Those of you who know me are aware that I'm working on a film with some friends of mine. For years I've referred to this screenplay as 'the hockey film,' simply because it's a quick way of referencing one of the subjects covered. Essentially what the story is really about is brothers, and family, and how the men in one broken family reconnect after years of estrangement brought on by one very bad day.Read More
Around 2 p.m. this past Sunday, I finally forced myself into my old SUV and pointed it away from my summer sanctuary, the campground where Steve and I had parked our ancient fifth-wheel for the last four months. I'd been fighting the inevitable - that the short Prince Edward Island summer was officially over, that the hot summer days and peaceful sunset walks along the beach had come to a close.Read More
SOME of you know that I like to use family names in my books. Back when I wrote my first (as yet unpublished) novel, A Certain Kind Of Freedom, I decided, almost on a whim, to select family names for different characters. But, until recently, I didn’t realize the impact this seemingly haphazard choice would have - on me, and on my family members. Maybe this was because I didn’t think family would take any interest in the books – the Drifters series is, after all, women’s fiction with an angsty romantic flair, which isn’t, let’s face it, everyone’s chosen genre. Or maybe the decision to use family names was such a casual thing at the time that I didn’t think much beyond the obvious, which was, ‘oh let’s have fun and throw some family names in there.’
Let me explain further.
My dad moved our family to Prince Edward Island when I was four months old. He was a teacher, and he came in search of a job. We were Mahoneys then; a motley crew of four rambunctious, creative kids and two dedicated parents who carved ourselves a place on our beloved island of red mud and patchwork fields. Our parents came from New Brunswick (I was born in Perth-Andover, a hamlet on the Tobique River that generally floods around the time of my birthday, which explains SO much). My dad spent his childhood in Johnville (near Florenceville, the home of the famous McCains); as a child, my mom raised a passel of soft white bunnies in the rural landscape of Norton, between Sussex and St. John.
As kids, us Mahoneys cherished occasional trips ‘over across’ to the mainland, to hang out in the lands of our parents…in Johnville, where we picked out tunes on the piano, where the old green screen door slammed shut behind us with a springy country twang, where we roamed the fields, went swimming in the pool in nearby Bath, where we went to the white church up the hill on Sundays (it once got hit by lightning while I was in it – that, too, explains a lot, lol). Where I won my very own doll in a raffle at the Johnville Picnic, where we patted the little black dog (what was his name?). In Norton, where we learned about ponies and horses, where we pretended the hay wagon was the saloon, where we cuddled kittens and ate full meals of farm fresh veggies, where we rode atop the hay wagon when it was loaded - nestled amongst cousins while trying to choose bales that weren’t too unstable, lest one fall over, taking a cousin or two with it - where we ran around with Tippy, Grammie’s collie, and where we played hide-and-seek in the hayloft.
So many wonderful memories, about a time of innocence and hope. About places that I don’t think I realized how much I missed until last week, when my sister Kathy and I jumped into her small Mazda and pointed it towards the Confederation Bridge (in the old days, we took the ferry…) so we could make the drive to Norton to attend my aunt’s wake.
It hit me, when I was standing amongst cousins and aunts and uncles I haven’t seen in ages (some I have not seen for decades) that we missed a lot when we grew up isolated on our island, passing holidays with board games and quiet evenings of reading, while our country relatives got together for fiddling concerts (in Johnville) or nights watching Elvis entertain from the TV in my grandparents’ cozy living room (in Norton), with grandkids / cousins flopped around the room on crocheted cushions or leaning happily against the warm oil stove.
I always felt accepted during our visits over across, then, like I belonged somewhere. I was chatty and dreamy, probably annoying and sometimes underfoot. But I was amongst people who kinda had to like me, 'cuz they were family. And they were good family. I still remember Grammie Kelly scooping ice cream for the grandkids out of the big freezer in the sunny porch. Somehow, that ice cream tasted unbelievably good. I think it had to do with the happy light in Grammie Kelly’s eyes as she handed it to me – this woman who wore thick 1940’s stockings and who taught me that kittens really love to be scratched behind the ears (my cat Oliver thanks her daily).
These days, I admit, I feel incredibly disconnected. From everyone. I’ve written about this before, and I think a lot of it has to do with our world today, with this constant stress and preoccupation with ourselves, with our own busy lives, with technology’s insistent demand for our attention. And maybe a lot of it is my fault. But I just don’t feel like any conversations ever go beyond the surface. Even with Steve. We just don’t go there. Life has become surface level and it makes me lonely.
Back to the family names in my books. There was a moment at the wake that crushed me, that made me want to grab my sister’s arm and sink to my knees. It hit me how much I need those roots, those old family roots, so I can feel like I belong somewhere again. It hit me that using those family names in my books was never really a casual thing, will never be a casual thing, and will, forevermore, be something I commit to that receives the respect those names deserve.
