Writing as an immigrant

These past few days have reminded me that I’m an immigrant. I moved to the U.S. in 1963 from Western Canada, so I’m not from one of Trump’s maligned countries, and I’m also not Muslim. But that doesn’t stop me from feeling deeply offended by this administration’s efforts to terrorize my fellow Americans (and those hoping to become American). I fear the idiots that are forming our new president’s cabinet more than I fear terrorists, Islamic or otherwise.

When I first moved to the US clutching my green card, I felt excited about residing in a country that seemstatue-of-libertyed much worldlier and more stimulating than how I had envisioned Canada at that time. The American Dream was actually a reality then, and it was possible for someone like me, a high-school dropout and single mother of a six-year-old son, to improve her station in life. And I did. At that time, California offered college for a ridiculously low tuition, but an amount that I could afford. I couldn’t do so now. And by passing the GED, I eventually earned an AA, a BA, and two Masters degrees.

I’m sure that being an immigrant influenced me in creating Curva Peligrosa, one of the major characters in my novel Bone Songs (to be released late this summer). In the 1940s, Curva travels to Canada from Mexico on horseback via what was known as The Old North Trail, a passageway that extends from the Canadian Arctic down to the deserts of Mexico and beyond. It runs along the base of the Rocky Mountains and the Continental Divide, following a kind of shoreline between the mountains and the plains for over three thousand miles. The Blackfoot called the trail “The Backbone of the World.”

Curva literally throws curves at the residents of Weed, a small Alberta town near where she ends up buying a farm and settling down after 20 years of travel. Curva, lusty and enchanting, offers the residents of Weed a new perspective on things that enriches their lives. They, in turn, welcome her into their midst.

However, an americano, Shirley, eager to exploit the oil reserves there, tries to buy as much land as he can (and this was before I knew anything about Donald Trump, the so-called real estate developer!) so he can obtain oil rights. Curva’s land is particularly rich in minerals, and Shirley attempts to buy her out, threatening her with deportation if she doesn’t sell because she’s in Canada illegally.

This need to belong to a community is part of the human condition, and it doesn’t have to be one of like-minded individuals. Where Curva ended up in Alberta was vastly different from where she was born. So while I recognize that there are individuals who hate America and Americans, and I realize we need to have some restrictions in place to ensure that those who do immigrate will add to the country and not detract from it, erecting artificial barriers based on religion or race has been done far too much in our (and other country’s) past. We don’t need to repeat it ad infinitum.

 

 

 

Does your character have dangerous curves?

 

My novel Curva Peligrosa will be published in 2017. That is months away, but before the manuscript is ready for final production, it has several stages to go through.

For the past month, I’ve been revising the content, based on recommendations and/or suggestions made by my publisher, Jaynie at Regal House. Her reading of the book was intensive, close, and detailed. She has given me many valuable ideas about characters, the plot, and so much more. I haven’t acted on all of her suggestions, but I have incorporated a good deal. I’m almost ready to move onto the next stage, which will include more content revisions, I’m sure, but also will focus on proofreading corrections.

The main character in this work is Curva Peligrosa, but that isn’t the name I started with. Lupita was her name originally, yet after the opening scene, when a tornado hits this small Southern Alberta town called Weed, throwing the place into turmoil, and the storm drops the main character’s outhouse into the center of town, I felt stuck. Her personality eluded me, a disappointment after my first rush of excitement in starting the narrative.

This character was born in southern Mexico, and it wasn’t until my husband and I visited Mexico City that Curva came into focus. We had booked into Las Mananitas in Cuernavaca for five nights, a town two hours by car from Mexico City. A driver picked us up from the airport and took us to our lovely destination. It was during this ride that I kept seeing the words curva peligrosa pop up on signs each time we took a curve.dangerous curves]

I asked the driver what the word meant, and he said dangerous curves. I knew then that my character’s name would be: yes, you guessed it: Curva Peligrosa.

