Sunday, December 19, 2010

Cheryl Kaye Tardif - Joy and Grief for the Holidays

Stairway to Heaven: Remembering Those We've Lost at Christmas

Christmas is supposed to be one of the most joyous times of the year, but for anyone who has lost a loved one, the Christmas season can be anything but joyous, and sometimes we have to look for new ways to deal with the pain of loss and to celebrate their life. I know this pain very intimately; I've lost a child and a brother, not to mention grandparents and a friend.

After a 16 hour labour, filled with intense back pain, I delivered my first baby - a son. My pregnancy had been as perfect as "perfect" could be, with only bouts of heartburn as a side effect. I had no "morning sickness"; I don't believe in it. I didn't drink or smoke. I was probably at my healthiest, though definitely at my heaviest, just before my son's birth.

Immediately after birth, there were complications. I knew my baby was dying. I could see it on the faces of my doctor and the nurses. I could tell by the way one nurse lifted my baby's tiny discoloured leg and let it drop. No response. I could tell by the aching silence that filled the room. I could tell by the way I couldn't breathe.

My son died 4 hours later, en route to a children's hospital. I remained behind, lost in a fog of despair. "A fluke," the doctor told me later. "A brain stem haemorrhage." They'd had no warning. Neither had I. That was June 1989.

When Christmas arrived that year, I felt a mix of happiness and sadness. I was pregnant again and scared to the bone. I mourned the loss of my firstborn, a son who wouldn't be receiving a toy truck from Santa that year. I was supposed to have celebrated Christmas with my husband and child that year. I felt ripped off, and scared that the same thing would happen to my second baby.

So I bought a decorative angel for the tree, in remembrance of my son. I bought another angel ornament for a table display. This was the beginning of what would become my angel collection, which now resides on a special wall we had built in our new home, a wall I call my Stairway to Heaven.

My brother Jason was killed 4 weeks after Christmas in 2006. His photograph resides on my Stairway to Heaven wall. He was only 28; his murder has never been solved. Other family members who have passed on are also displayed and remembered on the wall―my husband's grandfather and uncle, my two grandmothers and one grandfather, and one of my best childhood friend's who committed suicide.

Though their losses are still strong, I choose to celebrate their lives. Their pictures remind me of who they were. I rejoice that all but one lived long enough to love and be loved. I smile when I think of my son, of what his life could have been. The anger and debilitating pain is long gone; time does heal, if given the chance. I miss not knowing him. I'll never forget him―my firstborn, my only son.

When my daughter was born, one year after my son, I discovered my daughter had a tiny splotch in the middle of her brow. My doctor told me it was called an "Angel's Kiss". Many years later, I took a closer look at the only photo of my son and discovered that he had the same splotch. No wonder I collect angels.

To those of you who have lost a loved one and are finding this Christmas particularly hard, please know that time will heal your pain. There is always light at the end of even the darkest tunnel. You'll never forget your loved one. Maybe you'll build a Stairway to Heaven wall. Maybe you'll collect angels. Maybe you'll find another way to honour and celebrate the LIFE of your loved one. Because that's what matters―their LIFE.

This Christmas, I wish you love, forgiveness, hope, faith, and above all, peace.

Bestselling author Cheryl Kaye Tardif is best known for her emotional, inspirational novel WHALE SONG, a novel that will change how you view life...and death. WHALE SONG makes a wonderful Christmas gift and is available in ebook and paperback via Amazon and other retailers.

You can learn more about Cheryl and her novels by visiting and

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Barbara Fradkin - A Green Hanukkah

Death Takes No Holiday

It is two weeks before Christmas in the city of Ottawa, which has been pummelled by a blizzard and mesmerized by the plight of a missing young woman. A frozen body has just been discovered buried in a snowbank in the wealthy enclave of Rockcliffe, home to diplomats, deputy ministers…and desperate secrets. Colourful Christmas lights, plastic Santas and piped-in carols wash the landscape as police fan out en masse in search of the missing woman. And a killer.

It is also the first night of Hanukkah, the eight-day Jewish winter holiday which has become a tradition in Inspector Green’s family. In Chapter Twelve, I describe the scene…

Sid Green’s face sagged as he watched his grandson light the Hanukah menorah. It was the first year the five year-old had been trusted with the honour, and it should have been a celebration. Yet even Tony looked as if he’d lost his best friend.
….Sharon had dressed the table in white and sparkling silver in honour of both Friday night Shabbat and the first night of Hanukkah. A platter of golden latkes filled the air with the scent of onions and oil, but the beauty only sharpened the sense of loss. Hannah’s place was set, as a symbol of her inclusion, but the empty chair spoke volumes.

The sadness is not just because Green’s teenage daughter is missing from the celebration, having flown across the country to spend the holidays with her mother. It is also because Green is in the middle of a murder investigation and has to go to Montreal in the morning to follow up some leads from a thirty-year old cold case. When death strikes, there is no time to waste. The killer must be tracked down before witnesses and evidence disappear and before he can potentially strike again. Bereaved loved ones must be reassured that the police will give them justice, and fellow officers need a strong, experienced hand at the helm to provide insight and direction.

