Saturday, February 06, 2021

You're Only an Oddball Until You Find Your Tribe


Nine years ago I wrote my first blog post. Reading it now reminds me how it felt to be without a tribe. My tribe. The storytellers. It also brings back the rush of realizing my passion for writing fiction.

Here is an excerpt of the post I wrote as I began my journey as a writer. 


All my life I have been the oddball.  Not quite fitting.  Different from the rest−the rest of the family, the rest of the class, the rest of the co-workers.

I was the one staring off into space−lost in thought. 
It was not that I wasn’t focused.  I was too focused.  Not on what was happening around me, but what was going on in my mind....a whole other world.
I am not sure at what age I started recording some of my daydreams.  I suppose the first stories found their way to paper when I was a child living in Sarnia, Ontario and later as a teen, in Cambridge.  Even after entering the workforce, I continued jotting down character descriptions and conflicts.  Detailed note-taking became an obsessive habit. 
When I returned to Sarnia with a young family, I was still dabbling in a make-believe world.  Faces and personalities emerged.  Happenings grandiose and minute; happenings born of an overactive imagination.
As far back as my memory takes me I studied people. Of course, I never considered it studying, but merely a fascination for behaviour and reaction, emotion and energy.  Everyone was different.  If I could interchange all their characteristics and idiosyncrasies, what kind of person could I create?  I could develop a perfect personality but then their lifelike qualities would soon make them imperfect.
Yes, my fascination for people grew . 
My daydreams and imaginings− those minute scribbles on scraps of paper− became involved stories written longhand on yellow lined pads; the kind sold ten to a package to offices−are they still?−long before computers became the norm.  Those yellow sheets were then rolled and secured with elastic bands, and hidden in my cardboard memory box.
My writings and story tales were my secret.  Not even my best friend knew.  No one knew.  I must have appeared constantly distracted. 
There was never time to consider writing on a regular basis.  I wrote to ease the anxiety of not writing.  There, I would say, I have scrawled fifty pages.  Of course, it was only temporary relief.  My addiction to storytelling was never truly cured.
When I joined the ranks of retirees, I whispered my desire to write.  Write what, he asked.  A book.  That is what I had always wanted.  To create living, breathing characters that made their own way through hardships and heartaches: characters that made choices−some good, some bad− but each having its own consequence.  So write, he said.  Go write a book. 
I questioned why I needed validation.  Did I enjoy writing so much that I felt guilt over time frivolously spent?  Whatever the reason, I had finally revealed my passion.  Go write a book he said.
I wrote.  Words appeared on my monitor faster than I could read them.  Characters took on life: so much so that they took over my story and created their own.  They ignored my development of the plot, seeming to have something different in mind.   
I laughed over their shenanigans and wept when they grieved.  They became important people in my life.  My laptop friends.  I was immensely satisfied when the last line appeared in black and white.  However, I found it was impossible  to type The End.  I hated for it to be over.

Thursday, December 17, 2020

'Feel Good' Birthdays


In past years, I indulged in the ‘feel good’ things on my birthday. Lingering over a coffee downtown Sarnia always brought memories of when I was a kid waiting in line at The Odeon with my friend Barb. We’d pay a quarter for a movie and then stay to watch it over and over. Good times. And at the end of one summer I spent all my babysitting money on clothes at Pacesetters. Wow, that was a lot of babysitting. 
My special day usually included a visit to the library for a couple of hours to luxuriate in the smell of books and the pleasure of having literature of every kind at my fingertips. There would be shopping, too. I’d drift in and out of stores looking for nothing in particular and being delighted to find some small thing that I couldn’t live without. My day normally included lunch with friends and… well, the list of things that pleased me about my birthday could go on forever. 
But this year, ye gads! What to do? Not to worry, my friends. I tossed my scarf, gloves, and hat in my bag along with my journal, and headed to Grand Bend. At the beach, without need for a mask, I gulped in the cold air as I walked through the opening of the snow fence to move closer to the water. The sea gulls ignored me, but boisterous waves clamoured for my attention. I couldn’t have chosen a better way to revitalize a tired spirit, reflect on the past, and remind myself that the world hasn’t really changed at all. 
When my fingers were numb and cheeks frosty, I warmed up in the car while I scribbled my birthday reflections of a great year in my journal. A special day, indeed.

