Tuesday, October 30, 2012

It's Launch Day!

Angus and Sam at the beach two summers ago,
Inverhuron Provincial Park, Lake Huron.

We were on holiday a couple of summers ago and everything was as it should have been: laughter carried on the lake wind and secrets shared around the crackling fire. Sunburns and sleeping bags. Long days at the beach.

It was all there, a glorious week of it but, when I think of that time, it is only one moment that I recall. One small but shining moment, when time stood so irrevocably still that memory etched a potent tenderness in my heart.

It was late in the day, after supper, and we were down at the beach for one last swim. Our good friends Tammy and Richard were there with their daughters, playing in the waves that were pounding against shore. Lake Huron is a fickle playground – one minute her water is serene; the next it can be dangerously rough. It didn't seem too bad that evening, enough big waves to give everyone a thrill, but not enough to scare anyone.

Not until the plastic rafts Tammy and daughter Megan were on began pulling away from shore in the grip of a needy undertow. Tammy screamed for help and it only took a few minutes for Richard, a former lifeguard, to bring them to safety.

I have to say, Richard is one of my favourite people on earth. He's kind and gentle, and he'd give you the shirt off his back, he would, but he's got a few rough edges and is particularly good at scowling and cussing and teasing his wife.

Tammy, mind you, gives it right back. When I first met them I thought for sure they were headed to divorce court but that's just the way they carry on. Besides, I know they love each other. I saw it that evening on the beach. I saw it as clear as I've ever seen anything.

The way they stood, her hip snugged against him, her smile full of gratitude, and of love. They stood there while the sun set and the beauty of this long-married couple suffused me with pure and unbridled joy.

I'm smiling as I write this, just remembering.

For some reason I associated what had happened with Gordon Lightfoot's classic song If You Could Read My Mind. I played the song over and over, thinking about Tammy and Richard, about heroes, and feeling such overwhelming emotion that I would cry every single time the song played.

A few days later I sat down at my computer and wrote But Heroes Often Fail, a short story for Friday Flash. When I finished, I looked up from the computer and tears filled my eyes. I felt pretty good about what I had written, and I still feel good about it. I've written more than 50 Friday Flash stories but it's one of my favourites and I am thrilled it was included in The Best of Friday Flash Volume 2.

I often refer to Friday Flash and how it changed my life but just because I say it all the time doesn't make it less true.

It's simple, really. You write a "flash," which is a story 1,000 words or less. You post it on your blog on a Friday (or a Thursday night if you're a keener, like me) and then add your blog url to the Collector at FridayFlash.org. You then "advertise" your story on Twitter and on the Friday Flash Facebook page.

The first time I ever did this I was AMAZED at the instantaneous results. Within minutes there were people visiting my blog from all around the world. I remember shrieking, "THERE'S SOMEBODY FROM FLORIDA!" Within a couple of days I had visitors from England and even Australia, all writing heartfelt, insightful and helpful comments about my story. In the meantime, I used the Collector and Twitter to read other people's stories.

What I had discovered – what all people who write Friday Flash had discovered – was an incredible community of writers. They might have been based in Rhode Island or Newfoundland or England, but they became as important to me as my "real" family and friends.

Even better, Friday Flash was a teacher for me. It taught me to be a better writer, both by writing and by reading. It was also a confidence builder. If it wasn't for Friday Flash I never would have written a novel. I wouldn't have joined a writers group. In fact, I'd probably still be mired in a soul-sucking miasma of depression. Not now, though. Now I wake up with purpose, with a smile on my face and a bounce in my step.

And this is all due to Jon Strother, the writer who dreamed up Friday Flash and made it a reality. Thank you Jon, from the bottom of my heart.

Now, enough maudlin! Today is a day for celebration! Today is LAUNCH DAY for The Best of Friday Flash Volume 2, a collection of 58 of the finest short stories I've ever had the pleasure of reading.

And if I can brag a little bit, I have not one but two stories in this collection. As well as the story I submitted, But Heroes Sometimes Fail, a story called Running Away was nominated for – and won – the Reader's Choice Award. I actually have to laugh about this. It's a horror story and I almost never write horror. Basically it's totally different than my usual drivel, so it's funny to me to see it included. Regardless, I owe my nominator, Virginia Moffatt of Oxford, a great deal of thanks. Virginia also has a story in BOFF2; called Breakfast News, it is laugh out loud funny.

There are some tremendous stories in this book – I swear you'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll be scared and you'll think. There are stories for all tastes, for all moods, and they're all in these sweet little bite-sized lengths that are perfect for when you don't have time for anything else.

