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All We Are Saying ...

ORIGINALLY POSTED ON WORLDWISEWRITERS.

Montreal. 1969. A lifetime ago, or yesterday, depending on your point of view. John Lennon had just married Yoko Ono, and for their honeymoon they invited the press to hang out by their bedside while they sang about peace. Not my idea of a romantic honeymoon, but hey, I’m not burdened by the responsibility of being famous during a time of war. Of having to decide whether or not to use my influence to fight for what I believe in. It’s something I’ve been thinking about recently. On my way up or down the stairs to the basement, I find myself pausing to look at the two pictures that hang on the landing, reflecting on this moment in the history of the world—and this moment in the history of my family.
 

The man holding the camera is my great uncle, George Cree. For decades he was a photographer for the Montreal Gazette, and his lens captured many significant moments in Canadian history: Famous faces, royal visits, all kinds of political strife and upheaval—and the time a musician and his new bride laid in bed to promote peace. My Uncle Geordie went into that room in the Queen Elizabeth Hotel to cover John and Yoko’s Bed-In. He came out with photographs that would be a highlight of his career, and a pen drawing casually scribbled by Lennon and handed to my uncle, almost as an afterthought. I doubt he had any idea how much that little drawing would mean to my uncle. To my whole family.

 

Give Peace a Chance.

 

For many this sentiment is a quaint, impossible dream … a naiveté. For others it’s a reason to go on when the darkness closes in. For me it’s a wish—blind or otherwise—that my children will live in a world where equality and kindness prevail. It’s a prayer that my daughter will never be discriminated against for her gender, that my son will feel safe wearing a Kippah upon his head. That I will one day not feel a thrill of fear by this kind of public admission of my family’s Judaism. That my children will live to raise the next generation, so that they may raise the next, and the next, and so on ad infinitum. 

I often pause on the landing that leads down to my basement to spend a moment with my uncle, who was hilarious and gentle and kind. He is the first person I notice in that photo, not the man with the guitar. More and more I think about the things my uncle saw with his eyes and through his lens. I think about how he dropped out of school during The Depression, how he was a tail gunner with the Royal Canadian Air Force during World War II, how he was a witness to history, both the good and the bad.

History. It’s not long before my gaze travels to the man with the guitar. He used his voice to mobilize those who were sleeping, because he believed that peace was more than an abstract concept or a pie-in-the-sky wish. And it occurs to me that, like everything in life, there is no way to make your wishes a reality unless you’re willing to mobilize. My voice doesn’t need to reach millions to make a valuable contribution. If it reaches just one, it can make a difference. And so I pause on the landing to ponder. What will my contribution be?

And yours?

S.M. Freedman

 

 

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Hollywood for the Socially Awkward

Originally posted on the WorldWiseWriters blog. 

I’m a writer for a reason. Well, a number of reasons, I guess. But one of the main ones is that I like staying in my jammies all day and talking to people I invent in my head. But with THE FAITHFUL republished last fall and the sequel coming out early this summer, I knew the time had come to push away from my desk, put on some grownup clothes, and try not to be too socially awkward with the other humans. 

Sisters in Crime, an outstanding organization to which I belong, was hosting a conference at Universal City aimed at teaching writers the ins and outs of “the biz.” When they announced it I signed up immediately—almost on a whim. And because I was so speedy, I ended up being one of the few chosen to pitch my novel to a Hollywood exec. This caused a faint stir of anxiety, I’ll admit. I’d already been feeling the trepidation any introvert feels when suddenly exposed, pale and blinking, to the world of social interaction—but talking to some Hollywood exec about my work was screaming distance from my comfort zone.

Well, inevitably, the first day of the conference arrived. I was pitching that afternoon. Thank goodness the first speaker of the day was Pam Veasey, an Emmy nominated writer currently working on CSI: Cyber. She gave a great talk on the art of the pitch, and I took notes like my life depended on it. I’m pretty sure it did. Afterward, those of us scheduled to pitch were brought to a separate room to get some help. My group was lucky enough to get Pam. She was amazing, listening as we bumbled our way through our pitches and giving extraordinary advice on how to improve them. 

Any of you who have read THE FAITHFUL know it’s a complex book, with multiple characters and storylines that eventually come together. My biggest challenge was trying to find a way to describe it in less than five minutes, in a way that not only made sense but also sounded interesting. So here’s where I’d gotten on my own:

“Uhhhhhh … so … I wrote this book?” Followed by an awkward silence.

Brilliant, right? I thought so. Well, okay. Maybe it wasn’t quite that bad, but I did ramble a bit and Pam cut the nonsense and gave me several key points to hit upon. Soooooo grateful! 

Five minutes can feel like an eternity, or it can flash by in seconds. My five minutes was like a lighting bolt. I’d been told to watch for my handler, who would return to the room to signal that my time was up. Being a true Canadian, I got so worried I’d inconvenience someone by talking too long that I spent half the pitch checking the door behind me, just to make sure. It may have made me look a wee bit twitchy, come to think of it. 

Post-pitch and pre-drink

Post-pitch and pre-drink

The man I pitched to is the founder of a very successful production company, and he’s been involved in projects like Spider Man and Guns, Girls and Gambling, to name a couple. Gulp. But he was very kind and attentive, he asked to keep a copy of my book, and I didn’t feel like I was dying a slow, painful death. I flew from the meeting with the same relief I imagine those wasps feel when my husband saves them from drowning in our pool.

The rest of the conference was truly amazing and informative, and I got over my social awkwardness enough to meet some amazing authors. So much talent in one room, it was inspiring!

