Boundbytheword Blog

keep updated in the world of Debris

At the mercy of the book club… June 30, 2011

We all need a dose of medicine now and again. Everyone knows how the song goes…A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down…

If a good shot of medicine can make you better and still taste sweet, I say take it. Drown yourself in it. We’re talking metaphorical medicine of course, not anything as radical as a cough syrup cocktail or nose spray festival. The medicine for me came in the form of a book club, aptly named “The Bent Pages”, who took on my novel Debris as their featured book selection.

Let me start by saying I completely admire people who organize or attend a book club. I’m thrilled that there are actually people who digest and then dissect words that authors have painstakingly crafted. That they try to understand what a writer’s motivations were, and want to understand the characters and place themselves right in the little rural town sketched on the page is commendable.  As a writer, it gets me giddy. It’s also scary as hell, but it’s much like parachuting that way. It’s terrifying but exhilarating, and at the last moment you have to seriously ask yourself “What did I get myself into?”

I first put my novel out for review when my dear friend Rhonda offered up her book club to take on Debris. I jumped at the chance. I wanted to get a pulse on my work from readers. I get regular feedback from writers as part of a critiquing circle, but this was different. They were readers, not writers and that meant they could be ruthless when it came to the story.  When I got the manuscripts back from Rhonda I was elated. Six women had read my book and offered feedback and supportive comments that motivated me to delve into edits again. It also encouraged me to send out a new batch of queries (as the courage to do so happens only when I have the strength to serve myself up on a platter). The inner critic in me wondered if Rhonda had threated the book club ten harsh whacks with the Da Vinci Code if they didn’t give me a good review, but in the end the feedback boosted my confidence as well as caught some copy edits and offered some areas for improvement. What a gift!

My second book club opportunity came when another of my dear friends, Margareta, went out to lunch with her dear friend Karen. After mentioning that she was reading Debris, Karen offered her book club as reviewers. I was up for round two with a newbook club, and they invited me to join them the night of their meeting to sit in on the conversation. Yahoo!  Eeks!

When I arrived there last week, I was blown away. The spread in the kitchen rivalled that of a baby shower, which I suppose is fitting since Debris is officially my first born novel.  There was plenty of wine and food to help me cope with any critiquing jitters I had going on. The women were warm, inviting, and in a stunning twist – as nervous as I was. They hadn’t had a real author attend one of their book club events.  “A real author?”  I loved them already!

Besides the manuscripts they handed back to me with comments, critiques and kudos, they also had segments of the evening that they delegated to character, plot, wildcard topics and author (my favourite). Since I didn’t have a bio easily accessible to them, one of the members – Jayne – decided she would interview me, CBC Radio style.  For anyone who knows me, it goes without saying this was euphoric for me. Seriously? You’re going to ask me questions about my life and then the whole group will sit captivated while I talk? And you’ll laugh at my jokes?  Bliss.

The night was a great success. The women were candid and precise about what worked for them, what they wanted more of, and what was…well, meh. I came away with ten manuscripts filled with comments and suggestions from seasoned readers who take book club very seriously. They even ended the night with famous chocolate brownies – in homage to one of my main characters, Helen (who bakes them whenever life gets tough).  The woman of “The Bent Pages” really take it to the next level. For their review of novel Water For Elephants, they dressed in character. Wow. I can only remind them how much fun reviewing my next book – Life as a Teenage Mutant (set in the 80’s) would be for them. Can you say Madonna dress up?

Note to my favourite-ever book clubs: it’s ready and waiting for your eager pens when you want her!

For writers out there – find yourself a book club if you want honest feedback about your manuscript.You won’t get more enthusiasm and honesty than this.  If you are an avid reader, or part of a book club, offer yourself up to writers that are hungry for feedback!  We want you…desperately.

Thank you, thank you to Rhonda’s Book Club at the Pub, and The Bent Pages. I owe you one!


Life As A Teenage Mutant… June 29, 2011

Filed under: What's Up? — Noelle Bickle / Abby Brooks @ 3:12 PM

It’s done! All 80,573 words of my second novel, Life As a Teenage Mutant are typed and the manuscript is finished! (enter the choir!). I know June has been hit and miss with my blog posts, but I know you’ll forgive me since I was in crazywriter  mode trying to meet my deadline. And I did! I can’t tell you what it feels like to have finished the work by my goal time, albeit cutting it very close. I needed to have it completed by the time the kids finished school because I can edit, but not write when they are running around in regular life. Wooooo Hooooo for me! Just in time to go to the Humber School for Writers in one week and plug my book any chance I get, and just in time to make sure I get at least a little sunshine on my face.

Want to know what readers have in store for them with this gritty coming of age story?

