Thursday, November 10, 2016

Duct Tape Escape and Other Writing Research Shenanigans

Book research can be crazy fun. Of course what you are researching plays a big role in that, as does if you are actually getting anywhere. I have a linguistics friend who totally gets her geek-on translating old parish records that are in Danish or Norwegian. I’ve tried this, not the translation part, simply trying to decipher the name, but my grasp of early Scandinavian penmanship sucks. The initial delight at finding those particular records quickly dimmed as my lack of ability to decode the historic scratches made that jack pot of information morph into teasing frustration. This woman rocks it, and loves it! She did decipher those records and I found out I have a Finnish great-grandma who immigrated to northern Norway.

So yes, my research super power is not making out historic handwritten records. I can watch equine events for hours on end, though. I’m talking double digits in the same day kind of time. I love that kind of research, studying and understanding whatever my topic is, picking up those nuances of details and tucking away in my visceral memory until I can sit down to write next. I can’t always swing it in person, mind you. For instance, horse events in southern Alberta are considerably more accessible to me that CSIS agents (i.e. Gabe from Kiss Me in the Rain’s previous career). And don’t get me started on how many hours I blow through when doing genealogy research. I get sucked in and promise myself just another few minutes. Usually four hours, and several rabbit holes later, I finally look up and notice how much time has passed.

Spy Tips
Last week another writer friend and I decided to do a bit of field testing on some CIA spy tips I found in the book Spy Secrets that can Save Your Life, by Jason Hanson. I came across the book when I was cruising the reference section at a local bookstore. It caught my eye for a few reasons. First of all throw spy secrets in the title of anything and it is going to sound pretty darn interesting. I often include agent and/or law enforcement types in my fiction and am always keeping an eye out for research material. Score. I’ve also started paying more attention to titles by current and/or former law enforcement types as I am collaborating with a homicide detective on a non-fiction universal life-lessons book. So yeah, this book jumped out at me like crazy.

Spy Secrets that can Save Your Life shares techniques and strategies to keep you alive while in dangerous situations that Hanson has learned on the job. Spy Secrets has been a fascinating read so far, if a bit dooms-day. But I figure that’s the point he was going for in his book, staying alive if shit hits the fan. For any of the fellow anthro-nerds out there who find the study of people and culture interesting, you might want to check it out for that, even if learning evasive driving is not on your bucket list.

Field Testing
As I mentioned before, I just started it, but there is a ton of information that a novelist could use in there. For instance, I was telling another author friend, Makenzi Fisk about it and shared I wanted to try the get-out-of-being-duct-taped part. She is a retired police officer and I figured she would dig it, or at least understand my awe at some of the maneuverers. Of course she said, “I have duct tape. Want to try it now?”
This is why authors schedule writing sessions with other authors. Because when cool stuff like this comes up, we have someone to try it with. The impromptu duct-tape session was a hoot. And successful, the first try anyway. It was pretty awesome ripping those binds. But for the second time Makenzi asked me to not keep my elbows together when she taped them, just to see the difference. I couldn’t get the angle to rip, I couldn’t get out! I did manage to squirm my hands out of them, but it demonstrated just how important it can be to follow those directions. Check out the video Makenzie made of our get-out-of-duct-tape escapades.

I hope you are never duct-taped for realsies, that this video simply gives you a few moments of entertainment or maybe some information to include within the pages of your next book.

Happy Researching!

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

National Novel Writing Month: one, two, three, weeeeeee!

On your marks, get set . . . NaNoWriMo!

NaNo-huh? At least that’s the response I’ve gotten when mentioning the write-a-50k-novel-in-the-30-days-of-November event to those who haven’t heard about the big writing party. It is also known as National Novel Writing Month, but NaNoWriMo is way more fun to say.

This year I figured, why not? If I fail, well, that many words wouldn’t have been written anyway. But if I succeed, well dang, then I have that many more words and likely hammered out my writing process all that much more, not to mention the great practice in  time management. That this blog, and that I actually just signed up, on the second day I hope signals the adaptiveness of my adventure instead of the tardiness.

When you sign up on there are all sorts of cool things to explore, which I haven’t yet because I’ve been signed up for about a second. Anyway, lots to check out including tons of new friends to meet who are on the same journey. Kind of a strength in numbers thing; we’re all on our own writing journey, but with legions of other writers around the world on their journey, too . . . all at the same time. Fun!!

