Ten Years

Today my husband and I celebrate our ten year anniversary.

New Years is coming up, and that’s always a time that I reflect on where I’ve gotten from one year to the next, but of course this is a huge landmark, and makes me think back much farther, and about how far both my husband and I have come in our lives. 

Our accomplishments are not the traditional accomplishments. If I were more inclined to be a slave to societal expectations, I might feel like a failure for not having children and owning a house at this stage in my life, like my husband’s brother and his wife. Not that those aren’t fantastic accomplishments; that just wasn’t our path. 

When I think about who I was ten years ago, it blows my mind what a different place I was in in my life. I was passionate about my writing, working in a call centre. But I was still putting myself back together after gaining some independence and getting myself into a healthier living situation. My husband recently described my state back then as “held together with tape and glue.”

Anyway, that’s where I was when I got married, but I was just reaching a point where I was gaining confidence and blossoming as a person. I managed to organize my own wedding. 

And friends who knew me best told me of all the people they’d seen get married, they believed my marriage would be successful, and that we were getting married for the right reasons. We didn’t just love one another, we were supportive of one another, not just in our shared interests, but we encourage one another to pursue our interests that the other doesn’t share. We both want the other to be happy, but we also don’t want a relationship where one of us is making all the sacrifices for the sake of the other, and breeding resentment. 

And I don’t think I can describe to you how good being married to this man has been for me. I’m not even sure how much of the confidence I have now is just from him believing in me. I feel like it’s the reverse of the old adage “Behind every good man, is a great woman.” If I didn’t have him, would I have had the courage to learn to fly? He says I would – I’m not sure. Maybe I would and it would just have taken longer. 

And you have to remember, he didn’t marry a pilot. He didn’t sign on for this ten years ago when we stood in front of family and friends and the officiant tied our hands together with ribbon. He’ll say he realized that it would have been worse for our marriage for him to hold me back than to get on board, but he’s playing his role down. Not only did he not stand in my way, he gave me a large sum of money that was by all rights his, to get me started on flight training, and said go be everything you can be. You don’t get much more supportive than that, and that money was basically everything we had – he had that much faith in me that I could do it. 

Well, whether I would have become a pilot without him or not, we are both of us more and stronger than we would be alone, and I can’t imagine my life without him. 

Love you Nathan ❤

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NaNoWriMo 2018

I join Nano every year, even if I know I’m not going to have a chance to write enough to win. This year I hoped to do a bit better, possibly even win. It didn’t happen, but I’m still happy with what I got done. 

I haven’t talked much about what I’m working on at the moment. Redwing is at a stage where I’ve mostly got it as good as I can get it, and while I have ideas for a sequel, I decided a few years ago to dive into something different. Well, ok, it still has aeroplanes and all the characters are pilots. But it’s completely different I swear. 

The world idea was only a small fraction of the population is Skybound and can withstand altitudes of more than 2000 feet above sea level without suffering from skysickness – a made up illness in this world, with similarities to hypoxia. Skybound people are invited to join an organization called One Sky, kind of a combination of the EU, Red Cross, and NATO. They have aeroplanes. 

It’s YA this time, and I’m bringing scenes to my critique group every month, where it seems well received. It’s still early drafts, though, and in the first draft, another Nano project, I had left numerous scenes missing as I moved on to the easier scenes. This year I was filling in those missing scenes through Nano, which is much harder – it slows you down. I might have got far more than the 8700 words I managed if I had been writing something completely new. 

But – I’m almost finished plugging in the missing scenes, at which point I can start going back and reconstructing an outline and assessing story arcs, and properly beginning the editing process. 

And currently, with nearly all the missing bits added, it’s sitting at about 83k words. When I edit, I tend to add more words than I remove, so that makes it look like it’s going to settle into a nice 100k words, or thereabouts when I’m done. I just seem to have a natural tendency towards that length, which is awesome, because that’s nicely in the range of not too long and not too short for the genre, as far as sale-ability. 

I’m excited about this one because it’s a lot more what I think is the definition of “high concept” – that it’s easy to describe what the premise is and what’s interesting about the world and story. My critique group is taking sides with regards to the two male supporting characters – apparently I have a team Zach and team Toby already, though there’s really very little on the romance front. The story’s mainly about the main character learning to fly, at the same time as she learns that One Sky is not the bastion of fairness and acceptance that it presents itself as. 

I think it’s got a good shot at finding an agent when it’s ready.

Back To Flying

I know I haven’t posted about flying for a bit, and it’s mainly because I’ve been taking kind of a break. While I was doing my multi-instrument rating, a lot of stuff was happening in my personal life causing stress – my Grandma’s death was only the most acute, obvious one.

