Baby, it's CCCCOLD OUTSIDE!
I don't know about where YOU are, but for the past two weeks or so, British Columbia has been in a weird deep freeze from a strong Arctic outflow. Folks are like, Yeah, but it's Canada you guys have snow and igloos and polar bears and stuff. And I'm like, NOPE NOPE NOPE! This is BC, baby! Rain is more our speed, but lately? We've had REAL SNOW. Sure, the rest of Canada is totally laughing at us because we can't drive in it, but it sure is pretty.
Confession: I LOVE SNOW. I'm that kid standing at the kitchen window, watching until all hours of the night for those first snowflakes when really, I should be in bed. And good news for me -- they're forecasting more white stuff in the coming days, which means we *might* have a white Christmas! Booyah!
Me & my youngest, walking through the winter wonderland at the park near our house.
Isn't it beauty-full?
A new feature
for the newsletter ...
This month: Writer's block!
Is writer’s block a real thing? Depends on who you ask. Some authors assert that writer’s block is a way to avoid real work, a mere figment of the imagination that serves as an excuse to not sit one’s butt in the chair. But if you’re asking me? Yes. It's real. For me, writer’s block can be a scary, crazy-making experience.
To understand and thus combat writer’s block, though, you must define what it means for you personally. Are you frozen in front of a blank page, unable to put more than a few cohesive sentences together? Are you unable to come up with an idea at all? Are you stuck in a project, i.e., you’ve written yourself into a corner you can’t seem to get out of? Are you absolutely physically unable to get your body to sit still long enough to engage the necessary concentration for making words?
Writer’s block, when it happens to me, looks a little like this: I’ve just finished a book project. Maybe one that I’ve been working on for a year or longer. (Most of my projects gestate for months before I get solidly into the meat of writing.) Self-edits are done; I’m waiting on a beta reader or perhaps the book has been handed off to the editor. Which means I wait. Sometimes for eight or ten weeks at a stretch before I will see the manuscript again.
Now, when I get out of bed in the morning, I don’t have a purpose for that day. My feet don’t feel like they’re powered by engines. Sure, I have to get kids to school and let the leaky beagle out before she leaks all over the kitchen, but I mean the story I’ve been immersed in for months … it’s no longer singing to me to come downstairs and play. It’s off getting its guts rearranged. Instead of excitement about a full five and a half hours of unbridled creativity before my adolescent children come home in a fog of Axe body spray and pizza dust, I'm overwhelmed with a strange sense of loneliness, and sometimes even anger. It’s super weird. I know.
But this is when I’m most vulnerable to writer’s block, in that flux period while I wait for the editorial smackdown to arrive in my inbox. So here are a few tips to maybe help you claw your way out of the writer's block darkness:
Writer’s block is like an infection — and it will get you if you let it. Take your vitamins, eat good food, get some exercise, go out of your house. If you don’t want to talk to real people, then go sit in a mall and people-watch. All kinds of fun ideas are just waiting for you at the food court (as are peppermint Blizzards from DQ). Open your ears, and let the ideas come flowing in!
- Start a new project (or go back to one that has been gestating). Try not to lose your momentum.
- Force yourself to sit in that chair, and write as many words as you can. Some folks like to give themselves a goal, i.e., 500 words a day. If that feels like too much, then try for 100. Try for a whole paragraph. The old adage, “You can’t edit a blank page” is a hundred percent true. Some is better than none, even if some is poopy and has to be erased tomorrow. That’s okay.
- Give yourself permission to write less-than-perfect words. I do this often. I will venture to postulate that perfectionism is the #1 cause of any sort of creative block.
- If you can’t get the story to work for you, try some exercises: mind-mapping*, character development exercises, an online course to help move the idea blockade. Check out The Manuscript Academy (http://manuscriptacademy.com) for some cool workshops. (*Another writer friend of mine uses and highly recommends the mind-mapping program MindNode. I'm thinking about buying this in the new year to give it a whirl.)
- Work on your current story’s outline so you'll know where you’re going once your brain and emotional state are again on the same wavelength. Sometimes we feel blocked by a story because we don’t know WHERE we’re going. Outlines can remedy this (even though outlines to me are like eating broccoli — necessary but SO EVIL). Brainstorming is the food of prose!
