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If I've neglected this blog, it's with good reason. Did I mention I had a baby?

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Little Mara was born Oct. 22, 2015 at 12:43 pm, 8 lbs., 9 oz. She's almost 3 months old now and is a squishy little bundle of cute.

To answer the usual questions:

  1. Yes, labor was hard, despite having an epidural, being induced after 2 days walking around with a ruptured water, less than 3 hours of real contractions or pain, and only 1.25 hours of pushing. Relatively short and easy and uncomplicated, but definitely the most difficult thing I've ever had to do in my entire life. No, I have not forgotten the pain—to all the people who say you'll forget everything once the baby is in your arms, I say LIARS, ALL OF YOU.
  2. Yes, the baby does actually sleep quite well now at 12+ weeks. She's been doing a solid 5-8 hours at night before stirring. Most of the time, I'm the one who wakes her up to eat because, despite my tiredness, boob pain demands baby eats or I explode. Overall, Mara's a pretty chill baby, for which I am eternally thankful.
  3. I'm on mat leave until November. Hubby got 2 weeks off right after the birth. But I've got lots of family support.

I think I called my mom and apologized for being alive and told her I love her after the first week home from the hospital. Jeebus, momming is hard. I mean, Mara's adorable and easygoing for the most part. Aside from the usual first-time hiccups with breastfeeding and such, I've had a relative easy go of it. But MAN, dealing with the inner fears, guilt, need to do better, do more, on top of still trying to get basic chores, personal hygiene and writing done is really difficult. I'm lucky I have so much family and help nearby. I can't imagine being completely on my own.

The thing about writing is that I need a lot of mental leg space to trot out ideas, test dialog, and just generally BE. With a baby, or frankly anything that requires me to utilize my right brain (or is it my left brain? I've no idea anymore, it's all baby brain...), that space shrinks down A LOT. This post took me two days to write over several hours split up while baby was napping. And if you're a SYWTBAW follower, you know it takes at least 20 minutes to really get in the writing groove.

Baby brain is expected, and so are many other post-partum symptoms. I just didn't expect to have to deal with so many of them at once. No one ever tells you about the cramps, nausea, deep-seated hunger and nipple pain that comes with breastfeeding, or about all the other wonders that go along with breastfeeding, like jets of milk hitting the baby in the eye, or that agonizing pain that feels like Iron Man has grabbed your boob and electrified it, and not in the sexy way. No one mentioned severe carpal tunnel turning into De Quervain's. No one said I'd get plantar fasciitis after delivery, either. Or that I'd need to go to the eye doctor again because being with baby narrows your field of vision because you're watching her all the time, straining your eyes and making your head all wonky.

Of course, I don't regret having her. I just wish my body weren't so broken.

In other news:

  1. Basement renos are FINALLY finished. Contractors started a full dig out, underpinning and finishing back when I was about 6 months pregnant, with hopes of finishing just after the delivery. It went over that, of course, but I didn't mind. For one, there were always workmen around. My regular reminders that I could pop at any minute and that I might need a drive to the hospital probably sped things along. They completed work just before Christmas. As a contractor's granddaughter, Mara slept through everything like a champ. Literally, she slept through a jackhammer. The end product is fantastic, and now Mara has an extra place to play. PLUS there's now a second bathroom in the house. No more emergency evacuations while hubby is showering!
  2. My fifth book is out! RED CARPET ARRANGEMENT is available as an ebook at all your favorite online retailers, and in print from Amazon, BarnesandNoble.com, and Harlequin.com. Check out my Books page for more details. It's my first pregnancy book, and I turned it in when I was 6 months along, so it'll be interesting to see what I got wrong in comparison to my own experience.
  3. I've got one more Harlequin SUPERROMANCE coming, but after that, I'm hoping to work on other projects. Maybe I'll even get to do more blogging...but that'll be up to Mara.

 

 

On my birthdayFunny how much time can go by when you're pregnant and have all the best intentions for keeping up your blog...

So, yeah, I'm 8.75 months into my pregnancy, with a due date of Oct. 25. Most of my time over the past few months has been focused on completing my contracted books with Harlequin Superromance. My fifth book, Red Carpet Arrangement, will be out January 2016, and I've completed a first draft of my sixth Superromance, another foray into the small town of Everville, which will either be out late 2016 or early 2017.