We were going through the line of cousins and had stopped in front of my aunt’s coffin. Judy was my mother’s younger brother’s wife. To me, she was strong, kind, caring, tolerant of a constant myriad of busy children nipping at her ankles, and nice to me - that dreamy, probably annoying kid. The kid who had hope that she would one day have a family like Judy’s – a loving husband, four or five kids. Grandkids.
Mike and Judy had each other for 49 years. Take a moment to give that number the respect it deserves. My marriage lasted less than three years. The large family I dreamed about became me as a single mom of one amazing kid. In the Drifters books, Jessie and Josh have kids. They have a network of close friends. I long for what they have. For what my aunt and uncle had. I long for what I missed.
I’m being brutally honest here because, at the moment I turned to my uncle, who was always a quiet man amongst a boisterous crowd of many, I took this in. Their longevity and what it meant, over good times and bad. At the time, I wasn’t making it about me, for what I lost, although obviously I’ve let myself dwell on this since. No, I was seeing his trembling hand on the polished wood of his wife’s coffin. I was seeing the passage of time – I was feeling the scratchy hay under my butt on a wagon being pulled along a country trail by my grampie, whose tired shoulders slumped over his old white plodding David Brown tractor as the hot August sun tanned my outdoor-kid skin.
And what do you suppose my uncle said to me, after I hugged him and mumbled some probably incoherent version of ‘I’m sorry’?
He said, “I read your first book. I hear there’s a Michael Kelly in the books.”
This was after he had to take a moment. After he turned away and more firmly gripped the edge of the coffin. After he looked upon his wife of 49 years as his four children, and some grandchildren, and many loving friends and relatives, buzzed around behind us.
I was humbled. Touched. Floored. He, of course, is named Michael Kelly. And yes, there is a Michael Kelly in my books. In book five, if you haven’t gotten that far yet. The storyline with Michael Kelly and Kelly Reilly came to me in a dream. They were going to star in their own book, but somehow they just fit into Jessie’s story. The dream was the rare kind, where I could see and feel them, as if they were real. I think in the dream I may have been Kelly – I remember sitting in an airplane, on an aisle, and looking back over my shoulder to spy Michael, sitting in the aisle opposite, a few rows back. I recall his hair – the look, the style, the texture. And I remember the feeling that washed over me. The feeling that I loved this man. So lucid, so real. In the dream, he was my manager. Whatever it meant in the dream is not of consequence now, I suppose. Kelly and Michael became fictional characters in book five.
And Michael Kelly, as readers know, is a good man. A man who survived tragedy. A man who found love, who may just get his own book someday because he is an intriguing character who captivates me.
I think he is a man who deserves his own book. And when I write it, I will give him the respect he deserves. The respect the real Michael Kelly deserves.
I pray I get to reconnect with my cousins again. I’m planning to extend an open invitation to the Kelly side to come to Prince Edward Island over a weekend this summer. I need the connection, so I hope they come because, I am guessing, perhaps some of them need the connection too. We need to find our roots again, to plant ourselves more firmly in the here and now, via the past.
Via a time of innocence and childhood wonder and hope, before life took over and left some of us lonely.
I’ll tell you what’s in a name.
Heartache, joy, laughter, love, sadness. Defeat, despair, agony, hope, ecstasy, warmth, kindness. Family. The human experience, with all of its awe and pain.
That’s what’s in a name.
So I went to a pop concert last Friday night. I couldn't help myself. I'm a music junkie. I need music in my life.
A few summers ago, I had the great pleasure of discovering one of the most entertaining, quirky bands on the planet, Walk Off The Earth (WOTE). My guy (Steve) and I had popped down to a free night of music in Charlottetown in celebration of Canada's Sesquicentennial (I'll do the math for you - that's 150 years). From the opening hum that completely energized the rambunctious crowd, til the last note died away, we were both held captive by the harmonies and on-stage antics (y'all know about the viral video featuring five band members playing one guitar). I vowed to try to see WOTE again whenever possible, so when Steve and I started planning a trip to Vancouver to visit my son, Christopher, I was happily surprised to find that Walk Off The Earth was playing in the city a few days after my birthday. The trip got booked the second we knew we could get concert tickets.
Walk Off The Earth is an incredible stage act. Their music is fun, intense - a bit poppy, I suppose. Their stage presence is choreographed the way Shakespeare focused on the use of words. Every step is weighted and sure; every movement is precise and intentional. Add the music and you've got some sweet entertainment on your hands.
The band was not the headliner. Vancouver's Marianas Trench was. Now that's a pop band, although I see they bill themselves as Emo-pop-punk (there's a handle...). I've heard many of their tunes and I like the band okay. But I was there to see Walk Off The Earth, to celebrate my birthday with music I cherish and a stage act I love; a band whose songs often inspired certain sections of my Drifters books, in fact (the Seattle concert in book eight? Rule The World. Hold On (the break)).
I knew what to expect from WOTE but I was humbled and surprised at the impact Marianas Trench had on me. It was unexpected and actually left me somewhat suspended.
