musings from Canadian author Cheryl Cooke Harrington ... home of The Write Spot

Sunday, November 26, 2006

on Dasher, on Dancer!

Santa Claus is coming! is here!

I spent yesterday morning with my two favourite little people, welcoming the jolly old elf to town at the annual Santa Claus Parade in Markham. And we had FUN!

From the exotic ...

Marching Camel
Mr. Camel took the morning off from his usual gig at the Toronto Zoo to march in the parade. That's not a banana in his mouth, it's his big, sloppy tongue, flapping in the breeze.

To the traditional ...

J and friends on the hayride float
A Christmas hayride. That's my son J on the float (seated, in the orange jacket and Santa hat).

To the just plain freaky ...

Scariest Grinch ever!
Little Miss M and I agreed this nasty green guy was the scariest Grinch ever. Brrrrrr.

To the toe-tappin' ...

North Toronto Collegiate Marching Band
The North Toronto Collegiate Marching Band got us all warmed up and ready for the Big Guy's arrival with an enthusiastic rendition of Santa Claus is Coming to Town.

To the real reason we all rolled out of bed so early...

Ho, ho, ho! Merry Christmas!

Santa shows off his arm pit. You were expecting maybe a white beard and rosy cheeks? Unfortunately, my camera has a pesky delay between finger-click and shuttter-flick. In that split second, ol' Saint Nick decided it was time to wave to the kids on the other side of the street. Nice arm pit, though, don't you think?

More parade photos here.

mmmmmm... tapenade!

homemade tapenade

Try it, you'll like it!
Thanks for the olive primer and recipes, burékaboy!
My first batch was a delicious success.

Friday, November 24, 2006

must be a guy-cat thing

"Don't even think about touching my remote!"Sam lays claim to the remote.The Mighty Sam waits patiently for someone to cue up his favourite video. Could be a long wait. I have the awful, sinking feeling it might have been accidentally sold along with the old VCR. [I am going to be in so much trouble when he finds out!]

Sam will be channel surfing at the , at Sunday's (hosted by Scribblings) and with the Weekend Cat Blogging Crew over at House of the (mostly) Black Cats.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

show and tell

One of my co-workers asked me this morning if I'd be willing to answer some questions for her daughter, who's taking a high school creative writing class and using one of my books, One for Sorrow, Two for Joy, for her report on writing romance. I'm a project! How cool is that?

Thanks, Courtney, for letting me share a few of your questions (and my answers) here.

Q: When you first went to get published, what process did you have to go through, and how long did it take?

A: I've been writing stories and journals ever since I learned to hold a pen, but I'd never thought about actually writing A Book until the characters in one of the stories I was doodling around with suddenly took on lives of their own — or that's how it felt, anyway. They would wake me up at night, doing stuff and having conversations right there in my head ... and they kept right on doing stuff and chattering away until I got up and wrote them down. I finally started keeping a notebook by the bed and carrying a mini tape recorder with me in the car so I wouldn't forget the good bits that always seemed to happen when I wasn't near my computer. It took me just over a year to finish that first book. Then I had to figure out what to do with it.

Writer's Market to the rescue! I researched publishers, figured out who wanted what and learned how to write a query and synopsis. (If you think writing a 70,000 word novel is hard, try re-telling it in a one-page synopsis!) It was early in 1996 when I finally sent those first chapters out into the world of the slush pile.

And then I waited.

The months trudged by.

Waiting is hard.

Rejection letters are harder.

"Dear Writer, Thank you for the opportunity to consider your work. Regretfully, I do not feel that this project is suited to our list. I apologize for the form letter, but with the number of submissions we receive, it is not possible to give a personal response in every case."

"I'm sorry to say this does not sound like something suitable for our list but thank you for thinking of us."

"Thank you for writing me about your novel. I'm sorry to say that it's not fresh enough for our list."

Not fresh enough? Ouch!

