Superwoman’s Trashed Cape

Personal upheaval is something that happens. It can come as a drizzle of raindrops, or it will come as a deluge of water that will send rivers rising, roads, and highways flooding until homes are submerged in water and are swept away by the current.

The year of 2018 was a year of personal change that came all at once. Some of it was planned: my mother’s move to Ottawa that neither went smoothly or swiftly. I longed to quickly place a checkmark in that box on my to-do list, but it lingered incomplete for several months. Part of the reason for this was that unknown to me at the time, Ottawa was in the midst of a housing crisis that continues to this day.

Today in Ottawa, a small bachelor apartment will cost nine hundred dollars. When I graduated from University over a decade ago, a bachelor cost me close to six hundred dollars. I struggled at the time to pay my rent on a salary that was a little above the poverty line. I don’t know how a person who makes a similar income today can live in this city. Nevertheless, I know our housing crisis isn’t limited to Ottawa; nationally, for years, Toronto and Vancouver have both struggled with the same issue. As well, from reading various news articles, I know it’s become a wide-reaching problem across Canada; and in many other countries such as the United States and in the United Kingdom.

These two obstacles (the move and the housing shortage in Ottawa) were not insurmountable hurdles to overcome. But there was also the new monumental experience of selling my mother’s house.  The endeavor left me terrified, anxious, and frustrated in a sweeping sandstorm of emotions. As well, while I’d coordinated office moves early in my career, the relocation of my mother across hundreds of kilometers left me wide-eyed at night with terror.  I attempted to reassure myself the office moves I’d coordinated had ended, well—relatively smoothly. Surely, if I’d managed those, I could blow the cobwebs out of my brain and figure out how to move my momma to a different city.


It wasn’t easy-peasy though—it was damn hard.

Adding to this flux of tasks, I’d also committed to run a half-marathon at the end of September of that same year. A long time ago, I was a woman that would run, run, and run, and I wouldn’t let anything stop me. Pain in my knee? The solution was physiotherapy. Not enough sleep? Don’t care. I’ve got a training schedule to do! Busy week at work? Fine, I’ll get up extra early and punch out seven kilometers before I jump in the shower and get ready to go to work. Snowstorm? I’ll slip and slide along the packed snow, jump over three-foot snowbanks, and if I encounter a snow wall at an intersection, I’ll climb over it.

I was so dedicated that when my father died in February 2009, I still planned to complete a scheduled half-marathon in May of that year. My last long run of nineteen kilometers occurred on a Tuesday night less than two weeks before the half-marathon.  (Ahem, that is not when your last long run should happen.) I remember the next day well because one of my co-workers looked at me from across the room as she engaged in a conversation with a colleague, stopped mid-sentence, and blurted out in my direction as only telepathic grandmothers have done in the past with these words: “You look tired?”

Yes, I was. But nothing was going to stop me from running that race. Who cares if I missed most of February’s training, due to frequent trips across hundreds of kilometers by car to my hometown, because my dad was hospitalized due to complications from lung cancer? That was no excuse. Or, that’s what I told myself.

Then my adorable, fluffy, chocolate lab tore some ligaments in my shoulder when we were playing ball-ball eight days before my race. It wasn’t his fault, but mine. I didn’t trust him. When I threw the ball, and he bumped it with his chubby black snout, the nose-bump caused the ball-ball to roll a little further away from him. He did what a good Labrador does—he chased it. I hung on to the retractable leash as my thirteen-month fluff-bum Pup tugged and launched me into the air. A second later, I crashed to the ground and landed with a thud on my shoulder. This was followed by a yelp of, “*insert common expletive here that starts with F!*” as an explosive pain swept through my shoulder that caused me to become nauseous and dizzy.

I lumbered towards an unknown neighbor who happened to be on her phone at the time, gave her my husband’s number with instructions to tell him he needed to pick up me, and Mr. I Broke Mommy. Even as I collapsed on the grass and continued to clasp that retractable leash tightly in agony with MIBM’s butt in my face, I already began to plot my next move and reassured myself with: I can still run.

I didn’t run that race though because when I walked, rolled over in bed, tried to reach for anything, the pain would tear through my shoulder and across my back as if someone had stabbed me with a nine-inch blade. That was the first race I ever missed.

Skip to a few years later, when I dropped out of races as a regular occurrence. My top five reasons might include:

  • We really can’t afford to go to Toronto so that I can run (another) half-marathon because one of us is out of a job, and the other person is now under the threat that their position has a ninety percent probability of going the way of the dodo. Pass
  • I can do a Ten Kilometer Race in my sleep. Pass
  • Here in Ottawa, on a frigid February day, it’s snowing. Again. Pass
  • Someone’s dead: mother-in-law, brother, friend… Pass
  • Not feeling it today. Pass

Family and friends called me out on my commitment to sign up for races, and then my non-commitment to actually run them. In response to a few comments made to me, I put my common sense aside and started to run again. This time I would swing back in the other direction. Nothing would stop me from running a race.

