Monday, August 30, 2010

Making Connections through Story

On Friday, I accepted an invitation to read selections from Growing Up Ivy to a group of men and women who could themselves have been characters in the book. My audience was the Book Club at a nearby retirement residence.

I was fully prepared to have one or two of them get up and wander off while I was reading. In fact, I'd been warned that this could happen. It didn't. Everyone listened with great interest, and when it was over, several of the group contributed memories of their own about life in the Great Depression.

A couple of residents recalled a man who used to sharpen knives around the countryside. He used to travel from place to place in a horse-drawn caravan, similar to the one Ivy spent the summer months in, with her father.

One woman, who had lived as a child next to a golf course, identified with Charlie collecting golf balls and  re-selling them at the golf course. Someone else recalled getting paid to shovel manure from the street after the delivery horse had gone by.

Many in the audience told me that they used to go everywhere on their bicycles. And soon we were all laughing with one gentleman's tale of learning to ride a bike, how he forgot to look ahead rather than down at the road, and ended up ploughing into a woman crossing the street. The poor soul had cursed him out soundly in Yiddish.

It was a very pleasant afternoon, and I was delighted that these elderly people felt a connection to Ivy's story.  That, after all, is why we write.

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Sunday, August 22, 2010

Real Settings for Fiction

I first saw this house out of the corner of my eye as we drove past it last year. Since then, it has become part of the setting for the novel I'm working on. The large, log house on its high foundation of fieldstone stuck in my mind. It was perfect.

Last weekend we drove north to visit family, and I tried to find "my" house again. It wasn't where I thought it should be. We took a different route home, and suddenly, "That's it!"

Turning around, we went back to get a closer look. I was surprised to find the place deserted, the big front door padlocked, and the grounds overgrown. But that afforded me the opportunity to photograph it from several angles, without fear of being run off the property.

This isn't the first time I've gone looking for a real setting for one of my works of fiction. I was inspired by a spooky-looking mansion, set among tall trees, in deep shadows at the end of a long driveway for the mystery, The Deep End Gang (2003). 

I kept a picture postcard of the massive rock at Bon Echo on Mazinaw Lake, Ontario, above my desk when I was writing Sky Lake Summer, back in 1999. It kept reminding me of what my characters were up against in the story.

For Treasure at Turtle Lake (2007), I needed to count the number of steps in an outside staircase that led from an alley to a flat over a store. There were twenty-two.

It was a "belvedere" I was after for Trouble at Turtle Narrows (2008), a room at the top of a house, with windows on all four sides that "perched on the rooftop like a little glass hat." I found just the right architecture in some of the older houses in northern New York State.

Write on!

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Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Where Are They Now? Life Beyond "The End."

What happened to the characters in Growing Up Ivy, after the end of the book? To Ivy and Charlie, to the seemingly uncompromising Maud, and the irresponsible Frannie?

Because Ivy is still so real to me, I like to speculate, at times, about what happened to all these characters in the succeeding years.

 Authors have to present the idea of an ending to their stories, but I know that life went on for Ivy, beyond the end of this book.

In one of the early versions, I began Growing Up Ivy with a flash forward scene. Ivy, Charlie and their adult children are sitting in the front row of an auditorium. The occasion is a ceremony where Ivy is to be presented with a distinguished award for literature.

The Master of Ceremonies is on the dias, giving his opening remarks, when the door at the back of the auditorium opens slowly. An older woman -- a faded beauty, you might say -- takes a few tentative steps inside. An usher hurries up the aisle toward her, hoping he can find a seat for her at the back as quickly as possible, so as not to disrupt the procedings.

"Is Ivy Chalmers here?" the woman whispers.

"Of course. She's the guest of honour." The usher has a firm hand under the woman's elbow as he attempts to steer her to the nearest seat.

"Could you point her out to me, please?" The small woman stands her ground. "It's been so long, I might not recognize her."

The woman is, of course, Frannie, Ivy's mother. I never used this scene because I thought it gave too much away. But it lingers in my mind. It suggests one way Ivy's personal story might have gone.
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Sunday, August 8, 2010

Why I Chose the Setting I Did

If you're reading Growing Up Ivy, my latest book, you may be wondering where you might find the town of Larkin, the main setting for Ivy's story. You'll have no difficulty finding some of the other Ontario locations mentioned in the book: Toronto, or Brockville, or the other towns on Frannie's summer theatre circuit. But you won't find Larkin. It's a fictional town, the same way Dillfield and Port Clear are.

Using a fictional setting gives me the freedom I prefer. I don't have to worry about whether or not there was a pants factory in town in 1931, or where the railroad tracks were, in relation to Arthur Road. When I'm working on a novel I'll often draw myself a map of my setting, so that I can remember where the fourth concession intersects the highway and which end of Main Street I located the school on. I get to design the layout of this mythical town the way I want.

When I was writing Growing Up Ivy, I was picturing Larkin being in Prince Edward County, Ontario.  I was a librarian in the County for almost seventeen years and got to know it well. Larkin could easily be any one of a number of small towns there.

But in the end, I had to transport Larkin elsewhere, moving it somewhere east and north of Toronto. The re-location was necessary in order to get the Pechart River to flow in the right direction (south, to Lake Ontario), and because Ivy and Gloria made the journey from Toronto to Larkin on foot. They say that the average person walks about three miles per hour (forget metric; this was 1931). So, if Ivy walked for six hours from, say, Birchcliff, she would have arrived somewhere between Pickering and Ajax. 

Still, the canning factory, the ball diamond where Charlie Bayliss played softball, the one-room school, the shops in town, the river, the strawberry fields -- they are all "the County" in my mind.

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Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Signed by the Author

Last week I did my own mini-book tour, visiting the independent book stores in the neighbouring communities and offering to sign any copies of my new book that were in stock.

I've discovered that store managers are very receptive to this idea. I get to introduce myself as a (somewhat) local author and meet the people who are responsible for ordering the books they'll carry. Now they'll have a face to put with my name. Often the signed copies get a special sticker on them, indicating that they are "autographed by the author."

As an added bonus, these books are usually given a more prominent location on the shelf. At the lovely Furby House Books in Port Hope, Ontario, Growing Up Ivy is now shelved -- cover out -- right next to books by Farley Mowat; or just "Farley," as he's affectionately known here. Now that's pretty stellar company to be in!

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