Friday, January 30, 2009

Off to the Ballet Tomorrow - Won't You Join Me?

This picture has been my screensaver at work for the past month, as I've waited and waited for tomorrow to arrive. I'll be going to the ballet, courtesy of Empire Theatres and their Opus Arte in HD program.

If you live in Canada, the major cities host an HD broadcast of the ballet at the movie theatre, at 1:00 pm local time.

In Halifax, Nova Scotia it's at Park Lane
In Moncton, New Brunswick it's at the Empire 8 Trinity Drive
In London, Ontario it's at the Empire Wellington 8 Cinemas
In Mississauga, Ontario it's at the Empire Studio 10 at Square One
In North York, Ontario it's at the Empire Empress Walk 10 Cinemas
In Richmond Hill, Ontario it's at the Empire Elgin Mills 10 Cinemas

For other locations across Canada click here.

The ballet tells the story of country sweethearts Lise and Colas resisting the attempts of her mother to marry her off to a wealthy suitor. It's a light-hearted comic ballet that celebrates rural life while featuring complicated pieces like the ribbon dance (harking back to May pole celebrations.)

I'll have a review of this ballet posted for my arts feature, Through the Opera Glasses this coming Tuesday. You can check out my previous posts featuring the broadcasts of these ballets through the Opus Arte Empire Theatres program:


Don Quixote


Sleeping Beauty

Romeo and Juliet

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Thursday Thoughts - 5 - Book Review - Wanderlust by Shelley Munro

As I've blogged my way through cyberspace these past two years, I've had the pleasure of meeting several people who I now consider to be friends I have yet to meet in person. Shelley Munro is one of them.

1 - Shelley is a fabulous blogger. You can find her at Adventure Into Romance With Shelley Munro. She posts engaging writers'-life commentary without fail, even while she's on a mega trek with her intrepid husband for 6 weeks. Not only is she a prolific author - 32 e-books and counting - not only does she post regularly and unfailingly, but she visits her blog friends faithfully. My heart always brightens when I see her name in my comments page.

2 - Shelley also blogs at Danger Zone with:

Denise Agnew
Lise Fuller
N.D. Hansen-Hill
Marianne LaCroix
and Charlene Leatherman

3 - Wanderlust is written in first person, and when you keep in mind how much of the world Shelley has seen personally, you'll understand why that was a natural fit for this novel.

4 - Part of Cerridwen Press's Romantic Suspense category, Wanderlust gives us a heroine who lives her dreams of travelling the world while keeping a safe distance from her parents, who can't seem to live with or without each other. The hero is a man who gets dangerous jobs done, whatever border needs to be crossed. Even if that border is the line around a woman's heart.

5 - We meet Anna Tietjens, a mid-twenties woman who shepherds tourists across overland routes in less-discovered areas like India. It's her birthday, which would be nice to celebrate - but her co-driver has just come down with malaria, more passengers are about to join the tour, including her dear sister who makes her teeth grind at the best of times, several male passengers are convinced they'd make beautiful music with Anna if they refined their come-ons slightly, not to mention having already lost one of her tourists to a fatal accident in Syria. Happy birthday, indeed.

6 - Sebastian Brady wisely made his reservation with Wanderlust Adventures under a different name. Otherwise Anna would never have agreed to take him aboard. He knew she relished their passionate rendezvous but kept him at arms' length - which fit in with his line of work rather nicely. Accountants' briefcases being such a fine place to stash guns, and New Delhi so perfect to slide through unnoticed in the marketplaces.

7 - Anna's home is always packed with fellow travellers, since she may as well call the modified Mercedes truck she uses for Wanderlust Adventures home.

Or she could call it Alice. Which she does.

8 - Anna's attraction to Sebastian spikes well out of her comfort zone with his unscheduled appearance. Her parents' miserable track record, and her own insatiable desire to see wildebeest migrating and cheetahs loping turns this tour into an emotional pressure cooker. Especially since this is the first time they've spent so much time upright and clothed in each others' company.

9 - One of the passengers suggests a game of murder to play along the route. Which seems like a good idea to a distracted Anna - until the accident victim back in Syria becomes only the first of her passengers to meet with an untimely end. Now murder is far from a movable parlour game. And Anna's mystery lover with the accountants' briefcase might be more than just a surprise booking on her ill-fated overland tour.

10 - Shelley really knows how to end each chapter with a hook. Like this, for example:

" 'You're good at teasing.'

'You can talk,' Sebastian said. 'Weren’t you the one who tied my hands so I couldn’t touch you?'

Okay, he had me there. I’d done that once in a hotel. 'I didn’t realize this was about payback. Besides, you didn’t stay tied up for long. You freed yourself before I finished.' My knots hadn’t stood up to mercenary training.

'You tie knots like a girl,' he said, shaking his head and chuckling at the memory.

'In case you haven’t noticed, I am a girl.' I ran my fingers across his nipples until they stood out small and tight. The groan I dragged from him was an added reward. I loved to know I could tease him, get him to react. 'You know what I think?'

