Tag Archives: Virginia’s Ghost

One Approach to Creating a Facebook Author Page

When I was writing my novel Virginia’s Ghost and already thinking of ways to promote it, I felt intimidated by the notion of a Facebook author page. What would I post? I perused other author pages and noticed lots of posts on upcoming public appearances and detailed notes about the progress of books. That seemed all very well for high-profile authors with an established following, but no one knew who I was, so why would anybody give a fig if I announced I was on page 47 of my second draft?

Realizing my self-confidence was crumbling from dwelling on what the literary luminaries were doing, I resolved to find my own strategy. As a new and unknown author, I had to. I decided to focus on drawing people into the various themes of my book, which include antiques, auctions, the 1920s, art deco style, flappers, historical Toronto, and ghosts. I hoped that by posting little informative and entertaining tidbits on these themes–accompanied by appetizing visuals–I would arouse curiosity about the world represented in my novel.

Sometimes I deliberately made the connection for people between the images I posted and Virginia’s Ghost, but often not.  I didn’t want the page to always be about my book, as I thought other people would find this narrow focus pretty tedious. And I especially didn’t want the page to become a platform for blatant self-promotion. I’ve seen far too many tiresome Facebook author pages that hammer people with one message: “Buy my book!!!” This looks amateurish (especially with all those exclamation marks), and my reaction to it is usually “No thanks.”

But because it was an author page, I obviously wasn’t going to neglect the subject of my book altogether, so I did and still do include posts about Virginia’s Ghost. When my book was in production (yes, I started a Facebook page months before I published), I posted the cover image and gave a few updates on how things were going during the design and proofreading processes. Now and then I post excerpts from the novel that are illustrated with some particularly appropriate image, or I chat briefly about where I’m at with the sequel. On rare occasions, I do some sort of giveaway that again puts my book briefly in the spotlight.

What I’m saying is that a wide variety of types of posts–a balanced approach–is critical to creating an interesting page. Personally, I prefer just a dab of promotion, and I like to be fairly understated about it. What I’m really keen on is connecting and engaging with people who like the same things I do because it’s just so much fun. I like being part of my own little tribe, and the bonus is that those who are in it might buy the book someday. But I don’t want to push it on them.

I tend to post several times a week (daily if possible), and I always aim for high-quality content. When I really put a lot of effort into writing a post and finding that perfect accompanying image, more people like and comment on it.  A thoughtful post also consistently reaches a lot more people (for those who don’t know, Facebook informs you about how many people you’ve reached with each post). If you’re lazy and simply repost links to articles that have been making the rounds, especially without giving much additional commentary, you likely won’t receive much of a response. Effort and originality go a long way.

You can increase your followers by sharing your posts with like-minded Facebook groups. One of my favourites is Flappers and Bootleggers, a delightful group of people who are enthusiastic and knowledgeable about anything related to the 1920s. By posting art deco-era fashions and collectibles to this page, I have managed to acquire numerous new Facebook fans, many of whom regularly like and comment on my posts.

What I don’t recommend is succumbing to the allure of Facebook ads to attract new followers. I advertised for a week shortly after I launched my book last September, and while I did acquire the set number of new likes that Facebook had promised me (fancy that), few of the “likers” seemed legitimate. I don’t recall any of these people commenting on my posts, and when I looked at their profile pages, I found it impossible to imagine that they were the sort to be interested in my book. Where Facebook found these people is open to question, but my belief is that most of the likers had dormant accounts. It’s tempting to want to build your numbers quickly and easily through a Facebook ad, but you’re better off being patient and regularly offering compelling content that attracts the right people–the audience for your book.

Once you publish, countless people will come out of the woodwork to offer to take your money and help you flog your new book. The advantage of a Facebook author page is that it’s one of the few promotional activities you can do for free. It’s worth your while to put considerable effort into reaching your audience with a well-thought-out page. Don’t be afraid to express your unique personality through what you post, and don’t be intimidated by the process of creating a page. If you’re anything like me, you’ll ultimately come to see your Facebook page as a labour of love and have plenty of fun working on it. Enjoy the adventure!

