Monday, 11 October 2010

Bucket List

Yesterday I saw something for the first time. I saw two deer in my brother's backyard, and actually got a picture of them.

Some people might think, "That's no big deal," but it was pretty important to me.

I haven't had a chance to really sit down and compose my own bucket list. Many things are probably unattainable, and my tendency to be practical prevents me from making such a list.

However, I think I've had a few experiences that were special to me. Some may seem trivial. Some might be on your bucket list.

I rode a Berber horse in North Africa.
I dove into the Mediterranean.
I rode in a limousine.
I watched a Toronto Maple Leaf hockey game from the Platinum seats.
I rode in a propeller plane with only 18 passengers.
I saw the Rocky Mountains.
I drank wine in the Napa Valley.
Unlike Bugs Bunny, I actually stood on Pismo Beach.
I saw a bullfight.
I held a wild bird in my hand. And it lived!
I rappelled down a 300 foot cliff.
Saw a comet.
Saw the Northern Lights.
I wrote a book. Or two.

What would I add to a bucket list? This isn't carved in stone, but some of the things I'd like:

To go to New York City.
Ride a hot air balloon.
Drive a Porsche.
Build a treehouse.
Take a picture of a really, really awesome sunset.
Sail a boat.
Attend the Oscars.
Have my very own writing room, decorated my way.
I want a pony.
... and yes, I would like an agent, please.

What's on your bucket list?

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Paintings, Plotting and Pantsting

While submitting my completed novel, I'm working sporadically on another. They're different in more ways than one.

The novel under submission is a carefully plotted, quiet and sweet women's fiction. It tugs at the heartstrings, dealing with issues some might not find comfortable. I had been working on this book for a few years, sharpening my writing skills before attempting to finish it.

My work in progress is a fast paced mystery with a diverse cast of characters. I have a vague idea where the plot is going, but I'm basically closing my eyes and seeing where it takes me. Some characters jump into the spotlight, screaming for attention and others wait behind the curtain, hesitant to be revealed. Who will be the bad guy? Who will save the day? I dunno...

Compare writing to painting. You have your living room that needs to be prepped before you paint. Carefully fill in and sand all the nail holes, prime the surface and then choose your colour. Test it in all lighting to make sure it's not going to look like puke in the morning light. Tape off the edges and paint the edges in a straight line before using the roller for the middle areas. Roll in a W shape to prevent thin spots.

Excruciating, huh? But the end result will keep you satisfied for years to come. With the right accessories and window treatments, you'll have a serene haven in which to sip your green tea and contemplate the finer aspects of life.

Then there's the other kind of painting. Fill your palette with colours and stand before a blank canvas. You see something in your mind's eye, and you let fly the paint. Use brushes, spatulas and sponges to mix texture and colour in a way that brings out an image that only a few can see.

You step back and study the painting. Yes, there's something there. But a few elements are missing. You can't put your finger on it, but you lovingly add a tweak and a dash here and there. 

Eventually, you have a work of art that brings some to tears and others to question your sanity. But it's yours and you love it.

If you had to compare your novel to a painting, what would it be?

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

The Vault

I've been spending a lot of time over at Twitterland, not only to goof around with author friends and spy on celebrities, but also to research agents while seeking representation for my latest novel.

I find that reading about their lives outside the office and interacting with them helps me to understand how they think. Yeah, I know... that sounds like I'm some kind of anthropologist doing a study, but it's a great way to discover whether our personalities mesh. And that's important, right?

Not surprisingly, many agents have become fast online friends. Not all of them represent the kind of books I write, but I still enjoy our online conversations about kids, shopping, the weather and such.

Some have requested my work through Twitter, which is an unexpected bonus. Some have passed on my work but we remain friendly online. We still have our share of cyber laughs over cyber pops.

This new author/agent dynamic can be thrilling. "Wow! Agent A likes me as a real person!" We feel like we've been given a free pass into another world.

