Home: Dirt Beneath Your Fingernails

So, I’m sitting here at my first ‘Shut Up & Write’. There’s warm wood, bulb lights, industrial chrome, whitewashed walls and brick. Wildflowers and clever literary knick-knacks. Hipster music playing to the sound of twenty-four fingers typing. It smells like herbal tea, and you can hear a group of people chatting indiscriminately upstairs. It’s a coffee shop, but it feels like home.

wolverine press and publick house

Surrounded on all sides by writers.

Writers. That’s me now too, apparently. How did I not know that people did this? Everyone, gathering together at one long table in a quaint little literary coffee shop, meekly sharing names and projects, disappearing behind computer screens, only to reappear an hour later to socialize.

What a concept. Socializing over writing.

writing. a team sport.

I suppose I always considered writing a private endeavor. It isn’t like football, after all. You don’t find writer friends and get together Friday nights like athletes to battle and fight and share blood, sweat and tears over something you love. But, perhaps we are our own sort of athlete. We engage in mental exercise. A silent team sport. Sitting, elbow to elbow. Thinking. Loudness in our minds. Explosions, perhaps. Death. Laughter. Parties. Who knows. On the outside, all I hear is hipster music. Tapping keys, and the scratching of pens (I brought a book to edit, a pad to scratch upon, and a laptop to type with – wanting to examine writers in their natural habitat and pretend I knew exactly what I was doing, just like them).

The barrista is popping popcorn somewhere. I can smell it. Perhaps writing together is something like watching a movie together. Twelve different movie screens, some on laptop screens, some on notebook paper.

The lady across from me brought a red bound, unlined sketchbook and is filling the pages with a lovely, flowing handwritten script. The guy next to me is checking his smart phone under the table, as if avoiding some middle school teacher’s sharp eye. Is he researching something? Google. How does one kill a baboon with a spoon? Read. Type. What is the chemical makeup of dragon saliva. Read. Type.

The guy next to Bonnie isn’t one I’d peg as a writer. He, actually, does look like a football player. Big guy. Close-cropped head. Working on a fantasy graphic novel set in Colorado.

“You an illustrator?” I ask.

“Naw,” he says, “But you can hire guys on Reddit for $80/page.” Maybe he’ll follow Dickens and put out a page or two per month. Wait till fans pay up in order to find out what happens next.

“Well, best not hold readers hostage off a cliffhanger,” the host says. We all laugh.

Another gal just walked in. Short, curly bob. Middle aged. Long boho dress, but looks like the mother of a few kids in university. I offer to move over, but she smiles and waves me off. Best not disturb the writers. This silence is sacred. This team sport has rules too.

The place is called the Wolverine Press. One poster, held up by clothespins, tells me %100 of the profits here go to literature, arts, and community in Fort Collins. I wouldn’t mind holding off writing and just wandering this place for a while. Some of my team mates keep looking at me. Maybe staring around, letting my fingers pause on the keyboard is against the rules…

home. a definition.

One corner of this place holds posters of Colorado 14ers. An old typewriter. Die-cut framed artwork of jellyfish. Expensive candles. ‘Beldamia’ they’re called. The black metal supports have “Wake Up And Fight” chalked across them. Dollar bills stuck up with sticky tack. One wall covered with a scuffed red bookshelf and a random assortment of books that leads all the way to the outside patio. What do they do with the books when it rains, I wonder? There’s a hand-painted portrait of what looks like a young Lincoln on a cheap canvas. Ah. Sign reads “Local Makers”. We’re proud of locals in Colorado.


I’m leaving you soon.

Three years. Three months. Who knew we’d be here that long? Never really expected to be 25, married with 2 kids, and sitting with a long-haired, french-speaking editor friend in a boho Colorado café, writing and talking about local publishers. Huh.

‘A Poetic Inventory of Rocky Mountain National Park” says the book propped next to my table’s wildflower jar. It’s a little book, published by Wolverine Farm Press itself. Full of funny little stories and poems about the majestic, busy state park. They’re a proud bunch, these Coloradoans. They love their state. Their land. Their people and culture and ways. Some may bemoan the Californian influence, but still.

Wherever you go, you’ll find people who think every downtown coffee shop there and each local summer sunset romantic and idyllic. Because it’s home.

