A Year in the Life – Things to Come and This Too Shall Pass…

“Another year older, and a new one just begun…” ~ So sang John Lennon in Happy Christmas (War is Over)

2015 hasn’t begun yet, but it’s just a sneeze away. With another year under our belts, we sometimes can’t help but reflect. All the New Year cliches come out of the woodwork. We either stay away from, or join, the nearest gym. We think about all the things we accomplished in the year that is ending, and all the things we failed to do. We think about all the things we hope to accomplish in the upcoming year, all the things we know we will miss out on.

It’s just that time of year.

2014 was my year of travel. I will probably never travel as much in one year as I did in 2014. I did British Columbia, Spain, Paris, New York, Quebec City and Orlando, Florida. Capped it all off with a swing-by of Stratford, Ontario this past weekend. (-:

The Vast Camino is filled with Places of Wonder!
The Vast Camino is filled with Places of Wonder!

I made many new friends and experienced too many phenomenal things to list here. I grew through walking across Spain on the trail to Camino De Santiago. I walked up mountains and down mountains and through mountains.

"Captain, My Captain!" ~ Sue Kenney, Pilgrim Guide to The Camino
“Captain, My Captain!” ~ Sue Kenney, Pilgrim Guide to The Camino

I stopped to smell the flowers, to laugh, to cry, to make amends. I stumbled barefoot through mud and rocks and grass. I had a picnic like never a picnic was ever had before, or ever will be had again…at the apex of a beautiful hill, in tall grass with friends–fellow peregrinos.

To the Top of the World! Somewhere in Spain, on the Camino...
To the Top of the World! Somewhere in Spain, on the Camino…
A Picnic in Paradise - May, 2014. Spain
A Picnic in Paradise – May, 2014. Spain

I met a man I hardly shared words with, but who made me weep like a baby, a pilgrim from France who had found more than he had ever bargained for on the Camino…the love of a million pilgrims and one. He was that special.

A Peregrino from France Who Changed the Lives of All He Touched on The Camino...
A Peregrino from France Who Changed the Lives of All He Touched on The Camino…

I shouted into the rain and walked through snow. And at the end of the long journey, I walked into a city more beautiful than any emerald one could ever be. And, by some stroke of magic, I saw all those I had met along the way. I stood on the roof of THE Cathedral and viewed that beautiful city in 360 degree splendor from that holiest of lofty places.

The View NOT of the Cathedral of Camino de Santiago, but FROM Atop it!
The View NOT of the Cathedral of Camino de Santiago, but FROM Atop it!

I walked the quiet morning back-roads of Galiano Island with the wild wind at my back and the Pacific Ocean at my side.

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Morning Stroll on Galiano…
In British Columbia, the Sun Explodes Both IN and OUT of the Day...
In British Columbia, the Sun Explodes Both IN and OUT of the Day…

I saw Canadian flags wave greetings from boats in a tiny harbour there, while the Canadian Rockies in the background swallowed up anything else in my view.

The Galiano Inn - Home to the Annual Galiano Literary Festival
The Galiano Inn – Home to the Annual Galiano Literary Festival

I stood at the top of the Eiffel Tower and scanned a city heretofore a mere dream to me…a fantasyland where Fitzgerald and Hemingway wined and dined and wrote and sang and lived. Never did Paris mean more to me than that, until I was there. It opens anew to each visitor, presents a unique place in the heart of each guest. I stomped up the Champs-Élysées with my new friend, Nina, and together we took on the endless spiral staircase inside the Arc de Triomphe and we stood at the top exhausted and filled with light and love and we smiled on the fair city that stretched out in fingers away from the tower.

Me and my new friend NINA, fellow LBWR registrant, atop the Arc de Triomphe!
Me and my new friend NINA, fellow LBWR registrant, atop the Arc de Triomphe!

Together we walked the Tuileries, and sat for mayhaps a little too long sipping red wine while the sun went down and the rats in the bushes beside us scurried.

