I grew up on a farm in the middle of Canada's breadbasket. Under the canopy of crisp blue prairie skies I read books. Lots and lots of books. Occasionally, I picked up a pen and paper or tapped out a few meagre pages of a story on a keyboard and dreamed of becoming a writer when I grew up. One day the inevitable happened and I knew without question the time was right. What to write was never the issue - romance and the gut wrenching journey towards forever.
Last weekend was the annual Saskatchewan Festival of Words held in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan and it was my first time attending and I can’t figure out why. It was an awesome experience. I met so many wonderful people and fellow reading enthusiasts.
There were interviews, author readings, and panel discussions. I attended my first ever poetry slam competition. In this photo author, and sometimes guest host on CBC’s q, Jael Richardson is interviewing award winning author, Eden Robinson, who is also the owner of the best laugh around.
One of my favourite functions was the Dinner with Renee Kohlman, a Saskatchewan chef and food blogger from Saskatoon. If you get a chance, check out her wonderful blog, Sweetsugarbean. Also, Renee’s cookbook, All The Sweet Things, is a delightful mix of heartwarming stories, soft, bright colours, and beautiful recipes. We also dined with a delightful couple of ladies whose husbands had been RCMP officers (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) stationed in rural British Columbia. Talk about natural born storytellers, they regaled us with story after story.
I think the best surprise about attending the Festival Of Words was the connection I made with people from across Western Canada. People from places like Red Deer, Alberta; Swift Current, Saskatchewan; Edmonton, Alberta; Winnipeg, Manitoba; and the list goes on. People were more than welcoming and happy to include you in their group. Next year we’re going to win Trivia Night.
Until next time…
Are you big on summer festivals? What festivals are popular in your area?
I’m sitting outside, laptop…well, on my lap, listening to the birds chirp and working on getting my word count done for the day. For my writing group’s July writing challenge, I’ve decided on a goal of 500 words a day. I’m so close to finishing the first draft of my current work-in-progress, this first book of a series, but July also encourages the notion of holiday mode. 500 words a day makes me feel like I’m achieving some kind of life / writing balance.
I’m happy to say, I’ve mostly managed to meet that challenge for the first half of July even though my sister and nephews visited for ten days.
A trip to our local Science Centre, where their summer exhibit is all about JOY was an excellent way to have fun and find inspiration. The JoyLab is a collection of experiences designed to provide Instagram-ready moments while discovering how simple things like bubbles in a bathtub or a wall of purple flowers could bring about a feeling of joy. For the record, as someone who loves to take photographs, the experience was a whole lot of fun.
I’m also stretching my creative muscles with markers and watercolour paints. I love to doodle and my daughter-in-law created a lovely July Instagram list of bullet journal art prompts. Here’s my Lichtenstein inspired self-portrait for Day 7. Creating a self-portrait was an interesting exercise that can bring out your inner self using many mediums. If you’ve got children at home, or grandchildren to entertain this summer, here are some excellent ideas for unleashing their (and your) creativity with self-portraits.
If I could spend the summer playing Scrabble, I would. It is by far, my favourite game. Having said that, you’d think I’d be better at it. We also set up the cotton candy machine and as a result our home smelled like the fair grounds at a summer festival. We also played Bird Bingo and Bug Bingo. The boys played marbles and Battleship. We swam in the pool. They hiked trails and played in parks.
And what’s summer without a little indulgence, which we have embraced wholeheartedly. I’m so full of food, drinks, and snacks, I don’t feel like I fit inside my skin. Getting back to normal is gonna be hard.
Cheers! I’m not sure how July came to be half over but I do know that this weekend I’ll be attending The Saskatchewan Festival of Words in Moose Jaw, hanging out and having more fun. And food. And drinks. But more on this next week.
Until next time…
I hope you are finding inspiration all around you. Let me know how and where you’ve found it? Or what your summer plans are?
