Book Review: The Boardroom, by Jade Buchanan

Do you need a fantastic short story to get you in the mood? Or do you just not have time to do a lot of reading?

I just finished reading The Boardroom, by Jade Buchanan. It’s 6000 words of steamy, delicious sex. If only everyone could have such luck at work. Check out the blurb, and you’ll want to read it too:

Kay Baardsson arrives late to lunch, expecting her husband to be waiting for her, only to find that Nils has been called out of the office. Lucky for her, his business partner, Thalia Mason, is more than up to the task of keeping her occupied… until Nils interrupts and things get a little more interesting. Warning: Contains multiple partners, a sexy Dutch accent and girl on girl action…

The story is available at Smashwords. Check out Jade’s website too. You won’t regret it.

The Unabashed Francophile Post, Part 10: My Trip to Paris (2)

In re-reading my journal, I’d nearly forgotten that the summer of 2003 was a bad one for Paris. When I was there in June, the temperatures hovered around 30C, but later in the summer, a number of elderly people died from the heat. The heat made it difficult for me. Hard to sleep, hard to walk for long periods without feeling exhausted… but I did it anyway. I only had ten days and I wanted to make the most of it.

During my first full day, we went to Notre Dame on the Île de la Cité, and viewed the Roman ruins under the square, as well as viewing the World War II memorial (of which at that time I knew nothing). I knew Paris had a long history, but somehow seeing the remains of Roman buildings made me realize exactly how long that history has been. There’s nothing here to compare. (As Eddie Izzard says ‘I’m from Europe, that’s where the history’s from.’)

I thought the rose windows at Notre Dame were impressive. Not so impressive were the masses of tourists and their noise. It negated the sense of sacred space. Though I’m not religious, cathedrals like Notre Dame (or Yorkminster, or Notre Dame in Montreal) should be places of awe and meditation. I love old churches for their art, for the stones worn smooth by centuries of use, and the smell of candle wax and incense. So to visit such a grandiose monument and be frustrated… it was a disappointment.

Me outside Notre Dame, in the heat. The bushes behind me were filled with tiny, chirping sparrows.

Another frustration… my poor skill in the French language. If I had a dollar for every person prior to my trip who said ‘Oh, it’ll come back to you!’, I would have had a lot more spending money. I was intimidated. The French I thought I knew had vanished. People spoke so swiftly that I had difficulty catching more than one or two words.

Of course, it didn’t help that I had a massive case of jet lag. Day two ended with a delicious meal – I note in my journal that I had a veal dish with a mushroom and white wine sauce, kir as an apéritif, and a chocolate mousse for dessert. A bit of chocolate always helps… and my third day would be better after a proper sleep.

The Unabashed Francophile Post, Part 9: My Trip to Paris (1)

I went to Paris in June of 2003, as a very generous birthday gift from my parents. My father was working there for six weeks. I hadn’t been working at all, having been diagnosed with a chronic illness, and without their generosity, I would never have been able to see the city that has since figured so prominently in my life and my writing.

I didn’t always have an interest in France. As I’ve written previously, about Simone de Beauvoir and about French authors, my abiding interest was sparked by a Philosophy of Literature class. I read Sartre’s La Nausée, and Edmond Jabès’s The Book of Questions, and Andre Breton’s surrealist novel Nadja.

So, though my French language classes in elementary, junior high and high school were lamentably poor, and my grasp of the language shy and shaky, I was off to see the City of Light with my own eyes.

I arrived on the 15th of June, having flown Calgary via Montreal to Paris, landing at eight-thirty in the morning. Yes, I remember…. because I wrote it down. A friend of my mother’s bought me a journal for my trip. Exhausted, my mother and I took the Air France bus into the centre of the city, alighting at the stop nearest the Arc de Triomphe and hefting our bags for the walk to the apartment just off the Avenue de Wagram.

Later that morning, I had my first café crème. Not the most exciting of things to report, but it was a revelation. I’d had coffee before, of course, including cappuccino, espresso and the like, but the taste of this café crème was like nothing else. It came in a white porcelain cup and saucer with a paper-wrapped lump of sugar on the side and a small spoon. It was delicious.

I remember the morning being pleasant, sunny with a light breeze. The café we’d stopped at had been crowded with the Sunday brunch crowd and our table still had dishes from the previous occupants cluttering it. Compared to at home, the service was slow, but it didn’t matter. Through my tired daze, I was already fascinated with this new city, so different from home.

Quickie book recommendations #2

Today’s books are some of my more recent favourites.

The first, I snagged from Carina Press on its release day. It’s a fantastic romantic tale set in Antarctica, with an emotionally bruised heroine who is immensely relatable.

The second, I read awhile ago, but I remember hearing an interview with the author about her time in Highgate cemetery and I wished that I could do the same sort of immersion for all my stories.

The third, and unfortunately hard to find book, I received in a collection of a dozen pulp fiction (mostly crime/noir) novels. As you might guess, the mention of a torch singer caught my eye. And, as is appropriate for “Movember“, the first chapter begins with “Let me begin with the mustache. I shaved it off.”

