Tag Archives: stories

Language Lapses

I’m fascinated by the way English speakers from various cultures use the same words to mean completely different things, sometimes with hilarious results.  I have readers around the world so I’m generally conscious of words that are innocent in some places but rude in others, and I try to stay away from the iffy ones.

But sometimes I fail.  F’rinstance…

Hubby is an electronics genius, and he’s always repairing and/or inventing things in his mancave. Sometimes there are worrisome whiffs of electrochemical odour that make me wonder whether the air is safe to breathe.  So the other day I was talking with a doctor; a knowledgeable and pleasant man with a British accent.  And he asked whether we had any potential toxins in our house.

“Solder!” I announced.

In the momentary pause that followed, I realized I’d slipped up.  I had forgotten that in Britain, ‘solder’ is pronounced ‘sole-der’ (rhyming with ‘bolder’). In the U.S. and Canada, we pronounce it ‘sodder’. And just after the word launched from my mouth into that instant of silence, I recalled that ‘sod’, ‘sodding’, and its variations are quite rude in Britain. Similar to the F-bomb, according to the online dictionaries.

Oops.

I hurriedly added, “…from electronics repair” and the doctor replied as though nothing was amiss (and his answer was that we’re probably safe, considering the minimal amount of soldering Hubby does), but there was definitely a thread of amusement in his voice. I’m glad he decided to see the humour!

Considering that Canada actually began as a British colony, it’s surprising how many of our words have diverged in meaning.

Take ‘gas’, for example. Here, it’s fuel for our vehicles. In the U.K. it’s called ‘petrol’ — ‘gas’ is something you get after eating too many beans. I can only imagine the chuckles over there when somebody from this continent bemoans the unfortunate addiction of gas-sniffing.

Then there’s the time-honoured British tradition of smoking fags:  To them, a ‘fag’ is a cigarette. Over here, it’s a derogatory word for a homosexual man. Add that to the fact that ‘smoke’ is slang for ‘kill’ in North America, and a casual social practice in the U.K. becomes a criminal act over here.

But the word that came closest to embarrassing me internationally was ‘fanny’. As you may know, the protagonist of my novels wears a waist pouch; commonly known as a ‘fanny pack’ in North America. Here, ‘fanny’ is a semi-polite word meaning ‘bum’ or ‘buttocks’.  Over the pond, ‘fanny’ is a very impolite word for female genitals. I’m SO glad I didn’t call it a ‘fanny pack’ in my novels!

And speaking of novels… Book 15’s cover and blurb are finished, woohoo!  I’m expecting feedback from one more beta reader, and then I’ll be ready to announce a release date.

Here’s the cover art, with many thanks to all my wonderful blog readers who offered feedback and advice last May.  Most people liked the original cover photos, but over half thought the colours and fonts could be more dynamic.  So here’s the new look — I hope you like it!  (You can see the rest of the updated covers on the Books page.)

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.

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I Did It, And I’m Proud! (ish)

I found the above title on a completely blank post in my Drafts folder.  I don’t know what I had originally intended to write, but I’m going to run with it now. (Fasten your seatbelt, because the upcoming segue will produce severe g-forces.)

So… speaking of running with it: Remember the aerobics classes of the 1980s?

I was in university then, living in the city after growing up so far out in the sticks that even the fashion-conscious folks were several years behind the current styles.

University was an eye-opener. Suddenly I was confronted by Fashion with a capital F, in clothing, shoes, home furnishings, music, EVERYTHING. Including fitness. My dismal attempts at sartorial style are a post for another day (actually, many days), but I seized on aerobics as The Fitness Thing To Do.

My first aerobics class was taught by one of my interior design classmates. She was perfect in every way. Blonde, petite, a talented interior designer, fashionable, and so insanely fit that fat cells couldn’t even exist in the same room with her.

She was everything I was not. Dressed in her sleek bodysuit, tights, leg warmers, and perky matching headband, she led the class through a complicated and gruelling workout without apparent effort. I gallumphed gracelessly at the back of the room, puffing like steam engine, sweating like a toilet tank, and flailing wildly in an attempt to match her dance-like choreography.

If she hadn’t been such a nice person, I would have suspected her of keeping an eye on me and purposely changing the routine the instant I managed to catch up. But I knew the truth: Even though I’m generally pretty well-coordinated, I’m hopelessly choreography-impaired.

I hadn’t thought about aerobics classes for several decades, but this week it all came back to me. We don’t live close to a gym now, so I follow an online program that’s focused on strength training, not choreography.  The movements are simple and I can keep up.

But.

There’s an add-on module for extra ab work, with a randomized selection of timed activities. Which means, “Keep up with the class, kids”.

So there I was again: panting, sweating, and hopelessly out of sync. The only change from 38 years ago was that this time I was on my back, doing a strikingly accurate imitation of a beetle that’s been flipped upside-down: Arms and legs flailing in the air, body rocking spastically back and forth.

