And the beat does its thing

In the midst of all the travels and prep for travels and arriving home to get right back into the routine, we picked up a new computer screen to replace the broken one! Huzzah! 

Unfortunately, due to the post-road trip exhaustion and getting right back into the routine, the monitor is still in the box on the floor two days later. 

And the absolute turmoil in which we left our home has gotten worse.

But the kids have been doing their homework, we’ve had enough to eat and given them healthy lunches, and the weather is with us for a little while longer. (That’s something else on my list, besides engaging us all in cleaning — obtaining a shed for the backyard so I can empty the tent without bringing all the gardening and yard sale stuff back inside.)

With all of this, I’m having trouble finding the energy to focus on my writing. I woke up in the night from a horrifying yet interesting dream, and I managed to jot down my impressions, but that’s been it for a week or two, or longer. The muscles I use for stringing together words in a fiction are thin and weak from lack of use, and from having to be redirected in other directions. Even the flash fictions I have been composing for this blog feel like a struggle right now. 

But fiction keeps me healthy. So I have to keep trying. 

The difficulties of marketing a book on a budget

So it’s week 2 of the release of Crystal and Wand, and I am not nearly where I want to be or have been in the past with promoting my book. Still waiting on another paycheque before I can put my order in for a crate of paperbacks, plus get some swag going — it’s driving me crazy that I don’t even have the business cards yet. I’ve always preferred having complete sets of whatever, when I’m able to be a collector of something (although that doesn’t necessarily mean I have complete sets . . . just that it’s supremely irritating when I don’t).

But I digress . . .

While I’m waiting, I’m trying to figure out how to get potential (and past) readers to notice that the book is out. Advertising is a necessary evil. Without it, readers won’t know it’s there, but doing too much feels pushy and rude. It’s important to make the product (whether it’s my book or something else) available and visible, so someone who is looking for that particular thing will know it’s there, but there’s also a measure of providing temptation so that the someone who didn’t set out to buy it will want to on the basis of on-the-spot decision making. 

All of which is much more difficult if your product is only available to be seen online. 

So, I’m making an effort to tweet more about the Talbot Trilogy — not every day, because I don’t want to be rude or pushy or seem arrogant, (I do worry about that), but every few days. Mentions on this blog, too. Talking it up among people I know, and hoping that someone will be kind enough or taken enough by the work to pass it on to others.

Then, there’s the online party, which I’d hoped to have done by now and I’m not even close. I must start planning that. But the question in my mind is this: are online parties played out? The trend rises and falls, perhaps depending on the swag being offered (who doesn’t like something awesome for free?) and the activities involved. Plus, I’d love to have a really nice set of collectibles for giving away, like a wand and a crystal, which means hunting in my own treasures for things I no longer need or once again, spending money. 

This is something that writers aren’t told to expect when they first set out to sell a book: how much time and effort it takes to advertise and spread the word. This isn’t my first rodeo, so I know more of what to expect and how to do certain things. But I certainly haven’t improved in my life balancing, even though I’m off for the summer. 

I’m quite jealous, too, of those writers who live in the greater population centres or shorter driving distances to special events. I’d love to have a table at FanExpo in Toronto, if I could afford it, but given the timing (at the end of the first week of school) and the travel time (8 hours on the road) plus the kids wanting to see the convention and their dad probably not being able to get the time off from his new job (security guard at a gold mine — so proud of him!), it’s not likely this year. 

It’s really kind of depressing. What happened to the enthusiastic writer of last year, who was staying up late to neatly package paperbacks with t-shirts and mugs and hand-made beeswax candles, writing notes to the readers and reviewers with sincere appreciation, sealing the cards with wax for a personal and unique touch?

Feels like it was a different lifetime. Or a different person.

