Wednesday, February 29, 2012

I didn’t actually choose to be a writer.

Who would, with malice aforethought, with a conscious decision, choose such a thing? People who are not authors look on those who are through a prism, I think. They imagine a Nora Roberts, or a J. K. Rowling, or a Jacqueline Susann, all stupendously successful women. And they think we’re all like that, people who have made it big and can bask in their own success by drinking champagne, eating caviar, and rolling in gobs of money they happened to ‘fall’ into.

Most of us are far from being that successful. Not all of us make a lot of money, or even enough money to live on, and not all of us spend even one moment basking. But all of us, I imagine, would agree on one thing.

Writing is damned hard, lonely work.

 Sometimes, it’s tortuous. Not only the actual crafting of the story part, but the aftermath. Because, you see, there seems to be some sort of a cosmic law in play that says, if you dare to do this thing and craft these stories, dare to have them offered for sale, then you’re fair game for whoever wants to take a shot at you, impugn your character, and desecrate your works. All this they can do, by the way, without even reading said works.

These particular self-appointed experts have no real credentials, except a desire to tear down what others have so painstakingly built up. And if you, as an author, fall victim to these jackals and complain of such treatment, you’re told to get yourself a thick skin and deal with it. Because people taking shots at you is what you get for daring to do what you do. It is, they tell you, the price you have to pay.

 My question today is, why? Why must there be a price to be paid—above the hard work of writing, the terrible nervous anticipation of submitting, the hard and sometimes near career-ending disappointment of rejection upon rejection...why does there have to be yet another price to be paid?

Those of us who are authors by natural inclination—who tried for a lot of years not to be but who really, in the end, could not escape our destiny, have several things in common. We’re creative, yes. But we’re also prone to moodiness and tend to have really low self-esteem when it comes to our work. To a certain degree we’re all neurotic, too. All of these flaws truly work against developing a really thick skin.

We couldn’t write the stories we do if we weren’t sensitive to moods and the frailties and the pathos around us, but that sensitivity is definitely a double-edged sword for us. We’re not the outgoing, A-list people you might think we are. Most of us are more content inside our humble caves, writing. We don’t want to party, we don’t want to schmooze, we don’t, except for those rare visits to conventions, want to engage in photo ops. We just want to write.

Sometimes, and against our better judgement, we let our eyes wander to those places where those who can’t write, can’t create, but can criticize congregate. Those places likely look tempting to some writers, because those who can’t do, hand out miserly treats in the form of praise to those who do. And it’s easy to get sucked in so that the next thing you know you’re pandering to these self-appointed experts, going along with the wholesale demonizing of others because you’re afraid if you don’t, if you don’t agree and become part of their Greek chorus, then you could be in the cross-hairs, next.

You would think after a few bad experiences of reaching out and getting slapped that we would no longer let our eyes wander to those evil places, but we do, just every once in a while, and pay the heavy price for that weakness—another wound to the soul.

You have to wonder how many wounds a soul can bear.

Usually the cure I find is deep within the work I so very much love. But sometimes, sometimes, the cure comes out of the blue, totally unexpected, and from someone you don’t even know.

So today, courtesy of a little feature called MER, I say, thank you, Dr. J., whoever you are. I thank you not only for your kind words about my books, but most importantly for reading them in the first place, and for getting it.

 Love, Morgan

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Life has returned to normal in the Ashbury household. Well, as normal as we ever get, at any rate. My beloved is back at work, the cat has forgiven me for leaving her with my daughter, the evil diet-meister, and the dog is once more content in the daily presence of his deity, the daddy of the house.

This week, I have a few more days to myself before routine returns full force with my grandchildren sleeping over a few times a week, and my getting them up and ready for school in the morning.

They’re good kids, and not difficult to manage at all. They seem, for the most part, a lot more amenable than my own children ever were. For the record, I think their mother—our ‘second daughter’ who was our late son’s former fiancĂ©e—has done an excellent job in raising them.

As I reported to you at the beginning of the year, I never make New Year’s resolutions, per se. I do, however, constantly seek to “do a better job” of everything in my life. And nowhere is that a more pressing need than in the area of time management.

I have to try and learn how to make better use of my time. But the older I get, the faster time seems to go. I try, I really do, but more often than not I’m left at the end of the day wondering if I’d been abducted by aliens, who then went ahead and sucked two or three hours of precious time out of my schedule, and my conscious mind.

I think in many ways, I defy definition. In some areas and about some things I am so anal that my family is left shaking their heads in my wake. In case you ever wondered, let me set the record straight right here and now. Yes, there really is only one way to: fold towels, put away clothing, make the bed, set the table, make out a grocery list, prepare juice from frozen concentrate, and vacuum the living room carpet.

But about other things? Holy chaos, Batman, you should see my office! You’d think I had never heard of the word, ‘organization’. I have all manner of pieces of whatever under my monitor, around my keyboard, and beside and on top of my printer. My desk drawers would give pause to the most dedicated tidier, and my shoes and slippers can be found all over the darned house.

