The Dog Days of Summer

I think of the dog days of summer as covering all of August – that time when life seems to slow down. In years past, people often left town in August, though that’s not so much the case these days with Covid. But August remains a month when life seems more leisurely . . . work recedes . . . meals are simpler (popsicles for lunch, anyone?) and even clothing is lighter.  

Well, depending on who you want to believe, the dog days of summer may end next week (I’m not impressed; that reminds me of fall and I’m not ready for sweaters and slippers).

In ancient times, the Romans associated the dog days with the Dog Star, Sirius, which happens to be the brightest star in the night sky.  It’s so bright the Romans thought the earth received heat from it. In the summer, Sirius rises and sets with the sun and at one point in July, it actually conjuncts the sun.  Considered a particularly potent time, the Roman’s deemed the 20 days before this conjunction and the 20 days after as ‘the dog days of summer.’  That meant the dog days could run anywhere from late July to late August, and that’s still the belief in many European cultures today.

However, nothing stays the same, including the constellations in our sky. Given the precession of the equinoxes (basically the drift of our nighttime constellations) the conjunction of Sirius to our sun takes place earlier.  So, these days the Farmer’s Almanac lists the dog days as beginning July 3rd and ending August 11th.

Personally, I’m backing the Romans. Mind you, they also thought the dog days of August was an evil period of time when “the sea boiled, the wine turned sour, dogs grew mad and men were plagued with hysteria.”  They were so fearful they generally sacrificed a dog to appease the Gods. 

There’s no need for that around here. In my little world, the sea is calm, the wine is crisp and the dogs are happy. Yes, we’re still dealing with Covid and all that the pandemic entails, but somehow during the dog days of August even that doesn’t feel quite as bad as it did a few months ago. Happy August everybody.

It May be Summer But . . .

. . . there’s still a lot of work going on behind the scenes. It may not feel that way when I walk down to the beach and view the crowds relaxing on the sand, but things are happening, albeit maybe not as quickly or as often as they usually do.

Take this blog, for instance. I’m only popping up here every few weeks these days, but I’m quietly working away on a number of fronts. And I’m not alone.

A case in point: my fall editing spots are starting to fill up. Authors nearing the final stages of their manuscripts are booking an edit before submitting to their publisher or getting ready to publish themselves. If you’re looking for some editorial input, I still have a few spots open in October. For details of my services, click back to my website for the editing link.

Speaking of editing, I’m jumping into a revision of One Good Deed, based on a request from an editor. I can’t say anything more at the moment but hopefully I’ll be able to provide more details soon.

Halfway There

halfway-pointThis blog’s been quiet but I haven’t been. I returned from a week in the sun and immediately jumped into a couple of big projects (one personal and another professional) with tight deadlines. So it’s been some serious head-down-and-get-to-work time for the last few weeks. Thankfully, the personal commitment wraps up near the end of the month and the writing commitment by mid-July.

Speaking of July, the start of the month is only days away and that means we’re half way through 2016. I set goals every January and when the following December rolls around I’m sometimes pleased, but not always. I figure the midpoint of the year is a great time to reassess. We all know goal setting keeps us focused, drives us forward, makes us accountable and provides satisfaction in the end.

But that’s only if we keep those goals in mind.

So over the next week I’ll revisit my objectives for 2016 to see how I’m doing. There’s still time for a course correction, and better I do that now than face disappointment come December. Before I do that, though, I’m taking some time to celebrate with family and friends.

Happy July 1st if you celebrate Canada Day and happy July 4th if you’re south of the border. fireworksvictoria

Just One?

favoriteIt’s always fun to be interviewed or contacted on Twitter. Because Stepping Out will be released in mid-February, and because The Art of Getting Stared At is up for a couple of reader’s choice awards, I’m receiving lots of tweets and emails. I’ve even been interviewed for a couple of blogs which is both cool and a little weird (as a former journalist, I’m used to asking the questions, not answering them).

Last week, a theme of sorts emerged.

I was asked to identify my favorite color, my favorite meal, and the book that had changed my life. In other words, a kind of favorite too.

