Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Interview with a Sex Kitten, er, Vampire

It's rude to ask how old you are but do you remember staring at album covers? For hours? Man, I do. That's the thing about electronic music. There's nothing to stare at. No long, lean bodies tipped into blue jeans with a shoe horn. No tangled, bedworthy hair sliding down any tatted, muscle-bound backs.

And musicians today – don't get me started. Wearing baggy-ass pants around their knees, for crissakes? That's sexy? 

Old-school rock stars, now they know sexy. Led Zeppelin, back in the early '70s, Robert Plant's long curly hair, his tight butt, jeans that were painted on. Keith Richards, always looking like a leftover bender, a guy you'd never bring home to mama but, boysohboys, would you be laying awake some nights thinking about him. Even Tom Waits, looking like he just graduated from the school of hard knocks and sounding like he had a lung full of secondhand smoke from the toughest bars on Wrong Side of the Tracksville.

One of the album covers I used to stare at was The Guess Who's Greatest Hits. Those boys were Winnipeg-purty, rough tough Canadiana rock stars. I loved 'em fierce. Spent way too much time thinking about 'em. I still hear No Time or These Eyes and I get the shivers.

Xan Marcelles makes me feel like that. 

I was looking for a photo of him, just now, and of course I couldn't find one. He's not party to photo shoots. Likes to hang around a bar named Pale Rider, the kind of bar where Waits would hang out in if he was in the neighbourhood. Whiskey's cheap. Beer's cheaper, but not as cheap as some of the chicks who hang out, waiting to meet Xan's eye, maybe meet more than that.

Xan plays bass in a band called Crooked Fang. Nah, you won't find 'em on American Idol so don't bother looking. They're just a bunch of guys, y'know? Dudes, Xan says. When he's not onstage, he's working at the bar, cleaning toilets, making sandwiches, taking out the trash. When he's not doing that? You might find him in a back alley, or in the austere apartment on top of the Rider, sinking his teeth into some nubile young woman willing to give blood.

And I'm not talking about the Red Cross, here.

Yup, Xan's a vampire. Not a pretty boy Robert Pattinson-Twilight kind of vamp. There's nothing twinkly about him. Imagine Keith Richard, or Robert Plant, with fangs. Or Burton Cummings, while he was still with the Guess Who, before he went solo and turned all Vegassy and Mr. Showbiz. Back when his hair was long and his jeans were tight and ...

Sorry, that's how I get when I think about Xan Marcelles. Kinda crazy, if you know what I mean. Pretty, um, hot under the collar for an old broad. Hey, I'm not the only woman with a thing for Xan Marcelles. Carrie Clevenger is WAY worse than me – she even has a Crooked Fang logo tattooed on her back. (I might have put one on my arse ... ) She also writes about him.

Carrie Clevenger

Texas Carrie is as talented a writer as they come. I'm not exaggerating here. I first caught wind of her work through #Friday Flash. Her stories killed me. I'd be, like, all proud of something I had written and then I read hers and I felt like somebody had kicked me upside the head and said, "See? THAT'S good writing!" Carrie was away from FF for a while but she's been back these past few weeks and one of her stories just blew me away. She's so freaking good it's scary.

Right now, as we speak, she's in the final throes of putting Crooked Fang together, a novel all about Xan. I'm looking forward to it and that's no word of a lie. I'd read anything Carrie wrote. Probably her grocery list is prize-worthy. 

In the meantime, there are two other Xan books on the market. Both are collaborations with another fantastic writer, Nerine Dorman of South Africa. Somehow these two dark word queens found each other and found a writing vibe that has resulted in Just My Blood Type and Blood and Fire.

I read both of them. Really fast. That's saying something because these days I don't read anything really fast, for a whole lot of reasons. These two books, though, you'll fly through them, flipping one page after another because you just gotta know how they turn out. Don't believe me? Check 'em out. Just My Blood Type is a free download so if you don't like it, you're not out anything. (But you will.) And Blood and Fire is up at Amazon for, like, $2.99 or something ridiculous. Pretty cheap thrill, I gotta say. 

I flew through Blood and Fire. Not only has it got hunky rock star vampire Xan Marcelles, it's got an equally hunky magic dude named Ash. The two pair up for a thrill-ride of an adventure, an all grown-up buddy story that'll have you beggin' for more. Carrie writes Xan; Nerine writes Ash. One chapter is all Xan, the next is Ash. There are two points of view, two well-rounded hunks-a-burning lust and enough F-bombs and bad whiskey and spilled blood to put a smile even on this jaded face.

A while back I fired off some questions for Mister Marcelles. I had to wipe the drool marks off the e-mail before I hit send. I hope he doesn't realize I kinda got the hots for him. Maybe it was obvious, though, me calling him a sex kitten and all. 

Here's the interview. See for yourself.

Q: First of all, you scare the crap outta me. OK, not literally, but pretty close. Good thing you hang down there in the Pale Rider and I'm a goodly number of kilometres north in Canada, where we don't see many bass-playing, whiskey-touting, long-haired, sex-kitten vampires. Also, I'm not a sweet young thing, the kind of chick you occasionally like to gnaw on when the hunger hits. So I think I'm relatively safe. Still, you intimidate the heck out of me.

XM: Sex kitten? Lady, I’m not sure how to take that. I’ll assume that means ‘studly-man-types’ up there in the frozen north.

Q: Is it because you're so tall? So strong? So smart? Could it be the length of your hair? More likely the length of your fangs? I dunno, Xan, do you have this effect on all people? Or just silly, wobbly-kneed, middle-aged women who have an appreciation for '70s rock stars as well as the finer things in life?

XM: I dunno, I’m just a dude. That has some weird situations I keep running face-first into. Some are ordinary, some…not so much, but yeah. I got fangs, but really. Promise. I’m just a dude. That has fangs. And a bass.

Q: Where did you come from, anyway? Who's the sire that put you in the spot you are now, and are you happy about eternal life as a vampire or is that just the hand you've been dealt? And why is it an undead dude like yourself, who could pretty much rule the world if he wanted and live in some Transylvanian castle, hang out in a place like the Rider? Cleaning toilets? Making egg salad sandwiches? Sure, it's part of what makes you so appealing in Carrie and Nerine's latest book, but is it really how you want to (not) live?

