Monday, January 30, 2012

The Write Stories

What do kiss and tell women of a certain age have in common with a 118-year-old church?  Absolutely nothing.  Except... I wrote about both in short stories published this month. 

Instead of my usual thought provoking maniacal musings, this week I will talk a bit about my writing.  If you have read my Welcome to The Write Break, you will know that my writing ambitions are the reason I started this blog.

People ask where I get my ideas for my stories.  Well, ideas are everywhere−a casual conversation, a store window...even a dream.  I have so many ideas that I fear there will never be adequate time to turn them all into stories. 

I don’t have a particular genre.  My novel is mainstream fiction with just a smidge of paranormal.  I like to experiment with the short stories.  Some of my stories deal with the bizarre:  the afterlife, as in Soldier’s Last Wish and Whisper of Angels, the supernatural, as in Words of Love from the Other Side.  One story was an interview between a journalist and a woman on death row −that was an interesting my view.  Fatal Family Tree is a personal favourite.  In that story, it would have been better to leave the past unknown.

One of my writer friends told me that my best stories are the ones that are slightly off kilter.  I think those were her words.  I took that as a compliment.  Those are the stories that challenge me.  Of course, I also write about passion, children, true experiences, etc.

Anyway, to explain why I conjured up a sexy senior, I had read a couple of dark stories to the writing group −Shame being one of them, I think.  For a change of mood,  I wrote The Affairs of Pearl Peacock to bring a little humour to my turn at the table the following week.  Pearl is a great old girl who has the zest we talked about in last week’s blog, The Write Outlook.  Pearl keeps active.

“It is not my fault that three husbands died, and a fourth ran off with someone’s wife.  Then, of course, there were the others.”

For the direct link to this story at, click on The Affairs of Pearl Peacock in the sidebar of this blog site under Published Stories.

The story of the 118-year-old church might be of interest to Lambton County history buffs.  Historian/author, Bob McCarthy, showed interest in an off-hand comment I made about our property in Camlachie being the site of a church for 118 years.  He suggested I write a story for The Lambton Shield, an online Lambton County newspaper.  This is an excellent publication.  (I made that claim even before they published my story.) 

Unsure how to approach this piece, Bob recommended I write the story as if relating the history of the church on our property to a grandchild. 

“...Well, Pop got his shovel and dug into the hard dirt.  He struck something solid about twelve inches below ground level.” 

Everything in the story is true.  Well, not everything.  Sophie is actually only four years old and she calls me Nana, not Grandma.  Now you have it. 

I originally entitled it, The Legend of Hallowed Ground.  The Lambton Shield published it under The Story of the Maxwell Church.  The link for this story is right here under Published Stories.  As a side note, the picture you see in the article is the garden my husband and I refer to as the church berm. 

I guess it is a publisher’s privilege to change the title of a piece.  It happened with a submission that Canadian Stories published.  My title was, ‘In this Small World’.  They published it as ‘Margaret and Phyllis’.  Huh?  Not such a good change but that is just my opinion.  Maybe you will agree with the publisher.

While we are referring to sidebars and headings on this site, it might be a good chance to introduce you to other features. 

Just a wee note on navigation:

Reaction:  At the bottom of each blog are squares where you can check off your reaction.  Very good    good    try again.  If you find a particular blog post boring, you might click on ‘try again’.  Don’t be shy.  I have no way of knowing who is rating my blogs.

Followers:  Some of my readers are frustrated with the inability to become ‘followers’.  Apparently, you initially have to sign in from a yahoo or google account, although other options are listed. 

Subscribe:  If you click on the comments section, you will see ‘Subscribe by email’ at the bottom of the page. 

Comments:  Anyone can leave a comment.  You do not have to be a Follower.  I love comments.  Your comments encourage me to keep posting my blog each Monday morning.  I am always pleased to hear from people who follow my blog.

Share:  Please share the link to The Write Break with your friends if you think they may enjoy reading the blog. 

You may also forward personal comments, questions, or ideas to

OH! And one more thing....Have a fabulous week!

