For a writer there are many exciting days but none is quite so appealing as the day she gets to see her final cover. Late yesterday, I got to see mine. Weeks of work by my cover designer, Sharon Clare at Clarity Book Cover Designs, culminated in me opening her e-mail to take a look at the latest rendition.
I was thrilled!
Sharon caught the essence of the story in the old schoolhouse and the ten-year-old girl wearing a Mom-sewed dress. Piano keys and floating notes suggest that music was and is such a foundation in my life. The straight pen takes us back to first learning to write with pen and ink at a time when ballpoint pens were shunned and every wooden desk had a round slot for a glass inkwell, perfect for dipping the pen.
And that’s me in the braids. I had them until I was eleven. That girl has a lot of stories to tell of growing up with nine brothers and three sisters on a dairy farm at a time when the world was expanding as it recovered from World War II. The fifties and sixties seemed to bridge the time of children ‘being seen and not heard’ and the awakening of our world, bigger and better than ever before.
As our world tries to cope with all the changes forced on us by the pandemic, many of us have noticed how companies are handling customer service. I’ve learned to say now it’s customer disservice after spending 5 hours on the phone with a huge company trying to sort out my author account. Having been linked to several different people, all of whom made me prove yet again who I was, and none of whom could help me, and for each of whom I was put on hold, I was passed to a soft-spoken man. Yet again, he asked for all my details which by now I could recite in my sleep.
I started to yell. At the top of my voice. And it’s a singing/speaking voice so I can be loud.
He waited for me to pause and then said, “Elaine, I am fixing the problem right now.”
And he did.
My takeaway from that? Yell right off the bat and you won’t have to wait for 5 hours to get the problem solved.
My husband is a funny guy. His reaction to all of this was to make up one of his famous lists. I’ve included it here for you. Grab your favourite comfort drink and read on.
Your Call is Important to Us …
12 best messages for companies who are backlogged with support calls
to use when customers call in for help.
1. “Your call is important to us, leave a message at the tone and we will get back to you within 5 business days. We promise!”
2. “Your call is important to us; leave your name, number and complaint details and our customer service team will have a good laugh.”
3. “Your call is important to us, we’ll just put you on hold while we help the first 100 people in our queue.”
4. “Your call is important to us, but our helpful service person has an appointment with her psychiatrist today and is not available.”
5. “Your call is important to us, but surely you can solve your own problem if you just work a little harder.”
6. “Your call is important to us, press “1” for a downloadable free copy of our 500-page Service Manual.”
7. “Your call is important to us, press “2” to renew your service contract for another 5 years and then we will be glad to help you.”
8. “Your call is important to us, send an email to us with your complaint details. “email@example.com.”
9. “Your call is important to us, please call back later and in the meantime we will try to find a real person who might be truly anxious to really assist you.”
10. “Your call is important to us. Whoa!! Can’t you take a joke? 11. “Your call is important to us, but not as important as our bottom line.
12. “Your call is important to us. OK, not us! But probably to someone out there.
Click on the image below for print, audio, Kindle e-book formats.
One of the best things about Netflix is the way it remembers what I like and gives me more of the same. Over the past year or so my husband and I have watched more television than usual and Netflix has had a good chance to see exactly the types of shows to which we gravitate. Here are some of the series we’ve enjoyed.
Our most recent find was Challenger: The Final Flight, the story of NASA’s disastrous first attempt to include civilians in the space program. Teacher Christa McAuliffe attracted a lot of media attention. The world followed her progress and NASA experienced a renewed media interest in the space program. Perhaps that accounts for the decision to go in spite of technical problems. The four episodes kept us glued to the TV and we learned a lot of new information. Excellent.
A few weeks ago we found Greatest Events of World War II in Colour. This series of ten episodes surprised us with original footage, excellently coloured so that it seemed to have been taken last week, and many, many facts about which we were ignorant. There is another similar title on Netflix which we have not watched yet so be careful to get the correct title.
