Hacking the revision

I aspire to create art, so I’m always looking for ways to better my craft. Some days, I feel like the best hack for revising my current story is to take a machete to it; most of the time,
 though, I know it’s more useful
 to review it with a fresh brain.
 In master classes at the Kauai
 Writers Conference last month,
 I learned from some of North
 America’s best writers a batch
 of new-to-me ways to hit the
 refresh button.

Meg Wolitzer, author of the
 novels The Wife, The Female
 Persuasion, and many others,
 prints out pages in a different
font. If she composes in Times,
 for example, she’ll print out in
 Calibri to reread. Which fonts you choose doesn’t matter; the intention is to change the way the page looks so that you as the writer see it differently.

Josh Mohr is the author of the memoir Sirens as well as several novels. He reads each story aloud dozens of times. As well, he records himself reading a draft aloud from time to time and then listens to the recording in a different setting— when he’s jogging, for example. This lets him hear with fresh ears; it gets at his conscious and subconscious brain in a different way.

We writers often give our readers sensory details to evoke a story deeply for them. By using the tactics shared by these writers—I would say artists— we can use our senses to experience the story more thoroughly ourselves: the itch of repeated words, the vertigo of a sentence fragment and, on days of rare beauty, the glide of a perfect phrase.

Kauai Marriott
How it feels when you get the revision right. Or when you’re at a writers’ conference in Hawaii.


This article was previously published in the December 2019 edition of Tide Lines, the newsletter of the Vancouver Island Romance Authors.

Me and the stories

My friend, the author Mary Ann Clarke Scott, interviewed me for our writing society’s newsletter earlier this fall. She has graciously said that I can reprint it here – thanks, Mary Ann!

Mary Ann: I first met Rachel when I was just a visitor to one of VIRA’s workshops years ago in Nanaimo, but I recognized her name because I’d interviewed her father, an architect, while doing some case studies research on housing for seniors in my previous life. What a small world! We’ve come full circle as I now get to ask Rachel some questions about her own work.

With her writing partners, Rachel has released two series – the Chocolate Shop and the Orchard – along with the short stories Good Spirits and Green Spirits, which are all set in the delightful small town of Corsair’s Cove.

Mary Ann: Tell me Rachel, how long you’ve been a VIRA member, how long you’ve been a writer, and how you got into this field.

Rachel: I joined the Vancouver Island Chapter of RWA more than 15 years ago (maybe more!), several years after I started trying to write fiction. The group was a revelation to me – I loved hanging out with so many kind and interesting people and I learned an astonishing amount about storytelling and the world of publishing. I was very engaged for a long time and developed strong friendships, but eventually I became disillusioned about my own writing skills and the possibility of getting published, so I let my membership lapse. I still noodled away from time to time, but I didn’t have that fire in the belly that makes us face the laptop regularly. Until…but more on that later.

Mary Ann: You studied communications, was it, and were a magazine and newspaper journalist for awhile, if I’m not mistaken? Tell us about that stage of your writing career and if you still write non-fiction articles. Why did you switch to writing fiction?

Rachel: Like many other writers, I’ve travelled a wandering path to get here. I think I always wanted to be a writer but didn’t know how to start or even admit it out loud. I certainly didn’t know what “story” was.

So I went to university, got a science degree and sort of sidled into freelance writing. I wrote for magazines and newspapers for almost 20 years and I loved it. I got to talk to all sorts of people, which otherwise is difficult for an introvert, and I learned a lot about a lot of things, including storytelling. Eventually, I taught writing courses to photo- journalism students too, so then I really had to figure out what story is.

At the same time that I was writing about other people, I also wrote some personal essays. I wrote them for myself and my family but I discovered that magazines were interested in them too so I sold quite a few of them.

Because I was always looking for article ideas to sell to magazines, everything was a possible story. Every family occasion, every trip, every quirky turn of phrase I learned as I was writing about construction or business or gardening…it was all potential fodder. I just kept sidling until I could admit that what I really wanted to tackle was fiction.

Mary Ann: You write romance with a touch of magic, and a strong link to history. Can you tell us why you like that particular genre, and what other kinds of stories you write as well? What was the idea/inspiration for your novel?

Rachel: “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy,” is one of my favourite quotes. To me, the world is full of wonders and miracles, and the fact that there might be a basis for them in chemistry and physics doesn’t make them less magical.

