I am happy to share the news that at long last I am seriously at work writing the sequel to Ravenscraig. This story is settling into the world of art forgery and starts in 1914.
For me, fiction writing starts with serious research and for this novel, I have been learning about the exclusive world of art collectors, dealers and auctioneers. I can’t believe it has taken me this long to get to such a a fascinating field of study. Rife with scandal, and steeped in tradition, the art world makes for delicious reading. Please feel free to share your reccomendations.
There is nothing quick about my approach to writing a novel, so I am not ready to say when this book might be available. I can tell you that I am at my happiest on days like this when I can wander through history, and in this case luxury to see where the story goes.
So as not to spoil the fun for the readers who have not yet finished Ravenscraig, I will tell you only that the new novel opens in Monte Carlo just before the Great War. Gambling, luxurious living, and the particular challenges of the world of the fine art market set the path for the new adventures of some familiar characters and some new friends who join the fun.
Like Ravenscraig, the new book will be based on historical truths and will be driven by the appalling yet frequently charming behavior of my favorite imaginary friends.
From time to time I will share some of the images I find inspiring, like these of the Monte Carlo Casino and the Hotel de Paris in Monaco, from a fantastic website on all things fashionable called Zsazsabellagio.
I have a small favor to ask: If you have finished Ravenscraig, please don’t spoil the fun and tell anyone about the ending! I recently gave a talk for a large group and one dear lady couldn’t help but stand up and blurt out some information that should not have been revealed. Ugh. No spoilers please!
Few things are more gratifying for an author than to have people tell you they like your story. Whatever you may think of Amazon and its dominance of the ebook market, I can tell you that there is a huge benefit to being able to hear from Amazon reviewers who take the time to share their thoughts on the books they’ve read. Like many authors, I appreciate and read every review.
It takes a long time for a book to gain traction and to become known. The reviews help people find books that are in the area that they like. Ravenscraig is a family saga, historical fiction, with romance, a Canadian immigration story and of interest to people who like social history and particularly the Titanic.
So it is with delight that I saw the 100th review of Amazon appear this weekend.
The 100th review was written by Mary K. from Minnesota who gave Ravenscraig 5 stars. Thank you, Mary!
Here are some of the other comments from Amazon reviewers.
This blog celebrates the history of Winnipeg, my hometown, and occasionally allows me to indulge in some wider observations of the world that catch my interest.
Here you will find stories about Winnipeg at the turn of the 20th century when the Manitoba capital declared her glory as one of the fastest growing cities in North America. The research behind the stories you will find on this site was done over many years and became the basis for the storyline for my novel, Ravenscraig. I welcome your comments, questions, and suggestions. Email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
The early years in Manitoba were very exciting, with Winnipeg recognized as the gateway city for people and goods traveling west to the new frontier. From these years of rapid growth in Winnipeg, 1874-1914, there developed a large group of millionaires and the crop of mansions they built to impress each other.
Historian, Dr. Alan Artibise, referred to these captains of industry as “the commercial elite” and truly Winnipeg was seen by those “down east” in Ontario, as the place to be for those seeking to make or increase their fortunes at the dawn of the 20th century.
But not everyone had a shot at the big money in Winnipeg.
On the other side of the tracks, newly arrived immigrants struggled to overcome the horrors of poverty, disease and anti-foreigner sentiments as they fought to put down roots in the New Country. It is from this determination of the newcomers to survive and prosper that the famed Winnipeg North End came to be.
To help understand the rich mosaic in this colourful history, I’ve included a selection of films, featuring such topics as Jews in Winnipeg, life in a Ted Baryluk’s store in the North End, and a terrific NFB film about a man whose job was to keep the tracks clean for the Winnipeg street cars.
Titanic, I must say, is my true love in research topics so you will find a number of postings about Winnipeg’s Titanic connection, and Titanic in general. In all there were more than thirty passengers on the ship who were on their way to Winnipeg to return home, stay for a visit, or like survivor Eva Hart’s family, to settle in Manitoba as immigrants.
I was a child when I first learned about the Titanic. My dad took us for a drive to point out Mark Fortune’s house on Wellington Crescent and told us about the six people from the Fortune family who were on their way home to Winnipeg when the great ship struck an iceberg and sank. I was horrified, and instantly hooked.
Ravenscraig, the blog, (and title of my novel) is taken from the name of a fictitious home, Ravenscraig Hall, in Winnipeg’s Armstrong’s Point and owned by Rupert Willows, the lead character in the book.
About the novel:
Ravenscraig is about two families: the Willows—wealthy, powerful and anti-Semitic, and the Zigmans—newly arrived Jews, struggling to put down roots in Winnipeg’s North End.
