May 22, 2018 • No Comments
We all know the past has a pull on us. We write about literal ghosts, but there are plenty of metaphorical ones as well. Some are even more powerful and/or frightening than a chain-rattling specter. These haunts are the echoes of past selves that—for good or ill—we’ve somehow left behind. Memories, emotions, past selves we’ve given up for a higher good or a harder road—nothing is ever truly gone when it’s a part of our soul. Sometimes that’s a relief, or an ache, or both.
Dreams delayed are the strangest of these shades. This weekend was full of open-air concerts and sunshine and the first flush of the festival season. I took time away from my desk to bask in the warmth and watch one of my favorite bands. As a creative, I had two loves—writing and music, and I had to make a choice between the two. I could only nurture one properly and still hold down a full-time job. I chose storytelling, in part because it was an easier fit with a workaday schedule, and I still believe it was the sensible choice. I can’t say that music is a road not taken, because I took that path as far as I could go at the time. I think of it as a road with a bridge temporary closed for maintenance. That doesn’t mean I don’t feel the ache every time the ghost of my musical soul stirs.
I’m not alone, of course. The demands we face as creative entrepreneurs aren’t easy, especially when responsibilities tie us to corporate jobs and all that reality entails. Creativity in that context is an extraordinary quest—one that takes us through feats of time-bending, identity-shifting, and fiscal sleight-of-hand. We transform in metaphorical phone booths, unleashing our true selves in the privacy of hidden spaces. We might not conquer literal armies, but we defend our kingdoms all the same. There are precious things inside us, and creatives fight to keep them alive.
We live in hope for eventual freedom, of a victory before it’s too late. Only then can we be whole again, returning all those lost ghosts to the hearth of our souls.
It’s a dream, but we have to believe it.
April 9, 2018 • No Comments
I confess to being something of a time management junkie. If someone has a system, I want to know about it because I cling to belief in a magic bullet. You know, the secret journal/app/diary that will magically enable me to do everything at once without once mussing my hair. Dream on!
It’s hardly news that most adults are too busy. Authors, while arguably worthy of being committed, are more overcommitted than most. Not only do most of us have day jobs and families, we have a creative life. On top of that, we have all the duties associated with being entrepreneurs. That fills up a timetable pretty fast—hence my interest in scheduling miracles.
I haven’t found one yet. What I have found is that trying too hard can cause paralysis. The longer the list, the less gets done because of overwhelm.
I came nose-to-nose with this phenomenon a few years ago when I was changing jobs, taking classes, and meeting writing deadlines. I froze up, unable to do much more than stare like a deer in the headlights. Needless to say, the longer I dithered, the worse I fell behind.
Out of self-defense, I created my one task system. Beyond going through the basic motions of the day, I had to accomplish one thing. Read one chapter of the text. Complete one exercise. Finish editing a certain number of pages. If I had just one job to focus on, there was a goal post I could realistically reach. If I made it, I could let myself off the hook and sleep well that night.
It was a simple but lifesaving discovery. Did that one thing accomplish enough? No, because my to-do list was endless. Yet it moved me forward and, as long as I inched along, I was no longer stuck. Somehow, that small amount of momentum got me through that rough patch with all deadlines met and assignments complete.
Why? The truth is, things happen one at a time. Workaholics like me don’t want to hear that, but it’s true.
So here’s the miracle cure: Focus on one thing. Just one. And then the next. And then the one after that. Quality of energy, rather than quantity of action, frequently wins the day.
NB: there is no app for that.
March 19, 2018 • No Comments
March is springtime, the moment of renewal, the return of cherry blossoms and the perfect excuse to refresh our wardrobes. After a winter of rain and gloom, blue sky and flowers are welcome indeed. For the locals, there is also the annual running of the goats.
In the spirit of sparkly new things, there was of course our weekend retreat detailed in our newsletter, plus the standing room only Collaborative Creativity workshop March 10 in Nanaimo. Note the celebratory beverage:
Other new things include many plans for future stories—more Corsair’s Cove as well as my solo projects. There’s a brand new calendar on my wall, and I spent part of this past weekend making sure all my dates are captured in multi-colored inks. I also amalgamated a zillion notes, lists and stickies into a coherent one-pager. Now I can see at least a little of my desk. It would be easier if I was able to use electronic prompts effectively, but I seem to enjoy the comfort of physical lists that I can scribble on and cross out.
I’d say this was simple in the extreme and not worth mentioning except for the amount of paper I recycled by the end. Trees died in the name of my productivity. So here you go–proof of the semi-tidy desk with obligatory teacup, stuffed toys and the topic list to the right. I can actually see wood!
