Category: Things to Ponder Page 1 of 2

Disordered Thinking

It’s rare that I get all the way to the end of a book before discovering I hate it. It happens (I’m looking at you, Veronica Roth) but usually I can tell if it’s not going to work out in the first couple of chapters. And that’s fine. I don’t mind walking away if all I’ve given is a quarter-hour of my time. But when a book disappoints with its ending, leaving me with the sense that I’ve wasted a good three hours, I get cranky. And that’s starting to happen more than I like these days.

I’m finding that there are far too many books relying on the old trope of “s/he did it because s/he’s nuts!” as an easy solution to the story. It leaves a bad taste in my mouth. First off, because it’s weak. It’s the easiest way out, out of countless easy ways. Readers deserve better. We deserve something original, something that will make us think, leave us questioning what we thought we knew. You can’t achieve that if your entire plot rests on some caricature of mental illness.

And that’s my second reason. Why does it seem like every villain does what they do because they’re batshit crazy? And not even a specific type of mental illness. I’m talking generic looneytunes. Where’s the motivation? Where’s the complexity, the subtle character nuances that really get the reader deep inside their head?

Because here’s the thing: mental illness does not a villain make. There’s this huge stigma surrounding it. If you sit down next to a stranger and tell them you have cancer, you get sympathy and compassion. Probably also some half-baked medical advice. If you tell that same stranger you have a mental illness, they shift themselves a little further away. They shelter their children from you. They have important things to check on their phone.

The reality is, one out of four people will suffer from some form of mental illness in their lifetime. That puts you at 25% odds, whether you like it or not. If not you, maybe one of your kids, or your partner. Some of your friends and family members are mentally ill. And I’m guessing they don’t go around attacking people on the street or stuffing them into trunks of cars.

The trope of using mental illness as a crutch in fiction to explain negative actions isn’t going to go away as long as we keep fearing those who are mentally ill. We need to talk about it, openly, the same way we talk about our diabetes, our heart disease, our oddly-shaped mole that keeps growing. It should be just as acceptable to say “I can’t make it into work today, I’m going through a period of depression,” as it is to say “I can’t make it into work today, I have the flu.”

I address mental illness head-on in my fiction, and I plan to always do so. But you’ll never see me ending a novel with the bad guy being carted off to the psychiatric hospital. No, the characters in my fiction that have mental health issues are protagonists. That’s right. They’re the good guys. My current main character has a severe form of aphephobia, the fear of touch. Maybe in my next book one of the players will have an anxiety disorder, or bulimia, or PTSD. And maybe the people who read it will come away with a little bit of a better understanding of how a mental disorder is only an aspect of a person – it does not define him.

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.

My E-reader Dilemma

Well not mine, exactly.

Kid 1 doesn’t read this blog, so I feel safe posting about it here – I’m thinking about getting her an e-reader for Christmas. Probably a Kobo. And because I know Kid 1, a very sturdy case.

Before I go further I’ll say that I only read on my iPad now – I think I’ve only read one physical fiction book all year. And I read three times as much as I did before I got the iPad.

My hesitation comes from this: will that deprive her of the tactile experience of a paper book, and how will that alter her reading experience? There’s certainly something to be said for browsing the library, reading the backs of books you might have never considered, wondering if you’d like them, that’s lost with an e-reader. There just doesn’t seem to be a good way to browse at random with one – sure the sites will suggest books I might like, but I want to know about the ones I’ve never heard of or that are outside my usual preferences. Now I just go on recommendations from friends and books from authors I already like.

That said, I think Kid 1 could benefit from the breadth of books available online that even our fantastic library system can’t match. I also don’t see us stopping our regular library trips, and her school greatly encourages reading as well.

Anyone out there buy their grade-school-aged kid an e-reader and have feedback on the experience?


This is going to be a bit of a ramble.

Every year, starting in about June and ending in October, writing gets shoved to a back burner and I focus on putting by enough food to feed my family for the next year. From freezing fresh fruit by the caseload to canning, pickling and dehydrating, the goal is to make it through the lean months of winter with a wide variety of food. Some of it I grow myself, most of it I source from local farms and markets.

Canning season starts with asparagus, pickled in brine with my own blend of spices. It usually ends with apples and squash, both sauced. Once the last of the kale and chard has been picked and the herbs hung from the rafters in the basement to dry, the garden gets put to bed and I start making soups and stocks to warm us on chilly days.

