Life is for real, baby. Live it.

Toot toot! I’m back! I’d like to say it was a peaceful break, full of delightful trips down Creative Writing Lane – but it was void of any ‘productive’ work, barring labour and delivery.  No, not a baby! A TV show.

Outside of writing for children, I work in the film industry as a costume maker for film and television. Clothing the lithe and famous — that’s one of my games, yo! Have been doing so for nineteen years now. I just finished a contract on an HBO show called Lewis and Clark, starring Casey Affleck, which was shooting in Calgary, Alberta. (Sadly I’m not allowed to post photos of what we work on until it airs! And if you want gossip on the stars, you’re gonna have to befriend me and gain my trust somehow. LOL! There are some CRAZY stories to tell….)

Calgary was an unexpected journey but not an unwelcome one, in the end. I was getting over a relationship that ended rather sadly, and unable to concentrate on writing Book 2 of The Stowaways. So what better time to experience a completely new place? I took the contract and just went with it, even though I had been planning on writing the whole year. When the words don’t come… what can you do? Do something else.

I am happy to report that after the first six weeks of misery in Calgary, grumbling and moping over not writing (I am a certified Master of Resistance), Alberta won me over! What a positive, sunny place to heal your broken heart. I spent loads of time with bubbly Nicole McInnes, of OhDina fame, who was milliner on the show and also became a close friend  (Need a flower crown? Yeah, we all do sometimes. She’s your gal). Because of time with her, I rediscovered my fun side and came back to Halifax  feeling able to steer life again.

Sometimes you have to give yourself time to rehabilitate and strengthen before you can emerge from under a Rock of Pain. And sometimes you need someone to kick you in the, er… “posterior” and tell you to enjoy your darn self for once! Nicole was just that person.

Here’s a sample of the giggles we had at the Gopher Hole Museum in Torrington, Alberta. Yeah, that’s right. Stuffed gophers. It’s not for everyone but if you leave without a smile on your face, I’ll be surprised!

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“I’m a beautician, not a magician.” (!)

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“Is this for real?!”

Yeah, it’s for real. Life is full of unexpected side-swipes, and though we may crash and burn for a bit, there is always the rest of today to turn it around. And there is always a Gopher Hole Museum to remind you that you won’t be sad forever.  You’ve laughed before, and you will laugh again!

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As My Day Goes, So Does My Life…How I have fun when I write

As per my last blog, you know that writing can be a struggle sometimes, just to get going. And once I do get going, it’s still a struggle to pull the words out of my brain.

Some ask, “Why do you do it, then, if writing is so hard?”

I do it because it took 15 years of my adult life to figure out that I’m a writer, and writing being “hard” feels like a small hurdle when I look back at those years when my heart ached for meaning day and night. Thankfully, I finally realized that everything I enjoy is writing-related and everything worky that isn’t writing-related feels like a part of me is dying. Dramatic, maybe, but true.

To fulfill this destiny, I know I have to sit in a chair for hours a day, pulling my brain apart, for up to a year on one project.

So how do I make that fun?!

1. I do what my characters do. I walk outside every day, no matter what the weather, and I experience nature like my mouse characters might. Sometimes it’s beautiful, sometimes it’s dreary, sometimes it’s exciting (when the wind whips freezing rain in my face!) but all of it is super fun for me, because I get to stretch my imagination and BE a mouse. I crawl under trees, I sit in the snow til it melts and I’m soaked, I smell the earth and I lick the icicles. Yes, I really do. (And, no, I don’t do it when anyone is watching!)

2. I edit out loud in funny voices. When I edit — which is every day, for most of the day (it takes only an hour to write 1,000 words, then several hours to edit it)– I read my work out loud in different accents, with emphasis on different words, just to test it all out. This makes me downright laugh sometimes, especially when Gran speaks with the uppity voice of Queen Elizabeth or Renaud like “Lumiere” in Beauty in the Beast. It’s so silly and fun, and yet so useful!