But we can't let ourselves get carried away with the exhilaration of online friendship. It's too easy to let slip a tidbit or personal remark that was meant to be private. For us writers, making an agent uncomfortable or angry can feel like a shunning. Our new-found bond of trust can easily be broken and rarely repaired.

When participating in Twitter or Facebook conversations, or even commenting on a blog, I strongly suggest that we think twice before sharing our private correspondence with agents. Sometimes you have to lock your lips and throw away the key.

Friday, 23 July 2010


I love reading books written by my writer friends, and recently picked up a copy of Stephen Parrish's The Tavernier Stones and I'm really enjoying it. Think of it as National Treasure except with an Amish Dude. Lots of intrigue and sparkly jewels and awesome maps and runes.

Anyhoo, Jason Evans over at Clarity of Night hosts some awesome short story contests. (He also writes like a symphony). I was close with his In Vino Veritas contest a while back, so I decided to jump in to win a signed copy of Stephen's book with Jason's newest contest, "Uncovered."

I managed to make it into The 40s Club with my entry Sparklies.

There are five days left to enter. I suggest you give it a try.

Monday, 28 June 2010

End of an Era

Last week I dropped my daughter off on Main Street so she could do some shopping. I ducked into a parking lot and stared in shock at the scene across the street.

The Newmarket Community Centre arena, where my son enjoyed a brief Peewee hockey career, was gone. No, this wasn't the result of a tornado. This twisted pile of bricks, girders and aluminum siding was a victim of time.

I knew this day was coming, but not so soon. I've seen the demolition of many landmark buildings in this town over the last thirty-five years, but this one struck a chord. In my brief career as a hockey mom, I sat in those folding wooden seats, huddled with other parents under the only working heater while our kids slapped pucks against the boards with loud, echoing booms. Sometimes we stood at the standing area near centre ice so we could stamp our feet and hop about to keep warm. It was a great place to pan with our video cameras.

This was the place my son first strapped on skates and stumbled onto the ice. Smaller than his teammates, he fell at least twenty times until a boy took pity on him and kept pace, encouraging him with every stroke of the blade.

To get to the dressing rooms, one had to climb down a narrow set of stairs at the west end of the ice surface. We had a choice of three cramped rooms with scary looking shower stalls, scarred wooden benches and brass hooks to hang the kids' winter gear. Often, the parents crammed the steps in the tiny hallway while waiting for Coach to give the kids a pep talk after a particularly stressful game. Then we were invited inside, where we made arrangements for a post-game breakfast and the kids chatted about who made the best pass or almost got a goal.

Constructed before some building codes were in effect, this arena's parking lot straddled a tributary of the Holland River. One could see the babbling brook emerging from the east side. It ran right underneath the grocery store just south of the Community Centre.

This was the place where my son scored his first and last goal in the final minute of the Championship Game. An empty netter, and the place went wild. He still has the puck. Shortly afterward, Andrew hung up his skates, satisfied with his one-goal career.

We now have the Ray Twinney Centre, where the the Leafs' old farm team (Newmarket Saints) played, but it's not he same. It's a slick, shiny place and has no personality. We also have the spanking brand new Magna Centre but I haven't seen the inside yet except for a recent trade show.

There's nothing like the old, battle-scarred, barn-like rinks of the Twentieth Century.


Here is a history of the rink, (as well as the top picture) from the Town of Newmarket website:

• Originally named The Newmarket Memorial Arena in memory of those who lost their life in WW1,
the arena officially opened in December 1922. 

• Built for a mere $40,000 and financed by Andrew Davis – the primary shareholder – the Town of
Newmarket purchased the arena for $33,000 in February 1945. 

• In 1949, artificial ice was installed to prolong the skating season, and an extension was added
along the west end of the arena to accommodate ice-making equipment, dressing rooms,
washrooms, a lobby, a meeting room and additional seating. 