XM: I lived in Denver before. Stopped for a beer on the way to see my girlfriend at the time, and there she was. Little bitty thing (I politely refer to her as ‘The Bitch’ or maybe Satan’s daughter) with something about her that was damn-near irresistible. Well, I’m here, so you know that already. No, I’m not exactly thrilled with the hand I’ve been dealt. Good analogy by the way, because that’s how it went down. It was out of my hands. She chose me, even though she lied and said it was an accident, I know better than that. She was always good at lying.

I lived a fast life at first after I became what I am now. Did lots of things I didn’t want to do. Living at Pale Rider is me doing what I want. When I walked out of her life after taking her shit for about twenty years? Hell yes.

Making sandwiches, cleaning toilets, playing my guitar? It’s life. Normal life. And though it’s temporary, I’m gonna enjoy it for all it’s worth, sweetheart.

Q: Speaking of Blood and Fire, how's that going for you? I read through it lickety-split – couldn't put it down. Loved the action, but also loved the humour. You've got a self-deprecating style that makes you even more interesting. Sometimes, though, you take a real psychological beating at the hands of that Ash character – throughout a lot of the book he didn't give you much respect for your brain. Although it's clear to me that you're not just muscle and tooth. Did you ever want to just reach out and smack the guy? And once you got a taste of his magic blood, you must be lusting for a little bit more.. tell the truth - would you like to get your fangs into him one more time?

XM: I dunno, after the mess it got me in last time? As good as it was, I’m thinking I’ll pass. But the smacking? I’m thinking he wanted to deck me more than me him. Ha. It was cool running into another immortal, weird as he was. 

Q: And how do you feel, by the way, about Mizz Clevenger and her apparent need for writing about you all the time? Is that OK with you? Are you liking the idea of becoming an increasingly popular subject in increasingly popular books? 

XM: Popular? That’s real generous of you, there. Maybe I chose C.C. for a reason. You know she killed me off in the first story she wrote about me? I’m still a little pissed about that.

Q: I'm hoping you like it, because I'm hoping for more. Your character is rather addictive and I'm looking forward to more tales with you in it. What's next? Dying to hear…

XM: Next stop is Crooked Fang, baby. The book I’ve been through Hell and back for. It’s been a long time coming, and I’m stoked to see what everybody thinks because it’ll just be me you’ll be riding with. Oh, and one more thing: It’s not the last you’ll see of me.

Thanks a million Cathy, for your hospitality and your time. Really appreciate it. I know we’re all busy, but if people are interested in knowing more about what I’m up to for some reason, best stop is my Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/CrookedFang

And I also got a website, strangely enough it’s crookedfang.com, how about that? Along with a twitter station at @crookedfang

And Blood and Fire, yeah there’s a story you can pick up for the price of a beer over at Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Blood-and-Fire-ebook/dp/B006SD3F2S/ Don’t worry, I’ll put that money to good use, promise.

The writer ladies, Carrie Clevenger and Nerine Dorman are also on Twitter, respectively as @carrieclevenger and @nerinedorman. Telling you, they got no creativity.

Thanks for checking out my shit and for your time.


THIS JUST IN: Mizz Clevenger just sent me a photo of Xan. More eye candy, ladies. Enjoy... (No, that's Keith Richards, back when he was just born, practically... Xan is the long-haired beauty below.)

Ferris Bueller lovers unite!

Later today I have a real treat for everyone, an interview with a genuine hunk of burning lust (not Dave, he's love, not lust, well... sometimes he is.. umgh, sorry.. where was I?).

For now, here's another real treat. GP Ching had this link on Facebook and it made me laugh out loud, no kidding. YOU MUST WATCH. You must! You will smile, or your money back, guaranteed. (Gen, get well soon, OK?)


Sunday, January 29, 2012

Linda Simoni-Wastila – Letter from a Friend

Once upon a time, when my jean size was enormous somewhat larger, Linda Simoni-Wastila sent me a jar of homemade peach jam. I gobbled it up, so fast the postage stamp wasn't even dry yet. It looked, and tasted, like she had reached out into the sky and captured sunshine with a butterfly net, then mixed it with crystalline sugary sweetness and preserved it, with love, in a pretty glass jar. 

The jam is long gone but its flavour lingers. When I think of Linda, my thoughts are tinged soft with peach.

I know a number of Lindas (when I was in school there were as many Lindas as Cathys and Susans) so sometimes Dave has a hard time knowing who I'm talking about. "Which Linda?" he'll say, when I mention a story she has written, or something witty she has posted on one of her blogs, leftbrainwrite or bluetruedream. All I have to say is, "The jam Linda," and he nods and says, "Ahhh."

Funny, isn't it, how we come to identify our blogging friends with such labels. I'm glad that it's jam that labels Linda with Dave, because I have a much more sobering label that forever links me with her. We've both lost our fathers; me, a few years back, hers, not all that long ago. Whenever I write about my dad, Linda is there with a reassuring comment. The same when she writes about hers. I realize that everyone in the world can be connected by grief, but somehow our own connection has solidified over the last couple of years by this sadness.

We understand each other. And that's good.

While I feel like I know her intimately, what I actually know about Linda wouldn't fill more than a couple of paragraphs. She lives in the United States, somewhere near Baltimore, Maryland. She's a part-time writer, like me, only she's way more committed and has actually finished a book, and we hooked up through Friday Flash. She's a mom, she's an academic, she's a minister's wife and she's a fabulous cook. She takes writing classes, she's on board with the Weight Watchers program (but I mean, pffft, she's like Twiggy next to me) and apparently she's as bad at cross-country skiing as I am. She struggles with the business of the everyday, like all of us, and somehow she keeps the many and varied aspects of her life in balance. 

Linda is observant, intelligent and sensitive. She has a quality of dignity about her; a gentle strength, that shines through every word she writes. 

One of the words she writes the most is "peace." She signs every comment with it. And when you see it, that signature word, that peace, you feel her spirit, her quiet goodness, her offer of friendship, and sometimes, when you're feeling low, it is powerful enough to make you weep.

