It’s Frustrating Being Frustrated

Every time I send out a query letter to a potential agent or publisher, I’m supposed to include in my bio, so ‘they’ say, my writing credentials. They are looking for previous publications and contests won (contests cost money to enter. Did you know that?) That’s what ‘they’ want. Most don’t even want a sample of the writing. Just a query letter containing a two paragraph synopsis and a bio.

Hmmm.

As Jeff says, “I got nothing for ya.” This is followed, about six weeks later, by a kind, well-written email (if they bother, it will be always be well-written) saying “I’m sorry but this is not what I’m looking for right now” or something to that affect. Even though I checked out their website, and made sure of exactly what genre they are looking for, or what they love to see and my book fills every single one.
Every. Single. One.
How do they know when they haven’t even read any of the actual book?

Th first time I ever saw my work printed and bound for distribution was in my junior high school yearbook (my artwork-those domed cities of the future are mine) and a few blurbs about students and clubs) which we, the yearbook committee, cranked out on a Gestetner copier and manually collated a few hundred copies.

Gestetner copy machine

Gestetner copy machine

Hectograph Gel copying

Hectograph Gel copying

They don’t want to hear that I put together, by myself, every week for several years, our tiny church’s Sunday program, including announcements, requests, and little tidbits of inspiration, still using a Gestetner barely smaller than the one we used at school. Sometimes I used a Hectograph gel tray but that was quite tedious as only a few copies can be made before renewing the transfer.

They don’t want to hear that I graduated from high school with an honors in English back when time and language were created, or that I dated Shakespeare. On second thought, maybe they’d like that part, but I promised him I wouldn’t tell anyone because of, you know, Anne Hathaway and the kids (his wife, not Kate and Gerald’s actress daughter!)

Should I include that screenplay a friend and I worked on in that same junior high school, when we created a new episode for The Man from U.N.C.L.E., a popular new TV series? Oh, right. It was never published and who knows where it is now.

Short stories for school? Always got an “A” but, well, for now, it’s the same problem. Not published and let’s face it, teachers aren’t looking for bestsellers and if I submitted those primary and junior high school works of art now, I’d be laughed out of town and still unpublished!

They don’t want to hear that I always had to add extra postage to mail letters to family and friends because it was impossible for me to not tell the events in our lives as a story, and not just a fact-based letter. (Thank the Maker for emails! Still long but now free to send.)
My philosophy has always been if a story is worth telling, it’s worth telling well.

My mom’s nine-page eulogy? No, although it was ‘self-published’ by my dad and the booklet was presented, along with a memorial fund, to a seminary in Alberta.

When I wrote, it wasn’t for fame or a desire to be famous. I wrote for my own pleasure and the pleasure of the recipients. When I got my first computer (a business version of a Commodore 64) I made pictures with my Christmas letters using DOS commands. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, ask your grandparents. My first masterpiece was a letter in the shape of a Christmas tree (a good way to limit the letter since I have admitted that I tend toward chatty missives!) I also had a Canada Flag shaped letter, the words filling in the red bars and central Maple Leaf. Try doing that today . . . never mind. It’s easy today. Just use a template. Suffice it to say I had to write out the commands, kind of like HTML, but more intense! It took me a lot of practice and self-teaching to master but it made it easy for me to learn HTML later!

Commodore Business (1984)

Commodore Business (1984)

Even when I penned (aka tapped it out on a keyboard) my first novel, it was completely cathartic and definitely not for others to see. The story of my life, starting in the third grade. Around chapter 14, when I caught up with the present day, and my life was completely unresolved, the story became a work of fiction. I went back through it, added, changed and made up events and conversations, created an even viler villain, and ended it with a completely fantastic and unrealistic ending. It was a great teaching piece. And I discovered that I loved writing fiction.

But they aren’t looking for that kind of writing credentials and of those they seek, I have none.

They are also looking for social media presence. Blog popularity: How many subscribers or followers do you have? How engaged are they?

My inner hermit screams.

I am not a social butterfly! I don’t post my everyday activities. My Facebook Author page has stuff on it not even related to my works because I have no news, no book signings, no sage wisdom or advice for other writers, no excerpts because my best excerpts would be complete spoilers!
Why isn’t my Facebook page more popular?
Because I am not published yet! The only thing I am an expert on at this stage is being the unknown author of an unpublished best seller!
And don’t even get me started about Twitter. What am I going to say in 149 characters including spaces? Short and sweet? Never heard of it! (See previous admission of being talkative even in my writing.)
Tried it tweeting daily diary and journal entries from Ana and Caleb to garner some interest. Even that was hard with 149 characters, but I persevered. No spoilers, of course, but no one ever commented. No one even noticed when I stopped posting them. Those who do follow me on Twitter, with a very few exceptions, do so only in the hopes I follow them and boost their massive numbers!

