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Sunday, November 10, 2013


My maternal grandfather 'Mac' in 1917. Survived.
I posted the following thoughts on my personal Facebook wall yesterday, and had a lot of comments. A number of people asked to share it, so I thought I'd share it here on my blog...

My paternal grandfather Fred. Survived, but wounded at Vimy Ridge.

I find it sad that some people choose to view wearing a poppy as somehow 'pro-war'. I think it's quite the opposite, isn't it? I wear mine to commemorate sacrifice, to reflect on the evil waste and futility of war-- ALL war, not just the 'big two'. I have never been a fan of violence and mass bloodshed. I abhor the dictators past and present who force humanity to its knees and murder them in their millions, and press soldiers into doing their dirty work. I despair that those on the side of good are forced to kill. Whatever reasons a soldier has to take up arms-- whether by choice, duty or bullying-- they are part of this horrid cycle that never seems to break.

Uncle Bill in WWII- sole survivor of a Lancaster crash.

Remembrance matters to me. A lot. We are not honouring the act of war: we are honouring the memory of countless lost people. I empathize with those who are disgusted by the cynical politicians who make a holy show of it all, and use it as an opportunity to divide us further and whip up jingoism for future use against The Enemy (whoever they happen to be this time). I hate the way every country's politicians seem to use the 'good optics' and pretend they care about soldiers one day a year... all while they turn their backs on vets and their families who need support precisely *because* of the sacrifices they make for the sake of their countries. I share their righteous disgust, but I will not turn it into a shunning of Remembrance.

My great uncle. Killed in action, 1915.

'Remember'. Interpret that how you will: only remember. For two minutes.

We must keep our hearts in it-- our wounded, broken hearts-- for the sake of humanity. If we can recall the waste and apply the lessons (that's the tricky part-- we never seem to learn, do we?) then we are better for it as a whole.

A tall order, I know. But I will never miss the date of Remembrance so long as I can stand and bow my head. For two minutes. For the sake of humanity and all of its bloody sacrifice.

Monday, July 29, 2013

On Writing, Theatre and Life. Glorious, horrible life!

Photo copyright Tibor Kolley- Huffington Post

Once again, I humbly tug my forelock to you and mumble 'Mea culpa'.

When I first began this blog, I read a lot of advice about what a blogger 'should' do. Some advocated daily or at least bi-weekly posts. That seemed a bit much to me. I didn't want to become white noise in the blogosphere! The best advice I read was that it is better to post infrequently and make it count than to inundate followers with shallow and inane posts-for-the-sake-of-posts. I vowed to post only when I felt like I had something worth saying.

I was doing pretty well for a while, I thought. I aimed for a post every couple of weeks-- sometimes more, if things were worth chatting up. But real life has a way of messing with one's best social media intentions.

As it should.

We need to live it, folks. The good and the bad. Life screams for more attention like a relentlessly teething baby with colic who needs a nap/feeding/clean diaper.

This isn't meant to become my public forum for whining about my lot in life. This is meant to be a blog about writing, authors, the vagaries of publishing, and the wonders of art and the creative process. But life... glorious, horrible life... takes a lot of energy and attention sometimes, doesn't it?

The Reader's Digest version is that I've had more than my share of struggles with stress relating to financial security and ailing family members in the past few months. Facing down those demons doesn't leave much room for me to stop and think 'Gee, I should blog about the quirky and heartwarming relationships between writers and their cats'! It is more important-- far more vital, in the truest sense of the word-- to live my life and work on my novel-in-progress than strain to squeeze out a regular blog post.

One of the ongoing joys I have is to be able to glut myself on live theatre. The Stratford Festival is on my doorstep, and I am blessed to be surrounded by a community filled to the brim with talent and creativity. This past weekend I attended an invited dress rehearsal of a new play 'The Thrill' by Canadian playwright Judith Thompson. I was blown away by the script. I urge anyone who can get to Stratford to try and see a performance:
It asks a lot of The Big Questions: what makes one human life somehow worth less than another? Who has the right to decide? At what point does a chronic illness change from something one lives with to something one would die to escape? In the hands of four wonderful performers, this was a smart, witty and deeply visceral experience for me. In particular, there was a plot line involving an aging mother who is losing her grip on reality, and the hopeless feeling this engenders in her son. Dealing with elderly parents is an exhausting period in our lives-- one I know only too well of late. I have seen many friends around me in the past year lose a parent (in one cruel case both within months), or struggle to help their parents cope with the effects of aging and illness. And-- of course-- it has been the constant, pounding, demanding motif in my own family.