When we started to brainstorm the Corsair’s Cove stories, all kinds of amazing things seemed not only possible but downright natural. A swashbuckling pirate ghost? Sure! A talking parrot? Of course! Is the parrot mimicking Great-Aunt Ruby? Or, which seemed to be more likely, channelling her?

It was so much fun taking these outrageous ideas and figuring out how to make them work. And I think it was the fun and the creative sparks that has made it so inspiring.

Mary Ann: Can you tell us what the Corsair Cove books are all about, and how you and your partners work together? What’s your WIP?

Rachel: Corsair’s Cove is a small town in the Pacific Northwest. It was founded by some pirates in the mid 19th century – and how that unlikely event came to pass is part of the improbable, magical history of that place. (You can read about it.)

It’s a tight knit-town with a very strong community spirit – and spirits – although that doesn’t mean that everyone gets along all the time. It’s also the kind of place that draws you back when you need it the most.

Whether you need to find your family or true love, a respite or a bolt-hole to hide from the rest of the world, it’s there in Corsair’s Cove.

And that’s kind of how it works for us collaborators too. Shelley Adina, Sharon Ashwood, Lee McKenzie and I wanted to have some fun writing, and writing together. And, what better way is there than to invent a town that offers the things we love?

Mary Ann: Did you do any research for your books? What resources did you use?

Rachel: For Kiss in the Wind, my character was a food chemist who developed recipes for Red Gems, the family chocolate shop. So of course I had to research chocolate! There was a lot of hands-on work involved.

When it came time to write Secret Vintage, I discovered that one of my characters wanted to make cider so of course I had to try a lot of ciders made from different apples. Also cider brandy. And apple fritters made with cider and brandy…The work was endless.

Mary Ann: (laughing) Independent publishing isn’t for everyone. Can you share a little about your road to publication and how you made that choice? What are your publishing plans going forward?

Rachel: I decided to try indie publishing because the Corsettes – me and my Corsair’s Cove collaborators – loved the stories and we wanted to get them out in the world. The traditional publishing houses weren’t likely to take such a quirky anthology written by four authors, so indie was the most accessible route.

Luckily for me, Shelley and Sharon had experience with independent publishing so they led the way. They did an awful lot of handholding, for which I’m so very grateful!

My story Green Spirits, which is a short story set in Corsair’s Cove, came out this summer, and we’re thinking about what our third series might be.

Mary Ann: They sound very entertaining! I can’t wait to read them. Can you tell us about a typical writing day? Do you have a special place that you work? Tools you depend upon? Any rituals?

Rachel: I’m very lucky to have an office at home, and I also have what I call my satellite offices: one’s a comfortable chair with an ottoman in the living room and the other is a cushioned wicker chair in the kitchen.

My writing routine is to switch on my laptop first thing on Saturday and Sunday mornings and then make tea, check email, scroll through Facebook. When I can’t find a single new or interesting thing on the Internet, I open up the story in progress.

Right now I aim for 1,000 words a day. Sometimes when I’m really rolling I’ll set a target of 1500. I get up, wander around, make more tea, etc., but I don’t abandon my post entirely until I have my thousand or fifteen hundred words.

Only then do I get on with the rest of the weekend’s chores.

Mary Ann: Do you have a favourite author or authors who you buy sight unseen? Any authors who’ve been a particular inspiration for your own writing?

Rachel: I am a huge admirer of the other Corsettes; I’m beyond thrilled to be included in such an amazing team.

Shelley Adina’s and Emma Jane Holloway’s steampunk is delightfully inventive and fun. Adina Senft’s Amish women always inspire me and I’m smitten by Sharon Ashwood’s urban fantasy creatures – also her humour. Lee McKenzie’s gentle humour in her sweet romances always makes me laugh, too.

In line with those favourite authors, I generally like stories about women, by women, with some humour. Elinor Lipman, Marian Keyes, Jennifer Weiner, Liane Moriarty, Jojo Moyes. There are so many wonderful women telling important stories – many of them right here in VIRA!

Mary Ann: Thank you so much for chatting with us today Rachel. It’s been a pleasure learning more about you and your books.


Mary Ann Clarke is a Chatelaine Grand Prize winner and Next Generation Indie Book Award finalist for The Art of Enchantment, first in the Life is a Journey series about young women on journeys abroad who discover themselves and fall in love while getting embroiled in someone else’s problems.

Her Having it All series is about professional women struggling to balance the challenge and fulfillment of their careers with their search for identity, love, family and home.

