Friday, December 23, 2016

Finding History In Canada by Victoria Chatham

In school, history was never my favorite subject. I couldn’t remember dates.1066 and 1492 are ingrained in me, but don’t ask me about the succession of kings or when the Industrial or French Revolutions began.
It wasn’t until I was in my late twenties that I read Jean Plaidy’s The Sun in Splendour. What a difference that made. I could see the characters in history, the people behind the words on the page. I scrambled to read all I could, both fact and fiction, about the Plantagenets, the Tudors and the War of the Roses. My history teacher would have been proud of me.
Today I write historical romance set in my favorite eras, the Regency and the Edwardian, but I still read historical novels from any period. History comes alive for me between the covers of a good book but I do understand that it is subjective.
What happened yesterday, a minute or an hour ago becomes history and we all have our own. My history is growing up in Clifton, a suburb of Bristol, England. Today it’s known not only for its Regency era architecture but also the palatial homes built by the merchant venturers of Bristol, a society of businessmen formed in 1552.
When I immigrated to Canada in 1990, I frequently had people tell me ‘you won’t like it here, we’re not old enough’, or ‘Canada has no history’.
I will admit my ignorance at that time. After all, what did I know about Canada other than it’s a very big country, the Mounties always get their man (or woman) and it’s cold in winter. After nearly twenty-five years I am happy to beg to differ with those early and misleading statements. Well, maybe not quite so happy about the cold.
While Canada may not have 8th-century churches and medieval castles, it has its own history. I’ve been lucky to see some of it first hand; black and ochre pictographs on cliff and canyon walls, dinosaur remains, glacial erratics and First Nations teepee rings, hunting grounds and totem poles. I’ve visited restored forts and trading posts and learned that the Hudson’s Bay Company, incorporated by Royal Charter in 1670, extended every bit as far and wide as did the East India Company, established earlier in 1600 also by Royal Charter.
I’ve had a trail guide point to a stretch of prairie and tell me to close my eyes and picture it not green but brown, a veritable tsunami of thousands of snorting, bawling buffalo. He also told me about the African-American cowboy, John Ware. Renowned for his ability to ride and train horses, Ware was also known for his strength and work ethic. He drove cattle from Texas to Montana and then, in 1882, further north into what is now Alberta where he and his wife settled.
I’ve visited forgotten mining towns to wonderful little back-road museums and loved those magical Heritage Minutes, those sixty-second vignettes illustrating important moments in Canadian history. Who knew that in 1789 Britain and Spain nearly came to blows after disputing their settlements in Nootka Sound? Or that one thousand years ago the Vikings settled L’Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland and Labrador? Or that in 1857 Queen Victoria chose Ottowa (formerly known as Bytown) as the capital of the Province of Canada?
And then I discovered Canadian authors. Having been brought up on Shakespeare, Austen, and Dickens, these new-to-me authors were like a breath of fresh air. Starting with Pierre Berton, I devoured Klondike Fever, The Last Spike, and The Great Lakes. I read Margaret Attwood, loved Margaret Laurence’s characters Hagar Shipley (The Stone Angel) and Morag Gunn (The Diviners). I learned about life on the prairies from W.O. Mitchell and at a book-fair picked up The Whiteoaks of Jalna by Mazo de la Roche. It, and other titles in the series, gave as a good a picture of life in Ontario from the 1850’s to the 1970’s as did any of R.F. Delderfield’s books of life in England for much of the same era. And then a helpful librarian recommended I read Alice Munro.
Jesse Kornbluth, writing in the Huffington Post in October 2013 says of Munro, ‘The lives of little people. We see them on the street, and, if we are curious, we wonder about their lives. Alice Munro does our homework for us -- she inhabits those lives. Her judgments are sure. And tough. And also... human.’ That humanity is what gets to me with every Munro story I have read and re-read.
Canada’s history is as rich and varied as anywhere else in the world and I had only scratched the surface of it when I began writing my Canadian Historical Bride book, Brides of Banff Springs. I delved into the history of 1930's Banff as I used it and the Banff Springs Hotel as my setting. The librarian at the Banff Public Library not only allowed me to use her surname for my heroine, Tilly, but also suggested reading materials. So much so that I went home with two bags of books.
Early summer was spent reading and researching. I had no clear idea of what I wanted, only that if I had a good understanding of what went on in and around the town of Banff at that time, some of it would gel enough for me to pick the right information and events to flow together into a story. I tried to include some of the social problems of the times without dwelling on them too much, but the primary focus of the book is the bride, so I had to work in the romance. By the middle of the book, Tilly and her sweetheart Ryan, had become real, living breathing characters and I couldn't wait to get them married off. 
I now have my first print copies of  Brides of Banff Springs and can honestly say I am absolutely thrilled. Cover designer Michelle Lee did a marvelous job of blending the bride's image with that of the Banff Springs Hotel. I am now looking forward to reading all of the books in this series and learning more about the country I call home, cold weather and all.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

