Sunday, October 31, 2010

NaNoWriMo Wha-aat?

Some of you may notice the new widget on the sidebar.

This is for NaNoWriMo. For the uninitiated, this stands for National Novel Writing Month. Every November, writers from around the globe come together between November 1st and November 30th in an attempt to write 50,000 words each, pretty much the length of a novel. (Unless you are Diana Gabaldon, and then it's more of a prologue.)

"Thirty days and nights of literary abandon!" is our rallying cry. The idea is to let the writing flow without getting overly obsessive over quality. You may end up with complete crap, or you may find that partway through, you've hit the writers' equivalent of the sweet spot. It doesn't matter. What matters is getting the words on the page.

In order to add your name to the list of "winners" you must complete 50,000 words by the end of the month.

I know.

I know.

It may be the craziest thing I've done for a long time. (Except for maybe...nah. That was crazier.) And of course, it would coincide with my decision to give up coffee. (Eleven days and counting.) You are encouraged to start afresh with a new idea, not to rework an old manuscript. I've got to focus and decide which idea I'm going to run with, starting tomorrow.

Actually, midnight. As in, tonight.

The point is to let your creative mind run naked and free into that golden field of barley and allow yourself to feel the warmth of the sun upon your metaphorical face, and to ignore that niggly feeling that says hey, the farmer next door just stumbled out of the woods looking for his lost dog and is now staring open-mouthed upon your big pale rump.

Wish me luck! If I'm posting on my blog less frequently, it's because,

a) I'm writing obsessively.

b) I'm sucking my thumb in a corner asking myself "Why, oh why did I agree to do this?"

To quote Yoda, "Do, or do not. There is no try."

edited to add: I just began in my usual fashion, not by writing an outline but by avoidance i.e., cleaning off my desk. I just removed a large T.G. Green bowl filled with loose change, old receipts and the usual flotsam and jetsam, and what is resting on top of the pile? A box of Imodium and an Air Canada barf bag. A sign?

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Smartass Bathroom Stall Talk

Not to be confused with bathroom small talk.

I like to think of it as High Art or High Culture. Not to be confused with Low Culture, practiced by Barbarians, Philistines and the plebs, good bathroom graffiti reflects the mores of our times. T.S. Eliot believed that the only way to a complete culture was a mix of the high and popular culture. This apparent juxtaposition explains why I love things like Monty Python's "moistened bink lobbing a scimitar" sketch. (Bonus points if you can name that movie! In fact, now that I think of it, the first night I slept over with my boyfriend now husband of 25 years, we got up around 4 a.m., ordered a pizza and watched this movie together. No one bats an eye when you do such things in Montreal. Order pizza at 4 a.m. not sleep over at your boyfriend's house. Moving on...)

The best graffiti is usually found on campus stalls. I remember long discussions, sometimes going on for weeks, all over the walls of the bathroom stalls at Victoria College at University of Toronto. That is until the janitor ruined the fun and removed all traces of what were some most excellent debates. Mind you, I wasn't the janitor in question, so it was all fun and games and a black marker for me.

Now there's a blog called that posts notes left on windshields when someone parks in the wrong spot, or notes left on the communal fridge in the office or my favourites, the ones left in bathrooms, like this gem.

Original note:

If you need to extract dried mucus from your nose, please use a tissue. The bathroom walls are not the place for them.


It's called "performance art." Expand your horizons.


Expand a couple sheets of tissue.

In fact, there is a host of notes on this very subject. Go here, if you dare for the "bathroom stall booger epidemic" as they like to call it. If you can't, you know, go there, and you're looking for something more pedestrian, try this one from Toronto, about why it's bad to park on someone's naughty bits.

Bad park you! Bad!

Gordon Pinsent

He is a national treasure. This slayed me. As Lainey says, this is Bieber with gravitas.

With thanks to Lainey for the link.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Vacationer Wanted - Will Pay to Travel

Here's a chance to travel with this once-in-a-lifetime contest.

