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Wednesday, May 27, 2015


From the writing desk of Christine Mazurk

The History Channel featured WW II in HD on Memorial Day. 

My husband and I were riveted for hours. These were films - in color - that had never been seen by the public. President Roosevelt wouldn't allow them to air because of the graphic nature of the films. Some of the history captured in these films was taught in school, but much of what we saw was not.

Both of our fathers served in WW II, my husband's for the USA, my father for England. When I was in my twenties, I learned that my father's troop secured Tunisia in North Africa, before pushing the Italians back through Sicily. Like most soldiers, my father didn't like to talk about his experiences. I wouldn't be here today if he hadn't served on that mission, for he met my mother while stationed in Tunisia.

We saw footage of things we'd only heard about during our stay on Guam. The Mariana Islands to this day show signs of the war; tanks remain off shore below the surface of the water. Machine guns, canons, and other heavy artillery can still be seen while exploring. The caves where the Japanese hid show remnants of that time. We visited the Banzai Cliff Memorial on Saipan and heard the story of the Japanese civilians jumping to their death because they were told the American soldiers would torture and kill them, but to see it caught on film was shocking.

The island of Saipan was secured by the Marines on July 9th, 1944. Three days later, at the northern end of Saipan known as Marpi Point, the Americans tried to coax the civilians out of hiding to give them fresh water and communicate that they were now safe. Entire families lined up above the 800 foot cliffs, the older children pushing the younger ones. The mothers then pushed the older children, and the fathers pushed the mothers before jumping themselves. More than 1000 civilians killed themselves as Marines watched in horror, unable to stop the carnage.

Surviving soldiers were interviewed, their stories narrated by younger actors to depict the years at war.

Tragic? Yes. Graphic? Yes, it was the war. Fascinating? Yes, history was captured in living color. The history books only hold a portion of what truly happened.

In remembrance of all soldiers... Memorial Day!

Until next week. Christine


Monday, May 25, 2015

How I Learned to Write by Alison Bruce

“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”
Ernest Hemingway

As a professional copywriter, the two attitudes I most came across was that either anyone can write, so why would I pay you to do it for me or, I could never do what you do.

Neither are correct. Not everyone can write... but writing is a skill that can be learned.

If you have the time and money, taking courses makes sense. I never managed to have both at the same time. I did take a Science Fiction course at university because it promised to be part writing course. I got through it but neither my professor nor I enjoyed it much. I did my term paper on a book about an apocalyptic future where women ruled. He didn't like it. My story was even worse. I don't write hardcore science fiction. I write social-science fiction. He hated that. We ended the semester mutually happy to see the last of each other.

When I finally found out that there were college programs for writing, I was already shoulder deep in student debt. As a result, I continued to learn my craft the old fashioned way, by observing the masters, that is, by reading.

“If you don't have time to read, you don't have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”
Stephen King

I have eclectic tastes. I read mysteries and paranormal suspense, historical fiction, science fiction and fantasy (oh my). I usually latch onto an author, consuming their works with the ferocity of hungry wolverine (with less blood and fur left behind). When I'm done, I think about what I liked and didn't like and why. It's not that I read with the intent of learning all the time, it just happens as a by-product of being a writer.

“There simply must be a corpse in a detective novel, and the deader the corpse the better.”
SS Van Dine

There are rules to writing fiction and rules to each genre of fiction. A Romance must have a happy ending. A romantic suspense, paranormal romance, or any other genre where the "R" isn't capitalized, doesn't necessarily have to follow that rule. This is especially true if the book is part of a series.

Mysteries must have a crime to solve. It doesn't have to be murder, although that's a classic. As the novel unfolds, clues to the solution of the mystery must be dropped so that the reader participate in the investigation. The ending can be a surprise, but it has to follow from the evidence presented.You don't have to do that for a thriller. There the element of danger is most important. The higher the stakes, the better.

Like grammar, I picked up the rules partly by experience and partly from having them laid out for me. I might not have taken a course, but I had some fine teachers who shared their craft in nonfiction books.

"Here’s one trick that I learned early on. If something isn’t working, if you have a story that you’ve built and it’s blocked and you can’t figure it out, take your favourite scene, or your very best idea or set-piece, and cut it."
Joss Whedon

Not all my teachers were novelists. I also learned a lot by reading and watching interviews with screenwriters. Mel Brooks and Joss Whedon are favourites of mine. I love their work and I love reading about/listening to how they work.

