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Surrey International Writers’ Conference

It’s all about the people you’ll meet. That’s the power of the Surrey International Writers’ Conference.

I’ve been attending the event since 2011 and this still holds true.

Yes, in the end it will all be on my shoulders. As much as I don’t like this fact, it’s the truth. If I don’t write the book and put it out into the world then nothing will happen.

All the wishing and hoping and yes, even praying, are for naught unless you step up.

You must write it.  You must finish it.  You must pitch it to get a book published.

SiWC gives you that chance and can make the journey much easier… or at least make it feel possible.

I’ve learned more about my craft and even more about myself at the conference. I’ve begun to appreciate what I know and what I still need to learn. The process can feel relentless.

The weekend can feel magical.

Again this year, I got to have dinner with Anne Perry. We both tend to arrive at the hotel at the same time and sharing a meal and a good chat is a great way to start the weekend. I cherish her words and perspective.

The reason I had a new book to pitch this year is because I volunteered as the conference’s Sponsorship Coordinator. During one of my meetings with SiWC Board Member, kc dyer, she suggested I write something from a fitness professional perspective. That conversation led to an idea that has morphed into a book.

The next step was talking to Donald Maass. Only at a place like SiWC would you have the chance to pitch to someone of his caliber. (Or in my case, the opportunity to request an impromptu meeting.) His encouragement has given me the motivation to keep moving forward with this book. Priceless.

There were so many other moments that cemented my love of SiWC.

One fact still remains the same and the reason I will always return to Surrey each and every year.

Some people I’ve met there have become the best of friends.

And that is almost better than writing a bestseller.

Almost.

 

No More Match.com

Eight coffee dates, too many hours of texting, emails galore, three con artists, two lovely dinners… and with that, my time on Match.com has come to an end.

The process has been priceless.

And it’s not because I found the love of my life, or even someone close.

Match.com taught me a valuable lesson that I will keep close to my heart forever.

I am surrounded by the most amazing men.

And because of this, my bar has been set very high. Some may say unrealistically high.

I’m OK with that.

I’m also happy for my friends that have found love on Match.com.

It just wasn’t for me.

As I started to chat with men looking for love on the internet I became frustrated with the lack of truly interesting characters. Lots of these fellows were decent people with good lives. There was nothing wrong with them. But there was also nothing remarkable.

The guys didn’t come close to the people that surround me every day. My clients are the standard of men you read about in hero books. Leaders who are intelligent, creative and compassionate. I’m constantly in awe that I get to spend time with them. My male friends are funny, bright and best of all; most of them are following their creative dreams and winning! The men around me set a standard that is hard to compete with. Even my god-sons are rising up and becoming the best at what they do in big ways!

I know men that are doing something positive with their time and energy. They inspire me. They motivate me. They make me laugh.

They could all be a woman’s dream partner and most already fulfill that role.

How the hell did I get so lucky to know them?

I’ve written about many of these people and their deeds, their lives and how they choose to spend their time. Most of my friends are story worthy.

I just don’t see how the normal guy on the street can compete with the men in my life.

Thanks to Match.com for this reality check.

There’s no need to settle for second best.

 

 

 

A Funny Moment

It’s the little moments. The time when something makes you smile, or laugh. Jasper Fforde’s workshop at the Surrey International Writers’ Conference was all about humour in writing. Over breakfast the next day, we chatted about how you can write about the most horrific event and still make the audience smile.

Writing humour wasn’t on my mind as I assisted with the Diana Gabaldon book signing later that day. Everyone was already smiling! My job was to help people by taking their picture with Diana. Capture the moment so they could hold it forever. This was fun!

No one was expecting a medical emergency.

As we were wrapping up one of the fans collapsed. Since I was the closest, my emergency/first aid training took over and I stepped in.

There’s no need to tell you the scary and grisly medical details of what happened over the next precious minutes as we waited for the paramedics to arrive. It’s one of the most intimate times you will ever spend with someone. The surrounding world disappears; it’s just you and them.

