Victoria Day Weekend 2015: Comedy of Errors, Classic Cars, and Campfires

Many of my fellow Canucks will have retreated to cottages this weekend, opening up and airing out for the summer season. And they’ll be enjoying 2-4s (six-packs of brew), fireworks, evening campfires responsibly extinguished — having a generally good time ushering in the start of summer.

Because that’s really what May 2-4 is about — it began as a celebration of the good Queen’s birthday, in gratitude for being granted status as a nation rather than a colony, but now it represents the end of spring and welcomes in the heat of the growing season in its fullest. Even if we are still susceptible to frost around here…

Now, I’m not a beer drinker, nor do I have a cottage, but I am enjoying my weekend with both planned events and spontaneous happenings:

I attended the first rehearsal for LaSalle Production’s Shakespeare in the Park performance, “The Comedy of Errors”, in which I will be portraying Aemelia, the Abbess. 

I discovered that the local classic car collectors had gathered at the local mall — a sure sign of summer, when the collectible vehicles come out to play!           

I got the lawn mower out and accomplished a half hour’s worth of attack on the grass before engaging my son in the effort. He did well, but he accidentally locked the mowers — both of them — in the shed afterward, and we don’t know where the key is…

My hubby bought the makings of s’mores and we had a lovely long campfire. Our neighbour joined us for a chat, the boy scared me TWICE, sneaking up on me in the dark, Bridget used a star gazing app on my iphone to find and identify constellations, and we picked out Jupiter as well as three satellites. I also saw an actual shooting star, a first for me!     

While I didn’t get my cleaning done (yet), or start my gardens, I had barbecued jumbo hot dogs for the second time this week. And ice cream.

Tomorrow (crap, that’s technically later TODAY), we are taking the kids to FINALLY see Avengers: Age of Ultron. 

It’s a good long weekend.

The value of research and feedback while writing: don’t be afraid to ask!

I’m at 8,158 words in my Camp NaNoWriMo project, the Snowmobiling Story for young adults / reluctant readers. A bit shy of the count I want to have for today, so I’ll try to keep this post short in order to attempt to squeeze a few more paragraphs in before midnight. (I had to take an Outlander break, Sassenach!)

I found myself stymied a few times this weekend, in this project, because I’m so out of my depth. I’m not into mechanics or engines or anything technical, so I’m dependent on research and interviews to give me the details I need. The problem is that half the time what I’m reading is still completely over my head, thanks to the jargon and colloquialisms in use by the people in the know.

So last night I started bugging individuals in my circle (and in their circles) for answers. I proposed situations and sought their opinions on what would happen next, with fantastic results. And then, when I sent my work (so far) to one of my usual beta readers to get her take on a scene that didn’t have anything to do with mechanical stuff, I ended up getting more feedback on the technicalities — really helpful stuff that I’m going to fix right away.

See, the thing is, when you’re working on a first draft, it’s important to just keep ploughing ahead and never mind the edits, or else the damned thing will never get done. Go back and fix the little things later. But with this — I don’t mind jumping back here and there to make sure my descriptions and plot points are accurate, because that means I’ll be more likely to get them right when I refer to that stuff again later on.

Some writers also don’t like showing their unfinished drafts to others because — well, hey, we’re a sensitive lot, sometimes, and we don’t want to be told that what we’re writing sucks. It’s a leap of faith in all respects to get the words on the page and then to ask someone what he/she thinks. I find it depends on what I’m doing, and how secure I’m feeling with it, and my own emotional connection to the piece. With this one, I know I’m bound to make errors because I’m writing about something pretty foreign to my experience. The more feedback I can get on it, the better I’ll be.

One problem that I can foresee, though, is the subjectivity of the experience. Some snowmobilers up here call the handlebars “risers”, while others call them simply “handlebars”. If I write something that is closely related to this region, I risk others not enjoying it as much because they’re not in the vernacular loop that people up here are. Then again, it’s edifying to read about experiences in other places, so maybe it won’t really matter.

I think, too, that for this one I’ll be seeking a Canadian publisher, just to really drive it home to my students that they’re awesome. Maybe that’s counting my chickens before they’re hatched, though.

Keep writing!

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Hot Writing in Canadian Winters

The holly jolly Christmas songs and festive hubbub have died away. If that was the heart of the season, we’re now in the belly of the beast being slowly digested in its freezing juices.

