Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Joy of MMA

Hello dear readers,

I received some exciting news yesterday! My kickboxing club may soon offer classes in Mixed Martial Arts, including Jiu Jitsu. Best of all, the class will be open to both male and female students.

Although some female fighters are making their mark, MMA is one of the last bastions of masculinity in many clubs. I used to love watching MMA fights because a wide variety of techniques from many martial arts were utilized. However, this quickly changed. Today, MMA is synonymous with grappling, since most of the top fighters employ grappling techniques. Some blame the Gracie family for this. I don't know enough about the history of MMA to venture into that argument--all I know is it made the fights less exciting to watch.

My first kickboxing club offered MMA 'classes', which consisted of a bunch of grunting, sweating men in a corner executing moves that looked somewhat obscene. They wore very little in the way of clothing, and none of the dojo's women expressed an interest in joining the pile.

A couple of years ago, my friend Steve and I joined a club that offered MMA and kickboxing classes. We showed up for a "kickboxing" class. I was the only female student in the room. I was paired with a man who lay on his back, knees up, and told to "straddle him". To say that it was uncomfortable would be an understatement.

I'm not sure how my male colleagues felt about grappling with me. To their credit, they handled it with more maturity than I did. I couldn't stop giggling when I had to lie back, looking at the ceiling, while my friend Steve shoved his crotch across my face in order to get into a hold. When we exchanged stories afterwards, we discovered that we both knew our instructor was wearing a protective cup because it clicked against our teeth. There's an unexpected intimacy in grappling.

Friend Steve. Credit: Dan Harper
We only went to three classes before deciding it wasn't for us, so I never got over the discomfort and strangeness of it. But I did recognize that grappling is a very important skill for women. To be able to effectively fight off an attacker, even when pinned on your back, is an invaluable asset. The moves of MMA-style grappling are intricate, complicated, and take time and patience to master. But even with my limited knowledge, I've been able to put The Boy in a headlock he couldn't easily escape from. And he outweighs me by quite a bit.

I've never forgotten my MMA experience, and I regretted that I let my discomfort scare me off. That's why I'm so excited about KWest's potential foray into the field. If the classes go ahead as promised, they will consist of Jiu Jitsu, wrestling, and boxing. The instructor is a pro MMA fighter who has trained at Team Couture, has a degree in kinesiology, and fought many pro fights in North America.

I hope these classes become a reality! MMA may be dominated by men, but it's time more women got in the game.

Have you ever taken MMA? What are your thoughts on it? Guys, would the prospect of grappling with a women bother you?

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Playing Tag

Hello dear readers,

I've been caught in a game of virtual tag by the lovely Ev Bishop, who writes the blog Write Here, Write Now. Ev and I became friends on an iVillage Writers forum, where I think we were the only sane people. We used to write long emails to each other everyday, and quickly became very close. It was exciting to meet her in person at the Surrey International Writer's Conference, where she was every bit as lovely as I'd expected. We don't talk as much these days, but I still consider her a good friend.

This game is simple, and requires no running, which is great, because my legs are killing me! I have to answer the eight questions below and tag five other bloggers to do the same. Read my answers, if you’re interested, and scroll to the end to find out if I ran fast enough to catch you.

1. If you could have any superpower, what would you have? Why?

I'd like the ability to grant wishes--sort of like a genie superhero, but with no limitations. I could grant them to anyone I chose, including myself. Want world peace? POOF! Done. No more oil spill in the Gulf? POOF! Done. No more rain forest destruction? POOF! Done. Rock-hard abs and flawless skin? POOF! Done.

I hardly need to explain why I want this power, but I love doing things for people and making them happy. There's also quite a few wishes I'd grant myself. Sustainable novel-writing career with no need for another day job? POOF! Done.

2. Who is your style icon?

Ev changed the meaning of this to writing style, but I also like it as a fashion question, as I'm a fashion freak. Did you know I have nearly 200 pairs of shoes? My ultimate style icon is Audrey Hepburn. But I also like streetwise and casual clothes, and in that case, I'd have to go with Gwen Stefani and Fergie. Oooh, and Gwyneth Paltrow's character in A Perfect Murder? Perfection! I'd kill for her wardrobe.

As for writing style, I'd love a combination of Stephen King and Elizabeth Berg. Combine King's storytelling ability and imagination with Berg's depth and unique way of looking at the world, and you'd have one incredible writer.

3. What is your favorite quote?

From Henry Thoreau: "I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived."

My favorite quote about writing is from (and this will surprise no one) Stephen King: "If you write, someone will try to make you feel lousy about it."

4. What is the best compliment you’ve ever received?

Wow. I have to give a four-part answer here. I've been lucky enough to know people who were quite effusive in the compliments department.

1) From my boyfriend when I was nineteen: "If everything I said was 'I love you', I could talk to you forever."

2) From my mentor and high school English teacher: "Nice work, Stephanie Queen."

3) From my accelerated Writing 12 class, after hearing my essay read aloud: applause.

4) From my high school gym teacher: "You look so much like Audrey Hepburn." She was the first person to tell me that, but I heard it many times thereafter, and always took it as the greatest of compliments.

5. What playlist/cd is in your CD player/iPod right now?

My musical taste is so eclectic it borders on the ridiculous, so I'll try to sum up. I'm a sucker for a great ballad from any era. I love 80s pop and songs that make me happy. I'm also a fan of old-school Metallica, The Barenaked Ladies (before Page left), Simon & Garfunkel, the Supremes, ABBA, Linkin Park, and Bob Marley. When it comes to working out, I would not have survived without the song, "Eye of the Tiger". I would love to see Tracy Chapman or Ben Harper in concert. And I love discovering music from other countries...used to be very much into the Latin dance scene.

6. Are you a night owl or a morning person?

Definitely a night owl. It's very difficult for to get me to bed at a decent hour. I'm always afraid of missing something. If I could get away without sleeping, I would!

7. Do you prefer dogs or cats?

My sweet Chloe
I was a dog person until my then-boyfriend talked me into getting a cat. I was in my early twenties, and I adopted this little gray kitten who could fit in my palm. I had to feed him with an eye dropper! Previously, I believed all the stereotypes: that cats weren't as friendly as dogs, that they were aloof, that they didn't bond with their owners. Well, believe me--Dusty bonded. If you dared to separate us, you had one very unhappy kitty on your hands.

These days, I wouldn't trade my cats for anything. I have two--a pedigree ragdoll named Samba and a white fluffy thing named Chloe. Samba is quite timid, as she wasn't well-socialized before I got her, but she shows affection in her own way. I adopted Chloe from the Humane Society two years ago, and she has been the light of my life ever since. She always meets me at the door, wagging her tail and brushing against me for love. She is the most affectionate, loving animal I have ever met, and I can't imagine my life without her.

8. What is the meaning behind your blog name?

I wanted a name that would be lyrical, but also signify my desire to live the very best life I can. If I can inspire others to do the same, so much the better!

And those are my answers!

TAG! You Are Now It:

Cat Connor

Richard Bourgeois

Laura Best

Jay Faulkner

Kimberly Belle

Thanks for reading and for playing! As Ev says, don’t feel bad if you need to holler “Home free” and pass, but I chose you five because I think you'll have very interesting answers. I look forward to reading them.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

They Got It Right

Hello dear readers,

Since I'm down and out with a cold, I'm in the mood for something lighter today.

The general consensus is that the book is always better than the movie version, but there's exceptions to every rule.

