Saturday, February 22, 2020

Improving without physical practice?

It's been a while, hello 2020!

Again, I have a new word of the year for 2020 and it's APERTURE. As my spouse brilliantly put it: you let as much light in as you want. Or as you need. So maybe this is like a spiritual journey where I get to decide what I want?

I'd like that.

We've had some struggles as my spouse has been working away all week for a whole year and it's been more time-consuming than expected. We all thought I'd have more time to myself when in fact, on school days, I had maybe half an hour or, if lucky, one hour until I should be in bed. Should...

So I've decided to stop torturing myself about money and just go out at least once a week to a cafe to write.
I've never liked coffee until I tried Analog's Fratello coffees with the very delicious oat milk from Minor Figures—I've seriously been fooled into thinking I was given cow milk. The best part? I don't add ANY sweetener. At all. That's coming from someone whose mom has been trying to get her to like coffee for decades.
Welp, I started having a cuppa every now and then. I still prefer tea, but that's nice too.
I feel all grown up now.

But enough of my food habits, I wanted to discuss 2 things.

The first one is my story, with the tentative title Mindswept. It's very likely that once that first draft finally sees its last period that it will find its rightful title.
I have done, and am still undergoing, lots of research on multiple subjects, but the real rabbit hole here is Alchemy. I've joined 2 Alchemy groups on Facebook and WOW! This is like entering a chat room for Quantum physics aficionados. I'm glad we're all so far away from each other, or else I'd be that person nodding to whatever everyone is saying and suddenly disappearing after the lunch break.
I'm glad I understand some of it, but I'm certain I don't want to go as deep as some of these guys.

So what's happening? I found out my starting point. I had written a lot so far but felt either like the intro to The Hobbit or started too much in the middle of a cliché. Given, I had written my intro a long time ago and this is going to work well with my 2nd point.

Improving a skill without physically practicing it. Specifically, I'm talking about any skills where you need to physically do something to achieve a result. In my case, I mean piano, drawing and, yes, writing.

I'm not a regular writer. First of all, I have a lot of hobbies and before you tell me to just pick one and focus on it, that's not who I am. Then I have a busy life, especially now when I'm spending even more time taking care of the household, and getting the odd call from the principal. Kids, right? One of them has started preschool 3 times a day, for 3 hours (I managed to find one that was over the measly, useless 2 hours). But that means I have to drive them and pick them up. It's close-by, so if I want to go to a cafe—remember I live in a small town away from a lot of nice facilities—I get maybe 2 hours to myself. Luckily, the cafe I like has a free 2 hours parking deal (ain't life working out nicely sometimes?). And lastly, I have my health to keep in check. Some days are worse than others. And I *should* go to sleep early.

Okay okay, I'll admit, Facebook and research are terrible time-suckers. Friday night, 2 am, anyone?

So on to my probably-lazy-and-trying-to-excuse-my-lack-of-writing-habit claim—I know you're thinking it. I used to write a lot more when I was in high school, but I didn't write every day either. I still wrote enough I could have published an epic novel before I hit my 20s. But I did shorter stories for my enjoyment only, and let's be frank, they were written by an immature being. Although, my best ones were, unfortunately, sent to the government for evaluation of my written skills.
The year-end tests were the best. Don't we just all miss school? No? Just me? Oh well.

Back in high school, I started drawing more intensively. During my last 2 years, we were given special coloured stamped sheets to write down mathematical formulas for the math tests. 90% was filled with drawings and the remaining 10% with fly-sized font of formulas.

But I had bouts where I didn't draw.

I would just observe. I didn't actively think about the craft, but when I would go back to drawing, concepts that previously eluded me were improved. Which got me to thinking that we do improve on skills related to things we are passionate about, whether we actively mean to or not.
However, I have found out, through piano learning, that actively observing, or more often in this case, listening, did improve my skills even if I didn't play every day. I can now tell what notes are forming some of the chords I hear. Nothing too fancy, but I couldn't do it before, no matter how often I looked and tried the chords from my Piano Chord Bible book. Of course, practicing is one thing that shouldn't be overlooked, and experimenting is probably a very important component. How can you truly push yourself and learn more if all you do is follow the (boring) guidelines?
Chopsticks Ad Nauseam.

Same goes for writing. Just because you are not writing at the moment doesn't mean you are not gathering information. A writer is all ears, eyes, touches, smells and feelings. Everywhere we go, we absorb data which, consciously or not, we can use for our stories. Even non-fiction.
The cool thing is that there's a thing called synchronicity. If you pay attention, things get in line to help you out. I once wrote a story where I needed to know how it would look like to escape a building through the emergency stairs. I got hired in one of the most well-known buildings in Canada as a security agent and later desk officer, and we had emergency evacuation because of a fire.
Also a bomb search, nifty.
Actually, a lot happened in that building that the public will never know about. Suffice to say, I now know where cameras generally are and how one would try to get out incognito. Whenever I didn't know how a scene was supposed to work out, life sent me a safe way to witness it. I don't know how it works, but it does. Write what you know, huh?

Lastly, this works as well for writing structure, grammar, usage, etc. That' why reading books is never wasted time. And maybe Facebook isn't either. Raise your hand if you're still part of writing group you don't feel like you're getting much out of but the regular drama is both entertaining and a learning occurrence!

So the lessons here are as follow:

Don't beat yourself up for not writing every single day, not everyone has that luxury or the will; life can take a lot out of you. As long as you do keep going until you have a finished product. After all, there is no point thinking about writing if you never do commit.

