Saturday, December 27, 2008

Time to embrace a keyboard

Okay, I'm officially tired of shopping, cooking, wrapping gifts, and playing host. Good-bye to the tree, the decorations, and all that calorie-rich food. A good 10 or 12 hour hit on a keyboard is what I need right now. When do you take your tree down? Mine's outside on Boxing Day. My husband says I'm brutal, that I should leave it up until New Year's eve, but I'm all about pre-Christmas festivities. After the big day comes and goes, I'm done.

A new year looms and that means it's time for a new look on my website (check) and a new routine where writing comes first, and everything else follows. Each year, snow and cold weather aside, it's this shift alone that makes me love January!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Getting physical (in a good way)

My husband began running in 2006. Since then he's completed three marathons and six half-marathons. I think it's great, even more so because my oldest, now twelve, began following his lead last year, running 3 km, 5 km, and recently a 10 km run.

This past Saturday, my youngest, now ten and recently diagnosed with Tourette's Syndrome, ran his first 5 km run, the Santa Shuffle, which raises money for the Salvation Army. I watched with my sister, who was visiting, and our dog Sully. (No, I don't run. At least not yet, though I've been spending time on my treadmill and elliptical machines 5 days/week for the last ten months).

Anyhow... my oldest finished Saturday's 5 km run in 28 mins, running across the finish like a deer, barely breaking a sweat. My youngest (paced by his dad) finished in 41 minutes, blinking and twitching so badly as he crossed the finish line I almost cried. (His Tourette's, which often occurs in bouts where he'll twitch/blink involuntarily, is worse when he's stressed). He was worried he wouldn't be able to do it, so worried he'd had trouble sleeping the night before, and yet when he ran up to me at the end, winded and red-faced, he was clearly riding a euphoric high. You could see it in his eyes.

Later, I watched all kinds of people struggling across that same finish line, some taking 60 mins, others 65 or even more. There were parents pushing kids in strollers, couples running with their dogs, groups of elderly who'd walked. Some were robust and healthy, others overweight and out of shape, but they all finished and for that they deserve a high-five.

Running has exploded over the last decade. I think it's great because you don't need talent to do it, you can run as a family, you compete against yourself, and anyone can do it. Anyone.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Wonton soup & the measure of a man

I know a restaurant that sells amazing Wonton soup and each time I go there I'm reminded of the Seinfeld episode where Jerry, George, Elaine and Kramer patiently wait in a long line-up to buy a bowl of soup from the infamous "soup guy" at this hole-in-the-wall restaurant in New York that draws crowds of people from all walks of life.

Same thing at this restaurant. There's always a line-up, never enough tables, and the same broad mix of customers. I love going there, because its not pretentious and it speaks to the soup's ability to cut through the invisible social barriers that so often divide us (like how much we make for a living, or the kind of car we drive, or how big our house is).

That said, last Friday I made an impromptu trek into the city to buy take-out soup, a reward for completing a chapter I'd been working on and (more importantly) finishing the last coat of paint on my basement-wall-from-hell which had been ripped apart ten days earlier to accomodate a plumbing repair.

When I arrived, there was the usual line-up. I took note of three businessmen obsessively checking their blackberries, a teenage girl texting, two construction workers and a man who looked like he was homeless given the Safeway cart he'd just parked outside with all manner of bags tied to it.

One of the blackberry-obsessed businessmen stood out more than the others. His suit screamed money and he kept talking on his phone in a too-loud voice. He also wore a fistful of garrish rings that he kept playing with as he tapped one foot impatiently, and a Rolex watch that clearly wasn't made on a production line focused on less-is-more. But what I noticed most was how often he glanced back at the homeless guy behind him, a look of disgust on his face.

When the businessman finally made it to the front of the line, he placed both hands on the counter and ordered his soup (loudly) then flushed red when he realized he didn't have his wallet with him. (Insert an awkward pause here while he pocket slapped for his missing wallet).

And then the most wonderful thing happened.

The homeless man stepped around him, walked up to the till, and withdrew a handful of small bills. With more class than the businessman would ever have, he then spoke to the teller in a polite, hushed tone, and paid for the man's soup. "Oh, no!" the businessman said, mortified. "You don't have to do that."

"I know," the homeless man replied. "But I want to."

The businessman thanked him and left with his head down, jumping into a Lexus and tearing off like his tires were on fire. Not long after that, it was my turn to order. I was distracted, smiling to myself as I watched the homeless man steer his Safeway cart across the icy parking lot outside, cradling his soup. I handed the teller my money, but she waved it away and nodded at him through the window. "He paid for yours, too."

"Mine?!" I said. "Why?"

The woman shrugged. "He said he wanted to pay for the homeless lady's soup behind him."

My eyes about popped out of my head. Homeless lady?! It wasn't until then that I glanced down and realized how I looked: hair sticking up everywhere, minimal make-up, a too-large but incredibly warm winter jacket, paint-splattered pants and a beat up pair of comfy clogs. In some ways I guess you could say the only thing I was missing was the Safeway cart!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Dr. Phil's demographic includes kids?