Here is my top ten list of movies that were either better than--or just as good--as their written counterpart. Can you add to the list? Do you agree or disagree with mine?

1) The Shawshank Redemption (based on Stephen King's novella Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption). King's story about freedom, dignity and friendship was beautifully adapted for the screen, and stayed true to the original work. It starred Morgan Freeman and Tim Robbins. Can't do much better than that!

2) Stand By Me (based on Stephen King's novella The Body). If anything, the movie is even better than the story, as its ending is a little more optimistic. Powerful performances by River Phoenix, Will Wheaton, Corey Feldman, and Kiefer Sutherland also lend weight to the movie version.

3) The Joy Luck Club. This is one case where I liked the movie better. The talented cast did a great job of bringing heart to Amy Tan's grim tale of Chinese mothers and daughters.

4) The Color Purple. Based on Alice Walker's best-seller, the movie was protested for its bleak portrayal of black men in the early 20th century. Although all the actors were fantastic, Whoopi Goldberg and Oprah Winfrey stole the show.

5) Out of Africa. This epic is a compilation of Isak Dinesen's memoirs about her experiences running a coffee farm in Kenya. The film does a terrific job of telling her story, and stars Meryl Streep and Robert Redford.

6) The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. It's unfair to pit the English translation of this novel against the Swedish film, as I suspect much of Stieg Larsson's writing style was lost when converting his work to English. However, the movie really shines, and does away with the technical information that slows down the story.

7) Capote. Philip Seymour Hoffman does a phenomenal job of portraying the superficial, self-centered author. While the biography by Gerald Clarke is still a good read if you want more detail, the movie is far more powerful.

8) What's Love Got to Do With It. Angela Bassett and Laurence Fishburne are incredible as Ike and Tina Turner. I was surprised to find that the movie was more riveting and touching than the book it is based on--Tina's memoir I, Tina.

9) The Lovely Bones. Many people complained about the film, but I'm not sure why. I thought it did Alice Sebold's beautiful book justice. The movie is heart-wrenching, and brings Susie Salmon to life (and death).

10) Beloved. I loved the film for making sense of a lot I didn't understand in Toni Morrison's book. It was widely panned and a huge flop, but I still liked it better than the book. It's highly creepy and disturbing.

Monday, September 27, 2010

The Good Place

Hello dear readers,

Welcome back! I hope everyone had a fantastic weekend. It was unseasonably warm and beautiful here--a nice excuse to get out for a walk and enjoy the fall colors.

I've been having this feeling lately...a feeling like things are soon going to change in my life in a big way. I'm not sure why I've been feeling this, but it gives me hope.

There's a lot of work ahead of me. Some tough deadlines to meet in order to get Lost ready for that contest (deadline: end of November) and Dragonfly Summer ready for my beta readers (deadline: end of October). In the meantime, I'll be training hard for my red prajoud test, which is set for December 17th. Knowing that something good will come of this work--that someone is going to sit up and take notice of my writing--will give me the energy I need to persevere.

So, back to why I'm feeling this way. Could it be due to the fact that I have a wonderful mentor now? Or that I've formed valuable connections with other writers? Or that I know so much more about the industry? Maybe it's that I finished my read-through of Dragonfly ahead of schedule, and I'm really happy with it. It's probably a combination of all those things, along with one more important factor: you.

Yes, you. When I started this blog in April, I never imagined the outpouring of support and appreciation I'd receive. I didn't envision having loyal readers from all over the world, people who would take the time to send emails about how much my little daily musings mean to them. You above all else have made me feel like a real writer again, and I thank you for that. Thanks for being here.

Have you ever had a "feeling" about something? Did it come to fruition?

Photo by the incomparable Chris Brogden

Friday, September 24, 2010

Fun Friday V: Food for Thought

Happy Friday, dear readers! TGIF, indeed.

Today I'm posting what could be my last Fun Friday writing exercise. Do you like these things? Do you find them enjoyable or helpful? If they're not doing it for you, let me know. I'm trying to decide whether or not to keep them.

Here's this week's exercise:

What's your favorite comfort food? What's the one food you always reach for after a bad day? Tell me the story behind it. When did it start being your comfort food, and why? Here's mine:

Since I was a little girl, my comfort food has been cheese and crackers. Whenever I was sick or couldn't sleep, my mom would spread Imperial cheese on stoned wheat thins, somehow managing never to break the cracker with the cold, hard spread. (Still haven't figured out how she did that.)

When I asked a boy out  in Grade 7, only to be told that his mother "didn't let him date girls", I comforted myself with plate after plate of melted cheddar on Ritz. I realized later that this was probably not a healthy response, but it felt good at the time!

I love cheese of all kinds. I've discovered fresh Parmesan, which I eat by hand in crumbling chunks, and will never go back to that dry stuff in the can (although that cheese product has its own merit). Feta is heavenly when it melts over basil-roasted vegetables, and can be counted on to spark up any salad, even one made with fruit. It's great with strawberries and watermelon. Steak is made even better with the addition of blue cheese. Of all the cheeses, it took me the longest to fall in love with brie, but now that I have, it's one of my favorites. A lovely wedge of brie, served at the melting point with a crisp sliced apple, is to die for. But my absolute favorite cheese of all time is still particular Applewood cheddar, when I can get it.

The most decadent cheese treat I've experienced is available at a wonderful Greek restaurant in Winnipeg. Kristina's has an appetizer called saganaki, which is a plate of rich, melted cheese with bread for dipping. It's different from a fondue because there's nothing added to the's just plain cheese, and it's delicious.

I can live without chocolate. I could probably give up potato chips for good, although it would be painful. But take away my cheese, and we'll have a problem.


Okay, your turn! What's your comfort food, and why?

Thursday, September 23, 2010

New Season, New Shape

Hello dear readers,

I've heard people say that fall is the true start of a new year. Maybe it harkens back to the days when we started a new school year in the fall. Some have even started making fall resolutions, feeling they resonate more than New Year's resolutions.

It probably comes as no surprise that one of the most popular resolutions has to do with getting back in shape. With that in mind, I draw on years of martial art and weight-lifting experience, as well as everything I've learned from numerous coaches, trainers and fitness experts to bring you:

Holli's Ten Tips for Getting in Shape

  1. Find an Activity You Love. Even the most stubborn couch potato loved some type of physical activity as a child. If you find running boring and monotonous, don't do it just because you've heard it's the best way to lose weight. Exercising consistently is hard enough without hating whatever you're doing. If you haven't found the love of your life, get creative: try yoga classes, martial arts, belly dancing, Pilate's, hip hop, aqua-aerobics, spinning, or tai chi. Something is bound to strike your fancy.
  2. Start Slow. A new fitness routine is exciting, so many people rush in and overdo it. This can lead to muscle fatigue/soreness, injuries, and burn out. Plan to exercise two times a week in the beginning, and then add another day as body adjusts until you're meeting your goals. You may lose weight more slowly at first, but easing into a new plan will pay off in the end.
  3. Avoid the All-or-Nothing Trap. This still happens to me sometimes. I plan to go to kickboxing four times a week, but life intervenes. After missing a couple of classes, I'll think, "well, there's only two classes left. Might as well skip the week." Wrong. The cumulative effect of exercise is more important than whether you do it every day. Same goes for eating healthy. If you have cake one day, don't shrug off your goals and eat French fries for the rest of the week. One false step doesn't mean you have to send yourself back to square one.
  4. Timing is Everything. Don't begin a new fitness or eating plan before a big event in your life: your birthday, a tropical vacation, holidays, your wedding, Thanksgiving, final exams. It may seem like a no-brainer, but you'd be amazed how many people do this and then beat themselves up when they can't stick to their plan.
  5. Do It Before. Exercising before work is great...if you can get up that early and still function for the rest of the day. If you have to exercise in the evening, though, do it before. Preferably before going home, but definitely before sitting down on the couch, turning on the TV, opening a book, or having a snack. If you do it before, you're much more likely to actually do it.
  6. Adopt a Buddy. The buddy system, a.k.a working out with a friend, is a powerful tool that can haul your butt to the gym when you really don't feel like going. But it's important to pick the right buddy. If your friend's attendance and enthusiasm are lackluster, it can effect yours' as well: "Tom isn't going to work out tonight, so I don't need to, either." I've found it best to make friends with someone who already goes to your gym consistently. That way, you know their track record is good and they probably have similar goals.
  7. Take Pleasure in the Journey. It's difficult to follow this step when you really want to lose weight, or are depressed with how your body looks. Exercise will change all that, but it's not going to happen overnight. Try to notice the small differences that will happen before you drop sizes: perhaps it's easier to climb that flight of stairs, or the doughnuts at your morning meetings aren't as tempting. A friend told me that she's happy that she can jump rope for longer periods without needing a rest, and that a difficult class no longer makes her feel like puking. Find whatever works for you, and let it make you happy.
  8. Accept that Life Happens. This relates to #3. There will be times when your plan fails. Work gets super hectic. A family member falls ill. You suffer an injury. Yes, you can drive yourself crazy trying to fit in just one workout, somewhere, but honestly? Give yourself a break. Life happens. You can always start again tomorrow, or next week. Take the time you need to solve what's wrong, and you'll be happy you did. If you can fit in the time for a walk or a yoga class, great. Something is always better than nothing.
  9. Consistency is Key. Typically, people throw themselves into a new fitness routine. They go full-bore, work out really, really hard, and then--frustrated that they still aren't seeing results--quit in disgust. Trust me--if you work at getting in shape consistently, week in and week out, you will see the benefits. There will be times when you have to mix up your routine to keep seeing results, but for now, aim for consistency. Make exercise as important as any other event in your day book. It's a gift to yourself, and to those you love.
  10. If It Feels Awful, Do It Often. I know this seems in conflict with tip #1, but it's not. Even when you've found an activity you love, there will be aspects of it that you don't like. For example, I love kickboxing, but I hate plyometric exercises, push-ups, push-kicks, and certain types of sit-ups. You know why? Because I find them difficult. My body is uncomfortable with those moves, which means I should do them more often. If I don't like those exercises, it means I need improvement in those areas. So do those push-ups! You'll thank me later, I promise.
There are my ten tips for a healthier, fitter you! I hope they help.

Feel free to share anything that has worked for you, and tell me how you plan to fit in a workout today.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Limiting Prophecies

Hello dear readers,

My wonderful friend Jocelyn posed an interesting question on Facebook yesterday:

"What did someone tell you about yourself in elementary school that you still believe?"
Her own answer broke my heart: "You can't sing. Just mouth the words." She has believed it to this day, and will not sing in public, even though she has the nicest speaking voice I have ever heard.

This got me thinking. How many people say cruel things to children, never dreaming that these misguided comments will shape their entire lives?

The thing I was told, over and over again, was that I did not work up to my full potential. Like Jocelyn and her singing, I still feel this is true today. I will go through periods of incredible achievement--in kickboxing, in my writing, in my job, in my other job--that are followed by an inevitable slump. I can't seem to maintain that standard of excellence forever, and perhaps that's normal. Maybe if I concentrated on one thing at a time--being the best kickboxer I can be, or being the best writer I can be, I'd achieve a level of success that I never dreamed possible. However, that doesn't seem realistic. No one gets to focus on just one thing in their lives, and if they did, I suspect they'd be quite bored.

I didn't work up to my full potential in school because I was bored. A lot of my teachers were terrible, both as instructors and human beings. Some got fired for physically or verbally abusing us; others because they hadn't taught us a thing in months. In response, I retreated into an imaginary world and did what interested me. I wrote plays in math class because my Grade Four teacher should have retired years before, hated children if they dared to speak, and had no interest in teaching the multiplication tables. Boredom can be blamed for a lot of my inertia today, too. Boredom and fatigue. I find it difficult to stay the course.

Jocelyn's Facebook post got me thinking, though. Do we fit the labels given us as children, or, once those labels are forced upon us, do they become our new reality?

What were you told about yourself in elementary school that you still believe today?

Thank you to Jocelyn for the inspiration for today's post.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Speaking of Mentors...

My kru Kelly Westerlund helps a fellow student.
(No, that's not me!)
Hello dear readers,

My muay thai instructor had his first fight last week. Although Kelly trained in Thailand and earned his certification as an official kru, he'd given up the dream of fighting after a severe workplace injury.

Something must have changed his mind, because he traveled to Calgary for his first fight. His opponent outweighed him by twenty pounds and had six fights to Kelly's zero, and Kelly won!

I am proud of my coach for so many reasons. It takes guts to get in that ring, no matter how long you've been training, and for Kelly to do it away from his home turf and all the friend/family/club support he'd receive here is even more courageous. Second, he can't help but be a better coach now (not that he's wasn't already great, cause he was). I firmly believe that you can't know what it's like to be a fighter until you've experienced it yourself. And third, I am especially proud that Kelly wasn't deterred from fighting just because he's not in his twenties.

Recently someone asked me my age when they found out I'd been a journalist for twelve years. After I told him, he asked me if there were "age categories" in muay thai. I knew what the guy was getting at, and I wasn't impressed. I said no, and Mr. Uncouth replied "wow, so you could end up fighting someone who's in their early twenties?" I informed him that in muay thai, as with most martial arts, experience counts for a lot more than youth. Maybe it will take me a little longer to get into fighting shape, but I don't think so, because I'm in better shape now than I was in my early twenties. I'm a lot stronger, and I have a lot more training.

I used to train with Kelly back in the day, when he probably was in his twenties. And he looks a lot better now. I've watched him work his butt off every day at the club, and he's in incredible shape. He's one more living example of the fact that life doesn't end the second you turn thirty.

Today marks my return to the gym after two weeks off, so I know it's going to be brutal. My red prajoud test has been set for December 17th, and the training will be challenging.

But Kelly is a generous, kind-hearted coach who is willing to give of himself and his own time to help each of his students succeed. He even left a well-paying job to concentrate on his club full-time! How many people would do that?

If anyone can get me there, he can. I am lucky to have Kelly as a mentor.

Cheers to you, sir!

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Mentor

Welcome back dear readers,

Like almost every writer in the world, I've wanted to be a full-time novelist since I picked up a crayon and wrote my first picture book. But my goal was more specific. Enthralled with the stories of Dickens and the verse of Robert Louis Stevenson, I told my mother I wanted to write a "classic". She kindly informed me that most authors don't know they've written a classic until after they're dead, but the goal remained. I wanted to write something powerful that would stand the test of time.

Most of us have a talent, and if you discovered that talent in elementary school, you know how little it takes to stand out from the pack. By the time I was in Grade Four, I was garnering attention for my writing ability, and in high school, I don't know if the teachers bothered to read my work anymore. They just saw my name and gave me an A.

Enter Mr. Dolan.

