Monday, December 29, 2014

The Maple and the Ash

This Christmas, my sister Lorie gave us all a very special present: beautifully wrought wooden bowls.  These true gifts were crafted by my uncle, Bob Clayton, with wood from the maple tree we were forced to cut down in my mom’s front yard this past year.  

The maple tree was planted in 1978 by my father, to commemorate the marriage of my eldest sibling, Tom, to his wife Karen.  It was barely taller than me at the time. 

Me, with my sister Lorie 1981

As we grew, so did the tree, until it towered over the house.  My father would sit on the porch, stare at that tree, and say it was getting too big.  But he let it grow, for reasons I understood completely.  That tree was part of our family. 

Mom, with Lorie, Tom and baby Sally

In 2011, Dad and I sat on the porch of the home I grew up in, the house he bought with his pregnant wife over 50 years before, and where he had raised a family. 
The sun shone over the neighbourhood on a perfect July day, as if everything were going to be perfect, the birds singing, the grass lush and green, my mom’s roses in bloom.  Only now, my Dad knew he was dying and so was the tree.  It was my 50th birthday.  And Dad said, “I should have taken that tree down . . . I wanted to . . .”  He turned to look at me, and I understood the regret, the desire to preserve a life we all valued. 
And I said, “I will take care of it, Dad.”

He was 98 pounds by this time, the first I’d ever seen my Dad look old.  He passed away two months later from esophageal cancer. 

Landscapers came to assess the trees on my mother’s lot, and they agreed the maple must come down, and the many mature ash trees in the backyard would need to be treated to prevent infestation of the Emerald Ash Borer, now sweeping through Ontario.  It seemed to me that so much of what I thought was permanent was being eroded.

The Maple and the Ash
by SA Moore
Cut down,
because you towered over my mother's house;
the wedding that planted you
long since sprouted grandchildren
Housefront obscured
because Chinese lumber is cheap;
fifty years at creekside
no match for foreign pests
Backyard at risk
because black cells invaded my father’s stomach;
the marriage that made you
cut short to fifty-five years
Inside suspended 

After the tree was removed, the house seemed lonely and exposed.  The driveway was stacked with hunks of wood that had once been our tree.  The landscapers told us the centre of the tree had been rotting, but the limbs were solid.

My younger brother, John, began inviting people to take pieces of the tree, and his friends from my dad’s hunting camp and my uncle, a wood carver like my dad, obliged. 
To have a piece of that tree now in my house, and so beautifully crafted is a reminder of the values my dad and I shared.  Family comes first, true beauty lies in duty, and our place on this earth requires dedication . . . and sometimes, it requires letting go.


Monday, November 17, 2014

Writing Doesn't Have to Be a Solitary Act

The slogan for The Writers' Community of Durham Region is not just a mantra, it's a singular truth.  Writers often feel closeted in their passions.  We dream of other worlds as we examine the past, envision the future.  And sometimes we don't tell anyone for years at a time what's going on in our creative mind's eye.  We quietly, obediently live other lives, and do what reality requires on a daily basis.  But whenever we can, we take the opportunity to hide away and escape to that other world that accepts our musings as reality.  Our real reality.

The WCDR is holding a massive book fair in the Durham Region to encourage local writers to come out of the shadows and unveil their creative selves for the benefit of booklovers.  I will be joining over 80 others at UOIT to reveal the creative world that has captured me for so many years. 

The image above is a new drawing created by Brittany Leclerc and Amber Robinson of AmberAnimations which I will be unveiling at Bookapalooza on Saturday, November 22.  It is part of a collection of tapestry images that brilliantly unfold the story of my trilogy, Legend of Three Crowns.

Over the next few weeks, we will be posting these images in a new portal about the world of Aramanda, the princess and would be queen of three mythical kingdoms.  Legend of Three Crowns, Dark Lady and The Third Crown follow Aramanda through her early days as Princess of Lyxton, her contests with her brother, battles, dark secrets, mystical conquests, tragic love, and bitter struggles.  Palaces, court life, sumptuous balls, and sixteenth century towns come to life at the expert of hands of Amber and Brittany. 

