Category Archives: November 2012

Why I Won’t Follow Users of TrueTwit

I haven’t had a Twitter rant in a while, so I’m due.

Here’s what TrueTwit says about its service – quoted from its website –

“… a service committed to making it easier to manage your Twitter followers without having to wade manually though spam users. TrueTwit attempts to validate your new followers to see if they are human as opposed to automated bots…”

Here’s what happens when I follow someone who uses TrueTwit:

  1. I get a direct message
  2. It prompts me to hit a link
  3. The link brings me to a site to add information
  4. Based on what I input, TrueTwit will determine if I’m spam or not.

Using an automated service to determine if I’m human?

Ironic, isn’t it?

Notice it says “…TrueTwit attempts to validate your new followers…”

For this reason alone, I’d never use the service. What kind of confidence does that line instill?

For those who do use it though, all I can say is: No thanks.

In real life, if you want to be my friend or get to know me, here’s what you do. You approach me, introduce yourself, and say hello.

You DON’T send a representative to check me out beforehand. That’s rude. We’re talking about social networking here, not arranging a marriage.

If you can’t take five seconds to find out about me by going to my profile, or looking at my tweet history to see that I’m human, then I have to wonder why you’re on Twitter at all.

People who lock/block/privatize their accounts and make it difficult for me to follow them send a clear message – they DON’T want to be bothered.

I’m cool with that. I don’t want to work so hard to befriend anyone. I don’t do that in real life, and I certainly won’t do it on Twitter.

I don’t care who you are. I don’t care how many followers you have. I don’t care if you’re the Queen of England, (who doesn’t use TrueTwit, by the way).

You want to be part of a social network like Twitter? Then behave socially, otherwise delete your account and stop wasting my time.



26 Random Things I Love About Writing

  • My characters.
  • Endless career possibilities.
  • Excuse to stare off into space under the guise of “plot construction.”
  • Whiteboards.
  • Coffee.
  • Dialogue that would never happen in real life.
  • Exercising sadistic tendencies without all the mess.
  • That moment when everything falls into place in a novel.
  • Heartbreak.
  • Unexpected events that make you laugh out loud.
  • Windows into fantastical worlds.
  • Anything that involves the rule “when in doubt, blow something up” has to be awesome, right?
  • The sound of fingers on keys.
  • Editing, as frustrating as it can be there’s nothing quite as satisfying as making a story better.


I Want to Be Evil (Or Maybe I’m an Overachiever)

IKEA finally delivered my bookshelves and I got right to work putting them together.  They needed shims to compensate for a serious slanting of the floors in this old building and if that were not enough, had to be secured to the walls with L-brackets in case anyone decided to climb them at some point.  Or in case of an earthquake.  Apparently I now live on yet another fault line.  Who knew?  All this tweaking involved unplanned trips to the hardware store, drilling, hammering, screwing and vacuuming up the dust and detritus in the aftermath.  But at last the work was done and I was more than happy to empty those nineteen boxes and put books on brand new shelves.  If nineteen boxes of books sounds excessive – as it certainly did to the movers who, sweating up the long flights of stairs to my new abode, informed me that it is possible, now, to get an electronic device that holds over 1,000 books and weighs next to nothing – let me assure you that it translates into almost nothing when unpacked and loaded on new shelves.  There are lots of gaps.  But there are still enough volumes to make me feel at home again.

Among these treasures is a book of photographs by Dennis Stock of James Dean taken over a few months in 1955, the year Dean died in a car crash.  One of the images shows him in a dance class in New York, standing just behind his friend Eartha Kitt.  The look on Dean’s face is transcendent; he’s only 24 years old but suffers from insomnia, drinks, smokes and is struggling under the weight of his new status as a movie star.  He looks dissipated and innocent all at once.  He looks at Kitt with love, with wonder, with desire (what manner of desire one can only surmise).  It’s a beautiful shot and I would love to see the contact sheet from whence it was chosen.  Eartha, in the foreground, is her gorgeous self.  She never seemed to age, but in this photo she is probably in her twenties so is a softer version of her later persona.  Those cheekbones!  That sensual mouth!  That perfect heart-shaped face!

