World Elephant Day

My babysitting duties are in full swing, which has been great fun so far. Ellie’s started dancing to songs in one of her musical books. Thursday to Sundays are my days off, which also means catching up editing, blogs, book reviews, and other things, so these week’s blog is a short.

My World Wildlife Fund calendar reminded me that today is World Elephant Day, so I thought I’d share a link for further information on how to protect these beautiful creatures before it’s too late. You can find it HERE.

World Elephant Day began in 2012 and is acknowledged every August 12th. All elephant species are in danger, and given the state of the world these days, I’m going to focus more on how I can help the environment. Donating and writing about are just two of those things.

My New Normal Begins

She Loves Her Balloon!

This week, I’ve started my new role as part-time caregiver for my granddaughter, Ellie, who’s just turned one. Because the commute’s too long to do daily, I’m staying out at my daughter and son-in-law’s place for half the week. I have to say, I’m getting a good workout by keeping up with Ellie as she crawls and pulls herself up on things constantly.

It also means reduced writing time and fewer blogs, but this is my choice. While it’s been a privilege to spend my first year of retirement writing full time, I’ve also reached a point in my life where doing so isn’t necessary. Honestly, there’s been many periods where it’s not been a priority. I’ve been lucky to enjoy part-time work, for the most part, and always found it easier to focus on writing when time was compressed.

I’ve spent the last four decades carving out bits of writing time on buses, during work lunch breaks, on holidays and long weekends, sitting in cars waiting for the kids to get out of school, at pool sides, skating rinks, Tae Kwon Do studios, and so forth. I’ve been lucky enough to work with agents, editors, publishers, and to self-publish.

I never planned to depend on fiction-writing to earn a living. I’ve never had a goal of reaching anyone’s bestseller list or acquiring a large advance with a major publisher. As a creative person who grew up poor, I’m quite fond of multiple income streams, even if they aren’t large. Besides, many of my story ideas always came from getting out in the world and working, whether paid or unpaid.

Sure, goals and circumstances will likely change again. These days, I’m content to write part-time. I’ll still be producing pages for my critique group every week and taking part in various events, and that’s just fine right now.

Speaking of events, I took part in a fun discussion about amateur sleuth fiction with two other British Columbia mystery writers, Winona Kent and Judee Fong, on Tuesday, which was moderated by cozy mystery author, Erik D’Souza. The recording’s still available, which you can find HERE.

If you’re interested in learning more about Crime Writers of Canada and Canadian writers, please check out the following links.

Crime Writers of Canada

Subscribe to Crime Beat, CWC’s free monthly newsletter

Taking a Break

Pexels photo by Vlada Karpovich

Summer’s well underway here in the Vancouver area with temperatures soaring as high as 42 degrees Celsius (107 degrees Fahrenheit) earlier this week. As near as I recall, Vancouver hasn’t experienced this in the 60+ years I’ve lived in the west coast.

I have a basement office, which helps, as does the fan by my feet. The oven stays off these days, which is fine because I have a few slow cooker recipes that’ll get us through. I can edit in the morning, but by two in the afternoon, I started to wilt, although that’s fairly normal for me, anyway. Temperatures are easing slowly, thank goodness, as the city’s experienced a high number of heat-related deaths.

Meanwhile, my hubby and son are starting a two-week vacation tomorrow, so we’re taking time off to spend with family. I had my second vaccine on Sunday, a Moderna this time; the first was Pfizer. There were fewer side effects the second time around, which is good news. There’s nothing like having a mild fever during a major heat wave. I’m looking forward to visiting with friends again and entering a store without a mask, which will be optional (depending on the situation) as of July 1st in our province.

I’ll check my emails, but basically, I just want to take it easy, enjoy some downtime, and read books. What I’ve learned from vacations is that when your mind is relaxed and the to-do list is empty, story ideas tend to pop up, so I’ll keep a notebook nearby. Earlier this year, I began compiling notes for a new series I’m really excited about, but I haven’t opened the file folder in over three months. Perhaps, it’s time. We’ll see.

I’ll be back at it in a couple of weeks, revved up and ready to go!

When You Have Flowers…

When you have flowers, life feels better. At least it does for me, and this month I’ve been blessed with plenty of gorgeous blooms. Here’s some of the colorful displays that have made me happy this May. First up is the tiny rose plant my daughter and granddaughter presented me for Mother’s Day. It’s been repotted and more blooms have appeared since I took this photo.

