Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Writing With Betty: Interview with Janice Seto

Over on the Facebook page I asked some of our resident authors if they wouldn't mind being interviewed about the craft of writing and a little about Betty Neels. I'll have a series of several over the coming weeks. 

Author Janice Seto is a dynamo. What a pleasure it was to chat with her as we galloped through an interview on FB Messenger today. It was like lighting a firecracker and holding on to the tail. I am no longer surprised that she has produced four commentaries on the works of Betty Neels. But that's not all she's done.
Betty Janice's effervescence and energy
are about to melt some snow.
Our talk was wide-ranging and there is a fair amount about her technical writing that I cut out but I wish I could keep it all. Janice is tremendously busy and works so hard. In places I compressed her answers but will use ellipses to indicate that and if we discussed a topic in two different places, I squished them together. My thoughts are in bold (though I cut most of my questions) and she is in the standard font. Away we go!

Give me a second to settle the kids.

I shall put the kettle on the Aga...
See? She is sweet.

I had her tell me a little bit about how she started writing.
After my father passed away 2 years ago, I wrote through my grief, and had not written for years. On the one hand, I tend to write commentary and analysis and on the other hand, I have been writing the [Betty Neels] 'alt' endings.
That was in Oct/Nov 2015 when I came across the EveryNeelsThing site... I suppose after these long months of reflecting on my father's life and then about where I am now that I felt like Rearranging the ending of Sun & Candlelight...
To get rid of the Nanny?
...which was intended to be 5 paragraphs... [It] ended up being about 9 segments, Dank U Wel, Keira and the other TGB FB team for letting me post.
Well, THAT unleashed a wave of writing... and I published on Amazon and got 'commissioned' to write business and economics commentary for the MCBC The Bridge...One article was to comment on the the first federal budget in Canada by the Justin Trudeau government. THAT was a worthy assignment - and since I had been teaching business/political economy at the community college/intro...they accepted it.
I felt like Professor Gideon Beaufort (Professor of Economics in Year's Happy Ending) when they published it 🙂

I asked her about her background:
I am blessed that I came of age when journalism was mostly print and television. And book publishing was traditional. Back in the day, you had to look good and sound good to be in the field and I accepted that I did not have what it took then.
I am born and raised in Canada - when your family owns a business, you are basically a business family. And when you own a family restaurant, you don't have holidays or vacations or much time off. I never went to a high school dance and I spent most of my time travelling through reading.
A few Betty Neels were in the library--and my hometown had quite a sizable Dutch emigrant population = nice combo!
...I taught in Bratislava, studied TEFL and got my teaching certificate, taught in Asia, worked in marketing and sales back home, taught in the Middle East, worked in labour relations...), I observed a range of life experiences and 'honed' my writing through student journalism and helping students in student journalism and did not really think about writing.
Now with the technology of the iPad (THANK you, Steve Jobs) and publishing (Gracias, and and CreateSpace/Amazon) and free ISBN (Merci, National Library of Canada),
everything has changed and I have what it takes, through years in the wilderness.
I am pretty much...a one-woman publishing machine because of it and I write what I want and put it
out there. Sort of like the late musician, Prince

On the TUJD site, Janice is best known for her series, bringing together Doc Love and Betty Neels:
I talk too much, Keira!...About the Doc Love/Betty Neels series...He's like me, was in sales for years, and I came across his articles years ago, and purchased his books, and listen to his radio show - very practical and I got an insight this time last year that the RDD sounded so much like Doc Love's Gentlemen... and a series was born...
I had planned just ONE. And then it grew... so far 4 are published and I thought I was DONE. Now I am on the 5th, Doc Love/Betty Neels and Pride & Prejudice. A draft version is out for Laurie K to read, and since then I have made extensive revisions. That's what happens...

About my Revamps of TGB, I always make sure there is a spiritual component - for example, in An Innocent Bride and other [Betty Neels books] where the heroine is the daughter of the rector - and also in my own life journey, there are places where I taught that it was so shadowy that one needed spiritual backing.