The blurbs for the first two are taken from Carina Press and Amazon, respectively, while the third is from the cover copy of my battered pulp paperback.

Icebound, by Julie Rowe (Carina Press, 50K word novella)
Dr. Emilie Saunderson is driven to finish her late husband’s research. Her quest brings her to Antarctica, where she hopes to find a measure of peace in the isolated and icy wilderness. It’s the last place on earth she expects to be given a second chance at love.

Tom Wolinski loves his work at the bottom of the world. Damaged by his dark past, he has vowed never to get close to anyone—a promise that’s easy to keep in a place with no permanent residents. That is, until Emilie arrives, and he’s irresistibly drawn to her warmth and inner strength.

Emilie has no desire to get involved with another adventurer, and Tom has made it clear he’s not interested in putting down roots. But as they work together to survive in the harshest of climates, they turn to one another for comfort. Is the heat between them enough to melt the ice around their hearts, and bind them together forever?

Her Fearful Symmetry, by Audrey Niffenegger (Scribner, 406pgs)
Julia and Valentina Poole are twenty-year-old sisters with an intense attachment to each other. One morning the mailman delivers a thick envelope to their house in the suburbs of Chicago. Their English aunt Elspeth Noblin has died of cancer and left them her London apartment. There are two conditions for this inheritance: that they live in the flat for a year before they sell it and that their parents not enter it. Julia and Valentina are twins. So were the girls’ aunt Elspeth and their mother, Edie.

The girls move to Elspeth’s flat, which borders the vast Highgate Cemetery, where Christina Rossetti, George Eliot, Stella Gibbons, and other luminaries are buried. Julia and Valentina become involved with their living neighbors: Martin, a composer of crossword puzzles who suffers from crippling OCD, and Robert, Elspeth’s elusive lover, a scholar of the cemetery. They also discover that much is still alive in Highgate, including—perhaps—their aunt.

Too French and Too Deadly, by Henry Kane (Avon, 1955, out of print)
A tempting torch singer with flame-red hair – and a standing invitation to murder in her eyes – meets Peter Chambers…

And when fiction’s most eye-catching, hard-boiled private eye takes on the luscious lady, all he wants with her is privacy. Instead he finds himself in a sealed room with a dead man – and a uniquely puzzling case of homicial “suicide.”

Black, White, or Grey?

I was watching an old Humphrey Bogart film the other day – HIGH SIERRA, from 1941 – and it got me thinking about the portrayals of good and bad in stories. Not only that, I started thinking about some of my favourite stories, and why I like them.

One of the things they had in common? Morally ambiguous characters.

Roy Earle, Bogart’s character in the film, is a hardened criminal. He’s released from prison and hired to help pull off a high stakes robbery of a resort in California. Should be easy, right? As was standard in films, he even looked the part: dark clothes, a scowl, and his lines delivered with the right amount of toughness. Except… it’s just not that easy. Roy Earle is humanized for the viewer with his desire for Velma, the charming young woman with a club foot. He even dreams of marrying her. He adopts a dog, Pard, while waiting around for the heist to go off. And most tellingly, he hooks up with a street-smart taxi dancer named Marie, telling her time and again that she doesn’t mean anything to him, and that if the going got tough, he’d have to park her. However, his actions belie his words and he takes care of her and tries, albeit awkwardly, to make her happy.

It would be hard for a film-goer to have any sympathy for the gangsters portrayed in the 1930s by Cagney, Robinson, and Paul Muni, but Bogart’s Roy Earle was a game-changer in the world of film. Audiences were rooting for the man that, not even five years earlier, would have been portrayed solely as a heartless killer.

If a villain has been written as soulless and unquestionably evil, my interest in the story will quickly wane. Even Lasher, in Anne Rice’s novel THE WITCHING HOUR, wasn’t all bad. His goal was destructive to others, but his desire for that goal was entirely human and understandable. Rowan, the lauded neurosurgeon with her life-saving powers, is not the knight on the white charger. The decisions she makes are just as flawed, just as human, as anyone else’s would be.

Humanizing the villain, giving them an opportunity to be in conflict with themselves instead of just with your hero, goes a long way towards making a story linger after the last page has been turned.

Guest Post: Grit City Emotobooks Revolutionize Fictional Storytelling, by Ron Gavalik

When I heard about Grit City on Twitter, I couldn’t help but be intrigued. I love noir, and I love art, and when I heard that Dillon Galway’s gun for hire was a sultry lady sharing my name, I had to take a read. Author Ron Gavalik was happy to share his thoughts here on the blog.

As a writer it’s always been a goal of mine to bridge the gap between the cerebral gratifications of well-plotted writing and the visual stimulation of illustrative art or film. Like a mad scientist with crazy hair and a battered lab coat, I experimented with various styles, structures, and word painting exercises. Nothing seemed to achieve my goal.

Then it came to me. I had a mini-epiphany. Insert abstract, emotionally representative illustrations during peak moments of tension. By delivering a visual of what the character feels and experiences, the reader becomes more intensely immersed in the story.

