On November 27th, exactly one month after the online release of Out of Play, we celebrated my book-baby's birth with family and friends and wine. The Smith was our gracious host, and Owls Nest Books were kind enough to be onsite and sell copies.
Thank you to everyone who could make it, and for those who sent well wishes. You support was appreciated.
Yes, the big day is around the corner. It’s that wonderful time of year where we squeeze as much spending into as little time as possible.
I know. It’s not supposed to be about the gifts. It’s about time with loved ones, celebrating another year gone by, welcoming new life and hope for the future. It’s about giving to others—oops! There it is. Giving. Which means gifts.
For all of you who have managed to defy social norms, and are not conforming to the commercial version of Christmas, I applaud you (I’m also completely jealous). For those of you, like me, entrenched in unhealthy patterns of purchasing love (shoot! I meant to say: entrenched in cultural expectations of giving) it is time to cram all that commercial buying in.
Be forewarned, cram-shopping inevitably results in some “what the hell was she thinking?” purchases. But as a long-term Christmas Cram Shopper, I’ve advice to share. And so, without further nursing of the mulled wine, I give you this:
The Top 10 Worst Gifts Ever*
10. An Emoji Pillow. I don’t care what your kids say: no one needs an emoji pillow. I don’t even know if that is a chocolate chip or a bowel movement. Regardless, it is not needed in plush.
9. A purse made from an old pair of jeans. Yes. I’ve received one of these. But I say unto you: do not let the craft market craze blind you! If the jeans were not good enough for someone’s rear-end, they are not good enough to be made into a purse.
8. If your [former] sister-in-law goes on and on and on about not having Christmas decorations, take a moment to consider the reason she doesn’t have seasonal décor. Could it be she hates Christmas decorations? Yes. It might be hard to believe, but there are people like that. So no matter how cute Santa’s mittens on a clothesline seem, (I swear, they were super cute!) save your hard-earned money and know that you are suffering from craft market craze.
7. Any item with a person’s holiday inspired name on it. I know, it seems awesome. It has their name on it, right? But I guaren-flipping-tee you, a person whose given name is JOY already owns several dozen items (hand towels, candlesticks, ceramic vases, pillows) with their name on it. I’m sure the same is true for HOPE, GRACE and FAITH. So please. Move. On.
6. Anything living. Pets are lifetime commitments and it’s unfair to give one to a person who might not want to be responsible for an animal. The same goes for lice. It’s unfair and makes a very bad gift.
5. All toys that have become popular in the last four months simply because the manufacturer can afford a commercial during children’s prime-time television. Likely I’ve already bought it and its gathering dust after an epic two days of usage. You are welcome to our robot dog/pottery wheel that can’t turn under the weight of clay/hatching egg with animal inside.
4. Clothes that are a size too small because you couldn’t bring yourself to buy the larger size. If you are worried about buying a large or an xl or whatever, then just don’t buy clothing. Clothing is sexy when it fits. Even for moms.
3. A Costco/Sam's Club size jar of Nutella. I don’t know why my sister bought it, but no jar of food should last 10 years.
2. Yes, politicians sometimes have funny hair. And it might seem a funny gag gift to buy that wig / t-shirt / coffee mug with the funny hair on it. But let us be clear: misogyny is not a gag. It is a bad gift.
1. Clothing for dogs. Why? Because they are animals. Animals do not need clothing. They need things to gnaw on.
What does that leave you? Love. You should buy love. And kindness. And what does that look like? It looks like a gift card.
It looks like a book! (er…also wine. It also looks like wine).
Merry Christmas and happy shopping.
* opinions are my own.
Wow, this is kind of cool.
Because free, fun, fiction--60 freaking romantic comedy titles and maybe even a kindle fire.
You should enter. You should definitely enter.
Me? I'd love to, but I'm disqualified because one of those fun fiction titles is Out of Play. Another one of those titles is Better Off Without Him by Dee Ernst, which I'm currently reading myself.
You've got one week before the contest closes, so go for it! Enter right here: bit.ly/romantic-com. And remember, the clock strikes midnight on November 14th, so don't put it off too long.
Good luck, folks, and May the odds be every in your favour! (shoot, wrong genre, but you get it).
Before I considered myself a writer, I knew I was a reader. I've always loved books, especially the ones that keep you up at night, desperate to know what happens but also not wanting the story to end.
And now the most amazing thing has been happening: I've been finding my 9 year old reading by flashlight way past bedtime. Its a tough choice. Do you insist on lights-out or do you nurture the reading bug?
I've decided on the sweet middle road. I've been going with "5 more minutes, then I'm taking that flashlight with me."
As a way of giving back to the reading community, 10 copies of Out of Play are up for grabs this month through Goodreads. Winners will receive a signed paperback but they'll need to provide their own flashlight.
