Friday, February 12, 2016

The Sky's the Limit

Dragonfly, my YA urban fantasy romance - or paranormal romance, I guess - is finally on Amazon. It's been a long journey - from first draft to final novel - but at last, here it is! And it's something I'm proud of. What's it about?

Eighteen-year-old Joshua Miller is great at being invisible, despite the four, large, insect-like wings protruding from his back and his knack for high-rise robberies. He can remember almost nothing of his life before Nik found him and taught him his trade. Now he’s alone, and he likes it that way.

When Joshua unexpectedly meets Lexi on a job, his simple, uncomplicated existence shifts. Although he intends to remain uninvolved, something about her captivates him and he begins to let her in. As he navigates the strange nuances of a relationship with a girl as desperate to be different as he is to be ordinary, he becomes increasingly aware that he is not who he wants to be for her. 

Confronted by the past he’d forgotten and a family he didn’t know existed, Joshua must decide for himself where he belongs and who holds the key to his future.

What I like about this story is that I don't think it's your typical romance story, although for me, the romance of it was the essential catalyst in moving our character from being someone who exists to someone who is looking for meaning in life.

When I originally wrote this piece, I intended for the romance to be the the main focus. It was going to be about Joshua and Lexi; about how love has the power to overcome all obstacles. But as I wrote, I realized it wasn't really about love overcoming obstacles so much as it was about love having the power to change the way we look at the world and the way we look at ourselves. 

There's this verse in the Bible, that says "Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins." (1 Pet. 1:8 NIV). Or, as the Doctor says, "Do you think I care for you so little that betraying me would make a difference?" (Doctor Who, Dark Water). And for me, that's what is at the heart of the story. The idea that love - and not just romantic love - can make us see the world, and ourselves, differently. The idea that love can change us. 


And I believe it can. It's changed me, anyway. 

Monday, August 24, 2015

A Long Overdue Update: Books and Babies

It's been quiet around this blog-space. I know, because it's my blog-space and I have not written anything in the last several months. I figure it's time for an update. Much has happened since the last entry. Here are the top three, in no particular order:


1) I signed a book contract 

The YA spec fic novel I'd submitted to a small independent press in the US was accepted and they offered me a contract. It's exactly what I've been working towards with this book, so I'm ecstatic!  I'll have more details as we get closer to the publication date, but it's been a pretty great process so far. After carefully reading the contract - which turned out to be excellent, by the way - I had the thrill of signing it. I'm looking forward to seeing my baby published. 

The editorial portion of the process has been a learning experience. The novel had already been professionally edited and beta-read prior to submission, of course, but now, as the publisher readies my book for publication, I receive notice of areas I need to rework or revise. To be honest, sometimes I want to resist. After all, going back to a piece that has already been edited and rewritten so many times can be frustrating. It helps when I remind myself that the publisher is looking out for my best interest. After all, I'm not paying for their services - like all trad presses, big and small, they will require my book to actually sell in order for them to make anything on it. It's their name and reputation as well - It will be good for both of us if the novel is the best product it can possibly be. It also helps when I actually look at what needs to be changed and realize - as I always do - that the publisher is (sigh) totally correct. Somehow, despite the previous edits and revisions, there are still weaknesses to strengthen and problems to fix. 

In fact, each time I go back to improve or add a scene, and with each revision, I see my work becoming better: clearer, more engaging, more enjoyable. Not only is my novel improving, but I am becoming a better writer through this experience. 


2) My other book, Dragonfly, is being released by Peasantry Press in the fall

Dragonfly, pre-released during Steinbach's Summer in the City festival and available at small Manitoba retailer Driven to Sew, will have a wide release, in paperback and ebook, in fall 2015. It will be available from Amazon and also have extended distribution through other book retailers, primarily online although potentially in store. The details are still in progress. Stay tuned for an invite to the release party - it will be local (in Manitoba) and fun. And if you're into Young Adult fantasy or paranormal romance, here's the back-cover write up: 

Eighteen-year-old Joshua Miller is great at being invisible, despite the four, large, insect-like wings protruding from his back and his knack for high-rise robberies. He can remember almost nothing of his life before Nik found him and taught him his trade. Now he’s alone, and he likes it that way.
When Joshua unexpectedly meets Lexi on a job, his simple, uncomplicated existence shifts. Although he intends to remain uninvolved, something about her captivates him and he begins to let her in. As he navigates the strange nuances of a relationship with a girl as desperate to be different as he is to be ordinary, he becomes increasingly aware that he is not who he wants to be for her. Confronted by the past he’d forgotten and a family he didn’t know existed, Joshua must decide for himself where he belongs and who holds the key to his future.