When I was done that, I quit the call centre, and I was pretty badly burnt out at that point. I sent out a few resumes but when it comes to the smaller places that hire low time pilots, it’s hard to know when they’re hiring. They often don’t advertise positions. It seems most people get their first job by getting a reference from one of their instructors, but my main instructor was a career instructor, and I had decided not to go for the instructor rating because there was only one job it would qualify me for. A few people tipped me off on places, and one of them even was willing to hire me. But it turned out to be kind of sketchy, and the more I learned about the operation, the more it felt wrong. I walked away from it.

Then last winter was kind of a rough one again – with the husband in and out of the emergency room, multiple sick and dying cats, etc.

And on top of various stress, I’m just one of those people who, once I’ve lost momentum on something, I have a really hard time getting going again. I felt like I was making excuses, but my closest friends told me not to be so hard on myself. I’m pretty self critical, sometimes I need people to tell me to give myself a break.

Anyway, things seemed to be finally taking a turn for the better. I was starting to think I should start getting serious again about the job hunt, and getting current again.

They say when it rains, it falls – stressful stuff happens all at once and piles up.- Well, sometimes things can fall into place just as fast.

The job tip came from my float instructor from a few years ago, and it was finally one that wasn’t one of those long shots that they were likely to have plenty of pilots applying that had way more time than me. This was more of a typical first job for a pilot.

Day VFR, bush pilot job flying passengers and freight around lake Winnipeg. The sort of job that would take me out to those rural sort of places I loved as a child, and an owner that appreciated pilots with farm backgrounds for the resourcefulness and work ethic that tended to come with it. It wasn’t one of those places people had warned me had poor safety records or management that pressured pilots into pushing their limits. The pay was industry standard, and given the choice, I opted for salary. Plus, there’s something romantic about the whole idea of bush flying. As wrong as that one job I walked away from last year, this one feels equally right.

Wish me good flying weather 🙂

Parallel Prairies

So, I’ve been busy lately. I happened to have a bunch of posts queued around when my cat died, so I didn’t have to worry about it for a while, but then there were no more queued posts, and my husband had an event, and we both got sick after, and we got a new kitten, and our other cat got sick,* and it’s been a rough April/May.

And through that whole period, I’ve been getting notifications of new subscribers. Mostly email ones too, so not just porn-bots trying to get me to click on their profiles! Like, there’s been a lot of them lately, to the point where I wonder if they’re all real except for the whole lack of porn thing, or trying to sell me anything at all. I think maybe one of my pages or posts got shared on a site or something.

So welcome to all my new followers!

And I have news!

I’ve got the clear to announce that my short story “Cod Liver Oil” will appear in the anthology Parallel Prairies, out next fall! It’s a horror anthology full of stories set in or inspired by my home province of Manitoba.

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I’m super chuffed to be published alongside awesome authors like Chadwick Ginther, Patrick Johanneson, Craig Russell, Samantha Beiko and lots more.

My contribution is a story set shortly after the railroad comes through, bringing all sorts to town, including peddlers selling all sorts of concoctions. It’s inspired by the traditional maritime song of the same name about a man who’s sickly wife persuades him to buy her a bottle of cod liver oil from Doctor John, and comes to regret it.

I had a lot of fun writing this one. Sometimes you get into writing a character that’s so different from yourself that it’s freeing to just write what they would think and imagine your readers cringing. The most delicious feedback I got on it was one beta reader telling me that it made him feel uncomfortable to be a man.

I really had a lot of fun writing this one….

Anyway, I hope you all enjoy it!

Pre-order here!!!!

*He lived tho! It was just a flu. Like, seriously, we were like, really worried, he started puking, wouldn’t eat, same main symptoms of the cat that had cancer, but the vet was like, nah, he’s got a temperature, just a flu, we fix him up, and he did. Apollo is fine.

Cat Post

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It’s my blog, I don’t have to stay on topic. I can write about my cat if I want.

But it’s also a journal of sorts, so important things are going in here.

Pooka was the best cat I ever had, most cuddly cat most of my friends had ever met. Super outgoing. He played fetch, which baffled visitors who had never seen a cat promptly return and drop the toy they were chasing on their owner’s lap.IMAG0269

He was a Manx, with just a short tail, and even though he was born a barn cat, he took to the litter box the day we got him like it was the best thing in the world. We only ever had trouble with him if we changed the kind of litter we used. He wasn’t from the most reputable breeder perhaps, though, and he had some food allergies that would give him digestive issues if we fed him the wrong thing. But his personality made up for it.

