Guest post by Sheila Watson: Fear

Joe’s Post #136

Actually, I’m not sure I can call this my post as I’m going to give the blog over to a guest blogger. I hope that other people will also be interested in blogging on our site, so please send us a note if you are. In the meantime, Sheila Watson was fortunate enough to take a workshop on something we’ve all been struggling with over the last few months. FEAR!

So, here it is. It has some great insights.

Part 1 (the 2nd part will be next week)

FEAR ˈfir/    noun

  1. 1. an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat.

The key word in the above definition is “belief”.  Fear, as it relates to writing, is not real.  There is no danger or threat in telling a story and no disaster will ever befall you because you write a novel.

Those of us who are writers can’t help but write.  If we are not writing a novel, we are writing a blog or crafting status updates on Facebook or responding to discussions on forums or emailing and texting our friends and family.  There are hundreds of ways of writing daily.  And we manage to do all of them – except the writing that matters most.  Because we are afraid.

Why aren’t we afraid to write a blog?  Why is it that we set a goal to write a blog every week and we manage to get it done and published?  Every single week.  But when we say we are going to commit to writing a novel a year – a snail’s pace of merely 275 words a day – we can’t get it done?  Why aren’t we afraid of writing a blog?

Because there is nothing dangerous or threatening about writing a blog.  What’s the worst thing that could happen if you wrote a blog and put it out in the world?  Someone might not like it?  Someone might disagree with it?  No one will read it?  Maybe someone will write about the same idea and be better at it?

So what?  Is that what you are thinking?  So what if no one reads it?  So what if someone disagrees or doesn’t like it?  So what if someone writes better than I do?  It doesn’t matter.

That same idea – that feeling – needs to translate into the writing of your “real” stuff.  It’s the same.  You are just another person putting stories out into the world and seeing what resonates.  Some people won’t read it.  Some people won’t like it.  Some people will write it better than you.

So what?

You are already facing and managing this fear when you write a blog, or an email or a forum post or a witty Facebook status.  You just have to bring that to your “real” writing.

How much could you write if you were not afraid?  If you could sit down at the laptop with no beliefs of danger or threat or pain clouding your thoughts and you could just tell a story?

Do you know?

I didn’t. Not until this weekend. This weekend I set about writing a story for my teenaged children.

They still request an Easter Egg Hunt every year and we are long past hiding chocolate eggs behind the curtains.  So each year, this mom devises an increasingly difficult hunt.  This year, I decided to write a “choose your own adventure” for them.  The idea being that they read a story and at certain points in the story they have to decide between option 1 or option 2 (and sometimes options 3 and 4).  Seemed like a good idea.  But it required a story.  I started writing on Friday night.  And I wrote more than 11,000 words by Sunday morning.

11,000 words. In a day and a half.  Because I was not afraid.

*****

Bio: Sheila Watson is a wife, a mom, a self-defense instructor, a 2nd degree black belt in Taekwon-do, a wanna-be chef, a dog companion and a writer of tall tales, fanciful stories, occasionally useful commentary and rather wordy status updates.

Stay tuned, she has a second part coming next week!

As always, if you like the post, please follow us or share on FB or get your 8 year old daughter to do something with it on instasnap or chatlink or whatever’s new.

 

Pitching self-published novels to agents

Will an agent represent a book you’ve self-published?

It’s one of the things I’ve wondered about. Like could you stuff an entire apple in your mouth? But since this is a writing blog, I went looking for an answer to ‘how to pitch self-published novels to agents or editors’.

Here’s a blog that talks about it. My thoughts are afterwards. It’s from Writer’s Digest.

SEPTEMBER 5TH, 2014

How to Pitch Your Self-Published Book to an Agent

chuckMany writers who’ve self-published a book for one reason or another get to a point where they want the book to be taken to the next level and see a widespread, traditional release. This is the point where they may contact a literary agent for representation. So with that in mind, I want to help explain some of the necessary basics about how to pitch a self-published book to an agent.

What Constitutes a Self-Published Book?

