Sunday, December 30, 2012

No Resolutions for Me

It's that time of year again, where people begin to make New Year resolutions and then quickly fail and then spend the rest of the year berating themselves for that failure, or simply forget about it until the following year.

I don't make resolutions. Exactly for that reason. There are simply things that I am going to do or I am not going to do.

1. I am going to have some more stories published. The first of which will be appear in February in an anthology called The Inanimates I. I'm particularly happy with this one because it's the first story I've written that has not been rejected. Accepted the first time out. I think that's progress.

2. I am going to finish the first draft of my novel this year. There is just no other option. I can finish a short story so why can't I finish something longer and more in depth? More complicated?

3. I am going to get outdoors more. More snowshoeing, more hiking or plain old walking. More anything, as long as it's outside. Except when it's -20 or lower. (So what, I'm a wimp!) If it's that cold, I'll go skating or something along those lines. Already took the child skating several times over the last few weeks and she's getting better. Can actually stand up pretty good. Still too nervous to not have someone holding her hand but we went around and around the rink on Boxing Day and she barely fell at all. And now that I discovered there are places we can skate all year round, I'm going to take advantage of it. Did I mention, I love skating?

4. For the colder days, we did buy a treadmill back in September and I've been making really good use of it. Did I mention I joined Weight Watchers back in August and to date I've lost almost 40lbs? No I don't think I mentioned that because I haven't really told anyone. So I suppose that's another thing I am going to do this year. Lose more weight. All of the excess, if possible.

5. I am going to drink more coffee. That's a must.

6. And, I promised a friend that if she lost 20lbs before Christmas I would quit smoking. She hasn't reached that goal, however, at the same time I said if I lost 20lbs by Christmas I would quit smoking. I almost doubled that so now I have to follow through on the promise even if she doesn't remember I said it.

I think 6 things I am going to do this year is more than enough to keep track of. I've already started on #5 and it's not even the new year yet.

I'm off to a good start.

Making Use of a Christmas Gift

This year for Christmas, my hubby got me snowshoes. It's something I only half-heartedly mentioned but I guess it stuck and that's what I got. Of course, now I have to use them.

Last Thursday, my mom and I made use of the new gift and headed out to Bragg Creek to the West Bragg Creek Trails just inside the Texas Gate of Kananaskis. Mom rented shoes while I strapped on the new gift.

And then we headed out not knowing quite what to expect.

I haven't been snowshoeing in years. The trail we took was well marked with little signs. Pretty easy for the first bit. A few minor hills but nothing too strenuous. I supposed the weeks I've spent on the treadmill had something to do with that. However, a little ways in there was a hill. A killer hill.  It took some time and careful consideration to make it up this almost straight up and down incline. (they don't have that incline on any treadmill I've seen). But I made it.

On we went through narrow paths, over fallen trees and protruding stumps.

A couple of kilometres in there was a slight drop. We had to step down off a log, only about a foot. Mom made it no problem. Me on the otherhand, had to consider this drop and figure out the best way to make it down without doing a faceplant in the snow or knocking my teeth out on the log. I took a deep breath and went for it. One foot down. Not so bad. Then Mom says, "Maybe sitting down would be easier." I thought about this then said, "Hey good plan." And this would have been a good plan had I not been wearing snowpants. I sat. I slid. Did a nice little twirly spin on my back, laughing all the way down. But I didn't break anything. Pulled myself up, dusted off the snow and said, "A good idea, in theory."

And we carried on. Over frozen streams and more fallen logs and narrow paths, up longer, gradual inclines.

5.5km in total. We made it in 2.5 hours. Not so bad for a first time out.

My legs were killing me after. I used muscles I didn't even know I had.

Now after 3 days of barely being able to walk, I feel okay except for the stupid cold that has latched on and won't let go.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Been & Gone

Just when you think it's going to be another year, much like last, friends have a way of making significant changes. New relationships can be altered, solidified, never the same again. Try new things, enjoy these new things. Never go back.

From the dangling heart deco to shared chocolate kisses, we reach for something and can't find it, even though it's never gone. Say goodbye to our loved ones and rekindle other familial relationships. Life is too short to let the angered past linger. Love and be loved.

Muster the courage to reach for your dreams. No matter how singular or fanciful they may seem. Everything is attainable if you just try. Take chances and you can't ever be disappointed.

After the cold of winter has marred your bones, embrace the newness of spring. Even the old can become new again.

Maybe being alone isn't all it's cracked up to be. Weeks of looking forward to quiet, abruptly shocked from your own silence. Chaos is bliss when a toddler is in the house. Don't take it for granted. Enjoy the company of friends, the warmth of a hug, the sweetness of cupcakes, a gentle hand on your forehead, but never forget what you truly live for. The squeals of a child, the rush of footsteps over the floor.

Jell-o? Who wants Jell-o? Everyone wants Jell-o when the weather turns hot. The squiggly, jiggly little dessert that melts in your mouth or on the carpet.

Jackets are left on the floor as we rush to the beach, or prepare for a camping trip. It's the first as a family and everything has to be just right. Don't forget the flashlight, what do you need a hammer for? Camping stove? Who needs that? We have fire. Precious fire.

Another year older, the little one opens her presents around a campfire. Smoke smothering the senses, the sun shining after a random summer shower. Cooler than the last time, all huddled in the tent, noses close to frostbite. It's only August. What's up with that?

Snapshots show the reality of what we have become. Time to take action. Make your life matter. The summer has been fun but it's time to think about me and all that can be accomplished, if only...

Oh, the Hallowe'en noises. The hoots and howls of little ghouls and goblins. A child dressed in fancy closes, an image of what they could be. Door to door, in the already frigid cold. Trick or treat. By the end of the night her pillowcase overflows and her teeth may rot.

Now it snows. Not much, but enough. Enough to remind us winter is around the corner, Christmas is upon us and the end of the year nears. Have we done enough this year to look back and say, yes, I did it. I did what I wanted to and now I can move forward knowing that I can accomplish anything? I think it went okay so far.

Didn't the Mayans say the world was going to end? It's the end of December and we're all still standing or sitting or sleeping off the turkey we over-indulged on. Soon it will be another year. But for now, this one has been and gone.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Wounded World

By Madelaine Wong

Dear Santa,

Please bring me the best present, ever. There’s something that I really need. It can be found everywhere, but sometimes, it’s hard to find. If you find it, I will be rich. Without it, I will die. When you look for it, bypass the candy aisle of the department store and the electronics department. I don’t want an iPod or a laptop. In fact, don’t bother with the malls at all.

You can’t buy the thing that I need. It is infinitely valuable, but also free. To find it, you’ll have to look inside the heart of every human being.

Alright, that’s enough beating around the bush. At the risk of sounding overly sentimental and not at all clever, this Christmas I wish for love.  Love is vital to my existence. It is what causes me to exist. You must understand that I am desperate for love. I am deprived and suffering, Santa. I am wounded and broken. Only one thing can heal me. So, you must give love in abundance. Don’t hold back.

You can’t carry love in a sack or in a box. Love is immensely large and yet takes no space at all. I will tell you how you can deliver this valuable gift to me. Give me your time. Time is your most precious commodity, for you don’t know how much you have. Offer me understanding and forgiveness. Be patient with me. Pick me up when I fall. When I’m hungry, feed me. When I’m thirsty, give me something to drink. Give me clothes and a place to live. Visit me when I’m sick and when I die, see to it that I’m buried. That is how you can draw more love into the world.

