Crimes Against Art

This week I’m rejoining my weekly painting group after hiding out from COVID for over a year and half.  It feels weird (and a bit scary) to be in a group again; although we’re all fully vaccinated and we’ll wear masks and stay distanced in the studio.

But, scarier still… do I even remember how to hold a paintbrush?  More to the point, should I be allowed anywhere near an innocent canvas?  I’ve committed a few crimes against art in the past, so art has good reason to be wary of me.  But then again, I’ve never really understood what constitutes Good Art, either.

I’m embarrassed to admit I took Art History (among other things) for four long years in university.  Apparently those courses were worthless, because I can’t see any artistic value in a canvas that looks as though a house-painter cleaned a used roller on it.  But the National Gallery of Canada snaps those puppies up for a cool 1.8 million apiece, and their most convincing argument that it’s Good Art is a snooty, “Well, obviously you can’t grasp the concept.”  Very true.  I can’t. But there must be something to it, because those two $1.8 million investments are now valued at over $100 million combined.

So how do I know whether I’m creating Good Art or birthing an art-monster that shouldn’t be allowed to live?  After in-depth study (and perhaps a teeny bit of hyperbole) based on the National Gallery’s purchases, I’ve come up with a foolproof formula for determining the Value of Art:  

Value Of Art = (Bullshit + Snootiness2) × Wealth of Investor × Ego of Investor

It’s important to note that bullshit comes first in the formula, and it has to be linked very early with the all-important snootiness or the whole endeavor fails.  That’s why there are millions of brilliant artists, but only a few who make seven-figure sales to the National Gallery.

If they want to hit that million-dollar price point, artists should throw around words like ‘luminous’, ‘weighty’, and ‘atmospheric’, add arcane phrases like ‘perceptualizing the human condition’, and then lay on the all-important snootiness:  “Of course, most people won’t grasp the nuanced complexity of this work.”  And they need to keep repeating that stuff, loud and proud.  Then all it takes is some rich investor eager to prove they’re more cultured than ‘most people’, and an art sensation is born.

Or maybe I’m just boorish and cynical.  (Okay, that’s not a ‘maybe’.)

But I am one hell of a bullshitter.  So… do you know any rich art investors with fragile egos?  If so, send them my way; ’cause every Friday afternoon I’ll be creating paintings that have a whole shitload of nuanced complexity.  Positively weighty, in fact.  I dunno about ‘luminous’, but with all my bullshit flying around, it’s sure to be ‘atmospheric’. Just don’t inhale too deeply…

Writing update:  You may have noticed that I haven’t posted any progress on Book 17 yet.  Here’s why:  I’m concentrating on the screenplay for Book 1: Never Say Spy.  And it’s almost finished, woohoo! So if you know anybody in, or even loosely connected to, a movie production company, I hope you’ll put in a good word for me! (Or better yet, introduce me with an enthusiastic pitch for the screenplay. Hey, I can dream, right?)

Happy New Year

Wow, I can’t believe it’s January already! If time continues to speed up as I age, by the time I’m eighty I’ll be planting the garden in January and putting up the Christmas tree in August.

Hey, now I’ve got an excuse if I ever start to lose my marbles: There’s nothing wrong with my mind; I’m just a victim of negative time flow. (That sounded more sane and reassuring in my head. Now that it’s written down, it seems kinda ‘lost-marble-ish’. Should I be worried?)

Anyhow, leaving aside my precarious grasp of reality (and I do; oh, yes, I do)…

I’m looking forward to 2021, but I’m not going to jinx it by saying ‘it has to be better than last year’. That’s just tempting Fate. Instead, I’ll paraphrase a quote I saw on Facebook. I can’t remember the exact words and I don’t know who wrote it, but the gist of it was this:

“At the beginning of 2020 I thought this would be the year I got everything I wanted. Instead, it was the year I was grateful for everything I had.”

A lovely thought. If we got anything good at all out of 2020, I hope it’s that.

