I write. For fun and for hire.

No, I did not lose an earring; I am celebrating asymmetry.

Current work projects: Massaging final touches on a series of three, 90-second videos about micro-borrowers. Interviewing small business, workshop facilitators to identify revisions needed to the sessions they present – next I’ll make those curriculum changes. Developing a very cool, interactive cash flow teaching tool.

Current creative projects:  Working on a new non-fiction idea that is sure to ruffle feathers. Writing an article for Firefighting in Canada, a monthly print magazine.

 

Mother Teresa is a finalist

Although I haven’t submitted Mother Teresa’s Advice for Jilted Lovers to any agents in several months (thirty-five rejections cooled my enthusiasm), I did enter the manuscript in a contest last November – the Somerset Award which recognizes emerging new talent and outstanding works in contemporary, mainstream and literary fiction.

I got news today that my novel has made it through three rounds of judging and is a finalist. First place category winners will be announced in June…

 

 

The Reluctant Atheist

And why I’m going to be a NaNoWriMo rebel this year

A few atheist authors. Pretty good company to be  in.

A few atheist authors. Pretty good company to be in.

I recently attended the Surrey International Writers’ Conference. Every workshop I attended and keynote address I saw was exceptional—no exceptions—but there was one that stands out. It was the workshop that left me questioning why I’ve spent six years building my skills to become a fiction writer when my heart, soul, interest and professional experience are all in creative non-fiction.

Okay. I’m not really questioning why. I know why. It’s called fear.

And this is not my garden variety “What was that noise outside?” kind of fear. This is my “run-screaming-from-the-room-there’s-a-spider-as-big-as-my-head-above-the-bed” kind of fear.

I am terrified to be myself on paper. I hide my truth in the humorous (and American-spelling’d) trials and tribulations of fictional characters who, as my counselor/therapist/person-who-talks-me-down-when-I’m-freaking-out-about-life recently stated, “are all telling different parts of my own story.”

Damn. Am I really that transparent?

When I look into my perfect future, I see myself as an author with books shelved alongside AJ JacobsElizabeth GilbertGretchen Ruben,Piper Kerman, and Martha Beck.

But what have I spent six years writing and several thousand dollars writing about, buying books about, and taking courses to learn about? How to write women’s fiction.

Until this past weekend I don’t think I could have named three best-selling women’s fiction authors. I’m certain I’ve read many, but they don’t stick with me the same way the books do when written by gonzo journalists and creative non-fictionalists. These are storytellers who aren’t afraid to tell their truths.

Victoria Zackheim facilitated the workshop that lead me to have this uncomfortable epiphany. She is a personal essayist and teaches the craft at UCLA. Her anthology, The Other Woman, contains stories from twenty-one women who were courageous enough to talk openly about sex, deception, love and betrayal.

I could have had a story in this anthology. My promotional Tweet would have been, “Telling my husband he could have an affair was not my best idea. Becoming an ethical slut to find true love was a worse one.

Continue reading The Reluctant Atheist

When money and sex collide…in a classroom

iceberg

Last Thursday, after a lovely dinner out with my adult son (shock, horror, disbelief), I attended a two-hour workshop on managing money. In November I’ll be delivering these same workshops (shock, horror, disbelief). Watching my colleagues deliver the material is part of my training.

The facilitator showed us this image and told us that the top of the iceberg represented our actions; in this context, related to how we spend and save money.

He then told us to label the two areas under the water as either ‘thoughts’ or ‘beliefs’, asking which would be deepest, the thoughts level or the beliefs level. In other words, do thoughts lead to beliefs lead to actions (from deepest to above water), or, do beliefs lead to thoughts lead to actions. Got it?

The group of ten was equally split, interestingly, with most women saying that thoughts lead to beliefs, while most men stating that beliefs lead to thoughts. Which is it? What do you think? Take a second. Decide.

Here’s a picture so you don’t cheat and peak ahead.

