Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Thursday Thirteen - 66 - 13 Highlights of My Summer So Far

1 - I've recently discovered that if I Google A Piece of My Mind without any other description, my blog comes up first in the search engine. Yes, it gives me an incredible thrill.

2 - At the end of June, I made the leap from a casual employee to a permanent fulltime employee of the Province of Nova Scotia. No public service employee was ever happier than me.

3 - The Aunt Sheila rose in our front yard had a record 22 blooms on it this year. We planted it in my aunt's memory, as yellow roses were her favorite.

4 - My monster rose bush took over the world this year!

5 - I also had a record number of blossoms on the Japanese quince, which I started as a cutting from the quince in my Gram's yard in Yarmouth. After growing from a six-inch cutting, the quince finally bloomed for the first time last year, a six-year wait. When I walked around the corner this year to a spray of orange blooms, my heart totally sang with joy. Technically, the quince blooms in the spring, but we have such a late season here, it was still blooming by the end of June.

6 - One of my New Year's resolutions was to write more new poetry. So far this year I've posted 10 new poems on the Poetry Train. Go, me!

7 - Enjoyed a fifth writers' retreat, at a cottage near White Point Beach Lodge, Nova Scotia. That's my friend Kelly Boyce, who drove me there and back (I'm the navigator.) Beside us is Lilly Cain. The sun was really beating down on us, but normally the curtains are opened to reveal this lovely scene:

Our group of writers always strolls along the coastline over to the lodge on the Saturday night of our retreat, for dinner at the lodge restaurant. Here I'm sitting between Heidi at left, and Annette to the right.

8 - Discovered a new character, Scorpius, during the retreat. Luckily, he looks exactly like Richard Armitage.

9 - Totally flipped over Wanted. I've seen it in the theatre three times already.

James McAvoy is one of my favorite actors, and his character's journey really puts him through the wringer. By the time he gets to the scene above, he's gone from an office drone with an ergonomic keyboard to a deadly assassin.

10 - Sat in amazement as I watched The Dark Knight. I remember the very early buzz and the announcement that Heath Ledger would be playing the Joker. My little heart raced with excitement.

Now, months later and following the early departure of such an enormous talent, The Dark Knight had a crazy amount of hype to live up to. I'm one of those people that marketing types hate. I'm immune to hype. I get feelings about things, which are always right, by the way. The early production stills from The Dark Knight told me all I needed to know.

Heath Ledger's Joker absolutely flips each scene on its ear. And that's his performance. You can hear the dialogue beneath his performance and realize just where he took things. I couldn't help weeping at his name appearing in the end credits. As an admirer of a truly gifted actor, I still feel the loss of Heath like a stab.

The truly amazing thing about The Dark Knight is that it's far - very far - from being The Heath Ledger Swan Song. It's an incredible ensemble piece with every performance at the top of each actor's game. Christian Bale delivers a generous, introspective performance as Batman realizes what it really takes to be heroic.

Aaron Eckhart's performance as Harvey Dent/Two-Face manages to have us rooting for his truly heroic character without managing to steal the thunder from the title character's movie.

And Gary Oldman gives a subtle, complex performance in his storyline centering on double-crossing and trust.

11 - I celebrated my 16th wedding anniversary on the weekend that my family travelled down to Yarmouth for my Gram's funeral. Since Brad and I spent two years living in Yarmouth with Gram before we all relocated here to Cole Harbour (to be closer to everyone) it was lovely for us to revisit the town we'd called home. We had our own motel room, our dog was at a wonderful kennel - it was a great evening. We had dinner at the Lotus Garden, an awesome Chinese restaurant which was a favorite of ours.

And then we saw Hellboy II: The Golden Army. Cause that's just the kind of couple we are.

I especially loved Prince Nuada, played by Luke Goss. Loved his voice, his moves - excellent fight scenes! He was an extremely charismatic, tragic villain. Just my kind of character.

12 - Enjoyed seeing my Michigan uncles and aunt when they came for Gram's funeral mass. Though she passed away in December, we had her funeral on July 12th so that her elderly sisters and brother could attend.

The two uncles on the left are from Michigan - Uncle Louie and Uncle Warren. Next to them are my mom, Paulette and my second dad/Uncle Charlie.