Bill Dolan taught high school English, among other things. An outspoken man with a loud voice and a deep faith in God, he was beloved by some and equally hated and feared by others. He taught a class called Writing 12 that accepted only the best creative writing students in the school. You actually had to apply to get in, something unheard of in my little school. I enrolled in his class in Grade 11, excited about being in a class focused solely on writing. I'm not sure what my expectations were, but it's safe to say I thought Mr. Dolan would be as enthralled with my work as the other teachers were.

This was not the case.

Mr. Dolan tore my work apart. He rolled his eyes at my adolescent poetry, mocked me when I tried to get too deep, and pointed out that some of my characters were, in fact, caricatures. Did I appreciate his attention? Not so much. The journals I was required to keep are initially filled with us arguing back and forth, with him finally writing "Well, it's clear that you do not value my opinion...." But I did. I admired this intelligent teacher and was desperate to please him. Even when something I wrote garnered praise, he pushed me to be better. It drove me crazy!

When Mr. Dolan sneered at happy endings and how much he loathed Disney-style stories, I began writing horror fiction. It was the easiest way to avoid writing a "happily ever after". Unlike Stephen King's teachers, my instructor loved that stuff. He called me Stephanie Queen, and I floated on air. I was in love with King's work at the time, and flattered by the comparison.

Before I graduated, Mr. Dolan took me aside and told me I had real promise as a writer, and that's why he'd pushed me so hard. It wasn't until years later that I realized his constant criticism had improved my writing more than a million As and "excellent work!"s ever could. Still, I'm not going to lie to you--personal growth, as a writer or otherwise, is not easy. You may resent the person who's forcing you to grow, until you wake up and realize they had your best interests at heart all along.

When Susie Moloney asked to read the first draft of Dragonfly Summer at the retreat, I was unsure what to expect. I wasn't convinced that she'd like it--at that point, I was finding a lot wrong with it. When she told me it was a wonderful book, I was gratified but also strangely disappointed. Where was the criticism? I wanted my book to be better, knew that it could be better. But when the criticism came, and it was very similar to what Mr. Dolan had told me all those years before--my protagonist is not fleshed out enough, she is not a real person yet--it was hard to hear. After all these years, I'm still making the same mistakes? It was disheartening.

The good news is, I know I can do better. I can fix what's wrong with this book and make it something I'm proud of. It's going to be a lot of work, and I'm not sure how I'll be able to fit in all the writing I need to accomplish in the rest of this year. It will take some sacrifice--perhaps a lot of sacrifice--but I'll get there.

Here's to Mr. Dolan (who's now principal of my old high school) and all the other teachers who risk their sanity pushing their students to achieve their best. Who refuse to let the gifted get lazy, which is all too easy in that environment. And to Susie Moloney and other successful writers who generously donate their own time to help those who are coming up behind them.

I still want to scare you. That hasn't changed. And I won't promise you a happy ending.  What I will promise is to give you my very best, no matter what genre I'm writing in.

Who is your mentor, dear reader? How did they change the way you live or work?

Friday, September 17, 2010

Did Oprah Screw Up?

Happy Friday, dear readers!

Is anyone else delighted that the week has finally come to an end? As strange as it sounds, I need to recharge from my retreat.

There's a lot of buzz in book world right now. Rumor has it that Oprah Winfrey will announce Jonathan Franzen's Freedom as her last book club pick on today's show. Other writers are a tad ticked about this, for two reasons:

  1. In 2001, Oprah chose Franzen's The Corrections as her pick, only to drop the offer once she saw that he'd insulted her, her audience, and her overall choice of literature in The Philadelphia Inquirer.
  2. Franzen is not a man who needs help selling books. The New York Times gave Freedom a glowing review. Amazon ratings of the book are currently #1 in Fiction and Literature and #5 in Books. The Corrections, which was his third novel, won a National Book Award and was a finalist for the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.
Oprah has often selected authors that many of us had never heard of before. She gave a huge boost to the careers of Wally Lamb, Elizabeth Berg, and Edwidge Danticat, to name a few. Being an "Oprah Pick" was every writer's dream (well, every writer except Jonathan Franzen, apparently). As much as people love to make fun of her, I used to pick up one of her choices whenever I was looking for a new author, and I was never disappointed.

It's not surprising that new, struggling authors are decrying the selection of Franzen's already bestselling work as the last Oprah Book Club pick. What is surprising is how many bestselling authors have sour grapes. Jennifer Wiener, who is one of my favorite authors of women's fiction, bemoans Oprah's pick on her Facebook Page. "So Oprah picks FREEDOM," she writes. "Feels kind of inevitable. Also feels kind of like giving a winning lottery ticket to the guy who's collected the Publishers Clearinghouse Sweepstakes."

But Wiener has no problem selling books, either, so (with all due respect, cause I love her) what's she whining about?

In spite of what anyone may say about Oprah's ego, I love her for getting people excited about books again. She hasn't always chosen the undiscovered--what about Anna Karenina or 100 Years of Solitude? Not exactly unknown books. As far as I'm concerned, she can select whatever book she wants. The only sadness in this choice for me is the fact that Franzen slammed her choices, sneered at her audience, and intimated that his book was "too good" for her. So, in response, not one but two of his books are selected? If he's such an insufferable snob, let him enjoy his success without Oprah's help.

What do you think, dear readers? Have you read Franzen's books? Are they deserving of all the accolades? Should Oprah have chosen something different for her last pick? Do Oprah's selections have any bearing on what you read?

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Nice Girl

Hello dear readers,

I was raised to be a nice girl, often to my own detriment. Nice girls don't argue. They never talk back. They don't have controversial opinions that could upset others. And they never, ever rock the boat. God forbid!

When I left my hometown, I was desperate for friends. I'd grown up in a close-knit pack, and life felt empty without that camaraderie. Unfortunately, as most of us know, "desperate" is not a good way to enter any relationship. As a result, some of my friends made enemies seem more appealing. Whenever I told my mother I intended to discuss my grievances with these "frenemies", her response was always the same: "Do you really have to say anything? Can't you just let it go? What if they get upset?" Never mind that I was upset. It was all part and parcel of being The Nice Girl. The same went for abusive boyfriends. Best not to rock the boat; best to stay with them forever rather than risk change. Um, no.

It didn't take long for me to see that my Nice Girl ways were turning me into a doormat. I started demanding more of my friendships. Yes, I lost a few friends, but none that mattered. I dropped the abusive jerks and stopped giving all of myself to people who never reciprocated. Nice Girls who don't learn these lessons are one step away from turning into Bitter Girls.

Still, I can't always avoid the Nice Girl trap. It's ingrained in me. Example: I met a group of writers recently. Most of them were fabulous people, and I'd like to think I made some new friends. However, there was one person who did his best to humiliate me whenever possible. He was patronizing and rude. He interrupted people and brought every conversation back to himself. As much as I miss the other writers, I was very happy to get away from this guy.

The Nice Girl side of me feels sorry for him. He was desperately trying to fit in, any way he could. He never meant to offend me--he was attempting to joke with me and be my friend. He didn't mean to fail miserably; he just doesn't know how to interact with people. He's a beginning writer and he's asked for my help. He wants to keep in touch.

It is difficult for me to turn my back on anyone who asks for help. I forgive and forget all too easily. But every encounter with this guy made me unhappy in some way. Why would I willingly sign up for more of that?

My upbringing is urging me to be nice. My guilt complex is rearing its ugly head. I feel the need to write to the person who introduced us and apologize for the fact that I don't feel I can sustain a friendship with this person. A person I found to be a highly negative influence.

Do any of you struggle with this kind of thing? Do you ever feel guilty for cutting someone out of your life, even if that person is clearly no good for you?

