Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Joy of Unwanted Advice

Stephen King has said a great many witty, pithy, and all-too-true things about writing...and life. But one of my favorites is this:

"If you write, someone will try to make you feel lousy about it."

I'm not sure why, and maybe people in other artistic fields have experienced the same, but everyone seems to feel perfectly free to tell writers how they should live their lives. For example, if you write so-called "genre fiction", which encompasses pretty much everything except non-fiction and so-called "literary" novels, chances are that you will receive some scathing comments, as King did when his teacher told him that he shouldn't write "trash". I have a friend who loves to write romances, only to be asked by her friends and family when she's going to write a "real book". Or how about the embittered book critic I used to work with who once asked what my book was about, and before I could answer said, "Well, I'm sure it isn't literary." Now what is that supposed to mean?

Years ago, I took the bold step of walking away from a successful freelance business so I could finish my novel. I'd been so busy writing articles for others that I had nothing left for my own work. Even though it was a big risk, I told my clients I'd be unavailable for two months and got down to it. When my neighbor found out what I was doing, she looked at my fiance and said, "Wow. You want to be a writer? I hope he's got a good job." That comment had me simmering for weeks, I was so pissed. And the best part of it? My neighbor was the mother of a fairly well-known, successful author! Guess we know how supportive she was of her daughter's career choice.

What is it about writers that makes everyone want to put their two cents in? I wish I knew. I would never tell a heavy metal musician that perhaps he should give folk music a try. Or suggest that a GP become a heart surgeon.

It took me a long time to land an agent. From what I've heard from others in the biz, this is normal. It's more unusual to get an agent on your first couple of tries than it is to have accumulated a large stack of rejections first. I wanted an agent because I didn't just want to write for fun--I wanted to writing to be my career. Moreover, I wanted a New York agent because--even in this era of email, text messaging, and video conferencing--agents that live in the heart of the publishing industry still have an advantage. Most of the time, when I wasn't drowning in self-pity, I knew I would get one eventually. I just had to keep trying, and not let the rejections get to me.

As always, people asked me how the writing was going. I told them that I was still working on getting an agent. Nine times out of ten, I got this response: "Why don't you just send your book to (fill in name of small local press here)?" So I had to explain that: 1) this local press was actually highly selective and had a very narrow category of books they would accept, being a small publisher; 2) the press was not-for-profit, and therefore couldn't really afford to pay its authors well; and 3) maybe it's shameful to admit, but--I believed I could do better. I knew it would take me longer, but I was willing to wait. Anything worth doing is worth doing well. And I still feel the same. Even though things didn't work out with my first agent, it turns out that that isn't unusual, either. So I'll keep walking along the path I've chosen for myself, and eventually, it will lead where I want it to. That's the great thing about freedom of choice, isn't it? The ability to choose your own path, for better or worse.

How about you, dear reader? Ever received some unwanted advice that chafes you to this day? Feel free to vent here!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Dumbing Down of a Nation

Let's call this a Wednesday rant, dear readers. Maybe I'll make it a regular blog feature!

As a writer, I'm fairly picky about spelling and grammar. I'm not perfect--no one is--but at least I try my very best to avoid making simple mistakes.

My journalism instructor and mentor Donald Benham used to insist on perfect spelling for all assignments. If you spelled a single word wrong in an article, you flunked that particular assignment. If you misspelled the answer to an exam question, you were marked wrong, even if you had the right answer. Benham was tough, but there was a method to his madness. "If you spell a word wrong in a story, the reader will wonder what else you got wrong," he said. So true.

When I was in college, my greatest pet peeve was people who didn't know the difference between "their" and "they're" or "its" and "it's". But today, forget about it! (Or should that be "fuhgeddaboudit"?) I'm not sure whether or not text messaging is solely to blame, but beyond "LOL" and "OMG", don't expect anything to be spelled correctly! (And I've even seen "lol" spelled incorrectly. I kid you not.)

It's funny that, in this era of computer programs and gadgets with built-in spell checkers, we're misspelling more words than ever before. How sad is it that there's an actual website dedicated to "hilarious speaches" that spells the word speech incorrectly, even in the url? And how many times have you walked by a misspelled sign like the one above? At least the errors can have hilarious results, like an email I once received that misspelled "since" as "seance".

The Brits used to despair that Americans took their beautiful language and "dumbed it down", but what we're seeing today is something far worse. Are we creating a generation that will think that "you" is spelled "u" and "cutie" is spelled "q-t"? A world where a pouch is something that should be pampered in a dog spa? I shudder to think!