I like to think of this image when I listen to what is becoming, oddly, one of my favourite pieces of music, or maybe it’s become more of a soundtrack to my life, which could be worrisome.  The song is I Want to Be Evil made popular by Kitt whose voice has been described as somewhere between a growl and a purr, a bit smoke-and-whiskey cured.  In this song she manages an undertone of irony, a teasing invitation to come this close but no closer.  “…I want to spit tacks…and cheat at jacks…”

Oh I want to be evil too.  I want to say things that one never says because they’re hurtful or unkind or just not nice.  And we do want to be nice, don’t we?  We know that health and well-being is so much about balance but I struggle to maintain that middle ground between being “nice” and being weighed down with the self-loathing that comes from allowing myself to be a full-on raging snippy witch.  That last word is misspelled.

Most days it’s not so much of a problem.  And then I get the call from the partner of a friend – see?  Right there’s an issue, but let’s forge ahead: the Partner of the Friend has decided to come to Toronto on her way somewhere else.  She “has plans” for us.  She would like to stay overnight before heading off to her final destination.  She wants to “play”.  She’s arriving at noon and leaving some time the following day.  I grant you this sounds innocent enough.  In fact, I have more in common with Partner than I do with Friend – on paper that is.  In real life though … let’s just say some people are just easy to be with.  Easy breezy.  Interesting, sure.  Provocative, yes.  Even slightly combative is fine.  A little give and take is welcome, encouraged even.  There’s an ease that allows for comfortable silences, a shared humour, space for not knowing something and maybe even having fun making it up.

Then there are others with whom you always feel a bit on edge.   There’s a neediness about their attention, a constant chatter, a tone that asks “do you like me, huh, do ya? Do ya?  How ‘bout THIS?  Oh, and how ‘bout THAT?…”  And what I so badly want to say (I want to be evil) is “How about you put a sock in it?”  Or as Stevie Wonder once put it so eloquently at a concert: “Relax your lips”.  The real evil I want to be, or say, is Dear God of All Things Merciful can’t we just meet for lunch and be done with it?  I find you exhausting.  I don’t think I can bear your company – just the two of us – for 12+ hours.  Even two hours with you SUCKS THE ENERGY RIGHT OUT OF MY SOUL!!!

But of course I don’t say these things.  It’s only 12 hours after all, and we’ll be asleep for some of them.  This person is a kind person.  Well-meaning.  Earnest.  Oh my so earnest.  We never laugh together which I find odd and adds to the element of trying – it’s trying to be with someone with whom you don’t yuk it up from time to time, and it’s The Trying (hers to focus in on me with laser-like attention and mine to endure) that’s … trying.

“I wanna wake up in the morning with that dark brown taste …. “  Oh Eartha, you sweet thang, you have NO IDEA how evil one could be if only she had the nerve and the complete lack of empathy that would allow for the kind of truth-telling this imminent visit arouses in me.  I have spent a couple of weeks agonizing over Partner’s visit, partly because I’ve just moved and haven’t completely unpacked and have some damaged IKEA furniture lying in the middle of the living room and am sporadically painting the place and just want to be left alone … and partly because I am afraid I will not be as nice as I like to think I am.  Sure, I want to be evil like the song says, but, like the song says, the worst I can do is switch seats in the theatre so I can step on everybody’s feet.  I don’t want to give voice to those dark inhospitable thoughts crowding out my innate desire to please.

Send Valium c/o Sarah Bellum Toronto Ontario.

My best wishes to all of you.   Writers are solitary saints of a sort – alliteration is for you.  Photographers get to watch it all go by.  And so until next time…my admiration.


Seasonal Affective Disorder

The leaves are almost all off the tree, and we’re into the “rainy” season here in the Pacific Northwest. Daylight Savings is a joke, because now I’m ready for bed around 7pm. This time of the year is when I want to hibernate, and it’s a struggle to get up every morning and get things done.

