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.  

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.

True North

A few weeks ago an editing client presented me with a question. “How can I know,” she asked, “which direction is the best one for this story to take?” Her novel was essentially finished but there were issues with the middle so she’d hired me to provide feedback. Her beta readers had highlighted the muddied middle, and the writer herself knew it was a problem. There was so much going on that the through line of the story had gotten cloudy and the ending, while nicely executed, didn’t have the punch it deserved. Each of the beta readers, however, had come up with a different solution. One reader suggested thread A be dropped, another loved thread A but argued that thread B needed to go.

The writer wanted me to make the final decision and choose one. I couldn’t. I could point out the pros and cons of losing one thread over the other. I could give my opinion on how each thread deepened the basic conflict and impacted the main character (and even the supporting players). I could discuss and debate the ending payoff of one thread over another but I could not choose. For one thing, there are many right ways to tell a story. The story could be told, and told well, minus either of the two threads. Most importantly, however, it wasn’t my novel. I could advise, I could be a midwife to her process, but she had to birth the story herself.

She needed to find her true north, or the true north for this particular novel, and go from there.

True north is our internal compass. It guides us through life at our deepest level and helps us stay on track. With all the chatter we’re subjected to on a daily basis – from family, friends, the media or, in this case, from beta readers, it’s easy to lose sight of true north. It’s easy to doubt our instincts when we can barely hear the still, small voice of our soul.

I suggested to this writer that she employ Vanessa Grant’s ‘garbage can’ test. Pretend she’s throwing thread A in the garbage can and proceeding with thread B. How does that make her feel at a gut level? Then I told her to switch it up and pretend she’s throwing thread B in the garbage and moving forward with thread A. How is her gut feeling now? Don’t overthink it, I told her. Go with the initial feelings that arise. She could do this exercise in a few minutes or spend a couple of days mulling it over. But she needed to honor her feelings and not over analyse them.

She needed to decide what was most important to her, what direction would give her the most satisfaction when it came to writing the novel. There wasn’t a right way or a wrong way. There was only her way.

True north would point her in the right direction.

Vacation Time

P1000623Heads up: the blog is taking August off though I won’t be. I’ll be working flat out for the next couple of weeks in an effort to conquer my ‘to do’ list.

I’m just about finished another round of revisions on One Good Deed, I have a book proposal to finish by the beginning of September, and a couple of articles to research and write too. I also have line edits to tackle for Million Dollar Blues and I’ll be exchanging emails with Estrella Cover Art as we work to come up with a cover concept. I’m planning to send that story into the world sometime this fall.

It’s going to be a fun (and busy) three weeks. At the end of it, I’ll be rewarding my efforts by escaping up island for a few days at the beach.

Enjoy the rest of your summer. See you in September!

My July Reads

peaches 001We’ve had a stellar peach crop this year. The fruits are so thick on our tree they’re crowding each other out. We’ve had to thin the crop to allow some of the fruit to ripen. I’m facing a similar problem with One Good Deed, the YA I recently finished. I have lots of good stuff on the page. But too much of a good thing is, well, too much. The words are so thick in places they’re crowding out clarity. I need to do some thinning there too.

In the kitchen, the peaches are being cut for the freezer so we can enjoy them in smoothies and fruit cups all winter. In the office, One Good Deed is being cut and shaped so readers can hopefully enjoy the story down the road too. And when I get a chance to take a breath, I pick up a book. Here’s what I’m reading this month:

At the gym:  What Came Next and How to Like It by Abigail Thomas

Beside the pond: The Sound of Glass by Karen White

Before bed: The Hand on the Mirror by Janis Heaphy Durham

 

Books Read to date in 2015: 46

Homeward Bound

noplacelikehomeAfter a week of touring southwestern Ontario and a few extra days visiting family & friends in Toronto and Manitoba, I’m heading for Victoria. Though it’s great to head out on a grand adventure, it’s always good to get home. I’m looking forward to a loud, exuberant welcome from Team Sheltie, checking in with Teen Freud about his end-of-year finals, and seeing if Mr. Petrol Head has managed to get his Sunbeam Alpine on the road while I’ve been away.

There’s work waiting. Stepping Out is due at the copy editor June 1st so I’ll probably have a few last minute tweaks to take care of on that. I also have a draft of One Good Deed that needs my attention before I’m ready to send it off. And I need to see the doctor about a tetanus shot. Nothing trip related, but the garden needs digging and planting and there’ve been quite a few news reports lately about how important it is for gardeners to have a tetanus booster. I can’t remember the last time I had one so I’m clearly due.

But before I get to those tasks, I need to unpack, file away my presentation materials, and write up my trip reports and expense sheets. Catch up on my emails too. And that could take a while!

 

Yes, It’s True

one of those weeksphoto-2And it’s only Wednesday. If your week has been as crazy as mine, pick up a good book and forget things for a while.   I’m picking up not one but two books.  I’m deep into revisions on Stepping Out and as soon as they’re done, I’m back to One Good Deed, which I hope to have finished in early April.

Meanwhile, my May trip to Ontario for CCBC Book week is shaping up.  It looks like I’ll be visiting Guelph, Waterloo, Stratford and Woodstock before jetting west where I’ll spend a few days in Manitoba before coming home.

It’s going to be a busy spring.  I’m counting on it.

Kindness Can Be a Kick in the Butt

8466047321_231fced129_zI generally start each day with a few minutes of random reading. I have a number of books I find particularly inspirational all within grabbing distance of my closet. At some point after I get dressed but before I head downstairs to write, I pick one up, open it, and read whatever paragraph I happen to see.

It’s either my message for the day or my kick in the butt, depending on my mood.

The other morning I picked up Entering the Castle by Caroline Myss and I read a passage about kindness. Her point was that it’s easy to be kind when people are pleasant or fun to be with, but it’s more difficult and actually more meaningful to be kind to those who most try our patience.

That morning I happened to be going to the lab for blood work after fasting the night before. No breakfast, no coffee. Just a quick shower, a few minutes with the book and I left. It used to be that you showed up at the lab and waited until your number came up.  Things have changed in the last year and now you can make appointments on line. I’d scheduled my appointment several weeks earlier and was happy to know I’d be in, out, and home to coffee and scrambled eggs within fifteen minutes.

Other than the two employees behind the desk, the lab was empty when I arrived. I had a number of requisitions from two different doctors, and one required some explanation. I spent a few minutes going over things, and sat down to wait. After a minute, I saw the sign: Please inform us at check in if you have an appointment.  It was taped midway down the side of the counter where a preschooler (or someone sitting down) could see it. Since it was out of my line of sight when I’d walked in the door, and since I was preoccupied with my requisitions at the time, I’d missed it.

I quickly informed the fellow behind the counter that I had an appointment.

Well. Apparently my failure to inform him of this two minutes earlier created a serious problem for him as well as a horrendously difficult situation for this still-empty lab. I offered a sincere apology, and then defaulted to humor. That made things worse. Much, much worse.  He berated me with a particular viciousness that left me feeling like the preschooler for which the sign was placed.

I shut my mouth, mutely followed him into the cubicle, let him poke me with his nasty needle and I got out of there as soon as I could.

Irritation isn’t good on an empty stomach. It feeds on itself. By the time I got home ten minutes later, I was indignant (read royally pissed off).  As I poured a cup of coffee, I went back over the conversation (that old he said/I said/I should have said loop), told myself the guy was power tripping and way out of line.  I told Mr. Petrol Head that I was going to write a letter and file a formal complaint.

Then I remembered what I’d read only half an hour earlier.  That passage about kindness had been my message for the day.  Now it was my kick in the butt.

I decided to let the whole thing go. All of it. But the next time I go to the lab, I think I’ll try another location. And I’ll tell them I have an appointment the minute I walk through the door.

My July Reads

guyWith one notable exception, I’ve been binging on non-fiction books lately.  Part of it is due to the fact that I’m in a transitional phase in my current manuscript and can’t afford to distract myself with another novel (that’s polite speak for the thing is a red hot mess and I need to sort it out).  But along with that, the book I’m writing, One Good Deed, seems to require it. Or maybe I require it.  One of the characters is a homeless man who has spent the better part of two decades alone. At least he appears to be homeless in the opening few scenes. But he has hidden depths and a secret life that comes to light as the story progresses.  So I’ve found myself drawn to introspective books over the last while. The one exception is a series of novels by Karen Robards featuring Dr. Charlotte ‘Charlie’ Stone, a psychiatrist who also sees dead people.   They’re fast paced and fun, just what I need to power through a session on the elliptical.

What I’m Reading:

On the Patio: Solitude; Seeking Wisdom in Extremes by Robert Kull

At the Gym: The Last Kiss Goodbye by Karen Robards

On the Kindle: A Journey of Days; Relearning Life’s Lessons on the Camino de Santiago by Guy Thatcher

Books read to date in 2014:  46

Simple Strawberry Pie

fullstrawberrypie.jgpFor our family, strawberry pie signals the start of summer. My mother-in-law began the tradition years ago with a simple strawberry pie my daughter fell in love with. It’s an easy, throw together dessert that’s way too high in sugar and relies on Jell-O as a key ingredient. If my daughter hadn’t asked me to take over when my mother-in-law stopped making it, it probably wouldn’t have crossed my radar.

But she did so I do and it’s become something of a tradition to have in our house around Canada Day. That time of year when fresh strawberries are at their best.  Served with vanilla ice cream or whipping cream, it mimics the red and white of the Canadian flag, which is another reason I usually make it on or around July 1st.

It’s funny how fiction and life intertwine. My current WIP features a teenage heroine who wants to be a chef. In the process of planning a special meal with fussy little tartlets for dessert, she’s forced to ditch that plan and make this strawberry pie instead.

Child’s play it is. But child’s play never tasted so good.

 

strawberrypieslice                                Mary’s Strawberry Pie

Butter a deep dish pie plate or tart tin and set aside (I use a Pyrex pie plate that’s 9 ½ inches/24 cm across and 2 inches/5cm deep).

 

 

 

Crust:

1 cup/240 mL Graham cracker crumbs

1 cup/240 mL ground almonds

1/3 cup/80 mL butter

¼ cup/60 mL white sugar

In a large bowl, mix together graham cracker crumbs, ground almonds and white sugar. Melt butter. Blend into crumb mix until it appears pebbly. Press mixture into buttered pie plate or tart tin. Freeze. The crust can be made a day or two ahead of time.

Filling:

5 cups (1.18 litres) fresh strawberries

3 oz/85 grams strawberry Jell-O

1 cup/240 mL white sugar

1 cup/240 mL water

In a medium saucepan, combine Jell-O powder, sugar and water. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Boil vigorously for 1 minute. Remove from heat and pour into a large bowl. Cool to room temperature (I put it in the fridge for a few minutes while I prepare the strawberries). Clean strawberries and remove green tops. Make sure they are dry. Remove cold crust from the freezer. Place strawberries inside the crust, pointed tips up. When the Jell-O mixture is room temperature, carefully pour over the strawberries. Refrigerate for an hour or two until set.

emptypieplate