Category Archives: Writing

Name-Calling

People with names like Gay Barr or Harry Dyck probably have a keen appreciation for the importance of names, but I was lucky that my parents chose baby names devoid of unfortunate double entendres.

Like proud parents, some authors agonize for days over the perfect name for their characters.  I’d like to say that I choose my characters’ names with equal care, but the truth is I don’t.  It’s lucky I never had children – I’d probably have named them Bradley Ulysses Martin or Alexander Steven Steadman and doomed them to eternal taunting when the other kids learned their initials.

The only character name I really researched was Aydan Kelly (the main character in the Never Say Spy series).  I spent hours searching for the perfect Irish name, because her Irish heritage was going to be an important subtext in the story.  I finally settled on Aydan, which is Gaelic for “little fire”.

If you’ve read the series, you’re probably thinking, “Um… what?”

Yeah, you’re right.  Not only did Aydan’s heritage turn out to be completely irrelevant to the story; but I also unwittingly selected a spelling that isn’t even Irish – a while ago, a lovely Turkish reader named Aydan wrote to me, curious about how I’d come to select her quintessentially Turkish name for my “Irish” character.  Oops.

I may be casual about naming most of my characters, but I always worry a bit when I’m choosing a name for a villain.  I can only imagine what it must be like for a reader to discover that a vile sociopath is named after them.  (Though I will admit there’s a certain passive-aggressive satisfaction in naming an unsavoury character after someone who screwed me over in real life.  Not that I’ve ever done that.  Much.)

Bad associations aside, some names give me a completely illogical visceral reaction.  “Alicia” feels cold, controlling, and uptight to me, and I have no idea why.  I’m sure there are thousands of loving, warm, funny Alicias in the world (and if you’re an Alicia reading this, I apologize – I’m sure you’re a very nice person).  But I’ve never met an Alicia, so my oddball bias remains.

And some names give me warm fuzzies for no apparent reason.  I’m sentimentally saving “Joy” for an extra-special character because if I’d ever had a daughter, that would have been her name.

What names give you a visceral reaction (good or bad)?  Or just for fun, run your least favourite non-friend’s initials through the Bad-Guy Hippie Name Generator and share, share, share!

Book 14 update:  It was another good writing week!  I just hit Chapter 33 and Hellhound is being himself – I was laughing out loud while I wrote last night.  I love my job!

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Rainbows and Seascapes

I took a mini-vacation last week (three whole days, woohoo!), so you’re getting photos instead of my usual essay.  Here’s a happy beach scene to set the mood:

This paradise is only 15 minutes away from our house.

 

On Friday, Saturday, and Sunday we experienced the lowest tide we’re likely to see for a while, with water levels actually below the mean sea level.  Hubby and I went exploring and discovered tidal pools teeming with fascinating critters.

This pool was only four or five feet across, but the longer we looked, the more we saw.  The big purple starfishes clinging to the rock were almost invisible in the shadows (gotta love light-adjusting cameras).  There were two larger crabs (below and left of the starfish) and dozens of tiny ones; and there’s actually a brown starfish in there, too.  The barnacles are farther left again, and we got to see one of them extend and retract a spindly spider-like leg from its white shell glued to the rock.

Tidal pool with purple starfish, crabs, barnacles, baby sculpins, and host of other unidentified marine life zipping around.

 

It’s been hot (36C/97F) for the past few days, and I know you tropical folks are chuckling because that would just be a pleasant little cool spell where you live.  But earlier in the week we had some lovely rain, and our house was at the end of a double rainbow:

Time to start digging in the basement – there’s gotta be a pot of gold in there somewhere!

 

And in other news, I finally managed to complete a watercolour painting that didn’t make me want to hurl and/or creep away in shame.  Hooray!  I’ve got a long way to go yet, but at least I feel as though I’m making progress.

