Deanne Ouest, Author

Moving Forward

In November I had good intentions to get writing but they were derailed when my day job got a little crazy. I am now back on track and looking forward to a productive year. To assist me I’ve engaged a writing coach. What is a writing coach you ask?

To me it is someone who assists / mentors a writer by helping them move forward, provide an objective perspective on all things and guides them thru the process with encouragement along the way. They help with setting goals; deadlines; overcoming obstacles (I.e. bogged down in the process, reached a point where you don’t know where to go next, etc.); and whatever the writer may need to help them move forward and be the best writer they can.

My overall goal is to have my coach help me determine a workable schedule and set attainable goals while they guide me thru the process of developing a clear and compelling plot, help me determine a tone, style, and voice based on my intended audience. I want to finish with a coherent and captivating final piece of literature that I am proud to publish and share.

I envision the process will take me from my initial partial draft (which I’ve just sent – OMG – a slight panic attack after I hit send), various drafts (I expect a few) to the editorial process (editing, copyediting, and proofreading) and finally the end goal being a product that I can publish with a sense of accomplishment and pride.

As I finished writing this blog, I realized a few things:

1. The first person who will read what I have written is a successful multi-published author.
2. I wonder what I was thinking when I hit send.
3. I am optimistic and hopeful that my submission will not be completely marred with red ink.
4. At this moment in time, my dream of being a published author has transition into becoming a reality.

Wow. Now all I have to do is wait on the feedback – which is equal parts scary and exciting.

Next. . . Feedback – Where do I go from here?

Photographs – A self-portrait.


I love taking photos. When I travel, I always take too many photographs. It is one of the reasons I love digital. I no longer have to ration my photos to the 24 on the roll of film. I can take as many as I want and decide later.

Conversely, I hate having my picture taken. I am okay with random, I do not know they are happening shots, but I despise posing for photos. Selfies are not in my future. I have tried much to my amusement to take a selfie but I always look like I ate something nasty – you know that look. My kids always bemoaned the fact that I do not like getting my photo taken when they were younger and had to bring in family photos because 99% of the time I was on the other side of the camera so the pickings were slim.

So this weekend took a bit of a hilarious turn when a writing friend and I made a concentrated effort to get some professional photos taken. As an author, you need a public presence, which translates into having to have your photos taken so there are pictures to put on the webpage, FB, Twitter etc. For self-publishing, it is necessary. There is no publicity team taking care of such things. Personally, I thought it would be neat to pick a photo at random of someone you wanted to look like. Alas, that just is not the way to go. No Milli Vanilli’s allowed. Sigh…

After dozens of poses and background changes and quite a few laughs, we ended up with a total seven pictures that were acceptable and amongst those were fun shots. I think the total count we started with was around 48 pictures. The term to remember is acceptable. We don’t love them but at the same time, we don’t hate them. Thankfully, the photographer was a good sport. We were probably one of the stranger appointments she had.

They are not the worst I have taken but not the best either. That’s my opinion. I guess it comes down to what my friend said to paraphrase her, “It never looks like the real you.” I guess that is why I like random shots. Even if they are not perfect, I always feel like the facial expression is real – not forced. My smile always feels frozen when posing for a photograph.

It is similar to the reaction that occurs when you record your voice. You have in your mind what you think you sound like until you hear your recorded voice played out load. I use to dictate on a Dictaphone back in the early nineties and it took a while to get comfortable hearing my voice played back as I checked what I had recorded. I suppose getting you photos taken is the same. If you do it often, enough you get accustomed to it. I get my photos taken so rarely that it is uncomfortable whenever I have it done. Now I’m in no hurry to get to the comfortable stage.

I do have to say that going with a friend was a lot less painful than going alone. A friend will laugh with you during the process and not at you. In addition, there is the added support of knowing they are feeling the same way.

For chuckles – mostly my own – I have included some of the finalists below. The final cut was three for me and eventually one will become my ‘new’ photo presence.


