My Review of Tell It Like It Is by Stanalei Fletcher






Hired as bodyguard for a feisty elderly writer, Shelby goes up against her client’s nephew, one Special Agent Nelson Kane. Shot when the FBI worked another case with Shelby’s employer, Northstar Security, Kane is prejudiced against her, until he sees she’s a consummate professional. Shelby is not only willing to die to protect his beloved aunt, but she also cares for Rosalee, as well.
The chemistry between Shelby and Kane is immediate, building from a bubbling froth to a potential combustion. Each is skeptical of a long term relationship working, but neither can walk away.
Fletcher builds tension by moving the reader from one attempt on Rosalee’s life to the next, as well as intriguing us with the growing connection between her two protagonists. The story includes characters introduced in earlier books in the Northstar series, increasing my interest in reading the others. The author has a flare for writing unique metaphors that grabbed my attention, such as “…his own love life was much the same. Catch and release.” The naturally flowing dialogue makes it a fast, easy, straight-through-to-the-end read. You can have an entertaining time with this book.

No clichés here. Check out Tell It Like It Is, book 5 in Stanalei Fletcher’s Northstar Security series.

My Review of Broken Trust by C.B. Clark







Coming out of an abusive marriage, Natasha Hartford, illustrator, has little reason to trust anyone, especially Detective Chase Brandon, who considers her a suspect in a murder. Caught up in a situation caused by her ex-husband, Natasha works with Chase as the body count rises. While he insists on guarding her, and she insists on helping him, the feelings between them grow. Hartford does a good job of showing me the building attraction, despite the distrust that continues between the two protagonists. The author inscribes detailed scenes that impress like hieroglyphics—no doubt because of her work as an archeologist. She has a gift for getting inside her protagonists heads. The continual fast pace of the plot satisfied my need for action and intrigue.

From Daring Heights – Writing a Series






I didn’t start out with the ambition of writing a series. I thought I could handle a trilogy with confidence, framed the concept around three brilliant men who meet at Harvard and built on it. I embraced Climbing High, the first book, with enthusiasm, the second, High Ground, with trepidation and the third, High Seas, with love. When the senior editor for my line suggested I had the material for a series and should proceed with one, I leapt on the idea. I did not want to let go of characters I had created, and come to know. They had much more to teach me through their philosophies, actions and feelings. It was a delight to move into book four.

In a recent interview with the “Prairie Post” I was asked, which was my favourite and least favourite book of the series. Reaching High, book four, RG Gribb’s story was easily my favourite. Here I unfold the secret connection between Jake Inglis and RG, to which I allude in the first three books. I left the reader wondering, what had brought the two men together, and resulted in RG giving Jake his intense loyalty and trust. RG, who had no expectations of finding love, moved into his forties dedicated to protecting Jake and his family and expecting nothing more for himself. Suddenly he has it all – a thriving business, a demanding job, and a woman he adores, who wants him, too. Their story flowed onto the page, because it was so integral to my hopes of what I felt this good man and wounded warrior deserved. I also focused on the epidemic of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder among military personnel, a subject close to my heart.

My least favourite – well, that wasn’t because of the fascinating characters Joshua and Cat – but because of a technical mistake I made in plotting. Josh is an IT genius, who writes security software for government agencies around the world. There, already you have a brain full. Imagine reading the better part of an opening chapter that deals with technical terms, computer geek thinking and Zen philosophy. It was a ponderous start, and in hind sight I wished I’d chosen a better place to begin the story. However, it does pick up momentum and races to a fast action finish with lots of suspense. In fact, I garnered my best reviews on High Ground.

Book five, High Risk, felt like a play date in the park, fast, furious and fun. I revelled in the process of creating two diverse lives and weaving them together into an unbreakable strand, while exploring more of the fascinating history and geography of Hong Kong.

