Gatekeepers and Gateways

I read a blog post yesterday morning on – Whisks & Words: A blog about a writer who cooks  The blogger is writing about her experience of two different types of educators – the gatekeepers and the gateways. This is a bit of what appeared in the post (images were my choice):

Gate-keepers make it hard for students to succeed . . . Their reasons are varied, but their mission is clear: none shall enter without my permission. Want my permission? A lot of people do. And a lot of people get disappointed.

But gateways… they’re different. Gateways see success not so much as a fortress to be guarded but as a destination to be gotten to. And they can help you get there.


The idea of educators as gatekeepers or gateways resonated with me. So much so, I couldn’t get it off my mind. If I was to try to come up with one word to describe my up and down career, I would use the word educator. When I taught undergrad courses we were told that a definition of our philosophy of teaching was a good thing to include in our CV. It was an excellent exercise in getting down to the nuts and bolts of why I would stand in a classroom and think I could make a difference (on a good day), or even have any right to say anything at all (on an average day).

Here is a small excerpt from how I defined my philosophy of teaching – My approach to teaching is grounded in a strong emphasis on narrative. When students focus on story – their own and other’s – I believe the opportunity for depth learning is present. I have been influenced by the work of Paolo Freire, who stresses that a teacher must enter into a partnership with students. Students are not empty bank accounts into which I deposit my knowledge – in partnership we create meaning. I learn as much from students as they learn from me. Authentic thinking will take place in a climate of trust. I work hard to create this climate.

I’ve always tried to be a gateway teacher. That’s what motivated me – that’s what made it possible for an introvert like myself to stand in front of a classroom of students for three hours – it was going to be a collaborative, shared learning experience or it wasn’t going to be at all.

Going further back in time – I was fortunate, at an early stage in the formation of my educator identity, to be exposed to a certain model of teaching – we sat in a circle, we shared our own story, we listened to other people’s stories, we were helped to connect the concepts we were trying to grasp to our own life experience – this model was drawn from the basics of liberation theology.  These experiences of learning were life altering.

Like so many of us, I’ve had both types of teachers – those who held me back and those who gave me wings. Last night I sent an email to a very dear friend. I explained the concept of gatekeeper and gateway educators. I told her how she had always been a gateway for me. I think that a lot of people, after reading the earlier versions of Disappearing in Plain Sight, would have thrown their hands up in hopelessness at my idea of ever being a published author. They would have said – look, Fran – don’t quit your day job – assuming of course I had a day job. But she did not do anything like that – instead she kept encouraging me through each draft – through each round of edits – she found what could be complimented in my writing and she gently pointed out what needed to be changed. In every way she sent the message – keep at it, don’t give up, you can do this. I am in awe of this woman and I hope she got that message when she read my meandering email.

So – each one, teach one – I got that line from Miranda Bailey in Gray’s Anatomy.

If you’ve had a gateway teacher in your life then go out and emulate that experience. Together we’ll squeeze all the gatekeepers right out of education.




Editing – Creating – Building a Social Media Platform – All in a Day’s Work

This blog is supposed to be about my self-publishing journey – so I better self-locate – it seems there are multiple things going on right now.

  1. Final edits on Disappearing in Plain Sight – the manuscript goes to FriesenPress  on or before Oct. 10th
  2. Last week I created an entire timeline for the sequel – The Light Never Lies – and I actually began writing the first chapter last night
  3. Building my social media platform – that includes this blog
  4. Reading various books related to writing and building said social media platform
  5. Getting ready for what is shaping up to look like a phenomenal driving trip to Southern California next month
  6. Loving the warmth of September, busy getting this winter’s fire wood in, and enjoying the garden

The final edits for Disappearing in Plain Sight are picky and tedious at times but the way the writing has cleaned up is like a breath of fresh air. When I read through the edited sections the smoothness is enough to make me quiver. Well – there it is – but admit it – you love your own stuff the same way. It’s part of the process.

Reposted from FriesenPress – I love this little comic

Last week I pulled all 200 plus pages of notes I had written for The Light Never Lies into a comprehensive timeline with all the scenes I have envisioned laid out as they would have occurred in real-time. Some of this will play out sequentially and some will end up as back story. That allowed me to see the entry point to the story and I was able to start the real writing last night. My goal now, is to do a minimum of 2000 words per day. I plan to write-through to the end and then in subsequent drafts rearrange the back story pieces and add the details that will be necessary for readers who didn’t read Disappearing in Plain Sight first. Each novel should be able to stand alone – I recently read that somewhere.

