory and the dialogue between her past and present. Canadian author.
3. The Home Cafe: Creative Recipes for Espresso, Matcha, Tea and Coffee Drinks
Asia Lui Chapa. With this classy curation of recipes, you’ll find endless ideas.
4. The Met Office: Pocket Cloud Book
Richard Hamblyn and the Met Office. This book provides you with all the information you need to identify different kinds of clouds and the weather that may be on its way.
5. Alberta Wildlife: A Folding Pocket Guide to Familiar Animals
James Kavanagh. Covers 140 of the most common and familiar animals you are likely to encounter.
6. Bugs & Slugs, 2nd Edition: A Folding Pocket Guide to Familiar North American Invertebrates
James Kavanagh. This guide highlights over 140 familiar species of insects, spiders and invertebrates.
7. Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI
David Grann. A twisting, haunting true-life murder mystery about one of the most monstrous crimes in American history.
8. The 48 Laws of Power
Robert Greene. Every law here has an interest in total domination.
9. How the World Really Works: The Science Behind How We Got Here and Where We’re Going
Vaclav Smil. An essential analysis of the modern science and technology that makes our 21st-century lives possible.
10. Fire Weather: The Making of a Beast
John Vaillant. A riveting journey through the intertwined histories of North America’s oil industry and the birth of climate science. Canadian author
I really enjoyed my book launch on Thursday evening at cSpace Marda Loop. Fifty people attended and seemed to be having fun. The weather was lovely. Many guests stepped outside to the deck for views of the city. I was too busy greeting people, getting ready for my presentation, and signing books.
Here’s a photo of me signing a book for my hiking club friend Jennifer. Note the post sunset light through the floor-to-ceiling window behind us.