At the end of June, my writing group went on retreat to St. Peter’s Abbey. Founded in 1903, St. Peter’s Abbey is the oldest monastery of Benedictine monks in Canada. They follow the Rule of Saint Benedict, a book with 73 chapters that guides the religious life, including prescribing common prayer and manual work, and detailing how to manage communal living and receiving guests. The abbey welcomes some 3,000 guests a year, many of them writers, fibre artists, and visual artists.
The abbey started as a farm with large gardens, grain fields, dairy cattle and beef cattle. Today the farmland has been rented out and the few remaining monks tend gardens, keep bees, and welcome guests. There is a sense of peace to this place. Of calmness. They also offer silent retreats and one was in progress during the first days of our own stay.
They sat apart in the dining room. They were there for self reflection and solitude. I admire them. Because I could never….not talk? Turn everything off? I have trouble meditating for a solid 15 minutes. But apparently it can be done. And now I can’t get the idea out of my head.
But maybe I should work my way up to a meditative style retreat and concentrate on making the most of summer by making some small changes. Doable changes. I enjoyed this article from Always Well Within and it’s solid tips on how to slow down and smell the roses.
My Goal for Slowing Down in July
Except for my Author Page, responding to messages, and checking in and posting my progress on our writing FB group, I’m off Facebook for July. I will be hanging out on Instagram…because I have to post photos somewhere. And no checking in with the Twitterverse.
Set a realistic daily writing goal of 500 words.
To one thing every day that I’ve been avoiding. Does anyone have a list of stuff they’re just not getting done?
Get back to using the Five Minute Journal app on my phone.
More reading and less binge-watching Netflix.
Until next time…
What are some ways you’re slowing down this month? All suggestions are welcome!
Although I’ve managed to read, or perhaps finish is a better word, three books, I’ve spent most of my free time in June writing and trying to meet the writing goals I set for this month’s writing challenge. Thank goodness, the books I did have on the go were excellent and I recommend all three of them.
When Nikki takes a creative writing job at her local temple, with visions of emancipating the women of the community she left behind as a self-important teenager, she’s shocked to discover a group of barely literate women who have no interest in her ideals.
Yet to her surprise, the white dupatta of the widow hides more than just their modesty – these are women who have spent their lives in the shadows of fathers, brothers and husbands; being dutiful, raising children and going to temple, but whose inner lives are as rich and fruitful as their untold stories. But as they begin to open up to each other about womanhood, sexuality, and the dark secrets within the community, Nikki realises that the illicit nature of the class may place them all in danger.
East meets west and tradition clashes with modernity in a thought-provoking cross-cultural novel that might make you look again at the women in your life…
You’ll never think of certain vegetables (and some fruits) the same way again. Having said that, this book takes on some pretty heavy issues with compassion and humour. Nikki, a young, modern woman who isn’t sure what she wants to do with her life, applies for a job teaching a creative community writing class in a traditional neighbourhood centre in Southall, West London. When the women arrive for class, Nikki learns they are widows expecting to be taught English and literacy. An unexpected turn has these conservative Sikh widows penning erotic stories. I loved the characters, especially the widows. struggling to be seen in a world where they were no longer valued.
Think you know what it’s like being a baller’s girl? You don’t. My fairy tale is upside down. A happily never after. I kissed the prince and he turned into a fraud. I was a fool, and his love – fool’s gold.
Now there’s a new player in the game, August West. One of the NBA’s brightest stars. Fine. Forbidden. He wants me. I want him. But my past, my fraudulent prince, just won’t let me go.
Long Shot also deals with the very weighty issue of partner violence. Trigger Warning: There are some very hard to read and violent scenes in this book. But as someone who lives in the Canadian province with the shameful statistic of having the highest rate of partner violence, I wanted to read the book I’d seen recommended on Twitter. When both Sarah MacLean and Kristen Higgins recommended the same book, I listen. Long Shot gives an insight to what it looks like inside an abusive relationship, and what it takes to leave. I appreciated every moment of this story. The hard brutal parts and the soft generous parts. Iris and August will stay with me for a very long time.
