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 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 for a daily dose of science, and this month, log on to 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.