Not my timeline – but sort of interesting

The biggest challenge of all these days is building my social media platform. I’ve read Kristen Lamb’s  popular e-book: We Are Not Alone: The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and am beginning to grasp her whole idea of constructing a social media platform over interlocking Facebook, My Space, and Twitter accounts, plus a WordPress Blog. It is daunting, to say the least. I have been able to follow a couple of her suggestions. I always post a link from my Facebook page to my latest blog entry. And she has got me starting on the road to thinking about the whole concept of branding – scary as that sounds.

I am a bit encouraged as I try to build-up the blog following (a big shout of thanks to those who have been reading – don’t be afraid to click the like button if you do like it or even make a comment – I love to hear what people think of the posts) to learn that it is supposed to take a while if you do it right. My strategy has been to check out the freshly pressed blog posts on WordPress – read through until I find a few I like – press the like button and make a comment if I can think of something fresh and interesting to add to the discussion. Then I sometimes mine through the comments other people have made. I’m looking for something that catches my eye and then I check out that person’s blog. It’s all very time-consuming, though quite interesting. By the way – I can’t just like anything to build a following and I don’t follow anyone for the same reason – so if I liked your post it was because I really liked your post and if I’m following you it’s because I’m really interested! Felt I had to say that. Self-promotion, branding, and building my platform makes me feel a bit of a phony at times.

Funny aside – I made a comment on a very popular blog a while back – broadsideblog – and at the end I said how great the blog name was but instead of broadsideblog I wrote broadstreetblog – cue the video of me shoving a paper bag over my head. I quickly posted an additional comment to apologize. I wrote the correct name of the blog and said it was an example of how one could never proof read enough. This was as good a recovery as I could come up with. Thanks so much broadsideblog for you’re happy face emoticon in response.

I have been reading a couple of Bob Mayer’s  books on writing: The Novel Writer’s Toolkit and Write it Forward: From Writer to Successful Author. He is a very successful author; he’s published in both the world of traditional publishing and self-publishing. He’s written successful novels in a number of genres. His background is in US Special Forces and the Green Berets. His books on writing are a bit like a self-help boot-camp. I’ve picked up a couple of interesting tidbits for sure and I’ve had some really good belly laughs, too. I am always fascinated to encounter interesting juxtapositions. Special Forces training as a model for going from a writer to a successful author are certainly a new set of linkages for me.

The trip to Southern California is shaping up in an exciting way. Blog followers – you can look forward to at least three posts per week with a couple of great photos and as much interesting commentary as I can manage. Travelling with Bruce is a bit like going to boot camp – he is the type of person who wants to squeeze as much out of every single day on the road as can be managed. This  means getting up and out by 6:00am at the latest, jam-packing as much into each day as is humanly possible, and then falling into bed in a stupor by 10:00pm at the latest. Sometimes I don’t make it past 9:30pm! But I will endeavour to make notes as the days go by so I have something to post.


This September has been lovely here – we haven’t had a drop of rain the entire month and the garden is beautiful. We’re eating our own beans practically every day and loving it. Bruce has been busy splitting out the last of this winter’s firewood and baking it out in the driveway. Life is good.

So that self-locates me for the moment. What about you? Where are you at in the journey? Let me know – I’d love to hear and I promise to reply.




My First Attempt at Flash Fiction

I just completed my inaugural stab at writing a piece of flash fiction. This is my first contribution to the Ramsgate Women’s Fiction Writing Group. I found them on Facebook – I am their first (and I suspect only) overseas member. The prompt was supposed to be something you’d see written on a post-it note. I’ve never been so grateful for being a quick thinker and a fast typist – we were only supposed to write for 20 minutes and I was determined to honour the parameters. The group was meeting together to do this exercise in what I’m imagining was a really cool little British pub, drinking pints and eating crisps, no doubt. (I’ve never been to the UK so I’m drawing on Coronation Street here for inspiration.) I was all alone at my kitchen table – still, I want to be a good group member! I ended up with 5 full minutes to spare for some edits.

