"The best place to find a helping hand is at the end of your arm." - Swedish Proverb

This is not one of those posts to make you laugh, or for me to show just how witty and entertaining I am. This is one of those posts that I truly hope will make you all feel something, and is my own personal call to action for each and every person reading this. 

You have all heard what has been going on with Hurricane Irma (and hurricane Katia, and Jose, and Harvey). I am sure you can't turn the tv on, the radio on, or start a Google search without being reminded of what is happening with Irma, or the path of destruction from Harvey. 

The worst of the storm has now passed, but the devastation is a very real thing for millions of people throughout the Caribbean and the southern US. I am personally blown away by the images I have seen, and it breaks my heart to look at evidence of roads I have spent years walking down, stores, bars and restaurants I have spent countless hours at, and the people that have dedicated their lives creating these memorable places, completely flattened and destroyed. Below are some images I have taken over the years, and pulled from various sites, and google searches of those very places that I have known and LOVED that have been irreparably ravaged.

I am not typically that person to ask others to open their wallets and donate to the problem, but when these things hit so close to home, I am moved to create an opportunity for such assistance to be easily found, should you want to help. 

Canada Helps is a great resource for this, and allows you to pick the organization you want to support. If you are feeling generous, or have been moved by the impact of these storms, please do not hesitate to click on the link below. 

https://www.canadahelps.org/en/crisis-relief-centre/2017-hurricane-irma/

Most of the images above are from St. Maarten, where I have spent countless hours basking in the sun and surrounded by loved ones, family, ship family, and friends. It is where my husband proposed, and so many memories were created. St. Thomas harbour is also shown above, both before and after, and in an image I took from the top of the gondola. Tortola, which will always remain the best island in the Caribbean - in my humble opinion - and Virgin Gorda, where I spent my sisters 30th birthday with her, are devastated nearly beyond recognition, but the love, memories and life that I have spent in these places will always be more powerful than any storm that rolls through.

 

 

 

 

This old dog still has a few tricks up her sleeve!

Now, I wouldn't dream of calling myself old - in public, or in front of anyone who I'd suspect could use it against me in future conversations, but in recent days I have been enlightened to the fact that I may be behind the times a little.

I don't understand when that curve takes a nose dive from "young and in-the-know" to "oh man, do you know how old you sound?" (by the way... thanks to a co-worker, this was a statement I may have been feeling recently, but was NOT prepared to actually hear!)

So, I am learning a couple new tricks, and expanding my "old dog" repertoire to turn some new pages in my techie-saavy how-to book! Step number one - understand the importance of a website that brands and expresses what I do!

I present to you... New website! Isn't it pretty? (and by pretty, I mean - Pretty dark!) It was brought to my attention that the previous look of the website was... romantic. Now while romance is critical in everyone's story - I'm talking about life in general, but the term"story" works in all contexts here - romance is not what I do. I do dark, messed up, creepy and a little on the twisted side.

So grab a cuppa (because I'm feeling a little British today - but for all you westerners that means "cup of coffee/ cup of tea") and have a browse through. Drop me a comment or like my posts, oooh and ahh over the greatness that you see and remember to stop back often for many more fun and fascinating posts!!

Listen. Come in here. You want to know about this. - Steven King

I have learned, in my wise old age, that one should apologize when one is a jerk. 

I am a jerk and I am sorry. 

I disappeared off the radar (ok, maybe not the radar but from blogging sight at least) for far too long. I could provide you with exactly seven excuses for my absence, but I will just bite the bullet, admit to being blogaphobic and move on to bigger and better things - Like my new line up of hot blog-tastic topics!

After attending When Words Collide last weekend (a weekend of bringing together amazing talent from all over Canada - and the US and the UK from what I understand- to hash out all sorts of writing woes and answer a million questions from aspiring authors and writers alike), I have found renewed vigor to hit my keyboard (not literally) and generate insightful, witty and slightly stolen writing tips for all of my wonderful followers.