This holiday of Christmas began with a gift. That small baby born in Bethlehem received gold, frankincense and myrrh; gifts fit for a king, a God and a man. Give to me what I need. Love; it’s the best present. When you give me love, you share in the gift that that child brought to the world.

Love is the only thing that will stop me from hurting myself and the only thing that will bring me peace. So, bring me love and lots of it.



The Human Race
By Madelaine Wong

Friday, December 21, 2012

The Writer's Letter to Santa

By Diana Radovan

Dear Santa,

I know I haven’t quite been the good girl I had promised myself to be. I failed at being true to myself and, in doing so, I failed at being true to others. Some have complained I haven’t been showing them my recent writing lately. That’s because there isn’t any. No excuse, I know! But I’d still love it if you brought me tons of white paper and inspiration, just like you did last year, despite me being just a slack-off.
So here’s my to-do list for next year:
  1. I will start all my days with morning pages.
  2. I will work at least ten hours a week on actual stories, poems, and my first novel outline.
  3. I will offer myself at least one writing workshop and one writing retreat.
  4. I will actively search for people who are at a similar level of writing as I am.
  5. I will actively search for people who are better writers than I am and can coach and mentor me.
  6. I will find a publisher.
  7. I will save money for pursuing an MA in Creative Writing.
  8. I promise myself to stick to my to-do list next year.

And I challenge myself to start writing in German. And if I don’t, you can take all my pencils and notebooks away. Amen.

Yours truly,
(You know much too well who I am)

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Please Let Me Sleep

Dear Santa,

It’s 2:00 in the morning and I can’t sleep. I see her lying there, so quiet, peaceful and it burns me that I’m relieved. For this brief moment, it’s as if she’s just asleep. Except I can’t get past the tubes and wires: her food, her breath.

What did I do to deserve this? What did she do to deserve this? So small. So fragile. Not even enough time to know the world. It wasn’t supposed to be this way. We were supposed to wrap her in that cream and pink blanket Great Gran made, buckle her into the car seat and be on our way. Twenty-four hours, the mandatory stay these days.

That was 34 days, 12 hours and 17 minutes ago.

I thought I did everything right. I’ve never done drugs. Don’t smoke. No drinking. Waddled on the treadmill every day. Ate perfect balanced meals.

Doctors say there’s nothing we could have done.

I don’t believe them.

There’s always something. A reason for everything. Isn’t that what they say? Everything happens for a reason?

I’m not a religious person. I don’t believe in a “God” per se—much to my devout Catholic mother’s disappointment. A transgression she reminds me of all the time. She thinks since I strayed from the church, don’t believe in the same things she does, my prayers will go unheard.

Maybe she’s right.

She and her group of bible petting ladies are praying for her.

Praying for me.

All this hovering, all this staring, all the doctors muffled whispers and the sideways, downward gazes of the nurses. They already know what I won’t admit.

I don’t know how these miracles work and I’m not so good at asking for things, but if there is one thing, one wish—

Please, Santa. Let me sleep.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Drive My Sleigh

By Sarah Johnson

Dear Getting My Kicks In Canmore,

Santa’s going to pretend you didn’t confess to stealing a plum, because otherwise you’ve been fairly good this year. But that’s not the reason you wrote me, is it?

You want to drive my sleigh.

Since your ‘predilection’ as you call it, is bound to result in death by misadventure at some point anyway, I’m giving your request serious consideration.

I propose a trade. You want to drive my sleigh? Well, Santa would really love a Christmas off. So I’ll hand you the reins, but you have to take everything that goes with them.

Still interested, Kicks?

Assuming the answer is ‘yes’, I’ll go through a few things you should know about Santa Duty.

1. The elves will do a pre-flight check on the sleigh. I recommend double and triple checking that. By Christmas Eve the elves are exhausted. One year we almost took off without Rudolph (last minute run to the little reindeer’s room).

2. On the subject of reindeer, Blitzen is a homophobe and a bully. Keep him and Prancer separated at all times.

3. Occasionally you’ll get a child (or an adult) who stays awake, clutching their phone, hoping to get a sweet up-chimney pic for their Facebook or whatever. If this happens, don’t panic. Tucked behind the glove compartment on the sleigh, you’ll find a baggy full of white powder. Don’t ask me what it is, or where I got it, and for the love of Christmas, don’t mention it to Mrs. Claus. Just blow a pinch in the offender’s face, and say nighty-night. Then erase the evidence and be on your merry. They won’t remember a thing.

4. We don’t do coal in the stockings anymore. Legal says it leaves us wide open to liability. Apparently it’s emotionally scarring. So yeah, no coal.

5. Eat a few cookies and drink some milk, but leave the beer okay? Trust me. It’s a long night and you do not want to be circling the earth at FTL speeds with a belly full of Oreos and Michelob Light.
The rest is self-explanatory. Harness the team, drop off presents, have the sleigh back in the garage by morning.

If that sounds agreeable, report to the North Pole on December 24th.

Merry Christmas,
St. Nick

P.S. One more thing, Kicks. You scratch my ride and you’ll wish you’d broken your neck on that ladder. Comprendé?

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Getting My Kicks

By Verna Bewick
Dear Santa,

I’m not asking for presents, but I do have request. I know it’s a weird thing to ask, but if it helps, I’ve been real good this year…

I seem to have developed a little predilection. Just after New Year’s, I was hungry and walked out of Safeway with a plum in my pocket. That was January 3rd, and I’d never performed the five finger discount before, but it was an honest mistake. The plum not only satisfied my hunger, but it also gave me a bit of a thrill.

In April, I was running late for a meeting downtown. I took the street because it was a more direct route than the Plus 15. The traffic had stopped at a light a half block down the one-way, so I zipped across. Next thing I knew, there was a Mercedes honking. Coming straight for me! I jumped to the side. I saw the passenger’s side tire smush my Starbucks cup. Just rolled right over it! I didn’t realize those hub caps were so bloody shiny – never been that close before! It took my breath away.

I was good for a while. Then in July, I fell off a ladder in my kitchen while changing a bulb. Fortunately it was only a two-step, so the wrist sprain and all the bruises were minor. I actually giggled for Chrissakes. I haven’t giggled since eighth grade.

Fall came and I fell out of the pine in my front yard. I was knocking the dead needles off with my husband’s old floor hockey stick and was not holding on. If I’d seen anyone else try this, I would have thought they were psycho. The lawn was covered with needles and leaves, so I landed softly and only bit the inside of my cheek. I went right back at it and finished the job, staying upright unfortunately.

In November, my infatuation with thrills turned into an all-out affair with the hanging of the Christmas lights. My man was wondering why I offered to do them. He asked if he “did it wrong last year,” like I was tearing off his testicles. We made up when I let him get the ladder for me. You know that label on the top rung that says “don’t go past this step”? I went past it. I swung one leg over the top, straddling it, and managed to get that puppy rocking! Woo Hoo! Feliz Navidad!

So, jolly Old St. Nicholas, lean your ear this way, don’t you tell a single soul what I’m going to say… come on Santa, let me drive your sleigh!

With love,
Getting my kicks in Canmore!

Monday, December 3, 2012

Christmas Traditions

We always decorate our tree on or before the beginning of December. It's an almost family affair. This year, my daughter and I put up the tree. She chose many of the decorations. I chose the colours, but she decided where they all went. It's something that she seems to love and I love being a part of that with her.

Hubby is the outside decorator. This year however, he has opted not to decorate outside. His choice. Fine with me. In years past, the outside decorations have been his high point of the season. Strings upon strings of gawdy Christmas lights that I have come to believe, if he had his way, if the electricity bill wouldn't be through the roof, he would be one of those who created elaborate displays. If he was more electronically saavy, music would go along with it.