 

 

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Wine not Whine

 

I am not a wine connoisseur but I know what I like. Wine is a drink that you either love or detest. Everyone has different taste when it comes to wine and an opinion as to what is best. My advice is drink what you like but do not be afraid to try new ones too. I prefer sweet fruity white wines that I can sip on while sitting with friends. For meals, I like something a little crisper with some sweetness. I am always open to trying new wines especially if they are white in variety.

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Social Media Presence

One of the more difficult things about being an indie writer is self-promoting. It requires one to maintain a visible presence in social media – website, blog, Facebook, Twitter and the list goes on.  Learning how to use all of these effectively is a challenge as they all change frequently.  As a self-publisher hiring someone to administer is not an option.

In a perfect world an email would go out as updates occur in social media listing the changes with a “How to Guide”. Unfortunately, that rarely happens so we are often left floundering our way around the new changes.  So today I am spending my time maneuvering around WordPress & Facebook doing some updates and reorganize some pages. Nothing major but it’s a time-consuming task when one is searching for functions and tweaking and hoping you don’t do an “oops” in the interim.

Hopefully, I don’t break anything. 🙂

A Chill is in the Air – Tastes of Fall

Fall is almost upon us and as much as I like the warmth of summer, I really enjoy a crisp sunny fall day. This morning when I looked out the kitchen window at the thermometer it was a cool 10 degrees Celsius in the shade. A little chilly but very invigorating.

Which brings to mind scrumptious comfort foods. I like quick and simple. A couple of my favourites are below.

HAMBURGER SOUP

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1 ½lb ground beef or chicken/pork mixture
1 med onion
1 28 oz. can of tomatoes
2 cup water
3 cans French onion soup (I use water and add 3 Tbsp of tomato paste)
1 can tomato
1 bay leaf
4 carrots
Parsley
3 sticks celery chopped
½ tsp thyme
8 Tbsp barley
pepper to taste

Brown the meat and onions. Drain well. Combine all ingredients in a large pot. Simmer covered at least 2 hours or all day. Serves 10. Freezes well.

 

HOME STYLE BEEF STEW with dumplings

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2 lbs stew beef cubed
4 cups water
2 onions
1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
½ cup ketchup
1 tsp salt
1 tsp basil
2 cup sliced carrots
3 cup potatoes or half white potatoes and turnip
1 cup frozen peas
1 bay leaf (remove before adding peas)
flour or corn starch to thicken

Brown the meat. Add water, onions, Worcestershire, ketchup, salt and basil. Simmer covered for 1 ½ hours. Add carrots & potatoes/turnip. Cook for 15-20 minutes until tender. Add peas and cook another 5 minutes. Thicken with flour or corn starch.

I add the dumplings after I add the peas.

Dumplings (Dough Boys)

1 cup flour
2 tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
½ cup milk

Mix flour, salt and baking soda. Stir in milk. Drop over hot stew. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Don’t peak. Approximately 6 dumplings.

And for dessert a delicious apple crisp made with fall apples.

 

APPLE CRISP

1/3 cup flourimage
2/3 cup oats (rolled quick oats)
1 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup butter softened (margarine doesn’t taste the same)
6 apples (Cortland or Gravenstien)
1 Tbsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp cinnamon

Cut apples into slices and place on bottom of lightly greased casserole dish (I use butter). Sprinkle with lemon juice and cinnamon. Mix flour, brown sugar, oats and butter until crumbly and spread over top. Bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes.

Bon appetite!

Writing Challenges – Frame of Mind

In my day job, I spend a good portion of my day writing. It’s a challenge at times to switch hats from legalese and technical writing to non-fiction. Part of the challenge is that I am familiar with writing  about what I know. Whether it be an opinion piece stepped in research, advice or a guide on how to perform some function. It’s tethered in the here and now and grounded in known facts.

When I switch to my night job of writing non-fiction the framework in which I write changes drastically. I sometimes struggle with those new parameters because they are so different. The purpose and form have changed and the expectation is vastly disparate.

There is so much to learn and assimilate. A lot of the terminology is new and there are acronyms being used that I don’t recognize.  As well as familiarizing myself with style guides that I haven’t opened in a few decades. Then, I learned to my horror that two spaces is no longer the standard after a period. I missed the memo on that one, so much so that I have to search and replace to remove them.

