My mom was a real writer . . .

If my doctor told me I had only six minutes to live, I wouldn’t brood. I’d type a little faster. (Isaac Asimov)

I’ve been writing for a long time – mostly journals, essays and research papers. I don’t recall ever taking this type of writing seriously. I certainly would never have called myself a writer. In my mind, I wasn’t a “real writer” because “real writers” write fiction – not three-hundred pages of a Master’s thesis or articles published in peer-reviewed journals. This belief came from the fact that my mother was a “real writer”.

On the night my mother lay on her death-bed in the hospital she gathered her failing breath and focused all her attention on the doctor who leaned over her bed. In a tone that was full of dignity and pride she said, “I’m a published author, did you know that?”


My mom – June Guenette

As I think about witnessing my mother speak those words – words she felt to be so important she would utter them when she knew she

didn’t have too much more time to speak – I am awash in a cascade of childhood memories. I can hear the sound of my mom’s old-black-Remington typewriter lulling us to sleep most nights – the clack, clack of the keys and the bell at the end of the row that signaled the carriage return. My mom was writing a novel.As I grew older and became an avid reader of anything and everything I could lay my hands on, I begged to read pages from her novel. I can remember waiting with bated breath for the next page to roll out of the typewriter. The odd thing is that I can’t remember getting past the first couple of chapters, which my mother had polished to perfection by rewrite after rewrite. I know there was a full draft of the novel somewhere. I can’t remember what the title was but I do remember there was a pretty middle-aged woman named Laura who was in a terrible marriage. She seemed to spend a lot of time in her basically white kitchen lamenting her state of affairs. There was a very attractive young man named Rafe who seemed to really like Laura. He was always referred to by his vile father as “the breed.” Rafe had been born to a Native mother out-of-wedlock through some form of violence his father, Sheriff Calder, had subjected her to. Sheriff Calder especially gripped my young imagination as he went around town whistling, Ain’t Misbehaving, while lording his power over the people  he ruled with an iron fist.

As I reflect on memories of my mother’s novel I wonder now if she had only given me censored pages to read. In her later years she published a short-story and worked with a small group of writers to publish an anthology of their short stories. Yes indeed – my mom was a writer and my mom was a published author.

In many ways I know I’ve always been a real writer, but I do feel less of a fraud now when I say it out loud. I guess the process of struggling through several drafts of my first novel has helped. There is no one here in my isolated cabin on the lake, except the dog, to hear the clack, clack of typewriter keys, even if I were to use such an archaic method of writing; but I am a writer – just like my mom.

Tell the world you’re a writer & you just might start acting like a writer!

“Hands, do what you’re bid:

Bring the balloon of the mind

That bellies and drags in the wind

Into its narrow shed.

(The Balloon of the Mind by W.B. Yeats)

Go out into the world and say you’re a writer and a cascade of things will start happening to you. You’ll start to act and think like a writer. I picked up this little gem of an idea from Anne Lamott’s book, bird by bird. ( )

If J. A. Konrath’s blog ( ) is my e-publishing bible, bird by bird has become my daily book of reflections. It’s a book that you can read from start to finish or dip in here and there as the mood suits you. I guarantee that you’ll laugh and recognize yourself in her words and think how wonderful it is that someone out in the world understands exactly how you feel about this process of writing.

So – back to this idea of starting to act like a writer. The other day a friend from across the Lake said, “I better not pick up your novel and read about a crotchety old guy who lives across the Lake.” I assured him that was not the case but immediately started thinking he might make a great character in the sequel. Be careful about giving ideas to a writer.   Northern California

And on that note – best be careful about anything you say to a writer because a writer will always twist your words. What you’ve said will come out with much more wit or conversely way less witty than you were sure you had said what you said in the first place. To say nothing of how your words will end up grafted onto something someone else said. On the up side – you will rarely be identified – so though you might know those were your words – albeit twisted beyond recognition – no one else will.