Click on the image below to see the book trailer for Ravenscraig.
It’s been a very busy and interesting April with a book tour that took me to Montreal and Winnipeg. I met with old friends and new and was thrilled to discuss Ravenscraig with impassioned readers who had much to say about Rupert Willows and the early days of Winnipeg when it was among the fastest growing cities in North America.
It was great fun to do my first international radio interview a couple of weeks ago, with Marc Montgomery of The Link on Radio Canada.
Click on the photo to link to the interview.
An updated version of the book trailer was posted on Youtube today.
And I am deeply honoured to be in the company of such a fine group of talented writers who have been nominated for the Manitoba Book Awards, which will be announced on Saturday night, April 28th. I am still pinching myself that Ravenscraig, a debut novel, has been short listed for the Carol Shields Award.
One of the things Canada’s public broadcasting company, the CBC, does well is encourage Canadians to read and to write. There are recommendation lists, interviews, contests and hoopla that all quietly support a sense of national pride in the simple act of enjoying a good story.
Today the winners of the short story competition in CBC’s“Canada Writes” competion were announced. Out of more than 3750 entries, the grand prize was awarded to Daniel Karasik, an Ontario poet and playwright. His marvelous story, Mine,is well deserving of the honour. You can find it here, on the CBC website.
Here’s what the CBC shared on their website about Daniel Karasik:
Daniel Karasik’s award-winning plays have been seen in Toronto, New York, and Germany. He is the author of The Crossing Guard and In Full Light, a volume of plays published by Playwrights Canada Press, and is one of eleven poets featured in Undercurrents: New Voices in Canadian Poetry, a Cormorant Books anthology; Cormorant also plans to publish his first poetry collection in 2013. He recently completed his first novel, for which he received the Alta Lind Cook Prize and the Norma Epstein National Literary Award.
The Manitoba Free Press (as the Winnipeg Free Press was known in its early years) played a very large role in the development of the stories for Ravenscraig. Every archived page is available on line through subscription. It’s an amazing resource that has afforded me both inspiration and education in my research for the novel. Imagine my joy in seeing the Saturday edition with a big positive review of Ravenscraig, written by Ron Robinson, a Winnipeg broadcaster and book lover. He writes:
Welcome to Downton Abbey and Upstairs Downstairs with a Winnipeg twist.
Former Winnipeg journalist Sandi Krawchenko Altner has researched and written a wonderful Winnipeg-warts-and-all historical romance set mostly in the early 1900s. It’s a brash, two-faced Winnipeg, but still a recognizable one.
By the way, I have started doing “Skype visits” to book clubs, which are great fun. If your group would like to arrange a Q&A session to talk about Ravenscraig and the stories behind the fiction, I would be delighted to join. Please write to me at Sandi.Altner@gmail.com.
“As a newcomer to Winnipeg, I had everything to learn from the gripping true stories – the phenomenally fast growth of Winnipeg at the turn of the 20th century, political and business intrigue and the ways of life for the rich and poor
of the city. It was always a treat to see how Altner brought real people into the lives of the Willows and Zigman families.
The imagined characters, living in these exciting times, are connected to two families, one wealthy and part of Winnipeg’s high society, the other new Jewish immigrants. The homes and luxuries, and also the stresses and concerns, of the wealthy characters from British backgrounds were new to me, and fun to discover.
The stories of Jewish immigrant families, starting with their dangerous lives in Ukraine, to their poverty in Canada, through to their gradual success, are very familiar. It’s a story I never tire of hearing, because it’s the story of my own family – my grandmother crossed a river carrying her son to sneak across a border, thought she had started a secure new life in a different part of Europe, then had to start all over again in Canada.”
Click hereto see the entire article in the Winnipeg Jewish Review.
A dream week, with lots to celebrate, and a great deal to be thankful for. Thank you, Manitoba for your enthusiasm for stories about the rich history of Winnipeg!
I count myself lucky that I knew so little about the publishing industry when I started writing Ravenscraig. It would have gotten in the way of the writing.
Well over a decade ago, I tasted the freedom of “making up a story”, when I started to play with words outside of work. As a news reporter, my writing was constrained by the rules of truth and responsibility, and a strong journalistic ethic to be unbiased and thorough. It was a tantalizing treat to find that fiction would cut me loose. I could invent anything. Well, not exactly. I’m not the science fiction type and I’m not much for literature that involves flying dragons or dripping daggers. While I love reading history of any kind, as well as mysteries, biographies, political memoires, and even the occasional juicy “beach trash” novel, as a writer, my heart is in historical fiction.