Monday, January 23, 2012

The Write Outlook

The bath water is cold.  My fingers are pruney.  Yet, I am reluctant to emerge from the think tank.  My thoughts like bubbles bounce lightly off flat surfaces, bursting on impact at each turn.  Finally, I rise from the tub.  I avert my eyes from the goose pimpled body in the mirror. 

If my laptop were waterproof, my blog for this week would have been written faster than it took the tub to drain.  Now the phrases and words dissipate leaving only my decision to dry off and get dressed. 

A bubble bath has always been my refuge.  When I had a bad day working retail, I would head for the tub as soon as I got home.  On the particularly trying days, I took a glass of wine with me.  I remember the time my son knocked on the door saying, Okay Mom, you’ve set a record.  The water had turned cold that day, too.

It has been a rough week.  My friend and mentor, Peggy Fletcher, passed away.  Two days later my mother-in-law, Florence Humby, died.  My husband has spent almost three weeks in Newfoundland.  We have never been apart that long. 

Lexus and Tiki are acting weird.  Maybe they need more attention.  Mostly I have stayed in my office−the storage room without windows− The Write Space, remember?  Writing queries, editing stories, and checking facebook, email accounts, my blog stats, yadda, yadda, yadda.

Today, the passage of time and the process of aging occupy my mind.  I suppose we feel most vulnerable when we lose someone close to us. 

The other evening while I was knitting, I turned on the TV special celebrating Betty White’s 90th birthday.  Her enthusiasm contributes to her youthful appearance.  She sparkles with energy.  How exciting to have longevity and the stamina to remain interested in life.   

Peggy Fletcher had that cheerful disposition and positive attitude.  She, too, proved that age does not have limitations.  Bad health most certainly curtails activities; age does not.  The only restrictions are the ones we put on ourselves.

Retirement is a prime opportunity for a fresh start in our middle age−the beginning of a new life.  It is not a time to become complacent with a remote control.  We need more stimulation at this age than ever.  I think of my passion for writing. 

We all need to hike up those bra straps, pull up those socks, and continue challenging ourselves.  Peggy said, Keep busy, Phyllis, keep active.  That was her secret to an alert, sharp mind and fruitful life.  She told me so.

Never stop creating.  Never stop learning.  No matter how long we live, we will never have seen it all or heard it all. 

My mind is awhirl with thoughts but a glance at the clock reminds me I have an errand to run.  I throw on my jacket and a hat (bad hair day) and drive to Foodland for the ingredients for Marv’s imminent homecoming meal.  Sure that he would have eaten his fill of boiled potatoes, cod, caplin, and moose−as if he would ever have his fill of these East Coast delicacies− I plan to serve pasta and meatballs.  A recipe we have not made for quite a while.  Actually, I think it was originally Marv’s recipe.  It is my good fortune that he enjoys to cook a meal now and then. 

I look forward to veal meatballs simmered in chili sauce and gingerale−delish−and served with egg noodles and those itsy bitsy corn on the cob that we both love.  I decide to prepare a chickpea salad, as well.  A new recipe with cucumber, tomato, celery, and garlic with a dressing of wine vinegar and oil.  It sounds tasty. 

While shopping, I spot a thin crust chicken and spinach pizza and impulsively grab a fresh greek salad for tonight’s dinner.  At home, I sip on a glass of Jackson Triggs Cabernet Sauvignon and wait for the pizza in the oven. 

My thoughts continue.  Yes, I conclude, it is important to keep discovering and to broaden our knowledge.  It takes energy, ambition, and zest, to enjoy life to the fullest and remain productive.  We need to keep busy.

At my desk, surrounded by framed photos, I record my philosophy on life.  I glance from my mother’s smile to my son’s intense blue eyes.  Encouragement and challenge.  The perfect combination.

The comical little faces of my grandchildren peer over my computer screen.  No, the children are not funny looking.  They just look funny in the picture.  Well, I mean, the way they are posing, they look funny.  You know what I mean.

Anyway, I am ready for the age thing to happen.  Inside I feel like an eighteen-year-old still full of wonder and excitement at what the future holds.  For I still have a future.  I am pursuing it now.  I will continue to challenge myself and remain active and interested.  I urge you to join me. 