Each of Janice Seto's books can be found HERE on her Amazon author page.
I wanted to know how Janice views her own writing:

Strengths as a writer... Hmmm, well, I would say that I related to the reader because I love to read. These days, young people are criticized for not reading enough, and having reflected on that, I redefine it as 'young people these days tend not to be curious about issues that matter to the extent to depth and breadth.'

Where does Betty Neels fit into all of this?
In my forays into fiction, ie. sweet romances a la Betty Neels, as a reader, I want a pleasing resolution that comes about because the protagonists have a positive outlook and get a HEA as a reward for being decent people.
There is so much grief and nonsense and malevolence in the world and on the news that I
just need a respite from all that.
After my Dad passed 2 years ago, I was amazed to discover that there are MANY people who
live like TGB. Their quiet manner of going about life is hard to hear because the ANGST of others
is LOUD (and obnoxious).

Quiet, humble people can tend their own gardens without getting into a flap
about what ridiculous off-season arugula the bear cub is planting in the next plot over.

As someone who has worked outside of my hometown over the years, I was the recipient of
genuine kindness. Not everyone out there has lives with jerk magnets and drama queens -
I certainly do not - and my writing Revamps is based on the majority of people who go about
their lives without that kind of spice. And I try to 'play it forward' in my...Revamps.
How about the challenges of publishing and marketing?
...I keep low key because I have a job and I focus on writing. Some great writers get caught up in the marketing and drink their own publicity kool aid and lose their writing 'mojo' like Truman Capote. Some great writers just write - they would like to be known for their work but sometimes they don't get recognized in their lifetime
The great Italian novel "The Leopard" for example.
As a self-published author, how do you know when you are done?
That's the curse of self-publishing...
For example, I had a self-imposed deadline for my Doc Love/Betty Neels series and actually uploaded and hit Publish and then 3 days later, I did an extensive revision (#$%@ beastly Dutch oaths) and had to republish again. Which is easy with Amazon/Create Space in that I did not have to pulp any printed books (as in the old days)
"It's fine. It's fine. It's fine."
The writing process...I tend to use a mind map and it looks like a 'spider dipped in ink' by the end.
Janice had some things to say about reworking the ends of some Betty Neels books:
My TGB revamps... if you ask me to be honest, I think of it as the business consultant and
executive coach in me saying, "If you two crazy kids listen to me, you will have a HEA.
So Sarre, put on your Big Boy pants and actually PARENT those twins or your beautiful
wife Alethea will drop you for a non-wimpy RDD."
Does anyone help out when you write?
One of the members [of TUJD] in book 4 went OUT of her way and copy edited and proofread it extensively. A shout out for her. [I] would like more reviewers but everyone busy these days so I [am] grateful for my current go-to readers, they are wonderful and generous.
Other projects?
For my first children's book, a bilingual Cree-English book, I needed an illustrator and found
an ARTIST on
I do not speak Cree but I asked someone to translate in return for a share of the royalties 🙂 There is some interest in books on an Indigenous theme here in Canada
How do you deal with the criticism?
At my age, with my variety of experiences, and my own track record, I publish whatever I feel like.
Reader feedback is important and in the Amazon world, feedback by purchasers is seen as
more credible.  Nevertheless I don't let a poor review devastate me (that's very drama queen,
isn't it?) - some people will actually give up just because of feedback. That does the world no good.
Because I am currently based in northern frozen Canada, with no cell service and spotty Internet, I cannot be as engaging with readers as other writers, Keira, which is a pity. So this FB Messenger interview is the best way, given the constraints
What keeps you going?
I suppose there is a sense of limited time and energy. Two years ago today was my father's funeral.
Last year, my grandmother passed at age 100, and two other older family members were buried
after being told they had about 8 months to live. So they had time to 'get their affairs in order'.
I did the arithmetic, and in the best case scenario, how many years do I have left? if God grants
me good health and good brain health, and I live to TGB, who managed to write 135 stories,
then that is a good use of time
I have lived in places where you do not have freedom of speech. I have also seen people fortunate
enough to live in the West who have chosen to be in relationships where they self-censor in order
to stay in this marriage/keep the peace. Stifling oneself is no way to live -> you just get resentful
and then it is hell on earth in that household. I am fortunate enough to exercise my freedom to
think and that keeps me going.
For now, I still find teaching fulfilling - although when I get another class of holy terrors, well, life's
too short for THAT.  I might just turn my back on it all and write full time 🙂
God bless you, Keira, for the website and for the FB site!