You still learn even when you are not practicing (what a weight off the shoulders!).

Ask for things you need, you might get one of them synchronicity events.

And repeat after me There is no such thing as too many hobbies!
So I don't feel alone saying it.

I will leave you with one of my favourite playlists for writing which doesn't disturb me (maybe 2-3 songs do, but I forgot which one, there are 4 albums in there.). I'm a big fan of Yoko Kanno and you may notice the style in some songs if you know Wolf's Rain and The Vision of Escaflowne. I skipped the second Album of this Ghost in the Shell Album series as it does distract me. Enjoy and if you like, support the artists who made these possible.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

When Words Collide 2019

The long-awaited escape to the Calgary's Writers convention was all I could expect and more. I've learned some more, met fantastic authors, and made friendships that will likely withstand the sandstorms of time.

How difficult was it to select one to two panels or events for each hour of the day when Friday, one of shorter days, had over 60 of them to attent amongst 13 to 14 different rooms?

It was excruciating. Like picking a new kitten from a dozen kennels.

Worse, authors I met enticed me to go see their panels when I had already selected different ones. It was a tough call, and I might have been a little critical in my decisions.

First of all, I removed from my list any and all panels/events about publishing or related to editors. I know I am not yet ready for this stage.

Second, while undoubtedly very fun, I'm thinking of the laugh-out-loud Dr. Seuss off hosted by the multi-talented Josh Pantalleresco (he has a podcast!), I tried skipping them for the sake of knowledge.
P.S. Josh, you guys were so loud, we couldn't hear what was going on in our panel, so some of us invaded yours and probably wished we had been there earlier.

Thirdlydoo, I selected all panels that were only reflecting my genres or included subjects I might need further knowledge on, such as panels on the military or how to interview people.

Fourthly, I screened all panel hosts like a very prejudiced person. Everyone who did not have a background long enough to be deemed really knowledgeable in the domain they were presenting got the cut. I was a panellist executioner, on my schedule papers, crossing Xs upon their panels. Absolutely biased and unfair. Life is like that sometimes, and so was I.

Finally, I had one sure panel, and one to two back-up panels each hour a room was open. And of course, each subsequential panel happened in the other building. Mostly.
While I should have been sitting all day, I walked a lot.

So take notes: Writer's conventions are great if you know you should be exercising but can't seem to find the time or energy to do it. You'll be so excited to walk, run, skip to the next panel, like me, you'll be wishing you had a convention every week!

Some of these panels were loaded with experts and veterans in the craft, I felt safe being moulded within their callused hands.

Then Friday evening came, I spotted Jim Jackson, author of fabulous books, one I've talked about already, and blues musician. Lo and behold, he remembered me! So did Josh whom I met later that day... I hope it's because I leave good impressions.
Jim introduced me to his friends, and that's when I met Tony. The most adorably scandalous person I've ever met. An American who dares sport a Canadian moose buttoned shirt and claims we should pirate a panel. Which we might, one day.
They led me to the Atrium where we thought we could sit down and get drinks, but the Noir @ the Bar event was about to start. I don't think Tony knew what it was more than I did, so we signed up.
The description of the event read "Literary mayhem with Canada’s best crime writers. Drop by for teaser readings and discussions dark and deadly."
Basically, people prepare a crime fiction text or use an excerpt from their book and read it out loud and later, we vote and mingle. The winner gets a golden skull, how cool is that? There were also prizes I wish I had won; whole bags filled with books, writing goodies and merch!
Tony and I sat at a table with I think four, yes, four funny ladies who gladly partook in Tony's folly of creating, right here, right now, the most ridiculous, obscene and ludicrous story ever.
For you Tony, since you use my notebook to write in anyway, I have transcribed your story for all to be affronted by it. WARNING: It is offensive, and you will be offended by it. It's so nasty, Blogger would likely sue me, so instead, you can read it when he decides to finally put it online (I was planning on linking it, but it's taking too long, Tony.

Had it not been for Jim and Tony, I don't think I would have gone to the Noir @ the Bar. I was remotely aware of it but thought I would retire early and write in my hotel room. It's so funny how deluded I was. I constantly went to sleep in the wee hours of the night.
I'm glad I went, though. It was a pivotal moment for me and my budding self-esteem as a writer. You never truly know your potential until you expose yourself to be critiqued. And who could be better to judge than authors themselves, many if not all, already published!
So while others read their dark and twisted tales, Tony adding final touches to his Crime-fiction baby, a second Smirnoff in my bloodstream, I wrote a tale of my own within the last twenty-thirty minutes that was left. And I read it out loud, a first draft unedited (gasp!) for all to judge while I slightly misread words or didn't even know where I was. Tip: don't read while tipsy.

So here is my almost unedited transcription of that first draft. Let's call it a second draft now, even though I kept most of its clumsiness intact. I simply rephrased a few sentences because, when hearing the recording I made, I notice I had ad-libbed some of it as I read, noticing some parts didn't quite make sense. It's now closer to the audio recording, but still pretty rough. Also, there are curse words, so you've been warned. Why am I posting this piece of fiction while it's technically still in the oven? To let you smell the sweet aroma of what a draft you can be ashamed of looks like. I'm opening the door a little and letting some vapours waft off in your direction. While I'll admit, I'm pretty proud of how it turned out, it's mostly because people came to me later to fill my head with a sense of mild success. Otherwise, I, too, would think it's nothing to shake a stick at.

