Tuesday, January 01, 2019

New Year Reflections

For me, bringing in the New Year begins with a reflection on the past year. A life-changing year. For more than a couple of decades, in a labour of love, our rural property took on a park-like atmosphere with numerous species of trees. The perennial gardens ranged from flowering bushes and riotous colour to calming green gardens of fern and hosta. We decided to sell our home (gulp) and make a move. It was time. Life is about change and renewal.
Leaving our rural area awakened us to new experiences, introduced us to community living, congenial people, and a fresh outlook. We moved far enough away that the area is all new to us but we’re close enough to keep in contact with long-time friends. I am content – happy even.
Sometime during all that packing and moving and changing, I’d decided to limit my writing to personal pleasure. Over the past ten years, I’ve had moderate success with my short stories, but my writing threatened to become all-consuming. Not just the writing, but the writing life. Organizing workshops, retreats, meetings, dinners. Actually, I realized I had less and less time to write. My focus had shifted and I’d lost my momentum. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to continue. I went so far as to tell my husband of my decision. Of course, I couldn’t NOT write, I’d perish. I simply wouldn’t send my work out. Not anymore. And I had decided years before that I wouldn’t publish my own work. No, I was going the traditional route – with the hundreds of rejections that come with it. In my mind, I was done.
Then I received an email with a tip about an acquisitions editor with a well-known publisher who might be interested in my work. How could I not follow up. And yes, he said two of my novels sounded ‘exciting’ and I should send the full mss. When I never heard back after several months, I tried contacting him. He’d left the publisher. The End. My last hurrah.
Another email arrived suggesting I collaborate on an anthology with two other Canadian authors and two from the States. Our Plan to Save the World features four of my short stories. My last hurrah.
Then another email arrived informing me of a contest in the U.S. I placed second and am proud to be included in the anthology Suspicious Activity. My last hurrah? Maybe not.
Aside from a health glitch, the year 2018 has been gratifying. I look to the positive, or at least try, and am thankful for the goodness in my life. 
In 2019, I will continue to enjoy our community neighbourhood and pursue promising friendships. I look forward to summer verandah lounging with our park friends just a little farther north. 
As for writing, I have set a goal (oh no, not a goal) to finish a novel. It will be a huge challenge to pick up the thread dropped so long ago. But I’m sure the love for my characters will see me through.
I look forward to 2019 with renewed vigour and hope. There’s a touch of determination peeking through, as well. I feel good. I feel strong. I feel like writing.
Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Suspicious Activity - Crime Anthology

JUST RELEASED! SUSPICIOUS ACTIVITY – a crime anthology published by Devil’s Party Press, Delaware USA.
Devil’s Party Press – sounds badass, doesn’t it. They only publish authors age 40 and over. Yes, they are totally badass.
Local Sarnia writer, Sharon Berg, alerted me to their contest – a submission call for crime stories. My favourite genre! I gave it my best shot – get it? shot? crime stories?...groan – and was lucky enough to place second.
I liked the look of the proposed cover for Suspicious Activity and my communications with dpp gave me a positive feeling about the book. My instincts were right. This is one of the best crime anthologies I’ve read and I love reading crime stories. Storylines from the past, present, and future bleed onto every page. I had no idea there would be so many unique spins on crime.
This isn’t a review of the book. There’ll be plenty of those I’m sure. I have a few favourites I could point out, but I won’t. What I will say is that I enjoyed and appreciated every story in the book. When was the last time that happened? By the way, there are some killer poems in there too. And I have to mention the …. No, I don’t think I will. Just buy the book.
When you’re standing in line at your favourite book store with anthology in hand, take a closer look. The publisher incorporated our stories into the headlines and features of the ‘newspaper’ cover. Ingenious idea.
If you’re an online shopper, Canadians can purchase it here and all others can order from the dot com Amazon site or directly from the publisher.
Kudos to Devil’s Party Press for publishing a quality ‘can’t put it down’ anthology and hats off to these authors whose clever creativity will keep you reading well into the night.