As writer Dan Powell so eloquently said in the Foreword, "Flash fiction is all about the moment. A snapshot of an event, an emotion, a conflict. A glimpse of something important that flickers in front of the reader. It hints at a whole world beyond the borders of its modest word count and when gone the characters, ideas and images sit in the head of the reader for far longer than the story took to read."

Only five of the stories in BOFF2 are written by Canadians, which makes me even prouder, I have to admit. Canada may be a big country but it hasn't got anywhere near the population of some other countries so we Canadians always think of ourselves as underdogs to some degree. When we succeed at something, we're like Sally Field at the Academy Awards: YOU LIKE ME, YOU REALLY LIKE ME. Silly, I know – that's just part of our identity.

To celebrate Launch Day, I've joined up with my four fellow Canucks on a wee blog hop. I do hope you drop by their blogs and say hello. They are all really wonderful writers and wonderful people, as I have come to know. They are:

Alan W. Davidson

Lauren Cude

T.S. Bazelli

Jen Brubacher (who lives in England but is definitely Canadian - in fact, Jen is a little jet-lagged and may not be able to post today but she's hoping)

One more thing: I hope you consider buying The Best of Friday Flash Volume 2. It's available in paperback for $9.99 plus shipping and as an e-book. You can buy it from the publisher, eMergent Publishing (thanks to Jodi Cleghorn for all her efforts) and from Amazon. When you buy a paperback from the eMergent, an e-book is bundled in at no extra cost.

To all my family members I have this to say – guess what you guys are getting for Christmas!

Monday, October 29, 2012

Tomorrow's the big day!

Tomorrow's a huge deal for me.


Wait, that's not big enough.


Ok, that's better.

Tomorrow is Launch Day for Best of Friday Flash 2, or BOFF2 as it is somewhat lewdly referred to. *wink, nudge*

It's big because it's the first time any of my fiction work has been published in a real honest-to-god book. 

This shouldn't be such an enormous deal for me, having had about three bazillion newspaper articles published in my long-in-the-tooth lifetime, but they were WORK and this is FUN and it's DIFFERENT. Man, it is so different.

Please forgive me as I prattle on about the wonderfulness of this auspicious occasion and try to sell a few books. I know, it's annoying. But damn it, this is just as big as losing my virginity. 

And much more politically correct to brag about.

P.S. Best wishes to everyone currently facing Hurricane Sandy's wrath. Stay dry. Safe safe. OK?

Saturday, October 27, 2012

The Auto Suck 500

Scientists were understandably mesmerized when they realized the flux capacitor they were working on had a surprising bonus feature: it sucked fat! (Don't you love my photo illustration? I took several photos and glommed them together, then painted radiation around the vintage vacuum cleaner. My favourite part is the floating doughnuts. Of course....)

Eat that other doughnut. I know you waaaannnt to.

Have two or three doughnuts! Scarf down the whole box! Order another box! Eat 'till you puke!

There are not enough doughnuts on god's green earth to make you fat.

Finally, you can eat everything you've ever wanted and not gain one ounce.

How is this possible, you ask?

Ladies, gather around. I have a little secret. A miracle of modern technology.

It's called The Auto Suck 500 and it can give you the body of your dreams.

All you do is eat your fill and then plug yourself into The Auto Suck 500 and, voila! All your fat gets sucked out!

No exercise! No dieting! No surgery!

Sound too good to be true?

Wait, it gets better!

The Auto Suck 500 comes with an exciting new option - the Auto Suck 500 Inner Suck is a tiny microchip that is injected into your butt. It's just like the chips veterinarians inject into dogs we actually want to keep!

Bonus! If you get lost and your husband wants to find you, he just follows the beeping from your behind!

With the Auto Suck 500 Inner Suck, you don't even have to plug yourself in to get your fat sucked out.

The state-of-the-fart technology in the Inner Suck senses calories from a distance of 500 yards, so, as you're pulling up to the doughnut drive-thru, the Inner Suck automatically starts working, getting its internal guts rolling in preparation for incoming fat and carbs. By the time you're wiping Boston Cream off your blouse, the Inner Suck has already sucked out all your fat!

I know! Incredible!

Even if you can't afford the Inner Suck you can still be skinny the old-fashioned Auto Suck 500 way. But instead of the micro-chip, you have to plug yourself in. Where, you may ask, is it plugged into?

Well, one end can go into any electrical outlet anywhere. It comes with a handy adapter so you can even suck fat in the car. The other end is shoved up ... um ... well, you get the picture.

Admittedly there is a little pain involved plugging into the Auto Suck 500. I guess it's like every other weight loss program in the world.

A big pain in the butt.

