I’m working on a piano piece that I first heard in a music appreciation class at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto. It’s played very s-l-o-w-l-y and it’s been making me a little nuts. It starts simple, gets a little complicated then goes back to simple. The complicated bits feel faster because there are more notes; kinda like when life feels so fast because you’re so busy. I keep losing my pace, mostly going too fast over the simple bits.

So I downloaded a metronome app that clicks out a selected steady rhythm. It’s kinda tough to work with because I have to split my focus. My fingers get all tangled up and my brain can’t make up it’s mind what to pay attention to. Eventually, you get everything all sorted out. Brilliant!

The thing is, my piano teacher Ann says it’s not a good idea to rely on a device to keep your rhythm for you. It can give your music a slight robotic sound. Music, and its audience, need to rest a bit between passages.

That’s kinda like life. Major events need to rest on your soul before you charge off to the next big thing.

When I chose to leave the work force in 2004, it took me a year to reset my personal rhythms, to feel comfortable in the new shape of my life. It was definitely upsetting, but I allowed myself to pause, to assess where I was and where I wanted to be.

What about you? Do you pause at life’s passages? Or is this all just a bunch of nonsense?

metronome image by Vincent Quach (Invincible) – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

© Joan Leacott 2019

So I’m reading my romance novel and things are starting to heat up… wink, wink… you know what I mean. And then two words jump up and throw me way out of my happy place.

Impale

You’ve heard of Vlad the Impaler? He was the seriously mixed up Voivode of Wallachia back in the 1400’s. Apparently, he “executed by impalement” a lot of people to impose his rule. His family name was Dracul. Yep, that’s where Dracula comes from. Wikipedia

Shudder, writhe, wretch. So much for that sexy feeling.

Knead

I love bread. I love to mix together a few simple ingredients that will turn into heaven from my oven. I even paraphrased an ode to bread. To do it right, kneading requires some upper body strength. On a warm day, I “perspire” when I knead bread. When I think of the effort of kneading applied to human flesh… I cross my arms protectively over my chest.

So NOT a turn-on!

NOT sexy!

Romance writers, please use kinder words in your sex scenes and leave Vlad, and his baker, out of it. Thank you.

© 2017 Joan Leacott
photo of delicious fogaca © 2005 Paula Santos via Wikimedia Commons

So I’m deep into my romance novel; the spunky hero, the tortured heroine (can you tell I like to mess with expectations?) are wonderful. And then… oh my, he does something that aggravates me every time I read it… pulls me right out my happy place.

She’s crying about something and he wants to comfort her. Good man.

How does he give the much-needed comfort?

Does he hug her? Nope.

Give her a drink? Nope.

Hand her a handkerchief? Not that either.

He sits her down on his lap. Like a little kid.

Sometimes, he blows her nose for her. Yes, really. Eww!

Does this work for you? Me neither.

And then there’s the whole two bodies fitting together thing. Do they actually fit like in that novel?

Wanna find out? It requires participation, not strenuous, no push-ups or any of that nonsense.

I want you go find your partner and find a comfortable seat, the couch will work fine.

The larger of the two of you, have a seat. The smaller of the two have a sideways seat (not a straddle, cuz that’s a whole other discussion) on the lap now in front of you. Comfy? How long can you sit there before both pairs of thigh bones start complaining?

Where are your heads and shoulders in relation to each other? For my husband and I, my head is slightly above his. He has to lift his chin to give me a kiss. Mmm. Nice for him to get a crick in the neck for a change.

Digressing!

Okay, now the one on top, lay your head on your partner’s shoulder. Still comfy?

Try laying your head on your partner’s chest. Oh, that’s… contortionist’s territory.

So why then, do we read this very scenario over and over and over again?

I’m asking all romance writers out there to please stop with the lap sitting!

And if you find it my books, drop me a line! Please!

In early August, my laptop turned into a beast. It chewed through time like I chew through licorice whips. Snap, munch, yum, next hour, please.

It’s not like I was perfecting the craft of procrastination. Honest. I was working. I designed book covers, formatted ebooks and print books, updated webpages, created a whole new website. I was crazy busy and still not getting any writing done. Every morning, I put my butt in my  chair, and my hands on the keyboard and did everything except write story words.

And I was getting madder and madder at myself.

Then, I read a productivity book. I don’t usually like self-help books. I find most of them a little too “magic elixir” if you know what I mean. Just do precisely what the author says and you’ll sell a million books, lose a pound every time you blink, AND rule the world. Yeah. Right.