So, thanks, 2020, but I’ve had enough self-improvement and character-building now! Here’s hoping that in 2021 we can go back to enjoying (yes, with extra gratitude) all the things we took for granted before COVID.

Happy New Year, everybody!

The first bloom of 2021: ‘Kramer’s Red’ heather. (Which isn’t red at all; but I didn’t name the plant, so what do I know?)

Book 16 update: My Christmas holidays were taken up by the gargantuan task of hauling my website into the 21st century, making it readable on all devices including phones… I hope. If you encounter any difficulties or weird behaviour (other than mine) on the site, please let me know.

My book progress consisted of editing what I’d already written, but now I’m looking forward to a productive writing week!

Happy Holidays

I feel a bit weird about writing ‘Happy Holidays’ this year. It’s been such a shitty year for so many people, and I don’t want to toss off a flippant greeting to someone whose days will be anything but happy. I don’t want to make anyone feel worse than they already do.

But yet, I do wish everyone happiness. I know we can’t be happy all the time; that’s why it’s a ‘wish’ and not a ‘command’. And I really don’t want to croak out some gloomy pronouncement that’s supposed to sound positive but actually just drags people down. (Now I’m imagining Marvin, the depressive robot from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, moaning, “I’ll wish you Happy Holidays, but you won’t like it.”)

What can I offer instead? Best wishes for peace of mind and peace of home. Hope for the future. Comfort and strength for those who are struggling. Above all, good health. I want those things for everyone, not just now but all year round.

And you know what? I wish us all ‘Happy Holidays’. Not as a thoughtless rote greeting, but as a sincere hope and a positive intention. May we all find joy where we can, when we can; no matter how large or small the measure.

Happy Holidays, everyone!

Yes, we had our first snowfall of the year, just in time for Christmas. Now, if only it’ll go away in time for New Year’s…

Book 16 update: I’m on Chapter 28 and Aydan is awash in complications. Now I have to decide whether to help her out or pile on a few more problems just to see what she does. Authors: Part empath, part sadist. 😉

Thanksgiving

This past weekend was Thanksgiving in Canada, and I’m feeling grateful for just about everything.

Monday morning left me breathless with sheer wonder. After a few days of rain, the sky had cleared overnight and the temperature dropped to about 4°C. The rooftops sparkled with the kind of frost that is beautiful without doing any damage. The sun rose golden in an intense blue sky, and the air was an intoxicating cocktail of moist cedar and distant ocean.

While I sat wrapped in my warm blanket drinking my tea, I was treated to a symphony of birdsong; not the unrestrained chorus of spring, but the sweet and wistful melodies of fall.

Robins chirped and chuckled in the trees, gorging themselves on the last few berries. A finch sang a clear, note-perfect solo. Dozens of juncoes foraged busily on the ground only a few feet away, their tiny ‘chip’ noises interrupted only by the whir of their wings as they took flight to ride the crystal air like feathered rollercoasters. A Steller’s jay took proud ownership of the last few sunflower heads of the season, iridescent blue plumage glowing and crest saucily cocked.

As the sun rose higher, the rough armourplates of Douglas-fir bark transformed into a stunning study of warm light and deepest shadow. The melting frost trimmed every leaf with diamonds. The creek rushed in the background — not yet winter’s torrent, but singing again after its summer silence. The asters and chrysanthemums and rudbeckia glowed bright in the vivid green of the rhododendron garden.

And I sat in this beautiful place, marvelling; and comforted beyond measure.

These patient trees will stand for many of my lifetimes. These mountains were here millennia before me, and will remain for millennia after I’m gone. Compared to their ancient presence, my life is a tiny speck of existence, forgotten in an eyeblink. Nature endures, not only beyond human endurance, but beyond human comprehension. And for that, I am thankful.

I’m thankful to live in a safe home, in a safe country where I have clean air, clean water, abundant food, and health care.

I’m thankful for my husband. He is my rock, the man I can always count on to listen to me, laugh with me, and love me.