The Royal House of Windsor gave a balanced and insightful picture of the Windsors and–of particular interest at the time of HRH Prince Philip’s death–of his contributions to the British monarchy. The six shows of season one begin the series. The first one shows the horrific reason for changing the royal family’s last name from Saxe-Coborg Gotha to Windsor and the series goes through to Prince Charles’ preparations to become King. Interesting and fact-filled.
Of course my particular interest as a reader and writer is historical fiction. This gives me a chance to experience the facts of history but also the fictional accounts of individual people who may have lived. Diana Gabaldon’s books about Scotland and Jamie Fraser in the 1700’s are legendary, so much so that they have been turned into an excellent series. Outlander is also on Netflix and I quite enjoyed seeing the series brought to the screen. My preference is always to read the books first, though. Isn’t yours?
A few years ago my wonderful brother-in-law got me started on Bernard Cornwell’s Uhtred of Bebbanburg series about the Vikings attacking the Saxons in the north of England and the boy who was taken back to grow up with Saxon heritage but Viking ways. It really taught me a lot about English history and I still look to see what Cornwell’s latest book is. The Last Kingdom is fabulous. Oh, I must check and see if there are any more shows on Netflix!
Every one of these shows will keep you thinking, whether you prefer fiction or real events. Please share your own favourites in the comments, whether they be books, movies or TV series.
Usually I keep my newsletters in a certain tone as I want my readers to get a specific product from me, one that they can count on. In that way I build my list and give people what they want; indeed, what they expect.
Yesterday, I varied my plan.
It was my last newsletter before this huge season of celebration. I thought my readers might like to hear from my heart rather than from my business, albeit a business I love.
I hardly mentioned my writing. Instead I talked about this past year’s highs and lows. Especially about a personal goal reached, one that no one really knew about. No, it’s not that my 5th book was published!
And people reacted!
People who had never responded to my newsletter wrote sweet notes full of warmth. I thought, just this one time, I would share parts of that newsletter with the wider world of my writing blog audience. (If you want to receive my newsletter twice a month, sign up in the left column box.)
Winter Wonderland and Singing Siblings
It’s the time of all sorts of celebrations and I wish each and every one of you great joy as you celebrate in your own special way. My husband and I decorated early this year to help keep our spirits from sinking into COVID crappy thoughts and it has worked very well. We’ve been turning the lights on all day every day to create our own bit of joy. A couple of weeks ago we had a Sunday where lovely snow fell all day and at night we took a walk in our neighbourhood. The houses above and below were just gorgeous!
I’ve tried to sing and play the piano much more these days and I find those pleasures remind me of happier times when we got together with my huge family–I grew up with 9 brothers and 3 sisters–and ours was a home filled with music. Singsongs were wonderful, especially as my brothers grew older and took all those male parts. One year in our singalong, my sister playing piano, we sang Hallelujah Chorus. Most of us knew it by heart. I remember the deep bass of my brother, Roger, the stirring soprano of my sister, Linda, (I joined her) and my sister Donna’s rich alto, along with the sweetest tenor voice I ever heard coming from my brother, Keith. By that time my mother had passed but I know she would have revelled in that performance.
My Highlight of 2020
This has been such a year for ups and downs. It’s the toughest one I can ever remember for so many reasons but it has also had many highs for us. We are so fortunate to be at a time in our lives when we are not worrying about losing our own livelihood, but watching friends and family, indeed, the world struggle to live in these new times has been tough. I found I had to get a short bit of news in the morning, maybe a story or two at noon and virtually go incommunicado for the rest of the day. It was and is the only way I could and can survive.
And I had to find new ways to still my creative mind. I wrote a new book, I tried to sort out my email woes (ongoing, still), I pulled out my songbooks and starting playing and singing again, I planned back porch safely distanced visits, I thought about flying to visit my daughter and her family at Christmas (it never happened), I wrote a short essay for inclusion in a London author’s anthology (it’s launching soon), I walked with my husband and walked and walked, we laughed and we cried as friends’ life events came along, and I joined my sister, Donna Garner’s alley jam (YouTube video) one Friday night in August. No, I’m not in the video as they did that after I had been.