It’s no masterpiece, but at least it’s identifiable…

 

And, one more thing:

I’m thinking about making changes to my blogging schedule and/or the length and content of my posts.  The usual 500-word posts take me 4 – 6 hours each week to write and edit.  (I usually edit each one about 25 times.  Yes, I admit I may have slight issues with perfectionism.)  I love interacting with everybody regularly; and I’d like to free up more time to work on Book 14.

So… hmm.  What to do?  Please help me decide by voting in the poll below, and if you have any other suggestions, please drop them in the comments.

Thanks for weighing in!

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Filed under Life, Writing

Some News Is Good News

The phrase ‘no news is good news’ has always seemed ambiguous to me.  I’m never quite sure whether it’s supposed to mean ‘if you don’t hear anything, everything’s going well’; or ‘there’s no good news at all’.

I have a guilty confession:  I hate reading the news.  Because… there’s no good news.  I’d rather avoid it and pretend everything’s going well in the world.  But out of some misguided sense of civic duty, I do skim the headlines regularly; and Hubby (who is a newshound by nature) has strict instructions to let me know if we’re going to get annihilated by a rogue meteor… again.

But by the time I finish reading the news, I feel like the Vogons after Marvin zaps them with the empathy gun:  “I feel so depressed…  Oh, what’s the point…?”

So this week I’m concentrating on good news:

Spring is truly here and the birdies are in fine form around our yard:  Swallows swooping and cheeping, eagles soaring high, colourful red-shafted flickers probing for bugs, mourning doves cooing, robins chirping, hummingbirds buzzing and squeaking, and red-headed woodpeckers hammering out their messages on the trees.  And more good news:

The sun is shining! (And that’s not snow in the background; it’s a tarp covering our manure pile.)

 

My apple twig is in full bloom (it’s too small to be called a “tree” yet)

 

The last of the tulips are putting on a show

 

Our deciduous azalea, R. luteum “Golden Comet” is only 18″ tall but it’s still beautiful and fragrant.

And…

Book 13 cover art is done!  The release date will be June 5, 2018, and pre-orders should be available sometime within the next week.

If you want to receive an email with links when the pre-orders are live, please click here to sign up for my New Book Notification list.  As soon as I have all the information I’ll update my Books and Where To Buy pages, too, so stay tuned!

Escorting Canada’s top weapons developers to an international summit should be just another stressful day in the life of secret agent Aydan Kelly.  But Aydan’s routine mission becomes a nightmare when she’s accused of an attack on the delegates and the theft of a classified weapon.

As evidence mounts against her, Aydan’s own investigation suggests she might have unconsciously committed the crime.  Burned by her own Department and hunted by MI6, CIA, and FBI, Aydan must decide:  When her own mind might betray her, who can she trust?

 

 

 

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Flowers And Festivities

It’s FINISHED!  Woohooo!!!

I wrote “The End” on Book 13 this week, and I hope to have a title and cover soon.  And wow, did it ever turn out to be a long book!  Now let the editing begin…

My brain is temporarily drained of words, so for this week’s post I decided to ‘say it with flowers’. These are photos from our garden and from Milner Gardens and Woodland, where the rhododendrons, camellias, azaleas, and magnolias are putting on a show.

Happy spring!

A tulip after the rain

 

Tulip love in our garden

 

This is our baby rhododendron “Baden-Baden”, only a few inches off the ground.

 

…and this is how we’re hoping it might look someday.

 

These anemones are almost finished.

 

…and these ones are just getting started.

 

More anemones with a fat seed head in the foreground.

 

White rhododendron at Milner Gardens

 

White rhodo closeup

 

Almost there…

 

Rhodos at Milner Gardens

 

Beach view from Milner Gardens with a purple azalea. Ahhhh…

 

Camellias at Milner Gardens

 

More camellias at Milner Gardens

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Brain Food

I’m SOOOO close to finishing the draft of Book 13!

Each time I start a new book, I promise myself that I’ll write steadily within a realistic timeframe.  And each time, I end up writing day and night to finish in time for some self-imposed deadline.  In my quest for energy and inspiration this week, I’ve uncovered new FactsTM (see footnote below) about brain food.

