A Powerful Memoir of Healing and the Spirit of Survival

Tonight I finished reading one of the most inspiring books I’ve read in a long time – M. J. Adam’s Unforgiving – the Memoir of an Asperger Teen

I met the author at the Surrey International Writers’ Conference a few weeks ago, and talking with her was a pleasure from the first moment. How could it be otherwise when she told me that she’d once learned something very important about writing from a workshop I presented in Surrey – that when you’re writing about relationships, there must be personal growth for the characters.

Learning that I’d helped a developing writer made my day, and before the conference ended I had the pleasure of sharing the special kind of conversation that writers treasure. I went home with her memoir and promised myself I’d read it soon.

Well, I’ve  just finished reading Unforgiving, and I want to tell everyone what a great thing M. J. Adam has done.

Unforgiving – the Memoir of an Asperger Teen is one of the most beautiful books I have ever read.

M. J. Adam has crafted an inspiring book, a definite must-read for anyone who has, knows, is, or was an Asperger’s teen. I highly recommend it for anyone who cares about child survivors of any kind of trauma, or for teens struggling to understand themselves and the world they live in.

The events that happened to Margaret Jean should never happen to any child. Yet they did happen, and each page of Margaret Jean’s memoir rings with love, the amazing power of healing, and the spirit of survival.

I cried. I laughed. I cheered Margaret Jean’s indomitable inner strength, and felt honoured that she had shared herself so deeply with this reader.

Buy this book. Read it. You’ll be glad you did.

Vanessa Grant

Plotting 2012 – aided by Covey, Milk, and synchronization

(This post also appeared at PenWarriors.com)

It’s January and I’m plotting my life in 2012. As with most tales, there’s a backstory:

  • SETTING: Vanessa’s newly remodelled study. Fresh paint, new carpet, several years of hoarding cleared out. Time: mid-December
  • GREMLIN (Vanessa’s internal critic): Here it is 2012 and you’ve got a todo list the size of the Grand Canyon. Get organized, woman!
  • VANESSA: I visited the grand canyon back in 2011 and I KNOW it’s a mile deep. Maybe I can sort this mess into a stack of smaller piles.
  • GREMLIN: You need a system.
  • VANESSA (sorting):
  • GREMLIN: Look at that heap of TODOs! I suppose you think you’re Superwoman now?
  • VANESSA: Shut up. I’m setting goals.
  • GREMLIN: Hah! You cleaned out your office last month, now you’re going for world’s worst task hoarder!
  • VANESSA (looking for lethal weapon): Kill the gremlin … kill the gremlin.
  • GREMLIN: You need a syst–No! No! Don’t shoot! You– (GREMLIN slinks out of room, slamming door and leaving blood behind on new carpet)
  • VANESSA (Locks door behind GREMLIN, then starts looking for a system…)
  • CRITIC (whispers through door): I told you so!

Obviously, this story is never going to hit the bestseller lists, but thankfully as December rolled towards January, I embarked on a search for a … (okay, GREMLIN, you win) a system for managing my Grand Canyon sized TODO list. Back in October (see Necessary Lies, Stephen Covey, and This Writer), I resolved to follow Stephen Covey’s suggestion of focusing on those important but not urgent tasks that build towards future goals (Quadrant II goals). I succeeded in putting First Things First for ten days and spent the first part of each day on my novel, NECESSARY LIES. On the eleventh day, unfortunately, NECESSARY LIES got buried by a pile of important AND urgent tasks, and GREMLIN woke up.

  • GREMLIN: How can you call yourself a writer, if you’re not writing? You’ll never finish that book.
  • VANESSA: Yes, I will, but other things are important too! I just need a system that keeps the most important things in front of me.
  • GREMLIN: System, smystem. You gotta USE your system. Every day. Like brushing your teeth.
  • VANESSA: Well … yeah.
Gremlin isn’t supposed to win arguments … or sneak through locked doors.
So I went looking for a system that would help me focus on important goals while keeping my life under control. My requirements were:
  • keep Quadrant II goals in front of me each day
  • remind me of urgent-but-not-important commitments (Quadrant I)
  • give me a way to record (and remember) time-sensitive commitments
  • allow me to access both urgent and non-urgent goals and tasks on my iPhone, iPad, and any computer I use.

