Category: Writing life (Page 1 of 14)

Thanksgiving in a Pandemic

Monday was Thanksgiving Day in Canada, one of my favourite holidays. An excuse to eat too much rich food, enjoy the company of a host of friends and bask in the autumn sunshine.

Not in 2020. 

In general, this year, the population is more inclined to grumble than to give thanks. We have a long litany of complaints, not least of which is no traditional Thanksgiving dinner. Our health authorities told us to have dinner in groups of no more than six. In some jurisdictions they said only dine with the people who live under your own roof all the time. I guess some families tried to pretend that a visiting relative was “living under our roof.” Perhaps they met the letter of the law, but certainly not the spirit. We worry about lost income, uncertain jobs, school openings, theatre closures and restricted travel. There is no end to our list of concerns. But that is looking on the dark side.

On the bright side, our Thanksgiving is mostly about the harvest and my garden was bountiful this year. I got about 50 pounds of zucchini from two little seeds. When I went to harvest a pumpkin for my Thanksgiving pie I found yet more zucchini’s forming on the remains of a plant and new blossoms!

The public health restrictions where I live are not so onerous. I can visit with my neighbour and even worship in person — with a spaced out congregation of not more than 50 people. I am warm and dry, entertained by old movies and favourite books, loved by my husband and tolerated by my cats.

We all live in different circumstances, yet we can look to the bright side. We can have hope. We must have hope. Without it despair overwhelms and life looses its sweetness. Prince George was so saddened by a documentary on the extinction of species he asked not to watch his favourite presenter, David Attenborough. However dire the situation, we cannot have a world of frightened, despairing children.

Hope is a gift authors can bring to the world. Writers, particularly romance writers, are keenly aware of the need for hope in the world. It’s why we espouse Happily Ever After. The mystery writer encourages her reader to see a world where justice prevails and hope is restored. Even in dystopian stories, the protagonist fights for a better world. He has hope.

I’ve read of some authors finding it hard to write while trying to cope with home-schooling, working remotely, and hearing an endless litany of bad news. But even those who are not writing now, have not despaired. They hope their muse will return. They hope the world will come around right again. They hope their children and grandparents will be safe. They look to their faith, or to science, or to history and find reason to hope.

In past years, I would wish you all abundance.

In 2020 I wish you hope.   Happy Thanksgiving.

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19 Things I learned from Laurie Schnebly and Zoom

My writer’s group, VIRA, held an all day workshop on Sept. 19, 2020 with Laurie Schnebly. The day was planned a long time ago — before Covid-19.  Since then our border closed, so Laurie could not come in person. Instead, we did a virtual workshop using zoom.  Here’s what I learned about zoom workshops.

  1. Commuting from one room in my house to another room in my house is really quick and easy.
  2. Showing up for a workshop in jeans is really comfortable.
  3. Seeing people only on screen is lonely — especially when many of them turn off their video.
  4. There is virtually no conversation between participants.
  5. The “chat” feature is really useful for catching up on missed information.
  6. A full-day workshop, even at home, is tiring. My brain was reeling by the time we signed off.

So, that’s what I learned on the technical side. On the creative side, the workshop confirmed what I already knew. Laurie is a terrific teacher. Here are some highlights from the day.

  1. From “Putting the Joy Back in Writing” I learned I’m not alone in finding publication can steal the joy I felt when I first put pen to paper (literally, I’m that old.)
  2. Determining why I write, either for myself or for others can put me back on the “joy” track and away from the “have to” track.
  3. Letting go of the results of writing and focusing on the process of writing frees up creativity.
  4. I should re-read Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. It is on my bookshelf.

 

From Braiding Your Book I picked up pointers on

  1. Genre Expectations and the need to fulfil those expectations for readers.
  2. Plot – it’s all about goals and conflict, with the love story added in for my genre.
  3. Plot has a shape — the writer must build hope, then dash those hopes and build them again.
  4. Character is the third strand in the braid. 
  5. A character’s origin (backstory) is an invaluable aid in figuring out who your character is and why (s)he acts as (s)he does.
  6. A character’s belief system is key.

