Category Archives: Writing

Ten Years

It’s been ten years this month since my first book came out. It seems only right that I use the icon that HRH drew of me taking a bow after a G&S show for this post, yes? I probably don’t take enough bows. I’m shy like that.

It’s been an interesting ride these past ten years, and I like where my career has gone along the way.

I’ve worked in the book business since my very first part-time job at the local children’s bookstore. I went from there to working at (and then managing) the local F/SF bookstore, then working in the local metaphysical bookstore. I ‘retired’ from the retail aspect and did writing, data entry, and ordering for the metaphysical store, until the owner forwarded me a letter from one of the large publishing companies we purchased from. They were looking for someone with an English degree who was experienced in writing, the book business, and the new age market. “They’re looking for YOU!” she told me with excitement, and encouraged me to send in my CV and an introductory letter. The publisher was astonished that someone out there actually existed who matched their criteria perfectly, and invited me to sign on as a consultant as they established a new age imprint. I got to help define the imprint’s mission statement, help develop a plan and schedule, help vet proposals, and do tech reviews of the finished manuscripts. After rescuing an unfinished manuscript that also featured plagiarism (longtime readers know how I feel about that particular subject), the editor in charge of the imprint asked me to write the next book in the series. I did, and then I wrote another right on its heels at their request.

I was pregnant when that first book came out, unknowingly only a couple of weeks away from giving birth to Sparky. (Ahead of schedule… gosh, a lot happened in those four weeks; we moved a week after it came out, too. I corrected the page proofs for the second book in the hospital. And I had a delivery deadline for my third book the next month, as well. Good grief.) I remember walking into the new age store after they’d called to tell me it had arrived, and seeing a full-sized poster of the front cover mounted on foam board proudly displayed on a table among piles of that first book. It was slightly surreal to see my name that large on anything. And then the second one came out only four months later.

In ten years I wrote about alternative spirituality, practicing nature-based spirituality in urban areas, home and hearth-based practice, edited an anthology of firsthand experiences of discovering alternative spirituality, approaching pregnancy from the point of view of earth-based spirituality, and the spiritual associations of birds. I oversaw the development and editing of two new age series. I worked with some wonderful, wonderful editors, one of whom introduced me to other departments within the publishing company who gave me rewriting/repurposing work, and, ultimately, my current position as a copy editor.

People ask me sometimes when my next book is coming out, and honestly… I like what I’m doing right now. Writing a book takes an tremendous amount of energy and time, and because when I do something I want to do it right, the per-hour fee ends up being below minimum wage when I take into account the number of hours it takes to produce a manuscript I am satisfied with. Copy editing is more lucrative, frankly, and more immediately gratifying. I am one of those weird people who adores copy editing. I like knowing why a comma is necessary, or why it should be taken out. I like being able to tweak the punctuation or syntax in a sentence to clarify its meaning. I take a stupid amount of pride in being able to use a hyphen, en dash, or em dash correctly. I love finessing a paragraph to focus the author’s point, querying to make sure I grasped what they were trying to say. (The answer is almost invariably yes, oh yes, and thank you.) I have the kind of mind that remembers how an author phrased or formatted something seventy pages ago, and I can make sure every instance of a phrase or instruction is presented the same way each time. I have a sixth sense for a wonky fact that needs to be checked. I have a not-so-secret crush on the sixteenth edition of the Chicago Manual of Style. And I really like being able to put it all out of my mind when I’ve closed the document and walked away to pick the kids up from school, which I was never able to successfully do while writing on a book contract, and that stressed me out a lot. Add to this the fact that the new age market really shrank about four or five years ago, and, well… at this point in time, I’ve said everything I want to say in a book. (Would I like to produce a book on parenting from an earth-based spirituality POV? Absolutely, but while I like how my kids are turning out, I still feel like I’m flailing around when it comes to parenting, and I couldn’t do it with enough confidence.)

I still get messages from people thanking me for being their introduction to alternative spirituality, for giving them a name to what they felt or believed, for letting them know they’re not alone, and they all mean a lot. I’m proud of what I’ve done. But I love what I’m doing right now, and I wouldn’t chose to do anything else at the moment.