Every Monday night I take my ten-year-old to basketball practice and I watch drill after drill, bored out of my mind. Last week, a boy plunked down next to me on the bench and leaned his head back against the wall. He wasn't feeling good. I don't know this kid (my son only recently joined this team) so I wouldn't think he'd want to talk to me, let alone initiate a conversation, but he did, and it not only caught me off guard, it made me realize how much kids are exposed to today.

After a few minutes, he said, "You ever watch Dr. Phil?"

"Dr. Phil?"

"Yeah. He's on at four every day."

"No," I said. "I don't usually have TV on at four."

"You should," he insisted, leaning forward. "The guy's amazing!"

I must've given him a skeptical look because he carried on, as enthusiastic as a minister preaching to his congregation. "He, like, talks to people who are all messed up but don't know how badly they're messed up and then he gives them advice and tells them how to fix their marriages or get their families talking to them again or how to stop gambling and get a job so they can get their kids back. Things like that."

"Do you watch it a lot?" I asked.

"Every day," he confirmed.

"You must really like it."

"I do," he said, nodding. "It makes me feel better watching people with a lot of problems in their life, you know? Cause then I see I'm not the only one."

I thought about that all the way home. How watching Dr. Phil seemed to make him feel better about himself, and yet how sad it was that a ten-year-old would habitually make Dr. Phil part of every afternoon vs. climbing a tree or building a fort or laughing along with a more age-appropriate show like Sponge Bob.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

A must-have for serious writers

When asked for writing advice, bum glue is the first thing I suggest. I've been there. I get it. I know how easy it is to get distracted, how hard to stay focused, how quickly second-guessing yourself can morph into giving up entirely on what might have been a perfectly good book.

For some, this seems to happen around page fifty (I know a few writers with 4-5 projects on the go, each with approx 50 pages written) while others make it mid-way through the creation of their first draft (around 150-200 pages) before they feel that dreaded.... phfffft!

Like that, gone goes your enthusiasm, your confidence, your creative spark. Recognize this up-down rollercoaster ride? Been there too? If you've ever tried to write a novel, I'm sure you have. It's nothing new. You're not the only one afflicted with this problem and that alone is good news.

Keep in mind, the work, your best work, gets done in the rewriting. Always. Structural issues, character development, dialogue that sings, setting, pacing, dramatic tension, creation of sub-plots that strengthen the main plot -- none of these gets nailed in a first draft.

If I've learned anything over the years it's that I never share the first draft with anyone. Or the second. Matter of fact, these days no one reads it but my agent (who won't see it until it's a strong 3rd draft) and possibly 1 or 2 readers I've cultivated relationships with who can see the big picture and offer advice the way an editor might.

So sit down. Write. And do not move from your chair unless your house is burning down. Even if you write garbage for two hours, that's okay. You can always rewrite it, but at least you're moving your project forward. Here's the other side of the coin: if you allow distraction or procrastination or your penchant for obsessing over that unattainable concept of perfection stop you from writing, you may never get published at all. And wouldn't that be a bummer?!

Bum glue. Don't have any? Get some!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

I'm not heartless, just busy

I love this picture. In many ways it reminds me of my life in the form of a dike with a huge, craggy hole in the middle that I'm constantly stuffing with just-completed and half-completed and must-get-done activities so the dike won't burst if left on its own, creating utter chaos.

Here's my point: I'm having the worst time juggling and prioritizing and making everyone happy these days, especially with my husband away and traveling so much.

That said, last week I received a manuscript in my mailbox, which isn't unusual on its own. I often get unsolicited manuscripts, as other authors do. However, this one belonged to someone I've met a few times, but only vaguely know.

Attached was a card and a gift certificate for dinner. The note said, "This may be presumptive but would you mind reading my novel and giving some feedback? Any at all would be great. No hurry, no pressure. ie., if it were to take you a month, I'd understand. P.S. Either way, enjoy the dinner."

I flipped through the 512 page manuscript and took a long, slow breath. He's being naive, I thought. Naive and sadly misinformed about how little disposable time I have.

Careful not to hurt his feelings, I took the time to respond with a letter. In it, I politely explained that I really would like to help, but I don't have time to read his novel, not this month or next or even into the new year. I explained that I'm a month behind on my own novel. Then I gave him some general advice and a handful of pointers (2 paqes worth), suggested some books that might help him move his novel to a higher level, and attached a sample query letter for when it came time to look for an agent. I also returned the gift certificate.

Yesterday I ran into this guy at the dry cleaners. He was with his wife and after I smiled and said hello, he hurled this comment over his shoulder as they exited: "That's the author I told you about. The one who's too good to help anyone else out now that she's published!"

Words fail me, you know? They honestly do.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

God bless the plumber...

When I saw this sign, I cringed, thinking about all the nightmare jobs plumbers deal with. Maybe it was an omen. I have, after all, had my fair share of tradespeople coming and going these days -- the treadmill repair guy, the furnace man, an electrician who put in an extra panel for me.

Fast forward a week and here I am, with a plumber ripping apart a wall upstairs, looking for a leak that's making its way from the main floor down into our basement.