My family moved around a lot growing up, so I didn’t know where home was for a long time. But I wanted it, that feeling of home.

Maybe we all long for home, like a dog pining for a kind master. We want to belong to a place. We yearn to be something more than just tourist who stops to smell the flowers and remark on their beauty. No. Instead, we want to sink our fingers deep into the earth of a place and plant seeds of our own. And not just soft, delicate little flower seeds. Seeds that will one day be great trees, but not for many, many years. A tree for the grandchildren of our friends. Something big and ancient and permanent.

That’s home. To have the dirt of a place buried deep beneath our skin. An earthy smell we never grow tired of.

A lot of things in life aren’t permanent. And, maybe you can belong to many different homes. Perhaps the connection to a place and people can follow you, even when you go far away…

So long, Colorado. It’s been fun (:

My Crash Course in Book Cover Design

Book Cover Sketches

Two words, guys.

Adobe. Capture.


It is the greatest fun you’ll have with a phone app. I rarely use phone apps, but I am literally addicted to this one. And, I have no idea how people typically make book covers, but I used Capture to vectorize my sketches, and it saved me HOURS (thank you Elise!).

So, I sketched up about 6 cover ideas, got feedback from a bunch of family and friends, completely ignored the feedback and just used the design I liked best initially. Painted a couple different ideas, cut out a few different paintings of Win’s profile (my main character), the title, my name, a Vitruvian man in a clock and several different clock face sizes, then moved them around on a page to see what I like. I felt very arts-&-crafty (sitting by my cute little sewing machine that I have probably used once in my life…).

Book Cover Sketches






Then, I realized I could digitize my sketches with Adobe Capture and manipulate them in Photoshop (being the clever, tech-savy wannabee I am). So, I found access to a Photoshop free trial, created about 5 different covers there, again ignored everyone’s conflicting opinions, and just went with my own favourite cover.






I ended up with a gritty black sketch of Win with a clock for an eye looking down on the title. This, of course, was all after several all-nighter, self-directed Photoshop & book design crash courses.


Then sketched up 4-5 ideas for the promotional material, sent them to my librarian sister for feedback, reworked them, sent 3 options back to the library with a little cartoon, spectacled, bun-headed version of myself serving up a delicious serving of my new book.


Promo poster3

Author Visit Poster1

And on to World-building!

Phewee…it’s a big job! Creating a world, its geography, people, rules, traditions, customs and languages all from scratch! Fun – but takes AGES. Ended up with 20 notebook pages full of notes, caste rankings, titles of societal respect, a map of Banaan, and sketches of different races and main characters.


All sorts of fun.

Not as much fun as sleep, at this point. But, you take what you can get, yeah? (;



LISTS: the solution to all chaos

When I got news of plans to use my book baby for my hometown’s Summer Reading Program, I got up early the following morning to start editing and realized that I was looking at an awful, Pantser 1st Draft. I was horrified I let ANYONE read it. SO many plot holes. It was really just a book skeleton with shreds of flesh, aaaand it had to be ready for a book club in 5 weeks! GAH!


So much to do! All the things! Gah! I was in a mad dash to get everything done. And I mean mad. Like, frothing-at-the-mouth, pulling-out-the-hair, avoiding-the-world sort of mad.

So, me being me, I did what I always do when facing a Class 5 Freakout:

I made a list:

  1. Create book cover
  2. Create promotional poster for Author Visit
  3. Create Book bible
  4. Edit Book (Version 3)
  5. Research self-publishing/ beta reader options (Amazon’s Createspace?)
  6. Order 3 proofs for my unofficial proofreaders (Leland. My mum. Two brothers. Two sisters. A cousin.)
  7. Put together Author Visit Presentation (May 31, 7pm) & school visits
  8. Beef up social media (website & instagram. ugh. social media…)
  9. Proofread myself – make edits & consolidate all proofreader’s notes
  10. 4th edit
  11. Order 35 proofs & deliver to library.
  12. Follow Teen Reading Program through Facetime. Record beta feedback.
  13. Consolidate & implement feedback for final edit
  14. Research publication & make submissions
  15. Become famous author. Finally buy Wild Alaskan Salmon & stop cutting your hair yourself.

The solution to all chaos: lists. Lots of lists.