The second surprise of the evening was a young artist by the name of Kieran Mercer. To my knowledge he wasn't on the bill when we booked the tix but I enjoyed his music and was happy to hear some new tunes by an up and comer, as a sort-of added bonus, I guess you could say. My son's comment about Kieran's act was that he liked his voice. As a drummer, Christopher speculated that the guy behind the skins likely had some serious jazz training, which was evident in some cool riff the guy played near the end.
"That guy has talent," Christopher said.
There was some real musicianship on the stage that night. WOTE blew us away. Marianas Trench actually left us speechless at times. MT lead singer (and writer) Josh Ramsay even left Steve humbled. Josh gave everything he had to give. And by this I mean a raw energy that I know everyone in attendance appreciated on a surface level, but I'm not sure the young girls in the crowd (yep, lotsa those) had a clue that what they were witnessing on stage was some guy pretty much bleeding on stage.
Think about it - pop music is, in many cases, swept under the rug as superficial fluff. Surely Josh Ramsay (and Kieran Mercer and Gianni and Sarah and the rest of WOTE) are not putting the poetry of Leonard Cohen on stage. Hallelujah? Don't kid yourself. I can't compare the three acts I saw Friday night to Cohen or to any other artists. But I don't need to. Each was its own special act. Everyone poured their soul onto the stage and shared, with an arena full of appreciative fans, what hurt the most. What made them tick, what made them bleed, what made them suffer.
What gave them hope.
WOTE's Home We'll Go ("You've seen the darkest skies I know") breaks my heart every time I hear it. ("Let your soul shine bright like diamonds in the sky"). If you've read my books, you can guess that when I hear this song I think of Jessie singing to Josh. I can see her reaching a hand out to him, begging him to trust her, to let her care for him. To give in, to just let himself be loved by her. So...I can't help but wonder who WOTE is singing about. Who wrote the lyrics? Who are these poignant words meant for?
I want to reach into the heart of the song and spread light and hope to whoever needs it.
Marianas Trench...well. Personally, I don't know a lot of artists who pour such angst into their music. And by this, I mean the lead singer, Josh Ramsay. Apparently he's the main writer - the other guys in the band add the icing and trim to the music Josh sends their way. And it's Josh who bleeds all over the stage. So...at the concert I sat back and soaked up the 'pop' songs I knew, but as MT continued to perform tune after tune, I found myself squinting in curiosity. And cocking my head to better hear the lyrics (no easy feat in a big open arena like Pacific Coliseum). A wave of energy swept over me when I was finally able to settle down enough to realize that Josh (and the band) were more than your average pop band. Disguised (?) in their lyrics were depths of pain and angst communicated via music that, on some levels, actually had me concerned for the singer. Sure, he was all over the stage putting on a show that included more than a few F-bombs (I cringed - my characters swear, I occasionally curse, but there were young kids present), and he did that whole 'take off his shirt and run around in leather pants' thing.
But he was revealing a nakedness that went beyond merely removing clothing.
The thing is, we need to pay attention to art, no matter how it's disguised or communicated to us. In a painting, in a book, in music. We expect to see pain in art, in the lyrics of artists who make no pretense about sharing a deeply seeded angst in their music. But we don't always look at popular music in quite that light. We bring our thirteen-year-old daughters to these pop concerts and watch them sing along. They know every word to every song. But do they get what they're seeing and hearing? Do they know this guy - the lead singer in MT - was on his knees in the dark in a Downtown Vancouver apartment for two months because his mother got sick and his mood decayed and his wedding got called off and, well, he hurt so deeply he couldn't even find the wherewithal to write songs for a while? Which, by the way, are his salvation? His creative outlet? His way of releasing his pain?
I'm not romanticizing the music of a band I didn't expect to touch me on any deep level. I'm just telling you to pay attention. Don't discount music you might think is fluff until you consider what may be behind it. Don't allow your children to listen to lyrics without teaching them to think about what they are hearing.
I get that I see and feel things on a very deep level, especially when it comes to music. As I said, I'm a music junkie, and I'm a sucker for pain. Maybe I look for it, I don't know. But I left that concert Friday night feeling suspended, changed. Concerned. Worried for an artist who, it's clear, suffers, and yet has the guts to open himself up to arenas filled with fans who love the tunes but likely rarely think beyond surface level about what's behind them. What fuels them. It brings to mind The Beatles. John Lennon apparently wanted to stop performing in large venues because 'nobody was really listening.'
Go forth. Go to concerts, big and small. But do me a favour. Pay attention. Listen.
To Kieran Mercer, Walk Off The Earth, and Marianas Trench...Thank you for having the guts to share your hurts with us. You're letting us know it's okay to hurt too, and that we don't always have to keep our pain inside. You're teaching us that our 'art' is valuable far beyond its creation. That our vulnerabilities are real, can be acknowledged through our chosen art without fear of rejection, criticism or reprisal, and that no matter which medium, genre or discipline in which we choose to create, it's okay to just be authentic.
It's up to us to choose to listen to others. To look beyond the outermost layers. If we don't, it's our loss. I was humbled by the show the other night. So let me just give you musicians a great big hug, and let you know that I heard.