She immediately came into view. I could visualize her. I also could hear her voice and imagine her personality. She turns out to be a charismatic larger than life (over six-foot-tall and voluptuous) woman who not only is a sharp shooter but also traveled the Old North Trail for 20 years with her horses, dog, two parrots, and a goat—a wilderness route running from Mexico to Canada that she manages to infiltrate and transcend. She also throws dangerous curves at residents of Weed, Alberta. But you’ll have to read the novel to find out more!

 

Viva Quebec City!

I’ve just returned from touring some of Tuscany’s scenic hill towns—Pienza, Montalcino, Montepulciano, Sienna, and others. While they are distinctive sites and well worth visiting, I find my Canadian nationalism surging, and I want to write about Quebec City, not about Italy.

It’s difficult to find a place that equals Quebec City for its charm, unique culture, and beauty. The only walled city north of Mexico, when you pass through the portal into the city’s historic section, the focus for most visitors, it’s like entering a fairy tale complete with a castle. The century-old Fairmont Le Château Frontenac—with its towering top ringed by steeples and turrets—overlooks the St. Lawrence River and soars over the town, adding to the magical feeling.

But this impressive hotel hasn’t always dominated the old city. Many museums, cQuebec-City-Canadahurches, homes, and scenic lanes date back to the 1600s. These are the structures that define QC and give it so much charisma. The Frontenac is the icing on the cake.

Quebec’s Upper Town (Haute-Ville) is perched on cliffs overlooking the St. Lawrence River and provides views of the countryside for many miles beyond. Accessible by steep stairs or via a funicular car, Old Quebec’s Lower Town has its own historic charms. The Basse-Ville sprang up around the city’s harbor and was the original neighborhood of the city. Homes, shops, and ancient streets sprawled here at the base of the cliffs centering around Place Royale—a square on the site of the garden of Champlain’s Habitation (1608).

The preferred entry to old Quebec City is via the Grande Allee. Time seems to have stood still here. It’s like entering another world, another time, another place, and it works its magic on you. Only Rottenburg, another walled city, has had such an effect on me.

A horse drawn cab is the appropriate way to view this wonderful place. When we visited, our driver was a redhead, of Irish descent, but born and raised in Quebec. He spoke very clear English, his words carefully enunciated. He wore a straw hat, and the horse’s name was Dixie. We learned that the animals aren’t overworked. A vet checks them every day, and they only pull a carriage every other day.

On our fire-engine red cab, we wove through narrow cobblestone streets past stone houses festooned with window planters. In the more commercial area, the vividly colored umbrellas at sidewalk cafes competed with the flowers for lending bright patches to the scenes. We also passed the Hotel Clarendon, built in 1870, where we stayed. It’s the oldest hotel in the walled city. Located a little away from the most festive streets, it’s still in the center of the action. Our room had a window overlooking the St. Lawrence, a clock tower, a part of the Château Frontenac, and a park.

If I can generalize, this link between French and English speaking Canada that our driver represented captures the essence of Canada, with Ottawa the head and Quebec City the heart. Without Quebec, something precious would be lost to Canadians. It’s a touchstone and, Quebec City, which lost once to the British, must not lose again. It has the exuberance, the emotional life, and the sensuality that some Anglos can lack. Quebec City also is the heart in that the Americas emerged out of European sensibility, and that presence its felt here perhaps more than anywhere else. I guess that’s why Italy’s hill towns and QC merge for me.

Thanksgiving Shadows

This is a day of giving thanks, and there’s much to be thankful for, as I’m reminded every time I pick up a newspaper or make the mistake of tuning into CNN or MSNBC. But a call from my son this afternoon reminded me of my mother’s favorite saying: “There’s always something to take the joy out of life.” She had it right, and it’s important to remember that we’re never immune from what’s lurking on the dark side of the moon.