Always eager to fill blank pages and empty canvases with ideas swirling in her head, MaryAnn set out to write emotionally engaging stories that walk a tight rope between intelligent women’s fiction and heart-warming romance. 

This article was originally published in Tide Lines, the newsletter of the Vancouver Island Romance Authors, September 2019

Better living through stickers

Last winter, my friend and colleague Mallory proposed a brilliant replacement for those tired old New Year’s resolutions.

“What if,” she said, “we created a Wellness Challenge? Anyone who wants to participate would choose an activity that will boost their own wellbeing. Maybe they’ll do this thing every day for a month, maybe once a week, heck, maybe only once. Whatever. It’s completely up to each person.

Our colleagues jumped all over it. We printed up calendars for the month of January on bright yellow paper so they’d be easy to find on our desks. Discussions about possible activities rang through hallways and office doors.

“I’m going to try to eat a vegetarian meal once a week,” said a previously committed carnivore.

“I’m going to walk to work three times a week.”

“Less TV, more books.”

My personal challenge was to identify something to look forward to every single day. It might be a spin class at lunchtime or a movie that I’d been wanting to see or a coffee date with a friend…. These weren’t necessarily new things, but mindfully looking forward to them was new. And if there wasn’t such an activity already in the works, I had to think of one. Picking up my current stitching project after dinner, cracking that new library book, researching slogans for my sign for the Women’s March….

It was a welcome and happy point in my day and it was easy to keep up with that cheery yellow calendar to remind me. But in February, well, you know how these things go: After a while I forgot about it a bit. A day or two would go by without my noticing what I was looking forward to. Then a week.

So a few months ago, I started again. Instead of a bright yellow calendar with inky ticks, now I mark my wellbeing successes with one of the bright little stickers that came with my day planner. They make it easy it to see when I’ve done something fun or health and that in itself gives me a little jumpstart of pleasure to go along with the wellbeing boost from the activity.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to decide whether to celebrate my gym workout with the adorable orange sailboat sticker or the sweet blue smiley face.

The Touchstones

My younger cousin Tracey phoned recently to tell me about a plan she and five of her thirty-something single friends are hatching. It involves an RV trip to Alaska (where, apparently, men still outnumber women quite dramatically), a videocamera, and lots of sociologically significant interviews in bars. As she talked, I put on the kettle, took teabags from the caddy that was a gift from her grandmother when I got my first apartment, and dropped them into a pot my grandma gave me at the same time. Tracey was still talking when the tea was ready. I sat at my kitchen table and laughed helplessly at her descriptions and then dispensed advice on getting the stories – and believe me, there will be stories – published.

I picked up my cup and inhaled. The scent of orange pekoe tea winkled me back to my great-aunt Mary’s house – Tracey’s great-great aunt – sitting with half a dozen women and at least that many kids at her new round table with the fabulous black vinyl chairs that twirled.

Pink bathroom tiles, the smell of varnished wood paneling, the textured flowery fabrics of 1940s curtains, and green brocade chesterfields from the sixties. Flowered teacups, small girls carefully helping at parties, the sound of women’s laughter and the crackle of six conversations around one kitchen table.

Any of these details immediately evokes my grandmothers, second cousins, and a couple of generations of aunts. Living hours and a ferryboat ride away, still they were the solid backing to my ever-shifting world of elementary school and best friends, neighbours and new playground equipment. I spent summer weeks with them, learning the proper way to make a bed, eating Cheez-Whiz on white bread, and inventing aimless hot-afternoon games with my cousins.

Throughout the year there were bridal showers and birthday teas. On the second Saturday every December for six generations (or is it seven?) the whole tribe creates the Family Party with long paper-covered tables splayed under pots of curried shrimp and lasagna, sour-cherry pie and brownies carefully crafted by the roomful of strong women.

They are almost gone now, those matriarchs, slipping away through old age or illness. Sometimes they go one by one but occasionally they leave in clusters, just like they did everything else. They went to dances together, planned weddings, had babies at the same time, played cards, and talked. Always talked.

“I saw Biddy Dennison in Ladner the other day.”

“Fran and Ruthie are going to Nova Scotia to visit Allen’s relatives this summer.”

“Barbara and Peter are getting married in May…. Yes, I know it’s very quick, but they’re determined…. Well yes, pregnant is another word for it.” With Tracey, as it turned out.