When I sit down to write sometimes the story flows onto the page and then I struggle with the structure and form. Other times the structure flows, but the story lags behind. Regardless of the struggle, I just have to write and forget about whether it is right or wrong and get the story down on the page. The writing and form doesn’t have to be perfect, it just needs to be. So I write.

 

 

Help is Out There – Writing Resources

I am always looking for new resources to assist me. There are some great ones out there and several I have tapped into via Facebook. The Writer’s Circle is one of my favourites. They have interesting posts and great links to other material.

One recent post lead me to the The Write at Home blog which has a great Resource Library for grammar, idioms, punctuation etc. Another favourite of mine on Facebook is author Jami Gold. Jami has a great website http://jamigold.com/blog/. There is a wealth of information on her site covering everything from worksheets to publishing.

Another fantastic resource is K.M. Weiland’s website http://www.helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com. There is an awesome story structure database that contains different genres pulled from books and movies – something for everyone. If that isn’t enough, there are great downloads and a series of podcasts (300+) on various topics to tempt you.

All you have to do is a quick search on the internet and there is information at your fingertips. It’s not like the old days when you had to trek down to the local library and search the card catalogue looking for reference materials. Those days are long gone and now you can search those catalogues from the comfort of your own home to see if there is anything of interest. You can then reserve your book online and go pick it up or if you luck out, download it as an eBook.

The key is to find what speaks to you and ignore the rest. Also, don’t get lost in the net. There is so much information out there that you can spend more time researching and reading about writing than actually writing.

Procrastination vs. Choices

I’ve not been as fruitful as I would like to have been the last few months. All of my good intentions out the window. Life has a way of getting away from us and sometimes we let it happen.

A post on Facebook by a fellow writer the other day caught me out and stuck with me.

“there’s really no such thing as procrastination, just choices…it’s all down to choices I make. Sometimes every hour or every minute.”

She is right. It comes down to choices. Looking back over the last few months, I’m not happy with the choices I’ve made. I let myself get into a slump and didn’t drag myself out of it until now. Regardless of what was going on around me, I got in a rut and now it’s time to get out of it.

Life only passes you by if you let it and I did. I got lazy over the summer thinking I’ll do it tomorrow but ‘something’ always came up – choices and I didn’t make the best ones.

Well it’s time to get my groove back. Part of that is to get myself a writing coach. It is time to get someone to mentor me and motivate me in my writing. I’m so use to ‘deadlines’ in my day job that I let the lack in my writing get the best of me.

I’m at a point in my writing where I need helpful feedback. Am I on the right track? Where am I weak? What needs improvement? What’s good? What’s bad? What can I do better?

All questions swirling around in my head. I need guidance. It’s scary reaching out to someone – asking for help. Letting them analyze what I have written. I know it needs improvement and a lot of work to become a finished product that is as flawless as it can be. It’s still hard to take that next step even knowing it needs work. I guess I had to find someone that I think I can trust with my work. Someone who I believe will have my best interests at heart while being honest but no cruel.

I feel like the child who passes a scribbled picture to their parent with bated anticipation of their comments. As the parent looks down at the picture, thinking to himself or herself it looks like…then looking to their child and commenting on what they do see – the beautiful colors hoping for a clue to bring the scribbles together. “See mommy I made your dress blue. Do you like it?” With that clue the scribbles form into something more.

That’s where I am at. Presenting my scribbles with anticipation hoping that they show what I want and that they form the story I was hoping to convey and not just scribbles on a page.

Stutters, Stops and Starts

The last few months have been stutters, stops and starts where my writing is concerned. It’s been frustrating. I’d think I was moving forward only take two steps back. The story was floundering and getting into the flow was a struggle.

I’m back. The words are coming to me and the story is evolving. It is going in the direction I want to go. The scenes are coming together and the plot is where I want it to be.

Through a friend I came across some really helpful learning resources that have helped me refocus and find my way. I learn from all the resources I review, some more than others. These broke things down for me in way that I had not seen before and cleared some of my confusion. I’d gotten stuck in the do’s and don’ts. Mired in structures that we not working for me and turning everything into a maze.  I’m finding my way out of that maze slowly.