I’m thankful for family and friends who, whether we live provinces away or close together but separated by COVID restrictions, are nonetheless only a phone call away.

I’m thankful to be doing a career I love.

And I’m thankful for you, my wonderful readers — you make all my hours of work worthwhile.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Book 16 update: I’m on Chapter 21, nearly halfway done the book! There’s a killer in Silverside, and Blue Eddy has been hiding a murderous past…

May Your Days Be…

Wow, I can’t believe it’s Christmas Day already!

This seems like a perfect time to say a huge and heartfelt Thank You! to all of you wonderful readers who support my writing habit and brighten my days with your emails and blog comments.  You bring me happiness, inspiration, and frequent belly laughs!

May you have joy in your celebrations, comfort in your times of trouble, and peace and prosperity now and in the New Year.

Thank you, all!  🙂

Book 15 update:  I’m finishing Chapter 23, and it’s time for Aydan to confront her nemesis… or sneakily avoid him. I’m not sure yet which it’ll be…

…oh.

We have houseguests this week, so it’s a shorter post today.  Here’s a little cartoon that occurred to me moments after I cursed the aphids for ganging up on my baby fruit trees last week.

I guess the aphids don’t have a corner on that kind of ‘stupidity’…

 

And, in other news…

I’m doing a short public presentation in mid-July.  There are so many artists and writers and other creative types here on Vancouver Island, I thought it would be nice to offer my writing and publishing experience, for what it’s worth.

I’m not sure whether it’ll be a help, an inspiration, or merely a shudder-worthy cautionary tale; but I hope we’ll all have some chuckles in the process.  I hope to see you there!

Publishing and writing presentation by bestselling e-book author Diane Henders

A Day In The Life

People often ask me what it’s like to make a living as a writer.  I tell them I’m living the dream; but I also add that my dream could be their nightmare.  Here’s a peek into my writing life:

The snow is finally almost gone!

(And some outdoor photos, since one of the best parts of my writing life is being able to pop outside for a few minutes whenever I want!  Click on the photos to see larger versions.)

Writing is my favourite thing, but I only get to do it about 16 to 20 hours per week.  The rest of the time I’m bookkeeping, maintaining my web page, marketing, keeping in touch with my readers through my blog and social media, and doing research on  publishing trends, legal and copyright precedents, book design, marketing, and new technologies.

The native ferns are already vibrant.

Weekdays, I usually work from 8 AM until noon, take half an hour for lunch, and work until about 4 PM.  Then I have a snack and hit the gym for a couple of hours (or skip the workout and stay at my desk, but I try to exercise at least 4 or 5 times a week).

I take an hour off for dinner and then I’m back in front of the computer from 7 to 9:30 PM.  I try to knock off at 9:30, but sometimes I work until 10 or 11 PM if I’m really in the flow.

I work 7 days a week, 52 weeks of the year; but I sometimes only work half-days on Saturdays and Sundays.  (I know; I’m such a rebel!)  Even when I’m on ‘vacation’, I work an hour or two per day.

The heather and crocuses are in full bloom!

That may sound gruelling, but it’s flexible — I usually take Friday afternoons off to do some watercolour painting and grocery shopping, and I can make time for friends and family whenever I want.  I don’t watch TV, but if I’m not in the final 25% of writing or buried under a book release, I often read a novel in the evening.  (It’s market research — I love this career!)  I read fast, so I usually finish the book in three or four hours, and then it’s off to bed and on to the next day.

Such is my glamorous life.

The birth of a book is (maybe) a little more interesting: (I won’t include any graphic birth photos, I promise. 😉 )

The first minnow daffodil is blooming!

I decide which events will kick off the book and how I want the characters to develop, but I don’t do a lot of plotting in advance.  Instead I throw my characters into the action and see what they do for the first half of the book.

