Saturday, 23 May 2020

Award Winning Author Jan Sikes of Texas, USA.

When you visit Jan’s website, you are greeted by the following:

Jan Sikes weaves stories in a creative and entertaining way. “…a magician and wordsmith extraordinaire…”

The author of four biographical fiction books, a book of poetry, she is also a musician and writes songs to accompany her written words, recorded with her husband Rick Sikes.

The Scribbler is most fortunate to have Jan as our featured guest this week.

Jan Sikes openly admits that she never set out in life to be an author. But she had a story to tell. Not just any story, but a true story that rivals any fiction creation. You simply can’t make this stuff up. It all happened. She chose to create fictitious characters to tell the story through, and they bring the intricately woven tale to life in an entertaining way.

She released a series of music CDs to accompany the four biographical fiction books and then published a book of poetry and art to bring the story full circle.

And now that the story is told, this author can’t find a way to put down the pen. She continues to write fiction and has published many short stories with a series of novels waiting in the wings. She is a member of Authors Marketing Guild, The Writer’s League of Texas, the RAVE REVIEWS BOOK CLUB (RRBC), the RAVE WRITER’S INT’L SOCIETY OF AUTHOR (RWISA), sits on the RWISA Executive Council and hosts a monthly RAVE WAVES blog talk radio show, ASPIRE TO INSPIRE.

4Q: Before we discuss your novels, please tell us about your keen idea of composing music to accompany the stories. How original!

JS:  My first four books totally evolve and revolve around music. They are true stories told in fiction format. The story is about a Texas musician and the crazy paths his life took. I am a character in the stories (which is the main reason for the fictitious characters I created.)

But, because the basis of the entire story is music, I decided to release a music CD with each book that matches the time period of the story. For example, my first book, “Flowers and Stone,” is set in Abilene, Texas in 1970. So, the CD I released with that book is a compilation of original songs taken from 45 rpm records. Anyone remember those? 😊

So, you get the idea. All of the music on these CDs is original, and written by either Rick Sikes, or me with a couple of exceptions.

Another really cool and rather historical aspect of the music compilations is the CD that accompanies the second book, “The Convict and the Rose.” All of the songs except for one were recorded inside Leavenworth penitentiary in a makeshift recording studio. There is a big story behind that, but you’ll have to read the book to find out how that all happened. To my knowledge, it was the only recording studio ever built inside a federal prison. 

JS: You are the recipient of many awards for your writing. Congratulations. Which do you cherish the most?

JS:  That’s a really hard question to answer. I cherish them all, but my third book, “Home At Last” took first place in two separate contests in the same year, so I am very proud of those! 

4Q: Please share a childhood memory or anecdote.

JS:  One of my most vivid memories from childhood is the many hours me and my older sister would spend playing paper dolls. We literally practiced world building with those cardboard dolls. I truly believe it helped build a strong foundation for storytelling, as she is a USA Today and New York Times bestselling author and me, well, I’ve not done bad. 😊

4Q: Can you give us a brief synopsis of your four novels. 

JS:   Sure!  

           Flowers and Stone: A hot Texas summer, dim-lit honky-tonk barrooms, a young naïve fledgling go-go dancer and a wild rebel Texas musician sets the stage for this story. Can Darlina Flowers ever hope to fit into this new world and even more important, can she trust Luke Stone with her heart?
Luke Stone, a good man who has made a career of bad decisions, finds himself at a crossroads. Fate has sealed his destiny and threatens it all.

          The Convict and the Rose: Rebel Texas musician, Luke Stone, loses everything that he treasures with the arrest and conviction for a crime he didn’t commit. Not only is he locked away in a cage, he's left behind the woman who holds his heart. Broken and alone, Darlina Flowers struggles to go on living without the man she loves so completely. Follow their journey through shackles and chains, drugs and gurus as they fight to find their way to freedom.

          Home At Last: Released from federal prison after fifteen long years, Luke Stone boards a Greyhound bus bound for Texas, for home and the woman who holds his heart. He happily hangs up his neon dreams for a paint brush and hammer. Darlina Flowers has waited her entire adult life to become Mrs. Luke Stone, but will the hardships of starting over with nothing be too much? Their love is tested to the core as the story unfolds.

