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A Side Project/Shameless Plug

If you’re a regular reader, you probably know that one of my other pastimes is canning and preserving.

My cold room.

My cold room.

I spend a great deal of my free time from May-October putting up anything and everything in season to feed us through the winter. This past week, for example, I canned 75lbs of tomatoes into pasta sauce, turned a case of apricots into jam (with amaretto and vanilla, yum!), went foraging in a couple parks in my city for saskatoons and sour cherries, which I made into a juice concentrate for smoothies, and bought a further 15lbs of Lapin cherries to make into preserves. In short, I’ve been busy. Oh, and I scored this lot at a small-town thrift store today:

That's around 100 jars. YOU CAN NEVER HAVE TOO MANY JARS.

That’s around 100 jars. YOU CAN NEVER HAVE TOO MANY JARS.

It only made sense then, for me and my canning partner-in-crime and longtime friend Lindsay to open our own store supplying canning products and accessories.

The Cannery - Now Open!

The Cannery – Now Open!

We supply the Canadian market with hard-to-fnd products like Tattler reusable lids and Pomona’s Pectin as well as your favourites from Bernardin and more. We also strive to make mason jars more useful by offering products that will turn your jar into a cup, a coffee- or teapot, a soap dispenser or even a martini shaker! And if it’s recipes you’re after, we carry a large selection of books on canning, pickling and dehydrating. But wait, there’s more! We’ve also just started up a blog, Pretty Little Jars, focusing on skills, tips, recipes, stories and more. We hope with these two sites to become one of Canada’s leading sources for canning supplies and information. And now back to our regularly scheduled content 🙂

A Writer Writes. Except When She Doesn’t.

I’ll admit it. I commit the cardinal sin of writerdom.

I don’t write every day.

I know, I know, I know. Get into the habit, blah blah blah. Writing requires dedication, blah blah blah. You’re not a writer unless you’re writing, blah blah blah.

Good for those people.

I prefer the words of one Burton Rascoe:

“A writer is working when he’s staring out of the window.”

Or perhaps this quote from Donald M. Murray:

“Even the most productive writers are expert dawdlers…”

Here’s the thing. I don’t think sitting with my fingers on the keyboard is the only way to write. I am writing all the time. What I call ‘future-writing.’

I think it’s fair to say that about 75% of my writing happens in my head. It’s collecting experiences, bits of emotion or imagery and filing them away to use later. Jotting a few words in a notebook that will form the basis of a novel. Remembering the rawness of receiving bad news, the delayed shock and feeling of betrayal that follow. Taking an extra few seconds to really look at a piece of graffiti in a foreign city, or the way tree roots crack through the mortar of an ancient stone wall. These things are all writing, to me. They inform the words that are yet to come. I think they’re just as important, because they make the words feel real.

That’s not to say that the actual word-writing part isn’t important too. I go in fits and spurts between the two – sometimes I’m only at the laptop, sometimes I’m taking in the world around me. These past six months have taken me all over the world – to Iceland and Vancouver and California and Hong Kong and Japan, and I’ll see Belize and Wales and Scotland and Amsterdam before the year is through – and the things I’ve taken away from those places, whether they’re specific to a location or just an encounter with someone who I wouldn’t have met had I stayed home, make the words that I have written brighter. Last year I visited a coastal town that’s going to be the inspiration for my next novel. Could it feel half as real if I’d never been?

Now that I have a bit of a lull before I hit the road again (two whole weeks!) I’m eager to reconnect with my laptop, for although I’ve lugged it around the globe, I produced nary a sentence. Who would want to travel such distances to keep their nose buried in front of a screen?

You can’t write unless you’ve lived. Right now, I’m doing a whole lot of living, word count goals be damned.

On the Benefits of an Honest Critique

As a writer, probably one of my least favourite things to do is share my work with others and ask for a critique. Not because I’m worried they’re going to tear it apart, but because I’m afraid they’ll just say “I think it’s great!” and hand it back.