For twelve-year-old Abby, living in rural Southern Ontario with her parents, her sister Dawn, and the occasional wandering cow, life in the early eighties is simple if not boring.  That is, until her parents have a gig out-of-town, Dawn has a party, and a family friend creeps into Abby’s room and rapes her.  Abby struggles through middle and high school with an eating disorder, a dysfunctional family and her own abusive relationships all in a drug induced haze. When Abby’s gotten clean and brave enough to go to the police, the man is charged with her rape. All’s well, that ends well. Except…after the charges are laid, her abuser takes matters into his own hands.

Wish me luck in finding a brave agent and brilliant publisher to get this work published. It’s writing that matters. Cross your fingers and toes for me.


It’s getting crowded in here! June 21, 2011

We do too much. To-do lists are never-ending, we have people counting on us, we have responsibilities and obligations and anchors. We have regular everyday life to contend with on top of the extra stuff we pile onto the heap of things waiting for our attention. We are drowning in duties.  I guess the one consolation is that no one is alone in this regard. If you look around, everyone is reaching for that life-preserver, trying to keep their head above water and are just relived they can still see land, even if it is a tiny dot in the far off horizon. Life in our time is a mix of chaos and committment. We’ve become a nation of energizer bunnies.


I felt guilt the other day when I heard other parents talking about putting their kids in soccer and baseball and a billion other lessons so their summer weeks are full of evening games and endless practices. I haven’t signed my kids up for a thing. Not true, actually. Lainey will be going to Karate camp, Figure Skating Camp, and Wet and Wild Camp – but they are daytime camps that will keep her busy and me sane. Our evenings I’ve hoarded. I don’t want to drag each of my kids out twice a week, but in different sports which never run on the same night, so really four nights a week.  I don’t want to sit and watch them play a game with other parents I don’t know and don’t have time to make friends with. I don’t want to sit through the rain and pretend I don’t mind.  Does this make me a bad parent? Maybe, but my kids will probably survive it.


It was my little gift to myself. I want an obligation-free summer. I want to go where the wind takes us and not be bound by a 6pm game. I want to sit on the porch and savour BBQ’d steaks instead of doing a round of toasted tomato sandwiches because we only have 30 minutes before we have to be in uniform and out the door. In neglecting to sign them up for evening sports this summer, I’ve struck a to-do off my list so I can relax and smell the flowers this summer. I hope you all ditch a to-do on your list and join me in the revolution. Get rid of what you don’t want/don’t need/don’t have time for/don’t have the energy for/don’t give a shit about. Won’t you come along for the ride? What “should be” are you ditching this summer? Do tell…


A little passion please… June 17, 2011

Everyone needs something in life to be passionate about. And I don’t mean shopping, chocolate. your work or your kids. I mean something that stirs the spirit and is for you and only you. Something that marks your place in the world, gives you the feeling that you finally fit.


A neighbour told me she was embarrassed to say she didn’t have a passion, that she was almost 50 and hadn’t found one yet. But we all have something that moves us more than anything else, even if we haven’t recognized it as our passion yet. You can’t look to others to help you find it either.  I can’t understand my husband’s love of flying and he can’t understand my love of  writing. We may admire it and encourage it – but I have no desire to fly anywhere unless it lands me on a beach, and he doesn’t much like to read let alone write.


For many years, my husband Will dreamt about owning his own airplane. Sure you can rent one and fly around, but that hobby makes a season of golf look like cheap entertainment. He worked on me seriously for about 5 years to buy his own plane, which I thought was crazy – who buys a plane? Let me rephrase that – who in our tax bracket buys a plane? But after many years of trying to work out a plan, Will bought a plane this spring with six other men. Nothing fancy, a Cessna. I think it’s a ’86, which isn’t that old in terms of planes I guess, and it’s the same age as my oldest daughter and she’s holding up great. And after all the arguments about the logistics and financial aspects, after the years of him wanting and me not understanding, he has his plane and I finally get it – he now gets to feed his passion.


Yesterday he went for a flight after work and flew over the house, did a couple of roundabouts while the kids and I ran out and did cartwheels on the front lawn in order to say hello to him flying overhead. He was thrilled and our level of contribution consisted of nothing more than a little gymnastics and an exuberant wave from the ground.


The kids waving up to Dad


My point is,  Will has something just for him now. His happiness with flying doesn’t depend on me or anyone else. He can rely on his passion to bring him happiness, peace, comfort, satisfaction. All the same things that writing does for me. And I can’t imagine not being able to write.  If we’ve done things right, our children will leave us to make healthy happy families of their own. We can’t depend on them to make us happy (just ask anyone with a teenager). It isn’t fair to put the burden of “complete me” onto a spouse either, because at the end of the day we need to know if all else fails there’s something that will sustain our inner selves. Bring us back from the damaged places, shed some light on the dark parts, and bring us joy when all else fails. Our very own piece of heaven, our passion.