When the mercury soared in May 2016 on the day of a scheduled half-marathon, and I’d barely done any training because I’d lost a friend in April, (Hey, what do you want? It’s a daily battle when you lose someone you love.) I laced up my shoes. My husband bounced around me and said, “Maybe, it’s not a good idea? Maybe, you should sit this one out?” With my head held high and a laugh, I pinned my race bib number on my shirt, grabbed my car keys, and headed out the door for my race.

At two kilometers, I was surprised I was already tired. I rationalized with myself it was only another nineteen kilometers and change to go.


At the ten kilometer mark, a bitter taste swept through my mouth as I felt the blood drain from my face. The heat and humidity scorched me that day. I rubbed my hands over my temples in a miserable attempt to smooth out a headache. I brushed the salty sweat from my cheeks. I remember two volunteers stared at me with a smile of pity on their faces as they said, “How are you doing?”

I rolled my shoulders back, straightened my spine, and pushed my legs forward as I hobbled briskly past them with a huff of, “I’m doing fine!” I ran as fast as I could (I believe the tortoise past me) before the volunteers had a chance to call the paramedics and yank me from the course.

I did not die that day. You would think I would have learned something. I did not.

I should have dropped out of that scheduled race in September 2018. Truth is, the echoed words of the Quitter Ghost I was, haunted me. As well, I never completed a “sanity check” on tackling a new goal because my mind was already too busy problem-solving while I folded laundry, drove, bought groceries, and—on training runs.

The first day I ran and fell on my face (literally), it was post-appointment with my Cardiologist in May 2018. I was angry with him because I’d spent six months worried about my heart, received a couple of conflicting test results that he explained as “inaccurate,” and then he announced, “Enjoy your summer.”  The implied meaning: Stop worrying. You’re all good.

I decided on that run the Cardiologist was partly right: because I had low blood pressure and normal cholesterol levels, I wasn’t a candidate for heart disease. However, I also realized that if he’d missed something, I needed to fix my eating and exercise habits.  At that very moment, I decided running was no longer an “optional” hobby—it was a requirement for my health.

Then after I made that decision, I stumbled over my feet at my six-hour marathon pace. My body leaned forward. I wobbled. In a final, brave attempt to protect myself, I stretched both hands out as this thought surged through my brain: Holy sh*t! This is going to hurt!

I hit the paved road and skidded. My sunglasses flew off my face and fell ten feet from where the rest of me landed. Finally, the right side of my forehead smacked against the concrete. Pain ricocheted to my neck. Blood poured from both knees and elbows. Chunks of gravel that were mixed in on the road tore a piece of skin off my palm, and it flopped around. I did what any reasonable adult would do—I pushed on the loose skin. It bled. It also—hurt like hell.

That was the first time I fell down on a training run. It was mid-May.

Not long after, my hubby and I faced new problems. We went to have dinner one night with my husband’s father and noticed a yellow tinge coated his skin and the whites of his eyes. My husband and I blinked at him. He was jaundice and had failed to see it. A few months later, my father-in-law would be diagnosed with bile duct cancer—an aggressive and rare form of the disease.

Around the end of July, while my brain worked on moving around all the pieces of my puzzling life, I stumbled again on a training run. I managed not to hit my head on the pavement. But those barely healed elbows and knees dripped with crimson again. As I peeled myself off the road at a three-way intersection and limped away, I muttered for a bit, before I threw my head back and erupted into snorts of laughter. I decided at that moment that if there were a third fall, I might not be so lucky. Once I was home, and after I tended to my bleeding bits, I transferred to the Ten Kilometer Race.

It took two falls for me to realize that I may have over-committed myself to that half-marathon. Yet, throughout the final part of 2018 and the beginning of 2019, I still missed the bigger picture.

My pace sped up to supersonic speed as I attempted to help my mother settle into a new city; support my husband after my father-in-law passed away following an operation meant to extend his life a little, ended up taking it instead; walk that same tendon-pulling lab on at least two walks a day; keep our house tidy so luggage-packing vermin don’t make it their new “home”; work on my writing; meet with my friends so they know they’re important to me; maintain some level of exercise, and on, and on it went….