          Til Death Do Us Part:  Luke Stone has cheated death more times than he cares to remember. With a second music career opportunity, he knows he won’t fill the Texas dancehalls and honky-tonks like he did in his younger days, but is determined to give it his all. Darlina, his rock and anchor, longs to see his dreams fulfilled and vows to do everything possible to help him find success. Will time allow Luke to sing his last song?

4Q: Your short story – Jewel – was a 2019 Grand Prize winner. Please tell us about Jewel and the story.

JS:  I often get story ideas from songs. Music still rocks my world on a daily basis. Back in the 70s, Bobbie Gentry released a song called “Fancy.” The story of Jewel is loosely based on that song. A young girl born into poverty in a Louisiana swamp, with a father who has abandoned them, a little sister that depends on her for care and a sickly mother sets the stage for the story. I won’t go into detail as this is a short story and I could easily give away the entire plot. It does follow the song but only to a degree. 

4Q: What’s next for Jan Sikes, the author?

JS: I seem to have found a comfortable niche with writing short stories and I have two in the works right now. However, I also have a series of novels waiting in the wings. I call it “The White Rune Series.” I have book one finished and close to finishing book two. I am trying for a traditional publisher with this series, so wish me luck! I do have an Arizona based publisher who has requested the entire manuscript, so I am hopeful.

As my bio says, once I picked up my pen (well – really computer), I can’t find a way to put it down. 

*****Jan shared some wonderful news yesterday (May 22)

I promised breaking news - so here we go! I have a publishing contract with The Wild Rose Press for the first book in my White Rune Series!!!!!!!! I am humbled, honored, and overwhelmed and have to get really focused and busy! I am thrilled to join the Wild Rose Press family! Thank you, Crystal Klein, Deva Deaton and Jason P Klein for helping me celebrate!!

4Q: What’s next for Jan Sikes, the musician?

JS:  That aspect of my life has faded into the background. My focus is on writing stories and I hardly ever pick up my guitar anymore. I do occasionally play just for relaxation or fun, but I never considered myself a musician. I know how to play chords on a guitar, and I’ll leave it at that. 

4Q: In your opinion, what makes a great story?

JS:  Good question, Allan! A great story has to evoke some sort of emotion in the reader. I think of it this way. How many times have you sat through a dry boring sermon in church? Did it affect you in any way? Probably not. But, if the sermon was filled with some sort of passion, it moved you. It’s the same way with stories and with songs. Of course, they must have a compelling plot and characters, but without emotion or passion, the words fall flat. So, to me, that’s the number one thing that makes a great story one that sucks you in on the first page and keeps you engaged and wanting more, making you “feel” something! 

4Q: Anything else you’d like to share with us?

JS:  Allan, I have to say that this has been an incredible journey for me. When I published my first book in 2013, I was green as a proverbial gourd. I knew absolutely NOTHING about self-publishing. But I had a story that begged to be told and when I realized that no one else could tell it but me, I went to work. I took Creative Writing classes at community colleges, I researched publishing processes and wondered how on earth I would get my books noticed in the huge ocean of books that flood the market. Seven years later, I’ve learned lots, and continue to learn more every day. I encourage anyone who has a story burning inside them to write it!

Also, I want to sincerely thank you for having me at your guest today! 

***It’s an absolute pleasure having you as a guest, Jan.


(Copyright is held by the author. Used with permission.)


Iron ankle chains chafed his skin and the heavy handcuffs and belly chain securing his hands in front of him bit into his wrists. Luke Stone descended the steps of the prison bus that delivered him to Leavenworth Penitentiary. He hopped from the bottom step to the ground then cast a glance at his new home. The cold gray stone walls spared no welcome and the long steps leading up to the door unforgiving.

His attention turned to a man ahead of him who stumbled on his chains and fell to the ground. The guard quickly prodded him with his night stick. “Get up convict. No lagging behind.”

The man struggled to regain his footing. Luke gritted his teeth and tightened his jaw. He remained in line.