How about you? Any spelling/grammar pet peeves? What is the most humorous spelling mistake you've seen?

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Get Rid of Me...Please?

Good morning dear readers,

Usually I don't enter contests. I'm one of those people who rarely wins anything, but this particular contest was too good to pass up. If I was to die in a freak muay thai accident tomorrow, I'd only have three regrets:

1) Didn't see enough of the world
2) Didn't publish a novel
3) Didn't fight in the ring

As you know, I'm working on number 2 and 3, but number 1 requires money that I just don't have right now. That's where you come in! With a simple vote, you can help get rid of me for six months! (At least get me out of the bottom ten percent so the site can stop mocking me!)

Just click here:

If I win, I'll visit some incredible places: China, Turkey, Russia, Egypt, India, Jordan, Kenya, Morocco, Nepal...this blog could suddenly get a lot more interesting! Thanks for your help. And if you vote for me, I'll even drag my sorry butt to the gym today. I didn't make it yesterday, but I thank Wayne for asking and holding me accountable.

One more thing...this clip was so good, I just had to share! Behold, the power of the muay thai kick! This is really interesting, even if you're not particularly into kickboxing.

Monday, July 26, 2010

I Hate The Gym

Happy Monday, dear readers! I hope you had a fabulous weekend.

As for me, while I wasn't exactly a whirlwind of productivity yesterday (okay, I wasn't at all), I still managed to write a lot on the weekend and keep my writing date this morning. I even made a healthy lunch and got things all ready to return to the gym.

This is going to be the toughest part of my new plan. The truth is, I really hate the gym. Not my kickboxing club--it's usually not too difficult to drag myself there. But I loathe fitness clubs for the most part.

For me, the hardest part about working out at a gym is just walking in the door. Once I've done that, I've got it made. Then, if I can only keep going until I've gotten comfortable with the place, it won't be such an ordeal. But that's a big if.

Last year I stumbled upon an amazing deal. As an alumni, membership to my college's gym is only $35 a year! And it's within close walking distance to work, so I could do my weight routine during lunch and get it over with. I was quick to sign up and get the terrible photo taken, but did I actually go to the gym? Um, about twice.

I hate that moment when you walk in the door of a health club and everyone stops what they're doing to stare at you. The dread of that moment is actually enough to deter me from going, but I'm not sure when I started feeling this way. Maybe it comes from the time when a woman couldn't so much as sit down on a weight machine without some bohunk offering to show her what she was doing wrong. Free weight areas have a bad reputation of being dominated by grunting, inconsiderate, space-hogging muscle freaks, and sometimes they still are, but I think we've evolved past the idea that the only people who need to use weights are the ones who want to look like Arnie.

If worse came to worst, I guess I don't really have to go to the gym. Kickboxing is a great strength workout, and between that and the running I'm planning to start this week, I should have the bases covered. But I know what weight-lifting can do for me. There's no better, faster way to reach my goals than by supplementing my kickboxing workouts with a weight-lifting routine.

I'm putting this down in writing because I really don't want to go. And for a pretty ridiculous reason! The gym will be practically empty right now, since it's the summer and school is's a perfect time to get comfortable with the facilities so I don't feel so awkward once it gets busy. Even so, I can feel the excuses for not going starting to churn in my brain.

So, wish me luck. And if I don't go, feel free to call me a wimp!

How about you, dear reader? How do you feel about the gym--friend or foe? Does it take you awhile to get acclimated, or do you jump right in?

Friday, July 23, 2010

Be Careful What You Wish For

Groan...moan...sigh...limp, limp...that was quite a muay thai class yesterday! Yes, the dreaded knee strikes have returned to Level 1, and in the hands of instructor Grant Rutherford, they are a dangerous weapon indeed.

Don't get me wrong. I am definitely not complaining. It was great to experience an old school, brutal workout once again. On the flip side, I found out very quickly that I am not used to that type of workout anymore. I am so out of shape, and yesterday's class guaranteed I won't be going to today's. My poor body needs time to heal.

I think how much of a workout you receive when doing knees depends quite a bit on your partner. And last night I paired myself with a very experienced, very strong classmate. This is a girl who regularly runs marathons and who can actually execute moves like the spinning back fist and spinning back kick. I went without the belly pad, deciding to just let the thai pads absorb the impact, since that's how I learned to hold for knees so I'm more comfortable that way. I estimate that close to (if not over) 500 punishing knees were thrown at my mid-section, resulting in some odd, unexplainable injuries today. I have weird bruising on one of my upper thighs, and the left side of my chest is incredibly sore to the touch. Since I wasn't kneed in either of those areas, I'm not sure what's going on. And of course, my knees are killing me!