Still a lot of work to do but the end is closer. I’m past the midpoint now and the end seems achievable.

Attended a Book Launch Party on Facebook

 

A member of my writing group had a book launch party on Facebook for herself and fellow authors for a series they wrote called Not My 1st Rodeo – Donna Alward, Sarah M. Anderson, and Jenna Bayley-Burke.  It’s a great series and is available as an anthology. All three books are different but have two things in common: second chances and an online dating site: http://notmy1strodeo.com The site is live and contains the dating profiles for our intriguing heroes and heroines as well as a synopsis of each book.

This series is special to me.  While attending the RWA conference in San Antonio, Texas last summer as a very green newbie, a friend and fellow author, L.O. Tools (http://lotooleauthor.com/author/lotooleauthor/) meet some very interesting folks that were attending an agricultural conference a few days before ours started. I was a little late meeting my friend in the lobby and joined her conversation with a fellow attending the agricultural conference. He was a hoot. Some how dating as a mature person came up and a hilarious discussion ensued. More so when he revealed there were sites dedicated to ranchers etc.

Later that night we ran into Donna Alward, a talented and multi-published author who is a member of our local writers group and told her our tale.  She immediately starting spinning ideas and got together Jenna Bayley-Burke and hilarity ensued. It was amazing to see the creative process unfold. They took their ideas, made a pitch to their publishing company and a series was born.

So, this past week the anthology was launched.  For a few hours on Facebook, we meet authors, exchanged some silly posts, had some giggles and just general fun. I really enjoyed it.

I was going to close this off with, “I hope” but am changing it too, “When I have my Facebook launch party for my first book I wanted everyone to have as much fun as I did at Donna’s.”

Thank you Donna for a great time. I always learn something new.

Clearing out the clutter

I hate clutter. It sneaks up on you. Today I did some ‘spring’ cleaning in my kitchen. My kitchen corner cupboards were full of plastic margarine containers, ice cream containers, missing bottoms and missing lids, and dozens of other containers I just didn’t need. My husband saves them all. So out into recycling they went. The I reorganized the cupboards so I could actually find things without things tumbling out.

Getting into the grove of it, I tackled the food cupboards next.  I tossed a lot into the green bin.  Either expired or stale. I’m glad I checked as I’m hosting a Jamberry Nails event tomorrow so I decided to do some baking.  A trip to the grocery store ensued to replace and replenish a few items.

It amazes me that with four people in the household, almost all adults, that the exterior of my cupboards get so dirty.  It’s a pet peeve of mine. If you spill something wipe it up and make sure it didn’t drip down the cupboard door. Or better yet, if you actually spilt it on the floor, check the baseboard under the cupboards. Is it too much to ask?  So another hour to clean down the cupboards.

I moved on to the living room and did some tidying up and dusting. Then did my once a year polishing of the tables. My youngest daughter helped and it was much appreciated. A quick vacuum and wash of the floors and we were done. I even caved and moved the hated floor rug to another room.

Now I will tackle the baking. I don’t do it often enough so it’s time to indulge in two of my favourites – Nanaimo bars and brownies.  The brownies will be split as my daughter doesn’t like hers frosted. I love homemade frosting so they’ll be half and half. For the Nanaimo bars, I always use my grandmother’s recipe. It’s the best version I’ve had. I’ve included both at the end of my post.

After that I’ll make my surprise spread and finish cleaning the kitchen. It’s been a busy day.

NANAIMO BARS

Base:
¼ cup *butter  2 squares semi-sweet chocolate
1/3 cup white sugar   1 tsp vanilla
½ cup flaked coconut  1 beaten egg large
½ cup chopped walnuts   1 cup oatmeal (instant / quick oats)

Melt in butter and 2 square semi-sweet chocolate in sauce pan over low-meduim heat and mix in sugar. Cook a few minutes and take off burner. Add vanilla. Add beaten egg, chopped nuts and oatmeal. Spread over bottom of 9×9 pan.

