Monday Monday

The updates are there are no updates. Head's still spinning from the emotional rollercoaster of last week.  I cried for a full hour at the memorial service and left feeling like I had no bodily fluids left.   Now I'm back home and trying like hell to finish the third draft of Creep before I leave for New York City next week.  (Hey, you never know who might ask to see it at ThrillerFest!)  Plus we have friends from Utah who are coming to stay with us this week.  The incredibly boring summer I anticipated is turning out to be quite full.

I did manage to get three chapters revised while staying at my mom's in Toronto.  My mother is good at leaving me alone – the only time she ever knocked on my bedroom door was to ask if I wanted something to eat.   Aren't moms great?  And with Steve not there to torment me with his constant sports-watching, there were no distractions.

At best, I'll be blogging intermittently over the next couple of weeks.  Book first, blog second, remember?  You want me to finish the damned thing already, dontcha?

But definitely stick with me.  Things will get particularly fun in the fall when I start querying.  I plan to post every rejection I get, no matter how mean or embarrassing.

I'm also looking forward to a six-week hiatus in between the third draft of Creep and the fourth.  My third novel (yes, there's a third) is on hold at 25,000 words and I can't wait to dive back in for a while.  It's a totally different kind of book.  More urban fantasy, less thriller, and therefore, fewer plot restrictions.   Working title: The Magnolia Secret.  Guy moves into an old money neighborhood only to discover his neighbors all share a big, scary secret...

Intrigued?  Yeah, I didn't think so.  It's a work in progress.  Cut me some slack.

Three little words

I've been thinking a lot about death lately, which I suppose is no surprise considering that three people I cared about have passed away in the last eight months.  I write about death all the time – but I'm beginning to wonder if I shouldn't.  There's so much ugliness in the world right now that I'm starting to think I want no part in contributing to it, even if it's just me writing a story.

I find myself packed and ready head back to Toronto for another funeral.  And yes, I was just there for a funeral.  It goes to show that you never know what's waiting for you around the corner.  Life is unbelievably short in the grand scheme of things.   So if you find yourself waiting for that perfect moment to do that perfect thing, DON'T.  Don't save your good china for company, don't wait for that perfect occasion to wear that little black dress, don't wait till tomorrow to tell the people you love that you love them.

For the past few years, I've been making a point to tell everyone how I feel about them. I've been dropping I love you's all the over the place, and I always find it interesting how people react.  Obviously, my husband and my mother don't mind a bit.  Neither do my three best friends.  And my brother's getting there.  But everyone else kinda freaks out.  I hug them, I say I love you (usually as I'm leaving), and their eyes widen slightly. Postures stiffen.  It almost never comes back to me. I might get a kiss on the cheek or an extra squeeze, but the words never seem to boomerang.

Telling people how you feel about them – how you really feel – is not easy.  I've sort of bullied the people closest to me into getting used to it, and now we say it freely.  Not lightly, mind you, but openly, honestly, and without reservation.  And I think our relationships are stronger for it.  And I do understand that not everyone is comfortable with those three little words.   But I find it ironic that so many people I know won't hesitate to swear, won't shy away from a tasteless joke, and will delight in talking openly about sex... and yet they can't say "I love you".

Which makes me wonder why.  Why is it so hard?  Why do people feel so vulnerable expressing something so pure?

These aren't rhetorical questions.  I honestly want to know.

I don't ever want the people I care about to die without me having expressed how much they meant to me.  It would haunt me if I never told them and they went to their graves with any doubts.  Because there's no need for that.  This is something so easily remedied. And it costs nothing.

So, to all my family and friends, I love you.  Obviously, not all in the same way – love comes in different shapes and sizes, just like our relationships do – but I do love you.  If you're in my life, you add to my life in a unique and special way that nobody else quite does.  You're a part of my life because I want you to be, and I'm a better person for having known you.

Are you embarrassed reading this?  Rolling your eyes at the cheesiness of this post?  Wondering when the punch line's coming?  Sorry to burst your bubble, but there is no punch line, except for those three little words that probably make you cringe every time I write them.  And maybe this post is cringe-worthy.   But I don't care.  Because if one of us dies tomorrow – and let's face it, that could happen – I won't regret telling you I loved you.

