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    Monday
    Nov102014

    Random Questions

    What if the only thing I'm truly good at is the fact that I'm not very good at anything? Why can't I get a degree in this... it could be called something like Advanced Mediocrity, or Fair to Middling Studies. Maybe it's a (completely misplaced) sense of pride, but shouldn't the ability to consistently walk that line between not being a productive member of society and not being a horribly horrible waste of space be recognized as a talent? It may be a small and shameful talent, but goddammit, it's mine.

    Is it ok if I wear a teal cardigan with black track pants, the kind with a stripe down the side? I sure hope so, because that's what I wore today, and I only have the two pairs of pants so chances are good it will happen again.

    Am I a bad person for wishing there was another popular poem for Remembrance Day other than "In Flanders Fields"? Don't get me wrong - I could hear that poem a bajillion times and it will still cut me to the core. It's the go-to poem for a reason. But I've heard it in English, I've heard it in French, I've heard it read dramatically, I've heard it read in the sing-song voices of schoolchildren, I've heard it set to music, and I've seen it represented in art. Can interpretive dance be around the corner? Do you suppose the veterans themselves are sick of it? Maybe we're just really annoying them. Maybe they're sick and tired of everyone quoting it to them, and they'd just like to pay their respects and go have a coffee. I'm not a monster - I just wonder if we're going to the John McCrae well a little too often.

    Is it wrong that I have a list of things I would rather burn the house down than deal with? This came up the other day when I said to J that if we ever had rats, I would burn the house down. He said, "You've got to stop saying you're going to burn the house down." It's apparently my fallback plan for a number of scenarios. But considering I can't even light a birthday candle without a twenty-minute search for a barbecue lighter, I think our investment is safe.

    I probably put more thought into what calendar I'm going to put on the wall in the new year than I have into the sum total of all the presents I've purchased for Christmas so far. I'm uncertain if this is a reflection on my oddly specific short-term obsessions, the depths to which I know my family and friends so that I'm able to effortlessly select winning gifts, or my general "fiddle while Rome is burning" thing. But, you guys! The wrong calendar can throw everything off! It has to be big enough to write on for all our stuff. It has to have a pleasing colour scheme so that it doesn't annoy me daily when I see it next to the fridge. It can't have questionable humour (still living down the "sarcastic captions to old-timey pictures" one that, among other things, contained some words I'd rather my kids not be sounding out). Can't be advertising something. Can't be cheap, because the pages will sag and be hard to write on and generally suck. I'm not saying it's a big decision... just that it takes a little more than randomly picking it out. 

    And - this is important - it has to be at least 50% off. Because who pays full price for a calendar before the beginning of the new year when they're all marked down? SUCKERS, that's who.

    (I'm willing to wait for a good deal... but not too long. Last time I had to make do with the Solid Waste Authority calendar for three months before settling on the sarcastic old picture one, and we all know how that turned out.)

    and finally, why didn't either of my kids get any Reese's Peanut Butter Cups trick-or-treating this year? Is errbody just giving up all pretense and keeping them for themselves now?  

    Monday
    Apr072014

    A Conversation with Fellow Atlantic Canadian Author, Jennifer Hatt

    Collaboration, creativity, time, family, and the future... read on for my conversation with Jennifer Hatt, a Nova Scotia writer, publisher, and creator of the "Finding Maria" series, a Nova Scotia love story based on true events. You can read more about Jennifer and her work at www.FindingMaria.com

    A big thank you to Jennifer for tagging me in this blog-hop - my first ever!

    Jennifer: You've had a most interesting career path. What led you to write a children's book, and this specific story?

    Me: I think a lot of new mothers think about writing a children's book. It's an overlooked genre for many adult writers, but once you become a parent, suddenly you're immersed in it. You very quickly come to find favourites, and with a writer's eye, it's natural to start identifying what you liked about the story, what made it work, and to start wondering if you could achieve it yourself. 

    It's not only an overlooked genre, it's an underappreciated one. I've heard so many people say that anyone could write a children's book; "it's only a few words per page", etc. But, like so many other things that appear simple, it's deceptive. It's by no means easy, and I definitely discovered that when I tried it out. My first attempt, "The Luckiest Mommy", died on the drawing board. I just couldn't get the rhythm of the words to work like I wanted to, and the story that I wanted to be sweet and evocative instead became cloying and heavy-handed. After that, I did a lot more thinking about children's literature, and a lot more observant reading. 

