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THE END.

release

 

There are not many writing achievements as satisfying as writing “The End” on a manuscript. It’s both the end of an exhausting journey, and the beginning of a new adventure. Finishing “The Rise of the Forgotten” seemed particularly sweet, since it also competed the three-book Hummingbird Series.

finishing

This story has consumed me for years (and I am so happy with how it ended) which is why I want to celebrate the release of the final book! Join me (and my friends @MommyOutside and @ZooJourneys) for a Twitter party on August 6th at 9pmEST. There will be chatting and prizes (open to CAN/US). Hope to see you there!

When your dreams need to age.

My very first 100+ page manuscript, a screenplay for my college Creative Writing class. I'm pretty sure it's terrible, but I can't bring myself to read it.
My very first 100+ page manuscript, a screenplay for my college Creative Writing class. I’m pretty sure it’s terrible, but I can’t bring myself to read it.

I’ve heard the story before, as have you: authors that talk about writing being their lifelong goal. They start as voracious readers, always getting the highest marks on creative writing assignments, and then becoming consumed with the dream. The lure of the printed word and the idea of “getting published” (however that happens) sucks us in.

I was one of those people. Writing professionally has always been my dream, but until I was in my thirties it was just one of those stick-it-in-your-hat-and-think-about-it-when-life-gets-annoying kind of dreams. I didn’t really think I would (or could) ever do it.

When I graduated from high school and was looking at my options, I found a good compromise between the dream and the need for secure employment (or so I thought). I wanted to be creative but still gainfully employed so I could afford to, you know, feed myself and all that junk. There was (and still is) a program at my local community college called “Creative Communications” and I went for it. It included journalism, public relations and advertising (plus a bunch of other instruction in things like creative writing, radio, television and layout & design), and seemed like just what I needed. I would be one of those people who really lived the dream. I could be creative and use my mind and still get paid, and it would all be perfect.

Except that it wasn’t.

Turns out I didn’t like being a journalist, or an advertiser, or a public relations person (which is what I ultimately majored in). I graduated and didn’t even look for a job in any of those fields. There are times when I look back and think that time in school was kind of a waste, except that I use many of the skills I learned there on a regular basis (just not the whole diploma part). After graduating I worked, got married, had children and generally moved on with my life. Every so often I would think about those writing dreams as if they were a lovely (and slightly deluded) part of my past.

Then, I found a story.

I blame the midnight feedings and sitting on a rocking chair in the dark, wishing I was in bed. I dreamed while awake (or kind of awake) and night after night the story fell into place. It stirred something inside me that I hadn’t ever thought I would feel again. I wanted to, I NEEDED to write.

So I did. In short bursts, scattered among laundry and cooking and child-raising, I wrote.

I wonder about that sometimes. What would have happened if I had been diligent and chased my dream back then? Would I have succeeded, or just grown frustrated because I wasn’t really ready? I feel like I needed to put my dreams in a big oak barrel and let it age for a while, and maybe that’s okay. It’s better now than it would have been then. I am a different person than my college days, and have seen and experienced so much that now litters my writing.

I wasn’t ready then.

I’m ready now, so watch out. I’m coming.

 

The fear of the colossal screw-up.

screwup

I completed “The Rise of the Forgotten” recently, and boy oh boy, finishing a book series comes with a whole pile of emotions (and I am far from emotional). The first and biggest was sheer relief. As I plodded through the plot and tied up all those loose ends I leave hanging all over the place, I worried I’d never actually finish it, that I would be stuck in this writing purgatory forever. Writing “The End” at the bottom of this manuscript (purely for sentimental reasons) was a moment of accomplishment. At the very least, I could say that I completed a goal I had set. I had a complete trilogy.

Moments after, I freaked out.

I’m going to level with you, as a reader I have a love-hate relationship with book series. I love them because finishing books makes me sad, and knowing there is another one to continue the story is exciting. I hate them because more often than not (at least in the ones I have read, please direct me to books I should be reading) the first book is superb, the second is “ok” and the third? *sigh*.

I don’t want anyone to sigh. I want the third book to resonate as much as the first. I want people to love them ALL. (Yes I know, I am incredibly greedy. I also want Harper Collins to call me soon and offer me a lovely book deal).