Today is another first for my Unblog: A GUEST! For those thinking I have an ego fixation, I've decided to throw you off the trail. What better way then inviting the fabulous Jennifer Wilson, my Crooked Cat sister?
Jennifer is celebrating the one year anniversary of her own book baby: Kindred Spirits: Tower of London. She's also a very accomplished professional in her field of study, and I certainly admire her tenacity and strength. To celebrate, the book is on sale for .99/99p. (So what are you waiting for? Scoop it up, folks!)
For today's Unblog, I've asked Jennifer to share her thoughts on a woman from Kindred Spirits, Anne Boleyn, and she's done a marvellous job. So read on, friends. Let's celebrate how far women have come, and how much we have stayed the same--tenacious spirits, kindred sisters.
Hi Joy, thanks for hosting me today, and for posing some really thought-provoking questions for me to get my teeth into. Forgive me if I’ve gone on a bit!
You asked me what drew me to Anne Boleyn and her story, and honestly, up until some years back, I wasn’t remotely interested in the Tudors, but I was given The Other Boleyn Girl by a friend, and was instantly hooked.
I wouldn’t necessarily say I like Anne, but I certainly admire her. She was definitely a strong woman, in a time when women typically didn’t ‘do’ strong, or at least, only within a very narrow band of freedom. Some of the powerful ones got to choose their way in life, but realistically, somebody of Anne’s status should have been married off in her late teens / early twenties, had her children, and settled down to a life of relative anonymity, even if she’d stayed at court.
Even when you threw the character that was Henry VIII into the mix, most people would have assumed she’d have taken the same ‘deal’ as her sister Mary – become his mistress for a couple of months, even a year or two, and then be married off to some willing courtier. I think it’s her determination to break the mould, and be something a bit different, which attracts so many people to Anne’s story, and even if you ignore the various characterisations of her (and I’ve read some in which she’s absolutely vile, so single-minded and obsessed with power), you get a strong sense of somebody with ambition, and a desire to improve her lot in life.
That in itself took a lot in a period and society where moving out of your ‘place’ was almost unheard of. Tudor England was the start of people improving their lot by merit (Wolsey and Cromwell being prime examples, but having the starting advantage of being men), and only a generation back, another commoner had become Queen, but who would have thought it would happen again so quickly (and so frequently, even within the one reign)? So when you talk about whether a person’s fate was determined by gender, I think it was, but also by class. In general, where you were born, was where you stayed...
Thankfully, that is now, mostly, behind us. It would be wrong (and ignorant) to say that everything is perfect, but in comparison, you cannot deny that it’s a vast improvement. Last month, a female colleague and I were doing surveys down on the rocky shoreline, driving a truck along country roads, shingle and beach tracks, and when we logged in at site for our induction, not one person batted an eyelid. And yet we still hear about imbalances in pay levels, so we’ve clearly got a way to go in some fields.
But back to Anne. I once wrote a short story, trying to mirror Henry, Catherine and Anne’s love story in modern times, placing Henry as a CEO, torn between wife and ambitious mistress, and I’ve read one or two others which have done a similar thing. I don’t think it’s far from the truth. She was very well-educated (compared to other women of her time of course, but also compared to quite a few men), and had strong opinions as a result. I can genuinely see her climbing the ladder in whatever career she chose, and carefully building a fortune to support her in her later years. Having said that, I’m not sure what sort of manager she would make – there’s plenty evidence of a quick temper, which wouldn’t go down well with the modern workforce.
I don’t know much about Anna Wintour, Vogue’s editor-in-chief, and I am absolutely NOT saying that there are similarities in terms of a quick temper and associated insults or murder allegations, but when I think about Anne Boleyn in a modern working environment, she’s the person who comes to mind. She’s clearly driven in her work, and has made it to the top of her game. She’s also followed closely in terms of her fashion choices (Anne’s French style was commented on, and followed by some of her ladies), and through her support, can bring about great success for particular designers.
So that’s the sort of person I think Anne would be today – at the top of whichever field she chose to be in, and, one would hope, not a victim to the pure chance of what gender her child came out as! I think that, as much as anything else, was her downfall. Just think how different things might have been for England (and subsequently Britain), if Elizabeth I had instead been Edward VI – presumably no sickly boy-king, and probably no Bloody Mary I. Definitely an interesting thing to consider!
As for your final question, what would I chat to Anne about over a glass of wine; I would really like to know whether she truly ever loved Henry VIII and whether she regretted missing out on marrying Henry Percy. Life as Duchess of Northumberland might not have been quite as grand as being Queen of England, but she’d probably have survived a bit longer! Having said that, she probably wouldn’t have made quite the same impression on history, so maybe that would be the best question to ask – which choices would she make, if she could do it all again?