Day Two 2016 NaNoWriMo
So how have I prepped for such a journey? Apparently not actually signing up until day two, but I digress. I’ll admit I had grandiose ideas of what I would do. It was mid-October when I decided to jump in. Two whole weeks to prepare! That’s like eons early in Sarah-time. About a week or so before I had even picked up a copy of Ready, Set, Novel! by Chris Baty, Lindsey Grant, and Tavia Stewart-Streit of National Novel Writing Month. I wanted to work on writing more efficiently. Now that writing is my day job, it’s important to me to figure out efficiency, obviously without losing art and form. I don’t normally go for the workbook style of book and was surprised it so captured my attention. But this one had that intuitive buzz that happens when there is a direction that is a really good idea to take and it is only later that you saw that it was foreshadowing, and in a really cool way. Besides, it is when we put ourselves out of our comfort zone, stretch those boundaries, that we so often see awesome growth.

So in going through that book, and hearing the voices of countless writing friends and presenters I’ve heard over the years, who dig plotting (as opposed to other writing process approaches), I thought okay, I can try this again. Last time was an epic failure. I didn’t throw my laptop out a window or anything, but that approach drove me bonkers. At least how I did it, did. I’m normally a pantser writer. At least in the first half of the book, writing for me is getting in front of the computer and seeing where the characters are going to lead me next. It is crazy fun, but I’ll be honest, not a very efficient way, at least for me anyway. Maybe others have had better luck. In the early stages of writing a book, I simply let the characters play. As they play, I get to know them more, figure them out, their motivations, their backstory, what direction they are headed in, and what conflict would really put them through their paces, that sort of thing. The story comes as I’m writing. It’s always an adventure when I sit back and let the characters take me along with them. When I tried plotting a few years ago, my characters kept veering off course from what I had plotted, but in really cool ways! It was like trying to herd cats until I finally abandoned the plotter approach and let my characters run wild, and it worked. Just like it had before. Again, just not super time-efficient. But who knows, maybe this time it will click. If nothing else, it is pretty cool to challenge yourself as a writer, see where you grow, what you can do.

So in prepping I decided to at least think about plot points I wanted to accomplish. I didn’t figure out the whole story, but I spent more time than normal pondering all those goodies of the characters I usually write to get to, and also options of where the storyline can go. I’ll let you know how that goes.

I have been using the writing program Scrivener for the non-fiction book I’m collaborating on (it's AMAZING), and have just recently started to embrace it for my fiction work, too. That’s another cool thing about this month of targeted writing, seeing if I harness Scrivener and all it’s functions and gizmos to help facilitate my fiction writing process, too!

Other ways to prep included finishing processing the garden harvest. I know that might sound weird for a writing binge prep, but I know I won’t have time while I’m supposed to be getting my word counts in, and the clock was ticking on the produce, anyway. I had finished most, but there was a bit more to go and I hate to see anything go to waste. I only have a teeny tiny bit left to do. Whew! And that sense of accomplishment has actually given me that feeling of Wonder Woman, definitely an asset going into this writing month that can be a bit intimidating!

I also took on a few house projects I’ve been meaning to tackle . . . because they needed to get done before NaNoWriMo?? No, because I tend to make something that is already hard, harder. Doh! My new hall closet is now partially complete. Which means it’s empty except for almost-done hand-made shelves. All the contents previously in said closet are now littering my studio, bedroom, and the bathroom. Brilliant Sarah, brilliant. Because clutter is so conducive to the creative process. I had been thinking to eliminate clutter by re-doing the closet, but until it’s actually finished, that would be a definite backfire. Whoops.

What have I learned so far? Really, just chill. My writing journey has meandered something fierce. But the one constant is that to be a writer, you must write. It's an incredible journey and the more I learn the more I realize I have years and years of learning and growing ahead of me. Nice! There are many paths to a completed novel, NaNoWriMo is one (thanks!!). The event has helped many, many writers accomplish their goals. Maybe it will help you, too. Maybe it is just the beginning, or another stepping stone, in this awesome path we call writing.

Have fun and happy writing!

To see how my writing has changed and evolved, check out Claiming Love (2009) and Kiss Me in the Rain (2016). Crazy different, but still Sarah. I’m also currently collaborating with a homicide detective on non-fiction book about the universal life-lessons he’s learned while on the job in law enforcement. Seven years ago if you would have told me that’s what I would be working on today along with my fiction, I would have said cool! But I totally didn’t see that one coming.