Lately I can’t crunch up a piece of newspaper to get the fire going in the morning without stopping to glance at a few articles and wondering if I should cut them out to start a file. Everywhere I go I listen to people in a different way. I find myself tuned in most keenly for unique expressions. The other day I heard someone say, “I straight-up wanted to die.”  I like that – sort of give it to me straight, I like it straight-up, this is the real goods kind of expression. I listened in as two women were talking in the grocery line-up the other day and after one had related the snide comment she made to her daughter-in-law about letting the grandkids rip up her flower bed the other woman replied, with a look of pure incredulity, “Ah, you never did.” I was so consumed with thinking about how on earth you could write that and capture her intent – she wasn’t throwing doubt on what her friend was saying – it was as if she was congratulating her on her nerve – my groceries were through and the cashier was looking at me as if to say, “What the hell, lady – are you going to stand there all day or pay up.”

You might also find yourself doing odd things – aside from listening in on strangers’ conversations, which I don’t even count as particularly strange anymore. The other day I snuck a magazine into the bathroom at my doctor’s office so I could tear a page out. It was a picture of a woman wearing a dress that was exactly the type of dress one of my characters would wear. I needed it! Watch you’re writer friends closely when they visit – they tend to steal things and not just your thoughts, words and personality quirks – real objects and things right off the table.

Good news – I am about to start working with an editor to clean-up and refine Disappearing in Plain Sight and get it ready for publishing. I am on top of the world. Of course I know that feeling probably won’t last as the reality of endless rounds of changes sinks in, but for now I am excited to move onto this next stage of my writing process. I might find something to steal or use from the whole experience – maybe she’ll even invite me into her home and she might just have something lying around I really need.

How much do I believe in myself as a writer – how serious am I about this?

The Illuminated Crowd

The crowd has gathered facing a light, an illumination brought about by a fire, an event, an ideology – or an ideal. The strong light casts shadows, and as the light moves toward the back and diminishes, the mood degenerates; rowdiness, disorder and violence occur showing the fragile nature of man (sic). Illumination, hope, involvement, hilarity, irritation, fear, illness, violence, murder and death – the flow of man’s (sic) emotions through space

I asked a friend the other day, “Could you believe in your work so much you’d be willing to invest up to $3000.00 in it? The friend groaned and said if I ever finished anything I’d believe in it enough to open my veins right over the sink. OK then . . .

I’ve been exploring and researching all sorts of avenues for publishing and it seems like every step I take into this world equals at least two hours of tossing and turning per night in worried confusion. Of course no one wants to make the wrong step just out of the gate but how is one to know?

Three sites – each representing a different path popped up this week in the research. I looked into about a dozen BC Book Publishers – these focus on works by British Columbian authors – some of them even requiring that the work be set in BC. A lot of these places publish at tops 4 or 5 books of fiction per year and get upwards of a 1000 submissions – hard to get to the top of that pile! I did really enjoy the website for Now or Never Publishing. ( First off the name appealed to me and their site is really upbeat and their words to authors will give you a chuckle. They are the only place I’ve encountered that will take email submissions and want your whole manuscript up front. But they warn it could take months before they even get a chance to look at it.

I went back to re-explore 52-Books: An E-Book Design Company. ( ) For a relatively small fee (a few hundred dollars) they can have your book formatted for the e-reader world but it looks as though I would then have to put it up to the various sites – not sure how much of a hassle that would be. They do come highly recommended by author and popular blogger on e-reader publishing, J. A Konrath. ( ) His blog is fast becoming my bible for e-publishing.

Next I explored Friesen Press. ( ) They have a real dedication to customer service (or the more cynical of my readers may say – wow – they really want your business!) You have to give contact information when you ask to download a 15-page pdf of their author information and I was contacted by phone within two days of providing this information by a very nice, informative representative. For a fee (which can get very pricy!) they will do a lot for you in terms of helping you self-publish – not only to the e-reader world but also putting your book on many on-line sites in the on-demand hardcover and paperback market. Of course they retain a portion of any income generated as does the on-line venue that sells the book. I am still trying to get clear on what author royalties would actually amount to so won’t speak to that, not today at any rate.

So – the way I see the dilemma right now is this: pay nothing and wait, wait, wait with little chance of coming to the attention of a traditional publisher or pay a bit to go into the e-reader realm or pay a lot to open up all kinds of options. It’s tough to figure out what to do and I’ll keep you posted on how the wind blows after more research.