I start talking. I pray my voice will keep them with us. I pray that what I say and how I sound can focus their thoughts and keep them here.

Last time I was in this position the man later told me he zeroed in on that sound and it made him calm, gave him a beacon to hold on to.

When everything is going wrong calmness can help. A place far away from the fear of what is going on all around you.

I hoped the same would happen on that floor where just minutes before a crowd had been waiting for Diana to sign their books.

As the worst of the symptoms subsided and the wait for medical help dragged on I could see she was starting to become aware of what had happened.

I leaned in a little more and said, “I don’t know about you, but I hope one of the paramedics looks like Jamie.”  Jamie Fraser is the hero of Diana Gabaldon’s books and a stunning Scot.  The smallest smile appeared, just a faint movement of her lip. In the midst of the mayhem she heard my joke and reacted. In that second I knew she would be OK, I knew we would get through this mess.

The paramedics and firemen arrived and to be honest, I can’t tell you what they looked like. My relief that the professionals had swept in to save the day was too overwhelming.

People came to the conference to attend dozens of workshops and hone their craft.

My experience was different but in some respects the same.

We are people connecting with people.

Great writing has the ability to make that happen. Words can perform miracles.

A writer can conjure up a feeling that supersedes everything else.

Diana Gabaldon created Jamie Fraser and he can make someone smile in the most horrendous circumstances.

Jasper Fforde reminded us that during those darkest moments it’s OK to say something funny.

And sometimes that is the best medicine.

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Spending time with the amazing Diana Gabaldon

 

Can You Help Me?

Asking for help is tough. I feel like I’ve spent the entire summer doing just that. It’s been humbling, demoralizing and filled with some valuable lessons learned.

One task I’ve had over the last few months was to garner some sponsors for the Surrey International Writers’ Conference. Once we won the matching grant from artsVest I thought the job would be easy. SiWC is a hugely successful and world renowned conference with so many sponsorship possibilities. I only needed to tell people about them and the money would follow.

Right?

No, I was wrong. Money didn’t just fall into our laps.

Luckily the artsVest grant included workshops on how to get sponsors.

One lesson came across loud and clear. Your best chance to raise funds for your organization was to mine all your “warm contacts.” Though it sounds simple I found this to be a tough one. In a nut shell, you have to ask all your friends for help. And if that doesn’t pan out, you have to ask all your friends to ask all their friends for help.

The workshop leader framed this in a much more positive and a not at all needy way, but it’s still asking people to help.

This is tough for me.

But, when you are competing with other arts groups, festivals, and conferences, asking for dollars can come down to who you know.

Isn’t that an all too familiar life lesson?

Last week I attended another artsVest workshop where we discussed a trend that seems to dominate our sponsorship quests.

We each had the chance to share our latest victory. For the majority this was not a group actually getting money, but it was a prospect returning a phone call or replying to an email.

Booking an actual meeting to discuss a sponsorship was considered a hallelujah moment!

The harsh reality of how tough it is to secure dollars was the common theme.

I got to share a couple of my best “warm contact” moments so far.

My financial advisor works at a huge company that only sponsors one major on-going event.  When he received my email asking for help he and his colleague both made personal donations to SiWC. No, not a sponsorship per se, but it gave me hope. People were willing to step up.

I also happen to know one of the most connected people in the advertising world. I bit the bullet and wrote him an email, told him all about the conference and asked if he know anyone that might be interested. He was on a holiday in Europe but within 5 hours got back to me. He said he would put on his thinking cap. Again, no sponsorship dollars but I was heartened that he even replied. It gave me hope and reminded me what a great man he is.

This has become the norm. When you are accustomed to silence any type of reply becomes a victory.

And finally…

As cancer kicked my butt I let many things slide. Post-surgery I pulled myself together to submit an application to a great potential sponsor and discovered I had missed their deadline for submissions. My heart broke. This company seemed like one of our best chances and I screwed up. I swear I sat staring at their website for an hour wondering how I could have been so stupid. Then I opted to fill out the application, go through the process, knock even though the door was closed. I also sent them an email explaining that my lapse was the reason SiWC had missed the deadline. The blame was mine alone. The submission was made because I felt an obligation to at least go through the process. I fell on the cancer sword. I apologized.

