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Saturday, 24 September 2016

Every Writer Has a Story to Tell

On September 21st, I attended a local author showcase at the Albert Campbell Library in Scarborough. It’s part of a monthly series that, as the name suggests, showcases authors from the Toronto area and their books. Some authors have published ten or twelve books, while others have only published one, but it’s a place for them to promote their work among both their peers and readers alike. This isn’t the first author showcase I’ve attended, and it certainly won’t be the last (though the last two I attended, I was, essentially working it, helping friend, Dylan Madeley promote his book, The Gift-Knight’s Quest. You can find the book here: The Gift Knight's Quest). The events are hosted by Maria Sams, a librarian at Albert Campbell and fellow NaNoWriMo participant, and are her baby.

There were seven authors in attendance, and three were sharing their work specifically. The authors there were, Stefan Budansew, Rebecca Diem, Noelle Jack, Igor Klibanov, Eva Shliuger, Marjan Sierhuis, and Horane Smith. Rebecca Diem, Noelle Jack, and Horane Smith were the three showcased authors, and read from their books.

Rebecca Diem is the author of the Tales of the Captain Duke series. Like many independent authors, Diem has a day job, but goes to the same coffee shop every morning before going to work to get in a couple hours of writing. I think I might need to adopt this kind of discipline for my writing - or, at the very least, something very similar. Diem is also an avid fan of Steampunk, and that comes through in both her fashion sense and her writing. Tales of the Captain Duke is a series of novellas that follow the adventures of the crew of the Duke, an airship in an alternate Victorian universe, twenty years after Queen Victoria has reclaimed the throne and issued better gender equality.

Diem read from the third book in this series, Tales of the Captain Duke: A Scholar and a Gentleman. It’s a YA pirate novel series full of fun characters I can’t wait to get to know more about. And I will, because I bought the first book in the series at the showcase.

Noelle Jack, author of Shire Summer, was born in Fife, Scotland and moved to Canada at age eleven. Before becoming a writer, she was school teacher, and this comes through in her storytelling. When she read to us, her voice changed for each character speaking. It was like I was back at school during story time, and this is definitely a good thing. Shire Summer is Jack’s first published novel, and is about an eleven year old girl named, Annie, living in Fife, Scotland during the Polio outbreak shortly after World War Two. When she finds out her cousin, Moira is coming to stay, she sets out to make her a gift. Her father, a Navy man recently returned from the war builds model boats, and Annie believes she can make one, too. But when Boz the cat knocks down one of her father’s best boats, Annie fixes it. But when that boat goes missing just as her cousin comes down with Polio, Annie sets out to set things right again. Jack admits there is a lot of her childhood in this story, and in many ways, Annie is just like she was. However, it is also a look back at how childhood used to be; the ability to go places, to roam, and play freely as opposed to bound by our electronic devices and tied to our parents’ hips by fear. I know there is an adventure much like the ones I went on as a child waiting for me in those pages.

Horane Smith, author of Underground to Freedom, Lover’s Leap, and Dawn at Lover’s Leap to name a few, is a contemporary and historical fiction writer who was born in Jamaica and emigrated to Canada in 1990. He worked as a journalist and was an Editor In Chief for a time before he realized he wanted to tell stories rather than tell people the news. So, he began writing. He has now published twelve books, with his thirteenth being released next week. He is also the first recipient of the Burke’s Literary Award (BURLA) for his outstanding contribution to African-Canadian and Caribbean literature.

Smith read from Marooned in Nova Scotia: A Story of the Jamaican Maroons in Canada, a novel about what the title suggests. The Maroons were Jamaicans who evaded slavery by escaping into the hills, but were then shipped to Nova Scotia. This particular story follows the life of Kwabena, a strong-willed warrior-type man and his group as they attempt to navigate a land completely foreign and, for them, nigh-inhospitable. While the Nova Scotian land is, indeed, rich and fertile, it wasn’t for the crops the Jamaicans brought with them. I look forward to reading this book in its entirety and learning about a history that isn’t always taught in schools from the perspective of those who lived it - even if the book itself is a work of fiction.

The author showcases occur once a month and offer, not only a way for authors to promote their works, and a way for readers to not only experience the stories for themselves, but a way to meet the authors, people who may very well shape their lives, even if only for a short time. As readers we’re always looking for stories to hear, stories to be told. As writers, we’re always going to be telling those stories. The monthly author showcases at Albert Campbell library provide a wonderful opportunity for those two groups to connect, talk, learn, and inspire.

If you’re interested in attending one of these author showcases, the next two are listed below:

Wednesday, October 19th, 2016 6-8:30pm
Wednesday, November 16th, 2016; 6-8:30pm.***

For more information about the books I bought, check out the amazon pages below. Through those links, you will also find other works by them.

*** This showcase will be highlighting published, and unpublished writers participating in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo.) If you have any questions about NaNoWriMo, or want to participate, check out the website, here. You can also leave a comment below, as I have participating in it since 2012, and am a Municipal Liaison for Toronto this year. I am also co-hosting this event with Albert Campbell Library.

Monday, 4 July 2016

O Happy Chainsaw! A Timeless Love Story... with a Bloody Twist

'Til death do them part.
Brittany Kay, Nicholas Porteous, and the Chainsaw Wielding Maniac
star in Bain & Bernard Comedy's
Romeo and Juliet Chainsaw Massacre

Photo credit: Bain & Bernard Comedy.

