Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Book 4 - Body Trade

When I started my 100 Books by January 1, 2011 challenge, I had few rules: no picture books, strive for an assortment of genres and styles, and unfinished manuscripts don't count. I'm not even out of the top 10 and I'm about to break one of those rules.

I'm always honoured to read the unpublished and unfinished works of my friends. I have two awesome critique partners whose work is every bit as good (perhaps better) than many established authors, my cousin is writing a killer book I'm looking forward to helping him with, and I love, love, love to read anything by Kyle and Rocky. The Journalist in me is hungry for any editing challenge presented to me, often encouraging me to take on challenges that actually weren't presented to me at all.

Such is the case with Body Trade, an unpublished, but very much complete, novel by Alberta author Margaret Macpherson.

This isn't her first book. In fact, she quite a few Canadian-published novels under her belt. And in just a few months, she'll be teaching young writers at Winter WordsWorth, a program put on by the Young Alberta Book Society where I work. That's how I met her - and before long, I'd asked to take a look at her manuscript.

Margaret told me Body Trade wasn't a kid's book. She wasn't kidding. But as the (now) cliche goes, she had me at hello.

The story begins in northern Canada, where two unlikely young women meet and decide to take a road trip. On their way to Mexico, Tanya and Rosie share Thelma and Louise style adventures, and go from the magic of Disneyland to the horrors of a Belize pig farm. There they witness violence that shocks even the wordly Tanya, and they are both cast into the underground sex trade.

It is a tale of friendship and survival.

It is also one of the most well written stories I have ever read. I've lamented about the difference between literary and commercial fiction in the past, but Margaret leaves no room for debate. Body Trade is firmly rooted in the literary category and the words are woven together with such skill, the characters leap from the page.

Though tasked with "editing" Body Trade, I could scarcely stop reading to make a mark on the page other than to compliment - over and over again - Margaret's incredible talent. The writing is tight without creative compromise. The metaphors are not cliched and yet paint images so vivid, you can't help but be swept up in her emotional roller coaster. Margaret even breaks my personal point of view rules and tells each woman's story in first person - but its clear she understands, deeply knows, each of her characters and without even the tell-tale dialogue tags, you know which character commands each scene.

The book is, of course, not without flaws, and after staring at "the end" slack jawed and desperate for more, I think I might have patched together some feedback that could be useful. But any advice I offer may only fill a few small gaps because it is evident Margaret needs no help when it comes to the written word.

Body Trade is not yet published - but it will be. And when it hits the bookstores, I will be first in line for my copy.

The Book In my Bag This Week: Lover Revealed, J.R. Ward (yes, again)

Monday, December 28, 2009

My artistic idol

Deep breath.

I'm addicted to American Idol.

I've watched almost every season, including the first, when Kelly Clarkson was crowned the first Idol. I haven't agreed with all of the winners and losers - Chris Daughtry NOT in the top 3? Come on! - and I swore I would divorce the show if Adam Lambert didn't beat out the far less interesting and talented Kris Allen.

Of course, Adam didn't win and I will likely watch the next season, despite my resolve to "stop the addiction."

In retrospect, perhaps it's best my two favourites from last season - Adam and the amazing Allison Iraheta - didn't win. Both CDs were on my Christmas wish list (much to my husband's dismay) and Santa was good to me. I doubt either Adam or Allison could have produced these incredible debut albums under the Idol constraints.

I love them both, but when I hear Adam's CD I want to write. When he isn't creating controversy (Yes, I DID see his American Music Awards performance), he's creating great music. The entire album has a techno vibe that brings me back to the days of glam rock. And beneath it all, Adam pumps out some stellar lyrics in his trademark powerful voice. The guy can sing.

But talent can only get you so far.

Since his Idol departure, Adam has been selected as one of Barbara Walters' most fascinating people of 2009, he's been on the COVER of Rolling Stone Magazine, appeared on several talk shows, collaborated with the likes of Lady Gaga, and produced a CD I think portrays what Adam is all about. Impressive - but I think he's just getting warmed up.

After the AMA performance, Adam was on The View, reminding viewers he is no longer an Idol contestant. His CD, his performances, his media attention is all about HIS career now - and his music may not be what you might expect from an Idol winner. He isn't "safe". He's experimenting. And he's creating art.

Over the last few days, I've been reading, watching movies, and thinking about my career as a writer. In 2009, I allowed obstacles to form - internal and external. I didn't always listen to my gut, and often worried about what others would think rather than focussing on what is best for the story. Bad Dawn.

With Adam as this week's muse, I'm hopeful I can break the "safe" cycle and remind myself that as long as I'm mindful of Steve Berry's craft rules, it's ok to experiment. I'm excited to start today.

I have a feeling his CD will also be my musical muse this week. (My current song obsession is Sleepwalker...)

The Book In my Bag This Week: Lover Revealed, J.R. Ward

PS - Santa brought me many books this Christmas and I can hardly wait to sink my teeth into them. However, as I promised myself I would do, I am finishing the books I started - and stopped. This is the third time starting Lover Revealed. I WILL finish it this round. Sigh.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Book 3 - Bed of Roses

I was preparing for my own wedding when I read the first book in Nora Roberts' Bride Quartet series. Vision in White made me cry.

So did Bed of Roses.

Nora's bigger books - like Black Hills - have been hit or miss with me the last few years, but she always scores when she returns to her straight romantic roots. Bed of Roses has the classic romance genre set-up, with few deviations, and I'm okay with that. She's created characters I like and a story that tugs at my heart strings. And I love, love, love the environment -- four best friends who've creating a wedding planning business based on their individual talents.

Nora Roberts has talents too, many of which are on full display in this book. And even though she breaks a few "craft" rules, I don't seem to mind so much. As my mentor would suggest, breaking the rules is forgiven when your track record alone sells books. The number of novels Nora has produced - including the amazing J.D. Robb series - is staggering, and I might respect her for that alone, but I also fully appreciate her command on the genre and am happy to get lost in her words.

As always, with Nora's series, my biggest disappointment is simply waiting for the next book.

On the hunt for Book 4 in my 100 book challenge.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Holiday a"muse"ment

Anyone know who this is?

Me either.

But it doesn't really matter, does it? Absolution is done, finished, complete...outta here. Which means writing / editing / finishing it isn't going to hang around my neck like an albatross over the Christmas holidays.

In fact, any writing I do over the next five-ish days is strictly gratuitous - kinda like this guy in the Santa hat. Seems like a perfect muse to me.

Objections, anyone?

Book 2 of 100 - The Devil's Punchbowl, Greg Isles

I love Greg Isles.

He hooked me with Dead Sleep and I read Turning Angel in one day. Greg has incredible talent, the kind of writing that makes me wish I could rise to his level and tell compelling stories like his with such an awesome command of the English language. In the game of word-play, Greg is a master.

So it wasn't lack of talent that prevented me from finishing The Devil's Punchbowl in one sitting, but rather a lack of time. Reading it slower than I would have liked didn't cheapen the experience. This book tackles some pretty heavy duty themes - dog fighting, gambling and the sex trade. He doesn't pull any punches and the web of terror he weaves is intricate and heart pounding.

The story re-introduces several characters from previous Greg Isles thrillers, including protagonist Penn Cage. I loved being re-acquainted with these people again, kind of like going to a high school reunion.

I've never been a fan of first-person prose, but Greg is brilliant in his execution, particularly in this book. The subplots are told through third person points of view, which, unfortunately, are written in italics. Thankfully, these scenes are shorter so the italic font didn't distract me for too long.

If you've never read a Greg Isles book before, I'd recommend starting with some of his earlier work. The Devil's Punchbowl isn't for the weak of heart - especially if you're a dog lover.

The book in my bag today: Bed of Roses, Nora Roberts

Thursday, December 17, 2009

One proud sister

My younger sister, Jessica was fourteen when she announced she wanted to be a forensic psychologist. After watching Silence of the Lambs, something about Jodi Foster's character resonated with her - and stuck.