What Sharing Your First Novel Feels Like

I had a great 25th birthday. I mean, as far as birthdays go, it was top-notch. There was unicorn soda topped with cotton candy and lots of playing pretend. Escape Rooms are everything I ever wanted as a child: old Victorian ambience, brass keys, an old leather-bound journal full of blotted clues and the ramblings of an insane time-traveling inventor. And secret passageways. What more could I ask for in life?


So really, when my sister & mum called with a  big “birthday surprise”, I was already sitting fat and happy as the Queen of Birthdays.

My sister is a librarian back in my hometown, and she was trying to choose a book for the Teen Reading Program this Summer. Aaaaand, mum suggested my book. The head librarian loved the idea and kind of took it and multiplied it into this big, sparkly, elephant of a project.


Picture this: a community Author Visit (with yours truly) talking about the writing process, my book, the power of reading, etc. The library buying 35 (35!!!) copies of my book for staff and book club. Me, meeting with the kids throughout the summer, discussing writing, changes, edits and such.

What a wonderful, INCREDIBLE opportunity, right? How fun! How amazing! This is exactly what I wanted! People, reading a book I’d written. MY book, sitting on the shelves of a library! I am so ridiculously excited, I can barely stand it … sort of.

Because that excitement is being slightly smothered by whole lot of “I’m freaking out. Like, a lot.”


Who am I to give an Author Visit? I’m no author! I mean, yeah, I wrote a book. And, yeah, my mum liked it. But, that doesn’t make me an author! I don’t want to look like some big-headed schmuck:


“Aherm. Ye-es. Look at amazing me; me and my unpublished, self-edited book. Oh ye-es. All the critics are raving about my literary genius. And by critics, I mean my mom. Therefore, you should look up to me as a great authority on the matter. Ye-es!”

So… I’m a little nervous about the whole thing.

I’m tempted to go the ‘Aw shucks’ route, you know?

“Aw, shucks, guys. Huh-huh. I dunno too much. Just, ya know, wrote a little book. But, ya know, ANYONE could write a novel…”

Ok, I’m A LOT nervous about the whole thing.


Because, this book is my baby. My first-born, half-deformed baby. And, I love him dearly and cherish above the stars, but I’m hesitant to show his ugly, self-edited face to the world. Heck, showing the book to my parents and husband was terrifying.

This. This is a bit of a step up…

It’s like opening up my chest and showing off my raw soul to the one town I feel like will never see me as anything more than that one-awkward-quiet-kid.

At least, if I was published, I’d have the validation that someone other than my mom liked my soul and thought it was worthy of sharing.

At least, if my book was professionally edited, my raw and very private soul would get a working over. The rough edges smoothed out. The zits covered. The too private portions removed. You know, to make it presentable to the public: my phantom child given a mask and wig of sorts.


BUT, in the end, I LOVE writing. Yes, 95% of me wants to feign nonchalance on the topic, like writing is just a silly little hobby. Criticism on something you don’t care much about doesn’t hurt much. Failure when your passion, your soul, is on the line is terrifying. Terrifying.

BUT. I want to be a writer – a writer who progresses to someday write a book, or article, or something that really matters to somebody.

And you have to start somewhere. Right?

So, let’s move forward. I refuse to assume any pretended airs, but I do want to make the most of this wonderful opportunity.

Here I go, cleaning up my deformed first-born for his first public-appearance…

Wish me luck…

love brit

“Love is blind. And awful.” -Shakespeare

The Two Gentlemen of Verona. Not enjoying this one very much so far. Is it just me, or is Shakespeare kinda dirty? Like, and love is the worst, right? At least, that’s the point of this book… right?

This book is pulling me back into my original cynicism for “love”, or worldly love (lust?) I suppose. It’s this sort of description that always turned me off of the whole idea. Proteus and Julia and Valentine and Silvia’s love seems so superficial, all sorts of passionate, but it doesn’t sound pleasant at all! First, Valentine calls Proteus a fool for his passionate love, saying that “Love is your master, for he masters you;/ And he that is so yoked by a fool/ Methinks should not be chronicled for wise” (1.1.40).

love is awful

Then, Valentine goes off and falls for the “painted” Silvia, who wears makeup “to make her fair”, but “no man counts of her beauty” (11.1.58). But, as servants Lucetta and Speed say, “Love is blind” (11.1.68). Speed describes the moodiness and odd behavior Valentine has fallen into since falling in love (“to walk alone”, “to sigh”, “to fast”, to “whine like a beggar”.) Seriously, love sounds awful! Who would want that?!