January 21, 2018 • No Comments
Serendipity is a wonderful thing. Since the next set of adventures in Corsair’s Cove feature an orchard and cidery, the universe considerately put the Sea Cider Wassail Celebrations in our path. This past weekend, Rachel Goldsworthy and I braved capricious weather to visit. Happily we missed most of the wind & rain and even found a good parking space. Suffice to say the ocean view from the orchard was moody and Gothic.
We missed the last tour, so self-toured our way through the food and drink, a stroll though the orchard itself, and the inevitable shopping experience. There was singing and Morris Dancing as well as a mummer’s play, all nods to the old English tradition.
The really interesting part for me was the Orchard Blessing, which involved soaking dried bread in cider and hanging it on the branches of the apple trees while the Green Man* invited favor for the coming harvest. It’s an old wassail tradition traditionally done in January. Cursory research tells me that the date is associated with Twelfth Night and/or January 17 because we’re somewhere between pruning and the sap rising. Whatever the origins of the ceremony, with all that boozy bread I imagine there will be some crows with significant hangovers in the morning.
The ciders come with names our piratical ghosts would love, such as “Rumrunner,” “Flagship,” and “Kings and Spies.” The titles capture the spirit of the event—filled with tradition but also a healthy sense of fun. It was an afternoon well spent.
* The Green Man was played by an actor, the true pagan deity of the vegetable kingdom being otherwise engaged.
January 8, 2018 • No Comments
Monday is back to work for me after a nice long vacation. I realized how much I needed the break based on how much sleeping I did. Now that I’ve caught up on some R&R, I notice myself doing two important things: dreaming and having ideas. Apparently whatever passes for my subconscious mind is showing movies again.
To stave off the post-holiday blues, I’m reviewing the things I accomplished over my break. I’m focusing on the boxes checked, because there were definitely some nice wins. And yes, of course I need a plan to finish up the almost-done stuff. What’s that they say about 10% of the work takes 90% of the time?
I also need a plan to cover everything I want to do in 2018, and there’s a lot on that list. Some of that’s just my A-type personality, and some is a reflection of my well-rested enthusiasm. I have a shiny new planner, and I’m not afraid to use it. I’m on the alert for opportunities.
Sure, there will be obstacles, but if there’s a wall, there’s a door. If there’s a door, there’s a way through it. That sounds a bit like a motivational poster, but this is the point in the year when optimism is key to jump-start all my plans. The impossible is always subject to redefinition. It just hasn’t met me yet.
November 27, 2017 • No Comments
Winter is typically the time for huddling indoors and thinking about roast beast and woolly sweaters. However, back in the days of snail mail, it was also the season for seed catalogues. I typically spend small fortunes (mostly mentally, occasionally literally) on all sorts of gardening toys, bulbs, books, seeds, and root stock. At the time, I even ordered rose bushes to plant in my glorious lot and a half garden with its greenhouse, asparagus bed, small orchard of trees (3 apple, 2 cherry, and a pear), grape vines, berry canes and a horseradish plant that was doing its best to take over the world. I miss that place, which has since been paved over, but I have to believe the seeds of all those plant friends are waiting under the earth for the right time to shrug off the concrete and start again. Nature is far more persistent than people who apparently hate gardens.
The cycle of the year is also persistent. Here we are again, in the quiet season when it is right to think about seeds and what we would like to plant. Sure, it’s hectic with celebrations and shopping and visiting, but in every wrap-up of the year is the germination of the next. What do we want to grow more of? What would we like to weed out? What roots need more water and what requires pruning? In the midst of all the chaos, this is our opportunity to step back and take our garden’s measure.
Sometimes we discover a volunteer plant along the way. I found the tiny seedling of my next Corsair’s Cove story almost by accident this week. It’s still tiny, but I recognized it at once. Creativity is a bit like that—a random word or image takes root and grows into something robust and unexpected. Call it a Yuletide stocking stuffer from the Muse.
October 30, 2017 • No Comments
Hallowe’en is almost upon us and I thought, “Oh, this post should be easy.” After all, the events of Kiss in the Dark revolve around an October 31 ball, complete with curses, ticking clocks, and doomed spirits. Plenty of material there. And, in truth, many of my books reference Samhain or Hallowe’en, and most of them have some supernatural goings-on. Plus, I live down the street from a graveyard in a very haunted town. I am spoiled for choice of spooky material.
So, I’ll restrict myself to two favorite images I’ve taken in the cemetery. Both were taken with an older camera and aren’t the best resolution, but to me they show the fantasy world peeping through to our own. The crow on the obelisk should definitely be quoting Poe. As for the angel–could the sky be any more perfect for a heavenly backdrop?