I'd regret it if I didn't.

Say my name

Coming up with character names is one of the most important things I do as a writer.  A bad name – one that doesn't fit the character or is hard to pronounce – can really put a dent in the story.

Names, in novels, must be carefully considered because they imply a lot about the character.  Hannibal Lecter, for example.  Would he be as scary if he'd been named, say, Bob Weathersby?  The very name Hannibal Lecter goes a long way towards helping me envision a psychotic psychiatrist who kills and eats his patients.  Hannibal the Cannibal.  How perfect is that?

Harry Potter is also a great name.  First, because it's very British, and second, because the name itself is so wonderfully unassuming.  It's ordinary.  A character named Harry Potter isn't going to be 6-foot-4 and 230 pounds of hard muscle with the face of a Greek god (like you, Steve Hillier).  A name like Harry Potter is going to conjure up images of an average Joe good guy, which is exactly what Rowling's character is.

And Bella Swan.  Need I say more, Twilighters?

I always have a really hard time coming up with names for my characters, and they tend to change multiple times over the course of the first draft.  Ethan, for instance, was called two other names before I finally committed to this one, and I think it fits.  But you know what I do to come up with names for minor characters?

I look in the phone book.

I keep the white pages on my bookshelf, and when I need a name – usually a last name, those are the hardest to pull out of thin air – I open the phone book and just... pick one.  Kinda lame, but it works.

Though there is a certain general criteria I adhere to.  Obviously, the name must fit the character's overall description.  Sheila Tao is Chinese.  I don't know why she's Chinese, but she is (maybe subconsciously I felt that Asians were underrepresented in commercial fiction when I created her), so she can't really be named Sheila Connors.  Or Sheila Ziminski.  Wouldn't fit, unless I want to explain how it's her married name, blah blah blah (yeah, welcome to my life).

I also look for names that are easy to pronounce.  We all have an inner narrator who speaks as we're reading, and the last thing I want to do is trip you up by calling a character something that doesn't roll off the tongue.  Like Saoirse, for instance. This is a Gaelic name, and oh so pretty to look at, but how the hell do you say it? (I had to look it up—it's pronounced "seer-sha".)  Yeah, not a good book name.

Lastly, I like names that are slightly metaphorical (when appropriate, of course).  A highly trained spy who loses his memory and has to start his life over again, while coming to grips with the man he used to be?   Of course he's Jason Bourne.  I can't think of a more fitting name.

Shakespeare says, "That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet."

Meh.  Disagree.

3 a.m.

It's 3 a.m. and I've woken up and can't go back to sleep.  I wasn't going to blog tonight, but I might as well.  Sleep's not happening, and in about an hour, the sun's going to come up. Damn Pacific Northwest summers.

Revisions are getting worse.  Every time I change something, it dominoes.  I tug at one little thread and the whole thing starts falling apart, chapter after chapter.  I'm at the 82,000-word mark, and let me tell you, it freaking sucks to make a change in chapter two and then have to comb through 281 pages to check for all the ways it affects the rest of the story.  I've probably done that seventeen times today.  I started working at noon, finished at midnight, fell asleep for three hours, and now here I am, stressing about it again.

It's because I don't outline.

A lot of writers don't, and I totally get why.  Planning the book before writing the book takes something away from the book.  There is so much joy to be had in the words that pop out spontaneously from my head, and I love being surprised at the twists and turns the story takes.  To know beforehand that I have to get from A to B to C to follow the plot I've mapped out in advance would feel horribly limiting.

But then again, it would save me the grief of revisions like this.  Plot holes would be fixed early.  All structural decisions would be made before one word of prose is written.

I'd like to find out from other writers what your process is.  This is the first time I've revised a novel, and I feel like I have my head up my ass most of the time.   If you're lurking, please post a comment and let me know what works for you.  I need all the advice I can get.

I'm going to back to bed now.  Hopefully I'll be able to catch a couple more hours of sleep before I wake up in a panic wondering if I should just burn the damn manuscript and find a day job.

