Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Blog wandering

Since I've confessed to my growing blog habit, I figured it might be fun to occasionally talk about some of the blogs I find interesting. It's a big ol' blogsphere out there, but that's half the fun of it...

In the blog vein, I discovered a blog called “The Red Brick Store,” where writers of the Mormon faith have banded together to offer advice and support to each other on their writing journeys. First let me say, I don’t belong to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but the way I found this blog is fairly typical of my strange blog wanderings.

A fellow author posted on a loop saying she had just gotten a somewhat unusual review, along with the link to the blog where the review (or perhaps anti-review) was posted. I was curious (what’s new, right?) and went to the blog to check it out.

I was a little surprised by the post, and frankly by the Samhain author and her actions which lead to the post too, but that’s perhaps another story altogether. Sufficed to say, I thought such archaic notions of gender held by the author had gone out with the Ark. Anyway, the end result was that I found the blog refreshing and interesting (although not enough to add to my growing RSS feed list) and, as is my habit, decided to see what other blogs that blogger liked. And that eventually led me to The Red Brick Store, and the reaffirmation of something I’ve long believed—that our differences, one human from the next, simply serve to emphasise our similarities.

At the Red Brick Store they talk about the difficulty of being true to both their religion and also their artistic visions. They elucidate the difficulties of forging a new literary path within the confines of the Mormon culture. Support is offered to each other as they individually struggle to find the time, and give themselves permission to find that time, to write. A post by Lisa Torcasso-Downing called, 'My House is a Mess' made me both smile and want to cry. She could be my secret twin, separated by distance and culture, nurtured into a different reality but my soul-mate by nature and desire and need.

The bloggers at the Red Brick Store are bound by their faith, and while I can’t join with them in that respect, I hope they won’t mind my following along with their journey. It isn’t much different from my own, although driven by different forces, but that’s another tale to be told another time.

Monday, March 30, 2009

My Blog Obsession

So I finally broke down and started subscribing to feeds because I kept finding all these fascinating blogs I wanted to go back to over and over again. Now, I know many of you are thinking either, “What’s the big deal?” or “Why did you hold off?” and I can’t blame you. It makes sense to subscribe to a feed if you often read the blog, but the reality is I get obsessed with things if I’m not careful. Bad enough to waste time checking my email five-hundred times a day, but to add feeds to the mix? The time wasting possibilities become endless.

Case in point...I started with maybe five feeds I read on a regular basis. Two weeks later, there are thirteen blogs in my list, and a couple more I just haven’t remembered to add. The possibilities just keep expanding. I’ll be posting every now and then on some of the things I’ve discovered during this around-the-world-of-blogs tour.

P.S Reminded of those missing blogs by writing this post, I went back to add them—added one and found another that wasn’t on the original list...I’m a lost cause.

And Amy Ruttan was wondering why I don’t Twitter???

So which are your favourite blogs? I’m open to suggestions. Give me more to waste my time on!

Small rant...really...just a little one

So I’ve been trying to spend a bit more time cruising the blogs, just to see what people are saying and keep up with industry news and views. It’s also a good way to show support for other writers, although I don’t often comment. Seems to me I should have something interesting or informative to say before saying it, or the post is about something I really relate to. Otherwise I just browse and enjoy the variety of opinions and subjects.

For the most part I’m amused and entertained by what I come across but occasionally I have to stop and wonder about what the person posting was thinking, and it usually has nothing to do with subject. Here’s the thing...

Most of the blogs I read have something to do with writing and many are posted by writers. There’s no excuse then for the typos and poor regard for grammar I occasionally come across. In fact it’s downright silly. And I’m not talking about a single typo or strange sentence construction. That’s not a big deal. No, it’s the “I’m just dashing this off willy-nilly because I feel I should post today” blog entries that aggravate. Even worse when the writer is guest posting on someone else’s blog. Then it goes from silly to downright RUDE.

Come on! Just a little foresight will have any writer with the “who cares?” attitude to blogging giving their heads a shake. Sure, maybe the number of people who know your name as a writer right now are substantially less than you want, but who knows when that will change? Blogs are forever, as those given to making idiots of themselves find out the hard way. There have been a number of blogs shut down after their owners or moderators have committed what turned out to be extreme internet faux pas, but somehow those final crazed posts just don’t seem to go away!

