Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Exotic Dancing

First, let me thank Sandra for allowing me to occupy her blog for a day. Second, let me introduce myself.

My name is Travis Erwin. I suppose I am many things but for this post's sake I'm going to label myself as a writer, a Texan, an observer of the world.

Sandra is one of my favorite twitter buddies. I first met her via the blogosphere but these days I keep up with her life in exotic Ontario via twitter and facebook.

And yes, you read that correctly, I did write EXOTIC Ontario, because it is exotic to me.


ex·ot·ic [ig-zot-ik]  


1. of foreign origin or character; not native; introduced from abroad, but not fully naturalized or acclimatized: exotic foods; exotic plants.
2. strikingly unusual or strange in effect or appearance: an exotic hairstyle.
3. of a uniquely new or experimental nature: exotic weapons.
4. of, pertaining to, or involving stripteasing: the exotic clubs where strippers are featured.

5.something that is exotic: The flower show included several tropical exotics with showy blooms.
6. an exotic dancer;  stripper.


If, I'm being honest I've seen enough strippers in my day that they no longer qualify for "exotic" status, but no doubt y'all are all fine puritan folks so perhaps you find scantily clad dancers quite exotic indeed.

And that, FINALLY brings me to the point of this here post. 

When I first began writing I thought the stories I created had to be about far off places. I thought they had to be stocked with strange and mysterious characters. I thought my plots had to be spectacularly unique.

Long before I was a writer seeking publication I was a storyteller. A Texas bullshitter prone to cracking open a longneck or ten. Once my vocal cords were well lubricated I could talk for hours telling tales of my misspent youth. At parties, in hunting camps, and even at more than a few writing conferences I told stories about my teenage years, when I worked at a dusty Texas Feedstore. I regaled my audiences with stories of my immoral but vivacious boss. 

Being serious about the craft of storytelling I of course enhanced the stories where I deemed necessary. I thought I had to because well I thought without spice no one will care about the happening at a common place called Pearl's Feed & Seed. Sure the stories were funny, but embarrassing tales of bulldog masturbation, headless parakeets, ex-wives with murderous intent, and feed room fellatio are far from exotic. I mean hasn't everyone stolen a prosthetic leg, lost their virginity to a disenchanted goth girl, and fought off an angry emu?

Turns out that NO, not everyone has had those experiences. Turns out my coming-of-age tales centered around Pearl's Feed & Seed didn't really need much dressing up. Turns out my listening audiences found the tales of my youth quite exotic indeed. So one thing led to another and bam, I wrote a book.

And the best thing is TAG Publishing found it exotic enough to add it to their lineup.
THE FEEDSTORE CHRONICLES was released November 1st and is now available via Amazon, Barnes&Noble, and very soon in electronic format for both your nook and kindle. 
And of course if you live in in some exotic locale like Ontario, you can order from Amazon's Canadian branch but wow, is the shipping slow. I suppose that's what happens with you live someplace exotic.
I write this not only hoping to sell a few copies but also a word of advice to all my fellow writers for it is easy to discount your own experiences as uninteresting or not worthy of creating a story, but fact of the matter is the grass is usually green on both sides of the fence.

 Hi guys, Sandra here. Wow... two posts in a month! It's a Christmas Miracle and Hell froze over! But I'm glad to help my buddy Travis out with his debut novel-slash-memoir-slash-comedy. I've known Travis almost since I was a wee little writer (as in about 4 years ago) and he's always been supportive and gosh darn funny. 

Here is Travis.

Here is his book:

You can check out Travis' blog here.

Hope to see you before Christmas!!!

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Burning Bridges

An Open Letter to Bridge Burners Everywhere:

I remember when you kicked me in the shin for saying, "Hey, what's the big idea"
I remember when you took a leather strap to my hand in first grade because I kept pushing a boy's hand off my desk.
I remember when you showed up an hour late for our movie date and I missed all the best parts because of you.
I remember when you didn't visit me in the hospital, even though you said you would.
I remember when you grabbed my pigtails and pulled them, hard.
I remember when you told me I was beautiful, but I then discovered you were just playing me like a gullible violin.
I remember when you made fun of my book on Twitter.

