Start With Yourself

On Wednesdays, I share posts, fables, songs, poems, quotations, TEDx Talks, cartoons, and books that have inspired and motivated me on my writing journey. I hope these posts will give writers, artists, and other creatives a mid-week boost.

The following words were written on the tomb of an Anglican Bishop in the Crypts of Westminster Abbey:

When I was young and free and my imagination had no limits, I dreamed of changing the world. As I grew older and wiser, I discovered the world would not change, so I shortened my sights somewhat and decided to change only my country.

But it, too, seemed immovable.

As I grew into my twilight years, in one last desperate attempt, I settled for changing only my family, those closest to me, but alas, they would have none of it.

And now as I lie on my deathbed, I suddenly realize: If I had only changed my self first, then by example I would have changed my family.

From their inspiration and encouragement, I would then have been able to better my country, and, who knows, I may have even changed the world.

Inspired by C.S. O’Cinneide

Sunday afternoon, I attended the “How to Write Frightening Fiction” workshop facilitated by author C.S. O’Cinneide (Carole) at the University of Guelph. A former IT business analyst with 25+ years of technical writing experience, Carole has written Petra’s Ghost, a novel that resonates with both literary and horror communities.

Carole’s Backstory

From an early age, Carole enjoyed writing fiction. While she enjoyed her IT career, she hoped to write a novel someday. At midlife, Carole decided to seek inspiration and direction on the Camino di Santiago.

Her supportive husband looked after their two teenage daughters and a German exchange student while Carole was away.

Walking 30 kilometers each day, Carol completed the ancient five-hundred-mile pilgrimage that crosses Northern Spain in one month. During that time, a woman was abducted and killed on the Camino.

When Carole returned to Canada, she spent two years writing and editing Petra’s Ghost, a novel loosely based on that tragedy. Intrigued by the storyline, Dundurn Press offered Carole a contract within three days of receiving the manuscript.

At Sunday’s meetup, Carole shared information and advice in an entertaining and interactive session. A short Q & A period followed.

Here are seven nuggets that captured my interest:

• Terror and horror are not mutually exclusive—most scary fiction is a mixture of the two ends of the spectrum that has terror on one end and horror at the other.

• Horror gives people a safe place to face their fears. In one of the exercises, we were asked to list 10 things that frightened us. In the sharing session that followed, a number of “fears” emerged, among them sharks, earthquakes, and shame/embarrassment.

• Don’t terrify readers the entire time. Use a balance of light and dark to give the reader a break from the tension at regular intervals.

• Develop an inner struggle to match the external one. Publishers and readers want a deeper story to go with the thrills and chills.

• Make the threat real and present for the reader. Writing in the present tense can add to the immediacy of the danger.

• A “hook” is essential when writing frightening fiction. Write the first chapter and then find the place where the “hook” occurs (often halfway or near the end of the chapter). Rewrite, starting from the hook. The earlier prose can be reused as backstory or flashback.

• Speak the language to get your book published. Do your research and decide on the best descriptor (magical realism, psychological suspense, speculative fiction, etc.) for your manuscript.


A man’s pilgrimage becomes something from his darkest nightmares when secrets arise and ghosts haunt his path.

A woman has vanished on the Camino de Santiago, the ancient five-hundred-mile pilgrimage that crosses northern Spain. Daniel, an Irish expat, walks the lonely trail carrying his wife, Petra’s, ashes, along with the damning secret of how she really died.

When he teams up to walk with vibrant California girl Ginny, she seems like the perfect antidote for his grieving heart. But a nightmare figure begins to stalk them, and Daniel’s mind starts to unravel from the horror of things he cannot explain.

Unexpected twists and turns echo the path of the ancient trail they walk upon. The lines begin to blur between reality and madness, between truth and the lies we tell ourselves.

Amazon (Canada) | Amazon (US) | Indigo | Barnes & Noble

Books on Horror

Danse Macabre (Stephen King)
Monster, She Wrote (Editors: Lisa Kröger, Melanie R. Anderson)
Horror: A Literary History (Xavier Aldana Reyes)
Writing Horror (Edo Van Belkom)

Helpful Links

Horror Writers Association (
Ladies of Horror Fiction (
Carole’s Website (

Thanks to Karen Ralph and Marion Thorpe for organizing this event.

Movie Review: Last Christmas

Set in London during the first Christmas season after the Brexit referendum, Last Christmas is a musical holiday movie loosely plotted around the George Michael hit of the same name.

Kate/Katarina (Emilia Clarke) is a 20-something aspiring actress whose life is a hot mess. Struggling to recover from a serious health scare, Kate’s flakiness and klutzy behavior test the patience of friends and family members. Kate’s attempts to land an acting role fall short, forcing her to maintain her “elf” position at a year-round Christmas shop run by a bossy, sharp-tongued Santa (Michelle Yeoh).

Amid this angst, handsome and mysterious Tom (Henry Golding) walks into Kate’s life.