The last question was posed on Twitter and I wasn’t the only writer asked. There was also a deadline. A book club wanted to know as they were discussing our latest releases the next day. I read tweets from the other authors offering up their single life changing book. I mulled and fretted and walked Team Sheltie and got my daily writing done and mulled and fretted and went to the gym and mulled and fretted some more. Eventually, I responded with several tweets saying I couldn’t pick a single book because different books had impacted and changed my life at different times. I picked a couple: Charlotte’s Web, Mrs. Mike, Karen, The Handmaid’s Tale, The Alchemist, The Lovely Bones. But there were so many I left off: Green Eggs & Ham changed my life because it taught me to read; Jonathan Livingstone Seagull changed my life at thirteen because it affirmed for me that there’s more to life than meets the eye; every single Junie. B. Jones book I read to my daughter changed my life because I saw the importance of humor in storytelling. Interview with a Vampire changed my life because it opened my eyes to a completely different style of writing and a new genre. Lady of Hay changed my life because I read it and said, “I want to write a past life novel too.” And I did.

I can’t pick a favorite color either. I adore the pale green of a seedling bursting through the soil. The blazing orange of a sunset. The black of my velvet throw. The rich purple of an amethyst cluster. The voluptuous white of summer clouds. The shocking red of fireworks. Even gray, which I never really thought much of before, has become a favorite. I’m letting my gray hair shine and, to me, the color speaks of authenticity and courage. Because in our culture, it is still far more acceptable for men than women to embrace their gray hair.

Don’t get me started on food. How can people pick a favorite food? Or even a favorite meal? A last meal? Faced with that challenge, I’d be starting my last meal several weeks in advance. I’d feast on crepes and smoked salmon . . . avocado and shrimp on a ciabatta bun . . . baby greens with my homemade raspberry vinegar . . . juicy peaches with wedges of brie. . . dim sum . . . curried scallops and biriyani rice . . . scones with clotted cream and chunky strawberry jam . . .spicy basil tofu . . . and steamed crab and mushroom risotto and a fatty rib eye and baked potatoes loaded with everything and French press coffee and popcorn with lots of butter. Lots and lots and lots of butter. Oh, and halloumi cheese. Maybe not with the popcorn but crispy fried halloumi would be in there somewhere too.

I can’t pick a single favorite anything. Except when it comes to love. I do have a favorite man. I married him. I also have a favorite son and a favorite daughter but someday, when they commit to their ‘one and only,’ my list will surely expand. I hope it does. For their sake and for mine. For them because we all deserve a life filled with love. And for me because I like my favorites multiplied.

In Case You Missed It

I’m heading into a retreat later this week. Between that and the fact that it’s release week and I’ve been touring other blogs lately, my time and attention are both short.

So for those who didn’t already see it on Facebook or Twitter, I leave you with a look at the book trailer Razorbill produced for The Art of Getting Stared At:

And a look at what I had to say on the Chapter by Chapter blog site:


Have a good week everybody!

Staying Alive While Walking My Way to ‘The End’

deskandtreadDriving home with the treadmill in the back of the SUV, I began to worry that I’d been overly optimistic about my ability to walk, write (and ideally think) at the same time. What if I couldn’t adjust to the thing? What if we’d gone to all this time and trouble and money and the treadmill ended up being a giant dust collector in the corner of my office?

My worries were unfounded. I adjusted very quickly. It took me a couple of days to get over my nervousness that I’d fall, and to feel comfortable walking and typing (and thinking) at the same time.  Before long, however, I found the 1 mph speed too slow; I routinely walk now at 1.5 to 2 mph. I also incline the tread a couple of notches as this gives me a more natural feeling step.

My goal is to use the treadmill four or maybe even five hours a day. Currently I’m up to three hours a day, alternating each hour with my sit down desk. After several months of this, I can honestly say I’m more productive on the treadmill than when I sit down. I’m less inclined to surf or check email. I’m more focused on what I’m writing.  There’s something about moving the body that makes my mind move too (It seems to me there have been studies backing that up).

walkingI like the treadmill best when I’m doing fresh writing or when I don’t have to look through books or papers for information.  If I’m writing an article with lots of sources or if I’m on the phone or searching through books, it’s easier to sit with material spread out beside me. But when I’m writing manuscripts or blogs (like this one), walking seems to help the process. I even did a substantial revision for The Art of Getting Stared At while walking and that worked well.