Facing down life-altering events and taking the time for inward reflection and grieving may seem like an excuse to avoid social media. Maybe it is. But it's a damned good excuse.

Life DOES go on. And so will this blog. On a more regular basis.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Pop by and Meet Author Poppet!

Today's Guest: Indie Author Poppet

Authonomy is an on-line writing community.  A few years back, I spent about 14 months or so reading and sharing new work with other aspiring authors. The 'goal' is to work one's way up the rankings and potentially get read by a Harper Collins editor while giving and receiving feedback on works-in-progress. Because of this incentive, some ultra-competitive members got downright bitchy. I eventually tired of the game, and withdrew despite the many good things about the site. I DID make friends with a number of wonderful writers while I was there. Today, I'm introducing one of them to my blog followers: Poppet!

Poppet is a wonderful, loyally supportive fellow Indie author-- and has unleashed some very steamy and action-packed stories to indulge in! Her positive, fun approach to the madness of the Indie world has been a welcome influence beyond our Authonomy days.

Q: Have you always been a writer? Tell us about the first thing you ever wrote.

A: The first 'novel' I wrote  was when I was 14. It was a truly crap romance.I showed it to my mother (lol) and gave up that second-- and didn't go back to novel writing until many decades later. However, I used to keep journals of writing (which I've since thrown away).

Q: You've come a long way since our Authonomy days! What made you take the leap, and get your words 'out there' and widely available to readers?

A: I was accepted by publishers while I was on Authonomy. It took me another year or so before I had the courage to wear the shameful 'self published' badge. Being around so many authors who constantly bashed self- publishers, it was something I wasn't in a hurry to try. Plus Kindle Direct Publishing was only available to Americans at that time (a bit like Barnes and Noble's Pubit is now). Americans get these opportunities long before the rest of the world, and also get the best price on Kindle books. I feel awful that people in Holland pay so much more for my books. If my readers didn't disclose to me the prices they pay for my books, I never would have known that Amazon clocks on a few extra dollars-- money the author will never see and didn't sanction.

Q: Putting stories out into the public eye is an act of faith. What have you learned most about yourself as a writer by sharing your creativity with the world? (The good, the bad, and the ugly!)

A: I've learned that criticism and hatred won't stop my muse from inspiring me. I've also learned that despite my work being individual in style, it hasn't proven a barrier for me. I've learned a lot about people. If a reader doesn't 'approve' of your plot, they'll leave a negative 1 star review because they didn't get the ending they wanted. The modern reading world has spawned a generation of readers who feel entitled to tell an author who the main character should end up with-- and if they don't like 'the author's choice', the author will hear about it! I've also learned that unhappy readers will leave a review without hesitation, while a happy reader seldom leaves a review. For a new author, the deluge of negative reviews can be very upsetting-- and because of this ratio the positive reviews from readers are sometimes few and far between. I would have months of negative reviews before one person would drop a coin in my wishing well with a word of encouragement in a positive review. I stopped reading reviews for many months because it was interfering with my ability to stay positive. The new e-book revolution has completely changed the game for authors: it has both negatives and positives. The worst negative I've seen is sabotage and gang warfare on Amazon forums and reviews. I've witnessed authors being targeted-- almost every writer I know has experienced this, yet it is something no one speaks up about because when they do the bullying goes into 'DEFCON three' and hits Facebook and Twitter. Humans have so much power: I always wonder why they don't use it for positive pursuits instead of negative ones.

Q: I admire your self-disclipline and productivity. What is your process? Tell us about a typical day in the writing life of Poppet.

A: A typical day consists of 2 hours on Facebook, 4 hours work, 1 hour of Facebook with lunch, and the rest of the day spent working-- either writing or doing research. Trying to keep up with all the ideas I have means I have no life outside of writing now! But I'm happy with that, as I'm not afraid of my own company.