I tried to keep the pace up by multitasking more often, by doing three or four things at once as opposed to just two, by getting less sleep—by using every second of the day as efficiently as I could. My body in response to this non-stop to-do list responded: I would get chest pains and tightness in my throat when I thought about being late for work; my left eye twitched at random times; when I forgot to do something I would (or wanted to) cry; when I sat down to write, my stories were littered with run-on and incomplete sentences, common spelling mistakes, and I struggled to remember how to spell simple words. One evening when I attempted to write a query letter to a literary agent, I blinked at my monitor after I typed the word quankered.  I shook my head in frustration. I googled the word, but it took some time because I didn’t even have the first letter right.

The word I meant to type was—CONQUERED.

I realized something in the summer of 2019: I couldn’t do it all.

I know some people will say they can do more than me, and they don’t understand what my issue is. Some will also say, “I need to employ better time-management skills.”

Those people are correct. 

What I also know is that I need to make choices. Decisions, that are neither easy or ones without consequences. Some of the changes in my life revolve around applying better “time-management skills”; others require me to be more assertive and say, “Sorry, I just can’t do it.”

In the fall of 2019, the most significant decision I made was to leave my full-time position. For me, I realized that after eight years of working full-time and writing on the side, I couldn’t do both anymore. If I wanted to improve in my craft I needed to take courses, commit more time to edits, market my blog, attend writing conferences, create more short stories, and build other manuscripts. I already didn’t have the time to do the things I had to do. Where would I find the hours needed to do all the other tasks that would allow me the smallest chance of success in a very competitive industry?

There’s no guarantee of success. I know that. But, dropping down to one full-time job was the right decision for me at this point in my life. I’m one hundred percent certain of my choice for this reason: This Superwoman’s tired—and that’s why I’ve decided—to trash my cape.

The Birth of “Dragon in the Mirror”

I’ve read that readers like to know how authors come up with their stories. And for this reason, I planned to reveal where the concept for my original short story, “Dragon in the Mirror,” was created from that was released in 2016. I planned to write this blog post in late December and then found I had better things to do like break down old boxes, clean the fridge, and work on new projects.

Procrastination took over me and then the non-existent post haunted me. I finally attempted to write this post again in earlier January and found that I started several times, stopped, and then threw out multiple versions. As time passed, I found that I snapped at my husband more frequently, began to forget things, and was distracted as I combed through my memories and drudged up events to include in this post. One morning, I sobbed in the shower as I considered whether a YouTube video might be easier. I realized at that moment, it wouldn’t.

This blog post was difficult for me to write on many levels and I know I can’t address all the reasons in a single post. The overwhelming reason though, is that slithering in the back of my mind a question will always haunt me and it’s this: Did I do all that I could to help my family?

Let’s first go back to the original question about where my stories come from. Short stories for me will sometimes appear out of nothing.  I will begin to scribble into a notebook (or sometimes with fingers tapping on my keyboard), and the words will roll into each other that will form words, sentences, characters, and a plotline.  Occasionally, a novel may begin this way too.

However, other times, the ideas are a combination between reality and fantasy; a mixture of traits molded together to manifest a quirky character or in the case of “Dragon in the Mirror,” a terrified and powerless seven-year-old girl who watches as her parents sink into financial and emotional depression who’s named Jayden.

My childhood was riddled with both high and low moments. We were comfortable as far as I remember, for much of my preteen years where my father worked as a Construction Worker and my mother as a Poultry Farm Manager. Then when I was sixteen-years-old, our situation changed when a recession strangled Canada and hit the area I lived in with high unemployment.

The fallout was that my father, the Construction Worker, lost his job. I was not Jayden, the seven-year-old girl we first met in the short story, “Dragon in the Mirror,” who was helpless and couldn’t do anything to ease her parent’s financial burden. Instead, as a teenager, I walked along the thin line between teenager and child that resulted in me flipping back and forth between helping, whining, and being angry about how unfair life was. To this day, I have moments when I’m proud of the teenage girl I was; while at the same time, preferring to hide my face in shame at some of the words I said to my father.

How did my father’s job loss impact me? There were times when our fridge was nearly empty and basic toiletries were depleted.  I remember on paydays, there was a sense of jubilation in the air when my dad, mom, or I got paid because it meant we could buy a few groceries. When the muffler on the car went, my father would fall silent, or would sometimes explode in a fit of frustration. There was also a time when my parents lived without heat in their house.  There were many days my father sat at the dining room table and counted the money he had in his wallet and then would turn and stare blankly out the window. Repeated attempts at asking a question would be met with continued silence from him, and when he finally answered the question, it was a meager reply.

The recession ended eventually but for my parents, their financial worries never went away. For them, financial instability lingered and swelled like a boil over time and was compounded by other events that happened later.