Hello friend!

I hope this letter finds you happy, writing like a mad woman on your novel, and not pondering funeral songs. I am, per usual, in the midst of chaos, but what else is new? Busy suits me, the alternative not a healthy one. Mostly I am consumed with work and this smorgasbord I am hosting for church folks. A friend is helping, but when we came up with the idea, we forgot the point of a smorgasbord is a LOT of food, which means a LOT of baking and curing and saucing. So, I write to you in between bread risings and cookie batches. Please forgive me if I sound confused—I likely am.


It is late here. Three loaves of Pulla cool on wire racks. The house smells of yeast and cardamom and I want to saw off an end, smear butter over the still-warm bread, but I think – what would Cathy do? You would walk-away; after all, you can walk away from Christmas cookies. You are a better woman than me, so I compromise: a small piece, no butter. Good enough for company, and still within my daily points.

Tomorrow will tempt me. But to be safe, I planned low-fat options (ta-da!), like cucumber rounds topped with salmon and a dab of wasabi-infused cream cheese. Tomorrow I will blow Weight Watchers, but that is what bonus points are for. Come Sunday, back to salad and veggies. By the way, I don’t think I would have returned to Weight Watchers without your public bravery, so thank you. Knowing you are battling similar temptations helps, a lot. And now the oven timer is dinging, I thought I was done baking…


It is early morning. The sun slants low over the treetops. Lea, my baby girl, practically a tween (when did that happen?!), sits beside me while I write to you (she says hi), watching robins pull worms and grubs from the grass. There are a hundred birds at least. A red-headed bird flies into their midst. The flock rises in a chattering cloud and flies to the safety of the pear tree. Lea runs upstairs for ‘the bird book’ and finds the woodpecker page. We deduce, based on size and shape, the intruder is a red-bellied wood-pecker. My aunt gave me that book when I was my daughter’s age. I feel the tug of family and history, of people I have loved in this life, and the morning turns bitter-sweet.


To sit, at last, to sit. The smorgasbord went well—the guests laughed and talked, their tongues looser from the beer and glogg. They left with full, happy bellies, the best I could hope for. My family has scattered to other corners of the house. I sip a small glass of white wine while I write. Peace. Yes.

Making this meal took more work than I ever imagined. Preparing these foods, many for the first time, I felt kinship with my grandmothers and grandfathers, aunts and uncles, cousins. Kneading the Pulla dough, infusing the milk with cardamom, braiding the tubes into loaves, I imagined Mumu beside me, whispering the steps, guiding my hands. Brewing the glogg reminded me of my grandfather simmering the mixture of wine, port, and brandy in a soup pot in the week before Christmas. After he died, my mother continued the tradition, and now I make the ancestral potion. The sweet smell of glogg on the stovetop will always connect me to my mother and her father.

Food plays such an integral role in my memories. I love food, to make it, to eat it, to write about it. In one novel, my character Phoebe makes Pulla and remembers her mother, dead over a decade, and feels overwhelming grief. But as she massages the dough, sadness turns to the realization that everything she needs from her mother she has already received—a strength she can invoke anytime by the simple act of making bread, by remembering.

Preparing these ‘memory’ foods feels like small sacred acts, like resting flowers at gravesites. A way to honor my family and how they have shaped me and, in turn, passing memories to my children.

Anyway, enough of this sentimental mush. One more week before classes start, enough time to research snipers, Afghanistan geography, and hammer out Jeremiah’s story. Who is Jeremiah? You’ll find out soon enough, once I get down his bones. And I can’t wait to meet the characters you have cooked up this past year. So lucky, aren’t we, to love who we love, and to live as we do. For that I am grateful, just as I am grateful for your friendship. So take care, you. Hug your boys close, then tell them to hug you for me.

Love and peace, Linda

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Delores - Letter from a Friend

Where did Delores come from? Other than the glint in her daddy's eye?

I'm thinking here.. she's been hanging out on the banks of the Muskoka River since practically forever, or maybe last year's April A to Z Blogfest, whatever came first. Argh – this is bugging me now. Hang on while I find out...

OK. Back. I just spent the last half an hour reading old blog posts from last April to find Delores' first comment and found myself laughing out loud at the ridiculousness of my doofussy damned door contest. Coincidentally, that's where I first had a comment from Delores: "Been browsing around your blog...love it. Thanks for dropping in on thefeatherednest."

There were TONS of other comments on that post (which makes me think I need to do another contest soon. Maybe I'll do a Damned Office Contest, as per Deanna Schrayer's suggestion) and Delores' was rather small and quiet and dignified, hardly standing out amongst the madding crowd. But you know what? Almost a year later, I rarely see some of those commenters, while Delores is a faithful and enthusiastic friend. Don't get me wrong – I'm definitely not criticizing other commenters. I know how things work. You drop by for a while, you have a nice visit, and then you're off to visit new friends or old friends or just different friends. There's not enough time in the day to visit every single blogger on your list every single day.

But Delores, she almost always drops by. I really appreciate that about her. Even when I have absolutely nothing funny, or interesting, or even cogent to say, she is there with a nice comment. (Oh please, Delores, don't feel obligated now.) Not that I'm the only blog she follows. FAR from it. Everywhere I go, Delores is there, spreading her cheerful self through the blogging world. Everyone loves her. Don't believe me? Check out one of her blogs – she gets more visitors than good-looking lifers at the penitentiary. 

Delores blogs at three places: The Feathered Nest, which has insightful personal commentary, some fabulous poetry and fiction, as well as all kinds of cool stuff. On Robbie Burns Day, for example, she had photos of Woodlawn Park Cemetery where the great granddaughter of the famous Scottish bard is buried. You never know what you're going to find in Delores' fine feathered nest.

The Tormented Scribe is a tad on the spooky side. The top photo is a cemetery and there's lots of dark-edged poetry and stories and things that go bump in the night.

Delores even has a blog full of poems and stories for children. It's called Youngish and she is currently running a limerick contest where the prize is a big box of crayons! I LOVE new boxes of crayons... I may have to enter this. How about:

There once was a girl named Delores
Who gargled with spearmint Lavoris
Her breath smelled so sweet
That she leapt to her feet
And eloped with a young stud named Boris.