Pregnancy has not been easy. I mean, compared to some women's experiences, I've had it easy. The baby's healthy, and while I've experienced about 80% of the symptoms that go along with pregnancy, I haven't suffered any serious issues. Mostly I'm fatigued and sore, with the numerous bodily complaints common with pregnancy and many of those no one ever talks about. (Carpal tunnel syndrome and nose bleeds? Really, body? You don't think I've suffered enough?)

On top of the pregnancy, my husband and I decided to finish our murder basement and turn it into a more usable space. We've hired a contractor to dig, underpin, install a new bathroom and finish the space into a multipurpose room. When it's done, we'll have a second bathroom, a laundry room and a big space to do with as we please...which probably means scattering toys everywhere for the coming baby. It's a huge job, and we've already had several delays, but I knew that was likely. Considering that the baby is currently head down and wearing my cervix like a yarmulke, I'll probably give birth before the job is complete, meaning those poor construction workers will probably see me waddling their way, declaring, "Guys...hate to bug you, but could one of you drive me to the hospital?"

I'll be off work in less than three weeks, taking two weeks before the due date to relax and nest. While I know I'll probably disappear into the internet ether once more when the baby comes, I hope to get a few blog posts in, and maybe even manage a weekly update post where I just post random stuff I find cool. (Shill: you can follow me on Facebook and Twitter for a lot of that, too. I'm also on Pinterest and a bunch of other social media platforms.) Having a baby is a whole new adventure I'm both dreading and looking forward to--exactly the kind of experience I like to share.

Some other things going on in my life:

  • Had my legs waxed for the first time in my life. I've always wanted to have that experience, and now that I can barely bend over to shave, it seemed like the time to try. It was not as painful as I thought it would be...which I hope means something good come labor time.
  • Had to get a new netbook laptop. It's the Acer 2 in 1 Switch tablet. Budget friendly, compact and versatile, but it has flaws, the main one being that sometimes while working on Word, the cursor jumps around randomly, or typing stalls and doesn't appear. Not a terrible piece of machinery, but not perfect, either.
  • The Blue Jays are doing well! After 15 years together, I only recently learned my husband enjoyed watching baseball, and he got an MLB.com membership and has been watching steadily since August. We are watching them play the Yankees as I write this.
  • I'll be signing books at Toronto Word on the Street this coming Sunday. Check out the Events page for more details!

Well, that's it for now. Apologies for not being consistent with content here. Making a human is difficult work, and while I have so much to say about it, I will save you from the gritty details...for now.

Dear Reporters covering the Romance Writers of America's National Conference,

The Romance Writers of America is hosting its annual conference this week, from July 23-26 in San Antonio, Texas. We know you enjoy covering this event. And those of us in the romance publishing industry love having the spotlight on us. It's a fun story for the summer, and with all the horrible things going on in the world right now, I know this piece of eye candy is much-needed mind sorbet for your readers, listeners and viewers.

That said, I am asking for a moratorium on certain words and phrases too frequently used in reference to romance books and romance writers. While I appreciate not everyone has the same tastes and that your story may only be a fluff piece, romance writers and readers are sick of hearing particular words which have historically been used to denigrate and marginalize our chosen genre.

Not only are these words and phrases overused, they're cliches, and will make you, the reporter, look lazy in your own writing. So eliminate them!

1. "Bodice ripper": this is a term developed in the 70's and 80's when historicals were popular. Today's romances include so much more than Regency-era stories—paranormal, contemporary, romantic suspense, inspirational, erotic romance...please, do your research and take this term out of your romance vocab right away.

2. "Not your mother's romance books": this phrase has no relevance or meaning. Mothers who read romances likely passed down their favorite books to the younger romance readers in their families, inspiring a whole new generation of readers. If you mean to say that levels of sensuality are different from decades previous, then you might want to look a little more closely. Sensuality levels still vary widely book to book, subgenre to subgenre. I guarantee that Fanny Hill (1748) is still much raunchier than any inspirational Christian romance I've ever read.

3. References to Fifty Shade of Grey in either the pejorative or as the superlative example: yes, the movie is coming out soon. And while writers appreciate the success of Fifty Shades, erotica and erotic romance has been around for a long time. Why not look up Sylvia Day, Tiffany Reisz, or Megan Hart? (Note: yes, there is a difference between erotica and erotic romance. Learn it.)

4. "Formula": I've written about the F word before. Romance has often been labelled "formulaic", and yet all fiction is built upon an established guideline for storytelling. If you have to use a word, use framework.