- Learn to meditate. I don’t mean sitting criss-cross-applesauce on a yoga mat in your living room where your phone is three inches from your om-shaped fingers or where your own version of the leaky beagle can lick your face. I mean, go to your room, lie down on your bed, close your eyes, and think. Sure, you might fall asleep, but maybe that’s what your brain needs. I find that when I am on my bed with no TV, music, phone, or other humans/beasts nearby, I can walk through a potential story idea, really stroll through the story’s “rooms” and characters, to get a feel if the story has legs. I find meditation brilliantly helpful because it takes away the pressure of that dastardly blank screen/page poking me in the chest to scribble across its surface.
- Watch some movies! Sometimes when I’m mired in the muck, I’ll watch movies in a similar genre to what I’m writing (or sometimes in the opposite genre!). It helps open my mind to new visuals, to new possibilities for a story’s path. If nothing else, for 90-120 minutes, I forget how annoyed I am that I have writer’s block. Plus, popcorn! Win-win!
- And of course, READ! Sometimes seeing how other people squish words together is all you need to get inspired to start making your own again.
Thank you, Karen Hussey, for your great ideas for this column!
Have ideas, questions, or suggestions for Tips of the Trade? Anything you want to know about the writing or editing process? Drop me an email at email@example.com.
NEW BABIES AT THE VANCOUVER AQUARIUM!
Baby Rialto is no longer the only wee'un at the Vancouver Aquarium -- he has TWO new "siblings!" Give a warm welcome to Kunik and Mak, rescues from the Alaska SeaLife Center who now call Vancouver home.
(Photo copyright/property of the Seattle Times.)
Excerpted from the Vancouver Aquarium press release:
Two rescued sea otter pups have been transferred to Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre to receive long-term care, following months of rehabilitation at the Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward, AK. The male pup, now almost nine months old, was admitted on February 11, 2016, after being found by a member of the public in Kachemak Bay, AK. A female pup, approximately eight months old, was spotted by the U.S. Coast Guard and washed ashore on Homer Spit near Homer, AK. She was admitted on March 31, 2016.
The male pup was estimated to be a week old when found, and the female was estimated at 23 days old. They were placed in Alaska SeaLife Center’s I.Sea.U where they each received 24-hour care. The male required immediate weaning to solids and extensive coat maintenance. Dehydrated and requiring antibiotics when she arrived, the young female spent two weeks in intensive care.
Both pups were deemed non-releasable by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services as the pups were very young when they were rescued and didn’t have sufficient maternal care to learn the necessary survival skills. Vancouver Aquarium was asked to provide a long-term home for the pups so they may receive ongoing care for their needs.
From the Seattle Times article:
The three baby otters share an outdoor, 10,000-gallon pool ... They sleep together in a wiggling furry pile, atop the ice cubes they like to crunch and loll upon. In the water they twirl and dive, silvery air bubbles trapped in their coats shimmering in the water.
They eat together, too, four times a day, seated on a ledge of the tank in a specific order taught by their caregivers. Rialto gamely hauls out on the ledge with a hand signal.
Not that he needs encouragement. As feeding time approaches, all three otters are on the ledge and pressing against the glass door with eagerness. Lunch on a recent day was restaurant-grade clams, capelin — an oily forage fish — and cod. Rialto tucked a chunk of cod in the pocket under his arm for snacking on a bit later.
For more about these awesome babies, read the full article here.
Click HERE for video of Rialto, Mak, and Kunik enjoying a visit from Scuba Claus! Cutest thing you'll see today, I promise.
I haven't read as much these last couple months because I've been on a deadline for the NEW ELIZA GORDON PROJECT, but now that it's almost done and ready to be sent to the editor, I'm looking forward to getting lost in other people's words for a little while. Also, you can see from my choices, I read from pretty much every genre. I like mixing things up a bit. Never be afraid to read outside your comfort zone! :)
(Summaries extracted from Goodreads).