A sloppy posting isn’t the same as a net-tantrum or cyber flounce, but why chance turning a prospective reader off by publishing what can be considered to be an example of your worse work?

Saturday, March 28, 2009


Well, one large project out of the way for the time being, and I'm celebrating with a libation and a quiet night, frankly too brain-dead to do much more. There are so many things I've had to put on hold the last few weeks, and so many obligations for the upcoming weeks, I'm beginning to wonder when I'll be able to put in a concentrated stretch of writing.

I'm getting realllllll antsy.

It puts me in mind of Maureen McGowan's blog post on Drunk Writer Talk, when she asked, 'what are you willing to give up?'. Honestly, I'm not sure what I have to give up now, but if I have to find something and excise it from my life to be able to continue writing, so be it! I re-discovered television in all it's varied glory this past week as I was sewing, but will happily go back to my couple of 'must sees' hereafter. Unfortunately I discovered sleep is a must-have...my already suspect brain goes to complete mush without it!

Tomorrow I'm off to the library with the youngster, who needs to do some research, so I'll take my trusty computer and settle in there for a while.

Perhaps it's the advent of spring, or just the right time, but there is a sense of anticipation bubbling inside me, as though something wonderful is just on the horizon. I received my goodie bag from Cassandra Curtis today and the contents seemed to align themselves with this feeling. I got a wonderful Strength talisman (which I'm wearing now, and intend to continue to wear) and a money spell! Hope they both work...

Speaking of the talisman: I got the best compliment ever from my son, who, after hearing what it represented, said he thought Cass picked the perfect one for me. Long may he continue to think of me that way!!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Comfort Food for my soul

Where my husband works there is a small library of books in the employee’s lunch room and the other day he brought home a real treasure: a collection of three of James Herriot’s books. This is a blast from my past. Because of Mr. Herriot’s evocative writing I wanted to be a vet. The life he described seemed like Nirvana to a young animal lover, especially one who grew up in a city and longed for country life. Unfortunately when I finally got a job working in a veterinary clinic I discovered not even James Herriot’s descriptive powers had done justice to the smell. I also discovered an aversion to hurting the animals, which is often necessary to be able to help them.

Still, re-reading these books has been a real treat and reinforced something I’ve been thinking a lot about recently. As a writer I have to be aware of my surroundings and engaged with the world. James Herriot didn’t begin writing his books until after more than twenty-five years of being in Yorkshire, yet the stories show a remarkable recall of situations, personalities and details. Without his powers of recall and description those books would have been a dry, perhaps slightly humorous, relation of facts. Instead they are a rich, warm, laugh-out-loud or bring-tears-to-your-eyes recounting of a journey scattered with characters well worth becoming acquainted with. Even after all these years I’m still riveted and the old longing reasserts itself. I want to run off to Yorkshire and become a vet.

Of course, being an unrepentant animal person who has never owned a dog or cat that was anything less than a crazy personality, these books appeal to me on so many different levels. But even if you have no interest in animals at all, they are well worth reading for the characterizations and descriptions of the landscape, people and dialogue.

For me, reading his books is like eating a favourite comfort food—satisfying, uplifting and just plain good.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Taking a Break

I took a break from my crazy great-coat sewing session yesterday to attend the live chat with artist Kim Reale Johnson, hosted by the Facebook group Red River Writers. Kim paints, and her range of subject matter intrigued me—landscapes, Ukrainian Easter eggs, and interpretations of old photographs—so I went along to listen in on how she developed as an artist. It was a lot of fun just to sit back with a cup of tea and listen to what she had to say. I might even take up her suggestion and experiment with oil painting...although when I’ll have a chance to do that remains a mystery!

That suggestion of Kim’s came when I asked her which of the various media she thought was most forgiving for someone who just wanted to explore their artistic side. I have a few painters in my family, but I can’t count myself in with them. I’m okay with sketching, even did well enough to pass my senior high-school art exam, but realistically fine art isn’t my forte. Not that I don’t love it. On the contrary, I think I love it all too well, and hate the fact that I could never produce what I envisioned each time I started a piece.