How would you like to travel, for free, all around the world, no strings attached, for a whole year? I saw this before I left for Vancouver and am just getting caught up on the details now.

Transat, a Montreal based company, is looking for two people - one English and one French - to travel to various destinations in Central America, the Caribbean and Europe - for free.

That's right. Every month, you get to go on vacation, somewhere without snow or ice pellets or dishes or laundry, for 2 whole weeks and then you send in a report while you rub cream on your sunburn and rinse out your bathing suit.

And the kicker? They PAY you to do this. As in $40,000 a year. And all other travel expenses are paid for.

All you have to do to apply is send in a two minute video explaining why they should pick you. Fifty candidates will be chosen, and then voting takes place, online, with members of the public.

Cool, no? Worth checking out?

For more info and all the details, look here.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Home again from the SiWC

Once again I had an incredible experience at the Surrey International Writers' Conference. I think this was my 9th time at the conference, and every single year without fail, I return home with new insights, some clever tricks to apply to the craft of writing, a better understanding of the business of writing, some new friends and more than anything, a renewed sense of why I do what I do.

Some highlights?

1. Discovering an amazing presenter named Ivan Coyote. I honestly can't say enough about her. Truly, whatever I describe here will not do her justice. She must be seen live to be fully appreciated. It's like talking about a great chocolate cake. You have to taste a piece for yourself to get it. She. Blew. Me. Away.

2. Dinner with Anne Perry my first night there. We met at the conference way back when, and we've stayed in touch ever since (she's one of the few people in the world who still believes in the handwritten letter.) This year, I had a blast watching the interaction between her and my friend Jo, while I (and my friend Kathy) looked at each other and smiled, happily adrift in the vortex of Anne and Jo's shared interests and massive intellects. (I actually speak for myself here, not Kathy.) You see, Anne is the special brand of genius that makes it difficult for mere mortals to have a simple conversation. You won't be discussing the weather but questions like, "So who's journal from the French Revolution would you most want to read?"

(Answer: Fouquier de Tinville*, which Jo figured out instantly, and to which I said "Well, of course it is. Old Foucher." "Fouquier," said Jo. "Right, that guy," followed by a quick glance at Kathy that I'm sure projected, "outofmydepthOUTOFMYDEPTH!"

*At least I think that's who they were talking about. In any case, that's who I would pick. Thank you, Wikipedia.

Then the next question, "What year do you suppose had the most profound influence on the history of Spain?"** (Hint: it's not 1920 or anytime thereabouts nor had anything to do with their civil war, which was my guess.)

**According to Anne, it's 1492, when they created the Kingdom of Spain after the unification of the Kingdom of Castile and the Kingdom of Aragon, but most importantly, it's when they expelled the Jews and financially, went downhill faster than Picabo Street. And of course, old Chris Columbus, the explorer, not the director of Home Alone, was discovering the new world. Of course, it's so obvious now...

3. Purdy's chocolates. Shallow I may be, but Purdy's is and always will be sublime. I don't think about the French Revolution or Spain when I eat them.

4. Being with my best buds in the world, kc dyer last year's coordinator, and Kathy Chung, this year's coordinator. (Sorry I put you after Purdy's. It's random order. Honest.) I was afraid I wouldn't have enough time to see either of them as during the conference, they're likely to be moving about like a couple of whirling dervishes (and given kc's proclivity for crazy coloured striped tights in those long legs of hers, looking directly at her has the same effect as looking directly into the sun.) But in the end, we found some time to schmooze. It only makes me miss them more.

And congrats on the launch of kc's newest novel, Facing Fire at the conference with full fanfare and much excitement. It sold out!

5. The keynote address by Robert Dugoni where he recounted his own struggles to get published, and he used THIS SPEECH from Lord of the Rings and substituted a few writerly words. Picture a ballroom filled with hundreds of writers who stood, hands raised in a unified fist pump, yelling "THIS DAY WE WRITE!!" Awesome.

