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.

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

My February Reads

It’s been a month of Way Too Much Happening. And also, can I just add, it’s been a month of way too much snow. We’ve had snow here on the island – over a foot in some places, and it’s been the snowiest February on record. I also had snow when I flew back to Manitoba for a few weeks. That’s to be expected in February but it came with minus 40-degree temperatures, always a bit of a slap in the face, especially when you aren’t used to that kind of bitterness (Hardy Manitobans aren’t deterred as you can see by the picture of the Winnipeg man out walking his dog). For me, after a few days of bone-chilling dashes from car to hotel and back, I detoured into the mall to replace my lightweight West Coast gloves, and to replenish my book stash. Here’s what I’m reading this month:

Walking the Windsong by Lea Tassie

The Perfect Couple by Elin Hilderbrand

If I Die Before I Wake by Emily Koch

Books read to date in 2019: 8

 

Just Listen

A few weeks ago, I attended a weekend workshop. It had nothing to do with writing; it was about soul growth and reincarnation for those of us ‘woo’ types who believe in that sort of thing. In spite of the focus, writing was never far from my mind. That’s partly because I’m writing a book with a past life theme, but also because of a comment made by the facilitator.

“Imagination is real,” he said. “It’s a form of communication if only we’ll listen.”

We tend to think of imagination as pretend. His point was the opposite: imagination might be intangible and immeasurable, but it is as real as love, which also happens to be intangible and immeasurable. Imagination, he added, is communication from the soul . . . from spirit . . . from God . . . from the Source . . . whatever and however you describe it. I wondered if he was describing the muse?

Not every writer believes in a muse though many do, and Ray Bradbury was one of them. “I’m not in control of my muse,” he once said. “My muse does all the work.”

Steven Pressfield who wrote The War of Art believes in the muse too. “When we sit down each day and do our work, power concentrates around us,” he wrote. “The Muse takes note of our dedication. She approves. We have earned favor in her sight. When we sit and work, we become like a magnetized rod that attracts iron filings. Ideas come. Insights accrete.”

On the other side of the equation, a number of successful and prolific writers find the notion of a muse or any sort of communication absolutely ridiculous. Jodi Picoult, a favorite writer of mine, is one of them. Picoult believes writing is total grunt work; it’s not about the muse. Nora Roberts says every time she hears writers talk about the muse, she ‘wants to bitch-slap them.’ Stephen King says writing is a job like laying pipe or driving long-haul trucks. “It isn’t the Ouija board or the spirit-world we’re talking about,” King says.

Maybe not. But there’s no denying that for writers and other creative types our imagination bears a great deal of responsibility for the work we do.

The night before I sat down to write this blog, I saw Paul Simon interviewed on Stephen Colbert. He was talking about the inspiration for his song ‘Rene and Georgette Magritte With Their Dog After the War.’ Apparently, he was at Joan Baez’s house doing some collaborative work when Joan had to take a phone call. Restless or bored (or maybe a bit of both), he pulled a book off her shelf and began skimming it. He came across a picture of a man and a woman with a dog. Below the photograph was the caption ‘Rene and Georgette Magritte with their dog after the war.’

He began to think . . . to daydream . . . to weave a story out of the image. Communication, by definition, is a form of sending or receiving information. In that moment, Paul Simon was receiving something intangible that fed his imagination . . . and he listened.

In the end, I guess it doesn’t really matter whether you think imagination is real or pretend. All that really matters is listening to it. Listening and doing the work.

My January Reads

It’s a new year, a new windowsill, and a new stack of books. We’ve unpacked and settled in, at least for the short term, to our temporary cottage with a view. It’s quiet here, and much more off the beaten track than I’m used to. Someone asked me the other day if the setting is inspiring my writing. I can’t say it is yet. We’ve only been here a few weeks, we’ve had days of heavy fog and my office is in a nearly windowless back room. I’m optimistic, however, that once I remember to crawl out of my cave occasionally and enjoy the stunning view, my writing will benefit. In the meantime, because I’m not popping out in the evening like I did when I lived in the city, I have more time to read.

Here’s what I’m reading this month:

At the gym: Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty

Before bed: Waking Up in Winter by Cheryl Richardson

On the weekend: Good Luck with That by Kristan Higgins

Books read to date in 2019: 5

 

I Have Never Been Great at Goodbyes

A long, long time ago, we bought a house . . . and we turned it into a home.

This old house has sheltered us through all the seasons, bearing witness to laughter and tears, to joys and sorrows, to deaths and births, to weddings and anniversaries. It is the only home our children knew growing up. It provided sanctuary for them and their many friends from pre-school through university . . . and sanctuary too to five dogs, one cat, a lizard, a turtle and too many fish to count.

I wrote twenty-five books here, hundreds and hundreds of articles, countless school notes and at least 1600 shopping lists. My babies came home to this house. They took their first steps and spoke the first of many, many words (much to the chagrin of many, many teachers). They had chicken pox and sleep overs, their first jobs, their first loves, their first cars (and with the latter came my first gray hairs).

This house birthed me too – as a mother, as a writer, and as a gardener. And today, though the garden is deep in winter slumber, I see roses blooming and kiwis hanging low. I smell sweet peas climbing up the side of the greenhouse, see the heron swooping in to steal fish in the pond, hear the laughter of the kids as they whisper secrets to their besties, and the laughter of my love as we sip our wine and watch the sun set on warm summer nights.

The sun is setting on our time here. In a few days we will turn out the lights and shut the door for the last time. We will put Team Sheltie in the car, climb behind the wheel and we will drive away. We’re moving to a smaller community several hours from here, a place we’ve visited often, a place we love. We haven’t found a home there yet, at least not a permanent one, but hopefully we will soon.

We aren’t being pushed to leave by anything other than an inner knowing that it’s the right thing to do. It took us a couple of years to come to this, after many discussions and a great deal of thought. Our neighborhood has changed, we have changed and, with the kids grown and gone, our family dynamic has changed. It’s simply time. That said, it is much, much harder than I ever thought it would be.

There’s a saying that pops up on social media occasionally: Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened. It’s good advice, sound and solid. But the fact is I am absolute shit at goodbyes. Never have aced them. And, yes, I know we’ll take our memories with us – people offer that up as if it’s some sort of consolation – but it’s no consolation at all and it doesn’t touch even a corner of my sadness.

This isn’t just the closing of a chapter, it’s the closing of a book. The story of our time in this house is over. And the new book, the new story, that important first chapter, hasn’t yet been written.

Right now, my heart is full to nearly breaking. Smiles are out of the question. My fountain of tears, as Mr. Petrol Head calls it, is perpetually running. But as teary as I am, there is one thing that makes it this process a little easier.

New owners are poised – eager even – to move in.

We’re leaving them a welcome letter, telling them a little about the history of the house and garden, their new neighbors (they will have wonderful neighbors!) and a few of the quirks that old houses inevitably have. It will be fun for them to discover what life here has to offer. Knowing that lightens my sadness.

It reminds me a little of sharing a book. You can only read a book for the first time once. No matter how much you love it, you can’t go back and experience that freshness, that joy of discovery, again. But you can pay it forward and share the book with another reader, taking solace in the fact that they’ll love it too. That the story will live again through them.

I know we can’t go back. Time goes forward and so do we. How fitting that we’re leaving the past behind at the start of a new year.

A long, long time ago, we bought a house . . . and we turned it into a home.  And though we’re saying goodbye and leaving this old place behind, it will be filled with love and laughter and life long after we’re gone. It will stay a home. And for that I’m grateful.

The Gift of Reading Non-Fiction

If you have non-fiction readers on your gift giving list, you have many books to choose from this year.

In the biography category, artists will undoubted appreciate Ninth Street Women: Five Painters and The Movement That Changed Modern Art by Mary Gabriel. Young sports aficionados will be inspired by Open Heart, Open Mind by Canadian Olympian and advocate for mental health Clara Hughes. And memoir lovers with an interest in politics will enjoy Michelle Obama’s Becoming Michelle which details her journey from working class Chicago to the White House.

For the coffee drinker who loves to travel, consider The Monk of Mokha by Dave Eggers. A gripping account of a 24-year-old Yemeni American man, raised in San Francisco, who dreams of resurrecting the ancient art of Yemeni coffee and travels to his ancestral home to source the beans only to face militia roadblocks, kidnappings and threats against his life. Another option for foodies: Hippie Food: How Back-to-the-Landers, Longhairs and Revolutionaries Changed the Way We Eat by award-winning journalist Jonathan Kauffman. An outstanding food and cultural history that traces the colorful origins of once unconventional foods and shows how the concept of health food evolved in the kitchens of young baby boomers before becoming mainstream.

