Friday, January 28, 2011

TGIF - It's Almost February!

Do you ever have one of those weeks, in this case one of those months, when the days have rolled up and rolled right over top of you.  That's how I feel as the week ends and the month draws to a close.   It's been a long week - let's not even talk about the month.  I've met a personal deadline, got the latest book off to my critique partner and now I'm going through the slower and slightly lazier process of reading through and brush picking before I get her thoughts back. 

But it's not just books that have flattened me this month.  It's been one of those periods in life where everything seems to happen at once.  In fact, today a friend asked about plans for November.  I laughed.  Right now plans for anything that extend past a week or two seem out of the question.  I'm almost scared to suggest a plan in case it might tempt the fates to make a mockery of it all.

Banks of Snow
Today was a good example of what I mean.  In another version of "The best laid plans of mice and men" I head out for a quick walk to get some fresh air as temperatures have shot up to a balmy few degrees below zero.  I took my usual shortcut on a walkway that cuts between our crescent and the next street, except someone had shoveled snow into the path.  Not just a little snow but all the snow that had previously resided on their roof - a lot of snow - directly into my path.  Hey, we've reached record snowfalls for this time of year - yeah, a record I was anxious to make.

Rourke before the incident.
Anyway, it looked hard enough so I forged on.  I figured I could kind of snowshoe over the top of it with my completely non-snowshoeing boots.   I'm sure if Rourke could speak he would have cursed me out then and there as he sank up to his little belly in snow.  I wasn't feeling too happy myself when snow lodged between my sock and boot and stayed there for the duration of the walk.  Need I mention a small incident with a ripped plastic bag and a present that Rourke left later on the walk - let's only just say ew!

And that's how plans have been going the last little while.  So I stopped, planning that is.  But when I say I'm not planning - now I'm not saying writing goals - they're different.  Those are hanging on my wall as I speak.  Of course the fates have giggled their way through these attempts too and before the end of the weekend I'm on a mission to tweak one or two of them.  But things aren't looking so bad on that front.  Nope, it's the rest of my life that's running right now rather like an errant tank that no one's sure which direction it's going to turn next.  But that's January.  I'm seeing February around the corner and that will be a whole other puppy.

In the meantime TGIF - it's Friday - there's a glass of wine with my name on it and, what some call, some really bad television waiting on the PVR.   What more can one ask?   I'll contemplate the rest next week, or better yet, next month.


Wednesday, January 26, 2011

A Blast from the Past

I love books.  I'm surrounded by them and I write them.  Yet, my first tool of research is the Internet.  Especially when it comes to answers regarding geography.  Any mapping I need to do is done online. 

Today I was searching for a river - it wasn't a major plot point but it's always good to know where your villain is heading and via which body of water.  Now having actually seen the river in question didn't seem to help - I was drawing blanks on the name.  Google search brought up a quarter of a million results.  You'd think I'd find the answer there but if any search could have been more conflicted it was this one. 

No, I don't want to raft down a river heading south into an elephant training camp, thank you very much.  No, I wasn't interested in the 2006 dam project or in which river borders Thailand and Myanmar.  And no, I wasn't interested in a stranger's travelogue by motorcycle or his view on the long necked women of Northern Thailand.  As interesting as all that seemed, I'm on a time line. 

Finally, I admitted defeat and decided a trip to the library was in order.  And that's when my mother-in-law came up with the answer.  Let's back this up, my MIL is the least electronically connected person I know.  She barely uses her television and she definitely doesn't own a computer.  I've teased her about this whenever a question arises for which she has no answer. "You know if you had a computer you could google that."  She always laughs and brushes it off. 

Today, in a phone call she asked what I was doing?  I explained my recent frustration to which she replied, "If I had my Dent's Atlas handy I'd look it up for you."

Atlas - The answer was slapped in front of me in her innocent reply.  In my electronic fervor I'd forgotten that there was a book I hadn't touched in years thanks to the subtle sweep of Internet into my life.  The atlas had my answer and didn't need a quarter of a million hits or a trip to the library to do it.  Five minutes later I was adding the name of one elusive river into my story and calling it good.