 

From Blurbs & Promotion to Suit Your Personality I learned

  1. I’m not the only one who is really poor at promotion because I dislike it.
  2. Laurie’s background is in advertising so it’s not surprising she suggests a blurb is an ad.
  3. Seeing promotion as an advertisement for a product makes it less intimidating than seeing it as a judgement on my worth as a human being!

 

As you can tell, we had a very full day. I was exhausted from listening, I can’t imagine how Laurie kept up her enthusiasm and humour all the way to the end and then took questions.

As a bonus, she held a draw and I won free admission to one of her courses. With so many wonderful choices I had to wait over the weekend until my brain had returned to full function before I made my pick. In March I’ll be taking Plotting Via Motivation.  It’s one of the earliest courses on offer, so I can still take some of the later ones too. 

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Revenge In Rubies

REVENGE IN RUBIES

by A.M. Stuart

 

Thank you so much for the invitation to your blog, Alice.

For those who don’t know, Alice and I have been the writerly equivalent of pen pals (she lives in Canada and I live in Australia) for a long time and Alice, more than anyone, has been there chivvying me along through disappointments, frustrations and inertia and was the first to cheer when I finally ‘broke through’ and published my first Historical Mystery, SINGAPORE SAPPHIRE, through Penguin USA in 2019.

REVENGE IN RUBIES is the second in the Harriet Gordon Mysteries and is released on 15 September. For those new to the world of Harriet Gordon, the stories are set in Singapore in 1910 and feature two protagonists, Harriet Gordon and Inspector Robert Curran of the Straits Settlement Police.

I was fortunate to spend three years living in Singapore and it was during that time that I first met Harriet Gordon in the microfiche room of the Singapore National Library.

Of course, she wasn’t known as Harriet Gordon, her name was Mrs Howell and in March 1905 she placed an advertisement in the Straits Times, offering her services as a Stenographer and Typist. She guaranteed “RAPID & CAREFUL work together with ABSOLUTE SECRECY” (the capitals are hers). The now long forgotten Mrs. Howell’s advertisement jumped off the microfiche at me. I loved her commitment to ABSOLUTE SECRECY, and slowly the character of Harriet Gordon, widow, typist, stenographer and failed suffragette began to form.

 

Over the next few years, I started to rebuild her world – a colonial Singapore you can barely glimpse in the modern, go ahead city of Singapore but there are maps, images, contemporary travel guides and those all important newspapers from the period to guide me.

Of course, Harriet does not exist in isolation. She has friends and family and most importantly (for Harriet) her partner in crime, the enigmatic Inspector Robert Curran, head of the Detective Branch of the Straits Settlements Police Force.

There are so many stories brewing in the tropical heat of the Malay Peninsula- where truth and corpses tend to decompose quickly- and I am delighted that Penguin has agreed to publish a 3rd book in the series (my current work in progress) so I am hoping Harriet will be around for a little while yet!

If you like puzzles, here’s a link to a jigsaw of the cover for Revenge in Rubies.

https://www.jigsawplanet.com/?rc=play&pid=05c50e12a3d0  I

 

Instead of a head shot, Alison sent this photo of the two of us having coffee in Vancouver a few years ago. She’s the one on the right. How often do two friends from the opposite corners of the world get to have a coffee date?

Thanks Alison, for sharing Harriet Gordon with my readers. I hope she as successful at solving mysteries in Revenge in Rubies as she was in Singapore Sapphire.

The book is available for sale here :https://books2read.com/RevRub

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Passages

Ever notice how, when you get interested in a subject, it crops up in all sorts of places? That’s been the case with me these last few weeks. Blame it on COVID-19, but I’ve been introspective to the point of obsession. What is success? How should we live? Does pandemic lockdown help or hinder our emotional evolution? Does age empower or diminish a person? Big questions!

Perhaps that’s why I noticed the obituary notice for Gail Sheehy, the author of the book Passages.  I read the book once in my early thirties and again in my fifties. Apparently I like to look at the stages of life after they’ve come and gone.  I found her observations interesting, but not life-altering. Interestingly, Ms Sheehy admitted there wasn’t much to say about life after 50. Kind of a downer for those of us on the other side of the big five-o.

