The Fairies Have Been Hard at Work

Another walk in the woods and we find these:


Ginseng brandy and the guest


“Would you like a shot of brandy?” he asked his guest after dinner.

“Sure. Thanks.”

Drinks poured, settled in the living room, the guest said, “Hm, good stuff. Where did you get it?”

“It was a gift from an old Chinese guy I know.”

The guest straightened. “In Chinatown.”

“Yeah, sure, why?”

“Can I see the bottle?”

After a close inspection, he said, “We’ve been trying to track down these guys for ages.”

Uh, oh. The guest was a liquor inspector. This might not be so good. “Um, why?” he asked.

“This stuff is illegal, smuggled in with the food they import and we’ve never been able to catch them.”

Now he was in a quandary. Would his guest ask for the name of his friend? What would he answer if it came to that? He held his breath.

The guest put the bottle down, took another sip of the brandy and after a long pause, said, “Damn fine stuff.”



No Room for Error


Recently I called my doctor’s office to inquire about test results and was told that everything was fine, but that the lab had neglected to complete the one test that was crucial for my doctor to make a decision on medication, should it prove necessary.

When I went to the doctor’s office to pick up a new requisition, I commented that I was upset about the error. The receptionist told me not to be too hard on the lab staff as they were only human and they received so many requisitions.

Of course people make mistakes, but there are professions that don’t allow for error. This particular situation was not life or death for me, but what if it had been? Recently I met a woman dying of cancer. Her doctor had told her repeatedly that she was too young to have cancer and now that the cancer has finally been diagnosed, it’s too late to effect a cure.

Pilots, transit drivers, ferry captains … are all responsible for a great number of lives as they go about their daily jobs. How much room for error are they or should they be allowed? Pilots have an advantage in that they are not alone in the cockpit. The captain has the luxury of being able to check and cross check all procedures of the flight with the co-pilots on board.

A doctor interviewed on television suggested that his profession should adopt the pilot mode of co-operation and cross checking, particularly in the operating room as opposed to the “one man knows all” attitude that currently prevails in his profession. He claimed that surgical treatments would improve dramatically with a team approach.

And authors? Where do we fit in this picture? In one novel, a well-known and well-respected author (with a huge publishing company and its staff behind her) had one of the major characters in two places at the same time.

Does an error like that matter? Probably not. We can figure it out for ourselves, but it does spoil some of the pleasure in reading the book.

Errors of that nature could be much more serious in a non-fiction work. But in fiction too, accuracy is important.

A survey of fiction readers found that the one element most important in terms of enjoyment of the book was what the reader felt they had learned something. In Domingo’s Angel, I learned about conditions in Spain during Franco’s regime. In I Do Not Come to You by Chance and 419, I learned about the conditions in Nigeria that drove young men to participate in the flood of email scams we received. I like to think that the authors had done their research and that what they presented was as close to the truth as possible. (From what my friends in Nigeria tell me, both authors were spot on.)

Since I became a self-published author, I’ve been reading books by fellow indie authors. I don’t claim to have completely error-free books, but my writing partner and I are like those pilots in the cockpit. We send files back and forth for proofing and work very hard to find and correct all the little glitches. Knowing how difficult the job is, I sympathize with fellow authors and ignore minor mistakes, but I lose patience with books that have so many errors it seems obvious the author didn’t take the time to proof and edit properly.

With pilots and doctors there is no margin for error. How much of a margin should we concede to authors?

We indie authors want to be seen as professionals. We want to be respected for our work and devotion to writing. To achieve these goals we too, have very little margin for error.



Culture shock works both ways


Culture shock. Travelling from Canada to Mali, you expect it. So many things will be different—the language, the food, the climate …

You get settled into the house that has been assigned to you. You begin your job of teaching English at the girls’ high school. You learn to check your motorbike for snakes sunning themselves on the seat before you get on. You learn that certain English words sound like “bad” words in Bambara so you refrain from using them.

You learn that greetings are never just a hello, but rather a long and drawn out process even if simply buying stamps at the post office or veggies at the market. Hello, how is your health, how is your family, etc. etc. And every encounter is preceded with a handshake.

You learn that price tags do not exist. You bargain for everything and if you don’t the seller will often refuse to deal with you.

You came to Mali expecting things to be different, you learn as you go and lose your heart to this arid poverty stricken country, to the people who struggle and work so hard, to the warm smiles of the children.

And then you come home. And suffer culture shock again. Only this time it’s worse. You know your country and your language and your society and nothing of that has changed. But, you have changed. You see it with new eyes.