6. RCMP Corporal, fellow writer and my SiWC "son" Tyner Gillies who won honourable mention in the writing contest. I recounted the high praise for his writing by his "uncle" and mentor Jack Whyte. Just like an overheard compliment, it was all the sweeter this way. Those words will carry Tyner through to the next step in his writing life. Plus he looks damned handsome in that red serge. Mother of pearl, but that uniform is a charm.

7. Diana Gabaldon, generous, kind and truly a one-of. Thank you.

8. Driving back to the airport with Robert McCammon. He is a deeply soulful, kind and very talented individual with depth and compassion and great humour. Not to mention a southern accent that sounds like warm syrup on hotcakes, which made all the women swoon. "Wait'll I tell the old boys back home in Alabama that the Canadian gals loved my accent," he said, shaking his head and laughing.

So many memories, too many to include here. I can't wait until next year!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Mystery photo

What is it?


Yutha, you can't play. Shhh.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Wild Rose

Love is like the wild rose-briar;
Friendship like the holly-tree.
The holly is dark when the rose-briar blooms,
But which will bloom most constantly?

Emily Bronte

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Westward Ho!

It's time for the Surrey International Writers' Conference to begin. I'm off to Vancouver then onward to Surrey for a few days of writing workshops, schmoozing in the bar, catching up with friends from around the globe and all sorts of madness. For me, the madness usually takes place in the elevator. I've got quite a few elevator stories, each more bizarre than the last.

It really is the best writer's conference in the world, and this will mark my...hmm...9th year I think? If you're a Diana Gabaldon fan, she'll be there. Here I am with Anne Perry and Jack Whyte last year (excuse the quality..taken with an iPhone.)

Looking at the photo, I just realized I packed the same outfit to wear on Saturday night that I wore last year. Do you think anyone will notice? Ach, I can't go and repack again. Dammit dammit. I like it because it's comfy, and I hate hate hate dressing up. I'd wear pajamas if I could.

Do you like dressing up? Or do you prefer to lounge in sweatpants?

I'm not bringing my laptop with me as I'm too busy to even take a breather most days. We start early and end late, oh boy do we end late. I'm usually exhausted and exhilarated and inspired all at once by the time it ends.

See you "live" next week. I'll post a few things in advance, but I probably won't be able to respond until Monday at the earliest. And I'll raise a glass and toast all my friends who can't make it this year. Here's to you and hope we see you in 2011!

Wish my hubby luck with the cooking. He tends not to eat when I'm not around.

Monday, October 18, 2010

A trip out east and a trip out west

(Does this steeple look crooked to you? I blame the architect, James "Wonky-eyed" Johnston, and not the photographer.)

Last week I was on the east coast of our great country, just toodling around New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, and this weekend I'll be on the west coast at the Surrey International Writers' Conference (the best little conference in the world, I tell ya.) I really should get me to the prairies one of these days. I have flown over the prairies numerous times but I've never actually been there i.e., had my feet on the ground. Anyone know of a good excuse to visit Saskatoon? Moose Jaw? Medicine Hat? I'd like to come see you sometime because you look gorgeous from 30,000 feet up in the air.

Anyway, while I was on the east coast last week, I visited the Hopewell Rocks on the Bay of Fundy, an uber cool place with flowerpot shaped rocks carved by the ocean and the highest vertical tidal ranges in the world. I managed to arrive just before the high tide came rolling in and had about half an hour to wander down on the beach surrounding the rocks. During low tide you can literally walk way out on the ocean floor. At high tide, you can kayak around those same rocks which will now be either completely submerged or pretty little islands with a few wind-scrubbed trees.

The tide comes in so fast and high that the park has a guide at the water level to keep people safe. The tide rose 40+ feet the day I was there, and I could see the seaweed on the walls of the cliff and the flowerpot rocks themselves.

To give you an idea of how fast the water in the Bay of Fundy rises, the guide pointed to the water washing up on the flat beach at our feet and said, "See that? It looks like a gentle beach with lapping water? Well, that's rising about a foot every 30 to 40 seconds." Seconds. That left less than five minutes to get back to the steps leading up the cliff as 100 billion tonnes of salt water coming thundering into the bay. (And that's literal, not like "I have 100 billion tonnes of dirty dishes to do. Although I actually do.)