Annnnnnd that's why I don't write poetry, folks! I'll leave that up to Mizz Delores.

Most of my bloggy friends live a long way away, some as far as Australia. Delores is actually one of the few people who live nearby – just a couple hours in the car, as a matter of fact, in a part of southern Ontario I used to know fairly well. It would be fun to pay her a visit some day, steal a cup of coffee or two, and see what she really looks like! As you can see from the photo she sent, and the lack of last name, my friend Delores is a woman of mystery. Maybe her letter will reveal a few of her secrets ...

Dear Cathy:

Here we are, half way through the first month of the New Year. It’ s a sobering thought isn’t it? How quickly time moves along. Christmas seems so long ago and so far away and yet experience tells us it will be here again long before we are ready.

The New Year stretches before us blank and exciting as an artist’s canvas waiting for that first splash of colour. How will we paint the New Year? Will we use the same old brushes, strokes and colours as last year or will we break free and try something new?

Looking back I can see there are some things I definitely want more of. Certainly I want more grandchildren time (if my body can handle it), more time holding a camera, looking at antiques and collectibles, writing poetry, watching the birds, prowling cemeteries, definitely more blogging..... Oh yes, there are things that bear repeating for sure. Some things, however, could go by the wayside. We have already taken some steps toward change for this year. One thing we have decided to cut way back on is eating out. Small changes to things that were not enhancing our lives will be made. This is our promise to each other. This year we will enlarge upon the things we know we love to do, discard the things that fail to make life better and keep ourselves open to new ideas, activities and people.

We have a few plans for refurbishing our nest this year (our feathered nest). Nothing too grandiose, just a few tweaks and improvements are required. A little paint, some trim, a new carpet will breathe life into the old house. We are blessed to have this roof , this shelter from the storms of life, over our heads.

I must say, Cathy, I have been impressed and encouraged with your success in weight loss this year. I am going to make an attempt myself. You have inspired me.

Anyway my dear, the day calls; the hectic, harried life of a retiree (lol). Important things need to be done; bathing, dressing, eating...you know the drill. It snowed last night and I want to take some pictures. Decisions need to be made about what to do with that lump of raw meat on the counter. I feel the faint flutter of a poem in the back of my mind; something about bed and rest and rise to the test, best, nest, dressed, stressed, oh well...I’ll think about it later.

I thought you might get a hoot out of this most recent photo of myself (self portrait by the artist lol). It is so typical. In most photos I am headless, or just a hand, or most likely behind the camera.

May you have a fulfilling New Year,

Bye for now,


Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Squinty McGuinty

When I'm sitting here blogging? This is how I look.

"Aren't I attractive?" I ask Dave.

"No," sez Dave.

My one eye is SO BAD that I catch myself closing it tight, slamming it shut, anything to look at this damnably blurry computer screen. (You should see how big I've got it blown up. And I can only stand looking at it for a few minutes at a time.) Thirteen more days until my cataract surgery. 13 DAYS! I can hardly WAIT for that doctor to poke a hole in my eyeball with a scalpel, mash the lens around before he yanks it out, and stick the new bendable umbrella-ish lens through the hole. Then he'll stitch it up with a needle and thread. Like stuffing a Christmas goose. The idea of having stitches in my eyes is a little daunting but I am definitely looking forward to seeing again.

It's not that I can't see. I just can't see details. It's like looking through a window that's clouded up. Like, when you've been out at Make-out Hill necking in the back of your boyfriend's Buick and there's a knock on the window and you're not sure if it's a cop or a serial killer because you've steamed up the glass. Here, I found this image on the web that shows you what I mean:

Anyway, I'm getting sick and tired of squinting at everything. I was at the hairdresser's today, getting my eyebrows plucked because I sure as hell can't see them (I now wear make-up like 90-year-old ladies wear make-up, with blue shadow over half my face and lipstick smeared up my nose. I know. Disgusting). The hairdressing ladies were teasing me that after the surgery I'll know what Dave REALLY looks like. (God, I hope he's cute. Word to the wise: never marry someone BEFORE cataract surgery.)

I found out tonight, on Facebook, because everything I know about my family I learned on Facebook (pretty soon we won't need family reunions, we'll just set up a FB event and nuke our own hot dogs), that my cousin Karen just found out SHE has cataracts. And she's younger than me! Poor thing, she just had surgery for glaucoma (the eye disease I can never pronounce) and she went in for a post-op check-up and the doc says, "Your glaucoma is gone but keep an eye on those cataracts you got going." Talk about not winning for losing! Hey Karen - I'll loan ya my white cane when I'm done with it! And then we'll go and beat up on our mothers for handing us down the blind gene!

Speaking of mothers, I had lunch with mine today. She paid, which was AWESOME. We went to the hairdresser's. Mom got herself a fancy new do and she looks like a million bucks. Seeing as how I'm usually at work when my Mom is gallivanting, this was a real treat. We had coffee and gossiped and chatted and ate and gossiped and, you know, it was just fabulous! Thanks Mom!

On a different note, I'm pretty stoked about how Letters from a Friend is going. Hope you're liking it, too. I love how every letter is different. I love all your comments. Some of them make me laugh. Some cry. All of 'em make me squint. Oh, didn't you love Jamie Woodman's handcrafted letter? She is SO talented. Me and her and Dave and Donna Brohm had a helluva good time having coffee at her house on Monday. Nothing better than seeing old friends. I got there and announced, truthfully, "You guys haven't changed a bit! You look amazing!" And they were, like, "Says the blind girl." Yeah. Well. I bet they looked fetching. They always did. Likely always will.

I've got lots more letters coming up. Tomorrow I'll be posting a letter from Delores of The Feathered Nest fame. She is one of my most faithful blog readers – I've gotta give her credit for that. Even when I post the worst shite, she is there to cheer me on. Delores is also one of the most prolific bloggers I've come across – she posts like a zillion times every day. OK, so maybe not a zillion, but ALMOST. (Gotta stop writing about her now so I have lots to discuss tomorrow.)

I've got letters from some of my very favourite blogger friends. You won't want to miss them, I swear.