'Nah, but you’re going to tell me,' he said, his lips quirking in a touch of humor.

I grabbed his ears and tugged lightly. 'Smart-ass.'

Sebastian laughed. 'Maybe I should make love to you more often.'

Yeah, good idea. I thought it, but I didn’t say it. 'Why?'

'Keep you under control,' he said. 'You purr like a kitten after we’ve made love.'

'I do not.' Indignant, I pulled away.

His brows rose but the grin never faded. 'And when we’re not making love, you’re like a wild cat. Unpredictable. I never know how you’re going to react. It makes for an exciting relationship.'

My mouth flapped like a fish but wisely I kept my thoughts to myself. We weren’t in a romantic relationship. I didn’t do relationships at all."

11 - Shelley's personal experience travelling through India gives every moment of this novel an authoritative voice. The noise, the crowds, the colors, the smells, the mannerisms of the locals - everything and everyone is blissfully authentic.

12 - Wanderlust has a large cast of characters and a Miss Marple vibe to further complicate the lovers' relationship. This story is as dense and vibrant as the Indian tour stops, while Shelley keeps Anna's romance with Sebastian simmering in the foreground and the suspense storyline humming to the very end.

13 - I leave you with an excerpt from Wanderlust. Enjoy!

"We arrived late and set up camp up few miles from the World Heritage-listed Ellora cave temples just before dusk. Even though we were in the middle of nowhere, the bush telegraph worked efficiently and locals appeared, silently slipping up to our newly claimed campsite to watch. By the time we’d set up the tents and the cooks had dragged out the tables and started to prepare the evening meal, there was a semicircle of mainly males watching us intently.

'I feel like a goldfish in a bowl,' Elizabeth said. 'Shoo. Shoo! Don’t they have homes to go to?'

'Part of the overseas experience is interacting with the local people,' I said.

'Maybe yours,' Elizabeth snapped.

'Yeah, Elizabeth travels to shop,' Carmichael said, ruffling her hair in an affectionate manner.

'There’s nothing wrong with shopping,' Elizabeth said, her tone defensive.

'Sweetheart, of course there isn’t.' Jack grinned and reached over to snatch a quick kiss. I watched in fascination when all the fight seeped out of her.

'Not when you have two males to carry parcels for you.' Rosa gripped the knife she was using to chop potatoes a little more firmly, her snide tone not carrying past her fellow cooks and me. She used so much force in her chopping that one of pieces shot off the table and hit AJ in the back of the head.

'Ow!' she howled, rubbing the back of her head. 'What did you do that for?'

'Sorry! I didn’t do it on purpose,' Rosa said.

'Oh, oh! She got me.' Elizabeth dropped to the ground in a ladylike swoon. 'I’m dead,' she said before closing her eyes.

'I wish,' Rosa snapped. Another potato shot off the table, this one falling to the ground.

'I heard that,' Elizabeth said, opening her eyes and extending a hand to both Jack and Carmichael to pull her up. 'I don’t think that’s very nice considering what happened to Guy.'

'Oh, and you’d know all about nice,' Rosa sneered.

'That’s enough,' I said hastily. The last thing I wanted to deal with tonight was a catfight. 'Do you think it’s a good idea to continue with the murder game?' I asked, in a feeble attempt to change the subject. Murder wasn’t a good topic either.

'It’s just a game,' Elizabeth said.

'I agree with Anna,' Lloyd said. 'It’s hardly good taste after Guy snuffed it.'

I closed my eyes, my heart pounding. Jeez, did he have to put it quite that way?
Snuffed it.

Rosa tossed her head and the silver blade of the knife flashed in the lights we’d set up so the cooks could see what they were doing. 'Two murders if you count Sam. And of course Antonia, but that was a bit different.'

'The trip is cursed,' Suki said. 'That’s obvious.'

'Rubbish,' I said. 'That’s superstitious nonsense.'

'Maybe it’s a clever advertising ploy on behalf of Wanderlust Adventures,' Lloyd dropped into the sudden silence.

'Killing passengers as a publicity stunt?' Stanley asked, his brows shooting upward in disbelief.

'Don’t think it will catch on,' Sebastian drawled, his tanned face a picture of lazy humor."

- Shelley Munro, 2008

Wordless Wednesday - 84 - Scroll Down For Contest Winner Announcement

The Winnah!

Darbyscloset !!

*cue Price is Right music*

Come on down! You're the lucky winner of an autographed copy of When a Stranger Loves Me by Julianne MacLean, a Group of Seven daytimer and a Maud Lewis calendar.

My lovely assistant picked your name in the wee hours of this morning. Otherwise known as my husband, Brad, he was happy to shake-shake-shake the bag of names thoroughly before picking darbyscloset.

A big thank you to everyone who participated. I've collected all the data from our poll, and the results are in.

The Top Three picks for favorite cover from Julianne's books:

1st Place

From 70 entries, Love According to Lily received 23 votes.

