Category Archives: Writing

A Free Author Promo Opportunity at Long and Short Reviews

 

Winter Blogfest graphic on a blue background with white snowflakes dotting the top and sides. The graphic reads, "Long and Short Reviews Winter Blogfest. A Prize on every post! December 21-January 1."

Long and Short Reviews is a large, well-respected book review site that has been around since 2007. They are currently seeking out guest bloggers for their Winter Blogfest which is scheduled to run December 21 through January 1.

This is an amazing free opportunity for authors from any genre to meet likeminded writers and introduce yourselves to new potential readers.

Here’s what you’ll need to do to participate:

  • Write a 250-500 word guest post that is holiday or winter themed
  • Offer a small prize (for example, a free copy of one of your ebooks or anything else you choose to offer)

It’s that simple.

The Winter Blogfest is open to everyone and every winter holiday. You could write about Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Christmas, the Winter Solstice, New Year’s, other winter holidays/celebrations, or the winter season in general.

In past years, they’ve published guest posts about special holiday recipes, people’s favourite memories of the season, funny stories about celebrations that maybe didn’t turn out the way the author thought they would, the history of certain holiday figures, foods, songs, etc., and so much more. As long as it’s not pure promo, let your imaginations run wild.

Participants also have the option of including links to their website, social media accounts, etc. if they wish.

Go to Long and Short Reviews for instructions on how to submit your entry and for more information. I look forward to reading your entries if you decide to join in.

The deadline to submit a guest post to this event is December 11. Spread the word!

On Finding Scope for Imagination During Uncertain Times

“Isn’t it splendid to think of all the things there are to find out about? It just makes me feel glad to be alive—it’s such an interesting world. It wouldn’t be half so interesting if we knew all about everything, would it? There’d be no scope for imagination then, would there?” – Anne of Green Gables by Lucy M. Montgomery

Anne Shirley has been on my mind recently. When I was a kid, I only ever read the first three books in the Anne of Green Gables series. It wasn’t until I became an adult that I discovered what happened to her in Windy Poplars and beyond, so her childhood to teen years made the biggest impression on me.

She was an imaginative girl who often flipped between bubbly enthusiasm and being in the “depths of despair” depending on what sort of trouble she might have accidentally found herself in.

stylized black and white drawing of woman in white dress touching butterflies the size of large owls. the blue, green, orange, and pink butterflies are the only splashes of colour in this scene.
This isn’t Anne, but I think she would have found scope for imagination in this sketch.

I’m fortunate to live in a walkable neighbourhood, so I can get nearly anything I need here without stepping onto the subway. This has been wonderful during the pandemic as I can walk by a nearby shop and see how busy it is before deciding whether I should buy groceries and other necessary supplies now or wait a day or two when there are fewer people there. photo of man walking down steps. Upper half of photo shows him walking upside down and up a pair of steps. image might be mirrored or something?

It also means that the days bleed into each other. I’m being so conscientious about where I go that I tend to see the same trees, shops, strangers, and even pigeons that I did last week, last month, and approximately a million years ago in March when the first wave of this pandemic hit Toronto.

(No, I’m not joking about the pigeons there. We have a flock of them that has chosen a specific area as their home and always returns to it after foraging elsewhere. I affectionally refer to them as our “pet” birds).

I used to find scope for imagination in things that I only saw and heard occasionally like attending specific street festival or planning an afternoon trip to a park in a different part of the city that requires one to ride the subway or take a streetcar with a multitude of strangers.

Now the only differences are changes in the weather and maybe the occasional new coat or pair of shoes a neighbour might want to show off if we pass each other on the street.

Like most of you, I’d imagine, my world is small, yet there is still scope for imagination here. The outside world might remain more or less the same from one day to the next, but that doesn’t mean your mind must do the same.

Even the smallest changes in a community can be attention grabbing now. The first autumn leaves that peeked out from a sea of green were prettier than they’ve been in years.