Photographer: David Kingsmill.

On July 3rd, after participating in a wondrous Pride celebration (I will post a blog about it soon), I took in a show running as part of the Toronto Fringe Festival. Fringe, in Toronto, is a 10 day long arts festival showcasing local theatre productions from local artists. The shows occur all around Mirvish Village in Toronto, and are put together by some real talented people. The show I went to see was, Romeo & Juliet Chainsaw Massacre, written and directed by, Matt Bernard and produced by, Rebecca Perry.

As the title suggests, this is a new... and gory... take on the timeless Shakespearean tale. This retelling goes through the motions it does in the original tale, with the added component of a homicidal Chainsaw Wielding Maniac. The Chainsaw Wielding Maniac has escaped from the Asylum for Deranged Antics, and has left behind a trail of mangled bodies; a trail heading toward fair Verona, the settling of the 1 hour traffic of our stage.

The show begins with the Chorus, setting the tone of the proceedings. The tone is quickly set as thus: you’re in for one hilarious ride. During the prologue, the audience is introduced to the Chainsaw Wielding Maniac, whose presence our dear Chorus feels, but never manages to actually see. Had I not have been laughing, and were it not theatre, I probably would have yelled out, “Behind you!” Don’t worry, I didn’t actually yell it out.

The rest of the show is, essentially, a compressed telling of the Shakespeare classic, hitting all of the major plot points of the play. The introduction of the feud between the Montagues and the Capulets, Juliet’s betrothal to Paris, the star-crossed lovers meeting and falling in love, their marriage, Romeo’s banishment, and of course, the untimely deaths of our endearing lovers. All this, with the Chainsaw Wielding Maniac throwing chaos into the mix, and stirring things up a bit. Or should I say, hacking things up a bit. Oh, and let’s not forget about Peter, the Illiterate Servant to give a few extra laughs.

The show also remains true to the horror story tropes. The victim who remains oblivious to what is going on until it’s too late. The victim who fights back and lives to die another day. The character who is wrongfully accused simply because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Oh, and the ever present body count - higher than even Shakespeare himself could have dreamt up. To be truthful, I think Matt Bernard and Rebecca Perry received a few pointers from George R.R. Martin on that subject.

The cast was superb, expertly walking the line between parody and ridiculously silly. In acting, one of the most crucial things is, timing - regardless of the genre. The beats between dialogue and reactions have to be just right. Take too long, and the moment falls flat. Too quick, and the moment goes right over the audience’s head. You don’t want that. There is a rhythm to it, and that rhythm has to be perfect. And it was. None of the jokes fell flat, the reactions were spot on, and only the appropriate moments were milked.

While on the topic of the cast, I want to highlight each and every one of them. Nicholas Porteous portrayed the lovestruck Romeo, keeping true to the Shakespearean tale while adding the right amount of comedic flair. Brittany Kay was in the role of young, beautiful Juliet, emphasising Juliet’s longing to be free from the path her parents have set out for her. Her death scene was my favourite of the show. Scott Garland played two roles in this show - Sampson and County Paris. He really shone as Paris, playing the character as someone Juliet would never fall for, but her parents would adore. Benvolio was played by Victor Pokinko, who I previously saw in Out of Lens, written by David Kingsmill. Ah, Benvolio, what fun it seemed Pokinko had in this role, the loyal friend to the Montagues, but probably the only one who really didn’t want to see any real feuding… At least, after he found out about the Chainsaw Wielding Maniac. Rylan O’Reilly was in the role of the ever ready to duel Tybalt. There was something wonderful about seeing a character who, despite the rules against brawling Prince Escalus had placed upon Verona, still wanted to go at it. It was actually a bit refreshing, if not a great source of entertainment. Everyone’s favourite sidekick, Mercutio, was delightfully played by Michael Iliadis. The passion and lightness of the character was ever present; not once did he really seem to care there was a maniac on the loose… Until he had to deal with said maniac personally. One of my favourite roles had to be that of the Nurse, portrayed by Sarite Harris. The Nurse is one of my favourite characters from the classic R&J because she is such a large personality, and goodness gracious mercy me did Harris ever play her with that personality. The Nurse, really, was one of the strongest characters in the show, something that is ever so refreshing to see. She was tenacious, bawdy, and not one to back down from a fight. The roles of Gregory and Capulet were played by Scott Emerson Moyle, and played them with the right amount of comedy. This brings me to Lady Capulet, portrayed by Rebecca Perry (the same Rebecca Perry who produced the show). As in all of her productions, she brought the character to life with just the right mixture of sophistication and comedy worthy of a Capulet caught up in a whirlwind of a situation like the one she found herself in. Warren Bain was wonderful as both Friar Lawrence and Abram. As one of the heroes in the tale (he tries to make sure Romeo and Juliet’s plan to run away succeeds after all!), it is refreshing to see Friar Lawrence played with comedic flair. One of my favourite roles was played by Jeremy Lapalme - Peter, the Illiterate Servant. How lovely it is when one’s misfortunes are the delights of those who watch on. The fine line between knowing how important one’s job is and knowing one cannot fulfil that job was beautifully walked by Lapalme. Such a delight. The roles of the Chorus, and of Prince Escalus were played by David Kingsmill, roles utterly different yet portrayed with the same amount of enthusiasm. And last, but certainly, NOT least, the Chainsaw Wielding Maniac! He was the highlight of the entire production. But I failed to get his name. The entirety of the cast played their parts with respect, while also allowing themselves to have all the fun they needed, and wanted, to have. It was a brilliant job well done all ‘round.

