Tuesday, October 30, 2007

I am a new auntie... again!

I just received my copy of Kim Denman's latest book, Rebel's Tag. Inside is this acknowledgment: My thanks to those tagged by the moon and ever-deserving of rubies, Shelley Hrdlitschka and Diane Tullson. Inside Diane Tullson's newest book, The Darwin Expedition, she too acknowledges Kim and I for our help in the writing process.

Diane, Kim and I are a writing group. During the writing of each of our books we are there for one another from conception to release. We brainstorm every new idea that is presented. We encourage each other to persevere when the writing becomes agony and we read first, second and third drafts of each other's manuscripts and provide feedback. Seeing each of Kim's and Diane's new books get released is every bit as exciting as seeing my own launched. In fact, it's almost better. Like childbirth, there's a lot of anxiety and worry around the launch of a new book. With someone else's, you get to hold it, admire it, love it but you're spared the worry about whether it's any good and whether or not it will be successful. As great aunties, we have faith that each book is perfect as is, no matter what happens.

I am truly blessed to be a member of this small group. Without them... who knows? Many, many times they have encouraged me to continue with a project when it feels hopeless. They have steered me in directions that I would never have considered. They have propped me back up when I've fallen down. Their writing is truly inspirational and their wisdom runs deep.

Writing books can be lonely work, but it never has been for me. I know that Kim and Diane are always just a call or email away.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Shades of Grey

I have just finished reading this book by Jodi Picoult. My daughters and I have been gobbling up each of her novels. She's a master storyteller but what I love most about her writing is the way she explores those 'grey' areas, those situations which seem, on the surface to be black and white, right or wrong, but are, on closer examination, grey and murky.

When we hear about people in the news we are quick to judge. They should have done this. I would have done that if I were them. But if there's one thing I've finally learned in my 51 years it's that nothing is ever as it seems. We will never really know what it is like to be another person, what motivates them, what makes them tick, even if we have lived with them for many years. We don't understand how the experiences they've lived through have shaped their world views, their way of justifying what they do. We don't ever fully know another person because we are not living in their bodies, their minds. What does it feel like to have an overwhelming need for a drug? An overwhelming rage that makes us violent? All we know is what seems obvious from the outside looking in, knowing only what we understand from our own life experiences. As Picoult shows us in her books, there is always so much more to consider.

People are complicated beasts. We must not judge too quickly. Let us be kind to one another, listen as best we can, and hope, that by sending compassion and love out into the world, we can ease the torment that lives in the hearts of so many.


Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The Joy of Editing


It's been a year since I signed a contract for my new novel Gotcha! (formerly The Gotcha Gods). The manuscript has now been returned to me for editing, in preparation for a spring release.

In one way it's a good thing if a lot of time passes between the writing and the editing. I am not nearly so attached to the story anymore and can see it with fresh eyes.

On the other hand, I have to read the book again to refamiliarize myself with the story before I can even start making the suggested changes. A lot has happened in the past year, and the details of the story are starting to fade from my mind, even though I wouldn't have thought that possible a year ago.

When I'm in the midst of writing a book it feels as though I am actually living it with the characters. My poor friends have to endure my constant rattling on about the people in the story as though they are real, as if what is happening to them really matters and I am the only one who can save them, (which is, of course, true). During the writing I find it hard to separate my own life from my fictional life, but, just as in real life, time has a way of distancing us from what seemed incredibly important only a year ago.

I have been blessed to work with the same editor for each of my books. He is too kind, gentle and wise to use the editing marks shown in this comic strip even through he may secretly wish to. His editing style is to write questions on stickees and stick them to the passage in question. This time the manuscript is completely covered in lime green notes, each with a red-inked question scrawled on it. Katie really dislikes her mom. Can this be softened a bit? What's a double-dutch routine? Is this a little too much? Why did it take 5 weeks to tell her?

As I read these questions my initial knee jerk reaction is to pick up the phone, call the editor and holler, "Didn't you read the book??? I can't soften this because of blah blah blah. This is not too much because of blah blah blah. It took 5 weeks because blah blah blah." But I don't. I force myself to sit on my hands and reflect for a few minutes. Then I remember. If he, the perceptive editor wonders about these things as he's reading the story, won't other readers wonder the same thing? I have learned from experience to trust his instincts. Through careful editing a book always improves. With this one, there are no major rewrites to be done, thank goodness. I will soften Katie's relationship with her Mom even though I think that what's written is quite typical of an angry teenager. I will explain how the game is played more carefully, even though I thought I'd already done that. I will take out the reference to double dutch skipping as it must not be a term younger people (like my editor) are familiar with. Through additional writing, I will answer the questions. In the end, despite my reluctance, it will be a better book.