I would like to say I was the perfect teenager. Truth is, I was, at times, exceedingly selfish. Embarrassingly now, I remember one time we went to the mall to go shopping and I stared at a dolphin poster for some time as I contemplated whether I should purchase it. My father looked at it and said we couldn’t afford it. I snapped back, “I can afford it!”

Then there was the time I accused my father of purposely preventing me from getting my driver’s license because he didn’t want me to drive. (I was playing the girl card because my family wasn’t always very liberal towards females. But my father always supported me and encouraged me to pursue a university education. So even back then, I should have realized this wasn’t the case.) Somewhere along the way, either that day or another day, it came out that my father simply didn’t have the money to pay for my driving lessons like he did for my brother a few years earlier. Those are just two examples. I’m sure if I thought about it long enough, there are many more situations that would make me want to run away and hide.

I did feel guilty, though. Guilt for wanting things, for expecting anything from my parents who gave me more than they ever should have, and remorse for attending University in a city that was more than six hundred kilometers from my parents. Briefly, during my university years, I’d thought about dropping out of school so that I could go home and find a job to help my parents financially. When I confessed this to my father, who had borrowed money to send me when my Student Loan funds were gone, he said, “Help yourself first, and then you can help others.”

At eighteen, I left home to go to University, and from that moment on, I frequently cried because I believed my father would die of lung cancer. My father knew my worries and joked, “I’ll probably outlive you.”

One Thanksgiving weekend, a few years after I’d completed University and was married and settled in a different city, I’d returned home for the holiday. I remember a moment when I drove up the driveway and saw my father as he slowly walked out of the front door. There was that familiar distant look in his eye and he also held a hand to his chest. But, there was something else about that moment that left me unsettled; a concern that after years of struggle, my father might have felt no one cared about him.

So, to show our appreciation, I spoke to my mother and brother, and a plan was hatched to throw him a surprise party in the spring of the following year for his birthday. The plan went as planned; almost, perfectly so. My father, overwhelmed and grateful, shifted uncomfortably at the large number of people who gathered to surprise him made up of family and friends. It was a day to celebrate. Repeatedly he asked, “When did you guys plan this?” in his worn work clothes.

Hurrah!!! We had done it! We had shown the man we cared!

My father would die eleven months later of lung cancer.

I’m convinced poverty kills. It kills people through prolonged stress that leads to poor eating habits and results in an increased risk of cancer and heart disease. Or, it will kill more directly through the consumption of cigarettes and/or alcohol that makes it more difficult to quit because of ongoing stress. (Yes, my father was a chain-smoker.) Those are just two examples.  I’m aware, there are many more.

This is where the original concept for “Dragon in the Mirror” came from—from witnessing my parent’s struggle to choose between necessities. The full-length novel continues to address poverty through Jayden however, it tackles many other themes as well.

But if I had to summarize though, I would say “Dragon in the Mirror,” was my attempt to communicate how heart-breaking and devastating poverty can be—especially when viewed through the eyes of a child.

Why Am I Afraid?

This is how this blog post was to begin:

“Prisoner 45769, you understand the reason why you’re here?”

And then, all the clear thoughts that I’ve had in the last few days related to that story disintegrated into a thousand dusty parts and were carried away to the Land Without Imagination.

I have absolutely no idea why.

But, that’s not true. I know why. My brain’s doing that thing it does: When the stakes are high, it stops being able to work through problems, re-evaluate plans, or find a way out.  My fingers become clumpy and I spend more time hitting the backspace key than putting letters on a screen that might make up a story.

This same “brain freeze” happened to me in University when I wrote my first-year exams and it suddenly occurred to me, Okay, if I don’t pass this test, it’s game over for me. The professors already said half of us won’t be here next year.  Then, I would uncomfortably shift in my chair. I would cross and uncross my legs. Frantically, I would look down at my watch as my throat tightened and my heart pounded in my chest. In desperation, I’d flip through the pages to see how many questions I had to complete, and hunt for easy questions I could answer as the digital numbers crept closer to the end time. Most of the time, my brain unfroze. But sometimes, it didn’t.

Why can’t I write now? Writer’s block?  Maybe. If I were to guess though, I think it has something to do with the fact that I’ve gambled everything I have on a writing career. Both feet are in, and I’m one hundred percent committed to making this work. Savings, be damned. Except now that I’ve given everything up, what happens if I fail? Then what?

Transitions are hard. When I first started writing, the same terror swept across my keyboard when I tried to write the first words for a novel and I just sat there. Then slowly, like a teetering toddler standing on their tippy-toes taking their first steps, I wrote one word and strung them together to form complete sentences and built chapters. A year later, I had a complete manuscript.