Prompt: Birthday present for dad?

She’s standing in her kitchen holding a tattered, yellow, stickie note that was stuck to a page and buried under yet more paper – all held to the fridge with a heavy-duty magnet. Yes – she is one of those people who uses the front of her fridge as a make shift bulletin board – for all the use it ever does her. She’s never organized anyway. What could that question mark have meant? Did it mean she had wondered if she should get him gift, or if she should mail it, or if it would get to him on time. She has no idea.

Her dad had died almost two years ago – prostate cancer which had moved into a tumor in the bladder. Her one fear, those last months with him, had been that he would lose his mind in some way – maybe not recognize people or start saying odd things. But nothing like that had happened – he was himself right to the end, but a different self, too. He was polite and grateful for the care she gave him, that she had rearranged her life to be with him, that she made it possible for him to stay at home to die. They struggled through a difficult relationship over the years, but he ended things well.

She remembered thinking people who were dying would want to mend fences and have serious talks with family members and friends. After all, her dad knew he was dying and that gave him an advantage over people who dropped dead out of the blue. But she had been wrong about that, too. He had used all his energy to go to the end with dignity – managing to be polite on the way. It had been quite an amazing thing to see.

She remembers the day he looked out at his prized roses – her husband had just trimmed then – and said, “Well, they’ll bloom nice next year . . . but I won’t see them.” One day he wanted to drive across the line – in their family the American border was always called, the line. He wasn’t really supposed to drive but she wouldn’t stop him. Behind the wheel of his truck he looked at her and said, “What a great feeling to get out on the road – I could go anywhere.” They both knew he couldn’t go anywhere – his morphine was back at the house and she didn’t see that he had packed extra pads to deal with the issue of incontinence. Dying with a tumor in your bladder is a messy business.

That last day – sitting by his bed – wondering if he could still hear her – she said, “Dad – maybe death is like going out on big road trip – maybe it’s like getting in the truck and taking off on the wide open road. Maybe it’s like that.” In the room where the silence was broken only by her father’s rasping, choking attempts to breathe, the tears slid silently down her face.

Leo Guenette
1937 – 2009

A Writer Must Write – Enough Said – Full Stop

I have discovered that there is a lot written about the process of writing. You should write what you know – no wait. You don’t have to be limited to writing what you know, but if you don’t write what you know, then you better do the research so you know what you’re talking about. But hold on a minute – don’t burden the reader with the voluminous details of your research – don’t let anything get in the way of the story. Unless of course you’re a James Michener, then you can get away with it. 

I picked up a cute little maxim the other day – be yourself – unless you could be a unicorn. Then of course, be a unicorn. Right – you get what I’m saying here. If you could be James Michener, go for it.

You should always show, not tell. In the words of Anton Chekhov, “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; Show me the glint of light on broken glass.” Holy take my breath away, Batman. That is genius – thank you Mr. Chekhov.

But wait – if all you do is show, the story might race ahead of the reader at such a pace that he or she never manages to get to that essential place of emotional connection. OK – you better do a bit of telling, too.

Be careful how you bring in the back story of your characters. You mustn’t let it get in the way of the present action. But wait – unless the reader understands your character’s motivations for doing what they’re doing – well – the story won’t really make any sense. So you better figure out a way to get some of that back story in.

First person, third person, omniscient narrator – point of view is the crux of the story. No wait – it’s all about the characters. No wait – plot drives the story. Holy lost in the steamy swamp, Batman. And lest you have yet to despair of ever getting this writing thing right, consider this:  “The role of a writer is not to say what we all can say, but what we are unable to say.” (Anaïs Nin). Thanks, Nin – that’s really encouraging.

Sometimes I feel as though I’m running through a tangled jungle, like I’m trapped in a scene from the movie, Apocalypse Now.

At the same time – I’m glimpsing patterns of light through the darkness – threads that have the possibility of coming together to create something I will feel proud of having brought to life.

Good thing. “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”(Maya Angelou). Who needs that kind of burden?


“I find that most people know what a story is until they sit down to write one.”(Flannery O’Connor). Amen, Flannery.