20140620_225917-MOTIONWe drank absinthe at a lovely little outdoor cafe, where we admired shoes and broke glasses and laughed until we were sore…nay, until we soared! With our group, THE LEFT BANK WRITERS RETREAT, we wandered museums, we took the Metro, we walked Montmartre, we wrote in Le Jardin de Luxembourg, we entered the great WORD CATHEDRAL—SHAKESPEARE & COMPANY. We entered Shakespeare & Company! After decades of imagining it.

Shakespeare & Company - Where words breathe
Shakespeare & Company – Where words breathe

I don’t care that I am running on and on, for with each word comes another remembrance. My year. My year!

CHARLIE. And CHARLIE. AND CHARLIE. CHARLIE! In the midst of it all was born a beautiful boy. Little Charlie Bucket, who will one day know what that means.

I leave you with this year's most precious new arrival...
CHARLIE THOMAS – Boy Wonder! Little Brother to EDWARD JACOB, the Wonder who came before him!

What it’s like to step inside Notre Dame Cathedral when it’s empty at eight in the morning (mark that down! At ten, the lines are so long you could die before entering!) is something that will stay with me for ever. It is a simultaneous feeling of being infinite and of being nothing at all. And to think, I stayed only a couple of minutes up the road from that most famous of cathedrals…the centre point of the old universe itself.

Notre Dame Cathedral in the Morning!
Notre Dame Cathedral in the Morning!

Later, I stood atop Rockefeller and looked down at the most famous park in the world and wondered at its vastness and its nothingness. A green thick and wild and in the centre of one of the world’s most thriving and populated meccas.

I recall Central Park in fall...How you tore your dress, what a mess...
I recall Central Park in fall…How you tore your dress, what a mess…

And the lady of the harbour, I saw her too.

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And to walk the streets of Old Quebec City after wandering the streets of Paris is to know the connection. plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

Quebec City Streets - A Whisper of Paris
Quebec City Streets – A Whisper of Paris

An ocean between the two places, and a hint of the struggle that came with building the second in the shadow of the first.

New and Old meet - Quebec City...the Wall
New and Old meet – Quebec City…the Wall

Each beautiful, each unique. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Everyone is a Child in the Magic Kingdom! DISNEY ORLANDO...a MUST!
Everyone is a Child in the Magic Kingdom! DISNEY ORLANDO…a MUST!

OOH! Disney and Universal in Orlando. Something MAGIC this way comes!

Old Friends from Long Ago...
Old Friends from Long Ago…
Dr. Seuss is the reason I write. I had to meet The Cat in the Hat while at Universal in Orlando! (-:
Dr. Seuss is the reason I write. I had to meet The Cat in the Hat while at Universal in Orlando! (-:

I’m another year older, yes. But I’m also so much younger. I have learned a great deal in 2014. I am grateful for every new soul in my life. Each and every one of you!

I thought I would write a few words about my year and move on to Things to Come. Sorry…that just came out of its own accord.

So on with THINGS TO COME. What will 2015 have in store for me.

On January 19th, my 5th novel will be released! HALF DEAD & FULLY BROKEN won the Muskoka Novel Marathon‘s BEST YOUNG ADULT NOVEL AWARD! Now, it’s going to be available to all to read. It’s actually already available for pre-order at Amazon:

51OeS9ITAHL._AA278_PIkin4,BottomRight,-46,22_AA300_SH20_OU01_And don’t look for me come mid-March, for I will be in CHINA & HONG KONG…until April. (-:

What of THIS TOO SHALL PASS, you ask? This was something I always promised myself of all the bad things. And now it is something I realize happens also with all the good. So—grab onto every single moment you have. Every single one. Hold on for dear life and enjoy the ride. Whether it is good or bad, it is fleeting. This too shall pass…

A Bieber Runs Through It…

Bieber

You can’t even tell that the above movie poster is altered, can you?! I’m that good.