Q: What are your ultimate goals with your writing?
A: To land a series with a Big 5. It's my dream. It was always my dream. And it's an unattainable goal which keeps me honest!

Q: The List! Share with us five things you cannot live without, and why. (Besides the obvious choices of food, shelter, oxygen etc.!)
1- Coffee
2- Chocolate
3- Mr. Poppet
4- My kitties
5- Pizza

Poppet's latest paranormal romance is Master of Umbra.-- part of The Valhalla Series.

Those abs hold promise!!

Deliah is in grave danger, running for her life from a man who needs her dead, when serendipity plants her in the path of the Master of Umbra. Inducted into the mysterious Eagle clan of the Scottish highlands, Deliah is torn between her fate and destiny when kin clash for her affections. Falling for the scandalous villain who heads the Berserkers of the Hebrides, her fragile hope is snuffed out early by revelation and impending war. The only mantra she can cling to is the one uttered in heartfelt promise; that love comes back. Because that's what love does.

You can find all the steamy action here at Amazon Kindle US: or Kindle UK:

And? If you comment below, or 'like' my Facebook page with a comment on the link to this Poppet post you could win a copy of the e-book for your summer reading pleasure!

For more on Poppet and her books, follow these links.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Ruth Interviews Elizabeth Ruth!

Canadian Author Elizabeth Ruth

I'm very pleased to showcase another fine Canadian writer, Elizabeth Ruth. We met years ago when I was still floundering around trying to figure out all this 'being a writer' nonsense, and found Elizabeth to be friendly and helpful-- eager to share her experiences and offer advice.

Elizabeth Ruth hit the Canadian literary scene in 2001 with her very fine first novel Ten Good Seconds of Silence, and followed up with the riveting Smoke in 2005. I was very excited to see a new novel from this talented and insightful author at last-- Matadora arrived on the shelves in April of 2013.

Q: Hooray! A new novel from Elizabeth Ruth! Please share a brief overview and give us a taste of what Matadora is about.

A: Matadora tells the story of Luna Caballero Garcia, an impoverished and intrepid servant attempting to make her name in the bullring at a time when it was illegal for a girl to do so. Matadora carries readers from bohemian artistic circles in Mexico City and Andalusia to Norman Bethune's mobile blood transfusions on the Madrid front. The novel is an exploration of love and ambition. The pain that drives our ambition, the yearning for love it reveals, the lengths we go to win that love - and of course, the price we pay along the way. Matadora is for anyone who’s tried, against all odds, to rise above circumstance.

Q: As we know, the best ideas for novels often hits an author out of the blue. It can be something innocuous: a snippet of overheard conversation, a quirky news item, or a half-remembered dream. What triggered you to write about such an unusual story? 

A: It all began one Saturday morning in my kitchen. The radio was on, and I heard the CBC broadcaster mention a 16-year-old girl in Mexico who was fighting bulls. Immediately intrigued, I wondered why would a girl want to become a bullfighter? Why would anyone choose to do such a violent and dangerous thing? Having once been a vegetarian for 18 years, I could hardly bring myself to squash a bug let alone imagine publicly killing an animal for entertainment. At that time I was also reading Emma Goldman’s collection, Anarchism & Other Essays. Before long, thoughts of fascism and resistance, the politics of the left, Spain, and women’s rights all began to meld in my mind with this notion of a torera. I had already written two novels set in Canada, and the second one, Smoke, was my take on the so-called quiet Canadian novel. I knew that for my third book I wanted to write something loud and brassy, full of colour and heat. I wanted to write a new kind of Canadian novel. That’s Matadora.

Q: Every writer has a different approach to their work. What's a typical day in the process like for you?

A: Well, since my daughter was born in 2007 there has been a major shift in my writing process. Before Violet, I wrote 9-5 during the days, and worked for pay at night and on week-ends. After Violet I wrote from 7:30 PM (after bedtime) until 2:30 am. (still working week-ends) I wanted to both write and care for my daughter during the days, so sleep had to go. I did that for a number of years. I’m trying to catch up on sleep now!

Q: In a perfect world, what would you most like to be doing five years from now?