Mahatma Ghandi

Mahatma Ghandi

According to the instructor (and to Mahatma Ghandi) our beliefs become our thoughts and our thoughts become our actions. We have a thousand thoughts every day, but the only ones that have power are the ones we hold as beliefs — these are the thoughts that we accept as true and the thoughts that we act on.

Confused? I was. So was much of the class. So the instructor gave an example. And here’s where money and sex collided in this classroom, like the Sunshine  (Arctic explorer, Captain John Davis’s ship) hitting an iceberg.

Back in the days before we had the Hudson Bay Company, in the days when Vikings and the first European ships were finding their way north to the land of  icebergs, Inuit men trained hungry sailors how to hunt polar bears in exchange for those strapping young men having sex with all the Inuit women of child-bearing age. Married or not.

That’s what he told us. That’s not something I remember learning in Grade 7 or even Grade 10 Canadian history, but then, there’s a lot we weren’t told about Canada’s First Peoples so…I’ll trust him.

The connection to money and the beliefs –> thoughts –> actions assertion? Glad you asked because I wasn’t following either.

The Inuit of days-gone-by believed that genetic diversity was critical to their survival and thrival (it’s not a word but it should be) so they had no thoughts of jealousy. That belief and thought (or non-thought, as it were) lead to the action of encouraging their wives to mix up the gene pool with transient white boys. Wham bam, thank you, Ma’am.

How would you feel, he asked us, if a man suggested he sleep with your wife? You’d be jealous, of course! And your jealous feeling might lead you to act by punching that man right in the nose.

(In truth, one man didn’t look like he’d be jealous at all. The way he was smiling and nodding I thought he was quite interested in this idea. That said, my thought did not lead to an action of suggesting the name of an ethical slut I dated several years ago because I believe everyone involved would ultimately be disappointed). But I digress.

All right. The iceberg, belief, thought, action analogy made some sense. But where does money enter this relationship?

We all have beliefs about money, many of which we got from our parents. Beliefs like, “all rich people are insensitive jerks” or alternately, “all poor people are lazy.” The beliefs we have about money (much like the ones we have about sex) lead us to different thoughts. If you believe that rich people are not nice people, odds are you won’t try to become a rich person and you’ll limit yourself in your career, accepting low-wage jobs to ensure you never become a jerk yourself. Thus, belief to thought to action.

What do you think? How do your beliefs about money impact your thoughts and actions? I’m actually looking for some examples since I need a different one for my own workshop deliveries. Polygamous Inuits just doesn’t work for me.

I’m also interested in how your beliefs about sex impact your thoughts and actions, since the characters in my novels are always looking for something quirky to define them (and frankly, using my own beliefs, thoughts and actions related to sex is getting a bit old).

Why cocktail parties terrify me

Stiletto Race, Russia 2012

Stiletto Race, Russia 2012

I am a woman.

My hips, breasts and bottom make that clear to most people who pass me on the street.

That said, my height, hair and shoe choice sometimes leave room for confusion.

And that’s what I’m wondering about today. Why or how I grew up to be a mostly mature woman who can’t do any of the things that other ladies learn before they graduate from high school.

I can barely stand up, let alone walk, in a pair of shoes that require any kind of balancing on my heels.

Good friends have tried to teach me with advice like,

Practice just standing in front of mirror to get your posture right. Now shift your centre of balance. Stick out your butt. Push out your chest. Now stand up straight.

“But you just said to stick out my butt and chest…how is this even possible?”

I probably didn’t start wearing heels young enough since I was taller than most boys in high school, back when I cared about this kind of thing. So I blame short, Quebec-born men for the lack of stilettos in my closet. Hell, I don’t even own practical hush puppy heels like my grandma wore. It’s pathetic.

And then… how is it that I am 47-years old and my make-up bag contains one eye-liner that I got for free from Clinique back in 2003, two lipsticks from that same Clinique bonus bag, and a small eye shadow palette that I bought seven years ago when I was dating and thought that make-up would make me more attractive.