For more than 40 years, through my childhood visits, adolescent angst, youthful hubris, and adult growth, the print-dress phalanx stood behind me, supporting me with their common sense and constant interest. Now that their ranks have thinned I feel a draft at my back. I miss their lemon squares and criticism, birthday cards and timely practical gifts. I feel a little adrift without their solidarity, the certainty that no matter what happens, someone will pick up the pieces and love me until the fragments coalesce into something like Rachel once more.

New generations need them too, to provide certain (though not necessarily approving) acceptance, the continuity of old ladies and middle-aged women with lots of life experience and a tremendous willingness to share it.

My cousin Barbara is just such a woman. Now that we don’t have access to Grandma’s expanse of lawn any more, or Auntie Marg’s big house, Barb offers her condo common room for parties and wakes. Joan is a rock, always ready with a laugh for a ten-year-old’s latest exploit and unflagging enthusiasm for someone’s retirement-launching cruise. Standing and surveying the talking, hugging, laughing crowd at the last Christmas party, George’s wife Margaret said with admiration, “These women are amazing.” I stared at her for a moment. She shows up for every event with unfailing respect and interest while her beautiful small boys (born just a year apart – the mere thought exhausts me) entertain themselves and everyone around them. I don’t think she has any idea that she ranks in the top ten.

At my uncle’s funeral last weekend I noticed for the first time the new batch of print dresses. As my mother’s generation fades, getting greyer and thinner and more absent, my cousins are taking up the slack. Louise rolled her eyes sympathetically when I shared my 14-year-old stepson’s latest misadventure involving his foot, a hundred-dollar running shoe, and the wheel of a moving car. Barb listened to me fret over my demented mother-in-law. The difference is they’re not standing behind me. They’re bracing me up, but now they’re beside me, shoulder to shoulder. Daunting as it is, I suppose that means I’m one of them.

At the graveside I hugged Debbie while she restrained her sobs. I whispered into her hair, “Breathe. Makes it easier to cry.” Then it occurred to me, “And easier to laugh.”

When Doreen said pensively that she no longer puts flowers on her garden-loving mother’s grave, I thought, “There’s no need. You honour her every time you tend your own beautiful garden, and you’ve passed her passion on to your children.” Next time I’ll say it out loud.

I’m learning. I have very good teachers.


I wrote this essay/tribute more than 15 years ago and I’m just as grateful for my touchstones now as I was then. XX

Green Spirits

“I’m stuck,” Betsy told her daughter, Laurel, as she struggled to pull herself free of the hedge without dropping the carton of her mother-in-law’s dishes that were destined for Laurel’s new apartment.

“Well, yeah.” Laurel held a black plastic bag in one hand while she hoisted the hatchback of her battered old Subaru with the other. “That’s not news, Mom.”

“Don’t be rude.” Betsy worked herself free of one clutching branch only to be hooked by yet another twig. It was almost like the blasted thing didn’t want Laurel to move out, but that was ridiculous. Plants didn’t have wills of their own and if they did, they would know that offspring had to establish new roots just as beloved elders had a lifespan. “Come and take Granny’s dishes before I drop them.”

“On my way.” Laurel shoved the bag in the back of her car, crossed the sidewalk in two strides and took the carton.

“I’ll get this opening widened before Rowan helps you move the furniture next weekend.” Betsy tried to be gentle as she wiggled her sleeve loose but seriously, this was happening way too often and she was fed. Right. Up. “We’ll never get Granny’s dresser through here as it is now.”

For the hundredth or maybe thousandth time in the last two months, Betsy’s eyes flooded as sorrow rose like a tide inside her chest. Her mother-in-law Adele had been a treasure, sharing Betsy’s house, business and whole family life for so many years, and Betsy wasn’t even close to getting a grip on her mourning.

But she had to. It was only a month until the Greening of the Cove festival that jumpstarted the tourist season and Betsy had a daughter to launch, a shop to prepare and a horror of a hedge to trim.

“I don’t know why you love it so much,” Laurel said. “Just cut it down.”

Betsy was shocked. “It was a gift from your dad!”
“You’ve got me and Rowan – I think we’re way better gifts than a monster hedge.” “Of course you are. But the gift wasn’t for me, it was for you.”
Laurel shrugged. “It takes up way too much time and space.”
“I’ll get it under control.” Betsy had been barely managing over the last twenty

years and now it was getting worse. But she would prune it.



But Laurel is moving out. She won’t even be living here any more.