3) Our family is expanding

Along with the addition of an adorable puppy, Rufus (our 16 week old miniature schnauzer puppy who we love more than we ever thought was possible), we are expecting a baby in early October.

According to my What to Expect App, I'm due in precisely six weeks. Which seems like nothing, until I break it down into days: 42 days seems much longer than six weeks. But six weeks or 42 days, the countdown has begun and we're all pretty excited around here. Totally not ready yet, but excited anyway.  

We feel like, in some ways, little Rufus has been helping us practice for baby's arrival.  He's completely dependent on us - loving nothing more than being in our arms or on our laps. I'm up at all hours of the night when he needs to go outside or when he's unbearably lonely, I'm constantly cleaning up after him when he messes, and we've rushed off to the vet at the drop of a hat when he seemed ill (coming away with a painful bill, to boot) - but I find that we don't even really mind it because we love him so much. I know he's a dog, but he's our dog, and he's a part of our family. I'm hoping he's house trained and is sleeping through the night by the time baby gets here though - a person can only lose so much sleep per night! 


So, readers, there is the news for now. I hope you have all been enjoying your summer, whether that means catching up with friends, chilling with the family, reading great literature, writing your next book, getting out on your bike, traveling the world, or soaking up the sun. 

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Our New Venture: Introducing Peasantry Press

It's 2015. Exciting goals and ambitious resolutions. Fresh starts and grand adventures. And for Zig and me, 2015 brings with it the official launch of our new business venture. Technically, I suppose, it's HIS business venture, but since I happen to know fiction, I'm riding his coat tails. Today, Zig expands his graphic design business to include small press publishing. This means that we'll now be looking to independently publish quality writing of all sorts. Since we've started to talk about it, we've gotten a number of questions about our venture. We'll try to answer some of them here:

What IS an independent, small press publisher? 
First of all, it's NOT a vanity press. So what's a vanity press, you ask? That's someone who you PAY to publish your work. That's not how we roll. We don't charge anything to publish work. 

So if we're not a vanity press, what are we? Well, for one, we're royalty paying. We accept manuscripts based on their merit - on their quality. We can't offer an advance, but we'll be paying 60% net royalty, which if you compare with other publishers, is not too shabby.

A small press publisher is different from the large, mainstream publishers in a number of other ways, too. For one, most use print-on-demand to print their books. We'll be doing this. What that means is we don't have any overhead printing costs. It also means we don't have large quantities available in brick and mortar bookstores. That's not to say we can't be carried by them - just that the store would order a specific number and we'd print exactly that number. Also, of course, because we're a small independent press, some of the larger chain bookstores would only have us available for order rather than on shelf. This isn't a problem from a sales standpoint, though, since most of the sales happen online, and in ebook form. We'll be available through Amazon, Barns and Noble, iTunes, and other online book stores. 

What kinds of things are you planning to publish? WHO are you planning to publish? 
Right now, our only real stipulation is that the pieces be novellas or novels which are original, finely crafted, engaging, and "clean". We're not picky about genre - although my personal favourites happen to be speculative fiction and romance. In that order. :) 

In terms of WHO we'd publish - really, anyone who has talent and is interested in publishing with an independent small press. New or niche writers, perhaps. People who aren't interested in self publishing but find getting in with the big presses too daunting. 

We believe we offer something unique for both reader and writer. For the reader, we hope to provide clean, fun reads of all kinds, at prices that are reasonable and fair. For the writer, we offer a home for their literary baby, fair payment, and a professionally published novel which is highly marketable and something they can be proud of. 

