How selfish have we become?

OK, this one is a bit of a rant. I did warn you in the beginning that this blog may also contain anything that comes to mind. But I will try to not get on my soapbox too often, promise.

Anyone who lives in Southern Ontario was witness to a particularly tragic event this week. A man had abducted his own child and as we later found out, he had killed her on the 11th birthday. I find this heinous act bone chilling, maddening and depressing, but that is not what this post is about.

In their investigation, the police utilized our new system to send out an Amber Alert. This alert is sent through TV, radio and through our cell phones in an SMS message. It’s designed to get our attention in the case of emergency. The message was issued at 11:30 pm.

Normally I wouldn’t be up at that hour as I get up at 5 am to get ready for work. However, Thursday is the night I take a creative writing class and I don’t get home until at least 10:30. Then it’s usually a glass of wine, a chat with my husband and a bit of play time with the cats to get me to unwind before bed.

We both had our cell phones near as the alert came through. I remember saying “Oh no, I hope they find her OK.” as I read the message out loud (Brent didn’t have his glasses on). The alert came from the GTA and I had driven from Hamilton home to St. Catharines so I was pretty sure I couldn’t have been of any help. I finished my glass of wine and went to bed.

It was on my way in to work that I heard on the news about all the people that had called in to the police to complain. They were upset that their TV shows had been interrupted or that they had been woken up by their cell phones going off. Come on, really?! I must have looked like a lunatic as I ranted and raved to myself as I hit the steering wheel out of frustration. I really was that upset.

Think about it for a moment. There is a scared little girl somewhere out there who likely needed our help and people have the gall to be mad because the police asked? By the way, that message was the reason they caught the man so quickly. A motorist recognized the car’s description on a highway in Orilla and called it into police. If not for that message he might not have been caught.

Unfortunately it already had a tragic end as his daughter had already been killed. But let’s think about this…What if she hadn’t already died? What if he was taking her somewhere else to do the deed? In which case that oh so annoying alert may have very well saved her life.

How selfish have we become as a society to not only be upset about a 10 second interruption in our daily lives, but to call and complain to the police, wasting their valuable time?

I truly wish that no one ever has to experience the terror and pain that family had to endure, but for those who did complain, karma can be really nasty.

OK, Now I’ve Gone and Done It!

I just submitted my latest non-fiction story entitled “A Homeless Man and What His Proposal Taught Me” to the CBC Books annual Non-Fiction literary contest. The prizes are unbelievable! First place is publication on CBC Books, $6,000 and an invitation for a two week writing residency at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity. Four runners up receive publication and $1,000 each. Even the long list of finalists (30 entries) get their bios published.

I don’t know why but I find the submission process incredibly emotional, and this one probably the most so far. Since I began submitting my work at the end of 2018, I have submitted 5 pieces to various contests and open calls.

I was shaking when I hit submit. Once I had the tears started welling. It was only a few moments before I got the confirmation email and then the tears began to flow.

It’s not a fear of being judged. I relish that. I really want to know what people think of my work; not to be praised, but to be critiqued. Having a husband who loves to read what I write and thinks they are all incredible literary masterpieces is flattering and wonderfully supportive, but not particularly helpful.

It’s why I love taking creative writing courses. It’s a place to have others let me know what is working and what isn’t. I have this NEED to do the best I can and I don’t think I am necessarily a good judge of what I write. It’s not a competitive streak, in fact I hate competing. I know this sounds weird but it’s not a fear or even a dislike of failure; it’s a dislike of winning. If I win, it means someone else loses and that hurts me.

OK, so I’m a suck. It’s just who I am.

Snow Day

This is the third time this year Mohawk College has been closed due to the weather. I don’t think we’ve actually had any during the last few winters so we are definitely making up for it in 2019. Sure, commuting over an hour each way I have had days when I’ve taken my own. Luckily I have a job that, in a pinch, I can work from home.

I actually find I’m more productive at home. No meetings, no interruptions and with most people taking the day off, a lot fewer emails. Besides, the coffee is better, I can smoke at my desk and I have two fur-balls that love sitting on my lap when I work. OK, so it’s not so great when they’re fighting for that right, but you have to take the good with the bad.

I’ve spent the morning alternating from work and playing on the net. That’s one downside of working at home. I find it’s much easier for me to come down with a case of “oooh, look, shiny!” when I’m sitting comfy in my leather, high backed executive chair in a pair of warm, baggy sweats with a purring lump in my lap than when I’m dressed for work, sitting in my cubicle with the background drone of a busy office behind me.

That being said, something that I can do in five minutes at home usually takes 10 times the amount of time at the office, just because of all the distractions and interruptions.