A toast to the young at heart; those with a zest for life−

Here’s to The Write Outlook. 


Monday, January 16, 2012

The Write Mentor

Peggy Fletcher passed away January 12, 2012.  I mourn the loss of a mentor, inspirational leader, and sympathetic friend. 

A professional writer since 1970, and  member of The Writer’s Union of Canada, she and a couple of colleagues founded Writers in Transition, Sarnia/Lambton (WIT) many years ago.  She was affiliated with a number of other literary groups that I will not go into here.  Neither will I list her multitude of awards and accolades, or the number of plays, poetry books, and novels to her credit.  That information is readily available online.  Right now, I would like to share how she touched my life.

Early on I realized the privilege of knowing Peggy.  I admit to being in awe of her but I was never more comfortable than in her presence.  Yes, she was a caring individual who made each person she knew feel special.

My November 28th blog post, The Write Connection, explains how we came to know each other.  I was given her phone number as a contact for a local writers group.  She answered on the first ring.  Any apprehension I might have had about ‘coming out’ as a writer dissolved during that initial conversation. 

When I joined the writing group, WIT, I had already completed my first novel.  It is set in a tiny hamlet on the southern shore of Conception Bay, Newfoundland.  Peggy was delighted.  She was from Brigus, a skip away from Chapel’s Cove where my main character, Sylvia Kramer, settled.  Due to my research for the novel, I was quite familiar with this area. 

It was nerve-wracking when she read my manuscript.  As a Newfoundlander and prolific writer, she would be my biggest critic.  I worried that I might have failed in my attempt to paint a true picture of life on The Rock.  Reassured by her praise, my confidence swelled. 

She preserved her reputation as a tough editor by listing not only the strengths of my writing but pointing out weaknesses, as well.  I value her review.  I learned a great deal from Peggy. 

She was a dogged and concise editor.  She was kind but to the point when it came to analyzing our writing.  Invariably, after listening to our stories around the table, she would offer each of us suggestions as to which journal might publish our works.  She was genuinely happy for us−of that I have no doubt− with each successful submission.  She instilled confidence through our trust in her critiques.

An uncommonly energetic eighty-one-year-old, she kept abreast of everything in the literary and arts world.  I asked for her secret.  She replied, keep active, Phyllis, keep busy. 

I am not sure how many events packed her agenda in a month. I know she never missed the weekly WIT meeting until recently due to her illness, and she belonged to several other groups, as well. Peggy attended every book launch and actively supported poetry and prose groups, local and out-of-town.     

Her passion for life spilled over into all forms of creativity.  Sculpting, painting, poetry, novels...  She excelled at everything.  At each meeting she attended, she shared something creative:  a short story, a new chapter from her current novel, several newly penned haiku, or perhaps a new painting to pass around the circle. 

It was after a WIT meeting that she heard me lament about not having enough time to write.  She chided me, though not in an unkind way.  I raised five girls, she said, and I never stopped writing.  At least one of them was constantly tugging on my sweater sleeve as I worked, she joked.

I would be remiss in not mentioning a rare attribute.  Peggy had synaesthesia.  It is a neurological condition in which two or more senses combine.  She had the ability to taste colours.  I know.  I had not heard of it either.  Christmas before last, I knit bookmarks for the members.  I carefully chose a brilliant red yarn in an effort to appeal to her unique senses.  I hoped she would find the colour ‘delicious’.

She had a wonderful sense of humour.  It was fun to be with her.  She regaled us with stories of back-in-the-day partying with well-known authors and publishers.  It is not my place to share those stories here.  However, be assured that they were very noisy. 

She influenced my writing in many ways.  She encouraged me to express myself in poetry as well as prose.  Each time I share a poem, I offer the disclaimer I am not a poet.  However, she−along with a couple of other writer friends− actually convinced me to share my poetry at a public reading one evening at The Book keeper.  I was totally out of my comfort zone but appreciated the experience.  Peggy had a way of instilling confidence in each of us.

