Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Winter Moon

Soon I will have a new collection of short stories in print. "Winter Moon" will be published by Baico Publishing in Ottawa The ISBN is 978-1-926-596-92-1

The stories in "Winter Moon" include quite a few that have been among the winners in local contests or have been published in literary magazines.

Here is an excerpt from "Big Whitey":

(c) Ruth Latta, 2010

"When Earl's head nods over the newspaper, his shock of white hair falls forward. Sometimes he mumbles, "Get out-a there!" or "What the hell are you doing?" His grandchildren smile indulgently and when he wakes up, they say, "You were having quite a nightmare!" He just smiles. He was time-travelling, back to the farm and Big Whitey. All the animals on his grandparents' farm interested Earl, but the one that impressed him most was Big Whitey, the bull. ..."

Below is an excerpt from "Clive and Cuddles"

(c) Ruth Latta, 2010

" Cuddles was part miniature poodle and part something else, perhaps Pekinese. Though his fur was matted and he needed a bath, his soulful eyes reminded Clive a litlte of Karen's. A hairball of a dog would be perfect for a maternal person like Mom. He had some misgivings when he bundled the little animal too roughly into a carrier, and Cuddles nipped him, but, all in all, his impulse had proved right.

Cuddles and Mom McBride have settled into the Meadowview. When Cuddles isn't humping the ottoman he is on her lap, casting territorial glances at anyone who comes tooclose to her. He has grown plump on his favourite treat, chocolate covered cherries. Mom's comings and goings are governed by Cuddles' likes and dislikes. He enjoys malls but hates high rises, so Mom and Cuddles don't visit the condo too often, much to Clive's relief. ..."

"Winter Moon", containing these stories and others, will be available from me and from Baico in a couple of weeks.

Monday, September 27, 2010

A poem for fall

Since summer is turning into fall, I decided to resurrect this 2006 poem of mine for this post.


by Ruth Latta

If you would like to join me
in my back yard, together
we'd gaze at pine and maple,
enjoying autumn weather.
I'd listen if you told me
of southern sand and sun,
and long-ago adventures
when you were well and young.

A red vine and a gold one
trail from the neighbours' yard.
Toward me, on the brickwork
some runners, trying hard,
reach out in friendly fashion.
They're subtle in approach.
Their progress is so gradual,
reluctant to encroach.

The bees buzz round, and asters
wave gently in the breeze.
So transient the moment!
Tonight it all may freeze!
Does your room have a terrace?
I know there is a lawn.
I wish that you could join me
before the summer's gone.

(c)Ruth Latta, 2006, 2010

Thursday, September 16, 2010


Recently a friend told me that I was "too negative." I had been trying to make her aware of the difficulties of getting a book published. At the time, the illnesses of several old friends and the death of a family member were taking a toll on me.

I brooded about her comment. I hadn't intended to be a wet blanket. One of my mother's favourite sayings sprang to mind: "Laugh and the world laughs with you. Weep and you weep alone." On the other hand, my mother also quoted, "Blessed are they that mourn for they shall be comforted."

While musing about my friend's remark, a recent book by Barbara Ehrenreich came into my hands. "Bright-Sided: How Positive Thinking is Undermining America", is published by Picador, a branch of Henry Holt and Company, New York. I have been impressed by Ehrenreich's articles in "Harper's Magazine" and found "Bright-Sided" fascinating.

In "Bright-Sided", Ehrenreich tackes the pervasive positive thinking movement. She is all in favour of happiness, noting studies that show that the most routine obstacle to happiness is poverty. Rich countries and rich people are happier than poor ones.

She concedes that people who project an air of optimism have a better chance of attracting friends and thereby avoiding depression. But positive thinking has become a practice or a discipline. The idea that we must work on ourthoughts and moods, blocking out unpleasant possibilities and negative thoughts, is prevalent in the United States and here in Canada as well. The social requirement to put on a happy face means that we must often suppress our genuine feelings.

"Positive thinking has made itself useful as an apology for the crueller aspects of the market economy," she writes. To paraphrase, it promotes a blame-the-victim mentality, the idea that workers who are laid off and people whose businesses fail are to blame for what has happened to them because they didn't have the right attitude of optimism and weren't motivated to try hard enough.

Chapter Seven of her book is entitled "How positive thinking destroyed the economy." She writes: "The near unanimous optimism of the experts certainly contributed to the reckless build-up of bad debt and dodgy loans, but so did the wildly upbeat outlook of many ordinary Americans."

