Random thought: Repeated phrases and expressions — favourites or slackery gone wild?

Do you ever notice that sometimes writers or groups of writers will start using the same phrases or patterns over and over again? Like, in M*A*S*H, Hawkeye would often break into a long monologue using variations on a theme, my favourite being his response to being told to carry a gun.

When you start binge-watching, these patterns become more and more clear. Sometimes it’s just the music used in certain scenes — as much as I love Chuck, for example, the love-theme music gets a little grating when it comes on, after five or six episodes.

But those lines. I wonder sometimes if it’s because we catch onto certain expressions that become our favourites, or if it’s a bit of laziness. I know for myself, I have a habit of falling into “all hell broke loose” — I just enjoy the visual behind it. The implications. But when a favourite phrase gets overused . . . I have to ask why.

Like Castle: he always knows just what to do. It gets annoying.

So lately, I’ve been bingeing on Daredevil, ’cause it’s AWESOME, and I’ve noticed another one. Matt Murdock says it, and then I heard Vanessa say it, too. The line is “And here we are.” Or, its variant: “So here we are.” It’s just interesting — is the repetition intentional, or overlooked? If it’s meant to be one character’s thing, why does another character say it?

Anyway, that’s just my random thought for the night. Happy weekend!

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!

Musings on what influences the setting / environment of a story

When you have to go to the bathroom particularly badly, the sound of running water is the last thing you need or want to hear. (Well, unless you’re in the woods and will be needing to wash your hands afterward. Or if you are in a public restroom and require a little sensory input — a little encouragement — before starting the flow.)

Went for a walk yesterday, and the sound of running water was the sweetest thing I’d heard in a long time. Months, actually.

Today, raindrops pattering and splashing added themselves to the symphony that is nature waking up. Cold and damp, sure, but a welcome change of pace. Rain helps the melt to hurry itself along. It’s not perfect timing — a highway just a few hours to the south was washed out — but I’ll take the rain over more snow.

Fellow writers, do you find that it’s easier to write scenes that take place in certain weather conditions or climates if you actually live in or visit those conditions? Or is it easier to research and rely on imagination?

For example, a few summers ago while I was working on Blood and Fire, I was doing a lot of the writing in the summer, basking in the heat of the sun and enjoying the scents and colours of my backyard. It was fun, at that time, to think back on the winter. Nostalgic, even. Romantic, too. But the snowmobiling story I’m currently working on also takes place in winter, and as we’re just coming out of it, I feel as though I’m rather venting my weariness of being cold and snowbound. In fact, I find myself wondering why I didn’t decide to write about being some place hot and tropical, if only for the temporary mind-escape.

I do think that writers should travel as much as possible, especially when researching a locale, in order to get a real sense of a place and be authentic in sensory details and description, but how many of us can afford to do that? More often than not, imagination and research in the old-fashioned way has to stand-in for hopping a plane or driving the distance to the setting of the book. That can be frustrating in some ways. I read about writers who get to travel, and I feel more than a little pen-envy, but such is life, right?

Here’s another thought: if you can’t afford to travel, and you don’t want to research a place, is it cheating a little bit to set a story in your own regional backyard?

Of course, that leads me to wonder whether we really choose the stories we’re telling. On some metaphysical level, sometimes I feel like the stories are already out there, waiting for the right teller or writer to latch onto them or provide a conduit. And therefore, deciding to write about a place you’ve never experienced previously becomes less of a choice and more of a commitment. A journey, even if it’s in words alone.

I don’t know if I’m making any sense. I’m very tired and going to bed shortly. But as I’ve been working on this snowmobile story for Camp NaNoWriMo, changing the original timing from February to March and as I said, using my current combination of animosity toward and enjoyment of winter to fuel the setting and plot, I find myself wondering how differently this might compose itself had I started it in June or July, sitting in my backyard, rather than buried behind four walls and waiting out the siege of ice and snow.