This leads into a plan I want to launch on Monday. I've slipped into some bad habits again this summer--staying up late, not waking up when I should, not making proper meals, etc. Not drinking water unless I happen to run out of Diet Pepsi. The plan is to resume waking up at six, writing for an hour, and then doing a half hour Body for Life run on most days. I want to lift weights three days per week (I'm going to try for Monday, Wednesday, Friday, but the actual days will vary), and attend muay thai classes three to four times a week (I'm going to try for Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, but again, the actual days will vary). Evenings will be for preparing a healthy lunch for the following day and relaxing, while on the weekends I'll have time for more writing, some fun, and catching up around the house. I certainly won't be working out!

Sunday is the crucial day for this plan. As long as I can get my lunch prepared, my gym clothes laid out, and to bed at ten, I'll be on the right track. Wish me luck! And have a great weekend, everyone.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Change of Plans

Dear readers,

We all know the cliches about plans being doomed to fail and all that. So why should I be any different? At the risk of offending some of my more eager friends, I have decided to delay the electronic release of my book Lost from August of this year to March of next.

Wait, put down the torches! I have a very good reason, and it could end up being great for my writing career. At the advice of my online instructor, I recently became the member of two preeminent writing associations: Sisters in Crime and the Mystery Writers of America. I just received my hefty membership package from the MWA yesterday, and there was one thing in particular that caught my eye.

The MWA is offering a contest to their members, in conjunction with Minotaur books. Any unpublished member can send in a mystery novel by this November, and the winner (who will be announced by next March) will win a publishing contract and a $10,000 advance. Minotaur is the mystery/thriller/suspense division of St. Martin's Press, which is one of the biggest publishing companies in the world. So it's a pretty big deal.

However, there's a catch. The novel submitted has to be unpublished, and that includes self-publishing and e-publishing. Now, patience is not my virtue. I have my new book cover, and it's in my nature to want to get things rolling and publish that sucker now. But, after some careful thought, I've decided that this is an opportunity worth waiting for. If I don't win, I will still e-publish Lost for your enjoyment in March 2011 (I promise!) But if I do win, that small delay will certainly seem worth it. I will still publish the prologue and first chapter on my Facebook Fan Page next month, as that is allowed by the contest rules.

This book is easily one of the best things I've ever written. I spent years and years working on it, since it is the end result of a different novel that I wrote during college. I took the best parts of that book and they became Lost. I think it's worth going for.

Wish me luck! Here's another cliche I'm fond of:

Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

A Day in the Life of a Scientist

Hello dear readers,

Normally I don't blog about the day job, but yesterday I got the chance to do something really cool.  Many people don't know this, but we have six curators working at the museum. Most of these curators are involved in some very interesting, high-level research. Yesterday, I was able to join Dr. Diana Robson, our curator of botany, on a field work trip to Birds Hill Park.

As a kid, I loved the Indiana Jones movies. (Still do.) I was thrilled at the possibility of being an archaeologist, hunting for valuable artifacts. The next best thing is working with an archaeologist, but when Kevin does his field work, it's usually in some remote northern location for quite a long time. It's difficult, if not impossible, to just tag along on one of his trips. Diana's field work is much closer to home (Birds Hill is a forty minute drive from the city). You may be thinking that a botanist's work is much less interesting than an archaeologist's, but you'd be wrong. Diana is fascinating! With her knowledge of plants, she can tell you the history of pretty much anything you eat (did you know Italian bruschetta is a "rip-off" of Mexican salsa, for instance?), along with a lot of other cool stuff. And she's passionate about saving and protecting our native plants.

Diana is currently studying plant pollination in order to save the Western Silvery Aster, a beautiful flowering plant that is quite endangered. It isn't late enough in the season for the Silvery Aster to be flowering, so Diana needs to find out if the plants that are flowering now provide nectar to the same insects that pollinate the Silvery Aster. In this way, she may find out that a lot of other plants are crucial to the Silvery Aster's survival.