At first reticent, Kate opens up to Tom. She enjoys their “dates,” a series of unique excursions, among them a secret garden walk and an ice-skating lesson. Tom encourages Kate to always “look up” and catch the little bits of magic. He also introduces Kate to a nearby soup kitchen, populated by an eccentric group of street folk.

When Kate starts volunteering at the local shelter, she experiences a shift of perspective and returns to her family home. Not much has changed on the home front. Her mother (Emma Thompson) bemoans her circumstances while her father (Boris Isakovic) maintains as much distance as possible from his wife.

Kate’s parents have struggled financially and culturally since fleeing the war in Yugoslavia. Watching the Brexit news further alarms Kate’s mother, who is convinced they will be forced to leave England.

Imagining herself in love with Tom, Kate becomes frustrated when he starts to take distance. Spoiler alert: Prepare for a twist in the narrative.

A delightful holiday movie that skillfully combines romantic comedy, fantasy, excellent performances, and the music of George Michael.


How to Overcome Writer’s Block

On Wednesdays, I share posts, fables, songs, poems, quotations, TEDx Talks, cartoons, and books that have inspired and motivated me on my writing journey. I hope these posts will give writers, artists, and other creatives a mid-week boost.

In her book, How I Write: Secrets of a Bestselling Author, Janet Evanovich recommends writing something every day, even it means just a few sentences on the screen. And not getting too hung up on rewriting the first page or chapter. Rewriting and polishing should be done only on a completed manuscript.

Here are Janet’s suggestions…

Do it by time. Start with five minutes and increase the time by five minutes a day. In two weeks, you will be sitting at your desk for about an hour a day.

Do it by pages. Start with one paragraph a day and work towards a page a day. By year’s end, you will have written 365 pages.

Do it by word account. Plan to write a specific number of words each day. Hemingway wrote around 500 words a day–approximately 2 pages. Those two pages a day produced nine novels and a number of short stories–with plenty of time out for game hunting and fishing.

Do it by appointment. Carve out a place and a certain time of each day for writing. Then show up for work.

About Janet…

Janet Evanovich is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Stephanie Plum series, the co-authored Fox and O’Hare series, the Knight and Moon series, and the Lizzy and Diesel series as well as twelve romance novels, the Alexandra Barnaby novels, Troublemaker graphic novel, and How I Write: Secrets of a Bestselling Author.

Scotland Lures Me With Each Book

I’m happy to welcome Soul Mate author, Madelyn Hill. Today Madelyn shares the inspiration for her novels and her new release, Christmas in the Highlands, an anthology with two stories: A Family for Christmas and His By Christmas.

Here’s Madelyn!

I have often been caught with my nose in a book. My love for the written word inspired me to begin writing (seriously writing) after I decided to be a stay-at-home mom. I needed something, something of my own that allowed me to dive into a creative work. I started with a flourish, delving in and researching. I picked a location and time period in which I was curious. That curiosity turned into a love of a genre and location that still inspires after all of these years.

Scotland lures me with each book. The rich and tragic history. The braw Highlanders and the spirit of the lasses who love them. And that brogue! When said with the right intonation draws you in and you understand how the heroine tumbles into love with a Highlander. Scotland holds a mystique, a history which has been made over umpteen times and layered with romance and heroism.

That rich history is perfect fodder for my novels. I take snippets of truth and weave it into my stories. Clan history and the antics of their lairds and ladies. Scandals, battles, feuds, unique characters, all feed into my stories and help bring some connection in my writing to the fascinating past.

Inspiring to say the least. What inspires you?

A Family for Christmas – Book One

Laird Malcolm Sutherland needs a bride. He has few requirements of his new wife; demands he should have insisted with his former betrothed—namely, honesty, loyalty, and resources.

Lady Rossalyn Gordon will do anything to be rid of her tyrant father, even if that means deceiving the man who offers her an escape. If revealed, those secrets will either bring her mercy, or thrust her back into the hands of the devil who sired her.

When Rossalyn’s bastard of a father arrives at Sutherland Keep, going back on his word and ordering her return, Malcolm must decide if he can forgive his wife enough to listen to his heart and have a family for Christmas.

His by Christmas – Book Two

Fiona Sutherland longs for love with the man she has pined after since she was a lass. When he weds another she is devastated, and questions why the man she pledged her heart to has forsaken a vow made in their youth. Could loving her be so hard?

Cameron Munro adores Fiona from afar, knowing her heart has been set on another. She is everything he desires—strong, loyal, and fiery in spirit.

Determined, he pledges to prove his love to her and win Fiona’s heart by Christmas.

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Madelyn Hill is an historical author who loves the lure of Scotland, captivating Highlanders and the strong women they love.

Many of her novels were finalist for the National Rone Award, which honors literary excellence in romance writing. Highland Honor was awarded the coveted Crowned Heart by In’Dtale Magazine.

Madelyn’s first book, Wolf’s Castle has been #1 in the Historical and Scottish Romance category at Amazon.

Madelyn lives in Western New York with her husband, three children and a naughty puppy named Cannoli.

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