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
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!