Sometimes a simple little movie comes along and leaves a great impact on its audience. Although there are many fine examples of the genre “musical”, Flashdance is one of the most successful films of the early eighties, despite poor reviews by professional film critics, proving indeed that this genre can succeed as a big box office hit.Read More
This little guy's on high alert. I'm standing nearby, but he's not afraid. Instead, he's just...paying attention. It would appear he is super tuned in to his surroundings.
We could learn from him.
Has anyone else noticed lately that, in our increasingly tech-busy world, many of us have forgotten how to stop and listen? I can't tell you how many times I've given up on trying to converse with people - friends and family included - who are so keyed up and lost in their own worlds that it seems they are incapable of actually just listening to anyone else.
I take some of the responsibility. It's fair that eyes glaze over when I start to talk about my books or the screenplay I'm trying to figure out what to do with. But I give myself some credit. When I see this start to happen, I steer the conversation elsewhere. But a part of me feels lost, like an essential part of my soul has just been, well, washed over.
I get that. I get that not all of us are interested in everything others have to say. But I want to raise a call to those whose busy lives have them on such high levels of stress and anxiety that they simply can't listen at all. These are the folks who cut you off in mid-sentence with a comment that's entirely off topic. These are the folks who can't seem to make eye contact, whose minds are anxiously rhyming off the grocery list, in silence, while your voice fades into oblivion.
This is the thing. It's okay if folks are not interested in what others have to say. But I'm worried about that constant detachment, that loss of personal connection that I see happening all around me. That endless me-me-me-life-is-all-about-me vibe that many of us (yes, I'm as guilty as anyone) constantly project. I challenge you to take an active stance. Stop and really listen - to your partner, to your friend, to your children. To nature. To the wind in the trees, to the leaves crunching under your toes, to your cat when he purrs. To yourself - but not to the endless to-do list. To your soul.
I had the great pleasure of sitting down with an old high-school friend about a month ago. I got in trouble when I got home because my old friend and I met for coffee and three hours zipped by in what seemed like an instant. My guy was less than impressed. I should have texted, he said. He was right, I should have. My bad. At the same time, I was so touched that my friend (I'm talking about you, Crystal!) seemed genuinely interested in me and my story - about the way my life had gone since high school, about the Drifters books, about life - that I actually did not want to break the spell and pick up my phone. She actually tilted her head in and focused her gaze on me. She listened, actively, in a way that it seemed nobody has listened to me for a very long time. (Although it was pretty awesome to have Steve's sister around last summer - that was a special time - I miss you and Mike, Wendy!).
My point is that listening is an active pursuit. It's a practised art that is quickly becoming lost and forgotten. I hope I gave Crystal the same focus and attention she honoured me with. She deserved it.
I work part-time at the local performing arts theatre in town, the Harbourfront Theatre. I am one of those folks who helps you select seats and sells you tickets to your favorite shows. Box office. Yup. I took the job to help give me the freedom to write. It allows me gas and coffee money while the Drifters books work their magic (and they are. It's surreal). In the two years I've been there, I've realized some very key points. One, regardless of the low pay, I LOVE working there. Two, it's because of the people. The folks I work with rock. Management lets me see shows I would not otherwise be able to see. And the clients who purchase tickets? Read on...
Last Saturday a sweet, lovely woman came by. She was likely in her late seventies or early eighties, white hair, a gentle countenance, a smile that lit up the room. For whatever reason, she stayed to chat for a few moments. She told us (Sarah, my box office crony that day, is a wonderful listener) about a time when she was not yet nineteen, pregnant and married only for about nine months, when her husband was in a devastating car accident. This gal, with $ 2 in her pocket, found herself miscarrying her baby during a flight to Halifax on a service plane while her husband fought for his life alongside. The story was tragic - two other occupants of the car were killed. The woman told Sarah and I that she has never forgotten those boys.
Why did this story emerge after the woman bought tickets at a box office? To two strangers? I don't know. But I get those stories from clients all the time. Some stay until the next person comes along to purchase tickets, and their lives unfold before me. Some are tragic and some are tender and loving. They even come through the phone. One lady a few summers ago broke down in tears when I confirmed her account by saying her husband's name. He had passed away three weeks earlier. She told me all about him. She needed to. The woman in the first story lost her husband two years ago. He survived that long-ago accident, spent thirteen days in a coma and three months in the Halifax hospital. They went on to have a large family, and she misses him every day.
I cherish my box office job because it is a gateway to people I would otherwise never get to meet, whose lives are infinitely interesting. Who sometimes need a stranger with kind eyes to let them tell their story. To listen.
The next time you find yourself face to face with someone who needs to talk - let them. Do away with that grocery list for now, and what tomorrow may bring. Make yourself be present in the moment - in the moment! - and focus your eyes on the person who is speaking. Quiet your mind. Be present.
And you will be rewarded, because your heart will be full. You are being given a gift - someone's trust.
I no longer take good listeners for granted. And I promise to try harder to be a good listener myself.
Now it's your turn.