I have a really exciting line up of topics for you all over the next several weeks (yes I said weeks… I am going to do my best to get back to a regular posting schedule. This is where you would insert cheering and words of praise).

I was trying to decide where to start with the abundance of knowledge I have discovered, and I have chosen to start at the most logical place… the end!

JUST KIDDING…

I would not lead you so far down the rabbit hole so quickly. We are going to start at the beginning.

The opening to your work in progress (no matter what it is that you write) is going to set the tone for your reader. Those first few pages are going to build the expectation for the entirety of the book. They need to be good!

Dwayne Clayden, one of the amazing presenters last weekend, explains the opening pages as a pop up book. The setting, the characters, and the inciting incident need to jump off the pages at your reader and grab them instantly. 

We live in a world of instant gratification, don’t we? No one seems to have time to waste. The general public certainly does not have the patience to slug through four chapters of setting description and beautiful prose describing your protagonist, before something exciting happens!

This is more or less true depending on the genre you tend to read/write. Romance for instance, will spend more time on details before jumping into action, whereas a mystery will typically open on a dead body (the good ones anyways).

Your opening needs to grab, entice, frighten, mystify, or amuse. Your reader needs to feel as though they are in the heart of your story, from the starting line. 

Your task, as the author, is to create a world, and characters, so intriguing that you get your reader to the end of the first chapter. (And beyond of course)

So how do you do this? How do you open a story with such unattainable expectations?

You start with the first line. 

Authors- the good ones - can spend weeks and months obsessing over those first few words. The hook, or the first line of a work in progress, is an authors opportunity to grab a reader. If you can get their attention, now all you have to do is hold on to it, right??

Easier said than done!

A well written hook will be incredibly interesting, and probably pose several questions in an instant for your reader. There are several tricks to achieve this. 

You can begin with a question, maybe the narrator is asking the reader, maybe the main character is asking themselves, maybe it is truly brilliant dialogue. “How does one determine the colour of a dinosaur’s skin?” 

You can begin with description that is so vivid the reader is swept up in the scene immediately. “Gasping for breath and inhaling nothing but the briny salt of the angry Atlantic ocean was not how George had imagined his life ending; but as the sails of his twenty-three foot daysailer disappeared between swells, he had little doubt that this was it.”

Or you could create mystery, giving your reader just enough information to get them curious, but leaving the rest up to their imaginations. “Standing on the peak of the mountain, Jojo stared out in awe of the world below her, completely oblivious to what, or who, was watching her.”

You want to read on, don’t you?

This is your chance to heighten your opening chapter with action and excitement. In your next paragraph, you would capture the reader so that they refuse to put the book down. 

A good writer will catch a reader with their first line, intrigue them with the first paragraph, and captivate them with the first chapter. 

Now, I am not saying to put all of your effort into perfecting the first chapter of your book and forgetting about what comes after, but there are critical details that need to be addressed in those first pages. 

Your reader needs to be situated in your story right way. They need to know who’s story they are reading, where it’s headed, and when and where it takes place. 

Keep the action going throughout that first chapter. Never, never, never jump into back story in those first few pages. The opening of your novel should always remain in action. There are times where these rules can be broken, but for new authors, learn the rules, once you know them, then you can break them (after you’ve proven you can follow them).

Make sure that you are including everything a reader needs, to get into your story, within the first five pages:

1. Grab the readers attention

2. Introduce a character readers will care about

3. Set the story's mood/ tone

4. Establish the story tellers voice

5. Orient the world of the protagonist and enable the reader to picture it

6. Lock into your genre.

If you can achieve all this in your first pages, all while telling a story that is interesting, and unique, you are setting yourself up for success. 

As a closing thought, one thing that Dwayne mentioned got me thinking, and noticing in my own work. 