And thank you Betty Janice for being such a good sport!

Monday, February 19, 2018

The Lark in the Meadow--Video Review

My video review of The Lark in the Meadow explores the developing mid-century rabbit situation in New Zealand. What do you mean "niche"?

Sunday, February 18, 2018

The Lark in the Meadow--1959

Essie Summers plonks the exposition down in front of us like a headless fish, gutted and ready for the grill. I will ape my betters.

Sarah Isbister, 24, nurse, half sister to young Rory and Pauline (14-ish and 12-ish) is suddenly orphaned when old (but curiously hot) New Zealand visitor Duncan Alexander fails to have his dodgy breaks worked on at the Scots equivalent of Les Schwab (where those of us in the Pacific Northwest have our tires rotated, our alignment adjusted and our brakes tested for reasonable prices). He kills her parents outright and doesn't fair so well himself.

As he is dying in the hospital, the only thing that will soothe his guilt is to give Sarah and the youngsters half of his New Zealand estate, Challowsford. Doubtless he would have shoved the whole thing at them if he could. But he can't. The other half belongs to his nephew: Curiously Hot, Grant Alexander.

London, as any true Betty Neels fan would tell you, is an inhospitable place for single nurses to care and comfort young children. Failing a lint-fair Dutch giant cornering our heroine in the sluice room, the only thing to be done is take the legacy and emigrate.

Any vast, faintly-accented endocrinologists
with foreign titles and stately homes? 

No? Going once...twice...
Sarah embarks via slow-going cruise ship which is a real pity since a letter of character beats her to her destination, dripping with poison from the pen of one Elaine Thomason. The missive comes crouched in the most hand-wringing tone. (Dear Mr. Alexander, I feel prostrate with embarrassment but I have to tell you ALL the salacious details of the last days of your dear, sainted uncle with that gold digging hussy. Her actions were lower than the earth's molten core...)

Grant's reception of Sarah is chilly but it was never going to be fantastic. He knows nothing of the brakes and thinks she obviously took advantage of a dying man, accepting an inheritance she had no business touching. The letter is a confirmation of his suspicions.

He notes her chic clothes and of the way she has wormed herself into a cozy friendship with the ship's captain. When she sinks herself to explain that their passage was paid for from her own money and that she has enough for her own and the children's needs for several weeks, he is salty.

"Am I expected to applaud?"
More horrors await. On the drive down to Challowsford he corrects her at every turn. That's not a village, lady. Here in New Zealand we call them townships. That lark isn't singing in a meadow. It's a paddock. No, you cannot help around on the farm. We don't need amateurs.

If Sarah's nose is still intact from all Grant's snubbing, he suggests that meeting Mrs. Macfarlane (the Challowsford housekeeper) will be sure to knock it out of joint. That lady is a wary piece, predisposed to think that Sarah is a lay-on-the-sofa-and-litter-cigarette-stubs-on-the-antique-mahogany-furniture type but it doesn't take long for her to take the true measure of the Orcadian beauty.

If the old saying is, "When Greek meets Greek, then comes the tug of war." then there must be another one that exists only within the world of Essie Summers: "When Scot meets Scot, then comes the salted porridge." Mrs. Mac knows at once that Sarah is independent, hard-working and would die before taking a penny that wasn't hers. Grant Alexander, blind as he is, must be descended from some other race.