Because writing a novel is hard.  And right now, this moment, I can't think of a single reason why I'm doing it.

You can leave your hat on

A good day for me is when I get to read a lot, write a lot, and eat lots of chocolate.  All three are important in the development of a writer, but lately, I haven't been reading as much as I'd like.  I've been too burned out at the end of day.  I'm lucky if I can get ten pages in before my eyes start to shut, and this isn't good.  It means I'm not making reading a priority, and I really need to, because a writer who doesn't read often can't expect to write well.

I think every writer would agree.

Part of the problem is that I'm not enjoying reading as much as I used to.  My perspective has changed.  Gone are the days when I could climb into bed with a book and just escape.  Now, with my writer's hat constantly on, I'm no longer reading for enjoyment or entertainment.  I'm reading for educational purposes.  And it sucks.

I don't want to wear my writer's hat when I'm reading someone else's published work.  I don't want to sit and analyze every POV switch (point of view) and question whether the author needed a dialogue tag (he said, she said) at the end of that particular phrase.  And I would love to pick up a book and not estimate the word count.

What I want is to get swept away.  What I want is to enjoy the story.

But it's not happening.  I'm on page 158 of Jeffery Deaver's The Broken Window, and so far I've counted six unique POVs, no extraneous dialogue tags (this guy's good), and the whole book is approximately 136,600 words long.

Help me.

Writing, it seems, has ruined me for reading.  At least it has for now, while I'm knee deep in revisions for my book and all I do is analyze written words on a page.   I can't seem to stop editing.  If I catch a misspelled word in a menu, I have to hold myself back from taking out a pen and correcting it.  I'm aggravated when people have basic grammatical errors in their Facebook statuses.  And it irritates me when people use five exclamation points when one will do!!!!!

I don't want to be this way.  It's no fun, trust me.  But there seems to be no way out.  I belong to two writing groups and all we do is tear each other's work apart.  I'm trained for this.  And I don't know how to switch hats without losing the "ear" I've developed over the past two years.  (Yes, ear.  Writing is something I listen for, not something I see.  That probably doesn't make sense, but that's how it works for me.)

So I'm planning to read for at least three hours tomorrow.  I'm going to sit in my backyard with a big glass of something cold, a chocolate bar, and just read.  I will not count POV switches, I will not analyze dialogue tags, and I will not question why some chapters are seriously longer than others.

I will do my very best to take my writer's hat off.  Because I'm getting hat-head, and it's not a good look.

We don't need another hero

Flawed characters turn me on.

For me, a truly great character is someone who fails almost as much as she succeeds.  Someone who struggles and makes mistakes and has moments of weakness and bad judgment.  Because in real life, humans makes mistakes.  Humans aren't perfect.  Humans are infuriating and complex.

I've been told before that the main character in my current novel is "unlikable".  Which doesn't mean she's not interesting or someone you can't care about.  She's just not someone you like right away.  And you might never really like her.  After all, she's very, very flawed.  I wrote her that way.  And not intentionally, either – I simply wrote the character as I saw her, and she came out imperfect and in trouble.

For a while, I was worried that she would turn readers off.  I worried about it so much that I tried writing her differently for a while.  I tried making her sunny and funny and instantly likable, and then realized I hated her like that.   She bored me.  And if she bores me, I'm pretty damned sure she'll bore you.

I finally decided I was willing to take the risk that readers may not like her, because what matters more to me – and to the story, I think – is whether people care what happens to her.  Are you interested enough to want to see her redeem herself?  Are you interested in what the consequences of her actions will be?  Do you want to follow her story all the way to the end?

I've read so many books where the main characters are nothing short of perfect, and you know what I always end up doing?  I finish the book, I put in on my shelf, and I forget all about it.  I realize this is a totally subjective reaction – after all, romance novels are fairly formulaic with predictably happy endings, and yet they make up 55% of all fiction sales – but I can't write a story that I, myself, wouldn't want to read.

And I don't want to write a forgettable story.  I don't want something that feels formulaic and predictable.  I want complex characters who do great things and terrible things and everything in between.