2nd Place

Surrender to a Scoundrel received 18 votes.

3rd Place

When a Stranger Loves Me received 17 votes.

Top Picks for book cover types:

1st Place - The stepback (25 votes)

2nd Place - The clinch (20 votes)

3rd Place - A 3-way tie: (9 votes each)



Hero only

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Contest Now Closed - Thanks to All Who Played For the Chance to Win a Copy of When a Stranger Loves Me

Welcome to my second contest. I know - isn't it exciting?!?

On Jan. 27th, 2009, my cousin's latest book When a Stranger Loves Me hits store shelves.

You could be the lucky winner of an autographed copy of this final instalment of her Pembroke Palace series.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it:

Question 1 - Check out Julianne's book covers and let me know which is your favorite.

Question 2 - What is your favorite type of cover illustration?

A - The clinch

B - The non-clinch couple

C - The stepback (the clinch is on the inside cover)

D - Flowers, jewelry, swords, etc. (a few objects involved in the story)

E - The setting of the story

F - Contemporary drawings with a quirky feel

G - Collage of various aspects of the story

H - One of the main characters gazing out at the reader

I - Heroine only

J - Hero only

Also included in the prize package is a Group of Seven daytimer and a mini calendar featuring the work of Nova Scotia artist Maud Lewis. This contest will run until Tuesday, Jan. 27th, 2009.

To enter, leave me a comment answering both questions. Good luck, everyone!

Through the Opera Glasses - 1 - Every Time I Feel The Spirit

Welcome to my first Through the Opera Glasses post. Why a visual aid feature, you may ask? But my dear, anyone who was anyone carried their opera glasses to the theatre once upon a time. "Opera glasses were used as much for pretentious display or to look at your neighbours (perhaps the goings on in a box) as for viewing the stage." (The College of Optometrists) And in this new feature, I'm going to take a look at The Arts in all their myriad splendour.

My post this week takes a look at the coded language of slave songs and their use by the Underground Railroad. I find this particularly moving this month as Barack Obama was sworn in as President of the United States of America.

The culture of the previous president showed his clear bias against anyone who used bigger words than he could. The Bush Administration attempted to limit free speech by making any dissent un-American. He ran a campaign on education, then two years later made $30 million in cuts to arts funding, affecting the National Endowment for the Arts and all school arts programs. Any conservative politician worth his salt knows that by demonizing the 'Liberal media', actual news will be passed over by loyal folk who wouldn't dream that their leader could be doing anything underhanded.

Canada's current Conservative Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, has had a poisoned relationship with the media for years. He actually lost a majority three months ago after his infamous statement: "I think when ordinary working people come home, turn on the TV and see a gala of a bunch of people at, you know, a rich gala all subsidized by taxpayers claiming their subsidies aren't high enough, when they know those subsidies have actually gone up – I'm not sure that's something that resonates with ordinary people." (Julia's note: I thought Harper fancied himself as a wiley strategist, but a proposed $45 million in arts cuts doesn't equal subsidies going up. But that's just silly old me.)

So there I was, watching the inauguration of President Obama, listening to the glorious strains of cellist Yo-Yo Ma, violinist Izhak Perlman, pianist Gabriella Montero and clarinetist Anthony McGill as they performed. And later that evening I went to choir rehearsal where we worked on a spiritual for our spring concert, Every Time I Feel The Spirit. Once a slave signal song for riders of the Underground Railroad, I thought just how powerful the arts really are. And no amount of George W. Bushes or Stephen Harpers can stop the arts from giving the people their voice - especially when it's at the gravest risk of being strangled.

The root of the slave spiritual as a signal song has its genesis across the sea and back through time, in African culture. "A change in perceptual alignment is needed in order to understand the role of the creative in African ritual music. The aesthetic that 'allows for meaning' in African culture does not recognize the divisions that underlie western assumptions of 'aesthetic-integration'.

(Julia's note: one concrete meaning cannot be assigned to African symbolism, because these symbols always carry multiple messages between the performer and the listener. As an example, the term 'father' automatically carries multiple meaning: it can be a daddy, a patriarchy or God. In an African sensibilty, a symbol may have three more added layers yet again, that are clear to the observer due to shared experience. In the same way that a jazz player will take a musical idea and riff on it as opposed to playing the written notes, the initial message is received - the melodic line - but a deeper dialogue begins between the players and the audience when improvisation begins.)

"The subject of African ritual music is not seen by Africans as a separate subject that can be isolated from the composite event in which it takes place. The challenge (for westerners) with African creative language, as it relates to symbolic participation, involves:

1) the use of musical language as a composite phenomenon that is 'trans-idomatic' (or 'across, over, or beyond' 'a distinct style or character')
2) the use of musical 'signals'
3) the mythological backdrop that defined the 'myth-relationships' that are reenacted in a given ceremony.