The costumes were simple, but set the period for the piece (though I had know idea chainsaws existed back in those days… You learn something new every day!), and cleverly allowed for the aftermath of deaths to be showcased. Though, one of my favourite deaths occurred off stage.

If you haven’t seen Romeo and Juliet Chainsaw Massacre, get your tickets now. And when I say, now, I mean, NOW. The show I attended was sold out and also had a waiting list. I have no doubt at all that the next shows in it’s Toronto Fringe run will sell out and sell out fast!

The next shows for the run are:
Tuesday, July 5th at 3:15pm
Thursday, July 7th at 9:15pm
Friday, July 8th at 2:15pm
Saturday, July 9th at 11:30pm
Sunday, July 10th at 5:15pm

It is playing at the Randolph Theatre at 736 Bathurst Street in Toronto. Tickets are $12.00 and you can opt to add a donation to Fringe when you purchase your ticket.

To purchase tickets visit:

Thursday, 7 January 2016

A Roller Coaster of a Year

Several days ago, the world welcomed 2016 with fireworks, kisses, toasts, and best wishes for the coming months. 2015 is now behind us as life is forever moving forward. But sometimes, we need to look back in order to move forward. In today’s post, I’m looking back on the year now behind us.

2015 was one hell of a roller coaster ride (for me, at least). January started on a high note, as I completed a massive edit of the first eight chapters of Book One in my trilogy. Those first eight chapters were edited in response to an editing consultation I had won through publisher, Simon & Schuster. Back in November 2014, the publisher hosted a write-in at an Indigo-Chapters in downtown Toronto in coalition with National Novel Writing Month. All in attendance filled out ballots to win the opportunity to have the first 50,000 words of their novel read by an editor. My name was the one pulled. Not long after I finished the massive edit, a gentleman I consider a close friend told me he was returning to Toronto. I met him here when he was living here on a working-holiday visa. At the end of 2013, he returned to London, England. In January 2015, he told me he was returning in February, but I had to keep quiet until he’d announced it “officially”. I was one of a select few who knew his plans. I felt pretty special, knowing I was included in that small group. But, I’m horrible at keeping secrets, so it was a tense few weeks until he announced his departure from England on Facebook. You can only imagine the relief I felt when I saw that. I didn’t have to keep the secret anymore, and I could, outwardly, be excited about his return. And I was!

I also read his book, the first in a quartet of novels, The Puppet Master: An MSCE Investigation in about two and a half weeks, which is one of my faster records when it comes to reading a book. I loved the book! You can read my review of the book here: Book Review - The Puppet Master: An MSCE Investigation.

The Puppet Master is available on Amazon at the two following links: The Puppet Master on, and The Puppet Master on

The end of January saw me on an impromptu drive to Barrie, and getting my full G driver’s license. Just in time, too!

February saw me planning two trips: a weekend jaunt to Niagara Falls, and a 4 day trip to Mt. Tremblant in the neighbouring Province of Quebec. I only made it to one of those adventures. On Family Day weekend (Feb 14-16), two girlfriends and I went down to Niagara Falls. A couple of weeks prior, I applied for a membership for Zipcar, a car sharing company. I received my card about five days before we were to leave, and quickly reserved a car for our adventure. And yes, adventure is the right word for this trip. Our catchphrase very quickly became, “We’re going on an adventure!” after I missed the highway cut off for Niagara Falls. The weekend was the coldest, snowiest weekend in February, but we made more than the best of it. We wandered Clifton Hill, feeling much like a trio of bumbling two-year-olds all bundled up to keep the cold out. We went behind the falls, which I’d never done before. It was quite fascinating to see the frozen Falls from the other side. We went through the Butterfly Conservatory, Ripley’s Believe It Or Not museum, and Louis Toussaud’s Wax museum, and did many silly touristy things simply because we could. My girlfriends’ favourite place to visit in Niagara Falls is, Bird Kingdom, and it quickly became one of my favourites. Bird Kingdom is a giant aviary with free-flying birds in several large rooms. The largest is… well, HUGE, and is one of my favourite of the rooms. My other favourite room houses some of my favourite parrot species, including my dream bird, the African Grey.

Heather with the Pied Crow.

African Grey

"Feed me! Feed me!"

The Canadian Falls in February.

A week later, the roller coaster that 2015 would become began. My mom had a cardiac arrest, and dropped dead in front of me. After a call to 911 and with the quick actions of our colleague and of EMS, she was revived, but had a long road of recovery ahead of her. A couple of friends kept close tabs on me, and one of them had me stay with them for the first couple of nights. My mother spent 10 days in hospital before continuing her recovery at home. For the next six weeks, I only went from work and home, and found myself needing the weekly write-in get-togethers I have with friends. It was then I realized just how much those Friday write-ins mean, and how much those people keep me grounded and sane… well, as sane as I can possibly be.