Writing book six was truly a pleasure, as I chose to weave in personal history from my husband’s side of the family. I was intensely invested in my two protagonists. Though Anna was new to this book, Anton had been introduced in book four and his enigmatic persona challenged me to dig deeper. As I forced my way beneath his complex layers of pain, patience and protection, I found my perfect male. I also enjoyed exploring the older woman, younger man relationship that gave Anna so much inner conflict.

Writing the series went smoothly, the editing not so much. By the time I finished, my publisher had assigned three different editors, each with their idiosyncrasies around word usage and punctuation – not my strong suit, especially when it is so subjective these days. I was writing and publishing two books a year, the goal I’d set, but book six stopped my momentum dead. The writing was on target and time, but getting it edited was a long drawn out process of one delay after another. A year and a half after submission Sky High will finally be launched worldwide. A goal met, a series concluded, with mega learning along the way.

You can purchase print books at amazon.com or The Wild Rose Press or download a digital book on any e-reader.

 

Retreat Into Writing






Six of our Prairie Quills members ventured afield for a writing retreat this weekend. On a sun gilded afternoon we travelled across wide stretches of flat prairie settled by French, Flemish and Belgian immigrants to Gravelbourg, where we stopped and stayed at Bishop’s Residence. The facility is set-up for individual and group dynamics and conducive to writers finding the peace and solitude they seek.

Gravelbourg, a beautiful town, well maintained and proud of its heritage is a must see to any Saskatchewan tourist. Delightful shops, beautiful buildings and snippets of French history are waiting around each corner.

One of many beautiful paintings done by Father Mayllard on linoleum in the 1930’s

A Saturday late morning tour of the Cathedral paintings and the convent great hall and paintings served as inspiration and triggered a greater thrust of creativity in the afternoon. Of course, we didn’t exclude a trip to Café Paris for a delicious lunch. Some members found strolling through town (population 1100), and taking in the beautiful architecture of clay brick buildings built in the 1930’s, served them well.

Saturday evening Peggy Worrell led the group in a mini workshop on 8 Ways to Make Your Characters Come to Life. Members applied the exercise to one of their works in progress, and all felt the process improved their piece and moved it forward. I re-worked a story I’d written about a fellow in the French Foreign Legion who makes some bad choices that affect the remainder of his life. During the exercise, I realized I had an abrupt transition between the climax and the conclusion, and was able to add material that spoke to the second protagonists motivation, and thus improve the piece.

I find it fascinating to read pieces I wrote years ago. I sometimes question if I even wrote it, or what motivated me to write it. Sometimes I am astonished by the excellence of the piece, and assume a higher power was working through me, for I can’t perceive formulating such thoughts on my own.

Workshop: 8 Ways to Make Your Characters Come to Life

Querying those who took part I learned Peggy enjoyed the camaraderie with other writers, while Irene Bingham liked the peaceful atmosphere with no interruptions from telephones or TV. Dianne Miller said the discussions on writing motivated her and noted the vivacious synergy created by the group. Newly appointed President, Tina Letwiniuk appreciated the atmosphere of Bishop’s House, and felt it allowed for, and stimulated creativity and our growth as a writing group. I most enjoyed the sharing times when writing formed the basis for dynamic discussion on writing styles, routines, rules and brainstorming.

Cozy breakfast gathering at Bishops’s Residence

Cozy breakfasts in the bright dining room provided a relaxed forum for sharing of writing techniques and new learning. We financed the majority of our retreat with a writing grant awarded to the group by SWG. Those who attended feel we received maximum benefit from the monies designated to help writing groups develop their writing skills

My conclusion to our storybook retreat – don’t check this experience off your list. There are as many things left to discover as we unearthed this time around. It is an ideal location for writers who long for the physical, mental and spiritual space to write.

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A Place of Beauty – Bow Island to Medicine Hat






My first interest in this stretch of water came from reading several blogs. The photos promised some glorious scenery, unlike the usual rolling hills and cut banks I see along my piece of the South Saskatchewan River. I took a year to ponder, then, with two friends eager to go along I started on a kayak trip which far exceeded my expectations.

