Merry Christmas!

Today is Christmas Day, and it is best spent relaxing with friends and family, enjoying laughter, food, gifts and games. Beyond these satisfying activities, it is also the perfect time to reflect on your accomplishments, goals and favorite memories of the past year. You may find, like many people, that a change in plans or a re-altering of goals is in order. The important thing is to actually set some goals! Whatever your goals and plans may be,  I hope 2018 delivers peace and prosperity to you and your family.

clip art xmas trees

 

My Funny Valentine Story

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Valentine’s Day! Hooray! I made a quick trip to my local bookstore—Chapter’s. Wandering about the store, a salesperson approached me, handing me an in-store coupon. The salesperson politely explained that if I purchased a greeting card in the store, today, I could have my coupon scratched at the cash counter for a discount ranging from 5% to 100% off my purchase. I considered this for a moment. Most likely I’d get 5% off which might not even balance out the cost of a greeting card (let’s be honest, cards are expensive these days).

I asked the salesperson, “What if I get a 5% coupon, can I then change my mind and put the greeting card aside?”

The salesperson smiled in surprise. “Well, I’m not sure, no one’s ever asked that before.”

Of course not.

Fast forward. I finished shopping and lined up for my turn at the cash counter. The cashier waved me over and as I presented my coupon, I went through my spiel.

Her response? “I’m not sure if you can do that, no one’s ever asked that before.”

Of course not.

Suddenly, the cashier smiled. Bigger and wider than before. Her eyebrows shot up in delight.

“Guess what?”

“What?”

“You get 50% off your purchase today!”

I smiled, bigger and wider than before.

“That’s fantastic!”

On my way out of the store, I tracked down the salesperson who kindly gave me the coupon, informing her I’d been duly caught off guard and actually received 50% off my purchase.

Her response? “I know!”

“How do you know?” I asked.

She laughed. “The whole store knows! You’re the only person today who received 50% off!”

Meaningful Valentine’s Day Gifts

HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY!

cookie hearts

Valentine’s Day is a day to celebrate your significant other. What better way to show your love than by giving a unique gift, one filled with meaning? There’s nothing wrong with a bouquet of flowers or a box of chocolates, but gifts with a bit more meaning attached may be remembered and enjoyed far longer.

Here’s my list of Top Ten Valentine’s Day gifts:

  1. Handmade card

valentine's cards

Cards today are ridiculously expensive and often get tossed away shortly afterward. Have you ever received a handmade card? Perhaps it’s the labor that went into making it, or the thought, but either way, a handmade card is always treasured and personal.

  1. Travel book

travel books

If you and your partner love exploring and traveling, why not gift him/her with a beautiful photography travel book? You can choose a book focusing on a specific country, or one that encompasses the world. A book is always a great gift and in this case you can sit down together and plot your next destination!

  1. Personalized treat bag

valentine's treat bags

Fill a bag with candy your loved one prefers. If they’re into white chocolate, caramel, marshmallows, licorice, etc. fill it with sweets of their liking. Attach a note with your own message.

  1. Mail delivery gift

macarons

How about a gift that keeps on giving? You can arrange a monthly gift for your loved one, whether it’s monthly delivered chocolates, cookies, flowers, or a magazine subscription. Your other half will have something to look forward to each month and your thoughtfulness will keep on giving for months.

  1. Write a love letter

love letter

Sound corny? Your loved one won’t think so. No one writes letters in cursive script anymore. But imagine writing down your thoughts about the person you love. List the reasons you fell in love or recall past memories. A love letter will only take a few minutes of your time but will be entirely unexpected—which is a feat unto itself these days.

  1. Art work

birth of venus

Does your loved one have a passion for something? Have you visited museums? Why not gift your spouse with a piece of artwork they’ve always coveted. It doesn’t have to be Van Gogh! Maybe it’s a colorful piece that reminds you of your tropical honeymoon. Or a team photo of your spouse’s favorite team.