In March, my uncle passed away after a hard fought battle with cancer and my cousin was back in the hospital due to complications from a medical issue he had the year prior.

April and May were largely uneventful with my mom returning to work mid-April. At the end of April, I caught a theatre show, starring a friend of mine. The show was called, Gingers in Love, and the friend of mine is, Rebecca Perry. She's made quite the dent in the theatre world here in Toronto, as well as all over Canada with her self-written, self-produced, one woman show, Confessions of a Red-headed Coffee Shop Girl. She's a force to be reckoned with, and if you are ever able to catch one of her shows, go! She's currently starring in another self-written show at Factory Theatre in Toronto. From Judy to Bette showcases the talents of Judy Garland, Betty Hutton, Lucile Ball, and Bette Davis, women who were trailblazers in their time and refused to be just another ingenue. If you can, check it out! You can find out more about it, as well as buy tickets, here:

In May, I met with a small group of friends at a friend’s 19th floor apartment to watch the Victoria Day fireworks from their balcony. From that height, and location in the city, we caught the firework displays at Exhibition and Ashbridges Bay. In June, I took a Saturday day trip back to Niagara Falls with two girlfriends. I spent far too much money, but the friends and the fun was well worth every dime.

July was the beginning of the nearly four months I spent dealing with an ailment of some sort. A pulled muscle in my neck was followed by a pull muscle in my side. For three days in August, I had a bout of aches and pains all over my body. At times, it felt like someone was jabbing me with needles from head to toe. Had I not have had to work that weekend and Monday, I’d have spent those days in bed. I thought it was maybe a flu, but I didn’t have any other flu-like symptoms – just the aches. Then, Monday evening, as quickly as it came on, it disappeared. But its exit reminded me that I still had a pulled muscle in my side. That soon went away as well.

But, despite those ailments, July also brought me a wedding. No, not mine. Longtime friend, Shannon Boyce married the love of her life on July 4th in a fairy tale ceremony. Shannon is a fellow blogger, one I suggest following if you’re in need of makeup and beauty tips. You can check out her blog, here: The Creation of Beauty is Art

In the summer, the Toronto Fringe Festival came to town. I was only able to catch one show, but it was a good one. Remember when I spoke about Rebecca Perry earlier in this post? Remember the mention of Confessions of a Redheaded Coffee Shop Girl? Well, I caught the sequel to it, Adventures of a Redheaded Coffee Shop Girl. It was a gem of a show and I was glad I caught it. Rebecca's first show, Confessions, went on to be featured at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, where it quickly became a successful 5-star show with many, many, sold out performances. If you want to keep tabs on Rebecca's future shows and endeavours, check out her website,

For much of August and September, I was laid up with a badly sprained ankle (it took some urging from a couple of friends to me to get it looked at), followed by a bout of bursitis. Bursitis is when the bursa sac, a sac of fluid that reduces friction between bones at the joins, gets inflamed. The inflammation causes discomfort, and stiffness, and sometimes pain. It took going to my GP to finally get something strong enough to drain the fluid. Bursitis is something I tend to get every couple of years or so. It’s not comfortable.

Like July, August brought some happiness amidst the ailments. My cousin got married to the love of his life in a simple, but beautiful ceremony. I also caught a show written and directed by a good friend of mine, David Kingsmill - the same gentlemen who wrote, The Puppet Master. The show was, Out of the Lens. It’s a show that is still a bit rough around the edges and needs a bit of tweaking, but it has the potential to go somewhere. You can read my review of that show here Out of the Lens: A Story of Discovery and Love in its Purest Form.

For more on David Kingsmill's endeavours, including his gaming podcast, Once Upon a Die, check out his website: Dragon Literature.

On September 21st and 22nd, I saw Josh Groban in concert in the Sony Centre for Performing Arts. He was on tour promoting his latest album, Stages, an album of songs from the Broadway stage. I spent far too much money on these shows, but the experience more than made up for it. I met a fellow Grobanite (the term us fans call ourselves), and even met Josh after the first show. It was a beautiful two night engagement I didn't want to see end.
Josh Groban with Lena Hall. Show one.

Josh and Lena show two.
The person behind THE VOICE!

Oh so magical!

Me and Josh after the first concert.
He is one heck of an awesome guy.

October was a much brighter month… After I fell down half a flight of concrete stairs, and got through two back-to-back colds. My knees are quite darkly scared from the friction burns. But, a week later, I was at two Hanson concerts two night in a row. It was a great chance to catch up with some people I hadn’t seen in a while due to life getting in the way of the best laid plans. October also proved to be a fairly busy month, as I was prepping for the craziest month of the year: National Novel Writing Month. I was on the moderator team again this year, and October meant I was needed in meetings to iron out last minute details.


The Band

November was brightened, not only by National Novel Writing Month (NaNo), but by a pair of knitted parrots who flew in to stay with me for 10 days. Sammy (a white Umbrella Cockatoo) and Beanzy (an African Grey) were made in France, and have been going on adventures around North America since August 2015. They came in for a landing to me shortly after NaNo started, and they were extremely helpful with the write-in events I hosted. I took them on a couple of sight-seeing adventures, and to work, before they took off for their next adventure.