Blogging is more fun than tweeting, to me, at least, but it not the same as writing a compelling story which keeps the reader turning pages and gets them crying and staying up late to read just ‘one more chapter.’ Blogging doesn’t make you fall in love with or hate a figment of my imagination; it doesn’t kill off characters and make you cry. Okay, some blogs make you cry, but it’s almost always for a different type of reason.

I fail to understand how my ability (or rather lack of ability) to rack up high numbers of followers (on Facebook or this blog or on Twitter for a book which no one has heard of because it isn’t published) relates to my ability to turn out some freakishly awesome stories with characters that are fleshed out to the Nth degree! (Thank you, beta readers, for your truthful and uplifting comments and criticisms which allow me to state that as a simple fact.)

I’ve spent a lot of time trying to get Facebook followers for my Author page and I’ve cried a lot of virtual tears over ‘no one ever reads or subscribes or shares or comments on my posts.’ (** If you are reading this, I don’t know you’ve seen it unless you post some feedback. **)

So Please Read. Comment. Share. Like. Don’t stop doing this . . .

The Crystal Box

The Crystal Box

And going forward . . .

Recently, I’ve been in communication with a company (referred by my editor) who takes your book proposal and presents it on their website to attract not only publishers but readers who would like to pre-order the book! I’m almost ready to submit my proposal for their approval. I’m really excited to do this. Preparing the proposal application is way more detailed than I thought it would be so I’m having to gather information which I didn’t have already, such as providing the STATISTICS on why I think my intended audience (new adult, i.e. those just entering adulthood, and older) is, in fact, my audience.

Stay tuned!! Be assured that I’ll be posting about it if they accept my proposal.

Would you be interested in pre-ordering a copy of my book?

Please comment yes or no and the reason for your answer.

This will help me know how to proceed as I need to be able to answer this question: “Are you confident in your book idea and being able to presell 250 copies?”

I say YES!

Am I right?

 

I’m back!!

It has been a long long time since I posted anything here. I’m hoping I can make more posts now.

Today, I decided that I was going to really push forward with my book proposal. I haven’t been not writing, though. In fact, I’ve been discovering a lot more about Caleb and Ana and their friends over the past few years! So much that I will say to myself, I am done this book. I won’t touch it until a publisher asks for it. Then a picture will trigger a thought, and that thought will morph into an idea that just has to be included in the story. So I add it. And add another and another.

Now, I have been advised that the average YA novel for a first time writer is around 70,000 words. The science fiction aspect can bump that up to around 90,000. World building takes a lot of words. Then I changed the genre to a new category—NA, or New Adult (this allows a bit more sexual tension—still no explicit stuff, though. A 12-year old could read this to her grandmother.) That bumped the ‘generally accepted’ word count up to 100,000. Well, my count was over 105,000 words.

So I added something to the file name – “blah blah-Kill those Darlings.

Not the characters, but extra scenes that really don’t add significantly to the story. Oh. They are wonderful little scenes but if you take them out, you don’t lose anything from the plot. If it was a movie, these would be on the cutting room floor.

So I started whittling out some of the more soporific scenes. Wow. I dropped down 2000 words here, and a thousand there.

The biggest reveal came from making this scene.

The biggest reveal came from making this scene.

Then came the big reveal to me (by my characters—I wish they would just tell me these things right off the bat!) OMG! What was revealed I shall not say, because it would spoil it for you when you finally get to read the book, but trust me, it had to be added. It affected two separate scenes. Got it all added. Ah…That’s perfect. Now everything makes sense.

Well, now I’m back up to 112,000 words and the page count, well, it’s high, too!

I’m just going to leave it alone and hope I can find an agent or publisher not afraid of big numbers.

Choose My Own Adventure!

I attended When Words Collide Writers’ Conference in Calgary back in August. An absolutely amazing weekend of seminars to attend, networking with other writers, and listening to the panel of keynote speakers!

Oh, the stuff I gleaned from Diana Gabaldon, Edward Willet, Brandon Mull, among others! So wonderful to be able to listen to them, learn from them, and pick their brains!

The most memorable game-changer was learning that I should be pitching my books as “New Adult” and not “Young Adult.” New Adult is a relatively new genre, and its protagonists are university age through their twenties, dealing with the transition into responsible adulthood. Exactly what my guys are! Young Adult spotlights hero/heroines in high school. Don’t worry, family. I will still keep the writing clean so that teens and grandmas and everyone in between can read them without turning fifty shades of red!

writers clock

The Writer’s Clock

And so I turned my attentions back to the ever present task of editing, which, quite honestly, isn’t as bad as it sounds.

This was the time to put those ideas from the workshops to work and I was busy harvesting ideas for improving my writings.

Several weeks later, after waking from a very memorable—yet, even with Liam Neeson as my husband, it was not all that pleasant—dream, I had an epiphany.

