Friday, June 23, 2017

The Best Part of Writing Fiction

The best part is making stuff up. To create something out of a figment that flits through your mind so fast that you squint to capture an image. Then take that image – and sometimes it’s just a feeling – and create characters and circumstance. That’s the most gratifying part of being a fiction writer. Exciting, too. It’s the part that pulls you into a zone where nothing else exists but your imagination. And if you’re lucky – and talented – you can pull the reader into that fictional world you created. Make it so real that they want to be friends with your characters and visit their hometown. Or (at this point my brow lifts and my mouth curves into a wicked smile), the reader will double-check the locks and sleep with a light on.
“Imagination is more important than knowledge.” Einstein, right? I don’t think he was talking about writing fiction but it works for me.
When I was a kid, my love of reading took me away from reality. The escape turned me into a daydreamer. That wasn’t such a bad thing. Not for me. Not then. I was constantly scolded. Told to get my nose out of the book and get outside and play. Seriously? Today I still love reading but have learned that being outside at the same time with balmy air breezing my face and the sound of water lapping against a shoreline is the ultimate escape. No better place to read. No better place to write. Give me nature and a laptop. Leave me alone to explore the undiscovered. To make stuff up.





Sunday, February 05, 2017

Road Trip of a Writer

It’s all about the journey, my friend said. No kidding.
I had no idea I was embarking on a huge adventure when my wild imagination leaped from the keyboard onto the screen.
 My destination was mapped out clearly in my mind. I would simply send my riveting (lol) novel away to a publisher, be discovered, and live happily ever after (sometimes clichés are the only way to go) in my writing nook pumping out bestsellers. (more laughter)
Actually, amidst the joy of writing I became overwhelmed with angst. Too many damn detours! It was no longer fun. Instead of following my own path, I had ventured onto the most popular roadway. A frenzy of frustration! Too much traffic. Angry congestion. Mistakes. The kind that made my confidence dwindle. I was lagging behind in the slow lane and just wanted to get off the road. And I tried. But the wanderlust was worse than the aggravation. So I merged back onto the highway.
Exhaling a deep breath, I settled in for a long ride. Some folks along the way gave me good writing advice, and others…well, let’s say it was the opposite. At that point, I couldn’t tell the difference. I followed it all like a dog chasing an old pick up.
Each road stop featured nurturing and inspiring people. Norma West Linder, Hope Morritt, and Peggy Fletcher are three of a multitude who gave me encouragement and hope when I was chugging along in first or second gear.
Mentors – too many to name – taught me to follow the speed limit and enjoy the sights. No rolling stops! And that it’s okay to get out and wander around when we need to work out the kinks. When we’re refreshed, hop back in, and rev up.

I accelerated into the passing lane. Getting stories published, winning a couple of contests, taking in a conference, and meeting some of my idols in the bestseller world. But the rules of the road say you can’t stay there forever. I moved to the middle lane. And loosened my grip on the wheel. What’s the hurry when there’s so much satisfaction and enjoyment en route.
It’s pleasurable being a part of the vibrant writing community. Being with others who share the passion! Penning a monthly magazine column and interacting with readers. Sharing fiction with critiquing buddies, socializing at writers’ dinners and events. Being exposed to, and appreciating, all types of literature. Developing a greater understanding of the publishing world. Learning! Learning! Learning! It’s what keeps the adrenalin pumping.
My enthusiasm is strong. My destination is still in focus. My years on the road have been good to me. The detours are filled with surprise and wonder that never cease to be.
Nothing thrilled – or humbled – me more than recently being appointed to the Board of Directors for the Lawrence House Centre for the Arts. The Board was included in the Mayor’s Honour List for 2016! It’s a privilege (thankfully I’m seldom intimidated) to be part of this hugely talented group supporting visual, literary, and performing arts in our city.

And so begins another side trip. One that will push me into overdrive and test my skills. The journey really is most important. After all, when you arrive at your destination, where else is there to go?

