Full Circle, and then some. (With a dash of cosmic humor…)

I wasn’t going to blog about this.

After all, it’s just one of those strange cosmic coincidences, the kind we all experience at one time or another.

Memories of a wild child, defined by a heartbeat in time.

I had planned to slot it into the mental file marked “Well, all-rightie then” and leave it at that.

But the cosmos wouldn’t allow me to ignore it. The morning after I’d made my decision to let it slide, that song, the one I’m talking about, by Wild Cherry, came on the radio. Yup. Just like that, coincidence was compounded by coincidence, forcing me to pay attention.

So here’s my story, for what it’s worth…
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As many of my readers know, I was emancipated (left home) at the age of fifteen.

In those days, the local pubs were not overly cautious about serving liquor to minors. Most didn’t ask for ID, and didn’t look too closely if it was flashed in front of them.

On or near my 16th birthday, my then fiancé and a group of friends took me out to the El Mocambo.

(At least I believe it was my 16th birthday. I’ve tried to support my memory by fact-checking, but have had no luck. So let’s go with my memory for now, until it’s proven wrong…)

In the El Mo of my memory, that Spring night, a band I cannot recall was playing hits by Wild Cherry. I remember being thrilled when they launched into “Play That Funky Music (White Boy)”, which was an epic smash at the time.

And there was dancing, and singing…

So there was yours truly, drinking underage with my soon-to-be first husband and grooving to that funky music with a packed house.

(As you read on, you’ll see what a tribute it is to the genius and staying power of Rob Parissi and Wild Cherry, the fact they’ve been able to touch our lives for so very long…)

Fast forward 40 years.

Last weekend, on Feb. 6, my husband Alex and I got all poshed up for a gala dinner/dance event at the Liberty Grand, hosted by Ellis Don and the TCA.

The food and company were stellar, as was the wine.

Then came the after-dinner dancing. Alex and I made our way to the floor.

When what to my wondering ears should appear, but that same old song?

Yup, that’s right. Hubby and I found ourselves “grooving to the music”, as the event’s band revved up with “Play That Funky Music” by Wild Cherry.

And I couldn’t help but think: All right, now I know I’ve come full circle. If I die tonight, I’ll know I’ve lived, and on my own terms, always feeling the beat of life.

I don’t know why it struck me this way. Maybe it’s because that night 40 years ago was a defining one for me, and the memory of it stands in sharp contrast to my older, more mellow self.

Maybe it’s because, under the mellow, and under the wisdom, there still resides, deep in my soul, the rebel, the individualist, the renegade who will not say uncle to life.

Somewhere in my soul that wild child rocks on…

FOOTNOTE: When I was researching for this story, I had originally mistakenly thought the El Mo had actually featured the band Wild Cherry that night.

Thanks to the kind help of Rob Parissi, band leader and songwriter, I was able to establish they never did play in Toronto.

Believe me, I wish they had!

Also, I credit the crazy energy of bands like this for the wonderful musical talent and love our two sons have been able to nurture in their lives.

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Re-defining Donna ~ a reminder of what makes me “me”…

At times we all need to re-evaluate — take stock if you will. Life is fleeting, and time can feel like a blur, stirring our hair as it flies by.

Here is my “note to self”, my reminder of who I am, and what makes my life worth-while:
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Are you working smart… or just working hard?

One Of Those Days
So, this is my public declaration:
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Yes, I may be shouting, but it’s not directed at you, dear reader.

It’s true, I’m angry, but I’m angry at myself. I seem to have come down with the Paperwork Blues. For some time now I’ve been aware of a devolution of my professional life.

To the point where the harder I work, the more is piled onto my desk… and the farther I fall behind!

Sound familiar?

I think this may be the case with many of us. It becomes a question of working SO hard and for SO long that you can no longer remember what YOUR OWN goals are.

So I find myself asking myself this question: What do you want to accomplish, Donna?

And guess what? The answer is NOT “More paperwork, please.”

And it’s also not “Oh, let me, I’d love to stare obsessively at this monitor for another 9 hours, hoping to catch up with all this minutiae.”

Nope.

Not at all.