It's been a long haul - more than a decade of schooling, innumerable years as a starving student, and countless hours of studying. But her decision has never wavered (except that one year when she considered marine biology, but we won't tell Dad about that...) and yesterday, she defended her dissertation and passed. Which means we can now call her Dr. Ius.

I teased her a lot about that last night after she'd indulged in a little champagne and I mourned the fact I couldn't be there with her to celebrate. I asked how long until her handwriting went to seed, or whether she would be trading in her headphones for a stethoscope, or if I'd have to make an appointment and pay astronomical fees to hang out with her. (Yes, I do know she isn't THAT kind of doctor.)

But really, this milestone for her is nothing to joke about.

I don't know anyone with more passion and drive than my sister. She's tough as nails but has a heart of gold. She's pragmatic and creative, compassionate and honest. Her beauty radiates from within - and she's a knockout, as her fiancee Pete would certainly attest. Jess will be an awesome wife, and is already an incredible role model for her two stepsons, Nick and Chris.

But she'll always be my role model.

She has such limited time, but she'll read anything I send her and provide thoughtful, encouraging feedback. And though our relationship has been fraught with common (and uncommon) sibling angst, her support of me and my writing has always remained consistent. It's not a coincidence my first novel, Absolution, has been dubbed "Silence of the Lambs in a confessional."

When I want advice about friends and family, or being a step parent, I call my sister.

I call her when I need to cry, too.

Jess is the first person to tell me to "suck it up" when I'm having a pity party, but she's also the most reliable person in my world. And she understands me better than anyone in the universe. Who else, but my sister, would have known that on the afternoon of my wedding all I wanted was a cheese sandwich?

Jessica's path has been hindered with many obstacles but through tenacity, hard work, and sheer brute force, she has reached the pinnacle of her career and I couldn't be happier. I'm thrilled the rest of the world can now call her doctor - but I am most proud to call her my sister.

I love you, Jess. Congratulations on realizing your dream.

The book in my bag today: The Devil's Punchbowl, Greg Isles

Monday, December 14, 2009

Angelina will steer me right...right?

You can say what you want about Angelina Jolie, but if there's one thing that's clear, the woman rarely misses her target. Whether its landing a star role, a leading man, or fighting for one of her many causes, Angelina is a force to be reckoned with.

When I grow up (grin) I want to be her.

Yeah, I know, she's done some weird things - like that intimate kiss with her brother, or wearing Billy Bob's blood in a vial around her neck. But over the years, she's also fought for several noble causes and made numerous contributions to improve children's lives.

Still, I didn't select her to be this week's muse for either her rebellious past or her present angelic (and wealthy) nature.

For one thing she embodies the thrill-seeking, tough chick I imagine two of my characters to be. She's confident, beautiful and sexy. And, she has a knock-out smile that radiates from the screen. This week I'm in desperate need for plenty of those smiles. As the holidays approach, I'm losing traction with the WIP, which translates to some writerly doubt - and I'm pretty sure Angelina wouldn't tolerate that.

So I'm ok with her whipping me into shape. Often when I'm running on the treadmill, I watch the opening sequence to the first Tomb Raider, and somehow I'm inspired to look that awesome in a black tank top, booty shorts and strap-on "guns." (Don't even get me started about the dog sledding scene - I tried it once and didn't look even half as graceful.)

And since it was her handsome hubby Brad Pitt who gave me the biggest push on this WIP just last month, I figure she's competitive enough to want to out-do him. I've got no problem racing to the finish line with Angelina at my side. Honest.

My apologies to those who read my Monday morning post with the anticipation of some male eye candy. I had little say in the matter - Angelina is also a sly and convincing muse.

The Book In My Bag Today: The Devil's Punchbowl, Greg Isles

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Marked - Book 1 of 100

Woot! I finished the first book in my 100 books by January 1, 2011 challenge.

Granted, it wasn't any of the ones I've started - and stopped. And yes, it was young adult, but I'm kind of into that whole vampyre-teenage-romance genre.

Perhaps more motivating was that my best friend Karen decided she also wanted to read 100 books by January 1, 2011 - which is kind of like throwing down the gauntlet of challenge - albeit in a friendly and loving sort of way.

You can check out Karen's progress here.

So here's my take on Marked by P.C and Kristen Cast.

We follow sixteen-year-old Zoey as she is first Marked by a Vampyre Tracker, thus ensuring she must leave teenage-hood as she'd always known it and move into the House of Night, a kind of boarding school for fledgling vamps. But Zoey is special - her Mark darker than the others, her powers more developed, her destiny already taking shape.

I loved Joey from the first page and the story immediately drew me in. The Casts do a wonderful job of touching on teenage topics - like sex, death and drugs - without coming across as preachy or condescending. The story-line might be considered cliche by now - the misfit youth trying to find his / her place, finding it in a new (supernatural) world, and realizing he/she does not only fit in - but he / she possesses special "powers" there as well. To off-set this potential cliche, the book is sprinkled with great description and wit that gives it a fresh feeling. And at the end, I found myself wishing I had the second book in the series.

Curled up with Marked isn't a bad way to spend a cold wintery night.

Friday, December 11, 2009

100 books in 2010-ish

I'm reading four books right now - Nora Roberts' latest in her wedding series, Lover Awakened - or maybe its Lover Unbound, I seem to have lost track, or perhaps interest, Your Heart Belongs to Me by Dean Koontz and the Devil's Punchbowl by Greg Isles.

For those who know me, please pick your jaw up off the floor. I'm aware this is very much out of character. Up until this year I would never have started a new book (let alone four) before finishing the first one. And with the exception of Lover Whichever, the books I have on the go are written by some of my favorite authors. Add to that the new Steve Berry, the upcoming and highly anticipated James Rollins, and the mountain of To Be Read novels scattered throughout my house, and I've got far more books to read than I have available time.

Or perhaps more accurately, I've not given reading enough of my time.

I've forgotten what it feels like to be immersed in a book, fiction that make me forget the sometimes roller coaster that is life, and takes me to places I'd love to go, with people I wish were my neighbors and friends. I haven't fallen in love with a male character since Wrath, and that love affair ended the second I reacquainted myself with Roarke. And the last time I finished a book that truly gave me goosebumps was... Sadly, I have no idea.

It has nothing to do with quality. I simply haven't made time to read.

That's going to change in 2010 - in fact, it's going to change starting this weekend. Between now and January 1, 2011, I'm committing to 100 books. I recognize that's about two a week, but there was a time - not too long ago - that a couple novels every few days would have been a given rather than a challenge.

I miss evenings in front of the fireplace (albeit fake), curled up in the blanket my Nona made, reading a great book. I have four (ish) awesome books on the go - and I think I'll start with those. I'll use 2010 to get over my odd fear of new genres and new authors, and get back to what made me want to write in the first place. I'll remember how to take comfort in fiction and replace chocolate (yeah, I've been bad) with good stories.

To hold myself accountable, I'll list every book I read here. If I get ambitious (ha ha), I might even include a review.

The truth is, my "need" to read is as strong as my "need" to write. So as I proclaim 2010 as the year I start looking after my needs, reading and writing will top the list.

If you have any recommendations to throw my way, bring em on. I'd love to hear what's keeping you turning pages well into the night.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Fighting with my inner Grinch

Christmas has changed for me in these last few years.

As a typical youth, I looked forward to the gifts Santa left under the tree, stockings filled to the brim, presents piled high in a mountain of toys, clothes and technology. But even then, I understood tradition - and our family had many of them.

Like the annual "tree lot" hunt, where Mom always had the last say. Watching the Grinch Who Stole Christmas, Mom's favourite holiday movie. Scrubbing the kitchen down as though we expected a visit from the Centre for Disease Control in anticipation of Nona's two-week visit. Playing Scrabble with my sister on Christmas Eve and then staying up all night for last-minute wrapping. Champagne and orange juice morning toasts and mouthwatering waits for the biggest, most moist turkey in the universe - well, at least in Calgary.