Betsy reflected that it would have saved a lot of time and rage over the years if she had simply refused to name her daughter Laurel.

But no-o-o-o. Betsy tugged her sleeve free. Back in her salad days, when she was green in judgment, she had gone along with Glen. He had planted rowan trees at each corner of the property when their son was born and that had seemed sweet. Also, the trees needed no maintenance. But this hedge was a different story. It grew so fast that every year, by the time she turned the final corner and hauled away the last rubbery leaf, it was time to start over. The hedge was the only thing she still begrudged, all these years after Glen had passed away and left her with a couple of small children and a hefty mortgage. But she was stuck with it. And often stuck in it, it seemed. Did shrubs have souls? And could this one be a bad spirit?

No. That was too fanciful, even for Corsair’s Cove.

Betsy sidled carefully through the narrowing opening in the shrubbery, emerging onto the quiet street. On the other side of the pavement, between the budding ornamental plum trees and houses was the view that had made her want to buy their little bungalow all those years ago. The land, with the town’s old wood-framed houses and brick Edwardian businesses, sloped down to the blue harbor which opened before her, promising wind and whitecaps, tides and currents.

Her sailing days were long over and she really didn’t want to revisit them. What she missed, though, was that part of her that had been willing to cast off, ready for new experiences. She missed her mojo. She’d love to get it back, one of these days.

To read the whole story, visit your favourite e-bookseller – you can pre-order now and you’ll be all set when it officially comes out on June 14, 2019.

Amazon| Kobo | Nook | Apple

Livening up book club

Here’s a nifty new activity to liven up book club!

This summer, we Corsair’s Cove authors had a blast creating character cards for some of our recent books, and it struck me that it would be a fun thing for a book group to do.

You can use sources like unsplash.com to find photos and Canva for layout templates, and spend a happy hour or two (or, ahem, a lot more) putting together a card for your favourite character or setting.

The possibilities are endless: the heroine, the villain, personality quirks, most riveting scene, best pets….

You can all agree ahead of time which character(s) to profile, and then compare your cards when you get together and see how different (or similar) they are.

Or each person can choose who or what they want to put on their cards, and when the group gets together, you can talk about your choices.

Just as examples, here are the cards I made for Siena Panati and Joe Johanssen of Secret Vintage:








I had so. Much. Fun.

Wishing you the same,


Siena and Joe are finally here!

“A WARM SEPTEMBER breeze was picking up as Siena Panati balanced, barefoot, on the slackline she had slung a yard above the grassy central quad…
“A vibration against her butt distracted her from the future—always her favorite place. Still balancing three feet above the lawn, she pulled the phone from the back pocket of her bright pink jeans and clicked it open with one hand and then three things happened at once…”

Secret Vintage – the cork pops today!

I hope you love these people as much as I do. Plus…apples!

There’s a new story at the Cove!

The Pacific Northwest looks like a peaceful place. There are pretty towns like Corsair’s Cove and Victoria, beautiful parks, rugged green wilderness….

But once upon a time, in my grandmother’s lifetime, there was Prohibition and smuggling, rumrunners and corruption.

My new story is set in that post-Great War era, when women had new legal rights and the social rules were loosening like Edwardian corsets.

I loved learning a little more about that time and what my grandmother, a new bride like my story’s main character Hulda, might have done as a young farm wife. And I loved putting some of those things into my new Corsair’s Cove Companion short story, Good Spirits.

I hope you get the same pleasure reading it as I got writing it.

Wishing you a happy weekend,


Freestyle Friday: in the library

Is there any place more exciting than a library? For me, they have always been like Smaug’s cave: full of treasure. But not so dangerous.

And now I can add to the reasons I love my local library system: its Emerging Local Authors program!

This year there are again more than 100 local authors whose works are available for anyone and everyone in Greater Victoria to read…and isn’t that amazing?

My friend Margaret Gracie’s novel in linked short stories is there. Check out Plastic for a thought-provoking, wonderful read.

I ran into Bonnie Hardy at the launch, too. She and her husband Norm Hardy put together a non-fiction book to help people caring for aging friends or family.

Marjorie Lindsay’s The Last Singer is there, and so is Glenn Lindsay’s The Shoebox Mystery.

And of course I was thrilled to see Corsair’s Cove Chocolate Shop The Complete Series there, and Kiss in the Wind is available as an e-book. Thrilled.

Can you tell?

Wishing you a happy and story-filled weekend,