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STEREOTYPES

As I am between novels, I thought it time to resurrect my blog. Going back to my motto of ‘Too much world, too little time (and money)’, I thought I would try my hand at some travel writing, something I have long wanted to do, but never felt that I had any travel anecdotes interesting enough to share. That is, until I decided to plumb the depths of my memory.

I took my first solo trip at the ripe old age of forty something. With no immediate family to lean on or extended family or friends to offer a welcoming bed, it was just me, myself and I in the city of Granada, Spain, ostensibly to do research on my second novel. It was a city with which, I have to admit, I was familiar, one I had visited only the year before during a driving tour of Southern Spain, so perhaps a bit of a cheat. On that occasion, I had travelled with my husband. Our interests had been similar in intent but vastly different in scale.  While his only goal was to relive an experience of sleeping in a modest Alcazar (Moorish castle) in Zafra, Spain, my grandiose sights were set on discovering my next novel amongst the sculpted stuccoed halls and sprawling gardens of Granada’s Alhambra, the most famous of Spain’s Alcazars.

Fast forward a year, and with an ambitious story mapped out in my head, I was busily scribbling notes and taking pictures of not only of the Alhambra complex, but of Granada itself. On the day in question, I had just finished a tour of The Royal Chapel, an elaborate repository for the remains of Spain’s most famous monarchs, Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile, the warrior couple responsible for expunging the Moors from Spanish soil, shuttling in the Inquisition to root out those Moorish and Jewish conversos who secretly clung to their old beliefs, and sponsoring Columbus’ voyages of discovery and annihilation. With my head still reeling from the ostentatious display of Catholicism that is uniquely Spanish – countless images of the Madonna and her Son, elaborately carved marble tombs and painted statuary crowding the gilded high altar – I plunged from shadowed lighting into the bright glare of a mid-afternoon sun, to join the swell of foot traffic wearing a path between the Chapel and the even more splendiferous neighbouring Cathedral.

I had taken only a few steps, when I heard a voice call out and someone stepped into my field of view. One quick look told me all I thought I needed to know. It was a middle-aged gypsy woman and she was trying to get my attention.

Now, my personal experience with gypsies was almost non-existent. On my previous trip, I had missed an opportunity to visit the popular gypsy flamenco evening shows for reasons best not divulged. As such, my only interaction with this marginalized group was at a bar one evening when I gave an aged gypsy woman some small change. Trying to refuse the sprig of rosemary being pressed upon me in exchange, I was told that I had to take the proffered herb, so that no one could accuse the woman of being a beggar.

I had however, heard numerous stories from well meaning friends and acquaintances about thieving gypsies and the need to be on the lookout for gypsy cons and scams. So, my plan, especially as I was traveling on my own, was not to engage anyone I identified as being a gypsy.

In this vein, I refused to make eye contact with the woman, even after she persisted in trying to get my attention and who, from the corner of my eye, seemed to be pointing at my backpack. Walking as fast as I could, eyes straight ahead, I finally rounded a corner and was relived to notice that the woman had given up pursuit. As I continued to walk, I began to replay the scene in my mind. Something about the woman’s insistence to get my attention made me slow my pace. Belatedly, it occurred to me that her expression and her body language was more that of someone trying to tell me something, as opposed to trying to sell me something.

I swung my backpack off my shoulder, one that closed with a drawstring and flap as opposed to a zipper. The sight of my wallet sticking out of a partially opened backpack, sent my mind into a tail spin. I usually tried to stuff my wallet down to the bottom of my pack and could only think that when I paid the entrance fee to the Chapel, I had not taken care to do just that. This then, was what the gypsy woman had been trying to tell me, that my wallet was in danger of falling out of or being plucked from my pack.

In that instant, a mantle of shame and remorse settled heavily upon my shoulders. As a visible minority in both my home and my adopted countries, I had more than a passing acquaintance with the sting, imagined or real, of prejudice. With a heated face and a trembling hand, I pushed my wallet down and properly retied my bag. Then I turned right back around and retraced my steps, hoping to see the woman and offer my thanks. But she had disappeared, swallowed by the flow of tourists, leaving me to think about how she must feel, how her attempt at doing a good deed had been thwarted by my own prejudices.

This encounter inspired me to do some research on the Roma, or Gitano as they are known in Spain, to educate myself about this little known and much maligned race, nowhere more so than between the pages of fiction. And after what I learned, I made a promise that, to atone for my insensitivity that day, I would have a sympathique Roma character in my novel, to try and share what I had learned of these people and their plight. As it turned out, in my second novel, Dreams of the Alhambra, I have no less than three secondary characters who are Roma. And while some of the interactions may seem stereotypical, I have tried to use plot and circumstance to weave their beliefs and history into my story.