A critique like that is exactly 0% helpful. I don’t want my ego stroked. I want to know what doesn’t work so I can make it better. Whether it’s something I know needs work but I can’t figure out how to fix it, or feedback that takes me entirely by surprise, a good critique can only be helpful, if you listen to it.

This article from the Huffington Post sums up how I feel about the subject nicely. It’s worth a read by anyone who strives to improve themselves, whether at work, at a creative pursuit or even aspects of their personality.

I’m not saying critique doesn’t hurt. My dad is a particularly thorough critic of my writing and some of the stuff he says makes my cheeks burn when I read it. Instinctively, my reaction is always along the lines of “well you’re just wrong.” And I vow to ignore it.

Via http://sweetochii.deviantart.com

A few days later I read his critique again. And even if I don’t take every word to heart – there’s no rule that says you can’t stick with your original thought or plot device or whatever – I still consider his reaction and why he might feel that way. You can’t make everyone happy, but you can listen to everyone’s complaints and assess them. All feedback is useful in some way, as long as it’s constructive. I often end up coming around to the critiquer’s point of view and make some changes.

I kind of love critiques. Like in a sadistic, “hit me ’til it hurts” sort of way. I mean ultimately, even if it makes me squirm, my goal is to be a better writer, right? I used to hate it in school when I’d get a paper back all marked up with red ink and I didn’t have the opportunity to re-write based on the feedback to improve it. It was just done. With the long editing process and multiple drafts involved in writing a novel, I finally get to do that. You’re damn right I’m going to listen to someone who has an opinion if they’re willing to take the time to offer it to me.

The Art of Words

As a person who finds herself inspired by words, I surround myself with wordy things. Books by the hundreds, typewriters of all shapes and sizes, even a writing-inspired tattoo (and another to come soon).

And then there’s artwork. My favourite pieces I own (apart from this painting by Brandon Bird which is the first thing you see when you walk into my house) all have to do with books and writing. There’s the large-scale print of a couple embracing under a tree that’s actually made using the entire text of Wuthering Heights, and the vintage typewriter ads, including this one which is pretty much exactly what I look like when I get on a real tear.

This is what I hung in my dreamy little writer’s shed tonight:

Tragedy #388 by Benjamin Dewey

Tragedy #388 by Benjamin Dewey

It makes me chuckle every time I see it. The poor wolfman! No one will ever read his comedic space opera.

I love the Tragedy series, btw. We have a bunch of them and I’ve gifted several more, but this one has been stored away until my retreat was complete. You can see them all, and buy your own prints, from the Tragedy Series Tumblr, which I strongly encourage you to do.

Why Wait Until New Year’s?

I’m going to throw down some mid-year resolutions. And I’m going to put them on post-it notes and stick them all over my desk so I have to stare at them all the time.

In no particular order:

  • Finish my query letter
  • Send out ten query letters for each of June, July, August and September
  • Finish the first draft of The Unknowing
  • Re-read Writing 21st Century Fiction and post-it note the shit out of the tips I feel best apply to me
  • Write up an outline for the new book idea I have stewing

I think that’s a pretty solid start. I encourage everyone to join me in making a few resolutions as well!

Mutiny!

I’ve often heard other writers say their characters are in control of the story and they’re just along for the ride, that every day writing is an exercise in finding out what they’re going to do next. That is so not me. Even when I was technically a pantser with no outline on paper, I still knew the complete storyline in my head and spent a great deal of time every day plotting out what the next day’s writing would look like.

So imagine my surprise when I realized this week that I, too, don’t seem to have much say in what some of my characters are doing. Two of them keep making out. In my head, I’m all, “okay, here comes a suspenseful and dangerous bit,” and then my fingers hit the keyboard and they proceed to try and take each other’s pants off. I’m at my wit’s end over it. I need things to happen, and those things don’t include kissing. I mean sometimes they do, but only when I say so, dammit!

The last couple books I’ve read have been rather smutty. Maybe that’s the cause. Whatever it is, I need to get things back on track, and I fear my delete button is going to be putting in a lot of work this weekend. Or maybe I’ll just run with it and see how things pan out, because you never know. Maybe sometimes the characters do know best.