One more thing: we went cross-country skiing on Sunday. There's a spot around the corner from us where you can ski-for-free. It was gorgeous and we had an awesome time. I am NOT a great skier anymore, since I got old and fat and all, but I used to be, when dinosaurs roamed the earth. I was feeling brave until I went down the first hill, yelling, "SHIT! SHIT! SHIT!" all the way.

Next hill, I took off the damned skis and walked.

I may be blind but I'm not stupid.

Remind me to buy Sam some snow pants.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Sue Harding – Letter from a Friend

Oh Sue. You're so much like me it isn't even funny. You and me could form our own Writer's Angst group only we'd have to arm wrestle over who was gonna be club president because we're both equally unsure of our talents as writers.

Say hello to Sue Harding, everyone. Sue, this is everyone.  Just about every one of the four people (!) who read this blog are also card-carrying members of the writer's-angst-society of those who feel the need – deep down in the bowels of their souls – to put words on a page and yet we all berate ourselves with the notion that we don't deserve the title "author." That our work isn't good enough. That we're fooling ourselves if we think otherwise.

Sue is a very talented writer. She needs to know this. She needs some encouragement to pick up that pen again and start writing. And Sue, please don't get mad at me for this – we all need encouragement along the line. Heck, I am extremely needy in this department. I can't even tell you how many people I have kicking me in my frozen white arse on a regular basis to keep writing. I feel like I'm a sled dog and all my writer friends are in the sled with the reins and they're yelling, "MUSH, MUSH, MUSH!" 

Sue's a retired librarian. She's an avid reader and a rabid knitter. She's a wife and a mom to two grown kids who need her now more than ever. She lives somewhere in the U.K. and I imagine her to have a lilting accent that would absolutely charm the bejeebers out of me. She is kind and she is encouraging. She thought she was going to be able to participate in National Novel Writing Month and we were going to be writing buddies but her busy, busy life put a kibosh on her own involvement – still, she managed to send me much appreciated words of encouragement along the way.

Sue is one of my Friday Flash friends, one of the small circle of talented writers I have somehow glommed onto. They're the best people – my friends in every sense of the word. Sue lives so far away that unless I win a lottery it's unlikely I'll ever make it over the pond for a visit. Still, she's on my bucket list of folks I'd like to have tea with. Maybe even a scone with a nice pot of jam and butter. Because if it's a bucket list, who cares about calories?

Dear Cathy:

We’ve known each other for a while now, keeping up with each other’s lives in snippets and snaps, via Twitter and blogs but as we can’t exactly pull up a chair and have a cup of tea and a natter, given the vast geographical distance between us, perhaps a letter will have to do for now!

Just how long have we known each other? It seems like for ever, but in reality it can have only been a couple of years at most. I ‘blame’ that Alan Davidson – I’m pretty certain I first noticed your name whilst I was reading his blog. But perhaps ‘blame’ is a bad choice of word – after all, it was only through reading his work and then being nosey enough to trawl through to yours that I found your blog and came to know a little about you and what makes you tick. Incidentally, the family photo on your blog always makes me smile!

I’ll always remember the first comments you made on my blog, responding to some flash fiction I’d written. What a breath of fresh air and encouragement – I swear I could hear a chuckle in your ‘voice’!

Writing has been an on-going pursuit, right from way back in school. That’s not to say I’ve stayed true to it since then, it sort of comes and goes in cycles. There have been a number of times I’ve grown disillusioned with it and I don’t know how many novels (finished and WIPs) that have been discarded in mad purges over the years when my ‘sensible’ head convinced me that I’d never get published so what was the point!

Well, setting up a blog a few years ago gave me a platform to display my wares, so to speak. However, it was a while before I took the plunge and was brave enough to let anyone actually see what I’d written. Thanks to encouragement from people like Matt Hilton and David Barber (and you, madam!) I began to investigate different online writing groups – and what a diverse bunch I found!

Meanwhile I plugged away with a couple of novel-length pieces, hawking them round various agencies…..but I think I am resigned to never getting anything published, having lived through the process vicariously as other writing buddies had their hopes repeatedly raised and then dashed.

But, hey – life’s too short…!

In fact, at the moment my life is seriously far too busy for the single-minded obsession of writing, anyway. Don’t get me wrong, I love my kids, but just as the nest emptied and I got used to time and space that hadn’t been there for so long, back come the fledglings, along with their problems and their needs (and their furniture!) and I’m back into Mum-mode.

Even though I’ve now given up my job in the library (and just as well, as far as coping with the family issues are concerned!) my life is still very firmly entrenched in the world of books – though rather more reading them than writing them, for the time being.

So, now, (in between being nurse-maid, cat wrangler, general housekeeper and library-runner for my daughter recovering from major eye surgery, whilst also being counsellor, soundboard and ‘spirit-buoyancy’ mentor to my currently unemployed son) the few treasured moments to myself are often occupied with reading or knitting – or both at the same time! (a multi-tasking action achieved with the discovery of a book-easel!)

My husband laughs as I knit away regardless – he once said I should have needles surgically implanted – but it is a great stress reliever, and I often find myself weaving plots and arguing the merits of proposed characters as I knit1, purl 1, pass slipped stitch over……

Besides, the wonderful David Barber once dubbed me the ‘Knitting Assassin’ as needles and wool occasionally drifted into my stories – it is a moniker I have adopted for my identity on certain forums, and even the title of a sister-blog I set up.

Well, that’s all for now, dear; if I’m quick I can snatch a couple more chapters and another few rows….given the financial recession, if ever I can’t afford the heating bills I can always wrap myself in wool and lose myself in a good book!

Bye for now!

Regards, Sue

Monday, January 23, 2012

Jamie Woodman - Letter from a Friend

This came in the mail on Friday. Can you believe it? Look at all those letters. Look at those beads – hand-sewn! And the carefully folded fan ... and the fuzzy "hair" ... not to mention the sprightly handwriting. How incredibly creative. How thoughtful. How "Jamie."