I came home with a renewed sense of excitement for the job I’m fortunate enough to do, and I’m more in love with Hollywood than ever. What strange magic! I hope to be back very, very soon.

Thank you, Sisters in Crime! It was outstanding.

Me with fellow authors Terri Nolan, Kathy Hegarty Krevat, Judith Gonda & G.M. Malliet

Me with fellow authors Terri Nolan, Kathy Hegarty Krevat, Judith Gonda & G.M. Malliet

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Writer Shame

Originally posted on the WorldWiseWriters Blog

Recently, I had a conversation with a dear friend who is possibly one of the most intelligent and word-gifted people I know, not to mention completely lovely. I’d been noticing for a while how exquisitely she writes. Her Facebook posts are gritty and real and she finds beautiful words to describe hard feelings. I really admire her talent, and I decided it was time to tell her—with real words, instead of the ambiguous Facebook “like” or comment. 

And then, with just about the same amount of nervous embarrassment as one admitting to an addiction to chewing previously enjoyed sidewalk gum, she admitted that she writes every day. Secretly. I wasn’t surprised; she’s got the gift and she should be writing. But her reaction really struck me. Because I remember that shame, that embarrassed nervousness, that stuttery feeling when someone asks what you do for a living. It’s hard to forget, because most days I still feel it. 

It’s so hard to admit you’re a writer. Because out there in the “real” world, non-writers immediately ask, “What have you written?” or “Can I find your books at Barnes & Noble?” or “How much do you earn?” (Yes! Really!) or “What do you do for a day job?” (I swear!). My personal favorite is THE LOOK. The one that tells you, in no uncertain terms, that you’re a bum wasting your time on a pipe dream instead of supporting your family like a bloody GROWNUP.

It sucks. I wish we could own what we do, be proud of the words we write, even without the validation of agents and publishers and scores of raving reader-fans. So this is what I’d like to tell all those closet writers, including myself: 

  • If, with some regularity, you sit down and bleed your soul onto paper or screen, then guess what? You’re a writer. Own it.
  •  If you spend valuable parts of your day imagining the inner workings of some story you haven’t put words to yet, you’re almost a writer. Keep going. Then own it.
  • If you haven’t earned one red cent for your writing, and every agent and publisher in the universe has rejected your work, you still wrote something. So keep working on your craft. And own it.
  • If what you’ve written sucks harder than a Dyson, congratulations! It means you’ve got a first draft, and there’s work to be done. A lot of it. So pat yourself on the back, and then get to it.
  •  If you feel a sneaky sort of shame because you self-published your work, instead recognize how awesome you are for going it on your own. You followed a huge learning curve from writing to editing to book cover design to promo text to marketing, and you did it on your own. You’re not just a writer; you’re a superhero of the book world. Put on that cape and own it.
  • If you’ve traditionally published your first book and are now learning how sucky having no control over the marketing (or lack thereof) of your book is, and wondering every single day if those sales numbers are good or horrid, and you’re doubting anyone will ever want to publish another of your books, ever—recognize what you’ve already accomplished. The only thing you can control is the work you produce. So let that book baby go and focus on the next one.
  • If you’re a New York Times Bestselling author (and if you are you’re probably too busy counting those royalty checks to read this measly little blog) and you’re wondering if the next book will lead to an “oh, how the mighty have fallen” plunge into the pits of writerly hell, with booze and self-loathing as your new BFFs—well, you’re a New York Times bestselling author. Do you get a trophy for that? If not, have one made. A monstrously huge, flashy, gold-plated one. And then suck it up, because you made it to the top of a very large mountain. You’re a one-percenter, and yes, the rest of us kinda-sorta hate you. A little.

The point is, wherever you are on this journey, have some pride in what you do. Be genuine about it. Own it. Cracking a book is like opening the pages to an entire universe, a universe where the mind and heart can be touched in new and beautiful ways. So what you’re doing matters.

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How Words Hurt

Picture the scene: My son (eight) and my daughter (three) are running around outside a mall, chasing each other and laughing and "getting their sillies out." This is something we do when they've been asked to sit for too long, be still for too long, act like a grown up for too long. We'd been visiting with family, and the kids sat through a long, kinda boring (for them) grown up chat. They needed to burn off some energy. So outside we went, where they could safely run on the grass and squeal and giggle and be, well, kids. 

I saw them coming. I saw their orthopaedic shoes and their flowered blouses and their slow, painful gait. If I'd paid closer attention to their faces, which were pulled in like sour old prunes, maybe I could have stopped what happened next. But I didn't. I was too busy watching my kids, soaking in their joy and laughter, feeling grateful for their good health, just spending a mommy moment watching them with love.

And then ...

They passed my kids and moved on to their car. And my daughter ran to me, her face crumbling, her cheeks wet with tears.

"Mommy, that lady told me I'm a bad girl," she sobbed.

"What? What lady?" I asked, and she pointed her out. They were climbing into their car, and I had a flash of utter fury mixed with indecision. Do I go over and give that woman a piece of my mind? Or do I care for my daughter's hurting heart?

I chose my daughter. I held her while she cried, reassured her, cuddled her and wiped away her tears. It was the right thing to do, I know it. But I wish I could have split myself in two at that moment, I wish I could have spoken to that woman. I wish I could have shown her the damage her words had caused, and asked her what in the world gave her the right to speak unkindly to my child. And trust me, there are a lot of other things I would have liked to say, things that I wouldn't have been proud of later, but things that would have satisfied the mama-bear in me quite nicely in the moment. 

