Friday, 9 November 2012

I Promised Something Last Week, Didn't I?

Hi Gang,

Last week the floodgates opened. No... bad choice of words. What I'm trying to say is that after long gaps between posts, I'm ready to start blogging again on a semi-regular basis. Being a virgin empty nester has its perks if you set aside the "missing your kids" part.

I've been working on a murder mystery for a while, and I'm ready to dive back into it. If you're a member of Book Country, you might have seen a pretty big chunk of Mallet as it was being developed.

I'm a Certified Pantster, so whatever you read today might not be the same tomorrow. I decided to post a sample of the book, just to whet appetites - yours and mine.

Now, where to start? The Beginning, according to all agent rules? Or a little piece in the middle, just to keep everyone guessing? I'll let you guess, since I'm still guessing anyway.

Saturday dawned hot and hazy. I blew the dust bunnies off my navy blue pumps, cinched myself into a steeply discounted designer sundress, and headed for the polo grounds on the Montgomery farm in Gormley. A few signs with red arrows pointed the way to the venue, and I scanned for the entrance.
A long line of cedar fencing bordered the farm to my left, and out of the corner of my eye I noticed a rail had snapped in two, leaving a gap. Someone should fix that, I thought.
I returned my attention to the winding road. In the same moment, a huge reddish-brown object filled my view in front of my car.
"Shit!" I slammed on my brakes and struggled to keep the Toyota from spinning out of control. Gravel spit in every direction. I managed to bring the car to a halt on the soft shoulder, facing the way I had come.
I gulped and gasped, gripping the steering wheel. When my heart and the dust settled, I searched the roadside, wondering if I'd hit the deer.
It wasn't a deer. It was a horse.
It shuffled back and forth in the ditch on the west side of the road, doing a little pirouette on its hind feet before trotting in the opposite direction.
With a deep breath, I undid my seatbelt and opened the door. I stood on the gravel shoulder for a moment, wondering about my next move.
The horse stopped for a moment and pricked its ears before flattening them and resuming its dance in the ditch. There was no sign of a limp, and a quick glance at my bumper reassured me I hadn't made contact. Thank God.
I had no idea how I was going to catch it. I looked around for help, but for the moment the lane was empty. No freaked-out farmhand came running from any nearby property, so it looked like I was on my own.
"Come on… girl?" Or was it a male? I didn't have time to peek at its undercarriage. I just kept my eyes fixed on a pair of flared nostrils while I slithered into the dry ditch.
The horse gave me a look that said, "Oh, no you're not," and flattened its ears again.
It wore a leather halter, but I knew from experience it wasn't a good idea to try to lead a nervous horse without a rope of some kind. One toss of the head and I could end up under its hooves. I crept closer, speaking softly while unbuckling my navy blue cotton belt. I slid it from the loops on my dress and held it to my side.
The horse snorted and nosed the sky, eyes rolling, but briefly stood still.
I stepped forward, and it stepped backward. I tried again, and it retreated.
I remembered a move I'd learned back in college when I took care of the school horses. I turned my shoulder and walked along the ditch, ahead the horse. I extended my closed fist as if I were holding a lead.
The trick worked. It followed me and I slowed my pace until it strode alongside. I looped my belt around its halter and hoped it wouldn't rear up, as I didn't have quite enough slack to keep the horse from hauling me into the air.
We scrambled out of the ditch, my genuine imitation patent vinyl pumps slipping on the flattened grass, and my arm almost yanked out of its socket as the horse unceremoniously assisted me to higher ground.
A car approached and slowed, its tires crunching the gravel. I raised my free hand and the driver rolled to a stop.
"Need any help?" The guy asked from his open window.
"No – I got it." I struggled to keep the bay still as it danced about, trying to jerk the belt out of my grip.
The driver set his hazard lights and got out of his car, halting the increasing lineup of vehicles that had built up behind him. He waited until we passed through the gates of the nearest driveway, and then returned to his car with a friendly wave.
By now the horse had finally decided to cooperate, and clopped calmly beside me. I hoped this was the right farm. This property was either on the polo grounds or adjacent, since the line of cars had turned into the next driveway.
A voice drifted through the trees from a loudspeaker, calling out the itinerary for the day's festivities. The first game was due to start just after lunch. I pictured Dionne sitting with the chairpersons and polo players' wives, sipping mimosas and making excuses for my absence.
 At this end of the grounds, silence surrounded me except for the occasional sleepy tweet from birds high in the pines that lined the driveway. A whinny drifted from a gargantuan century barn, and as I got closer, I heard angry male voices.

