Friday, November 20, 2009


E.piph.a.ny (noun) [i piffbnee]
1. sudden realization
A sudden intuitive leap of understanding, especially through an ordinary but striking occurrence.
Encarta Dictionary: English (North America)

I had intended ‘Magic of the Muses’ to be a blog about my journey towards publication. Instead, it turned into a diary of my Quest to Quit smoking. I reluctantly admitted that my blog was not attracting the attention of editors, writers, agents, and publishers, but rather drawing visits and comments from scientists, from those in the throes of nicotine withdrawal, and from those professing to hold the magic solution to addiction.

As I dealt with the pangs of quitting, I doggedly pursued my efforts to find an agent--pitching my adult novel, “Noraebang.” However, my obsession with cigarettes (or lack thereof) took a toll on my creativity. My writing efforts became limited to short email queries, blog updates on my battle with the butt, and incessant chatter on Quitnet forums.

When I hit day 60 smoke-free, I began proudly offering advice to those less seasoned in their quitting efforts, despite the fact I was becoming increasingly tense about finishing the last of my Champix prescription. It was about then that a Quitnet expert advised me that if I wanted to be a successful quitter, I had to give up my belief that cigarettes were pleasurable.

I didn’t think this was a viable concept as I considered the pleasure derived from nicotine a ‘fact’, not a ‘belief’.

However, I remembered once reading that one should be wary of putting too much faith in facts. Facts change. For example, it was once a fact that man could not journey to the moon. Was the pleasure of smoking a malleable fact like man’s space-travelling abilities? Or was it an unchangeable and forever kind of fact, like 1 + 1 = 2?

During each of my three pregnancies, cigarettes (both mine and others) were obnoxious and nauseating—not really a pleasure. Perhaps there was some flexibility to the fact. Perhaps cigarettes weren’t pleasurable when I was pregnant and weren’t pleasurable to some people, but...if I were to, say, suck back a Player’s Smooth with tomorrow morning’s coffee, could I actually believe that experience would not be pleasurable?

An ad hoc poll of my ex-smoking buddies showed them evenly split between those who believed cigarettes were no longer pleasurable, and those who had no doubts that they were. If I could bring myself to believe that smoking was a disgusting, unsatisfying activity, it would certainly be a fair bit easier to give up my cravings, resist temptation, and get on with a smoke-free life—forever. But was it at all possible?

Was it even sane to convince oneself to believe something that one knows isn’t true? I worried I was doomed to be a slave to nicotine. And all the pain and panic of the past weeks would be for nought.

Then something strange happened.

I opened my eyes one morning, pushed my Pomeranian away from my face, and knew something I hadn’t known when I went to sleep. I immediately panicked.

Although it is eerie that characters visit me, dictate stories to me, boss me around, and argue and stuff, I love writing and their stories are so interesting I find it easy to ignore the freakiness.
But this was different. I simply opened my eyes and my brain had this thought, "Quitting smoking is just like 'Noraebang'".

And I go, “Yeah, like right.” The pom is again licking my face—a sure sign that he needs to go out. I toss him to the floor. Some of the characters in my novel, “Noraebang,” smoke, but as far as I know, none of them quit.

My head insists on explaining the wayward thought, "The addiction--"

"Noraebang isn't about addiction,” I argue, reluctantly pushing back the covers and setting my feet on the floor. “It's about a woman in an abusive relationship." I swing my feet in circles to keep my toes away from the puppy’s tongue.

"And how does it end?"

"Not very well," I think dourly. I shuffle to the door and escort the pup onto the balcony. "I thought the heroine finally saw the villain for what he was in reality, but the moment there's an inkling of a chance that he loves her, Allie is back grovelling at his feet..."

"What was he in reality that she didn’t see?"

"Carbon was a scum bag! He raped her; beat her; abused and used her." I glower out across the leafless treetops. The misty morning autumn air slides under my nightie. I shiver. The pond is still. A lone Canada goose swoops in for a landing.