My reading about writing turns out to be about knowing more, then doubting that I know more, and finally realizing that there is always more I’ll need to know. Writing takes courage. It doesn’t allow me to hide anywhere. I reveal myself, but the reward is that I might produce something that others will pick up and read and in so doing, find themselves revealed. They might ask – how did she know my story so well?

I know what writing it is for me – being lost for hours on end in a world of my imagining that feels more real at times than the actual world I inhabit. It’s easy to get weighed down under the combined load of all of the words written about what writing should be. I try to remember what Thomas Jefferson said: “In matters of style – swim with the current. In matters of principle – stand like a rock.”

The past two nights I have gone to sleep and dreamt of a scene in the sequel to Disappearing in Plain Sight. I wake up repeating to myself a little chunk of dialogue that is meant to represent an entire conversation between two of the characters, complete with setting and various character attributions – all worked out and perfect within the dream. I repeat this little piece of gold over and over as I awake, but soon the words seem like nonsense and then they simply disappear – like the proverbial poof of the genie as he or she slides back into the bottle. I know though, in that liminal time between dream and full awakening, I believed I had it all worked out and that those few words could help me remember everything – I could tug on that tiny line and the entire fabric of the scene would be pulled forward and shaken out in front of me like a crisply dried sheet fresh from the clothes line.

A writer must write. Whether it’s a flash story, short story, novella, novel, all the way up to an epic tome weighing in like War and Peace – a writer must write. Ernest Hemingway is credited with writing the shortest piece ever: Baby shoes – for sale. Never used. Talk about slamming the reader against a wall with six little words! Holy rip your guts out, Batman. Mr. Hemingway – we salute you.

“Your tale, sir, would cure deafness” (William Shakespeare, The Tempest – Act I – Scene II).



“Everything you can imagine is real.”(Pablo Picasso). And you better believe Picasso knew what he was talking about.

So go for it – imagine, find out what you don’t know and look for the answers. Discover that the more you find out the less you will think you know. Accept there is always more to know. And keep writing. A writer must write. Full stop!

Bruce and I posing in front of the Hemingway Cottage at the Billingsley Creek Lodge and Retreat in Hagerman, Idaho. Apparently, Hemingway spent whole summers in this cottage, writing. When he wasn’t out taking advantage of what Hagerman has to offer in the way of fishing!



Jacques Derrida, Freegal Music, the Titanic, and Character Development

This blog is a bit like cleaning off my desk – just what has been going on in my life this week?

Jacques Derrida – I had forgotten all about my methodological love affair with Derrida and the whole idea of deconstructionism.    A Facebook update this week that featured a Derrida quote brought it all back. “A text is not a text unless it hides from the first comer, from the first glance, the laws of its composition and the rules of its game. A text remains, moreover, forever imperceptible.” – Jaques Derrida (Thanks Chris!)

I was, at one time, blissfully lost in what Derrida describes as writing under the conditions of erasure – meaning is never fixed in language – it always escapes – we are forced to let go of each concept at the very moment we need it – the decisions we make are always made under conditions of lack of knowledge and lack of understanding – these decisions are always acts of madness – any decision to use language that doesn’t go through the ordeal of the un-decidable wouldn’t be a free decision at all – maybe legal, but not legitimate. Puts everything in perspective – right? It might also explain why I never finished that PhD dissertation, but that is definitely the stuff of another post!

I remember how sad I was when Derrida died and the way in which he was so vilified in a New York Times obituary. When an outpouring of negative reaction to the Times piece came out, I learned that Derrida was particularly remembered for his generosity toward students – when he held a 1/3 teaching position at Irvine, he taught more than was required of him and the time he spent with students was unparalleled. Derrida would attend conferences on deconstructionism and give serious attention to all presentations. He would take careful notes and ask thoughtful, respectful questions of each presenter – be they lowly student or peer. As a graduate student myself at the time, this only endeared him more to me.

My favorite Derrida compliment was written by Dr. Gerry Coutler of Bishops University in an article entitled – Passings: Taking Derrida Seriously  “From time to time there is nothing on earth like reading Derrida and I for one am glad he will be with us for as long as there are libraries and students to share his work with . . . I wish you fond memories of reading Derrida, late at night when it is quiet, when his prose haunts truth, and I hope you recall that night when you either fell in love with Derrida or passed through him.”