Audiobook: The Candle and The Flame by Nafiza Azad
Fatima lives in the city of Noor, a thriving stop along the Silk Road.
There the music of myriad languages fills the air, and people of all faiths weave their lives together. However, the city bears scars of its recent past, when the chaotic tribe of Shayateen djinn slaughtered its entire population – except for Fatima and two other humans. Now ruled by a new maharajah, Noor is protected from the Shayateen by the Ifrit, djinn of order and reason, and by their commander, Zulfikar.
But when one of the most potent of the Ifrit dies, Fatima is changed in ways she cannot fathom, ways that scare even those who love her. Oud in hand, Fatima is drawn into the intrigues of the maharajah and his sister, the affairs of Zulfikar and the djinn, and the dangers of a magical battlefield.
Debut novelist Nafiza Azad weaves an immersive tale of magic and the importance of names; fiercely independent women; and, perhaps most importantly, the work for harmony within a city of a thousand cultures and cadences.
I’ve hit a sweet spot with audiobooks and that’s fantasy. It’s the only thing I’ve been able to listen to with any success. This debut book by an Canadian author didn’t disappoint and was delightful with an excellent narrator. There was rich description and engaging characters and a wonderful and enticing magical element. Fatima is only one of a strong group of female characters. There is a matriarchal feel to this book that I adored. Fatima struggles to fit in. She’s doesn’t quite fit into the struggling working class neighbourhood where she lives with her sister. Then finds herself facing the same alienation within the aristocracy of the palace, when her life is changed forever. I can’t wait for the next book.
Until next time…
Summer is upon us! What books have you been reading? Or any books to recommend?
We’re all busy. I think it’s likely safe to say we’re all stressed about something, too. But, if you’re like me, you have a pile of books waiting to help you relax. And we all know, at least we bookworms know, that summer is the best time for reading! Or that reading is a great way to leave life behind anytime of the year. But for those of us living in the northern hemisphere June is all about summer. Therefore, summer reading!
My summer reading list:
Five Tips To Tackle Any TBR Pile
Tip number one is to listen to more audiobooks! Fun fact: June is also audiobook month! My favourite place to listen to them is in the car, but I’ll also listen to them while doing some mindless chore, too. For some reason, fantasy and non-fiction are my go-tos with audiobooks. Confession: romance is harder because – sex scenes. I just can’t with the sex scenes in audio. In ebooks or paperbacks – heck yeah! But definitely check out how to access audiobooks from your local library, and here is Techradar’s Best Audiobook Sites for 2019. I’m currently listening to: The Candle and The Flame by Nafiza Azad.
Tip number two is to set a summer reading challenge. Or set a goal. Find a friend to read along with you. One summer our writing group read Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. We all wanted to read a classic and it was fun to read along with others! So easy these days to set up a private Facebook group where everyone can chime in or you could get together every week to weigh in with your thoughts. Set up a group text. Then set some goals, like read this many chapters by this date, and away you go. Again, your library might have summer reading challenges to join.
Tip number three is a suggestion to sign up for Litsy! Book lovers unite on this social media platform. It’s like Instagram, only for readers. And with no advertising or promoting allowed. Great for book recommendations and for connecting with other readers. I also found a pen pal group. We’re called the #poutinepenpals. Because we’re Canadian, eh. This is also a way of keeping track of your reading. Disclaimer: there are some serious book lovers to be found there. As in some post monthly stats! And those stats are super impressive. Never thought I’d consider myself a slacker when it came to reading! Also, there are a lot of fun challenges to take part in, too.
Tip number four is to own your reading preferences! There’s nothing wrong with liking a certain type of book and sticking to that type of book. And don’t continue with a book if you don’t like it. That’s why the library is a great place to get books. You can quit a book and not feel guilty or pressured to continue to read it because you paid for it. Also, the library likely has some summer fun of it’s own happening and a good place to check out summer activities for you or any kids you might have in tow. Because we certainly want reading to be part of any child’s or teen’s summer activities. Let’s all be on our phones a little less and have our noses in a book a little more.