Which it is. Dark and stormy.
Although in Prince Edward Island, it is not yet night.
It is, however, nearing the end of a rather unproductive late September afternoon. Seems fitting to wrap up this rainy day with a few thoughts about self-publishing.
This is for those of you potentially interested in embarking on a self-publishing journey. For the newbies out there, not those who have already dissected every self-publishing blog ever posted.
Ok, so here's the secret to self-publishing:
That's it. Don't tell me you don't have time. If you really want to write, you'll make time. If you want to self-publish, reach out to people like myself who once asked others for help. I would rather see you try than throw in the towel before you give yourself a chance.
This is the thing about me. To borrow an old cliche, I'm like a dog with a bone. If I want something bad enough, I'll go out and get it. Still, I get scared. Technology drives me crazy. But I once went to a workshop with a wonderfully inspiring P.E.I. writer, Patti Larsen, who said, "You can do this." And she proceeded to show me how. Did I get stuck along the journey? Yep. So I gritted my teeth and scribbled off an email to this gal who I now consider a rock star in the writing world. Guess what? She answered.
Patti taught me a lot over the years. First, she encouraged me to try self-publishing. Second, she took me a step further by sitting me (along with a few other newbies) down and showing me how to format documents as ebooks for Smashwords, Kobo, and Kindle. Prior to this mini-workshop I was using a company I liked (still like) very much, but they were expensive and any time I wanted to make a change to my books (egads, a typo? Me? Never! Uh, well...nobody's perfect!) I was required to pay a fee. By learning to format text myself, I could upload to Smashwords, who distributes to a number of channels including Barnes & Noble and iBooks, and then I could upload to Kindle (Amazon) and Kobo separately so that I could monitor my sales on a day to day basis at will. Plus I could easily swap my documents out when need be, at will. For free.
So...books online...sales happening, exciting reviews coming back and then...hmmmm, spending a lot of money on cover designs (well worth it, because my covers are beautiful as well as award-winning, and have sold many a book for me)...see?
ALSO spending a bit on editing...printing books for island bookstores...and I realize I need to step up my game. What do I do? Well, I scribble off another note to my rock star mentor, of course!
I wrote to Patti Larsen again (of Family Magic fame, amongst others, in case you are wondering) - see?
Her cover is gorgeous too! And the book (series) is compelling and original!
Best part? Patti is a lesson in 'giving.' And in giving well. She is gracious and sweet, and my next outreach to her resulted in a private meeting over cafe mochas at a cozy Charlottetown cafe. The question on the agenda?
"How the heck do I market my books?"
Her answer? Which was wise and delivered with an air of 'you can do this,' was both practical and realistic.
"This is a marathon, not a sprint."
Meaning, of course, that self-publishing a book (or books) is not gonna garner instant success. One day at the gym will not bring you a toned bikini butt. One day at the gym might get you sore and tired and maybe a little intimidated. But taking that first step might also inspire you to work towards something better, towards a healthier lifestyle that includes a wee bit of social time along with your Zumba.
Patti did give me some inklings as to how to embark upon the marathon. Mailing lists (some are better than others), price promotions (I'm doing one now! A Song For Josh is only $2.99 til the end of October on Amazon, Kobo, etc.). See? (I seem to like saying this!)
(Or I guess only $ 2.25 in US dollars!)
But mostly what I learned from Patti is that there is no 'silver bullet.' When it comes to ebook marketing, you need a good book (or series) and a helluva lotta patience. Best advice most writers will share with newbies like yourself?
Just keep writing.
Patti has it figured out. She is brilliant at the writing part. She is an absolutely lovely woman who can really spin a yarn in an entertaining and engaging way. But she can also market.
She is a writing rock star who taught me a lot (and who continues to share her knowledge with myself and others). And so I am happy to give back as well, to 'pay it forward,' I guess you could say.
So, Newbie. This leaves you. Are you sitting there with your finger quivering over the mouse, wondering whether or not you should drop a note and say hello? Are you wondering whether this is a journey you might want to take, but you're afraid because you aren't sure you can? Well, click that mouse and say hello. Take this journey, one step at a time. And don't hesitate to ask those of us who have come before you for a hand. We are happy to help.
This is the most amazing journey I have ever taken. (I would add this - packing up my old Sunfire and driving my kid and myself across the country to live in Vancouver to go to Film School at age 41, but let me just say that was simply terrifying. So I won't - although it had its own perks and life lessons!).
If you're not sure whether you want to try, run a little test. Ask yourself this - do you have a burning passion to tell a story? Do you stare at others' books all lined up on Kindle or bookstore shelves and visualize your name on the book cover? Do you hang out with your characters when you're lonely or depressed and wish they were real? (Ha ha! Yup. I do.) Then do yourself a favour and don't let fear stop you from realizing your dreams. Reach out to someone who has mapped this world before you, or if you're shy don't be afraid to go to the gazillion other blogs out there in Google-land. Navigate your way through the ins and outs. Make the Google search bar your friend.
And share your stories with the world.