Really? A forty-year old who’s never learned to apply make-up thinking that her haphazard and random swipes of shades of pink and brown powder would make her look like anything more than a woman trying to look like a man trying to look like a woman?

Remember, I’m wearing motorcycle boots or Doc Marten’s on these dates. Which means I’m not in a pretty dress or pantyhose (even the word offends me). Jeans and a tight t-shirt or sweater for me. (I did manage to learn to accept the discomfort of an underwire, push-up bra, thank God!). Obviously, the eyeliner and shadow weren’t fooling anyone.

And then there was the lipstick. I’m told the two shades I own are good for my skin tone, which is a relief. But honestly, ladies how do live with the gunky feeling and that disgusting taste? Ech.

So, let me tell you about one of the men who was interested in dating a woman who was dealt an atrophied X chromosome.

He was tall. Built like an athlete. A professional who wears a suit and tie to work every day. And, a very nice man, who, for our third date asked if I wanted to watch him perform at a club in downtown Vancouver.

Musician? Nope. DJ? Uh-uh. Dancer? Why, yes, sort of.

“Can I come to your house to get ready?” he asked.

He arrived with a hockey bag which he dumped open on my bed. He had more dresses and more pairs of stilettos in that bag alone than I will ever own. And make-up? The man was an expert at applying fake eyelashes, foundation, eyeliner… hell, he could have moonlighted at the make-up counter at The Bay.

I was actually excited about this side of him. I watched him perform. He was… a bit stiff, but not bad, given he is six-foot-bloody-four and wearing size fourteen, five-inch stilettos. And a tight dress. And a wig with hair that kept falling in his face. I wouldn’t have been able to lean against the bar without falling over in what he was strutting and singing in.

After a night of dancing he came back to my place. We kissed.

“Ech. Can you wipe off the lipstick? It tastes disgusting,” I complained.

Honestly, kissees, why do you put up with it?

He was visibly hurt. Without going into the truly banal details, we woke up the next morning and agreed that we just didn’t have a connection.

No problem. Except that he told me in one of those, I’m not really thinking before I speak moments, that sleeping with me made him wonder why he’d stopped sleeping with men.

Really?

What’s a woman to say to that? You’re welcome?

That’s what was going through my mind this morning when I woke up, worried about what I’d wear to the cocktail party that the Vancouver chapter of the RWA will be hosting at the Surrey International Writers’ Conference in two weeks.

Aren’t you happy to have joined me for a little visit inside my brain today? Will you share a little something from your own messed-up mind to help me feel normal? Please?

How to ruin a perfectly good love affair

Cleopatra_by_Lawrence_Alma-TademaSex.
There, I said it.

And, I made you say it–in your mind.
Sex.
Sexy, sex!

Maybe, depending on how recently you engaged in a loving sexual act, you read the word and smiled, reigniting the tingly warmth of having sweaty, skin-contact with your sweetie. “Sex. Ahh…”

Perhaps, if it’s been longer than you’d care to remember since you’ve been naked with another, you exhaled a small puff of derision. “Sex. Pah!”

Many years ago, when I was forty and online dating, I had two rules:

1. If, on the first date, we don’t feel comfortable enough to talk about at least one the verbotin subjects – money, politics or sex – then I won’t waste time on a second date.

Come on. If, after a couple of beers he wasn’t man enough to admit, “Yeah, I voted Conservative and I’d do it again,” for fear I’d judge him… well, he’d be right and I wouldn’t have gone out with him again anyway.

Alternately, if after a few ounces of scotch, I didn’t have the balls to tell him the last man I’d had sex with was wearing more makeup than I own, that probably wasn’t going to change during a second date and by date three or four he’d figure out who I really am and likely be disgusted. Or at least, disappointed.