One thing that a lot of writers overlook is the power of a hook at the end of a chapter. Sometimes this is considered a cliff hanger. If you can hook your reader at the end of each chapter, how likely are they to flip the page and jump into the next chapter to see what happens? How many times, as a reader, have you gotten to that last line, and had to read on into the next chapter? The next thing you know it’s 3am and you are still turning pages. If you can achieve this in your own work, success is yours for the taking!

 

(credit for a lot of content above comes from Dwayne Clayden's presentation. The wit and cheek is all mine!)

 

Change is the process of growing into who you are supposed to be. But who needs change?

A very happy and healthy Monday to you all. I hope you are all enjoying your Family Day/ Islander Day/ Louis Riel Day today (for those of you in every province in Canada except for BC - Seriously BC, get it together, it makes no sense that your Family day is a week before the rest of us… you’re not THAT progressive!) and President’s day if you are in the States. If you are reading this from somewhere else, well then you probably didn’t get a holiday today… or if you’re reading this from a ship, I. am. sorry! I know that it sucks when the rest of the world is celebrating some kind of statutory holiday, but just remember there are only (insert week count) Embarks left until vacation!!

Ok, sorry for any of you that are not on a ship, and don’t know someone that has once worked on a ship, that last line is probably a little confusing for you. I should maybe mention here that a good portion of my adult life was spent cruising the high seas working for a reputable cruise line. That is definitely a story for another day though. 

I had a very exciting topic planned for this week, and I am not going to tell you what it was! (na-na na-na boo boo) Joking! I will probably use it at a future date. I was watching some Youtube this week, and ended up on Kristen Martin’s channel watching a post about characters in your story and Character development. Now I don’t want to be that unpublished writer ranting on about Characterization in your work in progress. There is something about not having actually published my own work and giving advise about how to write that just doesn’t feel valid to me. I did, however, listening to an analogy she used when describing characters, and static characters vs. dynamic characters. Although I do have to admit, I was a little skeptical about her visual, it did get me to thinking, and one thing led to another and there I was, analyzing my own behaviours and whether I was static or dynamic, and if I was either or, was that what I wanted to be, or what does it say about me. It has been playing around in this little head of mine since 5am Saturday morning, and I have decided that it would become this week’s topic, one of self reflection, self awareness and maybe self discovery!  Ready?? 

Ok, well if you’re not into it... if you would rather learn more about me that about yourself, maybe you should go start reading my blog from the first week again, I can’t guarantee you will learn anything new, but you will get to experience my witty and always oh-so-wonderful random thoughts - there is definitely merit in that. 

For those of you who are ready to dig in, let’s get going. I need to start by taking you back to school. Remember in English class when you had to participate the dreaded "creative writing"? Rest assured, I am not going to drag you through the difference between prepositions, dangling modifiers and subject verb predicates. Today we are only looking at the difference between a static character and a dynamic character. 

A static character is a character that essentially begins and ends the story unchanged. They may have had some ups and downs, but basically they're the same. A dynamic character is a character that grows as the story moves forward. They adapt, compromise, learn, and by the end of they story they emerge as (more or less, and for better or for worse) a completely different person - Hold on… just had a story premise jump into my head! See how easily it is to be inspired? I literally inspire myself! Jeez I’m a rock star!!!

(Insert hold music)

Ok I am back… sorry, you have to write this stuff down when it hits you!

So, here is the analogy that Kirsten Martin uses (by the way, I will link her Youtube channel below - she’s entertaining to watch, and just listening to other authors talk about stuff, any stuff, it gets the juices flowing!)