We look forward to sharing these images with you on this site over the next two weeks.  I will be posting excerpts from Book One for you read and enjoy as we add the character portraits and scenes in vivid colour.  And, yes, there's even a booktrailer.  But if you can't wait, come to Bookapalooza and see them for yourself.  I will be at booth 45, beside the marvellous historical fiction writer, Elaine Couglar and across from the fabulous Writing Fairy and Booktrailer101.  We promise you a world of creative imagining and plenty of reveal about the secret musings of writers. And admittance is free!

Saturday, October 4, 2014

History as Real Life

To historical fiction writers, there is nothing so real as history.  We marvel at how it mirrors our present lives, how it makes current affairs sound familiar. The choice between romanticism and reality is a mark of preference, and every author must make it.  I like to think there is romance in our present lives that can be found in the past, and hard reality, too, that comes vividly to life in historical context.

On a recent trip to London, England, to attend the Historical Novel Society Conference (#HNSLondon14), I took two weeks to walk the historic streets of this ancient city and discover new treasures in its present that would reveal more vividly to me its past. 

What I found, of course, was a curious mix of past and present, examples of human nature and its accomplishments, that cannot exist without the other.  Travelling alone, I took to the habit of people-watching, and some of my photos reflect the singular dramas of locals and tourists, co-mingling against the backdrop of one of the biggest and most historic cities in the world.  For me, the present of London unfolded as a mix of classes struggling to exist as one, from Camden Town Market where I visited friends, to the Victoria and Albert Museum that reveals, room after fabulous hall, the grandiose claims of a larger-than-life empire. 

                           The impressive fa├žade of Buckingham Palace is witness to daily drama, where local meets and tourist

The Wallace Collection is close to the University of Westminster where I stayed, so I walked over to see what treasures it held.  A mansion built in the late sixteenth century that once entertained Charles I, it is one of London's best kept secrets.  And for any historical enthusiast, what a treasure trove!  Renowned for its armoury collection, these rooms are arguably the most impressive, but the entire house is a wonder. 

Reading about battles is a cerebral exercise; seeing the weapons of a past age, and the depictions meant to represent the battles they were used in brings home the need to interpret history, to recount, relate, rationalize, and romanticize its meaning.  London is a feast of artifacts, archives and real life examples of the results of centuries of battle.  The Wellington Arch, the British Museum, Buckingham Palace, the National Gallery, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Royal Horse Guard, the Banqueting House, and of course the iconic Tower of London are just a few examples of the storehouses of history, good, bad and ugly, waiting for historians, writers and the curious to experience and interpret how these items and the events they represent have made us what we are. 

What history forgets: which window was Charles' I's last view?
Yoda suspends disbelief before the National Gallery

The history of our past, the sum total of who we are, can be larger than life, awkward to recapture, and unwieldy to climb down from once we try to climb on top for a larger view. 
Ultimately, the link between who we were and who we are today is the mystery every historical writer wants to tackle.  We look for the clues, wonder at the resonance as we trace past to present, and find answers in the hard realities mingled with the romanticism of a former age we want to believe in. 
This imperative was never more poignant than the poppies that sprang up on the green of  The Tower moat this year.  Red ceramic poppies- 888,246 to represent those who died in WWI, were placed in bold splendour against the backdrop of the ancient palace and prison walls, the skyline mixed with the old and new of a burgeoning city.  The cause and effect of past and present doesn't get more real nor as romantic a tribute as that. 

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Nothing is More Busy and Wittier Than a Hound

And so begins the Legend.  This book plate from a medieval royal manuscript (British Library, Royal MS 12 F. xiii, Folio 30v)  is drawn to represent King Garamantus with his noble Hounds as depicted in the eighteenth chapter of  'De Proprietatibus', a collection of the works of Pliny and Aristotle and of the medieval physicians and romancers.


Nothing is more busy and wittier than a hound, for he hath more wit than other beasts. And hounds know their own names, and love their masters, and defend the houses of their masters, and put themselves wilfully in peril of death for their masters, and run to take prey for their masters, and forsake not the dead bodies of their masters. We have known that hounds fought for their lords against thieves, and were sore wounded, and that they kept away beasts and fowls from their masters' bodies dead. And that a hound compelled the slayer of his master with barking and biting to acknowledge his trespass and guilt.  Also we read that Garamantus the king came out of exile, and brought with him two hundred hounds, and fought against his enemies with wondrous hardiness.

