And a New Year Begins . . .

I’m a little late to the ‘Happy New Year’ party but I’m here with enthusiasm, does that count?  I hope the opening chapter of your 2020 was happy/peaceful/celebratory (pick one, or pick all three). Mostly I hope it began optimistically.  

January is a time of fresh starts, new beginnings. It’s a time when many of us make resolutions. And some of us resolve to make no resolutions at all. I’m normally in the latter camp. I’m goal focused – I love to set goals and look ahead with optimism – but I’m not so much for resolutions. Only something about this year feels different, and I feel compelled to set some writerly resolutions.

This year I will:

  1. Measure productivity, not results. We’re a results-oriented culture. Most businesses measure success by results and many writers do too. We often count the number of books or articles we publish in a given year, or the amount of money we make from our efforts. But some things are out of our control. This year I will concentrate on my daily productivity and worry less about results.

2. Listen more and talk less. What are your thoughts on that?

3. Set realistic goals. Life has demanded a lot from me over the last few years. I’ve been meat paste in the sandwich generation of life and it has played hell with my output. Unfortunately, I don’t see it changing any time soon. Nevertheless, I will set goals and do my best to reach them.   

4. Practice kindness. It goes without saying, right? But I’m not always kind to myself. Someone told me recently we should treat ourselves as we would treat a best friend. I think that’s important, and it’s especially helpful when life demands much of us. Or when we’re struggling to reach #3 (see above).

5. Treat that 1st draft as a precious baby. Don’t judge or criticize. Hold a protective, tender space; know it will grow and evolve but right now it needs acceptance and nurturing.

6. Find a new-to-me author. Or three. Or six. Read someone new. Read out of my comfort zone. Read and read some more.  

7. And number seven. Ah, 7. Did you know that in numerology number 7 combines the hardworking number 4 with the mystical and creative number 3. Seven is associated with luck, intuition, inner wisdom and magic. It’s prominent in ancient cultures (there were seven wonders of the world) and it has held significance in virtually every major religion. So, it seems fitting to end with a resolution to make personal renewal a priority this year, however that looks like in any given day or week. Hard work is good. Hard work combined with intuition, inner wisdom and personal renewal is better. In fact, I’d call it an unbeatable combination.

Happy New Year and happy reading.

Yes, You Need That Break

For writers who don’t write quickly, it can be hard to justify taking a break. Instead, we often push ourselves to write more, while mentally beating ourselves up for not being as prolific as we’d like. However, the research is clear: taking a break from what we’re working on can actually improve productivity. A new and growing body of research outlined in the New York Times shows that strategic renewal – daytime workouts, coffee breaks, time away from the office and longer, more frequent vacations – boosts productivity, job performance and health.

Many writers rely on the routine of a daily walk. Stephen King gets in about four miles a day; Charles Dickens logged about three hours every afternoon.  Walking leads to more creative thinking than sitting does. Researchers from Stanford University found it boosted creative output by 60 percent. That’s significant. We walk Team Sheltie once or twice a day and I look forward to the break. It often sparks story ideas or helps with my work in progress.

But a walk is just a walk. And unless you cycle or drive to a new destination every day, the same old walking routine can become stale fast.

That’s where the artist’s date comes in. I’m sure you’ve heard of it. The brainchild of Julia Cameron, the artist’s date is a weekly solo expedition to explore something that interests you. It need not be overly ‘artistic.’ Cameron says it’s more ‘mischief than mastery.’ It’s meant to fire up the imagination and spark whimsy.

To be worthwhile, an artist date must happen every week and it must be taken alone. No friends, spouses, children allowed. It should involve leaving the house. What about being housebound because of bad weather, you ask. Cameron believes that an occasional in-house date if you’re alone and devoting yourself to something that ‘fills the well’ is acceptable but the goal is an excursion out of the house. Essentially, it’s a two-hour play date where you indulge your inner child.

It doesn’t have to cost anything, other than time. Some ideas:

Visit a shop that has nothing to do with what you actually do – an art supply store, a music store, a fabric, bead or (my favorite) a yarn shop.

Visit a U-pick farm.

Go to a graveyard and read the tombstones (it sounds morbid but this is great for writers who want story ideas).

Explore a neighboring town, or a part of your town you aren’t familiar with.

Take a hike.

Walk around town and take pictures of what inspires you.

Watch the birds.

Go to Home Depot with $5 in your pocket. See what cool things you can find to create an art project with five bucks. Go crazy.

Visit a plant nursery and plan your perfect garden.

Go to the library and find a book on a subject you know nothing about. Check it out.

Spend some time at a furniture auction.

Go for a bike ride.