Cold sweats drenched my body again when my first manuscript was passed to an editor for review; when I submitted my first short story to a literary journal; and when I drafted query letters to literary agents; and built packages for publishers. Once again, I felt this same level of trepidation before hitting the “publish” button on my first blog post. (Some successes with each new step taken, but a lot of rejection too. And none of this scares me anymore.)

The writing fear becomes overwhelming, whenever I take another fearful step forward. My problem is this: I don’t do well with going nowhere. Going in reverse also doesn’t make me happy.  So, at this point, I have no choice, but to move forward.

I know that right now, I’m struggling to create. What I didn’t realize in University was that my Degree didn’t hinge on just one test.  It was a combination of different parts: writing assignments, tests, exams and showing up to classes.  The mix of all these things, and working hard at them, meant that I did earn my Degree. I have my suspicions that writing might be along the same lines. Some days are easy with words built on one another in a rhythmic movement. Other days, other times, in particular when I face crossing an old rickety rope bridge over ocean waves that smash against rocks, it might be that I need to lift one shaking toe forward before I take one full step.

Stop. Start. Try Again.

It’s a weaving road, this writing journey.  There are no markers, or signs, that I’m getting close to the end. Instead, I feel like I’m trapped in a forest, I’ve lost my compass (which is double fun for me because I don’t know how to use one!) and I keep passing the same dead tree, over and over again. It’s the only sign, that I’m going nowhere.

I’ve heard of various ways, writers have become successful. There are writers who have had a blog or Twitter feed go viral and from there, they secured a literary agent; some have written an article that got them noticed by those in the publishing word; finally, there are those who wrote a book and it became a Best Seller, either through traditional, or self-publishing.

I’m at a point now, where I’m not certain the method I’ve used in the past, is still working for me. It might be time to find out if there’s a better way to do things. Shall I take a course? Apply for an MFA? (Will they accept me?) Work on building a platform? Attend Writing Conferences? (Full-disclosure, I attended one recently, and it was wonderful just to be around other writers! That alone, might be worth it.) Or, dare I, self-publish my book?

I’m currently, still in a holding pattern, at least for the next few months. But while I’m waiting, I think I’ll learn how to read that compass. At least then, I’ll have a better chance of finding my way out of the forest.

If that doesn’t work for me, I’ll find another way. After all, I know there’s more than one path to success.

Book Trailers?

I scrunched my face at the screen. Movie trailers, yes, of course. But – Book Trailers? I’d never heard of such a thing before. When I purchased Sophie Kinsella’s, Twenties Girl, I didn’t see a Book Trailer when I bought it.  And when I stumbled my way into Chapters and bought Neil Pasricha’s, The Book of Awesome, there was no five minute YouTube video where snippets from the book were flashed across my computer screen of the wonderful day-to-day moments that the book would highlight.

No. For me, I made my decisions by thumbing through the pages and thought: Hmmm, this looks interesting?  Shortly thereafter: ***Giggles***

That’s how I choose my books 9 times out of 10.

“I won’t do it.” I announced to my monitor screen as my top molars bit down on my back molars and worked to reduce the height of them a little more.  My jaw locked. I scowled.

Then the insecure side of my brain, Lesser-Than-I-Think-Of-Me, asked: Why, not?

Why, not? You’ve got to be kidding me?”  I retorted. “How would that happen? Oh my god, who would do the acting? The filming? How would I even put the thing together?”

You, Lesser-Than-I-Think-Of-Me announced.

“Me? I don’t know how to do it!”

Of course, you do, Lesser-Than-I-Think-Of-Me answered. You’ve done all those videos of picture collages that are put to music for birthday videos and for your other blog, Pushing Boundaries. You can do it. 

Arrogant-Me stood strong. You need to make her go away, she stated matter-of-factly.  You have other writing things to focus on. Don’t waste your time with a Book Trailer.

So, we did what we do best. We closed the browser and walked away because Arrogant-Me was on my side, and I knew it. If people are going to buy my book, they’ll buy it based on what’s written. I held my head up as I walked down the stairs proudly and said, “I won’t do it. What a waste of time that will be.”


Over the next days and weeks, my fingers clicked on the Google search button and I typed, “Book Trailers” and I  saw some videos put together beautifully with acting, music, and words that were meant to intrigue a potential reader into buying the book.

It’s marketing, Lesser-Than-I-Think-of-Me said.

“I know,” I said as I slumped down at my desk.

You don’t tend to do a lot of marketing. How will people know about the book if they don’t see it?