In Legend of Three Crowns, King Francis cultivates his 'Hounds', three gentlemen of his bedchamber, who do his every bidding.  Amusing, witty, and very busy annoying  Francis' court and bedding the lords' wives, they yet have a greater purpose, which the King's daughter, Aramanda, discovers in her quest to be named her father's heir. 

Book One of the trilogy focuses on this fairy tale existence King Francis has built for his country and the stability for his dynasty, centred around the mystical birthmark of his daughter's in the shape of three crowns.  But like any good medieval fairy tale, the plot soon becomes dark. 

To protect a family secret and preserve an illicit operation, Francis orders the murder of his minister, Wyerly, a man who has befriended Princess Aramanda for political gain.  The mystical forces of her family's dark past begin to invade Aramanda's seemingly idyllic life, and she sees a graphic premonition of Wyler's murder.  Her brother, Edourd, ruthlessly allied with the lords, is determined to best her and replace her in her father's affections, securing the crown for himself.  But the hounds, led by the King's favourite, Milton, ally with Aramanda, and their mischief proves effective in staunching the lords' advantage.

Aramanda's belief in loyalty and honour tie the hounds irretrievably to her, and Milton, desperately in love with her, struggles to serve her, even as she is tied irretrievably to the Legend of Three Crowns. 

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Favourite Inspirations from History

The Writer has a unique relationship with History.  It starts in our childhood, when we know we want to write, and we start recording in our heads, impression by impression, what makes life meaningful. 

For me, those early morning trips to the rink for my brother's hockey practises (sorry John, it was not your journey to AllStar that was on my mind, but the Centre 70 library next door! Love ya, though!) that illuminated my love of the history that came before our time.  I devoured every book on European history, especially kings and queens that I could find in that small Frontenac County library.

Life has been busy.  I made my living in a modern emerging sector, Communications, and did very well at it, even working for a number of years in high tech.  But history is still my first love, and I have spent as much time reading, writing, and thinking about historical events as I have making a living and enjoying my profession. 

My profession is now writing, and I love it!  I'm just fine-tuning my trilogy, Legend of the Three Crowns, and my agent, Sam Hiyate will soon be offering it for publication.  It's a literary crossover historical fiction fantasy about a princess who discovers what it will take to be queen.  As far removed from my own life as one could get you could imagine, but in fact, those who know me will see the place it comes from. 

The process of working through this book, its characters, theme, the deep emotional place that gave birth to its journey has been a revelation.  The hours, years, I spent reading history, fiction and non-fiction, and everything in between have all been poured into this book.  I have travelled from places in Canada to the U.K., the U.S, and Europe to research this story, and have written on planes, trains, garden benches, my mother's sofa, coffee shop armchairs, sanctuaries, writing retreats, my living room and my spiffy renovated office.  Creating my own history.

Most recently, I spent a week in the Bahamas with fellow HF writer Cryssa Bazos, who strangely did not mind spending 6 hours a day or more scribbling in a notepad or banging on a keyboard, while the sun shone warm outside on a clear March day.  All in all a wonderful holiday. I rewrote 100's of pages of my ms that week.  And we did find time to visit historical sites and the pirate museum!  One day, Cryssa got a fb message about posting your favourite authors of all time, so we took a break to make our lists.  My list is a testament to the resonance of the historical inspirations in my life.

On the week that the fabulous HF writer, Barbara Kyle, will be attending WCDR's RoundTable, I thought it a good time to share the list with my readers.  Hope you find some favourites of your own, or find time to read them and create new favourites!  Sadly, some of the Canadian names on this list have passed away, but their work is part of my history, and the collective history of what makes us Canadian.  And for a Canadian Literary Historical Fiction writer, that is a fact of relevant and significant inspiration.