So allow me to press the question further. What is it you hope to accomplish today? This week? This year?

Is that pile of paperwork on your desk going to help you accomplish it?

Or, as in my case, is it actually going to hold you back from your professional and personal goals?

I’ve come to the conclusion that the harder I work, the happier others are to allow me to keep on doing exactly that.

(Really, guys, I love you all madly, but this can’t go on! **smooches**)

The people who seem to get ahead in this life are the ones who know how to delegate, to push back, to walk away from that steaming mound of, er, paper.

After the year I’ve just survived, you can bet I’ll be trying to learn a lesson from those fortunate souls!

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The road to The End: a deeply personal journey

BLOG The End canstockphoto14428803For me, writing is a solitary art. I’m sure that’s true for many of my colleagues.

On the other hand, networking requires an author to be present, to be a voice among many within the literary community.

But the act of writing is not usually a collaborative effort.

We each come to this private place, this lookout, on our own feet — and for our reasons.

Some of us need to share our truths, those rare nuggets of beauty and pain that we have experienced.

Others want only to entertain.

Of course, the best among us strive to do both: to thrill readers, make them laugh, cry and feel something as we hold them to our truths. To “bump souls” with them for want of a better phrase.

We cannot always predict where the winding road of our words will lead. Of course, that’s why we love the creative journey. Its beauty lies in the surprises we encounter.

Whatever path you follow, may you always reach “The End” of your story.
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A visit from the Dark Muse…

Donna Dark MuseThe world of crime is a murky one.

Its streets are unlit, fraught with fear, and its heart charged with mystery.

I write crime. It’s what I do

And like so many authors of that age-old genre, my soul welcomes a visit from the Dark Muse.

We reside in a world that seems, of late, to have gone truly mad; madder than ever, I would venture.

We hurl words about the Internet with intent to injure each other. Too many of our politicians ignore the lessons of history, speaking lies and half-truths that can only lead to hurt. The news and social medias are full of terror and rants, threatening our very sense of freedom and peace.

In these dark and dangerous times, why would anyone choose to explore Crime Fiction? After all, we need only look to the daily news for that cheap thrill, that scintillating proximity to pain.

Yet, when the Dark Muse comes to call, I open the door.

Here, in the world of crime fiction, I find my freedom.

Freedom to express all that I find troubling, good or noble about these times.

Justice, balance, heroism… All flourish in fiction…

…despite their rarity in this real world of ours.
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Braving the Life-Chapters — when fiction becomes something…more.

Everyone has a story.

You live long enough, you’re bound to discover that no one rides life’s tiger for free. We all pay sooner or later, and life will tear away its pound of flesh.

My story was an embarrassingly sad one. People love to correct me when I tell them I was a victim of domestic violence. “Not a victim,” they chide, “a Survivor.”

(As if being a victim is somehow shameful, your own fault, but being a “survivor” is something to be proud of.)

Let me tell you, as one who knows, the only difference between a victim and a survivor of abuse is that one is still alive…

For purposes of our mutual understanding, I’ll call myself a survivor, since I am, in fact, still breathing.

And like many survivors, I pour those shattered memories into my art.

My kind of gritty, dark, real-life fiction may make some people uncomfortable. But they are not my readers.

My readers are those brave souls who, like me, have survived the crazy hell we call life, and somehow found themselves washed up onto a more peaceful shore.

We are the marooned — the ones who look around every day wondering how we got here, whether what we’re doing is right, and in fact whether it’s even worth it, after all, to paraphrase the brilliant T.S. Eliot.

We are the mid-night screamers, who wake still from instances of terror.

We are the ever-doubtful, never feeling that our efforts are quite good enough, even when we know they are.

We are the perpetually-grieving, holding onto loss as the one familiar talisman, the single constant in a reckless sea.

My readers and I share a bond. I will give them fiction. I’ll create a story they can enjoy, one they can feel, that will stay with them after the reading is done.

But when we reach those life-chapters, you know the ones, those passages that could only have been written by one who was there, I will not flinch as my truth percolates within those words.

Nor will my readers turn away.

