Deviation – A Book Review

Deviation-510Sci Fi author Reesa Zimms is kidnapped and taken to the future. And not just any future, but the one she created for her novels. Reesa’s kidnapper is none other than her hero Hedric Prosser. And the villain of her stories, Matthew Borden, becomes her unlikely rescuer. As Reesa struggles with whether she is losing her mind or if she is some kind of prophet, her and her friend Kate are caught in a religious war between the fanatically anti-woman faction Makeem and the extremist feminists of Nova Femina. That is the plot of A. J. Maguire’s original and entertaining novel Deviation.

As a writer myself, I’m delighted by the concept of an author being thrust into her own story. I’ve always believed on some level that the characters I create really exist. I know that sounds crazy, but I also know that the authors reading this are nodding their heads. This is why I squeal with glee as Reesa meets the people she created. As Hedric becomes angry at Reesa for writing the loss of his wife, I remember the guilt I felt when giving my characters loss and turmoil.

I also enjoy the undertone of feminism in the power play between the Makeem and the Nova Femina. Maguire pits the extremist anti-woman against the extremist feminist, mirroring the gender politics of this century, but she never tells the reader what to think. Both the universe its characters are too complex and real to fit neatly into camps of right and wrong, good and evil.

The one unanswered question I have reading Deviation, is how is it possible that the characters Reesa created actually exist? If she is a prophet, only predicting the future instead of creating it, then how is it possible that several of her characters are based on people she knows in real life? (So much so that everyone recognizes Kate as Hedric’s recently dead wife.) I’m certainly glad nothing turns out to be “all a dream” and I much prefer the idea that Reesa literally created the universe, but the mechanics of how this is possible are never adequately explained. Of course, as I got caught up in the story I began to care less and less that my initial questions weren’t going to be answered and just enjoyed the ride.

Maguire’s writing is believable, readable, and entertaining. Most of all it left me wanting to read more, which is always a good sign. 4/5 stars. Highly recommended.

Grab yourself a copy of Deviation at Double Dragon Publishing’s website here, or wherever ebooks are sold. Or read more reviews on Goodreads.

Winter is Coming

Last February, while walking my dog, I slipped on an icy sidewalk and broke my arm, specifically my humerus, just above my elbow. Four hours of surgery and two months of physio therapy later and my arm is almost back to normal. It isn’t the same as it was before, and it never will be, but I can use my arm now and unless you happen to notice the scar, you’d never be able to tell that I was injured.

Yesterday a doctor friend of mine was marveling at how fast and how well I’ve recovered. Most people take much longer to get better. Some people lose the use of their arm forever. So I was lucky. So I’m pretty tough. So I’m kind of a super hero.

Now I’m going to tell you a secret: I haven’t recovered.

I’m not talking about the six-inch worm-like scar running up my elbow, or the fact that thanks to new metal parts my left arm is now one inch wider than my right. I’m told the numbness in my hand may or may not go away eventually, and my elbow still hurts, sometimes a lot, when it’s going to rain that day. I can live with all those things. But my elbow isn’t the only thing about me that changed.

These days, if I see a child fall I have to watch to make sure they are okay, even when they are not in my care. Before, I knew instinctively that they were fine, that they need nothing more than a parental cuddle and possibly a band-aid.  I’m not so naive anymore. I know what can happen when bone meets pavement. I know how fragile we are.

Now that fall is here and the weather is turning colder, my heart clenches in fear at three simple words:

Winter is coming.

Now I’m one of those odd people who looks forward to winter. It’s my favourite season. I love the fresh feeling of cold air on my face. I love the beauty of the world in white. I love tobogganing and skating.

Skating.

On the ice.

Ice = danger.

The thought of not enjoying winter fills me with anger. Anger at whatever city official decided not to salt the sidewalks on my street that day. Anger at myself for falling, and for being afraid of falling again.

It was a long time  before I was able to walk the dog by myself without tears. By the time I could, the snow and ice had already melted away. I haven’t had the chance to face my fears since then. I didn’t even know the fear still existed until the leaves started to change. Now I live in dread of the season that I love so much.

I’ll get over it. I have to. I’m going to walk the dog on the iciest days. I’m going to take my kids to the skating rink. I’ll be okay when they fall. I’ll be terrified at first, then eventually I won’t be. You can’t have courage unless you have a fear to face. I have courage. I’m kind of a super hero.

The Other Side of Critique

Yesterday evening, as is my regular Tuesday custom, I participated in an advanced improv workshop at the Staircase Theatre, lead by the incomparable Hugh MacLoed. At the start of such workshops we set goals about what we want to work on to better our improv performance. Last night we did something different. We let the group decide. Facing a tribunal of supportive friends, I got the notes I was expecting. I should try high status characters. I tend to play children, immature adults, and I rarely take charge. (This is true in life as well as improv, but I’ll try not to psychoanalyse myself too much). Then my friend Laurie said something unexpected, something that touched me enough to inspire this post. “I want you to realize that you are actually really good at this.”