I’m using the moon as a metaphor. We all cast a shadow and have a shadow: those negative qualities in ourselves we don’t like to recognize as ours and usually project onto others. For democrats, it’s the republicans who don’t get it and vice versa. Day’s shadow is night, and it’s in the night, in dreams, that the parts of ourselves we cast off can appear, reminding us that we’re multiple.

But getting back to Mum’s favorite saying, life is always reminding us that we’re mortal and that bad things can happen at any time. So when my son called from Canada where he now lives (he was born there but grew up in California and still thinks of the American Thanksgiving as the “real” one: Canada’s happens mid-October and doesn’t have so much hoopla around it. The event really did focus on celebrating the harvest more than the American version’s origins), he mentioned his recent physical. He cautioned, “It may not be anything, but the doctor had some blood on his glove after he examined my rectum.”

It’s true: the blood may not be anything serious. There are more causes for internal bleeding than cancer. Yet it’s the word that first comes to mind and lingers, always hovering in the shadows. It seems appropriate to be reminded of our vulnerability on this day when we pause to give thanks before plowing into the Christmas season. Joy is such an elusive state. We need to be thankful when it is present because the other is never far away. Nothing is constant.

Oh Canada!

When I recently read about the shooting in Ottawa’s parliament, it reminded me of a trip my husband and I took to that city a few years ago. When most people think of Eastern Canada’s major cities, cosmopolitan Montreal and culturally diverse Toronto come to mind. Rarely do they think of Ottawa, Canada’s capital. But Ottawa has many charms, as interesting a place to visit as the country’s more popular destinations.

For me, a Canadian by birth, the city’s attraction was seeing the government buildings where Canada’s business is conducted. I wanted to know more about this historically important center. Dignified and beautiful, it’s a handsome, stately place that has a dual personality, residing across the river from Hull, Quebec, its sister, highlighting Canada’s bilingual nature.

My husband and I are both museum lovers, and the National Gallery was splendid, a world class structure with lots of glass and water and steel. It also has tremendous vistas of Parliament Hill. The parliament buildings, temples to power, look like cathedrals inside and out. The government structures, as well as Ottawa itself, reflect the old world, combining elements of Scotland (in particular Edinburgh), England, and parts of Europe, giving the institutions roots.

At night, the parliament, with all the spires lit up and the eternal flame blazing in the fountain that unites all the provinces, the site is very moving. When we were there, three Pakistani children sat in front of the fountain, their eyes closed, making a wish before throwing their coins into the water. Another young man from Toronto (he was wearing a t-shirt that had Toronto printed on it) sat staring into the flame, entranced. Other young people were there, a mix of nationalities and fresh faces. And then there was the French Canadian mountie wearing his reds. A group of French Canadians clustered around him.

These memories reassure me that while a moment of craziness can cause bedlam in an otherwise sane place, such actions can’t eliminate the cohesion and stability that binds the country together.

 

Pen-L Press will be publishing my novel Fling in 2015. A wildly comic romp on mothers, daughters, art, and death, the book should appeal to a broad range of readers. While the main characters are middle-aged and older, their zest for life would draw readers of all ages, male or female, attracting the youthful adventurer in most people. Though women may identify more readily with Feather and Bubbles’ daughter and mother struggles, the heart of the book is how they approach their aging selves and are open to new experiences. Since art and imagination are key to this narrative, artists of all ages would find something to enjoy. And because the book crosses many borders (Scotland, Canada, the U.S., and Mexico), it also can’t be limited to a specific age group, social class, gender, or region.

My first fan letter for Fling came from an 80 year-old woman who lives in the tiny village of Christina Lake, B.C. My son, who also lives there, had given her my manuscript to read. She said, “I just wanted to express to you how very much I enjoyed your writing.  I started it and didn’t stop till I had read it all.  I very much like your style and your subtle humor. Thank you for a most enjoyable read. I can’t understand why it hasn’t been scooped up by some publisher. But I know that it will be. In my estimation I know that it is excellent literary work. I am a voracious reader and have been since grade 4. I remember my first book was Tom Sawyer and I have never stopped since then. I go through 4 to 5 books a week.  We are so fortunate here at the Lake now.  The Library staff in Grand Forks come out here every Wednesday. I have become very fond of the young lady who comes out. She provides me with all the award winning books and orders others for me. Again I want to express to you how very much I enjoyed your manuscript.  Have patience my dear….it will be published to wide acclaim I am so sure.” —Joan Fornelli.