The day started off with mushroom hunting. I love mushrooms, and discovered a passion for taking photographs of them during a camping trip last summer. It was great to find new mushrooms for the museum's collection. Diana only collects mushrooms if there's plenty of the same species around. I have a pretty good eye, so with two of us looking, Diana's canvas bag was soon filled with new specimens and she had to cry "no more!" It was great to feel like I was actually doing something useful. I learned a lot, too. For instance, Diana told me that different kinds of trees will have different kinds of mushrooms  growing underneath, and that trees in the forest are dependent on the microbiological elements that the fungus provides. There is a type of mushroom, for instance (appropriately called a pine mushroom) that will only grow beneath a pine tree. Also, the mushroom is the flower of a fungus. You can pick it, and the fungus itself will still be alive underneath the soil.

One of the oddest things I found on the trip was a strange bug carcass. I pointed it out to Diana, who picked it up for a better look, and then said "Carcass, my ass!" It was moving. Guess it was just pretending to be dead. It was the strangest-looking thing--no wings, huge front claws, tiny antennae, and it had such an weird way of moving, almost pulling itself forward by its claws. Diana had never seen anything like it, but she couldn't bear to collect it, so I took a few photos and we let it go. After looking in one of The Boy's reference books, I discovered that it had a close resemblance to a cicada in its nymph stage. I'm going to get the museum's zoologist to properly identify it from the photos. That's one great thing about working at a museum--there's someone here who can answer pretty much any question. What's this rock? Is this safe to eat? What was that bright thing in the sky last night? What's the name of this weird plant that keeps showing up in my garden? How can I stop my fridge from leaking? You name it; we've got it covered.

After mushroom collecting and weird bug finding, we had to visit Diana's research plots. She had four of them, each comprising of four different sites. Our task was to watch each site for ten minutes, recording which insects pollinated the flowers, and which flowers they visited. If Diana didn't already have a sample of the insect, she collected it. I was actually able to get her two new ones for her collection, so I felt pretty good about that. Look Ma, I'm helping a scientist!

As a treat, Diana took me to Pineridge Hollow for lunch. The best way of describing this place is saying it's what Hansel and Gretel must have felt like when they found the witch's oasis after starving in the woods for days. It is more than a restaurant--it's like a full-day retreat, and it is indescribably beautiful (hence the photo). I could have looked at their gardens all day, let alone the furniture store! But we had work to do, so we kept the site-seeing to a minimum. Lunch was delicious--portobello burgers with sun-dried tomato pesto and yam fries--yum! I should have taken a photo, but it tasted a lot more delicious than it looked.

After lunch, we continued to visit Diana's plots until 4:30 pm. I was able to get some neat photos, using the macro setting on The Boy's camera, like this one of an ambush bug in its nymph stage. Ambush bugs, like their name implies, wait on flowers for pollinating bugs to come along, which they catch and eat. This bug was so tiny (smaller than the fingernail on my pinkie) so I was surprised to notice in the photos that he looks like a tiny dragon or Pegasus. Pretty cool! I also made a new friend--a butterfly settled on my hand and started licking it! How many people can say they've been licked by a butterfly? It was fun to see how many people stopped Diana to ask what she was doing. They seemed really interested. One family said they'd even stop by the museum to see the mushroom display.

At the end of the long day, I got to go home, but Diana's work had just begun. She had to take spore prints of all the mushrooms we'd collected, and then put the fungi in the dehydrator. (No, she didn't eat any, although she was tempted.) One of the things I learned during the day was that there's a poisonous mushroom that kills you with a toxin that causes your body to devour its own liver. Nasty. So I don't recommend eating wild mushrooms unless you really know what you're doing.

The verdict? While it's nice to sit outside in a beautiful park all day, enjoying the sun, what curators do is also a lot of work. It requires great attention to detail and patience. Getting back behind the computer today seems pretty cushy by comparison. I'd do field work again, but every day? Not on your life! I guess I'm not cut out to be a scientist.

Monday, July 19, 2010

No Guts, No Glory

Hello dear readers,

This weekend, I saw a Fringe play. That in itself is not extraordinary. The exceptional part of this story is that the writer is a close friend of mine. And this was his very first play for a live audience.

I first met Rick at the Whodunit Mystery Writer's Group. The group held its meetings in the little Whodunit bookstore on Lilac Street. It was an unusual arrangement. The bookstore's owners--at that time, two very nice (and perhaps too trusting) women by the name of Henrietta and Gaylene--would stay open till around six, then hand our fearless leader the keys, and leave! Leave their precious shop, with its many tempting books, in the care of a group of crazy writers. Guess we must have had trusting faces. Thankfully, we managed not to get into much trouble.