Proteus seems to be a man of good esteem and reputation. And yet, love makes him blind and a fool. This love is uncertain, as Proteus says, comparing it to “the uncertain glory of an April day/ Which now shows all the beauty of the sun / And by and by a cloud takes all away” (11.1.84).

pus heartPerhaps Shakespeare is just trying to warn against immature love, and all the woes that come with “the most forward bud/ [which] is eaten by the canker ere is blow/ even so by love the young and tender wit/ Is turned to folly, blasting in the bud/ Losing his verdure even in the prime / And all fair effects of future hopes” (11.1.46).

I’ve seen people get into trouble after getting too tied up in a youthful “love” that isn’t love at all, and suddenly “losing . . . All fair effects of future hopes”. I have a feeling fickle Proteus is going to go after the superficial Silvia, as he’s already forgetting his passionate desire for Julia. Sheesh. So glad I didn’t date much during High School… cause it’s the worst, right?!


my weaknessOn another tangent, I adore the genuine. I love it when people are themselves, completely and totally. Yeah, that doesn’t mean, reveling in their weaknesses — shoving them in the world’s face and saying ‘Just accept me as I am, I’ll never change!”. I’m still trying to figure out what it means to be totally genuine. But, I think it means being honest. Even when trying to be flippant about your weaknesses, you know that you should be trying to be better.

I know there are particular ways to write online. You’re supposed to keep things short, use lots of pictures, and write in lists (10 Ways to Lose Weight, 5 Ways to Get More Energy). But, I really don’t care much about all that. Can’t I just write what I am passionate about? Trying to write within limits feels contrived to me.

meh poetryCourse, I felt the same way about poetry (& Twitter — ha!). I don’t want to fence my ideas into 8 lines, with a specific rhythm, and rhyming words! I don’t want to limit my thoughts to 40 characters!

But, as I get older, I realize that that’s just laziness. There’s no point in writing unless you are writing for someone to read it (unless that someone is yourself, I suppose). So, you need to write things so others will want to read it. So, if I want to convey an idea to someone, I have to speak their language. If I don’t use proper grammar and spelling, they won’t understand. If I don’t use techniques for online writing, no one will read what I’m trying to say. So, if done properly, it isn’t dishonest. It’s just packaging the genuine in a way that others can understand and appreciate.

I need to remember this when teaching my kids writing and grammar…


Sheesh. It’s tough work to keep writing things for other people’s eyes. I need to get faster at it. It seems to take me forever. But, I think it’s a really good habit to need to write at least one article a week that could be important to other people – that is refined for other people. It makes me look for meaning in my life. It makes me want to learn. It helps me hold my writing to a higher standard than that of my journal. It gives me more confidence in communicating with others. Often, I keep my thoughts to myself. The next level of communication is being able to effectively communicate these ideas to others.

There’s still the fear of failing. Of wanting to take the back door and not care so much. Of not putting as much effort in. But, this is a good habit for me, even if nobody reads it.

It’s hard to think of nobody reading it though. Even when I write in my journal, I think of someone, whether it be my older self, or my kids, or grandkids – someone – reading it later. What’s the point of writing if no one reads it? I suppose, that’s one reason I want to blog. Perhaps someone will read it. All these hours, pages upon pages upon pages of words – what use is all that, if no one ever reads them?

world oozing wordsBut then, I look at all the blogs out there. All the words. All the books. Ugh. The world is oozing – overflowing with words. And some of them are pretty superfluous (Haha! I always wanted to use that word!). All humans are unique, but with billions and billions of us, aren’t we all very similar, taken together? And, if so, why should I write more? Wouldn’t anything I write be incredibly redundant? Surely, someone has had the same thought – written the same thing. And, most likely, someone has thought or written much better than I ever could.

So, why add to this excess of words?

I was thinking about this while I was reading St. Augustine’s Confessions the other week.