Virginia’s Ghost Released in E-book Form

For the past month, I’ve been rolling out Virginia’s Ghost in its various forms. The paperback was released on Amazon.com on September 11th, and the Kindle followed ten days later.

I know that many of you have been asking when the EPUB version of the book would be available, so I’m pleased to announce that it’s now here! I checked last night, and Virginia’s Ghost has just appeared on Kobo and Barnes and Noble. The links in this post will, of course, take you directly to the book. But for fun, you can search the title on these sites and see the plethora of books that have been written about ghosts in Virginia. Who knew?

Canadian readers will also want to know that, three weeks after its release, the paperback version is finally available on Amazon.ca. This puts an end to my frustration over Amazon’s strange distribution methods. It’s still funny to me that a Canadian author’s book would be available in the UK, France, and Germany before it’s available in Canada!

 

Virginia’s Ghost Now Available

A lazy autumn afternoon is the perfect time to make a cuppa, curl up with your favourite canine or feline, and immerse yourself in a novel, so I’m thrilled to announce that I’ve just released my cozy mystery, Virginia’s Ghost. This tale of ghastly crime, euphoric love, and devastating betrayal has now arrived! Virginia’s Ghost transports readers from a hectic contemporary auction house to the posh world of Toronto’s elite during the 1920s. The book features plucky heroine Virginia Blythe, who works at Gable & Co. Auctioneers, and her flapper ghost Constance, who mysteriously appears and gives Virginia her diary just before pandemonium descends on the auction house. I sincerely hope to provide you with some spine-tingling reading!

The book is now available in a glossy paperback edition, with e-book editions to follow soon–I’ll keep you posted as to when they’ve been released.  You can purchase Virginia’s Ghost through Amazon.com or CreateSpace.

Virginia's Ghost book cover

Virginia’s Ghost: This Book Has a Cover!

Getting my book Virginia’s Ghost to a publishable stage has been a long haul. I’ve never been a swift writer, and between my plodding approach to writing, my editing work, and dealing with a chronic illness, I’ve been wondering if the book will ever come into being as a published work. Will something tangible really emerge from the endless writing and rewriting?

But now, with a completed book cover on my hands, I realize how close I am to the finish line. This cover has me glowing almost as much as the ghost is.  Sure, seeing my name in lights as it were is a little ego boost, but there’s much more to the excitement than that–it’s thrilling to see how the designer has represented my book and captured its essence through images.

Virginia's Ghost cover
Virginia’s Ghost cover

 

I was a bit nervous about the design process at first. What if the designer couldn’t connect with my book and produced something I felt lukewarm about? But with a designer like Scarlett Rugers, I needn’t have worried.  After reading Virginia’s Ghost, she came up with three excellent cover concepts, all of which reflected the great extent to which she’d absorbed my book. Concept one was very colourful and showed a small ghost on the balcony of a Victorian house, while concept two depicted the blurry figure of a ghost ascending basement stairs. But concept three, which you see here, was definitely the one, and it was Scarlett’s favourite too. Her version of Constance the ghost matched very closely the Louise Brooks-like image I’d been carrying around in my head. But to ensure I wasn’t utterly misguided in my choice, I sent the cover concepts to various people I knew including editors and other writers, very few of whom had actually read the book. While the results weren’t unanimous, concept three was preferred by most.

I liked Scarlett’s thoughtful approach to the design. When I asked her why she hadn’t chosen an art deco font, which was what I’d expected, she replied that this might mislead readers into thinking that all the book takes place during the 1920s, which isn’t the case. Pondering her decision, I couldn’t agree more. The image of the flapper ghost and the border design allude to the 1920s, whereas the bold and glamorous title font gives readers a whiff of the present.