So here I sit… waiting for feedback from my beta readers, hoping they will appreciate this strange thing I poured myself into and driving myself to the brink of sanity. (I’ve also been reading “writing craft” articles and making long lists of all the things I do “wrong” according to other writers, and yes, I know that’s crazy too).

I read a quote which according to the interweb was said by Aristotle, but from my other research on the web, it’s actually said by Elbert Hubbard (don’t know who he is? me neither, probably why people said it was Aristotle):

To avoid criticism, do nothing, say nothing, be nothing.

I don’t want to do nothing, I have things to say and someone to be, so I guess I need to be ok with criticism, but I’m still going to hope I managed to avoid screwing it all up.

What freaks you out about accomplishing your dreams? What is stopping you?

 

The Dark Side of Dark Sides.

apple

 

I see them on my feeds, articles upon articles, each starting with the same words: “The Dark side of…”. For the most part, I ignore them, but every so often I click on one. I don’t really know why, perhaps I am really wondering what could possibly be the dark side of Honeycrisp apples (ok, I’ll tell you…  they’re hard to grow, finicky and a pain to transport. OH THE HUMANITY). To me, the phrase is so overused that it has become completely useless. Everything has a hideous “Dark Side” (most of which, not actually so dark). I wandered over to Google and typed in “The Dark Side of” and found myself face to face with a list of the most heinous. Almonds have a dark side, so does emotional intelligence (mental note…  read that article), maternity leave, the internet (no kidding), 3D printing, sophing (ok, I didn’t even know what this was, never mind what the dark side was, so I clicked on the article. My brain melted and I still have no idea), beauty, enlightenment, creativity, chocolate, and of course… the moon (but I think that’s a literal one). The list goes on and on.

I read some of the articles and I’m going to stand (sit in my pyjamas) here and tell you the reason why everything has a dark side so we can get over it and move on.

It’s us.

Seriously.

People. People have dark sides. Greedy, inconsiderate, selfish people.

Tada! I have freed the poor almonds and stalks of wheat from the prison of our delusions.

I’m a writer (they say) and I get the attraction to the dark side. I invent characters that are evil, I give my “good” characters fears and greed and insecurity and horrible trials to overcome. How can they triumph if they are not tested? Without bad, choosing to do the right thing is meaningless.

Perhaps the root of our fascination with “the dark side” of things (even if half the articles I read weren’t really that horrible) is because we, for the most part, live in a privileged society. We have what we need (don’t get me started on the difference between needs and wants), have not suffered like generations before us, we have opportunities and choices and knowledge like never before. I have often wondered if we, as humans, are hardwired to fight injustice, to uncover evil and snuff it out. Putting those characteristics into an “easy” world that isn’t rife with oppression, and we go bananas. Suddenly even the poor Honeycrisp apples are an enemy. Why OH WHY can’t we just grow apples that don’t require EFFORT and WATER and TIME?!

Now, don’t get me wrong, I am all for opposing injustices, but what would it be like if we stopped focusing on apples and almonds and emotional intelligence and put our energy into the things that matter*?

(*author’s note: If you are wondering why Honeycrisp apples don’t really matter, I honestly cannot help you. Also, the apple pictured is not actually a Honeycrisp–I don’t eat such heinous apples–and yes, I am totally going to eat that Sharpie face off it. I assure you, I will be fine.)

Listening

listen

Recently I came up with a brilliant idea. It was nothing revolutionary, merely a solution to a problem that had been plaguing some other people for a long time. I made a suggestion that would help and was met with… surprise?

Ok, so I’m not entirely shocked by that. I do tend to be the kind of person with a joke for every situation (why must we take everything so seriously?) but since I do pride myself on my critical thinking skills, I wondered why. Why wouldn’t I be able to come up with a solution to a problem that didn’t actually directly involve me? Now, let’s get something straight, I tend to prefer it when people underestimate me. It makes it more fun for me to blow them out of the water when I feel like it, and allows me to fly well under the radar when I don’t feel like it (which is most often). I sometimes think that if you tend to be a joker–a light-hearted individual–people figure the only thing inside your brain is water-balloon juggling orangutans and tiny-car-driving bananas.

The truth is, I’m listening. All. The. Time. I listen to what people say and what they don’t say. I analyze situations and love solving problems. I’m a writer after all, and what do writers do? They solve problems. (First they make up problems that seem unsolvable and then solve them, but you get the idea).

