My June Reads

It’s peony season. Stunning pink flowers are in full bloom outside our cottage by the sea, and red peonies grace the back yard of the house we’ve just bought. In the language of flowers, peonies represent love, romance and good fortune. In Greek mythology, the peony is linked to the moon. It was said that the moon goddess, Selene, created peonies to reflect the moon’s bright beams during the night. That’s especially true of very pale or white peonies. And interestingly enough, I divided some ethereal white peonies before we sold our old house so I could bring a few peony tubers with us. Those potted plants are now unfurling frilly white flowers. Soon it will be time to transplant them into the garden at our new place. For now, though, gardening is on hold while we renovate. At the end of the day, after showering off concrete dust, I relax with a book. Here’s what I’m reading this month.

 

At the gym: Save Me the Plums by Ruth Reichl

Before bed: Lasting Impressions by Geoffrey Jowett

On the weekend: The Art of Inheriting Secrets by Barbara O’Neal

Books read to date in 2019:  24

Filling the Well, Mosaic Style

I’m not great at finding time to play, and that’s been especially true lately with so many demands on my time. But as Julia Cameron talks about in “The Artist’s Way” it’s critical to take breaks, interact with the world and fill the inner well that fuels our creativity.

I thought about that last week when I took a class from Debra Hagen, a Nanoose Bay artist who specializes in mosaic art. I knew almost nothing about mosaics until I visited Debra at her house (okay, technically Team Sheltie went on a play date to visit Debra’s two shelties, Seamas and Merlin, and the humans accompanied them). Her home is vibrant, welcoming and filled with samples of her gorgeous mosaic art. 

Every piece drew me in. Some were bold, others were more subtle, but they were all beautiful. When Debra said she gave classes in her studio downstairs, I was tempted, though I’m not at all artistic. I can’t draw, paint, or sculpt I told her. I’m lousy with textiles. I’d probably mess up papier-mache.

Debra assured me it didn’t matter, so I decided to make a trivet. Something bright for my new kitchen.

 

 

Debra’s studio overlooks the garden and it has the kind of happy vibe found in any creative space: a feeling of expectancy and a sense of promise. Plus, it’s filled with more of Debra’s stunning art.

I enjoyed a cup of tea while Debra gave me a very brief introduction to mosaics. She pointed out her many containers of tesserae, the small blocks of stone, tile, glass or other materials used to make mosaics . . . and the pottery and china that can be broken up and also used in a mosaic. It’s referred to as pique assiette.

She talked about the substrate or rigid surface that you need to form the base, the adhesive or glue that’s used to attach the tesserae, and the basic tools like the wheeled nippers I’d need to do the job.

Like writing, the first step was settling on an idea and getting started. I quickly realized saying I was going to make a trivet was like saying I was going to write a novel. The statement was too broad. In the same way that a novel needs a plot or a character or a problem from which to build, my trivet needed something from which to build too: a central focus or a color or a piece of tile. Something. I decided on a heart for the center which Debra helped me outline on my plywood substrate.

 

We looked at the various bits of red tesserae that might work, but I wasn’t hooked. My eye kept going back to the china and pottery.

I found a plate with colors and a pattern I quite liked. Though it wasn’t at all red or heart-themed, something told me to go with it. I began breaking it up.

I hadn’t consciously noticed the couple on the plate when I chose it, but as I began to play with my layout, I decided they would form the center of the heart. How could they not?

Because I wanted to be sure I was happy with my layout, I placed many of the pieces on my substrate before I began gluing. That made for a longer process but I felt more confident doing it that way. At the end of the day, I wasn’t finished, but my heart had taken shape and I was thinking about background colors which I’ll tackle next time. 

Once the background tesserae is glued down, those small pieces will need 48 hours to dry before it’s time for the final step: grouting.

I left Debra’s studio feeling refreshed and energized . . . and thinking about my next mosaic project!

Debra is a great teacher. She’s instructive and helpful, and at the same time she’s wise enough to step back and let the artistic process unfold. For more information on her classes or to buy one of her mosaics, she can be reached at goldbugmosaics@gmail.com

 

The Royalties That Failed to Arrive

Put up your hand if you think e transferring money is easy, secure and foolproof. I did. I still think it’s easy but I recently learned that it’s not as secure or as foolproof as you might think.

A few weeks ago, I received an email from a small publisher asking if I would accept my royalty payment by e transfer. I don’t have this fellow set up on automatic deposit but I trusted him and his business practices so I said yes. A few minutes later I received a subsequent email saying the money had been sent. In his second email he also included the answer to the security question. I was surprised because if there’s one thing that’s been drilled into me it’s this: never send the answer to the security question in an email. I didn’t say anything, however, and if I have one regret, that’s it. Had I been thinking I would have quickly emailed him back and asked him to kill the transaction. But I didn’t.

