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You Are What You Read

The thought has crossed my mind a few times lately. Being pregnant, I’ve never been more aware of how the food I eat directly impacts my body and the little (girl!) growing inside of me, and I can’t help but notice a similar trend when it comes to what I read, and watch.

People have compared my writing to CS Lewis’ “Chronicles of Narnia”. Well guess what? I grew up on the stuff. My parents read the entire series to me several times over when I was a kid. These books are so ingrained into my skull that I have to fight to eradicate the kindly English accent in my head that pops up whenever I write.

After that came Madeline L’Éngles’ books and by the time I hit grade three, I tackled Lord of the Rings for the very first time (took me a few years but I did it in the end). While living in Germany, the first English books I encountered were the Harry Potter series. At the time I the Shadowlands books were nothing more than a vague dream but the experience of wandering the German countryside (I read as I walk) with a book of magic in my hand stuck to me more than I’d like to admit.

I picked up a darker satirical edge from Simon R Green. Throw in a pinch of that great TV series ‘Firefly’, and you come out with an adventure fantasy series primarily aimed at pre-teens and teen boys.

The second Shadowlands book does feel different. Probably because it reflects a different time of life. I’ve been married and settled back in my home town for a few years, and I’ve got a baby in the oven. My life experiences revolve less around globetrotting and more around the relational complexities of family. Tavin’s shares a large part of the story with his sister Moreanna. Family loyalty seems to be a major theme in this second book…

But back to reading and eating. I still have to claim my initial influences (Lewis, LÉngle and Tolkien), but I’ve been reading a lot more Anne Rice lately, as well as some other more ‘grown up’ fantasy books. I’m not sure if I should admit it, but I’ve also been hooked on the TV series ‘Supernatural’ lately. The influence on my writing is probably slightly more than subconscious. 😛 If you ever read my next book ‘The Hand of Darkness’ see if you can spot it. Heh heh.

But what about dessert? My guilty pleasure has always been westerns. I know. It seems a little out of left field. But when it’s cold and rainy and I’m feeling down Louie L’Amour is who I reach for. Which is why… against the the strong objections of my husband (who thinks it’s a horrible idea), I’ve begun writing a western. 🙂 The best part is the reactions I get when I tell people. I get these blank looks as they try and process the idea. The conversation usually goes something like this:

“…so… it’s a time travel book?” “Nope. It’s a western.”

“So how do your characters get there?”

“In the west? They are born there.”

“Are there aliens or something?”

“Nope. It’s a western.”

“Do they have superpowers?”

“It’s a western. They shoot guns.”

… you get the idea. Personally, I’ve never had more fun writing a book then when I write this one. I can hardly wait to share it! Vampires? What vampires? Trust me, I’ve decided the market’s ripe: westerns are the new ‘it’. If you’re smart, you’ll write one too. 😛


Who am I kidding?

Being pregnant has taught me a few things… namely recognizing my limitations. I’ve learned to schedule naps into my day and not to judge the mirror to harshly. Today is my day off and I’ve decided that I need to take a long pampering bath and put energy into feeling healthy and pretty-not scrubbing the bathrooms. 🙂

Some of you have been wondering where I’ve been lately… I guess I’ll have to share my big secret: I love friends, but social media isn’t exactly my strength. My life is wonderful and full. I’ve been working a lot, sleeping a lot, and I’ve taken on more students to tutor in the art of creative writing. I’m still slogging away on a manuscript that’s been ‘almost done’ for several months.

I’d like to do more… but I need to eat a big BBQ chicken egg sandwich in about 10 minutes from now.

I don’t know where the balance is. I think I may just be a writer who switches on to social media some time before and after a book release. In the middle, I plan to fill my head with adventure and not sweat the number of tweets I may not have put out. Perhaps things will change. Maybe they won’t, but all I know is that the best thing I can do for my child, is to love me.

And make a sandwich to die for.

Thanks for asking Rusty. 🙂


Nanaimo’s Youth Newspaper: The Mind’s Eye

I discovered the most amazing little newspaper recently. I’m not even sure how I missed it before. While sharing  my husband’s birthday lunch at Delicados I discovered “the Mind’s Eye”. It’s a newspaper written by and for youth (ages 13 to 25). It has a super positive vibe and it is full of interviews with artists. It also has a healthy dose of witty opinion columns, and a rolling list of local events that I would actually attend! (Underground all-ages shows).