But, there has been this one thing nagging at me this morning. Like an itch deep in the brain that won’t go away. This little voice inside my head has been whispering a word to me. Each passing hour it gets louder and more insistent until I just can’t ignore it any longer.

It’s now yelling at me to “Write!!!” and I think I will.

What now?

I find I’m kind of at a stale mate. There are so many options, what to choose? I have so many thoughts running through my head but what do I go with? There are too many options.

There is an open call for a fantasy themed story line looking for people who identify as disabled. I certainly qualify.

There is an open call for alien stories…I have one idea that fits.

There is an open call for a contest for non-fiction…so far my best category option.

There are too many opportunities to list.

Do I just write to write?

I’ve started down this rabbit hole and I’m in an entirely new dimension.

The Queen of Hearts wants my head but I don’t know what I’ve done.

I don’t want to do the easy thing and do nothing.

That is certainly not an option.

Information Overload

As I began my journey on the road to becoming a writer, I turned to our collective best friend, the internet, to find information. She certainly is a fickle little bitch, isn’t she?

The internet is a siren, an ancient being who will lure you from her perch on slippery rocks, hoping you’ll crash your vessel and drown in a sea of useless information.

She is the nurturing mother, providing sage advice in gentle tones.

She is the trickster, leading you through an endless game of cat and mouse. You follow, hoping she will eventually lead you to a nugget of truth, but she only takes you to dark places you don’t want to be in or to dead ends that lead nowhere.

I have subscribed to literary magazines, joined Facebook groups and I’ve spent countless hours weeding my way through a lot of garbage on the net, all in the pursuit of learning something, anything about my new chosen craft. Now, my personal email inbox is completely bombarded with messages at all hours of the day and night. I thought my work email was bad, but this!

I don’t mean to complain but it’s overwhelming at times. I’ve learned an incredible amount in a very short span. I’ve begun networking with other writers, who I must admit, are overall an amazingly supportive group. I have gleaned a ton of tips on everything from writing techniques to publishing to where to find information and assistance. I have even found a lot of sources on contests and open submissions in order to peddle my work.

We live in an age of information overload. I remember begging my mother to buy me encyclopedias when I was a child. I was eight when I got my first copy, Letter A of the The New Book of Knowledge. I read it from cover to cover, devouring the information. Then, every month, a new book would be delivered and I’d gleefully sit in our wing back chair in the living room, book open on my lap, and let it take me away to worlds unknown. I am so much of a geek that I even remember reading every word of the two supplementary books, two full volumes of their dictionary. While most of those books have been gone for years, sold at a random garage sale because my Dad didn’t want to move all those heavy “dust collectors” to our new house, I still have those two books sitting on one of my shelves. I took them down today and that white leather with the gold tree emblazened on a field of dark royal blue was like the face of a childhood friend. (Told you I was a geek!)

We live an absolutely amazing age of information. For someone like me who loves to learn it’s like a dream come true. But it also reminds me of one of my favourite Twilight Zone episodes; Time Enough to Last. Burgess Meredith is simply amazing as a man who loves to read but can never get the time. The apocalypse happens and he finds himself in a library with all the time in the world, only to have his glasses fall off and break.

Characters

Sometimes characters are born out of the act of writing a story. Their life is revealed in the telling of a particular tale. Other times it’s the character that comes first and the story develops around them. As an assignment in one course we had to come up with a character. This one’s name is Liddy and for some reason I’m just absolutely in love her. However, I just can’t seem to come up with a story to suit her. Any ideas?

Liddy pounded the dough heartily, her broad, meaty hands punching and twisting and flipping the floury mass into submission.  She hummed as she toiled over her custom workbench.  Well, custom may be a bit of an exaggeration, her husband Henry had simply sawed off the wooden feet to allow her enough height to really get to going on it.  She smiled to herself as she wiped flour on the faded apron splayed over her round tummy, the ties just long enough to do up round back.  Thinking of Henry always made her smile. 

“Liddy” he’d always say, “you’re as big around as you are tall and I love every single inch of you!”

The thought slowly bled the smile from her lips as tears welled up in her eyes, his loss still weighing heavy on her heart.  Wiping the tears away somewhat impatiently she got back to working her dough knowing the farmhands would be in from the fields soon and would be expecting their dinner.

My Mother

One area of writing that I’m completely unsure of and just getting my feet wet in is poetry. I dabbled a bit in a previous course I have taken and decided to take one dedicated to the art this semester. This is one from an assignment I just handed in. It’s about one of the most important and loved people to be in my life.

My Mother

We butted heads like the round horned rams on the mountainside

Each so stubborn, so intent to push each other to the long fall

Not paying heed to the cost

Not only to each other but to ourselves

…..