I think it’s extremely important for a writer to listen–to analyze and understand what’s happening around her to understand how to put what we see into words that let others see it too.  The stand-up comedian that can tell you exactly how you feel about something is the one who you’re going to relate to best, the one who will make you laugh. The author who can put into words the feelings you have experienced is the one you will embrace, the one you will allow to take your heart on a journey.

Recently, I came face to face with an old friend of mine, the one I had been hoping to avoid (and had successfully managed to, for a while).

Grief. We go way back.

The words of a dear friend telling me that their radiant teenage daughter was gone didn’t make my heart sink. They made my heart erode in my chest, sucking the air from my lungs with the strength of a desert sandstorm. I crumpled under the weight of their words, in an instant fully realizing the pain of the journey they had before them. Putting words to the pain is difficult, but telling a reader that your character’s “heart sank” is doing a disservice to the reality of their pain. It’s easier to used tired clichés to describe emotions, but so much better not to.

I know this post is kind of disjointed. In some ways I just needed to put my jumble of thoughts into words to help sort them out in my own head. It’s helping to remind me as a writer to be present–to watch and think and remember. I can’t write if I don’t feel. I can’t make up problems to solve without first understanding the impossible journeys those around me are taking. I can’t make my words endearing if they are shallow and empty.

Listen. Feel. Write.

 

 

 

On NaNoWriMo: or “How to go crazy in 3 easy steps”

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I’ve NaNo-ed before, thought this is the first time I’ve actually done it during the month of November (which is officially NAtional NOvel WRIting MOnth). Last year, in October, I did my own 50,000 word challenge in hopes of finishing off “The Mark of the Hummingbird”. While I didn’t make it to 50k words that time, I did finish my manuscript. I decided to join the “fun” this year to finish off the third book in the Hummingbird series: “The Rise of the Forgotten”. My goodness, there’s a whole other novel there in the middle, plus edits, publishing, promotion… anyway, I digress.

NaNoWriMo is super-duper fun if you’re insane and a great way to get words on the page, though I’ll be honest, I struggle with the “just get words out, no matter how bad they are” tip. I get that it’s because first drafts are not really a place for perfection, and lots of edits can happen later, but people… I HATE EDITING. Some people love it, but the idea of tearing the whole thing apart after I spent so much time writing it just gnaws at my brain. It’s a necessary evil, and of course, I’ll rewrite as much as it takes to get a polished final product, but if I can cut out a pile of that editing, and write intentionally from the get-go, I’d rather do that.

There are people who have finished NaNoWriMo already. They’ve packed their 50 THOUSAND words into less than 13 days, and while I’m totally jealous of them (not the hours they had to put in, but that they can now spend the rest of November eating chocolate and sleeping), I remind myself that even finishing in a month is a huge accomplishment. Considering that I write (typically) with at least one child underfoot and always needing unusually high levels of attention as soon as I sit down at the keyboard, getting my 1700 daily words in is a feat in itself.

I’m officially halfway done with NaNoWriMo, having crossed the 25k mark today, and since more than half the month is still left, I’m pretty happy. I’m well past the halfway point in “The Rise of the Forgotten” and am starting to pull all the pieces and characters together into the final climax of the story, which should make my beta readers very happy. Even feeling like I’ve made progress, I’m also really starting to feel depleted. Writing this much in a month is kind of like a writer’s version of a marathon. We hit walls, we get knocked down, we get tired, we lose motivation and want to quit, we assume we’re writing nothing but garbage, and that everyone is going to hate it, but still we press on. (And for me, while I’m doing this, I also have to FEED OTHER PEOPLE. Did you know children need to eat EVERY DAY?!)

NaNoWriMo is kicking my butt… or maybe it’s all the other stuff that’s knocking me down, but either way, I’m exhausted. I need a nap in a bad way, but I’ll make it. If you see me at the end of the month, I might have crazy hair and frenzied eyes, but I’ll finish.

See you at the finish line, folks.

 

Bookalicious Book Club Chat!

If you are a bookish person, and on Twitter… odds are that you’ve heard of the Bookalicious Book Club. I’ve been a member of this Canadian book club since venturing into the tweeting world and have participated in a number of their book chats, so it is EXTREMELY exciting for me that the topic for the November 5th Book Club Chat is going to be none other than “The Mark of the Hummingbird!”

