Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Long Shot Paid Off


I’d just finished polishing my story Whiskey Nights for submission to Suspense magazine when I saw the posting on Brian Henry’s Quick Brown Fox site for a crime fiction contest. With high hopes of what I considered a long shot, I entered the story in the contest instead of submitting it to the magazine.

First, I had to comply with the contest criteria. The story had to include the word ‘oil’. No problem. I then decided to change the location of my story. Since the contest was in Fort McMurray, I changed the remote Ontario setting to one in Alberta. Not necessary, but why not. The biggest problem was the submission could not exceed 2500 words. Crap! My story was 2942. It was already tight and I laboured over what could be omitted without affecting the flow. I whittled it to 2500 words, but I wasn’t happy. My gut cramped reading the abridged version, but I sent it in. And waited.

Those who ‘like’ my facebook page are already aware that Whiskey Nights took second prize in Your McMurray Magazine crime fiction contest – one of the biggest monetary award contests I’ve seen. Apparently, the changes I made didn’t affect the quality of the story. I never gave up on the original though. After the win, I emailed the editor and mentioned that if they were to include my story in an anthology, would they consider publishing the unabridged version. haha

For most contests of this size, the winners receive a phone call or email. When Eden Mills Writers’ Festival phoned about my win in the fall, they asked if they could put me on speakerphone. I nearly died with anticipation – guessing that I must be a winner, but waiting to hear the words. They said I had to answer a question to qualify. Oh god, I thought, I hope it’s not math. Of course, it wasn’t. They needed to confirm that I didn’t have a published book.

When I received notice from the Fort McMurray contest, it was a generic email to (I assume) all entrants. The winners are listed on the website now, it said. I groaned – my expectations crushed. If I’d been in any kind of a hurry to get off the computer, I wouldn’t have checked out the winners for a few days.

I clicked on the link. OMG! Yes!! That was my reaction. My three-year-old granddaughter Sadie was with me. I grabbed her up in a big excited hug. I won, Sadie, I won! I re-read the announcement and again scooped her into a tight squeeze, I won, I won. After a few seconds, while I was reading the announcement for the third time, the little cutie, not having any clue what was going on, wrapped her arms around me shouting, Nana, you won! I couldn’t stop laughing.

What impressed me most was the calibre of professional writers who entered the contest. It stands to reason with a $3000 first prize. That makes my win even more astonishing. Crime fiction has always been my favourite read, but it wasn’t until my third novel that I tackled that genre. Short stories are a good exercise as they are more challenging to write than a novel. For me, anyway.

In Whiskey Nights, philanthropist Broderick Carowag Taylor, conceals his tortured fixation on the memories of one long-ago summer day at the family cabin.

You can read Whiskey Nights, as well as Melodie Campbell’s prize winning story, Hook, Line, and Sinker, and third place winner Bill Clark’s story Even, here.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Celebrating Life


For your sake, I wish this picture were a scratch and sniff….fresh thyme, sage, rosemary, and garlic.
Ready for the oven and smelling
delicious!
The aroma greeted the guests at the front door – if not in the driveway. It had been ages since I prepared a meal for company and I loved every minute.

I should be be writing something writerly. This is my 100th blog. That very fact kept me from posting until now. I should be writing something significant – meaningful – for this post. But what? The description of my blog is ‘musings of a writer’, which means I can write anything that comes into my mind. The possibilities are endless.

Stalling, I take a moment and look at the items on my desk for some inspirational vibes. There’s a ceramic snowman with a bulbous nose. A fat candle surrounded by smiling snowmen, my ereader, two stacks of books, a camera, my cell phone, a whole slew of highlighters in various colours...but no coffee – a coffee would be good.

A reminder to sauté the apples and thyme.
My memory doesn't improve with age.
 
I just celebrated a birthday and the warm wishes of friends and family are occupying my mind. The subject isn’t writerly, perhaps, but this is what I’m musing about today.
 
Rather than go out, I preferred to cook dinner for a couple of long-time friends, and for my son and his family. It wouldn’t be a life celebration without the people who mean the most in my life. Circumstance prevented other special friends from attending, though they were in my thoughts.
 
The next day, following a birthday visit from one of my besties, I lay snuggled in a blanket watching old movies with hubby, and snacking on fresh fruit. Warmed not only by the fireplace, but also by the birthday wishes popping up on facebook. My only exertion was a trip to the kitchen to warm up a plate of leftovers. Indeed, a lazy day.

My husband teases that my birthday celebrations last longer each year. He’s right. I like to milk at least three or four days out of them. Unfortunately, I had to postpone lunch with a friend today or I would be out there celebrating right now.

My birthday and Christmas are synonymous with dinners, gifts, catching up with old friends, and remembering.

I received a birthday card in the mail from a childhood friend. My husband forgot to give it to me when it arrived yesterday and I spotted it just before bedtime. Glitter sprinkled onto the table as I pulled the card from its envelope. In part, she wrote, ‘Over fifty years of friendship – not many are so blessed…from your life-long friend…
 
It felt like a warm hug.

Perfect way to end the day.


 

 

 

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Fate or Magic


Strange things happen. I call them fate. My friend, Debbie, calls them magic.

This last couple of years has been a torment. Each time I thought of forgetting about this crazy writing thing, something would happen. I’d receive a call from a publisher asking permission to use one of my stories in an anthology, or an email of congratulations would pop up in my inbox from a contest. Magically, this abolished all notions of quitting and was encouragement enough to put me in front of the computer, pounding out another story or researching new agents for my novels.

I’d written a series of short stories for a book about my nearly twenty years of experience in the retail lingerie trade. Mostly humorous stories but some were not so funny. Shoplifters could be funny, stalkers were not. One publisher considered the book for months but thought it might be challenging to market. I’d written it in third person point of view. At the time, that was a comfortable option.