Another favoured Christmas tradition would be the annual Christmas Eve party with the extended family. Hubby's family. Everyone looks forward to it. Lots of drink, lots of food, a Christmas gift exchange. Christmas Day is with my family. I cook. I drink. We eat.

Do you have a favoured holiday tradition?

Share it!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

The Christmas Rose

A Rose has sprung from a tender root,
From Jesus, as those of old have sung,
And it bore a flower,
In the middle of a cold winter,

When half spent was the night.
Isaiah foretold it, the Rose I have in mind;
Is Mary the pure, the little flower has brought us.
From God's eternal wisdom, she bore a child,
And remained pure.

The Flower, so small, whose sweet fragrance fills the air,
Dispels with glorious splendor the darkness everywhere;
True man and truer God, helps us out of all sorrows,
Saves from sin and death.

Oh Jesus, until we leave this misery,
Let your help guide us into joy,
In Your Father's Kingdom, where we eternally praise You.
Oh God, allow us this.

Translated from the early 15th century German poem "Es ist ein Ros' Entsprungen." Author unknown.

Legend of the Christmas Rose

The Legend of the Christmas Rose is a charming tale of a little shepherd girl named Madelon. As Madelon tended to her sheep one cold and wintry night, Wise Men and shepherds passed by Madelon’s snow-covered field bearing gifts for the Christ Child. Following, Madelon saw the Magi present gold, myrrh and frankincense to the baby…even the humble shepherds had brought fruits, honey and doves to give to the babe…but Madelon had nothing, not even a simple flower for the Newborn King. Standing outside the stable where Jesus had been born, poor Madelon wept, wishing that she had a gift she could carry to the infant. A watching Angel, taking pity on Madelon, caused the snow at the feet of the small girl feet to vanish, thus revealing a most beautiful white flower whose petals were tipped with pink, formed by the Angel from the tears which had fallen from the eyes of the little shepherdess. Overjoyed, Madelon presented her gift at the manger of the baby Jesus…her gift of the Christmas Rose.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

The Santa Claus Show

By Rona Altrows

Dear Santa,

Although every child knows you are all-seeing and all-knowing, we who are approaching your age also understand that it is not always possible to remember every little incident from the past with complete clarity. I thought you might enjoy coming back with me to an earlier time to relive a family story in which you figure prominently.

It is December 1949 in Montreal and my mother still delights in being able to buy whatever she wants at the supermarket, in whatever quantities her family needs. At last, there’s no more rationing, which started during the war and ended only two years ago. My mother likes to know she can now buy sugar, butter, tea and coffee galore. Those products bring pleasure to people, which is what my mother likes above all to do. And she is so happy in her family life. After waiting a long time to get married because of her insistence on finding a man of great character, intelligence and kindness, she met and married my father, who had waited until middle age to even contemplate marriage because he had been taking care of his own sick mother for a long time. My parents now have two much-loved children, four-year-old Irwin and a one-year-old girl (me). Life is good. And because the war was so hard (overseas mostly, of course, but also, in different ways, on those who kept the home fires burning), my mother is particularly determined to bring as much joy and as little suffering as possible into the lives of her children.

That’s why, when Irwin was born, she consulted my father and they decided they would include a visit from Santa Claus as part of the winter festivities for their children every year. True, the family is Jewish, and there are already cultural and family celebrations for the children to enjoy—Chanukah, with its latkes and brightly coloured candles and dreidl games, and also a fancy family dinner on December 25th, to celebrate the anniversary of my parents, who had married on Christmas Day, 1943. But Santa Claus—well, what a delight the anticipation of his visit would be for their children.  And wouldn’t their children be happy to put out stockings on Christmas Eve, and have “Twas the Night Before Christmas” read aloud to them at bedtime, and find their stockings filled with treats and toys the next day? What lovely traditions! And so, all his young life, my brother Irwin has known about Santa Claus. He has spent most of each December waiting for the special secret visit from the jolly old soul. And Irwin has never been disappointed. His stocking has always been full on Christmas morning.

This year, like every year, the most cherished pre-Christmas activity for children will be attending The Santa Claus Parade. Sponsored by Eaton’s, the parade is always held at ten o’clock on the Saturday morning before Christmas. The beautifully decorated floats move slowly down Ste. Catherine Street until the climax of the parade, which is also the end—Santa Claus himself arrives, in his huge sleigh drawn by papier maché reindeer, and waves to the children of Montreal and their parents. Last year, when he was three, Irwin squealed himself hoarse, he was so happy and delighted to see Santa Claus in person.  And then the anticipation of Christmas morning, and that full stocking, got even greater for Irwin. My mother was delighted to see her little son so happy last year and looks forward to his being equally happy this year.

Now, in any year, the Santa Claus Parade does not just happen. There is a special buildup to it that plays out in kitchens, dining rooms and parlours all over Montreal, depending on what room a family keeps its radio in. And that buildup takes the form of the Santa Claus Show. Every weekday night for the two weeks before the parade, Santa Claus himself hosts a fifteen-minute show at 5:30 in the evening on CJAD radio. Like so many other children, Irwin feels he must listen to that show carefully. The format is always the same. First Santa Claus talks about how preparations are going for his Christmas Eve trip around the world. Then he tells a very short story. And finally he comes to the most important segment of the show: the lists.  For five minutes he reads from his list of Good Little Girls, and for five minutes, from his list of Good Little Boys. First names only. And then, Santa Claus says good night.

But Irwin is troubled. He knows something from his exposure to Christmas songs like “Santa Claus is coming to town.” He knows he has to be on that list of Good Little Boys, or else, on Christmas morning, he will be hooped, and will find nothing in the stocking except maybe a lump of coal. He tells his mother he is afraid.  What if Santa Claus thinks he is a bad boy? She tells him he is a good boy, no matter what Santa Claus or anyone else thinks. He does not believe her. Furthermore, he believes that over the next ten nights, Santa Claus will read the two lists in their entirety. So, there is pressure, even before the first Monday night broadcast. My mother worries that maybe she should not have bought into any part of the Christmas thing.

But it’s too late to turn back. Every night for the first week, Irwin listens for his name on the Good Little Boys list. Santa does not call it. Irwin is sad and anxious. He even has trouble sleeping at night. This is the opposite of what my mother wants. She explains that Santa Claus can’t possibly read out the names of all the good little children in the world in such a short time.  He is only listing some examples.  There is no convincing my brother. Every weekday night as my mother tends to her baby girl and prepares the family’s supper, Irwin occupies his favourite listening spot under the kitchen table, sits bolt upright and listens to Santa Claus call those names. Paul. Donald. Philip. Never Irwin.
Thursday night, my brother is in tears after the show. He has five more minutes of show time left. If his name is not called on the Friday show, it’s the end for him. He will officially not be a Good Little Boy. He will be shunned by Santa Claus. Or shamed. Probably both.  And he is inconsolable.

On Friday morning, my mother takes action. She asks her friend Madame Lebel next door if Irwin can stay and play at her place for a few minutes. B’en oui, no problem. With her little boy out of the house, she phones CJAD and asks to speak with the station manager. He listens to her story sympathetically and says the producer of the Santa Claus Show is in, and she needs to talk to him. So she talks to the producer, who says he is a parent himself, he understands, and he wants every child listening to the show to be happy. He is so sorry to hear Irwin has been upset. Without fail tonight, when Santa Claus reaches the list of Good Little Boys, the first name he calls will be “Irwin.”