I feel sorry for tradespeople who work with the public. Honestly, I do. A painter we recently hired told me one woman wouldn't let him use her bathroom, even though she lived 10 mins from the nearest town and he worked at her house for three days straight. "Happens all the time," he said. Last week, the electrician said one guy wouldn't let him use his phone, even though there was no cell service in the area.

I don't understood people who hire someone and then treat them like garbage. What's the logic? Ego? The need to feel powerful and in control? It's demotivating and completely unnecessary, and if I worked for someone who treated me like that, I'm quite sure my mouth would get me fired faster than the job would get done.

Okay, there's my rant for the day. I'm off to offer my plumber a cup of coffee and get back to work on chapter twenty two. Have a good one!

P.S. We had 318 kids show up for Halloween, by the way.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Bracing for Halloween at our house

Confession: I've never liked Halloween, even when I was a kid. I hated dressing up in costumes (still do) and candy and sweets just aren't my thing. However, when I had kids, I got into the spirit of it for their sake.

I remember when they used to dress up like gorillas or magicians or skeletons. They'd carry plastic pumpkin pails and their heads would swivel with admiration when they saw all the other faux-fir or glow-in-the-dark sequined outfits kids were wearing. Not so anymore. Now they're 10 and 12, and they're hanging a fake dead body from the basketball hoop, setting up fog machines & strobe lights, and trying to decide how many movement activated spiders dropping from the roofline are too many.

Since moving here four years ago, without fail, we've had 250+ kids come streaming up the driveway between 7 and 9 pm every October 31st. The first year it happened, I was dumbstruck. The second, my 84 year old father-in-law was visiting and couldn't stop shaking his head. Last year I stayed bent over at the front door for a solid 30 minute stretch without straightening, shoveling candy into outstretched bags.

Hmmm... Maybe next year a family vacation away at the end of October might be in order! Think they'd go for it?!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Kudos for an article worth reading

Patricia Wood, author of Lottery, sent me a link to this article from Poets & Writers magazine (a favorite of mine; check it out if you haven't already) Thanks, Pat! If you're in the business, and plan to stay, I'd recommend reading it.

I've never met Chuck Adams, but I'd like to. I like what he says, how he says it, and the way he leaks common sense all over the page in this Q&A. For those who don't know, Chuck was the editor who acquired Sara Gruen's now infamous Water for Elephants. I've pasted three excerpts below:

Q. What are you looking for in a piece of writing?
A. The first thing is the voice. If it's got a strong voice, I'm going to keep reading. And if a story sneaks in there, I'm going to keep reading. To me, those are the two most important things. I want a voice and I want to be hooked into a story. I believe very strongly that books are not about writers, and they're definitely not about editors—they're about readers. You've got to grab the reader right away with your voice and with the story you're telling. You can't just write down words that sound pretty. It's all about the reader. You've got to bring the reader into it right away. If the writing is poetic and so forth, that's nice. I'm reading something right now that has an amazing voice, and I'm only fifty-six pages into it, but I'm already getting a little tired because it's so nice, if you know what I mean. It's so pretty. It's like every page is a bon bon, and I want a little break somewhere. It's become self-conscious, in a way.

Q. How long does it take you to know?
A. You can usually tell after a paragraph—a page, certainly—whether or not you're going to get hooked. Every now and then, something will surprise you. I remember one novel at Simon & Schuster that I was reading, more as a favor than anything else. The writing wasn't great, and the story was a little on the predictable side—it was okay, but a little boring—but then I got to the end and it surprised the hell out of me. I went back and thought, "F**k, this is really something. I would have given up after fifty pages if I hadn't promised somebody that I would read it." I ended up buying it and it did really well.

Q. This is the magazine's MFA issue. Do you have anything to say about them?
A. Obviously a lot of good writers have come out of MFA programs—you see it in their bios—so I know there's a lot of good work being done. I will confess that many of the MFA novels I see are better written than they are good books, if you know what I mean. There's a lot of good writing, but that doesn't necessarily add up to a good book. I feel like perhaps in those programs too much emphasis is being put on style and word choices rather than actually thinking about how to communicate with people. It's too much about—to make it sound terrible—but it's too much about showing off and not enough about trying to please a reader.

Again, I go back to the whole thing about storytelling. I'm old enough to have started reading back when it really was primarily about stories. I guess there were a lot of quality literary books being published then, but my mother didn't buy them. I read what was around the house: Edna Ferber and Daphne du Maurier and Mary Renault and Thomas B. Costain. These are writers you don't hear anything about anymore, but they were brilliant storytellers. They were also good writers, mind you, but they were brilliant storytellers. They would grab the reader right away and just not let go.

Today, I'm seeing better writing than the writing in those books, but I'm not seeing better storytelling. That was why Water for Elephants excited me. Sara is a really good writer. She's not a great stylist or anything—you're not going to sit down and read her sentences just for the beauty of them—but she tells such a great story.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

I'm not who they think I am

Each afternoon at 3:30 when my boys get off the bus, I meet them at the door, give them a hug, and then head back into to my office to write. I’m usually wearing a sweatshirt, carrying a chapter I just printed out, but clearly they see someone else -- possibly someone wearing an apron, carrying a tray of still-warm tarts. I know this because not long ago my youngest said, “Mom? Why don't you bake anymore?”