Then I noted an article on Writer Unboxed about being a debut author at 60.   Liza Nash Taylor is looking forward to the publication of her new book at a time of life when she did not expect to do new things. Yet, writing a book has changed lifelong habits of avoiding the spotlight and the public stage. Life is exhilarating and fun — and a little scary. The comments on her post reveal many authors who broke into publishing at 60 or 70 or later in life.  So, there are still adventures and possibilities for the past-middle-age crowd.

I also read another book by Jennifer Ryan, The Spies of Shilling Lane. I’ve posted about her previous book, The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir here.  In this story we leave the village of Ashcombe behind and plunge into the world of London during the Blitz. The main character, Mrs. Braithwaite, formerly the doyen of the village has had her life turned upside down and is now wondering who she is, really. In the end, she believes that the measure of success in life is “the amount that you love and are loved.”

So, Ms Sheehy has entered her final passage. Writers all over the world are working and questioning their purpose in this topsy-turvey world. Old and young are trying to navigate their way through life tough times.  Our culture seems to be experiencing the birth pains of something new. Where do each of us fit?

Perhaps Ms Ryan is right. It isn’t the number of books you’ve published, the money you’ve made, the toys you’ve owned or the skills you’ve acquired, that measure the success of a life. It’s how much you have loved — and COVID can’t stop that.

 

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Disconnected

The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir, by Jennifer Ryan has entertained, challenged and heartened me in the past few weeks. WWII has disrupted village life in many ways. The men are gone. Women have taken jobs. Servants have deserted the large houses to enlist or to work in factories. The final straw is the decision by the vicar to cancel choir because “you can’t have a choir without men.”

From that point on the story unfolds as the women of the village discover their own voices. They assert their own power. They stop waiting for the war to end so that they can live again. They determine to live, even while war rages in the skies above them. They prepare for a possible Nazi invasion while caring for each other, falling in love, grieving their dead, and yes, singing in their own choir.

The book is well written, the story well told, but I think it resonated so strongly with me  because I, too, have been waiting for life to start again. When COVID-19 closed down our economy and our culture in the middle of March, I had a mindset that said I only had to wait it out for a few months and everything would go back to normal. So, I waited for the stores and cafes to reopen. They did in May, but it wasn’t like it used to be. So, I waited some more. Our church resumed in-person worship in June, but it is not like it used to be. No hymn singing, no choir and we all sit six feet apart in our own little bubble. I feel disconnected.

I have realized that the “waiting” is getting me down. Living a half-life while waiting for a miracle is soul-destroying. Like the ladies of Chilbury, it is time to start living a full life now. The-way-it-used-to-be may never return. I’ve already missed Easter and Mother’s Day and Father’s Day and Canada Day. Thanksgiving and Christmas are coming and I want to enjoy them in 2020, not in some never-never future.

This new resolve doesn’t change my day-to-day tasks much, but it does change the way I regard my days. I’m looking at them for possibilities rather than hindrances.  I’ve put aside the “waiting” attitude and realized that this is my life, now. It is up to me to make the most of it.

I’ve heard from many people who are in the same state of suspended animation, waiting for life to start again. They are all as tired of it as I am. I’ve shared my perspective, gained from The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir and received a resounding “Yes!” I hope this post may bring some joy into the life of my readers. Even if my words don’t lighten you attitude, I’d recommend the book.  Ms Ryan presents the tale in a fresh and upbeat mode –maybe it will lift your spirits as it did mine.

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Oh, My Aching Back

I’ve had a miserable week. Every muscle in my back went into spasm and refused to let go. There was no comfortable position, not standing, not sitting and not lying down. Sleep? Forget it. Fifteen minutes maximum before I had to change positions. Even muscle relaxants had no effect. 

Now, there isn’t a writer alive who hasn’t experienced back pain at one time or another. Many, like Jane Friedman have written about it. The web is full of recommendations for exercises, ergonomics, stretches, treadmill desks, physiotherapy, massage and snake oil. I’ve had that kind of back pain. The kind where some stretches, or a gentle walk will ease it. Movement is definitely a go-to response for muscle tension.

This time, though, the pain was different. There was no stretch that touched it. It didn’t come from my hamstrings or my quads or my sacroiliac. And it didn’t start while I was at the computer. It came on gradually as I spent a few days in the kitchen. I processed a ton of zucchini and buckets of blackberries. We have enough soup to last the whole winter, not to mention baking and quiche. My shelves of preserves are sagging with summer’s goodness.

