Month: March 2020

Social Distancing Blues

flatten the curveSo, how are you all doing with this social distancing thing?

 

 

 

Here’s how I’m coping.

  • As soon as someone says, “stay home,” I want desperately to go out.  
  • I wander about the house looking at the chores I could do, but not actually doing any of them.
  • I find myself compulsively watching newscasts repeating the same information over and over.
  • I should be glad of the extra writing time, but can’t settle at my computer.
  • I sleep too much in the day, then can’t sleep at night.
  • I want to go out for lunch even though I don’t “do” lunch on weekdays.
  • I whine that the library isn’t open, even though I have a stash of books at home.

You get the picture — I am the opposite of a heroine!

But, I want to do my part to flatten the curve, so I’m staying put. I don’t feel vulnerable for myself, but I have a lot of older friends and others with asthma or on chemotherapy. No way will I be the one that spreads the virus to them. I also have family in the healthcare system, sure don’t want to add to their workload or put them in danger if supplies of masks, etc. run out.

Now, after a week of moaning and avoiding my fellow humans–I don’t have little ones or elderly relatives in my home– I’ve resorted to my failsafe coping mechanism — lists.  

I’ll share some of mine here in hopes they’ll help others find peace at home.

  • Gratitude  — I’m warm. I have enough to eat. I have a roof over my head.
  • I have endless ways to “socialize” electronically.
  • I have some new, unread books and several shelves full of old favourites.
  • The cats are endlessly amusing and nice for cuddles.
  • There’s more, but you get the idea.
  • Chores — Adapt the old housewife’s routine. Monday is wash day, Tuesday is ironing, Wednesday is mending(sewing),Thursday is shopping, Friday is cleaning, Saturday for baking and Sunday for church. I may substitute “exercise” for “ironing” or rearrange the shopping and cleaning,  but you get the idea. Make a schedule and write it down.
  • Reach out to friends. We can’t go to church physically, but we can watch a service on television, or get one on-line. Our minister sent out a youtube of his prayers and sermon on Sunday morning. I watched it during our regular church time. Then, as if it was coffee hour after the service, I telephoned several church friends just to check in. They were all grateful for the call.
  • Keep my family close. My brothers live four provinces away, but we all managed a phone call last week. They are healthy, I am healthy, and we are reminded that we are family–a blessing like no other. 
  • Write. Just like in the days before COVID-19, my writing  benefits from routine. I’ve resolved to watch only one newscast in the morning, then go to my desk.  Somedays I stay there until I’ve reached a certain word count, other times I set a time limit. I’m not inflexible with my “rules” but it sure helps to have personal guidelines in place, especially in times of stress.

We are having beautiful, spring weather. Gardening isn’t on that list of housewifely chores, but I’ve been outside, digging in the dirt, encouraging the crocus and daffodils. I’ve walked around the property and made plans for the vegetable garden. I’ve pruned the roses and the fruit trees. Like all gardeners and farmers, I’m convinced that next year,  next month, next week, will be better. The world needs optimists!

Keep safe, everyone. Wash your hands. Don’t touch your face. Stay home with a good book.

If you have a great way to keep calm and useful during this pandemic, please share in the comments section. It’s a safe way to be social.♥

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Be a Better Blogger

blogging for authorsBefore the order to stop all public gatherings came down, my writer’s group, VIRA, met with Barb Drozdowich. Barb is a writer with 27 books to her name, but not romance, or even fiction. Instead, she writes technical books for writers. The topics cover websites, mailing lists, blogging, self-publishing and various social media platforms. In short, she wants to ease the technical challenges that face authors so they have more time to create stories.

What with family issues, COVID 19 fears, and travel requirements, we had a small turnout, which was disappointing for all of us but Barb handled it with grace. For those of us who were there, we got a very personalized lesson on how to manage our on-line presence. I gave myself a pat on the back because my website name matches my author name and ends in .com. I’m smarter than I knew. 🙂

I bought her book on blogging. I’m a real slacker when it comes to social media, so I thought I concentrate on something I already do and look for ways to improve. The first advice in the book is to think of my blog as a conversation. Look for me to be more chatty and less expository. Now that’s a non-chatty word but one I love! 

Since leaders around the world, including our own Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, are urging as all to stay home even if we haven’t travelled and we’re not sick, we’ll all have a lot of time for reading. Since all the major sports leagues have cancelled events, even my husband has nothing to do but read. As well as spending time with my favourite books, I plan to spend time reading Barb’s advice.

I think this blog counts as writer kindness. Kindness from Barb in offering her wisdom to a handful of authors. Kindness from me for telling all of you about her workshop and her books.

Stay safe everyone. Wash your hands often. Don’t touch your face. Enjoy guilt-free reading time.flowering tree

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2 Real life Heroines

 

International Women's DayOne of the most common tropes of the romance novel is that the heroine be daring, spunky, and unconventional.  Milquetoast heroines rarely invoke readers affection and long-term attention. Lottie, in The Man For Her, is just such an unconventional heroine, unwed mother and tough farmer in a man’s land.

