Get Your Turtle On

It’s NaNoWriMo, or national novel writing month. For those who don’t know, NaNoWriMo participants attempt to write a 50,000-word manuscript between November 1 and November 30. There are many support groups on line with members offering encouragement and holding each other accountable. NaNoWriMo is a great way to immerse yourself in a project, boost your writing output and end the month with a sense of accomplishment.

However, it’s not for everybody. Even if you go into the month with a solid story outline and a detailed plan of how you’ll find the necessary time to get those words down, it can be stressful. Add in an unexpected life event or a manuscript that refuses to cooperate and the stress factor rises. For writers who are more turtle than hare in their approach, a poor NaNoWriMo experience can leave them feeling defeated.

When it comes to writing, I am definitely more turtle than hare. I wrote about that in a blog post five years ago, and it’s still true today.

Frankly, I’d much rather be the hare. Hares have more dash and flash than turtles.  They’re sleek and fast and productive. Plus, they’re cute. Turtles, not so much. They’re ground creepers. Members of the reptile family. Turtles have thick, leathery skin, an armored shell, and they are slow.  Painfully so.

I can’t remember the last time I received a compliment for going slow. Or gave one out. I like fast. I celebrate fast.  So does our culture. Unless it’s a soup that needs simmering or a garden that needs growing, we embrace fast.  It’s a mark of pride if our kids talk or walk at an early age. If our dogs finish first in agility. If we get our Christmas shopping done in October.  If we write three books a year instead of two. Or two books instead of one.

No wonder the thought of being a turtle held little appeal.  But then I found a book on totem animals and learned something about the symbolism behind turtles.

Turtle wisdom encourages us to slow down, to pace ourselves, and to take a break to look within. The wisdom of the turtle lends us determination, persistence, emotional strength and understanding. It teaches us to travel light, to let go of those things we have outgrown.

Turtle wisdom reassures us that we have all the time in the world, and that we’re always where we’re supposed to be. It encourages us to remember that there is no such thing as failure as long as we’re inching towards our goal.

After reading that, I didn’t mind identifying with the turtle. After all, the turtle is also the symbol for longevity. And I’m in this gig for the long haul.  So, my advice? Get your turtle on and forget about the hare. Next week, some tips for making slow and steady writing progress.

My October Reads

 

It’s nearly the end of October. Yesterday’s torrential rain sent gusts of leaves falling from the trees. Good thing the garden has been put to bed for the winter because it’s the kind of weather that doesn’t encourage outside lingering. Luckily, I have some great books to keep me company when the rain is falling. Here’s what I’m reading this week:

By the fire: Ebb & Flow by Heather Smith

Before bed: Deep Water by Lea Tassie

On the weekend: The Oysterville Sewing Circle by Susan Wiggs

Books read to date in 2019: 50

 

The Heart of It

Just as a fictional character can make a book shine, it’s the people we care about who bring the heart and love and emotion to our lives.

This thought rolls around my head every October. I have two good friends who celebrate birthdays this month, one on the 4th and the other on the 16th.  My grandmother celebrated her birthday on the 16th as well, and three years ago a family member passed on the same day.

So, October always makes me think of the people I love, those still here and those who are gone. I’m reminded of their strengths and vulnerabilities, their smiles and their laughter, the quirky things they say and do, but mostly I’m reminded of how they make (or made) me feel. Those feelings linger long after the end of a visit or a life.

A good book is peopled with characters who linger in the minds of readers long after the final page too. Sounds easy, right?

It’s not. It’s hard work creating characters who are nuanced and real. It takes effort, skill and refining (translation: rewriting).

Many craft books have chapters or entire sections on developing good characters, but if you’re serious about writing, it’s worth having a few books devoted specifically to character development on your shelf. Here are some to consider:

Creating Character Arcs: The Masterful Author’s Guide to Uniting Story Structure by K. M. Weiland

Getting into Character: Seven Secrets a Novelist Can Learn from Actors by Brandilyn Collins

Characters and Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card

Dynamic Characters by Nancy Kress

For quicker reads, check out these blogs on character development:

http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2014/01/13/25-things-a-great-character-needs/

https://www.nownovel.com/blog/novel-characters-15-tips/

https://www.creativebloq.com/character-design/tips-designing-believable-character-21619281

Books on Bullying

October is National Bullying Awareness Month. Given that the first month of school is behind us and routines have been established, for kids who are victims of school yard bullying that means the bullying pattern is probably underway by now too. Books can’t eliminate bullying – I know that – but a good story may provide enlightenment to bullies themselves, as well as bystanders caught up in peer pressure. Equally important, victims often benefit from stories, gleaning insights, coping strategies and much-needed comfort and support. Here are some books on bullying for young and not-so-young readers.

