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Happy New Year from all the Authors in the Ultimate Reading Quest! This year myself, and all the Quest authors, want you to enjoy your reading experiences more than ever! So in 2015, the Ultimate Reading Quest has more, more, more! More authors and more books, means more mystery, more danger, more intrigue and more edge-of-your-seat adventure awaits you! We want you, our readers, to be able to fill that Kindle, tablet or E-reader you got for Christmas, with fabulous reads to take you through 2015. The Quest is so much fun! Who doesn’t love searching for treasure? The ULTIMATE READING QUEST is about finding books that are “perfectly” suited to your reading taste by clicking on choices. To thank you for participating, the authors have decided to give away oodles of prizes for free! Enter your name to win Amazon cards and free books from authors! Plus a whole store of treasured books are just waiting to be discovered by you!

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Integrating the art of story with technology and curriculum to enhance learning for the 21st century.
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This is not 50 FIRST DATES!

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This is not 50 FIRST DATES! Christine spends the first hours of each day reading in her journal and the rest of it recording what happens to her as it happens so she will remember it tomorrow. The victim of … Continue reading

“The Purchase” and Point of View

imageWhether consciously aware of it or not, the point of view from which a story is told can make or break the story. The most popular points of view are first person—in which the reader sees the events unfold through the eyes of a single character, including their thoughts and feelings—and third person. There are typically three types of third person narrative. The first is limited, essentially another take on the first person narrative. In third person limited, the reader can only know, see and feel what the point of view character knows, sees and feels. In third person omniscient, the reader experiences the narrative from a variety of people’s points of view. In third person objective, the narrator tells the plot as if the reader were viewing a movie, taking in all of the characters’ expressions and actions, but with none of the characters’ thoughts and feelings expressed in the narrative, other than those responses which can reasonably be observed.

The Purchase by Linda Spalding is about Daniel Dickinson, a Quaker living at the turn of the nineteenth century, who is excommunicated after his wife dies and he marries Ruth, the fifteen year old Methodist orphan living with his family as a servant. Disillusioned with his former life and feeling as if he has no future, Daniel moves his five children across the country to settle in Virginia. At an auction to purchase farm equipment, Daniel inadvertently bids on a slave and is bullied into giving up his favourite horse as collateral for the purchase and taking the eight year old boy, Simus, home with him. Thus begins (if I may borrow a phrase) a series of unfortunate events for Daniel as his family grows and he tries to build first a house and then a mill on his land.

The story is told from the point of view of an omniscient narrator, following each character’s thoughts, feelings and actions as the scene unfolds. This allows the reader to glean information that the main character(s) may not have. The following passage demonstrates Spalding’s expert use of this narrative technique:

“If we take my children to Virginia, thee could travel as a wife.” It was possible, [Daniel] supposed now, looking back at her unwashed face, that she had never had a book of her own. “Thee may borrow my Aeneid,” he called back to her, “with due care to its binding.” He turned to smile, but she had lowered her head and did not see.

But I am reading it just now, Mary wanted to say. That book was the one thing she shared now with her father. It was theirs. She stayed silent.

If this were written from Daniel’s point of view, we would not know that Mary wants to say something to her father but chooses to remain silent.  Spalding also uses this technique to hide from Mary that her husband was involved in Simus’ murder. The reader knows it was reluctantly so and that he tried to stop it and gave up and left before the actual murder took place, information Mary never finds out.

The Purchase is written in third person omniscient, but it is more a cross between this and third person objective, as many character thoughts and motivations are hidden. Ruth is the best example of this. Though she is present throughout and the reader knows she struggles with her position in the family, little is shown with respect to her emotions. Next to Daniel, the well-meaning but aloof patriarch, the most detailed, well-rounded character is Simus. Though he is around for perhaps only half of the novel, his life and death act as catalysts for most of what occurs in the plot. Mary, the eldest daughter, and Bett, a slave girl with whom Mary lives, befriends, and helps escape, aren’t as fleshed out as I would have liked. Though Mary gains local notoriety as a healer while secretly using Bett’s salves and potions, Bett only expresses fear at being caught, for it is against the law for blacks to medically treat whites. I would have liked to have known more about Bett’s feeling with respect to what happens in the story, as I felt the real story lay in the relationship between Simus, Bett, Bry (Bett’s son, the result of her being raped by her owner) and Mary, who form the closest thing to a family portrayed in the book.

