Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Thank You Ryder Hesjedal

When Ryder Hesjedal won the Giro D’Italia this past weekend, Canada celebrated quietly. Many of us have been watching with interest as this amazing athlete paid his dues in years past.
  As Ryder’s name becomes known the world over, I couldn’t help but think of other Canadians who have excelled in their chosen field. In no particular order, here are some reminders:

Lorne Michaels. Creator and Producer of Saturday Night Live. Maybe the best talent scout ever? Just sayin’.

Frederick Banting and Charles Best. Co-discoverers of insulin. Thank you, gentlemen.

Peter Jennings. I started watching Peter after Walker Cronkite retired. I liked his way of speaking, his grasp of world situations, and of course he was easy to look at. I miss you, Peter.

Raymond Burr. There’s a reason they’ve never tried to revive Perry Mason. Who but Raymond Burr could do  justice to the role?

David Foster. The man is good. Not only is he talented, he gives back. This past weekend in Victoria, where he got his start, the David Foster Foundation Miracle Weekend raised $4.6 million. That’s some serious coin. There were too many ‘famous’ people there to name, but they came to support David. Well done, everyone.

James Cameron. He’s been at it a long time. Does anyone doubt that Avatar II will be better than the original?

Oscar Peterson. We don’t talk about Oscar Peterson enough. I don’t know a lot about jazz, but I know genius when I hear it.

Mordecai Richler. I first read Mordecai Richler when I was just a kid...The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz. I loved it then and I still love it. Mordecai lived life on his own terms and I respect him for that.

Leonard Cohen. In a class by himself.

Group of Seven.  Thankfully, many of their works remain in Canada.

I could go on, but you get the idea.
Thank you, Ryder Hesjedal.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Things That Make Me Smile

A Smile Is Worth A Thousand Words

Wait, that’s not right, is it? Maybe it should be, but that’s another blog topic.
Recently I’ve been thinking about how life is good and that led me in all sorts of directions – one of which was what makes me smile.
This is not going to be earth-shaking, or controversial, just simple things that make me smile:

Male California Quail. Have you ever noticed how the male behaves when the pair has chicks? He sits up on a fence post or other lookout point as they’re moving from one place to another, watching over them. Now that’s devotion! Especially since quail often abound in areas where there are a lot of raptors. Or are the raptors there because of the quail? Never mind, the male California Quail is a little feathered hero in my book and he makes me smile.

The scent of lilacs. When my husband and I were married, the gardener at The Empress Hotel forced some lilacs in time for our wedding reception. The scent of lilacs brings back that day and I can’t help but smile.

Children playing on the beach. I don’t care for screaming children...too many today shriek at the top of their lungs for nothing. But there’s something comforting about hearing children playing happily together. I can live with a little noise in times like that.

I smile when I hear Willie Nelson singing The City of New Orleans. Have you ever listened to the lyrics? They’re by Arlo Guthrie, but Willie made them famous. My favourite line is “The sons of Pullman porters and the sons of engineers ride their father’s magic carpet made of steel.” For me that simple line encapsulates life on the railways. I’d like to do more train travel.

I like the sound of lake water lapping against the rock of the Canadian Shield in Ontario. Brings back happy summer memories when my parents rented a cottage and my sister and I climbed all over the rocks that guarded one side of the lake.

Sandhill Cranes. During migration they fly in a ragged V formation. Every once in a while they find a thermal and the formation breaks up. They swirl around, chortling and squawking as they gain altitude. I used to live on a flyway for Sandhills and I never tired of the sight or the sound of these magnificent birds.

Puppy Dogs. I love their enthusiasm, their big feet, their smell. Don’t get me started.

A clean goal in a hockey game. Preferrably scored by the Canucks, but any good goal will make me smile. I particularly like goals that result from a pass. A thing of beauty, eh?

What makes you smile?