Here is a synopsis:

Feather, an aging hippie, returns to her Calgary home to help her mother, Bubbles, celebrate her 90th birthday. Bubbles has received mail from the dead letter office in Mexico City, asking her to pick up her mother’s ashes, left there seventy years earlier and only now surfacing. Bubbles’ mother, Scottish by birth, had died in Mexico in the late 1920s after taking off with a married man and abandoning her husband and kids.

A woman with a mission, and still vigorous, Bubbles convinces a reluctant Feather to take her to Mexico so she can recover the ashes and give her mother a proper burial. Both women have recently shed husbands and have a secondary agenda: they’d like a little action. And they get it.

Alternating narratives weave together Feather and Bubbles’ odyssey with their colorful Scottish ancestors, creating a family tapestry. The “now” thread presents the two women as they travel south from Canada to San Francisco and then Mexico, covering a span of about six months. “Now” and “then” merge in Mexico when Bubbles’ long-dead mother, grandmother, and grandfather turn up, enlivening the narrative with their antics.

In Mexico, the land where reality and magic co-exist, Feather gets a new sense of her mother. The Indian villagers mistake Bubbles for a well-known rain goddess, praying for her to bring rain so their land will thrive again. Feather, who’s been seeking “The Goddess” for years, eventually realizes what she’s overlooked.

Meanwhile, Bubbles’ quest for her mother’s ashes (and a new man) has increased her zest for life. A shrewd business woman (she’s raised chickens, sold her crafts, taken in bizarre boarders, and has a sure-fire system for winning at bingo and lotteries), she’s certain she’s found the fountain of youth at a mineral springs outside San Miguel de Allende; she’s determined to bottle the water and sell it.

But gambling is her first love, and unlike most women her age, fun-loving Bubbles takes risks, believing she’s immortal. Unlike her daughter, Bubbles doesn’t hold back in any way, eating heartily, lusting after strangers, her youthful spirit and innocence convincing readers that they’ve found the fountain of youth themselves in this character. At ninety, she comes into her own, coming to age, proving it’s never too late to fulfill one’s dreams.

Fling, a meditation on death, mothers and daughters, and art, suggests that the fountain of youth is the imagination, and this is what they all discover in Mexico. It’s what Bubbles wants to bottle, but she doesn’t need to. She embodies it. The whole family does.


 

A Case of Identity

I realize that Scotland has already made its decision to remain within Great Britain so that this post might seem a little tardy. But it’s taken me this long to reflect on what has happened.

Given that I have strong Scottish connections (my mother was born in Portree, Isle of Skye; I am part of several generations of Scots on my mother’s side; and I currently have numerous cousins in the country), I have a reason to be interested in the subject. When I first heard of the Scottish independence movement, I was all for it.

Go for it Scotland! Claim your national identity. Don’t let England be your master. I realize that for me, England became an emblem of the patriarch that many women have resisted for centuries. So if Scotland could challenge England’s hegemony, then I might also gain ground in asserting myself as a woman.

Well, that didn’t happen, and I must say that I’m not totally disappointed. As a Canadian, I understand how a nationalistic tendency, a desire to see one’s country as number one, can overwhelm one’s patriotism, an overwhelming pride in one’s origins. However, sometimes reality rules, and we must acquiesce to the powers that be. I am as passionate about Canada’s superiority to the States, a country I hold citizenship in, as many Scots must be about Scotland.

