Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Sharing My Inner 'Dork'

I think it's inevitable when I'm writing to incorporate some of my quirks into my characters. In 'Thistle in the Mist', Meara MacDonald, my feisty Scottish protagonist, has the good fortune of sharing my flaws and like me, she sometimes has trouble suppressing her inner dork.

To begin with, Meara's lovely smile is marred by an annoying eye tooth that sticks out farther than the rest. I am fortunate to work for an orthodontist who thinks that my lower lip catching under my crooked upper tooth, so I have the appearance of a snarling dog, is counterproductive to the 'straight teeth are beautiful' message we were trying to send. My dog, Brian, has the same problem so when I see him discreetly holding his paw over his mouth and wiggling his lip to ‘uncatch’ his tooth, I politely look away. I know how embarrassing it can be.

Despite Meara's flowing red locks and moss green eyes, she is as flat as a board. When I was in grade ten I stuffed my bra and man did I look good. But after months of waiting for my 'growth spurt', and sick of rescuing displaced pads from under my arms, I stopped wearing them. My first mistake was thinking no one would notice. My second mistake was thinking my best friend would never try to embarrass me. As I walked down the hall with my boyfriend, my bestie passed and said to him, ‘Hey, so what’s it like dating the Great American Flatlands?' Nice.

Meara has a goofy way of laughing and as her beloved, Duncan points out, “Do ye ken, Meara MacDonald, that yer nose crinkles up verra prettily whenever ye open yer mouth wide to howl?” Well, that describes me to a T. I’ve always been conscious of the way my nose scrunches up and of my howling laughter. Meara is just lucky that I didn’t make her pee her drawers when she laughs – umm, not that I ever do.

My unfortunate heroine also has a tendency to obsess and overthink just about everything. I too have that nasty habit and no amount of Yoga, meditating or slow breathing can shut off this brain. Speaking of breathing exercises, is anyone else distracted by that odd whistle that accompanies deep breathing in the middle of the night? No? Me neither.

Well, my poor Meara is probably going to have a few stretch marks and maybe even some morning breath in my sequel, 'Lost to the Mist' and if she has any more children I won't be responsible if she occasionally pees when she laughs...or sneezes.

In my opinion it's much more interesting to read about someone who wakes up looking like they slept in a ditch then the well-endowed, raven-haired beauty with eyes the colour of the ocean, who wakes up with minty breath and dewy skin. 

But that's just my opinion.

Sunday, 24 February 2013

My First Time

A child of the 60s, I was well aware of my dad's adherence to the old adage, 'Children should be seen and not heard.'


An old english proverb, the phrase came from a time when men were regarded as the only ones qualified to speak, a time when women and children were expected to respect men and remain silent.

In its original form this proverb was directed at young women who were expected to keep quiet. This opinion was recorded in the 15th century by an Augustinian clergyman called John, Mirk's Festial, circa 1450:
Hyt ys old Englysch sawe: A mayde schuld be seen, but not herd.
A 'sawe', or 'saw' as we would spell it now, was a mediaeval term for saying or proverb. 
While the expression was aimed at women, the Old English names denoting gender are now somewhat altered. A 'mayde' usually referred to a young female, though the term simply meant young child. 

Well in our home there was no question, we revered my dad. My sisters and brother and I were careful to show respect, follow his preference that we be 'seen, not heard.' We did not talk back, we did not argue and we did not swear.

Until the day I did...swear that is.

My first time was thirty-five years ago. I came home from school to an empty house and decided to make a snack of toast and peanut butter. A quick search of the kitchen produced no bread so I headed down to the freezer in the basement, where Mom kept the extra loaves. I shoved the frozen hamburger and frosted cans of orange juice aside then quickly realized we had no bread left. And I really wanted that toast.

"F * * K!"

Until that moment I had never dropped the forbidden f-bomb. Hollering that f-word in the muted still of my cinder block basement felt pretty damn good - kind of exhilarating - like the sensation of a cool wind billowing through my hair.  