This week I discovered how to download popular music – free from the local library using something called Freegal – what does that stand for anyway? Each library card holder gets three songs per week – but there are two of us so that equals 6 songs – more than adequate for our needs. I can guarantee you that Bruce and I aren’t going to come across more than 6 new songs per week that we want to download to the precious IPod.

I bought the Titanic movie in VHS for 75 cents the other day at a Thrift Store. We still have a fully functional VCR and have no problem viewing movies in this format – though it causes my son-in-law to look at us like we have just emerged from a cave somewhere. What the heck – to him we probably have! I watched the movie the other night. I had seen it once in the theatre years ago. I was surprised to find myself totally caught up in the drama and taking one emotional hit after another. The storytelling is bloody brilliant – as my British buddies might say. (A heads up to the Ramgate Women’s Fiction Writing Group – I just became their first overseas member via Facebook this week!)

Sure, the whole Titanic movie is a bit smarmy and predictable and the sound track is enough to make anyone sit down and sob – but still – it got to me. It brings home the message that certain storylines will always grab an audience – boy falls for girl, boy gets girl, boy loses girl – well, in the case of the Titanic – boy dies but girl goes on to live a fabulous and fulfilling life! Not a bad ending at all.

It makes me reflect on the enjoyable times I have had visiting my son and watching various TV series. He once commented on the diversity of things I seem to like – from Firefly, to The Shield and Gray’s Anatomy – to name just a few we have waded through together. I think this has to do with how it’s not really about the setting – I don’t care if the story is set in a Wild West outer space of the future, a gritty police precinct, or a hospital – it’s the characters that matter. They have to be interesting. They have to do and say things that seem real, things that make me think, things that make me care about them. I’m looking to see a story arc for each character that leads, by the end of a single episode or the series as a whole, to the realization that these people have changed and grown in some significant way and through my exposure, I too have been changed. This is the impact I want the characters I create to have when I launch them into the world.

Have the characters in a book, movie, or TV series ever really got to you? Let me know. I’d like to close this post by drawing the diverse threads of these gleanings together but am at a loss as to how. I suppose it is all about living and thinking and being – what more is there?

Julien Dupre – Peasant Girl with Sheep – Legion of Honor Museum, San Francisco

Hanging Laundry on an Outside Clothesline is Meditative Practice

A friend recently commented that she was hanging laundry on a clothesline for the first time in her life. I shared something with her that I came across while pursuing my PhD. (A graduate student in a certain frame of mind – desperately seeking dissertation topic – tunes into the oddest things.) I had heard of a woman in Newfoundland who did an entire PhD dissertation on how people hang out their laundry and what it says about them – personally, socially, and culturally. She included an array of clothesline photos to illustrate her points.

The idea that laundry hanging could say something about the person I am, resonated with me. I have hung laundry on a clothesline for years. I imagine that every woman who hangs things outside to dry has her own way of doing it. A way she pursues with vigilance; a way she believes is “the one and only proper way” to hang out laundry.

I believe in a neat clothesline – something you can look on with pride. There should be symmetry – what the hell – artistry, to what you have just caused to fly free over the landscape. Laundry should be hung so each piece is connected to the piece in front (this allows things to really whip in the breeze and not bunch up). As you hang out the clothes, little metal gadgets that clip and hold the two lines together should definitely be employed – these compensate for the weight of the wet laundry and keep the line at a proper height. I don’t have any hard and fast rules about the order of the hanging. Mostly I try not to overstress my clothes pins by clipping thick items together with the same pin.

I feel offended when confronted with laundry hung on a clothesline in a haphazard or sloppy fashion. This is why I never allow my husband, Bruce, to hang laundry. It isn’t really an issue – he hates doing this task and I really like it. Each piece of laundry has to be shaken out before hanging – you don’t just toss a folded over or squished up piece of fabric on the line – it will dry permanently set in that state. Geez – anyone knows that.