So, marketing a book on a budget breaks down into:

  • telling people myself, through social media and personal emails, particularly to previous reviewers
  • being patient and making plans for how best to use money as it becomes available
  • thoughtful planning of release events — they can happen after the fact, because by then there will be a core of readers who will encourage their friends to come along
  • possibly, even, carrying copies of the books on trips to the mall, the library, or anywhere that books might be sold / borrowed / stocked, and practicing how to approach the person in charge! I need to work on this, even without the third book in hand.

So, fellow authors, what do you do to market your books? I’ve said before how much I admire the website for Alice Hearts Welsh Zombies, so maybe I should put some effort into an interactive Weebly for the Talbot Trilogy, and another book trailer. Let’s add those to the list, too:

  • creating an interactive website using a free platform
  • making a book trailer

All of the above requiring time and commitment equal to a full-time job.

Who wants a glass of wine?

Writing for Yourself

When I completed the exit interviews with my Writer’s Craft students, the overwhelming majority of them said they’d learned this about the process of developing a book: It’s hard.


This is why it’s so important to write for yourself, first. That in itself is a challenge. I’m one of those who constantly worries about how my readers will respond to certain things, waiting for criticism with both an expectation of severity and a hope that it will be mild. It’s like waiting to jump into a pool, knowing that there will be an unpleasant shock before you get used to the temperature.

There are things in Crystal and Wand that I’m sure are going to upset some people. Gross and horrible and frightening, despicable acts that you wouldn’t want to have happen in real life. So why did I write them? What is it about my personality that comes up with these awful things?

I had to put aside my fear of what some readers are going to think in order to finish the story and feel good about it. Satisfied. And it worked, because I found the ending I’d been searching for throughout the nine years it took to develop this project.

But dang, it was hard.

And the next project, I suspect, is going to push boundaries even further. It’s just how I roll. I want to write through my fear. Is that courageous, or foolhardy? I once was assigned to read a book in university that cautioned people in its blurb not to buy or read the book, because it was that raunchy.

Sadly, I go for raunch. I’m as attracted to the disgusting as I am to the sweet and the festive and the nostalgic. So some of that inevitably ends up in what I write.

The thing is, I firmly believe that if you start out intending to write something that is a best-seller and going to make you reams of cash, you’re not doing credit to the art. You’re not doing credit to yourself. I think it’s tangible in the words themselves, that you can see it and feel it in a book written purely for the money. Those books just seem to be . . . empty. Hollow. Void of passion and depth. Writing that avoids taking chances, that is geared solely toward following a trend or stringing out a series beyond its necessary story, just feels wrong.

If you want to be a writer, or you are currently wrapped in your own manuscript trying to find its head or its tail, I think you’ll find this to be the most common advice out there: Write the story that you want to read, that you would enjoy. Readers like you will find it. But you have to love your story first.

And dang it — that’s hard.

Some of the ups, downs, and middles of writing

Wouldn’t it be nice if one of these rings actually existed? 

I love these writer’s life posters and motivational swag that turns up on my social media feeds. If I had a separate writing den, I’d be printing them off and sticking them up on the wall behind the door — and on the door — to cheer me during down / grumpy / bitchy moods. 

Certainly true. Except that sometimes the Internet is a great resource — it’s a library that is accessible from anywhere that has wifi or available digits on the data plan. And there are many other ways to get distracted from the work, as my fellow writing parents or writers-with-day-jobs (or writers-with-night-jobs) will attest. 

Is it worse to be distracted by life matters, funny penguin videos, crotch-shot Vines, or by the next funky idea that pops into your head? AND THE KNOWLEDGE THAT YOU WILL NEVER WRITE IT DOWN . . .

And there is certainly a difference between writing in a good mood, and writing while depressed. I get the latter often enough. The factors that trigger my mental illness include money issues, having a messy house, feeling overwhelmed by trying to deal with those two things, and the state of the world in general. So sometimes I write to escape, and sometimes I write to deal. Sometimes I write to explore different ways of handling things. There’s always a drama coming out of the simplest thing in front of me. For example: when I was picking up clothes from the floor of my bedroom, I saw a spider crawl out from under my side-table. It disappeared under the bed, heading toward one of my shoes. 