 Luke counted the steps as he went. Thirty-seven… thirty-eight… The chains gnawed at the skin around his ankle. And then number forty-two. The massive iron door waiting to swallow his life groaned open.  

The guards escorted the prisoners through a total of six metal doors. Each door slammed shut behind them with a deadly ring that echoed off the stone walls. The finality of the metal clanging penetrated Luke’s very being. Jaw set, eyes as hard as the steel that held him captive, he shuffled forward.

Lined up in military fashion, a lieutenant removed the chains and handcuffs. Armed guards stood watching, ready to fire at any sign of aggression.

“Welcome to Leavenworth Penitentiary, boys. You’re in admissions and orientation.” The man walked down the line looking each convict in the eye. “This is gonna be your home for a while, so I suggest you treat it as such.”

Luke didn’t blink when he paused in front of him. If his face betrayed his thoughts, the lieutenant would clearly see that he would never think of this prison as home. Thoughts of his family back in Texas crowded his mind with a weight of sadness.

How could he have let himself get so reckless and uncaring? He’d been a damn fool to get caught in the tangled mess that landed him behind bars for such a long time. 

Thank you, Jan, for being our guest this week.  Wishing you continued success in your creative endeavors.

For all you wonderful readers wishing to discover more about Jan and her work, please follow these links:


Saturday, 16 May 2020

Award Winning New Brunswick Author Susan White.

The Scribbler takes great pleasure in having Susan, a widely recognized author, as our featured guest this week. At the time of writing this interview, the good news is that Susan’s novel – Fear of Drowning – has been shortlisted for the best in Fiction of the New Brunswick Book Awards. Congratulations Susan!

The author of eight novels with another only weeks away, she is an accomplished storyteller. We are more than pleased to have her participate in a 4Q Interview and she is sharing an Excerpt from When the Hill Comes Down

Pg. 24.

“My parents died when I was three weeks old. I have never even seen a picture of them. The house was destroyed and they were killed. Suffocated, they say, when the house collapsed and the mud came in. It sounds crazy, and I don’t talk about it, but I want you to know what happened. People talk about it as if it was a horror movie. People tell the story like I was an extra or a prop. Just an afterthought in the good story it makes when a whole house fills with the rushing flood of an avalanche of mud, rocks, and debris, knocking out windows and collapsing walls. She threw me out. They don’t know for sure it was her, but I like to think it was. I landed on the roof of the veranda and somehow I was still there when they found it on the ground hours later. ‘Wrapped up in a blanket and not even crying,’ my aunt Helen always said. That’s what they base their theory of me being simple on. A baby wide-eyed and not even crying after dropping two storeys must have some damage to his brain. Plus the fact I didn’t talk until I was four years old.

I wanted to tell you the story myself. The damn story seems to be all anyone cares to know about me. You would think after fifteen years it might fade, but instead it just gets better, more farfetched, and more entertaining, apparently, to everyone but me. I would be happy if I never heard the story again. I thought about not telling you and just enjoying knowing one person who doesn’t know the story. But I figured you probably knew it by now anyway and wouldn’t even show up.”

          Susan White was born in Moncton NB, moved to Fredericton at age eight and at the age of twelve moved to the Kingston Peninsula. She earned her BA and B Ed at St. Thomas University fulfilling one of her childhood dreams of becoming a teacher. She and her husband Burton raised four children, ran a small farm and Susan taught elementary school for 29 years.  She retired in 2009 to follow another dream which was to be a writer.

  Susan White’s first book The Year Mrs. Montague Cried was published in 2011. It won the Ann Connor Brimer Excellence in Children’s Literature award in 2012. Three more Y/A novels, Ten Thousand Truths, The Sewing Basket and The Memory Chair followed. The Memory Chair was shortlisted for the Ann Connor Brimer in 2018. Her first adult novel Waiting For Still Water was released in June 2016   and her second adult novel Maple Sugar Pie in 2017. Her Y/A novel Headliner was released in 2018 and was shortlisted for the Mrs. Dunster Fiction NB Book award in 2019. Fear of Drowning was released in 2019 and her latest adult novel When the Hill Came Down will be released soon.