Half-way through all my research I smacked right up against a bias I’ve had for some time. You’ll understand what I mean when I say the words – vanity press. I’ve always felt prejudiced against people who had to pay money to have their own work published. To be honest I thought the work must not be that great. Oh how humbling is it to live to be of an age where you become the kind of person you used to look down upon. I suppose this bias has dogged me in other areas of my life as well. For years I thought that if someone wanted my work enough they could come and ask for it. No doubt the reason I haven’t had a lot of paying jobs. I looked upon self-promotion as anathema – sort of the way I view people who try too hard at cards. Is winning that important to you? Well – now that I want something really badly, self-promotion has taken on a new perspective.

Can I take myself as a writer and my work this seriously? Can I believe in myself this much? How brave am I? How much do I want this? Only time will tell.

I chose the image above because I definitely feel as though I am drifting  to the back of the Illuminated crowd as I delve deeper into the world of publishing  – violence is not necessarily off the table!

Write your way into writing: Steinbeck did it – so can you!

We are lonesome animals. We spend all our life trying to be less lonesome.

Taken at the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas, California

Think about what Steinbeck’s mother thought of him when you’re worried what your own mother thinks about your hopes and dreams

One of our ancient methods is to tell a story

Begging the listener to say and to feel

“Yes, that’s the way it is, or at least the way I feel it.

You’re not as alone as you thought.”

(John Steinbeck)

Today I want to tell a story about how to write your way into the work of writing. In 2010 my husband and I took a three week driving trip around Northern California. One of the highlights of the trip was the city of Salinas and a visit to the National Steinbeck Center. I’ve always been a huge fan of Steinbeck’s writing so I really enjoyed gaining insight into the person of John Steinbeck that permeates all of his work.

Later, in the gift shop, I bought a book entitled Steinbeck: A Life in Letters edited by Elaine Steinbeck and Robert Wallsten (1975). This book is a compilation of personal letters written by Steinbeck over a forty-five year period of his life – the first letter when he was barely twenty-one and the last written just a few months before his death at age sixty-six. I’ve always found other peoples’ personal correspondence fascinating reading (note to close friends and family – keep those personal papers under lock and key when I’m around!)  In letters it seems that people really come alive. I think it’s because letters are written in the moments of life from a particular person to a particular person. These letters are even more special because the editors decided the main criteria for inclusion should be that the letter in question was interesting.

From this book I learned some valuable things about Steinbeck’s approach to writing. He started each writing day with personal correspondence and he sent out an average of five to six letters every day. It is within this letter writing that he explored who he was as a person and a writer, he laid bare his pride and confidence in equal doses with his insecurities and his failures. His letters vibrate with life as lived in the moment and reflected on within moments of living.

In the early days of Steinbeck’s career he struggled financially and he handwrote most of his early manuscripts on the blank back pages of used accounting ledgers he obtained from his father. He kept up this habit even when he could afford to drop it. He would use a new accounting journal for each work and he would handwrite the first draft of the actual novel on one side of the page and write his reflections and notes as he went on the other side. He always wrote a novel with one particular reader in mind and often gifted the original draft, written in the accounting journal, to that person when the book was published. Can you even imagine what that would have been like – to know that Steinbeck wrote a book thinking of just you as the reader and then gave you the original, hand-written copy. Wow!

Steinbeck wrote his way into writing every day. He kept an ongoing, reflective dialogue right alongside of his fiction writing and he wrote always for a specific person. I think of John Steinbeck now every time I “warm-up” in front of the computer screen – what I use to call spinning my wheels is now writing my way into writing. Just write – do it first – do it every day – just do it. Let your fingers fly across the keys creating words. Let your thoughts be formed as you write. We come to know we have something to say through the process of writing it down. As the words flow from our thoughts onto the page we realize what it is we need to say. We write our way into being writers.

What the hell, Jack . . . but seriously – What the hell is it about writing?

What the hell, Jack – my all-time favorite line from the series 24! I love this line so much I taught my three-year old granddaughter to say, “What the heck is going on around here,” in much the same tone. The other day her mom redid her bathroom with a Disney princess shower curtain and matching bathmat and when Emma went in the bathroom she stood shocked with her little hands on her hips and declared, you guessed it, “What the heck is going on around here? A Disney princess shower curtain?”