Most of all, I wish she hadn't gotten away with it. Because she hurt my little girl, and I wish she knew. I wish she could feel it, for just a moment. And yes, I can speculate on the kind of pain and disappointment someone would have to experience in their life to justify verbally assaulting a child, but I'm not going there. I recognize it, but I don't excuse her behavior. I don't. I can't

Because she did damage to something I've been desperately trying to repair.  

Oh, my daughter. She's the kid who runs from morning to night. She laughs and dances and yells and screams and kisses and loves and riots and lives harder than anyone I've ever known. It's like she was given extra doses of just about everything, like her insides are on fire. She's shockingly strong-willed, which is challenging - but she's also painfully sensitive. She's desperate to please, and scared of making people mad. She's so afraid of disappointing us when the strong-willed part of her wins out. And she's also a three-year-old who looks like she's six, so strangers expect more of her. It doesn't help.

We're working so hard to let our daughter know we love and appreciate her for exactly who she is, while still curtailing the most outrageous or unsafe of her behaviors. We fight, every day, to parent her calmly and lovingly. To focus on behavior that needs correcting, rather than giving her the feeling that something is wrong with her as a person. We never, ever, tell our children they're bad. That cuts them down, and we're trying so hard to build them up. But all this time, all this parental effort - and a few cruel words knock us back three steps.

My daughter's only three. I doubt she'll remember this moment in her life, at least not consciously. But another part of me is certain, absolutely certain, that those words cut a permanent little wound on her sense of self. I can see it in her. I can see the damage I'll try to repair.

And though she'll likely forget, I never will. I wish I could go back in time and drop a bomb on that woman, truth be told. But I guess I'll have to satisfy myself by writing her into my next novel. So I can kill her off.  

 
 

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Why Can't Every Month Be November?

Originally posted on WorldWiseWriters.

Okay, it’s possible a crazier statement has never been made. But just hear me out. Yes, I know November is miserable. It’s dark before you get home from work, it’s dreary, it’s cold, and if you live on the "wet" coast, you’ve officially turned into a wrinkled prune and commercials for tropical beach resorts actually make you weep just a little bit. 

If you’re a writer, it’s also the craziest, most stressful, most rewarding month of the year. It’s the month where writers around the world go a little cray-cray and neglect their families, their exercise routines, and their personal hygiene just to write ONE. MORE. WORD. 

It’s NaNoWriMo, ya’ll! (Um, yeah, I’m Canadian—I don’t know where that came from). National Novel Writing Month is that crazy time of year where people far and wide compete to write a novel (or fifty thousand words of one if you’re stupidly verbose, like me) in a single month.

That’s a lot of words. Trust me. It really cuts into the Facebook time.

Last year, I was struggling through the first twenty thousand words of The Faithful's sequel. I’d been researching and hemming and hawing for months and months, really just being completely unproductive. NaNoWriMo saved my lazy ass. There’s nothing like a bit of competition and accountability to get those fingers flying across the keyboard, and I somehow managed to bang out fifty-five thousand words during that month. It got me over the hump, and I completed the first draft in December. NaNoWriMo forced me to get out of my own way. To shut down my prissy little internal editor and just bloody write.

Fast-forward a year. I’ve been hemming and hawing and doing my research for a new detective novel about a family of four who goes missing, and I’ve only managed about fifteen thousand words. But fear not! November was nigh, and I knew I could bang out most of this novel during one crazy month. So I nagged and cajoled my writer friends into joining me on this no-time-to-bathe adventure, because everything is better when you’ve got friends along for the ride, right? 

And here we are, twenty-four thousand words written in the first twelve days, and counting …


It leaves me with one question: Why oh why can’t I find this kind of momentum the other eleven months of the year? 




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Daily Lines Challenge - NaNoWriMo style

Yes, it's NaNoWriMo time again! That crazy month where writers try to bang out a novel (or at least 50,000 words of one) in a month. I'm competing again this year, because I've found there's nothing quite like the kick in the posterior that Nano provides when you need to get a first draft going. This year my lovely writer friend JD Faulkner has joined me on the challenge, so I'm tagging her for a DailyLines Challenge as well. She's also posting daily about the Nano experience  on her Tumblr, in typically hilarious JD fashion. If you need a giggle, her WhyMyWriterIsCrying is the place to go. 

Okay, so exciting things are happening as I continue to write this detective mystery set in Palm Springs, including FINALLY figuring out the title: 

The story focuses on private detective Roger Woods, who's been hired to look into the disappearance of a family of four, and goes back and forth between his investigation and the story of Amelia and Hart - pulling back the curtain on a marriage and family that is going wrong in all the worst ways. 

And here's a snippet of Amelia meeting her future husband Hart for the first time (now remember, this is first draft stuff so it's unpolished - also, for those who might be offended there are some blue words in there):

“Why am I being sued?”

“Does the name Martin O’Reilly mean anything to you?”

“No, of course not.”

“Apparently you beat the potatoes out of him and stole his car.”

“Oh.”

“I assume that’s starting to ring some bells?”

“Umm …”

“I’ll take that as a yes. He’s claiming his BMW Z4 was a total write-off. Apparently he found it in Inglewood three days after you stole it.”

“I didn’t-”

He raised a hand. “He’s also claiming irreparable damage to an Armani suit which was covered in barbeque sauce and other foul substances, a scratch on his Patek Philippe watch which couldn’t be buffed out, the poor dear, facial disfigurement which required embarrassingly expensive reconstruction, and of course damages for pain and suffering.”