We made a few adjustments to Scarlett’s original concept–shifting the title down to reveal more of the ghost’s hands, for example, and decreasing the size of my name, which I thought was competing with the title for attention. On the back, we’d originally had an author blurb and photo, as I had really wanted this, but the text covered much of the red-brick mansion and wasn’t that readable even though Scarlett had darkened the house behind it. Something had to go, but it wasn’t the mansion. I wanted it in for two reasons: a good friend of mine, Louise Kiner, had taken the photo, and the house represents the one the ghost inhabited when she was alive. Once the extra bit of text was gone, Scarlett was able to brighten the mansion, allowing it to shine forth in all its gloomy glory!

After some back and forth and lots of nitpicky little decisions, I finally have a book cover. And I couldn’t be happier with the result. Many thanks to Scarlett for her inspired design!

The Great Literary Blog Hop

I was recently approached by fellow editrix and  fantasy authoress Vanessa Ricci-Thode to participate in something called a blog hop. Vanessa published her novel The Dragon Whisperer last year and now has another book in the works. Honestly, I don’t know where she finds the time and energy to do all these literary things and raise a child too.  When she first mentioned the blog hop, I didn’t have a clue what it was, but I soon learned it would give me an opportunity to blab about my writing. What writer can say no to that? Thank you, Vanessa, for giving me the kick in the pants I needed to start blogging again.

As part of the blog hop, I’m required to answer four questions. At the end, I’ll provide links to the websites and books of some terrific writers who are taking up the challenge to continue this blog hop. So without further ado, let’s get started.

1.  What are you working on/writing?

As far as paid work goes, I’m currently editing the third book in a series of thrillers. The novel is action-packed, well-written, and suspenseful, so I’m really enjoying the process. Editing flows quite easily when the material you’re working on is so good. I consider myself very fortunate to be working with this particular author, who not only writes well but is very pleasant to deal with and shares my love of dogs.

There’s also my novel, Virginia’s Ghost. The book is a cozy mystery with a supernatural element. My protagonist, Virginia, is an auction house employee who encounters a rather demanding ghost named Constance from the 1920s. She realizes the ghost is trying to tell her something important, and precisely what is revealed as she reads Constance’s diary, written when she was a young woman. I include several diary entries, so I’m working with two first-person narrators. Simultaneously, mayhem and murder begin happening at the auction house, and the ghost is ultimately the key to making sense of all the chaos. Past and present are interwoven, and the book is really about the extraordinary connection these two women from separate eras forge and how they affect each other.

It does feel as if I’ve been writing Virginia’s Ghost forever, but after two rounds of edits by professional editor friends, I’m finally at the end of the writing process. Recently, I posted Chapter 1 on this site, and received eighty-eight Facebook likes, which astounded me! Because I’m a fanatical perfectionist, I’ve printed out the whole thing to read one more time and tweak as needed. About a month from now, we’ll be starting the cover and page design, which I’m very excited about.

Virginia'g Ghost book cover

2.  How does your work/writing differ from others in its genre?

I call my book a cozy mystery, but I doubt it is, strictly speaking–it’s just what it’s closest to being. One way in which it differs is that my protagonist isn’t really a sleuth as such and certainly doesn’t see herself as taking on that role. Instead, she has chaotic circumstances thrust upon her and copes as best as she can. Virginia’s Ghost does have a number of the characteristics of cosy mysteries, though: it’s set in a very closed community and features a victim who dare I say deserves to die. As well, there’s no graphic sex or violence, so it’s suitable for all ages. And although I intended to write a page-turner, I also like to think it’s more than a whodunit.

3.  Why do you write what you do?

I’ve been very influenced by my previous career. I worked at an auction house for about fourteen years and always thought it would be an excellent setting for either a mystery or a ghost story (I ended up combining both). There’s something both intriguing and slightly creepy about being surrounded by dusty old antiques that suggested both of those genres to me. I have a fascination with past eras, particularly the 1920s, so I wanted to bring a nostalgic storyline into the book–the story of Constance, the beautiful flapper ghost.  As well, there’s always a lot of adrenaline surging through the auction world–the pressure of crazy deadlines and the excitement of a live auction–that I thought would make for a dramatic book. And I met a lot of eccentric people, both clients and fellow employees, who I’ve drawn on in creating the characters for the book. The day I left that job, I thanked the staff for providing such wonderful inspiration for the novel I would one day write. Some of them looked a little worried when I said that. I guess they didn’t want to find themselves as a character in the book–particularly a villain or someone who gets murdered. But my characters are composites of various people I’ve met in my life.