But of course I'm not the girl with the flowing hair, standing on a mountain, in the peppermint patty commercial. In that instant I noticed the flourescent light above my head, blinking and twitching - dark and light, dark and light - and I knew I hadn't turned that light on. Heat crawled up my back.

Very slowly - very slowly - I turned and peered over my shoulder.

"Yes, I'm here," my dad said, from the comfort of his lazyboy chair, where he had been reading a book.

In the silence of the basement, his words seemed to exit his mouth in slow motion, " Yessss, I'm heeeeere."

My face burned. "Oh, oh, sorry, I...I....I'm sorry," I mutterd, before tucking my tail between my legs and hightailing it up the stairs.

I was twelve years old and the bottom fell out of my world in that split second. To his credit, Dad never mentioned it. He never gave me trouble. He didn't need to and he knew it.

No matter how many times this little anecdote is repeated in our family, or how many ways it is embellished, we all have a good laugh though I do still feel a remnant of the horror and mortification I felt that day.

A few weeks ago Dad told me he was reading my book. 

Now, 'A Thistle in the Mist' is liberally sprinkled with sex, violence and cuss words so I said, "Oh, Dad, now you are going to know exactly what goes on inside my head."

He smiled and said, "You're a big girl now, you can say whatever you  want."

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Good Advice from the Greats

Writing is simple, right?
All you have to do is come up with a good idea, write the beginning, write the middle, write the ending, write a little filler in between and make sure it sounds good.
Oh, if it were that easy. 
Here is a small taste of some very good advice from some pretty great writers that got it right.

'The best time for planning a book is while you are doing the dishes.' Agatha Christie
A little sexist and dated but Agatha had the right idea. When my house is silent and I am running around getting a little housework done, my mind is churning out ideas so that I must keep pen and paper close by to trap those slippery thoughts before they escape back into my head.

'Never use a long word where a short one will do.' George Orwell 
I am guilty of this - checking my thesaurus for a better word - and I am trying to curb this loathesome habit. Getting too wordy drags a story down and the reader quickly loses interest. Years ago, someone in my critiquing class suggested, "Your writing is sweet, but like a Krispy Kreme donut it may be a little too sweet." Words of wisdom I will never forget.

'If you want to be a writer you must do two things above all others; read a lot and write a lot.' Stephen King
Brilliant and obvious. Doesn't every writer have a stack of books, ready to topple, beside their bed?

'Substitute 'damn' every time you're inclined to write 'very'; your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.' Mark Twain
Sound advice from one of the best storytellers of all time. Although I don't substitue with 'damn', I am conscious of this word - an adverb sorely overused.

'If you are using dialogue - say it aloud as you write it. Only then will it have the sound of speech.' John Steinbeck
More of us should try this. At the risk of sounding a little crazy to my family, I do it all the time. In fact, I read all my work aloud, not just the dialogue.

'You never have to change anything you got up in the middle of the night to write.' Saul Bellow 
How many of us feel the pull of a great story at 2am? Maybe it's the shadows that beckon, but I've created some of my nastiest work in the middle of the night. This creative curse is not great for the dark circles and squinty eyes, but the best ideas refuse to let me sleep.

'Cut out all those exclamation marks. An exclamation mark is like laughing at your own joke.' F. Scott Fitzgerald 
This tip made me smile. I am so guilty of overusing this punctuation.(!) Sometimes it is necessary to get your point across, but there are other ways to build urgency.

'Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.' Louis L'Amour 
My son's favourite author is spot on. I think I can speak for many of us when I say that we are an easily distracted and procrastinating lot. I can't count how many times my good intentions are interrupted by Facebook, Amazon or housework. Shame on me. Write, write, write.

'When someone is mean to me, I just make them a victim in my book.' Mary Higgins Clark 
Why get mad when you can get even? I do it all the time. Revenge is sweet, Mary. 