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The New Face of Aging

Younger Next Year for Women                              Younger Next Year: A Guide to Living Like 50 Until You're 80 and Beyond

If you want to read one book that can radically change your outlook on life and aging, this book and the original, is it! Very easy to read and entertaining, it starts with the message that the face of aging we see today, with its litany of aches, pains, broken bones, walkers, medication side effects and mental deterioration is NOT the de facto blueprint for aging. It helps put into perspective the fact that modern medicines are increasing longevity but that no one thought to tell us how to live healthy lives into our 70s, 80s and 90s. In fact, the lives we life in the first world are intrinsically unhealthy, the impacts of which we start to see as early as our 40s and which get exacerbated as we age. So it was a refreshing and reassuring revelation to know that we can choose another option, that my mother’s advice ‘not too get old’, is in fact an option that I can choose, if I’m prepared to work at it.

The book’s main message is that we have to keep moving, that motion is what keeps the human body in prime working condition for as long as we keep moving. You stop moving, you begin to decay. That simple. We drive everywhere, many of us sit at desks or on couches for far too much of our lives and we eat to please ourselves as opposed to optimally fueling the machine that is our body. The book also highlights the importance of connectivity with humanity, that this is one of the things that sets mammals apart, the importance of the ‘pack’. It is a message we seem to lose as we age, allowing ourselves to be marginalized, to think that we don’t matter anymore, have nothing left to contribute to society, so we withdraw … to our detriment.

The book’s strength is the science behind it, it being much easier to accept and comply with a recommendation if you understand the reasoning behind the suggestions.  Chris’s enthusiasm for healthy aging is also compelling, especially as he is living proof that you can turn things around at any age and that it’s never too late to start. You just need the motivation and the message that it can be done, that it will make a difference and this book provides just that.

The book is not without its weaknesses, however. Just over half the book, 200 pages focuses on exercise, the next 83 pages are a mishmash of life style and nutrition, with only 42 of those pages specific to nutrition and about 70 pages to end on the importance of maintaining a purpose in life and of connectivity to the pack.  I know the authors are well aware of this imbalance and that it reflects their view point, particularly that of Chris Crowley’s, that exercise is the corner stone of their blueprint to healthy aging. But I would say that all three factors, exercise, nutrition and emotional connectivity, are equally important and to send a message that one is heavily more important than the others is warping the message of healthy aging.  This book can be made a lot stronger by editing out more of the anecdotal pieces and increasing the section on nutrition (not diet, but nutrition!). They also missed out an important link to remaining connected in the last section, that of hearing loss and its correlation to increased isolation from the pack often leading to depression.

Some of the negative critiques of the book are based on Chris’ unfortunate use of language at times and the born again tone of his writing. While I wasn’t a fan myself, the overall message is strong and powerful enough to overcome this.  And Chris does acknowledge his weaknesses (no one is perfect), comparing himself to a Labrador puppy i.e. a young soul. Nothing wrong with that. It takes all types and he has taken the time and effort to disseminate a message of hope that is greatly missing in our society.

All in all, I would, have and will recommend this book to all and sundry, as being a book pertinent to anyone who has reached the crest of the hill at 50 and would like to stay on top the plateau for as long as possible. But I would also recommend it to people in their 40s, as a lot of the rot starts to set in during that decade and habits get harder to change the older we get. We are never too young, OR too old to start living healthier lives.

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EDGE OF REASON

Even though it is too cold outside to be called a Spring day, it is with much warmth in my heart that I can share with you today my very first published work as a writer.

EDGE OF REASON was inspired by the sight of some young bucks jumping off a cliff edge located on a rocky promontory on Salobreña beach on the Costa Troipcal, about a half hour drive south of Granada, Spain.  Salobreña features fleetingly in my second novel, set in Granada, and the short story was a character development exercise to see if I could create a sympathetic antihero.

http://origamijournal.com/macdougall/

http://www.close2thebone.co.uk/wp/?p=3006

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Small Steps

I am happy to announce that I will finally be published! Regrettably, not my novel, not yet, but a short story that I wrote last year, set in a beach side town in southern Spain, where I vacationed a couple of years ago, while researching my second novel. Two journals have expressed interest and as they are located on either side of the Atlantic, the coverage will be great for promoting my name within different literary communities.  Once I have links to the publications, I will provide them. In the mean time, here is a link to my first official publication, a book review on The Blind Man’s Garden by Nadeem Aslam on The Quick Brown Fox blog spot.