I was in Stratford, Ontario, this past weekend. Home of the Biebs. Did I sense Justin Bieber’s presence while I was there? Not really. I heard about a plaque that sits where he once busked on a street corner, or some such thing. But I didn’t see it.

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Knowing that Stratford was the epicenter of Justin’s meteoric rise to fame, though, gave me pause. Such a beautiful little town. I could see myself falling in love with that town and never leaving it. Maybe opening up a coffee shop, running writing workshops in the back, and having open mic nights in the front window every now and then. I can almost smell the coffee, scones, and chocolate. I can almost hear lilting arias and poetic words streaming out the front door as it opens to let in a rush of trendy Shakespearean loving hipsters. Yeah. Stratford. I get it.

Stratford Ontario City Hall
Stratford Ontario City Hall

I always feel bad about the nasty rap Justin gets in the media. I think of how horrible it would be to be that young and have that much light shed on one’s early years. We all pull idiotic stunts in our youth. Imagine pulling them on the world stage?! Suddenly forgiveness disappears. We tend to hold our world famous youth to some unimaginable standards…we forget that they are not yet adults. We forget that they have everything but the wisdom that comes with getting through their youth in one piece. They just have to reach into their pockets to realize there is nothing they cannot do/have/obtain/get/buy/own. Money makes their every wish a reality. With money comes power. With power at an early age comes some less than stellar decision making moments. Scrutinized.

And then we write about them, we discuss their abhorrent behavior, we blame their absent parents, we blame them…for being talented enough to fill their pockets with money in the first place. Sure, on their way up they are wonderful–amazing–talented–stellar–meteoric–unstoppable. But once they get to a certain level of stardom, we feel we have the right to start tearing pieces away.

City Hall at Night
City Hall at Night

That’s why whenever I think of Justin Bieber, I inevitably preface his name with poor. Poor Justin Bieber. From Golden Child to Mock-At-Your-Leisure. Somewhere in between the Shooting-Star-Can’t-Do-Anything-Wrong Wunderkind and the Butt-Of-All-Jokes Gadabout we forgot that Justin Bieber is a person.

When I was in his hometown, that’s one of the things I thought about. Poor Justin Bieber.

I guess even though I saw nary a sign of the young man, he was everywhere. A Bieber runs through it…

Next time you hear the name Justin Bieber, try not to automatically scowl. Try to remember how hard it must be to navigate the world when you’re terribly young and it is fully your oyster. I’m sure it’s not that easy being Biebs.

bieber

I wonder if he would trade it all for a day of busking on those beautiful Stratford streets? I bet he liked it there. I know I did.

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The amazing reviews keep coming in for Burn Baby Burn Baby! Click the book cover below to visit Amazon…

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Tones On Tail – The Music of Burn Baby Burn Baby…

I like to namedrop. I do, I do. Coming from a punkrock background, I often slip little mentions of gems from my youth into the pages of my young adult fiction. Burn Baby Burn Baby is no exception.

In Chapter 17, I drop a doozy. The two main characters, Trig and Francis, are at odds. Francis drops by Trig’s place to test the waters. Trig pretty much ignores him while loud music throbs from behind the safety of his headphoned-cone-of-silence. When Francis hears the music blaring out of them, he gauges that Trig’s anger must be pretty intense.

‘He’s got those massive headphones of his on and I can hear the music blaring from them. Trig’s aggressive anger management therapy in action. He’s listening to Tool. Not the best sign, but it could be worse.’

After a few minutes of waiting for Trig to show signs of softening, Francis resigns himself to the fact that he may have to be patient.

‘Nothing. Page. Page. Page. His feet are kicking wildly now. The song pounding the crap out of his ears now is a Megadeth ditty. I know the scary clowns are about to enter. This is a sign. He’s actually good at wordless communication.’

But as the music softens, Francis hears TONES ON TAIL rise up out of Trig’s headphones. He knows Trig is coming ’round!

