Silver Tea and Senior Moments

My grandmother (Dad’s mother) was a poised and gracious woman. I never heard her raise her voice; never saw her make any movement that was rushed or awkward. She was unfailingly kind and polite, with a gentle sense of humour. When she finally had to enter a care home after a devastating stroke, the staff affectionately nicknamed her “Queen Bea”. It suited her perfectly.

One of her little quirks has stayed with me all my life: Her preference for ‘silver tea’.

You won’t find silver tea in any internet search, because there’s no such thing. Maybe Grandma developed her taste for it during the war(s) or the Depression years when everything was either rationed or beyond their budget, or maybe it was just her preference; but its recipe was simple: A cup of hot water.

When offered coffee or tea, she’d smile and respond with her usual humorous twinkle: “I’ll just have silver tea, thank you.” And she’d pour herself a cup of hot water from the kettle. It became one of our family quips, and to this day I often drink silver tea when I don’t feel like brewing actual tea.

But the other day I inadvertently made ‘real’ silver tea. I didn’t think that was possible, since it doesn’t actually exist; but I managed it. I always have several tea infusers on the go, and I usually get two steepings from each. I’d brewed a cup of pumpkin pie rooibos in the morning, and decided to go for Round Two in the afternoon. I grabbed the infuser, dropped it into my mug, and poured boiling water over it. A few minutes later I checked on it, only to find no pleasant spicy aroma at all.

Yep, I’d accidentally grabbed an empty infuser. I wonder if I can market that as “Steeped Silver Tea”?

Normally I’d worry that I was showing early signs of ‘senior moments’ (and yes, I’m flattering myself by pretending I’m much too young for that). But since I was in the final throes of finishing Book 16, I wasn’t too concerned. After a decade of writing novels, I’ve come to accept that I simply don’t have enough brainpower to immerse myself in writing the final chapters of a book and stay on top of all the details of daily life.

Which leads me to my big announcement for this week: The draft of Book 16 is DONE, woohoo! It’s already been passed by my first speedy beta reader, and we have a title: Spy In The Sky. I’m hard at work on a blurb and cover art, and hopefully pre-orders will be available in a couple of weeks.

And soon (with any luck) my wrung-out brain will return to normal and I’ll drink silver tea by choice instead of by accident.

What’s your favourite cup of tea?

Book 16 update: The draft is done, and beta reading and final edits are speeding along. Then it’ll be into proofreading and production. Stay tuned for a cover reveal and release date!

(Want to get an email when Spy In The Sky is available? Click here to join my New Book Notification list.)

Riddles And Chicken Earlobes

“I live in a house with no windows or doors. If I want to leave, I have to break through a wall. What am I?”

When I sat down to write the draft for this post, my mind was blank. Back in the days when I actually had human contact, I didn’t have much trouble writing blog posts — I could talk about something funny I’d seen, or tell somebody else’s great joke, or report on my latest ‘should-have-been-uneventful’ comedy of errors. But comedic opportunities dwindle when your biggest outing is going to the lab for blood tests.

So I looked to the internet for ideas. It’s been years since I encountered riddles; so when I found a page of them, I spent far too much time scratching my head over the clues and giggling at the answers. (And occasionally groaning. Not all riddles are good.)

I was stumped by the one at the top of the page, and I had to peek at the answer to discover that it’s “a baby chick”. Which (by way of a particularly twisty rabbit-hole) led me to discover… chicken earlobes.

I didn’t know chickens had earlobes. I didn’t even think they had ears. I mean, I knew they had earholes; but earlobes? I love learning new and useless facts, so I followed that rabbit-hole a bit farther and discovered that a hen’s feather colour doesn’t affect the colour of the eggs it lays — it’s the colour of her earlobes that matters. Chickens with white earlobes lay white eggs; chickens with red or brown earlobes usually lay brown (or other coloured) eggs. Who knew?

I realize this is not earth-shattering news, but it was a bright spot in my admittedly monotonous daily routine. I’m SO close to finishing Book 16 now! My entire world is focused on those last few chapters, and (dare I say it) I may even write “The End” in a couple of weeks!

