Erin go bragh

On this eve of St. Patrick’s Day, many of our family, friends and acquaintances, whether of Irish descent or not, are thinking about how they will commemorate the occasion. The best part about St. Patrick`s Day is that everyone is welcome, no matter who you are or where you came from.

Here, north of Quebec City, we have a great little contingent of Irish descendants, most particularly in a little town aptly named Shannon. This past weekend I attended the 50th anniversary edition of the Shannon Irish Show, a show I’ve enjoyed all of my life. The enormous homegrown talent of residents, past and present, was once again on display.

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It amazes me how there can be so many talented people born and raised in such a small community.  Whether they’re singers, musicians, or dancers – or any combination of the above – they’re clearly blessed. And those of us with no musical talent in the least are blessed to be able to watch and enjoy their performances.

Having married into an Irish family from Shannon, most of my in-laws were up on stage or working behind the scenes to help bring the show to life. This year, I was particularly proud of my 85-year-old mother-in-law, center stage, returning to join a group of singers with whom she had been active over much of the 50 year history of the show. Her three daughters were on stage with her along with a dozen or so other singers and musicians. In other acts, I had a niece who sang beautifully, others who danced, a nephew doing a skit, and some cousins who had the audience on their feet, cheering and clapping. What a wonderful heritage!

The next day, we celebrated my mother-in-law’s recent birthday with another party, which of course included more Irish singing, and appropriately enough, the first song was entitled ‘At McCarthy’s Party’, a big favorite.

I haven’t been to Ireland yet (notice the ‘yet’), but I know that the Irish are warm and welcoming people with a talent and a love for music. How do I know this? Because I see proof of it so often in my everyday life. The traditions and the love of their heritage continues to be passed down through the generations.

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So, on that note…May the road rise to meet you, and a Happy St. Patrick’s Day to you all.

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Sometimes you have to let it go

I had to give up a child this week. Not literally, of course. But, I had invested a certain amount of time and effort into a project and I had loved it in my own way.

It began months ago when I was struck with a wonderful (I thought) idea for another novel. I was already working on a manuscript when I had this epiphany. The new idea took up residence in my mind and stayed there until I finally set aside one novel and started working on another one. I was excited about it. I was convinced it was ‘the one”.

Months passed (because, after all, I have a full-time job) and I started stumbling. I still thought it was a good idea, I still believed in the premise, but I was having trouble getting my thoughts organized and onto paper. I knew the beginning and I knew the end, but everything in between kept jumping around. The first week of January, I decided the story was falling flat and I had to find a way to jazz it up, so I outlined it again with some major changes.

As soon as I started to go with the new outline I developed a bad taste in my mouth. It didn’t feel right. It went against the idea which had excited me in the first place. I dropped Plan B and returned to Plan A.

Several weeks later, I had to sit myself down and have a good stern talk with myself.

Me: Ugh! What am I going to do? I’m getting nowhere with this.

The more logical me:  Sucks, doesn’t it?

Me:  But, it was such a good idea! How come I can’t make it work anymore?

The more logical me: Do you think if you keep hammering away at it the story will get better?

Me: I thought so – at first – but now even I’m bored writing it. And if I’m bored, what about the people who have to read it?

The more logical me: Exactly. I think you’re starting to get it.

Me (in a whiny voice): But, I’ve spent so much time on it already. I really liked the premise. Do I have to just throw it aside? Do you know how hard it is to do that?

The more logical me:  Sure. But, sometimes you just have to know when to let go. Do you really want to keep working on something that’s become tedious and boring?  Think back to when you started writing. Think about what you liked about it. Wasn’t it fun?  Wasn’t it something you enjoyed doing? Are you getting any pleasure out of this exercise now?

Me (hanging my head in shame): You’re right. I wrote myself into a rut.

The more logical me: So what are you going to do about it?

Me (straightening my shoulders): I’m going to set it aside and come up with a better idea.

As soon as the decision was made, I felt better. In short order, I worked up another idea and started a new novel.  And, guess what? I wrote more in one day than I have in the past six weeks. Even better, I loved every minute of it!

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Back to Reality

It’s mid-January already. I look at the calendar in wonder. How did we get here so fast? After at least a month of preparation for Christmas, we finally get to celebrate the big day (the celebration actually goes on for several days) and then we’re supposed to start a new year. But, I turn around, we’re already two weeks in, and I hardly noticed.

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Of course, I had a special reason to be distracted. On New Year’s Day we went to British Columbia to visit our oldest daughter and have some special family time. The weather was beautiful, the scenery was spectacular (as you can see by the pictures), and the family time was much needed. From the winter wonderland of Whistler, to the balmy beaches of Tofino, to the beauty of the City of Victoria, we took advantage of our time together. Unfortunately, the return trip home was obligatory. Work was waiting for us on Monday morning.