• In 1970, the arena underwent major modifications, which included an exterior facelift and
enlargement of the ice surface to regulation size. 

• The adjacent Community Centre was built in 1974 to address Newmarket’s increasing need to
provide space for community activities other than hockey.

• In 2002, the Community Arena underwent reinforcement renovations to the roof to extend the
life of the arena until the new Magna Centre was built.

• In 2007, the Magna Centre opened and the Community Arena was decommissioned.

• For years, the Community Arena was the event venue for Newmarket and it once hosted a variety
of special events including the Newmarket Home Show, Oktoberfest, and Newmarket’s
Bicentennial Celebration in 1980.

• A staple in Newmarket’s recreation history, the Community Arena was once home to the
Newmarket Redmen Hockey Team (winners of the 1933 Memorial Cup), and the Newmarket
Flyers Junior A Hockey Team. 

• The Newmarket Minor Hockey Association House League Championships and the Newmarket
Minor Hockey League’s House League Tournament also called the Community Arena home.

Monday, 24 May 2010

My Comedy Fix

Last weekend I took my grown kids to see Conan O'Brien's "The Legally Prohibited from Being Funny on Television Tour" at Massey Hall in Toronto. I had a blast, although most of the time I could only see Conan's arm due to the massive support pole that obscured centre stage.

Thankfully, a giant screen showed me the parts I couldn't see for real. I leaned in front of my son (annoying him immensely bwahaha) and managed to get some decent pictures of La Bamba and Andy Richter. However, every time I tried to photograph Conan, all I got was a tall, spindly white ghost. You'll have to take my word for it. He was there, really.

Massey Hall is a beautiful venue. I walked past its red doors countless times when I worked in Toronto but have never been inside. If I ever see another performance there, I'll take Ticketmaster's "obscured vision seating" warning at face value and pay extra for a better seat.

The show opened with a half-hour performance from Reggie Watts, a guy who reminded me of my brother in law Pete. He used an electronic sampler to create vocal percussion and background music while singing about how polite Canadians are. He bounced around in baggy jeans, his huge shaggy Afro tossing around his head like wings.  

The band was awesome. I wish Max Weinberg was on the drums, but the guy they had was terrific. La Bamba, a cute soft guy in a Panama hat, led the band with his trombone and a surprisingly strong voice. I'd never heard him sing before. Usually, he just sits there while Conan makes digs at him.

Andy Richter was funny as hell and his off-the-cuff comments were well timed.

Most of the material was outdated by the time CoCo reached Toronto, but it was nice seeing him resurrect some of his 'bits' from his now defunct television show. He had to change the names due to restrictions from NBC, but the spirit of his old show was there. We even saw a video presentation of Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, with amusing spliced-in references to Toronto.

One of the highlights of the show was a prop that had nothing to do with Team CoCo. They had apparently purchased the giant inflatable bat from Meatloaf's Bat Out of Hell Tour, and it rose from behind the band in all its glory at least twice. It was the only thing I could get a clear picture of!

There were no surprise guests. No Jim Carrey, no Kiefer Sutherland, no random stars who happened to be shooting a movie in the area. Instead, we were treated to a sentimental rendition of "The Weight" originally performed by The Band. 

During the encore, Conan left the stage with his guitar and gave everyone high fives and hugs. He appeared on our balcony level, then disappeared. Everyone glanced around and I looked behind me and saw the boom mike guy running along the aisle against the back wall. I knew Conan was right behind him and stretched out my hand while he loped past like a ghostly giraffe. My kids insist I was trying to grab him but I just wanted a High Five.

I'm starting to like this 'paying an arm and a leg to watch someone being funny.' I think I need a second income to feed this habit.

Saturday, 8 May 2010

I'm No Longer a Virgin

You see, I went to this writer's conference. It was my first time, and it didn't hurt a bit.

Last weekend, I made the hour's drive to Ajax, Ontario for the Ontario Writers Association Conference, a one-day extravaganza of workshops, panels, food and friendship.