In an interview about Young Frankenstein, Gene Wilder talks about collaborating with Mel Brooks. Brooks wanted him to cut a scene. Wilder thought it was a great gag. That's why Brooks wanted it cut. But he told Wilder that he could keep it if he could show that it was necessary to the plot. That has been one of the most useful pieces of advice I've come across.

"Read it out loud."
Alison Bruce

The most useful piece of advice I can give is to read your work out loud. Better still, have someone read it to you. I learned this through experience.

My sister always wanted to read my stories and would always read them as written. This led to moments of hysterical laughter when she came to parts where my mind was running faster than my fingers or I'd misspelled something to unintentional comic effect. It could also be very irritating being made fun of by your little sister when a small plot hole became a gaping chasm.The process made me a better writer (and speller) in self-defense.

As the storyteller, I know what I'm trying to say. I don't always know if I'm succeeding. Reading aloud helps. Listening to someone else read my work gives me a whole new perspective.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

David Letterman Retires Tonight

From the writing desk of Christine Mazurk

David Letterman is retiring tonight after hosting over 6000 late-night talk shows in a span of 33 years.

After losing out to Jay Leno to replace Johnny Carson on the Tonight Show in 1992, Letterman moved to CBS; that after a decade with NBC. Now, he's saying good-bye. What made Letterman so special? He genuinely wanted to know about other people, which he demonstrated often over the years by speaking to and asking questions of his audience members.

His questions to celebrity guests ranged from hotel rooms to body weight, including asking Paris Hilton about her time behind bars. When she didn't comment, he pushed, "See, this is all I want to talk about. Did you make any friends when you were in prison?"

His fans reminisce that the most memorable shows were the ones where Dave shared a few private-life moments, something he didn't do often, from discussing his 2000 bypass surgery, declaring NYC the greatest city in the world after the tragic 9/11 attacks, to sharing a picture of his new born son in 2003.

Will the final weeks trump the previously favored shows?

His final weeks welcomed a galaxy of A-list stars and I'm guessing the buzz will continue for years:

Tina Fey and her Spanx. Tom Hanks using the selfie stick. George Clooney handcuffing himself to Dave. Julia Roberts recalling her first interview.

Adam Sandler's Ode to Dave, and Bill Murray leading the "crowd chant" - "More, more, more." "We just want you to stay!"

Leslie Moonves, CBS CEO, says, "David's influence (to late night) was phenomenal. Whenever there was something important going on in America, you turned on David Letterman. He was the conscience of America, he was a bit of a social commentator, he was our local curmudgeon."

Stephen Colbert is set to replace Dave in September, but as of tonight, it's time to bid David Letterman a FOND FAREWELL as the lights fade on the stage one last time.




Monday, May 18, 2015

The Best in Canadian Crime

...Fiction and Nonfiction that is.
by Alison Bruce

As the Arthur Ellis Awards Administrator (ie I manage the work that gets books to the judges and information to the media) I'm nearing the climax of the adventure - the Arthur Gala. On May 28, 2015, we will all know who's works have been chosen by the judges as the best of the best. Meanwhile, there's still almost two weeks to read some of the finalists, and place your bets on the winners.

And the finalists are...

Best Novel

Brenda Chapman, Cold Mourning, Dundurn Press

Barbara Fradkin, None so Blind, Dundurn Press

C.C. Humphreys, Plague, Doubleday Canada

Maureen Jennings, No Known Grave, McClelland & Stewart

Alen Mattich, Killing Pilgrim, House of Anansi

Best First Novel

Janet Brons, A Quiet Kill, Touchwood Editions

Steve Burrows, Siege of Bitterns, Dundurn Press

M.H. Callway, Windigo Fire, Seraphim Editions

Eve McBride, No Worst, There Is None, Dundurn Press

Sam Wiebe, Last of the Independents, Dundurn Press

Best Novella

Rick Blechta, The Boom Room, Orca Book Publishers

Vicki Delany, Juba Good, Orca Book Publishers

Ian Hamilton, The Dragon Head of Hong Kong, House of Anansi

Jas. R. Petrin, A Knock on the Door, Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine

Best Short Story 

Margaret Atwood, Stone Mattress, McClelland & Stewart

Melodie Campbell, Hook, Line and Sinker, Your McMurray Magazine

Peter Clement, Therapy, Belgrave House

Madona Skaff, First Impressions, The Whole She-Bang 2, Sisters in Crime

Kevin P. Thornton, Writers Block, World Enough and Crime, Carrick Publishing

Best Book in French

Hervé Gagnon, Jack: Une enquête de Joseph Laflamme, Expression noir / Groupe librex