"Does the scum bag love her?"

"I have no idea. If he does, it certainly doesn't match my definition of love." I think about the ending to the story. I hadn’t wanted that ending. I had wanted my hapless heroine to be intelligent, strong--to be guided by commonsense. I wanted her to discover real love, not remained trapped by her misplaced loyalty to an abusive man.

"Does she love him?"

"Yeah. Unfortunately..." The dog is scratching at the door to go back in.


A flock of geese floats in over the far hill. My lone goose rises to join his brethren. I follow the dog back into the bedroom.

"I don't know why she loves him. His sparkling eyes? Perhaps his deception?”

It wasn’t easy knowing why she loved him. He’d lied to her about his feelings, his motives...lied about everything. I open the bedroom door and puppy runs to find his master. I hear coffee perking. I close the door to the smell of fresh ground Arabica and shuffle to the ensuite.

“At one time,” I point out to myself, “she needed to bond with him to survive. Maybe she's scared of what life will be like without him. Maybe it gives her justification for falling for him in the first place."

"Ahh, I see. Substitute "she" in the preceding conversation with 'Eileen' and "he" with 'cigarettes' and what have you got?"

Does Eileen love cigarettes?

Yeah. Unfortunately...


I don't know why. Cigarette’s sparking eyes? Perhaps cigarette’s deception? At one time, I needed them. Cigarettes lied to me about their feelings, their motives...lied about everything. Maybe I’m scared of what life will be like without cigarettes. Maybe it gives me justification for starting to smoke in the first place....

Yes, my life surprisingly parallels that of a heroine in a novel I’d written long before I’d even considered giving up cigarettes. I hadn’t known then, hadn’t known until now that entanglement in an abusive relationship was so similar to an addiction.

I stare at my reflection in the vanity mirror. My heroine didn’t learn to ‘unlove’ her abuser as I had wanted, but perhaps I ought to quit loving nicotine and see it for the villainous, dangerous, abusive, enslaving thing that it is. I was beginning to believe it was possible, imperative. I sigh and turn from the mirror.

Now, if only Allie had come to believe Carbon was a no good rotter...

Ephiphany: A sudden intuitive leap of understanding, especially through an ordinary but striking occurrence.

Eileen Schuh,
Canadian writer

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Jan Markley, Dead Frogs, & Getting Published

What’s it like to get your first book published?

For those of us destined (so far) to live vicariously through our fellow writers, I invited Jan Markley to tell it to us like it is. I’m very honoured that she agreed to make time in her busy schedule to share with us the details.

Although Jan has seen her creative non-fiction and humourous personal essays published in the Globe and Mail and West Word (magazine of the Writers Guild of Alberta), "Dead Frog on the Porch" is her debut novel. She describes it as “...a comedic mystery adventure for middle grade readers.” It is the first in the Megabyte Mystery Series.

Jan lives in Calgary, Alberta and is active in the writers’ community through the Writers Guild of Alberta, Young Alberta Books Society and the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. She’s a big believer in writing critiquing groups and has been a member of the Kensington Writers’ Group for several years.

She has a Master of Arts, Social Science degree in Cultural Anthropology. She’s proud of her thesis entitled: “Walking in the Footsteps of our Ancestors”: Present Day Representation of Peigan/Blackfoot Cultural Identity, University of Calgary (2002). She enjoyed researching her thesis at the Peigan First Nation in southern Alberta. In order to feed her keen interest in other cultures, she has travelled extensively, most recently to India.

I asked Jan to compare the pleasure of seeing “Dead Frog on my Porch” published, to the pleasure of writing the novel.

“It was important to me that my novel get published as I worked as a professional writer for many years as a journalist. But being a writer is more about who I am as a person than a profession. I have always been a writer.

