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THE HIGHS AND THE LOWS OF THE DOLDRUMS AT WHEN WORDS COLLIDE

I was so happy to be invited to participate at When Words Collide, a fabulous writing and reading festival for lovers of words held at the Carriage House in Calgary Aug. 9 -11.

My first day, I was part of a Humourous Readings panel, and Eve of Destruction, a panel on writing strong female characters. (See cute photos on Facebook.)

My last panel was on Sunday morning. When I saw the title, Getting Past the Middle Doldrums in Novel Writing, I thought, “Yes! I should sign up for this. It might be helpful with the middle sections of my next Lulu Malone mystery.”

I imagined a small koffee klatch of maybe five or six authors sitting around, moaning and kvetching about the middle sections of novels. Should be fun. I would be in good company.

Instead, just before I left for the Carriage House on Sunday morning, I thought I should maybe check out the other authors on the panel. (I have no idea why I didn’t think to do this before. I will come up with some great excuse, like evacuating seniors from the neighbourhood care centre, or rescuing puppies from bad people, or maybe catering a huge crowd at a last moment as a favour to a friend. Instead, I have nothing. Just didn’t think.)

I was somewhat horrified to see that I was on a panel with Patricia Briggs, D.B. Jackson, and Dave Duncan. The Big Names at the Festival. A big panel in a big room. And then there was me. Moi. Although one of my books (Rebel Women: Achievements Beyond the Ordinary) is a Canadian bestseller, and my first Lulu Malone mystery, Deadly Dues, has been well received, I was way out of my league here.

I imagined them going to the organizers and saying, “We have sold millions of books. Who is this little ms nobody on the panel with us? Dump her, or we walk.”

Luckily, my years in improv have given me a lot of creative courage and wild ideas. I asked to go first in the introductions, and basically presented myself as an impostor, having accidentally landed on this panel (true) and that, being stuck in the muddle in the middle (as the subtitle to the panel labeled it) I was looking forward to great guidance from my fellow panelists. For some reason, the audience of about 100 people found this quite hilarious. The stars must have been aligned.

The star panelists were very kind. They did not scorn me or mock me. (Well, maybe one did, but I am sure he didn’t mean it.) Instead, we all seemed to work together well, and I was just grateful to get out of there alive without having disgraced myself.

Later, in the authors’ market room, as I sat chatting with a gorgeous self-published fantasy author, at least six people approached me, saying (and I swear every single person used this exact phrase …. could my mother have paid them to do this?) “You were HILARIOUS on that panel!”

Big sigh of relief. I survived. And I also have some great notes for getting out of the muddle in the middle.

Onward!

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WHEN WORDS COLLIDE, August 9, 2013

i don’t remember what I expected from this conference (or maybe it is convention) for book lovers, word lovers, readers and writers, but WOW, it far surpassed any expectations.

What struck me about the environment was the easygoing informality, the warmth, the welcoming vibes from all and sundry. Just people loving words and willing to talk in an easy way. Absolutely lovely.

My first event was a Humourous Readings panel, held in a small room on the 10th Floor of the Carriage House Inn, one of my favourite hotels in Calgary. Getting to the room was a challenge, as the elevators were possessed by demon spirits (or playful elves) and insisted on soaring up and dropping down, without letting anybody out, especially if they were a writer. Maybe the Carriage House just LOVES writers and wants to keep them close.

I met two women who I think will become lifelong friends, both brilliant, funny and warm. Melodie Campbell is the author of The Goddaughter and many more books, as well as helming the office of Crime Writers of Canada, and she is magnificent, generous, funny, talented and way more competent than I could ever hope to be. Janice MacDonald is the Edmonton based author of the Randy Craig mystery series, and she is so literate, warm, generous and fun. She even bought two copies of my book, Deadly Dues, which made me want to fall at her feet and sing her praises. But I didn’t. I have some dignity. She also has a terrific husband, Randy Williams, a gifted editor and writer in his own right, so all around, there was a mutual fan session going on between us.