At least one of my goals had been achieved – with my wonderful husband’s help, we’d transformed my study from a hoarder’s hell into an inviting study. Now it was time to organize my goals and my life. Over Christmas, I tried out a few ideas:

  • I read the Michael Hyatt article, “Is that task important or merely urgent?” which mentioned using Priority Matrix  to emulate the Covey 4-sector organizer. I downloaded Priority Matrix (for Mac, iPad, and iPhone). I installed the software and put my  TODO list into Priority Matrix sectors. Here’s a simplified version of what I did:
  • Priority Matrix + Covey trial: I found Priority Matrix flexible, and definitely easy to work with using Covey’s 4-quadrant model on my Mac, and I was pleased to find that the Apps for the iPhone and iPad synchronized well. (I also learned that Priority Matrix is in alpha development for Windows.) By Christmas I had realized that while I loved the 4-sector view and synchronization features of Priority Matrix, for the system to be effective, I needed to visit it every day. The best way too make sure I did that was to use the same application for appointments, other time sensitive commitments,  and goals. Priority matrix didn’t have the scheduling and reporting features I needed.
  • Getting Things Done Remember the Milk – Over Christmas I talked with my son about his experience using David Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD) system with Remember the Milk, a Web/Android/iPhone app. GTD sounded too high-maintenance for me, but if you’re a GTD fan, check out Advanced GTD with Remember The Milk, and also take a look at the simplified version described in Monk to Done.
  • Covey + Remember the Milk –  If Remember the Milk could work with GTD, maybe I could make it work with Covey’s First Things First model. I decided to try out the free version of Remember the Milk (RTM) and soon realized that this friendly, flexible application could:
    • be used on in all common Web browsers, Android phones, iPhones, and iPad
    • synchronize across all installations, i.e. phone, tablet, Web (daily sync is free, more frequent sync requires upgrading to the pro version)
    • have separate lists for different category tasks (achieved by setting task “category” and adding your own lists and/or modifying RTM’s default lists. Some of my categories are WRITING, RESEARCH, PROMOTION, BUSINESS TASKS, PERSONAL) Tasks can be viewed by category, or in a big list of “All Tasks”
    • optionally set due date and time, specify repeating intervals for regular tasks, plus time commitment for tasks (I’ve set Quadrant II goals I want to visit every day to “repeat: every 1 day”)
    • prioritize (priority 1, 2, or 3), categorize, and tag tasks
    • create saved searches using  lists  (I Googled “rtm + Covey” and found links to a number of posts on RTM’s website (the Google search gave me better results than RTM’s own internal site search)
    • send a daily list of tasks, and also a 15 minute reminder of individual tasks, to my phone.
    • It would be wonderful if RTM allowed me to choose either its Priority 1, 2, 3 system or a Covey quadrant model of priorities, but many RTM users have found ways to make Covey’s First Things First and RTM work together.
  • Result = RTM + Covey. I tried using RTM’s priorities, but I couldn’t get the result I wanted. When I read  Using the “First Things First” Paradigm with RTM  and got the idea of simplifying the author’s system and tagging items as “important” to flag them for my Quadrant II list, then using the Due Date to determine urgency. I then created 2 saved searches based on Due Date and “important” tag status, and named them Q1 and Q2. I’ll probably refine the searches over time. I can see from what others have done that there’s lots of room for tweaking the system.

The beginning of a New Year is a great time to be playing with plotting the year ahead, and I’m pretty happy with how my new system is shaping up. I’ve been using Remember the Milk for about a week now. I spent the first day getting enough tasks and appointments into the system to allow me to experiment with searching, tested that the syncing was working well across my iPhone, iPad, and computer (Web). Then upgraded to the Pro version to allow unlimited synchronizing.

Alright, Gremlin. I’ve got a system I like and I’m USING it. It’s even got a name I like – Remember the Milk has a friendly casual sound. I’ve got my January appointments recorded and RTM sends my iPhone reminders of important-to-me, time-sensitive things like my daughter’s birthday dinner yesterday, while giving me a way to track less urgent, but still important items like this blog and a commitment to myself to write every day (tag: important and repeat:every 1 day) .

So there, Gremlin! I can too do this.