But then, in October: "Your query has piqued our interest and we would like to see more. Could you please send in the complete manuscript?"

There followed a hair-pulling weekend of polishing and tweaking and gnashing of teeth — was it as good as it could be? Monday morning I crossed my fingers and mailed it away.

And waited.

Five months later, the big envelope came back. "Unfortunately, after careful consideration we have decided it is not right for our list in the current competitive market."

And I thought to myself ... thank goodness!

Truth is I was relieved. Why? Because by that time I had realized how much I still had to learn about writing. Some bits of that first book, bits that had sounded perfectly wonderful only a year before, now sounded so incredibly dismal I was embarrassed to the point of tears. I put that book away in a box in a dark closet (where it remains to this day) and moved on.

While waiting for all those rejections, I kept busy by taking creative writing classes and workshops on writing for the romance market. I also read a lot of romance novels to try to figure out what made them special. I joined RWA and read their monthly magazine cover-to-cover, learning everything the already-published members were willing to share. (I still learn something new in those pages every month - thank you all!)

Eventually, I got together with a writer friend and the two of us began working on a novel together. We wound up completing two stories in two years and we submitted them to all the big names in romance publishing. At that time, it took anywhere from 3 to 8 months to hear back on a submission. (It takes a lot longer now.)

Both books were eventually turned down by the first round of publishers, but the rejection letters this time were "good" ones. The editors took the time to write personal notes to tell us they liked our writing and explain why they were passing on the stories. We paid attention to every bit of advice, polished the stories up, and submitted again. Avalon Books liked us. (They really liked us!) Rock Solid was released in 1997. Our second novel, Fast Focus, followed later that same year.

My next two books, written solo, each took about a year to complete and were accepted within three months of submission. One for Sorrow, Two for Joy was released first in 1999 and again in 2002 as a large print book. Sparks Fly, a Canadian, north-country, firefighting romance was definitely the most fun to research — I learned to fly a plane!

Q: What made you want to write romance novels as opposed to any other genre?

A: Romance novels are a great way to explore relationships. There's room for lots of emotion as well as humour; and because it's a very broad genre, romances can contain elements of mystery, suspense, fantasy, horror, even science fiction. In other words, it's never boring. And who doesn't love a happy ending?

Q: What is the experience of writing a novel like? Do you have characters and plots in mind ahead of time or do you let things develop as you go along?

A: It's exhausting, exhilarating, frustrating, humbling and always entertaining. I've been known to lose track of time...sit down at the computer after breakfast and look up after what seems like minutes — an hour at most — to discover I've missed both lunch and dinner, the sun has set and I'm still in my pajamas.

When I worked with a co-author, we had to plot out the scenes and chapters to keep ourselves on track. But when I'm writing on my own, I usually start with the characters and a general idea of 'story', then start writing and see what happens. I'm constantly surprised by what comes out of my characters' mouths — that's what makes writing so much fun.

Julia Cameron, author of The Artist's Way, says it best: "I believe that what we want to write wants to be written. I believe that as I have an impulse to create, the something I want to create has an impulse to want to be born. My job, then, is to show up on the page and let that something move through me. In a sense, what wants to be written is none of my business."

Friday, November 17, 2006

rain, rain, go away ...

Sam - all boxed up.

It's been a gray and rainy week here in Toronto and Sam is dreaming of sunshine and warmer, dryer climes. Here he is, all settled and comfy in his travellin' box. Now, how many stamps to mail a sixteen pound furball to Phoenix?

Rain, rain go away;
come again another day.
On second thought,
rain, please don't go.
You're better, oh, by far than snow!

Sam will be chasing sunbeams at the , at Sunday's , hosted this week by Mind of Mog, and at CatSynth with the Weekend Cat Blogging crew.

Saturday, November 11, 2006


Dad meets the Queen MumHRH Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother
with my Dad, Pvt. Philip John Cooke, Irish Regiment of Canada

One of Dad's (and my) most cherished photos is this one, taken at Sandringham, where he was stationed before being sent to active duty in Italy during World War II. [Edit: Dad always said he was so nervous about speaking with the Queen Mum that his knees were knocking under the kilt!]