Sure, on Hallowe’en the veil between the worlds is thinnest. That doesn’t mean the other 364 days are completely free of magic sprinkles. We just have to stay alert.
July 31, 2017 • No Comments
One thing I adore about where I live is how close I am to farm country. Half an hour will get me to fruit and vegetables fresh from the fields, not to mention fresh eggs, honey, wine, and organic meat for the carnivores.
Of course, all things we adore go into our fictional town of Corsair’s Cove. I’ve mentioned the Cove as the setting for an updated group project–keep your eyes peeled for the first release within the next few weeks!
It’s a tourist stop, but that’s certainly not the only industry. Agriculture has always been a foundation of the town’s economy and some of the residents have a keen interest in the farm to table movement. Mack even has his own distillery.
There is a fishmonger’s by the wharf and a market green at the edge of town where farmers bring their wares to sell. They are busy places all the year round, but summer means crowds. Some customers will be the townsfolk doing their regular shopping, but there are others from the marina or camping nearby. Then there are the professional foodies—the chef from upscale Blackthorne Manor as well as cooks from the more modest Zephyr’s Rest Inn and the local café and bakery. Who wouldn’t want to cook with berries still warm from the sun or seafood fresh from the ocean?
The sensory experience of shopping at a farmer’s market is amazing, both as a regular shopper and as a writer. There is a saying that setting is character, and I do believe that Corsair’s Cove has emerged as a character on its own. The businesses that make the town run are its heartbeat, and the everyday flow of humanity through places like the market green shows its regular rhythm. Judging by the quality of the produce, I’d say the Cove is very healthy indeed. Stop by for dinner sometime—I recommend the curry at the Zephyr’s Rest.
July 24, 2017 • No Comments
Last weekend I treated myself to a few days away. I’d just survived a book deadline and was looking forward to baking in the sun at a local music festival. This meant a few hours’ drive up Vancouver Island on a beautiful sunny Friday. Getting there is half the fun, right?
One of the real treats with taking a road trip is the opportunity to stop in interesting places along the way. The very first tea farm in Canada, Westholme Tea Company (www.Westholmetea.com) is just north of the city of Duncan. After a drive down a winding country road, my friend and I stopped in a completely charming oasis that housed not only the farm, but also a charming garden patio, an intriguing shop filled with single origin and blended organic teas, and a pottery gallery.
The tea plants were smaller than I expected and grew in shaggy terraced rows along the hillside. Inside the shop we were offered samples of the tea du jour in tiny cups made from the very funky local pottery. The building was open and airy and filled with wonderful scents and lots of treasures to investigate. The staff was great, too, filled with suggestions and information.
I learned a lot about the differences in taste between first and second flush teas. This refers to whether the tea is gathered from the first growth in the spring or from a later crop of leaves. The first flush has a more astringent taste and the second is mellower. Preference is a matter of taste, although many prize the first flush and often that’s more expensive. Yes, I bought a few things, including a nice second flush Darjeeling.
I don’t follow a hundred mile diet, but investigating locally produced foods is a great excuse to seek out fascinating people doing cool things. Hopefully I’m shrinking my carbon footprint and expanding my horizons at the same time!
April 26, 2017 • No Comments
It’s spring, and the process of renewal happens. Sometimes it’s all bunnies and pansies, but other times I’m reminded the universe isn’t sentimental. In the past two days, I heard one of my long-time supervisors (now retired) passed away in her sleep, I wrote a farewell message in the going-away book of the boss who just left, and I see the posting for his replacement is out. All this reminds me that none of us is irreplaceable and that all we have control over is the memory we leave behind. That will fade, too, but for as long as it lasts, I want my shadow to be a pleasant one.
Since I’m a supervisor, too, I understand my role isn’t all about popularity. Some of it is about expectations, boundaries, and performance, but for the most part I have fabulous staff and discipline is not an issue. I have the privilege of concentrating on teaching, support, and seeing my folks reach their goals. If they compete for a better position and successfully move on, I’m sad but proud.
I try hard because I know how badly things can suck. At various times I’ve had very good and very difficult individuals in control of my work life. All of them taught me something, even if it was not to be like that. Understanding why someone behaves as they do may lead to sympathy, but it doesn’t prevent a sense of relief when the misery is over. On the other hand, there have been people I truly miss a lot. I think of them every time I need to check my own messaging. Am I being fair? Am I helping? Am I putting responsibility where it belongs?
Someday, I will be replaced. Today reminded me of that. How other people respond to that moment is entirely up to me.