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But, the beginning of a new year deserves a few moments to reflect on what we want to accomplish before the next Christmas rush is upon us. Apart from the usual (lose ten pounds, clean my car on a regular basis, reorganize every closet in the house – all of which are probably impossible, or at the very least, unrealistic) I have set a goal to complete my current novel. Whether it will ever leave the confines of my computer or not is another matter, but at least it will be completed. If I can come up with an idea for another one, all the better. In my view, both of these goals are attainable, but I have to be more disciplined.

I often read articles or blogs about making time to write and the best way to do it. For me it’s less a question of time, and more a question of frame of mind.

I can’t write when I’m distracted. When we were in Whistler, my daughter gave me a sightseeing pass with which I could go up the mountain by gondola, meander around, take in the sights, and come back down (I’m not much of a skier). We all thought it would be a great idea for me to take my computer with me so I could find inspiration on top of the mountain in the fresh air and sunshine. I happily went, carrying my backpack with me, armed with a laptop and a camera. The camera is the only device which was used. I was so distracted by the view, the fresh air, and the sunshine, I couldn’t write a word.

Secondly, I can’t write if I’m worrying about something. How often in a day or a week do we, as busy adults and parents, not have worries or concerns? Not very often.

So, I guess my true goal should be to vanquish all distractions, worries and concerns so I can accomplish my ultimate goal of completing my novel this year. And when next January rolls around, I’ll probably be hitting the ‘repeat’ button.

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A taste of a work-in-progress

 

Since Betrayal was published, many people have asked me if I’m working on another novel. Each time, my response was the same: ‘I’m always working on another novel’. Nine times out of ten, they reacted with surprise, as if once was enough. But, for those of us who write, once is never enough.

Many of these same people asked if I’m writing a sequel, or if it’s the same style of story as ‘Betrayal’. My answer was always no.

So, in order to prove that I am writing another novel, and it’s not a sequel, I decided to provide a small excerpt from what is very definitely a work-in-progress. It’s the first draft of a half-written manuscript, and it will have to endure a multitude of editings before I’m satisfied with it. But, here it is…just a taste of ‘Letters from Nowhere’. (Actually, this is Chapter 3)

             I remembered the mysterious letter only after the kids were in bed, my chores were done, and I was getting ready to crawl under the covers for the night. With all the usual evening drama it had completely slipped my mind. I rushed downstairs to root through my bag and pull out the forgotten mail. I hastily shoved the regular bills and papers into a drawer, and I grabbed the mysterious envelope to take upstairs with me to read in bed. Something this special deserved a comfortable environment to give it full honors.

            On my way past Ethan’s bedroom I was summoned for a last-minute attempt at prolonging bedtime. Much to his disappointment, I didn’t fall for it. A few minutes later I was happily ensconced in my bed covered with a plump duvet.

            I was eager to see the contents, but hesitant to rip open the authentic-looking envelope. I wanted to preserve the look of the yellowed paper and the faded cursive writing. But I knew to discover who had sent it to me it had to be opened.

            Gently, I slid my finger under the seal and pried it open with minimal damage to the envelope. When I looked inside I was delighted to see the letter was also written on paper that had been made to look very old. Whoever was behind this knew how to peak my curiosity.

            As I unfolded the letter I could have sworn there were several particles of dust that fell onto my duvet. I was tempted to look at the bottom of the page to discover who had sent it to me, but decided I would delay the pleasure and see if I could guess by the contents of the letter.

My dearest,

            I imagine you are surprised to hear from me. I am almost as surprised to find myself writing this letter to you. In my thoughts I have written it a thousand times, each time wondering if it would be good enough for you; if you would be able to understand the way I feel. Would the words be clear enough? Would my feelings show through?

            I have never fancied myself as a writer of love letters, but I know I can always learn. If it is the only way I can communicate with you, then so be it. Hopefully, in the future, you will come to appreciate me in different ways, and you will see I am someone worth getting to know and perhaps love.

            I could probably fill many pages with words about your beauty, both inside and out, but I know your head won’t be turned by such behaviour. You have heard it too many times before from too many men.

            Instead, I will try to help you, in any way that I can. You will come to appreciate me more that way. You don’t think you need help. You’re a very strong, independent woman, but everyone needs a friend. And, for now at least, that is what I will be to you, a friend.

            So, my dearest friend, I wish you a good night and sweet dreams.

 

            I stared at the letter in disbelief for several minutes. It was unsigned and I had no clue who had written it to me. It was also kind of creepy. Some strange man was writing me love letters. It sounded like we may have already met. I looked around the room, at the darkened corners, and the door of the closet that stood ajar.

             Actually, this was beyond creepy.