Anyhow, my dear friend Gina Storm Grant gave me this book. Gina has a very sensitive BS meter, so if she thinks something’s good, I believe her. So this book is The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg.

Talk about a whole new way of looking at your habits, good and bad. In the early chapters, Duhigg talks about the habit loop; cue, routine, reward.  A craving initiates a cue that prompts us to perform a routine that gets us a reward.

Here’s an example from the book; I hope I’m paraphrasing correctly. At work, in the middle of the afternoon, a woman is craving stimulation; she’s bored. She goes to the cafeteria, gets a doughnut and chats with her friends. She leaves the cafeteria feeling refreshed and ready to finish the day. However, she’s slowly gaining unwanted pounds.

Duhigg focuses on changing the routine of the habit loop. The craving is still satisfied, but without the unwanted side effects. Instead of going to the cafeteria, the woman goes for a brief walk, or chats with a friend at her desk.  The woman still satisfies her craving for stimulation, but doesn’t gain the weight.

For me, in the mornings, I craved the stimulation of creativity. My routine was to go to my desk and create all kinds of things. I was happy with what I’d created. My dilemma was there were no story words piling up on the page. So I changed my routine. Instead of going to my desk, I stayed at the kitchen table with my coffee and wrote my stories longhand. No distractions from email, Facebook, loops and groups, GIMP, WordPress etc etc. I wrote 200 pages of story, filling one notebook and making a serious dent in another.

Two hundred pages.

Totally blew myself away. Still can’t quite believe it.

So did this change of routine work for anyone else?

Here’s why Gina recommended the book: “At the time I sought out The Power of Habit, I was spending 10 hours a day at my computer, but rarely feeling I’d accomplished as much as I could have. I was also trying to form better eating habits and spending more than $50 a month at Weight Watchers to do so. I found this book helpful in both endeavours. I now accomplish more in my day and lost a total of 25 lbs.”

This is what my friend Wayne Tedder said after he took my suggestion and had been writing longhand for a while: “My heart opens up and expresses itself when I’m holding a pen. Since neither my heart, nor my pen, have a backspace key, or the ability to cut and paste, my word count while writing longhand always eclipses what I can accomplish at the keyboard. In writing longhand, I often feel that I’m not only writing a poem or story, but like I’m composing the music of my heart.”

Wayne is also the source of the title of this post. Don’t you just love those words? The texture of paper does change when it’s loaded with words, and so does the sound it makes when you turn pages. It’s such a tangible marker of progress. Somehow, more real than a number on a screen.

It’s tough to change a habit. Understanding habit building, breaking, and rebuilding will help you get the job done.

There’s no magical elixir involved.

You can get The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg on Kobo, Amazon and other fine retailers. Gina and I recommend it.

Snakes Need Safety, Too

HalfRattlerI was out for a walk along the shores of beautiful Georgian Bay and came across this poor creature.

The massasauga rattler is a threatened species. It’s kind enough to tell you when you’re too close. Just back away and leave it alone. Choose another direction for your walk. Don’t kill the snake. He deserves a peaceful home just like you.

For more information, check out http://www.massasauga.ca/

photo of porcupine by Mary Harssh via Wikimedia CommonsA porcupine wandered by the screen porch while enjoying my morning coffee at the cottage.

Porcupines are funny-looking critters. Their long stiff quills are a light sandy colour and lay fairly smooth along his back. On the top of his square head, though, they make an awesome Mohawk.

I expected a squat fellow, but his legs are quite long. His profile is more bear-ish than beaver-ish.

He moves at a leisurely pace, as would any creature carrying around spiky armour.  Did you know that a porcupine can’t actually throw it’s barbed quills? They’re released on contact with a mortal enemy. Did you know there are Old World and New World porcupines? Huh.

All I know is: when I tried to take his picture, he raised his quills and I quickly backed off. This dude could teach Hollywood a thing or two about avoiding the paparazzi.

For more information about my visitor, check out the all-knowing Wikipedia.
Photo © Mary Harrsh via Wikimedia Commons, 2011

It’s early morning and the house is stuffy from windows closed against the threat of rain. Breakfast is done. Bring your coffee, or tea, and come with me.

Leave your slippers behind. It’s barefoot season after all.

Come with me through the sliding doors and out to the deck. The boards are cool under your soles, slightly damp from the heavy dew. Descend the stairs to the bare rocks, even cooler in the dense shade cast by scrub oak and white birch. Along the path, the tall grasses tickle your shins.