Scots who voted against independence aren’t saying that England is their superior and therefore deserves to rule. Rather, they are being realistic. At the moment, it could be foolhardy for them to step off into the unknown and have to live with the consequences. Similarly, I, as a woman, don’t want to cut off my relationships with all men. I just want to be recognized as having equal worth, and that, I hope, is not just in my future, but also in my Scottish brethren’s.

 

Pen-L Press will be publishing my novel Fling in 2015. A wildly comic romp on mothers, daughters, art, and death, the book should appeal to a broad range of readers. While the main characters are middle-aged and older, their zest for life would draw readers of all ages, male or female, attracting the youthful adventurer in most people. Though women may identify more readily with Feather and Bubbles’ daughter and mother struggles, the heart of the book is how they approach their aging selves and are open to new experiences. Since art and imagination are key to this narrative, artists of all ages would find something to enjoy. And because the book crosses many borders (Scotland, Canada, the U.S., and Mexico), it also can’t be limited to a specific age group, social class, gender, or region.

My first fan letter for Fling came from an 80 year-old woman who lives in the tiny village of Christina Lake, B.C. My son, who also lives there, had given her my manuscript to read. She said, “I just wanted to express to you how very much I enjoyed your writing.  I started it and didn’t stop till I had read it all.  I very much like your style and your subtle humor. Thank you for a most enjoyable read. I can’t understand why it hasn’t been scooped up by some publisher. But I know that it will be. In my estimation I know that it is excellent literary work. I am a voracious reader and have been since grade 4. I remember my first book was Tom Sawyer and I have never stopped since then. I go through 4 to 5 books a week.  We are so fortunate here at the Lake now.  The Library staff in Grand Forks come out here every Wednesday. I have become very fond of the young lady who comes out. She provides me with all the award winning books and orders others for me. Again I want to express to you how very much I enjoyed your manuscript.  Have patience my dear….it will be published to wide acclaim I am so sure.” —Joan Fornelli.

Here is a synopsis:

Feather, an aging hippie, returns to her Calgary home to help her mother, Bubbles, celebrate her 90th birthday. Bubbles has received mail from the dead letter office in Mexico City, asking her to pick up her mother’s ashes, left there seventy years earlier and only now surfacing. Bubbles’ mother, Scottish by birth, had died in Mexico in the late 1920s after taking off with a married man and abandoning her husband and kids.

A woman with a mission, and still vigorous, Bubbles convinces a reluctant Feather to take her to Mexico so she can recover the ashes and give her mother a proper burial. Both women have recently shed husbands and have a secondary agenda: they’d like a little action. And they get it.

Alternating narratives weave together Feather and Bubbles’ odyssey with their colorful Scottish ancestors, creating a family tapestry. The “now” thread presents the two women as they travel south from Canada to San Francisco and then Mexico, covering a span of about six months. “Now” and “then” merge in Mexico when Bubbles’ long-dead mother, grandmother, and grandfather turn up, enlivening the narrative with their antics.

In Mexico, the land where reality and magic co-exist, Feather gets a new sense of her mother. The Indian villagers mistake Bubbles for a well-known rain goddess, praying for her to bring rain so their land will thrive again. Feather, who’s been seeking “The Goddess” for years, eventually realizes what she’s overlooked.

Meanwhile, Bubbles’ quest for her mother’s ashes (and a new man) has increased her zest for life. A shrewd business woman (she’s raised chickens, sold her crafts, taken in bizarre boarders, and has a sure-fire system for winning at bingo and lotteries), she’s certain she’s found the fountain of youth at a mineral springs outside San Miguel de Allende; she’s determined to bottle the water and sell it.

But gambling is her first love, and unlike most women her age, fun-loving Bubbles takes risks, believing she’s immortal. Unlike her daughter, Bubbles doesn’t hold back in any way, eating heartily, lusting after strangers, her youthful spirit and innocence convincing readers that they’ve found the fountain of youth themselves in this character. At ninety, she comes into her own, coming to age, proving it’s never too late to fulfill one’s dreams.