Technology might be the first option but it's not always the best.  Looks like I'll be keeping that atlas, at least for another year or two.  There's something to be said about the stories and tools of the past.


The dirtiest book of all is the expurgated book.”  - Walt Whitman

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

There Is No Second Prize

What do you do?  It's a common question for someone to ask what your work is.  In a way it's how western society defines people, how we box and package them. Let me say right now that it's one that has always annoyed me.  I'm so much more than what I do. 

But that's not reality so onward to the point.  Why is it so hard to say I am a writer?

The question arose quite literally on a plane ride.  When a discussion with a complete stranger spiraled into a question regarding employment.  I ventured to say that I was a writer.  It was a trial balloon and led to a discussion of my two published novels.  But what made the whole conversation thought provoking, at least for me, was when she asked me if I could make a living at it.

What kind of question is that?  Obviously you can - check out the Bestseller List, a living and a darn fine one at that.  Can everyone make that kind of living?  Probably not.  Was the question, am I?  Now that's getting personal.

Of course there's a reason for everything and her question soon led to her reasoning, some day she was going to write a book.  Not now, tomorrow or even next week, just some day.  Like writing a book was like walking to the local store - barring a disability of some kind anyone could do it.  I chugged back any snide comments along with an initial reaction to wrap one of my bookmarks around her well-meaning neck.  But I'm nicer than that, after all I write romance.  I smile and give her a bookmark.  Better than that I encourage her in her future, and now non-existent career.  Of course any one can do it, it's just a matter of setting pen to paper.  I think I may have ground a filling right off my tooth on landing but that's another story.

So what does it take to be a writer?  I think if you're tripping over the dog and scalding yourself with coffee in the early morning hours trying to get one more page completed before the world wakes up and demands attention; if you're weeping over the latest rejection letter or if you're holding your royalty cheque in your hand, no matter how tiny - you're a player who's earned the title, Writer. Your writing career is as real as your commitment to it, whether that career functions as one job or two.  Now why is it so darn hard to say it?  Isn't that kind of like asking whether your reflection in the mirror is real or fake?  Of course your mirror image is real, just as real as the fact that you write.  Eureka - writer!

To get branded as a writer it means writing in the midst of two "wonderful" things - rejection and waiting in no particular order.   Rejection, even though there's been lots of good stuff these last few years including publication, writing that word makes me want to snarl and spit.  Fortunately, my hubbie has learned to ignore me and the dog has taken my reaction to be a sign to bring out one of his larger stuffed animals and try to have his way with it.  Let's not even go into what this might mean.

But I'm off course - If you want to read more of all the bad stuff that makes a "real" writer I have the blog for you.  Just remember that this particular visit will dump you right out of the Disneyland lingo here and into the real world with a bang that may hurt some of your sensibilities - be brave, venture forth to Terribleminds.

Time to get real, there is no second prize - do they pay you for what you love best? And if not, why not?


Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Hazards of the Road - Road Kill

The fun thing about travel is tripping on the unexpected, the unfamiliar and the best way to do that is meet the locals. That holds true anywhere.  No matter how short a distance you travel.

Footprints in the snow
A jaunt to Minneapolis in these days of ultra security makes a winter trip between two cold regions a challenge.    I'm used to packing much lighter but it's a trick to figuring out how to go lighter.  Boots, coats, mitts all take room and all need to be divested in security lines and stowed in tight plane seating.  Taking less is an option but winter storms are unpredictable.  By our 9:30 a.m. arrival in the U.S. it felt like evening, I was having serious empathy for parents with toddlers, although my ears were still ringing from the toddler who cried and screamed the entire flight.  That same little boy was now smiling sweetly a passenger or two ahead of me.

While I was writing this post I stumbled on an incident at a border crossing that only emphasized that some jobs may just be ideal for a writer.  Fiction often falls out of real life and at a border crossing there's no busier intersection of lives.  Click here for more.

