Finally got a win!

In horse-racing, that is. I’ve delayed posting much since our horses weren’t doing so well. My husband switched trainers after a dispute over race selection, including one for our two-year-old filly who was about to run for the first time. A healthy, untested horse in a twenty-five thousand claiming race? No way. That is practically giving a horse away, once you factor in all the expenses, and the potential she may have. The new trainer, Reade Baker, entered her this past Friday in a much more prestigious Maiden Special Weight, with a purse of sixty thousand.

My husband wanted to name her Secretariat’s Honor, since Triple Crown winner Secretariat appears in her ancestry a few times. Depending on how she ran, this was either an apt name, or the height of hubris.

At Woodbine, two-year-olds only run against other two year olds. In this instant, ours was going against horses under other top trainers such as Mark Casse and Josie Carroll. One horse we were up against had sold for $250K as a yearling. On the plus side, Louis Contreras, one of the top jockeys, would be riding her. Then my husband contacted the breeder for the horse, and it turned out to be the first one she’d ever foaled. When she heard the filly was going to be racing for the first time, she flew up to Toronto from Kentucky. The pressure was on!

Anyway, the race went perfectly. She was first out of the gate, slipped into second place for only an instant, and then took the lead right to the end. Couldn’t have asked for better. Being superstitious, I chickened out of placing any bets on the race, but I’m just happy to finally have a win. A very exciting day.

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Pitching and fall baking

I have a new novel I’ve been querying, with the working title Destination Wedding. So far, no bites, but no dreaded ‘R’s either. Query purgatory and I’m getting ready to do another batch soon. This is what I’ve been sending out so far:

After an undisclosed tragedy, Marissa McLaughty finds herself back in the Western New York town she’d hoped to leave behind more than a decade ago. Single, thirty-five, and stuck in a floundering career, she tries to make the most of her pathetic love life by turning her date-from-hell stories into a blog.

One night, Marissa meets a gorgeous advertising executive named Alex. They hit it off straight away. Even better, traffic to her site starts taking off. Using fake names, vague descriptions and altered timelines in every post, she brags about how amazing he is. She dreams of marrying Alex while turning her blog into a profession.

Succeeding in both may be impossible, however, thanks to Alex’s ex-girlfriend Christine. She comes across Marissa’s blog and quickly identifies the “gorgeous hedge fund manager” as her ex. Obsessed with winning him back, she begins stalking both of them. She also digs up a past Marissa would rather stay buried, one that could cause both her budding writing career and her relationship to blow up on her.

Marissa figures eloping to the tropics will fix everything. By luring Christine to a nice, remote spot she’ ll get the ex out of Alex’s life for good.

I’ll probably run it through a critique forum before sending more as well.

In the meantime, I’ve been tweaking my mother’s banana bread recipe. Neither my husband nor I like bananas once they get a little speckled, so once they’re past a certain point, I let them get fully brown, then cram them into the freezer until I have enough for a fresh batch. With the last one, I finally got it just the way I like it – moist, not too sweet, with lots of flavor.

In a large bowl, blend the following:

4 very ripe bananas
1 egg
1/2 cup white sugar
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 T molasses
4 T butter or oil
1/4 cup applesauce
1 t salt
1 t baking powder
1 t baking soda
2 c flour
1 c walnuts
1/4 t allspice
1/4 t nutmeg
1/2 t cinnamon
1/4 t cloves

Bake at 325 for one hour. Let cool on rack.

 

 

R.I.P. Gordon Downie

I have to admit I was never a fan of the Tragically Hip. However there is no denying their place in Canadian music. I only saw them live once, back when they were still a bar band, playing a basement club with three other acts the same night.

A few months later, I was out west and heard one of their songs on the radio – they seemed to explode overnight – and I thought it was cool that one of the hundreds of bands I’d seen gigging endlessly, playing tiny venues week after week, actually made it. They went on to sell a million albums in Canada alone.

They worked hard and earned their way up.

That work ethic showed itself again when Gordon Downie announced he had brain cancer, and then led the band on their final tour. He was diagnosed with glioblastoma, the same form of brain cancer that took my sister-in-law nearly two years ago.