5. Any suggestion that only single, desperate women read romances or lonely housewives or have impossibly standards for their men: No. Just no. Readers get enough flack in public when people on the bus look over their shoulder and say "Oh, you're into THAT, are you?" Yes. We are. Just as I'm sure those judgey types are into murdering young women and burying their bodies in the forest, like in that thriller they've got tucked into their pocket. Romance readers are educated, earn incomes, have families, and strive like anyone else for balance in life. Don't be a douche and paint us with that wide stereotyped brush. Otherwise you'll make us think all reporters are...well, we can leave that. Because you know what people think of your kind, right?

6. "Heaving bosoms": yes, we know the conference is largely attended by women. We have breasts. They heave sometimes because we love what we read, or we're out of breath because we're trying to up the counts on our Fitbits. Your mother has breasts, too. So does your dad for that matter. You probably spent the early years of your life smushed up against them, or possibly feeding from them. Keep that in mind and please, don't use this cliche to describe conference attendees.

7. Purple prose: romance writers actually try to avoid this as much as possible. And so should you. Failure to avoid purple prose only makes us believe you actually yearn to join us in writing romance...and we'd welcome you with open arms and heaving bosoms if that's what you want to do. If not, then please, for Elmore Leonard's sake, drop the frills.

 8. "Harlequin" used as a generic term: my personal pet peeve since, full disclosure, I work there full-time in addition to writing for them—Harlequin Enterprises is a company, and is probably best known for their romances. But not all romances are from Harlequin, obviously.

9. Fabio: don't get me wrong. Everyone loves Fabio. He has a special place in romance book lore, but like Fifty Shades, he is not the be all and end all of hero archetypes. We're all different women. We all like different kinds of men and women.

Hey, I get it. With this wealth of colorful material surrounding you, how can you resist the glistening muscles of male cover models attending as guests? How can you not comment on the pageantry of romance writer prom?

Well, do. But do so respectfully. If you find yourself snarking more than smiling, looking down your nose because you think these women can't find real jobs or can't find a man because you think they have impossibly high standards, you picked the wrong story assignment. And we'll know it. Don't be that guy.

By refraining from using any of these phrases while reporting on the conference, you'll help dissolve a long-held bias against readers and writers of genre fiction for women. And you'll also earn the respect of millions of smart, social-media savvy women.

Thanks, reporters.

Respectfully yours,
Vicki Essex

Meet Tina Belcher, the eldest daughter of Bob Belcher from the TV show Bob's Burgers. I would like to nominate her for Patron Saint of Romance Writers.

 

She's humble...

but not too humble.

 

She's committed to her craft:

She asks for writing materials for Christmas gifts.

She's always doing research.

And she's not afraid to share her stories, even if she risks criticism.

 

She's prolific.

 

She's not afraid to push the boundaries in her writing...

or mix genres...even in her own fantasies.

Why yes, zombie angel erotica IS the new hotness.
Uh...well...I guess there's a market for this somewhere...

She doesn't limit her own desires.

And she's not ashamed of her fantasies.

 

She knows what she likes.

And she uses her passion to fuel her stories.

 

Most important of all, she knows what romance is all about:

 

Make Tina Belcher your patron saint today!

Back to the Good Fortune Diner
Back to the Good Fortune Diner

It's always nice to hear good things about your book a year after it's been published. I love Sarah for talking about BTTGFD so much, and selling it to New York Times bestselling author and X-Men and Marvel universe writer Marjorie M. Liu, an author I've admired for a long time.

Marjorie and Sarah talk about some awesome stuff, including what it's like to be a woman of color writer. I fully agree with what she has to say. You can read the transcript here. You can also listen to the podcast here.

An excerpt:

Marjorie: You’re killing me. The description of it, like, the way you describe this book sounds amazing.

Sarah: I thought it was so great.

Marjorie: That is a total must-read.

ENDORSEMENT FROM MARJORIE M. LIU, YOU GUYS. And she hasn't even read it!

And further:

Sarah: ....The thing about Superromance is that often I think they, the writers are encouraged to pack as much as humanly possible into these little tiny books, and so sometimes there’s so many big issues that they can’t reconcile all of them, but the fact that they brought them up in the first place, I’m just like, this is great! Please feel free to rip my heart out and hand it to me –

Marjorie: See, I –

Sarah: - it’s totally fine!

Marjorie: I have to tell you, like, just your base description of this book sounds like it would be, like, if, if it was published outside Harlequin, like in some quote-unquote, like, highbrow, literary press –

Sarah: I know!