Monday, October 22, 2012

My apologies for being ugly

I feel sorry for all the people who know me, who have to look at me day in and day out. I especially feel sorry for my husband, who's actually married to me. I can't imagine looking at someone as freakishly ugly as me all the time.

I'm actually feeling sorry for myself at this moment. A friend posted photos of me on Facebook and, like all photos I see of my true physical self (as opposed to the one I hand-select for the world to see - photos without triple chins and freakishly ballooned arms and legs, bloated with blue veins, pulsed hanging handfuls of lard barely contained by overstretched and shiny skin), I feel sick when I see them. Utterly sick and utterly depressed.

I am what I am. I made myself this way. I'm not blaming anyone and I'm certainly not looking for either sympathy or inspiration to change myself. I'm merely using this blog the way I intended and that's as a journal of what's going on in my head. Back when nobody knew my blog existed I wrote from the heart. It was rather cathartic. Now it's always in the back of my head that maybe somebody might read it and thus I don't want to offend anyone or make them think ill of me.

Anyway, back to the self-flagellation for a moment. I'm the fat ugly friend. Everyone has one. They're great morale boosters, these ugly people. You look like movie star when you're next to a ginormous freak like myself.

I'm the Melissa McCarthy of Bridesmaids. The chubby one.  That's OK for you, you fit person, you of the attractive face and slender body. You don't mind hanging around the chubby one. But having come to the realization (a long time ago) that I'm the chub in the crowd, well, that's just not cool.

People are nice to me. I have friends. They don't seem to mind that I'm the freak of the crowd. At least they never say that. But they must be thinking it. I'm part of their view, after all. Or I'm blocking their view.

Anyway, my apologies to everyone, especially my handsome husband. Poor guy. He could have any woman, and he's stuck with me.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Big buttons, little buttonholes

I bought a new pair of jeans, with three chunky fake diamond buttons on the fly.

The buttons were big. The buttonholes were not. When I undid them for the first time, in the dressing room, I had to sweat with the effort of it all. They were relatively easy to do up but ridiculously hard to undo. 

A wise person would have said, "this might not work out so well if you're in a hurry to pee," and put the jeans back on the shelf. I thought, "well, they're just stiff. The buttonholes will stretch. They'll be fine."

The other day I wore them to work. After a couple cups of coffee I needed to use the bathroom, but procrastinated for a while because I was in the middle of a project. When I finally took the opportunity to use the loo, I had to go so bad that I was walking bow-legged.

I stumbled down the hall to the bathroom, found an empty stall, closed the door and, with some relief, started undoing my new jeans.

Oh crap, I thought, as my fingers began wrestling with the stupidly oversized buttons. I could not get that first button to move. It was stuck. Like Winnie the Pooh in the rabbit hole stuck. I pulled and I wrenched and I sweated and I swore but could not undo the top button.

Fine, I thought, I won't go to the stupid bathroom, but my fulsome bladder was saying, "uh-uh, you can't give up. This isn't a game, sister, or some diet you abandon. This is a bonafide emergency and I gotta GO."

Feck, feck, feck, I thought, as I fought with the stupid buttons on my stupid fly. Sweat was pouring off me by now, making my fingers slippery. I wiped them off on the dark denim of my jeans, the ones I was supposed to wash before I wore because of the heavy overload of black dye, but didn't, because why bother, and my fingers came away with a ghastly dark blue hue, like a corpse. A sweaty corpse. A sweaty corpse who had to pee like a racehorse. 

I couldn't believe the ridiculousness of my situation. In a frenzy of ineptitude I poured renewed frenzy into the undoing of the buttons, corpse fingers grappling, tongue gripped between my cursing-like-a-sailor lips, bladder screaming "OPEN THESE GD PANTS NOW OR THEY'RE GONNA BE YELLOW," and I thought, for one horrific moment, that I was going to have to call the fire department. Have them burst into the bathroom stall and say, "Just relax ma'am, it's going to be fine," and then cut them off me with the jaws of life.

In that instant the button, finally, undid. I plopped down on the toilet and peed, oh blessed relief. When I was done I pulled up my jeans and hesitated before doing them up. Should I? Shouldn't I? If I didn't do them up, they'd fall down. If I did, I risked going through the same rigamarole in an hour or so because, once the seal is broken you pee all day.

I debated for a few moments longer, finally deciding to do them up because what they needed was stretching, and if I didn't stretch those buttonholes, the jeans would never be wearable.

I did them up. And went back to my desk.

An hour later, my bladder started making itself known. 

"Shut up and go back to sleep," I said.

An hour and a half later, I was starting to feel uncomfortable. All I could think about was the bathroom stall, the sweaty blue fingers, those ginormous buttons.

