Sunday, 28 January 2018

Tears and laughter cleanse the heart. —Jonathan Lockwood Hule

On Tuesday night, we went to see the documentary Us & Them. Filmed in Victoria, British Columbia, it explores homelessness and addiction by following the lives of four homeless people over the course of ten years. It’s incredibly powerful, and their stories put a human face on folks we far too often pass with little more than a brief thought. While I highly recommend seeing it, it is not the film that I want to talk about, but the emotion that it stirred in all of us who attended.

As I watched, I stifled the urge to cry, sniffling as quietly as I possibly could. Beside me, a stranger’s shoulders shook as she wept, but she made no sound. When we left, my husband commented that he had a headache from fighting back tears. What is wrong with this picture? We were watching the pain of very real people. It was hard. We hurt along with them. We hurt for them. Why were we all so determined not to show that thing that we complain is lacking in our world—empathy?

Why do we suppress the public display of a very human reaction? Is crying not as natural as laughing? It’s not overtly taught, but somehow we have all gotten the message—it is embarrassing, shameful even, to cry openly. Stay strong. Chin up. Carry on. We hear these words of encouragement all of the time. Are they the wrong words? Is the subliminal message if you don’t do these things you are weak, you are cast down, you will stay down?

In reflecting on my own tears through the years, in my youth, I rarely cried. If I did, it was usually out of frustration or anger, and very much in private. I was perceived as a strong, competent young woman who was sure of herself and up to any challenge placed in front of her. I liked the image, so I fought any tears of pain, and certainly hid them if they fell.

As the years have passed, that has changed. Oddly, now that I truly am a strong competent human being, I cry more frequently. I think, in part, not because I feel more deeply but because I feel more widely. Years bring too much insight, too much knowledge, too much awareness of the larger hurt in our world. I rarely cry for me. I cry for others. What hasn’t changed is the fight against doing it in public. I don’t always win it, but I still struggle to contain tears when others are around.

Which brings me back to why? Our society, both subtly and explicitly, teaches boys that tears are weak. We’re working to change that, but it will be a long overhaul. As women trying to gain a level foothold in the world, are we also carrying the burden of that message? Do we think we are lesser if we show emotion? Does withholding our tears make us equal?

I don’t have the answer. However, I do know that I was more uncomfortable withholding my emotions the other night than I am when I let them loose. Like laughing, crying can be more than freeing; it can prove to be downright healing. And maybe tears, like laughter, need to be shared. Perhaps, that is how we create a kinder, more compassionate culture.

Friday, 12 January 2018

feel it. the thing that you don't want to feel. feel it. and be free. — nayyirah waheed

A writer friend shared an article on Facebook. In it, Author Kate DiCamillo answers the following question with great thoughtfulness.

“How honest can an author be with an auditorium full of elementary school kids? How honest should we be with our readers? Is the job of the writer for the very young to tell the truth or preserve innocence?” (Why Children’s Books Should Be a Little Sad)

The question was asked by another author and I followed the link to his original story. I liked what DiCamillo had to say. I loved author Matt de la Peña’s story as well as his thoughts on shielding children from tough subjects. It resonated with me and I’ve been pondering it all day. Now, I don’t write for young children but I have spent a good part of my life working with them and I heartily agree with his reflection on his own child’s first brush with grief.

“But maybe these minor episodes of loss are just as vital to the well-adjusted child’s development as moments of joy.”

Further on he contemplates an image in his new picture book, Love, that his publisher was hesitant to include. It's a young child hiding beneath a piano with his dog while his parents argue. The involvement of alcohol is implied by an empty glass on the piano.

In the book world, we often talk about the power of racial inclusion — and in this respect we’re beginning to see a real shift in the field — but many other facets of diversity remain in the shadows. For instance, an uncomfortable number of children out there right now are crouched beneath a metaphorical piano. There’s a power to seeing this largely unspoken part of our interior lives represented, too. And for those who’ve yet to experience that kind of sadness, I can’t think of a safer place to explore complex emotions for the first time than inside the pages of a book, while sitting in the lap of a loved one.