            I reread the letter, and told myself I had to calm down. The second time around, I decided it was actually very generic. No names were mentioned at any point; not mine, not his, not the names of these imaginary men who were constantly telling me how beautiful I am.

            Therefore, it was obviously a prank. This guy was sending out letters to many women, trying to freak us all out. He had succeeded with me, but only temporarily, and it would surely end there. I would be extra cautious in my movements to and from the house, but I refused to let myself be driven crazy by this lunatic.

            I finally drifted off to sleep after two tours of the house to make sure everything was locked up tight, and several hours of tossing and turning.

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Seriously?

I admit I spend a certain amount of time every day scrolling through social media sites, some days more than others. While I scroll I see countless pictures/videos of cats, dogs and various other creatures. I see occasional personal or family pictures, some helpful recipes or craft tricks, and way too many political updates or satires.

Every once in a while I will come across something which makes me shake my head in wonder or disgust. It never ceases to amaze me the amount of time some people have on their hands and how they like to waste it. The latest useless controversy is the Starbucks saga. The huge coffee chain has removed their snowflakes and snowmen from their coffee cups! It’s been heralded as a disgrace and decidedly anti-Christmas.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I live in Quebec. I spend almost half my year with snowflakes and snowmen and every other imaginable snow thing on earth. I understand the terrible loss everyone is feeling by not having such beautiful manifestations of winter on their morning coffee cup.

But seriously?

Do we have nothing else to do? If it hadn’t made the rounds of Facebook, Twitter and whatnot, I wouldn’t have noticed the lack of winter decorations on cardboard cups. And what do snowflakes have to do with Christmas anyway?  I have a suspicion snow existed somewhere on the planet before Christianity did. I also know people celebrate Christmas in countries which have never been touched by snow. One has nothing to do with the other.

Do you honestly think the people of Paris are worrying about what’s on Starbucks cups? Would you be able to sit beside a woman who just lost her child to cancer and try to convince her of the importance of such a debate?

I’m also sure the homeless person on the street would be happy to drink a hot cup of coffee from any kind of cup. So, if that Starbucks container disgusts you so much, fill it up, and hand it to someone who will appreciate it.

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The Value of Blog Comments

Source: The Value of Blog Comments

As part of the October Platform Challenge through Writer’s Digest, we have to complete a task every day.  Because of this, we are starting to connect with other writers and interesting blogs.  This is one I wanted to share.

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How thankful should you be?

On this Canadian thanksgiving weekend it’s only natural, and even expected, to reflect upon the things we are thankful for. Last night, I spent the evening with the McCarthy side of the family to celebrate and eat too much. It also happened to be my husband’s birthday. He always claims that a national holiday was declared to give thanks for his birth, but I think the origins go back even further than that.

I am convinced that most people, when asked what they are most thankful for, will say family, friends, good health and perhaps prosperity. It could be all of the above, or it could be only one or two, but those seem to be the most common. I’m also guilty of falling back on the old standbys.

Should we be looking outside the box a little? For instance, should I say I’m thankful the western world wasn’t obliterated by a nuclear attack? I imagine most people would agree with me, but do we really want to bring it up? It could be a bit of a downer at a dinner party.

Should people be honest and say something along the lines of: I’m thankful my boss broke his leg skiing this year and was out of the office for six weeks? That’s a bit nasty, and you would run the risk of it getting back to your boss if you declared something like that.

What if someone said: I’m thankful the terrible rash in an unmentionable place cleared up quickly with those powerful antibiotics? Gross, and also inappropriate to discuss over turkey and mashed potatoes.

So what if we fall back on the old standbys?  They happen to be true. I am thankful for my family, both immediate and extended. I am thankful that we are all in good health. I’m thankful to have good friends. And, I’m thankful to have a job I enjoy, a nice house to live in, and food on the table.

If they’re common, it’s because they’re important.

Please comment and let me know what you are most thankful for. For my American counterparts, consider it practice for your own Thanksgiving celebrations.

Thanks.

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A Bittersweet Autumn Day

Yesterday, we took advantage of the chance to recreate some memories of times when the kids were younger. We took the day off and headed to a farm for some old-fashioned apple and pumpkin picking. It’s something we hadn’t done as a family for years.

Our eldest daughter had come to visit us from far-away British Columbia for a week. The week was rapidly drawing to an end and we wanted to do something special. It was a perfect fall day. The air was crisp and cool. Being a Friday, there weren’t many people at the farm partaking of all the activities and goodies. We had some great photo ops and I want to share a few with you.

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We arrived home with our bounty and the girls immediately started cooking vegetables, and making pies and apple crisp.  I put on a pot of chili and my husband sent out a last-minute invitation to anyone wanting to drop by, grab a bite, and visit. All-in-all it was a great day.