4Q: Let’s talk about Fear of Drowning and the excitement of being shortlisted for Mrs. Dunster’s Fiction Award.

SW: In March I received word that Fear of Drowning was shortlisted for the Mrs. Dunster’s Fiction Award. I was thrilled. I felt the same excitement last year when my book Headliner was shortlisted. The NB Book Awards Gala last year was so much fun. The organizers did a great job with every detail from the amazing cake created by Emma Hyslop and a friend, the interesting questions posed to each shortlisted author, to the great music provided by Good Timing. I was so looking forward to the gala this year but we all know why that has been postponed. I look forward to whenever that night comes. I am very proud to be an New Brunswick author and celebrate all the good work been written in our province.

**Scribbler note: Due to the ongoing pandemic, the awards ceremony has been cancelled and as of the time of this interview, the winners have not been announced. A new date is expected to follow soon.

4Q: Your blog - - tells us that your ninth novel is coming close to reality. Can you tell us about it?

SW: When the Hill Came Down is a fictional novel with an ecological slant.  In fact, the clay and shale surface of a very steep hill that is clear cut in the mid 1950’s experiences catastrophic failure during a torrential rainstorm and destroys a nearby home killing two of its occupants. In a final act of love a mother throws her three-week-old infant from an upstairs window saving his life as the avalanche of mud and debris comes down. Keefe Williams, the child left behind grows up in the shadow of this terrible tragedy.   He is taken in by his aunt and uncle; the very uncle whose lumbering practices many people believe caused the hill to come down.

     When the Hill Came Down explores greed, jealousy, love, loyalty and the very fabric of a community full of stories whose threads intertwine. The color, texture and the multi facets of any story, in any community bear scrutiny. Nothing is ever exactly the way it seems.

4Q: Your novel “The Year Mrs. Montague Cried" won the 2010 AWC YA/Juvenile Novel Prize and, after publication by Acorn Press, the 2011 Ann Connor Brimer Award for Children's Literature. Tell us a bit about the story and the awards.

SW: In April 1999 we lost our oldest son Zachary in an automobile accident. I went back to my classroom in

September and experienced many challenges dealing with the day by day of grieving and carrying on. The Year Mrs. Montague Cried is an account of that year weaving my real life experiences with a fictional story of a Taylor Broderson, a nine year old girl in Mrs. Montague’s grade four class who is experiencing challenges in her own family. While watching her teacher grieve Taylor learns much about loss and love preparing her for the difficult days to come.

I took a deferred leave from teaching in 2006-2007 to write this book and submitted it to five publishers receiving five rejections before entering it in the AWC in December 2009. It won first place in August 2010 and the sixth publisher I had submitted to contacted me and two weeks later I signed a contract with Acorn Press. The Year Mrs. Montague Cried was released in 2011 and went on to win the Ann Connor Brimer in 2012. 

4Q: I know this might be a tough question but with nine novels published, which one is your favorite? The one you enjoyed writing the most.

SW: I get asked this a lot and always answer that choosing my favorite book is like asking me to choose my favorite child, not an easy or wise task. I love them all. I am probably proudest of The Year Mrs. Montague Cried because of the challenge of writing it, the truth of living it and the reward of seeing it become my first published book. I am also very proud of Fear of Drowning. It went through at least six rewrites and the final draft presented challenges as I attempted to write  so many points of view  in  a back and forth timeline. Having it shortlisted is validating. And I love… 

4Q: In your opinion, what makes a great story?

SW: I believe a great story should make you feel a plethora of emotions. I have been accused of making people cry and I take great pride in that. Crying, laughing and feeling a connection to your own experiences and struggle is what a great story should do.

4Q: Your favorite authors or the ones that have influenced you the most?

 SW: It seems cliché but my answer is always Lucy Maud Montgomery. As a child I loved the rural setting which offered Anne a place to truly belong. Reading as many of her books as I could get my hands on I began dreaming of being the three things Anne Shirley grew up to be; a teacher, a mother, and an author. As an adult I admire her determination and dedication to her work.