The Muse Inside (Or How Come I'm Not Locked Up Yet?)

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The Muse Inside (Or How Come I'm Not Locked Up Yet?)

People ask why I write or where I get the ideas for what I do write? Well that is a complex question to an author. Anyone ever ask Beethoven why the 5th symphony and where did that come from? Or did anyone ask Charles Schultz what possessed him to put a beagle on a rooftop with a typewriter and a little birdie as a sidekick? 
I’m sure most would reply it’s the muse that whispers to writers and artists inside their heads. Perhaps this is our constructive way of dealing with voices inside our heads, which for most others would get you locked up, sedated and the key thrown away.
I was recently asked why, as a Caucasian do I write novels involving first nations, native gods and legends? The dedication I wrote for my next novel, Thunderbird’s Wake might answer that question.
“In honor and memory of all the ancient native oral storytellers the K’aygang.nga (Haida), and the Sway’ xwiam (Sto:lo) before us. The few whose words were recorded on the carved lips and eyes of the totems and monuments still remaining and have gone on to become the echoes in the forest and the hush of mists sliding along mountain slopes.
Voices that now whisper to the minds of some of us listeners (Gyuu k’iiga) still today.”
I remember in one of my first visits to BC and Victoria, back when I lived in Alberta. I went to the provincial museum and simply stared at the carved totems and log poles there. My wife at the time had wandered off and all I could hear as I stood there by myself was voices. Whispers and tales all around me. I remember asking her, “do you hear those voices in the background?” She thought I was nuts. But all the way back to my campsite and on the journey home I could see the ovoid eyes and the wooden lips whispering.
The Haida mount on most of their totems, three squatting figures, they call the Watchmen, who are meant to watch out for enemies approaching. But I recon they also silently call out to those that hear, those that have the muse inside, “come, tell us about they that dwell under us and listen to the voices of those that have preceded us.”
          So later when I heard the bizarre news story about a rare golden spruce tree cut down in protest of logging, the whispers became nudges and twitches of a pencil that couldn’t remain quiet any longer. Guided by ghosts of legends from a culture that only had oral storytellers and no written language. Somewhere in the air all those whispered words circulate and somehow they call to me, from there came the novel, Raven’s Lament.  Yeah, maybe like my first wife said, I am nuts. Don’t care, I write; the tales come. Simple. That is what dwells in my soul. Words awaiting to come out.
This spring my next novel to be published by Books We Love, Thunderbird’s Wake, comes out. Another tale of a nuttier man than me that breaks into a penitentiary in order to deal with an awakening god.
That and a native sprite that needs a human to bring justice to her soul.
Have a Great Christmas and to all of those writers reading this.
May the muse reward you with lots and lots of whispers. So keep those pencils sharpened over the holidays.
Frank Talaber

Frank Talaber’s Writing Style? He usually responds with: Mix Dan Millman (Way of The Peaceful Warrior) with Charles De Lint (Moonheart) and throw in a mad scattering of Tom Robbins (Even Cowgirls Get The Blues).
PS: He’s better looking than Stephen King (Carrie, The Stand, It, The Shining) and his romantic stuff will have you gasping quicker than Robert James Waller (Bridges Of Madison County).
Or as is often said: You don’t have to be mad to be a writer, but it sure helps.

Writer by soul. Words born within. 
Karma the seed. Paper the medium.  
Pen the muse. Novels the fire.