Noir @ the Bar
Untitled by Salem Wolfe

It was 3am, I was still waiting for Joe to come back from his night shift at the French bar, an oddity in Stuttgart. He was late again. Was it François holding him back, or was he holding him in? I always suspected my stuck-up boyfriend didn’t wander down other women’s cleavages for a reason. 
I took another sip of mint tea and looked out the window from our 3rd floor apartment. Bats had been out for hours now, and weasels came and went from car to car. Someone was going to be late for work in a few hours when they’d find out the cables had been chewed out.
I hope those Polynesians weren’t back again; their underground firearm business made me uncomfortable. I laid my face against the window pane, waiting for his silhouette to come into view


I called his boss, but no answer. At 6 am, I put on my cap and headed down the cold cobbled stone street. I walked faster, until I broke into a run. The distance seemed endless under the uncertainty of my boyfriend’s whereabouts. Joe… where are you?? Gosh, I hope you’re safe. I don’t care if you’re warming up against François, we were never much of a couple anyway. You’re my best friend. Be Safe.
As I approached this arrogant affair of a bar, the snotty owner, I remembered as Jean-Jacques or Jean-Gilles …something like that.
“Hey!” I called. “Is Joe still here?” Whatever his name was, he took his damn time turning around. I was about to yell “Well?”, when he finally felt like elucidating the mystery.
“Eh… No heez been gone since clozing time.” He locked the door and left me there, all alone in the middle of buildings older than my lineage. I felt cold all over, light headed, drained… and it didn’t help that the tea slushing inside my stomach had turned to vinegar. I ran back, looking left and right, looking for shadows or anything resembling a face.
Then I halted to a slow pace. There in the shadow, three streets away from the bar, lying in the shadows, stood a dumpster by a set of recycling bins. There was a face, looking back at me, hollow and still. Probing the stones beneath my feet, I walked to meet the face with my heart in my hand, and each time I squeezed my fists tighter, I died a little. I moved forward, but the face felt so out of reach. “Oh please… oh please.” I swallowed, shutting my eyes only to stare back at a set of hollow pits. I trust my hand forward, I needed to know and grabbed at the pale skull only to find out it was fucking paper bag!
I heaved and wailed, not giving a damn thing about who was still sleeping or shagging. A disembodied dog yowl answered back. It translated roughly to “blow me” or “Shut the fuck up”. Whichever one, it sounded quite accurate.
I don’t know how I made it back home, but I was shaking so much, I was vibrating. Might be white my laces were undone when I faced our bedroom door. That wasn’t the only thing I noticed undone, by my feet. Clothes were strewn around. Well guess what? Blood came back into my body tightly coiling around my Joe were the Polynesians, smirking, drunk and silver toothed. I bore extra holes into Joe. Had they been real, it would only had been filled with more dicks.

Joe lifted his head towards me, “Where were you? I thought we could all-“
“Oh fuck, no.” I left, slammed the door and called François.

I had drunk enough for one night, and after calling it quits, I hit the sack hoping to get up early and write. HA. HA. HA. I made it for breakfast and the first panel of the day.

Saturday had a great start with co-writers Detective Dave Sweet and Sarah Kades Graham presenting the always fascinating panel about detective and police work. This time, it was about interviews and how to present evidence to suspects. I missed Angela Ackerman's likely enlightening "Hidden Emotion & Subtext" panel and went for World Building in Fiction. I'm sad I couldn't do both as I'm certain Angela's was remarkable too.
Unlike last year, I was able to free one hour to have a real meal, not just candy and power bars. Then slid inside the Craig DiLouie's Your Brain on Words panel as it had already started, and enjoyed a presentation chockful of information on what reading, especially fiction, does to our brain. Spoiler: it makes us healthier and saner! I had 2 more fun panels, and then my spouse picked me up for our annual WWC date. We ate and laughed, and I dragged him around to meet my fellow authors and help me out at the autograph session. He calls himself "Sam's Mule". It was only a few books. Maybe ten. I bought this anthology of writing tips called Write Better Fiction as it had been highly recommended to me, and I sought to get as many of the authors present that night as possible to sign their contribution to the book. I read a few chapters, and I'm impressed by how inspiring its content has been so far.

My favourite panels were about world-building and building your characters with human emotions, as well as using emotions to tell a reliable story. One favourite author who was here again this year was Angela Ackerman, the co-author of the Emotional thesaurus series. She's absolutely wonderful to talk to and so knowledgeable on human behaviours. One of the things I like best about her is how calm she is, it's like a radiating anchor, sending smooth waves capable of un-frazzling my nerves. That was my impression of our talk when she signed her book for me. I wanted her to sign all of her books, but I chocked at the last minute. I didn't want to look too much of a fangirl.

The rest of the night gets fuzzy, but I remember chatting up authors gracious enough to sign my Write Better Fiction book, telling me more about their part in its successful launch, and happily bringing my signed books back to my room. I then bid farewell to my spouse and went back to the restaurant/bar in the Tower section of the hotel. I met again with Josh and Tony, and we had an excellent talk about writing, but mostly about life. Because we are real beings, with real problems and real experiences and we're all very nice people, most of the time. And because we likely leech off each other's experiences as writing fodder. I sure do, I have a dump folder in my head just for that. I would otherwise write boring stories if I only relied on my own experiences. After a few heartfelt exchanges, we decided to lift up the mood and go see what others were up to. Apparently, building a fort. You understand that I had to watch grow-ups building a giant fort out of chairs and tablecloths, and find out what the heck they could be doing in there. I'm not supposed to mention that there was a mild accident, a chair made a mortal enemy, and I ran like crazy trying to find ice, a plastic bag and a cloth in the middle of the night, so I'm not going to say anything.