Coffee with a Pepsi Chaser for the beginning of the end of the Talbot Trilogy

Yup. That’s my poison. I am not a lover of the roasted bean by any means, but I’ve learned over the last year to appreciate its mellow taste and pick-me-up. That’s the last on the list of things I swore I’d never drink, when I was 7 years old: coffee, tea, and alcohol. 

Of course, when I was 7, I also believed that swallowing orange seeds would result in a tree sprouting in my stomach and growing up through my throat, branching out of my mouth, nose and ears. Horrible. 

And I firmly believed that Dracula, the Wolfman, Frankenstein, and the Mummy lurked in my closet, waiting to creep out after the lights were turned off. And that when I lay in my bed, staring up at the night sky, I was seeing the other side of the earth, a comforting thought — until I realized that I was actually seeing the moon. Around that time, the monsters stopped slithering out among the shadows when a little friend advised me, during a sleepover, that I could imagine my favourite superheroes defending me against them. 

When I was old enough to read on my own, I devoured the Little House books, and Anne of Green Gables, and fantasies like The Blue Sword. I was nearly always reading, and when I wasn’t reading, I was making up stories on my own. I dreamed of one day getting my stories read by others, being a published writer — the top of a list of things I swore I would achieve. 

I bought a new keyboard and mouse today, and moved furniture so I can sit comfortably at my desktop, even though the desk itself is slightly too small for my frame (oh, ergonomics!). Hubby hasn’t noticed yet, and when he does, he’ll likely complain — after all, the old keyboard worked perfectly fine, if we ignored the sticking keys (result of kids sneaking food [okay, in all honesty, we let them do it] over by the computer) and slow performance, and the mouse was the same deal — and the new keyboard I bought is more like that of a Mac, with shallow keys and a lighter frame. What can I say? I like the aesthetics of the look. I was going to go wireless, but I went with the cheaper parts that plug in, and now I can get back to doing what I need to do: finish the edits on the final novel of my trilogy. 

I’m so close now, everybody. If I can keep my kids occupied for a day or so, I think that’s all I might need. So often, over the last nine years — I started writing the Talbot Trilogy when Bridget was born and I was on parental leave (“Oh, I’ll use the time to write a book” Hah! Sooo naive!) — I cursed myself for making my leap into professional writing with a trilogy. How could I do this to myself? After Wind and Shadow was done, and its prequel novella, Mist and Midnight, it seemed so easy to leap right into Blood and Fire, especially as I completed the first book in time to start the second as part of NaNoWriMo. But then I faced issues with my plot, character development, problems cropping up that I hadn’t expected. The haul through book two was as hard as my third year of university, when I knew that the end of the process was coming but it was still so far away. Starting this final installment, Crystal and Wand, was brutal, because I now understood what I was putting myself in for, and I honestly didn’t really know how it was going to end. Oh, I had a general idea, but once again my characters were misbehaving and taking over, making decisions without my approval. But now . . . it’s happening. The novel is nearly in its final form. 

Writing is very much like putting on a play, in my experience. It’s the same creative process in many ways. Exciting to jump in at first, until the realities of the hard work, effort, and exhaustion set in. And then it’s hard to keep going, but the vision compels you — giving up simply isn’t an option, because then the vision won’t be realized. That being said, I now know what it is to also dread the next project, be it writing or theatre, knowing how much it takes to make the dream happen. But I also know how very much it’s worth the struggle. 

Anyway . . . stay with me, folks. As soon as edits are done and the final stages of the process are under way — pdf approval, and print copy readthrough — I’ll start setting up some contests and promotional events, not just for Crystal and Wand, but for the series as a whole. Nine years in the making. It’s a beautiful thing.


@(*#&$#(*&$(#@&( I cut it too close again! Okay, technically this post was finished on March 19th, for those of you keeping track of my 365 Days of Blogging personal challenge!

Spin, spin, spin, and breathe, you silly woman!

I’m actually catching up on some marking tonight (it’s a miracle!) but the price is I haven’t gotten to work on the snowmobiling story. Yet.

I really need to figure out a title for that WIP.