Jamie Woodman is one of the most talented people I know. We worked together for a number of truly satisfying years at an independently-owned community newspaper called The Haliburton County Echo. I started out in the editorial department as a reporter/photographer but gradually weaseled my way into the production department where Jamie produced award-winning ads and lay-outs. When I say award-winning, I'm not kidding. Back then the Echo was the newspaper to beat all across Canada. It won more awards than any other community newspaper. And that was crazy because Haliburton is a tiny village, a two-traffic light town, a speck! It still doesn't even have a Tim Horton's, that's how small it is! Somehow, this miniature village hugging the scenic shore of Head Lake attracted some of the finest newspaper talent in this country. Everyone who worked there was talented, driven and dedicated. Part of it was due to the leadership of Editor Martha Perkins, a powerhouse writer and editor and a dear friend. But part of it was definitely Jamie. She gave the paper its "look." She gave it soul. Whenever anybody needed an idea, Jamie was the one to ask for help. Her mind was like a virtual Fort Knox of ideas. 

Good things don't last forever, unfortunately. Publisher Len Pizzey retired from the business and sold the Echo to a big company that promptly tore it apart. One of the first orders of business was firing all the production staff, including Jamie, and sending its ad work to be done in India. It might have saved a bit of money, sending work overseas (nobody at the Echo was well paid, I can attest to that), but what it might have saved in money, it lost in quality, originality and heart. The paper went downhill like an Acapulco truck driver. People in the community that once loved the Echo were now up in arms about it. A new newspaper was started and it became increasingly popular to the point that I would say the once mighty Echo is now a struggling underdog. 

It makes me sad, a little bit, to see the state the Echo is in. But the newspaper I once knew and loved is nothing but a distant memory. It was a place I loved to go to, every single day. The office was in an old house overlooking the lake. The walls of the production room were painted a peaceful turquoise hue and trimmed with beautiful original wood. The big windows facing the lake were old and imperfect and gorgeous. I'd get there, and say good morning to everyone. Jamie was already there, wearing her warm wooly socks and her Birkenstocks, eating porridge or some godawful healthy crap. The radio was playing Canoe FM or CBC, and the other production team members were already hard at work, churning out amazing ads and making each other laugh. 

How we used to laugh. One of the other women who worked with us, Donna Brohm, oh, she was a spitfire and a shit disturber and one of the funniest people I'd ever met. Sometimes she had me laughing so hard that I could barely breathe. That's what I loved the most about that place. The laughter. The creative energy. We all felt like we were part of a team and I didn't realize how incredibly special that was until it was gone.

It's been years since Jamie and I worked together. Like all friends separated by distance and time, we don't see each other much.

Today Dave's driving me to Haliburton.  I have a doctor's appointment – a pre-op before my cataract surgery. After the appointment, we're going for coffee at Jamie's house. I think Donna's going to be there, too. I can hardly wait. 

I wonder if Jamie's still wearing her Birks. 

I wonder if Donna is gonna make me laugh until my stomach hurts. 

I don't wonder at all about how much I miss them.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Laura Eno - Letter from a Friend

An enigma? I think she is. 

For as much as Laura Eno is open and active on Facebook, Twitter and her own blog, A Shift in Dimensions, there's still a bit of mystery swirling around her like the salt-laden ocean mists that must sometimes hide her Florida home.

In fact, when the idea for Letter from a Friend first came to me, it was Laura I was thinking of. There's something about her that brings out the reporter in me. I would dearly love to throw a Barbara Walters on her. Just sit down for a few hours and pour on the hard questions and see what what makes this driven author tick.

Driven. It's as good a word as any for someone who has been rolling out book after book after book. She has published three or four while I have been struggling to finish one. Her works include Raven, Book 1 of the Carriena Oracles, a Sci/Fi Romance novella; My Enchanted Life, a YA fantasy; Stone of Destiny, an erotic romance; Deadly Intent, a horror/thriller; Tempest Child, a YA romantic fantasy; Don't Fall Asleep, A Dream Assassin Novel; Prophecy Moon; Seducer of Her Dreams; Realms of the Red Rabbit, Book One; and Realms of the Red Rabbit-Jake, Book Two. (You can read more about her many wonderful books here.) 

I often ask what her secret is but I know the answer: hard work. Dedication. The ability to strap your butt to the chair and get the work done. I can't even begin to tell you how hard that is and I am a big fan of Laura's, not just for the amazing work itself but for her uncanny ability to do it at all. 

Laura is probably one of the biggest cheerleaders in my internet circle. She always has a kind word for even the most angst-ridden writer and I've come to think of her as a den mother for Friday Flash and a friend to all who cross her talented path. Her letter to me is funny and sweet and touching, especially the part about her grandchildren, but it still doesn't dig deep enough for my liking. She didn't even want her photo taken but I talked her into it because, she's right, I'm a pushy broad. (That's her dog's tail she's using as a boa!)

Despite my best efforts, Laura Eno continues to be an enigma – one of the nicest enigmas I've never met.

Hi Cathy,

I hope you're doing well and are busy working on your novel. With your talent, I'm sure it will be a big hit and I can't wait to read it!

Jezebel asked me to say hi and to tell you how much she enjoyed coordinating your wedding reception. (Humor her, okay?) She'd like to visit you again. Perhaps if you could clear up that little misunderstanding with the Canadian police, they'd let her cross the border again?

I know you've been bugging me for a recent picture of myself. Well, the truth is I took one but the cat…er, dog ate it…anyway, I need a few more months to correct my temporary insanity. I don't look good with red hair but the ruby color on the box looked so pretty…

This past Christmas was a forlorn time for me, as last spring my daughter and her family moved from Florida to Arizona. Not having the four grandkids around takes the fun out of the holidays.

I also have a new granddaughter from my son! I haven't seen her in person yet, since they live in Outer Mongolia—or somewhere closer to you—kinda the same thing, you know?

On a brighter note, I'm trying to train my two dogs to alert me when I've overfilled the pool—again! You know, like Lassie. Bark, bark "Timmy's stuck in the well?" So far, I haven't had any success with it but my lawn is green from the overflow.

Say hi to Dave and the boys for me and remember about Jezebel's request. She has a tentacle wrapped around my throat right now, making me remind you again.

Stay in touch!