    This particular children's book, The Great Crow Party, wasn't actually my idea. My best friend from graduate school, Heidi Van Impe, asked me to collaborate with her on her vision for a children's book about crows. Heidi, an artist living on the west coast, creates her paintings and mixed media works based in and through a profound connection with nature. She'd had the idea of the crows celebrating in the party tree, and had already created some collages. With her plotline idea, I began writing the poem. It was way, way too long. It went through a few different editing processes, back and forth between me and Heidi. We wanted to preserve the story, so we decided to leave the poem a bit longer than the normal for a children's book, and instead aim it for a slightly higher age group, 6 and up.  Because of the art placement, Heidi was the one who handled the layout and creation of the book itself.

    Jennifer: Creative collaborations can pose their share of joys and challenges. How has the process been for you with The Great Crow Party?

    Since it was Heidi's vision, I tried to defer to her on most matters during the creative process. The thing that caused me the most issue was the poem's length. We went back and forth about it a lot. I was willing to cut more, but we both wanted all the characters and their stories to remain in there. At one point, we just decided to leave the poem as-is and then see how it shaped up in layout. Heidi ended up cutting out some parts that she needed to trim. That was the only time that posed a challenge. As a writer, you do feel a certain ownership, and in an ideal universe I would have done the cutting so I could stitch up the holes, so to speak. However, I think it was unavoidable, and I had no problem with her doing it. We were both involved in our own things, four hours time difference with every communication, etc. and she had to make the call. In the end, we were both very happy with it. 

    Jennifer:  Balancing work and family is always tricky, especially for writers working from a very busy household. How do you manage it?

    Me: I think the short answer is that I mostly don't! I'm always moaning that I don't have enough time to write, which of course isn't true, or at least is only as true as you make it. I could get up earlier, I could manage my time better, I could write in the evenings after the kids are in bed. That's absolutely true, but also isn't, and comes down to what you have the will to do. I have some medical issues that result in a lot of fatigue, and being up at night with the kids doesn't help. So there are certainly times that I should be working that, instead, I'm just trying to stay awake. Even leaving that aside, it's hard to sit at the computer while the kids are around. You're always getting interrupted. Last year for my birthday, my husband made me a writing room. It's beautiful, and I love it - and I haven't seen the inside of it for months. The time that I get to work is piecemeal. There's a paragraph here and a sentence there and a blog post here. 

    For me, first of all I fight the fatigue. When I'm having a good day, I try to cram in as much as I can, which partly makes up for the days I'm not. I try to keep the mid- to late-afternoon as a time the kids can expect to entertain themselves and leave me be for a bit, even though I'm still right there at the kitchen table. I find that's the best time as my daughter is just home from school and my little man wants to hang out with her. Even if they just end up watching tv together, it's a chunk of time I can normally rely on having. 

    Jennifer: What writing projects are in the works for you now?

    Me: I have several ideas for novels, and I work on them with various levels of success. I am my own worst critic and worst enemy, so it's not unusual for me to have quite a bit of work invested in something and then decide it's all garbage, or that it's not working and has to be completely scrapped and re-done. I'm always second-guessing myself. Even with my website, I'll post something and then wonder, "Should I have? Should I have put that? Maybe it's not that good." 

    I've always wanted to be able to write funny, and I always thought I couldn't. In the past few years, I've really been drawn to writing personal-type essays, and I was shocked when I found that people thought they were funny, too. I find that so fun and exciting. So I do a lot of essay-writing. They come more easily than fiction right now, and if people find them funny, that makes my day. 

    I have a partially-finished coming-of-age novel set in Newfoundland that I recently decided was garbage and has to be completely scrapped and re-done. I have a fantasy novel in the beginning stages. What I'm trying to do right now is to channel my inner Diana Gabaldon (I should be so lucky), as she once said that when she tires of one thing or hits a wall, she then works on another until she hits the wall on that one, and so on. It's an intriguing and ambitious way to work, but I think it's the way to go. 