"African 'awareness of historical complexities' forms a means to maintain cultural harmony and balance. Ritual structure becomes the basis to pass on cultural belief. This phenomenon is part of the 'checks and balances' of the African aesthetic." (Anthony Braxton, musician, composer, philosopher and Wesleyan University professor)

This is a traditional dance from Zimbabwe recorded in 2001 by YouTube user MLBinwa. You can hear the musical roots of plantation work songs in this piece, as well as the signals the performers use between themselves and the audience. These include the African call-and-answer rhythm, whistles, changes in rhythm, changing from words to humming, calling with a horn, clapping sticks and eye contact - all of these signal the next part of the piece to one another, as well as layered meaning about the importance of the newly-introduced subject matter.

The tone and rhythms of the traditional African style was transferred to North American plantation work songs and spirituals. In the African symbolism inherent in this music, what may have seemed like an energetic work song may have had its roots in a tribal war chant. This allowed slaves a form of artistic protest.

This next piece is a prison work song recorded in 1947 at the Mississippi State Penitentiary by a prison work gang. It's easy to hear the same call-and-answer form of the Zimbabwe song, as well as the incorporation of the work rhythm into the music. It's interesting how a few seconds of silence are repeated between every call-and-answer section.

In keeping with the history of African cultural use of multi-layered symbolism in their music, here is an excerpt from Harriet: The Moses of Her People, a biography of Harriet Tubman, one of the most famous 'conductors' of the Underground Railroad. Her response to news of her imminent sale to another owner was to use the coded language of the slaves embedded within spiritual hymns.

"One day there were scared faces seen in the negro quarter, and hurried whispers passed from one to another. No one knew how it had come out, but someone had heard that Harriet and two of her brothers were very soon, perhaps today, perhaps tomorrow, to be sent far South with a gang, bought up for plantation work. Harriet was about twenty or twenty-five years old at this time, and the constantly recurring idea of escape at sometime, took sudden form that day.

Willing to start that very night for that far North, where, could she reach it in safety, freedom awaited; but she must first give some information of her purpose to the friends she was to leave behind. Slaves must not be seen talking together, and so it came about that their communication was often made by singing, and the words of their familiar hymns, telling of the heavenly journey, and the land of Canaan, while they did not attract the attention of the masters, conveyed to their brethren and sisters in bondage something more than met the ear. And so she sang, accompanying the words, when for a moment unwatched, with a meaningful look to one and another:

When that old chariot comes
I'm going to leave you
I'm bound for the promised land
Friends, I'm going to leave you

Again, as she passed the doors of the different cabins, she lifted up her well-known voice; and many a face appeared at door or window, with a wondering or scared expression; and thus she continued:

I'll meet you in the morning
When you reach the promised land
On the other side of Jordan
For I'm bound for the promised land"

- Sarah H. Bradford, Harriet: The Moses of Her People, 1886

Now we get to the spiritual that inspired this post. A spiritual is differentiated from a gospel song by the attribution of a known composer. Spirituals were composed by slaves whose names are lost in time but whose music reaches out to us through their intense explorations of humanity's relationship with God. Gospel songs do likewise, but their composers are attached to the music and lyrics.

Here is a traditional version of the lyrics, the same lyrics my choir will be singing. The clip shows a version that carries the same melody as the one I'm doing.

Every Time I Feel The Spirit

Every time I feel the spirit
Movin’ in my heart I will pray
Every time I feel the spirit
Movin’ in my heart I will pray

Up on the mountains my Lord spoke
Out of His mouth came fire and smoke
Looked all around me, it looked so fine
I asked the Lord could it be mine

Every time I feel the spirit
Movin’ in my heart I will pray

The Jordan river is chilly and cold.
It chills the body but not the soul.
There aint but one train upon this track.
It runs to heaven and then right back.

Every time I feel the spirit
Movin’ in my heart I will pray

Oh, I have sorrow and I have woe
I have heartaches here below
But while God leads me I’ll never fear
For I know that He is near

- Traditional spiritual

Victoria Soul Gospel Choir

The next clip is the exciting part. Recorded in 1952, this version has a slightly different melody. This is a perfect example of how the slaves would have used music to convey complex messages to their listeners.

The change in melody style would grab one's attention, an alert that a signal is being sent.

The call-and-answer format is altered by the succession of different singers picking up the song like a relay race.

The full text of the song is discarded.

Instead, the chorus is sung over and over, until 2/3 of the way into the song. At that point the only lyrics from any of the verses appears:

There aint but one train upon this track.
It runs to heaven and then right back.

A slave working next to the singer would continue on as if nothing untoward was happening, might even chime in to acknowledge the message was received. The overseer on horseback would only see slaves working and singing as was the norm. It was a Christian hymn, after all. What could be alarming in that?

But the power of the arts to change lives rang out in the dust of the cottonfields so many years ago. A slave escaped to Canada once again, demoralizing the Southern slave owners and crippling their economy one liberated person at a time.