When I joined the group, I was walking wounded. I'd just tried to return to another writer's group, of which I was a founding member, and had been rejected! My own group wouldn't have me--talk about a blow to the self-esteem! So I went to Whodunit, hoping to find some kindred spirits and on the lookout for the fabled "published author" I'd been told attended.

I had no idea who the published author was, but when Rick read aloud that night from Where The World Comes to Die, I thought, "There he is! That's the published author!" It wasn't just his work, which was funny and interesting and well-crafted. It was the way he read, as if he'd been performing to an appreciative audience all his life. This person was born to tell stories.

Sadly, when I got to know Rick a little better, I discovered that he wasn't the published author. (Said published author actually never attended the meetings anymore.) What he was was a most prolific writer, and he became one of my closest friends. On the surface, it may have seemed like this 53-year-old man had very little in common with a 30-year-old woman, but in truth, we had much more in common than I could find with most people of my own age and gender. In spite of our very different tastes in music, we got along. We started a garden together, joined a gym, and even did our grocery shopping as a pair. Together, we survived a lot of tough times--the end of my engagement, his divorce; my too-long stint at a job I hated, the dissolution of his business. We could always count on each other for a laugh, or a shoulder to cry on.

We eventually left the Whodunit group. I worked with an agent while Rick found a new love--play writing. His girlfriend Sherry paid for him to take a play writing class as a gift, and Rick never looked back. He took to this new love as Rick does everything--110%, plunging in with passion, dedication, and never-ending enthusiasm. The end result is Recycled, unveiled at this year's Winnipeg Fringe Festival. It is a tale of two former lovers who reconnect thirty years later. Now in their fifties, she's a militant environmentalist vegetarian, while he is a beef-loving, plastic bag-using business man. From these conflicts, much comedy--and unexpected tenderness--ensues.

For those of you that are not writers, it is difficult to fully explain how much guts it takes to do what my friend Rick is doing. To slave away over a piece of writing in whatever little room you happen to work in, believing in the story you have to tell and loving those characters who tell it so much that you're willing to miss out on parties, evenings with friends, dinners out, days in the sun, and even much needed quality time with the significant other. And then, when you have your little story as perfect as it could possibly be, to be brave enough to hold it up to the light and expose it to an audience? That takes the most guts of all. It is a step many writers never dare to take.

Maybe we lose sight of what a feat of courage this is, since there is a Fringe Festival every year with performers from all over the world. But I'm willing to bet that every single one of them approaches opening night with his heart on his sleeve and a bit of a lump in his throat. Fringe audiences can be fickle--they have so much choice, after all--so many plays and so little time. And Fringe reviewers are notoriously cruel. (I can attest to this, as I used to be one of them.) But in spite of all these obstacles, my friend Rick threw his hat into the ring and presented his beloved first play, Recycled. And you know what?

It was good. It was really, really good.

Bravo, my friend.

PS - Exciting writing news! TWELVE new pages written on the work-in-progress yesterday!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Return of the Knee!

Hi everyone,

Further to my "Muay Thai Lite" post, there has been a new development! After sending around a survey to get students' opinions, my kru has decided to bring knee strike drills back to Level 1. Woo-hoo! Could this summer get any better?

Have a great weekend!

Cover Girl!

Good morning, dear readers!

Today is a very exciting day for me, as I reveal my new book cover! What do you think? I am so happy with it, and with the work of Tetro Design and the talented Jessie Thiessen. August, I will be putting Lost up for sale on Kindle, Smashwords, and other e-publishing markets. It's a chance to get my name out there, build an audience, and share this wonderful book that is the result of years of hard work. I'll tell you what it's all about when I launch it on Amazon et al. There is still some final copy editing work to be done, as well as putting the text into the proper format. You won't need a Kindle to read'll be able to download it and read it from your computer, or print it if you like.

I'm still going to go after traditional publishing contracts for novel #2 and my work in progress, but in the meantime, Lost will hopefully have some readers.

One of the biggest considerations when putting a novel on Kindle is a kick-ass cover, and I'm very happy with this one. It wasn't the image I had in mind when I initially met with Tetro, but somehow it is perfect. Next step: the redesign of this blog should make it a lot easier on the eyes!

Thanks for reading, and for offering so much encouragement and support. Have an awesome weekend, everyone!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Muay Thai Lite

Hello dear readers,

Sometimes I really don't understand people. What do you think of when you hear the word "kickboxing"? Do you think of a safe, gentle workout that will magically tone and reshape your body? Or do you think of a brutal martial art?