3. I mess around on the internet. Yup, this is all part of it. When my brain just won’t play anymore, I let myself go on the internet and poke around and tweet and find cool stuff that may or may not have to do with mice – but always has to do with psychology and interaction between people, which informs my writing while letting me wander.

“As your day goes, so does your life.”

It’s a must for me to not look back at my life and see myself sitting in a chair 8 hours a day, struggling. I want to look back on my writing time as fun, balanced and expressive. It’s a privilege to spend so much time with fictional characters, and watch them emerge in a child’s world. I can’t think of anything more fun.

Me in my natural habitat. Photo by Nicole LaPierre.

10 ways I like to procrastinate (proving I’m a writer)

It’s no big secret that writers find it hard to get in the mode of writing sometimes. For me, it takes a couple of hours to get going. There’s a process I seem to follow, every single day. I’m not sure what it’s all about, but I’m sure it will be addressed eventually in #9!

So – my favourite ways to procrastinate are:

1. by writing this blog, which I tell myself is important for my “online presence”. I guess you’re reading this – so mission accomplished!! Mwah ha ha… wait a sec, are you procrastinating, too? Sorry. At least we’re in this together…

2. by cleaning the condensation off my wintery windows so I can study the wildlife, which I am meant to be writing anthropomorphized fiction about

3. by emailing all my writerly friends about how hard it is to write the “dreaded second book” (and then making them procrastinate, too, by writing me back and commiserating)

4. by writing self-important emails to the mayor about my unploughed road (meaning I can’t leave my house and procrastinate even more, which technically should be a good thing)

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5. twitter. need I say more? 140 characters is SO MUCH EASIER to write than 1,000 daily words.

6. by being crafty, i.e. binding blank books with pretty paper rather than writing in them

7. by writing lists of things I have to write

8. by writing lists of lists I have to write

9. by writing in my eight different journals about how hard it is to write, from eight different psychological perspectives, which are very very important to understand or else I won’t be able to write (Oh, irony, how I love thee)

10. and the all-time classic (drum roll, please…) — clicking Review – Word Count after every sentence I actually do write, however short

Notice how all these procrastinations still add up to thousands of words each day? Yup, I’m a writer!!! I’m obsessed with words.

Now that we see how much we want to write but how hard it is to stick to the right writing project, let’s go write. FICTION.

Fairy Godmouse

At times I feel daunted by the task of writing book number two. Hours can go by where I force myself to stay seated to write mountains of words that I’ll have to wade through later, searching for a nugget of ‘good’.

In fact, I haven’t written a blog post in ages because I felt like there was nothing positive to report from my writing lair.

But, at the worst times, when my mind is trying desperately to run away, the loveliest idea will land like a fairy mouse on my shoulder.

A moment like that is worth a month of struggle.

fairy mouse Melody Lealamb

Artwork by Melody Lea Lamb. Check out her fabulous miniature animal paintings on Etsy!

Happy Birthday, Rory! (An interview with the mouse in my heart)

One year already since the publication of my first novel, The Stowaways, starring you, Rory Stowaway!
How does it feel?

It was an exciting year. But tough! You put me through a lot of new experiences. Getting lost, finding a way out, losing our home…

Do you think it was worth it?

Yes! I got to do a lot of things I never thought I’d do. And I found out how courageous a mouse can be!

Would you do it all over again?

Um, why?

Because I’m writing you into a new adventure and you sort of have no choice about it. Unless you really, really don’t want to go…

No, I want to! We need to find a new home. Where are we going?

Well, so far you don’t know entirely where you are — just that there are strange new creatures to contend with, and some things that make you very uncomfortable — things you can’t explain. And you know how you love knowing the answer to everything… But one thing you will know is that your little sister Bimble is pushing to the front of the line, and you don’t like it.

But she’s only a pup!

Not anymore. She’s growing up fast.

Will she go on adventures with me?

Only if you let her.

Maybe…. She’s probably easy to travel with — she sure doesn’t say much.

We’ll see about that.

(whiskers twitching)

Do you have anything else to say? It’s your birthday celebration!