Day One we met in Medicine Hat on July 21. The 6:00 a.m. start allowed us to load the third kayak and equipment into our truck. It came with my paddling buddies from Calgary, while I transported two kayaks. We made the forty-five kilometre drive from Medicine Hat to Hwy 879, a few km north of Bow Island. I had been told there was easy access on either side of the bridge that crossed the river there. This was incorrect. On the north side there was a padlocked gate on one side of the highway and a deep ditch on the other, preventing access. On the south side we could get in only by opening a ranchers gate, marked no trespassing (it wasn’t locked) and taking a curving trail to the river. Prepping kayaks usually takes about thirty minutes. In this case we had a two hour wait, while my husband, Den, who’d volunteered to ferry us, drove back to retrieve a forgotten tent. It was 9:20 when we lifted our paddles in a goodbye wave and launched ourselves into quiet water. The temperature was 28 degrees Celsius, but with a good breeze blowing, and a wet hat, I found it fairly comfortable on the water.

Hoodoos emerge from sandstone hills.

In a fortunate moment, a friend in Medicine Hat loaned me a book I found an excellent resource. Prairie River written in 1996 by two local men, Donn Dickinson and Dennis Baresco, covers stretches of river from Grand Forks to Estuary. We began on what they called stretch two, Cherry Coulee. Pastureland stretched along the south bank, for the most part, while on the north we saw our first hoodoos carved from the  limestone by wind and rain. We began nineteen kilometres downstream from Grand Forks, so I calculated we had a seventy-five kilometre paddle ahead of us. I wanted to make at least twenty-five kilometres on the first day. Fluffy clouds gamboled over the hills in the west as we paddled, and grew in size, causing sporatic gusts of high wind. By 3:30 p.m. I guestimated we’d already paddled that or more, assisted by a two-to-three km/hr current and the strong wind out of the southwest. We were now quartering into it, and the next turn in the river would make it a head wind. We decided to get off the water.

Our campsite was not ideal, but we could find no other protected from the wind. Setting up our tents became a three person job, with the wind flipping ground tarps, flapping corners away from pegs, and tearing the fly from my hands. When all three were up, I crawled inside mine and had a nap. The wind increased to forty, gusting fifty over the next hours. Because of the heat wave and no rain there was a no fire ban posted throughout Alberta. The wind was so fierce we couldn’t keep our propane stove lit. We finally gave up on cooking dinner and ate it cold. It was delicious, and satisfied hunger made sharp by a long day of travelling.

Embattled but still standing.

It seemed 9:20 a.m. would be the standard time we hit the water, because that’s exactly when I took my first stroke Day Two. Prairie River called this stretch 3, Petrified Coulee, and I looked forward to more of the amazing scenery we’d had glimpses of the day before. The land along the river is mostly government owned and leased by ranchers. It seemed wherever there was a great spot to stop, the cows had dibs. There were many bucolic scenes of green grass, shady poplar and willows, and grazing cattle. These contrasted dramatically with the towering sandstone and limestone edifices that became more frequent. Their rocky silhouettes formed exciting patterns against the endless blue sky and Mother Nature had carved intricate patterns on their wide surfaces.

Low level rapids appear more frequently.

In this stretch we ran into an increasing number of rapids. The river was low, but not at its lowest, so often we were cruising six to twelve inches above its rocky bed. Level one to two rapids stretched across its width, lifting us from the monotony of stroke, stroke, to steer our way through large boulders jutting above the surface, as we raced past. Yes, I admit I scraped over several, with no harm done.

Again we stopped at 3:30 pm. Making camp was easy, with the air still and quiet. We found a good location on the south shore and set up. Again the unexpected happened, dinner over, a few hands of cards enjoyed, and tucked in my tent, I listened to the wind rise. By 10:00 pm it was gusting fifty km/hr and I was filling sand bags to reinforce my ground wires. Throughout the night I woke at one hour intervals, worrying about tents lifting. A big bonus was taking in the night sky, with stars so close and brilliant they left me wordless with awe. All the worry and lack of sleep was a waste, for we woke to the reflection of towering cliffs and clumps of trees reflected on the glassy surface of the river.

