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

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

Anthology Collaboration - Steve Nelson

Getting to know you  ♫♪♫♪  Getting to know all about you  ♫♪♫♪   We’ve come a long way since that first email in April/17 about collaborating on a book.
 Our anthology, an eclectic mix of short stories entitled (drumroll please) Our Plan to Save the World, is thisclose to being released. You’ve read my Q & A’s with Frank T. Sikora, Nancy Kay Clark and Michael Joll. Really? Why not?? This is a great time to check them out.
Now it’s time to visit with author Steve Nelson.
I sense that Steve is a busy man. His e-messages are concise. Almost as if he’s saving his words for the short stories he writes so beautifully. He’s congenial – maybe even gentle and caring. Or was that only an impression from when he edited my stories. A mild suggestion here and a nudge there. His perceptive approach led to the elimination of a minor character in Birds of a Feather. He’d obviously gained my trust.
Aside from writing and editing, the only thing I know for sure about Steve is that he’s the proud papa of twins. When I received the emailed picture of the beaming daddy with his babies, it totally made my day. J

I’m hoping this candid interview will shed light on Steve Nelson’s work, aspirations, and goals.

 P: Steve, your story Our Plan to Save the World was chosen for the title of our anthology. Congratulations! Without giving away too much (wait for the BUY ME link) tell us if your inspiration for this story was based on a life experience or just life.
S:  This was based on a news story I’d read about that happened right in our neighborhood in Chicago. I didn’t know the details but I figured they must be interesting and thought it would be fun to write a story based on it set in our neighborhood. I wrote this at a time I hadn’t been writing much and had made a deliberate effort to finish some stories. My plan was to write a whole series of stories based on news stories, using a few details and inventing the rest. I think I started some others but “Our Plan to Save the World” is the only one I finished. It was fun to write and see the characters come to life. I am excited and honored that it is the title story of our anthology.

P: You create interesting characters for your stories and I believe that’s part of what draws me to your work. Irish Literature, one of my favourites of your submissions, is not part of the anthology. Has that story been published elsewhere and if not, do you have plans for it?
S: I’m glad you liked that one (the full title is “My Contribution to Irish Literature,” which readers will appreciate if they read the story). I wrote that quite a while ago when I was in grad school and taking an Irish Literature course. My professor gave us the option to write a creative work instead of a literary analysis and that is what I came up with. It was published in Storyglossia, an online journal. Here’s the link:  My Contribution to Irish Literature - by Steve Nelson

My Contribution to Irish Literature - by Steve Nelson

By Steve Nelson
My Contribution to Irish Literature is a story by Steve Nelson.

P: Some authors write for a particular amount of time at a particular time of day. Some have music in the background, some write in coffee shops, and some scribble in notebooks at every opportunity. Do you have a preferred process for writing?
SI like to write in the mornings—that’s when I have the most creative energy and the clearest thoughts. Over the course of the day these degrade pretty reliably. Ideally, I’d write from 7-11 or so, or maybe stretch it out to 1 o’clock if I am having a good day. But I only write when I have a project I’m working on. I respect the writers who do it every day and I’m sure I’d write more and better if I did that, but I’m generally either on or off—when it comes to creating, that is, first drafts, discovering the story. Editing is a little different, a little easier. I also don’t like to start anything unless I know I can spend the time I need to accomplish what I want to. For example, I’ve got an idea for a novel now that I’m excited about, but I know I don’t have the time to write it now, with the babies (4 months old already!) and the new semester starting. Some days I wake up with the narrator’s voice telling the story in my head, but I’m just going to leave it there until the semester is over, when I have time to write it.

P: Could you provide a detailed (because I’m a detail person) description of a typical day in the life of Steve Nelson?
S: Every day is different. The best part of my day now is waking up with my wife and enjoying the morning feeding the babies. They’re all smiles in the morning and we’re all just so happy to be alive (honestly, babies can do that to a person). After that, well, it depends if I am teaching that day, or what kind of workout I want to do, or what errands need to be run, or if I’ve got papers to grade, et cetera. I could give you a list of things I get done in a week (though it wouldn’t be very interesting), but there is no “typical” day. 