May I just add one little note - thank you, Patti.
A high school friend of mine...
...(you know who you are!)...saw a photo I posted on Facebook a few days ago and said This reminds me of Jessie .. beautiful, beaten, broken :( .
Here's the photo:
There are a few things I find interesting about her observation. One, Jessie was on her mind while she scrolled through Facebook in her leisure time. Two, I've been taking a few of these kinds of pics lately (so what does this say about me?). And three, what is it about Jessie Wheeler that leaves a lingering effect on people? As my friend added, It's like she is my friend that I have this unhealthy loyalty to...and who doesn't have a friend like that? One who is a train wreck and you know it - but you can't help yourself...you are her biggest fan, her biggest critic, you could kick her arse and dry her tears...she exhausts you, but you can't and will never give up on her...
As more and more readers discover the Drifters series, many are reaching out to me. It's quite humbling, and I find myself trying to figure out what it is that makes Jessie resonate with folks. My high school friend nailed it. She's battered and broken, yet she's got this inner beauty that comes forward in her music and in her way of seeing the world and the people in it, that gives her the strength and courage to go on.
I struggled a little last week - I feel a bit lost now that the Drifters series is done. I spent most of the summer writing new drafts (yes, plural - takes twelve drafts to get to the first real draft) of my screenplay, formerly Atlantic Blue and currently known as Still the Water. I enjoyed writing the story, but now it's all down to business, which is much less fun than writing - do I sell this thing? (My L.A. mentor says yes, get it into the marketplace). So I wrote some query letters and had some interest right away, but was then told by one producer that my film is a six million dollar film and as an unknown SELF-PUBLISHED writer with no meaningful awards, I am not bankable at that level. (I was a Finalist in the 2011 Writing Atlantic Writing Awards for unpublished manuscripts, but I guess that is small potatoes, ha ha!)
That's fair, it's totally fair, and I admired her honesty. But I guess this is where the Jessie in me comes in. I've been struggling for a lot of years to find my real place in this world (aren't we all?) and comments like these (which, let's face it, feel like defeat) make me feel a little smaller, a little more beaten, a lot more battered. But - back to Jessie - I have this pull to keep going. To regroup, to say, okay, so it seems like the odds are against me, so how do I turn this around and make it work? And I think this is a lesson for all of us. Many of us are too quick to throw in the towel on our dreams and on our hopes, or maybe even in relationships with lovers, with family, with friends. Filmmaking is a tough world - how do you find money to shoot something when the world seems bleak and at this point you don't even know when you'll see your son again because flights to Vancouver aren't cheap? Why does the world have to revolve around money, anyway? I get such joy from writing...but writing is fantasy, not reality. Filmmaking is fantasy. Some would say Get your head out of the clouds! Get a real job!
It's so easy to have people tell you that you can't do something. This film needs six million dollars in order for it to happen...I disagree. I live on P.E.I. where there is no media incentive to help cut costs, but where there is interest from local MLAs and even our Mayor to see this film happen here. Where there is a quick Sure, you can shoot in my rink, and I won't charge you, and a We can get you some office space at no charge, and a I'd be happy to help (from a local fisherman). Steve says there are tons of old fishing boats we can sink (oops, spoiler alert), and guys that would likely haul it (and remove it again from its resting place) for free. There are actors looking for work and, sadly, even N.S. crew who would likely come over and help since their province has messed their industry up rather royally, I don't mind saying. Sure, crew might have to accept being billeted, but Summerside's good for that - our townsfolk always jump in and help out when they are needed. I could likely even find volunteers to help with the driving, or the food-making, you name it. Retired folks, for instance, looking for something to do for a few weeks in the winter. (Let me add that I would pay those who make their living in the industry - crew, for instance. I would pay whomever I could - but I know there are some folks not in need of funds who would help out if needed as well, in order to see this film get made in Summerside, to give us a little economic boost and a lot of fun, and something else to be proud of).
My point is, sure, my film could be a six million dollar film. It could be a twenty million dollar film. Or it could be a 2 million dollar film. Could it be less than that and still look good? Heck, yeah. I can tell a story. I can be resourceful. And I feel most like myself when I am on a film set in jeans and a T-shirt, and brown cowboy boots, ha ha! (Gotta focus on Jessie's resilience, might as well borrow her boots!). What I can't be is someone who lies down and doesn't try something just because someone tells me I can't.
This producer gal (who I really liked, truly, she was someone I know I can work with if I ever get the opportunity) ended the conversation by saying I hope I didn't discourage you. She did, for an hour. But I was off to the shore to spend the rest of the day with Steve and I didn't want to bum him out because I was bummed out, so I rallied. (Thank you, Jessie). So what I also can't be is someone who gets defensive and upset if the world doesn't always go my way. Instead, I choose to take Jessie's attitude (or maybe she has mine?) which is beat me and batter me, but I will remain beautiful. To others and, especially, to myself.