But guess what? I forgive you, my best friend, my teacher, my first boyfriend, my book reviewer. You're lucky you were only cruel to me because I'm not the kind of person who holds onto a good mad.

Some people might not be so forgiving. If you choose to be insulting, abusive or hostile in person or online, you might get the attention of the wrong person -- like an agent or editor or employer. Remember that when it's your turn to query or apply for that job, because they'll sure remember you.

Sometimes I think writers have a distinct advantage because they can exact subtle revenge by incorporating their past nemeses into their fiction. Too bad plumbers, shopkeepers and wait staff don't have such an outlet. But... maybe they do. *Checks soup for spittle*

People say stupid things, all the time. I've said them and I almost instantly regret them. Sometimes people say stupid things and they don't remember, or don't care.

People can be hurtful and cruel, or just plain ignorant. It's  too easy to be careless online and cause pain to another person. You might think it's a passing moment, but that moment is burned in, forever. Not just in someone's memories, but on the world wide web.

Think before you type...  and if you're ever on the receiving end of a careless post or email, I hope you can forgive your adversaries. Or at least turn them into trolls on paper.

On a lighter note, I'd like to wish my American friends a Happy Thanksgiving. May your tables groan, and later, your stomachs.

Picture credit: I don't know... this picture is EVERYWHERE!

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

You Can't Always Get What You Want

I'm going to start this post with the dreaded rhetorical question: Did you ever set out to do one thing, and find yourself taking a completely different path? One you didn't think you wanted? One that led to self-fulfilment and satisfaction?

That old Stones tune struck a chord with me last week. I looked back at all the goals I had set when I was a fresh young newbie in the big bad world. I thought I was going to be the next Robert Bateman (except a girl). That dream was dashed when I discovered it wasn't easy to get a job after graduation painting stuff. So I chose Graphic Arts. That was a bust -- medical problems forced me to drop out halfway through my second semester.

I looked at my options the next year and entered a Visual Arts Instructor Training course at my local community college. This introduced me to photography, and I ended up working at a camera store after graduation.

After years of selling film and taking in photofinishing, the boss moved me upstairs to assemble the store's newspaper ads.

Full circle. I now work for a newspaper, making ads.

I recently realized this theme runs through the novel I'm currently subbing. The main character has a serious crush on a boy, but in her efforts to get his attention she distances herself from her volatile home life. She then finds the courage to return home and becomes closer than ever to her mother.

The same thing can be said for the author. A new writer might set out to win the Booker Prize, but it may not be in the cards. Who knows, he or she might end up as a best selling mystery or romance writer, with sales quadrupling any literary author's. 

Is your path straight, or did it take a few left turns? Are you happy where you ended up or will you peek around the next corner?

You can't always get what you want, but you might get what you need.

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Comic Cons Aren't Just For Comics

Last weekend I decided at the last moment to accompany my daughter, an avid animator and fan of everything pop culture, to Fan Expo in Toronto.

My intention was to connect with a couple of author pals and support their books. I expected an expanse of booths and hundreds of people milling around, but nothing prepared me for what I experienced.

We took the subway to Union Station and followed the signs that led to the Metro Toronto Convention Centre. Several Expo volunteers were already on hand to direct us to the area where we could buy tickets. I expected a lineup at a ticket window just outside the venue, but we were asked to proceed down Simcoe Street, along the side of the Centre, and into a parking garage.

As the crowd got thicker and the temperature rose, I couldn't help but feel were being herded onto some mysterious intergalactic vessel, never to be seen again.

We finally got inside, and boy oh boy... was it huge!