One of my favorite books of all time is The Kite Runner.  The main character, Amir, has got to be one of the most infuriating protagonists ever written.   I wanted to slap him silly in almost every chapter because he was so selfish, so whiny, so cowardly.   But you know what?   I couldn't put the book down.   I had to find out how it ended. I needed to find out whether or not he redeemed himself.  I cared what happened to him.

It's a risk, yeah.  Likable characters are a much easier sell than characters who piss you off and frustrate you.  I'm sure that in a few months when I try and market this novel, there'll be plenty of agents who'll pass on it because my main character isn't a hero.  But I still think she rocks.

I hope you will, too.

The gambler

After a rough start, I had a pretty productive week.  I'm well past the halfway point on third draft revisions and, barring any acts of God, I'm hoping to have a completed third draft by the end of June.  At which point I plan to take a full six weeks off from this book and work on something else.

Anything else.

I'll need to put some distance between my brain and this novel before I tackle the fourth, and hopefully final, revision.   By the end of this third draft, I'll have made all the structural decisions and polished the prose to the best of my ability, so the fourth draft is really just a final proofread.  Then I hope to cajole a couple of brave readers (called betas) to take a stab at the entire manuscript and tell me what they think.

Assuming no massive changes need to be made, I'd like to start my search for a literary agent in September.  I'll likely spend my six weeks off this summer writing short stories (ha, I say that now, but so far I haven't been able to write a decent short story to save my life—it's a different animal).  I'll also be researching and compiling a list of the agents I plan to query.  Oh, and I also have to write an amazingly brilliant query letter.  Almost forgot about that.

Can I be honest and say that I'm terrified to finish this book?  Right now, as tedious as it feels most days to be slogging through revision after revision, there's comfort and safety in knowing that it's not finished, that I can still improve it, and that nobody has to look at it just yet.

Finishing the book means I'm going to have to put it out there.  Which is so scary that when I let myself think about it (like I am right now), I feel like I want to throw up.   Can you imagine standing naked in front of a room full of strangers whose sole job is to judge how you look, NAKED?  That's how it feels to let people read my work.   I've been working on this novel every day for the past ten months.  Good or bad, I've poured my heart and soul into this book and it will kill me if, in the end, people think it stinks.

And the thing is, they will.  I know there are many, many rejections to come.  Statistically, the odds are stacked against me that I'll ever get this book published.   I'm not being pessimistic, I'm being realistic, and my eyes are wide open.   I'm a new, unpublished, unknown writer. I don't have an MFA.  I'll be banking on the strength of my query to get the agent to read my manuscript (out of the hundreds of queries each agent gets every month), and I'll be banking on the strength of my manuscript to land that agent.  And then I'll then be banking on the expertise of that agent to sell it. If it even gets that far.

Oh so many ways to fail in this process.  And it's hard to imagine failing at something I want so much.  The fear is almost paralyzing.

Almost.  Not quite.

Those who know me best know I've always been a chick who takes risks.   I've never been scared to double down or go all in.  And I'm good at getting back up after I've fallen (and I've fallen a lot).  That's one of my strengths.

Thank God for that.

American girl

Someone asked me last week why I use American spelling for words like favorite, center, and color.  In Canada, of course, those words are spelled favourite, centre, and colour.  Do I not realize what I'm doing?

The answer is, of course I do, and as much as it saddens me to forsake a part of my Canadian identity by writing differently (the meaning of the words is unchanged, but the way they appear on the page is obvious), I'm pretty sure I'll be searching for an American agent and an American publisher when the time comes.  I've done my research and I don't believe that my book would be a good fit for Canadian publishers.  For one thing, the story's not set in Canada, and even if it was, there's nothing really Canadian about it.  It's just a story, the kind of story I felt like writing, and since I live in Seattle now, Seattle is where the story's set.  And from what I've learned from other Canadian writers, unless your book has a very specific Canadiana feel to it, good luck at getting a Canadian publisher to take a chance on you.

So I set my Word program to American English in order to cater to my imagined audience.  Yes, it felt totally traitorous, but no, I don't think it's the wrong thing.  At first, I added both forms of English to my Word dictionary, but you know what happened?  I ended up using both color and colour interchangeably throughout the novel.  Which was horribly inconsistent and stuck out glaringly when I went back to reread a few chapters.  I realized that at the very least I need to pick one and stick to it.  So I picked.

