How one book has potentially turned into a four-part series

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Writing is an interesting pastime. Some days my fingers cannot keep up with the speed at which ideas come, and other days I stare at the screen for countless hours and nothing happens. For five months, especially during the initial Covid-19 isolation period, my characters self-isolated as well. The voices I am proud to admit I listen to were so muted, I began to think I had never heard their voices in the first place, and I was unable to write anything. But divine inspiration is a wonderful thing and it comes from sources that are never anticipated, but truly cherished.

Last week, I had the extreme good fortune of having a guest at the lodge who had read my first, unpublished novel in July take a keen interest in the story. He had arrived back at the lodge for a second stay in August, and during each day of his vacation, he dedicated a portion of his precious family time every afternoon to meet with me and discuss his ideas of how he saw the concepts of my future novels morphing into a series. My creativity exploded with the force of a Supernova and an abundance of lights reappeared in the dark recesses of my brain. By gently weaving the characters from the first novel into the fabric of books two, three and four, the “Relative” Series was given life. To say his input was invaluable is an egregious understatement.

In the short span of seven days, my creativity came back with a vengeance. Spending thirty to sixty minutes a day sharing ideas about my characters and my story lines relit a fire within me that had long been extinguished. My neurons recharged, the bubbling cauldron of ideas overflowed and one book turned into a series of four stories, now all connected, taking the word ‘relative’ to a new level.

White board at the ready, I will be spending my day off tomorrow journaling ideas for the new books and documenting the connections between stories. Book number two is still in its infancy, but it is pulling itself up to the table and is ready to take a few more tentative steps before it hits the ground running. Zoom meetings have been scheduled with my friend every Monday beginning September fourteenth and I am ready to be accountable for getting this series written. 2020 has just take a giant turn for the better!

 

 

 

 

Filling my cup

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This is the high season in the hospitality world for resort operators. While the start of the season was extremely stressful having to have so many safety procedures in place, we are succeeding on a daily basis and giving those who had been isolating in the larger urban areas a chance to socially distance while relaxing and unwinding in cottage country.

For most of the month of July, I have spent my energy filling cups that did not belong to me. My cup had a small reserve, enough to keep me putting one foot in front of the other and do my job to the best of my ability, but it waited to be filled with the things I needed to bring me back to me.

During the busy season, I get one day off a week. Yesterday was that day. Instead of going out for socially-distanced visits, I chose to stay home and fill MY cup. I allowed myself to sleep in. I cranked show tunes while I cleaned my house and I got back into my kitchen for the first time in a long time. I love to cook, but Covid-19 had all but squeezed the life out of every molecule that gave me the desire to create food, until yesterday. It was a small step making Vegetable Soup, but it was a step in the right direction.

Each day I make an effort to fill my cup is a day I am headed on the path back to myself. Each moment I choose to find the beauty and the fun in the things I did before the coronavirus took over the world is an achievement I find worthy of celebrating. Life may not be normal for a long time, but those moments I can bring as much normal and joy back to me is a small victory.

As I type this post you are reading this morning, several hummingbirds visited my feeder and my juvenile groundhog friend, Chunk, munched on the quarter of a watermelon I left out for him. Life really is about the small things and those little moments filled my cup. I’m ready to start another week and face the challenges that may loom in the distance.

 

 

 

 

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.

How live-streaming helped me live again

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Covid-19 has taken a huge toll on me, not physically but, mentally. After cresting the half-century mark last year, I am blessed to be able to say I had never struggled with anxiety or depression. What I would have first described as a distraction slowly burrowed into my brain and riddled me with emotions and a sadness I had never had to deal with before. Having been an extrovert by day and introvert by night, I became overwhelmed by the isolation that came with being advised to stay at home and only go out in public when necessary.

Looking back on the past few months, I should have known I had been affected more than I care to admit. The things I loved to do in my spare time became a burden and I forgot the pleasure I felt when I cooked a wonderful meal for myself or sat down at my computer and let words cascade down from the heavens to help me write the novel I am working on that has been untouched since March. The passion I once had for my hobbies became non-existent and that made my sadness feel even more powerful.

But life has a way of kicking us in the pants and it chooses interesting ways to send us compelling messages that cannot be ignored. I spent forty minutes watching a live stream on Patreon by someone I greatly admire. During his video, he emphasized how important it is to put ourselves first and to take time each day to do small things that bring us back to ourselves. His message couldn’t have been louder or clearer. I had been so focused on things that had nothing to do with me that I had all but forgotten to focus on myself and the things that are important to ME.