I managed most of the routine before I collapsed and lay there laughing helplessly at myself, while the mechanized voice prompted, “X-Man crosses for 30 seconds starting in 5… 4… 3…”

But at least I’m exercising. I did it, and I’m proud(ish); as long as nobody confuses ‘proud’ with ‘dignified’.

Anybody got some leg warmers I can borrow?

Book 15 update:  I spent most of last week wrestling with a knotty plot (which is not nearly as much fun as wrestling with a naughty plot), and did a big reorganization.  I’m on Chapter 27, and it should be clear sailing now!  (Says she, with misguided optimism.)

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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!

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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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Evil Seagull Lady

The other day I was down at the ocean (and I’m still thrilled that I can get there in fifteen minutes).  This is my favourite time of year to go to the beach – the days are crisp and the tourists are gone, so it’s only me and the waves and the seagulls.

And the Seagull Lady.

An elderly woman drove up and parked as I was walking down to the water’s edge, but I didn’t pay much attention – I was focused on getting to my favourite sandbar while the sun was turning the waves blue and silver.  I made a beeline for my special spot and stood there smiling, tuning out everything but the gentle hush of the waves and the cries of the seagulls.

Except… there seemed to be more seagull cries than usual.  And they weren’t the normal squawks that seagulls emit while they’re casually flying overhead deciding whether to shit on you.  These were more urgent squeals that were easy to translate:  “Feed me!  Feed me!  Feed me!”

I glanced over to see the Seagull Lady seated on a big driftwood log holding a bread bag and surrounded by gulls.  She tossed handful after handful of bread to the greedy crew, who gobbled it up and screamed for more.

I had several thoughts in quick succession:

  1. “Aw, that nice little old lady must love gulls.  That would make a great photo, with her sitting on that big log backlit by the sun and surrounded by birds.”
  2. “Jeez, I’m glad that’s not my house right next to the parking lot.  Now I know why there are always dozens of squawking gulls and a river of birdshit on their roof.  I bet the homeowners would love to smack that nice little old lady.”
  3. “I wonder if that nice little old lady knows that bread is unhealthy for gulls and she’s not really doing them any favours?”

That’s when my brain took a hard left (as it frequently does) and kickstarted my urge to create stories of mayhem and betrayal.

My next thought was this:

“What if that little old lady actually hates gulls?  What if she’s purposely feeding them bread in the full knowledge that it will make them malnourished and less able to fend for themselves?  OMG, what if that little old lady is actually a twisted psychopath who intentionally inflicts suffering on all living things?  That would make an awesome storyline!”

…And that’s what it’s like to live inside my head.

So the next time you see a woman at the beach gazing across the waves and smiling, don’t assume she’s all zen-and-happy-meditation.  She might be devising evil plots…

*

P.S. I’m travelling, so I’ll catch up with comments later in the day.  “Talk” to you then!  🙂

Book 14 update:  I hit the 50% mark this week, hooray!  This is where the plot gets complicated…

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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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Unpredictably Predictive

This week I was delighted to discover that computers are now capable of writing stories for us using predictive text. I had already suspected as much, since these days my iPhone can pretty much compose text messages all by itself. If I type “Are…”, it will automatically fill in “…you still coming today?”

This is an unavoidable result of dealing with contractors who are genetically incapable of showing up as promised; and it also proves that my iPhone is at least as smart as they are.

Um… no, I’m not bitter; why do you ask?

Anyhow, back to predictive-text stories: Botnik Studios fed all seven volumes of Harry Potter to their computer, and then turned it loose to write the next great Harry Potter saga.

Amazingly, the computer did create a story that has taken the internet by storm. Not because it’s so good, but because it’s so hilariously bad. Check out “Harry Potter and the Portrait of What Looked Like a Large Pile of Ash”.

Better still, talented artist Megan Nicole Dong couldn’t resist the challenge of illustrating the particularly bizarre bits.

Inspired, I turned to my iPhone. Surely it had the world’s next bestseller locked away in its little electronic brain!

Here is its magnum opus:

I don’t know what to tell you about the other day but we’re not going to get any more time. Officially the best thing to do is to get a new job. Jobless claims are still coming up in a couple of months but I haven’t been able to make any changes to the company.

I forgot to ask you about the foundation of your job and how to make it work. The next time we have to make sure you get the house. The beams are not going to make it any better than the last time I had a chance to look at it and I haven’t done anything for the last week. I want to see what we can do to get the job done.

I admit I was disappointed in its painfully dry prose; but at least the whole composition was more coherent than a lot of business memos I’ve seen.

Moving on from ‘predictive’ to ‘predictable’… Christmas holidays are here again!

And that means I’m going to skip next week’s blog post so I have time to remove a few pounds of dust from Every. Single. Surface. In the house.  Including the Christmas tree, all the Christmas decorations, and the (formerly nicely) wrapped gifts, because the contractors (who were supposed to finish a month ago) exploded Dustpocalypse in our house the day before our houseguests were due to arriveGRRR!!!

*breathes deeply through a dust mask for a few minutes*

Okay, I’m all better now.  Ish.