As 5:30 approaches, Irwin takes up his usual listening post. Although my mother has been reassuring him all day, telling him she has a strong feeling his name will be called, he does not share her optimism. He sits upright in his spot under the table utterly without hope.  My mother races around the kitchen preparing supper. The show begins. Santa Claus reports that his sleigh is all packed. He tells a very short story about the spirit of Christmas. He reads from the list of Good Little Girls. Christine. Marie. Elizabeth. Finally, the moment arrives. Santa Claus announces he will read, for the last time this year, from the list of Good Little Boys. And the first name he calls, in a clear, deep voice, is “Irwin.”

“Did you hear that?” my mother exclaims.

She looks under the table. Irwin is lying on the floor, asleep.

Still your friend after all these years,
Rona Altrows

Monday, November 19, 2012

Imposter Syndrome

Imposter Syndrome or Imposter Phenomenon. Until the other day, I didn't even know this was a real affliction. But since I learned of it, I've been interested and wondering what makes us feel like we aren't worthy of our accomplishments.

For something so common, it surprises me it's not a recognized psychological disorder.

A little back story: I've had several short stories and book reviews published over the years. I have never been super excited about the book reviews though appreciate the publication. But part of me wondered if my lack of excitement came from knowing it's fiction I really wanted to focus on. But then a few years ago came my first short story publication. I'd been waiting for it for so long, but yet, when it happened, I was not overcome with excitement. Instead, I kept thinking they only chose me to fill space, or because the majority of the people on the collective knew me.

Then the next publication came and it was more of the same. How credible is this magazine, do they publish almost anyone? And the next, and the next. With each publication the feeling that I didn't deserve it raged. I talked to a few other people about this and found that several of my writing colleagues feel the same way. So maybe it's not so uncommon.

A friend of mine recently got her first short story accepted for publication. When she received the news, she was beside herself with excitement. Jittery even.

And then I began to wonder, what's wrong with me? Publications are so hard to come by, we need to appreciate them when they do come and not take them for granted. I think for most writers it's easy to not take them for granted, unless you're Dean Koontz or Stephen King.

It's said that writing and being published is 5% talent and 95% luck. Maybe that's where the problem comes from. We see it as we only got lucky. We got the right editor at the right time who saw something magical in our words. So it doesn't really mean we're talented. Does it?

If we're trained early on to believe this mantra, it's no wonder we can't see the real success in our work. The worthiness of our words that we slaved over for months or even years. We want that success, we dream about it, we want it so bad we can taste it. Everyone wants to be noticed.

At first I thought maybe it was a desperate attempt to remain modest in front of everyone else. But then, you would think in the privacy of my own mind, that excitement would be bursting. I'd should be doing an unseen happy dance.

It doesn't. I wasn't.

A dear friend and colleague pointed out there is no right or wrong way to react to an acceptance or a rejection. It is what it is. We're all different. Some are thrilled, some are appreciative, some don't think they deserve it, but all are still grateful for the acknowledgment.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

It's Here Again...

The Christmas season is upon us and in the hope of establishing an annual tradition...I'm now accepting Letters To Santa.

Here's the rules: There really are none. Send me your best, most creative Letters to Santa between now and December 24. They can be silly, serious, edgy, erotic... Check out some of the previous letters for inspiration. Anything goes. Any length. Any genre.

Just be creative.

Letters will be accepted until December 24 and posted through the month of December.

Send your submissions to rzvaneck at gmail dot com.


Monday, November 12, 2012

Life Thus Far

L.O.V.E by Rebecca Bessette

It seems I start most of my blog posts lately with the same line. I've been absent for awhile. Too long, I suppose, to properly maintain a blog.  I notice I haven't posted a dang thing since September. It's now November.

Way too long.

On the bright side, it's nice to see so many people have still been visiting. Sorry I have no new material, but thanks for checking in anyway.

So much has happened.

On the writing front, I'm teaching another fabulous class with some very inspiring students. The last class is this Thursday.

I'm taking another class. The year-long novel class that I took years ago but decided to try and muster through another novel. Self-defeating probably, as I have done little writing in the last couple of months.

I did have a couple of stories reviewed by Writers in Residence around the city. All provided great feedback and made me refocus a little bit. Maybe I'm more inclined to write short stories. Maybe a novel is too much for me. I doubt it, but it's my excuse today.

A couple of stories have been accepted. I have one being published early next year, and one just published online at Prairie Journal. You can read it if you like. It's one of those stories I wrote several years ago but it had yet to find a home. Thankfully, it finally did. Also had a book review published in Alberta Views.

And a mess of rejections, as is the norm.

In job development news, I began an Arts Management program, sponsored by the Rozsa Foundation and the Haskayne School of Business. Really happy with it so far.

So that is basically what I've been doing. There is more but I'm not ready to share it with the world yet.

Maybe in the New Year.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Back to Basics

I really have no idea what to say today. All I know is I haven't posted in a really long time and I think it's about time I did something. Said something.

I've been thinking a lot about the idea of "Going Back to Basics". Summer is pretty much over, though the weather might say otherwise, and it's been hard getting back into the swing of things. Work, numerous events, taking a class, teaching, among other things.

This is the third time I've taught an Introductory Creative Writing class. The students are fabulous, as usual. But what I noticed this time, as opposed to other times, is they are mostly all there to learn how to get out of their head and get their words on paper. Some have tons of ideas but to actually get those ideas started into story, is the challenge. We do lots of free fall writing exercises to get us going. To get the creativity flowing and activate the right brain.

That's the stuff I miss. The basics. After you've been writing for so long, it becomes more challenging, more daunting even. We forget why we loved to write in the first place and focus so much on just getting it right. Getting the words right. Getting the description right. Getting the characters right. And, at least for me, as fun as it can be, it starts to feel like work.

So, I'm making a commitment to get back to basics. To remember why I started doing this all in the first place. To remember and revel and in the little things. The new character flaws, that amazing imagery, the setting, to embrace the dialogue and the people.

I haven't written a lick since sometime in the summer. At least a month. It's time to stop procrastinating and do something that makes me feel good. As crappy as it may be.

I woke from a dream last night, a dream that actually scared the bejeepers out of me, and thought, as scary as that just was, that would make an amazing story. I would be stepping out of my comfort zone, writing outside my usual genre. But, writing is writing. And it's about the story.

And now, instead of blogging about it and making you all so curious as to what the heck is going on my head, I might as well just get writing.

Until later....

Monday, July 16, 2012

It's come to my attention, on my own, that I'm behind, yet again, in blog posts. It would be great if I could say it's because I've been travelling the world promoting my newest book, and drowning in fanmail so deep the murky bottom is no where in sight. It would also be great if I could say I'm so busy writing the next great novel, I don't have time to read all the said fanmail, the creative mojo is at it's highest. I just can't be disturbed.

I wish I could say that.

It's definitely not because it's been so fricking hot and muggy, instead of the usual dry heat of Calgary, that every single time I move the sweat beads and drips, beads and drips and it's not because of the little person who lives in my midst who's secretly plotting to take over the world, one tiny thread of my sanity (and her father's) at a time.

It's not because said little person thinks she is being strangled each and every time we try to wash her hair, screaming Heaven Kevin to the demons who live down under (and by down under I don't mean Australia), her faithful servants. And it's not because as part of her plot to take over the world she has resorted to this whiny, skull-shattering, repetitive chant of "mooommmy, mooommmy, mooommmy" as she climbs the walls and skitters across the ceiling. (any moment I'm sure her head is gonna spin around, like that scene from The Exorcist, it could happen.) I won't bother to mention the complete lack of obeyance, like the demons really have taken over her body, sucked out her soul, and mock me (and her father) every single time we try to get her to do something.