Earlier civilizations believed that foods resembling a particular portion of the anatomy provided special nourishment to that anatomy.  So cauliflower, lumpy and brain-shaped, was ‘brain food’.  (This theory also explains the popularity of bananas and cucumbers; but I digress.)

Modern medicine informs us that ‘brain food’ doesn’t, in fact, resemble the brain; instead, the secret to smarts comes from complicated things like omega-3s, antioxidants, and flavonoids.

But after extensive research (a couple of hours at least) I’ve discovered that both ancient and modern beliefs are wrong.  Brain food isn’t brainish-looking.  It’s not complicated or difficult to obtain.

It’s…

*suspenseful drumroll*

Junk food!  And I have FactsTM to support my conclusion!

When I’m plotting a book, I usually pace; although I may also stand stock-still staring into space or drape myself over the furniture in odd positions.  (I bet you thought you were supposed to sit with your butt on the sofa cushions and your feet flat on the floor.  Pshaw.  The correct position is:  Belly on the cushions, arms draped over the sofa back, toes on the floor.)

Pacing is my favourite creativity stimulant; but even better is Pacing With Brain Food.

I can think better when I’m chewing; probably because jaw muscle contractions stimulate my brain.  My research supports this, because I’ve found that crunchy foods provide much more inspiration than soft foods.

I love gooey goodies like cheese and ice cream, but they offer no inspiration at all.  Likewise, chocolate (while ever-so-yummy) doesn’t help me.  In fact, the more chocolate I eat, the less I can think; until my entire mind is subsumed by four words:  MUST… HAVE… MORE… CHOCOLATE!

Tradition holds that booze is a veritable fount of inspiration; but not so.  A moderate amount of booze completely drains my brain; and too much booze fills it up again with ideas that seem brilliant at the time but when reviewed the next day make me say, “What the everloving f…?”

So once again, the FactsTM bear me out:  It’s gotta be crunchy.  You can’t chew booze.

Fruits and veggies?  Meh.  They’re better than nothing.  But…

Popcorn.  Chips.  Beer nuts.  Pretzels.  Cheezies.  OMG!!!!

My brain goes into overdrive.  I pace frenetically, gobbling handful upon handful of crunchy brain-stirring goodness.  Ideas flow, like belly fat breaching the waistband of too-tight jeans.

It’s a good system; but it’s not really sustainable unless I want to buy a whole new wardrobe to accommodate my… *ahem* expanding creative process for each subsequent book.

So in a few more days I’ll be back to my usual sensible diet; but just remember, you heard it here first:  Junk food is the ultimate brain food.  It’s a FactTM!

*

1 FactsTM is a trademark of The Fake News Generation Corp., a wholly-owned subsidiary of The Bullshit Consortium.  FactsTM is defined as “any random statement, however ridiculous, which is shouted loudly enough to be reported by the media”.

P.S. I’m travelling today, so I’ll be checking in later – ‘talk’ to you soon!

P.P.S. It’s spring on the Island!  Hooray!

 

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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

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Shower Growlers And Barking Spiders

Depictions of the literary Muse always show some dreamy ethereal woman draped in a classical Greek robe, with brilliant ideas swirling like rainbows around her perfectly coiffed head.

Ha.  I wish.  Here’s the conversation I had with my Muse this week:

Me, strolling up to the Muse’s door on Monday:  *knock, knock*  Hey, there…

Muse:  What’s the matter with you?  Can’t you read the “Do Not Disturb” sign?  Get lost!

Me:  Oops.  It’s just that, well, I usually write my blog drafts today, and…

Muse:  Scram!

Me:  Okay, sorry.  Um… maybe tomorrow…?

Muse:  Yeah, whatever.

Me, shuffling bashfully up to the muse’s door on Tuesday:  *knock, knock*  Hi.  Um…

Muse:  You again?  Whaddaya want?

Me:  Um… a blog post…?

Muse:  You gotta be shitting me!  Didn’t I just bust my ass for you all morning on Book 13?