“This is total bullshit!” I hollered loud enough that several people three booths down turned to gawk.

“Of course it is,” he agreed in a way that left me uncertain as to whether he believed me or not. He was watching me keenly, waiting to see what I would do next. I huffed a bit, then took a swig of my martini and looked him square in the eyes.

“Okay, so what’s any of this got to do with you?”

He smiled. “That’s good, Amelia.”

The way my name rolled off his tongue was startling, and not entirely pleasant. “What’s good?”

“Your self-control. I’ve given you every reason to mistrust me and be on your guard. But you haven’t so much as kneed me in the balls.”

“Not yet,” I said.

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Gratitude

Although it's still two days until the official republishing of my first novel, I'm obsessively early for everything (yes, I'm the one napping in the car outside my kids' school because I got there forty minutes before pick-up time - and because naps are awesome). Also, it's a holiday for us on Tuesday and I won't be "electronically inclined." So I wanted to take this moment to give a huge shout-out to everyone who helped me and my book-baby get to this point. 

First (always, always first) is my husband, Jon, who had nothing but encouragement for me when I confessed that I wanted to close my business and try my hand at a writing career. He's been an amazing cheerleader (without the pompoms) every day since: giving me the time to write, helping me plot storylines, and reading every word with enthusiasm. I seriously couldn't do this without him. He's also the funniest person I know.

My mom, Sheryl, who has the craftiest mind of anyone I've ever known (she looks innocent, folks, but that's how she gets away with stuff). She's been the best sounding board and brainstormer I could ever hope to have, has read the book so many times she could probably quote it by heart, and willingly travelled New Mexico roads that were waaaaaaay less travelled, helping me search for Spaceguard. And yes, we found it. Well, kind of. We found armed guards with big guns, but not before we saw the domes of the GEODSS telescopes. 

Writing can be a lonely profession, folks. Days can go by without coming up for food, air, or a shower. But I won the Writer Buddy Lottery when I met the amazing women with whom I formed the WorldWiseWriters. Each of them is completely brilliant, hilarious, and generous with their time and opinions. Before them, I didn't even know what I didn't know - I just knew I didn't know it. So huge, awesomesauce loves and smooches to Ace (Andrea Domanski) Jenelle (JD Faulkner) Swifty (Hannah Sullivan), Ro (Rowanna Green), and our medieval goddess Jacky Gray. Love you all! 

I am so unbelievably honoured to be a part of the Thomas & Mercer family. They do things differently, and it's awesome. Despite being an imprint of Amazon Publishing, they have the feel of an author-centric, small-time publishing house. Their authors might be among the happiest out there, because the people at T&M really and truly care about and respect their authors. So the hugest, HUGEST thank you to Kjersti Egerdahl, T&M's Acquisitions Editor. She not only found, read, and liked The Faithful enough to want to republish it, she has been with me through every step: explaining, advising, and guiding me through the publishing process (and never telling me I was being a dummy, even when I know I was). I also want to send out oodles of gratitude to the editors who worked on the book: Tegan Tigani, Rachel Moorhead, Dave Valencia and Nick Allison. I'm super grateful to Jacque Ben-Zekry, T&M's Marketing Manager, for all she's done and will be doing to help my book-baby soar; to Tiffany Pokorny and Sarah Shaw, the Author Relations Managers and hand-holders; and Mike Morris and Patrick Magee for also answering questions without making me feel like a dummy. Thank you, Thomas & Mercer! I'm having the best time!

And finally, (but seriously never never last), I wanted to thank everyone who read the old, less "together" version of The Faithful, everyone who took the time to write a review, everyone who encouraged me with a kind word or a thoughtful critique - and of course, all the (hopefully millions! ;) ) of future readers. While I started off writing this book for my own entertainment, there comes a point where a writer has to let the words go out into the world to stand or falter on their own. So this is me, letting them go ... with love. 

xo SM

                  My Jailbird Husband

                  My Jailbird Husband

 Soda Creek Road, Idaho Springs, Colorado.

 Soda Creek Road, Idaho Springs, Colorado.

The Gates of the White Sands Missile Range

The Gates of the White Sands Missile Range

               The Road Less Travelled

               The Road Less Travelled

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A Review

In preparation for the re-launch of The Faithful, Thomas & Mercer has been sending the book out to book professionals and bloggers. I just wanted to share this 5-Star review from the Scifi and Scary Blog. It was a wonderful review, and I also discovered an amazing and hilarious book review blogger! 

Book Review: The Faithful by S.M. Freedman

ON SEPTEMBER 23, 2015 BY SCIFI AND SCARYIN BOOK REVIEWS

What’s it about? Years ago, FBI agent Josh Metcalf got hooked by a missing persons case concerning a young child. Now, he’s compiled over 700 cases, all with only two things in common, but he’s never solved one. Now he has to.

At the same time, a beautiful Meteorite Hunter for NASA’s Spaceguard program is realizing that something about her past does not make sense, after she’s sent a simple card with 2 words on it in the mail.

Now they’re both heading for the end game. Too bad neither of them have a clue what that is.

 

What did I think about it? If you read my rant/discussion on what turns a 4 star book into a 5 star book, then you know why I consider this a 5 star book. Yes, I WANT to rave about it. I’m telling you all right now to go read it.

The Faithful had everything I love in a book in it. Beautiful imagery, developed characters, the perfect pace, and a plot that kept me turning pages. Add in a touch of the preternatural and supernatural, plus scenes that made me laugh so hard I spill my adult beverages,  and you have the perfect formula for afternoon imagination-fueled romp.