I'd love to stand strong and say, "No More Ms. Nice Girl", but I know she will always be there, somewhere, waiting to jump out and turn me into a doormat.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The End Again

Last evening of the writer's retreat, Sunday Sept 12, 2010

Hello dear readers,

Well, it's over. Coming home from a retreat is a bittersweet experience. On one hand, I was ready to return to the comforts of home and family (not to mention a toilet I'm allowed to flush!), but on the other, I miss my little writing community horribly.

Writing is an isolating exercise. We sit at our computers alone, creating a world which no one else may ever see. If we are lucky, we have a trusted few who will read our work, congratulate us on a job well done, and tell us we can do better when we need to hear it. But to spend a week surrounded by like-minded people who are going through the same thing? It's a heady experience.

The retreat theatre
I've said it before, but it's worth saying again. I learned so much from the collaborative spirit of the playwrights. And if I ever decide to write for children, I'd do well to remember the work of Chris and Jana, who write beautiful, meaningful TYA (Theatre for Young Audiences). Ryan, Tiana, and Josh have such passion about bringing awareness to issues like racial discrimination, the youth justice system, and what it means to be different from your peers. I learned so much from them, too. And Warren--well, Warren is where we all hope to be eventually, making a living as a successful writer and artist. Warren is definitely living a life less ordinary.

Susie & I went canoeing on Sat
What did I learn for myself? I've learned that I can still be a lazy writer. While I'm great at plot, I sometimes shy away from creating fleshed-out, well-rounded characters. Real people have real pain, and bringing them to life means sharing that pain. It's been a long time since I've had someone like Susie read my work. Once she got over her hesitancy to criticize me, she let me have it about passive language and my caricature protagonist. My book in its first draft stage was good enough to be published as-is, she said. It was slick, well written, and a good story. What it lacked was depth. Susie wasn't satisfied with that, and neither was I. I can do better, and will. Thanks, Susie.

I spend my last day at the retreat furiously rewriting the opening chapter to Dragonfly Summer. I'm still not happy with it, but it's a step in the right direction. I have two GIGANTIC rewrites looming ahead  (Dragonfly Summer and getting Lost ready for the Minotaur contest), and I'm hoping the encouragement I received at the retreat will guide and inspire me. It's time to stop being a person who writes and start being a writer.

Most of all, I'm grateful to Vern and Susie for giving us so much of their time and brain power. I didn't fully realize how big a gift I'd been given until I was on my way home. Now that I do, I'd like to thank them with all of my heart. I not only gained the wisdom to make my novel better; I gained a family of writer friends.

And that, as the commercials say, is priceless.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Day Four: Walk in the Woods and Writer's Studio

Good morning dear readers,

So sorry about last night. My intention was to update the blog after the Writer's Studio (Susie's interview of Vern), which was supposed to end at 10 pm, but things got heated. The conversation was still going at 1 am when I finally packed it in.

Chapter One: The Hike

"We're going hiking, for Christ's sake! What do you think this is, a f*cking seniors' tour?" - renowned playwright Vern Thiessen
The weather has still not returned to the glorious summer days enjoyed at the beginning of the retreat, but it was nice enough for us to venture on our planned hike in the Minisink area, which was revolutionary war territory at one time.

Josh runs in fear from the 'cougar'
Some of the writers were desperate for exercise at this point, so the hike was faster than I would have liked, as far as photo-taking and exploring were concerned. We did see tiny frogs, a monarch butterfly, an old bridge, and even a cougar!

No one got lost, so it was a fairly uneventful excursion for this group.

Susie and I tried to have our meeting during the hike, but it wasn't to be, so we had it afterwards in my room. She finally had some criticism for me, which was great. I learned that there's another kind of passive voice to watch out for. I always thought "passive voice" was writing stuff like "the rug was purchased by Ted" instead of "Ted purchased the rug". But Susie told me to think of passive language as anything that slows the momentum of the story. For instance, if you have a character who's upset, and she yells "Okay, enough of that!", you take out the word "okay" because it slows down the momentum. Very good to know.

Chapter Two: The Writer's Studio

Vern in the hot seat

Things got emotional during Vern's turn in the hot seat. There were tears when he turned the tables on us and asked who our heroes were, and a fiery debate over whether or not a white man could play Martin Luther King Jr.

Some wisdom from Vern, who has written over thirty plays that have been produced all over the world. He has won many significant awards, including the Governor General's.

  • "You've got to invite criticism and learn not to take it personally."
  • "I surround myself with people who are more talented than I am, smarter than I am, and more beautiful than I am, and I learn from that. You always want to play with someone who's better than you."
  • "I've found that the best artists are the ones who listen to everyone's (feedback) and make decisions calculated on what they hear."
Vern and Susie
Asked to describe his ideal life, Vern answered, "My ideal is that my parents will live forever."

Vern has strong opinions on...well, pretty much everything. He has one theory that sends Susie into a furor. Vern believes that men do their best work before the age of fifty, and that women do their best work after fifty (mostly because the demands of child-rearing are over). Do you agree or disagree with him?

Personally, I think an artist should always be striving to produce his or her best work, no matter their age. It stands to reason that the more one practices, the better one would get, up to a point.

I would rather have people tell me that each book is my best, than experience what Stephen King has, where people keep telling him he wrote his very best twenty years ago. That has to get disheartening after awhile.

Here's some more food for thought from Vern:

  • If you had to choose, would you rather keep your arms or your legs? Why?
  • Would you rather keep your sight or your hearing? Why?
  • Who are your heroes? Mine are Stephen King, Martin Luther King Jr., and Muhammad Ali. Obviously I admire King's writing and the fact that he lets nothing stand in the way of that; MLK Jr's civil rights work; and Ali's boxing, but above all, I love that all three men stand up for the truth and what they believe in. They show this in very different ways, but all have paid the price for speaking up and living their own truth. I admire that.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Conversation in the Catskills

Hello dear readers,

Sorry I'm posting so late today, but I'm waiting until after Inside the Writer's Studio with Vern Thiessen, since I'm sure that will be very interesting.

To hold you until then, here is some of tonight's dinner conversation. We were discussing movies, in particular an awful one we tried to watch last night.

Chris: "It was like nails on a chalkboard. Ugh!" (shudder)

Rod: "You know what really sounds like nails on a chalkboard? Dragging a bench across concrete."

~ Silence ~

Ryan: (shaking head) "I love the segues, dude."

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Day Three: Changing Perceptions

Good morning, dear readers,

When I was initially accepted to this retreat, I was enthralled by the thought that I would have a week to spend on my writing. I've never had a week to spend entirely on my fiction, writing away without any distractions. Guess what? I don't now, either.

I've had to change my perception of what this type of writing retreat is really about, because there's a lot more than writing going on. To be honest, I get more writing done at home. When I'm working on a novel at home, I don't break for long, leisurely lunches and dinners. I don't have long discussions about writing with a bunch of like-minded souls. I don't take another two hours out of the day to meet with a mentor and go for a long walk. It's all about writing. I grab some popcorn or something so I don't starve to death, hug my boyfriend and the cats, and then sit at the computer for hours on end.

At first I was disappointed that I haven't been more productive on this retreat. Yes, I've had an idea for a new novel, which is exciting. And I've discovered that the first one hundred pages or so of Dragonfly Summer will have to be cut or drastically revised...disappointing, but not overly surprising. What I haven't done is produce dozens of new pages of work. Then I remembered what Vern said on our first night here about not caring whether or not we wrote a word, and I finally understood what he was talking about. This retreat is about being rested and rejuvenated by the time I get home. It's about reconnecting to my creativity. I could decide not to meet with Susie, or stop taking walks. I could rush through the meals and hurry back to my computer, and shun the activities each evening. But I'd be missing the point.