This does not preclude writing on the side, of course. I almost had a new book gig this spring, actually, except they wanted me to write it on a crazy deadline, and my current contract with the game studio takes precedence. Not knowing how much work would be coming or precisely when, I couldn’t take on a book contract in good faith. I do have almost-finished novels lying about that I would like to poke at, finished ones that need rewrites, and I have started a new one for the first time in a few years, writing longhand with a fountain pen in a notebook. (It just felt wrong to try to start it on the computer, and if a story will cooperate in another easily accomplished way… well then, story, here is a Parker fountain pen and some J Herbin ink; come and play.)

Ten years. The traditional gift material for a tenth anniversary is tin; maybe I should buy a new fountain pen to celebrate. (I also see that the modern equivalent is diamond jewellery, which just makes me laugh a lot. Seriously? I’d prefer a new fountain pen.)

Thank you to everyone who has been around for this ride so far. To single a few people out (which is always dangerous because one feels dreadful if one misses someone important), I will name Ron, of course; Ceri, who kept me company on writing jams while I wrote that first book, and provided tea and sanity checks; Debra, who gave me the publisher’s contact request for the consultant in the first place; Silver, who told me I could do it, and to stick to my guns when negotiating for future titles and deadlines; Scarlet and Robyn and all the Melange Magique staff who were excited for me, stocked the book, and hand sold it; and all my lovely editors, especially Andrea, who fought long and hard on my behalf during her time as my last editor. Thank you to booksellers and readers, to reviewers and interviewers, and all my friends who encouraged me, came to book launches, and have my books on their shelves, even if they’ve never read them and never intend to. You are all wonderful, and there would be no point in doing this, if not for you all.

Behind the Scenes

Apart from the thrill of working on something tremendously cool and with someone whose work I admire, I’m really appreciating being a part of the writing team on this video game project. Put that way, as my contract does, it makes me sound much more involved than I actually am, doesn’t it? (My contract also stipulates that I must be available for promotion, interviews, conferences, and anything else they deem necessary for marketing purposes… at which point I snickered a lot, because who is going to want the copy editor’s point of view around game launch time? “Tell us, how does the insertion of a comma here or the use of a proper em dash instead of a double hyphen subtly affect gameplay? How is that experience deepened and made more impactful for the player?”)

What I particularly appreciate about this, however, is reading the story.

I suck at video games. My brain doesn’t seem to work the way games expect a player’s brain to work, and it makes for a very frustrating experience. So all this time I’ve been perceiving video games as these horrendous blocks of weird puzzle-solving or monster-slaying, of fighting with the controller to try to get it to do with what I think it wants me to do, and ending up just walking away. I have several friends who are writers within the video game industry and who talk about the storylines and dialogue, and while I have known that logically, this is what makes a player care enough to move on to the next challenge and advance the story, I have not experienced it personally.

So working on this script, even peripherally, has given me a wonderful opportunity I otherwise wouldn’t have had. I’m following a story, an actual narrative, with none of the gameplay that makes me crash and burn. In fact, the gameplay is often noted by a single sentence between square brackets in the script. (That’s right; the thing that takes you three hours to play through can be a single sentence in the script, because it’s not handled by the scriptwriting team. Different people entirely take care of that.)

I get to read a story involving certain characters, protagonists and antagonists, and it amazes me that the scriptwriting team can demonstrate so much about individual characters within so many constraints. The story of this particular game has to unfold and advance, but on a more focused level, the story of these specific characters also develops and advances. And on a broader level, the story of the overall franchise has to further develop and advance, as well. It absolutely fascinates me that all this can be done through dialogue. And spare dialogue, at that; spare in the sense of being brief, not the sense of being extra. There’s nothing extra here: character-building moments have to do double duty, advancing the story or delivering key information to the player at the same time. It’s incredibly interesting to observe, especially if I have the chance to follow a scene or set of scenes that undergoes a major rewrite.

And in unrelated work news, I’ve been handling some other projects in my off hours. I just finished working on a STEM book, which needed heavy, heavy editing, and I kind of burnt myself out on it. My current project is a homeschooling book, which is a peach of a manuscript; it’s so very tidy and perfect, so perfect that my attention wanders away while I read it, because there are no errors to trip me up. I have to keep bringing myself back and refocusing!