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Winter isn’t that cold across our whole country, though we certainly give that impression. British Columbia has beautifully balmy weather on its coastal plane and in its rainforest, and southern Ontario generally has mild winters with a few harsh storms. But where I live, in Northeastern Ontario, we generally have at least two weeks of frigid cold in which temperatures dip to -40 (or lower, with the wind chill) and pipes can freeze while ice fog forms over the streets in the night. The snow falls and falls throughout the winter months, up to three feet deep or sometimes more, so many people have to put tiny roofs over their furnace exhaust pipes to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning. That nearly happened to us, once, during a blizzard that was so heavy the fire truck responding to our call for help couldn’t get up the unploughed street. The snow piles were higher than our car, that year, (our first living in this region), and we learned the wisdom of
a) shovelling well away from the vehicle so the piles do not gradually close in on the drivable space, and
b) hiring a snow plough or investing in a snow blower, neither of which we’ve done until this year.

Our first winter in Northeastern Ontario, 2002

Our first winter in Northeastern Ontario, 2002

I keep contemplating buying USB warming / heated fingerless gloves, for typing, but I keep putting it off because I’m not 100% convinced they’d be worth the money. And a good cup of tea will warm my fingers when it’s chilly in here, or I can put them under the laptop where the heat is fine.

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Writing in the winter is cathartic, escapism, and makes hiding from the harsh weather easier. Wrapped in my blanket on my couch, I can disappear into an imaginary world (when my children let me), pausing now and again to wipe my cold, wet nose and get a fresh cup of hot brew or a glass of wine, lately (decadence!). I light a candle or two, maybe some scented melting wax thingies, and try to lose myself in the story.

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The trouble with winter writing in this climate and latitude is in the dark time, between Samhain (Hallowe’en) and Imbolc (Groundhog’s Day), I find my days and nights getting more and more mixed up. The hours of darkness are so much longer than those of light, especially on dim cloudy days, that it’s easier to work after the sun has gone down and I lose track of the hours I ought to be keeping. After all, the sun doesn’t fully come up until 8 am on the Solstice, and it won’t be until February that we’ll see dawn by 7:30.

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So much darkness . . . perfect for heated romance, sizzling scenes, and spicy dialogue. Seriously, this is a good season for writing about love. Think log cabins, crackling fires, quilts big enough to cover two bodies, and romantic walks under sparkling velvety black skies or through swirling flecks of lacy snow. Cabin fever gets released by skiing, sledding, snowshoeing — or other less chilly activities indoors. Oh, heck, I’ve read some pretty steamy love scenes that take place in the snowy forest involving opened jackets, though I haven’t yet written any myself. Winter is a season for writing about love, that glorious hot mess that keeps us going when the wind is howling to freeze our bones and shred our skin with its icy nails. The furnace working to pump heated air in my home is the breath of life in a world that is crystallized and unmoving.

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Canadians make good lovers, I think, because we know the best ways to keep warm in the long, cold winter. In a nation of extremes, we have to know how to survive, after all. Summers are as brutal as the winters, but at least in winter warming up is easier than cooling down in a heat wave. Until your pipes freeze or your furnace breaks, that is . . . as has been happening in spades in the houses around me.

Edits are nearly done on Blood and Fire: Book Two of the Talbot Trilogy, and the cover is nearly ready to reveal. Will tonight be another long session of creating with words? As long as my hands are warm enough, I think it will . . . but tea only as, I am out of wine.

June 25 — 9 Days to the release of Wind and Shadow!

LogoColorNoText(Yes, I know I’ve had the countdown before. I am, at times, an unrelenting optimist.)

I’ve been feeling a bit nostalgic, lately. Listening to my (admittedly overly-long) playlist. Starting to look at Book Two again, which will pick up two weeks after the events of Book One. I’ve also been searching my boxes of notebooks madly for the original writing I did, seven years ago last month, while sitting with my five-month-old in an uninsulated counsellors’ cabin at a children’s camp, waiting for our house to be ready to move into . . .

Where did this book come from? Why was I crazy enough to pursue it?

Because it demanded to be told. And it wasn’t easy, though so many times I wished it was.

It came out of a memory of a road collapsing in Cobalt, Ontario, sometime after 1989. As far as I can tell, there aren’t any pictures of this event online, though I’m sure someone somewhere has a photo tucked away in an album.