No, it's not because of any of that.

Wanna know the real reason, the plain old boring reason? It's because I've simply had nothing interesting to write about.

I haven't been on Facebook, I've been on Twitter only slightly less than usual, I've been playing Angry Birds religiously, what a great way to take out frustrations without even leaving the comfort of the couch, playing Words with Friends, all the usual stuff I do to avoid doing anything else.

I did read. This Cake is For the Party by Sarah Selecky. What a fabulous collection of short stories. This is not going to be a book review, because I don't have the time, but suffice to say, whether or not you read short stories, this collection is definitely worth it. Pick it up. Read it. Do it. else have I been doing. See, like I said. Nothing of any great interest of significance. Well, we did spend a week in BC. The hubby, the spawn and me. We spent a couple of days in the sunny Okanagan (which wasn't that sunny, except for a few days it didn't rain), then we left spawn with the grandma and went on to Vancouver for a wedding. On the return trip we spent a couple more days with the grandma and then headed home. The highlight of this trip...the super comfy king-size bed in our hotel room in Vancouver that felt like I was sleeping on a cloud. I will go to the ends of the earth to find a bed like that, or die trying.

Either way, I still want that bed.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Crazy Talk

It's Sunday people. And I am hopelessy working away on none of the stuff I really want to be doing. Like, who would voluntarily want to get papercuts from folding paper all morning? And that god forsaken paper has sapped all the moisture out of my dishpan hands. (Do people even still get those?)

Not to say I haven't been productive because I totally have but I can't remember the last time I wrote anything for myself. It's all book reviews, editing, manuscript reviews, teaching and then the actual real job work. So sure, I've been writing, I've been doing creative stuff, helping others with their own projects, guiding them on the path to literary stardom (oh lord, did I actually just say that?) but me, I feel as though my own creativity may have dried up and blown away with the gusts that came up yesterday. Floating around like those little balls of fluff so common these days. Ever notice how big those fluffs get? Big as cotton balls; you know, the kind you buy in the store in the overstuffed package to clean nail polish off your finger nails (or in my case the walls) or to put antiseptic on your child's scrapes and cuts.

But creativity is not a little ball of fluff is it? It's much more powerful than that. But when it seems like it disappears, disintegrated, it can feel like it will never return. It will though. It always does. Maybe it's about prioritizing. Problem is my priorities are already lined up in a nice little row with all these deadlines attached to them and though many are being accomplished, it seems the row keeps getting longer.

I do this to myself, you know. I take on more and more in the hopes of...hell, I don't know what I hope to accomplish by taking on more and more work. To gently prod myself that much closer to neurosis? Not that it's a bad thing. I think ever writer needs to get a little neurotic at times. Let the insanity fly. How else will be get stuff done? That's where the creativity comes from. For me at least. From that little pocket in my mind where all the crazies hide and only once in awhile will they scratch their way out.

Maybe I need medication. I have a bottle of wine in the cupboard.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Book Review: Committed by John W. Mefford

Kindle E-Book $3.99

Book One of The Michael Doyle Chronicles, Committed is the first in a series of mystery novels by John W. Mefford.

When Michael Doyle, a senior financial analyst (I think) for J&W Technology Services, finds a murdered woman's body outside his place of work and a co-worker is arrested and charged for the murder, he is thrust into a world of greed and corruption. The police and media are quashing the story before an investigation really starts and miffed by this, Michael takes it upon himself to make sure the public is made aware of what's going on.

Strucurally, this book is flawed. In any mystery novel, the dead body should appear close to the beginning. Usually within the first three chapters. In Committed, the dead body of Tiffany Chambers, is not discovered until chapter five and then it's several chapters later  before Reinaldo Silva is arrested and charged.

For the first half we are taken back and forth between Michael at work, to Michael at home where he struggles to find meaning in his relationship with his long-time girlfriend. Should he marry her or not? At times I wondered if the book was mystery or romance because everytime he is with Marisa, they are admiring each other's bodies and falling into lusty tangles on the bed, on the couch, wherever. The whole time, Michael does not seem all that concerned about his friend being arrested and though he claims he is concerned and needs answers, he does nothing except talking to police to find out what's going on. No conflict, no tension, just staggering through the pages asking why but doing nothing about it. And I really didn't care much about Michael.

The most interesting parts of the story were the chapters from the point of view of the people behind all the corruption. There's mystery because we don't know what they are up to and really want to.

And then there are the characters. Far too many in this book and far too many different points of view. Sometimes it's hard to follow who's who, or whose story it really is. The most interesting characters for me were Tony, the hired thug who actually loved killing so much he would have done it just for the fun of it, and Rosemary Chambers, the mother of the murdered girl. They both come alive on the page. They are believable.

And where do loyalties lie? If I happened upon a dead body and then a friend or colleague was charged for the murder, I would be more motivated to help find the truth to save my friend. Not find answers for a dead person I barely knew. Michael felt that the dead spoke to him, that because of his religious beliefs he owed it to this woman. Nevermind his poor friend sitting in jail wrongfully accused of murder.

But there are some redeeming qualities. Around page 200, of the 286 page book, Michael finally starts doing something. He helps investigate the murder for the newspaper. He begins to uncover secrets, he's threatened, he's put in peril, his girlfriend is threatened and there is a blackmail attempt. He finally has something to lose. There's actually conflict with the person who is supposed to be the protagonist. There's tension.

Of all the independantly published books I've read, or tried to read, Committed is actually one of the better, if not the best. It's obvious the author put a lot of effort into this book. The story is there. It just needed slight restructuring.

Looking forward to reading the next one.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

3 Day Novel Contest

You may have heard of it. The 3-Day Novel Contest based out of Vancouver. Since 1977 this contest has challenged writers to produce a novel over the Labour Day weekend. Just 72 hours. Impossible? Most would say yes. Of course the novel doesn't have to be the best it can possibly be. Because that would be impossible. But to put 50,000 plus words on page, well it is a feat, but probably not impossible.

I think I may finally give it a try.

A few years ago a friend of mine did it. And though he went 3 days, unshaven, unshowered and quite possibly on the brink of neurosis, he did it. And ended up making their long list.

So do you think you're up to the challenge? Why not? What's the worst that could happen? You don't finish? But you have the makings of a really great story that can be finished later? Seems like win-win to me.

Don't think you can do it alone? Grab a buddy. Collaborative novels are also accepted.

Looking forward to the challenge.

Story Alive

One of the most common problems I find with new writers is not making the story come alive on the page for the reader.The words are there but they fall flat. It's something pounded into us from the beginning. Show, don't tell. Scene vs. Summary.

Think of it this way: when you're watching a movie you have the scene. It's full of action, the characters show emotions based on how they react to things. They cry and you cry with them. They scream and you feel their fear. This is what pulls you into the story and keeps you watching for the standard 2 hours. Now imagine, instead of the action, you had to watch a black screen with a voice somewhere telling you the car blew up, the man screamed. He was in pain. You would not watch for very long because you can't see or feel or relate to what's going on.

The same applies in writing.

If you read a story that goes along, she did this and then did this and then felt tired and then did this, you're not going to be very invested in the story. The reader is kept at a distance and is being told what happens.