After a ‘magic’ encounter with an award winning memoir author Iain Reid, I began to revise my book to first person POV. 42,000 words into the revision, my hard drive bit the dust. No, for some reason I did not save my work. I say ‘for some reason’ because I had saved other files but not this one. I told myself that the work was lost because it just wasn’t ‘right’. I had to take that attitude, or crumble under the depression of losing all that work. I promised myself that I’d tackle a new revision soon – just not yet.

Then, ‘magically’, a non-writer friend visited with a stack of writer’s books. I wrote about them in the last blog post, Unexpected Trove of Books. A couple of days later, I reached into the pile for Elizabeth Berg’s book, thinking I would read it first. When I settled into my chair, I realized that the book in my hands was not Berg’s but rather an Abigail Thomas book entitled, Thinking About Memoir. It was enough to make me snort out loud. Alrightalready, I said to no one, as I reached for a highlighter, fresh notebook, and pen.

With an open mind, I read each page while making copious notes as Thomas’s suggestions and ramblings triggered ideas and further memories. Thoughts of how better to revise my manuscript were taking shape. The book would be more effective as a memoir. Iain Reid, the author I met in Eden Mills,  had suggested as much during our conversation about my collection of stories. Slowly, the realization was growing that something important was missing in the re-telling of these incidental encounters.

Those eighteen years existing in a pink and blue world of maribou and satin, were my greatest and worst years. It was a high profile and productive time of my life, but not without a price. There were sorrowful personal challenges to overcome. If I can’t acknowledge my role by writing in first person POV, the book is nothing more than entertaining stories.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Unexpected Trove of Books


“I made cranberry sauce, and when it was done put it into a dark blue bowl for the beautiful contrast. I was thinking, doing this, about the old ways of gratitude: Indians thanking the deer they'd slain, grace before supper, kneeling before bed. I was thinking that gratitude is too much absent in our lives now, and we need it back, even if it only takes the form of acknowledging the blue of a bowl against the red of cranberries.”
Elizabeth Berg, Open House   

Gratitude for all the wonderful little things in my life is what I’m feeling. I’ve been writing and reading and shopping and visiting and enjoying it all! 

I’ve also been working on my First Monday columns as this is a busy time of year and the deadlines have moved up. By the way, you can read my magazine columns on this blog site. They’re all listed on the right sidebar. And, of course, Christmas is just around the corner and after that I’ll be packing for the cruise we booked. Yay!!!!

Speaking of happy, happy…A friend stopped by yesterday with the most wonderful surprise. A DOZEN used books she’d picked up with me in mind. More books, I thought. My yet-to-read stack was already a wobbly tower on my night table. Then I spotted the top book on the pile and knew it was a must-read-without-delay. It was Elizabeth Berg’s ‘Escaping into the Open…The Art of Writing True’.

My Stephen King book ‘On Writing’ has remained an all-time favourite and though Berg and King are polar opposites – but then again, not – I can hardly wait to read her take on the art of writing fiction. King and Berg both make writing look effortless. When I’m reading their books, it feels like they’re sitting across from me, telling me their story. They have that easy yet spell-binding style. The obvious difference is in the stories they tell.

My heart raced as I uncovered book after book. Since they are top-notch handbooks and guides for fiction writers, obviously a writer from our area had owned them. Who? Who? Two popular writers passed away in the last couple of years and I wonder if these ‘writer go-to books’ came from their shelves. It’s a lovely thought.

Some of you may have seen my recently published book review of Linwood Barclay’s thriller, ‘The Accident’. It’s on Brian Henry’s Quick Brown Fox site. You can read the review here.

Further writing updates include the entry of my novel, Bad Seed, in a contest. It’ll be several months before they announce the winner. If any of you are inclined to cross your fingers or mumble a prayer, that’s okay with me. My short story, Whiskey Nights, is also in the running (I hope) in a short story contest. You’ll know by my excited squeals if I get a mention.

Today an interviewee regretfully cancelled our appointment. Of course, I’m disappointed, but you know my attitude – there’s a bright side to everything. This gives me free time to polish the draft of my next magazine column, or begin wrapping Christmas presents, or meet with a friend for coffee, or vacuum the house.

OR snuggle into my reading chair with a mug of hot chocolate and some of those yummy cookies reserved for company, and peruse my newfound treasures.

The busy holiday season is here, so remember…Don’t sweat the small stuff… Stress less!                                                                                                                 

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Admitting the Downs and Ups


It’s great having hubby back home. He’s been working out-of-province for almost a year. Sure, there were regular visits but a few days at a time were never enough. I must admit that the first couple of weeks he was away were pretty fantastic. Eat when and what I want. Vacuum late at night – or not at all. Stay in pj’s all day and write to my heart’s content without thinking of what to thaw for dinner, or wondering about fresh veggies in the crisper.

Speaking of the fridge, it quit working. That was a major drag. Although a lot of the meat hadn’t thawed, some of the freezer contents had to be tossed – others had to be cooked and re-frozen. Actually, that part of it worked out quite well. Steaks cubed and simmered in beef broth and onions, ground meat browned and seasoned. Quick and delicious meals at the ready. Fortunately, I had another fridge with freezer downstairs or a bad situation would have been much worse. Speaking of much worse, my computer crashed that same week. It was meant to be. My all-time answer for everything that turns to #@@%.

My dead fridge was an inconvenience. My computer … well, it was depressing. I visited my email account and facebook on my cell phone with little enthusiasm. Though a lot of my files are on flash sticks and I have the means to retrieve lost stories from email submissions or attachments to beta readers, I’ve yet to restore them. I’ll do it later. To do it now would be like accepting a new friend before getting over the loss of the old friend. But I’ll do it. To some, it won't seem like such a big deal. Just get another computer. At the time, it seemed like the culmination of a lot of things gone wrong. Stress!

