The Last Month of the Year

Ah, December. Never a hugely productive writing month for me, as other priorities take over. Many of you are all too familiar with the busy-ness of shopping, baking, wrapping, decorating, and Christmas office functions, etc.

I’m starting a week or so earlier than usual this year, and am already decorating a second Christmas tree. Our home tree was finished this weekend with my sister’s help. It’s a conglomeration of over thirty years of a mixed bag of ornaments, nearly all of which have special memories.

Coffee Table Decorations, 2019The second tree is for our front desk at work (that’s my office). Both were worked on between other tasks, but I managed to get them finished. I also decorated the coffee table in our family room, something I didn’t do when my kids were little and the house full of pets.

I’ve also started thinking about shopping. For the first time in my life, I took part in a black Friday sale by ordering one item Work-2online for my sister, which she requested. The contrarian in me doesn’t normally take part in the annual shopping hysteria displayed on TV, but this is my sister and she event sent me a photo of the item, so I dived in and ordered online.

I don’t abandon writing completely in December, as there’s a fair bit of editing to do, goals to accomplish, and deadlines to keep in mind. My jacket designer has new versions of The Blade Man’s cover for me to peruse (I’m loving their work, by the way) and there are a million other marketing tasks, but the tasks will still be there after the holidays. Because Christmas and family always come first with me, my cover reveal won’t occur until the first week in the new year, and then the tasks will really ramp up. Stay tuned!

Part of all the busy-ness this past weekend was fun stuff, like doing some wine tasting and picking up our case of wine from the Township7 Winery in Langley. Later we took the SkyTrain to LaFarge Lake to see the incredibly beautiful lights all around the lake. It was my first time seeing the display and it was simply wonderful.

From now until Christmas, my writing pattern changes. There will be a little bit of editing every morning (which is when I work best), the day job, then Christmas preparations until the big day arrives, and of course other chores and errands. My family isn’t large, so shopping isn’t too bad. Who knows, maybe I’ll be able to fit a little more writing time in than I thought. Or maybe I’ll just sit quietly and contemplate new ideas and opportunities that have been springing up.

We Need More Mister Rogers

2659-large[1]A week ago, I was composing an email at work when an administer walked by and said something like, “I see you’re wearing a cardigan for Mister Rogers’ Day.” I responded with what was probably a confused stare and said, “Sorry?” At which point she explained that November 13th was Mister Rogers’ Cardigan Day. Who knew? Clearly, the administrator didn’t realize that I wear cardigans pretty much every day at this time of year.

When I got home from work, I did a Google search and, sure enough, according to goodfoodpittsburgh.com, November 13th was Mister Rogers’ Cardigan Day, which encourages people to express kindness by wearing a cardigan in honor of Fred Rogers You can find the short article HERE.

I have to tell you that Fred Rogers is one of my heroes. I watched him a lot with my kids when they were little. The more I watched, the more I appreciated how unique and wonderful he truly was.

Movie trailers about him have been popping up on TV, so I’ve been thinking about Mister Rogers more than usual lately. I’m intrigued that Tom Hanks is portraying him. Based on a New York times article, (you can find it HERE) he’s a terrific choice because he too appears to be a genuinely nice guy.

If there’s one thing this planet needs right now, it’s more Fred Rogers and genuinely kind people…role models that children and adults, for that matter, can look up to and emulate. People with his gentleness and integrity seem in short supply right now, but there’s nothing stopping any of us from following those values and committing acts of kindness wherever we go.

As a writer, I’m thinking why not create an unassuming hero with integrity, gentleness, and kindness? Maybe he, or she, won’t be the feisty, kick-ass, super-human individual so prevalent in novels and movies today. Maybe this hero will have Fred Rogers qualities, but with one or two other unique aspects…and so a new writing idea begins.

Remembrance Day And The Power Of Words

remembrance-poppy[1]I always prepare a first draft of my blogs on Mondays. This year, Remembrance Day was on Monday. As I wrote the first draft, the TV was showing images of ceremonies that had occurred earlier across Canada. I also read heartfelt Facebook posts about grandfathers, grandmothers, fathers, mothers, brothers, and sisters who served our country.

