Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Probing For Answers In 2009

I have no idea how to sum up 2008, except to label it an eye-opener. It was the year our son Cory was deployed to Afghanistan (he's currently serving the last half of a 7-month tour). It was the year I published Dead Witness, my second manuscript that I began in 1991 and finished in the mid-nineties. It was also the year I started this blog and collaborated in the creation of EveryDayBloggers.

My husband and I honour our son's commitment in Afghanistan, but as a mother, I am sometimes immobilized by fear. What keeps me going is knowing that so many mothers before me have gone through this and survived. And I am a survivor.

As a published author, holding my book in my hands for the first time was definitely surreal. Yet despite being an experienced writer, I was not prepared for what being published entailed, nor was it what I expected. The marketing required was frightening. The knowledge needed was endless. The stone walls I hit were frustrating. As for how I feel now, I'm still in the middle of marketing and promoting Dead Witness, so it's too soon to tell.

Yet, as I look back on the last eight years, I'm amazed at how far we've come. And, like everyone else, I'm curious as to where technology will take us next. Will I keep up? How many times have I taken great pains in learning a new program only to discover soon afterward that it was now obsolete? Can an internet of endless information change not how I search for answers but how I discern the distinction between information and knowledge? Is the axiom that if it's on the internet it must be true more questionable than ever? Am I correct in feeling slightly paranoid?

I'm no psychic. I can't even imagine what's coming next. What I do have is faith in human beings. Every week I'm invited to partake in a new discussion on writing. Every other week, my presence is requested at yet another online workshop on learning more about my craft. I'm surrounded by writers who want to learn.

There is a distinction between knowledge, information and education. And while I'm bombarded with an endless connection to information, I still need to decipher how to use it. For instance, it's not enough to do a google search on Grammar. There are 2000+ websites. I can't read every one of them. So, how do I apply what I read to the creation of concise and structurally correct sentences? If I simply copy the information, am I still learning? Will I be able to narrow my search in such a way that I accumulate enough knowledge to adequately build a credible story? And can I accomplish all this without getting lost on the information highway?

I don't know. All I do know if I'm going to keep probing. Because it's not enough to thank my lucky stars for the Internet; I need to learn how to best use it.
I'm taking my friend Marta's lead and summarizing what 2008 meant to me:

January - 2007 is spent grieving the loss of a loved one. Early January, we pay off our mortgage. Our achievement is overshadowed by the conditions in Afghanistan. Our son hints that he'll be deployed to Kandahar in late summer. By mid-January, fighting has escalated. 2,500 Canadian soldiers are serving in Afghanistan. To date 77 have died. I teach Tai chi and continue marketing Dead Witness.

February - Visit for two weeks with my best friend in Kelowna. Catch a nasty flu and spend week two sic in bed. Flying home in a blur. Late February, a friend from college succumbs to cancer. Life seems very fragile.

March - World Changing paperback edition published. Novel is a best-seller. The 600-page how-to-book offers solutions to a sustainable future. North American is beginning to take our environment seriously. Green is the word of the day. Fighting is fierce in Afghanistan; casualties continue to mount.

April - A friend publishes one copy of his novel. I'm so impressed with how professional it looks that I follow suit. I work on the cover for Dead Witness. No thought goes into what will happen next. I'm still marketing. I've stopped hunting for an agent though; they all seem a bit squirrelly. Our son, Cory suggests I buy a ticket in August to visit him. He's 99% sure he's being deployed to Kandahar in September. Casualties in Afghanistan mount. My mother-in-law celebrates her 92nd birthday. She still lives on her own, but she admits that being old isn't fun.

May - My copy of Dead Witness arrives. My husband is thrilled. I'm so pleased I order two more copies, one for my best friend's birthday, another for my critiquing buddy in New Mexico.




Saturday, December 27, 2008

Neil Young's Childhood Home

John Kiernan owns Neil Young's childhood home in Winnipeg, Manitoba. The excerpt below is from CBC News.


