Returning to a Favorite Pastime

ink_flower_by_denadavis[1]Creative people fascinate me, and they have long before I became a writer. One of the most interesting things I’ve learned (aside from the fact that most of us have sleep issues) is how frequently writers delve into other art forms to express themselves, especially through painting. I’ve met several terrific artists who also write fiction and nonfiction. Multi-faceted creative folks isn’t a surprise, though. If you allow yourself to open your mind to possibilities and take the time to explore, it’s amazing what will come.

This weekend, while working out at the gym, I started thinking about writing and painting. I also thought about how I would spend more of my free time once I retire from the day job in a few months. Sure, I might write a little more, but given that long periods at a keyboard aren’t healthy (after four decades of typing my posture’s not great and eye strain’s a problem) I’ve decided that extra physical fitness is a good idea, and one that I happen to welcome.

But another idea has come to mind, and it’s based on something that very few people know about me. A little over three decades ago, when I was working on my first novel and pregnant with my first child, I was working on pen-and-ink drawings. (The drawing above isn’t mine, but I think it’s beautiful).

I don’t remember how many pictures I drew, but I still have my sketch book buried beneath stacks of paper in my office closet. I used to draw graveyards and stark, leafless trees, which I suppose isn’t a psychological stretch from the mystery thrillers that I write today. But you know, I’m now thinking about pulling out that sketch at some point to explore the possibility of going back to drawing.

Several months ago my hubby the accountant returned (after a long absence) to painting watercolor landscapes. He too, has trouble staying asleep, so each morning he awakes very early, goes downstairs, and experiments with color and design and ideas before he leaves for work. He loves it. It feels like it sets a positive tone to his day. It’s also given him a new appreciation for the nearly forty years I’ve devoted to my passion for writing. We talked about goals and satisfaction and pushing through tough times until perseverance slowly turns to habit.

I’m not worried about not finding enough to do when I retire. I worry more about having time to do everything I want to. There will be more goals—brand new ones—and although I’m not ready to remove the sketch book out from under all that paper today, it’s now on my radar. We’ll see what happens.

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So Many Head-Spinning Images

As I wrote the first draft of this week’s blog on Monday, the TV was filled with images of two mass-shootings. This is Wednesday and the images are still capturing attention here in Canada and around the world, I expect, as they should. While I try to stick to writing-related things on my blog, it’s sometimes impossible not to acknowledge tragedy in its many forms. My heart hurts for all those who are suffering right now.

The world of fiction is not only my passion and my profession, but let’s face it, it’s also escapism from real-life frustration, sadness, and tragedy. When you’re a professional writer, escapism and reality, however, have a funny way of merging.

self-publishing[1]Now that the production process of The Blade Man is underway, I find myself becoming immersed in pre-production issues. Aside from the final edits, which are almost finished, I’ve been in touch with my jacket designer, who wisely requires clients to complete a detailed 4-page form about cover specifics. It’s a crucial part of the production process that takes a fair bit of time. My form isn’t due until mid-November, so I’m glad I’m starting now. This will give me many weekends to work on it a little bit at a time.

One of the things I’ve started to look at are the stock images offered on a couple of sites that my designer uses. Because my mystery series focuses on my protagonist’s work on buses, the covers typically portray a public transport theme. Today, I’m discovering that there are thousands of bus images out there, nearly 6,000 on Shutterstock alone, yet most of them don’t fit my needs for The Blade Man’s cover.

There are school buses, double-decker buses, blue buses, damaged buses, bus interiors with smiling faces, empty buses, and so on. It’s mind boggling, but as I search, ideas and visions for what I’d like to see are starting to form.

Book production is a journey. There are a number of steps and decisions to make. The process reminds me of when we renovated our kitchen a few years back. The initial ideas and decisions were fun, but as more was required of us and the process was well underway, our mindset slowly became, come on, let’s make a final decision already, without blowing the budget. I want this thing finished!

Productions of any kind require patience, perseverance, some creativity, and serious budgeting. So, back to the image browsing, to see what I can come up with.

Well, It Was Almost a Balanced Week

It’s always a struggle for writers to juggle family life and day jobs with their creative lives. In fact, most of us don’t spend nearly as much writing/editing time as we’d like for numerous reasons, although this past week I came close.

I’m one of those weird folks who actually likes Mondays because that’s when I’m at my most energetic. Mondays means that I can get a fair bit of writing and editing done before and after the day job. On a really good day, I’ll then put in a half hour on the treadmill while catching up on reading. Yeah, I’ve been a multi-tasker for years.