Me:  Well, yeah; and I was really happy with your ideas.  I appreciate it… but… you know I do a blog post once a week…

Muse:  Oh, for…  Okay, FINE!  Check out the Urban Dictionary for “shower growler”:  “When you’re showering you press your butt against the wall and fart, making a rumbling growl and vibrating the walls of the shower.”*

(*Note:  This was not even the Muse’s own idea – my friend Chris emailed it to me last week.)

Me:  Come on, I need more than that.

Muse, glowering dangerously:  Oh yeah?

Me, finding a backbone at last and glowering in return:  Yeah!

Muse, emitting a martyred sigh:  Fine.  Write a whole post about farts.  How about a page of euphemisms?  I got a million of ‘em!  Blow the butt trumpet, strangle the stank monkey, play the colonic calliope, roast your Jockeys…”

Me, snickering in spite of myself:  Well… I dunno…

Muse:  …Do the one-cheek sneak; drop a barking spider; hit 7.4 on the Rectum scale; a turd honking for the right of way…

Me, stifling giggles:  Stop!  I’ve been trying to behave lately.

Muse:  You?  Behave?!?  As if.  How about this:  “Shit a brick and fart a crowbar”.  Or hey; how about some definitions?  Like “Fartabout”:  Walking away from everybody to ease out a fart so nobody notices.  It’s like a walkabout, only you’re farting…

Me:  There’s already a word for walking around and spreading the stink.  It’s called ‘cropdusting’.

Muse, huffily:  Well, fine, you obviously don’t need me, then. *slams the door in my face*

Me:  Wait, I didn’t mean it that way! *knock, knock*  C’mon, open up!  I need you, really I do.

Muse:  Get lost!

Me:  *sigh*

So there you have it.  I would have prepared a literary masterpiece for today, but my Muse had a bad case of brain flatulence.

Everybody else gets the classy chick with rainbows and perfect hair.  I get this:

Diane’s Muse

So how was your week?

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Having Words With Myself

Every now and then the playback needle in my brain skips a groove and ends up on a different track altogether.  (And if you don’t understand that reference, you’re probably too young to be reading my blog.)

When the needle skips, it’s as though I’m a foreigner looking at our language for the first time.  Words I’ve used for decades suddenly look weird and unfamiliar, and I feel compelled to discover their origin.  And if I stare at a word too long, no matter how familiar it is I’ll begin to question whether I’ve spelled it correctly – it looks wrong no matter how I rearrange the letters.

That happened to me earlier this week, and I’m hoping it’s only because the last couple of weeks have been immensely stressful:  It’s the usual craziness of releasing a book plus a spate of family illnesses and deaths, all in addition to the never-ending gong show that is our house construction.

At least, I’m hoping it’s only the stress that’s making my brain twist.  But even if my word-weirdness is the harbinger of some dire malady, at least I’m getting a chuckle out of the symptoms.

For instance:

The phrase “He’s holding his own” is meant to indicate that someone is holding up under pressure and not requiring the help of others.  But whenever I hear that expression my mind immediately demands, “Holding his own what?”  Which is quickly followed by, “I hope he washes his hands afterward.”

In the same vein, ‘He knows how to handle himself’ is also supposed to be an admiring comment, but you can probably guess where my brain goes with that.  (I wrote ‘he knows how to handle himself’ in Kiss And Say Good Spy; and I admit I was grinning when I did it.)  Whenever I hear or read that phrase I wonder whether it’s being used as a compliment or a filthy innuendo.

…And don’t even get me started about the word ‘innuendo’.  To me it sounds like The Godfather describing a kinky sex act:  “In-u-end-o!”

‘Feckless’ makes me giggle, too.  The online dictionary tells me it’s derived from the Scottish word ‘feck’, which means ‘effect’; therefore ‘feckless’ means ‘useless, incompetent, ineffective’.  I always think of ‘feck’ as an Irish expletive, so in my mind ‘feckless’ should mean ‘not giving a feck’.  E.g. “I’ve been doing this stupid job for so long I’m feckless about it.”  Or “If he fell off the face of the earth, I’d be feckless”.

