Saturday, April 30, 2011


My book review of A Second Cup of Hot Apple Cider appears in today's Waterloo Record and Guelph Mercury.

Read the review.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

A Literary Bargain

This evening, I listened as two outstanding Canadian authors, Jamie Zeppa and Miriam Toews, read and discussed their books at Norfolk United Church in downtown Guelph.

Born and raised in Sault Ste. Marie, Jamie Zeppa decided to leave the comforts of home and go teach in Bhutan. In 1999, she wrote her memoir, Beyond the Sky and Earth, based on those years. This evening, she read from her latest book, Every Time We Say Goodbye, which contains elements from Zeppa's own life.

Miriam Toews was born in a Mennonite community in Manitoba. Her books portray quirky characters in sad situations. One of her earlier books, A Complicated Kindness, won the 2004 Governor General's Literary Award and was a 2004 Giller Prize finalist. As she read from her latest book, Irma Voth, we all laughed at the comments and antics of her characters.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Water For Elephants

This movie deserves more than the two-star rating given by the Toronto Star.

Based upon Sara Gruen's best-selling novel, the movie captures the highs and lows of the circus world during the Depression era.

Robert Pattinson plays the part of Jacob, an orphaned veterinary student, who falls for Marilena, a beautiful circus performer played by Reese Witherspoon. Christoph Waltz plays circus ringleader, August, the jealous and sadistic husband of Marilena. And Tai plays the part of Rosie, a stubborn 53-year old elephant who has a drinking problem and responds only to Polish commands.

Having read the book, I knew that some of the scenes would be violent. It was still shocking to watch as August abused the animals and his workers. Note: The film's animal cruelty is fake.

Watch the trailer.   

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Book Club Night

Although the group was a small one, there was considerable discussion regarding The Elegance of the Hedgehog.  Most of us agreed that the first 100 pages or so dragged. The author devoted those pages to espousing a number of philosophical beliefs. I was not surprised to learn that Muriel Barberry was once a philosophy teacher. Also, philosophy is still a compulsory subject in France where this book sold over 1 million copies.

I was intrigued by the stories of the two women in the book: Renee Michel, a 54-year old concierge and Paloma Josse, the precocious 12-year old daughter of one of the most bourgeois families in the building. Both women downplayed their intelligence and maintained very low profiles. All that changed with the arrival of Kakuro, a wealthy, cultured Japanese man who takes an interest in the two women. 

I enjoyed reading the last two-thirds of the book and was saddened by the ending. I don't know if I would pick up another one of Muriel Barberry's books, but I would enjoy seeing the film adaptation of The Elegance of the Hedgehog.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Sundays for Writers

I enjoyed yesterday's session with the Guelph Write Now group. The guest speaker was Sarah Totton who talked about the "rules" for becoming a professional author.  Sarah has compiled the following list using her own experience and suggestions from Robert A. Heinlein and Robert J. Sawyer.
  • Write.
  • Finish what you write.
  • Send out what you write.
  • Keep sending it out until it sells.
  • Keep writing new work.
  • Don't quit.
Other suggestions from Sarah...
  • Treat writing like a job, not a hobby.
  • Schedule time and set deadlines.
  • Learn to work independently (not to external deadlines or peer pressure)
  • Always READ the market's submission guidelines.
  • Always FOLLOW the submission guidelines.
  • Use the following free online market lists: Ralan and Duotrope.
  • Buy US stamps from the Postmaster in any U.S. City. Sarah uses the following: Postmaster, Rockville MD 20850, USA.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Inspired by Marina Nemat

She wanted to be a medical doctor, marry Prince Charming and live happily ever after. Her favorite television programs were The Donnie and Marie Osmond Show and Little House on the Prairie. She wore mini-skirts and danced to the music of the BeeGees.

All this changed with the Islamic Revolution of 1979 in Iran.

In January of 1982, 16-year old Marina Nemat was arrested and imprisoned for her views against the revolution. She was tortured in the notorious Evin Prison, known for its atrocities against political inmates. She was sentenced to death, but survived after agreeing to marry a prison guard and convert to Islam.

This is only the beginning of Marina's Nemat amazing story.

Last night, I listened to her speak at St. George's Church in downtown Guelph. Poised and articulate, she described her life journey from a carefree teenage girl to political prisoner to best-selling author.

She revealed many shocking details about her years in the Evin Prison. I was horrified to learn that the guards lashed the bare soles of her feet on a regular basis and that there was one bathroom for 300 girls. While she has been criticized for writing books filled with distortions, Marina states that she survived to tell the stories of all those girls who stood in the bathroom line.

Marina considers herself to be a person of hope. She believes that hope is a choice you make despite the darkness. Hope speaks to the possibility that things will get better.

When asked about her personal safety, Marina mentioned that she only advertises her readings locally and she never leaves her car in the driveway.

Read her books: Prisoner of Tehran and After Tehran: A Life Reclaimed.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Meeting With Aspiring Writers

Last night's workshop, Bursting the Myths of Publishing, with Sarah Totton was an interactive one.

I was impressed and reassured by the following statistics...
  • J. K. Rowling received a $3,000 advance for her first Harry Potter novel. The publisher did not believe the book would sell too many copies.
  • A survey of 185 professional writers revealed that more than half of them got agents and sold their books without connections.
I liked Sarah's tips...
  • American agents are in a better position to sell North American rights for your book.
  • Get a professional critique of your query letter before sending it out. Visit Evil Editor for a free critique.
  • Send out query letters to at least 100 agents for your current book. Send five query letters at a time. If you don't get a positive response, consider revising your letter.
  • While you are querying, start working on your next book.
  • Visit Predators and Editors to get a background check on all editors.
  • Get more information about self-publishing and e-publishing at J.R. Konrath's website and blog.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

The Lincoln Lawyer

I enjoyed seeing Matthew McConaughey play the role of sleazy lawyer, Mick Haller, who conducts business from the back of his chauffeured Lincoln. His clientele includes bikers, drug dealers, rapists and killers.

In The Lincoln Lawyer, Mick Haller is hired to defend a Beverly Hills playboy, Ryan Phillippe, accused of the attempted murder of a prostitute. The case takes a deadly turn and Haller finds himself caught between the interests of two clients. 

The cast also includes Marisa Tomei who plays the part of Maggie Macpherson, a prosecutor and Haller's friendly ex-wife.

Watch the trailer.