The Necessity of Downtime

I’ve long known that even when I’m relaxing, reading, people watching or just day dreaming, I’m still in a strange way ‘writing.’ It’s a paradox. The writer needs to sit down and transfer those thoughts, feelings and imaginings on to paper, but if that is all they are doing, if all they do is work, eat and sleep, their writing will eventually suffer.

(Published in ROOM, Canada’s oldest feminist literary journal)

I used to feel guilty about my ‘chill time.’ But I no longer do.

What I write is filtered through my life experiences. Interactions with less than savoury characters, small talk with charming personalities, the unplanned trip to a garden centre, a long rest on a bench beside a river, unexpected laughter at a funeral, sudden heartbreak at a wedding, a favourite chair, graffiti on a wall, a funny cat … all these things take hold and root, then they are ‘reborn’ in our novels.

(Frankie, telling me “Gimme some attention. Now.”)

I don’t mean that authors actually use their books as a means to immortalize nasty ex-lovers, frenemies or in-laws who criticized us for decades. NO! What I mean is that what and who we observe–little details, random acts of kindness, discourtesy or arrogance, the hero who insists ‘I just did what anyone would do in the same situation,’ the misogynist bigoted jerk who reamed out an employee in front of sympathetic customers, the quivering old woman visiting her daughter’s grave, still, after forty years, peacemakers and warmongers, the magnificent painted rocks left by an unnamed artist, the cobwebs in a corner, countless strengths and weaknesses, vices and virtues… all these things? They are the driving force behind works-in-progress. They light a fire that refuses to be extinguished.

Writers must dedicate time to the craft of writing and GIVE ‘ER. But the stroll through the garden, the movie watched with loved ones, book browsing and petting one’s cat and actually taking a bath instead of the normal two-minute shower and rereading a favourite mystery? These, too, are essential for the creative process. Stories need to be nurtured, given air and light. Play can be work, too, 😉

(Close to home, a respite, a place to reflect….)



The Lure of Old Homes

One reason I love Gothic fiction is that I’m simply mad about mansions. I like how these larger settings provide both time and space for the main character to develop. As many of us have learned during lockdowns, seclusion can alter our emotions, perception, actions and (at times) even our spirituality. What does quietude do? How loud does a squeaking door sound when it has been dead silent for hours?

I enjoy researching older homes. I like how rooms once served a specific purpose, as if each were a little secluded island… libraries, parlours, dens, dressing rooms, butlers’ pantries. I do, however, dislike certain features like servants stairs and nursery rooms, the whole ‘keep them out of sight and mind’ classism/ageism apathy is not something I find in any way appealing.

I do not feel that the past should be overly romanticized, yet I can appreciate the beauty of historical architecture. I find transom windows, milk doors, built-in bookshelves, Victorian fireplaces, carved handrails, and crystal chandeliers to be undeniably book-worthy, and a delightful contrast to all that is vile, crass or immoral. I mean, there above the protagonist is a magnificent plaster angel while someone (or something) monstrous lies in wait behind a door.

As a reader, I love encountering that contrast, that tension. As a mystery author, it’s what I strive to capture with mere words: the dark hidden in the light, and the light hidden in the dark. Cheers.

Opulent Staircase at Castle Kilbride, in Baden, Ontario. This author has attended a ghost tour in said estate. She lives five minutes away from this lovely mansion.

I find the mix irresistible. Don’t you?

For those interested, here is an interesting video that shows some of those older home features.