Thursday, April 26, 2018

In Sickness and In Health

Been flattened by the flu this week so have had no energy for anything, least of all dragging my aching body across the yard for a photo update of this year's nest. Please enjoy this lovely scene from this date last April.
I can't remember the last time I was sick; Dwayne says he's never seen me this sick but I think it happened when I was a substitute teacher and contracting student germs. Between gingerale and Popsicles (for the incredibly sore throat), I consumed more sugar over the course of three days than I had in the previous six months!
Had to drag myself out today to run necessary errands and do a quick interview for one last-minute addition to the At Home magazine summer issue but it's pretty much been a pajama party all week -- if you want to interpret "party" as me wrapped in fleece blankets on the couch watching TV until my head gets so sore, I have to lie down in bed again.
Now I'm at the "still sick but feeling just enough better to be grumpy and whingey because I missed an entire week of work" stage. And hydrating with water, finally. And wondering if I might have taste buds again soon.
And craving another orange Popsicle. And I think I might have to lie down again.

(Not that I'd rather hurt myself, but at least when my mother broke her arm, she got to eat my fabulous gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches every day!)

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

April Is Poetry Month

As one of four local writers, I'm reading at the Poetry Cafe on Sunday afternoon. When one of the Poetry At Large coordinators asked me if I'd ever published poems, I said no, but then realized - Yes! The final essay in my book was inspired by, and includes, a poem I wrote in the summer of 2006, that life-changing summer when I met Dwayne (although the poem is about Maritime hospitality, not him). You can see a video of me reading that poem on my Facebook author page.
On Sunday afternoon, however, I'll be reading a poem inspired by our old summer home on Pugwash Point and caring for a father with Alzheimer's disease, and two poems inspired by Dwayne. If that doesn't take up my allotted five minutes, I'll also read the entire Mary Oliver poem that I quote in one of my other essays in Field Notes.

Come as you are! Admission is free. 1:30 Sunday afternoon at the Lions Centre in Oxford, TCH Exit 6 (across from the Tim Horton's). 

Friday, April 13, 2018

Well, That Answers That Question

This was the silhouette I saw on Wednesday, sitting on the wheel of our osprey nest. Definitely not an osprey. So I wondered, is this why the osprey left the nest in such bad shape, it wouldn't survive the winter winds? Were they giving the space to the eagles, or simply not leaving valuable real estate in good enough shape to steal? After all, who wants a fixer-upper that's not right on the river?
More worrisome, the chickens didn't seem to be afraid of the eagle. Have they grown so used to the non-threatening ospreys that they don't realize this is a bird of prey who will indeed swoop down and eat one of them? 

It was rather interesting to watch a crow chase the eagle away. Our sentinel crows protecting the ospreys' space. How could they know more than I did?

For the past five days, whenever I walked the dog under the non-existent (rather than empty) osprey nest and carried on across the field, I formed an essay in my head, an essay about how change is part of life, and loss is inevitable and unavoidable, and how we really don't have control over very much, just the amount of food we eat, that's pretty much it, and so the osprey not returning is a shame but it's not the end of the world because change. It's always time to say good-bye to something, to someone, whether we want to or not, whether we're prepared to or not.

I'm sorry I don't get to write that essay because in its entirety, it was brilliant, although a tiny bit cynical, and probably far too pragmatic for everyone.
Anyway, now instead I have to work on an essay about resilience and rebuilding, about how no matter what tears you down, you shake your tail feathers and start over, even if it's from scratch, just build it better, because this happened, as we'd hoped:

Bird One came back today, the 13th of April, proving me wrong, and by supper time, there was a fine layer of twigs on the wheel. But it flew a long way to get here, and its partner isn't back yet, so it's working slowly and intermittently, and where is it going to sleep tonight?
I know we're not supposed to put our human emotions onto animals, but seriously, how can it not feel just the teensiest bit discouraged?

Bird Two arrived Saturday so as my friend Jane says, "Life is as it should be." They are now busy building a new nest from the ground up -- literally the ground; one of the ospreys is scooping up dried plants from our gardens and random sticks tossed around our backyard.
It's so much work but there's nothing we can do to help them -- which not the Maritime way at all.