I remember trying to find books to support children going through tough times. Those books were few and far between, often kept on separate shelves for teachers so that a child wouldn’t accidentally pick up a book that might be traumatic. Attitudes have changed since then and there is a growing number of amazing books.

His thoughts on this appealed to the educator me. His conclusion lent affirmation to the writer me. In my stories, I dip into the darkness with teens. It is something I don’t take lightly. I have agonized as I navigate the line between authentically representing traumatizing moments and not taking it too far, making the emotional aspect unbearable for the teen reader. I strive for that balance. My greatest wish for my novels is that teens either see themselves in my stories and find comfort in that, or recognize others and develop empathy. For me, that is the ultimate writing success.

That’s why I write books. Because the little story I’m working on alone in a room, day after day, might one day give some kid out there an opportunity to 'feel.' Matt de la Peña

Check out the video of this beautiful book at 

Sunday, 31 December 2017

Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow. —Melody Beattie

Last year, my husband and I decided to start a thankful box. Each Sunday, we separately wrote, on a small slip of paper, something we were grateful for in the week that passed. We were as equally thrilled when we wrote the same thing as when one of us highlighted something the other didn’t recognize. Our plan was to go through the notes tonight in celebration of all that was good in 2017. Too many of the grateful statements are still fresh in our minds. We’ve decided to wait for our anniversary in March so that memories that might be fading can be illuminated.

I think it’s easy to get caught up in the negative and let all of the good slide by unnoticed. And there’s a lot of amazing things that happen each and every single day if only you look for them. The bonus of consciously seeking out those moments is that it is synergetic. The more you do it, the more you find. To be grateful, one must be aware.

My life is full in every way. I am blessed, I am humbled, and I am grateful. We both remain healthy. We continue to enjoy each other’s company after almost 33 years together. Our fur-kids are turning eleven. They are happy and in good shape, and they bring smiles and laughter to us every day. We are surrounded by good friends, old and new. Around the globe, friends reach out to us and connect and fill our hearts.

We both enrich our lives with things that make our minds and our hearts sing. My husband pursues languages, piano, and vocal music. He is learning not to rely on our wonderful friend and contractor and figure out things around the house himself, comforted in the knowledge that our new friends on either side are there at a moment’s notice to advise or help. He is pleasantly surprised by his own competence.

I was lucky enough to tap into my theatrical side and perform a number with my husband in December. It is the first time I have stood in front of an audience since 2014. It was like coming home. This year two friends urged me to get a Fitbit and it has propelled me into a habit of daily walking. I am addicted to getting outside and moving. I have surprised everyone, including myself, with a passion and determination for gardening. The hours cultivating, planting, and nurturing have proven to be incredibly soul filling. As well, amazingly, I am now a twice-published author. Can life get any sweeter?

So much to be grateful for. I think even in the bleakest of times if you can look for those moments, no matter how small, you will find a little light break through the darkness. That is my New Year’s wish for all of you. Many moments of gratitude. So many that you can’t close the box and the goodness overflows.

As for me, I look forward to reading 104 statements of gratitude in 2018.

Thursday, 7 December 2017

GOODREADS GIVEAWAY! Enter for a chance to win a signed copy of COLOR ME GRAY.

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Color Me Gray by Rose Phillips

Color Me Gray

by Rose Phillips

Giveaway ends January 07, 2018.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

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Sunday, 3 December 2017

Dream as if you'll live forever. Live as if you'll die today. ~James Dean

I successfully reached the fifty-thousand-word goal for National Novel Writing Month. More importantly, I trudged past that line and completed the novel. It is a skeleton but the bones are solid. I will now distance myself from it and leave it on the cyber shelf for a month or two.

When I go at it again, I will be looking to tighten up some places and expand on others, as well as ensure that the story flows. Continuity issues often get caught during the second run. The third run will be for technical aspects of grammar and word choice. The fourth run is usually an auditory listen. It’s amazing the mistakes you hear, errors that your eyes have flown past. Then my amazing husband focusses solely on the story. After that he edits for grammar. I take it back for a final go-through. So it’s a long way from being a novel that moves from my eyes to anyone else’s except my husband’s…and even he doesn’t see it until it’s in decent shape.