Monday, September 12, 2016

Remembering where I was on 9/11

Never before had I watched 'live' coverage of 9/11. Last night, I remained glued to the TV. My stomach was knotted with tension and tears fell. It felt as if it were just happening. Fifteen years ago, at the end of a day of sales calls, I was alone in a hotel room in Windsor unable to face the coverage of the tragedy. 
One appointment had been at the Duty Free Shop. It was surreal. This time I didn’t pull up to the fenced lot and ring a buzzer to be let in. I was instructed to drive right up front and give the customs officers my name. They knew I was coming. There were no lanes of traffic. The bridge was closed. I met with my contact, conducted business, and went back to my hotel. It had been an unsettling and unprofitable day. No one was in the mood to think of future sales…or future anything.
That morning, I was already on the road and flipping radio stations when I came across crazy Howard Stern. In the middle of his rhetoric, he asked someone to look out the window and see where all the black smoke was coming from. That’s when the other guy witnessed the second plane crashing into the tower. I thought it was a Stern hoax.
I changed stations again…and again, until I was convinced it was really happening. I called home and talked to my husband.
My next appointment was in Belle River. The owner had a small TV on the sales counter. We barely said anything. I watched the devastation for a few minutes and moved on to my next stop. I think it was a Timmie’s for coffee. I needed to sit in my car for a minute just thinking…trying to absorb what was going on. There was a Bell service guy leaving with a coffee at the same time. He spoke to me. That in itself was unusual. Strangers making conversation in a big city didn’t happen. He said that crazy as it sounded…and it didn’t…he had to drive past his kid’s school. Just see it. Make sure… No, it didn’t sound crazy at all. I had just got off the phone from calling my son at work. To lighten the moment, I teased that if he found himself at the Pearly Gates, Saint Peter might ask when he had called his mother last. He could be in trouble. We chuckled.

At the end of the day, when I checked in at my hotel, I discovered the restaurant had closed early. There were some fast food joints across the road. At any other time it would have been easier and faster to drive up the road a ways than try to get across. That night was different. I stood at the curb and stared at the vacant expanse of highway. Multiple lanes (5 or 6) were empty. No one. No cars. The eeriest feeling in the world. Windsor had turned into a ghost town. I walked across the lanes to an open Wendy’s, and then walked back without seeing any traffic. When I got to my room, I ate in quiet solitude, unable to turn on the TV, and wishing I were with family. The next day, I cleared my schedule and headed back home. It was no time to be alone. 

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

Eccentric Recluse or Effervescent Extrovert


The summer is ending. I know because my granddaughters Sophie and Sadie are back in school.
Even though heat and humidity totally kill me, I’m entering the fall season reluctantly. As if I’m being dragged. My heels leaving furrows in the garden soil.
It’s been a summer of chaos and quiet. Friction and harmony. A re-kindling of old friendships and the pleasure of developing new ones. It’s been rewarding and sometimes annoying to be immersed in home and family without the escape my writing affords.
My monthly magazine column kept my toes in the water. And during a relaxing afternoon in my reading nook, the urge to write a story was too strong to dismiss. Words fell onto the pages of my notebook until the urgency passed. The End scrawled across the last line.
Over the last several months, I kept in touch with a few friends from the writing world but distanced myself from critique sessions, book launches, readings, etc.
I logged off Facebook. I was both bothered and relieved. The realizations that certain posts and comments created pressure and stress made me wonder if I’d ever sign on again. Was it worth it? Frustrated by hackers and the quirky glitches of Facebook, I felt as if I’d be better off ignoring this social media. Where would that leave me? Isolated. That’s what came to mind.
People can be cruel—even writers. GASP! At this age, one would think I’d be immune to bullying—but I’m not. Snide comments—even those directed to friends—deeply affect me.
My impatience and candor might be an affliction of an aging mind. But to be honest, I’ve always been so inclined.
My decision is to forgo the temptation to become an eccentric recluse. My calendar is filling up with meetings, dinners, luncheons, writing deadlines, and family commitments. Some of those self-induced obligations will bring pressure and anxiety. It’s unavoidable. I’m an all-or-nothing person. Succumbing to a secluded existence would mean just that. Existing. Surviving. Until death. Eerie thought.
Anywho, it’s unavoidable. I’ll deal with the pressure, anxiety, commitment—bullying…
And I can do it because I know you’re there. Fighting the same battle as we cheer each other on. Shouting encouragement. The support of colleagues and comrades as we leave behind the lazy days of summer (pardon the cliché) is appreciated by all, I believe.
Hose off the garden crocs, dust off the computer, and return to work.
Cheers to an upcoming season!