Bronze Horseman, Paullina Simons (romance, historical fiction): WHOA. A bunch of my online friends have been raving about this book, so I finally had to see what all the buzz was about. I don't typically read historical fiction -- except Outlander, because Diana Gabaldon is my spirit animal -- but Paullina Simons is some kind of awesome. Simons was born in the Soviet Union in 1963, so the regional details she provides in the story are terrifically authentic. Beyond that, however, she truly captures what it must've felt like to be in Russia around the time of World War II, something truly fascinating for this American reader who's never had a real glimpse behind the Iron Curtain. The story is brilliantly layered, brutal in its honesty, and holy smokers -- the passion!!! I was actually taken off guard a little by the amount of sex when it does eventually happen, but that's because I'm a big dork who blushes easily. You will fall hard for Tatiana; while at times stubborn and impetuous, she's brave and heroic, often sacrificing herself for the good of the people she loves. And Alexander ... well, you'll see. Check it out for yourself. Be warned -- this is a beefy novel that likely will take longer than a cozy weekend on the couch, unless you're some kind of supersonic speed reader.
Summary: Called “a Russian Thorn Birds,” The Bronze Horseman by Paullina Simons is a sweeping saga of love and war that has been a monumental bestseller all over the world. The acclaimed author of Tully, Simons has written a stirring tale of devotion, passion, secrets, betray, and sacrifice. “A love story both tender and fierce” (Publishers Weekly) that “Recalls Dr. Zhivago” (People Magazine), The Bronze Horseman is rich and vivid historical fiction at its finest.
Garden of Burning Sand, Corban Addison (literary fiction): One of the managers at my favorite bookstore (Chapters, Canada's Barnes & Noble) strongly recommended this book, and after reading it, I can see why. Author Corban Addison writes about hard-hitting, real-life stuff -- the rape of a young girl with Down syndrome in a Zambian slum. If the subject matter feels ripped from the headlines, that's because it is; Addison is an attorney and activist whose internationally best-selling novels deal head-on with today's most prevalent and heartbreaking human rights' issues. Connect with him on Facebook.
Summary: The New York Times bestselling author John Hart raved that "If you like stories of good people struggling to do right in the world's forgotten places, there is no one better suited than Corban Addison to take you on the ride of your life." In The Garden of Burning Sand, Addison, the bestselling author of A Walk Across the Sun, creates a powerful and poignant novel that takes the reader from the red light areas of Lusaka, Zambia, to the gilded chambers of the Washington, D.C. elite, to the splendor of Victoria Falls and Cape Town.
Zoe Fleming, an accomplished young human rights attorney, has made a life for herself in Zambia, far from her estranged father--an American business mogul with presidential aspirations--and from the devastating betrayals of her past.
When a young girl with Down syndrome is sexually assaulted in a Lusaka slum, Zoe joins Zambian police officer Joseph Kabuta in investigating the rape. Piecing together clues from the victim's past, they discover an unsettling connection between the girl--Kuyeya--and a powerful Zambian family who will stop at nothing to bury the truth.
As they are drawn deeper into the complex web of characters behind this appalling crime, Zoe and Joseph forge a bond of trust and friendship that slowly transforms into love. Opposed on all sides, they find themselves caught in a dangerous clash between the forces of justice and power. To successfully prosecute Kuyeya's attacker and build a future with Joseph, Zoe must risk her life and her heart--and confront the dark past she thought she had left behind.
The Alex Crow, Andrew Smith (young adult): I love love love Andrew Smith. His book, Grasshopper Jungle, is one of my top five favorite books EVER -- not only is it crazy and awesome but it was the BRAVEST young adult fiction I'd read up to that point in my life. Giant praying mantises ravaging an Iowa town? Are you kidding me? With The Alex Crow, we get more of Smith's terrific characterization (he works full-time as an English teacher at a California high school -- the guy KNOWS teenagers), but we also get an authentic, firsthand view of what life is like for Ariel, a transplanted refugee from the Middle East who has been thrust into a new, confusing life in Middle America. This story is told in three threads that eventually come together in the end, like a perfect literary braid only Smith could weave.