Kindred Spirits: Tower of London
A King, three Queens, a handful of nobles and a host of former courtiers…
In the Tower of London, the dead outnumber the living, with the likes of Tudor Queens Anne Boleyn and Katherine Howard rubbing shoulders with one man who has made his way back from his place of death at Bosworth Field to discover the truth about the disappearance of his famous nephews.
Amidst the chaos of daily life, with political and personal tensions running high, Richard III takes control, as each ghostly resident looks for their own peace in the former palace – where privacy was always a limited luxury.
With so many characters haunting the Tower of London, will they all find the calm they crave?
Jennifer is a marine biologist by training, who developed an equal passion for history whilst stalking Mary, Queen of Scots of childhood holidays (she since moved on to Richard III). She completed her BSc and MSc at the University of Hull, and has worked as a marine environmental consultant since graduating.
Enrolling on an adult education workshop on her return to the north-east reignited Jennifer’s pastime of creative writing, and she has been filling notebooks ever since. In 2014, Jennifer won the Story Tyne short story competition, and also continues to work on developing her poetic voice, reading at a number of events, and with several pieces available online. Her debut novel Kindred Spirits: Tower of London was published by Crooked Cat Publishing in October 2015.
Kindred Spirits: Tower of London, Amazon link: http://authl.it/B016TRKU2A
To celebrate the launch of OUT OF PLAY, I'd like to share a scene with you. Gillian has just arrived at the Larp camp, and is looking for the kitchen where she'll be volunteering for the weekend.
Somehow she gets entangled with a group of elves and requires some rescuing. It was a fun scene to write, and pushed me a little bit outside of my usual comfort zone.
“Hi there, little lady,” a deep voice boomed.
Oh shit. What now? I turned around. One of the sword-carrying manly types had edged up behind the group and stood threateningly close to the green orb circling me. He caressed the hilt of his fake sword in a decidedly suggestive fashion. Good Lord. From the pot to the fire. But it worked. The green people backed away from him, clearly not wanting an altercation.
“I couldn’t help but overhear you were looking for the kitchens.” He reached into the circle of green bodies, grabbed my elbow, and pulled me out. The green people twittered and gabbled but did nothing to try to pull me back.
“I can see you are new here, so let me give you a hint. A beautiful lady like you shouldn’t be interacting with elfish scum. And certainly not if you were my female.” He gave me some kind of knowing male look and peered down at my corset-enhanced chest. I clutched the edges of my hooded cape together. Was this really happening? In a haze, I allowed him to place my hand on his forearm and steer me away, presumably in the direction of the kitchens.
“I am Ivan, the Great Wanderer. Leader of this troupe.” He used his free hand to refer to the four lads and the one tough-looking broad who were accompanying us. Along with a variety of hatchets, knives, and spears, each carried a matching shield picturing two wolves biting each other’s tail. The wolves formed a ring about each of the much-dented and hammered-upon shields and looked to be hand painted. I couldn’t fathom how much time might have been spent crafting the devices, all for a weekend hobby. But now was not the time to ask.
“Nice to meet you, Ivan. I,” and here I used my hand to touch my own chest importantly, “am Gretchen, the Great…Wenchen.” What the…? Had that just come out of my mouth? Indeed it had. But who cared? It was just nuts anyway. “I am here to, er, assist with food for the weekend. My first time. Just checking things out. I do thank you for your help.”
Ivan graciously insisted on carrying my bags. I didn’t bother pulling out my useless map, which I’d shoved into my pocket during my elfish detainment, and instead trusted my rescuer not to lead me astray. His friends, er, troupe, fanned out and watched the trees around us – for what or who, God only knew.
For once, it was nice to meet the kind of guy who could carry a whole conversation himself. He talked about his great and powerful broadsword – it sounded more to me like he was talking about the merits of his manhood, but I kept it professional. Which means I did not snigger or make any jokes. My recent experience had highlighted the fact that I was obviously the minority here.
I was only an hour from the city limits, but I’d never experienced anything like this in my life. It felt like waking up in a foreign country. Did Ralph accost helpless kitchen maids? I hoped not. So far, this had been an odder experience than I’d anticipated, and that was saying something.
As we rounded one last stand of trees, I could also see a cabin and cooking shack, in front of which a few cooking fires were already burning. Needless to say, I’d never been so thankful to see a black cauldron hanging over a smouldering fire.
“Thanks for your assistance, kind sir.” I took my belongings back from Ivan and scampered off as fast as my thirty-eight-year-old legs in floor-length homespun would let me.
“I’m not a sir, milady, I’m a scoundrel,” he called after my departing backside. His troupe laughed as I entered the Out-of-play area, and I’d no doubt my face was a flaming mask of mortification.
Okay, this happened. I got home to find THE package in my mailbox. The long-awaited physical manifestation of a three year journey.