I hesitated. It wasn’t that I couldn’t remember when I’d stopped baking. I couldn't recall ever starting!

I admire people who bake, but it's not my thing. I tried years ago and got the same results over and over again. My cakes either sank into oblivion, came out like extra large hockey pucks or bubbled like volcanos and made my eyes burn when I opened the oven (it took three failed attempts at that recipe before I realized it called for 1 TBSP of vinegar, not 1 CUP). Eventually I admitted defeat and gave away every cake pan, pie plate, and rolling pin I owned, happy to spend my time writing instead.

But back to now... and my boys, who were standing at my desk waiting for an answer. Why don’t you bake anymore?

I didn't have the heart to point out that I never had, so instead I decided to morph into whoever they imagined me to be, and when I promised I’d bake a cake this week their faces lit up like I'd just parted the red sea. Then after they'd disappeared upstairs, I scribbled CAKE MIX on my grocery list -- the easy kind, where you drop in an egg, a cup of water, bake 30 mins and serve (apron optional).

Now I just need to borrow a pan!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

There's nothing like a good pair of stilts

I had a pair of homemade wooden stilts as a kid, the feet rests worn smooth from use. When I first got them, I fell a lot. Let's face it, walking on stilts is an acquired skill. You're up, down, then up again. You loose your balance, take an unexpected tumble, get bruised, and climb back on.

I took them camping, where I practiced walking over the campfire. I dragged them down to the creek, where I picked my way across from one side to the other while neighbor kids bet on how often I'd wipe out. I even recall walking to the corner store with them to buy ice cream.

My sister thought I was crazy, especially when I came home cut or bruised. She'd roll her eyes and say, "What's the point?"

I had trouble explaining their appeal, my need to strap them on every morning and go for a stroll. Today I understand what made them so compelling, though. Beyond the joy of mastering something bigger than myself, it was the infinite feeling of possibility they gave me.

This past weekend, my kids were given a pair of old drywall stilts and they were a hit. Every kid at Grandma's thanksgiving dinner wanted to try them, and every kid who did wiped out big-time. We broke out the band-aids, the Ozonol, the ice packs, but nothing would stop them. (I myself didn't strap them on -- I may be nostalgic here, folks, but I'm not stupid). At one point, I looked up at my youngest, took his hand, and said, "How's the air up there, buddy?"

"Real good!" he replied. "Mom, they make me feel like I can do anything!" And I smiled, because the writer in me understood exactly where he was coming from.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Loving the leaves, preparing for winter

If I could, I'd freeze fall (specifically September and the first two weeks of October) and put those six weeks on a repeating cycle right up until Christmas Eve. I love this time of year! There's a certain winding down that happens, not only outside with the weather, but inside of me as well.

This is also the time of year where I start stocking up on things. I can't help it! I see squirrels scooting around our backyard, burying food for winter, and I kick into high gear without even realizing it. My husband will come home, open the pantry, and say, "Hol, do we really need 36 boxes of Kleenex?" or my nine-year-old will roll his eyes (as he did yesterday) and say, "Who buys 12 boxes of Frosted Flakes at the same time?!"

I tell them they don't know how good they have it. I also tell them "stocking up" is a woman thing, something they wouldn't understand. It is, right? A woman thing, I mean. Tell me there are more of you out there doing this!

P.S. This weekend is Thanksgiving in Canada and for me that means packing up the SUV and heading north to my home town of Athabasca to visit family. Of course, there'll be lots of good food and drink (hands in the air - Holly doesn't have to cook!) not to mention a few requisite tight smiles, topped off with polite but strained conversation between family members who aren't getting along and who keep switching places at the table so they don't have to sit next to each other.

Such fun! The writer in me (always on the hunt for new material or snappy dialogue) is already trying to pick a spot where I can hide my tape recorder for the evening and press PLAY.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Another French version of The Penny Tree

Each novel takes on a life of its own, so much so that authors sometimes have trouble staying on top of everything that goes on after the release date. Here are some examples.

I was aware sub-rights for The Penny Tree had been sold to Quebec Loisirs, the French Canadian book club and that they planned a big push for this fall, but until google alert picked it up I hadn't seen the new cover they'd come up with (which I really like because she's leaning against a tree and the English title of the book is after all The Penny Tree).

In addition, here's something you may not know. I might never receive an actual copy of this version of the book. Sometimes I do, sometimes I don't. Authors have to push hard to chase down copies from book clubs, and in some cases I've simply given up, joined the club, and ordered a few copies of my own book for my personal library.

Stuff like this happens all the time. (ie., audio rights were sold for The Tin Box in Denmark, but I didn't find out until I read it on a royalty statement). Initially, when I was first starting out, I was appalled. I was the author! Shouldn't someone out there be communicating every detail with me, including the release of a new cover!?