From CBC News: http://www.cbc.ca/arts/story/2008/11/10/dylan-young.html

When you live in the house where a world-famous musician grew up, it's expected to be a bit of a draw.

But John Kiernan, who occupies Neil Young’s former Winnipeg home on Grosvenor Avenue, never imagined another famous musician would show up at his door.

Kiernan told CBC News on Monday that he was looking out the window a week ago Sunday and saw his wife talking with two strangers on the front lawn.

“And I'm looking around, and I realize, this guy having a tuque on has really great boots on, these sort of cowboy, motorcycle boots. And he was wearing really nice leather pants. And I realize I'm staring face-to-face with Bob Dylan.”

After the music legend and his manager were invited into the house, Dylan asked a lot of thoughtful questions, including about Neil Young's old bedroom.

“OK, so this was his view, and this was where he listened to his music. It suddenly dawned on me, when you're looking at Bob Dylan standing in a hallway, that he had a very parallel experience 200 miles to the south, sitting in his room, listening to his music, looking out his window.”

Dylan grew up in Hibbing, Minn., about 500 km southeast of Winnipeg, while Neil Young spent his formative high school years playing in Winnipeg rock band The Squires.

Kiernan said Dylan and his manager visited for a while before heading off to tour other areas of the city.

Dylan then played a concert at Winnipeg's MTS Centre later that night, Nov. 2.


John Kierman was embarrassed because there was dirty laundry next to the washing machine and the house was messy. After Mr. Dylan left, John asked his wife how she could be so calm. She gave him the deer-in-the-headlights look. "That was Bob Dylan," he told her; whereupon she ran outside, screaming, "Bob Dylan in cab! Bob Dylan in cab!" to her neighbours.


Sunday, December 21, 2008

Time Traveling

Last night I dreamed I was transported back to the farm I grew up on. I sat at the kitchen table talking to my dad, who's been gone since 1983. I explained to him that I'd returned from the future. He gave me 100% of his attention, then asked some questions. When I told him I was married and lived on a lovely lake in central B.C., his beautiful blue eyes glazed over; I think he was picturing himself sitting on our deck or fishing in our lake. He looked sad when I told him his grandson was also a soldier, and he was fighting a war in the Middle East in a place called Afghanistan. In my dad's day, it was part of the Soviet Union. He was shocked when I told him how much gas was, what we paid for a bottle of Crown Royal, and how much a new 4x4 went for. He laughed when I said I was twelve years older than he was at that moment. I guess no matter how old I get, I'm never going to stop missing him.


If you have nothing but time on your hands, here's a delicious eggnog recipe I found online:

While whisking eggnog by hand is fine, a hand mixer is best. It not only speeds things along, it also creates an eggnog with a creamier texture and body.

While the yolk and dairy parts of the recipe can be assembled the day before, wait to beat and add the egg whites until just before serving. This prevents the frothy bubbles formed by the whites from deflating.


The world's best eggnog

Start to finish: 20 minutes

Servings: 10

6 eggs
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3 ounces good quality bourbon (such as Maker's Mark)
3 ounces sherry
3 cups whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg, plus a pinch to garnish

Place a large bowl in the freezer for 10 minutes to chill.

Meanwhile, separate the egg yolks and whites. Refrigerate the whites.

Once the bowl has chilled, add the egg yolks and use an electric hand mixer to beat for several seconds. Add the sugar and continue mixing until the sugar is dissolved and the yolks have turned light yellow, about 1-2 minutes.

Add the bourbon and sherry, then beat until well mixed. Add the milk, heavy cream and nutmeg, then beat until well mixed. Place the bowl in the refrigerator until ready to serve.

Just before serving, place the egg whites in a second large bowl and use an electric mixer to beat until they form stiff peaks.

Use a silicone spatula to gently fold the egg whites into the yolk mixture. Finish by gently whisking the eggnog to smooth the texture. Serve immediately.

--Merry Christmas

joylene

Saturday, December 20, 2008

A Better New Year.