'Hearing voices no one else can hear isn't a good sign, even in the wizarding world.' J.K. Rowling 
To the average person, voices in your head may be worrisome, especially if you answer them out loud, but to a writer, these voices are what direct you to create the most wonderful tales.

So many quotes, by so many greats. How many of us will be fortunate enough to have our words quoted?    

Friday, 15 February 2013

Indie Author or Entrepreneur?

It is my own fault that I did not fully comprehend that my dream of being a published author would include taking a huge step out of my comfort zone and into the alien world of SELF PROMOTION.

I firmly believe in my book but the idea of PROMOTE, PROMOTE, PROMOTE is a concept I am more than a little uncomfortable with. 

My two hour window of opportunity, when my twins 'nap', used to be my quiet time; my opportunity to slip into another world and furiously channel my thoughts into a chapter, a story. Now, instead of spitting out pages of suspense, drama and romance, I am reading, researching, learning and attempting to promote my story (without being obnoxious). 

Becoming an e-book techie includes learning the intricacies of social media, designing cover art, determining my novel's price point, accepting why I should give my book - my baby - away for free, finding websites to promote my ebook, researching successful indie authors, building my website, tweeting, blogging and facebooking.

Now, I am not complaining but I have come to the realisation that being an indie author means spending as much time on the business and promoting end as it does on the writing end which means my two hour window is no longer adequate, which means frequent forays into the wee hours of the morning are becoming commonplace.

But to me, all of this is worth it. My goal was to get my novel published and find people to share it with. So far I am on track. I am getting some great feedback. I am home enjoying my children and for the most part doing what I love.

So I will continue to find those golden moments of silence when stories take shape in my mind and words cascade from my fingertips. And I will continue to promote my work, learn the business of being an indie author and be grateful for this opportunity I've been given.

Thursday, 7 February 2013

FREE TODAY "A Thistle in the Mist"

Inspired by  my great-grandmother, Janet Sherriffs Ross, my debut novel, "A Thistle in the Mist" infuses bits and pieces of Grandma's life as a lass in Scotland. From the abuse she suffered at the hands of her stepmother to the loss of her younger sister and her first-born child to her life in Canada as an indentured servant, my great-grandmother endured more than she ever let on. I remember her as a feisty, small, white-haired woman who had a great sense of humour and a huge laugh.

Surrounded by her great-granddaughters, (that's me in the red) her eternal spirit is evident in her twinkling eyes.

Meara MacDonald took shape in my mind ten years ago and evolved and grew into the feisty protagonist featured in my novel.

Packed with passion, mystery, romance, history, lies, deception and a touch of the supernatural, "A Thistle in the Mist" will transport you from the Isle of Skye in Scotland to Nova Scotia, Canada...

Meara isn’t thinking about death, that morning, when she kisses her mother good-bye, but hours later she is, as her fingers slide into the back of Mother’s shattered skull. Empty eyes – the empty eyes of her mother – stare back at her and Meara thinks her world has ended. She has no idea.

Ebullient and feisty, eighteen-year-old Meara MacDonald lives an idyllic life with her family, frisking about the mist-enfolded Isle of Skye atop her horse, dreaming of the day when she will wed her heart, the gallant Duncan MacLeod. But fate has other plans and when Aunt Deirdre and Uncle Sloan seep into their midst, Meara’s family is taken, one-by-one, for reasons she discovers are both personal and nefarious.  Mother is found dead, Da disappears, Duncan is taken by the Napoleonic Wars, Meara’s younger sister, Hannah – with child by Uncle Sloan – takes her own life and while Meara sleeps, her newborn son is snatched from her arms. Unable to reign in her spirit or her tongue, Meara finds herself catapulted from Scotland to a household steeped in mystery in Nova Scotia where, guided by her strength of will, she will fight her way back to the remains of her family; her heart and soul.