After much excitement, I helped people put back the chairs and tablecloths the way they were, after all, this is an annual event, or so I heard, and I'm sure if we leave a mess, this privilege will be taken away. There wasn't much to do afterwards, Tony had disappeared, and I was tired. I went up to my room, spent a little more time than I should on my laptop and went to bed. In a few hours, another day filled with even more panels would begin.

The more the days progressed, the more of a blur they became, maybe it was the lack of proper sleep, or the alcohol, although I don't get hungover somehow, even if I'm a lightweight. Perhaps it's because I am a lightweight drinker? I don't know, alcohol doesn't stay too long in my system. Of all the panels, The Art of Interviewing was the most memorable, along with Building a Protagonist from the Ground up and Getting the Characters Emotion on the Page. Maybe that was because the last two had Angela Ackerman in them, but they were excellent. The Art of Interviewing was even better (sorry Angela) and I left with lots of tools I can use and great stories.

I had to miss the last few pannels as family got in the way. I ended up having to take care of the kids earlier than agreed, but I'm incredibly happy I participated in this year's convention. It was such a great break from monotony, and I met people who changed my life for the better and people I aspire to emulate in their successes.

My only regrets are that this weekend had to end and that Jim Jackson's new book got delayed, but keep an eye out for Elemental Tales: How to Deepen Your Writing Using Mythic Structure. If you've read Jim's other works on the craft, you'll want this one on your lap as soon as it comes out.

My only wish, right now, is to see you guys, readers and friends at When Words Collide in 2020!

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Flash back 2018 Writer's conventions' treasure trove of books

The writer's convention I attended in August left me with a bagful of marvellous books. As I'm slowly reading my way through them, I find that panellists are releasing gems worth collecting. As a book collector, I don't merely mean display them in your bookshelf. No, no, no! These books I've found are filled with information worth kingdoms and fiefs.

As far as I can remember—and locate in my unending mass of books—I bought six titles. I already mentioned Jim Jackson's excellent How to Tell a Really Good Story about Absolutely Anything in 4 Easy Steps in a previous post.
All of these books were from authors whose panel were on my extensive list of must-see events.
One of them was Krista D. Ball, whom I was lucky enough to meet in the vendor area, at the booth where her book was displayed. She signed a copy of her two reference books, one of them displaying the name of her panel "What Kings Ate and Wizards Drank[: A fantasy lover's food Guide]."  I did not make it to her panel, but I was lucky to find out she was selling a book on the subject.  If there's something I love, it's history taught in a practical way like this! She also released another fascinating reference book titled "Hustlers, Harlots, and Heroes: A Regency and Steampunk Field Guide." I have read the former, and it is far from boring. It contains so much useful information, and I love how reading it sparks some fine golden threads of inspiration through my mind. I have found myself spacing out, as I indulged in what-ifs scenarios, and her writing style is so enjoyable, I've been reading way past my bedtime on many occasions. It's easy to keep reading and if you're like me—you can't get enough of research data—you're going to love her book! I can't wait to read the second book as I admit, both version of The Enquire Within make for a dry read-through.

You may be wondering by now what kind of wonders lay between those pages.
First of all, you need to understand that the author is fascinated (*whisper* obsessed) with food, its history and culture. She studied history and doesn't fool around with facts. She isn't kidding when she says that food is power; it was even used as a weapon throughout the ages.
In Edmonton, she ran the Mustard Seed, an evening meal program, and worked with the homeless, giving her a real understanding of the power of food.

Her book What Kings Ate and Wizards Drank: A fantasy lover's food Guide discusses how to keep your party from dying from hunger while on the road in a realistic way, what foods to expect in towns and big cities, warnings about fake foods (yes, it's was a thing back then too.), food in the military and the navy, what were considered luxury items, seasonal foods and their availabilities before refrigeration as well as how did they manage preservation. She talks about the lives of the rich and the poor, how feasts were planned, and plenty more. There is a section for beverages and medicinal uses for food, including birth control.
She offers plenty of references and recipes to try out as well. I have made her recipe for drawn butter many times! I was left with the feeling that I wanted more, and I hope she keeps publishing such gems.

Check out her What Kings Ate and Wizards Drank: A fantasy lover's food Guide

Follow Krista D. Ball on Facebook or Twitter
come check out her new blogging site.
She used to be found on this blog, while no longer active, the page is still up. It contains lots of great writing tips, information and reviews.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Better Late than earlier

Happy New Year everyone!

I'll be real here, I had a shitty celebration. I bought this bottle of sparkling apple juice because my husband and I love the SNL catchy tune. And I was the only one drinking from it.

My husband's patience ran thin on that day, even though he wasn't mad with me, I ended up alone, a glass of sparkling apple juice in one hand, in my bathtub, crying. I think 2 minutes before the neighbours lit up their fireworks, he came to me, feeling shitty. Well hey bub, long time no see. Way to go, you ruined a perfectly fine night that could have been special. He heartfully apologized, which I guess mellowed things down. He wasn't feeling it, this "New Year". "What's so different about today that won't be the same as tomorrow?" Sure, I get that. But we, humans, make it a special day to celebrate the woes and joys from this year, throw it away fashionably and then welcome the new possibilities of the next year. It's that simple, bub, nothing crazy. He asked me what I had wanted. Same as last year: us on the patio, a glass of something in our hands waiting for the fireworks. A kiss and a "Happy New Year." and that's it. A little talk about the expectations we have. We don't do promises we can't keep, so we usually go with wishes and my feeling for the newly come year.

