Wednesday, October 5, 2016

You can't fix a blank page

As the Surrey International Writers Conference approaches with the speed of light, I realize this year I don't have a goal. A plan. I have no agenda.

My first year, I went to learn about my craft to see where I was in my ability. Turned out I was doing pretty great.

The second year I pitched a book and spoke at the UnConference which was an amazing experience as the moderator Sean Cranbury is brilliant. And years I met really talented, wonderful people who I stay in touch with and trade stories and ideas with on a daily basis. It's a perk of the conference, for sure.

This year, though. This year seems different. I am not speaking. I don't feel like I have anything to pitch (although several people tell me different) and I don't really have a set agenda. I am taking my very first Masters Class and will probably drop the first page of my manuscript into the SiWC Idols box but that is about it. (Side note: The Idols session is the best thing I have ever seen but chances of having my page randomly pulled? Slim to none.)

So as I sit here almost literally pulling my hair out, sometimes writing, sometimes not, possibly shedding a few tears over this book and wondering if anyone will ever read it, ever, it dawns on me that every writer goes through this all. the. time. No matter how famous or published or unpublished or middle of the road. Every writer thinks their stuff is shit. Until one just isn't. It might be the second draft or the tenth draft but at some point you love it and/or better yet someone else loves it and publishes it. Fact still remains, at some point in the process you were sitting on your couch, watching the blizzard outside, drinking cold coffee with lonely globs of whipped cream floating in it thinking "Wow. Does this ever suck. And if it wasn't for my husband, I would be living in a box on the street."

So this year, I will not have any sort of agenda for the conference. Perhaps I will run into Michael Slade at the coffee station again, that was fun. Or sit with someone fantastic at lunch like Robert Dugoni. So super interesting. And I am looking forward to finding my "Table 30" friends and fan girling all over Tom because I really did like his book, werewolves and all. He will sign my copy and it will be a highlight of my week.

But how about I just relax on the pressure and see where it goes? Because I can't force this book out of my head, it just doesn't work like that for me. But...because of the Greats like Stephen King, I won't stop. But I think I really am just shovelling shit from a sitting position right now.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Step away from the pickles

I have been overthinking a book I am writing. No, not just mulling it over...not just planning and carefully considering what I am writing...I have been agonizing and overthinking it to the point where I am not writing it at all.

How can you call yourself a writer when you aren't writing at all? Well, I suppose you can't. So I have been a miserable crabby pants, stalking around the house whining and complaining about things not related to writing because I am a miserable crabby pants over my lack of words on the page. Make sense? No. Not at all. It doesn't make a lick of sense and my husband doesn't know what to do with me.

My best author friend in Australia has been putting up with me for a while now, gently prodding me along with little pearls of wisdom. We often talk late at night (my time) because it is nap time for her crew. Last night I told Miriam I was in the fetal position, eating Polish pickles straight out of the jar and realizing I will never finish this book. Maybe I couldn't write books. Maybe I would never finish a single manuscript in my entire career. Whine, whine, whine. Complain, complain, complain.

The absolute worst part of all of this? I am in the perfect environment to write every single day. My boys are both in full time school now, my wonderful husband supports what I do and we have created this fairly quiet small town existence that is the holy trinity of writing. Quiet, financially supported solitude. I can name a dozen people who would give a lot for even an hour of uninterrupted writing time in a single week. I could pull off probably 5 hours every day and here I am whining like my diamond shoes are too tight. Last night, I disgusted even myself. It was bad. So as I am motoring my way through that jar of Polish pickles, Miriam says:

"Mate, you're not going to finish by eating pickles and wondering if you'll ever finish. You will finish by working on your book."

I paused with half a pickle in my mouth and the other half in mid air on the way to my mouth.

She asked me if I had ever heard of Raymond E Fiest's Magician? No, I hadn't. Tell me more. (I put the pickle down.)

Miriam tells it like it is without actually telling me I am being a ridiculous whiner. She really is quite brilliant at it and I should start paying her to drag me up from the wallowing gallows of writer self pity. She told me how famous Ray Fiest was and about his many (many) published works, huge following, etc, etc and how a couple of years ago he re-published his very first novel (released in 1982) in an "author's preferred edition." When she said that, it twigged my memory that Michael Slade also did this with his first novel Headhunter. So what she said next made me sit up and put the pickles away:

"I guess where I am going with this is right now we are nobody and nothings. And we need to make a name for ourselves. But one day if this still bothers you, you can publish a version you like better. In the mean time, just bloody get published eh?"
Um...yeah. (I raised my eyebrows) Right. Absolutely correct. There is nothing that says this is ever the final version of anything but to get it out there  right now, it has to be the version that will be the most interesting to the broadest range of people you can manage for the genre.
Suffice it to say, with that little nugget of truth hanging in the virtual world between us, I put my big girl panties back on, put an immediate halt to the pity party, put the damn pickles away (ok, who am I kidding here, the jar was empty) and went to bed thanking God that I have a friend like Miriam. She doesn't sugar coat it but kindly doesn't tell me outright I am being an ass. When I most certainly am.
The things that are bothering me about this book aren't really things at all. I am warring with the fact that I am a journalist writing a true story...with the fact that I want to be an author of wildly popular books. The two are different. They can certainly be melded together, but the world of fiction based on fact has a broader appeal than an article-type book with no dialogue. So suck it up, buttercup. You know what you have to do. Eating pickles won't finish that book.