I would highly recommend it!

The Technical Stuff:
Author: S.M. Freedman
Publisher: Thomas & Mercer
Publication Date: September 2015
Pages: 415
Genre: Fantasy/Paranormal
Source: I received a copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Good Things Never Die

Originally posted on the WorldWiseWriters blog. 

Near my area of the world, in a small Canadian town, a two-year-old girl and her father were just murdered. Although I’m a writer, I just can’t find the words to express my horror and sadness. The mom in me takes over. When my head hits the pillow, instead of sleeping I imagine (in glorious Technicolor) what their family must be going through. I imagine how I would feel if it was my own precious daughter. I lose myself in the land of fear. (Oh heck, who am I kidding? I’ve been living in that land almost exclusively since I became a mother. Am I alone in that?) I’ve often thought a healthy imagination is as much a curse as a blessing—especially at 3AM, when nothing stirs but the monsters in my head.

As a writer, I’m often asked where I get my ideas. There are many answers to this question, each a small morsel of a greater truth. But the largest, truest chunk of all is this: I write what I fear.

And what do I fear, most of all? What every parent fears: losing their child. In The Faithful I wrote about children being kidnapped, because this idea haunts the dark corners of my mind. I can only just begin to imagine the anguish of having your child disappear, of never knowing what happened to them. How do you go on? How do you survive in that limbo between faith and despair? I don’t know. But when those murky thoughts tangle around me, there’s only one thing I can do: Write about them. And in so doing, I usually find the exit ramp back to hope.

As Stephen King, the master of writing from fear, once said, “Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things. And a good thing never really dies.”

I’d like to believe that’s true. I’d like to believe, on dark days like this one, that there’s a new little girl on the other side of the darkness. She’s safe in her daddy’s arms, dancing and laughing and playing, and she knows a truth I’m still too blind to see: That good things never die.



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Fifteen years

At twenty-five, I stood in the card section of London Drugs (usually one of my favourite places on earth), trying to pick out the last birthday card I would ever give my dad. I stood there forever, trying to find one that was just right. One that said everything I had ever wanted to say to him. One that told him how much I loved him, how thankful I was for his strong hands and fierce love, how much I would miss him. I couldn't even see through my tears, and I don't remember what card I ended up getting. It doesn't matter. I'm sure it didn't come close to the truth of what my heart was screaming, which was: I'm not ready to say goodbye to you yet. Daddy, I'm scared ... and I'm so damn angry that this is happening to you. Please don't die. 

Cancer is an evil, evil thing. It takes children, it takes mothers, it takes fathers, and it does not discriminate. It has taken two of the people I love most in this world (my dad, and ten years later, my stepdad), and ripped the hearts out of those they left behind. It's not a quiet death. It's not a pain-free death. It's not a dignified death. Don't let anyone tell you different. It is absolute hell.

My dad died fifteen years ago today, while I was holding his hand and telling him it was okay to go. I watched him take his last breath, and it forever changed me.

In the last decade and a half, I'm sorry to say I've probably spent more time focused on this loss than on the gift of him. I know he'd hate that, so today I'm going to do my best to focus on all the good. 

My dad was stubborn and hilarious and complicated in ways I didn't get the chance to figure out. He embarrassed me at every single school function, without fail, with his incessant photo taking and ill-timed jokes. When we went ice skating he'd make up uncoordinated dance routines using one of those metal walkers as a prop. If the fellow skaters were extra lucky, they'd be treated to his tone deaf singing voice, too. He was an avid horseman. This picture was taken in Calgary, where my dad lived for several years. I kept shouting, "Faster, Daddy! Faster!" while my poor dad ran alongside the horse.

He sang "On The Sunny Side Of The Street" while walking home from the grocery store. He made the best tuna sandwiches I've ever tasted. When my parents divorced, he was man enough to leave the drama at the door, and though I didn't live with him, he took an equal share in raising me. He became friends with my stepdad. 

He protected me. He pushed me. He advocated for me. He gave me hell when I needed it. He was far from perfect, but he was my dad. I miss him. 



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One Good Teacher

Originally posted on the worldwisewriters.com

I was a bad student, folks. Not in a “this kid is heading for a life of knuckle tattoos and back alley shenanigans” kind of way, but more like “she may not pay attention, but at least she’s quiet about it.”

Daydreaming for a school play. 

Daydreaming for a school play. 

Yeah. The school year always started well. I was pleasant. I was polite. And hey, I wasn’t sniffing glue or wearing a cape and launching myself headfirst off the desk during silent reading time. So, for a time I’d get away with floating along in a calm sea of peaceful benevolence, watching the clouds roll by and listening to the muffled sounds of reality, ever so far away. I lived in my daydreams, and it was glorious.

But eventually the daydreaming came to an end. Maybe it was a zero on a math test that got me noticed. Maybe it was the lack of completed homework (my dog had a real hunger for textbooks. Seriously). Whatever the cause, eventually I’d hear the warning tone of the Jaws theme, and see the flash of razor sharp teacher-teeth.

This pattern continued through the end of high school—with one exception. I’ll call him Mr. B. He was my seventh grade teacher, and he was my pivot point.

Instead of being maddened by my hatred of capital letters, or my left-handed chicken scratch, or my absolute inability to remember I had homework, he somehow saw me for me. He encouraged me to not only explore those daydreams, but to put pen to paper and write them down. Managing to hold his gag reflex in check, he championed every simpering teen angst novella, every moody poem … every word.