Been having that hamster-wheel feeling again. The world turning without a break, no time to stop and catch breath. I do anyway and end up wrestling with guilt over what I haven’t accomplished. I’ve made some lists and few items get checked off before more gets put on. The pile of stuff to get done grows like the layers of clean laundry thrown on top of the dog’s cage, waiting to be dealt with and staring me in the face.

And there’s a divide between work stuff and home stuff. Some of it blends — I can make phone calls for appointments on my lunch break or prep period, and I can bring marking home or plan lessons on my computer. I know of some professionals who leave work at work, and concentrate on home at home. I don’t seem to be able to do that a whole lot. I’ve been marking my Writer’s Craft students’ flash fiction horror stories since they were submitted on Feb 9, and I’m still not done. It takes me an average of an hour to an hour and a half per story, going through it for constructive feedback on how well the story communicates the genre and theme, how effectively the writing process and collaboration were used, and the degree to which the individual reflected on his/her process. After one or two of those, I just can’t do any more for the day, or even the next day. Editing fatigue, perhaps. Right now, I’m taking a break on multiple-choice quizzes from my grade 9s, on conflict in literature and points of view, making sure they understood the concepts before we move on. And all three classes have progress reports due on Monday, with summative tasks being submitted on Friday. Plus Friday is my daughter’s skating show in the afternoon and evening, which means I have to run to her school on my lunch to pick her up and deliver her to the skating rink, make sure she’s in the right place (I’ll be asking some friends I’ve made, other parents whose children are in the skating lessons, to supervise her for the duration), and then dash back to the school for my afternoon class.

Even though the 24 Hour Playwriting Challenge is done, and video posted, nothing has really slowed down. The next projects were lining up even before that was finished. (Breathe) I started looking into accommodations for the Ottawa ComicCon trip, only to find out that the ideal location — Carleton U — doesn’t take school groups until after the date of the convention. There’s also Sears Drama Festival, which I’ve committed to helping with (I said I’d organize the maps and goody bags for each participating school, and assist / supervise training the stage manager and the technical needs of the play being done), and I was asked last night if I wanted to run a drama program for a summer day camp in the area, in July. (Breathe) On top of that, I still have to sign off on my students’ IEPs, submit my emergency lessons, assess my students’ blogs, and run off the progress reports.

And Bridget still needs me to help her finish her sewing project.

And Jack needs a shelf for his room.

And the house is steadily declining in the clean we had achieved for my mother-in-law’s visit.

There is good news in all of this, though. After many weeks of waiting, our snowblower was finally returned to us, fixed, and Hubby used it today to smooth and enlarge our parking area. I’m enjoying my new purses — the Bag of Holding Con Edition, and the white bowling-type bag — plus my new Book Bag came in today, along with a Book Pillow for my desk at school. And it hit me the other day just how much I’ve done so far in this school year.

And there’s still my third novel to come out. I’m just waiting for the edits to come back to me, and the final copy of the cover, so I can delve into publicity once more. (Breathe)

And that’s why I’m a bit frustrated at myself for not getting back to the Snowmobiling Story tonight. Writing is one of my escapes. This one is particularly important, as I’m using it to reach those struggling grade 11 readers. (Breathe) I’d really like to know, one of these days, why I keep putting these things on myself. I am a glutton for punishment. An auteur of overachievement and guilt when I want to back away from being an overachiever. Maybe I’m trying to assuage some guilt by doing things, or maybe it’s just that doing things gives me an excuse to avoid housework.

One thing I do know: the things I put together with my students make a lot of people, including myself, feel pretty damned good.

If I could harness my subconscious to do my will . . . plus problems with writing from imagination vs experience

Do you ever have one of those dreams where you’re not sure if it was real the next day? I get that once in a while. Last night I had another.

