Conference Reflections, Past and Present


(Mealtime in the Sheraton Guildford Ballroom)

The Surrey International Writers’ Conference was, as it always is for me, an incredible weekend. So many wonderful people to meet, informative workshops to attend, and inspirational opportunities to absorb. So many books available to buy (I would have liked one of each but settled on four).

Each time I return home and begin reflecting, I say many of the same things here. Perhaps now would be a good time to look back at a few previous years’ blog excerpts…

2008 — Follow the link to see lots of photos and a not-very-poetic list of  Conference afterthoughts, among which you’ll find:

Tired butts
Feverish note taking
Nerve-wracking interviews
Moments of enlightenment
Incredible presenters
Sumptuous food
Purple tights
Shock Theater script
Daunting dinner table companions
Glimpses of genius
“Glorious Mud”

2010 — “Even if you leave late nights to the partiers, the pace at the Surrey International Writers’ Conference keeps your brain in perpetual motion. Every year I come home emotionally recharged but physically and mentally exhausted. It takes a couple days before my brain kicks into gear again, and I can begin to digest all the nourishment it’s been fed.”

2012 — From morning’s first light to the latest hours of the night, conference coordinator Kathy Chung, her sidekick kc dyer, and their fellow Board and Committee members were everywhere, sometimes white with exhaustion, but still smiling and making sure everyone was having a good conference experience. I don’t know how they did it all, but I know why. Because they believe in the goal that has been the conference mandate for all twenty years: “To inspire, educate and motivate aspiring and experienced writers alike.”

2013 — A reminder from Jim Hines’ keynote speech:
“There are people out there
who need the stories only YOU can write…
Your voice matters.”

2015 — This was my seventh year (I didn’t begin blogging until after the second) and a highlight was discovering DD Shari Green’s short story, SANDBAGGING, won an Honourable Mention in the writing contest, judged by well-known authors Jack Whyte and Diana Gabaldon. (For anyone interested, her story and the other winning stories are available to read here.)

Back in 2010 Shari won top spot in the Writing for YA category of the contest, so this additional award and recognition of her writing ability was very sweet. Of course there was a tiny bit of celebration. Very sedate. Mine was with a decorous glass of Chardonnay; I think Shari’s was a more exotic-sounding Lavender Gimlet!)


Now it’s time to harness the renewed enthusiasm and put all the inspiration to work. I have a manuscript I want to read through one last time before sending it out into the world, a critique group to prepare for later this week, and then I’ll start thinking about what I want to work on during November’s upcoming NaNoWriMo writing frenzy.

To use a double negative, there’s never nothing to do when you’re a writer. :)

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Everything Writing

This week my life is all about writing. Oh, I write pretty much every day, but there’s a special focus on it right now.

On Tuesday I joined my daughter, Shari Green, for an evening hosted by the Golden Ears Writers in Maple Ridge. She and her fellow authors Denise Jaden and Dawn Ius Dalton took part in a panel-style workshop on ‘Ideas and Imaginings: Finding and developing story ideas and exploring the world of re-tellings and re-imaginings.’ Such great insights and so many good ideas emerged!


(Denise Jaden, Dawn Ius Dalton and Shari Green)


Now Shari and I are at the Surrey International Writers’ Conference, a long weekend that is always the highlight of our writing year. For our very introverted souls, it’s both exhilarating and daunting to be a part of the hundreds-large crowd of literary peeps — big name authors and writers of all levels of experience, editors, agents, publishers and screenwriters — and be immersed in everything writing for three (very long) days.


With several dozen workshops and presenters, keynote speeches, book signings and banquets plus all the hobnobbing in between, it provides a huge dose of information and inspiration, boosts our creativity and rejuvenates our writerly souls. It’s also exhausting!

It will be good preparation for November and the annual NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) marathon  — our zany effort to produce 50,000 words in thirty days.


With it following a week after the conference, we’re always more than ready to creep into our solitary spaces and start prepping for a month of concentrated writing. Then, with the arrival of November, more times than not, we manage to hammer out a rough draft of a complete novel.

