March Madness 5: Believing in Yourself

Anyone who’s visited my place would understand when I say my garden beds are a little on the wild side. Not in a nice, English country garden style of wildness, but more of a weed-filled, woodsy mess. Even in the middle of gardening season they tend to get neglected and the ferns and salal that pop up in places where they don’t belong, get ignored.

Woods 1


Ferns 1

(Animals that show up where they don’t belong are harder to ignore but I have a ‘live and let live’ philosophy about them, too.)

Bear 1

I’d like the gardens to be more civilized, but I’ve come to accept that moss and weeds are more energetic than I am. More persistent, too.

Years ago a friend gave me a wonderful gift… a set of Celtic-themed garden stones that look exactly right in my au natural space. I have them tucked into special spots around the yard where their messages bring a moment of of reflection each time they’re encountered. Despite a bit of moss, one in particular seems very appropriate for us writers as we move into these last few days of our March Madness — Believe.


  • Writing is more fulfilling when you believe you are an authentic writer.
  • Reaching a goal is more likely if you believe you can.
  • Persisting in the face of discouragement and rejection is easier if you believe in the value of what you’re doing.

Insecurity and uncertainty hound all of us at times. I’ve been writing for many years, but I think I first began really believing in myself as a writer after hearing Robert Dugoni’s keynote speech at the closing of the 2010 Surrey International Writers’ Conference. It was a re-visioning of Aragorn’s rally call, ending with a rousing, “This day we write!” and it resulted in a standing ovation from all 600 attendees. If you need an extra dose of inspiration, consider taking the time to listen to it:

And then head into these last couple days believing you are a writer and you can reach significant goals on this journey if you will keep trying.

Do you believe?


Now… I’d like to give away yet another March Madness prize from our prize arsenal. Today’s winner is…

Girl Parker!

Congratulations! Stop by our goal-setting post, and choose your prize from those still listed. Then e-mail Denise at d(at)denisejaden(dot)com with your choice and we’ll get it out to you as soon as possible.

And if you didn’t win, there are still lots of great prizes to be won, so keep checking in each day. It’s not over until it’s truly over!

Our second-to-last check-in is tomorrow at Angelina Hansen’s blog.

~  ~  ~



Conference Aftermath…

Every event has a highlight. For the Surrey International Writers’ Conference, it has to be after the Saturday evening’s theme banquet, when author Jack Whyte offers up his annual rendition of ‘The Hippopotamus Song’. This year’s performance was especially poignant because many of us know we almost lost Jack last year following his November 30, 2012 surgery to remove a portion of his left lung.

Last Saturday night he sang with every bit of his usual gusto. I won’t soon forget it. Here’s a taste:

Memories are highlights to savour long after the event is over, and I have so many…

Lots of memories:

Meeting new friends,
reuniting with old friends from previous years’ conferences, and
celebrating their achievements

Sharing a special weekend of  mother/daughter camaraderie

Attending eight excellent workshops (out of a choice of 72),
listening to six sensational keynote speakers,
being brave and bold through two agent and editor interviews,
and an oh-so helpful Blue Pencil consultation with Hallie Ephron

Author Hallie Ephron

Author Hallie Ephron


Being reminded,
“There are people out there
who need the stories only YOU can write…
Your voice matters.”

(Jim Hines)
and yes, Jim, we do have Internet here in Canada!

Author Jim Hines

Author Jim Hines


Lots of smiles:

A young women, barefoot and wearing scanty pajamas,
creeping out of the elevator in the hotel lobby
“I locked myself out of my room”
(No, of course I didn’t have my camera handy!)

The heartbeat at Michael Slade’s Friday night ‘Shock Theatre’…
“Ba-boom! ba-boom! ba-boom!”
and Robert Dugoni with a pumpkin over his head!

and exchanging great lunchtime conversation with
Seth Jaret

Borrowing extra wine glasses from the bartender

“You gotta be bad. You gotta be bold. You gotta be wiser…”*
(the finale to Bruce Hale‘s keynote speech Sunday)

There are umpteen more memories lurking in remote crevices of my overfilled brain, but it’s time to take myself to bed and begin the post-conference decompressing.

How do you extricate the gems after a condensed period of ‘information overload’?

