Saturday, 15 October 2016

Looking forward to things is half the pleasure of them. —Lucy Maud Montgomery

Anticipation: a feeling of excitement about something that is going to happen; the act of preparing for something. —Merriam-Webster
That about sums it up for me at the moment. While the winds howl and the rain pelts, I am all smiles and laughter. For, next week, I am off to the Surrey International Writers' Conference. For the uninitiated, it is a cornucopia of stimulation, a full-out feast of inspiration and word crafting for writers.

My four day foray into the joyous muddle of writing and publishing begins with journey by float plane. Weather permitting, I will be taking my first itty-bitty plane ride. I am ridiculously excited by this. Not even the fact that I must minimize my luggage is putting a damper on my eagerness to see the islands from above. Not to mention, rather than a two-hour ferry ride, I will be on the mainland in twenty minutes. Nothing against the ferry service—it is comfortable and scenic—but, seriously? Twenty minutes?

I am taking a master class the day before the conference starts. The thought of this class has me doing a happy dance and, for those who know me or who have followed this blog for any length of time, you will recognize immediately why this particular class has me hopping up and down. It is "Writing Sex Scenes" with…wait for it…Diana Gabaldon! For folks who don't know why I am giddy over this, let me give you a brief summary. Diana wrote my all-time favourite series that begins with Outlander. It re-ignited not just my joy of reading for pleasure but my love of writing too, essentially sending me down this path of wordsmithing that I so enjoy. Outlander also led me to a forum where Diana is very active, supporting readers and writers alike. She has encouraged me and given me feedback, often at times when I despaired of moving forward in my writing. I met her briefly in Fergus. A highlight for me. Now, I get to learn from her in person. And, between the forum and having read her books, including the latest e-book, I Give You My Body, there is no doubt in mind that she is a master of the craft.
That forum I've mentioned? It has been a gold mine for me over the last eight or so years. Populated by published and wanna-be-published writers, it is a supportive environment where I have been encouraged to grow and learn. I consider many people on it my friends, even though I have not met many of them. That is about to change. An unprecedented number are flying in from around the world for this conference. At last count, I believe, we were at 40. Included in this number are two of my beta readers for Raven's Path—one from Germany and the other from California. I never thought I'd get to meet them and thank them personally for taking the time to read a novel and give feedback to a stranger.

Of course, I am also looking forward to the myriad of workshops and talks. Last year, I was entertained as well as enlightened. I laughed and cried and the cogs in my writer's brain got so well-oiled, they began to spin. Inspired, I came home and wrote Cutting to the Chase in a month. It literally spilled onto the page.

So, dear readers, these are the things that currently fill me with anticipation. I will not be blogging next week, but know that I will be immersed in my writer's world, embraced by friends old and new, and nurtured by the seasoned guard of authors who so kindly feed my soul.


Saturday, 8 October 2016

Sometimes the best way to recharge our batteries is to unplug them. —Source Unknown

Like so many Canadians, we used to go away in the winter. One week a year, paying an exorbitant price because we were only able to travel during peak times, we would steal away from cold snowy Ontario and relax in the sunshine of Mexico or the Caribbean. During the winter of 2015, we were snowbirds for the first time in our lives. Thrilled to pay for a month what a week used to cost us, we enjoyed two months in Texas.
Since moving to Vancouver Island in July of 2015, we have not gone south. Actually, except for a stolen weekend on Hornby Island and a writers' conference last fall in Surrey, BC, we have not left the island at all. Inevitably, we are asked when we will be going, especially by those anticipating the long frigid months ahead in Ontario. While all things change and unexpected adventures arise, at this point we both can honestly say we have no desire to head for warmer climes. It's an easy decision. There is no reason to leave.

Our every day is filled with the spectacular beauty and moderate weather of the Cowichan Valley. We have basked in the sun on the decks of the seaside restaurants in Cowichan Bay, celebrated guests with brunches over the water at Bridgeman's Bistro and been shuttled with new friends to our favourite pub in Duncan—Craig Street Brewing Co. We have painted and sipped at Blue Grouse Winery, we have sampled crisp pinots on the mountainside of Averill Creek and we have laughed to the point of tears while being entertained and informed at Rocky Creek Winery.

Last weekend alone, we enjoyed Octoberfest on a barge temporarily located at the end of the dock in Mill Bay. We nibbled our way through the evening, relishing culinary treats and sipping local ciders and beers. The following night we had dinner at one of our favourite wineries, Unsworth. The food is of the highest quality, the service is stellar and their Charme De L'lle is one of my favourite bubblies. Add the best of friends and a flock of frenetic chickens, and it's the perfect night out. And, it's right here in our own backyard.

The weekend was followed by four days at a small resort on the Pacific coast of the island. Point No Point is nestled along the shore, far from anything except extensive and stunning provincial parks. It's somewhat off the grid—no TV, no Wi-Fi, no cell reception…not even a landline phone in the cabin, and I was worried I wouldn't do very well. I asked my Twitter peeps to pray for me. How would I survive, unplugged, for so long?