When I started learning muay thai, I certainly didn't expect it to be comfortable. I expected it to be damn uncomfortable, actually, and I was scared stiff before my first, second, third, and fifteenth class. (And as well I should have been scared, because my kru (instructor) believed in pairing students of all levels for sparring matches. Can you say ouch?)

I've noticed a disappointing trend at my current gym. Whenever I'm paired with someone relatively new, whether they've been training for six months or two years, they invariably have not learned knee strikes. Knee strikes are a hugely important part of muay thai fighting. Being able to use knee and elbow strikes is what separates muay thai from plain ol' kickboxing. And yet, there's quite a few people going around (at least at my club), calling themselves muay thai kickboxers who don't have a clue about either. What gives?

The other day, my kru happened to be passing by just when another student told me she hadn't learned to throw a knee. In jest, I asked Kelly why the Level 1 students couldn't throw knees. His response? "We don't teach Level 1 students knees anymore, because the women complained that receiving hits to a belly pad was uncomfortable."

Uncomfortable? I'm sorry, but wtf? Why would anyone sign up for MUAY THAI KICKBOXING expecting everything to feel good? Do they not expect to get kicked, punched, or kneed? That is what learning this art is all about. Plus, traditional muay thai aside, the knee strike is so important for self defense. Most attackers wouldn't see it coming, and executed well, it can be deadly. The students who are most "uncomfortable" about learning knee strikes are probably the ones who need them most.

I know I've ranted about this subject before, but when exactly did muay thai get so wishy-washy? When did it become an accessible, "safe" sport like bowling or golf? I can understand not liking all aspects of this martial art, but I can't imagine refusing to learn necessary elements of it because of discomfort. It truly boggles the mind.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Life's A Beach

Hello dear readers,

Hopefully you can forgive me, but I ducked out on the blog, the novel, and all other forms of responsibility yesterday. Instead, I went to the beach. (Above is a pic of the actual beach I visited.)

It was one of those all-too-rare perfect summer days: sunny, warm, with just a hint of a cool breeze now and then. No humidity in sight. I went with my best friend and a girl she's known since kindergarten, and we had a fantastic time. Every now and then, I figure one has to play hooky. That's what living your best life is all about.

Even so, I couldn't quite get away from the thought of what I should be doing. The beach was filled with dragonflies, and since my work-in-progress is titled Dragonfly Summer, I took it as a sign. It was an incredible sight - everywhere you looked, the sky was full of these amazing creatures gliding, diving, and--most important--eating. Go, dragonflies, go! Thanks to their hard work, there was nary a mosquito or fish fly to be found.

This week will be filled with celebrations for The Boy's birthday, but next week I will have no more excuses!

Do you find it harder to stick to your goals in the summer? What are your favorite summer activities?

Friday, July 9, 2010

Can't We All Just Get Along?

I've never understood the disconnect between writers and designers. Unless you're one of those rare creatures who is equally adept at both writing and artwork, you will always need to work with one of these groups. Still, there seems to be an animosity between the two parties, and as a writer, I've always felt it coming from the direction of the designer. I have a high level of respect for their talent, and I've never minimized the importance of a fantastic designer (that's why I'm going to have this blog professionally redesigned, and why I spend so much time--and money--including a great image with every post). You can have the greatest novel in the world, but without an eye-catching cover, it's going to be a hard sell. Maybe designers have been poisoned by working with writers who are insufferable idiots (God knows there's a few of those out there). I don't know, but I'd love to hear their side of things.

When I was still in college, the writing students were "forced" to team up with the design students to work on a group project. I say "forced" because everyone seemed to unanimously dread this particular endeavor. The designer in my little group showed up just enough to demonstrate that he was unquestionably superior to everyone present--other than that, we never saw him. To this day, I can't recall if he finished the design. As a relative youngster in my very early twenties, I understood that most of us would end up working very closely with designers in our day-to-day jobs. We might even end up working with this particular group of designers, since we'd be graduating at the same time. So why the animosity? I couldn't understand it, but the loathing most of the design students had for the writing students was rivaled only by that of the writing students' for them.

I thought I'd escaped this particular curse when I got a job at an insurance company. The team of designers I worked with were fantastic people--talented, kind, and very easy to get along with. But ever since, the in-house print designers I've known have been bitterly sarcastic and even surly when (very politely) asked to do something. What gives? (I've also had the pleasure of working with 3-D designers who develop exhibits, and for some reason, those designers have all been happy-go-lucky types. Maybe it's just working in print that makes people miserable.)