And my aching back is killing me!

 

I hope you’re feeling sorry for me now. 🙂 However, the point of this blog is not to generate sympathy, although that is nice. No, I thought I’d share some of my coping mechanisms for anyone else who has gone into total back spasm.

  • The first thing to know is that movement is your friend. Any movement. Walk up the stairs, walk out to the garden, deadhead a few flowers, go to the mailbox. Nothing too strenuous but anything that puts the body in motion.
  • intervals. No more than fifteen minutes in any one position. So, fifteen minutes at the computer, fifteen minutes at the stove, fifteen minutes lying on the floor with your legs elevated. Even if the position feels good to begin with, you can’t stay there. Those back muscles are really good at knotting up again.
  • Heat. A heating pad may help, but it can also aggravate. If you lie on a hot lump, your back muscles are apt to protest even more strenuously. Try to get a very thin heating pad if you want to use one.
  • Massage. I have a massaging chair. Sounds like heaven, doesn’t it, but even there, too much does more harm than good. I only used the gentle, rolling cycle. No thumping or tapping. And not for very long.
  • Complain, loudly. Everyone will avoid you and you can wallow in your misery.

  But, you say, I’m on deadline.  First off, be thankful there is an editor/reader/publisher/ agent who cares enough about your work to give you a deadline. Then figure out how to put the words on the page in short bursts.

Notice I said words on the page.

  • A lot of writing consists of thinking. You can do that in any position.
  • You can read or listen to audio books. Other people’s words can jolt loose your own.
  • You can jot notes to yourself while standing at the counter.
  • You can compose scenes in your head, so when you have that fifteen minute splurge at the computer the words will fly off the ends of your fingers.
  • Remember the “starving artist” meme, and revel in your aching back. Maybe all that discomfort will bring a new level of truth to your words.
  • Describe in every agonizing detail what your pain feels like. Who knows, you might use that description in your thriller where the hero is tied up for long hours. 

I’m starting to feel better — thank you for asking. I’m grateful for the bounty of my garden and the preserves in my pantry. I’m grateful for my steamer and my canner and those stupid lids that won’t seal. A positive mind-set can reduce pain and stress.

Now, I’m off to practice gratitude by walking to the mailbox and back. 

Wishing you all a healthy back and the fruits of the garden.

 

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Beach Reads with Kathleen Lawless

Today, I’m very happy to dedicate this space to Kathleen Lawless and her most recent release. Kathleen and I have been part of the same writing group since way back when. In fact, when traditional publishing was the only way to go, she and I made our first sale in the same year. Since then she has built a career in the author business.  Over to you, Kathleen, and good luck with this latest project.

 

LAST CHANCE BEACH, Summer’s End

 

I have always found surfing a fascinating sport, where the surfer’s main opponent is the force of nature, so was thrilled to see surfing scheduled to make its Olympic debut this year in Tokyo.  Alas, with no Olympics this year, we’ll wait for next year to see the sport recognized by the world.  Which took a while, considering surfing originated in Hawaii in the 4th century a.d.

 

When I got a chance to contribute a romance story to the boxed set LAST CHANCE BEACH, Summer’s End, it seemed natural to have my hero and heroine be retired pro surfers.  And since I love a second chance romance, I decided they had been together years earlier in their professional surfing lives.  Fast forward to when they meet again, where for different reasons, neither has been on a surfboard in years.

They’re older, they’re wiser, they’re wary; of each other, and of getting back into a sport that once was their entire lives.  Like all good romances, BLUE SKY SUMMER ends happily, on the water and off.  Read on for a short excerpt.

The entire LAST CHANCE BEACH box set is on pre-order for only 99 cents.  That’s 14 brand new beach romances by 14 bestselling authors.  A new story every day for two weeks this summer.

 

From BLUE SKY SUMMER by Kathleen Lawless

 

Alisha spread out her beach towel and lowered herself onto it, straightening a floppy sun hat to shade her face.  It was the first time this week she’d ventured to this particular cove, home to the island’s surfers.  The break was small this morning, and the few surfers in the water looked like beginners.

