Friday, June 22, 2012

How Amateur Astronomy Connects to My Writing


Several years ago when I struck up an interest in amateur astronomy, my passion for that soon became mirrored in some of my books.  In the beginning, I took a basic “backyard astronomy” class at a local community college and used my dad’s old binoculars, which weren’t too bad, in terms of their clarity.  (I even identified a few of the closer galaxies in them—a thrill for a beginner!)  Soon my basic education wasn’t enough to satisfy me, and I joined the Rose City Astronomers here in Portland, Oregon.  I purchased“giant” binoculars, specifically intended for stargazing—the kind sold in catalogs for telescopes.  And I chose the binoculars instead of a telescope because I loved the flexibility in being able to sweep the skies, as opposed to staying “stuck” in one part of it.  (The binoculars were very heavy, and eventually I purchased a tripod-type mount for them.) 

I also bought astronomy manuals, star charts, and the red-lighted flashlights for reading the charts.  (White light interferes with one’s night vision.)  After about a year, I earned the Messier Binocular Deep Sky award for having identified 100 deep sky objects.  What a challenge and what a thrill!  For several years, every summer, my husband and I attended their annual Star Party in the high desert of Central Oregon, many miles away from the closest town.  The night skies there, the darkest I’d ever seen, were spectacular, especially the Milky Way with its myriad of glittering star clusters in all sorts of fascinating shapes and forms.  The event, attended by several hundred other astronomy enthusiasts, also gave me the opportunity to schmooze with others who shared my passion. 

Well, I could go on and on, but the point is:  I wanted to share my love for astronomy in my books as well, hopefully give my readers a taste of its glories.  And so in Her Sister’s Keeper, my most recent book with Books We Love, I’ve created a romantic scene that portrays a summer meteor shower.  Herein my heroine Logan R.N. and the sexy pediatrician, Dr. Zack whom she works with, are camped out together on a mountain hillside while they watch this breathtaking show of celestial fireworks.  There, far away from city lights—plus the other campers--they ooh and aah at the trails of light streaking through the dark skies.  They also share kisses every bit as breathtaking.

After Her Sister’s Keeper, I published additional books with astronomy scenes, plus a handful of articles with astronomy-related themes in national magazines.  And I will continue to portray the splendor of the night skies in my writing—a celestial treasure trove, really—whenever the project seems right for that. 

So, if you’re planning on a writing venture in the near future, take stock of your passions and “write what you know”—even better, write what you love.  Your readers will be glad you did—and so will you!

  
Logan Corbett, registered nurse, suddenly becomes the guardian of her 10-year-old sister, Kim. A former prizewinning gymnast, the girl was seriously injured in the same plane accident that killed their parents. Logan admits she's overly protective of Kim, but only wants what she thinks is best for her. Dr. Zachary Dellinger, a pediatrician at the hospital where Logan works, suggests that Kim should attend a summer camp for children with special needs. Logan agrees, but on one condition--that she will volunteer to be the camp nurse so she can keep a close eye on Kim. Under starlit skies and breezy summer days, Logan struggles with her growing attraction to the handsome pediatrician--all the while, battling the urge to hold on too tightly to Kim. Will Logan ever be able to let go enough to allow love into both their lives?

"Her Sister's Keeper is a wonderful story of sisterly love and devotion. Delightfully written characters are a key part of this believable and enticing tale...a highly recommended read for contemporary romance readers..."
-Penny, Fallen Angel Reviews

A wonderful tale of the ability not only of the adult, but definitely for the children to survive life's foibles. You will gain a better understand of overcoming adversities whether you are young or old.
--Rendezvous Magazine

Logan Corbett, registered nurse, suddenly becomes the guardian of her 10-year-old sister, Kim. A former prizewinning gymnast, the girl was seriously injured in the same plane accident that killed their parents. Logan admits she's overly protective of Kim, but only wants what she thinks is best for her. Dr. Zachary Dellinger, a pediatrician at the hospital where Logan works, suggests that Kim should attend a summer camp for children with special needs. Logan agrees, but on one condition--that she will volunteer to be the camp nurse so she can keep a close eye on Kim. Under starlit skies and breezy summer days, Logan struggles with her growing attraction to the handsome pediatrician--all the while, battling the urge to hold on too tightly to Kim. Will Logan ever be able to let go enough to allow love into both their lives?