The next day they sent me an email to say they would accept our submission. They also wished me the best with my health issues and recovery.

In those few words that huge company became a warm contact.

And all it took was for me to ask for help and a bit of forgiveness.

Now who’s next on my list?

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Road Trip

If you believe that getting your book published means a road to fame and stardom then stop reading this blog right now.

If you believe you can get published and compete with the likes of Tragically Hip, well you are insane.

I believe I’m the only Canadian that doesn’t enjoy the Hip. This simple fact means most people think I’m crazy and just plain wrong.

I also believe that Gord Downie loves writers so I guess we aren’t completely at odds.

I noticed all of this on a road trip with my writer friends this past weekend. Linda L Richards, Sam Wiebe, Dietrich Kalteis and Owen Laukkanen were scheduled to do an author event at the Kamloops Public Library. I went along for the ride. And why not? They are extremely entertaining people to hang out with.

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(And yes, when you are still bandaged up you get to ride shotgun!)

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To live in Vancouver and be surrounded by so many talented writers is a blessing. I love listening to them talk about their craft. It’s a skill I want to master so the opportunity is priceless. Luckily the writers I know are willing to lend advice and cheer on every effort.

Maybe the good people of Kamloops just weren’t aware of the opportunity.

Or maybe the chance to say goodbye to Gord ranked higher on their bucket list.

You see the timing of the two events didn’t actually overlap but the prep time to lug your cooler and folding chair to the Kamloops outdoor screening venue for that last concert didn’t allow for a visit to the library. People set their priorities.

For the small handful of folks that opted for the library and the chance to listen and chat with these writers… well they were treated to powerful stories and insight. They heard ideas about the creative process.

The joys, the rewards, the time, the dedication.

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Linda, Sam, Dietrich and Owen spoke about being successful authors.

Not one of them mentioned the reality of driving four hours to speak to a few writing fans just to turn around and make the long trek home.

I believe Mr. Downie would have been very impressed.

I know I was.

 

 

 

With Malice

Wherever your summer holidays find you, take along Eileen Cook’s WITH MALICE and I can guarantee you a journey you will never forget.

This is one of my favourite books of the year, but the title rated number one. “WITH MALICE” I love when an uncommon word jumps into my sphere. I’m left wondering how I can sprinkle it into my daily conversations.

If I was a book reviewer, my headline for WITH MALICE would be “Denial, Escape and Awe.”

Denial… because for me, that is a theme of WITH MALICE. Everyone seemed to be in denial of what the characters’ true intentions could be.

On a personal level, there’s denial because this summer I’m not taking a holiday break. There will be no downtime. This means my reading will be grabbed between clients, various projects and fast approaching deadlines. I’m in denial of how important taking time off is for one’s well-being.

Luckily at the end of a packed day, I was carried along by the rush of friends from the Surrey International Writers’ Conference and attended Eileen’s book launch. Even though the book sold out I was fortunate to grab a copy. There was no denial that this was being in the right place at the right time.

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Escape… because I haven’t had this type of pure escapism with a book for a long time. Eileen tells a story about a girl and her friend and what might be a murder. She makes it all so believable and so very unbelievable. In today’s world you can imagine this happening but so want it not to be true. It reminds me of that saying, “Expect the unexpected.” With my life, having a few hours to lose myself in a great story is as good as any holiday. Well almost… sleeping in then opting to start drinking at noon and then reading the great book would be a perfect escape.

But what about escaping murder?

Awe… because this book will become a classic. It is crafted so well I can imagine workshops in the future being based on the way it’s written. If you’re a writer and want to see how it’s done well, race to your local bookstore, pick up a copy, and start to read it now. The hours you spend devouring WITH MALICE will be a masterclass.