Listen to live music.

Take yourself out for afternoon tea and people watch.

Visit a rock hound shop.

See a movie that appeals to you.

Go to a museum.

Watch a sunset.

Visit a farmer’s market.

And my personal favorite: walk on the beach and watch the waves crashing on shore.


                Small – and Not so Small – Signs

Last week, I finished doing a substantive revision on No Right Thing. Revising, as I’ve said before, is one of my favorite parts of the writing process. Polishing and tweaking can take a story from good to great, and I think No Right Thing is one of the best YA novels I’ve written so far. A big shout out to Melanie Jeffs at Crwth Press for comments and suggestions that gave me the springboard I needed to dive in and make some changes.

One thing Melanie wanted me to look at was my story pacing. She felt the speed in which I showed signs of change on the part of my protagonist, Cate, wasn’t working as well as it could.  While Melanie wanted the external story to maintain its brisk, forward motion, she thought a slightly slower unspooling of Cate’s internal growth would serve the story better. So, I went back and started small, slowly stacking up Cate’s discomfort and signs of internal growth until she comes to the inevitable big, black moment when there is no turning back . . . when she is forever changed.

Starting small and not revealing everything at once is the pace you want in a novel because it creates tension. I thought I had that in place, but it sometimes takes a good editor to help an author take it to the next level.

In case I missed the message about the importance of slowly building tension, life reinforced the lesson last week in the form of a bear. Or, more specifically, the sign (this one not so small) of a bear.

Saturday morning, we took Team Sheltie for a walk along the trail behind our house. Within spitting distance of our back gate, we discovered a substantial pyramid of scat. It was bear scat, I told Mr. Petrol Head. No, he said, it was from a large dog. Not possible, I retorted. It was either an elephant or a bear and since there are no wild elephants on the island, I was betting on bear. But even as I spoke the words, I wasn’t entirely sure. I didn’t want to be sure.

Sunday morning while walking the same trail, a neighbor confirmed the left behinds were the gift of a bear, though he hadn’t seen it. They’re fairly common in this area, he reported.

I became uneasy. When we moved here a few months ago, we loved the close proximity to trails and creeks and ravines. I knew those areas were home to wildlife, but my citified mind conjured squirrels, racoons, birds, maybe a cute deer or two.

Monday morning, a second neighbor told us he’d been followed down the trail by a black bear the previous day. The only reason he knew about it was a couple walking towards him had seen it and pointed it out. He hadn’t glimpsed it himself.

My unease grew. I know the animals were here before us. I realize we share their habitat. I understand the importance of peaceful coexistence. But we live in a town. With paved roads. Streetlights. And houses. Lots and lots of houses.

Tuesday morning, yet another neighbor reported that she’d seen two black bears by the apple tree across the street. Last summer, she added, officers relocated six bears from this neighborhood.

Unease settled into my bones. Having a bear (or three) within spitting distance of my back door would take some (translation: a lot of) getting used to.

Just as I was mulling over the escalating tension and pacing of my own personal week, there was a new wrinkle in what we refer to around here as the weekly wildlife count. In fiction, we’d call it a twist in the action.

A cougar was spotted on the trail. Not out in the open because cougars, unlike bears, are stealthy creatures. A woman walking her dog in the moonlight caught sight of gleaming eyes staring at her out of the bushes. She beamed her flashlight in that general direction and, sure enough, it was a cougar. Crouched at the base of a tree. Waiting.

A cougar waiting in the bushes while she walked the trail. In. The. Moonlight. That woman, in a fictional world, would be the fearless heroine. She would not be me.

I have enough on my plate dealing with the pacing of my manuscripts. And the escalating bear sightings outside my back door.  

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


An Attitude of Gratitude to Kick Off 2018

Last January I started a gratitude jar. Whenever I thought of it – sometimes every day or maybe a few times a week – I’d jot down something I was grateful for and slip the colorful Post-It note into a jar. This practise has been around for a while; I’m sure you’ve heard of it.

I sat down and read through my 2017gratitudes last week. A clear pattern emerged. The largest number of gratitude notes focused on the support of friends: the walks and talks, watching movies together, sharing meals, laughing and commiserating. Gratitude for the books I read and the movies I watched came next, closely followed by gratitude for the beauty of nature; for the food I managed to grow in the garden; and for enjoying the best margarita of my life, thanks in part to the company (waving at you Keith and Carol-Anne).

There was gratitude for Mr. Petrol Head’s successful surgery; gratitude for letters and emails I received thanking me for my work; and no small amount of gratitude to my family, including Team Sheltie who share my days.