But, as the title of my blog implies, it was bittersweet, in a couple of ways. First of all, Rachel added a little too much nutmeg to the pumpkin pie, but everyone bravely ate it and found something good to say about it.

Secondly, we are starting to say our goodbyes today. We will be driving her to Montreal tonight to catch a flight to Vancouver tomorrow morning. My heart is definitely heavy knowing it will be January, at the earliest, before I see her again. Visits are wonderful, but they end much too soon.

Autumn is my favorite season of the year. I love the coolness of the weather and the color of the leaves. This year it was even more special because of the week we had as a complete family. The sound of the girls giggling together and having fun was a balm for my heart. Hopefully, the balm will be strong enough to last until we are together again.

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Sometimes you have to ignore the advice

 

I started writing several years ago. As soon as I sat down at my computer and started transferring my thoughts to paper I was hooked. It was fun! All I had to do was let the idea flow towards my fingers and I was creating a novel. Many years and a few novels later, I got a publishing contract for ‘Betrayal’. Wonderful!

But I still feel like a greenhorn, an amateur, compared to all the prolific, talented, creative authors out there in the world. I don’t feel I have perfected the craft yet. So, I read blogs about writing. I research writing tips on the internet. I see references to websites on Twitter or Facebook. I follow them up and read more about the profession.

Now my head is swimming with all the advice. When I sit down to write, things don’t flow so easily. I keep thinking about all the do’s and don’ts of writing. I have to be careful about point of view. I have to worry about where my commas are. I can’t underwrite or overwrite. I have to show, not tell. I have to remember how important the hook is, but I also have to decide whose advice I will follow about how soon it should appear in the novel. I have to think about tension, conflict, rhythm, and flow.

It seems that every word I write has to be significant. What happened to the fun part? What happened to sitting down and letting the idea flow onto the paper? I have too much advice banging around in my head. It’s interfering with the important part – the story.

I finally decided that I have to ignore the advice. I have to go back to just writing. Get the idea and the story into the computer. Then I can worry about all the rest. If I have to go back and change a point of view, or a character’s tension or emotions, there will be time for that later. Maybe some writers can work with all the pressure of advice ringing in their ears, and they avoid the rewriting and editing later, but I guess I’m just not one of those writers.

So, thank you, everyone, for all your wonderful words of wisdom. I’m very happy you’re willing to share your experience with me. Believe me, I‘m taking it to heart, but I’m going to be ignoring it for a little while. I just need a little time to tell my story my way.

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PLA – A Writer’s Condition

I’m sure I’m not the first author to suffer from PLA (Post-Launch Anxiety), but I’ve been experiencing this ailment  since the release of my first published novel.   I’ve never actually heard of such a condition, but I’m convinced it must exist and the definition can surely be found  in some glossary intended for writers.

My official launch event was a month ago, on the last Saturday of July. It was fun and successful, at least from my point of view. But, by the next day, PLA had set in. Had anyone started reading my novel, Betrayal, yet? Was it possible that someone had stayed awake all night, unable to put it down?

By Monday, a couple of people had contacted me to say they loved it. Then began the wait to hear other comments or reviews. Why was it taking so long? It isn’t a tome. People should have finished it by now?

By mid-week, I had to give myself a stern lecture about having patience and needing to take into account the fact that most people have lives. They don’t necessarily have time to read, or perhaps they don’t read as quickly as I do. On the other hand, maybe they hated the book and were too kind to mention it. I began analysing people’s expressions. Were they avoiding my eyes? That had to be a bad sign. Ah, a smile! But, was it a happy smile, a proud smile, or a pity smile?

I’m quite proud of the fact that I kept my PLA well-hidden from people. Looking at me, no one would have guessed that I had this condition. They might even have said I looked blasé, totally unconcerned about their opinions. Yet I lit up like a Christmas tree when someone told me they had read and liked the book.

I can only surmise that this is a normal reaction to the launching of a novel. If I publish again, will I have the same level of PLA? Do John Grisham and Stephen King worry about how their newest novel is being received? I doubt it. Just their name on a book cover guarantees a best-seller. But, on the other hand, don’t we all want to have positive feedback on our accomplishments, even Mr. Grisham and Mr. King? Do they want to be known for having a bad apple in their very fruitful orchards? I’m sure they take as much pride in their work as anyone else.

In the last month, I have spoken to quite a few people about Betrayal, and all the comments have been very positive and very encouraging. A few people have been kind enough to take the time to give it an excellent review on Amazon, which is always helpful and much appreciated. I am bracing myself for that bad review which I have been told is inevitable.

Thankfully, I have finally settled down to a liveable level of PLA. I have always had the capacity to compartmentalize, so that is what I have done. I will work as hard as I can and hope for the best. Meanwhile, I will apply myself to what I enjoy doing most, writing another novel.

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