Writing can be such an incredible journey, hope you are having a blast!

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Back-to-School with YA Author Suzy Vadori

Do you smell that? Mmm hmm, fresh school supplies . . . It’s back-to-school time! In honour of this auspicious time of year, I thought I’d welcome the Aurora Award-nominated YA author Suzi Vadori with her debut novel The Fountain to give us a little back-to-school book break.

Q: Suzy, what is your favourite memory about back-to-school?
A: We moved around a lot when I was a kid – Nova Scotia, Ontario, Boston, Alberta… and that was all before I was out of elementary school. So, first days really were first days and I never knew what to expect. I always loved that first day at a new school. Usually, kids were nice. Sometimes, they made fun of my accent. That was one thing I’d try to shed quickly, to fit in to wherever I was now. On the first day of school, I loved the possibilities, and trying to figure out how the social system worked. I was always trying to figure out who would still be nice to me on the second day - to find that one friend who maybe didn't already have a best friend. I made many such friends, some that I’m still close with to this day.
I think that’s why I enjoy writing about kids going to new schools. It’s a topic I have lots of experience with.
Now that I’m a mom – back to school is fraught with shopping, new schedules and trying to arrange car-pooling for my three kids. They’ve gone to the same school with the same friends since kindergarten. But I always make sure I ask them about new kids in their class, and I know I’d have been happy to meet any one of them!

Q: What inspired you to write The Fountain?
A: I’ve always loved reading boarding school novels. My favourite part is when kids get out of bed and sneak around without parents or teachers to curb their activities.
The idea for The Fountain stemmed from the idea that getting everything you’ve always asked for isn’t always as great as it sounds. That you need to be sure you’re asking for the right things…
Paired with a great set of teens in a boarding school setting, The Fountain’s world was born.

Q: Kids and adults enjoy YA, why do you think YA has such universal appeal?
A: Everybody can relate to the things teens experience growing up. School, friendships and figuring out who you want to be when you grow up are milestones in our lives, and they are themes that don’t go away just because you add a few decades to your list of experience. I’m still trying to figure out what I want to be when I grow up. ;-)  

Q: Can you tell us more about the series?
A: Certainly! The Fountain is Book 1 of The Fountain Series. Book 2 (The West Woods) is well underway, and will be coming out in the spring of 2017. The Fountain is available in paperback and eBook. Here’s a link to give it a try!

Suzy Vadori is an Operations Executive by day, Writer by night. The Fountain is her debut novel for Young Adults. Suzy is an involved member of the Calgary Writers’ community, serving as When Words Collide (a Calgary Festival for Readers and Writers) Program Manager for Middle Grade and Young Adult since 2013. Suzy lives in Calgary, Alberta with her husband and three kids.

Monday, August 22, 2016

When Words Collide 2016: Happy Readers, Happy Writers

Celebrating with my editor Adrienne Kerr.
When Words Collide, Calgary
I’m still glowing from the the sixth annual When Words Collide! It’s a festival/conference for readers, writers, editors, agents and publishers, of all genres, fiction or non-fiction . . . basically if you’re involved with the written word, come play here for three days of awesome!

This is my fifth year participating, my fourth year on the board of directors, and a staple of my summer writing geek-on. What I love about this conference is not only the calibre of panelists and special guests, but the sense of community and seriously relaxed, happy vibe. This is a place to find your writer or reader tribe, learn, share and be inspired!

I met my incredibly talented editor, Adrienne Kerr, at WWC a few years ago. She listened (and heard) what I wanted to do with Kiss Me in the Rain and helped get me there. It released August 2! I’m still giddy. Just in case you are wondering how to kick your manuscript up a notch...or ten, I can’t say enough amazing things about this editor! And she likes scotch like me!

YA Author Suzi Vadori
When Words Collide, Calgary
For me, conferences are more fun when you have a roommate to share it with. A few years ago when I went to the Surrey International Writers’ conference, the fabulous Victoria Smith took me under her wing. What a difference that made! If you are considering going to a conference, maybe see if a friend wants to come, too. My long-time WWC “roomie” is Suzy Vadori. She writes YA and was nominated for an Aurora Award straight out the gate for her debut novel The Fountain! And she loves the tradition of the late-night fort building as much as I do. This was the third year of the fort-building shenanigans . . . shout out to all who played at 2am!