Thursday, May 17, 2012

When I'm Wrong, I'm Wrong

There are some times in life (or in my case, in writing) where having the guts to admit you’re wrong turns out to be a good thing. Actually, it’s always a good thing to acknowledge it when you’re wrong, no matter how difficult it may be.
Take for example my latest release. Creating covers for my books is something I enjoy doing. I save it for when I’m near the end of the book. It’s my gift to myself for having done most of the work, for being able to see the light at the end of the long, lonely tunnel.
  My first cover was not only artistically lovely, it had some relation to the story. There is a scene in the story when the two main characters go for a ride in a canoe. “Perfect” I said out loud when I found it...then proceeded to do what’s necessary to turn it into a cover.
But covers are clever little devils. They speak out loud when no-one else will. Sort of like the kid on the bus who says “Mommy, why is that lady crying?” when everyone else is trying to ignore the poor woman. Yeah, they’re like that.
  My first attempt was too dark. It got lost in among thousands of romance offerings. I usually check the Amazon sales pages for the first few days after I upload a new book and a couple of times I scrolled right past it myself. Now how’s that for non-eye-catching?
  So I manned up and made a new one. It’s bright, it’s noticeable, and the book is already doing better. A lesson learned? I hope so.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Small Town Life

  I recently moved back to the Okanagan Valley in south central British Columbia. A long, meandering lake stretching 135 km gives the valley its name. Green and lush where irrigated, I suspect that the area would revert to desert if deprived of water. Clusters of cactus are plentiful in among the sage and the Ponderosa pines on the hillsides.
  Fruit, wine and tourism are our major industries. Light industry accounts for a lot of jobs, but we don’t have any major polluters. In the summer the lake is the main draw. In wine season, the many wineries are crowded with tasters. In the winter, a half dozen or so ski resorts attract skiers from all over the world. Not Utopia, but close.
  I had been living on Vancouver Island for three years and when I returned several people remarked that they hadn’t seen me for a while. Oh, it was good to be back.
  I went grocery shopping last week. I pushed the grocery cart to my car, unloaded the bags, and returned the cart, feeling more than a little smug that I hadn’t left the cart in the lot where other carts competed for space with the cars.
  That do-good feeling lasted until I got home. My purse was missing. I searched the car, the grocery bags, but it was nowhere to be found. Could I have left it in the grocery cart? Unlikely, but I jumped back in my car and drove right back.
  I walked into the store and a cashier looked up. “I’ll bet you’re looking for your purse,” she said, and handed it back to me. “A man found it in a cart and brought it in.”
  Perhaps if I hadn’t been so busy congratulating myself about returning the cart, I would have noticed it.
  Or perhaps not. But I won’t soon forget why I like living in a small town.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

And Now For Something Completely Different

This brave new world of independent publishing sometimes makes me feel like I’m in the middle of a Monty Python sketch, as evidenced by the title of this blog.
  I released a new e-book this week. Good show, Bravo and all that...right? Not so fast.
  Yes, the completion of a book of any length is quite a feat. But the truth is that those first few days of heady excitement when you’ve just started a book inevitably turn into long bottom-numbing hours of hard work. As has been said many times, it’s something one has to do alone, although I suppose there are exceptions. I’ve seen documentaries about television shows being written by committee and thought ‘that looks like fun’. But I digress. See? I’ve been spending too much time alone.
  So what’s “completely different”?.
  What’s different is that the work of an “Indie” author doesn’t stop at the release of the book. Sure, we can upload the book to Amazon, or whatever platform we choose to work with, but that’s only the beginning. If we don’t want our work to be swallowed up in the 1,171,186 e-book titles available on Amazon as of 8:43pm PST on May 9th, 2012, we have to do something to market it. That is of course after we’ve learned about formatting, applied for and assigned ISBNs, become skilled at creating cover graphics, studied pricing points, set up facebook pages, blogs, websites, and learned about Twitter. Those are just the obvious ones.
  So what’s my point? I’m so exhausted I’m not quite sure.
  But seriously, publishing today is undergoing a massive how business is conducted and who gets to call the shots. Is it worth it to learn these new skills so we can write what we want, unencumbered by publishers’ guidelines? Hell, yes it’s worth it. Fresh new voices are being discovered every day. Voices that would never have been heard if they’d waited a year or two to hear back from every publisher who would eventually turn down their manuscripts.
  I wish I could be here a hundred years from now. But by then there’ll be more changes, and another punchy writer talking about Something Completely Different.