Do you know how many possibilities that raises?

Got splashed with scalding hot candle wax on my wrist — I put it in a book.

Survival of anything is a great starting point for a story. But so are childhood experiences, road trips, dental appointments, or something someone else has written, if you want to use it as a jumping-off point to explore an idea. It’s the work of expanding the idea into an outline, fleshing out the details, listening to the dialogue as it builds and discerning the environment. (That is, if you’re a planner. If you’re a seat-of-the-pantser, forget the outline part.)  When the details start rolling, that’s when the Net can be your friend once again. Look at the neat poster I found with eye colours on it!

And on top of all that, there are the awesome cosplay / costume contact lenses out there now that look like zombie eyes, tiger eyes, vampire eyes, cyborg eyes . . .  

Writer brain now ponders a story idea based on a problem with contact lenses. An infection? A tiny circuit that starts boring through the visual cortext and into the brain? Mind control?

This is why this happens:

Loads and loads of paper. Sticky notes flapping from every flat surface. Woe betide the family member who moves too quickly past the stack of papers and sends it careening to the floor. This is where bulletin boards can come in handy. I’ve been finding that taking pictures of the notes is helpful, too, because then I can’t lose them. 

It’s strangely comforting to look at a writer’s office space / den / cave and recognize that I’m not alone in this! Put your hand up if this is your world, too:

I’ve rcently come to realize that I am not a minimalist. I’m not one of those who can sit in an empty space and focus on the story. Nor can I write in a mess. There’s a balance to be found in there, somewhere. I’m just still looking for it. 

The Trouble with the Playlists

So remember waaaay back in March when Elizabeth Reptile, my awesome bearded dragon, pooped on my condom-less computer keyboard?


Yeah. I’m still waiting to get my hard drive back from the technician, although it should be any day now… The last we spoke about my options, I could pay upwards of $700-$800 to replace a key part (motherboard? Leaderboard?) and the keyboard, OR I could pay for the hard drive to be extracted and encased and sent back to me.

Some people wreck cars regularly. I do this to computers, evidently — this is not the first time I’ve had to ask for the brains of my computer to be removed and sent to me. I honestly don’t even know where I’ve put the first hard drive — I know it’s somewhere in my house! That was an incident involving my young daughter and a cup of tea and a wildly swinging chubby little leg. Again, can’t emphasize enough — the keyboard condom would have saved me, folks. Type safely! Be responsible!

Anyway, he’d said he was sending me the hard drive ASAP and I could pay him when I got paid next. Except I’ve lost his email, and when I upgraded my phone, I waited too long to bring over my messages from the back-up and I’ve lost the messages that tell me where to send the money. I’m sure he’s sick of hearing from me by now, but dammit . . . I’ve been without my files for nearly four months!


One of the things I need from my hard drive is the play list I was building in my iTunes for Crystal and Wand, and I don’t believe that I ever finished the one I was making for Blood and Fire, either. Life got in the way. Worse, once I actually get the hard drive back and connect it to this desktop, I may still lose the playlist because I’ve noticed that they don’t always stick around after an update.


The good news is that I’ve heard new songs — MANY new songs — since I started those, and I think there are some changes I’d want to make anyway. Plus, I recall at one point hitting a button on the iTunes thingy that rearranged the order of the songs alphabetically — quelle nightmare!


Still, I shall move forward. Go through my music, start again, include some of the new tracks I’ve been listening to that remind me of events and characters in Crystal and Wand, then go back and do the same in Blood and Fire. Eventually, the playlists will make it here.

And as soon as I know the release date for the final book in the Talbot Trilogy, you’ll know — I promise!


The elusive truth in the developing fiction

WIP update: Adam and the old man are fighting, now, although I’m not certain that it’s the best way to go. I might leave it open and rewrite that scene tomorrow. Maybe have Adam imagine a fight taking place and wondering whether he could take the old man, or falling asleep and dreaming it. I had it in mind that they’d have a conversation over roast partridge and there would be some revelations, but maybe the fight has to take place first to relieve some tension and work out nervous energy before communication can happen.