Marjorie: - people would be talking about it, like, across the nation.

Just in case...If there are any "highbrow literary presses" out there interested in a new adult fantasy set in the final days of the Wild West, you should contact my agent. 8 )

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When I first started writing, I heard a "rule" whispered throughout writers' circles:

Never kill a pet in your book.

It sounded like good advice at the time, though it did tweak my sense of authorial autonomy. Why shouldn't I be able to kill a pet in fiction? Pets are just as important as sources of motivation, plot and twists as any human character, and they're certainly just as human as any biped, with their own distinct personalities. Sometimes, they're the greatest source of comfort for the characters, becoming full members of the family. I argue that in order to tell a story, authors must sometimes make the difficult choice to kill off a pet.

Unfortunately, the fan backlash to pet deaths can be quite passionate—some writers and artists have even lost fans over it—which is how I imagine this "rule" came to pass. But as writers, it is our duty to tell the truth—the emotional truth, the literary truth and, the truth that lies in humanity's relationships with all creatures great and small.

I started thinking about the stories I'd read or seen over the years and wondered how a family pet or animal friend could be sympathetically and effectively killed off. Here are a few examples, and how and what they did right and wrong.

WARNING: MASSIVE SPOILERS AHEAD

Family Guy (TV show)

A couple of weeks ago, the animated show Family Guy suddenly killed off main cast member and fan favorite family dog, Brian. Viewers were shocked, saddened and angry. But it turns out their ire may be short-lived: Family Guy may resurrect Brian. 

While this episode was quite moving and addressed the loss of a family pet in a unique and humorous way, returning to status quo rings false with what should be a life-changing event. Of course, we've yet to see how his "death" will affect the rest of the season, or any future seasons. But if Brian is brought back, even on a semi-permanent basis or in flashback form, it might undermine his importance in the family structure. He risks becoming a running joke, like South Park's Kenny ("Oh my God! They killed Kenny! You bastards!"). Viewers will feel cheated of their one true moment in what is otherwise an often subversive, trite and absurd show (which I still enjoy for exactly those reasons).

One thing is for certain: fans of Brian and of the show have been given an important glimpse at the tenuous threads we have on life, and how easily they can be cut. It's really a blessing this is a cartoon, which allows for the impossible, including the return of a beloved family member, no matter how they bring him back.

For Better or For Worse (comic strip) by Lynn Johnston

In 1995, comic strip writer and artist Lynn Johnston killed off her cartoon family's aging sheepdog, Farley. According to an interview in Wikipedia, Johnston received 2,500 letters, many of them negative.

I remember reading an interview with her where she said people swore never to read her comics again. I remember being equally shocked and depressed by Farley's death, perhaps because like so many families who read For Better or For Worse together, my family grew up with the Pattersons, and Farley was as much our dog as theirs.

Importantly, Johnston managed to make Farley's death meaningful. He not only continued his legacy (he bore offspring who lived on with the Patterson family) but he also died a heroic death, saving the youngest Patterson child from drowning.

It's clear from the interviews that Johnston had known Farley was getting on in years; but Farley didn't just get old and sick and shuffle off the mortal coil while suffering or in pain. None of us want to read about that—it's an unfortunate reality most pet owners don't want to face, especially when our goal while reading a comic strip is to escape. Instead, Johnston treated us to one last hurrah, showing us the aftermath and all that comes with losing a loved one. Despite her medium, which could have kept Farley young and spry forever, Johnston's always been true to her characters, to time and change and life and all that comes with it, for better or for worse.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (book) by J. K. Rowling

In Rowling's final Harry Potter book, the first to die is Hedwig, Harry's snowy owl. When I read it, I actually screamed "Noooooo!" What did Hedwig ever do to deserve her ignoble death, trapped in a cage, at the hands of a killing curse meant for The Boy Who Lived? She didn't even get a chance to fight back, to protect her master, to earn a death worthy of a great wizard's familiar.

Here's why Hedwig had to die: her death served as a stark foreshadowing of the many violent and senseless deaths to come. She couldn't be given a fight of her own in this battle because, like the rest of the wizarding world, she was hopelessly outmatched, trapped in the cage Harry thought would keep her safe--a cage paralleled by the final battle at Hogwarts. She wasn't even given a proper burial, which made the whole situation that much more heartbreaking.