Those were good Christmases. Surrounded by family. Minimal stress. Tons of fun.

It's different now.

It isn't just that the family dynamics have changed - my sister lives across the world (okay, just across Canada, but it feels so much further), my Mom and stepdad are no longer together, and I have a family of my own.

Granted, it's a small family. Last year, my (now) husband and I celebrated the holiday with our dogs. Just the four of us, waking up when we felt like it, stumbling into the kitchen for coffee and champagne. Opening gifts and fielding phone calls from loved ones. Watching movies all day in our new pyjamas, and throwing together a last minute dinner before crawling back into bed. Different, but no less enjoyable.

Things are changing again this year. Last year, Mom sent a Christmas "box" filled with stuff that looked suspiciously like the items one might find in a stocking. She isn't doing that this year, though as she tells me this her throat constricts with emotion. And while my husband and I will stay home with the dogs again, we also have his daughter with us.

With her comes a whole set of expectations. Back home, she'd be surrounded by family and presents. Here, there is just my husband and I, the dogs - and her mouse. Finances are tight and while we'll do the best we can, I suspect it will look more like Present Hill rather than Gift Mountain.

It shouldn't matter.

I of all people know that. Regardless of our financial situation, Mom gave us the best Christmases, not with gifts, but with enthusiasm. The kind of sheer joy that radiated from her and filled our hearts. Sure, we got Cabbage Patch Kids (I sacrificed mine for Rikki Rockett, but that's a whole other story...Jess, stop laughing!), but sharing Nono's After Eights while playing Italian card games as Mom and Sy laboured over turkey evokes a much more vivid - and emotional - memory.

Those are the kinds of memories I want with my new family - but I seem to be lacking a bit of holiday spirit this year. I'm stressed about what my stepdaughter WON'T find under the tree (even as my heart and mind tell me it shouldn't matter), and I'm missing some of those old traditions. Who else will play Scrabble with me over a couple of beer? We don't even own a copy of the Grinch.

I know I need to let go and create NEW traditions - and we've started, really. This past weekend marked a second successful annual tree hunt. And it did, indeed, take my handsome hubby several hours to string the lights. We decorated as a family - he directed placement from the floor while his daughter and I hung the pink hearts and brown balls with care. Jeff says we will indulge in champagne and orange juice Christmas morning too, and spend the day in our pyjamas watching movies.

But I can't help but feel a twinge of sadness as I continue my search for some of that old Christmas spirit - the kind my Mom could magically evoke with a simple smile.

Monday, December 7, 2009

More 24-hour amusement

Yeah, I know. Kiefer was LAST week's muse, and it's a bit of a cop out. But hey, it's my brain and it can cheat if it wants to.

Truth be told, I haven't quite tapped all of what I need from Jack. I've got a little more havoc to wreak, a bit more torture to inflict. The freaking book to finish!

So if I'm going to be filling my head with THOSE kinds of images, I might as well have some decent eye candy to help me get rid of them after, right?

Friday, December 4, 2009

One day in Bliss

December 3, 2009 will be marked as a perfect day.

Up at 6 a.m. to make my handsome hubby's lunch and send him off to work smiling. Insert coffee IV, open laptop. Begin writing. Off to a great start, right?

By 1 p.m., I'd knocked off 6,000 words of fresh text. Yep, that's right - patting myself on the back, here.

At 1:30, I cleaned the kitchen, because even though my muse can work from almost anywhere, he really prefers organized chaos -- and I hear Kiefer Sutherland (this week's muse) is kind of anal about that stuff. Are you going to be the one to tick off Jack Bauer?

At 2:00, I hopped in the bath with pages from my friend Rocky's book Catch a Falling Star -- don't run to the bookstore, it's not on the shelves. Yet.

At 2:30 I began writing again. Another 2,000 words before 4:30. (Yep, 8,000 word-day. Suhweet!)

I started making dinner at 4:30. A healthy dinner, even. (I should fess up here, though, that the previous food choices for the day were not healthy - like the giant bowl of buttered popcorn, the Pop Tarts, and the Smores Pie from McDonalds - yes, Karen, JOYGASMIC.)

Having knocked my daily writing goal out of the park, I entered the "after-dinner" portion of my day without guilt. Handsome hubby and I took the dogs for a brisk walk. We watched a bit of T.V. together, then crawled into bed early.


This, my dear readers, is a perfect day in my world.

Hours of writing, reading and spending time with my family, peppered with communication with the friends who make my world go round. Text messages that bring smiles to my face (Sue). Phone calls that remind me of the wonderful people who support and love me (Kyle). A heart-warming message on my cell phone answering service (Karen). New pages from a critique parter (woot!).

Does it get any better than that?


Sadly, it's snowing outside and while I'd love to repeat yesterday, I'm back at the day job today. Don't get me wrong -- I love what I do and believe the goals of the Young Alberta Book Society are both noble and necessary. But after yesterday, today seems a little bit of a let down.

Thank goodness it's Friday and Kyle is on his way here. (And that my other crit partner finally posted a new blog today...)

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Holy Smokes - he was right! (Sort of)

My husband and I were watching Angels and Demons the other night when after witnessing black smoke rise from within the chimney of the Vatican, he said, "That must be where the term 'holy smoke' comes from." When a new Pope is elected after the death of the previous one, black smoke indicates a decision has not been made - white, of course, indicating a new Pope has been elected.

My husband isn't the religious sort, and so I chuckled at his definition and quasi-suffered through the rest of the movie. But three days later, 'holy smoke' is still rolling around in my head. So I decided to look it up.

Turns out, my handsome hubby is right. Well, partially.

There appears to be a couple of explanations on how the term came about. The most common is the answer my husband provided. Another explanation dates back to the nineteenth century, when the term was first used by Rudyard Kipling in his book The Naulahka. And there are other references from literature as well - a poem from the 1860s by Jean Ingelow compares holy smoke to love, and in the Bible, the Book of Revelation quotes: And the smoke of incense, which came with the prayers of the saints, ascended up before God out of the angel's hand."

But perhaps the most likely explanation is that holy smoke - like "holy cow" and "holy mackerel" was invented as a mock-religious exclamation and mild oath. The word 'holy' is often inserted to strengthen an expression - to express strong emotion, such as great surprise or anger.


Is it any wonder I love research? (Just yesterday, I learned all about embalming....)

Monday, November 30, 2009

24-hour a"muse"ment

As a kid I watched MacGyver. Laugh all you want - he was one smart dude. And Richard Dean Anderson was no slouch in the looks department, either. My Dad would tell you my fascination with the show bordered on obsessive, so much so I mourned after the season finale for years.

And then came 24 -- and with it, Jack Bauer. Sigh.

I watched the first season on DVD in one weekend. I admit, parts of the show are unrealistic, and no mortal could be as heroic as Jack. But for me, Kiefer Sutherland plays a convincing (and hot) action hero, and 24 taught me a lot about writing thrillers. It was after watching the first season for the second time that I decided to randomly cut a key character from ABSOLUTION. Joey died that night. She's been killed several times since - I never get the story right on the first draft - but if not for a wild twist in 24, I might never have considered murdering Joey at all.

This week, I'll need to borrow Jack's torture techniques. If that sounds morbid, I guess it kind of is. I'm putting two characters through hell, and the Angel on my shoulder is not impressed. These aren't easy scenes to write for me, but like Jack would argue, this torture is a means to a satisfying - if not thrilling - end.

And of course, Jack is the perfect muse to help me cross the finish line on this project. Paul Walker might be fast, but no one works better under pressure than Jack Bauer -- how else could he accomplish SO MUCH in just 24 hours?

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Literally confused

What's the difference between literary and commercial fiction?

Yeah, I know, I'm opening a massive can of worms. But this is the kind of question some writers obsess over, certainly a question I ask - and debate over - at nauseam.