So it was that I gravitated to the news stories of Winnipeg, in the late 19th century and found myself writing a novel. I buried myself in research and learned fascinating tales about a hard living western saloon town bent on success. I spent evenings and weekends combing through the Internet as well as piles of documents, tattered books, scholarly works, newspaper archives and microfilmed testimony from a hundred years ago. I learned about prostitutes, typhoid epidemics, the struggles of immigrants, anti-Semitism, fire fighting in the 1890s, travel in the gilded age, and of course, I became all but swallowed up by the most appealing subject of all: the Titanic.
I developed a great passion for historical research, but it was the people I studied who set my imagination on fire. A parade of characters, some true, some figments, wandered into my mind, demanding that I pay attention and hear what they had to say. Writing their experiences, dealing with their emotions and living with their joys and heartaches became a very fulfilling journey over a great many years.
If you are not a writer, and perhaps, even if you are, about now you might think me a bit of a nut, someone who has imaginary friends to hang out with and lives a small and withered life in the back corner of a dusty library, communing with spirits. I can assure you that I am actually quite well grounded, and deeply content in my life, and that I prefer to sit outside when I write. (I gave up snow for palm trees.) But we can talk more about the satisfaction gained from living as a writer on another day.
A part of every trip to Winnipeg was and is dedicated to research. Most trips started with visiting Burton Lysecki and Karen Sigurdson at the fabulous Burton Lysecki Book Store. They specialize in rare Manitoba works and always kept special books aside for me, and helped me track down works I needed. I also spent a lot of time at the Manitoba Archives, the Manitoba Legislative Library, Heritage Winnipeg, the City of Winnipeg Archives, and the Jewish Historical Society, where I read family accounts of early Winnipeg memories.
More than anything it was the photos of those many years ago that truly inspired my desire to learn more about how people managed.
There was such great poverty and hardship suffered by so many people in the foreign quarter.
It is astonishing to think about it, especially when we look at pictures of children. The Foote collection at the Manitoba Archives is particularly interesting and sobering.
Equally of interest to me was learning about the wealthy class. Winnipeg, like so many other cities with rapid growth at the turn of the century was a city of stark contrasts and home to a number of millionaires who traveled the world, enjoyed theatre, opera and the musical society as well as sports such as curling, golf, and fox hunting. There were two distinct worlds in Winnipeg and undoubtedly many people lived out their entire lives never seeing “how the other half lived”.
In 2009 I was ready to expose my work to friends and family. A cumbersome prospect for a novel of 500 pages. My mother certainly wasn’t going to read anything like this on a computer. I found a print on demand company that charges you by the book. I ordered a few a copies and it was the best thing I could have done. When that box arrived and I opened it, on March 6th, 2009, I was over the moon with excitement. It looked like a book. It hefted like a book. And the best was, it didn’t look like it was going to fall apart. I felt like an author for the first time.
To my utter delight, I had very encouraging feedback from my advance readers. Three comments stand out.
First from my friend Jane, an oncologist in Florida, who called me on a Sunday afternoon: “Sandi, I have to tell you that first I wanted to read this only because you’re my friend, and I’m too polite to have said no to you. I’m a hundred pages in and just had to call to let you know that this is really good.”
Janet, a dear friend in Montreal: “I was reading your book while in line at the grocery store cash register, and I was so taken with the story, I had tears running down my face. The manager offered me a chair, so I could weep in comfort while I finished the chapter.”
My greatest worry was how this was going to read in the Jewish community in Winnipeg. I am a Jew by choice, having converted in 2005. I have no genetic link to Judaism that I know of. My knowledge comes from study so it was very important to me that the story rang true among those whose roots are among the Jewish pioneers of Winnipeg. I sent the draft to Louis Kessler, former president of the Jewish Heritage Centre of Western Canada, whom I first met in Junior High. We were in class together at Edmund Partridge.
Louis sent me this note: “I thought Ravenscraig was superb. You can add another dozen superlatives here. But it is a book that you almost seem to have written specifically for me, being located in Winnipeg, referring to landmarks and locations that have meaning to me, involving Jewish immigrants who resemble what my great-grandparents were like, and reflecting the attitude and hope that I have in life.”
What followed next was sending the book out to publishers. The letters came back gently refusing the work. But one in particular was very encouraging. In evaluating the manuscript, the editor wrote:
“There is a great deal to admire as well as to be charmed by in the novel: Ms Altner’s ability to imagine herself into the minds-and hearts-of characters who are very different from each other, and distant from ourselves by virtue of the traditions and conditions of the time. I learned a great deal about the growth of the city of Winnipeg, which I have always thought one of the most intriguing cities in Canada (western yet not quite, the incubator of fiercely held political/social beliefs, an arts capital), and found the approach to issues such as the pressure to assimilate, never mind outright racism, sensitively and intelligently treated.”