Vanessa

Check out my new release: Storm – the Author’s Cut, now available on Kindle

“Storm – the Author’s Cut” is now available

I expected to have this new edition of one of my favourite romances up back in September, but when I started editing the manuscript in preparation for the new release, I couldn’t resist making a few small changes – then one thing led to another, and here it is, almost the end of December.

Storm is my second novel, the story of Luke and Laurie falling in love on the magical islands of Haida Gwaii in British Columbia. Luke and Laurie have always had a special place in my heart, and the storm that drew them together symbolized many coastal adventures I’ve shared with my husband.

When I wrote Storm, I set the story on the Queen Charlotte Islands of British Columbia, islands originally named after the wife of the British King George III without regard to the fact that the indigenous First Nations had already named their islands. In 2009 the province of British Columbia signed a historic reconciliation agreement with the Haida Nation, and the islands were renamed Haida Gwaii. Because the romance in Storm is so much a part of the heritage of Haida Gwaii, I wanted to bring the story forward into the 21st Century.

In bringing the islands forward to the present day, I’ve taken artistic license with regard to logging on Lyell Island. A few years after the book was originally published, a national park was established and the Gwaii Trust was given the task of managing the forests. Because logging itself is not central to the story, I’ve taken the artistic license of leaving the logging camp on Lyell Island.

Check out Storm – the Author’s Cut at the Amazon Kindle Store – a free sample is available. I’ve decided to enrol this book in the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library as well, so members can borrow the book.

… and coming soon – a new print edition of Storm – The Author’s Cut

Enjoy, and to everyone, have a wonderful, fulfilling year in 2012!

Vanessa
 Storm – the Author’s Cut

Necessary Lies, Steven Covey, and this writer…

This blog first appeared at PenWarriors.com

The novel I’m now working on – Truth to Tell (TTT) – has surpassed all my other books by having the longest gestation period on record. I conceived of the idea over two years ago when I wrote a couple of scenes, then stalled and put it aside to work on other priorities. Months later I picked the project up again and realized that I had a good character, but the story needed work.

I brainstormed TTT at a Red Door retreat with with the PenWarriors, and came up with a story that seemed fine–but I didn’t touch it again for months. When I did finally return to TTT, I realized my heroine needed a completely different story – and finally the story caught fire for me.

OK, now we’re cooking!

Part of the problem has been that in my other life as a university faculty member, I’d become involved in a long-term project that took most of my writing energy. A continuing stream of time-sensitive tasks had exhausted my creative energy.

On August 1st I started a 1-year research and program development sabbatical, which should mean that I have time for both R&D AND writing. My husband and I decided to take this chance to tour some parts of North America we’ve wanted to see, complete with my books and computer but away from my telephone so that I can focus on both the R&D and my writing.

It worked pretty well during August. I finished and published a new short story, The Broken Gate, and formulated a plan for the last few chapters of TTT. September I devoted to R&D tasks and getting started on our trip. October–

Hmm. October wasn’t looking so good last Friday when I tried to set some goals for the next week. They looked something like this:

  1. Read and critique a story for a writer friend
  2. Write four modules for the course under development
  3. Write this blog
  4. Get back to TTT

Once again, I realized, my writing had fallen to the back of the queue. When would I get time to finish TTT?

The horrifying thing was that back in mid-August when I was working on the book, I came up with a new title that was a much better fit – and I’d forgotten what it was!

I feared TTT would never get the attention it needed, but items 1, 2, and 3 were time-sensitive commitments that mattered. There was ALWAYS something urgent to get in the way.

Staring at the list I’d written, I could see that I’d fallen into the time management mess Steven Covey talked about in his 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, where long-term projects of importance get pushed to the back of the queue because they are not as urgent as more short term and often less important tasks.

The trouble was, back when I read 7 Habits, I didn’t have a time management problem, but I certainly do now! I get a lot done, but things that are very important to me get neglected – like TTT, the book whose new name I can’t remember

First things first, says Covey’s 3rd Habit. If I don’t put long-term-core-value things that reflect my purpose and values first, they’ll never get done.

The solution: turn the task upside down. So, last Friday I rewrote the list of this week’s goals:

  1. Every day, first spend half an hour on TTT. Use a timer.
  2. Read and critique the story
  3. Complete one module for the university program each day
  4. Write the blog for Monday

Almost magically, my task list became manageable.