When I get home, Susie Moloney is not going to be living next door. Vern Thiessen will not be in the kitchen cracking jokes. This wonderfully kind, funny group of playwrights will be too far away to go out for lunch and talk about writing with me for hours. The beauty of the Catskills will be a distant memory, while the bleak months of a Winnipeg winter will be all too real. So I'm going to take advantage of everything this experience has to offer me, without worrying about page counts or the number of words written. There will be plenty of time for that when I get home.

Last night, Susie compared writing to a romance. In the beginning, everything's sexy and it's the best feeling in the world, and you can't get enough of it. Then you get to the middle, and it's become such a big part of your life that you can't imagine going without. It's your constant, your rock. She said that in writing, as in romance, there will be rocky times when everything is awful and you consider breaking up, but that if you stick with it, those times will pass. I thought it was a beautiful analogy. I'm hoping my writing and I will live happily ever after.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Day Two: Of Stilts and Sushi

The Corner Store - three businesses ran similtaneously by one man
Hello dear readers,

It's amazing how much things can change in a day. It's a good thing I didn't take the train out of here last night, because today this place and its people are all kinds of awesome. Thanks for accompanying me on my dark (and self-pitying) night of the soul. Your kind words and wise advice made me feel so much better.

I missed something very cool last night (not including the singing around the campfire, which I could hear just fine from my room). Warren, one of the playwrights, decided to play a trick on Susie. It's a long story, but basically he set up a scheme where his assistant back in Toronto gained remote access to his computer. The lap top was in plain view, and a few of the guys told Susie that it was doing weird things, opening pages by itself, etc. Susie didn't think much of it until they yelled, "What the hell is that?" and she turned to see words appearing on the screen as if by magic. I'm in the house with you. I died thirty years ago. Help me.... She was completely freaked out until she noticed the ghost was correcting his typos. "He's dead--why the hell would he care if he made a spelling mistake?" she thought, and the jig was up. Anyone who goes to that much trouble just to play a joke is pretty cool in my books.

Something else I missed was Brett performing a mesmerizing act on stilts across the yard today. His costume is gold, so I guess a lot of the writers saw the gleam from their windows and stopped to watch. Apparently, he was amazing--so much so that when he walked in during dinner, everyone stopped eating to applaud. He'll be practicing again tomorrow, and this time I hope to see what all the fuss is about. Still, how cool is that? How many people know someone who performs on stilts?

However, I didn't miss the beautiful doe who stopped to watch me on my adventure last night. I stared at her for several minutes, not daring to breathe. She seemed completely unafraid of me. I didn't miss the incredible sushi meal Morgan made for dinner tonight, complete with miso soup, marinated tofu and vegetable sushi (it may sound weird, but it was very tasty), peanut noodles, cucumber salad, and green tea. The food has been incredible, and unbelievably healthy. I'm sure my body is very confused.

For today's meeting, Susie and I walked to the town (we didn't get lost) and I didn't miss seeing the combination liquor store/gift shop/burger joint and ice cream parlour. These were separate businesses located in one long, pink building. We needed to pick up some wine, but the liquor store was locked. We pressed a button for service, and after a few minutes, a harried looking man bolted out of the diner towards us. Turns out he runs all three businesses simultaneously, and currently had something on the grill! Good thing Susie knew exactly what she wanted, or someone's dinner would have burned. I so have to put that guy in a novel, but no one would ever believe it.

On the way back to the retreat, we passed Josh, who was out for a run. And guess what? He took the same wrong turn I did coming back and got lost. Thankfully, he realized before I had that there was something wrong and turned back. Still, I'm glad to know I'm not the only one who found it confusing.

Tonight Vern is hosting an "Inside the Writer's Studio" with Susie Moloney. After that, I'll be getting as much done as possible on my rewrite. Life is good. But you were there for me when it wasn't, and I am forever grateful.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010


Hey dear readers,

I probably shouldn't post here in my current lower-than-a-snake's-belly state, but I need someone to talk to. I feel like such a loser...a loser to end all losers. On the first full day of the retreat, I went to take some photos for the blog and discovered I'd brought my camera, an extra battery, the battery charger...and no memory card. Oh, I have other memory cards, but not the one for my actual camera. I figured it was, oh, I don't know, INSIDE THE #$&*!@ camera, but it wasn't. And my camera is a Sony, so it will only take Sony cards, which this place is too remote to have. So that was strike one, and The Boy is a camera guy, so guaranteed I will never live that one down.

Before lunch, Josh and I decided to walk to the lake, which is literally less than five minutes away. Apparently there's a very particular path you have to take, though--otherwise, you're walking through someone's yard and they get kind of irritated after a while with all these writers cutting through. The sign that you're on the right path is NACL carved onto a little piece of wood off to the side. Josh and I were given directions. We went down what we thought was the correct path. No sign. We went to the path on the far right, which ended up being a driveway. By then it was time for lunch, so we gave up. When I had my meeting with Susie, we went to the lake, so she showed me the correct path. Where was it? Right in the MIDDLE of the two paths Josh and I had chosen! And there was the sign, plain as day. I should have taken that as a sign.

But no. After a very exciting meeting with Susie, which I will tell you about when I'm in a better mood, I decided to walk to town. The walk back is all uphill and supposed to be quite challenging. The round trip is one and a half miles. No problem. I left at around 3:30. I finally made it back here at 6:40, and it's not because I'm a slow walker. I got lost. For hours.

I am so embarrassed. It was such an easy trip--I can't believe I got lost. I made it to the town just fine, but on the way back, I neglected to take this little dip to the left. I went straight and ended up on a road parallel to the one I was supposed to be on. Since I was on a different side of the road than the one I'd taken to the town, I didn't find it that odd that nothing looked familiar. Finally, I got to a school and I knew I would have noticed that. Problem was, I didn't know where I'd gone wrong. I turned around and started walking back the way I came. I saw a sign pointing the way to Highland Lake Road, which is where the retreat centre is, but when I looked down that way, it was just some guy's junk pile. I kept walking on the parallel road. Now nothing on this road looked familiar, either. I went back to the sign and walked through the guy's yard, hoping that Highland Lake Road was somewhere beyond his junk. Nope. Went back out and kept walking the way I had been. I found a man who told me to go back to where I'd seen that sign and go down a different road--Devlin Road--to the end, and then turn right. He told me I had about two miles to go. By this time, it was six pm and we have dinner at six-thirty. I wanted to get back in time for dinner so no one would have to know what a moron I am.