Exhibitors from Warner Brothers, Disney, TeleToons, Space Channel... I could go on but you get the picture... as well as dozens of comic book and collectible retailers took up the centre of the huge building. Along the edges I found Artists Ally, booths rented by local artists who specialized in comic books, fan art and Anime. I almost bought a Tardis air freshener, but it was ten bucks. I did, however, score a Montreal ComicCon poster from a Quebec comic book retailer who didn't intend to sell the posters.

I was pleased to see several independent/small presses represented, as well as Canadian divisions of big publishers like Penguin and Harper Collins, hawking books from the SFF and Paranormal genres. Champagne's new imprint, Burst, would feel right at home.

There, I met up with my friend Lesley Livingston and had my ARC of Once Every Never signed.

In the lobby and upstairs, I saw Ghost Busters, Steampunk Society aficionados, and Star Wars 501st Regiment Storm Troopers. I met up with Adrienne Kress at the Steampunk Society booth, where she displayed her bestselling children's books Alex and the Ironic Gentleman, and Timothy and the Dragon's Gate.

Later, I sat in on a panel about world building. A tall adolescent with fluffy hair obscured my view of the panel which included Lesley Livingston, Rob Weston, Ed Greenwood  (my DnD son would have loved to meet him!) and Violette Malan, a fantasy author. They kicked ass and made us laugh while giving great advice on writing.

And lastly, I must comment on... THE COSTUMES! They were incredible. I couldn't stop staring at the amazing effort fans put into their favourite characters.

There was too much to take in during one day. I can see now why people buy passes for all four days. Maybe I'll go back next year and just walk around... in a COSTUME...? Maybe. We'll see.

The 501st, ready to fall out.

The Steampunk Society had lots of really swell gadgets.

These guys freeze framed for a while before starting to hand out posters.

I expected Yakko, Wacko and Dot to pop out of this thing. 

Saturday, 20 August 2011

Your Life in 150 Words

Today, I saw a Reader's Digest contest that asks for your life story in 150 words or less. I jumped all over that, and quickly opened a word file before I lost my nerve.
When I copied my 149 words and went to the site, I was disappointed to learn the contest is only open to U.S. Citizens.

Oh, well.

Anyway, I decided to throw my entry up here.

At three years old, I caught fireflies in Trinidad. At four, I drew my first horse in Thunder Bay.

At seven, I watched whales frolic in Chaleur Bay from the top of a snow bank. When I was ten, Kenny and I protested the impending demise of a weeping willow in Pierrefonds by climbing into its branches and refusing to come down.

At sixteen, I spent a year at an international school in Mallorca and learned that I wasn’t so special, yet I was unique. At seventeen, I rode a Berber mare in Algeria. She took the bit and led me on a wild ride before depositing me on my feet with my arms still wrapped around her neck.
At twenty-four, I married the love of my life and had two talented children.

At forty-seven, I wrote my first novel. At fifty-two, I’m still painting, writing, learning... and married.

What's your life story in 150 words?

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Perfect Moments

Do you ever have those days when you want to freeze a moment and hold it forever? Maybe you’re having a bad day and everything seems to be going wrong. Maybe you’re tired of rejection and want to give up.

Rather than dwell on disappointment, why not reach into the back of your mind and pluck out one of those perfect moments when all seems right with the world.

Some of my perfect moments:

Sitting back with a cold drink after I’ve mowed the back lawn. As the rapidly melting ice chirps in my glass, I look at the evenly cut blades of grass, inviting a picnic on its temporarily pristine surface. I never get around to the picnic, but the prospect is pleasing.

Late afternoon light when the breeze carries those little fluffy seeds. They look like backlit faeries dancing just for my enjoyment. I don't think of the weedy aftermath.

The beach – laughing children and the keening of gulls mingled with the smell of sunscreen. My toes push under the hot sand, finding a cool spot beneath.

That feeling when a plane accelerates on the tarmac and my head pushes against the back of my seat. The turbine engines roar, then their pitch rises to a “wheeeee,” as they carry me away to some exciting destination.

The warmth of the sun on huge slab of granite at the edge of a clear lake. I gaze at multicoloured lichen radiating from the cracks, and pick blueberries while a loon calls in the distance.