Come with me into the sunlight and have a seat on granite already warm from the touch of the sun. Yes, sit on the bare rock, feel it against the backs of your bare legs, brush your fingertips over pale grey-green lichens. Pick a wild blueberry, small and pungent, the taste of cottage country.

Follow the swoop and sploosh of a tern fishing for her breakfast. She mewls to her mate. There’s food here. A loon laughs in the next bay over. Behind you, a chipmunk rattles through the dry leaves on the forest floor.

Lift your gaze to the far shore where rocks and trees are blurred and dwarfed by distance. Lift your gaze to the misty horizon indistinguishable from the blue waters of the bay. Lift your gaze to clouds that play with the sun trying to kiss your shoulders.

Inhale deeply. So deeply that your eyes close, your head tips back, your soul memorizes the scent of sweet tarry pine, of deep living water, and peace.

© Joan Leacott, 2013

I want to share this funny podcast with all of my American friends celebrating Independence Day.

Canadians will get a chuckle out of it, too.

It’s from Stuart McLean on the CBC Radio at The Vinyl Cafe.

The podcast download is Border Town.

Before you begin, swallow your coffee, tea, muffin, whatever. If you’re at work, plug in your headphones.

Enjoy!

© Joan Leacott, 2013

My father has recently moved to a long-term care facility. He’s 85 and suffering from a nasty collection of age-related problems. I visit him on Thursday mornings and, weather permitting, we go for a spin around the neighbourhood. By “spin” I mean, he sits in his wheelchair and I push him past pretty gardens, a park under construction, busy city streets and quiet residential neighbourhoods.

We live in big city, 3.2 million strong, so we generally encounter lots of people. One time, we met a baby buggy coming in the opposite direction on a narrow sidewalk. The mom and I exchanged questioning glances. Which vehicle hits the grass? Dad’s heavier, the baby buggy obliged. We smiled. Thank you!

The beginning of life and the end of life. Both on wheels. Both pushed by women.

On the wide commercial street, we donned a cloak of invisibility. No, people didn’t smack into us or fail to give way. They looked right through us. Well, right through my dad.

He’s old. He’s bent. He’s invisible.

I got looks ranging from pitying to supportive. People felt sorry for me because my dad is still with us. I know he’d rather be with Mom, but it’s not his time. I preferred the people who understood why I was the engine to Dad’s wheels.

But Dad was still invisible.

The next time you encounter an old person, grant them visibility. Look into their faces and acknowledge their existence. Maybe even smile or say “Hello”. Make my dad’s day.

© Joan Leacott,2013
photo © Phil Bird via freedigitialphotos.com

Once upon a time, three thousand years ago, a girl child was born. She grew to maturity in the same way her friends did.

For some magical mystical reason, she never died.

As she grew older and older, she traveled far and wide. She witnessed deeds marvelous and mad, saintly and sad. She never revealed what she saw, heard, and learned.

Until a curious journalist discovered her and begged her to reveal the wisdom she had accrued through her long long life. After a long struggle and many conditions, the journalist gained her consent.

The wisest people on the planet gathered together to meet the old woman. People around the globe, connected through the modern wonder of technology,  hovered with bated breath by their video screens.

The old woman shuffled to her high seat on a dais and eased her weary bones into the soft cushions. With gnarled hands, she sipped at the honeyed mead made from her own ancient recipe. The old woman sighed, closed her eyes, and leaned back.

The world gasped, fearing she had died before she could speak the wisdom of the ages.

The old woman’s mouth twisted and she made a rude, mocking noise. “I told Henry VIII that his second wife was no better than she should be. But did he listen? Of course not. The poor thing…

“If only I’d know about Botox when I was 1500. And fake nails, and tooth veneers…

“I taught Shakespeare how to read and write. But did I get any credit?

“And the Gray woman who wrote that Shades book should have spoken to me first. You learn things after 3,000 years… “

On and on and on she gossiped, back and forth through history. The disillusioned sages melted away. The grouchy muttering world disconnected.

Only one young woman remained to hear the final tale.

How would you finish this story? Is there a lesson to be learned?

© Joan Leacott 2013

My Next Big Thing

Happy New Year! I hope you all had a wonderful Holiday Break.

Did you know that 2013 will be the Chinese Year of the Water Snake? Ancient Chinese wisdom says a Snake in the house means your family will not starve. Pretty snake!

To kick off my New Year, I’m jumping into the ongoing game of The Next Big Thing!

Thanks to Kelsey Browning, author of Sass–Kickin’ Love Stories and the Brain Candy Blog for inviting me to participate!