Tip number five is to branch out if you’re in a rut. Try something different. Again, the library is a great place to head to if you’ve lost your enthusiasm for reading. Ask for recommendations from friends. Or check out book review sites. Listen to a book podcast. Did you know that Reese Witherspoon has a book club called Hello Sunshine? Check out Modern Mrs. Darcy, who’s always ready with a book recommendation.
Until next time…
What’s everyone else reading? Right this very minute? Or hoping to read this summer?
I love June! The weather has turned sweet and breezy and the evenings are made for walking. It’s leafy green everywhere you look, the sun is warm, and the birds are singing. It’s bliss! And any summer fun always involves reading. It’s time to stock up on all the books for reading at the beach, on the patio, in a hammock…you get the idea.
This time of year I’m busy outside planting flowers then settling back, watering and fertilizing, waiting while they grow to fill and spill over the pots.
I’m also busy at work writing the first book in a new series about another small prairie town with a whole new cast of interesting (I hope) characters. Three entrepreneurs bond while trying to make a success of their businesses. Darcy House (a bed and breakfast), the Shrub Hub (a greenhouse nursery), and The Ugly Duckling (a rustic bar) are at the heart of the women struggling to make them a success.
Ever since a devastating family tragedy seventeen years ago, Grace Bighill has struggled to keep her remaining family from falling apart. Then the discovery of her mother’s body in the woods unearths a connection to a decades old murder case, and Grace is dragged into a politician’s bitter bid for revenge.
Constable Mike Davenport’s days in Aspen Lake are numbered. He’s ready to take his next step up the career ladder somewhere a lot more cosmopolitan. He’s avoided any emotional attachments, despite having fallen hard for a certain stubborn local. But when a body turns up, Mike’s careful intentions collapse in the face of Grace’s grief and her exhaustive efforts to care for her family.
A search for answers leads Grace and Mike down a twisted path proving no one can escape their roots. But someone might die trying.
Have fun with the scavenger hunt! In the comments, tell me a favourite summertime activity.
It’s always good to have a little time away from it all to recharge. That’s exactly what I did a week and a half ago. I took a break and went to Vancouver with a friend. We had a lovely time and shared lots of laughs, meals, and walks.
And we did walk. A lot! On our last night in Vancouver, we gave our tired feet a rest and went on a sunset dinner cruise. We sailed past the gorgeous downtown skyline, the cruise ship terminal of Canada Place, the mountains that guard the North Shore, beautiful Stanley Park, and colourful Granville Island. On top of the incredible scenery, there was live music and wonderful food.
I also managed to get a little reading in, mostly on the plane ride there and back, but by the time we landed I had finished our book club pick for May, Stillhouse Lake by Rachel Caine.
Gwen Proctor isn’t the name she was born with. She’s changed it to hide herself away from the past. Because the past brings with it a brutal serial killer ex-husband, suspicion that she got away with murder, and enemies she can’t even begin to count.
Gwen is going to protect her kids from that past.
At any cost.
I hope you have a chance to get away and grab a little time for yourself, even if it’s just for a few hours. I know how hard that can be to manage, at times. That’s the great thing about reading. It’s possible to slip into the pages of a book and feel like you traveled to a different place.
Until next time…
When was the last book you read? I love book recommendations!
GONE, my newest release, became available yesterday. I’m super excited to say my book shares a birthday with Baby Sussex, Harry and Meghan’s bundle of joy. Who else thinks they should name their baby Spencer after Princess Diana? Wouldn’t that be great?
Releasing a book into the world is always fun, but very terrifying. However, early readers are saying nice things so I’m calming down. A bit. There’s nothing more terrifying that hearing someone say, “I read your book.” Gulp. So much is invested in those pages. It’s not only about the story. Your books showcase your sense of craft. Your view of the world. And not everyone is going to like what you have to say , or how you say it.