If you’re wondering what types of books fall under the umbrella of “self-publishing,” the answer is any book where the decision to publish the book was the author’s alone, the transaction involved the author paying any upfront costs for services, and the book is available for viewing/purchase now. This includes:

  • E-publishing—such as Smashwords and CreateSpace.
  • Vanity presses.
  • Print-on-Demand (P.O.D.) publishers.
  • Book printers.

Basically, if you think your book falls under the umbrella of “self-published” books, then it almost certainly does, and that means you must pitch it as one and disclose to the agent (or editor) that it is already available for purchase. If you self-pub the book, and it has virtually no sales, it is still considered self-published, even if the masses have not discovered it yet.

How to Pitch a Self-Published Book

If you want to pitch a self-published book to a literary agent, you have to immediately understand that you have a tougher submission road than others. That’s because when agents review a query for an unpublished novel, they’re looking for voice and story. When agents review a query for a self-published novel, they’re looking for voice and story—and they’re also looking for one or several good reasons as to why this book deserves a second life via traditional publishing. Agents look for factors that hint at money and success. You are trying to show that your book is head and shoulders above the other million items that are self-published each year, and thus it demands fresh attention. So here are 4 elements to include in a query letter for your self-published book that can impress an agent:

  1. Sales numbers. How many copies has the book sold? And by sold, I don’t mean free downloads. I mean how many copies you’ve sold for money. How many print books? How many e-books? (And since it’s assumed e-books are usually downloaded at $0.99, have wording in your query if the price was higher—such as $2.99 or $6.99.) “Impressive” sales numbers will differ from agent to agent, but you shouldn’t query before you’ve sold at least 2,000-3,000 print books or 10,000-20,000 e-books.
  2. Awards and any recognition. Did it make any online “best of” lists? Did it reach No. 1 in any category bestseller lists on Amazon? Has it collected any accolades that vouch for its content and quality? Such recognition could be a local honor, or a niche fiction award, or anything else.
  3. High-profile endorsements or blurbs. Since your book’s release, has it attracted the attention of any notable authors, politicians, celebrities, organizations, or person of interest? If so, whom? What did they say about the book? A blurb from a recognizable name or large group is a great marketing tool, and agents know this.
  4. Media attention or reviews. Has your book received a review in any mainstream publications or media outlets, such as morning TV shows (local or otherwise), newspapers, magazines, or notable blogs? If so, explain some of the greatest hits. Please keep in mind that Amazon reviews do not count.

Will an Agent Find Your Self-Published Book and Contact You?

A deep hope within authors is that, after a book is self-published and available for purchase, a literary agent will come across the work and come a-calling. Does this happen? Occasionally. Does this happen with any degree of regularity? No.

Some agents make an effort to scan through Amazon’s e-book bestseller lists and find hidden gems that are blowing up the charts. In fact, this happened to Couleen Houck, author of Tiger’s Curse. After she e-published her book and spread the word to friends, it remarkably made its way to the No. 1 spot on the Kindle children’s bestseller lists for seven straight weeks.

Getting to that spot for just one week would have been impressive, but seven straight weeks is quite amazing. Says Houck: “Costco contacted me about selling my series in some of their stores. I was contacted by China, Thailand, and Korea to see if the translation rights had been sold. A film producer e-mailed me. My world was spinning when a literary agent contacted me. He said he’d found me on Amazon and was impressed with my reviews. Two days later I had representation. Within a few weeks, I had a [traditional] book deal.”

So, as Houck’s success story shows, this possible path to publication can indeed happen, but it’s a rarity in a marketplace glutted with self-published works. And don’t forget Houck’s book was huge—and your book is likely not selling at the stratospheric levels hers was. So don’t just e-mail an agent and say, “Check out my book! [Amazon hyperlink] IT’S THE BOMB!” Understand that you’re not yet at a level where it’s that easy. Entice the agent by mentioning sales figures, pricing details, media attention, endorsements, awards and more for your book. These items don’t come quickly or easily, but including them in your query letter will immediately make your work stand out among other self-published books.