Tragically Hip frontman Gord Downie dies at 53

This is an especially aggressive form; even with surgery the tumors often come back quickly and chemo can only do so much. Patients are prone to seizures, exhaustion, nausea, temper flares and severe pain. Often diagnosis comes too late as well. In my sister-in-law’s case, we had no idea what exactly was wrong with her before she was diagnosed, only that something was. She’d had fainting spells in the past, and often acted irrationally. She had chronic stomach problems that everyone around her, including my husband and I, attributed to poor eating habits (she lived on take-out and fast food).

Now this is important:

One of the things that maybe should have clued us in sooner was that her temper had grown more volatile. This isn’t the case with every patient, but apparently it is a hallmark of the disease, where somebody flies off the handle at the slightest provocation, who cannot under some circumstances be reasoned with. Both my husband and I suspected there was something wrong with the way her brain functioned, at an organic level. We tried to get her to seek psychiatric treatment (you can’t force someone unless they’re threatening violence), to get herself checked out, to try to find the root cause behind her myriad health problems. Mental health screening probably would have helped identify the cancer sooner. Before she was hospitalized, I imagined some form of brain damage, schizophrenia, a lesion, I don’t know, but cancer never occurred to anyone of us around her.

The trouble with a disease affecting the brain is that it can easily be mistaken for so many other disorders. My sister’s bad eating habits probably did contribute to her nausea as much as the tumor had. She’d always been a bit spacey and easily distracted.  After she died, we learned she’d been in a traffic accident earlier that year and we wonder if it had been caused by her having a seizure* behind the wheel. She was always high strung and with mean a temper. However, we’d noticed her turn steadily worse in recent years. Ironically, her volatile temper made her difficult to be around. We attributed her personality changes to stress, taking care of her sickly mother who had recently died and difficulty coping. While the doctor assured us the tumor (which had grown to the size of a lemon by the time it was operated on) had only been growing for a few months at most, my husband and I aren’t so sure.

At any rate, if someone you know starts acting more irrationally, or disproportionately angry, and does suffer from nausea or vomiting, do insist they get checked out. Better to rule it out as a cause than catch it too late. Thankfully glioblastoma is a relatively rare form of brain cancer. However the less lethal forms will still show many of the same symptoms.

Having witnessed somebody suffering glioblastoma first hand, I am only that much more amazed at how Gordon Downie of the Tragically Hip spent his last year on earth not only touring and creating a multi-media project, but being a father of four and taking on activist causes as well.

He created a brain cancer research fund for Sunnybrook Hospital. Donations can be made here: https://donate.sunnybrook.ca/braincancerresearch

*I’d had a friend who was epileptic and prone to grand mal seizures. So I had it in my head that seizures involve shaking. They don’t always. I witnessed my SIL having a seizure in hospital, where she just seemed to freeze up or space out for a few seconds.

A Fortune Teller’s Luck Available on Amazon/Kindle

I uploaded this months ago, but I have done pretty much zero marketing (stupid, I know). Writing is a vastly different skill set than publicity and social-media savvy, but I do have to face that it’s the latter that will sell more books.

So here is the link for the Kindle edition. I looked into one promotional option and because I’m in Canada it wasn’t available, but I’ll keep looking.

Kindle version of A Fortune Teller’s Luck

 

 

When to write down ideas

When I first started writing, I tried to jot down pretty much every idea that came to mind – characters, bits of dialogue, a story idea, rhyme, you name it. Unfortunately, although I was in the habit of carrying a pen at nearly all times, I rarely kept a notebook handy. So I wound up with piles of receipts or gum wrappers or whatever was available when inspiration struck. Also, my handwriting is nearly unreadable (one of my professors said it resembled Hittite. AFAIK, Hittite has never been deciphered).

So I got more disciplined. I invested in a notebook (small, with a durable plastic cover) that I carried in my purse. However I’d frequently misplace said notebook (often under a pile of papers or books) and so I bought a few more so I’d always have one close by.

You can see where this is going, right?

I’d write down random snippets and then forget which notebook I’d put it in (and as the pages filled up, where in the notebook I’d written it). Worse, half the time I’d nix the idea altogether, delete the scene a particular line had been written for, or decide that no, I was never going to get around to that novel about an alien landing on Earth during the Viking era or that semi-autobiographical story of a person landing in Guyana in the aftermath of the Jonestown massacre. Of the ones that remained, for about half of them I’d waste half an hour puzzling wtf was I thinking at the handful of words that, at the time, I’d been convinced was a stroke of genius. Provided I went back and read any notes at all while I revising any particular story.