Definitions for both literary and commercial fiction have gone through numerous iterations. According to Wikipedia, the term "literary fiction" came into usage around 1960 to distinguish "serious" fiction from genre or commercial fiction. While a literary novel focusses on style, psychological death and character, the "page turner" pays more attention to narrative and plot.

I'm uncomfortable with that definition.

If you assume that a book about somebody's attempt to solve a mysterious murder isn't literature because it can be classified as a murder mystery or suspense, then how would you label Snow Falling on Cedars? And does Romeo and Juliet not fit within the boundaries of a traditional romance novel?

Some may argue that literary fiction takes more liberty with the language. They point to longer chapters, looser writing, a more poetic voice and the tendency to lean on metaphors. I don't need to look any further than within my own critique group to question that definition. Both of my partners have the skill to weave beautiful metaphors into tight prose - and thus creating a sensory bouquet that allows the reader to live the story vicariously through the character's eyes. I would classify both of their novels as commercial fiction.

Perhaps you subscribe to the theory that commercial writers pay less attention to craft. But the same rules for good writing apply to all fiction. Passive writing, excessive narration, dialogue tags and grammatical errors are all red flags for editors and agents - regardless of literary style. The writer's fundamental objective is to compel the reader to turn the page - the only thing a literary artist should do with language is 'get us to the end.'

Popular fiction is often created to entertain, allowing the reader to escape into another world and explore fantasies and dreams without leaving the confinements of their safe environment. And while literary fiction often challenges societal beliefs and thoughts, I would argue some commercial fiction can cross those same boundaries. The definition should not be based on sales, either. Many literary books - Gargoyle, for instance - enjoy commercial success, just as several novels on the New York Times Bestseller list don't always conform to genre - and yet are clearly not viewed as "literary" fiction.

It seems to me, that the line between what is deemed commercial or literary continues to shift as the industry evolves. What distinguishes them is, perhaps, the experience you expect from reading it. When you buy a commercial book, you expect to be (for example) romanced or terrified - you read to get to that already-anticipated place. But literary fiction is more of an unknown - you are not certain what experience you will have. The writer takes you to unfamiliar territory, the kind of place you feel you can only get to with "this book."

But in either experience, you expect good writing.

The responsibility of the writer - regardless of category - is to provide that.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Writing fast and furious

This week, I need a "fast" muse. The kind of guy who will get my engine running...my, ahem, creative engine running, that is. There's no doubt Paul Walker is up for the task. Did you see him GO in all of the Fast and the Furious movies?

The way he handled those cars? The quick work he made of his relationships (grin). Yep, Vin Diesel may be the franchise's resident tough guy, but Paul - he's fast. And I need fast.

I'm "this" close to knocking off a project that's served as my ball and chain for almost four years. Just a few chapters to write, some edits to incorporate, and a final read through by my IR. But I've only got until December 1 to get it done. Which means the bulk of that work has to be completed - this week.

And as usual, I've got a lot on the go.

But with Paul at my side, I have no doubt the week will just speed along.

Friday, November 20, 2009

I wish I'd written...


Actually, there's a few books I wish I'd written, but for sure, I'd love to have created Bella and Edward. And, apparently, Jacob. I wish I'd woken from a vivid dream about werewolves and vampires and transcribed the details onto the page, thus creating a world loved by millions of people. You suck, Stephanie - but I mean that in the nicest way.

Last week, more than a thousand young fans (and my husband) lined up at West Edmonton Mall to meet three of the stars from New Moon. My stepdaughter was among them - even convinced her father to camp overnight (at the MALL). She came home with a signed poster, a dozen or so pictures, and a gigantic smile.

I wish I'd been the one to put it there.

You can say what you want about Stephanie Meyer's writing - even the heavy weights, like Stephen King, have voiced an opinion - but the bottom line is, she sells books. MILLIONS of books.

I remember when I started reading Twilight. I should admit that it wasn't when the novel first hit the shelves. I'd watched my cousins - especially Kyla - read the series on the dock at our summer cabin in Christina Lake, awestruck by (and envious of) her enthusiasm for each character. And even though my cousins' book choices are often bang on (Amanda and Savannah got me hooked on Leven Thumps and the Land of Foo), I still didn't succumb to Edward's charm. Yet.

Fate intervened two years ago when, about to board the plane for Hawaii, I realized I'd forgotten a book. I read Twilight on my first flight to Vancouver, then bought New Moon and Eclipse in the Vancouver airport - finished them both before landing in Hawaii, and then spent two days on the island looking for Breaking Dawn. I've read them twice since - not as a writer, but as a reader. No easy task for me these days.

One of my critique partners wrote an awesome blog post about how writing - and critiquing - has changed how she reads. I agree with her on almost all fronts.

Except for Twilight.

I'm sure there's a reason I'm so quick to ignore the "craft rules" Stephanie Meyers blatantly breaks in her writing - but that would mean I'd have to stop reading - and falling in love with Edward - to analyze it. Maybe I'll try again after I finish the books for the fourth time.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The power of words

I love this ad from Australian Post. It reminds me of my Nono, who not only used to give the best hugs, but he was the only one in my family who truly understood my "need" to write. Before my Dad bought me a beautiful roll-top oak desk one Christmas (acceptance that despite his pleas I would not change my career choice), my Nono bought me a quill. I used it only to write him letters.

My Nono wrote back in a confusing mix of Italian and English, but I didn't need to understand his language to translate the underlying messages of love and support. Words are pretty powerful.

That's why I don't understand, sometimes, why as a society we choose words designed to hurt. The average human uses around 370 million words throughout their lifetime - and just under half of those are negative. I'm not making this up - that statistic comes straight from the October / November issue of BBC Magazine (another guilty pleasure).

Words have evolved over time, often changing in meaning. In the 13th century, for instance, the word 'gyrle' simply referred to a child, irrespective of their gender. And in the 12th century, 'buxom' meant you were humble and obedient. And how about awful - one of those now negative words? Around 1300 AD, 'awful' related to awe, so something 'awful' commanded respect.

As a writer, I understand the importance of word choice. Each sentence, paragraph, page is crafted (at least hopefully) with utmost respect for strong verbs, powerful adjectives, and appropriate nouns. And as a reader, I am fully aware of how words can be used to convey emotion - pain, sadness, happiness, love. My favourite authors are masters of stringing together words that create magical imagery or inflict utter fear.

There is much truth to the saying: The pen is mightier than the sword.

In today's world of technological advance, it is more imperative than ever that we are all careful in how we wield our weapons of language. While my Nono had to wait several weeks for my letter to reach him, emotion (good and bad) can now be conveyed with a quick click of the send button.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Blast from the past

I've been wishing a lot lately that I could go back in time. Not to a different century or anything, just a few years - like maybe twenty or so. I don't regret the decisions that have made me the person I am today, but I'd love to go back and relive some of my youth.

Like when Rikki Rockett was my idol. My best friend Jennifer and I entered a radio contest to win tickets to a Poison concert once. She dressed up like lead singer Brett Michaels, and I acted as Rikki Rockett - I even painted a cardboard drum set to look like the ones he took on tour. We won - front row tickets. But in the end, Rikki pointed his drum stick at the woman next to me who was wearing a lot less clothes and thus deemed the "bigger" fan. She got to go backstage.

Rikki used to adorn my bedroom walls. Jennifer had Def Leppard posters. I had Poison. (My younger sister, as an aside, had Bryan Adams...which tells you a lot about how different we were back then. Love ya, Jess.)

It was back in the days of Rikki Rockett that I began writing. I wrote Carnival Dreams while listening to Poison and dreaming of him. When it was finished, I substituted my hero's name (Rikki, of course) for Joe Elliot, so Jen could have a book about her dream guy as well. I'm confident neither book - starring Rikki or Joe - will ever be published.

Still, those were good times - and I've been thinking about the past a lot lately.

Don't get me wrong, I do see a bright future. I'm married to my high school sweetheart (which is a story for another day) and have a beautiful step daughter. I have awesome friends who support and love me - and who these days appear to be fueling my creativity with Starbucks and Tim Hortons. I love my family, my life, my future.