And it made all the difference.

When I was twelve, I decided I wanted to be a writer. I took a circuitous route to get there; studying acting in New York, spending my twenties as a private investigator, running a business, having a family … but that twelve-year-old girl kept beckoning to me. She was pretty darn persistent, actually. She wanted me to join her for a bit. To let the water muffle the world and watch the clouds roll by. Eventually I did, and it turns out she had a pretty important message for me. One  I’d like to pass on to you:

Never let reality hold you back. And for goodness sake, thank that special teacher who championed your individuality.

I swear I smiled a lot as a kid. But apparently not for the camera.

I swear I smiled a lot as a kid. But apparently not for the camera.

Thanks, Mr. B.  


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My Mom

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My Mom

I'm just so darn proud of my mom for so many millions of reason (she is my inspiration on everything from parenting, to being a decent human being, to being brave when the you-know-what hits the fan), but today I'm most proud of her as an artist.

My mom has been painting since long before I came along, in fact she used to take me on painting excursions when I was just a wee baby, holding me snugly against her in a baby carrier so she could paint "En Plein Air." But like many artists she's way too modest, and much of her work has been languishing in closets instead of proudly displayed for the world to see. 

I'm so excited she finally has a website, and all her beautiful paintings have a new home in cyberspace. Here are some of my personal favourites, and you can find the rest here.

Crescent Park

Crescent Park

Frozen In Blue

Frozen In Blue

Evening

Evening

California Redwoods

California Redwoods

Love you, Mom! 

xo SM

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Old Friends

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Old Friends

Social media wasn’t something I bothered with before I got married. “Facebook?” I remember asking my (then) fiancé. “What’s the draw?”

 Well, for good or ill, he showed me. I’m really not sure whether to give him the stink-eye for the immense amount of time-suckage that’s followed, or thank him for helping me build a bridge to friends and family I wouldn’t otherwise see.

 I remember the excitement I felt each time I reconnected with a family member on the other side of the continent, or with a dear friend I’d made in New York, or a classmate I hadn’t seen since high school graduation.

 But something else happened in the years that followed. It happened slowly, it happened ever so slyly… and it took a shamefully long time before I noticed:

 Some of my dearest friends, the ones I’d loved for decades, the ones I used to hang out with on a Saturday night or call on a random Thursday (without fear of disturbing them because I knew exactly what they had planned that day), well, we lost touch. I mean, real touch. I see the little bits of airbrushed information they choose to share on Facebook. But their day to day triumphs and struggles … I’m missing those.

 Did we all get so busy with our marriages and children and careers that we lost each other? Or did I allow social media to feed my inner recluse? Did I just stop calling, even though I never stopped caring?

 I have a birthday coming up, and it’s a big one. Maybe it’s the nature of the birthday beast that one becomes introspective. Birthdays are always a sensitive time for me. They’re a time of gratitude for living another year, a time of life evaluation, and a time I’m likely to weep for no apparent reason.

 It’s a beautiful life. I have my family, I have a writing career that’s taking off, I have a roof over my head and food on my table and my children’s laughter to keep me sane. But right now I’m missing some old friends. If you’re reading this, you know who you are. And if you’re reading this, I hope you know I still care. 

XO S.M. 

(Originally published on the WorldWiseWriters blog http://www.worldwisewriters.com/worldwisewriters/2015/4/30/old-friends)  

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Book Deal - And Boom Goes The Dynamite

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Book Deal - And Boom Goes The Dynamite

Holy cannoli. What a whirlwind! 

Let me take you back a couple weeks. There I was in full-blown mommy-panic mode, hightailing it home halfway through a mini vacation (which included trying to get on a ferry without a reservation on a long weekend; a feat only a few brave souls have ever accomplished) with one super-sick daughter, one super-disappointed son, and a hubby who is, eternally, super-awesome. Seriously. He didn't even pay me to say that. 

On that day, the day everything changed, I was really worried about my daughter. Her fever peaked just shy of 104º, and we were focused on getting her home and to her doctor. The last thing I could have imagined was that my book was sitting in the "YES" pile on a publisher's desk ... largely because I hadn't submitted it to anyone.

Captain Obvious here to explain the "typical" steps required to get a publisher:

Step One: Submit beloved work to GIANT PUBLISHER.

Step Two: Wait. Then wait some more. Then wait until you loathe every page flip of the calendar.

Step Three: Receive inevitable letter of rejection, which may or may not be worded kindly. 

Step Four: Lick those wounds, have a big drink, and proceed back to step one. Repeat ad infinitum, or until you receive a "YES" ... whichever comes first.

So this "Step One"? To my knowledge, it's kinda-sorta important. Having a (real) publisher contact you out of the blue is about as likely as winning the lottery without first buying a ticket.

But on that sick daughter/disappointed son/eternally awesome husband/ferry travelling not-so-fun-adventure of a day, that's exactly what happened. When we finally made it home, there was a message waiting from an editor at Thomas & Mercer (Amazon's Mystery & Thriller Imprint). It went something like this: She'd read The Faithful. She loved the story, the writing, and the characters. In fact, certain aspects gave her chills. She wanted to talk about a second publishing with Thomas & Mercer. We discussed plans for taking it global, and putting the full force of Amazon's publishing and marketing team behind it. And in the end, she made me an offer which, let's just say, was very generous.

So ...

A newly polished version of The Faithful will be published in print, ebook and audiobook by Thomas & Mercer in the fall of 2015. At the same time, foreign language translations will be published in a multitude of countries throughout the world (holy crap! It's going global, folks! ).