I have not posted on my blog since April 27th. It pains me to say that. This space has always been my sacred space. This space has let me be myself and free the words that want to be freed whenever I feel the desire to let them loose. But those words have been muted by the blanket of stress I have let weigh me down. NO MORE! Today I take back my power. Today I let the words oppress my thoughts and unleash themselves. Today I will create a spectacular meal for myself because I am the number one thing in my life. If I don’t take care of myself, how will I ever have the energy to take care of anyone else? Thank you, Jamie Lambert. Your words did not fall on deaf ears.

 

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 shameless act of self-promotion

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I am a writer whose dream is to one day find an agent and get published in the traditional way. That is much easier said than done.

The publishing industry has a death grip on their door handle and only a few authors are lucky enough to be invited through that door to the magic world that exists beyond the barrier between us and them. Having a novel that is marketable is one thing, being able to find the ONE agent who happens to be looking for that EXACT story is another.

I have been diligent in doing as much research as I can to find an agent but there comes a time when you have to sit back and take a deep breath. The publishing industry has become so specific about the gender, ethnicity and sexual orientation of the lead character in the story that many books will never find their rightful place on a shelf unless they are self-published. My first novel, The Waking Hours, meets none of the criteria the industry is currently looking for in a protagonist. Although the story is a great read and would make a fantastic movie, I have pushed it to the side to focus on my second novel and have heeded their new guidelines by creating characters who align themselves with the industry’s wishes.

When I began the journey of becoming an author, I thought the writing itself was the hard part. I was wrong. Many times when I sit down to write, the words pour out of me. I can’t type fast enough to keep up with the characters as they will me to tell their stories. I don’t have an outline, I just listen to them. The writing is the easy part, the self-promotion and the marketing are the difficult parts.

I talk about writing on social media. I post to this blog as often as I can. I have created an author’s page on Facebook, all in the hopes that I can create a platform that will be ready to hold me up when the time comes to announce my signing with an agent and a future publishing date. This is a dream I am not willing to let go. So when you see me posting about my writing, know that I am not doing it to inundate you with my progress. This shameless self-promotion is the only life raft I have to navigate these unstable waterways until I can float on my own.

Long days and long walks

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It is that time of year again. Work is busy and we are waiting for our summer staff to join the team so, when we have guests at the lodge, my days are very busy. I put in a normal Monday to Friday work week (36 hours) in three days with the last group we had staying with us!

Since I had been making it a priority to make conscious healthy choices, I had been starting my day with a minimum three kilometer walk before I went to work. That routine was slightly interrupted by my 6:45 am starts and, after working such a long day, I could not muster up the energy to fit that walk in for a few days. I was surprised to discover that I really missed that part of my new routine. Like any habit, I was afraid my walks would be replaced by my desire to decompress on my couch after such a long day but I was wrong.

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Although today was a mere eleven and a half hour day, I got home shortly after six-thirty, immediately changed into my walking outfit and pounded the pavement for thirty minutes, absorbing the energy of the day’s sunshine, and I feel great. I didn’t just walk off the stress of the last few days, I got back to myself and the new life I want to live.

Long days are something I have to live with but long walks are something I live for and I am proud of myself for making the effort to continue on this journey. Rain or shine, I will be on the road tomorrow morning at 6:00 am!

 

One foot in front of the other

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I am in awe of how quickly new habits can be formed. As my fiftieth birthday approached at the end of March, I made a few monumental decisions. I got a tattoo, I had a small, intimate dinner with friends and family to celebrate the day and I made a promise to myself to eat better and move more.

It’s easy to make promises to yourself and it’s even easier to break them but I have held myself accountable and have been keeping those promises to myself. Gone are the days when I would skip breakfast and unintentionally miss lunch as well. When I don’t add fuel to my body in the morning, it stops reminding me I’m hungry and I can go for extended periods of time without feeling the urge to eat. All of that has changed.

I am now setting my alarm an hour earlier than usual to walk a minimum of three kilometers before I get ready for work. I am back to making breakfast smoothies every morning with healthy, and somewhat unique, ingredients. Super foods like spinach, beets and cinnamon are mixed with yogurt, bananas and frozen fruit to create a tasty morning treat. And I am very cognizant of filling and emptying my water glass many times during the day.

As I continue to put one foot in front of the other, not only on the road but in my eating patterns, I have noticed a difference. The scales may not completely share my enthusiasm and they seem to report numbers I feel are incorrect but I feel different. I feel better. And my clothes are feeling looser than they used to feel. That means much more to me than a number on a scale.