But I digress, I finally made it through the immigration line - having as usual chosen the wrong line.  The slowest one with an immigration officer who bellowed angry orders to frustrated travelers at regular intervals.  When it was finally my turn, it was like I was facing a different man.  A man wearing a smile and with the parting words; "Have a good trip hon".

Hon?   Not a term you'll hear casually thrown out north of the U.S. border at least where I come from.  But soon it's also not the only time I hear hon.  I assume that this is part of the local lingo except I never hear the term again after leaving the airport.  Is it possible that the airport is a culture unto itself?  Or I just don't look like hon anymore?

A Farm in Minnesota
It was before leaving the airport that we met a true lover of winter.  A woman at the shuttle desk told us how other travelers had questioned her sanity for remaining in such a cold climate.  Then she asked us how we liked Saskatchewan winter and then preceded to tell us about all her winter adventures in Minnesota from ice fishing to ski dooing.  She glowed as she told us about them.  I have to admit, I kind of admired her adventurous winter spirit for despite my place of origin, winter just isn't my thing.  Since leaving my toboggan days as a child, those chilly little flakes haven't held much appeal.  I mean snow is pretty, for about twenty-four hours or until you get stuck driving your car to the local convenience, take your pick.  On the upside, as my mother says, it keeps crime down - why? see, I knew you'd bite - too cold to go outside and all the criminals stay indoors.  That's her theory.  I believe she's also been known to say that it keeps tempers at a minimum - no one's blood can heat up in sub zero temperatures.  And if you believe that I'll give you a hotline to more Momisms.

We're in Laura Ingalls Wilder territory now at least during her time On the Banks of Plum Creek - from  Little House on the Prairie fame and not the Michael Landon TV version, for those of you who didn't devour the original series as children.  Laura really had a knack of making winter look romantic.  Sorry Laura, not even for you.

So fast forward to the hotel where there's a shuttle to the Mall of America.  But from my hotel window I could see Macy's, an anchor store, across the parking lot.  Now I'm puzzled, why the need for a shuttle except maybe for the old or infirm. So we inquire about bus times and mall access, thinking that one might have to walk around the gigantic structure to enter and thus the necessity for a shuttle.  And when hearing that's not the case inquire if there was an undetected reason for us using the shuttle. "No, ma'am (another term not much heard north of the border), it depends where you come from and what kind of cold you're used to.  Some of our guests take the shuttle because it's too cold or to bring their shopping back," he replied in his easy southern drawl.  I bit back my questions that begin with where he might be from as there was no hint of Minnesota in that accent and assured him that we would walk across the parking lot.

But it was on our departure from that hotel when things got interesting.  A conversation began with the inevitable question, "Where are you from?"  This time there was no need to tag Canada to the long enough already Saskatchewan.  This time I heard for the first time; "Oh, I've been there."  But it was his next comment that really made the conversation interesting,  "Drove from Regina to Saskatoon - expected to see more road kill.  I was surprised I didn't see any at all.  Was it the wrong time of year?

Rewind - what?  Road kill?

For a moment I was at a loss.  For one, I'm a city girl and for two, I'm an animal lover.  Road kill just isn't in my reality.  But a comment like that definitely had to be explored.  So here's the scoop:

According to this local hotel manager, the roads of Minnesota are littered with dead animals in hunting season.  Not shot but run over, and lots of them.  I think he expected, because Saskatchewan is less populated and a similar prairie landscape, that we'd have the same or more.  I assured him that even in hunting season there wasn't a lot of road kill.  And it usually takes a much longer trip to see wild life of any kind - usually live.  A coyote or two, some antelope or deer - all still breathing and usually loping in the distant fields, and maybe as far as road kill, on a busy day, a lone squashed skunk or deer was about all you were going to see and often, thank goodness, not even that.   So after a discussion about live versus squashed viewing, we went on our separate ways.
Winter Highway, Saskatchewan

Somehow I don't think road kill is going to make it to the list of things to see and do in either Minnesota or Saskatchewan.  Although I should never say never.  And for those of you with a more macabre bent or a slightly twisted sense of humour, check out Road Kill Recipes.