For the next little while, The Faithful will remain available for purchase in its current form, which is awesome. However, it does mean there will be a delay in publishing the next book in the series (sorry guys!) as Thomas & Mercer take the reins. I'll keep you updated as things move forward, but for now I have to say I'm incredibly honoured and excited to be working with such a fantastic publishing house. Amazon is huge and ever-growing, and I'm grateful to be one of their darlings.

Oh, one more thing and most important of all: My daughter is feeling much better, my son has gotten over his disappointment, and my husband is still awesome. Seriously. 

xo SM 

In front of the Parliament buildings in Victoria, B.C. Hard to believe, but we were T - 1 hour until the launch of super-sick daughter.

 

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Rebecca Sterling: Creative Genius (and Possible Wonder Woman)

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Rebecca Sterling: Creative Genius (and Possible Wonder Woman)

Don't judge a book by its cover. How many times have we heard this? Good advise for dealing with people, but who doesn't judge an actual book that way? 

Authors know this, but generally have little say when it comes to the dress their precious word-baby gets to wear on its first foray into the larger world. And trust me, like a parent who lets their seventeen-year-old choose her own prom dress, there's much room for horror and despair (cue creepy music).

That's why I feel so fortunate to have an amazing graphic artist designing my book covers. Rebecca Sterling, of Sterling Design Studio, is an authors dream come true. She's eternally patient, insanely talented, and somehow able to take a vague idea you have in your head and take it somewhere even better. She designed my first cover for The Faithful, and recently updated it in preparation for the sequel's release this spring. (And no, I'm still not ready to divulge the sequel's title, but the cover is already designed and it is AWESOME!)

I recently had the good fortune of doing a wee little interview with Rebecca, and wanted to share it with you. And then I'll reveal the NEW and IMPROVED book cover for The Faithful. Here we go:

What led you to the field of graphic design? Is it something you always wanted to do?

 I’ve always been involved in art in some form – painting, drawing, sculpting, etc.—but strangely, never thought I would be very good at graphic design.  However, I vividly remember studying romance novel covers when I was a teenager and wishing I could paint them, but didn’t even know how to begin a career like that (that was back in the day when novel covers were based on paintings – usually by Pino Daeni.)  Many years later, photo manipulation and “painting” software became available mainstream and I fell in love with that medium.

 When did you begin the Sterling Design Studio? Has it evolved differently than you expected?

 Though I’d been making book covers for a number of years, I didn’t have a website – most of my work came from publishers, and word-of-mouth by independent authors.

 About two years ago, after many, many times choosing and sending samples of my work via email to potential clients, I decided I should put some samples online and direct people there.  I must admit, it was slapped together in a weekend, and I haven’t had time to update it much since (due to working a more-than-full-time day job plus doing artwork for two publishers and several indie writers).  Updating the site is on the list of projects to do this year - I have big plans for it. (Smile)

So, it is still a work in progress and will be evolving quite a lot this year.

 What challenges do you face when designing a book cover for a client you’ve never met?

 It has been surprisingly easy, actually.  Any initial fears I may have had about people taking the goods and disappearing have never materialized – all of the clients I’ve worked with have been wonderful.  I suppose the biggest challenge is communication – making sure that we are on the same page and that I’m correctly interpreting the feel of the book as well as the author’s vision for branding.

 You’re also a writer. What kind of stories do you write? Is there a particular genre you gravitate towards?

 In the past, I had a few erotic romances published by some small presses.  However, I requested the rights back to those because I wanted to take my writing name, Kate Sterling, in another direction.  I still have romantic elements in all my stories, but gravitate toward urban fantasy – whether dark or light.  And especially like when I can combine both light and dark in the same book - think “Dresden” and “Sookie Stackhouse”, and the occasional A. Lee Martinez character. (Smile) And even though it might be a bad time to be writing in that genre since the market has been glutted with it for years, it’s still what I love the most.

 You recently quit your “day job” to devote more time to the Sterling Design Studio and to writing. What led you to this exciting step, and what are your plans going forward?

 Oh, my.  For the past several years, I’ve been working in healthcare as an instructional designer, working anywhere from 50 - 100 hours a week, which didn’t leave much time for anything else.  Nevertheless, for the past three years, I had a wonderful director who was extremely flexible and kind, and allowed me to work from home whenever I needed.  That cut down on my four—count ‘em four!—hour commute, which gave me the time necessary to take care of myfamily, my health, and my other business.

 Then on October 2, 2014 (a day that lives in infamy to my reckoning) there was an unexpected meeting called from 3-5 pm, in which my boss’s boss announced that they were restructuring our department, my boss’s job was eliminated, and as of the very next day, we’d no longer be part of the Clinical and Organization Development department, but would be reporting to Information Management (IM).  It was an incredible blow.   From one day to the next, no warning, a great man was cut loose, and we were sent to work in a department known for its inflexibility and micromanagement – and almost zero tolerance for working from home.

 I tried to stick it out, but the commute was killing me, and I could see that more lay-offs were imminent.  Up to that point, I had been making about half my day job salary (though sometimes less) with artwork, and sometimes had to turn business away because I just too busy with the day job. And with the new, inflexible regime at work, I knew I’d have to cut back the artwork even more.