The term emotobook is simply a portmanteau word I conjured, as a fun and memorable label for this new medium of fiction.

Unlike comic books that use direct illustrations as the primary storytelling device, Grit City emotobooks are written mystery noirs, with an urban fantasy twist. The four or five illustrations in each thirty-page installment merely lend a visual experience to the internal emotional processes of the characters.

It’s lots of fun.

Grit City is a continuing story, published each month to Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple iBooks and other eBook retailers. In each installment the reader is exposed to a dark and calamitous world, where the nefarious rule.

Our main character is Dillon Galway, an idealistic freelance journalist in his mid-twenties, who barely scrapes out a living reporting on corruption for the metro newspaper and his own blog.

Dillon embodies a double meaning of the term grit. He is a gritty individual, who drinks and lives meagerly. But he also possesses grit. Courage and strength of character are his dominant personality traits.

I’ve constructed a world where Dillon shares a symbiotic relationship with the city. Its failures have lowered him, yet he remains hopeful for the restoration of peace and opportunity. Occasionally, he relies on the sexy and sultry Alyssa Stephano (gun for hire) to help when situations require her nickel-plated Colt .45 revolvers.

Grit City was an ideal place to live at one time. We all know of towns that have fallen over the years. The murder of Dillon’s father and the rise of the Syndicate started Dillon’s downward spiral. All meaningful power in business, politics, and law enforcement were funneled into the hands of this wealthy organization.

But in the shadows of the back alleys, whispers stir in the underground of an unnamed force. Something or someone that’s determined to upset the status quo. When Dillon is tipped about horrifying activities he’s propelled into a perilous investigation that may lead to dire consequences.

As the series progresses he’s faced with unfathomed challenges, but also gains abilities most consider impossible.

We’ve all dedicated our lives to the pursuit of a new fiction medium. We’re thankful such a broad audience is heralding the story. It seems our tagline on the website is true: Read one installment and you’ll be hooked until the gritty end.

Grit City is the maiden series of Grit City Publications. Our team of illustrators and editors are working with writers to launch a catalog of emotobook titles in 2012. It’s our goal to offer emotobooks in the following genres: Mystery, Horror, Fantasy, Science Fiction, Western, Romance, Erotica, and Inspirational. Cross genres are welcome and encouraged.

Maybe you have what it takes to write or illustrate for us.

Ron Gavalik has devoted his life to the written word. He’s practiced a long and successful career in fiction writing, journalism, and technical documentation. His short fiction has appeared in several magazines and online venues. His news articles have informed thousands of readers throughout the United States.

He conceived the new medium of emotobooks in 2010 while earning his M.A. in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University. Grit City is the maiden serialized story, and is receiving accolades among a large and diverse base of readers throughout the US, UK, and Germany.

Born and raised in Pittsburgh, Ron spends much of his free time in the outdoors of Southwestern Pennsylvania. He enjoys fishing, hiking, and riding his trail bike. He can be reached through his website at:

Movie: La Môme (La Vie en Rose)

I’ve posted briefly about this film before, when I spoke of films set in Paris. However, I think a film like La Môme deserves an entry all its own. I saw this film in the theatre 3 or 4 times, taking as many people as I could convince.

The film begins in New York in the later years of Édith Piaf’s career. She’s singing Heaven Have Mercy, and in the midst of her performance, collapses on stage. If you aren’t already familiar with Édith’s life, this traumatic collapse is startling. It sets the scene for a life that was hardly rosy. It then regresses, to her childhood in Belleville, living in a brothel, and traveling with her father in the circus.

My favourite part of the film is Édith’s meeting and falling in love with the boxer Marcel Cerdan. Cerdan was played by the musician and actor Jean-Pierre Martins.

This is perhaps the rosiest time of her life: she’s at the height of her fame, living richly, recognized on both sides of the Atlantic, and she’s in love. The affair itself made headlines, as Cerdan was famous in his own right, a champion in his sport. He was also married. Their letters to each other (published in the book ‘Moi Pour Toi: Lettres d’amour’) were sweet and charming, and as portrayed in the film, their relationship was one of immense passion.

In a letter, Cerdan wrote to her: Je t’aime, t’aime, t’aime, oui, je t’aime. He often addressed her as ‘Édith, chérie‘, or ‘Édith adorée‘, and she would write to him ‘Mon Seigneur que j’aime.’

Their romance played out in cabs, restaurants, the boxing hall, and hotels, whenever they had a chance to be together. The scene where Édith finds out about Marcel’s death (he was killed in a plane crash in 1949) was so well done it brought tears to my eyes.

The film follows Édith’s life from childhood through highs and lows, and finally to her death in Grasse in 1963, at age 47. It was my favourite film of 2007-8, and I was glad that Marion Cotillard won an Oscar for her performance as Piaf. I had hoped it would have been nominated and won far more awards at the Oscars (it won for Makeup as well), but Cotillard won a Golden Globe and it was well-recognized at the Césars. It’s a film I would recommend to anyone, even those who don’t like subtitled or foreign films. Piaf’s voice was like no other and the film is an excellent introduction to her oeuvre.