I waited for the official notification that would allow me to claim the money. It didn’t come. I knew Bank of Montreal was having some on line issues that afternoon so I figured things were slower than usual. However, by the next morning when the money hadn’t arrived, I began to get concerned. My first thought was that perhaps the publisher had inadvertently forgotten to complete the transaction. I’d made that mistake once myself. So, I emailed him a brief inquiry. His reply was swift: the money had been sent and I had accepted it. It had been withdrawn from his bank account. He quickly provided an e statement from his bank to prove it.

My response was equally fast: I’d never received even a notification, so I hadn’t had the opportunity to claim the money. He stood by his initial statement: he’d paid me and he couldn’t afford to pay me twice.

As sympathetic as I was to his position, I also like to eat and I’d been counting on that royalty payment to help in that regard. I told him I was worried, especially since he’d included the answer to the security question in his email. He responded by saying that his security was good, his email was encrypted so there were no issues on his end but he wondered about mine. Was I using an unsecure browser? he asked. No, I told him, a secure network only, and my security was also top notch, and up to date.

We called our respective banks (the same bank – BMO – but different branches). He was told the problem rested with me and I needed to start an investigation. My branch said they couldn’t start an investigation because there was nothing to investigate; I’d never received notification of an e transfer so there was nowhere to go with a search.

Several hours and multiple phone calls later, the publisher learned that the money he’d sent to me had been claimed by a third party. We had a name. Surely this would be enough to resolve things, to claim/find/refund the money. But unfortunately for us, it was the Friday before a long weekend and nothing would happen now until Tuesday.

I spent part of that weekend checking for malware on my machines, checking again that my security was completely up to date (it was) and changing every single password to every single account (personal or professional, financial or otherwise) I had. Coincidentally when I was at the bank and seeing a teller, I mentioned what had happened and why I was changing the security number on my bank card. She responded by saying that whenever she returns from a trip, she routinely changes all her banking passwords.

I’d been in Winnipeg less than a week earlier. While I hadn’t done any on line banking during my time away, I had regularly checked my email. Was it possible someone had infiltrated my system? I didn’t see signs of it – scans of my laptop and cell phone had turned up nothing suspicious – but something was amiss somewhere so who knows. From now on I’ll take that bank teller’s advice and change my passwords after any trip, including my email password.

I still don’t have my royalty payment. The publisher still hasn’t been refunded the money either, but he has initiated a bank investigation and we’re both hoping for a positive resolution.

In the meantime, here are some things to remember when sending or receiving bank e transfers.

Never, ever, put the answer to a security question in an email or even in a text. Just don’t do it. If necessary, call the recipient to give them the answer.

When you conceive of a security question, make it difficult. Don’t, for instance, ask your payee who their favorite Beatle is. Someone in Ontario did exactly that when she was reimbursing a friend $1,700 for trip expenses. The money never arrived. With only four possible answers to that question, it’s easy for a fraudster to nail the answer in just a few tries.

If you’re active on social  media, avoid security questions that could be answered by skimming your feed. Don’t use the name of your pet, your favorite color or flower, your current hobby, or the location of your last vacation. Too easy to source via Twitter or Facebook.

Do not assume because you use a Mac, have excellent security or your email is encrypted that breaches can’t happen. There are people who are dedicated to intercepting e transfers. It’s their full-time job. My daughter works for a reputable company with encrypted email and high security. They lost 30K on an intercepted e transfer.

Double and triple check the email address you’re sending to. Double and triple check the email address you’re accepting money from. One common scam involves a single keystroke of difference. Also watch for errors in the text of the notification. Another favored trap is the $ sign appearing after the amount instead of before it.

Do not store account passwords in your web browser or on a mobile app. You don’t want someone being able to access your account with the click of a button.

Never respond to requests from Interac or your bank that require you to send information over email or text. If you receive a message from Interac that a transfer you initiated was not completed, review the transfer from your bank account to see if you typed in the wrong address.

Never provide personal or account information in response to an unsolicited email or text. Note that neither Interac nor your bank will request your account number, your personal identification number or any other personal information in an email. They already have it.

If you weren’t expecting the deposit or money request notification, contact the sender through a different channel to confirm that it’s real. If it’s someone you don’t know or money from a source you don’t expect, do NOT respond to their email address.