Every day I re-read and edit my earlier 4 or 5 chapters (by the end I’ll have read the whole manuscript at least 25 times) and then write my new content for the day.  By halfway through the book my characters have gotten themselves into a batch of impossible situations, and then I stop and spend a LOT of time deciding how they’ll get out.

The bees are hard at work already.

That’s when I write a plot outline, which is mostly a waste of time.  I make a “final” decision and write in that direction; and a few chapters later one of my hardheaded characters blows my plot out of the water.  I’ve never actually ended up following my outlines, but at least it gets my brain working.

By the 75% mark, all the plot threads start to come together.  Then I write obsessively while the rest of my schedule falls in tatters.

Tiny anemones, only a few inches tall.

After finally writing “The End” I re-read and edit the entire manuscript a few times to tune up pacing, stakes, and clarity before passing it on to my beta readers/editors.  (Nobody gets to see a single word of the manuscript before I’m completely finished — not even Hubby.)  In between final edits, I choose a title (I never know the title until I’ve written the whole book), do the cover design and photography, and write the cover blurb.

At last I announce a release date — hooray!  Then I assign ISBNs, register copyright, send the new book to Library and Archives Canada, convert the MS Word manuscript into epub, Kindle, and paperback formats,  and upload it to retailers.  When that’s done, I fix typos and update links in my previous books, and upload their new versions, too.

Crocuses, winter aconite, and heather.

After that I switch to my ‘marketing’ persona to develop ads, promotional listings, and social media announcements.

When the release furor dies down, I tackle any major work like updating my website, and finally take a breather for a few days.  But within a week or two (or less) the next book scratches at my mental doors, and next thing I know I’m writing again.  The administration is a slog, but the joy of writing makes it all worthwhile!

So… anybody wanna be a writer…?

I love crocuses!

Blow Me Down!

I’ve always thought ‘blow me down’ was only an expression, but it almost turned out to be literal.  The relaxing holiday I’d envisioned didn’t quite work out that way.  Instead, on December 20 we got pounded with a vicious windstorm with gusts up to 140 km/hr, followed by five days without power.

We were incredibly lucky to have very little property damage and no personal injury; but the forest around our house looks as though it’s been bombed.  Giant trees were completely uprooted leaving gaping craters in the ground, and many of the ones whose roots held ended up snapping.

These were hundred-foot-tall trees, yanked up by their roots. (The big crater in the foreground is a pond – the wind didn’t do that!)

 

The forest looks like shattered toothpicks.

This used to be solid forest but the wind cleared it just like a tunnel, and our house was right in its path. Some of the trees that went down were nearly three feet in diameter. We were SO lucky our house wasn’t damaged!

Two big trees somehow ended up on the ground under our front porch roof without damaging anything on their way down; and our utility trailer blew across the yard and wedged itself halfway under our deck, miraculously without causing any damage there, either.  Other people weren’t so lucky.

Usually a storm like that is relatively short-lived, but this went on for hours.  We were afraid our big front windows would shatter under the force of the wind, but somehow they held.  At one point I heard a crash from outside and cracked the door open to see what had happened, but the wind was so strong it took all my strength to push the door shut again (and I’m no 98-pound weakling).

The wind ripped through every tiny aperture, making drifts of the drywall dust that had been under the bottom plates of the walls during construction.

Some news sources are calling it the worst storm on record for Vancouver Island; others say the worst in ten years.  I’m hoping it was the all-time worst, because I don’t want to experience another one that bad!  I grew up on the prairies with a constant threat of tornadoes, and I’m a total chickenshit when it comes to wind.  Let’s just say I was NOT happy during this storm.

Fortunately we’d planned for power outages when we built the house, and we ran our generator enough to keep ourselves warm and our freezers cold.  BC Hydro did a heroic job of restoring power to the 700,000 customers who were blacked out, although some spent more than a week without power.  When I saw the snarled-up mess of wires down our road, I was truly impressed that they’d been able to get it working again as quickly as they did.

