Friday, December 2, 2011

Painting with Words

I was told by a children's lit prof once, that some of the students in his class, after reading my books, were sure there were drawings and paintings in them. Some argued with him until shown the book in question. That stays in my memory as one of the really good things said about my work.

Maybe it's because I'm a painter, I don't know - but I do "see" my characters and settings as I write them. They move across my inner cinema screen very clearly. I want colour in my writing. I want pattern and shape and strong visuals for my reader. But I also want them to be able to take what I give them and form their own images - of my characters and settings - not as flat, sterile gray things, but as vibrant living images.

Writers who can make my imagination "see" things visually, and in full colour, are my favourite writers. When I can envision their characters and their settings, I can then smell their seas, their lakes, their streets and their rooms and hear their characters' voices.  I am transported to their worlds and it becomes as real to me as the room I'm sitting in. I think that's why I reread so many books. I become homesick for their sounds, their views, their lives, their "air". 

As I painter, I'm also touched strongly in the same way, but "differently", by certain paintings. I saw this painting (above) by Casper David Friedrich recently, an 18th-19th C. German painter, called "Woman in a Window" and was immediately inside that room with the young woman. Friedrich is now considered to be an icon of the German Romantic movement and a painter of international importance, although he died ill and in obscurity. His work is  unapologetically intense and romantic. Each painting tells its own story. In this painting I can hear the creak of the floorboards, the sounds of gulls and smell the sea air.

For me, connecting intensely with this painting, my writerly self takes over. The young woman in green becomes a writer looking out her window. You can see a ship's rigging in the near distance. What is she thinking? Is it the lure of the ships in port and the thought of a grand adventure that have caught her attention? Is she looking for a lover below? Or is she just staring out the window rethinking the story she has been laboring over? (I've always believed that we, as writers, can be writing even while staring out our windows!)

Friedrich's next painting (below) also hit me strongly, but in a different way. I "recognized it", because it looks so much like Emma Sweeney's best friend Tom (Tamhas) in his owl form in "The Watcher's Trilogy"; my fantasy novels: The Watcher, The Seeker and The Finder. Tamhas often sits on a window ledge in the castel (castle) walls trying to reason with the impetuous Emma.

There is a mood to this work that can only be truly captured through visual art, but I hope I was able to capture a similar mood with words. The shapes and colours in this painting have an atmosphere that sets a strong mood despite the soft tonal quality. It seems almost "modern" in its simplicity. And yet, romantic as well.


This one below also intrigues me and has been used as a synonym for "romantic" online. It is utterly romantic and wild. Many people would find it too much so. But, ahh, there has to be a story there.... don't you think?

Monday, November 28, 2011

"Winter Shadows" is a Red River Christmas story.....

A lot of people don't realize until they've read Winter Shadows that the entire story is spun around a Victorian Christmas in an early settlement along the Red River; as well as a modern Christmas story in the same stone house along that river.

I used this holiday because it is often used in stories to bring families together in celebration and harmony. But when those families are in fact, very dysfunctional, it can cause all kinds of new stresses - some that break spirits and others that offer new strengths.

In the 1850's along the Red River, in the small settlement of St. Cuthbert's where Beatrice Alexander lives, Christmas is one of the few festive holidays that breaks the cold monotony of a long winter. It is a time that Beatrice usually loves; but because she is now living with a very  nasty stepmother who seems to be influencing Beatrice's kindly Métis father, Christmas looks very bleak indeed.

The Christmas of 1856 becomes a catalyst for even more tension between Beatrice and her stepmother Ivy. And when Ivy's son, Duncan Kilgour, arrives on the scene, even more tension develops - of a different kind. 

In the modern world, in the very same stone house that Beatrice lived in all those years ago, Cass is also living with a difficult stepmother, Jean, and her annoying daughter Daisy, as well as Cass's dad -  who wants this to be the start of a new and happy life for all of them together.Cass's mother died two years before, and Cass resents her stepmother Jean taking over her mother's place. This is not a happy family looking forward to Christmas.

( I found this lovely little Victorian Christmas card to "Beatrice sends best wishes for a Merry Christmas" and felt it had to be from her!)

The story takes place in the heavy prairies snows of Manitoba long the deep river banks of the Red River.

When Cass finds the star brooch once belonging to Beatrice, her visions lead her to Beatrice's diary. Do the girls really communicate across time, or is it all in their imaginations?

Besides developing the stories and connections between Beatrice and Cass, I also had the pleasure of researching and looking at the food and entertainments that might have occurred at this festive holiday time.

I hope that you will enjoy the conflicts, ghostly happenings, romance, and life-experiences of my characters in Winter Shadows!

Winter Shadows is available in hardcover and paperback in most local bookstores (like McNally Robinson's here in Winnipeg) - and through online bookstores such as Chapters, Barnes and Noble, Amazon and more. It is also available as an eBook on most online bookstores in their eBook sections..