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I’m just back from the Pacific Northwest Writer’s Conference in Seattle last weekend, and I had a wonderful, if exhausting, time. It is one of the oldest and most established writer’s conferences in North America, 59 years old this year. And while this year’s event was big enough for me with more than 600 participants, they assured me that next year’s conference will be even bigger to celebrate the 60th anniversary.

I felt that this year’s workshops were even better than last year’s. Two workshops in particular will have me plunging back into my mystery as soon as I finish this post to see if I can’t add tension to each scene:
* That Arc of a Scene: A Beat by Beat Analysis of How Scenes work, presented by Scott Driscoll.
* Creating and Maintaining Tension and Suspense, presented by Robert Dugoni

Sabrina York’s workshop called Takin It To The Street…Team was also very useful. Her tips on making the best use of social media was great – even if you don’t plan on starting your own street team.

Another wonderful opportunity last weekend was meeting my roommate Melissa Denny who writes middle-grade and picture books and who had finalled with her picture book in the PNWA contest. A gentle story about the night a foal is born, the emotion she put into that 300 words was amazing.

All of the evening speakers were extremely entertaining: James Rollins Thursday night and a panel of luminaries hosted by Robert Dugoni Friday night. One theme that emerged both nights was the need for persistence. Regardless of how long a list of published books and other credits these people had, they all stressed that getting there was a struggle that took years in every case, and advised looking for opportunities where you least expect them.

That said, one of the best opportunities at this conference is the 90 minute speed-dating-style pitch session with a busload of agents and editors. There is a limited number of people signed up for each one, and this year each person could go to two 90 minute sessions.

First there is a morning of agent and editor forums where they each talk about what they are looking for now. Then at the pitch sessions you go from one person to the next, giving as many 4 minute pitches as you can fit in as the hour and a half races by. Yes, sometimes you must line up in between, but a short line gives you a few minutes to compose yourself for the next pitch. In the end I had 8 requests split between my romance and mystery manuscripts.

After that I emailed my son and said, “Marketing for Introverts is on now, but I feel too peopled out to go to it.”

But on the last morning Bob Dugoni had us all on our feet repeating the Writers of Rohan pledge. You had to be there.

Good to go, but good to be home. I hope next year some of my fellow Vancouver Island writers can join me.

And now I’d better get busy and send out those chapters I promised.
Judy

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Let’s put an exclamation mark on that.

Double the Excitement!

I just heard from the Toronto Chapter of RWA that not one but both of my Fortune Bay books finalled in the Contemporary Series category of their contest, the Catherine.
The books are the first two of a planned three book series set in Fortune Bay, a town loosely based on Honeymoon Bay on Cowichan Lake on Vancouver Island where I lived for eight years. All three will revolve around the Murphy family and the people who move in and out of their cabin on the lake.
The first book, Summer of Fortune, was the first book I wrote and the testing ground for all I’ve learned. Sometimes I wish I did like smarter writers and put it in the drawer, but I didn’t, and after too many rewrites to count, I think it’s pretty close to done.
I’m thrilled that the judge for the finals who will be reading the first few chapters of both books, is the editor I was planning on querying next, although I won’t mention her name. Wouldn’t want to jinx it.
Wish me luck!
Judy

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Italian dinner al frescoOur family teases my husband that he could open an all prosciutto restaurant. He likes nothing better than to wrap something in this cured Italian ham and serve it up.
We do eat pretty well. He’s a good cook and I do my share. My favourite is Italian, and yes, I’ve been to Italy now 5, 6, no 7 times. So more often than not, dinner is Italian.
Today I bought some halibut – fresh and mild, in season in our local waters around the Island. Years ago hubby ordered prosciutto-wrapped halibut at one of our favourite restaurants, Grapevine on the Bay in nearby Maple Bay. The food is always good there. (Check out Frommers review.)
When we got home, nothing would do but he had to make it himself (I didn’t complain) and now it’s one of our favourites.
Easy really, this time we did a variation with ingredients on hand, chunks cut out of the tail end of the fish, salted and peppered then wrapped in prosciutto and pan fried with a little white wine (already open in the fridge) and some dried thyme (picked in the garden a few days ago and drying on the counter.) Sometimes we serve it with earthy putanesca sauce, but it was just fine tonight without.

