Surrey Tidbits

Yesterday, I posted my earthshaking thoughts on the conference that changed my life.

Today, I’ll give you a few more funny things I learned this weekend. While not earthshaking, they are entertaining and added to the experience:

  • Sharan Newman is fabulous to talk to about Bernard of Clairvaux. For art history geeks like me, this was fun. I’ve made a note to myself to speak to her more next year. I love her saying, “Never set a book somewhere you don’t want to visit!”
  • Sam Sykes has nice dimples, and uses a stuffed walrus for comfort when he gets nervous.
  • Andy Ross does not like oversimplification, such as pitching something like “Danielle Steel Meets Finnegan’s Wake.” Give him a little more than that.
  • JJ Lee used to be a Dungeons and Dragons geek. Without him, I would not have known about two-handed swords not being able to take out gelatinous cubes.
  • Victoria Marini likes Iggy Pop. This was cool, because so do I, and so should you.
  • Diana Gabaldon has a thing for dachshunds.
  • You can always recognize KC Dyer by her day’s wacky tights choices– multicolor and stripey Wicked Witch of the East were especially popular.
  • C.C. Humphreys makes a great morlock.
  • Susanna Kearsley wants to ensure that we never call ourselves “aspiring” writers ever again. We’re writers. Period.
  • Michael Slade likes the word outre’.
  • Don Maas is very passionate about whatever he speaks on, even going to the grocery store and getting annoyed at people like me. Next year, I need to buy that man a drink.
  • Jack Whyte’s voice really IS as great as they say it is. Imagine the booming bass of a Blaupunkt in that old GTO driving by. Now imagine it’s a Scottish accent. And giggle a little, because he’s quite handy with the ladies.
  • Nephele Tempest doesn’t like body parts described as foods. This automatically rules out one of my favorite lines that I’ve written. So I won’t be querying Nephele.

Let me reiterate here. This past weekend changed my life. If you are a writer, and you have not been to the Surrey International Writers Conference, you must find a way to go. Beg, borrow, or steal, as they say. But do it.

Surrey, how I adore you…

Room party!

It has taken me two whole days of recuperation to coherently put a blog post together.

All I can say is, if you’re a writer, and you have not yet been to a conference, you MUST GO. And while I heard some nightmare stories about several other cons from various folks who’d gone in either amateur or professional capacities, I heard only good things about Surrey. And now I believe the hype.

Imagine a ton of people, just like you, who hear the voices in their heads, who create strange worlds (or like me, visit the one we’re in 100 or so years ago), and who all come together for three or four days. They listen to those who work in the field, they get advice, and they attempt to break into the big time by putting their foot on the first rung of that ladder (using agent and editor pitch appointments…).

It’s a pretty heady place to be. Especially if you get good feedback on your Blue Pencil appointment or a positive response to your pitch. I had both.

The agent I pitched to was honest with me initially, saying she was having a problem with selling something sort of like mine (that really isn’t, but only Hollywood related), but she also wondered if it might be the other writer’s voice that was the issue. I explained that the one thing everyone comments on after reading mine is that they love the voice. She dug my platform, and wanted to hear about the other books I was working on in a similar vein. When I was done, she requested a full. So I’ve been spending my days cleaning it up, and I also tweaked it to include the bit of feedback that I received from my Blue Pencil writer, Susanna Kearsley. If you haven’t bought any of her books, you must. Especially if you like the old gothics like Mary Stewart, Phyllis Whitney, and Victoria Holt.

I had really been at a bit of a low ebb before I went, wondering if it was worth it, and not knowing if my stuff was any good. It’s one thing to have your betas or your writing group telling you something, but when it’s echoed by someone who has been there, and who is able to lend it a discerning eye and still tell you that you have a great voice and that you can write, that means everything. All it took was that little pat on the back, and I was able to take that confidence to my pitch and not freak the fuck out as I was doing it. Susanna’s keynote address also helped with that. I am not an “aspiring” writer. I’m a writer. I have to force myself to remember that sometimes, but it’s true.

Plus, now I know the importance of the bar networking. My first night or so, I was so new, and didn’t know anyone, so I was kind of staying to myself until the sessions began. But I did end up meeting some great gals in the bar, and much wine was drunk. Next year, I will milk every minute even more than I did this year. I still came home with an amazing new bunch of friends, and a thick stack of business cards. Next year, I’m determined to meet EVERYBODY. Or at least say hello to some of the more prominent folk, some of whom I was a little too intimidated to talk to this year. They’re too nice not to talk to!

For those of you considering it for next year…

Let’s Make a Date Muffins….

These are from the Eat Feed Autumn Winter Cookbook by Anne Bramley. I picked mine up from the sale rack at Chapters last year. So many great ideas for cold weather here! I don’t mind our (really LONNNNG) winter in Edmonton so much any more since I get to pull this puppy out. And contained therein is a recipe for Prime Rib, which I had never been brave enough to try before. Loving spouse has been excited about it for that reason alone.