When I realized I needed a designer for this blog, among other projects, I thought it would be reasonably easy to hire someone. I'm a freelance writer, so I incorrectly assumed that the freelance designers I knew would jump at the chance of more work, especially a very creative project that would span several different assignments and end up netting them a fair amount of money. However, for some reason this was not the case.

Designer #1 didn't even deign to respond to my messages.

Designer #2 agreed to take it on, but said he would need two weeks before he could start. I agreed to his terms. He asked a few questions; I provided detailed responses. At the end of the third week, I still hadn't heard from him, so I sent him an email. He answered with regrets, saying that he decided he didn't have time.

Designer #3 was a referral from an agency friend. This one seemed promising--we talked for a bit, but then the designer stalled when I asked for an estimate of her fees. Finally, she asked to be paid by the hour--a not inconsiderable sum--but was unwilling to tell me how many hours each project would take, or to cap her fees. Did she think I was an idiot? (I'm guessing so.) I said that I wasn't willing to agree to pay for something without having at least some idea of what it would cost. She waited two weeks before sending me another email, saying she was suddenly "too busy" to undertake the project. Hmm....

By this point, I'd given in and hired an actual design house. The woman who runs it is a professional and the difference shows. For instance, she actually responds to my emails in a timely fashion, which, by this point, feels like a luxury. I'm really excited about what they'll have to show me in two weeks. (Thanks for the referral, Kim!)

But overall, I'm really disappointed in how this process unfolded. I realize a freelance designer is different from a freelance writer, but running a business is running a business. When people want to hire me, I answer their requests promptly, whether or not I can take the project on, and if I agree to do it, I am honor-bound to follow through. If someone asks me what my rate is, I tell them, and if it's higher than they expected, we negotiate. I would certainly not string someone along for weeks without a response to their query, or refuse to respond at all and then say, "hey! You could have hired me!"

So, my question for this beautiful, sunny Friday is...what's up with this? As we have similar goals, can't writers and designers learn to play nice? And if you've had your own experiences or are a designer who wants to chime in with the other side of the story, please feel free to comment!

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Awake at: 7:00 am
To bed at: 10:45 pm
Pages written: Zero
Exercise: Kickboxing class
Verdict: I still suck, but wait for unveiling of a new action plan on Monday!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Taking the Plunge

Dear readers,

Those of you who've been following this blog for awhile know that my experience with writing groups has not been exactly positive. There is one very strong "pro" in favor of these groups, however--I have always met some great people, whether the group has been on-line or in-person.

Two of my dearest friends, Ev and Jan, both came from writing groups of a sort. Ev, a writer from Terrace, British Columbia, became a very close friend when we were both members of an iVillage writing forum. We had so much in common, it was like we were separated at birth! I met Jan, who lives in Langley, at the Surrey International Writer's Conference, and liked her instantly. It was a fantastic year when Ev was able to come to SIWC, too, and meet up with Jan and I. Now she attends every year, while Jan and I are a lot tougher to pin down.

And how different my life would be without Rick, my best friend from the Whodunit Mystery Writer's Group! Neither of us attend meetings any longer--Rick now writes plays (his first Fringe effort, Recycled, debuts at the Winnipeg Fringe Festival next week), but we still get together every month to discuss writing and anything else that suits us.

So as much as I've experienced pain (two of my smaller writing groups began to meet without me--one because I'd obtained an agent and was perceived to have "moved up to a different level" and the other because I was hesitant about adding a new member); annoyance (there will always be some know-it-alls and bores in larger, more inclusive groups); and humiliation (nothing better than having a know-it-all bore harshly critique your work), I'd say the good outweighs the bad. Writing is one of the most isolating pursuits in the world. It's just so damn lonely a lot of the time. Having a group of people--or even one or two--that are going through the same experience can make all the difference. We all need someone to cheer us on and hold us accountable, especially since writers tend to approach writing as my friend Ev eloquently described: "Writing is both what I love to do best and what I most strenuously attempt to avoid."

Tell me about it! I struggle with that every single day. And that struggle would get a little easier with some partners in crime. So I'm starting a new writing group. So far, there's only three members: myself; my friend Perry, who writes children's fiction and who is easily one of the happiest, most positive people I've ever met; and Dee-Dee, another good-hearted, talented refugee from the Whodunit Writer's Group. The hope is to keep it small (no more than five people, especially if we're going to be reading each other's work), and confined to writers who are very serious about getting published.

So we'll see how it goes. As Perry said, there's a little voice inside my brain saying "nooo! Don't do it! You already have too much on your plate!", but the lure of regularly communing with like-minded people is too strong to resist. The plan is to meet at least once this summer to decide on specifics. I'll keep you posted.