‘Gormless’ is an intrinsically funny word.  Unlike the others, it doesn’t remind me of any other word (except maybe ‘worm’) but even if I’d never heard it before, I think I’d still identify it as an insult.  Like ‘flaccid’, ‘gormless’ is a word whose sound suits its meaning perfectly.

And speaking of the way words sound, I have to smother a smile when anybody says ‘Doing his/her duty’, too.  Unless the speaker enunciates very clearly, I hear ‘doing his/her doody’… which is another thing entirely.  (Please pass the toilet paper.)

What word or phrase never fails to make you snicker?

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Good Spies Finish First!

The votes are in, and the title for Book 12 will be “Kiss And Say Good Spy”!  I’m pumped because that was the title I’d originally chosen for it (before I second-guessed myself).  I would have been happy with any of the other titles, too, but it’s cool to see I was on the right wavelength from the start.

Many thanks to everyone who voted in the poll!  Even if you didn’t vote for “Kiss And Say Good Spy”, your vote was still important – it helps me understand people’s preferences better for future books.  And I’m looking forward to lots of future books – I love writing!

I’m lucky enough to enjoy all parts of it, including the hours and hours of editing (yes, I know I’m a freak).  I also amuse myself by setting mini-challenges for each book:  “Can I include (fill in oddball item) in this book somehow?”

In Book 10 I challenged myself to include “ballistic rutabagas”, which became the name of an alternative music band.  In Book 11 the challenge was alien porn (kindly suggested by @SomeRandomGuy); and I’m proud to say I found a way to work it into the story.  Tastefully, of course.  *snickers*

But Book 12’s challenge, inspired by @SueSlaght’s blog post Short-Beaked Echidna Australia’s Fast Tongue, was a little trickier:  Include a short-beaked echidna, also known as a spiny anteater.  (For those unaware of the short-beaked echidna’s claim to fame:  It has a long, amazingly fast tongue and a four-headed penis.)

I had originally thought I might use an echidna as a villain’s pet, à la Ernst Blofeld in the James Bond classic “You Only Live Twice”.  That idea was shot down when I researched echidnas and discovered that they don’t make good pets because picking them up causes them intense stress and can injure them.

But my research also revealed that there are exceptions to that rule.  F’rinstance, there’s at least one short-beaked echidna that enjoys being picked up… in fact, he enjoys it a little too much.  He had to be retired from his career at a zoo because he kept getting a giant erection every time he was handled.

You can imagine where my mind went with that:  a villain’s pet that pops an enormous boner at inopportune moments.  I so, so wanted to write that!

But I didn’t.

See, I have a modicum of… well, I hesitate to go as far as to say ‘good taste’, so let’s just stick with ‘restraint’.

I did, however, manage to work the echidna into the story.  Challenge = Met!

So if you’re burning to know how a short-beaked echidna fits into a spy thriller:  The release date for “Kiss And Say Good Spy” is August 1, and preorders will be going live by the end of this week for the e-book versions (paperbacks will be released later).  If you’ve signed up for my New Book Notification list, you’ll get an email with links to the preorders as soon as they’re available.  I’ll also announce them on the Books page and my Facebook author page.

And…

I’m a little late with this since Canada’s 150th birthday was July 1, but one of my readers (Ethel: thank you) sent me this link and I thought everyone else might get a kick out of it, too.  It’s a music video created a few years ago by our favourite Canadian astronaut, Chris Hadfield, and his brother Dave.  Welcome to Canada, eh?  🙂

Now… off to ponder Book 13’s challenge…

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Flash Fiction: Nun For Us, Please

Yesterday I was texting our contractor about some budget items when my phone autocorrected my sentence to: “Once we have the nuns we can decide”.  I chuckled and corrected “nuns” to “numbers” before I sent it, but the phrase stuck in my brain because it really sounded like a flash fiction prompt.

So here goes:

Nun For Us, Please

“Once we have the nuns we can decide when to perform the ritual.”  Zaz raised her carapace and ruffled her iridescent wings in a show of confidence.