We each read from our respective works, and the small group in attendance laughed at all the right moments. What more can a comedy writer hope for? Randy took photos which are somewhere on Facebook, and if I ever figure out how to add photos to my blog, they will be available for viewing here. I can only tell you I wish I looked as cute in real life as I do in these photos. Thank you, Randy!

Later in the day, Janice, Melodie and I met up once again, with three other writers, S. G. Wong, Kay Stewart and Susan Calder, for the Eve of Destruction panel, devoted to the discussion of writing strong female characters.

The discussion went far beyond what we had expected, and the general comments over the weekend were that we had touched on profound and intriguing topics which were unexpected and entertaining. (Hey, we are all entertaining! We had a great time!)

All in all, a great start off to the weekend. I am so impressed with this conference. Hats off to Randy McCharles for organizing.

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When Words Collide and MOI

Yes! I am a panelist at When Words Collide, a great festival for writers and readers, at the Carriage House Inn in Calgary August 9 – 11.

I will try to be winsome, witty, endearing, adorable, incredibly profound, deep of thought while light of wit, and most of all, entertaining on some humble level – well, okay, maybe I can just hope that I don’t embarrass myself – as I sit on panels with topics of HUMOUROUS READINGS (which is sort of my idea of heaven) EVE OF DESTRUCTION (writing strong women characters – Lulu in Deadly Dues may have dimples galore and a tendency to being attacked every second chapter, but she is still strong in her own deliciously incompetent way) and THE DOLDRUMS (about being stuck in the middle of a novel and how to unstick yourself).

I will also be at the mass autograph session on Saturday evening. YAY. SELL BOOKS!

And all of my four published books will be at the market tables throughout the weekend. YAY. SELL BOOKS!

I used to be an actor and I would start to drool at the thought of a good role. Now I am an author and I get sort of faint at the prospect of selling a book. Hey, I am no slouch at this. I have sold copies of Rebel Women, my first book, a Canadian bestseller, by the way (I have no modesty) to a woman sitting next to me at a VLT at the Red Arrow Express stop in Edmonton, to an Air Canada ticket agent in Toronto (and how great is it that she happened to belong to a book club!) and to every single member of the board of AMPIA (Alberta Motion Pictures Industries Association, as it was known then) when I was on the Board. I have a load of books in the trunk of my car when I go to a party. Hey, you never know what people will do after a drink or three. Like buy a case. And I don’t mean beer. Never let it be said I miss an opportunity to sell a book.

Having said all that, I am really looking forward to When Words Collide, because it seems so much a fun celebration of words. I have been invited to prestigious events like Wordfest: the Banff/Calgary International Writers Festival twice, and have been honoured and ecstatic to be in the presence of authors (more famous than I am) and people who honour and love books. Now I am going to have a whole lot of fun this weekend, talking and schmoozing, and ….. maybe ….. SELLING BOOKS!

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LIFE IN THE VILLAGE

Kijiji means “village” in Swahili. For the most part, it is a friendly village, as I have discovered through my many sales as I try to clear my Hoarders style basement.

I have met wild characters, good friends, and just generally lovely people by handing stuff out my front door and curling my paws around a ten or twenty dollar bill in return. I may not be making a fortune but I will probably get a book out of it.

If one continues with the notion of a friendly village, one must also sigh and remember that almost every village has a no-goodnik. The person who either steals, or cons, or is just not very trustworthy. Tony W. was my most recent experience in this area – a rude, pushy man who tried to force his way into my house, looked as if he was casing the joint, and who was of such a distasteful and worrying nature that I called the police after he left. Every culture has its own value system, but I am old fashioned enough to think that good manners should be universal. I am such a Pollyanna.

But there is always an antidote to poison, and this came in the form of Nassim, a lovely woman who signed her emails, “love and light”. Okay, the cynics out there are going to tell me that even mobsters and serial killers might sign their emails in such a way, but after a five minute conversation with this lady, I knew she was the real deal, an angel.

Maybe that is what keeps a village going, all the kind hearts working in unison, and sighing at the few bad apples.

And making a few loonies here and there doesn’t hurt either.