I have two thoughts on what’s going to happen next:

a) The skeleton under the floor is (predictably) Adam’s missing grandfather, who’d disappeared about thirty years earlier. The old man is his murderer. And Adam is able to bring a killer to justice, closure to his mother, and maybe gets back property that had been stolen from his granddad around the time of his death.

b) The crazy old man is Adam’s missing grandfather, and he’s really the killer. Maybe the original murder was caused by jealousy over a woman or rage over a gambling debt, or was committed in self-defence. Would he have gone crazy because he knew going back to civilization would mean going to jail for his crime?

The first option is, as I’ve noted, predictable, but comforting. The second is darker and more conflicted. I may have to write the old man’s back story somewhere and find a way to fit it in. This is where their conversation may come into play.

I don’t feel ready to hit the climax just yet, though. I mean, this fight could work as a turning point, except that the falling action needs to provide some answers and work out problems, and Adam’s not close to having those things. Or maybe he is! (tears at hair) But I want 50,000 words, dammit, and therefore the climax needs to start around 35,000 — I’m at 31,501. Can’t stretch a fight scene out for four thousand words . . .

Or can I?

I mean, what if Adam breaks free and takes off into the woods? If he steals the old man’s flashlight and follows his tracks back to the crazy guy’s shack. Maybe he’d find evidence there that reveals all. Letters, pictures, maps, tools . . . I can visualize something important happening there.

But the problem is that Adam is still injured, and he’s been hurt a little worse in his wrestling match with the old man.

Going to sleep on it. Hopefully after all of this percolates, I can focus on a plan of attack. I like the idea of the kid getting to a new location and making some discoveries. Hmm . . .

Also, still no title.

If anyone out there is a fan of Crabbe, Hatchet, or other outdoor-adventure themed books, and you’d like to beta-read for me, let me know in the comments. Maybe I’ll post another excerpt tomorrow.

Writer Problem No. 153: Not Knowing How the Story Will End

My snowmobile story has turned into a bit of a mystery! I certainly didn’t see that coming. One of these days, I would like to write an honest-to-God, structured mystery novel. I’ve had that element in some of my short stories, and it crops up in the Talbot Trilogy, but not on purpose. Just — things that have to be discovered, or uncovered, in the course of the main conflict being pursued and resolved.

As a fan of Sherlock Holmes mysteries (read my brother’s copy of Adventures of Sherlock Holmes when I was 12), and the Harry Potter books, Nancy Drew when I was a kid, and Castle today, I keep feeling like that’s a genre I could really sink my teeth into. But I keep stumbling into the element by accident. I think, to properly write a mystery, you have to have that intention from the beginning, don’t you?

So that means doing research. Teaching myself with trial and error. Interviewing those in the know, like my dad, for instance, who also loves mysteries, and whose father was an insurance investigator. Taking copious amounts of notes and keeping them organized.

When I was working on the trilogy, I often wished that I had a bulletin board on which I could post bits and pieces of detail, a visual timeline that I could see all at once rather than having to flip through pages on my screen or in my notebook, and printed out plot details that I’d already written. I thought I was a little bit nuts, but then I saw the fictional character Castle doing it on his eponymous show, and I know that the writers of that program based his activities off of those of an actual mystery writer, SOOO . . . I’m not that crazy after all! There really could be a method to my madness! If only my house was a little bit bigger, and had slightly more wall space. Like a nice downtown loft apartment in New York City . . .

Anyway, now that I’ve got this great bit of inspiration going, suddenly the skeleton under the floor, the silver lighter that my protagonist has, and some of the troubles in his family are starting to make sense. I am tempted to go back into the exposition and rising action to clarify some of these things in the backstory, using flashbacks and reminisces as devices. But first I have to find an answer to the biggest burning question of all: just who is the skeleton under the floor, and who is the old man with the gun?!?