When would I get TTT written? First thing every day.

I’m on day 4 now and I’m amazed – it’s working! I get up early and walk the dogs with my husband, then happily settle in to work on TTT (this is my time!) – which, my Scrivener file tells me, is now tentatively retitled Necessary Lies. I give myself an hour, because 30 minutes felt too rushed. Then I make a cup of coffee and start working on R&D – I’ve completed two modules in four days, slower than my goal, but I should be able to get the targeted 4 done this week.

I read and critiqued the story Friday evening – great story. I enjoyed it. Now here I am Monday doing the blog. I just realized I’m one day late on that, because this is Canadian Thanksgiving weekend and I got Sunday and Monday mixed up.

I’m in touch with my book, I’m getting other tasks done, and afternoons and evenings I still have time for some sightseeing and other odds and ends – like posting character name searches from my 60,000 name database to my Twitter feed. A habit doesn’t get formed in only four days, but I’m committed – and not to a mental institution!

First things first. This week the system works for me.

I’ve got my A-I-C (a-ah-butt in chair) and it’s fun. Necessary Lies is alive for me and I don’t feel guilty about the other stuff. I realize that my time management has been suffering from “first things last” for a long time. This feels like a miracle!

Vanessa

Check out the free sample of my short story, The Broken Gate
 from Amazon.com
This story will also be appearing in the upcoming PenWarriors anthology of short stories, It Happens at Midnight

Lawrence Block: lies, spiders, and more lies (book reviews)

Telling Lies for Fun & Profit: A Manual for Fiction WritersTelling Lies for Fun & Profit: A Manual for Fiction Writers by Lawrence Block
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I read Telling Lies for Fun and Profit in the early 1980s, a couple of years after I’d decided to put aside my attempts to write a publishable fiction novel for a while.

I knew I wasn’t done with writing and that I would give it another try sometime, but it wasn’t until I picked up Block’s book of essays about writing that I decided it was time to write again. In friendly conversational style, Block gave me glimpses into a writer’s world that seemed accessible and answered many of my questions before I’d even asked them. Can you name real places in a novel? What about using a pseudonym? With practical musings on a host of subjects, Block’s ramble through the territory of writing gave me an inside view that told me it was time to pick up my dream of being a novelist and dust it off. The result was my first published novel, Pacific Disturbance.

Thanks, Lawrence Block, for giving writers a hand!

 

Spider, Spin Me a Web: A Handbook for Fiction WritersSpider, Spin Me a Web: A Handbook for Fiction Writers by Lawrence Block
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A great book for writers and anyone thinking about being a writer! This book continues the collection of gems from Lawrence Block’s 10 years as a columnist for Writer’s Digest.

Block’s style is friendly and casual, often irreverent – and filled with gems for the creator. Definitely a keeper for the writer’s bookshelf, and a great read for anyone who is curious about writers and how they do (or don’t do) it. I read this book years ago, and often return to it.

Check out the last two books in the “Lies” series: “The Liar’s Companion” and “The Liar’s Bible”
View all my reviews

Yippee! … If You Loved Me

Yesterday I received the almost-ready-to-publish-as-an-ebook file of If You Loved Me, a novel of mine originally published by Zebra Bouquet (Kensington Books).  I love this story and I’m so pumped to know it will soon be available once again!

Originally I wrote it for Mills and Boon Harlequin, but my editor there wanted me to