A little music goes a long way when one is having a hard day. This guitar was taking a rest at Twin Shores' Mussels and Music last Saturday, and I was feeling wonderful, singing along to Sweet Caroline (Bamp bamp bamp!!!) as loud as everyone else despite the gnarly hit to my soul earlier in the day. I've since rebounded and am thinking again about making this film myself. I suppose it's partly because I'm afraid other producers might also not see me as a bankable entity, despite the fact that readers are constantly telling me the Drifters series is their favorite series ever. (Not bragging, I swear, although my self-published little ego needs that bit of a pump up once in a while)!
We're all broken and battered in one way or another. Do my challenges compare to those of the Syrian refugees? No. Let's keep things in perspective here. Thankfully what gets me down is not the same as what Jessie's up against, either, unless you count on a metaphorical 'single parent broke seemingly forever' kind of thing.
My message to you today is to keep on going. Keep up the fight. If Jessie Wheeler can help you stay positive and reach through to tell you that you are okay, that you are still loveable and your dreams are still attainable despite what you might think deep down inside, then she's done her job. And I've done mine.
Now I just need to keep listening to her myself, huh? And maybe someday Still the Water will get made.
In the meantime, here's a tune to brighten your day. Lemme hear ya! Bamp bamp bamp...!
P.S. FREE for the next five days on Amazon, my critically acclaimed short story from the novel of the same name -
P.P.S. Um, this one's FREE for five days as well...happy reading!
Before you panic and think I'm ready to shuffle off this mortal coil, let me just say I've had days when I kinda felt ready to go. I was tired and disillusioned, and (let's blame this on hormones), my PMS was getting the best of me (may as well tell it like it is, eh girls?).
But these days, nah, I'm good. What I mean by running into the sunset is that I realize time is marching on and the days left for me to accomplish my goals are becoming limited, or, shall I say, more limited. Does that scare me? You bet your girdle it does! But that awareness has actually, of late, been serving as one great big push. And I think that's a good thing. So I'm running, with my head held high and my biggest dreams still on the bucket list.
Today's been a weird day so far. I had to go to Chartlottetown (about an hour from my home in Summerside) to see my eye doc. On the way home I passed two sandstone inukshuks and a big sign that read something like, 'You're never too old to follow your dreams.' Of course, me being me, I was listening to sad iTunes songs as I drove, yet my heart was filling with a growing excitement. I will also add that, me being me, I felt that both of the inukshuks as well as the sign were, of course, placed by that particular stretch of earth-shattering gorgeous Prince Edward Island highway for me to see. For one, I never drive home on Hwy One, yet today I did, for a change (lots of eye appointments equals lots of driving time, and I get bored), and for two, I've been thinking a lot about ageing lately.
I think when a person spends their entire adult life driven by an all-consuming passion to fulfill one's dreams, one tends to start some sort of countdown as the years tick by. Lately though, like today, I feel like I'm being handed a number of messages telling me that it's okay, life's not over yet, I can stop counting and just enjoy each moment, and it's not too late to make the rest of those dreams come true. (If it is too late? Well, what's the point of worrying? Enjoy today!)
I've been working on a museum contract at the Wyatt Heritage Properties these last few months, and, let me tell you, you begin to appreciate how sacred life is when you run your fingers over a magnificent dovetail-jointed writing desk lovingly created by a nineteenth century craftsman. Suddenly life becomes this whirlwind vortex that you can't begin to wrap your mind around because your days are peopled by folks who no longer exist (well, maybe they do, in spirit). You read journals and notes left in cubbyholes that were meant for you to find. These have messages like this one - that a particular Windsor style chair was handmade by the rather famous Barnett Wilt from Fortune, P.E.I., who made it around 1850.
You realize that the person who left the notes was once breathing in and out the same way you are. And that she was surrounded by family who also roamed the beautiful old Victorian home where you are now so carefully and lovingly studying the furniture left behind, the tangible proofs of their existence, where they stored their things, where they snacked on cucumber sandwiches, where they played the piano and entertained lonely airmen training for war at the local flying school.
Working in the museum world is incredibly humbling.
But working amongst ghosts has also given me a rush of energy to get out there and get moving on my next creative project. Will my name be left in cubbies for future generations to find? Perhaps my books will live on and some young gal will pull one out of a dusty drawer and wonder who Susan Rodgers was. Will she blow off the dust and give it a read? Will Jessie Wheeler, Josh Sawyer and Jacob Ryan live on? And what about the folks y'all have yet to meet - Jordie MacAulay and Abby Ryan? (Yeah, Ryan is a family name, guess that's why it shows up in a few of my books! And why do so many of my characters have names that start with J? I dunno, that just happened. Worked out great for my new wrist tattoo, lol!).
The point is…thinking about the past can make speculating about the future much more relevant. It's interesting to look behind me and see how what I've done before has informed the present. My life is seriously a bunch of big puzzle pieces that are only now starting to fit together and make sense.