Ever been in a like-minded group, be it a meeting of writers, scientists, musicians, artists, etc? What were your experiences?

To bed at: Midnight
Awake at: 8:10
Pages written: TBD
Exercise: Kickboxing
Verdict: So far, I suck!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Where Did the Time Go?

People always talk about how they discovered their "calling". But for me to say that I discovered writing would be akin to saying I discovered breathing. Writing, like taking in oxygen and giving bear hugs, was just something I always did.

My first "novels" were picture books of an imaginative kind, since they detailed the adventures of a family of fish. This fish family ate commercial cereals, enjoyed television programs (especially the nightly news) and...lived in fear of a bear who stalked them under the ocean. This particular flight of fancy can be explained by the fact that I owned two stencils at that time: a bear and a fish. I didn't let those creative limitations stop me!

I'll never forget the thrill of my first published story, a horror tale about vampires. I was eight years old when I wrote it, and had just learned the word "devour". I was quite taken with this new vocabulary, so the vampires were busily devouring everything ( or, more aptly, everyone) in sight. Looking back now, I'm surprised the local paper published such a morbid piece, especially since it was written by a Grade Four student! If the same happened today, I'd probably have a school psychologist or two keeping an eye on me....

As I grew older, my writing efforts matured. I have a young adult novel hidden away somewhere about a group of Grade Six students who seek playful revenge on a nasty teacher (written while I was in Grade Six, of course). My adolescent effort was Never Say Goodbye, which opens with the protagonist committing suicide. Then it goes back in time to show when Charlie was so happy with his three friends. Of course, every main character dies by the end of the book. Talk about adolescent angst! (It's no accident that S.E. Hinton wrote her equally-cheery The Outsiders when she was just seventeen.)

I was still pretty young when I first heard about Gordon Korman. I loved his books, especially This Can't Be Happening at Macdonald Hall. They made me laugh until my stomach hurt. But the thing about Korman that really intrigued me was that he published his first book at the ripe ol' age of fourteen. Fourteen! That was ancient! I had years to beat his record.

Sadly, I never did. For one thing, I didn't have the helpful teacher with links to the publishing industry. And I didn't have the perseverance of Korman to finish a novel at that age. By sixteen, I did, but I'm more than happy not to have Never Say Goodbye out on the shelves with my name on it.

So I missed that great deadline. No problem, I thought. I'll be published by twenty. When that milestone passed, I promised myself thirty. Still no book. And now forty is looming too close on the horizon for comfort. It scares me a little, I have to admit.

I was never one of those kids who felt like the summer lasted forever. I was always one of those "old people in little bodies" who was so conscious of the passing of time. Still, I have to wonder...where did it go? I wrote that vampire story about an hour ago, and now I'm nearing forty, still yearning to meet that very first goal....

To be published at a younger age than Gordon Korman was.

I can still make it. My God, there's just tons of time left....

To bed at: 12:30
Awake at: 8:05
Pages written: Zero
Exercise: Too tired to go to kickboxing. Sigh....

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Epic Fail Part Two

Dear readers,

Welcome back! To everyone in Canada and the US, I hoped you enjoyed your nations' birthdays and celebrated in some wonderful weather. It was very hot and sunny a word, heaven. Going back to my day job will not be easy.

It's unfortunate that I have to return to this blog with a bit of a downer. Yep, I missed my deadline. The first draft of Dragonfly Summer is not finished. I still have an estimated 140 pages left to write. But it was a tough deadline, and I don't feel too badly about missing it. As long as I put in a consistent effort, writing every morning, I'll feel good about my progress. To that end, I'll start posting my page count, wake up times, etc. each day again. It helps keep me honest.

I could whine and moan about how difficult it is to chain oneself to a computer during this city's all-too-brief summer, but I'm not exactly enjoying fun-in-the-sun at six a.m. Most often, I'm sleeping. So it's time to get back to work! On the bright side, thanks to that demanding online class, I'm ahead of the game with my query letter, synopsis, and agent lists, so it's kind of like I switched deadlines around. That counts, right?

One exciting development...I met with a designer last week about my new book cover. All will be revealed in the coming months, but let's just say I'm very excited about this project! And, in a weird twist of fate, the designer who was assigned to my account belongs to the same kickboxing club! How strange is that? The world works in mysterious ways.

What goals are you working towards? Have any you'd care to share, in writing? Let's keep each other accountable!