My novels on Amazon are at (copy and paste link):
Twitter: @FrankTalaber

 Thunderbird's Wake (out this spring from Books We Love LTD)
 A penitentiary is a dangerous place and into the world of the criminal enters a saint. Well, bearing rattles and guardian beasts, the native born find him a saint. To the rest he's more nuts than a squirrels winter stash. There's a god asleep, awakening. Humans that seek justice and a sprite that needs justice from humanity.
So what makes you want to break into one? You can ask Charlie, but he ain't telling. And if he did you wouldn't believe it in a dozen lifetimes. Come enter, the madness this spring.

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Shuttered Seduction
No woo woo stuff here, just a good old fashioned romance. Well except for the grizzly bear and the bungee jumping. 

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Writers, Readers, and Chocolate: a Sweet Relationship, St. Augustine, FL Chocolate Factory Tour

Hello and welcome to the Books We Love Insiders blog. My name is J.Q. Rose, author of the recently released romantic suspense, Dangerous Sanctuary.

Dangerous Sanctuary by J.Q. Rose
Romantic suspense
Available at amazon

In December 2014, we visited St. Augustine, Florida, the oldest European continuously occupied city in the USA. We fell in love with the beautiful city founded 452 years ago. The history, cultures, waterways, the Christmas lights, and music all blended into a great get-away.

Writers and readers love snacking on chocolate,so today I'm taking you on a tour of the Whetstone Chocolate Factory. According to their website. the story of the establishment of this chocolate company is a story of a dream fulfilled for a hard-working, dedicated couple, Henry and Esther Whetstone. They first opened their small ice cream store on St. George Street in the historic business district of St. Augustine in 1966. Henry and Esther entered the chocolate market when they created a home-made fudge recipe in the family’s kitchen.The kitchen was the original Whetstone Chocolate factory and they were the only workers. You can read more about their amazing growth at the Whetstone Chocolate website.

The tour costs $8.00 and is worth every penny of it, especially when Ty was our guide. He was an elementary school teacher for 36 years!  He brings all the energy and enthusiasm he used to teach kids to the tour presentation. Kudos to Ty for his fun tour of the factory. (Of course, how can you NOT have fun when eating samples of delicious chocolate?? We were pretty wired by the end of the tour!!)

Ty begins the tour on the factory floor. Information on the fine ingredients in this artisanal chocolate and the method used to turn cocoa beans into heavenly flavors of chocolate were explained in an adjoining room.

The factory. Yes, I was expecting conveyor belts, clanging bells, a frenzy of machinery, and lots of workers. But no, only about three people working at quiet machines that you will see below.

Ty introduced us to Miss Nan (forgive me if I don't have her name correct). She is bagging their delicious foil-wrapped candy shells and placing them in the boxes.

The machine is making white chocolate. Stirring is an important aspect of making delicious candy. I learned white chocolate does not have cocoa powder as an ingredient, but does contain the cocoa butter.

Milk chocolate machine. The difference between Whetstone's fine chocolates and the Over the Counter kind, as Ty referred to the cheaper manufactured chocolate, is the amount of lecithin, an emulsifier. Cheaper chocolates use none or less lecithin in the product.

Dark chocolate.
Yes, they push the health benefits of eating DARK chocolate.

Ty demonstrates how the hollow chocolate football is made. A measured amount of chocolate is added to the plastic mold he is holding.
A worker continually turns the liquid chocolate leaving a thin layer on the mold. In order to make it evenly shaped, it takes 35 minutes of hand turning to do it right!

The mold and the finished product, a hollow football complete with white chocolate laces!
Beautiful! No,Ty didn't make this one....

Miss Nan revs up the machine that wraps foil around the chocolate shells.

Miss Nan loads the shells into the machine. Ty explained the path the candy took through the gears and belts with a patter that a rap star couldn't have done better! 

Success! Look at the parade of red foil-wrapped candy which Miss Nan will bag later.

Yes, we re-enacted the candy wrapping scene from the I Love Lucy Show.
You can't tell I have the candy stuffed in my mouth and down my bra, just like Lucy. LOL!!

The chocolate factory scene from the I Love Lucy Show.
The real actors in I Love Lucy. Have you seen this episode? It's a classic.

