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.
I am thrilled that the Winnipeg Free Press has selected Ravenscraig as one of top fiction titles in their annual “Best of the Year” book list.
The Canadian version of the book will soon be going to reprint through Manitoba publisher, Heartland Associates.
This has been a very exciting year for me in watching the book gain an audience outside of Canada. Few things are more exciting for an author than to have people you’ve never met tell you how they enjoyed reading your story.
The Kindle version of Ravenscraig, published in the US by Franklin and Gallagher, has had more than 12,000 downloads in 2012.
I am most thankful to those who take the time to post their reviews on Amazon. Ravenscraig is rated as 4.7 stars out of 5 with 21 reviews.
5.0 out of 5 stars Ravenscraig
I read this book whilst in hospital and really enjoyed it. It combined a good yarn with a bit of social history in regard to the persecution of the Jews, their immigration from Europe, and their hardships and successes in Canada and the U.S.A. in an easy to read form. I am looking forward to reading book two!
I am so happy for the wonderful response I am getting to the upcoming program, “Fiddler in the Golden Land”. This is set for Thursday, Nov. 22 at 7:30 at the Tarbut Festival of Jewish Culture at the Rady Jewish Community Centre in Winnipeg.
Inspired by the stories in the novel, Ravenscraig, the evening will feature the marvelous Jane Enkin who will sing songs in Yiddish. We’ll talk about the early days of Winnipeg, and in particular, the hardships and triumphs of the early pioneers who settled in the foreign quarter, later to be known as Winnipeg’s famous North End. Please join us.
I had a most unusual experience the last time I was in Winnipeg.
It started with a wonderful event arranged by the Armstrong’s Point Residents Association, where I spent a lovely Saturday afternoon in September talking about the early history of the neighbourhood with residents, history enthusiasts, and readers.
A couple of days later I wound up in the hospital with an emergency appendectomy. A little scary, and very disappointing as it interrupted my planned meetings and visits in Winnipeg, but it wasn’t all bad. I was in and out in less than 48 hours and all went well. I also had the pleasure of extending my visit and recuperating in my mother’s house, while she baked pies with apples harvested from her backyard. How wonderful is that?
While I thoroughly enjoyed the time with my mother, and the rest of the family, it was disappointing that I had to miss a book club event at home in Florida that had been in the works for some months. Jane, who had invited me to speak to the club, sent on some questions and promised to read the answers in her “best Canadian accent” to her book club members. Following are the questions and my answers. By the way, if there is anything you would like to know about the story in Ravenscraig, please email me at Sandi.Altner@gmail.com.
Thank you, Jane.
Why did you decide to title your novel Ravenscraig? What other options did you consider?
Finding the title was challenging. My first working title was Willows on the Crescent. After that there were a number of titles that related to the Titanic. Finally I settled on Ravenscraig because it was the name of Rupert’s home (Rupert Willows is the lead character) and because it just seemed to work better than any of the other titles I had on my list.
Ravenscraig Hall (a fictional home) is located in the real neighbourhood of Armstrong’s Point which has a charming history and truly was a sought after residential neighbourhood. On the location that I placed Ravenscraig Hall there originally sat a mammoth home known as Bannatyne’s Castle. How unfortunate that only the gates of that home are still in existence today. I took the name Ravenscraig from Ravenscraig Castle in Scotland, which is big, ugly and was among the first built to withstand cannon fire. Once I tripped across that, I knew it was perfect for the mansion. Coming to the conclusion that it was the right name for the book took much longer.
Naming characters was a similar problem. I know all of the baby name sites on the net. I also did extensive searching through archival materials from Ellis Island, the Canadian Census reports of 1901 and 1911, the Jewish Genealogy website and City of Winnipeg archives.
What is your greatest pleasure – researching the historical underpinnings of the plot or creating the characters and dialog to communicate the historical elements?
I love the research. The idea of writing a novel first came from stumbling across a great story about the scandals involved in building the Manitoba Legislative building a century ago. Great story. The more I learned the further back I needed to go. What I learned about the conflicts between rich and poor, and English and everyone foreign during the height of the immigration boom (1896-1914) became so interesting that the focus of my story naturally shifted to the stories of that time.
There was such extreme poverty and so little political will to do anything about it that it just seemed unbelievable. I read stories of 40 or more people living in boarding houses of 800 sq ft or less and thought it impossible that this had happened. Moreover it made me wonder that if it indeed had happened, how had I never heard of that before? The 1911 census is an amazing document that lays out the truth. Then, knowing the extent the overcrowding existed set a different colour to the many essays and memoires that I had read and new materials that I sought out. What I had seen as perhaps exaggerated through a nostalgic memory suddenly came into focus as an undertold story of suffering. I wanted to bring that story to life.