As someone attracted to various artistic endeavours, I’ve been critiqued in various situations. In my university painting class we would take turns having our paintings displayed before the class, each person saying both a positive thing and
something that could be improved. “I love the use of colour. I would add more detail.” “The composition draws the eye around the piece. I don’t think you got the proportions quite right.”

One writing professor had the perverse habit of waiting until I was sitting in his office before reading my assignment. Then he would judge, sometimes fairly, sometimes mercilessly, the personal narratives about my life. “I don’t get it. You’ll have to either revise, or decide that this is the piece that won’t go toward your final grade.”

I’ve learned to take even the harshest of criticism about what I produce. I use it as a tool to improve my work, separating the personal from the professional as needed. In all these years, however, I never learned how to take a compliment. I distrust positive feedback, never certain of its honesty. Even if I do believe the praise, I tend to respond by putting
myself down. By worrying about coming across as boastful, I’ve developed a habit of selling myself short.

Tonight I meet with my novel writing group. I’ve read their latest chapters in preparation, trying to find something to improve in well-written, well-structured, and publishable pieces. These are women I admire for the way they weave with the words on the page. I’m in awe at times of their unique voices, their ability to construct a story, the poetry of their descriptions. And yet, I get the distinct impression that they are equally impressed with me. Along with they very valuable notes for improvement (which I appreciate greatly, Wardroids wouldn’t exist without them), I’m often met with compliments about my
writing. Tonight, instead of defaulting to sheepish denial, I shall try a more high-status role. I shall take the praise at face value, without self-doubt or self-depreciation. “Thank you, I worked hard on this.”

Mountains are big and pretty.

Sometime last year and sometime in winter my husband went to Alberta on business. While he was there he took breathtaking photos like this:

mountain

Photo credit Adam Filipowicz

While I was at home watching the kids and browsing through his photos on Facebook. This week Adam’s working in Calgary again and this time we’re saying a hearty “forget you!” to our budget and paying the money so I can tag along.

We will hike up and down mountains. We will see breathtaking vistas. We will spend much needed couple time together. Lately I’ve been a bit lax on my one-a-day blog post marathon. Well I promise that next week will be even more lax! I will be way too busy rocking the Rockies to bother with this blog. If that bothers you, just imagine me yelling my musings down at you from the top of a mountain.

For more of Adam’s photos have a look here.

My kids are more athletic than I am

Today my friend Becca invited us to go to the public outdoor pool. We wore them out in the park before hand, then headed in. William passed his swim test for the first time which meant he got a green bracelet and didn’t have to stay within arm’s reach. He spent most of the day jumping off the diving board with his friend Aedan. The boys have known each other since birth and it’s pretty amazing that they are both grown up enough to use the high dive without assistance.

In any case we stayed for several hours, until both us Moms were exhausted. Then we left. We stopped to play in the park on the way out. This all should make what you are about to see all the more impressive. When they were already exhausted from swimming and diving, my kids went and conquered the monkey bars like professional chimpanzees.

Call Noah

driftwood park No, I didn’t take this pic, but do you see that park? That park is two minutes from my house. Yesterday my good friend Cara stubbornly decided to not to cancel her backyard barbecue. While most of us guests stayed inside her house, she barbecued hamburgers in a torrential downpour.

This was a party with small children in attendance, not meant to last more than a few hours. As such, I only felt slightly rude leaving to attend the improv jam happening that night in Hamilton. My friend Kate came with me and off we drove, confident in my rain driving abilities. We’re not made of sugar after all! We were going to pick somebody up at Guelph Line before heading to Hamilton. It was bumper to bumper all along Dundas. Along the way, we passed roads that had become rivers. Literally, and I’m not even misusing that word.

Less than a kilometer from Guelph Line a cop car blocked the road. Why? Because the road past that point was now a lake.

We tried an alternate route but were blocked by a police officer in a raincoat. When I asked him how I could get to Guelph Line his response was “You can’t. Just hang out for a while.” This meant that not only could I not get to Hamilton, I couldn’t even get home.  We turned around and returned to Cara’s party.

For those of you who don’t know Burlington, the distance we had to travel was less than four kilometers. To go nowhere and come back, about a 7 k journey, took us over an hour.

Today the water has receded and if you drive around town it’s like nothing happened. Except that my basement is slightly damp.