I’ll also be taking time to prepare some festive calorie-laden goodies for my guests.  With any luck I’ll be able to keep the dusting separate from the cooking; but if not, at least I’ll be serving high fibre (if oddly-flavoured) meals.

Merry Christmas to those who observe it; and whatever your December traditions may be, I wish you joy, comfort, peace, and prosperity.

‘See’ you on January 3, 2018!

 

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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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Diagnosis: Writer

So many of my readers are also writers!

Nelson is serializing his book on his blog,

Jono just posted a sneaky two-part story,

Carrie Rubin has two medical thrillers published and is working on a third,

Nancy Roman blogs, writes for Huffington Post, and has written a novel,

Andrew will soon be releasing a collection of poems,

…And I know @SomeRandomGuy is over 600,000 words into the draft of his epic sci-fi fantasy, and others have mentioned works in progress or in planning.

So I thought now might be a good time for a diagnosis.  Are you or someone you know struggling with writer-itis?  Use this handy checklist to find out:

 

Symptoms:  Uttering random words at inappropriate times; unexplained giggling, crying, and/or scowling.

Differential Diagnosis:  Writer, Tourette Syndrome, or psychosis.

Tests:  Observe the subject’s behaviour after the outburst.

Diagnosis: 

If the subject scurries off to write immediately after the outburst, they’re a writer.

If the subject acts as though nothing untoward has happened, they might have Tourette’s… or they’re a writer in the throes of plotting.

If the subject carries on an animated conversation with invisible companions, it might be psychosis… or they’re a writer planning dialogue.

 

Symptoms:  Unhealthy attachment to word processing programs

Differential Diagnosis:  Writer or computer geek

Tests:  Observe the content of the document.

Diagnosis: 

If you’re still reading and completely riveted after ten pages, they’re a writer.

If your eyes glaze over after the first line and your brain explodes after the first page, they might be a computer geek… or a writer.

 

Symptoms:  Separation anxiety when leaving a computer; obsession with backups; paralyzing fear of data loss

Diagnosis:  Writer, computer geek, or conspiracy theorist

Tests:  Confiscate the subject’s data and destroy it before the subject’s eyes.

Diagnosis:

If the subject bursts into uncontrollable weeping and/or guzzles alcohol until they throw up and/or pass out, they’re a writer.  Or they were; before you destroyed the only copy of their life’s work and with it, their will to live.

If the subject curses you in Klingon and produces three redundant backups, they’re a computer geek… or a sci-fi writer.

If the subject sidles away with a furtive expression and disappears only to resurface several weeks later with a new name, identical data, and a blog decrying the censorship of the establishment and the oppression of free thinkers, they’re a conspiracy theorist… or a writer.

 

Symptoms:  Forgetfulness; changes in behaviour; social withdrawal

Differential Diagnosis:  Writer, dementia, or drug addiction

Tests:  Restrict the subject to a controlled environment for 24 hours, then provide a laptop loaded with a word-processing program.  Retest at two-month intervals.

Diagnosis:  If the subject breaks into a cold sweat and suffers tremors, nausea, vomiting, hallucinations, and/or seizures, it might be a drug addiction… or they’re a writer.

If the symptoms resolve instantly when a laptop is provided, they’re a writer.

There’s really no way to differentiate writers from dementia patients in a single test.  Writers will forget to eat, sleep, and bathe; will walk away from stoves leaving the elements on high; will drop the keys in the sugar bowl; will wander away from home and get lost even in familiar neighbourhoods; and may even fail to recognize close friends and family.  Retesting is the only way to know for sure:  At some point, writers will likely resume more or less normal behaviour (at least until they start their next manuscript).

 

Symptoms:  Immobility and non-responsiveness when addressed

Differential Diagnosis:  Writer, deafness, or death

Tests:  Obtain a lightweight object at least six inches longer than the subject’s reach.  Gently prod the subject.

Differential Diagnosis:

If the subject startles, yells, and/or flails, they’re either a writer in deep concentration or deaf.

If the subject now responds when addressed (and particularly if they respond with creative expletives), they’re a writer.

If the subject still doesn’t respond when addressed, they might be deaf.  Or a deaf writer.  Or a writer in extra-deep concentration.

If the subject falls over and lies motionless, call the coroner… but the subject might still be a writer in extra-extra deep concentration.  Make sure the medical examiner checks for a pulse before starting the autopsy.

 

If you were reading this hoping you’d find a cure, well… sorry about that.  There isn’t one; there are only short remissions between manuscripts.  But the disease itself is so much fun, who’d want a cure anyway?

Do you have writer-itis?

* * *

P.S. I’m poking fun at myself and my fellow writers, but I don’t mean to trivialize the social and emotional consequences of dementia, Tourette Syndrome, mental illness, hearing impairment, or addiction.  To gain awareness and understanding of these conditions:

Tourette Syndrome

Alzheimer’s and dementia

Mental health

Hearing impairment

Addiction

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