Finally, I decided, keeping notes was largely a waste of time. The best ideas seemed to stick in my memory regardless. Only on one single occasion among the dozens of stories I’ve worked on do I regret forgetting to jot down something. It was a Terry Pratchett-type pun for a YA Fantasy I’ve been working on. Oh, well.

That isn’t to say the habit is entirely useless. Nowadays, I try to limit what I bother jotting down to either premises that I could hang an entire story and characters onto (and wouldn’t involve a solid year of research), or plot points I’ve been struggling over on nearly-completed works.

There are also times when I am bombarded with so many ideas I cannot concentrate on the task in front of me, whether it’s a writing project or making sure the bills get paid. On those days I feel like Hwel from Terry Pratchett’s Wyrd Sisters:

Particles of raw inspiration sleet through the universe all the time. Every once in a while one of them hits a receptive mind, which then invents DNA or the flute sonata form or a way of making light bulbs wear out in half the time. But most of them miss. Most people go through their lives without being hit by even one.
Some people are even more unfortunate. They get them all.

Writing the lot of them down (even if it never goes further than a notepad document) clears the proverbial clutter in my mind so I can get on with whatever project at hand.

And eventually one of them becomes a blog post on WordPress.

What I’m reading: Girl in Disguise, The Somnambulist and the Psychic Thief

My goal on Goodreads for this year is to read 100 novels and I’ve read 56 so far. Plenty of them are older books I was only just getting around to reading, a few couple were re-reads, and I do try my best to read at least one novel a month that was published within the past year or two.

With so much to choose from out there, and being a somewhat fussy yet adventurous reader, I spend a fair amount of time scanning titles and reading through blurbs on myriad lists.

I wound up reading two books back to back that were remarkably similar. Both were set in the Victorian Era, starring female protagonists who’d become private detectives. The Girl* in Disguise centered on the first ever female detective employed at the famous Pinkerton agency. This one was based on a real person, who’d supposedly assisted in protecting President Abraham Lincoln from an assassination plot. Although I enjoyed it and the writing was quite clever, it unfortunately never felt that true to the era. The character still seemed overly modern, as was the writing style. The main plot also took a while to get going; the earlier chapters were more like loosely-connected short stories. Overall it was an enjoyable book, though. I also found the connection of the railways being laid down, and the war effort, quite interesting.

However I did prefer Lisa Tuttle’s novel The Somnambulist and the Psychic Thief. The writing style mimicked that particular era (1800s) more closely, plus I often do prefer stories with supernatural elements of some kind or other. (along with those who are skeptical or debunk psychic phenomena, such as my own story A Fortune Teller’s Luck) Although I tend to avoid books set in London (especially if they aren’t written by English authors and especially Victorian London) – I made an exception for this one after reading The Mysteries by the same author. She has a knack for pacing and keeping the reader hooked.

The neat thing about reading both novels within a short time period is the reminder that you can take a nearly identical premise and two authors will spin two entirely different stories and worlds from it.

 

 

*PLEASE, publishers, can we already end this trend of protagonists over the age of 18 being referred to as girls? Even Wilkie Collins, back in the mid-1800s, named his book The WOMAN in White.

How people sabotage themselves and get in the way of what they (supposedly) want… Part II

In an earlier post, I’d skimmed over the ways people sabotage themselves when trying to find someone to settle down with. The same is often true for one’s career as well, though I’ll save that for some other time.

Now, I know from experience what that’s like, because that was me in my twenties. I went a long stretch were I was constantly single and didn’t want to be. At least, that’s what I’d tell my friends. It’s what I thought I wanted …

Looking back now, I’m not so sure. In all honesty, I don’t think I wanted my life to change, even though I wasn’t that happy with it. New relationships can be stressful. People who are accustomed to being single can find it hard to adjust to taking some near-stranger’s feelings or wishes into account. As a singleton, you don’t worry about if your date is going to get along with your friends, or can’t stand spicy food, or prefers staying in on weeknights.

Many of my currently single friends crave steady companionship, and yet …. how willing are they, really, to make room in their lives for an entirely new person with their own wants, needs, habits and interests?