But this week I'm taking a walk down memory lane, and it seems fitting my original muse should guide me through this week's writing goals. Oh I know I'll likely be alone in my "adoration" - but that's ok. I prefer not to compete anyway.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

100 pages and counting

For the past few months, I've been supplying my critique group with pages (gulp) already written. Still first draft, but without the added pressure of coming up with a fresh and fabulous "10" each week.

Hard to believe that was 100 pages ago.

I'm not a plotter - at least not by most people's standards. I subscribe to the belief the character (s) should guide me, and when that doesn't work, I go to the library and do research, which usually lights a spark of creativity or unearths a story thread. I believe Stephen King's theory about writing while on a roll - a surefire way to avoid the dreaded Writer's Block. And I try. Honest.

But his advice seems more geared to people who write one project (two max) at a time.

Which brings me to today. I'm running on empty in the sleep department, and working on some lifestyle changes that will hopefully address the extra weight I've put on this month. My teenage step-daughter is in full-on "drama" mode. I have "real" work due at work and my Starbucks supply has almost all but dried up.

Of course, there's also that other "little" deadline to think about.

And somehow, I need to pull out 10 good pages. Good enough that the character sounds the same. The plot is moving in the right direction. The scene logically fits with the one prior.

I'm about half way there, with about two days left until deadline.

Tonight, I'm rolling up the sleeves and getting to it. Just as soon as I log my NaNo count, finish my other blog entry, read over a chapter from another project and... Sigh. You get the picture.

100 pages and counting... now at an agonizing 10 pages at a time.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

A sense of detail

Hours before the earth buckled and triggered one of the most deadly series of tsunamis in history on December 26, 2004, animals along the Indian Ocean's affected coastline seemed to sense danger. Elephants trumpeted. Dolphins dashed for deeper waters. Flamingos flew to higher ground and bats roused from their usual daytime slumber.

When it was over, more than 225,000 people died or went missing. Few animals perished.

Throughout history, there have been countless reports of unusual behaviour by animals - from dogs and cows to jelly fish - in the hours and days before a disaster. 

And in fact, many animals rely on sensory detail for their survival. For instance:

  • Cat got your tongue? No problem for Hippos. They build up large amounts of pressure under their nostrils before sending out infrasonic "bubble bursts" which are sounds they use to threaten and intimidate others.
  • Blind as a bat? No worries. Bats navigate their surroundings by emitting high-pitched sounds and interpreting the echoes. This radar-like sense is called echolation and it allows them to find food (insects) up to 18 feet away. 
  • Food tasting a little bland? A pig's tongue contains 15,000 taste buds. By comparison, the human tongue has just 9,000.
  • You thought spiders had it bad with eight eyes? The box jellyfish has 24. And dragonfly eye contains 30,000 lenses - imagine the cost of contacts! 
  • Think your sense of smell is pretty good? Turns out humans have some of the dullest noses in the world. Some animals - like dogs - can get a strong whiff of odours most people don't even know are there. 
Writers incorporate the five senses into each scene to create stimulating imagery. It isn't always easy - and typically taste, touch and sight earn the greatest number of words. But what if you could just pick one?

German writer Patrick Suskind met that challenge in 1985 when he penned Perfume: The Story of a Murderer. The novel explores the sense of smell and its relationship with the emotional meaning that scents may carry. It's also a brilliant and twisted thriller. 

Perfume has become my "bible" on sensory detail - I often refer to it when trying to find unique ways of adding non-sight imagery to the page. 

How about you? What are some of the tricks you use to help create sensory detail? 

Monday, November 9, 2009

In Gerard I trust

I admit feeling a tad shameful for my public lashing of last week's muse avatar.

Just a bit though, because let's face it, the tactic worked. What started as a slow week, ended in marathon style. I logged more than 80 pages of fresh - and revised - text, perhaps a personal best.

But Monday is again upon us, and while Brad's last minute shape-up may earn him a repeat appearance, the avatar face must now change.

Why Gerard Butler?

Hmm. Where to begin? Perhaps I'll start with those abs. This is the mark of a fit man. And Gerard is strong - as evidenced in 300 - as Spartan. I'm hopeful his persona of fitness will act twofold - to whip my newest pages into shape, and to (again) inspire my personal fitness regime.

And while I appreciate he is known for more characters than as the mighty (and hunky) Leonidas, I deem it appropriate to select an image from the movie in which, I think, provides us with so much brilliant dialogue. At the start of my career, I found "character conversation" the most difficult, but I'm learning the rules and I've come a long way. In addition to my most current WIP (s), revising and polishing the TV script I've written will be top priority this week - and script writing is largely about dialogue. Perhaps his image will serve as inspiration.

And lastly - though of no less importance - Gerard Butler is one of the several candidates listed on my writer friend's blog (in her generous plea for me) and a personal favourite of Donna's. (Is there no end to what I would do for you, sweetheart? I do love my crit partners...)

Still unconvinced? Allow me to provide another image to prove Gerard's worth:

Friday, November 6, 2009

An open letter to my muse

Dear Muse:

I thought we had an agreement.

I selected you - over a vast number of eligible muse avatars - in hopes you would shepherd my children into adult hood. You promised to guide them, and provide all with equal inspiration. You said you'd infuse each with their own spark of Genius.

And of course, I assumed you'd take on the role of "stay-at-home-muse" - like Tootsie, which I've been feeding you all week - but I came home after critique group Tuesday night and the dishes remained untouched, the vacuum cleaner in the full upright and idle position, and every bed in the house unmade.

Now, I'm not normally the type to air anyone's dirty laundry into the giant blogosphere (and especially not my own) but I'm certain you've not upheld your end of the bargain. I can see by the sheer number of times you've been on the cover of tabloids this week that you've not been focused on my children, but perhaps on reconnecting with your ex?

Are these trysts the reason Jagger is spiraling into depression, and Cait is still wandering aimlessly around Milan looking for her Father? Just yesterday, Karma told me she had to take the bus - the bus! - to school. Aeryn has not yet completed her "shop" project, and I think she's sleeping around. And don't even get me started about Avery, whose shoe fetish has gotten her into trouble this week. BIG trouble.

It's as though you've allowed all of my children to run amuck, and now, as I stare at the butt end of another unproductive week, I am reconsidering my selection criteria.

Oh, did you forget you can be replaced?

Perhaps you'd be interested in checking out the growing list of candidates here.

You'd be wise to not dismiss them so easily, Mr. Muse. My dear friend has impeccable taste - in fact, the loyal (and quite hunky) Daniel "Bond" Craig has been her internal editor avatar for some time. The list compiled by her friends indicates she surrounds herself with like-minded peers.

But I'm feeling generous this morning and have decided to give you another chance. You have two days - 48 hours in which to redeem yourself as father of the year.

I expect great things from you Mr. Muse.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Shhh...I've got a secret

The following is going to come as a shock to my critique partners (and probably Rocky and Kyle...and maybe even Jeff...).

I'm doing NaNoWriMo.

I didn't intend to - Lord knows I've got enough projects on the go. Admittedly, the propaganda sucked me in. 50,000 words in a month? Part of me thought NaNoWriMo might be the catalyst I need to bang off one of those "shorter" books rolling around in my head.

Except, I don't think I'm doing right.

I've added a couple thousand words on a new project (yes, another new project), and as par my usual pattern, I do like the first two chapters. But to be frank, there are about 100 projects in my desk drawer with an amazing two or three chapters.

Still, I enjoy a challenge and considered - in a moment of weakness and likely, procrastination for other half-finished WIPs - that maybe this NaNoWriMo fever would rub off on me and I'd cross the finish line of a full book just as the calendar rolled into December. Merry Christmas to me, right?

I registered myself for the challenge, even provided a snippet of author profile, and gasp, published a small excerpt from what I suspect will be a crappy attempt at a genre I don't even know I want to write. I've selected my "home region" and considered reaching out to fellow NaNoWriMo writers. Considered - but didn't.