Now that GONE is out in the world, it doesn’t only belong to me. When a reader purchases a copy, it is theirs to interrupt how they wish. I remember when my daughter was small and I was concerned about her eating habits. In other words, I was stressing out because she wouldn’t do what I wanted her to do. There was a definite power struggle going on in our house and eating was the currency being used to manipulate each other. My daughter has special needs and at the time in a program that provided a psychologist. I went to her for advice on getting my daughter to eat. What I was really asking was how do I get her to eat what I wanted her to eat. Her advice has stayed with me to this day and I have applied it to many things. She said I was responsible for what was served and how it was presented, and my daughter was responsible for how much she ate and if she ate at all.
That sums up my philosophy towards launching books into the world. I’m offering a book I’ve worked hard to craft with a story I care about. Readers can decide to read it or not, and if they read it whether they like it or not.
Having said that, I’m overjoyed when readers connect with my stories!
It’s blog tour time where I’ll be sharing excerpts from the first chapter of GONE! AND there’s a rafflecopter giveaway for $25, too.
In every book I write there is a secondary character who’s tried to take over the story. In OFF THE GRID it was Sophie’s sister. I could have written a whole series based around Marnie’s character as a Finder in the infamous Downtown Eastside of Vancouver. In BACKLASH it was Jason, Lily’s student, a teenage boy who was targeted by gang members. In EXPOSED, Sunni, the mistress of Kate’s father, Bill Logan, drew me in and she could have had her own story, too. Ian Connelly in GONE stole my heart from the beginning with his silence and his gruffness.
They are essential in helping tell the story of the protagonists by either supporting or resisting them. They are a great way to drop hints, reveal information the reader needs to know but the protagonist might not, and to foreshadow events. They also represent the state of the world being created in the story. They have essential knowledge of the inner workings of your world, be it contemporary, paranormal, or historical. They have secrets, their own lives, and their own motivations but remain in the background. They are the stalwart mentor, the quirky best friend, the loyal confident, the cynical co-worker, or the jealous family member.
If you’re a Harry Potter fan and I mention Dolores Umbridge, her snickering laugh and pink outfits will instantly come to mind and make you shudder. Large Marge in Kristin Hannah’s The Great Alone is a strong, resilient big-city transplant who represents the landscape of Alaska and what is needed to survive there. Often in romance, secondary characters are way to introduce the protagonists of the next book in the trilogy or series. They are a way to carry the theme or premise of the series to the next book and give us a delicious insight to what will happen next.
And, ultimately, they exist to help keep us entertained!
Until next time…
Who are some of your favourite secondary characters?
I grew up in a small town. Or, to be exact, on a farm outside a small town. And I’m talking small. Not city small. But with a population that numbered in the hundreds. Like under five hundred, if you counted dogs and cats. And I couldn’t wait to leave. I’m a city girl at heart. It’s where I feel the most comfortable and relaxed. But that doesn’t mean I don’t love small towns or appreciate the people who live in them. Because, I do!
As a writer, I think the fascinating thing about small towns is the sense they are small and big at the same time. Small because they take up less geographical space and have far fewer inhabitants than their urban counterparts. Big because that small space hosts people with the same big hopes and dreams as city dwellers. And they go about creating opportunity without the resources a more urban centre provides.
Creating a fictional town gave me the opportunity to explore the romantic notion of small towns with their famous unlocked door policy and their famed resilience. In my fictional town of Aspen Lake, everyone is looking to make a fair living wage, to fit in, and to protect those they love. A rural setting is also an opportunity to delve into the less than ideal aspects of living in a fishbowl. Because no place is exempt from struggle. There is no prefect paradise. No one’s life is devoid of conflict.
I hope in Aspen Lake you’ll find both the ideal and the unsavoury. Big city violence invades the quiet steadfastness of Aspen Lake in Backlash. Exposed has more of a snake in the garden vibe. And Gone is all about secrets.
Until next time…
What are some of your favourite fictional small town settings?