Thursday, January 19, 2012

Helen Howell - Letter from a Friend

If there's anybody I'd like to have for tea it's Helen A. Howell.

She has such a lovely, calming, creative presence in my internet world that I just want to reach out and give her a squeeze. It would be a long reach, however. Helen lives in Australia. I live in Canada. It's summertime for her right now, while I'm socked in under January snow. She gets parrots at her birdfeeder. PARROTS! Can you imagine? I get chickadees. We're about as opposite as opposites get but, like all my internet friends, distance and differences dissolve in a melting pot of writerly like-mindedness.

Helen is one of my Friday Flash friends (try saying that three times fast). I started writing flash stories two years ago – I can honestly say it was a pivotal moment in my life. Not only did I discover the joy of writing fiction, I also discovered a circle of people who would become as familiar to me as real-life friends and family. From comments on each other's stories, to chatting on Facebook and Twitter, these folks are on a first name basis with me. All I have to say is, "I was talking to Lou," or, "I got an e-mail from Linda," and my husband knows who I'm talking about. Helen is one of these special people.

Recognize this? ^_^ It's practically Helen's trademark. She sprinkles it everywhere, in her Facebook comments, on her blog, in her letters – it's like a little happy face breadcrumb and if you follow it you will find one of the loveliest, cheeriest, most creative people in this great big world – my friend, Helen.

10th January 2012
My Dear Friend,
Well, here I am on a dull day in January, when it’s supposed to be our summer, yet grey clouds are thrown carelessly across the sky like a discarded blanket. As I look out the window of my office, I see my darling little bird feeding table. It’s in the shape of a house, white roof and red body; it’s always alive with the comings and goings of the feathered kind. I do love my garden and the time I spend in it—an oasis in a busy world.

A lot of my days are spent at the keyboard, penning in the modern way my ideas for stories. I‘ve nearly finished the last lot of edits to my novel. Did I tell you that when I first started writing three and half years ago I jumped in the deep end? Oh yes, I jumped straight in and wrote a novel—a fantasy fiction for children from eight years upwards—it took me twelve months. It is this novel that I am finally polishing.
I began fiction writing at the age of fifty-six and half . I never thought that I could be a writer, let alone write a novel. Yet when I unleashed my imagination, gave it free rein, it surprised me at what I could accomplish. They say the pen is mightier than sword don’t they? It is how one uses those words that creates joy or unhappiness. Words have such strength don’t they? They achieved so much. The thrill of a story; the excitement of an adventure, the sadness of a loss, the cut of a knife. I hope the words I have created in the last three and half years have entertained and brought a smile to the lips of those who read me, or a gasp as I attempt to thrill and chill.

I’ve always been creative and as a child I use to play theatre with my friends. We’d set up a mock stage and perform for anyone willing to watch. Then like all small girls I took ballet classes—little did I know that I would go on to be a ballet teacher. At the age of fifteen I even won a choreography competition, where I also designed the costumes for the dance I created. Such a long time ago now, it almost seems like it was another life.

In my late thirties I took up watercolour painting. I loved the feel of being able to create pictures with the stroke of a brush . I guess I was more impressionist than realist and I went on to follow that pursuit for over 18 years and exhibiting my work at various art shows. Painting, I think, is a lot like writing. You start with a blank piece of paper, it holds so much potential, promise and as you make the first stroke the picture begins to reveal itself. One is pulling together a vision and transforming it into a reality. In my 'about me' on my writing blog, I wrote: “Writing for me is like painting pictures with words. It is an expression of thought, feeling and imagination all drawn together to form one glorious vision of an initial idea.”

Now having recounted my creative endeavours from early childhood onwards, I wonder why I thought I could never write?

There is one thing I would also loved to have been able to do—sing. Yes, of course I can sing, but not necessarily in tune! I marvel at those who possess amazing voices and think it would be so splendid to have been one of them. Nevertheless, I have been blessed with certain gifts of creativity and I should not discount those things that I can achieve.

Oh I don’t think that I ever mentioned to you that I use to read tarot professionally — 
Madam Helen delves into the future - well stumbles around a bit ^_^. I say use to, because late last year I retired from professional reading and also as the co-author of the blog Tarot Notes Major and Minor—my ex tarot partner now runs it herself. I have had a love of tarot that spans thirty plus years, and I never cease to be amazed at how these little pieces of cardboard can get to the root of a problem. Is it the cards or is it the reader that holds the magic? I’ll leave you to decide that one.

Oh look, I’ve babbled on for such a long time, but I do hope that you will have enjoyed reading this and perhaps feel that you have got to know me just a little better. Right, back to those edits or that book will never be finished!

With fondest regards,
Helen A. Howell

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Driving Miss Cathy

Weird, today is. My last morning going to work for almost a month.

It's my eyes, you see. Can't see a bloody thing. Well, I can see you but I can't see the expression on your face. I can't see road signs anymore – they're just a dangerous blur. And I definitely can't see what's on my computer screen, no matter how big I blow it up.

Cataracts. In both eyes. I'm 51, for crissakes. Who gets cataracts when they're 51? Actually my uncle was still in his '40s when he had his done, so it runs in my family and it's not unheard of. Still, my husband's aunt, who is in her '80s, just had hers done.

I figured something was amiss last spring but I didn't suspect cataracts. I just thought my glasses were FUBAR and my prescription had changed. You could have blown me over with a feather when the optometrist said, "You have cataracts in both eyes and they're the fast-growing kind. I want to keep close tabs on them. Come back and see me in six months."

"I'm old," I whined. "It's official."

It was apparent to the optometrist that my cataracts had gotten substantially worse when I went back for the six month check-up. There was none of the debate I expected: "Well, they're bad but you can probably wait for a couple of years." Nope. She said, "Let's get you in to see a surgeon as soon as possible."

That was in September. Now, Canada has an excellent health plan but non-emergency surgery does take time to arrange. First the doc has to find room on his schedule for a consult. Then there are tests and more tests, blah-dee-blah. Finally I got a date for surgery – Feb. 7.