As I closed the lid on my aging laptop last night, it occurred to me that I couldn't find one good reason to participate in NaNoWriMo. Why would I look for another community of writers for encouragement and support, when I have the cream of the crop already on my side?

Aside from my crit group - which I could speak about at nauseam with adoration - I am blessed with several writer friends with whom I can exchange pages, call on for support, or lean on for an ego boost.

And, I have an agent who has his own word count demand. As if that shouldn't be enough.

Yet, the call of NaNoWriMo still echoes with clarity. Why is that?

I'm not saying I'm going to abandon it completely - part of me still needs to understand the draw of the event, and whether completing the challenge would provide anything beyond a bit of self satisfaction. But it isn't NaNoWriMo that will keep me up all hours of the night working - it's the more meaningful challenge of meeting the expectations of the amazing community of writers I'm already fortunate enough to have on my side.

Monday, November 2, 2009

The fatherly type

I've got an awful lot of projects on the go.

That's typical of me. My attention span is often short. Creative inspiration sometimes comes in fits and stops. And almost always, my mood indicates which kick-ass protagonist I should focus on.

For the past few weeks, my muse avatar has possessed some - um - necessary criteria for making the grade. But this week's is more than just your average Hollywood Hunk.

My projects (all one million of them) are like my babies, and who better to help me shepherd them into adulthood than Mr. Mom himself, Brad Pitt.

Oh I've watched the way he dotes on little Maddox, how he taught the little tyke how to ride a dirt bike before his tenth birthday. A skill I'm sure Jagger would be interested to learn. 

And who could forget the way he welcomed Pax and Zahara into his family? I'm confident he'll have open arms for my new young adult series and the romance novel playing around in my head.

When Shiloh was born, she became Daddy's girl - and right now, my poor girl Cait is struggling to find her father. Maybe Brad could point her in the right direction?

I recognize he's quite busy these days - what with twins Knox and Vivienne less than a year old - but I've heard him say that he and Angelina would love to have dozens of children. I'm only suggesting that he adopt a couple of mine.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Rose coloured glasses

The world is a different place when you're wearing rose-coloured glasses. It isn't that the hues of a sunset are more vivid with them on or even that things just seem a little bit more silly, like crazy mirrors in a funhouse. I suppose it all boils down to perception.

When the rose coloured glasses are firmly tucked on your face, or even slightly perched on the tip of your nose, "people" seem nicer. That crimson shade offers a clever disguise.

It's when you take the glasses off and all of that hidden ugliness appears that you feel you've been sucker punched in the gut.

I realized recently that I've been wearing rose coloured glasses for about the last 14 years (give or take a few months during the annual "leave") I didn't take them off willingly - I kind of got blind sided. But things are much clearer now.

Sure, it took a few shaky days to get used to the blurriness - the confusion and hurt that sometimes goes with change.

But now that I've thrown those junky specs in the trash, my vision is completely clear. Huh. For the first time in my life, I have perfect 20/20 vision and I have to admit, the future looks so much brighter.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Braving another edit...party on!

As Halloween approaches, I'm reminded of a special October a few years back when skeletons and ghosts weren't the only things I feared. 

I'd just finished my first draft of ABSOLUTION, and on the heels of great agent and mentor response, I decided to host an editing party.

Um, yeah. Clearly I hadn't thought that one through before inviting 50 people to basically "assault" my baby. Two weeks before the event - held at the Masonic temple (of course) - I sent the manuscript to my party attendees, oblivious to the glaring typos, cardboard characterization, and inconsistent plotting.

My invite list included readers, writers, want-to-be writers and book reviewers. Yep, book reviewers - because that seemed like a good idea (duh). I'd even invited people from out of town, though I never expected any of them to show up. 

All of them did.

Eight key people helped with the planning. Two of them were in charge of designing the invitations, posters and specific decor. My invitations (shown in the picture) were beyond anything I could have ever imagined - no wonder people thought they should attend. 

Another friend, my Italian connection, arranged for the food - an Italian FEAST of appetizers and deserts. 

My Dad - after traveling 14 hours one way in the snow - supplied the wine. 

We had props - mannequins, candles, departure gifts (Small bottles of Absolut vodka and cross shaped chocolates). And two of my friends built a video confessional so participants could express their feelings on the book. 

And then came the main event. We'd created a spooky atmopshere heightened by the stormy weather outside. The food arrived just in time, the last of the decor was assembled only minutes before my guests arrived.

Only then did I start to feel scared. Perhaps terrified is more apt. 

Writers are told they need thick skin, and that night tested the elasticity of my own quite effectively. The evening began with group sessions, my "group leaders" guiding attendees through a series of questions. What works? What didn't work? Were you scared? Did you laugh? Which character didn't resonate for you? 

And when that was done, participants moved from station to station commenting on specific characters, plot gaps, even writing style. Who knew the name Nico Pasquali sounded a bit cartoonish? Blood really can't splatter that far? What do you mean I can't end sentences with exclamation marks?

To summarize the evening, I stood at the front of the room while these 50 people debated my book. Kind of like standing before a jury and waiting for the death sentence to be delivered. The feedback was overwhelming - both positive and, well, not so positive. And four hours later, when everyone went home, I had almost 50 manuscripts with edits on them to peruse and an hour and a half of video confessional to watch.

Despite the evening's success, I realize now the book was not ready for that audience. ABSOLUTION was in first draft, and my "craft" lessons had not even begun. 

I continue to be overwhelmed by the generosity and support of my friends. They not only helped create the atmosphere of that event, but were involved in every step of its process - from leading mini discussion groups, to standing guard in case things got out of hand, right through to lathering cream on the cracks of my "thick" armour when the night ended.

But I also learned a lot. Like, a first draft probably shouldn't be tossed out to the masses. Don't get me wrong - my critics were tame, perhaps swayed by the decadent food or flow of good wine. And their feedback provided me with a plethera of solutions to problems they helped to identify.

Yet as I look back at what ABSOLUTION has become, it is THIS version I wish I'd put on public display, because even though I have much left to learn, I've come a long way since then. 

I keep that in mind as I (taking a breath) begin to plan my second editing party. I can already begin to feel the first prickles of fear...

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Deadlines suck

Even as I finish typing the title of this post on my blogger template, I recognize the lie.

Who am I kidding? I've always been a deadline girl.  

I used to love production night at the weekly newspaper - spending until the wee hours of the morning putting the publication to bed and then stumbling, tired and brain dead, into the local Smittys for breakfast, and finally, blissfully, falling onto my own mattress for a few hours of coveted sleep. I considered it a dark day in my Journalism career when the new publisher implemented tighter rules (no more all nighters - gasp!)

Deadlines give me an adrenaline rush. I know, sick, right?  But I work best when I have them - and the more urgent, the better. I suspect I learned this habit in college, when homework and the part-time job became equally as important as filling my social calendar, much to my then editor's dismay.

This deadline addiction has bled into my personal life. For instance, the finer details of my wedding were not finalized until just a few days before the big event. 

You might think I'm mistaking deadline adoration for procrastination, and while I concede the two can go hand in hand, I think my pain is more self-inflicted. If I am not plagued by deadline, I'm unmotivated - even lazy. If I do procrastinate, it is only to further increase the sense of urgency, to create a bigger adrenaline payoff when I've completed the task. 

I'm facing a couple of big deadlines right now, and while there is a part of me that awaits your empathy, the greater part of me is doing backflips. My muse is as well. He and I both know that if I have a deadline looming, my best, most creative work will emerge. 

The associated stress is a small price to pay.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Thief of hearts

On the "new" Melrose Place, Shaun Sipos plays David, the son of Dr. Mancini (yes, THE Dr. Mancini) - and an aspiring art thief.

Shaun has an appreciation for the finer things in life. He likes glittering jewels and antique art, expensive sports cars and fine clothes.

He's also willing to take a beating.