"Her Sister's Keeper is a wonderful story of sisterly love and devotion. Delightfully written characters are a key part of this believable and enticing tale...a highly recommended read for contemporary romance readers..."
-Penny, Fallen Angel Reviews

A wonderful tale of the ability not only of the adult, but definitely for the children to survive life's foibles. You will gain a better understand of overcoming adversities whether you are young or old.
--Rendezvous Magazine

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Joan Hall Hovey - Art Lessons Granny Taught Me

Art Lessons Granny Taught Me
By Joan Hall Hovey
This essay, in large part was my first published story.  It was published more than 30 years ago in Home Life Magazine.  This updated version was published in Mystery Readers Journal.  I hope you enjoy it. 
The illustration is by Padgett.
***
                She was 71 and lived alone in the cluttered attic of an old, two-story frame building with her easel, her paints, her brushes and sometimes, me. Her name was Lillian May (Watts) Hall.
               
 When neighbors spoke of my grandmother, they said, “A nice woman.” Then frowning and in whispers, the added, “but kinda funny.”  And in the early fifties, to the people who lived in our small, unsophisticated town, there was indeed something ‘kinda funny’ about an old lady who sat alone in her attic room and painted pictures.  At first glance, she was not unlike a million other grandmothers of her time - the same iron-gray hair drawn back in a bun, wire-rimmed glasses, a dark, high-buttoned dress with long sleeves and detachable lace collar, and a cameo brooch clasped modestly at her throat -  but there the similarity ended.  Granny, a tall, angular-boned parcel of nervous energy, was not the average storybook grandmother.
                Every day Granny would lose a prized possession.  It might be a valued brush, a particular tube of paint or a piece of canvas.  And while I stood on the sidelines, she would tear through her private disaster area, sending papers, books, talcum-coated hairpins, an unmated stocking, and her pink garters helter-skelter – all the while looking remarkably like an enraged bird.
                Almost always she would find what she was looking for, but occasionally I would be the one to spy the object of her frenzied search.  “Here it is, Granny,” I’d say, proud of my Sherlock Holmes tendencies.  She would smile sheepishly, relief flooding her face. 
                “Now, wasn’t that foolish of me to get so upset,” she would apologize.  “I’m just a silly old woman, dear.  Don’t pay me any mind.”  Then, calm and serene once more, she would begin the gentle strokes of her brush on the canvas.
                I often stood at the small, rickety table beside her, a piece of Bristol board and a brush in front of me.  I was even permitted to use the valued paints (which she could barely afford for her own work) so that I could play artist.
                After hours of painstaking work, Granny would set her brush to rest, stand back with a critical eye, and appraise the completed painting.  When it had dried sufficiently, and she was satisfied that it was of some worth, she would don her coat and hat and with the painting under one arm, off the two of us would go, door to door, in an effort to sell it.
                She walked with a brisk, sure step, and many times I found myself breaking into a run to keep up with her.  But we never had to walk far before making a sale.  Although neighbors found her way of life strange, they liked and bought what she painted.  It was hard times, and the return for her efforts was meager, yet sufficient to pay the rent on the attic, buy a few groceries at the corner store, and keep the coal bucket filled during the long winter months.
                I had a friend whose grandmother spun for her many fascinating tales of her girlhood.  But even there, Granny fell short.  In fact our roles were quite reversed.  It was I who spun the tales for her.  One story still causes me to cringe when I remember it.  It was during summer vacation and I had just returned from a day at the beach. 
                “Granny! Granny!” I shouted excitedly as I flung open the door.  “A man fell off the diving board at the lake today and I jumped into save him.  He almost pulled me under with him, but I punched him on  the jaw and knocked him out, and then I swam back to shore with him under one arm.  Everybody on the beach cheered,” I finished breathlessly.
                “Oh, my dear child,” Granny said with concern.  “You certainly did have a busy day, didn’t you?”  Then abruptly the concerned expression changed to amusement and she broke into a gale of laughter.  Rocking back and forth in her wicker chair, she laughed and laughed, absolutely delighted, but not for a moment fooled.  Every few seconds she would remove her glasses and wipe the tears from her eyes. By this time I was writhing inwardly and trying in vain to twist my story into something more plausible, but it was no use.  I was caught in the web of my lie. (Lesson 1. If you want your reader to suspend disbelief, you must make sense.)  I suspected she knew even then that I had the makings of a storyteller.  And I’m absolutely certain she knows now.
                Granny has not been with me for a good many years, and indeed I am a grandma now myself.  In fact, a great-grandma.  The year I turned fifteen, I was working as a housemaid when the telephone call came telling me that Granny had been rushed to the hospital in an ambulance.
                The hallway was in flames, making escape impossible.  Granny had climbed out of the dormer window and crouched on the ledge below it.  A passerby heard her cries for help and called up to her to stay there until he returned with a ladder.  Then the man fled to put in a call to the fire department.  Whether the heat from the flames became unbearable or whether Granny simply panicked, I’ll never know.  But she didn’t wait for the man to return with the ladder.  Instead, she jumped from the ledge  and fell in a crumpled heap to the ground below.  Her back was broken.  In two months she was gone.  I stumbled around, lost, for a long time.  I felt betrayed by God.  And then I grew up.  After a fashion.  But the child in us never goes far.
~*~
                In my third suspense novel (I have written five, the last The Abduction of Mary Rose) Chill Waters, my heroine deals with loss and betrayal on several levels.  Following the breakup of her marriage, after learning of her husband’s infidelity, Rachael Warren retreats to the old beach house in Jenny’s Cove, where as a young girl she lived with her grandmother.  It is the one place where she had always felt safe and loved.  But she is about to learn that ‘a safe place’ is mostly an illusion.  And that evil can find us no matter where we go.
                Jenny’s Cove is located in St. Clair, a fictional St. Andrews, a small town in New Brunswick, Canada.  St. Andrews lies on the Passamoquoddy Bay, and is close to the American border.  A place of charm and beauty, St. Andrews/St. Clair is a magnet for tourists and artists alike.  The beach house in Jenny’s Cove, however, is isolated.  Waves crashing against the rocks, and the sudden summer storms that visit Jenny’s Cove add to that sense of isolation. As a child, Rachael had found the violence of the storms and the sound of the sea comforting.  As a woman stalked and terrorized, that will change.
                I like the blending of light and dark in a novel.  Using shadowing to enhance dramatic effect, as in a painting.
 