Yes. An epiphany. I’m not talking about just a good idea. It was an epiphany. I get them once in a blue moon.

Recently, my beta reader Donna, and I thoroughly went through all my stories written so far—six in total all spawned from one original idea. You would think that I had come up with all possible angles, actions, and viewpoints capable of pertaining to whichever story we happen to be working in, and there were changes made during these readings. Between the two of us, it was a pretty solid and exciting storyline.

Through all six manuscripts.

Enter that heaven-sent idea which would drastically change and improve the action (but not the plot) in the fourth manuscript.

Remember those ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ series for middle grade readers? I was now positive they were the product of an unpublished author just waiting around with finished stories, and getting these awesome ideas on how the story could have gone if circumstances were altered slightly, or if the characters made a different choice somewhere along the road. And the author, being true to his characters, diligently wrote down the ‘new’ version, but kept the old one because it rocked, too! Then when submitted, he couldn’t decide which version to send in so he sent them all! (Further investigation reveals I was completely wrong about the original idea of the CYOA series, but it still bears consideration.)

editing is reading and interactive novel

The Joys of Being the Author

And so, Donna, my poor beta reader, having just finished the entire series, has the task of reading the last three books, because they really really go together. The major change—I’m so excited about it, I’m trembling with anticipation!—appears in and alters quite a bit of the first of those three books. Of course, that meant checking through the other two and update/change anything pertaining to the changed information, because there are always little references to such and such an event later on and these must be addressed, as such and such event may not have taken place at all, but something else did! I cried as I did this, because it means that a few of my favorite scenes no longer exist, can no longer exist with the improved order of events.

So sad.

And so, whilst awaiting the knock knock of a literary agent on my door, I’ve busied myself with improving the writing but I’ve also been able create scenes on the computer by combining images of actors who best fit the parts, some of my own photos and artwork, and a few pictures I’ve found inspirational. In doing this, I’ve discovered new angles, or areas I want to fill up with words a little more. I’m posting a few of them from Book 1, The Crystal Box, on Pinterest, and updating my website, being careful not to create spoilers for the time being.

They said I need to go somewhere . . .

I work for an airline, booking flights and helping our guests as they join tens of thousands more guests trekking back and forth across North and Central America every single day.

I hear all about the beautiful weather, the bad weather, the flawless flights and the flawed flights. The beaches and the mountains, cloudless days and star-studded nights. Meeting new friends and rekindling old friendships. You name it, I’ve heard it.

So now, I have eleven days off work. The world is at my fingertips. “Where are you going to go?” my coworkers asked on my last day. After all, the first thing most people who work in the travel industry do when they have a good chunk of time off, is take a trip SOMEWHERE. At the end of March, Calgary still has six weeks of possible, and probable, snow. Cancun, Hawaii, Aruba, St. Maartens. These places do not expect snow.

Yes, it would be fun to take in some of the sights, to dangle my feet in an ocean. But at the destination of each of those flights, there are hotels, restaurants, tours, souvenirs. All these things take money. And money is the last thing I need to be spending frivolously. I looked into the possibilities. If I did go ‘somewhere,’ it would have to be a one day trip (no hotels.) What did I want to do when I got there? That’s easy. Pull out the computer and write. Edit. Rewrite. Find an agent.

So I compromised. I dug through photos of great times past, and came up with the perfect solution.

Budget Beach, AB

Budget Beach, Alberta

The beach scene in the background is Laguna Beach, CA, taken in 1993 on my first trip to Southern California. The trees are in Los Angeles somewhere near City Hall from a 1997 trip, my third trip to Disneyland. The wine glass (yes, it lights up) is from a daughter’s fantastic one-week-to-plan-it backyard wedding in 2007 although the drink pictured was new which my granddaughter enjoyed after I took the picture (I don’t like raspberry ginger ale but it looked nice in the glass with a dash of orange juice and a strawberry. I couldn’t find my little drink umbrellas!) The sand is from our stash on the porch that we use on the icy sidewalks, just to remind me what I’m “missing,” not that we have ice on the sidewalks right now but it’s a symbolic thing. I considered sprinkling sand on my bedroom floor so I could squish my toes in it, but common sense and my daughter both said no. Those are, however, my toes, which you can see have had a virtual pedicure to go with the virtual manicured thumb. To complete my basement beach experience, my space heater blows a nice warm breeze over me while a tranquil nature CD produces the ambience of waves breaking on a beach with seagulls screeching on the wind.

I can even ‘go to the spa’ because my office chair has a massage function.

And now, without spending a dime, I can play on my computer and end up in the same wonderful (albeit imaginary) worlds I would be in if I were, in fact, on a real life beach, without the sun glare on my screen and the worry of salt and sand getting into the ports. Knowing me, though, I probably wouldn’t have even left the air-conditioned and secluded hotel room!