 So I began to wonder… what if I took it full time? What if, rather than commute 4 hours a day to a job I’d begun to hate, I put all my energy into what I love?  A long, hard look at my finances revealed that, with careful budgeting and cashing out my retirement, I would have about 6 months’ worth of living expenses, even if I quit and didn’t make another dime.  Then I started to consider that if all else failed, I could always get another day job doing what I’d been doing before – it’s a pretty big field and I get emails and phone calls from recruiters every day.

 About the same time, I read something from a speech by Jim Carrey about how his father had not pursued his dreams of being a comedian but took a “safe” job, yet was laid off from it after many years.  Jim said that taught him that you can fail at something you don’t want, so you might as well take a chance doing what you love.  That it was better to fail at something you love than something you hate. (You can see a video of that speech here: http://www.openculture.com/2014/06/jim-carrey-its-better-to-fail-at-what-you-love-than-at-what-you-dont.html)

 So, I gave my notice on 12/11 and my last day was 12/31.

 Since then, I tend to divide my time between exuberant joy and abject terror. (Smile) It’s a big risk, but I have lots of plans to make my website more interactive and helpful for people, along with more offerings and fun freebies.  I’ve also been writing, and exploring editing and design opportunities with more publishers, and have a number of ideas I’m working on.  But mostly, I’m just profoundly grateful for all the good things I have already—a healthy child, a warm home, work that I enjoy, and the opportunity to meet all the wonderful people  I’ve met on this journey so far.

What would the ten-year-old version of yourself think about where you are now?

That’s pretty funny, since my ten-year-old version was far more confident and laid-back than my 50 year self! She probably would have just said, “cool”, shrugged, and taken it as a matter of course—she would have expected nothing less.  However, my teenage self would have been over the moon!  

 

And drumroll please, the new and improved cover of The Faithful

 


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Saying Goodbye To The Gremlins

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Saying Goodbye To The Gremlins

Happy 2015, everyone! Here's hoping you all had a wonderful and safe evening, and are waking up hangover free this morning. :)

So, the time of resolutions is upon us (any broken yet??? ;) ) and it has me thinking about that sadistic inner voice we all (I believe?) have within us. I wrote a piece about it for one of the stops on my recent book tour, but it got lost in the shuffle. So I thought I'd republish it here, since it seems apropos on this first day of a new year. 

Chasing Away The Gremlins

I wrote two posts for this. You know, because I like to double my workload whenever possible (anything to avoid housecleaning). The first post I wrote was a satirical stab at the pain of being an artist. Here’s the first part:

“Ever heard of the HAA? It stands for “Hypersensitive Artists Anonymous”, and I’m the founding (and at the moment, only) member, but I suspect it’s about to take off like a California wildfire. Hypersensitive Artist Syndrome is a real and painful disorder. Every year it causes thousands of writers, artists and actors across the nation to doubt the validity of their existence. (No scientific studies were done to back up this claim, but it sounds right).”

It went on to list five questions to help you figure out if you were suffering from this disorder. They included things like wondering what “it’s a bit derivative” actually means, and if your work is a prime example; and eating Nutella directly from the jar while wondering if your work belongs buried deep beneath a compost heap, where no one (but you) will have to suffer its idiocy.

I was going for funny, for that laugh at the expense of real pain. But after I put it to bed, it just wouldn’t leave me alone. It stirred something inside me in a most unhappy way. It might have been funny, but it was all too painfully true.

It was giving voice to that foul little gremlin I think we all have inside us, no matter who we are or what we do. The one that tells us we’re not a good enough parent/friend/spouse/child, that we’re too fat/ugly /dumb /poor. That we should do more, that we should be more, that we don’t deserve the things we have.

But this slithering conviction is nothing but a lie designed to hold us back from chasing our dreams. So today, instead of celebrating it with humor, I’m hauling that little fiend into the back alley in my mind, and I’m giving it my best Kung Fu moves. And when it comes back tomorrow, I’m going to do it again.

Life is too darn short for gremlins. 

Wishing you all a gremlin free 2015! 

xo SM

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Oprah Intention

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Oprah Intention

I just heard some exciting news, and as is my usual habit I had a brief flare of excitement, quickly swallowed by what some might call 'common sense' and others 'that pesky negative inner voice'. Just about the first thing I do whenever anything great (or sucky) happens is share it with my amazing confidants and partners in crime, the WorldWiseWriters. So I wrote a quick email, and just as I hit send I realized I'd started off like this: This probably won't come to anything, but...

Because they're awesome, I know I'm in for a totally well-deserved reprimand the next time I open my inbox. I can already hear the lovely Jacky Gray shouting across the pond about the damage caused by negativity. So I'm turning it around right now (see ladies? I'm learning!), and sending out a positive intention that the news I just heard is just the beginning of something totally mind-blowingly awesomesauce.

You hear that, universe? I'm being positive!

So, the news...

Apparently someone who works for Oprah liked my book so much she submitted it to the Great Lady herself, as a contender for Oprah's Book Club list. Of course, this doesn't mean -- wait! There I go again. Positive thoughts, right??? So here's hoping Oprah Winfrey actually reads my book (gulp), likes it (OMGOMGOMG), and adds it to the list

Still with me, universe? Oh yeah, we got this. 

xo SM

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NaNoWriMo

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NaNoWriMo

No, it's not gibberish, it's a challenge! And this year, I'm saying "challenge accepted!"

November is National Novel Writing Month. The goal? To write 50,000 words in one month. I'll be participating this year. You can follow my progress here:

I've also created a page on my website solely dedicated to NaNoWriMo. You can find it here:

http://www.smfreedman.com/nanowrimo/

Wish me luck! :)

xo S.M. 

 

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