Together we’ll study that truth, shine the light of another beautiful day upon its ugliness, and wonder at the fact that we have, in fact, survived.

imageOctober is Domestic Violence Awareness month.

Join the #PutANailInIt campaign being run for 31 days by SafeHorizons.

I’m painting my left ring finger purple to show I care. I’ve also donated to the SafeHorizons campaign.

To help raise awareness, tweet #PutANailInIt or share the cause on Facebook. Every dollar donated (up to 10,000) during October will be matched by Airbnb!

Let’s make Child and Spousal Abuse a thing of the past!

8 Essentials for a 5-Star Anthology…

 Throughout this writing and publishing journey, I’ve been known to wear a number of different hats.

Today, in honor of the Mesdames of Mayhem and in celebration of our soon-to-be released crime anthology: 13 O’Clock I’ll slip on my purple chapeau.

imageWhile sporting my Carrick Publishing hat, I’ve managed to acquire my fair share of experience in producing short story collections and anthologies. Given the unique challenges they present and the special place they hold in the hearts of readers, anthologies require extensive care in the creative process.

Here are a few of the essential ingredients needed for crafting a killer anthology:

1- A seasoned and professional gathering of willing authors

In our 2013 crime anthology, Thirteen by the Mesdames of Mayhem (Carrick Publishing) we were fortunate to include an exceptional lineup of Award-winning authors:

Catherine Astolfo, Rosemary Aubert, Jane Petersen Burfield, M.H. Callway, Melodie Campbell, Donna Carrick, Vicki Delany, Catherine Dunphy, Rosemary McCracken, D.J. McIntosh, Lynne Murphy, Joan O’Callaghan, Sylvia Maultash Warsh

As a result, the anthology was the recipient of two nominations for the coveted Arthur Ellis Award 2014 for Best Short Story, as well as one Derringer Award nomination!

Arthur Ellis Nominations for Best Short Story: “Watermelon Weekend” by Donna Carrick and “The Emerald Skull” by Sylvia Maultash Warsh.

Derringer Award Nomination for Best Short Story: “The Sweetheart Scamster” by Rosemary McCracken.

2- A universally accessible theme

In our newest anthology, 13 O’Clock, our theme is that age-old thief, time.

In particular, we asked our authors to explore the inter-action between time and crime; to reflect upon crime throughout ages past, or in future eras, or how the passing of time either heals old wounds, or refreshes them to spur on evil deeds.

3- A collection of exceptional and entertaining stories

It should go without saying, but I’ll say it anyway. As writers, we rely on readers. For this reason, we owe it to them to offer stories that are entertaining, exhilarating….hell, interesting!

In the 2014 anthology, World Enough and Crime (Carrick Publishing, in conjunction with the Facebook group Excerpt Flight Deck for readers and Authors) we asked our EFD authors to bring us their very best in short crime fiction.

The result? Another industry-acclaimed anthology by Carrick Publishing!

Arthur Ellis Nomination for Best Short Story: “Writer’s Block”, by Kevin Thornton.

Derringer Award Nomination for Best Short Story: “The Ultimate Mystery”, by M.H. Callway.

4- An experienced, skilled project manager

Every project needs one. The Mesdames of Mayhem founder, author M.H. Callway (Windigo Fire, Seraphim Editions, 2014) has been at the helm every step of the way.

Madeleine (to her friends, among whom I’m blessed to count myself) keeps her eye on the ball at all times, never losing sight of the goal.

Mad, you’re a true champion!

5- A dedicated editor and a professional copy-editor

In my dual capacities as author and publisher, I maintain a strict policy: All work must be thoroughly edited.

I’ve been lucky over the years to be able to fortify my own careful (though not flawless) eyes with those of my husband, Economist, author and seasoned editor Alex Carrick.

In the case of the Mesdames’ crime anthologies, several of the Mesdames pitched in for a final proof-reading marathon.

We were fortunate, with our latest title 13 O’clock, to have the help of author and seasoned journalist/copy-editor Ed Piwowarczyk. His assistance was invaluable, and it shows in the polish of the stories within.

Authors, I cannot emphasize this enough: we are not working in a void, and no matter how well our hold may be on the language, we are not infallible. Please, give your readers the benefit of your best effort. Engage the help of a second, or even a third, set of professional eyes.