That's what makes "David" the perfect avatar for my muse this week. His love of fine art might be just what I need to kick back into Genius Mode. My appreciation of his style could be the reminder I need to keep working out. And his illustrious career as a thief leads me to believe he'll make my distractions "disappear."

That, of course, and his willingness to take on any emotional, mental, or physical obstacles that may come my way. 

And though he looks a little "pretty" in this picture, his on screen appearance fits my whole "bad boy" muse criteria. I really am starting to enjoy Mondays.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

United through Facebook

I didn't get to attend the Hawaii Writer's Conference this year, nor did I have an opportunity to hang out at Thrillerfest in New York - from a professional development standpoint, I thought 2009 would be a year of letdowns and regrets.

Turns out, nothing is random. 

Instead of going to Hawaii, I married my high school sweetheart. And rather than go to New York, I welcomed my stepdaughter into our home. Both life altering decisions created a tight financial situation, and an unbalance on the emotional scale. I wasn't ready - not professionally or mentally - to attend either conference.

While I understand I let some people down by not going, I don't regret a single decision.

I connected with a local critique group that has now provided me with the stability I need to be accountable for writing. Each week I am challenged to write better, to practice the craft and produce pages. And in the process, I've made great friends and read some amazing fiction. I met this group when I should have been in Hawaii.

My stepdaughter made the decision to live with my husband and I this year. She made that decision when I should have been in New York. 

I've made many friends in Hawaii and New York, and not seeing them this year saddened me. But Facebook has a way of easing the pain. Not only have I added new like-minded people to my circle of Facebook friends, I've reconnected with dozens of writers with whom I'd lost touch. How inspiring is that?

It's been a fight to keep my muse out of depression - decisions often come with unforeseen consequences - but now my muse has a new set of demands. A healthy, happy me, drawing support from my loyal (and new) circle of family and friends.

Oh, and chocolate. But that's tomorrow's post. This week's muse avatar is so fine, you'll want to steal him.

Friday, October 23, 2009

"Ius"less information worth sharing

A Muslim couple in India is being forced to split up after the husband uttered the word "Talaq", the Arabic word for "divorce" three times in his sleep. According to Muslim law, the "triple talaq" is an actual divorce. Huh. I know a few people who wish it could be that easy.

That interesting piece of trivia comes courtesy of the latest DISCOVER magazine. The publication is another of my guilty pleasures, like watching Melrose Place on Wednesday nights - though far more educational and without the eye candy. 

I've been dragging my boss throughout Edmonton the last month visiting schools and libraries that are hosting author visits during our annual Taleblazers festival, and the question kids ask the most is: Where do you get your ideas?

Though the idea factory does exist (somewhere, I'm sure near the North Pole), most of the authors I've talked to say reading the newspaper and magazines, or watching educational shows often provides spark for the imagination. 

DISCOVER magazine does that for me. 

The publishers have inserted a small booklet in this latest issue of the publication called Things You Didn't Know About Your Body, Your World, Your Universe. And from that, I provide this random list of weird, gross, and inspiring Did You Know factoids:

  • Somniphobia is the fear of sleep. And apparently, there are no known celebrities that suffer from this disorder.
  • An adult bedbug can survive up to one year without feeding. If that doesn't make you change your sheets, I give up.
  • Over a lifetime, an average person spends more than 6 years dreaming, clocking more than 136,000 dreams in all. So, that's where the idea factory gets its fuel.
  • A Swedish company, Promessa, will freeze dry your body in liquid nitrogen, pulverize it with high frequency vibrations, and seal the resulting powder in a cornstarch coffin. It claims this "ecological burial" will decompose in 6 to 12 months. I give it about two years before we see a thriller novel written about this topic...ready? Set. GO.
  • Careful when you inhale. Globally, dead skin accounts for about a billion tons of dust in the atmosphere. Your skin sheds 50,000 cells every minute.
  • The Cleveland Public Library, Harvard Law School and Brown University all have books clad in skin stripped from executed criminals or from the poor. Go ahead, I'll give you a second to re-read that. Nope. No joke.
  • At the center of almost every snow crystal is a tiny mote of dust, which can be anything from volcanic ash to a particle of outer space. And I put that on my tongue?
  • Ever hear of watermelon snow? These ruddy-tinted drifts smell like fresh watermelon and taste great - but eating it will give you diarrhea. The "snow" gets its colour from a species of pigmented algae that grows on ice.
Want more? Check out blogs.discovermagazine.com for a daily dose of science, and this month, log on to discoverwebmagazine.com/web/bodysavesyourlife for nine amazing functions your body does to keep you alive.

And I'm off...because there has to be a story about a textbook covered with the skin of an ex serial killer. Doesn't there? 

Monday, October 19, 2009

The many faces of my muse

I needed someone with versatility this Monday. 

The kind of muse that will bounce between characters and give me the same inspiration and focus for all of them. 

Who better than Mr. Versatility himself? Johnny Depp has always topped my list of Hollywood babes, whether he's the odd Mr. Wonka in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, or a strangely sexy pirate from the Caribbean. 

Perhaps more impressive than his drop dead sexiness is his ability to be whoever the script asks him to be. He could have been just a heart throb, but he's become so much more than that.

I appreciate his versatility, and have this week cast him as my muse. I know if I need a distraction, I can flip through Google images. But I also know that throughout the week, I can rely on him to be exactly who I need to be.

This Monday morning, I expect him to be a little creepy. I'm nearing the finish line of the FINAL edits for my thriller, ABSOLUTION, and Mario could use just a little bit of tweaking. Go forth, Mr. Muse - be creepy. And sexy at the same time. I have little doubt you'll rise to the challenge. 

Friday, October 16, 2009

The beauty of research

I invested in a library card last weekend. Yeah, I know. It's been a while. For the past couple of years I've been borrowing a friend's, or - gasp - relying on the Internet.

But over the past few weeks, I've been attending author chats at school libraries and remembering how much I love learning. Add to that a bit of writer's block and presto - I've got a new library card.

I went home with a stack of great books. Mostly to help my characters delve into new adventures - I honestly don't know how anything about the Bermuda Triangle - or to better describe the landscapes I'm not yet able to explore on my own.

Last night at my writers' group meeting (Uh ladies, I think it's time we come up with a name for ourselves) , one of my beloved critique partners complimented my location authenticity. I'm still smiling over that.

It was actually James Rollins who taught me you don't need to fly to India (darn it) to adequately describe the Taj Mahal. He recommends picking a couple of key books - deemed your "text book" for the current WIP - and scrolling through images on Google or another photo resource tool for the finer details.

I tested that theory with ABSOLUTION. Most of what I'd read about Milan's monstrous gothic Duomo came from the Internet. I scrolled the cathedral's website, then checked out video footage on YouTube, and finally found a book that wasn't in Italian to reference. A year after I finished the first draft of the novel, I had the opportunity to visit Milan. I took more than 500 pictures of the Duomo, and even sat in the confessional where most of the book's "action" takes place. To my surprise, I barely changed any of the description in the book in subsequent drafts.

As I flush out the details of HEARTLESS, I'm learning much about the Taj Mahal. But I'd forgotten how much more in depth books can be for research - Wikipedia only gets you so far. At the library, I discovered historical information about not only the mausoleum, but also the people, the culture, and the beliefs of the people who built it. Those are the kind of details I'm looking for.

And if I'm lucky, I'll have an opportunity to travel to India and see how authentic my description is this time around. 

Until then, I'm more than pleased with the awesome resources I scored this weekend.

P.S. - Oh yeah...I also picked up the latest Greg Isles book there. I <3 Greg Isles!  (Yes, Jan, I WILL remember to bring you one of his other books next week.)

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Wanted: bum glue

I need a massive supply of Bum Glue.

Like, enough to keep my arse stuck to a chair (or couch, or bench) until I complete all of my "first three chapter" works in progress. Enough, even, to allow me the opportunity to try new things - the ideas churned out by my ever-processing imagination factory. 

Bryce Courtney believes Bum Glue is the fundamental key to a successful writing career. More important than craft. More integral, even, than plot and characterization.