(I am a member of a bird forum called, Avian Avenue, and Sammy and Beanzy came to me through there via a game sort of like the Travelling Elf.)
Sammy and Beanzy on the subway!
All kids love playing in the leaves!
A trip to Canada wouldn't be
complete without some Tim Hortons

The final 10 days of 2015 were spent as a live-in birdsitter for two of my friends. They went home to Edmonton over Christmas, and rather than board their two Conures, I lived in their apartment while they were away. They provided me a rental car to get to and from work, and I looked after their Conures, who I affectionately call my God-birds, or God-fids. (Fids stands for feathered kids.) It was nice to get away from home for a while, and to have a brief crash course in both living on my own and having birds. I grew up with Budgies, and now have a cat, but I, eventually, want to be the owned human of a bird again.
Frodo; Green Cheeked Conure.
Mango; Blue-Throated Conure

November was brightened, not only by National Novel Writing Month (NaNo), but by a pair of knitted parrots who flew in to stay with me for 10 days. Sammy (a white Umbrella Cockatoo) and Beanzy (an African Grey) were made in France, and have been going on adventures around North America since August 2015. They came in for a landing to me shortly after NaNo started, and they were extremely helpful with the write-in events I hosted. I took them on a couple of sight-seeing adventures, and to work, before they took off for their next adventure.

I did not win NaNo, but I finished with an even 25,000 words. I wished with that number about four days before November ended, and chose to just relax for the last few days. Hopefully next year’s NaNo will go much smoother and I’ll write the required amount of words! Here’s hoping!

December came up on me quite quickly. A mix of unusually warm weather, and a couple of deaths in the month had me not feeling the Christmas spirit as I normally do around this time. In a normal year, I start feeling Christmasy by the time the Santa Clause Parade rolls through town in November. This year, I wasn’t feeling it. I wanted to, but could get into it.

Christmas Eve saw me in Oshawa having a quiet get-together with my mother, two aunts, and one uncle. After a buffet meal, we went back to my one aunt’s to open gifts and chat.

I also said goodbye to a good friend when I drove him to the airport to emigrate to the U.S. He met a woman in Florida who stole his heart, and he made the move to be with her. It was bittersweet to be the last of his Toronto friends to see him before he departed. But, I know he is happy, and preparing for the next chapter of his life.

Well, there’s my 2015 in review. I don’t really have any resolutions for 2016; I don’t make them any more. But, I hope to have a happier 2016, and to be able to manage my depression a bit better. I’m hoping to be social and get out to events as often as I can. However, my biggest hope is to be able to save enough money to be able to move out into my own apartment. The saving money bit is going to take the most energy and discipline. But, I do hope to be social in spite of pinching my pennies. (Yes, I’m aware we don’t have pennies anymore.)

How was your 2015? What hopes, dreams, or resolutions do you have for 2016? Let me know in the comments!

Friday, 27 November 2015

The Madness Comes to an End

There are still a few more days until the end of the 2015 NaNoWriMo season, but I have finished early. No, that does not mean I hit the 50,000 word goal and received the coveted purple banner that declares me a winner. It means I have accepted defeat, and bowed out.

I wasn't at all prepared for NaNo, but I had a basic plot for a small fanfic lined up and ready to work on. I even left a friend's Halloween party early so I could be home in time for that mad midnight sprint. I was ready to pump out those first three hundred (or so) words and charge out of the gate. But, ten minutes into November 1st, I was sick to my stomach. I attempted a quick 10 minute word war (a short sprint to see who can write the most words in a specified time frame) to see if I could still crank out a few hundred words. No dice. My war resulted in 47 words written. Being physically sick had sucked out the creative energy I'd had when I sat down in front of my laptop. So, I did the only thing I could do: I went to bed. I was still feeling a bit unwell when I woke up, but I went down to the first write-in of the season at the Toronto Reference Library. I churned out a couple hundred words there, but I fell very short of the daily 1,667 words needed to keep on track. Instead, I only wrote 643. Yup. I was 1,000 words behind on the first day. And I never recovered. I met or exceeded the daily word count goal a couple of times, but the majority of my daily word counts were quite measly.

In spite of that, I was an active part of the Toronto NaNoWriMo community as a chat room moderator and event host (and co-host). I hosted the Friday write-ins – which I continue to host all year long –, co-hosted the Monday write-ins, and a few special events like the Kick-off, Halfway Party, and the Overnight Writing Session (followed by breakfast at Fran's Restaurant). I will be co-hosting the final write-in session on the 30th, and the TGIO (Thank God It's Over/Terribly Glum It's Over party on December 2nd. And, even though I've hung up my pen for a while, I will be an over-exuberant cheerleader on the sidelines, cheering everyone else still in the race to the finish line.

My confidence took a major hit early on when I was unable to meet the needed daily word count goal, and trying to pick up the pieces was a task much easier said than done. Despite the many people cheering me on, par got further and further away. Looking back now, I realize I probably wasn't in the best head space when I began this challenge. (I was also physically sick twice – the first day and at the Overnight writing session.) I've had a rough year, and after depression had me down for the count back in February/March, it's been a long, steep, rocky road back. I'm still not 100%, and I don't know if I ever will be, but I've been inching my way to as close to it as I can get.