4.  How does your writing process work?

What can I say? It’s slow and painstaking. This is because I’m an editor too. My sentences barely have a chance to squeak out before I’m polishing them to within an inch of their lives. I try to tell myself just to write, but it’s nearly impossible to quiet the professional editor in my head. But I’m also a better writer since I became an editor. I think I must have been pretty awful before.

I’m actually not too sure how many drafts of Virginia’s Ghost I’ve done–it’s either five or six, I think. It often tell my editing clients that it’s a good idea to start with an outline, but I didn’t do that myself. There–I’ve come out of the closet as a non-outliner! Actually, though, I did put together a synopsis of all my chapters after I’d written my third draft, and it did help me see what wasn’t really adding up in the narrative. And doing this helped me get unstuck and move forward.

***

I now pass the baton to my chosen blog hoppers, who are as follows:

Tiana Warner. Tiana is the author of The Infinite Knowledge of J.T. Badgley, an intensely dramatic science fiction novel that takes place on a planet called Zielaarde but illuminates much about life here on Earth.  As you’ll see from Tiana’s website, she’s also an accomplished poet. You can read my interview with Tiana here.

Pat Krapf. Pat has just published Brainwash, the first of a series of techno-thrillers featuring tough, no-nonsense private investigator Darcy McClain, formerly an FBI agent, and her sidekick Bullet, a giant schnauzer. Pat is currently following up Brainwash with two more Darcy McClain thrillers, Gadgets and Genocide.

Martin Turnbull. Martin has written the Garden of Allah series of novels, which are set in Hollywood’s golden age. If you love the thought of rubbing shoulders with screen legends like Greta Garbo and Errol Flynn, you’ll love Martin’s novels–The Garden on Sunset, The Trouble with Scarlett, and Citizen Hollywood.

Ali Lawati. Ali is a children’s author who has written The Jungle Adventure of Chimpoo, a whimsical tale of a monkey family.

 

Back-cover Blurbs: What I’ve Learned So Far

I’ve been crafting it off and on for weeks now, and sometimes I lie awake at night, mentally tweaking the wording until it’s just so. It consists of four little paragraphs, a mere two hundred words. But those paragraphs might be the hardest thing I’ve ever written, and every one of those words has to pull its weight. What, you might ask, is causing me such writerly agony? The back-cover blurb for my novel, Virginia’s Ghost.

Logic would dictate that this process shouldn’t be so excruciating. After all, I’ve written or edited blurbs for many clients before, so I know the drill. And no one knows my book better than I do, right? But maybe familiarity is precisely the problem. What’s making the blurb so challenging is knowing my book all too well; I’ve been living and breathing Virginia’s Ghost  in all its subtle nuances for quite some time. With so many tiny details about the plot, character, setting, and dialogue filling my brain, I’m finding it tricky to pick out the broad strokes.  Here’s my latest effort to whittle the book down to its essence and pull my audience in (and please feel free to criticize, as I still consider the blurb a work in progress).

Antiques specialist Virginia Blythe of Gable & Co. Auctioneers is working late one night when she hears mournful wailing. Following the sound to its source, she gasps in astonishment: a breathtakingly beautiful flapper who looks like a refugee from an F. Scott Fitzgerald novel is lingering in the shadows of the company’s basement. 

Later the disconsolate young woman returns to offer Virginia her diary, written in 1928. It reveals she’s the ghost of wealthy Toronto socialite Constance Pendleton. What is Constance trying to tell her? Intrigued, Virginia curls up with the diary and begins dipping her toes into the elegant opulence of Constance’s Jazz Age world.