Are you ever going to eat those mouse cookies from the book launch — the ones in the freezer? ‘Cause if you’re not going to… I’ll take them!

You’d eat an image of yourself?

Yessss!

Okay (laughs). We’ll share them. You take the heads and I’ll take the tails.

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Thanks to everyone at Pajama Press for supporting me and my first novel this whole year, with such warm belief in a tiny mouse with big ambition. And also to my friends and family, near and far, who have become my mini book agents all over the planet.
Here’s to many more birthdays with The Stowaways!

Embracing Stress & Anxiety

When I was a child, I HATED Sunday nights. My stomach churned over the week ahead. No, I wasn’t bullied at school; I was just dreadfully afraid of people. I’d like to say I got over this, but I’m not sure it’s the kind of thing you get over. You’re either born an extrovert who feels energized by the presence of others, or you’re not.

When I started writing, I thought – this is the career for me! I’m going to work in isolation, with only my thoughts! Oh happy day!

BUT

Then came the invitations to make presentations at schools, read my work on the radio, present at booksellers conventions, participate in festival readings… What the heck was I thinking, becoming an author??

I’m uncomfortable in public. I hate dressing up (i.e. not wearing pajamas). I am exhausted after small talk — I absorb everyone’s emotions, and feel ineffective if I can’t engage with everyone I meet in a meaningful way. In short, I put a lot of pressure on myself to make a good impression, because I always feel as if I’m making a bad one if I’m the quiet, mousey girl I really am inside.

But, I believe in a little adversity in order to grow. Uncomfortable situations can force us to re-define who we are, and step out of the pre-conceived notions we have about ourselves.

Recently I was invited to take part as a presenter at the Labrador Creative Arts Festival. It’s a wonderful opportunity to contribute to the education of children who have less access to working artists than Children in big cities. I’m honoured to be able to participate. Though it’s two months away, my stomach is already churning and my thoughts already preoccupied. Will I be able to be social for an entire week, with hardly any time to decompress on my own?

The anxiety isn’t necessarily a negative feeling, but it isn’t the sort of excited feeling I imagine a lot of extroverts get when they are given the opportunity to speak in public. But, after each event like this, I do feel as though I’ve challenged myself by taking another step toward being comfortable in public. It may never happen fully, but life is a process — I’d rather quake at the front of a classroom, then never challenge myself at all.

Here’s me eating the microphone at The Word on the Street in Halifax last week – still getting used to this public reading thing 🙂
WOTS reading

To celebrate International Literacy Day, I will…

When I turned 40 recently, I realized, with a bitter twinge in my brow, that my eye doctor had been right:

40 is the magic age when your vision immediately begins to deteriorate, and reading becomes problematic. I scrunch my forehead, doing that see-saw action between me and the pill bottle, wondering whose big (or rather, small) idea it was to print such tiny directions to the aged population who are likely to be reading said pill bottle…….Grrrr.

I haven’t had to deal with a vision problem since before I had laser eye surgery ten years ago. What a miracle that was! To wake up, able to see the alarm clock clearly, as if I’d fallen asleep with my contact lenses in. It was the most fantastic feeling in the world – losing a disability with the snap of a finger.

I liken my vision problem to the hindrance I must have felt at age 4, with my finger on the page, trying to decipher what those symbols meant. It is not a pleasant feeling, and I thank technology that I can merely put on a pair of glasses to understand those symbols again.

I salute those who are, right now, struggling to learn how to read, and those who know how to read but are struggling to pay the bills and cannot afford to buy a book for themselves or their children. Wouldn't it be wonderful to snap our fingers and eradicate illiteracy and lack of access, with the same speed we can put on a pair of glasses to 'see'?

The Province of Nova Scotia has donated 3000 new books to Literacy Nova Scotia to distribute with their partner, Feed Nova Scotia, through food banks across the province this week. I will donate 5 copies of The Stowaways to add to the pile. If you are an author, and you have some copies of your books to sign and donate, I hope you can find a literacy organization in your area to do the same this week, or any week. You’ve probably already done it, and in that case… YAY!

Happy reading, everybody!!!
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