The last setback for me this month happened yesterday (on the 26th). While bracing myself to sit in a chair, I injured my thumb (the joint locked and then unlocked a couple of times in too quick a succession for my tendon/muscle to keep up). A writer relies on all their digits, and when one fails, the others have to over compensate. This has made typing a wee bit awkward. It is darn right painful if I continue to use my thumb to hit the space bar. The injury has also aggravated my tendonitis, which flares occasionally throughout the year but more so when November rolls around. So that, coupled with the knowledge I won't be making the 50,000 words needed to win, I decided to get my word count to 25,000 and leave it there. That's what I did.

I'll be back next year, and, hopefully, I'll be more prepared than I was this go round. And with any luck, 2016 will be a much kinder year.

To those who have already hit 50k: CONGRATULATIONS!!! You deserve every ounce of that win!

To those who are still fighting the good fight: KEEP GOING!!! Even if you don't get that coveted purple banner, you are awesome, and your words are amazing! Regardless if you finish the month with 50 words, 100 words, or 20,000 words, that's 50, 100, 20,000 more words than you had a month ago!

Thursday, 29 October 2015

A Maddening Challenge

If you've been following this blog for at least a year, or have known me since 2012 and are aware of the time of year, you'll know that I am gearing up for the most (or one of the most) maddening challenge a writer can partake in.

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo)!

For those of you who haven't been following this blog, or if you haven't known me since 2012, I am a writer. I've been doing it since I was old enough to write the stories in my head down on paper. It is a beautiful hobby and a large part of my life revolves around it. It is also quite challenging and insane. I am insane! Most artists are. We're not clinically insane, but our lives are tremendously different – we feel our way through life, our minds are always buzzing about our next major (or minor) project, and we're... we're just different. And we're unapologetic about it. At least I am.

And for those who don't know what NaNoWriMo is, it's a month-long ordeal that challenges writers to write 50,000 words between November 1st and November 30th. Yes, 50,000 words is a lot of words, and yes, we're insane to undertake this, but insanity was already established in the previous paragraph. The goal is insane, but it is achievable. Many of my friends have achieved it many, many times over. Unfortunately, I am not among them. I have attempted the challenge since 2012, and have yet to clear 30,000 words for the month. Maybe this is my year.

How does one prepare for this insane challenge? Well, I can't speak for everyone, but I can speak for myself. I am a habitual planner. I plan the crap out of everything I write, including fanfiction. Okay, maybe I don't plan the crap out of everything, but I do plan. I plan, at the very least, the main scenes that are going to be the driving force of the story. I figure out who my characters are, and create their back-stories so they can drive those scenes. Once I have my major plot points, I let my characters guide me from point A to point B and beyond. Sometimes the path they chose is twisty and hilly and convoluted, but they, eventually, get me where I'm going.

I used to be a pantser. A pantser is someone who writes by the seat of their pants. They start writing and see where it goes. I used to be like that. But, I ended up with more unfinished stories than I knew what to do with. However, I also know several people who have won NaNoWriMo with a pantsed novel.

There is no right or wrong way to write. If you are a habitual planner (and subsequently, a world-builder), that's awesome! If you are a pantser, that's awesome too! The most important part of NaNoWriMo is simply starting. You can't write the novel you never start.

I also find stocking up on tea, hot chocolate, and food is immensely helpful for navigating the highs and lows of November. Staying caffeinated and well-fed (especially well-fed) is essential to just surviving the chaos that inevitable ensues. And when I say there are highs and lows, I mean it. You will have days when nothing short of the apocalypse can stop you. And, you will have days when the apocalypse is in full force inside your head and writing is nigh impossible. I know this, because I've been there. Back in 2013, I had a 5,000 word day. I surprised myself! And it felt wonderful! It felt amazing. But, that was only a one-time deal. I haven't had a 5,000 word day since. I've had a couple of 2,000 word days, but nothing quite so tremendous as that 5,000 word one. I've also had many, many lows. I've had zero word days, and days when I've struggled to keep focused. Any of my friends will be able to tell you that, sometimes, I have the attention span of a goldfish. This is due to my ADD, and some days are worse than others. I also struggle with dark moments when I doubt myself a lot. That doubt manifests itself in an inability to write when I really need to. This is when I'm glad I don't hole myself in my room for NaNoWriMo. I meet other writers to write with because of these low days. I often need the encouragement, to hear the voices of my friends telling me not to give up and to keep writing. The advice doesn't always sink in, but it helps knowing I have people cheering in my corner, people I will cheer on in return.

Oh, and something else that helps? My ever-present, all-round comforting, mascot, Perry. He's my NaNoWriMOwl!

Meet, Perry!

Am I insane for doing this? Definitely. But, I can't imagine November without it.

What are some of the ways you prepare for NaNo? Let me know in the comments below!

Friday, 25 September 2015

Over The Rainbow with Josh Groban Part 2

If you read the blog this one is linked to, then you will know this is an account of my second night seeing Josh Groban. (If you haven't read the first one, click here to read it.) But this time, I'd splurged even more on my ticket than I had for the first show. This time, I had snagged a 5th row seat. Make that, a 5th row, just right of centre, seat. While I was walking down the aisle to my seat, the closer I got, the more excited and giddy I became. I had looked up my seat on the Sony Centre seating chart a few days earlier, but it hadn't registered just how close I really was. It certainly registered when I located my seat!