Since I usually post my blog on Wednesdays, I thought that maybe I shouldn’t write about something that happened two days ago, but then I thought, shouldn’t we always be remembering those who fought and sacrificed so much? Shouldn’t we acknowledge veterans and those are who are still serving after November 11th ? Thus, today’s post is as much about paying respect to those who served as it is the power of words.

My appreciation of poetry and the real power of words, began way back in elementary school after reading John McCrae’s In Flanders Fields. If you want to read a poem with an impact, you can find it HERE. It’s still one of the most powerful poems I’ve ever read and still brings tears to my eyes.

As you all know, words can do many things…heal, amuse, anger, disrupt, hurt, and destroy, to name just a few examples. It reminds us that freedom of speech is one thing, but thoughtless, unfiltered remarks in public or by public figures can have grave consequences.

Those of us who are professional writers spend much of our waking lives editing out what isn’t appropriate or simply doesn’t work. We often self-censure, mainly to make a piece clearer and/or less offensive. Granted, when you write about murder and killing people like I do, some will take offense at the topic, no matter what. So be it. I try to be careful with words, online, on the page, or in person. Words are simply too powerful to wield around like uncontrolled weapons. Although I’m seeing a lot of that these days, it makes me appreciate all the thoughtful writers and bloggers who take care with words. Who know just how much words, and people, matter.

What Really Matters

thinking-writing[1].jpgWriters spend a lot of time worrying, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. After all, if you’re writing for contests and publications, fretting over word counts and meeting deadlines is a necessary part of the job. Let’s face it, all occupations come with worries and challenges.

But sometimes the worry starts to feel out of control. There are people who spend years writing and rewriting the same manuscript, never sufficiently satisfied to actually submit it somewhere. Other writers never get over the hurdle of feeling that they’re not good enough or deserving of a great review or an award, or some other recognition, so they don’t bother trying.

Those of us who publish are own books spend a lot of time fretting over production details. Which font should we use? What should the spacing between lines be? What should appear on the front and back pages, and in which order? Which is the best month to launch a new book? What makes an effective book launch? What if my books don’t arrive in time for my launch, signing, or some other event? What if no one shows up? What if no one cares?

This kind of stuff can drive you crazy. So when I came across a very short piece on Seth Godin’s blog (he writes terrific, thought-provoking blogs) it made me stop and think. Given that I’m in the midst of book production and numerous writing projects, his recent piece called A Year From Now, really resonated with me. It’s only three sentences long, so it won’t take you long to read it HERE.

Okay, now that you’ve finished, I have to tell you that those three sentences made me realize that fretting over what seems important—or even an emergency today—might not mean a darn thing a year from now. Maybe I should rather focus my energy on doing something today that will indeed matter in a year’s time.

Although Seth’s blog certainly applies to other areas of our lives, I’ve been thinking about this with respect to my writing life, and I’m working on answers.

Whether you’re into writing or not, what will you do that will still matter one year from now? Food for thought, right? I encourage you to subscribe to Seth’s blog. Needless to say, he has some pretty cool ideas.

Thanksgiving Gratitude and Surprises

CA_thanksgiving1[1]Last weekend, my Canadian friends and family celebrated Thanksgiving. Other than doing a little editing and book formatting, this wasn’t a productive writing weekend, but rather a weekend for family and for reflection on the many things I’m grateful for. It was also a day to remember my mother who would have celebrated her 85th birthday on Sunday the 13th.

Her ashes were scattered on Sunday. We toasted her with a bottle of sparkling wine, her favorite celebration beverage, and a turkey dinner with all the trimmings, which was her favorite holiday meal. We also began the task of sorting through the last of her belongings that I’d been storing in our spare bedroom since early June.

When we packed up her apartment in July 2018 to move her into assisted living, we thought we’d been through everything. As it turns out, we didn’t closely inspect every book and photograph. You won’t believe what we found.

Stamp album.jpgFirst, we came across what looked like a book, but what was actually The Victory Stamp Album, which is pretty much self-explanatory. The title page says that the book was made in England but published in Toronto (in England and French) by The Copp Clark Co. Ltd. I’ve never heard of them but stamp enthusiasts and others might know who they were. Inscribed on the inside of the book, is the caption, “To my dear little son Clifford with love and all good wishes, from Mother.” Clifford was my grandfather, born in 1908. Some of the stamps are missing, but others are still there. It felt like I was holding a bit of history in my hands.