Well, I didn't just get by. I adored it. We walked the trails, we cooked our meals and we sipped wine, surrounded by a breathtaking ocean vista. In the evening, we talked and played games, and then we curled up in luxurious beds, drifting off to the sound of waves crashing on shore. I discovered that unplugged did not mean disconnected. Keev and I and our dearest of friends, Alice and Jim, spent four days uncluttered by technology, four days living in the moment, four days of truly spending quality time with one another. Amazing.

So, when once again asked when we will next go on a southern vacation, Keev and I will just look at each other knowingly, shrug our shoulders and smile. The truth is, when you love where you live, you don't need to get away.

Saturday, 1 October 2016

Revisiting Raven's Path

These photos came across my Twitter feed last week and it reminded me of a scene in Raven's Path. The time is 1750 in the Ohio Valley. Brandan "Raven" Murray is in the woods considering abandoning Ana, a woman he has pledged to see safely to her father but who seems to be thwarting his attempts to do so. She is a woman he wants to protect and has grown to think of as his little deer, ma petite faonne. This moment brings him full circle back to her.

Some rustling caught his attention. He crept forward, crouching low, and hid behind a low-lying cluster of brush. A shaft of sunshine lit the dense forest. In the middle of the small meadow a doe casually pulled at random patches of new grass. He shifted his weight and she raised her head, sniffed the air, and began shuffling nervously.

A fawn stumbled into sight and the doe grew anxious, glancing toward her baby and back to the brush. The fawn, oblivious to possible threat, wandered aimlessly around the glen, its curiosity and enthusiasm a pleasure to behold. It blundered about the clearing, bouncing at its mother and at imaginary wisps in the wind. The mother’s nose flared and she became well agitated.

Brandan slowly stood so that she could identify the source of her anxiety. The deer froze as his eyes met hers. Eyes hauntingly familiar. Their gazes locked and she assessed his threat. He was captivated by her wary innocence. The fawn crashed into her side, yet she did not break eye contact. Seconds later, the doe made her decision, gently nudging the young animal, moving it toward the trees edging the far side of the clearing. She turned before entering the forest, her dark gaze acknowledging his gift of life, before she disappeared into the darkness.

The doe recognized his benevolence and accepted it. She knew he meant her no harm. Now, if only he could get Ana to see the same thing.


Saturday, 24 September 2016

The secret of your future is hidden in your daily routine. —Mike Murdock

When we moved into our home, the property was overgrown. A previous well-intentioned owner had overplanted both in the back and the front. New to the natural foliage of British Columbia and unschooled in handling many of the species, we trimmed timidly last fall. Not so this year. We spent the week out front, digging up and moving plants and hacking and slaughtering anything over four feet tall. It looks haggard and worn, but we know the climate will support new growth and that spring will bring fresh beauty.
There is something satisfying about taking control of the yard. We did it systematically, going out each afternoon with our self-assigned tasks. In the mornings, I took much the same approach to my writing. While I'd like to say the words flowed, the truth is they trickled. At least I did not face a full dam. A small leak is better than that. Without a doubt, sitting each day and actually putting words on paper is slowly rebuilding the habit, strengthening the writing muscle. I am once again lying at night, plotting and planning and that too is a terrific turning point.

Synergy is an interesting phenomena. As I begin to take control of these two aspects of my world, I am also finding the driving desire to take care of my body. The pleasure of many months of hosting and socializing has taken its toll. I had fallen into a lazy exercise routine and indulged in eating and drinking far more than my body can handle. So, since I can't just hack away at unwanted body fat or transplant some strength into atrophied limbs, I threw myself into some serious exercising and carefully monitored my intake. And, it feels good. Really good.

I'm not sure whether or not I am a control freak, but I do know this sense of micro-domination increases my productivity and brings satisfaction. I am optimistic that I have crossed a mental threshold and will continue to throw myself regularly into each of these endeavours. While I firmly believe that shaking up my world is necessary from time to time, that celebration is integral to happiness and that enjoying unexpected moments is essential to living a rounded healthy life, I have discovered that the comfort that routine brings is also important to me.
Look out backyard, I'm coming for you!

Saturday, 17 September 2016

You can’t think yourself out of a writing block; you have to write yourself out of a thinking block. ― John Rogers

I thought if I just showed up, the writing would fall back into place. So, I have shown up each day, sat in front of my computer, puttered with a few words and then drifted off to Twitter and blogs and anything else that would take me as far away from the void as possible. For, I am looking into a black hole rather than a maelstrom of words. I've got nothing. Nada. Zero.