Fling, a meditation on death, mothers and daughters, and art, suggests that the fountain of youth is the imagination, and this is what they all discover in Mexico. It’s what Bubbles wants to bottle, but she doesn’t need to. She embodies it. The whole family does.


Sooke, B.C.: Wild and Tamed

Fog flirts with the spit of land across the way, clinging at times to tree tops, then lifting mysteriously, appearing again a moment later, threading in and out of the pines. Nasturtiums blow in the breeze, lawn and gardens (vegetable and flower) extending down to the water’s edge, jumbo red and yellow begonias bordering the walkways. Where are we? Sooke Harbor House. Sooke Harbor, the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and Washington State’s Olympic Mountains meets us as we step through the doorway into our room.

A typical August day on Vancouver Island, temperatures in the low 70s, a cooling sea breeze floats through the open balcony door, carrying a whiff of wood smoke from someone’s fireplace (most of the rooms have one) and the salty sea air.

A sky light opens up the vaulted ceiling directly above the four poster king-size bed.  We can see blue sky and clouds, and I look forward to viewing the stars later.

We feel like welcome guests in someone’s house, Canada’s past coming alive in the furnishings:  a well-worn seaman’s chest, old and lovingly used; antique hand-made cushion covers adding color to the all-white duvet on the bed.  A visual delight meets the eye everywhere—freshly picked yellow lilies fill a vase on the mantel, and a maple rocker sits in front of the fireplace where wood wrapped in newspaper waits, ready to be lit, taking the chill off cool evenings and mornings.

My abbreviated journal entry for that day reads “4:16 PM at Sooke Harbor House.  It’s splendid.  Wow!”

Though we’ve chosen one of the lower-priced rooms, it lacks nothing for our comfort—white terry-cloth robes; an iron and ironing board; a hair dryer; plenty of coffee makings, tea, and milk kept fresh in the wet bar.

On previous trips to Vancouver Island, my husband and I always made Victoria our center, staying at the University of Victoria conference center in a park-like setting where accommodations are inexpensive and modest.  This time we wanted to stay at more upscale places, to make lodgings an important part of our holiday experience.

We weren’t disappointed.

But it was difficult to drag ourselves away from the place to explore the surrounding area.  The grounds invite leisurely strolls, and the lounge chairs on our balcony begged to be sat on. So we rested awhile, inhaling sea air and letting our thoughts dissolve with the fog.

Sooke is adapted from T’Sou-ke, the name of the coast Salish people and a species of stipplebacked fish once numerous in the Sooke basin.  The village has one traffic light and little else to distinguish itself.  Yet blue and white signs announcing bed and breakfast accommodations are everywhere, much of the village remaining concealed behind shrubbery.

This is not picturesque Sidney-by-the-Sea,  main street dripping with hanging flower baskets and charm.  But Sooke has its own particular allure.  It isn’t trying to be upscale, something it isn’t.  A fishing village originally, it still feels like one, offering visitors plenty of opportunities to catch cod, halibut, salmon, and other local favorites either from shore or from one of several chartered fishing boats.

That first night we ate in the Sooke Harbor House candle-lit dining room overlooking the water and mountains, one of Canada’s best restaurants and a major attraction for that area.  A lively fire added warmth to the place. We ordered a table d’hôte meal, each dish incorporating figs.  The chefs impressed us with their imaginative approach to figs—they were transformed and transforming.

Almost not recognizable in their original form, the figs became something else.  Never did they overwhelm what they accompanied.  The fig sauce complimented the lamb in the main course, provided a subtle contrasting taste in the soup, gave a new definition for fig in the appetizer, and folded itself into the dessert.

Most people who eat at the restaurant rave about the place, traveling to Sooke just to dine on their haute cuisine, staying at a nearby bed and breakfast when the Inn is full.  (I stopped one day at The Snuggery, an up-scale B&B with views of the harbor that I also can recommend, and chatted with the owner.  He said that Sooke Harbor House had put Sooke on the map.  The many bed and breakfasts catch the overflow from the Inn, or provide accommodations for people who just go there to eat.)  Sooke offers lodgings for every budget.