Oh Look, It’s the End of February

And really, March 1 cannot come too soon.

I don’t have the energy for full paragraphs. Let’s do a point-form post.

My first two weeks on the video game project are done. So far I am enjoying it.

In my off time I handled my first project of the new year for the publisher. It was a Star Wars book. Yet again my geeky hoard of trivia proves useful! (Here’s a tip for you: The term ‘Jedi’ is a singular plural. One Jedi, two Jedi, many Jedi. Never Jedis. Never. LOOK, I CAN BE GEEKY ON MULTIPLE LEVELS HERE! AND PEOPLE PAY ME FOR IT!)

I started my free month-long trial of subscribing to Scribd for e-books and audiobooks. All things Agatha Christie have been converging in my life, and I decided to subscribe to an audiobook service so I could listen to her books while I spin or knit, but I find Audible very expensive for what it is. Scribd is $8.99 a month and offers unlimited access to a tonne of audiobooks, and e-books, too, so I went that route. (Bonus, I discovered: comics and graphic novels. Awesome.)

I am knitting a hat for a swap, and I am arguing with it. I have already ripped it back twice, and I suspect I will do it again. I just don’t know if I will try the pattern a third time, or give up on the decorative stitch part and simply knit it straight, then add a little something to it afterward. That kind of feels like cheating or giving up, but it may save my sanity. Ceri pointed out that the pattern isn’t hard but it’s tricky, which can be just as frustrating in a different way, and she has a point. Add that to the fact that I can’t knit anything more complicated than basic stockinette or garter in a room where there are other people, and there is a problem. It doesn’t help that the deadline for mailing is in one week. I could have been done by now if I hadn’t decided I really wanted to spin the yarn for this project. (But I did, and it’s terribly nice to knit with, I must say.)

I’ve started spinning more yarn for Mum’s beautiful silk/cashmere/Merino wrap. She’s getting close to the end of the stuff I made for her in 2013, and it’s not long enough, even taking into account the length blocking will add. I am so glad I took good notes about how I made the initial yarn.

One month till the chamber orchestra’s spring concert. That’s… soon. (Saturday 21 March, 7:30 PM at Valois United church. Mark your calendars. It’s a lovely programme.)

Yeah, Owlet’s post is late. That’s par for the course these days.

We had a lovely little Valentine’s Day tea party for our goddaughters, and it was so much fun. We finally got to use the half-size china teacups I bought Owlet for her first birthday for the kids. There were several courses of delicious tea-type foodstuffs, excellent company, and it was just a lovely day all around.

I got a new fountain pen; a Noodler’s Ahab in the colour Ahab’s Pearl. It’s a flex nib, and I’ve been really wanting to try a flex nib. It’s got a thick barrel, like my Waterman Kultur. I would have preferred a Konrad or a Nib Creaper, both of which are slimmer, but didn’t have them in stock at the time and I had really promised myself a new pen when the big cheque for the math book came in. I inked it with J Herbin’s Vert Empire, and I am smitten. I am also wholly smitten by the converter it came with, and the converters I ordered for my Waterman and Parker pens. I put some Diamine Damson in my extra-fine Sheaffer pen, and it writes so much more smoothly than it did when inked with the Noodler’s #41 Brown. I think the Diamines may be lubricated; I’m not entirely certain.

Okay, that’s enough. Back to work.

Back to Work

It’s been an awful week and a half here. Everyone except Sparky was very ill with the flu. Today is the first day everyone is where they’re supposed to be. We’re all tired and drained, most of us haven’t eaten properly all week, and I’m still mystified as to how Sparky managed to escape all of this. (HRH thinks it was sheer force of will, because we had a Lego party for five of his friends slated to happen here yesterday, and we warned him that if he got sick we’d have to reschedule it. He stayed well, and the party went off brilliantly. Six ten-year-olds, a tonne of Lego, pizza, and a movie; it was a good day.)

