Overheard This Week

“I hope you guys are in school because this really isn’t the kind of career type job I like to see people in.”

So said a customer at the local bottle depot where my son, now known as the Graduate (AKA Teen Freud or The Basement Dweller), has worked part-time sorting and stacking bottles since he was in high school. Amazingly (and I use that word deliberately because he’s not known at home for his diplomacy) the Graduate  smiled, nodded politely and waited for the woman to take her bejewelled self back to her Mercedes before letting loose with a rant to his co-workers about judgement and expectations and class systems.

With his undergrad degree freshly in hand, the Graduate will likely make a job switch at some point over the coming months. But so what if he doesn’t? What if he decides he wants to stay where he is or open a bottle depot of his own? What if he was like a former co-worker who chose the job because he was a photographer (his passion) during off hours but the bottle depot provided a steady salary? Or his single mother co-workers who find the work, though dirty and often unpleasant, reliable and well-paying, especially for a job that doesn’t require post-secondary education.

Why do the jobs we do, the Graduate asked, inspire so much judgement? Why indeed.

That got me thinking about some of the jobs I assign my fictional characters. The mother character in In Plain Sight is an artist and predictably absentminded when she’s lost in her painting. The father is a terrorist and in jail so I went out of the box there. But in The Art of Getting Stared At, the main character’s parents are a doctor, an airline pilot, and a model respectively. In Girls Who Dish, my latest Laura Tobias title, the main characters are a restaurant owner and a lawyer, though I do throw in an accountant with a Shirley Temple obsession.

Sometimes characters and plot reveal the best choice of career or job to further our stories. You need a detective in a whodunit, for example. But Agatha Christie’s  Miss Marple was an elderly spinster and a most unlikely detective, something Christie used to her advantage.

So the next time I’m considering character careers, I’m going to forget the doctor or the teacher or the artist or the politician (especially the politician). I’m going to look for something fresh. How about a timeshare seller or a spider researcher or a cello maker or an otter technician for the Department of Conservation? Or  a chimney sweep . . . letter carrier  . . . judo instructor . . . dialysis tech . . . FAA tower controller . . . exterminator . . . glass blower . . . Christmas Around the World salesperson . . . preschool dance teacher?

So many jobs . . . I’d better get writing.

But first I’m heading out to get a t-shirt printed for the Graduate and his co-workers. I want it to read: Recycling Equipment Engineer . . . and proud of it.

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!


Overheard This Week


140474989It would be a great place to work if it wasn’t for all the raids.

Was I in a Texas border town eating a spicy plate of enchiladas nortenas and eavesdropping on a couple of construction workers complaining about being disturbed by U.S. Border Services agents looking for illegal aliens?

Or was I nursing a cool cocktail in Key West while a couple of well-dressed twenty-somethings worried about the questionable practices of the nightclub where they were currently employed?

Maybe I was chowing down on an egg white scramble in Southern California listening to hotel workers complaining about the raids on pregnant foreign visitors presumably there to give their newborns U.S. citizenship status.

Any one of those three scenarios would have been lovely.

But no. I was in my kitchen scrubbing teriyaki salmon skin out of a cast iron frying pan while Teen Freud and a few of his buddies discussed their current employment options.   Teen Freud already has a part time job – at a bottle recycling depot.  He’s had it for the last three or four years. It’s a great fit while he’s in university. It pays well, the hours are flexible and he’s getting another kind of education: learning to interact with the public and being exposed to a wide range of clientele.

But entering the world of the working class has been a shock to Teen Freud’s delicate system. He finds the eight hour shifts too long. The smell on his clothes at the end of the day off-putting. The work physically grueling. “It’s making me old before my time,” he told his buddies that night. “Half the people who work there have arthritis and they’re not even thirty yet. What kind of future is that for me?”

Clearly not the kind of future he has in mind. So Teen Freud is looking for greener pastures.  That’s a good thing.  Unfortunately, however, his preferred greener pasture is one of the medicinal pot dispensaries popping up in our part of the world like dandelions in spring.  It would, he thinks, be a great place to work.  Other than that little issue of all the raids.

There’s also the issue of the odor on his clothes. I haven’t mentioned that yet. And I won’t. But if he does decide to apply for a job, I plan to point out that he’ll have to find a way to change outside before coming into the house at the end of the day. I find malodorous clothes off-putting too.

I suspect Teen Freud will find another greener pasture after that reality sinks in. Or maybe risk another few years of possibly arthritis-inducing physical work.  If not, pity our poor neighbors because it’s entirely possible our back yard shed will take on a decidedly hemp-like scent over the next few months.   6174881770_1745778aac




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

Imagination: Blessing or Curse?

mental-workspace-in-human-brainOne great thing about being a writer is my imagination is always on steroids.

One lousy thing about being a writer is my imagination is always on steroids.

Plus when you’re a writer and a mother, there is guilt. I’m not talking about the guilt of deadlines, or traveling when there’s an event at home, or being preoccupied with the book a little too much.

No, I’m talking about the guilt of having an imagination that’s always on steroids. Because if you have more than one child, chances are high you’ll pass that particular blessing on to at least one of them.  If so, my condolences. And a suggestion: get out the Tylenol. You will need it.

Case in point (actually two cases).  Case one: Several weeks ago, a friend left six chocolate covered strawberries on my doorstep. Delighted, I brought them inside, ate one, and put the rest on a high table for later.  When my back was turned, Luna, my Sheltie, jumped up, grabbed three and gobbled them down before I could pry her mouth apart (first time she has ever grabbed food from the table).   I spent the next twenty-four hours in one of three states: on my laptop trying to assess how much chocolate it takes to cover three strawberries and how toxic that would be to a 20 pound Sheltie; staring at her while I waited for the convulsions to start; and obsessing about how we would break the news to Teen Freud that one of the dogs died while he was in Morocco.

Case two: in Morocco, Teen Freud was having adventures of his own, including, but not limited to, getting a bad concussion after hitting his head so hard on a bathroom sink that part of it broke off.  Determined to avoid Moroccan hospitals (he was traveling with an Australian medical doctor who came equipped with her own IVs and syringes, among other things) he opted to wait until he got to the London leg of his trip before seeking medical attention. Unfortunately before he could do that, he bumped his head a second time which led him to immediately google second impact syndrome. He spent the next several days convinced he had it, waiting for the convulsions to start, and obsessing about dying so far away from home.

By the time we got wind of all this, Luna had recovered completely but Teen Freud was certain he was poised to die from a brain bleed.  I’m not minimizing brain bleeds. They’re serious, we all know that, and there’s no question Teen Freud had a bad concussion, which is nothing to mess with either.Two doctors told him so (one was, in Teen Freud’s words, ‘barely out of diapers’ and you haven’t lived until you’ve heard your baby child describe someone else as young enough to be in diapers).

You also haven’t lived until the offspring with the imagination on steroids sustains a (potentially serious) injury 7500 kilometres away from home and you are forced to read between the lines. To separate the rhetoric from the meaningful. The facts from the paranoia.  Until you are forced to remind yourself that he carries your genes, your imagination, and your touch for drama along with a dose of hypochondria that clearly came from the other side of the family.

One great thing about children who travel is they always come home. And there’s nothing lousy about that.  However, Teen Freud is now convinced he has post-concussion syndrome.

We’re beating back our collective imaginations and monitoring the situation. Stay tuned.

Hitting the Road

morocco-camels_1742251cI was up before dawn this morning to drive Teen Freud to the airport. He and his friend, Molly, are off on a grand adventure to Morocco and England.  This is a Very Big Deal for him. While he has travelled with us as a family and went to Quebec City as an exchange student in high school, he hasn’t traveled on his own. At least no trips of this scope or one this far away from home.   I watched them walk through security with a mix of excitement, envy and trepidation.  It’s a mom/writer thing. My mind is a constant and fertile ground of ‘what-ifs.’  I had to take a step back and remind myself that, at his age, I’d gone off with his father on a four month road trip through Europe and Russia. Not only had we survived, we’d thrived. It broadened our minds, strengthened our bonds and we’re still telling some of our stories.

We’re counting on Teen Freud to bring home wonderful pictures and stories of his own. Until then, we’re sitting on the patio with Team Sheltie at our feet and a gin and tonic in hand, and doing a little armchair traveling.  Here are some summer picks to quench your wanderlust:

 The Wind in My Wheels – Travel Tales from the Saddle by Josie Dew      I love biking adventures and Josie Dew is the queen of cycling travel. This collection of stories about her cycling trips through parts of Europe, the British Isles and Morocco is a funny, fascinating and inspiring read.

A Bike Ride: 12,000 Miles Around the World by Anne Mustoe    This was the first biking adventure book I ever read and it left a powerful mark. At the age of 55, Anne Mustoe gave up her life as a headmistress and decided to cycle around the world. To say she was naïve (she couldn’t even mend a tire when she started) is an understatement. History lessons interspersed with adventure.

A Culinary Traveler in Tuscany: Exploring and Eating off the Beaten Track by Beth Elon              Yes, I’ve been known to read cookbooks for relaxation. Combining a cookbook with a travelogue is a sure way to grab me. This gem of a book features ten off-the-beaten-track itineraries, describing towns, restaurants and sights. Maps and recipes are provided too. And the recipes are very user friendly. Get out the risotto pot!

 A Month of Sundays – Villa Life in the South of France by Ira & Barbara Spector     A light, fast read about an American couple who rent a villa on the French Riviera near St. Tropez for a month. Alternating chapters from a his/her point of view, they tell the tale of adjusting to life in France.

Riding the Bus with my Sister by Rachel Simon    Not technically a travel book but Rachel Simon’s account of spending a year riding the city bus in with her intellectually disabled sister, Beth, is a good reminder that we don’t have to go far to gain new perspectives and see the world differently.  I loved this book. An updated edition came out last year detailing the changes in the lives of Simon and her sister since the book was first written. I’m looking forward to reading it.



Overheard This Week

140474989A poignant plea caught my ear as I visited Victoria’s new indoor market last week. Two women were bent over a plate of tacos and guacamole with corn chips. One of the women was marshmallow pale and her eyes were bloodshot with fatigue. She sighed, flipped a nubby brown scarf over her shoulder, leaned across the table and said:  ‘Can’t we just talk about shoes?’

No surprise there I guess. Wilma and Betty were big on shoe talk back in the Flintstone era. But this week the plea hit me with the force of a Louboutin to the solar plexus. Sometimes we want to set the serious stuff aside. That woman certainly did. Right now, I do too.

I’ll admit it: I’m drawn to the dark stuff. My books inevitably end up being a mix of light and dark. Life isn’t all sunshine and I don’t think it pays to pretend it is. But these last few weeks the happenings have been grim:  hundreds of thousands of people killed or impacted by typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines. The impact is being felt in my city where many residents are worried sick about loved ones overseas.  On a national scale, the mayor of our largest city has been embroiled in a Molotov cocktail of addiction, out-of-control rage and alleged ties to organized crime with widespread calls for his resignation.   On a personal level, a dear family friend died a couple of days ago and a step aunt is facing her last days too.  Needless to say, the nightly talk around our dinner table has been as heavy as braised short ribs and sweet potato mash, though not nearly as satisfying.

I guess that’s why I found myself repeating the plea from those anonymous women the other night: can’t we just talk about shoes?

Or maybe coffee beans? Okay, maybe not coffee because Teen Freud is sure to point out how child labor and exploitation is rampant in the cultivation of coffee in Colombia and Guatemala. Then how about we talk about the cute new puppy next door and how it falls on its bum every time it walks up the (basically negligible) hill between our houses?  No, Teen Freud, they did not get it from a puppy mill. Yes, Teen Freud, it is a pure bred Bichon Frise; yes, we are aware that there are many abandoned, mistreated and mixed breed dogs in the world.

As a matter of fact, I’m painfully aware of all of it. I read the papers (or those that are left).  I surf the ‘net (too much sometimes).  I talk about it and think about it and live it. We all do.  Our first two dogs were rescues from an abandoned litter.  I’ve witnessed (up close and way too personal) the devastating effects of addiction.  I’ve grieved more than one loss.

We all have. That’s why sometimes we need a few minutes to forget about it. That’s why sometimes we just want to talk about shoes. flowers-shoes-by-scherer-gonsales-spring2009-red



Weekly Eavesdropping

140474989Overheard on a sunny patio on the first day of summer:

“Gambling is bad news.”

“It’s only bad news if you lose.”

Teen Freud turned nineteen last week. For those of you who don’t live in Canada, that’s a milestone birthday. Nineteen (eighteen in some places) means you’re an adult and legally allowed to do things like buy alcohol, get married without parental permission, or enter licensed clubs like casinos.

Shortly after I heard that exchange between Teen Freud and his buddy, the two guys tromped inside and informed us they were off to the casino to see what it was all about.  When I repeated the admonition that gambling was bad news, Teen Freud laughed and shrugged it off.

I headed out to buy groceries. The boys (they may be nineteen but they’re still boys to me) headed to the casino. When I came home, Mr. Petrol Head was in the kitchen. He looked worried. “Teen Freud called,” he said. “It was the worst possible outcome for his first visit to a casino.”

My stomach sank like a dead turtle. My thoughts immediately went to a worst case place: a fight, a shooting, a fire. The boys had only taken seventy dollars between them. Losing that wasn’t what I’d call a worst possible outcome. It was a most likely outcome. “What happened?”

Mr. Petrol Head looked grave.  “He won.”

I should have known. Teen Freud wasn’t just born under a lucky star. He was born on a bed of them, with a star blanket the size of Texas covering him. The kid is lucky. Lucky with a capital L.

“How much?” I asked.

Before he could answer, Teen Freud and his bemused buddy burst through the door.  He’d won $430 on a twenty dollar investment. But, he informed us, he didn’t stick around because he was putting $400 of it in the bank. Plus, he was shaking so hard he couldn’t hit the buttons on the slots after that.

Pleased that he was showing some level of responsibility, we went back to putting away the groceries. As the boys headed to the TV room, I heard broke buddy suggest they spend the remaining money on pizza.

“No way,” said Teen Freud. “That money’s going into my vice fund. I’m going back next week.”