Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Grace is at Perfect Books on Elgin Street

Copies of Grace and the Secret Vault are available not only from Octopus Books in Ottawa but also at Perfect Books on Elgin Street.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Writing Young Adult Historical Novels

On Tuesday November 14, 2017, I gave a talk to the National Capital Branch of the Canadian Authors Association on writing young adult historical novels. It is always fun to talk to a group of peer professionals who grapple with the same concerns as I do.

Below is a summary of what I had to say.

My three novels with young adults as protagonists are The Secret of White Birch Road; The Songcatcher and Me; and Grace and the Secret Vault. Since they have young adult protagonists they are young adult novels, but they are of interest to grown-ups as well. Increasingly, adults are reading teen novels, perhaps because teen fiction is less experimental than some literary fiction, and because modern teen novels deal with mature themes.

Each novel required different levels of research. The Secret of White Birch Road, set in 1952, required verification of historic details; the internet came in handy. The same was so for The Songcatcher and Me, which also involved research into folk song collecting and into the real-life Canadian folklorist Edith Fowke.  Grace and the Secret Vault, which is about a real person and an historic event, is the sort of novel that requires a lot of library and archival research. The novel centres on Grace Woodsworth (later Grace MacInnis) at age thirteen, and the historic event is the Winnipeg General Strike of 1919, in which her father, J.S. Woodsworth, was involved.

Actually I'd done a great deal of the research already, for the biography Grace MacInnis: A Woman to Remember, by myself and the late E. Joy Trott. (This biography is now out of print, though available through libraries.) In writing Grace and the Secret Vault, which is fiction, I refreshed my memory by reading Woodsworth biographies and memoirs and works on the Winnipeg General Strike, as well as looking at J.S. Woodsworth papers on microfilm at Library and Archives Canada.

Grace and the Secret Vault is a coming of age story in which a girl becomes politically aware and comes to understand her parents better. In writing it, I used real-life family incidents and also created some fictitious scenes, all of which furthered my theme, which was the serious effects of World War I on Canada.

If you are writing historical fiction, rather than biography, it is permissible to make up characters and scenes to further your plot and theme, provided that you stay true to the characters' personalities and relationships.

As for advice to aspiring authors of young adult historical novels, I have a few recommendations:

. Check to see if there are other works of fiction on your subject, and if so, read them to see other authors' approaches so that you can plan something unique.

. Read histories and biographies from the period.

. If location is important to your story, try to visit the place.

. If descendants of your central character are still living, contact them and get their help and cooperation.

. Avoid information dumps: passages of historical information that halt the flow of the story and turn it into a history lesson. This can be done in two ways: by providing a summary of the historical event at the beginning, and/or by feeding in information as you go along, through what your characters experience, overhear or discuss.
You can do this by selecting and dramatizing real life incidents that show the temper of the times; through the use of fictional characters in imagined scenes that reveal the historical events of the era, and through a knowledgeable character who will discuss then-current events with the protagonist, and at the same time, with the reader.

. Avoid using present-day terms that your characters would not have used. Some authors choose present-day words and expressions over those authentic to the era, for fear that their readers won't otherwise understand what they mean.

I have a preference for authentic terminology: for instance, I would say "shell shock" rather than "post-traumatic stress disorder"; "consumption" rather than "tuberculosis"' "melancholy", rather than "depression" - depending on what the common use was at the particular time in the past. I might even use Victorian circumlocutions for "pregnant", like "in a delicate condition"; "in the family way"; or "with child".

My audience pointed out the value of providing a glossary in some instances.
I told them that if they decide to write historical novels, I hope they will enjoy their subjects' company as much as I have enjoyed Grace's.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Grace and the Secret Vault won First Honourable Mention

Grace and the Secret Vault won First Honourable Mention in the Canadian Stories magazine book contest, 2017.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

My talk at the Emerald Plaza Library, Sept. 28, 2017

On Thursday, September 28, at 6:30 p.m. at the Emerald Plaza Branch of the Ottawa Public Library, I will be talking about "Writing a Young Adult Canadian Historical Novel".   Below is the description of my talk:

"Join Ruth Latta, local author of three young adult historical novels, for ideas on writing successful historical novels for teens, Ruth will focus on her latest book, Grace and the Secret Vault, a novel about the 1919 Winnipeg General Strike, and  several other outstanding Canadian young adult historical works.  This program is of interest to teens and to adults who are writing fiction for teens."

Those interested are invited to log into the OPL site and register.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Grace and the Secret Vault - excerpt

From my new novel, Grace and the Secret Vault (Ottawa Baico, 2917, ISBN 978 1772 160 925, $20) To purchase a copy contact   or

Grace spied a motor launch that reminded her of the Goodwill, the twenty-five foot gas-powered boat owned by the Methodist Church. When her father was still a Methodist minister, he used it to travel from the Landing to other communities on the coast and on Howe Sound. She'd loved it when Father invited the whole family to come along with him on a Sunday. How refreshing, to be out on the water, to lean back, close her eyes and feel the wind and salt spray in her hair!

She remembered one trip when her reverie was interrupted by a "Hey!" from Charles. Opening her eyes, she looked where her brother was pointing.

"Porpoises!" he'd cried, and sure enough, these black and grey sea creatures with white underbellies were frolicking in the waves. All the children craned their heads to look except for Howard, asleep on Mother's lap.