Bananas that are submerged in a bright yellow landscape.There are books to read and movies to watch that will take you anywhere you want to go, including places that weren’t accessible to mere mortals at all except through our imaginations!

Art museums themselves might be closed or scratched off many of our visiting lists, but art itself remains.

This is our new normal.

Someday future generations will ask what this time period was like.

I’m taking notes of my experiences. Some of them end up as blog posts here, while others have been scribbled down into a private journal I may pass down to my nephews someday.

Pretending to be a time traveller is another way to find scope for imagination. What is perfectly ordinary to us may be fresh and interesting to someone a century from now.

How would you explain the idiosyncrasies, irritations, and immeasurable moments of our era to them?

That one question in and of itself makes my mind tingle with possibilities.

Where have you all found scope for imagination recently?

4 Creative Ways to Overcome a Reading Slump

A girl with a bored expression on her face reading a book.Today I wanted to share some tips for overcoming a reading slump and (hopefully) finding the joy of losing yourself in a story once again.

Most readers have probably experienced this phenomenon at one point or another.

You slowly, or maybe quickly, shift from your regular reading patterns to no longer feeling anticipation at the thought of picking up another book in your preferred genre(s).

Maybe you’ll start one book only to grow bored and wander away from it after a chapter or two. This can happen again and again during a slump.

I know I’ve sure found it harder to stay focused since this year began.

Stop Reading

Drawing of a perturbed black cat. The phrase "not entertained" is written next to and underneath it.I’m totally serious about that, too. It feels obvious to me, but so many lists on this topic seem to skip over this solution.

How long should this break last? That’s up to you. I think about my interest levels in reading in general instead of how much time has passed.

Generally, my breaks last between a week and a month, but I’d have no problem going much longer than that if needed.

The thing about being an avid reader is that you often eventually begin to see the patterns in the genres you read. It’s harder to surprise someone who has been reading the same genre for years or decades.

Reading also isn’t so much fun when one can predict what will happen next in a story, especially if you’re already feeling tired of this hobby in general.

Sometimes the best way to react to this feeling is to stop trying to make yourself enjoy reading and find something else to fill your free time.

What else can you do? Well…

Get (More) Active

Reading can be like exercise for your mind. Books can teach new words (or even entire languages),  challenge your pre-conceived notions of the world, and introduce you to sorts of people and situations you might never come across your daily life.

There’s definitely something to be said for switching between activities that challenge your brain and activities that challenge your body, so stay with me here.

Depending on your current fitness level, interests, and what equipment you might have access to, this could take a wide range of forms:

  • Jogging
  • Dancing
  •  Swimming
  •  Playing sports
  •  Hiking
  •  Weightlifting
  • Taking a long walk

If you’re already physically active, now could be a good time to increase the length of your workouts or try a form of exercise that isn’t part of your regular routines.

Try Something New

White rabbit wearing yellow sunglassesNo, I’m not referring to trying a new genre (unless you already have the urge to do so). It’s been my experience that this technique works best if it has nothing to do with books or reading at all.

There’s nothing like tasting a new food, buying something small you’ve been wanting for a long time, or visiting an autumn forest so filled with brightly-coloured leaves that it almost seems as if all of the trees themselves are glowing.

Sometimes the “new” thing I try is as simple as walking down a street I don’t normally visit to see what interesting landmarks might exist there or crouching down on the ground to observe a plant I’d normally walk past without a second thought.

This can take many forms, and it can be as thrifty as you’d like it to be. Honestly, most of my favourite memories in life involve intangible things that no store can ever box up for sale.

Perform an Act of Kindness

A rock painted orange that says "stay safe be kind." It is lying on a much larger, lichen-covered rock. It’s been my experience that reading slumps are often tied into how I’m feeling in general. I’m much more likely to have them when I’m dissatisfied with other aspects of my life.

There are many things that are out of our control, and many more that can only be changed after months or years of effort and a great deal of luck.