I had taken a summer job working in an office, doing some kind of bookkeeping, and several of my colleagues were there — mostly women, though, including friends of mine named Kam, Colette, Kim, Monica, and maybe Golda. I wasn’t happy about the job, but I needed the money. My daughter was hanging around and I could see that my boss disapproved, so I had to send her home. In addition to feeling badly about that, there was a big meeting and the managers announced that everyone was expected to participate in some kind of super-high-efficiency diet involving seeds, alfalfa, kale, and other nutritious but gross-tasting foods. We weren’t allowed to bring anything processed or fatty or sugary to work for lunch or snack breaks.

I was really pissed off at this point. I refused to play along, declining to accept the starter-pack that was being given out and throwing the stink-eye at the smelly tea that Kam was trying to drink down, and I knew I was in trouble. Thankfully, I was sent out on a professional call, so I determined to bring back some real food to save my friends’ tastebuds.

Right before I left, one of the other employees — a petite blonde — tried to give me a ring that kept turning to a gummy in my hand. She looked at me desperately, and I realized that if I concentrated, the ring would keep its form. Once that happened, I knew that what was really going on was some kind of trap, prison, or spell: each of my employees was really a fairy-tale heroine, locked away from their own worlds in this sterile office and forced to eat crappy raw grains and seaweed. It would be my job to help them remember who they were and break free. (At this point, I realized that I was combining Parks and Recreation with Once Upon a Time, but I wanted to help my friends, so I kept it going.)

So I left the office with its maze of partitions and cubicles and meeting rooms and drove down a block of closely-constructed townhouses. There was a railway crossing and I was having a hard time stopping the car. I hit the brakes, and I’m right on the line, so I start to reverse. A school bus (empty) pulls around me and tried to get over the tracks but got hit by the oncoming train. I was thankful that we hadn’t been smucked, but then I see in my rearview mirror that a police officer is waving me over, having video-taped the whole event.

After getting a ticket, I went back to the office and went in preparing to do battle. To my surprise, everyone was eating pizza. Real pizza! So I looked closely at the boss, and there was a glint in her eye, something that suggested manipulation . . .

And then I woke up. I really wanted to go back in and continue the story, see if I could free Snow White, etc. from the web of lies and deception, but I’ll never find out how it ended. See, I can’t just pick up a dream the next night from where it left off. I can think about it as I’m relaxing into sleep, but then my subconscious will just take over and do whatever it wants. Most annoying are the times when I’m walking along endless highways, or the thing where I realize I’m driving a car from the passenger seat or backseat and I have to try to slide into the proper part of the vehicle.

Tomorrow night, the 24 Hour Playwriting Challenge starts. I have some registrations but I have the feeling that a few students might join up at the last minute. I’ve never done something like this before, so it’s going to be a learning experience, hopefully with a steep curve. And lots of coffee. We’re not staying up all night, but still, I’m going to need it, I think. Then Saturday will be the all-day part, with rehearsal and whatnot — definitely going to be a coffee day. I feel like I should be more stressed about it than I am presently, but it’s going to hit me tomorrow with full force anyway.

I’ve also promised some struggling students in my grade 11 english class that I’ll write them a story involving snowmobiles, because that’s what their main interest is and it may help them connect to reading. The only trouble is that I don’t do snowmobiling: my experience is limited to three incidents:

— I was around 9 or 10 and taken for a brief ride on the back of a parental friend’s snow machine. It was loud and stinky.

— My brother tried to take our dad’s new-to-him snowmobile for a quick run around the yard (without permission) and got it stuck in the deep snow where the yard sloped. My friend Karen and I had to help him get it out before Dad came home. I think we did it — I have no recollection of any yelling or other upset from that night.

— I went ice fishing two or three years ago, as part of a staff social event, and got to ride in a sledge pulled by a snowmobile. It was, again, loud and stinky.

So I’ve told my students that they’re going to have to help me with the story. I mentioned this idea to my vice-principal, that I’d write a story and have the students decide where it will go or what the details are, and he didn’t seem overly thrilled with the concept. His thought was that we need to give the students “more agency” and encourage them to do these things on their own. That’s all fine and dandy, I agree with that very much, but when you’re working with kids who get antsy after being surrounded by four walls for half an hour, who aren’t into writing or reading beyond the absolute necessity, why not work together on something creative so they can get the feel of it? It’s still part of that “gradual release of responsibility” concept. And one student in particular, B, is excited that I’m going to write something for him, that he will get a say in but not have to tackle on his own.