“Nothing I like doing more than spanking rocks with my baby.”

And so began construction of my little office, with the shoveling and pounding of two yards of gravel.

"Yeah baby, spank those rocks. Spank 'em good."

“Yeah baby, spank those rocks. Spank ’em good.”

August 2013. The back story: For the past two years if I wanted to work from home I had little in the way of options: the couch, my bed or the kitchen table. None of those are spaces that are conducive to focus and concentration. We live in a 1,000-square-foot house, so space is at a premium. My old office got turned into a bedroom when Kid 2 was born, and my husband’s office is eligible for an episode of Hoarders.

We looked at converting our spare bedroom in the basement, but we do have company from time to time, and frankly, that room is grim. Dark, cold and devoid of sunlight. Then I went a bit crazy and started thinking about building an addition on the house, but spending $100k is a little outside our budget. Then I thought, why not insulate the space above the garage? But as it turned out, building a habitable space up in the rafters would require raising the roof by several feet.

So obviously the only logical solution is an outbuilding.

I don’t want to call it a shed, but it’s a shed. A cozy, furnished, heated and powered shed, but a shed nonetheless. We bought a prefab kit that looked like it would suit the job. The reviews online said two people could put it together in about eight hours. Neither of us are particularly handy people, so we figured a weekend of hard work could get it done.

This is what we accomplished the first day.

This is what we accomplished the first day.

I’m not sure even Mike Holmes (sorry, Americans and overseas readers – I don’t know who the US equivalent would be. Pick the star of your favourite home reno show) could put this together in eight hours. Maybe day two would see more progress?

End of Day 2. I have a floor and one corner.

End of Day 2. I have a floor and one corner.

Screw this noise. We are working until we drop. Long past sundown, into the wee hours of the morning, we had something that was starting to look like a small shed.

And then I dropped.

And then I dropped.

So my husband and I are lying there on the floor, looking up at the stars, when the same thought crosses our minds:

"I wonder how high those power lines are?"

“I wonder how high those power lines are?”

It’s funny because we genuinely have no idea and will find out when we attempt to put the roof on.

Monday saw us both back at work so we only had a couple hours in the evening. We put part of the roof together and installed the skylights. Skylights! We had to stop when I started wearing one of the gable pieces like a hat and the husband told me I should wear it to bed because it made me look like a sexy roofing nun.

Tuesday I tried to assemble a door (yes a door) by myself and it brought me to tears.

Wednesday. Installed two doors and a gable all by myself. Used pieces of furniture in place of helping hands to hold things steady. Broke my middle finger hitting it with a hammer. Total drag. I use that one a lot.

Saturday. We call in reinforcements. In other words, my father-in-law. It’s together… sort of. The doors don’t close. We have to re-level it and shim it and possibly sacrifice a small animal to the ancient ones.

Some weeks later, after multiple calls to the manufacturer, the doors close tolerably. Only it’s the end of fall. There’s frost on the ground in the morning. Winter is around the corner. Winter in Canada. No point in working on it now…

Spring 2014. We have had a hellish winter. I’ve been writing in coffee shops and my bedroom and airport departure gates and everywhere but my little shed. So I’m like, let’s get this shit done. We start cleaning out the winter debris and moving furniture in as time permits.

Today: the husband takes Kid 1 and Kid 2 camping for the weekend and I am free to move things into my shed uninterrupted. I’ve been collecting various things for the past year, and they finally have a home.

A wordsmithette's home.

A wordsmithette’s home.

My desk.

My desk.

A few typewriter friends... from left to right: Ivy, Casper the Haunted Typewriter and The First.

A few typewriter friends… from left to right: Ivy, Casper the Haunted Typewriter and The First.

Awesome, right? It still needs to be wired for electricity – currently I’m making do with an extension cord – and I have a couple more pictures to frame and hang, but for all intents and purposes, it’s finished.

I love it. It’s my own place. Everyone knows the famous quote from Virginia Woolf: “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.” This is my room of my own. I will do great things here. 