On a more practical level, Hedwig is an extraneous character, and when animals and pet sidekicks are relegated the same function as furniture—or, in Hedwig's case, inconveniently easy-to-recognize messenger owl—they are hard to keep track of. An author needs to account for every character's whereabouts in every scene, and frankly, I think Rowling made a wise decision to get rid of the excess baggage Hedwig would have been while using her as an important literary device.

Still, I'm mad she killed her off. Because Hedwig!

The NeverEnding Story (film)

The death of Artax the horse has to be one of the most traumatic animal companion deaths ever in the history of movies. He comes to a slow, heartbreaking and horrific demise by sinking into the Swamp of Sadness, and Atreyu's pathetic, desperate cries for help tell us nothing and no one is going to save that horse.

My issue with this particular death—aside from lasting over an agonizing minute and half—is that Artax's death doesn't serve much purpose in the movie except to make Atreyu's journey more difficult. He doesn't have a steed for the rest of the trek until he meets Falkor, who is arguably a way better means of conveyance, being able to fly and talk and all.

Fans of the film might argue that the boy and horse are, in fact, the closest of companions. There's no doubt they have a connection—we're told Artax can communicate with his boy and serves as a guide on his journey. From a hero's journey point of view, that makes Artax Atreyu's mentor figure. And by the rules of the hero's journey, the mentor must be lost. It's supposed to garner sympathy from the viewers or something, but frankly, I found Atreyu's inability to save his best friend painted him as an unworthy hero. I mean, pulling on his lead and screaming at him clearly wasn't working. A sharp rap on the butt, maybe.

Like Hedwig, Artax is the victim of archetypal story structure, a tool to carry the story and plot forward. But unlike Harry Potter's owl, we resent the hero for letting his friend die in the pursuit of his cause. I might have sympathized more with Atreyu if Artax were a motorcycle or ATV or a tauntaun, because in this instance, making it worse didn't make the story any better. Also, I wouldn't have had to watch a horse slowly drown.

The kicker is that Artax is "resurrected" at the end of the film, which is relieving, but also aggravating for the reasons stated above. Sure, The NeverEnding Story is supposed to be a meta fantasy that revives itself in the fertile minds and imaginations of kids of who read (moralizing! Read and horses won't die, kids!), but when Bastian is soaring over Fantasia on Falkor's back and he spots Atreyu galloping across the plains on Artax, didn't you feel a little cheated?

 

Were you ever affected by the death of a fictional animal or pet? Did you agree with the author's decision to kill it off? Was it effective or did it turn you off the author's work? Let me know in the comments below!

I am not a political creature by nature. I was not raised in a household that discussed governmental goings-on at any level. As children, we were not taught to lean left or right on the political spectrum. Indeed, we were not even encouraged to vote unless we knew anything about the issues, most of which did not affect me personally at the age of 18. All I knew for a long time was that I had homework to do, chores to complete, a job to perform. No one told me knowing stuff about things was important.

Today, as a property owner who pays taxes, I've learned a lot about how politics and policy works and why civic engagement is important. I am more aware than I ever was about the goings-on at Toronto City Hall.

And so we come to Toronto Mayor Rob Ford.

I don't want to get into my personal gripes with him or his policies. I have been quite vocal about him on Twitter, and I apologize to my followers for the vitriol. But when an elected official who is supposed to represent your city to the world becomes a regular punchline on the nightly news shows, a meme on the internet, and a ten-minute sketch on Saturday Night Live, I feel ashamed. He does not represent my city or my country. And what little pity I've had for him has quickly become contempt.

Why is this important to me and why, as an author, am I discussing this on my blog?

The narrative arc—politics as an exercise in story and character

The world is a big place, and frankly, most of us are too busy with our everyday lives to consider how our beliefs and actions affect every single member of society. I think we sometimes take for granted how interconnected the world is, how policy and laws can affect us on a personal level, and how the individuals elected to help make those decisions in turn affect policy.

That's not to say politicians haven't tried to connect their policies with real, human experience in an effort to get us to care. When was the last time you heard a speech that didn't involve a story about someone who's "just trying to make ends meet"?

It seems to me the cynical among us have stopped hearing such heartrending stories, regardless of whether we can relate to the tale. Perhaps it's reality fatigue. They wonder, instead, how they are being manipulated. Some are angry with the state of their lives, blaming current or past governments for their troubles; and some have given up all hope of things ever changing. We are all so tired of hearing the same BS that we've stopped listening or paying attention.