 

War time book.jpgThe second surprise was a thin book called “How to Solve Some of Your Wartime Home Problems” published by Canadian General Electric Co. Limited, dated Nov. 1943. Some of the chapter headings are “How to Conserve Fuel and Still Keep Warm” and “How to Get the Most Out of the Food You Buy” that includes meat rationing recipes, like Braised Beef Heart, Beef Liver Creole, Pic Hocks and Sauerkraut, and Creamed Sweetbreads with Mushrooms”. How different our Canadian diets are today!

The third book was apparently the first book given to my mother. The cover has all but fallen off, but handwritten inside is the date 1939. Mom was born in 1934. It’s an illustrated book of Bible stories.

Lastly, I came across a photo of my grandfather Clifford’s grandmother, whose name was Jane Anne Taylor before marriage to the Mason clan. In other words she was my great, great grandmother. I had no idea. Looking at more family photos of my aunts, I can still see some resemblance. Simply amazing. My kids and I learned some valuable family history on Sunday, and I’m thankful that my mother kept these things, and that her memory will live on.

October is Cyber Security Awareness Month

As a crime writer who studied criminology in college, I’ve always had a particular interest reading and writing about white-collar crime. A few years ago, I maintained two blogs a week, one devoted solely to the wacky, bizarre, and disturbing goings on in white-collar crime capers. Needless to say, there was a lot to write about.

My first two published mysteries, Taxed to Death (now out of print) and Fatal Encryption, were about fraud and computer hacking respectively. It’s still a topic that’s dear to my heart, and as you well know, computer hacking, scams, and other forms of fraud are more prevalent than ever. Whether we know it or not, just about all of us have been hacked and invaded at one time or another.

Cyber SecurityOctober is Cyber Security Awareness Month, and there are plenty of things we can each do to help protect ourselves and our families. Seniors are especially vulnerable, but so are teens who are acquiring their first credit cards and paying with debit cards or through other means that were unheard of a decade ago.

One thing you can do right now is check your social media sites. I see many people on Facebook receiving hearty congratulations for their birthdays. I see frequent pictures of family members and children from folks who include all sorts of personal information that just shouldn’t be there. If you can restrain yourself from revealing too much, then do so.

When you join a social media site, you don’t have to fill out every bit of personal information about yourself. In fact, I’d advise you not to. Facebook, etc, is one of the few places where you shouldn’t be completely forthcoming about your age and birthdate, family names and so forth. You never know who’s watching and learning all about you, as if we didn’t already know this, right?

For great tips and reminders about staying safe, please visit StaySafeOnLine .

A Wedding Celebration!

Cutting the CakeFollowers of this blog know that my family’s experienced a fair bit of grief and sadness this year, but today’s blog is to celebrate something quite wonderful, my daughter’s wedding last Saturday.

Held inside a beautiful room at Vancouver’s Van Dusen Gardens, it was truly a spectacular day. I won’t have copies of the photographer’s photos for a few weeks, but my sister snapped a few on her phone, showcasing a couple of moments, which you’ll see here.

It was simply breathtaking to see Elida and her dad walk down the aisle and enjoy their father-daughter dance. To hear all of the amazing, and often funny speeches, to see family and friends come together and enjoy a fabulous meal, conversation, laughter, cake cutting, and dancing was simply amazing.

Elida & Brandon, DinnerThe sparkling backdrop behind the bride and groom’s table was a last-minute decision we added just before the wedding. The vendor didn’t supply backdrops or decorations, so I phoned the It’s My Party shop near my home and found that they could accommodate us, despite it only being a day or two before the wedding. My son, husband, and brother-in-law assembled and erected the 24- foot long structure, finishing about an hour before the guests arrived. Sometimes, flying by the seat of one’s pants pays off .

The most important thing, though is that everyone left that night happy and smiling. So now, after fifteen months of discussions, shopping, decision making, growing anxiety and stress, this event is in family’s history books. The bride and groom will be moving into their brand new home in two weeks and there will be more celebration over the coming months, and for that I’m very grateful.

Elida & Bark dancing