Next is the bouquet that hubby bought for our 33rd wedding anniversary. We spent part of the day gardening together and reminiscing about the day we got married in our backyard, which looked much different back then than it does now. We now have a veggie garden, new patio, walkway, and retaining walls all to replace the rotting wooden ones.

In our front yard, we have the most gorgeous orange azaleas. At least I’m told they’re azaleas. They came with the house when we bought it in 1987. I’m no expert. Anyhow, this is their best year ever.

Our red rhododendrons are coming out.

As are the white azaleas.

This year, we’re making greater effort to grow wildflowers in our backyard to attract bees and hummingbirds. I’m excited to see what the seeds will produce. In these COVID times, gardening stores are one of the few businesses that have been busier than ever, for good reason. Growing your own flowers and food is a handy skill to have.

Many writers are also gardeners, and I understand why. The physical labor provides reprieve from sitting at a computer for too long. It also allows your mind to relax and work on those plotting problems. For me, walking, sitting by the water, or even housework, allows the creative part of my brain to work. I wouldn’t be surprised if many story ideas are nourished in your gardens, too. How many of you keep gardens and does it help you with your writing?

Progress and Nostalgia, an Uneasy Mix

Last week, British Columbia’s lower mainland enjoyed an unusually warm, sunny week. I used the opportunity to walk through my neighborhood and a little way beyond. I live in Port Moody, a city of just over, 33,500 people, one that’s rapidly growing. We’re about about a half-hour drive east of Vancouver, faster if the many traffic lights work in my favor, and share borders with Burnaby and Coquitlam. I’ve lived in this beautiful, mountainous area at the end of Burrard Inlet for over thirty years, and I’ve seen some changes. But when Vancouver’s SkyTrain, our above ground, light rail transit system came to Port Moody four-and-half years ago, things began to change. They’re now changing at a head-spinning rate.

I live in a 40+ year old home a quiet residential street, a 7-minute walk from the local SkyTrain station. So, I guess it’s no surprise that there are four major developments under construction within five minutes of my house. I don’t oppose the six-story rental units because people need them, but as you’ll see below there are also concrete condo towers being crammed onto fairly small lots.

There’s another tower being built behind one of them

These changes and COVID isolation have made me nostalgic for the past lately. So, I thought I’d share some of the structures that represent fond and/or poignant memories. All of these locations are within walking distance of my home. The photo below is a small part of the recreation center where I facilitated writing workshops until last October. It’s also where I brought my kids when they were toddlers to their first play sessions. I miss facilitating.

A newer, larger part of the complex is to the right

Right next door and sharing the parking lot, is Port Moody’s city hall and library, where I’ve done readings, attended launches, presented workshops, and launched one of my own books. I remember when this structure was built. Until COVID, it was bursting at the seams as more people come to our city. I haven’t stepped in the library for over a year.

So many fond memories of the library, on the left side of this building.

The lovely building below is actually a seniors’ retirement home, but the top floor is the hospice where my mom spent the last month of her life. I remember the kindness of the staff and the inviting atmosphere of the lounge, where the larger windows face out onto the street. As you can see, there are plenty of trees around. Mom loved looking at the trees through the window in the room she rarely left.

The lounge winds and building entrance are behind the blossoming tree.

Last but not least, is my friend Julie’s former townhouse complex before she moved to the BC interior. I remember many great critiquing sessions with talented, inspiring colleagues. Julie’s now lives much closer to her family and has certainly enriched the writing community in her area. I know she reads this blog, so shout-out to Julie! See how much the trees have grown around your townhouse?

Port Moody loves its trees!

As you have gathered, I have mixed feelings about my area and about the prospect of leaving it in a couple of years time. We will be moving to a quieter part of the lower mainland, not yet invaded by progress on this scale.

I write about Port Moody in some of my books. In 2008, I published a mystery called Fatal Encryption which depicted scenes of my city. The final confrontation between villain and hero takes place in an empty parking lot at Rocky Point Park (a much-loved landmark) during a stormy November night. By the time the book was published, half of the parking lot had been replaced by a restaurant. Maybe I’ll try to incorporate more scenes of Port Moody in my work as it is now, because tomorrow will look quite different, and one day I fear I won’t recognize it.

More Free Writing Workshops and an Editing Booster

Last week’s newsletter promotion has resulted in 155 downloads of my first Casey Holland mystery, The Opposite of Dark, so far, which is great. The downside is that there aren’t nearly as many new subscribers. In other words, people check the subscribe box, download the book, then immediately unsubscribe. But free things rule this year, right? If you had a chance to check out free mystery and suspense novels, you can find the link HERE. Clearly, you don’t have to stay subscribed!