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MYSTERIES OF DENTISTRY

I am generally terrified of dentists, and I discovered the reason, belatedly, a few months ago, when my elderly mother recounted how she had taken me, at the age of five years, to a gigantic German dentist who didn’t believe in anaesthetic when she filled a tooth. I gather that I  screamed and screamed in pain, and my mother gathered me into her arms and ran away from the large German dentist as fast as she could, never to return.

I have no memory of this.

But, alas, something must be lurking around at the back of my mind, because I usually have an unaccountable terror when I sit in the chair at the dentists’ office.

That is, until, I met Doctor Rita, a gentle, extremely sensitive woman who deserves a medal in the field of kind and evolved dentistry. Her full name is Rita Soin, but I never call her that, mostly because I don’t know for sure how to pronounce her last name.

As a survivor of brutal childhood dental abuse (that is what I am calling it and I defy anybody to name giving a child a drilling and filling without anaesthetic as anything but that) I am grateful to find a dentist with sensibility and kindness. Well, okay, maybe I am grateful to find any practitioner who isn’t a sadist. But most of all, I appreciate a humanist approach to dentistry.

That is what I got today.

Normally, I sit in the chair and shake. That is the norm for me. Shake and anguish and worry what the evil dentist is going to do to me.

Instead, dear Doctor Rita, eons away from the evil dentist of my childhood, soothed me and walked me through every step of the procedure (in this case, a nuisance filling) and never once made me feel like a victim or annoyance. It helped that I had brought with me a small CD player with a playlist of my favourite tunes, so I could escape into music when troubled by the drilling. But mostly, it was Doctor Rita, and her kind ways, that got me through this difficult procedure. She and the nurse didn’t even seem to mind that I occasionally tried to warble along with the music, which, in retrospect, I realize must have sounded like demented glugging behind the plastic barrier in my mouth, and not at all anything resembling music.

Hey, there should be awards for people like this! YAY Doctor Rita!!!!

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STRANGE WEATHER

How strange to turn on the television and discover one’s city is in a state of emergency. Downtown Calgary is flooded. Over 75,000 people were evacuated.

And yet, our street, on high ground, is surprisingly normal. Except that there is nobody on the street. Nobody. It is eerily quiet.

Very strange to see the photos, on television and in the newspaper, of the flooded areas, to worry about the people who have been displaced, to look in disbelief at the devastation, and to realize it is all happening just thirty blocks from our neighbourhood.

Strange Weather, as Tom Waitts would say.

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CREATIVE CURTAINS

I should never be allowed near a window. Nothing good will come of it.

Today, I should be working on my next Lulu mystery, but instead, I was seized with a futile desire to address my office windows and my kitchen windows.

I ask you, do you know anybody in the world who enjoys hanging curtains? I don’t know a soul who considers this a fun sort of task, and when I win the lotto, I will never ever do it again.

First, I took down the curtains from my kitchen windows and did a revamp. I huffed and puffed, and was so pleased with myself until I realized that a) I had hung the curtains UPSIDE DOWN, with the flowers inverted, and b) I had hung SHOWER CURTAINS in the kitchen.

Square One. Instead of dissolving into tears, I moved to the office where I dismantled the makeshift curtains I had created from old tablecloths (my inspiration being old decorating magazines, the type that say Decorate Your Home With Flea Market Finds, which is basically my style and budget of decor anyway.) I then was mightily pleased with myself after I put up lacy sheers and then a beautiful tapestry tablecloth which I had cut in half to fit the window. Beautiful. Or it would have been had I actually measured the material. Instead, the sheers are hanging below the pretty blue curtains, rather like going out in public with your slip showing.

I am calling it a day here. At least I was composed enough not to grab the hammer and start pounding the window frame and fixtures, which I have been know to do in the past, and which has made my neighbours Very Nervous.

Tomorrow is another day. For Creative Curtains. For Creativity. For Windows. For Windows of Opportunity. And hey, I might win the lotto and never have to do this again.

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FOOD NETWORK MUSIC

I love the Food Network. I watch it. I subscribe to the magazine. At various times in my career, enthusiastic television producers, having seen me in action or having read The Rebel Cook,  have raved about my future as a Food Network host. Hey, it might still happen, even though not until I am pushing a walker around and cackling at the chicken in the pot.