I couldn’t have set this up on my own. Mr. Petrol Head did the hard stuff and made it work. Here are some tips:

Make sure the floor is level before you get the treadmill. If it’s not, level it out.

To make the adjustment easy on my eyes, we set the treadmill monitor the same distance away as it is at my sit-down desk.  This is less of an issue if you’re only using a treadmill desk but because I move from one station to another and I wear glasses when I work, this was important.  We could have wall mounted the monitor but we had brackets and shelving on hand so we used them.

We used the same method (examining my position at my sit down desk) to determine the correct keyboard height. Because I hold a lot of tension in my shoulders, I was worried that typing standing up would be unnatural and cause me shoulder pain.  I also wanted the option of having my mouse even lower. Mr. Petrol Head built two shelves just below the treadmill arms and attached them to the treadmill frame. He temporarily clamped them in place so I could try out the height for a few weeks. When I was sure the height was right, he drilled through the frame of the treadmill (being careful not to cut through any wires) and bolted the shelves into place. Now that I’m used to things I keep my mouse on the same shelf as my keyboard and use the lower shelf for books and papers.

I run two monitors from one desk top computer. I plug and unplug each one as needed. I use the same keyboard and mouse, and simply move both when I move.

Lighting and functionality. I have a combination of recessed pot lights and spot lights in my office and none were well-positioned to light the treadmill keyboard. I got around this with a gooseneck desk lamp that I clamped to a nearby shelf.  Those nearby shelves have also aided significantly in functionality. I can leave my water bottle within easy reach, or the phone if I’m expecting a call. In a pinch I can put papers on them too.

One last suggestion – wear decent shoes.  I had sore feet after the second week so I invested in a good pair of walking runners that live in my office and are dedicated for the treadmill. I also remember to stay hydrated (which might be another reason my focus has improved).


A Blog a Day Keeps Boredom Away

winter_storm_victoriaWhen I lost my email connection last week, it reinforced how much I rely on email, and, in particular, how much I look forward to the automatic arrival of several blogs I’ve signed up to receive.

Given that we were buffeted by gale force winds and heavy rain, I expected a power outage.  I pulled out some candles, brought in wood for the fire, backed up obsessively and hunkered down.  The wind blew for days it seemed, but the lights – and my computer – stayed on. We made a pot of Mulligatawny soup, reminded ourselves that it was January and, considering what our friends and relatives to the east were experiencing, we were just fine.

A few days later, my email stopped. Nothing came in or went out for more than a day. When it came back up, it was sporadic at best for another twelve hours. It had nothing to do with the weather; it was an issue with my service provider. I wasn’t the only one with the problem either according to the live (and cranky) tweets on their site. Luckily I have a second email address on a different server so I quickly fired off emails to a couple of editors to let them know I was still at the keyboard.

All was fine. Until Passive Guy didn’t show up in my inbox as he usually does. Nor did Writer Unboxed or Live, Write, Thrive.

I survived. In the same way I’ll survive when door-to-door mail service stops a few years from now.   But the thing is, I like hearing that metallic slam of my mailbox when the letter carrier brings news (even if Team Sheltie doesn’t). I love the ping of email hitting my in box. I’ve gotten attached to some great writing blogs too. I don’t need to subscribe – I know that – but I happen to like home delivery. Half the time if I don’t sign up, I forget to pop over and check things out.  Here are a few of my favorites:

The Passive Voice      Subscribe and receive a daily round up of publishing news and views from the Passive Guy.  It hits my in box every day around lunch and I usually read it while I eat my salad.

Writer UnBoxed   is there when I first check email in the morning and I read it with my first cup of coffee. What I love about this blog is the range – a different writer every day and a ton of different topics.

Live, Write, Thrive  Another early morning arrival and becoming a favorite. Posts by author/editor C.S. Lakin who publishes both traditionally and independently in e and audio form. Great blend of craft, business and all round inspiration.

There are other blogs I love too:

Chuck Wendig’s

Rachelle Gardner’s Books & Such Blog:

The always informative Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

And last but not least:

What writing blogs are on your must read list?