See the steps at the bottom of the photo? The water reached them in minutes. I've never been so inspired to climb stairs. There are signs that give advice like "if you find yourself stranded by the incoming tide, do not attempt to climb the cliffs, just find yourself a rock not covered in seaweed, climb on top and wait three hours until the water recedes." Sheeyah. You would hear my screams all the way to Yellowknife. (Another place I want to visit. Just saying.)

Just for comparison, tides in other parts of the world go up and down about 3 feet on average.

Thus endeth the lesson on tides.

We also saw a tidal bore on the "Chocolate River" in Moncton without a speck of real chocolate in it, sad to say, but in reality, a churning, brown devil of a thing. Speaking of which, here's a public toilet we passed on the road. In case you had any doubts, each side had its own unique signage leaving no doubt as to its purpose.

Yes, that says "shiter" on the back side (no pun intended.) Maybe it's not a spelling mistake and they're really Irish? I don't know what the fourth side says, if anything. But now I want to go back and check.

I can't leave you with that image. Here are a couple more. Think of them as cleansing breaths for your brain.

Sunday, October 17, 2010


I'm pleased to announce the winner of kc dyer's newest book FACING FIRE.

Congratulations to Francie!

To keep it fair (since I have friends, and one family member in the draw) I wrote the names on pieces of paper and literally pulled one out of a hat!

Francie, send me an email (see contact info under the complete profile section) and I'll put you in touch with the wonderful author, kc dyer, who will mail you your book!

Thanks for playing everyone.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Joel Burns Bares his Soul

This post is about love and acceptance.

My daughter sent this to me and asked me to post it on my blog. Joel Burns is a councilman in Forth Worth, Texas who has added his voice to the swelling chorus preaching love and compassion for kids being bullied because of their sexual orientation.

Watch the whole thing. You won't regret it.

Recently, there have been a lot of "it gets better" videos circulating on the net in response to the spate of suicides by gay teenagers, some of them barely out of childhood, who have been bullied literally to death. It is heartbreaking, it is tragic in the truest sense of the word. And now gay adults who have gone through similar experiences are speaking out to say to these kids just hang in there, it gets better, it really does.

Don't give up. Life is always worth fighting for, even though it may not seem that way now. For many of us, myself included, high school was just something to get through, like a bad flu. And yes, it's tough, but you must survive and move on. A beautiful life awaits you. There will come a time when you are old enough and strong enough to shout out to the world "THIS IS WHO I AM! Take it or leave it, it doesn't matter because I love who I am. I don't care if you try to make me feel less worthy. I, and I alone, decide my worth, what I want, and who I want to be."

When you realize that it's a decision you make, that it starts and ends with you, then you'll also know that anything is possible. Opportunities will be spread out before you, and they will be limitless. I promise.

It will get better.

Over the years, people I love with all my heart have struggled with coming out and being loved and accepted for who they are. I've listened to friends describe the heartbreak of coming out to their families and being outright rejected, while others have been shocked to their core because their families, despite all evidence to the contrary, came through and supported and loved them.

I read somewhere that being happy doesn't mean everything is perfect. It just means that you've decided to look beyond the imperfections and accept what is. So look beyond the imperfections in society, the prejudice, the ignorance, the people who say you must be one way or another.

Once you find peace within yourself, you will be able to live in peace with others, no matter what they think or say. It simply won't matter anymore.

Do not fear your future, embrace it, and always, always strive to live without regrets.

(For some reason, my posted videos show up as smaller than they are, so if you want to see the whole frame, just double click on the video and it will take you directly to YouTube where you can see the whole thing.)

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Diana Gabaldon's new book!

This is a bit of a departure for Diana (or maybe it's a bit like coming full circle since back in the day, she famously wrote comic scripts for Walt Disney featuring Donald Duck, Uncle Scrooge and Mickey.)