The first gentle snowfall, hopefully before Christmas. Light sparkles on it, reminding me of my childhood for some reason.

Taking out my grandmother’s rosary and watching the light bounce off the facets of its beads.

There. I feel much better now.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

The Fun Side of Research

Remember a couple of years ago when I told you about a super opening for a polo mystery? Well, I'm about 10K words into my WIP. It's been a slow process, probably because my confidence in my writing has been sagging lately.

But I'm not here to whine. I wanted to share my experience while researching for the setting of my book. I'd been to several charity polo matches nearby (thanks to my employer), but nothing compared to the events of the past year.

You see, my girlfriend met a millionaire, and they soon started dating. He had taken up polo a few years ago and plays in Florida and here in Ontario. After meeting him, I was pulled into the world of the rich - massive estates, horses by the gross and handsome people. You'd think they'd be snobby like in the movies, but they aren't. They're all wonderful and warm.

I attended matches at the polo club, watched my girlfriend taking lessons and went to some really great parties. They weren't wild parties - it seems horse lovers are just like me - lovers of animals, good food, music and conversation.

Recently my girlfriend and the millionaire parted ways (amicably) and are still good friends. I ran into him at this year's charity event (he and my girlfriend both volunteered on the committee) and we exchanged warm greetings. I'll always admire his easygoing openness and generosity. Because of him, my novel has taken on a new level of authenticity.

Here are a few of the events that kept me from blogging (and sometimes writing) the past few months:

Nacho Figueras, six-goaler and Ralph Lauren model, tearing up the pitch at Pace Polo For Heart 2011. I didn't meet him, but he seemed nice.

Me on Maya, a gift to my girlfriend. A sweet pony - I hope I didn't confuse her too much.

Me with Princess Diya Kumari of Jaipur. Her husband was on the Royal Jaipur Polo Club team, invited to this year's Polo For Heart.

And finally, my own sister's brush with royalty on Monday. Cathy Elliott is musical director of The Talking Stick, the first all-Aboriginal original musical at this year's Charlottetown Festival. Her troupe performed for the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and got to meet the newlyweds. I'm so proud of my sis!

I hope to "get back on the writing horse" with more regularity this summer. I might no longer be in the inner circles of the rich, but I was sure to take notes!

Saturday, 7 May 2011

A Mother's Love

So many things have been said about mothers, and I'm not sure if I have anything new. Every mother is unique. Some are strict, others are 'best friends' and some are not meant to be mothers at all.

We are often told we'll grow up to be our mothers as if it's some sort of revenge for sins committed when we were wayward teens. We sometimes view this prospect with horror, and other times are thankful we treat our children like our mothers treated us. When my kids tell me I'm cool, I think it's because of my mom.

My mom was born during the waning years of the Great Depression, in a region rife with unemployment at the best of times. She did her best to help her mother with cleaning up after three brothers and a not so perfect father.

She also coped with moving a lot with three kids and a husband who spent a lot of time on business trips. We could have turned out to be real head cases, being teenagers in the Seventies, but I think we turned out pretty good.

Mom talked to us. She joked with us. She opened her door to our friends. We cared for her and she cared for us in return, which might seem like a back asswards situation, but it was.

Mom was excruciatingly shy. She didn't like to leave the house, and didn't want anyone to see her. But when we had visitors or when she was at the grocery store, she lit up the place. Her sense of humour put everyone at ease, and I think laughter helped us achieve success with our relationships and our children.

She sang oldies all the time. Sometimes, I find myself belting out Isn't It Romantic while doing the dishes, just like she did when I was a kid.

Mom is a thousand miles away, back in her home town of Saint John, New Brunswick. I miss her and I love her. I hope to see her soon.

Happy Mother's Day, Mom. Of course, you and I know that Mother's Day is Every Day.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

I Love That Little Bird

No, not Angry Birds (hubby is obsessed with them). I love the Twitter Machine.