And then, it was fed by my love of romance novels and vampires. The very first romance I ever remember reading was an historical fantasy by Robin Mckinley, called The Blue Sword (still one of my favourites — my first and only copy recently fell apart!), although the Anne of Green Gables and Little House on the Prairie series certainly qualify as bursting with the elements. While I enjoyed the flowery imagery of books about love, I was also drawn to the macabre and the gruesome, the weird and bizarre. I was a big fan of MAD magazine from the age of 10. And the first horrors I read — Salem’s Lot, Dracula, and Tales of the Cryptkeeper — had me hooked on ghost stories and other stories of the paranormal. Films followed, of course: The Watcher in the Woods, Friday the 13th, The Lost Boys, Interview with a Vampire, Dracula (again!), Army of Darkness, The Monster Squad, John Carpenter’s Vampires, and more recently, 30 Days of Night, Twilight, Blade, Underworld, Dawn of the Dead . . .

So when I started working on Wind and Shadow, I was thinking of all of these influences. It reflects and blends some of the qualities of these works, but is also my answer to certain ideas created by best-selling authors. I’m hoping it has the creepiness and sense of doom created by Stephen King in Salem’s Lot, but that the romance carries the reader into loving the protagonists as much as I do. I am a huge fan of the Twilight Saga, even though I don’t agree with some of the choices made by the characters, and so I worked on an opposite scenario. My vampires aren’t, by and large, sexy and stylish at all times. But the allure of vampirism for those whose lives are not ideal is there. What wouldn’t some of us do for eternal youth, rejuvenation, and strength?

A third element of my life and experiences also demanded to bring itself into this vision. I’m Wiccan, and a witch. I enjoy my craft, feel entirely at home in my spirituality, and I wanted a book that embraced it as much as the film Practical Magic. There are an increasing number of fictional books that incorporate Wicca and/or positive witchcraft, as opposed to the wicked witch trope, and I wanted to add to that body with my own work. I’m hoping that fellow Wiccans and witches, and the Pagan community in general, will enjoy seeing some of their beliefs reflected in the trilogy, but also that non-Pagans will enjoy it as well.

Finally, I realized a fourth influence was at work when I was going through the editing process. As a Canadian, I’m well aware that we aren’t always represented in modern romance or paranormal fiction. There are fantastic Canadian authors out there, but I haven’t read many that produce work in these genres. So I found myself guarding my Canadianisms fiercely. After all, the book takes place in Northeastern Ontario, deep in one of the cultural hearts of the nation. It’s almost tempting to make a count of the shout-outs to Canucks near and far!

I’m still in the planning stages for the release party, but I have goodies ready for giving away: a mug, a t-shirt, pens, notebooks, bookmarks, plus some vampire fang necklaces. My heart is starting to pound again with anticipation . . . Keep your fingers crossed that all goes well on June 25th!

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Missing Stompin’ Tom Already

Gone but not forgotten -- a Canadian icon.

Gone but not forgotten — a Canadian icon.

As soon as I read of Stompin’ Tom Connor’s death today, my mind immediately took me back to when I was 8 or 9 years old, or maybe 10, and my dad singing along to “The Hockey Song”. I was mildly irritated, but secretly enjoying the serenade as he tapped his foot to the rollicking beat. I think my father still knows all the words by heart. And as an adult, of course I sing right along.

Raise your hand if you remember a family member singing this one when you were a kid! Or, recently!

Raise your hand if you remember a family member singing this one when you were a kid! Or, recently!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UxJvrD80nJ4

Stompin’ Tom Connors was really a voice of a certain generation of Canadians. There was something about his genuine nature, his kindness, his authenticity and his understanding of community that represented the generosity and fun of our nation. It seemed like he would always be around, an icon every bit as recognizable as Gordon Lightfoot, Ann Murray, Bryan Adams, and others. He wasn’t a pop star, and he didn’t make waves on the music scene; I can’t recall anything prodigal about him in the sense of Justin Bieber. Stompin’ Tom was just as you saw him, and heard him. His music evokes Tim Hortons’ coffee and doughnuts, Bob and Doug MacKenzie, hot dogs and cotton candy at fall fairs, driving across the Prairies and hitting the curves on the highway around Cape Breton Island.

Takes me back…one of the best parts of the 80s for me. Though I didn't know it at the time.

Takes me back…one of the best parts of the 80s for me. Though I didn’t know it at the time.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HtySGSuKZe8

His is the music of my family trips when I was young, the steady beat livening up the car while the road passed beneath us. It was reliable, constant, and comforting when the country was experiencing tension and conflict. It’s nostalgic, but also hits the right tone when it’s time to relax and kick back at the cottage.

Stompin’ Tom Connors may have left us, but it will be a long time before his music loses its joy, at least for me. For the hard-working, flannel-wearing, cowboy hat-wearing, salt-of-the-earth Canadian in all of us, his music will keep him in our hearts.