6- Original cover art that is both attractive and representational

7- A publisher who holds these authors and industry professionals in the highest regard, and is willing to invest the necessary time and effort to produce a quality reading experience

CarrickPubCastleAt Carrick Publishing, we’re committed to helping Indie authors excel in their literary goals. From copy-editing, formatting and making your product sale-ready, we will guide you.

Our work for the Mesdames of Mayhem as well as for the Excerpt Flight Deck authors has been a source of great pride as well as an opportunity for continued growth and learning.

8- An innovative and consistent approach to marketing in a changing industry landscape

Whether you’re an author or a publisher (or as many are these days, both), you need to broaden your understanding of what it means to earn readership.

The Mesdames of Mayhem have been blessed beyond gratitude to have the on-going help and support of dear friend and marketing wizard Joan O’Callaghan.

Joan’s genuine love of people, of meeting them, getting to know them and talking about her equally passionate love of books has been the mainstay of our continued success.

We don’t say it nearly often enough, but thank you, Joan.

Mesdames of MayhemThe Mesdames of Mayhem are 16 friends who share a common bond: their love of literature in general, and crime genre in particular. Look for us at events in southern Ontario, and be sure to read our work, available at fine retailers everywhere!

Where in heck does it go? You guessed it — I’m talking about Time, that devilish thief!

Donna Balloons 25Do you remember the old Easy-Off (RTM) Oven Cleaner television ad?

The one where the beleaguered lady is on her knees, scouring the inside of an oven.

She says, “Be a good cook, Mother said. You’ll get a man.

“What did I get? 25 years with my head in a dirty oven!”

Even to this day, every time I recall her dilemma, I can’t help but smile.

My lot, I’m pleased to report, has been a great deal more pleasant than hers.

I’ve been blessed to have been gainfully employed, in a job I enjoy and with people I’m honoured to know.

Still, 25 years! It really is hard to believe.

During that time, my professional life has grown and flourished, as have my personal endeavours.

It’s a good idea to take stock occasionally. Yes, I’ve come a long way. I’ve been so very lucky in my marriage to Alex, and in our little family.

And of course, my writing and publishing goals have been fun.

But there is still so much more I want to accomplish!

With this latest milestone behind me, my 25th Anniversary on the job, it seems prudent to take some time to re-assess how best to spend the next few years.

Of course we should cherish every moment we are lucky enough to be alive.

Having said that, I can’t shake this feeling that the next few years will bring welcome developments in my writing career.

I’m not ready to share it yet, but I’ve been working on a trilogy of crime stories. Just laying the foundation in my mind, so to speak.

Can’t wait to spring it on you!

Donna Balloons 25-3

Hello to “New Beginnings”!

2015 year of the goatFor this author, 2014 was a spectacular year in many ways.

Arthur Ellis Award FinalistMy story “Watermelon Weekend”, featured in Thirteen by the Mesdames of Mayhem (Carrick Publishing, 2013) was a finalist for the prestigious Arthur Ellis Award for Best Short Crime Story.

My author friends will understand: there is no greater professional joy than to have one’s work acknowledged by peers. Whatever the future holds, such a moment will be treasured forever.

2014 is also the year my work achieved a major milestone: over 100,000 copies of my various titles are now in circulation. Most were downloaded as Kindle e-Books from Amazon, a fact which thrills me, since a mere decade ago such a reach for readers would have seemed a distant dream!

Through my work at Carrick Publishing as well as on the executive of Crime Writers of Canada, I was blessed to enjoy continued affiliation with numerous wonderful and dedicated authors. This exposure to today’s talents has a profound impact on my work: I find myself constantly driven to produce better and more meaningful characters and stories.

We released our anthology, World Enough and Crime, to great fanfare at our favourite bookstore, the Sleuth of Baker Street.

In other areas, though, 2014 was a challenge for me. Job stresses coupled with an extremely busy schedule to hamper my writing productivity.

With 2015 comes a feeling of renewed commitment, a sense of accomplishments pending, if you will.

Please stay tuned — and I hope you will enjoy the ride!