Thursday, April 14, 2016

Speculative Fiction or Reality?

Blood work and mammograms. When I turned fifty, I committed to regular check-ups. Not to be mistaken with annual check-ups. Patients are now encouraged to wait eighteen months before visiting their doctors for routine tests. Tests allowed by the government—so far.
This week’s appointments reminded me of a short story I wrote about four years ago. Culling of a Nation was published most recently by Simone Press in the anthology Indie Trigger Short Stories available now on Amazon. (Pardon the plug.)
Anywho, a doctor read this story and told me that I didn't realize how close to the truth I was with my ‘speculative fiction’. Chilling words, considering the subject matter of Culling of a Nation.
Judge for yourself.

Culling of a Nation
Phyllis L Humby


“Six of your patients died last month Dr. Reener. What do you have to say to that?”
Dr. Reener, expecting this confrontation, replied in a clear voice. “Two more patients would have died if they hadn’t sought help at the hospital emergency ward.” She challenged the Chief of Staff with her own steely gaze.
“I look forward to a better report next month, Dr. Reener. You have been below quota for the last three months.”
Dr. Reener closed her laptop and leaned back, resting her elbow on the arm of the chair. A manicured hand covered the grim line of her mouth.
“As for the rest of you, I have emailed your new quotas. All eyes are on us, people. Our community is the training ground. You have the highest income of any doctor in the country.”
Dr. Allister swept her blonde curls away from her face and locked her pale gray eyes on each of the twelve professionals seated at the oval conference table.
“You are well paid for your contribution to society. If you keep wasting the government’s money on tests, blood work, and hospital care for senior citizens, there will be no money. Why do I need to constantly remind you of the HCLS mandate?” The crescendo of her voice echoed in the
uncomfortable silence of the boardroom.
Leaning forward, her hands resting flat on the smooth wood surface, Dr. Allister invaded the space of the newest member of the staff. Dr. Canter paled, accentuating the freckles scattered across his boyish features. His child-like hand rested under his chin in an unsuccessful effort to control the tremor.
“Dr. Canter, how many of your patients died last month?” With his tongue glued to the roof of his mouth, and hands too shaky to support a glass of water, he sat mute.
“I will tell you how many Dr. Canter. Three patients died under your care. Three patients. What do you have to say?”
 “I don’t have my p-patient roster t-to capacity yet. I’ve just st-started my p-p-practice.”
Dr. Allister’s cheeks flamed. “You ordered MRI’s, CT scans, ultra sounds, and x-rays.” Her hands flailed in agitation. “For senior citizens. People over seventy years of age, Dr Canter. Seventy!” 
She slapped her hands on the table. The young man flinched, his freckles convulsing against the greenish cast of his skin. “Do you understand the HCLS - Health Care Limitations for Seniors? Next month I do not want one test done on anyone over seventy years of age. Not one test, Dr. Canter, or your career will be very short-lived. You are affecting our quota and the reputations of all the doctors in this room.”
Dr. Allister, her porcelain skin glowing, dabbed at the moisture collected on her upper lip and returned to the head of the table.  
“Let’s end this meeting on a good note. The Lakepoint Rest Home is closing at the end of the month. By this time next year, condos will surround the waterfront.” A smattering of applause followed her announcement. “That brings the total closure of senior facilities to four since we began our program.” More applause eased the tension out of the room.
Dr. Allister beamed. Her reprimand of Dr. Reener and the blunders of an inexperienced Dr. Cantor aside, she accepted the credit for a substantial turn around in the budget spending. “Believe me; our efforts have not gone unnoticed. More daycare facilities are proposed for the work place. Not only will these daycares be at no cost to employees, there will be a bonus for every employee who has children. Of course, the stipulation being that the parent must be married.”
“This is a proud time for all of us. Our government is doing everything in its power to restore balance and build a viable population base.” The Chief of Staff looked at each of the twelve doctors in turn before adjourning the meeting. “We will lead the way. We cannot let our government down.”
“Doctors, after you leave the meeting, please check your emails for the new quota on births. You need to coach your young patients to begin their families early. Remind them of the dividends paid for each child. Do not forget the daycare facilities. There is no reason a new parent has to stay home with a child, and grandparents may not be available. Everyone will work. Remember, their tax dollars pay your salaries.
Now, each one of you, return to your office and take care of business. There are bonus cheques from HCLS on the credenza. Pick them up on your way out. Dr. Canter, don’t bother looking for yours.”
“I will see all of you back here next month.” 


Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Is Your Workplace an Inspiration or Distraction

While waiting for hubby, I stood at the tall window and looked out at the shrub garden. I miss using this office, I told Marv. I know I said it was too distracting. I spent more time watching the critters rooting through the mulch than I did writing fiction.
Do you ever notice them, I asked. He grunted and continued the two-finger pecking on his laptop.
Bunnies would stand on their hind legs eating the branches off the Burning Bush right before my eyes. Brazen as anything. It’s funny how that little boulder got so much attention. Even from the birds. They used it as a landing pad. I grinned, remembering. Mice and squirrels would sun themselves on it. Well, look at that. Right on cue. I laughed at a chipmunk appearing from beneath the Colorado spruce. He scampered up the side of the smooth round rock, settled himself, and began grooming. I continued with a play by play for my husband’s sake.
So he made it through the winter, Marv said. I wondered aloud if his mate did. We’ll know soon enough, he said. I continued watching. I miss this office, I told him again, as the chipmunk leaped off the rock. I followed his movements until he disappeared home. He lives under the front steps, I said.
I turned my attention to the birds. Far too many to count. They flew and flitted from bush to tree, branch to branch in a hectic search for the perfect nesting spot. So many birds passing each other in flight. The sound of their chirping was muffled but I could still hear them. Such excited chatter.
Look at that robin. She is fat, fat! And with all the activity in and out of the spruce, I think it will be an apartment complex again this year.

I believe the cardinals have found a spot in the climbing hydrangea. Remember when the doves nested there? For a few years and then they were gone. Marv’s answer was more of an urgent request to me. I couldn’t hear what he said, but I surmised he was trying to concentrate on something. I know what you mean, I told him. It’s like I said before, the office is far too distracting to get anything accomplished.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

When a Rejection is a Blessing

It was evident in the exchange of emails that the editor was losing patience. I returned the final draft with revisions. The ones I approved. Too many for my liking. I’d authorized changes that made me uncomfortable. They disguised my voice, altered my style, and bastardized my writing. I was trying to cooperate. A compromise, of sorts.
Don’t get me wrong. I can take constructive criticism. Not all the edits were unwarranted. He corrected the occasional mix up on tenses. Caught the odd awkward phrase. Yes, those edits were appreciated. Good catches. I also followed up on his suggestions for detail that added richness to the story.
Yet, it still bothered me. Colons, semi colons, and exclamation marks dotted the now overly-long paragraphs. Yikes (exclamation mark) Oh sure, I explained to the editor that I normally didn’t use this punctuation. And those short sentences were there for effect. You know. Tension. Fear. Panic. Hysteria. Oh well, whatever.
Preparing for a weekly critiquing session, I made copies of an excerpt from the edited version of the story and offered it to the group without explanation. After reading the piece, each member offered a personal line-by-line critique. The re-edited excerpt resembled my original submission. That made me feel better. And worse.
Several months went by.
I considered withdrawing my submission but the editor of the anthology had invested copious hours on my story. It was rather long at over 8000 words. I couldn’t do that to him. I reluctantly put the anthology to the back of my mind.
Nearly two years after the initial submission, I received the final email. (Un)fortunately, my story hadn’t made the cut. I felt giddy. It was the first rejection met with relief.
This drawn out process began with a request. Would I write a story for the anthology, he wanted to know. I declined. I was currently involved in another project. He was persistent and friends pointed out the obvious. Never pass up an opportunity.
My submission was received with a glowing appreciation of my work. He was impressed with the story. It would be pasted into the master manuscript. A couple of edits were suggested and approved. Then over the course of several months…well, you heard what happened. The simple explanation is my work couldn’t hold up with the other submissions arriving daily. I accept that.
Rejections are a part of a writer’s existence. Believe me, some of my earlier stories that made it to publication should have been edited. I wince when I read them now.
On the bright side, which is where I’m usually looking, I have a story that is now open to submission elsewhere. I’ll get right on that.