If instead you write, she scrubbed the floor with a cloth, the dirt clogging her nails. With her arm, she wiped away the sweat beading on her brow. She sat back on her knees and stared at the ceiling, then tossed the cloth into the grimy, lemon-scented water. Gripping the edge of the countertop, she pulled herself to her feet, her legs shook, felt like rubber as she straggled to the living room. She curled up on the couch and closed her eyes.

It's not perfect but hopefully you see the difference.

Now that doesn't mean you can't use summary, but there needs to be a balance. If there is something you want to impart to the reader but it's not important enough to create a scene around it, then by all means summarize.

Janie held her breath as she pulled into the driveway of her childhood home. (scene, the character is doing something.) Her mother had always been hard on her. Judgemental. Never liked the way she dressed or did her hair. (summary, telling the reader something about the past that's not crucial to the overall story.)

Emotions are something else the writer needs to make clear. It's not enough to say, she felt anxious, or she was angry. Every person has a different interpretation of those emotions. The writer needs to show the emotion in a way the reader can feel it and see it. Can relate.

For example, she felt angry. So what? Now if she clenches her jaw, picks up the keys and throws them at his head, that is showing anger.

You can't simply say, he was sad. Think of it this way...imagine three people at a funeral. It's obvious it's going to be a sad occasion, but not everyone reacts the same way. One might be crying and sobbing uncontrollably while the other is keeping their sadness bottled inside them and then the third, may have no emotions whatsoever. Maybe they're trying to hide a smile of satisfaction. The point is, everyone is different. There is no one way to react to an emotion. So it has to be clear how your character acts in the face of certain situations. Because again, no two characters are the same.

Ultimately, your reader wants to be invested in the story, they want to feel like they are part of the story. They want to see and feel everything as the protagonist is seeing and feeling it.

Make the story come alive. Your reader will thank you for it.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Pick A Story...Stick With It

I'm a procrastinator.

I've had almost two weeks of peace and quiet while my husband and daughter are enjoying the sights of Holland, and here I sit, having accomplished next to nothing since they've been gone. I can't say I haven't been productive at all, but all the things I had been planning for the last few months, all the things I was going to do while they were gone, have been tossed into the wind.

It's been too quiet. Who knew that quiet can be distracting? There was a time when I loved the quiet. Could sit for hours reading or just being, in the moment. Listening to the sounds of the world around me that we are often too busy to notice. Like the curious buzzing of that annoying bee that keeps forcing me from the patio. Like the birds chattering to one another, or the squirrels snickering as they bury their peanuts. All this, I used to enjoy. Now, after more than three years of never being alone, that silence feels like it's going to swallow me whole.

Well that was the first week.

We're into the second week of them being gone and it's getting a little easier. I've read. I've gone to the library, and then read some more. I've started writing a whole new story. Only a couple of pages but it's a start. And that is where the problem lies.

I have too many unfinished projects on the go and instead of sitting and finishing them, I start on something new.

Other writers have advised time and again, finish what you start. And I've tried. Adhereing to that philosophy, I have finished a few short stories. But it's the bigger projects I keep hiding from. And rather than buckle down and get 'er done, I start something new.

What am I afraid of? The projects themselves are daunting, but I know are doable. Am I afraid of actually finishing them? That could be it. I've heard writers say that, too. But what is it in me that makes me afraid to finish something I started.

Doubt maybe? That I am going to invest all this time into something and no one is ever going to want to read it? Or am I just sick of the project. So much time already invested and the story isn't going where I want it to?

Maybe I'm not so different from every other writer out there. We write, we get sick of it or critical of ourselves so we file it away for another day and go on to something else. Only to get sick of that project and the cycle continues until there is a stack of unfinished manuscripts so high you can't see over it and then you're overwhelmed.

But all that said, I haven't been entirely unproductive. I've been researching. A new project yes. But one that I know will take a long time to complete. So while the searching continues I really need to work on something else.

So today, I think I'll go get a haircut.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

April Writing Challenge

I am embarking on my own writing challenge for the month of April and am inviting anyone else who would like to enlist to do so.

It's simple. Commit to writing everyday. Keep track of your progress. Set daily, weekly and monthly goals.

There is no prize except for seeing what you have accomplished by the end of the month. The more people the better. Forces you to be accountable for your progress.

If you would like to be a part of the challenge, comment below. Leave an email address if you wish to be prodded or want someone to check in. Post periodically and share your progress.

Most importantly, write!

Ready, set, GO!

Sunday Morning Rambles

It's Sunday again. It's April 1, too. As in April Fools Day! I couldn't help but wonder, where did this all begin? And yet, even that is too complicated to think about this early in the morning, before my coffee has warmed my insides.

All Fool's Day, as many refer to it, is the one day of the year people can play dirty pranks on others and get away with it by simply crying, "April Fools Day".

Bah! I say. If we want to be childish and play silly jokes on others, man up and do it all year round. Why a day devoted to it?

But as I think about it, I have to remember some of the pranks, as a child, I played on friends or family. There's the old, switch the sugar with the salt trick. It was a great day to pretend to be sick and get out of school. But that was really only for my benefit.

I was not clever to say the least. Usually, I would forget that April 1 was coming and as soon as I was reminded of it, the day of, I would feel this need to be part of what everyone else was doing and would spend all day thinking up the most elaborate prank possible and when I was finally ready to spring into action, whoa, wait, April Fools was over, cause apparently you can only do it until noon.

I gave up.

There was this one time though, I was one of a few people at my work who decided to prank a co-worker and wrapped plastic wrap all over his cubicle. Done so strategically that when he walked around the corner, he would walk into the plastic before he would see it. That was probably the funniest thing ever. But I didn't come up with the idea. Only helped in making it happen.

Like I said, not clever!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

What Does It Take to Be a Writer?

I've been there a point at which a writer must admit to themselves they just don't have what it takes and throw in the towel? Or can anyone who wishes to be a writer become better. Is there a certain something a person needs to a singer who needs to have strong pipes or a dancer who must possess a sense of coordination?

In short, is writing an art form that can be taught?

So what does it take to be a writer?

1. Commitment - You have to want to do it. It takes a huge amount of commitment to endeavour on any artistic journey. You need to know it's what you want and there is no other option. There are highs and lows to the writing process. We get through the creative part and then there's the publishing side. Which, let's face it, sucks! We submit. We get rejected time and again. It's a huge blow to the ego and a thick skin is required. Thankfully, if you're truly committed, that skin thickens and the rejections are viewed as just part of the process.

2. Imagination - Some have, many don't. This is something I think begins at an early age. The ability to make up stories or scenarios, to live in your own mind, and not be so structural in your thinking. Things are not just black and white. There are many shades. And some people just can't activate that part of their brain. It's a necessity for any writer.

3. Desire to learn, to improve - We all have to start somewhere. I remember when I finally came back to writing as something I really wanted to pursue and the first time I submitted pages to be workshopped by my peers. I was both excited and terrified. What would they say? Was my writing as good as I thought it was. Turned out the answer was no. That was almost 10 years ago and although I had been writing for much longer, I was suddenly faced with a harsh reality. My writing was crap. I could have given up then, but I didn't. It was something I really wanted to do. Giving up was just not an option to me. But if someone had suggested that I not give up my day job, that there was no hope for me, I might have thought differently. That was not the case because I was surrounded by a group of supportive individuals all working toward the same goal and they helped me to carry on and do better.

