Sunday, November 1, 2015

Writing with Writers

The Collective Inspiration To Share

This autumn is a misty memory of changing seasons, accessible only through the filters of my camera lens and various building windows. 

Whitby Library, room with a view

That's what it is to be a writer on a deadline.  I factored in a few days to venture outside the house, either to go to the library or a coffee shop to write, or to go to Kingston to visit family.  I took a few pictures to remind myself that I exist outside this fantasy land of my stories. 

After delivering my epic adventure to my agent and an editor for pending comment, I accepted an invitation to visit with the members of one of my writing groups for a much needed sanctuary.  The leaves had mostly fallen, and recent rains and bracing winds necessitated increased layers of outwear and sturdy footwear.

After a long walk upon The Land, we settled in to talk about what we had written that morning.  We used various photographs and early morning discussions to start off, and then went to freefall.

There is no shortage of inspiration in Coboconk, where emerging literary writer, Sharon Overend, now lives with her hubby Paul, and the irrepressible Charlie, shown below, inspiring us with her ability to listen to Mom for a few joy-filled moments of play.  This trend of moving from the 'burbs of Ajax, Pickering, Whitby, is a common one amongst my friends now.  Lured by the pristine settings and affordable real estate, many boomers are now opting to move east or north for a life that promotes beauty and leisure over asphalt and traffic.

Charlie shows Mom how it's done
For me, this opens possibilities for inspiration.  So far, the list of moves/secondary locations where I now have friends includes, Coboconk, Prince Edward, Bahamas, Kingston, Ste. Marthe, Bowmanville, and yes, even Ottawa, Toronto and London.  All of these places offer wonderful opportunities to live and be a writer.  The question is, where do I want to be?  My home in Whitby has lots to offer, and I'm right in the middle of most of my friends' locations, so I can get to them easily. But moving, as they have, and enjoying a lifestyle of early morning unimpeded sunrises and views of land and water...hmmmmm. 

A view from Point de Vue, Quebec, window to early morning
Another view from the window....pretty white stuff from here

So many paths.  All I can say is, I love being with my friends, I love being with writers.  And sometimes I enjoy the noise and pace of the city.  I hate least if I have to go out in it.  The talk about snow shoes and skiis during our writing retreat was not my favourite part of the day.  For those who know me well, you know why my friends in Ottawa call me 'an indoor pet'.

But back to writing in a group.  The Bellas, as this writing group is called, are a collection of top notch, inspiring writers whom I have come to love.  The positive energy, the support, the inspiration, is reason enough to make the journey from Whitby to Port Hope, Coboconk, Bowmanville, or down the street in Whitby.  During our freefall hours, I wrote four poems and a short story. First draft of course, but the subjects are as diverse as the settings in this post that make up my experience as a writer.  The output from the others was similar to my own. 

I recently completed a WCDR sponsored Writing Circle Facilitation Accreditation, and among the many, many skills and insights from the wonderful Dorothea Helms, aka The Writing Fairy, and Ruth Walker of Writescape was the gem that writing in circles with other dedicated writers should be a collective experience.  In other words, writing together in a room is an experience unto itself; it creates an uncanny spirit that seem to grow with the number of writers in the circle and lay itself out on the page in richness and wonder.  But the real magic is in the sharing.  To write, share, provide feedback enhances the writing experience and increases the richness of story, which can then, once again, be shared. 

So, as writers decide where to write, and how to write, and what view to stare out as they write, they come to that crossroads, that rich, lovely place of options, and steep hills, and lush valleys and sun over snowfalls.  And they put that pen to paper, those fingers to keyboards, and live the words that come out.  Words that are to reflect what brought us here, where we are now, and where we are likely to go next.  That's what makes them so magical to share.

Books written by fellow writers and speakers at WCDR,
a rich experience

Monday, July 6, 2015

The Evolution of a Garden

My Mom's lot is a wooded space that tells a 50 year story of family and growth.  When my parents bought the lot on Meadowood Road in Kingston in 1956, it was an empty space with a creek at the back, and a small house in progress.  Today, this space is burgeoning with gardens, mature trees, wild flowers, and workshops and sheds. 

As we were growing up, my mom did much to bring this space to life.  Raising four kids, she had little time for gardening, but somehow she managed to make the wooded spaces and the tended gardens work together. 

