This year, I read 100 books. Usually, I tell you my favourites. This year, I’ll just show you what I read and you can decide what looks good. Happy Reading in 2015!
Last year, I was part of the Teen Book Club at the library, but teens have so much homework, it was always hard for them to add another book to their workload, even if it was a fun read. So this year, the new librarian and I talked it over and decided to try a Teen Writing Circle instead. This way, teens can drop in, write, share, talk about writing, and get feedback.
We’ve had three meetings so far, and it’s been great fun with some fantastic writing happening. The local newspaper thought it was worth writing about, so if you’re interested in an interview I did about it, here’s the link.
Hi all! Not really into blogging much anymore, but I thought I’d just put this little tidbit up for now. Last year, for the first time ever, I tried National Novel Writing Month and ended up with 50k words that I eventually threw away, but not until I’d mined the story and characters from them, changed the POV, and rewrote it into a novel I’m very happy with. I’m excited to say it’s out on submission as I type this. Maybe it will be one of those cool things where it sells exactly a year after I started it.
Anyway, I find myself ready to write something new just as NaNoWriMo is about to start again, so I figured I might as well give it a go. And if you’re doing it, I wanted to say, have fun and write, write, write!
Here’s the photo inspiring this new novel. It’s by the wonderful Canadian photographer, Fred Herzog and was taken in 1962 (and yes, the novel will be set then…a whole new challenge for me!). Here’s a link so you can see some of his other AMAZING work.
Update on 6 November. I’ve decided it’s too soon to write this novel…I need to do a lot more research and a lot more thinking. I wrote 12k words in the first 5 days though and they’ve given me so much to think about. I’m not abandoning this project by any means, if anything, I’m more excited about it than ever, but it needs to gestate longer. The last book I wrote I thought about for 2 years before I wrote it (and then I wrote it VERY FAST). I’ve only been thinking about this book for a few months.
Never fear, I’m going to work on another project! It’s definitely the writing season for me. Hope it’s going well for you!
What you may not know is I fancy myself a pretty good cook. I almost never post recipes on this blog because it’s supposed to be about writing, but heck, I almost never blog so why not break a rule? Anyway, it’s pretty cold here, even for Canada, -8C when I went for my walk, so I decided I wanted a warming smoothie instead of my usual frozen one for breakfast. There’s no photo because it was so tasty I drank it already!
This is what I came up with: Warming Apple Spice Smoothie
1 large apple*, quartered (if you have a high speed blender, you can leave the core & stem
1 large banana
1 cup unsweetened coconut milk (or nut, or soy milk)
1 cup hot tea (I used David’s Tea – crème caramel)
1/4 tsp each – clove, nutmeg
1/2-1 tsp cinnamon
1″ chunk (unpeeled) fresh ginger
2 TBS Hemp hearts
2 TBS Pumpkin seeds
2 TBS Coconut Oil
Blend on high for a minute or two. *I’ve never liked apples in smoothies because they seem grainy, but I’ve learned the trick is to really blend them longer than you do a normal smoothie. Between the spices, the fresh ginger, and the hot tea, this is warm and delicious, and not too sweet!
I saw in the trades that author Zilpha Keatley Snyder passed away. I have a soft spot for her although I’ve read very few of her books because they’re scary, dark, and definitely not my thing. If you know me, you’re probably surprised I’ve read anything by her. But she wrote a lovely, slightly mysterious, and ultimately exciting book called THE VELVET ROOM, which I read as a kid and re-read every so often (I think I’ll read it again). It’s one of those favourite books from childhood. As an adult, I discovered she’d written loads of books and picked up one of her most famous ones, THE EGYPT GAME only to discover it was horrible, violent and frightening. That pretty much cured me of trying any of her others. But I understand she has a loyal following and I definitely think of her fondly because of TVR. So, adieu to Zilpha Keatly Snyder, and thank you for one of my favourite books.*
*I see the ebook is only $1.78. You should buy it!
I don’t make many blog posts these days. Mostly because I blogged for a long time and I’ve pretty much said what I want to say about writing, but today, I’m feeling inspired. Or, if not exactly inspired, then fired up?
Last night, I listened to an interview with a writer and throughout the interview, I couldn’t help thinking that this particular writer has a very healthy attitude toward her craft. She enjoys it, and even when she talked about running into roadblocks, her general philosophy was that they happen and you just move on. That it’s all part of the process of creating art.
