The elevator and the stress of knowing exactly what to say

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As a writer, I craft strings of words into sentences. Those sentences become paragraphs that eventually blend into chapters to create a novel. To say that process is easy is ridiculous. When I wrote “the end” after finishing my first book, I felt like I had nurtured the story from conception, and I had carried those words until I had given birth to a full manuscript. After I typed those two words, I wept.

I thought the most difficult part of writing a novel would be the writing itself. I was wrong. I have recently become much more aggressive in my plight to share my words. After chatting with a friend, and then a friend of that friend, I was gifted some great advice and given the task of coming up with an “elevator pitch” for my book. For those unfamiliar with an elevator pitch, it is basically condensing the eighty-three thousand words of my novel into a twenty-word pitch that could be quickly shared on an elevator and outline of the backbone of my book. It was an arduous task but one that made me strip back all the things that take place in the story to the reveal the true essence of what the book is about.

I was forced to forget about the characters and all the great plot twists I had woven into the fabric of the story. I was tasked with creating a succinct delivery of two lines that could pique the interest of someone who could potentially propel my first child into the private school that had a three-year wait list. It was hard. It was intimidating. But it was achievable.

After many drafts that were close to the mark, but not close enough, I managed to put together twenty-three words that truly convey the heart of my first book. I also created a similar pitch for the book I am currently writing as well as a pitch for the third book waiting to be written. The elevator may skip my floor a few times while I am waiting for the right door to open, but now I am confident I will know exactly what to say if given the opportunity.

 

 

 

Getting my characters out of self-isolation

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The voices in my head, the ones I admit I listen to on a regular basis, have been annoyingly silent over the past few months. Those tentative whispers that regularly woke me from sleep at three in the morning have taken self-isolation to a whole new level and have remained reticent since the Covid pandemic took the world by storm. I am not ashamed to admit I miss the sleepless nights. I long for the wee hours when I can wake up with new ideas for my book and the characters trip over each other to take a prominent position to tell their stories.

I have never been one to write an outline for any story I am creating. I am merely the vehicle for my characters to drive in any direction they choose. My responsibility is to follow the rules of the writing road to keep them from careening over a cliff or crashing into a cement barrier. It sounds much easier than it is if I am being honest.

I have always been a big fan of fiction that is character driven. Sure, it’s nice to read stories that are wonderfully descriptive but, if I cannot find endearing qualities in the characters, I tend to lose interest if I am unable to find a connection to the personalities who are telling their stories. I had developed a wonderful rapport with my new characters and am thrilled they felt comfortable enough to share their narrative with me.

But the time has come to coax them out of hiding. I am going to bait the trap. I am going to lure them out of their cushy recesses and put them back to work. They have a story to tell and my fingers are hovering over the keyboard, ready to make some sense of what they are telling me. I went back to my job after a government regulated hiatus. It is time for them to do the same.

When you just have to sing show tunes

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Musical theatre was a big part of my childhood. Once upon a time, our tiny community centre was host to many fantastic productions of popular musicals and, in my teens, my friends and I could be found in the front row, hanging on every word and every note of those shows. We became such a part of the production that we were welcomed into the rooms below the theatre each night after the show had ended to hang out with the performers we came to know and love.

Music has always been a focal point in my life. My dad had a wonderful voice and my mom, although she admittedly could not carry much of a tune, also embraced the sounds that were able to transport her into another world. I easily followed in their footsteps. There is nothing more magical than being able to lose yourself in the arrangements of a musical soundtrack that can send you to a place where simple words have no meaning unless they are delivered in a four-part harmony.

This year did not start well for me. Every creative outlet I had turned its back on me and I struggled to return to a place of happiness after suffering a devastating loss. The light that held out its hand to me, the light that pulled me out of the darkness, was music. I began to listen to familiar songs that held a special place in my heart. Musicals that had long-since buried themselves in my past came rushing back and made me remember the joy I felt when those notes awakened my senses.

After spending many hours on YouTube, replaying songs from musicals I could sing in my sleep, I found Collabro. Five, now four, very talented young British voices that echo my love of musical theatre took me from a place of innate sadness to a place where joy still lives, and that joy has now cultivated a seed that has been given a chance to grow and thrive. Songs I knew so well, and songs I am now discovering, are taking me from the depth of despair to a place where life has been given new breath all because I am, once again, finding myself in a place where I found such great comfort.

Cradle your contentment. Sing show tunes. Embrace those things that may make others look at you sideways but bring you joy. Judgement is subjective. Happiness should be indestructible.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And how does that make you feel?

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With December rapidly approaching, I am anticipating many social media posts about the Elf on the Shelf phenomenon. What seemingly started as an innocent way to get children to behave during the month of December has morphed into an epic competition to see which parent can get more creative with the benign holiday character.