Imagine you throw a piece of cooked spaghetti at the wall. When the spaghetti hits the wall, it molds into a shape completely different from the one that it was in your hand. Now let's say you throw (I can’t remember what she said it was… something hard) a rock at the wall. The rock bounces off, and assuming you didn’t throw a soft rock really really hard at a very dense wall, that rock is going to remain relatively unchanged, right? So your spaghetti is your dynamic character, and your rock is the static character. If you take a moment to think of some of the people in your life, I am sure you can think of a few that would fall into either category right? I have friends and loved ones that I can say, beyond a doubt, they are static characters in my life. They may change a little here and there, but ultimately they are the same person, same beliefs, same attitude, same grouchy Portuguese accent (oops wait… disclaimer: All the names and characters used in the blog are “loosely” based on people in real life. Names have been changed to protect their identities - but you so know who you are!) Then there will be people in your life that are dynamic, people who you watch grow and change, for better or worse, and grow into someone new. 

Which of these character traits best represent you? 

It got me to thinking. I am definitely a dynamic person. I am constantly changing, adapting, compromising, adjusting, and bending like that limp spaghetti noodle into weird shapes. I do this all the time. But my question is, being a dynamic person, is that healthy. Is it healthy as a human being, someone who’s story doesn’t end at page 356, is it healthy to be the dynamic protagonist in your own story? My husband is the Ying to my Yang. He is unchanging, he is static. He is firm in his beliefs, and although he is not “rock-like” that he doesn’t change when he hits the wall, he does change, and bend, but when it comes to the core of who he is, he is un-bending, because this is who he has decided to be, and changing that is compromising who you are. 

So what about you. Are you dynamic? Do you hit a wall and change your shape to accommodate the wall, or do you bounce right back off and, if anything, leave a mark on the wall? 

I have thought a lot about this over the past few days and I think, diplomatically and probably a little too conveniently, why not have both? Is it possible to be both bendable and rock solid? And if it is possible, is this something that you are born with, or is this a trait that you learn (I guess if it’s learnable, essentially we are ALL dynamic, we have the ability to grow, it is just then a question of whether you do or not)

There are days where I admire my husband for being so steadfast in his beliefs and his opinions, and there are days I curse him for it, but deep down, there is something to be said for holding true to who you are, the real you, the character that grows, or the character that remains a constant. Just like every great book is made up of both, so this world is full of both.

If you are a writer, or you have done any story telling at all, think back to some of your hero/ heroines, your protagonist is probably the best self reflection you can find. You hear all the time that you write what you know, and I can tell you from experience, it would be quite enlightening to consider some of your character's traits, you might just find your looking right into a mirror of self reflection!

So that’s my thought for tonight. I am changing my posting schedule to bi-weekly. The weekends come so fast and I find I am scrambling to get things together for all of you, so I am going to drop back to bi-weekly, and research my topics a little more to provide you with authentic and quality reading! 

I hope you all have a wonderful short week (except you BC, and shippies) and I will see you all again shortly!

 

Kristen Martin's Youtube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCYyy_hiZRaSLGLOn62Nc4AA

Doubt kills more dreams than Failure ever will

Well good morning and happy Sunday everyone. I don’t know about you, but today where I am it is a very white and snowy Sunday. (Which is not exactly what I would call a wonderful Sunday… it’s not what I would call a wonderful anything) Yes, the Groundhog saw his shadow, and thanks to that little bugger, Mother Nature thought it would be a great opportunity to insulate the world one more time with an abundance of the frigid white crap… thanks Groundhog! I used to think you were cute - but I take it all back… you are a MONSTER!!!

One thing you will notice about my blog will be that I wear my heart on my sleeve, or rather in my fingers, as they pound away on this keyboard unabashed and spewing every last emotion that is holed up inside me. 

I want to talk about self doubt this week. I know that last week this was more or less the same topic, and how to learn to praise yourself (at this point, allow me to apologize for last week. I don’t know if it was cold meds, or just plain out of my mind, but even when I go back to read it, I find it hard to follow my own chain of thought) I will try to keep this week a little more structured and making a little more sense!

I have been feeling a lot of self doubt in my life and my writing lately. I am usually quite a cheerful person, and my own biggest cheerleader, but the past couple weeks, this has been far from reality. Call it pms, or the winter blues, I don’t know, but it sucks! I hate second guessing myself, my work, my progress, my life in general, and I am hoping that by getting it out in this kind of a forum, maybe I can clear it from my chest and move forward. So if you're ready… Here we go. 