(with inspiration from My Cool Shed.)

Don’t Let the Door Hit You On the Way Out

I like to give things names. Sometimes it makes things easier to talk about. Sometimes it makes things funnier to talk about. Like for instance

(MAJOR OVERSHARE ALERT)

my husband and I call sex ‘sandwiches.’ As in, “hey, want to put the kids to bed, have a late supper and make some sandwiches?” Hilarious, right?

I decided that my depression needs a name too. My depression will from now on be known as Karl. And the time during which I was at my worst will be called Karl’s Terrible Visit.

Karl’s Terrible Visit has come to an end.

I’m still waiting close to the door, hoping Karl doesn’t poke his head back in because he forgot his wallet on the dresser, and could he perhaps have one more cup of coffee? But I think that even if he tried to pull a fast one on me, I’d be able to show him to the curb.

So long and good riddance, Karl. Looking forward to seeing you never again.

(I know that’s probably not likely. Karl and I, we go way back.)

Regardless, I can throw open the windows, let in the sunshine, change the sheets in the spare room where Karl took up residence for the past seven months and look forward to running my own home again.

Thank you, husband who called my doctor when I couldn’t. Thank you, Kid 1 and Kid 2, for being awesome and worth living for. Thank you, friends and family who didn’t give up on me even when I became a terrible, selfish, useless person. Thank you, pharmaceuticals, for helping my brain be just normal enough.

Thank you, me, for always believing I’d make it through somehow.

Onward to bigger and brighter things!

History Repeats Itself

I think I’ve mentioned before that the series I’m writing right now came about because I heard a couple songs together while I was driving one day. Sometimes when I’m listening to music, especially in the car or on the bus when my head is only half-focused on it, a verse or even a line will catch my attention and my mind is off and running. So that was that, but I’ve been struggling for awhile to make the end of the story come together and wrap up all the loose ends. The solution I originally came up with felt less than original and had some holes that I knew I’d have to fill.

As a result, it was difficult to get motivated to start writing the final installment in the series, and after mocking up an outline riddled with holes, I idled.

Ahh, but then. Once again, whatever literary muse that seems to live inside my iPod struck again. One verse of one song, a song iTunes says I’ve played dozens of times, fixed my porous plot problem. Not only that, but my new ending sort of flips the bird at some genre conventions.

The funny part is for a long time I was actually mishearing the lyrics, and it wasn’t until I learned the correct words that the idea was born. Oops.

Posting the song would be a huge spoiler so I’m keeping it under wraps, which is too bad because I love it. Someday, maybe.

But that’s not all, folks. Not long after, while navigating a traffic circle after dropping the kids off at school one morning, the iPod muse hit hard. One line was all it took. New book, could be a series. Completely different from what I’m working on right now. And I’m so excited to start writing it, so much so that I’m conflicted on what I should be working on right now – finish the series I’ve been writing for the past two years, or new project? I’m terrible at making decisions so I might literally pick one out of a hat and run with it.

While I’ve been waffling over that decision, and now that I’m starting to climb out of the dark hole I was mired in (yay), I’ve finished the ninth (!) draft of The Unraveling and I feel like I’m ready to start querying again after my less-than-successful results last year. With my new opening scene I hope to get some positive feedback this time around.

I often turn to music for ideas when I write, but my favourite moments are when the iPod gives me an unexpected gift, a real moment of inspiration, and it’s encouraging to know that I still have that spark despite the pall of depression that is thankfully starting to dissipate. I’m excited about life and about writing again. It’s good to be back.

Chapter One Preview!

I’m now on my ninth draft of The Unraveling and have been doing a lot of rewriting this time around, rather than editing. And for the first time, I’ve decided to share a short excerpt. In the past I’ve posted some Six Sentence Sunday (RIP) entries, but today I’m offering a much longer chunk of text, about two pages. This is all-new material, and it’s yet to see any other eyes than my own. In fact you might be the very first person to read it. Doesn’t that make you feel special!

I’m open to feedback and would love to hear your thoughts.

Click here to read the first two pages of The Unraveling.

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