The chefs had other chances to tempt our palates.  Every morning, a woman brought breakfast to our room.  Each one included a fruit compote, home-made yogurt and blackberry jam, croissants, cereal, juice, and coffee plus a special entree.  The first morning we feasted on oatwheat cakes served with a mix of fresh fruit.  The second morning, we ate poached eggs on cheese bread flavored with herbs, a delicate salmon flavored sauce floating on top.

After gorging on breakfast, we were ready for a good bike ride.  We picked up our picnic lunch from the kitchen, arranged in an insulated back pack, loaded our bikes on the car, and headed for the Galloping Goose trail, the beginning of what eventually will be over 2,000 miles of hiking and biking trails crossing Canada, replacing old train tracks.

The trail actually starts in Victoria, and if we’d been more ambitious, we could have ridden our bikes from Sooke to Victoria in just a few hours.  But we were there to enjoy the countryside, not win a marathon, so we followed Sooke Basin for a time, watching buffleheads and Barrow’s goldeneye riding the swells.  Douglas fir and sword fern line the trail, the Goose dropping down at times into a creek bed, where we stopped and watched the water flow over igneous rock and feasted on blackberries that grow wild everywhere.

Across the basin we could see the hills of East Sooke Regional Park rise out of the water.  If you prefer hiking to biking, East Sooke’s Coast Trail offers a west coast wilderness experience within easy reach of the town of Sooke, considered one of the premier day hikes in Canada.

The ten kilometer trail is rough and winding, a challenging six-hour trip even for experienced hikers, but well worth the effort.  From a bluff of windswept pines, the ocean crashing at your feet, to a dark rain forest at the end of a ravine, to the sea’s edge—the trail takes you over many terrains.  It also lets you view petroglyths bruised into the rock, a style particular to the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

There are other popular trails, one being the West Coast Trail, stretching 77 kilometers from Port Renfrew on the south end of Vancouver Island to Bamfield on the north end.  Another is the Juan de Fuca Marine Trail, a 47 kilometer hiking trail starting at China Beach and extending to Botanical Beach near Port Renfrew.

But we were contented to glide along on our bikes, cruising mainly on asphalt.  After an hour, we chose a picnic bench in Roche Cove Regional Park and eagerly unzipped the forest green pack.  It contained a checkered table cloth and matching napkins, dishes, a small wood cutting board, real silverware, a cutting knife, cheese, rolls, gourmet pasta and salmon salad, apples, a blackberry tart, and two bottles of mineral water.  It was one of the most elegant picnics we’ve had.

A warm afternoon, we returned along the route we’d taken,  following it through Sooke, looking for the potholes in the Sooke River we’d read about, hoping to have a swim.  But we detoured instead to the Sooke Region Museum and Visitor Information Center, forgetting about the potholes, taken back in time to when the first aboriginal people arrived on those shores.

We were impressed with the exhibits, videos, and books that gave us a fuller sense of the early settlers and their lives—a working steam engine, a ship wreck display, forestry exhibits, a nature trail.  A docent (“Aunt Tilly”) showed us through one of the oldest standing buildings on Vancouver Island, a cottage built in 1902, constructed of lumber cut in the Muir sawmill, the first successfully-operated  steam sawmill in British Columbia.  Aunt Tilly, the lady of the house, showed us what a day in her life was like at that time.

Each August Sooke hosts a major annual Fine Arts Show that we had just missed by a few days.  One of the largest juried shows held in B.C., hundreds of talented artists enter.

Of course, we spent time in Victoria too, the only North American city I can think of that hasn’t been taken over by overpowering skyscrapers.  Though the capital of British Columbia, it still feels like a village.  But Sooke is a village, gateway to the southern part of the Island, a combination of the wild and the tamed, providing such a wide range of activities that we’re already planning our next visit.