“How am I going to do that? I can’t act. I’m not multi-talented. I can’t do everything!” I exclaimed to Lesser-Than-I-Think-of-Me. My eyebrows scrunched together as my heart played that game it does of jump rope causing me to break into a sweat.

Oh, Lesser-Than-I-Think-of-Me said. Any chance you’re afraid of marketing your work? Maybe, you feel you’re not good enough?


Arrogant-Me: You can’t hire a well-known actor to play Wyndham for the book trailer.  They’ll never come to Ottawa in December because there’s too much snow and it’s FREEZING here.  Also, you have two more problems:

1) You don’t know any well-known actors.  

2) You can’t pay them.   

“Arrogant-Me, I thought you were on my side? You’re the part of me that should convince me I can do anything.”


“Aren’t you?”


Music, words, and the cover of the book…and I’ve loaded it on Goodreads and YouTube.

I’ve decided I can’t be only ¼ brave anymore with my writing. Both of my feet need to be in this game and I need to jump, and no matter what happens – I know I’ve done everything I can to fly.

The Thief


I’m standing in the middle of a winter storm with northerly winds that kick icy flakes into my face scratching my cheeks and stinging my eyes.  Twirling snow dances across the pavement. In the air, the snowflakes link hands together creating white-out conditions. It’s terrifying – because when I’m brave enough to raise my eyes and face the assault of icy air again, I can’t see a thing in front of me. The road has disappeared. There’s nothing in front of me, or behind me. The world has vanished.

I’m waiting for it to stop: that moment when the sun will slide through a cloud and like a flashlight illuminate the faint outlines of buildings and reveal snow covered draped trees to me again. Even for the briefest of moments, would make all the difference in the world: it would be a reassurance that this storm will end.

I’ve been asked what I would do when this happened to me: the moment when writer’s block sets in, and like a thief that’s tip-toed through my home when I wasn’t there stole my dictionary, thesaurus, and in a final assault on my creativity – walked off with my computer in the middle of the night. The bandit has stolen everything I could use to put words together, whether it is on paper, or in a blog post.

In all honesty, I can’t remember the answer I gave to this problem. But I suspect knowing me, I would have used my running experience and said something such as, “I would write over it. Keep writing, no matter what! And then hope, that someday the words would come easier again.”

The experience of running has taught me that sometimes, I need to push on and over, the most difficult days. Not every training day will offer sunny skies, seventy degree Celsius temperatures, and tank top and short-wearing weather.  Some days will be minus thirty-five degree Celsius temperatures, layered clothing, steamed glasses, and ice buildup on my eyebrows, hair and lashes. But those are the days I know I need to get out the door and do the best I can, with the conditions I’m given.

But I don’t always keep running in a race. Sometimes I’ll slow down, walk it out, and wait for the pain in my calf to subside (ditto for nausea). I know this to be true: sometimes I need a little break so that I can return to my 10 KM run, half-marathon, or marathon race stronger than I was a few moments ago. Ultimately, for me at least, what matters most is crossing the finish line.

Writer’s block haunts me. It slithers in the shadows and reappears in the most terrifying and most unexpected times.  It waits for me. Sometimes when I’m at my strongest mentally; and sometimes when I’m at my weakest. It’s stalked me so many times: inching it’s way closer when I wasn’t watching, forcing me to keep my eyes open longer resulting in too many late nights and scrambled thoughts. Then before I even knew what was happening, my ideas and ability to weave stories together had vanished.

In this community I won’t lie to you, there are times I’m scared I may never be able to write another story again. (To those on the outside, I’ll say something different.) Those are the moments I reach for the switch in a room and attempt to illuminate the darkness. When my fingertips hit the light switch and I hear the “click” I’m slightly relieved – relieved, until nothing happens. Because now I know, I’m in the middle of a power outage.

After scrambling around trying to find the one lighter I own in my house, I light a candle and watch the glow because nothing else works. I can’t make toast or coffee, there’s no TV or radio, and if the power outage lasts long enough, I’ll run out of hot water.   Now I know there are some things I should do during a power outage: buy bottled water, batteries, and flashlights; and keep the fridge door closed to prevent food from spoiling. Other than that, I need to wait.

I’ve faced writer’s block before: sleep-deprivation, viruses, injuries, and personal life upheaval have been some of my enemies. With all these factors, when my mind struggles to take care of day-to-day tasks it saps my creativity. My brain busy building to-do lists, for to-do lists, has no room to build heroes and plotlines.

But I continue to move forward as much as I can through it. In those moments when I find I can’t create something new, I’ll work on something old, revise my manuscript, or work on marketing material. Above all else, I keep working, no matter what. My fear is this: If I stop working too long, the ever-present negative naysayer in me will grow louder and my writing adventure might be over.