Many people know that I have been a lifelong singer, member of many choirs, sometime choir director, music director and lover of singing forever. What people don’t know is that I have written many songs over the years, about 20 or so, and they have helped me sing out my life’s paths, good and bad. Music has been my shelter in almost every storm.
So this summer my husband and I already had a short errand in Guelph and decided we could safely go on to one of Donna’s alley jams. She did allow us to use her Covid-sanitized bathroom–thank goodness–and we bought takeout supper on the way to her house in Toronto. It was a lovely evening and as the sun sank the musicians began to gather. Ron and I took a seat at the back to watch and listen. We sat in our lawn chairs for the show, me clutching my music and getting a sense of the group around us.
Donna’s contacts are many and multi-faceted. (Donna’s website) Guitars, keyboards, violins, cellos, a bass viol, and a few other instruments took part. To hear them was thrilling. After about an hour Donna introduced me and I stepped up to the front. Unlike all of those other people, I don’t play any instruments except some pretty crappy piano. Donna was on keyboard. I had copies enough of the music for everyone. We started.
“I Can Hear My Mom Singin'” is my own composition and the song I chose to sing and I felt Mom was there watching two of her daughters perform the way she taught us to all our lives. I don’t sing as well as I used to but it didn’t matter. I did my best. The musicians seemed to love my song and a lovely round of applause accompanied me back to my seat.
I had always yearned to sing on a professional stage, wondered what it would be like, but never got beyond my amateur status. This night, at 74 years of age, I sang with pros. What was it like? It was fabulous!
So that picture above with the sunny cloud shows you what I felt like. It was the highlight of the year for me.
Find Elaine’s books on Amazon and in other fine stores in print, ebook and audiobook formats.
The Loyalist’s Wife
The Loyalist’s Luck
The Loyalist Legacy
The Loyalist’s Daughter
The Man Behind the Marathons: How Ron Calhoun Helped Terry Fox and Other Heroes Make Millions for Charity
So there I was, all prettied up and wearing my best smile, and starting my book launch on the Facebook platform. I welcomed everyone. I told them how the 45 minutes would go. I was excited.
Whoa! Little messages started popping up in the other Facebook window I had open. Fast and furious. Why was everyone bothering me?
I took a look.
People couldn’t get in with the link Facebook had given me to send to them. Grrr. I started searching for the problem. No luck. Texted my techie daughter. She had no ideas. Wonderful screen shots came in to me with the message people were getting. Double grrr for the mess I was in.
I had to shut it all down and answer the messages to let people know there was a problem. I felt so frustrated because I am the person who always tests out the equipment before the event. I make sure everything is working.
This morning I worked out a different way to reach my people. I did my short presentation on my Flip Camera. Checked it and saw that the whole file (14 min) had my head cut off. I did another version. Uploaded it to my computer. Found out that the Flip camera I have is old tech now and my desktop Mac won’t support the 32-bit old technology. I decided to do the video a third time.
I used my lovely late model iPhone. Surely it would work. Uploaded the file to my computer and started the upload to YouTube. Of course they have changed the platform so I had to figure out how to upload again. Grrr. As I write now, it has been ‘uploading’ for about 20 minutes and has about 3% done. At this rate, I’ll have it for Christmas. Maybe.
Here’s the Whole Cover
You can order your print copy from Amazon at a reduced price up to and including Tuesday, Dec. 8. You can also pre-order an ebook copy there and it will be sent out Dec. 15. OR You can order your print copy from me for porch pickup on Dec. 15 from 1-4 pm EST. Use the contact form to reach me for my address if you don’t know it.
If you buy it from me the price is $18 Canadian. And I will autograph it for you. Your choice.
I hope I’ve made all of this clear and that you get your copies. It does make a great Christmas gift. Thank you to all of my wonderful supporters through all of this.