By Wednesday afternoon, my energy level seriously fades. Thursday’s often a struggle to write, and Friday’s almost a complete write-off when it comes to stamina and concentration. Usually I can squeeze a little more writing time in on the weekends, but this past weekend was different.

Shower prep-2A few weeks ago, I volunteered our house for my daughter’s bridal shower. Given that this is summer, I figured we’d have a dozen guests at most. My task was to clean the house and provide platters for the food that the bridesmaids were bringing. I spent most of Saturday and early Sunday, cleaning the two bathrooms, tidying, dusting, etc. while my hubby and son swept the patio, cleaned the outdoor table, moved the BBQs out of the way and arranged furniture.

Bridal shower, group photoOnce the bridesmaids arrived, I watched in awe as they brewed jugs of different flavored teas, laid out food, decorated, and arranged flowers with an efficiency that had me in awe. As you’ll see from the photo, my twelve guest estimate pretty much doubled in size. (I’m in the blue dress in the front row, my daughter to the left, and my sister on the right.)

The shower was great fun and the bridesmaids were just as efficient with the cleanup and take-down as they were in setting things up. By the time every had left by 4:30, though, I was exhausted. My plans to do a little more editing that evening fizzled away.

Still, a good week of editing, followed by awesome family time, could be considered a balanced week. The only problem was that none of us felt rested by Monday morning. That’s okay, I have major rest and relaxation planned for this upcoming long weekend.

CakeBy the way, the delicious lemon cake in the photo was hand made by one of the bridesmaids. She brought fresh flowers to decorate the cake with! She also made a cheesecake with blueberry sauce, and earl grey cookies, which were amazing. As her wedding gift, she’s making the wedding cake, along with cupcakes. Now that I’m totally in wedding mode, I can’t wait for the big event in September.

 

The Edits Are Back and It’s Go Time

Types_of_Freelance_Writing_Services[1]It feels like a long time since I released my fifth Casey Holland mystery Knock Knock, in November 2017, but a heck of a lot has happened since then. Through it all, I’ve been slowly editing draft after draft of the next installment, The Blade Man.

I reached a point in May where I felt that I’d completed as many drafts as I could, and it was time to send the manuscript to my editor. I was in no rush, but as it happened, my editor had a sudden opening in her schedule, and she finished the edits by mid-June.

Last week, I began making the editorial changes. I’ve also acquired ISBNs for the print and ebook, and have contacted my designer, who’s slotted me in for December. I don’t have an exact launch date yet and probably won’t for a while. There’s plenty of prep work to do in the meantime and when it is published, I will celebrate.

This book has been a long time in the making. I remember first meeting the person (over a coffee at Starbucks) who became my technical advisor on bus-driving issues. That was over seven years ago. At that time, my publisher was working on bringing out book #3, Beneath the Bleak New Moon. Book #4, The Deep End, was probably on its fourth or fifth draft, and Knock Knock was still in its early stages.

I therefore knew it would be quite some time before this book would be published, but finally that date is on my radar.

A Casey Holland novella won’t be too far behind (I hope) which will be completely unlike any Casey story I’ve written. It explores the lighter side of her transit security work in all it’s raunchy, awkward, and humorous glory. But I’m getting ahead of myself…stay tuned!

Luck and the Writer

Four_Leaf_Clover_03[1]Back in February, I discussed the concept of success, after reading Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Outliers: The Story of Success. Today, I want to focus on the concept of luck.

I read an interesting blog about a month ago by thriller writer Joe Konrath. He writes an excellent blog about the writing biz, and as a hybrid author with a substantial backlist, he has a lot to say about publishing, promoting, and marketing. You can find his blog HERE. He also has an interesting take on why most authors’ marketing plans won’t work. What it comes to, in his view, is luck. But the question then becomes, how does one become luckier?

Some people call luck a matter of preparation meeting opportunity. I don’t disagree. I remember reading an article about a Canadian woman who’d been incredibly lucky at winning contests. She had a room filled with prizes. When asked what made her so lucky, she said it was because she probably entered more contests than most people. In fact, she had turned contest-entering into a full time job.

Yesterday, I came across a similar article about folks who constantly win sweepstake prizes. In fact, there’s a whole group of them who take this so seriously that they’re referred to as sweepers. You can read more about them HERE. I was struck by the comment from one of the frequent contest winners, who stated that luck had nothing to do with her large haul. It was about effort and persistence.

Sometimes luck truly does seem to come out of the blue. Maybe a horrific car crash you managed to avoid by just one minute has nothing to do with persistence and effort. Maybe carrying a four-leaf clover or talisman does help some people, who knows?