4. Write - To be a writer you have to write. If the story lives in your head, bring it to life on the page. We're told to write everyday. I don't know too many writers who actually do that. I know I don't. But when I am struck with an idea, I write. Sometimes I get so wrapped up in my characters and story, I can't let it go. But then there are days, sometimes many, many days where I produce nothing. That's just the way it goes.

Now, ten years later, I look back at the work I was producing then and what I produce now, and there is such a dramatic change. But I couldn't have done it on my own. I took classes, numerous classes, to learn everything I possibly could about technique, about what works and what doesn't. I developed a large support group of other writers to help me along the way. Took all their comments under advisement and trusted that they knew what they were talking about.

Something I learned, there is no right or wrong way to write a story. There is no secret formula. Yes there are basics. But if we all stuck to the basics, wouldn't our stories all be the same? You need to combine all of the above while also keeping true to yourself. Try new things. See what works, what doesn't.

I don't know if I've answered my own question or not. Is there a definitive answer?

Am I missing something?

What do you think it takes to be a writer?

Friday, March 2, 2012

Introvert or Extrovert?

Susan Cain talks about the power of introverts. Totally worth the watch. Most writers will relate. But really, it's not just for writers.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Book Review: Dark Visions by Jonas Saul

Kindle Edition
Imagin Books (2011)

Dark Visions is the first book in the Sarah Roberts mystery series by self-published writer, Jonas Saul.

I was kind of excited to begin reading this series, probably because the author has the last name Saul, and if he was anything like John Saul, well, I was sure to be in for a real treat. However, as with most self-published books I've read lately, or ever, I was seriously let down.

The book starts on a high note. The main character, Sarah, is an interesting character for sure. She suffers from a mental illness, trichtotillomania. That is, she has the uncontrollable urge to pull out her hair. A unique characteristic for any character in a story for sure. Not to mention she is also pyschic. An Automatic Writer. Meaning, she goes into these black out like states and when she comes to, she has written something in her notebook. A warning, a name, someone who she has to help.

One of these Automatic Writing episodes sends her to a local psyhic fair where she meets another psychic who warns her that she herself could be in danger. Lo and behold, Sarah gets kidnapped while trying to prevent another kidnapping.

Sarah Roberts, exit stage left.

From that point in the book, suddenly it's not about Sarah. She is no longer the lead character. We're taken through chapter after chapter of other characters who are trying to find Sarah. Her parents, the kidnappers, Dolan from the psychic fair, the police.

I am no expert in writing mysteries but I have definitely read a lot of them and never have I read a story where the character, who is supposed to be the one an entire series is about, becomes such a behind the scenes character. Sarah is supposed to be the hero, but for the better part of the book, she isn't even there. She does nothing except get herself kidnapped, escapes, gets herself kidnapped again and so on.

However, the action is great. The story moves forward at a good pace, albeit somewhat boring because I wanted more of Sarah Roberts and her quirky traits.

Most of the dialogue is forced and unbelievable. An interaction between Sarah's mother and father seemed like it was supposed to be heart felt and angry and show the strangled family dynamics, but instead of being sympathetic, I literally laughed and rolled my eyes through the whole scene. In fact, I didn't find I really cared about any of the characters and I really, really wanted to. Especially Sarah since there are more books about her.

Because this is Jonas Saul's first book, I think, I am going to give it the benefit of the doubt and move on to the next book in the series in the hopes that the characters become people I want to read about, who I can relate to and be excited or scared for.

If I was one to judge a book by its cover, I would say they are great, because the covers really are incredible. But when it comes down to it, it's what's between the covers, on the pages that really counts, and I was very disappointed.

But on to the next one.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Saturday or Sunday Novel Progress, What Does it Matter Anyway?

Novel progress for February, summed up into one word, BLOWS!

Read my post from yesterday and you'll understand why. At least that is the excuse I am going to give myself and everyone else whose listening.

On the bright side, I had the first 30ish pages reviewed by a writer friend and she helped shed some serious light on the story. Now I think I can move forward. So here's the plan or commitment or whatever: I have a short story that needs to have the first draft completed by Monday. As soon as that is done, it's novel, novel, novel.

Let's see how that goes.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Life and Its Many Tangles

You know how when you have a big plan to get something done and it seems there is always something preventing you from getting there? Sometimes it's simple procrastination blamed on the everyday stresses of life and sometimes some big event sets you back.

I had every intention of getting through the first draft of this novel this month. February seemed like a good month and quite frankly, I procrastinated long enough in January (and a bit into February).

And then my grandma died.

It was so fast. I talked to her on a Friday, she was great, wanted to know when I was coming to visit. Told me how weak her legs were getting, it was becoming more difficult to walk. I planned on going to see her that Sunday but then I got sick. (which incidentally I still have not recovered from)

That very same Sunday, she fell and broke her hip. I know if I HAD gone to see her, this very well may have still happened, but it's kind of impossible to not think about. It's funny, you know, as a writer we are told to play the "what if" game all the time, but when it comes to real life, we are warned against it.

Anyway, she was taken to the hospital and was prepared to undergo surgery for her hip. But remember, she was already 86 and had a myriad of other health issues that were a concern if she underwent surgery. But if she didn't, well that could be catastrophic, too.

I went to see her that Tuesday. Knelt beside her, so small and weak in a stinky hospital room that she shared with 3 other people, held her hand and told her I loved her. There are a million other things I wanted to say, but at that moment "I love you" seemed to be enough.

At the time I didn't want to admit, convinced myself she would be alright, but I knew that would be the last time I saw her.

Within a couple of days she developed pneumonia and by Friday she was gone.

My cousin and I wrote the obituary. (which, by the way, was a lot harder than I thought it would be)

The funeral was this past Monday. The week leading up seemed okay. I busied myself with work, teaching, and planning my BFF's 11th anniversary of her 29th birthday. In the midst of all this I was supposed to write a little something to say at the funeral. As it turned out, this was by far the most difficult thing I have ever written. All week, I tried but would get stalled, or it became too difficult to carry on. In fact, I didn't have anything really ready until Sunday night. All I week I tried telling myself I was having trouble because I had so many other things to do. When really, it was just that I didn't want to write it.

I was doing fine most of the time leading up, but the day we arrived in Invermere we were whisked away to my Grandma's apartment to start going through stuff. I already had what I wanted so I didn't think there was anything else I really wanted or needed. But of course, once we started going through everything there were other items I decided I needed to take. I found photos I didn't know Grandma had, I found blankets and dishes and spoons. (Grandma was a collector of little ornamental spoons.)

Everything came to a head at the gravesite. I didn't want to get out of the truck but of course I knew I would never forgive myself if I didn't. It was a small service. My cousins shared memories. I shared what I could despite the fogginess of my own memories.

For the first thirteen years of my life, my grandma was the centre of my universe. She was a mother to me when my own mother was unable to be. She took me to doctor appointments, brought me soup - or a bucket - when I was sick, laughed at my mistakes even while convincing me it would be alright, and shared in my accomplishments.

I wish my memories weren't fogged by the years apart. But the things I do remember, I will hold on to forever.

Grandma taught me to play crib and never once did she let me win. In fact, I never beat her. Even in those early years she insisted I take my licks, pay my dues.

Thanks to endless hours of watching Matlock together, I developed a desire to become a lawyer that stayed with me until I graduated. Grandma never once doubted the ambitions of a pre-teen girl who didn't know any better. She told me I could be anything I wanted. At the time, I remember thinking I wanted to be just like her. Strong, determined, independant, someone who didn't take any shit from anyone. But kind when was needed, fun when it was needed, a shoulder to cry on when it was needed.