  1. Unique flower arrangement

floral heart wreath

Flowers are popular gifts for Valentine’s Day. No wonder. They’re beautiful and often expensive. But how about a unique floral arrangement? Maybe a wreath of flowers or an unexpected arrangement. Does your spouse love desert climates? Your florist can arrange cactuses in a pottery bowl or box. Visit your florist, they have great ideas.

  1. Camper couch

camper couch

Whether you like to camp or not, a camper couch is a nifty idea and a great excuse to lounge close together. Put it in your yard, or on your deck and it will be a great conversation starter.

  1. Personalized gift

wine bottle

This is easy to do nowadays with online printing services. You could create your own wine bottle label and attach it to a favored bottle. This gesture is no longer reserved for wedding gifts only. Or how about a personalized pillow, with a mug of your loved one’s favorite pet? The possibilities are endless.

  1. Event tickets

tickets

Sometimes your spouse may need a kick of motivation to take a night off from work. What do they enjoy? Movie night, concerts, opera? Splurge on some tickets and take them out on the town. If mainstream venues are too pricey, consider buying tickets for a community theater production or orchestra event.

20 Fabulous Gifts For Writers

20 FABULOUS GIFTS FOR WRITERS

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The month of December has arrived, along with the pressing need to purchase gifts. I hate gift shopping. A lot. But it’s something that must be done and I worry endlessly about giving a ‘meaningful’ gift. I try to avoid gifting friends and family with things they’re not going to use or things they may dislike. Writers, unless they have another passionate hobby on the side, can be difficult to buy for. So I came up with this list of 20 fabulous gifts for writers. Do you have a writer on your list? Check out these great gift ideas with literary appeal.

1. Word games. Did you know several classic board games feature editions specifically for book lovers?

Jenga and Scrabble both offer book lovers editions. Other fun word games for writers include Bananagrams and Boggle.

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2. Leather journal notebook. Great for logging emails, websites, dates for book signings, or perhaps plot points for their next great masterpiece.

leather journal

3. Calligraphy set. The author on your list can practice his/her signature for their next book signing.

calligraphy pen

4. Humorous gifts. Writers have great humor. Literary toilet paper? Lettered bookends? Perhaps a literary umbrella might make them smile.

shakespeare umbrella

 

 

 

 

 

5. Book tote bag. Your writer friend can stash his/her favorite reads beside a desk or bed for easy access.

book tote bag

6. Travel gifts. It can be tedious and mundane for writers to find inspiration within the same four walls and so those lucky enough to travel for their research, consider gifting them with items that suit their travel needs. Luggage tags, travel guide books, and even a nice duffel or weekender bag would be a sure hit.

luggage tags

 

7. Literary flip-flops. Yes, there is such a thing! Bet they’ll be the only ones on the beach sporting these!

library_books_flip_flops

8. Books on writing. On Writing by Stephen King, poetry books, Writer’s Market, or Guide to Literary Agents, would definitely be appreciated. Writers love to read, especially about how to write.

king

9. Anthology collections or literary classic gift sets. Whether they’re into reading classic literature, or steamy Christmas romances, boxed gift sets or anthologies are a nice gift and will provide many hours of enjoyable reading.

SIZZLE IN THE SNOW_500x750 (2)classic romance

10. Elegant pen set. Yes, most writers save their documents on their laptop or tablet, but some prefer to record their notes in a journal. A nice pen to write with would be a thoughtful and useful gift idea.

elegant pens

 

11. Books,calendars and poetry games with inspirational quotes. Sometimes writers get the dreaded ‘writer’s block’. Or their creative juices dry up. A simple inspirational quote can bring a smile and get him/her writing again. This ‘happiness’ magnetic poetry game is a cute gift idea.

poetry kit

12. Thesaurus. While words of similarity and related meaning can be looked up online, sometimes  writers find themselves without internet connection, maybe while camping, or hiking or sitting on the beach. Think they’re not writing? Think again! Writers write everywhere and a thesaurus at the ready will be used. Guaranteed.

oxford writers thesaurus

13. Idea Paint. Now this is a cool idea that is sure to please the creative writer in your life.  Allow them a wall and the freedom to go crazy. I promise, they will. They’ll have the storyline, plot, chapters and character descriptions all laid out on the wall. Just make sure it’s a wall in an obscure place unless you don’t mind the scrawl!