In the meantime, a week or so following my computer crash, a writer buddy brought me to a screeching halt. Do you miss writing, she wanted to know. I was rocked with the realization that in my frustration and panic, my bubbly enthusiasm for writing had vanished with the hard drive! Reading facebook updates by other writers now filled me with envy and remorse. Thrilled to have Marv back home, and being unable to deal with setting up a new computer or admitting to the loss of 42,000 words of revision, my brain had suffered creative paralysis.



But then while I was at the gym this morning, doing a soft workout while nursing a bum arm – which I’m convinced is a flare-up of tendinitis from too much ‘writing’ – I thought about my blogs. There was a time when I loved writing blogs and posted faithfully every week. Then I read somewhere – on someone else’s blog – never write about you on a blog. Save that for your diary – no one wants to hear it. I was stymied. 


Thats when my magazine column came to mind. It seems that when I write about my own experiences, readers relate and respond enthusiastically. Its why Im sharing my misadventures with you. Well, I’m not expecting an enthusiastic response but maybe someone out there can relate. Maybe it will speed my recovery. Hah! Good choice of words. I also purchased an external hard drive for saving EVERYTHING EVERYDAY. 

I’d better get busy re-writing those 42,000 words that disappeared in the flash of a burnt-out hard drive. I have a feeling they’ll be even better. You see, everything does happen for a reason. J

Keep healthy, stay happy, and hug often.  

Monday, October 28, 2013

Curling up with Matadora by Elizabeth Ruth


With only thirty-two pages left to read, I had to put Elizabeth Ruth's novel Matadora aside. Life happened and commitments and interruptions were distracting me from a good read. The writing is excellent−descriptions poetically detailed. I was transported in time to a place where dust tickled my throat and my breath quickened at the snorting of bulls in their pens. Yes, I was enjoying the book too much to rush through the ending. That’s strange coming from me−the one who impatiently flips to the last chapter because I just NEED to know the ending NOW. Shameful to admit, but I’ve even read the last chapter first. Just sometimes.

I cured myself of these habits, or maybe my readers cured me. ‘Were you shocked to learn that the killer was her deranged father??’ ‘No,’ he said, ‘actually, I accidentally read the last few paragraphs of the story first.’ Arrggghhhh! Serves me right, though. So, out of deference to the author, I no longer spoil the rhythm and pace of a well-written book.

Though crime/suspense is my favourite read, Matadora, published by Cormorant Books, is not of that genre. Something else that sets it apart from my ‘go to’ books is the setting−Spain and Mexico. Foreign settings are not usually favoured by me. So why am I reading it, you ask.

Elizabeth Ruth, Author
I had the pleasure of dining with the author of Matadora, Elizabeth Ruth, at the Eden Mills Writers’ Festival. My first impression was of a woman impeccably groomed, cool and confident, possessing an air of graciousness. In reading Ruth’s novel, I recognized the same proud carriage and qualities in her main character Luna, the courageous Matadora. Fleetingly, I wondered if Elizabeth Ruth always possessed these characteristics and passed them on to her protaganist, or whether Luna instilled them in her creator. I’m getting ahead of myself though.

At dinner, Elizabeth Ruth asked me what I liked to read. I need a good story, I told her. Even when the writing is great, the book is a disappointment if the story is lacking. She reached into her bag saying, this is a good story. She handed me her copy of her latest novel. Fortunately, I was immediately impressed. Can you imagine if I thought the cover was boring and the storyline sucked? I’d never make a good poker player. So it was with relief (for both of us) that I was immediately intrigued. I love character driven stories and I correctly suspected the 1930s story of a young female bullfighter would be filled with passion and courage. The enthusiastic testimonials on the book cover cinched it for me. I’d be ordering this book when I returned home. I couldn’t wait to read it. Which brings me full circle.

Thirty-two pages to go. The house to myself, a hot cup of Tetley, a warm fireplace, and Elizabeth Ruth’s Matadora...

 

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Cuddles, Coos, and other Writerly Distractions


'Do you love sitting with mommy? Do you? Tiki leans into me purring on all cylinders. 

As quick as that, I was reminded of those television commercials of the cat owners cooing to their pets. In one case the conference phone line is still open, and in another a woman is on the floor with her pussy cat while a little girl stands in the open doorway waiting for payment of the cookies she’s selling.
17 yr old Tiki with her summer lion cut

Tiki, her summer cut outgrown and her fur long and silky again, kept meowing at the side of my chair. Her paws tapping my leg. Yes, I forgot to close that heavy oak door which allows me peace and quiet to work. Finally, I reached down and lifted her onto my lap. Hence the conversation I felt obliged to share with you.
A little purring and a short cuddle wouldn’t hurt anyone but it did manage to distract me. First it was the thought of those hilarious TV commercials−what were they selling anyway, cat food? Not sure.

But this coo and cuddle distracted me from my current project, the re-working of a memoir. An undertaking that has been going surprisingly well. (Think about it, here I am blogging instead of, you know, working.)
17 yr old Tiki

 I’m trying to play catchup with my work. I took a few days off for Thanksgiving (Canadian, eh) and the fall fair. There were a couple of appointments, and then a shopping and movie fix with my bestie, (awesome boots and jeans, and oh, the purse−love the purse, and I really enjoyed seeing Rush) and finally I’m back at the desk.

Tiki’s left the office now. That’s the way it is with cats. They come, they disturb, and they leave. Sometimes she wakes me in the morning, jumping on the bed, walking across my sleeping body, and crying–which is how I describe her meows−until I’m fully awake. When I get up, she curls into my spot to sleep. At times when I’m on the phone, people mistakenly think her mewings are a baby crying.

She’s back now, again tapping and screeching until I snuggle her in my lap.  She has food and water. I know that for certain.  I cleaned her litter box last night. So what’s her problem? It’s okay, I can type with her on my lap. I’m doing it now, but she never stays put. Pets are so much like children.

I have to chase my dog around the house to get her outside but the minute I’m on the phone, she goes to the door and whines. So what’s with that? When my pets were younger they’d wait until I got on the phone to chase each other. Around my ankles! Until I’d excuse myself from the phone and put the run to both of them. I love them dearly which is why they’re allowed to continue interrupting my work, demanding my attention, and …hey, I guess it’s not so different than having kids around.