I still try to use colour and centre and favourite in my personal emails to friends and family in Canada, but I can't tell you how tiring it is to remember which version of English to write.  It's as big a pain in the ass as memorizing a Social Security number along with a Social Insurance number and having to keep bank accounts active in both countries (which have two totally different debit card systems).

And after almost two years here, I still have to use an online calculator to convert Fahrenheit to Celsius, otherwise I have no concept of how cold it really is outside.  I have to remember to tell my hairdresser to chop off three-quarters of an inch instead of two centimeters, so as not to confuse her.  I still find myself surprised at how low the speed limits are on the highways (sorry, freeways), only to remember a moment later that the signs are in miles, not kilometers. I couldn't understand why people looked at me funny in restaurants when I asked where the washrooms were, until someone finally explained that they're called restrooms here.  And iced tea always comes fresh brewed and non-sweetened unless otherwise advertised.

I still find it weird to see labels in Spanish, when I'm used to French being the second language.

But in the end, geography's not so important.  M├ís que nada, home is where the heart is, n'est-ce pas?

Thriller!

Huge news! I'm going to ThrillerFest 2009 in New York City!   I'll be going from July 7th to 12th and I'm beside myself with excitement.

Here are some of the authors who'll be attending ThrillerFest this year:

David Baldacci
Steve Berry
Sandra Brown
Robin Cook
Lee Child
Clive Cussler
Jeffery Deaver
Joseph Finder
Lisa Gardner
John Lescroart
Steve Martini
James Rollins

... and so many more.

Gulp.  All these writers above?  Their books are sitting my shelves, right now.

I'm also excited to see New York City.  I've never been there before.  I plan to do as many touristy things as I can fit in while I'm there.

More details to come!

Into the groove

As much as I love travelling, I always get hammered when I come home.  It takes me forever to get back into the groove of my routine, and I start to panic when the writing doesn't come naturally.  Today, for example, I had to read back four chapters of my novel (about forty pages) just to get a feel for my voice again.  Maybe for some writers it never leaves them, but for me, I take a couple of days off and I feel like I've lost my rhythm. Imagine two weeks?

And I'm starting to feel confused about where home is, exactly.  I often refer to home as Toronto, my birthplace and the city where I grew up, and where 90% of my family and friends still reside.  But sometimes when I say home I mean Seattle, the place where I actually own a house and where my husband and two cats live.  Which is home?  Can they both be home?

I spent the last ten days driving around the GTA (Greater Toronto Area) visiting as many people as I could possibly squeeze in and trying to savour every moment I had with them.  But as the week went on, I found myself getting worn out and missing my own bed.  When Steve and I finally got in late Saturday night, we both smiled at each other in relief – we were home.  Our cats were winding themselves around our legs and everything was wonderfully familiar.  The feel of our hardwood floors under my bare feet, the smell of the drywall, the way the lamps in the living room cast a glow over the whole room, the hum of the refrigerator.  There's even familiarity in way the water sprays out of the shower head in our bathroom.  This is home.

But so is Toronto.  Toronto is where I laugh the most, and where almost every place has a memory.  I found myself constantly analyzing everything to see what's changed, and noticing the weirdest things – how the menu at East Side Mario's is different, how all the Dominions have changed to Metros (these are grocery stores), and how heavy my wallet felt at the end of the week with all those Canadian toonies and loonies.

It's weird going back and forth.   My mom does it every year – six months in Florida, six months in Toronto.  She must handle it better than I do, because she never mentions the weirdness.  But for me, it's always weird.  Our twice-yearly visits home are a whirlwind, filled with food and extended family and intense conversations with friends.  To come back to Seattle and be away from all that feels like we moved all over again.   I miss everybody all over again.  And I never know when I'll see them again.

Goodbyes suck.

And now here I am trying to get back into the routine I set out for myself before we left. It's like wading knee deep through mud.  Blogging is easy – writing fiction is damned hard.  I dare anybody to disagree.  I can so easily imagine taking too much time away from it and losing my mojo completely.  It scares the shit out of me.