Monday, May 7, 2012

What Would You Do?

  Ok, so I didn’t win the lottery this week. But then neither did anyone else, it appears. The prize next Friday will still be $50 million, plus around ten chances at a “supplemental” prize of $1 million. How ironic that a million dollars has been relegated to the “also ran” position.
  Here in Canada, when you win the Lottery you get to keep all of the money. It’s tax-free...manuahi, as the Hawaiians would say...Free. Of course you pay tax on the interest you make on the money...but who cares?
  I haven’t had much time for day dreaming recently...I’ve been working on my latest novel. But as I was taking a break after uploading the new book to Amazon, I started to think. What if I had won the big prize? Would I still write? I always admire those people who, when faced with television cameras, declare their intent to keep on living just as they are. But after the lights are turned off and reality sets in, do they really keep on working? There must be some interesting stories, because there was a television programme about that very thing, but I didn’t watch it...too busy writing.
  I suppose a lot depends on age, marital status, level of contentment in your life, and whether or not you have a valid passport. For me, writing is a joy, even if I do have a sore neck every afternoon when I finally stop. (I visualize my characters...what they are doing...and I look down as I’m writing). Even if I don’t meet my word count goal every day there’s a sense of accomplishment coupled with the thrill of wondering what the characters are going to get up to tomorrow. So often they take me in directions I never would have suspected when I started the story.
  So no, I don’t think I’d stop writing. But if I won I would go back to London (Business Class of course), stay at the Dorchester, and spend plenty of time in front of the Turners at the National Gallery. Sheer bliss!!
  In the meantime, I’ll keep on writing.
  What would you do?

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Who's Your Favourite Romantic Hero?

“Bond. James Bond.” When I was young, the Sean Connery version of James Bond was enough to set a young girl’s heart to fluttering. I saw one of those old movies on television recently and can’t believe that women actually thought that the James Bond character was desirable. 
  Thankfully, our idea of a hero has changed over the years and as a writer of romance novels, I’m grateful. This is one area – the creation of the hero – where I refuse to give in and write according to what’s ‘hot’ this week, or this month. Scotsmen may be hunky and have gorgeous eyes, but I don’t know any. Vampires and their kin may appeal to some, but I’ll pass, thanks very much. I’m picky about my romantic heroes, and when I write I create a male character with whom I could fall in love.
  Romance novels are for the most part fantasies, and in almost all cases the heroes are larger than life. I’m in the final stages of a romance right now that veered away from my original intent. I said to a friend of mine “I want to write a novel where the male is an ordinary guy-next-door type”. Somehow it didn’t work out that way. A cop working on a case wormed his way into the story and became the love interest. Did I sell out? I don’t think so. He made the story come alive when he stepped in and elbowed the original hero out of the way, so he got to stay. Alpha males do that sometimes.
  The heroes I’ve written have been fighter pilots, doctors, former Special Forces operatives, and CEOS. But I confess to having a favourite. Maybe I shouldn’t admit it – maybe that’s akin to admitting to having a favourite child. It’s true, though. Freddie is my favourite.
  Fixing Freddie is about a man who agrees to submit himself for a makeover so he can get close to a girl he knew in school. He was interested in her even then, but he was shy, and the class nerd. I like the way Freddie’s outer layers are peeled away until we discover the man beneath. Maybe I’m not supposed to pat myself on the back, but it’s a good story. If you were to tell me it’s a predictable plot I’d have to agree, but then aren’t all romances predictable?
  I don’t think I’m different from other romance authors in that I’ll continue to create heroes who appeal to me personally. Most of us however are married to that guy-next-door who didn’t make the cut as the hero. And thank goodness. They’re our personal heroes. They love us unconditionally, they mow the lawn, make the run to the garbage dump, and teach our sons how to fish. They are our inspiration, our best friends, and our lovers.
  But Freddie is still my favourite far, that is.