Monday, April 09, 2018

Waiting and Wondering

Since April 2009, this is the week - between the 10th and 13th - that the ospreys return to their nest on our property. Dependably, and amazingly. Even April 2015 when there was two feet of snow covering the ground and the river was frozen over, and April 2016 when one returned and its mate didn't show up for NINE DAYS, they still came back.
For the first time since 2009, however, there isn't a nest to return home to. We are not sure what this means, but I am prepared for the ospreys to not return. Why else would they allow the nest to become so ramshackle that the LEAST worst winter in ten years could decimate it?
Unless -
Here's my theory: The River Philip's eagle population is very healthy so perhaps the ospreys are smarter than we realize, and didn't want to leave an intact nest behind in case an eagle decided to appropriate it - which they are known to do. We'll know this week whether this theory is sound, or if the ospreys, somehow and for some reason we'll never know, simply decided not to return to our property this year.

And we thought the nest was in bad shape at the beginning of spring last year...

...but the ospreys quickly rebuilt it when they returned, and eventually hatched out three babies, and avoided the devastating eagle attacks of the summer of 2015.
We aren't ready to be empty-nesters. We want our neighbours to return; it won't be summer without their familiar cries from the pole. 
Nature is so hard on the heart. I just want babies around - fawns and kits and chicks and cubs - and no one eating each other. Is that too much to ask?
(And while I'm at it, stay off the freakin' road.)

You can read about our early adventures with the ospreys in Field Notes, in the essay called, "The Blessing of the Ospreys".  This photo is from April 12, 2010 - the summer of the ospreys that inspired the essay - as the first to arrive waits and wonders.

Friday, April 06, 2018

Wear Nice Shoes, and Other Tips For First-Time Authors

American author Alice McDermott said, “A book tour is, first and foremost, an exercise in humility.”
If you’re a first-time author without a well-established brand, and whose book won’t debut on the best-sellers list before it’s published, you’re already humble, and grateful, and, holy-crap-it’s-really-happening excited. You’re going to work really hard to get out there with your book and make sure it sells.
There will never be another “first-time author” experience so you need to enjoy every moment of it, the misses as well as the hits.
Would you like the benefit of my experience? Here are five tips to prepare you for the joys and hard work of being a first-time author, and to help you avoid the mistakes I made.

1. Promotions R You: You will have to do much of the work of getting your book out there yourself, and that’s not a bad thing. Think of yourself as in partnership with the publicist so find out what the promotions person will do, and what you can take on. I found it easier to set up my events and book tours myself; why go through a third party when you already know your schedule?
BOOK EARLY. The book season is spring through fall so that’s a finite period of Saturdays and Sundays! I missed out on doing a reading at a popular indie bookstore when my book was new because I waited too long to call.
Before your book comes out, make a list of the radio programs you’d like to appear on and the festivals you’d like to attend. Make your list and let the promotions person know; follow up with them (they have a lot of authors to take care of). I’m kicking myself that I might have missed the chance to be at a particular festival in Ontario this summer because I didn’t mention it soon enough.
You can’t count on people seeing or remembering an event announcement on social media, so prior to an event, email and phone your friends. They’re the mostly likely to show up. Also, ask them to bring a friend or two. I was so busy before my book tour in Ontario, I didn’t do this for the one big event and I'm still obsessing over who didn’t show up (because they didn’t know).
Finally, and this is a small thing, since my publisher didn’t provide bookmarks for my book, I created my own which allowed me to include my website which drives traffic to my blog, Facebook author page, Instagram and Twitter accounts. I keep some with me at all times so when someone says, "Oh, you wrote a book?" I can give them a bookmark.

2. Booksellers Are Your Best Friends: Even if no one shows up to your reading/book signing, it’s a great opportunity to get to know the book store owner/manager/employees because they are the ones who sell your book so you want them to remember how nice you are! I always left Thank You cards behind because booksellers work hard and spend extra hours on your event.