Rainy Day

rainy dayI decided to turn a quick trip to the corner grocery store into a family walk. On the way there, the sky began to rumble and and flash. We scurried into the store as the first drops fell. We bought chocolate chips to make cookies with and some blueberries to eat on the way home.

By the time we got outside again a great lake of water poured from the sky. We huddled in the small amount of cover offered by the building and ate our blueberries. Finally, we took a family vote. We weren’t going to wait this out. We were walking home. We were getting drenched.

Halfway into our 15-minute journey, something happened that I would have thought impossible. It rained harder. We were pelted by sharp nodules of wetness. Wait, was that hail? The angle of the rain changed as we turned a corner so that patches of my skirt and top which had remained dry became instantly drenched.

We laughed, we shrieked, we splashed. We huddled together. We jumped together. It was the best walk ever.

The story of my first kiss

twisterI’m not sure why this event popped into my head, but it did so I’m telling you the story. I looked the part of the stereotypical nerd back in the day. Not only did I wear glasses, but through some combination of misguided feminism, nerd pride, and nineties fashion, my seventeen-year-old self wore over-sized t-shirts which disguised any evidence of my voluptuous female form. My favourite read “I’m out of bed and dressed, what more do you want,” though I never really practiced what it preached and made the honour roll three years in a row.

There was an exchange trip that year for French Immersion students like me to go to Switzerland and stay with a fellow teenager and her family. Before we went, we filled out surveys meant to match us up with our Swiss doppelgangers. By some fluke of the system I was matched with a boy-crazy party girl who drank, smoked, and collected shoes.

On the night in question, Sandrina (my Swiss party girl), took me out to a club with some of her friends. I was wearing a white t-shirt with a Twister spinner on it. I remember she asked me if I wanted to change, but all I had were nerdy t-shirts and I didn’t want to wear any of Sandrina’s clothes, so I didn’t. We drank kamikaze shots early in the night, but I wasn’t drunk or even tipsy. In fact, I only had one. I wasn’t a drinker.

And then we were up and dancing. Rather than dance in a group of girls, as is the Canadian custom, we paired off with random guys on the dance floor. It happened very organically, so that suddenly I was dancing with a mildly cute black guy with an intense gaze. No one had ever looked at me like that before. For the first time in my teenage life, I felt like one of the girls. With a twinkle in his eyes, he held his hands in front of the cartoon hands of the twister spinner, stopping just short of touching my chest.

He took me by the hand and lead me off the dance floor, to a quieter area of the club. We chatted for a bit. He was a soccer player from Brazil (I think), who spoke English but no French at all. We didn’t talk long before he leaned over and kissed me. I was surprised when he slipped his tongue into my mouth, but when he pulled away I went back for seconds. No guy had ever even taken an interest, let alone made a move on me. It felt good. And I thought I did pretty well for a beginner.

He asked me if I wanted to go outside to his car. I definitely wasn’t ready for THAT and anyway I didn’t really know this guy, so I declined. At some point I showed off my French skills by asking the coat check girl for a pen and paper and he wrote down his address for me. He talked about coming to Canada sometime to visit.

When I got back to Sandrina’s house I tore up the address into tiny pieces and flushed it down her toilet. I wasn’t about to contact this guy! (Though now I kind of wish I’d kept the paper as a souvenir).

Let’s go fishing for alien mermaids

Here’s Bill Nye the science guy talking about the possibility of finding life on Europa, the most famous of Jupiter’s moons:

I remember reading about Europa as a kid and being excited that aliens could be swimming just under its icy surface. Alien sea monsters, a whole underwater civilization, mermaids. Okay, most likely not mermaids, but who knows?

Creating art and artists

I was recently inspired to get a sketchbook and start drawing again. I’ve always been more of a painter than a sketcher, but sketching is more affordable, more portable and less messy. Also it’s therapeutic. Of course it has been many years since art school and I am sorely out of practice (not that I was ever that talented to begin with).

The most disheartening thing about this reentry into the art world is the realization that my five-year-old and seven-year-old are more skilled with the pen than I. Observe:

This is one of the first sketches I did upon purchasing my new sketchbook.
image

And here is a character that William my seven-year-old drew this morning.

Art credit: William Filipowicz

Art credit: William Filipowicz

Here is my picture of the statue of Liberty drawn from memory.

image

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And here is William’s picture of Central Park also drawn from memory.

art credit: William Filipowicz

art credit: William Filipowicz

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you’ve ever been to Central Park, you’ll see how accurate that drawing is.

Finally, here is a totally awesome sketch by my daughter Jadzia.

art credit: Jadzia Filipowicz

art credit: Jadzia Filipowicz

I’m going to continue drawing despite my mediocre skill because, as I said before, it is therapeutic. Besides what better way is there to turn my children into lifelong artists than to show them that Mommy still draws?