Over the years, the space took on the character of our family.  It reflects the hard times and the happy times and everything in between with a gentleness and laughter, as well as a hardy striving, and a talent for survival. 

My brothers and sister and I spent many hours in the woods around our property, or at the mill pond fishing or playing or gathering chestnuts and strawberries.  Our childhoods were filled with these endless hours surrounded by natural beauty.  Much of that is now covered by housing, but through the years, I transplanted trilliums, and jack-in-the-pulpits and ferns from the woods and marshlands around Collins Bay into my mom's gardens.

Today, these reminders of our childhood thrive year to year alongside my mom's lilac trees, tulips and daffodils, dogwood, blood root, rose bushes and the many ash and maple trees that shade the lot.

Mom's garden became a hybrid of who we are and the natural surroundings of where we had made our home.  As they blended into the unique character of what we now call, simply, 'Meadowood' to refer to our childhood home, this space has become an integral part of our identity as a family.

When my dad died four years ago and my mom was diagnosed with leukemia that same year, our lot suffered.  Neglected for chemo treatments and funerals and estate settling, the plants became overgrown, branches died, the ash trees were at risk by beetles, and the grass became tangled with weeds. 

My mother was unable to tend to her flowers, and the usual baskets of annuals did not make it to her lot. But underneath it all, the plants she had so carefully tended year after year, the roses my sister had planted, the trilliums and wild flowers I had transplanted struggled to claim their patch of soil and waited for our family to take notice again.

This year, my mom is healthy and happy again.  With renewed energy, she and my sister have returned to the gardening they love, and with the help of a gardener, they are restoring our lot on Meadowood. 

As the flowers bloom, the trees spring to life and the beds become free of weeds, the stunning legacy of Mom's garden is being returned to us. Its beauty and stunning refusal to relinquish its claim to this particular bit of turf reminds me of the resilience of home and family. 

Now, as we make a concerted effort to restore balance and growth, order and beauty, the lesson of Mom's garden is a simple one.

However many weeds sprout and threaten to choke us out of our life, the true nature of who we are, the roots we put down, the potential to return and bloom better than before will always be waiting for us underneath.      

Monday, March 30, 2015

Paths of Success

Tomorrow, I am co-leading a Meet and Greet in North Durham for The Writers' Community of Durham Region with The Writing Fairy, Dorothea Helms at Blue Heron Books.  The purpose is to introduce local writers to each other, to the WCDR, and discuss proven methods of critiquing each others' writing.  We are hoping to meet fellow writers, new, emerging and seasoned, in the various stages of their writing path.


For any goal there is a path, but how to know what path to take?  As a Historical Fiction writer, I picture a wooded track, lush vegetation on all sides, bunnies frolicking and deer grazing on one side, with the dark figures and gleaming eyes of the unknown peering out the other.  The woods can be a bountiful sanctuary or a frightful, mysterious place.

The path has all kinds of off-shoots, and as you peer down them, deciding which fork in the road is right for you, it's good to take a look at the path you came down before veering off.

Think of the main path as the 'spine,' the road that gets you to the other side of the woods.  Now, why did you start on this path in the first place?  What's on the other side of the woods that made you begin this path? 

Map out the beginning, middle and end, just as you would a novel.  First, there is the step that takes you on this journey.  You attended your first writing circle and became hooked.  You must be a writer!

Now what?  Look at the end.  The one, true, spectacular goal you hope to achieve.  There's your spine.  The journey in between doesn't have to be a maze, but it will have a lot of off-shoots that will eventually take you to the right place. 

Go back to the beginning and list all the things you have to do to get to the other side of the woods.  Alternate between the beginning and the end, working forwards, working backwards, until all possibilities you can see are visible.  You will soon start to see a pattern. 

For instance, one of the things you may want to do from the time you go to your first meeting with other writers to the end goal of publishing a novel is get an agent.  Work back from there and list all the things you have to do to sign with an agent.  How do you find one?  What will you need prepared for that fateful day when you do meet one?  How can you learn how to prepare those materials most effectively? 

Sally, 1981...first draft

As you map out the things you need, and the things you need to get the things you need, you will find a very distinct pattern of learning, listening, connecting that will take you where you want to go.  And as you travel the planned path, you will add things as you go along, enhancing the journey.  You may find yourself stumbling from time to time, but you will soon get back on track, or simply take time to pause and appreciate the progress you've made.

Yes, even in 1978, all I wanted was to be a writer!