I’d better get back to work. Only two more days and it’s Nana day!! J

 

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Giving Thanks for the Little Things


I am Thankful...............................

 

I am thankful for a child’s embrace

A baby’s hand curled around my finger

And the tickle of Tiki’s fur against my cheek

The smell of freshly squeezed lemons

Clean sheets and fresh towels

And the fragrance of my granddaughters’ hair

The smell of a campfire

Lake air after a rain

Cedar cuttings and new mown grass

The aroma of perked coffee

Stew simmering in a pot

And the familiar smell of my dog

The sound of crickets and tree frogs

A little girl’s giggle

A train whistle at dusk

Rain spatters against the window

Rumbling thunder

And his whisper in the night

I am thankful..............................

Sunday, October 06, 2013

The Accident by Linwood Barclay


Linwood Barclay’s The Accident is a flashlight- under- the- covers kind of a novel. No way are you going to put this book down until you’ve read every page.

I’m not going to tell you what happens to the book’s main character Glen Garber that sends his life into a tailspin. You can check that out on the cover. (Hint – it was an accident)

Loved the prologue. Some publishers say that prologues have no place in books anymore. I say they do. They should be right at the front. Barclay’s prologue is ingenious. You read far enough into the story that you forget all about the prologue and then it becomes one of those a-ha moments. Gotta love that. The prologue was a great way to jump into the action immediately to grab the reader’s attention. Then the first chapter moves forward at a slower pace – but not for long. Before you finish that cup of tea, you’ll be chasing after Garber as he races towards the truth.

It occurred to me that the author sacrificed several good books by using their story lines up in this one. Lots of characters and subplots that could have held their own.

There were so many twists and turns that it felt like a rollercoaster ride. Believe me, I devour a lot of suspense and I can usually read between the lines, see something coming, and find stuff that doesn’t fit or make sense. While I was reading The Accident, that didn’t happen. Heck, I couldn’t even find a typo.

A few different times, I thought I’d figured everything out and then actually chuckled aloud at being left hanging in midair – knowing I’d been duped. Nothing predictable about this plot. What a rush! An absolute masterpiece for all you whodunit fans. Barclay manages to interweave all the connections until they seamlessly mesh. 

Another admirable trait is the development of the characters – characters are so important to me – and the realistic dialogue. Man, he really nailed the dialogue. Nothing turns me off faster than reading something that you know is not a natural fit. I admit to being a character and dialogue nitpicker.

Barclay is a master plotsman. Is that a word? It is now. He makes it look easy. It isn’t. Just when you think the story is over – you lurch over another bump and turn the corner. Just when you think you’ve figured out whodunit – you haven’t.

Even those last few pages had me thinking Could she? Will he? The entire book was an adrenalin rush for me. If you like thrillers as much as I do, it’ll be a winner for you too.

Tell you what, do not start reading this book until you put the cat outside, feed the dog, and turn off your cell.

The Accident by Linwood Barclay. Don’t take my word for it. Get it. Read it. Now.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

New Season-New Writing Space


Writers talk a lot about their writing space. How important is it? I’ve trailed through the house writing in every room but one. This summer I spent most of my time parked in front of the window in the living room, my computer balanced on my lap. I loved the view.

It’s time for a change-up and I’m thinking of going back to the storage room. That’s right. A couple of years ago, I complained about the interruptions and distractions of working in the main floor office and my husband suggested using the desk in the large storage area in the basement. There were no windows and there was a heavy oak door to shut out all household distractions. He was right. It was a great place to work. For a time. I’m the kind of person who likes a change of scene now and then. It gives me a boost when I re-decorate, re-arrange furniture, or introduce new pieces.

Now, with the change of season and a new writing project just around the corner, I decided to move back to my writing space in the storage room.  Yesterday I checked out the situation. Oh my. All summer I’d been tossing things onto the desk. Filing, sewing, magazines, books, dolls without heads. Well everything that needed attention but could wait until I had the time to deal with it.

With a huge sigh and the urge to run, I tackled the job.  One third of the room is available to me. The rest is stacked with Christmas decorations, not-ready-to-throw-out-yet items, and baby paraphernalia−that I would be more than happy to pass along to a new grandma, a trunk filled with off-season clothes, and, and, and.

Okay, so I looked at my third of the room. Unfortunately, the first thing I had to do was clean off the top of the desk. I hate that job but an idea started to take hold and I began working with a little more enthusiasm.

 There was a long Christmas tree box that had to remain in my ‘space’. I covered it with a narrow patchwork quilt and added a couple of decorative pillows. Looks like a bench seat (don’t sit on it).

It was hard work moving a seven foot desk away from the wall to the centre of my space. It was even harder unrolling an area rug under the heavy desk. Then I came across the matching runner. That was easy.  
 
I commandeered an old oak coffee table, already in the storage room, and placed it along the wall behind the desk as a catch all. Hauling a wing chair from the family room to use in the corner of my ‘new’ office wasn’t too difficult. Oh, and I found a little end table and then plucked a small table lamp from another room. Yep, things shaped up and, overall, I’m pleased with the results.
 
Except for the printer and my laptop, the desk is completely clear –for now. Oh, there is a small vase with some colourful silk pansies, and a couple of rocks. I like rocks. And my good luck charm−an old girl who is supposed to be my guardian angel.
 
I’ve set a date to begin my new project−October 7th. On that day−and not before−I will settle into my re-furbished space and begin a new season of writing.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Writing, Editing, and other Fun


After Sadie left I wanted to take a nap but knew there wasn’t time. But then I fell asleep in the bathtub so managed a few minutes. (chuckling here) I actually thought it was the cat waking me and then realized it was my own soft purring breaths.

