Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Top 10 Things I Love About Toronto

Over a year since I’ve blogged??? Good Lord. Well, I need to change that.

So in the spirit of counting blessings – which I’m reminded that I need to do more of – I’m going to try and blog about the good things in my life. And one of those is something I take for granted every day: the city in which I live. I always tell people how much I love Toronto and some agree and others don’t understand what there is to love about the city many people call The Big Smoke. Well, a lot, as it turns out. It’s more than just traffic congestion and people going too fast to enjoy what they’ve got here. Without further ado, here is my Top Ten Things I Love about Toronto list.

The villages within the city: Bloor West Village, Chinatown, Little Italy, Little Portugal, The Kingsway, Leaside, Greektown. You name it and Toronto’s got it. These villages within the city make the city feel more vibrant and less anonymous.

The ravines. Toronto is a city of creeks and rivers that snake through the city and help break up the concrete jungle. Once you follow along a footpath and hear the rushing stream beside you it’s like you are transported into the country.

The parks. From the huge (High Park) to the small neighbourhood parks dotted throughout the city we have a lot of green in this city. Not enough downtown parks for sure but there is still a lot of space to run around in if you need it.

It’s on the water! We sometimes forget that we have Lake Ontario on our doorstep. But the bike paths along the water remind us that we are not surrounded only by skyscrapers and asphalt.

Theatre! Thank God for the Mirvish family and all the other theatrical productions both professional and amateur that dot our city. I’ve seen productions here that could and do rival some Broadway productions.

The Shopping. Seriously, from the discount to the high end you don’t have to travel far to get what you need.

World renowned hospitals. Hypochondriac that I am I appreciate knowing I’m only minutes away from some of the best health care in the country, if not the world. Anyone with kids thanks the heavens every day for The Hospital for Sick Children. You name the illness and we’ve got a hospital that specializes in treating it. Go Toronto!

Sports teams. Okay, I may not be a Blue Jays or Maple Leaf’s fan but I appreciate the fact that we have a centre big enough to accommodate that kind of entertainment.

Transportation. Specifically Pearson International Airport, the Island Airport and the TTC. Seriously, I love having an airport in the city where I live. I’m only twenty minutes away from boarding a plane should I ever decide to make a last minute trip to the Bahamas or something. And taking the TTC every day into work allowed me to finish several books and spend every morning and evening commute reading instead of battling traffic. Sure it needs improvement and I hope it gets the money it needs but I’m a big fan.

And the number one reason that I love Toronto:

The people. Again, seriously. We are a friendly city (despite our reputation for being snobs). For the most part we are a helpful, polite, peace-loving bunch. Sure, in a city of over 3 million people you are going to have problems (and I have seen some interesting things!) but after living here almost thirty years and having met some superb people in that time, we have an amazing bunch of people in this city.

I’m sure I could write a few more favourite things about it but I’ll stop with the top ten. What’s your favourite thing about T.O.?

Monday, April 29, 2013

The Struggling Writer’s Prayer

I'm in the middle of my current WIP and, given how much My Hockey Mom's Prayer has resonated with the struggles of one aspect of my life, I thought I'd jot down another prayer to get me (and hopefully some of you) through the struggle that is writing a book. I hope you get through your first draft relatively unscathed. I'm in the thick of the battle and I hope to see you on the other side!

The Struggling Writer's Prayer

May I find the strength today to open up my document and not be completely paralyzed by the blankness of the page.

May I grant myself forgiveness if I don’t reach a milestone word count, page count, hours count. Sometimes it is enough to just stare at the page, knowing it is there, and that I have gathered the strength to face it.

May I kick myself in the butt hard enough to write down a word, a sentence, a paragraph, even if I think it is horrible.

May I find the strength of will not to immediately delete the word, the sentence, the paragraph, even if I think it is horrible.

May I have the grace to accept the limitations of my writing, the intelligence to recognize its faults, and the determination to keep working at it to make it better.

May I take the time to celebrate the small successes, like finishing a chapter, figuring out the next plot point, or describing a scene.

May I have the courage to kill my darling, hard-fought-for words, and not think I am regressing. May I remember that sometimes to win a war you must retreat in battle and re-group so that the next attack comes out harder, more strategized and infinitely improved.