The panels, workshops and presentations, gosh, where do I start?? All of it was awesome, all of it! Maybe pictures are the best way to show? I had such a great time at #wwcyyc16. Thank you to all the old friends, and new. Happy Reading, Happy Writing, and see you all next year!


With fellow Eco-writer Nina Munteanu!
When Words Collide, Calgary
Author S. G. Wong and I giggling way too much!
When Words Collide, Calgary

All smiles in the fort!
When Words Collide, Calgary

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Memorable Border Crossings: "Welcome Home"

I love traveling as much as I love writing. This is my second post in my Memorable Border Crossings and it feeds in a personal way to my new release, Kiss Me in the Rain, the first of the Tanner Family Series. The series tackles environmental, social and economical issues, but the backbone of the series is the familial dynamic of adult siblings and their divorced parents. I know not everyone has positive border crossings, but this memory shares a happy moment during a rather awkward family time.

Coming Back into the U.S.A: Semester in Scotland
When I was 18 years old I received a brochure from the University of Wisconsin - Eau Claire’s International Office declaring I could study abroad. I was eighteen and it was a full two weeks before I even stepped foot in any of my freshman lecture halls or classrooms. Back then, still a couple years before I would meet my now, and very much a planner, husband, I didn’t do organized.  But this, something I would have to apply a whole year in advance for, called me like a very loud, very specific bull horn. Sarah, Study Abroad!

I applied for a program in Scotland, got accepted, and waited not-so-patiently to zip off to the land of castles, kilts, scotch, really cool accents and rugby. During that year my parents also happened to start the very long, rather painful process of divorcing.
Did I mention rugby? Turns out contact sports are really good at letting go of bottled up tension. Which I found out during my AMAZING semester in that incredibly welcoming, happy, beautiful country. I was having an epic experience, in between emails and phone calls from the dividing home front.

When my semester was over and my nineteen year old self flew back home, I walked out of the tunnel from the plane and headed down the windowed corridor to customs. On the other side of those floor-to-ceiling windows was my mom and my sister . . . and a few paces away my dad and his girlfriend. I know both my parents were just really excited I was home, but, well. . . awkward!

What does this have to do with border guards? As I walked down that corridor and I saw my two rides waiting to pick me up and dreading the first of what would be many perceived “who do you chose” scenarios, I walked into U.S. Customs. I have never wanted to wait so long in a line in my life. Or hang out with people with badges and guns. But all too soon it was my turn.

The border guard had no idea the family drama I would be stepping into in just a few moments, but he looked at me, handed me back my passport, and said, “Welcome home.”
I stared at him a moment, and realized he meant it.

“Thanks.” I said, feeling fortified by the kind, no-strings-attached words of a stranger. I borrowed some of his strength, hoped the jet lag didn’t make me ask my family the obvious, and went to see who I was catching a ride with. And have always remembered that small kindness that meant more to me than that border guard would ever know.

That having been said, I have heard those two magic words, Welcome Home,  almost every time since. Still, it's pretty cool. Thanks Mr. Nice Border Guard Guy.

Happy Trails . . .

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Book Release Day: Kiss Me in the Rain

Book Release Day
It's a happy day, and not just because I paddled around Bala Park Island today. After what turned out to be an extraordinary journey, my book Kiss Me in the Rain released today!
Hang on, I'm still letting that sink in.
I learned so much and worked with incredibly talented people. Shout out of thanks and awesome to my editor Adrienne Kerr, as well as to the Alberta Romance Writers' Association and my amazing cover designer Tufted Sky Cover Designs.
It's a happy day, indeed!

In the dense spruce forests of Northern Alberta, an environmentalist and an archeologist are about to uncover the wrongs of the past and the pleasures of the here and now.

Savannah McIntyre is estranged from her family, haunted by the destruction that her father's development business has visited upon the landscape that she loves. So when a family wedding calls her home, the hope of reconnecting with her dad surfaces, putting her directly in the path of Gabe Tanner, an archeologist on her father's payroll.
Gabe is estranged from his own father, and in him Savannah senses a man of immense compassion with a deep connection to the land. Navigating their mutual attraction on a remote and dangerous archaeological survey proves difficult, given their differences in ideology, but Savannah and Gabe are about to find out that love can thrive in any landscape.