Now for another freebie. ProWritingAid is offering four days of workshops on crime fiction from April 19-23. Presenters include Karin Slaughter, Ian Rankin, and Lisa Gardner among authors. If you’re interested in attending, check out the link HERE. You’ll see a registration button on the page.

The beauty about registering is that if the timing doesn’t work for you, you can view them later for up to a seven-day period. I learned a lot from the fantasy workshops I took in February. Although I’ve been writing mysteries a while, there’s always something to learn.

During the fantasy week workshops, ProWritingAid organizers offered a significant discount on their editing program. I signed up for a year because I was hoping to find a way to speed up my editing process. I’ve been trying it on my mystery novella and so far find I’m finding it quite helpful. It’s designed to assist with copyediting needs and does everything from pointing out overused and repetitive words, to grammar glitches, punctuation errors, passive sentences, overlong sentences, and so forth. The program also gives me a summary report that lets me know how strong some areas of my writing are and where I could use some tweaking. The link to the editing program is HERE, but if you hunt around, maybe you can try it for free.

They also offer a ProWritingAid university program, which I haven’t signed up for, but I won’t rule it out in the future.

A Writer’s Recycling Conundrum

Pexels photo by C. Technical

I’ve been giving a lot of thought to downsizing my home this week. It’s probably because we’re in a hot housing market in our area and three houses on our street are suddenly on the market, one having sold in a matter of days, above asking price, which is a common occurrence right now. Since we’re planning to downsize and move in two years anyway, should we step up our plan? This leads to a more immediate issue. How do I begin to sort and recycle over thirty plus years of paper in my home office?

I’ve been writing since the early 80’s. During my first fifteen years, it was all about submitting short stories, personal essays, and articles in paper form, complete with a self-addressed stamped envelope for an editor’s response. I still have tons of correspondence from those days.

I keep our family’s household records in another filing cabinet, but I’ve been much better at shredding and recycling those. Canada Revenue Agency only requires folks to keep records dating back seven years. So, why haven’t I done the same with my writing files?

Two reasons, I think. One is that I have an emotional attachment to my writing things. All that correspondence, all the paper drafts and final drafts of stories, and all of the notes represent four decades of work. Tossing it away seems counterintuitive. On the other hand, everything I’ve written is on the computer and backed up on flash drives.

The other reason is one of habit. For many years, I’ve printed out a final draft of a book, blog, or review, though I’ve now stopped doing so for blogs and reviews. It took a conscious effort and some resolve to break an old habit.

I have two scrapbooks filled with memories about fun book launches, writing events, and reviews of my work. I also keep a binder containing my publication credits, publishing stats, income and expenditures, and so forth. Maybe that’s more than enough of a physical reminder of those decades, and I should just let the rest go.

I’ve managed to sort and recycle a few things. In a blog last year, I mentioned that I cleared off unnecessary information from my two bulletin boards and I’ve managed to keep them clear. I also went through my collection of articles on writing and began organizing them into binders. I’ve found that it’s a 50/50 mix about whether I look something up in a digital folder or a paper one.

I’ve also renewed efforts to pare down my book collection. Last weekend, I began filling a box of books to give away, but it’s part of a larger downsizing and spring cleaning project that will also involve dozens of cookbooks I haven’t used in years. Sorting and recycling all of my cupboards could take a while and I expect I’ll need to set up a schedule.

For you writers who’ve built quite a collection of notes, drafts, correspondence, and such, what do you do with all of that material? To you keep it in boxes and binders? Is it organized? Or do you recycle almost everything and rely on digital backups?

So, How’s Retirement Going?

Before I start this week’s topic, I want to add extra information I received regarding Access Copyright, which I mentioned in last week’s blog. An author kindly provided a link which indicates that if you are self-published you can apply to Access Copyright as a Creator Affiliate. I’ve provided the link with more information HERE. As my colleague pointed out, it’s not that easy to find the info on their website. But if you’re interested in registering with the program, you can fill out their form HERE.

So, I’ve been retired from my day job a little over nine months now and if you were to ask me how I find it, my answer is that it’s great, except I’m still working full time. It’s just that those hours are spent on editing and the many tasks that go with being a published author.