Summary: Once again blending multiple story strands that transcend time and place, Grasshopper Jungle author Andrew Smith tells the story of 15-year-old Ariel, a refugee from the Middle East who is the sole survivor of an attack on his small village. Now living with an adoptive family in Sunday, West Virginia, Ariel's story of his summer at a boys' camp for tech detox is juxtaposed against those of a schizophrenic bomber and the diaries of a failed arctic expedition from the late nineteenth century. Oh, and there’s also a depressed bionic reincarnated crow.
Eligible: A Modern Retelling of Pride & Prejudice, Curtis Sittenfeld (contemporary romance, women’s fiction): Oh, what fun! I'm a big P&P fan, so I was a little nervous about this one -- honestly, how could a modern writer do any better than our darling Jane Austen has already delivered for us? I'm happy to say I was pleasantly surprised. A totally enjoyable read, it was great to see those wacky Bennet sisters as modern, twenty-first-century women who weren't simply waiting around for a single man in possession of a good fortune. The shades of Austen's original characters still exist in each Bennet daughter, albeit with updated twists and quirks I didn't always see coming. And yes, Darcy is still delicious.
Summary: This version of the Bennet family—and Mr. Darcy—is one that you have and haven’t met before: Liz is a magazine writer in her late thirties who, like her yoga instructor older sister, Jane, lives in New York City. When their father has a health scare, they return to their childhood home in Cincinnati to help—and discover that the sprawling Tudor they grew up in is crumbling and the family is in disarray.
Youngest sisters Kitty and Lydia are too busy with their CrossFit workouts and Paleo diets to get jobs. Mary, the middle sister, is earning her third online master’s degree and barely leaves her room, except for those mysterious Tuesday-night outings she won’t discuss. And Mrs. Bennet has one thing on her mind: how to marry off her daughters, especially as Jane’s fortieth birthday fast approaches.
Enter Chip Bingley, a handsome new-in-town doctor who recently appeared on the juggernaut reality TV dating show Eligible. At a Fourth of July barbecue, Chip takes an immediate interest in Jane, but Chip’s friend neurosurgeon Fitzwilliam Darcy reveals himself to Liz to be much less charming. . . .
And yet, first impressions can be deceiving.
Dark Matter, Blake Crouch (sci-fi/fantasy): I had no idea what to expect going in to this book, only that everyone I ran into who read it RAVED about it. I LOVED Blake Crouch's earlier novel RUN, so I knew that I was in good hands here -- even if the mention of quantum mechanics sorta freaked me out. I did one day of physics in high school. When the teacher reviewed the semester syllabus, I knew I was in way over my head, so I excused myself to the office and promptly switched to another English class. Seems my brain hung up a DO NOT ENTER sign when it comes to physics. HOWEVER, I am happy to report that the way Crouch explains multiverses and quantum stuff? I actually got it! Moral of the story: Don't let the science turn you off. Crouch is awesome with tension and suspense and characterization -- and who among us hasn't wondered if there is an alternate version of ourselves living another life in a parallel universe? I hope wherever my alternate self is, she has great hair and a personal chef who looks remarkably like Henry Cavill. ;)
Summary: “Are you happy with your life?” Those are the last words Jason Dessen hears before the masked abductor knocks him unconscious. Before he awakens to find himself strapped to a gurney, surrounded by strangers in hazmat suits. Before a man Jason’s never met smiles down at him and says, “Welcome back, my friend.”
In this world he’s woken up to, Jason’s life is not the one he knows. His wife is not his wife. His son was never born. And Jason is not an ordinary college physics professor but a celebrated genius who has achieved something remarkable--something impossible.
Is it this world or the other that’s the dream? And even if the home he remembers is real, how can Jason possibly make it back to the family he loves? The answers lie in a journey more wondrous and horrifying than anything he could’ve imagined—one that will force him to confront the darkest parts of himself even as he battles a terrifying, seemingly unbeatable foe.
Pass me the popcorn!