The world is a big place and it's littered with interesting characters.

Any characters in your recent travels both near and afar?  Or do you have another take on road kill?  And please, not another recipe. 


Saturday, January 8, 2011

Dirty Little Secrets

Calgary, Alberta

Recently I was in Calgary and between that and another trip that's falling on the shoulders of the last, I'm not holding up my usual working schedule.  Add a trip or two to the usual craziness of the holiday season that already includes a number of birthdays, and let's just say that plans, schedule, whatever you want to call it = disaster. 

Writing has suffered a blow or two as time usually dedicated to words has been hammered on all sides.  I did manage to dabble, something I do when I feel overwhelmed.  Overwhelmed, because this year I set my goals just a little higher and so I thought I'd start the year off with a bang - at least writing wise.  And in these first few days of the new year, the opposite occurred. 

Calgary, Alberta - Circa 1885
Maybe I set my goal sights too high - no wait, I didn't.  As I told my critique partner who is suffering early start syndromes of her own, it was only the beginning of the race and a slight stumble off the blocks is nothing.  Really, it's rather like the settlements of long ago eventually growing to a city.  It's the end results that really matters.  This is the year, as I said in a previous blog, that I'd set some bars.

So as time lines shrink and I know that to make the first deadline I must get that story into my critique partner's hands with enough room for the usual back and forth between us before making the last and most important deadline, I panic but only for a moment.  I've been here before, deadlines are what they are and I know what I can do.  I'll make the deadline, at least the one that matters, the one that I promised to someone other than myself.   But first, another short jaunt, this time to Minneapolis - let's just say that next week will be a case of double time catch up.

See you then - with maybe a story or two about life south of the border.

Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans.

Deadlines - I never shirk unless they're made to self.   That's my dirty little secret, what's yours?


P.S.  remember we're trying to go, as the movies say, pg.  So, despite the title of this post  - you'll have to spare us the real dirt.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Bring It

Margaritas on the table, supper a few hours away and the snow is beginning to slowly drain away.  What more can someone ask for?

In the lull between cocktails and supper - Chinese if anyone cared, my two fave cooks, hubbie and a good friend, are scouring a new online site on herbs.  I, having been relegated to the kitchen out of necessity, is relieved to finally release those duties to someone with a talent for culinary pursuits.  And listening to the exchange revolving around Vietnamese cinnamon and black sesame,  I can hear the passion in the possibilities.

Rourke's passion - stuffed animals - and apparently, eyeshadow - insert shrug here. 
Passion.  That gut wrenching, must do emotion that drives one forward and perseveres even through every obstacle, major or minor.  It's the reason you'll steal time anywhere you can even if five o'clock a.m. becomes a regular visual on the bedside alarm.  It's similar in every endeavor.  Passion is what drives us.

For me it's words.  But sometimes through the long hours of getting that first draft onto paper, something gets lost in the translation.  Whether you lose direction or suffer from verbiage - the result is a story needing an overhaul. 

An overwritten first draft is rather like an over-spiced dish.  Except, according to my resident chefs, maybe a tad easier to fix.  At least with a story you can scale back and strip it down to the bones to find the guts that first drove the idea into life.

The reality is that passion easily settles into the day to day mundane and ideas get lost in word counts and line edits.  But you would never have begun it in the first place if there hadn't been special in those first words.  There have been many words written in the history of mankind and many words to come.  Only twenty-six letters in the English alphabet and still the possibilities are endless.

As Randy says on American Idol - Bring It!  Be your best - show the exceptional that only you can bring.  And always that's what you have to do whether it takes one draft of twenty.  Remember the passion and the excitement that was the inception of the idea?  What made it special?  Go there even if you, and you probably will, have to edit your way back to that wonderful beginning.

Tchaikovsky's Fifth Symphony is playing in the background.  Now there was a master at passion - he brings it with every note.  Listening to that provides a whole lot of inspiration.

How are you planning to bring it this week?