I'm guest blogging over at EverydayBloggers until next Thursday. Please stop by. If anything, I've got one yummy turkey recipe. Don't you find every few years it's nice to try a new recipe? Yes, me too.

On a personal note, I was discussing the internet with my friend Pat Bertram. I happened to mention that I'm grateful for the Wide World Web because it's made me a better person. I'm taking liberties and repeating what Pat said because it's very poignant.

"I too am a better person because of it. On the internet, you can create yourself as the person you want to be, and in that creating, you can become that person."

That's a good thing to ponder as we race toward Christmas and the New Year. Let's all become naive this coming year and turn into wonderful, creative and loving human beings. I'm definitely going to try. Meanwhile, here's a yummy Brownies recipe:

Quick-Fix Cheesecake Brownies


Ingredients (Makes 32 brownies)
1 900-g package brownie mix
1 250-g package cream cheese, room temperature
1 tspvanilla extract
1 egg yolk

Instructions

  1. Prepare brownie batter as directed on package. With an electric mixer, beat remaining ingredients in a small bowl until smooth and spreadable.
  2. In a greased 9" x 12" ovenproof dish, pour in half the brownie batter. Drop half the cream-cheese mixture by spoonfulls over the brownie batter and spread. Pour in remaining batter and dot top with remaining cream-cheese mixture.
  3. With a knife, gently stir batter and cream-cheese mixture together to create a marbled effect. Bake as directed on package.

Nutritional information

Nutrients per brownie: 148 calories, 4 g fat, 25 g carbohydrates

Friday, December 19, 2008

Constructing Memorial ...




I found two sites, thanks to help from Careann with the list of Canadian casualties in Afghanistan. I'll be spending however long it takes constructing a memorial page at The Ghan Memorial. Please stop by when you can. It's vital that we show the families of our fallen soldiers that they're in our thoughts and prayers.
"Lest We Forget"

Thursday, December 18, 2008

A War Memorial Under Construction

What started off as simply a sign of respect has turned into an obsession. As a mother of a Canadian soldier serving in Afghanistan, I searched yesterday for a site that showed all of the 103 soldiers who have died in and around Kandahar since the war began. I was preparing to leave for town and had a few moments to spare. What I thought would be a fast retrieval of information hit a dead-end fast. And after a few more dead-ends I was shocked to realize there was no one site that I could go to for a list of names or photographs. A War Memorial.

I'm hoping the problem is me. And so I'm going to continue my search today because I can't let go of this. It's the least I can do. The family and friends of these brave Canadian soldiers need to know their sacrifice has not gone unnoticed.

If you happen upon any sites that have this list or might redirect me to where it is, please email me privately at cluculzwriter@yahoo.ca. How I'm going to construct this memorial, I'm sure yet. Please feel free to contribute any ideas you might have. Meanwhile, God Bless our Troops.


Best Regards,
--
joylene






Sunday, December 14, 2008

WRITING INSIDE THE BOX


Hello, my name is Marty, I am a writer of both screenplays and novels and the blog author of Dark Star Discovery. Our friend, Joylene Nowell Butler, has graciously invited me to guest blog here today.

Writing a screenplay differs from writing a novel in that (for a screenplay) everything that happens must take place inside the box. That is to say, the screenplay writer does not have the luxury of internal thought to provide reason for actions taken. Even the most astonishing turn of events must fit inside the flow of the story without reference to personal human perception.

To do otherwise, would make the screenplay too "talky" or the action too unrealistic. Motions and motives can later been explained but that explanation must also fit within the framework of the film. The following scene is from the first act of my screenplay "The Book of Tobit" a story based on one of the deuterocanonical books found in the Catholic Bible.

EXT. THE WATERS EDGE -- NIGHT
A boat is silently moving in the night haze. We see GABAEL cowering in the shadows. As the boat approaches the shore he cautiously creeps out to the light. Gabael notices a figure running near the waters edge and falls back into the shadows. To his surprise and relief, it is TOBIAS. The two men meet and embrace briefly as the boat makes a landing.