And, most of all, may I remember that I am not alone, even though it seems like it. That other writers are facing that blank page, those horrible words, that awful immensity of the challenge ahead and that they are there to offer support, humour, wisdom and, most importantly, wine and chocolate. That one day, the blank page will be filled, that despair will turn to elation, that you will have climbed the mountain and can sit at its peak, drinking your wine and eating that chocolate, and know, in that most fulfilling part of yourself, that you have written a book.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Am I Flogging a Dead Blog?

“Hello?” *Tap, Tap* “Anybody still out there?”

I won’t be offended by silence if no one responds. After all, I have definitely withdrawn on the blogging business the last few months. But I realized recently that it was four years ago this month that I began blogging. Four years! Holy cow. So much change in four years. Back when I started Out of the Wordwork in 2009, I recognized even then that I was quite late to the game and I joined a bit reluctantly but it was still quite a momentous step for me in terms of entering the social media whirl that was part and parcel of the publishing game. Back then (back in the ‘old days’ Nelsa said in a quavery voice) you almost had to play that game to show potential publishers you were willing to market yourself. But these days, a blog? Meh. Maybe not so relevant.

I get it. There is already so much information out there on writing and publishing what more can another writer add? Besides, Twitter and Facebook have become the networking communication medium of choice amongst writers so a blog seems unnecessary. And I am certainly struggling with whether to keep this one going. But I’m struggling with a lot of things about publishing and writing these days – social networking is the least of it.

I’ve even gotten a sense from Facebook and Twitter that many writers are either taking breaks from social networking or lessening their time on those mediums significantly. Maybe it’s the general angst about the book publishing industry and the intensity with which writers must keep pushing in the face of so many obstacles these days that putting pressure on yourself to write a blog for the sake of writing a blog seems foolish. There is so much information out there already that sometimes you feel like you’re just adding to the noise. These days I want less noise not more, hence the title of this post: why keep flogging a dead blog?

In any case, for all those who still occasionally check in I can’t promise many future posts but I hope you peruse some of the posts from the past. There are a few that many people do find helpful/inspirational or just plain silly. And for those hockey mom’s out there my Hockey Mom Prayer post is the little post that keeps on going! Shared so many times on Facebook and such that I’m amazed. So I guess blogging can sometimes be useful. At least I’ve got a pretty neat record of my life these last four years!

See you soon (or not!) :)

Friday, January 25, 2013

Family Stories that Become Legend

My brother is a very good story teller. Could be from all his years hanging out at sports bars but mostly it’s because he’s a voracious reader and he loves a good story himself so he recognizes the elements of good storytelling and incorporates them into his tales. He especially loves telling my kids stories of our family as he and I were growing up and, since he’s a few years older than me, has a wealth of funny, embarrassing tales that have kept the kids entertained at otherwise boring family events. The one story that my kids loved hearing the most involves him as a sullen 14 year old, his dark, miserable chore of feeding and taking care of thousands of nasty chickens in a three-storey old chicken barn, and our taciturn, work-is-life attitude, father. I don’t know if I’ll ever use this story in any novel I might write but I want to share it because, like all good family stories, they should be shared.

When my brother was 13, my father moved us from northern Ontario to live and work in a small farming community in southern Ontario. But not only did my dad buy a farm, he bought a farm with a chicken barn on it. It wasn’t going to be just working our butts off in the summer, it would be an all year commitment since caring for chickens and their eggs is an every day, seven days a week, prison of a life. My parents and brother did this for three years before finally getting rid of this thankless business venture.

But for those three years, my brother was a slave. He had gone from a carefree existence of skating on frozen ponds and lakes and running around with his friends from dawn till dusk with barely anyone telling him what to do to working from dawn till dusk, chickens attacking him on a daily basis, and a growing resentment and anger toward the man who had caused this massive and unwanted upheaval in his life. Over the days, weeks and months of feeding and cleaning after these chickens, my brother grew to especially hate one bird – a rooster actually. While chickens are certainly nasty and think nothing of pecking and attacking the hands that feed them, roosters are especially lethal. This one rooster was very territorial and as soon as he saw my brother enter the barn he would fly at him and try to peck him out of the way. He had even drawn blood. My brother equally hated and feared this rooster with a passion.