Literary Agents Sound Off on Reading Pitches for Self-Published Books

“Oftentimes a self-published author will just send a link for me to look at, which I never click, or they don’t send the book in a Word doc or PDF for me to evaluate. In addition, authors aren’t immediately transparent on sales or download info. I find self-published authors make me work too hard for the information I need. For self-published authors to get my attention, I need transparency around sales and download figures, and want a straightforward and professional query without buy links or embedded images. Don’t make me work to get the information.”

Elizabeth Kracht (Kimberley Cameron & Associates)

“My thoughts for self-pub are similar to any type of query as far as the pitch itself. It should be clear, concise, compelling (we’ll call it the 3 c’s!) and well written. As far as the self-pub background, I need to know the realities of the publication history, even if that means it’s only sold 300 copies in 4 months. Frankly, if the sales are low, I’d prefer to see a pitch for a new book—and not one that’s part of a series from the first one.”

Stacey Glick (Dystel & Goderich)

“The good news: The stigma of vanity publishing and self-published books not being good enough has been proven false by the ‘Kindle Millionaires’ and other self-published authors who are making a comfortable living going it alone. The bad news: The expectations of a self-published author are higher than they’ve ever been, both in sales numbers and in social media marketing muscle. When I receive a query from someone who has self-published a book, I want to know how many books you’ve sold yourself, how extensive is your social media presence (I will Google you!), and what your future plans are. If you’ve published the first book in a series, don’t pitch me the second because zero publishers will be interested in publishing your sequel if they don’t have the first book. And don’t tell me that you’re looking for an agent because you haven’t sold very many self-published books and you want a publisher to help you accomplish that. They are going to run into the same obstacles you are. Self-published authors need to self-write, self-produce, self-market and self-sell. It’s not for the faint of heart.”

Laurie McLean (Foreword Literary)

*****

Personally, I think there’s a lot of junk that’s being self-published. Not that there aren’t some gems, but the trick for anyone going this route will be to separate themselves from the crowd.

How to you reach your target audience? How does anyone find you? How do you market your books on a larger scale? How do you build a following? How do you create ‘buzz’?

Also, I think this article hits home about being a professional. You want to make it in self-publishing? Boy you better know how to work sales, social media, and be largely successful WITHOUT representation. You also should know how to present yourself to agents or editors.

dexterIt’s not unlike the traditional route. There are ways to succeed and ways to ensure failure. Sending a query in written in your own blood, probably not a good idea. Threatening someone, well, yeah, that’s just psycho. Mass queries addressed to ‘to whom it may concern’ or ‘dear sir/madam’ just show you haven’t taken the time to know how to be a professional about it.

But look at that article hard and you see it’s saying that self-publishing success comes with a LOT of work. More work than traditional publishing. Look at the past posts from people who’ve been there and done that.

Thoughts?

 

Social media

fb

Joe’s Post #91 How much social media is too much, how little is too little?

It’s hard to figure out how much time to spend on social media. Am I building an audience or is this just narcissistic me shouting at the world to pay attention to me, dammit, pay attention?

Karalee wrote a great post about Twitter and I was lucky enough to hear her thoughts and advice on that form of connecting with people.

gotThing is, I love connecting with people and groups online. Hello, Game of Thrones fans! ‘Sup fellow writers. What’s happening, Sandra Bullock, why the restraining order, why, why, why?

But it’s like research. It can consume your writing time. Two blogs a day takes time. Adding the links to other media takes time. Making posts on Twitter, well, you get the idea.

And time is the one thing I’m short on at the moment. That and chocolate. But I can go buy chocolate, I can’t buy more time. So, if I’m to get my book started on the 14th, if I’m to finish it up in three months, AND still blog AAAAND still get queries out, and help my writing friends, and be a good parent, and a good partner, then something has to give.

It may be a bit of social media.

*****

Days Until Game of Thrones Starts: None. It was amazing. Love the Hound. Love this too, I laughed my ass off… (spoiler alert) GOT Honest Trailer

Days Until I Start My Next Novel: Date has been set. It’s April 14th. That’s, errr, next week!!!!!!!!

Blogs Written This week: 14 new ones. Maybe more. I kinda lost count.