What can I say? I write fiction . . . I make up my own worlds!

Share some of your favorite vacation memories so I can pretend I’m sitting on the beach with you, enjoying a wonderful conversation with a friend!

Cheers!

It all Started with a Bear . . .

This is a lesson on the snowball effect.snowflake

As you know from my previous entries, I was planning a trip to Phoenix to see my sister (who was also visiting Phoenix and we met up there) and I planned a day trip to Flagstaff for some serious research into Caleb and Ana’s world. (Those are my best friends, and they live in my books, in case you didn’t know that already.)

And then the bear came along—just before the flight and—Look. I’ll just tell the story, which is not about my imaginary friends.

Early in October, I was working, booking flights, answering questions, trying to not get too excited that my trip was fast approaching. A lady wanted to book a flight from London, Ontario, to Phoenix. Not too unusual, as that is a destination for a LOT of Canadian snowbirds. She knew what flights she and her husband wanted and proceeded to tell me. As our airline doesn’t fly direct from London to Phoenix, they would be coming to Calgary and getting the connecting flight to Phoenix. Imagine my surprise when she wanted the exact same flight I was already booked on! We chatted while I booked their tickets, and I asked, as I often—but not always—do, what was drawing them to Phoenix.

What about the bear? you ask. There was something about a bear. You said a bear!
Be patient, dear ones.

They were going down to meet their yet-unborn first grandchild (a girl), who would be just a few days old when they got there! (A plan hatched in my brain. Just a smidgen of an idea at that point.) She asked my plans, as I had told her I would be on that flight, too. I briefly mentioned my sister and my research plans, but I just touched on it because I was nearly excited as she was about that baby. (Sorry Caleb. Sorry Ana. I was excited about seeing where you met, but this was a real live baby event. I’ll stop now before my imaginary friends decide to stop speaking to me.)

She wanted to choose seats so I asked what their preference was. She chose (completely unprompted by moi) the seats immediately in front of my already reserved seat! She said she wanted to try to find me on the plane and I told her I’d be the one kicking the back of her seat. We laughed and the call ended.

A few days before the flight, I bought this little bear from the airlines store. Just a little pink The Pink Bear in YYCbear wearing a hoodie with the airline’s logo. My plan was to sneak it onboard and have it waiting in the seat for the new grandma. A bit tricky as I didn’t know what they looked like, and we would be pre boarding together. The day finally arrived. At the airport, I met Anne in the check-in area. She gave me some check-in advice and asked about the little pink bear poking it’s nosy little nose out of my bag. I told her my story and it suddenly seemed rather silly. Still, she wanted my picture and before I made it through US Customs (cleared in Calgary-it’s a Canadian thing to clear US Customs at a Canadian airport) and then security—both in record time, of course!—she’d posted the picture—and my brief story—on Facebook.

I was at the gate before the United Airlines flight before mine was even boarding. So we sat there, we two, the little pink bear and I, and watched the comings and goings of a lot of people. Before anyone else on the Phoenix flight arrived, however, Miss Bear was tucked safely out of sight in my bag. When the gate agents arrived, I took my precious gift over and asked if they could sneak it onboard and gave them Miss Bear’s seat number. So now, my pink bear story has grown by two gate agents and three flight attendants and Miss Bear is securely buckled into her seat. Needless to say, the bear was a surprise and a big hit with Grandma and Grandpa and it turned into quite the ice breaker, as the twelve people sitting in those two emergency exit rows became friends (and a better emergency team because of it, I’m sure.) Not life-long friends, but oh-so-friendly. Fortunately, the team work aspect didn’t get tested. It was a friendly flight.

And all because of a little pink bear.

The Pink bearBut wait. It didn’t stop there. That bear started gathering good vibes. My boss saw the Facebook picture and read the story. She nominated me for an award with the company. I knew I had little chance of ‘winning’ the final spot but I had been nominated and felt like a winner already. I’d never had a boss do anything like that for me. I felt the warm fuzzies as if Miss Bear was right there hugging me.

A few months go by. I’d all but forgotten the nomination, but of course, I had my warm fuzzy memories of how my little idea had touched a few people and this made me feel the way I had wanted the new grandparents to feel. Then I received a corporate email inviting me to a Celebration. I asked my boss about this and she said it was because of the bear. Yes. THE Bear. I joined about fifteen or twenty of my co-workers as our specific actions  were read by the management. I felt rather out of place. I mean, one person had came up with a money saving idea which was implemented, another devotes hours and hours of overtime, and the HUGE ways the others had contributed. All I did was give a grandmother a bear. You may well imagine how surprised when I saw several eyes being dabbed as my story was read. A comment was made a little later on in the same meeting about how we need to listen more to our guests, like the way that [Peggy] had listened to the guests.

Wow.
Just Wow.