I have had the pleasure of knowing the incomparable Diana Gabaldon for many years. In fact, some of my life's adventures have ended up in her novels, including a skunked dog, a mangled fingernail, and of course, many squirrels both alive and dead (which is the way I prefer them.)

So now, Diana has something new and very exciting to offer. It's called THE EXILE: An Outlander Graphic Novel. If you're a fan of hers, you'll probably know about this already because it's vaulted to #1 and is already in its second printing! If you haven't read Outlander the novel, do yourself a favour and read it first. It's one of my favourite books ever and well worth tracking down. It's truly "unputdownable" and if you read a chapter or two, you'll see what I mean.

Actually Random House is celebrating the 20th anniversary of OUTLANDER with a contest. You could win 10 free copies (one for you, nine for your friends.)

Go HERE to see details and to enter the contest.

Random House is also giving away free Kindle copies (for a limited time) so check that out HERE. (I don't have a Kindle, but I do own several copies of OUTLANDER. I like to give them out to friends.)

Or go to your local library because they'll have it for sure. Then set aside a good chunk of time to read. You won't want to do anything once you start, so plan accordingly. Just sayin'.

Here's the trailer for the new graphic novel. Me? I'm hoping my copy arrives in time for the Surrey International Writers' Conference next week so Diana can sign it! Hurry up, Indigo. Come ON already. How many clerks do I have to pester/cajole/threaten? (Note: I usually support my local independent book stores whenever possible, and I actually had a copy in my hand two days ago, but I had already ordered my copy online thinking it would arrive more quickly. Ha! Wrong. Do you hear that Indigo? Hurry UP!)

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Forest Laird

First things first.

Jack Whyte is one helluva storyteller.

Not only that, but the man has a voice that could melt butter and is a master orator and singer. Whenever he speaks, he commands the attention of the entire room, even when that room has 800+ people in it. And he's singing about amorous hippos. (That's a whooole other story.)

Some years back, at a party during the Surrey International Writers' Conference and following a few Lagavulins, he and I talked about the seeds of this novel. His excitement was contagious, and I remembered thinking how I couldn't wait to read it. So I've been waiting, impatiently, ever since.

Jack's novel THE FOREST LAIRD A Tale of William Wallace is now published and I might suggest you just stop what you're doing (yes, right now, put down whatever it is you're doing and get in your car to drive to your nearest independent bookstore or library or just clickety-clack on to Amazon or Indigo) and pick up a copy. I got mine a few days ago, and made the mistake of leaving it on a table where my husband spied it. Now, in order to preserve the marital bliss that has kept us strong for 25+ years, we are going to have to resort to paper, scissors, rock to see who gets to read it first.

Okay, that's not true. My husband will let me read it first. Because he's a nice guy. And because I hid it where he can't find it.

Here is a trailer for the book:

Friday, October 8, 2010

To "B" or not to "B"

It was an offer I felt I couldn’t refuse. Free Botox treatments, administered by a cosmetic surgeon.
One day the receptionist said they were looking for participants in a Botox study because they needed people to practice on. Would I like to take part? Huh. That’s akin to asking a woman of substance if she wants to go to a free Weight Watchers meeting. How does one respond? Um, thank you?

Sure, it may be free, but you’re left wondering, why are they asking me? Do I really look that wrinkly?

I checked myself in the mirror. I had hit the magic fifty, and there was no denying that old adage that “at fifty, you have the face you deserve.” I thought I deserved better, quite frankly, but the face don’t lie. All in all, though, I didn't think I looked too bad considering, though the deep grooves between my eyebrows bothered me a little. I convinced myself they weren’t really frown lines, but a physical manifestation of an active mind. They were Deep Thought lines. Actually, the cosmetic surgeons have another name – they’re known as “elevens” in the business (not to be confused with "elevenses" i.e., an extra breakfast) and eliminating those would be the first step. But what if I tried it and liked the results? Then I would be forced to hand over money every three months, and add it to my escalating physical maintenance program of highlights, haircuts, manicures, pedicures, facials, massage and personal trainer. (Okay, I lied about the trainer. Also the manicures, and pedicures. And facials. And massage. I do get my hair cut.) It was akin to taking that first hit of heroin. Or joining the mafia. Once you’re in, you never get out.