Then I moved away. In many ways I felt like an ungrateful child. The years between us grew and we lost touch. The older I got, the easier it became to not visit even when I knew I should. But she never stopped caring.

I saw it in her eyes when I brought my husband to visit for the first time. I saw it every time she laid eyes on Julianne. No matter what I did or didn't do, because of circumstances or choice, she was always there. 

And I saw it in her eyes the last time I saw her, as I knelt beside her hospital bed holding her hand. There were so many things I wanted to say, so many I'm sorrys and thank yous. Instead, our lives were summed up into three little words, the last that we spoke to each other.

I love you!

Now I am slowly getting back into the everyday. And writing. And hopefully now, the words won't stop flowing.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Father Valentine

By Madelaine Wong

Dear Father Valentine,

You can’t imagine the guilt I feel that you lay languishing in a prison cell. I begged my father, your jailer, to deliver extra blankets and food to you. After all, it’s my fault you’re there. I was the one who asked you to secretly perform the marriage ceremony between me and my beloved, a soldier. I knew it was forbidden by our most worthy Emperor Claudius II who commanded that all men in his army remain unmarried. You must understand, my husband would have been forced to draw lots. He would have been given a virgin not of his choosing and I would never have seen him again. We couldn’t bear the thought of being separated. Now, because of my selfishness, you are to be put to death.

My father is also a Christian and we both promise to do all we can to make you comfortable until your execution day.

With heartfelt thanks,


My Dearest Camilla,

I want to thank-you for sending me extra food and blankets. This prison cell is very cold. I hope you don’t mind that I distributed the food among the other inmates here.

It was my privilege to perform your wedding ceremony. Your happiness is reward enough for me. I was well aware of the law imposed by our pagan ruler and I chose instead to obey God’s laws. I am proud to have joined you and your husband, and many other young lovers, in Holy Matrimony.

It troubles me greatly that we are not allowed to practice our faith. Let us pray that the Roman persecution of Christians will soon end, so that we no longer have to hide like frightened animals. Truly, Camilla, it is enough to break my heart. Oh, the wickedness that takes place in the Coliseum! I heard that they are feeding Christians to the lions, even little children.

I will tell you that they have set the date of February 14 as my execution day. Pray for me. I will be beaten to death with clubs and then they will behead me. Camilla, I am not afraid to die. Knowing that I did God’s will is all that matters.

I wish you and your beloved many blessings and a happy life together.

Your Valentine

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Love Letters

February is the month of love. To celebrate the season, I'm putting out another call similar to the Letters to Santa. But this is all about love.

Send me your love letters or short stories with a Valentine theme. Make them gritty, gruesome, funny, sad or sentimental. Basically, anything goes.

Max. 1000 words.

Send to

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Stars Are Aligning Just Right...

We hear about rejection all the time. We're told to expect them, love them, learn from them...whatever. But no one ever really prepares you for acceptance.

Sure I've had stories published before and at the time it was like, "okay, cool. I'm published." Then I got a short story published last year and it was kind of the same thing. "Great, but so what?"

Now this week I have had two stories accepted. In one week! And, although part of me is like, "yay! cool!" it's more like having gotten a gift from someone that you don't really like, but it's the thought that counts, and so after the pleasantries of "thank you" etc. you put it aside and kind of forget about it.

This disappoints me a little. I thought I would be more excited about it. Especially after the accumulation of rejections over the past several months.

At first, I admit, when they accepted the stories, I had this feeling like, "are they just trying to fill space?" and "maybe they'll change their mind and send me an email saying, oops, sorry, sent that to the wrong person." They don't really do that though. At least I don't think so.

So while the days and hours pass, I do feel a little more excitement over these new successes. And, the great writing God knows, it's only a matter of time before the rejections start pouring in again so I really should be savouring this moment.

So I will go savour it. By finishing another story. By drinking a glass of wine. By going about my business as if nothing unusual happened.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Now on Sunday, Novel Progress: Pushy Characters

I can sum up my novel progress the past couple of weeks in one word: NONEXISTENT.

Many will tell you, if you're not writing that's not progress and for the most part, they are right. But at the same time, when you are wrapped up heavily in the world of your characters, constantly visualizing what they will do next, or how this scene should go here, or there, or wherever, is that progress?

Probably not.

But I think it is.

Here's the problem:

My characters want to overrule one another. They are pushy and aggressive, want to steal the scenes they are in. Which brings me to the question, whose story is it? In my case, there is one protagonist, but a couple of antagonists. (it could be argued I have two protagonists and one major antagonist) but whatever.

The antagonist is trying to take over the story. This happened when I first started to write the story too. The initial protagonist was pushed out by an overbearing antagonist and now the protag has changed because of it. But now I feel my antagonist has a far better story to tell. Maybe I've had it all wrong from the beginning. Maybe I am just letting this antagonist work her grisly fingers into the story and strangle the life out of the other characters.

Maybe, maybe, maybe.

I don't want to rewrite again. I am determined to get through this draft and then look at the bigger picture.


Sunday, January 15, 2012

Oops...I missed it!

Okay. Just realized I missed my Saturday novel progress update. Sorry to all my faithful followers. In fact, there is little to report on the novel progress. The only I managed to do this on a new story. Attempting to write in the 2nd person POV. It's actually pretty cool but has absolutely nothing to do with the novel.

I'm behind on my book reviews too. As usual. I will say it's because of trying to play catch up in all the other everyday life stuff. And the child being slightly ill this weekend. I admit, not getting much reading done. But I will be back at it before you know it and there will be reviews. Loads and loads of reviews, and novel progress.

Sorry for the slackiness.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Sunday Blubbering

Sentiment. It's a funny thing. People say it and don't mean it, others say it and mean it too much. They say it in the heat of passion, in the beginning of a new relationship or for personal gain. But why do those kind words, those things that make the heart twinge, dwindle when you're deep into a relationship?

Sometimes we say it to our friends, and of course mean it, but often it's so sporadic that the friend may even forget the ways you feel about them. It's there though. Isn't it? That's why friends can go weeks or even years without speaking to one another and then when they get back together it's like no time passed.

When you're in love with someone, your soul mate for lack of a better word, the ways you feel about them are often taken for granted. And sometimes, those kind words are replaced with digs, meant to be teasing, but yet can be soul-crushing. Like the husband who says, "yes dear, you do look fat in that dress." Does he mean it? Or is he trying to be funny because you've asked so many times and he's always said the same thing, "you look beautiful."

I've seen it in family relationships, too. My dad and I have a weird relationship. We love each other, of course. We say it, too. But rather than say something nice about something we have done, it ends in silly banter that is often insulting. Sometimes to the point that one of us really does start to feel hurt. Usually me. But I get over it and it's back to the banter.

Men don't share those sentiments enough. They don't say things like, "you make me feel good about myself." "I am so comfortable with you, I can totally be myself." Women can say it. It's genetically built into us to make our friends feel better. To make our children feel special. To remind the man we love that we're there for them even if they don't reciprocate.

I have a friend who is a fabulous writer, who is the best critique partner anyone could ever have. We are open about our feelings about each other's stories. So comfortable, in fact, we can say things like, "That chapter is really fricking boring. What's the point of it?" Or, "I hate it. What the hell were you thinking writing something like that." It's certainly not a dig. It's no slam at each other as writers. It's just we know each other well enough to realize we have each other's best interests in mind. We both want the same things and will do whatever it takes to get there. Even if we have to be blunt.

But why can't we be as honest with everyone in our lives without worrying about hurting their feelings?

I guess it just one of those things we'll never really understand.