But suddenly things go terribly awry at Gable & Co. Just as Virginia’s preparing for a blockbuster auction, some valuable porcelain mysteriously goes missing and her job is on the line. The worst, however, is yet to come. A shocking murder spins the eccentric world of the auction house into chaos. Struggling to make sense of it all, Virginia turns increasingly to the secrets of the diary.

Virginia’s Ghost is a tale of ghastly crime, euphoric love, and devastating betrayal in which two women transcend time to affect each other’s lives in startling ways.

Apart from discovering that writing your back-cover blurb is damn difficult to pull off, what else have I learned? Here’s my advice, based both on my experiences helping clients with their blurbs and writing my own.

First, get as much critical feedback throughout the blurb-writing process as you possibly can. People who have already read your book (e.g., your editor) are invaluable and can help you answer some key questions. For example, does the book actually deliver what you promise the reader in your blurb? If you’re describing thrills and chills aplenty on the back cover but your book’s more of a meditative literary piece, then you have a serious mismatch on your hands.  As well, does the tone of the blurb match your book’s tone? Obviously, it should, and only someone who’s read your book will know. But people who haven’t read it can also be enormously helpful in answering the big questions: Would you read this book? And if not, why not? Take every bit of feedback you receive to heart and keep revising your blurb until you’re hitting all the right notes.

Second, use language that will hook readers emotionally. What will grab them enough to make them want to read your book? If you’re not sure, think about who your readers are–their tastes, interests, and values. Chances are you’re like me and you’re writing for the very club you’re already a member of, which makes it much easier to know what your audience wants. I expect my readers to be largely 40+ women who are fans of the cosy mystery genre and period pieces. Because of this, I’ve tried to heighten the mood of mystery and intrigue and have emphasized the past by playing up the flapper ghost and the auction house setting. And I hope that the image of Virginia curling up to read the diary will strike a chord with my readers, who probably enjoy spending their Sunday afternoons with a cup of tea and a good book. Consider what’s important to your audience and use language and images that truly speak to them.

Finally, make every word count. Most blurbs aren’t much more than about 250 words, so you’ve got to be economical in your prose and focus on what’s really important–namely, some enticingly described story details that will leave your readers wanting to know more and eager to buy your book. Now’s not the time to blather on using wordy or vague language, pat yourself on the back for your brilliant book, or give too much of your plot away.  Remember that your blurb isn’t a synopsis but a teaser that functions as your primary marketing tool. You’ll be using it on the back of your book and elsewhere too–on your website, Facebook author page, and Amazon, for example. It’s worth your while to take your time and do it right.

New Year, New Look

Happy new year! If my greeting comes rather late, it’s because life has been unexpectedly eventful in recent weeks, and not necessarily in the most positive way. I’ve needed to spend a little time just catching my breath.

There have been some exciting new developments. Virginia’s Ghost, the novel I never thought I’d finish, finally went to my colleague Irene Kavanagh for a manuscript evaluation in December, and I’m eagerly (but patiently, I should emphasize, since I don’t want to rush things) awaiting her feedback so I can resume work on it. Based on her reactions so far, it seems the novel has provided her with a few good giggles, but I expect I’ve still got plenty of work to do. As well, I’ve recently finished editing the first in a series of thrillers featuring an investigator with a wonderful canine sidekick.  Any book featuring dogs as characters is always a delight; this series is right up my alley.

If you’re familiar with my website, you’ll notice it has a fresh new look that I hope you’ll see as an improvement over the old version. I hadn’t actually planned to make any changes; I don’t know my way around WordPress that well and was content to just let things be. But I discovered four days before Christmas that I could no longer add new material to my site. A friend put me in touch with a WordPress specialist, who would ultimately end my frustration and update the look of carolinekaisereditor.com too.  But fixing my broken-down site would have to wait, as Toronto was struck by a devastating ice storm unlike anything I can remember.