This editor, whom I have never met, but to whom I am indebted, had also provided clues on what was needed to address the weaknesses in the manuscript. I rewrote the book twice over the following 18 months, conjuring up an imaginary version of this editor to rake me over the coals and help me find the path to a cleaner story.
I cautiously put the new version into the hands of a select few new readers. Among them was an old Winnipeg friend who had gone into the film business in Toronto, Greg Klymkiw. Greg was a tremendous help in both his enthusiasm for the work, and his bold statement. “I want to be your editor.” Over several months Greg would “Skype me in” and we’d have these fabulous story building sessions talking about characters, story lines and how to think about writing action as opposed to reflection. I am very grateful for Greg’s valuable and generous input and can only say that if you ever have the opportunity to work with him, you will be truly blessed.
At the same that I was working through new revisions with Greg, Ravenscraig caught the attention of Peter St. John of Heartland Associates and the long road to find a publisher ended in Winnipeg with Heartland purchasing the Canadian rights. Publisher and editor, Barbara Huck, provided the polishing touch to the manuscript and was the driving force to get it out in time for Christmas and Hannukah. This week Ravenscraig is rolling off the presses at Friesens in Altona, Manitoba. A Manitoba story with a Manitoba publisher and a Manitoba printer. I am utterly thrilled that Heartland took this on and was so determined to make this happen.
It is a long and interesting road to bring a book through traditional publishing, especially in these challenging times in the industry. Thank you, Peter and, especially Barbara, for moving mountains to make this dream come true.
Heartland and Associates, a Manitoba publishing house, has purchased the Canadian rights to Ravenscraig by Sandi Krawchenko Altner.
The book will be launched in Winnipeg on November 29, 2011, at the McNally Robinson store at Grant Park.
A sweeping epic set at the turn of the 20th century, Ravenscraig reveals the secrets and lies that tie two families together. Rupert Willows has hidden away his past to manipulate his way to wealth and power. Zev Zigman, a devout Jew, mounts a desperate struggle to bring his family out of Russia and put down roots in Winnipeg’s North End.
Tragedies, triumphs, and the Titanic shape the lives of these two families as their futures entwine to illuminate a dark corner of Winnipeg’s past when it was the fastest growing city in the Dominion.
About the Author:
Sandi Krawchenko Altner enjoyed an award-winning career in television and radio news in Calgary, Winnipeg and Montreal, before she left to follow her passion for writing fiction. She is a fifth generation descendent of the first colony of Ukrainian immigrants to settle in Stuartburn, Manitoba in 1896. Sandi grew up with a keen interest in her roots and a deep love of history. A Jew by choice, Sandi celebrated conversion in 2005. She lives, writes and blogs in Florida where she is active in her synagogue. Sandi and her husband have two daughters and two happy dogs. Ravenscraig is her first novel.
Click on the image below to see the book trailer for Ravenscraig.
Some time ago, I started a special category called “Storytellers” on my blog to highlight inspiring work and insights from talented artists, writers and filmmakers. Today, I am sharing a most interesting speech by author, Andrew Pyper, who addressed the recent Ontario Writers’ Conference. I found this in one of my newsfeeds on FB and enjoyed it so much I had to pass it on. Andrew also happens to provide some very sound advice for those of us who have chosen to make writing a central part of our lives.
Most of what I read is non-fiction and includes old newspaper articles, rare texts, journals, diaries, court testimony and academic research. Now that I have exposed my true nature, I can tell you that reading fiction is a treat and I am careful about what I choose just because of the limits on my time.
Andrew is a very successful author with five bestselling novels: The Guardians, Kiss Me, Lost Girls, The Trade Mission, The Wildfire Season and The Killing Circle. Four of his novels are in active development for feature films and the most recent, The Guardians, will be released in the U.S. this fall.
The Writers’ Conference organizers chose well in having him for their keynote speaker, as you will see in the video clip.
Finally, a word about The Next Chapter. This is the only radio show I actually listen to on a fairly regular basis. Shelagh has a warm and inviting interview style that makes her listeners feel as though they are eavesdropping on a delicious private conversation at the next table in a fine restaurant. Always intelligent and exceptionally well prepared, she puts authors at ease and delivers solidly interesting discussions that are so much more sastisfying than the customary two or three minute author segments we have on other talk programs. Warning: The show is very addictive (and available in podcasts to access at your leisure). Way too easy to justify as work avoidance for writers, readers and transplanted Canadians like me.