No matter how the interviewer tried to goad her to admitting it was hard, or depressing, or frustrating, or the depths of misery to write, she skirted around those ideas because clearly, she didn’t believe it has to be that way. But she was also afraid of actually saying: I enjoy writing.
And I know exactly where she’s coming from. Enjoying creating art is practically taboo. It’s like you’re saying, “Look at me! I not only wrote this, but I had fun doing it!” and that makes you arrogant. Or at the very least, annoying to all the other writers who are busy living in despair. I find this very sad. So many writers act like it’s virtuous to suffer for your art and I just can’t buy into that. Countless times I’ve read quotes like, “I like having written, but the actual writing is the worst. It’s hard. It’s painful. It’s drudgery.”
Really? That’s the saddest thing I’ve ever heard.
And while this may not prove a popular question, I’m going to ask it anyway. Why the hell do you do it if all it brings you is misery? I am a firm believer in spending my life doing as much fun stuff as I can, but especially my art should be fun. It should be a blast. Even the hard days. Even the days where you throw out a third of what you’ve written. I’m sorry, but that actually excites me because when that happens I realize I’ve had a breakthrough. I never lament those ten thousand (or fifty thousand…yes, fifty thousand) words I throw out because it was fun doing them the first time around and what I’m going to replace them with is fun, too!
For years I had a job I hated. It’s been fifteen years since I had that job, but I can tell you right now that I still dream that I work there and wake up in a cold sweat full of dread. If writing ever did that to me, then I would find something else to do with my time. It’s not virtuous to suffer. You don’t have to wear black and moan to be good at your art. In fact, I think the more fun you have, the better your writing is. At least, that’s true for me.
And just to be clear, I’m talking about the actual writing & editing process here. Not publishing. Publishing’s hard on everyone because Art and Business are trying to marry and they’re different species. If you’re lucky, you’ve got a great editor to work both sides for you, but no matter who you are, sometimes you’re going to get screwed over by publishing. There was a time not so long ago that I thought I hated writing, but the truth was that I was so wrapped up in my publishing path I was mixing the two together. And then one day, I realized that my job is to write and my agent’s job is to handle that stuff. Ahhhh…peace.
I remember in drama school a teacher telling me as I fought the process (because of my insecurities), “It’s called a play for a reason.” If I’m going to spend time suffering, it’s going to be because I’m doing mundane tasks like the dishes or the taxes, not how I spend eight hours of my day.
You might be reading this and thinking, “Oh, that’s all well and good for her. She’s the exception.” Or even, “She’s lying.” But the truth is that we can all enjoy our art. We just have to choose to. If you prefer to suffer, if it makes you feel like you’re getting to the heart of your art, or it’s just how you function best, then go for it. But I want to say what that writer in that interview was afraid to say last night.
I love to write.
Even when it’s tough. Even when I go in the wrong direction and have to throw stuff out. Even when I have no idea if it’s working or not. And I’m not going to apologize for that ever again.
I love to write. So there.
Today, my husband and I became Canadian citizens. We’ve been landed immigrants (kind of like a green card in the US) for seven years, but now we’re really, truly Canadians. Here we are with the judge and the requisite Mountie. I have to say it was a very moving ceremony and one of the highlights of my life so far. I’m proud to be a citizen of this great country and hope I can give back to it in exchange for all it has offered and continues to give me.
For those of you who are curious, we will retain our American citizenship also, so we’re now dual citizens.
Seven years ago, my husband and I took the pledge not to buy bottled water anymore. Except for a rare emergency, we’ve stuck to it, packing along our water bottles and keeping a gallon or two in the truck for refills when we’re out and about. I think I can honestly say I’ve bought fewer than 5 bottles of water in the last 7 years.
Today’s Independence Day in the US. Grab your independence from bottled water and oil, and take the pledge. And if you need some incentive. How about this?
Tomorrow, 1st July (see how I wrote it the Canadian way-the number first-instead of July 1st?), is Canada Day. While we haven’t received our official letter, it seems very likely due to the fact that they’ve scheduled Canadian Citizenship Swearing In Ceremonies in our closest city for August, that we’re soon to be official Canadians.
In the spirit of Canadian friendliness, I now redirect you to my good pal, and recent Canadian citizen, Eileen Cook who has posted some fun facts about Canadians in honour (fancy spelling!) of the day.
So, Happy Canada Day to my Canadian friends! And for those of you who are Americans, Happy July 4th!
The wonderful Wanda Collins Johnson, friend, writer, and critique group member, has asked me if I’d participate in a Blog Hop on the writing process. I can never turn down her smiling face. So here are my answers. I’m not actually going to tag anyone (yes, I’m responsible for killing that million dollar chain letter you were counting on making you rich, too), but feel free to play along. Leave your link in the comments.