The importance of words, big and small

Rightly or wrongly, some politicians use this voter malaise to their advantage. They craft their policies—their message—in simple, easy to remember catchphrases. "Respect the taxpayers," "Subways, subways, subways," and "gravy train" drove Rob Ford's campaign, and one could argue his ability to stay on message helped him win the election in 2010. Distilling a candidate's priorities thusly helps voters decide where to cast their ballots without looking too deeply into any of the complex issues...and without looking too closely at a candidate's history, both personal and political.

Like I said, most of us don't have time to know all the stuff about all the things, so I can't blame anyone for how they voted. But if we'd known even a fraction of what we know now...could we have seen this coming? Would it have changed our votes?

Rob Ford, Shakespearean tragedy

Since the crack scandal broke, the writer in me has been nodding along as events unfolded. I've watched the daily gravy train wreck as one might watch a house burn down, each stick of furniture consumed by the flames of his scandal while the man himself sits inside, sweating and insisting nothing is wrong. Some admire his gumption, as if he is the lone sheriff standing against a black-hatted posse. They blame the media for bullying him, heedless of the police reports, even blaming the authorities for doing their job.

But as the details of his illicit dealings came to light, his personal history laid out, the hypocrisy of his policy-making decisions became abundantly clear. Rob Ford is the unreliable narrator of his own personal tragedy, a man whose word we cannot trust, no matter how much we really want to.

I am only a writer of fiction. I am not a political pundit with a poli-sci degree. I barely understand what goes on day-to-day in city council. But I know a tragic hero when I see one, borne of his own personal foibles, misguided ambitions and poor choices. Sadly, Rob Ford is not a character in fiction. He is a flesh-and-blood man who needs serious help.

Resign, Rob. Resign and avoid the final act. Tragic heroes rarely get to ride off into the sunset.

A couple of weeks ago, I was at home from work with the flu, but a university student from my old alma mater wanted to interview me for a school assignment. I was too weak to go out, but she agreed to come to my home to do the interview.

In hindsight, it was probably not a good idea to answer questions while I was burning with fever, but I remembered the days of school assignment deadlines and I wanted to help her out. So she came.

We had a lovely chat. I was congested, but feeling all right as long as I stayed ensconced in my recliner. At one point, she asked me something about my job as a writer. This, I swear to God, is how I answered:

"A writer's job is to...to...oh, my God, I can't think of the word...it's on the tip of my tongue." *snaps fingers* "You know. Like explain. Talk about. Communicate..."

*stares at feet* "Turn your recorder off because this is going to take a while."

*goes to kitchen to make tea* "I just knew this would happen. That word is totally escaping me..."

*sits back down with hot drink, opens online thesaurus and blanks on other synonyms for word I'm trying to think of*

Three minutes later...

"ARTICULATE! That's what I want to say! A writer`s job is to articulate the universe and their personal experience of it."

That's me. The articulate writer.

I'm listening to Joss Whedon's advice on how to be prolific, and "filling the tanks" by becoming a member of the Art Gallery of Ontario and making what I hope will be regular visits.

While I've visited the gallery several times before, the 13-month membership will afford me more leisurely visits so that I can study the exhibits and really take in everything the gallery has to offer.

I went on Friday to glimpse what was on offer. I was enchanted by Kim Adams's Artist's Colony (Gardens), a diorama of miniatures put together in a whimsical mixture of fantasy and reality. It reminded me a lot of Katamari Damacy, actually.

I spent a good fifteen minutes inspecting Artist's Colony (Gardens) and reading the disjointed narratives of each of the tiny figurines, no bigger that the top knuckle of my pinkie finger. In one market area, a clown stood by a statue, and was being flashed by a woman lifting her shirt. In a waterside dock, the police were arresting criminals while paramedics lifted a man away in a gurney. A big band played from a tiered concourse of shipping containers. All this and a lot more was contained within a space of about three by six feet.

It got me thinking a lot about the universe, how every person was a part of a greater art project. I couldn't necessarily tell the whole story from what I glimpsed, but it made me think and wonder what part the figures nearby might have played in that narrative.

A lot of other works in the gallery did the same thing, I realized. Tiny details tell volumes about what's happening in the world.

I ended the visit with a trip to the gift shop and bought a 1000-piece puzzle featuring Van Gogh's Irises. I spent the weekend meticulously putting it together, and I'm still working on it. Something about studying every inch of of such a beautiful painting makes you focus on the details that make up the bigger picture. All of this is a long way of saying I've been thinking about writing and the importance of every word.

Can't wait to visit the AGO again and see what else my brain conjures up in the quiet!