Andrée Michaud, Bondrée, Editions Québec Amérique

Maryse Rouy, Meurtre à l’hôtel Despréaux, Éditions Druide

Richard Ste Marie, Repentirs, Alire

Best Juvenile/YA Book

Michael Betcherman, Face-Off, Penguin Canada

Sigmund Brouwer, Dead Man's Switch, Harvest House

S.J. Laidlaw, The Voice Inside My Head, Tundra Books

Norah McClintock, About That Night, Orca Book Publishers

Jeyn Roberts, The Bodies We Wear, Knopf Books for Young Readers

Best Nonfiction Book

Bob Deasy (with Mark Ebner), Being Uncle Charlie, Penguin Random House

Charlotte Gray, The Massey Murder, HarperCollins

Joan McEwen, Innocence on Trial: The Framing of Ivan Henry, Heritage House

Bill Reynolds, Life Real Loud: John Lefebvre, Neteller and the Revolution in Online Gambling, ECW Press

Paula Todd, Extreme Mean, McClelland & Stewart

Unhanged Arthur for Best Unpublished First Crime Novel

Rum Luck by Ryan Aldred

Full Curl by Dave Butler

Crisis Point by Dwayne Clayden

Afghan Redemption by Bill Prentice

Strange Things Done by Elle Wild

Look for the winners at midnight, May 29 at:

The Arthur Ellis Awards are for CRIME WRITING, and are not restricted to mystery writing. Crime-writing encompasses far more than the traditional whodunit. The crime genre includes crime, detective, espionage, mystery, suspense, and thriller writing, as well as fictional or factual accounts of criminal doings and crime-themed literary works.  The awards are open to Canadian citizens and residents. For more information go to: http://www.crimewriterscanada.com/awards/arthur-ellis-awards/about (The 2016 Arthur Rules will be posted in August 2015.)

Thursday, May 14, 2015

The Dreaded Wentworth Episode on 'Outlander'

Please skip this entire blog post if you haven't read Diana Gabaldon's Outlander novel.


The Jamie Fraser fandom is counting down the next few days as though we're heading to an execution.

"We've had a really good rapport," said Tobias Menzies, who plays sadistic English officer Black Jack Randall about himself and Sam Heughan, who plays Highlander hero Jamie, "and we've needed it because it is very exposing and difficult stuff.  I think -- I hope -- that we've taken it to a pretty interesting place. It will be suitably unsettling to watch, I think." -- (Zap2It interview)

As with its other groundbreaking scenes for television, Outlander is about to air an episode that puts its hero through an ordeal that is sadly all too common in both real life and in films/on TV for female characters. It is sometimes alluded to for male characters but rarely shot as an actual scene.

In my opinion, one of the greatest strengths in this set of upcoming scenes is as true for the book as for the TV series, no matter how much they show or don't show.

And that is this:

By coming to know Jamie intimately as readers and viewers, by knowing his normal strength of character, when he then suffers such an attack that aims to destroy his soul, we are deeply, truly shaken.

It is often the case in a mystery thriller that we only meet the victim of a similar fate as a nameless red-shirt character. We're unsettled by the fear and the screams, but we don't really know the woman that well. We feel bad when the victim is discovered naked and wounded, but we're not disturbed -- not as disturbed as we would be if it was the main character meeting the unthinkable fate.

Some may focus on the fact that it is a male assault scene that is so harrowing, but I don't believe that to be the case. As with all things Outlander, this series refuses to objectify its characters. Because our society is so used to the male gaze and to downgrading sexual assault as a possible gray-area he-said/she-said event, the mere presentation of this scene as a violent power struggle will be amongst Outlander's more important contributions to television.

I've been struck this week by how many viewers are voicing their dread on social media before watching this episode:

"I'm rather worried that Tobias Menzies is going to knock this one out of the park." -- Jamie Calhoun Nason, Facebook

"I'm scared, Diana Gabaldon, have you seen it?" -- Amanda Hose (FB)

"I have--it's_fabulous_work, by all concerned." -- Diana Gabaldon (FB)

"I am terrified!...I trust you but I am freaking out!!!!" -- Alison Gill (FB)

"Hey, if they can get through acting it out, surely I can get through watching it." -- Jessica Henkels (FB)

 "I am going to force myself to watch. Loving Jamie the way I do (the way we ALL do!), it was a difficult passage in the book, and I know the episode will be painful as well. I will do it anyway BECAUSE I love Jamie." -- Elena Schmid Torre (FB)