This is good, everyone being where they’re supposed to be, because I am starting a new project today, according to the contracts that were countersigned last week. I signed an NDA in early January, heard nothing for a while, and then was in negotiations with Paris office at the end of January. (Full confession: I enjoyed saying “I’m in negotiations with Paris” way too much.) This week is devoted to getting to know the project, the team, and talking about guidelines and standards. It’s an exciting project and one I’m very interested in working on. It’s an experiment of sorts for the employer who signed me, because they’ve never had a devoted copyeditor oversee all the written content for a project like this before. The team’s writers are said to be happy, too, because a pair of outside eyes is going to be going through it all for consistency and stylistic tweaks before release. It’s difficult to do that for your own writing, especially when there’s no clear stylesheet and several writers contributing. I like to think that if it goes well and there’s a measurable positive impact, then this may become a repeat gig. (And I’m not just saying that because I get to work with a very good friend. Observing inconsistencies or errors as a consumer drives me nuts; I like to think it’s good business sense to have a copyeditor manage the vast amount of text produced in a project like this.) It’s full time for a month and a half, then a possible week after that, followed by two (possibly three) more weeks at different times between April and June as various parts of the project come due.

On Friday I also accepted my first new project of the year from the publisher, which I can work on in evenings and on weekends if necessary. It’s short and a lot of the work I’d normally do is already done, as tends to be the case when I handle a manuscript for this particular editor. While the exciting new contract is theoretically full time for these six weeks, turning something down from the publisher felt like a dangerous move, especially if I’ll have to do it in a couple of weeks once I’m actually buried in actual deadline work for the new project. Every time a freelancer has to pass on an offered project, it’s a bit less likely that they’ll be assigned something the next time a manuscript comes up for editing. It’s good to stay on top of things and keep one’s availability fresh in the coordinator’s mind.

It’s been a quiet year work-wise so far. It’s nice to sit down and be able to work again. I certainly needed the break, and I am endlessly grateful that I didn’t have work that had to be done last week when I was out with the flu, or the week that Owlet’s daycare was closed in mid-January… but it’s good to get back to my desk. Just cleaning out the mess my work and personal e-mail inboxes had become over the last three weeks felt great today. Now… to work!

On Pens and Writing

It’s never been a secret that I am a stationery geek. I love pens and blank notebooks of all kinds.

Recently, my love of fountain pens has been rekindled. My four fountain pens have been in their glass cup on my desk for a few years, ever since I ran out of ink cartridges for them. I own a Sheaffer Javelin with a F nib (which is my favourite), a Parker Vector with a F nib, and a Waterman Kultur with a M nib, as well as a standard Sheaffer calligraphy pen that came with three italic nibs of different widths. I use the smallest italic nib for regular writing. Nothing high end, mostly student-level models that I like. (I mourn my lost Pelikan fountain pen, which had a perfect nib for my handwriting style; not too wet, not too scratchy. I also have a collection of dips pens that is stored in a writing box.) I do so much work on the computer that buying new cartridges seemed wasteful. Besides, the only cartridges I could find for them were filled with black or blue ink, neither of which are colours I enjoy working with very much. I love brown ink the best, and while I used to be able to buy brown cartridges at local office supply stores and even pharmacies, those days are gone.

But a couple of spinners I follow online mentioned they got orders from Goulet Pens, and one day I clicked through to the website and fell into a deep rabbit hole. There is a very healthy market for fountain pens of all price points, and better still, there are inks. Oh, the inks! All sorts of colours and effects! But they’re mostly sold in ink bottles, and my fountain pens take cartridges.

A bit of sleuthing turned up a couple of options. I could wash my empty cartridges and refill them with syringes (this is perfectly acceptable and operable, but apparently the cartridges can begin to leak over time), or I could buy converters for my pens. Converters are essentially refillable ink reservoirs.

And rather than dropping thirteen to thirty dollars on a bottle of ink, I could order 2-ml samples to experiment with and help pinpoint the right colours I wanted to invest in to use! An average pen cartridge takes 0.5 to 1.5 ml of ink at a time, so it’s a decent amount for a trial. Shipping from the US and our feeble Canadian dollar led me to find Wonder Pens in Toronto as a Canadian alternative to Goulet Pens, and I used the last of a prepaid Visa card to order some samples of brown ink and a couple of syringes. I’ll save up for converters. (Of course all my pens are from different companies, so I need different converters. Figures. I suspect I may not get a converter for my Waterman Kultur; I tend to prefer using finer nibs.)