An Excerpt from Fear of Drowning Pg. 10.

(Copyright is held by the author. Used with permission)  

My first thoughts as I woke early, before pulling back the bedclothes and making myself get up, were layered and somewhat convoluted. What if my grandmother had not sent the telegram?

What if she had never tripped on the bottom step and twisted her ankle? What if I had gone with Mother and Father? That was at the core of all my emotional floundering, which seemed not to have lessened even with the passing of almost nine decades.

I still found myself going back to the crucial questions: What

if they had not gone to San Francisco? What if I had gone with them? My life was forever changed because after receiving the telegram from my grandmother, my father booked train passage for my mother and himself and left me behind.

What if the telegraph had never been invented? If my grandmother had mailed a letter instead and the receipt of it was delayed by even one day, my parents would not have been in San Francisco when the earth moved and sections of the city were levelled.

This was to be a long and tiresome day if I continued to mire

myself in a web of useless thoughts. What if the train Mrs. Price and I caught that day had left the tracks? What if she had taken me home with her? What if I’d not taken employment at the Prince George Hotel?

Possibly my reluctance to share my deepest thoughts with

Clara had more to do with my inability to truly see my life.

Had I, like she said, simply used the cloak of my misery to gird myself from any real introspection? Was getting back to being the darling daughter of Frederick and Claire McDonough my motivation for all the choices I made?

Thank you, Susan, for being our guest this week. Wishing you continued success and recognition for your writing.

For those of you wanting to discover more bout Susan and her novels, please follow this link:

Saturday, 2 May 2020

Featured Author Heather McBriarty of Saint John, NB.

I was introduced to Heather by an author friend and discovered her captivating book – Somewhere in Flanders: Letters from the Front. Published in November, 2019, by Crow Mountain Publishing, it is the story of James W. Johnstone who enlisted in Canada’s Expeditionary Forces in the First World War and contains the love letters he sent home to his sweetheart, Isobel.

She has graciously agreed to a 4Q Interview and is sharing an excerpt from her interesting book.

Well, first, I’m an x-ray technologist masquerading as a writer! It’s interesting how life goals come full circle. I have been passionate about books my whole life, and began writing my own stories at a young age. I could always be found, nose firmly between the pages of one book or another. When I was desperate, I read encyclopedias, sitting in the front hall beside the bookshelf. As the middle-ish child with four much older and two much younger siblings, the world of books gave me the friends and companions I lacked at home, and to some degree, at school (I was terribly shy!). Wherever I was, if I had a book, I had a safe, friendly space. My oldest brother had the knack of finding me the most wonderful books; A Wrinkle in Time and The Phantom Tollbooth were gifts from him.

I was fortunate in high school to have an English teacher who encouraged creative writing and was happy to read everything his students wanted to share, outside of class work. Because of him, I entered a national short story contest, got an honorable mention and a $25 cheque. Big leagues! However, my life turned to the sciences and a career in health care, and while I still never went anywhere without a book in my bag, writing took a backseat to work and the myriad chores of adulthood, marriage and motherhood. 

Reading to my three sons was a joy, encouraging their interest in reading a return to the pleasures of my childhood. After many, many years, I found the joy in writing again, in creating, in reproducing for others a world long gone. I have a feeling this is only the beginning. When not reading or writing (or working), I’m playing with my two wee grandsons, filling my nose with the scents of horse and hay at the barn, or plotting offshore adventures with my husband on our sail boat (AKA my summer writing office!).

4Q: Who is James W. Johnstone to you? Why did you decide to tell his story?

HM:  Jim is not a relative, but had he survived the war, he might have been my grandfather. Okay, okay, I know genetics don’t quite work that way, but I’ve adopted him as such. The recipient of Jim’s letters - and his incredibly touching expressions of love - was my grandmother, Isobel McCurdy. They were school chums, although he was a bit older, and the mere fact that she kept his letters all her life speaks volumes about her feelings for him. Through these letters, I feel a connection to her, a woman who died before I was three years old and who I never knew. 