Down at the Yarmouth waterfront before the funeral: Uncle Warren, my second mom/Auntie Noel, Warren's wife Aunt Louise and my husband Brad.

Uncle Charlie talks to Gram's 'baby' sister, 82-year-old Tante Emeline. (Tante is French for Aunt - my Yarmouth family is Acadian all the way, baby.) To the right is Gram's sister, Tante Adelta, 92, now the oldest remaining sibling. She used to be the fifth of eleven children. Now there are three sisters and one brother left.

13 - Went out to my sister's and her boyfriend's cottage out in Musquodoboit. That's my sister Michelle and my mom. Behind them you can see the dock that got yanked away from its moorings by Tropical Storm Cristobal, which hit here last week.

But do we care about a wee thing like that? Nah. Newt's brother was heading out in the sea-do to wrangle all the floating bits of dock from along the lakefront. Everyone's had separated.

It was the first time Michelle's been able to take us out there, because the cottage has been undergoing major renovations for the past few summers. And it's beautiful.

This is Newt with his sister's dog, Lily. Isn't Newt cute?

Well, that's my summer so far. And so far it's been fabulous.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Wordless Wednesday - 59

Monday, July 28, 2008

Poetry Train Monday - 59 - How Can I Ache For What I Never Had

I've done a backstory poem for my new character, Scorpius. It helps to get a handle on his inner dialogue.

Scorpius is Chamberlain of the Keep for Lady Elysande. The story takes place in a medieval-flavored slave-owning society.

How Can I Ache For What I Never Had

My bed belongs to my mistress, blanket and all
My keys are to her Keep, safeguarded stone
My ankles drag with phantom shackles
I hear them still, each moment I’m alone

My lineage is suspect, thus my role
My father may have strode before me
As I bowed before my lady’s guests
Wondering every time, could this man be…

My mother may have cried and fought
She may have hoped and schemed
I’ll never know, and never cease from wondering
Am I the man that either of them dreamed?

My tunic is the finest she can buy
My face and form are pleasing, for she smiles
My lips have brushed my lady’s hand, and yet
I long to kiss her foot, to lay in homage on those polished tiles

- Copyright - Julia Smith - July 27, 2008

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Thursday Thirteen - 65 - 13 Reasons to Read The Mistress Diaries by Julianne MacLean

I'm very excited to bring you this book review, as the author is none other than my fabulous cousin, Julianne MacLean.

I met Julianne when I was six, when my family moved from Michigan and rejoined the Nova Scotia branch of the clan. It was the start of a beautiful friendship. Julianne and her brother, and myself and my sister, grew up like four siblings, always over at their house or our house. There's a me that only Julianne knows, and she's a bright spot in my world when I'm often wiping away the tears of loved ones, dusting them off and setting them back on their feet again.

Julianne is the person I can relax and laugh with, admire the same sort of writing muses *wink*, and plunge into fascinating creative discussions with. So I'm thrilled to be able to share her 12th book release with all of you. The Mistress Diaries hits store shelves on July 29th.

1 - The Mistress Diaries is a Harper Collins Avon Books release. Second in the Pembroke Palace series, this story follows the second Sinclair brother forced to choose a bride by a father slowly going mad.

2 - Part of Avon's Romance category, Julianne's story is a Victorian historical focusing on the swirling emotions that hide beneath the polished exterior of the nobility. The love scenes are steamy and really take the reader inside the feelings of the hero and heroine.

3 - Here is the book trailer for The Mistress Diaries, made by Julianne's husband, man of many talents. The trailer is best enjoyed with the sound turned up. And it may not be safe for work. Enjoy!

4 - We meet Cassandra Montrose, Lady Colchester, fresh out of mourning for an unfaithful husband. Far from eager to attach herself to another man, Cassandra dallies with a known seducer, determined to have at least one night of passion before embarking on the rest of her ladylike days.

5 - Lord Vincent Sinclair is a jaded rake of the highest order. Second son of the addled Duke of Pembroke, he has every expectation that his upcoming marriage to Lady Letitia will hardly cause a ripple in his quest to take his pleasure whenever desire strikes. And his appetite for that is legendary.