~  ~  ~


*You Gotta Be (Des’ree)


Photos from THE Conference

I promised some photos…


The opening session in the hotel’s main ballroom

"Roomies" at the hotel: Janet Smith, DD Shari Green, and me

“Roomies” at the hotel: Janet Smith, DD Shari Green, and me


SiWC Coordinator Kathy Chung as Wonder Woman at Friday evening's Heros & Villains Theme Dinner

SiWC Coordinator Kathy Chung as Wonder Woman at Friday evening’s Heros & Villains Theme Dinner

Superhero Tyner Gillies - winner of the Non-Fiction Category in the SiWC writing contest.

Superhero Tyner Gillies – winner of the Non-Fiction Category in the SiWC writing contest.

The sixth annual "Shock Theatre" at SiWC: (L->R) authors Michael Slade, kc dyer, Diana Gabaldon, Anne Perry, Jack Whyte.

The sixth annual “Shock Theatre” at SiWC: (L->R) authors Michael Slade, kc dyer, Diana Gabaldon, Anne Perry, Jack Whyte.

That’s enough for tonight. I’ll have a “conference catch-up” post on Monday.

~  ~  ~

Off to a good start!

This will be short and sweet. It’s almost 1:00 a.m. and my eyelids are threatening to shut down at any moment. I did finally get that dratted suitcase packed in time to leave for this weekend’s conference. I’m at the hotel now, filled with information and ideas gleaned from Thursday evening’s workshop with Donald Maass, followed by a glass of wine and good camaraderie. The Surrey International Writers’ Conference is definitely off to a good start!

I expect to be back on the blog Monday morning with the weekend’s round up and lots of photos. If you’re interested in what’s happening in real time, you can follow some of the conversations on Twitter with the #siwc2012 hashtag.

Hope your weekend is even half as great as I know mine is going to be. 🙂

~  ~  ~

In a fog… (in which I complain about suitcases)

Some days my brain is in a fog. There’s just no other way to describe it — fuzzy, unfocused, a little lost. It happens to me every time you put me in front of a suitcase.

A foggy day on the Fraser River

Suitcases were designed to thwart any attempt to contain what may be necessary for the impending journey. Doesn’t matter if I’m going to be away for two days or ten, there is always spillover into a tote bag, my purse, and occasionally even a couple plastic grocery bags.

Take this weekend, for example. Three-and-a-half days at the Surrey International Writers’ Conference is not a particularly long time. (I know from experience it will be much too short.) I won’t be dancing, mountain climbing, gardening or attending the opera. I’ll be indoors, either sitting in workshops or hobnobbing with friends and fellow writers the entire time, so I won’t need a great diversity of clothing. So why is it the stack of neatly folded items on my bed once again towers higher than the suitcase that not long ago held everything I needed for a month’s vacation? (Well, almost everything. There was my hairdryer and my writing kit…. oh, and my camera. They all ended up in a separate bag.)

This is my dilemma: what to eliminate to ensure there will still be room to bring back all the books and other goodies that I’m undoubtedly going to accumulate during the weekend. What can I do without? Shoes? Maybe. If I don’t get my slacks hemmed nobody is going to be able to see my feet anyway. Underwear? No, that would be indecent, and I’m always decent. Maybe the bulky sweater. If I wear my flamboyant  ‘Roaring Twenties’ coat all weekend I won’t need a sweater. Then again, I can’t live in that coat for three-and-a-half days. The feathers will drive me crazy.

I can’t seem to focus on the solution. There must be one, but I’m ready for a coffee break at the moment. I fancy a muffin. Maybe I’ll go bake a batch of pumpkin ones. I have some pumpkin I didn’t use at Thanksgiving. Did I tell you that our church ladies bake The. Best. Pumpkin pies? They make them as a fundraiser every fall. I think they’ll also have some to sell at their Christmas bazaar that’s coming up in November. I must remember to pick up the ingredients for my fruitcakes soon so I have everything on hand for that annual mid-November baking endeavour. Oh, speaking of annual things, did you know the Surrey conference is this weekend? Whatever am I going to do about this mountain of stuff I need to take?

There’s a bigger suitcase in the basement. I think my mother-in-law’s silver tea service is in a box somewhere down there, too. I’ll bet it needs polishing. I wonder if I have any tarnish remover.

Do you have packing panic whenever you travel, or is it just me? 

~  ~  ~

It’s a little like Christmas in October!