1.      Alexandre Dumas

2.      John Meade Falkner (Moonfleet)

3.      Anne Bronte

4.      Emily Bronte

5.      Jane Austen

6.      Hugh MacLennan

7.      Robertson Davies

8.      Dr. Suess

9.      Ivy Wallace (Pookie children's stories)

10.  Charles Dickens

11.  W.O. Mitchell

12.  Hester W. Chapman (historical biographer)

13.  Shakespeare

14.  Brothers Grimm

15.  Bruno Bettelheim (child psychologist and the writer of the Meaning of Fairy Tales)

16.  Margaret Mitchell

17.  F. Scott Fitzgerald

18.  Paul Quarrington

19.  Alistair MacLeod

20.  Mordecai Richler

21.  Leonard Cohen

22.  Farley Mowat

23.  Nino Ricci




Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Dr. Suess Would Never Have Thought Growing Up This Hard

When I was a child one of my favourite books was Fox in Sox by Dr. Suess.  I read it over and over, and eventually did not need the book to recite it at will.  I loved the twist of words, the rhythmic flow, and while this book had less message than some of his other works, like The Lorax which I also loved, and Green Eggs and Ham or Cat in the Hat which did not interest me as much, what it had was a think-outside-the-crazy-striped-box way with the use of words. 

I recently signed up for Sarah Selecky's daily writing prompts.  WCDR's partnership with Sarah for the Short Story contest was the original motivation, but I have since come to anticipate her daily message with relish.  Not the least of which because my writing group partner, Cryssa Bazos, is always challenging me to see the prompts in a new way.  So, when Sarah suggested we write in the style of another writer she named, we decided to turn that on its ear. 

So the ode to Dr. Suess poem I wrote, which you see below, is all Sarah and Cryssa's fault.  Not really.  But it is a lot of fun- if you can get past the ugliness of the Rob Ford non-mayoral conduct.  Remember that my favourite book is Fox in Sox, and you will get the cadence.  My apologies to my childhood hero!

Dr. Suess on Crack  By S.A. Moore

If a dopey thinking ruler
Smokes a pipe that dents his noodle
With a friend he thinks is cooler
And a girl he hopes will screw ya
If his wife is holding dinner
Do you think he is a winner?
Can he make the city spinner
While he plays the sloppy grinner 


 If he gets himself much fatter
Blames drinking for Mad Hatter
Swears at Council til they shatter
Do you think that that is badder?

If he sends around his brother
For the media to smother
Swears he'll never eat another
Do you think he's worth the bother? 

If the car and football magnates
Send reminders he should stagnate
Restrain all his blah-blagnate
Will the pundits still be-drag it? 


If Santa doesn't want him
And the schools think he is wanting
And the crudle-eating ruler
With the camera slamming noodle
Jumps the psydo prosti girdle
Will this mess man still be mayor? 

If we ever get the facts
Do you think the fuck comes back?
Will his lies begin to stack
As he goes upon attack? 

Now do you think he'll crack?


Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Colours of the Writing Life

2014 was a pivotal year for me as a writer.  In June, I dedicated myself full time to the writing life, accepted the honoured position of President of the Writers' Community of Durham Region, and wrote a new draft of my novel.  In November, I signed with Sam Hiyate of The Rights Factory literary agency, and am now completing a new draft of The Legend of Three Crowns, my historical crossover trilogy.  What a year!

The picture above was taken at a writing retreat at Le Point de Vue in Rigaud, Quebec.  A spectacular sunrise that heralded a new day of imagining on the page.  What a life!

Writing full time is a joy, even more so because of the wonderful people with whom I now interact.  I think it's equally important to know the business side and the creative side of this industry, and I have a better understanding of this after working with WCDR and The Rights Factory, as well as the marvellous instructors and mentors I've been fortunate enough to meet, from Inkslingers, to Writescape, The Writing Fairy, Pat Schneider, Ontario Writers' Conference, Sherry Coman and Rich Helms, and all the incredible speakers at WCDR.  It's all part of the journey.  And what a journey!

It's a path full (and fraught) with surprises.  Every one of the people I've encountered, including the talented writers in my 'Durham5' writers' circle and the board members of the WCDR has surprised me.  The insights, the excitement, the revelations, and the affinity for story all come from a unique interaction amongst dedicated writers who know how to spin magic!

A pitch article I wrote for WCDR's upcoming U25 RoundTable in March will give you some insight into the journey of becoming a professional writer- and the surprises that often lead to untried yet productive paths. 

Being a writer is a perpetual state of surprise; you never know what will come hurtling at you or where it will land.  But that's a big part of the appeal.  There may be no true rainbows at the end of any story, but there certainly are all kinds of colours if you look close enough.