On this , I think especially of Dad, but also of the many brave men and women, past and present, who serve to keep our Canada strong and free. Thank you all!

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

by Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae

burekaboy includes a copy of McCrae's original handwritten manuscript (and other interesting stuff) in his Remembrance Day post at Is that my buréka?

[Edit: Canada Remembered ~ Honouring the Canadian Soldier Powerful musical tribute by Shawn Hlookoff. Watch, download, or see it at MySpace.]

Friday, November 10, 2006

lights, camera...action!

Here's Samcat, stretched out on my desk (he covers the entire desk), while "helping" me write last night. His job during NaNoWriMo* is to distract my pesky internal editor. So far, he's not having much success with that assignment. He is, however, keeping the desktop nicely dust and clutter free. Now, if only he'd learn to do the same for the rest of the apartment ...

lights, camera..."Good grief. Here she comes with that pesky camera again. Hey! That litttle dangly bit there on the side looks like fun. I'll just pretend I don't see it, and then when she's all unsuspecting... faster than the speed of light... Ha! The mighty paw strikes again!"


Note to self: Remember to hide the camera's wrist strap before Sam's next photo session.

Sam and his dangly bits can be found at and Sunday's . He'll be visiting Skeezix's Scratching Post for Weekend Cat Blogging, too.

* NaNoWriMo is National Novel Writing Month.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

hey, Mickey!

I'm sick. Sick-sick-sick-sick-sick! And grumpy. Ugh. I'll skip the gruesome details but fever is up and breathing is noisy. 'Nuff said.

I should be at the Royal Alexandra theatre in Toronto right now, watching a performance of Pippin staring Mickey Dolenz. If you promise not to do the math, I'll confess to being a silly fangirl when Mickey was a Monkee (the first time), way back when. So my grumpy is heartfelt. I am miserable. Oh!heavysigh!

And as if that's not reason enough to be grumpy, I've been feeling too shivery and ill to write. My fevered, sleeping brain runs wild and free with characters and plot and then ... I wake up blank-minded.

Check the NaNoWriMo widgit in the sidebar and you'll see that my word count has crept up to just over the 3000 mark since November 1st. An astounding average of 439 words! every! single! day! At this rate, I should be able to complete my first draft by the end of February, a scant three months after deadline.

I keep telling myself there's still time to catch up, all I have to do is get better. Samcat's idea of "helping" me recover is to meow like a banshee and paw-slap my poor sorry face every time his sleep is interrupted by wheezing, coughing, or other sickly sounds. Not that I blame him. It's disgusting. Really. Sniff.

Enough! I can no longer see the screen through my watery eyes. It's time for another dose of the cure. Got a 'feel better' strategy that works fast? Please share. I'm desperate!

Friday, November 03, 2006


, Day 2. Soon after I settled down in my comfy chair last night, Samcat moseyed over for a snuggle. He was none too impressed when he discovered the AlphaSmart taking up his space on my lap. He was even less impressed when I moved it aside to let him get settled, then tried to use his fine, furry back as a keyboard tray. I got the old stiff-leggedy, straight-tail treatment as he stalked out of the room, so I guess I should have known better than to leave the Alpha on his chair a few minutes later when I jumped up to answer the phone.

Sam checks out the AlphaSmart
Sam ponders the next chapter, NaNoWriMo 2006
After checking out the stylus, he plopped himself down on the keyboard and added a few of lines of catly chatter to my story. Tomorrow I'm going to teach him to use the spacebar. Hey, if he's going to help with NaNo, every word counts!

Sam's composition:


Sam and friends can be found at and Sunday's (hosted this week by ). He'll take a break from typing to visit and friends on the beautiful French Riviera for .

NaNoWriMo is National Novel Writing Month.