Personally, I believe that luck often emerges from a series of decisions, opportunities, and right-time, right-place circumstances. But even that’s not the whole picture. Maybe there’s no rhyme nor reason why someone’s thriller gains fabulous attention and mega sales while an equally well-crafted thriller with a gorgeous cover and an amazing back cover blurb doesn’t. We could speculate that if the “unlucky” author had targeted his market differently or tried a different promotion strategy, then maybe it would have made a difference. On the other hand, maybe it wouldn’t have. We can drive ourselves crazy wondering over stuff like that.

Joe’s answer to making one’s luck is to keep writing books. He doesn’t discount using ads, blogs, social media, etc, for promotion, but he makes it clear that those efforts won’t guarantee any sales. Writing is the only thing you can really control, he says, and if you keep doing it and getting better at it, you just might get lucky enough to have a bestseller on your hands. For many of us, isn’t that the dream which lets our imaginations run wild, that gets us out of the bed every morning and open to all possibilities?

We Have Flowers!

I’m on a mini-holiday with my family this week, so if I don’t respond to your comments right away, please forgive me. I might be on the net, but I’m not sure.

I want this week’s blog to be about something cheerful, so I’m sharing snapshots of the beautiful plants and flowers that flourished in our front yard this spring.

Front Yard Flowers-3, 2019.jpg

Until last summer, we had so many trees on our property that most of the yard was in shade, which wasn’t helping anything bloom. Our neighbors asked that we remove a couple of them bordering their property, and given that they could well be safety hazards in a storm, we did so (they shared the cost).

Front Yard Flowers-1, 2019

The result will attract bees which are also in dire need of help. In 31 years, our yard has never been this colorful, and I’ve never appreciated flowers more than I do now.

Front Yard Flowers

The rose bush in my mom’s memory will also be planted here in a prominent place with plant of sunlight.

Rodos, front of house

Coping With a Difficult June

It’s been a couple of weeks since I’ve posted, and sadly this one isn’t writing-related. Those who’ve been reading my blog know that my mother suffered from dementia and was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer one year ago. By March the cancer had spread to her liver and our family doctor estimated that she had only two or three months left. My mom’s dementia made her oblivious to her dire situation. Even when told the truth, her emotional response seemed dim, and within minutes the diagnosis was forgotten.

My mother passed away in hospice care on June 23rd . Neither my sister nor I were there. I’d seen her the day before and had been out all day at an event that Sunday. My sister had planned to visit, but her significant other suffered a heart attack on June 12th and she was exhausted from the worry and daily commutes to the hospital. (It was touch-and-go for a while, but it looks like he’ll be okay. A medical procedure is required but rehab is underway).

It sounds strange to write this, but we were stunned by the call from the hospice nurse. We truly believed we’d have a little more time with her. We’d met with the doctor on Wed., the 19th, who thought she was doing well under the circumstances, and might have four to six weeks left. We understood that this was a guess, and our family doctor cautioned me that pancreatic cancer is wildly unpredictable. She was in hospice three weeks and two days before she passed.

I should have picked up on the signs that the end was near. When I took my son and daughter to visit her on the 16th, she’d been unusually alert and conversational She blew us kisses the last time my sister and I saw her—something she’s never done in her life. She apparently had the nurse help her call her sister in Toronto that Sunday afternoon. For weeks she’d not felt well enough to talk on the phone at all, let alone make a phone call.

Also on June 23rd, my daughter’s good friend, and matron of honor at her upcoming wedding, lost her grandmother that same day.

Flowers for MimoFive days earlier on the 18th, I had to have our twenty-year-old cat Mimo euthanized, as he became too ill to go on. The beautiful flowers in the photo were sent by our vet’s staff who’d been overseeing his care since we brought him in for his first shots back in August 1999. Also on the 18th , my future son-in-law’s family lost their beloved dog to cancer.

I took time off from the day job to reflect, to rest—or try to—but I’m now back at work, which is fine. I like the routine, to focus on other things for part of the day.

Memories swim through my head. I have a room full of her furniture and some belongings that I’d moved out her assisted living apartment two days before her death. There are things to sort through, legal things to take care of.

But there are also things to look forward to, such as my daughter’s September wedding, quickly followed by a move into their new home. My son also began an exciting new career the last week of June. I’m getting back to writing. My lovely coworkers are giving me a rose bush to plant in Mom’s memory. It’s perfect. She wouldn’t want any fuss and mourning or feeling sorry for ourselves.

I’ve learned a lot this past year about life and death, and many things. I’ve said goodbye far more than I wanted to last month, but I’ll cope and move one step and one day at a time. And I’ll remember.