Now that I got this embarrassingly sad moment out of my way, I thank the nameless internet for blowing that dark cloud away and welcome the new possibilities of this great year to come!

So... What's your feeling for next year?

Feeling? What what?

Let me explain a little...

Every year, a few weeks or days before the new year rings in, I get this feeling for the next year. Usually a single word.
I've started this at the end of 2015 with the word Springboard. Sure enough, it was the year we made a lot of leaps—some of faith. We bought our first house, my husband lost his job, I went back to work after many years to name a few. Life changes for sure.

Then by the end of 2016, the word Discovery came up. 2017 is the year we discovered I had had Lyme disease all those years, explaining many symptoms that didn't make sense together and why all the weird tests I've had done on my person came back negative or inconclusive. Finally, someone had a diagnostic!
Side note: This is why I'm not updating as frequently as I should. I'm drained most days.
And I started the long road of removing gluten, dairy & sugar (except erythritol, stevia, xylitol, monk fruit sugar, coconut sugar, and on occasion only, honey & maple syrup.) from my diet to lower inflammation so the treatment would work better. I dare you to try not to eat anything with sugar for a month. You'll find that almost everything we buy at the grocery store has sugar. Most gluten-free products are loaded with sugar too! Going out is a nightmare, sometimes, I bring my own sugar-free ketchup and mayo and grab lettuce wrapped A&W burger with nothing but veggies and the meat. But most times, the thought of eating at a fast food place makes me want to gag. I was not the healthiest, maybe, but I was never a fan of fast food either. My comfort food is toast with butter, sliced banana on top and drizzled with honey. Thank goodness, I found out that "00" flour is from Italy and people who react to gluten, sometimes don't react to this flour. So I've got the go from my doctor to use is and I'm never going back to gluten-free flour options. I'm making my own bread. It's not as fluffy because I think this flour is intended for pizza, or I don't know what I'm doing, but hey, I can have my comfort food again!

Then 2018 brought the word Progress. There was a lot of progress! I finally started the last phase of my Lyme disease treatment. I feel tired most of the time and need to nap most days, cutting my waking hours by a third, but I'm just happy I'm finally there. I also cheated on my diet like crazy in both November and December which was bad, so now I have to get back on track. You'd think that after more than a year of doing this I'd be used to it, but I still don't know what to make for lunch and dinner most days. It doesn't help that we don't buy a lot of meat. Meat dishes are easier to prepare. If I were on a game show and asked what to make for dinner without using gluten or meat, I would likely be made to fall in a big pool of slime. I've made dishes from AIP (anti-inflammatory, my diet) recipe websites and this is a truth bomb, at least for foodies like me, ye be warned, a lot of them don't taste great. If you're like me, you love food, but can't whip up dinner without a recipe (I'm terrible with spices), but you're hella good following a recipe to a T, then all I can do is blame all those recipes. There's up to so many times you can screw up yourself before it's time to admit these are just tasteless or foul-tasting. My kids don't trust me making dinner anymore, even when I make meat dishes, and those I can do. To redeem myself, I'm a pretty good baker, with or without a recipe.

But now I have a problem... 2018 ended not with a word but an image and I don't know what to make of it:

Wild Flower Field - flickr
It seems positive, but I'm not sure what it implies. Is that our future? I wouldn't say no to a big expanse of land with enough trees to say "I have a small wood of my own". I've always been a forest imp and I'm not afraid to say that I've hugged trees. I just love them so much, it's tough to live 3 hours away from any semblance of a forest. Am I to think this is some blissful, carefree year to come where most of my worries fly away on the flower-perfumed breeze? I don't know. Just like the previous words, I'll have to see for myself, but this is the first time it's not a word and I'm very confused.

In the end, I still got to spend the late night/early morning with my husband, but he felt nauseous, so no sparkling apple juice for him. Then the kids drank most of the bottle on the next day—this is a non-alcoholized beverage.

This New Year better be good, or else!

Nicole is my spirit animal

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Is Grammarly worth trying and what's up with the Premium upgrade?

Today, I let's discuss Grammarly. We’ve all heard about it, or at least most of us have. For those who don’t know, Grammarly is a tool you can find online at When you sign up for free, you can add it to your browser or download the app for your handheld devices. There are other add-ons as well for your PC. I would recommend setting up your profile first and select which English language varieties to use; very happy that Canadian English made it to the list, there’s Australian English as well and of course, the two most used: UK and USA English. You can add words to your personal dictionary, so add up all your made-up fantasy words or newly coined technical terms!
At first, I wondered Is it just an alternative to Microsoft Word’s spellcheck? I don’t remember much about the Grammarly ads I’ve seen, but they left me with the impression that it was a spellchecking tool.