When he was younger, before he gave up and got used to me leaving for work, he would try and stop me from leaving. He got to know the signs that I was going out, and chase me down the hallway towards the door, hooking his paw around my ankle, trying to hold me back.

He would be on my lap just all the time – I was so used to it, I wouldn’t even notice he was there. He met me at the door when I came home, and would come to snuggle in bed when I called him at night. As a kitten, he tried to sleep on my head. Toward the end, he would snuggle next to me with his head on my shoulder and one paw wrapped around my arm.

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In addition to playing fetch, he was known as the infamous water thief, and would drink out of any water glass left undefended. We tried to use a spraybottle for discipline, but discovered he liked it, and we have video of him drinking water as we sprayed it into his mouth.

He chased a laser pointer once. We had him running in a circle for at least a half an hour before he collapsed panting, mouth open, on the floor and couldn’t get up. He wasn’t a stupid cat. He would never chase a laser pointer again after that.

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He never jumped on the counter, didn’t dig in the garbage, didn’t unravel the toilet paper, was good about having his claws trimmed, and only liked scratching things I gave home to scratch. He had a thing for sisal cord scratching posts.

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And he had the sweetest meows. Trilling and chirping mostly, but then their was the longer play-with-me meow when he was in the mood. At some point in his life we started hearing a very strange meow that we only heard when he was in another room. At first we though something was wrong, it was kind of a yowling, insistent meow, but when we came to check on him he was fine, just fondling his catnip pillow. Finally we figured out what it was when he prowled into the room still doing it. It was just his play-with-me meow, only he was doing it while carrying his toy around in his mouth.

Almost eleven years old, he started losing weight over the course of a few months, and when he stopped eating altogether one day two months ago, we got him to the vet. Vet did some tests, and while he was negative for the nasty FIV and feline leukemia, there was no easy way to rule out cancer. We crossed our fingers and gave him the antibiotics and steroids the vet prescribed and hoped it turned out to be just an infection or autoimmune disease.

He bounced back through Christmas. Nathan calls it our little Christmas miracle that we got him back healthy and happy through the holidays. We made the most of it, feeding him whatever he wanted since the vet was hopeful but never made us any promises.

After the holidays were over, he crashed again. We made another vet appointment.

The night before, I managed to get him to eat some baked chicken. He didn’t really want to, but he kept looking back at me like he knew I wanted him to eat, and he was only doing it for me.

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Later I was petting him, and I felt his tummy. I could feel something. Lumps; masses. The vet confirmed it the next morning. Liver cancer. Nothing anyone could have done. On the vet’s recommendation, we had him put down.

It’s been a month, and at night in the dark, I’m still stepping cautiously around the spots he used to sleep so I don’t trip over him before I remember he’s gone. Every year, my mother-in-law buys our cats cat toys for christmas, and this year Nathan had forgot them in the bag brought home after family gatherings. We didn’t remember it until after, and now we have this little red stuffed dragonfly that was for him, and we never got to give it to him. And the other cat – Apollo cries at night, and wanders the apartment looking for his friend.

I never had any pet as long as I had him, and was never as close to one. My cats growing up, the first my mom sent away to a farm after a year, maybe, the second wandered off to live at the neighbors who were feeding her so that she was getting balloonishly fat, and the third I only had for a year or so before having to give him away. I never had to have one put down. The dog we had for a lot of years, but he belonged to my brother, my grandpa and my dad, so it was them that had that closeness with the dog.

None of them were animals that I shared the kind of relationship I had with Pooka. Pooka, I’m not even sure I know how to describe how in sync the two of us were. I think the best I can do is say, in the dark, at night, I could put my hand out and call him, and in a few moments, his head would be pressed under my hand.

The new kitten will have big paw prints to fill when it comes home.

“99% of Readers Won’t Know Better”

I was reading a story someone had posted online for feedback once, and pointed out to the author that Pawnees and Shawnees are already names of existing aircraft, and they are not the aircraft that he was describing in his story. The author, responded by telling me his audience wasn’t going to know better.

To an extent, he may be right about the majority of his audience.

But think about it. How many times have you heard horse lovers rant about how horse books and horse shows get horses all wrong? Or doctors face-palming when they see doctors on TV pull out the defibrillators.

And then think about your potential audience. Do you really think that if you’re writing a book with aeroplanes in it, where the main character is a pilot, that a reader who’s a pilot isn’t going to be the number one most likely person to zero in on the aeroplane on the cover of your book and yank that puppy off the shelf? That reader is also the number one most likely person to return for more and become a devoted reader because they love the thing you’re writing about, and there aren’t that many people writing about their specific interest.