 

Toronto Ice Storm, December 22, 2013
Toronto Ice Storm, December 22, 2013

 

Overnight, everything was glazed in a thick coating of ice, and I could hear ice cracking and cascading from enormous branches as they crashed to the ground. Sadly, Toronto lost an estimated 20 percent of its tree canopy. Our building lost most of its power, and we had no heat from the radiators and no hot water. We toughed it out for a couple of days, boiling water, running a couple of space heaters, and praying that the power would go on in time to make a turkey dinner. But when the temperature dipped to -10C and the dog began shivering and whining, it was time to go. We were fortunate to be able to drop Trinka off with a caring friend who had power (and a boisterous wire-haired dachshund for her to play with), and we also managed to find a hotel, which was where we spent our Christmas. It was four days before we could go home. Yes, we were a lot luckier than many people who had no friends or relatives to depend on, but it still made the festive season a bit dismal. In truth, I felt a bit numb from the ordeal–and not just from the cold.

Thank goodness all this is behind me and that 2013 is gone at last. By all accounts, it was a challenging year for many. The destructive energy of that year lingers on, however–it’s still the year of the snake on the Chinese calendar, and will be until January 31st. But I for one will be awfully relieved when that old serpent hisses its last and gives way to the year of the horse. Happy 2014, everyone.

 

Lumbering to the Editing Phase: Draft Four of Virginia’s Ghost Begins

I recently finished my third draft of Virginia’s Ghost, the novel I’ve been working on for longer than I can believe. Without a doubt, I’m a putter-inner, not a taker-outer, as my first draft was a bare-bones one and came in at a very slim 30,000 words, while this most recent draft is an impressive (to me, anyway) 61,000 words. I printed it out and discovered that it’s got physical heft if nothing else.

Seeing my book all in one big pile almost made me weak at the knees, and in a reckless moment I almost passed the thing on to one of my trusted editor colleagues. But after rereading it, I realized that it’s almost where I want it to be, so I’m not ready to relinquish it just yet to editorial scrutiny. Almost isn’t nearly good enough for me, nor should it be for any author. I refuse to embarrass myself.

So what’s my next step? Instead of diving directly into Draft 4, I decided to write a summary of each chapter. It’s my way of stepping back into a more objective mode of thinking and ferreting out all the things that need to be fixed: the little timeline glitches, the things that are missing, the events that don’t quite add up or that feel contrived, and the stupid things that sometimes come out of characters’ mouths when you least expect it of them. I’ve written suggestions as to how I’m going to fix these things at the bottom of each chapter summary. The blue writing identifies my main storyline, while the red is a second storyline. I’ve also done some hard-copy edits right on my draft.

Chapter summaries for Virginia's Ghost

But aren’t you supposed to do all the outlining and summarizing stuff at the beginning? Certainly a lot of writing books suggest drawing up an outline well before you write the book, and I often suggest it to clients who seem to be struggling with an unruly plot. But I began writing the book well before I knew very much about outlines, but more importantly, I think that my initial outline probably would have been nearly as skeletal as my first draft. In other words, my writing process doesn’t seem to lend itself to the outline-before-you-write approach. I find myself layering new stories into each successive draft, adding richness and complexity (I hope) to the storylines. There are things going on in the third draft that would have seemed inconceivable to me when I was writing the first or even second draft.

All this reminds me that there are probably as many ways of going about writing a book as there are writers. We each find our own way of getting from that first blank page to the end of that final draft. Our path may be straight, swift, and sure as an arrow heading toward a bull’s eye, or it may be more like that of a meandering, lumbering bear apparently not heading anywhere in particular. The choice is ours, and there is really no right way. The only thing that matters in the end is that the book itself is everything we want it to be.

 

Reflecting on the Kindness of Strangers

Unlike poor Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire, I’ve never depended on the kindness of strangers. I’ve always thought that doing so was most unwise, as strangers can’t reliably be depended upon. However, when people I don’t know emerge from nowhere to be unexpectedly kind or complimentary, it usually gives me such a boost that I feel as if I’m walking on air. I’m not the sort of person who craves attention, but I love compliments as much as the next person. You can imagine how I felt a few days ago when I received a whopping big compliment on one of the pages of this website; it was the first ever compliment on my site from a complete stranger.