It wasn’t my three year old granddaughter who wore me out. She had a tummy ache so we stayed home and cleaned out bedroom dressers which, when we got to the accessories, interested Sadie greatly. Scarves, belts, and costume jewellery. Oh, and purses. Those little clutches with sequins, or beading, or just shiny little bags with long skinny straps. Yes, she loved those the best. Look Nana, they fit me. I laughed. The little purse practically touched the floor. The jewellery was the best. Chunks of plastic that she used words like amazing, lovely, and corgeous to describe. That’s right, corgeous.

No, if I had to account for my fatigue it would not be my fun day with Sadie, it would have to be mental depletion from my writing activities the night before. A short thriller/suspense/crime/goosebump kind of story. Actually, it’s not the writing that tires me, it’s the editing. (a collective groan here).  It doesn’t necessarily mean I hate editing. I like it. Really, I do. I like it even better when I’m finished.

Here’s how it works. I write the story. It might take hours, days, or weeks. When the story looks good−meaning I love it just the way it is−I SAVE it. Next, I save it to a new file and go crazy. I rip it apart. Take the middle paragraph and use it to open the story. My finger hovers over the delete button as I dawdle over my favourite sentence. The one I felt smug about when I tapped it out on the keyboard.  But what the heck, my ready-to-go story is safe and sound in another file. I ramrod over the words, killing my darlings, and changing anything that sounds like writing.

My favourite authors are those who keep me on the edge of my seat and make me feel as if they are sitting across from me telling me this unbelievably wild story and I believe it. I believe every word they say. I mean that’s why it’s so unbelievable, right? No, it doesn’t sound like writing. It should never sound like writing. Not the crime and suspense anyway.

Think about it. Stephen King is the best when it comes to painting a colour by colour picture of his characters. You don’t even realize he’s doing it and then they’re right before your eyes. From a furled ear and slumped shoulders to pidgeon toes. Yeah, that’s what I’m talking about.

In the end, I liked the new revision of my story the best. Decided to go with it. That’s what tired me out. Feeling my heart race when I got it right, and relief that it was finished. I’d given birth to another story.

It wasn’t until the next day, after my time with Sadie, that it hit me. That’s when it would have been good to curl up in my pyjamas and watch some mindless TV−fall asleep. That was out. I’d committed myself to attending an authors’ reading. I always follow through on a commitment. I like to think I do anyway. Besides, listening to authors who have made the journey can be very inspiring.

All writers talk about...The Journey. I never really got it until this past year.
 
This is a picture that my friend, Debbie Okun Hill, snapped from the hotel window as I headed out to my own reading.  
 
It feels like I’m moving in the right direction.

Cheers!

 

Monday, September 23, 2013

The Magic of a Writers' Festival


I could not have written this blog yesterday or the day before or the day before that. I needed time to absorb the emotion, the experience, and the magic.

It was an honour participating in the Eden Mills Writers’ Festival on their 25th Anniversary. To quote The Record, the festival is virtually a Who’s Who of established and emerging Canadian writers’.
People had asked, Are you nervous. Before I arrived in Eden Mills, the answer was Yes. But meeting the writers, understanding their creed, their passion, and being a part of the celebration overshadowed the apprehension about my reading.
I toted books from home hoping for the opportunity to get them signed. I was lucky to meet and chat with Linwood Barclay about his latest novel, A Tap on the Window, as well as my personal favourite, The Accident. Cathy Marie Buchanan likewise signed The Day the Falls Stood Still and The Painted Girls. Meeting Cathy was a highlight! That left Beginning of Was by Ania Szado. She signed my book just before leaving. Can’t wait to read her new release Studio Saint-Ex.
A small house on the main street served as the authors’ Green Room. That’s where I met Linwood Barclay. That’s where the writers gathered the morning after the party to register and collect name badges. Many of us had become acquainted the evening before at the incredible outdoor gala welcoming and uniting this year’s cast of readers. It was at the party that I got to know YA Fantasy Writer Rachel Hartman from Vancouver, recipient of the 2013 Sunburst Award for her novel Seraphina. Because I wanted to attend her reading, I  missed the first set of Fringe readers consisting of Shannon Alberta, Michelle Glennie, Mo Markham, Desmond Beddoe, and Meghan Casey.  I had the pleasure of chatting with Des and Meghan in the Green Room before dinner and their excitement at being invited to Eden Mills matched my own. The other Fringe readers included Brittany Smith, J.E. Hewitt, and Star Spider.

The day passed in a heartbeat. The readings ended. The crowds dispersed. The writers made their way back to the Green Room. Soon the little house bulged with talent. The living room, dining room and kitchen filled. Writers standing, sitting, crowding couches, or parked cross-legged on the floor. Sipping on a beer or enjoying a glass of wine. That scene - my mind snapshot - will never leave me. It looked like a family reunion – in many respects it was.

That was the magical moment. A moment frozen in time. Not the stage or the dinner, or the book signings. It was the crescendo of voices, the pulsing energy, and the force of like minds. That moment will always be with me. I will be able to recall that memory and re-live the feeling at will.
 
It’s impossible to mention all the writers I met. At least in this blog. In future blogs I will talk more about the actual readings and how they affected me. More about my reading and how I could do it differently. Aside from the exposure from reading at a festival of this calibre it was an opportunity to learn, to ask questions, to glean as much information as possible from writers who have made the journey. Whether it was at the party on Saturday night or on the shuttle bus the next morning, meeting on Publishers’ Way or at the dinner held at the Community Centre, everyone was friendly and supportive.

As someone mentioned at the time, the heartfelt good-byes after dinner were reminiscent of last day at camp. Hugs, well wishes, and email exchanges.

It was an honour to be included in this monumental celebration of the written word.

The magic lives on.

Sunday, September 08, 2013

Prepping for Eden Mills Writers' Festival


Three years ago I gave as much thought to being a Fringe reader at the Eden Mills Writers’ Festival as I did to having a granddaughter named Sadie Muffin. Sure that’s her name. Just ask her. But I’m thrilled with both roles. The idea of participating in the festival makes me as happy as seeing Sadie’s infectious smile every Nana day.