Sunday, 4 November 2012

The Prodigal Writer Returns

Hi, everyone! I know I haven't been around much lately, for a variety of reasons. Some would call them excuses, but I'll stick with the former.

I've been busy the last few months helping my children leave the nest, just like the Cooper's hawks that went their merry way in late summer. My son moved out in September, and we rented a truck to get most of his furniture to him. He was kind enough to give me his old room, which I scraped and cleaned and converted into my own personal writing haven. Here's how it turned out:

I even found a place for my Underwood.

My son will do well. He was ready to fly. After he finishes his co-op, he'll have one more semester and will have his B.A. in Computer Security.

Last week, I got on a plane with my daughter and two suitcases, and flew to Vancouver to help settle her into her new job at DHX Media, working on the children's cartoon Pound Puppies. She will be living with a fellow graduate and together they'll explore the world of Animation.

I bought the tickets online and also made the hotel reservation at the same place the room mate’s parents had arranged. It was the Best Western Uptown, and reasonably priced at $88. We only planned to stay the one night since we were going to buy air mattresses and stay in the apartment for the rest of the week.

The two girls seem like two peas in a pod. They like the same things and have a similar sense of humour. I really got along with the kid and she got all my jokes. Yay!

Most of the week was spent careening from one big box store to another in crazy traffic. We spent most of the time in the area close to the Burnaby border – Walmart, Ikea, The Brick and a few discount stores. When we found out The Brick was going to charge $100 to deliver my daughter's $400 sofa five minutes away, we went next door to another furniture store and bought the exact same couch for the same price, and they only asked for $50 for delivery. I had a brainstorm and asked if they had cash & carry, and conferred with the room mate's dad to see if there would be enough room in the rented minivan if we lowered all the seats. It fit! We picked up the couch the next day and it was easy to lift. However, it got stuck in the elevator for about 10 minutes. Oops. We finally worked it free and re-inserted it properly, and got it into the apartment.

Thursday and Friday were spent mostly assembling furniture.

The rain fell all week. Except for a few glimpses between buildings and telephone poles from the back seat of the minivan, I didn’t see the mountains at all. We finally had a free day to explore on Saturday and we took the Skytrain downtown to see how long it would take for the girls to commute. It turns out the trip was only 15-20 minutes, and DHX studio is directly at the other end of Gastown, about a 10 minute walk from the station. Or they could take a 5 minute bus ride if the timing is right.

We split up and looked around. My daughter and I had lunch at the 131 Water Kitchen & Bar in Gastown, then poked around a few galleries and antique shops. All the patrons were friendly and talkative, which suited me just fine!

It wasn’t long before it started pouring again, so there was no point going to the the waterfront to try to see the mountains. So we hopped back on the train and went to a mall we’d discovered in Burnaby (only 5 minutes from the apartment).

Sunday was the only sunny day, but we were already scheduled to get a final load of supplies. That was the day we finally sat in a Starbucks to check in with the rest of the world. 

I hugged my kid goodbye on Monday morning. I didn’t think I’d be upset but I have to admit my throat tightened a bit. She’ll be fine. She’ll be fine.

Two hours later, I couldn’t stand it any longer and had to get moving. I took the train, with one transfer, to the airport. Easy Peasy. I felt so proud that I could check myself in, get my window seat assigned, eat my snacks in the lounge and get in line early enough to get my carry-on into the overhead over my assigned seat. Sparkly high five!

Then, when it came time to order a snack, I knew enough to say I’d like to run a tab since I was going to order a drink later. When it came, I actually managed to take one sip before jiggling my tray and dumping the drink all over myself and some on the lady next to me.