Friday, June 17, 2016

SO fun I had to blog it

I have had many, many previous jobs that I have absolutely adored. Were they particularly great jobs? Well, probably not. But I make things what they are and I can honestly say I have loved each and every one of my jobs throughout the years.

Being a writer is amazing but we all know that sometimes the words don't pay the we have to do other things along with the words to make the meeting of the ends a real thing. Let's see...I have done hiring for a meat packing plant complete with tours of the kill floor. Rocked it. I have been a historical interpreter at one of our most beautiful National Historic Sites. Loved it. I have detailed cars and fixed windshields at an auto body shop (and in that job got to drive some insanely nice cars). Nailed it. And...I have also been a school bus driver.

This is a very small sampling of the list...but I have to say that being a bus driver has been one of my most favourite jobs for various reasons. I love kids, I am really good at it, I liked having rock star parking at my kids' school, AND...I had the very best bus driving partner a girl could ever hope for. A very dear friend of mine knew that I was looking for a job I could manage while being an at home mum, so she suggested I join her on the school bus. Jamie had already been driving for a whole school year before I got my license and she coached me through it all. We became a very famous (or perhaps notorious???) team at the school and were so often taking care of each other's business that at our bus office nobody could tell us apart and called us by each other's names almost 100% of the time. Which is extra hilarious because Jamie is short, I am tall, she wears glasses, I don't,  my hair is long and I often wear hats and Jamie never wears hats and has a super cute shoulder length bob cut going on...being mistaken for her is certainly flattering but we would always roll our eyes because we don't look alike. But it only added to the Jamie/Kate team thing and stayed like that for several years until I moved. We just had each other's backs and always put the safety and service of our riders FIRST. Our schools knew that, they appreciated it and we prided ourselves on our reliability.

I feel like I am falling short in describing the camaraderie we share. It's difficult to explain but suffice it to say we took our job seriously, had a lot of fun, pulled off a lot of impossible feats (like two buses driving four runs on a -40 morning making sure all the kids got to school. We just made it happen, baby!) and really solidified a life long friendship in the process.

So fast forward to a typical Thursday afternoon where I was getting ready for a not-so-typical evening. Garth Brooks. Garth. THE Garth. We were getting ready to take our boys to their first ever concert experience and me, the concert collector was finally going to see this icon live. So exciting!!! I get a text from Jamie asking what I was doing that weekend and did I still have my Class 2 license? Well that made me raise an eyebrow, so, chuckling, I called her. Long story short, did I want to come to the city and drive with her for both the Friday and Saturday late shows for the concert? They were running service from all the major malls to the concert. A bus driving adventure with my best bus driving friend? HECK YES. And many, many amazing antics followed. We haven't laughed like that in a while and being that good at something just fuels your blood. Yes, I am tooting our horns. LOUD AND PROUD! We are great bus drivers.


First night I had some unexpected, pressing things to take care of before our 9pm shift so I didn't get a chance to check out the route map but that really shouldn't have been an issue because I wasn't the first bus in the line up and we would just all follow each other nose-to-tail to the concert. No problem. But in my loading process one of the young guys trying to direct people made a small mistake and I had to pause to get people going in the right direction before taking off. When I was ready to go...yes, you guessed it...the buses in front of me were long gone. But no problem, I know the city like the back of my hand, so off we went. I had a really great, very enthusiastic (re: rowdy and talkative) group and handed my route map to the guy behind me while making a turn I would normally take to get to the concert venue. Concert goer reads the map and says I made a wrong turn then read the instructions to me. Well, no problem, I also know that end of the city better than any invented my own route which caused us to be able to jump a huge line of traffic and get them to the venue ahead of the other buses from that particular mall. The bus erupted into a crazy series of cheers. It was just a thing of beauty. But not the ultimate in all driving moves.

Ultimate in all driving moves:

I don't know why, but the following night was just completely wonky. There were WAY more cars trying to get to the venue than the previous, very smooth night. The buses were having quite a bit of trouble in the areas prior to a certain street where the police were actually directing traffic. Up until that street we were on our own and trying our best to communicate on the radio and work together. Which has been my and Jamie's MO from the get go. We work together, always. Other drivers always wondered how we managed to drive so smoothly and I just have to say, when you have someone watching your back who you can completely trust, it makes all the difference in the world.

To make matters worse, there was an accident at an important intersection just before the venue turn which was blocking an overpass and rerouting even more buses onto our street. So we are trying to get through miles of traffic to get through one set of lights but things just aren't moving. There are two lanes of traffic but to actually get through the lights, you must be in the left lane. Sigh. So here we are, sitting ducks in huge 72 passenger buses while cars are weaving in and out and preventing us from going through the light.