It occurred to me as I read through the notes that virtually every gratitude depended on the energy of someone or something to make it happen. The energy of a reader writing a thank you note . . . the energy of a friend making time to visit . . . the energy of nature providing such spectacular sunsets.

I’m doing the gratitude jar again this year. As I slip in the first few notes, I can’t help but see the same trend emerging. So this time, along with being thankful for the thing I write about, I’m also sending up a whisper of thanks for the energy behind the action. Happy 2018! 


A Lesson in Patience, Persistence and Timing

The garden is one of my best teachers and I was reminded of that last week when we picked kiwifruit from our vines. Seventy-five of the fuzzy, egg-shaped fruits if you want an exact number. I planted the vines myself over a decade ago and this is the first year we’ve had any kind of harvest.

Kiwifruit typically take 3 – 5 years to mature and produce fruit, so we didn’t expect fast results. Being reasonably patient I was good with that; some things are worth waiting for. After the first five or six years with no sign of fruit we began to wonder. But we didn’t wonder too much because life was busy and we had a crisis-filled stretch there for a while. By about the seven year mark, however, when we had flowers but no fruit set, I began to fret.

Maybe I needed to augment the soil with more organics. Prune differently. Maybe I wasn’t watering properly. One cool spring I was convinced we had a shortage of bees at pollination time. Maybe I needed to throw a party for the bees and make sure they hung around for a while. In short, I was convinced the lack of fruit set was the result of an operational error on my part. I had to be doing something wrong. So I began to adjust and tweak and adjust some more.

Around the barren eight or nine year mark, Mr. Petrol Head noticed that the flowers on both sets of vines appeared to be identical. This was significant because kiwifruit need a male and female vine to produce. We hadn’t given it much thought up until then because we knew we’d purchased a male and female vine; they’d been labelled as such at the garden centre.

By now the stocky vines were half way to heaven and we needed a very long ladder to reach them. We plucked a couple of blooms, googled, scratched our heads, googled some more. Finally we took the delicate flowers out the peninsula to a famed tropical fruit grower who told us within seconds that we had unfortunately been sold two male vines. Mislabelling tended to be a fairly common risk with kiwifruit vines, he said, adding that he’d lost track of the number of customers who’d come to him with the same problem. And so what to do?

We considered digging up one of the two vines but I was reluctant. For one thing, the trunks were the size of a small child. For another, they were like my children. Barren or not, I was attached to the damned things and I couldn’t bear the thought of adopting one out or tossing it onto the compost heap. The grower suggested we opt for a graft. For a small fee, he’d be happy to make a house call and do the deed. Yes, we gave our kiwifruit vine a sex change operation, turning one of the males into a female. Twenty months later we were harvesting fruit.

Coincidentally (or maybe not because I don’t really believe in coincidence) while this was going on, I was circulating a YA novel that has yet to find a home. It’s a story I love, solid and well told. After yet another ‘no thanks’ I began to fret.

Maybe I needed to boost the story somehow. Or cut it down. Maybe the main character wasn’t likeable. Maybe there was a shortage of descriptive passages. Or one too many. Maybe the party scene out at the lake needed more bees! In short, I was convinced my inability to sell the novel was the result of an operational error on my part. There had to be something wrong with it.

Or not.

Maybe the novel is a little like the kiwi. Maybe it needs a period of dormancy before it’s ready to shine. It’s doubtful the story needs a graft or any kind of sex change operation but for whatever reason, it’s not bearing fruit quite yet. Selling a novel, like growing kiwifruit, requires patience, persistence, and timing.

In my enthusiasm to place the novel, I’d conveniently forgotten that. It took my first ever kiwifruit harvest to deliver yet another lesson – a repeat lesson – from my garden.

Happy Thanksgiving

It’s Thanksgiving weekend here in Canada (Columbus Day weekend for my friends south of the border). It’s that time of year when we gather with friends and family to celebrate the many blessings in our lives.

It’s not always easy to be grateful, particularly if we follow the news and witness horrors like we did last week in Las Vegas or when we see world leaders using Twitter to taunt, bully and inflame. It can also be difficult to feel appreciative when we face our own personal challenges, and we all have them. But that’s the time gratitude is particularly important.

This Thanksgiving weekend, I’m grateful for many things, but I’m especially grateful to live on the beautiful west coast in a city where nature is valued and in a country with strict gun laws. I’m lucky, and I need to remember that.

Early last week, in the middle of all the horror unfolding in Las Vegas, a Steller’s jay appeared in our back garden. We’ve lived here thirty years and this is the first time we’ve had one in our yard. They aren’t common on the south coast, at least not in our area. He came with a partner (jays pair for life) and the two of them spent most of the week swooping from tree to pond and back to the tree again. They’ve gone now; they’ve moved on to grace another garden with their presence but I’m grateful they visited us at all.