At first, I panicked about the actual reading. But as I said to my daughter-in-law, it’s only seven minutes. She then pointed out that when I’m standing in front of an audience seven minutes could seem like a long time. Thanks Monika. That aside, I edited my humorous submission to fit the allotted time and my panic about reading is all but gone.
 
I’m more excited and nervous about the chance of meeting some of my fave authors. I’ve been a fan of Cathy Marie Buchanan since her first book, The Day The Falls Stood Still and I wrote a review of The Painted Girls for Quick Brown Fox. Read it here

Also, though I’ve yet to read Ania Szado’s latest Studio Saint-Ex, I have her first novel Beginning of Was. No doubt, I’ll pick up Studio Saint-Ex with the hope of Ania personalizing it.

Then there’s Linwood Barclay. OMG. Thrillers are where it’s at and Barclay is good. I’m a Lee Child/Michael Connolly/Stephen is King type reader and I’ve added Linwood Barclay to the list of read ’em alls.

Actually, right now I’m engrossed in Barclay’s latest, A Tap on the Window. This morning I was reading it. The vacuum hose lay tangled at my feet. Funny how that happened. I’d left the book in plain view right next to my knitting. One glance in that direction and it looked as if the bookmark was inching towards me. Finally, I dropped the beater bar, scrunched my wool and needles aside, and plopped into my chair. The dishwasher was full, the washing machine had a load ready for the dryer, and there I was lost in a good book. What else is new.

So, there’s no time for me to be nervous about my reading. Right now, my focus is on getting some books signed during my two-day dream weekend and saying hello to my favourite authors.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Eden Mills Writers’ Festival – A Reality

Poet Debbie Okun Hill asked if anyone was interested in accompanying her to the Eden Mills Writers’ Festival. I jumped at the chance. It was 2011 and she was attending the festival near Guelph as a Fringe reader. Though she was a member of my writing group, I didn’t know Debbie very well. Of course, all that changed over the course of a couple of days.

While I relaxed in the hotel room with a book in one hand and the other burrowing its way through a bag of peanuts, Debbie mingled with award winning authors and poets at the Saturday evening reception. I could hardly wait for her return. I wanted to know EVERYTHING.

The next day we left our Guelph hotel and bebopped over to Eden Mills. We’ve all heard the expression there was excitement in the air. Well, that describes the scene perfectly. The activity only added to the butterflies I was experiencing. Debbie remained her calm self.

As we wandered Publishers’ Way, stopping at various booths manned by authors and publishers, my friend generously introduced me to every acquaintance we came across that she’d met the evening before at the soiree.
One of the authors was Allan Casey, recipient of the Governor General’s Award for his book Lakeland. Allan was a very personable fellow and spent a few minutes talking to us about the complexity and mysteries of the publishing industry. I searched out Allan Casey’s book and carried it with me until I spotted him later in the afternoon and begged a personalized autograph. He graciously complied. This picture of me with the author was on the Eden Mills website.

 
 
I wandered Eden Mills capturing the flavour of the venue with pictures of the parade, various booths, and audience-dotted lawns with authors at the podiums. My camera remained at the ready, recording Debbie’s journey as a Fringe reader. Here she chats with Trudi and George Down of The Book Band.

Wolfing down a burger at the food court along the main street, I imagined Debbie snacking in the coveted writers’ lounge enjoying small talk with her favourite poets. I was thrilled for her.

It was an uplifting and inspirational experience and I was thankful for the opportunity to tag along.

Debbie read her poetry in her trademark cadence as I snapped picture after picture, all the while wondering how she could perform in front of a large audience in such a calm and professional manner. I was a bag of nerves for her.

At the end of the weekend, heading back home, Deb encouraged me to submit a story, saying that the next time we go to Eden Mills she would be on the other side of the camera, and I’d be at the podium. Riiiiiiight....


And so it shall be.

On Sunday evening, I received a phone call from the Eden Mills Writers’ Festival. They put me on speakerphone. I wondered if they could hear my heart pounding as I repeated “How exciting. That’s so exciting. Thank you. Thank you.”
 
Eden Mills Writers' Festival September 13 - 15, 2013 Twenty-Fifth Anniversary

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Experiencing Technical Difficulties


So what gives? Are you having problems with Google? Or experiencing trouble with Gmail? Is your Facebook account wonky? Are the settings on your computer changing at will? Or is this all a sinister plot against me?

Last week we cancelled our landline. It had been out of commission for over six weeks. For years, this rural area has been notorious for bad telephone lines. Then, about three weeks ago, lightening fried one of our appliances.

That’s not all that’s strange. While writing my blog this week, I noticed that my default settings on Microsoft Word had changed. Not such a big deal until I copied and pasted my blog post to Blogger. There it looked like a crazy mix of line spacing and indents throughout my document. Maybe it was Blogger. For a short scary period, I was unable to connect with my blog. I mean it just disappeared. I finally accessed it through my Facebook page but couldn’t get to the Dashboard.

Then Facebook started acting up. My updates were two or three days old. Then several updates would come through at once. Which reminds me, don’t you hate all those ads. It takes even more time to troll through updates now. If not for my writer page, I’d pack Facebook in. I have 78 Likes (do I hear 80?) though many don’t see my posts. I keep advising people to change the settings so they will receive my updates but I don’t know if that works. Now when I post an update to my writer page, Facebook tells me that for $30 they will ‘Boost’ my post so more people see it. hahaha

Everything Google seems to have a glitch. My two email accounts interchanged somehow. My default email address was not my default email address, if you get my drift. Then I couldn’t sign in to one of my email accounts. I should have worried but didn’t. I expected that eventually my account would open and I’d simply retrieve all the emails sent in the interim. WRONG!

I started worrying that it could be a virus or something. I checked my ultra reliable anti-virus protection and it showed no problems.