Queries out this week: 0 (See, this obsession with social media has to stop)

Rejections for the last week: 0 (has to be bad news. I may need to move the 5 out there to 5 rejections)

Queries Still Out there: 5

Hope Meter: 70/100.  Up +20. Loving that I have a few more readers on my blog. LOVE LOVE LOVE blogging. Thanks for my fellow 5/5/5 writers for letting me go nuts on this site.

Christmas Writing

shoes at christmasJoe’s Post #75

Writing in the 2013. For Christmas.

chirstmasIn the old days, it used to be Christmas Cards. You know, those funny things made of paper that look like birthday cards. You’d have a long list of friends, family, co-workers, acquaintances, evil clowns, teachers… whomever, and you’d sit at a chair with a glass that was 90% rum and 10 % eggnog and you’d hammer them out.

They’d begin nice enough. “Dear Auntie June, missed seeing you this year but I hope you’re doing great. Have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.”  After 5 glasses and 50 cards, you tended to get a bit punch drunk…. or just plain drunk. “Yo, yo, uncle Don, wuzzup? Why doesn’t that Santa dude have any children? Because he only comes once a year, and when he does, it’s down the chimney. bahahaha!”

Now, however, the fine art of writing and sending Christmas cards is nearly lost. Today, we send text messages, emails and post on Facebook. I’m not saying it isn’t nice to wish everyone a Merry Christmas on your timeline, but have we lost that personal touch?

In some cases, maybe, yes. If you just post on your time-line or mass send an email or put up a picture of a tree on pinterest, with or without a picture of you wearing pumpkin underwear, it’s not really making it personal. Unless it’s personally insulting to someone which does actually count.

santa 2However, most of the wishes we send via some form of electronic media are just as good, if not better than the old card method. They can be personal, intimate, naughty or nice (as requrired.)

So, despite the fact I managed to get out a ton of christmas cards this year (sorry, Paula, you’re new address arrived too late), I’m thinking electronic may be the way to go. No more licking envelopes. No more buying a truck-load of stamps. Next year, it’ll be some form of electronic seasons greetings.

May Santa forgive me.

How does everyone else feel about this trend away from pen and paper and towards cyber communications?

Amazing blogging advice

Joe’s Post #73

I want some. Amazing blogging advice, that is.

IMG_0831Not that I can’t find lots on the internet. There was one that boosted 101 ideas. Writer’s Digest had a few suggestions. My dog, Vegas, had some thoughts as well though they mostly involved pictures of her looking all princessie.

There are widgets and gadgets and add-ons and plug-ins. I hear I should know my audience, that I have to be savvy in social media, that pictures are a must, that guest blogging helps, that I should write in a good voice and write a lot and…

Well, you get the idea.

Thing is… there is almost too much information. 

In the end, all I want to do is write. And by writing, be read. I love writing about movies, my travel adventures, and (of course) writing. But is that good enough?

So I want to throw it out there.

Party shoes - black high heeled courts with gold ankle strap by Zara

What makes you read a blog?

If you have a blog, what works for you?

In the meantime, something for my audience.

Maybe I should write more about shoes. Or Johnny Depp.

 

How did it get so late so soon?

Courtesy Debug Design

Courtesy Debug Design

Helga’s Post # 27 — “It’s night before it’s afternoon. My goodness how the time has flown.” So said our beloved Dr. Seuss.

As the weather and by extension people’s moods improve day by day, so does the volume of junk mail fluttering into our mailboxes. Most notably, glossy catalogues about the new spring and summer fashion, and lovely outdoor furniture adorned with sexy models that can’t be more than sixteen years old (don’t these marketing gurus realize that women make most of the buying decisions?)

I usually take the whole lot and dump it unopened or unread in my yellow recycling bag. I do this because I want to buck the trend. According to statistics, the average person (in North America) spends eight months of his or her life reading junk mail. Smack me on the head! Eight months?

Eight months that could be spent writing a novel. A reasonable time to complete a solid, four hundred-page novel.