Wait. It really and truly didn’t stop there. You see, I do listen. A cute little three year old was in the background during a call last week, asking his mom about their trip to (drum roll, please) Phoenix the next day. “Who you talking to, mom?” “The person who is driving us to Phoenix on the plane.” Well, after I got over the shock of being promoted to CAPTAIN, I thought that was just the cutest thing. Mom was a little frazzled, and I was helping ease her stress (details not important) but I wanted to share that sweet little conversation, so I posted it on Facebook. The Likes and Comments started pouring in. The Flight Attendants on that flight were excited to meet the family. Others watched from the virtual stands.

We were all pumped up, all these friends I had never met, a team working together. Again. One of the comments came from Anne, who had originally posted my story back in October, so I wrote to her to let her know the impact she’d made on my life by doing that one simple thing.

That in turn made her feel good to know just how her one little post had blossomed. On two separate flights, Airport agents and Flight Attendants felt good because they’d joined in the fun, my boss felt good because she had done something nice for me, my executive team that held the celebration felt good because they loved the story and were able to share it.

Great Attitude SnowballThe thought occurred to me: How many times do we, in general, pass up an opportunity to perform one little act of kindness because we feel it won’t make a difference in the long run? That nobody cares.

Instead, just do it. That act of kindness might seem little to you, but to another it could be a huge day changer. And when you add all the people who are touched by it, even if only by the story of it, the little act grows and grows, and becomes even more acts by even more people and it keeps on growing, until you can’t even imagine how many people may have felt better even if only for a second—

All because you gave one little pink bear to a stranger.

Pilgrimage to Flagstaff Part 3

Reluctantly I cleared my head of the initial shock of walking in the footsteps of Caleb and Ana and left the McDonalds and Starbuck area.

Without a map, I followed Milton and the Historic Route 66 signs toward my next goal, Crystal Magic, the bookstore I’d only seen from my stalking mode and fell in love with the name! It’s right on the corner of the street I was on and San Francisco Street.

Sacred Rites and Crystal Magic

Turning at at the lights, I grinned like the Cheshire Cat because I was about to go into that shop as soon I parked. I pulled into an empty spot across the narrow San Francisco Street (I’d always thought it was wider! I obviously don’t know how to tell these things about Google street view) and discovered I had parked right in front of a new age store called Sacred Rites, the perfect companion store in the scene where my characters mention shopping for incense and ritual drums.

my souvenir saguaro

I didn’t take a picture, as traffic was quite heavy and there were too many people (I didn’t want to invade anyone’s privacy) but I did get a little souvenir.

I then drove down the street on which I had assigned to Ana and her grandmother, recognized it as if I had walked that street hundreds of times as Ana had done. Very surreal. I knew that road.

A few turns later, and I was on the campus of Northern Arizona University. I just drove, experiencing something I had never known existed there. The campus is on some pretty hilly ground. So the hills really surprised me and explained the number of kids on skateboards. I found the Walkup Dome, where Louie the Lumberjack stands proudly.

Campus Shuttle

In the parking lot there, I discovered something else that Ana most likely used but never once told me about. There are shuttles that go around the campus. Ana seems to like walking everywhere, but I’m sure in the middle of Flagstaff’s winter snows, she probably used them. They might never be mentioned, but then again, they may crop up time or two.

I parked in a parkade that isn’t on any of the maps (it’s new, but it was finished in time to have been there.)

First stop as I explore the campus on foot . . . the bookstore around the corner. I immersed myself in all things university and Lumberjacks and bought a souvenir. Then “just follow the walkway around to the other side of that building” and I was at the Food Court in Union Hall. I had totally gotten it wrong. Well, not totally, but I never realized it faced east. In my mind, it had faced west. That’s important. Also, no revolving doors. Oops. No parking lot in the immediate vicinity, all important facts. Inside, I bought a muffin and sat at a table Ana may well have been sitting at when Caleb spotted her and made his bold move to meet her. I closed my eyes and listened. This was something I had never been able to stalk. Yes, I could go to any food court and listen, but this was the food court and the sounds they would have heard. I was a little disappointed that Caleb didn’t make an appearance.

Sadly, I left the food court but cheered up as I made my way to the library. The Cline Library is in Scene One, Chapter One. It’s hard to imagine the layout of a real place unless someone else has taken a picture of exactly what you need to see and posted it online for all to see. The Cline Library is such a place. A lot of pictures, but none that tie them together. The key spot where Caleb first saw Ana was completely wrong in the story. I have it now. It is believable now. I had to charge my phone so I had a great reason to just sit at a table and take it all in. More sounds (I had envisioned a quiet library – how outdated am I?) and a distinct lack of books. Computers everywhere, study pods, group tables. Wow.

Cline Library

 

So much more conducive to three guys studying together, making jokes, being a little louder than quiet, and then passing the reading room, and noticing a girl studying alone in that quiet area. I am now complete.