There is nothing in the world like the smell of laundry dried outside on a clothesline – the temptation to bury one’s nose in a shirt or towel and just breathe deeply is hard to resist. Once you have slipped into a bed with sheets just dried on the line, you will never go back to perfumed fabric softeners that tell you they are clothesline fresh

Hanging laundry to dry outside makes me philosophical – it is all about letting go. I have to accept that I can’t control the weather and I certainly can’t rely on weather broadcasts – current, short or long-range. We seem to exist in a micro-climate that doesn’t always adhere to what the weather person reports. I am always taking a chance, rolling the dice, throwing my paltry self against the forces of nature. I make bargains – if the rain will just hold off for an hour or so, if the wind will just pick-up a bit it can compensate for a brief shower or two. And then there are the days I must simply accept the inevitable – days when I go to all the work of hanging out the laundry, enjoying the beautiful artistry of my line only to have to take it all down as rain pelts out of the sky. In it comes, wet and sopping, to be hung to dry somewhere in the cabin. Yuck. My love of hanging laundry outside is matched by the degree to which I detest hanging wet laundry in the house.

Hanging laundry can become a meditative practice. I live in a quiet spot – tall trees that encircle the back of our cabin give way to breath-taking views of the mountains – it’s beautiful and peaceful. I hear the stellar jays and the crows squawking, I catch an occasional glimpse of an eagle flying overhead. It’s a time to gather my thoughts – I have been truly inspired while standing in front of the clothesline with a basket of wet laundry before me. I included a scene about hanging laundry in my novel. A husband is fascinated with the way his wife goes about hanging out the clothes. The scene is poignant as he watches her with such attentiveness and love. It moves to humour when he comments that he has never seen that woman look as satisfied as she does when she stops and looks back at the clothesline filled with laundry. Never seen her that satisfied – get it! We women and our laundry hanging are not to be trifled with.

Charm Bracelets and IPods – I’m a Fish Out of the Water When it Comes to Certain High End Purchases

Amazing statue – downtown San Fransisco – I feel about this obvious and awkward buying and using certain items!

This story starts with a very thoughtful birthday gift I received from my daughter – a Chamilia bead, embossed with the word Mother. I vowed to get a bracelet on which to display this exquisite little bead. As soon as I hit the city streets, I purchased a Chamilia bracelet and left the store under the mistaken impression that all of the beads and accessories you can buy for these bracelets are interchangeable. I’m at a loss to know if I was led to believe this or made an assumption. The various brand names meant nothing to me. On a shopping trip down to the US, I purchased a sparkly pink Persona bead and then on a whim a couple of matching bracelet stoppers – stationary beads that keep the other beads from slipping around and around the bracelet. The saleslady was kind enough put both the new bead and the stoppers on the bracelet for me and sent me happily on my way. About an hour later, close to the Canadian border, I noticed that the stoppers were sliding around just like the beads. That seemed odd to me. Right after this, in a restaurant washroom, one of the stoppers flew right off and skidded across the toilet stall floor.

I thought that there might be something wrong with the stoppers. I went into a People’s Jewelry Store – they stock Persona beads in Canada – to inquire. I had removed the stoppers and was carrying them around in a baggy. I removed the bracelet to demonstrate the problem and the pink sparkly bead flew right off. Persona beads are not threaded like Chamilia and Pandora beads – another fact I was unaware of. I spun around in a panic looking for the bead only to see a man’s large foot step right on it. Thank the powers that be for thick carpets in Jewelry Stores. The saleslady at People’s was not helpful – she asked me in a very bitchy tone what I expected her to do about my problem. I did learn that there was nothing wrong with the Persona stoppers – they just don’t fit Chamilia bracelets.

OK – my next stop was the Pandora store. If you have ever been in one of these bead stores you will understand what I mean when I say it is a bit like stepping into a temple – the lighting, the hush – you sort of expect harp music to be coming from somewhere. If I thought the lady at People’s was unhelpful – the lady at Pandora was positively nasty. She looked at me like I had horns growing out of my head – I had entered a Pandora store wearing a Chamilia bracelet – an unpardonable sin. She told me in no uncertain terms – staring down at me from a height of superiority mixed with what I can only imagine she thought was Pandora panache – Pandora stoppers only fit Pandora bracelets. I can assure my blog readers of one thing – if  I live to be the oldest of the old, I will never step into a Pandora store again.