Eventually, I know the winter storm will stop and I’ll hear the hum of the fridge starting again. With this sign, I’ll flick the switch and the darkness will end with light. Normally when the power returns, the thief shows up on my front step with my dictionary and thesaurus, and good guy that he is, he’ll even help me set my computer up again.  With my coffee pot percolating, and my toaster toasting, I watch as new and old characters walk through my door and my world-building begins once more.

Keep Writing.

I have a confession: I sometimes get discouraged with this writing quest.  The epic battle for me commenced some seven years ago when I finally sat down with my weapons: computer, paper, pens; and a notebook to scribble writing-related-to-do lists, ideas for stories, and sometimes a part of my in-progress manuscript. (Oh, how I love thee Staples, supplier of writing essentials!) I had decided that was it: I was going to commit to writing.

In my early twenties and early thirties, I picked up writing a few times and then quickly threw it aside at various points in my life foregoing the writing adventure because it seemed impossibly difficult with a zero chance of success. I did not have a Journalism Degree. Neither had I majored in English Literature. Those were the people who wrote books: Not Administrative Assistants.  So I focused my aspirations on my full time job and with making time for family and friends.

By my late thirties multiple personal struggles had battered me but did not break me: changing jobs multiple times, my father’s death from lung cancer, and my brother’s accident that left him paralyzed transformed my outlook on life and made me realize whatever you want to do – do it now. Tomorrow is always the unknown.

After that, I diligently plopped my butt in my chair in front of my computer and within a year I produced a manuscript. I sent the manuscript to Literary Agents and some Publishers. They all rejected it. Then I thought perhaps I needed some help and recruited an Editor.

I thought I was on to something. I thought my stuff was funny and brilliant. My husband never finished reading the draft copy of the manuscript I gave him.  That should have been a clue. And what did the Editor say about my version of the next Time Travelling Best Seller? Well, it was far from being a Best Seller with more comments and red through the Word Document than I care to mention in this blog post.

What little ego I had, was bruised. (I swing wildly between 5% of the time thinking I’m the next J.K. Rowling, to the other 95% of the time wondering: What the heck am I doing?) Discouraged, I stepped back again. I spent some time licking my wounds and feeling sorry for myself. But oddly enough, I never stopped writing.

Then, I began writing short stories, accumulating a few, and then thought about creating a manuscript based on the stories that I’d created. I put a collection of short stories together and once it was complete, I went through the time-consuming process of researching Publishers that might consider it. I tailored each package based on the submission guidelines, shipped off the packages, chewed my fingernails, and waited. My second attempt to be published with a Publisher and I was rejected. Repeatedly.

BUT. There’s always a BUT. One Publisher sent me a hand-written rejection and the part that I (perhaps naively) focused on in the letter was this:

“But I would encourage you to keep working on this, and to keep showing it to other publishers.”

I received his letter around Christmas in 2014. When I read that part of the rejection, I danced around the dining room table. I’ve never been sure if my writing is good or not. And even today, doubts still linger. However, from the Editor’s hand-written few words on that note, I decided I would pick the strongest story in 1500 Words or Less: A Collection of Short Stories and send it off to a neutral third party (the Editor I had used to review my first manuscript was a friend) to get an honest opinion of my work. I paid for the review, critique, and revisions that came with it.

When I received the detailed write-up from this neutral third party I noticed she pointed out flaws in the story: incorrectly chosen words, punctuation errors, and she provided recommendations on how to improve the story. Overall though, she loved it, and thought I was a good writer.

The validation from the Editor provided some confirmation that I should continue with my writing. I would love to say that 1500 Words or Less was published by a big name Publisher. But that would be a lie. And above all else, I pride myself on telling the truth.

After more than a year of submissions, I decided to self-publish 1500 Words or Less. I would like to say my self-publishing endeavour became an overnight success and I became a New York Times Best Selling Author. But that would be the Fiction Writer in me that wrote that line in this blog post.

What have I accomplished in my quest to write? I’ve written MANY short stories, some better than others, and some of those tales even found homes in Literary Journals. I’ve created two different blogs with one that ran from 2016 to 2017 titled, Pushing Boundaries; the second is this one, Tortuous Tales. Then there is the research I’ve had to do on each Publisher, How to Draft Cover Letters, Synopsis and Query Letters. Finally, while my knowledge in this area is very limited: I’ve learned a little on how to market my stories. I’ve self-published three short stories on my own, and the collection of stories titled, 1500 Words or Less.  I’ve learned a lot.