One of the areas where I am very ‘sanguine’ is in my (nearly non-existent) time management skills. It’s an effort for me to stay on track each day, to keep my mind focused on what I want to accomplish, because at times I can be so very easily distracted.

I know that I’d be better served if I got myself one of those nifty little word processor machines my good friend Lara Santiago has. That way, I could write without easy access to the Internet, and all those wonderful and fun time-sucking ways of being distracted.

Alas, I’m weak.

I know the secret for me lies in my own ability to employ some good, old fashioned self-discipline. And as each day dawns, I fully intend to do just that.
Some days, I do a pretty good job of it, too.

And then we have the other five days of the week.

Just today, as I was composing this essay, I had a bizarre thought. Do you suppose I could be looking at this situation all wrong? Could it be that this fluctuating, nose-to-the-grindstone one day and devil-may-care frittering away of minutes the next might actually, when the two are melded together, simply be my process? We all know that each writer’s process is unique unto them. Could that possibly be it?

Sigh. No, I didn’t really think so, either. I guess I’m just going to have to try harder.


Wednesday, February 15, 2012

When we left for our vacation on the 6th of February it almost seemed as if winter hadn’t arrived here yet. There was no snow on the ground, and the temperatures were fairly mild—almost consistently above freezing.

Nature took care of that little oversight while we were away. Though the snow wasn’t deep when we got home, it was everywhere, and the land does indeed at last look like Southern Ontario in February.

We had a wonderful time on our vacation. We met more people – both fellow tourists, and locals – than we have on any vacation in a long time. It was amazing being back in Port Lucaya after nearly 20 years. The marina and a fountain were actually the only places we recognized. What had in our memory been a quaint assemblage of a few shops, and a large outdoor tiki bar overlooking a marina has turned into a thriving marketplace, where local craftsmen and women offered everything from clothing to jewelry to wood carvings.

Mr. Ashbury and I did indeed contribute, albeit modestly, to the local economy.
We took part in two excursions, as well. We participated in something called “Bonfire on the Beach” an evening of entertainment and music, food and drink provided by one of the local tour companies. And we enjoyed a two hour program put on by Unexso, which stands for Underwater Explorer’s Society. In other words, we had a “Dolphin Encounter”.

Mr. Ashbury was the one who got into the tank with the beautiful mammal, and had the opportunity to pet him. He even had his picture taken getting kissed by the dolphin. I elected to stay out of the drink and take pictures...but of course, I didn’t stay dry, as the dolphin executed a couple of well-learned manoeuvres guaranteed to get everyone there sopping wet.

Tourism is the main industry in The Bahamas, so you can imagine that the downturn in the global economy has been devastating for these people. And yet, wherever we went, we were greeted with smiles, and kindness, and open-hearted welcome.

The pool was too chilly to swim in, as was the ocean—although Mr. Ashbury didn’t let that stop him from having a dip into the briny almost every day. Of course we didn’t let the weather disrupt our vacation. You can’t control if it’s sunny, or rainy, or suddenly unseasonably cool. You can only control your reaction to it all. It was our vacation, after all, and up to us to make of it what we would.

There were a couple of cabanas poolside, and here I would sit, several hours at a time, either reading or writing while the ocean breeze refreshed me, and the sight of pool, palm trees, and ocean rejuvenated me. Of course I wrote in this paradise, because to me, that is one of the purest pleasures in my life. How amazing it was to do so in such beautiful surroundings.

Mr. Ashbury and I both consider ourselves very blessed to enjoy vacations away from home as often as we do.

As much as I look forward to going someplace where I’m free from the everyday demands and stresses of life, I’m just as happy to come home. Having been born under the sign of Cancer, I really am a homebody, and never truly so happy as when I am in my own cave, doing my own thing—be it taking care of my family, reading a good book, or crafting a good story.

I’m pleased to announce two career milestones. My 25th book comes out on Friday! And, I have had my web site professionally re-designed. I’m so pleased with it I have a contest on the news page with a $30 prize. If you get a moment, please stop by and check it out.


Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The sound of the surf and the wonderful sensations of the salt breeze on my face, and my laptop under my fingertips: this is vacation at its best, at least to me.

We arrived at the resort in Freeport, in The Bahamas early Monday evening, just at dusk. I can report that our “ocean view” room really affords us a totally awesome, full-on ocean view.

We’re on the fifth floor, and from our balcony we can see the grounds of the resort, including some of the pools, and the ocean—big, blue, and magnificent.

I’ve found an unoccupied cabana (alas, no Cabana boys in attendance) and I’m intending to test how long the battery on my laptop will work. I’m only a few feet from one of the pools—the one that has the pool bar in it. This pool also has a special feature that makes it look as if it bleeds into the ocean.

I haven’t dipped my toes in the pool yet. That’s because I’m watching these big burly types standing on the stairs, water only up to to their knees, just standing there, chatting together, acting as if the pool isn’t far and away too cold for their tastes.