Now I just laugh. I am, after all, only one fish in a sea filled with fish, and the publishing industry is in a constant state of flux and movement. Everything aside, I'm just grateful that my novels have been included in that movement.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Lunch time musings

At lunch yesterday, I overheard an old guy at the table next to me tell the woman he was with that he had no regrets in his life -- not one. Maybe it was my mood, but I felt like swiveling around and calling him on it. Interesting as that sounds, how can it be true? How is it that he managed to maneuver through life and not have a few regrets?

Of course, he was probably posturing, if not for his lunch companion's benefit, maybe for his own. Regret is, after all, an intensely personal issue, one I believe the average person doesn't talk about with just anyone because it makes them feel vulnerable, and no one wants to voluntarily crawl out on that limb, right?

He smiled at me as he left and I smiled back, thinking about the novel I'm working on, knowing that if I want readers to fall in love with the story, as they do with any good story, I'll need to make sure they feel my main character has made them privvy to everything in his life, including the most personal regrets he'd never share with anyone else -- maybe even a few he's had trouble admitting to himself.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

No, we are not all the same

Just for fun, let's do a brief comparison of my life vs. another author's, okay? Below is a snapshot of fellow author Patricia Wood, who's so delighted by the bathtub in her room on the cruise ship she'll be living on for the next three weeks that she actually sent me a photo...with her in it. Keep in mind, Pat lives on a boat in Hawaii and only has a shower, so she has an odd fascination with bathtubs.

She's forever sending me photos: snapshots from a month-long trip to Norway, sunset photos from the boat she lives on in Hawaii, elbow-to-elbow photos of her and other authors nominated for the Orange Prize, drinking and having fun in London. All that aside, though, along with the bathtub photograph she sent yesterday, here's a brief back-and-forth of our emails to each other while we both happened to be online. You tell me. Do our lives seem even remotely similar?

HER: We were in Cabo yesterday. Docked in Puerto Vallarta today. Took a bus ride up the side of a mountain and just missed a rock slide. Stopped at a tequilla factory (glug/glug) and our nutso tour guide was so out-of-this-world funny I swear I'm putting him in my next book. What's new there?

ME: Plumber showed up 5 hours late yesterday, then charged me $318 more than the original $149 quoted (glug/glug); I have a cold/flu/fever; hubby came home from Zurich but leaves for San Francisco tomorrow; my kids built a 3-story tree fort in the backyard without permission (see photo of work in progress + end result) while I was writing.

Am still trying to determine how they got the leather seats from their big brother's van up onto the top floor (see the seats in 1st photo on the ground?!!) and how much it's going to cost me to pay off the neighbors so they'll speak to us again.

HER: Wow! I love tree forts. Your kids are sure creative, huh?

ME: I'm not finished... Last night a bear ripped apart our neighbor's compost bins, then got into a bag of garbage the boys left hanging from the tree fort. I also just learned it's illegal to kill skunks so I'm trying to figure out how to politely entice the one we have living under our shed to move on and find itself better digs.

HER: OMG, what a coincidence! Our maid keeps leaving towel-shaped animals on our bed each night (along with chocolates) and last night I swear it looked like a skunk!

ME: Eat a bag of dirt, Pat.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

In defense of the sloth

Someone's been brainwashing my nine-year old. Either that or they're slipping him a concoction that's changing his sweet natured self into a seasoned mouth piece.

Let's cut to yesterday. My husband's been traveling a lot on business again (last week he was in Zurich) which means I'm in single-parent mode. Anyhow, I forgot to sign a form for my son's teacher, and when he got home he was so upset he started in on all the other things I've not been doing well. No need going over his list, right? Let's just say it made no sense and here's where our discussion ended up...

"And what about last Saturday?" he said, citing yet another example. "God, Mom, you slept in until 9:30?! Are you related to Sid the Sloth? (for those unfamiliar, he was referring to a character in Ice Age.) Other mom's in the neighborhood don't sleep in that late!"

Instead of saying, "No, they don't, but they also aren't awake writing their butts off until 1:45 a.m., either," I just smiled all zen-like and said, "Actually, I like sloths" which only incensed him more. There was pause where he glared at me, followed by, "Well you aren't doing a very good job these days so maybe you should think about that."

Which was when I lowered myself to his level and said, "Look, it's not like I applied for the job fully qualified, okay?"

"I don't think they would've hired you if you had," he shot back.

Pleasant little household anecdote, hmmm? I've noticed, however, this same pattern repeating itself every fall when my kids go back to school and my writing rises to the top of my priority list. It's a big adjustment (for all of us.)

P.S. I really do love sloths. I've had this adorable stuffed sloth on my desk for five years now and he always makes me smile.
Hoo-rah to all the sloths out there!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Write it, take aim, shoot and move on

Being an author can be a humbling career choice. Most writers (including me) head into it with high hopes, big dreams, and endless enthusiasm. They're looking for a big book deal. They dream of seeing their first ever novel front and center in every book store. And they're determined to earn all of the accolades that come with their definition of 'success' as an author.

Sound overly optimistic to you? Not really, because if you don't approach it with that kind of exuberance, you might give up sooner than you think, especially when you realize just how many uncontrollables there are in this business.