So I guarantee you won’t see much of me around here for the next few weeks — there won’t be a lot of musing and mental meandering time — but I’ll pop in with periodic updates. Let me know what you’re up to, too, and I’ll offer encouragement where I can. Any new projects? Are you finishing old ones, revising, mulling, or deep in tearing-your-hair-out frustrations? Let me know. We can console each other. :)

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Wildfires and Writing



Red shadows shimmer from a red sun as smoke blankets our skies this week. It’s all because of the more than 180 wildfires currently burning throughout B.C. Everything is hot and tinder dry (including me!), thanks to an extended heat wave.


Such unpleasant events always accelerate the climate change conversation. Unfortunately conversation alone won’t change anything. The David Suzuki Foundation website suggests many ways we can contribute to  the solution rather than be part of the problem.

“Though you might feel like your lifestyle is insignificant compared to things like oil extraction or vehicle emissions, the choices we make in our day-to-day life — how we get around, what we eat, how we live — play a major role in slowing climate change.”

David’s weekly ‘Queen of Green’ column offers all sorts of information about how changes in little everyday activities can make a difference.

As you might expect, my brain meandered in the direction of writing, and I began thinking about my fictional characters and their lifestyles. It’s never good to preach at our readers — most don’t appreciate being hit with blatant ‘thou shalt’ or ‘thou shalt not’ messages — but characters who display responsible preferences within a story can set subtle examples of good habits and stewardship.

I know one author who quite successfully writes novels to share her passions. Valerie Comer calls herself “a farmer, locavore, beekeeper…and the author of the Farm Fresh Romance series, farm lit from a Christian worldview.” She combines her storytelling abilities with her preference for locally grown food and her Christian faith, to produce wholesome fiction with an underlying message.

The inspirational genres are popular with Christian readers. What other authors and/or books do you know of that combine storytelling with a passion for something worthwhile?

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A new take on Alice and her Wonderland


Today is the book birthday for FALLING FOR ALICE, the short story anthology co-authored by DD Shari GreenDenise Jaden, Dawn Dalton, Kitty Keswick, and Cady Vance. All the authors have information on their websites, including Shari. She has links to all the places where FALLING FOR ALICE can be purchased in paperback or as an ebook. You’ll also find details there about her ‘Peace & Music Giveaway‘, available until April 30th.

It’s “a new Alice and a new Wonderland”, all in celebration of the 150th anniversary of Lewis Carroll’s 1865 publication, ALICE IN WONDERLAND.

Here’s the trailer, too, for a brief but tantalizing taste of what the book is all about:



  • Did you know that Lewis Carroll is the pseudonym of English author Charles Lutwidge Dodgson?
  • You’ve never read the original ALICE IN WONDERLAND? Really??? Click here for the Gutenberg free online version.

Now go buy a copy of FALLING FOR ALICE and get into celebration mode! I did. :)

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Living the stories (and a winner!)


“I can’t see the forest for the trees.”  I suppose in this case you’d say you can barely see the lake for all the trees. Until last summer, when the men had to cut down a few of them, the view from our summer cabin was only the portion you see to the right of this photo.


{Click photo to enlarge)

It’s nice to be able to glimpse a little more of our lake now. We could remove more trees, of course (and the leaning birch may soon remove itself, although it’s been like that for at least a decade), but we aren’t anxious to leave the cabin too exposed.

BlowdownAtCabinOne year when my parents were still alive, they reported that a small tornado had gone through, uprooting many trees in its path. My mom took this photo from across the creek, showing one leaning on our [then] new cabin. Through the years other trees have fallen on and/or near it, but it has managed to remain unscathed. On each visit, as we climb the hill from our hand-hewn bridge, I hold my breath a bit, wondering what we’ll find — wondering what changes the wilderness has brought to it during our absence, if there will be any damage, or if the cabin is even still standing. Touch wood (and there’s a lot of it we could touch), it has survived the passing seasons.