I’ve read from some successful writers, the key to making a living as a writer is to develop a dedicated following of faithful readers who will buy everything you write, not to rely on the random whims of readers browsing shelves. That if you can get a few thousand dedicated readers, your income can be stable, and your sales numbers predictable, rather than all over the place.

Do you want that reader to be the one who’s most disappointed by your lack of research The one who’s most likely to be forgiving of other flaws in your book because it contains their particular brand of crack? Do you want the reader who’s most passionate about the topic you’re writing about to be the one who throws your book against the wall because you mixed up an engine stall with an aerodynamic stall?

I’m speaking more as a reader, here, than as a writer when I say for the love of whatever god you worship, have respect for your readers and don’t assume they’re ignorant.

When Research Isn’t Enough

Okay, first of all, don’t research aviation the way I did, it’s really expensive.*

But sometimes book research isn’t enough. I was writing a scene where characters were uncoupling a train once, and for the life of me, I couldn’t understand how the Janney coupling system worked from all the pictures and descriptions I found online. I trotted off to the local train museum and when I told them what my main mission for the visit was, they were kind enough to let me past the ropes  to get a good close look at one from all angles. They’re actually rather ingenious, incidentally – it’s no wonder they’ve been using them for over a hundred years.

So anyway, I was writing about aeroplanes and if you’ve been following for any length of time, that research resulted in me getting a commercial pilot licence.

But obviously it’s not practical for every author to either restrict their writing to topics they’re intimately familiar with. Neither is it practical for every author who wants to write about a profession to spend thousands of dollars on a professional level of training on the subject.

Recently I picked up a book because it had a plane on the front, because that’ll totally sell me a novel. I got to the flying parts, and I could tell the author had done *some* research on aviation, but it was also obvious that the author was not a pilot.**

There was some talk about crosswinds, and such, it was going fairly decent, and I was willing to overlook the comment about three hundred feet being really high. There was terminology, and it was being used mostly correctly. The fact that he wasn’t going into too much detail, calling it gas instead of fuel, being an idiot who didn’t plan the flight ahead of time, I could chalk all that up to the author not wanting to bore the reader with technical details, and the main character being an inexperienced pilot.

But then the main character was taking off, and halfway through the takeoff roll, he was worried about not having enough runway left. So the character gives it more gas.

And this is just one of those little mistakes that a non-pilot will never pick up on, and an author might not ever even think to look up. It’s one of those “you don’t know what you don’t know” situations. How many people who aren’t pilots would even think to look up how much power to use on take-off?

And yet, this is something covered in the first flight lesson – there’s never any reason to ever initiate a take-off roll with less than full power.

And then the plane became more and more heavily featured toward the end of the book, and the aviation elements took a turn for the worse. The location of the fuel tanks became relevant to the plot, and it became clear that the author had no idea the fuel tanks in a metal skinned aircraft are typically inside the wings, and had the main character specifically states that the fuel tanks in a small GA Cessna are in the tail section. At one point the main character used full power and stick back to counter a spiral dive, which is literally the opposite of what you do in a spiral dive.

The pinnacle of it all was when they were doing a pass “low and slow” and the narrative described how dangerous it was to fly near stall speed at low altitude. Which it is. And it’s great that the author threw in the mention of stall speed at an appropriate time. But then the narrative explained why it was so dangerous – close to the ground, he wouldn’t have time to attempt to restart the engine if they stalled.

Yep; author is conflating an engine stall with an aerodynamic stall, and thinks when you get close to stall speed, the engine quits.

And the rest of the book was mostly good, and that’s the most frustrating thing. None of it was so bad that the plot didn’t work if it were revised for accuracy. If the author had got a pilot to read it over, none of this would have got past a pilot. It would have been so easy to fix.

And again, I wouldn’t say that authors shouldn’t write about topics they’re not experts in. But it’s things like this that show how important it is to have expert beta readers. Not just consultants, because instances like this show that something can slip in so easily without the author realizing it’s a mistake and thinking to ask about it.

There’s a lot of resources out there – some places you may even be able to find expert beta readers in forums or such deigned specifically to match up experts with authors who need them. Don’t be afraid to write about interesting and exciting things and professions, but if you do, do it right, and do it justice.

*Just kidding, do it and if you love it, go for it!
** I’m not going to name the book because I hate being mean and writing negative reviews, I just want to use some of the content as an example.