When he couldn’t take it anymore, he told my dad about this one psychotic bird. But Dad just shrugged him off and thought he was trying to get out of work. “Bah! It’s only a chicken! Deal with it.” (or something to that effect only stated in Portuguese) He would have said it in that gruff, dismissive tone he had. While our dad is a sweetheart, at that time in his life he was operating on survival mode and there was no time for coddling children especially his first born son. In his mind, to become a man, meant to work hard, do a good job and never complain about it. Needless to say, this dismissive response to my brother’s serious problem caused him to resent our dad even more. But, like a good son, he continued to do his chores every day, defended himself from the attacking rooster as best he could and kept his simmering anger to himself.

One day, Dad had to fix a broken heating lamp in the chicken barn. So, while my brother was feeding the chickens on the floor where this rooster kept vigil, my dad joined him. As Dad took out a screwdriver to repair the lamp, the psycho rooster lunged out of the darkness and flung himself at my father. My dad, surprised at the attack, kicked the rooster away, cursing at him. My brother kept feeding the chickens. He laughed silently to himself, thinking “Yeah, old man. Maybe you’ll believe me now.”

Dad continued to try and fix the lamp but the rooster didn’t back off. It kept lunging and attacking him. My brother was really enjoying the show at this point. Finally, my dad had had enough. As the rooster was about to lunge at him again, he pulled out his screwdriver, threw it across the barn, speared the attacking rooster in the neck, killing him instantly.

My brother’s mouth dropped. He watched in awe and amazement as our father walked over to the dead rooster, pulled the screwdriver out of his neck, calmly wiped the blood off on his overalls and turned to my brother and said, “Tell your mother we’re having chicken for dinner tonight.”

Moral of the story #1: when you have a problem, don’t complain, figure out how to deal with it yourself.
Moral of the story #2: don’t piss off a man with a screwdriver.

So, what’s your family legend?

Monday, December 31, 2012

On the Eve of … What, Exactly?

Well, Happy holidays to everyone!

I hope you all had a beautiful, restful, peace-filled holiday season. I was lucky to have my family around me this year in our newly renovated house and on the occasion of my big birthday. So, I survived all that, ate too much, drank too much, slept too much and soon will be starting a new year and for the first time in a decade I’m not sure what my new year’s resolutions will be. I feel like I’m on the eve of something important but haven’t figured out what that something will be. Definitely in limbo. Which is kind of okay for me right now.

I say ‘kind of’ because I’m usually the person who needs a plan. I don’t take meandering go nowhere walks. I like to walk with a purpose. I don’t take vacations that aren’t mapped out to the tiniest detail. I shop with a purpose. I started writing with a purpose. Now I find myself a little … purposeless. It feels weird. Not bad, but weird. Like I’m a slacker or something. Like I should be forcing myself to do this or that and, for sure, to be writing something, dammit! But it's like I’ve hit the pause button. I think I need to do that right now. Life can be extremely hectic and the last ten years have been on speed dial. Where the heck did they go? If the next ten years go by that fast I don’t think I can handle it.

So, for now, I guess my New Year’s Resolution will be this:

Take each day and savour one thing slowly.

Dinner with your husband or children.

Reading a book for more than ten minutes.

Doing needlework.

Walking the dog.

Talking with an old friend.

Calling your parents

Writing when you feel like it, not because you feel guilty that you’re not.

Whatever it is, don’t rush it. Don’t be thinking of the next thing you have to do or that you’re not doing at that moment. Every moment can have meaning if you appreciate it for what it is – not what you want it to be or think it should be.

Happy 2013, everyone. Make it a meaningful year.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

One Month till End of Days. So, what are your plans?

In exactly one month, December 21, 2012, th so-called Mayan Apocalypse, the End of Days, the obliteration of the modern world, the ... oh, you get the idea. The world's gone as of December 22nd. Do I sound flippant? Nay, Nay! as John Pinnette might say (very funny comedian. Look him up.) I'm not flippant at all about the upcoming disaster. My standard response to someone commenting on this disaster is: Of course the world's ending on December 21st! My birthday's the next day and it's one I don't want to face (it ends in a zero, in case you all were curious).