idea paint

14. Vintage gifts. Old, time-worn notebooks, journals, key chains, mouse pads, anything that has a distinctly vintage look to it. How about an antique typewriter from an antique store? Writers will love this!

vintage typewriter

15. Items with literary quotes or images. Mugs, eyeglass cases or pencil cases, pillowcases, etc. The list is endless.

hemingway mug

 

 

 

 

 

 

16. Kindle reader. Writers like to read and get deals just like anyone else. A Kindle reader is a sure-fire way to delight your favorite author this Christmas.

kindle ebook device

17. Credit card chip reader. If your author friend is planning a book signing, this little gem is a life-saver. Instantly allow customers to scan and pay for their books using their credit cards. This device is easy to use and set up. It does not record or keep any personal data so people’s credit card numbers will be secure. Great gadget for those book signings and craft fairs when it’s time to sell those books!

credit card reader.jpg

18. Keyboard for tablet. This makes writing that great novel so much easier when not at home.

tablet keyboard

19. The Writer’s Tool Box. This is the perfect gift filled with ideas and games for those suffering from writer’s block!

writers toolbox

20. Book jewelry. From charms and pendants to earrings and bracelets, book jewelry is a popular item for writers and readers and anyone who loves books and jewelry. Whether you decide to purchase online, or craft something yourself, these items are delightful and whimsical and would make a great stocking stuffer.

book necklace

For these and other items, please visit the following websites:

http://www.amazon.com

http://www.cafepress.ca

http://www.theliterarygiftcompany.com

http://www.chapters.indigo.ca

The Life of a Dragon Boat Paddler

dragon in the drink team photo 2

Sometimes my writing has to move over and make room for the other passion in my life-dragon boat paddling. Dragon boats often figure in people’s minds as Asian vessels, with a fixed dragon head and tail. The sport originated in China but has since become an international phenomenon, with people of all ages and backgrounds participating. It has long been a bucket list item of mine to paddle in a dragon boat and it’s no secret to my family and friends how much I love bucket lists. So this year I decided to drag out my hefty pencil and check off one more item from my list.

When I signed on to be a dragon boat paddler I nonchalantly told the founder of the local Dragon Boat Club that I had spent many years kayaking. That much is true (though highly irrelevant as kayaking requires a different stroke). I also told him, in response to his question as to whether or not I was competitive and liked to win, “Yes, sure.” That is also true. Sounds good, right? After my first few practices I recall driving home with numb arms and legs, sores on my rear, and thinking, I just cannot do this. Never say never to a Capricorn.

I kept at it. Week after week in ever-changing weather conditions and with ever-changing body woes. Some weeks my neck was stiff, other days I couldn’t move my arms or my heart felt like it would burst out of my chest. Somehow, I found the fortitude to continue and slowly, my strength began to emerge. I had muscles where I never knew a person could have muscles. I could paddle double sets of 500 meters, and keep going, willingly. I learned to love the routine and the teammanship. Getting my own paddle and shirt became a goal. Once my cardio and technique improved, I started to enjoy myself, more and more.

Dragon boat paddling is not easy. Not for a second. It’s tough, physically demanding, and with 22 people on board (20 paddlers, 1 drummer and 1 steersperson) it requires trust and cooperation to move in sync. It’s crucial to paddle in time together. Every stroke and every second count. Every one. Everyone. When the boat would fill with water during practices, we would dutifully scoop it out, uncomplaining. When smoky skies infiltrated our lungs, we paddled. Sick, tired, sore, drenched, we paddled. I learned to watch the sky for changes in weather patterns, keeping an eye out for rogue clouds, lightning and errant jet-skiers. All because I joined a competitive team. My coach’s words came back to me. Those women will eat you up. They like to win. Well, I thought, so do I.

My first competition was an eye-opener. I traveled to another city, leaving the house before sunrise. I had my water bottle, lifejacket and paddle. The essentials for paddling. This was going to be a big challenge-my first competition and it was going to be on a river, not a lake. Racing on a river means a fast start. That means getting your paddle and body locked in and being mentally and physically ready when the horn blows. The tension mounts as the paddlers anticipate the start. Eyes are trained on the person in front of you. Arms are straight. Dig in. Go! The first few strokes mean everything.