Friday, December 11, 2020

Tis the Season to Try to be Jolly


These last few years decorating for Christmas has become less important to me. We generally go to our son’s for a dinner celebration and, since we don’t often entertain, it’s a thankless chore hauling the bins of decorations upstairs to sort and allocate. And then there’s the cleanup process to eradicate the sparkle and glitter off floors and carpets. Only to reverse the whole process a few weeks later. To be honest, I’ve become resentful of this ritual.

Two or three years ago, I gave away our gorgeous large tree. Yes, an artificial tree, but it had beautiful drooping branches and at first glance it looked ‘real’. It was pre-lit so there was no fussing with strings of lights…don’t even get me started. But the tree was extremely heavy and although it was in three pieces, it was an effort to assemble. It was glorious, but for the short time it was up it hardly seemed worth it.

Besides, I also had three tall, skinny trees that I decorated each year. They’re gone, too. I decided that last year was the ‘last year’ for them as well. I gave them away along with a multitude of ornaments and decorations. Even holiday themed serving dishes were added to the melee of goodies I bestowed on others. Besides, we wouldn’t even be home for Christmas or New Years. We’d made reservations to be at a lodge in the Muskokas. Something we hoped would become tradition. Unfortunately, our plans for a winter holiday – along with everyone else’s – were stymied.

With each grumble of discontent, my husband cuts me off mid-sentence with a rousing rendition of Joy to the World. It cracks me up. And I appreciate laughter during these increasingly trying times.

Where was I? Oh, right, trying to add some festive interest to brighten a housebound holiday. So here I am with a couple of bins of odds and sods of decorations that hubby dragged out from under the stairs and lugged to the main floor. I could go shopping for new decorations but I’m too stubborn to admit my mistake  of getting rid of everything ‘because I wouldn’t need it’. No, I’ll get creative with what I have on hand.

At the bottom of a bin, I discover something that brings back fun memories. Of all the things discarded, I’d kept a foam Rudolph nose. I know, right? One year, my husband and I wore them to our son’s house for Christmas dinner to the delight of our young granddaughters. And each year, someone ended up wearing one as a joke.

Can you imagine that we exchanged noses with no thought to virus or disease? We were innocents having fun. The thought crosses my mind that our naivety is gone forever and in the future we will each insist on our own Rudolph nose. Sad times.

Moving forward, a wreath and clear glass ornaments decorate the patio doors, while a red tablecloth brightens the dining area, and a basket adorned with colourful ribbon and filled with enormous pine cones sits at the base of a chair.  

Pillow covers featuring dark green cedars add a wintery look to the living room furniture. Yes, I think there are enough seasonal additions to the house to lift my flagging spirits. An assortment of Santa hand towels and some extra candles add Christmas whimsy to the bathroom, and a large cherub blowing a kiss is strategically placed near my desk in the office.

Oh, and I did find a way to use the Rudolph nose this year. I’ll have to send a picture to our

Enjoy the season, my friends!


Sunday, August 30, 2020

My Journal, My Confidant


It’s tough to resign this book of inked confidences to the shelf. More than five years of my most intimate musings are contained within the bindings of this journal. I remember the day I bought it; it was my birthday and I was treating myself to all the things I loved. Naturally, that included a visit to the library and a meandering through the bookstore.

I’d paused at the display of journals. A polished stone or jewel, and fancy tooling, decorated the front of most. They were beautiful. The textured pages, rough to the touch, were laced to the spine. A new journal was the most perfect treat for my birthday. Some might indulge in a piece of jewellery or a spa

package, but nothing pleased me more than purchasing this book.

Over the years, I never left home without packing it in my overnight case, or tucking it inside my tote for a trip to the beach or park. It most definitely accompanied me on all people-watching excursions. It often went untouched, but it was there for me if I felt the urge.

Months might go by without a single note, and then I’d write page after page of angst or joy or dismay; it’s filled with emotion. Sometimes when it’s within arm’s reach I leaf through it, reading a passage here or there, and reflect on my journey.  

The other day I was almost to the checkout at The Book Keeper when I remembered to look at their selection of journals. It was my intention to buy the same one again but I knew that wasn’t likely. I did find another that I think will be just as loved, and felt most pleased when I added it to my purchases.

Will it take another five years, or will my emotions run rampant and the journal be exhausted in half that time? Will my family find it when they clear my belongings one day? I grin at the thought of writing ‘Burn Upon Discovery’ across its cover.

My fears, hopes, and anxiety-riddled doubts will spew onto its pages, intermixed with bursts of unbridled joys and unbelievable good fortune. I unfasten the cover of my new confidant and run my hands over the blank surface of its pages, curious about what will be revealed.