Next, a Panzanella salad with lots of fresh tomato, capers, leftover but crispy croutons and, instead of boccocini, some fresh mozzarella I had in the fridge, that I marinated in oil and balsamic dressing for half an hour first. Oh yes, and lots of fresh basil.
(I roughly follow this Tre Stella Boccocini recipe.)
It’s spring, and we are all out of the pesto that I freeze each fall, so the pesto on the pasta was, I admit, a good store bought variety. You make do. Pesto is just the greenest, most healthy tasting thing I can think of and we enjoy it often in the dark winter months.
But today it is full on spring and we are eating al fresco on the porch.
What are you doing to celebrate spring?


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Two nights ago, I took a tea leaf reading class as research for a Victorian murder mystery I’m planning. Sarah, the instructor, was a warm, open woman who relaxed our small group of three students with her “there is no wrong way to do this” philosophy. She was serious though when she warned us of the responsibility inherent in the job, saying that every reading should leave the people involved feeling hopeful and empowered.

You begin each reading by sipping your loose tea (between your teeth, hopefully leaving most of the leaves in the cup!) until there is only about one teaspoon of liquid left. We used beautiful floral china cups. (The cup pictured is my only teacup not from a set, but it is a beauty.) Then you turn the cup upside down into the saucer, not worrying about if you spill a bit. As Sarah says, whatever happens was meant to happen. At this point, some people turn the cup three times in the saucer, (I don’t know clockwise from counterclockwise so that part passed me by) or hold it with their hands to further imprint their intention on it, ask a question, or just turn the cup over and jump right in.

The actual reading seems to be any combination of seeing animals or objects in the leaves in the cup, or in the saucer, or spilled across the tablecloth if that’s how it landed, and using them as a springboard to your intuition. There are traditional symbols to look for but in this new-age age, it seems the sky is the limit. Mine, done with chunky herbal tea, looked like a totem pole in the bottom of the cup, all of the tea fragments lined up, and even looking like animals. A bear on top, a goose in flight below, etc. Someone suggested I check out First Nations iconography. Good idea. (I live in a town where totem poles line the streets.)

I’d had my tea leaves read before, and was – resistant. I’m not sure why, it wasn’t skepticism exactly, perhaps just, as Sarah suggested, resistance to the intrusion. I don’t feel psychic, not in any woo-woo way, just a little too open, too vulnerable to have just anyone poking around in my world.

So anyway, I was sitting beside the reader and was the first to be read at our table. I didn’t know what to expect, and I balked. I resisted. The reader spun her wheels, getting nowhere, but I couldn’t let her in. When she moved on to another person down the table, I relaxed, and at one point I thought she was giving the other woman my reading! That she was picking up my questions because of our proximity. Not fair to any of us really. At that point the other woman looked slightly confused. What the reader was saying to her were things that I knew she had no connection to but were high in my mental to-do list and list of concerns. The reader was really quite good, and after this class I’m more sure than ever that she knows how to channel – something.

I’ll be going back for another reading. I’m not done my “research” yet.


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We don’t get much snow on Vancouver Island. It’s one of the reasons I moved here from Ontario so many years ago. (I seem to remember one winter day in the Ottawa Valley, sick with a fever and shoveling snow off the woodshed roof so that it wouldn’t cave in. I suddenly thought, enough is enough, and I haven’t looked back.)
But we do get a few snow days every year, and a few years, especially when I lived at the slightly higher elevation of Cowichan Lake, we had snow for more than a month at a time. But for the most part we embrace the novelty, or put up with it, depending on the busyness of your schedule.
It has been snowing now for three days straight, night and day. Somehow, this time, perhaps because my head cold struck at the same time, it has had a much more nostalgic effect on me than normal. Between feeling feverish and having the power go off, we have had a fire going in the living room fireplace most of the time for the last three days. We often have fires in the evenings, but it’s different when you count on it for heat. It took me back to the ten years I lived at the lake at Honeymoon Bay, when, with the snow swirling outside, the power would go off for days at a time and we would have to cook our meals on the woodstove too.
Then I noticed the bird feeders were empty and the hummingbird feeder portals were covered with snow. I pulled my rubber boots and warm jacket on over my PJ’s (the worst day of my cold, but the outside temperature never went below freezing) and went out fill the feeders. As I brushed the snow off the red flowers on the hummer feeder I could hear the little Anna’s that stay all winter chittering in the snow covered camellia beside me. Then as I poured the birdseed into the tall squirrel proof feeder I suddenly remembered a book I read as a city child, where the little girl in the book came out of the log cabin into the snow and fed the birds.
And now I’m living the life.

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