Monday was International Women’s Day, so in tribute to daring women everywhere I present to you two real-life women who dared, who defied the conventions of their time, and travelled the untrodden paths.

Martha Louise Black was born  in 1866, one of twin girls. When the their father was invited to meet his first children, he commented gravely to their mother that he was sorely disappointed. He had wanted a son.  Her twin did not survive, but Martha grew strong and beautiful and intelligent. She received a first class education and was presented to society. She married Will Purdy and for ten years lived the life of a society hostess in Chicago. Then gold was discovered in the Klondyke.

Martha, her brother George and husband Will made plans to travel to the Yukon and cash in on the gold rush. However, at the last minute, Will changed his mind. Martha was incensed and refused to give up her plans. Travelling with her brother and three other men, she set off on the gruelling trip north. The took a steamer from Seattle. The boat was dirty, crowded and overloaded. The captain frequently drunk. There were no luxuries aboard and Martha learned to use her dishpan for breadmaking, bathing and clothes washing.

When they reached Skagway there was no accommodation and they slept in tents or a lean-to on piles of hay. They had money, so instead of carrying their supplies up the 42 miles of the Chilkoot trail, they were able to hire packers. Still the sight of hundreds of dead horses who’d slipped and fallen to their deaths, filled Martha with fear. Her long skirts, corsets and bloomers hampered her as she struggled through sucking mud, clambered over sharp rocks and eventually  faced the final 3000 foot climb up a nearly vertical rock face. She was so tired that the men behind helped to push her up the last 100 feet. When she stumbled and cut her foot on a sharp rock, she sat down and wept. Her brother, unmoved by her distress admonished her to “buck up and be a man!” (From her memoir My Ninety Years.)

When they arrived at the top of the trail, she was was cold and miserable and asked for a fire. Wood cost two bits a pound. Her brother relented and order a five dollar fire. It lasted for one hour but long enough for her to warm up and dry her clothes.

As if the climb up the Chilkoot wasn’t hard enough, she then had to get down another steep, rock-strewn trail that left her with bleeding hands and feet. The final leg of the journey was by water through rapids. It was rumoured that any man who took a woman on that dangerous journey would be fined $100.00. Martha went anyway, nearly capsizing in the Miles Canyon. She finally arrived in Dawson City in 1895.

The promise of gold did not materialize as she had hoped, but she fell in love with the North. Although she returned to her home for a few years, she was not content and returned to Dawson City. In her memoirs she writes, “what I wanted was not shelter and safety, but liberty and opportunity.”

Martha went on to sell her gold claims, operate a sawmill and raise two of her sons in Dawson. She married George Black who was eventually appointed to be commissioner of the Yukon. Martha Black moved into Government House as its chatelaine. She made sure the “people’s house” was open to men and women of all standings, not just the wealthy and powerful.  George recruited a regiment to serve in WWI and Martha joined him in London. When the war was over they returned to Canada and George continued in politics, eventually becoming the speaker of the House of Commons. Years later, with George in poor health and herself aged 70, Martha ran for the Yukon seat in parliament and won.

commemorative plaque to Mrs. Black

Honouring Martha Black

Martha died at the age of 91, in her beloved Yukon.

 

 

 

In 1908 Agnes Deans Cameron, having lost her teaching certification, was making a new life for herself as a travel writer. To this end she set out with her niece, Jessie, to travel to the Arctic Ocean. She went to the premier travel company of the time, Thomas Cook, to make the arrangements. Despite their claim to have guides everywhere, the Cook company could not provide a route or transportation to the Western Arctic. They suggested she go to Egypt instead!

map of Cameron's Arctic journey

map of Cameron’s Arctic journey

While the Thomas Cook Agency could not get Agnes to her destination, The Hudson’s Bay Company could. They also supplied a letter of credit that could be used to buy “bacon and beans and blankets, sturgeon-head boats, guide’s services and succulent sowbelly, at any point between Fort Chimo on Ungava Bay and Hudson’s Hope-on-the -Peace, between Winnipeg-on-the-Red and that point in the Arctic where the seagull whistles over the whaling -ships at Herschel.” (Cameron, The New North.) 

To prepare for this journey that require shooting rapids, navigating sandbars, sleeping under the stars, cooking over an open fire and sharing the air with mosquitos and horseflies, Cameron cut her hair, opted for a wide-brimmed campaign hat and sturdy shoes. She kept her thick skirts but added several short jackets. She also had to take her own tent, mattress, blankets, raingear, hatchet and copper kettle.

Agnes Deans Cameron at Fort Simpson

Miss Cameron in front of old sun-dial at Fort Simpson [from back of photo] B.C. Archives F-08820

The journey began easily enough with the train from Winnipeg to Edmonton. Then it was on to Athabasca Landing over a treacherous road called the “bugs, mud and moonshine trail.” They were supposed to ride in the mail stage, but the mud was so deep that passengers walked to lighten the load for the horses.

From Athabasca Landing they took to the water, running 90 miles of rapids in open, flat-bottomed scows. By the time they reached the Mackenzie River and the Hudson’s Bay stern-wheeler, the S.S. Grahame she is overjoyed to have a room with a bath!

