Inspiration – essential for a writer?


Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.

Thomas A. Edison
Edison may very well have been right, but what good is the ninety-nine percent perspiration without the inspiration?

Where do our stories come from? Daydreams, life experiences, the people we meet, nightmares, what we hear, see, read, and imagine? Every author will have a response unique to their life experience and their interests. The answer, for me, is all of the above.

We listen to the news, read the paper, and build in current events. We laugh with friends and build in comradery for our characters. We yearn for love and romance and give it to our hero and heroine. The adventures we long for belong now to our players. The lives we’ve led, or wish we’d led are, in part, imbued in our characters and plot lines.

But there is another aspect to inspiration that is often unforeseen. As we write, our stories take on a life of their own. Characters develop and lead us in directions we hadn’t anticipated or planned. A minor character creeps in and takes over. We try to contain him, but he has a mind of his own and insists on playing his part.

The hero’s friend becomes our friend. The heroine’s fight becomes our fight. And as we edit and polish and rework our novel, we worry about our characters, love them, perhaps hate them, and can’t leave them behind. They become as much a part of our lives as are the people around us. They, too, are our inspiration.




Authenticity in novels

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As writers, we’re told:

Write what you know.

Draw from your own experience.


We do all of that and then … we receive a note like this from a reader.

This question has to do with your last book, EMBROILED (I’m still reading it). Emily’s character intrigues me. Do you happen to know anyone who’s visited a shrink before? I ask because Emily’s sessions with David are vivid. Engaging. I can’t help but feel that this goes beyond the imaginary. But then, that is what a wonderful writer does, right? Carry the reader along.

No, I don’t know anyone who’s been to a shrink. No, I’ve never been to one myself. So, if I’ve truly created an authenticity for my readers (as this one assures me I have) where did that ability to do so come from?

Perhaps the portrayal of a patient with her psychiatrist is influenced by memories of such events in books I’ve read or movies and television shows I’ve watched. I think that could be an explanation, but I believe that would be only a partial answer.

Then this conversation occurs.

Discussing a favorite movie, one of our friends commented on a key scene. “Then the character said exactly what I expected her to say.” For him that was a defining moment, the key to the character and the plot. If she had said anything else, it would have thrown him out of the scene and back into his theatre seat.

What does it mean to create an Emily, a character that readers find so real?

What does it mean to have characters that “stay in character” like the one in the movie?

How do we create the characters who take the reader into other worlds?

We can describe physical features. We can show their reactions to the world around them. We can have other characters react to them.

But, I believe the most powerful tool the writer has is dialogue. What characters say, how they say it, their tone and body language show the reader who and what they really are.

To create that kind of perfection, the author must know his or her characters intimately. The motives that drive them, their fears, their dreams, all of their idiosyncrasies, as well as the more mundane details of birthdays, family relationships, childhood experiences, teen traumas, friends and lovers. Most of this the reader will never know, but the soul of the character, as the author knows him or her, will leach into the novel and into the hearts and minds of the reader.

Working with Emily through four novels, I’ve come to know her intimately. I know how she would react in most any situation. I know what would make her angry or sad. I know what would set her on the offensive and when she’d cower away from danger. I know that she’s a passionate advocate for education, that she abhors war, that she’s a chocoholic … And I know that her choice of a psychiatrist wouldn’t be random. She’d walk out on one if she thought he was a quack, or his personality clashed with hers, or he lacked compassion. Emily would want an upfront, no nonsense kind of person and that’s what she’d get.

So now, I’m not only intimately connected with Emily, I’m familiar with her doctor and that’s what the scenes are built from. That’s what creates a situation that does not allow for a false note and provides a credible story for the reader.

Knowing their characters as well as they know their friends and family allows the author to create authenticity through the actions and dialogue they engage in.











The Black/White divide – San Francisco

San Francisco


In 1981, they’re finally realizing a long-held dream—a trip to San Francisco. Their hotel is half a block from Union Square, an ideal location to visit and appreciate much of what the city has to offer—Pier 29, Lombard Street, the Exploratorium which delights the adults as much as it does the kids, the cable car museum. Of course, they’ve ridden the cable cars several times.

Today they hop on a bus to another museum, only to arrive and find it closed. Not a big problem. They’ll take the bus back downtown and check out some of the stores.

A few minutes later, they begin to think there may be a problem after all as they don’t recognize the route. Another few blocks and they’re the only whites on the bus. Then the driver stops, gets off and a black driver gets on. The streets they pass are rougher and rougher with each turn of the bus wheels. Much too late to get off now so they stay where they are nodding politely as passengers pass down the aisle.

Within a short time they are the only passengers on the bus. The view out the window is of derelict houses, broken windows, weeds, and little sign of habitation. The driver stops and turns to look at them.

“You’re not from here, are you?”

They shake their heads.

He grins. “This is the end of the line. Cross the street.” He points to another bus stop. “Catch the next bus to get back downtown.”

They thank him and do as they are told. On the way back the black/white driver exchange occurs again. All of it such a foreign experience for this Canadian family.