But, just in case chicken earlobes aren’t as fascinating to normal people as they were to me, here are some other bright spots from around our place this week:

Crocuses of every colour!

Lovely little snowdrops surrounded by heather

Adorable minnow daffodils

Botanical tulips no bigger than the crocuses

I think these giant crocuses nestled in the cranesbill geranium leaves are actually bigger than the botanical tulips.

And just for good measure, here’s a riddle about a bright spot from The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien: “A box without hinges, key, or lid, yet golden treasure inside is hid.”

Book 16 progress: I’m on Chapter 46 and Aydan is scrambling to face threats from all directions. Arnie and John have her back as always, but there are some things even they can’t fix…

Answer to the final riddle: “an egg”. Yes, I apparently have chickens on my mind. Does that make me a bird-brain?

P.S. Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

It Fell From The Sky

Several months ago, before there was snow on the ground (yes, we had snow; stop laughing), I looked out the front window one morning and saw a rabbit’s foot. Clearly not a lucky one, since it had been recently detached from the rabbit.

I’ve never been squeamish, but I have to admit that being confronted by a dismembered limb first thing in the morning was a bit… disconcerting. (Although probably not as disconcerting as it was for the victim.)

I grew up on a farm, so this wasn’t the first time I’d discovered evidence of some predator’s successful hunt; but it was unique in that there were no other signs of carnage. No tufts of fur flung wide, no other remains, nothing. That was what weirded me out: The fact that the leg had apparently dropped from the clear blue sky.

A moment’s thought reminded me that we now live in eagle habitat, so after that it wasn’t too hard to guess who ate the rest of the rabbit. Still, it was a bit disturbing.

But life went on (for us; not the rabbit), and a couple of weeks later we poured a concrete pad in front of our house, effectively interring the rabbit remains. All was forgotten.

Until two weeks ago, when I looked out the front window and saw this:

Hubby and I had each taken a walk and followed different paths several yards apart. Neither of us dropped or threw anything. So… what’s that divot in the snow, at least six feet away from the nearest footprints?

I ventured over with some reluctance to check it out, but there were no grisly remains. So either we have a tiny volcanic vent in front of our house, or else the eagle flew over again and dropped something a little more *ahem* liquid in that spot.

Meanwhile, I’m happy to report that the snow is gone, and spring is on its way. Our crocuses are blooming (at least the ones that managed to escape our hungry squirrels), and we are the proud proprietors of a penis garden. It’s more work than you might think: We have to be vigilant about turning it every day to make sure the sprouting schlongs don’t develop a permanent curvature.

I didn’t want to post anything pornographic, so instead of the original flock of phalluses, here’s the end result:

The amaryllis garden in its (mostly) post-porn phase

What’s popped up in your world this week?

Book 16 progress: I’m on Chapter 42 and Aydan has finally discovered who’s trying to kill her; but now a sniper isn’t the worst of her problems. Things are getting complicated…

Wait, Who Is This?

One of the cool things about being a fiction writer is that I’m constantly learning new things.  Some are interesting and useful; some are boring but necessary; and a few are downright disturbing.  Sadly, the disturbing ones can never be purged from my brain.  (Like the photo of the naked woman holding a severed pig’s head that I discovered back in 2013 when I was looking for cover art for Book 6.  Why?  Why???)

But mostly my new discoveries are fascinating and fun.  F’rinstance, until I decided to publish the Never Say Spy series as audiobooks, I knew nothing about ‘voice artists’.  My narrator, Michelle Armeneau, has opened my eyes (or rather, ears).

What a talent!  She makes each character’s voice distinctive by subtly modulating the pitch, cadence, accent, speed, and forcefulness of her speech.  I’m blown away by her ability to create unique voices, because I have absolutely zero vocal ability.  I don’t have a great track record with voice recognition, either.

I have a few friends with similar voices who occasionally phone and start chatting without identifying themselves.  If I’ve grabbed the phone without checking the call display, it can get awkward. When somebody’s yakking away like we’re best friends (and I’m pretty sure we are), I’m embarrassed to stop them and ask, “Wait, who is this?”

