Tag Archives: Canadian Author

February 2020: “Trillium” by Margaret Lindsay Holton

Summary (Caution – Mild Spoilers):

Margaret Holton’s “Trillium” is a story of how three families settle in the Beamsville, Ontario area. The first family begins with Colonel Thomas Hartford and his land grant after the end of the North American Theater of the Seven Years War. These original colonizers eventually chase the native population away, bringing their European culture and farming techniques. With this, they also bring European plants, and with each new wave of immigrants, the crops change ever so slightly.

Skip ahead 80 years. The next immigrant introduced is 15-year-old Francesco “Franco” Di Angelo. He is a hard-working Italian that comes to the region with the dream of working the land and buying a piece of his own. He is passionate about agriculture and family. It takes some time to build up his fortune, and the reader watches through the eyes of a laborer as the Niagara region experiences the earliest stages of its infrastructural revolution. Eventually, Franco joins forces with Thomas Hartford’s descendent (also named Thomas Hartford), and their families become intertwined.

Skip ahead another 50 years, and our third immigrant is introduced. Paddy O’Sullivan is an Irish immigrant looking for his big break, and he gets it. He manages to purchase unused land and other properties and leases adjacent land to the Hartford Farm on a 99-year lease.

This book follows the Hartford family’s farm through the generations starting in 1759 and closing in 2001. The Hartfords, Di Angelos, and O’Sullivans cross-pollinate through trials and tribulations of agricultural life. “Trillium” follows the constant battle between Capitalism and Traditionalism, with the secret ingredient of remembering your roots.

Overall Reaction:

I find the story of a multigenerational farm and its growth fascinating. I think the book has potential. There’s murder, intrigue, incest, affairs, and mystery. There are very human characters that make mistakes and ignore the faults of others. There is an alluring family vendetta that is so vile and gross it makes the reader feel soiled.

One of the recurring themes I enjoyed was that of building renovation and redecorating overtime. The additions of indoor plumbing to a farmhouse or new double pane windows to keep drafts out involve the reader over time. Additionally, this is where I noticed the struggle between capitalism and traditionalism the carried out in the changing of home furnishings and preservation of heirlooms. Additional details, such as the effects of the passage of time on buildings, molding statues, and chipping paint, provided an elegant backdrop to the impact of neglect in home life. How the home evolved over 250 years never left me wanting for detail.

In historical fiction, great liberties can be taken with many things, but not dates and facts. Many historical fiction books have bibliographies at the end of them from the fact-checking process. With both of these factors in mind, the structure of a historical fiction book should not necessitate a separate written timeline to be made and math to be done on the part of the reader to place when different events are occurring. This is particularly troublesome when there are inconsistencies in the dates of events.

The majority of the action occurs late in the book and focuses on a very privileged set of characters. I connected most with this famiglia that seemed to get left behind even though they did a lot of the work. The decreasing focus resolves to include a few of the family members in the privileged characters’ shenanigans. By far, this jovial, mostly virtue driven family, brought a smile to my face more often than not.

I had a hard time suspending disbelief. This difficulty was due to historical inaccuracies, changing the referred names of characters without context as to why a character would use that name for someone, and misnaming of characters present in a scene. Additionally, I experienced cognitive dissonance with my own life experiences, having grown up and worked in and around agricultural communities for the majority of my life.

Let me explain the cognitive dissonance: I grew up in small-town semi-rural America. My exposure to wineries came in my late 20s in rural California and Montana. Rustic and modest is how I’d describe the ones I’ve seen, but I’ve never been to Napa Valley. I spent the earliest part of my life fresh out of undergrad in the agriculture and land surveying industries in different parts of the United States. I never saw the opulence described in this book. Even the best-managed multigenerational farms of the American side of the Great Lakes are scrappy as hell trying to keep everything together. To me, the money from material objects over time mentioned in the book didn’t add up to buying in to social clubs or status. To check other inconsistencies, my mom worked on an “organic” by the 1970s definition co-op farm, so I gave her a call and ran my dissonance by her. While this helped by explaining how definitions changed, it did bring a lot of my conflict back to the fact-checking concern.

I recognize that this is different from rural Canada, though the Niagara region seems to have moderate pockets of rural life. [Addendum for clarification: the following is from my own life and is not from the book – this is part of my own cognitive dissonance and is part of me explaining why I do not connect with the characters] I don’t know how often in rural Canada when over at the neighbor’s house they’ll tell you the name of the cow you’re eating at a barbecue. Perhaps I don’t possess the frame of mind to connect with the privilege these characters have with their multi-million dollar lifestyles.