Hope you enjoyed the tour. Are you hungry for chocolate now? Do you like dark chocolate?
I bet with the holidays upon us, you'll get many chocolate treats whether candy or desserts. Take time to really taste them and feel the joy this small morsel can bring to us.
Photos by J.Q. Rose
Poinsettia--the traditional Christmas flower

Wishing you joy, peace, hope, and love this Christmas season 
and for the New Year 2017!
About J.Q. Rose
After writing feature articles in magazines, newspapers, and online magazines for over fifteen years, J.Q. Rose entered the world of fiction. Her published mysteries are Deadly Undertaking  and Dangerous Sanctuary released by Books We Love Publishing. Blogging, photography, Pegs and Jokers board games, and travel are the things that keep her out of trouble. She spends winters in Florida and summers up north camping and hunting toads, frogs, and salamanders with her four grandsons and granddaughter.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Christmas Toy Shopping Disastrophy by Stuart R. West
Hola and happy holidays, everyone. 

Tensions are high, people on edge, fights and riots breaking out everywhere. Oh, and then there’s the political situation. But I was talking about Christmas shopping.

Talk about madness. Say what you will about Amazon (like politics, everyone has a highly volatile opinion of them), I’m thankful for Amazon at Christmas time. My wife and I pretty much get most of our shopping done without ever leaving the sofa.

But things weren’t always like that.

I’m thinking the infamous year of the “Water Baby.” 

I made the parental mistake of asking my then eight year old daughter what she’d like for Christmas. 

“A Water Baby.”

“A what?”

“A Water Baby. Melissa and Brianne have one.”

“Oh. Well, if Melissa and Brianne have one, they’ve gotta’ be something special.”

I had no idea what a “Water Baby” was, yet pretended to. Because dads know everything, right? After researching, I discovered Water Babies were special dolls you fill with water to give them that “realistic” feeling. Well… First, gross. Second, why are eight year old girls wanting to feel a real baby?  Stupid Melissa and Brianne.

But the hunt was on! 

Instead of eating during my work lunch-breaks, I scoured the stores and malls of the Greater Kansas City metropolitan area. I called stores, pleaded my case for the stupid, highly elusive Water Baby doll. I enlisted my parents into high-stepping action. I offered to buy the doll at twice the price, to any takers, just please don’t let my daughter down this Christmas! Alas, Water Babies were sold out everywhere. 

I came close a few times. My mom found one at a Kmart. Excited, I asked her how much I owed her for the gift. 

My mom said, “Well, I didn’t get it because the doll was black.”

“Gah! Mom! My daughter won’t care! No one cares but you! Please, please, PLEASE go back and get it! Never mind. I’ll do it!”

Off I went! I bolted through my company’s door (“Not feeling good!”), sped and zipped in and out of highway lanes like Steve McQueen on a bender. I slammed open the Kmart doors, raced down the toy aisle. 

And found an empty shelf. 

A forlorn looking mother stood next to me, equally numb. 

“Water Baby?” I asked, shorthand for every parent who’d been fighting the battle.

She nodded, dead to the world.

I dropped to my knees, raised my hands and screamed to the uncaring toy manufacturers, the greedy corporate marketing strategists, and mostly to that insidious duo of little girls, Melissa and Brianne, “Damn you, Melissa and Brianne! Curse you foul demonic Water Babies, you ugly looking, jiggly, creepy hunks of stupid plastic!”

Then a stock-boy strolled out. His name tag identified him as “Chet.” To this day, I identify Chet as the boy who saved Christmas. In all his slacker, acne-ridden glory.

“Hey,” he says, oh so nonchalantly, just teasing us, “you looking for Water Babies?”

“Yeah. Please, dear God, tell me you have some!” I nearly took Chet by his blue lapels and shook him down.

“Nah. Not here. But our store in Gladstone's got a couple.”

“Thanks, Chet! Love you!”

Out through the store I hurtled. A dead tie with the other grieving parent. I considered shoving her into the sock aisle to gain an advantage. (Hey, all’s fair during Christmas toy shopping.) But I didn’t need to. Once I slammed open the doors, I broke into a full-on, manic sprint through the parking lot. Another breathless race through the streets of KC. I screeched to a halt in the Gladstone Kmart parking lot.

The store loomed in front of me, large and foreboding. Conqueror and creator of Christmas happiness: Kmart.

This was it. My last chance to bring Christmas joy to my daughter.

I shoved past people--certain they’d understand--and scuttled down the toy aisle.

Celestial trumpets! Glory hallelujah! 