I know this much to be true.


Sunday, October 21, 2007

Healing Rain

I set my alarm last night to be sure to wake up in time for yoga class this morning. Just like services at my Unitarian church, yoga is spiritual and meditative, but it's also physically challenging, the perfect way to start a Sunday.

Unfortunately, the phone woke me before the alarm. It was not good news. My mother was in the ER and had been there for almost 24 hours. Anyone who knows my mother knows how desperately she doesn't want to 'trouble' her family. The message I received was that she was there but she did NOT want to see anyone.

We've heard that before.

The rain hammered against my windshield as I rushed to the hospital, my stomach in knots. Flashbacks from every other visit to the ER were coming in waves. I remember my own scary emergency visits, anxious episodes with my husband and children, and various trips there for my mother. Each one was was filled with pain, nervous tension, uncertainty.

I found my Mom huddled in a chair, looking small and fragile. The excruciating stomach pain that had prompted her to call an ambulance and go to the hospital the previous morning was gone. Now she was weak, hungry, and desperate to get out of there.

There were two other elderly ladies in the room with her. Each of them was waiting, and it seems to me that that's what you do in ER. Wait for test results. Wait for doctors. Wait to be released or admitted. So much uncertainty. So little privacy. Not even a door on the bathroom, only a curtain.

As we waited I watched the medical staff go about their duties. Thank goodness for these wonderful saints who are willing to work in the ER. It is not an occupation for an emotional weakling like me.

After a couple of hours I left my mom with some trashy magazines and a promise to return later and then dashed back through the monsoon to attend a memorial service for my friend, Buff, who died exactly a year ago. It was a beautiful service with a couple professional vocalists, (people who Buff had helped get their start in the business) an open mike for those of us who were brave enough to share memories and a reading from his just-launched biography. Buff's father read from some of the many heart-warming letters he received after Buff's death and there was a slide and video presentation. Buff's dad was a trooper, taking many of us aside and telling us what we had meant to his son. The drumming of the rain on the church roof gave sound to the tears that were being shed inside, healing tears. It was a beautiful tribute, and I only wish more people had been able to attend. The thousand plus attendees at his service last year had dwindled down to about seventy five, but I know that even in my own family, one of my daughters had a commitment that made it impossible for her to attend and another had to leave early.

After the service I received the good news that my mom had been released from the hospital and was resting at home. As usual, we don't know what caused the pain and can only hope it won't reoccur.

Tonight the rain is still pounding against the window. I'm thinking of my mom and sending healing energy her way. I'm hoping for a wee break in the weather, just a hint of sunshine will do. (Winston would really like to be taken on a walk a little farther than the backyard fence.) I'm trusting that the memorial service will have brought some closure and healing to Buff's dad and the rest of his family. And... I hope to make it to yoga class tomorrow, to restore my equilibrium.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Okay okay...

For those of us who find the idea of writing a novel in a month a little daunting (see previous post) here's a contest that anyone could manage. In fact, why not dust off that wonderful piece you wrote 5 years ago and send it off? The entry fee seems a little steep, but the prize is $2,500, which is more than some novels will ever earn for you!

Writers Union Short Prose Competition:

Eligible Writers: Canadian citizens or landed immigrants who have not been published in book format are welcome to enter.

Eligible Entries: Nonfiction and fiction prose, up to 2,500 words in the English language, are eligible. Eligible works have not been previously published in any format.

Deadline: The postmarked deadline is November 3.

Entry Fee: Please submit a $25 fee per entry.

More information can be found at http://www.writersunion.ca/

Good luck!

Thursday, October 18, 2007

An invitation from your imagination...

If you need a little kick start to write that novel, read on ~


This is your imagination. I know work, school, and general craziness have been keeping us apart lately. But there's something we need to do together this November. It's called National Novel Writing Month. For it, we'll bash out a 50,000-word novel, from scratch, in 30 days. You and me. Writing a book. Together. I need you to sign us up. Because I don't have any arms.

Your imagination
ps. there's a separate contest for young people, too!