http://quick-brown-fox-canada.blogspot.ca/2015/03/the-blind-mans-garden-by-nadeem-aslam.html#links

For anyone within an hour’s drive of the GTA, there is a wealth of information and creative writing activities to be found on Brian Henry’s blog. While writing can be such a solitary endeavor, with days, weeks, months spent sequestered in a private writing space, networking with other writers is crucial to growth as a writer, as I have found over the last year. As they say, misery loves company and who better to commiserate with and learn from then other’s who have spent years mastering their craft before they make their break, those lucky enough to enjoy that sweet taste of success. For a person who knows too well that patience is a virtue she lacks, I have been remarkably steadfast in my desire to taste a mouthwatering slice of success.

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Changing Tack

In case the few followers I have out there have not figured it out yet, I have put blogging on hold to focus on book reviews in Goodreads. I am not sure if these reviews automatically come up as a post in my blog (I suspect not) but they are located on my blog page as a link to Goodreads.  I have finally linked in a local writing community and I have learned a lot, heaps, over the past year about the writing and revision process; have made some new acquaintances in the writing world so that I don’t have to bore my non-writing friends anymore with my thoughts on my books; and am valiantly trying to push forward with that second novel, happy to have learned just in the last few days that the so called ‘sophomore slump’ that I have been experiencing is not unique to me and a common occurrence with all writers. So, I will stop my procrastinating and get on with this thankless career I have chosen for my later years.

Haling all muses …

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SHE’S GOT … PERSONALITY

I recently did ANOTHER major round of edits to ‘Fair is this Land’ but this time I can say with full confidence that I am happy with where the novel is and could now happily publish and put my name to it. During this round, I learned many things but the one that stands out the most, is the importance of getting the personality right. My novel is written in two parts; there is the parents’ story and the daughter’s story. I wrote the daughter’s story first and I struggled. I never connected with Emily and could not figure out why. By the time I got to the parents’ story, the words just flowed and the character’s leapt off the page. I recently did some personality testing with a friend, who suggested that it would be good for my character development  …  and was she ever right!

The study of personality or temperament dates back to Hippocrates and even earlier to ancient Egypt. Twentieth century studies by Jung, Keirsey and Myers-Briggs have identified 16 set personality types which can assist in leadership and career development, team building, even marriage counseling. Personalities tend to be fairly stable through life. For instance, a person who has a responsible, practical, rule driven personality is not the type of person who would jump out of an airplane to go sky diving without a direct order.  And a person who is energetic and has difficulty focusing on one thing for an extended period of time, would not make a successful fly fisher. My friend pointed out that many successful movies and TV shows often have characters that, well, act out of character; given their personality type, they would be highly unlikely to exhibit certain actions and interests. Not surprisingly, harking back to my last blog of ‘Write what you Know’, Emily was my character type, but I had her acting at times in ways that were uncharacteristic for that type. The result was, as my first editor diplomatically put it, a character that was too flighty to be a protagonist and as my second editor commented, a character that she never connected with. The first I took exception to initially, because I thought, well I act like that; the second I empathized with. What I failed to realize, was that Emily was a bit schizo, for in trying to introduce emotion into a personality that can be described as insensitive and intolerant (think Sheldon and Amy of Big Bang Theory here as extremes), I had her crying frequently and explosively. I can’t remember the last time that I cried and it takes emotion on the level of the Way We Were to get the tears flowing, far less crying buckets of tears. So, with new understanding, I tackled Emily’s personality, toning down on the quantity of emotion and focusing instead on the quality. I also had to work on her interaction with her love interest, which was described as cool at best (remember Amy and Sheldon here) but while I had initially resisted attempts to fan the flames to the heat of her parents’ affair (which I had no trouble creating), with my new understanding of personality types, I was better able to match her reactions to the situations I had created for her. All in all, it made for a stronger more rational protagonist and is one of the major changes that has me finally satisfied with my achievement.

If you are interested, the following is a website for a free personality test, which based on my experience with myself, family members and friends, seems to be pretty dead on. Try it for fun and let me know if it provided you with any valuable insights. For the writers out there, think about using it as another tool for your character development.

http://www.16personalities.com/free-personality-test

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A PICTURE IS WORTH A THOUSAND WORDS

 A PICTURE IS WORTH A THOUSAND WORDS

Fair is this Land

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