Eventually I found my way back to the store where I purchased my bracelet to buy yet another two stopper beads. Now my bracelet is beautiful and I love it. All that remains for me to do is wait for the gift bling to roll my way in the form of birthday and Christmas present beads from all those people who could never figure out what I might want for a gift. It cost me $70.00 more than I wanted to spend to get to this point (the Persona stoppers), but I think I learned some valuable lessons – what the heck more can you ask?

Moving on – due to my guilt about spending $200.00 on jewelry for myself, I decided to get my husband, Bruce, an IPod Classic. He had been making do for some time with an old Zen MP3 player, but the storage was limited and it wasn’t working the way he wanted it to. I made my decision before realizing how expensive an IPod Classic is – anyway – what better way to deal with guilt over spending $200.00 on yourself than to go out and spend almost $300.00 on your partner?

I walked into Future Shop – the IPods were near the door – I asked to see a Classic – and saw the price tag. I couldn’t help myself – I told the sales boy (they are all so young in these stores) three separate times, in what was shaping up to be a short encounter – I just wish they didn’t cost so much. I’m sure he was thinking, OK lady, get over it, already. Even after my lamentations, he still tried to sell me $90.00 extra in extended warranties and forced me to listen to all the reasons I should consider forking out the extra cash. He even had a handy little check-list to reinforce his message. Holy thick as a brick, Batman – the end price was already a bit over $280.00. No thanks!

I found the small white box, a bit bigger than a deck of cards and maybe twice as thick (very classic looking, by the way), quite intimidating. I simply let in sit where I tossed it on the desk for almost a week. Bruce and I discussed it night after night on the phone – should we just return it? Every moron (except us apparently) knows an IPod can only work off the ITunes platform. I have ITunes on my laptop but Bruce’s wireless card on his laptop has bit the dust and we aren’t going to replace it. The thought of him using my computer all the time brings out my kid who won’t let anyone else touch her soccer ball on the playground persona. Bruce can somehow manage to screw-up the look of my entire desktop without conscious knowledge of having done anything at all in an amazing short period of time. Then we obsessed for some time about the fact that all the music we wanted to put in this damn thing was ripped into his computer using Windows Media – would it transfer over? What about later when he wants to transfer his LP collection?

I hate returning things so I made the executive decision to get the thing out of the bag and open it up. I knew I should make sure it worked before travelling back to the hinterlands. OMG – the stress of my initial encounters with this space-aged looking piece of very expensive technology nearly rocketed my BP over the top. Suffice to say things didn’t start well – I had to get a knife to get inside the plastic wrap. Everything inside the box was so neatly packaged it was scary.  The directions consisted of a very thin – no doubt classy – but to me totally inadequate – single sheet of paper. I could feel the beads of sweat forming on my brow.  

Open ITunes – check – plug device into USB port on computer – check – wait for instructions. I screamed on the phone to my daughter that there were no instructions coming up. Just wait – they came. After that it was the proverbial piece of cake. Everything I had in ITunes synced into the device as slick as a hippo in a pool of mud. All the files I had on my computer (including a couple of albums I had ripped in using Windows Media) were exported to ITunes in the blink of an eye. ITunes automatically converted any files that needed converting. After a few hours the device was charged, loaded with a ton of CBC podcasts, and ready to go. Well, almost. Apparently, everyone knows that the middle circle thing on the IPod spins around and that’s how you get up and down the various lists. I found this out after trying every possible combination of arrows to no avail and finally asking for help – holy feel like a classic fool, Batman. Oh well. I’m ready to pass the beast on for sure. Life is good. I survived.

Falling in Love with Your Own Characters

I have just had the most amazing experience. I am slowly reading Stephen King’s book, On Writing – and thoroughly enjoying it. It excites me (because I have written a novel and I have actually experienced more than one of the things King writes about) and it terrifies me (because I have written a novel knowing such a tiny fraction of what there is to know). Anyway – King advises writing a first draft and then locking it away in a lower desk drawer for at least six weeks. Only after this time in the dark do you take it out, dust it off, and re-read what you wrote. He says you will feel as if you are reading something someone else wrote, but at the same time it will all be so familiar.