At the best of times, Green struggles to balance his home responsibilities with the urgent demands of his work. It’s a struggle he sometimes fails miserably, but in recent years, with the bond between his estranged daughter and himself slowly mending and his son growing into a perceptive and articulate little boy, he has been trying to reset the balance.

In Canada’s predominantly Christian society, celebrating the traditions of minority groups is always a challenge. The holidays must be squeezed into off-work hours, and the preparations done while juggling the ongoing demands of the larger world in which they live. The glares or uncomfortable silences from co-workers must be endured if one leaves early or books a sick day. Nowhere is this juggling act more evident than in the twenty-four-hour-a-day, almost completely non-Jewish environment in which Green works. In the past, Green has never been much of a Jew; his Holocaust-survivor parents had been paranoid about any outward display, and his own Jewish expression had been limited to bagels and smoked meat. But through his wife and his growing family, he is slowly reconnecting to the heritage he had lost.

So here he is, at the start of what should be a joyful holiday full of candles and songs and games. But instead, he is deep in the middle of a mysterious death and facing days away from home. All around him, the bright lights of Christmas are a vivid reminder that everyone else is celebrating a very different holiday. That if he is not at home to share Hanukkah with his family, they will have precious little sense of it at all.

This is just one of the nagging pressures Green faces in Beautiful Lie the Dead, as he battles potential sabotage, the weather and a ticking clock to solve an old puzzle and track down a new killer.

 Barbara Fradkin is best known for her award-winning detective series, featuring the exasperating, quixotic Ottawa Police Inspector Michael Green whose passion for justice and love of the hunt often interferes with family, friends, and police protocol.

An active member of Canada's writing community, Barbara served as president of Crime Writers of Canada (20042005).  

Next... Cheryl Kaye Tardif, loss and getting through the holidays.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Leslie Bendaly - Making the Leap to Fiction

From Fact to Fiction

It has definitely been a leap. And, thankfully, more exhilarating than frightening. I have been writing for years but my previous books have been business oriented, on leadership and organizational change. And so with Deadly Mementos I leapt from a structured writing process that, for the most part, moved ahead logically as originally intended, to a writing experience in which the characters frequently took off in directions I had never envisioned.

The biggest challenge I faced in the transition was that the objectivity that came so easily in writing non fiction was lost when I became involved in the characters. There were instances when I was not able to stand back and effectively assess my writing of the characters any more than they could stand back and assess their flawed lives. Thanks to one of my editors, rather than derailing the book, each instance became a lesson learned.

The first came with something that I had originally written many moons ago for a workshop with Peter Robinson and which eventually became the seed that grew into Deadly Mementos. In the piece my psychotic villain is having a flash back that gives the reader insight into his creepy nature and reason to fear for the safety of Sara Porter, my protagonist. My editor's feedback was that although I had created a character "capable of making one's skin crawl", it was much too long. Pages too long, I am embarrassed to say. My long windedness had taken the reader too far away from the plot. I had disrupted the plot line as one who likes the sound of his own voice disrupts a conversation.

Point of view was something I really thought I had a handle on. I was meticulous about it, or so I thought, as I find it annoying when the author changes POV too frequently and I am not sure whose head we are in at the moment. But I slipped up on one or two occasions when I was writing in Toronto Detective Keith Carson's POV and became caught up in how Sara Porter, business woman and mother, suddenly accused of murder, would be feeling. My feedback here was that my changing POV without any indication, such as spacing or new chapter, was jarring for the reader. Fairly major rewrites put the right scenes back into the right heads at the right time and allowed things to once again flow smoothly.

And then, the all important ending when the reader finds out who did it and why. I thought I had written it so as that the reader would get inside the murderer. They would understand what would motivate someone to do such a thing and how it could happen. But what I had done was write a soliloquy that went on, and on, and on. Not badly written I was told, but even Lawrence Olivier would have had trouble keeping the audience's attention should he read it aloud.

This was trickier than repairing the flash back as it wasn't so much a matter of cutting, as all of the information was important, but of how to break it up and enrich the scene in the process. I introduced a number of devices from the simplest, having the speaker pause more often to take a sip of tea or offer a nut to a squirrel, to having the listener, from whose point of view I was writing, visualize the murder scene that was being described.  When I was finished I found it hard to fathom how I had been pleased with the original.

The over all lesson learned was never get too pleased with your self. It seemed that everything that required major change was something I had felt quite good about. Now that the next one, You Can't Take It Back, is underway, I do a double check whenever I'm about to pat myself on the back.

Leslie Bendaly was previously best known for her books on Leadership, Teamwork and Organizational Change. Deadly Mementos, the first in a series featuring Sara Porter and Detective Keith Carson, is her debut novel.

Leslie divides her time between Toronto and St Maarten where her husband is posted with his work.

Visit Leslie at

Next... The holidays kick off with a series of seasonally themed blogs from CWC authors.