    The first step is to take myself and my writing more seriously, which is hard to do when you're a stay-at-home mom and are prey to feeling out of the loop. But slowly, surely, I'm making my own loop. It feels good. 

     

    Thank you, Jennifer Hatt, for the great questions and for including me in the blog-hop! Now it's my turn to ask questions of two more authors:

    Angela Yuriko Smith is a professional writer with extensive experience in newspapers and online publications. Her work has been featured internationally, including a live interview on NPR. She has written for a variety of publications, including the Community News featured in the story. An American, she currently lives in Australia with her husband, and maintains her blog dandilyonfluff.com.

    Rebecca Graf lives around Milwaukee with her husband and three children. She worked as an accountant for twenty years before pulling out of the corporate world and focusing on writing. She has been writing online for five years. Currently, she writes for various online sites as well as writes her own stories. She is the author of the children’s religious series, The Redemption Tales, as well as an adult paranormal/suspense trilogy, the Connections Series. www.rebeccagraf.com

    Thursday
    Mar272014

    Spring

    It's almost spring. But winter is cruel.

    Winter has its fist curled, and doesn't want to unclench. The warmth comes up through the ground, the sap starts to run, the air starts to lift, and Winter says, No. Not yet. And the snow and the cold comes again, covering the crocus buds and freezing the sap in its race, and the teeth snap close to the neck, again. Bears go back to sleep. Deer watch the grass being covered up again. The birds cling tight to the branches, because it's not over yet. The teeth are snapping. The cold will not leave.

    Persephone is rising from her bed, but Hades is loath to let her go. She wants to come back; it's time. But Hades pulls her back into his cold fire embrace, saying, No. Not yet. And the breeze that blew with her movement stirs the grass on the surface, before it disappears. She is still underground. Because it's not time. Not yet.

    April is, indeed, the cruellest month. The land is dead, brown and muddy and lost, and beneath the soil the necessity pushes. It pushes and pulls and forces the growth, the sleepy, sickened buds to fight their way from their graves, again and again. The green comes through, and meets nothing but cold, and the darkness of rain, and the cold nourishment of snowmelt. The green shivers, and fears, and cannot remember the sun. It's not here, not now. Not yet.

    Perhaps Persephone waits until Hades is asleep. Perhaps she has to push her way out of his arms, firm and cold, because her time has come and he cannot stop her. He can delay her. He can threaten and plead. But he cannot stop her. She is going, she is coming, and she is bringing the green. Her gown is made of the chinook, and her fingers are filled with seeds. She breathes and she sighs, and she says only one word: grow.

    And it does. The earth dries, and the sun comes out, and then comes the warm and the growth, the yellow and the green. The trees awaken and push their leaves through their skin, hundreds of thousands of fingers stretching from idle hands. The flowers uncurl, forgetting their prisons, taking everything they can get, crying out in their release. It's the time of eating and drinking, planning and celebration all at once. The heat is in everything. There is no escape from the sun. Everything is sound and noise and openness and colour. Everything is alive.

    Except that beneath it all, beneath the soil, waiting just beyond the border, is the next cold. The cold will come back. Hades waits on his throne, pomegranate seeds on his open palm. Persephone will return to him, and he will knot his hand in her hair. The silence will return, and the snow. The heat is so fragile. The cold is there, beneath it all, a breath away.

    The growth is only for a short time. Winter is always waiting, and all the seeds are under its foot. It only leaves while it must. It will come back, and it likes the silence.

    Even in the middle of Summer, it waits. And it will say, No. Not yet. But soon.

    Monday
    Mar102014

    Whoops

    In an attempt to change something on one part of my site, I accidentally deleted a bunch of stuff, including the Twitter link. 

    Yeah. I feel like kind of a doof right now. Especially since it took me over a week to notice. 

    On the up-side, the site now has a minimalist quality that may appeal to some. Clickety click!

    Sunday
    Mar022014

    Updates

    The site has been updated to include a sample of my column, "My Whistle Stop Life", which runs monthly in the New Glasgow News. I may soon include other columns, depending on interest. The column appears in a text file instead of a weblink as the site now requires a subscription. 

    The link is under "Writing" at the top. Hope you enjoy and thanks for reading!