Augustine is explaining why he is telling his life story (his “Confession”). He says, “I tell it to my own kind, to those other men, however few, who may perhaps pick up this book. And I tell it so that I and all who read my words may realize the depths from which we are to cry to You [God].” (2.3.1)

st. augustine

This really struck me. This book was Augustine’s testimony. He wants to share his life story so that anyone who picks up his book, whether few or many, may benefit from the belief that burns within him.

So, maybe we all need to be a little more honest. A little more genuine. Yeah, maybe no one ever reads it. But someone read Augustine’s Confession. A lot of people, actually. And it made a difference. Maybe your words could too!

love brit



Another thought on Malala’s story . . . which has been running through my head a lot, what with the controversy surrounding Trump’s so called “Muslim Ban”.  Her perspective during this time and context is interesting and enlightening.


The life Malala describes in Pakistan is not easy, even without the terrorists and bombings. It blows my mind that I had good friends who lived here. When I lived in the Caribbean, several of my close friends were from Pakistan. They saw these things. Bombings and death and lawlessness – nothing new to them. I remember seeing a news bite that a bombing had occurred in Lahore, Pakistan, where my one friend was from. When I told him about it, he was completely unfazed. He laughed at me! “Brit, that happens all the time there.” How can we in America even conceive that kind of life?

Something I found very interesting was Malala’s father considering becoming a suicide bomber. The way Malala describes him, her father seems to be a compassionate and good man. He rose out of poverty and never stopped pursuing his dream of building his own school. He had a terrible stutter, but he wanted to make his father proud. So, he entered a speech competition, and practiced his speech for hours upon hours while walking in the valley. He managed to become a great and charismatic speaker and leader, and created a great school, despite numerous financial difficulties, natural disasters, family problems, and Taliban and religious persecution. A great man, it seems. And yet, at one time, he considered becoming a suicide bomber, because he was taught the great honor and holiness such an act would bring him (he later rethought the validity of that). It really shocked me that seemingly inherently good people would consider something that seems so horrible, just because they are taught that it is right. It makes me want to be more understanding and compassionate for these people we call terrorists and fanatics and evil people. Would we be any different if we were taught as they were?


What really struck me was how horrible it was and still is in Pakistan. The bombings, the death, the murders, the rape, the corruption and chaos in the government and community. I can’t imagine how anyone could ever feel safe there. If I lived there, I thought, I would pray to come to North America. I can see why refugees want to leave. And yet, many don’t. Even with all the horror and carnage and chaos and lack of safety, these places are still their homes. They don’t want to leave to a foreign and unfamiliar place. Yet, oftentimes, they are forced to leave. It gave me greater compassion for refugees and immigrants. If they are capable and willing to work and cooperate with new laws and lands, shouldn’t they be able to come to North America? We have so much space, why shouldn’t they be able to come to a place that is free and safe, so long as they pay taxes and follow the laws?


And yet, I can see why people here don’t want refugees and immigrants to come. As I listened to Malala’s story, I felt an overwhelming gratitude to live in North America, with a whole ocean between my family and the Middle East. Even if I lived in the first-world countries of Europe, I would feel nervous having the Middle East so close. It scares me to think that such lawlessness and misguided thinking exists today. And, I am grateful I live far away from it! And I think, don’t bring them here! We don’t want that here! We have a Garden of Eden, a place of amazing peace and safety. Don’t take the chance of bringing these crazy fanatics here to pollute it!

Of course, most Middle Eastern people are not crazy killers. I know that. Most are just like us. But, there is some twisted teaching there – the twisting of the teachings of Islam. And, people in the Middle East seem to have been brought up disliking America, even hating them. And I can see why. America has meddled and manipulated many nations for their own gain. Of course, the Middle East doesn’t have a monopoly on twisted minds and evil deeds. North America has her fair-share of messed up people too. So, what leads to the serious chaos and terror that exists in these countries? Perhaps it isn’t Islamic religion that makes it that way. Perhaps it is their system of government. Perhaps it is the poverty, the natural disasters, or thousands of years of complicated religious and racial tension. Who knows . . . I just can see why people are afraid of the problems we see there coming to the comparative Eden that is North America.

