Summer Festivals

There are music festivals, fringe festivals, art festivals, film festivals, and even kite festivals! Check out the top ten Canadian festivals according to Trip Savvy. But also scattered across Canada, and I’m assuming the world, are also festivals for readers and writers.

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.

Sunday included two panels discussions and it’s always helpful when authors talk about craft, their process, and how they market their books. Left to right: Tanis MacDonald, Eden Robinson, Jael Richardson, Gail Bowen, and Drew Hayden Taylor.

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?

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Summer Fun and Creative Pursuits

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?

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Making The Most of Summer

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 upper lefthand photo is the bell tower that tolls every hour. The photo in the lower lefthand corner is the original building. The upper right photo is the abbey. The lower left was taken on a walk of the property.

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

  1. 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.
  2. Set a realistic daily writing goal of 500 words.
  3. To one thing every day that I’ve been avoiding. Does anyone have a list of stuff they’re just not getting done?
  4. Get back to using the Five Minute Journal app on my phone.
  5. More reading and less binge-watching Netflix.

Until next time…

What are some ways you’re slowing down this month? All suggestions are welcome!

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June Book Reviews

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.

Paper Book: Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal.

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.

eBook: Long Shot by Kennedy Ryan

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?

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Five Summer Reading Tips

Night Owl Reviews wants to help you out! They are giving away a Waterproof Kindle Paperwhite (USA Only) and 119 $5.00 Amazon Gift Cards (Worldwide) in a Summer Fun Reader Scavenger Hunt.

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?

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Creating Secondary Characters

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?

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Fictional Small Towns

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?

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Creative Morning Brain

Apparently, the best time to be creative is immediately after waking. The best time to edit and proof your efforts comes later in the day, after your brain has let all those creative juices flow and is warmed up, so to speak. Or so science says.

My brain hasn’t gotten the memo. I’m not one of those people who have inspiration hit in the shower, nor does it spark with the first bits of toast. My mind has already started making a list of every single thing I need to get done that day. And every item on that list is seemingly more important than making time for my creative process to emerge. To combat that I make sure I get up early enough to read a couple of pages in a book or of the paper while I wait for my tea to steep. I have breakfast, get dressed, and settle into my office chair. Then I look to inspiration to strike. As I’m usually checking Facebook or Instagram, this rarely happens immediately.

But I’m trying to spend less time on social media and more time fostering creativity. Doodling is one of my favourite things. And watercolours are my new favourite medium despite having a lot to learn. Doodling and playing with colour helps settle my mind. Then I generally take care of marketing and promotion duties. I write for an hour. Then I write again in the afternoon. So, the opposite of what science suggests.

Maybe on of these days I’ll actually get around to listening to Robin Sharma’s The 5 AM Club: Own Your Morning, Elevate Your Life that is waiting patiently in my Audible to-be-read pile. But that day is not today.

Until the next time…

When do you fit in time to be creative? Or to read? Or do something that settles your mind or feeds your soul?

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Robin Hood: Tell Me Your Favourite Movie Version

Robin Hood is one of my favourite folk heroes. Who could resist stories of an outlaw that steals from the rich and gives to the poor? Displaced, cast out, with a price on his head, the idea of Robin Hood, a rebel for the ages, has infinite appeal. At least, for me!

But I love myths and legends. King Arthur, Templar Knights! Tell me all your medieval favourites. I used to read a lot of medieval romances, Julie Garwood, Johanna Lindsay, Jude Deveraux. Writers with “J” names are very good at this, it seems. Castles, ladies of the keep, witches, knights, villainous villains, swords and poisonings. Oh my gosh, those books have the best bad guys!

Back to the movies and which were my favourite versions and which one was a huge disappointment.

We rented the newest Robin Hood version on the weekend. I was excited! I love Jamie Foxx! I wanted it to be good. It was not. It was terrible. Mine boggling terrible. The costumes were ridiculous. The plot holes were large enough to drive a team of horses through. At one point, my husband asked if we were actually going to finish watching it. We did, but once was enough. More than enough.

I’m not a huge Russell Crowe fan, but I love him as Robin Hood. Sigh. Almost as much as I love Cate Blanchett as Lady Mariann. I love that they are mature characters, in both temperament and age. There’s also a great cast of secondary characters. And I love that the legend begins when the movie ends. This is my favourite version, so far. It’s one of those movies I watch when I’m in need of comfort. It hits all my buttons. Every time.

Followed ever so closely by Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves. Despite his abysmal attempt at an accent, Kevin Costner’s Robin Hood will forever have a place in my heart. But ahead of him, is Alan Rickman’s Sheriff Of Nottingham and Morgan Freeman’s Azeem. This is another version I could watch over and over again.

My love of the legend probably began with this movie version that I saw in the theatre as a young girl in 1973. It might have been the first movie that I remember seeing in the theatre. I was enchanted by the legend, the characters, and the music.

Until next time…

If there are other versions of the Robin Hood story that you’ve loved, let me know. I’d love to check them out!

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No Such Thing As a Guilty Pleasure!

It doesn’t have to be a guilty pleasure. It can just be pleasurable.

There should be no guilt attached to the things we choose to enjoy. I don’t know about you, but I need things like books and cupcakes and new shoes to balance groceries, laundry, work, and worrying about my kids. We’ve had more extreme cold warnings this winter then I can remember and the coldest temperatures in 80 years. Our daughter-in-law brought over cinnamon buns last weekend. I ate two. I’m not sorry. I enjoyed every delicious bite.

Also, books! Reading is a pleasure for me, as it is for a lot of people. We should be allowed to read anything we wish. We shouldn’t have to apologize for our reading choices. We shouldn’t be made to feel like we have to publicly reject the books we enjoy in private. The literary police can take a hike.

Books should be accessible, and in most instances they are. They are found in libraries, schools, bookstores, online, and a variety of other places. We can read paper books or ebooks. We can listen to audiobooks. We can stick to one type of book or enjoy a variety of stories. We can read memoirs or cookbooks, or DIY manuals. Newspapers. Periodicals. Magazines. But what we want to read must be available to us. The offerings must be there so we can pick and choose. No one has the right to restrict the access of books to others.

My Top Five Guilt-Free Pleasures!

  • Colouring my hair. Because I love my blonde hair.
  • My 80s playlist. Including but not limited to REO Speedwagon, Quiet Riot, Chicago, Laura Branigan, and .38 Special.
  • Watching Forged in Fire. Because modern-day blacksmiths making knives and swords is awesome.
  • Shoes. Do I really need to explain this one…
  • Keenau Reeves. Because Speed is the best movie ever made.

February 24th to March 2nd is Freedom to Read Week in Canada.

Until next time…

What little things make you happy?

“What we don’t need in the midst of struggle is shame for being human.” ~ Brene Brown

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