Belgians, probably.
Sarah refuses the dubious hospitality of Challowsford and declares that she will stay in one of the abandoned cottages well away from the house, cleaning it and bringing it back to life. Now that they have a modest home and miles of open countryside, the children won't have to be raised in a London orphanage. (I always imagine it as a Dickensian wasteland in these scenarios. Rory is one growth spurt short of escaping life as a chimney sweep. Poor Pauline has to sell matchsticks.) Any slights she has to endure from Mr. Alexander are worth it.

Such is the level of mistrust that Grant sends her an offer to buy out her share of the estate...through lawyers. I think the firm name was...lemme see...Snotty, Coward & Dumb. Her retaliation is to use his phone, with Mrs. Mac and Grant pinned to their chairs at the Challowsford kitchen table, turning them down flat. Because insult is the usual chaser to injury, she also asks the operator for the charges and counts out $2.10 and slaps it on the table.

All these lively duels with the handsome Mr. Alexander don't get in the way of Grant bonding with Rory and Pauline. He teaches Rory to drive tractor, hands over responsibility of the chickens to Pauline, enrolls them in school, and arranges for the use of ponies. “Sarah felt lonely, shut out.”

Oh Betties. That wrings my heart like a pile of oranges from a New England bed and breakfast. Poor Sarah. I have said before (and, heaven knows, will say again) that 'stoic' is catnip for me. She's lost a mother and beloved step-father (I do adore that detail—beloved 'steps' are a thing with me.), moved away from all her friends, and has the burden of young children. Even if she was the Virgin Queen, it would still be nice to have a tall drink of New Zealand water to lead an attack against the Spanish Armada with.

"But it might be a squidge easier with a boyfriend, you know!?"
A disaster of that caliber would really bring a couple together but country-invading Spanish galleons are NOT thick on the ground. However, Mrs. Mac obliges by breaking her arm on the eve of hosting the shearing gangs after the local bakery has burned to the ground. This is almost as bad, you guys. In the world of Kiwi farming, it's Raiders of the Lost Ark face-meltingly bad.

Grant expects a cheap little gold digger to be useless but gets a warrior woman instead. She throws herself into the success of the endeavor and, while horribly exhausted, manages to deliver twins on a nearby station. If that isn't enough, one of the twins almost dies and the mother has a hemorrhage. She saves both lives and, once delivered to the nursing home, Sarah also has to give blood. My Betty-Neels-Fangirl-Heart grew two sizes because I have a hair-trigger appreciation for nursing heroics. 

A cease-fire would be nice but they don't get one until the Christmas holidays. I have to tell you about the gifts! He gets her a book about the history of New Zealand ranching, subtly underlining that he accepts that her interest in her adopted country is genuine. SHE GETS HIM A GIFT CARD!

"Apple chutney in July. You like apples."
On Christmas night, Grant kisses her. Like a NASCAR racer, he sees an opening and takes a chance, threading narrowly between danger. She is stunned but not angry.

Complications arise from beyond Challowsford. Sarah gets a letter from Elaine Thomason (one-time neighbor and full-time troublemaker) who is coming for a visit. Evidently the rules of hospitality laid out by Homer almost 3,000 years ago in The Oddessy were in full effect in 1959. One was expected to suffer enemies in one's home for indefinite periods of time because Zeus, or something.

Grant has his own sort of hell to endure. He discovers that not every man on the Chevoit hills cares to scrape Sarah's character for bacteria and grow a culture over months and months, tsking into the microscope at intervals and saying, "Bad. Very bad.". Farmer Jeff, for instance.

Grant: You mean Jeff and Sarah?
Mrs. Mac: Aye, just that...That ought to please you. 
G: What do you mean--ought to please me?
MM (Her face was guileless): Well, you've no' exactly made the lassie welcome, have you?