6 - Vincent was the villain of the first Pembroke Palace book, In My Wildest Fantasies. That book introduced Vincent as an angry, brooding brother to Devon Sinclair, with a major grudge against his elder sibling. Being a great fan of the gray character, I stand in awe of my cousin's ability to turn such a dark character like Vincent into someone I can fall in love with.

7 - Sexual tension flares up immediately for Cassandra and Vincent. As with all of Julianne's couples, each offers an emotional release to the other that simmers along with the sexual arousal. Julianne returns her two lovers to a state of courting, which only heightens the tension level to brow-mopping intensity.

8 - Julianne gives us a fascinating look into the fallen woman character with Cassandra. We relate to her completely at the beginning of the story. As she finds herself thrust into a social role for which she never planned, we see inside the complexities of choice, consequence and self-image. It's a perfect balance to Vincent's journey from his brother Devon's villain to this story's hero.

9 - I really, really love Julianne's way with a hottie hero. Here's our first impression of Vincent (from his book, not Devon's!):

"Lord Vincent Sinclair kicked open the door of the sumptuous London hotel room with staggering brute force and carried Cassandra Montrose, Lady Colchester, over the threshold. He had kissed her senseless in the carriage the entire way there. He grinned and kicked the door shut behind him.

Pulling his white cambric bow tie and unbuttoning the top of his shirt, he smiled with devilish intent. 'I quite assure you, Lady Colchester, I have not yet begun to be a bad influence. My best is yet to come.'

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

" 'You are very appealing when you choose to be, Vincent,' she told him, 'and you are a handsome man. That can be blinding for even the most sensible of women. I hope you will consider that when you become a husband.'

He seemed surprised by her sudden desire to steer him in the direction of his conscience, when clearly neither he, nor she, believed he possessed one.

'Indeed I shall,' he replied nevertheless, 'though I don't recommend getting your hopes up. We both know I will be a dismal failure at matrimony. I'm simply not cut out to be faithful.'

She sighed over the fact that he had not changed, and likely never would. His brow furrowed with displeasure. Or was it annoyance? She wasn't sure what to make of it.

'At least my mother will be close at hand to repair the damage when I live up to your meager expectations.' With that, he stood and walked out.


Immediately after leaving Cassandra's bedside, Vincent entered his own bedchamber and saw his great-grandmother's necklace - the famous Pembroke Sapphire - sitting in an open velvet box on the bed. He stared at the dark blue stone for a moment, saw in his mind a headstone with Cassandra's name on it, then slammed the door so hard, the vase on the dressing table toppled to the floor and smashed to a thousand pieces

11 - Julianne switches POV seamlessly between Cassandra and Vincent, often in the midst of a heightened emotional scene. It only serves to further reveal plot and character, a sure touch from a writer at the top of her game.

12 - There are no secondary characters who serve as set dressing in any of Julianne's books. Even Vincent's ducal-approved fiancee, Lady Letitia is three-dimensional. A character revealed only through letters, memory and conversation is especially haunting.

13 - I leave you with an excerpt. Enjoy!

" A short time later he was trotting up to the palace on his horse. He stopped to look up at the brightly lit drawing room window above. Letitia passed in front of it, unaware of his presence below. She stood for a moment with her back to him, chattering on about something to someone, then walked away.

Devon came to look out the window next and looked down at him with a cool stare, as if he knew where he had been all night and greatly disapproved.

Contempt shuddered through Vincent as he imagined going up there and sitting down with the rest of them. They would ask where he had been. Devon might even call him to the study to have a reproachful word with him about his activities and remind him of his duty to the family. His brother would warn him not to become distracted and tell him to spend more time at the palace.

Devon had already fulfilled his duty by marrying Rebecca. They were all depending on each other to safeguard their inheritances. Vincent watched him raise a brandy glass to his lips and turn from the window when his wife slipped her arm through his and drew him away.

Outside, alone in the dark, Vincent remained seated on a restless horse that could not, for some reason, keep still.

He felt restless himself. He did not want to be here. He wanted to be at the dower house, in those small, cozy rooms, sitting by a fire.