We paddled as one, all 22 of us. And we won gold. I was ecstatic. Hooked. For our second competition, we won bronze. The next one is coming soon, and I know my team will bring everything they’ve got. We’re a winning team and we love the sport. That is dragon boat paddling-twenty two hearts beating as one.

dragonboat mayor 3

The Publishing Journey Continues

On some of my earlier posts I delved into the nitty gritty aspects of writing, what motivates and inspires me to write, and my desire to keep improving my ability to write. I also mentioned that I was determined to continue to seek publication of my novel, Hands Full of Ashes. Well, at last, I did achieve that goal! I had a handful of literary agents ‘sitting on the fence’ with regards to my manuscript. Their ultimate response of ‘no’ was not without a lot of positive comments about my ‘voice’ as a writer, and their enjoyment of the material. I even received compliments on the strength of my writing. All well and good, but I was looking for more than compliments (nice as they are). My goal was to get published.

As many previously published authors attested, patience and determination are virtues not to be underestimated. I had to keep perfecting my query letter and send it off. Again and again. Just when I thought my manuscript would accumulate cobwebs, there was a flurry of activity in my inbox. Two small, traditional presses showed interest. One big publisher showed interest but was concerned about the genre of my book. No surprise there. Hands Full of Ashes is a cross-genre story, encompassing many aspects, romance, adventure, crime and suspense among them.

After researching the smaller presses, and making some small changes, I chose to publish with Soul Mate Publishing, a small, traditional e-book and print publisher in the U.S. My story seemed firmly anchored in a grey area between women’s fiction and romance. Soul Mate Publishing seemed an ideal match.

So after two years, a story that was born during the long, hot days I spent in Rwanda, is going to see the light of day. The release date for Hands Full of Ashes is January 14, 2015! Over the past few months, I have signed the contract, received the book’s cover art, and joined a wonderful group of authors known as ‘Soulies’.

It has been quite a journey, with many lessons learned – perhaps the best lesson being that fellow writers and authors are the best source of information and support.

Hands Full of Ashes – a novel inspired by my trip to Rwanda

After my trip to Rwanda in October 2012, I had a story brewing in my mind.  I kept putting it off, busy as I was living and working as a teacher.  But the story just wouldn’t go away.  So one day, a few months after returning home, I sat down to write.  I couldn’t believe how quickly the story unfolded.  The characters and the plots were not my initial intention.  They just grew and developed.  I wrote this novel, Hands Full of Ashes over a seven month period in 2013.  It is a romantic suspense/women’s fiction novel and is a love story layered with political intrigue, love, death, and hope and it all unfolds in the region of East Africa.

The initial writing, I would soon learn, was the easy part.  The fact that I knew next to nothing about High Commissioners, or militia groups didn’t faze me in the least.  I just wrote.  And wrote some more.  The easy part was imagining the love between the main character and her love interest and enjoying the development of their passion and love as it grew and deepened. The hard part was the next stage – the editing.  After revising my manuscript and paring it down (significantly), I hired an editor and had the manuscript revised yet again.  The process has thus far lasted just over a year, from the beginning of the writing to the completion of the editing.  I am now in the publishing stage – with queries polished and sent and interest and requests (partials and fulls) from several agents and publishers. But one thing I have learned, interest does not automatically translate into commitment. It is a long road.

Being a writer is an evolutionary job.  I thought I knew all there was to know about writing!  I certainly didn’t.  I began reading oodles of books about writing – books by famous authors, and by unknown authors.  I read Stephen King’s book “On Writing”, which was a little like reading a biography while reading about writing.  At least it was entertaining.