‘I grab a pencil from the top drawer of his desk and start doodling on his desk blotter. After a smoking cat, a gnarled caterpillar on a mushroom, and a pretty pin-up girl who vaguely resembles Rachel, I assess the situation. Tones on Tail are a little less violent. Kind of dance, even, so I think he’s opening up.

“I can’t believe this crap was made before we were even born,” he says. “Can you dig that? Like decades before we were born.”

He’s not looking at me yet, but at least he’s speaking. The fact he’s shouting is kind of funny, but what he doesn’t know won’t hurt him. What an idiot.

No point talking back. He wouldn’t be able to hear me with those things on.

“I mean, just listen to this, Francis,” he yells before he takes the headphones off, turns to face me and tosses them in my direction. It’s almost like I can see the thin trail of music floating out behind them, it’s so loud. “Listen to this and tell me it doesn’t sound like it could be on the radio today.”

I plug in and I can immediately feel the music in my belly. Big bass. Totally Bauhaus stuff. I don’t care who they call themselves, the roots are right there in Technicolor. That’s Bauhaus telling me to GO. He’s right, though. It’s awesome. Still.

“Shit, man,” I say. “That’s still great stuff. The one good thing your dad passed down.” I pop the earphones off and toss them back.’

Why do I do this? Because even though I place all my fiction in a present day contemporary setting, I am firmly ensconced in the 80s. The formative years of my musical listening experiences were the 70s and 80s. I like to drop breadcrumbs of the past into the present. Perhaps a reader will search out the crumb and become an appreciator of musical geniuses past. (-:

In this instance, however, I’m just gonna go ahead and share GO by TONES ON TAIL here. For your musical listening pleasure…

Burn Baby Burn Baby is getting some wonderful reviews. You can see a few of them at GOODREADS.

You can click on the book cover below to go to AMAZON, where Burn Baby Burn Baby is available in both paperback and Kindle formats. You can also pick it up as a Nook or Kobo, if you’re so inclined.

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My 5th novel, HALF DEAD & FULLY BROKEN hits the street January 19th, 2015. But you can pre-order at AMAZON today! Click on the book cover below to go to Amazon…

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HALF DEAD & FULLY BROKEN

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Pre-Order my latest young adult novel today! HALF DEAD & FULLY BROKEN releases January 19th! But you can pre-order now at AMAZON! Click on the cover to go directly to Amazon.com Find out why it won the 2010 BEST YOUNG ADULT NOVEL AWARD at the Muskoka Novel Marathon!

wpid-cover2500.jpgCarter Colby is the most unpopular teen at Jefferson High. This would be easier to deal with if his identical twin brother, Marcus, weren’t the hottest, most popular boy in school.

When Marcus is killed in a motorcycle accident, Carter discovers the one thing more painful than trying to compete with Mr. Wonderful: wearing his dead brother’s face. He felt invisible before the accident, but with Marcus dead, everybody turns away from him in mourning. How can he blame them? He can’t bear to look in the mirror.

When Carter begins to see Marcus’ ghost, Mr. Wonderful’s quest to save the world and spread happiness may not be over after all, even in death. Marcus knows that Justin Dewar, the boy who drove the truck that crashed into his motorbike, is struggling with the guilt of taking a life. Melanie, Marcus’ mourning girlfriend, was also hit hard by the tragedy. Marcus wants to make things right before it’s too late.

With Marcus’ help, Carter experiences love and friendship for the first time in his life. But is Mr. Wonderful’s helping hand enough for Carter, Melanie, and Justin – three kids fully broken by the tragedy – to save one another?

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Zuzu’s Petals! Make Your Magic Authentic to Your Readers!

Unless one has never heard of the invention of a television, it’s fairly safe to assume that we all know the reference ZUZU’S PETALS. In case one among you (AND YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE!) has not yet seen a particular movie, I shall explain Zuzu’s Petals before going into the point I want to make about writing. (-:

ZUZU’S PETALS. They are perhaps the most glorious evidence of magic that we have in the universe today. Let’s just go right to it, shall we. Behold! Zuzu’s petals!

