Category Archives: Books and stuff

Spilling the Tea

Okay, it’s crunch time people. We’re at T minus 19 four one hour until the next RW meeting and yours truly is zero for two on the action items she committed to at our gathering last month. They were pretty simple – more pages for the mystery novel I am currently writing and a new blog post. The worst part is I’ve been on holiday from work for the past two weeks and still, have a sum total of bupkis to show for myself.

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Which brings me back to crunch time. If I can get this blog post published within the next 19 four hour I’ve got a chance to break even on those action items and hopefully feel a little less like a flop when I walk into our RW meeting.

To get the writing juices flowing I always find it helpful to first whine about my situation. Thankfully, my significant other (SO), who was on the receiving end of my I’ve-missed-my-RW-deadlines-what-is-wrong-with-me sob story, had some good advice.

“Just be honest,” he said. “Write a blog post and just be honest about why you haven’t been writing.”

The truth huh? That sounds about as good of a topic as any to blog about, so, here it goes. The honest truth, the real reason I have failed to produce some writing the last few weeks is that I just didn’t feel like it.

You know what I did feel like doing?

Organizing – In the last two weeks I have upended, purged and organized almost every room, junk drawer and closet in our house and it feels frickin’ fantastic.

Hanging out – The advent of high school in September for my oldest son is serving as a very stark reminder that time is passing all too swiftly and these days as a family of four inhabiting the same living space won’t last forever. Ice cream run? Yep. Daily tennis games against the wall at the schoolyard in 90 degree heat? You bet. I want to take it all in.

Watching TV – I think it’s fair to say the last few days have provided me with a sound understanding of Netflix Canada’s current inventory (Ibiza anyone?), the opportunity to catch up on some old favourites (The Affair, The Americans) and a chance to dive into some new series I keep reading about (Succession).

Reading – To balance out the TV. My library “hold” number for Something in the Water came up just in time for my vacation. Perfect summer reading – it did not disappoint.

Walking and podcast listening – My favourite early morning pastime to get a start on the day and feel like I am learning some interesting stuff. Some of my favourites for listening at the moment include: Terrible, Thanks for Asking, Making Obama, and Criminal.

And there you have it. How I spent my summer vacation.

Looking over this list, it occurs to me that these activities are all my self care go-to’s in times when I’m not feeling like myself – on the days when I’m feeling a little blue or stuck. And actually (I’m having an ah-ha moment), this is probably what my SO meant when he said to “just be honest” about why I haven’t been writing.

The truth is I didn’t feel much like writing the last few weeks because I haven’t been feeling like myself. Nothing specific I can put my finger on but there you have it.

Capture

The good news? I think I’m on my way to hitting my reset button: I’ve had the last couple of weeks to do the things that help me to feel better; tonight at our RW meeting I’ll get a second chance to commit to some new actions and more pages; and, if I can publish this post in the next hour I will have gotten back to some writing! Halfway there.

 

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Filed under Blogging, Books and stuff, Inspiration, Life and stuff, Motivation, Trials and Tribulations

It’s not about me. It’s about my book.

I finished my novel last year and mid-September is now staring at me, such a nag is the fall when it comes to writing and getting back on track. I mean, seriously. I know I have fifty pages of comments and issues to address before passing my manuscript to my agent.

My baby is going on submission in October.betareader

Since January, I’ve been sorting through feedback from beta readers—volunteers who provided feedback on my book. Also known as superheroes to me. The experience has been all kinds of awesome, as well as terrifying. I’ve had a total of fifteen readers. Their feedback has been invaluable, even if one of my betas hated my protagonist. Regardless, this input helped expose weaknesses in my characters which I have since spent months improving on. Each of my readers have helped sniff out many pertinent issues in some way or another.

Overall, the process of working with beta readers has been smooth and the comments mostly positive. It has identified weak and irrelevant parts of my manuscript that still require work. And work it has certainly been, at times painstaking. But I’m happy to report that I’m almost through the majority of issues…yes, nine months later.