My inner goddess urged me to Just Say No but my inner Curious George poked me with a stick.

I discovered the surgeon who owned the clinic wouldn’t be the one doing the procedure. He would supervise trainees as they practiced the fine art of injecting paralytic toxins under the skin. New recruits in the Anti-Aging War would rent out his office during off hours, and learn by practicing on wrinkled human guinea pigs. A couple of women in my husband’s office were the first to go under the needle. One returned with a smooth brow and no crow’s feet. She said her kids could no longer tell when mom got mad because she couldn’t frown, so now she literally lost face.

Another's experience was worse. The trainee who did her face decided to inject below the eye line, a definite no-no in the profession. More often, they inject collagen or some other form of filler, but never Botox. She ended up with a frozen smile and was unable to close her mouth completely for months. She couldn’t apply lipstick and press her top lip to her bottom (and by bottom, I mean lip not, you know, some new yoga pose like the backward facing kiss your half moon.) She couldn’t pronounce the letters “m” “b” “p” which affected our billings system since she could no longer say, “I’ll mail the bill promptly.”

Still not dissuaded, I tried to justify it using headaches as an excuse. Migraines have plagued me for years. New studies revealed Botox was being used by blocking the nerves in the forehead, and even tension headaches could be treated with injections to the neck. I didn’t have much luck with various migraine pain relievers I’d tried. Maybe Botox could kill two birds with one little prick?

I ran the idea past my two daughters. They were, in a word, appalled.

“Why would you even consider it, mom? What’s wrong with a few wrinkles anyway? I like the way you look. You look like our mom.”

I countered with the headache angle but she countered as only a lawyer-in-the making could.

“Haven’t you told us all along that it’s what we have inside that really counts?”

I had no comeback to that. So I guess I’ll accept the wrinkles. I’ll try to smile more often and dig those trenches, and my elevens, a little deeper. Because these wrinkles tell the world exactly what is inside.

A crabby old woman with headaches.

And in case you need further evidence, have a look at THIS.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Facing Fire and a Visit With Darby

Hey. Howareya?

The name is Darby Christopher, and one day last week, while wandering around the mystical Lake Louisa, I just happened to bump into A Novel Woman. It turns out that I like A Novel Woman. She takes great photos. I especially like her shots of Boris – he’s a cat after my own heart.

So, I’m here because A Novel Woman has very generously chosen to share her blog space with me today. It’s kind of a special day for me – the start of a celebration of my new book, FACING FIRE. This book picks up the story of what happened after the magical summer that you may have read about in A WALK THROUGH A WINDOW.

I’m pretty happy with the new story. Answers a few questions that arose in the first book. And opens a few new windows…for those who like that sort of thing.

Anyway, if you’re interested, you can find out more about the book at And just to say thanks, A Novel Woman and me – well, we’re giving out prizes. If you comment on this post, your name goes into a draw to win a free copy of the new book – FACING FIRE. And if you actually link to this post somewhere else [like in another blog, or facebook post or even a tweet] we’ll put your name in for the draw for BOTH of my books. So comment away!

By the way, if you’re into looking for prizes, check out my blog HERE at Darby Speaks. I have an AMAZING contest starting tomorrow with some totally fantastic prizes. See you there!

And hey – A Novel Woman? Thanks for letting me crash on your cottage blog couch for the day…


Hey Darby, you're welcome. Congratulations on your new book! Loved reading about your new adventures through time. Stop by anytime.

As for you, gentle readers, leave a comment for your chance to win both books. And if you, like me, are of "a certain age" well, if you win you can always give them to your favourite youngun' aged around 9 or older, or you might want to donate them to your local school or library.

Me? I'm still a kid at heart. I love 'em. A.N.W.

And to make it easier for you, you can just answer this question in the comment section:

If you could instantly go anywhere in the world, where would you go?