Ugly Tourists


WE’VE ALL ENCOUNTERED THEM, the tourists who don’t speak the language and keep repeating themselves at ever increasing volume when the waiter or clerk doesn’t understand. We’ve seen these tourists try speaking slower, enunciating every word and then turn to their companions and complain about the stupidity of the waiter before they yell, “Checko!”

Then there are the ones who don’t try to communicate verbally. Instead they pick up their empty coffee mug, rap the bus boy on the arm with it and hold it up for a fill. Yep that’s the way to make yourself look good.

Tourists are obnoxious in other surprising ways. We arrive at our place in Mexico and begin setting up for the winter which entails many repairs (tropical climates are harsh in their own way), and setting up the satellite, etc. In the process we discover that our Internet isn’t working properly.

Our caretaker/manager tells us that last year a guy staying next door told her that the owners of the house were friends of ours and that we said he could hook into our wi-fi, which he did because our caretaker took him at his word. When my husband saw the man, he set him straight and asked, “Would you do that in Canada?” to which, he answered no? So what is it about being away from home that gives some people permission to cross lines?

Ostensibly, we travel for new experiences, so what’s with the tourists who arrive at their destination and complain bitterly. “The Internet connection is sporadic.” “The Internet connection is slow.” “The …” Lady, did you ever think you’re lucky to have the Internet connection in a country that has much bigger concerns for its citizens. If you want everything to be as it is at home, stay home.

But, wait, there’s worse to come.

While we were in the fruiteria an old male tourist came in asking for snow peas. He waved a scrap of paper that had something written on it at the young lady behind the counter. Not surprisingly, she looked puzzled as I could see the words made no sense in Spanish or English.

When that didn’t work, he made crude gestures of peeing to try to get his message across. What would make him think that the words peas (chícharos) and pee (pis) would be the same in Spanish? And what would make him think his gestures would be acceptable here anymore than at home?

I was furious that he would be so crude with the two young girls working in the store and let him know exactly what I thought of his behavior. I didn’t want to let him get away with it and I wanted the girls to know that I, for one, would defend them.

This particular episode got me to thinking of the times I had witnessed the ugly tourist and hadn’t spoken up. I won’t make that mistake again.



All in one block – this is Mexico


The streets in small town Mexico are full of surprises. Walking along this block searching for the glass cutting place, we found in order:

  • A real estate office adorned with a Christmas tree and wreaths of holly,
  • A beer store – these adorn most every street,
  • A small hardware store – awesome as we need some silicone to reseal the electrical outlet in the kitchen,
  • A coffin store, yes, you read that correctly.  I thought the blue ones were particularly pretty,
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  • The glass and mirror shop. We stopped, placed our order and then proceeded to find somewhere for refreshments while we waited for our glass to be cut,
  • A wrought iron gate through which we could see laundry spread to dry on the bushes and a charming house set at the back of the lot,
  • A small hair salon which must have had air conditioning because the glass doors were kept closed,
  • A plumbing supply store. This was good as we needed a new toilet seat ,
  • A paint store. Again good we needed some spray paint for our gate,
  • What appeared to be an empty spot, but, from the smell we quickly realized we were passing  a fish vendor,
  • Next we peered through a narrow doorway, and at the end of a long hallway we spotted an enchanting courtyard,
  • And, at the end of the block, we found a loncheria where we bought a bottle of Fresca to share before we headed back to the glass shop.


And, as they say in Mexico

Próspero año nuevo!


The Twelve Grapes (SpLas doce uvas de la suerte, “The twelve grapes of luck”) is a Spanish tradition that dates back from at least 1895, but became established in 1909. In December of that year, when vine growers popularized this custom to better sell huge amounts of grapes from an excellent harvest.

The tradition consists of eating a grape with each strike of the bell at midnight of December 31.

According to the tradition, that leads to a year of prosperity. In some areas, it is believed that the tradition wards away witches and general evil, although this “magic” is treated like an old heritage, and in modern days it’s viewed as a cultural tradition to welcome the new year.

There are two main places where people gather to take the grapes. With family after dinner, or in the main squares around the country..


Liverpool – not England, but Mexico



Liverpool, first called The Cloth Case, was founded in 1847 by Jean Baptiste Ebrard, a Frenchman who sold clothes from cases in downtown Mexico City.

In 1872, he began importing products from Europe. Much of the merchandise was shipped via Liverpool, England, prompting Ebrard to adopt the name Liverpool for his store.

In 1862 he opened a second store and since then it has not stopped growing. Now, Liverpool is a mid-to-high end retailer and the largest chain of department stores in Mexico, operating 17 shopping and 73 stores under the Liverpool name, 22 stores under the Fábricas de Francia name, 6 Duty Free stores, and 27 specialized boutiques.

And inside –


Merry Christmas from Butchart Gardens, Victoria, BC


Our visit to the Butchart Gardens last Christmas immersed us in a land of magical enchantment. Thirty-five employees worked full-time for eight weeks to create this wonder. The theme chosen was “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” We found each of the twelve as we wandered about.

Eight maids a milking:


maids milking


Golden ring – yes there were five.

golden rings


And, driving out under these arches, the drummer boys.