 

Unfortunately, the sun was quickly falling toward the San Francisco Peaks and I had a two hour drive back to Phoenix. I grabbed some dinner to go, and headed south.

Flagstaff Sunset

Not far out of town, I pulled over at a rest area/view point to take in my second Arizona sunset.

Absolutely phenomenal.

 

The next day, in Phoenix, Pat and I went on a tour which included Cosanti and Taliesin, both architectural wonders in completely different ways. I was able to grab a few tidbits about architects (Caleb is such a creature) and strange looking structures, perfect for inspiration on other worlds.

My poor sister also discovered first hand the truth behind this warning sign . . .warning-novelist_at_work

I plan on going back. As I mentioned in Part 1 of my trip diaries, I am in love. Not with someone, or some thing. Just in love and it’s calling me back to Arizona.

 

Pilgrimage to Flagstaff Part 2

Pat had already gone to her classes the next morning when I got up. As I dressed, I got nervous. Today was the day I was going to be entering a world which, up to that point, had been to me an imaginary world.

They gave me a pamphlet about Sedona anyway, in case I got there.

They gave me a pamphlet about Sedona anyway, in case I got there.

 

The car rental company dropped the car off at the hotel, and the concierge and bell captain gave me some touristy pamphlets and a state map. “You must see Sedona,” they both agreed. “But on the way back,” Manny, the bell captain, added. “It’s more scenic that way.” Knowing I wouldn’t have time for a side trip, I told them I’d try.

 

 

This is where the Arizona Coyotes play HOCKEY.

This is where the Arizona Coyotes play HOCKEY.

 

First on my agenda, a quick trip to the far western edge of civilization in neighboring Glendale to grab a quick shot of the Arizona Coyotes’ hockey arena for the hockey fans in the family.

 

 

So tall and majestic, the saguaro can only be found in the Sonoran desert.

So tall and majestic, the saguaro can only be found in the Sonoran desert

After an easy entrance onto the bypass next to the arena, I headed out for I-17, which goes through the northern edge of the beautiful Sonoran Desert, full of cacti varieties ranging from the squat barrel cactus to the majestic saguaros, along with many other unknown types (to this author, at least) of strange trees and bushes, all inspiration for alien flora on my desert-ish planets.

 

Having memorized the basic how-to-get-to-the-arena-from-the-hotel route (go north then turn left on Northern and go straight on until the end of the world and the bypass is right there), I was well out of town when I discovered I’d left my map of Flagstaff, marked with all the points I wanted to see, back in my hotel room.
Oh well, I can always get a map when I get there.

Steep grades all along the way.

Steep grades all along the way.

 

Along the road heading north, signs declare every 1000 ft rise in elevation. Phoenix is nearly 1100 ft above sea level. Flagstaff, only 140 miles away, is 7000 ft, taking us abruptly through three distinct climatic zones. That makes for some pretty steep grades all along the way. You go up, then down, but never as far down as you had gone up, then repeat as you cross yet another range of mountains. Along one particularly long unbroken stretch, something like 18 miles of going uphill, and of course, downhill coming back, the Highway Department has posted signs along the way, mostly for truckers, saying things like “Only 11 miles to go!”

Prickly Pear cactus and Mesquite trees in Sonora Desert

Prickly Pear cactus and Mesquite trees in Sonora Desert

 

The ubiquitous saguaro suddenly disappears at around 3000 ft, although there were still other varieties of cacti and other desert flora, such as mesquite trees and flowering brambly bushes.

 

 

And suddenly it was autumn.

And suddenly it was autumn.

 

At 4000 ft, I followed the road around a bend and it became autumn, complete with golden deciduous trees, then at 5000 ft, tall long needle pines (a type of ponderosa pine) and much cooler temperatures.

 

 

 

Cyber stalking is nothing compared to seeing the real thing.

Cyber stalking is nothing compared to seeing the real thing.

Then, before I was emotionally prepared, before I realized that I’d put nearly 140 miles behind me, I rounded a corner and saw Devil’s Chair mountain looming in the distance.
Devil’s Chair mountain is north of Flagstaff. Before I could even read the fast approaching green highway signs, I knew I was there.
Between me and that mountain lay Flagstaff, Arizona.

 

Following the highway into town and keeping on the main road, I saw the Golden Arches. THE Golden Arches where Caleb and Ana had their first ‘non-date,’ where she flirted with the spoon from his sundae and where he lost his heart.
I didn’t need a map. After all, I’d lived in that town for years.

Two doors north of McDs, I saw the Starbucks where Caleb saw—oops, almost spoiled it there! But it’s monumental to the story and for some reason I had to go there first. Okay, I admit it. I’m hooked and was in need of a hot drink by then!

Kasey & Alicia, coolest baristas around!

Kasey & Alicia, coolest baristas around!