Overall, I greatly enjoyed the premise of the story and some of the characters, but found myself unable to be involved in the story as I was constantly jarred away and unable to suspend disbelief. That said, other readers may not share this experience.

LGBTQA+

While there are major characters that are LGBTQA+, I would not recommend this book for booklists looking for positive, accurate representation as these characters perpetuate what the Advocate’s Tracy E. Gilchrist and Daniel Reynolds describe as “17 LGBT Tropes Hollywood Needs to Retire“. For further explanation, GLAAD has been fighting statistically inaccurate misrepresentation in storytelling for some time. As a member of this community it is my duty to include a content warning. This book contains the following potentially harmful tropes:

  • pedophilia & predation tropes related to repression
  • sex, drugs & hedonism
  • “bury your queers”
  • “the depraved homosexual”
  • “the sissy villain”
  • “the bi-erasing bisexual”
  • “the promiscuous queer”

Grammar & Punctuation

There were issues with grammar and punctuation that, while interrupting to the reading experience, could easily be corrected with editing software such as Grammarly, Hemingway, or Fictionary.

Twilight Zone Moments

The structure of the book jumps around without specifying dates, while using highly specific details lending themselves to dates leading to inconsistencies and confusion. The examples I’m going to use is regarding a car that a character buys and a disappearing character.

The Mazda RX7 came out in 1978 and someone could get one in Canada if you knew a guy who knew a guy, if you drove across the border into the United States. This purchase is mentioned without the year. Then the story changes to a different scene years before this car was available without mentioning the year, causing disorientation.

A character disappears and is never heard from again after her brother returns from WWII and takes over the family farm. It is unknown if she outlives her brother, but I would have imagined that she would have received some part of his will. Right? Perhaps I have a better relationship with my siblings.

Want To Read More About The Author?
You can read my interview with Margaret Lindsay Holton here. You can purchase the book here. Follow the book on Twitter here.

Author Interview Series 2020: Craig Stewart

Craig Stewart
Craig Stewart’s Author Photo

I’m excited to introduce another Canadian author, Craig Stewart! With a background as a filmmaker and author, he takes a very visual approach to the horror genre and won the New Apple Literary Award of Excellence for Horror in 2018 for his book “Worship Me”. The following interview questions focus on this book – one that I will be reviewing soon. I hope you enjoy these answers as much as I have. These answers are direct quotes. If you would like more information on his books, you can view all of those available for purchase through amazon here. Additionally, you can visit their author website at www.everythingcraigstewart.com.

What are a few of your favorite things? How did these influence Worship Me?

Whiskers on kittens, but that has very little to do with Worship Me. I guess, if I’m being honest, Worship Me has less to do with my favorite things than it does my least favorite things. Like most horror stories, it’s meant to purge the demons from our psyche, and the demons in Worship Me have to do with faith vs. flesh; it started with me questioning: how can someone reconcile spiritual belief with the bloody, bodily reality of being alive? And so, the setting became a small country church, like the one I was taken to as a child, and the invading force became a powerful, ancient entity that could reduce people to their bowels and bones. Through the trials of the characters, I tried to make this book an exploration of what living and dying really is; something I had been struggling with at the time, having been going through my own grieving process after the death of my sister. Really, this book wouldn’t have been written if I didn’t have that sorrow within me. It needed out, so I let it out. Otherwise, maybe it really would have been about whiskers and kittens.

Do you have any inside jokes with friends and/or family members that you like to sneak into your content?

I love inside jokes. There’s not as many as I’d like there to be in Worship Me, due to its tone, however, the layout of the church in the book is based off the real St. Paul’s United Church that I attended as a child. And, I always try to find a way to fit in the name of my high school drama teacher, who was the first person to really take a chance on me, creatively.

What do you find is the hardest part of the writing process?

Trying not to hate the world for not letting you just sit down and write. I often find myself in the middle of making dinner, angry at my food, because I just had a brilliant idea (or so I think at the time), and this food, sizzling away, mocking me with its little pops and fizzes, is keeping me from doing what I need to do. So, having an understanding that I need to eat, I guess that’s what I’m saying is the hardest.

How long did it take you to write Worship Me from the first idea to publication date?

Wow, great question. In total I’d say about seven years from its original conception. Originally, I wrote it as a screenplay and adapted the book from that.

What advice do you have to new authors?

Most likely, everyone is going to say “No.” In order to survive those rejections, make sure what you write is something you really believe in. Don’t write for someone else. Just write honestly, and then hope someone cares. Maybe someone will!