The thing you need to remember about passion is it’s completely different from commercial success. What seems to hold people back is this notion that you have to do something and get somewhere with its success. But that isn’t true. It’s enough to love basketball, play basketball, read about basketball, watch basketball – you don’t have to be a NBA player in order for the game to be your passion. In order for it to be what fills you.


If you haven’t found your passion yet, don’t despair. It’s easier than you think to find it. Just answer the rest of this sentence: I’ve always wanted to… or I wish I could…


The answer is right there in you. Maybe you’ve always wanted to try but were afraid to go out on that limb. Just go for it. On the very top of the highest branch is where you’ll find it. Don’t be afraid to reach.


A little snip here, a little tuck there… June 14, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — Noelle Bickle / Abby Brooks @ 2:41 PM
Tags: , , ,

My parents are packing up the house we grew up in and moving someplace more manageable. A condo perhaps, that part’s still undecided. But one thing is certain, clean-up has begun. And that means things that have been stored there for many years are finding their way out of the closets and attic and being passed along or put to rest. Treasures are being unburied. Case in point – my wedding dress.

I’m not exactly sure why the dress has been at my mother’s for the past 13 years, but it has, and other than one occasion about 10 years ago, I haven’t pulled it out and looked at it since. I loved that dress, Raw silk, detachable train, fine details that made it perfect. I wore it with a tiny pearl tiara and a fingertip veil. I felt very princess-like.

Of course I wanted to pull out my lovely dress, hold it up to the light and admire it. Maybe I’d even try it on for old times’ sake. Feel like a princess again.

Well, that dream was squashed the minute I held the tiny dress up in my hands. What happened? Could it have shrunk being packed away? Maybe being in the dark? Did elves come in the night and alter my beautiful gown? It was small. Or then again, maybe it wasn’t the garment that shrunk as much as it was the princess who grew. Sadly, gasp, that dress was more than 30 pounds ago. How the hell did that happen?

Who knew marriage was so bad for your health?

So in the end, I just petted it for a while because I care enough about my mental health that I avoided trying it on and devastating myself. I did try on the tiara and veil instead (hurrah – it fit!), After giving a few twirls I packed it up again nicely and made some June resolutions to eat less and exercise more. Oy. Maybe the elves in my attic can make some alterations that let out the side seams a bit. I still am princess-like after all.


A Brilliant Or Bad Parent? June 8, 2011

My kids missed the bus for the third time this week.


It comes at the same time every day, and we have the same routine every day. I wake them up. I get clothes out for them. I get breakfast ready. I pack the lunches. I hustle them to get moving. I slather them in sunscreen. I strap the backpacks on and push them out the door. They stall. They complain. They whine about another day, and another bus ride, and another rushed morning. But we normally make it in time. Some days the bus driver (bless his thoughtfulness) waits at the end of the driveway a moment to see if the kids are barreling down in a mad rush. Some days the kids get to saunter down the driveway with ample time to pick buttercups or pet the horses next door. But most days they squeak out of the house with just enough time to walk quickly down the drive, and wait for under a minute for the bus to pick them up.


Maalik and I go for our walk right after the kids get on the bus, spend about an hour pounding the pavement and getting in our morning exercise. So when the kids miss that darn bus and I have to drive them, I often postpone the walk. Since I’m already out in the car, I run my errands and do any business I have to do in town. That means my pooch is seriously bummed out that he’s waiting until I return in order for his favourite time of the day, walk time. Yesterday, the second time this week the kids missed the bus, Maalik actually sat whining at the door as I got my keys because he knew what my chauffeuring the kids to school meant to him. Waiting.


So today when we heard the bus approaching from down the road and knew they’d never make it, I was steamed. They were up almost 90 minutes before bus time…how is it possible that they could miss it?


Its days like today that the little light in my head blazes like a beacon, telling me my kids have it way too good. I still lay their clothes out and pour their cereal for goodness sakes. I essentially hand them to the school day on a silver platter. But today, missing that bus the third time in as many days, I lost it. I’d already been threatening punishments as they lumbered away putting on their shoes. I hadn’t said what the punishment would be, just “If you guys miss that bus again, you’re getting punished.” Still, they dilly-dallied until we heard the roar of that big engine coming up the line.


In a state of panic I barked, “If you miss that bus, you guys are walking to school!”