Jim seized me from the moment I read the first letter, pulled at random from the pile of 69. He was this bright spark of determination and duty, cheeky and flirtatious, trying his best to make light of what became a horrific situation for him, as he saw friends die. His love for my grandmother and his deep love for Canada is moving and inspiring. He was so alive, he leapt off the page, and I could not let him sink into obscurity again. I have a lifelong love of Egyptian history. The Egyptians believed that as long as a man’s name and deeds were spoken of and written down, he lived; I wanted to make sure Jim lived again.

4Q: Please tell us what to expect when we pick up our own copy of Somewhere in Flanders.

HM: Be prepared to make a friend, and lose a friend in Jim. This is what happened to the men in those trenches. They went in with a crew of guys who they worked with side by side, in miserable conditions, becoming brothers, and then suddenly some would be gone, instantly, gruesomely. The longer they were in the war, the fewer and fewer of their original friends survived with them, and the further some withdrew from their comrades. Be prepared to cry a little, but also to laugh, and to be inspired by the dedication of Jim’s generation, who went in and fought a dirty, bloody war to protect the innocent of a country not their own - for which the people of Belgium are still incredibly and touchingly grateful. Be prepared to see this war as not just some ancient, dusty history. It was lived by young men with the same hopes and dreams we have, many who never got to live those dreams. Jim’s words make it as relevant to the reader today, as it was to him. 

4Q: Please share a childhood memory or anecdote.

HM: I don’t remember a time without books. Apparently my mother decided to teach me to read at age 3. I do remember the first time I learned a rather big word. I was six, and had been placed in a very small group of more advanced readers in my class at school. We were allowed to take home real chapter books from a classroom library, not the Dick and Jane readers (dating myself here!) that everyone else used, and I raced through those voraciously. One day, the teacher wrote down a word – “determined” – and I recall sounding it out, finally getting it right and the blaze of accomplishment when I realized I knew what it was. Right then I fell in love with words and reading. It was an empowering moment!

4Q: In your opinion, what makes a great story?

HM: Characters are the most important part of a good story. They don’t have to be likable or good people (in fact, I prefer a character who is flawed) but they can’t be too good or too bad; that’s a cardboard cutout. They have to move you and be believable, have flaws and redeeming virtues. You have to feel what they are feeling and be transported into their minds and situations. If I hate a main character, I cannot continue reading the book, no matter how interesting the plot may be. Second, a great story needs great language – not big fancy, ten-dollar words but beautifully arranged words. It needs to sing and to elevate the reader. If I lose myself in the beauty of the language, I am transported and transformed by the book. I just finished a book that sums this all up, Tim Leach’s Smile of the Wolf…I devoured it.

4Q: What are you working on now?

HM: I’ve got a novel on the go, rather than non-fiction, as my next project. I can’t say it’s the first I’ve started, but it is the first I have begun in an organized and deliberate way…which I hope translates into getting more than a few pages done! 11,000 words down; 60-70,000 to go! Having reached the goal line of publishing a completed book, I feel I have more discipline now. Staying true to form, this one is set during the First World War, and involves a young couple from Halifax. What is different is the hero comes back, albeit not the man he was when he left, and the heroine is a medical student who faces the trauma of the Halifax explosion. They are both left splintered, much like the environments they experience. I am stealing heavily from my grandfather’s stories as a med student at Dalhousie in December of 1917!

4Q: If you were to write a biography of anyone you want, who would it be and why?

HM: My grandmother, Isobel McCurdy. I have always known she was an interesting woman, but I only now appreciate just how much she experienced, from the death of her beloved young man, her work during the war years with the Red Cross, to setting off to China in 1921 - pregnant, with one year old baby in tow - with her medical missionary husband. There, they spent six years deep in the interior, in remote outposts, before fleeing the revolutionaries with hardly more than the clothes on their backs. My father (born in China having made the trip there in utero) made a comment once, that his mother often thought they’d never have gotten away but for their – by then – four little brown-eyed, tanned boys, who spoke Mandarin and Cantonese fluently.

4Q: Can you remember that defining moment when you decided to become an author?