Still, I spewed out a novel in a month. Not a shabby achievement. I’ve done it before. Would I do it again? No. This time it consumed me. When I wasn’t writing, I was thinking about it. I was lying awake plotting. It haunted my sleep, when I managed to get some. Invitations felt like intrusions. Actually going out into the world was stressful. How would I get my words down?

As I get older, the one thing that is becoming abundantly clear is life is finite. And, unlike NaNo, we don’t know the finish line. On December first I asked myself, if November were to be my last month on this planet, would I feel as though I had lived it fully? Definitely not. I was anxious the entire time. I ignored friends and missed out on social occasions. I neglected my puppies and my husband. I was absent in my own life.

I love writing. I love that I have a shiny new story. But I love my life more. The beauty is that I don’t have to give up one to have the other. I just need to slow the pace down so that life doesn’t slide by me while I’m engaged in a fictional world. I will live a few hours each day in the pages of my imagination, but from here on in, I will readily step out into the real world and relish every vibrant flesh-and-blood person and every single moment.

Thursday, 2 November 2017

National Novel Writing Month

I am participating in what is affectionately known by writers as NaNo. The idea is to spew words out every day during the month of November. There is no expectation that at the end of the month you will have a polished novel. The goal is to have a finished one, and that's half the battle. It's a format that works well for me. I hate competing with people. That is not why I participate. I compete with myself. Can I hit the minimum needed, 50,000 words? Can I get more down today than I did yesterday? Can I write in both the morning and the evening? (I am typically a morning-only writer.)

Cutting to the Chase was written during NaNo. It underwent many revisions afterward but the basic story remained intact. It's amazing what your mind shares with you when you have no time to censor it or to nitpick about what you've put down on the page. It's a freeing experience.

You can see my actual wordcount progress on the widget at the right of the page. Below is a gadget that should track percentage, although I'm not sure it works when embedded in a post. If it still says 11% after tomorrow, know that it is a static icon and it's not tracking anything. Check out the widget instead.

To all my writer friends participating, happy words to you! To all my non-writing friends, have a terrific November!

Wednesday, 25 October 2017

We’re In This Together: Celebrating Writers Who Persevere

Today I am happy to be part of Writers Persevere!, an event that authors Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi are running for the next few days to celebrate their release of their newest book, The Emotional Wound Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Psychological Trauma. This book looks at the difficult experiences embedded in our character’s backstory which will shape their motivation and behavior afterward.

Because Angela and Becca have spent the last year exploring painful human struggles, they wanted to highlight a very important aspect of overcoming difficult circumstances: it can make us stronger. I promised to let Angela hijack my blog today, so please read on!


Hi everyone! When you set out to find examples of inner strength, you don’t have to go very far. Right here in the writing community we see it every day. Writers more than anyone understand the swirl of emotions as we work toward publication. We dream of making it and seeing our books in the hands of readers…yet doubt and frustration can be a constant companion. For us, there is a lot to learn, much to steel our nerves for, and unfortunately, a host of real-world problems that can try to derail us. And, even as we slowly move forward and grow, we can sometimes feel like impostors. This is a tough road.

But the fact that writers face this battle, day after day, and KEEP GOING…this should be celebrated! We need to be reminded that we are much stronger than we sometimes believe. We dream, create, and force ourselves to keep striving. Through the ups and downs, we persevere!

Have you encountered something on the writing road that made you question yourself? Have you faced an obstacle that required a force of will to get past?

If so, we want to hear about it! Join Becca and me at Writers Helping Writers from October 25-27th, where we are celebrating writers and their stories of perseverance. Stop in, and tell us about a challenge or struggle your faced, or if you like, join this event by writing a post on your own blog and share it using the hashtag #writerspersevere.  Let’s fill social media with your strength and let other writers know that it’s okay to question and have doubts but we shouldn’t let that stop us.


We also have a prize vault filled with items that can give your writing career a boost, so stop by Writers Helping Writers. I would love for one of you to win something that will help you get closer to your goal!

If you struggle, remember to reach out to others. We are in this together, and by supporting one another, we cross the finish line together (and then keep going!).

Happy writing!

Angela & Becca