But that’s just the beginning. How else do we fritter away our most valuable commodity, time? How many sequels could we write if we transform said squandered time into writing? Here are some examples. Trivia to be sure, but a tongue-in-cheek eye-opener all the same.

The average person spends, in his or her lifetime, three years in meetings, over one thousand sick days in bed, seventeen months drinking coffee and soft drinks, two years on the phone (I would argue that is very conservative; think ‘teens’), twelve years watching TV, three years shopping, one year looking for misplaced items, five years waiting in line, an infuriating twenty weeks on hold waiting to speak to a human in call centers, and nine months sitting in traffic.

Time we could spend writing! Not all of it avoidable, like being sick, but without doubt the TV and phone time is something we do have a modicum of control over.

So I’ve been thinking how I could harness some of this wasted time. To confess, one of my many bad habits is pushing the ‘On’ button of the remote after waking up. Just to catch the news. Time managers would tell me to stop that. By the time I am done with the headlines, I will have watched at least twenty minutes of commercials. Not good. Most is trivial anyway – really, do I need to know what Justin Bieber is doing? Or what professional athlete got arrested?

Changes were in order. I now get out of bed without news on TV (I can catch those later in the evening). Thirty minutes saved every day just by getting rid of one bad habit. That’s a lot of writing time.

On to the next time waster, one that many writers can identify with: E-mails.

Since this post is about how to waste less time, I don’t want to waste more time stating the obvious. Instead, here is what to do to stop this colossal squander: Pushing the ‘Unsubscribe’ button. Relentlessly. Who really needs all this electronic junk mail? I managed to live very well without it cluttering my in-box, so why bother with special offers on anything from… well, you know, the sky is the limit. So if anyone claims they can’t find time to write because they get many hundreds of emails per day, it’s tempting to say, get a handle on it. I realize, emails are a great tool for people who are making a living in a marketing job, but the rest of us? Control it. Don’t be a slave to your own in-box.

Because that’s time you could spend writing!

But wait, there’s more. Of course there’s Angry Birds, a no-brainer. Moving on, there’s one huge item that time managers of the not so recent past have ignored, but are catching on fast and furiously. You probably guessed it: social media.

FB image

I can’t even begin to guess how much time gets frittered away  starting the day checking Facebook and Twitter, and LinkedIn and whatever. Substantial, valuable time and mental energy. Sure, it’s tempting, it’s like listening to gossip, and it has all those pretty pictures. But really, let’s be honest. How much does it add to our education, our knowledge, our quality of life? Surely, that time would be better spent reading a good book, or doing research for the novel we are writing? I’m not saying social media has no value. It does. It allows us to share information with lightning speed and it builds communities. It has many benefits, worthy of future discussions. But for the purpose of this post, all I want to share is that I had to control it rather than allowing it to control me. I hope that I have succeeded (I  check my FB and Twitter just before bedtime. That way it  doesn’t rob me of my writing time).

If, after all the ‘wasters’ there’s still time left in the day, you haven’t counted the minutes spent on your cell phone. You can find an astounding statement on WikiAnswers.com: Four. Not minutes. The average person spends four hours a day on their cell phone (admittedly, it sounds improbable).

There is tons of advice on how to avoid time wasters. One such site that caught my eye as I prepared for this post is Inc.com.  Three items resonated with me:

–       You live online. Wasting time on Facebook. Playing with apps. Emailing and texting.

–       You network randomly. Relationships are critical to success. Networking and schmoozing are key to forming relationships. But randomly connecting with thousands of strangers online won’t help one bit.

–       You troll for Twitter followers. If you’re Ashton Kutcher or Kim Kardashian, that’s great. Otherwise, it’s nothing but a distraction–a complete and total waste of time.

Not everyone will agree.

What does all of this mean for my commitment to submit my completed manuscript to my critique group in time for our retreat? I had to seriously prune my time wasting habits to make the most of what matters most to me.  If I can stick to it, I should be able to harness my energy and a good chunk of time to spend on what’s important to me. For what I am. A writer.

Then again, I have to ask myself, whom do I write for? Because here is one more (my final) statistic: The average American adult between eighteen and sixty-four watches television five times more than they read.