A couple of months ago burnt out and high-strung after facing an onslaught of personal upheaval that lasted for nearly six months (because that’s the way it goes), I placed twenty pieces of paper in a hat. There were ten pieces of paper that said, “QUIT” and another ten that said, “KEEP WRITING”.  I know this next part sounds ridiculous. But I took the hat and shook the pieces of paper around. While I was doing this, I was emotionally distraught with anger and sadness at finally slamming the door on my impossible dream.  With twitching fingers, I grabbed the piece of paper and opened it to crinkled words expecting to see the word: QUIT.

But that’s not what it said. I breathed a sigh of relief when the Universe said, “KEEP WRITING”.

I know the Universe hasn’t decided that I’m a super-talented writer weaving magical words together that will reshape borders and save lives.  But maybe the Universe knows what I might have already known before I reached in and grabbed that piece of paper: that for me quitting is no longer an option. My life has already been rewritten, and I must KEEP WRITING.

I kept that rejection letter from the Publisher from 2014. Occasionally I’ll pull it out and read the words again. I also kept all the other template rejections as well as the ones that said, we enjoyed/were impressed by your writing. The template rejections remind me of how hard I’ve already worked, and how much time I’ve already committed to this endeavour. On other days when I doubt myself, I’ll find and read again the personally written rejections where the Editor ultimately rejected the story, but thought my writing was still good.

I also kept that piece of paper that said, “Keep Writing.” It’s taped on a wall next to my computer. It serves as a reminder that I had one day where I thought of giving it up and how unhappy that thought made me feel.

It also encourages me to always: keep writing.



Be Happy

“I want to be happy.”

It’s not a question, or a statement that ends with an exclamation mark. It’s not said with a red flushed face full of rage, and clenched fists by my side. Nor is it said with childhood giggles of naivety, and dreams of white unicorns, and rainbows at the end of every road.

I say, “I want to be happy,” as a goal that I reach for in the background of my mind. It’s something I raise my hands in the air towards, and stand on tippy toes to give me an inch of extra height, in the hopes I may reach it.

I’m old enough now, to know what doesn’t make me happy.  Reluctantly, I admit that what I’ve heard in darkened corners of doorways, and with whispered breath, turned out to be true: “It’s not about the money.”

Money is necessary. I’ve struggled financially. I know money allows me to purchase food to fill my fridge and cupboards, to keep the heat turned on, and a roof over my head. I know it allows me to replace worn out shoes, and tattered clothes when needed.

But for me, once those basic needs were met, I found myself spending money on frivolous items that brought me only temporary happiness.  Manicures. Pedicures. Facials. I would purchase clothes in a credit splurge only to realize once I was home, I never liked the colours, or the fit of the garments at all. The cast off clothes would collect dust (quite literally) until finally in a springtime purge I would reach into my closet, and pull the never or rarely worn shirts, pants, and dresses out. Forcing the items into a black garbage bag, I would haul them to my local donation box. I always hoped the discarded items saw more light with someone else, than they did with me.

Other things that I dislike: being stuck in traffic with cars lined up as if we’re all fleeing some natural disaster that’s about to strike. I’ve also found my happiness dial moves in the opposite direction, when I find myself in a perpetual five mile marathon pace rushing from one errand, or event, to another.  I’m impatient. What that means is that I get irritable and sullen when I’m stuck: whether it’s in writing a conclusion to a story, or in a long line-up, you’ll find me shifting from foot to foot, muttering under my breath, “Come on, already!”

I live to hang out with my husband and dog, reclined on my back deck, with a glass of white wine in my hand as we talk about our plans for the future, or where we’ve already been. I enjoy spending time with family and friends; whether the gathering is in a local coffee shop, in a restaurant sharing a meal, or on a walk through the woods on a crisp winter’s day with new fallen snow, you are guaranteed I am content.  I relish good food made at home, and if I’ve managed to make fresh bread, you can be certain that between mouthfuls of hot, spongy, white deliciousness, you’ll find a smile on my face.

Then there’s my passion: writing. I consume huge amounts of time on this “hobby” (and paper) with no guarantee of a rainbow at the end of it. But it’s the one area where I have a voice, and I am in control of the story. My protagonists can be brave, witty, strong, or smart. The challenge they must overcome can be small or large. I can make the characters similar to me, or completely different. And sometimes I may write something, some shared experience, that many people can relate to, and connects many of us together.

These characters in my mind, the places I create – they make me happy when I get the chance to unlock them, and place them on screens, or paper, and share the tales with readers. All the sweat and tears, (yes, I sometimes sweat when I write) all the late nights, all the money invested in books and revisions, is worth it because this endeavour gives me a sense of satisfaction, fulfillment, contentment, and most of all – happiness.