I hesitated to part with my New York City savings to attend this conference, but Kevin, a fellow Absolute Write member and one of the organizers of the conference, convinced me to attend. I signed up for three workshops and had a 'blue pencil' session with an established author.

The workshops taught me things like how to wring a plot out of random ideas, and how to develop a character. I learned that popular fiction is nothing to turn your nose up at, and that memoirs can be freakin' hilarious.

Along with Kevin, I met two more AW members, and made a few new friends. While in line for dinner, I chatted with a dynamic looking woman about Buffalo. She said, "My first book is about Buffalo."

I discovered later she was the author of Too Close To The Falls, a humorous memoir about growing up in the 50's in Lewiston, NY. She spoke at dinner, cracking us up with tales about her precocious childhood with a non-domestic mother and a pharmacist father. Her delivery reminded me of Jean Shepard's dry wit. I bought her book and while she autographed it, we talked about childhood memories and how time can mold them into something different from facts.

My Blue Pencil Session was with Martin Avery, a multi-published author and writing teacher. He seemed positive about the opening pages of my manuscript, so I think I'm on the right track.

After dinner, there was a publishing panel, taking questions. We had a lively discussion with best selling authors, an agent and editor, covering everything from submissions to poetry to Book Espresso machines.

Later, several authors gave readings, and one gentleman mesmerized us with his rhythmic poetry. I met a hockey writer who asked me to send her a copy of Bad Ice.

I had a great time, came away with some nice books and a cool pen. I had a pleasant drive home and was only slightly tired from a sixteen-hour day. I highly recommend this conference, and I have a feeling it will grow in the years to come.

Pictured above: Caroline Wissing, Me, Kevin Craig and Danielle Gaudet Boldt. Photo courtesy of Kevin Craig.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

The Sounds of Summer

I always hear that phrase in musical form. Our local AM radio station needed a new call sign back in the dark ages. When I was eighteen, the owner offered me twenty bucks to record the snippet along with some dude I don't remember.

The studio was in the basement of The Arts Music Store in a local strip mall. I got to sit in a glassed-in booth and sing into a microphone bigger than my face. We did the same piece over and over again, and harmonized with the playback until we sounded like a choir. Then I got to sing, "The sounds of summer," all by myself.

They never aired it and I didn't get my twenty dollars, but the experience was fun.

Now that those lazy hazy days are around the corner, real summer sounds are imminent. Here are some of my favourites:

The crack of a wooden bat against a baseball
The call of a redwing blackbird
The zzzzzzzoip of a tent flap
The high pitched hum of a mosquito
The rumble of distant thunder
Waves lapping and hissing on sand
The dip of a canoe paddle in a lake
The call of a loon (My favourite sound of all!)
Lawnmowers in chorus across the neighbourhood
Steak sizzling on the barbecue
The tinkling music of an ice cream truck
The snick of a cap off a beer bottle

... and the aaaahhhhh as you settle back in a lawn chair.

What are your summer sounds?

Thursday, 25 March 2010

Thursday Thirteen: A Timeline In Tweets

Twitter is fun. I know, that's an understatement. Sometimes it's so hard to come up with something to talk about (especially when nobody listens), but brief 140 character tweets seem to be right up my alley. They are spontaneous, they're fresh and have a sense of immediacy.

Here are a few things I tweeted on the fly (so to speak). Some you might "get", and others are just funny to me, I guess:

1. I stare upward through bare branches at the blue moon and snowflakes fall slowly on my face. Happy New Year.

2. I just realized my dog breathes like Darth Vader.

3. I kinda feel sorry for the cat when he has to open the back door with his face. Who opens things with their face?

4. A quote from my dream last night: "What's with all the smoke? Is this freakin' Mordor?"

5. Overheard by daughter: "What are you listening to? Sounds like opera." "Bohemian Rhapsody." "That doesn't sound like rap."