3. BYOB: Buy your own books. The staff at my local chain bookstore laugh when I buy my own book (to send to someone as a gift), but it’s to my benefit. For a book sale to count, it must go through a store, whether IRL or online. That bookstore even lets me “borrow” my books, sell them at non-bookstore events (like a Christmas farmers market) then pay for them - those are sales that count. Some authors like to buy their books at a big discount from the publisher and make money but as a first-time author, I think it’s better to make every sale count.

4. The dreaded book signing table at a chain bookstore: I studied this for months before my book came out and I still haven’t figured out the best way to do that table. Location has so much to do with whether people stop and look (too close to the door, and they walk right by with barely a glance). I went for eye-catching: I used my own tablecloth (the Nova Scotia tartan goes with my book’s subtitle) and draped little white lights around my stacks of books. At the same time, I wanted people to feel they could look at the book without having to buy it so I avoided the ‘leaning on my elbows and staring at everyone going by’ stance by sitting back in my chair and writing in a notebook – Look, a writer writing! That said, I always smiled and greeted the curious but I didn’t watch them or engage them in conversation.
That said, two out of four of these chain bookstore signings were flops because they were slow days at the store. That’s how it goes. I had more success in malls than in stand-alone stores. 

5. Create a uniform: In this age of multiple social media accounts, I decided I needed a different outfit for every appearance. It doesn’t sound like a big deal, and in the beginning the shopping was fun, but eventually it became rather expensive and time-consuming to figure out a different look for every event. I recommend choosing a couple of basic outfits that you can mix-and-match. As a shoe person, I have to remind you that people notice shoes so if you’re going to have a fashion signature, a great pair of shoes might be it (think Sheree Fitch and her purple Doc Martens).

Regardless of how many interviews you book, how many people show up to a reading, and how well your outfit coordinates with your book cover, the best part of publishing a book is MEETING READERS. As a first-time author, I’m delighted by how much fun that was -- and I miss it now that things have slowed down 18 months after my book's release. 

The best advice I received regarding that is courtesy of Christy Ann Conlin, who told me: “Don’t read too long. People really want to talk to you.” I took that to heart and never regretted spending more time chatting with readers than reading to them.The readers make all the work of writing and promoting worth every word, every hour, and every dollar. 

My book, Field Notes: A City Girl's Search for Heart and Home in Rural Nova Scotia, was published in the fall of 2016 by Nimbus Publishing, Halifax, NS, and is priced at $17.95.

Monday, April 02, 2018

Happy Writing Faces

Do you see how happy we are in this photo?!
This is early June 2016, in the big room at Thinkers Lodge overlooking the Pugwash harbour. It was a raw day - windy and damp - but we were cozy in our writing world and the weather didn't bother us one bit.
I wasn't quite a published author when this photo was taken; Field Notes didn't come out until October of that year. I was there as a writer who needed a boost for a project I'd been working on for six years at that point. I've always been grateful I signed up for Marjorie's one-day workshop because 1) I gained her as a good friend, 2) I had two epiphanies during that workshop, one of which I'm sharing during our writing workshop together this May, and 3) her suggestions helped me rethink the flow of my memoir and opened me up for a complete rewrite the following June.

There are two truths about writing: 1) if you want to write, you need to read as much as you can, in a variety of genres, and 2) if you want to write, you need to do some level of studying.

There are books about writing, there are workshops like the one Marjorie and I are co-presenting at the end of May, and there are university degrees -- so lots of options.
I've always been a book and workshop girl myself. I like the intimacy of a workshop, and it's also affordable. I remember taking the GO Train into Toronto, to Ryerson University, for a two-day writing workshop in the mid-1990s. I can't tell you the instructor's name but what I remember most is writing for two days. I didn't meet anyone else, I didn't talk to the other writers, but it was just part of my education as a writer.
The not connecting with other writers wasn't necessarily a good thing (more my introverted thing), and connection is what makes OUR workshop so valuable. You aren't on your own; you will write a lot on Saturday, May 26, and you will scribble notes and ideas down, but you will also engage in conversation, and contribute to discussions. You will come away feeling like a writer with a do-able project you'll want to keep working on, and you'll feel like part of a community.

Hope you will join us. For details, check out the poster in my March 29th post. Contact me for more information.