October’s here! You know how it was when you were a child waiting for Christmas? December 1st arrived, and with it came all those tantalizing secrets, the fragrance of Mother’s gingerbread baking, the ritual unpacking of heirloom ornaments and, of course, Dad’s annual untangling of Christmas lights. Days crossed off the calendar ever so  s l o w l y  and it seemed like Christmas vacation was never going to arrive.

Parents had a totally different perception of time. So much to do and only three weeks left!

It’s time to don my writing sweatshirt!

The arrival of October brings the same reality for me, but for different reasons. Barely three weeks. In fact, it’s not quite three weeks until the Surrey International Writers’ Conference begins. For those who are registered and anxious to be there, it’s time filled with impatient waiting. Three weeks seem like a long time, but I’m all grown up now. I know it’s not.

I suspect there are people beginning to scramble. There may be a bit of panic. But as we “X” off the days on the calendar there’s no question everything will get done and the Conference weekend will eventually arrive. That’s not the sound of sleigh bells in the distance, but  faint strains of the hallowed “Hippopotamus Song” mingled with chants of “This day we write!”

Oh, squeeeee!!! October’s here!


What special occasion(s) whipped you into breathless excitement as a child? Did becoming an adult alter your perspective?

~  ~  ~


Getting Ready, Preparation, Organization — Whatever you want to call it

The mist drifting in this morning, this moisture darkening the deck wood and dampening the chair fabrics, isn’t rain. It’s dense fog. We’ve had weeks – months! – of sunshine. It can’t rain now. Our church corn roast is tomorrow.

I’m never ready for autumn… never ready to give up summer’s easy living and lack of schedules, but it comes anyway, officially arriving here tomorrow. The seasons are relentless in their march through the calendar year. I enjoy them all, but am always reluctant to face the changeover. I never quite feel prepared.

On our end-of-vacation drive home last week, I saw fields of grain harvested and bundled for winter storage, seed pods developing, leaves changing colour. The world around me knows it’s time to get into gear for autumn.

When there’s something to look forward to, it’s easier to let go and move on. The Surrey International Writers’ Conference is exactly one month away. Eeeeep!! I’ve been registered since five minutes after registration opened in June, booked my hotel room the same day, and sent off entries for the writing contest before the deadline (altho’ not by much, I admit). I should feel organized, but now time is pressuring me to polish my current novel, create a one-sheet for its presentation and perfect a pitch. (Not to mention figure out something to wear for the gala’s ‘Roaring Twenties’ theme.) Is it an OCD thing to need to complete every single task in order to feel adequately prepared for the Conference?

When I taught elementary school I discovered that if my lesson plans were well prepared and I felt ready before the morning bell sounded, my day went smoothly. I was calm, the children were calm (most of the time), and I usually accomplished the day’s goals. If I started the morning unprepared and frazzled, it affected my entire day.

It carries over into my writing, too. When my office is cluttered and disorganized (as it often is), or life is crazy, I can’t get my head into a creative groove. Thoughts slither around and slide away like drops of mercury on a wobbly desk. (I guess that dates me, doesn’t it? Who allows children to play with mercury during science labs anymore?)

So, I guess if I’m going to really enjoy that Conference and get the most out of it, I’d better accept that fall is underway and there’s work to be done around here!

Do you function best under pressure, or do you need to have all the pieces in place before you can accomplish anything?

(Oh, and happy first weekend of autumn!)


 Update: I’m happy to report that it did not rain for our corn roast! (Yes, I’m smiling.)

~  ~  ~

It’s today! SiWC registration opens today!

I start hyperventilating on this day each year. At least I do on the years I’m able to attend the Surrey International Writers’ Conference, and this is one of those years. I’ve been attending since 2004 and always come home filled with renewed energy for my writing, reams of notes from the workshops, lots of new friends, and usually a few extra pounds from the great food. My suitcase weighs more on the homeward trip, too, since I can never resist the many booths of books and writing-related goodies. And then there’s that magnificent silent auction!

Both speakers and attendees will tell you it is one of the top conferences in North America. Each year I claim it’s the best year, but 2010 was particularly sweet. I attended with my daughter, Shari Green, and had the joy of seeing her presented with a cheque for winning First Place in the ‘Writing for Young People’ category of the annual writing contest.

When agent Don Maass was unable to attend that year due to a conflict of dates, my scheduled appointment with him was transferred to his replacement, author James Scott Bell, and I had The. Best. Ever. discussion with him! It actually changed my thinking about my choice of genre.