For the picture book crowd:

I Didn’t Stand Up by Lucy Falcone; illustrated by Jacqueline Hudon

Noni Says No by Heather Hartt-Sussman; illustrated by Genevieve Cote

One by Kathryn Otoshi

Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes

The Recess Queen by Alexis O’Neill; illustrated by Laura Huliska-Beith

Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson; illustrated by E. B. Lewis

Dear Bully of Mine by Vicki Fraser; illustrated by Cody McGrath and Sean McGrath

 

For older readers:

Queen of the Toilet Bowl and Camp Disaster by Frieda Wishinsky

Sticks and Stones by Beth Goobie

Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli

Bullies Rule by Monique Polak

Cabin Girl by Kristin Butcher

In Plain Sight by Laura Langston

Some Girls Are by Courtenay Summers

To This Day by Shane Koyczan

Dear Bully – Seventy Authors Tell Their Stories by Megan Kelley Hall

My August Reads

Here it is nearly the end of August; September is right around the corner. Soon school will be back in session, routines will be more in force and I’ll be back to blogging every week. For now, we’re still settling into our new home and getting used to the house and the neighborhood. As well as welcoming rabbits, squirrels, dear and raccoon to our yard, we have a family of quail that stops by fairly often. Mom (or maybe Dad) stands guard on a fence post while the rest of the family scurries along the ground. Fortunately, Team Sheltie has yet to see the quail parade. We might build a quail house next year. It’s on the list. Right now though, I’m busy revising No Right Thing, doing some freelance editing jobs and organizing my office. Oh, and finding a few minutes here and there to read. Here’s what I’m reading this month:

On the patio: The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah

Before bed: Ageless Soul by Thomas Moore

In the kitchen:   We Fed an Island: The True Story of Rebuilding Puerto Rico, One Meal at a Time by Jose Andres and Richard Wolffe

Books read to date in 2019: 37

New Beginnings

Two exciting things happened last week. We moved into our new home and I signed a YA book contract with Crwth Press. Talk about a fresh start filled with wonderful possibilities.

I’m thrilled to be working with publisher Melanie Jeffs who is already gaining recognition for her titles. Check out her website here: https://www.crwth.ca/

Melanie will be bringing out my YA in the spring of 2020, which means I’m already into the revision process.  The book in question, which I’ve referred to here before as One Good Deed, has been retitled No Right Thing. I always cringe when retitling is suggested. It’s wrong to get married to a title, I know that, and yet I often do. However, David Baldacci has just released a book titled One Good Deed and, as Melanie Jeffs explained, anytime someone looks up that title on line they’ll get the Baldacci information well before they get the Langston information.

That won’t do. Not at all.

Since this is a story about a teenager who always tries to do the right thing and yet finds herself in a situation where there is no right choice, no right thing, the title switch worked. I’m grateful to Melanie for pointing it out.

With the title nailed down, I can focus on revisions to the story, which is one of my favorite parts of the writing process. Incidentally, the novel is set in my new community of Qualicum Beach. That gives me a good excuse to get out and about and explore my new town. Here’s to new beginnings and No Right Thing.  

My July Reads

In a few short days, we’ll be moving from a cottage by the sea to a house with a garden. Though we’ve enjoyed our rocky shoreline view of eagles and herons and sea lions, it’s been seven months of uncertainty, of feeling deeply unmoored.

Some people need roots and I am one of them.

I’m looking forward to finally getting settled, to planting another garden, and to unpacking the many boxes we’ve had in storage. Within walking distance of our new home is a beach (pictured here).  There’s a great, long stretch of sand where we can walk for miles in either direction. Sometime soon, when I need a break from unpacking, I’ll grab a book and wander down for a waterfront reading break. Meanwhile, here’s what I’m reading this month.

At the gym: With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo

On the weekend: A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

Before bed: The House Whisperer by Christian Kyriacou

Books read to date in 2019: 30

And That’s A Wrap

The final few pages of a novel should bring a sense of completion and ideally some satisfaction or fulfillment too (which is why I love a well-written happily ever after). At the same time, a good ending should be logical, appropriate and have a sense of inevitability about it. It’s an art, hitting those perfect notes when writing a book. But it’s an art that allows for revising and tweaking until you’re satisfied with the story you’ve written.

Life isn’t like that. Endings come whether we’re ready for them or not. We can’t always control the outcome and they’re rarely as tidy as we’d like them to be. Endings have been on my mind a lot lately. Spring has ended and summer has started. This year, the end of spring brought a couple of things to competition in my life. And they were the best kind – happy endings.

The e fraud and stalled royalty issue I wrote about in a previous blog post   https://lauralangston.com/the-royalties-that-failed-to-arrive/  has been resolved. There was a big, black moment near the end (as all good endings have) where the bank refused to compensate us for the fraudulent interception, but ultimately that decision was reversed. The money was returned and my royalty payment arrived soon after.

My first ongoing mosaic project reached a natural conclusion recently too  (if you missed my process, go here: https://lauralangston.com/filling-the-well-mosaic-style/ ) I spent a few hours over a period of several weeks learning all about mosaic art and filling my creative well by trying something different. The final product may not be technically perfect or as artistically ‘tidy’ as I’d like it to be, but I’m happy with it.  In fact, I’m planning another mosaic project. And that’s another thing about endings. Done well, a good ending always brings with it the possibility of a new beginning, a fresh start.

 

 

 

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

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.