It kind of rejuvenated my hope for the future of our writing youth. Maybe the digital generation won’t turn out as literally obtuse as my dark dreams have occasionally imagined. 🙂 Thank you to the Nanaimo Daily News for backing this publication and to all the youth who contribute!

Here is their facebook page.

You can pick up a copy of the Mind’s Eye at your high school, the Avalon, Van Isle Video, The Aquatic Centre, Oliver Woods Community Centre, Nanaimo Ice Centre, Harbourfront Library, Fascinating Rhythm, Lucid, House of Indigo, the Thirsty Camel, Pirate Chips and other local businesses.

The Sacred and the Secretarial

Yesterday on Writers and Company (CBC Radio) they brought in two authors to talk about a writer’s changing role when it comes to self-promotion and marketing… specifically in relation to social media. I didn’t hear the entire interview and it hasn’t been posted quite yet, but it struck a tragic chord with me.

You see, I discovered that the two authors were experiencing exactly the same problems that I have.

The best work of any artist is created when we enter this sacred “trance” or “zone” of creativity. When I wasn’t pregnant I generally forgot about the world once I entered in this zone. I forgot to eat, I skipped showers. I didn’t return phone calls… and I could write 4500 a day, easily.

But that was really before I was published, before there was any real need for me to be online for any other reason than reference materials.

As it was pointed out in the interview, writers are famous procrastinators. We used to have to leave the house and go looking for a coffee shop to find distraction, but now, thanks to instant messaging, we don’t even have to leave our desk.

Facebook, twitter, even email provide a type of instant gratification rush that’s similar to pulling the lever on a slot machine. Just hit refresh and who knows what type of distracting email/message/tweet you may have. What’s worse, emptying the email box makes us feel like we’re accomplishing something. It lets us go on to other tasks without feeling too guilty about not actually working on our book.

Being social media savvy is also a quality that agents/ editors/ publishers tend to evaluate. They probably will google your name and take a peek at just how successful you are when it comes to self-promotion. Any why not? The less work that they have to do gets your book that much faster onto the shelf, and it means a cheaper product for them.

The problem is the secretarial realm DOES NOT mix well with the sacred realm of deep creativity. At least not for me. I work from home as well and trying to switch back and forth between writing a fantasy manuscript, blogging about outdoor gear (my day job), and keeping on top of my social media demands… well honestly, it’s often my manuscript that suffers the most.

Because of this, the two writers on CBC suggested that writing is getting worse. Unless writers have hours and hours of lonely space to dig down and commune with their soul, the writing we produce only really scratches the surface of what could be… or so I have heard.

Which I guess is why I like to write in the middle of the night, when I can. Sadly to say it doesn’t happen near enough but I did get up an extra two hours early this morning just to work on my manuscript.

What’s your solution? How do you push back the secretarial realm and make space for the sacred?

A month in a nutshell…

I know, I know. It’s been awhile. I’ve kind of dropped off the grid for a bit. In my defence, life has been full of wonderful changes and it’s been a race to keep up. Let me fill you in. 🙂

Moving! My husband J and I bought our first house and moved in! After living in a small apartment, having our own place feels like a castle. There is even a spare room where I now have my office. Not only am I busy almost finishing off the manuscript for my next book, I do social media for an outdoor sporting goods store. To my chagrin, I seem to do a much better job doing social media for someone else. 😛

Babies! I recently flew out to Denver, CO to spend some time with a close friend. She just gave birth to her second and it was fun to be able to fly out and give her a hand. My sister-in-law also had gave birth… last night. I was able to be there to see her deliver a beautiful baby girl (after 22 hrs.).

And guess what? I found out a few weeks ago I’m pregnant as well. The timing is incredible, it feels like J and I have done 10 years of growing up in 2 months. The good news? So far my pregnancy seems relatively easy. I only get really nauseous if I stay up too late… like last night for instance. Not that I’m going through anything like what my sister-in-law is experiencing, but walking around the hospital at 3am makes me feel like I ate gym socks for breakfast. Right now I’m curled up in bed with the laptop trying to decide if a hot shower will help.

Finally, despite appearances, I have remained mostly plugged into the local writing community. The best part of my week is when I work with young Josh teaching him how to write his first bestselling book. I think he’s in his early teens. We have quite a bit of fun together.