So, on that end, I think it’s right that America carefully consider who they allow into the country. It is every country’s right and responsibility to defend its borders from threats. We should be protecting our land from terror and violence. But, North America IS immigrants. It was founded on the shoulders of immigrants from all over the world – Europe and Africa and Asia and Russia, and all over. Why should the bounteous blessings of “the promised land” be denied to those who have no home left to go back to, who would be a strength and a blessing to this country? Yes, there would be a risk of allowing some bad eggs in, but that is the risk of every child born in America. Most American babies grow up to be normal, law-abiding citizens, while a few go down bad paths. And yet, it seems to me that many refugees would prefer being in a safe place more like their original home, in culture and locale – if there is a place available. America is the superpower of the world and has set itself up to be the world’s caretaker. But, it shouldn’t be that way. America doesn’t have to take in everyone, nor does it have to solve all the world’s problems.

So, America shouldn’t be the world’s caretaker. But, we are a people of incredible peace and prosperity. As such, we should have compassion for those born in less favourable circumstances.

If I were a refugee, I would want someone to care.




I just finished listening to Malala Yousafzai’s audiobook – that’s right – I finished a book! An honest to goodness book for the first time in months!

(Leland discovered this app called Overdrive that allows you to rent and listen to audiobooks on your phone! (He only shared it with me in response to my grouchiness at having to drive nine hours without stopping by the library for an audiobook). I love it! I’ve been up the last couple nights just cleaning and organizing till the early morning – and enjoying it because I could listen to a book! Fantastic discovery.)

One of the final thoughts I had coming out of Malala’s story was about courage. Here are these fairly ordinary people, Malala and her friends and family, standing up and speaking out for a girl’s right to go to school. Malala and her father continued to speak out (loudly), even though they knew there was a high chance of being harmed or killed because of it.


I came out thinking what a coward I am . . . It’s rare for me to speak out loudly about anything. How often have I silently shook my head at something and said nothing? No one is going to shoot me in the face for speaking out and defending things I know are right (at least . . . the possibility is minute compared to Pakistan). No one is going to kill my family, or bomb my home, or kill me in the night for standing up for what’s right.

It’s so easy to stand for what’s right in America, so why don’t I do it?

Is it because life in America is so good? Sure, there are things that aren’t right, but nothing bad enough for me to stand up and do anything about it. If something really bad happened, like kicking girls out of schools, you bet I’d stand up and speak . . .

But would I?

Malala and her family are remarkable because, despite how wrong things were in Pakistan, many other people just let it happen. They didn’t do anything. So, is it just personality? Malala and her father seemed like strong, commanding people. If you’re not like that, maybe you’re not meant to stand up? Is it just coincidence?


Malala’s story reminded me a bit of Katniss in the Hunger Games series. Katniss wasn’t anyone extraordinary. She had the courage to stand up for what she believed in when she took her sister’s place in the games, and that action somehow resonated with people, and she became a symbol to them. Malala seems the same. I’m sure there are many other people in the world like her, who courageously stand up for what’s right – but never gain the kind of influence she did.


Maybe it’s just coincidence who falls into the role of a nation’s symbol and hero: people like Mother Theresa and Abraham Lincoln. You can see that Lincoln could have easily lived and died a man (albeit a good one) very few would have remembered. But, one thing after another happened, and he became President of the United States. Even then, would he have been as famous if he hadn’t been leader during such a tumultuous and pivotal time in American history? Perhaps not.

But, the point, I suppose, is: I need to be more courageous. Here, in America, I am SO blessed. I have incredible freedom and opportunity. I can stand and fight for so much good and against all sorts of evils and wrongs. My life is very easy and safe. I have been so blessed. But, the world is still full of “wrongs that should be righted”, and I need to have the courage to speak out and fight for right with the courage Malala shows in her story.

I heard a story once of a two men who attended a friend’s funeral. The preacher at the pulpit went on and on about how the diseased man never offended anyone. The man in the pew leaned over to his neighbour and said, “That’s because he never did anything!”

That hit me hard. I was the type who liked to slip in silently and listen, nodding along with whoever I agreed with, and creating arguments against the ones I didn’t – but only in my head. I hate conflict with a fiery passion, so speaking up against anything is scary for me…

But the question for all of us, I guess: When the time comes when something truly important comes along, will you have the courage to do what is right?

We shake our heads at the cowards in history and our novels – but what if we are the cowards in our own life – in our cushy, cozy part of a world that still has so many “wrongs that should be righted”…

So, finally: