It’s all in the Details

Mule DeerOne morning last week, I was walking Team Sheltie down an urban street about a block from home. The sun was up but it was early and hardly anybody was around. The dogs were charging ahead, in tandem, heads down and on the scent of something. They didn’t see the deer. I didn’t see it either until the subtlest of movements caught my eye. A leaf caught on the wind, a squirrel? I glanced into the yard I was passing and there it was – three arm lengths away and partially hidden by a hedge. It was so still that for a second I thought it was a deer statue (a nearby homeowner has one). Then I saw its ear twitch. It was the subtlest movement, hardly noticeable, but it was enough to tell me I was closer than I’d ever been to a wild deer.

In the moment before I walked on, one thing stood out. Not its size, or its stillness or the flash of fear that flickered in its brown eyes (though later I’d think about all three). Instead what captivated me was the softest whip of chocolate fuzz that I saw on still-forming antlers. That single detail summed up everything I needed to know about the creature in front of me. It was a sweet, young deer, harmless yet vulnerable. The sight also brought an unexpected rush of emotion because it reminded me of the down of my children’s hair when they were infants.

Details, in life and in novels, speak volumes. And those antlers did.

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.

A New Office

The office reno is officially done. After twenty years of dwelling in the basement (and writing almost twenty books in the same space!) I’ve moved to a place of ‘honor’ on the main floor. Let’s hope I have another twenty years and twenty books left in me! All I need to do now is find some art for the walls and strip and refinish a plant stand for the corner. Team Sheltie is slowly getting used to the new digs.


Okay. Get in here.

january 152016 059










Yes, we know you have a manuscript in that cubby that needs revising . . .january 152016 053








But you need to get to the fresh writing first . . .january 152016 056








And no sitting down on the job. Get on that treadmill and start producing. We’re ready for a nap. january 152016 061

A Promising Start

readingbythefire (2)2016 started in the best possible way – with time to read. The trick is giving everybody else books for Christmas and then making sure I set aside a block of time after the company leaves but before I have to go back to work.

This year the stars aligned and I had some uninterrupted reading time during the holidays. Having a fridge full of leftovers helped, as did having a relatively clean house. Aside from a few visits with friends (at their house!) and making sure Team Sheltie got out for their daily walks, I was able to relax in front of the fire with a few new books. I’ll be tracking the books I read again this year and tallying up the numbers every month or so. I read 79 books in 2015 which is up from 65 books in 2014 but nowhere close to my goal of reading two books a week.

However, I got off to a good start this year and that’s encouraging! Here’s what I’m reading this month:

On the Kindle: Find the Good by Heather Lende

At the gym: Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult

Beside the bed: Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert

Books read to date in 2016: 4

The Renovations Continue

We’re still working on converting Teen Freud’s bedroom into my new office. In the process, we painted and put down a new oak floor. Team Sheltie didn’t like the noisy air gun or all the activity so I sat with the two of them in my current office while Mr. Petrol Head nearly broke his back doing the floor. That was a few weeks ago. It’s almost time to put the handles back on the door and start moving furniture.

But one half of Team Sheltie is not impressed with all the changes. Trace, our male, is not at all sure of this new space.


No, Mom, I can’t come in and walk on the shiny, new floor.






I’m leaving and you can’t make me.











I can maybe sit here if my sister is beside me.









But there’s no way I’m going past this doorway.







Hopefully Trace will change his mind when we get my filing cabinet and desks upstairs. Stay tuned!

A Writer’s Better Half

LB_Wedding2Happy anniversary to my better half  . . .  a guy who wears a variety of hats:  Mr. Petrol Head, Dad, son, and lord & master over Team Sheltie (and thank God someone is in control of those two).

The phrase ‘better half’ is something of a cliché these days. While it’s come to mean the superior half of a married couple, it originally referred to a person so dear that he or she was more than half of a person’s being. Whatever way you look at it, the intent is clear: someone who is good and true and holds a place of deep importance in one’s life.

That would be my better half. Much has been written about the wealth of support writers receive from editors and readers and critique partners and writing friends. It’s support we depend on and appreciate. But a writer’s better half is rarely mentioned. It’s too bad. They’re a silent (and sometimes not so silent) yet intimate companion on this crazy publishing journey, a journey they didn’t always expect when they took their vows. In our case, there were signs but I’m pretty sure Mr. Petrol Head chose to ignore them.

Over the years, he has offered advice and solace, and he has paid the bills when my writing didn’t. He has brainstormed plots and character arcs, he’s made too many dinners to count and he spent as much time as I did with our children so I could focus on this career. He constructed a sluice box for my gold rush book, designed business cards and websites, built me a treadmill desk, and he was always there with a hug when the journey seemed too tough to manage. He has helped me make sense of royalty statements, understand the business side of publishing better than some publishers could and he has pulled me back from the brink when I’ve been ready to press send on an irate email that needed a more tempered response.

He accepted without reservation my decision to trade a lucrative and successful job as a journalist for the uncertain and low paying job of a novelist. He has believed in me and loved me and never once complained that things didn’t turn out quite the way he expected on the career front. He is the wisdom and calm in my world.

That’s why he is, and always will be, my better half.


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!


I’m Going Squirrelly

Squirrel-on-roofVirginia Woolf said, ‘a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.’

No argument there. But with all due respect, Virginia, you missed something. Along with money and space, a squirrel-free zone helps too.

We have squirrels in our attic. Or at least we did. It’s been quiet the last few days, though that’s no guarantee. They’ve tricked us out before. We noticed them first this summer. They’d run through the yard taunting Team Sheltie. One took to sleeping on our fence where the sun hit in the middle of the day. I thought it was sweet. We had a house squirrel, I told myself. A totem protector.   How cute is that?

I am so naïve.  So. Naïve.

We no longer have a house squirrel. We have an army of squirrels. They’ve captured the attic and are defending their territory with a vicious determination that makes ISIS look like a group of kindergarteners. Given that Mr. Petrol Head is protective of his family, not to mention the fact that he’d like to keep our roof, our insulation and our wiring intact, he declared war.  He would eradicate the mighty army himself. Just call him the original squirrel slayer.

Just to clarify – our attic isn’t a traditional space where you store clothes and steamer trunks and kids go to play on a snow day. Our attic isn’t accessible, at least not by anybody taller than eight inches.  It’s a narrow space just below the roof where the insulation lives. It is accessed by vents. Vents in squirreldom are known as front doors. And ours apparently have a great big flashing WELCOME sign visible only to squirrels.

After some on line research, the Original Squirrel Slayer got to work. He tried moth balls which squirrels apparently hate. Maybe they do somewhere. Not where we live.  He screened off the vent. The squirrels laughed and chewed through it. He made a ‘foolproof’ one way door out of all sorts of heavy, squirrel proof material and snapped it over the vent.  Squirrelgate he called it. The squirrels thumbed their noses. They pulled a break, enter and repeat. Squirrelgate was breached.

I’d had enough. Call in the experts, I said. Let me try something else said the Original Squirrel Slayer, who was spending more and more time on our roof determined that the rats-with-tails wouldn’t get the best of him.

A new and improved Squirrelgate was created and installed. Things got quiet. We were hopeful. We were sure the army had been conquered.  We were sure we’d won the war.

Then came Saturday.  I woke up to find the Squirrel Commander-in-Chief chewing his way through the screen on our open skylight.  The army was on the move. The attic was no longer enough. The capture of new territory – in the form of our TV room – was the goal.

The Original Squirrel Slayer conceded defeat.  Refusing to accept his new moniker, he picked up the phone, dialed the Squirrel Whisperer and went back to being Mr. Petrol Head.  Some things, like marauding squirrels, are better left to the experts. squirrelgate

Giving Thanks

thankful 2 It’ll be Canadian Thanksgiving in a few days and my thoughts are turning, as they usually do in the fall, to the things I’m most thankful for. This time last year, I blogged about why I’m thankful to be a writer. And many of those same things (the joy of playing with words; the ability to ask endless questions; regular and mandatory reading; wearing yoga pants and slippers to work) still apply.

But I’m feeling more serious this year and it occurs to me that even though I work alone, I don’t work in a vacuum. In fact, I couldn’t do what I do without a pile of people in my corner. And for that, I’m profoundly, extremely grateful.

My long suffering partner, Mr. Petrol Head (possibly to be rechristened My Squirrel Slayer – watch for an upcoming blog) has had my back, along with the rest of me, since I started this gig way back when. Not once has he questioned my sanity, my ROI or my need to bounce endless (and I mean endless) questions off of him.  He cooks, he designs my business cards, he listens to me rant, and he laughs. I love him for all of it. Mostly I just love him.

My kids – Uptown Girl and Teen Freud (the latter needs a rename since he’s left teen hood behind forever; sob) – have made me the writer I am. They’ve helped me become more patient (they may not agree with that), more disciplined and more creative. They’re bright, funny and truly the best kids a mother could ask for. I love them more than life. Even if they weren’t mine, I’d want to spend time with them. Yes, they are that cool. Mr. Petrol Head pointed out the other day that my career has, to a large extent, followed the trajectory of their growing up years. When they were young, I started writing picture books. As they grew, I segued into middle grade fiction. And now I write for teens and adults.

My web guy keeps my site up to date. Thank you Miles Barr for achieving the seemingly unachievable . . .  for returning my panicked emails . . .  and for reassuring me that glitches can be fixed even when they seem unfixable.

My fellow authors who follow the publishing road.  No one else gets it the way you do. I’d be a whole lot crazier if I didn’t have friends like you with me on my path.

The editors I’ve been blessed to know. I’ve been hugely lucky in the editorial department over the years and it shows in all my books. You might want to thank those editors, too. Trust me.

My readers.  A reader was the impetus for this blog. Not a reader of my books, but a medical technician who reads science fiction and fantasy. I was in for a test recently and when he found out I was a writer, he spent about ten minutes talking books with me. Not in the ‘how do I get published? sense’ but the ‘have you read this author?’ and ‘what do you think of this author?’ sense.  His passion was a sharp reminder of why I do what I do and for whom I write (it was also a good distraction from the task at hand but that’s a whole other story).

And last but not least – Team Sheltie.  They sometimes drive me nuts with interruptions and they bark waaaaay too much, but they get me out of the house for several walks a day, they always make me smile and they’re my soft place to land when I walk away from the keyboard at the end of the day.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!     dogswindow.jgp

The Dog Days of Summer

DSC00163I think of the dog days of summer as being in August – that period of time when life seems to slow down. People are either away on holidays or they leave work early. Meals are simpler (popsicles for lunch anyone?), clothing is lighter, worries seem to recede.

Well, guess what? 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, 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 this period was an evil 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 sweet and Team Sheltie is happy. Sure, I’m a little hysterical, but that’s nothing new.

And it’s got nothing to do with the dog days of summer.

DSC01765.JPG traceupclose