At first, I thought it was the quiet that has settled over Cutting to the Chase. It is done. It is out in the world. And, while I know the process takes time, it is difficult not to feel defeated by the silence. I am grateful that agents have asked for my full manuscript but the waiting is not easy. I read about how hard it is, over and over on writers' blogs. Consistently, they say to move on. Write something else to distract you. Advice I took to heart. But what do you do when no words flow? You sit and listen to the stillness and worry that you are not good enough. That you were never good enough. That you are entirely delusional to even think you could be a writer.
I decided I suffered from some form of mental paralysis, that fear was making my writing muscles rigid. The self-diagnosis did not help. I floundered even more. Mags' story remained elusive. It shifted and morphed in my mind but didn't drift to the page. Perhaps a change of pace was in order? I pulled up the sequel to Raven's Path. And stared at it. I reviewed my plot notes for Sophia's story, my second Regency. Crickets. Like a madwoman, I opened every file that contained story premises…and remained entirely uninspired.

I have come to the conclusion that it is not enough to just show up. That's like going to the gym and watching the Zumba class or staring at the equipment. Like the reluctant exerciser (and trust me, I know her well), I need to push myself into activity, even if it's just going through the motions. I need to put words to paper every day despite the fact that they might be absolute crap. Logically, I know that eventually my atrophied writing muscles will strengthen and I will once again be able to string together a coherent story.

It is far easier to keep a habit by writing a little bit every day than it is to rebuild the habit. I must remember that the next time life lures me with its promise of good times and good friends. There is no need to pass up on any of it, but nor is it necessary to ditch my writing so completely. I think even fifteen minutes a day would have held its valuable place in my life.

So, I will enjoy this weekend and get back on the writing treadmill on Monday. It won't be easy, and it's going to be uncomfortable and probably frustrating. But it's as necessary as my daily exercise regime because it's my mental sanity. My creative anchor. It's what I do. I write…I hope.

Saturday, 10 September 2016

Hornby Island—the jewel of the Gulf

For those who drop by regularly, you might have gathered that I am enamoured of my new home. The vistas, the weather, the pace, our friends old and new—I am captivated, invigorated and inspired. This province is an artist's dream. There is a niche for every performer, visual artist or writer. And, if you want to experience art, to learn more about any of those mediums, or to simply surround yourself with talent, you do not have to look very far.
In August, we had the pleasure of joining some friends at their summer home on Hornby Island. Nestled in the Salish Sea, it is a funky eclectic retreat, two ferry rides from Vancouver Island. Its rustic ambience is entirely misleading. As you drive along the only road from the ferry, it lulls you into believing there is little there except nature's beauty. But, it is dichotomous. Definitely a place to unplug and unwind if that is your desire, but it's also teeming with a vibrant arts community that will keep you hopping if you so choose. We enjoyed a little bit of both.

The ten-day Hornby Festival included a one day Writer's Festival. Featuring Canadian writers of all ilk, it was right up my alley. The weather was iffy that day so they promptly moved it to the community hall. It was a beehive of activity, buzzing with anticipation. And, it did not disappoint. Such joy to meet and to listen to new-to-me authors! Claudia Casper's reading about a cougar attack, from her novel The Mercy Journals, was appropriately cringe-worthy. I laughed and cried as Michael Christie talked about his inspiration for If I Fall, If I Die. A renowned skateboarder turned author, he is a writer to watch. 

The day was capped off with a keynote address by Lawrence Hill. Seriously, does it get any sweeter? His soft cadence lulled, made it feel comfortable and intimate, while his sincere candid sharing about his life, his sister's death and his take on the world in general thumped in my heart and mind. He is clearly a man who cares deeply about what he says both in his writing and in person. A signed copy of The Illegal now sits at the top of my TBR pile.

There were many authors that we didn't catch because we wanted to tour this oh-so-small island (~30 km²). So, in true Keev and Rose fashion, we hit our version of tourist highlights. We visited the charming Carbrea Winery, sipped Pinot Gris and enjoyed fresh peaches. We dropped in at Island Spirits Distillery, where the owner is quite the character. Samplings of gin and vodka were very interesting—black jelly bean…mmm. As an added bonus, we ran into Michael Christie at the distillery. He is so disarming and genuine, I almost cried again. And, to top off the tour, we had cocktails at the beautiful Breeze Restaurant overlooking the ocean.
Yes, the arts are supported, nurtured and celebrated. So, it seems, is the making of alcohol. No wonder I'm so darn happy here!

Keev with Lawrence Hill

Saturday, 3 September 2016

There is comfort in routine. —John Steinbeck

I'm back! Of course, I don't expect that to generate as much excitement for you folks as it does for me. It's been a fabulous few months, but there is nothing like settling back into routine. My brain needs it and, without a doubt, my body needs it!

But, what a summer!

We enjoyed visits with so many special people.
We did lots of gardening and continue to enjoy the fruits of our labour.

We ate an awful lot of food.
And enjoyed far too many bevvies.

Even the girls had a blast.

Now it's time to buckle down and get back to this.

I hope everyone had a terrific summer. Let's hold hands and jump into fall together!