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ZUZU and her PETALS!

 

Aren’t they glorious!? The most beautifully gorgeous symbolism in all of moviedom! Yes…I’m excited. Of course I’m excited. I get excited every time I think about those petals. And tis the season.

In the above picture you will see Zuzu Bailey and her father George Bailey. They are characters in the movie IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE. Zuzu’s story is a sad one. But it’s also one that is, at first glance, such a small insignificant role in the vast scheme of things. At first glance. I’m going to forgo the announcement that a spoiler follows here. Because all but maybe one of you have seen It’s a Wonderful Life.

Zuzu comes home from school with a beautiful flower and can’t wait to show her father. But some of the petals have fallen off. George, in his infinite desire to please everyone–and especially his lovely Zuzu–pretends to reattach the petals. But he secretly slips them into his pocket. Zuzu’s tragedy is averted, and her love and adoration for her father grows three sizes that day. Her flower is returned to its beautiful self and her tears retreat.

George Bailey then falls into the rabbit hole. He is taken into a world that would be the world how it would exist if he had never been born. It’s a much bleaker, darker world. It’s quite frankly a terrible world. It’s also a world in which Zuzu’s petals do not exist–no George means no Zuzu. Folks, don’t ever shout to the universe, “I WISH I WAS NEVER BORN!” That’s a rabbit hole you will not want to go down, right there.

As the movie wraps up, George is allowed to reverse his error and come back into the world he left behind. He has seen the vast changes his life-force has created in the world. He knows that the third rock from the sun is a better place with him in it. His faith in humanity is restored and he feels glorious.

Of course, he must be thinking, ‘Wow. What an awesome dream!‘ Because something otherworldly like that just can’t happen, right? But lo and behold…George Bailey reaches into his pocket and what does he find there? You guessed it! ZUZU’S PETALS. They were a huge symbol the whole time. Right in front of our noses. George IS. And how does he know he is? Because ZUZU is. Because…Zuzu’s petals!

“Zuzu’s petals…Zuzu… There they are!”

Today’s lesson for writers is simple. In truth, I just wanted an excuse to talk about Zuzu’s petals. Because they’re glorious and what not.

Firstly, did you know that It’s a Wonderful Life is based on a short story called The Greatest Gift. Written by Philip Van Doren Stern, it was privately published. I have to wonder if that means self-published.

My point? I do have one. No matter what magic you write into your story, it must be authentic. I use the term magic loosely here, because this can apply to any genre…not just magical realism or fantasy or paranormal or anywhere you would normally find MAGIC. I’m talking about anything from coincidences to ghosts to flying to world-building to Zuzu’s petals. Put clues in your work to authenticate the reality you want your reader to step into. Subtle clues. Tidbits of information that they can reflect back on when they reach the story’s conclusion. Something that will make them go, “AHA!”

I don’t know about you…but I eat that stuff up. I was just a child when I first watched It’s a Wonderful Life. And, for me…the most magical part wasn’t George suddenly running through a town that was COMPLETELY DIFFERENT than the same town we were just previously shown. The most magical part wasn’t the way people who lived as adults had suddenly died as children and lived-in houses became empty haunted spaces and even the TOWN became renamed in the blink of an eye. The most magical part were those petals. Placed lovingly into a pocket in the most subtle way…so that I would both remember their significance and forget their significance. Those petals were a glorious flower themselves…planted as a seed in a threadbare pocket. And when they blossomed, when George reached into his pocket and discovered those beautiful babies…well, my world stopped.

So the lesson for writers today is this—do that! Give your readers a whole boatload of Zuzu’s petals. Be like Hansel and Gretel. Leave glorious breadcrumbs throughout your story…breadcrumbs that will validate the story itself, make it more authentic. Every reader loves a great AHA moment. Just don’t manipulate them. Your breadcrumbs can’t have huge glowing neon signs on them that scream, “LOOK AT ME!” They need only be a few crumpled petals placed lovingly in a pocket in an effort to staunch the tears of a loved one.