Monte R. Anderson                                        Dianne Pearce
Tom Barlow                                                    Mark Alan Polo
Sharon Berg                                                    Patsy Pratt-Herzog
William F. Crandell                                       Bernard M. Resnick
David W. Dutton                                            Roberto Sabas
Kari Ann Ebert                                               Michael Sarabia
Lisa Fox                                                          Judith Speizer Crandell
Robert Lewis Heron                                       Carrie Sz Keane
Heidi J. Hewett                                               Paulene Turner
Phyllis Humby                                                Liliana Widocks
Bayne Northern                                              Wendel Young
Jonathon Ochoco                                            David Yurkovich

Wednesday, December 05, 2018

Instant Coffee and Pre-dawn Inspiration

Wide awake. 4:30 AM. Ugh! Not to disturb hubby, I quietly left the bedroom. Wrapped in an oversized robe, I flipped on the kettle for an instant coffee – it was not a perked coffee kind of morning – and started browning ground beef. Yes, that’s right. What better opportunity to make a double batch of crock-pot chili. I’m doing everything in two’s lately. Like yesterday when I set out to make Banana Bread and realized it was a two-loaf recipe. At the last minute, I sprinkled (loaded) the top with pecans and brown sugar. Good decision.
Chopping onion and green pepper, it came to me how much I love the pre-dawn. The stillness and the quiet – aside from the sizzle in the pan, of course. I added extra chili powder to the cooker. At mealtime I usually comment that I added too much but that doesn’t stop me from doing it again. It’s all in the seasoning. Otherwise, it’s just a pot of goulash and not chili at all (I know the ingredients aren’t the same as goulash so you don’t have to try to set me straight, just sayin).
I took my coffee into the den to find a binder for a manuscript I’m working on and came across the zippered case from a Writer’s Retreat I organized in 2016.
Everyone received a zippered binder filled with…well, writer stuff. I’d also included a series of articles. Information I thought would be helpful to all writers. And now I’m leafing through the sheets and thinking, Hey, this is good! Fantastic tips to improve productivity and quality. Insightful notes on polishing and editing. Good job, Phyllis. I stopped patting myself on the back long enough to get another coffee.
I’d been needing something (obviously) to boost start me into this challenging writing project. Everything I included in the retreat package will prove immensely helpful to me right now. Reading the agenda reminded me of my words of encouragement to the participants. Now it’s encouragement for me.
Stumbling across the workshop binder this morning was no accident. No sirree. I’m a believer. Everything happens for a reason. Even waking at 4:30. Now, I have all the tools I need. Plus spicy chili and banana bread. Don’t you love it when that happens.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

A Season for Remembering

I consider myself more spiritual than religious – although it was the religion that filled my spirit as a child.
Are you ready for this? When I was around six years old, I built a shrine in my bedroom using the top of my little desk – which was sacred to me even then – the desk that is. A small statue of the Virgin Mary sat atop a lace doily, and I taped red and white paper streamers from the grey metal surface of the desk to the wall, as high as I could reach.
Why am I sharing this, you might ask. No idea, I would have to say.
I don’t recall what else I incorporated into the holy shrine or how long I kept it on display. But that was a long time ago and my prayer-filled religious fervor is a faint memory. I’m not sure what my mother thought of this spectacle. We didn’t talk about it.
My family mostly considered me odd or should that be considered me mostly odd. But then later in life, I came out as a writer and that explained everything. Sort of.
Thinking back, I should have mentioned the shrine to my teacher – the irascibly cranky nun who saw fit to strap me and keep me inside at recess every day. I realize now, when I think of the terrible ways she singled me out for abuse, that she was mentally disturbed. So maybe telling her about the Virgin Mary on my desk, and my fervent prayers, would have earned no brownie points for me.
I miss the Latin Mass of my childhood. I can still hear it in my head if I think hard enough. The high and low notes of the priest’s singing chant. A few years back I was thrilled to hear that my hometown parish church was holding a Latin Mass. I slid onto the same wooden pews I sat on as a child. I looked up to the ceiling at the large grill vent. When I was little someone told me, or perhaps I imagined it, that God watched us through that vent to make sure we were praying and not daydreaming. Especially scary for me – the daydreamer. I’d keep my eyes on that vent hoping for a glimpse of Jesus Himself. No such luck.
The church service, by the way, was a bust. The young priest had no idea. He could barely speak Latin let alone sing it –which is what I was expecting. As I walked out of the church, I wondered if everyone else felt as disappointed.
A crucifix hangs in my den. Visitors spot it – they must – and  likely believe I am someone with a strong connection to the Lord. The truth is I keep it for sentimental reasons. It was from my mother’s casket and I’ve coveted it for the past 47 years. She died when she was too young – so was I.
Today I unpacked Christmas decorations including another remembrance of my mother’s passing. A Virgin Mary planter. Memories of school, religion, Christmas, and Mom, came back in a rush. The planter is a keeper from the many funeral tributes. Over the years, I’ve renewed the silk floral arrangement and always with a Christmas theme, the same as the original. I always place it in my space – close to me – where I have the crucifix. Usually my office/den. A spot conducive to quiet reflection. If you’re wondering, the answer is no. There are no paper streamers taped to the wall or desk. It’s not a shrine. J It’s a reminder. It’s memories.
And the memories are good – except for that teacher. She was bat crazy. Seriously. One day I’ll tell that story.
Cherish those reminders of the past, my friends. They make us who we are today. Have a beautiful and happy season!