Spirit of Memphis Quartet

Painting - In the Box - Mary Cassatt

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Poetry Train Monday - 85 - Praise Song for the Day

"When power corrupts, poetry cleanses. When power leads man toward his arrogance, poetry reminds him of his limitations." - John F. Kennedy

Last Tuesday I joined about 15 others from my office in the trading room, where we bumped the stock numbers aside to join billions of people worldwide - to witness something miraculous take place.

We passed out kleenex and burst into applause when the magical words were spoken.

I had to fight tears one more time as Yale professor Elizabeth Alexander read her inaugural poem. When she got to the line, What if the mightiest word was love? - tears filled my eyes and a painful hope swelled in my heart.

Here is the transcribed text of her poem, which I've arranged in the form in which it presented itself to me, as I heard it. No doubt she has it arranged differently.

Don't forget to ride the Poetry Train! Enjoy.

Praise Song for the Day

Each day we go about our business,
Walking past each other,
Catching each other’s eyes or not,
About to speak or speaking.

All about us is noise.
All about us is noise and bramble,
Thorn and din,
Each one of our ancestors on our tongues.

Someone is stitching up a hem,
Darning a hole in a uniform,
Patching a tire,
Repairing the things in need of repair.

Someone is trying to make music somewhere,
With a pair of wooden spoons on an oil drum,
With cello, boom box, harmonica, voice.

A woman and her son wait for the bus.
A farmer considers the changing sky.
A teacher says
Take out your pencils.

We encounter each other in words,
Words spiny or smooth,
Whispered or declaimed,
Words to consider,

We cross dirt roads and highways
That mark the will of some one
And then others, who said
I need to see what’s on the other side.

I know there’s something better down the road.
We need to find a place where we are safe.
We walk into that which we cannot yet see.

Say it plain: that many have died for this day.
Sing the names of the dead who brought us here,
Who laid the train tracks,
Raised the bridges,

Picked the cotton and the lettuce,
Built brick by brick the glittering edifices
They would then keep clean and work inside of.

Praise song for struggle,
Praise song for the day.
Praise song for every hand-lettered sign,
The figuring-it-out at kitchen tables.

Some live by love thy neighbor as thyself,
Others by first do no harm
Or take no more than you need.

What if the mightiest word is love?

Love beyond marital,
Love that casts a widening pool of light,
Love with no need to pre-empt grievance.

In today’s sharp sparkle,
This winter air,
Any thing can be made,
Any sentence begun.
On the brink,
On the brim,
On the cusp.

Praise song for
Walking forward in that light.

- Elizabeth Alexander, 2009

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Thursday Thoughts - 4 - Book Review - When a Stranger Loves Me by Julianne MacLean

This is my third book review for my cousin's latest release. As I'm nearing my second blogiversary on Feb. 5th, this means she's had three books come out in that time.

I know. She is amazing.

1 - You can check out all three reviews in My Book Reviews archive.

2 - When a Stranger Loves Me is the third book in Julianne's Pembroke Palace series. The hero is part of an English ducal family driven to act by the deranged requirements of the patriarch. The current duke is going mad, and believes a flood will wipe out their ancestral home - unless all four of his sons marry before Christmas. If they fail to find wives in that time, the entire fortune will go to the Horticultural Society.

3 - Part of Avon's Historical Romance category, When a Stranger Loves Me gives us a heroine who tried to follow her own passions as a young woman, was hauled away from her elopement by her prominent father and promptly became the outrageous scandal of London. The hero survives a shipwreck in the English Channel, washing ashore upon the Jersey Island where the heroine has lived in exile.

4 - We meet Lady Chelsea Campion, a woman whose exile from society turned into the kind of freedom that allowed her to blossom. Chelsea lives in the summer home of her family's estate year round, along with her mother, brother and sister-in-law. Chelsea is deeply attached to her island home. She knows how to read the skies, she knows every ridge and hollow of the island, and spends her days crafting stories.

5 - Luckily for the hero, Chelsea takes a walk along the shore after a wild storm, ending up in the sea caves. There she finds an unconscious naked man thrown onto the jagged rocks. When he finally awakes, it is only to discover he can remember nothing of how he got there. Not the circumstances of his discovery, not any circumstances - he has no memory of anything that happened before he was discovered in the cave. Including his own identity.

6 - Chelsea dubs him Jack so he can have a name, at least. Jack's abilities remain intact - his aristocratic manners, his knack of tying a cravat and especially his exceptional talent for drawing. Among other pastimes, Chelsea and Jack spend many fulfilling hours while she writes and Jack sketches.

7 - But at night, Chelsea joins him in his room, giving in to the frightening passion she feels for this complete stranger. For he may not know who he is, but Jack can see inside of Chelsea in a way no one else has ever done - not even the lover she'd tried to marry before her family put a stop to it.

8 - Jack tells Chelsea she is his whole world now - the only person who knows him in a world he can't recall. But the gnawing sensation of letting someone down, of something urgent that needs him to act intrudes upon his Jersey Island idyll. And why can't he remember being stabbed? When Chelsea found him in the cave, he was bleeding from a puncture wound. Was it simply from the shipwreck? Or did someone want him dead?