A sobering thought. And while I think about it, I will take out a few minutes on my favorite time waster. Because, in spite of all the wisdom stated above, as John Lennon used to say,

“Time you enjoy wasting, was not wasted.”

captureaj

Transfixed by transmedia

Paula’s Post #6  – If you checked out Silk’s post from yesterday, you’ll already know that the 5writers came away from this year’s Surrey International Writers’ Conference with our collective heads swimming with new ideas.

For me, the highlight of this year’s conference was the emphasis on social media as a necessary tool for writers.

Now I take it as a given that if you are already following this blog, you have more than a passing knowledge of the basics of social media: WordPress, facebook, twitter, Linkedin and perhaps even Pinterest.

Even before the conference I had signed up for all five of these social networking sites, so I was feeling pretty smug. Convinced that I was already social networking savvy. Convinced I was already a ‘modern writer’. A connected writer. A writer ready to take on the world and promote my blogs, my books and myself.

But wait, (as they say in the late night tele-pitches for Ginzou knives and other obscure products) there’s more. Much more. A frightening amount more. Or so we learned from Vancouver’s own social media guru, conference presenter and all around cool guy, Sean Cranbury.

But wait! That’s not all. At this weekend’s conference, we also learned a strange new word:

Transmedia.

As Joe would say: “What the heck?”

Here on WordPress, when I type the word “Transmedia” I ended up with those little dotted red lines underneath. The little dotted red line that mean that you have spelled a word wrong, the little dotted red lines that mean that the WordPress dictionary doesn’t recognized a word that you have used. In other words, in the world of WordPress, the word “Transmedia” doesn’t even exist.

But wait, there’s more.

The word “Transmedia” not only exists, it is, apparently, a word that we as storytellers should know. A word that, dare I say, we must know if we are to survive and flourish in the creative community.

The SIWC conference brochure listed the Transmedia course as:

“Transmedia, Audience Engagement and Franchise-Building: The Future of Storytelling”.

I’ve reproduced the blurb for the workshop directly from the SIWC’s description of the course:

Every area of entertainment media is rapidly evolving and there’s never been a better time to be a content creator. No matter what form your creativity takes, the future of storytelling lies in building a unique world and set of characters and then purposing the stories that spring from them across as many platforms as possible. Taught by a guy who’s truly obsessed with this stuff and working with various IP owners to evolve their content along these lines, this class will explore the core principles of transmedia storytelling and world building, techniques for engaging and motivating an “active” audience, as well as the emerging app space and virtual worlds/mark.

Now I was intrigued! Especially since the ‘taught by a guy’ guy was Luke Ryan, a pretty big name in Hollywood: Executive Vice-President of Disruption Entertainment, ex-studio executive at New Line Cinema, Paramount/MTV Films, and MGM. Another pretty cool guy.

By this time, I’d already attended Mr. Ryan’s very thorough and entertaining course on ‘Writing for Television’, so I knew he was a dynamic and generous speaker. During that presentation, my fingers raced across the keyboard of my Mac, trying to keep up with the deluge of information Mr. Ryan provided on this topic. So I was pretty keen to check out his subsequent offering on Transmedia, whatever the heck that might be.

I cannot possibly, in the limited space allotted to my once a week blog post, even begin to tell you all about Transmedia. What I can tell you is that the future of storytelling, whether you are an author, screenwriter, or film-maker, is now about cross-platform promotion of ideas.

Now I can already hear some ‘rustlings’ in this virtual room we share, rustlings that remind me, (ever so politely of course), that cross-platform marketing already exists. That it has done so for ages, since Star Wars anyway, if not before. Why, what about all those little Star Wars figures that McDonald’s included in their ubiquitous ‘happy meals’? What about all those Star Wars Lego sets?

Why, of course you are right. The Star Wars numbers are not insignificant. A recent article on the 24/7 Wall Street blog pegged the value of the Star Wars franchise at 30 billion and growing. That’s ‘Billion’ with a “B”.

So what’s so new about “Transmedia”?

Well, according to Mr. Ryan, the difference is that the Star Wars franchise ’emerged’ after the release of the film, that these ‘post-release’ products merely capitalized on the success of the film.