A: Ooooh. In an ideal world, I would be traveling regularly, and completing another book of some sort. I would be bringing in bucket fulls of money from my novels, and working part-time in the arts & culture sector. Oh, and I would have my own horse to ride!

Q: With the ease of e-book publishing, there has been a flood of writers leaping into the fray. What three pieces of essential advice would you give to enthusiastic new Indies?

A: 1) Learn how to be your own publicist and creative marketing executive 2) Work harder than you’ve ever worked at your writing and when you think you’ve finished a book, hold onto it for another year and keep working. Books that sell now have to be of publishable quality when they are shopped around. 3) Don’t write for money. Do something else for money. Write because you have something to say.

Q: I know you teach creative writing. If any aspiring authors out there would like to learn from you, where can they find you?

A: I’m currently mentoring within the Humber School for Writer’s Correspondence Program, and will begin teaching creative writing at the University of Toronto again in the fall. I’ve taught at U of T for many years.

[Note: The Humber program is a great opportunity, because you can study from anywhere with some truly excellent mentors. I was thrilled to study with Peter Carey back in the day, and I got a lot from the course.]

Q: The media buzz for Matadora has been enthusiastic and full of praise-- congratulations! Are there any events coming up where readers can connect with you?

A: Yes, thanks for asking! On May 15th at 7PM there is a great event at the Metro Reference Library in Toronto.  Matadora has been selected to be part of Toronto Public Library’s “Eh” list Author Series. I will read from Matadora and Susan G Cole, NOW Magazine Senior Entertainment Editor will interview me. This event is free. In fact, I have a number of events upcoming, including festivals and book clubs. The list is updated regularly and can be found at my website:

Friday, March 8, 2013

Exorcising Demons with Author Andrew Pyper

I am pleased to welcome fellow Canadian (and former Stratford boy) +Andrew Pyper as my blog guest. Andrew is the bestselling author of Lost Girls, The Trade Mission, The Wildfire Season, The Killing Circle and The Guardians, as well as a collection of short fiction, Kiss Me. This week saw the release of Andrew's latest novel from Simon & Schuster, The Demonologist. Amid the swirl of  glowing reviews and amazing buzz, I'm grateful to Andrew for finding some time in the middle of it all to answer questions here on Spirited Words.

Canadian Gothic Master -- Andrew Pyper

Welcome, Andrew-- and thanks for agreeing to an interview.

Thanks so much for thinking of me for it!

Q: Did you set out to be a writer, or did you accidentally morph into life as an author-- as happens to so many of us!

A: I always loved writing stories, but I never thought I could make a living out of it.  It was just something I did, without strategy or game plan or purpose beyond the pleasure of doing it.  So after I graduated from law school and was called to the bar, I rewarded myself by running away from Real Life, moved out of the city and wrote a novel.  Once again, there was no thought that "Yes, I'll write this and this will become my job," it was done just to maintain my sanity.  And then, when I was done, and the manuscript was submitted, publishers wanted to publish it.  It's enabled me to do nothing else since.  And nobody was more surprised than I was.

Q: You grew up in small town Stratford, Ontario. How has that influenced your writing? (Is there something in the water here, because I write creepy stuff too!)

A: I don't think the water is extra-creepy in Stratford (though it is full of flouride, isn't it?)  But it is a perfect place to grow up if you're interested in developing gothic tendencies:  snowbound in winter, Victorian facades, the red brick houses, each with their own secret history.  At least, this is how my imagination saw it.

Q: There has been a tremendous amount of pre-publication media excitement building up to the release of your sixth novel-- The Demonologist. How does this book compare with your previous work?

A: I think of The Demonologist as a graduation from the novels before it in the sense that it is higher concept, more distilled, a more fully realized mythical world built within its story.  It's also more deeply involved in elements of horror than the other books (though they too have their share of scares).  

Q: You are a father of young children-- that makes for a busy household. How do you strike a healthy balance between work and family life?

A: It's not easy.  I feel like both realms - the Writing, the Family - must be fiercely guarded.  To give both the attention they deserve requires saying no to more things, many of which being things you'd like to say yes to, but there simply isn't the space.

Q: What's your writing schedule? Do you strive to write a certain amount every day, or do you 'binge' write in fits and starts?