I rushed down Devlin Road, remembering Vern's words about how fast the vehicles go and how he wouldn't want to walk this route at night. It was getting dark. My hips were killing me...I'd worn sandals, not expecting to be on a four hour walk. Oh, and I was starting to have to pee in the worst way, as you can imagine. At the end of a very long road, I turned right. I thought I remembered that the retreat was at 10 Highland Lake Road, so I was thrilled when I saw a sign for Highland Lake Road and actual numbers at every driveway. This brought new life into my step, which was good, because once again it was a steep uphill climb. Number 3 was followed by 5, then 7...we were looking good! And then...17. WTF??? I walked as far as 19 before conceding that this was not the way to the retreat centre. On the way back, I ran into some kids and asked them for directions. Once they realized what I was talking about, they told me it was in the other direction from what the man had told me. They also offered several times to give me a ride. With their assurance that it was "just over that hill", I thanked them kindly but said that I'd (groan) walk. I started off in the direction they'd indicated. The numbers on the driveway signs were really high...138, 131, which puzzled me. Then I realized that they were at least decreasing, so I must finally be going in the right direction. When I'd walked for quite a while with no sign of the retreat centre, I was starting to get a bit teary. Maybe it was that little road I'd seen a while back? I backtracked to it and went about halfway down, but saw nothing familiar. Nope. Back to Highland Lake Road. I walked for another ten or fifteen minutes and was almost losing hope when I saw it! It was 110 Highland Lake, not 10.

Brett had been out looking for me. Susie was a little worried. I felt like such a dork. When I was a kid, I got lost walking from my grandma's farm to my aunt's. I saw a yellow and brown house that looked just like my aunt's and started walking across fields of rye to get to it. Once I realized it was the wrong house, I was lost. What should have been a fifteen minute walk took over two hours, but I eventually made it. My family thought it was the funniest thing they'd ever heard, especially my cousins. They made fun of me for years. Just when I thought I'd lived that down, I have to look like a complete idiot in front of a whole new group of people. They were nice about it, but I could tell they thought I must be pretty stupid. I feel stupid. I feel so humiliated.

There's supposed to be a bonfire tonight, but I don't even want to show my face. I will most likely suck it up and go down, but this has turned into a day when I should have stayed in bed...or Winnipeg.

Day One

Good morning, dear readers,

It is difficult to describe how beautiful the Catskills are. I know, I know--as a writer, I'm supposed to be able to describe anything, but wow! Rolling mountains covered in blue-green forests. The mountains slope into deep valleys that are caressed by the sparkling Delaware River. It's truly breath-taking. The road here from Port Jervis is winding and treacherous...if you've been to British Columbia, this is like BC on acid. Today is warm and sunny. It still feels like summer here, especially compared to home, where we're already experiencing fall. Unless it's raining, we'll be eating all of our meals outside at a big communal table.

We have a female chef named Morgan, and the meal she prepared for us last night was incredible. There was a vegetable and grain pilaf wrapped in greens and served with a lemon thyme sauce, homemade pita chips, two kinds of homemade bread, green and yellow wax beans, fresh fruit--grapes, strawberries, and watermelon, and two kinds of cheese. One of the artistic directors here is an organic farmer, so all of the produce we eat comes from her farm.

The men greatly outnumber the women. Most of my fellow retreaters are playwrights from Edmonton, with Vern and Warren splitting their time between Toronto and New York. One of Warren's plays was just nominated for a Gemini award. He is very accomplished, and also very friendly. Everyone here seems to be very kind. I am impressed by how much reverence the playwrights give the novelists. Since I'm one of only three novelists in a retreat of ten, I was thinking we'd be the outcasts, but the playwrights are actually very appreciative...even how much work it takes to write a novel. I think the novel-writing community could learn a lot from this attitude--supporting and celebrating each other instead of dickering over which genre is best or debating literary versus commercial.

There's a general spirit of trust here. No locks on the doors, and this includes at least one of the bathroom doors...the one with the bathtub! Anyone who closes his door is left in peace. Vern, the retreat organizer, gave a speech last night where he said the purpose of this retreat is to "Rest, write, and reconnect", but he emphasized that he doesn't care if we write a word. Thinking time is writing time, he said, which is so true. He doesn't want us to be human typewriters, caring only about output. That's a relief. After all the work of the last couple of weeks, I am due for some rest. My plan for this afternoon is to walk into town--a very hilly, somewhat dangerous walk of 1.5 miles one way. I'd like to get out and walk at least once a day.

Some highlights so far:

  • Seeing the Brooklyn Bridge and the Capitol building from the air
  • Learning that the great horror writer Susie Moloney will squeal and run away if she sees a moth :)
  • Ducking the acorns that fell with surprising violence onto our dinner table from the trees above
  • The great beauty of this place

Sunday, September 5, 2010

The Retreat

The Catskills, in all their glory

Hello dear readers,

Okay, it's official. I'm nervous as hell. At three-thirty in the morning, I'll be on the way to the airport for my journey to the Catskills.

I'm finding the travel portion of the trip to be the most unnerving. Once in Newark, I have to take two trains to get to Port Jervis, where Susie will be waiting. I've never taken a train before, and apparently things are going to be crazy because of the long weekend. Somehow, I have to squish myself and a suitcase onto these trains, which are going to be standing room only. I am feeling very small town girl right now.

Did I mention that airport security in my city takes their cue from the Gestapo? Seriously. They completely overdo everything. On my last trip, I was proud of myself for taking only the bare minimum in my carry-on. There was a book, a few magazines, my journal, some medication, and my iPod. All the liquids were in a small baggie, as ordered. (I don't get this rule--if I'm carrying some kind of gel explosive, wouldn't it be just as dangerous inside a baggie as outside? It's not exactly difficult to open a Ziploc bag.) Just before I went to security, I stopped at the little convenience store at the airport and bought a couple of bags of chips, a chocolate bar, and some peanuts. Oh. My. God. A security guy dragged me over to the side and went through everything, in excruciating detail. He flipped through every page in my journal and shook it out. He examined each sealed bag of snacks, holding each one up to the light and turning it over and over. He went through all of my magazines while I stood there, exasperated. I'd arrived early, but I still almost missed my flight. At the Toronto airport, I put the very same bag with the very same contents on the conveyor belt and was waved right through. I know the security of our airplanes is very important, but Winnipeg--there is such a thing as overkill.

Anyway, I received a note from Susie that made me feel better about the whole retreat experience, and I thought I would share it with you.


"I've never been a participant at a retreat, but I have facilitated quite a few. The retreat is really truly whatever you make it out to be. It's a good idea to have a goal.

It is YOUR retreat, and every writer has the same attitude, it's THEIR retreat. So, it's your opportunity to "retreat" from your life and focus only on your work. To discover and begin the process of working on your weaknesses, discovering what kind of writer you want to be, of contemplating what you want to write about in future.

Mostly it's an opportunity to do work, uninterrupted by life, with access to a professional, successful writer, who is very very old and has seen and done it all (me), ha ha. I'm not your editor, but I am your "reader." I will read what you give/gave me, and will tell you gently and with affection what I think, without ever telling you what I would do, or how I would write it. In the communal moments, there will (hopefully) be much discussion about the various industries we work in, talk of agents and support networks, the granting system, the future of publishing, and I think we're going to watch a couple of movies, ha!

Participation is completely voluntary. You don't have to watch movies or listen to anyone's sad tale of rejection, you can use the communal time to read, to meditate, to shower, walk outside, hook up (good luck). But it is part of the "retreat."

You will be exposed to ten other writers -- the others are playwrights of varying success, but one of them has just been nominated for a Gemini.

I always leave a retreat (and I'm just the facilitator) feeling a renewed sense of myself as a writer, and I get so pumped and motivated. It's wonderful for the spirit. I'm starting a new novel in the next couple of weeks and so I'm really looking forward to that feeling. You're going to love it.

And it's very relaxed. No one will care if you smoke cigarettes or don't, or are vegan or not, or if you're 16 or 60, or fit or not, or if you have a publishing deal or not, or whatever or not. It's about the work, everyone is there for the same reason, and it's glorious. As you can see, I like a retreat.