Alas, my un-concern over the destruction of the world did not go over well with The Boy. When he first heard about this so-called Prophecy last year he got very anxious. He tends to believe in things mystical and there was so much coverage of this event in the news that it seemed like quite a real thing to him. My making jokes about being quite happy not to face the day when I turn ... ugh. That number. ... he did not find funny. So, to make him feel better I said,

"Well, December 21st is a Friday. Last day of school before the holidays. If it really will be the last day of the world do you want to spend it in school?"

He shook his head. Of course not.

"Okay," I responded. "Then here's the plan. For that day and that day only I will take a day off work, let you skip school and we can spend the whole day at the movie theatre watching one movie after another. That way, if the world does end, we can ignore most of it since we'll be busy watching some good movies. Does that make you feel better?"

He was totally on board with that.

So, for the last year that's been our plan. We're actually looking forward to it. Daughter One wants to join us now too. She's suggesting we sneak into as many movies as we can on one ticket. I'm not so brazen. Even if no one's around to check, I'll still feel guilty for not paying for a ticket. Not even the end of the world can stop my innate guilt-ridden personality!

So, what are your plans for the Apocalypse?

Monday, November 5, 2012

The Need to Withdraw

I have been feeling distinctly social media unfriendly lately. Not that I don’t check in occasionally. I do. I always check Verla Kay’s Blueboards. I read my Twitter stream. I sometimes pop into Facebook (not my favourite site). But I have been an unenthusiastic poster (and blogger!) lately. I’m not sure why that is. It’s not so much social media fatigue, everyone gets that these days. It’s more, I think, to do with my writing. Or, should I say, my lack of writing. And if I’m not writing then I’m feeling a bit … unfocussed. And ticked off with myself. Which makes me feel less like interacting within the community of writers. All because I’m not writing!

Part of the problem lies with the fact that no particular story is calling to me right now. I have three different stories in progress. One is on the brink of being finished (has been that way for years) and two others that are just babies with only a few chapters in. I’ve hopped from one to the other to the other, writing a few thousand words here and there but I’m not feeling the compulsion to finish them. Is it because I’m not loving their stories? I think they’re good ideas. Is it their characters? Maybe. I have to love my characters with a passion that borders on obsession. Maybe it’s all the chatter out there about what makes a book sell in this tough market. I’ve completed two books this last year with which I’ve tried to entice agents and editors and neither was enough. Both have paranormal elements and I know the fatigue in paranormal is huge right now. But I loved (still love) both of them so very much. So, I should just stop wallowing and move onward right? Just write another story. And if there is more interest in contemporary and all three of my WIPs are contemporary, then why not finish those?

Maybe it’s because now, after ten years of slogging through the trenches, finally getting published, I know how difficult it is to sell a book. The knowledge about the business side of publishing is creeping in more and more and affecting the artistic side of the process. I keep wondering whether I should focus on this story or that one? Which will entice an agent more? Which one will be more likely to sell?

Well, I finally figured it out. I’ve been asking the wrong questions. I have to stop thinking about the business and think about the story. The questions I should be asking aren’t about what will sell. The questions are, and always should be,

What story do I need to tell?
What characters do I need to find out more about?
What excites me the most?

But if I’m constantly hearing/reading about agent searches, publishing deals, what’s selling, what’s not, how tough it is out there, how saturated the YA market is right now, it pulls me away from what I used to do, every day for years: writing in my little notebook the story of a few people and their lives that may interest only me. I need to get caught up in my characters lives – not get caught up in the life of the publishing industry (as fascinating as it may be).

That means I have to withdraw a little. Not completely but enough to center myself again and see if I can get caught up in a story that consumes me more than the idea of selling it does. So, I’ll be a sporadic blogger, twitter, facebook checker for the next while. I hope withdrawing from that side of things means I can find a story I’m passionate about writing again. Because that’s the reason I started writing in the first place. Like one of my favourite quotes says:

Follow your passion. You never know where it will lead you.