But, communication is key and Jamie and I were trying to figure a way out of this. So she comes up on my right and I pause to let her in. My bus (another talkative, rowdy, fun bunch) yells "Don't let her in! NO! We need to make this light!" So I had to explain that this was my best bus driving buddy and if anyone could get us out of this mess, it was her. That explanation was met with cheers, Jamie slipped in front of me and we made the next light. But we still hadn't gotten to the intersection where police would direct us through. We yet had to make another light...turning left, no less. We sat through about 8 light cycles not moving one inch with drivers from other bus, cab and limo companies not doing us any favours (perhaps my bus heckled them a bit) and other drivers from our own company getting a bit frazzled and telling us over the radio that no amount of planning will get us out of this. Well, Jamie and I begged to differ on that point and Jamie pulled out into the right lane to turn right at the light instead of left. It was clear, of course, because everyone was trying to get to the venue. They weren't driving away from it. Another driver calls her out on the radio, basically saying she doesn't know what she is doing and I absolutely could not help myself.

"She is just fine. This is not her first rodeo and she knows what she is doing."

My bus absolutely erupted into raucous cheers and I pulled out into the right lane to follow Jamie. It was utter chaos on my bus. They loved it. In turning right, we were able to find an empty parking lot to turn around in, turn left to get going straight through that light instead of having to turn left through the light to get onto the street where police were directing the buses through. It was smooth sailing from there and we got our people to the venue with much cheering, chanting and singing. When we secured our buses in the holding area, Jamie jumped down with a huge smile and told me when I said that over the radio her entire bus cheered. LOL I told her mine did too. And why not? We weren't going to just sit back and wait in that huge line up when we could think ahead, pull a bit of fancy driving and get things done. It might not sound like much, but when a bus load of people are chanting your name and cheering, it feels pretty good no matter who you are.

I got home between 4am and 5am after doing multiple runs both nights. There are more little stories that perhaps only bus drivers would giggle at but I am already writing a novel here. The short version: I HAD A BLAST. A huge shout out to the best bus driver, most fun coffee date, sweetest mama and most inspirational wife. Jamie, you are the bomb and have influenced me in so many ways. I am a better person for having you in my life. Thanks for the adventures and here's to many more. xo

An old photo but a great one. Denise, Jamie and I in the last year I drove for our school. A miserable, cold day but the only photo I have of us all together in front of Big Yellow. Those were the days!

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Winter blues and new shoes

 A fresh brand new year always has me asking myself what my next writing challenge will be. I always have projects on the go...a new year has nothing to do with the amount of words I will write or even want to write...but specific challenges keep the mind sharp and the blood pumping. Keeps the job exciting, new and best of all still teaches you things you didn't know you had to learn.
So 2016 was standing in front of me all bright and promising and I wondered what new thing I needed to learn in the writing world. I ended up choosing column writing. My boss mentioned it to me once last year and I didn't really know where to start so I just left it alone but leaving things alone never taught you anything, right? So 2016 is the year of the column.
What kind of column? How long is a column? What topics would be well received in my readership area? All good questions that required research. Now, 2.5 months into my new endeavour as a columnist I feel like I at least have one foot under me and have been happy with a couple of my submissions and gotten some positive feedback from readers on a few as well.
Not all of my columns will make good blog fare, but here is a taste of last week:
Winter blues and new shoes

As a child I was teased quite a bit for my huge feet. Even today, I am not a small woman standing 5’8” and wearing a size ten shoe. My maternal grandmother always used to tell me I had a “good understanding”, then she would hug me and make me cinnamon toast. Her words have stuck with me even after her passing and perhaps that is why I love new shoes. Of all shapes, colours and styles, I adore them. And my most recent purchase-boots with faux fur trim and bright red laces just make my heart sing. A great pair of new boots will chase the winter blues away faster than you can recite your credit card number. But the way my new boots made me feel got me to thinking about the initial words that made me feel awful about my big feet. Mind you, it wasn’t all meant to be hurtful. “Those are some mighty big feet for such a little girl!” accompanied by a hearty chuckle was a favourite thing for older people to say to me around the age of ten. But I wonder how I would feel about myself today if I didn’t have Gram whispering in my ear that it was a good and special thing to have these feet?  That this is the way God had made me and I was perfect and wonderful? I am the mother of boys but my second favourite job in the whole world is being an Auntie. I have many little girls in my life that I hope and pray every day grow up with strong self-esteem and the belief that they too are wonderful and perfect. In a world full of Photoshop, stick thin models, mostly embellished statuses on Facebook and the unrealistic expectations that bombard our kids every single day to be famous, let’s be that whispered voice that tells them they are wonderful how they are. That every photo does not need airbrushing. That they are smart and beautiful and fun. Let’s keep in mind that our words are powerful things that can’t be taken back after we say them. Instead of commenting on the size of an excited little girl’s shoes, why not compliment her on those red laces? Because I am sure she is pretty proud of them.