On the other hand, if on the first date we talked about all the difficult subjects and I found the man desperately attractive and could think of nothing other than taking off all my clothes in front of him, I called on my second rule -

2. I will wait until the third date before naked time is allowed on the dessert menu.

Only once did I bend one of those two rules in the fifteen months between becoming single and meeting my new man. “Bent” because to get around the three date rule, I had him drop me off at home after we’d spent a lovely second date visiting VanDusen Gardens, having lunch atop Cypress mountain, then walking the Stanley Park Seawall. He went back to his hotel for two hours and I prepared myself for a tasty third date in his hotel room (the guy lived in Toronto and was visiting BC to ski in Whistler; the hotel wasn’t to hide bad behaviour from a wife).

We had sex. Sex so good that in the next six months Westjet shareholders benefited from seven Vancouver-Toronto / Toronto-Vancouver airfares.

In Toronto, he asked me to marry him and I said, “Yes! Yes! Ye-es!” Three weeks later he flew to Vancouver to break up with me. No reason except “it just, suddenly, didn’t feel right.”

This New York Times book review excerpt from The Naughty Bits reminded me of that man. It’s as if Toni Bentley, the author of these words, had dated my Toronto lover herself:

“…the erotic brain slithers insidiously toward vile visuals, debauched behaviors, absurd positions and stadium settings, while the merest mention of monogamy or fidelity will render Casanova’s cane limp and Cleopatra’s Nile dry.”

And, truth be told, the reason my husband took a lover after fourteen years was because my own Nile had run dirt dry long before he dipped his oar in wetter waters.

True stories.

Any questions? Over-sharing in not in my vocabulary.

How to clear a fire hall without yelling fire

Sexy Jacques Villeneuve, 1995

On Monday night, my man and I did something we rarely get to do: we went on a date. To a movie parlour.

I had to miss my yoga class to see Rush. I wasn’t thrilled, expecting it to be a testosterone-filled racing film with ninety minutes of cars running around in circles, crashing, bursting into flames… And there was a good amount of all three of those things, but Rush impressed me with how much story was behind the racing. I actually loved the film. And I cried at the end.

Last night, at fire practice (I’m a volunteer firefighter), I was talking to the guys about the film as we got into our turn-out gear. (Of course, I did not tell them I cried.) Martyn, a Brit, said he knew the film would be good.

“Of course you’d think that,” I said. “It stars that British racer guy.”

“James Hunt! How could you forget James Hunt?”

“I’d never heard of him before last night.”

Disbelief. Shock. How could I have never heard of a man who won the Formula One World Chapionship? Once…in 1976…seriously, guys?

Being one of five women in our department of about thirty members, I have a choice to make most practice nights:

  1. pretend I know what the hell the guys are talking about when we’re killing time,
  2. admit I don’t have a clue and get razzed, or,
  3. pull out my shiny castle and knock the discussion into an area that I know something about.

Last night I chose option #3.

“Of course I’ve heard of Niki Lauda and Mario Andretti and Gilles Villeneuve. And Gille’s son, Jacques. In fact, I have a great story about Jacques Villeneuve and the race he won in Vancouver in 1995. The year he took home the Indy Car World Championship.”

The men were all paying attention. What I didn’t tell them is that I used to be a huge fan of Jacques Villeneuve because he was an international superstar from Quebec, where I was born and raised. Or that my ex-husband was both a Villeneuve fan and a huge fan of racing generally. Or that we could hear the cars racing along the streets of Vancouver from the basement suite we were renting that September weekend in 1995. What I said was,

“My son was conceived during that race–”

“Oh, God, Donna.”

“Jeez… I don’t want to know.”

“Too much information.”

Etcetera and so on from the men as they ran from the fire hall out into the rain, missing the rest of my connection to racing which was simply that my husband and I called our in-utero baby “Jacques” until the day he was born.

True story.

When is the truth a lie?