I answer ten questions about my Work-in-Progress and let you into my head space. C’mon in! But watch your toes; it’s crowded in here!

1) What is the working title of your book?

Sight for Sore Eyes

2) Where did the idea come from for the book?

From the occupation of my hero and the hobby of my heroine. Asher is an ophthalmologist. Emma works in the china shop she inherited from her grandmother. She’s a photographer in her spare time. Her favourite subject is lightning storms.

3) What genre does your book fall under?

Sexy small-town contemporary romance.

4) Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Ben Affleck for Asher as they share the same dark colouring and they way Ben cares about his family is perfect for the role of Asher. I can’t think who’s a match for Emma. Some lovely Irish girl, for sure. 

5) What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Ophthalmologist Asher Stockdale wants Emma Finn to dust off her old dream of globe-trotting photographer, no matter the cost to his new dream of home, family and small-town life. Carpenter ants, cream pies, and a pair of scheming seniors help Emma and Asher to see what really lies before their eyes.

6) Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I’m seeking agency representation for my Chronicles of Clarence Bay series. But I’m also taking two courses on self-publishing in January, so things may change. 

7) How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

107 days. Yes, I keep track. 🙂 It’s all part of my goal-setting.

8) What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

I can’t think of a specific book, only authors who share the readers I hope to appeal to. They would be Robyn Carr, Susan Mallery, Susan Anderson. These are readers who love an intimate emotional experience of authentic character growth in modern real-life relationships without save-the-world melodrama or make-believe creatures.

9) Who or what inspired you to write this book?

These characters were introduced in Above Scandal, the first book in my Chronicles of Clarence Bay series. I was so charmed by them, that I had to write their story. 

10) What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

It’s set in Ontario Canada on the eastern shores of Georgian Bay, smack in the middle of cottage country. Though Clarence Bay is fictional, it’s modeled on the real town of Parry Sound which has a long history of lumbering, railways, and tourism. 

Do you have any questions for me about my stories?

To continue the fun, I’ve invited the following writers to build their link in the chain of The Next Big Thing. Their posts will be out next Wednesday, January 9th.

Gina X Grant, author of the fun and quirky Young Adult series, The Reluctant Reaper. 

Bonnie Staring, writer of Paranormal Young Adult, winner of fabulous writing awards, and awesome cheerleader. Nobody can squee like Bonnie—nobody.

Jessica Aspen, author of the Twisted Tales: Come Into the Woods series.

Mona Risk, author of sexy romance stories in settings around the world.

© Joan Leacott 2013

Let me count the raise.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My yeast can reach…

Did you guess from my mangled paraphrasing of Elizabeth Barrett Browning‘s poem that I love bread? Yes, earlier, I confessed to a love of kitchen gadgets. Call me multi-faceted. Besides, you can’t eat a gadget.

Anyway, the DH had been to this bakery with his brother who’d been taken by his friend.  Almost sounds like a secret society.

We have plenty of other bakeries within walking distance of our house, ranging from adequate to excellent. And I really did not need the extra temptation with Christmas in sixteen (ack!) days.

“But this bakery is special, Joan! You won’t believe your eyes!” said DH.

So we hauled butt a whole 11.32 kilometers through city traffic. Ugh. The squat brick warehouse had lots of parking. It had overflow parking. Both lots were FULL.

I began to doubt my doubts.

Before we got anywhere near the  scrupulously clean enclosed awning and automatic doors, the scent of fresh-baked bread wafted our way. Mmmmm.

Upon entering the premises my unassuming husband transformed into six feet of goody monster. His usually twinkly brown eyes darkened, a slight froth appeared at the right corner of his mouth.

No, I had not removed a single garment. Get your mind out of the gutter.

It was all for the cakes. All those cakes. Those incredible cakes.

Where was I?

Oh, yes. Bread.

The loaves were to the right. Racks, bins, trays of loaves.  Bauern schnitten, klosterbrot, holspfen art brot, volkornbrot! And stollen, strudel, spitzkuchen, and pfeffernüsse!

OMG! Gotta have it! Got have it all!!!

If you guessed this is a German bakery, you’d been right. 😉 It’s Dimpflmeier’s Bakery in Toronto. If you’re ever anywhere in the area, it’s a must-see. Bring money, surprisingly not that much, as they’re cash only.

We shopped ’til our mouths ran dry, refreshed ourselves with fresh-pressed coffee and… your guessed it… DH and I had our cake, and our bread, too.

Do you have a must-see place in your neighbourhood?

© Joan Leacott 2012