Holli, you're going to love it, you'll make new friends and you'll go home and write another book in record time!!"

Let's hope so! If all goes well, I will post again tomorrow evening and tell you how I survived my day of travel and what my first impressions are. I can't believe that at this time tomorrow I'll be on my way. Gleep! I'm off to pack!

Have any of you ever gone on a retreat? If so, what was your experience like?

Friday, September 3, 2010

Fun Friday IV: Object of My Affection

The one, the only--Fuzzy Ferocious

Good morning, dear readers,

Before I tell you about today's exercise, I'd like to address some concerns people have had about the blog not being updated while I'm at the retreat. It is my intention to do a daily post while I'm away, and I've been assured that the wifi at the lodge works well. I don't usually post on the weekend, but Susie Moloney filled me in on what to expect at a retreat, and I thought those of you who write might find what she had to say interesting. I will post that info on either Saturday or Sunday.

Okay, enough housekeeping! My friend Brent had this interesting idea for a blog. He takes photos of items he owns and tells a little story about them. This makes a great writing exercise.

Choose the room in your home where you feel the most creative and select an object. Tell us a little story about it. Again, don't worry about grammar and spelling--just have fun!

The Object of My Affection

I'd like to introduce you to Fuzzy Ferocious (pictured above). I've had Fuzzy for a long time, since I was around seven years old. Coincidentally, Fuzzy also cost seven dollars. My mother saw him in a store in our little town and fell in love with him. In the beginning, I wasn't sure that I liked him that much, but she was so enthralled with Fuzzy that she won me over. She also gave him his name--to this day, my mom comes up with the best stuffed animal names.

Fuzzy has seen a lot of love over the years. I like that his nose looks like a chocolate peanut, and I love the sad, slightly wistful look on his face. It makes me want to give him a hug. Fuzzy isn't really as ferocious as his name suggests--the most he can muster is a pitiful roar. There's something endearing about a peace-loving lion, I think. And his string tale is simply adorable.

These days, Fuzzy lives in my office--the room where I do all of my writing. He sits on my roll top desk and watches me while I work. Writing can be a lonely job, but every now and then, I will look at Fuzzy and it's like I have some company, even though he's stuffed. I know he's urging me on in his own quiet way.


What's your object?

Portrait of Fuzzy Ferocious by Chris Brogden

Thursday, September 2, 2010

The End

Good morning, dear readers,

Well, we did it. The book is finished. The first novel I've written in five years. I've broken the curse of the Repeated Rewrite Request Agent, and am ready for the next stage of my writing career.

I'm feeling a little lost today, which is normal for me after finishing a book. What to do now? There are rewrites of course, but I'd like to keep those creative juices flowing. I don't want to get into another slump where I don't write anything new for months or even years. I wish I could define whatever it is that pulls me out of those slumps so I could pass it on to you. But it's never been the same thing twice.

I will say this. Writing a book takes a lot of sacrifice. Not just for the writer, but also for friends and family who may not have willingly signed up for the deal. It isn't easy to be in love with a writer. We are insecure and needy and incredibly hard on ourselves at times. And when we're working on something, we're obsessed. As always, Stephen King said it best in his book On Writing:

"Whenever I see a novel dedicated to a wife (or a husband), I smile and think, There's someone who knows. Writing is a lonely job. Having someone who believes in you makes a lot of difference. They don't have to make speeches. Just believing is usually enough."

On that note, I'd like to thank The Boy for being incredibly patient and supportive. When he encouraged me to write again, he had no idea what he was getting into! Kickboxing takes up a lot of my time during the week, so often the weekends are all we have. And he's forfeited a lot of those for the sake of this book. I'm not creative if I'm under emotional stress, so if he'd repeatedly made me feel guilty about writing, this book never would have gotten finished. So you see why his support is so important.

I'd also like to thank all of you. I started this blog as a way of holding myself accountable and making sure I wrote something every day, even if it was just a post. I soon discovered that writing a blog with no readers is not fun at all. In fact, it's downright demoralizing. Everyone who took the time to follow me on this journey, to comment, or just to lurk--thank you. You kept me going. You helped me feel like a real writer again. I think it's an incredible honor to be able to write for you every day, and to have you actually care about what I have to say. Believe me, as someone who started her blog with The Boy as her only follower, I never take that for granted.

I leave for the retreat at the crack of dawn on Monday morning. (Actually, I don't think dawn will have cracked yet, my flight leaves so early.) I'm a little nervous, as it's an eco lodge with a lot of rules--some of them common sense and some just plain odd, but mostly I'm glad to have a finished book to take with me. I've decided to explore some short stories and other novel ideas while I'm there, instead of just rewriting. When else am I ever going to have a week to work on my writing uninterrupted? Best not to squander it. I hope that I click with the other writers and come away having learned something and with a few new friends. If nothing else, I'll have gotten some guidance from a successful author and enjoyed some precious alone time.

Thanks again for coming with me on this journey. We're not there yet, but we've taken a lot of steps along the road to an extraordinary life.

Next stop: training for the dreaded red prajoud test.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Not All Bloodsuckers Are Vampires: A Wednesday Rant

Hello dear readers,

So, I gotta ask: what's the deal with Stephenie Meyer, anyway? If JK Rowling is the richest author and James Patterson the best paid, poor Stephenie must be the most hated.

People love to take potshots at her. She's become a running joke. Her success is openly mocked. Even my hero Stephen King stooped to denigrate her writing. Her weight is criticized in the media. She's an author, people! Since when are authors expected to live up to film star ideals? Stephenie's looks are not the point.

Lest you think I'm one of those Twihards or whatever the hell they're called, I'll say right up front that I don't care for her stories, either. But Stephenie is writing for teenage girls. I know this is going to shock some of you, but I'm not a teenage girl. I read the first book; I didn't like it; I moved on. I certainly didn't lose any sleep over it, because I'm not her target audience. Some adults love the books, but they're not her target audience, either. JK Rowling also wrote for kids, but we never poked fun at her. Yes, we liked her books, but we weren't the intended audience for Harry Potter, either. If someone had told JK that her language was too simple or her ideas too fantastical, I suspect she would have laughed in his face...all the way to the bank. I hope that's what Stephenie's doing (she's on that richest authors list, too, by the way).

The vitriol directed at Stephenie is shocking. On-line articles have sneered that she was an overweight, unpopular teen who longed to be more like Bella. That she's writing a self-indulgent teen fantasy. Um, hello--again, she's writing for teenage girls. Who is more likely to love an overblown teenage fantasy? There's a reason she's been so successful, like it or not. She knows her audience, and she's writing for them. Nothing wrong with that. That's what all authors are supposed to be doing.

I never in a million years thought I'd come to the defense of Stephenie Meyer. I admit I've laughed at some of the Twilight jokes. A few of them are really funny. And let's face it, sparkly vampires are ridiculous in the extreme. But teenage girls like sparkles. Stephenie's smart enough to know that.

The last straw was this link that a friend posted on my Facebook page. She asked if I agreed with the author's assessment. Personally, I think the author has too much bloody time on his hands. If he is an author himself, his time would be better spent writing his own work than taking Twilight apart page by page. And if he's not an author, his time would be better spent defragmenting his hard drive. Or playing Parcheesi. Or, God forbid, reading another book.

So please put away your fangs. I haven't seen this kind of nastiness since Dan Brown made it big with The Da Vinci Code. We love to hate the immensely successful, don't we? Because that's what Stephenie Meyer is. As much as we may loathe her writing, all but the most dense among us have to concede that she is doing something right.