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Going Meatless

As a child I thought vegetarians were as odd as Hare Krishnas. My mother planned our evening meal around whatever meat she'd defrosted that morning. It was what I knew and what seemed 'normal' to me so when I grew up I began cooking the same way.

In the late eighties I joined an environmental group run by some truly interesting women. Our focus was to find ways to live 'greener' in our own homes and to educate our community on these issues. A few of the women in this group were vegetarian and at first I thought they were somewhat 'on the fringe' but they never pushed their views on the rest of us so I didn't think much about it. Then one evening one of them brought a video to our meeting. It was based on a popular book at the time (Diet for a New America) and it showed the negative environmental impact of raising beef for human consumption. At first I resisted even watching the video as I had no interest in becoming vegetarian, but I was there and had nothing else to do, so I watched it.

One powerful fact from the video stayed with me. I learned that if the grain and water that is fed to North American cattle could somehow be diverted to third world countries, no one on the planet would go to bed hungry at night. I thought long and hard about that. I knew that one person (me) giving up meat would have no impact on the big picture, nor would any hungry person suddenly have a meal but somehow giving up meat just seemed 'right'. I wanted to support the idea of a plant-based diet, and besides, I'd never liked thinking about where my pork chops and hamburgers came from in the first place, so why eat them?

That was 16 years ago. The only meat I have eaten since then is seafood, but I hope to give that up eventually too. I cook meat for my family but they also think it's 'normal' to have meatless meals. I don't push them to give up meat, but I do encourage them to think about where their meat comes from, and let them know why I choose free range, organic meat for their meals. It's better for the planet, the animals and them.


About 2,000 pounds of grain must be supplied to livestock in order to produce enough meat and other livestock products to support a person for a year, whereas 400 pounds of grain eaten directly will support a person for a year.

M.E. Ensminger, Ph.D. Internationally recognized animal agriculture specialist, former Department of Animal Science Chairman at Washington State University.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Mother Love

These pictures recently made the rounds on the internet. According to the story, this mother tiger's babies died shortly after birth. She became listless and the zookeepers thought she was depressed at losing them so they devised a plan to cheer her up. They dressed these piglets in tiger skin coats and put them in the pen with the tiger. How easily they could have become her lunch! As shown by her face, she not only accepted them, but she cheered right up, too.

The strength of animal instincts always astounds me. I've observed many kinds of dogs on my daily walks with Winston and the behavioural traits of the various breeds are fascinating. The dogs that were once bred for herding still herd their owners, running back and forth at their heels, keeping them on the straight and narrow. The working dogs proudly carry a stick or a prized tennis ball. Winston, whose ancestors were hunting dogs, runs in wide circles on either side of the trail, flushing out imaginary birds. Terriers 'tear about' after rodents. No one taught them these behaviours, they were just born with them. (And don't get me started on migratory birds. Those instincts are too mind-boggling to comprehend.)

But mother love (and probably father love too though I can only speak for mothers) must be the strongest instinct of them all, and it must be the same for mothers of all species. Mother Nature built this trait into our characters in order to preserve each species. There's nothing a mother wouldn't do to protect her young.

The look on the tiger's face says it all. She doesn't care what her babies look like or where they came from. She loves them unconditionally. It's as simple as that.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

So maybe you can teach an old dog new tricks

Most of my adult life I've intended to try yoga. Everything I read about it led me to believe it would be a good fit, yet for some reason I never took the plunge.

Last week, thanks to some serious prodding by my friend Paul, I finally attended my first class and now I'm kicking myself for waiting so long. It's everything I hoped it would be and much, much more.

I left that first session with an indescribable feeling of well-being, a natural high. Since then I've experienced classes with 4 different teachers and each session was varied but just as wonderful. I'm not very flexible and can't do everything the teachers demonstrate but it doesn't matter. The practise encourages you to do whatever feels comfortable. There is no sense of competition, or even comparison. Meditation is a big part of the experience and finding inner balance and peace is stressed. I've never been a big fan of stretching but that has all changed. The room is beautiful with a waterfall cascading down one wall and a view of the forest through the windows. The candles are lit and the background music creates a mood that helps you transcend the world you leave at the door.

I've only had a taste of what the ancient art of yoga has to offer and I look forward to learning so much more.

I will now check yoga off my list of things I must try some day. Next on the list: tap dancing! Who's in?