She leaned back, resting her weight on her hands, and tried to remember what it had felt like the first time she’d caught a wave.  One initial rush of freedom, and she had been hooked. 

She’d barely settled in to watch the action and live vicariously  through others, when she saw a newcomer walk to the shoreline with a board under his arm.  Something about his long-legged, self- assured gait took her back fifteen years, and the first time she’d  seen Mark.

She gave her head a shake.  She hadn’t thought about him in years.  Much.  Just because this surfer was the same height and coloring . . .

As he positioned himself on his board and headed for the break, she pulled out her binoculars, more to reassure herself it wasn’t him.

She zoomed in, and the bottom fell out of her stomach.

It was Mark!

 

I hope you’ll join us at LAST CHANCE BEACH, where there’s always one more chance to fall in love.  https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08CV3GN3R

 

Kathleen Lawless blames a misspent youth watching Rawhide, Maverick and Bonanza for her fascination with cowboys, which doesn’t stop her from creating a wide variety of interests and occupations for her alpha male heroes.

Her hero, Steele, in UNDERCOVER, is a modern-day cowboy, so when she was wooed by a man called Steel— while he’s not a cowboy, he is an Alpha male and her forever hero.  Which is why all of her stories end Happily Ever After.

Not that she can ever stick to just one genre.  So many stories to tell—never enough time.

With close to 30 published novels to her credit, she enjoys pushing the boundaries of traditional romance into historical romance, romantic suspense, women’s fiction and stories for young adults.

Sign up for Kathleen’s VIP Reader Group to receive a free book, updates, special giveaways and fan-priced offers.    http://eepurl.com/bV0sb1

 

AMAZON | WEBSITE | NEWSLETTER | FACEBOOK | TWITTER | BOOKBUB

 

Thanks for being my guest, Kathleen. Love that Blue Sky cover.

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Who do you think you are?

Remember that old schoolyard taunt? It was usually aimed at the unfortunate pupil who did not conform to the standards of the “in” crowd on that day.  i.e boys don’t wear pink, girls don’t wear pants, and “blue and green should never be seen unless they’re in the washing machine.”

I remember, during high school,  raising and lowering my hems every September, because the fashion dictates for the day decreed that an inch more or less of knee dictated whether my school year was fun or miserable.

By some coincidence, I’ve been watching a number of TV shows on women’s rights. Needless to say, they make my blood boil, but they have also disturbed my sense of security. When not conforming to the dictates of society resulted in jail time for a woman in the twentieth century, I’m reminded that freedom is a fragile treasure.

 

In 1938, Los Angeles kindergarten teacher Helen Hulick witnessed a burglary, and was called into court to testify against the suspects. But, when she arrived, the conversation quickly turned from the crime at hand to what she was wearing: a pair of slacks. The judge ordered her to return at a later date wearing a dress. When she returned in pants, he cited her for contempt of court and sent her to jail.

A brief history.  

Follow the link above for a brief history of women in pants. We might think the controversy over what women wear is absurd, but it points to the larger issue of conformity. Who decides what a woman should wear? Who decides on a school dress code?  Who decides when the “traditional” should  change? Who decides social mores? Who decides that women must wear hats indoors and men must remove them? Who wields power over others?

Ignaz Semmelwies

–a Hungarian doctor discovered that women in maternity wards overseen by men died more often than in maternity wards overseen by female midwives. His observations led him to the theory of germs carried on the men’s hands from the autopsy room. The midwives did not perform autopsies. He ordered the doctors on the maternity ward to wash their hands after leaving the autopsy room. The deaths on the maternity ward dropped. For his trouble Semmelwies was vilified by his fellow physicians and eventually committed to an insane asylum, where he died of sepsis from a beating. The physicians stopped washing their hands and the death rate on the maternity ward they staffed, soared.

Every discovery in history has come about because someone has refused to accept the conventional explanation and thought outside the box. The Wright brothers and others imagined that flight was possible. Galileo postulated that the earth revolved around the sun and not the other way around. He was condemned for heresy and spent the rest of his life under house arrest. Emmeline Pankhurst thought women should vote, and went to jail and suffered force-feeding for her beliefs.