While on Staycation last week I came across a tweet from Wanda Bookalicious (not her real name), a book-loving blogger affiliated with the Yummy Mummy Club, a popular site here in the Toronto area. It was a contest to win a free ticket to Jodi Picoult's book event. I thought, what the heck, and participated.

Imagine my surprise when Wanda messaged me to say I'd won. Not only a seat at the reading, but a free copy of Jodi's latest book, Sing You Home. 

I drove to Toronto on a rainy Thursday night and joined the throng of enthusiastic fans. A sweet little couple in front of me in line had driven 4 1/2 hours from Sudbury to be part of the event. They looked like sisters, with baseball caps and sneakers. One of them lamented missing the Leaf game, and the other thanked her for making such a big sacrifice. :)

I'm telling Jodi about my sister. That's my boob there on the right...

Jodi's reading had me hooked right away, but the thing that set this one apart was the music. Sing You Home comes with a CD with lyrics written by Ms. Picoult, and music by her long-time friend Ellen Wilber. Ellen performed three songs live, songs written to accompany specific chapters in the book.

After the performance, Jodi answered questions. Some were typical - who were your favourite characters and such, but one sweet girl stood out. She piped up in her childlike voice, "Hi, I'm thirteen and I really love you. All my friends at school talk about Justin Bieber, but I just talk about you."

As the book signing portion approached, I began to worry because I didn't know where I was going to get my free book. The organizer told me Wanda had the books, but we couldn't locate her. As my row of seats took their places in line, the representative tracked down a book for me from the green room. She didn't have to do that, and I'm forever grateful for her kindness.

I had the book signed while explaining to Jodi how her MC's story was so similar to my sister's.

As I was preparing to leave, Wanda finally spotted me and we embraced. I told her I received a copy, and she promptly gave me another one. I joined the line again, so now I have an extra!

I love meeting people in person after interacting on Twitter. This morning I finally met a local independent grocer who is like a rock star in these parts LOL.

And just to give you all a laugh, here's a picture of me and my girlfriends during our most recent Bitches Night Out:

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Everyone Has Dreams

I went to my brother's surprise 50th Birthday dinner at a nice, trendy restaurant in Toronto. Frankly, I thought my husband and I were going to be the only diners at the table for ten. A half hour later, one of my brother's old friends finally arrived, then another couple. Okay, this was going to be a party!

When my brother showed up, he was genuinely surprised. He reached across the table to embrace my husband, who promptly knocked over the drink I'd just received. Being a mom, I instinctively grabbed for it, but it shattered in my hand. Luckily, it didn't pierce the skin.

After we cleaned up and ordered dinner, I sat back to listen to my brother and his friends reminisce about the old music scene in Toronto. They talked about who had the best sound mixing boards, who was with what band these days, and the clubs they played in. That night, I found out my brother actually performed at El Mocambo, an iconic tavern on Spadina.

He worked as a janitor for the building. Once, late at night, he stood in the middle of the empty stage where the Rolling Stones and Elvis Costello performed, and he visualized himself playing guitar there. A few years later, he did.

At 50, he plays a mean guitar, keyboards, bass and mandolin with the best of them. He teaches music for a living, but I believe someday he'll realize his dream of making a living playing music.

I feel the same way about writing. With every rejection, with every turn of phrase, with every nice email from a happy reader, I know I'm going to make it. Well, most of the time. Well... sometimes.

I hope my children will realize their dreams at an earlier age, but if they don't, it's no big deal. Sometimes the journey is as exciting as the destination.

I can still dream, can't I?

Here's the gift I made for little Bro, suitable for a Toronto boy living in Buffalo

Sunday, 16 January 2011

My Brain is so Frazzled I Can't Even Think of a Title

I don't think I've experienced writer's block before, so I'm not sure I'd recognize it if I saw it. Is it that feeling everything you write is crap? Is it the brick wall you face when you're supposed to be writing a story? Is it opening your Twitter account instead of your WIP?