Thankfully, my desk looks exactly how it should.  Dried mangoes to my right?  Check.  Favourite Pottery Barn mug filled with Red Rose tea?  Check.  Lady Gaga on my iPod? Check. Words flowing onto my computer screen like magic?  Uh... no check.  Not yet.  Today's writing session was nothing short of brutal.

Getting back into the groove will take time.  All I can do is fake it till I make it.

Talk to me

Never has my dance card been so full.

And I must say, while it's exciting to see friends and family and field numerous invites to barbecues and brunches and dinners, it's also kind of surreal because this is SO NOT my real life.  Even when I lived in Toronto, I only saw my friends on weekends – and not every friend every weekend, but different friends maybe every other weekend. If that. Because everyone works and is busy (and I used to be, too).

But this week?   My social life is on steroids!  And I'm sure I'll miss it when I get to back to the tranquility of my life in Seattle this weekend, and the phone stops ringing and people aren't moving mountains to hang out with me anymore.

For now, though, I feel like I'm experiencing a kind of synopsis of my social life.  Everything condensed into just the important stuff, with no fluff, no filler.

Almost every conversation I've had this past week has been intense.  None of this "Such chilly temperatures for June!" bullshit.  There's no time for small talk about the weather!  When I see my friends, we get right into the meat and potatoes of catching up.  It's All Systems Go.  It's stuff like:

"Do you still hate your job?"

"Your cosmetic surgery looks great!"

"Are the AA meetings helping?"

"Wow, you're dating a white guy?"

"Your chest hair's gone gray."

"I just talked to my financial planner and I have this much money."

"Your vagina's bruised?  What the hell happened?"

"You bought a house?  Cool!  How much did you pay and when can I stay over?"

You think I'm kidding, but these are all snippets from actual conversations I've had this past week (and I won't tell you whose vagina is bruised and how much I paid for my house, though I'm sure you're dying to know).

And the weirdest thing occurred to me today.  These super intense, juiced up conversations are pretty much what you'd see in a novel.  Because when you're reading a novel, there's none of this crap:

Jenny: "Hey, long time. You look good."

Friend: "You too. What's up?"

Jenny: "Same shit. You?"

Friend: "Same."

Jenny: "You okay? You seem a little tired."

Friend: "Yeah, I'm not feeling too hot."

Jenny: "I think there's a bug going around."

Friend: "Well, that's not really it. I'm sore."

Jenny: "Oh? How come?"

Friend: "I'll tell you later."

This is a typical real-life conversation, but it's boring as hell to read, isn't it?

In a novel, conversations must be devoid of filler and anything else not completely pertinent to the story.  Writers must create dialogue that sounds natural, but still gets right to the point, in order for it to be effective and not bore our readers to tears.

In a novel, conversations go like this:

Jenny: "Why are you grimacing?"

Friend: "My vagina's bruised."

I gotta admit, I'm enjoying the novel-like dialogue with my friends this week.  It's amazing what time constraints can do.  We get so few face-to-face opportunities that when we're finally blessed with them, we don't fuck around.  I didn't think we'd be able to condense six months' worth of normal conversation into a few intense hours of discussion over dinner, but apparently it is possible.

Unfortunately, I know that once I get back to Seattle and the phone becomes my main source of communication, I'll be going back to my usual, unedited conversations (thanks to an unlimited North American long-distance plan that allows us to talk about anything we want, for as long as we want).

And then it will no longer be appropriate to call up my friend and ask, without subtlety or preamble, "How's your vagina doing today?"

Because no doubt she'll tell me to fuck right off, then hang up on me.  As she should.

Vacation

I haven't written a word of fiction in a week – a whole week! – and damn, it feels weird.  I've been working almost non-stop on my novel since August 7th, 2008 (yes, I remember the date exactly), with only a day or two off since then.  Normally, I work seven days a week, for four to eight hours a day.  Now, it's not always all writing – researching and restructuring are part of the process, too – but I'm starting to feel out of sorts because I haven't even looked at my novel for an entire week.  And I won't be looking at it until I get home on Sunday.