Impatience? Yes. Perfectionism? Probably more than a hint of that too. Both really bad attitudes to take into a painting project. I also stayed away from oils, feeling somehow intimidated by them for some reason. Perhaps because they were my grandmother’s medium of choice, or was it that time I got too close to one of my sister’s paintings and got red oil paint on my favourite green-and-white gingham dress? I recall my mother being quite angry about that...Who knows...

Anyway, I think for the time being I’ll stick to writing and sewing, and the occasional craft project. I have the arrival of Kim’s piece to look forward to (I won a beautiful autumn scene she was giving as a gift!) and no time to even scratch my head just now, so it’s all a moot point at the moment. The twin-pack of canvases I have stashed in my garage will go unused, although I'm now forced to wonder if somehow the hand of Fate was in play when I saw them on sale and, without any thought of what I would do with them, bought them!

Monday, March 9, 2009

Death of a Pantser

I’ve always been a pantser—starting with a basic premise, whether a character or situation or dilemma, and just writing. For a long time it worked for me just fine. Yes, on occasion I found myself abandoning a concept partway through because I’d lost interest in the story, or had written myself into a corner, but for the most part it was great.

Recently, however, I’ve begun to think I may have to make a change in my writing habits, and it corresponds, I think, to a change in my way of life.

When I started writing I was working at the mall, in one of those retail jobs that consisted mainly of standing around for a good part of the day doing mindless chores. I also took the bus to and from work. All this waiting, either for the bus, customers or even a hamburger at lunch, gave me ample time to plot the next scene, twist or plot point. By the time I got home, I was ready to sit at the computer and type away.

Well, that’s all changed. I drive to work now, am back to working retail but in a capacity that doesn’t allow for mindless standing around, and have taken on a job sewing re-enactment clothing. I still try to plot mentally as I’m doing other things, but it no longer works the way it used to. The activities I’m involved with now take up too much brain-space. I even had to stop trying to plot when I’m driving since I almost crashed one day, lost in thought, trying to decide which way I wanted to take my latest tale.

I wish I could think the problem lay somewhere else, or could be solved in another way. I’ve always said to my writing buddies that plotting was like writing the story twice and by the time I got to the end of the plotting process I was too bored with the story to try and write it out. Thinking about it though, writing is kind of like knitting a sweater. Sure, you can, if you want, simply start with your wool, a pair of needles and an idea and take it from there. There may be problems if you get halfway through and decide the pattern you created isn’t working out the way you wanted, or you realise you’ve forgotten to shape for an armhole. Then you have to pull it out and redo it, or put it down without finishing.

It’s so much easier to start with a pattern.


Although logically it sounds like what I need to do, I’m still resisting. It just doesn’t seem natural. I’ll give it a try and see...maybe there’s some happy medium to be found? I’m going to start with my friend and fellow writer Amy Ruttan’s suggestion—write a synopsis first, add some plot points, and THEN write the book...

I’ll let you know how it works out!

Friday, March 6, 2009

Ranting author here

Okay, so I pick up a book the other day and start to read. It’s a literary novel written by a prominent Canadian author and nominated for a very prestigious literary prize. By the time I finished skimming through it (I couldn’t bring myself to read further than a few chapters in) I was depressed, upset and, yes, a little angry too.

Isn’t it amazing that the literary devices genre writers are constantly criticized for using—the big misunderstanding, great whopping gouts of backstory, the sacrifice of communication for description, etc.—constitute genius in the hands of literary writers?

Firstly let me make it clear—I have no beef with literary novels. There have been a number I thoroughly enjoyed and they remain as keepers on my book shelf. Between their covers I found beauty and clarity of language that made my heart sing. The message transmitted by the worlds those authors carefully constructed was worth hearing, and holding on to. Not all of them were cheerful, or even uplifting. In fact there can be a special kind of emotional pain so intense as to be almost sweeter than any joy imaginable. The moment you are forced to confront your worse fear, your deepest shame, the most tightly held secret in the safety of another’s narrative is worth re-visiting.