Here is my existing trilogy with its matching covers.
I hardly know where to start. Tuesday night I spoke at the awesome Beachville Historical Society about the book above. Featured prominently on the cover is Ron Calhoun because he volunteered his whole life to help others. He was The Man Behind the Marathons.
Most famous of the 5 walks/runs across Canada where he made his mark behind the scenes is, of course, Terry Fox’s Marathon of Hope. Ron was the man who came up with that winning title. Jesse’s Journey with John Davidson and his son, Jesse, was very popular in and around London where their two Journeys across Ontario and Canada helped raise money to fight Duchenne muscular dystrophy. Ron lent his considerable talents to both the first and the second of those Journeys. The book also tells about Ken McColm and Steve Fonyo. Imagine a blind man with diabetes and another one-legged youth walking across this vast country, again to raise money to help others.
In the banner above is also a picture of me presenting Ron with his very own copy of the finished book. We did that in his apartment in Byron (London) Ontario with Ron Cougler taking the photo. I’m not sure which of us, Ron Calhoun or me, was happiest that day. It was a few days before the first launch in London on June 24th, Ron’s 86th birthday. That was the best gift I ever gave anyone! And look closely to see Ron’s framed print of Cliff Kearns’ rendering of Terry Fox. Cliff gave me permissions to use that image on the cover of the book. Such a warm and thoughtful person.
The book was the culmination of 2 years of work on my part and innumerable interviews and meetings between Ron and me. He was a joy to work with, always a gentleman, never wanting to denigrate anyone (even when they definitely deserved it!), and sharing the many boxes of documents, mementos and photos he had collected over the many years of volunteering all across the world.
Last Friday we got the call in the wee small hours of February 7th that Ron Calhoun had passed away.
Since then I’ve mostly carried on with my life even though a very great friend is no longer in it. I told the people I needed to tell, I wrote a Facebook entry and I wondered how I should change my talk on the coming Tuesday. For I’ve become the person who wrote a book about someone who is gone. It’s a strange responsibility but I take comfort in the fact that I worked very closely with Ron about my ideas for the structure of the book. He gave me input all along the way and thanked me numerous times for the two years work I did. That was just Ron. He always made you feel that your contribution was fantastic. [Watch for audio and video recordings that I did with Ron.]
When I asked Ron what he most wanted out of life, he told me he wanted to leave the world a better place. Well, that he did. Tributes have been pouring in to the special FB page his daughter, Lori, set up, each one a testament to Ron’s caring and giving nature. A list of many of his accomplishments I had to include at the back of the book even though creative non-fiction doesn’t usually have that.
Ron’s funeral is next Monday. A good part of my family and Ron’s huge extended family–actual relatives or not–will definitely be there to send off this hero in fine style.
When I was teaching high school French many years ago, I found a wonderful Christmas story in what we called our French Authors book for grade 11 students. That book contained many stories in French to give students the experience of reading great works by famous authors in the language they were studying.
The Gift of the Magi was that wonderful story and I had never heard it before. I was as mesmerized as my students as we worked our way through O. Henry’s tale, said to have been written when he was up against a newspaper deadline. Apparently the story took about 2 1/2 hours to create.
One of the things about studying history and especially our rather close history is that survivors and children of survivors of WWII are writing their stories. In this world of computers and easy access to publication the job of preserving those stories is much easier.
Born just after that war I well remember that what I heard, as I was growing up, about the war and about the Germans and the Japanese was more in the nature of Klinck in Hogan’s Heroes or the ‘evil’ Japanese who bombed Pearl Harbor and their absolute readiness to commit hari kari in service to their Emperor. TV shows did their best to perpetrate these images on all of us.
Lisa M. Hutchison has done a superb job of showing the other side of the war. This excellent book had me from the very beginning as Hutchison told her story. She describes the bombings of Berlin, of her family’s home absolutely destroyed, of the Luftwaffe pilot father’s absolute abhorrence of Hitler and of what the war (1939-1945) meant for millions of Germans who were caught up in the same suffering as those in the West, and through no fault of their own.