Well, it is, but it turns out it does more than that. So I tried Grammarly, put a random bunch of text in my free account’s "demo document" section and let it run. It checked for the same typos and minor grammar errors Word would, but what makes it different, and I think that’s a big plus for a writer, is that you can set the tone. You have five goal markers you can customize: Intent, Audience, Style, Emotion and Domain.
Intent, which is still experimental as the AI needs some training, lets you pick as many markers as you need between Inform, Describe, Convince and Tell a Story.
The Audience lets you choose between General, Knowledgeable and Expert.
Style can be either Formal or Informal, Emotion—also experimental— can be either Mild or Strong.
And lastly, Domain has a selection for Creative, Academic, Business, Technical and Casual.
And that’s just the online version. I just installed the add-on on Word and wow, there are even more options! I have a Premium account now, so I can’t tell what is not available, but I assume the options to be greyed out as Grammarly would likely want you to know what you’re missing. Here’s a screenshot:
Click to enlarge
So those tone markers help the AI find the problems in your text and address them in the form of advice or corrections tailored to your specific writing style. It will also look for passive voice, which is something budding authors need to look for. The algorithm catches them and gives me pause so I can decide whether this passive verb is justified or not.
Grammarly will also check for filler words and tell you if you keep using the same words repeatedly.
There’s even a word count function that will calculate the average time needed to read your text out loud, excellent if you need to cover a set amount of time for an important speech.

Sorry to say Word, but you’ve been served!

Then comes the paid part. I will say it right away; I hate pay per month/quarter/year deals. Plus, I’m Canadian and I pretty much always forget to double-check and end up paying more than I anticipated. When is the Canadian dollar finally going up?? [cry me a river cue]
Indeed, Grammarly is in USD.

The paid part is not cheap, at least, not if your writing isn’t earning you money. Grammarly sent me a 40% off while I was still waiting for my free month trial (I’m part of the affiliate program and also one reason why I’m writing this. The other reason is that I think it’s a neat tool.). Since the deal was only good for two days, as if they were trying to pressure me and it worked, I took it. I’m sharing the account with a friend, and there are no restrictions whatsoever saying I can’t. There’s a limit of 5 devices, but I don’t want Grammarly to start correcting my text messages. I write well enough but use nonsense words with family. I would expect Grammarly to drive me nuts.

So what does the Premium account offer? Plagiarism checker for one. If you’re afraid your teacher will find out you copy-pasted texts you found online or if you want to see how close to another’s work yours sound, it’s worth using.
Also, it will find more mistakes, such as unclear antecedents, and tidbits here and there since the free version will only look for minor problems. Premium comes with free 24h our help and support. It will also come with genre-specific checks. Or more of them. Pretty sure the free version offered a few.

But Grammarly will not always be right. Sometimes, it will offer an adverb, changing the whole meaning of the phrase, e.g. Short (size) vs Shortly (time). At this point, it’s up to you to decide what makes sense, after all, it’s still just a program that won’t replace a real live proof-reader. That said, they do offer the service, but it’s not free either and not part of the Premium services.
And for all the neat features the Word Add-on offers, you need to close Grammarly if you want to use CTRL+Z. Yep, that’s right; it’s disabled while Grammarly is on. But only on Word, although possibly affecting Outlook since it’s part of the add-on. (Whisper: I don't use Outlook, so I don't know)

Most people writing such an article will tell you to get the upgrade, of course they would, they get money to refer you to Grammarly. Personally, I’m still ambivalent. There are perks, but I don’t yet write professionally (meaning I don’t get paid), so to me, it’s a big investment for what some still consider a hobby. But if you are serious about writing, if English isn’t your first language or you can definitely put that in your budget as a professional writer, there are good perks to the Premium version. Not a ton more, but enough that it does make a difference.

Here’s my affiliate link [Right HEEEERE], it’s up to you whether you want to create an account, but if you do, they pay me $0.20 per free account. The payout is $20 for Premium sign-ups. It’s a way for me to finance my career little by little, and pay for this service. If you don’t agree with that, feel free to just go directly on the website, I’m not going to starve. But I wouldn’t say no to going outside the house once in a while!

My novella project: NEXT DOOR

Today I'd like to share with you one of my main projects.
First, let's just get it out, I have many projects. And I will always come up with a new idea in the middle of projects, often following a really awesome epic dream or research birthing a new concept. I've learned to write them down and try to stay focused on one story at a time. How hard this can be!

At the moment, I am halfway through a series of three short stories that are meant to complete each other. My tentative title is NEXT DOOR, and it follows 3 neighbours struggling with self-esteem, fitting in, and loneliness.
I finished the first few drafts of the first story a while ago and plan to leave it to stew for a little while until I am done with writing the following short story. My first story focuses on a young woman named Michelle who does not want to interact with people anymore, rarely ever leaving her apartment as to spark rumours in the apartment complex. The second story is about Sam who just moved in after couch surfing at a friend's place following a difficult breakup. The last one will be about this older lady whose husband works away from home and is trying to belong to the block's clique of gossiping ladies. What they all have in common, aside from loneliness, is that they are all neighbours living respectively at apartments 200, 204 and 202. Which will be the titles for each short story.

What I've noticed when I started writing Sam's story is that his was in the present tense while Michelle was in the past.
This made me think. Michelle constantly uses the past to keep her from moving forward while Sam doesn't know what to do with the present. So I thought I'd challenge myself and write my third story in the future tense, something that has not been done often. It makes sense since my third character fears the future.

I wanted to tell you about this other project, a sci-fi fantasy novel, I'm also working on, but realized that until I really get to know my main character and get him to talk to me, I won't be able to get into many details. The plot line is good, but not yet finished, and it's still so new, I might as well wait a little. But it will include travelling to other planets and alchemy. Actually, the move I've been delving into research, the more everything is falling into place, so I am really excited about it!

I'll keep you posted with details and let you know when my short story collection will be sent for publishing—hopefully in a novella format.

Friday, November 9, 2018

Writers Convention fun & high energy - When Words Collide 2018, Calgary

Welcome back everyone!