The writing of the book, the craft, was very important to me. I wanted it to be a well-written novel for middle grade readers aged 8-12 as I think that age group demands a good story. It is gratifying to see the book and to hear what children think of it after they read it.

Eileen: With this question, Jan, I’m looking for some words of encouragement for those of us still waiting for our first book to become a reality. How many rejection letters did you get before you received your first publishing contract?

"Many. I documented my ‘how I got published’ story on my blog which is called: Three Dead Moths in my Mailbox: From Finished Manuscript to Book Publishing contract. (To read more , click on this link to Jan's blog ( )

I found the three keys to getting published were rewriting, persistence, and stalking!"

Eileen: Did you come away with anything positive from rejections?

"Yes, as you know there is a hierarchy of rejection letters. I sent out queries and then was asked, y a number of publishers and agents, for my full manuscript which was a good sign. Then I began to get long rejection letters outlining what they liked and what was the stumbling block to them publishing it. They would then outline suggested areas for rewriting and ask me to resubmit it. This happened with a couple of publishers so I knew that I was getting closer.

If you find that you get several rejections that mention the same issues, such as plot or character, then you need to look at that seriously.

If you are getting form rejection letters then perhaps you sent the manuscript out too early and need to do a couple more rewrites."

Eileen: How did you learn you were being offered a publishing contract? Tell us about that moment.

"It was an email from my publisher Crystal Stranaghan. I wrote about it on my blog as well as in an article for the WGA (Writers Guild of Alberta)"

(To read her account of those breathless first moments click on this link to her blog: It was a cold and lonely Tuesday )

Eileen: After signing the contract, what was the next most exciting thing to happen?

"Oh, lots of things, getting a website up, starting a blog, planning a book tour.

The process of going through the substantive editing phase was interesting and helpful, as was the process of going through the galleys and the copy editing stage.

Seeing the book in my hot little hands for the first time was great. The book launches were exciting. And most recently, one of the most exciting things was seeing my book randomly stuffed into my niece’s backpack – just like a regular book!"

Eileen: Your book has been recently published and you are now promoting it. Tell us about the pros and cons of that aspect of your profession.

"Well, now I’m a tadpole in a very large pond of literary frogs. As you know, there are many great Canadian writers and I am thrilled to be in their company, and I’ve benefited from their advice over the years.

I think it’s a continual process of looking for opportunities to promote your book and talk to parents, teachers and librarians about it.

I joined a number of organizations such as the Young Alberta Book Society, the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, and I’ve been a member of the Writers Guild for years."

Eileen: Tell us a bit about “Dead Frog on the Porch”.

It’s a mystery/adventure for middle-grade readers aged 8-12.

When twin sisters Cyd and Jane are propelled into an international plot that involves evil scientists and giant genetically stretched frogs, the girls are in a suspenseful and hilarious race to save the frog kingdom.

Feeling bad after she accidentally killed her sister’s frog, Cyd gets caught up in Jane’s obsessive search for an answer to the mystery. But first they have to get past their scientist mom who sides with the geneticists, and the police who don’t believe them. The girls use the Internet to track down the culprits, outsmart them with an antidote to the serum, and expose the scientists for the harm they are causing to the frog kingdom.

Slithering out of a near strangulation by a boa constrictor, and a way-to-close-call escape from a plant vault, their safety is in danger as they get up the noses of the scientists. If their love of animals wasn’t enough to motivate them, scratching yet another mosquito bite, the girls discover the link between frogs, the environment and humanity

The modern characters routinely evoke the spirit of Nancy Drew and use technology and old fashioned curiosity to solve the crime. Armed with strong personal convictions about animals and the environment, the characters act on their belief that kids can change the world even if it is one frog at a time.

The novel started as a ‘write an incident from your childhood’ writing exercise, so I wrote about the time I accidently killed my friend Jane’s pet frog. I recently found Jane and blogged about what it was like tracking her down and finding her after all these years. She still has pet frogs and kept them far away from me when I visited!"