Everything is too fast. The rush of people flowing through the buildings and offices sends you running out the door in a panic. You extend your hand and people stare uncomprehendingly.

The abrupt greetings set your heart pounding. You’re not ready to do things so fast and impersonally.

Eventually you adjust, but you will never be quite the same and you will always long to return to Mali.


School shouldn’t be this much fun



“Jones, if you don’t stop rearranging my stuff, we’re going to have to get a divorce.”

“Hays, if you were a little teeny bit organized, I wouldn’t have to clean up after you. Plus it’s not my fault we have to share a classroom. You’re the one who did the scheduling.”

I glanced at the students. Their mouths were hanging open. Our first year as administrators of the junior high school and it seemed David and I were setting a new tone, one completely unfamiliar to the kids. Obviously, we’d have to keep it up.

A few days later, I arrived in the room to find it empty. “Hays!” I bellowed, “What did you do with my kids?” Heads popped out of doorways to see what the ruckus was about. My students came out of the nooks and crannies they’d been hiding in, huge grins on their faces. Good, they were getting the hang of things.

Another time, I drove up to the school to see a grade nine class sitting in their desks on the basketball court for their math class. Someone, who shall remain nameless, had taken the desks outside (with student help) and when the teacher discovered the missing desks he moved the class outside.

For one of my classes, I needed students to get information on car insurance so I sent them to the office to use the phone. They called an insurance company to make inquiries, but the person on the other end of the line thought they were just fooling around and hung up on them.

David happened to arrive just then. They explained. He asked for the phone number and dialed. In a high squeaky voice, he said, “Hello. This is Mrs. Jones. I just retired from teaching and bought a new Jaguar.” The kids’ mouths hung open. He winked at them and continued. “How much would the insurance be?” The agent hung up on him too.

The point of all this kidding around? It was fun. It changed to tone of the school. Misbehaviors decreased. It was fun. For all of us.









Lessons from a Zen garden


My sister gave me a Zen garden for my desk when I was first appointed principal. It came with a few stones and a rake.

Over the years I added pebbles from the Indian Ocean that I collected when I visited Bali, sand dollars my sister and I found on the beaches in Australia, lovely white rocks from Greece, and a “petrified” peanut—this last a contribution from my granddaughter.

At school, I kept the Zen garden on the corner of my desk next to a box of Kleenex. Both played large roles in my life as a principal—sometimes larger than I would have liked.

The Kleenex mopped up many tears, mostly from students, but sometimes from staff too, including myself. Students came in with runny noses and asked if they could “borrow” a Kleenex. I always said, “No, I don’t want it back when you’re done.” This was followed by a slight pause and then, “Ew, gross!”

The Zen garden proved therapeutic as my sister had predicted. Students and teachers played with the rake and sand as they unburdened, explained, sought moral support, feedback for their ideas, or whatever else needed to be discussed.

Playing with the garden had a calming effect on children and adults alike, but I noticed a significant difference in how they used the garden.

Teachers picked up the rake and carefully raked around the stones, smoothing the sand and setting the rake back in its original position. Students removed the rake, the rocks, and the sand dollars placing them on the desk. They raked the sand, used both their fingers and the rake to smooth the sand, make patterns of squiggles or ripples, and then replaced everything they had taken out in new arrangements.

The differences in behavior raised serious questions in my mind. What do we lose over the years as we grow from child to adult? What comportment do we adhere to as adults and what dictates the behaviors we follow, behaviors that seem so restricting, if the Zen garden “play” is a valid indicator?

Think about what a child hears over the years. “Don’t do that.” “What will people think?” “Don’t be silly.” “Be good.” “Behave!” “Be good.” “Behave.”

When my son was very young, I asked him how he would add up the numbers one plus two plus three all the way to one hundred. He thought for a moment and then said, “Well one plus ninety-nine equals one hundred and 2 plus ninety-eight equals one hundred….” I don’t remember if he got the total or not, but he certainly had the concept.

Years later when he was in grade ten he came home and said. “Mom, remember when I was little and you asked me how to add one to one hundred? What did I answer?” I told him and asked him why he wanted to know. He said that the math teacher had posed the question and no one in the class could answer. “That’s what school does to us. It takes away our creative thinking.”

Was my son right? Do our education system and societal strictures change us irrevocably as we growand mature? Assuming the answer is yes, what do we lose, both as individuals and as a society when creativity is crushed?

I watch my four-year-old granddaughter, wearing a blanket secured with a clip—superhero to the rescue. I listen to her retell, in her own inimitable way, the stories I’ve read to her.  I assist her building with Lego, and play customer to her shopkeeper. I dance with her, sing with her, splash water with her…. I admire her clever original thinking and ingenious activity. She’s uninhibited by society’s norms and I envy her.