I knew better this time around than to try and write while in here in Toronto.  During my last visit home, I tried to write in between family and other social functions, and ended up scrapping everything once I got back to Seattle because everything I'd written in Toronto totally sucked ass.

I'm not one of those writers who can work anywhere.  I could never sit and write at Starbucks.  I don't scribble things down on paper napkins during bursts of inspiration.  And I can't write if there are other people milling around.  Once, on a flight to Cancun, I did manage to write a whole chapter, but I was very, very self-conscious because the old dude sitting beside me kept peering at my computer screen.  I was a writing a sex scene and when I finished (quite proud of myself), I glanced over at him and our eyes met.  He turned maroon.  Ha!  That's what you get, Mr. Nosy.  But ultimately, that scene got scrapped when I got home a week later and read it – it was not my best work.  I'd whispered the sex scene when I should have been shouting it from the rooftops.

To write fiction well, I need complete and utter privacy.  Which is why everything on my computer is password protected.  It's not that I don't trust Steve – he'd never go into my computer for any reason – but knowing that no other eyes will see my work until I say so makes me feel uninhibited.  And when I feel uninhibited, I write better.  It's like singing when you think nobody's listening – unless you're a professional, most of us sound better when nobody else is around and we can belt out a cheesy 80's tune to our heart's content.

I won't have any privacy until Sunday.  That's six days away.  But you know what?  There's definitely something to be said for absence making the heart grow fonder, because after a week off from writing, I'm really missing it.  And by this weekend, I'll be aching for it.  That's a good thing.  I needed this break to get my mojo back.  I was getting sick of my story.

For the next little while, though, I'm going to enjoy the peace and quiet.  My characters are sleeping.  I'd better make the most of it before they wake back up and resume their place in the part of my brain that can't stop obsessing about them.

I am on vacation.

There's no place like home

I've been fortunate to spend the past few days with family and friends in my hometown of Toronto.  Mainly family.  And while the circumstances are incredibly sad – coming home for a funeral isn't like coming home for a wedding – there is still so much joy to be had in seeing the faces of the people I've grown up with, who know me best.  There's nothing quite like sitting in the middle of a room full of folks who look just like me, who know who I am and don't expect anything from me other than a smile and a warm hug.  I've laughed and cried more in the past three days than I have in the past year, and there have been so many moments where I've asked myself, "What the hell am I doing in Seattle?"

Don't get me wrong, life in Seattle is wonderful and one of the best parts about living twenty-five hundred miles away from where I grew up is the peace and quiet.  Seattle, for me, is free of distraction and obligation, which is great for writing.  My life is drama free.  And I've come to really like it that way.   It's almost jarring to come home and be surrounded by family.  Because my family – like every family – is loud, hilarious, gossipy, loving, politically incorrect, nurturing, intrusive and, yeah, even annoying.  They're not afraid to "go there".  They'll ask me anything, because they can, and the top four questions I get are:

"What's it like living in the States?"


"What are you doing for work?"


"When are you having kids?"

and

"When are you moving back home?"

My answers, in order, are Good, I'm writing, Eventually, and I have no idea.

Their responses to my responses, in order, are Seriously?, Seriously?, Hurry up!, and Seriously?

I didn't realize how much my life has changed in the past two years until I saw it reflected on their faces.  And it makes me wonder – could I do what I'm doing if I was still living in Toronto?  Would I have had the courage to quit my job and write two novels (and start a third) if I hadn't moved to a new country and been stuck with no work permit for months and months?  Would I be as happy with my life in Toronto as I am with my life in Seattle?

The best answers I can come up with, in order, are I don't think so, Definitely not, and I guess I'll never know.

What I do know is that I wouldn't change a thing about my life right now.  Seattle is good for me.  But the past few days have made me realize that I need to make it a priority to get back to Toronto more often.  Because nothing really beats the laughter shared between cousins who once shared the same pajamas, the stories aunts and uncles tell about every funny thing I ever said as a kid, and friends who can describe in detail every single bad hairstyle I had in high school.

There's no place to like home to remind me how loved I am, and how far I've come.