I need to get going on this project. I’ve set the goal, a high-interest, medium-vocabulary read about snowmobiling, with a word count of 20,000 – 30,000, at least. The problem now for me is the plot. I talked it up with some of my lunchtime crew yesterday, gathering some ideas. I could do a story about a poker run — never done that — or getting lost or stuck on the trails, or breaking through the ice (have heard a firsthand experience from a friend). I have a vague idea about having to win the poker run in order to gain the cash prize that will allow the protagonist to achieve something important, like money for a sibling’s class trip to Toronto or something else that kids up here would recognize as having value. But beyond that . . . I’m at a complete loss. My head is blank. I can have these freaky dreams about crap from TV shows and stuff, yet I can’t put together a simple plot about a kid with a snowmobile?

I keep coming up with concepts, and that’s as far as I get. And they all feel so cheesy:

  • A kid who has built his own snow machine from scrap parts and discarded pieces in a junkyard races against kids with brand-new, top-of-the-line Skidoos, with the prize being a next-year model. Your typical underdog story, in which he learns the value of hard work, appreciating what he has, blah blah blah . . . (not feeling it, can you tell?)
  • A teenager who has witnessed a crime and escapes into the woods on his snowmobile, only to realize he’s being followed by the criminals. His only recourse to get away is to use the maze of the trails, but night is falling / blizzard comes up / warm weather has weakened the ice on the lake, so his dilemma worsens . . . (maybe this one, I could get excited with this)
  • When a girl takes her boyfriend (who’s just moved up from a southern town/city and has little experience with the snow/cold) for a run and their machine goes through the ice, she has to give him a crash course in winter survival as they trek back to the closest house / store for help . . . (after all, it’s not just for boys, right?)

Maybe I’ll just throw these suggestions at my students and see which one they like the most. Take it from there.

And I should probably get someone to take me snowmobiling at some point, so I have that experience for the writing.


A bit about Book Three of the Talbot Trilogy, and success in writing

Okay, I promise I will try not to harp on about the continuing Arctic levels of cold we’re experiencing in Northeastern Ontario, or the state of my house (surprisingly still relatively clean after a week!) or any of the usual.

Let’s talk about my upcoming book, Crystal and Wand: Book Three of the Talbot Trilogy.

It’s been a while in coming, but edits are happening at the moment and I’ve given my blessing to a cover layout currently being finalized. I’m hoping it will be released sometime in the spring, the culmination of something like nine years of (off-and-on) effort. Hubby and some friends and readers have suggested repeatedly that there could be more to it than these three books (Wind and ShadowBlood and Fire, and Crystal and Wand, plus the prequel novella Mist and Midnight), but since it was never meant to be anything more than a trilogy, I’m 99.9% sure that the story will end with this book.

So far, the feedback has been good. The handful of beta readers who have gone through Crystal and Wand have been pleased with the ending.

But the other question is this: am happy with it? Have I written something that makes me feel happy and satisfied?

It’s a good question.

I’m not entirely sure I know the answer. There were so many ways the story could have gone, options that could have been taken, and places where I was surprised by directions I didn’t see the plot or characters taking. That happened with the first and second books, too. But — without too many spoilers — the characters ended up where I had wanted them to be in the end, happy and moving forward in their lives. Well, most of them, anyway.