The landing party consists of three men. TWO GOONS hang back while the third person approaches Tobias and Gabael. This is the CAPTAIN of the boat. He is bearded and beady-eyed; gruff in the manner of a smuggler and extortionist.

CAPTAIN:
Have you got the rest of the money?

GABAEL:
Yes, it is all here...five thousand dollars!

CAPTAIN:
It is not enough for the two of you.

GABAEL:
But is the sum we agreed to... it is all we have... it is everything we have.

CAPTAIN:
Things have changed; five thousand dollars only buys you ONE passage. I picked up a man earlier and I could not get him to leave his children behind. There is little room left in the boat.

A view of the boat shows a father huddling two children close in his arms. Although he looks terrified he is reassuringly running his hand through the children's hair. The captain develops a growing smirk.

CAPTAIN: (CONT'D)
But for an extra two thousand I am sure I can persuade him to leave one of the children behind. And for five thousand more we could all reach the Swedish Coast in comfort.

The Captain and his men stand with Tobias and Gabael near the water.

GABAEL:
We have no more money, our family's whole fortune has been taken from us, confiscated, stolen by the Nazi's and other men like you. Our contract was...

Gabael steps forward - but the goons now come menacingly into the scene irritated by his last statement. Suddenly, Tobias steps to the center.

TOBIAS:
Captain, please give us a moment to confer.
(addressing Gabael)
Come with me, there is no use in arguing here - come.

The captain waves off the goons and speaks with irritation as Tobias pulls Gabael out of the scene.

CAPTAIN:
Decide quickly how you will pay or we leave without you. We must keep to our schedule if we hope to make it through.

Tobias pulls Gabael far away from the Captain and his men and turns to face him. The boat is bobbing in the background between Tobias and Gabael. As they face each other their exhale in the chill night air inter-mingles and obscures the shadow-draped boat.

GABAEL:
(angrily)
We have no more money to spare for this man. The price of passage to America still must be purchased.
(in resignation)
Maybe we could earn another two thousand while in Sweden, but that may take us years.

Tobias looks out toward the children in the boat. A small boy is sleepily looking back at him.

TOBIAS:
(comforting)
Gabael, listen to what you are saying.
Are not the lives of these children as sacred as our own?
We are no better than the Nazi's if we can bargain away their existence.
You go; the price for one to travel is five thousand dollars... take all the money and go. Others may later demand double price for the trip to America. Take MY money... it will assure you of survival. Accept this gift and GO!


Tobias (unseen by the others) holds out his PURSE to Gabael. Gabael is in shock by Tobias' offer; he is shamed by his own selfish concerns; and he is humble in the discourse that follows.

GABAEL:
Tobias, I am sorry for my words and my weakness. I pledge to you that I will never again, think to harm another. I promise you, that half of all I ever own is yours. In America, I will labor with your gift always on my mind. May God preserve you until the day when we can meet again. Then you shall have all that I promise you. I make this promise perpetually, to you and, if God wills, your children. Only remember my name; Gabael Ben-Gabri and I will remember yours; Tobias Nahum. When these two names are spoken in turn, I will honor my pledge.

Gabael takes the money from Tobias' hand and they embrace. Suddenly something is happening over by the waters edge. The captain and his men are running to the boat. The sound of a truck is heard in the distance and the sweep of headlights is seen approaching. Tobias and Gabael race to the boat.

The Captain and his men are grabbing oars, and tossing them into the boat. There is great anxiety and expedience in their action. Tobias and Gabael rush to the side of the Captain.

CAPTAIN:
(quickly)
The night patrol is early. We must leave now. What have you decided to pay?

TOBIAS:
Five thousand dollars will buy us one passage, we will take one.

CAPTAIN:
Uh!?!

The captain is startled by this unexpected answer and chagrined at the loss of extra money. But with the night patrol closing in he has no more time to bargain. He motions for the passenger to get into the boat. Gabael quickly steps forward and climbs aboard.

