Independent novel review: The Jossing Affair



By J.L. Oakley

This is an amazingly good book.

The Jossing Affair reminds me of Dr. Zhivago: it’s a story that helps us understand a world-changing, vicious conflict through a close focus on a few people caught in it. At its heart, it’s actually a realistic love story.

Janet Oakley is an author I admire. She has a clear, simple style that puts the reader right into the story and brings the Norwegian landscape and seas to life.

Like me, she writes historical fiction set in places and eras that most people would consider obscure. When most of us think of the Second World War, I don’t think the Norwegian occupation and resistance comes top-of-mind. We know something about it, like the word “quisling,” meaning a treacherous person who cooperates with the enemy, from the name of Norway’s collaborator Minister President Vikrun Quisling. But I think few in the U.S. or Canada are really familiar with the history, the resistance inside the country or the acts of the Norwegians who escaped the country to continue the fight from the U.K. and elsewhere.

Here’s the situation: in 1944, Norway has been suffering Nazi Germany’s brutal occupation for four years. Tore Haugland is a teacher who escaped to Scotland, then along with other Norwegians, trained in espionage under the British before coming back to Norway’s west coast. There, he assumes an identity as Jens Hansen, a deaf-mute fisherman. His false disability leads most people in the village of Fjellstad to assume he’s also slow-witted.

But Haugland/Jensen has another role: he sets up a secret radio transmitter to communicate with the Allies, and helps coordinate the “Shetland Bus”—secret transportation across the North Sea, smuggling out escapers and bringing in resistance fighters, weapons and supplies.

It’s the most dangerous kind of work, because jossing, or “patriot” Haugland is up against smart quislings, including Norway’s second-worst war criminal, Henry Oliver Rinnan, head of a Norwegian Gestapo unit.

As Haugland goes about spying, he meets Anna Fromme, known as “the German woman” or simply “the Woman” in the village. People assume she’s a quisling, because she is German, and shun her.

But Anna is the widow of another jossing, Einar Fromme, who was arrested, tortured and executed by Rinnan. Of course, Anna did not know anything about her husband’s resistance activities. Even though she moves to the tiny village of Fjellstad after his death, suspicion that she had something to do with it follows her.

Haugland knows who she is, and feels a deep attraction. But he feels he cannot act on this attraction because that would expose both of them to great danger.

A highly skilled author

The tension in this book starts high, and steadily gets higher. That’s something that requires skill on the part of an author. Oakley keeps raising the stakes as the resistance’s missions become more dangerous, the Gestapo gets closer, the Germans retreat in Russia, Poland and France, and Haugland and Anna fall deeper in love.

By the second half of the book, it’s clear the Germans are losing the war. But there’s not a lot of Allied action in Norway in 1944—in fact, Norway was the last country to be liberated from the Germans, days after V-E Day. And despite the fact they know there is no way they can win—or maybe because of it—the Germans and the quislings get more and more brutal.

I love the way that Oakley wove real historical elements into this story. Rinnan was a real person, and Oakley describes his physical appearance perfectly. Other historical characters appearing in the book include Rinnan’s right-hand man, Karl Dolmen, and Conrad Bonnevie-Svendsen, a priest, minister for the deaf and resistance leader.

Doing this is not easy—I know. I marvel at the historical research that must have gone into this book. When I met the author last year, she told me about her trip to Norway specifically to do research for this book.

Congratulations, Janet Oakley, on the accomplishment of The Jossing Affair. It’s historically accurate (as far as I can tell), interesting and exciting; a rich story with strong, fascinating and utterly believable characters.

5 *****

Find it on J.L. Oakley’s website, or buy it today from Amazon.

Simultaneously proud and ashamed of my country



Gold medal winner Mikaël Kingsbury: CBC.ca

Colten Boushie (left), killed by Gerald Stanley.

Patriotism is a strange thing. It has always seemed to me to be a little artificial to claim some personal credit for things that other people do in the name of the group or country you come from.

But at the same time, the shame on behalf of your country feels very real.