Oh, my brain . . . Why can’t you just give me answers? It’s so funny when I mention that I don’t know what’s going to happen next, or that I can’t explain whether a location is really haunted in one of my stories, or how a mystery is going to be solved — the students I talk to about these things kind of tilt their eyes and look at me like I’ve completely lost it. “How can you not know?” they ask me. “You’re the writer!”

Yeah. This is part of the reason why I honestly believe that some stories are simply out there, floating in the ether, waiting for a conduit in the form of the teller. They reveal themselves when the time is right. So, Ether, I’m waiting. I’m listening. Fingers are typing. WHO IS THE SKELETON? WHAT’S WITH THE OLD MAN?!?

I bet Jack London never had problems like this.

My Top 10 NaNoWriMo Survival Tactics

Over the hump now . . . April 30 is growing closer, and my snowmobile story WIP is steadily approaching its (as yet, undetermined) climax. Some nights are harder to keep it going than others. So I thought I’d review for you (and me) the things I do when the going gets tough!

1) Build a word count buffer. Whenever you can, write over / beyond your minimum number for the day, so that if there’s ever a time where you’re not able to get to the project, your overall movement won’t be affected as much.

2) Take a break! Sometimes, you have to have a night off. See 1) above. The tricky part, though, is not letting that break go longer than 24 hours. At that point, it’s like going back to the gym after you’ve just started a membership and promised yourself you’d go every day and then stopped after a week. The effort of starting again feels incredibly daunting. Keep the breaks short so you don’t lose momentum on the work.

3) Accept inspiration from the strangest of places. Seriously — I get ideas from the weirdest things. Sometimes it’s from taking a walk and seeing someone outside of my regular routine. Sometimes it’s from listening to music, or talking out plot problems with a fellow writer. Just go with it!

4) Scenic Route over Efficiency. There’s nothing wrong with going off-roading with the plot. I start with a plan, but when I see a detour and a possibly better / more interesting plot point, I totally go for it, enjoying the element of mystery and surprise. Of course, that means I don’t really know what the climax will be, but I still have the end goal in mind. Buy the ticket for the long way ’round, because as the song says, it’s got the prettiest of views!

5) Fill your family and friends in. I honestly wouldn’t be able to do this without my kids’ understanding, my hubby’s back rubs (even though they’re not nearly as long as I’d like them to be), and the acceptance that my attention for this month is very much on the story. Once your near and dear ones know what you’re up to, they can also offer suggestions and act as beta-readers. BTW, it’s a heck of a lot easier doing NaNoWriMo now that my kids are old enough to feed themselves!

6) Treat yourself. Those back rubs, and cups of tea, and bits of leftover Easter chocolate — soul food. Nourishment for the creative soul. Whatever it takes to keep your spirits up in the depths of plot problems and character disagreements, do it.

7) You can sleep when you’re dead. Sleep. Especially if you have a full-time paid job. I mean, if I was working from home, or doing the unpaid work of parenthood, it would be easier to slip in those naps than it currently is — I’m limited at the moment to catching a few z’s after school, and occasionally when I’m desperate and the coffee’s either worn off or hasn’t kicked in yet, I’ll lie on the couch that’s conveniently found a home in my classroom for twenty minutes of shut-eye. But you have to sleep. It’s right when you’re trying to fall asleep that your stupid brain will come up with the greatest plot twist or snappy dialogue.

8) Write in a group of writers. For me, that means involving my students! We have had increasingly productive writing days this week, comfortably sitting together in a computer lab. It’s been my privilege to hear them to comparing their word counts, discussing their characters and plot problems, sharing mind-blowing moments and reading out bits they particularly enjoyed putting together, and to share my own writerly discoveries and problems as well. Writers helping writers. Fantastic!