Tied to this is my investigation of pencil grips. When I handwrite for a long period of time, my hand cramps up. I looked into this and discovered that there’s a whole subset of pediatric occupational therapy devoted to pencil grips, examining efficiency and physical issues arising from the odd grips children develop to offset various obstacles. I use what I have discovered is called a thumb (over) wrap grip, where the web space in my grip is closed and my thumb wraps over the pencil and my index finger. This leads me to use my whole hand as a writing unit, making larger movements from the wrist instead of just moving my fingers. In addition to this, I grip my pencils tightly, which leads to fatigue and stress in the hand and forearm. My handwriting is neat (although less so when I write quickly) but I have to rest my hand frequently.

With the desire to begin using fountain pens again, I’ve started thinking about how I hold them and how I can make handwriting a less tense experience. Since most of my work is done on the computer and I only take brief notes with pen and paper as I work, it isn’t generally an issue, but I’ve begun working on a new story and it wants to be handwritten, so I’m running into these issues again after a long time. It’s interesting to look at this from an adult perspective, as opposed to a child learning cursive. I’m aware of the smaller elements, requirements, and stresses in a very different way. Having new inks to play with will encourage me to practice a new adapted grip, too.

In Which She Creates Her First PowerPoint Project

(Or whatever the Google Drive equivalent is…)

Sparky’s class is doing a Careers module. As part of this research unit, parents go in and do a 30 min presentation on their jobs. I volunteered, and then wondered what on earth I’d do to make my job sound interesting. I mean, I love it, but I’m sure “looking at text for mistakes” sounds like a prison sentence for nine-year-olds. Especially when they’ve had a jeweller come in — “I wore a titanium ring!” — and a firefighter — “He showed us how he kicks in a door!” His best friend’s mom showed them how to make a website. I will be so boring to them. I will be all, “Words and sentences are cool! Be responsible for your writing!” Yawn.

So I suggested to Sparky that maybe I could do a PowerPoint presentation along with my talk, since he learned how to do them earlier this year, and he was very enthusiastic. I have never done a PowerPoint presentation before. It didn’t exist when I was in school. (Remember, dear readers, critical analyses of works that were the focus of my thesis were researched in actual printed books of Arts indices and physical copies of periodicals. The Internet was only a few tubes with a couple of cats in them at that time.) These grade 3 kids use a SMART board daily, though, so I need to be up to their speed.

So as of early this afternoon, I am ten slides into creating my first PowerPoint presentation ever. It’s entitled “What Does a Copyeditor Do?” and covers where the copyeditor fits into the publishing process, why copyediting is important, what tools I use, and that kind of thing. I am probably not allowed to say stuff like “My superpower is saving the world from plagiarism, typos, and incorrect facts.” I bet the phrase “Sometimes I edit using the Force” slips out during the presentation, though.

I’m hoping the coolness of meeting someone who is part of the process of making books carries a lot of it, honestly. And I’ll be emphasizing the importance of taking responsibility for your writing, why plagiarism is bad, and why your writing needs to be as polished as possible, so your information gets across clearly and concisely. Also because it is often the first thing associated with you that people encounter, so it’s an important part of how people form their first impressions of you and the information you’re presenting. It’s to your advantage to make it as error-free, clear, and accessible as possible.

I may not have titanium rings to show off or an impressive uniform complete with axe, but I’m hoping the Chicago Manual of Style and snapshots of a stylesheet and an edited paragraph, complete in all its Track Changes glory, will be at least somewhat interesting.


I need to get back into journaling regularly, but I don’t really remember how to do it.

You see, I had a weird incident last year that kind of broke me for a while. I’m a writer by nature and career, and writing things out is how I work through things. Not having this outlet has really undercut my ongoing healing process from living life in general, and you know what? Enough of that. Feeling like this outlet is blocked or broken hasn’t been conducive to being able to sit down and use journalling in all the ways I do – recording the good stuff, the family stuff, the confusing stuff, the ‘I feel really down and broken and I need to work through it’ stuff. I use this journal as a place to work things out when things are not going well; I need to work them out by writing, and I do that by writing in a place where people can sometimes give me feedback or support. It also keeps me honest: writing here means that there is an audience of some kind, and that’s important to me as a writer, because it gives me a sense of responsibility. I write differently for myself than for others. If it’s just for me, I’ll be lazy. If I know others will read it, I take more care in how I express myself, and it ends up being a lot clearer to me when revisiting it.