Spalding’s choice to use this point of view allows her to expand her story, giving the reader snapshots into the lives of characters beyond Daniel and what he knows about his family’s goings-on. In this fashion, the author expertly layers the story, drawing the reader’s curiosity, rendering The Purchase a page-turner; the pace is quick, the chapters are short and the narration is easy to follow. The novel explores the themes of perseverance in the face of adversity, alienation, religious faith, and the make-up of family. Spalding draws thought-provoking parallels between the slavery of blacks and the servitude of women. Daniel remains cold to Ruth throughout. They do not have relations until they are several years into their marriage. Even then, he is aloof with her and quick to lay judgement. In many ways, He treats Ruth as more of a slave than either Simus, Bett or Bry, figuratively lashing out at her when she disobeys him or tries to assume ownership of the new homestead, he does not forge a relationship with her and goes to her only when he wants to have relations. This parallels Bett’s plight. Her owner (the Fox family) literally lashes her when she disobeys them, they forge no attachment with her and the owner uses his female slaves whenever he wants to have relations.

The Purchase intricately weaves the stories of the members of the extended Dickinson family into the harsh realities of pioneer life using a great deal of irony in the telling. The story itself is told darkly, but the end message is uplifting and emotionally and spiritually satisfying.  

419 – Critique

419 by Will Ferguson is this year’s Scotiabank Giller Prize Winner, so I thought I would read it to see the calibre of writing worthy of winning the Giller Prize. I wasn’t disappointed.

419 refers to Nigerian email scams. We’ve all received those emails requesting monetary assistance with the promise of a windfall in return. 419 explores the depths of what might happen when one responds to the emails and gets caught up in the web of deceit, fraud, and blackmail perpetrated by the scam baiters. In 419, a man commits suicide after losing his life savings, including the house. His daughter decides to avenge her father’s death and winds up being scammed herself.

The novel follows four storylines: Laura, the daughter of the man who has committed suicide; Winston, the perpetrator of the crime; Amina, a young, pregnant Nigerian girl; and Nnamdi, the young boy who falls for Amina, assumes responsibility for her child, and winds up being killed when he, too, is swept up in the business of 419. Laura and her family’s story is interesting, as is Winston’s and his involvement and cavalier attitude toward the 419 frauds he perpetrates. To him, people like Laura’s dad are rich, stupid Americans, ripe for the picking by anyone with the smarts to outwit them. Nnamdi’s story becomes interesting, too, but only after he joins Ironsi Egobia’s team of thugs and is tasked with getting rid of Laura after she becomes a thorn in his side. But the stories of Laura, Winston and Nnamdi’s demise are parenthesis to a confused middle story which sees the introduction of Amina and Nnamdi with no indication of how they fit into the grand scheme of the story.

I read about half of the novel in one sitting, unable to put down the discovery of Laura’s father’s demise, the family’s reaction, and the police detective who flirts with Laura. I continued reading as I learned the ins and outs of the 419 scams. The reader is gradually introduced to both Amina and Nnamdi as their chapters alternate with Laura’s and Winston’s which are all but lost as Amina and Nnamdi take the forefront. I found it difficult to keep reading after fifty or so pages after that and almost put the novel down because I could not see how the new characters fit in with the old. Trusting that Ferguson wouldn’t leave his readers hanging, I pressed on, and I wasn’t disappointed. Once the stories met up, the book morphed back into a page-turner and the end was worth the wait.

As with many books I’ve read, Ferguson is rewarded with The Giller Prize for doing something others have slapped my wrist for doing—introducing characters with no immediate connection to the story with which the novel was begun. The fact that Ferguson has enjoyed such acclaim with this structure renews my hope that there is nothing wrong with the stories I’ve been writing, and that, with persistence, I may find a publishing house yet.

Secret Daughter – Critique

When I reached out to the website offering reviews of science fiction by new authors, I hoped to get back something I could use, something that would help me market my eBook. Instead, I got a cursory glance at the first chapter or two of the manuscript and a series of negative comments that, had I not developed a tough skin over the years, would have made me throw in the proverbial writing towel.

I am a high school English teacher. For the past few years I have been blessed with counting Writer’s Craft among the courses I teach. The first third of the course is about “showing, not telling”. When you show, you engage the reader’s senses. “Pink cheeks” is telling; “rosy bloom” is showing. “Putrid smell” is telling; “rotten boiled cabbage” is showing. I pride myself on trying to incorporate showing and not telling in my writing. The review I received told me my writing tended toward exposition and I needed to show more.

I finished reading Shilpi Somaya Gowda’s novel, Secret Daughter this week, the story of two families, the Merchants and the Thakkars. Kavita and Jasu Merchant live in poverty in India. Jasu’s cousin kills their first child, a girl, because she is not a boy and the family will not be able to afford her dowry when she is grown. Unable to live with the same potential fate for her second daughter, Kavita travels with her cousin to give the baby to an orphanage. Their third child is a boy who, when he grows, helps his family climb from poverty with the proceeds of a drug trafficking business. Kavita never forgets her other two children. Upon what may be her death bed over twenty years later, Jasu finds out about their “secret daughter” and goes to the orphanage to find she was adopted by a family and taken to America. Somer and Krishnan are a mixed-race American couple who cannot have children. They travel to India to adopt Asha, a year old child, and bring her back to raise her in America. When she grows, she travels back to India to stay with Kris’s family and search out her birth parents. She finds their previous and current homes, but not them. In the process she learns how lucky she was to have been adopted by her parents.