Wild thoughts like a compromised email account went through my mind. Tell you what, just to be on the safe side, if you receive a phone call or email saying I’m in trouble and need money, make sure you mail the cheque to my home address.

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Accepted for Anthology


Good News! Soldier’s Last Wish will be included in an anthology, Best of Commuterlit Volume 1, to be released in September.
It almost never happened. It began as a writer’s nightmare – the one in which your work has been accepted but the publisher can’t reach you. Emails are lost, landline phone is not working. This is the third email we’ve sent. Respond immediately if you are interested. Yikes!
Commuterlit will be publishing two print anthologies of some of the best stories and poems from their archives. Volume 2 is scheduled for release in December.
Commuterlit.com is an ezine that posts a new short story, novel excerpt or poem each day from Monday to Friday, specially formatted to read on a mobile device (smart phones, iPads, Blackberries). Of course, you can also access the stories and poems from the www.CommuterLit.com website at any time. Perfect for that morning coffee break!
Their focus is on works of fiction or poetry that can be enjoyed during a 20 to 30 minute public-transit commute to work. It’s a mix of not only literary fiction, but sci fi, fantasy, horror, mystery, thriller, and romance. If you write, check out their Submissions Guidelines.
This is my third acceptance for an anthology. Simone Press in the U.K. selected my story, Culling of a Nation, for their anthology Indie Trigger - Short Stories (May 2012) that is available on Amazon.
Culling of a Nation, described by writing guru Brian Henry as ‘wonderfully macabre’, was recently posted on his Quick Brown Fox website http://quick-brown-fox-canada.blogspot.ca/ If you don’t follow this blog, you should. Here’s the link for my story, Culling of a Nation http://quick-brown-fox-canada.blogspot.ca/2013/07/culling-of-nation-short-story-by.html
As luck would have it, two of my stories, The Legend of Hallowed Ground and Twilight Imagery, will appear in a third anthology, A River Runs By It, to be launched in October of this year.
 Of my four anthology picks, Soldier’s Last Wish is about ... well, imagine ... never mind, I’ll give too much away. As the saying goes, read the book.
Culling of a Nation is termed speculative fiction ‒ frightening because it is so close to reality.
The stories from the anthology A River Runs By It are about the area where I live. The first story, The Legend of Hallowed Ground tells the history of a church that was on our property for over a hundred years and how we came to discover it. Nothing scary about that. It’s not like there was a cemetery here. I mean, we’d know if there was a cemetery – right?
The second story selected for this anthology, Twilight Imagery, is spooky. More so, because it is a true story. Past life regression? It has been suggested. I’ll wait to see what you think.
 
 
 

Monday, July 29, 2013

Nature, Short Stories, and other inspirations of summer


I reached for my robe this morning. The air felt different. Like fall. Like the first day of school. Crystals of water decorated a mugho pine in the front garden. Yesterday, I watched as an industrious sparrow disappeared inside the pine with ridiculously long stalks and twigs.


I’ve missed many prime opportunities to include pictures with my blogs. On my facebook page with my Monday morning greeting, I posted that today is the day to make a difference. With that in mind, I grabbed my camera and headed outside. The bird flew from the pine as I approached. I took these two shots as she chirped an angry warning from her perch on a nearby spruce. Not wanting to disturb her work, I didn’t part branches to get a shot of the nest she’s building, but you can see one of the twigs in the picture above.

A couple of years ago, I moved to a windowless room to do my writing. Nature was too distracting. Yet, for most of this summer, I’ve been writing in front of a large window with my computer on my lap. Now I consider nature more of an inspiration than distraction.

This has been the summer of short stories. I’ve been reading them, writing them, and submitting them. It’s been challenging. Writing a novel is like taking a deep breath and then diving into a bottomless pool. Writing short stories feels more like splashing through a puddle. I get wet but I’m not totally immersed. Maybe I'm not doing it right.

Of the stories written for submission this summer, one is crime suspense – more of a psychological thriller, one is a humorous look at young love in a different era, and the last is more of a memoir. Writing short stories has been a challenge, as always, for me. I’m learning a lot in the process, which is always a good thing. I miss my novels though, and I’m looking forward to getting back to my work in progress, The Bones of Doris Mead.

This summer, I made the decision to re-write a book of memoirs changing the POV from third person to first. Initially uncomfortable writing this book in first person, I distanced myself. Because I re-worked a story from this series for a magazine submission, I saw it with fresh eyes and I'm okay with it now.  Everything happens for a reason!

Until I complete these books, I shouldn’t begin any other long-term project. Maybe short stories will end up being my salvation when I get the creative urge to write something totally new. 

In the meantime, I must get on with my day which requires changing out of p.j.’s . I can hear the blasted cardinal bouncing off my bedroom window. How about a picture? Hah! Gotcha! At least, having mentioned him in several fb posts and blogs, you know he's not a figment of my imagination.

There’s still a lot of chirping going on near the mugho pine. It sounds like they’re saying, what’ll we do if she comes back?

 
 

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Enjoying a good book ... or two


Did you hear that? It was a sigh of relief. I mailed the last of two short story contest submissions. I’m looking forward to a more casual approach to my writing for the rest of the summer. Aside from my magazine column deadlines, I will not feel obligated to do any writing. Take notice that I said feel obligated. You know, as well as I do, that I will be writing something. Try and stop me!

On the way back from the post office, I dropped by the local library to pick up a couple of books that came in for me. Today, it was Elizabeth Berg’s Tapestry of Fortunes, along with David Baldacci’s latest, The Hit. In the mail this week, I received Audrey Austin’s latest release, Moose Road, A Canadian Tragedy (mine is number 8 in a limited edition).

So many great books, I’m salivating. Now, to snuggle down in air-conditioned comfort and crack the covers. No guilt. After all, in these hellish temperatures, gardening, walking ‒ or even shopping ‒ is out of the question. (For those of you who read last week’s bizarre blog, my outdoor work is fairly caught up, looking rather good actually, I had twelve family members over for dinner (not a bologna sandwich in sight) and the fridge is well stocked.