  1. make the heroine younger (she was in her late thirties), and
  2. change the father of her son to someone else
The whole story was based on the premise that Emma’s son had gone kayaking in the wilderness with a friend, and was now missing. Changing Emma’s age would have made her either a child-mother, or a negligent one for letting her pre-adolescent son head into the wilderness without an adult. In addition, it was unlikely she would have achieved prominence as an orthopaedic surgeon at the ripe old age of twenty-something.
My editor was reasonable about Emma’s age because of the negligent mother issue, but wouldn’t budge on the identity of her son’s father. I decided not to change the identity of the father of Emma’s son, because that would change a crucial decision Emma had made in the past – and my plot would make no sense at all. So I withdrew the novel and went on to write several other books for Harlequin.
A few years later I learned that one of the Kensington editors was looking for 70,000 word stories for their new Bouquet imprint. I decided to submit  If You Loved Me. I would need to add an extra 10-15,000 words, but that would be a pleasure as I’d been challenged to fit it into M&B’s 55-60,000 word limit when I first wrote the novel. I sent off an email query and received a phone call from Kensington within a few days.  If You Loved Me became the first of four novels I wrote for Kensington, and I enjoyed the scope the extra length gave me.
I laughed when my new Kensington editor told me that one of the things she loved about the book was the boy’s parentage – the exact thing that had caused me to withdraw the book from M&B. Go figure!
Last year I applied to get the rights back to my four Kensington novels, and when I received the reversion documents I was thrilled because I could have all four novels available as eBooks for Kindle, Nook, Kobo, and iBooks before the end of 2011.
So here I am with the “e” equivalent of galleys, ready to start the final edit. Unlike the world of print books, I have the opportunity to make any changes I like before the book goes out to the world – and I get to work with my own cover artist on a design! Kensington does great cover art and I liked the covers of my four Bouquets, but being in on the creation with a cover designer like Angela is a real joy.
So while my husband and I continue east on our road trip across the North American continent, I’ll be enjoying a final read through If You Loved Me before it goes to e-press on Kindle, Nook, Kobo, and iBooks!

Giving thanks for breakdowns…

Ah, breakdowns …

The word breakdown instantly flashes associations of misfortune and unpleasantness to my mind – images ranging from boring (not to mention worried) hours spent hanging around the inhospitable quarters of a mechanic’s repair shop in a strange city, to the bizarre experiences of a woman incarcerated in a mental institution for finally losing it!

I have a cluster of muddled repair-shop memories from my childhood as a construction worker’s child, frequently moving from place to place in cars that seemed less than mechanically sound. Fortunately, my knowledge of mental institutions is secondhand – from reading, watching movies, a few psychology and counselling courses, and my writer’s imagination.

But repairs – well, things do break, and in my experience they often break at inconvenient moments. But this week I’m experiencing a different kind of mechanical breakdown experience.

Twelve days ago my husband Brian and I set off on a road trip we’d been planning for some time in our motorhome. We planned the trip in much the way I might plan a novel – a first  draft of the places we wanted to visit with no fixed schedule – ordered for mileage efficiency with the help of Microsoft’s Streets and Trips software. Two days ago we were about an hour from the small northern Ontario town of Sioux Lookout when I asked Brian, “What’s that growling noise?”

“I was wondering the same thing,” he replied.

Luckily Brian tore apart cars and put them back together as a young man, so he’s that very handy type of hero who has mechanical abilities.  We stopped on an abandoned side road and he determined that our water pump was failing. Since we were in the middle of the bush but thirty minutes drive from his sister’s home, we drove on, my writer’s imagination crafting a Please-no! scene of the water pump self-destructing in the next few minutes, our having to find a spot with cell phone coverage to call for a tow truck and get hauled back to Dryden or Kenora or somewhere expen$ively distant for thousands of $$$ in repairs.

The motorhome gave some alarming clunks under the hood, but fortunately things held together until we pulled up outside my in-laws home. Then the water pump dumped its liquid contents onto the driveway.

Wow! If I was writing this in a book, the bad thing would have happened. After all, in fiction, what good is a warning sign if the baddie doesn’t come along and clobber the heroine or hero? Be mean to your characters is the first rule of plotting, and in this case being mean would certainly have had the vehicle dying in the middle of nowhere. When I tossed the heroine of So Much for Dreams into a mechanically doubtful car, I went so far as to have her break down on a Mexican mountaintop without giving her a word of Spanish to talk her way out of the situation.

The author of Vanessa and Brian’s fate was much kinder. We’ve got the luxury good-news version of the story.