This weekend, Canada’s Olympic team in Pyeongchang did incredibly well, taking in 7 medals, including two gold. The figure skating team won a “team gold”—something else I’m a little unclear on—and Mikael Kingsbury won gold in Men’s Moguls. Justine Dufour Lapointe won silver in Ladies’ Moguls, and Canadians medaled in slopestyle snowboarding and speed skating, as well. And we expect more medals in figure skating, downhill skiing and, of course, hockey.

For whatever reason, that feels good.

What doesn’t feel good

is the not guilty verdict for Gerard Stanley for shooting and killing Colten Boushie in Saskatchewan in 2016.

This is something else that I cannot understand. Colten Boushie was part of a group of young men who drove onto Stanley’s property two years ago. Maybe he should not have been there, but that’s not the issue.

The issue is this: Stanley fired two “warning” shots from his rifle, then pointed it at Boushie. Then the rifle discharged, killing Boushie.

Stanley said it was “accidental.” But he fired twice, then his gun killed Boushie.

The RCMP then did all sorts of things wrong in the investigation.

Here’s the wrinkle: Boushie was Indigenous, from the Red Pheasant First Nation. Stanley is white.

In short, a white man killed an Indigenous man, and got away with it.

If the victim had not been Indigenous, would Stanley have gotten away with it? If the racial situation had been reversed, does anyone have any doubt but that the justice system would have dealt with the shooter differently?

Gerald Stanley admits he brought a loaded rifle to a confrontation. He admits to firing it. But he denies responsibility for taking a life, and the Canadian justice system agreed with him.

A problem in Canada

I understand his desire to protect his family and his property. But I reject the murder.

We have a problem in Canada, one we don’t want to admit. It’s racism.

We Canadians like to portray ourselves as the ideal society in the world, the best place to live. Like if the U.S. or U.K. got things right. And we have a lot to be proud of.

But we still have this problem with race. Too many people in authority treat Indigenous and other identifiably different people badly. Wrongly. Like they’re not human.

And too many of the rest of us choose not to notice it. To dismiss it.

Too many of us think of discrimination as something that happens somewhere else. In the U.S. Deep South, in South Africa, in Russia or Saudi Arabia.

Well, it happens here. It is happening here.

We Canadians must acknowledge this. For our own sake, we need to admit to this massive failing, to own up to it, and to take steps to redress it. Now.

Why do I like writing?



Why do I like writing?

Some people I know say “I don’t like writing; I like having written.

 

Me (left) and Super Nicolas whitewater canoeing on the Mad River (Madawaska), Ontario

To an extent, I can understand that. I love the feeling of accomplishment that comes when I complete a piece of writing, whether it’s an article for a magazine, a book, a story or even a blog post.

There, that’s done. Finished. I can see it on a screen, and if it’s a book or a magazine, I can hold it in my hands. See my name on the page. It’s a very satisfying thing.

But I also love the process of writing. When the words flow, it’s a fantastic feeling.

Which is why one of the feelings I hate the most is that frustration when I cannot think of something to write about, or cannot figure out how to begin something.

Fortunately, that’s not something that happens to me very often. I usually have so many ideas for new stories and books, the hard part is deciding which one to work on first.

Damming the stream

Writing a stream of words that comes as fast as my fingers can push the keys is a wonderful feeling of power. It’s very much like the feeling when I’m skiing, or when I’m successfully paddling a canoe down a whitewater rapids. But like skiing and whitewater canoeing, there are dangers under that white water (snow is white water).

Most of my books are set either in places far from me (like Hawaii or Hungary) or long, long ago (like World War II or the Dark Age). At the same time, I like to infuse my tales with a lot of realistic detail, so that the readers can immerse themselves into the story.

And that means, research, research, research.

Thank you, Google and Wikipedia.

And thanks to countless authors of books and articles on history, travel, geography and science (well, I guess I could count them, but that would only reinforce the next point I’m about to make, and I just don’t have the time or inclination right now) for your help in finding those obscure facts.

The downside is, research takes me away from writing the story. Often, it leads me down a long path (or side stream? Okay, I’ll rest the simile), when I get interested in something, which leads to something else—you know what it’s like.