So last post I mentioned this convention I attended—When Words Collide 2018— and I'm here to deliver.

I first heard about attending writers conventions from The Writer magazine. Someone had written something along the lines of — but not nearly as condescending — "any self-respecting author should attend at least one in their lifetime." I thought it made sense that I should. I definitely don't think of myself as knowing everything there is to know on the craft, even after reading quite a few books on the subject, plus I'm still picking up pieces of experience every time I write.
Real people would be an interesting experience and this convention, a great opportunity to escape home and its routine.

I've been waiting for so many years to have some days to myself away from home. I did what anyone with very few bits of sanity would do; I booked a hotel room for 2 nights. I read up on what I should bring to a convention, here's my list:
  • Comfortable shoes
  • Comfortable clothes
  • Light jacket
  • Big bag (tote bag?)
  • Voice recorder
  • Cellphone
  • Chargers
  • Laptop + mouse + wrist pad
  • Protein bars
  • Water bottle
  • Plans and Schedule in my folder clipboard
  • Something to write on (paper + pen)
  • Manuscript (first 2 pages)
  • Money
  • ID
  • Tea bags + empty tea bags if bringing loose leaves
  • Tampons and pads in case
  • Business cards
Upgraded room on the 8th floor after an awful night hearing happy/drunk people in the hallway and the loud bang of doors closing. It wasn't their fault, I tried to close mine silently, it was impossible, but the Tower section of the hotel is newer and walls aren't made of paper.

I decided to stay at the hotel where the convention was held since I don't live in Calgary. It made things simpler: less driving, not having to take care of the kids, not having to bargain with my husband each morning. It was a weekend for me.
But it wasn't without incidents...
I first parked in one of the two portions of the hotel, called The Atrium, where the staff were already getting busy with the increasing flux of hotel patrons and convention goers. There was a fair line up to the registration counter, operated by a single clerk plus a line helper, right in front of the convention's registration desks on the opposite wall, narrowing the passage for those already done with registering with one or both. As I took my place in the line, I was asked if I had a reservation. I did, all good, I thought, but when the clerk called me, she asked if I had a membership with them, and I told her I didn't, which I thought wouldn't be an issue, but apparently, it was.
   "You're in the wrong part of the hotel," she informed me.
Great. So I lugged my luggage and bags to my car, drove to the other part of the hotel—The Tower—and entered another line-up to the registration counter. All was good with my reservation, but my room was inside the Atrium part of the hotel. Really? They offered to bring my luggage over and I accepted, running to the registration desk—in The Atrium—to get my name tag which doubled as my official pass for the whole 3-day convention and ran some more towards The Tower part for my first panel. Wooh! I made it!
I wore very professional-looking clothes, as, prior to attending, I imagined this event to be filled with rows of editors waiting to shake hands with people. Apparently, my view of the real world has blurred lines.
I turned out to be way overdressed. WAY OVERDRESSED. I wish I had taken a picture of myself just to let you judge. On a positive note, I was one of the best-dressed people out there, which never hurts a good introduction. Bonus: these clothes were also comfortable.
Good shoes are also a must, even if the carpet was lush, I walked a lot from one hotel Tower to the Atrium, back and forth almost as fast as the the Olsen twin.
I had a 100 business cards made for the occasion as I heard it's good to have handy (instead of handing a crumbled piece of paper with your email on it). I gave away maybe 5 or 6 of them, but I can keep using the rest for subsequent conventions. I might need to add this blog to the back though.
Not too bad-looking for cards made in 30 minutes on an empty stomach and a tired mind. As usual, I forgot to make them at the last minute. Picked them up freshly made, the morning of the convention. One day it will have a design reflecting one of my published stories.
I brought 2 pages of manuscript I wrote a while ago. I had no expectations of selling my (still unfinished) story, I just wanted feedback on the style and structure. Unfortunately, there had been some confusion and we were not notified that editors—or this specific one I saw—wanted the manuscript sent to them ahead of time. He didn't feel he had enough time to go through both pages and give me proper feedback, so he had to rush through them, asking a lot of questions about how something didn't make sense, when it happened to be explained within the next few sentences. All in all, I was disappointed, but he did give me a few good pointers on how to grab an audience. although I internally disagreed with some of them as apparently, nobody cares anymore for a good introduction like in the Last Unicorn. It saddens me as I have trouble getting into a story if it starts right in the middle of action; I like to know where is what and who I'm rooting for. I don't get this mentality that we should care about someone simply because they are in a bad situation.
Later, someone re-framed what the editor told me as "in the middle of conflict". That made more sense, but I still like a solid introduction, nothing too long.

As part of my list, I want to point out that I couldn't have done it without my big tote bag since there's barely any time to get from one event to the next, often in totally different buildings (or maybe I was just unlucky?). I needed to carry along water and food at all times, and give up panels in exchange for some breathing room and a warm meal.
Another very useful item was my voice recorder. Attempting to jot down everything that was discussed during panels would have been a real struggle, and it also enabled me to participate more actively. I've got a rechargeable Sony digital voice recorder, with decent sound quality (I tried it during a big concert where the organizer recommended recording!). The only downside is the need to recharge it every now and then (I wouldn't say frequently) as the battery didn't last the whole day. At best quality settings, I still got at least 3-4 hours. I should take note to invest in a portable charger power bank for next time.