Plus, I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings by not recognizing their voice, so I try to figure out who it is by the context of the conversation. Usually that works, but sometimes it backfires badly when I’m long minutes into the conversation and still have no idea who’s on the other end of the line.

Then I have to do the Talk of Shame: “Um, hey, it’s been great gabbing to you all this time, but… I have no idea who you are.”  I’m sure most normal people don’t have this problem, but ‘normal’ is another one of those admirable qualities that seems beyond my grasp.

Anyway, Michelle and I have always communicated via email, and a few weeks ago we decided to have our first phone conversation.  I’d like to proudly point out that, having just finished reviewing eleven hours of Michelle’s narration, I recognized her voice instantly.

I’d like to point that out; but I can’t.  The truth is that if I hadn’t been expecting her call at the appointed time, I wouldn’t have known who it was.  I thought her speaking voice would be the same as her narrative voice, but that’s yet another persona.  I’m in awe!

And a bit worried.  If she ever decides to mess with me, she could call me with a different voice every day and I’d be doomed to repeat the Talk of Shame over and over.

Fortunately, she’s far too nice to do that.  And she’s far too busy to waste time on prank calls — she’s hard at work narrating Book 4.

Yes, it’s true: Book 3 is now available in audiobook, and Book 4 is under way – woohoo!  Thanks, Michelle!

Get REACH FOR THE SPY on Audible

Middle-aged bookkeeper Aydan Kelly never wanted to moonlight as a spy, but she doesn’t have a choice. Working with computer networks in a secured building sounds safe, but it turns out the job’s a killer – literally.

When Aydan’s trusted co-worker is shot while committing an apparently treasonous act, Aydan embarks on a secret mission to clear his name.

But her investigation casts suspicion on the director of operations himself. If he’s a double agent, Aydan’s in more danger than she ever imagined…and national security hangs in the balance. 

Dishing The Dirt

Wow, the last few months have been so crazy-busy, I feel like I’ve been living under a large rock.  I kinda look as though I have, too.  I’d like to blame the COVID-19 isolation for my dishevelled appearance; but with gardening season in full swing, well… even basic personal hygiene seems a bit futile.

I get up, shower, and sit down at the breakfast table all shiny-clean. Mere hours later, I’m caked with dirt, soaked in sweat, and greasy with sunscreen. My fingernails are pitch-black crescents, and I have hat-head worthy of a clown show or a horror movie.  (Is there really a difference between the two?)

Here’s the embarrassing truth:  I’m perfectly happy like that. What’s more, I love wearing old clothes because I don’t have to worry about wrecking them. I’ve been wearing the same gardening jeans for at least fifteen years. They’ve been exposed to so much sunlight that they’re almost white, except where they’ve been permanently stained by dirt, engine grease, paint, caulking, glue, and/or other unnamed substances. They’ve fallen apart and been sewn back together so often that even their patches have patches.

But they’re comfortable.  And I live out in the sticks so nobody can see me; and even if they do see me and judge me, they’re far enough away that I don’t know they’re doing it.  So it’s all good.

Problem is, that kind of laid-back comfort gets insidious.  If I’m not careful, I’ll become that stinky old lady with the tattered clothes, matted hair, and feral expression, who shows up at the grocery store twice a year to buy staple foods before vanishing back into the dilapidated hovel whence she came.

Fortunately Hubby is much more civilized than I, and he somehow manages to stay clean(ish) no matter what he does.  So I have a model for normal human behaviour; and at least I’m still capable of cleaning up when it’s time for cover photos (albeit with a big assist from Photoshop).

Which, of course, is my ever-so-subtle segue to dishing today’s dirt:

It’s release day for Book 15, A SPY FOR HELP, woohoo!  (And whew.  It’s finally done! But the next book is already knocking at my mental doors…)

Off-duty secret agent Aydan Kelly knows she shouldn’t interfere when her lover finally locates his long-lost sister, but she’s afraid Arnie’s too upset to stay on the right side of the law.

Arnie’s sister has been outed in a social media firestorm, and threats against her escalate to a violent attack.  Aydan and Arnie rush to her rescue, only to discover she’s being targeted by a powerful crime lord from her unsavory past.  As danger mounts, Aydan realizes Arnie will do anything to save his sister… including murder.