Saturday, July 04, 2020

When Your MC Comes Knocking...

One of the writers from the #writingcommunity that I follow on Twitter, posed a most interesting question: If the MC of your book knocked at your door, what would you do?

Immediately my mind went to Sylvia Kramer, the main character of Old Broad Road – my gritty novel set in Newfoundland that’s due for release this summer. Actually I’m working on the fourth draft of the sequel at this very moment…well, I’m writing this blog right now, but you know what I mean. Where was I? Oh, right.

This was my response to the Twitter question about a visit from the MC of my book: I would invite her in. Normally, I would hug her, too, but with Covid... Then I’d pour each of us a brandy. Though I don’t often imbibe, this is Sylvia’s drink of choice for those special and reflective moments, and since she’s the perfect host, I want to do my best to accommodate her.

We’d settle in for an evening of candid conversation. I’d commiserate the tragedy in/of her life and congratulate her bravery. We’d talk about Carl for a bit because I think she really needs someone with whom to share her honest upfront feelings about this rough-around-the-edges teddy bear. Oh, and I’d check out her tattoos. Well, the ones that she’s comfortable showing me.

I’m curious to know more about her previous life. I’d like to hear about what she did for personal enjoyment (did she have any?) before she became a middle-aged runaway. Actually, I’d like to know about her childhood and, also, her elite lifestyle with Paul. But only if she felt like talking. Wow, do you think that could lead to another book? A prequel! I guess that would make OBR a series. Hah! Wishful thinking.

It wasn’t until a few days later that I considered another possible response to the Twitter post. My memoir Hazards of the Trade was released in April of this Covid-riddled year, and guess who the MC is in that book? Me, of course. So, if I knocked on my door as the owner of a small lingerie and swimwear boutique, how would I react? Good question. And since I had the business for nearly twenty years, at what stage of this entrepreneurship would I show up?

So here’s the knock on the door and a few plausible comments after we’re settled in, tea in hand.
Oh girl, that perm has got to go. (Obviously it's the early years of my business. The 80s)
If you plan on keeping that figure, ease back on the snacks, sweet cheeks.
You think you know it all, but…well, you’ll find out.

I’d have to go easy on the critical comments in case they're misconstrued as ...critical comments. But, overall I think I’d enjoy the visit unless ‘my’ stringent professionalism, a.k.a. anal attitude, got in the way. Ease up, girl, not everyone shares that intensity! I’d offer encouragement and praise, but no insight to the future. Honestly, would that even be fair? I’d soak in ‘my’ passion for the trade and admire ‘my’ ability to wear high heels twelve hours a day, yada yada yada. Then I'd listen, listen, listen, because I know 'me'.

When I finally get ‘me’ to stop talking, I’d show ‘me’ to the door. Because there’s no need for social distancing, I’d give ‘me’ the biggest, most heartfelt hug I could muster. I know how much ‘we’ really need it.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