The clock ticked. 

My fear grew.

The buttons waited.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Next Big Thing

Do you like playing tag? I think I did at one time, when I was young and had good knees and could run around the yard yelling like a banshee. These days the only tag I play is in blogland, mostly because I can do it whilst sitting on my large white arse and still yell like a banshee. Whatever a banshee is.
I was tagged by Helen Howell to answer the following ten questions about my work in progress. Below the questions and answers, you’ll find a link to Helen’s answers and a list of the three people I’ve tagged. If and when they post their answers, I'll link to those people as well.

Woo HOO! Let the tagging begin!

Ten Interview Questions for The Next Big Thing

What is the working title of your book?
Weezie Polk's Man Lessons

Where did the idea come from for the book?
When I went through a bad marriage break-up, wound up spending a night in jail for thwacking my ex with a Dr. Seuss book, biting a cop, earning a criminal record and losing main custody of my children as a result, I decided to write a book about it – especially because I came across so many other women embroiled in the criminal justice system, who were in the same boat as me. I wanted to write it as a warning so the same thing wouldn't happen to others.

What genre does your book fall under?
No genre. It's just a book.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
Ha! We talked about this at my writers group recently and we all thought Melissa McCarthy, the Academy Award winner from Bridesmaids, would be perfect. In fact, I am so tempted to send her my manuscript and get her working on it!

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Life was pretty normal for Weezie Polk until her husband cheated – then she bit a cop, spent a harrowing night in jail, lost her children and began an extraordinary, pie-filled journey to find her way again.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
I'm going to try the traditional route first but if I don't have any luck within a set time - possibly a year - I'm going to self-publish. I'm too old to wait longer than that!

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
It took two years but I wrote in bursts. Most of it was written during Nanowrimo last year.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
It reminds me of The Help, only without black maids and a civil rights movement! Seriously though, it has the same theme - of real women facing adversity. Of friendship. Of heroic gestures and brave deeds.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?
I would never have started writing fiction at all, period, if it wasn't for CJ Hodges-MacFarlane from Minnesota. I found her blog one day while surfing and read a story she had written for Friday Flash. I was so dazzled by her talent that I initiated a cyber conversation with her and we became friends. It was CJ who encouraged me to write a Friday Flash story and I can't thank her enough. I was also inspired and encouraged by the women in my writers group: Paula Boon, Dawn Huddlestone, Sasha Pringle and Linda McLean. And my husband, Dave, of course. Dave always pushes me to "get busy and get writing" because he knows how lazy I am.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
There's pie! Lots of pie! And recipes! My story started from a real life event but it took on a mind of its own and truly became a work of fiction when Weezie starts Grandma Bean's Bakery. I love this part of the book - it's so homey and adventurous. And don't forget - there's pie!

And now for the tagging:

I would love to tag the women in my group because they all have fabulous works in progress, but they don't blog so they're safe! 

In that case I'm going to tag some of my favourite writers I've met during my Friday Flash days:

Laurita Miller John Wiswell

To see Helen Howell's answers, click here.

Monday, October 15, 2012

JoJo: Honourary Canadian

Joanne Mendonza on one of the dinosaurs that were still roaming the earth
and the museums of Niagara Falls,  1975. This was when she
fell in love with Canada. I hate to tell her that Canadian dinosaurs
are now extinct. Well, except for Stephen Harper.

It started, as most things do these days, on Facebook.

I posted a link to a post I did on whether Canadian authors should set their stories in their own country, or in the U.S. 

Before you could say Stompin' Tom's Beaver on a Mountie, Joanne Mendonza had an answer for me:
Canada Canada Canada. Don't cave in to the pressure to set your stories down here. Be proud of your 'home and native land' and set them there! I'd MUCH rather read stories set there! Of course I'm an honourary Canadian...but still! heart

Our Facebook conversation went back and forth for a while and I wondered why this Buzzards Bay, Massachusetts blogger was so hung up on all things Canadian. Finally I just up and asked her to do a guest post, so I could pick her brains and discover more about this "honourary Canadian." 

By the way, don't think for one minute that she didn't earn big brownie points for putting the 'u' in honourary, or for quoting from Canada's national anthem ("our home and native land"). But then, it's hard not to give Joanne, or JoJo, as I have come to think of her brownie points just for being herself.
JoJo is one of the most positive-thinking and enthusiastic people I've met on the internet. I came across her blog during the A to Z Blogfest and at first I thought she was actor Vincent D'Onofrio, because that's whose picture was on her blog face, and quite honestly I was devastated to learn that a Hollywood celebrity was not following my blog. As to why she has Mr. D'Onofrio's photo instead of her own, I have no idea. I suppose if you want to know, you'll just have to ask her.