This led to learning about the Typhoid epidemic in 1904-1905 when Winnipeg had the highest rate of typhoid per capita in the western world. I first learned of it in a book by Dr. Alan Artibise, titled: A Social History of Winnipeg, 1874-1914. There truly was a Dr. Jordan called in from Chicago to investigate the health crisis. I ordered a full copy of his report from the Manitoba Archives and was shocked to learn that he did not condemn the use of dirty river water being brought into the water mains for use in fire control. He did say the water should be used “as little as possible”. Equally interesting was that the Winnipeg newspapers produced no screaming headlines demanding to know the source of the typhoid. It appears the city leaders just didn’t want the shame on a national scale.
Which is easier for you, description or dialog?
Dialogue is much easier for me. There comes a point where you spend enough time with your characters that you understand their morals, failings, strengths and misery. I don’t mean to sound nutty, but I got to like a lot of them, especially the ones I spent a lot of time with. So then, with the kind of research I did in Ravenscraig, you have a real story that you need them to react to. You create a circumstance, place the people in it and then listen…and type. There was one night I remember where I had had a particularly productive day. I work outside on the patio most of the time when the weather allows. I was working away and was quite overcome by what unfolded. It was dark. The pool light was on, as was a lamp on the patio table. Katiana, my daughter, came out to ask a question and caught me as I wiped the tears from my eyes. “ARE YOU OKAY, MUM?”
I think that when we think that these are not just stories, but that each of us has someone in our own ancestry who suffered, who fled, who persevered so that future generations would have a good life, it becomes something worth learning. Each of us has a history worth knowing. Sacrifice is a big word and it counts for a lot. It enriches your life when you contemplate the suffering that was done on your behalf.
Who do you imagine as your ideal readers?
Wow. To be totally honest, this was a selfish pursuit. I wrote something I had searched out to read and couldn’t find. I thought if my mom read the book I wrote I would be happy. It pleases me to no end that the story has touched others and that it has sparked interest among some readers to learn more about their own histories. Historical fiction is not one of those BIG genres publishers are clamouring to publish.
As an author are you more interested in portraying the history of a period/place or in drawing “life lessons” from historical events and suggesting parallels to present issues?
I think there are life lessons in every circumstance and I wanted to tell a story that was historically correct. I was very concerned about reflecting the attitudes of the day, particularly in the impact on women and the underclass. I like the idea that readers might learn something new that makes them think about the immigrant experience, whether it be a hundred years ago or in 2012.
Even in the most seemingly objective narrations of history, the historian has a point of view, a bias, a cautionary message.As an author working in the genre of historical fiction, how would you characterize your moral slant or philosophical position.
I think it is very humbling to look at all of the difficulties that were borne by our ancestors. I have little interest in anyone who might whine about not having the latest Smart Phone. Freedoms are too easily characterize as entitlements. I look back at that time a century ago, and imagine who or what I might have done or been. My heart goes out to the unfed children, the women who gave birth with their hair frozen to a wall in an unheated shack, and to all of the men that drove themselves to find any way possible to provide for their families. All of those who faced the tremendous challenge of putting down roots in a country where so many people were against them, simple because of your name, your religion, or your ethnic background. I think if I were to have lived in that time I would have thrown all my might behind Nellie McLung and the group of women who saw to it that Manitoba would be the first province in Canada to gain the right of women to vote in 1916. Can you imagine we haven’t had the right to vote for a hundred years yet?
Why did you choose to conclude the book the way you did? Did you consider other options?
The ending came at the very end. I had an earlier version that I was not happy with. I have a deep affection for certain characters and it was very troublesome to learn what happened. I was quite shocked, I must say, when I finally learned.
How does the ending reflect on or influence the themes of your novel.Family, Loyalty, Education, Integrity, Politics, Gender Issues (changing role of women, suffrage, etc.), Responsibility, Community, Work Ethic, Luck, Chance, Identity… personal versus social, ethnic, religious, economic, gender, family connections and expectations.-
Because the ending was the last of the book to be written, I cannot say it influenced the themes. It does influence thoughts of a sequel. I am interested in the Great War and its impact on the city. I am greatly interested in the work and strength of the women particularly through the Women’s Christian Temperance Movement, and the suffrage movement. Sam Bronfman became Canada’s best known Jewish leader after he became known for Seagram. He and his family started out in Saskatchewan and Manitoba in a variety of jobs which ultimately led to the the hotel business. He became the owner of the Bell Hotel in Winnipeg when he was in his early twenties and ultimately became Canada’s most famous bootlegger. Lots to research in this area. And then there is the matter of the 1915 scandal of the building of the Legislative Building.
Who are your favorite authors, particularly in the historical fiction genre?
Most of what I read is non-fiction, but I very much admire and enjoy: Chaim Potok, Ken Follett, James Michener, Allan Levine, Margaret Mitchell, Harper Lee, Carol Shields, Irwin Shaw, Alice Munro among others I have forgotten to mention.