At Eileen’s book launch she talked about how she wrote the book. She’s an engaging speaker and her humble humour is deceiving. Luckily she will be speaking again at the Chapter Indigo in North Van on August 6. Go. I guarantee you will be inspired.

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With malice means evil intent.

WITH MALICE means summertime reading has finally arrived.

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Ian and Sam

It’s all so personal. What we like, what we hate.

I love reading crime fiction.

I love short sentences.

I love reading about places I love.

I love when a few words say everything.

Last week I read a book with some of the best sentences I’ve ever read. Last week I read INVISIBLE DEAD by Sam Wiebe.

Sam has become one of my favourite writers. His first book, LAST OF THE INDEPENDANTS, made me an instant fan. He sets his stories in Vancouver. His characters feel real. I can see them walking these streets. Sam covers local issues. He makes them huge but intimate. I want to know his characters. I want to drink with them, hang out with them. I mean the good guys, not the killers.

I’ll read both books again. Even if just to enjoy those sentences.

Sam is our Ian Rankin. Ian introduced the world to the real Edinburgh. Sam will do the same for Vancouver. Drayton and Wakeland are our Rebus.

It may take a few books. But I’m counting on Sam to do it.

Oddly enough, Sam is also a big Rankin fan.

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So here’s the rub.

Sam might be moving away. This doesn’t work into my grand scheme. Sam needs to be here and writing about my home.

He knows I’m not happy. But he doesn’t know he should just give up now.

Sam says he can write about Vancouver from Montreal.

No.

I have a few months to petition Sam to stay.

My default position is to cover my ears and say “I can’t hear you la la la” when Sam mentions his future. So far this hasn’t made a dent in his plans.

Plan B is to start a hashtag campaign.

I ran the wording past Owen Laukkanen. He knows Sam. Owen also writes crime fiction. He agreed with my choice for the tag but I think he was only humouring me.

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This isn’t just about me and my wants. Once you read one of Sam’s books you will be on board. Trust me. You will want Sam to stay. You will beg Sam to write about Vancouver again.

You will want to wear one of the pins.

Now if only I can get Ian Rankin to jump on the bandwagon.

Could you help us out @Beathhigh?

#SamStays

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This Day We Write / This Day I Sell

When you receive a rejection letter from an agent you’ve set your heart and hope on, it helps if you’ve been to the Surrey International Writers’ Conference. Not because they taught you all the ins and outs of getting published. Not because they’ve given you the tools to pitch again. Not because they showed you how to write a better book.

It’s because they understand what it is to be a writer and they have your back.

Yes, they have your back.

It was at a conference lunch three years ago when I bared my soul about a rejection I’d received that morning. The rallying embrace was enough to help me carry on. It made me carry on.

I still feel that embrace today.

I’ve met people at SiWC that have become my greatest friends.

During those days I’ve cried and laughed and been scared shitless.

I’ve also been inspired.

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So now it’s time to give back.

Once you arrive at the conference you’re given a brochure. It’s a map to everything that will happen. A guide to help you through the overwhelming maze of overwhelming moments.

My first year I don’t think I put it down once. It was my safety net and helped me decide what I should do next. I love looking back at the notes in the margins and stars beside the must attend workshops!

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This year I’ve been asked to assist in getting people to advertise in the 2016 brochure. OK, not the type of job I usually do, but when you think about it, I’m a person who knows how precious the pages are. And as I said, it’s a way for me to thank the SiWC Board for all the brochures that have shepherded me through the conference.

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Let’s be honest… I love to talk about things I love.

You can ignore my musings on penguins and Dairy Queen Blizzards… but if you’re a writer or want to be around writers you shouldn’t ignore my chatter about the Surrey Writers’ conference.

In fact, I bet you’ll be like so many others and thank me.

Just imagine you’re sitting across the table from Diana Gabaldon or Anne Perry or Jack Whyte. They’re about to read something you’ve written….

If you’re not brave enough for that, they always have time for a quiet little chat.

Everyone at SiWC is there to help you be a better writer.

And you will be.

Now I just wish they’d given a course in how to sell advertising in conference brochures?

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Talk to Owen Laukkanen

I read the last lines of the acknowledgment and started to cry.

“Heck, talk to me if you want. My contact info’s on the back cover flap, I usually stay up late. Just, you know, talk to somebody. We’re all in his together.”

This is how Owen Laukkanen ends his latest book The Watcher in the Wall.

It should be required reading in every high school.

On the surface, it’s a great piece of crime fiction that follows Owen’s stars, Stevens and Windermere, through another case. A horrifying story that keeps you hanging on to find out if the good guys win.

But this one’s so much more.

Owen tackles the tragedy of teenage suicide.

I’m not a book reviewer or a counselor so I won’t pretend to speak with that type of authority on either subject. Bookpage is just one of the places where you can read about the story itself.

I am a person that has battled depression and still wages the war. I’ve come very close to taking my own life. I wish I’d read this when I was younger. I’m glad I’ve read it now.

And I’m honoured to know Owen. He’s stepped up and will make a difference.

He’s even hidden all this in a really great book!

Owen, you’re a very creative and clever man.

I got to introduce a young friend to him recently. She’s read his YA book, How To Win At High School (written under the name of Owen Matthews.) She was beside herself to meet him. Owen took the time to connect with her. He’s like that. And I could instantly see how he related to someone still in the throes of figuring out life.

Aside from the superb writing ability, the weird obsession with trains, and the love of a certain dog named Lucy, Owen is a very good man. And handsome. Did I mention that, or have you seen his pictures?

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Start following him on Twitter or Instagram. You will never look at trains the same way again.

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There’s a tiny bit of time when you’re thinking about ending your life and you can be turned. Too many come to that crossroad and never see a different direction. I think Owen, his honesty with his own troubles, and this book, can make you look for another way.  A small glimmer that there might be a safe path away from the pain.

I hope Owen will find himself staying up very late once more people read this book.

It will be worth it.

 

 

Meditation and Murder

Our minds are forever leaping around. Jumping from one thought to another. I was reminded of this when I reintroduced some serious meditation back into my daily routine.

The return was not planned but when I decluttered my apartment I realized I had room for a perfect meditation space. A little corner that reminded me of the “boxes” we used up at the Tibetan Buddhist retreat on Salt Spring Island. Practitioners spent hours in these comfy setups. I could easily devote a little time to my spiritual side if I set up something similar.

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It seems to have worked and I’m back to my daily practice.

I love the flowing recitation of Tibetan words.

I love the view.

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Right now the bulk of my time on the cushion is doing the taking and sending meditation. It’s simple. You think of a person and breathe in any negative surrounding them and then breathe out something positive directed their way. It can be happiness, joy, health… whatever they may need.

This is a very common meditation.

My mind wandered as I settled in with my list of people this morning. I randomly started to think of some of the friends I saw this past weekend… my writing friends.

Then I laughed. Many are crime fiction writers. They spend hours thinking of murder and mayhem and here I was attempting to send them happy thoughts.

That’s when it hit me. As I visualized each one of them I realized these writers are some of the kindest people I’ve ever met. They are good and decent and generous.

I’ve written about them in past blogs… Owen Laukkanen, Sam Wiebe and even those non-crime types like Terry Fallis and kc dyer.

Now I’m not saying all writers are nice people… God knows that’s not true. But I am saying the ones I surround myself with these days get a gold star.

Go follow Owen on Twitter. His tweet yesterday announced the debut of his latest book and gave thanks for his many blessings. With Owen, what you see is what you get, a good man and a very talented writer.

Have people just gotten nicer? Happier? Kinder?

I don’t think so.

But last year I just made the decision to surround myself with better people.

So far so good.

This means my morning meditation is not just about breathing in negative and sending positive.

It’s the realization of just how blessed I am these days.

Even if many of my friends are thinking about clever ways to kill people.

my writing frinds