According to Mr. Ryan, in today’s brave new world, authors and other ‘creators’ of creative content should begin thinking about “Transmedia” at the very outset of their projects. Should be thinking about how their project could be promoted and distributed on a variety of platforms. How their product will capture the attention of an agent or editor or producer in a world where the competition is stiffer than a James Bond shaken, not stirred, martini.

I don’t have all the answers. But right now, I’m transfixed by the topic of Transmedia, and since attending the SIWC conference, I think all the 5writers are beginning to worry a lot about Transmedia.

Drat!

As if we didn’t have enough to do! Thanks a lot, Luke Ryan!

Tonight – I am going to write

Paula’s Post #2 — Quite frankly, I’ve been distracted lately. Not just a little bit distracted, a lot distracted. Why? Well, that’s just the point. I think we are all being distracted by the over-complexity of the modern world. Let me give you an example, comparing life when I was a little girl, with my life now.

Life when I was a little girl:

When I was a little girl, my family was very fortunate to have a small summer cabin, right at the water’s edge, on Bowen Island. As I recall the story, Nana received some financial compensation after a railroad accident, and used the proceeds to purchase their own small summer cabin in White Rock, BC. My mother’s family occupied that little cabin every summer when my mother was a little girl, taking the train down from North Vancouver with the family cat, dog and guinea pig, (the latter safely ensconced in Nana’s sewing basket). When Nana passed away in the early 1960’s, my mother carried on the tradition and used a small inheritance to purchase our family cabin on Bowen Island. Every summer during my early youth we basked in ‘rustic simplicity’. We had no phone, no hot water, no indoor bathrooms (our ‘outhouse’ was several yards away up a slug invested path that no one in their right mind would brave in the middle of the night). We didn’t even have a “Dad”. My poor father, with just a few weeks holiday, merely deposited us at the cabin in June when school let out.  But for a few precious weeks in August when he took his annual vacation, he spent most of the summer toiling at his desk in Portland, Oregon.

So what did we have?

We had the sea, we had rocky bluffs and forests to explore, we had swimming and diving and row boats and a neighbour who took us fishing and water-skiing almost every day. We had a mother who loved the sun and the ocean and instilled in us a great love of the sea, teaching us that it was far more important to enjoy the great outdoors, playing, than to be cooped up inside, watching TV, (which in any event, we didn’t have anyway). My mother didn’t cook much – I can’t even remember what we ate for dinner – but I know that occasionally, she let me make pancakes on our old, wood fired, cast iron stove. That is what I remember about my life as a little girl.

Life now that I’m a not-so-little-girl:

Now that I am a not-so-little-girl, I am very fortunate to have a beautiful home overlooking Bowen Island. In the distance, the forested, blue-green cliffs beckon. Yes, the very same Island I summered on, as a young girl. But that is where all similarities end. Now, I no longer live in ‘rustic’ simplicity. I don’t live in any size, shape or form of simplicity whatsoever.

Why is that?

1) Two Homes: My husband John and I now own two homes, one here in West Vancouver, one in the Greater Palm Springs area. I’m not complaining. I know how fortunate we are (or rather, how hard we have worked to make this happen). But it’s a lot of work owning two homes.

But wait! My parents managed two homes, so maybe that’s not the problem. What didn’t they have?

2) Dogs: That must be it, dogs.

But wait, we had a family dog when I was a child, too. A Boston Terrier named Beans, a cutie of a dog who got kicked by a horse when he was a puppy and always ran a bit oddly. Oh sure, we’re now a bit more burdened in the ‘doggie’ department, with our rambunctious, 75 pound Standard Poodle and our almost 17 year old, blind and deaf Mini Poodle, (aka “The Duchess”) whom we inherited from my beloved late Auntie. But that can’t be the only problem.

3) Family:

No wait, I don’t have kids. At least not at home kids. All my step-kids are grown and moved away. Married, with their own little toddlers. My mom had to look after two little kids, all on her own, 24/7 as we now say, so surely that can’t be the problem.