Many blog posts and articles have been written with very strong emotion regarding this cherubic creature. Parents either love him or their contempt is so strong they hold ill feelings towards those parents who embrace his presence.  Some argue that he is the Elf on the Shelf, with a strong emphasis on the word shelf. He may stealthily maneuver his way around the house in the darkness to take refuge on another shelf, but that is his only purpose. Others, holding tightly to their innovative genes, have created a list of 101 ways the Elf can get into mischief during the night.  Spoiler alert – most of those creative ideas require extensive clean-up the following morning although I’m sure the children would be thrilled to see what mess the Elf made while they slept.

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Had my life been different and I had kids of my own, my children undoubtedly would have been in therapy either during or shortly after the Christmas holidays.  I blame my choice of reading material but my sense of entertainment tends to lean towards the macabre.  Picture Dean Koontz or Stephen King finding indecent ways of displaying the Elf and you have entered the world that my Elf would have had to endure.  There would have been crime scenes, possible Elf DNA and an abundant amount of Police tape. This is the stuff that my dreams are made of, the stuff that helps me write my books. But this is also the stuff that would have a child sitting in the waiting room of an analyst’s office at least once a week.

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For those of you able to remember to innocently and creatively display your Elf each evening after your children have fallen asleep, I applaud you. You are creating memories that your child will inevitably pass on to their children.

As for me….perhaps I will get out the Elf my brother gave me and track his bizarre habits in a journal.  CSI – Elf on the Shelf.  Hmmmm…..I may be on to something……stay tuned.

The week of turning fifty

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For the first time in almost a decade, I have taken time off from work. I don’t really like to travel so I have never taken advantage of the vacation time I have at work, but this year is different.

This week is the week of my fiftieth birthday and I decided it was a significant enough occasion to release myself from the constraints of my job and take some much-needed time for myself. Although Sunday was spent as it always is, making crockpot meals for our local Food Bank, yesterday was spent lounging around the house in the morning and taking myself shopping in the afternoon in search of an outfit to wear for my birthday dinner on Thursday. I immediately remembered how much I disliked malls and shopping for clothes!

Today, although not yet my birthday, is the most anticipated day of my week off. Today is the day I will get my first, and most likely only, tattoo. The thought of a permanent picture on my body never crossed my mind because I could never come up with an image that meant enough to me to permanently etch it into my flesh. But the more I thought about doing something monumental for my fiftieth birthday, the more the idea of a tattoo kept invading my conscious thoughts. When the picture eventually presented itself, it was perfect.

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Having lost both of my parents long before their time, this image is the perfect blend of the things that remind me the most of my mom and dad. My mom loved butterflies and my dad loved owls. From where I sit in my living room as I write this post, I can see the framed needlepoint monarch butterflies my mother created in the seventies and the carved wooden owls my dad hung in the living room of our childhood home. I couldn’t think of a more appropriate image to have as a permanent reminder of the two people I loved the most.

Turning fifty is not a burden, it’s a gift. It affords me the chance to look back on a half a century of love, laughter, friendship and memories. Turning fifty gives me the wisdom to prioritize the people and the things that are most important in my life. Turning fifty allows me to ignore the things I have learned from and have been able to leave in my past. And turning fifty makes me truly appreciate the fact I still feel like I am in my thirties.

I can’t imagine a better way to welcome fifty than to embrace the journey I have taken to get here, to hold close the people I value most and to look forward to what is yet to come.

Why, thank you 10pm, I would love a snack

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I came home last night at 9:30 pm after a meeting / potluck dinner and decided I wanted a late-night snack. Since I had leftovers of my spinach dip and pumpernickel bread, this snack was readily available. I try not to eat past 7:00 pm most nights but spinach dip is a favorite so the decision was pretty much made. I went to bed at 11:30 pm and woke up this morning with memories of a very strange dream.

I am always amazed when I wake from a dream and can remember every crazy part of it. Last night’s dream was in color, as my dreams usually are, and bits of the full color spectrum appeared in every strange scene.

My dreams generally consist of pieces of my day but last night was an anomaly. There were massive structure fires raging with a beautiful azure blue sky in the background. Plumes of black and grey smoke rose from the fires as I stood, high on a hill, on top of a frozen koi pond. The fish were an array of spectacular shades of orange, yellow and blue.

Near the end of the dream, I went down to examine the remains of the buildings. There were children running in and out of the charred skeletons wearing green shorts and my brother was sitting on the living room floor playing poker with his friends. When I turned the corner to leave, I looked up and saw my mother’s yellow, daisy-covered long johns hanging over a door that magically survived the fire.

Nothing in my dream can be tied to any of my reality yesterday. I still do have my mother’s long johns but they have not been out of their drawer in a very long time. Unless I want to experience the acid-trip of dreams again any time soon, the spinach dip will be a daytime snack.

What is the strangest dream you can remember?

 

 

Hold my attention

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Facebook is alive and well with ads for the latest Masterclass contributors. For those of you lucky enough to NOT be sucked into the vortex of Facebook, Masterclass is an online platform for creative people, giving them the chance to learn from their famous mentors. The one who caught my attention and made me investigate this latest phenomenon was Margaret Atwood.