He turned and gazed back in that direction. It would be wrong to return. Cassandra would most certainly be angry with him. It could spoil everything. He should not do it.

But he wanted so badly just to kick in his heels and urge his horse to a gallop - to speed across the moonlit hills and feel the wind in his hair, to leap over this particular hurdle in his life.

He looked up at the full moon and watched the wispy clouds float in front of it, thin and transparent, incapable of dimming its illumination.

He breathed deeply, seeking the calmness and dispassion he required to get through his betrothal to Letitia, his usual detachment, but all he felt was an ache of longing deep inside his chest. It was so relentless and severe, it almost made him double over in pain.

In the end he did what he knew he should not do. He kicked in his heels and galloped off.


Cassandra looked out the window at the full moon overhead and thought wistfully about the many hours she had spent with Vincent over the past few weeks, strolling leisurely to the river, speaking openly about so many things.

She had not expected it to be so pleasant. Not with him - the man whose heart she had believed was made of stone. This strange arrangement of theirs had been going on for quite some time now without a single hitch. Beneath all the courtesy and manners, she had been fighting against a new kind of desire that simply would not die.

Every time Vincent stepped out of his coach, dressed in his elegant black coat and top hat, smiling up at her with those dark, mesmerizing eyes, she melted. She fell to pieces like a lovesick pup that did not know the meaning of restraint.

But she did know the meaning of it, and she understood the consequences of giving in to temptation. She could never endure the heartache of sharing him with another woman. She was simply not built that way. If she loved someone, it would have to be all or nothing. She could not settle for less, and was still not sure Vincent was capable of such a devoted love, for he was broken inside.

Or was she wrong about that? she wondered as she stared out the window at the darkness beyond. She had been wrong about so many other things, and he'd done nothing but surprise her over the past few weeks.

A moment later she was tipping the crystal decanter over a glass. She took a sip and strolled back to the window. It was a beautiful night. She raised the glass to her lips when a nervous fluttering arose in her belly, for she spotted a man. He was sitting under the tree on the bank of the river at the bottom of the hill. The moonlight was reflecting off the water, and he was silhouetted against the sparkling ripples. His horse was tethered to the tree, its long neck bowed down to the grass.

It was Vincent - that much she knew, even though it was impossible to identify anyone from such a distance in the darkness.

What was he doing there? She had heard him leave almost two hours ago. Had he been sitting there all this time, or had he left and returned?

She set her glass down on the table. If she knew what was good for her, she would go back to bed this instant and forget she ever saw him. But that would require her to guzzle the entire contents of what remained in the brandy decanter, enough to knock her out until dawn, because the fact of the matter was - she cared for him. She cared for him a great deal. And somehow she knew that he needed her

- Julianne MacLean - 2008

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Wordless Wednesday - 58

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Poetry Train Monday - 58 - Scorpius Excerpt

Just back from the writers' retreat. Ah!

I went there knowing I wanted to start working on a new idea. I plunged right in with it whenever we did writing exercises. Here is what I came up with. It's the result of four different exercises, which I purposely linked so I could follow my new character for a bit. Thanks to Renee Field and Lilly Cain for the workshops which lead to these scenes.


Agony ricocheted from the cells ahead as Scorpius strode along the stone corridor. The weight of the chains he once wore settled upon his wrists and ankles, slowing his pace.

He stopped. The chill of this place erupted over his skin like a cold sweat. He was Chamberlain of the Keep, now. Nothing prevented future tides from returning him to bondage, mind. But at present, his service to Lady Elysande kept him safe enough.

Resuming his pace, Scorpius kept his gaze straight ahead as he passed the cells with their huddled heaps of rags. He must tell the Master-at-Arms about the sighting on the north ridge. Bad enough a recent skirmish between the royal houses left its wounded bleeding all over the stone floor of the Great Hall.

They didn’t need a great-horned dragon swooping in like carrion looking to dine on mens’ bones. But that was what they had, with travelers expected in a few days for the lady’s Bacchanalian Ball. Gods preserve me, he thought. He dreaded telling her the news more than anything else. Lady Elysande didn’t hold back her displeasure. It stung like acid ants.