Needless to say, I kept a low profile for the next four hours. My pants were ALMOST dry by the time we landed.

Speaking of landing, I watched the sun escape behind us and the storm clouds roll in over the Great Lakes.  We had a lot of turbulence – fortunately, I didn’t have another drink with me – and I took lots of pictures of the tops of puffy clouds and parts of Montana and North Dakota. When we descended over Toronto, the wind was pretty rough, and the passengers applauded loudly when we hit the tarmac. Sandy had landed. 

I understand my namesake was much rougher for our friends on the Eastern Seaboard, and I encourage everyone to contribute what they can to The Red Cross (Canadian and American) to help in the recovery.

In other news, I'll take this moment to share that THE TOAST BITCHES are back! My friends at Musa Publishing accepted the novel for re-release in mid-2013. The girls didn't do so well at their former publisher, due to bad timing and perhaps an aim at the wrong market. It is my hope that The Bitches will benefit from their new home. Stay tuned for a cover when it's available.

I am doing my best to re-ignite my muse and continue working on my latest novel. It's been a tough journey, with my confidence lagging due to my failure to place my last novel. The title of my latest WIP is MALLET, and it's a murder mystery set in the world of polo. Next week, I'll post an excerpt.

'Til then, see you on the Twitter Machine and Facebook!

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Meet The Coopers

Early this spring, I noticed silhouettes in the bare trees of our backyard that didn't look like crows. After peering carefully through the window, I saw they were hawks.

Cool! Maybe they were just visiting, but I hoped I'd see them again.

Later, while getting in the car to go to work, one flew overhead, carrying twigs in its talons.

Double cool.

They took up residence in a neighbour's white pine, and ate lunch in a tall tree beside our driveway. I would often see one of them observing me from above while holding down some unknown prey under its foot. It would utter, "Kek, kek, kek," and fly to the woods across the street.

One day after work, a cat was creeping through our backyard, and one of the hawks settled in a branch above it. I took the opportunity to snap a couple of pictures with my small digital camera before it flew away.

After some research, I determined they were Cooper's hawks, with long barred tail and a rusty red chest. Sleek and graceful, they played about the neighbourhood, swooping through the trees and watching our neighbour gardening.

One morning, I stood in the backyard watching a baby squirrel hold a bit of food and chirping loudly. To my right, Mr. Cooper's hawk sat in a dead elm, watching the noisy little rodent and obviously marinating it with his eyes.

I got off a decent shot with my husband's digital SLR when one of the Coopers chased off some noisy crows. The crows thought it wise to bug out.

The trees have filled in since spring, so it's harder to see them when they give their warning call, but while I was in the yard last weekend, one of them flew right past my head.

I don't think their babies are born yet, but it will be exciting to watch them learn to fly.

Sorry I haven't been around much lately. Writing has been going slowly and my confidence lags, but I'm still trying. The rights to two of my novels have been returned to me (one at  my request) and I'm trying to find them new homes. Bad Ice is still doing well. The polo mystery sits at around 35,000 words and I'm thinking of weaving in a second thread in the detective's point of view. You can find me at my usual yappy state over at Twitter. Love ya all.

Monday, 19 March 2012

A Different St. Paddy's Day

Last weekend my daughter and I decided to hit the road and visit Toronto for the day. She had a few places she wanted to visit, and the nice weather prompted us to drive to the Finch station and take the subway downtown.

We were lucky to snag one of the fancy-schmancy new subway trains with no partitions between the cars. We could see all the way from front to back. As we settled in, a small older woman entered, smiling. I was about to get up to offer her my seat when she started to dance.

She chanted to us, entertaining us with her one-woman evangelical flash mob. Many patrons smiled, and some kept their gaze at their laps. Of course I applauded during a pause, thinking her performance was over. But she kept going for three or four stops before blessing us and leaving the train.

Halfway through her gig, a young man sat across from us. He quietly slid a single Tall Boy of Carlsberg beer out of his LCBO bag and cracked it open. After draining it, he put the paper bag and the can under his seat. The doors opened and a breeze sent the paper bag into the next compartment, and the can tipped over and rolled against his heel. He ignored it. Perhaps he was christening the new subway train in his own way, or maybe he was pre-drinking in preparation for St. Patrick's Day.