Since I grew up in Alaska, it was always so much worse since we had no sunshine at all for a couple of months. No, not total darkness, but nothing brighter than dusk.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is what they call it, and I’ve suffered from it since I hit puberty. This past year I got on the Vitamin D kick, sure that it would solve all my problems. It did not. I’m still dragging. Maybe it’s not quite as bad as last year? I couldn’t tell you. Getting out and walking does seem to help, though when I come back to home I could easily crawl into my nice warm bed and sleep away the day. I don’t though. I work through it.

I’m not whining, I’m just sharing the fact that this time of the year can be hard. Lack of light, the holidays, the blues. I hope everyone out there has someone they can lean on. For me it’s my wonderful husband who, after 13 years of marriage knows my moods pretty well. He lets me be a little bitchy without calling me on it. He snuggles me more.

My advice to others who are going through this is try to get out. Go for a walk—just remember to bundle up against the weather! And when the weather is too bad, I even drag myself out to the stores, and I’m not a shopper so this isn’t what I consider fun. I go to a coffee shop and people watch. Sit in the food court at the mall and do the same. Isolation is the worst thing. And if it’s very bad, find someone to talk to who understands these issues. Don’t try to do it alone.

Hope everyone has a wonderful Thanksgiving (for my American friends), and that the coming holiday season brings you joy and love.

Anna Leigh

Piece of Cake

Actually, the whole darned thing. I’m not prone to eating cakes, much less photographing them. But when my friend Kristina brought this over to celebrate one of life’s smaller milestones, I simply couldn’t resist because, oh, the artistry and the whimsy. Check it out:

It’s a hatbox!!

Turn it around, and see the spill of frosted flowers and leaves slipping beneath the tilted lid.

Lift the lid, and find the delectable treasures inside, waiting to be savored.

This pretty little cake was a treat for the eyes and the tongue and that milestone felt so well marked and honored, which brings me to the real point of this post.

Celebrate the small stuff.

Big goals take a long time to achieve. Sometimes, it can feel like you’ll never, ever make it. You get disheartened, lose the faith. When you feel that happening, step back, take a look at what you have accomplished, what you’ve learned, how many rungs you’ve climbed on your way to the top – whatever the top is for you. Take a moment to appreciate how far you‘ve come rather than focusing on the seemingly interminable road ahead. Then treat yourself to a glass of bubbly, a cup of great tea, lunch with a friend or a nice piece of cake.  Celebrate your progress and your efforts; reward yourself for the accomplishments, all the jobs well done along the route. You deserve it. We all do.



I just got back from a voice lesson and I feel like purring. What is it about singing?  As a kid I sang in the high school choir, even got to be understudy to the alto lead – then spent the two months before the performance praying for her good health since I was terrified at the thought I might have to actually sing solo. 

But harmony?  I was happy as a little wren back there in the chorus.  Then life happened and I got busy and for the next 30 years, stopped singing.  Until I went through a bad patch and woke up one morning thinking, “I need more joy in my life,” which somehow led to the idea of joining a choir.  I asked friends for the names of local choirs, jotting the names down here and there and promptly forgetting them.  Really, I didn’t have time.  Then we were invited to a dinner where we met a choir director who invited me to join his choir.  When I ran into him again the next day, he repeated the invitation: Universal Gospel Choir.  Which prodded me enough to dig out the names of all those other choirs people had recommended.  Every one of them was, Universal Gospel Choir.

I can take a hint.  The first time I went to choir practice, I enjoyed it.  The second time, I sat in the middle of the alto section thinking, “Something’s going on here.”  It felt like not only were we making harmonies of soprano, alto, tenor and bass – beautiful enough.  But more, it felt as if every cell of my body was vibrating in harmony with the cells of the singers all around me. 

I don’t know if that was actually happening, but I know that the happiness I feel after a choir practice (and in spades after a concert) is profound.  As if every cell of my body really has been harmonizing with the cells of everyone around me, and the silly grins on our faces are proof.  What a gift!