So without further ado, I give you the most awesome muffins in the world. Like Sticky Toffee Pudding in a  muffin cup! And you know, we Texans will find any excuse to put pecans in stuff.

Streusel Topping

2 T. flour

3 T. rolled oats

1/4 cup packed brown sugar

1/2 cup toasted pecans

2 T unsalted butter, softened


9 oz whole Medjool dates, pitted (about 14 dates or 2 cups)

3/4 cup boiling water

2 cups flour

2 1/2 t. baking powder

1/2 t. salt

4 T. (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, softened

3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar

2 eggs

1 t. vanilla

To make streusel topping:

1. In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, oats, brown sugar, and pecans. Using a fork, cut in butter until well combined and mixture begins to hold together a bit.

To make muffins:

2. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Butter a 12-cup muffin tin. Place the dates in a shallow bowl (in a single layer if possible), and pour boiling water over. Soak them for 15 minutes.

3. Transfer dates and soaking liquid to a food processor and puree until almost smooth but a few pea sized fruit pieces remain. Set aside to cool slightly.

4. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

5. In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream together the butter and brown sugar. With the motor running, mix in the eggs, one at a time. Add the vanilla. Add half of the flour mixture and mix until moistened. Follow with the date puree, and when thoroughly combined, mix in remainder of the flour mixture. Scrape down the sides and give a final stir with a spatula to make sure all ingredients are thoroughly combined. Divide the batter among the muffin cups.

6. Top with streusel and press down gently to adhere. Bake for 20-25 minutes.

Bit of a Fire Up Under My Posterior…

It appears to have happened at last. Ignition!

After my last book, I went through a bit of a grieving period. Happen to you? You’ve grown so attached to this character (especially if you’ve been writing in the first person), that you can’t get them out of your head.

Ollie was like that for me. She was a pistol– a smart-ass with an attitude, a two-fisted drinker with a fondness for men who were bad for her, and I adored being her for a year or two. Thinking like her and giving her a voice.

Having to move on was really tough. I’ve picked up and discarded ideas for months. It wouldn’t take much for me to find a reason to stop.  NOTHING seemed to be flowing just right. Even the amazing idea I got while on vacation over the summer just wasn’t singing yet. And my search for daytime gainful employment made things even harder. I wasn’t starving, but things were getting pretty hairy in the financial sector  here at Casa Giles.

At last, I have a job locked in. I start early next month. And that was evidently all it took to jar me out of my torpor. A book I’ll call Project X has also been picked up and discarded several times. My problem has been deciding on voice, and choosing a framework. I’ve made four different attempts to start, I’ll go for a while, and then despise where it’s going so much I collapse in the corner and suck my thumb. Not really, but it can feel that way…when you want nothing more than to hibernate under the covers and listen to the cat purr so you can feel better about life and fiction in general.

This time, I was determined to make it work, so I began inserting matchsticks between those sagging chapters to hold them up. Then, popsicle sticks. The framework has now become solid 2 x 4’s. I’m looking forward to replacing those with steel girders as time passes. They appear to be holding the weight at this point, so I’m grateful. Now if I can just get through this first draft. I’m sitting at about 43,000 words. I can DO this, dammit.

Everyone always says “first drafts are shit.” But in this case, this is some of the hardest shit I’ve ever had to work for! I’ll take it. If it’s anything like Ollie, I may be looking at seventeen rewrites, but hey. This is what being a writer is all about. Right?

Surrey is almost here!

I’m excited, terrified, and possessed with a spirit of adventure. I’ll be attending my first writers conference next week–the Surrey International Writers Conference in Surrey, BC. (

This will be the first time I’ll actually be able to rub shoulders with other writers, agents, editors, publishers…the whole gamut! Thanks to my loving spouse, who hated seeing me so dejected after an especially painful rejection, I was able to sign up.

And I think it’s fate that this is the first year I’m going. It’s the 20th anniversary of the conference, so our late night affair is 20s themed. How perfect is THAT?? My buds at Yelp here in Edmonton had a Prohibition party this past March, so I already have the perfect shoes, the perfect cloche hat, and even a silver flask for the occasion. I couldn’t resist the urge to pimp my genre just a little.

If anyone else is going, please introduce yourself and say hi. I’ll know two people there already, but it will be nice to know a few more! Especially if you’re into historicals. Both my friends are sci-fi folks. So I need to expand my conference circle.

See you there, aloha!






Hey everyone! The winners of the blog hop were chosen this evening, so here they are:

1. Catherine lee  KINDLE FIRE
2. Duckysblue  SWAG BAG #1
3. Cassandra  SWAG BAG #2

I’ll be choosing a winner for this blog tomorrow after I recuperate from today’s Thanksgiving dinner.

Congratulations to the winners!