9 - A thread of rebellion against the weight of duty runs strongly throughout this book. Charged with being the reason for her family's exile, Chelsea feels compelled to bear the burden of her loved ones' future, with her father passed on and a marriage proposal made by a man willing to overlook her ruination. Is it so wrong to allow herself a few days of pleasure with a stranger before shackling herself to Lord Carruthers?

As for Jack - why does his heart sink when he's finally located by his family? Why must he leave Chelsea behind and face the crushing expectations of 'loved ones' for whom he has no feelings?

10 - Julianne really knows how to end each chapter with a hook. Like this, for example:

"Chelsea sat for a long time, listening to the steady ticking of the clock on the mantel and the constant murmur of the sea. The sun had disappeared below the horizon, and outside the window, high in the sky, the stars appeared, one by one.

Rising to her feet, she strolled to the bedside, put a hand to her mouth to stifle a yawn, then leaned over the man. He would no doubt be very weak when he opened his eyes, perhaps too weak to even speak.

Feeling a sudden wave of compassion for his suffering, she laid her open hand upon his forearm. Gently, with the tip of her finger, she traced a path around all the little scrapes and cuts, as if she were following a maze. He was warm to her touch, but so very still and lifeless.

Her eyes traveled down the length of his body. She could see the outline of his firm torso and long legs, and remembered again his naked form in the cave. Her belly swirled with fascination and arousal, which shamed her for a moment, until she remembered that she was a flesh and blood woman - a woman who had once known passion and desire for a brief time before this seven-year exile. There was a time she'd wanted nothing more than to know a man's body, and to be made love to by someone she adored.

Suddenly, without warning, the man's arm snapped up. He grabbed her wrist.

Panic flared in her stomach. She gasped, but before she could even comprehend the pain in her arm, he was scrambling out of the bed like a wild animal, coming at her with raging fury in his eyes.

She screamed as he threw her to the floor. Her head hit the rug and she squeezed her eyes shut. All the air sailed out of her lungs.

The man pinned her down, tossed a leg over her hips and straddled her. When she opened her eyes, he was sitting on top of her, holding a brass candlestick over his head. It gleamed in the firelight, just like the ferocity in his wild blue eyes.

'Aaah!' he yelled as he drew the weapon back and swung."

11 - As always, Julianne excels at the dialogue between her hero and heroine. Julianne never fails to take a scene I think is going in one direction - and then flips it on its ear. She's the master of getting to the deeper emotions between lovers. Their raw feelings create true conflict, twisting the reader's heart into the same knots as the lovers'.

12 - Julianne moves to St. Martin's Press for her next release. Here's her announcement on her website:

"Julianne just accepted a three book deal to write for St. Martins Press. The contract is for a historical romance trilogy set in the Scottish Highlands. Release dates to be announced soon!"

She's wearing her fingers out at the keyboard on the first of the trilogy. My writers' chapter already got a sneak peek at the opening scene. Ladies, this is a hero to die for.

13 - I leave you with an excerpt from When a Stranger Loves Me. Enjoy!

" 'So you've forgiven me, then?' Jack asked as he refastened his trousers.

They had made love standing up against the door of his bedchamber. She had not seemed to mind the base carnality of it, nor suggested they move to a quieter spot on the bed. Perhaps she knew there was no one nearby to hear, for clearly she'd come here with one thing on her mind, and they got down to business without any of the usual genteel preliminaries.

He nuzzled her cheek and stepped back. Chelsea pushed away from the door.

'We already agreed that there is nothing to forgive,' she said. 'You were right when we spoke outside earlier today. You have not kept anything from me. I knew what I was getting myself into when I came to you the other night, and I have indeed been more than satisfied.'

He watched her for a strange moment, as she walked seductively to the window.

'But there is something different about you,' he said, narrowing his eyes. 'You're closed off. You're not acting like yourself.'

'That's ridiculous.'

'Is it? I think you are still angry about what happened in bed this morning.' He hesitated. 'Or perhaps...

'I am neither,' she quickly asserted as she pulled the curtain aside with one finger and looked out. 'I am simply trying to be realistic.'

'How so?'

She faced him. He had the distinct impression she was giving a great deal of consideration to her answer, almost as if she were plotting one of her stories, deciding upon the most effective piece of dialogue for her protagonist.

'I don't want to become too attached to you,' she said at last.

He studied her eyes and saw a hint of vulnerability there, mixed possibly with some melancholy.

But it was an honest answer - at least he believed it to be so - and it gave him some reassurance that he had not lost her completely. She was still being open with him.

He approached her. 'And is there a danger of you becoming too attached?'

'There is a danger of anything. You are very pleasant to be around.
Most of the time,' she added playfully.

'When I am not calling you by other women's names, I suppose.'


'I'll try not to do it again.'

'I would appreciate that.'