So, are you planning to publish your own work?
I may or may not have submitted one of my own pieces to the owner of Peasantry Press. And since I AM his wife, I may or may not have had some pull in its acceptance. Okay, so yes, we'll be putting one of my novels out there under our label. But it will provide us with a good opportunity to fine-tune our marketing and make sure we're able to offer our writers - ones who aren't actually part of the business ownership team - real help with getting their books successfully to an audience. 

What's with the name? Why Peasantry Press?
We've heard it said that the large publishing houses are literary royalty, agents are nobility, and the writers not inside this royal court are the peasants. We went with that. We explain it like this on our "about us" page on our website.
These writers work the creative soil, grow stories from the fertile grounds of the imagination, understand the way words work and use them to craft worlds. They live and breathe writing. They create works that nourish. And what they lack in connections, they make up in artistry.
Yes, we are Peasantry Press. And we believe in the power of story. 

Visit us at www.peasantrypress.com for more information.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Yep. NaNoWriMo. It's that time again.

So, it's November. A month known for bringing the fresh, cool winter chill, colorful leaves so vivid they'll take your breath away, unforgettable sunsets, and... NaNoWriMo.

Yes, National Novel Writing Month begins. I've mentioned this before, but it always astonishes me how divided writers are when it comes to the value of this event. Some think it promotes shotty writing and messy plots, that it encourages hacks to fancy themselves writers, that it is yet another tool in the overflowing toolbox of poor writing practice. Others, though, (and I count myself among this lot) find that it encourages writers to get past their own self-defeating writer's block, to develop regular writing habits, to complete a very rough first draft, to - in fact - become better writers by the act of actually - gasp -  writing.

And so, with those goals in mind, I gleefully participate each year. Because besides the reasons I listed above, the event is ridiculously fun. Stressful and challenging, yes, but also fun. The deadline, the forced creativity, the knowledge that so many other writers out there are also world building and word crafting - it's great to be part of something like that. And in general, most writers I know don't really think the pieces we create during NaNoWriMo are finished works, but works in progress, nearer to completion than before the month begun.

For me, some pieces I've created during this event will never see the light of day, and others have undergone so much editing they are barely recognizable. But that doesn't mean NaNoWriMo was a waste of time - it means it was an opportunity for a beautiful start, as well as a great way to experiment with my craft. And beyond that, I love writing, so any event that forces me to do something I love for an extended period of time is A-Okay in my books.

This year, I'm starting the event with a completely mapped-out story. I've planned my characters, my plot, my conclusion. When it comes to my normal writing, I do like to plan all details, but I'm usually a semi-planner when it comes to NaNoWriMo; I go in with a general idea of what will happen, but the how is always a bit murky. This time, I've gone into full-out planner mode for this event. We'll see if that helps. I'm also writing in different genre. Normally I'm a spec-fic girl, but I'm making the leap to contemporary sweet-romance. We shall see how it goes. Hopefully nobody turns out to be an alien, but sometimes, despite the planning, my characters surprise me.

Anyway, wish me luck! If you're participating (and writers, I recommend it) - luck to you too.

May the force be with you. (Annnnd that was my last spec-fic reference of the month.)

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Thankful

Yesterday was Thanksgiving here in Canada. For my family, this always means an afternoon at the folks', with turkey, stuffing, gravy, potatoes, peas, sweet potato soufflĂ©, apple salad, and pumpkin pie with whipped cream. It's an afternoon spent enjoying the company of people I love. It's also an amazing opportunity to be reminded of everything we have to be thankful for. Here we are, in this beautiful country, enjoying an abundance of human rights, access to free health care, and luxuries like reliable shelter, indoor plumbing, clean water, and an excess of food. But we're so accustomed to life here that it becomes easy to take it for granted. 

I was reminded, sitting around that table with my family, that I am, indeed, thankful.

I am thankful for this country.
I am thankful for my government and the freedom I enjoy.
I am thankful for my wealth - for indeed, most of us are wealthier than we realize, when we look beyond our immediate surroundings to the global community.
I am thankful for my family and my friends.
I am thankful for my faith, for a God who loves me and shows me more grace than I deserve.
I am thankful for my health.
I am thankful for my job, for my mind, for my talents.
I am thankful for the technology that connects us.
I am thankful for the beauty of the world that surrounds me.
I am thankful for every breath, knowing that life is fleeting and each day is an unexpected gift.
I am so thankful.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours. 