This has just happened to me – exactly as he described. Almost two years ago, I wrote up 25 single-spaced pages of notes for a story called, The Jennerville Women’s Chamber of Commerce & Knitting Club. This story revolves around the lives of five women, all in their forties, who live in the small town of Jennerville – once a prosperous forestry-based community; it has now morphed into one of those funky/bohemian/artsy/kitschy tourist towns that dot the landscape of the Pacific Coast. These women find themselves un-partnered and engaged in various types of businesses that contribute to the tourist atmosphere of their small town. Amanda Guthrie owns the Jennerville Hot Tubs and Coffee House; Charlotte Brunner operates a Laundromat out of a storefront on main street; Gwyneth Brookdale, a big city artist, manages The Gallery off Main; Lindsay MacDonald has turned her home into a pizza place; and Catherine Jenner has converted the three-story Victorian mansion that has been in her family for generations into a bed and breakfast. She is the great-great granddaughter of the town’s founder – resource baron, Jeremiah Jenner.

The inspiration for this story came from a trip my husband, Bruce and I took to Northern California. We stayed over at a small town on the Coast and discovered a funky house on the main street that had been turned into a hot tub and coffee place. The large, backyard held eight hot tub enclosures. Each private tub was open to a canopy of trees above. The center of the area was devoted to a beautiful garden complete with outdoor tables where you could enjoy a cappuccino or chai latte after your dip in the tubs. The place was pure magic and as our trip progressed my mind kept working away at the memory of being there. I kept imagining what kind of story might take place in a small town where so many people had converted their homes to tourist businesses. This one small town combined in my mind with two or three others we visited – one had the most awesome art gallery. When I got home I wrote as fast as I could and got the basic outline of the story in place.

I’m not sure what happened then – why these pages went into a drawer and never emerged for two years. Having just re-read those 25 pages I am itching to write this story. It’s filled with interesting characters and situations. It’s a story of lost love and redemption. There’s even a ghost thrown in there. One character description caught me so much by surprise that I choked up when I got to the last line. Here it is:

Joel was always thin but now he’s really thin. The muscles on his arms stand out like well-defined ropes. His hands are artist hands with long slim fingers – perfect for guitar and piano playing. A pair of faded button fly Levis hang on his hips – mostly held up by a brown leather belt tooled with a Mayan design – something he picked up somewhere. He usually wears a black Tee-shirt but he’s always cold, so he throws on a faded jean jacket to complete the look. Joel looks exactly what you would think an aging rock star would look like – a bit gaunter due to the drugs, a bit paler than usual due to recovery and illness, but he still exudes something of that sex, drugs, and rock and roll aura. But there’s quiet desperation in his eyes and a slight tremor in his hands.

Around his neck he wears a gold chain with a pendant that consists of two gold block letters – JC – and underneath these letters the tiny gold word “forever”. Over the years the fan magazines and interviewers have asked and everyone has speculated about this pendant. Religious conclusions were obvious, but Catherine knows that isn’t the case. It gives her a funny feeling every time she reads about Joel’s trademark necklace, or sees it swinging against his bare chest in a photo or on a music video. She had given this necklace to Joel – a birthday gift that last night, the night before Joel left for LA. Neither one of them knew he would never come back – he was going down to see if he could get some sessional work. He had a few songs he was going to shop around – he was going to be back before the end of the summer.

Joel was in the right place at the right time. He arrived at the sessional gig for Spartan Revolution’s new album to be greeted by the band’s bass player, Reuben Josiah, who was so over the top high he could hardly stand. Amidst the mess, Joel grabbed his guitar and began picking out one of the band’s new songs straight from the sheet music, singing some of the vocals as he went. He was killing time and trying to warm up a bit. The drummer started to jam with Joel and the rest was history. Reuben Josiah was off to treatment and Joel was in. His talent quickly moved him up to front stage – his blonde and blue-eyed look a perfect foil for lead guitarist Steve Ashley’s dark almost satanic look. Two of his songs were featured on the next album and once he started touring with the band he never looked back – or so it seemed, except he never took the gold chain off. It was a bit of a loose thread that Catherine found irritating, but she knew if she ever picked up a magazine or saw a clip of Joel on the TV and that chain was gone she would feel devastated – Joel and Catherine forever.

Wow – where did this come from? I’m already in love with these two characters. Well – that is how it is for me as a writer – the characters become real. Can you love your own characters? Can you help it? I don’t know, but I have to get back to Jennerville and soon.

The inspiration for the Jennerville Hot Tubs & Coffee House