The Accountant (Ben Affleck, Anna Kendrick, Jon Bernthal, J.K. Simmons, John Lithgow): WHO KNEW BATMAN COULD DO MATH?! I sure didn't. You know, considering I'm a word person, going to see a movie about a dude who is a math whiz seemed a little out of character. Until we consider that the story isn't just about a plain ol' math savant (Affleck) but about a math savant who is also a total sniper-level, dojo-master, daddy-issues badass. Anna Kendrick's performance felt a little flat, but that's because she wasn't given the leeway to be the cutesy smart-ass we're used to. The thing with Ben Affleck -- you sort of know what you're going to get when you see one of his films. Though I was VERY surprised at how much I enjoyed his turn as Batman in Batman v. Superman, he's not going to win any awards for his go as the quiet, enigmatic Christian Wolff. Not a bad film (and the score by Mark Isham is solid) -- check it out when it releases on demand or on DVD.
Captain Fantastic (Viggo Mortensen, George MacKay, Kathryn Hahn, Steve Zahn, Frank Langella): YESSSSSS, this film was GORGEOUS. I am a huge fan of Viggo Mortensen's work, and he absolutely does not disappoint. Ben Cash and his six kids live a VERY unconventional, totally self-sufficient life in the isolated woods of Washington State. When Ben's wife, who has struggled with severe mental health issues, commits suicide, Ben has to figure out what's best for his tribe -- with heartrending consequences. I absolutely adored this movie. Mortensen is in the best form of his career, and the actors and actresses who play his kids are brilliant and believable. FIVE STARS.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (Eddie Redmayne, Colin Farrell, Ezra Miller, Samantha Morton, Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler, Alison Sudol): OH MY GOODNESS, this movie was so warm and sweet and awwww, all those beasts! If you're a softie for the critters like I am, you will absolutely fall head over heels for the Niffler and the Bowtruckle, the Demiguise and the Occamy babies -- but it's Frank the Thunderbird who will fly away with your heart. I love Eddie Redmayne; his performance as Newt Scamander gives us another glimpse at his unfailing ability to play characters that move to the beat of their own drum. I love his vulnerability, his sensitivity, his anti-macho softness that is evenly matched with his bravery in the face of danger. I definitely have a soft spot for men who love animals, which is why I fell even harder for Newt and his beasts the second time I saw the film. Fans of movie soundtracks, James Newton Howard's score is fabulous -- I listen to it on repeat while I'm writing!
How to Be Single (Dakota Johnson, Rebel Wilson, Leslie Mann, Alison Brie, Damon Wayans Jr.): Okay, this was completely hollow, turn-your-brain-off viewing because I just wanted something funny and lighthearted after a long day of slogging through edits. I've not seen anything starring Dakota Johnson, including the film she's best known for, so I was a little unsure of what to expect from her. Honestly, she's not my favorite -- I don't find her charismatic or compelling to watch on screen. But any film with Rebel Wilson and Leslie Mann will be awarded merit points simply because they're funny, funny ladies. Unfortunately, Johnson's character was uninspired and a little boring, and as the film progressed, I didn't find myself rooting for her at all. As per usual, Rebel Wilson steals the show, so all is not lost. If you're up late one night with nothing else to do, and it's on HBO or your local movie channel, give it a go. Otherwise, there are funnier films to spend ninety precious minutes on.
Moana (Dwayne Johnson, Auli'i Cravalho, Rachel House, Jemaine Clement): I'm a GINORMOUS fan of Dwayne Johnson's, so DUH, of course I'm gonna see this! Dwayne as the demigod Maui? Yes, please! Plus, who doesn't love a Disney movie with a strong female heroine who spends the entire movie trying to save her people instead of searching for a boyfriend? I have very distant ties to Hawaii -- my mother was born in Honolulu in 1949, ten years before Hawaii was an official US state -- so I often joke that I'm half Hawaiian, because technically, I am. Which means that I am all over a film with a Polynesian flair. The music is great -- everything you come to expect in a Disney flick. And who knew The Rock could SING?! If you're not humming a few lines of You're Welcome as you leave the theater, you might be dead. The story felt a little long to me, but my twelve-year-old loved it, so we'll be buying this one when it comes out on DVD.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Riz Ahmed, Mads Mikkelsen, Forest Whitaker, Alan Tudyk): YESSSSSSSS YES YES YES YES! Hardcore Star Wars fans will LOVE this one as it seamlessly connects the gap between Revenge of the Sith to A New Hope. If you're not a Star Wars fan, this whole universe can be a little confusing, especially with the way they've numbered the films (George Lucas made the first three films in the '70s and '80s -- which are actually #4, 5, and 6 in the sequence, followed by prequels in 1999 to 2005 that became #1, 2, and 3) versus when they were released in real time. If you're wanting to watch the whole universe in the chronology of how the story was told before seeing Rogue One, you would watch the prequel trilogy released from 1999 to 2005 (Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, and Revenge of the Sith -- also, these three films are not super great, despite their stellar casts ... fair warning), FOLLOWED by the "original" Star Wars films, the ones with Princess Leia and Luke and Hans Solo and Chewbacca (A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi). The Star Wars film from last year, The Force Awakens: Episode VII (which I actually LOVED), and 2017's Episode VIII, pick up after all these other films. Confused yet? Me too.