But by all means, take the first step!  Life is an adventure, and if you reach out and strive for that wonderful world you have envisioned, it gets easier and easier to see the bunnies and deer, and handle the dark figures with panache along the way.

The glorious horizon, where all things are possible- and worth writing about!

Monday, February 23, 2015

What Makes a Legend?

The 'Hero's Journey' is a story method that has its roots in classic literature from ancient Greek to fairy tales, to the nineteenth century greats such as Jane Eyre and Tale of Two Cities.  A hero goes on a quest and meets terrible obstacles, tries harder, suffers unbearably, and finally triumphs over great odds.

What makes a hero?  Why do we love heroes?  A connection with our inner selves craves these stories, demands the journey that leads to the coveted 'triumph of the human spirit.'  However set upon we become in our lives, we need to feel that we can rise above, a stronger and happier and honest version of ourselves.  Life takes a lot of effort, and it doesn't always seem fair.  Experiencing the trials of others who never give up and succeed against incredible odds feeds our desire to keep hoping and wishing and getting up each day to face the world.

Yesterday I attended a WCDR Master Class taught by bestselling author, Andrew Pyper.  He led us through the hero's journey in our stories, from the hook that raises a question for the main character to the 'inciting incident' that busts apart his world and sends him or her irretrievably on his quest, and then on through the stages that turn the character from a person with a problem to a triumphant hero.

When I first sat down to write Legend of Three Crowns, I had two elements of the story.  The main character, Aramanda, and the ending of the story.  From there, I mapped out her journey, and lived that quest alongside her throughout the first draft.

Aramanda is my heroine.  All around her are the temptations to become someone less loving, less caring, darker and more ruthless.  Her father, tortured by the mysterious past of family secrets, would have her fight her own brother to become the mythic queen he envisions to immortalize his dynasty.  The lords, with their ancestral rights and military power, side with her brother to discredit Aramanda and block her path to the throne.  Her grandmother, long dead, set in motion a dangerous mystical force Aramanda must harness to triumph over the power of men.  And, perhaps most difficult of all, the man who loves her tempts her to leave her quest, and abandon her crown and the people who adore her.

From the ideals of love, to the machinations of her brother, to her desire to protect her sisters and preserve her mother's memory, Aramanda is beset with temptations to give up her quest.  But the needs of her people and an ancient calling drive her to persevere until her sacrifice is as epic as her cause. 

This is a quest most writers understand.  Our kingdom is our story.  And we will live it through, whatever the cost, until its triumphant end.  Then begin a new quest, undaunted by the sacrifice in delivering our truth.

Today, I am launching my new web portal for Legend of Three Crowns, designed by the ultra talented Amber Robinson and Brittany Leclerc of Amber Animation.  You can see excerpts of the novel, sketches of the characters, the world, the palaces, photos from my travels to Europe for research, and a book trailer crafted with Book Trailer101.  I hope you enjoy the journey!

Book Two of my Legend series is in the writing stages.  Book One is now being offered for publication by Sam Hiyate of The Rights Factory

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Versatile Has New Meaning!


Blogger and fellow WCDR member Collette Yvonne has nominated me for a Versatile Blogger Award!  Cheers, Collette!  I appreciate your interest in my blog and welcome the nomination with heartfelt thanks.

This is an award you earn by nominating 15 others who enjoy your insights and observations as a blogger.  I'm tremendously pleased that Collette has added me to her list.  I never considered myself so much a 'blogger' as a 'writer', and started my web site to develop a profile of myself as a writer and communicate with the enthusiastic readers of my stories. 

In fact, the blog has become a cherished part of this process, and I soon found writing these posts a meaningful connection to my followers and fellow bloggers.  With this nomination, I now feel like a bonafide member of the blogger community.  So, in the interest of this rite of passage, here are my 15 nominations for web sites I love (in no particular order) and the people who write them, followed by 7 things you may or may not know about me, and the rules of the VBA below.

1. Cryssa Bazos: A world of adventure, love and war in 17th century England, and Highwaymen that just won't quit.  For dash and dare, and solid historical fact, Cryssa is a good one to watch.

2. Elaine Cougler: Loyalty, a Canadian twist on the American War of  Independence, and the journey of a writer.  Elaine is a feisty writer with equally plucky characters in her Loyalist series of books.

3. Gwen Tuinman: Stories, words and whispers, all inspiration for Canadian frontier enthusiasts, and seekers of intergenerational truths.