“The most important thing in communication is to hear what isn’t being said.” – Peter F. Drucker

About half-a-year ago I started dating. I’ve met sixteen men and slept with two (no judgement, please!). Of all those men, fewer than half made it to a second date: and the reason is directly related to the above quote. You see, I’d ask — sometimes directly, but more often through an example — if they thought that leaving out certain facts from a story that was otherwise true, could constitute a form of lie.
For instance, I get home late from work. I explain that the traffic was terrible (which is true). That the bus I took broke down and I had to wait for a second bus (true, too). And that I stopped to buy some groceries (true again). All of these things contributed to my getting home late from work. I have not lied.
But, what I haven’t said is that I actually left the office an hour early. And that the real reason I’m late was that I stopped by the casino to play a few hands of Go Fish.
No lie was told… but was the truth told?
The guys who thought that it was fine to leave out facts that would change the meaning or interpretation of a story to suit a particular goal, never made it to a second date. I was actually quite shocked at how many people think that omission of facts has absolutely no bearing on the truth of a story…
Complete comments? Fully-formed questions?
(This post was originally published in 2006. A composite of some of the men who never made it to a second date became characters in my first work of fiction, Drinking Scotch with Strangers.)

Drinking Scotch with Strangers – opening

Special thanks to Heather Webb for yet another good reason to post to my blog.

First 250 words of Drinking Scotch with Strangers

Genre: Women’s fiction w/ a few erotica scenes

***

Telling my husband he could have an affair—no, actually encouraging him to—while he was away on a business trip was probably not the smartest thing I’d ever done. It seemed like a good idea at the time, though. A way to let him know that I felt awful about not wanting to have sex anymore and that I understood he didn’t feel the same way. And I thought I was safe from any blowback since we set rules to make this an entirely safe experiment.

“Don’t have sex with anyone local; anyone who lives within a six-hour drive is off-limits. Deal?”

He raised his bushy monobrow (I wondered if he’d make time to pluck them into two before he left, thinking it would increase his odds of finding a lover) and nodded his agreement.

“Wear a condom.”

“Of course,” he said, as if I’d just asked him to buy milk.

“Well, it’s not like you’ve had to for the last sixteen years.” I was irritated by his cavalier tone. “And be honest when I ask if anything happened while you were away. If I want details, you have to promise not to keep secrets.”

That was really my most important rule since I could accept the love-of-my-life in bed with another woman but I couldn’t stand it when he lied to me. And he had. More than a few times during our marriage.

In a way, giving him permission to have an affair was not only easing my libido-less conscience, it was, I thought, also protecting our relationship from the fall-out that would inevitably follow if he ever did have a secret affair. And I totally expected he would.

Hell, had I been in his boxers, I’d have cheated on me years ago. Not that I’ve been a bad wife, it’s just that I haven’t enjoyed getting naked with James in a few years. Six, to be exact.

But it didn’t start out that way. In fact, when we met, sex with James almost killed my relationship with my best friend, JoAnn.

Mother Teresa’s Advice for Jilted Lovers – opening

Special thanks to Heather Webb for this blog hop contest.

First 250 words of Mother Teresa’s Advice for Jilted Lovers

Genre: Women’s fiction/dark humour

***

I didn’t wake up that morning expecting to kill my boyfriend. In fact, after four months of sharing sheets, I was feeling like James and I might be going somewhere. Somewhere together. As we lay relaxing after making love, I thought we might be transitioning from being casual lovers to officially declaring ourselves ‘a couple.’ It felt far enough to consider, but not quite far enough to talk about. At least, not with James.

He got out of bed to make coffee and connect with head office. I stayed put, not wanting to disrupt my post-sex vibration. I imagined the conversation I’d have later that day with Betsy about my future with James.

“I think we’re getting serious,” I’d tell her.

She’d be skeptical and snarky, “Better you than me,” she’d say.

“He bought me a toothbrush when he replaced his own. Feels like a good sign.”

“Yeah, a big orange caution flag.”

That’s Betsy. She’s not one for love or commitment. We’re like yin and yang that way.

I heard the coffee-maker sputter and James clinking mugs so I got up. His laptop sat on the coffee table open to an exchange with his boss, Sandra. As I dropped to the couch, two words jumped out at me as though they’d been typed in large, bold, red letters—’blow job.’ I looked away and rubbed my eyes. He must mean something about not blowing a job he has to do for Sandra.