Then they'd heard a chug and a snort - not the sound of any sea creature they knew, but the Goodwill's motor conking out.  Either the Goodwill hadn't been in the best repair, or Father hadn't been skilled in operating it. This wasn't the first time it had quit.

As Father started fiddling with the motor, Charles got a mischievous look on his face. Softly he began singing, "Row, row, row your boat, gently down the stream." Mother glared at him, but of course the younger boys, Ralph and Bruce joined in.

"Stop that!" Father barked in his strongest pulpit voice.
"Hush, children." Mother's quiet tone meant business. The song faded.

Grace and Belva shaded their eyes and looked around, ready to wave if another boat came into sight. Father tried the motor again. It sputtered but did not catch.

"We're going to be late. The congregation will go home," Belva whispered. She began nibbling her fingernails.
"The motor is just flooded, that's all," Grace said softly. "We'll wait a while and try it again and it will go. Let's see who can think of the most hymns involving boats and the sea."

"Will Your Anchor Hold Through the Storms of Life?" Belva said.
"Jesus, Saviour, pilot me, over life's tempestuous sea," Charles added.
"Throw Out the Lifeline," said Ralph.

Grace glanced at Mother. Her eyes twinkled and her mouth twitched. Against her, young Howard breathed softly in sleep.

"Look. Look there!" Ralph pointed. Sure enough, a motor boat skimmed into view.

"You children stay put!" their father ordered. Carefully he stood up, took off his hat and waved it.
"It's coming," Grace breathed. "Help is on the way."

The motor boat grew ever larger until it was alongside the Goodwill.  A Salish fisherman waved at them.
"Trouble?" he asked.
  "It's the motor," Father said. "Can you help us?"
"Sure. I'll tow you to shore."

Monday, May 22, 2017

More news on "Grace and the Secret Vault".

Grace and the Secret Vault, my new novel, was reviewed recently in the online magazines True North Perspective and in Compulsive Reader, and is soon to be reviewed in Canadian Materials. It is also on the short list for the 2017
"Northern Lit" award for fiction,  awarded annually by Ontario Library Services North and Northern Ontario libraries.

On the evening of. May 26th I will be speaking about "Grace and the Secret Vault" as one of the three Arts Night presenters at First Unitarian Church, Cleary Avenue, Ottawa.

Unrelated to Grace but good news as well: I won first and second prizes for poetry in the 2017 contest held by the National Capital Branch of the Canadian Authors' Association.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Stephen Dale's review of Grace and the Secret Vault

Review of Ruth Latta’s Grace and the Secret Vault
By Stephen Dale

                To mark International Women’s Day in 2017, a group called Equal Voice organized an event in which young women from across the country occupied all 338 seats in the House of Commons. The women spoke powerfully of the issues that are important to them and, in the process, made a strong symbolic statement about how politics might be different if more women were involved. With only a quarter of the seats in Parliament currently occupied by women, it’s clear that the seat of Canadian democracy remains, overwhelmingly, a boys’ club.

                That the number of female Parliamentarians has increased to some extent recently is a testament to the strength of a few trailblazing women determined to defy the odds and take their place on the national political stage. One of those pioneers was Grace Woodsworth MacInnis, who served as the NDP Member of Parliament for Vancouver Kingsway between 1966 and 1974.
                Ottawa novelist Ruth Latta recalls that, as a student at Queen’s University in the early 1970s, she was fascinated with this diminutive yet dynamic women, one of the first Canadian Parliamentarians to regularly raise issues of concern to women on the floor of the Commons. Latta’s latest young adult novel, Grace and the Secret Vault, (Ottawa,  Baico Publishing Inc. 2017  ISBN: 978-1-77216-092-5) is a fictional account of an especially formative period in Grace’s life.
                Although the book doesn’t deal directly with Grace’s work as a politician, in a subtle way it sheds light on how the future MP developed the determined outlook and fortitude of character that would be necessary to storm the bastions of male power.

The novel recreates a particularly turbulent year in Grace’s early life. Her father, J.S. Woodsworth (who would go on to lead the CCF, the forerunner of the NDP) had lost his job as a minister in an idyllic British Columbia coastal town because of his opposition to the First World War. In 1919, with the war over, Grace’s father remains unafraid of courting controversy. He travels the country speaking out for social justice, and takes a role in organizing the landmark Winnipeg General Strike.

Against the backdrop of these historic events, Grace gets an up-close lesson in courage. Her father stands tall in the face of condemnation, economic sanction, and even the threat of violence. Perhaps more importantly, Grace’s mother summons a special kind of strength: keeping the family afloat by working as a teacher, overseeing a chaotic household of high-spirited children, setting a tone of optimism and good humour.

Latta tells this story in a fluid, fast-paced and conversational way, seamlessly weaving together the daily details of life in the British Columbia of a century ago with the book’s overarching political narrative. The characters’ dialogue is conveyed convincingly in the lexicon of the day, but the emotional pull of the story is timeless. And despite its subject matter, the author avoids propagandizing. There’s also a sly twist on the idea of the “mystery” that adds some fun at the end.

Grace and the Secret Vault is a lively read and a historical tale with a clear resonance for the contemporary reader, especially for the young person who might want to grow up to change the world.
Ottawa writer Stephen Dale’s latest book is Noble Illusions: Young Canada Goes to War (Fernwood Books).