Or is it lack of confidence, second-guessing every word you type, backspacing and starting over about a hundred times? To me, it feels like neglecting a house until the paint peels and the windows are broken. The muse needs a coat of paint and a little TLC, but the job seems overwhelming.

The last several months have been... interesting. I had two WIPs on the go, and had to decide which to finish. One was literary women's fiction and the other was an up-market thriller with a premise that changed every time I looked at the world news.

After consulting my writerly pals, I decided to finish the women's fiction and started querying almost exactly a year ago. I had enough requests to keep me going. One agent requested revisions and I complied. It was close, but no cigar. I don't regret the exchange with the agent - she was so encouraging and made me feel like I was creating something worthwhile. In the end, she passed, but I have a cleaner, leaner and meaner book in hand.

Others offered similar feedback which compelled me to chop the manuscript in pieces and convert it into a YA novel. Now I'm starting a second round with the new title in hand, and there is still a lot of nibbling going on, but no real bites... yet.

All the while, I was asking myself, "Why am I doing this? Why don't I quit and do something else?" Everyone says an author should be working on the next book while querying.

After all, we don't wait until one kid is in college before having another one, do we?

It's like waiting to see if my first kid is going to be a ballet dancer or a rock star. After all, it's easier to hand down a set of drums than to buy a whole new set. I could continue with character-driven novels or switch gears and write a romantic suspense. I enjoy both, but I don't know if my future agent will.

While I'm mulling it over, I'll tell you about my first experience with a polo pony. How's that for switching gears?

My best friend had been taking polo lessons all summer and her boyfriend presented her with a polo pony. The pony's name is Maya and she's white with little brown freckles all over her. The first thing my friend did was commission me to paint a portrait of her, which I did. I'm posting a copy over there with my other paintings.

Maya was a rescue horse and hadn't been ridden for a while. She had become a bit "green" and needed to be brought up to speed with careful training. Much like my WIP *laughs*.

Earlier this winter, I had a chance to ride her.

Polo tack is a nightmare to put on a horse. There are so many straps and buckles, you need a diagram to remember it all. Maya stood patiently while I fiddled with her bridle and almost put the bit up her nostrils.

I hadn't ridden in five years, so when I got on her, I felt like I was going to slide off. I walked her around the arena while three youngsters zoomed circles around me in preparation for an upcoming indoor game. My friend, still a novice polo player, watched and laughed from the viewing room. I wasn't doing a very good job of warming up her horse.

Polo ponies are ridden in a different style from Western and English. There are two reins, and you hold them in your left hand only, even if you're right handed. The right hand is supposed to be for the mallet, but I wasn't holding one. The horse is trained to follow the ball, much like a cutting horse is trained to follow a dodging steer. Thus, steering isn't as much of an issue. Just stay on!

The stable owner's son, who was about ten years old, sidled up beside me on his bay mount. Our legs gently bumped together as he explained how to make the horse go faster. I guess he was tired of watching me playing it safe while he booted around at top speed.

He leaned forward and guided my rein hand up Maya's neck. "Its okay to canter, ya know. Just put your hand up here, behind her ears."

I laughed. "Trust me; you don't want to see me canter. I'm so out of shape my legs already feel like rubber. I'd fall off."

"Suit yourself," he responded with a shrug. He shouted, "Hyah!" and kicked his horse into a hard run while his mother shouted at him to slow down.

I nudged Maya to a trot, but when she speeded up I lost my nerve and slowed her down again. She must have thought I was some old fuddy-duddy.

I enjoyed my ride, but it was before Christmas and I haven't had a chance to visit again. I was given permission to ride Maya anytime, but I'd like my busy friend to be present to help saddle her because I still haven't figured out all those leather straps.

Thanks for listening to my rant. I promise to whip my flagging confidence in the butt and to get cracking with my writing again.  I'd already started a polo mystery, but now I wonder if it should feature a teen protagonist. There I go... second-guessing again.

It's time to canter.