FREE TODAY AND TOMORROW (Thursday, February 7th and Friday, February 8th) on Amazon, my e-book can be downloaded at

Book two in this series "Lost to the Mist" is taking shape and will be available August of 2013. Follow me on Facebook to see where your favourite characters will take you this time.

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Loss of a Mother...Excerpt from "A Thistle in the Mist"

Images and stories are running rampant through my head! "Lost to the Mist", my sequel to "A Thistle in the Mist", is beginning to have a life of it's own. Meara, my protagonist, is still trying to come to terms with the loss of her mother as she takes on the role of motherhood herself.

Here, in an excerpt from "A Thistle in the Mist", Meara stumbles through a myriad of emotions as she deals with the sudden death of her mother...

I backed away, held back my vomit with sheer will and turned to the remaining servants – the ones who had loved my mother dearly. They hovered silently, faces pale. Janet, her cheeks glistening with tears, held her arms out to me. I staggered forward and she hugged me close, her ripe belly pressing into mine.
     The foyer was silent save for Janet’s breath at my ear. The copper scent of blood lay heavy and a deep cold moved through me. Janet’s hand smoothed my back over and over, warm through the cotton of my gown.
     At the sound of movement, I peered over my shoulder. Da had left Deirdre’s arms. With stooped shoulders, he bent and scooped Mother’s slight frame, cradling her close. I stared, unable to look away, at her pale hair that cascaded almost to the floor, drifting back and forth like languid seaweed taken by the oceans current.  Her lifeblood continued to flow, seeping into Da’s plaid, blending with the red and green of the MacDonald tartan.
     “ sweet, sweet Jess...” He stared into Mother’s fixed eyes, his voice desperate, pleading. “I canna live without ye, darlin’ ye hear me, lass? My blessed angel, come back to me...please... I need ye...” He pressed his face to the curve of her neck and stumbled down the corridor and into his study.
     Slipping from Janet’s arms, I followed and watched from the doorway as he fell heavily into his barrel chair. His aimless hands smoothed Mother’s brow, while he murmured unintelligibly against her breast.
     Was it just that morning he had been a mountain to me, as impenetrable as the rock of the Cuillin Mountains? I wanted to take him in my arms, take away the hurting and bring back my mother.
     I crossed the room and pressed my lips to the top of his head. Pipe smoke lingered on his clothing and I let the comforting scent take me for a moment as I stroked the gleaming curls, so like my own. I stole a look at Mother’s face and could not hold back the moan. Then I turned away.
     Hannah needed me.
     Angus MacArthur stood in the doorway. He was Mary’s father and had served Da since Da had been a wee lad. He brushed at his tears then cupped my face in his gnarled hands. Faded eyes softened into mine. “I’m sarry, lassie.”
     I swallowed hard, nodding. His worn hand slipped down to cradle mine.
     “Take care of Da, Angus.”
     “Aye, lass, that I’ll do,” he said, patting my hand.
      He limped to the sideboard, his body bent with rheumatism, found a bottle of claret and filled a goblet. Da threw back his head and downed the burgundy wine, thrusting his cup out for more.
     I closed my eyes for a moment then turned, retraced my steps and crossed the foyer.
     As I neared the stairs, I lost my footing and glanced down. A gleaming puddle of truth stared up at me. I backed away, giving myself over to the trembling. With heavy legs I turned and mounted the first step but halted as I felt fingers close around my wrist. Snatching my arm from the cold grip, I spun around.
     Uncle Sloan lurked at her side. Not a trace of sorrow shadowed his cadaver-like face. Shiny lips framed his uneven teeth in a hungry grin as his fingers slid down to rest by his crotch. I felt the heat of his pale stare as though he had reached out and touched me. A shiver whispered between my shoulder blades as I turned back to Deirdre.
     “Meara, ye best keep yer clarty accusations to yerself. Everyone kent that Jessie loved me,” she hissed. She leaned in to me and I felt her breath, hot on my face, “Dinna say nothin’ ye’ll regret, girl.” Her words slithered into my head, coiled around my brain and the doubt I’d felt was gone.
     I drew myself up, vibrating with spasms I could no longer control. “Dinna ever touch me agin or I’ll kill you,” I whispered. I leaned forward until my nose almost touched hers. She jerked her chin into her neck.” Did ye hear me? I’ll murder ye as ye murdered my mother.” Raising my hand, I jabbed at her chest. “I ken what ye’ve done and you may be the next to take a fall.”
     I felt her eyes on my back as I turned and mounted the stairs on legs that felt like water.
     Something touched my arm. It was cold but it was a touch I knew.
     I stared at my arm then peered around the dim landing. Dust motes drifted on a shaft of sunlight. A hint of honeysuckle touched the air. “Mother?” My thin voice was lost in the vaulted ceiling. I had a crazy desire to run and see that she still lay in Da’s arms. I jumped as the grandfather clock bonged the half hour behind me. I’m going mad, I thought before I hunched my shoulders and hurried down the hall toward Hannah’s room.
     Jessie watched her daughter melt into the shadows, confusion clouding her mind. Why? Why had Meara ignored her?
     She leaned over the railing and stared down at her half-sister’s back. Deirdre abruptly stiffened and darted a look up over her shoulder, up to the landing. Her lips tightened and she turned and hustled after Sloan.
     The dark puddle at the base of the stairs drew Jessie’s eye. The edges were turning a rusty brown.
     Jessie stared at the puddle for a long, long time.
     And a cold tear overflowed and slipped down her cheek.