Before getting into the theatre, I stopped by the merchandise table and picked up a t-shirt and tote bag. I really wanted to add the zip-up hoodie to my purchase, but I'd already taken a financial hit when I purchased my ticket to the second show. So, with my merchandise, I entered the theatre and found my seat. That seat was next to a woman whom, while exchanging Josh-related small-talk with, I thought looked familiar. After a moment, I realized that I remembered her profile picture from a brief Facebook conversation I'd had with her on Livenation's post about Josh's concerts. I had commented that I was going to both shows and was super excited. She answered that she too was going to both and had won a meet and greet for one of them. I made another quick reply to congratulate her on being able to meet Josh, and that was it. I never thought I'd end up sitting next to her at the show. And, because of this, I know have a fellow Grobanite for a friend! I met another one after the show as well, so I now have two!... As well as about half a dozen other followers on Twitter due to Josh retweeting my tweet to him, then replying to it, and then favouriting my reply back to him back in March. I touched on that on the last post, but I guess I should go into a bit more detail about it now...

I sent Josh a tweet at 5:44pm on March 21 shortly after getting home from work. My tweet went as follows:
Hey, @joshgroban, ever think about doing an album of Broadway songs? I think it would be fantastic! (And ty for the music on my commute!) At 5:45pm, I got a reply from the man himself: @JenCathryne I did it!! Comes out April 28! Thank you too! Well, I couldn't let that go without replying. @joshgroban Really? That's awesome! I will be first in line to buy it! And thanks for the fast reply! You made my day! (He really did.) And then!... Josh favourited my reply back to him!

The conversation with Josh

Highlighing Josh's favourite.

Well, my twitter promptly blew up after that with Josh's reply, retweet, favourite, and the retweets from fellow fans... And after all that, I realized that, I had known he'd had Stages in the works since late 2014, but with the recent trauma my mother and I had been through a month prior, I'd completely forgotten. But, that brief exchange made me feel important when I really needed to, and gave me the smile I needed to get through the rest of my evening. I only hope he realizes just how much that tiny Twitter exchange meant to me. I also hope he realizes how much taking that photo with me after the first concert meant. He truly is a remarkably special person and I hope he knows that.

Anyway, back to the concert!

So, shortly after adding my new-found Grobanite friend to Facebook (and later to Twitter), and chatting about our personal experiences with Josh (virtual and otherwise), the house lights dimmed. Just like the night before, he was about 5 or 10 minutes late starting. But again, musicians are never on time!

The first half of the set list, musically, was the same:
Pure Imagination, Try To Remember, What I Did For Love, Old Devil Moon, All I Ask Of You (with Lena Hall), Save Me (Lena Hall), Finishing The Hat, and Anthem. The numbers may have been the same, but the interactions with the audience were much different. Josh seemed much more laid back this time and he found himself going off on several more tangents than he had the night before. (He managed to bring it back though.) The Viagara Centre for the Performing Arts joke was in there, but the You Raise Me Up quip wasn't. But he impressed us with his knowledge of a bit of history of The Sony Centre (it was called the O'Keefe Centre when it first opened in 1960). He also touched on his three day stay in Toronto, and proved able to keep track of the events happening in the city. The Blue Jays were playing at the Rogers Centre at the same time as the concert, and Josh, after joking that many in the audience would be checking their phones for score updates, offered to give us said score updates. "My guys can check the score for you! If they're winning, I'll tell you. If they're not, we'll just continue right along!"


Having a chat with us.

Before moving on to Try To Remember, he asked how many of us had been to the previous night's show. My new friend and I cheered, but a group of maybe four or five sitting in the first couple of rows to the left of centre stage were who he heard best. He very quickly poked fun at them, suggesting a Plexiglas box be set up between them and him. The girls took it in stride, and the audience had a good laugh at the expense of both the fans and Josh.


The second half of the show was a bit different. After Children Will Listen/Not While I'm Around and Le Temps Des Cathédrales, he changed the set a bit with a song he had not yet done on tour. Before the show, he took to Twitter to poll those going to the second Toronto show for what song they would rather hear: Dulcinea from Man From La Mancha, or If I Can't Love Her from Beauty and the Beast. I partook in the poll and voted for If I Can't Love Her I couldn't wait to find out which tune won. In my excitement, I videoed the performance and purposely included his introduction to it. I'm glad I did!


"We're going to change things up a little bit because--" he said; he was cut off by an audible gasp came from the group he had poked fun at earlier, and he immediately stopped. "Careful... easy!" He said. Then, he turned to the audience to let them in on what happened. "I heard an ear-gasm from the corner right here.” He motioned to the section the girls were in. Then he continued. “So, we wanted to throw in a song we haven't done yet on the tour because this is our second night here, and so, this is a song that...” He stopped to backpedal a bit to let the rest of the audience in on what had happened earlier in the evening. “I actually asked on Twitter, which would you like to hear, and I gave two choices, and they kind of, unanimously picked one... And this is a song from the musical, Beauty And The Beast--” At this point, those who partook in the poll, myself included, cheered. But, the girls in the corner were louder. This cheer stopped Josh, literally, in his tracks. “Alright...” When he got through laughing, he turned to us with a thought. “Maybe it was just four people on Twitter with twenty different aliases...I'm just realizing that.” At that, my new friend then called out, "Five!" I chimed in with, "Six!" He gathered himself, and introduced the song, explaining it was one that Alan Menken wrote specifically for the stage production. Before beginning it though, he chuckled and said, "I was going to take a little rest song here, but instead, I'm going to sing a really hard one for you!"