I learned a lot about the food shortages, the absolute lack of housing as whole streets and cities were demolished, the kindness of many who shared what little they had and the evil doings of some who caused the family to ultimately be housed like starving pigs in a barn. They had no heat, no help and no hope.
In the story, the pilot father does all he can to save his family but he no sooner solves one problem than he is rushed back to the Luftwaffe because pilots are dying every day and he is so needed.
This is an important work for readers everywhere but especially for those in the West. Well done, Ms. Hutchison!
Iron Annie and A Long Journey — from Goodreads
When Charlotte met Albert, the handsome Lufthansa pilot, she was sure their lives together would be nothing but bliss and happiness. Little did she know what was in store for her and her family.
It was the 1930s and the clouds of war were gathering all around them. Albert, by now a Major in the Luftwaffe had been deployed to Hitler’s private fleet of planes.
When WWII broke out Charlotte and Albert’s world fell apart. They would endure long separations, the losses of children, their home and eventually their country.
This is a family story of epic proportions, a thrilling page turner with incredible twists and turns of fate and destinies; heartbreaking as well as hilariously funny at times.
Will Albert and Charlotte survive? Will their love for each other be strong enough?
And who is Iron Annie? Be surprised, it is not who you think.
Immerse yourself in a true story of an ordinary German family caught up in the horrors of war.
For More Stories of People Making a Difference, Click on Images
Fulfilling my dreams of becoming an author has made me notice Remembrance Day so much more keenly than ever before. I still remember marching in my cadet uniform, lining up in rows of black and white costumed girls followed by our khaki male classmates as we filled the halls facing our cenataph in the front hall of our large school. We listened to the Last Post, heard John McCrae’s In Flanders Fields, stood still for the minister’s message, and listened as our principal, Mr. Ferguson, talked of his paper boy who never came back from the war.
While I stood in the deathly silent halls at Woodstock Collegiate I thought of my Uncle Frank, my mother’s brother, who joined the Perth regiment but never came home from the war. I knew he was buried in Italy where a German bomb had hit his foxhole.
I remember thinking of Uncle Frank–who died before I was born–and I still feel the tears that slipped down my cheeks as I moved inside my young mind and imagined his life with his wife and baby daughter–cut off right as it was beginning–and the utter waste of it all.
Two of my Dad’s brothers also served but they came back and, at that time, I thought they were none the worse for it. I didn’t associate them with the horrors of World War II. Now I recognize the signs that both of them suffered PTSD although it was not named then.
My Dad never went to war. He served his country by milking Holsteins, raising crops and feeding Canada. He even worked in a munitions machine shop for one winter but decided he could do more by growing food at home. I wonder today if he was ostracized by people because he was not serving overseas but he never spoke of it. Another of the questions I’d like to ask him if he were here.
A talented friend of mine, musician and recording artist Jack London, was invited to go to Vimy Ridge in 2017 for the famous battle’s 100th anniversary. He performed a number of songs including his own composition Highway of Heroes at the celebrations in France. This song is inspired by the strip of highway 401 from CFB Trenton where planes brought in fallen soldiers from the war in Afghanistan and along which those fallen soldiers traveled to Toronto before being released to families for burial.
On November 11th I was once again pleased to see the ceremony in Ottawa, our nation’s capital. I was delighted that not only the men who served in 1939-1945 but also the women and the First Nations peoples and the black people and those of all colours, races and backgrounds–all who served were recognized and represented. Canada is working on righting those old wrongs.
And so I return to my writing life and how it has made me notice more. I watch people’s faces. I listen to their unspoken words and I search behind their smiles and their frowns for the underpainting of their lives. We are all the products of what has gone before. For this Remembrance Day and for always, I hope that our memories can help shape our present and our future.
For Stories of More People Making a Difference, Click on Images