CAPTAIN: (CONT'D)
Come on get in, get in.


Gabael standing in the boat turns and strikes his fist over his chest and again pledges his promise to Tobias.

GABAEL:
I promise you, that half of all I ever own is yours. To you and to your children. REMEMBER our names are TOGETHER!

The goons push the boat out into the water and then climb aboard and row into the night and out of the scene. Tobias is alone, the sound of the truck is now very near. Tobias turns to run from the scene. A series of AUTOMATIC GUNFIRE rings out and bullets erupt in the sand at his feet. A chorus of SOLDIER'S VOICES beginning to rise ahead of him.

SOLDIER'S VOICES:
Halt! Halt! Halt!

Are Thoughts Sent Out and Received?

I love the story about the chimpanzee first observed picking up something by grasping her index finger and thumb together. Within weeks, chimpanzees all over the world were recorded doing the same thing. Scientists speculated that this phnomenon happened because the thought went out into the world and the rest of her kind received it. Her decision to pick something up using this new technique was thus shared throughout the world by thought alone.

Seems remarkable, doesn't it? We have a thought and it is sent out and received. Otherwise, where do our thoughts go?

I think: call me. And suddenly the phone rings and its you. I'm running late for my next appointment, but I need to make one stop. As I pull into the parking lot, my thought is: make a space available out front. I pull in and there it is.

Like so many unanswered premises, I choose to believe that thoughts do enter the world and are received. Like microwaves, they ignite inside my head, are processed and released. The universe (God) in His infinite wisdom brings electromagnetic waves and wavelengths or frequencies in line to accept my thought and to rearrange the universe to fit with its conception. Human and fallible as I am, I'm not always able to witness the consequences of my thought, yet I trust that something will happen regardless. I call it: praying.

Yesterday, three Canadian soldiers, from my son's homebase in Gagetown, New Brunswick, were killed in a roadside bomb outside the base in Kandahar. The same base where our son Cory is stationed. Several hours passed before the tragedy was broadcast on the news. My daughter-in-law works on the base in Gagetown, and aware of the incident, called me to say that Cory was okay. Having not heard, I was shocked, devastated and yet grateful.

As a writer, I should be capable of expressing my thoughts on paper. At a time like this, I'm not. 103 Canadian soldiers have died since the war began. Each time I learn of another death, I'm speechless. Yet, my thoughts immediately go to the families of those fallen soldiers. Sadly, we've lost loved ones and understand what these families are feeling. With each death, we in turn experience our tragedy all over again. The closest I can come to describing the feeling is it's as if somebody took a ladle and scooped out my insides.

Words fail me. All I can do is send out a thought and hope the families receive it and find a measure of comfort. If scientists are correct and thoughts are received, then my hope is that the mother and father, husband or wife, brother or sister, grandmother, grandfather, daughter or son know that in a very real way, the world is grieving with them.


Even if you don't have any connection to the war in Afghanistan or Irag, please take a moment to send a thought to these families. Let them know that they are surrounded by sympathy, compassion and sorrow. And then put out another thought: only peace (God) will save us.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

If You're A Writer...

One thing last weekend's book signings taught me is I can spot a writer within the first few moments of speaking with them. Even though they say, "No, I'm not a writer" I can still see the yearning in their eyes. Because writing is a yearning. It's the desire to express ourselves even if we don't understand why.

My mother gave me a diary for my eighth Christmas. It had a little clasp and lock. It was supposed to give me a sense of privacy so I'd be able to write without fear. Yet, I remember censoring myself. At eight, I understood that some things aren't meant to be put to paper, lock or no lock.

Today when I write in my journal, I feel the same way. Only now I'm thinking about the generation that will come after me. Do I want them to see my self-deprivation? Or hear my venting? Or witness my distaste?