I’m committed to keeping as much of our diet local as possible, but you can’t get fresh Alberta-grown apricots or pears in February, so I have to get enough for the year in summer, and find a way to preserve them. The amount of produce that moves through my kitchen during these months is astonishing, when you add it up. 210lbs of tomatoes. 100lbs of apples. 40lbs of corn. 80lbs of strawberries. 60lbs of blueberries. You get the idea.

This is what it gets turned into.

This is what it gets turned into.

I can’t remember if I’ve ever mentioned it on the blog before, but due to food sensitivities I can’t have dairy, gluten, eggs or almonds. This means virtually all processed foods are out for me, and I make everything from scratch. Without having all this stuff put by in the summer when prices are cheapest, I think my dietary restrictions would bring our grocery bill up to an amount that rivals our mortgage. And as a working mom it simplifies my life a thousandfold. Getting home from work at 6pm means I only have a short time to get dinner on the the table, so having safe and tasty spaghetti sauce ready to heat means all I have to do is cook the rice pasta.

But this is a blog about writing, right? Why the hell am I talking about canning? Well, because I see a lot of parallels between my path as a writer and my path as a canner. With both, I started out small and kind of fiddled around for awhile, trying different things out, reading lots of books, making lots of mistakes. With each new project I got a little bit better, started trying out different techniques and now I feel I’m rather good at both.

My now-not-so-secret desire is to one day write my own canning cookbook, featuring my original recipes, which will cause canning and writing to intersect even more directly in my life. It’s a few years off, but I’m starting to think about it, compile all my recipes and work on the ones that still need improvement. In the meantime, publishing my fiction is where most of my efforts are going to lie.

At the end of it all, whether I’m gazing at the hundreds of jars I’ve filled over the past few months, or reading the final page of my many-times-edited novel, the feeling I get from both is the same – accomplishment and a quiet sort of satisfaction. It’s worth all the work, the late nights, the tears, the bitter disappointments. It’s something I can be proud of.

If You Love A Girl Who Writes…

How To Love A Girl Who Writes

A friend and fellow writer posted this for me to read today. She said it made her tear up, but she might just be tired. I said it made me tear up too, but I also might be tired. I don’t think so, though. I think it’s just the truth.

It’s worth a read, both for writers (female ones, I suppose, although I imagine much of it describes male writers as well) and their partners. I sent it to mine, and he concurred with basically all of it.

“She will not always tell you how she feels out loud.

And even if she does, trust to the fact that she’s rolled it around in her brain (and possibly her journal) for quite some time before she comes out with it. Her words are her tools, her armor. She’s best with them when she can shift and spin them on the page. In her throat, sometimes they get caught and fall out all at once—or worse—slide back down and vanish until they flow through her fingers into her next story.”

If I could make people understand one thing about me, it might be what that quote above outlines.

Can You Relate?

–Author Unknown

This seems like it could be a quote about one’s favourite characters and books, but as a writer I think it applies wholeheartedly to the people I create and channel onto the page. I think it’s the mark of a writer that you start to care about your creations, not just as things you’ve made in order to further a storyline, but as real people. When they hurt, you hurt. When they love, you love. You start seeing things through their eyes, feeling things the way they might, even if that perspective is vastly different from your own.

They may not be real in the sense that I could meet them on the street one day (although in my more fanciful moments I like to think about alternate universes that come into existence through a writer’s pen where Callie, Dane et al. may at this moment be trying to save the world) but I love them nonetheless, and so I love myself as well, because they were born of me.


What do you think about spin-offs in the literary world? A spin-off is not a sequel – those follow the same chracters through several parts of a story. With a spin-off, the characters from the original story may show up occasionally, but are not the focus. It’s also not a remake, where a different person reinterprets an existing story originally by someone else. A spin-off, to be clear, is a work of some type (book, TV show, movie) that takes a character from one book or series, and gives them their own. Think Frasier from Cheers or Angel (sigh) from Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

When it comes to books, in some cases it seems like the author just trying to milk more out of a storyline that had already ended satisfactorily. In others, it can provide a new angle or perspective on a well-loved series. In TV and movies, spin-offs are common – it seems like half the shows have been derived from another one these days, with all the CSIs and Law and Orders and NCISs. Books, maybe a little less so. I can’t think of too many, anyway.