It is just after 11:00 pm and, as I finish this post, I am setting my alarm for 5:45 am so I can try to get in the four kilometer walk that seems to be my new morning habit. I will return from my walk, have my coffee, make my smoothie and feed off the energy I gain from my walks. I will replay the compliments from friends who see a difference in me. And I will quite possibly put one foot in front of the other to walk back into the kitchen to throw my scales in the garbage!

The good, the bad and the motivating

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Being a writer affords me great excuses for supporting technology and having an online presence. If I am EVER going to find an agent and get my first novel published, freely giving my time to the soul-sucking internet is a requirement. Social media is at the top of marketing tools, especially for writers like me who are wanting to keep a dialogue going about their writing with as many people as possible. I am confident I can keep my phone in my pocket during meals or cocktails with friends, but it is never far from my reach.

When I began writing my second novel (still in progress), I cancelled my satellite subscription for the second time and then took it one step further by sending back my receiver. I thought I was being clever by vanquishing the distraction known as television but an unfortunate series of events led me to discover Netflix and Amazon Prime. Now I am faced with the same demon, but it has a different face.

I can remember watching The Jetsons as a child and thinking how preposterous it was to have a digital diary and a robot who cleans the house. And yet, here I am in 2019 and I can ask Alexa to play my music, broadcast the news and weather as well as “dropping in” on friends who also have Alexa. I can have Siri control pretty much anything in my house and access any information I require just by speaking to him through my phone and my friend has programmed his robo-vacuum to clean his house according to the grid he has programmed.

But as much as I thought technology was controlling my life, my birthday gift of an Apple Watch is helping me take back control of my life. Ignoring the fact that I can text or email from my watch and use it as a walkie-talkie with other Apple watches, this brilliant piece of electronic supremacy can monitor my health and encourage me to get off my ass and be more active. It’s even motivating me to make healthier choices with my cooking.

I’m a big fan of golf because the only person you really compete with is yourself and it is the same with physical activity. If I walk three kilometers on Monday, I’m not comparing my achievement with anyone else but I’m certainly going to try to walk a little further on Tuesday. And herein lies the genius of this particular technology. It is making me want to get healthier. It is diverting my attention from mindlessly looking through Facebook posts and making me focus on myself. It gives me reminders to stand up from my work desk every hour. It gives me a fireworks display if I complete my rings every day and it gives me awards if I go above and beyond my requirements.

I’m sure my watch is frowning at me this morning as I delayed my walk due to the nasty weather. But, rest assured, I will be seeing those fireworks later today!

 

When you just want comfort food

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I have been obsessed with my Christmas present and have sous-vided (is that even a verb?) many pieces of protein over the last three weeks. I can accurately predict that my kitchen will soon be adorned with a 12-quart Rubbermaid container with a fitted lid so I no longer have to use my soup pots and transfer my precision cooker from pot to pot depending on the size of the meat or fish being cooked.

Sous Vide is a wonderful cooking technology that allows a chef to cook proteins to an exact temperature without overcooking, unless you forget that protein in the water bath for several hours or cook at too high a temperature. Last night, I cooked a pork tenderloin, Chinese BBQ style, without the actual barbecue. The taste of the marinade combined with the tenderness of the pork was delicious. I broiled the pork for a few minutes to give it that nice crust on the outside and it was better than I anticipated.

When I came home from work tonight, I knew the leftover pork would be used in my dinner preparation. While I mulled over the many things I could make, I thought of my dad. My father was the King of leftovers. There was nothing he couldn’t take from previous meals and not make into a delicious meal the whole family would love. Without thinking, I reached for the rice and prepared to make Barbecue Pork Fried Rice.

There were moments during my meal preparation I could hear my father’s voice, especially when I transferred the rice from pot to frying pan. If I were truly following in his footsteps, I would have spread the cooked rice onto a baking sheet and let it dry slightly overnight to give it the perfect texture for fried rice, but I skipped that step. I did fry the onions to a caramel brown, added the bacon, the peas, the pork and the eggs, allowing the eggs to scramble slightly before incorporating the rice into the mix. I could swear I heard my father sigh when the eggs had cooked properly before I added the final ingredients. The result was delicious.

As much as I love cooking, sometimes a simple dinner of comfort food will taste better than anything I could have toiled to make and I’m sure my dad is smiling knowing he was the influence for my meal choice.