Working with beta readers is important. Below are some things I’ve learned along the way.

  1. One beta is not enough. Fifteen is a lot! Five betas is a good start.
  2. Try not to get good friends or family, they’re predisposed to loving whatever you write, no matter how good or bad it is.
  3. Select members of your target audience, other writers, someone who is not afraid to be honest, and someone who is reliable.
  4. Find beta readers using social media sites, like LinkedIn or Wattpad.
  5. Offer format choices: print vs. electronic. Make it as easy for your betas as possible.
  6. Don’t give your betas a shitty draft. Make sure it’s a polished copy that has been thoroughly proofread.
  7. Provide your betas with clear instructions of the feedback you’re looking for. A checklist is handy, but nothing too complicated or they won’t do it.
  8. Try not to be too protective of your work. Don’t take the feedback personally. Remember, you asked for it!
  9. Set a deadline of when you’d like comments and don’t let it drag on too long.
  10. Always thank your beta readers. Consider swapping services or giving a small token of appreciation. Perhaps even thank them in your acknowledgements when your book is published!

Remember your goal is to make your book better. You don’t have to accept every piece of feedback you receive, but if you’re getting similar comments, there might be something you need to take a closer look at. No story is perfect. More revisions will always be possible. As writers, we are blind to our weaknesses. Where beta readers aren’t. Like I said, superheroes.

Best lesson of all? It’s not about me. It’s about my book.

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Filed under Books and stuff, Getting published

Popcorn Anyone?

I’m late getting to my blog post. This is nothing new but what I am switching up this month is my excuse. I’m not going to blame work, kids or even the hectic pace of getting my household back into a routine for a new school year. Nope. My blog post is tardy because I’ve been spending every waking moment outside of work, kids and getting my household back into a routine for a new school year reading Written In My Own Heart’s Blood, the eighth instalment of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series.

I love these books.

The series follows a married World War II combat nurse who mysteriously finds herself transported back to eighteenth century Scotland. Think hot Scottish Highlander, time travel and epic historical battles.

If the release of the newest Outlander book wasn’t enough excitement for this wannabe Sassenach, a new television series adapted from the books launched in Canada on Showcase on Aug. 24. Think hot Scottish Highlander, time travel and epic historical battles brought to life!

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While some may not be fans of novel adaptations to the big or small screen, I am. And that’s a good thing because movie and television book adaptations are plentiful right now – my fellow RW Andrea even featured one in her last blog post. From Game of Thrones and Orange is the New Black to The Hunger Games and Diary of a Wimpy Kid, it seems like there are more book-to-screen adaptations now than ever before.

For me, an adaptation is like Toy Story for adults. I get to see the characters and all the tiny details that live bottled inside my head come alive. And, in the case of a book like Outlander where it’s been more than a decade since I first read it, I have the joy of reliving my favourite parts of the story all over again. Think hot Scottish Highlander…okay, okay.

Granted, it doesn’t always work. There have been times after seeing an adaptation where I wished that I could shove those characters back inside the safety of my imagination and erase the movie versions. The Da Vinci Code comes to mind.

When it does work, it can be magic – the perfect word to describe one of my favourite book adaptations, Harry Potter. I was in my thirties when I read this series but that did not take anything away from the sheer thrill of seeing JK Rowling’s oddball sets and characters made real. The screen versions of her books surpassed my imagination.

The good news for us book adaptation lovers is that the trend is not slowing down any time soon. There is a long list of new movie adaptations set to hit the screens in 2015. I am especially looking forward to Still Alice.

In the meantime, get writing. The time has never been riper for the chance to see your characters and their stories given life.

What are some of your favourite book adaptations?

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Road trip: Coping with the commute to feed my book habit

The walk to my bookstore was almost as nice as this.

The walk to my bookstore was almost as nice as this.