We exited at Osgoode Station and walked along Queen Street West to a store called The Silver Snail. I expected a cramped store with stacks of comic books like in The Big Bang Theory, but this place was awesome. Every collectible you could imagine (except Game of Thrones, darn them) were stacked on shelves on two floors.

I couldn't resist the 12" figurine of Simon Pegg as 
Shaun of the Dead (you've got some red on you) 
and lucky me, it was 20% off.

If I had $450, I could've got one of these.

We walked north on Spadina and happened upon a parade in Chinatown with lots of young people carrying yellow placards and beating drums. I helped an elderly gentleman extract his scooter from a dip in the sidewalk, and we forged on through the vegetable markets.

We waited at the cash register and a family walked in with a boy who looked around twelve or thirteen. His eyes lit, his face flushed. "Whoa! This is awesome! This is the best place ever!"

He looked like he was going to hyperventilate. If I'd brought my kids here at his age, they would probably have reacted the same way. I told his mother there was a guy restoring stuff on the second floor, and she immediately summoned her boy and told him, "Come upstairs! You're going to see something amazing!"
I'll go there again, especially if they have a Wesley Crusher action figure.

As we passed Grossman's Tavern, I noticed that Stevie Ray Vaughan had played the previous night. My brother would have loved that. I also noticed the graffiti in the doorway, which made me pout a little. Grossman's deserves better, and somebody had better get their ass out there and scrub that stuff off.

We skirted U of T and hit a small game store near Bloor. While my daughter scanned the shelves for vintage bargains, I hit the used book store a few doors to the south.

Books! Books stacked to the ceiling! Books piled on the floor! If this store held wands, it would be Ollivander's wand shop. When I entered, I saw one brave soul at the top of one ladder, going through books near the 20 foot high ceiling. At first I thought he was one of the owners, but no, he was a customer, wearing his trench coat and carefully going through the titles.

I didn't have his energy. Wooden plaques graced the shelves, from Anthologies to Zambia. Fiction and non-fiction, paperbacks and old art books. I suffered from sensory overload and every book I ever wanted to look for flew from my head like so many little birdies.

I looked for the proprietor, and as I approached the back wall I saw her wooly white hair floating behind the high counter as she sat reading and listening to the radio.

Our day ended with a desperate bid for street meat (we hadn't eaten for five hours) and a subway ride back to Finch station and a drive home, where the fog hung over our home town, showing a pale disk that was the sun. It looked like we were descending on some dystopian Newmarket. Dinner ensued.

The End.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Mama Don't Take My Paperback Away

Recently, Kodak filed for bankruptcy. I felt a tinge of sadness at the news. I had studied photography in college, and spent many years selling Kodak film while working at Henry's and Black's. Paul Simon's popular song was my mantra. I even sold stale-dated Super 8 Ektachrome to Sting and Andy Summers when they dropped by the store way back in the Eighties before they were famous. I have boxes and boxes of slides and photographs recording every moment I thought was beautiful and wanted to share with everyone.

While at college, I not only honed my painting skills, but also learned how to develop film and print my own photographs in a darkroom. At first, the process seemed complicated and very mysterious. First I had to expose the film or photographic paper to controlled light, either through a camera or enlarger lens. Then I immersed the film in a developing solution for a set time, then switch to an acid bath to stop the process. By the end, I had a photograph to put in a frame or an album.

A hundred (or thereabouts) years ago, photographs were exposed on sheets of metal coated with silver. A photograph was expensive and a really big deal. It was the next big thing after portrait painting. Kodak introduced the Brownie camera, making it even easier for average Joes to record their moments and keep them forever, or at least as long as the paper lasted before fading.

Kodak first came up with digital cameras, and yet they are failing to adapt to the changing landscape. Instead of developing new equipment to capture "Kodak Moments" they stuck with printers and paper. They concentrated on the end result but didn't think about how the medium was first created: through the mind's eye.