Every year I learn so much and come away inspired to write better, reach higher and try harder. My writerly soul is always nourished. Chicken soup can’t compete with the SiWC!

So, come twelve o’clock Pacific Time today when registration opens, I’ll be among the first in line. This is the conference’s twentieth anniversary year, and I know it’s going to be something really special. I wouldn’t miss it for anything!

In the meantime, does anyone have a paper bag handy? I have to get my breathing under control before noon.


Have you attended conferences in your profession? What would you say is the greatest benefit gained?

~  ~  ~

Paralyzed by Fear


The fabric has well-defined folds and wrinkles from being squashed under a stack of tablecloths and placemats. It’s a batik I created somewhere around 1985. I’ve kept it because I enjoyed the experience of making it and love its colours, but it has resided in a drawer hidden under table linens for all these years because I felt it wasn’t good enough to display.

"Moonrise" - Batik by Carol Garvin


Early last week agent Rachelle Gardner wrote about not being able to hit ‘send’ when it comes to submitting our writing. “What holds us back?” she wrote. “It’s our fear of failure. As soon as we put it out there, we become open to rejection. What if we did it wrong? What if it’s not good enough? What if someone says it’s horrible? Can I handle that?”

‘Paralyzed by fear’ may be a cliché, but when your finger hovers over the ‘send’ key and, with a mind of its own, refuses to engage, what else do you call it? Reluctance? Nervousness?  Timidity? They’re too tame. It’s fear all right.

I rarely enter writing contests, but in three of the years that I attended the Surrey International Writers’ Conference I submitted entries in the associated contests… and finalled each time. It isn’t a contest that offers feedback so I’ve never known what the judges liked or what they thought was lacking. One might think the obvious next step would be to submit to contests that do offer feedback, but I’ve become familiar with the Surrey Conference. Anywhere else is out of my comfort zone.

In my comment on Rachelle’s post I said, “I think I’ll recognize God’s prodding when it’s time to make the move.” Immediately after leaving her site I clicked over to Ann Voskamp’s blog as my last read of the day, and found this among Ann’s words: “We’re in the God zone when we’re out of our comfort zone….” Now, if that isn’t prodding, I don’t know what is!

“Don’t wait for perfection,” said Rachelle. “You want your work to be as strong as possible, yet you can’t just wait forever, always saying, “I can do better.” At some point, you’ve got to listen to your gut when it tells you, “This thing’s good to go.”

So-o-o-o… this past weekend I polished required submission material to a sheen, and sent my entry off to its first “uncomfortable” destination, a contest with written critiques from multiple judges.

It wasn’t easy. I stared at that ‘send’ key for a long time. But it’s done, and now I’m about to take an iron to the batik. Then I plan to get it framed.

Are there obstacles that prevent you from moving ahead into your desired tomorrows? What will it take to overcome them?


SiWC in Retrospect

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.

During registration I added a fourth day to the Conference package, drawn by the addition of James Scott Bell to the panel of presenters. His Thursday Master Class on Next Level Fiction went way beyond informative –it was stimulating, rejuvenating, and motivating, and the same can be said of the workshops he led over the next three days. He brought a fresh voice to the panel, and shared his expertise with confidence, warmth and humour. (I also had a ‘Blue Pencil’ interview with him that brought light into the darkness of a long-standing genre dilemma. For that alone I am supremely grateful.)

There were many other notable presenters there, too, of course — fifty of them in all — sharing their wisdom and wit. Some were familiar and much-appreciated people from previous years; some were also post-mealtime keynote speakers whose words brought nods of agreement, laughter and standing ovations – Elizabeth Engstrom, Tim Wynne-Jones, Ivan Coyote, Julia Quinn, Arthur Slade. The closing address by Robert Dugoni left me in tears!

I’m not going to try and condense all my notes to share with you. Other conference attendees around the blogosphere are posting theirs, but it’s impossible for me to convey all the benefits of attendance to someone who wasn’t there. Words on a page can’t replicate the experience.  I heard more than one presenter call the SiWC the best conference in North America. How can I give it any better accolade than that?


"It's a wrap!"

Update: I haven’t provided a lot of conference details here, but DD Shari Green has blogged each day since our return. Check out her posts for a more intimate look at all the highlights, beginning with her post on Monday.