He's right. I have a million awesome ideas making rounds through the imagination factory tunnels, but none of them will see the light of day until I can find a way to keep myself planted in front of the computer. For more than just checking status updates.

Got some extra Bum Glue? I'm willing to pay top dollar...

Monday, October 12, 2009

Kick ass muse

Vin Diesel has never been on my list of top 10 Hollywood hunks, though I appreciated him fully in the Fast and Furious.

But this week I needed a tough-guy muse avatar. Someone I felt confident would shit kick insecurity and help detox the obstacles standing in the way of my week's writing goals. 

Vin is an apt choice.

He's already promised to muscle his way into my heart and rip out the ache someone seems to have planted there. He isn't strong enough to take care of the memories, but his arms will embrace the pain and try to ease the hurt. I can only ask so much of an avatar.

I'm counting on him to act as a roadblock for what promises to be a difficult week. He'll need to stand up against insecurity, arm-wrestle with confusion, and kick away self doubt. But even more than that, he'll need to stop me from impulse, and help me deal with a loss so tremendous I don't even know where to begin rebuilding. He'll need to help me through denial, acceptance, anger, and eventually forgiveness.

Oh yeah, and he'll need to help me focus on writing.

I know, I've asked a lot of - but I think this muse is up for the task. 

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

What's your "Eye of the Tiger" moment?

I had the recent opportunity to watch Sigmund Bower in action. He had me at hello.

Every October, Sigmund and about 58 other storytellers, writers and illustrators take part in Taleblazers - a literary festival designed to make reading and writing stimulating, exciting and fun for Alberta students.

Sigmund absolutely fulfilled the festival's mandate. He lured the kids with music (the students danced into the gym), grossed them out with stories about snot and toilets, and impressed them with tales of cockroaches and giant slingshots. 

The students weren't the only ones in awe.

Sigmund Bower made writing as exciting as being a rockstar. Like Bryce Courtney's "Bum Glue" speech at the Maui Writer's Conference, where nearly every one of us stood up and wanted to shout "I AM A WRITER," Sigmund had each of those students scrambling to the classrooms to "push buttons" and free their imaginations.

His stories entertained them for sure, but inspiration began to germinate from the first few beats of the song he used to draw the kids in. 

Eye of the Tiger 

You know the one. Dun... dun, dun, dun...DUN, DUN, DUN, DUN DUN DUNNN (You get the picture...) 

When the 500 or so students finally stopped singing and clapping, Sigmund told a short story about his friend who played for the Edmonton Oilers in the days of Gretzky. After years of practice, grueling schedules and endless sacrifices, Eye of the Tiger was the song he listened to before taking that first step on the rink.

Sigmund invited us all to think about our own "Eye of the Tiger" moments. There can be more than one. Fulfillment of a dream. Standing up for yourself. Being there for a friend, a companion. Finally writing "the end."

Got your moments ready? Ok, cue the music... Oh, and click here. (You won't be sorry.)

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Gasping for air

Once upon a time, I romanticized writing. In my fairy tale world, the muse was best inspired by candlelight and an oak roll-top desk. 

Partially, that was my excuse not to write. I've learned over the years that pretty good prose can happen at a coffee shop, or in my dungeon. In the summer at the cabin, or in the winter at my rented duplex. With or without Diet Coke, though the addition of whiskey sometimes helps. I can even squeeze in a few paragraphs while waiting for my stepdaughter after school. Or I can spend an entire weekend locked in a small trailer and still produce quality work.

I understand this takes some of the romanticism out of the craft, and am certain my husband will immediately begin disassembling the office he built for me in the basement so he can house his sports memorabilia. 

But let's be honest. My muse doesn't really care if its hanging out in my kitchen or the trendiest coffee shop in Edmonton (but if anyone knows what this is, let me know - I do enjoy good coffee.)

What my muse does care about - whether he looks like Dean Winchester or Jeffrey Dean Dalton - is that I take care of me. Physically, mentally and emotionally. When one of those factors isn't in peak form, my writing suffers.

The physical one is easy to figure out. I don't need the scale to remind me I've gained some weight since the wedding almost two months ago. And in some ways, it's an easy fix. Today (hurrah) I began working out again and have revisited the program that helped me lose 30 pounds in the first place. Baby steps, I know.

Mental and emotional health, however, are a bit harder to assess. First you have to figure out what's wrong.

And then - slowly - take care of the problems.

It's that part I sometimes struggle with. 

I'm not great at knowing when to let go. But why fight for something that doesn't want to be fought for? Why make an effort when it isn't returned? As my friend Rocky would say: make a list of what needs to be fixed. And then breathe.

I realize I've been holding my breath for the last two months. Tip-toeing around the issues that have been bugging me. Forgiving when it hasn't been earned. Feeling guilt for things beyond my control. The naysayers have made me think I shouldn't follow my heart, when truly, it's never steered me wrong.

I'm breathing now - and as I take deep gulps of fresh air, I'm starting to see what I've been missing. I covet toxins, because change is just too scary to face. I accept being walked on, because it's easier that way. I've held on to relationships too long, for all of the wrong reasons. Cared too much about what people think - when really, the only person I need to please is me.

My muse hasn't been impressed. 

Now, he's pushing me to shed those toxins and take deeper breaths. 

My reward is a greater sense of focus, better writing, more personal satisfaction. And ultimately, a healthier and happier me.

Monday, October 5, 2009

My personal a"muse"ment (gag)

I'm not sucking up.

I thought long and hard before choosing my handsome husband as this week's muse.

Truth be told, he's been more than my muse this past week. He's been my rock. 

Jeff isn't a reader, and God knows I've hassled him enough about not reading everything I write. But in the end, I know I wouldn't want him to. While many of my male characters have some of his characteristics, not every scene with a man in it is "all about Jeff." 

Instead of reading, Jeff does a lot of talking. And gentle encouraging. 

This past weekend, he gave me the freedom to write. Two whole days of literary bliss. And while I wrote, he worked his butt off. His goal is to make enough money so that I can (sigh) write full time. But not only did he take on a side job to start that process, he also took on the responsibility for his daughter and the dogs.

So this weekend, it was just me and my characters. Hanging out. Talking trash and creating mayhem. 

What absolute bliss.

P.S. - Thanks for the friends who checked in to make sure I wasn't drowning in Absolution. While the opportunity to immerse myself in writing is heavenly, knowing the great support I have makes it all that much sweeter.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Irritated by spelling, bad grammar

I admit it. I'm a bit of a grammar snob.

I don't profess to be an expert on the dictionary, the thesaurus, or even punctuation. And I definitely wouldn't make Suzanne's Grammar Police force. 

But I do understand the difference between you're and your, it's and its, too, two and to, and effect and affect

Today's youth (and yes, I am stereotyping a little) care little about spelling and grammar. I blame technology to some extent. Even with a full cell phone keyboard, who wants to spell out "Hey, what are you doing?" when "hey, wot doin" takes far less time and energy (and fewer characters.)

Sadly, youth aren't the only ones plagued with bad prose.

The decline of good writing began when the writer stopped wielding the pen and found the keyboard instead. Spellcheck replaced the dictionary, and the green squiggly lines under the sentence alerted you when your grammar was wrong. But spell check doesn't catch the difference between your and you're - and we've become so accustomed to the green squiggly lines, they are mostly ignored.

Further decline occurred - yes, even with adults - when the world discovered Facebook and Twitter. How many status updates do you read where the spelling is atrocious and the grammar is laughable? Far too many, in my world. And I'm not talking about the kids, either.

Life itself is partially to blame. In today's fast paced society, we've been forced to show emotion through status updates and emoticons, rather than compose a real letter to talk about how we feel, or even thanks in an email. Handwriting is a lost art and email isn't far behind.

None of this is news, of course. Maybe I'm just trying to figure out why "sexii boii" is now annoying, but not nearly as annoying when written by a teenager versus his or her parent.