4. Amber Robinson: Illustrator, animator, artist of princesses and all things that go bump in the night!

5. Sandra Clarke: Paranormal walk into the unknown, boldly going where fear is a dream and the unknown an irresistible challenge.

6. Dale Long: Inkstroke, Author's Voice, charcoal sketches, creeps and fascinations, and all things fearward.

7. Dorothea Helms: The Writing Fairy makes it all better.  Fairy sprinkles that make the unimaginable real, and the journey a ton of fun!

8. Rich Helms: Absolutely brilliant resources for all writers on creating a book trailer video, how to and why not, and why you can't do without one! (see my Legend home page for mine, produced in Rich's BT class!)  This and skate bikes, coffee, hanging off a cliff in Costa Rica, and a whole lot more!

9. Leetah Bagalle: The hard truth.  Honesty in a writer is hard to find, but we make our own truths, and Leetah knows all about that.  Brave Blog with honest insights.

10. Lilianna Tommisini: Time for a break to sample life's greatest pleasure- food!  Lili's recipes, insights into cooking and food are the dream column of the Montreal Examiner.  My Cookbook Addiction is just the cure for winter cravings!

11. JL Madore: A writer to watch, untethered, blazing trails, paranormal,'s all here!

12. English Historical Fiction Authors: The aristocracy, English Civil War musings, research, writing, the Historical Novel Society, and more insights for HF authors and enthusiasts.

13. Ruth Walker and Gwynn Scheltema: Writing retreats that celebrate the writer, editors, story doctors, very sharp blue pencils, Ruth and Gwynn at Writescape are a writer's best friends.

14. Kevin Craig: Burned, Broken, Poets and Long Summers, Kevin is an extraordinary YA author who takes on the bravest subjects with forgiveness and style.

15. Sharon Overend: A journey prize nominated writer and editor with insights and success indicators to share, short story awards, and a novel now offered for publication.

7 Things to Share About Me:

1. I have a diploma with distinction in Commercial Communications, and once worked in high tech as an Advertising exec with a budget of $100 million. My novel, Wings of a Fly is based loosely on those days.

2. I worked in product placement in Hollywood in the nineties, and have met Jerry Seinfeld, Hugh Heffner, Dom Deluise and Dyan Cannon.  Unfortunately, the closest I got to Peter Falk was his car.  You can still see the Corel balloon and products on reruns of Frasier, Seinfeld, and other shows, as well as a few movies, including Twelve Monkeys.  To this day, I am an honorary member of the Set Decorator's Society of America.

3. My Dad had an old army truck from the second world war which he owned with his Bay Hunt Club hunting buddies.  He designed a bright yellow logo for the club and painted it on the driver's door.  He and his buddies used to drive it north of Lanark to their hunting camp and drive through the Clyde River, which at times came half way up the windshield of the truck.  Years later, they sold the truck, and I found it some time later at the War Museum in Ottawa.  There is a picture of me in evening attire stepping down from the truck, the only time I was ever in it.

4. My wedding pictures were taken by a student of Karsh, and the images won photography awards.  The photographer sold the rights to my wedding photos to a CD-ROM company, who released them on a license free CD worldwide.  Somewhere in Japan, there are probably busboards with my picture on them.....

5. I moved to the GTA to take a job running environmental programmes for industry, and launched an education initiative called Building a Sustainable Future, which awarded scholarships to students at the high school, college and university levels for their innovative environmental ideas. I sat on the executive boards of several environmental organizations, including The Canadian Brownfield Network, Energy Star and Ontario Centres of Excellence. 

6. An avid supporter of films, I won a Gold Remi award from the Wordfest International Independent Film Festival as Executive Producer of A Sustainable Future: The Story of the Earth Rangers, produced by Clare Productions.  I also served on the Board of Directors for Norman Jewison's Canadian Film Centre, and was a script consultant and executive producer in the early development for A Windigo Tale, the American Indian Film Festival's Best Picture film.

7. There is a running theme of rabbits through my life that is probably too crazy for a memoir, but I have drafted some of it anyway under the working title: One Rabbit.