So I dunno; I’m beginning to think Vancouver Island doesn’t want us here.  First it tried to freeze us out with record-breaking snow and cold in our first winter, and now it’s tried to blow us away with record-breaking wind.  I’m just hoping it doesn’t attempt to shake us off with a giant earthquake next.

But at least we had a good test of our emergency preparations, and we’ll be doing some tweaking to make sure we’re ready (as much as we can be) for the next crisis.

Meanwhile, our island home is returning to its usual tranquility and we’re feeling thankful for our good fortune.  It’s a nice way to start a new year:  Healthy, happy, and grateful.

Happy New Year, everybody – wishing you all the best in 2019!

Book 14 update:  My writing schedule got disrupted by the storm and power outage, but I still managed to make it to Chapter 42.  The end is in sight!

The Wisdom of Trees

We’ve had a difficult and emotionally draining week relocating Hubby’s elderly mom, who has early dementia.  My sense of humour suffered a slight sprain in the process, so I didn’t feel up to spewing my usual nonsense this week.

I created this video instead – I hope you enjoy it.

The Wisdom of Trees

Puddles!

We have puddles! *does happy dance*

If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you’re undoubtedly studying that first sentence and trying to figure out where to find the double entendre.  That’s a valid and downright laudable reaction.  If you find one, I hope you’ll share it – I do love a good double entendre!  But that wasn’t actually my intention (for a change).

No; this post is in celebration of spring.  It’s my favourite time of year – crocuses and tulips and daffodils peek out, the grass turns green, the birds come home, it snows two feet… you know; the usual stuff.

Back in arid Calgary, spring puddles are fleeting – the snow seems to evaporate instead of melting.  But here on the coast we have good old-fashioned puddles that bring back delightful childhood memories.

I grew up on a prairie farm where the terrain was dead-flat for miles.  That and our heavy clay/gumbo soil made it prime puddle territory.  Venice had nothing on us.  I remember riding the school bus along our country road and looking out at water as far as the eye could see, neatly divided into a one-mile grid by the raised road allowances that were the highest point on the prairies (and only a foot or two higher than the water level).

Every kid had a pair of rubber boots:  the taller the boots, the better.  Puddle-wading was both art and science.  We learned about refraction early – the place you thought you were stepping wasn’t always where your foot ended up.  The penalty for that was a boot full of icy water, which didn’t dampen our enthusiasm at all.  It was a sport to see how far we could wade into a puddle before we filled our boots.

We also had a small inflatable dinghy that we could row across our puddles (we had serious puddles on the farm).  And there were always ditches full of water that required all sorts of digging in the mud to produce complex drainage trenches and dams.

Sometimes it turned cold enough to freeze the puddles hard.  That was prime ice-skating:  glassy-smooth, with grass and fallen leaves locked below the surface as if cast in crystal.  But it was always tricky to determine whether the ice was strong enough to bear our weight… which brings to mind another favourite sound:  a slow ominous creak followed by the buzzing crack of ice failing, usually accompanied by squeals and splashing.

I still love going out in the early morning when temperatures are below freezing.  Overnight some of the puddle-water seeps into the ground, leaving a white fragile ice shell floating over empty air.  There’s nothing like the sharp hollow sound it makes when stepped on – it’s almost as addictive as popping bubble wrap!

At 52 years old, you’d think I’d have developed enough dignity to leave the puddles alone; but nope.  Not even close.  I’m still incapable of walking by a shell of ice without breaking it, and last week I went out and bought myself a pair of tall rubber boots that’ll make me the envy of every kid in town.

I’m going out to play in the puddles now… how about you?

P.S. Here on the coast I’ve discovered a ‘new-to-me’ type of spring ice: long silky filaments that form as water is pushed up out of sodden soil into freezing temperatures. How cool is that? (Literally.) ;-)

P.S. Here on the coast I’ve discovered a ‘new-to-me’ type of spring ice: long silky filaments that form as water is pushed up out of sodden soil into freezing temperatures. How cool is that? (Literally.) 😉