Most of the rest of their journey was by water, sometimes in canoes or rafts, other times in a stern-wheeler. Along the way they visited Indigenous settlements, missionary outposts and Hudson Bay forts. Agnes made copious notes and took rolls and rolls of pictures for the books and articles she intended to write when the journey was complete.

The return journey was just as rigorous, but this time she knew what to expect. After six months, she returned to Winnipeg, her mind full of the images she’d seen and predictions for the lumber industry, the oil patch, and Arctic sovereignty.  The  provincial legislature in British Columbia offered to reinstate her teaching certificate, but Agnes was now focussed on the larger world. She became an international traveller, writer and lecturer. She took up bicycle racing and drove in car rallies. She died suddenly of appendicitis in 1912. Her funeral was one of the largest Victoria had ever seen with most of the elite of the city in attendance.

As one who is more settler than seeker, I can’t help but admire the determination and passion these two women showed in seeking their own paths despite the obstacles, not least of which was the fact they were women.

When we read of gritty heroines in our romance novels, let us not forget the real-life women who dared to go their own ways.

 

I

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5 Sports Techniques for Writers

Canada’s national men’s curling championship, The Brier, is underway and I’m glued to my television set. Sadly, my favourite team is losing. They are making brilliant shots, putting rocks in impossible places, but at the end of the game, they are one point away from the win. They may even begin the final end in the lead, but lose the game. It’s not fair.

The cry “it’s not fair” is one we all recognize from childhood, but even when we are grown ups, that complaint can play silently in our minds. As writers we’ll see a published book that just doesn’t live up to our standards. The characters are one-dimensional, or the conflict is contrived and shallow, or the plot is too thin to carry the story. Yet here is that book on the store shelf while other manuscripts, our own included, languish unseen and unloved. “It’s not fair!”

My chosen curling team are champions. I doubt they waste much time whining about “not fair.” As athletes they know that failure is inevitable and just one more step to winning. Of course, they’ll have sports psychologists to help them “park it” as the saying goes and step onto the ice for their next game wearing the confidence of champions, not the shame of failure.  As writers we can do the same. Here are some suggestions to employ when faced with rejection or dismal sales.

    • Use Imagery.  Athletes learn to imagine themselves at the top of the podium. They great the image of themselves clearing the high bar, or landing a perfect triple axel, or making the final draw to the button. Writers can imagine their book on the shelf, complete with beautiful cover, and a book-signing. They can go deep inside their own minds to know the satisfaction of penning a beautiful sentence, or crafting a page-turning plot. In other words, use the power of the mind to create a “win.”
    • No such thing as perfect. It is easy to focus on our shortcomings — I’m not clever enough, or experienced enough, or dedicated enough, or “I can’t write like Nora Roberts or–fill in the name of your own icon here.” <g> Usain Bolt, widely acknowledged as the greatest sprinter of all time, finished third in the IAAF World Championships in London last year. Even the greatest, are not perfect. You, as a writer, won’t be perfect all the time. You’ll have flashes of brilliance, and with practice those flashes will come more often, but you won’t be perfect. That’s fact, not shame.
    • Motivation. Athletes are driven to succeed by both internal and external motivations. Externally they want the medals, the money, the fame. Internally they may want to be the best at their chosen sport. That internal desire to be “the best” at something gives them the drive to work out until they drop from exhaustion, then get up and do it again. It gives them the willingness to sacrifice time, relationships and money to reach the pinnacle of their sport.  As a writer, what motivates you? Is it the money? That would be nice, but it is not something you can control. All the external accolades of being a successful novelist, come from others. For motivation that won’t be defeated by rejection, look inside yourself. Do you get a glow when you craft a beautiful sentence? Do you go to bed smiling when you’ve had a good day writing? Use imagery to create those moments in your life as well as the ones that see your book on the best-seller list.
    • Learn from failure. Re-read that rejection letter. Did the editor give you a reason why they passed on your book? A favourite line from the rejection desk is “doesn’t fit our needs.” That may look like an easy out for the editor but it might be a hint that you should research your market.  Once you’ve had a sulk about the unfairness of the writing world, try reading some of those best-sellers and compare your work to them. What have they got that you haven’t. I guarantee there will be something you can learn.
    • Take a time-out. In 1991 Monica Seles was number one in the world rankings and the youngest woman ever to reach that pinnacle. But in 1993 a deranged man plunged a knife into her back. She was out of the tennis scene for two years. In 1995 she won the Canadian Open and six months later, won the Australian open. I would hope that none of us is ever the victim of violence that forces us to take a break from our chosen careers. But it is instructive to realize that even grievous injury did not stop a determined athlete. For those of us with less physical goals, a sabbatical can be helpful. Sarah McCoy writes about it here  https://writerunboxed.com/2020/02/25/sarahs-simple-pleasures-sunset/

I’m still hoping my favourite team can make a miraculous comeback at The Brier, but whether they do or not, they are still champions — just like you.

 

 

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