Before I dive into the new reads, I need to finish an excellent book that author Elizabeth George edited called The Two Deadliest. ‘Tales of Lust, Greed, and Murder from Outstanding Women of Mystery’. I had to put the book aside for a couple of weeks but that’s okay. With a book of short stories, it’s easy to pick up where I left off. I’m lovin’ it. So, I must duck back into the world of deliciously evil and then move on to the next delectable work of fiction.

You’ll hear from me again when I come up for air.

 

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Absorbed in a World of Fiction


Sorry about the bologna sandwiches. I didn’t get to the store for groceries. I’ve been busy working. Well no, I didn’t get a job but I still write. Pardon? Oh, um, I’m writing another novel. I get so caught up in my story and my writing and all those crazy characters that time just runs away with itself. Seems like everything else just slips my mind. Why yes, I knew you were coming but those weeks just sort of flew right by. Another dill? Mustard? Of course, here you are. I’m sure there’s enough left. Just give it a big squeeze. Oh, a little messy, but there you are.

As I was saying, I write. I’ve been working on a short story for a contest. So much editing. Well, I try. Yes, it sure takes up a lot of my time. And then there are the book reviews I submit. Of course I have to read the books first. Reading. I used to read for hours and hours. Days. Now, I try to fit in a bit of reading each week. The pleasure reading, you know. Oh, yes, certainly, reading is always pleasurable but there’s a difference between reading, say a book for a review or one written by a friend, and curling up with a juicy murder mystery and a big bowl of popcorn...say, would anyone like popcorn?

Oh, that’s our cat. She’s a Persian but she has a lion cut right now. I guess she does look strange, yes. It does look like a lion’s tail. No, I think she likes it. Her fur doesn’t get all matted when she’s shaved like that. No, no, we have her groomed just a couple of times a year.

Here, let me help. I have a lint brush somewhere. Yes, we have a cat and a dog. Dog hair, you know how it is. No? Ah well, she likes to sleep on the couch. That would be why. And the bed. No special place. She moves around. She’s sweet though, don’t you think?

I’m not sure about Lex. Could be part shepherd, beagle. She’s, you know, a sweet little mutt. Yes, you’re right. A sweet, hairy, little mutt. Another sandwich? No? Really? I thought you were spending the night. A weekend visit is what you mentioned on the phone. Say, how about taking a drive to town. We could get a sno cone or ice cream bar for dessert. How about it folks?

Okay, I understand. If this is about the bologna sandwiches, I just remembered I have some chuckwagon chili in the freezer. And if I’m not mistaken, I have some hamburger buns that have been in there for awhile. We should eat those too. I can slap some garlic butter on them and toss them under the broiler. Bet we wouldn’t even notice the freezer burn.

Well, if you insist. Watch your step. Would you look at the way that shrub grew right across the bottom step of the porch. Isn’t that just too crazy. Oh my, I haven’t been out for awhile. Is it always this warm? Must be the humidity that made those thistles grow so big. I’ve got one of those little pruning saws. That might cut through it. Eventually.

No, thank you. Great visit. Stop by again when you can stay longer. I’ll be finished my novel soon and then I’ll take a break. Get groceries. I’m sure that store is still open at the plaza. Do some gardening. Whoa, would you look at that. What is that thing?

Okay then, bye. So long, folks.

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Writers Learn from Reading


Today I planned to read for sheer enjoyment. Not as easy as you think. I’m always analyzing writing styles, flinching over typos, questioning grammar...  Distracting, to say the least.

Settled in my recliner, I breathed a contented sigh, and cracked the cover of Two of the Deadliest. Out of habit, I checked the publisher and the date of publication before beginning the collection of short stories by top female crime writers.

After reading only two or three titles, I knew it was an excellent book. I began taking notes. I couldn’t stop myself. I gave a star rating and a one or two sentence review for each one. Despite my good intentions, I was reading these stories as a writer. On the plus side, my comments would come in handy if I wrote a book review.

Taking a break from reading, I glanced over the brief notes and the three to five stars allocated to the stories I’d finished. Unsatisfactory ending was one comment I’d scribbled. Why was I dissatisfied? What would have satisfied me? Why did I feel the main character lacked ... character?

Characters are almost more important to me than the storyline. They don’t have to be characters I can identify with, or people I would like to befriend, as long as they are three-dimensional. Well-portrayed.

The very act of delegating a star rating to each story forced me to identify its strengths and weaknesses. It gave me pause to reflect on what I liked most. Was it the turn of phrase, storyline, ending, character profile? Did the suspense and imagery capture and keep my attention? Why did I enjoy this particular story and how could I apply this attribute to my own stories?

I put the book aside. I’d take a walk and think further about the winning features of each author’s story. There were also some near misses that I needed to think over. Yes, a walk was a good idea. My dog would agree.

Unless it’s too windy, too wet, too cold, or too hot, Lex is crazy about going for walks. So much so, that we have to be careful saying the word around her. She dances and spins, her toenails scrabbling for traction on the hardwood floor.

We can’t get away with spelling the word, either. She knows that w-a-l-k means her leash is coming out of the drawer. She stands next to the door shifting on all fours.

While Lex led me along the trail, I compared the short story I’m currently working on to the stories I’d just read. Based on how I judged them, how would I rate my own? I tried to apply the same criteria for evaluation. Could the reader enter my character’s state of mind? Is the imagery vivid enough? Would the reader feel his pain? Are my descriptions graphic enough that the reader will be in the room with my character? Sitting across from him? Will his or her breath quicken as the nightmare unfurls? Is it suspenseful from start to finish? Is the ending satisfying?

Perhaps knowing what I like to read, and why I find it effective, will help me become a better writer. 

Speaking of reading, I have a very entertaining book to finish.