Chith eyed their acquisitions, antennae drooping with doubt.  “I don’t know…”  Squealing and grunting from inside the pen made her spring back with a chitter of alarm.  “Are you sure?”

“Magic brought us here.  Magic will take us back,” Zaz said with more certainty than she felt.  “The incantation I overheard mentioned us by name and talked about going home, so it has to be the right one.”

“It didn’t say ‘Zaz and Chith’,” Chith objected.

“Well, no, but it said ‘Pik’ee’ over and over.  An incantation that repeats our race in every line is obviously about us.”  Zaz ruffled her wings again.  “So all we need now is nuns.”

“You said ‘nun’ when you first told it to me, not ‘nuns’,” Chith argued.  “Maybe we only need one, and we’d better get it right.  If we hadn’t been so careless last time, we wouldn’t be in this fix.”  She peered into the pen, her mandibles drawing back in revulsion.  “I hope nuns aren’t like this.  These are so noisy and smelly.  Are you sure they’re the right thing?”

“This is what the human male with the face-fur showed me when I told him the incantation.”  Zaz drew herself up on her hind legs to deliver her newfound knowledge with authority.  “These are pigs.  Nuns are some kind of special human, so they should be cleaner.”  She hesitated.  “Though the furry human was actually quite smelly, too.”

“Are you sure he wasn’t lying?  Because that…”  Chith indicated a malodorous lump beside the pigpen with a contemptuous mandible-click.  “…is either a joke or an insult.  Or both.”

Zaz’s thorax bristled.  “It’s human food.  The cooked muscle of an animal; a ‘cow’, the furry human said.  I can’t help it if it’s disgusting; the incantation required it.”  Her thorax hairs wilted a bit.  “It didn’t smell as bad yesterday, though.”

“It must be rotting.  We’d better hurry up and get our nun.”  Chith backed away from the pigpen.  “Do you know where to get one?”

“Yes, the furry human showed me.”  At the skeptical dip of Chith’s antennae, Zaz bristled again.  “I’m sure he wasn’t lying.  He was very religious.  When I spoke to him, he ritually smashed a beautiful shiny vessel of liquid and prostrated himself to pray to his deity.”  She paused, one antenna cocked mischievously.  “He said ‘Please, God, I swear I’ll never drink again, just make the giant talking bug go away’.”

Chith clacked her mandibles in amusement.  “Let’s go get our nun.”

*

Sister Mary Agnes made the sign of the cross and gave herself a firm mental reminder that all creatures were precious to God.

“I’m sorry, I don’t quite understand,” she said faintly to the two huge beetles standing on the convent doorstep.  “Exactly what do you need me for?”

“I told you, for a magic ritual.”  The larger beetle, Zaz, buzzed the words by modulating her carapace over her vibrating wings.  “We are small Pik’ee and we want to go home.  The incantation says we need a nun.  We have roast beef, and pigs, too; though I’m not sure about them.  The incantation didn’t mention pigs, but the furry human said ‘definitely pigs’ so we got them just in case.”

“And this incantation…” Mary Agnes asked with rising trepidation.  “Where did you overhear it?”

“A human female was teaching it to her young one.  Like this.”  Zaz recited:

This little Pik’ee went to market
This little Pik’ee stayed home
This little Pik’ee had roast beef
This little Pik’ee had nun
And this little Pik’ee went
Wee, wee, wee, all the way home.

Mary Agnes closed her eyes in a short prayer for strength, then drew a steadying breath.  “I’m afraid I have bad news for you…”

* * *

P.S.  And now I want to write a joke that begins, “A nun walks into a bar with two giant talking beetles…”  😉

Anybody else want to have a go at it?  Please do!  Write a flash fiction piece of 750 words or less using the prompt “Once we have the nuns we can decide”, or tell a joke about a nun and two giant talking beetles.  If you have a blog, post it there and link back here; or else drop your joke or story in the comments below.  Have fun!  (You retain full copyright to any joke or story you post here.)

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