               I also enjoy writing about women who struggle against great odds and triumph, as did my grandmother.  But, as in life, it’s never easy.  In books, it must be even harder, damn near impossible.  And in the suspense novel, there are always unseen dangers.
                My own life provides fodder for my imagination.  But it is my grandmother who taught me the art of concentration.  When she was painting, the house could have fallen down around her and she would have paid it little attention.  You knew not to talk to her then.  Only the brushes, canvas and the work at hand held any reality for her.  All else faded into the background.  Her focus was that of a child’s in the midst of intense ‘play.’  (If you have ever watched a child at play, and we all have, you know there is no one quite so serious.)  and she never stopped learning.  It was not about fame or fortune for her, as it is not for her granddaughter – but about the work, and the pursuit of excellence.  In her seventies, she was still taking art lessons when she could afford the few coins, from a Mrs. Holt on Elliott Row, a respected art teacher in Saint John, New Brunswick.   Sometimes she took me with her and I’d wait in the foyer.  There were always books to read.
                As Mrs. Holt’s lessons were important to my grandmother, my grandmother’s were crucial to me. 
                To quote author Willa Cather, “Most of the basic material a writer works with is acquired before the age of fifteen.”               
                I believe that’s true.  


---------------------

Chill Waters

Bloody Dagger Award Winner


WHAT IF EVIL VISITED THE ONE PLACE WHERE YOU FEEL THE MOST SAFE?


Following the breakup of her marriage, Rachael retreats to the old beachhouse in Jenny's Cove, where she once lived with her grandmother. It is the one place where she had always felt safe and loved. Devasted and lost, Rachael longs for the simplicity of her childhood. 
But Jenny’s Cove has changed. From the moment of Rachael’s arrival, a man watches. He has already killed, and mercilessly will do so again. Soon Rachael becomes a target for a vicious predator whose own dark and twisted past forms a deadly bond between them.
And sets her on a collision course with a crazed killer.


". . .you will find yourself with cold fearful chills running up and down your spine as you race to get to the ending."  ~ Kathy Thomason, Murder & Mayhem

"Chill Waters is a sure bet for those who like suspense thrillers with a hint of romance. It is easy and fun to read. Ms. Hovey creates a warm, cozy setting that seems to keep danger at bay. But just as you get comfortable, terror finds its way in. She weaves the tale tighter and tighter until you are neck deep in Chill Waters." ~ S. Loper-Herzog, MysteryRadio.net  




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