There are countless examples of those who defied convention, suffered for their beliefs, and were eventually vindicated by later discoveries.

Lest you think the suppression of freedom is a relic from history, consider our present practice of “online shaming.”

That schoolyard cry of “who do you think you are?” amplified by social media, has tremendous power to repress freedom of thought and action. In some cases the “shamer” has misidentified a person or action. In others, they are bent on imposing their own beliefs on dissenters.  George Orwell wrote 1984, in 1949.  When I studied it in school, along with The Chrysalids, Brave New World and Fahrenheit 451, I thought such absurd worlds could never really exist. We’d “won the war” freedom was guaranteed. Now I’m not so sure.

When I wrote The Man for Her, I thought having the heroine wear men’s clothing showed her practicality and strength. Having considered the history of women in pants, I’m even more proud of my unconventional heroine. 

Most romance heroines are feisty, plucky, free-thinking women who defy the conventions of their day. They marry for love rather than position. They work in traditional male jobs. They are entrepreneurs and astronauts. They chose their own path despite the odds. We admire these heroines. We love to read their stories. But consider the woman who went to jail for wearing trousers, and understand that our fictional heroines are risking their reputations, their livelihoods and maybe even their lives when they go against the traditions of their world.

As I said, freedom is precious. We must never take our rights for granted. They were won for us by brave and committed women.  Don’t let the bullies frighten us into submission.

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On-line Learning

My writing group, VIRA, held our first ever on-line workshop this month. The lovely C.J.Hunt presented a talk on writing short. While guidelines for traditional publishers still call for works of 60,00 or more words, in the world of Kindle, short reads are a “thing” and can lead to a successful career for an author who can put a fully developed story into a limited length. CJ recommended Romancing the Beat, a resource for writers I’ve talked about on this blog.

Although you don’t see the category on Kindle Direct when you self-publish a book, you can get your work into that category with a little ingenuity in your key words. As this is a very popular area, it’s worth the trouble to be sure Amazon lists it in their short reads category. It is one of the searchable topics at Amazon. Typical of Amazon, there are parameters. A fifteen minute read is one category of 1 – 11 pages. The range goes up on fifteen minute increments all the way to two hours or 65-100 pages.  As a writer or a reader, you can target your searches very specifically.

Within the short read category you can search for specific genres like romance or mystery.

Even if you tend to write, or read, longer, C.J. pointed out that writing a short piece is a great way to keep your name out there between longer works. It’s a great way to sell a holiday story, especially Christmas. It’s also a great way to try out something new. As a writer you can dabble in a genre you’ve never tried before without dedicating a huge amount of time. Play around with your shape-shifter idea, put it up as a short read and see what happens. Even if no one is interested, you’re no worse off than when the idea just sat in your to-be-written drawer, plus you’ve gained an insight into your own strengths and weaknesses.

C.J. is a master at marketing and has sold her short works individually, collected into an anthology, and bundled as a box set. 

She is an engaging presenter and left her listeners with an up-beat message about possibilities. In a world that is full of “don’t” I found it encouraging to hear about possibilities.

There was a second takeaway from the workshop, and that had to do with the whole technology thing. Since C.J. didn’t have to travel, her expenses were less. Long distance members who seldom make physical meetings, tuned in from wherever they were in the world. I saw smiling faces I haven’t seen for a year or more. There was a general excitement about re-connecting in the on-line world.

However, once the initial burst of “yay!” “how are you?” “wow, you look great” was over, many participants turned off their video feed and the screen contained a black box with a name in it instead of a face.  Of course, those in attendance could turn their feed back on and ask questions or make comments. Most did not.  So, the camaraderie of a live meeting, was not there.

I have great admiration for C.J. for filling the allotted time mostly by herself. In a live workshop there is banter between presenter and audience. There are questions and comments that may spark a whole other conversation. In this experience of an on-line meeting, that interaction was largely missing, putting the onus on the presenter to have a lot of material to fill the time. I have teacher friends who have been putting their courses on-line since classrooms were closed and they all say how hard it is. So much material to cover. So many unasked questions to anticipate. So much prep work!

All in all, our Saturday gathering with writers over the internet was a positive experience. I learned a lot. I got my audio and video to work properly. (Yes!) The session was recorded, so I can go back and watch what I missed.

