The Unnecessary Freezing of Water

I agree with Carl Reiner who once said he found snow to be an unnecessary freezing of water. Nevertheless, when last week’s storm dumped a foot and a half of snow on our lawn, I tried to embrace it. And embrace it I did, for about two days. Just long enough to wrap up a deadline, read a book, clean the house and surf warm vacation spots. Then I was ready to get outside and walk. To get outside, period. But, alas, the snow kept falling.

So, I did what any writer worth her sand and salt would do in my position – I googled snow references in literature. It helped. For one thing, it kept me from looking outside and shivering. For another, it reminded me that some people do find snow beautiful.

In case you’re in the midst of a hellsnowscape, here are some lovely passages to help you see the beauty.

“I wonder if the snow loves the trees and fields, that it kisses them so gently? And then it covers them up snug, you know, with a white quilt; and perhaps it says, “Go to sleep, darlings, till the summer comes again.” Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glass

The snow did not even whisper its way to earth, but seemed to salt the night with silence.”  Dean Koontz, Brother Odd: An Odd Thomas Novel

“The old curly birches of the gardens, all their twigs laden with snow, looked as though freshly decked in sacred vestments.” Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina

“It snowed all week. Wheels and footsteps moved soundlessly on the street, as if the business of living continued secretly behind a pale but impenetrable curtain. In the falling quiet there was no sky or earth, only snow lifting in the wind, frosting the window glass, chilling the rooms, deadening and hushing the city.” Truman Capote, American Fantastic Tales: Terror and the Uncanny from the 1940’s Until Now

“It snowed last year too: I made a snowman and my brother knocked it down and I knocked my brother down and then we had tea.” Dylan Thomas, A Child’s Christmas in Wales

“I remember that winter because it had brought the heaviest snows I had ever seen. Snow had fallen steadily all night long and in the morning I woke in a room filled with light and silence, the world seemed to be held in a dream-like stillness. It was a magical day. And it was on that day I made the snowman.” Raymond Briggs, The Snowman

“Snow flurries began to fall and they swirled around people’s legs like house cats. It was magical, this snow globe world.”  Sarah Addison Allen, The Sugar Queen

A snowball in the face is surely the perfect beginning to a lasting friendship.
 Markus Zusak, The Book Thief

“A few light taps upon the pane made him turn to the window. It had begun to snow again. He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight. The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward. Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.” James Joyce, The Dead

“There’s just something beautiful about walking on snow that nobody else has walked on. It makes you believe you’re special, even though you know you’re not.” Carol Ritka Brunt, Tell the Wolves I’m Home

And finally, to end on a hopeful note, here’s my (current) favorite passage about snow: “The sight of snow made her think how beautiful and short life is and how, in spite of all their enmities, people have so very much in common; measured against eternity and the greatness of creation, the world in which they lived was narrow. That’s why snow drew people together. It was as if snow cast a veil over hatreds, greed, and wrath and made everyone feel close to one another.” Orhan Pamuk, Snow

My October Reads

We’ve had an unusually warm fall here on the west coast and a dry one too. My hometown of Victoria, a few hours south of us, has experienced the driest 90-day period since records began in 1898. While most of us have loved the endless summer weather (some have taken to calling it Augtober), virtually everyone also recognizes that rain is badly needed. Water levels are so low that salmon have had trouble spawning in some areas, and western red cedars and Douglas firs are also stressed. Thankfully, rain is forecast for Friday. I’m looking forward to it, not only for the environmental relief it will provide but for the opportunity to get out of the garden and into my reading corner. So here’s what I’m reading this month.

The Kitchen Front by Jennifer Ryan

The Last Good Funeral of the Year by Ed O’Loughlin

Mad Honey by Jodi Picoult and Jennifer Finney Boylan

Books read to date in 2022: 67

The Wrath of Poseidon

                                              

In mythology, Poseidon is the Greek god of the sea and rivers, the creator of storms and floods, and the bringer of earthquakes and destruction. He’s considered one of the most disruptive of all the ancient gods, yet he’s not always seen as a negative force. He is the protector of mariners, the patron saint and the protector of horses, and he was known as Neptune to the Romans.

Whether you call him Neptune or Poseidon, right now, he’s angry.

Last week, Hurricane Ian brought widespread and devastating destruction to parts of Florida and the Carolinas. Further north, some Prince Edward Island residents are still cleaning up after Hurricane Fiona and only now getting their power back. At my house, we’re preparing to move out while our floors are replaced because of a very small (and we thought easily dealt with) kitchen flood last March. No wonder floods are on my mind.

One of the oldest flood stories known to man, The Epic of Gilgamesh, was recorded on 12 stone tablets and dates back to 650 BC. And we can’t forget the ancient biblical story of Noah’s Ark. Scholars still debate which story came first. Regardless of where the truth lies, floods have been featured in literature for centuries.

The threat of a coming flood was used as a plot device by Geoffrey Chaucer in The Miller’s Tale. George Eliot used a flood to bring her novel The Mill on the Floss to a dramatic conclusion. More recently, Clare Morrall’s gripping When the Floods Came is a futuristic novel set in a Britain prone to violent flooding and ravaged 20 years earlier by a deadly virus. Much more uplifting is the children’s six-book series The Children of Green Knowe by Lucy Boston, which focuses on an only child sent from boarding school to spend the Christmas holidays with his great-grandmother. She lives in a mysterious and ancient ark-like home Green Knowe, a place regularly surrounded by the flood waters of the fens and only accessible by boat. It sounds magical and almost makes the idea of being surrounded by flood waters appealing.

But almost isn’t good enough for me right now. So, as we pack up and head to temporary lodgings while our floors are being replaced, I’m scanning my ‘to be read’ book pile for stories where water does not feature prominently. Something set in a dry desert, perhaps?

My February Reads

I’m away from home dealing with some heavy family business, and I’m staying in a city not known for being winter-friendly. How can you put friendly in the same sentence with minus thirty temperatures? On a positive note, however, a good book can take your mind off the frigid weather outside. Here’s what I’m reading this month:

The Family Upstairs by Lisa Jewell

Lands of Lost Borders: Out of Bounds on the Silk Road by Kate Harris

Rice, Noodle, Fish by Matt Goulding

Books read to date in 2020: 13

Sunshine in the Rain

They say this past January was the fourth wettest on record. I guess I wasn’t around for the first three because last month was the wettest January I can remember. We were hit with a series of back-to-back rainstorms and clouds so dark and persistently low that many days it was hard to believe it was day, and not night.

However, the sun was shining in my office. My next YA, Something About Julian, is set at the beach, and the action unfolds over the month of August. Heat, sunshine and ice cream all figure prominently. My next Laura Tobias title, Blushed With Fame, is set in Spain and also takes place in summer, and I’ve been working on that too.

While I was mentally in summer mode, I accepted an assignment to write an article on Greek food and develop a couple of recipes to go with it. Right away I thought of grilled souvlaki and juicy Greek salad, taramosalata dip with warm pita, all foods I yearn for in summer.

My muse knows no season.

However, given the pouring rain, barbecuing was out of the question; who wanted to go outside? I wanted something warming, something comforting. Luckily my research turned up fasolada, the humble and delicious bean soup, which happens to be Greek’s national dish. The editor gave me the green light.

So after chopping a few vegetables . . .

 

 

 

 

 

 

And frying them up in a big pot . . .

 

 

 

 

 

 

I added my cooked beans, a jar of pasada and got things simmering. A few hours later, I was rewarded with a bowl of deliciousness.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The rain has stopped  and the clouds are starting  to lift . . . but even if the weather deteriorates again, I have soup in my fridge. And sunshine in my office.

Another Lesson from the Garden

Nature is giving me another writing lesson.

She’s behind this year, or so everyone says. Daffodils, normally in bloom weeks ago, are only now starting to open. The buds on the fruit trees surrounding our house are still, with the exception of a few keeners, tightly furled. We live on old orchard land and normally by the end of February we’re cocooned in a frothy haze of sweetly scented blooms that last, if we’re lucky, for three or four weeks. Instead, here it is the middle of March and we’re still waiting. It’s been a rough winter; the wait feels long; people are complaining about Mother Nature.

In fact, Mother Nature is dancing to her own particular tune and her timing isn’t always our timing. Timing in the publishing world doesn’t always fit what we want or expect either.

Last November I launched a Laura Tobias title (Million Dollar Blues if you care to look it up) on Amazon. I knew enough to avoid a December release – holiday sales can be notoriously slow unless you catch a wave between Christmas and New Year’s when people are off work. What I hadn’t counted on was the fallout from the American election negatively impacting ebook sales. It did, across the board, and writers are only now starting to recover. It was a timing issue I didn’t expect, though apparently it’s not the first time book sales have plummeted during election months so it’s something to keep in mind for next time.

In December I submitted a YA novel to a publisher I’ve worked with before, hoping for a sale (obviously) and expecting a quickish turnaround. Not quick (I knew better than to expect that) but quickish since this particular publisher has always been good that way. However, due to a combination of circumstances beyond anyone’s control, things are backed up there too and it’s going to be a while yet before I hear one way or another. It’s not the timeline I had in mind but there’s nothing I can do about that either.

We were at a memorial for a friend last weekend. One of his favorite sayings was some days you get chickens, some days only feathers. To that I would add some days you get silence, other days you get feedback. Some days you get rejections, other days you get acceptance.

And some days you get blossoms, other days only buds.

Buds, however, hold promise. And promises can keep you going when you’re waiting for the timing to turn.

 

My January Reads

booksfireplaceEvery year I track what I read. I do it for a combination of reasons. I like to note down novels I loved so I can look for more books by the same author. Sometimes I’ll want to refer back to a passage, quote or piece of information in a non-fiction book, so it helps to have the title close at hand. I like to see how my reading preferences shape up over a given year. And it’s good to have an idea of how much I’m reading too. Last year I read 80 books. I hope to surpass that number this year but I also plan to be more physically active in 2017 than I was in 2016 so we’ll see.

At the moment, though, we’ve had a long and bitter cold stretch on the island. And that makes it perfect weather to curl up by the fire with a good book. Here’s what I’m reading this month:

By the fire: Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult

In the kitchen: Oh She Glows Every Day by Angela Liddon

Beside the bed: The Anatomy of Story by John Truby

Books read to date in 2017: 5

My October Reads

stormyweather-300x198As I write this, a series of big storms is predicted for the Pacific Northwest and we’re scheduled to head off to the mainland to see family and friends. Normally we’d reschedule but there’s a high school reunion planned so we’re motivated to make the trek. Let’s hope the weather cooperates. If not, I’ll be staying home and reading by the fire. I have a few extra books on hand just in case. Here’s what I’m reading this month:

At the gym: First Star I See Tonight by Susan Elizabeth Phillips

Beside the fire: Unearthed by Alexandra Risen

Before bed: Blueprints by Barbara Delinsky

Books read to date in 2016: 60

My October Reads

foggyfallmorningThe leaves have pretty much fallen from the trees, our apples have been harvested (and turned into crisps and pies), and later this week we set our clocks back an hour to standard time. Many people don’t like the fact that it gets darker earlier, but I don’t mind. It means it’s lighter in the morning, which makes it easier to get up. Not only that, the darker evenings are a perfect time to curl up and read a book.

Here’s what I’m reading this month:

 

Beside the fire: The Precious One by Marisa de los Santos

 

At the Gym: Crazy Love You by Lisa Unger

 

On the Kindle: Hope in a Jar by Beth Harbison

 

Books read to date in 2015: 70

Coastal Infusion

P1000623 I received an email from a teacher-librarian a few weeks ago. This wasn’t a request for an author visit but instead a question about living in BC. The woman in question is doing her masters and was about to give a seminar focusing on BC authors. She wanted to know how living here informs or influences my writing.

I mulled it over for quite a while because it’s a surprisingly difficult question to answer. When I responded, I gave her some context, explaining that though I was born on Vancouver Island, I grew up both in Victoria and Vancouver, spent a year in Edmonton as a young teen and five years living in Winnipeg when I was in my early twenties. When I finally returned to the island in my late twenties, it really was like coming home.

I think there’s a certain mindset one has being born and raised on an island. You’re dependent, to a large extent, on ferries (or planes) for mail, food, fuel and the ability to come and go. You can’t just up and leave (or return for that matter) without checking a schedule or two. There’s also an understanding that land here is finite: there’s only so much room for garbage disposal or new buildings. That’s not so on the mainland where there’s always room out in the valley or up the mountain. Island living is said to be an insular sort of existence. If one defines insular as being set apart, I’d agree. If you toss in the other definition of insular being ignorant or disinterested in other cultures, I’d argue against it. That kind of insular attitude isn’t limited to island living, and I certainly don’t see it here on Vancouver Island.

With those thoughts rattling around my head, I was no closer to answering the woman’s question. How does living here specifically impact me as a writer? I finally came to this conclusion: living on the west coast impacts me. I bring that sensibility to my life generally which, by extension, flavors my writing. Some of my books are set in B.C. Others are set on the prairies which I grew to love too. A few are set in the U.S., though every U.S. setting I’ve never used has been on the west coast – Seattle, San Francisco, and Los Angles. I think that’s telling.

To me as a writer, setting plays as big a role as character. So when I place a story in a particular location, I need to have lived there or at least spent time there to absorb its nuances. But while I’ve been to New York, for instance, I haven’t spent as much time there as I have in Seattle, San Francisco or L.A.

I relate to the coast. I know the flora and fauna, the birds and animals. When someone complains about a heron fishing at their pond, I know exactly what that sharp, two-toned beak looks like as it dips into the water. When a friend mentions that the bark is peeling from their arbutus tree, my mind immediately goes to the intoxicating honey scent of the arbutus flowers that bloom in spring. I know what spring is like here (often rainy, though not this year), and summer and fall and winter too (most definitely rainy). I’ve lived with the nuances of light and dark, I’ve experienced drought and floods and windstorms. I understand the politics, the environmental issues, and the social nuances that permeate towns and cities up and down the coast.

Does that mean I’m limited to setting my books on the coast? No. I love to travel and spend time in other places, and I’m pretty good at researching too. So that’s not an issue. But when it comes right down to it, I get the west coast mindset. The salt water tang infused my blood at birth. And I’m more than okay with it.