That, friends, is why god invented the comments button.

By the way, this is the best thing I have ever read from an American writing about Canada.

Thank you, JoJo.

I have been obsessed with Canada for as long as I can remember.  When I was little, there was a great Canada tourism commercial that aired on TV and the music they used was so awesome that I never forgot the tune.  I was beyond thrilled to find it on You Tube!  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=il3StIQDL9c

In the fall of 75, right before I turned 11, my parents took me to Niagara Falls.  It was my first time outside the USA, and I was fascinated by the Canadian flag and all the pictures of the mounties on postcards.  I loved being there, even though we were just across the border from NY and never got to see anything outside the Falls area.  

I was still flying high from that trip when I heard about the Edmund Fitzgerald disaster the following month.  I was horrified by it and intrigued at the same time.  

In the fall of '76 I entered the 7th grade and my history class covered all the explorers to the new world.  I was so interested in their search for the storied Northwest Passage.  Amundson, Cartier, Cabot, Hudson, Champlain....I would spend hours pouring over maps of Canada.  

Around that time, Gordon Lightfoot released his haunting 'Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald' which still brings me to tears to this day.  

My obsession with Canada kind of waned as I became busy with high school and college and, in fact, I had become a rabid Anglophile and toyed with moving to England.  

In the 10th grade I started spelling 'colour' and 'honour' with a 'u', much to the chagrin of my English teacher.  She told me I was spelling the words incorrectly.  I argued that those were accepted spellings.  She said, 'But we don't spell them this way in America' and I said, 'If there was an exchange student here from England, would you mark them down for it?' She admitted that no, she wouldn't, and I said, 'Then you admit it's an accepted spelling.'  I got my way.  

During that time, I was a huge fan of "SCTV", especially Bob & Doug McKenzie's Great White North skit and resulting novelty song.  

One time my dad took me to see my beloved Boston Red Sox up at Fenway Park.  They were playing the Blue Jays and it was the first time I'd ever heard "O Canada".  Fell in love with it.  

Unfortunately I never got back up there, but wanted to soooo badly, especially after seeing Murray Sayle's 2 part documentary on PBS called 'Last Train Across Canada', in 1991, in which Gordon Lightfoot's 'Canadian Railroad Trilogy' featured prominently.  

Between the scenery, music and the stories, I was transfixed and it reignited my obsession, but I was living in California and just never had the cash to go north for a visit.  In January of 1999, my now deceased ex-husband suggested we move to Washington State. I balked at it until he dangled a major carrot in front of me, "But it borders British Columbia....just think how close you'd be to Canada!"  We were in Washington 6 months later.  

Our cable TV company carried the CBC and I began watching it all the time.  "This Hour Has 22 Minutes", "Royal Canadian Air Farce", "Red Green", "Made in Canada", "The Newsroom", "This is Wonderland", "Rick Mercer Report", BC Lions CFL games.....I was hooked!!  I learned so much about Canada and politics from watching Rick Mercer & Mary Walsh.  
I joined the Red Green fan club and became a lifetime member of Possum Lodge, even meeting Red himself when he came to Renton for the only Western WA showing of "Duct Tape Forever".  

Learned the lyrics to 'O Canada'.  

Railed against the Olympic judges when Sale' and Peltier were denied the gold medal in 2002.  

I purchased a Canadian Road Atlas and would pore over it while eating my cereal.  

I became fascinated with the Maritime Provinces, esp. Newfoundland, after reading and seeing The Shipping News and watching the short lived Mary Walsh show, 'Hatching Matching & Dispatching'.  
My fave Hudson River School painting are those by Frederic Church of Grand Manan Island and the Icebergs off Newfoundland.  

I am very sad at how little my fellow Americans know about our neighbours to the north.  It seems as though the USA focuses more on Mexico and their culture.   It distresses me that very few people can rattle off the names of the provinces and territories, with their capitols.  

I don't 100% understand how Canadian politics work but I probably have a better understanding of it than most Americans.  I'm usually one of only two or three other Americans to do Facebook posts for Canada Day & Canadian Thanksgiving.  Whenever I see a movie with dramatic scenery, I am nearly always correct in guessing that it was shot in Alberta or BC.  

Someday I hope to get up to the Maritimes, now that I am back on the east coast.  I want to beachcomb when the tide's out in the Bay of Fundy and see the icebergs floating past Newfoundland.  

For now, I'm an American whose heart belongs in Canada.

JoJo made this Canadian flag using a real maple leaf.