It’s a brave new world we’re all experiencing. Thanks to C.J. Hunt for stepping boldly into it.

C.J. is a founding member of The Creative Academy and has put her presentation on-line there. 

What about you? Do you write/read short? Has your preferred reading length changed with the advent of e-books?

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Tips for the Long Run

Ironically, as we come out of lockdown and into a semblance of normal life, people seem to be experiencing more stress than ever. The formerly cheerful checker at the grocery store scowls and tells you to wait while she santitizes her station. The server who was glad to get his job back, is grumpy about wearing a mask. And all those self-appointed behaviour police who rant and rail and ramp up the fear quotient about perceived health code violations don’t help. The attitude of “we’re all in this together” seems to be crumbling at the edges. 

Perhaps people are just tired. Tired of uncertainty, tired of zoom, tired of trying. But I think there is more at work here. I think we have a case of thwarted expectations. Even while health officials warned us that we were in for months and maybe years of doing things differently, we subconsciously thought when the lockdown ended we’d go back to “normal.” Now the reality of “not-normal” is setting in and we’re finding it hard to take.  Kind of like we were promised a puppy and we got a goldfish. Nothing wrong with the goldfish, but it’s not what we wanted. Some would just like to flush the fish.

So, how do we go about coping for the long run? Here are a few suggestions.

  • Read

 Especially read fiction. Fiction is story and story is filled with characters and characters  take us out of ourselves. For a little while we can be someone else, live in a different  world and experience family and friends and (maybe) happy endings. We could all use   happy endings these days, so pick up a romance — or a mystery, where justice prevails.  That’s a kind of happy ending too. While we are keeping distant from our real  life   friends, we can get up close and personal with these fictional characters. We can    laugh and sing and hold hands.

  • Look for the Upside

Amid all the civil unrest, the tragedy of racism, the pain of death, there is still good news in the world. There are people performing good deeds, making music, telling jokes, volunteering, making the world better. When you’ve seen enough of the bad news, go for some good news. Our local television station, CHEK, has made lemonade out of lemons by turning the sports segment — there are no sports at the moment — into The Upside. Here the sports caster and the weatherman collect quirky stories from around our Island and broadcast them on the nightly news. It’s silly and kooky and a lot of fun. It brings people together and it generates lots of smiles. When you’re feeling down, go for the Upside.   

 

  • Walk 

Or run or bicycle or turn handstands. The point is to move, thereby releasing    endorphins, our own little happy hormone. If possible exercise outdoors. Don’t wear   earplugs. Shut down the artificial world and tune in to the natural one. Birdsong,  crickets, rustling grass, soughing boughs, barking dogs — all these things help to restore   our mental balance. In Canada, our national broadcaster, has created “Hello Spring” to lift people’s spirits. If you can’t hike into the back country yourself, they’ve brought the back country to you with clips of bear cubs emerging from their den, a hummingbird  feeding her young, fox kits discovering the world, and many more moments to remind   us  that the natural world is bountiful and open to all.        

  • Work 

In her post in Writer Unboxed,Sandra Callender  about the importance of writers in a time of social turmoil. Violence, she posits, comes from a lack of human connection. When our physical human connections are severed, our fictional connections become even more important. Writers create an antidote to violence. 

If you are a writer, write.   If you are a musician, make music. If you are an artist, paint. If you are a knitter, knit, if you’re a doodler, create the most elaborate doodle of your  life.  In the comments section of that same post Vaughn Roycroft shares a bit of folksy  wisdom about work. Nothing good comes of worry, he says. At least if you’re working, you are getting something done.                                                                                                                         

I subscribe to that belief myself and even used it in my first book of the Prospect Series, The Man for Her.  Whenever Lottie felt overcome by her problems, she worked. She got  something done. She got through it.

                                                                                                                                                                                                           

So, I was “working” in the garden the other day, removing diseased leaves, down on my knees with my face mere inches from the thorns when I spied this beauty hiding behind a branch. Working not only got something done and released my endorphins, it surprised me with unexpected beauty–the upside to a tedious chore.

Hang in everyone. We are all in this together and we’re in it for the long haul. 

Please share your upside stories in the comments below.

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