4) Technology:

Ah! Now I think we’re getting somewhere. Between us, my husband and I have four cell phones (we used to have five, but my husband had to give up his Blackberry after developing ‘Blackberry Thumb‘ for which he has just had surgery!  (No, I am not kidding. Google it and see for yourself). We have five televisions (and that’s just in this house); two PVR’s plus Apple TV. We get Netflix; we have Pay-Per-View, we have two iPads. But even these distractions are not my Waterloo. No. My problem, is that we have THE INTERNET.

Cyber-Distractions:

Now, let’s be honest. The internet is a useful tool for both business and leisure. But has it taken over? This past seven days, I spent over 30 hours trying to produce one electronic eNewsletter for my work as a real estate agent. Add to this the 20 plus hours I spent trying to configure my Blogger blogs (I had trouble redirecting the domains) and another 10 hours spent on tech support with GoDaddy. (Blogger doesn’t even have ‘tech support’ but that didn’t stop me from spending another several wasted hours trying to research the ‘Blogger Domain Server’ issues on Google). Maybe I should switch to WordPress? What do you think?

Do you even know what I’m talking about?

I hope not!

Add to this the fact that I’m trying to increase my ‘social network’ by hitting 500 contacts on Linkedin (Yeah! I made it) and 400 ‘friends’ on Facebook (only two away), and 100 Facebook “likes” for our 5 writers Facebook page:

www.facebook.com/5Writers5Novels5Months

We’re only at 78 likes so far, which isn’t half bad since it has only been up for two weeks, but I’d really, really like it if you’d ‘like’ it.

Do you even know what I’m talking about?

I hope not!

Then there’s the small problem of the novel I promised to write, from scratch, in just 5 months. And this WordPress blog I jointly administer with the other 5 members of my writing group:

So, let’s just say I’ve been busy.

Busy posting on Facebook and Linkedin, busy building our audience for the blog (so we can get a following and look important and interesting and appear “social networking savvy” by the time we all finish our novels).

Oops! The novel. I almost forgot. I think I got distracted.

Gone are the days of pad of paper and pen. Gone are the days of the trusty black Remington with it’s cute little round keys. No, today’s writer uses ‘writing software’! Storymill and Scrivener are the two top contenders. So of course I had to spend hours researching and test driving both.

Result: We started our writing challenge on September 5th. Today, September 25th, I’ve yet to write the first word of “Chapter One”.

But you can sympathize can’t you? I’ve been distracted.

I think I mentioned that during our summers on Bowen Island, we didn’t have a phone, nor did we have TV. We may have had a transistor radio, but if we did, (and my recollection is hazy on this) I don’t recall listening to it – didn’t give two hoots about the darn thing. But we did have books and magazines. Life magazine (I recall that I liked to look at the pictures of the Kennedys); Time magazine, (I don’t remember looking much at that one) and the odd comic book, (Archie and Veronica, I think).

But mostly I remember books! Bowen Island had a small library and, as a family, we gobbled them up like turkey dinner. Every night, after the sun set and my eight year old brother played taps on his new trumpet (the somewhat off key notes echoing over the bay), my mother would read to us. She was a highly literate, educated woman with a beautiful voice and great dramatic inflection. I remember she read so well that she was even invited to make recordings of books for the blind. (They didn’t sell ‘audio-books’ back then). But for us, her gift was personal. And there, on Bowen Island, under a full moon and the buzz of the more-than-occasional mosquito, as she read chapter after chapter of The Hardy Boys, I fell in love with books.

I don’t think I’ve sufficiently reflected on the power of my mother’s ‘gift’ to me. It was her gift that led me to become a writer. She died when I was just 21, before I was even really interested in writing.

So tonight, as the moon rises over Bowen Island, I’m going to think about my mother and about her gift and I’m going to make a promise to her. Tonight, I am NOT going to be distracted.

Tonight, I am going to read. Tonight, I am going to write.

Thanks Mom, for reminding me there is a simpler way to live our lives and for the gift of ‘The Hardy Boys’.

My mom at the beach, the place she loved best, shortly before she passed away.