I’m only just learning the ropes of SEO, so I don’t suppose a lot of strangers have managed to stumble across my website yet. And even if they have, I wouldn’t expect them to comment. The only people who comment either know me in person or they’re editing clients I’ve worked with before and we at least know each other via emailing or social media. The stranger’s comment was short and sweet, but as far as I was concerned, it was a doozy: the lady said that my writing had given her goosebumps. She’d been reading the excerpt from my novel-in-progress, Virginia’s Ghost, in which my heroine encounters an unexpected presence in the basement of the auction house where she works. The whole purpose of that scene was to give readers goosebumps, and just knowing that at least one person was affected that way really lifted my spirits, especially since I’d been feeling stuck in an uncomfortable state of limbo between my second and third drafts for days. Her words of encouragement got me started on my third draft. Who knew that just a few well-chosen words could have such a big impact?

Many writers I know, including me, work in a critical vacuum throughout much of the writing process. In the absence of positive feedback, it’s all too easy for your self-confidence as a writer to dwindle. It’s vital to receive some sort of psychic pay in the form of praise from time to time. And praise from strangers is really the best sort to receive, as it’s motivated only by the quality of the work itself. Strangers don’t feel the need to be nice to you the way your friends and family often do; they don’t tend to treat your ego as if it were a fragile piece of glass.

And knowing that your writing is having the desired effect–that it’s genuinely reaching into people’s hearts and affecting them in exactly the way that you wish to affect them–is a wonderful feeling. It just doesn’t get much better than that. Yes, I write to satisfy my creative impulses and my need to express myself, but I also write to engage readers in the story I wish to tell and to move people emotionally. My audience is vital to me, and that they are moved by my words means I’m effectively doing my job as a writer. And it also means that I have very powerful motivation indeed to continue.

Not Just Anywhere: Writing about Specific Places in Fiction

A few days ago, I finished the second draft of my novel, Virginia’s Ghost. I printed the whole thing out and have since started reading it again, scribbling notes in the margins about things I want to correct in the third draft. But more than correcting errors, I need to add much more detail. One storyline in the novel is set in 1928 Toronto, but when I was reading through the book, I was struck by how blandly generic my setting seemed. I could have been writing about almost any North American city in the twenties. Rather than writing about made-up places based vaguely on my impressions from Hollywood movies, I need to write about real places that existed in Toronto back then. And I need to learn a lot about these places, either by visiting them (if they still exist) or reading about them.

What better place to start than right in my own neighbourhood? A pivotal scene between my well-to-do young flapper Constance and her caddish boyfriend Freddy takes place in a park–but not just any old park. I’m rewriting the scene to take place in Craigleigh Gardens, just off South Drive in the South Rosedale area of Toronto. The present-day park was the original site of Craigleigh, a 25-room Victorian mansion that belonged to wealthy businessman Edmund Boyd Osler. He lived there from 1877 until his death in 1924, after which the house was torn down and the 13 acres of land it stood on were presented to the city as a public park. Below are the stately stone and wrought-iron gates to Craigleigh that were erected in 1903. If you look closely, you may be able to make out 1903 in gold on each gate between the two main pillars.

And here’s the plaque that commemorates the Osler family’s extraordinary gift to Torontonians:

I’m fortunate enough to be able to treat myself to a walk in this lovely park almost every day. It’s airy and spacious, and it’s a wonderful place for my dog Trinka to romp and stomp and enjoy some precious off-leash time.

And as I walk through the park, which would have been quite new back in Constance and Freddy’s day, I now imagine the two lovers playing out one of the most emotionally wrenching scenes of their young lives before a cluster of colourful onlookers, all of whom have definite opinions about what’s taking place. Just knowing more about Craigleigh Gardens and experiencing the beauty of this place every day helps bring the scene between Constance and Freddy to life in my mind. I only hope that my experience will translate into writing that vividly brings it to life for my readers.