What am I working on now? I’ve just finished something…like literally sent it off to my agent a few days ago, so while I’m not technically writing anything, I’m pondering both new and past ideas. I think I’ve narrowed it down to a story that I want to tell. You could call it a love story, in the vein of one of my favourite authors, Nevil Shute. It’s for adults, and it’s centered around a bookstore. I can’t say much more except that it’s set in 1962 Portland, Oregon, and it was inspired by this fabulous picture taken by Fred Herzog (Vancouver, 1962).
How does my work differ from others in its genre? Well, I don’t really know! I have never written historical fiction before and so I would mostly call this an experiment. It may not work out. I might feel too bogged down and move on to something else, or I might find it really exciting. I do know the story couldn’t be told the way I want to tell it in a contemporary setting, so it’s historical fiction or nothing.
Why do I write what I do? My first two books are for young adults, as well as a third one which we haven’t sold yet, but are very hopeful will find a home. (Are you an editor? Please call my agent right away for a stunning new YA novel!). And the book I just finished writing is for adults, as is this new one I have in mind. So I guess the answer to why do I write what I do is that it’s just about story…a story comes into my head and nine times out of ten, I discard it (sometimes after writing as much as fifty or sixty pages). But then one sticks and I can’t stop thinking about it and so that’s why I write it.
How does my writing process work? It’s eighty percent discipline, ten percent the fact my brain is always making up stories, and ten percent inspiration brought on mostly by walking and showers. Seriously, the only reason I have written any books at all is because I show up to write. And if I don’t feel like writing, I write anyway. I am lucky in that I don’t have a regular job, so I block out Monday through Friday all day for writing. People are amazed that I spend “all day” writing. Ha! On a very good day, I might write for 2-3 hours. Mostly I’m thinking, snacking, reading, thinking, snacking, procrastinating, and reading with a tiny bit of writing thrown in. When I’m revising, it’s different…then I might get in 3-5 hours of work and very little reading. It’s hard for me to read while my story is so present in my mind, so I generally cook. My husband prefers the revision days to the writing new material which usually end with me saying: I’m too tired to make dinner, honey…my brain power is all used up! Can you find anything in the fridge?
So that’s about it. Read a lot. Show up. Shower and walk often. And let your imagination run wild!
P.S. I would be very remiss in neglecting to mention the crucial role my early readers play in my writing process. I seriously wouldn’t be able to write a publishable book without them (or my agent’s valuable input). So thanks. You know who you are!
At the risk of you all stopping by my blog and mistaking it for a literary obituary page, I do feel I must post something about the author Mary Stewart who just passed away at the age of 97. For years, I’ve been a big fan of hers, my favourite is by far The Ivy Tree (don’t let the goofy cover fool you). Years and years ago, I wrote to Mrs. Stewart asking her about the film rights – you see, I was studying screenwriting and was hoping I could adapt it on speculation. I even had the perfect cast in mind…Emma Thompson as the heroine, Gwyneth Paltrow as her young cousin. Alas, it was not to be as she referred me to her agent who said there was already interest in the rights (I highly doubt it as the book had been out for thirty years or more!), but I did receive a very nice handwritten letter from Mrs. Stewart. And after that, we corresponded a bit, so I have a few letters in my possession. She was lovely and friendly and if you haven’t read any of her books, I highly recommend them. She’s popularly known for her Merlin trilogy (starting with The Crystal Cave), but she’s thought of more as a romance writer overall…Gothic romances, sometimes with murders and intrigue, sometimes with magic realism, sometimes straight-up.
Rest in Peace, Mary Stewart. Your writing has been enjoyed by millions and inspiring to those of us who write. Thank you!
Those of you who have read this blog over the years already know how much I adore the author John Rowe Townsend. It’s with sadness that I type these words: John passed away last weekend, at the age of 91. It has been eight years since I visited with him and his wife Jill Paton Walsh, but I think of them often, and those of you who’ve read Restoring Harmony know that the book is dedicated to him.
Rather than write something new today, I’m going to include links to all the things I’ve written about him over the years. I hope you enjoy them.
The husband is reading JRT (P.S. I should add that after I wrote this, he read The Islanders and The Invaders and years later he’s still talking about them regularly)
This contest is over. Congratulations to Katherine Melnyk (and the original winner who couldn’t wait and bought herself a copy, Jade Winters)! Everyone else, just buy the book. You know you want to!