The weather was really nice during the day or night. Even when it rained it wasn't too cold. In the end, my jacket became superfluous. So was my laptop. I thought renting a room for the weekend would enable me to write in pure blissful silence at night, and even though I did write a little, I was too tired. I wrote once one night and not for long; I stayed up too late chatting up real people (for once!) which is really the heart of the evening at writer's conventions. You run into the same people, exchange pleasantries and when you see them later, people assume you've known them for years as winks and inside jokes are thrown here and there.

Personal preference, but I travel with my own tea.

You might have noticed I put my menstruation kit up there. It's always good to be prepared. So there. Tampons and pads, because I might need them. People, let's stop the bloody shame (I can't do a good British accent).

There were a lot of books on sale as well, but I tried not to go too crazy so I only bought books from authors I met. Those who were willing to tell me more about their books got a purchase from me as opposed to those who were too afraid to discuss them lest they spoil something. So I guess that was also a lesson here. More is better, just don't tell them the big twist and you'll likely get yourself a few interested followers, translating into sales. There were also panellists with non-fiction books related to writing, ergonomics in the workplace and, one I missed but really wanted to attend was a panel about life in the middle-ages. The author happened to be at one the book-selling booths and told me more about her research and the non-fiction books she wrote. She even signed them for me. All of these people got a purchase from me.
I was lucky to catch the author of one of my favourite non-fiction Thesaurus series, Angela Ackerman. I didn't have any of the books with me (because carrying books from home to a writer's event would just be weird, right? Right?), but she willingly signed a page of my notebook which I tore gently and tucked inside one of her Thesaurus when I got home.
The best book I bought is by far Jim Jackson's book. It contains 4 easy steps to write a good story, yet has a ridiculously long satirical title: How to Tell a Really Good Story about Absolutely Anything in 4 Easy Steps. Rarely do we find books on the craft that contain more than vague clues as to how to make it happen on the page. Jim delivers and what more, he appeals to people like me who need examples to fully understand how the information is applied.
No, Mr. Jackson did not ask me to promote his book, I do it willingly because there are too many books out there and few like this one. If you're wondering what books to get, put this one on your list, you won't ever regret it. If you ever meet Jim, he looks like a mix of Glen Hansard and Gavan O'Herlihy in the Willow movie.
You can check out his website and Facebook pages.

So what was the convention like? Two days and a half (Friday to Sunday) of panels every hour, some panning longer and at least two panels happening at the same time that I wanted to attend. Lots of hard decisions were made. In the end, I decided that I would skip all panels about publishing, finding an editor and all the in-betweens until I had a book ready. There were still lots of panels to see within the same time frame but in different locations. I had to cram eating during panels I felt could be sacrificed. My husband came to visit on that first Friday as the kids were taken care of. First date in a long time! Which happened during panels "Writing Believable Sexual Tension & Romantic Elements" and "Kink, BDSM, Consent,
& Feminism". I really wanted to attend those, but managed to get got some romantic content down. I also met Rick, a funny open guy whom I kept bumping into. I guess our friendship was meant to be. And this is the beauty of these conventions in this era where we can easily keep in touch via internet, and know that if we're both going again next year, we can see each other once more.

The mornings were the worst. I woke up earlier than I would have on a weekend and made for the breakfast area, feeling the slight nausea of someone who is not ready to eat yet. After a ridiculous amount of time and looking through their average buffet and delicious-looking A la carte menu, I knew where my allegiances lay; I was a A la carte gal. Their duck Benedict egg was amazing on a croissant, which is a shame as they do not naturally offer the option. I noticed they had croissants and being French-Canadian, I had to have one in my meal.
It's not the croissant that makes me French, it's the love of good food. And that internal monologue in my head screaming Vive la Révolution! every now and then. It does happen.
I met lots of fellow authors and book-lovers I had bumped into during the previous day, some new ones joined our tables, expanding my circle of acquaintances and friends.

The most important item on my list was my clipboard with the printed schedule covering all 3 days. I highlighted all panels I really wanted to see, made notes for back-up ones in case the chosen panel was not what I expected or turned out to be boring. It did happen once where it seemed to me the panellists had no clue how to go deeper into the subject and attendees became the source of information for the whole group. I left mid-way for my back-up panel.
I had a few markers throughout the day where I could consider eating through panels I felt I could skip, but I wanted to attend all of them, making this a very tough decision. Food or knowledge? But knowledge IS food, Sam! and without food, you won't be able to focus on absorbing that knowledge...
I'd say there were too many interesting panels crammed together. Some panels were interactive too, definitely a change from simply sitting on our butts trying not to interrupt the speaker's flow with questions—I'm bad at that, I always have questions.

I didn't get to use much of my notepad, but I did use it. I think any writer should have a small one handy at all time with a good pen or pencil. Ideas don't wait, they strike as they come.

Came Sunday evening, I was both exhausted and full of enthusiasm and energy. I knew I wouldn't be able to do that for a whole week unless they stretched the same amount of panels within that one week, then I'd have time to see all of the ones I circled, highlighted and doted. The only problem is that most people wouldn't be able to afford to take a week off for such an awesome concept. If I were to ask attendees if they would like to do it, I bet they'd all say "YES!" or "Yes, but..." We're all passionate people gathering, mingling, exchanging thoughts, ideas, and concepts for a tight three days. If you ever think you might be bored there, but you love books, writing, reading, meeting people who do, or all of these, you will never be bored. I can guarantee it.

Now go find the next closest writer's convention in your area and give it a try. I hope my list helps, don't make the same mistakes as me and wear casual, comfy clothes. No one will judge you.