Day 3 back on the water 9:35. Surprise Bluff reach. My husband and a pilot friend of his indicated they might take the plane up and come looking for us that day. Just before we finished breakfast a plane came down the river, and as we were loading another single-engine plane circled and flew away. Neither dipped their wing, indicating they had seen us, even though we were standing on the shore waving. Our three bright coloured kayaks were strung out along the white pebbled beach, and our tents on a ridge shaded by, but not under, the trees. I decided they couldn’t be our guys. We learned later they had flown down the river on both sides and failed to see us; and concluded we won’t use them on a search and rescue team. There is room for a serious note, here, in that they have both been on multi search and rescues, and say you can fly over the downed plane, or tents and kayaks, many times without seeing them. So don’t count on being a visual aid for searchers if you get in trouble – go big with smoke, or reflective light.

By my calculations we had paddled sixty kilometres and only had a short three hour paddle ahead. The scenery was still stunning, with one monument after another carved from the rocks. The river seemed lower here and often we floated only inches above the rocky bed. At my first sighting of a tower, I tried my phone, got a signal, and my husband at the other end. He was on a high point downstream and could see us through binoculars. We were moving fast – only an hour out of the take out point I’d chosen – Echo Dale park on the west end of Medicine Hat. Low water, big rocks and turbulence held my attention for the rest of the way in. We had to go around one large island just before the park. Calling out to a man on the shore we were told the south side was the only way. Here the waters rushed into noisy thrusting waves, bouncing us from crest to crest. Adrenaline sang through my body, as I paddled hard to avoid rearing rocks. It was a fun rush and good practice for bigger rapids on my next adventures.

Ahead, Den stood on a point, capturing our arrival on his phone. The launch was fifty feet beyond him, paved and in good condition, with a pier alongside. My friend got hung up on a gravel bar just short of the launch. Several kayaks and a boat were just going into the water, so I made a wider circle and wove my way between them through deeper water. I recommend you take time to enjoy the park. Medicine Hat has done a splendid job of creating a  multi purpose venue; constructing both a manmade fishing lake, and swimming lake, along with spacious lawns, a bath house, restrooms, walking and biking paths, all nestle beneath mature trees. There are no overnight sites, so don’t plan on leaving your vehicle in the parking lot while you’re upstream.

I give this paddling adventure a four and a half star rating. It is definitely best once the high water has receded, and before the end of July, when it becomes so low you must portage. Finding good campsites was challenging, as there was a lot of wet clay/sand mix along the shoreline. Rocky points, and gravel benches where numerous, but there were few with level land for tents behind them. There are several islands, but here again, ideal spots were missing.

Prairie River also pointed out the danger of rattlesnakes and black widow spiders along the river. While I anticipated an encounter with the former – in fact found one in the middle of the intersection as we approached the park, I never saw the latter. Having lived on the prairies my entire life, I was astonished to hear Black Widows existed here. We did see a bald eagle, deer, a falcon and lots of pelicans. The area is noted for its fossil bearing rock. Often rust red towers would spire upward, reminding me of the badlands in Arizona. At other times the banks looked so cool and green, so verdant I felt I was paddling through an English countryside.

The one regret we had, was not taking a moment to stop and acknowledge our achievement. In the scramble to get loaded and off the ramp, we left out celebrating the most valuable part of the trip – accomplishing it.

Kayaking, skiing, hiking, camping, are all activities I love because you live fully in the moment. One needs discipline to paddle the long hours, resilience to deal with the surprises and courage to meet the dangers head on. These are the same traits I build into the female protagonists in my books. If you like action suspense, check out my Daring Heights series. Climbing High shows you the world of rock climbing, while High Seas takes you kayaking off the west coast.  Sky High, the sixth and last book in the series, launches worldwide this fall, giving you a look into the mystery and danger of international trade in Hong Kong. Check them out on my website www.madelonasmid.com Five star ratings and available through amazon.com