Our cabin is primitive, but it’s a beloved family getaway. I tell people it’s like camping, but with a roof. The building’s gone through several transitions over the years, but it’s still small and rustic, without any city conveniences, and we still need a 4 x 4 to get there.

So, what’s the appeal? Yes, we think the view is pretty spectacular, but there are lots of wilderness lakes in British Columbia. This particular one, however, is the focal point for four generations of family memories (and a fifth generation is poised to begin making more). There’s something about ‘frontiering’ experiences — hauling water by the bucket from the creek, spending evenings playing card games in the weak glow of kerosene and propane lamps, trekking to the outhouse, and cutting the daily requirement of firewood — that adds a meaningful chapter to our family’s story.

I thought of this yesterday, when DD Shari Green shared her reaction to the death of Johnathan Crombie of Anne of Green Gables fame. In her post, “Gilbert Blythe and the power of stories“, she said,

“Judging by my social media feeds … Gilbert Blythe–and by extension, Jonathan Crombie–is absolutely adored by a great many people. And this has me thinking… How is it that fictional characters can come to be so significant in our lives? Why are their fictional sorrows and joys felt in our own hearts? How do their fictional dramas become entwined with our own real-life ones, causing girls to long for red hair and an expansive vocabulary and a boy just like Gil?”

Stories such as Lucy Maude Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables (1908) and Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie (1935), have caused us to fall in love with characters who have endured through generations of readers. The account of their lives fills us with nostalgia. The power of stories is quite remarkable, but it’s most effective when it draws on emotions and relatable memories.

I’ve never given it much thought, but that rough little cabin is the setting for a portion of our family’s life story. Some of it is on paper, but most is held in our collective memory. Whether written down or not, each passing year and every new generation adds another chapter.


Do you have places or events that play a significant role in your family’s story?


As promised in Friday’s post, to help celebrate my 1,000th post, I’m giving away a $20 gift certificate for either Amazon or Starbuck’s. The name drawn at midnight was … ta-da …


Congratulations, Jenn, and thanks for helping me celebrate. I’ll be in touch by e-mail to find out which certificate you’d prefer.

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#wipMadness Day 26: Making Your Mark

One of my favourite sights and sounds at our remote cabin is of the loons. There is always one or two pair of Common Loons there, and soon after we arrive every summer and fall we are greeted by their unique call. My fascination with loons has grown since first encountering them when my parents took me there as a child over sixty years ago. As a result, I’ve also developed quite a collection of loon items — carvings, glassware, sculptures, and this delightful watercolour painting, commissioned by my hubby as a surprise gift for me. The artist is a member of our church, Elizabeth Hancock.

Loon Painting 2

I remember her saying how it had taken her some time to decide on how she wanted to depict the subject … that loons are so often shown swimming, with or without a baby, and she preferred to paint something more distinctive.

The result is unique and beautiful, and holds a place of honour on our living room wall.


Liz’s signature tells anyone who views this painting that she is its creator — she designed its story and chose how she would tell it within the context of its watercolour medium.

Writers do much the same as they pen their stories in text. Names on title pages and book covers announce to readers that the words tell a unique version of a particular story … one drawn from the author’s imagination and soul.

For both writer and artist, once released into the world, the creation and the creator’s mark become a part of history, forever inseparable. Wow! Maybe that’s why passion has to be such an integral part of the process.

As you create this week, I hope you’ll feel the passion, the inspiration and also the responsibility as you strive to make your special mark!


This is the last Thursday of #wipMadness, so this is my final contribution to our month of writing-reading-blogging madness. There are just five days left in the countdown to its end and to the day when we’ll all have to take stock of our month’s achievements. Make each one count, fellow Wipsters! And don’t forget to check in tomorrow with Tonette.


(If you’re in the Maple Ridge, BC area and would like to see more of Liz Hancock’s work, you might enjoy ‘The Art Studio Tour’ on Mother’s Day weekend. Check it out here!)

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Putting the ‘friend’ into cyber friendships

On her blog a few years ago, author Jody Hedlund questioned if our modern cyber world is distorting the meaning of the word ‘friend’. She asked, “How would you define a true friend and can you find that kind of friendship in the cyber world?” I’ve often thought about that question but never really come up with a definitive answer.