Having said all that, I have found the same sense of wonder, joy and emotional satisfaction in genre fiction too. There are sci-fi and fantasy novels, thrillers, mysteries and romances that I will never part with, because the stories found within their covers struck the same types of emotional cords as the above-mentioned literary offerings. A great writer is, IMHO, no less great because he or she chooses to pen a romance or thriller. The ability to take us outside ourselves, make us suspend all tightly held beliefs and simply hang on for the ride, laughing, crying, screaming and, yes, on occasion creaming our panties, is not limited to those “lofty” few who swim in literary waters. In fact, in recent years I’ve found far more genre novels worth keeping than literary.

Just because a book contains a mish-mash of self-consciously overdone (and self-congratulatory) prose and imagery does not, in my eyes, make it a work of genius. If an author feels the need to be so esoteric you have to scramble for a dictionary, thesaurus or encyclopaedia (or all three) every two paragraphs or so, then something’s wrong. The object is to keep the reader in the moment, not lead him or her off on an unscheduled tangent.

Likewise it seems strange to me a piece of fiction can be lauded as an emotional tour-de-force, and yet leave me completely and utterly unmoved. I consider myself an author’s dream reader. I am open to everything—willing, no downright eager, to plunge into the world between those covers—anger, pain, joy, lust, heartache, love, hate, WHATEVER...bring it on. Just don’t bore me, or go into such minutiae my mind wanders off to other, more important things, like flossing, or laundry.

And the comments above are aimed at all writers, no matter the genre.

In the end though, what really made me angry is the realization that really good genre novelists will never be offered the kinds of prizes, awards and accolades some of these literary hacks (YES I SAID THAT BAD WORD) are. While the elite few are enjoying their grants and retreats, compliments of governments and snooty endowments, where are the incentives for genre writers? Where the encouragement and offers of help to allow them time to grow and develop? Where the respect?

Funnier yet, when you realise which of these two groups makes the bigger economic impact, selling the most books, creating the bigger cash flow. Genre fiction keeps publishing, even in its mostly archaic state, viable. Genre fiction is, and will continue to be, in the vanguard of the publishing revolution now taking place.

Not all genre fiction is good. Not all literary fiction is either. All I wish is that there was a more of an admission of those facts, and people would stop looking down on very good authors in favour of others, less deserving of the praise just because they are considered "literary".

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Wow...just Wow

Having a spin through the internet, I came upon a review of a newly released book. It was, IMHO, a well-balance, well thought out review that went into a great deal more detail than many other reviews do. No, it wasn’t all complimentary. In fact it was decidedly mixed. Instead of leaving well enough alone, the author chose to jump to her own defence.

Wow…just Wow.

Now, all authors repeat after me:

You can’t be a part of the writing world without someone telling you, overtly or indirectly, that you’re doing something wrong. It’s not only human nature, but a product of the fact we are all different people. Books that I have liked have been horribly panned by reviewers; others I thought were a pile of s**t were lauded to the sky. Reviews are, by their nature, subjective. Besides which, each of us have ready-formed likes, dislikes and pet-aversions. One man’s meat is another’s poison and all that crap. Accepting that will lead to a happier, healthier life and public image.

The author in the case I’m talking about ended up looking like a jackass…

When a reviewer says she/he didn’t like a book we’ve written, or gives a so-so review, what should we do? Best bet, I think, is to get off the internet, turn off your computer. Go for a walk, scream cry and pout if you like, but in the privacy of your own home. This does not include pouting on your blog, which is the equivalent of undressing in your unfenced front yard. Do whatever you need to release the tension—anything but reply! Perhaps a restrained, “Thank you for your review” is appropriate but anything more can only make a bad situation worse.

Believe me, I know the urge to strike back. I know it well, and very, very personally. Even now, writing this post, I have to hold back from giving voice to a rebuttal aimed at a reviewer’s comment concerning something in The Pearl at the Gate. “I can use it as an illustration of how reviewer’s prejudices can unnecessarily colour their comments,” that little must-always-be-right voice whispers in my ear.

Get thee behind me, thou feelings of being unnecessarily put-upon.

I still think that comment was ridiculous. I still want to shout it out to the world and say, ‘Everyone, back me on this. Is this or is this not the most asinine reasoning, ever???’

But I won’t.

Why? Am I chicken-shit?

Maybe…but I also have a well developed sense of self-preservation.

And a louder voice is reminding me that everyone has a right, in my world anyway, to their own opinion.

Very important, that.