Growing up in downtown Burlington, I lived a 10-minute walk from my local independent bookstore. And I was there a lot. As a child, I enthusiastically browsed picture books on sunny Saturday afternoons. As a sullen and rebellious teen, I retreated with the bookstore cat to the upstairs poetry section on my lunch-break from high school. As an adult blissfully working in the same bookstore after university, I strolled to and from the store under a canopy of old-growth trees, and enjoyed a leisurely lunch of brie sandwiches from the local deli.

There is no chore less chore-like than walking to the bookstore.

Walking back home with the goods was almost as nice—less the thrill of anticipation of unknown pleasures; but with more contented looking-forward to perusing or giving away new purchases.

Where I live now, there is no bookstore within walking distance. If I want to buy a book—say, for Mother’s Day—I have to drive a good 20 minutes to find an independent bookstore or even a chain, and then pay for parking too. Biking there isn’t really an option either. Sometimes the hassle of getting to the bookstore casts a pall of irritability on what should be a pleasurable adventure.*

But, because I am nothing if not able to look on the bright side, I’ve learned to turn my car-aided book-buying trips into more pleasurable excursions. With the help of my trusty automobile, I get to:

  • Buy more books. I used to be limited by what I could carry in two hands. Now I can swipe my VISA with abandon, knowing I have a whole SUV to cart my purchases home.
  • Make it an afternoon. My favourite downtown bookstore is in a neighbourhood with plenty of pubs, coffee shops and other places to read. If I’m going, I might as well go for the long haul.
  • Or make it a quickie at lunch. I can buy a new book and still have time left over to nuke a Lean Cuisine before returning to the grind.
  • Bring a friend. Book-buying is more fun times two. And then you get to ogle each other’s purchases over lunch.
  • Browse in the rain. A stormy day doesn’t stop me from buying books.
  • Explore. If I have to get in a car anyway, why don’t I check out independent or second-hand bookstores in other cities?
  • Pass it on. In the same trip, and hopefully with a friend to help with the heavy lifting, I can bring boxes of books to donate to a charity book sale.

I hope one day to live within a short and pleasant walk of my local bookstore. That would involve a move or some brave soul opening up a new shop in my current neighbourhood. (Don’t look so pessimistic—booksellers have reason to be optimistic, even nowadays.) Time will tell. Until then, I’ll have to make do with getting there on four wheels.

What about you? Do you have a much-loved bookstore in your neighbourhood?

Maria

*True, my local library has a branch that’s a very easy five-minute walk from my house. But some days, I just want a bookstore. I want to browse, fondle, flip through, sniff, choose, discard, revisit and purchase books. I want to own books. I want to hoard them to an unhealthy degree. I want to give the second-best ones to friends and family. I want to dog-ear pages, scuff spines and highlight choice phrases with abandon and without fear of ruining the books for anyone else. I want the freedom to be able to buy a book and immediately chuck it in a puddle. (Not that I ever would—that’s shockingly disrespectful to the written word.) I’d just like to shop quietly and happily for books that I get to keep forever, thank you very much. And please don’t get me started with buying books online.
 

Photo credit: Crystal Palace by Ewan-M. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic.

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The Sky is Not the Limit

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Photograph by: FRED CHARTRAND , THE CANADIAN PRESS

Chris Hadfield is just plain cool.

Last week I had the pleasure of seeing Commander Hadfield, Canada’s most earthy space ambassador and author of An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth. His presentation resembled a TED talk, it was both inspiring and motivating, and wait for it—out of this world.

The thing that struck me the most is that he started dreaming what he describes as an “impossible dream” from the age of nine. Canada did not have a space program at the time, yet, he was determined to become an Astronaut. This meant preparing very early, advancing his education, learning to fly, learning to speak several languages, and learning to play guitar (now a terrestrial superstar by crooning David Bowie’s Space Oddity). He did these things and showed us ordinary earthlings that dreams do matter, even if only a slim possibility of manifestation, it can and will happen with dedication, preparation and patience.