 

 

Pen-L Press will be publishing my novel Fling in 2015. A wildly comic romp on mothers, daughters, art, and death, the book should appeal to a broad range of readers. While the main characters are middle-aged and older, their zest for life would draw readers of all ages, male or female, attracting the youthful adventurer in most people. Though women may identify more readily with Feather and Bubbles’ daughter and mother struggles, the heart of the book is how they approach their aging selves and are open to new experiences. Since art and imagination are key to this narrative, artists of all ages would find something to enjoy. And because the book crosses many borders (Scotland, Canada, the U.S., and Mexico), it also can’t be limited to a specific age group, social class, gender, or region.

My first fan letter for Fling came from an 80 year-old woman who lives in the tiny village of Christina Lake, B.C. My son, who also lives there, had given her my manuscript to read. She said, “I just wanted to express to you how very much I enjoyed your writing.  I started it and didn’t stop till I had read it all.  I very much like your style and your subtle humor. Thank you for a most enjoyable read. I can’t understand why it hasn’t been scooped up by some publisher. But I know that it will be. In my estimation I know that it is excellent literary work. I am a voracious reader and have been since grade 4. I remember my first book was Tom Sawyer and I have never stopped since then. I go through 4 to 5 books a week.  We are so fortunate here at the Lake now.  The Library staff in Grand Forks come out here every Wednesday. I have become very fond of the young lady who comes out. She provides me with all the award winning books and orders others for me. Again I want to express to you how very much I enjoyed your manuscript.  Have patience my dear….it will be published to wide acclaim I am so sure.” —Joan Fornelli.

Here is a synopsis:

Feather, an aging hippie, returns to her Calgary home to help her mother, Bubbles, celebrate her 90th birthday. Bubbles has received mail from the dead letter office in Mexico City, asking her to pick up her mother’s ashes, left there seventy years earlier and only now surfacing. Bubbles’ mother, Scottish by birth, had died in Mexico in the late 1920s after taking off with a married man and abandoning her husband and kids.

A woman with a mission, and still vigorous, Bubbles convinces a reluctant Feather to take her to Mexico so she can recover the ashes and give her mother a proper burial. Both women have recently shed husbands and have a secondary agenda: they’d like a little action. And they get it.

Alternating narratives weave together Feather and Bubbles’ odyssey with their colorful Scottish ancestors, creating a family tapestry. The “now” thread presents the two women as they travel south from Canada to San Francisco and then Mexico, covering a span of about six months. “Now” and “then” merge in Mexico when Bubbles’ long-dead mother, grandmother, and grandfather turn up, enlivening the narrative with their antics.

In Mexico, the land where reality and magic co-exist, Feather gets a new sense of her mother. The Indian villagers mistake Bubbles for a well-known rain goddess, praying for her to bring rain so their land will thrive again. Feather, who’s been seeking “The Goddess” for years, eventually realizes what she’s overlooked.

Meanwhile, Bubbles’ quest for her mother’s ashes (and a new man) has increased her zest for life. A shrewd business woman (she’s raised chickens, sold her crafts, taken in bizarre boarders, and has a sure-fire system for winning at bingo and lotteries), she’s certain she’s found the fountain of youth at a mineral springs outside San Miguel de Allende; she’s determined to bottle the water and sell it.

But gambling is her first love, and unlike most women her age, fun-loving Bubbles takes risks, believing she’s immortal. Unlike her daughter, Bubbles doesn’t hold back in any way, eating heartily, lusting after strangers, her youthful spirit and innocence convincing readers that they’ve found the fountain of youth themselves in this character. At ninety, she comes into her own, coming to age, proving it’s never too late to fulfill one’s dreams.

Fling, a meditation on death, mothers and daughters, and art, suggests that the fountain of youth is the imagination, and this is what they all discover in Mexico. It’s what Bubbles wants to bottle, but she doesn’t need to. She embodies it. The whole family does.