Time Travel in New York

Ellis Island


Ellis Island—the place we know so well from historical novels and school lessons—the place we don’t know at all.

Just a building on an island. What’s the big deal?

Plug in the headset for your personal guided tour.

The big deal you’ll find, as you listen to the voices on the tape, is the heartfelt emotion, the courage, and the strength of the immigrants arriving in this new land; many not understanding or speaking English.

-       I arrived with my 3 young children to meet my husband. The immigration officer asked if I was married. Imagine asking question like that.

-       I didn’t recognize my husband when I finally saw him. The children hid behind me. He had shaved his beard. I had never seen his naked face before.”

-       My grandmother put me on the train in Italy. I was 12 years old. She set me up on the train and said I’ll be right back. I never saw her again. The boat trip over was an adventure. Ellis Island was an adventure. I was 12. To a boy of that age it was all an adventure. (Narrated by the man who lived it when he was in his 80s)

-       I came to America because I heard the streets were paved with gold. I learned three things after I arrived. The streets were not paved with gold. The streets were not paved at all. I was expected to pave them.

You’ll be teary at the displays—sewing machines, musical instruments, the impossibly small suitcases that carried prized and scanty possessions. Imagine your life packed up in one little case and leaving all that was familiar for the unknown. The courage it must have taken.

Follow this trip with a visit to the Tenement museum on the lower east side. When the museum was being set up, an old lady came along and said she had lived there as a child. She donated personal items to the museum and did a narration for them.

Both sites are so well done you will feel like you have time travelled.


An Informal Blog Tour

J.E. Fishman, fellow Venture Galleries author has invited me to participate in an informal blog tour. Check out his mysteries about that most unusual accidental detective Phuoc Goldberg here.

The “rules” of the blog tour are that I answer the following questions, so here goes.

What am I working on?

I’m clipping along on a new novel that’s completely different from anything else I’ve written so far – no aliens, no super powers. I don’t like trying to fit any story into a genre as in my opinion that is limiting and unfair for the author and reader alike. That said, I’m undecided as to genre as I know from experience that the finished product will be much different from this first sketchy draft. This new book has elements of adventure, and mystery with literary overtones. I think ultimately if I have to squeeze it into a genre it will fit in “boomer lit” and YA.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

My Em and Yves series is billed as Sci-fi, but I think of it as “soft sci-fi” as it does not encompass futuristic technology. Adventure, romance, current events, and “supreme beings” play their parts in the unfolding events and magic of the series.

Why do I write what I write?

My series was inspired by my experiences living in Mali. When I was there, it was ranked the 5th poorest country in the world. Try to imagine if you can, going from the luxurious life of the Canadian west to the edges of the Sahara. Anything I did to try to help wasn’t even a drop in the bucket as the saying goes, so I created a magic wand and waved it in my books.

How does my writing process work?

My writing process is evolutionary. I started with bits and pieces of ideas written in short scenes that grew to chapters and then played musical chairs with those chapters. In the beginning I worked without an outline. I progressed to a rough outline that was never static for the second, third, and fourth books of the series which certainly made the story easier to write

This new novel, I started with one sentence that popped into my head one day. I wrote it down on my “novel idea” list and forgot about it for several weeks. Then one day, searching for an idea for a new novel, I read my list, and seeing that sentence the light bulb flashed on—very brightly, I might add. I started writing without an outline and within a few days I had written 21 chapters. I can’t believe how fast this book is flowing.

Whichever style of writing I’ve used, I‘ve always been surprised—pleasantly—by the way the characters and plot take over and I end up writing bits I hadn’t thought of originally. The ending to my first book, EMBATTLED, came as a complete surprise. I love that aspect of writing.


Menopause Attacks Husband


car ny

She walked into the office for her performance review. “Is it hot in here, boss? Or am I menopausal again?”

He laughed. “That reminds me,” he said. “Friends were over for dinner the other night. Tom told us that he woke up one morning with his face wet and cold. Sure he was dying of some rare and, as yet unknown, disease; he collapsed back on the pillow in despair.”

That didn’t sound good, but the boss had laughed. She knew him to be a kind and considerate man. Surely he hadn’t kept a sarcastic callous side hidden all these years.

“What on earth was it?” she asked.

“His wife is menopausal and had left the window on his side of the bed open. During the storm that night, snow blew in the window and melted on his face.”

When she finished laughing, he asked, “Would you like me to turn down the heat?”

“Yes, please.”

“Oh, by the way,” he said. “Please tell me the bedroom window is on your side of the bed.”

She nodded.