In my Writer’s Craft class the other day, we moved from writing flash fiction to looking at audience awareness, and I segued by briefly talking about measures of success. I offered them for comparison what I’ve read about the way markets measure success in bookselling and authors’ achievements — x number of books sold in a day, the attainment of Bestseller status in bookseller lists — and what authors like Stephen King have had to say about the meaning of being a successful writer, which is mainly loving what you do and continuing to do it. By the first measure, I haven’t even come close to the nadir (unsurprising given a variety of factors, including that I’ve only been selling my work for four years-ish, I’m an indie author with zero budget for advertising beyond what I redirect from my own family accounts, and all of the challenges that accompany that reality), yet by the second measure, I’m there. I keep writing, trying to keep from having any real expectation of attaining bestseller so I don’t end up feeling disappointed. Of course I harbour the hope that my books will reach some kind of popularity because I love knowing that someone out there is reading and enjoying my stories. I always love hearing that, and I’m grateful for the reviews I’ve had so far. I find it hard to pump my work sometimes because I don’t want to feel like a pest or a braggart. Yet I know the only way to find readers is to let people know that I’ve written a book and suggest they take a look at it. it’s a hard place to be in, but it’s the only place.

Crystal and Wand wraps up the first set of novels I’ve done, and that alone feels great. I like telling people about that, because speaking the words reminds me that I’m capable of achieving more than I believe I can, especially when depression and anxiety are starting to circle. The gratification also leads me to think about my next projects. I’m going to be working on a short story or novella for my grade 11 College English students who like snowmobiling — I’ve asked them to help me with the details, ensuring I get them right, because I’m not into snowmobiling but I really want to give them something to read that they’ll be into reading. One of several works that I’m considering, and having trouble deciding on . . .

After all, if writing is a journey, the first step is picking the direction in which to go. I need a compass. I’m good with requests, shorts, and challenging pieces. There’s one book in particular that I’ve been thinking about for two years, waiting on attempting until my trilogy was complete, but I already believe it’s going to take a monumental effort and I’ll have to work on it every day for months or years to shape it the way I see it in my head. But knowing that . . . having felt the wave of good feeling that comes from having completed a book on my own, writing a story from start to finish, it’s a goal I know I can meet if I put the time and thought into it.

Anyway . . . at the moment, I’m knee-deep in marking for this semester (already). My daughter is watching The Princess Diaries once again, while my son games upstairs in his room with varying degrees of noisiness. Doing laundry and putting the electric heater on has helped the furnace to warm the house to a sufficient degree of comfort. Hubby had to work at 4 am this morning so he’s been asleep since around 6 pm, and he’s working tomorrow morning at 5. No Valentine’s Day supper or anything, and that’s all right. He gave me a little blue French horn keyring earlier this week. We have our romance, whenever we need it or want it. Writing a fresh book is on my mind, in a bit of a backseat, creeping closer. In a few months, I hope, I’ll be holding a freshly printed copy of the final work in my trilogy, rounding off the set on my bookshelf, and embarking on the all of extras required in spreading the word. Hope you’re still with me when that happens — I’ll try to make it a hell of a ride!

The Queen of Procrastination

That’s what I used to call myself, years ago in high school. Not much has changed. The trouble is that every option seems to be as important and I feel stuck, unable to decide what to do.

At this moment, my options include:
-doing the dishes
-shovelling out the car, which is bottomed out in the driveway (but hubby said he’d do it when he gets home)
-doing my marking (a task which feels impossibly overwhelming but I know will likely not be once I get going on it)
-making lunch
-folding laundry
-adding a section to Blood and Fire so I can send it back, edits complete

I hate feeling torn between tasks. But having written them down, I already know that dishes will come first. Why? Because I’m hungry, and the kids are as well (we all slept in and our schedules are off), and it’s the easiest way to feel accomplished. Little steps, right? After that, I’ll put some bread on to bake, and then mark one folder. Then do some writing. I will try to do a little bit at a time to get through.

Wish me luck! It’s not just the ground that’s frozen outside — sometimes, it’s my motivation, too.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

Interview on The Romance Radio Network!

Please enjoy my latest online talk, with Desmond Haas, and leave a comment or a question, if you like.

I recorded this on one of our last beautiful sunny days in October of 2013, sitting in my backyard with the grass under my feet and the leaves skittering on warm breezes around me.

It was a real pleasure to chat with Desmond for a little while, and I truly enjoyed the experience. What a nice memory to have in the middle of the dark and cold Northern Ontario winter!

Romance Radio Network Interview