Finally, if you’re on the receiving end and you haven’t received notification of your expected e transfer within two hours, and the transfer is between Canadian banks, call Certapay at 1-888-238-6433. As soon as a payment is initiated, they are the organization coordinating all transfers in Canada, and they are able to quickly determine the status of the transaction.

And I’m Off….

It’s family business time again and that means I’m off to Manitoba for a couple of weeks. At least this time I’ll be there after the snow but before the mosquitoes. Small blessings and all of that.

Just as I was thinking about writing this blog and how I’m short on time and out of pithy things to say, this piece popped up on Live Write Thrive. It’s about saying more with less.

How Novelists Can Say More with Less

Enjoy the read. I’ll see you back here in a few weeks.

My April Reads

There’s a lot happening here this spring. A possible house purchase (fingers crossed because this one has a gorgeous garden), another trip out east to help my father, slow and steady progress on my current YA novel and plans in the works for another Laura Tobias title.

My head is so full with ‘to do’ lists and changing circumstances that I’ve found myself yearning for consistency: writers who deliver with good writing, excellent stories and a happy ending. The books I’m reading this month have given me all three:

At the gym: By Invitation Only by Dorothea Benton Frank

Beside the pond (and by pond I currently mean ocean): Cottage by the Sea by Debbie Macomber

Before bed: Now That You Mention It by Kristan Higgins

Books read to date in 2019: 17

When It’s a Happy Deadline

Canadian writers might want to take note of two quickly approaching deadlines. Some deadlines might bring with them a sense of urgency or even dread, but these are what you could call happy deadlines.

The Public Lending Right (PLR) Program sends yearly payments to creators whose works are in Canada’s public libraries. Registration is open for a few more weeks yet. For more information go here: https://publiclendingright.ca/

Another program that benefits Canadian authors is Access Copyright. If you own reproduction rights to a book, articles in a magazine or newspaper, or work in a journal that’s available commercially, you can affiliate with Access Copyright and receive a yearly payment, called payback. The deadline to register for Access Copyright is the end of May, though if you’re a first-time user, you may have to wait a full twelve months for your first payback installment. For more information, go here: https://www.accesscopyright.ca/

A tip: if you decide to affiliate, gather all your information ahead of time. PLR requires titles, ISBNs, publication dates and photocopies of copyright pages. Access Copyright focuses specifically on the number of books, articles, and pages written in a given year. For the latter, any works published in print format between 1998 to 2017 are eligible to be claimed. Digital and online works aren’t eligible, at least not yet.

Canada Council for the Arts and the Writer’s Union of Canada have both played a role in establishing and maintaining the programs. Registration costs nothing and those annual cheques are always a welcome bonus.

It Takes Time

I’m not particularly patient, nor am I especially self-indulgent. If I have a job to do, I like to get on with it quickly and efficiently.

Years as a journalist taught me the importance of meeting deadlines, getting words down, not making excuses. So, when I turned to novel writing, I brought that same attitude with me: Put your butt in the chair and get to work. I’m not the fastest writer in the library but I’m not the slowest one either. I’m a ‘steady as she goes, right down the middle’ kind of writer. It works; the words add up.

Or at least they used to. Lately, though, my writing has taken something of a backseat because I’m preoccupied with trying to help my sick father who lives across the country. I wrote about it last month: https://lauralangston.com/workarounds/

I struggled with the workarounds, though I did try. By the end of March, however, I realized that my writing output had slipped to an alarmingly low level. Barring the months postpartum with my kids, it’s the lowest it’s ever been. Acknowledging that sent me into a real funk. This isn’t how I work; this isn’t who I am.

A few days later, this blog post popped up on Live, Write, Thrive: https://www.livewritethrive.com/2019/04/01/when-slow-writing-leads-to-great-writing/

I don’t like feeling unproductive. A day or two is one thing but not for weeks at a stretch. The idea of slowing down and taking my time (or some days not having the time) feels incredibly frustrating as the Live Write Thrive post acknowledges.

I talked to a non-writer friend. She’s a geriatric and hospice nurse; her whole mindset is about people. She knows the circumstances of my situation and she also knows I have an intensely disruptive few months coming up. I’ll be flying back east at least once, maybe multiple times. She couldn’t fathom that I was even trying to write at a time like this. “You need to give yourself permission to stop,” she said. “Just stop and deal with the issues at hand.”

I’m not sure I want to stop writing for the next couple of months but I do need to give myself permission to go slowly. And I need to find the joy in it too.