“What constitutes a friend in the truest sense of the word? We all value different qualities in our friends. but certainly we can all agree that a friendship must involve a genuine relationship. My pocket Webster defines friend as: close companion. More specifically as writers, we need genuine friends who can encourage and challenge us in our writing journey and we can do the same for them. Do Facebook friends fit that definition? Are they close companions or are they another “list” of people to help us in our quest for publication? For that matter, do any cyber friends live up to that definition?” [Jody Hedlund]

::shifting gears here::

On Friday, June 6, 2008 Joylene Butler published her first blog post. At least, it was the first one that I know about. She had sold five copies of her first novel and was moving to the next step: blogging to promote it and become more visible.

I didn’t know her then, nor had I found her blog when I began my own three weeks later with an initial post on June 28, 2008. My fiction wasn’t published yet so I had nothing to promote, but I was following the trend to be prepared by developing an online presence in the writing community.

There were no comments on my first post, just as there weren’t any on Joylene’s. We were newcomers in cyberspace.

CG&JBI don’t recall how I found her blog. Something in the mysterious realm of cyberspace drew us together. There was a post that November about eagles ‘fishing’ among the ducks on her lake that caught my attention and prompted me to respond with a comment about the goose who nested atop a beaver house in our marsh. Later in November she left a comment on my blog, and as our exchanges continued we discovered we had a lot in common.

When her second novel was being released I interviewed her on my blog. At some point she read and critiqued a story for me. Mostly, though, we’ve just played the role of encourager for each other. She has her own long-standing circle of writer friends and I’m involved in a writing group of my own.

We interact online regularly but we’ve met only once. She lives about 900 kilometres from me, but we managed to arrange a rendezvous when she came south for one of her book signings and I was visiting with family in a nearby city. When she answered the door that day I felt I was being greeted by an old friend.

::returning to the original question::

Friend? One who can encourage and challenge? Hmmm.

JB2Joylene and her husband went to Mexico on November 1st and are renting a casa for the winter at Los Arroyos Verdes in beautiful Bucerias. It’s a place that obviously agrees with her. But two weeks ago she posted about how she had fully intended to set up a strict writing schedule and finish a WIP while there, but so far hasn’t managed to write much at all. You can read the post here, but she concludes, “It’s disheartening to realize I’ve turned into one of those well-meaning persons who can’t get anything done past getting her nose burned.”

Dozens of people have left encouraging comments for her that range from, “I don’t blame you for being distracted. I’m sure you’ll settle back into writing soon,” to “Enjoy yourself and don’t worry too much about the productivity side of things,” and “Keep the faith. You will get there.”

It’s comforting to receive this kind of response, but I’m starting to wonder if any of us were being true friends in offering those consoling virtual pats on the shoulder. Maybe we should have been saying more challenging things like, “It looks gorgeous there. Take a day or two or three every week to soak it all up, but be sure to honour your desire to use a portion of the time for finishing that manuscript (or starting another if that’s the direction you’re led). If you don’t, after six months away you’re going to be cross with yourself when you get home.”

What do you expect from your cyber relationships? How would you want a friend to react when you were avoiding the very thing you normally loved to do — the writing that you promised yourself (and all of us!**) you were going to do during your several months of free time?

If I actually said that to Joylene, would I be a true friend, or just a nag?

Joylene writes suspense thrillers … has two published, with two more in the works, and has a story in a recently published collaborative steampunk anthology.

After reading this she’ll probably write me into her next story and kill me off!



** I will gain momentum soon and begin a routine of writing and blogging and whatever else I promised myself I’d do while here. The right schedule will arise in short order. In fairness, my internet connection has been terrible and I’ve had to stifle my impatience. Which also means I’ve had no excuse for not writing. That will change. I pledge to finish my current WIP, Shattered and to smooth out any clinks in my Vietnam political thriller, Kiss of the Assassin.” [Joylene Butler, Blog post: November 17, 2014]

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