Often, I can write hundreds of words in a few minutes. Then, I’ll come to a point where I need to check on something factual, and then I’ll spend hours looking up some tiny point.

Here’s an example: yesterday, I was working on Part 3 of The Triumph of the Sky, the follow-up to my 2012 historical fantasy, The Bones of the Earth. I was describing the hero traveling beyond the ancient borders of the Eastern Roman Empire (often called the Byzantine Empire), and I wondered: did the Romans of the early 7th century use stirrups?

That one wasn’t too hard to work out (they did), but it was a diversion. And there have been facts that literally took weeks or more of research to nail down—like the varieties of anti-tank guns used by the Soviets during the Second World War. It turns out, there was quite a range, and some of them looked positively fragile.

Finishing one run, re-starting another

Yes, I’m invoking the downhill skiing analogy again. At the beginning of the year, I finished the draft of book 1 of my new mystery, Wildfire. As I write this, the manuscript is in the digital hands of about 30 beta readers. Some have sent their responses, and I thank them all very much.

And as I promised, I’m using this interstitial time to work on Triumph. Well, not all of my time. I have other responsibilities, too. And there’s another writing project I’m working on, as well, that’s pretty exciting. I’ll tell you all about it when it gets closer to completion.

In the meantime, if you’re a writer, why not share how you fell about the writing-having written question.

A new writing year beckons



It’s January. A new year spreads before us like a blank page, waiting for anything we want to do . Ready for us to write our own story.
And I plan on writing that story—in fact, several stories.

For you, my wonderful readers, I am going to publish a whole whack o’ stuff for your reading pleasure.

What to look forward to

I promised, and I will deliver. The first book in the brand-new mystery series, Wildfire, will be out in March. This features a new lead character: Tara Rezeck (it means “risk”), law school grad and single mom, trying to make her life in California when wildfires break out. Her new boss is killed. Was it the fire, or was it something or someone else?

The third draft Wildfire is now with beta-readers. Then I will respond to their reactions, incorporate suggestions (or not), and send it to the editor. Then there’s more re-writing, and then I will send it to the proofreader.

In the meantime, I have a great designer dreaming up the cover. Hold onto your socks—David C. Cassidy is going to knock them off again.

A boxed set

While that project is in the very capable hands of beta-readers, editors and publishers, I’m going to do two things to the Eastern Front trilogy (Army of Worn Soles, Under the Nazi Heel and Walking Out of War).

First, I’ll be publishing all three volumes on all major e-tailers: Smashwords, Kobo, iTunes/iBooks and Barnes & Noble. So far, they’re only available on Amazon, but with this move, they’ll be available more broadly, and in different formats.

The second thing is that I will release the whole trilogy as a boxed set, so readers can buy the whole story as one bundle. Continue to follow this blog for updates on both projects.

Click on the cover image for a sample of the book.

Writing more fantasy

As I promised before, I am returning to the sequel to The Bones of the Earth, The Triumph of the Sky. After finishing parts 1 and 2, I took a break from it to write Wildfire. Now that that’s done, I can focus for a while, at least, on completing the next five parts.

Sales and promotions

Somehow, in between writing and publishing three titles last year, I developed a marketing and promotions plan. Now it’s the time to see how well it will work.

What that means to you, dear readers, is that you’ll have even more opportunities to get books from me, and other authors I know and whose writing I like, on sale or sometimes even free. There will be other prizes, too, that readers will love.

But to get them, you’ll have to do something, too.

Promotions will be emailed to you. To make sure you’re eligible, subscribe either to get Forewords, my advance information email newsletter (click the book cover under “Get your free book.” the first item in the right-hand sidebar, and you’ll be taken to another webpage) or to receive this blog in your email (scroll down a bit to the item in the sidebar, “Get your FREE bonus e-book,” and enter your name and email below the cover image).

I hate spam as much as you do, and I promise again never to release your information to anyone else.

Let’s stay in touch

Subscribe to Written Words and Forewords. Both will give you a free e-book, and you’ll also be eligible for future promotions, sales, giveaways, surveys and contests.

Yes, I said surveys. I want to hear from you—what you like, what you don’t like, what you wish writers would write and what you wish we’d stop doing.