What’s not to like about the Food Network? So soothing to watch all that butter sizzling with garlic and chicken browning.

Of course, when I am watching all that glorious action, much more riveting to me than a schlock thriller movie, everything goes black, and when I  come to, I am standing at the kitchen stove, melting butter in a frying pan, and inhaling garlic. No wonder I have high cholesterol.

Despite that, I have a crush on all the Food Network stars, except maybe that mean guy on Master Chef, who scares the heck out of me. Recently, Food Network magazine featured interviews with various of the hosts, asking them for details of their approach to food and the shows. As a music lover, I had new and horrifying insights into some of my idols when I discovered that they listened to Metallica and Van Halen. (I guess this is music, but setting the bar pretty low ….)

My new love is Geoffrey Zakarian, who was the only host who listed anything approaching jazz as his music of choice, when he chose ‘Fly Me to the Moon’ by Frank Sinatra. Purists can scoff, but nobody can beat Frank singing ‘Fly Me to the Moon.” Thank you, Geoffrey, for reassuring me that you love food AND music. And I am sure you will understand when I tell you, that I could never eat anything prepared by somebody who listens to Metallica. I am just a fussy sort of gal.

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A DIFFERENT KIND OF DATE (FOR ME)

I have endured way too many excruciating dates over the years – the wired (or should that be spelled weird) lawyer who took me to a huge event and dropped me into the crowd, where I didn’t know a soul, and disappeared(the fact that he nearly rear ended several vehicles in the parking lot didn’t much for the evening, either) the aspiring director who I invited as my date to a big party, and who, amazingly, ended up necking with my best friend in a side room. This is the sort of stuff that makes memoirs a great read, when I get around to writing them. Hey, it is all grist for the mill, fodder for the future, whatever. All I know is that eventually, even if it takes a few decades, I can roar with laughter over the mishaps of the past. Thank goodness I don’t date any more, although I suppose I am missing out on some great subject matter by not doing so.

A week or so ago, I had an entirely different sort of date. A Writing Date with my friend Shelley. We met at a coffee house with our laptops. (Well, okay, she brought her laptop, but I couldn’t find the flash drive for mine, so ended up working in a notebook by longhand, which was fine ….) It was companionable, fun, mutually sustaining, and ultimately productive. Now this is the sort of dating I could get into bigtime!

I worked on the structuring of my next Lulu Malone mystery, which is basically written, but needs a structural overhaul. (As in, why exactly does Lulu do the incredibly crazy things she does, unless there is a major plot point involved? Everybody loves Lulu, especially me, so I just need to get her to the next level in Trashing the Trailer.)

Natalie Goldberg (Writing Down the Bones) has advocated writing dates for years, and now I know why. Away from the household chores, the phone, the office mess that keeps snarling at you ‘Clean up, clean up’ it is very freeing to simply sit somewhere else and do nothing but write.

I have done so in the past at writing salons at the Banff Centre (courtesy of fabulous Wordfest) and even, in my travels, in hotel bars across the country, sitting with a good chardonnay, a good fountain pen, and a beautiful notebook, in solitude and creativity. (I highly recommend the Hotel McDonald in Edmonton, and the Hotel Vancouver for this.)

So, now I am all for the dating game again! As long as it requires a good friend, a quiet place and a story to write.

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roger ebert – a true gentleman

I met Roger Ebert once, years ago, at a film festival event in Vancouver. Accustomed as I was to the rather loutish behaviour of many of the wannabes or already ams in the film and television industry, I was somewhat floored when he stood up to greet me when I entered the hospitality suite at an upscale hotel.

Let’s put this more strongly. I nearly fell over. I was somewhat jaded after years of writing about film directors and producers in the warmest possible terms, and then having them snub me, as I walked toward them, smiling. So to have a complete stranger, who apparently seemed to recognize me from my role in McCabe and Mrs. Miller, actually stand up (yes!) and offer his hand when I entered the room, was mind boggling, to use that retro term.

Whenever I saw Roger Ebert’s name after that, I smiled. And I thought, A Great Film Critic. And A True Gentleman.

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