The Versatile Blogger Award Rules:
  • Display the Award Certificate (cut and paste it from my post)
  • Write a post and link back to the blogger who nominated you – that’s me!
  • Nominate 15 other bloggers
  • Inform them of their nomination via comment on their blog
  • Post 7 interesting things about yourself

Friday, January 30, 2015

Judgement Day

Charles I

Today is the anniversary of the execution of King Charles I of England, that most majestic and complex of kings.  To many, a martyr who died for the cause of Royalty, and to some, an unbending tyrant who imposed his fanatical beliefs of divine right upon his people.  Given the confusion and paranoia of the times, I suspect the truth is somewhere in between.  This was, after all, the era of witch trials, religious persecution, gunpowder plots and assassination attempts. 

The execution of Charles I, 1649

Charles' grandmother, Mary Stuart, the infamous Queen of Scots, was the first reigning crowned head to be executed on a public scaffold (Henry VIII's wives being consorts).  The horror of precedent was not lost on Elizabeth I, her cousin, who prevaricated on the execution of the death warrant, even after what could be described as a balanced trial (Proof! Mr. Secretary, bring me that proof first!) established that Mary had plotted to assassinate Elizabeth, her cousin and Queen of England.  Only subterfuge by Elizabeth's counsellors finally ensured the execution.

Elizabeth Tudor's agony and fury upon discovering that the sentence had been carried out is testament to her foresight in recognizing the royal tragedy.  Kings were no longer above the law.

So it was for Charles.  His people saw fit to judge his actions as king, to blame him for political wrangling and subterfuge, spying and waging war on his subjects when they would not uphold his law.  Even today, we wrestle with these questions.  What is the balance between the needs of our leaders and the rights of our people?

In London, England, recently, to attend the Historical Novel Society conference, I managed to slip away from the fascinations of historical and story discussion, and visit the Banqueting House, the last surviving wing of Whitehall Palace and the place of King Charles I's execution.

By all accounts, Charles deported himself as a gentleman during his incarceration at Whitehall, and with dignity and courage on the day of his death.


And certainly the Banqueting House was the setting for it.  A posh place indeed with high white pillars and marble walls, carved details and priceless works of art, and to crown it all, King James I by Peter Paul Rubens, emerges majestic from the clouds on the ceiling above.

James Stuart was a true believer in the divine right of kings.  With John Donne's brilliant expostulations from the pulpit of St. Paul's, James practically invented the concept of kings who could rule unquestioned.  And he rewrote the bible to prove his point.  Only God's right hand would be worthy of such a task. 

Whitehall Palace, c. 1675
The Banqueting House is interesting for another reason.  It's easy to gaze up at the ceiling, lying in one of the bean bags strewn about the floor or gazing at one of the mirror stands installed for the purpose, and listen to the guides tell the story of Charles I's last walk through this hall, how this place was the site of his journey from a 'corruptible to an incorruptible crown', and forget that Whitehall was once a sprawling palace. 

Charles and his court lived here.  He and his wife, the venerable Henrietta Maria, raised their many children here, held masques, conducted the nation's business, and celebrated their daughter's wedding to William of Orange.
Five Children of King Charles I, after Sir Anthony van Dyck, 17th century (1637) - NPG 267 - © National Portrait Gallery, London

James I and his son Charles had been born in Scotland, but Charles' children had all been born in England: English princes, raised to serve the crown and uphold English law.  Two of Charles I's children- Charles and James- became English kings themselves, two- James and Mary- spawned three other English monarchs- William, Mary and Anne.  That is the legacy of Whitehall.

As the principal royal residence, Whitehall defined the richness, artistry, and beliefs of the Stuart monarchy in England.  And, as Charles I stepped out of the second floor window onto a scaffold this cold January day 366 years ago, and died boldly, with the dignity of his crown intact, he drew the admiration of adherents and enemies alike.  He had defined an age of elegance and royal manners that did not die with him. 

The Cromwell regime, for all its repudiation of the concept of monarchy, in the end was more a hiatus in the political arena than a lasting legacy.  It could ultimately not defeat that royal veneer.  Like the painted masterpiece on the ceiling of the Banqueting House, heralding the triumphant ascent of King James to the divinity that transcends earthly disruption, the monarchy in Britain endures; its dignity, pomp, veneration, for all its buffeting then and now, survives.  And we can thank Charles Stuart I for that.  For, like Britain herself, in dignity and duty and courage, he never flinched.

For more on the life and execution of Charles I:

Official Web site of the British Monarchy

The History Learning Site

Cryssa Bazos, 17th Century Enthusiast


BCW Project - British Civil Wars, Commonwealth and Protectorate