Perhaps the greatest enjoyment in writing a book is getting notes from readers who are touched by the book. This weekend I received two special notes that I would like to share.
The first is from Heidi, a friend from my early days in radio in Winnipeg.
“I lent my book to my 82-year old father who just returned it today. He’s a German immigrant who was a Wpg transit bus driver his entire working life in Canada and spent many a year driving in the north end. He LOVED your book, and that’s high praise from someone who doesn’t have English as his first language.”
The second note is from someone I only know by reputation for her fantastic Deli on Corydon in Winnipeg, Marla Bernstein of Bernstein’s Deli. (I’ve edited the note to be sure there are no spoilers.)
I finished your wonderful book this evening on the way home from the lake . As a Jewish Winnipegger I knew that I would love RAVENSCRAIG from the first time I heard about it…(I actually do not remember if it was a review in the Jewish Post, or Free Press, or CBC Radio).
Having Grandparents who immigrated here from Eastern Europe about 20 years after your Ravenscraig characters came to the Golden Land I can appreciate the Jews who were the first and how horrible it was for them at the beginning. By the time my Family arrived here I would think that a lot of groundwork must have been done and although poverty stricken they must have had more of a support system in place than your immigrants did.
I love the story of the allotment of acreage for those willing to farm. I love the story of the Zigman Family.
Ravenscraig is a wonderful saga. It even prompted me to take a slow joy ride through Armstrong’s Point, which I have never paid much attention to in the past.
Thank you Sandi for providing me with such a good story.
Thanks for hearing me out ! Enjoy life ! When you are back in Winnipeg and you get hungry during the day I would love to invite you to my Deli for a sandwich and a bowl of soup,(another reason I love the Zigman family)>
“Yes. Two minutes.”
“But it took four years to write my book.”
“Yes. Two minutes. Don’t worry. You’ll be fine.”
The smiling coordinators of the Jewish Book Council Network Author Event spent months communicating the dreadful news to the author participants of the annual June conference. Dreadful news? Yes indeed. The People of the Book are also the People of the Need to Talk. Holding a Jewish comedian to a two minute audition is enough to cause an anxiety attack. What if the punchline doesn’t get delivered in time?
I feel very fortunate to be counted as a Jewish Book Council Network Author. It was very exciting to have been among close to two hundred authors who were in New York this month to present, or truthfully, audition, before the organizers and coordinators of the major Jewish Book Festivals and events throughout North America. It is a brilliant idea, nerve-wracking though it might be. Highly organized, efficient, welcoming and inspiring.
I worried for weeks about what to wear and even longer about what to say, then what to leave out for lack of time. The prize? Authors are supported with an expenses paid book tour to visit with communities that invite them to speak. There could be 30 invitations. There could be none. We were told not to worry and have fun, that the Jewish Book Council exists to help support authors who write books of interest to a Jewish audience.
“What if there is a lot of laughter?” one worried presenter asked in the round of questions prior to the audience being allowed into the room. “Do I get extra time, if I have to wait for the crowd to settle?”
It took a little more than two hours for our group of authors to give their presentations on the first of three nights of author rounds. Almost all were within the time limit. One woman was ten seconds under, which prompted the promise of an auction for extra seconds for willing spenders. Several were brilliant performers, others thoughtful and interesting, revealing painful stories of difficult life moments and situations. Still others were very funny leaving the less comic in the audience thinking how wonderful it would be to be able to make people laugh like that. It was fascinating.
After the presentations we moved to a “mingling” opportunity and I was delighted that there was interest in Ravenscraigand in historical fiction in general. It was, by all accounts, a warm and engaging session.
Over the next few days a heavy workload is facing the leaders and committee members of book festivals across the US and Canada as they finalize their lists of books in order to place their author requests with the Jewish Book Council. Many of the review books are traditional ink on paper, some, like Ravenscraig, which is available in print and digital, were sent electronically for easy access to committees of 20 or more.
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: email@example.com
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.
I am very excited to announce that I will be participating in the Jewish Book Council Network. What a fantastic organization. The Network program supports authors who write books that are of appeal to a Jewish audience.
From the JBC website: For authors, this is an opportunity to go on an all-expenses-paid book tour around North America. For program directors, it is the source of a wide selection of interesting authors who will speak in your community without an honorarium.
In June they will bring together a couple of hundred people from all over Canada and the US who are looking to book authors for events and speaking engagements. Authors, like me, will have a two minute opportunity to make an impression that will hopefully lead to invitations to speak. It has been described by one participant as a combination of the Gong Show and Speed Dating. Can’t wait. Here’s a little video about the event.
More to come. I will update you on all of the details of my trip. I am set to present on June 3rd. It happens that my daughter, Katiana Krawchenko, will also be in New York, so I am looking forward to memories that will be made. Katiana is a journalism senior at the University of Florida and has been granted a ten week internship at CBS News in New York. How proud are the parents?
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.