I drove straight to Starbucks and went inside.
I stood there for a moment.
I’ve stepped into the reality of my imagination, half expecting to see Caleb and Ana sitting at a table.
A friendly barista greeted me, asking what I would like. I smiled and told her, “I’ve travelled from Calgary, Alberta, Canada, to stand right here in this very Starbucks.” She probably thought I was nuts. Then I laughed and explained briefly about my mission.

Personalized Starbucks Cup from Milton Street in Flagstaff

Personalized Starbucks Cups from Milton Street in Flagstaff

I asked if they had any mugs with Flagstaff on them. No, they didn’t. Personally, I think that every Starbucks should have mugs with their city names on them. Or at least the state / province. Oh well, I found a great mug from there anyway. She took my order, then took a second cup and wrote Flagstaff Starbucks on Milton, with my name on it and handed it to me.
The mug I bought has white words on the white cup. It says:
“Fresh brewed inspiration for the day ahead.”
Perfect for me!

 

Caleb wasn't around to eat his sundae so I did!

Caleb wasn’t around to eat his sundae so I did!

On to the McDonalds.
Chronologically, Caleb and Ana went there first, but I wasn’t trying to actually relive the story. But, yes, I ordered a sundae because the scene centers around the sundae.
I sat in a booth near the back, where he sat with Ana, each learning about the other, trying so hard not to let down their guards, and failing miserably.
And so I sat there, drinking in the atmosphere, hearing the sounds they heard, seeing what they saw, feeling the hardness of the booth seat under me but imagining the soft emotions as the scene played through in my imagination, and I slowly ate Caleb’s sundae.

It was truly magical.

Just like Hollywood, I’m breaking this adventure into multiple parts.
Part 3 will reveal more discoveries I made about myself and my characters while immersing myself in their world.

Pilgrimage to Flagstaff Part 1

Last week definitely produced some high points of my literary experience.

On Monday, I hopped on a plane taking me from Calgary, Alberta, to Phoenix, Arizona.

The original reason for the trip was to visit with my sister. She lives in West Texas but was attending a convention in Phoenix. And WestJet flies to Phoenix so I could easily get there on a three hour direct flight vs a five hour flight with a one to three hour layover in Dallas or Houston. While she was busy in classes and meetings during the day, I was planning to have some time to myself. I would have loads of time to write, write, and perhaps get in a little writing.

Then it dawned on me . . .

I was going to be a mere 2-½ hours drive from Flagstaff, Arizona, the starting point (as it stands now) for my series. I’ve stalked the town and the university for years, seeking information, images, and maps on the internet. I had a sketchy memory of Flagstaff from a quick visit in 1986, but that was a long time ago and I was not paying attention to the university back then.

Old Main - 1899 NAU

Old Main – 1899 NAU

I’m sure my brother-in-law was pointing out things since he went to NAU waaaaaaaay before that trip. Don’t get me wrong. He’s not really that old.

The school was founded in 1899 so it was sometime after that. The campus may have looked like this when he went there. I don’t know.

6 miles above the Grand Canyon, maybe 7 since it’s a mile deep! (Click all pictures for the full image.)

The thought also crossed my mind that if I go to Flagstaff, the Grand Canyon is only 2 or 3 hours further north, but decided I wouldn’t want to rush seeing the Canyon, so I put that idea aside. (The man sitting next to me on the plane told me that we would be flying over the Grand Canyon, which lasted maybe two minutes, so I ended up rushing that trip anyway, but it was pretty cool to see from six miles up!)

Suddenly, I realized my trip to Arizona was not going to be a touristy type of writing retreat after all. I was going to be doing research! This is where it all began. Caleb met Ana there! My dear sister doesn’t understand why this got me all excited and she was going to see first hand how crazy life is when everything around you inspires scenes in your imaginary world. (In retrospect, I’m not sure she gets it yet. She may just think I’m crazy.)

I became enchanted with the palms, and the cacti, and the jagged hills rising in sharp contract from the flat valley floor on which rests the sprawling city of Phoenix.

Stunning sunset from the veranda on the top floor of the hotel.

Stunning sunset from the veranda on the top floor of the hotel.

The very first evening in Phoenix, I saw something that made me change a part of the story. Okay, Karen and Caralee, don’t panic. I’m only moving one scene from LA to Phoenix, because 1) I’ve never actually SEEN the place in LA except on street view maps, and 2) This is what I saw . . .

When I witnessed this sunset, I fell in love. Not with someone. I just fell in Love. I would not have been surprised if Zorro landed on the veranda to whisk Elena away. I knew at that moment, this was where the LA scene had to take place. I have to research and rewrite a few things, maybe a chapter or two at most, but since I now have the intense emotional attachment to this, it will be phenomenal.

And so ends my first night in Phoenix. Tomorrow, the trip to Flagstaff!

Stay tuned for Part 2, the next leg of my journey in Arizona.