Novel writing is an out. While a writer does have to answer for the beliefs, attitudes and prejudices of his characters, he can hide behind the fiction. If he's a good writer, he's not his characters and they aren't him. To master his craft, it's essential that he be honest.

Some of the writers I met last weekend are still at the stage where they worry they have nothing to say or no time to say it. What will their family think? How will friends deal with this new side to their personality? Truth is: they may not get it, but every other writer they meet will.

That's what separates writers from everyone else. Succumbing to the yearning. What separates good writer from bad writers is the need to be honest. They must reach down to the bottom of their gut and write the truth. Yes, it's a scary process. But that's where the source and desire to write comes from. All a new writer has to do is recognize the fear of discovery, ignore it and learn to write what's in his heart instead of what he thinks others want to read.

When I hear wannabee writers say they don't have time, my first response is, "Make time." When they look at me with skepticism, I know the yearning isn't strong enough. If instead, they nod and commit to even 100 words a day, I see success in its earliest form.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Facing My Fear Turned Out To Be A Good Thing.


I faced my fears and survived my back-to-back book signings this weekend. Both days turned out to be good learning experiences. Though they were quite different, there was a common denominator: the staff at both locations were outstanding. And because I booked signings so close together, I was able to analyze both to see how future signings could be improved.

Did I have reasons to fear either signing? No, apparently not, but hindsight is generally 20-20. Apprehension is never a bad thing, if held in prospective. I could not foresee that I would sell any books, no matter how much I believe in my product. And judging by some of the horror stories I've heard, I was luckier than most. I sold 6 books at the first signing and 9 at the second. While the patrons at the first signing found my presence easy to ignore, the shoppers at the second were genuinely curious and had no problem stopping to take a closer look at my book.

Because the first signing was in a bookstore, I took it for granted that sales would be high. Not the case. The shoppers at the groceries were much friendlier. Except for one Fundamentalist Christian who, in so many words, told me I was doing the work of the devil. My mother would have been proud though; I kept my other-wise big mouth close and instead, smiled sweetly.

Strangely, I saw very few people I know. Again, that may be a good thing. I was forced to be resourceful and present a confident front.

What would I do differently next time? Wrapped candies aren't as appealing as suspected. I think I'd switched to postcards or coloured pencils or even free Christmas cards, depending on the season. I'd make a free copy of my book available, and I'd brandish coupons for the particular store. In other words, I'd appeal to the customers by giving away something useful.

But a total of 15 book sales for a 6 hour work-weekend is nothing to sneeze at. In the end I remembered that my product is a good addition to anyone's reading entertainment. Did I mention I received an email from a reader 6 hours after my first day. He wrote to say I'd done good and he was already at chapter 13.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Face the Fear.

I wish I could gather you all up and take you with me tomorrow to my book signing at Books and Company. Not that I'm scared. I'm an experienced book signer. I did one this summer at the PGX in Prince George.

Okay, I'm a little nervous. And not from past experience. Will I do okay? Yes, I'm sure I will as long as I remember Dead Witness is a good story. Valerie McCormick is an endearing, honest, and honourable protagonist. I've lived in the Prince George area for 28 years. My sons grew up here. My friends and family are here. What's the worst that can happen. Okay, I'll tell you on Monday.

Part of living means facing your fears. I'm nervous for several reasons. The road conditions at this time of year can be treacherous. Especially if freezing rains are in the forecast, as they are this weekend. Nobody could show up. Or I could make a complete fool of myself by stuttering, blubbering or worse going blank.

What i need to keep in mind is readers are people. Writers are people. We can't survive without the other. If I can keep a smile on my face, offer a good book and accept the consequences, I think I can grow as both a reader and a person.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Mum Dies in Toronto Protecting Family


I am doing something a little different this morning. Please take a moment to read the story of Leslie Kelly, the mother who died in Toronto last Sunday. Leslie stepped in when a crazed lunatic stabbed her husband and then tried to kill her children. There's no doubt in anyone's mind that her actions saved their lives.

Mom died protecting husband from deranged man