P: You and Frank Sikora are our two American authors in this anthology. According to Frank, you’ve known each other a long time. Do you recall when you first met? Were you aspiring writers at the time?
SFrank and I have been friends for a long time. In the past we spent time together running and worked together delivering pizza. I don’t think either one of us knew the other was a writer until years into our friendship. I was getting my PhD in Creative Writing and Frank mentioned that he did a little writing too. When we started exchanging stories I was super impressed with his work. And he’s such an interesting, multi-talented person. Did you know how smart he is? A while back he was working as the graphic designer for an aerospace company and he and a bunch of others at work all took an online IQ test and he got the highest score, beating out, literally, rocket scientists! His co-workers couldn’t believe it. Another year he was in a string of bad, serious car accidents. He was proven to be not at fault in all of them but he lost his insurance because he was deemed “statistically unlucky.” You can confirm these stories with him if you want, but he’s certainly one of a kind. It’s exciting to be in this anthology with him.

P: Do you compartmentalize your life and if so, how many compartments does it have?
SThat’s an interesting question. On one hand, I feel like I don’t compartmentalize, that everything in my life affects and is affected by everything else. Whether I’m working, teaching, taking care of the kids, or taking out the trash, I believe if I can do one thing well, it can help me do other things well too (of course, I’ve only come to this conclusion because I’ve done things poorly and failed so many times in my life and continue to do so) (but luckily, I’m good at not dwelling on those failures). On the other hand, I’m good at forgetting about everything else in my life when I’m doing something. When I am writing, that’s the only thing on my mind. Sometimes I’ll find myself in the middle of a run and suddenly “remember” that I’ve got twin babies at home. Of course, I don’t want to give the impression I’m always this way—there  are lots of times I’m distracted, feeding one of the babies and playing Words with Friends on my phone. I burn a lot of toast and have a lot of unfinished projects and I.... I fear this answer is getting confusing so I think I better stop now.

P: Okay, Steve, imagine this. You get a phone call from Frank telling you that he’s bringing Nancy, Mike, and me to your place for dinner. We’ve never met. Your wife and family are away. What would you do in preparation of our visit and what meal would you prepare? Can you describe the evening?
S: Well, first of all, it’s really a shame my wife and the kids are gone because I would have loved for you all to meet them! As far as dinner goes, I’ve got a few good recipes, but if I had the time I’d make a big pot of my south-of-the-border chicken chili (that’s south of the US border). This is pretty good, very healthy, and I can make it in advance of your arrival so I won’t be busy in the kitchen when you all arrive. I’ll have some drinks available, beer, wine, water, soda. I’d hope we could sit around the table chatting a long while before we ate and then again after dinner. And ideally, at the end of the night, you’d offer to host us all at your place for the next meal and Nancy, Mike, and Frank would follow suit and it would be the start of a great tradition.

P: This is your chance to tell the world (in 500 words or less) something we should know about you that we haven’t already covered. A new story or publication in the works, perhaps?
S:  As far as my writing goes, I have finished a book for composition teachers titled  “Teaching the Way:  Using the Principles of ‘The Art of War’ to Teach Composition” and I really want to find a way to get that to readers. I’ve been sending it to agents and publishers but haven’t had any luck yet. In the past when I’ve tried to get other things published and haven’t been able to do so, I inevitably get to a point where I say to myself, well, okay, I guess the world doesn’t really need my novel (there are so many good ones out there already). But it’s different with this because I think this book could be a really valuable resource for teachers—one that could make their lives better, make their students’ lives better, and  make the world a better place (better writers being better thinkers being better people is the root of that argument), so I’m going to keep trying to get this one published. That’s my main writing-related goal right now. In the meantime, I am looking forward to sharing “Our Plan to Save the World” with readers. Maybe that can make the world a better place as well J

Steve Nelson lives and writes in Chicago.  He earned his PhD in Creative Writing from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and have had work published in The Rambler, Storyglossia, eye-rhyme, The Absinthe Literary Review, The Rathalla Review, and elsewhere.  His essay “Mind Wide Open” is included in the anthology The Runner’s High:  Illumination and Ecstasy in Motion and “Night at the Store” was published in Phantasmagoria and nominated for a Pushcart Prize.