I learned to pare my writing down, even when it felt WRONG.  I chucked out as many adverbs as I could stomach, and made sure that my character arc was consistent.  I carefully determined my genre (women’s fiction/romantic suspense) and lingered over the word count (73,000 words) making sure it wasn’t too long.  I learned more about grammar than I wanted to. Then one evening not so long ago, I sat down and read my story once again.  It was better than I could have hoped.  Powerful, sad, shocking, inspiring.  I wanted to write a moving story that was fictional yet also realistic.  I think I succeeded.  Although the story is a work of fiction, and takes place in Canada, Uganda, Rwanda and the DRC, it was inspired by Rwanda nonetheless.

Remembering the Rwandan genocide and writing about it

I remember watching news footage of the Rwandan genocide on TV when I was in my early twenties.  I was horrified by the images and by the inaction of the world as it stood by and watched the horrors being unleashed.  Many years later, I read a book by one the survivors of that genocide – “Left To Tell” by Immaculee Ilibagiza.  She was the same age I was when she endured the nightmare of that time in her homeland.

In 2012 I saw an article in my local paper seeking volunteers to journey to Rwanda to help the genocide survivors.  I didn’t hesitate.  I got my rounds of vaccinations, took a leave of absence from my teaching job, bought malaria pills and packed my suitcase.   Even though I would leave my husband and two young children behind, I just knew it was a trip I had to make.  And I am so glad that I did make that trip.

Along with my volunteer group (Developing World Connections) and the Rwandan based Building Bridges Rwanda, I learned how to level large stones so they would fit together to form a foundation, pillars and walls.  I mixed and lugged dented metal trays of mortar and I learned how to use a piece of string as a leveller.

I also learned to enjoy sitting under an acacia tree during banana break while the young men danced around us.  I learned how to make  bracelets from hyacinth stalks, and I learned to get used to filling my gut with carbohydrates day after day (plantains anyone?).  I hugged and played with the children of the village, every day.  And every day they smiled and their warmth was genuine.  I interacted with the women, some of whom were survivors of the genocide and I held their babies in my arms.  I watched them weave their stunning baskets and afterwards they neatly piled them on shelves, work done with skill and pride.  I experienced a breathtaking hike into the Virunga Volcanic mountains, to view the mountain gorillas in their natural habitat.  Unforgettable.  Remarkable.  Endangered.

I never quite got used to the accommodations, with the creepy crawlies and the bats in the night.  I gradually adjusted to our ‘neighbours’ – several hundred East African soldiers, with their Toyotas and machine guns.  I will never forget the afternoon while we were busy working and a sudden whomp whomp whomp and swirls of dirt lifting in the air alerted us to an army helicopter as it landed in a nearby field.  The soldiers were always polite to us.  Some greeted us in the morning or as we passed by on the road heading home after dinner.  The rewards of a long day of work and the pleasant company of the people I met made it all worthwhile.  Each day brought a new experience, whether it was the sudden downpour and the lightning that was so much scarier than it was back home, or finding a frog in my ‘bathtub’ (a concrete trough).  There was the blue monkey in the cage outside our rooms and the thrill of riding on the back of a mutatu taxi bike.

There were also reminders of the genocide – the museums filled to the rafters with skulls and bones, their machete and bullet hole marks clearly visible.  Churches which were supposed to be havens and which became graveyards, still housed the bodies of those killed inside – a reminder of how horrible genocide is.  Lest We Forget.  Never Again.  There were the faces of scarred survivors, wearing haunted expressions.  But the amazing thing I noted was  that life was moving along, people were going to school, to university, growing food, and clinics were being built in even the remotest villages.  It seemed clear to me that Paul Kagame was determined to bring his country into the modern world, and to try to bring national reconciliation to the forefront.

I left Rwanda wanting to return.  I will never forget those amazing people that shared a brief moment of their lives with me.  I think about their future and hope for peace for them.  Peace does not come easily, however, as the regions surrounding this tiny country are brimming with rebel armies, some supported by neighbouring governments.  Some of these groups are genocide perpetrators, waiting to strike again.  I hope that the mandate that Paul Kagame has begun will continue to take root and that the ethnic hatred stirred up – first, by the Europeans, then by Rwandans themselves, will dissipate into another time.   Rwanda is a beautiful country, both culturally and geographically.  It has so much to offer to the world.

Kim Hotzon