I’m looking forward to hearing from you!

What more do you want for Christmas than lots of great books to read



There’s just something about the season, the cold weather, the snow, the romance—it just makes you want to curl up with a great book. So don’t miss this book giveaway!

You could win more than 70 romantic reads for Christmas, including my holiday-themed, Hawaii Crime mystery, Palm Trees & Snowflakes in BookSweeps holiday romance sweepstakes.

It’s free, it’s fun and it’ll load up your e-book reader with tons of reading—enough to get you to Valentine’s Day, at least.

Join me in writing a mystery



Who knew that writing a new mystery could be so time-consuming? Looking at my blog, I see that I haven’t been posting a lot for the past couple of months.

But it’s not like I haven’t been busy writing. I spent most of my available time in November feverishly working on my National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) project—unofficially, because I didn’t register with the organization.

The book is called Wildfire, the first book in a new mystery series. I chose that title because it’s set in Sonoma, California, which as you know has been ravaged by wildfires all autumn.

And I’m proud and happy to report that I did 50,010 words in 30 days. It’s not quite done, yet. I wrote what I am certain will be the first four chapters, the climax and the closing, plus most of the main storyline. There are some transitional chapters yet to be done, a red herring and a plot twist to go, and it’ll be done.

Then there are the steps of re-writing at least twice, beta-reading, incorporating those suggestions, editing, proofreading, formatting and publishing. I aim to have it out by March 22.

Wait—a mystery? What about the historical fantasy?

I know that I promised I would be working on The Triumph of the Sky, book 2 in the Dark Age Trilogy and the follow-up to my first published novel, The Bones of the Earth. And I am! I have written the first two parts of seven. As soon as I have finished writing Wildfires and have sent it to beta readers, I will get right back to Triumph.

But as you faithful blog readers know, in October I attended a writer’s retreat hosted by Toby Neal, the bestselling author of the Lei Crime and Paradise Crime series, and the very generous lady who invited me to be one of the first to join the Lei Crime Kindle World. My wife and I arrived in Sonoma on the day wildfires broke out, and our drive from San Francisco to Russian River was detoured more than once. We arrived late, amid a heavy smell of smoke.

Toby Neal, Roxanne and me

Toby Neal, my wife Roxanne, and me at the Russian River writers’ retreat in October.

The conference was great: inspiring, educational, affirming. And I got to meet, face-to-face, some other writers I have considered colleagues for a long time because we all write for the Lei Crime Kindle World.

I say inspiring for two reasons: my lovely wife, Roxanne, suggested I write a book about the wildfires, and Toby encouraged me to write my own mystery series, using the kinds of characters and elements that worked so well in the Kindle World books.

Writers Retreat in Russian River, California. Left to right: my lovely wife, Roxanne, me, Shawn McGuire, Toby Neal, Corinne O'Flynne, Amy Allen, Janet Oakley, Ron Logan and Erin Finigan.

Writers Retreat in Russian River, California. Left to right: my lovely wife, Roxanne, me, Shawn McGuire, Toby Neal, Corinne O’Flynne, Amy Allen, Janet Oakley, Ron Logan and Erin Finigan.

The start of a brand new mystery series

This new series is about a smart, tough yet vulnerable investigator, similar in character to FBI Special Agent Vanessa Storm of the Lei Crime world.

But for this brand-new series, I didn’t want to write about a cop. I want my new investigator to be able to travel to different places, to follow her own instincts. I wanted someone who could work beyond the strict rules of a police force—this allows more interesting story lines.

I also wanted someone who wasn’t going to be shaped by police culture—allowing me to create a more interesting character.

At the same time, I wanted to avoid the “Murder, She Wrote” conundrum: someone who’s not a law enforcement professional who’s always in the middle of a crime scene. I mean, didn’t anyone ever wonder why someone got murdered wherever Jessica Fletcher went?

Introducing Tara Rezeck

Tara is a young single mom who has just graduated from law school. Following a lifelong dream, she moves to California, leaving baby Roxanne with her parents until she finds a suitable home and a job.

My photo of Sonoma County at sunset on October 12. The haze in the sky is smoke from the wildfires.

But for millennials, it’s not easy to find that first job in their field. She temporarily takes a job in a kitchen at a high-end restaurant in a winery in Sonoma—just as the wildfires break out.

In subsequent books, I plan to have Tara working as an investigator for a lawyer. That will give her the legal standing, as well as storytelling plausibility to be snooping into crimes.

Want to join the team?

No author writes a book on their own. If you’d like to be a beta-reader of Wildfires, point out any errors or problems in the manuscript so I can fix them before publishing, and post a candid review on Amazon and Goodreads on launch day, let me know with an email to contact@writtenword.ca.

I’d love to have your input!

Don’t forget to get your free book

That’s right: subscribe to get this blog in your email, and I’ll send you a free copy of Army of Worn Soles, Book 1 in the Eastern Front trilogy. Use the form on the top right of this blog, or click here to enter your name and email address.

That’s all you have to do: enter your email. If you’d prefer to buy the book from Amazon for 99 cents, I don’t mind. But if you want to save a buck, you don’t have to worry about spam: I will never sell or give away your contact information.

See you soon!

Independent author successfully juggles A Case of Sour Grapes



Independent book review

A Case of Sour Grapes by Gae-Lynn Woods

I know that I am SO not the target audience for this book, but I have to say I enjoyed every page, every sentence, every word—even words that I had never encountered before, like “Blahniks.” A Case of Sour Grapes made me laugh while it kept me flipping pages—or more accurately, swiping my iPad’s screen—right to the end.

A Case of Sour Grapes is a “companion novel” to Gae-Lynn Woods’ Cass Elliot Crime Series, which so far comprises The Devil of Light and Avengers of Blood.

Like the other two books, A Case of Sour Grapes is set in the fictional Forney County in East Texas—a setting fairly boiling over with tension, secret cults, hidden domestic violence, child abuse, sexual violence and just about every dark vice there is.

Cass Elliot is a tough, smart detective on the Forney County police department whose intelligence, courage and very supportive family get her through dangerous situations—but cannot protect her against a sexist, close-minded and defensive boss, the County Sheriff, nor against getting raped and scarred at some point before the books’ opening. Author Gae-Lynn Woods is just as tough and honest as her character, daring to go into some of the darkest corners of the human soul.

And then there’s the protagonist and narrator of the book at hand, Maxine Leverman.

Maxine is brave. Or at least impulsive. And she’s smart enough to notice clues, find connections in databases and solve a mystery. But while she’s Cass Elliot’s best friend, she is definitely no Cass Elliot.

(Yes, the author does know about, and refers to, the sixties and seventies singer of the same name.)

Maxine is a thoroughly 21st century woman, who knows her shoe and dress designers, grape varieties and when it’s time for scotch. She makes no pretenses about sex or the men she’s attracted to, and is ready to proposition them when she wants to. She’s also learning the Texas criminal code, the regulations governing private investigators, and how to aim a handgun. Safely.

The story of A Case of Sour Grapes begins on Maxine’s first day working at the Lost and Found Detective Agency, owned by her aunts Kay and Babby. While Maxine is studying for her investigator’s license, she’s supposed to be doing administrative work at the office. Of course, when everyone else is out at lunch, Maxine answers a phone call from a new client, Blue Ivey, owner of the Cedar Bend Winery. Mrs. Ivey has lost her husband. She knows he’s not dead, because he keeps spending money on her credit cards, but she has not seen him in weeks.

The case gets progressively more strange, dark and funny at the same time. Maxine’s talents as a sleuth become apparent as she finds the missing husband’s multiple identities—and wives.

It’s not all fun and games, though. There are multiple murders, a long-lost child, and let’s not forget Poison Ivy and the Dismembered Bunnies. Okay, that part made me laugh out loud.

Author Gae-Lynn Woods

Woods is a skilled literary juggler to keep all these flaming torches aloft at the same time. She pulls off a story that is thoroughly engaging and satisfying on all levels: plot, characters, setting, humour, tension and action.

Bravo, Ms. Woods! Let’s get another title on the electronic shelves, shall we?