I recently spoke with an author who'd published her first and only novel in 1998. It was good, really good, yet she hasn't written anything since. When I asked why, she said, "It's too competitive for me. You either make a whack of money, like the top 20 authors out there do, or you don't make enough to live on so you can keep writing. I had big plans for my novel and then... it just seemed to fizzle away after it came out. I know now that my expectations were set too high, but after that, I didn't have it in me to write another one. It's just too hard. All of it. Know what I mean?"

I did, yet it still made me sad, and I caught myself wanting to coach her and urge her on, tell her to keep writing. I didn't, though, because I could tell it wouldn't make any difference.

Years ago, I had a discussion with another author, this one a NYT bestseller of many novels. Here's what she said: "I've met many talented writers who'll never make it in this business. Some could write circles around me. Others had huge egos that required regular feeding. Many lacked likability. Most, however, had no business sense and failed to understand this: You are only as good as your last book, which does have a shelf life, so aim high, write it to the best of your ability, shoot it out there, and move on to the next one."

Good advice, huh?

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Website refreshed... Check!

I've been busy cleaning up a long list of overdue issues so I can focus 110% on my writing over the next 8 weeks. One was to "refresh" my website, originally made up of 18 pages (including the first chapter of every book -- ugh! Whose idea was that?!) However, it's now been slimmed down to a mere six. Not a major revision, though my bio page has been updated and we've posted some new pictures. You can take a look here at

Next up, overdue tax forms for foreign publishers... such fun!

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Is any friendship worth this?

I'm not a gym person. If I'm going to work out, I'll do it at home, thanks, which is one reason why I can relate to this guy. Six months ago, I began using my treadmill and elliptical machines on a daily basis, and after averaging a combined 18 hrs/month on both, my treadmill started giving me major trouble.

The repairman and I are now on a first name basis (he's installed three new motors, an electrical board, a new belt) and now he has to replace the entire machine because apparently ours is a "commercial" Precor unit that requires the kind of wiring homes aren't typically equipped with vs. gyms (hence the burned out motors and other horrors.)

That said, take a look at this video clip. It's a commercial for a bank, but it's hilarious and has elements I relate to. My friendship with my treadmill hasn't been easy, either!

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Announcing Mia King's next novel

Author Mia King is celebrating the release of her 2nd novel, SWEET LIFE (Berkley Books), on Tues, September 2nd, so swing by her site at and check it out. She has a great gift basket give-away you don't want to miss!

SWEET LIFE is the story of Marissa Price, a corporate exec who leaves her career and the island of Manhattan for the island of Hawaii when her husband Paul is offered a new job. It seems like the perfect opportunity to save her marriage, regain her sense of self, and reconnect with her eight-year-old daughter, Pansy. But the family’s new house is a fixer-upper at best, her daughter wants to be homeschooled, and what needs fixing the most—her marriage—is the first to crumble when Paul announces he wants some time apart to find himself. Pulled in opposite directions, Marissa is faced with the most important decision of her life—a choice that will define who she is, what she wants, and where her happiness lies.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Preparing for a busy fall

I've been away on a mini family vacation (saw a grizzy bear + two cubs; watched my husband flip a canoe in the middle of a lake; took a dip in Radium Hot Springs) and am just now getting unpacked and reorganized.

ie., I have ten snail mail packages on my desk that were promised to readers from Edson, Alberta to Nova Scotia, New Jersey, Ohio, even Paris, that will finally be delivered to the post office tomorrow. For those who've been waiting on me, sorry it's taken so long!

My website is also being 'refreshed' and I'm hoping to have that posted and off my list within a week. It's clean up time at my end, and after my kids go back to school Sept 2nd, my husband will be heading into a fall with tons of travel all over the globe, which means I'll be writing 5-6 nights/week from 8 pm to 1:00 a.m. during Sep/Oct/Nov so I can get this new novel finished and polished to a shine.

Note to self: must add loads of espresso to my grocery list.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Hello, criminals? You picked the wrong neighborhood

I sleep with a baseball bat beside my bed. A steel baseball bat. I also keep my car alarm on my night table and have trigger alarms on my patio doors and windows. Oh, and I have our dog, a 165 pound beast no stranger wants to meet in the dark. Which brings me to what happened a few nights ago...

Three semi-inebriated young guys broke into our neighbor's truck, stole their GPS system, then egged my living room window while arguing about whether or not they should break into our house next. My husband and one of the neighbor kids (who had his bedroom window open) heard them.

It was late and I was hanging up wet laundry when I heard a few crashes (eggs being pitched at my living room window.) By the time I made it upstairs all I saw was my husband's foot going out the front door along with the flash of a steel baseball bat. I followed, carrying damp laundry and a clothes hanger. I heard my husband yell, stepped onto the front porch and saw the back end of him disappear through the trees. I also heard a voice say, "Holy ----! We're in trouble!"

Running, I followed all the way to the end of our street and when I caught up to my husband, he and our neighbors were already breaking into groups to hunt down the culprits (who, in their haste, had dropped the stolen GPS system.)