After that incident last fall, I stopped trusting myself, I stopped trusting my audience, and it really broke me in a specific way that a writer can be broken. As you’ve seen, pretty much the only thing I’ve kept to is Owlet’s monthly updates (and I even skipped one of those). Anything else has been very irregular. I need to ease back into doing this, and I think a way to do that is to come up with some sort of loose schedule. Maybe Tuesdays I can jot down a few words on the spinning, knitting, and dyeing stuff I’m doing. Maybe Thursdays I can talk about cello, what’s happening in orchestra and in lessons, and maybe I can broaden the subject to include mention of the type of music I’m listening to, and new discoveries. Maybe Fridays I can talk about what I’m reading, online and in book form. I stopped doing my end-of-month book roundup right around the time Owlet was born, and not knowing what I read when has been driving me up the wall. Sparky deserves his own posts periodically, too. I stopped doing his monthly posts when he turned five (and I’ll do the same for Owlet), but as a result I’m not noting down the stuff that he’s doing very often, and I feel like I’m missing pages in his scrapbook, so to speak.

Right now I am having an odd relationship with writing in general, and I think maybe my journalling issue is also symptomatic of that. I work very well while fixing other people’s writing — that’s what my career is right now, after all. I’m very happy with it, too; I’m good at what I do, and my clients seem to be absolutely thrilled with me and my work. I enjoy it, but I miss pure writing. I remember the feeling of writing; I remember working through an idea by putting words on paper to see where it went, and I miss that. In a recent editing lull, I went through some old novels that were in rough draft form or just missing the conclusion, and while I read and enjoyed them, I recognized that there were things that needed to be fixed. But I have this broken writing thing. I know that sometimes you just have to plunge into it, but that can be hazardous when one’s writing muscle has atrophied through lack of regular exercise, which is partly what journalling is.

That incident last fall really cut my feet out from underneath me, and I’ve had to think about my identity as a writer, as someone who communicates and works with words, as someone who interprets the world through words. I used to do that as my job, and I really need to find my feet doing it again, so baby steps; I’ll start with this schedule, and we’ll see where that goes, where it takes me. I’m sure it will help in several ways, and among the areas of my life in which I’ll see a benefit are my mental and emotional states (both of which took a big hit in the past while, which has contributed a hell of a lot to my struggle with depression).

I think one of the associated problems I’ve been having is that journalling seems so overwhelming now. I haven’t been writing things down for so long that when I do sit down to journal, I’m drowning in the amount of information I have to break down. There’s so much to say that I don’t know where to start, and I don’t know how to get it all down. And I’m constantly asking myself if it’s worth writing down, censoring the writing before it even happens. It’s frustrating, and it usually scares me so much that I don’t sit down to do it at all. As a writer, this paralysis has been devastating to me. I comment on life in my head throughout the day; I have a running narration going on, about what I’m doing, what I’m thinking, and so forth, and not being able to actually write that down somewhere in some sort of form has had a really negative impact on how I’ve been processing things, in dealing with information and events in my life. Not blogging probably doesn’t sound like much to some of you, but it is a fundamental shift in my outlook, in how I process and interpret the world and information around me, and there’s been a breakdown in my thought processing, in how I understand what or how I’m feeling. When that gets stoppered up, everything else starts getting slowed down, and there are traffic jams in how I emotionally assess things.

I think that if I just start writing things down again, little things here and there, it will help me back to a better place in my relationship with words. At this point, what I write isn’t as important as just making a date to put a few words down a few times each week. I’ll use the rough schedule as a trellis, so that my expression has somewhere to climb; the guideline will offer me something to cycle through, but I’m not going to beat myself up if I miss a day, and I’m certainly not going to let that structure stop me from doing something at any other time. I think that if I journal more regularly, I’ll feel less intimidated because there won’t be so much to choose from when I do sit down. It will be easier for me if I can keep it to short entries, and it’ll be easier for you as readers because you won’t have to wade through a novella every time I sit down.

Let’s see where this goes.