 

kindle cover

Burying the truth in the snow can’t conceal it forever.

Leona was born a survivor—one of the few sheltered in a prison that withstood the plummeting temperatures of the frozen days. Now, as the weather slowly warms, she struggles to understand a culture and society vastly different than the one created by her elders. Standing on the cusp of her seventeenth birthday, the day she will officially become a woman and eligible for marriage, the tiny world she had long since accepted suddenly seems stifling. Conflicts and curiosity propel her beyond the fences of her home into a barren and uncertain future, with one asset that just might keep her alive.

I’m so excited to chat with the Bookalicious members in November about this book, and even more excited to hear what they think! Wanda and the rest of the crew are so wonderful and I love hearing what people have to say about the books they read. If you aren’t a member of the Bookalicious Book Club, you really should be (free books, chats and did I mention… free books?). Click here to join! (Scroll down to the form to enter your info).

In honor of this upcoming book chat, I gave away 20 paperback copies of “The Mark of the Hummingbird” to book club members, but if you didn’t win, don’t despair! More opportunities to win will happen with giveaway tweets (follow @BookaliciousCA so you don’t miss them), so just retweet to be entered to win! There will be 5 free eBooks of “The Mark of the Hummingbird” up for grabs (to anyone, anywhere!) and also a paperback copy of “The Song of the Sisters” (This one is for Bookalicious Canada members, so make sure you sign up!) 

Book Three Blank.

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Here I am again… staring at a blank page.

The Song of the Sisters is complete but in need of some editing and formatting before it goes out to the world, but I have some time and thought hey, I should start the next one. Time tends to be at a premium around here, so I do my best not to waste it (too much). So far I have poured 153,038 words–almost 700 pages of writing into this book series and I’m well over the crest and heading down the other side, but…

Confession time. I have no idea how to start this one.

The Mark of the Hummingbird was pretty easy to start, and before I started writing it, I also knew exactly how to start  The Song of the Sisters. This one is giving me grief. I’m not even 100% sure who to make my POV characters. Do I dip into the well of the ones I have already used? Or drag up some unknowns who have no history (yet) and give them a killer backstory to help propel it along?

Some people would say that I should just skip the beginning and write it later, but I find that my personal writing style doesn’t really allow for that. I write better if the pieces fall into place as I go, and they can’t do that without a beginning.

So many decisions, but on the positive side, I do know how it’s going to end. Now it’s just a matter of getting there.

 

Hang on a second… what just happened here?

An excerpt from my Grade 4 report card.
An excerpt from my Grade 4 Report card.

 

There is something about getting thousands of words onto paper and then scrawling (and by that, I mean typing) the words “the end” at the bottom of a page that lends itself to a moment of silent reflection (or in my case reflection punctuated by the screaming of preschoolers and the refrain from “Stella and Sam”).

When I finished The Mark of the Hummingbird, I had a minor freak-out. Writing was something I had wanted to do since I was old enough to be aware that actual people wrote the words that were in the books I loved. Writing my own and sending it out into the world was completely terrifying to me. It had been a dream for so long (without really any idea if it would ever come true or not) that I was scared that I would fail miserably at it, and everything I had ever wanted would come crashing down around me in a blazing fireball of inadequacy.

Slowly, one by one, people began to read it, and love it, and a new fear set in. I’m sure it’s one many writers of serial fiction come across–I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to repeat it, that the second book would be a letdown and the whole series would be another crashing fireball (I seem to be stuck on the fireball metaphor). The last few days have been extremely satisfying to me, hearing back from my first-round-readers and discovering that they were just as engaged (in some cases more so) with “The Song of the Sisters” as with the first book.

I honestly feel like I’m walking on a cloud. To have a dream and then realize you also might be kind of good at it… well, there’s just no describing that.

I don’t know what will happen, whether I will ever achieve my goal of teaching the world how to pronounce my last name (Like “Gollum”, but with a B), but there is still something totally exhilarating about just doing it.

At the risk of sounding like a cornball…  go. NOW. Find your “thing” and do it. Succeed, fail, who cares, just do it. Don’t let the sun go down with you standing in the shadows thinking “what if?”.

Dreams don’t work unless you do. -John C. Maxwell