Kate Braid

Go Phish

Last night I was awakened from my hotel bed in what, I believe, is the newest and scariest phishing attempt to date. For the uninformed, phishing refers to efforts to steal one’s personal—especially financial—information. In other words, identity theft.

At 2:54 a.m. the phone by my bed startled me out of a very sound sleep. The polite young man, identifying himself as Jason, asked if this was room 203. When I said it was, he apologized for calling at such an hour, then launched into a convoluted story about how the hotel’s internet had gone down, how the computer technician they had called had fixed it, but in doing so had eradicated the hotel’s database. Again, he apologized for calling but the manager, he said, had asked him to phone each room and manually restore each guest’s information.

As muddled as I was, something didn’t feel right, and besides, I wasn’t about to go searching for my wallet in the dark. When I told him I would provide the information in person, in the morning, after I was dressed, he shouted, “F*** Y**!”

Needless to say, I was too angry to get back to sleep and lay churning all night. I knew exactly what I was going to say to the hotel manager and by dawn had composed in my head the letter I was going to write to the parent corporation. It was only when I stormed into the lobby this morning, that I had any clue what had actually transpired.

“What was last night about?” I demanded.

Mr. Patel looked at me blankly. “What do you mean?”

I related to him what I just told you, to which he replied, “No one phoned. I am the only one here and I was asleep.”

I continued to press, running repeatedly into Mr. Patel’s obviously guileless denials. “No one phoned. Maybe another guest,” he said, offering a feeble smile and looking as confused as I was becoming. Then, upon reflection, he reconsidered. “But they would have had to call here.” He gestured at the desk. “And I would have had to transfer the call. Nobody phoned. I was asleep.”

He was right. Nobody could have phoned. But somebody did. Someone had hacked into the hotel’s telephone system and reached right into my room. Who knows how many others he called? I suspect everyone. How many of these, their minds clouded with sleep, had surrendered to this nameless, faceless stranger their name, mailing address and credit card number, along with its expiration date and the three digit CVC code on the back? It was the perfect time to call. Now I am wondering how many guests at how many other hotels are going to fall prey to this very sophisticated scam. I am certain it won’t end with me.


Playing Dress-Up

It’s a stage I have never actually outgrown. You  know— when as a child you donned princess outfits, cowboy boot and hats, played with toy guns (not politically correct now) and became a knight, a soldier, a Queen or a pirate. Living in a fantasy world of your own creation.

I’m definitely a grown up now. Officially a “Grannie” and yet I simply can’t shed my love of dressing up and assuming the role of a character. Not necessarily a character in one of my books, that’s too personal. After all, I know more about those folks than anyone else, and they are not me.

But, from time to time I create costumes, put them on and wander out to portray someone else in the real world. It’s called “cos-play” now-a-days. A fancy name for what my mother simply calls, “your get-ups”.  And while that might sound a bit derisive, it isn’t. She contributes more to my cache of costume treasures than anyone else. She loves garage sales, church sales and thrift shops, where all the best treasures are found. I simply have to tell her what I’m looking for and before long; it appears on my doorstep via UPS.

So of course, Halloween is one of my favorite holidays, but when you can combine cos-play with Halloween, you have the perfect weekend. “Steamcon IV: Victorian Monsters” was held October 26 -28 in Bellevue, WA. I’ve been to every single Steamcon, and the programs and events are always fun.

I learned about Victorian burial rituals and mourning, Spiritualism, Monsters, the influence of Fairy Tales on the Victorians, and listened to a variety of music. The art displays were amazing, and the merchant’s room filled with creative stuff I wanted to buy.

But best of all, I had the opportunity to dress up and mingle with other folks who share my enthusiasm for the Neo-Victorian life and “get-ups”. To the extreme. What a lovely way to spend a weekend.



Too Stubborn For My Own Good

Shortly after I married my husband (strange phrase–he’s my husband because I married him, right?), we were strolling along the harbor area in Annapolis, MD, when we ducked into a shop and he bought me a beautiful Zuni fetish.(**see note)

It was a bronze coyote, (the one on the photo, alongside the badger), and it began a collection that I continue to this day. I don’t have any particular personal connection to Native American culture, but the little carvings fascinate me. They are small, so they were easy to collect while in the early days of our marriage when we had to move several times. They were relatively affordable, since my husband was a medical resident and we were living primarily on my earnings. And they spoke to me. Each one has a distinct personality.