For a moment more they stood without talking, merely looking at each other while the waves rolled up onto the shoreline outside the window. Here in the room, the clock ticked steadily on the mantel.

Jack noticed the heavy beat of his heart. He felt restless, filled with a yearning that seemed to have no cure - for he could not close the space between them. How could he, when he did not know who he was, or if he was even free to care for her the way he wanted to?

Then, for some unknown reason, he remembered the urgency he'd felt the night before, and felt again that he was letting someone down. The feeling dropped into his stomach like a stone. Someone needed him. Of that, he was certain. There was a duty he was expected to fulfill.

was there a wife?

He looked down at the floor.

'So until we know more about you,' Chelsea said, her voice more forceful now, almost as if she had read his thoughts, 'I will simply keep my heart out of it, as you should do as well.'

'That's probably wise,' he heard himself saying, without looking up, because he was not in a position to offer his heart, or any kind of promise that involved the future. As things stood, he could offer Chelsea nothing, and she knew it."

- Julianne MacLean, 2009

Join me next week when I review Wanderlust by Shelley Munro.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Wordless Wednesday - 83

Photo by Damon Winter

Monday, January 19, 2009

2009 Blog Improvement Project - 2

Brainstorming Ideas

Kim at Sophisticated Dorkiness posted the second installment of her Blog Improvement series. This is a year-long challenge, and I've already reaped benefits from it even in its first month. Her first challenge to set goals and define my blog resulted in this definition for A Piece of My Mind:

This is a blog that celebrates the arts, encourages the creative, cheers the artist on and revels in the wonder of life.

I found myself really latching onto this idea from Kim:

"Use your brainstormed ideas to come up with a new, regular feature for your blog.

There are a lot of memes and stuff out there to participate in, but I think it’s cool when a blogger has a feature that is unique to them. Think about what makes your voice different, then come up with a feature that reflects that. There aren’t any 'rules' about the feature — just be yourself."

I can feel a new feature percolating already. An arts feature that will likely find its home on Tuesdays. I've had wonderful feedback on arts-related posts I've done, and I'd love to hear your thoughts on Through the Opera Glasses, debuting soon at A Piece of My Mind.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Poetry Train Monday - 84 - I Found Myself Crying

My Aunt Sheila was also my godmother, and we had a very tender, very precious relationship. The ring she wore in the picture below was her anniversary ring, and she left it to me, which was a hard thing to put on my finger once it was mine.

But she wore it every day, and so I wore it every day. I got over the pain in my heart when I looked down on my hand and saw her ring there, and grew to love its daily presence in my life. Shining at me as her love shone always for me.

I'm having the claws repaired at the moment, and I miss its weight on my hand. Her family in Virginia - her husband's people - miss their contact with my aunt's people - we here in Nova Scotia. My mom still writes to them, and this Christmas she received a card and letter from Aunt Sheila's sister-in-law, Marge.

I've turned her letter into this next effort in my found poetry series.

I Found Myself Crying

Was sitting here waiting on your card
I knew it would come
So how's everyone?

Around here about the same
I've still got my head thing
Can't even spell it
You know what I'm talking about

I never see Frank much

He moved and
Doesn't come by much

It's a long story

I miss Sheila
I found myself crying, few days ago

How's Warren?
He called me way, way back
Not heard anything from him
How's Louie? And Charlie?
Nice family
I'll not forget you all

For you and brothers were so sweet
When you all came on
Such a

My kids are well
...but I feel good...
But age gets away with us


Hope you all had a nice holiday
Keep in touch
I've got a B-day on Jan. 27
Born in '41
Guess I'm getting old


Tell your children
A great hello
And hope you all could
Come down and see Sheila's grave

Frank got her tombstone

For the grave

Take care

And love you all

- Marge, Dec. 2008

Ride the Poetry Train!

Friday, January 16, 2009

Anti Resolutions Meme

I tagged myself for this Anti Resolutions Meme which I found over at Rightmyer Rants.

The rules:
• List ten things you resolve not to do in the upcoming year.
• Be as creative as possible.
• Post them on your blog and leave a link to your blog in your comments to this post - oh, and invite other writers you know to either visit Bobbi's post - or mine - or yours - or all of them and post their links to them.

As you may have noticed, I didn't post any resolutions for 2009. I did post some for 2008.

My tally? I managed to accomplish 7 out of the 13 things listed.

I'll have to make sure I don't repeat any of the Things I'll Take A Pass On.

Okay - let's see, now. In 2009 I resolve not to:

Photo by Eric Draper

1 - wonder what could have gone through George W. Bush's mind while the people around him were praying.

2 - be so rabid about recycling. Will the odd soup can tossed in the garbage really make that much difference?

3 - chat up the bus driver, the newspaper guy, the coffee guy, the cashier who rings me through each morning, the courier, the building maintenance guy, the ferry attendent...and find out their actual names or anything about them. I need my anonymity in this small city. And then there's my friend Judy - now that's a whole other story. I think she knows every person in downtown Halifax. Too much information for me, Judy.