Going slowly isn’t all bad. For instance, I love to cycle. It’s not the fastest mode of transportation, yet it’s a wonderful way to connect more intimately with your surroundings. Slow food also has its merits. My grandmother used to cook short ribs. They take forever (or it felt like they did) but that slow time is necessary to break down the connective tissue in the meat so they’re fall-apart tender and delicious. A good Bordeaux takes at least ten years to mature. A beautiful Bonsai can take five years to look like anything.

It may take me more time than I’d like to get my current novel written. But as long as I’m moving forward, I will get there. One word at a time.

You Know You’re a Writer When . . .

Here’s a blast from the past. . . a blog post I wrote in 2013 that’s as true today as it was back then.

I wasn’t that odd as a child, not really, although if you ask my father he’d probably disagree. I was sensitive to my surroundings (especially to the undercurrents of conversations and what wasn’t being said); I was prone to storytelling (others referred to this as exaggeration); and I had three special (imaginary-to-everyone-else) friends. I played with them, had conversations (and arguments) with them and I ate meals with them too. This did not please my rational father. He didn’t realize he had a writer-in-the-making in the house.

How do you know you’re a writer?  You know you’re a writer when –

You had imaginary friends as a child only they were real to you.

You are prone to wild imaginings that can literally make your heart race.

Conflict makes you smile.

You don’t get non-readers.

You laugh out loud at conversations in your head.

Some of the letters on your keyboard are worn off.

You have pens in every room of your house, including the bathroom and beside your bed.

A song on the radio sparks a story idea.

You stare at random people and memorize their quirks.

You can predict the conflict or turning points in movies, and your family has made you promise to keep quiet until it’s over.

You get excited by Scrivener.

Eavesdropping is second nature.

You love bookstores (but hate them if they don’t carry your books).

You live in a constant state of ‘what now?’ closely followed by ‘what if?’

Twist is not a cinnamon stick.

You have scribbled an idea, a word, or a piece of dialogue on a restaurant napkin, boarding pass, old envelope, school newsletter, or empty toilet roll.

You find those odd bits of paper – sometimes indecipherable – in pockets, wallets, purses, drawers, stuffed between the pages of a book, and you save them.

Pacing is a concept not an activity.

You found it easier to write when you first started.

You have missed a turn, an exit ramp or possibly a plane because you were so absorbed in your story.

You weren’t comfortable as a journalist because you always wanted to change the end of the story.

Proofreading is automatic.

Character is not about your personal ethics.

A hero must be flawed. But sexy as hell.

You gather ideas, thoughts, bits of trivia and snatches of dialogue like black pants gather lint.

You visit a cemetery and take notes.

People you barely know ask you to read their book, their article, their life story. Or ask you to write it.

You have a weird combination of insecurity and confidence.

Finishing the scene is more important than answering the phone.

The Muse is an intimate.

And, finally, you will read anything.

 

My March Reads

 

Today is the first day of spring in the Pacific Northwest and for once the weather is in line with the calendar. The sun is shining, clear and strong. The crocuses are up. The birds are in high spirits. And so, apparently, are the sea otters. Yesterday, one propelled its way up from the water’s edge to our house. I know they’re cute (at least some people think so) but they’re particularly aggressive with dogs so I’m careful to watch Team Sheltie when they’re out in the garden. Because the weather is warming up, the garden is on my mind and one of my current book picks reflects that. Here’s what I’m reading this month:

Beside the pond: Plants That Speak, Souls That Sing by Fay Johnstone

Before bed: The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Spears

On the weekend: The Care and Feeding of My Mother by Jann Arden

Books read to date in 2019: 12

Kids Speak Out

This Friday, March 15th, kids around the world plan to skip school to demand action on climate change. Many of them have lived with extreme conditions like wildfires, heat waves and flooding their entire lives. It seems, they say, that every year of their lives has been ‘the warmest one on record.’

The March 15th climate strike was born out of the #FridaysForFuture drive. That movement began in Sweden when a 16-year-old girl named Greta Thunberg started skipping school on Friday to protest outside Sweden’s parliament. Her actions have inspired thousands of young people around the world to cut classes as part of the Global Student Strike for Climate.

According to a 2018 UN report, world leaders have only 11 more years to avoid disastrous levels of global warming. Since many young people feel politicians are dragging their heels, they’re stepping up and demanding their voices be heard.

This Friday, a number of BC children’s writers and illustrators are marching with them. In Vancouver, CWILL members will join with young people to protest at the Vancouver Art Gallery at 1 o’clock. In Victoria, the walk-out begins at noon at the BC Legislature and proceeds to Fort and Douglas for another gathering at 1.

Students in 55 countries around the world are rallying. If you want to join them, go here to find a protest near you.    https://www.fridaysforfuture.org/events/map