Publishing is going through a similar change. Our mind's eye creates a story, but the way we bring that medium to the masses is changing. Remember typewriters? Pens and paper? A pack of monks illuminating Mediaeval manuscripts? We brought our art to fruition through a painstaking process.

Now, it's so easy. Yay for computers! Well... easy to get it down in physical form. The writing part is still hard. But today, publishers are struggling with getting the final product to the masses. E-books are becoming more and more popular and paper costs are rising. Publishers are still hanging onto the concept that physical books are the only way to go, and are struggling to stay alive.

I love physical books. I like signing them for my readers. I like to look at them on my shelves and feel the paper with my fingers. I love wandering in book stores. I love old books with their musty smell and yellowing pages.

But like it or not, digital publishing is here to stay. I understand that it is a more efficient way to allow readers to immerse themselves in the stories we writers want to share. I hope both mediums can find a way to share the space in our brains.

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

What You Hear Is Probably What You'll Say in Forty Years (Or: Just You Wait Till You're My Age)

After a twelve hour shift at work, I stopped by the grocery store to grab a few things. My mind was already on the light snack I planned to make when I got home.

An elderly gentleman stopped me in the bulk food aisle, asking where he could find walnuts.

"They're for my wife," he said. "The doctor says they build up immunity."

After I pointed out the walnuts and extolled their health virtues, he commenced to tell me all about his wife's  two-month stay in the hospital with phlebitis, how the nurses were too rough with the bathing, opening her bedsores, and  how one heavy-set nurse listened to him and connected with him.

He barely took a breath, talking so quickly, spit formed at the corners of his mouth. It was as if he were afraid I'd walk away if he stopped.

I didn't walk away. I listened, nodded and made sympathetic sounds as he told me his wife's 40-year gynaecological history, from the time she had her second child. "She had this problem ever since then," he said. He went on to say he didn't trust the younger doctor who ignored his wife's complaints.

"Older doctors have more experience. I told this young doctor I'd sue if anything happened to her," he said. "Her leg was swollen like a balloon." He finally got the doctor to recommend the best guy he knew, who later said, "Thrombosis. If it was caught earlier, I would have prescribed a simple medication that would have cleared it up."

He interrupted his story several times to say, "To make a long story short", and then he continued to make the long story longer. At one point, he mentioned his wife was an avid reader, and that he brought boxes of books for her to read in the hospital. She would mark the one she finished with an asterisk or an X, so he'd know to take that one back.

I wanted to suggest an e-reader, but of course I didn't have a chance to squeeze in my suggestion.

His concern for his wife and his rheumy eyes reminded me of my old neighbour Uncle Bob, who passed away what seems like five years ago, but was probably more like ten. He had lost his wife Dora several years before that, and I remember listening to his concerns about her hospital stay.

I also remember seeing Uncle Bob in his last days, a tiny man who'd seemed so huge when I was a kid.

The man's loneliness struck a chord with me, reminding me that many older people live alone and have no one to talk to. Some embrace technology, like my widowed 90-year-old neighbour, who I also knew since I was twelve years old. She received an iPad last year and loves to email her grandchildren and play cyber-scrabble with her sister in Britain. My own father is technology-savvy, and my mom at least knows how to handle Facebook.

Not everyone has access to such technology, nor the desire to embrace it.

The fears of people whose loved ones are at the twilight of their lives seem to live on in a never ending cycle. Will I stop a young mother on the street and tell her about my family drama? Will the nurse who neglected to use a gentle hand while bathing an old woman with bedsores complain of the same mistreatment forty years later? Will the young doctor who admitted his ignorance think outside the box when he is older and more experienced, thus saving a life?

After I wished him luck, the gentleman said, "The doc told me what started it all. When she had the baby, he made a incision (I knew what he was talking about) with instruments that weren't clean. Watch out for dirty instruments."

With that advice in my head, I went off in search of boneless chicken on sale.

Picture: My Grampy, who didn't have a chance to tell me stories, except for the Halifax Explosion  when he was six. I am counting on my parents to tell me more stories. And I'll listen.