Meanwhile, my eyes are rapidly getting worse. It's a good thing I'm a touch-typist because otherwise I wouldn't know what I was writing. (And thank gawd for spell check and blowing up your screen 200%.) Part of my job is adjusting photographs at work. Usually I'm pretty good at it – my colleagues often give me the worst photos that need the most touch-ups. Funny thing is, I can't see what I'm doing at all. Only a bazillion years of experience tells me I'm in the ballpark.

We got a 50" plasma TV before Christmas (I know, crazy eh?) and I keep asking Dave, "Is it clear?" Because it looks terrible to me. He assures me it's fantastic.

I rely on other people to drive me everywhere.

I can't read labels at the supermarket.

Finally I decided, enough is fecking enough. So I arranged to be off on short-term disability until after my surgery.

I feel kind of icky about it. Guilty. But also vaguely exhilarated. I mean, come on, the last time I had a month off was when I had my babies. This time there's no labour pains and diapers to change.

Anyway, I should go. My ride will show up any minute to drive Miss Daisy to work. She's no Morgan Freeman but I surely do appreciate her kindness.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Mark Champion - Letter from a Friend

It all started because Mrs. Sunshine cut her finger off while trimming a hedge.

I looked out the window of the bungalow my family had just moved into and there was a swarm of children combing through the hedge separating our house from the Sunshines. 

"We're looking for the finger!" they said. I helped them with their enthusiastic search, hoping I'd be the one to find the bloody appendage and at the same time hoping I wouldn't because, ew, it was totally gross.

No one found the finger (turns out it was just a fingertip, not the whole enchilada) but I did find a lifelong friend. Mark Champion's house was kitty corner across the street. He was my age (only a month apart), he looked like me (people thought we were brother and sister) and we got along like gangbusters. 

He was the best kind of best friend. Loyal. Caring. Intelligent. Funny. We walked to school together and argued about politics, we played Kick the Can until the streetlights came on, we made prank phone calls to people asking if their refrigerators were running ("you better run and catch them, then"). The only time we were apart was summer, when our family went up north to the cottage. There were no cell phones back then. No internet. The only way to keep in touch was through letter-writing. Mark was a faithful and avid letter writer, sending me many and getting mad when I didn't reply as often as he thought I should. I loved getting those letters. He sent them on fish-covered stationery and addressed them to the general delivery post office closest to our cottage.

Our parents used to think that we'd grow up and get married but it wasn't like that. We grew up alright, but our lives went separate ways even as they followed parallel paths. I got married, he got married. I got pregnant, his wife got pregnant a few months later. I had two boys, they had two girls. I got divorced, he got divorced. But through it all we hardly saw each other. I was a country bumpkin at heart and felt happiest up north. Mark was happy in the city. I was basically content with low paying newspaper jobs. Mark climbed the corporate ladder. After a while it was hard to believe we ever had anything in common – we seemed so different.

When I decided to run this Letters from a Friend series, I knew I couldn't do it without asking for a letter from Mark. He inspired this series, his letters. 

His e-mail arrived in my inbox while I was at work. I opened it and gawd if I didn't start bawling like a baby. Hard, ugly sobbing. People asked what the hell was wrong with me. "Nothing," I said, "I just got a letter from a friend."

His letter, as you're about to see, is deeply personal and incredibly brave. Not everyone is willing to share this kind of introspection. It is a sign of a brave and sensitive man.

What makes it even more special is he enclosed a picture of a gold coloured fish and addressed the letter as if it were the mid-1970s again and he was sending it to the cottage. That's what started the tears – but it was his revelations about his own life that really made the waterworks flow. If you ever receive a letter like this, you are a lucky, lucky person. If you ever have a friend like Mark, you're even luckier.

Oh, and if you're wondering who Cathy Robb is? That's my maiden name. God knows, it's easy to be confused. I've had almost as many names as Elizabeth Taylor. But enough about me – here is Mark's magnificent letter.

Cathy Robb
General Delivery 
Carnarvon, ON
Hey Cathy: 
I’ve been waiting so long for your reply to my last letter.  It hardly seems reasonable to ask what’s new, when the answer is a lifetime.  
I am starting this letter at work, and trying to think while the Hackasaurus in the next cube mists us with her latest virus.  Let’s call her Misty.  Misty who missed her flu shot.  Misty who hasn’t missed a day’s work in 16 years.  Fuck you, Misty.
Fortunately I have a singleton cube and don’t have to share with Misty.  As luxurious as that may sound it’s a big step down from my last position where I enjoyed the divine isolation of a corner suite in an office at the corner of University & Dundas.  My former office could have housed 8 of my current cubes and had a door to lock out the parasitic droplets dispersed by the likes of Misty. Times change.  Careers tumble. I’ve changed a bit, Cathy. 
Aside from the likely things like larger, grayer and more wrinkly, I’m less stylish.  Somewhere along the way my new frugality and limited shopping schedule has resulted in me looking at clothes as less of a way to ornament myself and more of a way to shield the world from my nakedness.   I shop for the kids constantly, but when I shop for me I try to find something of quality at a bargain … or when my bargain priced quality items have given up the ghost from constant wear … I resort to the clothing section of the grocery store where the clothes are so cheap I don’t even bother to try them on.  If they don’t suit they can always become a dish rag.   In so doing I become what most women expect their husbands would be if they weren’t around to dress them.   Even my old, nearly blind, bedridden mother has offered to buy me clothes. 
Yet, while I might like to spruce myself up a bit, I don’t think I’d change where I am at.  Somehow I had found myself wearing a corporate ladder, a Volvo, 2700 Sq Feet and a Swimming Pool and it obscured some of the things that you might have known me to be.   I think I am more myself today, Cathy… I think I may be more myself than I was before.  I’m more patient, more laid back.  I am certainly more liberal which I think is unusual in a man crossing 50.  I am less interested in things and more interested in people and experiences.  I am less inclined to desire luxury and more in search of the unique and the authentic, the intimate … the things that enrich us instead of the riches.  I like that I have put the kids first in my life. I like that we have a dog and two cats.  I like watching the kids grow,  even the painful parts.  I like getting to know them and sharing experiences with them.   I’m happy to replace the day to day excess with some time. 
Take care Cathy, dear friend, I hope to hear from you soon.
With love,