Who do you think the biggest unexpected allies in writing a book are?

Fellow writers. There’s a caricature out there of ‘the writer’ as a jealous, lonely narcissist – that, of course, exists – but, for the most part, all of the writers I have met have been brilliant, beautiful and generous people. They know the struggles and are more than willing to reach down and help to pull you back up. They might even dust you off, if you’re lucky.

Who do you think the biggest unexpected enemies in writing a book are?

Probably yourself. Though, maybe that’s not terribly unexpected. It’s hard to be heard in these loud times, and a lot of writers think, “Well, if I haven’t sold a million copies yet, then it’s my own failing, I’m just no good, like I always feared…Guess I’ll go back to canning tomatoes.” Only to realize that robots can tomatoes now (unless they’re genetically modified tomatoes – those ones can themselves). Anyway, chances are, your work is just getting lost in the cacophony of the modern age. The real truth is that people aren’t reading as much as they used to for a plethora of reasons. So, you may never sell a million copies. Don’t let that be your motivation. Again, write the book you’d want to read, then your biggest enemy won’t have anything to say.

What was your biggest inspiration?

Well, Worship Me, as mentioned earlier, was born out of grief, and my long journey losing my faith. Really, all the horror in the book was inspired by that painful process, which should help to explain why the book is so filled with pain. In terms of influences, I’ve always been a hardcore Clive Barker enthusiast. He’s the real reason I fell in love with writing, and with monsters. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead filled my head with nightmares as a childand sometimes as an adult. I always loved the claustrophobic storytelling with all those characters stuck together in a little house. That, certainly, influenced Worship Me. King’s The Mist, for sure.

If you could send a letter back in time to yourself when you were first starting to write Worship Me, what would it say?

Hi Craig, this is Craig. You invent time travel in the future. Also, don’t be afraid to show your heart – they’re much easier to rip out that way. And that’s what this story’s about.

Why do you write?

Like most authors, I write out of necessity. On the selfish side, the act of writing just makes my mind feel better – it helps sort out the chaos. On the slightly less selfish side, I can remember being a young gay kid growing up in a small town and feeling awkward and out of place… then, I found the horror section of the local video store, and it was filled with angsty stories of other outcasts that tore through heteronormativity with chainsaws and butcher knives. I felt scared, because it was unearthing feelings that I didn’t even know I had. I felt understood; I felt at home. I’d like to try to create works that could be a home for other outcasts.

Author Interview Series 2020: Margaret Lindsay Holton

I had the pleasure of being introduced to M. Lindsay Holton in October 2019 when she reached out to announce that with her book Trillium she returns to the indie publishing world after a 20 year hiatus. It has been such a pleasure emailing back and forth with this incredible author and learning from her responses to these questions. I haven’t even read her book yet, and I am really excited to do so now!

As someone with the future hope of writing a book one day, these interview questions were chosen for the purpose of learning from those that have more knowledge than me. ML Holton is the most accomplished author I have interviewed so far and I hope everyone basks in the wealth of experience demonstrated by her responses as much as I have. All of these responses are direct quotes.

For more information on and to purchase her other books, please take a moment to check out her Amazon Author Page, and for additional information you can visit her Artist Blog, Twitter Fan Page, and Facebook Fan Page.

What are a few of your favorite things? How did these influence your book?

I love what Nature offers us in all its daily and seasonal cycles of birth, growth, decay and death. As humans, we have invented so many ‘structures’ – social, and mechanical – to better control these natural rhythms, when, really, immersion is the best and most practical teacher. We are a part of Nature, not apart from it.

This understanding became the quiet flowing aquifer that flows through TRILLIUM. I wanted to ‘tell-a-story’ on top of those natural cycles. I had watched and learned from Nature while growing up on a farm in southern Ontario. Many city-dwelling, screen-addicts are so far removed from Nature’s generous gifts, they have lost the ability to ‘connect’ to that natural flow – at all.

Aside from Nature, I am very moved by thoughts and objects of, or about, beauty. Rachel Carson wrote – “when the mind is absorbed by beauty, those are the only hours when we really live.” – That is so true.

When we bring our attention to things of beauty, we are filled with a profound sense of gratitude that is never equalled by the frenetic ping-pong of daily living. Experiencing beauty, we find ourselves gliding on an awe-inspiring appreciation of the Wonderful. It suspends us in Time and Space.

