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.

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

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

 

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

 

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

In The Beginning, Take Three

Our lunch was winding down but our beginning writer friend had several more questions. What, she asked, is the one habit that most effectively supports your writing career?

My answer came relatively quickly but I couldn’t limit it to one habit; I had two: writing every day and finishing what I start. Those two habits are the backbone of my writing career.

While I’ve blogged before about the importance of a daily writing practice, I haven’t spent a lot of time discussing the importance of finishing what I start. To be fair, and in the interest of full disclosure, I have a few half-baked ideas waiting for me in the drawer. I was going to call them partially finished manuscripts but they aren’t even that. They’re embryonic ideas in paragraph form. A couple of them go on for maybe two or three pages. They’ll be there when I’m ready for them.

Elizabeth Gilbert believes that ideas are waiting for us to give them life. That they hang out in the ether somewhere until a creator comes along, picks them up and breathes them into being. I don’t know if it’s true, though I love her idea. What I do know is that once I start a story or a novel, I can’t not finish it. Even when I suspect the story isn’t hanging together or the character’s motivations aren’t working or I don’t like what I’m producing, I can’t stop. Finishing it becomes a compulsion. To leave it undone would be akin to gathering the ingredients for a cake, preparing the pans, mixing the batter and failing to put the whole thing into the oven. Finishing what I start and writing every day have taken me from unpublished to published. It’s as easy (and as hard!) as that.

For Lea Tassie, www.leatassiewriter.com her most effective daily habit is self-discipline and making writing part of her routine. “It’s not easy,” she says, “but it’s necessary.”

The last question our beginning writer asked was also the hardest for me to answer. What has been your most rewarding accomplishment?

There were milestones for sure: my first sale, my first foreign edition, my first award. And while those certainly were accomplishments, with the exception of my first sale which I definitely had something to do with, many of my other career milestones came about because others worked to make them happen, or because of serendipity. Claiming them as my accomplishment didn’t feel right. And the more I thought about it, while getting books published was an accomplishment I was proud of, it wasn’t the true reward. The real reward came later when readers wrote to say how much they loved my story. Touching readers through my books is, and always will be, my most rewarding accomplishment.

Lea Tassie shares the sentiment. In her futuristic Green Blood Rising series, trees fight back against development and begin to take over the world. One of her most rewarding moments came when someone read the novel and afterwards commented that they were “driving home one night and these young trees were growing up out of the ditch and I got scared.”

Writing a book that lives on in the hearts and minds of readers is the most gratifying achievement. In the end, I think it’s the only accomplishment that truly matters.