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

One Writer's Distractions


  1. A thing that prevents someone from giving full attention to something else.
  2. A diversion or recreation.

Those who know me well, know that I can be a bit scattered and at times even spinny. I could blame it on the daily adventure of trying to navigate through motherhood in addition to various part-time jobs (not including writing) but to be honest, it is just who I am. Like many of my fellow writers, my mind never shuts off and sometimes the endless reel of thoughts playing in my head gets in the way of life. Everyday distractions do not help and I find myself consistently giving in to these diversions, wasting the precious little time I have to write.

So as of today, or tomorrow, I will do my best to overcome these distractions:
  1. Sneaking Snacks  As the owner of a gift basket company, I have a huge storeroom of all that is good and sweet and chocolate at my disposal and as a conscientious business person, it is my duty to test each product to ensure quality and freshness. So having justified my addiction to chocolate, I get my twins down for a nap and literally race down the stairs to my endless supply of gourmet chocolate. The good thing is, my mind is on high alert after all of that sugar and my fingers just fly across the keyboard. The bad thing is, I have to counteract all that sweetness with a handful of salty chips.
  2. Internet  Whether it's Facebook, KDP, Amazon, hotmail, gmail - it's all the same. Facebook leads to chatting and creeping. KDP leads to obessing. Amazon leads to endless lists and comparisons. Hotmail and Gmail lead to conversations and blog-reading. One thing leads to another and soon an hour has slipped away with NO WRITING. 
  3. 80s Music  When I am completely alone and writer's block hits me, my best cure is to flip on a little Galaxie Remember the 80s and do a few exercises to the tune of Hungry Like a Wolf, Love is a Battlefield, We Got the Beat or I Love Rock and Roll but then things like HGTV or Etalk ask me to stay a little longer than I should - COUNTERPRODUCTIVE.
  4. Obsessing As the mother of six ranging in age from two to twenty-three, I cannot help but worry. With each of them heading in a different directions, I often find my mind doing the same thing, trying to solve everything in my head which of course I cannot do. Maybe that is why I love writing so much. My characters let me think I am in control, that I am in charge of their destiny...for a little while at least.
  5. Singing in the background Now this is a sweet distraction and one I wouldn't change for the world. As my fingers tap away, I am being accompanied by my two-year old son. Running through his repertoire of every song he knows, is his way of falling asleep. His off-key rendition of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star is music to my ears and a distraction I welcome!