A: In a typical work week (though nothing is typical right now!) it's Monday to Friday, 9 to 5.  My office is up on the third floor of the house, and after the kids are fed and bundled up and teeth brushed, I head up there, coffee in hand, and get started.  When I'm working on a draft, I like to set myself word count quotas.  If I don't hit my number (which fluctuates, depending on what stage the project is at) I'm not allowed out of the room.  No lunch, no walk in the sun.  It's a great motivator!

Q: What's the best piece of writing advice you got along the way? Would you care to offer any words of wisdom to all the aspiring authors out there?

A: My one big piece of advice (in addition to all the other writerly advice out there) would be to hold on to your work as long as you can before submitting it.  Read and re-read it.  Get others to read it and ask them to be brutally honest about it (then pay them lavishly with thanks and food and wine).  Read the whole thing out loud.  Be able to say to yourself that this is the absolute best you can do before you hit SEND.  Because there are no second chances.

Q: What does the future hold for you? Is there a new novel in the works? And I've heard buzz about screen adaptations...

A: I'm ready to get started on the new novel, but these days I'm talking about The Demonologist full time (which is a pleasure of a different kind).  And yes, there are a couple of movie projects based on the novels, percolating away.  Who knows?  The movie business is even more unpredictable than publishing!

Good luck, Andrew!

Here's a look at the splendid cover of The Demonologist:

You can find more information and links to all of Andrew's fabulous work at his official website:

Thursday, February 21, 2013

What Dreams May Come

Fuseli's 'The Nightmare'

I have extremely vivid, detailed dreams. Sometimes they can be terrifying, sometimes hilarious... or so teasingly authentic in the moment that I wake up feeling ripped off because my finances were FINALLY in good and abundant order! Meh!

Last night involved one of the more quirkily detailed meanderings of my bizarre subconsciousness. I was visiting a friend's new flat. They'd just moved into a place overtop a defunct restaurant on the high street of some touristy English town. The building dated back a few centuries, but it couldn't have been heritage listed considering what the landlords had done to it...

The Tudor facade was barely discernable beneath a horrible layer of 'decorative' corrugated metal sheeting covering the jutting top floor. The bottom half had been thickly coated with gobs of plaster resembling toothpaste and then glossily whitewashed to death, and the boarded up windows had tacky wooden shutters that I supposed were meant to simulate a sort of cheesy Swiss Alps effect. Flanking the former restaurant's doorway were a pair of matching built-in 'planters'. They appeared to be made from old metal feeding troughs, now badly rusted and full of random bits of rubbish. As my friend seemed unmoved by the appalling state of the place, I politely asked if the landlord was planning on restoring it to its original state. 'No,' they assured me. 'The restaurant itself was such a well-known destination in the '70s that they've decided to preserve it just as it is.'

At this point, they reverently waved their hand at the fading faux-Gothic lettered sign over the restaurant door, which read: 'Ye Olde Lithuanian Pilaf Markt'.

Huh? Talk about taking the concept of fusion cuisine to a whole new level! Why does my brain DO this to me?? I think I woke myself up giggling.

Mostly, I am grateful that I possess such a fertile imagination. The only time it can be a worry is when I experience a minutely detailed nightmare... dreams that are more like a 'night terror'. The palpable sense of horror and fear is overwhelming, and my mind has conjured up imagery and situations that would make even the most ardent guts-and-gore horror movie fan throw up in their popcorn. I am grateful that such dreams are rare.

Sometimes, this can be handy. I have used dreams as a leaping off point for a short story, or as a section in my longer fiction. In 'Base Spirits', there's a segment which is more or less a blow-by-blow retelling of nightmare I had about my characters while I was writing an early draft. Having been haunted by increasingly horrific visions of Calverley Old Hall's tragic past during her stay, Clara finds she is unable to shut off her mind from the echoes of the terror left behind by the murderous former lord of the manor:

A new visitation--
Clara walks across the grounds toward Calverley Old Hall. Opening the door, she steps into the coolness of the front foyer as the door clicks shut behind her. She blinks to adjust her vision to the dim light. Two small figures slowly approach from the gloom at the base of the stairs.
  Children. The older child must be one she’d heard-- and felt-- die. He gazes up at her, his face pale, his dark eyes mutely pleading. At his side is a smaller child wearing an identical white sleeping gown. The children stand before her, holding hands and watching her expectantly. She cannot move. The boys drift forward as one, and each boy reaches out his free hand to clutch at Clara. She wants to back away, but pity for them holds her in place. Clara glances down and watches their fingers sink into the indigo silk of her gown’s voluminous skirts.
       “Mama-- ”
  A loud thud on the floorboards upstairs cause all three of them to jump. The boys’ sad eyes stare up at the ceiling.
        “It’s Papa-- ”
         The familiar voice of the eldest child echoes in the back of her skull, just as the Woman’s had in the clarity of her last dream. The children’s fingers tighten on the folds of her dress.
“Stay with us. Bear witness.”
         Heavy footsteps pound toward the top of the stairs. A voice booms out:
  “Are you there with thy bastards, whore?”
         Clara yanks her skirts free of the boys’ grasp and dives for the door. The abandoned children follow, their mouths open in silent wails. She feels sorry for them, but she does not wish to stay and face the man they call Papa. Wildly, she tugs at the door-handle, feeling the cold little hands reach for her, as the heavy boots stomp down the stone steps. The door holds fast. The children begin to scream. The man’s voice is right behind her, shouting:
           “Whore! Whore! Whore-- ”

            “Wrroof! Woof-woof-- ”
            A dog barking outside summons Clara back.

~ From 'Base Spirits'- Chapter Six

Today, after my weird mental wanderings, I'm find my waking imagination is unusually fired up. I'm currently working on 'In the Bag'-- book one of The Dead Drunks mystery series-- and this morning I could barely keep up with all of the ideas and plot twists and character revelations pouring down into my skull from wherever my Muse lives. I feverishly made notes and sketches for multiple scenes... finding new answers to resolve nagging plot puzzles and story gaps at every turn.

No, I am not going to set a scene at 'Ye Olde Lithuanian Pilaf Markt.'. Maybe I should!

What about you? Have you ever felt so inspired by dream imagery that you incorporated it into your fiction? Tell us about it!

Friday, February 1, 2013

Visiting a Lady's Box: More Downton-Era Manners

Yes, I know... it's been well over a month. But would you rather I posted just for the sake of posting when I am muddled by fever with nothing much to say, or else am in a crappy mood and venting my misery? No one wants to read that stuff!

Since Downton Abbey's new season has everyone wailing and sobbing over the unfair loss of a young life, I thought I'd attempt to bring some period cheer to those mourning Downton fans with another short excerpt from my coveted Downton era vintage guidebook:
'Encyclopaedia of Etiquette: What To Do, What To Say, What To Write, What To Wear- A Book of Manners for Everyday Use' by the intimidatingly correct Miss Emily Holt.

I previously shared a hilarious snippet in which Miss Holt provides the great unwashed with her strict guidelines regarding proper dining behaviour. I'm sure she did not intend any of it to be the least bit funny, which is why it tickled me so... and why that post received such joyful commentary by some of my blog followers. If you missed it, you can find it here: Definitely worth a giggle.

As promised, here is a bit more from Miss Holt regarding manners at the theatre or opera-- and I for one find it unintentionally filthy.

Not all the action takes place onstage!

"A gentleman invited to enjoy the hospitality of a lady's box at the opera or theatre does not leave his hostess more than once and then only during an intermission, for but a few moments. He never remains out of her box during an act or even a part of it, and if called out, he returns before the act begins; and he must not leave her box at all, unless some other gentleman drops in to take his place for the moment he is away."

I know. I'm twelve. I have a dirty imagination, and I admit I can't help but read this like an excerpt from a Victorian pornographic novel... and envisioning the non-stop rampant servicing of ladies' boxes by a rotating mob of horny gentlemen, all while the rest of the hoi polloi attempts to enjoy the Verdi.

Lady Grantham would be outraged. But then again, when is she not?

By the way, I am all up-to-date on my Downton Abbey viewing, despite my North American location-- I subscribe to an on-line service and watch British TV live. If you thought *that* episode was sad... well, just wait and see.