I just knew it was my book, but did I take it out of the mailbox? Nope. Instead I wiped the spiderwebs off the mailbox (we have this insane spider problem, but let's leave it at that) and took a picture.
Then I let the dogs outside and went to pick the kidlets up at school. There was just no way I was opening that puppy by myself.
Thanks to my fan base, I have this sweet video to share with you. Yippee!
I've had another fun first: an opportunity to guest blog on another writer's website. Thank you to Jennifer Wilson and her historical travel-book-blog: Sunday Sojourns. Jennifer's debut novel, Kindred Spirits: Tower of London, was published in 2015 by Crooked Cat Publishing. I'm looking forward to Jennifer's post on my unblog later this month. She'll be telling us about an inspiring character who features in her book: Anne Boleyn...or rather, Anne's ghost!
In my Sunday Sojourns post I take readers on a guided adventure of Kananaskis Country. Kananaskis is a popular recreation area near where I live. It also happens to be a significant destination in Out Of Play, available now for preorder. You can read more here.
10. My mother was right. If I never say it again, I’ve at least said it here. It was six years ago when she first told me I should write a book. And what did I say? “Ya, right. I could never do that.” Yet here I am, less than three weeks before the launch of Out Of Play. Mom was right. That time. But the home-haircut craze in grade two? That was not right. That was horribly wrong.
9. The world is a good place. People you’ve never met will help you. They might even say remarkable things about your book. I’ve received several reviews already, NICE reviews. From people I’ve never met. People I’ve never bought a coffee for, or watched kids for, or bailed out of a department store backroom after getting caught shoplifting (you’re welcome, Keri) for. Granted, Keri was young. And blood-related.
8. People are excited for me! Like, really excited!
7. Writers aren’t always good with words. Take me, for example. When these excited people ask about the book, you would think I could describe it. I wrote it. I rewrote it. I revised it. I worked with two editors making it better. I wrote the back cover blurb. And yet elevator speeches are THE WORST THING EVER!
6. The writing world is collaborative, not competitive. I have met experienced writers willing to share and support me in my journey. By providing marketing tips, revision advice, sharing tweets and facebook posts, answering questions at conferences, inviting me to events, and introducing me to other people who can help me. I'm better prepared because of the fabulous members who make up the writing community.
5. My husband has my back. He's willing to rearrange our schedule, live on a tighter budget so I have time to write, and buy me noise-cancelling headphones. He’s not, on the other hand, very supportive of the finches. Those would be the birds I purchased while he was on a weekend trip to Vegas. But you know, these things happen.
4. My children are proud of me. Embarrassingly proud.
3. My child thinks marriage is synonymous with romance. I was surprised when my amaze-balls publisher, Crooked Cat, described Out Of Play as a feel-good romance. I suppose it is. A realistic, we've-been-married-a-long-time-and-don't-always-like-each-other romance. But my daughter was not surprised at all. She said, "Of course it's a romance. It has marriage in it." Um...and she grew up in this house!! Me and the hubby must be doing something right.
2. Putting a book out into the world might lead one to developing addictive traits. You may find yourself checking for new reviews or possible sales about every seven minutes. All this addictive checking requires loads of data on your phone and it's best to make sure you've got your wifi on. If you don't, this can create other challenges (please refer to point 5). But you know: Blood in, blood out.
1. The journey is just beginning. It's never too early to start writing the next book.
Here we are during the height of Mom's haircutting craze. That's me, second to the left. Keri, the future department store adventurer, is in my mother's arms.
September 30th is a day Canadians can practice truth and reconciliation by wearing orange and thinking about Phyllis' story. The date for this annual event was in part chosen because September is the time of year when children were taken from their homes and brought to residential school.
For those who haven't hit the link to Phyllis' story, (and please do! She tells her own story better than I ever could ever re-tell it) Phyllis' shiny orange shirt was stripped from her on her first day in residential school. I know that some of us are under the impression that residential schools are old news, even ancient history. Phyllis' story occurred in 1973. If you think 1973 is a long time ago, I welcome you to take a closer look at the lines around my eyelids. Then, by all means, ask me if I agree that the 70's are ancient history.
One thing I love about storytelling is it's amazing ability to build empathy between people from different backgrounds and experiences. With that in mind, I'd like to share two book recommendations from Indigenous Canadian authors. Both have deepened my own understanding.
April Raintree by Beatrice Culleton was a book I first read while earning my bachelor of social work. The story is about two Metis sisters who are removed from their home and then subsequently grow up in foster care.
Legacy by Waubgeshig Rice was published in 2014. I had the chance to hear Mr. Rice at the Sunshine Coast Festival of the Written Arts in 2015 and he was both thoughtful and inspiring. Legacy deals with violence perpetuated against a woman and its ongoing effect on her Anishinaabe family.
What's an Unblog?
I've been told that blogs need to be updated regularly and consistently. So let's be clear: this is not a blog.