Eileen: What is your advice to those of us still seeking a publisher?

"Do your homework. I think the biggest mistake writers aspiring to be published make is sending a manuscript out before it is ready. A first draft is just that. Send it through your writers group or your beta readers, then rewrite and rewrite some more.

Learn as much as you can about your craft, and read in the genre you are writing and other genres. My blog is about where writing meets life and where life meets writing and I post about aspects of story development and writing.

Educate your self about the publishing industry. A couple of blogs written by agents are particularly helpful in keeping you informed about what’s going on in the publishing industry – Nathan Bransford and Janet Reid’s blogs."

Eileen: Where can we buy “Dead Frog on my Porch?”

"You can get it through or You can get it through your local independent bookstore. If you want to order it in for your school, check out Gumboot Books website for more information."

Eileen: When will your next book be out?

"The next book in the Megabyte Mystery series is called, "Dead Bird through the Cat Door" and should be available fall 2010 from Gumboot Books."

Eileen: Again, thanks so much, Jan. Doing this interview was truly a thrill for me.

Eileen Schuh,
Canadian writer

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Beware: The power of your pen

I've been Quit 68 days. Saved $448.80. Salvaged 7 days, 17 hours of my life.

I get those stats from the Quitnet website which includes discussion forums for quitters, expert advice, links to personal advisers, a buddy system--lots of good stuff. I enjoy this site because not only does it support my quit, but it's a chance for me to help others who are quitting. (

I'll let the following excerpt from an email I wrote to my good friend and confidante, C**, relate what happened next....

Hi, C**

I managed to antagonize users of another forum--my Quitnet forum! I have a fellow quitter accusing me of trying to lure ex-smokers back to cigarettes!

Sheesh! What does he think I am? A nicotine demon hired by the tobacco companies to infiltrate Quitnet and lure back their customers? What the hell? It upset me. Lots. Remember I advised you that one should only hand over the power to hurt to those we respect? I didn't follow that advice.

I have spent lots of time on the Qnet forums offering support and encouragment, so the one time when I seek advice and encouragement and get shot down like that.... I guess I ought to have had more of a sense of humour about it. [Writing emails to you always sparks that possibility.] Actually, for the first time since it happened, I'm finding myself giggling about it. Thanks, C**, for giving me that perspective.

What happened was I wrote an email to Qnet's experts saying I only had a couple of weeks left on my Champix prescription and was scared I'd go back to smoking once it ran out. I was told (among other tidbits of advice) that to be a successful quitter I had to stop believing cigarettes were pleasurable. This startling advice was akin to being told I would inherit a billion dollars as soon as I believed the ocean wasn't salty...

So, that was the question I posed on Quitnet: had anyone out there been able to come to believe that cigarettes aren't pleasurable? Surprisingly (to me), there are many who have and many who believe this is a prerequisite to successful quitting.

One lady responded that since I hadn't believed cigarettes were pleasurable before I became addicted, it was just a matter of returning to that state of mind. To which I replied, it was not all that simple a step for me as I had found cigarettes pleasurable long before I took my first puff-- and in rather flowery, powerful language explained how as a child I'd been entranced by my father's smoking habit.

Do you suppose it was that wonderful piece of prose--describing slender swirls of blue twirling up the sunbeams...the contented look in my father's eyes...the wondrous aroma when he opened a fresh can of tobacco--

D'ya think that's what made him suspect me of infiltrating????

Thanks, C**. It now seems totally humorous to me.... No more tears...
I had intended my Qnet words to communicate my powerful affinity to nicotine. I thought if others better understood my addiction they'd be able to offer me more appropriate advice and encouragement. It was all about me.

Until I wrote the above email to C**, I had not considered the effect my alluring words might have on a community of people trying to quit.

Writers--always keep your readers in mind. Beware: The power of your pen...

Eileen Schuh,
Canadian writer