My Publishing Journey

A writer’s life is indeed a journey and despite the potholes and detours, the scenery makes the trip worthwhile. Years later, though I hadn’t attracted a traditional publisher enroute, my efforts had fulfilled me in ways I hadn’t anticipated. Only a seasoned writer can make that statement with conviction.
Let me explain.
I was eager to do whatever it took to get my novel noticed. I started blogging, opened a Facebook page, and most importantly, I joined a local writers’ group.
They convinced me to submit short stories, which for me were more challenging to write than novels. I was fortunate to find homes for most of them in anthologies and journals. The contest wins encouraged me to continue.
Then I penned some exposés of my long ago career as a small-town lingerie boutique owner to share at weekly writers’ meetings. The members urged me to keep writing these stories, insisting I was onto something. Each memory led to another until I was re-living the 80s and 90s fashion trade, a different life in a different lifetime. My reminiscences filled a book. The memoir was added to my growing list of finished manuscripts, which now included a thriller, a mystery, and a contemporary novel with sequel.
In hopes of attracting an agent or publisher, I’d sporadically send query letters. They garnered encouraging comments but no contract. Then a short story caught the attention of Simon and Schuster, which resulted in a call for the full manuscript of my psychological thriller. It was exciting while it lasted but they ultimately passed.
I continued writing a humorous monthly column based on everyday life ‘Up Close and Personal’ for a local magazine. But after eight years I identified more as a columnist than a novelist. I finally faced reality.
On that perfect summer’s day as my husband and I relaxed on the verandah, I told him of my decision. I could never stop writing but I’d no longer submit my work for publishing. He understood and commiserated. It had been a wonderful experience with unforgettable events, new friendships, and stimulating self-discovery. I’d joyously celebrated every small success along the way making my adventure both rewarding and pleasurable. And now it was over.
Incredibly, within an hour of my disclosure, one of my writer tribe sent news of a contest for crime stories and there were only two days until deadline. I had one story that fit their criteria. Should I or shouldn’t I? I might as well, I told my husband. Then I’m done.
As luck would have it, my story won second place. The small press in the United States who held the contest was interested in seeing longer works of mine. Was I setting myself up for another rejection? It’s hard to explain how I felt but I sent them two manuscripts, my contemporary novel and the crime thriller, and kept my expectations low. When they informed me they’d like to publish the contemporary fiction Old Broad Road I was stunned.
A couple of months later my husband nudged me to send out another query. Why not, he said. I searched online for Canadian small presses seeking memoirs and emailed a query along with the Hazards of the Trade manuscript. The next morning I received astounding news. Crossfield Publishing liked the memoir and wanted to publish it.
Two acceptances from two publishers from two countries for two different books being released within two months of each other. Crazy! My heart raced.
It made sense for these two small publishers to combine their marketing efforts. After their talks, it was decided that the Canadian press would release both my titles. My novel Old Broad Road would not be released until after the memoir Hazards of the Trade hit the shelves.
Life was idyllic. My publisher and the local indie bookstore planned an afterhour’s event to celebrate the launch of my memoir. Words of congratulations came to me from old friends, new friends, readers of my column, my writer tribe... Everyone was excited for me. What could possibly go wrong?
We’ve all heard the adage, If it’s too good to be true then…
But a global pandemic? That’s impossible. Except it isn’t. Covid-19 rocked the world and weeks before my celebration the social distancing advisory was put in place. I had an isolated pity party and then got over it. How could I whine about a cancelled book launch when people were losing their lives to this virus?
The health of loved ones and the state of the world now occupied my mind and I resigned to the fact that my memoir wouldn’t be published as scheduled. Or maybe ever. To my surprise, Crossfield Publishing did not intend to abandon my book. They’d do everything in their power to follow through on their promise to me. The actual launch was cancelled but the book was released as scheduled. Until they’re able to distribute it, readers can purchase Hazards of the Trade online through the Crossfield Publishing website. The Book Keeper, my local indie bookstore, is also selling the memoir from their website until their store can re-open.
It’s been an incredible journey and I’m blessed to be a published author. I appreciate the effort of Crossfield Publishing, my readers, and the support of the writing community to make my dream come true.

Previously published by Women Writers, Women's Books


Thursday, April 23, 2020

Life Doesn't Have to be Perfect

It was prophetic that I changed my profile Facebook Banner when I did. It reads ‘Life doesn’t have to be perfect to be wonderful’ or something close to that. I was surprised at the number of positive reactions to this picture because we were, and still are, in the middle of COVID-19, a deadly and highly contagious virus that is keeping us apart from our loved ones. Our children and grandchildren aren’t within hugging reach. But Facebook posts and pictures prove that most families are finding alternate ways of showing love. It is touching and deliberate. I like that. Not perfect but still wonderful.
Aside from my own restrictions to family, I no longer had a book launch to anticipate. Social distancing… But then my publisher came up with a scheme. A midway-point gravel parking lot where we could meet. An open hatchback with champagne (nice surprise) and boxes of books. And she made a phone video for YouTube of me seeing my book for the very first time. A monumental moment. Come on, I’d waited years for this day. I was excited. It didn’t matter that there were only the two of us present. I was there for the big reveal and it couldn’t have been more gratifying than if I’d been in a bookstore filled with supporters.
Life doesn’t have to be perfect to be wonderful.
We are finding that out, each in our own way…

Hazards of the Trade is a personal disclosure of nearly twenty years of humorous and sad reflections from the naïve start up of a small-town lingerie boutique to the ultimate farewell.  

The era began with retailers in impossibly high heels and designer suits attending the Ontario Fashion Exhibitors market at the prestigious King Edward Hotel in downtown Toronto and ended with buyers in rubber-soled shoes and sweatpants at the Congress Centre near the airport. While high-end fashion shows and buying trips might seem glamorous, evading a stalker and trying to evict a rabid squirrel from the shop might not. But it was all part of being in the Trade. That, and so much more.

Available at your local indie bookstore
and also Amazon