We didn’t fight like cats and dogs

No, that was too complacent

We fought like wolves and lions

Going for the jugular, intent on ultimate destruction

…..

I learned too late my folly

There was no need to devour each other

We only needed to realize

We were the rams, the wolves, the lions

Each the same as the other

…..

Time slips through the hourglass in unequal measure

All those years spent at each other’s throats an eternity

While our time as friends fleeting like a butterfly

…..

I wish I had the chance to detail my revelation

But I learned it too late

You are gone but never to be forgotten

My mother, my nemesis, my best friend

I will love you always

Inspiration

I’m currently reading an awesome book (well, if you’re interested in writing horror stories that is). It’s called Where Nightmares Come From – The Art of Storytelling in the Horror Genre edited by Joe Mynhardt & Eugene Johnson. It is full of essays and interviews with famous writers. One in particular struck a cord with me. It’s a chapter called How to Get Your Score On by S.G. Browne. Here is a quote that I thought was interesting:

“Likewise, the second definition of inspiration-the physical drawing in of air into the lungs-applies to the process of writing, as inspiration is as necessary to creativity as oxygen is to breathing. The writer breathes in ideas from his or her environment and consumes them in order to breathe life into his or her creations.”

Where do ideas for stories come from? Well, the short answer is everywhere. I’ve had them come from personal experience, dreams, people-watching and most often, seemingly out of thin air. Not that long ago I had a whole story pop into my head while we were driving in the country. A field of corn had been clear-cut for the winter and in the snow it looked like children had come along and planted a crop of popsicle sticks-that one brief image is all it took.

I had taken a 30 year hiatus from writing. I used to write a lot as a child and as a teen. I have tried over the years to get started again without any luck. Every time I tried it turned out horribly. I honestly thought my dream of being a writer was gone forever. Last year I thought I’d give it one more go and I signed up for a couple of creative writing classes. I’ve been taking more courses and writing non-stop ever since.

I found my inspiration in a two-day Writer’s Weekend Workshop and I can tell you honestly, with every fibre of my being, I’m not going to stop. Even if I’m never published again I am going to keep writing.

Like I have said in previous posts, perhaps it’s my mid-life crisis. I had started to become incredibly dissatisfied with my life-not that there was anything wrong with it. I have a great husband of over 30 years, a job that I enjoy with people that are simply the best, a roof over my head, food on the table and two little fur-balls that are the sweetest creations ever. It just wasn’t enough. I found I was daydreaming constantly and it was beginning to interfere with the rest of my life. I started pulling away from the people and the things that I love and I knew I had to put a stop to it or risk losing everything.

My writing is my outlet. I don’t have to daydream anymore, I can get it all down on paper (into Word anyway). I write for me, not others. If Brent, Spartan and Bella are the only ones who get to read (hear) what I write I am actually OK with that. They all think I’m wonderful and everything I write is fantastic!

Moral of my story? Find the thing that you love doing and go for it. You really don’t have anything to lose and a whole world to gain.

Why Non-fiction?

A number of people have asked me why I chose to begin my foray into writing with a non-fiction article. Especially one as deeply personal as “The Hardest Three Days of My Life”. To be honest, it was much easier to hit the submit button on that than it has been for my fiction. In fact, the second submission I made was an equally personal essay that I have submitted to the Kenyon Review’s annual contest of which I will find out the results of in the Spring.

Maybe it’s something that comes with age, but I find I am much more comfortable in my own skin than I ever have been before in my life. I don’t really care what others think of me on a personal level. I am what I am and like me or not, it’s your choice. The things that I have been through and everything I’ve done have made me who I am. I will not apologise for it, to anyone. Besides, if I can touch just one person with my personal stories, it’s worth it.

My fiction, on the other hand is completely different. They’re like my children if you will. Somehow, in someway that I can’t really put into words, my fictional work is more personal to me. When I write it’s a story that has to be told, at least to me. Those stories and the characters in them take on a life of their own. I’m just their narrator.

I have begun the oh so daunting task of submitting my fiction for publication. So far I have sent one short story for consideration in an upcoming anthology on alternate apocalypses and one to a respected online Canadian literary magazine that is more of a human drama story. By the end of this weekend I plan to submit another, this time a horror story. Also, I’m currently working on a fantasy story for another open call for an anthology. series.

I can’t honestly say I’ve found my niche just yet. Like everything else in my life I’m curious about absolutely everything. I’ve written stories in a lot of different genres, both personally and for the courses that I take. Where I’ll ultimately land is anyone’s guess.

But, as has been said many times before, it’s not the destination but the journey that is important.