Of course, it might have been better to give them that threat when they still had a fighting chance to run fast and make it. But there it was. I’d made the threat, and the bus barrelled on by. But before you think I was regretting the comment, I need to remind you that I was still mad, with a whining non-walked dog beside me, so I didn’t stop there. No.  As they kids are running down the 400-yard driveway, yelling “Wait!” at the top of their lungs, I yelled out after them. “Better start walking!”


So now I had a dilemma. I’d yelled a threat out of frustration. But I didn’t really expect the kids would miss the bus and have to walk the 3 km to school. But there it was. I had threatened it, they had missed it, and now I was stuck. I couldn’t have said “no snack after school” or “no computer”?  Nope. My threat of punishment was far worse – the threat of physical exertion. Feel the burn of what it was like back in the old days, like me, walking miles in the snow, the rain, the scorching heat. That’s what I’m talking about.


Oh, curse my idle threats!


But now, here we were. They walked back up the driveway and into the house with heads hung low. Well, actually, only my son did that. My daughter stayed outside looking for caterpillars, that’s how scared she was. Hmm.


The few minutes it took them to get back up to the house gave me enough time to consider my options. I could renege on my threat and just guilt them, which is totally what my husband would have done. (you know you would have, Will) Or I could stay true to my word and my ridiculous threat and make them walk. I choose the latter.


I did drive the van behind them though, because I may have been acting the tyrant, but I’m not heartless. I did make them carry their backpacks (which now, after the tension has lifted and I’ve had time to reflect, that may have been unnecessary…lol).


My son, who is twelve, was shocked. He kept looking back behind him, anticipating the moment when I said, “Okay, just kidding, get in the van”. But I didn’t. My daughter, who is eight, trucked along indifferent to the penalty, humming as she went. My dog, who I thought would at least get a walk out of it to enjoy, was a complete mess. He kept sitting in front of the van, parking himself right in the middle of the road and whining. As if to say – this isn’t how we do walks, what the hell is going on here? Somehow it was more of a reprimand for him than it was the kids.


By the time we got to the school, I figured my kids would never want to miss that bus again. I really showed them. Proud of myself for sticking to my guns and giving them a good lesson that they wouldn’t soon forget, I got out to sign them into class since we were now 15 minutes past the bell. I wondered if the kids might pout about being worn out, complain that it wasn’t fair.

“Did I miss language?” Lainey asked.

“Fifteen minutes of it.” I told her.

“What? That’s it? Darn.”

Sam gave me a kiss goodbye. “Can we walk to school again tomorrow?” He asked.

“Yeah, that was really fun. Let’s do it tomorrow.” Lainey piped in.


My rotten little kids have a cunning way of taking all the fun out of dictatorship.


My day as a carnie-freak June 1, 2011

Filed under: What's Up? — Noelle Bickle / Abby Brooks @ 9:10 AM
Tags: , , ,

I was on popcorn duty at my kid’s school yesterday, and spent the better part of two hours standing over one of those big carnival-style popping machines. We made 300 bags of perfectly fluffed, buttered, and lightly salted popcorn to hand out to the students as a way to perk up their week. What better way than free popcorn for everyone?

It seemed like a great plan, except nobody could have predicted the record-high day, and had we been able to, we wouldn’t have chosen to spend it hunched over a machine churning out heat in building with no air-conditioning or even decent air flow. Nothing like a good sweat in the morning to get that metabolism going. It was steamy, and I don’t mean in a good way.

After it was all bagged up, we took it to the classrooms and the kids went CRAZY. Running in the halls, cries of desperation, bodies crunching together at the front of the class trying to get their hands on a bag of that stuff. There was complete panic when some of them found out the cheddar cheese seasoning had not been sprinkled on, and that they had to wait for the shaker to be passed around to get a seasoning fix. They waited impatiently, and carefully monitored their peer’s cheddar intake.

“Whoa! Whoa! You’ve had enough!”

“Save some for the rest of us!”

“You’re hogging it! Pass it over!”

It was deemed unacceptable behaviour for a kid to sprinkle five shakes of the stuff instead of two or three by the anxious faced classmates sitting with plain popcorn. Scrambling hands reached out to grab the small jar of powder that could apparently make-or-break this popcorn experience. It was pandemonium.

Which led me to wonder – is this what carnival workers go through all day, every day of the summer season? Chaos and panic over one last ride, the biggest candy apple, or an extra sprinkle of popcorn seasoning? I’ve often thought it would be an interesting job, travelling from town to town, meeting all different kinds of people in a setting that’s all fun, all the time. But is it?  You have to consider that at least half their job is listening to overstimulated kids coddled by overtired parents. After only one morning on popcorn duty, I realized I wasn’t cut out for life as a carnie. It’s a good thing I’m a writer.

I may just speak a little more sweetly to the cotton candy vendor with the missing teeth and hair like Einstein. I can probably bet he’s had a long day.