I’ve been keeping track of I’ve the hours spent on writing, editing, and promotional stuff each week, and was a little surprised to see that I’ve been averaging a 37 hour week from the get-go. Hmm. Am I okay with this? Yeah. It still gives me more downtime than I had this time last year. Did I set out to create a 35-40 hour week? No, not really. It happened because I’m enjoying what I’m doing and I’ve spent a fair bit of time implementing some of the new things I’ve learned in workshops over the past six months.

I start each day, thinking about what I need to get done, what I would like to get done, then head downstairs to my office, and work on what I can get done. I often ask myself how much can I accomplish each day without pushing too hard?

Another reason for the all the computer time is that winter’s kept me from gardening and going for long walks. No matter how bundled up I am, I wind up with runny noses and a cough in damp, rainy weather. Secondly, I’m focused on completing the next round of edits to send my current WIPs to beta readers. Third, I’ll be babysitting Ellie starting in August, which will definitely cut down writing time. We’re also planning to downsize our house (a chore in itself since we’ve lived here over 30 years) and move in 2023, which will likely throw productivity way off course.

I still keep a routine because it helps with productivity and creating more downtime, but I also need some flexibility. Life still involves appointments and unexpected situations. I have no idea what my writing life will be like a year from now. All I know is that I’m enjoying the moment while looking forward to the future. And maybe that’s enough.

January Exuberance, Who Knew?

Not quite that exuberant, but close…

A funny thing happened on Sunday night. I felt wildly happy, exuberant, in fact. The reason was simple. For the first time in years, I was ending the Christmas season without worrying about heading back to a day job. Fretting about the return to work, or in earlier days, getting the kids ready for school, or even my own return to school, always meant that the first weekend of a new year was a downer. Not this time, my friends. I tried real hard not to smirk over the fact that my hubby and son were returning to work on Monday. Of course, I failed miserably, but they understood.

I have no intention of shuffling my way into laziness this month, despite the dark rainy days. I’ve a fairly long to-do list in my planner this week, but it’s my choice as to how much time I’ll spend on each of these tasks. This year, I’m going to give myself more free time on the weekends to try new recipes, read more books, or go for longer walks.

I have two major writing projects underway, and a third, which I’ve put on the backburner but really need to finish. It’s a Casey Holland novella, which was written quite some time ago and has been edited at least ten times. I put it away last spring, but 2021 might be the time to get it publication ready. The first six books in the series had a serious tone, but the novella is a tongue-and-cheek look at the lighter side of Casey’s work as a transit security officer. Once I pull it out of its folder, I’ll tell you more.

It will be a work-filled year. My choice. Productive. Creative. Fun. Stepping outside into the real world might be a little more challenging until most of the population is vaccinated, but I’ll do my best to stay safe. But once they are, that’ll be a happy day!

A New Year Dawns

Pexels photo by Olya Kobruseva

Well, we’ve just about made it through 2020 and that’s a good thing, but we must not forget those who didn’t. I know some of you lost friends and family members this year, and words can’t adequately express my sadness for the many lives lost. Articles, blogs, books, and documentaries have and will be written about this year. These days, I choose to reflect on what I’ve learned and to think about new goals for 2021.

As far as writing goes, I intend to follow through with some of the goals I mentioned earlier this month. After researching the pros and cons, I’ve finally been persuaded that building an email list is a good marketing strategy. Now, I just need to decide which server best suits my needs.

As you might have noticed, I’ve been working on branding and came up with a logo, with my daughter’s help, and finally updated my blog sidebar. I’ve also given my website a new look. There’s always something to do isn’t there? With restrictions still in place in our area, I’ve had plenty of time to work on these tasks after a morning of editing.

About this time last year, I set a goal of sorting through bins of the kids’ old schoolwork and recycling as much as I could. I finally tackled the project this week, which has actually been fun. I’ve been their reading class journal entries from grades three and four. In one, my daughter wrote that she wanted to be a writer. I remember that. In university, she chose an accounting career because she’s incredibly bright and well aware that a writing income doesn’t pay off mortgages unless you’re one of those rare souls. She’s always had an artistic bent and drew beautiful pictures in her elementary school days. Since she’s been on maternity leave she’s started drawing again. In our family, one of the most interesting outcomes of COVID is that my son has also taken up drawing. My husband’s enjoyed this hobby on and off for years but he also developed a passion for photography this year. It’s amazing to see them nurture their artistic side.

2020 definitely had some awesome moments for me, like retiring from the day job and the birth of my granddaughter, but I’ll always look back on it with mixed emotions. Meanwhile, I’ll greet 2021 with the same optimism I usually have when a new year starts. I wish you all a happy, creative, and prosperous 2021!