That’s part of the reason why I think that performing acts of kindness are so effective. For that moment, I’m pulled out of whatever is going on in my own head and only focusing on making someone else’s day a little bit brighter.

A random compliment for a stranger or a quick text to a loved one about something you know they’d love only takes a few seconds to accomplish.

That instant mood boost might eventually trickle over into other parts of your life as well. It often does for me! Even if it doesn’t work right away or at all, you’ll still have the satisfaction of knowing you had a positive impact on someone else’s day.

And who knows how far one act of kindness can spread?

One of my high school English teachers always paid the fee for the car behind her when she drove on toll roads because she wanted to make strangers smile. She once pulled up to the teller only to learn that the car ahead of her had already paid her fare, so she paid for the next two people in line after her!

I’ve often wondered if they kept that chain of kindness going. It’s nice to think that they did.

How have all of your reading habits been this year? What do you find effective when you’re in a reading slump?

An Exclusive Interview with Summer

Over the past year I’ve interviewed  springautumn, and winter. Today I’m back with an exclusive interview with summer!

pineapple wearing sunglasses and a party hatLydia: …

Summer: …

Lydia: So about the pineapple head. Didn’t we agree that you’d show up in human form today?

Summer: Technically, yes. Since pineapple heads are more interesting, I decided to improvise.

Lydia: Okay, will I be talking to a pineapple for this entire interview?

Summer: Maybe, maybe not. But at least I’m not perpetually late like spring is! I even showed up early this year.

Lydia: I can’t even argue with that. You made your presence well known in May and June. What have you been up to?

Summer: Growing and stuff.

Lydia: Yes, that is what you’re known for. Can you tell me more about how that process works? Spring and Autumn have both talked about how much effort you three put into the growing season.

Summer: The plants are the ones doing most of the heavy lifting there. We mostly just need to keep them on task. Jack Frost and Mother Nature used to help us set the schedule there. It’s gotten trickier now that the climate is changing so quickly, but at least some of the plants like heat waves.

Lydia: You don’t seem very concerned. I’m surprised. Some of your coworkers had a very different approach to this problem.

Summer: I’m concerned about my heat-sensitive plants and animals, but I can’t fix anything. It’s up to you humans to figure out how strong you want your summers to be. You do seem to be improving lately, though.

Lydia: Yeah, we’ve been staying home more as a species.

Summer: Well, that’s good! I hope it lasts. Winter hasn’t been looking too good these past few decades. I work better when I have a stronger foe.

Lydia: Is that how you think of the other seasons?

Two pineapples floating in a poolSummer: Obviously. Isn’t this all a contest to figure out why summer is the best season of them all?

Lydia: Yeah, I don’t think that’s how any of this works.

Summer: Okay, so we grow food, too. But mostly it’s a contest and I’m winning. That’s all that matters.

Lydia: Don’t you ever think about the paperwork or logistics involved? Do the other seasons know this is how you act?

Summer: What’s understood doesn’t need to be explained.

Lydia: Wait, why are there two of you now?

Summer: Technically, you’re not talking to a pineapple anymore. You’re talking to two of us which means I’m following the rule.

Lydia: You like to look for technicalities, don’t you?

Summer: It’s by far the best way to spend your summer. I mean, how else are humans going to count ice cream sandwiches as dinner or decide they don’t need to wear sunscreen at the beach after all?

Lydia: I don’t even know anymore.

Summer: Now you’re getting the spirit.

Lydia: This wasn’t what I was expecting, but somehow you’re exactly who you needed to be.

Summer: Thank you.

Lydia: No, thank you. This interview has been very illuminating.

Summer: I aim to please.

Why Writers Should Eavesdrop Regularly

Incidentally, I’ve also pick up some fabulous ideas for poems and stories as well by watching people! You’d be surprised by how much you can learn about writing dialogue as well as human nature in by quietly observing how they interact with each other in public. Perhaps this should be the topic of a future post? What do you think?

From What Is the Difference Between Mindfulness and Meditation? 