My Ophthalmologist, Doc O'H, I call him, put it quite succinctly. (Yeah, we rarely discuss my eye, that's almost an afterthought after years of seeing the guy for the same eye issue - instead he's like a wise sage whose advice and thoughts I've come to cherish). Anyways, Doc O'H once said I needed to do other things in my life in order to get me to where I am now, and to feed the knowledge and experience I need now. I tend to agree. During those 'down' times, I got discouraged as hell. Damn straight I did. We all do when things don't seem to be going the way we want them to. But suddenly now it's like a big 'ole rainbow is opening up. A friend of my mother's told me, when I was seventeen, that I would be a late bloomer (yeah, she was talking about my boobs, but I ate lots of red smarties and they came around…ha ha…). These days I am giving her thoughts another perspective. I am saying in terms of dreams, I'm blooming late.
But whatever. We're all on our own path. Who says life has to be sorted by the time you're twenty-five, thirty, forty, fifty, or even sixty? I am forty-nine, and not afraid to admit it. I'm in the best shape of my life thanks to tons of Yoga, Pilates, and Zumba, mostly. My guy is even older and he looks amazing (trust me, yum). I just finished an eight novel series that is exploding in popularity (scary in its own way), and I am blessed beyond belief to have been accepted into the 2015 PEI Screenwriters' Bootcamp, which starts this Saturday.
I am not making any predictions as to how things will go for me. There are too many factors beyond my control to even consider. But I hope I travel safely to and from the bootcamp, and I intend to work my new Yoga butt off to make the next dream happen. The dream is my feature film, Atlantic Blue, which I will be fine-tuning as a screenplay at the bootcamp, and will also be writing as a novel this summer.
Mucho work is about to begin again - seeking investors, financing, a team to help make the film happen…you name it. But I'm disciplined and beyond excited, because there is nothing in this world that, to me, equals the simple MAGIC of matching story to image and image to music. I've accomplished that in the books, to a certain degree, but now I want to give Drifters fans (and new fans) the next level of what I know I am capable of in terms of evoking passion and inspiration. (Y'all know my stories are about down on their luck folks who find ways to believe in themselves…right?).
Getting older? Pshaw. I'm becoming wiser and more at peace every day. I hope you are too. 'Cuz you reading this blog is my kick in yer everlasting pants to get out there and make your own dreams come true. Ain't nobody gonna do it for you. So stop whining. Stop looking for others to blame. Just - make - it - happen.
I'm gonna try.
Whatever happens, happens. I've got the time this summer, I've got the support, and I've got the desire.
Atlantic Blue, it's time. You are NOW.
Where's that stunning Prince Edward Island sunset? I'm running towards it, with my arms outstretched, with a wide and joyful smile, and with music in my heart.
A Certain Kind Of Freedom is a story about loss, letting go, and moving on.
An express-post card from the Maltese Islands informs a Prince Edward Island mother, Catherine, that her 21 year old son Ryan has suddenly died. Her partner, Charlie, finds Catherine on the floor in their kitchen as her mind recoils against the terrible news. In her agony, Catherine compares Ryan to the World War II Spitfire pilots of Malta. He died on an island that is no stranger to losing young men in the prime of their lives.Read More
It has always been my dream to see the Drifters Series in the visual medium of film. I put together a trailer for the series, but note that I did this with no budget, so it's pretty scaled back.
The song is Chris Smith's. A Kensington, P.E.I. boy, he is an amazing talent who, by the way, also represents Josh in this little trailer!
Thanks to Sherri-Lee Darrach, Chris Smith, and the Harbourfront Theatre for helping me with this simple trailer :)
I was interviewed by host Karen Mair on CBC radio, for the popular Prince Edward Island program Mainstreet. Check it out!
I was sooo nervous - can you tell? Karen Mair and CBC Mainstreet do so much to help local creatives like myself - thank you, Karen, for being such a gracious and interested host.
I've always loved music. As a University student I had my own radio show (on the campus station at St. Francis Xavier University in Nova Scotia, Canada) and I dj'd at clubs as well. When I started writing the Drifters books I knew that Jessie's songs were special, that they were more than just ballads and upbeat pop tunes. To me, her songs have deep messages and many layers.Read More
I once made a film based on letters I found in a shoebox in the attic of an historic house museum where I was employed as curator. During the turbulent World War II years, new flight training schools were built around the country, and Summerside must have had a good politician at the time, because we got one.Read More
I was enjoying lunch with my parents today - a rare and treasured occurrence - when the discussion turned to my son's friend, Layten Kramer. Layten, a member of my son's band Rebel On A Mountain, just won the Calgary Stampede Talent Competition. In trying to describe Layten and his music to my dad I found myself thinking of one of the characters in my third novel in the Drifters series, No Greater Love.Read More
It's true, what they say. You can't really go back. But you can go forward by trying to go back. Errr… What I mean to say is that sometimes healing comes from the most unexpected places, including... the past. Confused? Read on.Read More
Tonight Steve and I are going to Credit Union Place in Summerside to see Gordon Lightfoot, one of Canada's most well-loved singer songwriters. I think the gentleman must be about 76 now, and Steve thinks he won't be in top form after all those years of belting out hundreds of hits, but I don't care.Read More