What's In A Name, Anyway?


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 Back when I wrote my first (as yet unpublished) novel, A Certain Kind Of Freedom, I decided, almost on a whim, to select family names for different characters.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).


Cousins! So many awesome cousins :) Norton, at the Kelly farm.

Cousins! So many awesome cousins :) Norton, at the Kelly farm.

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.


A soul.


That’s what’s in a name.

The Thing Is She Tried

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.

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The Thing About Jessie Wheeler...

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:

High winds and salty seas got to this poor tree...but still, despite its brokenness, its beauty remains. Twin Shores Beach, Darnley, P.E.I.

High winds and salty seas got to this poor tree...but still, despite its brokenness, its beauty remains. Twin Shores Beach, Darnley, P.E.I.

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!

Another casualty...Darnley, P.E.I.

Another casualty...Darnley, P.E.I.

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!

The Wise and Wonderful

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.

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Love and Other Not-So-Complicated Things

This little feller, perched happily on the driver's side of my car Tribby, greeted me with a twiggy wave when I pulled into my snow-covered lane way late this afternoon. Yup, my old Mazda Tribute was humming a happy tune as it glided to a gentle stop and spied this little guy - 'bout two feet high - waving from atop a drift-covered flower bed. 

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