Self doubt sucks! No matter what aspect of your life you feel it, there is one plain fact… Self doubt sucks! Everyone has had to face it at one point or another, and some of us deal with it on a regular basis. It’s that little voice inside us that tells us that we are not good enough, or that we just don’t measure up. It is the voice that will continue to push us down, that will have you second guessing aspects of your life, or that assures you that you are going to fail. It’s that little pain in the ass that, unless you can learn to stop him in his tracks, can push you right off course with his relentless slander. 

So how do you move past it? I don’t know! Oh wait, you thought I was going to enlighten you? Tell you what to do next when this jerk makes you feel like you just aren’t capable of doing anything? If I had that secret I wouldn’t be here venting about the son-of-a-monkey’s-uncle that sits on my shoulder, and who has made my brain his playground for the last few weeks. 

Well that’s not all true. I do have some techniques to shut him up… even if it's only temporarily, to strap duct tape to his mouth, bind his arms and legs and toss him in the river. He doesn’t die easily though and each time he gets sneakier when he returns, but for today, allow me to impart my wisdom on you for what I typically do, to break the cycle. 

As a writer, highs and lows are a huge part of the writing process. There are days where I close my laptop after a long day of writing and feel like I am on top of the world. I know in my heart of hearts that what I have just accomplished is ground breaking, it's ingenious, it's brilliant, and it was written so impeccably, I have no doubt that I am going to be the next JK Rowling (sorry, got carried away with that one… there’s no expectations ever to be the next JK Rowling - that woman is remarkable, and I truly don’t expect to hit that mark on my first novel) Then there are days where I barely squeeze out 700 words, and the entire time I am writing, I am telling myself it is only to put words on paper, but that this entire chapter will be re-written come edits because it is complete crap and there is no way in the world this book will ever be picked up by an agent. I am convinced it's only slightly better than the crap I wrote in high school when I thought I was some hot shot journalist (by the way, the journalism I have been published with back in my early years makes me blush and scamper to very dark corners each time I try to go back and re-read it. How they ever actually published that in an legitimate newspaper is beyond me) My point is, there will always be ups and downs, and with writing especially, your work is your baby.. It is your heart and soul on paper for the world to see. You are exposing yourself in ways that you would never imagine doing in any other aspect of your life, but pouring yourself into these pages, sure, it’s an expected roller-coaster of emotions. It’s when my personal life and my writing life both come at me at the same time with this ugly little jerk’s slanderous comments that I really find myself on the verge of running for the hills and giving up on everything because I am sure that he is right. 

The past couple weeks have been exactly that. “You aren’t good enough, you don’t try hard enough, you are useless, you let people down, your a disappointment to yourself and everyone around you.”

Shut up shut up shut up!

I have learned a few tricks over the years to combat this voice, to move past it or at least silence it to fit in some of those compliments I am so good at giving myself. Let’s take a look at my brilliance, and if any of these help you, even just a little, to move past the self doubt you might be feeling, please send me a message or leave me a comment below. 

1. Embrace the doubt - “but wait, didn’t you just say it was evil and needed to be silenced?” Yes I did, however … Sometimes your self doubt comes from a place not of evil, but it is a form of self awareness. If you are feeling that screaming anxiety of doubt, sometimes it’s your subconscious trying to tell you something. Much like last week’s post, I hated it, I got down on myself, I didn’t even really proof read it because I had no use for it, I just wanted to delete it. Upon reading it a week later, I completely understand why. It was my subconscious telling me it was a hot mess! Is your doubt trying to smack you in the face with an obvious mistake you have made, or something you have clearly not considered or not done, or done when you shouldn’t have?