  • We get to spend a few extra days with relatives we’ve seen far too little of in the last couple of decades. Time together is precious when life moves family members to distant parts of a vast landscape.
  • Brian has the pleasure of working on a mechanical male-bonding project with his brother-in-law and nephew
  • We had a great tour of Sioux Lookout last night, including a behind-the-scenes tour of a busy regional airline. Calliope, my muse, is spinning story ideas. There’s something exciting about small planes, isolated wild landscapes, and good people that makes for great stories. Life plays dramatically in the everyday lives of the North – whether it be British Columbia, northern Ontario, or Alaska.
  • I got some quiet hours with computer, WiFi, and Internet to get some necessary updates done on my website and catch up on my social media.
  • My son Cam and I had a virtual work session and
    • tweaked the free online character name database on my Web site, and then
    • I got to brainstorm my promotional blurb for The Broken Gate with him, and finally came up with a version that felt right
  • During our visit here in Sioux Lookout we’ve enjoyed quiet meals with good company, a family birthday party for my great-niece (and she is great!), and a feel-good community Sunday lunch.
  • We learned how Sioux Lookout got its name

So here it is Monday, I’ve got the leisure to put an update on my blog. The new water pump is arriving tomorrow morning. I’m guessing vehicle parts that took two days to disassemble will take at least one to put back together, so we’ve got another day or two to enjoy the benefits of breakdowns. Brian’s got coveralls on and his head and shoulders buried under the hood with a variety of tools at hand – and although it’s work, I know he’s getting that satisfaction that comes of mastering challenges. I’m mastering my own problems while my sister- and brother-in-law are at work, clearing the way mentally to get back to TTT (my current fiction project, which has undergone a change of title so the initials TTT no longer fit.)

What a fortunate breakdown! It’s given us time to take a deep breath and take time with family and this beautiful place. When we leave, we’ll take precious memories with us.

Vanessa

 

 

A Hero by Any Other Name

(Also posted at PenWarriors.com)

If fictional characters had to pay real dollars for therapy, a few of mine would be bankrupt and suffering from multiple identity disorder.

Even I’m confused about the identity of the hero of my seventh published book. Andrew, Takeover Man‘s hero, stormed into town to reorganize his aging father’s life and ran into Maggie, a female harbormaster with an attitude. Maggie knew who she was from the instant she flashed onto my computer screen, but Andrew wasn’t so lucky. If I’d been writing this book in the days when authors slaved over typewriters and had to retype the manuscript with each draft, Andrew would have managed to hang onto his name—too much work to change it. But when I read through my final draft, I decided that the name Andrew just didn’t evoke the image of a takeover man. So my last act as his creator was a search-and-replace, wiping Andrew out of existence and substituting Michael.

Looking back now, I’m not sure Michael sounds any more take-charge than Andrew. It seemed important to me at the time and, who knows, maybe I was right … or wrong.

One way or another I’ve spent a lot of time naming my characters.

Like many writers I’ve collected a host of baby name books over the years. After years of trying to find the perfect name book, in the late 1990s my husband and I developed a computer names database, and a few years later, my son Cameron enhanced and expanded it into MuseNames. I keep adding new names as I find them and the MuseNames database has now grown to 60,000 names. I know it’s crazy to think I need 60,000 names, but I love exploring the names and their meanings as I create my characters. With all those names at my disposal, I could write forever and never repeat a hero or heroine’s name.

Well, not exactly.

When my twenty-third book was accepted for publication, the editor suggested I change the name of Strangers by Day’s hero from Allan to something more masculine. Perhaps Max, he suggested.

I’ve always been fond of short, simple masculine names. If I couldn’t have Allan, there was no reason Faith couldn’t fall in love with a man named Max—it was exactly the sort of name I might give one of my heroes. I did another search-and-replace and Allan became Max.

Oops! Max was the hero of my very first book, Pacific Disturbance.

Oh, well. The two men will probably never meet. Max #1 (Pacific Disturbance) is a West Coast software developer; Max #2 (Strangers by Day) is a cattle rancher in the interior of British Columbia. I should be safe, unless they both turn up in Vegas on the same weekend and their wives get to comparing heroes.

As for that MuseNames database, check it out! Over the weekend, my son Cameron and I finished putting the database and its search tool up on my website. Feel free to browse those 60,000 names with their origins and meanings here at http://vanessagrant.com/character-names-for-writers/.

Happy writing

Vanessa

Check out my eBoook On Johnny’s Terms – the author’s cut – another name change story.

The Broken Gate – a short story

I’ve just released The Broken Gate, a new short story.

The Broken Gate

Jennifer Sandborn fled personal tragedy to serve as a humanitarian aid worker, promising her husband she would return in a few months. Two years later she returns in the middle of the night. Everything feels familiar, but nothing is the same.