Happy Thanksgiving to  you and yours.

The Essentials

Last week’s blog about writing gurus was sparked by a Susan Wiggs talk I attended a few weeks ago. As I mentioned in that post, Wiggs had some questions for the audience. Question one revolved around our writing gurus. Her second question was this: What are your three essential writing tools?

I don’t need much. In fact, it would be pretty accurate to say all I need is either a notebook and a pen or some kind of word processor. That’s it. I’m a minimalist at heart. Less is more in my world.

Given the choice, however, I do like a nice pen. Black ink over blue, a rollerball over a ball point and it needs to feel good in my hand. I can’t quantify that; it either fits well or it doesn’t. It’s like pants. Some look great on the rack but you never really know whether they’ll work until you try them on.

I also like a notebook with pockets. Once I get rolling on a book I tend to make notes or collect pictures, bits of trivia, anything that might contribute something, however small, to the work in progress. Having a single place to keep everything saves me searching through piles of stuff later on.

Last but not least (and the hardest to come by) is quiet. I love quiet for first drafts especially. I’m not one of those writers who produces well in a coffee shop. I don’t want people peering over my shoulder, talking to friends, playing music. I like to create in isolation. Unfortunately, Team Sheltie doesn’t do quiet all that often. Neither does the band that moved in next door. They practise a lot. A LOT. During the day. When I like to write. If they don’t stop soon, I may be adding another essential to this list: a pair of headphones.

What essential tools do you need for your creative work, writing or otherwise?

Bountiful August

There’s a crispness to the morning air these days and the sun is setting a few minutes earlier every night, but summer isn’t officially over until September 22nd. I love this last month. It’s harvest time. The garden is overflowing with tomatoes and peppers and beans and figs. The dahlias are spectacular, the California tree poppy is putting on a second show, and there are still a few sweet peas blooming in the garden. If I’m not working in the office, I’m working in the kitchen, making basil pesto, peeling and freezing peaches, and canning tomatoes. And at the end of a long, satisfying day, there’s always a good book to read.

Here’s what I’m reading this month:

On the Kindle: Family Tree by Susan Wiggs

At the gym: If I Could Turn Back Time by Beth Harbison

By the pond: Paranormal: My Life in Pursuit of the Afterlife by Raymond Moody

Books read to date in 2017: 50

Stand Up

Someone once said that strong people stand up for themselves but the strongest people stand up for others.

Have you ever ignored an opportunity to stand up for someone who was being disrespected or treated poorly? I have, and to this day it’s something I regret. It’s easier and far more comfortable to stay quiet. There’s always justification for not wanting to rock the boat, for wanting to avoid adding more hurt to an already hurtful situation, for letting rude or insulting behavior slide because you can see both sides of a given situation. I don’t want to get involved. It’s their issue, not mine. I hear those comments more than I care to admit.

The reality is that disrespect and hateful treatment, whether it’s on the world stage or between only a few, is a human issue. That makes it everybody’s issue. It’s not about taking sides, nor is it about seeking right or wrong. It’s about choosing love over hate.

Nelson Mandela Famous Quote 1000+ Images About Quotes – Nelson Mandela On Pinterest | Freedom – Quote And Sayings


There’s a reality TV show called Love It or List It. Homeowners must decide whether they’ll love the home they’re in or whether they’ll list it. In other words, whether they’ll stay or cut their losses and sell.

Love it or list it. If you take away the real estate component of that show and replace it instead with human dynamics, you could rename it love it or lose it. Because if you boil any disagreement down to its pure essence, distill it completely, that’s pretty much what you’re left with. Will we choose to love or will we choose to lose? Will we be big-hearted, compassionate and accept someone even if we don’t agree with them or will we be small-minded, mean and reject them?

Love or hate. It’s pretty simple.

Last week it was the horror of Charlottesville. This coming weekend alt-right demonstrators are planning protests in Vancouver. There will be counter demonstrations too. People willing to stand up for inclusion instead of exclusion. People motivated by love and hopefully wise enough to demonstrate soulfully rather than aggressively.

I hope things stay peaceful. I wish I could be there to add my voice to the crowd. But instead of bemoaning the fact that I can’t get there, I’m reflecting on the Greek theory of the cosmos: that the microcosm reflects the macrocosm. I choose to believe that what we do in our own little world makes a difference. I believe that when we reject bigotry, hatred, disrespect or petty meanness on even a small scale, it adds a sliver of light to a dark corner of the world.

I believe I’ll stand up. I believe it’s time we all did.