The beginning of her video makes me want to quit everything I have been doing, my job, my charity work and my social life, to just write. When she rewrites the beginning of Little Red Riding Hood by starting with, “It was dark inside the wolf”, fireworks went off in my head. Expletives poured out of my mouth, tripping over each other to be heard and, more than once, I had to pick my jaw up from my lap. Those six words made my entire novel seem like a four-year-old wrote it.

One minute and eight seconds into her official trailer, she said the three words that make writers lose sleep, “Hold my attention”. As an avid reader, I know exactly what she means. If a writer veers into a mundane few chapters, I am more than happy to put the book down and I will eventually forget I started reading it. But if a writer can keep me on the edge of my seat, I am in it for the long haul and I will lose sleep to finish reading that book.

Writing is a tough business, but as Margaret says, “You become a writer by writing. Do it, and do it more. Do it better”. Many people, just like me, have written books. Many people, just like me, believe so much in their story and are convinced it will be published one day. But many people, just like me, are one tiny dot in a portrait created by stippling. We are a minute speck in a massive painting. But the more we write, the bigger our speck becomes. The more we write, the more our words have a chance of being discovered. And the more we write, the more we will master the art of holding your attention.

2019 – The year of Lark

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I thought he was a character I created, but I am slowly coming to realize he is defining himself. I named him Karl, but from the moment he began to tell me his story he referred to himself by the anagram ‘Lark’. He is a complex soul with stories buried far beneath his skin and I haven’t even begun to scratch the surface. He repeats the phrase, ‘the dead claim their own’ and I have yet to figure out why but I know he will show me on his terms and it will become a significant part of the novel.

If you have been following this blog, you will know I love to write. I am utterly amazed by the words that travel from my brain to my fingertips at such a speed I have to stop and read them to keep up. This new book I have begun to write is a prime example of that wonder. I wake up in the middle of the night, patting my bed in the dark to find my phone so I can mumble almost unintelligible words that take me a while to decipher the next morning. I hear phrases during the day I feel the urge to write down and I see landscapes I know will become a part of Lark’s world.

He was never meant to be the main character but his voice is rising loudly above the din of the other personalities who already hold a spot in this book. I am eager to welcome the new year so the holiday bustle will become still and Lark can make his way to center stage and shine a light on the life of atrocity he is eager to share with me. He is a poet. He is a killer.

This book isn’t going to write itself.

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I have been resting on my laurels. I have heard that phrase many times before but never thought it would be a string of words I would use in reference to me. And I really do not have any real laurels to rest on. I have written a book, but until I have an agent and am soon to be published those laurels don’t mean much.

After having completed my first novel, doing several edits and having many beta readers love it to the point of not wanting it to end, I rested. There was a brief resuscitation of my writing but the moments were fewer and further between than they should be. Writing a novel is a huge commitment. It is saying “I do” to a keyboard and a collection of strange characters who slowly become family (except for the bad guys).

Book number two is in the works. A few of the characters have formally introduced themselves and we are slowly acclimating. But their stories cannot be told if I don’t make time to listen to them and jot down what they have to tell me. I know they are eager to get the ball rolling and I am the only one who can give that ball the first push and watch it gain momentum.

It’s time to give this ball a shove. This book isn’t going to write itself!

 

I will eventually need glasses to find my glasses

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Some realities are harder to accept than others. As I crest the hill of my fiftieth year and prepare to enter the next phase of my life, I have slowly come to grips with the fact that I can no longer read without glasses. I have not gone so far as to see an eye doctor for a prescription but that trip is inevitable. I purchased a pair of readers from our local apothecary shop and I have come to rely on them more than I care to admit. Without those readers, I liken myself to Schultz from the classic TV show Hogan’s Heroes, “I see nothing”.

This truth became much more apparent last night as I was enjoying my hobby of cake decorating. I had whipped up a batch of buttercream icing, iced the cupcakes and small cutting cake and began the more tedious work of creating the decorations. As I got involved in the intricacies of the smaller parts, I realized I was squinting and couldn’t focus on what I was doing.

I had accepted that I needed glasses to read. I had made myself comfortable with the fact that those cheaters also made it easier to navigate what was on my screen as I spent countless hours at my laptop. What I had not prepared myself for was the fact that these glasses would insinuate themselves into every facet of my up-close life. As I tried to convince myself that my cheaters were not required to create the decorations I had been working on, I could feel lines being etched into my skin the more I scrunched my eyes to be able to see what I was doing.

Whether I like it or not, this is me at almost fifty. These glasses have found a comfortable spot at the end of my nose so I can see things up close and look over the rims to focus on anything beyond that. This is now my every day life. I have even purchased a second pair of cheaters to keep in my car should I forget to bring my glasses with me. With age comes understanding and with understanding comes preparation. One day I know for certain I will absolutely need glasses to find my glasses.