But seriously, what the hell is it about writing? I can literally lose whole blocks of time in front of this keyboard. I can forget to eat (and believe me that is not my usual style), go to the bathroom, let the dog out or for that matter feed the poor dog, put a log on the fire so it goes out and both the dog and I freeze. I find fiction writing so all-consuming it’s hard to imagine when you finally shake free of it – say to let said dog out before her whining to pee reaches a record-breaking pitch – that something about your very self hasn’t altered in the time you have been away. I guess it’s that flow experience that Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi talks about in his book entitled, you guessed it – Flow. Googled Mihaly to figure out how on earth to spell his name and he is a very pleasant-looking man – sort of Ernest Hemingway – Old Man in the Sea looking.

I spent most of the day doing the punctuation editing on my 9th draft so I could get a hardcopy and no sooner was it printed and I plunged into reading it aloud – highly recommended – reading aloud – than I found at least one punctuation error per page. Crap and double crap. Note to self – stop using the Harvard comma (or is it the Oxford comma?) after the word and – you’re not writing a bloody dissertation or research paper here! Perhaps the number of papers I have written in my past life has infiltrated my fingers over the keyboard causing me to subconsciously insert commas where they have no need to be. Something to think about.

I’ve been thinking of the lady who spoke to me of wanting to work a screenplay into a novel. I think she is well on the way because when I am creating – and not doing dreadfully boring edits – I start by writing like I am writing a screenplay – I put the name of the person speaking in the margin and then in brackets I briefly describe the facial expression, the tone, what the person does and where they look. Then it’s just all dialogue. After I have scene after scene like that then I start to work in the other parts, the descriptions and the sections that weave it all together.

Secret of the day: I am already working on the sequel to my novel before I even get this one up and out! Am I crazy? Maybe, but oh what an enjoyable way to be crazy. Oh no – that damn dog has to pee again.

New Author Plans a Plunge into Blogging & the Self-Publishing World

The setting for my novel – also the view from my writing desk

OK – 55 year old fledgling author is getting ready to try to self-publish her first        novel in the e-reader environment and as part of that endeavour she’s going to go way out on a limb to write a blog that shares her highs and lows as a new author reflecting on the writing experience and her tentative steps into the self-publishing world. Is there anyone out there who wants to read this? I guess we’ll see.

My novel’s title is “Disappearing in Plain Sight” and it’s basically a love story – hopefully a step up from the Harlequin Romance genre but I’m way too subjective about my own work to be much more than hopeful on that score. The setting is a semi-isolated Lake on Northern Vancouver Island where a small group of people begin to come out of mourning the loss of someone who had been instrumental in all their lives. Two characters that come suddenly on the scene act as catalysts for a movement back into the main stream of life for everyone. I try to demonstrate the complex nature of human emotions such as grief, guilt, and desire – nothing is black and white – only shades of grey. Trying to distill four hundred plus pages into a couple of lines is quite the challenge.

I’m currently editing the 9th draft for various punctuation glitches. I’ve had six close friends or relatives read various drafts so far and the 8th draft is out there with three new readers. If I ever get through the 9th draft edits, I’ll print yet another hardcopy for a couple of additional readers, then hopefully, final revisions. I’m seriously considering using an e-book design shop to do the actual work of formatting the finished work to the e-reader world. I’m starting to think about cover art – maybe a photo of the Lake looking down to mountains sheathed in clouds with an image of a certain statue – one mentioned in the novel – faded out and superimposed in the sky. We’ll see. I’ve also got to deal with how to cite and acknowledge various quotes and music lyrics I used within the body of the novel.

Before I finish this first blog entry I want to share an experience I had the other day. I have had two opportunities lately to announce to the world that I am a writer. I can only describe this as a terrifying exhilarating experience. I was in the doctor’s office the other day and ran into an old friend I hadn’t seen forever. Naturally she asked me what I’m doing now and I replied, “I’m writing a novel – well I’ve written a novel!” What a rush. After we had chatted for a bit I went to sit down in the waiting area and a woman appeared out of a nearby office and came right over to introduce herself and say, “I heard you say you’re a writer. I write screenplays and really want to transfer one of them to a novel format.” We began to talk with great animation and excitement, as if we had known each other forever. Moral of the story and of my entry into the blog world – get out there and own what you’re doing.