A few years ago, I mentioned wanting to blog about eavesdropping as a tool for improving your writing. Today I’m finally digging into this topic in the form of telling a few true stories!

Man in red polo shirt sitting in front of chalkboard and holding his hand up to his ear as if to eavesdrop. One of my college professors sent us out to eavesdrop as part of a creative writing assignment. We were instructed to write down the conversation and then analyze the flow of it in order to make the dialogue in our stories more realistic in the future.

I shared no hints about the identities of the people I eavesdropped on in my assignment in order to protect their privacy. It was only about listening to the way people really speak in casual conversations.

For some reason, there weren’t a lot of talkative students at my college when I ventured out to work on this assignment. It took a few tries to overhear anything useful, and the conversation I eventually found myself listening to involved a date a fellow student had recently been on and how it had unfolded.

If only I could have heard his date’s version of their time together! He seemed to take the entire experience very lightly, almost like a joke. I still wonder if she reacted to it the same way.

What I remember the most about that experience was how fascinating it was to only have pieces of the story. I could certainly extrapolate all sorts of things about how he spent his free time and where they might have met, but the nature of human conversations means that all sorts of questions will go unanswered if you drop into the middle of a story.

Shot of people's legs and feet as they sit on a busListening to the way people really speak was also incredibly informative. The conversation I overheard was filled with friendly interruptions and all sorts of detours into other, mostly-related topics.

After turning in my paper, I quietly decided to continue eavesdropping over the years.

A few years after that I was taking a bus trip and happened to sit next to two young girls who seemed to be pretty unfamiliar with rural life.

One of them spotted a house in the distance. She hadn’t realized that people lived “out in the middle of nowhere” (read: not in a city or town) and wondered how they managed to keep food in the house without any stores around!

Her friend was just as puzzled as she was. There was no resolution to be had for them that day in how “those poor folks” managed to stay fed.

I gently bit my lip to avoid publicly reacting in a way that might cause her any embarrassment at all. Like I said, they were quite young and may never have thought about these things before.

Several years ago, my spouse and I decided to grab lunch at a local outdoor burger joint that serves amazing french fries. Our fry order was ready before our burgers were finished, so I carefully carried them over to a nearby table and sat down to wait for my spouse the rest of the food.

A preschooler suddenly zoomed over and sat in the chair next to me, a perfect stranger. His mortified mother called him back over again.

He refused to budge. There were enough french fries there for more than one person, so of course the nice lady would share with him! (Actually, I would have been happy to share a bite or two if I’d known his parents and had their permission).

She called him over again, telling him it was rude to interrupt someone else’s date. I chuckled as he admitted defeat and slunk back over to her without a single fry for his efforts.

Had she already ordered fries for him? Did he grow up in a family where all of the grown ups shared their food with him? I have so many unanswered questions there, but it made for a pretty funny moment.

Black and white photo of a black pug tilting her head in confusion None of these anecdotes have made it into one of my stories (yet?), but they have taught me about the ways people think and how many different ways the same tale can be told depending on whose perspective you look at.

Humans are delightfully unpredictable creatures.

Your interpretations won’t always match mine and vice versa. I’m sure that all of these folks would remember details of those days that I’ve forgotten or that I interpreted in different ways.

The beautiful thing about listening is just how much it can reveal.

An Exclusive Interview with Winter

Last year I interviewed spring and autumn. Today I’m back with an exclusive interview with winter! I’ll conclude this series with an interview with summer later on this year…that is, assuming winter eventually decides to concede their post. Winter: Hey, I heard that! Lydia: My apologies. I didn’t think you’d join us quite so soon. Winter:  Well,… Read More

My 20 Most Popular Posts of 2019

Every December I catalogue my most popular posts of the year. This is something I first began doing in 2017 with a roundup of my 10 most popular posts. Last year, I decided to double that number in response to my blogging buddies Terry Tyler and Tom Williams doing the same thing. I was surprised… Read More