6. That dog must think he's a rock star and I'm his b**ch if I'm gonna put him out to pee at one in the morning.

7. Working on my synopsis & yet I have this compulsion to do recycling, laundry & poke my eye with a stick.

8.  Ridley the cat has 4 gears: Sleeping, eating, pooping and being an A-hole.

9. Niedermeyer redeems himself & scores. TV guy: "At 36, he's not old." Husband: "I wish I was 36." Me: "I wish you were, too."

10. I know I'm in a bad way when I run from the kitchen to see what all the fuss is about in a curling match.

11. My cousin is getting up & walking just a few days after his double lung transplant. Go Brian!

12. A man stood outside the liquor store holding a sign, "Having a bad day? Tell me off." I gave him points for imagination... & a dollar.

13. The snow is receding like a glacier, leaving behind a moraine made of dog poo.

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

The Other Side of the Canoe

Today, the river that runs a few hundred feet past my house was in the news.

I've known this river since I was twelve years old. I sat on its banks to read my paperbacks on spring days when the grass was just dry enough to sit on without soaking my butt. The first warm rays of the late afternoon sun were so welcome after a dismal, cold and dark winter. Sometimes a groundhog poked its head out of a nearby hole and regarded me with suspicion before slipping back into its lair.

In winter, I once watched otters slither down a homemade snow slide into the frigid water. I saw footprints on the river. Ducks, mice, gulls, crows, and muskrats scampered across the frozen surface. Sometimes I saw slushy human footprints too, and marveled at the stupidity of the human race. Moving water doesn't freeze well.

When I was a teen, my friends and I traversed the banks of the river from Aurora to the border of East Gwillimbury. I fished off the old abandoned dam at the end of our street and caught a 'sucker fish', our name for carp. They weren't good eating, but I heard you could fertilize a garden with it.

Before they installed a proper bridge across the dam, we crossed via a narrow beam, but I often looked down at the churning waters and shuddered with trepidation.

My boyfriend had this brilliant idea. "Let's canoe from Cook Bay to your house!"

Being the love-struck teen that I was, I instantly agreed. We set the canoe in the water on a cloudy day and paddled upstream with the puppy he had given me. Quasi was so well behaved and she peeked over the gunnels, never attempting to jump out.

When it started raining we took shelter under the bridge at Green Lane. (I thought he was going to kiss me, but it turned out I had crud on my cheek. I thought that crap only happened in the movies). We then continued south. At times the water was so shallow we had to get out and carry the canoe, sloshing over smooth pebbles in our sneakers while Quasi stuck her tongue at us with glee because she was getting a free ride.

All in all, it was a pretty crappy trip and I chalked it up to my boyfriend's impulsive nature. (By the way, we didn't stay together. I married a very non-impulsive guy except for the time we drove to Niagara Falls on a whim.)

Today, I discovered why the helicopters hovered over my street and why the ambulance screamed across Davis Drive followed by a police car. A man had paddled his canoe southward on the Holland River and got caught in the intake valve of the dam at the end of my street. He must have struck his head and was swept over the falls along with his canoe. His body was recovered after some difficulty due to the violent undertow at the lower side of the dam. This is our local news report.

His name was Peter Stanton. He ran a school of dance here in town, and I remember watching him float across the dance floor with a fellow teacher during a night out with my girlfriends. He will be missed.

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Howzit Goin', Eh?

I hope everyone is enjoying the Olympics over on our left coast. I spent a brief few hours in Vancouver while on the way to the Okanagan Valley a few years ago and I think British Colombia has everything a person could possibly want. Mountains, valleys, rivers and the ocean. Mmmmm.

Anyway, while meandering through blogland and Twitter, I picked up a few tidbits under discussion:

During a chat on Twitter, authors and agents discussed cross-genre. What does this mean? A YA book written for adults? A book with two story lines like mine, one in adult and the other with a YA voice? Or is it mixing genres completely, like paranormal romance, urban fantasy, thriller/suspense/mystery etc. Is an author at a disadvantage when they haven't found their specialty or their focus, or is being versatile a good thing?