Beauty is Truth and the Truth is Beautiful. Keats knew it. Ruskin knew it too. When we scoff and malign the beautiful, we belittle much more than the obvious. Cynics, skeptics, and those who relish the ugly or horrific, impoverish us all. Side-lining the beautiful is a downer. It makes us all petty and small-minded. Miserly even. – Why live like that when we have the power to CHOOSE?

I was very aware when crafting this story that I wanted both given elements – Nature & Beauty – ‘at play’.

Do you have any inside jokes with friends and/or family members that you like to sneak into your content?

I periodically insert family names for pets or loved ones, but affix them to different objects. As example, Jomo, Hazard, Folly and Quack or Cat have all popped up.

I have also re-told several amusing ‘family stories’ within the context of the novel only slightly altering them to better amuse or entertain readers.

What do you find is the hardest part of the writing process?

Letting go. I very much enjoy re-writing and re-structuring to make better sense of things, but I am well aware that at a certain point, I MUST move on and stop playing with words. (It’s like ‘playing with one’s food’. At a certain point, you’ve either got to eat what’s in front of you or throw it out … )

To counteract this ‘hold on’ tendency, I have learned to set strict targets and deadlines for myself. It is the best way to keep ‘on track’.

How long did it take you to write this book from the first idea to publication date?

I had the idea for this entangled rural family story over fifteen years ago. I wrote up a 15-page synopsis, drafted a detailed character list, spun out an opening chapter, then put the whole thing in my writing box.

At that time, I did not have the time or financial resources to under-take what I knew was going to be a big project.

By 2018, the necessary pre-conditions existed and I was able to sit and start. From February to October, I researched, wrote and edited for five days a week, Monday to Friday, from 10am to 6pm, with two small breaks and an hour for lunch. I then went to press at the end of the month with a very limited Artist First Edition of 100 copies. Those were published in Canada under my own private artist’s press label.

It was, in retrospect, a blistering speed to craft, edit and produce that 137,000-word historical fiction for publication. But, as mentioned, scheduling did keep me on track.

That’s not to say I didn’t make mistakes on route, I did. At the end, I rushed to publish without taking a breather away from the work. I am ashamed to say that that Author’s First Edition, published in late October 2018, is filled with typos. Those embarrassing mistakes were finally corrected in the American Amazon paperback and e-editions, first released in January of 2019. Somewhat ironically, that tiny Artist First Edition is now sought after by avid book collectors! Trust me, that goof, remains a tough one to live down. But, Live and Learn.

Above all, LEARN.

What advice do you have to other new authors?

See above. It is admirable to discipline yourself to ‘stick to a schedule’. But you MUST allow breathing space after the bulk of the writing is over. Take at least two weeks. A month is better.

Distance yourself from the work so that when you come back your eyes, ears and mind are fresh to do a proper final ‘read’.

Best advice: have another person proof your work. Take their constructive criticism and corrections in stride. Restrain the impatient ego.

Who do you think the biggest unexpected allies in writing a book are?

Strangely, the unexpected ally is the Self. People think that writers have this great luxury of lying around as they think and compose all day …

The truth is: writers are as pre-occupied with the necessities of earning a living as anyone else. Most writers must take other work in order to take care of their loved ones and themselves before they can take the time to write.

The luxury comes when you finally have some ‘alone time’.

After putting if off for months, even years, you finally get to have that much desired one-on-one conversation with Self.

In many ways, this experience is akin to catching up with an old friend you haven’t seen or heard from in years. Relish that alliance.

Who do you think the biggest unexpected enemies in writing a book are?

Time. Earning a living, and taking responsibility for the people and things in your life that need looking after, can easily become all consuming. If you do not have the time, you cannot write properly. If you want to write, you have to ‘take back’ time by having the money to buy it, and/or you have to step away, in part, from the joys and duties of being with the ones and things you love. A writer needs solitude IN time to write anything worthwhile. It is a love that demands your full attention.

What was your biggest inspiration?

My parents have inspired me throughout my entire life. Both were independent-minded, loving and curious individuals who gave much more than they took. My father was very disciplined about what he had to do on a daily basis. My mother was a delight-filled personality who intuitively understood the charm and reassuring, restorative value of a ‘good story’.

Both had lessons to teach about the Best Way to Live. I learned plenty from both. Their curiosity always inspired. Keep asking questions.

If you could send a letter back in time to yourself when you were first starting to write this book, what would it say?

Line up a good proof-reader to go over your ‘signed off’ manuscript. As much as you will resist, take a little time off before ‘going to press’. Make sure all your ducks are in a row before leaping over them. Otherwise, stick to your schedule, and tell an engaging and good story.

Why do you write?

I write to communicate with the greater Self that dwells within us all.