There are days when I think finishing my current novel is an impossible dream. But I’m half-way there, I’m resuming momentum and receiving encouragement from my fellow Restless Writers. I can do this! And I will, because I am the commander of my writing career. I am dedicated, prepared, and ever so patient in the wonderful world of literary longings. My dream of becoming a novelist is too important to remain unlived. Sure, the odds are stacked against me. But I’m still going for it!

Thanks to extraordinary people like Chris Hadfield, who not only make us proud to be Canadian but who also show us how to make the impossible a reality.

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Filed under Author events, Books and stuff, Getting published, Inspiration

Are you super talented or just crazy?

Like many of you, I procrastinate by watching videos on You Tube.

Instead of writing, I find myself watching funny Jennifer Lawrence clips (that Katniss cracks me up) or the latest in Sophia Grace and Rosie (cuz I kinda love female rappers, even if they are only 8 yrs old—thank you, Ellen!). But have you ever tried to find a GOOD video about writing fiction? Book trailers do not count, plus, they are just weird.

I finally stumbled on a good writing video. If you’re a writer and have two minutes to chuckle (your protagonist can wait), check out John Hodgman’s advice to writers via the You Tube Channel known as THNKR. You might know him as an American actor, author and humourist, and he’s also been on The Daily Show and Attach of the Show (G4 TV) as a guest many times.

So, which category do you fall into? Crazy, mediocre, or super talented?

Yeah, that’s what I thought.

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Filed under Author Interviews, Books and stuff, Getting published, Inspiration, Motivation, Writing ideas

The Wind in the Willows vs. Bob the Builder

As a writer and environmentalist, I take this subject to heart.

Growing up, my favourite stories were always the ones about adventure, wild creatures in jungles and forests, and explorations in nature. But many books today are set in urban environments. Take a look at the titles on your children’s book shelves. Are they reading classics like The Wind in the Willows? Or are they into more modern tales about characters like Bob the Builder?

According to a new study, depictions of nature have been gradually disappearing from award-winning illustrated children’s books over the past few decades, sparking concerns about a growing disassociation from the natural world. This is also referred to as nature deficit disorder. This is not a medical condition; instead it describes our lack of a relationship with the environment.

Nature deficit disorder is a term coined by Richard Louv in his 2005 book Last Child in the Woods, which refers to this trend and the fact that children are spending less time outdoors, resulting in a wide range of behavioural problems. We don’t have to guess at what is keeping children separated from nature. The lure of the screen. Television. Video games. And a culture of fear. Parents favour “safe” regimented sports over imaginative play. Is this lack of outdoor playtime the reason our kids are depressed, distracted and overweight?

A team of researchers at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln recently examined the top books honoured by the prestigious Caldecott Medal, judged by the American Library Association, between 2008 and 1938 when the award was created. The study reviewed close to 8,100 illustrations from 300 children’s books, in total. The researchers found a steady decline in images that showed a natural environment, like a forest or jungle, compared with images of built environments, like a school or house, and in-between environments, like a manicured lawn. The number of wild animals, compared with domesticated animals, was also found to have dropped. In the mid-1970s, depictions of urban settings rose dramatically, taking the place of natural environments, to the point where nature has all but disappeared, the researchers said.

Of course, some of this is not surprising since many of us now live in urban settings. And although children may be learning about the natural world through other media, they’re not being socialized, at least through illustrated books, to understand and appreciate nature and our place in it. This lack of contact may result in children caring less about the natural world and less about the many significant environmental problems we face.

Richard Louv says it best, “The future will belong to the nature-smart—those individuals, families, businesses, and political leaders who develop a deeper understanding of the transformative power of the natural world and who balance the virtual with the real. The more high-tech we become, the more nature we need.”

How will nature make a come-back on your child’s book shelf?

BJas

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