Saturday, September 6, 2014

On Failure...


Failure isn't fun. Although the statement is rather self-explanatory, I always find myself reminded of that fact each time I meet with failure. Nobody likes to fail. At least, nobody I've met. Oh, there are many who tout their love of failure, and its power to spur one on to greater success. Failure's a teacher, they say. Well, that may be so. But she's a pretty unkind one. Very unforgiving. And not overly reassuring, either.

One of the greatest problems with failure, I think, is that the more you risk, the greater the chance that you will, indeed, fail. And more importantly - the more you risk, the greater the chance that, should you fail,  you will feel bad about failing. Because risking means putting yourself out there. It means trusting and believing. When you fail, it can feel like a terrible confirmation of your greatest fears. 
Failure is, therefore, painful. And although it helps to see that most people experience it in some form or another throughout their lives, that fact is cold comfort when your own failure is staring you, unblinkingly, in the face. 

We call failure by other names, to make it easier to bare. Some people say the only way to fail is to stop trying. So instead, they call failure setbacks. Learning opportunities. Opportunities to try again. While I applaud the positivity in those misnomers, let me give you some definitions of failure:

  • "A lack of success in doing something"(Macmillan Dictionary)
  • "A falling short" (Merriam Webster Dictionary)
  • "An act or instance of failing or proving unsuccessful" (Dictionary.com) 
Not all failure is equally painful, or equally shaping, for that matter. And some failures are daily occurrences. For instance, sometimes I fail to connect with a student. Sometimes I fail to use my time wisely. Sometimes I fail to get up early enough to get to work on time. These failures - and let's just call them that - are relatively minor. Recoverable. Correctable. And, I must admit, learning opportunities. If I fail to connect with a student, I can reflect on the failure and find new ways to improve my teaching style. If I fail to use my time wisely, I find myself stressed and overworked, and I can learn to make better choices the next time. Fail to get up on time? This should result in an earlier alarm clock setting and a greater effort to be prompt. Small, daily failures can foster genuine improvements. 

Then there are the failures that are out of our control. When my husband and I decided we were ready to have a family, I failed to conceive. Or maybe I should say, my body failed to conceive. This was not in my control. But my fault or not, it was still a failure. My body failed me, when it came down to it. This type of failure seemed impossible to learn from, since it didn't result from a personal choice or shortcoming -  simply a physical problem. This doesn't mean I didn't end up taking away lessons from this: thankfulness for my health, a greater appreciation for the miracle of life, an increased sensitivity to couples who don't have children. But I didn't learn to "succeed" from the "failure."  (The conclusion to this story, in case you're wondering, is that the doctors did not fail me, and they correctly diagnosed me (with PCOS) and prescribed a low glycemic diet paired with Metformin - which resulted in "success". I have two beautiful, amazing children.)

Then there are the larger failures that are caused by our own shortcomings, failures that result in the crippling of a dream or the loss of the self-concept you tried so hard to build. Failures like these, I think, are some of the most difficult to recover from - and can be the hardest to learn from.  I think of the Olympic athletes, who sacrificed so much - who gave everything -  to be where they are, only to miss a landing, or break a ski, or get a cramp, or  - maybe worst of all - simply fail to be as "good" as the ones they are competing against. I think of those who apply for a job, get an interview, and then see the job go to someone else. Someone more qualified, or better at interviews or just… more right for the job. I think of the student who really tries on an assignment or a test - who follows the instructions and puts in the effort - and who still somehow falls short. Crushing.

And I think of the writer.  The writer who pours into a piece and its characters. Shapes them. Loves them. I think of the critiques and the edits and the re-edits and the fine-tuning. The search for the perfect publisher, the perfect home for their baby. To that writer - and many of us have been there - a rejection letter means failure. It can be soul-crushing. And whether its one rejection or many, whether it's a personalized response or a form letter, whether its based on a query, that first sample, or the entire piece - it stings.