HM: I’ve written short stories all my life. I began and abandoned novels before. It had always been a dream to be a published author, see my name on a cover. It was not until these letters that I knew I had a book. There was never any question I would finish it, almost like Jim was guiding my hand…or perhaps it was my grandmother. Certainly, her picture gazed down at me from the top of my desk through the whole process. I can’t say where the drive came from but it was unstoppable, and was nothing I really decided. Remember that word “determined”? This was determined for me, and I was determined to make it happen!

An Excerpt from Somewhere in Flanders: Letters from the Front.

(Copyright is held by the author. Used with permission)

The paper was old and stiff, yellowed from age. The notes, addressed to my grandmother, were small, folded over and over to fit in tiny envelopes, and crackled alarmingly as I unfurled the pages. Faint notes of must, the tang of rusty-coloured ink and old books rose from the paper. The writing was far more elegant than anything I’d been taught, slanted, spiky, the product of years of careful tutoring and hours slaving over lessons. Young men never write like that now. The ink was faded, but the words leaped out at me “My Dearest Chiquita”. Flipping to the end, there was a quick scrawl, “Yours ever, Jim”. My grandfather’s name was Kenneth. 

My grandmother, Isobel, died when I was three, so I only knew her from pictures: an older woman, hands folded lady-like in her lap, back straight as if she still wore boned corsets. Her grey hair was neatly braided and coiled around her head in a halo. Her face was always turned ever so slightly away from the camera, eyes always a bit sad. Her lips, never smiling in those photographs, were mine. She was a pianist, a graduate from Dalhousie University in Halifax with a music degree, but rarely played publicly. She was the daughter of the editor of the Halifax Herald, brought up in a well-to-do home. She was a diarist, and I devoured her record of the years she spent as a newlywed and young mother in China in the 1920’s, while my physician grandfather worked as a medical missionary. She was most definitely not a Chiquita! And who was Jim?

The letters had come in a tattered old cardboard box from my cousin in BC, part of a mishmash of things she was cleaning out of her father’s basement. As I read through this treasure trove, I came to know Jim. His letters were filled with misspelled words and insufficient punctuation, but also with quotes from Shakespeare and Omar Khayyam. He had strong opinions on many subjects, and experiences none of us want to repeat. He was bright, and funny, and oh, so young. This book is his story.

From Somewhere in Belgium

April 21/15   [eve of the Second Battle of Ypres]

My Dearest Chiquita:

We have been on the march again and now are within a very short distance of the firing line. A certain town within a mile or so of here has just been under a very severe bombardment by the Germans and it would make anyone heart sick to see the women and children and old men hurrying away from their homes with only what they can carry with them. The road is practically blocked with motor-lorries, transports, ambulances etc carrying the refugees away and those who are not fortunate to get a ride are pulling little carts with their personal necessities in them.

Your birthday was celebrated by a bombardment from both sides all last night and early this morning the enemy sent up a quantity of star shell all last night they must have expected an attack. We have orders to keep in the billets and move out to the trenches in a moment’s notice, so it looks as if there would be something doing in a short time. Just behind us is an observation baloon but the German shells don’t seem to be able  to get the range at all as nearly all of their shells go wide. I like Belgium ever so much more than France the people are very much more civil and a whole lot cleaner the whole country seems much more prosperous, you notice the difference the very moment you cross the frontier. We were billeted just outside a very large chateau which was once owned by the Rothschilds so as you can image it is quite a place. The park is simply grand with little grotos here and there, statues and caves etc imitation Moslem temples etc. We were in for a bath in one of the lagoons in the park and although this is April the water was quite warm. Just received your letter written on March 13/15 so you see it must have gone astray for the one you wrote on the 23rd I received a week or so ago. We have to parade in a very few minutes so will have to close. Please excuse pencil and writing. Good bye my dear Chiquita. I trust you have come out successfully in your exams which I know you will so au revoir dear.

                                                    Yours  Jim

Thank you, Heather, for being our featured guest this week. Wishing you continued success with your writing journey.

For you visitors to the Scribbler wanting to learn more about Heather and her book, please follow these links:

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