There in all their grotesquely manufactured glory, sat two of the ugliest lumps of plastic Mankind had ever created. I snatched one doll up (hoped my competitor would get the other), locked it under my arm, thrust a hand out like a running back and slammed my way to the check-out aisle. 

A true Christmas miracle.

Of course the dumb Water Baby’s novelty wore off after a couple of hours. Soon enough, my daughter discarded the grotesque mannequin to the bin of unwanted toys.

Still, it was all worth it to see my daughter light up like a Christmas tree upon opening that gift. (No way did I let Santa grab the glory for that one, either. My heroic efforts as a dad demanded to be rewarded).

That Christmas morning, I finally relaxed. Job well done. After all, I had 364 more days until I had to worry about it again. (Next year was even worse: Furbies.)

I gripe about the Toy Wars. But, to tell you the truth, I kinda’ miss it. My daughter’s long grown up, at the stage where money’s her favorite gift. As are my nieces, nephews, all the children in our family. It’s boring. There’s no challenge or joy in tossing around cash. 

Maybe I’ll go back to giving everyone toys no matter their age. 

Happy holidays, merry Christmas, happy Hanukkah, cool Kwanza, super Solstice, beautiful Boxing Day, and to those parents still in the trenches and fighting the good fight: good luck.
Click the cover for a preview.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Beginnings and Endings by Nancy M Bell

It's that time of year again. Another old year is almost over and a new one set to begin. Christmas is almost upon us and this year I find myself reflecting on years gone by. My own children are grown with children of their own and yet I still feel like a kid myself sometimes. This year is a bit of a milestone. I turn sixty on December 20th. It doesn't seem possible, but there it is, the numbers don't lie. I thought I'd share a bit of Christmas history with you and take a walk down memory lane, full of candy canes and snowmen.

Our Christmas Eve was always a variatiohn of the same theme. My parents would pack up my sister and myself and later my brother and set off in the car to visit my dad's sisters who lived in various parts of Toronto and the outlying area. Aunt Ola and Uncle Bunny lived near Whitevale, Ontario on a farm with the most amazing white farm house. The floors were always polished mirror bright and I loved the huge kitchen. We'd play hand off our gifts and receive the ones to go under our tree when we got home. Then it was off to Aunt Joy and Uncle Norm's and a houseful of cousins in Mississauga. There was always lots to do at Auntie Joy's, games to play and outside fun. The food was always great and my cousins had all the latest games and toys to play with. Presents were exchanged we were off again.
Aunt Gloria and Uncle Tommy used to live in Caladar, near North Bay when we were really young and we visited them on New Year's Day, but later they moved into New Toronto not far from Aunt Loral and Uncle Bob. We added them to our Christmas Eve jaunt. Dad's other sister, Aunt Irma lived near Ottawa so we saw them less frequently.
My grandparents used to winter with Aunt Gloria so we got to see them as well. Grandma and Grandpa Rafter owned a store on a lake near Norland, Ontario and spent the summers there, but when the weather turned they would come to Toronto and stay with my aunt.
Aunt Loral had a small house, but the coolest tree topper. It was multi-coloured and rotated like a disco ball, although this was long before disco balls were the norm. There were a million of those little Wade figurines out of the Red Rose Tea boxes lined up on the slim ledge of the door frames in her kitchen.

Photo taken in Banff Alberta

When we were young we lived in a two bedroom house with my mom's parents. Grandma and Grandpa Pritchard made the dining room into their bedroom, my older sister had one bedroom and my sister and I slept in bunkbeds in my parent's room. One Christmas Eve we were just getting home and as Dad parked the car in the drive who should we see coming down the neighbour's drive? SANTA CLAUS!!! We were both pretty young because my little brother wasn't born yet, so we were maybe 5 and 6 years old. We screamed and raced out of the car, up the step and leaped into bed with our coats and boots still on. Both of us refused to get up or take anything off for fear Santa would show up and not leave us any presents. True story.

Okay enough reminiscing. The faces at the table have changed over the years, as young ones are added older ones pass on. But at Christmas everyone, past and present, are with us as we celebrate the joy of the season.

The third book in A Longview Romance series is now available in paperback and as an added bonus the novella A Longview Christmas in included. Peace, Joy and Happiness be yours.

Titillating preview by J.C. Kavanagh

WINNER Best Young Adult Book 2016, The Twisted Climb I've been prepping for Autumn book signings and excited to meet new and...