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

How to Choose a Favourite Chair

Rain skitters across the windowpanes. A promise of a good day. Good for me because I enjoy the rain. The cloud-deluged sky necessitates a lamp’s glow beside my favourite chair. Mornings as perfect as these are usually the opening lines of a damn good mystery. Speaking of which, there’s certainly time for a chapter or four from my current within-reach read before I move on to morning tasks. In a comfy curl, I fan open the pages to the bookmark, thankful for a good story, agreeable weather, and the coziness of this – my chair.
What constitutes an ideal chair, you might ask. To begin, it must be firm but comfortable. Nothing so plush that you could sink deeper and deeper into its cushion as you get further and further absorbed in your thriller. You are unaware of this sorry predicament until book’s end when someone must pull you to your feet. And beware of a cushion so lumpy that the relentless shifting of your bottom is required to maintain blood flow.
Narrow, firmly padded armrests that are covered with an attractive durable fabric are preferable to wide wooden armrests.
So much time is lost looking for a coaster so that your hot teacup doesn’t mar the surface. And of course, there’s no chance of that with the aforementioned padded armrests as they’re too narrow to hold your cup in the first place. It’s common sense.
Have I mentioned a footrest? I should have started with this mandatory requirement. You simply cannot sit for any length of time with your feet on the floor. Unbeknownst to you, they could possibly be replaced by balloons, or those prickly pins and needles, making it difficult to navigate the kitchen for another cup of tea.
Also, a soft-to-the-touch throw adds to the favourite-chair experience. It’s essential to have something lightweight but cozy. You might also consider a small cushion. A versatile item you could use for your back, or your lap to rest those epic novels that play hell with your wrists.
Though mentioned last, of most importance – if that chair is to become a favourite – is that it must be positioned with a view to the outdoors. Otherwise, how could you see the skittering of rain and looming black clouds. The moods of nature inspire us.
Still unsure if you’ll recognize the perfect chair for you and your needs. Just sit. There. Did you experience a spontaneous ‘ahhh’ moment? You have found Your Chair.