2. Step back, and look at the big picture. Sometimes you are too wrapped up in what you are doing to actually see what you may have done wrong, or why your doubt is settling on you. If you are so busy in your day to day, and you don’t take the time to pull back to see that you are you so concerned about word count, you didn’t notice that your story just took a hard left into a direction it didn’t mean to go… have you been so intent on pushing a new product at work that you didn’t realize you had let your biggest seller fall on the back burner, when your biggest seller is the highest profit item - wasted opportunity. Taking a step back to see the bigger picture, even if you only spend 20 or 30 minutes to consider it, you may see why your self doubt has been screaming at you. 

3. Look for inspiration. Look for a way to combat the negative with a new positive. Look for something to spark something new inside you. Hobbies are great for this. If you love scrapbooking, take time, pull out your materials and tools, and unwind letting your creative juices flow. If you are training for a marathon, hit a pool and swim laps to hit a new muscle group. If you are training lions, maybe bring in a high cardboard box and let the fur ball tear it apart! Let creativity and inspiration try to surge you forward. 

4. Make a celebration/ gratitude list. This is one of the things one of my go-to book tuber's big on. Write a list of all the amazing things you have accomplished today, this week, this month, this year. Make a list of all the great things you should be celebrating about yourself. If you start to focus on positive things, the negativity will have nowhere in your mind to hide. 

5. Do something that makes you feel good. Mine is having a bubble bath. I will find myself pacing the house, I will try to get comfortable in the living room, then the kitchen, trying to find the energy to clean, then sitting at my desk, staring at a blank screen repeatedly typing one word, then deleting. The - delete. Victoria - delete. Then she - delete. It was - delete. She woke - delete. You get the picture. I end up running a hot bath, curling up with a book and ignoring the rest of the world. If running is that escape, go run. If napping is a feel good, have a nap. If cooking or shopping, or sitting in a book store, or laying in a tanning bed, or watching a movie is your feel good thing, go do it!

7. Sometimes the voice really is just pure evil trying to distract you and make you feel like you are two inches tall.. If this is the case, you need to extinguish it. Start by identifying it. If you are like me, you may have a million thoughts in your head at any given time. Identify what the voice sounds like, what it says, where you hear it, when you hear it. Recognize that voice as self doubt and not truth or actual thoughts. That voice is one of negativity, not of driving you forward, or improving where you are… Question it. Dig deeper into what it is trying to convince you of. “Am I really not good enough? Am I really useless? Who is actually disappointed in me?” Remember that anything that is limiting or negative is not your true self. I will say that one again because I really want it to sink in. 

ANYTHING THAT IS LIMITING OR NEGATIVE IS NOT YOUR TRUE SELF.

Do not embrace these thoughts, do not let them get a foothold, because they are not true thoughts. Thoughts and emotions are habits. Therefore, the more you allow them to repeat in your mind, the more habitual they will become. Your brain will automatically go to that place because it is the habit. If you create a new habitual loop (that being the process your brain goes through when in a situation) you can train your brain to trigger an empowering thought as soon as a negative one rears its head. So if your doubt says “your not good enough” you instantly put that to bed and think “I am better than enough. I am so much more than enough” If your doubt triggers fear “oh my goodness, I can’t do this” you counter it with “I have so many options open to me, it doesn’t matter which direction I go, I will succeed!” 

I can’t promise that all of these are easy, or that they will magically make that doubt disappear, but I can tell you that it's a passing phase. If you find a way to push through, you will come out the other end. I sat at my computer last night, angry, pissy, hungry, fed up and ready to throw in the towel, but I spent some time outlining today’s post, then went to bed early. I woke up this morning feeling slightly better. I was productive this morning hitting the grocery store as they opened and making my day available to make progress on my book, get this blog post up, relax and sleep if necessary… whatever I wanted to. With a little bit of faith, I think this next week is going to turn back around. It would be great to be out of this funk and making huge progress on my book, and maybe, just maybe, feeling confident in myself again.