If your reader is focused on social justice and immigration The Line Becomes a River by Francisco Cantu is a shocking insider look at US immigration from the perspective of a border patrol agent. Another powerful read is The Beekeeper: Rescuing the Stolen Women of Iraq by Iraqui-American poet and journalist Dunya Mikhail.

An Amazon best book of 2018 that reads like a thriller and will appeal to crime aficionados as well as business geeks is Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou. Bad Blood is the story of Theranos, a Silicon Valley start-up whose charismatic founder, Elizabeth Holmes, raised nearly one billion dollars over 15 years for a company founded on lies, falsehoods, bullying and fraud.

In a year when laughs were hard to come by, at least as far as current events were concerned, John Cleese, Professor At Large is a sharp and clever collection of Cleese’s lectures at Cornell University while he was a visiting professor. For some mother-daughter humor, I See Life Through Rose`-Colored Glasses by Lisa Scottoline and Francesca Serritella is a hilarious collection of essays about the pitfalls of daily life.

And finally, for inspiration and motivation an ideal pick is Tell Me More: Stories About the 12 Hardest Things I’m Learning to Say by Kelly Corrigan.  Named a best book of the year by Real Simple and Bustle, this is a story-driven collection of essays on twelve powerful phrases we use in our relationships including I don’t know; tell me more; no; I was wrong; and I love you. Both funny and touching, Corrigan’s book is a fabulous read heading into a new year.

 

The Gift of Books

Tis the season for giving but it can be hard to pick just the right book for each recipient.  I usually blog once a month about what I’m reading, and if a book makes my monthly post you can bet I’ve enjoyed it. You can source those blogs by checking through my archives for ‘My Reads.’  Here are some titles that stood out for me this year.

I really enjoyed Girl Who Drank the Moon, a middle grade novel that was published in 2016 and won the 2017 Newbery Medal. Luna was raised by a witch and must figure out how to handle the magical powers she has accidentally been given. A solid fantasy fiction choice for middle grade readers.

Teens who like realism will appreciate The 57 Bus: A True Story of Two Teenagers and the Crime That Changed Their Lives by Dashka Slater. For an historical teen read you can’t go wrong with Girl in the Blue Coat by Monica Hesse. Set in Amsterdam during WW11, this mystery novel is gritty and deserving of last year’s Edgar Award. For teens who appreciate a terrific love story, my pick is The Problem With Forever by Jennifer L. Armentrout.  Well-written and emotional, you might want to include a box of Kleenex with this one.

For older romance readers, I was captivated by Between You and Me by Susan Wiggs. This contemporary love story straddles two worlds and two cultures: Pittsburgh as well as Amish farm country. Richly-layered and compelling.

I could not put down All We Ever Wanted by Emily Giffin. This is a heavier, more issue-oriented story than Giffin’s usual fare and the through line that carries the novel is how far are you willing to go to protect the ones you love? Though this book is marketed for adults, one of the point of view characters is a teen and I think this story would be a great jumping off point for discussions between parents and teenagers.

For more fiction ideas, check out Goodreads Best Books of 2018. https://www.oprahmag.com/entertainment/books/g25361954/goodreads-best-books-2018/

Or go here to see what the CBC recommends: https://www.cbc.ca/books/the-cbc-books-fall-2018-reading-list-18-must-read-canadian-books-1.4821996

Next time, some ideas for the non-fiction readers on your list.

My November Reads 2018

Dusk comes early at this time of year, and the short days remind me that another season has come and gone. The garden has been put to bed, the greenhouse has been tidied for the winter, and the seeds are all packed away. Spring lettuce and summer tomatoes are a sweet memory as we snack on this year’s crop of kiwis.  I’m spending my evenings getting ready for the holidays and, when time permits, relaxing in front of the fire with a book. Here’s what I’m reading this month:

 

By the fire: All We Ever Wanted by Emily Giffin

At the gym: The Rules of Inheritance by Claire Bidwell Smith

Before bed: Love Among the Ruins: A Memoir of Life and Love in Hamburg, 1945 by Harry Leslie Smith

Books read to date in 2018: 73