Sunday, January 31, 2010

You're always on vacation ... as long as you have a good book

I don't think I've ever looked so forward to a new year. December is a stressful month at the best of times, with all the Christmas preparations and holiday festivities, but throw in a cross-city move from Hamilton to Toronto on top of that, and I was quickly reminded that a move in December plus Christmas equals chaos. So after a long, busy, stressful December, spent sorting through mountains of boxes, Christmas shopping, Christmas concerts, family gatherings, and putting up my Christmas tree at 9:30pm on Christmas Eve (I honestly wouldn't have bothered, but had bought some new, special ornaments that I wanted to hang), I was counting down the days until my vacation.

On December 28, I went to Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic with my boyfriend for New Year's. We spent a week in all-inclusive heaven, lying on the beach or by the pool, swimming, relaxing, and recovering from the move. In the days and weeks leading up to the vacation, I looked forward to spending time with my sweetie and relaxing. I also couldn't wait, however, to catch up on my reading.

I am a notorious book shopper, addicted to the look, feel, and smell of a new book. The experience of going to a book store, perusing the shelves lined with thousands of possibilities, and buying a new book, the anticipation of bringing the new book home, sends shivers down my spine and can give me a high that will last for hours.

For our vacation, I scoured my bookshelves at home. I deserved this vacation, and was determined to find the perfect books to bring with me.

Nothing on my bookshelves seemed appropriate, however. I had already read the fun, easy reading books, and the remaining books didn't quite fit with the vacation vibe I was seeking. Then, one day, the answer appeared on Facebook. "What was your favourite book of 2009?" my cousin's wife, Debbie, posted. Her friends replied with their suggestions, and then one friend asked the million dollar question: "Can you recommend any beach reading?" Bingo! Debbie recommended the Stephanie Plum series by Janet Evanovich. I couldn't wait to go to Chapters and introduce myself to Stephanie Plum.

I bought the first two novels, "One for the Money," and "Two for the Dough" to bring on vacation with me, and couldn't wait to get started. From the first page, I was hooked. Evanovich's hugely popular series, about a lingerie buyer turned bounty hunter, has a huge, loyal following. And it's easy to see why. The books are laugh-out-loud funny, with compelling, entertaining characters, and good mysteries. They are quick, easy reads, and I was able to read both novels within the week that I was away.

Looking at the copyright page for "One for the Money," first published in 1994, I thought 'Where have I been all these years?' In my defence, I never really followed the mystery genre ... until now.

I had a wonderful vacation, and the best New Year's Eve of my life. Coming home to the cold, Canadian winter, wasn't easy. But back at home, I just finished "Three to Get Deadly," and am about to start on "Four to Score," comforted by the thought that as long as I'm reading the Stephanie Plum series, I'm always on vacation in spirit.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

"Jump in the water and find your way around"

As we embark on a new year, many of us have been busy setting goals and new year's resolutions, wanting to leave behind the stresses and difficulties of 2009, and achieve our hearts' desires in this new year, and new decade. I am pondering my goals, and what I want to achieve this year, and feeling overwhelmed at the enormity of some of the tasks I have created for myself. As I reflect, I am brought back to a conversation I had last year that changed my life.

I was at my aunt's place for dinner. She cooked Sri Lankan food, which is always a treat for me: yellow rice, beef curry, potatoes - a spicy food lover's heaven. She had houseguests staying with her - a long-time friend from Sri Lanka, and his wife. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that my aunt's friend was a published writer.

Books, short stories, articles, academic papers - this man had done it all. I was inspired and awed by all he had accomplished, and naturally, our conversation turned to writing. I shared with him that I've always wanted to write fiction, and that I was taking a creative writing course at a local community college, which I was loving.

He looked up at me, smiled, and replied: "No-one can teach you creative writing. You have to just jump in the water and find your way around." I gasped quietly, dumbfounded by his profound words. Their lesson was simple, yet I was struck by their wisdom. Time after time, I had made writing more difficult for myself than I needed to. All I needed to do was show up at the page and see what happened.

As we begin a new year, I am reminded of his words, and am newly inspired to not worry about technique, whether something is worthy of being published, or even half-good, I just need to write. Or work out more. Or eat healthier. I can apply his words to all of my goals. And that is my new year's wish for all of you, that whatever dreams you have, that you just "jump in the water and find your way around."

Happy New Year,