At the end of every meeting, she was the first to call out, Is everyone going back to the pub?  She made it a point to personally invite new members or guests; immediately welcoming them as part of our group.  On the odd night that I begged off, she would not let me away with it.  C’mon, she would say, you are not that tired. 

She and her husband, writer John Drage, would each sip on a Rickard’s Red and share an order of wings.  I loved that part of the evening.  Without fail, Peggy asked about my husband, a fellow Newfoundlander−how is the fishing going or has he caught any salmon lately. 

Once, I emailed a picture of Marv holding up his big catch of the day and that night took some of the fresh salmon to the meeting for Peggy and John.  The following week, she wasted no time in telling me how much they enjoyed their fish dinner.
I have lost a person I admired in every way.  I will miss my friend.

The passing of Peggy Fletcher creates a huge void in the literary world and in our small circle of writers at WIT.  Peggy died the morning of a scheduled meeting.  We went ahead with the meeting.  Peggy would want it that way. 

Twenty sad faces crowded the table.  Twenty pair of tear stung eyes.  We loved her.  We mourned together− as family.  

At the end of the meeting someone called out, are we all going to the pub.  I’m not, I said.  Yes, you are.  Again I heard, Peggy would want it that way.  And so, I went.  Still following Peggy’s lead. 

Peggy Fletcher’s sincerity, compassion, her influence, advice, words of encouragement, and her happy disposition will remain in my heart and thoughts.

She is my inspiration today, tomorrow...forever. 

Sunday, January 08, 2012

The Write Space

I am looking forward to a productive season of writing. The winter allows more time for storytelling and editing.  You might be surprised to learn that I work from a windowless room in the basement−by choice!

Last spring I was dragging my laptop all over the house, not settling into any one spot to do my writing. My office was not working out. The view outside my window distracted me. A squirrel or rabbit would sit on its haunches watching me type and before I knew it, I was watching it.

Mother birds fed their babies in the small sheltered area of the garden. Their feathered bodies bobbing up and down. They seemed close enough for me to reach out and touch them. It was an invasion of their privacy, I knew, but I was unable to look away.

Baby rabbits ventured from beneath the blue spruce and scuttled across the mulch. I laughed over the brazen behaviour of one rabbit that stood nibbling on our burning bush shrub, all the while calmly staring me down.

Each morning I spied some form of wildlife perched on a smooth boulder outside my window. Squirrels cleaned themselves; mice circled the natural outlook before scrambling to the top and down the other side. The brilliance of the blue jays and cardinals were the biggest distraction.
They all liked to visit this boulder that appeared to be out of sight in the sheltered area surrounded by shrubs. During the early morning hours, when I feel most productive, the activities outside my window were too absorbing to ignore.

Marv suggested I clear off my old desk in the storage room and work there. Initially I thought it was a crazy idea. You are probably thinking the same thing. Imagining a room the size of a closet. Actually, it is a large room.

I was more concerned with the logic of leaving a perfectly good office to write in a storage room in the basement. Since my husband has been known to come up with some pretty good ideas, I gave him the benefit of the doubt. I checked it out.

Shelves and cardboard boxes were crammed with unused household stuff. Plastic bins filled with wool and discarded knitting projects, lined the walls. Christmas decorations, dust-laden workout equipment, camping equipment, and a stockpile of baby paraphernalia− in the hopes of another grandchild− surrounded the perimeter of the brightly lit room. It is, afterall, a storage room.
My husband was right about one thing though. With the door closed, all distractions disappear. There is no window, no ringing telephone, no screeching cat, or whining dog.

After careful consideration, I packed up the clutter from the room-with-a-view and headed back downstairs clutching important papers and snippets of cannot lose notes.

I eyed the old desk in the corner of the room before clearing a small space for my laptop. I swiped at some dust and tossed errant screws and nails into a plastic cup. I typed a few words and then studied my surroundings.

Occupying my desk space were a brand new pair of men’s work boots, an old computer monitor, several large puzzle pieces, a twelve inch roll of string, two sewing kits, a sewing machine, fabric, a huge bag of is a large desk.