THIS installment -- Rogue One -- explains what happens in between Anakin Skywalker's turn to the Dark Side (after he was melted in the lava and became Darth Vader -- so, at the end of Revenge of the Sith), when his daughter Princess Leia has the stolen plans for the Death Star (where A New Hope picks up). If all this is WAY TOO MUCH info, I don't blame you -- I live in a house of geeks, which is the only reason it makes any sense to me. For those who don't care about any of the other films, Rogue One is still a fun adventure through distant galaxies with tons of action, some heartfelt story threads, and a reprogrammed Imperial droid (K-2SO, or "K-2," voiced by Alan Tudyk) who gets all the best one-liners. Terrific cast too -- you can't EVER go wrong with Felicity Jones, Forest Whitaker, and Mads Mikkelsen! This film, directed by Gareth Edwards (Godzilla), is so much more than the earlier Star Wars films -- better writing, better acting, better storylines through and through, even if I did get a little confused at times with all the details (I'm an airhead, though). It was a great way to spend a Saturday afternoon, and I'll definitely be seeing it again over the Christmas holidays!
FILMS THAT ARE GONNA ROCK 2017:
Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2, Justice League, Kong: Skull Island, Logan, Beauty and the Beast (!!!), Baywatch, Wonder Woman, Star Wars Episode VIII, War for the Planet of the Apes, Kingsman: The Golden Circle, Fast 8, Despicable Me 3, The Dark Tower, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, Jumanji reboot, Pitch Perfect 3, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales ...
Oh-em-gee, my movie-loving brain just exploded.
What movies are YOU looking forward to in 2017?
The news I've been sitting on for a bit -- we have a new deal for the next Eliza Gordon book with Lake Union Publishing. Woohoo! Although I know what the book's title is, I have to wait before I can share it. We gotta go through a permissions process to make sure we can do what we want with the book as it exists right now. Of course, it's another romantic comedy with a fun female lead (named Danielle) trying to navigate her way through her crazy life. With a nutty cast of supporting characters, you can expect the usual Eliza Gordon hijinks for our girl Danielle. Poor thing ... ;)
I know November 2017 feels like a lifetime away, but it's really not, especially in publishing. As soon as I can share more info -- title, synopsis, cover, release date -- I WILL. I PROMISE. PINKY SWEAR!
"All I want for Christmas is ... WRITING TIME!"
Beat that dreaded wintry commute with Tapas!
Tapas is a great app for your smartphone/tablets where you can read comics, graphic novels, and MY BOOKS on the go, broken into little chapters that you unlock with keys. The first few chapters are free and then with in-app purchases, you buy additional keys to unlock chapters. Perfect for those who have limited time to read because of commutes and hectic schedules. Affordable and fun to discover all sorts of new artists and authors! It's cool too because every day they send you a "Daily Snack," which gives you a *free* look at different artists and their work.
Look for it in the App Store or via Google Play.
Liz Climo ... Otterly terrific!
Remember during this crazy time of year to take care of YOURSELF too!
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Showing off my very cool Superman winter hat
(or "toque," as they call them here in Canada ...)!
Wishing you a safe and happy holiday season,