“Tomorrow morning she would wake up under the duvet in the chilly house, safe from wars and death and tragedy. She would stretch out her hand with her eyes closed and when her fingers touched John’s warm flesh, she would nestle into him with her lips against his throat.

Although she couldn’t see the house where her husband waited, memory guided her steps, filling her blackness with light.

Her hand reached for the gate but found only the edge of the fence. She fumbled and found the uneven slant of the gate, propped open, still broken …” More about The Broken Gate

Kindle Editions –  Amazon USA and Amazon UK
Smashwords – all formats

Also available from iBooks, B&N, Kobo and other distributors

The Broken Gate and the Muse Calliope

Last week I spent eight days at a wilderness star party in a comfortable motorhome on top of Mt. Kobau. Star parties are designed for people like my husband who love to stay up late viewing and photographing stars, and then sleep all morning, followed by an afternoon talking with other enthusiasts about stars, nebulae, telescopes, and astral photography.

For me, Mt. Kobau is a magical Writer’s retreat (no phone, no Internet, beautiful wilderness environment). I was counting on the mountain to help me finish the first draft of my short story I’d promised to write for the upcoming Pen Warriors anthology.

The last time I wrote a short story was during the dark ages of the twentieth century. So I trekked up the mountain with a thousand words of beginning, a fuzzy idea of what the ending might look like, and no clue what to put in the middle. Back at the last Red Door, I’d impulsively named this story The Broken Gate, so at least I had a title.

I also had a hefty case of writer’s anxiety. I hadn’t touched my beginning in months and felt hyper-aware of my inexperience with the short story form. I felt like a bicycle marathon rider handed a unicycle at the starting gate.

I needed the mountain to answer some basic questions, like: What belonged in the middle of my beginning-ending sandwich? What was the significance of a broken gate in the story? All I had was those 1000 words, my laptop computer, and a determination that eight days on a mountain would produce something.

My mountaintop retreat turned out to be filled with internal psychological drama—the sort that’s boring to anyone but the poor writer experiencing the drama.

My 8 days on Mt. Kobau

Day 1

Unwound from hectic trip preparation, walked dogs. Subconscious presumably wrestled with The Broken Gate.

Day 2

Reread and edited beginning of The Broken Gate to get back into the story.
Day 3

Walked dogs, slept late, read other author’s novel. Hoped subconscious was more productive.

Day 4

Woke up determined to write. Opened computer, wrote a few words, and then deleted them. Behaved like one of those stereotypical movie authors who type a sentence, then tear it out of the typewriter and throw it away.

Realized that what I’d already written was hopeless garbage and I faced the depressing fact that I had no story and no hope of coming up with one. My creativity was gonzo.

Decided I needed to go back to bed—an easy decision since everyone else was sleeping off a night viewing the stars. I shut down my computer, took off my slacks, and climbed under the covers.

Two minutes later a new idea flashed onto my mental whiteboard. My Muse, bless her heart, had rescued The Broken Gate and made the gate (a story element I grabbed out of nowhere) absolutely meaningful.

I threw back the covers, got out of bed, and started making notes.

Decided it was time I gave my muse a name (Calliope). She’s earned it!

Days 5-8

Wrote the scenes I’d sketched out after Calliope visited me. Found the writing challenging and emotional. Realized that just because short stories are short, it doesn’t mean they are easy or quick to write.

Halfway through the final day I wrote The End on the first draft of The Broken Gate.

Lessons (re)learned:

When I’m writing a story or a novel, I’m never sure I can finish it until I write The End on the first draft. I should stop expecting anything different and just write the darned story.

Essential parts of my storytelling process take place outside my conscious mind. I’m dead in the water weeds. My resolution for next time—don’t forget that this is a partnership between my writer’s conscious mind, and that unconscious storyteller portion of me that I’ve decided to call Calliope. (as nominal creator, I reserve the right to change Calliope’s name if it’s not working for me.)

Don’t miss the upcoming Pen Warriors anthology of short stories:

5 Long Shadows – an Anthology of Short Stories

  • The Stone Heart by Bonnie Edwards
  • The Broken Gate by Vanessa Grant (and Calliope)
  • The Wrong Move by E.C. Sheedy
  • The Trouble with Apples by Laura Tobias
  • The Last Fortune by Gail Whitiker

Also posted on PenWarriors.com