Realism and "anxious vigilance" are vital to our survival as a species, Ehrenreich contends. In her view, the route to happiness lies not in looking inward and monitoring our moods in order to be more upbeat, but to work with others on practical actions in the world to "get food to the hungry" and the like.
This brief review hasn't done justice to "Bright-Sided". Do read it for yourself.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Excerpt from Spelling Bee

Recently I received some positive feedback on my novel, Spelling Bee (Ottawa, Baico, 2009). A B.C. woman who grew up in Ontario wrote:

"...Once I'd read the opening pages of Spelling Bee, I was hooked. I have spent whatever spare minutes I could... with my nose in your book in something very akin to a journey back in time. My thanks. Everything, from the experiences of early teaching in those little communities...came alive again for me. I even have a "Bibi" I met in that first school, an exotic friend, with whom I have maintained a long and deep friendship, and we have at least one good yearly chat of several hours duration from Hong Kong, where she has finally found a place to her liking after many years of teaching all over the globe."

It occurred to me that I should post an excerpt from Spelling Bee, so here it is. Please click on the link below


Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Capturing younger characters in fiction.

I'm always alert for a new book of special interest to the senior readers of my Book Report column, and when I learned that American author Susan Isaacs had a new book out, I was delighted. Around 1970 I read her first novel, Compromising Positions, and since then have waited with anticipation for each new novel. Her witty, indomitable heroines (usually housewives, secretaries turned spies, teachers, historians, journalists) solve crimes and come across as real people while they do so. Isaacs' novels are more than mere mysteries, because of the roundness of the characters, (in the E.M. Forster sense) and the presence of subplots which either reinforce or contrast with the main plot.

As Isaacs grows older, her heroines have grown younger. As a writer aging faster than I like, I've observed this trend in her fiction with interest. Any writer, no matter where she is on the ladder of success, wants to write stories that appeal to the audience most likely to buy books. (Actually, stats show that middle aged and older women are the major book buyers, with women of all ages buying more books and reading more than men do.)

In my future novels, should I make my heroines young? Social mores and science and technology have changed drastically since I was young, and to write about my own youth is to write a historical novel.

My novel, An Amethyst Remembrance, was set in the 1970s, and my latest, Spelling Bee, shifts between the '60s and '70s and the recent past. In Memories Stick, my fourth mystery novel, I deliberately included a younger woman as well as a middle aged/older one so as to appeal to more than one age group.

Can a woman of a certain age successfully depict a younger woman of today? In As Husbands Go (NY, Scribner, 2010, $29.95 hc Canada), Isaacs seems to have tried too hard to portray a woman in her thirties who might appeal to other thirty-somethings. I have a couple of women friends in their thirties, and they aren't much like Isaacs' central character.

Her protagonist and detective figure, Susie, lives in luxury, seems obsessed with material things and scorns her mother's generation for social activism and lack of interest in possessions. Bridget Jones, the original chick-lit heroine, was much less privileged than Susie, and had more depth of character. Susie seems like an upscale version of the women on the decorating shows on the Women's Television Network. She is a floral designer, mother of four year old triplets, and wife of a plastic surgeon, Jonah. In the midst of a crisis over Jonah's disappearance, she pauses to focus on aspects of her home's interior decoration.

While As Husbands Go isn't Isaac's greatest novel, it has some appealing features. One is Susie's belief in her husband's fidelity and in the happiness of their marriage. When Jonah is found dead in an escort's Upper East Side apartment, she is convinced that he wasn't there for sex but was there on other business. She endures the raised eyebrows and derision of her friends and contacts, and their anger when she suggests that the police have arrested the wrong suspect.

The strongest character in this novael is Susie's grandmother, who is not a stereotypical cookie-baking grandma. Twice divorced, retired as a TV talk show hostess, a testament to hair dye and plastic surgery, Ethel flies to New York with her lawyer/companion Sparky to help and support Susie. At one point, when Susie asks Ethel for advice, the older woman says, "What should you do, ethically? Frankly, when people think of ethics, the name Ethel O'Shea doesn't usually leap to mind. I'll tell you one thing. Don't be put off by authority." In the end, Susie and Ethel both grow in self-confidence and self-respect.

Susan Isaacs has set such a high standard for herself in her blends of humour, romance and mystery and must be allowed a few flaws once in a while. While As Husbands Go isn't quite what I need for my books column, and although the central character seems a bit shallow, it is still entertaining.