Wigs in the Garden

Sunday was Wig Day. No. Not like Funny Hat Day, or Pajama Day, but it was a day filled with wigs from sun-up to sun-down. If you ever want to see a lot of curly bouncy wigs, go to an Irish Dance Feis (pronounced fesh), which is a competition and has solo dances as well as team dances. We were at such an event on Sunday, from 9:00am until 3:30pm, and everywhere you looked, it was curly bouncy wigs, bouncing on stage, or bouncing on the girls waiting to perform.

At the lunch break, I had the privilege to go with three young 9-year old dancers on a walk along Calgary’s Stephen Avenue Mall a few blocks to the Devonian Gardens, a fantastic year round garden on the third floor of one of the indoor malls right in downtown Calgary. After lunch, the girls explored some of the garden before we returned to the hotel where the competition was being held. They were just a little conspicuous, three little girls in their black and hot pink team track pants and jackets. They jigged everywhere they walked. The bouncy wigs may have turned a few heads as well.

Wigs in the Garden

Wigs in the Garden

 

There were walls covered in climbing and clinging plants, exotic trees making mini-jungles and the girls tried to hide from us. Sorry, girls, your wigs don’t look like those plants.

The fish-less fish pond.

The fish-less fish pond.

 

 

The fish pond had no fish in it. Hmmm . . . Maybe the fish saw the wigs and hid!

 

Please don't bounce the elevator, girls.

Please don’t bounce in the elevator, girls.

 

It was time to make our way back the two blocks.
So they bounced while waiting for the elevator,

 

 

 

These guys have been talking for years!

These guys have been talking for years!

 

and stopped to chat with some very quiet men . . .

 

They even danced for some homeless people sitting on a bench nearby and made those people smile and laugh, with Irish music playing from a phone.

 

Waiting by the stage.

Waiting patiently by the stage.

Back at the hotel, they all danced their best and had to wait patiently, without bouncing, for the results.

They all made their families very proud.

 

 

 

Thank you, Kim Asman, for the idea of the title, Wigs in the Garden. I love it!

By the way, Irish dancers made their way into one of my books. I love it that much!

Do you?

 

My Friends

I was checking out one of those ubiquitous lists on the internet. You know. The ones that start off something like “15 Reasons You Don’t Want To _______” (fill in the missing word with just about anything.)

This time, it was “22 Signs a Book Is Taking Over Your Life” (click here for the whole list which opens in another window to read later.)

I've got a new friendThis a picture was made for me. I swear. Thank you to whoever it was that created it! You were truly inspired!

I mean, my protagonist, Caleb, is modeled after Jake Gyllenhaal, and here’s Jake, being my spokesperson! (If you click on the picture, you’ll see it bigger and in motion but you have to backspace to get back to this page.)

The three of you that are actually reading this probably know that I am a loner. Always have been, Am, Always will be. True, I have my village, and it’s a large-ish village of people who affect my life, with family and friends and neighbors and tourists, but it is also a fact that the village living in my head has far more inhabitants than the one living outside my head.

Hold off calling the men in white coats. I don’t see this as a problem. I mean, today you have virtual stores vs brick and mortar stores. They serve the same functions: you provide them with sustenance, and they provide you with the pleasure of interacting with the outside world without having to leave your hermit-hole. I have my imaginary friends and I have my flesh and bones friends. My corporeal friends know more about my imaginary friends than the other way around, but…my imaginary friends are more similar in personalities to the earthly ones than either of them are aware.

Take that village I mentioned. There are the peripherals, those people I barely know that come and go and don’t usually return. The tourists. I get hints about them but I never know their story for sure. They don’t know each other. Just inside that ring is that group that knows a lot about me and maybe each other. There’s another group that knows most of the others and a lot more about me, but not as much as the central core. This core group are the people that know every other person, and we all share our inner most thoughts, our secrets, our hopes, fears, experiences, amusing anecdotes. In my real life, this is maybe three people.

My imaginary friends accomplish the exact same thing. The difference is that I don’t write down, verbatim, the secrets, experiences, fears, etc., my earthly friends tell me…or do I?

And, let’s be honest here. We all come across people in our lives that piss us off.  Some are considered friends, others are just passing acquaintances. I am polite—generally—to these people, but they aren’t my go-to friends. But with imaginary friends and acquaintances in an imaginary village, if they get on my bad side, I can insult them, or make them look like idiots, or toss them out of a scene, or if I really want to get rid of the jerks, I can kill them off in a way which suits me at the time. You just can’t do that with flesh and bones people. Society frowns on such actions. But if you pretend to do it, it’s no holds barred. Why, I could just leave them stranded on one of the planets in my pretend universe or have them torn to shreds and eaten by a purple polka dotted three legged beast with no eyes and no one would be any the wiser since I may or may not write that into the books.

Very cathartic, to say the least.