Caught between love and legality, Aydan faces an unthinkable choice:  Risk her career and freedom by turning a blind eye to Arnie’s deadly plan, or save the crime lord and condemn Arnie to prison and his sister to death.

Click here for links to retailers

More Juggling (But Not With Fish)

September is shaping up to be a crazy month!  (Lucky I’m crazy enough to deal with it.)  I’m still picking piles of fruit and veggies from the garden, and we’re busily socking it away to enjoy throughout the winter.  The considerable overflow goes to our friends and neighbours as well as the Food Bank.

We might have been just a teeny bit over-enthusiastic when we were planting the garden, but… look at all this glorious food!

(Click on photos to enlarge.)

A single picking of tomatoes. (I pick a couple of times a week.)

 

Ten gallons of chopped carrots all ready for the freezer.

 

50 pints of pickles, 22 pints of jam, 7 pints of salsa, 28 pints of beans (another 20 pounds frozen), 24 pints of tomatoes and lots to go, and still a bit of space left for the rest of the beets and tomatoes and pickled hot peppers. YUM!

 

But our autumn isn’t only about food.  The flowers are still gorgeous, too, and the bees and other wildlife are hard at work stocking their own pantries:

This little black bear has been feasting on the wild cherries only a few hundred feet from our house. Don’t be fooled by his casual pose — he’s actually about 30 feet up a tree. (He’s a little blurry because Hubby took this shot using a LONG zoom — we have a healthy respect even for small bears!)

 

This little guy has been hard at work snipping off pine cones and stashing them away.

 

I’m not sure whether it was my camera or the tiny white spider (near the centre of the flower) that chased this bee off the zinnia. Either way, he’s buzzing off.

 

The snapdragons are still putting on a show.

 

One of our newest rhododendrons, Medusa, is a bit confused as to whether it’s spring or fall, but she’s beautiful anyway!

 

We’ll have a couple more rounds of houseguests this month, so maintaining my writing schedule for Book 15 will be a juggling act.  (Fortunately not with fish.)  To salvage some time I’ll dial back my blogging schedule to every second week for the month of September, so my next post will be September 18.

How’s your September shaping up?  Are you harvesting any goodies from your garden?

Book 15 update:  I’m bombing along on Chapter 4!  Hellhound would normally be voted “Most Likely To Get Arrested While On Vacation”, but Aydan’s the one who’s ended up in handcuffs…

It’s Done! (…Ish)

After a week of writing for 14 hours a day, I’ve finally finished the draft of Book 14, woohoo!  (I don’t intend to escalate to 15-hour days for Book 15, though.)

I’d love to say that Book 14 is “done”, but I still have a round of edits to do before I pass it over to my beta readers / editors / proofreaders, and I have yet to choose a title or create a cover or pick a release date.  Maybe in a month… ish…?

But still, the draft is out of my head, and that’s a good feeling!  (Some might argue that I have a permanent draft between my ears, but I prefer to ignore them.)

In fact, just about everything is out of my head at the moment — my brain is completely drained.  And we have houseguests this week, so instead of a post with actual words that make sense (or as much sense as I ever make), here are some photos of our garden.  Even though it’s only January, the plants seem to think spring is near.

So Book 14 is done-ish and it’s spring-ish outside.  Hooray for “almost-there”!

‘Zeta’ heather has been putting on a show since November, and the pansies and grape hyacinths will soon be blooming again.

 

This is ‘Eva Gold’ heather.

 

‘Tanya’ heather, plus one red anemone that’s FAR ahead of all the rest.

 

The flower garden is slowly starting to fill in. Maybe I should have bought bigger plants to start with…? 😉

 

The rhododendron buds are getting bigger by the day! This is ‘Kabarett’ – I’m looking forward to seeing its purple blooms for the first time this year.

 

The perennial alyssum has wee yellow buds starting, but it might be a while before it looks like the optimistic photo on the plant marker behind it.

 

Even the hydrangea thinks it’s spring – look at all the little green leaves-to-be!

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!

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?

 

 

 

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