I’ll get into it by and by. At this moment, however, having deposited me safely where I can write, my beloved has taken himself to the beach, not even 100 feet from where I sit. He loves the ocean. He’ll swim every day, no matter the weather, just because he can.

Our kids think that’s funny as hell because in years past, their dad never liked to swim and so never went into the water. His stated reason? Because the water was wet.

Yesterday morning as we were having our first coffee of the day on our balcony, I thought of my parents. In their day (let’s say the early 1960s), this kind of travel was something only the very rich were able to afford, and this resort something they might only have ever seen on the silver screen.

Sometimes, especially lately with the downturn in the economy that we’ve all experienced, it’s easy to forget that we as a society have come a long way in the last fifty years.

But we have, and in no area more dramatically, I believe, than in the realm of vacations and vacation travel.

What used to be considered a special privilege that you would only allow yourself once every two or three years, is now an annual, or even semi-annual entitlement. What used to cost thousands of dollars now costs but hundreds. And while that is still a lot of money, a Caribbean vacation is not out of reach, really, for anyone who wants one badly enough and is willing to save up for it.

In the mean time, while I’m not certain when I’ll venture into the too-cold for Morgan pool, the hot tub seats about 12 and is very, very fine.

As for Mr. Ashbury, he has returned from the ocean, and the pool, and has noted that one of the hammocks—the one fairly close to where we’re sitting, in fact—is unoccupied. He’s never actually tried one out before, though he has heard tales from others who have and swear by them. The two gentlemen who come immediately to mind in this instance are our oldest son, and Mr. Wildes, beloved husband of my dear friend, Emma Wildes.

David gave it a good try Tuesday afternoon, and has judged it a good place to spend some time. He needs but a towel under him and a book in his hand, he said and he will be content.

Apparently, we’re not that far apart on our individual interpretation of the word, ‘paradise’.


Wednesday, February 1, 2012

This time next week, the Ashburys will once more be on vacation. It would seem that this year, we will definitely earn the moniker, “traveling fools”. The next few trips will be related to my career—we plan to attend the RT convention in Chicago in April, the RWA convention in Anaheim in July, and the first ever Siren-Bookstrand conference taking place in Dallas, Texas, in August. This trip, however, is just for us.

Mr. Ashbury has wanted to travel to a warm clime this time of year for the past several years, and so we are going to The Bahamas for a week.

I consider myself very lucky to do the traveling I do, even though there’s a huge part of me that would just as soon stay home. I am a homebody at heart, and never so happy as when I have my domain all to myself.

These last few weeks have seen a flurry of activity on our part, trying to decide where to go. The only criterion was that the destination had to be warm enough to swim.

Unfortunately and very sadly, one major “warm locale” that a lot of Canadians visit annually was absolutely off the table as far as we were concerned, and that place was Mexico.

One needs only to have paid attention to international news over the last few years to hear about the dozens of Canadians who’ve been victims of violence in that country—112 Canadians dead in the last 5 years according to the (Canadian) federal Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade.

Perhaps 112 out of the million or so who have visited isn’t that high a number, statistically, but it’s high enough for us. My heart breaks for those whose loved ones have come to grief; and it’s a shame for that historically colourful country, because Mexico and her people deserve better than to be earning the kind of reputation that they have, lately. I know many Canadians still consider Mexico a fine spot to vacation and are going there, regardless of recent events.

The Ashburys aren’t willing to take that chance.

So it’s off to the Bahamas, to swim, and to sun (a little) and just basically decompress. I’ll be taking my laptop, of course. I’d go nuts if I couldn’t write, because writing isn’t so much my job as it’s my passion. Being an author isn’t what I do, it’s who I am.

Mr. Ashbury likes to walk around and explore. Being a history buff (and convinced he was a pirate in a previous life), there’s always plenty to grab his attention. With his exploring and my writing, we’re always ensured of a good combination of together time and alone time that makes our vacations the best they can be.

I’ve been assured that I’ll be able to rent a mobility scooter once I’m there, so I’m looking forward to a bit of exploration, myself. And while I don’t like to shop at home, I love looking at all the souvenirs and such these places have for sale. I’ve already gotten ‘gift requests’ from a couple of my grandchildren.

The winter in our neck of the woods so far has been rather placid. We did receive an unexpected dumping of a few inches of snow on Sunday afternoon—snow that is gone now. Although it doesn’t take much in the way of cold and wet to attack my arthritis, Mr. Ashbury hasn’t even had the opportunity to haul out his snow blower yet. Sunday he just used the shovel, and called it done.

I told him not to worry; he likely would get the opportunity to pull out that machine before spring arrives. After all, this is Canada, and winter always leaves its mark.

In the Bahamas, we’ll be staying at a hotel that is very close to a beach, with high-speed Internet available. So I’ll be able to post my essay on schedule and keep in touch with my family and friends.