Filling:
3 Tbsp soft butter.   ½ tsp vanilla
2 ½ Tbsp milk (approx)   2 cup icing sugar

Topping: Melt 2 squares semi-sweet chocolate & 1 Tbsp butter and pour over mixture. Refrigerate until cool.

*margarine doesn’t taste the same.

FUDGE BROWNIES

1 cup butter  1 cup cocoa
2 cup white sugar  4 large eggs
1½ tsp vanilla   1 1/3 cup sifted flour
1 tsp baking powder ½ tsp salt
1 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

On stove melt butter and add cocoa. Blend in sugar, eggs and vanilla. Blend in flour, baking powder and salt. Add nuts. Pour into A 9*13 greased & floured pan. Cook at 375 for 25-35 minutes. Tooth pick should come out clean. Cool and frost.

Frosting: Melt 3 Tbsp butter, ¼ cup cocoa, and blend in ½ cup milk (2 tbsp at a time) and add ½ tsp vanilla and add 2 cup icing sugar – may need another 1/4 cup of icing sugar. Spread over brownies.

Beautiful Spring Morning

It’s a beautiful spring morning. The birds are twittering in the background high up in the trees, their song a mixture of varying calls surrounding me. The warmth of the sun streaks across the deck and where it touches me it takes away the chill. A gentles breeze is rustling through the pine trees. Voices of other campers break the silence.

Mornings like this are what I look forward too at the camp. A sense of serenity. Of just being in the moment. They happen to infrequently for most of the year. I struggle most days to wake in the morning but for some reason once at the campground I awake early.

I truly enjoy the solitude of my early mornings on my deck, coffee in hand, a book to read as the sun rises and burns off the chill snuggled in a blanket. It is the one thing I truly enjoy about ‘going to the trailer’. The bugs and campfires, I could give up.

It is for these precious moments alone with my thoughts before everyone awakes that I appreciate my time here. The other campers are stirring and once again I must be social as they trundle by. My solitude broken.

View from deck

Spring Cleaning – Setting Goals


 

I’m doing some spring cleaning on the writing front. I’ve looked at where I am at and where I am going and am revisiting my goals for the year. Spring to me is about renewal and that is where I am at.

If you’ve been on my blog before, the first difference is I’ve changed my header. I’m a visual person and although I liked my previous header I wasn’t in love with it and it didn’t reflect where I am at right now. I like the new look. It’s clean-looking, the colors are subtle but it’s still distinctive.

On the actual writing side of the business, I am two-thirds of the way through my first book draft. There have a lot of revisions as I’ve made some changes and corrected some missteps. For me, writing is an iterative process. The more I learn, the more I try to apply.

Translation: The first book will take the longest but it will pay-off on the second and third.

Once I get the first draft to an editor, I suspect the hardest part will occur. Rewrites, fixing plot and story arc. Accepting the critique of my work and applying it. That has been my biggest roadblock. I know once I finish the draft it has to be sent out, so I have been a creative procrastinator the last few months.

Part of my spring cleaning exercise is to mentally get over the fear, just do it and move on. So in setting my new goals, I am going to set some timelines for myself. One of those goals is to be more proactive on my blog and put up a post once a week. It may only be a paragraph or two but I am committing to writing something once a week, even if it’s just to say its been an interesting week.

So my first two goals are:
1. Finish the book one.
2. Post once a week.

See you next week.

Water’s Edge Retreat

 

It is early June and the weather can be contentious. Friday started with strong winds and an anticipated 30-50 millimetres of rain.  Our journey started in Hubbards, Nova Scotia with sheets of rain with blustery winds buffeting the car as we wound our way along highway #3 with wipers on high and the occasionally four-way flashers. The weather didn’t dampen our spirits as we made our way to our destination – White Point Lodge.

We arrived perhaps 20-30 minutes later than anticipated as the rain had slowed as down.     Check-in was quick and we made our way to our lakeside retreat. Grabbing our bags, we dashed through the drilling rain up a rocky path to the door of our building and quickly made it inside. A little damp from our mad dash, we stowed away our clothes, drinks, and treats for the weekend.