I also had two framed photos. Well, actually three. One is a picture of my son, Brodie. Years ago I put it in a leather frame. It is a self-portrait standing on the roof of his Toronto apartment building, the traffic of a downtown street visible far below. His intense blue eyes and solemn expression capture me. The picture, having been juggled from mantle to end table and back again, eventually found its way to the desk.

It was rather eerie that by chance, perfectly positioned on either side of my computer, sat pictures of my mother and my grandmother. The woman in each picture regarding me with an amused grin. Well, my mother is wearing more of a smile in her picture, while my grandmother looks like she is trying hard not to, in the other. I left the pictures there. And Brodie’s picture−I left it there, too. His stare challenges me to write something significant.
The sewing machine, boots, fabric, and other things, have been removed. Reference books and journals occupy much of the desk now. The odd pair of earrings or empty coffee mug. And, of course, the pictures.
Cocooned by old memories and treasures, I remain. The room is silent. I like it.

Monday, January 02, 2012

The Write Time

As birthdays are a time for reflection, the New Year is a time for expectation and renewal.  Although the passage of time leaves me breathless, it is in a state of jubilation and intrigue that I accept my fresh slate.  I accept a slate that retains prior achievements but is noticeably void of the disappointments and rejections of the previous year.

I swipe at the cobwebs of my mind, re-position my mug rug, check my notes, and begin my quest anew.  I don’t make resolutions, but I do ensure that I get off on the right foot.  A new desk planner, a brand new to-do list, and a promise−not a resolution−to stay as o-r-g-a-n-i-z-e-d as I am focused.

I begin making notes in my new datebook in my best penmanship, being careful to use the same pen for each notation, ever knowing that by the month of March my writing will be nearly indecipherable, and by June I will write with anything I get my hands on, even if it’s a black marker. 

I roam each virgin square and line of my new planner wondering which day will have the name of a prospective agent scrawled across it.  Will I colour in the date that I mail my manuscript of short stories?  Will I draw a starburst on the day my novel is accepted?

My pen hovers over the scheduled portion of the day, almost setting down on the page, but ultimately resisting the recommendation advocated by the professionals. 

I envy the writers who can set a daily time limit on their writing.  Oops, one o’clock; time to shut off the computer.  No way.  Immersed in a plot, I have no clue (no pun intended) what time it is.  How can I quit?  How can I be sure to pick up where I left off?  When I am working on a story, I can’t just stop ...whenever...wherever. 

I realize that balance is the key.  If I want to do it all−and who doesn’t−then I have to have balance.  I struggle with that.

When I am reading a book, how can I limit myself to three chapters?  There are times I read a book practically non-stop from start to finish.  If it is good.  If it captures me from page one.  Oh, how I love those books.  I just finished Michael Connolly’s, The Lincoln Lawyer.  It held my interest throughout.

Write for three hours, read for an hour, prepare lunch, shop for groceries, vacuum, prepare supper, knit for forty-five minutes, and socialize for one hour: emails, visits, phone calls, etc.  No, I have a problem with that. 

Sometimes I feel like writing; sometimes only reading.  Is that really lack of discipline?  Does anyone else follow his or her mood?  Is that really so unproductive?  There are times when chopping and dicing and a simmering stew are what I need to work out the details of a plot.  Walking is excellent for getting the creative juices flowing, as well.  Perhaps I feel like walking at 2:00 not 10:00, and maybe I prefer an hour’s walk rather than the scheduled twenty minutes. 

Yes, balance and a general routine elude me.  However, there is something magical about the beginning of a new year.  Anything is possible.  There is intrigue built into each new calendar.  A whole year of time.  It is broken up into little numbered blocks for me.  Tiny time slots for me to use as I may.  Pages soon to be filled with notations of life’s events.

Have a look at your 2012 calendar.  Which days will you colour in with starbursts?  How many dates will you circle in colours of the rainbow?  Which life-altering moments will you record?  Our calendars are actually journals.  They are stories of our lives, one little numbered block at a time.

Happy New Year!!