Scorpius rounded the corner and came to a curved doorway. He swiped his hand over the sentinel eye and waited to be recognized. In a moment the faint beep sounded and the heavy door slid effortlessly open. Gathering himself, he went in.

Pahlmot looked up from his work, distracted and frowning. “What is it?”

“There’s been a sighting.”

The Master-at-Arms laid down his stylus and leaned forward across the desk. “What sort of sighting? Not more wounded?”

“No. Not that.”

Pahlmot’s hard gaze grew harder. “Speak.”

Scorpius sighed. “A great-horn. They took a capture of it. Cleared the north ridge a few times. Nothing more since this morning.”

The Master-at-Arms’ expression clouded. He turned to the view screen and tapped in a few commands. A grainy image showed the dragon’s outline unmistakably against the pink sunrise. The chill Scorpius felt earlier settled over him once more.

Pahlmot wiped his hand over his eyes in an uncharacteristic gesture of dismay. “It’s too late to call off the lady’s ball. Isn’t it?”

Scorpius nodded.

Rising from his chair, Pahlmot headed for the door, which opened at a wave of his hand. “Inform her ladyship. I shall head the first patrol.”

Scorpius followed before the door could close. “Of course. What exactly am I telling her?”

“I shall take one patrol to the Bermu quadrant, and send another along the Triangle. To return at 00:1.”


Scorpius stepped forward into the lady’s marble chamber. Sunlight filled the room with warmth, the muted oranges and pinks of her draperies and cushions promising a welcome he knew was not for him. She was not here, but her charged presence filled every corner of the chamber.

How different it would be if this room held echoes of smiles instead of what really lurked in the folds and swags around her canopied bed. The open windows with their dazzling views might as well be grated doors thick with locks.

He took a deep breath, which did nothing to calm the swirling in his gut. The tumbling flowers in the vase before him mocked the morning like a slap. Lady Elinor would certainly kill this messenger. Or at least draw blood.

Copyright - Julia Smith - 2008

Friday, July 18, 2008

The Gray Character

Here's a preview of the writing craft session I'm giving at the writers' retreat near White Point Beach tomorrow.

I'm looking at characters who show equal aspects of light and dark elements. They end up being very gray. And not very predictable, which is their biggest draw.

A hero, no matter how complex, is definitely recognizable as a shiny character. When the chips are down, this character will reveal himself as having a solid moral core. He will do what is necessary, do what is right, no matter what it may cost him.

The villain, no matter how sympathetic, will be recognizable as a dark soul. When push comes to shove, this character will stoop to incredible lows to get what he wants. It's all about him, and there's no room for anyone else as he squeezes through his rat hole to escape.

So what happens when a character reveals heroic qualities one moment, and dastardly qualities the next moment? Does he count as a dark hero? How about a tragic villain?

For my workshop, I'm taking a look at one of my favorite characters, Sir Guy of Gisborne from BBC's Robin Hood. Guy is presented to us as a villain. He terrorizes the peasants and acts as the enforcer for the Sheriff of Nottingham.

Is Guy prepared to lay down his life for the woman he loves? Definitely. That's kind of heroic, though, isn't it?

Do we feel for Guy when he's treated miserably by the Sheriff? Yes, we do. Do we normally feel bad for villains? Hmm...

Are we shocked when he taunts his enemy, Robin Hood, even when he's at Robin's mercy? Not really, no. Do we actually admire him for his bravado? To be honest, yes.

Are we surprised at the lengths he'll go to attain power? You'd have to be daft. So is Guy a villain? Or a dark sort of hero?

Isn't it heroic to stop the Sheriff's men from putting boys to death?

Why does Guy put up with so much abuse from the Sheriff? Is he a coward? Is he that desperate for power that he considers the Sheriff's treatment an acceptable price for his ambition? That's not terribly heroic.

Are we impressed by Guy's unshakeable loyalty to the Sheriff, even after everything he's had to endure? Yes. Not to mention confused. Heroes aren't generally confusing. Villains aren't, either. The Sheriff certainly doesn't behave in any other way than we expect him to. Nor does Robin.

Do we forgive Guy his horrible behaviour because he's sexy?


I leave you with some clips from Season 2 of Robin Hood. I'll let you know all about the retreat when I get back. Ciao!