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A quick check of social media and we headed back to the lodge and grabbed some lunch. Lunch was hot and plentiful and we watched the crashing waves from our table as we ate.

After lunch we headed back to the room and hunkered down to attend to the purpose of the retreat – writing.  We pulled out our laptops and began hitting the keys after a quick social media check.

 

A few hours later and a change of clothes we headed for dinner at the lodge. We started with a nice Pinot Grigio in the lounge and engaged in a little people watching. At our reserved time we sauntered into the restaurant. A buffet was on display and we partook of a variety of offerings from seafood chowder, various salads, hip of beef and planked salmon. All delicious. Dessert was a choice of bread pudding, tarts, cream puffs, squares and carrot cake. As is the norm with a buffet we overindulged a bit.

IMG_6736Afterwards we settled back in the lounge to listen to live music and indulge in a post dinner drink. As usual, the people watching was engaging as we bantered. A couple of hours later we headed back to the room and did a little reading before going to sleep.

 

 

 

 

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Both early risers we awoke around 6 a.m. to a gorgeous morning. A few cups of coffee, some reading,  and a check of social media we headed for breakfast. A wonderful array of food was displayed on the buffet and we filled our tummies. Grabbing a coffee to go we headed to the deck overlooking the ocean and began writing,

The weather was wonderful. The sun was shining down on us with a slight breeze to keep the bugs at bay.  It was relaxing and productive until the horde of townies invaded our space with their chatter and cloying perfumes.  Shortly thereafter we retreated to our lakeside room to continue in silence – well as silent as the two of us can be – as disjointed conversations flowed as we work.

As the day progressed so did the weather. By mid-noon the thermometer had reached 25 degrees celsius which is quite warm here for this time of year. In my forays outside to indulge in a little sun, I graced my friend with a few interesting jigs as I dodged the hated wasps that seem to love to torment me – the dance of wasps – as I referred to it brought laughter. At lunch we walked to the lodge. A nice jaunt along the tree-lined road to build our appetite while enjoying the nature around us, as I doggedly dodged the bugs that so love me wherever we go.

Lunch consisted of a delicious pizza board with naan bread, slathered in a garlic alfredo sauce topped with ham, pears and an abundance of mozzarella – it  did not disappoint. For dessert the options were decadent – having spied the delivery of a few to the table next to ours. Classic chocolate cake with layers of chocolate ganache garnished with chocolate shavings accompanied by milk chocolate-toasted marshmallow ice-cream and a more than generous slice of vanilla cheese cake with a red fruit and white chocolate sauce finished our meal.

After lunch we headed back to the room and caught a glimpse of a bride heading down to the shore for her wedding.  Along the way to the room we searched for the wild bunnies for which the resort is known but to our dismay none were seen. Back at the room we indulged in a few more hours of writing with short jaunts into the sun to catch a few rays while checking social media for interesting bits of news.

Dressed for supper we headed back to the lodge for dinner. I indulged in the buffet once again and my friend had the delicious mushroom ravioli.

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We capped off dinner with a few sweets and headed into the lounge for drinks and music. The lone musician didn’t disappoint with an eclectic collection of 70’s music. Each table was adorned with trivia boxes and we kept ourselves entertained as we read and shared interesting bits while watching the folks around us. At one point we watched the wedding party head down to the shore line for some after wedding photos while perched on the rocks in front of the beach.

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After a few hours we headed back to the room and caught a quick glimpse of one of the bunny rabbits hopping around the parked vehicles.

 

We settled in for the night with some reading. A last-minute jaunt outside proved to be a little horrifying as we made our way out the door only to realize the glass was covered with hundreds of little green flies only to look up and notice thousands of the same flies covering the roof of the porch. We scurried inside completely freaked out checking to ensure we had not been followed. A bit more self-indulgent reading and we went to sleep.

The next morning was bittersweet as we packed knowing we had to head home soon.  The weather was gorgeous once again. A quick jaunt to the lodge and we ate breakfast. We did a last bit of writing as we settled in the lounge before heading home where this blog came to life.

It was a fantastic weekend at the water, hopefully to be repeated in the near future.

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