4 - spend so much time on writer loops. But how can I live if I don't know who said what about whom?

5 - get hooked on riveting reality TV like True Beauty.

6 - spend more than an hour watching one of the Diamonelle Hours on The Shopping Channel.

7 - mull over which new shades of nail polish I just have to try out. Jessica Nail Confident Coral? Sally Hansen Hot Pink? Chanel Kaleidoscope Silver Metallic? Why do I have to pick just three?

8 - spend $300.00 on a trip to the hairdresser. Like I would if I went to Fred over in Halifax. Is it possible to send out the message that I value myself if I don't encase my brilliant mind with a brilliant 'do?

9 - renew my Hedonism Loyalty Program membership.

10 - keep my WIP waiting while I get the kitchen spiffed up, clean as a whistle.

Don't imagine that this is my kitchen. But it is the kitchen I imagine...

Now, a-tagging I will go, a-tagging I will go...

Sans Pantaloons

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Thursday Thoughts - 3 - Life as I Love to Live It

1 - The writers' retreat organized by my local chapter of Romance Writers of America is a huge highlight of my year.

2 - A visit to my friend Donna's in Toronto. What could be more lovely? I used to be her daughter's live-in nanny, and now her daughter is 23. Time flies, doesn't it? But it always feels good to sit and catch up, enjoy coffee together and eat her homemade cookies with edible gold.

3 - One of best things when we lived in Toronto was the availabilty of cult movies. On a recent trip to The Big City my husband made sure he stocked up on the essentials.

4 - Hanging out on Queen Street West is also a must when we're in Toronto. Especially because my good friend Chris manages Bakka-Phoenix Books at Queen and Spadina. The city was tearing up the intersection during that visit.

5 - Is there any place I'd rather be than in the lobby of the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, a glass of champagne in my hand, my dear friend Jacquie by my side and a performance of the Sleeping Beauty ballet just moments away...?

Not really, no.

6 - Well...there's always meeting friends at a funky coffee shop and whiling away an hour or two over cafe au laits and delectable yummies. That's good, too.

7 - It's always exciting to discover the creative things my friends get up to. Like these fun tea cozies my friend Pam knitted, as well as little hats that looked like pumpkins and strawberries.

8 - Since I haven't been invited to the Oscars yet, last year's evening on the town at Haliwood - a Halifax Oscar-themed fundraiser - felt like the next best thing.

9 - My gram's funeral was held this summer in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia. This was a beautiful angel candelabra behind the altar. It was a perfect service officiated by a handsome young priest of whom my gram would have heartily approved. A clear, blue-sky day, surrounded by family and uplifted by love - no one could ask for a better farewell.

10 - My dog Xena is a light in my life that can't really be explained. I just love her.

11 - Last year was a particularly sad year for saying final goodbyes - but it was also an odd dream-come-true year where so many things on my wish list came to me. I'm a life-long horse lover without a horse. But I had a serious Barbie horse with a horse trailer and realistic tack, and I had pretend horses I rode whenever we went for a family walk in a park or in the woods. I even groomed these pretend horses in their pretend stable in the backyard.

I've always wanted to go to Vienna to see the Lippizan stallions at the Spanish Riding School. And what do you know - the Lippizans came to me, here in Halifax!

12 - Another thing I've always longed to do was see the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Musical Ride. Once again, who showed up right here in my fair city? You guessed it!

I've always had a thing for war horses and cavalry, and both the Lippizans and the RCMP Musical Ride are basically cavalry maneuvers.

The RCMP unit even did a charge at the end. A total thrill! In this next clip (which has no audio) the Charge comes at the 1:15 mark.

13 - I took this shot of a sunset at Lawrencetown Beach in very chilly November, a year ago. This is a beach on the Atlantic Ocean, 20 minutes' drive from my house. I played here as a child, and I head out there as an adult because it's one of my favorite places on earth. Ten minutes of walking this beach, and I promise you - all is right with the world.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Wordless Wednesday - 82

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Poetry Train Monday - 83 - When He First Appeared at The Bottom of the Stairs

For today's Poetry Train I'm doing the first in what will be a series of found poems. This one is from a diary entry I made on Jan. 12th, 1980 when I was 15.

When He First Appeared at The Bottom of the Stairs

Michelle and I
Star Trek - it was Charlie X

That's so
Funny too
Every Friday night
Michelle and I
What episode Star Trek will be
And Michelle had guessed
Charlie X

Mom, Dad
Connie and I
To the Rebecca Cohn
This evening
To see
Gone With the Wind

So many people came

At intermission, the
Line-up in the washroom was
A mile long

The movie was astounding

It overwhelmed me

Vivien Leigh
So good
As Scarlett

What an actress

Clark Gable, of course

When he first appeared
The bottom of the staircase

At Tara
During the barbeque

The whole audience
And burst
Into applause

Copyright - Jan. 11, 2009 - Julia Smith

Original diary entry - Jan. 12, 1980