I’m pondering this because I have a vague sort of idea where one of the secondary characters from my trilogy could have a book or two of her own somewhere down the road. 99% of the notion is “and then a bunch of stuff happens” which is also a common notation on my outlines, but the seed has been planted, and I’m curious as to whether I should consider watering it and letting it grow. I suppose it all depends on whether or not my trilogy is at all popular and there’s demand for it, and/or whether the character steps up in my head and starts yelling, “what about meeee?”

Something to think about in the distant future, anyway.


I’m working on my rough outline for the final book of my trilogy tonight. Which is great, right? All my ducks in a row and all that. Only as I’m building the climax I’m realizing that two of my most important elements, resolutions to questions that go all the way back to the first book, kind of conflict with each other. And seriously, I need to have them both in there. All kinds of other things depend on them. I really need to put my brain to work on this one and find a creative solution that will allow me to have both in harmony with each other, because as it stands right now, the reader’s going to get to that point and basically go, “but… you just said that…” *headscratch* “that doesn’t make any sense…” and it will all be a giant letdown.

It’s funny how you don’t really realize stuff like that when it’s all just in your head, but then you put it down on paper and immediately see that there’s a problem. So I guess thank god for outlining, or freenoting really since this is just a jumbled mess of ideas right now.

Now I’m going to go ponder the immensity of what the true definition of humanity is, because it’s no smaller problem than that. Sigh.

And Then A Funny Thing Happened

I’ve been almost entirely preoccupied with Callie, Matthieu and Dane for nearly a full year. The three of them fill my thoughts constantly. So I was surprised recently when, at the back of my mind, another voice appeared. She was quiet at first, stealing into my thoughts every once in awhile when the others were silent, but over the past month or so she’s been gradually getting louder and more insistent. I’m here she says. Listen to me for a bit. And I do. I find I’m listening to her a lot.

She’s a funny one, this girl. A bit of an enigma. She tells me lots about her childhood, but little about her present or the trials she’s facing. She says we’ll talk about all that later, but in the meantime, there are things I ought to know…

Callie was kind enough to give the kid a few pages of my time today (she’s not enjoying having her early days re-written, it seems) and just like that, this girl-without-a-name became real, a person on paper, instead of a hint of an idea in my mind. There are a few things I need to get down before she’ll settle back into her quiet corner, waiting until Callie et al. have said their piece. The funny thing is, I don’t even know where she came from. It sure wasn’t the lightning bolt of inspiration I experienced with The Unravelling. Maybe she was born of discarded bits of other ideas. Maybe she’s always been there. It’s pretty clear at this point that she’s not leaving.

Now I find myself with a whole new tree of folders in my writing directory, a fresh set of topics to research and a document to store stray ideas as she feeds them to me. There’s monsters, and magic and a giant identity crisis – all the things I love in a story. I’m intrigued by all this – it’s a completely different process from what I’m used to. Callie’s story is so driven by music and I see and hear her in things all around me. This is like little whispers from the ether I have to strain to hear.

Is it possible to be working on two completely different books at the same time? Is that even wise? I might be about to find out.

So Close I Can Smell It

I was going over my outline yesterday and realized that while I do have my point-form notes on all the remaining scenes, I hadn’t blocked them out into chapters. After a bunch of hemming and hawwing I think I have it all laid out, and I was very surprised to see that it looks like I only have about two and a half chapters left! I’m partway through 19 now, and I have it marked down that 21 is the last one. For so long the ending has felt like a forever time away, but I usually get through about a chapter a week, a chapter being 5-7,000 words, and that means I could be done in three weeks’ time. I can even have a bit of a break from the story before I start revising in early November!

I’m a little bit excited and a little bit sad about the prospect of being done. Making your old words better isn’t the same as making new words, and I think my heart is mainly in the ‘making new words’ camp. Who knows? Maybe the shift will be good for me. I’m also very relieved to see that it doesn’t look like I’m going to be over the 30,000 words I estimated from my 100,000-word goal. It looks more like fifteenish. I can find 15,000 words to cut, no problem.

Now, with all that said, it’s not going to be easy writing to the finish line. Things are about to get very, very difficult for Callie over the next 50 pages. Poor girl. I like her so much, it’s hard to break her down like this. She’ll thank me in the end though.

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