Hello, thieves? You picked the wrong neighborhood to launch careers as criminals. My husband's a marathoner who can run like stink without adrenaline. And that truck you broke into? The guy who owns it manages the firehouse and that was a thermal camera he was using to track your progress through the bush. And that tall guy who joined my husband searching for you as you huddled down by the river, crapping your pants? He has his black belt in Tae Kwon Do.

Oh, and that woman carrying wet laundry and a clothes hanger? Consider yourself lucky you managed to get away and didn't have to contend with her. Trust me, she's worse than all of them put together when she's mad.

P.S. We know where you live.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Help! I have sagging bookshelves

I have this rule. I only keep two copies of each of my novels (whether French, German, Greek, Danish, Italian, Large Print, Clean Living version, etc.) and still I'm finding it takes more bookshelf space than I have. Time for a few give-a-ways!

If you'd like a French copy of The Tin Box or The Penny Tree (or if you know someone who's French and would like to give them a treat) I'll autograph and mail a copy to the first person who sends me an email for each book.

I'm also giving away two English hardcovers of The Tin Box, one trade paperback of The Penny Tree, and two trade paperback copies of The Silver Compass. Oh, and if there's anyone out there who'd like a Danish copy of The Tin Box, I have one of those up for grabs as well.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

The art of eavesdropping

It really is an art form, you know, one that needs constant practice and refinement if you want to master it with any subtlety and finesse (enough that your husband doesn't lose patience with you in a restaurant.)

ie., while having dinner out last week with my hubby, I listened in on a heated conversation between an unhappy couple next to us (they finally agreed to disagree about their son's choice for a wife) while also eavesdropping on an eyebrow raising "we only have an hour " let's-eat-and-get-out-of-here talk between a couple at the opposite table who looked like they'd slipped off their wedding bands at the door (trust me, all the signs of an affair were there.) Beyond that, a woman and her friend were at a corner table, one wiping away tears while the other said, "He really wasn't worth it."

I know. It's invasive and impolite, but (shrug) I can't help it. It's not intentional, more like a multi-tasking reflex I can't control. I'm an author after all and on a subconscious level I'm always looking for new material, but beyond that... I really do find people and what they go through fascinating. No crime there, right? To be fair, I also listen in on my own family. For example, yesterday, I overheard a chat between my nine-year-old and his buddy that enlightened me on a child's point of view when it comes to the development of the human brain (potentially good material for some future novel.) It went like this:

My son: "You don't really have a brain until you're two. Until then it's just mush, like Jello. From two until five it grows, then when you turn five the protective cover falls off and your brain starts soaking up everything everybody says to you and everything you see on TV."

Other kid (looking skeptical): "Huh... Do you think your brain has changed since your cover came off?"

My son: "Oh, yeah! Until I was five, speed meant nothing to me! I'd ride down a big hill on my bike or go on a rollercoaster and I didn't care cuz I didn't know anything about death or dying. I won't do any of that now, though. Now I know too much."

Time to fess up, bloggers. Are any of you shameless eavesdroppers like me?

Friday, August 8, 2008

The weight of a good chapter

I spoke with a book club from Sacramento last night, a group who took the time to read all three of my novels before setting up the call with me. (How great is that!? Thanks again, guys!) One woman asked what I aspire to achieve each day when I sit down at my computer. "And please don't say you aspire to write a bestseller," she added, "because for any author that's a given. Tell us what you hope to achieve day by day."

That's easy. You know what it's like when you're reading a good book and you're tired and you think, "I'll just finish this chapter and then I'll turn off the light" but then you can't help yourself so you read the opening of the next chapter and... ooomph... you get sucked right back in?

There. That's what I aspire for each day (which is, of course, what every author aims for.) To have readers so invested in the weight of the chapter I'm working on that they can't stop reading, which of course means working on a story so compelling each chapter feels like its own rich little book. I'm not saying I've managed to achieve this with every chapter I've ever written, but it is what I aim for each day as I continue to grow as an author.

Monday, August 4, 2008

The best way to enjoy Kananaskis country? Bring your own bear

As usual, the revolving door that is our guest room has been busy this summer. Friends were just here from Winnipeg and to make sure they had fun we took them up to Kananaskis country for a few days. Of course, we kennel our dog (Sullivan aka Sully) like anyone else, but we also bring him with us when it makes sense, and this was one of those times. In case you can't read it, the yellow sign below says Warning: Bear in Area.

The Delta at Kananaskis Village takes dogs and every time we go ours creates his own little stir. Some people stare, others back away. Many ask if they can take a picture. Size aside (165 lbs) few consider him menacing though, probably because he usually carries a stuffed yellow toy in his mouth.

All that said, it really was a peaceful couple of days and here are a few snapshots to prove it. (If you love the mountains and you've never been through Kananaskis in the Rockies, check it out sometime. It's one of those "must see and do" places to go.)

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Putting the brakes on negative waves

After chatting with countless book clubs over the past 3-4 years, last night I was asked a question I'd never been asked before. Here it is: "You often mention books on your blog that you've really enjoyed. Could you also start posting the names of those you haven't liked?"

"No," came my reply, followed by this explanation...