Gowda’s writing style is mostly exposition with little dialogue (a good showing technique). In order to cover a span of more than twenty years in a single novel, I suppose one would have to tell—which can take the narrative far in a short amount of time—rather than show—which slows the narrative down or brings it to a halt while the reader lives in the moment, so to speak. Though the story she tells is touching, I found it hard to identify with any one character because they seemed flat. Somer, disappointed that she cannot have her own children is not excited about Asha’s adoption, which only drives home the fact that she and her husband are more different than alike. Rather than embrace and enjoy the child, Somer detaches herself from her family. While this makes an interesting dichotomy in that one mother loved her child enough to save her while the other remains distant and one father would have ended his child’s life while the other is the loving parent, I would have liked to have known more about Somer’s thoughts and feelings, more about her relationship with her daughter and how she can remain believing herself an outsider in her own family when there is a young child that is relying on her nurturing and support.

Point of view is another issue. Gowda’s novel is written in third person limited present tense, a point of view I don’t think I’ve ever seen in anything I’ve ever read. In general, present tense demands a sense of urgency, an interesting voice that has an interesting perspective on the events that take place. By contrast, third person limited, while containing the thoughts and observations of the main character, is filtered through the narrator’s eyes, which is why, I assume, it is almost always past tense, with the narrator reporting on something as if it has already happened. The third person limited present tense point of view did not work for me. I found the present tense awkward, and the limited more objective,  than I would have liked. At nearly 600 ePages, the point of view made the novel seem much longer than it was. As I was at a loss to identify with any one character, there was nothing motivating me to continue to read, other than a desire to see Asha reunited with her birth mother, which never happens.

My reading tastes are eclectic. I write mainly science fiction, but I dabble in detective fiction. I prefer reading literary fiction to mainstream. I love the language and will often read a book if the story isn’t interesting, but the narrative voice is entertaining (The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley is case in point—brilliant narrative, less than interesting story). So why didn’t I like Secret Daughter? I wasn’t adopted, nor have I ever adopted a child, but I do have a family member that was adopted. I watched the anguish of her family as she found her birth mother and all but abandoned the family that raised her in favour of the woman who gave her up more than thirty years prior. I am a mother. Maybe this is why I can identify with Kavita’s motivations, yet question Somer’s. My bachelor’s degree is in Cultural Anthropology, so I was intrigued by Asha’s story as she learns about the children of the slums and their mothers and, in doing so, learns about the life she could have lived, had she not been given up for adoption, had she been allowed to live at all.

While I admire Gowda for publishing this, her first novel, in spite of breaking all the rules, I can’t help but feel a pang of contempt for all those “professionals” in whom I placed absolute trust to honestly critique my work. To all those people who told me I don’t show enough, I shouldn’t change points of view, I should consider changing from present to past tense, don’t have too many narrative voices, and make me feel like there is something wrong with my writing and that if I just do as they say I will get published, point taken; if you stray too far from the mould people may not read it because it is different from mainstream fiction. After reading Secret Daughter, hailed as a successful piece of literature, and rightly so, I have to wonder why new authors are criticized for being different. I chose to ignore the critique from that site, by the way. One thing I’ve learned in this process is that I can’t be a Charlaine Harris or a Kathy Reichs or a Margaret Atwood. I’d rather be true to my voice and my process and do right by my characters instead.

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I’m Published!

My hands were literallly shaking as I entered the information on the Kobo Writing Life web page. I have resisted self-publishing for many years, but I resolved myself to give it a go. My first book, Phase Shift, is now officially published as and E-book at KoboBooks.com (at least it will be within the next 24 to 48 hours). I decided that this was not a venture about money, but one about building an audience. The more books I sell (at a moderately priced CDN$6.99), the more people will purchase and read and then then I can go to a publisher with my next manuscript and audience in tow.

The synopsis of this book goes like this:

Two planets, Earth and Gaia, co-exist in the same space-time though slightly out of phase. When archaeologists find an artifact allowing them to travel between the two worlds, they discover that environmental issues on both planets have caused the planets’ phase variances to grow more alike. Upon exploring Gaia, they realize trade between the planets has been ongoing for decades, and the act of traveling between the worlds only serves to bring the phase variances closer together.  It’s up to the archaeologists, together with scholars from Gaia, to do what they can to stop the impending disaster.

I will post again with the ISBN number once I get it (in 3 – 6 business days) and a link to the page so you can purchase it if you wish. I appreciate any and all feedback. In future novels, I have cast Robert Carlyle in the part of Palmer Richardson, though for this one, it was another actor. I’d love to hear your opinion of how Mr. Carlyle might bring life to this role.

This is exciting. The first glimpse of My Own Little Storybrooke will soon be published. Unlike the OUAT Storybrooke, all visitors are welcome!