Regardless of the source of the failure, in my life's journey, I've discovered failure and I are not friends. But neither, I guess, are we enemies. Because when it comes down to it, failure will result in change. Sometimes, the change hurts - but usually, it also allows for growth that wouldn't have happened without the failure. 

For me, my immediate response to failure is tears - many, many tears - followed by a sad sense of resignation. When that passes (and it always, eventually, does) - it is replaced by a new, undeniable hope. Sometimes, that hope causes me to try again - to see the failure as temporary, to grow, to learn, and to try again for success. Sometimes, when the failure is more permanent, the hope causes the creation of a new dream - a new place to succeed.

Because after the sting of failure passes, after the pain of loss fades, after my eyes have dried and my heart has healed a little, I am left with the sweet joy of knowing that while there is life - while there is breath - there is hope. 

There is always hope.  

Sunday, August 3, 2014

It Keeps Me Up, Some Nights...

I pretty much always wanted to be a writer. I can remember one moment, in particular, which solidified this idea: it was in my grade two or three class (I get the two confused, since they were both in the same classroom), when my teacher handed back a story I'd written, with the comment, "Very creative! You should be a writer!" And I thought, at the time, yes… yes I should.

So, I began to write, voraciously. I completed a novel (which shall never see the light of day) at fifteen and outlined and started one with my sister at seventeen. I poured my feelings out in poetry and brought imaginary worlds to life through short stories. I bought books on writing and the writing market, and even collected some rejections. I thought - man, I want to be a writer.

Since then, of course, I've grown up. I'm now 34. I've been living a full and rewarding life as a teacher of English Language Arts for the past 11 years, a Mom for seven of those. These two things are more satisfying than any other thing I can imagine myself doing. I am absolutely happy.

Last year, I published my first novel, Amber Rain, with my sister. So now I can add "writer" to the list. And I am still absolutely happy. 

Something all three have in common, though, is the great moral responsibility. To be honest, whenever I think about it, I feel some kind of horrible mixture of nausea, dread, and terror. This is because I believe I will be accountable for the things I teach and profess. And what if I'm doing it wrong?

I mean, you have no idea how sick I feel every time I go to do Romeo and Juliet with a class of impressionable, young, fourteen and fifteen year olds. Now, I emphasize the things this classic play teaches (beyond the beauty of the language) - that communication is essential, the parents may actually be on your side if you trust them, that rash decisions don't pay off, that while there is life there is hope - but I worry that all they see is two tragic lovers who had no choice but to take their own lives. What if THAT is what they walk away with? That when life gets too hard, the logical choice is…? Every September - dread.

And parenting - obviously, if you're a parent (at least one who lives in the real world) - you've gotta believe that you may, at times, teach the wrong things. For example, my husband and I are big time coffee drinkers. My four year old son will call out before we go anywhere, in horror - "Mommy! You forgot your coffee!" The kids hear us talking about how we "need" our coffee, how we "love" our coffee. I see the future - two coffee addicts in the making. 


Then there's writing. Writing. I love writing. I love speculative fiction writing, in particular. The first book I published, with my sister - not much in there to cause me concern. I mean, mild violence, but nothing, I think, disturbing, and certainly nothing heretical. But my current favourite piece, the novel I am hoping to have published by a small press publisher one day - it's a speculative fiction with allegorical undertones. I wrote it as a reflection of our spiritual battle, with redemption and forgiveness as themes  - but I lie awake, worrying that the story itself portrays the wrong thing, that somehow I missed the mark with what I was trying to do, to point in a direction I wasn't intending to point. I've already promised myself I will never independently publish that one, so if it's meant to be, it will be.

Of course, personal decisions fill me with doubt, too. Was that movie really one that I should have spent my time seeing? Do I value material possessions too much? Was that story I told funny or was I gossiping? But these things, at least, will only have an effect on me. In teaching, in parenting - and in writing - there's a wider scope of impact. And a greater responsibility, I think, to make thoughtful choices. 

So I try my best to make the right choices. To teach, parent, and write, as often as I can, in a way that is good, edifying, truthful. And all the while, I am thankful, oh so thankful, for grace. 

Now, off to bed, to stare at the ceiling and worry about this blog post.