Yes, La Nora has managed to do it, but I'm talking about writers near the beginning of their careers.

Janet Reid brought up an interesting point, discussing the merits of being approachable. Years ago, a fan couldn't directly contact a favourite author except through the publisher. There are still many recluses who protect their privacy, but a record number are right out there on Facebook, Twitter, Myspace, Goodreads etc. Up-and-coming and bestselling authors share cyberspace, allowing readers to sneak a peek into their lives.

This accessibility can prompt avid readers to cling to an author as if he or she is a lifeline. That can be a really big responsibility. To help alleviate the pressure, an author can provide valuable links on their blog or website related to their writing subject. If an author becomes so well-known that he or she is inundated with questions, my guess is that it would be great to compile all the questions and make an FAQ page.

Having some kind of contact information will also help an aspiring author, especially if an agent wants to make contact. Providing a valid email address on your blog is a good start. It doesn't have to be a traceable address if you are concerned about privacy.

Speaking of privacy, many authors have concerns about stalkers. What if you get so popular and well known that you draw all the crazies out of the woodwork? I can't imagine that in my case, but I'm sure many memoir writers who handled sensitive subjects might encounter the occasional nut bar. 

With the onset of the internet, what special precautions should we implement in order to keep our private lives private? Is a gmail account enough? Unfortunately, hacking is becoming more prevalent. I'm lucky my son is now studying Computer Security, so I can count on him to help keep my public private.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch... my search for agents is much easier than just two years ago when I was seeking representation. New faces, and some familiar ones I totally forgot about! It's like a sinkful of spoons. As I feel around in the soapy water, I always seem to find one more.

I'm not sending my queries all at once. After I send out a couple, I tweak the query a bit and then send another. When I update my query and send it out, sometimes I feel like I'm going to get an A from the teacher.

And on a final note, I'm thinking and praying for my dear cousin Brian, who has been placed on a waiting list for a double lung transplant. Also, my friend and fellow Champagne books author Mike Davis is battling cancer. Sign those donor cards, people!

Monday, 25 January 2010

It's Not All About Me

Sorry I haven't been here in a while. The Christmas holidays were packed with cooking, family and good times. My college-age kids were home for three weeks and they kept me entertained.

I sang to Beatles Rock Band and scored 100%, thank you very much!

My novel THE YEARBOOK is complete and I am now dipping my toes in agent waters. I hope I don't sink. Still struggling with the synopsis, so agents who require it can relax for now.

Another reason I've been AWOL is due to the seductive allure of Twitter. It's like floating around in a big party, joining conversations without receiving haughty looks, and nibbling from a vast smorgasbord of Very Useful Information.

For instance, SherryGrammarian teaches us how to Speak Canadian, just in time for the Vancouver Olympics. Visiting Americans will find this guide very handy.

Jane Friedman over at Writer Unboxed offers her take on The Wall Street Journal's recent article Death of the Slush Pile. She also gives us other ways to attract positive attention using Internet networking.

Not to mention a few agents who allow us to peek into their lives, share some laughs and get great publication tips (waves to @Janet_Reid, @RachelleGardner, @DeirdreKnight, @BookEndsJessica & @LoriPerkinsRR).

Speaking of agents, a self-professed writer has been trolling around the Interwebs taking pot shots at top agents and editors, teaching us how to attract negative attention. I won't link to him. He knows who he is. I must admit I jumped in to help defend people who didn't deserve his vitriol, but since have taken my friends' advice and meet his words with resounding silence.

Good stuff:

Stuart Neville, a dear online friend, recently announced a film deal for his book The Ghosts of Belfast. Huzzah for Conduit!

Many of my wonderful writer friends had an excellent 2009 and are starting off 2010 with new releases, great reviews, representation and shiny new manuscripts.