You all know what a fan I am of Eileen Cook, both as a writer and as a fabulous friend! To celebrate the release of her latest book, I’m giving away a copy to one lucky person who leaves a comment between now and its release day, 25 February. If you tweet about it or post it on Facebook, let me know in your comment and I’ll give you an extra entry for each. This is open to anyone living where the Book Depository ships.
Oh, and yes, I did read an early draft…you definitely want to read this one!
Remember how at New Year’s I picked three words and “water” was one of them? Well, to help me get my eight glasses a day, I put these eight coloured bands near the bottom of my glass every morning. Each time I drink a glass of water, I move a band up to the top. So far it’s worked great! Brilliant, eh? I got the idea from Meghan Telpner, author of one of my new favourite books, The Undiet.
Speaking of favourite books, make sure you come back soon because I’m going to be giving away my dear friend Eileen Cook‘s new young adult novel to help celebrate its release later this month. If you can’t wait until I post about it, check it out here.
Last night’s forecast was for clear skies with lots of stars. I’m thinking that’s the last time they leave that particular intern in charge over the weekend.
I have to say I was pleased by the mistake. Lovely thing to wake up to if you live here because this is all we’ll get. This isn’t Alberta. No “feets and feets of snow” here, unless you’re one of The Borrowers.
Didn’t stop the snowplow from coming out, though. Hey, if you’ve got it, you’ve got to use it once or twice each winter.
I’ve just come home from the hardware store where I witnessed a wonderful little scene. A very young mom was shopping for nightlights with her son, who appeared to be about three…maybe four. While she was looking, he came up to her holding a small package of rope and said, “Mom, can we get this?”
She looked at him and then the rope and she said, “What do you want it for?”
There was a really long pause while he thought about it and she waited patiently.
“To build hideaways,” he finally said. “Outside. Tie it to some branches and then hang blankets over it.” There was another pause, and then he added, “And cut out a half-circle for the door.”
At this point, I was fake browsing so I could hear what happened next. I mean, honestly, I had expected her to say, “No, put it back.” when he first asked for it, but she’d let him go this far and now I wanted to see what she said. There was another long pause and then she said, “Let’s see how much it is.”
I have to say two things struck me at that moment. The first is this is why I write for kids. If I can help them keep that great sense of imagination going, then my job is done. And the other was that even if they didn’t buy the rope…I mean, it’s winter, it’s going to rain for the next five days, and they probably had rope at home…she’d already earned Stellar Mom Points just for listening to him.
I left before the verdict came because I wanted to happily imagine them outside tying that rope to some branches and hanging an old blanket from it…with a cut out half-circle for the door.
I’m thinking of building a blanket fort of my own, actually. And for those of you grown-ups who think you’re too old, here’s a funny comic strip I found while searching for the above image.
In 2013, I chose three words to focus on rather than make resolutions. They were Canada, Friendship, and Conversation. Throughout the year, I tried to explore what these words meant to me, and experience new things related to them. They led me in interesting directions and enriched my life much more than I expected. I won’t go into details as it’s a new year, but I thought I’d share my words for 2014, and ask if you have any words or resolutions you want to share.
My 2014 Words
Income – while I’m hoping for the financial kind, I also am intrigued to find out how else it might manifest itself. Perhaps it will be incoming friendships, or visitors, or prizes, or book sales, or surprises. We shall see.
Water – this might seem like a strange choice, but like so many people, I really need to drink more water! As you can see from this picture, I decided to kick off both the new year and my word by joining in with the other totally nutty islanders and doing the Polar Bear Plunge on New Year’s Day. While I’m not overly fond of being in water, even in the summer, I do want to spend more time at the beach looking at it, and also get my butt into a kayak this year.
Home – my last word is a good one and exciting for me. I’m lucky to own my home with my husband, and I intend to make it more home-like with de-cluttering, painting, and care. Also, our relatively new home country is Canada, and this year, we’ll be sworn in as citizens, which is super cool. Home encompasses family, friends, health, food, and general well-being for me, so I think having it as a focus word is an excellent choice.
Happy 2014 to you! May it bring you blessings, peace, and love. Feel free to share your words or resolutions in the comments, too. I’m always happy to hear from you.
Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh – hadn’t read it since I was a kid and it was a LOT different than I expected. If it’s been a while, give it a try.