Working alone, with little or no feedback for months and months on end, authors pour everything they've got into their work, and after writing & revising & restructuring a manuscript time and time again they then offer it up to their agent for consideration (if they have an agent, and I won't get into how hard getting one is other than to say the process is filled with the kind of rejection most sane people would never purposefully put themselves through.)

Moving on... After reading the manuscript, your agent's opinion will usually result in yet another round of revisions prior to the manuscript's release to a handful of carefully chosen editors at various publishing houses, each of whom will have their own opinion about what's working, what's not, if the book "speaks" to them, whether a P&L (profit and loss) projection can be done up that will be accepted by their bosses, and if their house will have room for the book on their already tight list.

After a book is purchased there will then be another round of revisions as your editor rolls up his/her sleeves and aids you in fine-tuning that rough diamond of a novel that's ultimately on its way to readers at the far end of the publishing assembly line where it'll be plopped into book stores to compete against an average of 150,000+ other novels each year. Then, when it is finally released, book reviewers will weigh in with their opinions (some who've sadly never written a book themselves) in a most public manner.

I think you see my point here, don't you?

Writing a novel (for those who manage to finish one that's saleable) is hard work; getting it published is equally difficult; growing & continuing to write while under a steady stream of critical scrutiny, not an easy task. And then having a fellow author bad mouth your book on his/her blog after it's released?

Not cool. Not even a little bit.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The joy of late nights at my keyboard

I'm home, fully inspired and dying to write, but unable to FOCUS given my zoo-like household. Here. Let me show you a brief snapshot from yesterday... 10:00 a.m. The treadmill repairman just left. The phone's ringing off the hook, my voicemail is full, my kids are back from Grandma's & already in a full tilt argument. The doorbell keeps going off every 15 minutes, the cats are feeling neglected and making enough noise that I'm considering re-homing them, and the dog's back from the kennel but refuses to climb into the shower.

Fast forward 30 mins: the shower door bursts open and our 170 lb Newfoundland flies out covered in soap with me hot on his heels (dressed, but as wet as he is.) Upstairs I find two of my son's friends and a Fedex guy at the door (the Fedex guy is delivering french copies of The Penny Tree.) I tell the boys to come in and I sign for the books (apologizing for the calamity and my appearance) and when I look up there's a plumber parked in the driveway (here to fix a leak before friends arrive from Winnipeg next week for a visit) and a kid selling chocolate almonds is on his way up my front steps (fundraising for diabetes.)

And I'm sharing this with you because?

Because it helps people understand why I do so much of my writing late at night between 10 pm and 2 am!

Friday, July 18, 2008

Finding clarity & inspiration in Boston

I now know exactly how my character will feel as the sun rises and sets each day in Boston's Public Garden. I also know what it'll be like for him to watch the pedal-driven swan boats fill and empty time and time again throughout each day, and how hard it will be for him not to smile at the steady stream of kids that run through the Beacon & Charles Street entrance to climb all over the infamous 'Make Way for Ducklings' statues.

I've talked to maintenance staff, tourists, sketch artists, even a professional mime who often frequents one entrance. I've spent hours taking all kinds of pictures and scribbling notes, but until yesterday (in the midst of a flurry of inspired writing back in my hotel room) I don't think I fully realized what a difference coming here would make to my story.

If you're in Boston, wander through the Public Garden. You won't regret it.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Bound for the Public Garden

Tomorrow I'm driving 5 hours north to drop my kids off at my mom's, then 5 back to get home before flying to Boston for the rest of the week. I'm meeting my husband there, but he's got a packed schedule with his own work so that means I'll have four uninterrupted days to immerse myself in the novel I'm currently writing (insert enthusiastic whoop here!)

Keeper of the Pond is set in the Public Garden so I'm taking my camera and my laptop. I've been there before, but not like this, so after exploring every inch of the place (including the Boston Common) I plan to park myself in a quiet spot overlooking the pond and finish two key scenes the book hinges on. Wish me luck!

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

If the label fits...

You've heard the stereotype before, haven't you? That many writers are unapproachable, eccentric, brooding drunks with inner demons that drive their creative energy? In some cases, I'm sure this is true, but not so with me. I'm not a big brooder, I rarely drink, and as far as I know I have no demons camped out in my subconscious. I do, however, have my oddities. For example, I have a tendency to talk a lot, especially when it comes to the topic of writing, the publishing industry, or any kind of anecdote or story. Yet I do my best writing when I pull away from everyone, stop talking, and become as reclusive and closed off as possible without completely neglecting my family. Not exactly traits that compliment each other, are they?

Yesterday I met a woman who said that after reading my novels she could tell I was one of "them sensitive types" and I smiled and thought, I'll take that label! After all, it only seems fair that writers are judged by the end result and not by our behavior during the creative process, don't you think?

Friday, July 4, 2008

Happy Independence Day U.S. bloggers

Of course, it goes without saying that the U.S. is busy celebrating today, which also means everyone in the publishing world won't be back at work until late next week. I myself am curled up with a box of Robaxacet, as I have been since tearing a ligament in my back last week. Hopefully it will all be back to normal soon. In the meantime, here's hoping you either have your feet up or else you're busy chugging back a few well deserved drinks.