Monday, October 01, 2018

Love a Rainy Day

It’s a dreary rainy morning. I LOVE this weather! I can hear the water trickling along the downspouts. There’s a soft glow of light from the lamps in the front room. The smell of coffee leads me to the kitchen for a refill. Only to be pulled back to my den where my black gooseneck spotlights the fresh white screen dotted with…what is that…whatever. I’m ready to spend a few hours tapping the keyboard.
These overcast days have always proved my most productive. Not just for writing – although I need to write a new short story soon – but it’s my favourite time to slice and dice and simmer, clean out closets, curl up with a book... I just love the rain.
There’s another reason I’m giggly happy today. I received word from Devil’s Party Press in Delaware USA that I placed second in a crime anthology contest. Yes! I love winning contests. But not as much as I love writing crime stories.
There’s something about writing crime that makes my heart beat a little faster, and sets that devious part of my brain racing. I’ve been told more than once that humour is more my genre. That’s a laugh. Pardon the … you know.
To be honest, I enjoy writing all genres. The contest winner was what the Devil’s Party Press considered ‘hard-boiled detective’. I like that. It was fun researching the era and developing the voice. And making up stories is always a hoot. I probably wrote it on a rainy day.
I’ll let you know when the anthology, Suspicious Activity,  is released. In the meantime, grab your umbrella and those shiny red boots and make a splash.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

When Life Gets Too Real to Write Fiction

Theres good news and theres not so good news. Lets get all the not so good stuff out of the way because this blog post ends well. Very well!

Commitment is important to me. I’m a stickler – anal actually – when it comes to any kind of obligation or responsibility. I always strive to do my best in a professional manner. When health issues affected my dependability, I resigned my Board and Committee positions. A tough decision in that I’d genuinely miss the creative energy of the talented and convivial members of these groups. They inspired me.
Feeling I was letting everyone down, I grew depressed and anxious. Some of  you are nodding your heads. You understand. You’ve been there. To make matters worse, my husband and I left our home of 21 years. Never mind that we were looking forward to it. Most of you have been through a move so I don’t need to elaborate.
When it couldn’t get any worse, I experienced writer’s block for the first time. Had fatigue dried up my creative juices or was there too much reality on my mind? I still managed – it was challenging some months – to write my chatty column for First Monday magazine.
I’m not worried about my fiction writing. Without a doubt, as my life settles my imagination will kick in and my usual unusual stories will spew forth. 
And my enthusiasm is growing almost to the point of giggles since I’ve returned to work on a huge project (you’ll hear more about it in the coming months). I’m elated!
To bring you further up to date, just over a year ago, (before my life tilted) I was invited to collaborate on an anthology of short stories by three Canadian and two American authors. Of course, I agreed. 

Now, ladies and gentlemen, (drum roll please) the anthology ‘Our Plan to Save the World’ is out there. Its available on Amazon, Lulu, and Barnes & Noble.
You can acquaint yourselves with Steve Nelson, Frank T. Sikora, Michael Joll, and Nancy Kay Clark by reading their interviews from blog posts right here on The Write Break.

This is exciting news! At 1:00 on Saturday, August 25th I will be joining Writers on Tour at the Sarnia Library on Christina Street in Sarnia, Ontario. It will be my pleasure to read excerpts of my stories from this publication and there are a handful of books available for purchase.
If you’re in the area, stop by to say hello. I’m looking forward to seeing you and introducing you to the new anthology Our Plan to Save the World.
Here’s some info on the authors who will be reading on August 25th!

Tom Gannon Hamilton         Heather Robert Cadsby          Phyllis Humby
Heather Cadsby reads Standing in the Flock of Connections. Tom Gannon Hamilton contemplates El MarilloPhyllis Humby offers Our Plan to Save the World.
In the 1980s, Heather co-produced Poetry Toronto and founded the press Wolsak and Wynn. She also organized poetry events at the Axle-Tree Coffee House in Toronto and Phoenix: A Poet’s Workshop. In recent years, she’s served as a director of the Artbar Poetry Series. Standing in the Flock of Connections is her fifth poetry collection.
Tom is a poet, a musician, and the organizer and host for the Urban Folk Art Salon in Toronto which combines words and music. His poetry in El Marillo reveals the experiences of relief workers with Salvaide in El Marillo, El Salvador during the 1980s. His list of books includes: Panoptic, Aeolus Press (2018) and El Marillo (2018).
Phyllis lives in Lambton and is a well known blogger @ The Write Break, a columnist @ First Monday Magazine, and a member of Crime Writers of Canada. However, Our Plan to Save the World, may be the first time that four of her stories are collected in one place. Our Plan to Save the World is an anthology that features five authors.
Sarnia Public Library     August 25, 2018     1 PM