Mrs. Mac drops some Truth Bombs.
Is it any surprise that Grant is on the receiving end of Sarah's stingingest slap not five pages later? He is a Freudian mess, lumbering into one ill-conceived remark after another, until Jeff contracts a convenient case of the measles. (Think of Grant stealing pillow cases from hospital infirmaries, riddled with measles, and rubbing them on the steering wheel of Farmer Jeff's sensible station wagon.)

I suppose it's just Elaine to be dispensed with now. She's just awful and lands on Challowsford like an epidemic of foot rot. Grant seems interested in her, keen to listen to her poison about Sarah and tolerant of her terrible ideas. (Like painting the homestead PINK, you guys!)

Weeks later (Who has guests they can't stand for WEEKS!?), Elaine suggests that she and Grant would be so delighted if Sarah would disapparate or lose herself down an abandoned mine shaft (the better to clear the ground for a forthcoming wedding). Sarah is gutted. There are many sacrifices she's made for the children but she loves Grant too much to stay and watch him be wedded to Elaine.

For one thing, the wedding dance would be embarrassing for everybody.
Being a trained nurse has its benefits, as any Betty Neels fan knows. In no time, Sarah scouts out a new job and apartment in the city (heartsick at tearing Rory and Pauline away from paradise) and makes her plans to steal away without telling anyone.

But as anyone who has ever watched an episode of Lassie will tell you, there is always a little boy stuck on a cliff. A LITERAL little boy stuck on a cliff. Nail-biting adventures always clear the air and inspire passion (That's what Hollywood told me.) so it is not very long after Grant pulls her and Literal Boy to safety that declarations are made and proposals are accepted.

Her English lark is welcome in his New Zealand, paddock.

Rating: 7/10 Flash Flood
I remembered hating this book when I first read it and, aside from the busyness of the season, that's what has kept The Lark in the Meadow in my TBR pile. The memory of Grant's cruelty and unfairness bothered me, no end.
This time, however, I sort of loved it. Grant wasn't as awful as I remembered and each misunderstanding seemed to lodge my heart more firmly in my throat--hoping, praying that it would all sort out for the young lovers. And it does. Not only does Sarah have a homecoming, but Pauline and Rory too.
The one part that fell a bit flat was when Grant is hosting Elaine. Essie Summers muddied up the water quite satisfyingly (Does he love her? Does he hate her?) if Grant didn't already love and believe Sarah. But when he declares that he knew Elaine was a fink from the start of her visit, I can't quite buy it.
But Elaine is a piece of work. She hated the idea that Sarah would get ahead so much that she wrote a letter (long hand!), swiped the Challowford address from Sarah's handbag (probably) and walked all the way down to the post office to buy an airmail stamp. You've really got to admire her stick-to-it-ive-ness.

Location: Chevoit countryside (South island)

Misunderstanding: Because of misinformation provided by a third party, he thinks she's a gold digger, as fake as a one dollar gold watch.

Friday, February 2, 2018

The Socking Bentley in the Room

Oh Betties! It's been so long since my last post. And though I am mostly posting on Facebook now, that is no reason to neglect TUJD-proper. Yes, I've been busy (5 Pledges, Christmas holidays, family commitments, Sunday School teaching, Cub Scouts...drip, drip, drip...) but I also lost my voice. You can hear it going in my last Essie Summers video--and it's been gone for TEN WEEKS. Not gone but raspy, cutting in and out. Betties, I sound like I'm a dissipated rock star, ruining herself with cigarettes, cheap men and no sleep.

I'm actually happy that video exists because I would probably be blaming my loss of voice entirely on being carried away beyond vocal prudence at a Killers concert. But I remember thinking I should baby my voice along so that I could sing at the top of my lungs at the the bright memory of that extrordinary night can remain undimmed.  (Don't confuse me with logic.)

Anyway, I finally made an appointment with a vast medical mind for next week and here's hoping he's got some answers.

I leave you with a romantical selection and promises to forge onward: