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.

A Different Perspective

firehaze-islandviewYou know that feeling when you come home from being away, take a look around your house and see it through fresh eyes? That happened to me last Sunday, only I hadn’t been away and my eyes were anything but fresh. They were scratchy and bloodshot from all the smoke in the air.

Extreme heat and record breaking temperatures have led to nearly 100 active wildfires in B.C. Half the province is sitting at a high danger rating, verging on the edge of extreme. It’s scary and worrisome, particularly for firefighters and for those living close to the hot zones. But it’s also impacting Vancouver and Victoria. A massive blanket of smoke has hovered over both cities for days. We’ve experienced wildfire smoke before, but nothing like this.

It started early Sunday. By noon, the sky was a dull, apocalyptic orange. There was a sense of expectancy in the air, a hush almost. The birds were silent. There were no bees buzzing, no flies flying. And the colors in the garden were . . . just off. The greens were almost fluorescent in their intensity. Our string of white LED patio lights, which are normally invisible during the day, took on a brilliant, otherworldly blue glow. My blue lobelia and blue salvia patens flowers turned a rich amethyst purple.

It was oddly surreal, like stepping outside the back door and landing in the Twilight Zone. Or waking up and finding a giant orange filter has been placed over your entire world. The smoke cover cooled things off and without the bees buzzing around gathering nectar, I spent some time outside picking raspberries, weeding the lettuce bed and doing a little tidying. It was a different perspective alright. A new look at old digs, so to speak.

The smoke is starting to clear – which is a good thing – but I hope the new perspective holds. I have a couple of manuscripts waiting for a set of fresh eyes. Maybe I should read them wearing extra-strength sunglasses. That orange glow worked wonders on the garden.

 

My June Reads

june 2015 151We’ve had an amazing spring with lots of sun and temperatures up where they usually are in mid-July instead of mid-June. The garden’s growing like crazy, the potted plants are happy and we are too. Although there are drawbacks. We generally get rain in June but to date we’ve had almost none. That means water in the reservoir is low. Many creeks and streams are at a trickle. Some are drying up. They’re talking significant water restrictions sooner rather than later. That’s not good. The other drawback is much less serious – the warmer weather leaves me less time to read than I’d like because I’m busy enjoying the garden when I’m not writing. With a little luck, I’ll fit in a reading break sometime in the next month. In the meantime, here’s what I’m reading right now:

At the Gym:  Left Neglected by Lisa Genova

Beside the Pond: Shockwave by Lea Tassie

Before Bed:  Guardian by Natasha Deen

Books Read to Date in 2015: 41

 

 

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