It’s Not What You Say But What You Say and How You Say It – The Art of Talking Good Dialogue

For me, the chatter that takes place between the pages of a book is the most important part of the book. The connecting prose is merely the scaffolding, if you will.

There could be quite a few things wrong with a book, but if the talk is authentic it can still have legs. Yes, as writers we should concentrate on ALL aspects of our craft. It is incumbent upon us to do so. But I honestly believe there should be extra emphasis on the dialogue. The minute that becomes inauthentic and weighty, the book starts to take on water. Bad dialogue? It may never recover. For me, it’s the most inexcusable flaw in story. That’s why we should pay extra close attention to the words we choose to put in our characters’ mouths. Those words carry a LOT of weight!

Toronto City Hall Festival of Lights - The Secret to Writing Good Dialogue is to make yourself a part of the crowd. LISTEN. Then write!
Toronto City Hall Festival of Lights – The Secret to Writing Good Dialogue is to make yourself a part of the crowd. LISTEN. Then write!

It’s been a while, so… time for a list.

5 Quick & Easy Step to Writing More Gooder Dialogue

  1. Sorry about the list title. Every once in a while I like to make my writing readers twitch. I know that title is going to make someone scream. The FIRST step to writing excellent dialogue is LISTENING. It’s an easy step and it’s one you can do anywhere, anytime, anyhow. You don’t need any props or expensive equipment. Just plop yourself down somewhere and lend an ear to the environment in which you happened to have plopped. Great places in my Dialogue Listening Toolbox? DLT 🙂 My favourite for a while was Arrivals at the airport. Man, the dialogue! Coffee Shops, Subway Stations, Bars, Office Water Coolers, Hospital Emergency Waiting Rooms. You see where I’m going here, right. Anywhere! Just go somewhere where there are lots of people. Sit. Listen.
  2. Use slang and bastardized language at the proper acceptance threshold. Don’t weigh down your dialogue with an excruciatingly heavy amount of bastardized language or dialects. Just enough to suggest to the reader that it’s there. The only place I accept ANYWAYS ever is in dialogue. I do NOT consider ANYWAYS to be a word. In fact, the dictionary usually says this of ANYWAYS: informal or dialect form of anyway. So slang-a-lang-a-ding-dong is acceptable in dialogue. Because people use it. People hyphenate and shorten and murder words when they speak. So it is acceptable in dialogue. Don’t pepper it into your prose outside of those quotation marks, though!
  3. READ YOUR DIALOGUE OUT LOUD. Do NOT ignore this crucial step. I cannot help you, if you do. I consider it absolutely imperative to read dialogue out loud. It is unforgivable not to. If, when you’re reading it alive, you think, “NOBODY WOULD ACTUALLY SAY THIS. NOT THIS WAY.”, then you will know why this step is so important. And it will happen. I don’t think anybody writes perfect dialogue in a first pass. READ. IT. OUT. LOUD. If you have friends who will read it aloud with you, all the better. Sit together and go over the dialogue parts of your manuscript like you would a play reading.
  4. Don’t be afraid to murder your dialogue darlings. Sometimes, as writers, we write the perfect sentence. Then we sit back and bask in the warmth of the glow coming off that sentence. But quite often that stellar sentence is as useless as bark on a donkey. CUT IT! If your character gave some brilliant soliloquy that is just shining with the beauty of our language, but said soliloquy kills the flow of story by taking the reader out of its depth, SLASH IT. It’s your beautiful darling, but it just hiccupped your reader. Don’t do that!
  5. I don’t really have a #5 so I will just leave you with this. SAID rules!

Now get out there and LISTEN. It’s easy. SIT AND LISTEN. Then… SIT AND WRITE.