Similar opportunities for working with kids have been opening up left and right. There’s really only so much our school system can teach about creative writing and parents that have gifted kids seem really excited that I love teaching kids how to write stories as much as I love writing itself. I will be speaking at a writing group for kids this week and a grade 4 teacher has asked me to come and talk to her class. I’m super stoked!

So that catches you up! Time for a shower… and pineapple. I suddenly need to go eat a lot of pineapple.

What Makes us Human: Basic Character Building

Every good story has good characters. Like real characters they must reflex the complexity of real humans. It’s pretty tricky trying to make something that moves and acts human, but the points below outline what I do with mine. Hopefully they will help you get close to developing a character that feels genuine.

Point one:
A fictional character is made up of four layers
1.What you see on the outside. I.e. Appearance, sex, social economic level, health, profession… etc
2.Physical mannerisms I.e. Nervous habits, ticks, stance, etc…
3. Character traits. I.e. Outgoing, extroverted, sensitive, thick-skinned, mischievous…
4.Core values and inner truths Foe example: An unshakable belief in human decency, mistrust of authority, sees value in beauty but nothing else…

Point two:
In fiction we tend to start with the top layer and dig down. We generally know what our character looks like on the outside but usually know little about what goes on beneath the surface.

The best method for discovering this, I’ve found, is the interview method. Sit your character down and ask him some questions. Your ultimate goal is to dig deep enough to uncover a core value/inner truth. Then do it again.

Some questions you might ask are:
What is your deepest fear?
How would someone with this fear act?
What would you do if you won a million dollars?
Is stealing ever justified?
What do you have in your pockets?
Who was your first crush?

The point is to fill in as many details on every character level that you can.

Point three:
The crowning touch of a truly human character is inconsistency. Consider a bank robber that donates to charity, or a prostitute who insists upon a formal wedding. There is something so appealing and intriguing about contradiction!

Hope that helps get the juices flowing!

TV Interview on Shaw!

What happens when a publishing house goes under?


I recently read about a friend who published with a smaller house and when they went under her book dropped out of print. I have to confess this is a fear that has crossed my mind. A book is an investment of years, just the thought of loosing your contract sends a chill down my spine.

What ever happens to a book that goes out of print? I’m sure there have been quite a few. Can you ever resell the manuscript? Sometimes I wonder if I’m putting too many eggs in one basket by preparing to write a whole series of books for one publisher. I wonder if I should try to write another book at the same time and sell it somewhere else, but at the same time… I know this is probably more work than I can handle!

Just some random thoughts. On a positive note all of this leads me to conclude that writers/publishers/editors/agents must be among the most resilient/optimistic people on the planet. 🙂 The publishing industry is labour intensive, heart-breaking and offers little return… and yet… and yet… I still know that this is what I’ll do with the rest of my life.

PS Happy news! My husband and I are buying our first home! Yeah! I’m going to get a real office… and an island in the kitchen. 🙂

Writing a series

Among other things, I’m busily working away on my next book. For those of you tackling something similar, I thought I’d record a few thoughts on what I think goes into writing a successful series here.

The light bulb turned on with Harry Potter. I really enjoyed the books and followed them all the way to the end… but for me, it wasn’t the plot.

I returned to the Harry Potter books because of the richly imagined world JK Rowling built. I’m convinced that it was the strength of her world that made her such a marketing sensation and kept us all reading. You know what I mean: you bought the scarf… JK Rowling’s world was big enough for us all.

Another example of an amazing series is the Nightside books by Simon Green (definitely not YA, or for the mildly squeamish… there are things in these books that you’ll never forget). Yes, the world Simon Green creates is amazing but I believe the real strength of the writing lays in one of the strongest character voices I’ve come across.

And that I think this is key. To write a successful series, the second ingredient is a character who refuses to die or even live happily ever after. They have to be so big that we remain captivated by the awe and horror of their lives. They need to be constantly evolving, struggling and reinventing themselves. And absolutely memorable.

Finally, I think the third secret ingredient needs to be dangling subplots… nothing too big (I like to feel as if I’ve read a whole story when I put down a book), but just enough that the reader can feel like there’s more to come. It’s very satisfying to discover the answer to a subplot several books down the line.

So there are my thoughts. Hopefully with some planning and a little luck I’ll be able to work some of these thoughts into my next book, Shadowlands: The Hand of Darkness!