The song, as well as Dulcinea are available on the Target Exclusive Stages album, a version I do not own. (I have the standard version and the Deluxe version that includes two bonus tracks.) However, I have heard his version of this beautiful, romantic, sad song, and knew the audience was in for a real treat. And what a treat it was. The video I took of it is one I will cherish for a long time. I guffaw every time I watch the first minute or so of it.


If I Loved You (with Lena Hall), Maybe I'm Amazed (Lena Hall solo), Bring Him Home, and You'll Never Walk Alone closed out the show, with Somewhere Over The Rainbow being the encore once again. I recorded You'll Never Walk Alone and Somewhere Over The Rainbow. I also recorded Anthem as it's my favourite song from the musical, Chess. Bring Him Home had me in tears – watching Josh sing it and react to, not only the applause he received upon singing, "God on high", but the energy in the room was a real treat and gave the song so much more feeling.


The experience of the second concert, for me, was far superior to the first. I believe it was, in part, due to the better vantage point I had (the two seats in front of me and my new friend were empty – bad for Josh, but good for us). I also found someone to enjoy the concert with, someone I could share my Josh experiences with, someone who understood why I'm so enamoured with and by him because they are too. Being able to watch the feeling he had with each song, to watch him listen to those who accompanied him, to watch him react to us, to be a part of the interactions he had with the audience, and to be part of his Twitter poll... it was all worth the price I paid for that ticket. Being a part of the Twitter poll made If I Can't Love Her just that extra little bit more special. Making the audience feel at ease and like they're sitting in a cozy living room is something Josh does well and it made for a beautiful and memorable evening.

Listening to him tell us how much the Arts means to him and how much it influenced and changed his life made me feel a bit closer to him. The Arts have influenced my life in more ways than one and have given me experiences that have shaped my life; experiences I will never forget. I was in my schools' extra-curricular band classes – I played the Clarinet in elementary and then moved on to the Oboe during Junior High (I taught myself to play), and was the only Oboe player in my entire high school for the four years I was there. My grandmother taught me how to play her electric organ, and though I'm not very good, I can pluck out a tune on the piano. My aunt gave me my grandfather's old acoustic guitar, and I taught myself to play it when I was a teenager. I was swept away to Oz by a twister when I was 12 in my elementary school's production of, The Wizard of Oz. I toured a play to forty Toronto area middle schools in thirty days and performed that show at the Tarragon and Harbourfront Theatres while in a drama co-op course in my final semester of high school. I went to Sheridan College for a Performing Arts course. Unfortunately, life got in the way of my dreams, (and I wasn't a very good actress) but the experiences I had will never be forgotten, and have helped me in my writing. I can't count how many times I've stood from my chair to physically block a scene I am writing, or to get into my characters' heads during an exchange of dialogue. I attend karaoke fairly regularly and love being swept away by the music I sing and listen to. Without my grandmother, my aunt - and by extension, my grandfather -, the teachers who took the time out of their busy schedules to write and direct the school plays... without my high school drama teacher and college professors who taught and encouraged me to take risks... without my keyboard and band teachers who understood (and tested) my limits... without my English teachers, and my Writer's Craft teacher, who encouraged me to keep writing and who took the time to read whatever silly story I was working on outside of class and give me advice and help... Without the Arts kids and writers in my circle of friends who understand the motions I go through when writing... Without any of those people, and without the Arts programs in my schools, my life would have been shaped much differently. There's no telling where I may have ended up.


For the reasons stated above, Josh's Find Your Light Foundation is something that means a lot and helps fund Arts programs in the US and in Canada. The Arts shape all of us and give us a means to express ourselves creatively. That can make or break us. It can make a whole world of difference. It has for me. If you can, stop by the Foundation's website and see for yourself what good has come out of it and how Josh has been giving back to the very thing that started him on the path he is on now.


Remember when I said that I believe that things happen for a reason? I also said that belief has been shaken by things that have happened recently – deaths, personal injury, negativity - and dealing with the affects of those things. Well, after seven months of what I can only truly describe as sadness, fear, and uncertainty, I have had two nights where things fell into place that needed to. Yes, I spent a lot on my ticket to the first concert. But, I met the amazing, Josh Groban at the stage door and got a photograph with him that his security guy tried to refuse. And, yes, I took a major financial hit when I purchased my ticket to the second concert, but I met a fellow Grobanite, and I had an unobstructed view of everything happening on stage. I took four great videos (two of which are being sent to a member of the Victor Singers on their request). I laughed and I cried. I had a great time, and it has been a very long time since I have been as happy--no-- as elated as I am right now. (That elation has continued, in part, due to one of tweets to him on Thursday, the 24th, being favourited by him.) I have two whims, my new Grobanite, and Josh to thank for that. So, the next time he's in town, I will be in in the audience as close to the stage as I can get for my next dose of Josh Groban related happiness.


To learn more about, or donate to, Find Your Light, check out: Find Your Light Foundation