After a while, I began to recognize similarities among certain carvings and discovered there were carving families and that each animal represented certain personality characteristics.

One of the things I love about they symbolism of the fetishes, is that the personality traits are both positive and negative and that there’s no value judgement placed on it. A great example of this is the badger, who symbolizes both persistence (a positive trait) and stubbornness (a negative trait.)

I suspect that my own personality has much of the badger nature in it. As you might expect, this is both a good thing and a bad thing. My ‘inner badger’ is part of why I continue to write, hone my craft, and send new projects to my agent. That persistence is what drives me to write a book a year, every year and to believe that each one can and will sell. Badgers don’t give up.

The problematic side to my badger nature is (to use another animal metaphor) that when I get my teeth into a problem, I can’t stop until it’s solved. That leads to many, many late nights on the computer when I can’t get a photo to format correctly in an eBook conversion. When I’m attacking a problem like that, I get tunnel visioned and nearly disassociated from my body. I’ll pound on the keyboard and sit in increasingly awkward postures without feeling any discomfort until I’m finished and try to get up. Or the inability to let an argument go without getting the last word in. (Yes, it pains me to admit that one.)

I am slowly learning that making yourself right and the other person wrong is a losing proposition for relationships. That’s when my ‘badger’ needs a time out.

I think it’s helpful to look at personality traits as having both positive and negative aspects–both for understanding oneself, but also useful for a writer to understand her characters. Lydia, from THE BETWEEN has a bit of the badger in her nature, as does Ro, the main character from the SF novel I’m drafting now. Perhaps that is because the character I imprinted on most as a young reader also was ‘badger’–Meg from A WRINKLE IN TIME.

Other character traits that have mixed aspects and make for interesting characters (if not complicated relationships!) are loyalty, ambition, passion, and independence. Most often, it is a person’s or character’s strengths that are also their greatest weaknesses.

What are the positive and negative aspects of your own personality traits? If you are a writer, what about your main character? And if you’re a fellow ‘badger’, my sympathies. 🙂

**I want to be clear here–I’m not making any claim to have a totem animal. It is not my intent in any way to co-opt Native American culture. I appreciate Zuni fetishes as items of beauty that are sold as pieces of art by Native artists and have enjoyed learning about their traditional symbolism.



Artists are often the tiniest bit obsessive (I say it like that – the tiniest bit) so I don’t offend those of you who read this blog. I try not to think about myself this way and then I look at the notebooks on my desk, or the directories on my computer, and find that I may be slightly more than the tiniest bit obsessive.

Not all the time, but definitely some of the time.

One of the times was the year 2003. This was before I published my first novel and was a time I think I was trying to avoid my obsession by working very hard, trying to learn to play the cello, and going out a whole lot. But I couldn’t – though I’m pretty sure I tried – avoid it completely. In fact, from the looks of it, I only managed to avoid it for approximately 8 days.

On that day I went out and bought a very expensive leather notebook and began a project that would occupy me for… well, almost of the year. 313 days of it to be exact.

I decided that I would write a poem every single day – and I did. Up to and including November 27.

A lot of them were haiku – especially at the beginning. The very beginning:

Tonight it begins
riding the Skytrain home. Dark

And a lot of them were about my frustrations trying to learn to play the cello. But reading that notebook now, almost ten years later, I’m proud of many of those poems.

Beloved ones.
I miss you
now you’re gone
the wood shavings still
and silent since you’re gone
the chain saw’s buzz
missing, the air clean
without it.


The moon is an egg in the pale blue sky,
floating low between glass-bonded buildings
A thousand-year egg,
cracked and marked with
special, expensive, rotten.

Put it on the menu anyway.

Obsession worked for me that year, kept me writing, kept me watching the world, observing and creating. Something different, something new, something worthwhile.