9) Find your space / time relativity. For me, it has to be after the kids have gone to bed, so I’m not distracted by commentary or questions. I do frequently start shortly before bedtime, in an effort to avoid being awake until midnight (hah!), and that’s when I get the loving kisses and hugs and tea and things. I do miss having my laptop to work from so I can be comfy on the couch, but sitting at the desk is helpful, too — I can’t look directly at the TV, for example, so I’m less tempted to have it on. Now, if only I could get the right proportion of desk height to chair . . .

10) Eyes on the prize! It can and does become daunting at times, and exhausting, to keep going on a writing project when you don’t know what is going to happen next, and especially when it’s on a topic that is out of your normal range of experience. But I think that doing 50,000 words in 30 days is getting a little easier, now and then. The main thing is to remember that what is being written doesn’t need to be perfect, it just needs to be completed. A little bit at a time accomplishes so much!

Feel free to add your own writing survival tactics in the comments below!

The struggle in naming your great work of words…

Fellow writers, how do you choose the titles of your work?

I can’t keep calling my WIP the Snowmobile Story, you see. I’ve gotten to know Adam and made him suffer through so much, throwing him into this predicament and that — I feel like, at this juncture, I need a real working title.

A few years ago, when I was developing the Talbot Trilogy, a friend who was a former student suggested a formula she’d determined for finding a title. It involved looking for frequently used nouns, selecting the first or third or fifth word on page x, and seeing what sounded good from some combination of these things. At the time, it worked for me, but I didn’t write the concept down. If my description sounds vague, that’s because I cannot recall exactly what she said or what I did. So I’m back at square one for this novel.

I thought, for a while, that I’d just leave the title until the end. At that point, perhaps a quote would stand out for me, or a brilliant idea would burst forth from my weary brain, announcing itself with fireworks and fanfare. Maybe that will still happen, but until that time, I would like to come up with something a little more interesting and motivating — something that the growing draft deserves.

After all, it’s not a short story at this point, it’s midway to becoming a short novel. And it’s being prepared for an audience.

Sometimes, I find that having a beta reader go through a finished draft helps me out, because she or he (sorry, gentlemen, it’s usually a “she”) might suggest something better to call it than the title I’m using. I’m very open to suggestions.

So when it comes to titles, what do you do about them? Do you use a formula of some kind, or wait for inspiration? Start with a great title and write the story that belongs to it?

Emotional Whiplash?

I’m in the thick of it now, in all things.

In my WIP, I am close to the halfway point, and remembered that i’d neglected some small but significant details in the most recent rising action. Adding those in — giving my protagonist a much-needed sling for his broken arm, and leaving his helmet where he could pick it up later — pushed my daily word count up and over the hump of 24,000 words. It feels rather like reaching the landing on a tall set of stairs, like climbing the Temagami Tower. Every step forward is more and more an accomplishment, and also scary as hell. Is it going to work? Am I going to find a suitable climax? Will I know who the skeleton belongs to, and who my protagonist has been talking to all this time?

My edits on Crystal and Wand are now in the hands of my publisher, and I need to push forward on promotions. Thinking of organizing a book release party in late May or early June, but the prices of the location I want are making me cringe, slightly. So many expenses are coming: the field trip to Ottawa in three weeks, registration for my son’s soccer team, day camp, and referee course, hubby’s trip to the Shriner convention, Bridget’s guitar lessons, and travelling to Montreal to drop the boy off and pick him up again after a week of Space Camp. If I do a release party, I’ll have to preorder a load of print copies — not just the final book of the trilogy, but the others as well, topping everything up so I have some tidy stacks. Swag needs updating and replenishing, too.

This evening, I also attended the Grade 8 Parent Information Night, in preparation for my son to enter high school in the fall. It’s occurred to me over the last few weeks that not only is Jack heading into grade 9 in six months or so — we have about five years to go, and then he’ll be off to post-secondary somewhere. And Bridget is nearly 5 years behind him. That means a bare ten years of children at home, and then we’ll be back to an empty nest, except on holidays, perhaps.

I feel like I’m developing emotional whiplash.