Faking It by Jennifer Crusie – Re-read, third time – it’s adult romance/farce at its best
The Clementine Series by Sara Pennypacker- chapter books full of charm and wit
An Autobiography by Agatha Christie – really, really interesting
Sacred Games by Gary Corby – third in the series, not as gruesome as #2 and a really fun read
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline – adult fiction about a video game – so not anything I should’ve liked, but possibly the best, most exciting book I read all year
Smells Like Dog series by Suzanne Selfors – anything Suzanne writes ends up on my list. She’s always a winner.
The Last Word by Lisa Lutz – the last of the Spellman books, one of my all time favourite series
Where’d You Go Bernadette? by Maria Semple – one of those books that I wasn’t sure if she’d be able to pull it off, but then she totally does
Two Parties, One Tux, And a Very Short Film About the Grapes of Wrath by Steven Goldman – hilarious, touching, wonderful YA
Dramarama by E. Lockhart – another re-read of a YA book I really like
Not That Kind of Girl by Siobhan Vivian – An interesting YA in that the main character is not that likeable, but the book is anyway.
Heads in Beds by Jacob Tomsky – a book that will change future hotel stays for you forever, possibly in a good way. Certainly in an hilarious way!
Sh*t My Dad Says by Justin Halpern – yes, I laughed. Out loud. Many times. So sue me.
Breathing Room by Susan Elizabeth Phillips – a good old fashioned romance set in Tuscany.
The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate – it won the Newbery, need I say more?
Cosmic by Frank Cottrell Bryce – MG that didn’t seem like my kind of thing, but I enjoyed a lot.
A Road For Canada – an interesting book with lots of photos about the building of the TransCanada Highway (but no cover photo on Goodreads). Sounds kind of dull, but was actually very fascinating.
What’d you all read this year that you liked?
I just hit 50,048 and stopped mid-scene. I wrote 4820 words TODAY! I’m a writing fool. Obviously 50k words does not a book make (unless it’s MG, which this isn’t), but I’m a good 2/3 of the way there! And just because I feel like bragging, I will say that I started this book on November 9th (I threw out everything before that). Not too shabby for 19 days (I had one day off).
And now, because I’m such a crazy girl, I’m going to celebrate with onion rings. That’s right. FRIED FOOD! Because a girl cannot live on lentils alone.
I’ve been in a bit of a writing rut lately, so I decided to really mix it up for November. I signed up for NaNoWriMo for the first time ever. Writing first drafts quickly has not really been my thing, so it never really seemed like anything I was interested in. But I wanted to shake things up, so here I am, halfway through, and loving every minute of it. Okay, maybe not every minute. But I am enjoying it.
I started on November 1st, with a very thin idea, based more on an interesting setting than anything. I planned to attempt a genre I’ve never written in before (secret), and I jumped right in and wrote like a maniac. A week later, I had 13k words and it was a steaming pile of hot spaghetti. I was in big trouble!
One of the rules of NaNoWriMo is no revising, no going back. There’s probably one about tossing out the entire draft and starting over after the first week, too, but like I said, I wanted November to be all about breaking rules, so that’s what I did. I threw it away! And I spent some time thrashing out a plot that worked a lot better. I am proud to say that in seven days…SEVEN DAYS…I have written 20,103 words! That’s 81 pages. And while I’m sure a lot of it will be cut or rewritten in edits, I’m going strong. I know what happens next, I’ve got the middle worked out, the climax is firmly planted in my brain and growing.
For NaNoWriMo the goal is to write an entire book and they’re defining that as 50k words. I feel confident I can hit the fifty thou mark, but that will still be 20k short of the novel I intend to write. Still, it’s quite an amazing thing, and I understand why people are doing it.
Some of the ways I’m writing differently include:
- A wordcount goal of 2500 per day (my average is usually 1500-1800)
- Writing at any time of day or night
- Writing on the treadmill, in the blue chair, and even in the house in front of the fire when my husband’s home
- I even wrote in a cafe (that didn’t go well) for an hour
- Saying no to things I might usually say yes to in lieu of writing – road trips, concerts, social engagements – and feeling okay about it
- Exercising six days a week before I start
- Taking only Sundays off (I usually take weekends)
- Writing on Sundays too if I feel like it
I know I couldn’t keep up this pace regularly, and I wouldn’t even want to. The only way I can stop thinking about this book is to listen to podcasts or sleep. Conversation? Yeah, not happening. I’m out of words by the end of the day. But it has taught me that I can push myself beyond what I previously thought were my limits. And maybe it’s a good way of writing first drafts for me, as I’ve always found them hard and this time things are going pretty well.
One last thing…can anyone tell me what day it is?